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Pontian Greeks
Έλληνες του Πόντου (Ρωμιοί)
Pontian Greek man in traditional clothes
Total population
c. 3,000,000
Regions with significant populations
Greece, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Armenia

Greek Orthodox Christianity, Muslim about 500.000 in black sea region present day

The Pontian Greeks (also called Pontic Greeks, Pontians or Greeks of Pontus; Greek: Πόντιοι, Ποντιακός Ελληνισμός or Έλληνες του Πόντου, Turkish: Pontus Rumları) are an ethnic group consisting of Greeks from the shores of the Black Sea and Pontus. They traditionally speak Pontic, a distinct form of the Greek language which, due to the remoteness of Pontus, has had a process of linguistic evolution different from that of the rest of the Greek world.


Greek colonization of the Black Sea area

Pontus region around Trebizond.

The first intimations of Greek presence in the Black Sea area can be traced back to Greek mythology. It is the region where Jason and the Argonauts sailed to find the Golden Fleece. The myth was formally documented by Apollonius of Rhodes in his work, the Argonautica. Modern historians date the expedition of the Argo around 1200 BC, based on the description given by Apollonius.

The first recorded Greek colony, established on the northern shores of ancient Anatolia, was Sinop, circa 800 BC. The settlers of Sinop were merchants from the Ionian Greek city state of Miletus. After the colonization of the shores of the Black Sea, known till then to the Greek world as Pontos Axeinos (Inhospitable Sea), the name changed to Pontos Euxeinos (Hospitable Sea). In time, as the numbers of Greeks settling in the region grew significantly, more colonies were established along the whole Black Sea coastline of what is now Turkey, Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, and Romania.

Greek population in Anatolia and Asia Minor in blue color, 1911.

The region of Trapezus, later called Trebizond, now Trabzon, was mentioned by Xenophon in his famous work Anabasis, describing how he and other 10,000 Greek mercenaries fought their way to the Euxine Sea after the failure of the rebellion of Cyrus the Younger whom they fought for, against his older brother Artaxerxes II of Persia. Xenophon mentions that when at the sight of sea they screamed 'Thalatta! Thalatta! ("The sea! The sea!"), the local people understood them. A whole range of trade flourished among the various Greek colonies, but also with the indigenous tribes who inhabited the Pontus inland. Soon Trebizond established a leading stature among the other colonies and the region nearby become the heart of the Pontian Greek culture and civilization.

This region was organized in circa 281 BC as a kingdom by Mithridates I of Pontus, whose ancestry line dated back to Ariobarzanes I, a ruler of the Greek town of Cius. The most prominent descendant of Mithridates I was Mithridates VI of Pontus, who between 90 and 65 BC fought the Mithridatic Wars, three bitter wars against the Roman Republic, before eventually being defeated. Mithridates VI the Great, as he was left in memory, claiming to be the protector of the Greek world against the barbarian Romans, expanded his kingdom to Bithynia, Crimea and Propontis before his downfall after the Third Mithridatic War.

Cardinal Bessarion (13951472) of Trebizond, a Pontian Greek scholar, statesman, and cardinal[1]

Nevertheless, the kingdom survived as a Roman vassal state, now named Bosporan Kingdom and based in Crimea, until the 4th century AD, when it succumbed to the Huns. The rest of the Pontus became part of the Roman Empire, while the mountainous interior (Chaldia) was fully incorporated into the Byzantine Empire during the 6th century. Pontus was the birthplace of the Komnenos dynasty, which ruled the empire from 1082 to 1185, a time in which the empire resurged from its ashes to recover much of Anatolia from the Seljuk Turks.

In the aftermath of the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the Empire of Trebizond was established by Alexios I of Trebizond, a descendant of Alexios I Komnenos, the patriarch of the Komnenos dynasty. This empire lasted for more than 250 years until it eventually fell at the hands of Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire in 1461, thus becoming the last part of the Greek world to succumb.

During the Ottoman period a number of Pontian Greeks converted to Islam either forcibly or willingly. On the eve of World War I, the Young Turk administration exerted a policy of assimilation and ethnic cleansing of the Christians in the Empire, which affected Pontian Greeks too. In 1916 Trabzon fell at the hands of the Russian Empire, fomenting the idea of an independent Pontian state. As the Bolsheviks rose to power with the October Revolution (7 November 1917), the Russian military withdrew from the region to participate in the Russian Civil War (1917–1923).

