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Appian's History of Rome: The Mithridatic Wars 101-105


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)
[101] [66] [King]Mithridates[VI Eupator of Pontus] made his escape through the cliffs with his attendants only, and fled. He fell in with a troop of mercenary horse and about 3,000 foot who accompanied him directly to the castle of Simorex, where he had accumulated a large sum of money. Here he gave rewards and a year's pay to those who had fled with him.

Taking 6,000 talents he hastened to the headwaters of the Euphrates, intending to proceed thence to Colchis. As his march was uninterrupted, he crossed the Euphrates on the fourth day. Three days later he put in order and armed the forces that had accompanied or joined him, and entered Chotene in Armenia. There the Choteneans and Iberians tried with darts and slings to prevent him from coming in, but he advanced and proceeded to the river Apsarus.




(Some people think that the Iberians of Asia were the ancestors of the Iberians of Europe; others think that the former emigrated from the latter; still others think they merely have the same name, as their customs and languages are not similar.)

[66-65] Mithridates wintered at Dioscurias in Colchis, which city, the Colchians think, preserves the remembrance of the sojourn there of the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, with the Argonautic expedition. Mithridates here made no small plans, nor yet plans suitable for a fugitive, but conceived the idea of making the circuit of the whole Pontic coast, passing from Pontus to the Scythians around the Sea of Azov and thus arriving at the Bosphorus.[1] He intended to take away the kingdom of Machares, his ungrateful son, and confront the Romans once more; wage war against them from the side of Europe while they were in Asia, and to put between them as a dividing line the strait which is believed to have been called the Bosphorus because Io swam across it when she was changed into a cow and fled from the jealousy of Hera.[2]

[102] [65] Such was the chimerical undertaking that Mithridates now set about. He imagined, nevertheless, that he should accomplish it. He pushed on through strange and warlike Scythian tribes, partly by permission, partly by force, for although a fugitive and in misfortune he was still respected and feared. He passed through the country of the Heniochi, who received him willingly.

The Achaeans, who resisted him, he put to flight. These, it is said, when returning from the siege of Troy, were driven by a storm into the Euxine sea and underwent great sufferings there at the hands of the barbarians because they were Greeks; and when they sent to their home for ships and their request was disregarded, they conceived such a hatred for the Greek race that whenever they captured any Greeks they immolated them, Scythian fashion. At first in their anger they served all in this way, afterwards only the handsomest ones, and finally a few chosen by lot. So much for the Achaeans of Scythia.

Mithridates finally reached the Azov country, of which there were many princes, all of whom received him, escorted him, and exchanged presents with him, on account of the fame of his deeds, his empire, and his power, which were still not to be despised. He formed alliances with them in contemplation of other and more novel exploits, such as marching through Thrace to Macedonia, through Macedonia to Pannonia, and passing over the Alps into Italy. With the more powerful of these princes he cemented the alliance by giving his daughters in marriage.

When his son, Machares, learned that he had made such a journey in so short a time among savage tribes, and through the 'Scythian Gates', which had never been passed by any one before, he sent envoys to him to defend himself, saying that he was under the necessity of conciliating the Romans. But, knowing his father's in. exorable temper, he fled to the Pontic Chersonesus, burning the ships to prevent his father from pursuing him. When the latter procured other ships and sent them after him, he anticipated his fate by killing himself. Mithridates put to death all of his own friends whom he had left here in places of authority when he went away, but those of his son he dismissed unharmed, as they had acted under the obligations of private friendship. This was the state of things with Mithridates.


Prometheus freed by Heracles. Group from Pergamon. Altes Museum, Berlin (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering.
Prometheus freed by Heracles. Group from Pergamon (Altes Museum, Berlin)

[103] [The Roman commander Gnaeus] Pompey pursued Mithridates in his flight as far as Colchis, but he thought that his foe would never get around to Pontus or to the sea of Azov, or undertake anything great even if he should escape. He advanced to Colchis in order to gain knowledge of the country visited by the Argonauts, Castor and Pollux, and Heracles, and especially he desired to see the place where they say that Prometheus was fastened to Mount Caucasus.[3] Many streams issue from Caucasus bearing gold-dust so fine as to be invisible. The inhabitants put sheepskins with shaggy fleece into the stream and thus collect the floating particles. Perhaps the golden fleece of [the mythological king] Aetes was of this kind.



All the neighboring tribes accompanied Pompey on his exploring expedition. Only Oroeses, king of the Albanians, and Artoces king of the Iberians, placed 70,000 men in ambush for him at the river Cyrus, which empties into the Caspian Sea by twelve navigable mouths, receiving the waters of several large streams, the greatest of which is the Araxes. Pompey, gaining knowledge of the ambush, bridged the river and drove the barbarians into a dense forest.

These people are terrible forest fighters, hiding in the woods and darting out unexpectedly. Pompey surrounded this forest with his army, set it on fire, and pursued the fugitives when they ran out, until they all surrendered and brought him hostages and presents. Pompey was afterward awarded one of his triumphs at Rome for these exploits. Among the hostages and prisoners many women were found, who had suffered wounds no less than the men. These were supposed to be Amazons, but whether the Amazons are a neighboring nation, who were called to their aid at that time, or whether certain warlike women are called Amazons by the barbarians there, is not known.


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

[104] [64] On his return from that quarter Pompey marched against Armenia, making it a cause of war against Tigranes[the Great] that he had assisted Mithridates. He was now not far from the royal residence, Artaxata. Tigranes was resolved to fight no longer. He had had three sons by the daughter of Mithridates, two of whom he had himself killed - one in battle, where the son was fighting against the father, and the other in the hunting field because he had neglected to assist his father who had been thrown, but had put the diadem on his own head while the father was lying on the ground. The third one, whose name was Tigranes, had seemed to be much distressed by his father's hunting accident, and had received a crown from him, but, nevertheless, he also deserted him after a short interval, waged war against him, was defeated, and fled to Phraates, king of the Parthians, who had lately succeeded his father Sintricus, in the government of that country.

Bust of Pompey the Great. Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Pompey the Great (Louvre)

As Pompey drew near, this young Tigranes, after communicating his intentions to Phraates and receiving his approval (for Phraates also desired Pompey's friendship), took refuge with Pompey as a suppliant; and this although he was a grandson of Mithridates. Pompey's reputation among the barbarians for justice and good faith was great. Tigranes the father, trusting to it, came to Pompey unheralded to submit all his affairs to the latter's decision and to make complaint against his son. Pompey ordered tribunes and prefects of horse to meet him on the road, as an act of courtesy, but those who accompanied Tigranes feared to advance without the sanction of a herald and fled to the rear. Tigranes came forward, however, and prostrated himself before Pompey as his superior, in barbarian fashion.

There are those who relate that he was led up by lictors when sent for by Pompey. However that may be, he came and made explanations of the past, and gave to Pompey for himself 6,000 talents, and for the army fifty drachmas to each soldier, 1,000 to each centurion, and 10,000 to each tribune.

[105] Pompey pardoned him for the past, reconciled him with his son, and decided that the latter should rule Sophene and Gordyene (which are now called Lesser Armenia), and the father the rest of Armenia, and that at his death the son should succeed him in that also. He required that Tigranes should at once give up the territory that he had gained by war. Accordingly he gave up the whole of Syria from the Euphrates to the sea; for he held that and a part of Cilicia, which he had taken from [the Seleucid king] Antiochus[X Eusebes], surnamed Pius.

Those Armenians who deserted Tigranes on the road, when he was going to Pompey, because they were afraid, persuaded his son, who was still with Pompey, to make an attempt upon his father. Pompey seized him and put him in chains. As he still tried to stir up the Parthians against Pompey, he was led in the latter's triumph and afterward put to death. And now Pompey, thinking that the whole war was at an end, founded a city on the place where he had overcome Mithridates in battle, which is called Nicopolis [city of victory] from that affair, and is situated in Lesser Armenia.

To Ariobarzanes [I Philoromaeus] he gave back the kingdom of Cappadocia and added to it Sophene and Gordyene, which he had partitioned to the son of Tigranes, and which are now administered as parts of Cappadocia. He gave him also the city of Castabala and some others in Cilicia. Ariobarzanes entrusted his whole kingdom to his son while he was still living. Many changes took place until the time of Caesar Augustus, under whom this kingdom, like many others, became a Roman province.[4]






Appian   :   Roman History   :   Mithridatic wars   :   part 22





Note 1:
The Strait of Kertch between the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.

Note 2:
According to the old legend, the supreme god Zeus had a lover named Io, who was changed into a cow to prevent Zeus' wife Hero from discovering the affair. However, Hera found out and sent a mosquito that forced the cow to flee from Greece to Asia. The strait where she crossed from Europe to the opposite continent, was called Bosphorus, "place where a cow crossed".

Note 3:
The mythological demi-god Prometheus had been punished by Zeus, and had been tied to a rock. Every day, an eagle visited Prometheus and devoured his liver. Pompey must have known that his great example, Alexander the Great, had also visited a "rock of Prometheus" (more...).

Note 4:
Cappadocia was in fact added to the Roman Empire in 17 CE by the emperor Tiberius. Appian is probably confusing Cappadocia with Galatia, which was added by Augustus in 25 BCE.





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