Growing up in a snake pit, you better get used to venom. That must have been what young Mithridates thought when he started microdosing himself with poison. Mithridates came from Pontus, a kingdom that existed between 281 and 63 BC, on the site of present-day Turkey. His father, King Mithridates V, died in 120 under suspicious circumstances during a banquet, probably poisoned by his wife Laodice. Having a fondness for Mithridates’ younger brother, the twelve-year-old heir to the throne decided to make herself immune by ingesting a little poison every day.
Of course you can also be killed in other ways than with food and drink. So Mithridates VI fled the capital Sinope just to be safe and went into hiding. After a few years, the young king returned to court. He had his mother and brother imprisoned and they did not survive their stay in the dungeon. Murder? Perhaps. Anyway, Mithridates had two less worries.
The ruler adorned himself with the nickname Eupator, which means something like ‘of noble descent/of a noble father’. By this he was referring to his own father, but also to the glorious line of ancestors he claimed. Later he added the name Dionysus to his own. With Mithridates Eupator Dionysus, the king suggested that his father may well have been the supreme god Zeus.
Of course, someone with such an illustrious pedigree will not be left behind when he takes over a large and powerful kingdom. Mithridates VI set out to conquer, but soon ran into another superpower that was beginning to manifest itself more and more clearly in the eastern Mediterranean: Rome.
In AD 88, Mithridates made a statement by murdering 80,000 Roman citizens living in the parts of the province of Asia he occupied in one day. Rome couldn’t possibly let such an affront pass: General Lucius Cornelius Sulla was sent to Pontus to put things in order. (Spicy detail: Sulla himself became dictator of Rome in 82.) In the end, the Romans needed three wars to finally defeat Mithridates. They wanted to take him to Rome in triumph in 63, but the king did not want to experience this disgrace. The historian Appianus recorded what then happened. Two princesses first tried the poison he wanted to use. “The remedy worked immediately; but it had no effect on Mithridates, even though he walked quickly to aid the effect.” The microdoses of poison he had ingested now made it impossible for him to commit suicide. Appianus continued that the king turned to his Gallic bodyguard Bituitis with the words: “All my life I have profited from your right arm in the battle with my enemies. I will now benefit most if you kill me.” Bituitis granted his master’s last wish.
#King #Couldnt #Die