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Mithridates VI and the Pontic Kingdom: Abstracts

The Pontic Kingdom and Mithridates VI

The Danish National Research Foundation's Centre for Black Sea Studies

Aarhus, Denmark, 11.-14. January





The Rock-tombs of the Pontian Kings in Amasya, Turkey

Robert Fleischer (Johannes Gutenberg Universität, Mainz)


Amaseia, today Amasya, was made capital of the kingdom of Pontus by Mithradates I about 281 B. C. and held this position for about 100 years, until Pharnaces I moved his residence to Sinope. Five big king-tombs, already mentioned by Strabon, are situated high in the rocks above the royal basileia, below the acropolis. In 2002 a small team from Mainz University studied them and drew plans by means of computer-based photogrammetry. Dowel- and clamp-holes and other traces of architectural parts, which once were separately made and are lost today, made it possible to draw reconstructions which give a picture very different from the actual state. Unlike in Lycia, Caria and other landscapes, the development of rock-tombs in Pontos did not start with local forms which later were more and more influenced by Greek architecture, but, in contrary, the Greek forms of the first tombs were abandoned here and a very distinct local type was developed. It was first realized for the tomb of Pharnaces I and later imitated by some non-royal tombs, among them the biggest rock-tomb at all in Anatolia. This development was cut off when Sinope became capital of Pontos instead of Amaseia. The later kings down to Mithradates VI obviously preferred other forms of tombs, most likely tumuli or mausolea, and were not buried in rocks any more.



Comana Pontica: A City or a Sanctuary?

Deniz Burcu Erciyas (Middle East Technical University, Ankara)


Comana Pontica, situated near the city of Tokat in Turkish Black Sea region, is a poorly understood settlement especially in terms of its appearance and function especially under the reign of Mithradates VI. It has been identified as a temple-state, temple-estate and a polis by different scholars solely based on ancient literary sources and its temple was identified as a tetrastyle building housing the statue of the goddess Ma, depending on the images on the coins of Caracalla, Septimius Severus and Trajan. The aim of the archaeological surveys conducted since 2004 has been to identify the archaeological remains that can be associated with Comana, designate the settlement area of the site and explore its hinterland. The surveys so far have shed light on the relationship between the mound Hamamtepe, previously identified as the site of Comana, the river Iris, possible areas for necropoleis and habitational land. In this paper, the results of three years of field work will be presented.



On the Question of “Pontic Identity”: The Dynastic History of Hellenistic Anatolia by the Data of Synkellos’ “Chronography”

Oleg Gabelko (Kazan State University)


The Byzantine author Georgius Synkellos’ (IX cent.) data on the length of rule of various Hellenistic dynasties are often regarded as unreliable. Nevertheless, the analysis of his information concerning the Cappadocian, Pontic and Bithynian royal houses allows to conclude, that the start points of the reckoning were the years, when the matrimonial ties of these dynasties with the Seleucides were established (ca. 260, 240 and 235 BC respectively). As for the upper limit of the Bithynian and Pontic houses, it is quite possible, by Synkellos, to mark 22 BC as such a point. Supposedly, it was this year when in the course of M. Vipsanius Agrippa’s eastern mission the rule of a certain Orodaltis in the city of Cius/Prusias-ad-Mare was terminated. She is known only from her coins, issued in this city, but it is reasonably to assume, that she was born in the wedlock of Orosbaris, Mithridates Eupator’s daughter, and Lycomedes, the priest of Comana and secondary member of the Bithynian royal house. This fact explains, why Synkellos tells about simultaneous end of the Bithynian and Pontic dynasties and also about 10 Pontic kings, unlike the 8 mentioned by Appian and Plutarch.

This hypothesis allows to highlight a number of details in the political history of Hellenistic Anatolia, and, at the same time, demonstrates the measures which were used by the rulers of “minor” monarchies to state themselves on the equal level with the Seleucids. It is not accidental, that the figure of Mithridates VI Eupator occupied the central place in the system of dynastic ties in Asia Minor in the first cent. BC.



