I’ve just finished reading Philip Matyszak’s military biography of Mithridates. This is a subject I knew almost nothing about prior to reading the book, and I came away enlightened, amused and slightly horrified. Matyszak’s book is a short but thorough study of a man whose career was one long struggle against the Roman state. Matyszak is an entertaining writer, and the life of Mithridates makes for great copy. When he wasn’t fighting the Romans Mithridates was bumping off members of his own family, including several of his sons, his sister, and probably his own mother and brother. He was notorious for dosing himself up on a wide range of poisons in order to build up his immunity, developing an allegedly encyclopedic knowledge of the subject along the way. And then there was the matter of the ‘Asian Vespers’, where he ordered the massacre of every Roman and Italian in the region, with the result that 80,000 men, women and children were slaughtered by his allies. So Mithridates is hardly a heroic figure in any conventional sense, despite his tenacity and personal bravery in opposing the Roman juggernaut.
The book is written in a very entertaining style, with a light touch and the occasional laugh-out-loud moment. It also provides a solid narrative of the events from a military perspective, with detailed sections on the battles of the River Amnias, Chaeronea and Tigranocerta. There’s plenty of material here for a promising wargames campaign, which would be all the more interesting for including not only the Romans and the Pontics (whose military organisation changed significantly over the course of the wars), but also Armenians, Greeks, Galatians and others.
Matyszak’s Mithridates is a larger-than-life character, sometimes brutal and always ambitious, but also capable of inspiring great loyalty. And (as the title says) he was an indomitable and remorseless enemy of Rome’s insatiable lust for power and gold – a man who became a legend among foes and friends alike.
Verdict – highly recommended, and another winner from the Pen & Sword publishing house!