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The Mithridatic Empire, also known as the Kingdom of Pontus, was a Hellenistic kingdom located around the Black Sea region. It was ruled by a series of kings from the Mithridatic dynasty, with the most notable ruler being Mithridates VI Eupator.

I was inspired to write this paper after receiving a book, Empire of the Black Sea: The Rise and Fall of the Mithridatic World, by Duane W. Roller, as a gift. The book is a comprehensive and engaging account of the history and culture of the ancient kingdoms that dominated the shores of the Black Sea from the 4th century BC to the 1st century AD. Roller, a professor emeritus of classics at Ohio State University, draws on a wide range of sources, both literary and archaeological, to reconstruct the political, military, economic, religious and social aspects of these fascinating but often overlooked civilisations.

Credit and Attribution: A map showing the location of the Black Sea and some of the large or prominent ports around it. The Sea of Azov and Sea of Marmara are also labelled. Created by User:NormanEinstein, CC BY-SA 3.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons Page URL:

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The book focuses on the dynastic struggles and wars that shaped the fate of the Black Sea region, especially the conflicts between the Roman Republic and the Pontic Empire of Mithridates VI, who famously resisted Rome’s expansion for decades and became one of its most formidable enemies. Roller also explores the cultural diversity and richness of the Black Sea kingdoms, which included Greeks, Persians, Scythians, Celts, Thracians and many other peoples. He examines their art, architecture, literature, philosophy, science, medicine and religion, as well as their trade, agriculture, industry and diplomacy.

Empire of the Black Sea is not only a scholarly work of historical research but also a captivating narrative that brings to life the personalities, events and achievements of this ancient world. Roller writes with clarity, elegance and enthusiasm, making his book accessible to both specialists and general readers. He also provides maps, illustrations, tables, appendices and a bibliography to enhance his presentation and facilitate further study. A valuable contribution to classical studies and a must-read for anyone interested in the history and culture of the Black Sea region, the book reveals the complexity and dynamism of a world connected to and distinct from the Mediterranean civilisations that usually dominate our attention.

The Kingdom of Pontus
Pontus (Greek: Pontos) was a Hellenistic kingdom centred in the historic region of Pontus and ruled by the Mithridatic dynasty[2], which possibly may have been directly related to Darius the Great of the Achaemenid dynasty.[3] The kingdom was proclaimed by Mithridates I in 281 BC and lasted until its defeat by the Roman Republic in 63 BC.[4]

The Kingdom of Pontus reached its largest extent under Mithridates VI the Great, who conquered ColchisCappadociaBithynia, 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.[5]

The western part of the kingdom was incorporated into the Roman Republic as the province Bithynia et Pontus; the eastern half survived as a client kingdom until 62 AD.

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), 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 used to refer to the southern half of the region previously included under that name.

The kingdom had three cultural strands, which often coalesced: Greek (mostly on the coast), Persian and Anatolian[6], with Greek becoming the official language in the 3rd century BC.[7]

“Pontos” and “Pontus” refer to the same region and kingdom. The term “Pontus” is Latin, while “Pontos” is the Greek equivalent. Both words mean “Sea” and refer to the region along the southern coast of the Black Sea, where the Kingdom of Pontus was located.

The Kingdom of Pontus was located in northeastern Anatolia, part of modern-day Turkey, along the southern shore of the Black Sea. It was established by Mithridates I (302–266 BC), a Persian nobleman and part of the Mithridatic dynasty. He declared independence from the Seleucid Empire[8] after it started to fragment after Alexander the Great’s death, a period often referred to as the Wars of the Diadochi[9]. The exact dates of Mithridates I’s rule are not precisely determined; however, it’s generally accepted that he reigned from around 281–266 BC. The kingdom encompassed a region with varied geography, including fertile plains for agriculture, mountainous regions, and coastal areas by the Black Sea.

The empire expanded under Mithridates II, who conquered neighbouring territories and extended the kingdom’s influence around the Black Sea.

