People > Pharnuces



Pharnaces (Pharnaces II of Pontus)

Pharnaces II of Pontus (c. 97-47 BCE) was a king of the Kingdom of Pontus in northern Anatolia, and a prominent figure during the late Hellenistic period. He is best known for his conflict with the Roman Republic, particularly his encounter with Julius Caesar.

Early Life and Background

  1. Family and Dynasty:

    • Father: Pharnaces was the son of Mithridates VI Eupator, also known as Mithridates the Great, one of Rome's most formidable enemies. Mithridates VI ruled the Kingdom of Pontus and was renowned for his resistance against Roman expansion.
    • Kingdom of Pontus: The Kingdom of Pontus was located along the southern coast of the Black Sea. It was a Hellenistic kingdom with a strong Greek influence, blending local Anatolian and Persian elements with Greek culture.
  2. Early Career:

    • Role under Mithridates VI: Pharnaces served under his father during the Mithridatic Wars against Rome. He gained military and political experience while supporting his father's efforts to resist Roman dominance.

Ascension to the Throne

  1. Rebellion Against Mithridates VI:

    • Usurpation: In 63 BCE, Pharnaces rebelled against his father. Tired of the long and exhausting wars with Rome, he sought to seize power and negotiate peace with the Romans.
    • Mithridates VI's Death: Mithridates VI, facing defeat and abandonment by his own son, committed suicide. Pharnaces became the new king of Pontus.
  2. Negotiations with Rome:

    • Roman Recognition: Pharnaces sought recognition from the Romans to secure his position. In return for their acknowledgment, he surrendered parts of his father's territory to Rome.
    • Client King: While retaining some degree of autonomy, Pharnaces essentially became a client king under Roman influence, aiming to maintain stability and his rule over Pontus.

Conflict with Julius Caesar

  1. Opportunity During the Roman Civil War:

    • Caesar vs. Pompey: During the Roman Civil War (49-45 BCE), Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great were engaged in a power struggle. Pharnaces saw an opportunity to reclaim lost territories while Rome was distracted.
    • Invasion of Asia Minor: In 48 BCE, Pharnaces launched an invasion into Roman-controlled Asia Minor, quickly capturing several cities and regions, including Armenia Minor and parts of Cappadocia.
  2. Battle of Zela (47 BCE):

    • Caesar's Response: Julius Caesar, having defeated Pompey at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BCE, turned his attention to Pharnaces. He swiftly moved to confront the Pontic king.
    • Battle and Defeat: The decisive encounter occurred at Zela. Caesar's forces, though outnumbered, defeated Pharnaces' army in a rapid and effective campaign. This victory was famously summarized by Caesar's words, "Veni, vidi, vici" ("I came, I saw, I conquered").
    • Aftermath: Following his defeat, Pharnaces fled to the Bosporus region, where he attempted to regain power but was ultimately killed by a local rebellion.


  1. Hellenistic Resistance:

    • Continuing Struggle: Pharnaces II's efforts to reclaim territories and resist Roman control reflect the broader resistance of Hellenistic kingdoms against Roman expansion during this period.
    • End of Mithridatic Dynasty: His defeat and death marked the end of significant resistance from the Mithridatic dynasty, paving the way for increased Roman consolidation in the region.
  2. Cultural Impact:

    • Blend of Cultures: The Kingdom of Pontus, under both Mithridates VI and Pharnaces II, exemplified the cultural blending characteristic of Hellenistic kingdoms, merging Greek, Persian, and local Anatolian elements.
    • Historical Record: Pharnaces II's conflict with Julius Caesar and the Battle of Zela are well-documented in Roman historical sources, highlighting the significance of these events in the context of Roman and Hellenistic history.


Pharnaces II of Pontus was a significant Hellenistic ruler whose actions were deeply intertwined with the broader geopolitical struggles of the late Hellenistic period. His rebellion against his father, his attempts to navigate the complex political landscape dominated by Rome, and his eventual confrontation with Julius Caesar illustrate the challenges faced by Hellenistic monarchs in an era of Roman expansion. Despite his ultimate defeat, Pharnaces II's legacy endures as a testament to the enduring resistance and cultural richness of the Hellenistic world.


Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

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