Kingdom of Pontus

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
281 BC–62 AD
The Kingdom of Pontus at its height: before the reign of Mithridates VI (dark purple), after his early conquests (purple), and his conquests in the first Mithridatic wars (pink)
The Kingdom of Pontus at its height: before the reign of Mithridates VI (dark purple), after his early conquests (purple), and his conquests in the first Mithridatic wars (pink)
  • Independent kingdom (281 – 63 BC)
  • Client kingdom of the Roman Republic and Roman Empire (eastern part of the kingdom; 63 BC – 62 AD)
CapitalAmaseia, Sinope
(modern-day Amasya and Sinop, Turkey)
Common languagesGreek (official after 3rd century BC,[1] coastal cities)
Mithridates VI Eupator
• 63–47 BC
Pharnaces II
• 47–37 BC
• 37 BC
• 37–8 BC
Polemon I
• 8 BC – 38 AD
• 38 AD – 62 AD
Polemon II
• Founded by Mithridates I
281 BC
• Conquered by Pompey of the Roman Republic, remained as a client state (eastern part of the kingdom).
63 BC
• Annexed by the Roman Empire under Emperor Nero.
62 AD
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Antigonid dynasty
Roman Republic

Pontus (

Bithynia et Pontus; the eastern half survived as a client kingdom until 62 AD.[citation needed

As the greater part of the kingdom lay within the region of Cappadocia, which in early ages extended from the borders of Cilicia to the Euxine (Black Sea),[citation needed] the kingdom as a whole was at first called 'Cappadocia by Pontus' or 'Cappadocia by the Euxine', but afterwards simply 'Pontus', the name Cappadocia henceforth being used to refer to the southern half of the region previously included under that name.[citation needed]

The kingdom had three cultural strands which often fused together: Greek (mostly on the coast), Persian and Anatolian,[9][5] with Greek becoming the official language in the 3rd century BC.[10]

Features of Pontus

The Kingdom of Pontus was divided into two distinct areas: the coastal region and the Pontic interior. The coastal region bordering the Black Sea was separated from the mountainous inland area by the

Lycus and Iris. The major city of the interior was Amasia, the early Pontic capital, where the Pontic kings had their palace and royal tombs. Besides Amasia and a few other cities, the interior was dominated mainly by small villages. The kingdom of Pontus was divided into districts named Eparchies.[11]

Pontic Alps
which divided the kingdom.

The division between coast and interior was also cultural. The coast was mainly Greek and focused on sea trade. The interior was occupied by the Anatolian Cappadocians and Paphlagonians ruled by an Iranian aristocracy that went back to the Persian empire. The interior also had powerful temples with large estates. The gods of the Kingdom were mostly syncretic, with features of local gods along with Persian and Greek deities. Major gods included the Persian

Men Pharnacou; and Ma (interpreted as Cybele).[12]

Sun gods were particularly popular, with the royal house being identified with the Persian god Ahuramazda of the Achaemenid dynasty; both

Mithras were worshipped by the Kings. Indeed, the name used by the majority of the Pontic kings was Mithridates, which means "given by Mithras".[13] Pontic culture represented a synthesis between Iranian, Anatolian and Greek elements, with the former two mostly associated with the interior parts, and the latter more so with the coastal region. By the time of Mithridates VI Eupator, Greek was the official language of the Kingdom, though Anatolian languages continued to be spoken in the interior.[14][5]


Ancient Pontic tombs on the mountains of Amasya

Mithridatic Dynasty of Cius

The region of Pontus was originally part of the Persian satrapy of

Ptolemy I. Ptolemy had been expanding his territory in Asia Minor since the beginning of the First Syrian war against Antiochus in the mid-270s and was allied with Mithridates' enemy, Heraclea Pontica.[17]

Kingdom of Pontus

We know little of Ariobarzanes' short reign, except that when he died his son Mithridates II (c. 250—189) became king and was attacked by the Galatians. Mithridates II received aid from Heraclea Pontica, who was also at war with the Galatians at this time. Mithridates went on to support Antiochus Hierax against his brother Seleucus II Callinicus. Seleucus was defeated in Anatolia by Hierax, Mithridates, and the Galatians. Mithridates also attacked Sinope in 220 but failed to take the city. He married Seleucus II's sister and gave his daughter in marriage to Antiochus III, to obtain recognition for his new kingdom and create strong ties with the Seleucid Empire. The sources are silent on Pontus for the years following the death of Mithridates II, when his son Mithridates III ruled (c. 220–198/88).[18]

