PONTUS AND LESSER ARMENIA
Written by Strabo circa 7 BC
Mithridates Eupator was appointed King of Pontus. His kingdom consisted of the country bounded by the Halys, extending to the Tibareni, to Armenia, to the territory within the Halys, extending as far as Amastris, and to some parts of Paphlagonia. He annexed to (the kingdom of) Pontus the sea-coast towards the west as far as Heracleia, the birth-place of Heracleides the Platonic philosopher, and towards the east, the country extending to Colchis, and Lesser Armenia. Pompey, after the overthrow of Mithridates, found the kingdom comprised within these boundaries. He distributed the country towards Armenia and towards Colchis among the princes who had assisted him in the war; the remainder he divided into eleven governments, and annexed them to Bithynia, so that out of both there was formed one province. Some people in the inland parts he subjected to the kings descended from Pylæmenes, in the same manner as he delivered over the Galatians to be governed by tetrarchs of that nation. In later times the Roman emperors made different divisions of the same country, appointing kings and rulers, making some cities free, and subjecting others to the authority of rulers, others again were left under the dominion of the Roman people.
Above the places about Pharnacia1 and Trapezus2 are the Tibareni, and Chaldæi3, extending as far as Lesser Armenia. Lesser Armenia is sufficiently fertile. Like Sophene it was always governed by princes who were sometimes in alliance with the other Armenians, and sometimes acting independently. They held in subjection the Chaldæi and Tibareni. Their dominion extended as far as Trapezus and Pharnacia. When Mithridates Eupator became powerful, he made himself master of Colchis, and of all those places which were ceded to him by Antipater the son of Sisis. He bestowed however so much care upon them, that he built seventy-five strongholds, in which he deposited the greatest part of his treasure. The most considerable of these were Hydara, Basgœdariza, and Sinoria4, a fortress situated on the borders of the Greater Armenia.
All the mountainous range of the Paryadres5 has many such convenient situations for fortresses, being well supplied with water and timber, it is intersected in many places by abrupt ravines and precipices. Here he built most of the strongholds for keeping his treasure. At last on the invasion of the country by Pompey he took refuge in these extreme parts of the kingdom of Pontus, and occupied a mountain near Dasteira in Acilisene6, which was well supplied with water. The Euphrates also was near, which is the boundary between Acilisene and the Lesser Armenia. Mithridates remained there till he was besieged and compelled to fly across the mountains into Colchis, and thence to Bosporus. Pompey built near this same place in Lesser Armenia Nicopolis7, a city which yet subsists, and is well inhabited.
Lesser Armenia, which was in the possession of different persons at different times, according to the pleasure of the Romans, was at last subject to Archelaus. The Tibareni, however, and Chaldæi, extending as far as Colchis, Pharnacia, and Trapezus, are under the government of Pythodoris, a prudent woman, and capable of presiding over the management of public affairs. She is the daughter of Pythodorus of Tralles. She was the wife of Polemo, and reigned conjointly with him for some time. She succeeded, after his death, to the throne. He died in the country of the Aspurgiani, a tribe of barbarians living about Sindica. She had two sons by Polemo, and a daughter who was married to Cotys the Sapæan. He was treacherously murdered, and she became a widow. She had children by him, the eldest of whom is now king. Of the sons of Pythodoris, one as a private person, administers, together with his mother, the affairs of the kingdom, the other has been lately made king of the Greater Armenia. Pythodoris however married Archelaus, and remained with him till his death. At present she is a widow, and in possession of the countries before mentioned, and of others still more beautiful, of which we shall next speak.
Sidene, and Themiscyra8 are contiguous to Pharnacia. Above these countries is situated Phanarœa, containing the best portion of the Pontus, for it produces excellent oil and wine, and possesses every other property of a good soil. On the eastern side it lies in front of the Paryadres which runs parallel to it; on the western side it has the Lithrus, and the Ophlimus. It forms a valley of considerable length and breadth. The Lycus, coming out of Armenia, flows through this valley, and the Iris, which issues from the passes near Amaseia9. Both these rivers unite about the middle of the valley. A city stands at their confluence which the first founder called Eupatoria, after his own name. Pompey found it half-finished, and added to it a territory, furnished it with inhabitants, and called it Magnopolis. It lies in the middle of the plain. Close to the foot of the Paryadres is situated Cabeira, about 150 stadia further to the south than Magnopolis, about which distance likewise, but towards the west, is Amaseia. At Cabeira was the palace of Mithridates, the water-mill, the park for keeping wild animals, the hunting-ground in the neighborhood, and the mines.
