Chapter 7 of The Spirit of the Laws Volume 3

How Mithridates Could Resist the Romans

September 30, 2021

AMONG the several kings whom the Romans invaded, Mithridates was the only one who made a courageous defence, and exposed them to danger.

His dominions were situated to wonderful advantage for carrying on a war with them= they bordered on the inaccessible countries of mount Caucasus, peopled with savage nations, whom that prince could call to his assistance; they thence extended along the sea of Pontus, which Mithridates covered with his ships, and he was incessantly purchasing new armies of Scythians= Asia was open to his invasions; and he was rich, because his cities, situated on the Pontus Euxinus, carried on an advantageous traffic with nations less industrious than themselves.

Proscriptions, the custom of which began at this time, had forced several Romans to leave their country. These were received by Mithridates with open arms, and he formed legions * , into which he incorporated those exiles, who proved the best soldiers in his army.

On the other side, the Romans, disordered by intestine divisions, and threatened with more imminent dangers, neglected the affairs of Asia, and suffered Mithridates to pursue his victories, or take breath after his defeats.

Nothing had contributed more to the ruin of most kings, than the manifest desire they shewed for peace= [52] by this, they had prevented all other nations from dividing with them a danger, from which they were so anxious to extricate themselves= but Mithridates immediately made the whole world sensible, that he was an enemy to the Romans, and would be so eternally.

In fine, the cities of Greece and Asia, finding the Roman yoke grow more intolerable every day, reposed their whole considence in this barbarous king, who invited them to liberty.

This disposition of things gave rise to three mighty wars, which form one of the noblest parts of the Roman history, and for this reason= we do not, on this occasion, read of princes already overcome by luxury and pride, as Antiochus and Tigranes; not by fear, as Philip, Perseus, and Jugurtha; but a magnanimous king, who, in adversity, like a lion that gazes upon his wounds, was fired with the greater indignation upon that account.

I his part of the Roman history is singular, because it abounds with perpetual and ever-unexpected revolutions; for as on one side, Mithridates could easily recruit his armies, so it appeared, that in those reverses of fortune, in which kings stand in greatest need of obedience and a strict discipline, his barbarian forces forsook him= as he had the art of enticing nations, and stirring up cities to rebellion, so was he likewise betrayed by his captains, his children and his wives; in fine, as he was sometimes opposed by unexperienced Roman generals, so there was sent against him, at other times, Sylla, Lucullus, and Pompey.

This prince, after having defeated the Roman generals, and conquered Asia, Macedonia, and Greece; having been vanquished, in his turn, by Sylla; confined by a treaty to his former limits, and harrassed by the Roman generals; having been once more superior to them, and conqueror of Asia; driven away by Lucullus; pursued into his own country; obliged to fly for shelter to Tigranes, and defeated with him= finding [53] this monarch irrecoverably lost, and depending merely upon himself for succour, he took sanctuary in his own dominions, and re-ascended the throne.

Lucullus was succeeded by Pompey, who quite overpowered Mithridates. He then flies out of his dominions, and crossing the Araxes, marches from danger to danger through the country of the Lazi; and assembling in his way all the barbarians he met with, appeared in the Bosphorus against his son * Macchares, who had reconciled himself to the Romans.

Although plunged in so deep an abyss, he yet † formed a design of making Italy the seat of the war, and of marching to Rome at the head of those nations who enslaved it some years after, and by the same way these now took.

Betrayed by Pharnaces, another of his sons, and by an army terrified at the greatness of his enterprises and the perils he was going in search of, he died in a manner worthy a king.

It was then that Pompey, in the rapidity of his victories, completed the pompous work of the Roman grandeur= he united to the body of its empire, countries of a boundless extent, which, however, heightened the Roman magnificence rather than increased its power; and though it appeared by the titles carried in his triumph, that he had increased the revenue of the public treasury ‡ above a third, there yet was no augmentation in power, and the public liberty was thereby only exposed to the greater danger.


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