Mithradates VI

Mithradates VI Eupator, king of Pontus, was by ancestry a Persian noble. The family claimed descent from Darius the Great. The family was prominent from the time of the fall of the Persian empire under Darius III at the hands of Alexander the Great, and from late in the fourth century ruled Pontus, a kingdom in Asia Minor on the shores of the Black Sea, and whatever other neighboring territories they could win over.

This is a page about Mithradates which contains a link to a map of Asia Minor.

Mithradates IV Philopator Philadelphus, who ruled until around 150, became an ally of Rome.

His successor, Mithradates V Euergetes, aided Rome in the third Punic war (149-146) and against the rebellion of Aristonicus in Pergamum (132-129). He ruled not only Pontus but Galatia, part of Paphlagonia, and Phrygia. His son-in-law Ariarathes VI was king of Cappadocia. He was murdered in 120, possibly by family members, and his wife Laodice became regent for his young children Eupator [Mithradates VI] and Chrestus.

Mithradates VI Eupator Dionysus escaped from his mother's tutelage and went into hiding, returning after a number of years to take over Sinope (the capital). He imprisoned his mother, killed his brother, and married his sister, also called Laodice (he had many subsequent wives). He attempted to expand the boundaries of his kingdom by attacking Paphlagonia and Cappadocia but the Romans stopped him. Just before the time of the war with Rome in 88 he tried to take over Bithynia from its king, Nicomedes IV. When Nicomedes retaliated, Mithradates was able, with the large armed forces he had been preparing, to defeat the Roman forces in Asia Minor and take over most of the area.

Appian's narrative begins with some background and progresses to the quarrel between Mithradates and Nicomedes. The speeches are not genuine but represent reasonable arguments advanced by both sides.

Appian Mithradatic War sections 10-37

Section 10 begins with a brief reference to Mithradates V Euergetes before passing to the career of his son Mithradates VI. Contemporary kings in Asia Minor included Ariobarzanes, king of Cappadocia, and Nicomedes III, who became king of Bithynia at the death of his father Nicomedes II in 91. Actually there are quite a large number of royal people in Asia Minor, often directly related to the ruling person (e.g. Socrates the brother of Nicomedes who throws out his brother, with the help of Mithradates), and it is not necessary to remember all the ins and outs of their battles with each other, nor details of the kings' names and territories. In brief, what Mithradates wanted was to be able to grow his kingdom, in the same way that modern corporations like to grow their profits. He was hemmed in on the west and northwest by provinces of the Roman empire and on the east by the kingdom of Parthia, so he had little scope for his ambition (check the map). He was able to interfere in the neighboring kingdoms with the help of Tigranes, king of Armenia. The Romans knew that although Tigranes was ostensibly the one causing trouble, Mithradates was behind it all.

Section 11. The Romans sent a senior consular (= ex-consul), M'. Aquillius (or Aquilius) (cos. 101) as ambassador and told L. Cassius, governor of the Roman province of Asia (at this time a very small part of Asia Minor), to work with him. The Romans also told Mithradates, supposed to be a client-king, to do as Aquillius wanted, but he remained inactive. Appian says that the kings Nicomedes and Ariobarzanes were restored to their thrones and that the Romans urged them to attack Mithradates.

Several reasons for the Romans' desire can be imagined, not all of them given by Appian. It does, however, seem reasonable to conclude that it was Aquillius who was the most anxious to have Mithradates start a war against Rome, and that the best way to do this was to encourage his neighbors to attack his territory, as he in fact had just attacked theirs. These activities took place in the years 90-89, a terrible time for the Romans to become involved in a foreign war, as they were busy fighting for their empire back in Italy against their own Italian allies.

Sections 12-14 contain the speeches of Mithradates' envoy Pelopidas and the envoys (not named) of Nicomedes, Pelopidas' rebuttal, and the final reply of the Roman generals. What are the essential arguments of the opposing sides? Is only one side the aggressor?

Sections 15-16: Mithradates again took over Cappadocia and made his own son Ariarathes (Ariarthes in the translation) king, then sent Pelopidas again to the Romans. Pelopidas delivers a long speech; what are his arguments? The Romans' reply is not quoted, but Appian notes that they once again restore Ariobarzanes to Cappadocia.

Section 17: An accounting of the size and nature of military resources on either side, with an observation that the Romans did not have permission from the home government to engage in a war.

Section 18 contains the first mention of Mithradates' outstanding general Archelaus, with an account of a major battle which Mithradates won.

Section 19. What is the reaction of the Roman generals and what are their subsequent actions?

Sections 20-21. More embarrassments - disgraces, rather - for the Romans. How does Mithradates treat the Roman Oppius? How does he treat Aquillius? Does there seem to be any reason for the difference?

Sections 22-23. The Romans choose Sulla, who was consul in 88, to be in charge of a major invasion in Asia Minor. Mithradates now needs as many allies as he can get, and he has recourse to a familiar Greek method of propaganda, proclaiming that he wants to free the Greeks and save Greek culture. It also seems to him a good idea to reinforce self-interest with fear of retribution. How does he do this?

Sections 24-27. Mithradates' operations against Rhodes, an ally of Rome which had a large navy.

Section 28. Mithradates' general Archelaus gains allies in mainland Greece, especially Athens. What does he do to help Athens? What does he do against Rome (or Romans)? Who is Aristion and why doesn't Appian like him?

Section 29. Archelaus fights an indecisive battle against Bruttius Sura, a lieutenant of the Roman governor of Macedonia.

Sections 30-37. The arrival of Sulla and epic siege of Athens.

The war continues for some time afterwards until Sulla forces Mithradates' armies back to Asia Minor and finds it expedient to make peace with the king rather than pursue and capture him, although first he has to deal with another army sent out by the Romans (sections 38-50); in fact Sulla in the end punishes the former Roman allies in Asia Minor more severely than he punishes Mithradates.

Sections 51-52. Sulla had been declared an enemy not long after he had left the Italian peninsula, and considerable time had to have passed between when Cinna and Marius took over Rome near the end of 87 BCE, and the arrival of the new army under Flaccus. Fimbria was one of his legates. The reason given for Fimbria's murder of Flaccus may or may not be correct; you will encounter Fimbria again in Cicero's defense of Roscius, section 33.

Section 53. Appian says Ilium was treated worse by one of its relations than by Agamemnon because the ancients believed that the city of Ilium was the same as Troy, and that refugees from Troy had founded Rome.

Sections 54-55. Sulla negotiates with Mithradates' general, Archelaus, and evidently tries to get Archelaus to consider betraying the king; compare the attempts of the Romans to remove Jugurtha through men closest to him.

Sections 56-58. Lucullus finally gets together a fleet and shows up; Sulla negotiates with (and scolds) Mithradates, but makes peace with him.

Sections 59-60. The showdown between Sulla and Fimbria and their armies. After Fimbria's death, Sulla has control of a much larger army for his return to Rome.

Last updated: 1 September 2010
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