The Mithridatic Wars were three conflicts fought by Rome against the Kingdom of Pontus and its allies between 88 BC and 63 BC. They are named after Mithridates VI, the King of Pontus who initiated the hostilities after annexing the Roman province in Asia into its Pontic Empire (that came to include most of Asia Minor) and committing massacres against the local Roman population known as the Asian Vespers. As Roman troops were sent to recover the territory, they faced an uprising in Greece organized and supported by Mithridates. Mithridates was able to mastermind such general revolts against Rome and played the magistrates of the optimates party off against the magistrates of the populares party in the Roman civil wars. Nevertheless, the first war ended with a Roman victory, confirmed by the Treaty of Dardanos signed by Lucius Sulla and Mithridates. Greece was restored to Roman rule and Pontus was expected to restore the status quo ante bellum in Asia Minor.
The Roman Republic was the era of classical Roman civilization beginning with the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom, traditionally dated to 509 BC, and ending in 27 BC with the establishment of the Roman Empire. It was during this period that Rome's control expanded from the city's immediate surroundings to hegemony over the entire Mediterranean world.
The Kingdom of Pontus or Pontic Empire was a state founded by the Persian Mithridatic dynasty, which may have been directly related to Darius the Great and the Achaemenid dynasty. The kingdom was proclaimed by Mithridates I in 281 BCE and lasted until its conquest by the Roman Republic in 63 BCE. It reached its largest extent under Mithridates VI the Great, who conquered Colchis, Cappadocia, Bithynia, the Greek colonies of the Tauric Chersonesos, and for a brief time the Roman province of Asia. After a long struggle with Rome in the Mithridatic Wars, Pontus was defeated; part of it was incorporated into the Roman Republic as the province Bithynia et Pontus, and the eastern half survived as a client kingdom.
The Optimates were a conservative political faction in the late Roman Republic.
As the treaty of Dardanos was barely implemented in Asia Minor, the Roman general Murena (in charge of retaking control of Roman territory in Asia) decided to wage a second war against Pontus. The second war resulted in a Roman defeat and gave momentum to Mithridates, who then forged an alliance with Tigranes the Great, the Armenian King of Kings. Tigranes was the son-in-law of Mithridates and was in control of an Armenian empire that included territories in the Levant. Pontus won the Battle of Chalcedon (74 BC), gave support to Cilician pirates against Roman commerce, and the third war soon began.
Tigranes II, more commonly known as Tigranes the Great was King of Armenia under whom the country became, for a short time, the strongest state to Rome's east. He was a member of the Artaxiad Royal House. Under his reign, the Armenian kingdom expanded beyond its traditional boundaries, allowing Tigranes to claim the title Great King, and involving Armenia in many battles against opponents such as the Parthian and Seleucid empires, and the Roman Republic.
The Levant is an approximate historical geographical term referring to a large area in the Eastern Mediterranean, primarily in Western Asia. In its narrowest sense, it is equivalent to the historical region of Syria. In its widest historical sense, the Levant included all of the eastern Mediterranean with its islands; that is, it included all of the countries along the Eastern Mediterranean shores, extending from Greece to Cyrenaica.
The Battle of Chalcedon was a land and naval battle in 74 BC during the Third Mithridatic War. It ended in a Pontic victory.
For the third war, the Romans sent the consul Lucullus to fight against Armenia and Pontus. Lucullus won the Battle of Cabira and the Battle of Tigranocerta but his progress was nullified after the Battle of Artaxata and the Battle of Zela. Meanwhile, the campaign of Pompey against the Cilician pirates in the Mediterranean was successful and Pompey was named by the senate to replace Lucullus. Pompey's subsequent campaigns caused the collapse of the Armenian Empire in the Levant (with Roman forces taking control of Syria and Palestine) and the affirmation of Roman power over Anatolia, Pontus and nearly all the eastern Mediterranean. Tigranes surrendered and became a client king of Rome. Hunted, stripped of his possessions, and in a foreign country, Mithridates had a servant kill him. His former kingdom was combined with one of his hereditary enemies, Bithynia, to form the province of Bithynia and Pontus, which would forestall any future pretender to the throne of Pontus.
Lucius Licinius Lucullus was an optimate politician of the late Roman Republic, closely connected with Lucius Cornelius Sulla. In the culmination of over twenty years of almost continuous military and government service, he became the conqueror of the eastern kingdoms in the course of the Third Mithridatic War, exhibiting extraordinary generalship in diverse situations, most famously during the Siege of Cyzicus, 73–72 BC, and at the Battle of Tigranocerta in Armenian Arzanene, 69 BC. His command style received unusually favourable attention from ancient military experts, and his campaigns appear to have been studied as examples of skillful generalship.
