While Lucullus was thus occupied, Cotta, thinking that his own golden opportunity had come, was getting ready to give battle to Mithridates. And when tidings came from many sources that Lucullus was coming up, and was already encamped in Phrygia, thinking that a triumph was all but in his grasp, and desiring that Lucullus have no share in it, he hastened to engage the king.
But he was defeated by sea and land, lost sixty vessels, crews and all, and four thousand foot-soldiers, while he himself was shut up in Chalcedon and besieged there, looking for relief at the hands of Lucullus.
Now there were some who urged Lucullus to ignore Cotta and march on into the kingdom of Mithridates, assured of capturing it in its defenceless condition. This was the reasoning of the soldiers especially, who were indignant that Cotta, by his evil counsels, should not only be the undoing of himself and his army, but also block their own way to a victory which they could have won without a battle.
But Lucullus, in a harangue which he made them, said that he would rather save one Roman from the enemy than take all that enemy's possessions. And when Archelaüs, who had held command for Mithridates in Boeotia, and then had abandoned his cause, and was now in the Roman army, stoutly maintained that if Lucullus were once seen in Pontus, he would master everything at once, Lucullus declared that he was at least as courageous as the hunter; he would not give the wild beasts the slip and stalk their empty lairs.
With these words, he led his army against Mithridates, having thirty thousand foot-soldiers, and twenty-five hundred horsemen. But when he had come within sight of the enemy and seen with amazement their multitude, he desired to refrain from battle and draw out the time. But Marius, whom Sertorius had sent to Mithridates from Spain with an army, came out to meet him, and challenged him to combat, and so he put his forces in array to fight the issue out.
But presently, as they were on the point of joining battle, with no apparent change of weather, but all on a sudden, the sky burst asunder, and a huge, flame-like body was seen to fall between the two armies. In shape, it was most like a wine-jar, and in colour, like molten silver. Both sides were astonished at the sight, and separated.
This marvel, as they say, occurred in Phrygia, at a place called Otryae.
But Lucullus, feeling sure that no human provision or wealth could maintain, for any length of time, and in the face of an enemy, so many thousands of men as Mithridates had, ordered one of the captives to be brought to him, and asked him first, how many men shared his mess, and then, how much food he had left in his tent.
When the man had answered these questions, he ordered him to be removed, and questioned a second and a third in like manner. Then, comparing the amount of food provided with the number of men to be fed, he concluded that within three or four days the enemy's provisions would fail them. All the more, therefore, did he trust to time, and collected into his camp a great abundance of provisions, that so, himself in the midst of plenty, he might watch for his enemy's distress.