Cultures > Kingdom of Pontus
Kingdom of Pontus
The Kingdom of Pontus or Pontic Empire was a state founded by the Persian Mithridatic dynasty, which may have been directly related to Darius the Great and the Achaemenid dynasty. The kingdom was proclaimed by Mithridates I in 281 BCE and lasted until its conquest by the Roman Republic in 63 BCE. It reached 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 henceforth being used to refer to the southern half of the region previously included under that name. Culturally, the kingdom was Hellenized, with Greek the official language.
The Kingdom of Pontus was divided into two distinct areas: the coastal region and the Pontic interior. The coastal region bordering the Black Sea was separated 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, millet, and fruit trees, including cherry (named for the city of Cerasus), apple and pear. The coastal region was dominated by Greek cities such as Amastris and Sinope, which became the Pontic capital after its capture. The coast was rich in timber, fishing, and olives. 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 were also copper, lead, zinc and arsenic. The Pontic interior also had 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. Besides Amasia and a few other cities, the interior was dominated mainly by small villages. The kingdom of Pontus was divided into districts named Eparchies.
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 that 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 along with 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).
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". Pontic culture represented 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. Although the Pontic kings claimed descent from the Persian royal house, they generally acted as Hellenistic kings and portrayed themselves as such in their coins, mimicking Alexander's royal stater.
The region of Pontus was originally part of the Persian satrapy of Cappadocia (Katpatuka). The Persian dynasty which was to found this kingdom had, during the 4th century BCE, 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, but was betrayed by his son Mithridates II of Cius. 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. 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. 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.
We know little of Ariobarzanes' short reign, except that 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 in marriage to Antiochus III, to obtain recognition for his new kingdom and create strong ties with the Seleucid Empire. The sources are silent on Pontus for the years following the death of Mithridates II, when his son Mithridates III ruled (c. 220–198/88).
Pharnaces I of Pontus (189–159 BCE) was much more successful in his expansion of the Kingdom at the expense of 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 although the Rhodians complained to Rome about this, nothing was done. Pharnaces also took the coastal cities of Cotyora, Pharnacia, and Trapezus in the east, effectively gaining control of most of the northern Anatolian coastline. Despite Roman attempts to keep the peace, Pharnaces fought against Eumenes of Pergamon and Ariarathes of Cappadocia. While initially successful, it seems he was overmatched by 179 when he was forced to sign a treaty. He had to give up all lands he had obtained in Galatia, and Paphlagonia and the city of Tium, but he kept Sinope. 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.
His successor, Mithridates V of Pontus Euergetes remained a friend of Rome and in 149 BCE sent ships and a small force of auxiliaries to aid Rome in the third Punic War. 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 in the will Attalus III in the absence of an heir, they turned part of it into the province of Asia, while giving the rest to loyal allied kings. For his loyalty Mithridates was awarded the region of Phrygia Major. The kingdom of Cappadocia received Lycaonia. Because of this it seems reasonable to assume that Pontus had some degree of control over Galatia, since Phrygia does not border Pontus directly. It is possible that Mithridates 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 on his coins. Mithridates was assassinated at Sinope in 121/0, the details of which are unclear.
Because both the 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 was 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 BCE to depose his mother; she was thrown into prison, and he eventually had his brother killed.
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