Siege of Mytilene in 81 BC

The Siege of Mytilene in 81 BC was a military conflict that took place during the Roman Republic’s campaign against the Kingdom of Pontus, led by King Mithridates VI. Mytilene was a fortified city located on the island of Lesbos in the Aegean Sea.

At the time, the Roman general Lucius Licinius Murena was leading the Roman forces in the region. He had been sent by the Roman Senate to confront Mithridates VI and his allies. Mytilene was a strategic location that Murena sought to control as part of his campaign.

During the siege, Murena’s forces surrounded the city and initiated a blockade to cut off its supplies. The Roman army launched assaults on the city walls, attempting to breach the defenses and gain entry into Mytilene. The defenders of Mytilene, led by the city’s governor, put up a determined resistance.

The exact details and duration of the siege are not extensively recorded, but it is known that the Romans eventually succeeded in capturing Mytilene. The city fell to Rome’s forces, and the Roman army took control.

The outcome of the Siege of Mytilene was part of a larger Roman campaign against Mithridates VI, who was ultimately defeated by the Romans under the leaderships of generals Marcus Minucius Thermus and Lucius Licinius Lucullus. The Roman victory in the war marked a significant setback for Mithridates VI and his Pontic Kingdom.

The Siege of Mytilene serves as an example of the Roman Republic’s military campaigns in the eastern Mediterranean during the late Republic period. It demonstrates the Roman expansionist policies and the use of sieges as a tactic to subdue and control strategic locations in their pursuit of regional dominance.

RELATED: Rome’s conquest of Greece

Questions and Answers

Where did the siege take place?

The siege took place on the Greek island of Lesbos, which is located in the northeastern Aegean Sea. Covering an area of about 631 square miles (or 1,633 square kilometers), Lesbos is the third largest island in Greece and the eighth largest in the Mediterranean.

What caused the Siege of Mytilene?

The siege came as a result of a revolt by the inhabitants of Mytilene against Roman rule. Mytilene at the time was the capital city of Lesbos.

Other than the revolt, Rome’s fury against Mytilene stemmed from the fact that Rome suspected Mytilene of harboring pirates in the region.

Who were the leaders of the siege?

According to Roman historian Suetonius (c. 69-122 AD), the Roman army were led by the general and statesman Marcus Minucius Thermus. Not much is known about his military feats; however, we do know that during the battle, a 19-year-old Julius Caesar served under his command. The young Julius Caesar was sent as an envoy to the royal court of King Nicomedes IV of Bithynia to seek naval support for the Romans.

In some accounts, Roman general and stateman Lucius Licinius Lucllus is credited with helping Rome secure victory at the Seige of Mytilene.

Lucius Licinius Lucullus

Engraving of a marble bust traditionally said to be the Roman general and statesman Lucius Licinius Lucullus (Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia)

How did Julius Caesar distinguish himself during the Siege of Mytilene?

It must be noted that Julius Caesar was bestowed upon the Civic Crown for his gallantry during the siege – a 19-year-old Caesar received the honor for saving the life of a fellow citizen during the siege. Caesar’s involvement in the siege was one of his first major military services. He was in his late teens at the time.

READ MORE: The Gallic Wars and Julius Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul

Roman general and statesman Julius Caesar


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