Avrasya Üniversitesi

The History of Trabzon

The oldest source providing information about the city of Trabzon and the surrounding area is Xenophon’s “Anabasis”. In this work Xenophon describes how, after the death of his father, Dareios, Ataxerxes II rebelled against his brother, who was then emperor of Persia. He set out with an army of mercenaries from Sardes (Salihli) and encountered the army of the emperor at Kunaksa, near the Babylon of Kyros, governor of Western Anatolia. He recounts how the emperor’s army was defeated and the emperor killed, and describes the return of an army, consisting of ten thousand or so Hellenic mercenaries. This army passed through East Anatolia in a south-north direction in order to reach the Black Sea coast and from there to return by sea to their homeland. Xenophon, who was among the mercenaries, describes the regions they passed through and the people inhabiting these regions.

The ten thousand mercenaries passed through an area to the north of Erzurum referred to as Tav eli in Ottoman documents, which was the land of the Taoks, and from there to the land of the Khalybs. The latter were the most warlike of the peoples through whose land the army passed, and for this reason refrained from plunder, having to make do with the food they had plundered from the Taoks. The Ten Thousand marched through the land of the Khalybs and reached the Harposos (çoruh) river, whence they made their way into a plain in the land of the Scythians. Here they were able to over about 100 km in four days and reach the villages, where they obtained foodstuffs. From there they marched towards Gymnias, now Bayburt, or a nearby city.

The governor of the city gave them a guide who would ensure their safe passage through hostile lands. The latter assured Xenophon and his friends that he would take them to a place where they could see the sea in five days and they set out. When they reached the hostile areas the guide demanded that the soldiers burn villages and kill their inhabitants. Upon reaching Thekhes mountain on the fifth day , the cries of those who had climbed the mountain first in order to see the sea created panic in the ranks behind, for soldiers from the lands the mercenaries had burnt and plundered were lying in wait for them. A battle broke out between the rearguard and the enemy troops, some of whomwere killed or taken prisoner.

As each unit reached the shouting soldiers ahead of them, they, too, began to shout, the volume of which rose together with the number of troops. Xenophon, realising that there must be an important reason for all this, mounted his horse and, taking his cavalry with him, rushed to their aid. However, when Xenophon’s cavalry caught up with those in front, it emerged that they had been shouting “The sea! The sea!”, urging the others to make haste. Everybody was overjoyed and the mercenaries immediately collected stone and piled them in a heap. The guide, after receiving presents, showed them a village where they could be billeted and the road leading to the land of the Makrons, parting with them in the late afternoon in order to return to his own country.

When we evaluate, with the confidence that comes of a good knowledge of the geographical structure of the region, what Xenophon tells us about the various peoples he encounters, we can draw boundaries to the lands they inhabited and can safely say that after Gymnias, the guide led them in a north-easterly direction through what is now the Soðanlý Pass up into the mountains. The reason why the guide decided not to follow the shorter route through the Hart (Aydýntepe) Kemer Pass was, as Xenophon states, his desire to make them burn and plunder the enemy villages they passed through. These people, whose name is not stated by Xenophon, were the enemies of the Scythians, who inhabited the lands around Bayburt and Ýspir, and lived in the mountains of the Eastern Black Sea coast. Strabo, in his work “Geographia”, which he wrote in 18 A.D, refers to the Heptakometes, or the Byzers, who were their neighbours and perhaps it was the ancestors of these peoples who were referred to by Xenophon 400 years previously.

After the guide they had taken on at Gymnias had led the mercenaries through the Soðanlý Mountains so that they would burn and plunder the villages of the Scythians foes he made Xenophon and his friends follow the road, part of which is still used today, and, passing through the foothills of Kemer mountain to the west of the Soðanlý Pass, they reached Thekhes (Madur) mountain, from which they first saw the sea, on the fifth day.

The fact that the guide, by walking all night through enemy territory, was able to reach his own country indicates that he must have taken the shorter route via Madur, the Aþot Pass, Yarmice Ridge, the Kemer Pass and the Hart (Aydýntepe) road.

We can assume that Xenephon and his comrades saw the sea from a place near the summit of Madur Mountain, which lay between the latter and Polut mountain immediately to the west. From this place, where a historic road passes over the mountains, Cape Araklý and Araklý harbour are visible, just like a picture. There are also ruins reminiscent of the stone temple built by the Ten Thousand to express their joy. The fact that it was winter when Xenephon and his comrades marched through the mountains meant that there was no fog, thus making the sea and surrounding scenery visible.