The Kingdom of Pontus held significant importance in the region during its existence. Its territorial expansion and military strength made it a considerable power in the eastern Mediterranean. Its unique blend of Greek, Persian, and Anatolian cultures contributed to its cultural significance and influenced the Hellenistic world.

The Kingdom of Pontus was a diverse and varied region consisting of fertile plains well-suited to agriculture, as well as mountainous regions and coastal areas along the Black Sea. This varied geography contributed to the kingdom’s strength and resilience, enabling it to resist external pressures and threats for many years.

The diverse geographical features played a strategic role in its strength and resilience. The fertile plains facilitated agricultural productivity, providing a stable economic foundation. The mountainous regions served as natural barriers, offering protection against external threats and enabling the kingdom to defend its borders effectively. The coastal areas along the Black Sea allowed for maritime trade and naval dominance, further enhancing the kingdom’s economic and military prowess.

Achievements and Influence:
The Kingdom of Pontus was significant because it retained its independence and autonomy against the powerful Roman Republic for several decades. The kingdom was renowned for its wealth and military strength. It was a hub of Hellenistic culture, blending Greek and Persian traditions. Also, the Kingdom of Pontus was a considerable naval power in the Black Sea.

Below is a list of known monarchs of the Kingdom of Pontus, although exact dates and some sequences of the early kings may be subject to historical debate due to a lack of comprehensive ancient sources:

  • Mithridates I Ktistes (meaning ‘founder’) (281–266 BC)
  • Ariobarzanes (266–250 BC)
  • Mithridates II (250–220 BC)
  • Mithridates III (220–185 BC)
  • Pharnaces I (185–170 BC)
  • Mithridates IV Philopator Philadelphus (170–150 BC)
  • Mithridates V Euergetes (150–120 BC)
  • Mithridates VI Eupator, also known as Mithridates the Great (120–63 BC)
  • Pharnaces II (63–47 BC)
  • Darius of Pontus (47–37 BC)
  • Polemon I (37–8 BC)
  • Pythodorida (8 BC – 23 CE)
  • Polemon II (38–64 CE)

It should be noted that after Mithridates VI, the Kingdom of Pontus was increasingly under Roman control, and kings like Pharnaces II, Darius, and the Polemons ruled as Roman client kings. Pythodorida was a queen who married King Polemon I and later ruled in her own right. After Polemon II, the kingdom was formally incorporated into the Roman Empire.

This paper mainly focuses on three Mithridatic kings:

  • Mithridates I: Founder of the Kingdom of Pontus.
  • Mithridates II: He successfully defended the kingdom against the Seleucid Empire and expanded its territory.
  • Mithridates VI Eupator (also known as Mithridates the Great): Perhaps the most famous king of Pontus, Mithridates VI was a formidable adversary of Rome. His rule, from 120 to 63 BC, was marked by constant warfare with Rome in the series of conflicts known as the Mithridatic Wars.

Mithridates I: Founder of the Kingdom of Pontus
Mithridates I Ktistes (the nickname for ‘founder’) established the Kingdom of Pontus. He was of Persian noble descent, and after the death of Alexander the Great, during the fragmentation of the Seleucid Empire, he declared independence and, in the early 3rd century BC, established his own kingdom based in Paphlagonia. This event took place during a time of significant upheaval following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC. See later in this paper for more information and clarification.

While there is a scarcity of historical information available on the life of Mithridates I Ktistes, what is known can be summarised as follows:

  • Persian Noble Descent: Mithridates I was of Persian noble descent, coming from an Iranian noble house that could trace its lineage back to Darius I, the king of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. The establishment of the Kingdom of Pontus created a fusion of Persian and Greek cultures in the region.
  • Independence from the Seleucid Empire: Mithridates declared independence for his kingdom as the Seleucid Empire started to fragment after the death of Alexander the Great. This empire was one of the major Hellenistic states formed from the remnants of Alexander’s kingdom, and its weakened position provided an opportunity for smaller regional powers, like Pontus, to assert their independence.
  • The foundation of the Kingdom: Mithridates I took advantage of the political instability to establish his kingdom in the Pontus region, which is located on the southern coast of the Black Sea.
  • Development of the Kingdom: Under Mithridates I, the Kingdom of Pontus began to take shape, strengthening its military, establishing its political institutions, and developing its economy. His kingdom brought together Greek and Persian cultures, which was an important factor in the Hellenisation of the region.
  • Succession: Mithridates I was succeeded by his son, Ariobarzanes, who continued his father’s work of consolidating and expanding the Kingdom of Pontus.

