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Kingdom of Pontus


Kingdom of Pontus

Kingdom of Pontus
client of the Roman Republic and Roman Empire (66 BC-62 AD)

281 BCE–62 CE
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)
Capital Amaseia, Sinope
Languages Greek (official)
Old Persian (native and regional)
Laz (regional)
Pontian (regional)
Religion Syncretic, incorporating Greek Polytheism with Anatolian and Persian gods.
Government Monarchy
Basileus Mithridates I Ktistes 281 - 266 BCE
Ariobarzanes 266 - 250 BCE
Mithridates II c. 250 - 220 BCE
Mithridates III c. 220 - 185 BCE
Pharnaces I c. 185 - c. 170 BCE
Mithridates IV c. 170 - 150 BCE
Mithridates V Euergetes c. 150 - 120 BCE
Mithridates VI Eupator 120 - 63 BCE
Pharnaces II 63 - 47 BCE
 -  Founded by Mithridates I 281 BCE
 -  Conquered by Pompey of the Roman Republic, remained as a client state. 66–65 BCE
 -  Annexed by the Roman Empire under Emperor Nero. 62 CE
Today part of  Bulgaria

The Kingdom of Pontus or Pontic Empire was a state of [1] It was founded by Mithridates I in 281 BCE and lasted until its conquest by the Roman Republic in 63 BCE. The kingdom grew to its largest extent under Mithridates VI the Great, who conquered Colchis, Cappadocia, Bithynia, the Greek colonies of the Tauric Chersonesos and for a brief time the Roman province of Asia. After a long struggle with Rome in the Mithridatic Wars, Pontus was defeated, part of it was incorporated into the Roman Republic as the province Bithynia et Pontus and the eastern half survived as a client kingdom.

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


  • Features of Pontus 1
  • History 2
    • Mithridatic Dynasty of Cius 2.1
    • Kingdom of Pontus 2.2
    • Mithridates VI Eupator 2.3
      • The First Mithridatic War 2.3.1
      • Second and Third Mithridatic wars 2.3.2
    • Roman province and client kingdoms 2.4
  • Notes 3
  • Bibliography 4

Features of Pontus

The Kingdom of Pontus was divided into two distinct areas. The coastal region bordering the Black Sea was divided from the mountainous inland area by the Pontic Alps which ran parallel to the coast. The river valleys of Pontus also ran parallel to the coast and were quite fertile, supporting cattle herds and millet, along with fruit trees including cherry (named for the city of Cerasus), apple and pear. The coastal region was dominated by the Greek cities such as Amastris and Sinope, the latter which became the Pontic capital after its capture. The coast was rich in Timber, fishing and the olive trade. Pontus was also rich in Iron and silver, which were mined near the coast south of Pharnacia, steel from the Chalybian mountains became quite famous in Greece. There are also copper, lead, zinc and arsenic. The Pontic interior also had its fertile river valleys such as the river 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. After Amasia and a few other cities, the interior was mainly dominated by small villages. The kingdom of Pontus was divided into districts named Eparchies.[2]

The 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 which 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, Persian and Greek Deities. Major gods included the Persian Ahuramazda who was termed Zeus Stratios, the Moon god Men Pharnacou and Ma (interpreted as Cybele).[3]

Sun gods were particularly popular with the royal house being identified with the Persian god Ahuramazda of the Achaemenid dynasty, both Apollo and Mithras were worshipped by the Kings. Indeed, the name used by the majority of the Pontic kings was Mithridates which means "given by Mithras".[4] Pontic culture saw a synthesis between Greek and Iranian elements, though the most Hellenized parts of the Kingdom were surely the coastal regions, already Greek in themselves. Epigraphic evidence also shows extensive Hellenistic influence in the interior. 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. The Pontic Kings though they claimed descent from the Persian royal house generally acted as Hellenistic kings and portrayed themselves as such in their coins, mimicking Alexander's royal stater.[5]


Mithridatic Dynasty of Cius

The region of Pontus was originally part of the Persian Satrapy of Cappadocia (Katpatuka). While the Persian dynasty which was to found this kingdom had during the 4th century BC ruled the Greek city of Cius (or Kios) in Mysia, with its first known member being Mithridates of Cius. His son Ariobarzanes II became satrap of Phrygia. He became a strong ally of Athens and revolted against Artaxerxes. However Ariobarzanes was betrayed by his son Mithridates II of Cius.[6] Mithridates II remained as ruler after Alexander's conquests and was a vassal to Antigonus I Monophthalmus who briefly ruled Asia Minor after the Partition of Triparadisus. Mithridates was killed by Antigonus in 302 BCE under suspicion that he was working with his enemy Cassander. Antigonus planned to kill Mithridates' son, also called Mithridates (later named Ktistes, 'founder') but Demetrius I warned him and he escaped to the east with six horsemen.[7] Mithridates first went to the city of Cimiata in Paphlagonia and later to Amasia in Cappadocia. He ruled from 302 to 266 BCE, fought against Seleucus I and in 281 (or 280) BCE declared himself king (basileus) of a state in northern Cappadocia and eastern Paphlagonia. He further expanded his kingdom to the river Sangrius in the west and his son Ariobarzanes captured Amastris in 279, its first important Black sea port. Mithridates also allied with the newly arrived Galatians and defeated a force sent against him by 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.[8]

