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Tissaphernes portrait.jpg
Portrait of Tissaphernes (445 BC–395 BC), from his coinage. Most of his coins are inscribed ΤΙΣΣΑ ("TISSA") in Greek under his portrait, permitting identification.
Native name
Born445 BC
Died395 BC
Allegiance Standard of Cyrus the Great (White).svg Achaemenid Empire
Rank Satrap
Battles/wars Battle of Cunaxa
Tissaphernes was Satrap of Lydia, including Ionia, under the Achaemenid Empire. Satrapy of Lydia.jpg
Tissaphernes was Satrap of Lydia, including Ionia, under the Achaemenid Empire.

Tissaphernes (Ancient Greek : Τισσαφέρνης; Old Persian Čiθrafarnah > Mod. Persian Čehrfar) (445 BC – 395 BC) was a Persian soldier and statesman, Satrap of Lydia. He was a grandson of Hydarnes, one of the six conspirators who had supported the rise of Darius the Great.

Old Persian is one of the two directly attested Old Iranian languages. Like other Old Iranian languages, this language was known to its native speakers as Iranian language. Old Persian appears primarily in the inscriptions, clay tablets and seals of the Achaemenid era. Examples of Old Persian have been found in what is now Iran, Romania (Gherla), Armenia, Bahrain, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt, with the most important attestation by far being the contents of the Behistun Inscription. Recent research (2007) into the vast Persepolis Fortification Archive at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago have unearthed Old Persian tablets, which suggest Old Persian was a written language in use for practical recording and not only for royal display.

Satrap Ruler of a province in ancient Persia

Satraps were the governors of the provinces of the ancient Median and Achaemenid Empires and in several of their successors, such as in the Sasanian Empire and the Hellenistic empires. The satrap served as viceroy to the king, though with considerable autonomy; and the word also came to suggest tyranny, or ostentatious splendour.

Lydia Old Age kingdom of western Asia Minor

Lydia was an Iron Age kingdom of western Asia Minor located generally east of ancient Ionia in the modern western Turkish provinces of Uşak, Manisa and inland İzmir. Its population spoke an Anatolian language known as Lydian. Its capital was Sardis.



Chithrafarna (čiθra + farnah) "Shining Fortune": čiθra is from the Proto-Indo-European adjective (s)koitrós 'bright'; [1] farnah is equivalent to Avestan xvarənah 'fortune', 'glory', which appears as 'luminous'. čiθra means nature, specifically the animate nature. Hence, the phrase čihr-farn means 'of glorious or splendid nature', or (if it is translated literally) 'of radiant appearance'.

Proto-Indo-European language Ancestor of the Indo-European language family

Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is the linguistic reconstruction of the ancient common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, the most widely spoken language family in the world.

Avestan East Iranian language used in Zoroastrian scripture

Avestan, also known historically as Zend, comprises two languages: Old Avestan and Younger Avestan. The languages are known only from their use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture, from which they derive their name. Both are early Iranian languages, a branch of the Indo-Iranian languages within the Indo-European family. Its immediate ancestor was the Proto-Iranian language, a sister language to the Proto-Indo-Aryan language, with both having developed from the earlier Proto-Indo-Iranian. As such, Old Avestan is quite close in grammar and lexicon with Vedic Sanskrit, the oldest preserved Indo-Aryan language.


Khvarenah or khwarenah is an Avestan word for a Zoroastrian concept literally denoting "glory" or "splendour" but understood as a divine mystical force or power projected upon and aiding the appointed. The neuter noun thus also connotes "(divine) royal glory," reflecting the perceived divine empowerment of kings. The term also carries a secondary meaning of "(good) fortune"; those who possess it are able to complete their mission or function.

Family and early life

Tissaphernes was born in 445 BC. He belonged to an important Persian family: he was the grandson of Hydarnes, an eminent Persian general, who was the commander of the Immortals during the time of king Xerxes' invasion of Greece.

Hydarnes Satrap of Parthia, Hyrcania, Media, Matiene and Sophene

Hydarnes, son of Bagābigna, was a Persian nobleman of the Achaemenid Empire in the late 6th and early 5th centuries BC. He was one of the seven conspirators against the usurper, Gaumâta, who killed him and then proclaimed Darius I as the Persian king. His name appears in the Behistun inscription among the six conspirators who supported the rise of Darius the Great. Hydarnes then served Darius I as a commander and remained influential during his reign.

Xerxes I King of Kings

Xerxes I, called Xerxes the Great, was the fifth king of kings of the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia. Like his father and predecessor Darius I, he ruled the empire at its territorial apex. He ruled from 486 BC until his assassination in 465 BC at the hands of Artabanus, the commander of the royal bodyguard.

