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Customer Review

HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWERon 22 July 2011
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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