Cappadocia, Hadrian's travels, Hadrian1900, Pontus

Autumn AD 123 – Hadrian reaches Trapezus and sails westwards along the Pontic coast (#Hadrian1900)

After his inspection tour of the eastern frontier provinces (see here), Hadrian travelled through the Pontic mountains to the Black Sea port of Trapezus (present-day Trabzon), the northernmost end of the Cappadocian limes. Trapezus was one of the furthest points reached by Hadrian, and in the AD 130s, his friend L. Flavius Arrianus, as governor of the province of Cappadocia, would report on his visit, following in the footsteps of Xenophon and the Ten Thousand.

We came in the course of our voyage to Trapezus, a Greek city in a maritime situation, a colony from Sinope, as we are informed by Xenophon, the celebrated historian. We surveyed the Euxine sea with the greater pleasure, as we viewed it from the same spot, whence both Xenophon and yourself had formerly observed it.

Hadrian’s journey in 123-125.
Map created by Simeon Netchev for Following Hadrian (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

Xenophon and his later great admirer Arrian both described Trapezus as a Greek city settled on the sea and as a colony of Sinope. Eusebius, who lived in the 4th century AD, dated the foundation of Trebizond as 756 BC but may refer to an early emporium (a place of fishery and commerce) in the territory of Colchis. Settlers from Sinope of Paphlagonia (colonists from Miletus), a Greek city on the southern shore of the Euxine (Black Sea), about 400 kilometres to the west, refounded the city around 630 BC with the aim of trading with an inland tribe, the Mossynoeci (Xenophon, Anabasis 5.5.10), and taking advantage of the rich metal region of the east Euxine trade network (Doonan, 2010).

The city was laid out on a flat rock overlooking the sea and protected on either side by deep ravines, the shape of which occasioned the name of Trapezous, from the Greek word trapeza (“τράπεζα”), signifying a table. The table appears on the reverse of the city’s first coins minted in the 4th century BC, surmounted by a huge bunch of grapesThe obverse bears the head of a young bearded man, thought to represent the god Hermes. The town’s name has varied over the centuries: Trapezous, Trebizond, Trebisonda, Trapezunte, Tarabzundah and Trabzon.

A silver drachma coin from Trapezus (Trapezus) with the head of a bearded male (Hermes?) on the observe and a table with grapes on the reverse. The ethnicon TPA appears between the legs of the table. Dated to the 4th century BC.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Although the natural harbour facilities were poor, Trapezus benefited from its position on the busy trade route between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean and hosted many civilisations throughout its history. The Cimmerians, Medes, Persians and Macedonians were among the earlier rulers of the port city. Trapezus grew quickly and was a focal point for the Pontic kings in the Hellenistic period, reaching its zenith under Mithradates VI Eupator (c. 115–63 BC). The annexation of the Pontic kingdom and its incorporation into the Roman Empire gave Trapezus and the Black Sea new prominence.

During the era of Emperor Nero, the city was declared a free city (Pliny, Nat6.4) and served as a supply base for the Armenian campaign of Corbulo against Tiridates I (Tacitus, Annals 13.39), who installed Roman garrisons there. Vespasian later developed the area, building new roads linking to the legionary fortress at Satala and ultimately to the upper Euphrates. It became the headquarters of the Pontic fleet (classis Pontica). Inscriptions show that it was garrisoned during the 2nd century AD by vexillations from both the Cappadocian legions, Legio XII Fulminata and Legio XV Apollinaris and assumed increasing importance as a supply port for the Euphrates frontier (CIL 03, 06745 & AE 1975, 0783). With Roman sailors and legionnaires stationed there for over 200 years, Trapezus flourished as a major trading city.

The limes route as shown in the Peutinger Table.

The entire fortification walls of Trabzon, going back as far as the 5th century BC and enlarged and restored in the Ottoman period, stretched from a high hill to the Black Sea coast, dividing the city into three parts: the “lower fortress” (Aşağıhisar), “middle fortress” (Ortahisar) and “upper fortress” (Yukarıhisar). The Romans re-fortified the upper citadel and city enclosure (A & B on the map) at the southern end of the rock. The walls of Roman masonry are still visible today at places around Trabzon Kalesi.

