Mithridatic Wars

B.C. 90 to 65
Rome — versus — Mithridates of Pontus

First Mithridatic War, 90-85 B.C. Second and Third Mithridatic Wars, 83-65 B.C. Bosporan Rebellion, 47 B.C.

Mithridates VI of Pontus was a minor king of a mountainous region in northern Asia minor, who managed to keep Rome embroiled in wars in the region for over twenty years. Pontus was one of several "buffer" states that separated the territory of Rome, from that of Parthia in the east. As a result of the Mithridatic wars, Rome's sphere of influence in the east increased, and her borders reached those of the Parthian kingdom.

First Mithridatic War : 90-85 B.C.

The dispute started between Bithynia and Pontus, two small kingdoms in the north of Asia minor. Rome supported Bithynia, but did not seek to get directly involved until the armies of Mithridates vanquished both their Bithynian ally, and a Roman army under the local governor. After these two great victories, Mithridates over-ran all of Asia Minor, massacred all of the Roman citizens therein, and tortured the Roman commander whom he had taken captive. He then played upon the anti-Roman sentiment in some Greek cities in order to bring much of Greece into his camp, and installed a dictator, named Aniston in Athens. At this point, he had Rome's full attention. A large army was placed under Sulla, but was delayed from setting out due to the growing political dispute in Rome between Sulla and Marius. By 87 BC , however, the army was in the field, and had undertaken a siege of Athens. In 86 the Roman army under Sulla met the Pontic army under Archelaus, for the first time in open battle at Chaeronea, and in spite of being outnumbered nearly three to one, won a decisive victory. Sulla followed this up a year later with another great victory at Orchomenus, and at this point, drove the army of Mithridates out of mainland Greece.

Meanwhile, another army under Flaccus had landed in Asia to join forces with Greek cities from that region who had revolted from Mithridates. There was significant pro-Marius sentiment in this army however, so they mutinied, and selected a Marian partisan, Flavius Fimbria as their leader. He engaged Mithridates directly in battle at Miletopolis and won a victory, but Sulla, who was determined to return to Rome as soon as possible, made terms with Mithridates and then threatened to turn on the Marian army under Fimbria. Fimbria at this point, killed himself to avoid meeting Sulla in the field, and Sulla returned to Italy, where the armies of the Marian party were drawn up awaiting him.

DateBattle Summary
87 BC  
Siege of Athens (First ) Romans victory
This city was occupied by a garrison sympathetic to Mithridates, under Archelaus, the Pontus general, and Aniston, an Athenian in service to Mithridates. It besieged by Sulla, in B.C. in 87 B.C. and fell the following year, but Archelaus and many of his followers escaped.
86 BC  
Battle of Chaeronea (First ) Romans victory
Fought B.C. 86, between the Romans under Sulla, 30,000 strong, and the troops of Pontus, 90,000 in number, under Archelaus. The Romans were completely victorious.
86 BC  
Battle of Miletopolis (First ) Romans victory
Fought B.C. 86, between the Romans, under Flavius Fimbria, and the Pontic troops, under Mithridates. The Romans gained a complete victory.
85 BC  
Battle of Orchomenus (Third ) Romans victory
Fought B.C. 85, between the Pontic army, under Archelaus, and the Romans, under Sulla. The Asiatic cavalry attacked and drove back the Roman line, but Sulla himself rallied his troops, and led them in a charge which totally routed the enemy with heavy loss.

Short Biography
Mithridates King of Pontus, enemy of Rome, raised rebellions in Greece and Asia Minor.
Aniston A Athenian who favored an alliance with Mithridates. Installed to govern Athens during the siege.
Archelaus Mithridates chief general in Greece. Met Sulla at Chaeronea and Orchomenus.
Sulla Defeated Mithradates in Greece. Marched on Rome, defeated the party of his enemy Marius.
Flavius Fimbria Marion General who won victories against Mithridates in Asia Minor.

Story Links
Book Links
Orator Aristion  in  The Story of Rome  by  Mary Macgregor
Sulla Besieges Athens  in  The Story of Rome  by  Mary Macgregor

Second Mithridatic War : 83-82 B.C.

At the end of the First Mithridatic War, the command of the Roman army in Asia minor was given to Licinius Murena, a Sulla partisan. Murena determined that Mithridates was re-arming, and invaded Pontus. Due to the Civil War going on in Rome at precisely this time, Sulla was unable to provide support for Murena's army, and he was defeated. There was no alternative but to make peace on terms unfavorable to Rome, which merely delayed the resolution of the issue.

Third Mithridatic War : 75-65 B.C.

Death of Mithridates
The third Mithridatic War broke out in 75 BC while Rome was still reeling from its brutal civil wars and Sulla's prescriptions, and also engaged in the Sertorian War in Spain. When it became clear that something must be done about the aggressions of Mithridates in Asia Minor, Lucullus, one of Sulla's trusted generals, was sent to Pontic. His first task was to relieve the siege of Cyzicus in Bithynia, but instead of risking a major battle in which he was greatly outnumbered, he harassed and depleted the Pontic forces over time. He finally met the Pontic army in open battle at Cabria, and won a decisive victory. At this point Lucullus controlled all of Bithynia and Pontus as well as the Roman territories in the west of Asia Minor. He now set about reforming and reorganizing the Roman government in the area, rather than pursuing Mithridates, who had fled from Pontus to his son-in-law Tigranes, king of Armenia. Lucullus made powerful enemies in Rome by some of these reforms, which caused problems for him later. Finally, in 69 BC Lucullus marched into Armenia and took the field against Tigranes at Tigranocerta, and again at Artaxata, winning two decisive victories. At this point however, the enemies of Lucullus in Rome desired to replace him and so sent Pompey to take over command. At the final battle if Nicopolis, the Romans under Pompey beat the army of Mithridates, and destroyed his last hope of regaining power. The great enemy of Rome, who had kept east astir for many long years, committed suicide along with his wives and daughters.

