Bithynians, Mariandynians, Paphlagonians, and others: Strabo on temple-states and peoples near his Pontic homeland (early first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Bithynians, Mariandynians, Paphlagonians, and others: Strabo on temple-states and peoples near his Pontic homeland (early first century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified March 12, 2023,

Ancient author: Strabo, Geography 12.3 (link)

Comments: Following his discussion of Cappadocia, Strabo moves on to peoples living in the northern portion of what is now Turkey, moving along from Bithynians and Mariandynians in the west to Paphlagonians and others further east across the southern shore of the Black Sea (stopping before the Kolchians who he had already dealt with earlier). Perhaps unsurprisingly, Strabo finishes with a long, praising discussion of his own hometown of Amaseia. This section of his geography is more detailed than most, precisely because of his local knowledge and interests. It is also in this section that Strabo provides important autobiographical information that connects him with Pontic royalty. As with his discussion of Cappadocia, Strabo’s account of life in the Pontic area continues to emphasize the importance of temple-states for organizing populations. Strabo is concerned to show how Roman control of the area (after the incorporation of the Pontic kingdom into the joint Roman province of Bithynia-Pontus in 63 BCE) impacted administration of the temples.

Strabo understandably claims a Thracian connection for many of the peoples in northwestern Turkey. Strabo’s concerns to incorporate supposedly accurate ethnographic information from Homer’s poetry also continues in this section. While Strabo devotes considerable attention to a variety of peoples, he is most negative about those who live in seven affiliated villages in the mountainous regions, describing them as the most savage peoples. With the so-called “White Syrians”, Strabo gives some attention to describing the physical features of the people, something that rings of what we would associate with processes of racialization.

Source of the translation: H.L. Jones, Strabo, 8 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1917-28), public domain (passed away in 1932), adapted by Harland.


[For Strabo’s preceding discussion of Cappadocians, go to this link.]

Book 12

[Geographical overview of the Pontos region on the southern coast of the Black Sea]

3 (1) As for Pontos, Mithridates Eupator [reigning 120-63 BCE] established himself as king of there and he held the country bounded by the Halys [Kızılırmak] river as far as the Tibaranians and Armenia. He also held the country this side the Halys, the region extending to Amastris and to certain parts of Paphlagonia. And he acquired, not only the sea‑coast towards the west as far as Herakleia (the native land of Herakleides the Platonic philosopher) but also, in the opposite direction, the sea‑coast extending to Kolchis and Lesser Armenia. We know that he added this to Pontos. In fact, this country was comprised within these boundaries when Pompey took it over when he overthrew Mithridates [in 63 BCE]. The parts towards Armenia and those around Kolchis he distributed to the rulers [i.e. client kings] who had fought on his side, but the remaining parts he divided into eleven states and added them to Bithynia, so that out of both there was formed a single province [province of Bithynia-Pontus].

Pompey gave over to the descendants of Pylaimenes the office of king over certain of the Paphlagonians situated in the interior between them, just as he gave over the Galatians to the hereditary tetrarchs. But later the Roman prefects made different divisions from time to time, not only establishing kings and rulers, but also, in the case of cities, liberating some and putting others in the hands of rulers and leaving others subject to the Roman people. As I proceed I must speak of things in detail as they are now, but I will also deal with how things were in earlier times whenever this is useful. I will begin at Herakleia [modern Karadeniz Ereğli, Turkey], which is the most western locale within this region.

(2) Now as one sails into the Euxine sea [Black Sea] from the Propontis, one has on his left the parts which adjoin Byzantion (these belong to the Thracians, and are called the “left-hand parts” of the Pontos), and on his right the parts which adjoin Chalcedon. The first of these latter belong to the Bithynians, the next to the Mariandynians (by some also called Kaukonians). The next part belongs to the Paphlagonians as far as the Halys river, and the next after that to the Pontic Cappadocians and to the people next in order after them as far as Kolchis. All these are called the “right-hand parts”] of the Pontos [Black Sea; i.e. the southern coast of the Black Sea along what is now Turkey]. Now Mithridates Eupator reigned over the whole of this sea‑coast, beginning at Kolchis and extending as far as Herakleia, but the parts farther on, extending as far as the mouth of the Pontos and Chalcedon, remained under the rule of the king of Bithynia. But when the kings had been overthrown, the Romans preserved the same boundaries, so that Herakleia was added to Pontos and the parts farther on went to the Bithynians.

[Bithynians and their Thracian and Mysian connections]

(3) Regarding Bithynians, it is agreed by most writers that, though formerly Mysians, they were renamed by the Thracians – the Thracian Bithynians and Thynians – who settled the country in question. They record as evidences of the people (ethnos) of the Bithynians that in Thrace certain inhabitants are to this day called “Bithynians.” Regarding Thynians, they record that the coast near Apollonia and Salmydessos is called Thynias. And the Bebrykians, who settled in Mysia before these people, were also Thracians, I think. It is stated that even the Mysians themselves are colonists of those Thracians who are now called “Moesians.” Such is the account given of these people.