In 414 BC, Tissaphernes was assigned by Darius II to suppress the rebellion of Pissuthnes, the Persian satrap of Asia Minor, and to take over his office. Tissaphernes bribed Pissuthnes' Greek mercenaries to desert him and promised that his life would be spared if he surrendered, a promise which Darius did not keep. When Darius II ordered Tissaphernes to proceed to suppress the continued rebellion of Pissuthnes' son Amorges, and also ordered him to collect the outstanding tribute from the Greek cities of Asia Minor, many of which were under Athenian protection, Tissaphernes entered into an alliance with Sparta against Athens, which in 412 BC led to the Persian conquest of the greater part of Ionia. [2]

Darius II King of Kings

Darius II Ochus, also Darius II Nothus, was king of the Persian Empire from 423 BC to 404 or 405 BC.


Pissuthnes, also known as Pissouthnes, was an Achaemenid satrap of Lydia, including Ionia, circa 440–415 BCE. His capital was Sardis. He was the son of a man named Hystaspes, probably himself the son of Darius I, which shows his Persian origin and his membership of the Achaemenid dynasty. He held the satrapy for about twenty years, and became extremely rich as a consequence.

Sparta City-state in ancient Greece

Sparta was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece. In antiquity, the city-state was known as Lacedaemon, while the name Sparta referred to its main settlement on the banks of the Eurotas River in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese. Around 650 BC, it rose to become the dominant military land-power in ancient Greece.

But Tissaphernes was unwilling to take action and tried to achieve his aim by astute and often perfidious negotiations. Alcibiades persuaded him that Persia's best policy was to keep the balance between Athens and Sparta, and rivalry with his neighbour Pharnabazus of Hellespontic Phrygia still further lessened his willingness to act against the Greeks. When, therefore, in 408 BC the king decided to actively support Sparta, Tissaphernes was removed as a general and his responsibilities were limited to the satrapy of Caria, with Lydia and the conduct of the war being entrusted to Cyrus the Younger.

Alcibiades Athenian statesman

Alcibiades, son of Cleinias, from the deme of Scambonidae, was a prominent Athenian statesman, orator, and general. He was the last famous member of his mother's aristocratic family, the Alcmaeonidae, which fell from prominence after the Peloponnesian War. He played a major role in the second half of that conflict as a strategic advisor, military commander, and politician.

Phrygia ancient kingdom in Anatolia

In classical antiquity, Phrygia was a kingdom in the west central part of Anatolia, in what is now Asian Turkey, centered on the Sangarios River. After its conquest, it became a region of the great empires of the time.

Cyrus the Younger Achaemenid king

Cyrus the Younger, son of Darius II of Persia and Parysatis, was a Persian prince and general, Satrap of Lydia and Ionia from 408 to 401 BC. His birth date is unknown, but he died in 401 BC after a failed battle to oust his elder brother, Artaxerxes II, from the Persian throne.

Civil war

On the death of Darius II in 404 BC, Artaxerxes II was crowned king of Persia. Tissaphernes, who found out about Cyrus the Younger's plan to assassinate his brother, informed the king about the conspiracy, who then had Cyrus imprisoned. But by the intercession of his mother Parysatis, Cyrus was pardoned and sent back to his satrapy. According to Plutarch, "his resentment for [his arrest] made him more eagerly desirous of the kingdom than before." [3]

Achaemenid Empire first Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great

The Achaemenid Empire, also called the First Persian Empire, was an ancient Iranian empire based in Western Asia founded by Cyrus the Great. Ranging at its greatest extent from the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper in the west to the Indus Valley in the east, it was larger than any previous empire in history, spanning 5.5 million square kilometers. Incorporating various peoples of different origins and faiths, it is notable for its successful model of a centralised, bureaucratic administration, for building infrastructure such as road systems and a postal system, the use of an official language across its territories, and the development of civil services and a large professional army. The empire's successes inspired similar systems in later empires.

Parysatis was the 5th-century BC illegitimate daughter of Artaxerxes I, Emperor of Persia and Andia of Babylon.

With the desire for revenge, Cyrus gathered a large army and pretended to prepare an expedition against the Pisidians, a tribe based in the Taurus mountains.

Coin of Tissaphernes, with TISSA ("TISSA") clearly visible below neck. Astyra, Mysia. Circa 400-395 BC MYSIA, Astyra. Tissaphernes coin. Circa 400-395 BC.jpg
Coin of Tissaphernes, with ΤΙΣΣΑ ("TISSA") clearly visible below neck. Astyra, Mysia. Circa 400-395 BC

In the spring of 401 BC, Cyrus united all his forces into an army, which now included Xenophon's "Ten Thousand", and advanced from Sardis without announcing the object of his expedition. By dexterous management and promises of large rewards, he overcame the misgivings of the Greek troops over the length and danger of the war. A Spartan fleet of 35 triremes sent to Cilicia opened the passes of the Amanus into Syria and a Spartan detachment of 700 men under Cheirisophus was conveyed to Cyrus. However, Tissaphernes managed to warn Artaxerxes II and quickly gathered together an army. Cyrus advanced into Babylonia before he met with any opposition. In October 401 BC, the Battle of Cunaxa ensued. Cyrus had 10,400 Greek hoplites (heavy-armed citizen-soldiers), 2,500 peltasts (light infantry) and an Asiatic army of approximately 10,000 under the command of Ariaeus.