The Battle of Cabira was fought in 72 or 71 BC between forces of the Roman Republic under proconsul Lucius Licinius Lucullus and those of the Kingdom of Pontus under Mithridates the Great. It was a decisive Roman victory.
The Battle of Tigranocerta was fought on 6 October 69 BC between the forces of the Roman Republic and the army of the Kingdom of Armenia led by King Tigranes the Great. The Roman force was led by Consul Lucius Licinius Lucullus, and Tigranes was defeated. As a result, Tigranes' capital city of Tigranocerta was captured by Rome.
The bellum Mithridaticum, ("Mithridatic War") referred in official Roman circles to the mandate, or warrant, issued by the Roman Senate in 88 BC pertaining to the declaration of war against Mithridates by that body. Handed at first to the consuls, it would not end until the death of Mithridates or the declaration by the Senate that it was at an end. As there were no intermissions in the warrant until the death of Mithridates in 63 BC, there was officially only one Mithridatic War. In its final phases it was taken over by the Roman Assembly, which had precedence over the Senate, and which was convinced that the Senate could not execute the warrant.
This latter change, brought about by a new law, the Lex Manilia, after Manilius, its proposer, was a marked constitutional change. It established an alternative path to power besides the consulship and the Cursus Honorum. The empire would before long be created from it.
Subsequently, historians noticed that the conduct of the war fell into three logical subdivisions. Some of them began to term these subdivisions the "First," "Second," and "Third" in the same texts in which they used the term in the singular. As the Roman Republic faded from general memory, the original legal meaning was not recognized. A few historians folded events prior to the declaration of war into the war.
Today anything to do with the war can be included under it. Hence "First Mithridatic War" is extended to include the wars between the states of Asia Minor as well as Roman support or lack of it for the parties of these wars. The officers offering this support were acting under other mandates from the Senate; to do anything not mandated was to risk criminal charges at home.
The wars within the mandate of the bellum Mithridaticum are as follows:
The First Mithridatic War (88–85 BC) began with a declaration of war by the Senate. The casus belli was the Asiatic Vespers, although some few claim that war was declared first; that is, that the Vespers were a reaction rather than a cause. Consul Lucius Cornelius Sulla having received the mandate by lot was given several legions fresh from the Social War to implement the mandate.
The First Mithridatic War was a war challenging Rome's expanding Empire and rule over the Greek world. In this conflict, the Kingdom of Pontus and many Greek cities rebelling against Rome were led by Mithridates VI of Pontus against the Roman Republic and the Kingdom of Bithynia. The war lasted five years and ended in a Roman victory which forced Mithridates to abandon all his conquests and return to Pontus. The conflict with Mithridates VI would continue in two further Mithridatic Wars.
The Asiatic Vespers refers to an infamous episode prior to the First Mithridatic War, serving as the casus belli, or immediate cause of the war. Rome had been asked to arbitrate long-standing disputes between the Kingdom of Bithynia and the Kingdom of Pontus, which were located side-by-side on the south shore of the Black Sea. The ruling families of each had descended from Persian satrapies unincorporated into the empire of Alexander the Great. Roman troops had been drawn into Anatolia as allies of the Republic of Rhodes, which had holdings there. Now that they were there, the two kings decided to ask the Roman Senate to settle their dispute. After deliberation the Senate decided to back Bithynia. The king of Pontus, Mithridates VI, hitherto a friend of Rome, whose ancestors had sent ships to help it in the Third Punic War, was willing to accept this decision. The Senate's control over its troops in the field, however, was minimal. At the instigation of the soldiers, the Roman officers in Anatolia began to urge the Bithynians to ravage Pontus, claiming the decree of the Senate had created an armed conflict. It had not. The Senate had no such intent. It had instructed the army that in the event of war between Bithynia and Pontus, they were to assist the Bithynian army. In that capacity they would have a share in the spoils of war accrued from plundering the rich towns of Anatolia.
Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix, known commonly as Sulla, was a Roman general and statesman. He had the distinction of holding the office of consul twice, as well as reviving the dictatorship. Sulla was a skillful general, achieving numerous successes in wars against different opponents, both foreign and Roman.
Athenion, a peripatetic adherent at Athens sent to Mithridates as ambassador, won over by the latter, returned to Athens to convince it to rise in revolt, making him general. Most of Greece followed suit, some not. Athenion, implementing a new constitution that he believed was based on Aristotle's Politics, conducted a reign of terror on behalf of the redistribution of wealth. The wealthy that could escaped the city to become exiles. Athenion sent an old comrade and known rare document thief, Apellicon of Teos, with a force to recover the Athenian national treasury stored at Delos. It was decisively beaten by the Roman commander, Orobius.
Apellicon, a wealthy man from Teos, afterwards an Athenian citizen, was a famous book collector of the 1st century BC.
