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Mithridates & the Roman Conquests in the East, 90-61 BCE

The Vast Power of Mithridates.

[Davis Introduction]:

In Mithridates, king of Pontus (reigned 120 to 63 BCE), the Romans found their most formidable enemy, save only Hannibal. That he was a foe worthy to contend with Sulla, Lucullus, and Pompey is testified to in the following selection from Appian. In conquering Mithridates the Romans, almost against their wish, were forced to conquer most of the nearer Orient---especially all of Asia Minor and Syria---and to come face to face with Parthia. When at last Mithridates had been overthrown the Romans called the victory over him "The Great Victory" and Pompey, his conqueror, Magnus, or "The Great" - on account of the magnitude and intensity of his achievement.

Appian, Mithridatic Wars, 118-119

Many times Mithridates had over 400 ships of his own, 50,000 cavalry, and 250,000 infantry, with engines and arms in proportion. For allies he had the king of Armenia and the princes of the Scythian tribes around the Euxine and the Sea of Azov and beyond, as far as the Thracian Bosphorus. He held communication with the leaders of the Roman civil wars, which were then fiercely raging, and with those who were inciting insurrections in Spain. He established friendly relations with the Gauls for the purpose of invading Italy.

From Cilicia to the Pillars of Hercules he also filled the sea with pirates, who stopped all commerce and navigation between cities, and caused severe famine for a long time. In short, he left nothing within the power of man undone or untried to start the greatest possible movement, extending from the Orient to the Occident, to vex, so to speak, the whole world, which was warred upon, tangled in alliances, harassed by pirates, or vexed by the neighborhood of the warfare. Such and so diversified was this one war against Mithridates, but in the end it brought the greatest gain to the Romans; for it pushed the boundaries of their dominion from the setting of the sun to the river Euphrates.

Lucullus's Triumph over Mithridates.

[Davis Introduction]:

Lucullus (died about 56 B.C.) would have conquered Mithridates had not Pompey been sent out (in 66 B.C.) to supersede him. As it was, he brought back from the East enough wealth for a magnificent triumph.

Plutarch, Life of Lucullus, xxxvii:

The pomp [of Lucullus' triumph] proved not so wonderful or so wearisome with the length of the procession and the number of things carried in it, but consisted chiefly in vast quantities of arms and machines of the king's [i.e., Mithridates], with which he adorned the Flaminian circus, a spectacle by no means despicable. In his progress there passed by a few horsemen in heavy armor, ten chariots armed with scythes, sixty friends and officers of the king's, and a hundred and ten brazen-beaked ships of war, which were conveyed along with a golden image of Mithridates six feet high, a shield set with precious stones, twenty loads of silver vessels, and thirty-two of golden cups, armor, and money, all carried by men. Besides which, eight mules were laden with golden couches, fifty-six with bullion, and a hundred and seven with coined silver, little less than two million seven hundred thousand pieces. There were tablets, also, with inscriptions, stating what moneys he gave Pompey for prosecuting the piratic war, what he delivered into the treasury, and what he gave to every soldier, which was nine hundred and fifty drachmas each [Arkenberg: about $715 in 1998 dollars]. After all which he nobly feasted the city and adjoining villages.

Pompey's Conquest of the East.

[Davis Introduction]:

Pompey is usually overshadowed in most histories by his greater rival, Caesar, but he won marked successes along certain lines. The greatest thing that he did was to consolidate and organize the Roman power in Asia Minor, Syria, and Palestine. How important this work was, and how magnificent was the triumph that Pompey celebrated in Rome (September 30th, 61 B.C.) is told by Appian.

Appian, Mithridatic Wars, 114-119:

Pompeius Magnus [i.e., Pompey], having cleaned out the robber dens, and prostrated the greatest king living [Mithridates] 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. He let some of the subjugated nations go free, and made them allies. Others he placed at once under Roman rule; still others he distributed to various vassal-kings.

