History Files


Middle East Kingdoms

Ancient Anatolia





Pontus was the name of the north-eastern province of Anatolia in the second half of the first millennium BC. This was a long and narrow strip of land on the southern coast of the Black Sea (Pontus Euxinus in Latin, taken from the earlier Greek version). The name of the province came from the name of the sea itself - 'euxinus' was often dropped from the name even when mentioning the sea. The 'euxinus' (or in Greek 'εύξεινος' meant 'hospitable' and is believed to be a euphemism of 'aksenos'. This means 'inhospitable' and is believed to describe the difficulty in navigating this large body of water and also the savage tribes that historically surrounded it - banded together as the Scythians. The name changed from aksenos to euxinus after the Miletians introduced Greek civilisation to the Black Sea region. The Greeks appear to have used word play in the form of a pun, replacing 'a-' with 'eu-' and turning 'inhospitable' into 'hospitable' in the process. The Vikings did something similar by naming a chunk of ice in the Atlantic Ocean 'Greenland', although with a good deal less subtlety. However, the Greek εύξεινος can also be translated as a more literal 'black'.

Before adopting the name of Pontus about the time of Alexander the Great and his Greek empire, the province was part of Cappadocia on the Pontus and even earlier it and neighbouring Paphlagonia had been occupied by the barbarian Kaskans. The country was shut in by high and wild mountain ranges, but was exceedingly fertile in the lower parts on the coast, in the interior, and on the plateaux. It belonged to the Persian empire until it was conquered by Alexander. But even by about 400 BC the area was to a considerable degree independent of the Persians.

Control of Pontus during the lifetime of Alexander the Great is uncertain. One Zopyrion may have been satrap here, but he is also claimed as satrap of Thrace, so either the records are confused or he governed both regions for a time. Following Alexander's death, Pontus largely fell within the territories of the Empire of Antigonus until the death of that general in 301 BC, although that control was relatively loose and distracted at best. The founder of the subsequent kingdom of Pontus was Mithradates I, son of Persian-descended Prince Mithradates of Cius on the Propontis (a Persian satrapy that was now part of the Greek empire), who was murdered in 302 BC. Mithradates was in the service of Antigonus when he took advantage of the confusion caused by the Diadochian Wars, rode into Pontus with only six horsemen, and was able to assume the title of king. Close relations were formed straight away with the Greeks, and the kingdom became heavily influenced by Hellenic culture, although by declaring his kingdom, Mithradates took away access to the Black Sea of the neighbouring Greek kingdom of Cappadocia to the south.

(Additional information by Edward Dawson, and from The Encyclopaedia of Pontian Hellenism (various editors, 1988). from The Odes of Pindar, Dawson William Turner & Abraham Moore, from The Name of the Black Sea (The Classical Quarterly Vol 41, No 3/4, Jul-Oct 1947), from The Name of the Euxinus Pontus, A C Moorhouse (The Classical Quarterly, Vol 34, No 3/4, Jul-Oct 1940), from The Foreign Wars, Appian, from Geography, Strabo, from Lives: Demetrius, Plutarch, from Who's Who in the Greek World, John Hazel (2003), and from The Augustan Empire, 43 BC-AD 69, A K Bowman, E Champlin, & A Lintott (1996).)

302 -301 BC

Between 337-302 BC, the town of Cius within Mysia's territory has been ruled by Prince Mithradates of Cius, subject to Mysia's authority. He is murdered, probably on the orders of Antigonus Monophthalmos to prevent him from teaming up with Antigonus' rival in Greece, Cassander. The murder does nothing to assure Antigonus of the loyalty of Mithradates' son and, having succeeded his father, this younger Mithradates takes control of Pontus from the fragmenting Greek empire.

Amasia in Pontus
Amasia now falls within the western border of Armenia but in the late fourth century BC it was part of the Persian satrapy of Pontus, now governed by Greeks or by Greek allies of Persian heritage

The springboard for this move is the collapse of the Empire of Antigonus (Monophthalmos). Mithradates creates his own kingdom, which also encompasses part of Paphlagonia, but this act removes Cappadocian access to the Black Sea. (Mithradates' epithet of 'ktistes' or 'ctistes' literally means 'founder, builder'.)

302 - 266 BC

Mithradates I Ktistes

Founded the kingdom. 'King' from 281 BC.

