The King of Pontus
When, in 63 BCE, Mithradates VI of Pontus; also known as Mithradates Eupator Dionysius or “The Great” and “King of Kings,” died at his own hand, he had reached the astonishing age of 72 years.
Of course, this would have been a remarkable and grand old age for any man living in those times, but for a prince and then king who had lived and flirted with death throughout the entirety of his long and turbulent life; this had been even more miraculous!
The young Mithradates had been brought up within the royal household of the ancient kingdom of Pontus at a time when plotting and assassinations had become almost commonplace within those great halls of power. His own mother, Laodicea had seized control of the kingdom by poisoning her husband, Mithradates V, and upon realising that Laodicea had started to show greater favour towards Chrestus, his younger and more malleable brother, the teenage Mithradates decided to remove himself from harm’s way.
The young prince decided to sacrifice the trappings and temptations of his capital and the luxuries of the palace and he slunk away unnoticed, under the cover of night. In exchange, he now voluntarily suffered the hardships and dangers of wandering throughout the remotest and harshest wildernesses of his kingdom.
The years that the young Mithradates spent in voluntary exile would stand him in good stead once he returned to claim his birth right. In order to just to survive, Mithradates soon became highly skilled in the arts of hunting and endurance, and during the course of his harsh education; he had come close to death on more than one occasion.
During this time, Mithradates began to accumulate a vast knowledge of the ways of poisons. He had been fortunate enough to have cheated death after having digested a bunch of berries, which appeared to have looked harmless enough at first glance, but had in fact possessed a deadly toxin within their juicy interiors. Mithradates realised that knowledge of such toxins would prove invaluable to him within the treacherous halls of his palace and the fate of his father immediately came to mind.
Legend claims that he had ingested such vast amounts of various toxins, during his sojourn in the wilderness that by the time of his unexpected return he had made himself immune to any that might have been used against him. Indeed, the universal antidote that he had created became much sought after in his own times and even up to the present day. Mithradates had been determined that he should not suffer the outcome of so many of his close relations and he returned to court confident in his true worth and power.
His very presence and determination belied his relative youth, for he was still in his late teens and his immediate action, was to have both his mother and younger brother arrested and thrown into the dungeons! Neither of them would survive their incarceration, and within a very short period of time Mithradates’ right to rule and reign over Pontus had been both universally recognised and confirmed.
With every obstruction to his rule now removed, Mithradates steadily grew in confidence and ambition and he lost no time at all in expanding the Pontic kingdom. In order to consolidate his inherent aura, the young king proclaimed himself to be a descendent of both King Darius of Persia and Alexander the Great. Although history has failed neither to confirm nor deny this illustrious lineage, his subjects lost no time in accepting his grandiose claims and word soon spread amongst the neighbouring kingdoms, that the days of Alexander’s glory had returned.
Remarkably, although everyone has heard of Hannibal and Spartacus, two of ancient Rome’s deadliest and most threatening of enemies; the name of Mithradates has somehow escaped the same level of historical scrutiny. Nevertheless, the threat that he and his armies posed to the survival of the Roman Republic and its imperial ambitions, had been every bit as real and threatening,
His first foray beyond his own borders had come at the behest of the various Hellenistic settlements of the Crimea who had sought his protection from their many enemies. This assistance Mithradates had been only too happy to provide them with, but it had come at a great cost; namely the independence of these kingdoms!
He then formed a tenuous alliance with a relative of his, King Nicomedes III of Bithynia. Their combined forces soon annexed both Paphlagonia and Colchis, but even these developments had failed to ignite any real interest from those venerated members of the Roman Senate.
Furthermore, even Mithradates’ annexation of Colchis in 103 BC, failed to galvanise Rome into action. This had been partly due to the vast distance that separated the two centres of power, but also the fact that Rome had been actively involved in other theatres of war at that time. Indeed, it was not until 94 BC that Rome finally acknowledged the threat that Mithradates had posed to it and thus its relentless military juggernaut began its progress towards the East. So began the first Mithradatic war.
This conflict did not begin well for the Romans. Mithradates, through both diplomatic and military means, had made great progress in Cappadocia and even Greece itself, and it was not until sufficient funds had been raised that Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix, a Consul, general and would-be dictator, had been able to strike out for the threatened provinces of Asia Minor.
However, it was at this point that Mithradates made a serious tactical error. In a misguided attempt at consolidating and unifying his newly won territories through fear and terror, he ordered the slaughter of more than 80,000 Roman and Italian citizens who had been living peacefully within those provinces. This ruthless and some would say, self-destructive action, had the unfortunate effect of intensifying Sulla’s determination to strike against the King of Pontus, and before long the Roman Consul was engaging the armies of both Mithradates and his allies throughout the entire blood-soaked region.