He founded cities also: in Lesser Armenia was 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 without a fight) Pompeius Magnus rebuilt, 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 settled the greater part of the pirates he had conquered, and where the city formerly called Soli is now known as Pompeiopolis. The city of Talauri [in Pontus] Mithridates had used as a store house of furniture. Here were found 2000 drinking cups made of onyx welded with gold, and many cups, wine coolers, and drinking horns, bridles for horses, etc. . . . all ornamented in like manner with gold and precious stones The quantity of this store was so great that the inventory of it occupied thirty days. These things had been inherited from Darius the Great of Persia and other mighty rulers.

At the end of the winter [63-62 B.C.] Pompey distributed rewards to the army, 1500 Attic drachmas [Arkenberg: about $3857 in 1998 dollars] to each soldier, and in like proportion to the officers, the whole, it was said, amounting to 16,000 talents [Arkenberg: about $229 million in 1998 dollars]. Then he marched to Ephesus, embarked for Italy, and hastened to Rome, having dismissed his soldiers at Brundisium to their homes, by which act his popularity was greatly increased among the Romans.

As he approached the city he was met by successive processions, first of youths, farthest from the city; then bands of men of different ages came out as far as they severally could walk; last of all came the Senate, which was lost in wonder at his exploits, for no one had ever before vanquished so powerful an enemy and at the same time brought so many great nations under subjection and extended the Roman rule to the Euphrates.

He was awarded a triumph exceeding in brilliancy any that had gone before. It occupied two successive days; and many nations were represented in the procession from Pontus, Armenia, Cappadocia, Cilicia, all the peoples of Syria, besides Albanians, Heniochi, Achaeans, Scythians, and Eastern Iberians; 700 complete ships were brought into the harbor; in the triumphal procession were two-horse carriages and litters laden with gold or with other ornaments of various kinds, also the couch of Darius [the Great], the son of Hystaspes, the throne and scepter of Mithridates Eupator himself, and his image, eight cubits high, made of solid gold, and 75,000,000 drachmae of silver coin [Arkenberg: about $193 million in 1998 dollars]. The number of wagons carrying arms was infinite and the number of prows of ships. After these came the multitude of captives and pirates, none of them bound, but all arrayed in their native costume.

Before Pompey himself were led the satraps, sons and generals of the kings against whom he had fought, who were present---some having been captured, some given as hostages---to the number of three hundred and twenty-four. Among them were five sons of Mithridates, and two daughters; also Aristobulus, king of the Jews; the tyrants of the Cilicians, and other potentates. There were carried in the procession images of those who were not present, of Tigranes king of Armenia, and of Mithridates, representing them as fighting, as vanquished, and as fleeing. Even the besieging of Mithridates and his silent flight by night were represented. Finally, it was shown how he died, and the daughters who perished with him were pictured also, and there were figures of the sons and daughters who died before him, and images of the barbarian gods decked out in the fashion of their countries. A tablet was borne, also, inscribed thus:

Ships with brazen beaks captured dccc:
Cities founded
  In Cappadocia viii:
  In Cilicia and coele-syria xx:
  In Palestine the one now called seleucis.
Kings conquered:
  Tigranes the Armenian:
  Artoces the Iberian:
  Oroezes the Albanian:
  Aretas the Nabataean:
  Darius the Mede:
  Antiochus of Commagene.

Pompey himself was borne in a chariot studded with gems, wearing, it is said, the cloak of Alexander the Great, if any one can believe that. This was supposed to have been found among the possessions of Mithridates. . . . His chariot was followed by the officers who had shared the campaigns with him, some on horseback, and others on foot. When he reached the Capitol, he did not put any prisoners to death, as had been customary at other triumphs, but sent them all home at the public expense, except the kings. Of these Aristobulus alone was shortly put to death, and Tigranes son of Tigranes the king of Armenia some time later.


William Stearns Davis, ed., Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 118-120, 123-127

Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton.

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