Read COMPARISON OF KIMON AND LUCULLUS of Plutarch's Lives‚ Volume II, free online book, by Aubrey Stewart & George Long, on

Lucullus may be accounted especially fortunate in having died when he did, so that he did not witness the ruin of his country by the civil wars, but departed this life while Rome, though corrupt, was yet a free state. And in this he resembles Kimon more than in any other point; for Kimon also died while the Greeks were at the height of their prosperity, and before they had begun to fight against one another. Indeed, Kimon died in his camp, while acting as commander-in-chief of his country’s forces, at the siege of Kitium in Cyprus; not retired home, as if worn out with hard service, nor yet indulging in feasting and wine-drinking, as though that were the end and reward of his military achievements; like that life of eternal drunkenness which Plato sneers at the Orphic school for promising to their disciples as their reward hereafter.

A peaceful retirement, and a life of literary leisure, is no doubt a great comfort to a man who has withdrawn himself from taking any active part in politics; but to perform notable exploits with no object in view except to obtain the means of enjoyment, and to pass from the command of armies and the conduct of great wars to a life of voluptuous indolence and luxury seems unworthy of a philosopher of the Academy, or of any who profess to follow the doctrine of Xenokrates, and to be rather fit for a disciple of Epikurus. It is a remarkable circumstance that the youth of Kimon seems to have been licentious and extravagant, while that of Lucullus was spent in a sober and virtuous fashion. Clearly he is the better man that changes for the better; for that nature must be the more excellent in which vice decays, and virtue gains strength. Moreover, both Kimon and Lucullus were wealthy; but they made a very different use of their wealth. We cannot compare the building of the south wall of the Acropolis of Athens, which was completed with the money won by Kimon in the wars, with the luxurious pavilions and villas washed by the sea which Lucullus erected in Neapolis with the spoils he had taken from the barbarian enemies of Rome. Still less can we compare the generous and popular hospitality of Kimon with the Eastern profusion and extravagance of Lucullus’s table; for Kimon, at a small expense, fed many of his countrymen daily, while the other spent enormous sums to provide luxuries for a small circle of friends. Yet this difference in their habits may have been caused by the times in which they lived; and no one can tell whether Kimon, if he had returned home and spent an old age of indolence and unwarlike repose, might not have even exceeded Lucullus in riotous luxury; for he was fond of wine and of society, and, as has been told in his life, was greatly addicted to women. But success in war or in politics so delights ambitious natures that they have no time for pursuing minor pleasures. Had Lucullus died at the head of his army, I suppose that the most captious critic could scarcely have found anything to blame in his life. So much, then, for their mode of living.

II. Now with regard to their warlike operations, there can be no doubt that both proved themselves to be consummate commanders, both by land and by sea; yet, as we are accustomed to call those athletes who have in one day been successful both in wrestling and in the pankratium by the name of notable victors, so Kimon, who in one day won a victory both by sea and by land, thus gaining a double triumph for Greece, deserves to be given some place above all other generals. Moreover, Lucullus was given the chief command by his country, but Kimon won for his country the honour of commanding the other Greek states. Lucullus found his country in command of allies, and by their aid overthrew the enemy, but Kimon found his country acting under the command of others, and by his own force of character both made Athens the leading state in Greece and overcame the enemy, for he drove the Persians from the sea, and persuaded the Lacedaemonians to resign their claims to supremacy. If we are to believe it to be the greatest proof of ability in a general to be loved and willingly obeyed by his soldiers, then we see that Lucullus was despised by his soldiers, while Kimon was esteemed and looked up to by his allies, for the soldiers of Lucullus revolted from him, while the Greek states revolted from Sparta in order to join Kimon. Thus the former was sent out in chief command, and returned home deserted by his men, while the other, though sent out to act as a subordinate under the command of others, ended by returning as commander-in-chief of them all, having succeeded, in spite of the greatest difficulties, in obtaining three great advantages for his countrymen, namely, having delivered them from the fear of their enemies, having given them authority over their confederates, and established a lasting friendship between them and the Lacedaemonians. Both commanders attempted an enormous task, the conquest of Asia; and both were forced to leave their work unfinished. Kimon was prevented by death, for he died at the head of an army and in the full tide of success; while one cannot altogether think that Lucullus was not to blame for not having tried to satisfy the complaints of his soldiers, which caused them to hate him so bitterly. In this point Lucullus and Kimon are alike; for Kimon was often impeached by his countrymen, who at last banished him by ostracism, in order that, as Plato said, they might not hear his voice for ten years. It seldom happens that men born to command can please the people, or have anything in common with them; because they cause pain by their attempts to rule and reform them, just as the bandages of a surgeon cause pain to the patient, when by their means he is endeavouring to force back dislocated limbs into their proper position. For this reason, methinks, neither Kimon nor Lucullus deserve blame.

III. Lucullus accomplished by far the greater exploits of the two, as he marched beyond the Mount Taurus with an army, being the first Roman who ever did so, and also crossed the river Tigris, and took and burned the royal cities of Asia, Tigranocerta, Kabeira, Sinope, and Nisibis, in the sight of their kings. Towards the north, he went as far as the river Phasis; towards the east as far as Media; and southwards as far as the Red Sea and the kingdom of Arabia, subduing it all to the Roman Empire. He destroyed the power of two mighty kings, and left them in possession of nothing but their lives, forcing them to hide themselves like hunted beasts, in trackless wastes and impassable forests. A great proof of the completeness of Lucullus’s success is to be found in the fact that the Persians soon after Kimon’s death, attacked the Greeks as vigorously as if they had never been defeated by Kimon at all, and defeated a large Greek army in Egypt; while Tigranes and Mithridates never recovered from the overthrow they sustained from Lucullus. Mithridates was so crushed and broken in strength that he never dared to march out of his entrenchments and fight with Pompeius, but retired to Bosporus and died there; while Tigranes of his own accord came into the presence of Pompeius naked and unarmed, and cast down his royal diadem at his feet, not flattering him for the victories which he had won, but for those for which Lucullus had triumphed. He was well pleased to be allowed to resume the ensigns of royalty, and thereby admitted that he had before been deprived of them. He, therefore, is to be held the better general, as he is the better wrestler, who leaves his enemy weakest for his successor to deal with. Moreover, Kimon found the power of the Persians impaired, and their spirit broken by the series of defeats which they had sustained from Themistokles, Pausanias, and Leotychides, and was easily able to conquer men whose hearts were already vanquished: whereas Lucullus met Tigranes when he was full of courage, and in the midst of an unbroken career of victory. As for numbers, one cannot compare the multitudes who were opposed to Lucullus with the troops who were defeated by Kimon. Thus it appears that from whatever point of view we regard them, it is hard to say which was the better man, especially as heaven seems to have dealt so kindly with them both, in telling the one what to do, and the other what to avoid: so that it seems to appear by the testimony of the gods themselves, that they were both men of a noble and godlike nature.