Fresh Conflicts With The Albanians

For several days the Roman army had to march in the glowing heat through this almost waterless flat country, without encountering the enemy; it was only on the left bank of the Abas (probably the river elsewhere named Alazonius, now Alasan) that the force of the Albanians under the leadership of Coses, brother of the king Oroizes, was drawn up against the Romans; they are said to have amounted, including the contingent which had arrived from the inhabitants of the Transcaucasian steppes, to 60,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry. Yet they would hardly have risked the battle, unless they had supposed that they had merely to fight with the Roman cavalry; but the cavalry had only been placed in front, and, on its retiring, the masses of Roman infantry showed themselves from their concealment behind. After a short conflict the army of the barbarians was driven into the woods, which Pompeius gave orders to invest and set on fire. The Albanians thereupon consented to make peace; and, following the example of the more powerful peoples, all the tribes settled between the Kur and the Caspian concluded a treaty with the Roman general. The Albanians, Iberians, and generally the peoples settled to the south along, and at the foot of, the Caucasus, thus entered at least for the moment into a relation of dependence on Rome. When, on the other hand, the peoples between the Phasis and the Maeotis--Colchians, Soani, Heniochi, Zygi, Achaeans, even the remote Bastarnae--were inscribed in the long list of the nations subdued by Pompeius, the notion of subjugation was evidently employed in a manner very far from exact. The Caucasus once more verified its significance in the history of the world; the Roman conquest, like the Persian and the Hellenic, found its limit there.

Mithradates Goes To Panticapaeum

Accordingly king Mithradates was left to himself and to destiny. As formerly his ancestor, the founder of the Pontic state had first entered his future kingdom as a fugitive from the executioners of Antigonus and attended only by six horsemen, so had the grandson now been compelled once more to cross the bounds of his kingdom and to turn his back on his own and his fathers' conquests. But for no one had the dice of fate turned up the highest gains and the greatest losses more frequently and more capriciously than for the old sultan of Sinope; and the fortunes of men change rapidly and incalculably in the east. Well might Mithradates now in the evening of his life accept each new vicissitude with the thought that it too was only in its turn paving the way for a fresh revolution, and that the only thing constant was the perpetual change of fortune. Inasmuch as the Roman rule was intolerable for the Orientals at the very core of their nature, and Mithradates himself was in good and in evil a true prince of the east, amidst the laxity of the rule exercised by the Roman senate over the provinces, and amidst the dissensions of the political parties in Rome fermenting and ripening into civil war, Mithradates might, if he was fortunate enough to bide his time, doubtless re-establish his dominion yet a third time. For this very reason--because he hoped and planned while still there was life in him--he remained dangerous to the Romans so long as he lived, as an aged refugee no less than when he had marched forth with his hundred thousands to wrest Hellas and Macedonia from the Romans. The restless old man made his way in the year 689 from Dioscurias amidst unspeakable hardships partly by land partly by sea to the kingdom of Panticapaeum, where by his reputation and his numerous retainers he drove his renegade son Machares from the throne and compelled him to put himself to death. From this point he attempted once more to negotiate with the Romans; he besought that his paternal kingdom might be restored to him, and declared himself ready to recognize the supremacy of Rome and to pay tribute as a vassal. But Pompeius refused to grant the king a position in which he would have begun the old game afresh, and insisted on his personal submission.

His Last Preparations Against Rome

Mithradates, however, had no thought of delivering himself into the hands of the enemy, but was projecting new and still more extravagant plans. Straining all the resources with which the treasures that he had saved and the remnant of his states supplied him, he equipped a new army of 36,000 men consisting partly of slaves which he armed and exercised after the Roman fashion, and a war-fleet; according to rumour he designed to march westward through Thrace, Macedonia, and Pannonia, to carry along with him the Scythians in the Sarmatian steppes and the Celts on the Danube as allies, and with this avalanche of peoples to throw himself on Italy. This has been deemed a grand idea, and the plan of war of the Pontic king has been compared with the military march of Hannibal; but the same project, which in a gifted man is a stroke of genius, becomes folly in one who is wrong-headed. This intended invasion of Italy by the Orientals was simply ridiculous, and nothing but a product of the impotent imagination of despair. Through the prudent coolness of their leader the Romans were prevented from Quixotically pursuing their Quixotic antagonist and warding off in the distant Crimea an attack, which, if it were not nipped of itself in the bud, would still have been soon enough met at the foot of the Alps.

Revolt Against Mithradates

In fact, while Pompeius, without troubling himself further as to the threats of the impotent giant, was employed in organizing the territory which he had gained, the destinies of the aged king drew on to their fulfilment without Roman aid in the remote north. His extravagant preparations had produced the most violent excitement among the Bosporans, whose houses were torn down, and whose oxen were taken from the plough and put to death, in order to procure beams and sinews for constructing engines of war. The soldiers too were disinclined to enter on the hopeless Italian expedition. Mithradates had constantly been surrounded by suspicion and treason; he had not the gift of calling forth affection and fidelity among those around him.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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