The exact dates of his rule and details of his life are difficult to confirm due to the lack of surviving historical records. But the legacy of Mithridates I Ktistes endured, particularly in the form of the powerful kingdom he founded and its resistance to the expanding Roman Republic under Mithridates VI.

Mithridates I’s role as the founder of the Kingdom of Pontus was instrumental in shaping its cultural and political landscape. His establishment of the kingdom brought together Persian and Greek cultures, creating a unique fusion that influenced the region’s identity.

This cultural amalgamation not only contributed to the Hellenisation of Pontus but also fostered a sense of unity among its diverse populations. Politically, Mithridates I’s declaration of independence from the Seleucid Empire marked a turning point in the region’s history, as smaller powers like Pontus began to assert their autonomy in the wake of Alexander the Great’s empire’s fragmentation.

Mithridates II
Mithridates II was the son of Ariobarzanes, who reigned as king before him. During his rule, Mithridates II successfully defended his kingdom against the Seleucid Empire, demonstrating the military strength of Pontus. His reign was also marked by a period of consolidation and expansion of the kingdom’s territory. He reigned from about 250–220 BCE. Unfortunately, there are very limited surviving historical sources that provide detailed information about his reign. This is a common issue with many of the early Pontic kings because much of our knowledge of this era comes from later Roman sources, and the kingdoms of Asia Minor weren’t the primary focus of these sources until the time of Mithridates VI, the most famous Pontic king.

However, based on what is known, here are a few additional details about Mithridates II:

  • Defence against the Seleucids: Mithridates II was known to have defended the Kingdom of Pontus against the Seleucid Empire. The Seleucids were one of the major successor kingdoms following the death of Alexander the Great, controlling vast territories in Asia. Mithridates II’s successful resistance against the Seleucid Empire showcased the military strength of Pontus and further solidified the kingdom’s independence.
  • Consolidation and Expansion: Mithridates II is believed to have continued the work of consolidation and expansion his predecessors had begun. This involved strengthening the kingdom’s military capabilities, economic resources, and political institutions.
  • Culture and Diplomacy: Like other Pontic kings, Mithridates II would have been responsible for encouraging the blend of Persian and Greek culture that was a distinctive characteristic of the kingdom. He may also have sought diplomatic relationships with other Hellenistic kingdoms to secure his position.
  • Succession: Upon his death around 220 BCE, Mithridates II was succeeded by his son, Mithridates III.

The exact details of Mithridates II’s reign are subject to debate among historians. However, he played an important role in the early development and defence of the Kingdom of Pontus, helping to set the stage for its later prominence under Mithridates VI.

Mithridates II played a pivotal role in defending the Kingdom of Pontus against the Seleucid Empire, showcasing its military strength and determination. His successful resistance solidified the kingdom’s independence and bolstered its reputation as a formidable power in the region. Mithridates II’s consolidation efforts and territorial expansions further strengthened the kingdom’s influence and set the stage for its later prominence under Mithridates VI.

Mithridates VI Eupator
Often called Mithridates the Great., Mithridates ascended to the throne at a young age and implemented various reforms and policies to strengthen his empire.  He was a ruthless king and visionary rebel who dared to challenge the power of Rome in the first century BC.

Conflict with Rome:
The Mithridatic Wars were a series of conflicts between the Mithridatic Empire and the Roman Republic. The wars were primarily fought over territorial disputes, influence in Asia Minor, and control over the Black Sea region. Mithridates VI aimed to challenge the growing power of Rome and sought alliances with other states to counter Roman expansion.

