Mithridates VI of Pontus

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Mithridates VI of Pontus
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| titletext = | more = | type = | image = Mithridates VI Louvre.jpg| image_size = | alt = | caption = Mithridates VI from the Musée du LouvreList of kings of Pontus>King of Pontus| moretext = | reign = 120–63 BC| reign-type = | coronation = | cor-type = | predecessor = Mithridates V of Pontus| pre-type = | successor = Pharnaces II of Pontus| suc-type = | regent = | reg-type = | birth_name = | birth_date = 135 BCSinop, Turkey>Sinope, Kingdom of Pontus| death_date = 63 BC (aged 71–72)| death_place = | burial_date = Amasya>Amaseia {edih}| spouse-type = | consort = }}| issue-link = | issue-pipe = | issue-type = | full name = Mithridates VI Eupator Dionysius of Pontus| era name = | era dates = | regnal name = | posthumous name= | temple name = Mithridatic dynasty>Mithridatic| house-type = | father = Mithridates V of Pontus| mother = Laodice VI| religion =}}Mithridates VI or Mithradates VI ({{Pronunciation-needed}}; ,The spelling "Mithridates" was the Roman Latin version, but "Mithradates", the spelling used in Greek inscriptions and Mithridates' own coins, is regaining precedence, see e.g. Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. from Old Persian Miθradāta, "gift of Mithra") (135–63 BC), also known as Mithradates the Great (Megas) and Eupator Dionysius, was king of Pontus and Armenia Minor in northern Anatolia from about 120–63 BC. Mithridates is remembered as one of the Roman Republic’s most formidable and successful enemies, who engaged three of the prominent generals from the late Roman Republic in the Mithridatic Wars: Lucius Cornelius Sulla, Lucius Licinius Lucullus and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus. He has been called the greatest ruler of the Kingdom of Pontus.BOOK, Hewsen, Robert H., Armenian Pontus: The Trebizond-Black Sea Communities, 2009, Mazda Publishers, Inc., Costa Mesa, CA, 1-56859-155-1, 41, 37–66, Richard G. Hovannisian, Armenians on the Black Sea: The Province of Trebizond,


Mithridates is the Greek attestation of the Persian name Mihrdāt, meaning "given by Mithra", the name of the ancient Iranian sun god.{{sfn|Mayor|2009|p=1}} The name itself is derived from Old Iranian Miθra-dāta-.{{sfn|Schmitt|2005}}

Ancestry, family and early life

(File:PonticKingdom.png|thumb|350px|Map of the Kingdom of Pontus, Before the reign of Mithridates VI (dark purple), after his conquests (purple), his conquests in the first Mithridatic wars (pink) and Pontus' ally the Kingdom of Armenia (green).)Mithridates VI was a prince of Persian and Greek ancestry. He claimed descent from Cyrus the Great, the family of Darius the Great, the Regent Antipater, the generals of Alexander the Great as well as the later kings Antigonus I Monophthalmus and Seleucus I Nicator.WEB,weblink MITHRADATES VI – Encyclopaedia Iranica,, yes,weblink" title="">weblink 2013-05-17, Mithridates was born in the Pontic city of Sinope,WEB,weblink The Death and Burial of Moithdrades VI, Jakob Munk Højte, 2010-11-04,weblink" title="">weblink 2016-03-03, yes, and was raised in the Kingdom of Pontus. He was the first son among the children born to Laodice VI and Mithridates V of Pontus (reigned 150–120 BC). His father, Mithridates V, was a prince and the son of the former Pontic monarchs Pharnaces I of Pontus and his wife-cousin Nysa. His mother, Laodice VI, was a Seleucid princess and the daughter of the Seleucid monarchs Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his wife-sister Laodice IV.Mithridates V was assassinated in about 120 BC in Sinope, poisoned by unknown persons at a lavish banquet which he held.Mayor, p. 68 He left the kingdom to the joint rule of Mithridates' mother, Laodice VI, Mithridates, and his younger brother, Mithridates Chrestus. Neither Mithridates nor his younger brother were of age, and their mother retained all power as regent for the time being.Mayor, p. 69 Laodice VI’s regency over Pontus was from 120 BC to 116 BC (even perhaps up to 113 BC) and favored Mithridates Chrestus over Mithridates. During his mother’s regency, he escaped from his mother's plots against him, and went into hiding.Mithridates emerged from hiding, returning to Pontus between 116 BC and 113 BC and was hailed as king. By this time he had grown to become a man of considerable stature and physical strength. He could combine extraordinary energy and determination with a considerable talent for politics, organization and strategy. Mithridates removed his mother and brother from the throne, imprisoning both, becoming the sole ruler of Pontus.Mayor, p. 394 Laodice VI died in prison, ostensibly of natural causes. Mithridates Chrestus may have died in prison also, or may have been tried for treason and executed. Mithridates gave both royal funerals.Mayor, p. 100 Mithridates first married his younger sister Laodice, aged 16.Getzel, Hellenistic settlements in Europe, the islands, and Asia Minor p.387 His goal was to preserve the purity of their bloodline, solidify his claim to the throne, to co-rule over Pontus, and to ensure the succession to his legitimate children.