Bronze shield in the name of King Pharnakes: ΦΑΡΝΑΚΟΥ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ, Getty Villa

Odessus on the Bulgarian coast. Pharnaces' brother, Mithridates IV Philopator Philadelphus adopted a peaceful, pro-Roman policy. He sent aid to the Roman ally Attalus II Philadelphus of Pergamon against Prusias II of Bithynia in 155.[20]

His successor,

Mithridates V of Pontus Euergetes, remained a friend of Rome and in 149 BC sent ships and a small force of auxiliaries to aid Rome in the third Punic War. He also sent troops for the war against Eumenes III (Aristonicus), who had usurped the Pergamene throne after the death of Attalus III. After Rome received the Kingdom of Pergamon in the will of Attalus III in the absence of an heir, they turned part of it into the province of Asia, while giving the rest to loyal allied kings. For his loyalty Mithridates was awarded the region of Phrygia Major. The kingdom of Cappadocia received Lycaonia. Because of this it seems reasonable to assume that Pontus had some degree of control over Galatia, since Phrygia does not border Pontus directly. It is possible that Mithridates inherited part of Paphlagonia after the death of its King, Pylaemenes. Mithridates V married his daughter Laodice to the king of Cappadocia, Ariarathes VI of Cappadocia, and he also went on to invade Cappadocia, though the details of this war are unknown. Hellenization continued under Mithridates V. He was the first king to widely recruit Greek mercenaries in the Aegean, he was honored at Delos, and he depicted himself as Apollo on his coins. Mithridates was assassinated at Sinope in 121/0, the details of which are unclear.[21]

Because both the sons of Mithridates V, Mithridates VI and Mithridates Chrestus, were still children, Pontus now came under the regency of his wife Laodice. She favored Chrestus, and Mithridates VI escaped the Pontic court. Legend would later say this was the time he traveled through Asia Minor, building his resistance to poisons and learning all of the languages of his subjects. He returned in 113 BC to depose his mother; she was thrown into prison, and he eventually had his brother killed.[22]

Mithridates VI Eupator

Bust of Mithridates VI from the Louvre

Mithridates VI Eupator, 'the Good Father', followed a decisive anti-Roman agenda, extolling Greek and Iranian culture against ever-expanding Roman influence. Rome had recently created the province of Asia in Anatolia, and it had also rescinded the region of Phrygia Major from Pontus during the reign of Laodice. Mithridates began his expansion by inheriting

Tauric Chersonesus now appealed for his aid against the Scythians in the north. Mithridates sent 6,000 men under General Diophantus. After various campaigns in the north of the Crimea he controlled all of the Chersonesus. Mithridates also developed trade links with cities on the western Black Sea coast.[23]

At the time, Rome was fighting the

Social War in Italy, Mithridates encouraged his new ally and son-in-law, King Tigranes the Great of Armenia, to invade Cappadocia, which he did, and Ariobarzanes fled to Rome. Mithridates then deposed Nicomedes IV from Bithynia, placing Socrates Chrestus on the throne.[24]

The First Mithridatic War

A Roman army under

Amastris, and returned with much loot. Mithridates invaded Cappadocia once again, and Rome declared war.[25][pages needed

In the summer of 89 BC, Mithridates invaded Bithynia and defeated Nicomedes and Aquillius in battle. He moved swiftly into Roman Asia and resistance crumbled; by 88 he had obtained the surrender of most of the newly created province. He was welcomed in many cities, where the residents chafed under Roman

tax farming. In 88 Mithridates also ordered the massacre of at least 80,000 Romans and Italians in what became known as the 'Asiatic Vespers'. Many Greek cities in Asia Minor happily carried out the orders; this ensured that they could no longer return to an alliance with Rome. In the autumn of 88 Mithridates also placed Rhodes under siege, but he failed to take it.[26]


