Dream of the Poison King: A History of the Pontic Empire

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Nassirisimo, May 2, 2015.

  1. Nassirisimo Angry Arab

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    Sinope, Pontus. Around 396 AC [1]

    It was cloudless sky over Sinope, on a warm summer’s night when the great king of king Mithradates was born. While the seas that surround the city were unusually calm, the sky was lit by a fantastic comet. Seen from the shores of the Aegean into the heart of ancient Persia, many took it as a sign that a great saviour king who would bring peace, prosperity and justice was on his way. The child was born to the king Mithradates Euergetes of Pontos, and was given the name of his father as well as other ancestors before him. Mithradates.

    For the first few years of his life, the young prince who would grow up to be the mighty king of an Empire to rival Alexander’s or Darius’ did not leave the environs of his father’s harem. This was largely due to the Ancient Persian custom in which a young boy was to be separated from his father, lest he die young and cause his father heartbreak. It was a closed existence, though to a young child such limited environs may seem as wide as the world does to an adult. To many of the women there, it would have been nothing more than a gilded cage, a luxurious prison they were sentenced to for no crime other than that of being beautiful.

    However, for young Mithradates who was blind to the miseries that adult life brings, it was nothing more than a large area to discover. He would show off to his siblings by climbing the walls to the upper levels, which began to imbue him with a sense of pride. In the background, his mother watched, without anything resembling love in her eyes. Blessed as he was in physical prowess, the young Mithradates was starved of something that most of us would think as universal and essential, a mothers love. He was not hated by all in the harem any means, and some of the kings concubines had already taken a liking to him, but his mother saw only future possibilities with him.

    “Laodice, you are the mistress of this place, and have more freedom and wealth than any of us. And yet for all the happiness that would give to another woman, I don’t think I have ever seen a smile on your face in all your years here”. Rescuturme, a junior concubine, said this with a broad grin in her face. She was a woman who grew fond of others easily, particularly the little Mithradates. However, while she approached the queen Laodice with the friendly appearance that she showed to the rest of the world, she was no fool and was aware that Laodice was more akin to a dangerous snake than a woman. One only dealt with her kind from a distance, be it physically or emotionally.

    Laodice, who never appeared to show genuine emotion to anyone, returned a completely insincere smile to Rescuturme. “A dog wags its tail, and a cat purrs. I don’t believe we humans are so primitive that we need to display our pleasure so obviously”.

    Rescuturme took the barely veiled insult in her stride. She held no power at all in the kingdom, and knew when to step aside. Upon acknowledging the queen’s point, she departed to her own room. It was usually here that Mithradates went to receive maternal affections that his own mother denied him. Rescuturme had even taught the young prince her native language, as she was a foreigner to Pontos. She had been born the daughter of a minor chieftain in a town beneath the great Carpates [2] Mountains, which rivalled those of Pontos in their size. However, she found much pleasure in spending time with the young prince, who seemed to learn languages quickly, and who was fascinated with her blonde hair.

    “But what makes it that colour? Is it because there is no sun, so your hair acts as a kind of lamp?” Rescuturme chuckled at the interesting yet foolish theory that Mithradates had developed in his ignorance.

    “We have sun in my homeland as strong as there is here”

    “But there has to be reason for it being different. Do you use a powder?”

    “I don’t think that there is a powder in the whole world that could change something like that. No, I am not quite sure why it is that colour. My father’s hair is brown, like the colour of a fallen leaf. My mother, the last time I saw her, had hair almost the same colour as mine though. It is rare in my homeland, but my mother is from a place North of the Pontos Euxine”
    “The lands of the Savromátai?”

    “I think that’s the name of it in Greek. She, like me, was an exile from home. Perhaps that is why my hair is the colour that it is”. Mithradates half-nodded, as if struggling to contemplate a totally foreign concept.

    As his fifth birthday approached, his curiosity about the world outside of the walls of the harem increased, and Rescuturme answered them as best she could. She told him about the journey she had made, when she was given as a gift to the Pontic King. She told him of all the tales of her people, and about the gods that she worshipped.

