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Arche Seleukeia









History Units

Shielded by the Pontic Alps from the central Anatolian plateau the shore of the Pontos Euxinus (Black Sea) has often had a history separate from that of the rest of Anatolia. The name Pontos is geographical, not ethnic, in origin, and was first used to designate that part of Kappadokia which bordered on the "Pontos," as the Euxine was often termed. 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 luxuriant vegetation.

Early period

Between 2000 BC and 1800 BC, Assyrian merchants from northern Mesopotamia established a number of trading colonies in the central and eastern Anatolian cities, thereby drawing the region into wider Middle Eastern culture. The unification of Anatolia was achieved by the Hittites and this region became the center of power for the Hittites.

As the Hittite power shrunk under the hammer blows of the Sea Peoples and other invaders hardy Greek adventurers appeared from the West sailing along the Euxine main in quest of lands to exploit and conquer and colonize. Miletus, sent out colonists through the Bosporus, and along the southern shore of the Black Sea. Greek culture by slow degrees took root along the coastal towns mixing with the local cultures and the later Persians. Following the Persian overthrow of Lydia, Pontos was loosely joined to the great Achaemenid Empire and rule was by Persian satraps.

Persian period

During the domination of the Achaemenid Persian Empire eastern Asia Minor was colonized by the Persians. The uplands of Anatolia resembled those of Persia in climate and soil, and were especially adapted to the raising of horses. The main influence on the societies of Pontos had come from Persia with its temple priests and Persianized feudal nobles which ruled over villages inhabited by a heterogeneous population. Greek culture would have some influence but mostly superficially until later in the kingdoms history. In Kappadokia and even in Pontos the aristocracy who owned the soil belonged to the conquering Persians. Under the various governments which followed after the death of Alexander, those landlords would remain the real masters of the country. They retained their hereditary holdings throughout the political turmoil until the time of the Romans. This military and feudal aristocracy furnished Mithradates Eupator a considerable number of the officers who helped him in his long defiance of Rome, and later defended the threatened independence of Armenia against the enterprises of the Romans. These warriors worshiped Mithra as the protecting god of their arms, and this is the reason why Mithra always, even in the Latin world, remained the “invincible” god, the lord of armies, held in special honor by warriors.

Alongside them were the native clan chieftains governing the districts where the Anatolian tribes held dominion. These tribes residing in the eastern part of Northern Anatolia were known to the Greeks as the Mossynoecians, Makrones, Tibarenians and Leucosyrians as well as the Chalybes or Chaldaei. The Tzanoi lived mainly in Pontic Alps, their range extending into the land of the Colchians or Kolchoi, to whom they are related and the Tibareni and Chaldaei, who also extend as far as Colchis. It is from these men that the bulk of the tribal levy is formed.

Besides the Persian nobility a Persian clergy had also become established in the peninsula. It officiated in famous temples, at Zela in Pontos and Hierocaesarea in Lydia. The sacrifices of the fire priests which Strabo observed in Kappadokia recall all the peculiarities of the Avestan liturgy. The same prayers were recited before the altar of the fire while the priest held the sacred fasces and the same offerings were made of milk, oil and honey, and the same precautions were taken to prevent the priest's breath from polluting the divine flame.

Recent discoveries of bilingual inscriptions have succeeded in establishing the fact that the language used, or at least written, by the Persian colonies of Asia Minor was not that of their ancient Aryan homeland, but rather Aramaic. Under the Achemenides this was the diplomatic and commercial language of all countries west of the Tigris. In Kappadokia and Armenia it remained the literary and probably also the liturgical language until it was slowly supplanted by Greek during the Hellenistic period.


Pontos had acquired nominal independence from Persia around 363 BC and was able to maintain it during the Macedonian period. Following the Anatolian conquests of Alexander the Great attempts were made to rule Kappadokia through a Macedonian appointed commander, but the ruling classes and people resisted and declared a Persian aristocrat, as king. Alexander had never conquered this country completely, and this last Persian satrap, a man named Ariarathes, had created a kingdom of his own. Kappadokia and Paphlagonia fell to Eumenes in the settlement of Babylon, who was charged with defending the region as far as Trapezus and with continuing hostilities against this Ariarthes, the only chieftain refusing alliance to Macedon. His claims were made good in 322 by the regent Perdikkas who crucified Ariarathes; but in the dissensions following Eumenes death, the son of Ariarathes recovered his inheritance and left it to a line of successors, who mostly bore the name of the founder of the dynasty. Pontos became a separate kingdom later in the 3rd Century, and here forges its own history separate from that of Kappadokia.

In Pontos Mithradates I, was the son of a Persian satrap taking advantage of the confusion caused by the Wars of the Diadochi, came to Pontos with only six horsemen and was able to assume the title of king, he died in 266 after a reign of thirty-six years. The kings of Pontos, Persian by descent, formed close ties with Greece and from the beginning Hellenistic culture found an entrance into Pontos.

Under the last king, Mithradates Eupator, commonly called the Great, the realm of Pontos included not only Pontika Kappadokia but also the shore from Bithynia to Kolchis as well as all of Paphlagonia. Claiming to be a descendant of Darius the Persian Mithridates Eupator took power in Pontos and proved to be a ruthless king. His father, before his death, had appointed him his successor, and had given him his mother as guardian, who was to govern jointly with him. He began his reign by putting his mother and brother to death. Mithradates was a sinister character to the Romans and it is said that he was a suspicious and paranoid man but then anyone growing up at a Hellenistic court had good reasons to be paranoid. Without the charismatic and daring leadership of Mithradates, the kingdom of Pontos would never have become a military power capable of challenging the power of Rome itself. He could never quite match Rome’s military power, and with his defeat and death the kingdom of Pontos came to an end as an independent political entity.