Early reign

Mithridates entertained ambitions of making his state the dominant power in the Black Sea and Anatolia. He first subjugated Colchis, a region east of the Black Sea, and prior to 164 BC, an independent kingdom. He then clashed for supremacy on the Pontic steppe with the Scythian King Palacus. The most important centres of Crimea, Tauric Chersonesus and the Bosporan Kingdom readily surrendered their independence in return for Mithridates' promises to protect them against the Scythians, their ancient enemies.WEB,weblink Mithradates VI Eupator, Simpson, Roger Henry, Encyclopædia Britannica Online, June 26, 2018, After several abortive attempts to invade the Crimea, the Scythians and the allied Rhoxolanoi suffered heavy losses at the hands of the Pontic general Diophantus and accepted Mithridates as their overlord.The young king then turned his attention to Anatolia, where Roman power was on the rise. He contrived to partition Paphlagonia and Galatia with King Nicomedes III of Bithynia. It was probably on the occasion of the Paphlagonian invasion of 108 BC that Mithridates adopted the Bithynian era for use on his coins in honour of the alliance. This calendar era began with the first Bithynian king Zipoites I in 297 BC. It was certainly in use in Pontus by 96 BC at the latest.Jakob Munk Højte, "From Kingdom to Province: Reshaping Pontos after the Fall of Mithridates VI", in Tønnes Bekker-Nielsen (ed.), Rome and the Black Sea Region: Domination, Romanisation, Resistance (Aarhus University Press, 2006), 15–30.Yet it soon became clear to Mithridates that Nicomedes was steering his country into an anti-Pontic alliance with the expanding Roman Republic. When Mithridates fell out with Nicomedes over control of Cappadocia, and defeated him in a series of battles, the latter was constrained to openly enlist the assistance of Rome. The Romans twice interfered in the conflict on behalf of Nicomedes (95–92 BC), leaving Mithridates, should he wish to continue the expansion of his kingdom, with little choice other than to engage in a future Roman-Pontic war. By this time Mithradates had resolved to expel the Romans from Asia.

Mithridatic Wars

{{Campaignbox Mithridatic Wars}}(File:Bellum mithridaticum 87-86aC.png|thumb|300px|Mithridatic Wars 87–86 BC.)The next ruler of Bithynia, Nicomedes IV of Bithynia, was a figurehead manipulated by the Romans. Mithridates plotted to overthrow him, but his attempts failed and Nicomedes IV, instigated by his Roman advisors, declared war on Pontus. Rome itself was involved in the Social War, a civil war with its Italian allies. Thus, in all of Roman Asia Province there were only two legions present in Macedonia. These legions combined with Nicomedes IV's army to invade Mithridates' kingdom of Pontus in 89 BC. Mithridates won a decisive victory, scattering the Roman-led forces. His victorious forces were welcomed throughout Anatolia. The following year, 88 BC, Mithridates orchestrated a massacre of Roman and Italian settlers remaining in several Anatolian cities, essentially wiping out the Roman presence in the region. 80,000 people are said to have perished in this massacre. The episode is known as the Asiatic Vespers.MayorThe Kingdom of Pontus comprised a mixed population in its Ionian Greek and Anatolian cities. The royal family moved the capital from Amasya to the Greek city of Sinope. Its rulers tried to fully assimilate the potential of their subjects by showing a Greek face to the Greek world and an Iranian/Anatolian face to the Eastern world. Whenever the gap between the rulers and their Anatolian subjects became greater, they would put emphasis on their Persian origins. In this manner, the royal propaganda claimed heritage both from Persian and Greek rulers, including Cyrus the Great, Darius I of Persia, Alexander the Great and Seleucus I Nicator.McGing, p. 11 Mithridates too posed as the champion of Hellenism, but this was mainly to further his political ambitions; it is no proof that he felt a mission to promote its extension within his domains. Whatever his true intentions, the Greek cities (including Athens) defected to the side of Mithridates and welcomed his armies in mainland Greece, while his fleet besieged the Romans at Rhodes. Neighboring King of Armenia Tigranes the Great established an alliance with Mithridates and married one of Mithridates’ daughters, Cleopatra of Pontus. They would support each other in the coming conflict with Rome.BOOK, Kurdoghlian, Mihran, Badmoutioun Hayots, Volume I, Hradaragoutioun Azkayin Oussoumnagan Khorhourti, 1994, Athens, Greece, 67–76, hy, The Romans responded by organising a large invasion force to defeat him and remove him from power. The First Mithridatic War, fought between 88 BC and 84 BC, saw Lucius Cornelius Sulla force Mithridates VI out of Greece proper. After victory in several battles, Sulla received news of trouble back in Rome posed by his enemy Gaius Marius and hurriedly concluded peace talks with Mithridates. As Sulla returned to Italy Lucius Licinius Murena was left in charge of Roman forces in Anatolia. The lenient peace treaty, which was never ratified by the Senate, allowed Mithridates VI to restore his forces. Murena attacked Mithridates in 83 BC, provoking the Second Mithridatic War from 83 BC to 81 BC. Mithridates defeated Murena's two green legions at the Battle of Halys in 82 BC before peace was again declared by treaty.When Rome attempted to annex Bithynia (bequested to Rome by its last king) nearly a decade later, Mithridates VI attacked with an even larger army, leading to the Third Mithridatic War from 73 BC to 63 BC. Lucullus was sent against Mithridates and the Romans routed the Pontic forces at the Battle of Cabira in 72 BC, driving Mithridates to exile into King Tigranes' Armenia. While Lucullus was preoccupied fighting the Armenians, Mithridates surged back to retake his kingdom of Pontus by crushing four Roman legions under Valerius Triarius and killing 7,000 Roman soldiers at the Battle of Zela in 67 BC. He was routed by Pompey's legions at the Battle of the Lycus in 66 BC. After this defeat, Mithridates VI fled with a small army to Colchis (modern Georgia) and then over the Caucasus Mountains to Crimea and made plans to raise yet another army to take on the Romans. His eldest living son, Machares, viceroy of Cimmerian Bosporus, was unwilling to aid his father. Mithridates had Machares killed, and Mithridates took the throne of the Bosporan Kingdom. Mithridates then ordered conscription and preparations for war. In 63 BC, Pharnaces II of Pontus, one of his sons, led a rebellion against his father, joined by Roman exiles in the core of Mithridates' Pontic army. Mithridates withdrew to the citadel in Panticapaeum, where he committed suicide. Pompey buried Mithridates in the rock-cut tombs of his ancestors in Amasya, the old capital of Pontus.

Assassination conspiracy

During the time of the First Mithridatic War, a group of Mithridates' friends plotted to kill him. These were Mynnio and Philotimus of Smyrna, and Cleisthenes and Asclepiodotus of Lesbos. Asclepiodotus changed his mind and became an informant. He arranged to have Mithridates hide under a couch to hear the plot against him. The other conspirators were tortured and executed. Mithridates also killed all of the plotters' families and friends.WEB,weblink Appian, The Mithridatic Wars 10 - Livius,