[Mariandynians and their likely Thracian connections]

(4) But not everyone gives the same account regarding the Mariandynians and the Kaukonians [not to be confused with Kaukonians in the Peloponessos, as in Geography 8.3.17]. For Herakleia, they say, is situated in the country of the Mariandynians, and was founded by the Milesians [from the western coast of Ionia]. But nothing has been said as to who they are or where they came from. Furthermore, the people do not appear characterised by any difference with respect to peoplehood (ethnikē), either in language or otherwise, although they are similar to the Bithynians.

Accordingly, it is reasonable to suppose that this people also was at first Thracian. Theopompos says that Mariandynos ruled over a part of Paphlagonia, which was under the rule of many rulers, and then invaded and took possession of the country of the Bebrykians, but left the country which he had abandoned named after himself. This, too, has been said, that the Milesians who were first to found Herakleia forced the Mariandynians, who held the place before them, to become serfs (helots), so that they sold them, but not beyond the boundaries of their country (for the two peoples came to an agreement on this), just as the Mnoan class, as it is called, were serfs of the Cretans and the Penestians of the Thessalians.

[Kaukonians as Scythians, Macedonians, or Pelasgians]

(5) Regarding the Kaukonians, who, according to report, settled on the sea‑coast next to the Mariandynians and extended as far as the Parthenios [Bartın] river, with Tieion as their city, some say that they were Scythians, others that they were a certain people of the Macedonians, and others that they were a certain people of the Pelasgians. But I have already spoken of these people in another place. Kallisthenes in his treatise on The Marshalling of the Ships was for inserting after [Homer’s] words “Kromna, Aigialos, and lofty Erythinians” the words “the Kaukonians were led by the noble son of Polykles, those who lived in glorious dwellings in the neighbourhood of the Parthenios river.” For, Kallisthenes adds, the Kaukonians extended from Herakleia and the Mariandynians to the White Syrians, whom we call Cappadocians. And the people of the Kaukonians around Tieion extended to the Parthenios river, whereas that of the Henetians, who held Kytoron, were situated next to them after the Parthenios river. Still today certain “Kaukonitians” live in the neighbourhood of the Parthenios river.

[Herakleia and colonization]

 (6) Now Herakleia is a city that has good harbours and is otherwise worthy of note, since, among other things, it has also sent out colonies. Both Chersonesos and Kallatis are colonies from it. It was at first an autonomous city, and then for some time was ruled by tyrants. Then the city recovered its freedom, but later was ruled by kings, when it became subject to the Romans. The people received a colony of Romans, sharing with them a part of their city and territory. But Adiatorix, the son of Domnekleios, tetrarch of the Galatians, received from Antony that part of the city which was occupied by the Heracleiotians. Just before the battle of Actium he attacked the Romans by night and slaughtered them, by permission of Antony, as he alleged. But after the victory at Actium he was led in triumph and killed together with his son. The city belongs to the Pontic province which was united with Bithynia [i.e. the Roman province of Bithynia-Pontus].

(7) Between Chalcedon and Herakleia flow several rivers, among which are the Psillis, the Kalpas and the Sangarios [Sakarya], which last is mentioned by the poet [Homer, Iliad 3.187; 16.719]. The Sangarios river has its sources near the village Sangia, about one hundred and fifty stadium-lengths from Pessinos. It flows through the greater part of newly added (Epiktetos) Phrygia, and also through a part of Bithynia, so that it is distant from Nikomedia a little more than three hundred stadium-lengths, reckoning from the place where it is joined by the Gallos [Kara Su] river, which has its beginnings at Modra in Phrygia on the Hellespont. This is the same country as newly added (Epiktetos) Phrygia, and it was formerly occupied by the Bithynians. Thus increased, and now having become navigable, though of old not navigable, the river forms a boundary of Bithynia at its outlets. Off this coast lies also the island Thynia [Kefken]. The plant called aconite grows in the territory of Herakleia. This city is about one thousand five hundred stadium-lengths from the Chalcedonian temple and five hundred from the Sangarios river.

[Paphlagonians and Enetians]

(8) Tieion is a town that has nothing worthy of mention except that Philetairos, the founder of the family of Attalid kings, was from there. Then comes the Parthenios river, which flows through flowery districts and on this account came by its name. It has its sources in Paphlagonia itself. And then comes Paphlagonia and the Enetians. Writers question whom the poet [Homer, Iliad 2.851] means by “the Enetians,” when he says, “And the rugged heart of Pylaemenes led the Paphlagonians, from the land of the Enetians, from where the breed of wild mules comes.” For at the present time, they say, there are no Enetians to be seen in Paphlagonia, though some say that there is a village on the Aigialos ten schoenoi distant from Amastris.

But Zenodotos reads “from Enete,” and says that Homer clearly indicates the Amisos [Samsun, Turkey] of today. And others say that a people called Enetians, bordering on the Cappadocians, made an expedition with the Kimmerians and then were driven out to the Adriatic sea.

