The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy Book Review
It is often difficult to understand contemporary world conflicts and how quickly humans flock to warfare. This volume brings home the reality that ultimately we haven’t changed much and the violent ways in which men, and even women, fought face first in some of the ugliest battles that ever occurred, reminds me of it. Mithradates lived a long, colorful, and fruitful life even though he murdered some of his own family – or had them killed. He was calculated and practically undefeatable as he moved from one conquest to another to finally succumbing to the reality that no nation gets to be king of the mountain forever. My imagination was entirely captivated by the history that was offered even though I did have to repeat some material and it is, as I said, a considerable volume.
The cast of characters that surrounded Mithradates added to the incalculable layers of stories that seemed to flow from all the posturing, kingdom expanding, espionage, and brutal warmongering. With countless dramatizations of Rome’s history, this counterbalance gives the reader the oft-forgotten side of other world players in the history of humankind. While Mithradates, in defeat, eventually made his way through the Caucasus mountain range – no small feat by any means – with his lover/wife/warrior Hypsicratea, he probably never allowed his avowed enemy any pleasure. The wounds he would receive in battles, the many poisons he ingested to build up tolerances, the familicide – all roads lead to an ugly ending. Even in death, Mithradates seemed larger than life as no one account can fully answer some of the questions surrounding the facts of it.
Since Mithradates life was 120-63 BCE, it is somewhat of an anthropological examination of some political and cultural events leading to the eventual birth of Jesus in, or around, 2 BCE. It allows a Biblical scholar some contemporary non-fiction accounts that help fill in some sociological ideas. It’s not hard to see how varied the many religions that flourished then. It adds a perspective that although we may consider a handful of singular faiths; the truth is that any kingdom that could conquer a nation and force assimilation meant survival–and what’s more amazing is how modern that idea still rings true. It’s also of great interest that women fought alongside their male counterparts in these very hands-on battles. Many contemporary anthropological finds are now challenging some of the burial sites in that any time weapons were found the assumption was male. Mostly Scythian, women have been found buried with their armor, weapons, and even horses. Ultimately, the goal of procuring such a volume as this is to expand one’s mind and educate the reality of humanity by learning about its history. This book, most assuredly, has done that.