DateBattle Summary
74 BC  
Battle of Cyzicus (Third ) Romans victory
Fought B.C. 74, when the army of Mithridates, who was besieging Cyzicus, was hemmed by the Romans under Lucullus, and though the latter, with inferior forces, did not venture on a pitched battle, he fought a series of minor engagements, in which he eventually destroyed the Pontic army, their losses amounting in the end to over 200,000 men.
72 BC  
Battle of Cabria (Third ) Romans victory
Fought B.C. 72, between three Roman legions under Lucullus, and the Pontic army under Diophantus and Taxiles. The Pontic cavalry, on which Mithridates chiefly relied, was overwhelmed by Fabius Hadrianus, and the king was driven out of Pontus, which was erected into a Roman province.
69 BC  
Battle of Tigranocerta (Third ) Romans victory
Fought B.C. 69, when the Romans, 10,000 strong, under Lucullus, who was besieging the city, were attacked by 200,000 Pontic and Armenian troops, under Tigranes. ''Tigranes had failed to occupy some high ground which commanded the position of his cavalry. This Lucullus seized, and attacking the Pontic cavalry in rear, broke it, He then attacked and routed the infantry, with a loss according to the Roman account of 100,000. The Romans lost 5 men only.
67 BC  
Battle of Ziela (Third ) Mithridates victory
Fought B.C. 67, between the Romans, under Triarius, and the Pontic army, under Mithridates. The King attacked the Roman camp, and practically annihilated them, though himself dangerously wounded in the assault.
66 BC  
Battle of Nicopolis (Akbar ) Romans victory
Fought B.C. 66, between the Romans, under Pompey, and the army of Mithridates. The Romans had occupied the heights in front of the retreating Asiatics, and Mithridates encamped under their position. In the night the Romans attacked him in his camp, and utterly routed him. This was the last battle fought by Mithdridates against the legions of Rome.
74 BC  
Battle of Chalcedon (Third ) Mithridates victory
Fought B.C. 74, between the Roman fleet, under Rutilius Nudo, and that of Pontus. The Romans sallied out of the harbour, but were driven back, and the Pontic fleet then broke the chain protecting the entrance and destroyed the whole of the Roman ships, 70 in number.

Short Biography
Lucullus Led Rome against Mithradates in third Mithradatic War. Known for extravagant lifestyle.
Pompey Very renowned general. Defeated pirates. Led opposition to Caesar in civil war.
Tigranes II King of Armenia and son-in-law of Mithridates.

Story Links
Book Links
Across the Euphrates  in  Helmet and Spear  by  Alfred J. Church
Death of Mithradates in  Lucius. Adventures of a Roman Boy  by  Alfred J. Church
Battle-Fields and Gardens  in  Tales of the Romans: The Children's Plutarch  by  F. J. Gould
Lucullus  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie Kaufman
Pompey  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie Kaufman
Pompey Goes to War with Mithridates  in  The Story of Rome  by  Mary Macgregor

The Bosporan Rebellion : 47 B.C.

After his father's defeat and suicide, Pharnaces, the son of Mithridates made peace with Rome. He had opposed his father's final campaign against Rome, and was trusted by Pompey and so was granted the Bosporan Kingdom on the northern shores of the Black sea, and swore alliance with Rome. For twenty years he kept the peace, quietly increasing his power and influence. Finally, in the midst of the , when he believed the Roman armies were too preoccupied with fighting each other to defend their easter border, he brought Colchis and Armenia under his dominion. He then met a Roman army under Calvinus at Nicopolis and won a great victory, which allowed him to regain Pontus, his father's kingdom. Although Caesar was utterly embroiled in a civil war at the time, he immediately marched upon Pontus and forced a battle at Zela, where Pharaces was utterly routed. It was after this battle that Caesar sent his famous message, "Veni, vidi, vici" (I came, I saw, I conquered).

DateBattle Summary
47 BC  
Battle of Nicopolis (Bosporan Rebellion ) Bosporus victory
Fought B.C. 47, when Domitius Calvinus, with one Roman legion and a contingent of Pontic and other Asiatic troops, encountered the Bosporans, under Pharnaces. Calvinus' Asiatic troops fled at the first onset, and he was completely defeated, only the steadiness of the Romans saving him from disaster.
47 BC  
Battle of Ziela (Bosporan Rebellion ) Caesareans victory
Fought August 2, B.C. 47, between 7 Roman legions, with some Asiatic auxiliaries, under Julius Caesar, and the Bosporans, under Pharnaces. Pharnaces attacked the Romans while they were pitching camp, but the legionaries quickly formed up, and utterly routed their assailants. This is the occasion of Caesar's famous despatch, "Veni, vidi, vici."

Short Biography
Julius Caesar Conquered Gaul, prevailed in civil war. Mastermind of Roman empire. Killed by senators.
Pharnaces II Son of Mithridates and king of Bosporus. Rebelled against Rome and was crushed by Caesar.
Domitius Calvinus Roman General who was defeated by Pharnaces II at the battle of Nicopolis.

Image Links

The death of Mithradates and his daughters
 in Lucius. Adventures of a Roman Boy