A plan of the fortifications of Trebizond. Engraved and printed by Wagner & Debes for Armenia, travels and studies, Vol.1 (1901) by Lynch, H. F. B. (1862-1913).
Roman foundation below the north-west corner of Trabzon Kalesi.

The upper town appears to have occupied the ground around the fourth-century Panagia Chrysokephalos (now the Fatih Mosque), the oldest church in Trapezus founded by Flavius Hannibalianus, nephew of Constantine the Great. Incorporated into the lintel of the inner north door of the church is a monumental Greek dedication to Hadrian. The 2.5m long block of grey marble is considered the largest single inscribed stone in Pontus (Mitford, 1974). Sadly, the block of marble is now entirely covered by an Arabic inscription (see here). Mitford was able to photograph the inscription and the original surface, albeit only a single band surviving at the bottom, 9 cm high, and preserving only four words.

The presence of a dedication to Hadrian may reasonably be associated with the imperial visits. Hadrian visited Trapezus twice, in 123 and 129, on his second eastern journey. The visits are certified by Arrian, who was charged by the emperor to go on an inspection trip around the Black Sea and check on the progress of construction projects he had initiated in the region. Arrian’s report, known as the Periplus of the Euxine Sea, provides information on Hadrian’s benefactions to Trapezus. In inspecting the city in AD 131, he reported on the recent erection of a local sanctuary that had fallen into disrepair. The sanctuary was devoted to the Greek god Hermes and the imperial cult. It contained a stone temple with a statue of Hermes and Philesios within, two engraved stone altars and an effigy of Hadrian. The dedication could have been associated with these structures (Mitford, 1974).

After visiting the site of the temple, Arrian complained about the existing cult statue of Hermes and requested Hadrian to dispatch a new one, specifying that it had to be about five feet tall (1.52 m) to suit the temple’s proportions. In addition, he asked for a smaller statue of Philesios, a local god or divine hero believed to be Hermes’ descendant, to be placed in the temple as synnaos and symbomos (temple-sharing and altar-sharing deity). Philesios was also the epithet of Apollo in Miletus (Pliny NH 34.75), so it might be possible that Hermes was locally associated with Philesios due to the strong Milesian influence in these regions (Trapezus was a colony of Sinope, which in its turn was a colony of Miletus) and inherited the cult of Apollo Philesios from the mother-city. The triad of Hermes, Philesios and Hadrian represented the main cult of the city, at least at that time. 

Bird-eye view over Trabzon. Photo: İhlas News Agency

The temple there is built of squared stone and not unrespectable; but the statue of Hermes is worthy neither of the temple nor the locality itself. Wherefore, if you would think proper, send to me a statue of Hermes of not more than five feet in height, as such a size seems well proportioned to that of the building. I request also a statue of Philesios of four feet in height; for it seems to me reasonable that the latter should have a temple and an altar in common with his ancestor. Periplus 3

During rescue excavations led by the Directorate of Trabzon Museum in 1997 in the district of Tabakhane, a life-sized (c. 1.65 metres tall) bronze statue of a youth, complete with its pedestal, was unearthed. Smashed into several pieces by a fallen column, the statue was meticulously reassembled. The figure is commonly said to be representing Hermes of Trapezus. However, the naked youth has two small horns on his forehead and is crowned with a wreath of grapes, suggesting a connection with Dionysus (see close-up here). It has been suggested that the statue may represent Philesios (Gül, 2014). Its height is close to the dimensions of Arrian’s desired statue. In that case, it would be a 2nd-century AD copy of Apollo Philesios’ original statue, sculpted in bronze by Canachus of Sicyon in the 6th century BC, which had been carried off during the Persian sack and returned by Seleucus I.

Hermes statue in the basement of the Trabzon Museum.
Public Domain.