But it is generally agreed that that the Enetians to whom Pylaimenes belonged were the most notable people of the Paphlagonians. Furthermore, they made the expedition with him in very great numbers. However, when they lost their leader, they crossed over to Thrace after the capture of Troy and on their wanderings went to the Enetian country, as it is now called. According to some writers, Antenor and his children took part in this expedition and settled at the recess of the Adriatic, as mentioned by me in my account of Italy. It is therefore reasonable to suppose that it was on this account that the Enetians disappeared and are not to be seen in Paphlagonia.

[“White Syrians” = Cappadocians vs. Syrians, with physical descriptions]

(9) As for the Paphlagonians, they are bounded on the east by the Halys river, “which,” according to Herodotos, “flows from the south between the Syrians and the Paphlagonians and empties into the Euxine sea, as it is called” [Inquiries 1.6.1 – link]. By “Syrians,” however, he means the “Cappadocians,” and in fact they are still today called “White Syrians” (Leukosyroi), while those outside the region of the Tauros range are called “Syrians” (Syroi).

As compared with those on this [western] side the Tauros range, those outside have a tanned complexion, while those this side do not, and for this reason received the appellation “white.” Pindar says that the Amazons “swayed a ‘Syrian’ army that reached far off with their spears,” thus clearly indicating that their abode was in Themiskyra [i.e. the legendary centre of the Amazons]. Themiskyra is in the territory of the Amisenians and this territory belongs to the White Syrians, who live in the country next after the Halys river. On the east, then, the Paphlagonians are bounded by the Halys river, on the south by Phrygians and the Galatians who settled among them, on the west by the Bithynians and the Mariandynians – for the descent group (genos) of the Kaukonians has everywhere been destroyed – and on the north by the Euxine [Black Sea].

Now this country was divided into two parts, the interior and the part on the sea, each stretching from the Halys river to Bithynia, and Mithridates Eupator not only held the coast as far as Herakleia, but also took the nearest part of the interior, certain portions of which extended across the Halys. The boundary of the Pontic province has been marked off by the Romans as far as this. The remaining parts of the interior, however, were subject to rulers, even after the overthrow of Mithridates. Now as for the Paphlagonians in the interior, I mean those not subject to Mithridates, I will discuss them later, but at present I propose to describe the country which was subject to him, called the Pontos.

[Key cities of the Pontos region / kingdom: Amastris, Sinope]

(10) After the Parthenios [Bartın] river, then, one comes to Amastris [Amasra, Turkey], a city bearing the same name as the woman who founded it. It is situated on a peninsula and has harbours on either side of the isthmus. Amastris was the wife of Dionysios the tyrant of Herakleia and the daughter of Oxyathres, the brother of the [Persian] Darius whom Alexander fought.

Now she formed the city out of four settlements: Sesamos, Kytoron, Kromna (which Homer [Iliad 2.853—885] mentions in his marshalling of the Paphlagonian ships), and, fourth, Tieion. This last, however, soon revolted from the united city, but the other three remained together and, of these three, Sesamos is called the acropolis of Amastris. Kytoron was once the trading-centre of the Sinopeans. It was named after Kytoros son of Phryxos, as Ephoros says. The most and the best box‑wood grows in the territory of Amastris, and particularly around Kytoron. The Aigialos is a long shore of more than a hundred stadium-lengths, and it also has a village bearing the same name, which the poet mentions when he says, “Kromna and Aegialus and the lofty Erythini,” though some read “Kromna and Kobialos” [Homer, Iliad 2.855]. They say that the Erythrinian rocks of today, from their colour, used to be called Erythinians; they are two lofty rocks. After Aigialos one comes to Karambis, a great cape extending towards the north and the Scythian Chersonese. I have often mentioned it, as also Krioumetopon which lies opposite it, by which the Euxine Pontos [Black Sea] is divided into two seas. After Karambis one comes to Kinolis, and to Antikinolis, and to Abonouteichos, a small town, and to Armene, to which pertains the proverb, “whoever had no work to do walled Armene.” It is a village of the Sinopeans and has a harbour.

(11) Then one comes to Sinope [Sinop, Turkey] itself, which is fifty stadium-lengths distant from Armene. It is the most noteworthy of the cities in that part of the world. This city was founded by the Milesians and, having built a naval station, it reigned over the sea inside the Kyaneai, and shared with the Greeks in many struggles even outside the Kyaneai. Although it was independent for a long time, it could not eventually preserve its freedom, but was captured by siege. It was first enslaved by Pharnakes [I, king of Pontos ca. 190–155 BCE] and afterwards by his successors down to Mithridates Eupator and to the Romans who overthrew Eupator.

