A Brief History of the Kingdom of Pontus

The Hellenistic Age was a period of violence and almost constant change. It began ominously enough with the death of Alexander the Great in Babylon, and with his death began the bloody struggle for succession amongst his friends and confidants. As the Diadochi unleashed a maelstrom of death and slaughter that grew and enraptured the people of the Known World, there emerged a select few that evaded the wrath of the aspiring kings and by either chance, cunning or sheer luck survived the great power struggle only to find themselves poised to become kings themselves.

One of these men so favored by Tyche was a man known as Mithridates. Mithridates father, who was also named Mithridates, was executed by the Diadochi Antigonus Monopthalmus in 301 BC. It was not long after this that Antigonus began to grow wary of the younger Mithridates, and this suspicion was more than enough for Antigonus to contemplate sending the son on a journey to be reunited with the father. Fortunately for Mithridates, Antigonus' own son Demetrius Poliocertes had formed a close friendship with the young noble and upon learning his father's intentions quickly warned Mithridates and urged him to swift flight. With only a handful of followers he fled to the great fortress of Cimiata in Paphlogonia, and over roughly two decades he attracted hundreds of bandits and wandering soldiers to his banner and extended his reach across the whole of Pontus. Following his assumption of the title basileus (king) of Pontus in 281 BC he spent the latter years of his reign forming anti-Successor alliances with the Greek cities of northern Anatolia, and cementing his family's burgeoning authority across his kingdom.

He died in 266 BC after a reign of thirty-six years, and in honor of his accomplishment of establishing the Pontic kingdom he is remembered as Mithridates I Ctistes(the Founder).

Upon his death Mithridates' son Ariobarzanes succeeded him as king of Pontus. Ariobarzanes may have lacked the ambition of his father, but he made up for it with his competence and cool temperament. His reign was quiet and uneventful save for his acquiring of the city of Amastris, which was surrendered to him for reasons unknown. He dies somewhere between 258 and 240 BC and was succeeded by his young son Mithridates II.

Mithridates II was only a minor when he ascended the throne, but later in his adult life he proved himself to be as ambitious as his grandfather and a competent general on the battlefield. Early in his reign his kingdom was invaded by a horde of Galatians (Gauls), which were eventually defeated and driven out by his forces. Later on he married the Seleucid princess Laodice, and was given the land of Phrygia as a dowry by her brother Seleucus II Callinicus. Despite Seleucus' generosity and favor Mithridates attacked him during the "War of the Brothers" when Seleucus was fighting his brother Antiochus Hierax for control of the Seleucid territories in Anatolia. Soon after Mithridates inflicted a crushing defeat upon Seleucus killing nearly twenty thousand of his soldiers near the city of Ancyra. Many years later he gave his daughter Laodice III in marriage to a young Antiochus III shortly after he ascended the Seleucid throne.

Following this he dedicated the last years of his reign unsuccessfully attempting to incorporate the great city of Sinope into his kingdom. He was succeeded by his son Mithridates III.

The reign of Mithridates IIIis unfortunately shrouded in mystery. Its reasonable to assume that his reign was fairly quiet and peaceful given that the Seleucid Empire was dealt a telling blow by the Romans and reduced to impotence as far as Anatolia was concerned, and therefore no longer posed a threat to the Pontic kingdom. In its absence the Attalids of Pergamon emerged as the new overlords of Anatolia, but unlike the Seleucids they were content with simply upholding the status quo between the various kingdoms and city-states.

Mithridates III was succeeded by his son Pharnaces I who quickly revealed himself to possess a lust for power and conquest far surpassing that of his grandfather. His reign, which began somewhere between 200 and 183 BC, was initially marked by his conquest of Sinope, a feat that not even his celebrated grandfather could accomplish. A few years later he went to war against both Eumenes II of Pergamon and Ariartahes IV of Cappadocia. This war raged on and off for two years before Pharnaces came to the realization that he could not defeat both kings alone, and so in return for peace he yielded all of the conquests he had made to the victors with the sole exception of Sinope. He reigned for somewhere between fifteen and twenty more years before he was succeeded by his brother Mithridates IV.