There also is the Cainochorion, (New Castle) as it is called, a fortified and precipitous rock, distant from Cabeira less than 200 stadia. On its summit is a spring, which throws up abundance of water, and at its foot a river, and a deep ravine. The ridge of rocks on which it stands is of very great height, so that it cannot be taken by siege. It is enclosed with an excellent wall, except the part where it has been demolished by the Romans. The whole country around is so covered with wood, so mountainous, and destitute of water, that an enemy cannot encamp within the distance of 120 stadia. There Mithridates had deposited his most valuable effects, which are now in the Capitol, as offerings dedicated by Pompey.
Pythodoris is in possession of all this country (for it is contiguous to that of the barbarians, which she holds as a conquered country); she also holds the Zelitis10 and the Megalopolitis. After Pompey had raised Cabeira to the rank of a city, and called it Diospolis, Pythodoris improved it still more, changed its name to Sebaste (or Augusta) and considers it a royal city.
She has also the temple of Mēn surnamed of Pharnaces, at Ameria, a village city, inhabited by a large body of sacred menials, and having annexed to it a sacred territory, the produce of which is always enjoyed by the priest. The kings held this temple in such exceeding veneration, that this was the Royal oath, “by the fortune of the king, and by Mēn of Pharnaces.” This is also the temple of the moon, like that among the Albani, and those in Phrygia, namely the temple of Mēn in a place of the same name, the temple of Ascæus at Antioch in Pisidia, and another in the territory of Antioch.
Above Phanarœa is Comana11 in Pontus, of the same name as that in Greater Cappadocia, and dedicated to the same goddess. The temple is a copy of that in Cappadocia, and nearly the same course of religious rites is practiced there; the mode of delivering the oracles is the same; the same respect is paid to the priests, as was more particularly the case in the time of the first kings, when twice a year, at what is called the Exodi of the goddess (when her image is carried in procession), the priest wore the diadem of the goddess and received the chief honors after the king.
We have formerly mentioned Dorylaus the Tactician, who was my mother’s great grandfather; and another Dorylaus, who was the nephew of the former, and the son of Philetærus; I said that, although he had obtained from Mithridates the highest dignities and even the priesthood of Comana, he was detected in the fact of attempting the revolt of the kingdom to the Romans. Upon his fall the family also was disgraced. At a later period however Moaphernes, my mother’s uncle, rose to distinction near upon the dissolution of the kingdom. But a second time he and his friends shared in the misfortunes of the king, except those persons who had anticipated the calamity and deserted him early. This was the case with my maternal grandfather, who, perceiving the unfortunate progress of the affairs of the king in the war with Lucullus, and at the same time being alienated from him by resentment for having lately put to death his nephew Tibius, and his son Theophilus, undertook to avenge their wrongs and his own. He obtained pledges of security from Lucullus, and caused fifteen fortresses to revolt; in return he received magnificent promises. On the arrival of Pompey, who succeeded Lucullus in the conduct of the war, he regarded as enemies (in consequence of the enmity which subsisted between himself and that general) all those persons who had performed any services that were acceptable to Lucullus. On his return home at the conclusion of the war he prevailed upon the senate not to confirm those honors which Lucullus had promised to some persons of Pontus, maintaining it to be unjust towards a general who had brought the war to a successful issue, that the rewards and distribution of honors should be placed in the hands of another.
The affairs of Comana were administered as has been described in the time of the kings. Pompey, when he had obtained the power, appointed Archelaus priest, and assigned to him a district of two schœni, or 60 stadia in circuit, in addition to the sacred territory, and gave orders to the inhabitants to obey Archelaus. He was their governor, and master of the sacred slaves who inhabited the city, but had not the power of selling them. The slaves amounted to no less than six thousand.
This Archelaus was the son of that Archelaus who received honors from Sylla and the senate; he was the friend of Gabinius, a person of consular rank. When the former was sent into Syria, he came with the expectation of accompanying him, when he was making preparations for the Parthian war, but the senate would not permit him to do so, and he abandoned this, and conceived a greater design.
Ptolemy, the father of Cleopatra, happened at this time to be ejected from his kingdom by the Egyptians. His daughter however, the elder sister of Cleopatra, was in possession of the throne. When inquiries were making in order to marry her to a husband of royal descent, Archelaus presented himself to those who were negotiating the affair, and pretended to be the son of Mithridates Eupator. He was accepted, but reigned only six months. He was killed by Gabinius in a pitched battle, in his attempt to restore Ptolemy.
His son however succeeded to the priesthood, and Lycomedes succeeded him, to whom was assigned an additional district of four schœni (or 120 stadia) in extent. When Lycomedes was dispossessed he was succeeded by Dyteutus, the son of Adiatorix, who still occupies the post, and appears to have obtained this honour from Cæsar Augustus on account of his good conduct on the following occasion.
