Tag Archive: Mithridatic Wars


DEIOTARUS – The Celt Who Saved Rome

UD: Jan. 2017

 

 

 

“…for it was king Deiotarus who raised your family, when abject and obscure, from darkness into light”.

 

(Marcus Tullius Cicero to Caius Caesar – from his speech on behalf of King Deiotarus)

 

 

 

 

By the 1st c. BC the Celtic tribes of Asia-Minor had become a powerful geo-political force in the region. Since the brutal campaign of Manlius Vulso in 189 BC, in which tens of thousands of them had been killed or enslaved, the Galatians had been bitter enemies of Rome, resisting the expansion of the empire and her allies in Asia-Minor. However, this was all to change dramatically one night in 86 BC, with a brutal act of treachery and murder which was to have far reaching consequences, not just for the Galatians, but for the Roman Empire itself.

 

 

 

THE BANQUET

 

At the beginning of the Mithridatic Wars the Celts of Asia-Minor, like the Bastarnae and Scordisci in Thrace, had supported the Pontic King Mithridates VI against Rome. However, after defeat at the Battle of Chaeornea in 86 BC, in which the Galatians had fought for the Pontic king (App. Mith. 41), Mithridates began to suspect treachery even in his closest allies. This paranoia culminated in a bloody pogrom against those whom he suspected would turn against him. The Galatian leaders were invited to a lavish banquet by Archelaus, one of Mithridates commanders, where they, along with their wives and children, were massacred:

“First, he put to death the tetrarchs of Galatia with their wives and children, not only those who were united with him as friends, but those who were not his subjects – all except three who escaped” .

(App. Mith. 46)

 

 

Mithridat. s

Portrait of the king of Pontus Mithridates VI. Marble, Roman imperial period (1st century)

(Musée du Louvre)

 

 

 

 

THE REVENGE

 

The murder of the Galatian chieftains was to prove a fatal error for Mithridates, and provoked a swift and brutal backlash from the Celts. One of the Galatian leaders, Deiotarus (I) (the ‘Divine Bull’), raised an army from the country people forthwith, expelled him and his garrisons, and drove them out of Galatia, so that Mithridates had nothing left of that country(loc cit). However, the Celtic revenge attacks quickly escalated and extended beyond Galatia. During the conflict Eumachus, Mithridates’ satrap in the region, had overrun Phrygia and killed a great many Romans, with their wives and children, subjugated the Pisidians and the Isaurians and also Cilica. These Pontic garrisons the Celts now also attacked, driving out Mithridates’ forces, and slaying a great number of them (Livy Per. 94a).

 

 

 

Pontus k.

Map of the Kingdom of Pontus – Before the reign of Mithridates VI (darkest purple), after his conquests (purple), and his conquests in the first Mithridatic wars (pink).

 

 

 

 

Loyal Ally of Rome

 

 

For Rome, the Galatian intervention came at a crucial juncture. The Roman general Lucullus had been on the verge of suspending the war because of a lack of supplies for his army, but Celtic support had solved the problem. Now as Lucullus advanced, “30,000 Galatians followed in his train, each carrying a bushel of grain upon his shoulders” (Plut. Luc. 14), and when he subsequently fought Tigranes at the Taurus river Lucullus was also supported by Galatian cavalry (Plut. Luc. 28).

 

 Although largely ignored by modern historians, Deiotarus’ contribution to Roman victory in the Mithridatic War had been crucial. As Cicero so eloquently puts it:

“And what length of time will ever efface, what forgetfulness will ever obliterate those numerous and honourable resolutions of the senate respecting him, which have been recorded in the public writings and memorials of the Roman people?”.

(Cicero, Deio. 37)

 

 

 

 Nor was Rome’s gratitude confined to words. For his help in the conflict Deiotarus received the title King, and his territory was greatly extended:

Armenia Minor he conferred upon Deiotarus, the king of Galatia, because he had acted as his ally in the Mithridatic war”.

(Eutr. IV:14)

 

 

Deio c.

Kings Of Galatia, Deiotaros. (Ca 62-40 BC) AE. Obverse: Laureate head of Zeus right. Reverse: Large monogram and Celtic oval shield (see ‘Coins of the Galatian Kings’ article)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Galatians and the Mithridatic Wars see also:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/celto-scythians-and-celticization-in-ukraine-and-the-north-pontic-region/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UD: May 2017

 

 

histria-illustration

 

“… to the Maeotic Lake on the east, where it bordered on Pontic Scythia, and that from that point on Gauls and Scythians were mingled”.

(Plut. Marius: 11: 4—5)

 

 

 

 

61 BC – Western Black Sea coast

 

 

THE MONSTER

 

A Roman army marches on the Greek city of Histria to crush a rebellion by the local population. The situation is even more ominous for the Greeks, because the Roman commander is none other than the Governor of Macedonia Gaius Antonius (the uncle of Mark Anthony), a notoriously cruel and brutal man, who had earned the name Hybrida (the Monster) for his systematic atrocities against the local population in the region (Pliny, Nat. Hist. viii. 213; Dio. Cass. XXXVIII). However, before Hybrida’s army can reach Histria a barbarian army, drawn from the local population, mobilizes to save the city.

The events which follow are to rank among the most embarrassing in the history of the empire…

 

 

 

Histria m.

