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

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3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  636 ratings  ·  111 reviews

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 ruth

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Kindle Edition, 480 pages
Published (first published January 1st 2009)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,573)
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Matt
Of all historic topics, ancient history holds my interest the least. The things I know about the ancient world could fit comfortably in the chest pocket of a pair of overalls. They also fit comfortably in my head, along with all the other neat stuff I got going on in there.

Most of what I know about Rome I learned from the movies. Thanks to Stanley Kubrick, I know that Kirk Douglas led a slave revolt that nearly toppled Laurence Olivier. But he was crucified along with all his men, and only Jean...more
Robert Farwell
A fascinating piece of Persian/Roman/Asia Minor history. Mithradates makes almost every other challenger to the status quo seem inept, uncreative and not really committed. He isn't a king or leader you can completely admire. His methods for removing Romans from Asia Minor were not even remotely reasonable (Kill them all and let Zeus sort them out wasn't reasonable even in 88 BC). However, his life was mythic. He was a brilliant linguist, military commander, scientist, and absolutely machismo to...more
Terence
When Adrienne Mayor remains within the limits of her sources (both literary and archaeological), The Poison King is a solid, readable biography of a now little-known figure of the Ancient world. Unfortunately, she allows herself some wild flights of fancy better suited for a historical novel and neglects any serious analysis of the reign of Mithradates VI of Pontus, the last serious foe of Roman hegemony in what would become the eastern half of the empire.

And it is a fascinating story without ne...more
Rebecca Huston
I got sucked right into this story from the start, and finally, I got to find out what happened between two of Colleen McCullough's novels. There's war, love, poisoning, treachery, murder on a mass scale, and all sorts of things that make history fun. While the writing style is a bit light in spots, I found this to be a great read, and worth it to find. Those who enjoy history won't need any further urging to read this one, and it's one that I can happily recommend at all. Four stars overall.

Fo...more
Matt
"Beavers abound in Armenia's lakes and streams - perhaps their testicles contributed to Mithradates' celebrated vigor."

There is something about that quote that sums up the Poison King for me and emblematic of the my feelings towards the book. You might think that quote makes more sense in context, but it really doesn't. The context is that Mayor is trying to fill the gap in our sources and hypothesizing what Mithradetes' did for two years in Armenia while on the run from Rome. Her answer: milita...more
Andrew Brozyna
Traditionally the West's dominant view of Mithradates came from his Roman enemies, and in recent times there has been virtually no view of the forgotten king. Adrienne Mayor does history a great service by countering that imbalanced knowledge. In The Poison King Mayor strips the skewed Roman accounts to present a story closer to the truth. Her story is supported with alternate contemporary sources and modern archaeology. As a result, the reader views Pontus' royal family and Rome's Mithridatic W...more
Ed
Mithradates VI of Pontus did nothing by half measures. In the spring of 88 BC he organized the slaughter of essentially all the Roman and Italian residents of the Province of Asia which encompassed western Turkey. Men, women and children, masters and slaves were rounded up and killed without mercy. Those who attempted to gain sanctuary in the temples were murdered and the temples burned. Their property was confiscated; people who killed Roman moneylenders had their debts cancelled; bounties were...more
Michael
One of my college professors recommended this book to me after being able to only briefly cover Mithradates in class and, though it took me a while to become fully ensconced, I really enjoyed reading this book. Mixing mythology with reality and speculation with factuality, Adrienne Mayor amalgamates the many stories, myths, and facts about Rome's deadliest enemy into a thrilling story of divinity, power, war, perfidy, and eventual downfall. Many times, I lost myself in the story as if I was read...more
Sineala
Not as good as I was expecting, and definitely not as good as the author's Greek Fire book. A biography about Mithridates is a great idea, and the author managed to make him sound very, very awesome and interesting, and the pictures throughout are really nice -- but a large portion of the book is things Mayor just made up about what might have happened because there just isn't enough in the primary sources about the guy. This gets especially ridiculous toward the end when she starts speculating...more
Jen
This book is well out of my comfort zone of history. Only lately, thanks to History of Rome podcast, have I truly gotten into ancient history as a subject. And even this predates my own limited knowledge of Rome.

As much as I have heard of the name Mithradates, I knew little about him. This book is a well researched guide into his life, his wars on Rome, and his eventual destruction from within.

