Introduction to the Pontian-Greek History
Dr. Konstantinos Fotiadis
Professor of History at the University of Thessaloniki and the Pedagogic College Florina
The presence of Greeks at the Euxeinos Pontos, the Black Sea, dates back to early times. Research suggests that in the period around 1000 BC first trading adventures in this area took place, searching mainly for gold and minerals.
The trip of Jason and the Argonauts to Kolchis, the adventures of Ulysses in the country of the Cimmerians, the punishment of Prometheus by Zeus and the arresting of his body to the mountains of Caucasus, the sailing of Hercules on the Black Sea and other Greek myths related to this area, testify the existence of ancient trading routes.
In the 8th century BC, the only occasionally occupied trading posts began to develop into permanent settlements. The town of Miletus was the first to start its colonization politics at the Black Sea by founding its daughter-city Sinope that proved to have great advantages with its useful harbor and its accessibility towards the hinterland. In a similar pattern numerous cities with large populations emerged in the course of time, strong centers with important sea trade and strong cultural influence.
Archaeological excavations and plenty of written sources of the classical and post-classical period have unveiled interesting testimonies about the organization of these settlements, of their economic activities and of the trade and political relations with their colonial mother-cities, with other Greek cities and also with indigenous people.
In the first centuries of their existence the colonies remained in the same patterns of social and political organization as their colonial mother-towns.
The predominance of the Greek cities in the political life of the region becomes apparent by the reaction of the local people who took over Greek culture and Greek thinking out of their own will. In the period of Alexander the Great and his successors, the economic power of the Greek cities peaked. The impact of the Greek culture on the indigenous people remained strong and helped to develop their social and cultural systems.
Under the reign of the Pontian king Mithridates VI Eupator, the Greek language became official language of the many and therefore polyglot people of Asia Minor.
Even in Roman times, the Greek culture in the eastern part of the Black Sea retained its freedom, its independence and self-determination as well as its leading role in the economic and cultural life of that region.
Christianity arrived in Pontos very early by the apostles St. Andrew and St. Peter. Both of them and also later the church fathers profited from the fact that in most of the hellinized indigenous societies the spoken language was Greek. By the spread of Christianity, Greek culture and national identity was in turning transferred to these people. As a result, a homogenous culture emerged, based on the uniting element of Orthodoxy.
The capture of Constantinople by the Franks in 1204, resulted in the splitting of the Byzantine Empire into small Frankish states, but also in the foundation of smaller Greek empires. Alexios, a member of the dynasty of the Komnenes, and his brother David, founded with the help of their aunt, the Georgian queen Thamar, in Pontos the Empire of the Great Komnenes of Trebizond. The up to that point unimportant city achieved a place in world’s history by this coincidence.
The fall of Constantinople (1453) and, eight years later of Trebizond (1461) mark one of the greatest fractures in Greek history. Immediately after the seize of Trebizond by the Ottomans, many inhabitants of the rich coastal towns and the villages fled. Most of them escaped into the remote mountain regions of Pontos. Here, out of the sight of the new rulers, they founded new villages and cities, a new and free Greek civilization.
However, part of the refugees settled in central Russia, at the coasts of southern Russia, in the region of Georgia, Armenia and Kazakhstan, where they founded new Greek cities, cultural centers, to which persecuted Greeks were gracefully received also in later years.
This in turn resulted in the simultaneous existence of a second Pontian-Greek civilization, particularly in Russia, which through the whole period of Ottoman reign, grew by migration of refugees.
Only in Russia half a million Pontians existed. By the year 1918 the total population grew up to 650,000 people. On the opposite shore of the Black Sea, on Turkish territory, the history and culture of the Pontians and also of the other Greek-born inhabitants came to a tragic end through the treaty of Lausanne in 1923. This treaty brought about the forceful expulsion of Greek people living on Turkish territory; a process called «the Catastrophe of Asia Minor» in Greek history.
The criteria for the exchange in the treaty of Lausanne was the religious dependency, which had the effect that Greeks which had turned themselves to Islam in 17th century, did not become part of the exchange. This explains why inhabitants in regions around the Pontian towns Tonya, Ophis, Sourmena and Matsouka still today, 75 years after the Catastrophe of Asia Minor live in Turkey and speak their Pontian-Grek dialect. They remember their Greek despondence and preserve their Greek and even Christian traditions.
Pontians living in the territory of the former Soviet Union are still estimated to be half a million people who stick to their Pontian-Greek traditions to the extent as that is permitted by the Commonwealth of Independent States.
The Pontians managed – like all persecuted and in the first years disadvantaged refugees – to heal the wounds of their fate by diligent and honest behavior. In their respective new home countries they preserved their tradition, songs and dances, in short: their culture.
Those who settled in former times especially in boarder areas, continue today to be boarder guards, diligent, honest and progressive.