Architectural fragments were also found beside the bronze statue (2 column capitals, 4 column bases, 15 broken columns of various thicknesses, 7 pieces of architrave of various sizes, and 3 fragments of broken frieze with reliefs). The Museum Director identified the columns as remains from the Temple of Hermes reported by Arrian, which stood on Tabakhane Hill. Today, they are exhibited in the Garden of the 13th-century Hagia Sophia church. Hermes was supposed to protect all men who travelled upon the earth, so travellers would sacrifice to Hermes and Philesios before leaving on voyages around the Black Sea, as Arrian himself did. To be granted a safe journey, he had an ox slaughtered, then examined the entrails of the animal sacrificed and performed a libation upon them as an offering to the gods.

These architectural remnants, said to have been quarried in Giresun, were identified as the remains of Hadrian’s Temple of Hermes. Garden of the Ayasofya Museum.

Trapezus issued imperial coins from Trajan (AD 113/14) to Philip the Arab (AD 244/5), but we have no emissions of Hadrian’s time, and the cult image of Hermes only appears on coins minted under Elagabalus one hundred years later. Hermes is depicted as a nude youth with one foot on a rock, bending over and tying a sandal. This is the Hermes Fastening his Sandal (also called Sandal binder), which exists in several sculptural versions, all Roman marble copies of a lost Greek bronze dating to the 4th century BC, very close to the style of Lysippos. One such sculpture comes from Hadrian’s Villa (see here), but the best-preserved example comes from Hadrian’s Gate in Perge (see here). Could this be the type of Hermes sent by Hadrian to Trapezus? The sculpture’s actual height (1.54 m for the Hermes of Hadrian’s Villa and 1,47 m for the Hermes of Perge) almost exactly matches Arrian’s requirements. The discovery of at least two replicas associated with Hadrian also proves his affinity for this type of statue (Mosch, 2013).

Coin of Elagabalus minted in Trapezus with Hermes Fastening his Sandal on the reverse. Dated to 218/219. RPC VI, 6621.
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (link)

On the altars erected in the Hermes sanctuary, possibly erected as a memorial of Hadrian’s visit, Arrian reported that they were in rough stone and that the Greek inscription was inaccurately carved, as though written by barbarians. He was so dissatisfied with them that he rebuilt them in white stone and had them re-engraved with clearly cut lettering. Arrian goes on to report that the cult statue of Hadrian pointing towards the sea, surely locally produced, was poorly made and not in good likeliness. He was so unimpressed by the emperor’s effigy that he asked Hadrian to send a replacement.

Your statue, which stands there, has merit in the idea of the figure, and of the design, as it represents You pointing towards the sea; but it bears no resemblance to the original, and the execution is in other respects but indifferent. Send therefore a statue worthy to be called Yours, and of a similar design to the one which is there at present, as the situation is well calculated for perpetuating, by these means, the memory of any illustrious person.

Hadrian’s statue is the only one whose height Arrian does not specify, but it must have been the largest standing in the sanctuary (Boatwright, 2000). The pose of the imperial statue pointed towards the sea, and perhaps also to the harbour which Hadrian had built for the classis Pontica, until this time without shelter in bad season and proper anchorage (Peripl. 1). The new harbour project was possibly a result of his inspection of the area in 123.

Here You are constructing a harbour, as there was formerly only an anchorage, where ships might ride in safety during the summer season.

Hadrian’s harbour lay immediately below the lower city. Its ruins were discovered in the 1800s by Scottish historian George Finlay (1799-1875) and French archaeologist Charles Texier (1802-1871), who said they could be seen underwater, locally known as the Molos. Finlay marked on his map ‘ruins of port’ and two moles directly extending the north-south walls of the ancient city (see here). In 1842, English traveller William Francis Ainsworth noted in ‘Travels and Researches in Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Chaldea and Armenia’ that ‘the Emperor Adrian constructed here an artificial port, the remains of which are visible in the present day’. The moles could still be seen in the 1960s. The coastal road, constructed after 1964, completely destroyed the Molos harbour (Mitford, 2014).

