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Ancient Region of Anatolia
Pontus (Πόντος)
Location North-eastern Anatoliamarker
Nations Leucosyri, Greeks, Tzans and Laz
Historical capitals Amasyamarker, Neocaesareamarker, Trapezus
Famous rulers Mithradates Eupator
Manuel I of Trebizond
Alexios II of Trebizond

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 or Pontos ( , i.e. "sea") is a historical Greek designation for a region on the southern coast of the Black Seamarker, located in modern-day northeastern Turkeymarker. The name was applied to the coastal region in antiquity by the Greeks who colonized the area, and derived from the Greek name of the Black Sea: Pontos Euxeinos ("Hospitable Sea"), or simply Pontos. Having originally no specific name, the region east of the river Halys was spoken of as the country en Pontôi, "on the [Euxeinos] Pontos", and hence acquired the name of Pontus, which is first found in Xenophon's Anabasis. The extent of the region varied through the ages, but generally it extended from the borders of Colchis (modern Georgiamarker) 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 Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine times.


The north-eastern Black Sea region of Turkey, historically known as Pontus, has a steep, rocky coast with rivers that cascade through the gorges of the coastal ranges. A few larger rivers, those cutting back through the Pontic Mountainsmarker (Doğu Karadeniz Dağları), have tributaries that flow in broad, elevated basins. Access inland from the coast is limited to a few narrow valleys because mountain ridges, with elevations of 1,525 to 1,800 m in the west and 3,000 to 4,000 m in the east in Kaçkar Mountains, form an almost unbroken wall separating the coast from the interior. The higher slopes facing southwest tend to be densely wet. Because of these natural conditions, the Black Sea coast historically has been isolated from the Anatolian interior proper.

Pontus was a mountainous country—wild and barren in the east, where the great chains approach the Euxine; but in the west watered by the great rivers Halys and Iris, and their tributaries, the valleys of which, [p. 1301] as well as the land along the coast, are extremely fertile. The eastern part was rich in minerals, and contained the celebrated iron mines of the Chalybes.

The area is known for its fertility. Cherries were supposed to have been brought from Pontus to Europe in 72 BC.


The original inhabitants of Pontus were called generically Leucosyri.

Kingdom of Pontus

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

The term did come to apply to a separate state after the establishment of the Kingdom of Pontus, beyond the Halys Rivermarker (Kızılmarker river). The Persian dynasty which was to found this kingdom had during the fourth century B.C. 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 ("Ktistes" meaning "The Founder").

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, till 64 BC. Thus, this Persian dynasty managed to survive and prosper in the Hellenistic world while the main Persian Empire had fallen.

As the greater part of this kingdom lay within the immense region of Cappadociamarker, which in early ages extended from the borders of Cilicia to the Euxinemarker (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.

This kingdom reached its greatest height under Mithridates VI or Mithradates 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.

Roman province

The Roman client kingdom of Pontus (in union with Colchis), ca. 50 AD.
Mentioned three times in the New Testament, inhabitants of Pontus were some of the very first converts to Christianity. Acts 2:9 mentions them present during the Day of Pentecost. Acts 18:2 mentions a Jewish couple from Pontus that had converted to Christianity. And 1 Peter 1:1 , Peter the Apostle addresses the Pontians in his letter as the "elect" and "chosen ones".

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 Heracleamarker (Ereğli) and Amisusmarker (Samsunmarker), 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. 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 Polemoniummarker; and Pontus Cappadocius in the east, bordering on Cappadociamarker (Armenia Minor).

With the reorganization of the provincial system under Diocletian (about AD 295), the Pontic districts were divided up between four provinces of the Dioecesis Pontica:

  • Paphlagonia, to which was attached most of the old province Pontus
  • Diospontus, renamed Helenopontus by Constantine the Great after his mother, containing the rest of the province Pontus and the adjoining district, eight cities in all (including Sinopemarker, Amisusmarker and Zelamarker) with Amaseamarker as capital
  • Pontus Polemoniacus, containing Comana, Argyroupolis, Polemonium, Cerasus and Trapezus with Neocaesareamarker as capital
  • Armenia Minor, five cities, with Sebasteiamarker as capital.

Emperor Justinian further reorganized the system in 536:

  • Pontus Polemoniacus was dissolved, with the western part (Polemonium and Neocaesarea) going to Helenopontus, Comana going to the new province of Armenia II, and the rest (Trapezus and Cerasus)joining the new province of Armenia I Magna
  • Helenopontus gained Polemonium and Neocaesarea, and lost Zela to Armenia II. The provincial governor was renamed to moderator.
  • Paphlagonia absorbed Honorias and was put under a praetor.

This rearrangement gave place in turn to the Byzantine system of military districts (themes) in the late 7th century.

Pontus under the Byzantines

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 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.

Following the fall of Constantinople to the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the Pontus was set up as an independent successor state, the Empire of Trebizond, under the Komnenos dynasty. Through a combination of geographic remoteness and adroit diplomacy, the Empire managed to survive, until it was conquered by the Ottomans in 1461.

Pontus under the Ottomans

Under the subsequent Ottoman rule which began with the fall of Trebizond, particularly starting from the 17th century, the region's Pontic Greeks were extensively Turkicized and Islamized through the devshirme system; though small communities of Christian Pontic Greeks remained throughout the area until the early 20th century, preserving their own customs and dialect of Greek.

These communities largely disappeared due to what the Greeks refer to as the Greek genocide of 1914-1923, during a large part of the Greco-Turkish war . In the war, several regions of western Anatolia were invaded by the Greek Army from mainland Greecemarker, and the subsequent Greek-Turkish population exchange in 1923 followed the victory of the Turkish revolutionaries. Due to the caustic nature of events that occurred during this period and the incriminations from both sides, debate still rages on to this day as to exactly what happened during this period.


The Black Sea Region ( ) is one of Turkeymarker's seven census-defined geographical regions.
Turkey Black Sea Region
Turkey Black Sea Region


  • Strabo, a Greek historian, geographer, and philosopher.
  • Chrisanthos Singer
  • A.I. Bezzerides, an American novelist and screenwriter. Famous for writing Humphrey Bogart movies, and co-creator of the tv series The Big Valley. Born in Samsun.

See also

Notes and References


  • Ramsay MacMullen, 2000. Romanization in the Time of Augustus (Yale University Press)


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