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(Courtesy Vladimir Kuznetsov/RAN)

For the past four decades, archaeologist Vladimir Kuznetsov of the Russian Academy of Sciences has worked at Phanagoria, an ancient Greek city on the Black Sea that was home to Mithradates VI. The king of Pontus from 119 to 63 B.C., Mithradates was the most powerful king in Asia Minor during the first century B.C. Often called Rome's greatest enemy, he fought three wars against the Roman republic.

After a decade puzzling over the age and function of the incinerated remains of a large building on Phanagoria's acropolis (right), Kuznetsov and his team have now uncovered more than 300 coins (far right) in a small extension of the structure, including ones depicting Mithradates himself (above). The discovery finally allowed them to date the building to around 60 B.C. The Roman historian Appian mentions a citywide uprising at Phanagoria in 63 B.C. that culminated with the incineration of a huge public building. "We don't know for certain, but this building might have been [Mithradates's] residence," Kuznetsov says.

Recent underwater excavations in the area have also produced some exciting finds, including a marble gravestone inscribed with an epitaph to "Hypsikrates, wife of Mithradates VI." The historian Plutarch refers to Hypsikratia as a woman "who on all occasions showed the spirit of a man and desperate courage; and accordingly the king used to call her Hypsikrates [the male form of Hypsikratia]." Kuznetsov now believes that given the location of her gravestone, there is no doubt that Hypsikratia died at Phanagoria. "It is such a rich site that we're constantly making discoveries," he explains. "But this is one of those exceedingly rare cases where historical narratives and archaeological findings all support each other seamlessly."

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