Location of Histria

On Celtic and Celto-Scythian settlements in this area – Noviodunum, Aliobrix, Durostorum etc. – see also:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/03/01/%CE%BA%CF%8C%CF%81%CE%B1%CE%BB%CE%BB%CE%BF%CE%B9-people-of-the-rock/

 

 

 

 

THE KING

 

The interior of eastern Thrace/Scythia Minor during this period was inhabited by a unique population of Thracian (Getae), Celtic, and Celto-Scythian (Bastarnae) tribes. During Rome’s recent conflict with the Pontic King Mithridates VI the Celts and Bastarnae had allied themselves against the empire (App. Mith. 69, 111; Justin 38:3, Memnon 27:7). At the Battle of Chalcedon, for example, the Bastarnae had dealt a severe blow to the Romans – “In the land battle the Bastarnae routed the Italians, and slaughtered them” (Memnon op cit). Indeed, according to Appianus, his Celtic allies had stood with Mithridates to the bitter end in the conflict:

“Seeing a certain Bituitus there, an officer of the Gauls, he said to him, ‘I have profited much from your right arm against my enemies. I shall profit from it most of all if you will kill me.

…Bituitus, thus appealed to, rendered the king the service he desired”.

(App. Mith. 111)

 

As with so many ‘barbarian’ leaders of the European Iron Age, the Bastarnae king who faced the Roman army at Histria in 61 BC has hitherto remained nameless. However, recent numismatic evidence from the southern Dobruja region of today’s n.e. Bulgaria has yielded information which may allow us to finally identify the ‘hero of Histria’.

 During the 2/1 century BC six Peucini Bastarnae kings in this area struck coins in their names. Emerging numismatic data indicates that the latest of these was Akrosas, whose coinage was minted for him at the Greek colony of Dionysopolis (today’s Balchik) (See ‘Sariakes’ article with relevant lit.), near the Bastarnae settlement of Peuce (loc cit), once again confirming that this area was the center of (Peucini) Bastarnae political and economic power in the 2nd/ 1st c. BC.

 

 

 

Mag. We.

Lead measure weight of Dionysopolis bearing the ΕΥ from the name of the monetary magistrate Eukles (genitive ΕΥΚΛΕΟΥ)

(after Draganov 2012)

 

 

 

Magi.

Bronze issues of Dionysopolis bearing the name of the magistrate ΕΥΚΛΕΟΥ

(after Draganov 2012)

 

 

 

Akro. Mag

Akrosas bronze issues bearing the name of the king and the ΕΥ of the Dionysopolis magistrate ΕΥΚΛΕΟΥ

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/peucini-bastarnae-the-land-of-esus/

 

 

 

duran-burials

Celto-Scythian (Peucini Bastarnae) burial from Durankulak Island (Dobrudja), north-eastern Bulgaria

(2nd c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/peucini-bastarnae-the-land-of-esus/

 

 

 

Of great importance in establishing the chronology of Akrosas’ rule is a hoard of gold and bronze coins discovered in 1968 at the village of Bulgarevo in the s. Dobruja region (near the Peucini settlement of Tirisis – see ‘Sariakes’ article). This hoard, found scattered in a field near the village, besides bronze Akrosas issues, also yielded 4 rare barbarian gold staters of the Lysimachus type, dated to the Mithridatic period (Youroukova, Draganov, op cit), which chronologically indicates that Akrosas was most probably the Bastarnae commander at the Battle of Histria in 61 BC.

 

 

Gold Bulga h.

Gold Lysimachus type staters from the Bulgarevo hoard

(after Draganov 2012)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2017/04/20/metamorphosis-in-gold-on-posthumous-and-celto-scythian-staters-of-the-lysimachus-type-in-crimea-and-the-pontus-region/

 

 

 

AKROs BRON

Bronze Issues of the Bastarnae leader Akrosas from the Bulgarevo hoard

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE BATTLE

 

For Rome, the Battle of Histria was a complete fiasco. As Hybrida’s army approached the city, a large force of Bastarnae cavalry swept down on the Romans and the Roman governor, apparently caught unawares, detached his entire mounted force from the marching column and retreated, or, as the Roman historian Dio Cassius rather bluntly puts it – ‘and thereupon he ran away…‘ ( Dio. Cass. XXXVIII). Without cavalry support, the Roman infantry were left exposed, and massacred. The Bastarnae subsequently captured several of the Roman vexilla (military standards), which made the humiliation complete.

 

 

 

Burial of a young Celto-Scythia horseman with La Tène weapons and bearskin cloak,  from Mana, Moldova. (1 c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2017/01/29/the-bear-claw-warrior-burial-of-a-celto-scythian-bastarnae-horseman-from-mana-orhei-district-moldava/

 

 

 

In the short term, Akrosas’ victory at Histria resulted in the complete collapse of the Roman positions on the lower Danube, but ironically Hybrida’s defeat set in motion a cycle of events which would ultimately bring the region under Roman rule. Shortly after the battle, the Thracian Getae, who had been Bastarnae allies at Histria, launched a series of brutal attacks on their neighbors and the Greek Pontic cities. Under the command of a leader called Burebista, who declared himself “King of all Thrace”, by the time the Getae had finished their rampage the barbarian coalition which had defeated Hybrida in 61 BC was destroyed, and the tribes who had constituted this alliance weakened to such an extent that, despite further resistance by the Celtic and Bastarnae tribes in 29/28 BC, by the end of the 1st c. BC Thrace had fallen completely under Roman control.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Celto-Scythian Bastarnae tribes see:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/celto-scythians-and-celticization-in-ukraine-and-the-north-pontic-region/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail