Mithridatic Successor
89-47 BC

By Ian Armistead, Jim Brown and Gareth Harding

This list covers the armies of Mithridates VI of Pontus and his son Pharnaces II at the time of their wars with Rome.

In antiquity Pontus encompassed an area of Cappadocia on the Black Sea coast east of the river Halys. This region has a steep, rocky coast with rivers that cascade through the gorges and few coastal plains. The interior is high , wild and desolate; separate from the coast in every way.

In 183BC Sinope, a Greek city on the Black Sea, became the capital of the kingdom. The kingdom retained cultural traditions from both east and west. From Sinope the rulers of Pontus  showed a Greek face to the Greek world and a Persian face to the Persian world. Royal propaganda claimed heritage both from Persian and Greek rulers, including Cyrus, Darius I, Seleucus I and Alexander the Great.

Mithridates’ father died when he was a boy and his mother Laodice ruled during his minority. His mother seemed to develop a taste for power and showed few signs of giving up the throne willingly. Mithridates finally deposed his mother and had her imprisoned about 115 BC. To further complicate his family affairs he married his sister—also Laodice. Having sorted out his home life he began to build his empire unencumbered by Roman interference—the Romans being distracted with their own Civil Wars at the time.

The ancient writer Appian informs us that the following peoples provided contingents to the Pontic army: Colchians, Greeks living around the Black Sea, Bastarnae, Taurians, Thracians, Sarmatians, Bithynians, Cappadocians, Paphlagonians, Phrygians, Chalybians, Armenians, Scythians, Taurians, Heniochi, Leucosyrians, plus the Galatians of Asia.  From occupied Greece, troops were raised from Achaeans, Lacedaemonians, and all of Boeotia.  In addition, Romans came to Pontus as political exiles and drew former Roman troops to them.

1st and second wars  89-82BC. Mithridates overran Asia Minor and liberated Greece initiating war with the Romans. In the spring of 88BC Mithridates ordered a massacre of all Romans and Italians in the conquered area in Asia. Sulla was sent east with six legions and defeated the Pontics but political considerations mitigated against a resolution of the war.

3rd war 75-63BC:  With the Sertorian revolt holding the Romans’ attention,  Mithridates seized his chance to conquer much of Asia Minor before being defeated by Lucius Licinius Lucullus. After ten years of war Mithridates marched around the Black Sea to his Bosporian Kingdom where he planned to build a new army.  However, his son Pharnaces took the opportunity to revolt and gained the support of the army.  Such was their respect for Mithridates that when ordered to kill their king his former bodyguards could only kill his horse.  After thanking his friends and those of his bodyguard who remained loyal, Mithridates took poison and, this not working, asked one of his officers to kill him instead.

Pharnaces war 47BC: Taking advantage of the Roman civil war between Caesar and Pompey, Pharnaces attempted to recreate his father’s kingdom from his base in the Bosporus. He defeated a Roman army under Domitius Calvinus and temporarily regained control of Pontus. However, Caesar led an army against  Pharnaces and finally brought Pontic ambitions to an end— sending his famous message back to Rome: ‘Veni, vidi, vici.’ I came, I saw, I conquered.