At times, the book delved almost too deeply into the various battles, but I think that's more a functi...more
Thomas T
What is this book? its not a history book, its not a fiction book its some sort of speculative mishmash of the both, i actually became quite irritated by the "lets imagine what could have happened" "this probably happened" "some think this was what happened" "Mithridates probably did this" my god it was like reading the ramblings of a 5 year old making it up as they go-along,

The book just keeps rehashing the same crap over and over, Mithridates was the scourge of Rome, the new Hannibal, a proud...more
Shannon
There have been several reviews lamenting the amount of conjecture regarding the historically undocumented parts of the life of Mithradates. I find that kind of funny since the thing I love most about ancient history are the spaces between what has been recorded, where you can use what you already know to imagine what might have happened. I guess I'm just more of a writer than a strict historian, but it always bugs me in these kinds of books when the author says "We won't speculate on this perio...more
Drakaina
Mar 23, 2014 Drakaina rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: general readership, ancient history fans
This is a fine, well readable book on one of the most fascinating episodes in ancient history, the story of an indomitable king who challenged the Roman expansion in Asia Minor and in the Hellenistic kingdoms. He became famous in history for his research and experiments concerning poisons and antidotes. Racine wrote a tragedy about him, and Mozart an opera. Later he was quite forgotten but his story is one of those truly worth knowing, because it is adventure, mythology and history combined.

The...more
Liviu
A very good recreation of the famous king and his life-long struggle against Rome; indomitable in spirit but a mediocre general, Mithridates long reign was due as much to Rome's internal troubles as to his skill and the book only partially reflects that since in pretty much any direct encounter the roman legions trounced the mithridatic armies only for the king to wiggle free due to the internal struggles of the Republic; still a good account of the poison king, though the deadliest enemy is an...more
Matthew Jobin
Despite its length and erudition, this book is worth reading if just to see the gold old Romans from the outside. The author makes a good case for the Greco-Persian-Anatolian Hellenistic kingdoms of which Mithridates was just one able ruler saw Rome as a rapacious, greedy, expansionistic bunch of thugs bent on destroying civilization and enslaving the peoples of western Asia. Mithridates himself, as she points out, is on of the most fascinatingly contradictory people in history—kind and cruel by...more
Thomas Umstattd
This is an amazing story of an amazing man. I can't really say that he was a good man since he killed many people but a fascinating enemy of Rome.

This poem by Housman sums up the man quiet well.


There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.

He gathered all the springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;

And easy, smiling, s...more
Sylvia McIvers
What if Abraham Lincoln (national leader, freed the slaves) and Osama Bin Ladin (terrorist, slaughter of innocents) were rolled up into one person? And what if you threw in a bit of Borgia (poison your political enemies) just to round things out? Add it all up and you get Mithridates, Shahanshah (King of Kings) who freed Roman slaves, killed thousands of Roman civilians and soldiers, and poisoned his enemies.

Where in history was Mithridates? His most famous moment took place in 88 BCE. Working b...more
Clark
Interesting book about one of Romes lesser known enemies. The author occasionally gets caught up in her subject, as historians are apt to do, and loses objectivity. But still a good read about a historical figure that is not nearly known as he was, and perhaps should be.
Daniel
A biography of Mithradates VI Eupator, the poison king. Romes greatest foe. This book is well written and an easy read, this being said what makes it a step below great is all the conjecture in it. The author provides methods on how he came about the conjectures but at the end of the day it reminded me of the tour guides in europe who would imphasis over and over again what a historical person "might" have done or thought, while being factual about what they actually did.

If you know nothing abo...more
Tom Schulte
An amazing story of a poison-obsessed resister to Roman imperial domination. With Hannibal (who can be senses, off stage) and Jugurtha, he completes the trinity of scourges of The Empire. The scholarship and archaeology that supports this biography is impressive and adds to this work which is very readable and not dry and textbook-like.

