Pontus (region)

"Pontus" redirects here. For other uses, see Pontus (disambiguation).
Pontos (Πόντος)
Ancient region of Anatolia

Traditional rural Pontic house
Location North-eastern Anatolia
Ethnic Groups Pontic Greeks, Laz, Chepni,
Historical capitals Amasya, Neocaesarea, Sinope, Trabzon
Notable rulers Mithradates Eupator

The modern definition of the Pontus: the area claimed for the "Republic of Pontus" after World War I, based on the extent of the six local Greek Orthodox bishoprics.

Pontus (/ˈpɒntəs/; Greek: Πόντος, "sea"[1]) is a historical Greek designation for a region on the southern coast of the Black Sea, located in modern-day eastern Black Sea Region of Turkey. The name was applied to the coastal region and its mountainous hinterland (rising to the Pontic Alps in the east) in antiquity by the Greeks who colonized the area and derived from the Greek name of the Black Sea: Πόντος Εὔξεινος Pontos Euxeinos ("Hospitable Sea"[2]), or simply Pontos. Having originally no specific name, the region east of the river Halys was spoken of as the country Ἐν Πόντῳ En Pontōi, "on the [Euxeinos] Pontos", and hence it acquired the name of Pontus, which is first found in Xenophon's Anabasis. The extent of the region varied through the ages but generally extended from the borders of Colchis (modern Georgia) until well into Paphlagonia in the west, with varying amounts of hinterland. Several states and provinces bearing the name of Pontus or variants thereof were established in the region in the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods, culminating in the late Byzantine Empire of Trebizond. Pontus is sometimes considered as the home of the Amazons, with the name Amazon used not only for a city (Amasya) but for all of Pontus in Greek mythology.


Pontus became important as a bastion of Byzantine Greek and Greek Orthodox civilization and attracted Greeks from all backgrounds (scholars, traders, mercenaries, refugees) from all over Anatolia and the southern Balkans, from the Classical and Hellenistic periods into the Byzantine and Ottoman. These Greeks of Pontus are generally referred to as Pontic Greeks.

Early inhabitants

Pontus remained outside the reach of the Bronze Age empires, of which the closest was Great Hatti. The region went further uncontrolled by Hatti's eastern neighbours, Hurrian states like Azzi and (or, or) Hayasa. In those days, the best any outsider could hope from this region was temporary alliance with a local strongman. The Hittites called the unorganised groups on their northeastern frontier the Kaška. As of 2004 little had been found of them archaeologically.[3]

In the wake of the Hittite empire's collapse, the Assyrian court noted that the "Kašku" had overrun its territory in conjunction with a hitherto unknown group whom they labeled the Muški.[4] Iron Age visitors to the region, mostly Greek, noted that the hinterlands remained disunited, and they recorded the names of tribes: Moskhians (often associated with those Muški),[5] Leucosyri,[6] Mares, Makrones, Mossynoikians, Tibareni,[7] Tzans[8] and Chaldians.[9]

The Armenian language went unnoted by the Hittites, the Assyrians, and all the post-Hittite nations; an ancient theory is that its speakers migrated from Phrygia, past literary notice, across Pontus during the early Iron Age.[10] The Greeks, who spoke a related Indo-European tongue, followed them along the coast. The Greeks are the earliest long-term inhabitants of the region from whom written records survive. During the late 8th century BCE, Pontus further became a base for the Cimmerians; however, these were defeated by the Lydians, and became a distant memory after the campaigns of Alyattes II.[11]

Since there was so little literacy in northeastern Anatolia until the Persian and Hellenistic era, one can only speculate as to the other languages spoken here. Given that Kartvelian languages remain spoken to the east of Pontus, some are suspected to have been spoken in eastern Pontus during the Iron Age: the Tzans are usually associated with today's Laz.[8]

Ancient Greek colonization

The first travels of Greek merchants and adventurers to the Pontus region occurred probably from around 1000 BC, whereas their settlements would become steady and solidified cities only by the 8th and 7th centuries BC as archaeological findings document. This fits in well with a foundation date of 731 BC as reported by Eusebius of Caesarea for Sinope, perhaps the most ancient of the Greek Colonies in what was later to be called Pontus.[12] The epical narratives related to the travels of Jason and the Argonauts to Colchis, the tales of Heracles' navigating the Black Sea and Odysseus' wanderings into the land of the Cimmerians, as well as the myth of Zeus constraining Prometheus to the Caucasus mountains as a punishment for his outwitting the Gods, can all be seen as reflections of early contacts between early Greek colonists and the local, probably Caucasian, peoples. The earliest known written description of Pontus, however, is that of Scylax of Korianda, who in the 7th century BC described Greek settlements in the area.[13]

