- pon'-tus (Pontos): Was an important province in the northeastern part of Asia Minor, lying along the south shore of the Black Sea. The name was geographical, not ethnical, in origin, and was first used to designate that part of Cappadocia which bordered on the "Pontus," as the Euxine was often termed. Pontus proper extended from the Halys River on the West to the borders of Colchis on the East, its interior boundaries meeting those of Galatia, Cappadocia and Armenia. The chief rivers besides the Halys were the Iris, Lycus and Thermodon. The configuration of the country included a beautiful but narrow, riparian margin, backed by a noble range of mountains parallel to the coast, while these in turn were broken by the streams that forced their way from the interior plains down to the sea; the valleys, narrower or wider, were fertile and productive, as were the wide plains of the interior such as the Chiliokomon and Phanaroea. The mountain slopes were originally clothed with heavy forests of beech, pine and oak of different species, and when the country was well afforested, the rainfall must have been better adequate than now to the needs of a luxuriant vegetation.
The first points in the earliest history of Pontus emerge from obscurity, much as the mountain peaks of its own noble ranges lift their heads above a fog bank. Thus, we catch glimpses of Assyrian culture at Sinope and Amisus, probably as far back as the 3rd millennium BC. The period of Hittite domination in Asia Minor followed hard after, and there is increasing reason to suppose that the Hittites occupied certain leading city sites in Pontus, constructed the artificial mounds or tumuli that frequently meet the eyes of modern travelers, hewed out the rock tombs, and stamped their character upon the early conditions. The home of the Amazons, those warrior priestesses of the Hittites, was located on the banks of the Thermodon, and the mountains rising behind Terme are still called the "Amazon Range"; and the old legends live still in stories about the superior prowess of the modern women living there.
See ASIA MINOR, ARCHAEOLOGY OF.
As the Hittite power shrunk in extent and force, by the year 1000 BC bands of hardy Greek adventurers appeared from the West sailing along the Euxine main in quest of lands to exploit and conquer and colonize. Cape Jason, which divides the modern mission fields of Trebizond and Marsovan, preserves the memory of the Argonants and the Golden Fleece. Miletus, "greatest of the Ionic towns," sent out its colonists, swarm after swarm, up through the Bosphorus, and along the southern shore of the Black Sea. They occupied Sinope, the northern-most point of the peninsula with the best harbor and the most commanding situation. Sinope was in Paphlagonia, but politically as well as commercially enjoyed intimate relations with the Pontic cities. Settlers from Sinope, reinforced by others from Athens direct, pressed on and founded Amisus, the modern Samsoun, always an important commercial city. Another colony from Sinope founded Trebizond, near which Xenophon and the Ten Thousand reached the sea again after they had sounded the power of Persia and found it hollow at Cunaxa. Among the cities of the interior, picturesque Amasia in the gorge of the Iris River witnessed the birth of Strabo in the 1st century BC, and to the geographer Strabo, more than to any other man, is due our knowledge of Pontus in its early days. Zille, "built upon the mound of Semiramis," contained the sanctuary of Anaitis, where sacrifices were performed with more pomp than in any other place. Comana, near the modern Tokat, was a city famous for the worship of the great god Ma. Greek culture by degrees took root along the coast; it mixed with, and in turn was modified by, the character of the older native inhabitants.
When the Persians established their supremacy in Asia Minor with the overthrow of Lydia, 546 BC, Pontus was loosely joined to the great empire and was ruled by Persian satraps. Ariobarzanes, Mithradates and Pharnaces are the recurring names in this dynasty of satraps which acquired independence about 363 and maintained it during the Macedonian period. The man that first made Pontus famous in history was Mithradates VI, surnamed Eupator. Mithradates was a typical oriental despot, gifted, unscrupulous, commanding. Born at Sinope 136 BC and king at Amasia at the age of twelve, Mithradates was regarded by the Romans as "the most formidable enemy the Republic ever had to contend with." By conquest or alliance he widely extended his power, his chief ally being his son-in-law Dikran, or Tigranes, of Armenia, and then prepared for the impending struggle with Rome. The republic had acquired Pergamus in 133 BC and assumed control of Western Asia Minor. There were three Roman armies in different parts of the peninsula when war broke out, 88 BC. Mithradates attacked them separately and over-threw them all. He then planned and executed a general massacre of all the Romans in Asia Minor, and 80,000 persons were cut down. Sulla by patient effort restored the fortunes of Rome, and the first war ended in a drawn game; each party had taken the measure of its antagonist, but neither had been able to oust the other. The second war began in the year 74, with Lucullus as the Roman general. Lucullus took Amisus by siege, chased Mithradates to Cabira, modern Niksar, scattered his army and drove the oriental sultan out of his country. Subsequently on his return to Rome, Lucullus carried from Kerasoun the first cherries known to the western world. In the third war the hero on the Roman side was the masterful Pompey, appointed in 66 BC. As a result of this war, Mithradates was completely vanquished. His dominions were finally and permanently incorporated in the territories of the Roman republic. The aged king, breathing out wrath and forming impossible plans against his lifelong enemies, died in exile in the Crimea from poison administered by his own hand.
Most of Pontus was for administrative purposes united by the Romans with the province of Bithynia, though the eastern part subsisted as a separate kingdom under Polemon and his house, 36 BC to 63 AD, and the southwestern portion was incorporated with the province of Galatia.
It was during the Roman period that Christianity entered this province. There were Jews dwelling in Pontus, devout representatives of whom were in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:9). Paul's associates, Aquila and Priscilla, were originally from here (Acts 18:2). The sojourners of the Dispersion are included in the address of the first Epistle of Peter together with the people of four other provinces in Asia Minor (1 Pet 1:1). Local traditions connect the apostles Andrew and Thaddeus with evangelistic labors in this region. They are said to have followed the great artery of travel leading from Caesarea Mazaca to Sinope. Pliny, governor of Bithynia and Pontus 111-113 AD, found Christians under his authority in great numbers (see BITHYNIA), and Professor Ramsay argues that Pliny's famous letters, Numbers 96 and 97, written to the emperor Traian on the subject of the treatment of Christians under his government (see PERSECUTION), were composed in view of conditions in Amisus (Church in Roman Empire, 224, 225).
The Roman empire in the East was gradually merged into the Byzantine, which is still known to the local inhabitants as the empire of "Roum," i.e. Rome. Pontus shared the vicissitudes of this rather unfortunate government until, in 1204, a branch of the Byzantine imperial family established in Pontus a separate small state with its capital at Trebizond. Here the house of the Grand Comneni, sheltered between the sea and the mountain ranges, maintained its tinsel sovereignty to and beyond the fall of Constantinople. In 1461 Trebizond was taken by Mohammed the Conqueror, since which date Pontus, with its conglomerate population of Turks, Armenians, Greeks and fragments of other races, has been a part of the Ottoman empire.
G. E. White