An old photograph showing the semi-submerged piers of Hadrian’s artificial harbour, locally known as the Molos.
A general view of Trabzon with the two semi-submerged piers.
Source: H. Hepworth, Through Armenia on Horseback, London, 1898

In 2020 and 2021, rescue excavations following ongoing urban transformation projects in the Pazarkapı district of Trabzon revealed structures from the Roman and Byzantine periods, including ancient Roman dock structures, a section of the fortification walls constructed during the reign of Justinian, and a 150-200 metre long defensive structure and waterway from the late Byzantine period. The dock structures are thought to be the remains of the inner harbour walls built by Hadrian, found 4-6 meters below the ground and 500 m inland from the present-day coastline (see video here).

A section of the southeast corner of the city’s first city wall, also dating to the time of Hadrian, was also revealed (see video here). Many roof tiles from the Roman period were unearthed, as well as an inscribed cut stone with two lines of inscription on the short side containing the letters “N DCCXX” on the bottom line, which can be deciphered as number 720. These structures will be presented to the public as part of an open-air museum expected to be completed in 2024.

Remains of the inner harbour wall, thought to belong to Hadrian’s harbour, were discovered under a demolished Market building.
A section of the southeast corner of the Hadrianic city walls.
Inscribed cut stone block, thought to belong to the harbour wall or one of the harbour structures, with the text “N DCCXX” on the bottom line.

As the only port in the region, Trabzon preserved its importance throughout its history. Legio I Pontica was based there in the Late Empire (CIL III, 236) to help defend Pontus Polemoniacus, the newly created province. Justinian further reorganised the area in AD 536 and reconstructed most of the churches in Trapezus, and his great inscription above the eastern gate of the city commemorated the reconstruction of the civic walls at his expense following an earthquake (Mitford, 214). He also built the aqueduct and named it after the martyr Eugenios (Procopius, Buildings, 3.7), who was persecuted during the reign of Diocletian and Maximian. The Byzantine period saw the old trade route gain more importance, and in the 8th-10th centuries, Trapezus was a major commercial centre. Trapezus later became the capital of the Empire of Trebizond, established in the 13th century. In 1461, Trebizond fell under Ottoman rule.

Arrian seems to imply that Hadrian travelled a little further eastwards to the nearby port town of Hyssus (“as you know” Peripl. 4), 180 stadia east of Trapezus, where an infantry cohort garrison (cohors Apuleia civium Romanorum) was stationed. Trapezus was the starting point of the Pontus-Caucasian defence system extending along the coast of Colchis, a region on the east coast of the Black Sea celebrated in Greek mythology as the destination of the Argonauts.

Map of the eastern end of the Black Sea.
© The Frontiers of the Roman Empire (FRE)

The largest Roman stronghold along the Colchian coast was the fort of Apsarus (Gonio, near Batumi in the southwest of Georgia), established on the left bank of the mouth of the Chorokhi river under Nero and located 1000 stadia from Trapezus (Pliny, NH, 6; Arrian, Peripl. 7). Arrian inspected the fort in the early 130s and recorded the presence of five cohorts (approximately 1,200-1,500 men). Their purpose was to guarantee safe navigation along the coast, protect traffic from pirates, which had been particularly strong on this coast, and keep watch over the coastal tribes.

At this place five cohorts are stationed, to whom we delivered their pay, and inspected their arms, the walls, and the ditch, their sick, and their present stock of provisions. Arrian, Peripl. 7