Mithridates IV Philopater/Philadelphus (of brotherly/fatherly love) succeeded his brother as king somewhere in the 150's BC. Not much is know of his reign, save that he sent a body of troops to aid the Pergamene king Attalus II against forces Prusias II of Bithynia. This show of support marks the beginning of a period of friendship between the Pontic kings and the Roman Republic and her allies.

Mithridates V Euergetes (Benefactor) was the son of Pharnaces I who ascended to the throne after the death of his uncle. Following the example set by his uncle he set out to strengthen his kingdoms alliance with the Romans by sending ships and soldiers to aid them in the Third Punic War, and in the war against Aristonicus of Pergamon who was a pretender or bastard successor to the Pergamene throne. Out of gratitude the Roman consul Manius Aquillius awarded him with the land of Phrygia, which, despite opposition from the Roman senate, remained in his possession until his death in 120 BC. Despite his political and territorial successes a conspiracy formed around him, fueled perhaps by his philroman and philhellenic tendencies. He was assassinated sometime in 120 BC by a combination of traitorous underlings and relatives.

Mithridates VI Megas (the Great) was only a child when his father dies, and so when he was crowned king his mother Laodice (who may have organized the death of his father) ruled in his place. The life of Mithridates VI is too great to be truly expressed on a page and a half, but suffice to say he grew up to become the greatest and most famous king of the Pontic kingdom. During his life he faced three of the greatest generals of the Roman Republic: Sulla, Lucullus and Pompey Magnus. He was the first of his dynasty to use philhellenism as a form of propaganda where he claimed descent from many famous Greek figures, including Alexander the Great and Seleucus I Nicator, and appealed to the dissatisfaction of the Greek cities living under Roman rule.

However, despite all of his many talents and resources he was repeatedly defeat by the Romans in the Mithridatic Wars. After having been humiliated too often with defeat, his son Pharnaces II and his army turned against him and in 63 BC he committed suicide either by consuming poison or ordering his Gallic bodyguard to dispatch him after a reign of fifty-six years.

Pharnaces II was the last true king of the great dynasty to rule Pontus. Following his father's death he made several overtures to Pompey Magnus to bring peace to his exhausted kingdom, including sending the body of his father as proof of his sincerity. Content wit this display, Pompey agreed to a peace treaty and awarded Pharnaces with the Bosporan kingdom as an appendage to his own. Fourteen years later during the civil war between Pompey and Caesar, and having perhaps lost his fear of the Romans, Pharnaces broke the peace treaty and conquered Colchis and parts of Armenia with an overwhelming army. He later defeated an inexperienced Roman army sent against him, but his temperament quickly changed when he found out that Caesar himself was marching against him.

His attempts to buy time for his army to recover from their recent conquests failed, and he was swiftly defeated by Caesar at the Battle of Zela after a mere five-day campaign leading to the famous quote "Veni, vidi, vici". Following this he fled to the Bosporus and managed to muster a small army made up of Scythians and Sarmatians before he was killed in battle. After his death his son Darius was placed as a puppet king of Pontus by Marc Antony.

Given the powerful neighbors and enemies the Pontic kings had to contend with, and the scant resources they had at their disposal by comparison, it is a wonder that they ruled for as long as they did. Yet, it must be recognized that they would not have been able to do so had they not been as capable and cunning as they were. By appearing as the last descendants of the royal house of the Achaemenids they endeared their Asian subjects to them, and by showing themselves as philhellenes of the most enthusiastic variety they obtained the respect and admiration of their Greek subjects and allies. Many of them also showed an innate ability to lead and command men, and this hereditary trait allowed them to emerge victorious over many of their rivals and enemies. Perhaps if they had commanded men and resources comparable to what the Seleucid and Ptolemaic kings possessed they would have left and even greater mark upon the history of the world, but as it stands only their tombs and the ruins of their cities stand as silent monuments to their all-too-often overlooked kingdom.