Mithridates II, King of Pontus
(-Abt 220 BCE)
Laodike SELEUKID, Princess of Syria
Antiochos IV Epiphanes SELEUKID, King of Syria
(Abt 215 BCE-164 BCE)
Laodike SELEUKID, Queen of Syria
Mithridates III, King of Pontus
(-Abt 183 BCE)
Laodike SELEUCID, Princess of Syria

Pharnakes I, King of Pontus
(-By 154 BCE)


Family Links

Nysa SELEUKID, Princess of Syria

Pharnakes I, King of Pontus

  • Married: Between 172 and 171 B.C.E.
  • Died: Between 160 and 154 B.C.E.

  Orthographic variation: Pharnaces

  Research Notes:

The date of his accession cannot be fixed with certainty; but it is certain, at least, that he was on the throne before 183 BC, in which year he succeeded in reducing the important city of Sinope, which had been long an object of ambition to the Kings of Pontus. The Rhodians sent an embassy to Rome to complain of this aggression, but without effect. About the same time Pharnaces became involved in disputes with his neighbour, King of Pergamon, Eumenes II, which led to repeated embassies from both monarchs to Rome, as well as to partial hostilities. But in the spring of 181 BC, without waiting for the return of his ambassadors, Pharnaces suddenly attacked both Eumenes II and King Ariarathes IV of Cappadocia and invaded Galatia with a large force.

Eumenes II opposed him at the head of an army: but hostilities were soon suspended by the arrival of the Roman deputies, appointed by the Senate to inquire into the matters in dispute. Negotiations were accordingly opened at Pergamon but led to no result, the demands of Pharnaces being rejected by the Romans as unreasonable, and the war was in consequence renewed. It continued, apparently with various interruptions, until the summer of 179 BC, when Pharnaces, finding himself unable to cope with the combined forces of Eumenes II and Ariarathes IV, was compelled to purchase peace with the cession of all his conquests in Galatia and Paphlagonia, with the exception of Sinope.How long he continued to reign after this we know not; but it appears, from an incidental notice, that he was still on the throne in 170 BC, while he was certainly dead in 154 BC, when his brother Mithridates IV of Pontus is mentioned as King. The Greek historian Polybius accuses Pharnaces of having an arrogant and violent character, siding with the opinion of Eumenes II and the Romans.

Pharnaces married a Seleucid Princess called Nysa, who was the child of princess Laodice IV and crown prince Antiochus.... Pharnaces married Nysa either in 172 BC or 171 BC, through the diplomatic work of the Seleucid King Demetrius I Soter.

Honorific statues and inscriptions have survived that were dedicated to Pharnaces and Nysa. Pharnaces set about to establish good relations with the citizens of Athens and the Greek island of Delos. Pharnaces made a benefaction to the people of Athens. The exact nature of the benefaction is unknown; Pharnaces may have made some kind of voluntary donation to Athens, possibly soon after 183 BC. A lengthy honorific inscription from the Athenians on Delos honors Pharnaces and Nysa. Pharnaces and Nysa received a crown of gold from them and bronze statues of themselves were set up on Delos. Their lengthy Athenian honorific inscription is dated in the Archonship of the Athenian Tychandros or Tychander which is now generally accepted as 160 BC or 159 BC. 1


After the battle of Magnesia and the treaty of Apamea [188 BCE], it became clear that the Mithridatids could hardly fulfil their main strategic aim by means of diplomacy, i.e., incorporate Phrygia and the neighbouring territories into their kingdom. The matter was now in the domain of other great players - Rome, Pergamum and Bithynia. Pharnaces I, son of Mithridates III, in consequence was forced to start military actions to achieve the historical aim of his kingdom and his royal ancestors.