Lucius Cornelius Sulla set out from Italy with five legions. He marched through Boeotia, which quickly surrendered, and began laying siege to Athens and the Piraeus (the Athenian port city, no longer connected by the Long Walls). Athens fell in March 86 BC, and the city was sacked. After stiff resistance, Archelaus, the Pontic general in Piraeus, left by sea, and Sulla utterly destroyed the port city. Meanwhile, Mithridates had sent his son Arcathias with a large army via Thrace into Greece.[27]

Lucius Cornelius Sulla

Sulla now headed north, seeking the fertile plains of Boeotia to supply his army. At the Battle of Chaeronea, Sulla inflicted severe casualties on Archelaus, who nevertheless retreated and continued to raid Greece with the Pontic fleet. Archelaus regrouped and attacked a second time at the Battle of Orchomenus in 85 BC but was once again defeated and suffered heavy losses. As a result of the losses and the unrest they stirred in Asia Minor, as well as the presence of the Roman army now campaigning in Bithynia, Mithridates was forced to accept a peace deal. Mithridates and Sulla met in 85 BC at Dardanus. Sulla decreed that Mithridates had to surrender Roman Asia and return Bithynia and Cappadocia to their former kings. He also had to pay 2,000 talents and provide ships. Mithridates would retain the rest of his holdings and become an ally of Rome.[28]

Second and Third Mithridatic wars

The treaty agreed with Sulla was not to last. From 83 to 82 BC Mithridates fought against and defeated

Licinius Murena, who had been left by Sulla to organize the province of Asia. The so-called Second Mithridatic war ended without any territorial gains by either side. The Romans now began securing the coastal region of Lycia and Pamphylia from pirates and established control over Pisidia and Lycaonia. When in 74 the consul Lucullus took over Cilicia, Mithridates faced Roman commanders on two fronts. The Cilician pirates had not been completely defeated, and Mithridates signed an alliance with them. He was also allied with the government of Quintus Sertorius
in Spain and with his help reorganized some of his troops in the Roman legionary pattern with short stabbing swords.


Cabeira. Mithridates sent his cavalry to cut the Roman supply line to Cappadocia in the south, but they suffered heavy casualties. Mithridates, still unwilling to fight a decisive engagement, now began a retreat to Lesser Armenia, where he expected aid from his ally Tigranes the Great. Because of his now weakened cavalry, the retreat turned into an all-out rout, and most of the Pontic army was destroyed or captured. These events led Machares, the son of Mithridates and ruler of the Crimean Bosporus, to seek an alliance with Rome. Mithridates fled to Armenia.[30]

In the summer of 69 Lucullus invaded Armenian territory, marching with 12,000 men through Cappadocia into

Nisibis, but Tigranes avoided battle. Meanwhile, Mithridates invaded Pontus, and in 67 he defeated a large Roman force near Zela. Lucullus, now in command of tired and discontented troops, withdrew to Pontus, then to Galatia. He was replaced by two new consuls arriving from Italy with fresh legions, Marcius Rex and Acilius Glabrio. Mithridates now recovered Pontus while Tigranes invaded Cappadocia.[31]

In response to increasing pirate activity in the eastern Mediterranean, the senate granted Pompey extensive proconsular Imperium throughout the Mediterranean in 67 BC. Pompey eliminated the pirates, and in 66 he was assigned command in Asia Minor to deal with Pontus. Pompey organized his forces, close to 45,000 legionaries, including Lucullus' troops, and signed an alliance with the Parthians, who attacked and kept Tigranes busy in the east. Mithridates massed his army, some 30,000 men and 2,000–3,000 cavalry, in the heights of Dasteira in lesser Armenia. Pompey fought to encircle him with earthworks for six weeks, but Mithridates eventually retreated north. Pompey pursued and managed to catch his forces by surprise in the night, and the Pontic army suffered heavy casualties. After the battle, Pompey founded the city of Nicopolis. Mithridates fled to Colchis, and later to his son Machares in the Crimea in 65 BC. Pompey now headed east into Armenia, where Tigranes submitted to him, placing his royal diadem at his feet. Pompey took most of Tigranes' empire in the east but allowed him to remain as king of Armenia. Meanwhile, Mithridates was organizing a defense of the Crimea when his son Pharnaces led the army in revolt; Mithridates was forced to commit suicide or was assassinated.[32]

Roman province and client kingdoms

Most of the western half of Pontus and the Greek cities of the coast, including Sinope, were annexed by Rome directly as part of the Roman province of