Bosporus under the rule of Mithridate VI Eupator

Eugenij A. Molev (University of Nizhny Novgorod)


The status of Bosporus within the Pontic kingdom after it had been subdued to Mithridates Eupator is not explicitly mentioned in the ancient sources. Certain indirect evidence allows to think that it was turned into a province of Pontus, which was first ruled by a governor from among the “friends” of the king, and later by Machares, Mithridates’ son. Thus, Strabo, when he speaks about Bosporus being subdued to Mithridates, calls him “the lord of Bosporus” (VII, 4, 3). While in the Decree in honor of Diophantos, Mithridates is designated as simply “king”, in the inscription from Nymphaion he is already “king of kings”. This gives grounds to suggest that as a unit of administration Bosporus was not isolated politically, but constituted a new formation together with Chersonese, some part of Scythia and newly subdued tribes in Asia. A confirmation of this is found in Strabo’s report about the inhabitants’ of Taurica and regions near Sindica paying the tribute to the king of Bosporus (VII, 4, 6). The accordance of several city-state liberties (including the restoration of a civil militia) to the Greek cities in the Bosporus is explained not so much by Mithridates’ philellenism as by the Pontic ruler’s aspiration for the unification of legislation and thereby for the strengthening of the internal unity of the all-Pontic power.



Troy, between Mithridates and Rome

Luis Ballesteros-Pastor (Universidad de Sevilla)


Troy was attractive to both Mithridates and his Roman enemies. The conquering of Ilium represented an opportunity to renew the Homeric legend. At the same time, the sacrifice to Athena Ilias was a ritual secularly repeated by rulers and generals who wanted to conquer Europe from Asia or vice versa. Ilion, in Mithridates’ hands, was conquered in 85 B.C. by Fimbria, who had promised friendship but afterwards he ravaged the city. The salvation of Athena Ilias’ statue from the fire provoked by Fimbria is an episode repeated in the ancient sources. It would be an anecdote to highlight the role of Sulla, who is so appearing as favoured by the goddess who protects the city and as master of Asia after having defeated Mithridates’ army. However, Appian (Mith. 53) denies such prodigy, because he tells that Ulysses and Diomedes had stolen the statue of Athena many centuries before. This remark would come from a source hostile towards Rome, not only because it denied the attested visits and sacrifices to Athena Ilias, but also because the legend concerning the robbery of the Palladium was an element of anti- Roman propaganda developed in the wars against Antiochos III, that would have been spread again by the Pontic propaganda against Rome. This motif was also exalted by the Athenians, who were proud to have had the authentic Palladium, and would have been taken by authors who were critical towards Roman policy in Augustus’ times: such was the case of Iullus Antonius, who wrote an epic poem entitled Diomedia. Appian’s source may have been the work of an author related to the circles of former relatives of Marcus Antonius, as would be the case of the King Juba II., Mithridates would have taken advantage from certain aspects of Diomedes’ tale for his own propaganda.



Venus Contra Dionysos: Sulla's Propaganda in the First Mithridatic War

Eugenij V. Smykov (Saratov State University)


Speaking about Sulla’s campaign against Mithridatus, we usually pay more attention to the resolution and rapidness of his actions. However, it is only a part of the real picture of events. Another important aspect is related to his propaganda activities which perhaps were not so systematic and effective as Mithridatus’, but they were put into effect anyway. We can distinguish two sides in Sulla’s propaganda of the period of war in Greece and Asia. First of all, he had to support the fighting spirit and faith in victory in his army. The means used for that purpose was spreading rumors about various favorable prophesies and dreams and, particularly, about his special relationships with gods, Venus in particular. The second important aspect of Sulla’s propaganda referred to the population of Greek poleis. To some extent it had to justify tough measures (confiscation etc.) which Sulla had taken within the course of his military actions and demonstrate the advantage of being loyal to Rome and the disadvantage of supporting its enemies. Epigraphic monuments are of particular interest in this respect – first of all, the expressions that are used in Sulla’s letters addressed to Asian towns, and related to them in the motivation aspect senatus consulta. This propaganda (and not only it, but the Roman military superiority over the Pontic army, proven in battles, as well) gave its results – at the beginning of the Third Mithridatic War not one Asian polis took the side of the king of Pontus.



The Pursuit of Mithridates: Reception of Mithridates between 16th and 20th centuries

Lâtife Summerer (Universität München)


This paper deals with receptions of Mithridates during the modern age. The last Pontic King was a subject of scientific works as well as a source of inspiration in popular literature and opera over centuries. The paper aims to show how certain historical facts involving Mithridates were used, distorted and overlooked in order to construct positive and negative images of him.

In the 16th century the image of Mithridates alters from being an allegory of multilinguism to a metaphor for toxicology. During 17th and 18th centuries he occurs as a tragic figure of a betrayed and defeated king in operas. Among some eighteen operas based on Jean Racin´s libretto, from the 1807 work of Alessandro Scarlatti onwards, Mozart´s Mitridate, re di Ponto remains the best known. From Theodor Mommsen to Théodore Reinach, the early scholarship judges Mithridates as a cruel oriental ruler with harem, placing him side-by-side with Ottoman sultans. But some scholars react against this negative tendency by qualifying disapproving comments in the Roman written sources. In the popular literature, historical fictions and novels, from the mid twentieth century onwards the image of Mithridates transforms from being a grand enemy of Romans and Western civilization to a liberator of Hellenism.

In order to understand these changes the paper will focus the attention not on Mithridates, but on those who have analysed him.



Mithradates VI Eupator and Iran

Marek Jan Olbrycht (University of Rzeszów)


The defeat of Antiochos III., the destruction of Macedonia and the subjugation of western Asia Minor demonstrated the seemingly absolute supremacy of Rome over the kingdoms of Western Asia and the Balkan area in the 2nd and the beginning of the 1st century BC. When examined on this assumption, the actions of Mithradates VI Eupator against Rome are most surprising. Having gained control of almost the entire circuit of the Black Sea including the Bosporan kingdom, Mithradates Eupator got involved in bitter struggles against Rome.

Modern scholars often overlook the role played by Arsacid Iran in the policies of Mithradates Eupator. Under Mithradates II (123-87 BC), Parthia remained the paramount power in the area stretching from Transcaucasia (including Armenia, subjugated by the Arsacids in about 120 BC) to Central Asia and the borders of India. In about 95 BC, the Armenian prince and hostage Tigranes was released from the Parthian court and appointed king of Armenia by Mithradates II. Immidiately upon his enthtronement, Tigranes married one of Pontic princesses, became an ally of Mithradates Eupator and invaded Cappadocia, a kingdom remaining under Roman suzerainty. Thus, a new political constellation, instigated and supported by Arsacid Iran, emerged in Anatolia, and the anti-Roman actions of the Pontic and Armenian king were to be intensified. It was Mithradates II of Parthia, a politician of broad horizons, who was keen to weaken Roman power in the eastern Mediterranean. It seems that his decisive support prompted Mithradates Eupator to wage an open war on Rome in 88 BC. Politically and militarily the prospects for Pontus were good. But the whole situation changed when Mithradates II of Parthia died in 87 BC and Parthia grew weak for some time. Under such circumstance, Tigranes of Armenia became independent and dealt blows to Arsacid power. Mithradates Eupator seeked closer ties to the successors of Mithradates II in Parthia, including Sinatrukes and Phraates III, but the Arsacids showed a marked reluctance to get involved in Anatolian quarrels. The main obstacle were the ambitions of Tigranes, an ally of Mithradates Eupator. When in the winter of 69/68 BC Mithradates Eupator and Tigranes approached the Parthians with a view to an alliance, it was too late to stay the course of events and bring Roman military advances in Anatolia to a standstill.

Mithradates VI Eupator used propaganda to further his political activities. He claimed to be a descendant of Kyros and Dareios, „the founders of the Persian empire”, on his father’s side, and of Alexander the Great and Seleukos Nikator, „the founders of the Macedonian empire”, on his mother’s side (Iust. 38.7.1). Thus, Mithradates Eupator highlighted his Iranian genealogy on the more important, father’s side. The fictitious claims to be descended from Alexander (there are some Mithradates’ portraits depicting his head with lion exuvie, an attribute clearly related to Alexander the Great) and Seleukos were not incidental – both rulers remained in the memory of many Asians as embodiments of both imperial Macedonian traditions and pro-Iranian policies (strikingly there were no Mithradates’ claims to Lysimachos or Pergamon rulers, well known in Anatolia). With Mithradates’ propaganda some widespread oracles can be associated, known from the Sibylline Books. The nature of those prophecies’ links to the Persian apocalyptic traditions, and a possible influence of contemporary Parthian propaganda, should be investigated.



The Use of Different Alloys for the Coinages of Pontos and Bosporos at the End of the Second to the First Half of the First Century BC

Tatyana Smekalova (V.A. Fock Institute of Physics of Saint Petersburg State University)


Before the end of the second and the first half of the first century BC, the only copper alloy used for striking coins was bronze (the alloy of copper, tin and lead). However, during the reign of Mithridates VI, new alloys had been introduced into coinage in the several mints of Pontus and Paphlagonia where simultaneous issues of coins Head of Perseus / Pegasus (ca. 12.17 g) were struck of ‘pure’ copper, and coins Head of Dionysos / cista (ca. 4.00 g) were struck of brass (the alloy of copper and zinc).

