"He posed an existential threat to Rome and enjoyed an immunity to poison." -- comment about Mithridates VI, King of Pontus who lived circa 100 B.C.
Here's a video that shows the lighter side of Putin at the opening ceremony of the Artek Kids Camp in Crimea last week. Putin has made it clear in numerous speeches and interviews that his aim is to encourage the growth of strong family units in Russia. The re-vitalization of the Artek summer camp program is a step in that direction.
However the real reason I wanted to post this blog was because of this passed-over tidbit as published by Xinhua. After opening the Artek events, Putin went on to visit the ancient Crimean landmark known as the Great Mithridates Staircase on Mt. Mithradit, a hill that keeps watch over the Strait of Kerch.
"During his trip, Putin asked Aksyonov to speed up the reconstruction of the Great Mithridates Staircase, a landmark cultural relic in Crimea."
What is the "Great Mithridates Staircase" and why might this have a special symbolism in Putin's vision of the future?
Mithridates VI, King of Pontus
Mt. Mithridat is a hill in the city of Kerch, Crimea, that attains an elevation of 300 feet. A stone staircase of 428 steps has fallen into a bit of disrepair but you can still walk up to the summit. This is the staircase that Putin has taken such an interest in. The view from the summit is spectacular and it's reported that, on some days, you can see all the way to the Caucasus Mountains as it overlooks the waterway. It's easy to see why an ancient king would regard such an outpost as a strategic point of defense.
This hill used to house a museum, but it was destroyed during the Crimean War. Today it provides the setting for a memorial, the Obelisk of Glory, dedicated to the soldiers who defended Kerch during WWII. Putin takes the preservation of Russian history very seriously. To this day, Russian authorities are engaged in a war of words and monuments with Ukraine to preserve the truth of the last century.
The story of Mithridates the Great made me wonder if Putin also sees a mirror of his own situation with this King of Pontus. The domain of Pontus basically covered that area south and east of the Black Sea with Crimea being just about its northernmost point. At its height, the kingdom extended through parts of Turkey. Pontus was friendly with her neighbor, Armenia. Mithridates VI descended from quite a multicultural bloodline, including that of Cyrus the Great, and proved to be a thorn in the side to the dominant Roman Empire of his day. He faced down three prominent Roman generals, the last of whom, Pompey, finally conquered him in 63 B.C.
Mithridates is the king from whom we derive the word "mithridate," a concoction that contains an antidote to every poison. Those of you who are fans of the movie "The Princess Bride" will remember how the hero vanquished Vizzini via a trick built upon his own built-up immunity to the fictional iocane powder. King Mithridates actually was famous for his ability to withstand poison, he also having built up an immunity. In fact, as defeat and betrayal began to loom large for him, he tried to commit suicide by poison several times, but was unsuccessful. He finally had to get his bodyguard to kill him by the sword. So, in the minds of his contemporaries, a reputation had spread of his unkillable-ness.
What Mithridates VI is militarily known for is is his lifelong opposition to the encroaching empire of Rome. In this short video by a historian, the speaker comments that Mithridates the Great "posed an existential threat to Rome." Mithridates did not hold back from terrorizing thousands of Roman citizens within his domain just to force the Roman overlords to recede. The article at Wikipedia states that he "followed a decisive anti-Roman agenda, extolling Greek and Iranian culture against ever-expanding Roman influence."
My oh my ... doesn't THAT sound familiar? NATO, are you listening?
Vladimir Putin is a smart man. A wise person will use history lessons to keep himself from being fooled twice. Coincidentally, the ancient Silk Road was reaching its zenith during the reigns of the Mithridat dynasty. Here we are in the year 2017 watching the new and improved version embark on its own journey through history during Putin's lifetime. I'm sure that the Russian president is keeping an eye on would-be betrayers of his own inner circle.
I wonder what would have happened if King Mithridates had turned his face eastward to his trading partner in the Far East and whispered to the emperor, "You know, those lunatics in Rome are spending everything they make on their army. It's just a matter of time before they implode from their own economic malfeasance. And then, when that happens, well ...."
I guess we'll just have to watch and find out who, ultimately, will get to symbolically climb that Great Staircase of Mithridates.
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