Mithridates Eupator was both born and reared at Sinope and he accorded it special honour and treated it as the metropolis of his kingdom. Sinope is beautifully equipped both by nature and by human foresight, for it is situated on the neck of a peninsula, and has on either side of the isthmus harbours and roadsteads and wonderful pelamydes-fisheries, of which I have already made mention, saying that the Sinopeans get the second catch and the Byzantians the third. Furthermore, the peninsula is protected all round by ridgy shores, which have hollowed‑out places in them, rock-cavities, as it were, which the people call “choinikides.” These are filled with water when the sea rises, and therefore the place is hard to approach, not only because of this, but also because the whole surface of the rock is prickly and impassable for bare feet.

Higher up, however, and above the city, the ground is fertile and adorned with diversified market-gardens and especially the suburbs of the city. The city itself is beautifully walled, and is also splendidly adorned with a gymnasium, a market-place and colonnades.

But although it was such a city, still it was twice captured, first by Pharnakes, who unexpectedly attacked it all of a sudden [ca. 183 BCE], and later by Lucullus [ca. 74-73 BCE] and by the tyrant who was garrisoned within it, being besieged both inside and outside at the same time. For, since Bacchides, who had been set up by the king as commander of the garrison, was always suspecting treason from the people inside, and was causing many outrages and murders, he made the people, who were unable either nobly to defend themselves or to submit by compromise, lose all heart for either course. At any rate, the city was captured and though Lucullus kept intact the rest of the city’s adornments, he took away the globe of Billaros and the work of Sthenis, the statue of Autolykos, whom they regarded as founder of their city and honoured as god.

The city had also an oracle of Autolykos. He is thought to have been one of those who went on the voyage with Jason and to have taken possession of the place. Then later the Milesians, seeing the natural advantages of the place and the weakness of its inhabitants, appropriated it to themselves and sent out colonists to it. But at present it has received also a colony of Romans and a part of the city and the territory belong to these Roman colonists. It is three thousand five hundred stadium-lengths away from the Hieron, two thousand from Herakleia, and seven hundred from Karambis. It has produced excellent men: among the philosophers, Diogenes the Cynic and Timotheus Patrion; among the poets, Diphilos the comic poet; and, among the historians, Baton, who wrote the work entitled The Persian. . . . [omitted further description of various settlements heading east towards Kolchis].

[Peoples of eastern Pontos]

(17) . . . Now I have already described Kolchis [on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, overlapping with modern Georgia] and the coast which lies north of it [link]. (18) Above Trapezos [Trabzon, Turkey] and Pharnakeia [exact location unknown] are situated the Tibaranians, Chaldaians [not to be confused with Babylonian Chaldeans] and Sannians, in early times called Makronians, and Lesser Armenia and the Appaitians, in earlier times called the Kerkitians, are fairly close to these regions. Two mountains cross the country of these people, not only the Skydises, a very rugged mountain, which joins the Moschian mountains above Kolchis – its heights are occupied by the Heptakometians [i.e. inhabitants of seven affiliated villages]– but also the Paryadres [modern Pontic mountain range], which extends from the region of Sidene and Themiskyra to Lesser Armenia and forms the eastern side of Pontos [Black Sea].

[Heptakometian mountain peoples as complete savages]

Now all these inhabitants of the mountains (oreioi) are completely savage (agrioi), but the Heptakometians are worse than the rest. Some also live in trees or towers and it was on this account that the ancients called them “Mosynoikians,” the towers being called “mosynoi.” They live on the flesh of wild animals and on nuts and they also attack travellers, leaping down upon them from their scaffolds. The Heptakometians cut down three maniples of Pompey’s army when they were passing through the mountainous country for they mixed bowls of the crazing honey which is yielded by the tree-twigs, and placed them in the roads. Then, when the soldiers drank the mixture and lost their senses, they attacked them and easily disposed of them. Some of these barbarians were also called Byzerians.

[Chaldaians and fishing]

(19) The Chaldaians of today were in ancient times named Chalybians and it is just opposite their territory that Pharnakeia is situated, which, on the sea, has the natural advantages of pelamydes-fishing (for it is here that this fish is first caught) and, on the land, has the mines, only iron-mines at the present time, though in earlier times it also had silver-mines. Upon the whole, the seaboard in this region is extremely narrow, for the mountains, full of mines and forests, are situated directly above it, and not much of it is tilled. But there remains for the miners their livelihood from the mines, and for those who busy themselves on the sea their livelihood from their fishing, and especially from their catches of pelamydes and dolphins. For the dolphins pursue the schools of fish – the cordyle, the tuna fish and the pelamydes themselves [all three would today be considered types of tuna fish] and they not only grow fat on them, but also become easy to catch because they are rather eager to approach the land. These are the only people who cut up the dolphins, which are caught with bait, and use their abundance of fat for all purposes.

(20) So it is these people, I think, that the poet calls Halizonians, mentioning them next after the Paphlagonians in his Catalogue: “But the Halizonians were led by Odios and Epistrophos, from Alybe far away, which is the birth-place of silver,” since the text has been changed from “Chalybe far away” or else the people were in earlier times called “Alybians” instead of “Chalybians.” For at the present time it proves impossible that they should have been called “Chaldaians,” deriving their name from “Chalybe,” if in earlier times they could not have been called “Chalybians” instead of “Alybians,” and that too when names undergo many changes, particularly among the barbarians.