    Rescuturme was not the only friendly company that Mithradates enjoyed in the harem however. His siblings always kept him at arm’s length, unsure what to make of the boy who would most likely be king someday. The child who acted as his confident was a young boy named Dorylaus, who was near-enough the same age as Mithradates. The orphaned son of a local noble family, the king had taken the boy into his home to be raised as a prince. With his mind not corrupted at such a young age with burning ambition, Dorylaus was as easy as Rescuturme for Mithradates to keep company with. Although Dorylaus was just as likely to fall when the two competed in acts of physical achievement, the boys were able to spend much of their days together without a hint of malice between them. For children of such an age, it is hard to develop a deep enmity without good reason.

    Thus it was that Mithradates lived the first five years of his life. It was not entirely free of danger, as even at a young age the wolves were stalking him in the form of his own mother, though it was not a dreadful existence by any means. It was physically comfortable and as intellectually stimulating as a young boy requires. As his fifth birthday approached, preparations were made for his introduction to his father. Mithradates himself was kept ignorant of the impending event, and continued his days talking with Rescuturme or playing with Dorylaus.

    On the date of his fifth birthday, he watched from the upper levels as he saw a bearded man enter the harem. This was still an incredibly rare sight for him, as he had not seen a fully grown man more than three times in his life before. The magnificence of the man’s clothes was enough to impart on Mithradates that this was someone of great importance, though it was not until he bellowed out that Mithradates realised who the man was. The king called out in a voice that carried itself throughout the harem “Where is my boy Mithradates. Where is my son?” Upon the realisation that this man was his father, the young boy Mithradates without words, walked toward his father, who embraced him. A million different thoughts and emotions entered his head, but the most overriding emotion was the sense of loss. The world inside the walls of the harem was one almost unchanging, and he knew that the world outside was one which required intelligence, courage as well as the favour of the gods to survive in. This is how the first part of the young Mithradates’ life came to a close.

    ******

    [1] - After Cyrus. This is based on a system which is introduced some years after the POD.
    [2] - Carpathians. Rescuturme is a Dacian
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2015
  2. St. Just Angel of Death

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    Looking forward to more!
     
  3. Grouchio Well-Known Member

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    Subscribed.
     
  4. Jonathan Corbynite with fire in heart & food in belly

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    Well written, will keep an eye on this.
     
  5. Noblesse Oblige Reaper Squad Member

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    Looking forward to more.
     
  6. Gordius Well-Known Member

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    Excellent! Does this entail a reboot of your previous Mithridates timeline? Regardless, I will be looking forward to this. Good luck.
     
  7. Germania09 Well-Known Member

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    All hail this Poison King TL :D
     
  8. Nassirisimo Angry Arab

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    Thank you all for the subscriptions and interest!

    Yes. There is a different style of writing of course, and a number of events will be different but the basic premise is similar (I feel like this one will be slightly better researched as well :p). In terms of structure it will be more like my previous TL, With the Crescent Above Us, though I might try experimenting with the podcast format found in Renovation by Soverihn in some updates.
     
  9. TFSmith121 War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen ... Banned

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    Nice start...

    Nice start... very evocative of an alien place and time.

    You've read Adrienne Mayor, I take it?

    Best,
     
  10. Nassirisimo Angry Arab

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    Lucio Papin; The Revolution of the 5th Century (Corduba: Hispania Publishing Corporation, 2201)

    Pontus Before Mithradates

    Pontus had been founded by an Iranian nobleman named Mithradates. The descendent of one Mithradates of Cius, who was put to death by the Diadochi Antigonus, the first king Mithradates fled a similar fate from the Diadochi king, fleeing to a remote area of Anatolia which was outside the influence of the successors of Alexander. The first identifiable base of Mithradates, and thus of the Pontic Kingdom, was a small fortress town called Cimiata. However, the kingdom was small and weak at this point, and was unlikely to expend any real influence over the larger urban centres of the region at this point, with the exception of Amaseia which was still a small town by the standard of other parts of the world. The Seleucids sent an expedition to the area, under the guise of restoring order, though Mithradates I played his part in a coalition which defeated them. Surviving Seleucid records however note the Galatians rather than Pontus being the prime culprits of their defeat.

    This demonstrates that prior to the reign of Mithradates V Euergetes, Pontus was a rather unremarkable and insignificant kingdom when seen through the eyes of the larger world. Some of its earlier kings have virtually no records written on them [1], and the Kingdom appears to have registered almost no interest from the Diadochi before the conquest of Sinope. From what is written in the Pontic Royal History, as well as in secondary sources, the kingdom of Pontus expanded slowly across the valleys of the Pontic interior. The conquest of Amastris under Ariobarzanes marked the most significant conquest before Sinope, and gave Pontus a vital outlet to the sea. The kingdom was still small and poor, but its star was rising slowly and steadily.