The Pontic and Bosporan copper coins of the time of Mithridates VI from the collection of the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg have been analyzed with help of X-ray fluorescent spectroscopy. The method is suitable for the determination of the type of copper alloy (‘pure’ copper, bronze or brass) and semi-quantitative estimates of its main components: tin, zinc, lead.

During the investigation it was possible to reveal not only the above-mentioned coins struck of unusual alloys, but also other coins struck of ‘pure’ copper. These were the so called Pontic anonymous obols (Head in leather helmet / Eight-ray star) and Bosporan anonymous obols (Head of Dionysos / Bowcase). The last issues of Bosporan silver coins (Head of Artemis / Stag feeding, Head of Dionysus / Brunch of grapes and Head of Dionysus/ Thyrsos), were struck of very poor silver which contained more than 50% of copper and were probably displaced by anonymous obols (Head of Dionysos / Bowcase), struck of ‘pure’ copper.

The introduction of new copper-base alloys into coinage coincided with the epoch of the Mithridatic wars against Rome. This was dictated by the necessity of searching for additional financial sources needed for preparing wide-scale military operations, and for the organisation of provincial coinage in the expanded Pontic state.

Different alloys, brass and ‘pure’ copper, made a high value nomination possible without any need for the coin to be unreasonably large, as well as making many payments with coins of the new alloy which had previously been made in silver; this also prevented falsifications. Despite the fact that the honor of introducing new alloys into coinage belongs to the Pontic King Mithridates VI and his circle, the especially wide use of brass and copper was exploited, however, by Rome, Mithridates enemy, after the money reform of Augustus in 23 BC.



Monuments for the king: Royal presence in the Late Hellenistic world of Mithridates VI

Patric-Alexander Kreuz (Institute for Archaeological Science, Ruhr-Universität Bochum)


A characteristic feature of sanctuaries and political centres in Hellenistic Greece are the numerous monuments erected on different occasions by kings and dynasts or in honour of them. As a key strategy of political communication, these monuments not only contributed to the appearance of those places in manifold ways. Moreover, they were the only form of visual royal presence beyond the king's own realm, thereby influencing the perception of his reign. In this capacity they offer valuable insights into the self-image of the king, but also into his contemporaries' expectations towards him.

However, compared to the 3rd and early 2nd century BC, in the Late Hellenistic period a remarkable change can be observed. Considering the quantity and diversity of monuments connected with the Attalids or earlier Hellenistic dynasties, only few later monuments are mentioned in epigraphical and literary sources or known from the archaeological record. Even the monuments connected with an ambitious ruler like Mithridates VI are few in number and leave a rather haphazard impression.

On the basis of this fragmentary evidence, the paper seeks to re-evaluate selected 'Mithridatic' monuments against the background of the ‘Monumentverhalten’ both during the Late Hellenistic period and the time before Mithridates. Such an approach might contribute to our understanding of one of the basic phenomena of Late Hellenistic kingship: The means employed to convey and present aspects of royal ideology in a political setting characterized by a growing Roman dominance and the decline of the traditional Hellenistic kingdoms.


On the Nature and Organization of the Pontic Kingdom

Jakob Munk Højte (The Danish National Research Foundation's Centre for Black Sea Studies, Aarhus)


In his account of the Cappadocian Kingdom in central Anatolia, Strabo gives a detailed description of the administrative framework and its evolution from the Persian to the Roman period, but when he turns to Pontic Cappadocia, which constituted the core of the kingdom of Mithridates VI, such a description lacks completely for the Hellenistic period. Since it was his patria, his interests are often of a more private nature, and when he does discuss administrative matters it exclusively concerns the organisation of the province by Pompey and later adjustments. Other literary sources give only scattered and fragmented information. We know therefore relatively little concrete about the organisation of Pontos under the Mithridatids.

                      What we do have is a lot of topographical information, particularly about the many fortresses that are found throughout Pontos, which may have played a key role in controlling the territory. Comparison with areas that came under the control of Mithridates VI and the changes that occur there, particularly in the Bosporan Kingdom, gives an idea of how Pontos was organised. Survey data reveals patterns of settlement and the level of urbanisation. Furthermore, numismatic data may also reveal something about underlying administrative structures of the kingdom.


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