[Digression on variant designations of peoples and variant readings of Homer]

For instance, certain of the Thracians were called Sintiians, then Sintians and then Saians, in whose country Archilochos says he flung away his shield: “One of the Saians robbed me of my shield, which, a blameless weapon, I left behind me beside a bush, against my will.” These same people are now named Sapaians, for all these have their abode around Abdera [in Thrace] and the islands around Lemnos island [in the northern Aegean]. Likewise the Brygans, Brygians, and Phrygians are the same people and the Mysians, Maionians and Meionians are the same, but there is no use in going on about the subject. The Skepsian doubts the alteration of the name from “Alybians to “Chalybians” and, failing to note what follows and what matches with it, and especially why the poet calls the Chalybians Halizonians, he rejects this opinion. As for me, let me place his assumption and those of the other critics side by side with my own and consider them.

[Digression on alternative location of Amazons near Kyme, according to Ephoros]

(21) Some change the text and make it read “Alazonians,” others “Amazons,” and for the words “from Alybe” they read “from Alope,” or “from Alobe,” calling the Scythians beyond the Borysthenes river “Alazonians,” and also “Kallipidians” and other names  – names which Hellanikos, Herodotos and Eudoxos have forced on us –  and placing the Amazons between Mysia, Caria, and Lydia near Kyme, which is also the opinion of Ephoros, who was a native of Kyme. And this opinion might perhaps not be unreasonable, for he may mean the country which was later settled by the Aiolians and the Ionians, but earlier by the Amazons. And there are certain cities, it is said, which got their names from the Amazons, I mean Ephesos, Smyrna, Kyme, and Myrina. But how could Alybe, or, as some call it, “Alope” or “Alobe,” be found in this region, and how about “far away,” and how about “the birth-place of silver”? {Yes, all very important, Strabo]. . . . [omitted material].

[Lesser Armenia and queen Pythodoris]

(28) Above the region of Pharnakeia and Trapezos are the Tibarenians and the Chaldaians, whose country extends to Lesser Armenia. This country is fairly fertile. Lesser Armenia, like Sophene, was always in the possession of rulers, who at times were friendly to the other Armenians and at times minded their own affairs. They held as subjects the Chaldaians and the Tibarenians, and therefore their empire extended to Trapezos and Pharnakeia. But when Mithridates Eupator had increased in power, he established himself as master, not only of Kolchis, but also of all these places, these having been ceded to him by Antipater, the son of Sisis. And he cared so much for these places that he built seventy-five fortifications in them and there deposited most of his treasures. The most notable of these fortifications were these: Hydara and Basgoidariza and Sinoria. Sinoria was close to the borders of Greater Armenia, and this is why Theophanes changed its spelling to Sinoria. For as a whole the mountainous range of the Paryadres [now known as the Pontic Mountains] has numerous suitable places for such strongholds, since it is well-watered and woody, and is in many places marked by sheer ravines and cliffs. At any rate, it was here that most of his fortified treasuries were built and at last, in fact, Mithridates fled for refuge into these furthest parts of the kingdom of Pontos. This is when Pompey invaded the country and, after seizing a well-watered mountain near Dasteira in Akilisene (near by, also, was the Euphrates, which separates Akilisene from Lesser Armenia), Mithridates stayed there until he was besieged and forced to flee across the mountains into Kolchis and from there to the Bosporos. Near this place, in Lesser Armenia, Pompey built a city, Nikopolis, which endures even to this day and is populous.

(29) Now as for Lesser Armenia, it was ruled by different persons at different times, according to the will of the Romans, and finally by Archelaos. But the Tibarenians and Chaldaians, extending as far as Kolchis, and Pharnakeia and Trapezos are ruled by Pythodoris [ca. 3 BCE-17 CE], a woman who is wise and qualified to preside over affairs of state. She is the daughter of Pythodoros of Tralles. She became the wife of Polemon and reigned along with him for a time. Then, when he died in the country of the Aspourgianians, as they are called, one of the barbarian peoples round Sindike, she succeeded to the ruler­ship. She had two sons and a daughter by Polemon. Her daughter was married to Kotys the Sapaian, but he was treacherously slain, and she lived in widowhood, because she had children by him and the eldest of these is now in power. As for the sons of Pythodoris, one of them as a private citizen is assisting his mother in the administration of her empire, whereas the other has recently been established as king of Greater Armenia. She herself married Archelaos [king of Cappadocia, ending reign in 17 CE] and remained with him to the end but she is living in widowhood now. Pythodoris is in possession not only of the places already mentioned, but also of others still more charming, which I will describe next.

