1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mithradates

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MITHRADATES, less correctly Mithridates, a Persian name derived from Mithras (q.v.), the sun-god, and the Indo-European root da, “to give,” i.e. “given by Mithras.” The name occurs also in the forms Mitradates (Herod. i. 110) and Meherdates (Tac. Ann. xii. 10). It was borne by a large number of Oriental kings, soldiers and statesmen. The earliest are Mithradates, the eunuch who helped Artabanus to assassinate Xerxes I. (Diod. xi. 69), and the Mithradates who fought first with Cyrus the Younger and after his death with Artaxerxes against the Greeks (Xen. Anab. ii. 5, 35; iii. 3, 1–10; iii. 4, 1–5), and is the ancestor of the kings of Pontus. The most important are three kings of Parthia of the Arsacid dynasty, and six (or four) kings of Pontus. There were also two kings of Commagene, two of the Bosporus and one of Armenia (A.D. 35–51).

Mithradates I. (Arsaces VI.), successor of his brother, Phraates I., came to the Parthian throne about 175 B.C. The first event of his reign was a war with Eucratides of Bactria, who tried to create a great Greek empire in the East. At last, when Eucratides had been murdered by his son about 150, Mithradates was able to occupy Kings of Parthia. some districts on the border of Bactria and to conquer Arachosia (Kandahar); he is even said to have crossed the Indus (Justin 41, 6; Strabo xi. 515, 517; cf. Orosius v. 4, 16; Diod. 33, 18). Meanwhile the Seleucid kingdom was torn by internal dissensions, fostered by Roman intrigues. Phraates I. had already conquered eastern Media, about Rhagae (Rai), and subjected the Mardi on the border of the Caspian (Justin 41, 5; Isidor. Charac. 7). Mithradates I. conquered the rest of Media and advanced towards the Zagros chains and the Babylonian plain. In a war against the Elymaeans (in Susiana) he took the Greek town Seleucia on the Hedyphon, and forced their king to become a vassal of the Parthians (Justin 41, 6; Strabo xv. 744). About 141 he must have become master of Babylonia. By Diodorus 33, 18 he is praised as a mild ruler; and the fact that from 140 he takes on his coins the epithet Philhellen (W. Wroth, Catalogue of the Coins of Parthia, p. 14 seq.; till then he only calls himself “the great king Arsakes”) shows that he tried to conciliate his Greek subjects. The Greeks, however, induced Demetrius II. Nicator to come to their deliverance, although he was much pressed in Syria by the pretender Diodotus Tryphon. At first he was victorious, but in 138 he was defeated. Mithradates settled him with a royal household in Hyrcania and gave him his daughter Rhodogune in marriage (Justin 36, 1, 38, 9; Jos. Ant. 13, 5, 11; Euseb. Chron. I. 257; Appian Syr. 67). Shortly afterwards Mithradates I. died, and was succeeded by his son Phraates II. He was the real founder of the Arsacid Empire.

Mithradates II. the Great, king of Parthia (c. 120–88 B.C.), saved the kingdom from the Mongolian Sacae (Tochari), who had occupied Bactria and eastern Iran, and is said to have extended the limits of the empire (Justin 42, 2, where he is afterwards confused with Mithradates III.). He defeated King Artavasdes of Armenia and conquered seventy valleys; and the prince Tigranes came as hostage to the Parthians (Justin 42, 2; Strabo, xi. 532). In an inscription from Delos (Dittenberger, Or. gr. inscr. 430) he is called “the great King of Kings Arsakes.” He also interfered in the wars of the dynasts of Syria (Jos. Ant. xiii. 14, 3). He was the first Parthian king who entered into negotiations with Rome, then represented by Sulla, praetor of Cilicia (92 B.C.).