281 BC

Having secured the fortress of Cimiata in 301 BC, Mithradates has seen his forces bolstered by the arrival of many other troops. The fortress has long supplied its name to the surrounding region of Cimiatene in Paphlagonia, which Mithradates now firmly counts as being his territory. Now, from his capital at Amasia, he assumes the title of basileus, the equivalent of a king. In the same year he concludes an alliance with the town of Heraclea Pontica in Bithynia against Seleucus of the Seleucidire.

273 BC

A large force of Celts invades Greece again, destroying the Thracian kingdom and forcing the aristocracy to escape to the Greek colonies bordering the Black Sea, Pontus included. The kingdom of Galatia is created in Anatolia by the victorious Celts.

266 - c.258 BC


Son. Date of death uncertain, between 258-240 BC.

c.265 - 260 BC

The tyrant (essentially a warlord) of the territory of Amastris is Eumenes. This is located well west of Pontus on the Black Sea coast (in the modern Turkish province of Bartin). Rather than submit his domain and its city of the same name to domination by Heraclea, he instead presents it to Ariobarzanes. Like his father, Ariobarzanes also seeks military assistance from the Celts of Galatia.

c.258 - c.210 BC

Mithradates II

Son. Acceded as a child.

c.257 - 250 BC

Mithradates II has succeeded his father as a minor, although his precise age is unknown. There must be advisors or a regent to take care of the kingdom during this time but there is no hint of the attempt at usurpation which would be typical of such fragile moments in a kingdom's history. Instead, the kingdom is able to repel a clearly opportunist raid by Galatians in this period.

Southern coast of the Black Sea
Like the Kaskans and Paphlagonians before them, the Gauls of Galatia would have struggled to survive in the somewhat hard conditions of the Black Sea's southern coast

235 BC

Antiochus Heirax, co-regent of the Seleucid empire and governor of regions in Anatolia - together with Mithradates of Pontus, continues his campaign to wrest the empire from his brother by defeating him at the Battle of Ancyra in 235 BC, leaving Anatolia outside of Seleucid power. This victory is clearly also good for Pontus itself, giving it more freedom to expand its own power and territory. However, Mithradates is unable to conquer the city of Sinope in Paphlagonia.

c.210 - 185 BC

Mithradates III

Son. Entirely obscure and unknown apart from his name.

185 - 169 BC

Pharnaces / Pharnakes I


185 - 183 BC

Following Roman victories over Macedonia and the Seleucids in Syria (190 BC), Pharnaces allies the kingdom to Rome. In 183 BC he completes the conquest of neighbouring Paphlagonia by taking the city of Sinope.

169 - c.150 BC

Mithradates IV Philopator Philadelphus


c.150 - 120 BC

Mithradates V Euergetes

Son of Pharnaces. Assassinated at a banquet.

120 - 63 BC

Mithradates VI Eupator (the Great)

Son. Acceded as a minor.

120 - c.113 BC

Laodice VI

Mother and regent. Imprisoned by Mithradates VI.

120 - c.113 BC

Mithradates Chrestus

Second son and co-sovereign. Imprisoned.

c.121 - 88 BC

Once he puts an end to the scheming of his mother (between 116-113 BC), Mithradates proves to be a resourceful and powerful regional authority. Over the course of the first thirty years of his reign, he methodically captures and adds neighbouring kingdoms and territories to his own realm, including Crimea (the territory which is formed into the Cimmerian Bosporus kingdom), Paphlagonia, and Cappadocia, and makes Armenia an ally. Though opposed by the Romans in theory, little is done due mainly to Roman wars in Africa (Jugurtha), continuing social disorder, and the crisis of the Germanic (Cimbri and Teuton) invasions.

Mithradates even employs Germanic mercenaries to ensure his victories which include warriors from the Bastarnae tribe and the Scordisci and Galatian confederations. During the conflict, Eumachus, Mithradates' satrap in central Asia Minor, overruns Phrygia and kills a great many Romans, with their wives and children, and subjugates the Pisidians, Isaurians, and also Cilica.