When the Romans defeated Hannibal, ending the Second Punic War, they probably thought they had faced their most lethal enemy ever, but they were wrong. More than a century later, they had to face Mithridates VI in three brutal wars.

  • First Mithridatic War: The first major conflict occurred from 88 to 84 BC. Mithridates VI initially achieved significant victories, capturing various Roman-held territories, including Athens. However, the tide turned in favour of Rome under the leadership of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who eventually defeated Mithridates VI.
  • Interwar Period: After the first war, Mithridates VI rebuilt his forces and continued to resist Roman influence. He consolidated his power and expanded his alliances.
  • Second and Third Mithridatic Wars: The second war occurred from 83 to 81 BC, and the third war occurred from 75 to 63 BC. These conflicts involved complex alliances, shifting loyalties, and numerous battles across various regions. Ultimately, the Roman general Pompey the Great defeated Mithridates VI in the third war, leading to the downfall of the Mithridatic Empire.

Portrait of the king of Pontus Mithridates VI as Heracles. Marble, Roman imperial period (1st century).
Attribution: Sting, CC BY-SA 2.5 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

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Mithridates VI Eupator is remembered as a charismatic and ambitious ruler who fiercely resisted Roman domination. His military campaigns and challenges to Roman power left a lasting impact on the political landscape of the Hellenistic and Roman eras.

Despite his military defeats, Mithridates VI is remembered as a remarkable figure who fiercely resisted Roman domination. He inherited an expanding kingdom but sought to elevate it to a major power by:

  • Implementing various reforms to strengthen his empire.
  • Improving the administration, promoting economic development, and encouraging cultural exchange.
  • Emphasising the Greek language and culture.
  • Undertaking numerous military campaigns to expand his territory and challenge Roman influence. He conquered neighbouring regions, including Colchis, Bithynia, Cappadocia, and parts of Asia Minor.
  • Forming alliances with other regional powers to counter Roman influence. Notably, he allied with the Kingdom of Armenia, the Kingdom of Pontus’ powerful neighbour to the east.

Mithridates VI was renowned for his knowledge of medicine and pharmacology. He is said to have created various antidotes and remedies, developing an extensive understanding of poisons and their cures. His contributions to medicine had a lasting impact and were recognised beyond the borders of his kingdom. He was known for his resistance to poison. According to legend, he so feared being poisoned that he regularly ingested small doses to build up immunity. The term “Mithridatism” has since been used to refer to the practice of protecting oneself against a poison by gradually self-administering non-lethal amounts.

Mithridates VI undertook significant military campaigns and formed strategic alliances during his reign, making him a formidable adversary of Rome. Mithridates VI was not just a significant threat for his great skills on the battlefield but also for his shrewd, calculating nature, relentless persistence, and indomitable will. He waged wars against the Roman Republic and its allies in multiple conflicts, aiming to challenge Rome’s growing power and expand his own influence. Mithridates VI’s conquests included regions such as Colchis, Bithynia, Cappadocia, and parts of Asia Minor. Furthermore, his alliances with neighbouring powers, particularly the Kingdom of Armenia, were crucial in his attempts to counter Roman domination in the region. His empire left a lasting impact on the region, both culturally and politically. Pontus became a Roman province after the defeat of Mithridates VI, and its territory was incorporated into the Roman Empire.

Mythic Origins
The mythic origins associated with the Kingdom of Pontos in Greek literature, such as the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, are not directly connected to the historical establishment of the kingdom. These myths and legends were part of the rich tapestry of Greek mythology and were not intended as historical accounts. The story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, for example, is a mythological tale that involves the hero Jason and his quest for the Golden Fleece. According to the myth, Jason and a group of legendary figures known as the Argonauts embarked on a perilous journey to retrieve the Golden Fleece, a symbol of kingship and prosperity. This narrative was popular in Greek mythology and has been retold in various forms.