The island of Delos, near Mykonos, near the centre of the Cyclades archipelago, is one of the most important mythological, historical, and archaeological sites in Greece. The excavations in the island are among the most extensive in the Mediterranean; ongoing work takes place under the direction of the French School at Athens, and many of the artifacts found are on display at the Archaeological Museum of Delos and the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
Orobius was a Roman general, who defeated the supporters of Mithridates at Delos.
The commanders included Lucius Valerius Flaccus and Gaius Flavius Fimbria. Significant battles included the Battle of Chaeronea and the Battle of Orchomenus in 86 BC. The war ended with a Roman victory, and the Treaty of Dardanos in 85 BC.
Lucius Valerius Flaccus was the name of several notable Romans of the Republican era, who were patricians from the gens Valeria. Six held consulships in the period from 261 BC to 86 BC; one also held a censorship.
Gaius Flavius Fimbria was a Roman politician and a violent partisan of Gaius Marius. He fought in the First Mithridatic War.
For the earlier battle, see Battle of Chaeronea
Enough remains of Diodorus Siculus to relate a summary of the Mithridatic Wars mixed in with the Civil Wars in the fragments of Books 37-40.
A brief summary of the events of the Mithridatic Wars starting with the Asiatic Vespers combined with events of the Civil Wars can be found in Velleius Paterculus, Book II.
The surviving historyclosest to the Mithridatic Wars is the History of Rome by Livy (59 BC – 17 AD), which consisted of 142 books written between 27 BC and 9 BC, dated by internal events: he mentions Augustus, who did not receive the title until 27 BC, and the last event mentioned is the death of Drusus, 9 BC. Livy was a close friend of Augustus, to whom he read his work by parts, which means that he had access to records and writings at Rome. He worked mainly in retreat at Naples. Livy was born a few years after the last Mithridatic War, and grew up in the Late Republic. His location at Padua kept him out of the Civil Wars. He went to the big city perhaps to work on his project. Its nature sparked the interest of the emperor immediately (he had eyes and ears everywhere), who made it a point to be Octavian, not Augustus, to the circle of his friends (he often found duty tedious and debilitating). Livy was thus only one generation away from the Mithridatic Wars writing in the most favorable environment under the best of circumstances.
Only 35 of the 142 books survived. Livy used no titles or period names. He or someone close to him wrote summaries, or Periochae, of the contents of each book. Books 1 – 140 have them. Their survival, no doubt, can be attributed to their use as a “little Livy,” as the whole work proved to be far too long for any copyist. The events of the Mithridatic Wars survive only in the Periochae.
The term “Mithridatic War” appears only once in Livy, in Periocha 100. The Third Mithridatic War was going so badly that the Senators of both parties combined to get the Lex Manilia passed by the Tribal Assembly removing command of the east from Lucullus and others and giving it instead to Pompey. The words of the Periocha are C. Manilius tribunus plebis magna indignatione nobilitatis legem tulit, ut Pompeio Mithridaticum bellum mandaretur, “Gaius Manilius, Tribune of the People, carried the law despite the great indignation of the nobility that the Mithridatic War be mandated to Pompey.” The “nobility” are the Senate, who usually had the privilege of mandates. There is a possible pun on “great,” as Pompey had received the title of “The Great” in the service of Sulla, the original recipient of the mandate. Sulla was deceased; Lucullus held the mandate in his place. This is an intervention by the tribune in the legal business of the Senate. Now it was the indignation that was great.
The “Mithridatic War” is not just a descriptive term of the historians; it is the name of a mandate. As such it began with the declaration of war by the Senate in 88 BC after the Asiatic Vespers (modern term), the casus belli . Mandates were assigned to the consuls, who, as the name implies, must perform them on penalty for refusal or failure of death. Similarly, only the Senate could declare the termination of a mandate, which is why Livy does not speak of three Mithridatic Wars. Sulla reached an agreement with Mithridates but it was never accepted by the Senate. Interim peace was never anything more than a gentleman's agreement. Tiring of this political game the ad hoc peace party bypassed the Senate, not only preempting the mandate but also giving to Pompey the power himself to declare it at an end. It ended automatically, however, with the death of Mithridates in 63 BC, the mission being complete.
Florus writes the briefest of summaries of the Mithridatic War.
Some monumental inscriptions of the times in Greece shed some light on the Roman command structure during First Mithridatic War.
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Gnaeus Pompey Magnus , usually known in English as Pompey or Pompey the Great, was a military and political leader of the late Roman Republic. He came from a wealthy Italian provincial background, and his father had been the first to establish the family among the Roman nobility. Pompey's immense success as a general while still very young enabled him to advance directly to his first consulship without meeting the normal requirements for office. His success as a military commander in Sulla's second civil war resulted in Sulla bestowing the cognomen Magnus, "the Great", upon him. His Roman adversaries insulted him as adulescentulus carnifex, "the teenage butcher", after his Sicilian campaign. He was consul three times and celebrated three triumphs.