(30) Sidene and Themiskyra are contiguous to Pharnakeia. And above these lies Phanaroia, which has the best part of Pontos, for it is planted with olive trees, abounds in wine, and has all the other goodly attributes a country can have. On its eastern side it is protected by the Paryadres mountain, in its length lying parallel to that mountain and on its western side by the Lithros and Ophlimos mountains. It forms a valley of considerable width as well as length and it is traversed by the Lykos river, which flows from Armenia, and by the Iris, which flows from the narrow passes near Amaseia [modern Amasya]. The two rivers met at about the middle of the valley and at their junction is situated a city which the first man who subjugated it called Eupatoria after his own name. But Pompey found it only half-finished and added to it territory and settlers, and called it Magnopolis. Now this city is situated in the middle of the plain, but Kabeira is situated close to the very foothills of the Paryadres mountains about one hundred and fifty stadium-lengths farther south than Magnopolis, the same distance that Amaseia is farther west than Magnopolis. It was at Kabeira that the palace of Mithridates was built, and also the water-mills and here were the zoological gardens, and, near by, the hunting grounds, and the mines.

(31) Here, also, is Kainon Chorion, as it is called, a rock that is sheer and fortified by nature, being less than two hundred stadium-lengths distant from Kabeira. It has on its summit a spring that sends out much water, and at its foot a river and a deep ravine. The height of the rock above the neck is immense, so that it is impregnable and it is enclosed by remarkable walls, except the part where they have been pulled down by the Romans. The whole country around is so overgrown with forests, and so mountainous and waterless, that it is impossible for an enemy to encamp within one hundred and twenty stadium-lengths. Here it was that the most precious of the treasures of Mithridates were kept, which are now stored in the Capitolium, where they were dedicated by Pompey.

Pythodoris possesses the whole of this country, which is adjacent to the barbarian country occupied by her, and also Zelitis and Megalopolitis. As for Kabeira, which by Pompey had been built into a city and called Diospolis, Pythodoris further adorned it and changed its name to Sebaste and she uses the city as a royal residence.

[Temple-state of Men of Pharnakes at Ameria]

It has also the temple of Men of Pharnakes, as it is called. The village-city Ameria, which has many temple-servants, and also a sacred territory, the fruit of which is always reaped by the ordained priest. The kings revered this temple so much that they proclaimed the “royal” oath as follows: “By the Fortune of the king and by Men of Pharnakes.” And this is also the temple of Selene [Moon goddess], like that among the Albanians and those in Phrygia, I mean that of Men in the place of the same name and that of Men Askaios near the Antiocheia that is near Pisidia and that of Men in the country of the Antiocheians.

[Temple-state of the goddess at Pontic Komana]

(32) Above Phanaroia is the Pontic Komana, which bears the same name as the city in Greater Cappadocia, having been consecrated to the same goddess and copied after that city. And I might almost say that the courses which they have followed in their sacrifices, in their divine obsessions, and in their reverence for their priests, are about the same, and particularly in the times of the kings who reigned before this, I mean in the times when twice a year, during the “excursions” of the goddess, as they are called, the priest wore a diadem and ranked second in honour after the king.

[Autobiographical aside on Strabo’s relationship to Pontic royalty]

(33) Previously I have mentioned Dorylaos the tactician, who was my mother’s grandfather, and also a second Dorylaos, who was the nephew of the former and the son of Philetairos, saying that, although he had received all the greatest honours from Mithridates Eupator and in particular the priesthood of Komana, he was caught trying to cause the kingdom to revolt to the Romans. And when he was overthrown, the family was cast into disrepute along with him. But long afterwards Moaphernes, my mother’s uncle, came into distinction just before the dissolution of the kingdom. Again they were unfortunate along with the king, both Moaphernes and his relatives, except some who revolted from the king beforehand, as did my maternal grandfather. My maternal grandfather, who saw that the cause of the king was going badly in the war with Lucullus and, at the same time, was being alienated from him out of anger at his recently having put to death his cousin Tibios and Tibios’ son Theophilos, set out to avenge both them and himself. Taking pledges from Lucullus, he caused fifteen garrisons to revolt against him. Although great promises were made in return for these services, when Pompey (who succeeded Lucullus in the conduct of the war) went over, he considered as enemies everyone who had in any way favoured Lucullus, because of the hatred which had arisen between himself and Lucullus. When Pompey finished the war and returned home, he won so completely that the Senate would not ratify those honours which Lucullus had promised to certain of the people of Pontos. For, he said, it was unjust, when one man had brought the war to a successful issue, that the prizes and the distribution of the rewards should be placed in the hands of another man.

[Administration under the Romans]

(34) Now in the times of the kings the affairs of Komana were administered in the manner already described. But when Pompey took over the authority, he appointed Archelaos priest [died ca. 55 BCE] and included within his boundaries, in addition to the sacred land, a territory of two schoinoi (that is, sixty stadium-lengths) in circuit and ordered the inhabitants to obey his rule. Now he was governor of these, and also master of the temple-servants who lived in the city, except that he was not empowered to sell them. And even here the temple servants were no fewer in number than six thousand.

