By Dr Peter Heather
Last updated 2011-02-17
Mithradates VI Eupator Dionysius, to give him his full name, was the greatest king of the Pontic kingdom, which was centred on the southern shores of the Black Sea. He was Rome's most dangerous enemy in the first century BC, following the Roman defeat of Carthage in the second century BC.
Mithradates began by conquering the Crimea and the northern Euxine, securing almost complete control of the shores of the Black Sea and with it huge resources for his wars. At this point, Roman power was advancing into the eastern Mediterranean and a showdown was inevitable.
Mithradates prepared carefully, annexing Bithynia and Cappadocia to increase his powerbase. In his first Roman war (89-85 BC), he conquered all of Asia Minor, where he massacred all resident Romans and Italians. He even took Greece before five Roman legions forced him back to Asia, where the subsequent peace confined him to his original Pontic kingdom. (To win Greek support against the ominous advance of Roman power, he had carefully echoed the ruling style and imagery of Alexander the Great.)
The second war (83-81 BC) was no more than a series of skirmishes, but full-scale conflict broke out again over Bithynia in 73 BC. The Romans were victorious and even drove him briefly into exile in Armenia. He was able to return to Pontus again in 68 BC, but was finally defeated by Pompey the Great and forced back into a Crimean redoubt.
There he was said to be planning a bizarrely ambitious invasion of Italy when his son overthrew him. Inured to poison by years of taking it, Mithradates was forced to ask a willing guard to run him through.
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