Representation of power

(File:CoinOfMithVI.jpg|thumb|A coin depicting Mithridates VI)Where his ancestors pursued philhellenism as a means of attaining respectability and prestige among the Hellenistic kingdoms, Mithridates VI made use of Hellenism as a political tool. Both Greeks, Romans and Asians were welcome at his court. As protector of Greek cities on the Black Sea and in Asia against barbarism, Mithridates VI logically became protector of Greece and Greek culture, and used this stance in his clashes with Rome.McGing, p. 64 Strabo mentions that Chersonesus buckled under the pressure of the barbarians and asked Mithridates VI to become its protector (7.4.3. c.308). The most impressive symbol of Mithridates VI's approbation with Greece (Athens in particular) appears at Delos: a heroon dedicated to the Pontic king in 102/1 by the Athenian Helianax, a priest of Poseidon Aisios.McGing, p. 90 A dedication at Delos, by Dicaeus, a priest of Sarapis, was made in 94/93 BC on behalf of the Athenians, Romans, and "King Mithridates Eupator Dionysus".McGing, pp. 91–92 Greek styles mixed with Persian elements also abound on official Pontic coins – Perseus was favored as an intermediary between both worlds, East and West.McGing, pp. 93–102Certainly influenced by Alexander the Great, Mithridates VI extended his propaganda from "defender" of Greece to the "great liberator" of the Greek world as war with the Roman Republic became inevitable. The Romans were easily translated into "barbarians", in the same sense as the Persian Empire during the war with Persia in the first half of the 5th century BC and during Alexander's campaign. How many Greeks genuinely bought into this claim will never be known. It served its purpose; at least partially because of it, Mithridates VI was able to fight the First War with Rome on Greek soil, and maintain the allegiance of Greece.McGing, pp. 125–126 His campaign for the allegiance of the Greeks was aided in no small part by his enemy Sulla, who allowed his troops to sack the city of Delphi and plunder many of the city's most famous treasures to help finance his military expenses.


After Pompey defeated him in Pontus, Mithridates VI fled to the lands north of the Black Sea in the winter of 66 BC in the hope that he could raise a new army and carry on the war through invading Italy by way of the Danube. His preparations proved to be too harsh on the local nobles and populace, and they rebelled against his rule. He reportedly attempted suicide by poison. This attempt failed because of his immunity to the poison.A History of Rome, LeGlay, et al. 100 According to Appian's Roman History, he then requested his Gallic bodyguard and friend, Bituitus, to kill him by the sword:}}Cassius Dio's Roman History records a different account:}}At the behest of Pompey, Mithridates' body was later buried alongside his ancestors (in either Sinope or Amaseia).WEB,weblink The Death and Burial of Mithridates VI, 3 February 2015, Hojte, Jakob Munk,weblink" title="">weblink 3 March 2016, yes, dmy-all, Mount Mithridat in the central Kerch and the town of Yevpatoria in Crimea commemorate his name.

Mithridates' antidote

(File:De medicina V00117 00000006.tif|thumb|De medicina)In his youth, after the assassination of his father Mithridates V in 120 BC, Mithridates is said to have lived in the wilderness for seven years, inuring himself to hardship. While there, and after his accession, he cultivated an immunity to poisons by regularly ingesting sub-lethal doses of the same.McGing, p. 43 He invented a complex "universal antidote" against poisoning; several versions are described in the literature. Aulus Cornelius Celsus gives one in his De Medicina and names it Antidotum Mithridaticum, whence English mithridate.Celsus, De Medicina, Book V, 23.3. (Loeb, 1935) Pliny the Elder's version comprised 54 ingredients to be placed in a flask and matured for at least two months. After Mithridates' death in 63 BC, many imperial Roman physicians claimed to possess and improve on the original formula, which they touted as Mithradatium. In keeping with most medical practices of his era, Mithridates' anti-poison routines included a religious component; they were supervised by the Agari, a group of Scythian shamans who never left him. Mithridates was reportedly guarded in his sleep by a horse, a bull, and a stag, which would whinny, bellow, and bleat whenever anyone approached the royal bed.Mayor, Adrienne. Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World. New York, Overlook Duckworth, 2003; p. 148