Aerial view of Apsarus. The fort of Apsarus was rectangular in plan, 4.75 ha in area, 222 m long and 195 m wide. The walls were 5 m wide, rising to 7 m at the corners, where the towers stood. Excavations revealed monumental constructions of public function: the principia, praetorium, barracks, two baths, the market and artisans’ districts and water and sewerage systems.
Photo: კოლხი (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Tile stamps show that legionaries of the V Macedonica and XV Apollinaris were also part of the 2nd-century garrison of Apsarus (Sakartvelo, 2022), while bronze coins with Legio X counterstamps provide evidence of the presence of the legion in this area. Not only was Apsaros a strong military base, but it was also an important urban point. Development peaked in the reign of Hadrian, and its development is attested by the construction of the praetorium (Headquarters Building), in which a foundation deposit contained three Hadrianic silver cistophori struck in Laodicea ad Lycum (RPC III, 1399) and Ephesus (RPC III, 1332). At a distant location like Apsarus, the cistophori, which had a circulation restricted to the province of Asia, must be considered quite exceptional (Jaworski, 2021). About Apsarus, Procopius of Caesarea, an author of the 6th century AD, noted: “In old times, this city was populous. It was enclosed with many walls and was embellished with a theatre and a hippodrome, as well as other facilities usually making up a large city”.

Remains of the headquarters building (praetorium). The third construction period of the building is dated to the reign of Hadrian, perhaps on the occasion of Arrian’s visit in the early 130s. The entire floor was decorated with a mosaic made of multicoloured pebble fragments (see here).
Two barracks blocks of the Roman period (2nd -3rd century AD) were uncovered near the southern gate. Both structures are made of stone, while the upper part must have been made of wood and covered with tiles. The barracks were equipped with an underfloor heating system.

After Apsarus, Arrian inspected two other coastal forts and their garrisons: Phasis, known to Pliny as a town of great distinction (HN 6.5) on the estuary of the Phasis River (now Rioni), and Sebastopolis (once Dioscurias), at the furthest end of the Euxine and the limit of Roman dominion below the western Caucasus. He reports that a ‘secure fort with war engines’ was maintained at Phasis with ballista to withstand siege and “was surrounded with a ditch and a double wall, each of them very broad”. It was held by 400 men, almost a cohort in strength (Peripl. 12). In Sebastopolis, he paid the soldiers and inspected their horses and weapons, watched the cavalry leaping upon their horses, visited the sick, checked arrangements for storing corn inside the forts, and examined the defences, walls, and ditches (Peripl. 14).

Arrian’s rigorous inspection may suggest a perceived threat in Colchis, perhaps from the Alans. Four years later, in AD 135, he was to mobilise Legio XV Apollinaris and a vexillatio of XII Fulminata (18,000 soldiers) to confront and neutralise them and write about the confrontation in his Ektaxis kata Alanon (Battle Formations against the Alans).

View of the Black Sea from the Petra fortress, looking East towards Phasis.

Hadrian’s goal after Trapezus was the neighbouring province of Pontus, where two cities, Neocaesara (Niksar) and Amaseia (Amasya), bore the name of Hadrianopolis, and Nicopolis added the title Hadriane. We cannot follow the emperor’s journey exactly but stops at Pontic harbours, such as Amisus, Sinope, and Amastris, can be inferred (Birley, 1997). The first city sailing west from Trapezus was Amisus (today’s Samsun), one of the most flourishing Ionian colonies on the north coast of the Euxine (Strabo 12.3.14). Pompey conquered Amisus in c. 71 BC and granted the city its freedom. It had special privileges and was permitted to administer its own laws. Its status was emphasised through the legend ΑΜΙϹΟΥ ΕΛΕΥΘΕΡΑϹ (translated as ‘a free Amisus’) on its coinage while Pliny the Younger, governor of the province in AD 110-113, calls it civitas foederata (Ep. 10.92).

Amisus possessed no fine harbour and did not have natural protection, but its lands produced olives, and silver mines in the Pontic mountains attracted numerous traders. It was the most central town on the southern Black Sea coast and had intensive links with central Anatolia thanks to the overland route leading to Tarsus in the Mediterranean region. The city’s population around AD 150 has been estimated at approximately 20,000–25,000 people.

