Where on Earth is Pontus and Bithynia?
The Kingdom of Pontus at its height: before the reign of Mithridates VI (dark purple), after his early conquests (purple), and his conquests in the first Mithridatic wars (pink)
Where Science Meets Religion by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD, for the Come Follow Me lesson November 20-26: 1 and 2 Peter
Peter stated in 1 Peter 1:1, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia…” Where?
The name “Pontus” is derived from the Greek name Πόντος (Póntos) meaning “sea.” Εύξεινος Πόντος (Eúxinos Póntos), which means “Hospitable Sea,” was the Greek name of the Black Sea. The area called Pontus was originally a region along the southeast edge of the Black Sea (the dark purple area in the map above) in what is now Turkey. It was on the northern fringes of the Hittites and was colonized by Greeks sometime around 800 – 480 BC. The Kingdom of Pontus was held by the Persian Mithridatic dynasty from 281 BC to about 63 BC, when the area was conquered by the Romans. Mithradates VI (135–63 BC) was the greatest of the Mithridatic family, and he ruled the empire from 120 to 63 BC. He expanded the empire to include nearly all of modern-day Turkey (see map).1
Galatia was the area south and west of Pontus in today’s Turkey. The area was named for the Gauls, who settled there in the 3rd century BC. Cappadocia is a region in what is now central Turkey. The term means a place below, or the low country. The area is bounded by the Taurus Mountains to the south, Pontus to the north, the Euphrates on the east, and on the west by Lycaonia and Galatia. During the Bronze Age, Cappadocia was the homeland of the Hittites, of Bible fame.2
The term “Asia” originated from the Greek word Ἀσία,which may have been derived from the Bronze-Age term Assuwa, the name for the area on the east shore of the Aegean Sea.3 The name was originally confined to just a portion of modern-day Turkey and was not used in reference to the entire continent until later. Bithynia was the area along the southwest edge of the Black Sea, west of Pontus and east of the Sea of Marmara and the Bosporus. Bithynia was named for the Bithyni, a band of people who migrated into the area from the Balkans during the early Iron Age.4
Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia had in common that they were all part of the Kingdom of Pontus under the expanded Mithridatic dynasty, but under the general oversite of Rome. During the Roman civil war between Caesar and Pompey, Pompey invaded the region in 48 BC, defeating a Roman army at Nicopolis. Caesar reacted rapidly and defeated Pompey at Zela, where he uttered the famous phrase “Veni, vidi, vici”, “I came, I saw, I conquered.” The Pontus kingdom continued to be ruled by local kings, under Roman control, until Polemon II, who had been appointed King of Pontus by the Emperor Caligula in 38 AD, was forced to abdicate most of Pontus to Nero in 62 AD.5 This transition period is the time when 1st Peter was written.6
I can find no historic information as to whether the common citizens of Pontus cared one way or the other that they had gone from being a Roman satellite state to a Roman province. The change may not have affected their personal lives one iota. Peter’s letter does not seem to convey any of the human drama of the time — except there may be a few hints in his first letter. Could he have been alluding to this political change in 1 Peter 4:12-13? “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”
Maybe nothing had actually changed for the common people, for Peter advised in 1 Peter 2:13-14, 17-18, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well ... Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.”
Of course, according to Bible Hub, the word “king” in the King James Bible should have been translated as “emperor.” But the King James Bible was written for “King James,” not an “emperor,” so it was only fitting for the scholars making the translation to tell the British and Scots to “Honour the king.”
Trent Dee Stephens, PhD
1. Hewsen, Robert H., Armenians on the Black Sea: The Province of Trebizond, In, Richard G. Hovannisian, ed., Armenian Pontus: The Trebizond-Black Sea Communities., CA: Mazda Publishers, Inc., Costa Mesa, 2009
2. Van Dam, R., Kingdom of Snow: Roman rule and Greek culture in Cappadocia, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2002
3. Collins, Billie Jean et al., Anatolian Interfaces: Hittites, Greeks and their Neighbours, Oxbow Books, p. 120, 2010