While the mythological tales surrounding the Kingdom of Pontos might have contributed to its cultural and symbolic significance in later periods, they should not be understood as direct historical accounts or prophecies of the future. The myths served to enrich the cultural and literary traditions of the Greeks and often incorporated elements of adventure, heroism, and divine intervention.

It is important to distinguish between the historical reality of the Kingdom of Pontos, its establishment, achievements, and eventual demise, as well as the mythical narratives associated with it in Greek literature. The historical kingdom emerged in the 4th century BC due to political and military developments, while the myths provided imaginative and symbolic interpretations that were part of the larger Greek mythological tradition.

The Demise of the Kingdom
The kingdom’s downfall began with Mithridates VI’s ambitious attempts to challenge Roman power. Despite initial successes, he was eventually defeated by the Roman general Pompey during the Third Mithridatic War (73–63 BC). After the defeat, Mithridates VI fled to the Crimea and planned to raise a new army, but was overthrown in a rebellion led by his son, Pharnaces II.

Pharnaces II, in an attempt to save himself, surrendered the kingdom to Rome, turning it into a client state. Pontus was eventually fully incorporated into the Roman Empire as the province of Bithynia et Pontus.

The Roman conquest of the Kingdom of Pontus had immediate consequences for the region and its people. Following the defeat of Mithridates VI, Pontus was incorporated into the Roman Empire as the province of Bithynia et Pontus.

The Roman conquest brought about significant changes in governance, administration, and cultural assimilation. Local elites, once ruling as kings, now served as Roman client kings, while the overall political and economic landscape underwent a transformation under Roman rule. The incorporation of Pontus into the Roman Empire marked the end of an era for the region and its independent existence as a kingdom.

The Kingdom of Pontus serves as an example of a powerful and influential Hellenistic-era kingdom, demonstrating the blend of Greek and Eastern cultures that was characteristic of the period, as well as the geopolitical tensions between emerging Rome and the older Hellenistic kingdoms.

The Roman client kingdom of Pontus (in union with Colchis), c. 50 AD
Attribution: Cplakidas, CC BY-SA 3.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

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Both the Parthian Empire and the Kingdom of Pontus had rulers named Mithridates. In the Parthian Empire, there were two notable rulers named Mithridates:

  • Mithridates I of Parthia: He reigned as the king of the Parthian Empire from 171 BC to 138 BC. Mithridates I expanded Parthia’s territories and played a crucial role in transforming it into a major regional power.
  • Mithridates II of Parthia: Also known as Mithridates the Great, he ruled the Parthian Empire from 123 BC to 88 BC. Mithridates II continued the territorial expansion of the empire and successfully defended against Roman invasions.

In the Kingdom of Pontus, the most prominent ruler named Mithridates was Mithridates VI of Pontus. Also known as Mithridates the Great, he reigned as the king of Pontus from 120 BC to 63 BC. Mithridates VI was a skilled military leader and a formidable adversary to the expanding Roman Republic. He engaged in conflicts with Rome and attempted to establish alliances with Parthia in his resistance against Roman influence.

As an independent kingdom, Pontus emerged in the early 3rd century BC. Its royal family’s origins lay in a dynasty of Persian nobles that held sway in Cius[10] throughout the 4th century BC. The earliest member of the dynasty appears to have been the Mithridates, who were succeeded by the famous satrap[11] of Phrygia, Ariobarzanes.[12]

These rulers, Mithridates I and Mithridates II of Parthia, and Mithridates VI of Pontus, played significant roles in shaping the histories of their respective kingdoms during their reigns.

To clarify, Mithridates I of Pontus, who founded the Kingdom of Pontus, and Mithridates I of Parthia were two different historical figures who lived during different periods and ruled over different kingdoms.

  • Mithridates I of Pontus founded the Kingdom of Pontus, establishing the Pontic Kingdom in the 3rd century BC, expanding its territories and laying the foundation for the subsequent Pontic rulers.
  • Mithridates I of Parthia was a king of the Parthian Empire, reigning from 165 BC to 132 BC. Mithridates I of Parthia played a significant role in expanding Parthia’s power and influence in the region.

