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Appian's History of Rome: The Mithridatic Wars 111-115


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)
[111] [63] When [king] Mithridates[VI Eupator of Pontus]  heard this he went out to reason with them. A part of his own guard then ran to join the deserters, but the latter refused to admit them unless they would do some irreparable deed as a proof of their fidelity, pointing at the same time to Mithridates. So they hastened to kill his horse, for he himself had fled, and at the same time saluted Pharnaces as king, as though the rebels were already victorious, and one of them brought a broad papyrus leaf from a temple and crowned him with it in place of a diadem. The king saw these things from a high portico, and he sent messenger after messenger to Pharnaces asking permission to fly in safety. When none of his messengers returned, fearing lest he should be delivered up to the Romans, he praised the bodyguards and friends who had been faithful to him and sent them to the new king, but the army killed some of them under a misapprehension as they were approaching.
Bust of Pompey the Great. Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Pompey the Great (Louvre)

Mithridates then took out some poison that he always carried next to his sword, and mixed it. There two of his daughters, who were still girls growing up together, named Mithridates and Nyssa, who had been betrothed to the kings of [Ptolemaic] Egypt and of Cyprus, asked him to let them have some of the poison first, and insisted strenuously and prevented him from drinking it until they had taken some and swallowed it. The drug took effect on them at once; but upon Mithridates, although he walked around rapidly to hasten its action, it had no effect, because he had accustomed himself to other drugs by continually trying them as a means of protection against poisoners. These are still called the Mithridatic drugs.

Seeing a certain Bituitus there, an officer of the Gauls, he said to him, "I have profited much from your right arm against my enemies. I shall profit from it most of all if you will kill me, and save from the danger of being led in a Roman triumph one who has been an autocrat so many years, and the ruler of so great a kingdom, but who is now unable to die by poison because, like a fool, he has fortified himself against the poison of others. Although I have kept watch and ward against all the poisons that one takes with his food, I have not provided against that domestic poison, always the most dangerous to kings, the treachery of army, children, and friends." Bituitus, thus appealed to, rendered the king the service that he desired.

[112] So died Mithridates, who was the sixteenth in descent from Darius, the son of Hystaspes, king of the Persians, and the eighth from that Mithridates who left the Macedonians and acquired the kingdom of Pontus. He lived sixty-eight or sixty-nine years, and of these he reigned fifty-seven, for the kingdom came to him when he was an orphan. He subdued the neighboring barbarians and many of the Scythians, and waged a formidable war against the Romans for forty years, during which he frequently conquered Bithynia and Cappadocia, besides making incursions into the Roman province of Asia and into Phrygia, Paphlagonia, Galatia, and Macedonia. He invaded Greece, where he performed many remarkable exploits, and ruled the sea from Cilicia to the Adriatic until [Lucius Cornelius] Sulla confined him again to his paternal kingdom after destroying 160,000 of his soldiers.

Notwithstanding these great losses he renewed the war without difficulty. He fought with the greatest generals of his time. He was vanquished by Sulla, [Lucius Licinius] Lucullus, and [Gnaeus] Pompey, although several times he got the better of them also. Lucius Cassius, Quintus Oppius, and Manius Aquilius he took prisoners and carried them around with him. The last he killed because he was the cause of the war. The others he surrendered to Sulla. He defeated [Gaius Flavius] Fimbria, [Lucius Licinius] Murena, the consul[Marcus Aurelius] Cotta, Fabius, and [Gaius Valerius] Triarius.

He was always high-spirited and indomitable even in misfortunes. Until finally overthrown he left no avenue of attack against the Romans untried. He made alliances with the Samnites and the Gauls, and he sent legates to Sertorius in Spain. He was often wounded by enemies and by conspirators, but he never desisted from anything on that account, even when he was an old man. None of the conspiracies ever escaped his detection, not even the last one, but he voluntarily overlooked it and perished in consequence of it - so ungrateful is the wickedness that has been once pardoned.

He was bloodthirsty and cruel to all - the slayer of his mother, his brother, three sons, and three daughters.