This Archelaos was the son of the Archelaos who was honoured by Sulla and the Senate, and was also a friend of Gabinius, a man of consular rank. When Gabinius was sent into Syria, Archelaos himself also went there in the hope of sharing with him in his preparations for the Parthian war. But, since the Senate would not permit him, he dismissed that hope and found another of greater importance. For it happened at that time that Ptolemaios, the father of Kleopatra, had been banished by the Egyptians, and his daughter, elder sister of Kleopatra, was in possession of the kingdom. Since a husband of royal family was being sought for her, Archelaos proffered himself to her agents, pretending that he was the son of Mithridates Eupator. And he was accepted, but he reigned only six months. Now this Archelaos was killed by Gabinius in a pitched battle, when the latter was restoring Ptolemaios to his kingdom.

(35) But his son succeeded to the priesthood and then later, Lykomedes, to whom was assigned an additional territory of four hundred schoinoi. But now that he has been deposed, the office is held by Dyteutos son of Adiatorix, who is thought to have obtained the honour from Caesar Augustus because of his excellent qualities. For Caesar, after leading Adiatorix in triumph together with his wife and children, resolved to put him to death together with the eldest of his sons (for Dyteutos was the eldest). But when the second of the brothers told the soldiers who were leading them away to execution that he was the eldest, there was a contest between the two for a long time. This was the case until the parents persuaded Dyteutos to yield the victory to the younger, for he, they said, being more advanced in age, would be a more suitable guardian for his mother and for the remaining brother. So they say the younger was put to death with his father, whereas the elder was saved and obtained the honour of the priesthood. For learning about this, as it seems, after the men had already been put to death, Caesar was grieved, and he regarded the survivors as worthy of his favour and care, giving them the honour in question.

(36) Now Komana is a populous city and is a notable trading-centre for the people from Armenia. At the times of the “excursions” of the goddess, people assemble there from everywhere, from both the cities and the country, men together with women, to attend the festival. And there are certain others, also, who in accordance with a vow are always residing there, performing sacrifices in honour of the goddess. The inhabitants live in luxury, and all their property is planted with vines. There is also a large number of women who make gain from their persons [i.e. Strabo claims they are prostitutes], most of whom are dedicated to the goddess. In a way the city is a lesser Corinth, for there too, on account of the large number of prostitutes who were sacred to Aphrodite, outsiders resorted in great numbers and kept holiday. And the merchants and soldiers who went there squandered all their money, so that the following proverb arose in reference to them: “Not for every man is the voyage to Corinth.” Such, then, is my account of Komana.

[Temple-state of the Persian goddess Anaitis at Zelitis]

(37) The whole of the country around is held by Pythodoris, to whom belong, not only Phanaroia, but also Zelitis and Megalopolitis. Concerning Phanaroia, I have already spoken. As for Zelitis, it has a city Zela, fortified on a mound of Semiramis, with the temple of Anaitis, who is also revered by the Armenians. Now the sacred rites performed here are characterised by greater sanctity and it is here that all the people of Pontos make their oaths concerning their matters of greatest importance. The large number of temple-servants and the honours of the priests were, in the time of the kings, of the same type as I have stated before. But at the present time everything is in the power of Pythodoris.

Many persons had abused and reduced both the multitude of temple-servants and the rest of the resources of the temple. The adjacent territory, also, was reduced, having been divided into several domains. I mean Zelitis, as it is called (which has the city Zela on a mound). For in early times the kings governed Zela, not as a city, but as a sacred precinct of the Persian gods, and the priest was the master of the whole thing. It was inhabited by the multitude of temple-servants, and by the priest, who had an abundance of resources and the sacred territory as well as that of the priest was subject to him and his numerous attendants.

[Administration under the Romans]

Pompey added many provinces to the boundaries of Zelitis, and named Zela, as he did Megalopolis, a city, and he united the latter and Kouloupene and Kamisene into one state. The latter two border on both Lesser Armenia and Laviansene, and they contain rock-salt, and also an ancient fortress called Kamisa, now in  ruins. The later Roman prefects assigned a portion of these two governments to the priests of Komana, a portion to the priest of Zela, and a portion to Ateporix, a ruler of the family of tetrarchs of Galatia. But now that Ateporix has died, this portion, which is not large, is subject to the Romans, being called a province. This little state is a political organisation by itself, the people having incorporated Karana into it, from which fact its country is called Karanitis. On the other hand, the rest is held by Pythodoris and Dyteutos.

[Phazemonitis and surrounding area, near Strabo’s hometown of Amaseia]

(38) There remain to be described the parts of the Pontos which lie between this country and the countries of the Amisenians and Sinopeans, which latter extend towards Cappadocia, Galatia, and Paphlagonia. Now after the territory of the Amisenians, and extending to the Halys river, is Phazemonitis, which Pompey named Neapolitis, proclaiming the settlement at the village Phazemon a city and calling it Neapolis. The northern side of this country is bounded by Gazelonitis and the country of the Amisenians, the western by the Halys river, the eastern by Phanaroia and the remaining side by my country, that of the Amaseians [modern Amasya, Turkey], which is by far the largest and best of all.

