1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pontus

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PONTUS, a name applied in ancient times to extensive tracts of country in the north-east of Asia Minor bordering on the Euxine (Black Sea), which was often called simply Pontus (the Main), by the Greeks. The exact signification of this purely territorial name varied greatly at different times. The Greeks used it loosely of various parts of the shores of the Euxine, and the term did not get a definite connotation till after the establishment of the kingdom founded beyond the Halys during the troubled period following the death of Alexander the Great, about 301 B.C., by Mithradates I., Ktistes, son of a Persian satrap in the service of Antigonus, one of Alexander’s successors, and ruled by a succession of kings, mostly bearing the same name, till 64 B.C. As the greater part of this kingdom lay within the immense region of Cappadocia, which in early ages extended from the borders of Cilicia to the Euxine, the kingdom as a whole was at first called “Cappadocia towards the Pontus” (πρὸς τῷ Πόντῳ), but afterwards simply “Pontus,” the name Cappadocia being henceforth restricted to the southern half of the region previously included under that title. Under the last king, Mithradates Eupator, commonly called the Great, 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 (see under Mithradates).

With the destruction of this kingdom by Pompey in 64 B.C., 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 (possibly from the first, but certainly from about 40 B.C. onwards) only the seaboard between Heracleia (Eregli) and Amisus (Samsun), the ora Pontica. 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. But it was also frequently used to denote (in whole or part) that portion of the old Mithradatic kingdom which lay between the Halys (roughly) and the borders of Colchis, Lesser Armenia, Cappadocia and Galatia-the region properly designated by the title “Cappadocia towards the Pontus,” which was always the nucleus of the Pontic kingdom.

This region is regarded by the geographer Strabo (A.D. 19–20), himself a native of the country, as Pontus in the strict sense of the term (Geogr. p. 678). Its native population was of the same stock as that of Cappadocia, of which it had formed a part, an Oriental race often called by the Greeks Leucosyri or White Syrians, as distinguished from the southern Syrians, who were of a darker complexion, but their precise ethnological relations are uncertain. Geographically it is a table-land, forming the north-east corner of the great plateau of Asia Minor, edged on the north by a lofty mountain rim, along the foot of which runs a fringe of coast-land. The table-land consists of a series of fertile plains, of varying size and elevation separated from each other by upland tracts or mountains, and it is drained almost entirely by the river Iris (Yeshil Irmak) and its numerous tributaries, the largest of which are the Scylax (Tchekerek Irmak) with many affluents and the Lycus (Kalkid Irmak), all three rising in the highlands near, or on, the frontier of Armenia Minor and flowing first in a westerly and then in a north-westerly direction to merge their waters in a joint stream, which (under the name of the Iris) pierces the mountain-wall and emerges on the east of Amisus (Samsun). Between the Halys and the Iris the mountain rim is comparatively low and broken, but east of the Iris it is a continuous lofty ridge (called by the ancients Paryadres and Scydises), whose rugged northern slopes are furrowed by torrent beds, down which a host of small streams (among them the Thermodon, famed in Amazon story) tumble to the sea. These inaccessible slopes were inhabited even in Strabo’s time by wild, half-barbarous tribes, of whose ethnical relations we are ignorant—the Chalybes (identified by the Greeks with Homer’s Chalybes), Tibareni, Mosynoeci and Macrones, on whose manners and condition some light is thrown by Xenophon (Anab. V). But the fringe of coast-land from Trebizond westward is one of the most beautiful parts of Asia Minor and is justly extolled by Strabo for its wonderful productiveness.

The sea-coast, like the rest of the south shore of the Euxine, was studded with Greek colonies founded from the 6th century onwards: Amisus, a colony of Miletus, which in the 5th century received a body of Athenian settlers, now the port of Samsun; Cotyora, now Ordu; Cerasus, the later Pharnacia, now Kerasund; and Trapezus (Trebizond), a famous city from Xenophon’s time till the end of the middle ages. The last three were colonies of Sinope, itself a Milesian colony. The chief' towns in the interior were Amasia, on the Iris, the birthplace of Strabo, the capital of Mithradates the Great, and the burial-place of the earlier kings, whose tombs still exist; Comana, higher up the river, a famous centre of the worship of the goddess Ma (or Cybele); Zela, another great religious centre, re founded by Pompey, now Zileh; Eupatoria, re founded by Pompey as Magnopolis at the junction of the Lycus and Iris; Cabira, Pompey’s Diospolis, afterwards Neocaesarea, now Niksar; Sebastopolis on the Scylax, now Sulu Seraï; Sebasteia, now Sivas; and Megalopolis, a foundation of Pompey, somewhere in the same district.