116 BC

Ariarathes VI of Cappadocia is murdered on the orders of Mithradates. The kingdom is ruled briefly by the former king's widow and then seized by Bithynia. Mithradates expels the Bithynian king and places Ariarathes VII on the throne. Throughout his lifetime, Mithradates continues to interfere in Cappadocian politics, much to that kingdom's detriment.

c.101 BC

Mithradates annexes the western Georgian district of Kolkis (Colchis), which neighbours the kingdom of Iberia. The idea behind this is to turn Pontus into the dominant power on the Black Sea coast. Following this Mithradates clashes with Palacus, a Scythian ruler, on the steppelands of the northern Black Sea coast. Following an attempted invasion of Crimea, Palacus is forced to accept Mithradates as his overlord, becoming the last Scythian king to be named by classical sources.

88 - 85 BC

On the even of the First Mithridatic War, the Roman Senate restores Ariobarzanes to the Cappadocian throne in 89 BC. The war ignites the following year. Staunch enemies of Rome since the massacres of Vulso in 189 BC, the Galatians are now a powerful regional force. They have been resisting Rome's expansion in Asia Minor, siding with Mithradates in his matching endeavours, along with the Bastarnae and Scordisci. Defeat for the combined forces at the Battle of Chaeornea in 86 BC against Sulla causes Mithradates to begin to suspect his allies of treachery. This increasing paranoia culminates in a bloody pogrom in which Galatian leaders are massacred at a banquet. Sulla himself has to make a hasty peace deal before rushing back to Rome to handle political problems.

Tetradrachm of Pontus
A tetradrachm issued by Mithradates VI of Pontus and Bithynia around 86-85 BC, towards the end of his dominance in Anatolia and the beginning of true Roman dominance

The murder of the Galatians provokes a swift and brutal backlash from them. One of the few surviving leaders, Deiotarus, raises an army, expels Mithradates and his garrisons, and drives them out of Galatia. Gaulish revenge subsequently escalates beyond Galatia, with Pontic garrisons in Phrygia and Cilica being attacked. Roman General Lucullus had been on the verge of suspending the war due to a lack of supplies for his army, but Galatian support has solved the problem. Now Lucullus advances with 30,000 Galatians following in his train, successfully terminating the First Mithridatic War in 85 BC. With trouble brewing in Rome, a peace treaty is hurriedly composed.

83 - 81 BC

The Roman commander in Anatolia, Lucius Licinius Murena, attacks Mithradates' recovering forces, triggering the Second Mithridatic War. The troops under the command of Murena are not really a match for the hardened fighters of Pontus. They are defeated and Murena withdraws from Anatolia.

74 - 64 BC

Nicomedes IV of Bithynia dies in 74 BC, having bequeathed his kingdom to Rome. This will give Rome a permanent foothold in the region so, at the same time as Sertorius launches his own revolt in Hispania, Mithradates attacks the Roman forces that are moving on Bithynia, and the Third Mithridatic War is under way. Unfortunately, Amastris is captured by Lucius Lucullus in 70 BC, and Mithradates is defeated by Pompey in 66 BC.

The Pontan king is forced to withdraw to Kolkis. From there he makes his way to his sub-kingdom of Cimmerian Bosporus, located in eastern Crimea and along the opposing coastline. His son, the viceroy Machares, declines to aid him so Machares is killed and Mithradates seizes full control. However, his ambition to reclaim Pontus and remove Rome from Anatolia is thwarted by another of his sons, Pharnaces, who rebels against him. With his enemies closing in, Mithradates chooses honourable suicide.

63 - 47 BC

Pharnaces / Pharnakes II

Son. Ruled a reduced kingdom along with the Bosporus.

63 - 47 BC

Pontus becomes a Roman province through Pompey, although some areas become principalities and free cities which are not absorbed into the empire until between 7 BC and AD 63. Upon Pompey's fall in 49 BC, Pharnaces, newly resurgent king of a reduced Pontus and Cimmerian Bosporus, takes advantage of Julius Caesar being occupied in Egypt, and reduces Kolkis, Armenia, and part of Cappadocia, defeating Domitius Calvinus at Nicopolis, whom Caesar subsequently sends against him. Kolkis becomes part of the kingdom, along with Lesser Armenia.