Now the part of Phazemonitis towards Phanaroia is covered by a lake which is like a sea in size, is called Stephane, abounds in fish, and has all round it abundant pastures of all kinds. On its shores lies a strong fortress, Ikizari, now deserted and, near by, a royal palace, now in ruins. The remainder of the country is in general bare of trees and productive of grain. Above the country of the Amaseians are situated the hot springs of the Phazemonitians, which are extremely good for the health, and also Sagylion, with a stronghold situated on a high steep mountain that runs up into a sharp peak. Sagylion also has an abundant reservoir of water, which is now in neglect, although it was useful to the kings for many purposes.

At Sagylion Arsakes, one the sons of king Pharnakes, who was playing the ruler and attempting a revolution without permission from any of the prefects, was captured and slain. He was captured, however, not by force, although the stronghold was taken by Polemon and Lykomedes, both of them kings, but by starvation. This was because he fled up into the mountain without provisions, being shut out from the plains, and he also found the wells of the reservoir choked up by huge rocks. For this had been done by order of Pompey, who ordered that the garrisons be pulled down and not be left useful to those who wished to flee up to them for the sake of banditry. Now it was in this way that Pompey arranged Phazemonitis for administrative purposes, but the later rulers distributed also this country among kings.


(39) My city is situated in a large deep valley, through which flows the Iris river. Both by human foresight and by nature it is an admirably devised city, since it can at the same time afford the advantage of both a city and a fortress. For it is a high and precipitous rock, which descends abruptly to the river. On one side it has the wall on the edge of the river where the city is settled and on the other the wall that runs up on either side to the peaks. These peaks are two in number, are united with one another by nature, and are magnificently towered. Within this circuit are both the palaces and monuments of the kings. The peaks are connected by a neck which is altogether narrow, and is five or six stadium-lengths in height on either side as one goes up from the river-banks and the suburbs and from the neck to the peaks there remains another ascent of one stadium-length, which is sharp and superior to any kind of force. The rock also has reservoirs of water inside it, a water-supply of which the city cannot be deprived, since two tube-like channels have been hewn out, one towards the river and the other towards the neck. And two bridges have been built over the river, one from the city to the suburbs and the other from the suburbs to the outside territory. For it is at this bridge that the mountain which lies above the rock terminates. And there is a valley extending from the river which at first is not altogether wide, but it later widens out and forms the plain called Chiliokomon and then comes the Diakopene and Pimolisene country, all of which is fertile, extending to the Halys river. These are the northern parts of the country of the Amaseians, and are about five hundred stadium-lengths in length. Then in order comes the remainder of their country, which is much longer than this, extending to Babanomos and Ximene, which then itself extends as far as the Halys river.

This, then, is the length of their country, whereas the width from the north to the south extends, not only to Zelitis, but also to Greater Cappadocia, as far as the Trokmoi. In Ximene there are “halai” of rock salt, after which the river is supposed to have been called “Halys.” There are several demolished strongholds in my country, and also much deserted land, because of the Mithridatic war. However, it is all well supplied with trees, a part of it affords pasturage for horses and is adapted to the raising of the other animals and the whole of it is beautifully adapted to habitation. Amaseia was also given to kings, though it is now a province.

[Area around mount Olgassys]

(40) There remains that part of the Pontic province which lies outside the Halys river, I mean the country round mount Olgassys [Ilgaz], contiguous to Sinopis. Mount Olgassys is extremely high and hard to travel. And temples that had been established everywhere on this mountain are held by the Paphlagonians. And round it lies fairly good territory, both Blaene and Domanitis, through which latter flows the Amnias river. Here Mithridates Eupator utterly wiped out the forces of Nikomedes the Bithynian [reigning ca. 94–74 BCE]. Mithridates did not do this in person, however, since it happened that he was not even present, but through his generals. And while Nikomedes, fleeing with a few others, safely escaped to his home-land and from there sailed to Italy, Mithridates followed him and not only took Bithynia at the first assault but also took possession of Asia as far as Caria and Lycia. And here, too, a place was proclaimed a city, I mean Pompeioupolis and in this city is mount Sandarakourgion, not far away from Pimolisa, a royal fortress now in ruins, after which the country on either side of the river is called Pimolisene.

Mount Sandarakourgion is hollowed out in consequence of the mining done there, since the workmen have excavated great cavities beneath it. The mine used to be worked by publicans, who used as miners the slaves sold in the market because of their crimes. For, in addition to the painfulness of the work, they say that the air in the mines is both deadly and hard to endure on account of the grievous odour of the ore, so that the workmen are doomed to a quick death. What is more, the mine is often left idle because of the unprofitableness of it, since the workmen are not only more than two hundred in number, but are continually spent by disease and death. So much can be said concerning Pontos.

[For Strabo’s subsequent discussion Mysians, Galatians, Pisidians, and others in Anatolia, go to this link].

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