Cæsar, after leading in triumph Adiatorix, with his wife and children, had resolved to put him to death together with the eldest of his sons. Dyteutus was the eldest; but when the second of his brothers told the soldiers who were leading them away to execution that he was the eldest, there was a contest between the two brothers, which continued for some time, till the parents prevailed upon Dyteutus to yield to the younger, assigning as a reason, that the eldest would be a better person to protect his mother and his remaining brother. The younger was put to death together with his father; the elder was saved, and obtained this office. When Cæsar was informed of the execution of these persons, he regretted it, and, considering the survivors worthy of his favour and protection, bestowed upon them this honourable appointment.
Comana is populous, and is a considerable emporium for the people from Armenia. Men and women assemble there from all quarters from the cities and the country to celebrate the festival at the time of the exodi or processions of the goddess. Some persons under the obligation of a vow are always residing there, and perform sacrifices in honor of the goddess. The inhabitants are voluptuous in their mode of life. All their property is planted with vines, and there is a multitude of women, who make a gain of their persons, most of whom are dedicated to the goddess. The city is almost a little Corinth. On account of the multitude of harlots at Corinth, who are dedicated to Venus, and attracted by the festivities of the place, strangers resorted thither in great numbers. Merchants and soldiers were quite ruined, so that hence the proverb originated, “every man cannot go to Corinth.” such is the character of Comana.
All the country around is subject to Pythodoris, and she possesses also Phanarœa, the Zelitis, and the Megalopolitis. We have already spoken of Phanarœa. In the district Zelitis is the city Zela, built upon the mound of Semiramis. It contains the temple of Anaïtis, whom the Armenians also worship. Sacrifices are performed with more pomp than in other places, and all the people of Pontus take oaths here in affairs of highest concern. The multitude of the sacred menials, and the honors conferred upon the priests, were in the time of the kings, upon the plan which I have before described. At present, however, everything is under the power of Pythodoris, but many persons had previously reduced the number of the sacred attendants, injured the property and diminished the revenue belonging to the temple. The adjacent district of Zelitis (in which is the city Zela, on the mound of Semiramis,) was reduced by being divided into several governments. Anciently, the kings did not govern Zela as a city, but regarded it as a temple of the Persian gods; the priest was the director of everything relating to its administration. It was inhabited by a multitude of sacred menials, by the priest, who possessed great wealth, and by his numerous attendants; the sacred territory was under the authority of the priest, and it was his own property. Pompey added many provinces to Zelitis, and gave the name of city to Zela, as well as to Megalopolis. He formed Zelitis, Culupene, and Camisene, into one district. The two latter bordered upon the Lesser Armenia, and upon Laviansene. Fossile salt was found in them, and there was an ancient fortress called Camisa, at present in ruins. The Roman governors who next succeeded assigned one portion of these two governments to the priests of Comana, another to the priest of Zela, and another to Ateporix, a chief of the family of the tetrarchs of Galatia; upon his death, this portion, which was not large, became subject to the Romans under the name of a province. This little state is a political body of itself, Carana being united with it as a colony, and hence the district has the name of Caranitis. The other parts are in the possession of Pythodoris, and Dyteutus.
There remain to be described the parts of Pontus, situated between this country and the districts of Amisus, and Sinope, extending towards Cappadocia, the Galatians, and the Paphlagonians. Next to the territory of the Amiseni is Phazemonitis, which extends as far as the Halys12, and which Pompey called Neapolitis. He raised the village Phazemon to the rank of a city, and increasing its extent gave to it the name of Neapolis. The northern side of this tract is bounded by the Gazelonitis, and by the country of the Amiseni; the western side by the Halys; the eastern by Phanarœa; the remainder by the territory of Amasis, my native country, which surpasses all the rest in extent and fertility.
The part of Phazemonitis towards Phanarœa is occupied by a lake, sea-like in magnitude, called Stiphane13, which abounds with fish, and has around it a large range of pasture adapted to all kinds of animals. Close upon it is a strong fortress, Cizari, at present deserted, and near it a royal seat in ruins. The rest of the country in general is bare, but produces corn.