Kingdom of Pontus

We know little of Ariobarzanes short reign, 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 to Antiochus III, seeking recognition for his new kingdom and to create strong ties with the Seleucid empire. The sources are silent on Pontus for the following years after the death of Mithridates II, when his son Mithridates III ruled (c. 220-198/88).[9]

Bronze shield in the name of King Pharnakes, Getty Villa (80.AC.60)

Pharnaces I of Pontus (189-159 BCE) was much more successful in his expansion against the Greek coastal cities. He joined in a war with Prusias of Bithynia against Eumenes of Pergamon in 188 BCE, but the two made peace in 183 after Bithynia suffered a series of reversals. He took Sinope in 182 BCE and though the Rhodians complained to Rome over this, nothing was done. Pharnaces also took the coastal cities of Cotyora, Pharnacia and Trapezus in the east, effectively controlling most of the northern Anatolian coastline. Despite Roman attempts to keep the peace, Pharnaces fought against Eumenes of Pergamon and Ariarathes of Cappadocia, while he was initially successful, it seems he was overmatched by 179 when he was forced to sign a treaty. He had to give up all lands in Galatia, and Paphlagonia he had obtained and the city of Tium, but he kept Sinope.[10] Seeking to extend his influence to the north, Pharnaces allied with the cities in the Chersonesus and with other black sea cities such as 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 of Pergamon against Prusias II of Bithynia in 155.[11]

His successor, Mithridates V of Pontus Euergetes remained a friend of Rome and sent ships and a small force of auxiliares to aid Rome in the third Punic war in 149 BCE. 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 from Attalus III, they turned part of it into the province of Asia, while giving the rest to loyal allied kings. For his loyalty he was awarded the region of Phrygia Major. The kingdom of Cappadocia received Lycaonia and Mithridates received Phrygia. Because of this it seems reasonable to assume that Pontus had some sort of control over Galatia, since Phrygia does not border Pontus directly. It is possible that he 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 in his coins. Mithridates was assassinated at Sinope in 121/0, the details of which are unclear.[12]

Because both 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 is 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 in BCE to depose his mother and she was thrown into prison, he eventually also had his brother killed.[13]

Mithridates VI Eupator

Bust of Mithridates VI from the Louvre.

Mithridates VI Eupator 'the Good Father' carried a decisive anti-Roman agenda, expounding Greek and Iranian culture against an 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 Lesser Armenia from king Antipater (precise date unknown, 115-106) and by conquering the Kingdom of Colchis. Colchis was an important region in Black Sea trade, rich with gold, wax, hemp and honey. The cities of the 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.[14]

At the time Rome was fighting the Jugurthine and Cimbric wars. Mithridates and Nicomedes of Bithynia both invaded Paphlagonia and divided it amongst themselves. A Roman embassy was sent but it accomplished nothing. Mithridates also took a part of Galatia which had been part of his father's kingdom in the past. Mithridates also intervened in Cappadocia, where his sister Laodice was queen. In 116 the king of Cappadocia Ariarathes VI was murdered by the Cappadocian noble Gordius at the behest of Mithridates and Laodice ruled as regent over the sons of Ariarathes until 102 BCE. After Nicomedes III of Bithynia married Laodice, he tried to intervene in the region by sending troops and Mithridates swiftly invaded, placing his nephew Ariarathes VII of Cappadocia on the throne of Cappadocia. However, war soon broke out between the two and Mithridates invaded with a large Pontic army, but Ariarathes VII was murdered in 101 BCE before any battle was fought. Mithridates then installed his eight year old son, Ariarathes IX of Cappadocia as king, and Gordius as regent. In 97 Cappadocia rebelled but it was swiftly put down by Mithridates. Afterwards Mithridates and Nicomedes III both sent embassies to Rome. The Roman Senate decreed that Mithridates had to withdraw from Cappadocia and Nicomedes from Paphlagonia. Mithridates obliged and the Romans installed Ariobarzanes in Cappadocia. In 91/90 BCE while Rome was busy in the Social War in Italy, Mithridates encouraged his new ally and son in law, King Tigranes the Great of Armenia to invade Cappadocia. He did so, and Ariobarzanes fled to Rome. Mithridates then deposed Nicomedes IV from Bithynia placing Socrates Chrestus on the throne.[15]

The First Mithridatic War

A Roman army under Manius Aquillius arrived in Asia Minor in 90 BCE which prompted Mithridates and Tigranes to withdraw. Cappadocia and Bithynia were restored to their respective monarchs, but now they faced large debts to Rome due to their bribes for the Roman senators and Nicomedes IV was eventually convinced by Aquillius to attack Pontus in order to repay them. He plundered as far as Amastris, and returned with much loot. Mithridates invaded Cappadocia once again, and Rome declared war.[16]

In the summer of 89 BCE, 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 who 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.[17]