An Athenian decree from Delos records honors which refer to Pharnaces I and his spouse, queen Nice, "daughter of king Antiochus and queen Laodice" ... [This] document is convincingly dated to not later than 185 BC, and even to 196 BC, while Nice is thought to be a daughter of Antiochus III and Laodice, probably a granddaughter of Mithridates II of Pontus. If so, then Pharnaces I maintained the union (or treaty) with the Seleucids, concluded by his grandfather Mithridates II, and kept close relations with Antiochus III (like his father Mithridates III). Such a policy was opposite to that of the Romans. These links between both states were confirmed later during the reign of Seleucus IV, because Pharnaces I applied to him for military help in the war of 183-179 BC with Pergamum and Bithynia for control over North-Western Asia Minor. But the Seleucid king refused to get involved in the war because he was afraid of the Romans who were overseeing the diplomatic and military activities of the kingdoms in Asia Minor (Diod. XXIX. 23). We cannot agree with J. Højte that interdynastic marriages of the Pontic and Seleucid royal houses, including the one arranged by Pharnaces I, had no strategic implications.

All the witnesses confirm that Pharnaces I, unlike his royal predecessors, concluded or tried to conclude a military treaty with the Seleucids because he was preparing a war on a large scale and kept in mind the possibility of Seleucid participation. He had one real ally in Mithridates, king of Lesser Armenia, son or nephew of Antiochus III (Agatharch. Fr. 16=FGrHist 86; Liv. XXXIII. 19. 10; Polyb. VIII. 23. 3), who obviously was inspired to take Pharnaces' side by Antiochus III or Seleucus IV and because he was a direct relative of the Pontic Mithridatids. Pharnaces decided to use the "double-dealing" policy of the Romans, who were greatly strengthened after the war with Antiochus III and who aimed at weakening their newly allied states. First of all, this strategy took into account Pergamum and Rhodes, which acquired many territories at the expense of the Seleucids. The king of Pontus also took into account the Seleucids' discontent with their defeat by the Romans and the seizure of the greater part of their territories in Asia Minor, including Phrygia. Pharnaces I succeeded in getting the tacit consent of the Seleucids in 183 BC, while capturing Sinope and the Black Sea coast (Polyb. XXIII. 9; Strabo, XII. 3. 11), and nearly persuaded Seleucus IV to assist him in the forthcoming war. He also managed to use the closeness of Mithridates, king of Lesser Armenia, both to him and to the House of Seleucus, and used him as his potential ally in the war against Pergamum, Cappadocia and Bithynia. All of this argues for an aggressive policy on the part of Pontus, which refused peaceful diplomatic and dynastic attempts to achieve certain concessions from the Seleucids. In the first quarter of the 2nd century BC, the relations between Pontus and the Seleucid empire took the form of military actions and territorial expansion.

But the king of Pontus miscalculated. The Seleucids, weakened and becoming more and more dependent on Rome, hesitated to break the treaty of Apamea and start a war for the return of their possessions. Pharnaces I suffered a serious defeat in the war and had to agree with the decisive interference of Rome in the affairs in Asia Minor. Thereafter Pontus conducted a pro-Roman policy and even re-orientated towards Rome in order to obtain the disputed territories as a friend of the Romans. As a result, the former close links with the Seleucids became insignificant. Pontus had acquired the way to the coast while the desired lands on the north-west of Asia Minor came to be divided between other states, and all territorial acquisitions were under the auspices of Rome. 2

  Marriage Information:

Pharnakes married Nysa SELEUKID, Princess of Syria, daughter of Antiochos SELEUKID, co-King of Syria, and Laodike SELEUKID, Queen of Syria, between 172 and 171 BCE. (Nysa SELEUKID was born between 196 and 193 BCE).


1 Wikipedia article, Pharnaces I of Pontus, citing Justin, Epitome of Pompeius Trogus, xxxviii. 5, 6; McGing, The foreign policy of Mithridates VI Eupator, King of Pontus, pp.32, 90; Polybius, Histories, xxiii. 9; Strabo, Geography, xii. 3; Livy, Ab urbe condita, xl. 2; Polybius, xxiv. 1, 5, 8, 9 xxv. 2; Livy, xl. 20; Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca, xxix; Polybius, xxvii. 17; Grainger, A Seleukid prosopography and gazetteer, p. 52.

2 New Perspectives in Seleucid History, Archaeology and Numismatics: Studies in Honor of Getzel M. Cohen, Roland Oetjen (ed.), 2019.

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