Persian Empire expansion

By the 6th century BC, Pontus had become officially a part of the Achaemenid Empire, which probably meant that the local Greek colonies were paying tribute to the Persians.[14] When the Athenian commander Xenophon passed through Pontus around a century later in 401-400 BC, in fact, he found no Persians in Pontus.[14]

The peoples of this part of northern Asia Minor were incorporated into the third and nineteenth satrapies of the Persian empire.[15] Iranian influence ran deep, illustrated most famously by the temple of the Persian deities Anaitis, Omanes, and Anadatos at Zela, founded by victorious Persian generals in the 6th century BCE.[16] The site flourished and became so important that it was here that the people of Pontus made their most sacred vows. Even in Strabo's day it was still a dynamic center of Persian culture and religion. Persian names, particularly Pharnakes, are found scattered around the kingdom and are held most prominently by the ruling Mithradatids, who are also the best evidence for Persian colonization of the area.[17] They were a powerful and noble Persian family, probably directly related to Darius the Great himself, which in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE had held sway as dynasts over the regions of Mysia and Mariandynia on the Propontis and farther east along the south shore of the Black Sea.[17] As the Encyclopaedia Iranica states, even when the Mithradates known as “Founder” proclaimed himself king in the early years of the 3rd century BCE, and the family adopted some of the ways of Hellenism and Hellenistic courts, in particular the use of Greek as the official language, they continued proudly to proclaim their royal Achaemenid lineage: their search for respectability and legitimization through Persian descent attests a deep and powerful Persian ethos in the people of Pontus.[17]

Pontus came out from Persian domination when the Kingdom of Cappadocia separated from the Achaemenid Empire, taking Pontus with it as one of its provinces.[18] Subsequently, Pontus itself separated from the Kingdom of Cappadocia under Mithridates I Ktistes ("Ktistes", Κτίστης meaning "The Founder", Constructor in Greek) in 302 BC and became independent.[18] As the greater part of the kingdom he eventually established lay within the immense region of Cappadocia, which in early ages extended from the borders of Cilicia to the Euxine (Black Sea), the kingdom as a whole was at first called "Cappadocia towards the Pontus", but afterwards simply "Pontus", the name Cappadocia being henceforth restricted to the southern half of the region previously included under that title.

Kingdom of Pontus

Main article: Kingdom of Pontus
Map showing the Middle East in 89 BC, with the Kingdom of Pontus, under Mithridates VI the Great, in green.

The Kingdom of Pontus extended generally to the east of the Halys River. The Persian dynasty which was to found this kingdom had during the 4th century BC ruled the Greek city of Cius (or Kios) in Mysia, with its first known member being Ariobarzanes I of Cius and the last ruler based in the city being Mithridates II of Cius. Mithridates II's son, also called Mithridates, would become Mithridates I Ktistes of Pontus.

As the Encyclopaedia Iranica states, the most famous member of the family, Mithradates VI Eupator, although undoubtedly presenting himself to the Greek world as a civilized philhellene and new Alexander, also paraded his Iranian background: he maintained a harem and eunuchs in true Oriental fashion; he gave all his sons Persian names; he sacrificed spectacularly in the manner of the Persian kings at Pasargadae (Appian, Mith. 66, 70); and he appointed “satraps” (a Persian title) as his provincial governors.[17] Iranica further states, and although there is only one inscription attesting it, he seems to have adopted the title “king of kings.” The very small number of Hellenistic Greek inscriptions that have been found anywhere in Pontus suggest that Greek culture did not substantially penetrate beyond the coastal cities and the court.[17]

During the troubled period following the death of Alexander the Great, Mithridates Ktistes was for a time in the service of Antigonus, one of Alexander's successors, and successfully maneuvering in this unsettled time managed, shortly after 302 BC, to create the Kingdom of Pontus which would be ruled by his descendants mostly bearing the same name, until 64 BC. Thus, this Persian dynasty managed to survive and prosper in the Hellenistic world while the main Persian Empire had fallen.