Black Sea coast of Turkey
The Black Sea coastline of Pontus (and modern Turkey) is dominated by dramatic mountain ranges that plunge down to the sea, interspersed with flat plains, creating a year-round cool, seaside climate and a region that is packed with rivers, lakes, and waterfalls

Pharnaces' glory is brief, however. As part of his mopping-up operations after Pompey's fall, Caesar marches personally into Anatolia in 47 BC and defeats Pontus at the Battle of Zela (now in Tokat Province in northern central Turkey). Pharnaces' army is routed and he himself flees back to the Bosporan kingdom where he is assassinated by his own ambitious son-in-law, Asander. Pontus is firmly in Roman hands, and Mark Antony places one of Pharnaces' offspring in command as a vassal. The Bosporan kingdom remains under the control of Pharnaces' daughter and her husband, Asander.

47 - 44 BC

Julius Caesar has already realised the usefulness of Mithradates of Pergamum, son of Mithradates VI of Pontus by his Galatian wife (a cousin of Deiotarus Philoromaeus, tetrach of the Tolistoboges). Following victory at Zela, Caesar commands him to attack and assume control of the Bosporan kingdom. This he does, no doubt with the support of Roman troops.

39 - 37 BC


Son. Client king of Cilicia & Pontus to Mark Antony. Died.

39 - 37 BC

Having made Darius a vassal king of Cilicia, Mark Antony moves him to Pontus in 39 BC and hands Cilicia to one Polemon I Pythodoros in thanks for services rendered to Rome by his father, Zenon. When Arsaces of Pontus dies in 37 BC, Pontus is added to Polemon's domains.

37 BC


Brother. Client king to Mark Antony. Died.

37 - 8 BC

Polemon I Pythodoros

Roman client king of Bosporan (17 BC), Cilicia, Kolkis, Pontus.

36 BC

The Parthians attack and occupy areas of Roman Syria, including the city of Bashan. Mark Antony leads an army against the Parthians in 36 BC, supported by Polemon I, but the force is defeated and Polemon is captured and ransomed. He is freed to return to Anatolia by 35 BC.

31 - 30 BC

With Octavian's defeat of Mark Antony at Actium and no other opponents to his hold on power, Egypt and Libya become provinces of Rome upon the death of Cleopatra in the following year. Octavian also recognises the authority of the turncoat Polemon I, confirming his governance of Cilicia, Kolkis, and Pontus.

17 BC

Rome has already sent Polemon to remove Scribonius from the throne of the Bosporan kingdom. Having arrived ready for battle to find the man dead, he attacks the army of Queen Dynamis instead and attempts to seize the kingdom. He is successfully repulsed and the Roman statesman, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, negotiates a peace. In order to retain control of her kingdom, Dynamis marries Polemon, thereby increasing his own holdings as a Roman vassal.

13 or 12 BC

Polemon's marriage to Dynamis is relatively brief. In either 13 or 12 BC he replaces her with Pythodoria of Pontus by whom he has two sons and a daughter. During this period he is also able to expand the borders of the Bosporan kingdom to the River Tanais (otherwise known as the Jaxartes/Iaxartes or Syr Darya, which traditionally forms the boundary between Sogdiana and Scythia). Upon the death of Polemon in 8 BC, Dynamis resumes command of her kingdom while his second wife retains Pontus and its holdings.

8 BC - AD 23

Pythodoria of Pontus

Wife. Roman client queen of Cilicia, Kolkis, & Pontus.

8 BC

Now a widow of some power and standing, Pythodoria marries King Archelaus of Cappadocia, becoming co-ruler there too. She and her new husband now govern a wide swathe of eastern Anatolia and the South Caucuses.

Ruins at Satala
These ruins at Satala were occupied by the first century AD, and probably earlier. They formed part of Lesser Armenia when it was annexed by Rome around AD 60

AD 17

The aged Archelaus of Cappadocia proves relatively popular with Rome but is less liked by the Cappadocians. For angering the Emperor Tiberius after favouring one of his rivals for the imperial diadem, Archelaus is summoned to Rome where he dies, possibly of natural causes (or suicide). Tributary Cappadocia now becomes a Roman province with Pythodoria having to return to her own lands, while Armenia and Lesser Armenia are recombined and handed to the elder son of Polemon I, Artaxias III, who rules there as a client king. Cilicia is handed to Archelaus' own son to rule as another client king.

23 - 63

Marcus Antonius Polemon (II) Pythodoros

Son. Roman client king of Kolkis & Pontus.

AD 63

Polemon II is persuaded to abdicate the throne by the Roman Emperor Nero, and Pontus becomes part of the Roman province of Galatia. As a satellite state of Pontus, the Georgian kingdom of Kolkis is also drawn into the Galatian province.