Mithradates III. murdered his father Phraates III. about 57 B.C., with the assistance of his brother Orodes. He was made king of Media, and waged war against his brother, but was soon deposed on account of his cruelty. He took refuge with Gabinius, the Roman proconsul of Syria. He advanced into Mesopotamia, but was beaten at Seleucia by Surenas, fled into Babylon, and after a long siege was taken prisoner and killed in 54 by Orodes I. (Dio Cass. 39, 56; Justin 42, 4; Jos. Bell. i. 8, 7, Ant. 14, 6, 4).

A Parthian king Mithradates, who must have occupied the throne for a short time during the reign of Phraates IV., is mentioned by Jos. Ant. xvi. 8, 4, in 10 B.C.; another pretender Meherdates was brought from Rome in A.D. 49 by the opponents of Gotarzes, but defeated (Tac. Ann. xi. 10, xii. 10 sqq.). The name of another pretender Mithradates (often called Mithradates IV.) occurs on a coin of the first half of the 2nd century, written in Aramaic, accompanied by the Arsacid titles in Greek (Wroth, Catal. of the Coins of Parthia, p. 219); he appears to be identical with Meherdotes, one of the rival kings of Parthia who fought against Trajan in 116; he died in an attack on Commagene and appointed his son Sanatruces successor, who fell in a battle against the Romans (Arrian ap. Malalas, Chron. pp. 270, 274).  (Ed. M.) 

The kings of Pontus were descended from one of the seven Persian conspirators who put the false Smerdis to death (see Darius I.). According to Diodorus Siculus, three members of his family—Mithradates, Ariobarzanes, Mithradates—were successively rulers of Cius on the Propontis and Carinē in Mysia. The last of these was put Kings of Pontus. to death in 302 B.C. by Antigonus, who suspected him of having joined the coalition against him. He was succeeded by his son Mithradates I. or III. (if the two dynasts of Cius be included[1]) the founder (κτίστης) of the Pontic kingdom, although this distinction is by some attributed to the father. Warned by his friend Demetrius, the son of Antigonus, that he was threatened with the same fate as his father, he fled to Paphlagonia, where he seized Cimiata, a fort at the foot of the Olgassys range. Being joined by the Macedonian garrison and the neighbouring populations, he conquered the Cappadocian and Paphlagonian territories on both sides of the Halys and assumed the title of king. Before his death he further enlarged Pontic Cappadocia. He was succeeded by Ariobarzanes, who left the throne to Mithradates II. (c. 256–190, according to Meyer, Mithradates II. and III.), a mere child. Early in his reign the Gauls of Galatia invaded his territory. Mithradates was at the battle of Ancyra (c. 241), in which he assisted Antiochus Hierax against his brother Seleucus Callinicus, in spite of the fact that he had married the daughter of the latter with Greater Phrygia as her dowry. His two daughters, both named Laodice, were married, one to Antiochus the Great, the other to his cousin Achaeus, a dynast of Asia Minor. He unsuccessfully attacked Sinope, which was taken by his successor Pharnaces, the brother (not the son) of Mithradates III. (169–121), surnamed Philopator, Philadelphus, and Euergetes. According to Meyer, however, there were two kings (Mithradates IV. Philopator and V. Euergetes). He was the first king of Pontus to recognize the suzerainty of the Romans, of whom he was a loyal ally. He assisted Attalus II. of Pergamum to resist Prusias II. of Bithynia; furnished a contingent during the Third Punic War; and aided the Romans in obtaining possession of Pergamum, bequeathed to them by Attalus III., but claimed by Aristonicus, a natural son of Eumenes II. Both Mithradates and Nicomedes of Bithynia demanded Greater Phrygia in return for their services. It was awarded to Mithradates, but the senate refused to ratify the bargain on the ground of bribery. For several years the kings of Pontus and Bithynia bid against each other, till in 116 Phrygia was declared independent, although in reality it was treated as part of the province of Asia. Mithradates appears to have taken it without waiting for the decision of the senate. He invaded Cappadocia, and married his daughter to the young king, Ariarathes Epiphanes; bought the succession from the last king of Paphlagonia, and obtained a kind of protectorate over Galatia. He was a great admirer of the Greeks, who called him Euergetes; he removed his capital from Amasia to Sinope, and bestowed liberal gifts upon the temples of Delos and Athens. At the height of his power he was assassinated by his courtiers during a banquet in his palace at Sinope.

