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First Mithridatic War and the role of Lucius Cornelius Sulla in Rome (89-87 BC)



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The first Mithridatic war (89-85 BC)

Mithridates VI Eupator  – King of Pontus (120 -63BC).

His father was Mithridates V which led origin from Achaemenids, and his mother’s origin was a Seleucid. Mithridates VI was energetic and very capable. He had enormous physical strength but he did not have systematic education. Nevertheless, Mithridates knew a lot of different languages, and he knew the best representatives of Hellenistic culture. He wrote about history of nature, etc., but besides that he was typical Asian satrap, whose typical characteristics were superstition, treachery and cruelty. Mithridates VI by conquering vast areas of land created a great Kingdom of Pontus. Mithridates VI inherited from his father a small principality. He conquered Colchis on the east coast of the Black Sea and turned Colchis into Pontus satrapie. In the middle of the second century BC, in the Crimea (Krim) a strong Scythian Kingdom rised.

City Chersonesus in the battle against  Scythian Kingdom turned to Mithridates VI side and as well Bosporan Kingdom (the last representative of the Spartocid dynasty). Bosporan king gave up his power in favour of Mithridates VI. Mithridates VI chased the Scythians of Chersonese and he quelled the uprising of slaves under the direction of Saumat. After that Mithridates VI entered into an alliance with the Scythians, Thracians and Bastarnae. Greek cities and the Bosporus kingdom gave grain and money, and  also barbarians gave army. Mithridates VI entered into alliance with the Armenian king Tigranes, which helped him to fight against Cappadocia and Syria. However, Mithridates VI expansion over the area of central and western Asia Minor met resistance from Romans. Lucius Cornelius Sulla in 92 BC, governed Cilicia, but he regained the independence of the Cappadocia Kingdom. After Sulla left Cappadocia Kingdom, Mithridates VI named new kings in Cappadocia and Bithynia.

At that time, Consul Manius Aquilius (who had previously quelled uprising of slaves in Sicily) established earlier political situations in these kingdoms. Mithridates VI did not oppose to that, because at that moment he did not want to wage war with the Rome. However, Manius Aquilius made first move and at his initiative Bithynian King started a war against Mithridates VI.

Mithridates VI resistance was the reason for the Roman intervention. The first Roman war against Mithridates VI started 89 BC. Bithynian and Roman troops were defeated by Mithridates VI. Mithridates VI entered to Roman province in Asia. The residents of Lesbos surrendered Manius Aquilius to Mithridates VI, who tried to escape.

For half a century of rule in the Kingdom of Pergamon, Romans managed to incur the hatred of the local population. Mithridates VI was therefore accepted as a liberator. In Ephesus came delegation that welcomed him as a new Dionysus, a father and savior of Asia. From there he ordered extermination of all Romans and Italic who lived in the cities of Asia Minor, regardless of age and sex. The consequences were 80,000 dead at one day. Mithridates VI divided a conquered territory into satrapies. Greek cities were recognized as free territories and during period of 5 years cities were exempted from all taxes.

Mithridates VI coin
Mithridates VI coin

From here, Mithridates VI moved with the army in Greece. In Athens with his support an Epicurean philosopher Aristion became a ruler of Athens – a radical democratic program made and most of the rich people left town. In 88 BC, Romans at the same time with some success in combat against the Italic lost power over important eastern areas.

Social struggle in Rome during First Mithridatic War

 The Senate awarded Sulla to be a commander of an army. Democratic social layers opposed to this decision. In 88 BC, populares and knights (which had problems with the fact that the rich province will be command by optimates) were again united. Using this mood Gaius Marius appointed himself to be a commander of Roman army and also he made an agreement with tribune Publius Sulpicius Rufus.

Two tribunes were sent at Nola (in Campania) to tell Lucius Cornelius Sulla about the decision of the National Assembly. National Assembly made a decision that Gaius Marius should be a commander; however Sulla disagreed with this decision. Senior officers managed to refuse civil war, but Sulla still headed for the Rome, which he, in his own words, wanted to save Roman republic from tyranny. Gaius Marius and tribune Publius Sulpicius Rufus in the last moment demand that slaves go also in the battle against Sulla, but it was in vain. Sulla became an unlimited dictator of the Rome. Gaius Marius was defeated and he fled to Africa. Immediately, after the establishment of government, Lucius Cornelius Sulla abolished Sulpicius proposed Laws and he also restored the Law from the period of Servius Tullius. Centuriate Comitias were strengthened at the expense of tribune comitia, also the Senate power was expanded (the number of members increased by 300 people), a government of  tribune was reduced; new colonies were established in the interest of veteran soldiers.

Gaius Marius comeback in Rome and triumph of Marius supporters

 In 87 BC, Consuls Lucius Cornelius Cinna, Gaius Marius supporter and Gnaeus Octavius (Sulla supporter, an Optimates) took an oath of allegiance to Sulla, and after that Sulla decided to go into campaign to the East.

After Sulla left Rome, Marius supporters surrendered Rome in which was famine and then plague. The slaves were free and they went on to the side of Marius supporters, just like the soldiers which served in the army of optimates. The Senate was also subjected to Marius supporters and with this Rome surrendered to them. For entire five days a killing of political rivals lasted. In January 13, 86 BC Marius died. During that time Sulla was dismissed from the position of commander. Consul Lucius Valerius Flaccus was new commander which was elected for the battle in the East. Sulla’s Laws were abolished and new citizens were divided into the 35 tribes, and also there was partial cassation of debt. New colony was established in Capua and also a corrupt monetalis was replaced with more adequate monetalis. Knights’ publicans gained the most with this change. These knights were the main support of Marius supporters. Among the senators there were still many supporters of Sulla so that is why the negotiations started about the return of Sulla.