In Athens, anti-Roman elements were emboldened by the news and soon formed an alliance with Mithridates. A joint Pontic-Athenian naval expedition took Delos in 88 BCE, and granted the city to Athens. Many Greek city-states now joined Mithridates, including Sparta, the Achaean League and most of the Boeotian League except Thespiae. Finally in 87 BCE, Lucius Cornelius Sulla departed from Italy with five legions. He marched through Boeotia which easily 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 the 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.[18]

Sulla now headed north, seeking the fertile plains of Boeotia to supply his army. At the Battle of Chaeronea, Sulla inflicted horrible 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 BCE, but was once again defeated and suffered heavy losses. Because of the heavy losses and the subsequent unrest they stirred in Asia Minor as well as the Roman army now campaigning in Bithynia, Mithridates was eventually forced to accept a peace deal. Mithridates and Sulla met in 85 BCE at Dardanus. Sulla decreed that Mithridates had to surrender Roman Asia and to give back 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.[19]

Second and Third Mithridatic wars

The treaty with Sulla was not to last. From 83 to 82 BCE 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 Roman control over Pisidia and Lycaonia. Mithridates now faced Roman commanders on two fronts when in 74 the consul Lucullus took over Cilicia. The Cilician pirates had not been completely defeated however, 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.

The Third Mithridatic war broke out when Nicomedes IV of Bithynia died without heirs in 75 and left his kingdom to Rome. In 74 BCE Rome mobilized its armies in Asia Minor, probably provoked by some move made by Mithridates, but our sources are not clear on this. In 73 Mithridates invaded Bithynia and his fleet defeated the Romans off Chalcedon and laid siege to Cyzicus. Lucullus marched from Phrygia with his five legions and forced Mithridates to retreat back to Pontus.[20] In 72 BCE Lucullus invaded Pontus through Galatia and marched north following the river Halys to the north coast, he invested Amisus which withstood siege until 70 BCE. In 71 he marched through the Iris and Lycus river valleys and established his base in Cabeira. Mithridates sent his cavalry to cut his 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.[21]

In the summer of 69 Lucullus invaded Armenian territory, marching with 12,000 men through Cappadocia into Sophene, his target was Tigranocerta the new capital of Tigranes's empire and Tigranes retreated to gather his forces. Lucullus laid siege to the city, and Tigranes returned with his army including large numbers of heavily armored cavalrymen termed Cataphracts, vastly outnumbering Lucullus' force. Despite this, Lucullus led his men in a charge against the Armenian horse and won a great victory at the Battle of Tigranocerta. Tigranes fled north while Lucullus destroyed his new capital city and dismantled his holdings in the south by granting independence to Sophene and returning Syria back to the Seleucid king Antiochus XIII Asiaticus. In 68 BCE, Lucullus invaded northern Armenia, ravaging the country and captured Nisibis, but Tigranes avoided battle. Meanwhile Mithridates invaded Pontus, and in 67 he defeated a large Roman force near Zela. Lucullus now faced with tired and discontent troops, withdrew to Pontus, then to Galatia and 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.[22]

In response to increasing Piratical activity in the eastern Mediterranean, the senate granted

  • Polybius, the histories.
  • Appian, the foreign wars.
  • Memnon of Heraclea, history of Heraclea.
  • Strabo, Geographica.
  • Plutarch, Parallel lives. 'Demetrius'.
  • Hazel, John; Who's Who in the Greek World, Routledge (2002).
  • Crook, Lintott & Rawson. THE CAMBRIDGE ANCIENT HISTORY VOLUME IX. The Last Age of the Roman Republic, 146-43 B.C. second edition. Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  • B. C. McGing. The foreign policy of Mithridates VI Eupator, King of Pontus. 1986.


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ Crook, Lintott & Rawson "THE CAMBRIDGE ANCIENT HISTORY VOLUME IX. The Last Age of the Roman Republic, 146-43 B.C.", p. 133-136.
  3. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, p. 137.
  4. ^ David Ulansey, "The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries", p. 89.
  5. ^ B. C. McGing "The foreign policy of Mithridates VI Eupator, King of Pontus", p. 10-11.
  6. ^ Xenophon "Cyropaedia", VIII 8.4
  7. ^ Appian "the Mithridatic wars", II
  8. ^ McGing, 16-17.
  9. ^ McGing, 17-23.
  10. ^ Polybius "Histories", XXIV. 1, 5, 8, 9 XXV. 2
  11. ^ Polybius, XXXIII.12
  12. ^ McGing, 36-39.
  13. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, p. 133.
  14. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, p. 137-138.
  15. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, 141-144.
  16. ^ Appian, II
  17. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, 146–49.
  18. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, 150–54.
  19. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, 155–60.
  20. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, 229-36.
  21. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, 237-39.
  22. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, 240-44.
  23. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 9, 249-54.
  24. ^ John Hazel "Who's who in the Greek world", p. 179.


Most of the western half of Pontus and the Greek cities of the coast including Sinope, was annexed 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 BCE), 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'.[24] 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 62 CE.

The Roman client kingdom of Pontus, c. 50 CE.

Roman province and client kingdoms


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