    Pontus first began to attract the attention of chroniclers and its larger neighbours in 347 AC with the conquest of Sinope, the largest Greek polis on the south shore of the Pontic Sea. The Pontic king Pharnaces I did not stop here, and went on to conquer Trapzus as well, making Pontus the paramount kingdom in the area, and arguably the strongest of the minor kingdoms of Anatolia. However, the growth in Pontic power alarmed the other small kingdoms, and bankrolled by the Seleucids, Pontus’ growth was limited as a coalition of petty kingdoms was formed to keep Pontus from achieving hegemony in the North of Anatolia. Pharnaces I disappears from the record soon after, possibly dead of natural causes or possibly the victim of the first palace coup, though there is little evidence for either.

    Under his successor, Mithradates IV, there were no major wars, and the period is recorded in Pontic chronicles as one of consolidation rather than expansion. Whether or not this was because of a conscious choice on the part of Mithradates IV or whether it was due to his own weakness as a king is unknown, but it served the purpose of keeping Pontus off the radars of large powers such as the Seleucids and Rome. Archaeological evidence from the period suggests that increased urbanization in the interior started to take place, which combined with more plentiful harvests suggests that while internationally Pontus was quiet, the overall prosperity of the Kingdom was increasing. The rule of Mithradates IV abruptly stops in 380 AC, when Mithrdates V comes to the throne. The Pontic chronicles do not mention what relation this Mithradates was to the previous one, but based on a later account by Strabon, the younger Mithradates may have been the nephew of the previous king. The abrupt nature of his rise gives credence to arguments that Mithradates IV was a victim of a palace coup.

    At any rate, Mithradates V would prove to be more energetic than his predecessor. Deciding that a major benefactor was needed in order to achieve supremacy over neighbouring kingdoms such as Bithynia and Cappadocia, the Pontic king turned to Rome as a patron. He provided nominal support to the Romans in the last war with Carthage, and his support of Rome against the rebellion in Pergamum led by Aristonicus came with the reward of Phrygia[2]. Around this time, Pontus’ ascendency over Cappadocia was more or less complete as Mithradates V occupied the Kingdom for a short time. It is also under Mithradates V that the first good records of the Pontic army are found, though it was a very different army than that with which his son would win wars. The Pontic army of Mithradates V was primarily comprised of Greek mercenaries, with soldiers coming from as far away as Crete and the Greek mainland. There was a certain prestige in hiring Greeks, and the soldiers proved more than capable of overwhelming the levies of his neighbours.

    By this point, Pontus was an increasingly powerful kingdom. She had proved that she had little to fear from her neighbours. From Lesser Armenia to Paphlagonia (the Pontic kings were recognized as the supreme rulers. Much of its land was agriculturally fertile; its forests provided high quality wood, its army was respected and feared by the other petty kingdoms of Anatolia and during the latter part of Mithradates V’s reign as the collapse of Seleucid power made trade through Syria more difficult, Pontus became a trading hub as well. The latter kings of the Pontic era seemed comfortable presenting a Persian face to the feudal lords of the interior and a sophisticated Greek face to the cities of the coast, and the lack of serious conflict between the myriad of different ethnic groups residing in the kingdom are a testament to the able administration of most Pontic kings.

    Despite the stable state of the Pontic Kingdom, and its power, it was a very dangerous place for Mithradates as a prince. Having lived in the harem until the age of five, following an old Persian custom, Mithradates came into a world where he was already the target of his ambitious mother. Strabon tells of an episode in Mithradates’ childhood, where a suddenly crazed horse threw the young prince, almost killing him. After a servant of Mithradates died suddenly of poison one day, the young prince resolved to build an immunity to poison by taking small doses of well-known poisons every day. Being in an environment where murder was just around the corner however did not make him excessively paranoid. Or at least not in comparison to the other kings of the region.

