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on 1 August 2017
Read it three times.
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on 13 October 2017
delivered as described
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 16 April 2012
This is a good introduction to Mithridate the Great and it tells the story of Rome's most persistent ennemy in the last century of the Republic with talent. The military and diplomatic developments are particularly good, showing how the king timed his attacks to make use of Rome's internal problems. The book's structure is clear. It is easy to read and it presents a concise yet comprehensive picture of events for an otherwise less well known and complex period of the history of Greece and Asia Minor.

There are however some problems, most of which are concentrated in the introduction (6 mistakes altogether). Some of these may be related to the usual low standard of editing that can be found in the Pen & Sword collection. For instance, Mithridate was NOT born in 120 BC. The Seleukids after their defeat at Magnesia in 190 BC was certainly NOT "content to allow their empire to moulder slowly away" so that the opposition made by the author with the Macedonian Antigonid is simply wrong. Rather, the Seleukids fought the Parthians every inch of the way until 139 BC (about 50 years!) because these were threatening to take over Media and Mesopotamia - two of the empire's richest regions and it is incorrect to state that after Magnesia there was little to limit the Parthian state's expansion. Also, Armenia was NOT "originally part of the empire of Alexander the Great" and, of course, the Colossus of Rhodes was raised by the Rhodians to commemorate their victory against Demetrius (son of Antigonus) and NOT the Seleukids. Finally, Priene is the name is a relatively small Greek city-state of Asia Minor and not, as suggested by the text, a principality that has previously been a Seleukid administrative area.

Fortunately, the book improves considerably afterwards, but the introduction does leave a rather bad first impression that a reader who knows a bit about the Hellenistic period needs to overcome. One very good point is the author's mention that the Romans were in fact defeated several times by Mithridate's armies and that the pro-Roman sources did everything possible to minimize these defeats when they didn't simply ignore them. However, probably because of space constraints, the author does not sufficiently insist on Pontic victories and on the fact that it took first class Roman generals such as Sylla as Lucullus to beat the Pontic armies. Another limitation, also due to space constraints, is that the author does not discuss in detail the huge discrepancies in numbers with Pontic troops being at one point (and according to Pro-Roman sources) more than six times stronger that the Romans (120000 against 17000 or 18000) who nevertheless won. A simple explanation that would significantly reduce such a discrepancy is to consider that the number for the Pontic army is a total that includes non-combattants and that actual combattants may have been around half that total (a number similar to that gathered by the much more powerful Antiochus III a century before). As for Sylla's army, this could include Romans only. If this is the case, and knowing that he heavily relied on Greek allies ande mercenaries for ilght troops and cavalry, the size of his army may be in fact double the number given by the sources. A battle opposing 30000 Roman and allies/mercenaries against6 60000 Pontics would, of course, be somewhat more plausible. Unfortunately, none of this is discussed due to size constraints...

So, this is a good introduction to Mithridates and his wars and a good summary for a general reader. It is however a pity that size constraints have, once again, cut down analysis and discussions to a minimum so that, in many cases, the author is obliged to go along with the very implausible numbers that the author's come up with. And, once again, the editing is rather poor...
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From the author's Introduction:
"And it is true that the life of Mithridates VI Eupator of Pontus reads like an overblown film script of the 1950s. It has palace coups, plots and assassinations. It features incest, fratricide and an unhealthy fascination with poison. There are epic battles, sieges and massacres, kingdoms in turmoil, distressed princesses, corrupt officials and pirates. All that is lacking in the epic drama that was the life of Mithridates is a hero - in the entire saga of battle, double-dealing and betrayal, a good man is indeed hard to find."

This is an excellent history of Mithridates and his war against Rome. As the (eventual) winners, Rome wrote the history books (although the Greeks managed to sneak in a few subversive volumes here and there), but we still get a reasonable amount of information about Mithridates' side of the argument. The chapters are:
P001: Winning Pontus
P013: Building a Kingdom
P035: The First Clash With Rome
P043: Imperial Pontus
P057: Battleground Greece
P073: The Road to Dardanus
P089: The Failed Peace
P101: Mithridates Attacks
P117: Defeat and Exile
P137: The Return of the King
P152: The Last Stand
P163: Epilogue
Notes, Bibliography, Index pp169-180
There are four pages of maps, which for some reason are for the wrong period in Asia Minor's history; and several pages of excellent battle plans for Amnias River, Chaeronea and Tigranocerta - we get a Roman war with Armenia as part of the deal, as Mithridates managed to spread his web of alliances from Spain to the Steppes, and out as far as Parthia.