Mithridates as polyglot

In Pliny the Elder's account of famous polyglots, Mithridates could speak the languages of all the twenty-two nations he governed."Mithridates, who was king of twenty-two nations, administered their laws in as many languages, and could harangue each of them, without employing an interpreter:" Pliny the Elder, Natural History, VII, 24. This reputation led to the use of Mithridates' name as title in some later works on comparative linguistics, such as Conrad Gessner's Mithridates de differentis linguis (1555), and Adelung and Vater's Mithridates oder allgemeine Sprachenkunde (1806–1817).Johann Christoph Adelung & Johann Severin Vater, Mithridates, oder allgemeine Sprachenkunde mit dem Vater Unser als Sprachprobe in bey nahe fünf hundert Sprachen und Mundarten, Mithridites was also fluent in the ancient language of the Persians and would practice it on any Persian prisoners he had not yet killed or tortured.1806–1817, Berlin, Vossische Buchlandlung, 4 volumes. Facsimile edition, Hildesheim-Nueva York, {{Interlanguage link multi|Georg Olms Verlag|de}}, 1970.

Wives, mistresses and children

Mithridates VI had wives and mistresses, by whom he had several children. The names he gave his children are a representation of his Persian and Greek heritage and ancestry.His first wife was his sister Laodice. They were married from 115/113 BC until about 90 BC. They had several children. Their sons were Mithridates, Arcathius, Machares and Pharnaces II of Pontus. Their daughters were Cleopatra of Pontus (sometimes called Cleopatra the Elder to distinguish her from her sister of the same name) and Drypetina (a diminutive form of "Drypetis"). Drypetina was Mithridates VI’s most devoted daughter. Her baby teeth never fell out, so she had a double set of teeth.His second wife was a Greek Macedonian Noblewoman, Monime. They were married from about 89/88 BC until 72/71 BC and had a daughter, Athenais, who married King Ariobarzanes II of Cappadocia. His next two wives were also Greek: he was married to his third wife Berenice of Chios, from 86–72/71 BC, and to his fourth wife Stratonice of Pontus, from sometime after 86 to 63 BC. Stratonice bore Mithridates a son Xiphares. His fifth wife is unknown. His sixth wife Hypsicratea was Caucasian, and they were married from an unknown date to 63 BC.One of his mistresses was the Galatian Celtic Princess Adobogiona the Elder. By Adobogiona, Mithridates had two children: a son called Mithridates I of the Bosporus and a daughter called Adobogiona the Younger.His sons born from his concubines were Cyrus, Xerxes, Darius, Ariarathes IX of Cappadocia, Artaphernes, Oxathres, Phoenix (Mithridates’ son by a mistress of Syrian descent), and Exipodras, named after kings of the Persian Empire, which he claimed ancestry from. His daughters born from his concubines were Nysa, Eupatra, Cleopatra the Younger, Mithridatis and Orsabaris. Nysa and Mithridates, were engaged to the Egyptian Greek Pharaohs Ptolemy XII Auletes and his brother Ptolemy of Cyprus.In 63 BC, when the Kingdom of Pontus was annexed by the Roman general Pompey, the remaining sisters, wives, mistresses, and children of Mithridates VI in Pontus were put to death. Plutarch, writing in his Lives (Pompey, v.45), states that Mithridates' sister and five of his children took part in Pompey's triumphal procession on his return to Rome in 61 BC.The Cappadocian Greek nobleman and high priest of the temple-state of Comana, Cappadocia, Archelaus was descended from Mithridates VI.WEB,weblink Berenice IV, He claimed to be a son of Mithridates VI;Strabo 17.1.11 but the chronology suggests that Archelaus may actually have been a maternal grandson of the Pontic king, and the son of Mithridates VI’s favorite general, who may have married one of the daughters of Mithridates VI.Mayor, p. 114