This kingdom reached its greatest height under Mithridates VI or Mithridates Eupator, commonly called the Great, who for many years carried on war with the Romans. Under him, the realm of Pontus included not only Pontic Cappadocia but also the seaboard from the Bithynian frontier to Colchis, part of inland Paphlagonia, and Lesser Armenia. Despite ruling Lesser Armenia, King Mithridates VI was an ally of Armenian King Tigranes the Great, to whom he married his daughter Cleopatra.[19] Eventually, however, the Romans defeated both King Mithridates VI and his son-in-law, Armenian King Tigranes the Great, during the Mithridatic Wars, bringing Pontus under Roman rule.[20]

Roman province

Main article: Bithynia et Pontus
The Roman client kingdom of Pontus (in union with Colchis), c. 50 AD

With the subjection of this kingdom by Pompey in 64 BC, in which little changed in the structuring of life, neither for the oligarchies that controlled the cities nor for the common people in city or hinterland, the meaning of the name Pontus underwent a change. Part of the kingdom was now annexed to the Roman Empire, being united with Bithynia in a double province called Pontus and Bithynia: this part included only the seaboard between Heraclea (today Ereğli) and Amisus (Samsun), the ora Pontica. The larger part of Pontus, however, was included in the province of Galatia.[20]

Hereafter the simple name Pontus without qualification was regularly employed to denote the half of this dual province, especially by Romans and people speaking from the Roman point of view; it is so used almost always in the New Testament. The eastern half of the old kingdom was administered as a client kingdom together with Colchis. Its last king was Polemon II.

In AD 62, the country was constituted by Nero a Roman province. It was divided into the three districts: Pontus Galaticus in the west, bordering on Galatia; Pontus Polemoniacus in the centre, so called from its capital Polemonium; and Pontus Cappadocicus in the east, bordering on Cappadocia (Armenia Minor). Subsequently, the Roman Emperor Trajan moved Pontus into the province of Cappadocia itself in the early 2nd century AD.[20] In response to a Gothic raid on Trebizond in 457 AD, the Roman Emperor Diocletian decided to break up the area into smaller provinces under more localized administration.[8]

The Diocese of Pontus and its provinces in c. AD 400

With the reorganization of the provincial system under Diocletian (about AD 295), the Pontic districts were divided up between three smaller, independent provinces within the Dioecesis Pontica:[8]

Byzantine province and theme

The Byzantine Emperor Justinian further reorganized the area in 536:

By the time of the early Byzantine Empire, Trebizond became a center of culture and scientific learning.[21] In the 7th century, an individual named Tychicus returned from Constantinople to establish a school of learning.[21] One of his students was the early Armenian scholar Anania of Shirak.[21]

Under the Byzantine Empire, the Pontus came under the Armeniac Theme, with the westernmost parts (Paphlagonia) belonging to the Bucellarian Theme. Progressively, these large early themes were divided into smaller ones, so that by the late 10th century, the Pontus was divided into the themes of Chaldia, which was governed by the Gabrades family,[21] and Koloneia. After the 8th century, the area experienced a period of prosperity, which was brought to an end only by the Seljuk conquest of Asia Minor in the 1070s and 1080s. Restored to the Byzantine Empire by Alexios I Komnenos, the area was governed by effectively semi-autonomous rulers, like the Gabras family of Trebizond.

The region was secured militarily from the 11th through the 15th centuries with a vast network of sophisticated coastal fortresses.[22]

Empire of Trebizond

Following Constantinople's loss of sovereignty to the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the Pontus retained independence as the Empire of Trebizond under the Komnenos dynasty. Through a combination of geographic remoteness and adroit diplomacy, this remnant managed to survive, until it was conquered by the Ottomans in 1461 after the Fall of Constantinople itself.[23] This political adroitness included becoming a vassal state at various times to both Georgia and to various inland Turkic rulers.[24] In addition, the Empire of Trebizond became a renowned center of culture under its ruling Komnenos dynasty.[24]

Ottoman vilayet

Further information: Pontic Greeks and Greek genocide
Distribution of Nationalities in Trebizond Vilayet[25]
Source Turks Greeks Armenians Total
Official Ottoman Statistics, 1910 1,047,889
Ecumenical Patriarchate Statistics, 1912 957,866
Christian population in 1896

