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Lucullus was born into one of the noblest families in Rome and he was related to some of the most powerful clans in the Republic. His received the traditional education of a young member of the elite and as expected, of someone from his class, he began a public career. Lucullus was a member of the optimates, which supported the traditional Senatorial class against the Populists, who sought the support of the common people. This was a very unstable period in Roman history and there was political violence in the city and the Republic descended into near civil war. Lucullus served with the Optimate general Sulla and it appears that he served with him during the Social War<ref>Plutarch. Life of Lucullus, 5. 4</ref>. Lucullus seemed to have been highly rated by Sulla and he was elected as Quaestor of Rome (88 BC). Sulla had made himself absolute ruler of the Republic and he wanted to reform Rome and end its endemic political instability. However, a crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean forced him to leave Italy. This was the beginning of a great conflict with, Mithridates IV of Pontus, in ways as formidable as the great Carthaginian Hannibal.
==Mithridates IV of Pontus ==
Rome after the defeat of the Kingdom of Macedonia became the dominant power in the Eastern Mediterranean. It did not directly control Greece and Asia Minor but was the dominant player in the region. This was resented by many and particularly resented by the King of Pontus, Mithridates IV (135-63 BC). He ruled a powerful kingdom on the Black Sea coast of modern Turkey and was of Iranian descent. He was a larger than life figure and he was famed for his cunning, Herculean strength, his brutality and was a legend in his own lifetime <ref> Mayor, Adrienne, The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy (Princeton, PUP, 2009), p 14 </ref>. The King of Pontus seized the Greek state in the Crimea and also subjugated large parts of the Caucuses. Mithridates wanted to end Roman influence in what he saw as his region and to seize Asia Minor (modern Turkey). He decided to act and ordered the massacre of any Latin in Asia Minor and several thousand were murdered (88 BC) and simultaneously he invaded Bithynia which was allied to Rome. This led the Senate to declare war on the king, in response the Pontic monarch he gathered a huge army and invaded Greece. However, Sulla moved quickly and defeated Mithridates and his allies in two great battles and swept the Pontic king’s forces from Europe. Lucullus played a critical role in what became known as the First Mithridatic War, named after Mithridates VI <ref> Mayor, 119 </ref>. He assembled a navy and defeated the Pontic naval forces and ferried Sulla’s army from Greece into Asia. This amphibious operation persuaded Mithridates to seek an end to the war and he was granted generous terms by Sulla who wanted to quickly return to Rome, which was in a state of civil war. Lucullus reputation was much enhanced by his role in the war<ref>Plutarch, 3. 5</ref>.