The Diocese of Pontus and its provinces, c. 400 AD.
Attribution: Cplakidas, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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 Sources and Further Reading



CAUTION: This paper is compiled from the sources stated but has not been externally reviewed. Parts of this paper include information provided via artificial intelligence which, although checked by the author, is not always accurate or reliable. Neither we nor any third parties provide any warranty or guarantee as to the accuracy, timeliness, performance, completeness or suitability of the information and materials covered in this paper for any particular purpose. Such information and materials may contain inaccuracies or errors and we expressly exclude liability for any such inaccuracies or errors to the fullest extent permitted by law. Your use of any information or materials on this website is entirely at your own risk, for which we shall not be liable. It shall be your own responsibility to ensure that any products, services or information available through this paper meet your specific requirements and you should neither take action nor exercise inaction without taking appropriate professional advice. The hyperlinks were current at the date of publication.

End Notes and Explanations

  1. Source: Compiled from research using information at the sources stated throughout the text, together with information provided by machine-generated artificial intelligence at: [chat] and
  2. Sources: [1] Children of Achilles: The Greeks in Asia Minor Since the Days of Troy, by John Freely, p. 69–70, [2] Strabo of Amasia: A Greek Man of Letters in Augustan Rome, by Daniela Dueck, p. 3, and [3] McGing, Brian (2004). “Pontus”. Encyclopaedia Iranica, online edition. Cited at:
  3. Sources: [1] McGing, Brian (2004). “Pontus”. Encyclopaedia Iranica, online edition, amd [2] Bosworth, A. B.; Wheatley, P. V. (November 1998). “The origins of the Pontic house”. The Journal of Hellenic Studies. 118: 155–164. Cited at:
  4. Source:  Östenberg, Ida (December 2013). “Veni Vidi Vici and Caesar’s Triumph”. Classical Quarterly. 63 (2): 819. Cited at:
  5. Source: Kantor, Georgy (2012), “Mithradatic wars”, The Encyclopedia of Ancient History, Blackwell Publishing,  ISBN 9781444338386. Cited at:
  6. Sources: Children of Achilles: The Greeks in Asia Minor Since the Days of Troy, by John Freely, p. 69–70. Cited at:
  7. Source: The Foreign Policy of Mithridates VI Eupator, King of Pontus, by B. C. McGing, p. 11. Cited at:
  8. Explanation: The Seleucid Empire was a Hellenistic state that existed from 312 BC to 63 BC. It was founded by Seleucus I Nicator, one of the generals of Alexander the Great, who gained control over the eastern territories of Alexander’s empire following his death. The Empire encompassed a vast territory stretching from Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) in the west to the Indus River Valley in the east, including regions such as Mesopotamia, Syria, Persia, and parts of Central Asia. It was one of the largest and most powerful successor states to emerge from the fragmentation of Alexander’s empire.
  9. Explanation: The Wars of the Diadochi or Wars of Alexander’s Successors, were a series of conflicts that were fought between the generals of Alexander the Great, known as the Diadochi, over who would rule his empire following his death. The fighting occurred between 322 and 281 BC. Cited at:
  10. Explanation: Cius later renamed Prusias on the Sea after king Prusias I of Bithynia, was an ancient Greek city bordering the Propontis (now known as the Sea of Marmara), in Bithynia and in Mysia (in modern northwestern Turkey), and had a long history, being mentioned by HerodotusXenophon,

    AristotleStrabo and Apollonius Rhodius. Cited at:

  11. Explanation: A satrap was a provincial governor or local ruler in the ancient Persian empire, serving as viceroy to the king, though with considerable autonomy.
  12. Source: The Kings of Pontus: Some Problems of Identity and Date. by Brian C. McGing, Rheinisches Museum für Philologie, Neue Folge, 129. Bd., H. 3/4 (1986), pp. 248-259 (12 pages), Published by: J.D. Sauerländers Verlag, at:

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