Mithradates VI. Eupator, called the Great, a boy of eleven, now succeeded his father. Alarmed at the attempts made upon his life by his mother, he fled to the mountains and was for many years a hunter. In 111 he returned to Sinope, threw his mother into prison, and put his younger brother to death. Having thus established himself on the throne, he turned his attention to conquest. In return for his assistance against the Scythians, the Greeks of the Cimmerian Bosporus and the Tauric Chersonese recognized his suzerainty. He occupied Colchis, Paphlagonia and part of Galatia, set his son Ariarathes on the throne of Cappadocia and drove out Nicomedes III., the young king of Bithynia. The Romans restored the legitimate kings, and, while apparently acquiescing, Mithradates made preparations for war. He had long hated the Romans, who had taken Phrygia during his minority, and he aimed at driving them from Asia Minor. The cause of rupture was the attack on Pontic territory by Nicomedes at the instigation of the Romans. Mithradates, unable to obtain satisfaction, declared war (88 B.C.). He rapidly overran Galatia, Phrygia and Asia, defeated the Roman armies, and ordered a general massacre of the Romans in Asia. He sent large armies into European Greece, and his generals occupied Athens. But Sulla in Greece and Fimbria in Asia defeated his armies in several battles; the Greek cities were disgusted by his severity, and in 84 he concluded peace, abandoning all his conquests, surrendering his fleet and paying a fine of 2000 talents. During what is called the Second Mithradatic War, Murena invaded Pontus without any good reason in 83, but was defeated in 82. Hostilities were suspended, but disputes constantly occurred, and in 74 a general war broke out. Mithradates defeated Cotta, the Roman consul, at Chalcedon; but Lucullus worsted him, and drove him in 72 to take refuge in Armenia with his son-in-law Tigranes. After two great victories at Tigranocerta (69) and Artaxata (68), Lucullus was disconcerted by mutiny and the defeat of his lieutenant Fabius (see Lucullus). In 66 he was superseded by Pompey, who completely defeated both Mithradates and Tigranes. The former established himself in 64 at Panticapaeum, and was planning new campaigns against the Romans when his own troops revolted, and, after vainly trying to poison himself, he ordered a Gallic mercenary to kill him. So perished the greatest enemy that the Romans had to encounter in Asia Minor. His body was sent to Pompey, who buried it in the royal sepulchre at Sinope.

Ancient authorities have invested Mithradates with a halo of romance. His courage, his bodily strength and size, his skill in the use of weapons, in riding, and in the chase, his speed of foot, his capacity for eating and drinking, his penetrating intellect and his mastery of 22 languages are celebrated to a degree which is almost incredible. With a surface gloss of Greek education, he united the subtlety, the superstition, and the obstinate endurance of an Oriental. He collected curiosities and works of art; he assembled Greek men of letters round him; he gave prizes to the greatest poets and the best eaters. He spent much of his time in practising magic, and it was believed that he had so saturated his body with poisons that none could injure him. He trusted no one; he murdered his mother, his sons, the sister whom he had married; to prevent his harem from falling to his enemies he murdered all his concubines, and his most faithful followers were never safe. For eighteen years he showed himself no unworthy adversary of Sulla, Lucullus and Pompey.

See T. Reinach, Mithridate Eupator (1890; Ger. trans. by A. Goetz, 1895, with the author’s corrections and additions); also E. Meyer, Geschichte des Königreichs Pontos (1879).

  1. There is much difference of opinion in regard to the kings of Pontus called Mithradates to the accession of Mithradates Eupator. Ed. Meyer reckons five, T. Reinach three.