In the year, 85 BC, having suffered a heavy defeat at the battle of Chaeronea, Mithradates finally sued for peace. The awful realisation, that even his superiority at sea had been diminished by the fleets of the Roman general Lucullus, compelled him to agree to an unfavourable treaty. The truce that then followed, however, had been only a brief and tenuous one and two years later, once Sulla had returned to Rome, his general Murena disobeyed his orders and launched an invasion of Pontus itself, under his own volition.
This time it was the Romans who were forced to taste the bitterness of defeat. Murena’s campaign had lasted for less than a year, and after the cataclysmic battle of the river Halys, the errant general had been forced to sue for peace and he then had to endure an ignominious return to Rome. It had been at this time that Mithradates had bestowed upon himself the rather grandiose titles of “King of Kings” and “The Great,” and the people of his lands rejoiced at his success.
As a result of the civil wars that had raged between the armies of the dictators Marius and Sulla and their draining effects upon both finances and resources, it would be another eight years before Rome was able to return its attention towards Mithradates and its lost provinces in Asia Minor.
Under the command of Lucullus, a general who Sulla knew was worthy of his trust, an outnumbered Roman army won decisive victories, firstly in Pontus itself and then finally in Armenia, where Mithradates had enlisted the help of his son-in-law, King Tigranes. By now the depleted forces of the beleaguered king were in full retreat and Lucullus knew that a decisive victory was assured.
However, the naive general was robbed of the final taste of triumph when the politicians back in Rome decided to recall him in favour of another member of the Triumvirate, the more influential and venerated Pompey the Great. Pompey pursued Mithradates to the last of his territories, the lands that lay to the north of the Black Sea.
To add to his woes, Mithradates also had to contend with the rebellion of his own treacherous and cowardly son, who saw the plight of his father as the perfect opportunity for him to seize his undeserved power prematurely. By now, even the ever-buoyant King knew that all hope was lost and thus the King of Pontus decided to take his own life.
According to the historian Cassius Dio, the magnificent and tragic irony of Mithradates’ attempted suicide had been the effectiveness of his own ‘universal antidote!’ Repeated attempts at self-poisoning had ended in abject failure, and as the forces of Pompey drew ever closer, the Poison King finally acknowledged the efficacy of his antidote in despair. As a last resort Mithradates entrusted his servants with the sorry and unenviable task of ending their king’s life. Amidst much wailing and lamenting, they armed themselves with spears and swords and slew each of Mithradates’ daughters and wives before ending their ruler’s life with as much dignity as they could. At least Mithradates had been spared the ignominy of being led through the streets of Rome as part of Pompey’s triumphal return.
Historically, the Mithradatic wars had the effect of hastening the demise of the Roman Republic, a violent process that finally led to the ascendancy of Imperial Rome. Following the collapse of the Triumvirate, a succession of costly and bloody civil wars soon followed. The last of these, culminated in the death of Marc Anthony and Cleopatra and the appointment of Rome’s first Emperor, Augustus. As a consequence, Mithradates will always be assured of his place in Roman history, although not in the manner that he might have imagined or relished. Notwithstanding this, it had been Pompey the Great who had enjoyed the trappings and glory of a Roman triumph.
The return to Rome of Lucullus had been somewhat less auspicious than that of his great rival, although he had been able to console himself with the thought of the contents of his treasure ships, the booty that he had plundered from the Necropolis of Amisos just prior to his summons back to Rome. Despite the loss of one of those ships to a violent storm, close to the coast of Greece, Lucullus had at least assured himself of a most luxurious retirement with the contents of those ships fortunate enough to have survived the tempest.
Only myths and legends have made reference to the contents of that sunken Triconter. Some of these tales have alluded to sea chests overflowing with precious jewels and vessels fashioned from pure gold! Others have made mention of the remarkable Antikythera Mechanism, an intricate calculating device that had boasted dozens of intermeshed gears and more cogwheels than the most advanced of modern time pieces! This ancient computer had been capable of performing the most complex of calculations, and it was even said that it could track the movements of the planets, the constellations and the distant galaxies that lay beyond.
There had even been rumours of an engraved tablet aboard, upon which had been inscribed Mithradates’ legendary “universal antidote”, to some perhaps, the most desirable of all of those treasures.
Nevertheless, these great prizes had long been condemned to the depths of those treacherous seas and lost forever to the realms of myth and legend. That remained the case throughout the millennia, until the year 1901 AD when a small group of Greek sponge divers made a remarkable discovery.
 A large Roman merchant ship
 A legendary early form of computer