People > Tissaphernes



Tissaphernes was a prominent Persian satrap and military commander during the late 5th and early 4th centuries BCE, particularly known for his involvement in the Greco-Persian Wars and his interactions with key Greek figures of the time. Tissaphernes hailed from the Persian nobility, serving under the Achaemenid Empire. His career was marked by significant military and administrative roles. He was appointed as the satrap (governor) of Lydia and Caria, regions in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), which were crucial for the Persian control over Greek city-states in Ionia.

Role in the Peloponnesian War

During the Peloponnesian War, Tissaphernes initially allied with Sparta against Athens, seeing it as a strategic move to weaken the Greek states and restore Persian influence in the region. He provided financial and military support to the Spartan fleet. Tissaphernes was known for his diplomatic cunning. He played both sides, often switching allegiances between Athens and Sparta to maintain a balance of power that would benefit Persia. His duplicity caused distrust among both Greek factions.

Conflict with Cyrus the Younger

Tissaphernes' most notable adversary within the Persian court was Cyrus the Younger, the brother of King Artaxerxes II. Cyrus was given command of western Asia Minor, which undermined Tissaphernes' authority.

Battle of Cunaxa (401 BCE): Tissaphernes played a pivotal role in the Battle of Cunaxa, where Cyrus the Younger rebelled against Artaxerxes II. Despite Cyrus' death in battle, Tissaphernes failed to capture the core of Cyrus' Greek mercenaries, who famously retreated through hostile territory in the "March of the Ten Thousand," as chronicled by Xenophon in "Anabasis."

Later Years and Downfall

Conflict with Sparta: Post-Cunaxa, Tissaphernes continued to face challenges from the Greek states, particularly Sparta, which aimed to protect Greek cities in Asia Minor. His strategic importance in the region made him a target for Spartan aggression.

Defeat and Execution: Eventually, Tissaphernes' fortunes waned. His continuous conflicts with Sparta and internal Persian politics led to his downfall. He was arrested and executed by orders of Artaxerxes II around 395 BCE, possibly due to his perceived failure to adequately manage the Persian Empire's western territories and his contentious relations with other Persian nobles.


Tissaphernes is remembered as a complex figureā€”an able yet ultimately unsuccessful Persian satrap whose actions significantly influenced Greek and Persian interactions during a turbulent period. His legacy is marked by his strategic mind, diplomatic maneuvering, and the significant role he played in the political and military events of his time.

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