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Appian's History of Rome: The Mithridatic Wars 66-70

Legionary standard (of XXX Ulpia Traiana reenactment group). Photo Jona Lendering.
Appian of Alexandria (c.95-c.165) is the author of a Roman History and one of the most underestimated of all Greek historians. Although only his books on the Roman Civil Wars survive in their entirety, large parts of other books have also come down to us. Fortunately, the Mithridatic wars belong to these better preserved parts. They are a very valuable source for the history of the Roman expansion in what is now called Turkey.

The translation was made by Horace White; notes and additions in green by Jona Lendering.

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King Mithridates VI of Pontus as Heracles. Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Mithridates VI as Heracles (Louvre)
[66] [83] The news of this brilliant and decisive victory spread quickly and caused many to change sides to [king] Mithridates[VI Eupator of Pontus]. The latter drove all of [Lucius Licinius] Murena's garrisons out of Cappadocia and offered sacrifice to Zeus Stratius on a lofty pile of wood on a high hill, according to the fashion of his country, which is as follows. First, the kings themselves carry wood to the heap. Then they make a smaller pile encircling the other one, on which they pour milk, honey, wine, oil, and various kinds of incense. A banquet is spread on the ground for those present (as at the sacrifices of the Persian kings at Pasargadae) and then they set fire to the wood. The height of the flame is such that it can be seen at a distance of 180 kilometers from the sea, and they say that nobody can come near it for several days on account of the heat. Mithridates performed a sacrifice of this kind according to the custom of his country.

[82] Sulla thought that it was not right to make war against Mithridates when he had not violated the treaty. Accordingly, Aulus Gabinius was sent to tell Murena that the former order, that he should not fight Mithridates, was to be taken seriously, and to reconcile Mithridates and [king] Ariobarzanes[I Philoromaeus] with each other. At a conference between them Mithridates betrothed his little daughter, four years old, to Ariobarzanes, and improved the occasion to stipulate that he should not only retain that part of Cappadocia which he then held, but have another part in addition. Then he gave a banquet to all, with prizes of gold for those who should excel in drinking, eating, jesting, singing, and so forth, as was customary, in which Gabinius was the only one who did not engage. Thus the second war between Mithridates and the Romans, lasting about three years, came to an end.

[67] [80] As Mithridates was now at leisure he subdued the tribes of the Bosphorus [1] and appointed Machares, one of his sons, king over them. Then he fell upon the Achaeans beyond Colchis (who are supposed to be descended from those who lost their way when returning from the Trojan War), but lost two divisions of his army, partly by open war, partly by the severity of the climate, and partly by stratagem. When he returned home he sent ambassadors to Rome to sign the agreements.

Coin of king Tigranes II the Great of Armenia. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Marco Prins.
Tigranes II (British Museum, London)

At the same time Ariobarzanes, either of his own notion or at the prompting of others, sent thither to complain that Cappadocia had not been delivered up to him, but that a greater part of it was yet retained by Mithridates. Sulla commanded Mithridates to give up Cappadocia. He did so, and [78] then sent another embassy to sign the agreements. But now Sulla had just died, and as the Senate was otherwise occupied the praetors did not admit them.

So Mithridates persuaded his son-in-law, [king]Tigranes[the Great of Armenia], to make an incursion into Cappadocia as though it were on his own account. This artifice did not deceive the Romans. The Armenian king threw, as it were, a drag net around Cappadocia and made a haul of about 300,000 people, whom he carried off to his own country and settled them, with others, in a certain place where he had first assumed the diadem of Armenia and which he had called after himself, Tigranocerta, or the city of Tigranes.

[68] [76] While these things were taking place in Asia, Sertorius, the governor of Spain, incited that province and all the neighboring country to rebel against the Romans, and selected from his associates a senate in imitation of that of Rome. Two members of his faction, Lucius Magius and Lucius Fannius, proposed to Mithridates to ally himself with Sertorius, holding out the hope that he would acquire a large part of the province of Asia and of the neighboring nations.

[75] Mithridates fell in with this suggestion and sent ambassadors to Sertorius. The latter introduced them to his senate and felicitated himself that his fame had extended to Pontus, and that he could now besiege the Roman power in both the Orient and the Occident. So he made a treaty with Mithridates to give him Asia, Bithynia, Paphlagonia, Cappadocia, and Galatia, and sent Marcus Varius to him as a general and the two Luciuses, Magius and Fannius, as counselors.

With their assistance Mithridates began his third and last war against the Romans, in the course of which he lost his entire kingdom, and Sertorius lost his life in Spain. Two generals were sent against Mithridates from Rome; the first, [Lucius Licinius] Lucullus, the same who had served as prefect of the fleet under [Lucius Cornelius] Sulla; the second, [Gnaeus] Pompey, by whom the whole of his dominions, and the adjoining territory as far as the river Euphrates, under the pretext and impetus of the Mithridatic war, were brought under Roman sway.

Third Mithridatic War

[69] Mithridates had been in collision with the Romans so often that he knew that this war, so inexcusably and hastily begun, would be an implacable one. He made every preparation with the thought that all was at stake. The remainder of the summer and the whole of the winter he spent in cutting timber, building ships, and making arms. He distributed 2,000,000 medimni of grain along the coast. Besides his former forces he had for allies the Chalybes, Armenians, Scythians, Taurians, Achaeans, Heniochi, Leucosyrians, and those who occupy the territory about the river Thermodon, called the country of the Amazons. These additions to his former strength were from Asia.

From Europe he drew of the Sarmatian tribes, both the Basilidae and the Iazyges, the Coralli, and those Thracians who dwelt along the Danube and on the Rhodope and Haemus mountains, and besides these the Bastarnae, the bravest nation of all. Altogether Mithridates recruited a fighting force of about 140,000 foot and 16,000 horse. A great crowd of road-makers, baggage carriers, and sutlers followed.

[70] [74] At the beginning of spring Mithridates made trial of his navy and sacrificed to Zeus Stratius in the customary manner, and also to Poseidon by plunging a chariot with white horses into the sea. Then he hastened against Paphlagonia with his two generals, Taxiles and Hermocrates, in command of his army. When he arrived there he made a speech to his soldiers, eulogistic of his ancestors and still more so of himself, showing how his kingdom had grown to greatness from small beginnings, and how his army had never been defeated by the Romans when he was present. He accused the Romans of avarice and lust of power "to such an extent," he said, "that they had enslaved Italy and Rome itself."

He accused them of bad faith respecting the last and still existing treaty, saying that they were not willing to sign it because they were watching for an opportunity to violate it again. After thus setting forth the cause of the war he dwelt upon the composition of his army and his apparatus, upon the preoccupation of the Romans, who were waging a difficult war with Sertorius in Spain, and were torn with civil dissensions throughout Italy, "for which reason," he said, "they have allowed the sea to be overrun by pirates a long time, and have not a single ally, nor any subjects who still obey them willingly. Do you not see," he added, "some of their noblest citizens (pointing to Varius and the two Luciuses) at war with their own country and allied with us?"

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Mithridatic wars   :   part 15

Note 1:
This is not the Boshporus near modern Istanbul, but the Strait of Kertch between the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.

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