The discovery of the ruins of a small castle almost square in shape and probably built by the Romans 3 km from this place, to the east of today’s Kalecik plateau is important because it indicates that this road was also used in later years.

Xenophon writes that the places they passed through after Thekhes mountain were in the land of the Makrons. On the first day they reached the river (today’s Karadere) which divided the territory of the Makrons from that of the Scythians. According to Xenophon, on the right bank of this river was a cliff which is the west wall of Polut Mountain and to the left of the river which had to be crossed was Yaðmurdere Suyu, a tributary of Karadere. Along the banks of this river grew dense thickets of young trees.

The Hellenes wanted to leave this area (known today asýatak) as quickly as posble, and for this reason cut down trees to facilitate their advance. The Makrons, dressed in hair shirts and carrying shields of plaited rush and spears were lying in wait on the other side of the river by the ford. They were shouting at one another to give encouragement and throwing stones. The latter, however, failed to strike anybody and fell into the water without inflicting injury.

At that moment a man in army of the Ten Thousand who had been taken prisoner and served in Athens came up to Xenophon, saying that he understood the language of the Makrons, adding “I suppose this must be my homeland. I’ll talk to them, if you have nothing against it.” First Xenophon asked who these people were, and was informed that they were Makrons. W’hen Xenophon asked “why did they oppose us and why do they want to be our enemies?’ the Makrons replied “Because you wished to enter our country with hostile intentions.”

The Hellenes told the Makrons that they had not come with hostile intentions, that they had been fighting against the Great King (Artaxerxes II, Emperor of Persia) and that they were trying to reach the sea so that they could return to their own country, whereupon both sides swore that they would be friends. Then the Makrons mingled with the Hellenes and helped them to ford the river.

The Makrons, who set up a market and sold food to the Hellenes, marched with them for three days as far as the Kolkh border, where there is a high mountain. There the Kolkhs had positioned themselves to launch an attack. The mountain in question is probably Seslikaya Mountain, where the Kuþtul Creek rises. The Hellene army of approximately 9,500 launched an assault which forced the Kolkhs to retreat from their positions and billeted themselves in the villages, where there was plenty of food to be had.

One day the soldiers, who had eaten poisonous (rhodedendron) honey, suffered from attacks of vomiting and diarrhoeia and were in a state of collapse; indeed, some of them even died. The sick Hellenes recovered after two or three days and marched seven parasangs (approximately 36,400 m) in two days, descending to the coast by the Deðirmendere Valley, which lies to the east of Trabzon.

Xenophon, who reached Trabzon in February, 400 B.C, states that Trabzon (Trapezus) was by the Black Sea (Pontus Eukseinos) and was a colony of Sinop set up in the land of the Kolkhs by the Hellenes.

The Ten Thousand rested in the Kolkh villages around Trabzon for thirty days and obtained a stock of food by pillaging the other Kolkh villages. The Hellenes of Trabzon sold food to the army and at the same times helped them to form friendly relations with the Kolkhs around Trabzon in particular.

The Ten Thousand continuously plundered the other Kolkh villages in the area. On the one hand they took precautions to ensure that they would not be attacked by the Kolkhs, who were gathering on the high peaks around Trabzon and on the other, discussed possible ways of returning to their homeland.

Because the majority proffered to travel home by sea, they sent an emissary to their homeland to find a fleet which would carry them home. However, they could not be sure of the success of this plan, so they borrowed battleships from the Hellenic colonists of Trabzon in order to appropriate sailing ships passing through the Black Sea. If they could not collect enough ships to transport the Ten Thousand to their homeland, they decided to ask the inhabitants of the coastal vil- lages to repair their roads, thus enabling them (the Ten Thousand) to leave the area as soon as possible.

The colonists gave them a ship with fifty oars but when the captain they had appointed decided to escape from the area, together with the ship, Xenophon’s army obtained another ship, this time with thirty oars, from the colonists. They brought all the ships they had appropriated, together with their cargoes, back to Trabzon and set out on raiding sorties along the coast. However, they were not always successful, for sometimes they would be attacked by the local people as they raided the village, or when they were returning to Trabzon, and some of their number killed.

Xenophon states that he took a commander called Kleainetos, the company of the latter and another company to plunder a dangerous area. He goes on to say that a number of the men were killed but that they continued to appropriate ships and plunder villages. However, he does not give any details of the people whose vil- lages they plundered.