Pontian Greek women and children harvesting tea in the Black Sea town of Chakva, Georgia, ca. 1905-15. Photograph by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.

Once the Russians had evacuated Pontus, Greeks and Armenians in the region became the targets of irregular bands. Seeing the fate of Armenians, Pontian Greeks decided to resist in what became known as the Pontus resistance (αντάρτικο του Πόντου in Greek), which lasted up to 1924, the year when the population exchange between Greece and Turkey was agreed under the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne. While Christian Pontians were expelled to Greece the Muslim ones stayed.

Rumca, as the Pontian Greek language is known in Turkey, survives till today, mostly among older speakers. After the exchange most Pontian Greeks settled in Macedonia and Attica. Pontian Greeks inside the Soviet Union were predominantly settled in the regions bordering the Georgian SSR and Armenian SSR. They also had notable presence in Black Sea ports like Odessa and Sukhumi. About 100,000 Pontian Greeks, including 37,000 in the Caucasus area alone, were deported to Central Asia in 1949 during Stalin's post-war deportations. Big indigenous communities exist today in former USSR states, while through immigration large numbers can be found in Germany and Australia.

Persecution and population exchange

Like Armenians, Assyrians and other Ottoman Greeks, the Greeks of Pontus suffered ethnic cleansing at the beginning of the 20th century, first by the Young Turks and later by Kemalist forces. Death marches[2] through Turkey's mountainous terrain, forced labour in the infamous "Amele Taburu" in Anatolia and slaughter by the irregular bands of Topal Osman resulted in tens of thousands of Pontian Greeks perishing during the period from 1915 to 1922. In 1923, after hundreds of years, those remaining were expelled from Turkey to Greece as part of the population exchange between Greece and Turkey defined by the Treaty of Lausanne. In his book Black Sea, author Neal Ascherson writes:

The Turkish guide-books on sale in the Taksim Meydane offer this account of the 1923 Katastrofĕ: 'After the proclamation of the Republic, the Greeks who lived in the region returned to their own country [...].' Their own country? Returned? They had lived in the Pontos for nearly three thousand years. Their Pontian dialect was not understandable to twentieth-century Athenians.[3]

The suffering of the Pontian Greeks did not end upon their violent and forceful departure from the lands of their ancestors. Many Pontian Greek refugees perished during the voyage from Asia Minor to Greece. Notable accounts of these voyages have been included in Steve Papadopoulos’ work on Pontian culture and history. Pontian Greek immigrants to the United States from that era were quoted as saying:

Many children and elderly died during the voyage to Greece. When the crew realized they were dead, they were thrown overboard. Soon the mothers of dead children started pretending that they were still alive. After witnessing what was done to the deceased, they would hold on to them and comfort them as if they were still alive. They did this to give them a proper burial in Greece.



Some of the settlements historically inhabited by Pontian Greeks include:

Chersonesos, Kerkinitida, Panticapaeum, Soughdaia, Tanais, Theodosia.
Batis, Dioscurias, Germonassa, Gorgippa, Heraclea Pontica, Phanagoria, Phasis, Pitsunda, Sebastopolis.
Amasia, Aphene, Kerasounta, Kissa, Kromna, Amisos, Sinope, Themiscyra, Trapezounta, Bafra, Argyroupolis, Xeroiana (Sheroina), Ofis, Santa, Tonya, Matsouka, Galiana, Sourmena, Imera, Rizounta, Mouzena, Kotoiora, Livera, Platana, Kel Kit, Nikopolis, Kakatsis, Merzifounta, Tokat, Oinoe, Neokaisareia, Fatsa, Tripoli, Thermi, Hatzi-koi, Komana, Hopa, Athina, Koloneia, Gemoura, Ak-Dag Maten.
Kars, Kioumush Maten, Sevasteia, Tsoroum, Baibourt, Ata Pazar.
Mariupol, Antiphilos, Apollonia, Germonakris, Mesembria, Nikonis, Odessos, Olbia, Tira.


Nowadays, due to extensive intermarriage, the exact number of Pontian Greeks is unknown. After 1988, Pontian Greeks in the Soviet Union started to migrate to Greece settling in and around Athens and Thessaloniki. They are known as "Russian Pontians" (Ρωσσοπόντιοι) by the Greek public. In his 1998 movie From the Edge of the City (Από την άκρη της πόλης),[4] with dialogues in Greek, Pontian Greek and Russian, the film director Constantinos Giannaris, describes the life of a young "Russian Pontian" from Kazakhstan in the Athens' prostitution underworld. The largest communities of Pontian Greeks (or people of Pontian Greek descent) around the world are (according to Pontian Diaspora 2000):

There is also a sizeable Greek-speaking Muslim Pontian community of around 300,000 (in 1996) in Turkey, see Pontic Greek Muslims.