I don't know how cause and effect worked here, but this war plays out against the first act of the end of the Roman Republic. Rome's empire has spread to Spain, North Africa and Greece, and is now edging into Asia Minor. The Pontic state, and several of its neighbours, has emerged from the collapse of the Seleucid empire, which has sucked Rome into the area. The expansion of Rome has lead to widespread exploitation and corruption in its empire, with consequent stresses on Italy and Roman Society. This is the age of Marius and Sulla, and the first Civil War, which Mithridates takes full advantage of, and of the hatred for Roman oppression and corruption within its empire. Caesar and Pompey are just taking the central stage as Mithridates' story closes, ready for the second act of the Civil Wars. However, Mithridates suffers from the same problems all the Hellenistic successor states suffered from, but which Rome was able to avoid for so long, of the fact that Hellenistic kingship was primarily earned by killing off your predecessor and all other claimants - and keeping your heirs under your eye at all times. This led to great instability in the Hellenistic kingdoms which Rome was able to exploit, if only by luck rather than judgement. See Pyrrhus of Epirus and Alexander the Great Failure: The Collapse of the Macedonian Empire (Hambledon Continuum) for other famous examples.

The only `problem' I had with the book was occasionally with the author's style - he has read too many Terry Pratchett novels...

Further reading:
The Crisis of Rome: The Jugurthine and Northern Wars and the Rise of Marius

An Aside - the Hellenistic period (Philip and Alexander to Actium) can be confusing, especially when there are both Greek and Roman versions of names. I have found that playing historical board games help in learning names & places. The following are particularly useful for this period. `Spartacus' covers the period of the Mithridatic war, including Spain and Asia Minor.

Sword of Rome (GMT Games)
Successors (GMT Games)
Hannibal (Valley Games)
Julius Caesar (Columbia Games)
Spartacus (Compass Games)
boardgamegeek c*m
boardgameguru c* uk
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on 24 March 2015
Philip Matyszak book is wonderful great detail and understanding about one of the ancient worlds most fascinating characters and his relentless pursuit of Rome and detailed account of Sulla and Lucullus campaign against Mithridates is the work of a first class historian. I would recommend the book to anyone who is interested in the history of the Roman Republic.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 5 December 2008
Mithridates king of Pontus and enemy of Rome was an interesting mixture of cultures; Iranian clan chief and Greek king. His long life and numerous campaigns against Rome must surely tip him beyond even Hannibal as a dangerous enemy; to the last he is storied to have been plotting Danubian invasions of Italy.

Given the limits of the remaining texts and the suspicion that Roman sources ramped up enemy strength there must be many limits to our understanding of the period of Mithridates but this book provides a good summary, with some interesting battle reconstructions, of what we can say. And it is a remarkable tale of cunning, ambition and courage. The brutality of Rome (forget all that civilisation nonsense) and of the Asian Vespers in which large numbers of Italians were slaughtered in a pogrom make that distant world all too understandable.
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VINE VOICEon 2 April 2009
This book, Matyszak states, "aims to make Mithradates [Mithradates VI Eupator of Pontus b 134 BC, d 63 BC] accessible to a more general readership." In terms of killing, family murders, epic battles on land and sea, political treachery, duplicitous politics and diplomacy et al this is hard-core brutal history. The book charts a persistent 25 year conflict, as much a diplomatic chess puzzle as military campaign. Some may see Mithradates as a bastion to the greed of Roman imperialism, but he was a cruel predator. Don't look for gallantry, or glory, in this story.

