In 74 BC king Nicomedes of Bithynia died without heirs. Following the example of Attalus of Pergamum he left his kingdom to the Roman people. But with Sulla dead, king Mithridates of Pontus clearly felt his most fearsome enemy had vanished from the scene and revived his dreams of creating his own empire. Nicomedes' death provided him with an excuse to start a war. He supported a false pretender to the throne of Bithynia on whose behalf he then invaded Bithynia.
At first the consul Cotta failed to make any significant gains against the king, but Lucius Lucullus, formerly the lieutenant of Sulla in the east, was soon dispatched to be governor of Cilicia to deal with Mithridates.
Though provided only with a comparatively small and undisciplined force, Lucullus conducted his operations with such skill that within a year he had broken up the army of Mithridates without having had to fight a pitched battle. Mithridates was driven back into his own territory in Pontus. Following a series of campaigns in the following years Mithridates was forced to flee to king Tigranes of Armenia.
Lucullus' troops had subjugated Pontus by 70 BC. Meanwhile however Lucullus, trying to sort out matters in the east realized that the cites of the province of Asia were being strangled by the punitive tributes they had to pay to Rome. In fact they had to borrow money to be able to pay them, leading to an ever growing spiral of debt.
In order to alleviate this burden and to return the province back to prosperity he scaled down their debts to Rome from the huge total of 120'000 talents to 40'000.
This inevitably earned him the enduring gratitude of the cities of Asia, but it also drew upon him the undying resentment of the Roman moneylenders who had until profiteered from the plight of the Asiatic cities.
In 69 BC Lucullus, having decided that until Mithridates was captured the conflict in the east could not be resolved, advanced into Armenia and captured the capital Tigranocerta. In the next year he routed the forces of the Armenian king Tigranes. but in 68 BC, paralysed by the mutinous spirit of his depleted troops he was forced to withdraw to Pontus.