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The northern coast of modern Turkey, with its shores on the Black Sea (Pontus Euxinus) actually came into existence as the country of Pontus (meaning Sea) in contemporary Roman times. Originally part of that more central territory called Cappadocia, the region which was naturally secured by surrounding mountain ranges and the sea, was created in the aftermath of the death of Alexander.

Pontus had been largely colonized by Greeks for several centuries prior to the campaigns of Alexander, but his conquests gave Hellenization a firm hold over the inhabitants. Colonists founded flourishing trade cities all over the coast, including Sinope, Trapezus, Cerasus, Side, Cotyora, Amisus, and Apsarus. Prior to the Greeks, however, Scythians and other regional peoples such as the Hittites and Persians dominated the culture.

One such tribe, the Chalybes, are credited in some ancient sources as being the first people to use coal in iron furnaces, thereby creating steel, although they certainly didn't understand the complete concept.

Pontus as its own state was founded by Mithridates I in the dynastic struggles that followed the death of Alexander. Between 302 BC and 296 BC, Mithridates, the son of a Persian satrap servicing one of Alexander's former generals (Antigonus), took complete control and established a dynasty that would last until the coming of the Romans. The 5th ruler of that dynasty, Pharnaces, who ruled between 185 and 169 BC, and in the wake of Roman victories over Macedonia and the Seleucids of Syria, established allied relations with this new Mediterranean power.

These friendly relations, however, would crumble quickly with the coming of one of the greatest enemies in Roman history. Mithridates VI, who came to power in 120 BC, would prove to be a resourceful and powerful regional authority. Over the course of the first 30 years of his reign, Mithridates methodically captured and added neighboring kingdoms to his own realm. Though opposed by the Romans in theory, little was done due mainly to wars in Africa (Jugurtha), continuing social disorder, and the crisis of the Germanic (Cimbri and Teuton) invasions.

By 88 BC, social and political turmoil in Rome left the door open for Mithridates to conduct a major invasion west into Roman territory. Taking Asia Minor and murdering as many as 80,000 Roman citizens along with up to 150,000 allies, then crossing into Greece, Mithridates increased his kingdom and power virtually unopposed. Rome however would not sleep for long, and the political disorder would eventually see the rise to power of Lucius Cornelius Sulla. In a campaign (fully detailed in the Mithridatic War and therefore not recounted here) lasting from 88 to 85 BC, Sulla punished Mithridates and those who supported him, but renewed political problems cut the campaign short. A deal was reached with Mithridates leaving him dangerously still in power while Sulla returned to Rome.

Though he never regained the same level of threat, Mithridates continued to be a thorn in the Roman's side for the next 20 years. While he managed to shape a great kingdom out of his early conquests, his invasions eventually led not only to his own final defeat, but the complete absorption of Pontus into the Roman sphere of influence. Finally, in 63 BC, after the conquests of Pompey the Great and his final settlements, Pontus was annexed as a joint province with neighboring Bithynia. In the time of Julius Caesar, however, Pontus re-emerged on the world stage with the destruction of Pharnaces at Zela in 47 BC. With this victory, Caesar immortalized the term Veni Vidi Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered) and secured the mostly peaceful existence of Pontus as a Roman province. Though it would undergo various territorial adjustments over time, including the diocese reforms of Diocletion (late 3rd century AD), Pontus would remain a part of the Roman and Byzantine empires until the 15th century.

As previously suggested the people of Pontus were well known smiths, making iron and steel resources as well as many finished metal products into regular export goods. The economy, however, was widely diverse with varying terrain and topography. The fertile plains were lush with fruits of all kinds, including cherries which are said (according to Lucullus) to have been first brought to Europe from Pontus. Wine, wood, honey, wax, grain and commodities of all sorts rounded out a prosperous trading environment.

Roman Province Index

Pontus - Related Topic: Mithridatic War


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