    Mithradates V himself had contributed much to making the Pontic kingdom a strong one. The surrounding kingdoms had all implicitly recognized Pontus as a strong power, though not quite the equal of Rome. This was irrelevant however, as Mithradates had successfully strengthened ties with Rome throughout his reign. The kingdom was not only prosperous, but its prosperity was actually increasing, even as wars and inept governance elsewhere weakened the economies of other regions. However, the assassination of Mithradates V in 408 AC would throw a lot of these great achievements into jeopardy, and would temporarily throw the kingdom of Pontus into chaos. However, as events would transpire, the young Mithradates would prove not only to be the equal of his predecessors, but would be a highly successful king beyond the wildest expectations of his ancestors.

    ******

    [1] - There is so much confusion about Pontus' early history that it is unknown as to how many kings Pontus had before Mithradates VI, with Appian and Plutarch giving different numbers.

    [2] - Phrygia was soon surrendered under Roman pressure. Most modern biographers of Mithradates have noted that Rome's seizing of hard-won Pontic territory may have contributed toward his disdain of Rome.
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2015
  11. TFSmith121 War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen ... Banned

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    What is the photo of?

    Nice ... what is the photo of?

    Best,
     
  12. Nassirisimo Angry Arab

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    Indeed I have. I've read most of the literature surrounding Mithradates, except for the unusually large parts which happen to be in Spanish. On one hand, I'm a bit wary of Mayor's filling in of historical gaps with suppositions, but there isn't much else to fill those gaps, so I guess an educated guess is better than nothing.
    The photo is of the rock-cut tombs of the Pontic kings in modern Amasya.
     
  13. Gordius Well-Known Member

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    Nice overview. What's the year system based on? The collapse of Alexanders Empire or not yet revealed?

    I agree that there is a lot of supposition and florid text in Mayors work on Mithridates, though it certainly made parts of it more enjoyable. If you want a good overview of Anatolia in the time period with overly lavish descriptions of the landscape of Pontus (and one of THE greatest descriptions of the kingdom I have ever read) try to find Magie's Roman Rule In Asia Minor: to the end of the Third Century.

    Epic book (gargantuan with the index and appendix in separate books!). Its quite difficult to find and outrageously expensive, but I would greatly recommend it for the time period.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2015
  14. TFSmith121 War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen ... Banned

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    Thanks - the richness of Anatolia in archeological sites,

    Thanks - the richness of Anatolia in archeological sites is sort of mind-boggling. Certainly a crossroads of world history.

    I'll keep reading; definitely interesting.

    Best,
     
  15. Nassirisimo Angry Arab

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    The year system is based on an invention of Mithradates' successors that actually sticks (though is based on a real event). It will be revealed later on in the story.

    I really won't knock Mayor's text in terms of enjoyability. And in all fairness to her, considering the lack of actual primary sources we have on the life of Mithradates, her telling of the story is as good an attempt to tell the story of his life than any other.

    I've read a couple of reviews of the book but unfortunately I think it will be a struggle getting my hands on it. I'm planning on relocating to Malaysia this summer so it might be even harder after that. Oh well...
    Anatolia is certainly a fascinating place archaeologically. Underground cities, Neolithic towns, not to mention a host of Greek, Roman, Turkish and Armenian buildings really make the place a dream for historians. Not so much the rather secretive attitude about their archives but you can't have everything. :p
     
  16. TFSmith121 War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen ... Banned

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    There is definitely a sort of Ozymandias sort of feel at

    There is definitely a sort of Ozymandias sort of feel at some of the sites.

    Aspendos, with the theater, for example.

    Best,
     
  17. Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

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    The death of Cyrus? The construction of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi? The calendar seems to begin in 530/529 BC, and I assume it's based on something in Greek or Persian history.

    Good to see this being rebooted.
     
  18. Noblesse Oblige Reaper Squad Member

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    The Poison King has a lot of a legacy to fill, and I know he'll fill it.

    How long will you take this TL to?
     
  19. The Professor Pontif of the Guild

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    Interesting.
    What is the meaning of Eugertes? is it just a typo of Euergetes?
     
  20. Nassirisimo Angry Arab

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    A friend of mine who was in Turkey this February thought that the underground cities in Cappadocia were pretty impressive too, though these will likely be butterflied in TTL.
    The death of Cyrus. The long and short of it is that it's used as a way to emphasise continuity with the past.
    Right now, uncertain. I have a rough outline for at least a century, though I will keep going as long as I like. There isn't a set expiry date so far.
    It is indeed a typo. This is what happens when you assume that because microsoft spell checker is wrong, you are automatically right. Thanks for the heads up.