The 1st century BC, also known as the last century BC, started on the first day of 100 BC and ended on the last day of 1 BC. The AD/BC notation does not use a year zero; however, astronomical year numbering does use a zero, as well as a minus sign, so "2 BC" is equal to "year –1". This is the 100th century in the Holocene calendar; it spans the years 9,901 to 10,000. 1st century AD follows.
This article concerns the period 69 BC – 60 BC.
This article concerns the period 79 BC – 70 BC.
This article concerns the period 89 BC – 80 BC.
Year 66 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Lepidus and Tullus. The denomination 66 BC for this year has been used since the early medieval period, when the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years.
Lucius Licinius Murena was the name of a father and son who lived in the late Roman Republic. The elder Lucius Murena was notable for having played an important role in the Roman victory against the forces of Mithridates VI of Pontus at the Battle of Chaeronea in 86 BC during the First Mithridatic War and for engaging in another war, the Second Mithridatic War, against Mithridates in Asia Minor without the authorisation of the Roman senate. The younger Lucius Murena was an officer in the Third Mithridatic War, a governor of Gallia Transalpina in 64-63 BC and a consul in 62 BC. He stood trial because of charges of electoral bribery.
The Third Mithridatic War was the last and longest of three Mithridatic Wars and was fought between Mithridates VI of Pontus, who was joined by his allies, and the Roman Republic. The war ended in defeat for Mithridates, ending the Pontic Kingdom, and resulted in the Kingdom of Armenia becoming an allied client state of Rome.
Gaius Manilius was a Roman tribune of the plebs in 66 BCE.
The Battle of Artaxata was fought near the Arsanias river in 68 BC between an army of the Roman Republic and an Armenian army. The Romans were led by proconsul Lucius Licinius Lucullus, while the Armenians were led by King Tigranes II of Armenia, who was sheltering King Mithridates VI of Pontus. The battle was part of the Third Mithridatic War. The Romans were victorious.
The lex Manilia was a Roman law passed in 66 BC granting Pompey the military command in the East against Mithridates VI of Pontus.
Contacts between the Italian peninsula and the Armenian Highland go back to the Iron Age when the Etruscan civilization traded with the Kingdom of Urartu by way of Phrygia and Ancient Greece. Urartian bronzes, bull-headed cauldrons and pottery were excavated in various parts of Etruscan Italy particularly in Tuscany. The Roman Republic played a pivotal role in the re-establishment of the Kingdom of Armenia in 189 BC. Antiochus III the Great was defeated at the Battle of Magnesia by the Romans which in turn allowed the Armenian strategoi of Antiochus, Artaxias and Zariadres to take control of an independent Armenian Kingdom. The Romans perceiving themselves as the legitimate successors of the Seleucids began to play a more aggressive role in the affairs of the Hellenistic world of Asia Minor starting with the acquisition of Pergamum in 133 BC. The Third Mithridatic War led Roman forces for the first time directly to the Armenian border. From that point on until the demise of the Kingdom of Armenia in 428, Rome played a significant role in the affairs of Armenia and Armenians. This article explores the history of that relationship, a relationship which alternated between harmony and conflict.
Cappadocia was a province of the Roman Empire in Anatolia, with its capital at Caesarea. It was established in 17 AD by the Emperor Tiberius, following the death of Cappadocia's last king, Archelaus.
Bithynia and Pontus was the name of a province of the Roman Empire on the Black Sea coast of Anatolia (Turkey). It was formed during the late Roman Republic by the amalgamation of the former kingdoms of Bithynia and Pontus. The amalgamation was part of a wider conquest of Anatolia and its reduction to Roman provinces.
The battle of Zela, not to be confused with the more famous battle in 47 BC, was fought in 67 BC near Zela in the Kingdom of Pontus. The battle resulted in a stunning Pontic victory and king Mithridates' successful reclamation of his kingdom. Mithridates' victory was short-lasting, however, as within a few years he would be completely defeated by Pompey the Great.
The Siege of Athens and Piraeus was a siege of the First Mithridatic War that took place from Autumn of 87 BC to the Spring and Summer of 86 BC. The battle was fought between the forces of the Roman Republic, commanded by Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix on the one hand, and the forces of the Kingdom of Pontus and the Athenian City-State on the other. The Greek Pontian forces were commanded by Aristion and Archelaus.
The Fimbrians or Fimbrian legions, also called the Valerians or Valerian legions, were two legions recruited by Lucius Valerius Flaccus in 86 BC. They became a body of long serving legionaries known for their fierce fighting reputation and also, more infamously, for mutiny and abandoning their commander. They served and fought in all three Mithridatic Wars against Mithridates VI of Pontus, Rome's chief adversary during 88-63 BC.