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Pharnaces II (in Greek Φαρνάκης, died 47 BC) was king of Pontus until his death. He was the son of the great Mithridates VI, a famed enemy of the Roman Republic.

Contents

Coup

He was raised as his father's successor and treated with distinction. However, we know little of his youth from writers of the time and find him first mentioned after Mithridates had taken refuge from the Roman general Pompey during the Third Mithridatic War.

Mithridates was keen to wage war with the Romans once more, but his son was less keen, and thus began a plot to remove his father from power. Unfortunately, his plans were discovered, but the army, not wishing to engage Pompey and the Roman armies, supported Pharnaces. They marched on Mithridates and forced their former king to take his own life.

Pharnaces quickly sent an embassy to Pompey with offers of submission and hostages, for he was keen to secure his position. He also sent the body of his father, to be at the disposal of Pompey. The latter readily accepted Pharnaces overtures, for he wished to be back at Rome having seen to have made peace in the region. Pompey granted Pharnaces the Bosporan Kingdom, and named him friend and ally of Rome.

Contemporary historians are silent on Pharnaces's early reign, but eventually, on viewing the increasing power struggles between the Romans, and with an eye to recreating the kingdom of his father, he attacked and subjugated the free city of Phanagoria, violating one of his agreements with Pompey.

War with Caesar

In 49 BC, civil war broke out between Julius Caesar and Pompey. Whilst the Romans were distracted by this, Pharnaces decided to seize the opportunity and, with the forces under his disposal and against little opposition, made himself the ruler of Colchis and Lesser Armenia. Deiotarus, the king of Lesser Armenia appealed to Gnaeus Domitius Calvinus, the lieutenant of Caesar in Asia, for support, and soon the Roman forces sought battle with Pharnaces. They met at Nicopolis in Anatolia, Pharnaces defeated the small and green Roman army and overran Pontus.

After this show of strength against the Romans, Pharnaces drew back to suppress revolt in his new conquests. However, the extremely rapid approach of Caesar in person forced Pharnaces to turn his attention back to the Romans. At first, recognizing the threat, he made offers of submission, with the sole object of gaining time until Caesar's attention fell elsewhere; but Caesar's speed brought war quickly, and battle took place near Zela (modern Zile in Turkey), where Pharnaces was routed and was able to escape with just a small detachment of cavalry. Caesar himself, in a letter to a friend in Rome, famously said of the short war: “Veni, vidi, vici” (“I came, I saw, I conquered”).

Pharnaces himself fled quickly back to the Bosporus, where he managed to assemble a small force of Scythian and Sarmatians troops, with which he was able to gain control of a few cities. However, a former governor of his, Asander, attacked his forces and killed him. The historian Appian states that he died in battle; Cassius Dio says he was captured and then killed.

Marriage, issue and succession

Pharnaces was about fifty years old when he died, and he had reigned for nearly sixteen years. He had several sons, one of whom, Darius, was made king for a short time by Roman triumvir Mark Antony.

Pharnaces’ daughter Dynamis first married the general Asander, by whom Dynamis had a son called Tiberius Julius Aspurgus. Asander ruled as Bosporan King in spite of Roman nominees ruled as archon, and later as king, until 17 BC. After the death of Asander, Dynamis was compelled to marry a Roman usurper called Scribonius but the Romans under statesman Agrippa interfered and set Polemon I of Pontus in his place. Dynamis and Polemon married in 16 BC and Dynamis died in 14 BC. Polemon ruled until his death in 8 BC and then after Tiberius Julius Aspurgus, succeeded Polemon.

Sources

This article is partly based on extracts from the book Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, edited by William Smith (published in 1870), and the writings of Appian, ancient historian.

Preceded by
Mithridates VI
King of Pontus
63 BC – 47 BC
Succeeded by
Roman rule
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