He had a large frame, as his armor, which he sent to Nemea and to Delphi, shows, and was so strong that he rode horseback and hurled the javelin to the last, and could ride 180 kilometers in one day, changing horses at intervals. He used to drive a chariot with sixteen horses at once. He cultivated Greek learning, and thus became acquainted with the religious cult of Greece, and was fond of music. He was abstemious and patient of labor for the most part, and yielded only to pleasures with women.

[113] Such was the end of Mithridates, who bore the surnames of Eupator and Dionysus. When the Romans heard of his death they held a festival because they were delivered from a troublesome enemy. Pharnaces sent his father's corpse to Pompey at Sinope in a trireme, together with the persons who captured Manius, and many hostages, both Greek and barbarian, and asked that he should be allowed to rule either his paternal kingdom, or Bosphorus alone, which his brother, Machares, had received from Mithridates.

Pompey provided for the expenses of the funeral of Mithridates and directed his servants to give his remains a royal interment, and to place them in the tombs of the kings in Sinope, because he admired his great achievements and considered him the first of the kings of his time.

Pharnaces, for delivering Italy from much trouble, was inscribed as a friend and ally of the Romans, and was given Bosphorus as his kingdom, except Phanagoria, whose inhabitants were made free and independent because they were the first to resist Mithridates when he was recovering his strength, collecting ships, creating a new army and military posts, and because they led others to revolt and were the cause of his final collapse.

[114] Pompey, having cleaned out the robber dens, and prostrated the greatest king then living, in one and the same war, and having fought successful battles, besides those of the Pontic war, with Colchians, Albanians, Iberians, Armenians, Medes, Arabs, Jews, and other eastern nations, extended the Roman sway as far as Egypt. But he did not advance into Egypt, although the king of that country invited him there to suppress a sedition, and sent gifts to himself and money and clothing for his whole army.

He either feared the greatness of this still prosperous kingdom, or wished to guard against the envy of his enemies, or the warning voice of oracles, or for other reasons which I will publish in my Egyptian History. He let some of the subjugated nations go free and made them allies. Others he placed at once under Roman rule, and others he distributed to kings - to Tigranes, Armenia; to Pharnaces, Bosphorus; to Ariobarzanes, Cappadocia and the other provinces before mentioned. To Antiochus of Commagene he turned over Seleucia and the parts of Mesopotamia that he conquered. He made Deiotarus and others tetrarchs of the Gallograecians, who are now the Galatians bordering on Cappadocia. He made Attalus prince of Paphlagonia and Aristarchus prince of Colchis. He also appointed Archelaus to the priesthood of the goddess worshipped at Comana, which is a royal prerogative. Castor of Phanagoria was inscribed as a friend of the Roman people. Much territory and money were bestowed upon others.

[115] He founded cities also - in Lesser Armenia Nicopolis, named for his victory; in Pontus Eupatoria, which Mithridates Eupator had built and named after himself, but destroyed because it had received the Romans. Pompey rebuilt it and named it Magnopolis. In Cappadocia he rebuilt Mazaca, which had been completely ruined by the war. He restored other towns in many places, that had been destroyed or damaged, in Pontus, Palestine, Coele Syria, and Cilicia, in which he had settled the greater part of the pirates, and where the city formerly called Soli is now known as Pompeiopolis.

The city of Talauri Mithridates used as a storehouse of furniture. Here were found 2,000 drinking-cups made of onyx welded with gold, and many cups, wine-coolers, and drinking-horns, also ornamental couches and chairs, bridles for horses, and trappings for their breasts and shoulders, all ornamented in like manner with precious stones and gold. The quantity of this store was so great that the inventory of it occupied thirty days. Some of these things had been inherited from Darius, the son of Hystaspes; others came from the kingdom of the Ptolemies, having been deposited by Cleopatra at the island of Cos and given by the inhabitants to Mithridates; still others had been made or collected by Mithridates himself, as he was a lover of the beautiful in furniture as well as in other things.






Appian   :   Roman History   :   Mithridatic wars   :   part 24




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