The epilogue speculations on Mithradates cheating death and then his final wife Hypsicratea persisting in secret posing as a male historian strikes me as fanciful...more
Stout
The Poison King is a well written account about a fascinating figure. There may be no greater literary feat than writing non-fiction about a figure from ancient history. Few primary sources remain giving the author little to work with. One must study what is known and about the times to weave the tale and fill in the gaps with well researched suggestions. Mayor did a fantastic job in accomplishing this and created a fine text, which is highly entertaining. The author lets the reader know when su...more
Andy
Mayor begins her book in 88 B.C. with the massacre of 80,000 Romans in Anatolia (modern day Turkey) and the Aegean islands, an attempt by Mithradates to spur a popular uprising against Rome. As with this bloody but perfectly orchestrated event, Mithradates excelled as a political strategist and as a practitioner of stagecraft.

If Mayor is correct, however, Mithradates was a weak and inexperienced military leader. Though he cast himself in the role of the conqueror Alexander the Great, Mithradates...more
Elliot
To protect himself from being poisoned, the Pontic king Mithradates VI drank a special concoction made of small amounts of poisons, antidotes, and medicinal plants every day. “The Poison King”, according to some legends, built up enough immunity that, when the Romans were closing in on him after decades of prolonged battles and military backs and forths, Mithradates survived his own toxic suicide pill and had to be stabbed by his closest bodyguard.

Figuring out the details of his life, however, c...more
Ken
Mithradates was a thorn in Rome's side for three decades, but I don't think he was Rome's deadliest enemy as it says it the title, especially because Rome beat his forces time and time again, but like a jack in the box he kept bouncing back. He started the whole thing by an ethnic cleansing of all Romans in Asia Minor. He had some initial success with an old strategy of chariots with long blades jutting out from the wheels, and since that was a strategy not used for 300 years, people were not re...more
Ryan Patrick
I tried... I really did. Let me post my status updates, as they tell much of the story:

26.0% "Still rampantly speculating - and Mithradates (or is it the author?) is absolutely fascinated with poison - can't get it off his mind even while conquering the world..."
09/02/2010 page 96
20.0% "I can only hope that the rampant speculation dies down a bit when the author gets to the part of Mithradates's life that is actually documented in the primary sources."
08/19/2010 page 87
18.0% "I'm not really...more
Belinda
Fascinating look at one of the dynamic figures of the ancient world -- and until I saw this book on a "Best of" list, I had never heard of. The book's first intention is to be a scholarly work, so beware, lots of footnotes and ivory-tower rhetoric on myth and hero, but it's all shored up by an amazing life story of brilliance, paranoia, and shrewd and cunning strategic thinking as well as appalling cruelty. The ancient world was a rough place.

Recently I was asked if my education was "euro-centri...more
Walt O'Hara
Adrienne Mayor's book on Mithridates VI of Pontus is somewhat uneven in places, but interesting reading. Of all the enemies of the Roman Republic -- Hannibal, Q. Surtorius, Spartacus, Parthia, et. al, Mithridates certainly deserves credit as being in the top three enemies of the state, and the one who survived longest and was the most successful. The book was presented in two parts-- the childhood and foundation of the character and personality of Mithradates, then the preparation for war and ac...more
Isis
Sep 23, 2012 Isis rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Isis by: Recommended in Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcasts about the fall of the Roman Republic.
Shelves: audiobook, history
1. Mithridates was a really fascinating guy who spent his life being a thorn in the side of the Roman Republic (and thus helping hasten it to an end). He was born under the omen of a comet, hit by lightning and scarred a la Harry Potter as a child, and many of his battles were marked by scary natural phenomena (earthquakes, tornadoes, meteorite hits in the middle of the battlefield I kid you not). He was a skilled toxicologist and herbalist.

2. Large parts of his biography are unknown as the prim...more
Gary
Well, it took me a while but I finished this book once I picked it up in earnest the last couple of weeks. If you love history, especially of the Roman Empire and its enemies you will love this well written book. As my old Historiography professor once said, a history book has to be interesting and readable, especially, to the general public if its to be successful. This book fits the bill. Mayor blends facts with "what might have beens," with myths and legends about Mithradates (Rome's greatest...more
Dan
Honestly, it's not that great. It's WAY too biased in favor of Mithradates Eupator which is no better than all the history books that are biased against him. The author also tries far too hard to convince the reader that certain things are probable solely because they are plausible. She does this OVER AND OVER again and always says something like 'because it's plausible it's most likely possible'. It's always when talking about Mithdadetes' motivations for something or other. What's really odd i...more
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