Battle of Cabira

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Battle of Cabira
Part of Third Mithridatic War
Date72 BC
Result Roman victory
Roman Republic Kingdom of Pontus
Commanders and leaders
Lucius Licinius Lucullus Mithridates VI of Pontus

Five legions and a lot of auxiliaries

30,000 infantry
1,600-2,500 cavalry

40,000 men[1]

36,000 infantry
4,000 cavalry[1]
Casualties and losses
unknown but a lot lighter than the Pontic losses c. 3,000[2]

The Battle of Cabira was fought in 72 or 71 BC between forces of the Roman Republic under proconsul Lucius Licinius Lucullus and those of the Kingdom of Pontus under Mithridates the Great. It was a decisive Roman victory.


Rome had already fought two major conflicts with King Mithridates of Pontus; the so called First and Second Mithridatic Wars. During the first war, after taking the Roman province of Asia, Mithridates had slaughtered 80,000 Roman and Italian civilians (the so called Asian Vespers); this was something Rome would never forgive him, therefore the stage was set for another conflict. When in 74 BC the Kingdom of Bithynia was bequeathed to the Roman Republic (on the death of King Nicomedes IV of Bithynia) things came ahead. Mithridates, who anticipated a war with Rome, invaded the country in 73 BC, he defeated the first Roman governor of Bithynia the proconsul Marcus Aurelius Cotta in battle and besieged him in the city of Chalcedon. Lucullus, Cotta's consular partner, had also anticipated war and had used his influence to get the command against Mithridates, he had also gotten the proconsular governorship of the Roman province of Cilicia from which he wanted to invade Pontus. Lucullus had just arrived in Roman Asia when he got word of Cotta's plight, he took command of all Roman forces in Asia Minor and marched his army north to relieve Cotta who was still besieged at Chalchedon.[3]

Mithridates left Cotta under siege at Chalcedon and pushed on westward to the city of Cyzicus, then allied to Rome, which he hoped to take before Lucullus arrived. After assembling an army and a war fleet Lucullus marched north and established a counter-siege trapping Mithridates's army on the Cyzicus peninsula, he also successfully mounted a naval expedition against Mithridates's navy in the Black Sea; defeating Marcus Varius, Mithridates's naval commander, off Lemnos. The Siege of Cyzicus turned out to be a spectacular success; the Romans blockaded and starved the numerically superior Pontic army. Mithridates having failed to take the city before the onset of winter was forced to withdraw. Of the 300,000 who had set out for Bithynia only 20,000 effective troops made their way back to Pontus. Cotta then invested Heraclea Perinthus while Lucullus prepared to invade Pontus itself.[3]


In 72 BC Lucullus marched his army through Galatia and into Pontus; the Galatians were only too happy to supply the Romans because they disliked Mithridates and were keen to see the Roman legions pass through their country without being plundered.[4] Once Lucullus was in the Pontic heartland and he let his troops plunder the rich and fertile area. Mithridates could do nothing to stop the despoiling of his lands for he had to rebuild his army, he eventually assembled 40,000 men (4,000 cavalry) near Cabira and waited for Lucullus.[5] Eventually, Lucullus made his way towards Cabira where, in an initial skirmish against Mithridates's forces, he suffered a setback and had to withdraw; this was followed by several further skirmishes and even an assassination attempt on Lucullus.[1]

The Battle[edit]

Lucullus's supply lines now came north from Cappadocia, a Roman ally to the south of Pontus. A heavily armed supply convoy, escorted by no less then ten cohorts of infantry, under the command of the legate Sornatius was attacked by the Pontic cavalry; the Romans held off the attack inflicting terrible losses on the Pontic horsemen. When a second supply convoy, also heavily armed, under the command of Marcus Fabius Hadrianus made for Lucullus's camp Mithridates decided to use a combined arms (infantry and cavalry) force; some 4,000 cavalry and infantry fell upon the convoy, unfortunately, the Romans realized the narrow valley at the scene limited the effectiveness of their opponents' cavalry, they counter-attacked and wiped out half the attacking force.[6]

This is when Mithridates decided to cut his losses and flee; the disorder caused by Mithridates's preparations to depart the area led to the complete disintegration of his army. Lucullus saw what was happening and ordered his army to fall on the fleeing forces; the Romans reached the camp, slew everyone who had remained there and started looting. [7]


The battle was a key point in the war against Mithridates and forced him to retreat nearly penniless to his ally, his father-in-law Tigranes of Armenia. Lucullus continued the ongoing sieges throughout Pontus and organized it as a new Roman province, while Appius Claudius was sent to find Armenian allies and demand Mithridates from Tigranes. Tigranes refused, stating he would prepare for war against the Republic. In 69 BC Lucullus marched his legions into Armenia in pursuit of Mithridates.


  • Mackay, Christopher S. Ancient Rome.
  • Rickard, J. Military History Encyclopedia on the Web. "Third Mithridatic War, 74-63 B.C." Accessed 3 September 2011.
  • Sherwin-White, Adrian N. "Lucullus, Pompey, and the East." In Crook, J.A. & al. (eds.) The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. 9: The Last Age of the Roman Republic, 146-43 BC. Cambridge University Press (Cambridge), 1994.
  • Plutarch Life of Lucullus. "[1]" Accessed 19 September 2018.


  1. ^ a b c Plutarch, Vita Luculli, XV
  2. ^ Philip Matyszak, Mithridates the Great, Rome's Indomitable Enemy, p.121
  3. ^ a b Philip Matyszak, Mithridates the Great: Rome's Indomitable Enemy; Lee Fratantuono, Lucullus: the Life and Campaings of a Roman Conqueror.
  4. ^ Philip Matyszak, Mithridates the Great: Rome's Indomitable Enemy; Plutarch, Life of Lucullus, 14.
  5. ^ Philip Matyszak, Mithridates the Great: Rome's Indomitable Enemy, p. 119; Appian, Mithridatica, 78.
  6. ^ Philip Matyszak, Mithridates the Great: Rome's Indomitable Enemy p. 121; Lee Fratantuono, Lucullus: the Life and Campaings of a Roman Conqueror p. 69.
  7. ^ Philip Matyszak, Mithridates the Great: Rome Indomitable Enemy, pp 121-122; Lee Fratantuono, Lucullus: The Life and Campaigns of a Roman Conqueror, p. 69.