Cyrus saw that the outcome depended on the fate of the king. He therefore wanted Clearchus of Sparta, the commander of the Greeks, to take the centre against Artaxerxes. Clearchus, out of arrogance, disobeyed. As a result, the left wing of the Persians under Tissaphernes was free to engage the rest of Cyrus' forces. Cyrus in the centre threw himself upon Artaxerxes, but was slain. Tissaphernes claimed to have killed the rebel himself.

The Greek soldiers of Cyrus, once they heard about the news of his death, realised that they were in the middle of a massive empire with no provisions, no-one to finance them, and no reliable allies amongst the Persian nobles. They offered to make their Persian ally, Ariaeus, king, but he refused on the grounds that he was not of royal blood and so would not find enough support among the Persians to succeed. They then offered their services to Tissaphernes, but he refused. However, the Greeks refused to surrender to him.

Tissaphernes was left with a problem: he faced a large army of heavy troops that he could not defeat by frontal assault. He supplied them with food and, after a long wait, led them northwards for home, meanwhile detaching the Persian general Ariaeus and his light troops from the Greeks. The senior Greek officers foolishly accepted an invitation from Tissaphernes to attend a feast. There they were made prisoners, taken before the king, and decapitated. As a reward for his loyalty, Artaxerxes gave Tissaphernes one of his own daughters in marriage and restored him as governor of Lydia and as the commander in chief of the Persian army in Asia Minor. [4]

Later life and death

Coinage of Phokaia, Ionia, circa 478-387 BC. Possible portrait of Satrap Tissaphernes, with satrapal headress, but since these coins have no markings, attribution remains uncertain. IONIA, Phokaia. Circa 478-387 BC.jpg
Coinage of Phokaia, Ionia, circa 478-387 BC. Possible portrait of Satrap Tissaphernes, with satrapal headress, but since these coins have no markings, attribution remains uncertain.

After returning to Asia Minor, Tissaphernes attacked the Greek cities to punish them for their allegiance to Cyrus. This led to a war with Sparta beginning in 399 BC. In 396 BC, the Spartan king and commander Agesilaus II led a campaign to free the Greek cities of Asia Minor. Tissaphernes at this point proposed an armistice and solemnly ratified a truce, which he instantly broke when Persian reinforcements arrived. Agesilaus thanked Tissaphernes for having put the gods on the side of the Greeks by committing perjury, and let it be known that he now planned to lead his troops against Caria. When Tissaphernes gathered his troops to meet this supposed Carian invasion, Agesilaus instead successfully attacked the Persian province of Hellespontine Phrygia. In 395 BC, Agesilaus let it be known that his next target would be the rich land around the Lydian city of Sardis. Tissaphernes, believing that if Agesilaus really intended to attack Sardis he would not have said so, assumed that this time Agesilaus would finally attack Caria, so Tissaphernes concentrated his troops in that area, but Agesilaus successfully attacked Sardis just as he said he would. [2]

At last the fall of Tissaphernes came about when the Persian king yielded to the representations of Pharnabazus II, strongly supported by the chiliarch (vizier) Tithraustes and by the queen-mother Parysatis, who hated Tissaphernes as the principal cause of the death of her favourite son Cyrus. Tithraustes was sent to assassinate Tissaphernes, who was lured to Ariaeus' residence in Colossae and slain in 395 BC. [5]


Encyclopædia Iranica comments that:

Following the death of Tissaphernes, Caria re-established a line of semi-independent local dynasts, still under the umbrella of the Achaemenid Empire, the dynasty of the Hecatomnids. [6]

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  1. J. P. Mallory and D. Q. Adams, The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World (USA: Oxford University Press, 2006: ISBN   0-19-929668-5), p. 329.
  2. 1 2 Smith, William (1867). Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. vol. 3. Boston: Little, Brown. pp. 1154–1156.
  3. Plutarch. Ed. by A.H. Clough. "Artaxerxes," Plutarch's Lives. 1996. Project Gutenberg
  4. 1 2 ČIΘRAFARNAH, Rüdiger Schmitt), Encyclopaedia Iranica
  5. Wikisource-logo.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Meyer, Eduard (1911). "Tissaphernes". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica . 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  6. "About 492 BCE, after the execution of Tissaphernes, the Persians made Caria an independent satrapy and entrusted it to Hecatomnus, the local dynast of Mylasa, whose ancestors appear in the pages of Herodotus." in Gagarin, Michael (2010). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome. Oxford University Press. p. 53. ISBN   9780195170726.