  • James Joyce alludes to Mithridates' immunity to poison in his love poem Though I Thy Mithridates Were.
  • The poet A. E. Housman alludes to Mithridates' antidote in the final stanza of s:Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff|"Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff"]] in A Shropshire Lad:
  • Dorothy L. Sayers' detective novel Strong Poison, from 1929, has the protagonist, Lord Peter Wimsey, solve a case of murder by arsenic poisoning, and quotes the last line from Housman's poem.
  • In The Grass Crown, the second in the Masters of Rome series, Colleen McCullough describes in detail the various aspects of his life – the murder of Laodice, and the Roman Consul who, quite alone and surrounded by the Pontic army, ordered Mithridates to leave Cappadocia immediately and go back to Pontus – which he did.
  • The Last King is an historical novel by Michael Curtis Ford about the King and his exploits against the Roman Republic.
  • Mithridates is a major character in Poul Anderson's novel The Golden Slave.
  • In the novel Mithridates is Dead (Spanish: Mitrídates ha muerto), Ignasi Ribó traces parallels between the historical figures of Mithridates and Osama Bin Laden. Within a postmodern narrative of the making and unmaking of history, Ribó suggests that the September 11 attacks on the United States closely paralleled the massacre of Roman citizens in 88 B.C. and prompted similar consequences, namely the imperialist overstretch of the American and Roman republics respectively. Furthermore, he suggests that the ensuing Mithridatic Wars were one of the key factors in the demise of Rome's republican regime, as well as in the spread of the Christian faith in Asia Minor and eventually throughout the whole Roman Empire. The novel implies that the current events in the world might have similar unforeseen consequences.
  • In The King's Gambit, the first volume of the SPQR series by John Maddox Roberts, the protagonist, Decius Metellus, becomes aware of a plot between Pompey and Crassus to relieve Lucullus of command and allow Pompey to lead the final campaign against Mithradates. At the time of this novel, Decius reflects that Mithradates has successfully resisted Roman military campaigns for so long that the public has built him up as some kind of superhuman bogeyman.
  • Mithridates and his wife Monime are characters in Steven Saylor's 2015 novel Wrath of the Furies.

See also


{{reflist|30em}}{hide}Library resources box |by=no |onlinebooks=yes |others=yes |about=yes |label=Mithridates VI of Pontus
|viaf= |lccn= |lcheading= |wikititle= {edih}


  • ENCYCLOPEDIA, Pontus, McGing, Brian,weblink Encyclopaedia Iranica, 2004, harv,
  • ENCYCLOPEDIA, Mithridates VI, McGing, Brian,weblink Encyclopaedia Iranica, 2009, harv,
  • ENCYCLOPEDIA, Personal names, Iranian iii. Achaemenid Period, Schmitt, Rüdiger,weblink Encyclopaedia Iranica, 2005, harv,
  • BOOK, Mayor, Adrienne, The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy, 2009, Princeton University Press, 9780691150260,weblink 1-448, harv,

Further reading

  • Duggan, Alfred, He Died Old: Mithradates Eupator, King of Pontus, 1958.
  • Ford, Michael Curtis, The Last King: Rome's Greatest Enemy, New York, Thomas Dunne Books, 2004, {{ISBN|0-312-27539-0}}
  • McGing, B. C. The Foreign Policy of Mithridates VI Eupator, King of Pontus (Mnemosyne, Supplements: 89), Leiden, Brill Academic Publishers, 1986, {{ISBN|90-04-07591-7}} [paperback]
  • Cohen, Getzel M., Hellenistic Settlements in Europe, the Islands and Asia Minor (Berkeley, 1995).
  • Ballesteros Pastor, Luis. Mitrídates Eupátor, rey del Ponto. Granada: Servicio de Publicaciones de la Universidad de Granada, 1996, {{ISBN|84-338-2213-6}}.
  • Ribó, Ignasi, Mitrídates ha muerto, Madrid, Bubok, 2010, {{ISBN|978-84-9981-114-7}} (free e-book)
  • Mayor, Adrienne, The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy (Princeton, PUP, 2009).
  • Madsen, Jesper Majbom, Mithradates VI : Rome's perfect enemy. In: Proceedings of the Danish Institute in Athens Vol. 6, 2010, p. 223-237.
  • Ballesteros Pastor, Luis, Pompeyo Trogo, Justino y Mitrídates. Comentario al Epítome de las Historias Filípicas (37,1,6 - 38,8,1) (Spudasmata 154), Hildesheim-Zürich-New York, Georg Olms Verlag, 2013, {{ISBN|978-3-487-15070-3}}.

External links

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