The Assassination Of Datames

We have described in another place the superior generalship of the Carian commander Datames and his subtlety in war.  Yet despite his abilities he fell victim to treachery and was assassinated in 362 B.C. by the king (Artaxerxes) whom he used to serve.  How this came about we will now tell, using the historian Cornelius Nepos as a guide.

Because of the hostility and jealousy of the courtiers surrounding the Persian king Artaxerxes, Datames eventually became disillusioned with his superiors.  He had loyally served the king’s interests; but when recognition and further advancement were not forthcoming, Datames turned his back on him.  Nepos tells us that the king formed an “implacable hatred” (implacabile odium in Datamen) against Datames.  And since he could never beat him in a fair fight, he resolved to have him slain by treachery (postquam bello eum opprimi non posse animadvertit, insidiis interficere studuit).

The plot was hatched by another general named Mithridates.  He first planned to win Datames’s confidence, and then use this fact to get close to him.  When the time was right, he would have him disposed of.  Without ever meeting Datames, Mithridates contrived to gain his victim’s attention.  Mithridates began to attack fortresses and strongholds of Artaxerxes, the same person whom Datames disliked.  He would even give some of his spoils to Datames.  By doing this sort of thing, Mithridates eventually convinced his victim that they were both on the same side, and both had Artaxerxes as the same enemy.  All the while, Datames never suspected that his new “friend” was secretly working on behalf of the king.

Eventually Mithridates contacted Datames and proposed a joint alliance to overthrow Artaxerxes.  Envoys of the two men proposed a joint meeting; and a time and place for this was set.  But in the utmost secrecy Mithridates visited the conference location early and had weapons hidden at various places on the site.  Short swords were buried at specific spots and their locations recorded.  On the day of the meeting, security agents of the two generals searched the spot (as well as the individuals present) but could find no weapons.

The two generals spoke with each other, then left with their retinues in different directions.  But Mithridates soon returned to the meeting site and sat down at one of places where a sword had been buried.  He pretended to be tired and in need of a rest.  He sent a messenger to fetch Datames and have him return to the meeting site, with the pretext being that some new issue had come up and needed immediate consideration.  He pulled the hidden weapon out of the sand and hid it in his clothing.  When Datames arrived his assassin pretended to engage him in conversation; and when his back was turned, Mithridates pulled out his sword and killed Datames.  As Nepos says,

So it was that this man, who had bested many by design but no one by treachery, was destroyed by fake friendship. (Ita ille vir, qui multos consilio, neminem perfidia ceperat, simulata captus est amicitia).

From this story, each reader must draw his own conclusions.