Ptolemy abandoned his alliance with Rome, out of fear for the outcome of the war, but furnished Lucullus with ships to convoy him as far as Cyprus, embraced him graciously at parting, and offered him a costly emerald set in gold. At first Lucullus declined to accept it, but when the king showed him that the engraving on it was a likeness of himself, he was afraid to reject it, lest he be thought to have sailed away at utter enmity with the king, and so have some plot laid against him on the voyage.
As he sailed along, he collected a multitude of ships from the maritime cities, omitting all those engaged in piracy, and came at last to Cyprus. Learning there that the enemy lay at anchor off the headlands and were watching for his coming, he hauled all his vessels up on land, and wrote letters to the cities requesting winter quarters and provisions, as though he would await the fine season there.
Then, when the wind served, he suddenly launched his ships and put out to sea, and by sailing in the day time with his sails reefed and low, but in the night time under full canvas, he came safely to Rhodes. The Rhodians furnished him with more ships, and he induced the people of Cos and Cnidus to forsake the royal cause and join him in an expedition against Samos. Without any aid he also drove the royal forces out of Chios,1
and set the Colophonians free from their tyrant, Epigonus, whom he arrested.
It happened about this time that Mithridates abandoned Pergamum and shut himself up in Pitané. Since Fimbria held him in close siege there by land, he looked to make his escape by sea, and collected and summoned his fleets from every quarter for this purpose, renouncing all engagements in the field with a man so bold and victorious as Fimbria.
This design Fimbria perceived, and being without any fleet of his own, sent to Lucullus, beseeching him to come with his, and assist in capturing the most hostile and warlike of kings, that the great prize which they had sought with so many toils and struggles might not escape the Romans, now that Mithridates was in their grip and fast in the meshes of their net. If he should be captured, Fimbria said, no one would get more of the glory than the man who stood in the way of his flight and seized him as he was running off.
‘Driven from the land by me, and excluded from the sea by you, he will crown us both with success, and the much heralded exploits of Sulla at Orchomenus and Chaeroneia will cease to interest the Romans.’ And there was nothing absurd in the proposition. It is clear to everyone that if Lucullus, who was close at hand, had then listened to Fimbria, brought his ships thither, and closed up the harbour with his fleet, the war would have been at an end, and the world freed from infinite mischief.
But, whether he ranked the honourable treatment of Sulla above every consideration of private or public advantage, or whether he regarded Fimbria as a wretch whose ambition for command had recently led him to murder a man who was his friend and superior officer, or whether it was by some mysterious dispensation of fortune that he chose to spare Mithridates, and so reserved him for his own antagonist,—for whatever reason, he would not listen to the proposal, but suffered Mithridates to sail off and mock at Fimbria's forces,
while he himself, to begin with, defeated the king's ships which showed themselves off Lectum in the Troad. And again, catching sight of Neoptolemus lying in wait for him at Tenedos with a still larger armament, he sailed out against him in advance of the rest, on board of a Rhodian galley which was commanded by Damagoras, a man well disposed to the Romans, arid of the largest experience as a sea-fighter.
Neoptolemus dashed out to meet him, and ordered his steersman to ram the enemy. Damagoras, however, fearing the weight of the royal ship and her rugged bronze armour, did not venture to engage head on, but put swiftly about and ordered his men to back water, thus receiving his enemy astern, where his vessel was depressed. The blow was harmless, since it fell upon the submerged parts of the ship.
At this point, his friends coming up, Lucullus gave orders to turn the ship about, and, after performing many praiseworthy feats, put the enemy to flight and gave close chase to Neoptolemus.