Besotted with History: Mithridates VI Eupator of Pontus ie. The Batman of the Black Sea

I have had my fair share of crushes on historical figures, and having attraction towards someone who died thousands of years ago makes me feel almost as strange as the crush I used to have on the fox that played Robin Hood in the animated Disney movie.  That being said, two of these figures who you’ve probably never heard about are Mithridates VI Eupator of Pontus, and Alcibiades, and they are two of the masters of my heart.  Today I’m going to start with Mithridates VI.  He was basically the Batman of the ancient world.

This veritable lord of bad-assery was born in 134 BCE under the most auspicious sign of a comet blazing forth from the heavens, signalling that he had decided to grace the universe with his majestic presence and become the prophetic saviour king of the East.  When he was a baby his cradle was supposedly struck by lightning, forever leaving a scar in the shape of a diadem on this paradox of baby-ness and power’s forehead.  He was Harry Potter thousands of years before Harry Potter (and Rome was Voldemort.)

In his family’s court in Sinope, Mithridates quickly learned that assassination by poisoning was not an uncommon method of monarchical succession, and in his mind the only way to defeat the odds was to defeat poison itself.  He decided, because he was Mithridates and he could, that he would just become immune to every poison ever.  And he basically achieved this, because over his lifetime there were several attempts to assassinate him using this method and he lived through them all.  You remember how in the Princess Bride the Dread Pirate Roberts uses iocane powder in order to defeat Vizzini in their battle of wits?  Mithridates was like that, except for all of the poisons.

BatmanMithridates

“Bitches ain’t stuntin’ in the cold like me.” – Mithridates VI

It became imperative to him to create a self-image that he was virtually indestructible so that Rome would quake with fear any time they pictured his exotic and handsome face.  It probably looked something like this representation I have provided for your convenience.

After his mother tried to kill him, Mithridates peaced out into the wilderness for seven years wherein he acquired a sort of Spartan-inspired outdoor education.  You know, dancing around in circles with wolves, snacking on poisonous hemlock, the like.  He also decided to make the most out of his time as an exile by creating a universal antidote to all poisons, which became known as Mithridatium.  There is evidence of this antidote being used all the way up to Elizabethan times; it was essentially the ancestor to the world’s first multivitamin.  Unfortunately, this king of poison and toxicology’s recipe for immortality was lost to the mists of time but is said to have included 54 ingredients containing everything from honey and cardamom to curdled milk and beaver testicle musk. Yum.

He proved to be one of the most resilient and elusive foes Rome ever encountered, and out-witted them at every turn for the better part of his life.   In 88 BCE, in the Asiatic Vespers Incident, he somehow orchestrated a massive slaughter of Roman and Italian citizens throughout Anatolia.  It remains uncertain to this day how he managed to have that kind of widespread communication and ability to plan the massacre almost down to the minute, virtually wiping out the Roman presence around the Black Sea.  Mystery! Intrigue!  Mithridates had it all.

He thwarted Sulla, Lucullus, and Pompey throughout three Mithridatic Wars, acquiring babes and money at every turn.  He had six wives over the course of his long life, and the last was the concubine-turned-Queen Hypsicratea.   She was basically like one of the mythological leopard onesie-wearing Amazons come to life.  She was rumoured to be a polyglot like Mithridates (who could speak all twenty-two languages of the colonies he governed,) skilled in the deadly arts of killing bitches from atop a horse, and an all-around babe.  Meowza.

One time, this chump sucka Manius Aquilius decided to mess with our main man and told him to back outta Cappadocia.  Mithridates, who wasn’t quite ready to bust out the big guns on Rome at this point, peacefully agrees and withdraws his army.  Aquilius proceeds to tamper with Mithridates’ Black Sea Kingdom, and in a vengeance act that would prelude Khal Drogo’s treatment of Viserys Targaryen, melts down a cauldron of his vast riches in a public ceremony and pours the molten gold down Aquilius’ throat.  REAL TALK.  That’s what Mithridates calls honeymoon entertainment, as he was in the process of celebrating his marriage to one of the many babes he acquired during his lifetime, Monime.

Alas, despite all of his attempts to remain immortal and in power, Rome eventually did what Rome does when it assembles its war machine: destroy everything in sight.  Mithridates, sold out by his son to the Romans, tried to kill himself with the most lethal dose of poison he had in order to avoid being humiliated and paraded around like a show pony to the Roman people in another Triumph.  Unfortunately, his lifelong goal of becoming immune to every poison ever worked a little too well, and the suicide pact he made with this two daughters was successful for them, but there was not enough poison left to kill our hero.  He eventually had to turn to his faithful guard Bituitus to do the honours, because he was too weak to stab himself.   Bituitus, too floored by his sire’s “majestic countenance,” couldn’t do it at first, but eventually did the king in.  In a way, his final act was another great big UP YOURS to the Romans, as he denied Pompey the joys of dragging him back to Rome in chains.   Instead, he got to ride into the night lands and wait for his beloved concubine warrior queen to join him years later.

 

Sources:

Appian. The Mithridatic Wars. 

Duggan, Alfred. 1959. King of Pontus: The Life of Mithridates Eupator. New York: Coward-McCann, Inc.

Mayor, Adrienne. 2010. The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithridates. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

McGing, B.G. 1986. The Foreign Policy of Mithridates VI Eupator King of Pontus. Leiden: E.J Brill.

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