The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy (Paperback)

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Mithradates may not have as good of a publicist as Hannibal, but there is no doubt that Mithradates was one of Rome’s biggest enemies. Rome gave him the honor of naming multiple wars after him, Hannibal didn’t get that honor, yet everyone talks about his invasion over the alps. Even though Mithradates massacred almost one hundred thousand Roman citizens, he still doesn’t have the same level of infamy as Hannibal.

Mithradates was the King of Pontus, on the Black Sea in the North of Modern-day Turkey at the beginning of the 1st century BCE. He was influenced by both Greek and Persian cultures and religions. Mithradates was named after the star god Mithras, known as the Poison King because of his love and fear of poisons.

He was always terrified of being poisoned, it was and still is an effective and convenient way to assassinate people. So, he decided to build up an immunity to poison by ingesting a cocktail of various poisons every day. Obviously after a while this did have a debilitating effect on his health. People complain about the covid vaccine, try taking a dose of arsenic every day. The ironic thing is when he was cornered by the Romans and wanted to kill himself, his tolerance was so high that the poison he tried to kill himself with didn’t work.

I’m sure if he was alive to watch Game of Thrones, he would have loved seeing King Joffrey’s death at the Purple Wedding.

In this incredibly exciting and interesting book about a lesser-known antihero in history by Adrienne Mayor, she references a fascinating test that rates the legendary status of various “mythic heroes.” The scoring is based off of twenty-three different attributes in someone’s life like having divine or royal parents, attempted assassinations by family members, loses and retakes throne, and dying in an unusual way. For example Harry Potter scores a 12, Buddha  Joan of Ark and Robin Hood all score a 13, Jesus Muhammad and Hercules score between 18-20, while Moses and Oedipus score in the 20s. Mithradates has a perfect score of 23, and I think Daenerys Targaryen would score in the 20s, while JFK was only a 5.

— From Biographies


A compelling biography of the legendary king, rebel, and poisoner who defied the Roman Empire

Machiavelli praised his military genius. European royalty sought out his secret elixir against poison. His life inspired Mozart's first opera, while for centuries poets and playwrights recited bloody, romantic tales of his victories, defeats, intrigues, concubines, and mysterious death. But until now no modern historian has recounted the full story of Mithradates, the ruthless king and visionary rebel who challenged the power of Rome in the first century BC. In this richly illustrated book--the first biography of Mithradates in fifty years--Adrienne Mayor combines a storyteller's gifts with the most recent archaeological and scientific discoveries to tell the tale of Mithradates as it has never been told before.

The Poison King describes a life brimming with spectacle and excitement. Claiming Alexander the Great and Darius of Persia as ancestors, Mithradates inherited a wealthy Black Sea kingdom at age fourteen after his mother poisoned his father. He fled into exile and returned in triumph to become a ruler of superb intelligence and fierce ambition. Hailed as a savior by his followers and feared as a second Hannibal by his enemies, he envisioned a grand Eastern empire to rival Rome. After massacring eighty thousand Roman citizens in 88 BC, he seized Greece and modern-day Turkey. Fighting some of the most spectacular battles in ancient history, he dragged Rome into a long round of wars and threatened to invade Italy itself. His uncanny ability to elude capture and surge back after devastating losses unnerved the Romans, while his mastery of poisons allowed him to foil assassination attempts and eliminate rivals.

The Poison King is a gripping account of one of Rome's most relentless but least understood foes.

About the Author

Adrienne Mayor is the author of Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World (Overlook) and The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times (Princeton). She is a research scholar in classics and history of science at Stanford University.

Product Details
ISBN: 9780691150260
ISBN-10: 0691150265
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: March 27th, 2011
Pages: 480
Language: English