Under the subsequent Ottoman rule which began with the fall of Trebizond, particularly starting from the 17th century, some of the region's Pontic Greeks became Muslim through the Devşirme system. But at the same time some valleys inhabited by Greeks converted voluntarily, most notably those in the Of-valley; and large communities (around 25% of the population) of Christian Pontic Greeks remained throughout the area (including Trabezon and Kars in northeastern Turkey/the Russian Caucasus) until the 1920s, and in parts of Georgia and Armenia until the 1990s, preserving their own customs and dialect of Greek. One group of Islamicized Greeks were called the Kromli, but were suspected of secretly having remained Christians. They numbered between 12,000 and 15,000 and lived in villages including Krom, Imera, Livadia, Prdi, Alitinos, Mokhora, and Ligosti.[26]


Main article: Black Sea Region

The Black Sea Region (Turkish: Karadeniz Bölgesi) is one of Turkey's seven census-defined geographical regions.

Turkey Black Sea Region
Turkey Black Sea Region


Mentioned thrice in the New Testament, inhabitants of Pontus were some of the very first converts to Christianity. Acts 2:9 mentions them present in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost; Acts 18:2 mentions a Jewish tentmaker from Pontus, Aquila, who was then living in Corinth with his wife Priscilla, who had both converted to Christianity, and in 1 Peter 1:1, Peter the Apostle addresses the Pontians in his letter as the "elect" and "chosen ones".

As early as the First Council of Nicea, Trebizond had its own bishop.[9] Subsequently, the Bishop of Trebizond was subordinated to the Metropolitan Bishop of Poti.[9] Then during the 9th century, Trebizond itself became the seat of the Metropolitan Bishop of Lazica.[9]

Episcopal sees

Ancient episcopal sees of the Roman province of Helenopontus listed in the Annuario Pontificio as titular sees :[27]

Ancient episcopal sees of the Roman province of Pontus Polemoniacus listed in the Annuario Pontificio as titular sees:,[27] suffragans of Poti

Famous Pontians

See also


Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name needed". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 


  1. πόντος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  2. Εὔξεινος, William J. Slater, Lexicon to Pindar, on Perseus
  3. Roger Matthews (December 2004). "Landscapes of Terror and Control: Imperial Impacts in Paphlagonia". Near Eastern Archaeology. 67 (4): 200–211.
  4. Records of Tiglath-Pileser I apud RD Barnett (1975). "30". The Cambridge Ancient History. pp. 417f., 420
  5. So the 1877 translation of "Sargon's Great Inscription in the Palace of Khorsabad", http://www.shsu.edu/~his_ncp/Sargon.html
  6. Meyer, Geschichte d. Königr. Pontos (Leipzig: 1879)
  7. Hewsen, 40-41
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 Hewsen, 43
  9. 1 2 3 4 Hewsen, 46
  10. First conjectured by Herodotus
  11. Kristensen, Anne Katrine Gade (1988). Who were the Cimmerians, and where did they come from?: Sargon II, and the Cimmerians, and Rusa I. Copenhagen Denmark: The Royal Danish Academy of Science and Letters.
  12. Hewsen, 39-40
  13. Hewsen, 39
  14. 1 2 Hewsen, 40
  15. Herodotus 3.90-94
  16. Strabo 11.8.4 C512; 12.3.37 C559
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/pontus
  18. 1 2 Hewsen, 41
  19. Hewsen, 41-42
  20. 1 2 3 Hewsen, Robert H. (2009). "Armenians on the Black Sea: The Province of Trebizond". In Richard G. Hovannisian. Armenian Pontus: The Trebizond-Black Sea Communities. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, Inc. pp. 42, 37–66. ISBN 1-56859-155-1.
  21. 1 2 3 4 Hewsen, 47
  22. Robert W. Edwards, “The Garrison Forts of the Pontos: A Case for the Diffusion of the Armenian Paradigm,” Revue des Études Arméniennes 19, 1985, pp.181-284, pls.1-51b.
  23. Hewsen, 49
  24. 1 2 Hewsen, 48
  25. Pentzopoulos, Dimitri (2002). The Balkan exchange of minorities and its impact on Greece. C. Hurst & Co. Publishers. pp. 29–30. ISBN 978-1-85065-702-6.
  26. Hewsen, 54
  27. 1 2 Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2013 ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), "Sedi titolari", pp. 819-1013
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