Due to the fact that the colonists of Trabzon were friends with the Kolkhs whose villages were near the city, they did not give any assistance to Xenophon and his comrades as far as plundering was concerned. However, when food supplies within a one-day journey of Trabzon ran out, they provided a guide for the Ten Thousand. The former took them to the land of the Drils (today’s Torul) in a mountainous area to the south of Trabzon. Xenophon describes the Drils as the most warlike people in the region, adding that the Hellenes of the Trabzon colony had suffered much from their depredations.

The Drils abandoned and burnt villages that could not be defended, with- drawing to their capital, which was surrounded by deep valleys, in the mountains. An advance party of 2,000 went ahead and besieged the city but, realising that they would be unable to take this strongly fortified place, began to retreat. Then the Drils launched an assault on the advance party from behind, just as the retreat began. Realising that they would be unable to accomplish a rapid retreat, the Hellenes sent for help from the rest of their army in the rear.

The companies under Xenophon’s command that came to the aid of the advance party realised that retreat would be impossible without incurring heavy losses and resolved to capture the city. When the Hellenes had managed to cross the moat surrounding the city and breach its outer walls they entered the city. However, there was also an inner castle, from which Dril troops launched an attack. The steepness of the route along which they planned to escape and the impregnability of the city’s inner castle had left them in a diffýcult situation, which Xenophon described thus: “Whether we stayed or whether we retreated, it meant trouble for us.”

However, a fire which broke out in the city was their salvation. In order to escape from the Drils, who had taken up positions on top of the houses, thus surrounding them, the Hellenes set fire to the other houses and the wall of flame that rose between them allowed Xenophon’s army to retreat with considerable difficulty. All the buildings in the city except for the castle, all the houses, towers and stockades were destroyed.

The next day, however, the Hellenes were again attacked by the Drils as they advanced along the extremely steep and narrow roading leading to Trabzon.

Once back in Trabzon the Ten Thousand, realising that they could no longer obtain food supplies from Trabzon and its surroundings, put the sick and older members of their army on the ships they had appropriated and sent them back by sea. The remaining troops left Trabzon on foot, accompanied by guides from the city. Three days later they reached Kerasus (now Giresun).

Like Trabzon, Giresun was a colony of Sinop in the land of the Kolkhs. They remained there for ten days and inspected their arnýy. There had been about 9,800 in the army of the Hellenes but the loss of 1,200 men had left them with 8,600.

A tribe living in the mountains around Giresun had established friendly links with the Hellenic colonists in the city itself. Some of them would come to Giresun to sell animals for slaughter and other products, and to buy things from the market. Men from Xenophon’s army would go to the villages inhabited by this tribe to buy odds and ends and, thinking they would easily be able to plunder these small and defenceless villages, set out one night with this in mind. However, the people of the village saw the approaching troops in the light of the rising sun and realised what was about to happen. They immediately assembled and launched an attack on the raiders, killing most of them, leaving only a few survivors who fled to Giresun.

On the day the Ten Thousand were to leave Giresun, some of the elders of the tribe came to Giresun to speak with the commanders of the army and find out how they could have thought of plundering their villages, and to tell them they could come and collect their dead. However, under the provocation of the Hellenes who had managed to escape after the attack the three emissaries were stoned to death.

After leaving Giresun the Ten Thousand reached the border of the land of the Mossynoiks (Xenophon used this word, which in the Hellenes’ language meant “people who live in wooden houses” to refer to this tribe, who lived between Giresun and Ordu.) The Mossynoiks, trusting in the superiority offered by the high ground on which they lived, said they would not allow the Ten Thousand to pass through their lands upon which, with the assistance of the guides from Trabzon, contacts were established with the Western Mossynoiks, who lived further to the west and were the political enemies of the Eastern Mossynoiks. A meeting was held between Xenophon and the leaders of the Western Mossynoiks and an alliance formed against the Eastern Mossynoiks. According to the agreement reached, while they were launching an attack from the west they would also send auxiliary forces to fight together with the Hellenes and show them the way.

