Sulla and Mithridates
Updated: Dec 31, 2020
Coins related to the time of Lucius Cornelius Sulla have been a key theme in my collecting the past couple of years. Continuing from my previous post, Sulla went off to fight Mithridates after damaging the Roman republic with his attack on Rome and the senate. He reclaimed from Marius the right to lead Roman legions against Rome's formidable enemy: Mithridates.
Mithridates, king of Pontus, seized Asia and put to death all Roman citizens in it. He was a man about whom one cannot speak except with concern nor yet pass by in silence; he was ever eager for war, of exceptional bravery, always great in spirit and sometimes in achievement, in strategy a general, in bodily prowess a soldier, in hatred to the Romans a Hannibal.
-Velleius writing from a later perspective during the time of Augustus
Here are two non-Roman coins and one Roman Republican coin from relevant leaders of this time.
Pontos, Amisos Mithradates VI, Circa 120-63 BC, Æ 23mm
Obv: Head of Mithradates VI, as Perseus, right
Rev: Pegasos standing left, drinking; AMISOU, monogram below
While Sulla was fighting to the east, Marius returned to Rome - taking control of Rome with Cinna and exiling Sulla. This was not an easy period for the citizens of Rome:
“Then Gaius Marius entered the city, and his return was fraught with calamity for the citizens. No victory would ever have exceeded his in cruelty had Sulla's not followed soon afterwards.”
Despite being seriously outnumbered, Sulla won several important victories against the Pontic armies. Impatient to get back to Rome, he agreed a treaty with Mithridates that would allow the conflict with Mithridates to resume in a short period of time:
"...terms of agreement were made as follows: Mithridates was to renounce Asia and Paphlagonia, restore Bithynia to Nicomedes and Cappadocia to Ariobarzanes, pay down to the Romans two thousand talents, and give them seventy bronze-armoured ships with their proper equipment; Sulla, on his part, was to confirm Mithridates in the rest of his dominions, and get him voted an ally of the Romans."
Kings of Cappadocia, Ariobarzanes I, Philoromaios AR Drachm, 84/83 BC
Obv: Diademed head right.
Rev: BAΣIΛEΩΣ APIOBAPZANOY ΦIΛOPΩMAIOY/ IΓ, Athena standing left, holding shield, spear and Nike.
Marius didn’t last long in his seventh consulship, as he was overcome by illness and died a few weeks in, on January 13th, 86 BC at the age of 70. Plutarch writes that some claimed Marius fell ill from sleepless nights, and drinking to combat his anxiety that Sulla was coming back to Rome. Others claim that on his deathbed he still lamented the ambitions he had yet to achieve. His son Marius the Younger would be consul by the time Sulla returned to Rome.
An L. Valerius Flaccus completed Marius' term as consul in 86 BC. He was the cousin of the older L. Valerius Flaccus who minted this RR coin in 108-107 BC and who had been consul in 100 BC.
L. Valerius Flaccus, AR Denarius
Rome, 108-107 BC
Obv: Draped bust of Victory right; below chin, XVI monogram
Rev: Mars advancing left, holding spear and trophy; apex before, grain ear behind, L VALERI - FLACCI in two lines downward in left field.
Ref: Crawford 306/1; RSC Valeria 11
This older L. Valerius Flaccus would also play a key role in the return of Sulla to Rome after negotiating a peace with Mithridates. L. Valerius Flaccus proposed his appointment as dictator. Before then there would many more battles in which the younger L. Valerius Flaccus and consuls from the next years would be killed.