Above the district of Amasis are the hot springs of the Phazemonitæ, highly salubrious, and the Sagylium, a stronghold situated on a lofty perpendicular hill, stretching upwards and terminating in a sharp peak. In this fortress is a reservoir well supplied with water, which is at present neglected, but was useful, on many occasions, to the kings. Here the sons of Pharnaces the king captured and put to death Arsaces, who was governing without the authority of the Roman generals, and endeavoring to produce a revolution in the state. The fortress was taken by Polemo and Lycomedes, both of them kings, by famine and not by storm. Arsaces, being prevented from escaping into the plains, fled to the mountains without provisions. There he found the wells choked up with large pieces of rock. This had been done by order of Pompey, who had directed the fortresses to be demolished, and to leave nothing in them that could be serviceable to robbers, who might use them as places of refuge. Such was the settlement of the Phazemonitis made by Pompey. Those who came afterwards divided this district among various kings.
My native city, Amaseia, lies in a deep and extensive valley, through which runs the river Iris. It is indebted to nature and art for its admirable position and construction. It answers the double purpose of a city and a fortress. It is a high rock, precipitous on all sides, descending rapidly down to the river: on the margin of the river, where the city stands, is a wall, and a wall also which ascends on each side of the city to the peaks, of which there are two, united by nature, and completely fortified with towers. In this circuit of the wall are the palace, and the monuments of the kings. The peaks are connected together by a very narrow ridge, in height five or six stadia on each side, as you ascend from the banks of the river, and from the suburbs. From the ridge to the peaks there remains another sharp ascent of a stadium in length, which defies the attacks of an enemy. Within the rock are reservoirs of water, the supply from which the inhabitants cannot be deprived of, as two channels are cut, one in the direction of the river, the other of the ridge. Two bridges are built over the river, one leading from the city to the suburbs, the other from the suburbs to the country beyond; for near this bridge the mountain, which overhangs the rock, terminates.
A valley extends from the river; it is not very wide at its commencement, but afterwards increases in breadth, and forms the plain called the Chiliocomon (The Thousand Villages). Next is the Diacopene, and the Pimolisene, the whole of which is a fertile district extending to the Halys.
These are the northern parts of the country of the Amasenses, and are in length about 500 stadia. Then follows the remainder, which is much longer, extending as far as Babanomus, and the Ximene, which itself reaches to the Halys. The breadth is reckoned from north to south, to the Zelitis and the Greater Cappadocia, as far as the Trocmi. In Ximene there is found fossile salt (Hales), from which it is supposed the river had the name of Halys. There are many ruined fortresses in my native country, and large tracts of land made a desert by the Mithridatic war. The whole of it, however, abounds with trees. It affords pasture for horses, and is adapted to the subsistence of other animals; the whole of it is very habitable. Amaseia was given to the kings, but at present it is a (Roman) province.
There remains to be described the country within the Halys, belonging to the province of Pontus, and situated about the Olgassys, and contiguous to the Sinopic district. The Olgassys is a very lofty mountain, and difficult to be passed. The Paphlagonians have erected temples in every part of this mountain. The country around, the Blaene, and the Domanītis, through which the river Amnias14 runs, is sufficiently fertile. Here it was that Mithridates Eupator entirely destroyed the army of Nicomedes the Bithynian, not in person, for he himself happened to be absent, but by his generals. Nicomedes fled with a few followers, and escaped into his own country, and thence sailed to Italy. Mithridates pursued him, and made himself master of Bithynia as soon as he entered it, and obtained possession of Asia as far as Caria and Lycia. Here is situated Pompeiopolis15, in which city is the Sandaracurgium (or Sandaraca works); it is not far distant from Pimolisa, a royal fortress in ruins, from which the country on each side of the river is called Pimolisene. The Sandaracurgium is a mountain hollowed out by large trenches made by workmen in the process of mining. The work is always carried on at the public charge, and slaves were employed in the mine who had been sold on account of their crimes. Besides the great labor of the employment, the air is said to be destructive of life, and scarcely endurable in consequence of the strong odor issuing from the masses of mineral; hence the slaves are short-lived. The mining is frequently suspended from its becoming unprofitable, for great expense is incurred by the employment of more than two hundred workmen, whose number is continually diminishing by disease and fatal accidents.
So much respecting Pontus.
- Giresun in modern Turkey.
- Trabzon in modern Turkey.
- Better known as the Chalybes or the Chaldoi.
- Cayiryolu (formerly Sunur) in modern Turkey.
- The Pontic Mountains.
- Acilisense was located roughly in the region of the modern Erzincan province, along the Upper Euphrates.
- Nicopolis corresponds to the town of Koyulhisar in modern Turkey.
- Located near Terme in modern Turkey.
- Amasya in modern Turkey.
- Zile in modern Turkey.
- Located in Cappadocia, in the modern Adana province of Turkey.
- Kizilirmak River in modern Turkey.
- Ladik Lake in the Samsun province in modern Turkey.
- The Gok river, a tributary of Kizilirmak in modern Turkey.
- Located in the valley of Gokirmak in modern Turkey.