Sardanapallus and the end of the Assyrian Empire

Sardanapallus, the thirtieth in succession from Ninus, who founded the empire, and the last king of the Assyrians, outdid all his predecessors in luxury and sluggishness. For not to mention the fact that he was not seen by any man residing outside the palace, he lived the life of a woman, and spending his days in the company of his concubines and spinning purple garments and working the softest of wool, he had assumed the feminine garb and so covered his face and indeed his entire body with whitening cosmetics and the other unguents used by courtesans, that he rendered it more delicate than that of any luxury-loving woman.

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He also took care to make even his voice to be like a woman’s, and at his carousals not only to indulge regularly in those drinks and viands which could offer the greatest pleasure, but also to pursue the delights of love with men as well as women; for he practised sexual indulgence of both kinds without restraint, showing not the least concern for the disgrace attending such conduct.

To such an excess did he go of luxury and of the most shameless sensual pleasure and in temperance, that he composed a funeral dirge for himself and commanded his successors upon the throne to inscribe it upon his tomb after his death; it was composed by him in a foreign language but was afterwards translated by a Greek as follows:

Knowing full well that thou wert mortal born,

Thy heart lift up, take thy delight in feast;

When dead no pleasure more is thine. Thus I,

Who once o’er mighty Ninus ruled, am naught

But dust. Yet these are mine which gave me joy

In life — the food I ate, my wantonness,

And love’s delights. But all those other things

Men deem felicities are left behind.

Because he was a man of this character, not only did he end his own life in a disgraceful manner, but he caused the total destruction of the Assyrian Empire, which had endured longer than any other known to history.

(Source: “The Library of History”, Book II, by Diodorus Siculus, Loeb Classical Library)

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Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Isidoros Aggelos

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