The following morning three hundred caiques, each carrying three men, arrived. Two of these men were to land and the caiques would return. Six companies of Mossynoik warriors, each comnsisting of one hundred men, joining in the song led by one of them, began to march and launched an attack on the castle in front of the capital. However, the enemy troops pouring out of the castle gained the upper hand in a short space of time, forcing them to retreat. The castle and city were taken with attacks launched the next day and people fleeing from these places were pursued as far as the more distant capital. The Mossynoiks, unable to contain the Hellenes’ assaults on the capital, either, abandoned the castle and retreated. Their king, who lived in a wooden tower house on the top of the hill on the taxes collected from the people and from public funds, just like the king of the first fortress that had been captured, refused to leave and was burnt to death in the fire that destroyed his residence.

The Hellenes, who left the places they had captured to their Mossynoik allies, continued their march from the Mossynoik cities, which resembled the cities of today in that they lay about 10 km distant from one another. In eight days they had reached the sparsely-populated land of the ironmining Khalybs, who had adopted Mossynoik nationality.

The Khalybs were the most renowned of the tribes that inhabited the Black Sea region through which Xenophon’s army passed. According to what we have learnt from the information he has given us, in spite of no mention being made of the Makrons, Kolkhs and Mossynoiks, or of Trabzon in older sources the Khalybs were referred to in ancient records and were also known in Western Anatolia and the Aegean.

The Khalybs, who were famous for their iron-mining and were mentioned in Homer’s “Iliad” as Alybs or Alizonians, were described by Xenophon in the same terms too but it is also stated that they had adopted Mossynoik nationality. Although , the word “alizon” meant “people who live on the seashore” in the Hellenic language, Bilge Umar points out that it might have come from the word “ali”, which meant “sea” or “salt” in the Ancient Hellenic language

(the Luwi/Pelasgos language). This, too, could indicate that there was a link between this renowned tribe of iron-miners and the coast, just as much as with the Þebinkarahisar area in which the alum mines were, andthe mountainous area to the north.

The Hellenes then reached the land of the Tibarenians (in other words, the area around the Turnasuyu Creek to the east of what is now Ordu) and, marching for 2 days through the land of the Tibarenians, which occupied a relatively flat coastal strip with one or two areas of high ground, they reached Kotiora, a colony of Sinop near the present city of Ordu.

As stated at the end of Xenophon’s work, the Makrons, Kolkhs and Mossynoiks lived in the Trabzon area, where Xenophon’s army marched after Bayburt, and they were independent of the satrapes of the Persian kings in Anatolia and had their own laws. They also had armies of their own to defend them. Because the valleys in which they lived did not provide enough food and other necessities they were always on good terms with the other tribesin the surrounding area, and with traders coming from outside their region. Until some event which threatened their existence took place they remained peaceful. However, when there was a threat they would swiftly gather and work out a joint defence plan. Although they spoke different languages and had different customs and traditions, their common features must have been their courage, pride and self confidence.

These peoples engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry. They also made wine, and salted and preserved the meat of the dolphins they hunted. Together with this, they produced fish oil, which they used just like olive oil. Hazelnuts, walnuts and chestnuts occupied an important place in their diet. These they boiled or roast in the oven.

As Xenophon describes how they captured the capital of the Mossynoiks capital and another nearby city and plundered it, he states that in the larders of these people they encountered loaves of bread left over from the previous year, together with the same year’s grain, going on to say that this was spelt wheatstill on the stalk. This immediately recalls the heads of maize hung up to dry under the eaves of houses or in barns in the villages of the Black Sea region today. Perhaps the “spelt wheat” that Xenophon mentions was lazot or lazut, a kind of millet grown in the region before maize, and the word was also used to refer to maize because it resembled this type of millet. The region’s most famous product, used to defeat invading armies, was poisonous (rhodedendron) honey. There is no doubt that their cities, which were about 10 km distant from one another, and villages on the steep sides of valleys were linked by narrow paths but according to Xenophon, the cities along the coast also had road systems and many sailing ships, both large and small, plied in the Black Sea.

In order to trade with the peoples of the Black Sea coast the Miletians had set up colonies similar to the ones of the Phrygians before them, some of them being on the same sites. If we evaluate the information provided by Xenophon about the system of colonies emanating from Sinop, that is, Trabzon, Giresun and Ordu, it emerges that although they coexisted peacfully with many of the local tribes, they founded their colonies in places which could be defended from any threat coming from inland, setting up markets near these cities in order to trade with their neighbours. They also possessed warships to deal with any threat coming from the sea.

  • The Pontos Kingdom
  • The Roman Period
  • The Byzantine Period
  • Trabzon and the Ottomans