The events take place in Asia Minor, Greece, the Black Sea and Anatolia. Mithradates decided to confront Roman expansionism while advancing his own teritorial ambtions. Starting with a pogrom where estimates suggest between 50-150,000 Roman civillians (Asiatic Vespers, 88BC) were slaughtered. Mithradates ensured there would be no going back - 'Jacta alea est' perhaps! Yet relations could be subtle, the dead could always be walked over by the Generals. The First Mithridatic War was fought between 88 BC and 84 BC, where Sulla forced Mithradates from Greece and wasthen replaced the less impressive Murena. A transitory peace was broken by Rome. The Second Mithridatic War from 83 BC to 81 BC resulted in another cease fire after the Romans suffered several tactical defeats. But no one ever knew how to loose in these bloody wars! Mithradates rebuilt his forces, and when Rome attempted to conquer Bithynia, attacked with a larger army leading to the Third War 73 BC to 63 BC. First Lucullus and then Pompey were sent against the failing King, who retreated to his heartland of Pontus. He was finally defeated by Pompey (who was took rather more credit than he was entitled). Mithradates met a tepid demise, a sons betrayal inducing his suicide.

The most interesting aspect - hypothesis - advanced by Matyszak is that Mithradates cleverly calculated that Rome's extremity was his opportunity. He saw the upstart empire about to implode with the Social War (91-88BC), the Spartacus slave rebellion which came close to disembowelling Rome from the countryside and Sulla's (the Civil War with Marius) dictatorship seeing the Roman elite tearing at each other's throats. Even the seas were conspiring, riddled with pirates. "Rome was a colossus besieged on all sides." It is not hard to see why Mithradates calculated Rome was in its death throws and his time had come. This assumed a timely and comprehensive understanding of "geo-political events". Was Mithradates actaully making, was he able to make, such very sophisticated strategic calculations?

Roman nightmares were populated by demons, Gaul's from the north, Hannibal from the South via the Alps, and from the East Mithradates. The King of Pontus was an implacable and persistent opponent who knew how to cut throats and dupe diplomats but was never a fundamental threat to Rome. As ever we are cheated, history was belatedly written by the Romans and their less literate opponent's version obliterated or lost. Was Mithradates "Great"? Yes, in the sense that the First World War was "Great". It is an epitaph. He was persistent, the fighting ultimately pointless, the cost appalling. This is a useful book, a good orientation to the events while presenting the facts in a tidy manner. Matyszak makes one too many witty one liners which are tedious, a good editor would have helped.
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on 30 May 2015
Very interesting and comprehensive coverage.
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on 20 November 2013
The book is well written, provides all the general information and manages to keep being pretty entertaining. For me it left an impression of being a little bit shallow. May be it is the case of there being not enough to write about. May be giving an overall impression is exactly what author aimed to do. All in all it is not a bad thing - the book is pretty short anyway, so what would you expect? The only thing I had a problem with is that author is kind of lite on dates. There are certain long and thorough descriptions of particular battles that surprisingly don't say what year that happened in. What would help this book greatly is a general timeline, a list of all the main events and dates. Sadly there is none.
Another thing is somewhat poor editing. There is a good amount of typographical errors throughout the whole book. For me this is the second book of Pen & Sword Military that has that kind of problem (other one being "The Crisis of Rome: The Jugurthine and Northern Wars and the Rise of Marius "), which is kind of strange considering that quality of paper and cover is quite ok.
All in all, if You are interested in the subject, I think You would not regret picking that book
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on 13 March 2010
I would like to commend the author of this work for spinning out such a good narrative of the life of Mithradates. Having read a number of biographies on subjects from the Classical and Hellenistic eras, I can appreciate some of the difficulties many authors face when having to rely on fragmentary or biased sources for information; some authors really shouldn't bother.

I disagree with the previous two reviews that some of Mr. Matyszak's witty remarks don't help the book, on the contrary I enjoyed them. I found they helped me as a modern reader relate better to the story/character.

I'm moving on to another of Mr. Matyszak's works - Roman Conquests: Macedonia and Greece - and hope to have as pleasurable a read as I did with this title.

I will only say this in criticism of the book, the maps provided did not have enough detail. I was unable to place some of the regions described in the book. Furthermore, the maps could do with some colour and if no colour, then a key to indicate the topograpghy better.
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