Bithynia et Pontus. The interior and eastern coast remained an independent client kingdom. The Bosporan Kingdom also remained independent under Pharnaces II of Pontus as an ally and friend of Rome. Colchis was also made into a client kingdom. Pharnaces II later made an attempt at reconquering Pontus. During the civil war of Caesar and Pompey, he invaded Asia Minor (48 BC), taking Colchis, lesser Armenia, Pontus, and Cappadocia and defeating a Roman army at Nicopolis. Caesar responded swiftly and defeated him at Zela, where he uttered the famous phrase 'Veni, vidi, vici'.[33] Pontic kings continued to rule the client Kingdom of Pontus, Colchis, and Cilicia until Polemon II was forced to abdicate the Pontic throne by Nero
in AD 62.


Although the Pontic kings claimed descent from the Persian royal house, they generally acted as Hellenistic kings and portrayed themselves as such in their coins, mimicking Alexander's royal stater.[14]



slaves.[36] Pontus also fielded various cavalry units, including cataphracts.[37] In addition to normal cavalry Pontus also fielded scythed chariots.[38] Under Mithridates VI Pontus also fielded a corps of 120,000 troops armed "in the Roman fashion" and "drilled in the Roman phalanx formation".[39] These units imitated Roman legions, although it is disputed to what degree they achieved this.[citation needed

The navy was organized in a similar fashion as the army. While the kingdom itself provided the main contingent of ships, a small portion represented the Greek cities. The crewmen either came from the various tribes of the kingdom, or were of Greek origin.[34]

See also


  1. ^ Brian McGing, “PONTUS,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2004, available at
  2. ^ The Foreign Policy of Mithridates VI Eupator, King of Pontus, by B. C. McGing, p. 11
  3. ^ Children of Achilles: The Greeks in Asia Minor Since the Days of Troy, by John Freely, p. 69–70
  4. ^ Strabo of Amasia: A Greek Man of Letters in Augustan Rome, by Daniela Dueck, p. 3.
  5. ^ a b c d McGing, Brian (2004). "Pontus". Encyclopaedia Iranica, online edition. Retrieved 2019-11-14.
  6. JSTOR 632236
  7. .
  8. ^ Children of Achilles: The Greeks in Asia Minor Since the Days of Troy, by John Freely, p. 69–70
  9. ^ The Foreign Policy of Mithridates VI Eupator, King of Pontus, by B. C. McGing, p. 11
  10. ^ Crook, Lintott & Rawson, The Cambridge Ancient History. Volume IX. The Last Age of the Roman Republic, 146–43 B.C., p. 133–136.
  11. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, p. 137.
  12. ^ David Ulansey, The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, p. 89.
  13. ^ a b B. C. McGing, The foreign policy of Mithridates VI Eupator, King of Pontus, p. 10–11.
  14. ^ Xenophon "Cyropaedia", VIII 8.4
  15. ^ Appian "the Mithridatic wars", II
  16. ^ McGing, 16–17.
  17. ^ McGing, 17–23.
  18. ^ Polybius "Histories", XXIV. 1, 5, 8, 9 XXV. 2
  19. ^ Polybius, XXXIII.12
  20. ^ McGing, 36–39.
  21. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, p. 133.
  22. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, p. 137–138.
  23. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, 141–144.
  24. ^ Appian, II
  25. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, 146–49.
  26. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, 150–54.
  27. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, 155–60.
  28. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, 229–36.
  29. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, 237–39.
  30. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, 240–44.
  31. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, 249–54.
  32. ^ John Hazel "Who's who in the Greek world", p. 179.
  33. ^ a b Stefanidou Vera, "Kingdom of Pontus", 2008, Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World, Asia Minor
  34. ^ Plutarch, Life of Sulla, 16.7
  35. ^ Plutarch, Life of Sulla, 18.5
  36. ^ The Cambridge Companion to the Hellenistic World by Glenn R. Bugh, p. 272
  37. ^ Plutarch, Life of Sulla, 15.1
  38. ^ Plutarch, Life of Lucullus. 7.4


Modern sources

Ancient sources

  • Polybius, the histories.
  • Appian, the foreign wars.
  • Memnon of Heraclea, history of Heraclea.
  • Strabo, Geographica.
  • Plutarch, Parallel lives. 'Demetrius'.