Traditional rural Pontian house.

The culture of Pontus has been strongly influenced by the topography of its different regions. In commercial cities like Trebizond, Samsunda, Kerasounda and Sinopi upper level education and arts flourished under the protection of a cosmopolitan middle class. In the inland cities such as Argyroupolis, the economy was based upon agriculture and mining, thus creating an economic and cultural gap between the developed urban ports and the rural centers which lay upon the valleys and plains extending from the base of the Pontic alps.


The rich cultural activity of Pontian Greeks is witnessed by the number of educational institutions, churches, and monasteries in the region. These include the Frontistirion of Trapezeus and Argyroupolis, built in 1682 and 1722 respectively, 38 highschools in the Sinopi region, 39 highschools in the Kerasounda region, a plethora of churches and monasteries, most notable of which are the St. Eugenios and Agia Sophia churches of Trapezeus, the monasteries of St. George and St. Ioannes Vazelonos, and arguably the most famous and highly regarded of all, the monastery of Panagia Soumela.


From Macuka (Matzouka, Maçka) Trabzon, Turkey. 1950s Kemençe, Davul, zurna traditional Pontian musical instruments.

Pontian music retains elements of Greek, Turkish, and Celtic music. The music is often fast in tempo and can sometimes be high-pitched. It is played primarily to be danced to, with dance steps substantially different from that of Greek and Turkish dancing. [1]

The prime instruments in Pontian musical are the kemenche or lyra which bears resemblance to its Cretan, Cypriot and Thracian counterparts. Also the davul, a type of drum, the zurna which varied from region to region with the one from Bafra sounding differently due to its bigger size, the Violi which was very popular in the Bafra region, the Kemane, an instrument closely related to the one of Kappadokia and highly popular in the Kerasounta and Kars regions. Finally worth mentioning are the Defi and Outi.


Pontian dance retains aspects of Persian and Greek dance styles. The dances called Horoi (Greek: Χοροί), singular Horos (Greek: Χορός), meaning literally "Dance" in both Ancient Pontian and Modern Greek languages, are circular in nature and each is characterized by distinct short steps. A unique aspect of Pontian dance is the tremoulo (Greek: Τρέμουλο), which is a fast shaking of the upper torso by a turning of the back on its axis. Like other Greek dances, they are danced in a line and the dancers form a circle. Pontian dances also resemble Persian and Middle Eastern dances because they are not led by a single dancer. The most renowned Pontian dances are Tik, Serra, Maheria or Pyrecheios, Kotsari and Karsilamas.

Notable Pontian Greeks

See also


  1. ^ Bunson, Matthew (2004). OSV's encyclopedia of Catholic history. Our Sunday Visitor Publishing. p. 141. ISBN 1592760260. "BESSARION, JOHN (c. 1395-1472) + Greek scholar, cardinal, and statesman. One of the foremost figures in the rise of the intellectual Renaissance"  
  2. ^ Library Journal Review of Not Even My Name by Thea Halo.
  3. ^ Ascherson, Neal (1996). Black Sea. p. 184. ISBN 978-0809015931.  
  4. ^ Apo Tin Akri Tis Polis


  • Asan, Ömer. Pontos kültürü. İstanbul: Belge Yayınları, 1996.
  • Halo, Thea. Not Even My Name. Picador. 2000. ISBN 978-0-312-26211-2.
  • Hofmann, Tessa, ed. Verfolgung, Vertreibung und Vernichtung der Christen im Osmanischen Reich 1912-1922. Münster: LIT, 2004. ISBN 978-3-8258-7823-8

External links

Simple English

Pontic Greeks, Pontian Greeks, Pontians or Greeks of Pontus (Greek: Πόντιοι, Ποντιακός Ελληνισμός or Έλληνες του Πόντου, Turkish: Pontus Rumları) can refer to Greeks specifically from the area of Pontus in the region of the former Empire of Trebizond on the Black Sea coast of Eastern Turkey, or in other cases more generally all Greeks from the shores of the Black Sea or the Pontus. Greeks from Trabzon traditionally speak Pontic Greek. The terms Pontic and Pontian can be used interchangeably.


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