The history of this region is the history of the advance of the Roman Empire towards the Euphrates. Its political position between 64 and 41 B.C., when Mark Antony became master of the East, is not quite certain. Part of it was handed. over by Pompey to client princes: the coast-land east of the Halys (except the territory of Amisus) and the hill-tribes of Paryadres were given, with Lesser Armenia, to the Galatian chief Deiotarus, with the title of king; Comana was left under the rule of its high-priest. The rest of the interior was partitioned by Pompey amongst the inland cities, almost all of which were founded by him, and, according to one view, was included together with the seaboard west of Amisus and the corner of north-east Paphlagonia possessed by Mithradates in his new province Pontus-Bithynia. Others maintain that only the seaboard was included in the province, the inland cities being constituted self-governing, “protected” communities. The latter view is more in conformity with Roman policy in the East, which did not usually annex countries till they reached (under the rule of client princes) a certain level of civilization and order, but it is difficult to reconcile with Strabo’s statements (p. 541 sqq.). In any case, during the years following 40 B.C. all inland Pontus was handed over, like north-east Paphlagonia, to native dynasts. The Pontic possessions of Deiotarus (d. 40 B.C.) were given with additions (e.g. Cabira) in 39 B.C. to Darius, son of Pharnaces, and in 36 B.C. to Polemon, son of a rhetorician of Laodicea on the Lycus. The high-priest of Comana, Lycomedes, received an accession of territory and the royal title. The territories of Zela and Megalopolis were divided between Lycomedes, the high-priest of Zela and Ateporix, who ruled the principality of Carana (later Sebastopolis). Amasia and Amisus were also given to native princes.

After the battle of Actium (31 B.C.) Augustus restored Amisus as a “free city” to the province of Bithynia-Pontus, but made no other serious change. Polemon retained his kingdom till his death in 8 B.C., when it passed to his widow Pythodoris. But presently the process of annexation began and the Pontic districts were gradually incorporated in the empire, each being attached to the province of Galatia, then the centre of Roman forward policy. (1) The western district was annexed in two sections, Sebastopolis and Amasia in 3–2 B.C., and Comana in A.D. 34–35. To distinguish this district from the province Pontus and Polemon’s Pontus it was henceforth called Pontus galaticus (as being the first part attached to Galatia). (2) Polemon’s kingdom, ruled since A.D. 38 by Polemon II., grandson of the former king, was annexed by Nero in A.D. 64–65, and distinguished by the title of Pontus polemoniacus, which survived for centuries. [But the simple name Pontus, hitherto commonly used to designate Polemon’s realm, is still employed to denote this district by itself or in conjunction with Pontus Galaticus, where the context makes the meaning clear (e.g. in inscriptions and on coins).] Polemoniacus included the sea-coast from the Thermodon to Cotyora and the inland cities Zela, Magnopolis, Megalopolis, Neocaesarea and Sebasteia (according to Ptolemy, but apparently annexed since 2 B.C., according to its coins). (3) Finally, at the same time (A.D. 64) was annexed the remaining eastern part of Pontus, which formed part of Polemon’s realm but was attached to the province Cappadocia and distinguished by the epithet cappadocicus. These three districts formed distinct administrative divisions within the provinces to which they were attached, with separate capitals Amasia, Neocaesarea and Trapezus; but the first two were afterwards merged in one, sometimes called Pontus mediterraneus, with Neocaesarea as capital, probably when they were definitively transferred (about A.D. 114) to Cappadocia, then the great frontier military province.

With the reorganization of the provincial system under Diocletian (about A.D. 295), the Pontic districts were divided up between four provinces of the dioecesis pontica: (1) Paphlagonia, to which was attached most of the old province Pontus; (2) Diospontus, re-named Helenopontus by Constantine, containing the rest of the province Pontus and the adjoining district, eight cities in all (including Sinope, Amisus and Zela) with Amasia as capital; (3) Pontus Polemoniacus, containing Comana, Polemonium, Cerasus and Trapezus with Neocaesarea as capital; and (4) Armenia Minor, five cities, with Sebasteia, as capital. This rearrangement gave place in turn to the Byzantine system of military districts (themes).

Christianity was introduced into the province Pontus (the Ora pontica) by way of the sea in the 1st century after Christ and was deeply rooted when Pliny governed the province (A.D. 111–113). But the Christianization of the inland Pontic districts began only about the middle of the 3rd century and was largely due to the missionary zeal of Gregory Thaumaturgus, bishop of Neocaesarea.

See Ramsay, Histor. Geogr. of Asia Minor (1890); Anderson and Cumont, Studia pontica (1903 et seq.); Babelon and Reinach, Recueil des monnaies d’Asie min., t. i. (1904); H. Grégoire, “Voyage dans le Pont” &c. in Bull. de corres. hell. (1909).  (J. G. C. A.)