Prusias II and the Roman Republic
Updated: Jan 24
Prusias II, King of Bithynia, Reduced to Begging (Public Domain Image, with thanks to the Getty Museum Open Content Program)
In a previous post, I shared a coin from Pergamon, Mysia. Prussias II, King of Bithynia, took territory from Pergamon....here's my new addition, a coin of Prusias II. Researching the coin has been a wandering path with stops in Pergamon, Bithynia, Thessaly, the Seleucid Empire, Rome and Carthage.
Kings of Bithynia, Prusias II Cynegos, reigned 182-149 BC, Nikomedia, Bronze Æ
Obv: Draped bust of Dionysos right, wearing ivy wreath
Rev: BAΣIΛEΩΣ ΠΡΟYΣIOY, the centaur Chiron standing right, cloak over shoulder, playing lyre, to lower right, monogram.
Size: 22mm, 6.25g
According to Greek mythology, Mt. Pelion on the Magnesia peninsula, was home to the centaurs. Chiron was revered as oracle, healer and teacher of many heroes including Achilles and Perseus. Another myth tells of Dionysos raping Nikaia, the nymph of the springs or fountain of the Greek colony of Nikaia in Bithynia. What would the Bithynians see in these images? For now, I don't have more.
Bythinia was north of Pergamon, on the south shore of the Black Sea, just across from Byzantium.
Rome Looks East
The end of the Second Carthaginian War, freed the Roman republic to turn its attention east. After 195 BC, seven years after the Roman victory of Zama against Carthage in the Second Punic War, Hannibal, the great Carthaginian general, fled Carthage to escape being turned over to the Romans. He was taken in by Antiochus III, King of the Seleucid empire, who was at war with Rome.
Seleukid Kingdom, Antiochos III Megas, 223-187 BC, Antioch
Obv: diademed head right
Rev: [AN]TIOXOY - [ΒΑ]ΣΙΛΕΩΣ, Apollo on omphalos seated left
Size: 16mm, 2.45g
Antiochus III wrote to Prusias I, father to Prusias II, in BC 190, the king of Bithynia, about his fear of Roman oppression and to ask for his support.
“In this dispatch, he bitterly complained of the Roman expedition to Asia; they had come, he wrote, to deprive them all of their crowns so that there might be no sovereignty but that of the Romans anywhere in the world; Philip and Nabis had been reduced to submission; he, Antiochus, was to be the third victim; like a spreading conflagration they would envelop all, as each lay nearest to the one already overthrown. Now that Eumenes had voluntarily accepted the yoke of servitude, it would be but a step from Antiochus to Bithynia.” -Livy, History of Rome 37.25
The Romans were more persuasive. They shared with Prusias I the benefits of friendship, amicitia, with Rome. In 190 BC, Hannibal fought the Romans, leading the Seleucid fleet in the Battle of Eurymedon, a major defeat for Hannibal and the Antiochus III. Prusias stayed neutral and did not support Antiochus III, who was defeated by the Romans in 188 BC. Hannibal was soon, again looking for safe harbor from the Romans and ended up in the court of Prusias I, fighting for Prusias against Eumenes II of Pergamon, a Roman ally.
Prusias II took over from his father in 182 BC. Close to the last year of Prusias I, and the first year of Prusias II (181-183 BC), one or perhaps both under pressure from Rome, betrayed Hannibal. Hannibal surrounded by Roman soldiers took his own life.
“The guards surrounded the house so closely that no one could slip out of it. When Hannibal was informed that the king's soldiers were in the vestibule, he tried to escape through a postern gate which afforded the most secret means of exit. He found that this too was closely watched and that guards were posted all-round the place. Finally, he called for the poison which he had long kept in readiness for such an emergency. "Let us," he said, "relieve the Romans from the anxiety they have so long experienced, since they think it tries their patience too much to wait for an old man's death.” -Livy, The History of Rome 39.51
Cornelius Nepos, Lives of Emminent Commanders, tells a similar story in Hannibal 23.12.
The Romans Defeat the Macedonians
The Romans defeated Perseus of Macedon in 168 BC at the Battle of Pydna, during the Third Macedonian War. This coin depicts the king and his two sons, captives from the victory, with the relative of the moneyer, the Roman general Lucius Aemilius Paullus.
L. Aemilius Lepidus Paullus, 62 BC, AR Denarius, Rome mint
Obv: Veiled and diademed head of Concordia right
Rev: Trophy; to left, three captives (King Perseus of Macedon and his two sons) standing right; to right, Paullus standing left
Ref: Crawford 415/1; Sydenham 926; Aemilia 10
King Prusias II goes to Rome
King Prusias II chose this moment to go to Rome and request a gift of territory as a friend of Rome and in exchange for the services he had provided during the war against Macedonia.
“During the year Prusias went to Rome with his son Nicomedes. He entered the City amid a large concourse, and proceeded through the streets to the tribunal of Q. Cassius the praetor, surrounded by a crowd of citizens. Addressing the praetor, he said that he had come to pay reverence to the gods of the City, to salute the senate and citizens of Rome, and to congratulate them on their victory over Perseus and Gentius, and the extension of their sway by the subjugation of the Macedonians and Illyrians.” -Livy, History of Rome 45.44
Polybius portrays Prusias as obsequious, going to undignified lengths to show subservience to Rome. Prusias left his son, Nicomedes II, in the care of the Roman Senate. Nicomedes II would eventually push his father out of the way and take over as king and ally to Rome.
The image in gold, tempera colors, and ink on parchment that starts this post, from AD 1413-1415, shows Prusias II, a cautionary tale, a beggar in his last days, deposed by his son and punished by God for his betrayal of Hannibal and violation of the laws of hospitality.