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8-10-2015, 07:44


The new recruit’s special equestrian skills led Mithradates to place Hypsicratea in charge of his own horses. As his groom, Hypsicratea manifested trustworthiness and other qualities that spurred the king to make her his personal attendant. They became friends, then lovers. We don’t know Hypsicratea’s original language; it may have been related to ancient Persian, or it could have been one of the myriad other dialects spoken between the Black and Caspian seas. Mithradates grew up speaking Greek and Persian, and he mastered more than twenty languages. His boast of being able to speak with all his diverse allies is generally accepted. It is likely that he and Hypsicratea conversed at first in her native tongue before she began to learn Greek.

Both had been riding horses and wielding bows and spears since childhood, so they probably took pleasure in chasing game and practicing battle skills together. She wore typical Amazon-Scythian-Persian attire, and we know that Mithradates dressed in traditional Persian style, so we can picture the couple similarly garbed in long-sleeved tunics adorned with golden animals and geometric designs, wool cloaks edged with gold, heavy leather and gold belts with golden buckles, and patterned trousers tucked into high boots. Each carried a Scythian bow and arrows in a Scythian-style quiver, a knife, dagger, and short sword of exquisite workmanship, and two light spears. Their horses, of the finest stock from the high pastures of Armenia, would have been decorated with ornaments of gold.

In 67 BC, Hypsicratea participated in Mithradates’s smashing victory at Zela (central Pontus), driving the Romans out of his kingdom. And she was by his side the next year, the summer of ’66, when Mithra-dates was dealt a devastating defeat by Pompey in eastern Pontus. The Roman general had been so frustrated by Mithradates’s uncanny ability to elude him that he resorted to a sneak attack on the king’s camp by moonlight (alluded to in Valerius’s account, above).9

Plutarch provides more details of the pair’s daring escape during Pompey’s night strike. Mithradates and Hypsicratea were asleep, camped with their forces in a mountain stronghold near Dasteira, north of the source of the Euphrates River near the Armenian border. Without warning, Pompey attacked in the middle of the night. Leaping on their horses, Mithradates, with Hypsicratea riding at his side, led eight hundred mounted archers charging into the Roman ranks. In the chaos and darkness, however, the Romans held the advantage. The Romans killed and captured nearly ten thousand of Mithradates’s soldiers, many still unarmed. Meanwhile, Hypsicratea, Mithradates, and two other riders found themselves cut off from the rest at the Roman rear. These four escaped by galloping up into the steep hills above the battlefield. They were joined later by other stragglers on horseback. Plutarch describes how the group picked their way over mountainous trails to one of the king’s castles in Armenia. Here Mithradates distributed his stash of gold equally among his little renegade army and provided Hypsicratea and their two friends with poison suicide pills in case of capture.

“Never exhausted by this long journey"’ marveled Plutarch, “Hypsicratea kept on caring for Mithradates’ person and for his horse.” The king had suffered two serious wounds in the battle at Zela. With Pompey’s army in pursuit, the fugitives traveled about five hundred miles north. Crossing the Phasis River in western Colchis (Georgia), they reached the point where the high wall of the Caucasus range meets the Black Sea in fall of 66 BC. Here at Dioscurius, Mithradates, Hypsi-cratea, and the others hid out over the winter, protected by friendly tribes.10

Meanwhile, searching in vain for the king, the Amazon, and their outlaw band, Pompey and his Romans wandered along the Phasis-Cyrus River valleys and Caucasus foothills. They were attacked repeatedly by determined Albanians, Iberians, Gargarians, the Scythian Gelas and Legas tribes, and other peoples of the southern Caucasus—all allies of Mithradates. These scattered tribes “assemble by the tens of thousands whenever anything alarming occurs,” noted Strabo. Between the Albanians and the Legas tribe, Strabo continued, in the mountains near where the eastern Caucasus meets the Caspian Sea, dwelled the Amazons who came to consort each summer with the neighboring Gargar-ians (chapter 8).11 Some of these Amazons were apparently among the tribes rallying to Mithradates’s cause.