Amisus produced silver coins with Hadrian, Sabina and Antinous’s images from AD 131/2 to 137/8. The city recorded dates on their coins by adding the local era, which began in 32 BC. Coins with many effigies were issued in Amisus, with Zeus, Demeter, Tyche, Athena, Neptune, Dionysus, Helios, Sarapis and Isis for Hadrian and Hermes, Artemis, Hera, Securitas and Aphrodite for Sabina. Amisus also minted a bronze medal showing Antinous on the obverse (deriving his portrait from a type issued at Smyrna) and the river god Thermodon on the reverse, with an inscription bearing the date 133/134. The Thermodon River (today’s Terme River) emptied into the Black Sea near the town of Themiscyra, the legendary capital of the Amazons.

Didrachm of Hadrian minted in Amisus with the goddess of Demeter of the reverse and the legend ΑΜΙϹΟΥ ΕΛΕΥΘΕΡΑϹ (‘a free Amisus’). Dated Year 165 (ΡΞE) = AD 133/4. (RPC III, 1257).
Coin from the author’s collection.
Silver coin of Sabina with Aphrodite crouching on the reverse. Dated Year 169 (PΞΘ) = AD 137/8. Amisus is the only city in Anatolia to mint silver coins that feature Sabina on the obverse. (RPC III, 1294).
© The Trustees of the British Museum (link)
Bronze medal of Antinous with the river god Thermodon on the reverse. Dated Year 165 (ΡΞE) = AD 133/4. (RPC III, 1258)
© Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Monnaies, médailles et antiques, M 6655

During the reign of Trajan, Pliny sent a letter from Amisus to the emperor regarding the establishment of a charitable society. Trajan granted permission to create this society because the city was free and was consequently allowed to make its own laws (such associations were forbidden in cities governed by Roman law). Trajan expressed, however, that he only granted permission because he trusted that contributions to the society would help the poor and not be used to fund riotous and unlawful assemblies (Ep. 10-92,93).

No proper excavation has been conducted because of modern overbuilding. There are traces of old buildings still visible in the infrastructure of the modern on the Acropolis. Underground cisterns and tombs have also been registered in other parts of the city. In 1995, a treasure trove of elegant gold jewellery dating from the time of Mithridates VI Eupator (the Amisos Treasure) was uncovered during roadworks in two Hellenistic tumuli with burial chambers, painted and stuccoed.

From Amisus, Hadrian’s voyage proceeded further west to the busy harbour town of Sinope, lying on a promontory extending about 25km into the sea. With the only safe, natural roadstead harbour on the north coast of Asia Minor, Sinope ultimately became the most flourishing Greek settlement on the Euxine Sea. Greek Sinope was founded primarily as a Milesian staging ground for the founding of daughter colonies along the Pontic coast from Cytorus to Trapezus and beyond.

Single arch bridge along the coastal route to Sinope from the east.
View of the Sinop peninsula lies from the south. Sinop stands at the head of an extensive peninsula (500km square) at the northernmost point of Anatolia within the borders of Paphlagonia. The site was doubtless chosen for settlement because of its good natural harbours.

Sinope was a walled town with a huge citadel, and a strong wall defended its seaside. It escaped total Persian domination in the 4th century BC and appears to have maintained its independence from the dominion of Alexander the Great and, with the help of the powerful city of Rhodes, turned back an assault led by Mithridates II of Pontus in 220 BC. But in 183 BC, Pharnaces I, the fifth king of Pontus, took the city. Sinope remained prosperous under the Pontic kings, for whom it served as a capital city and residence. Mithridates VI was born and buried at Sinope, although his grave has yet to be located. The city was also remarkable as the birthplace of several men of eminence, such as the Cynic philosopher Diogenes, the poet and Greek New Comedy Diphilus, and the Christian heretic and founder of Marcionism of the 2nd century AD, Marcion

According to mythology, Sinope was a daughter of the Greek river god Asopos, who was abducted to the region by Zeus. Sinope outwitted three gods, Zeus, Apollon and Halys, and preserved her virginity. However, in Strabo’s writings, the Sinopians link their city’s foundation to Autolycus, one of the companions of Hercules in his expedition against the Amazons. But after having gone astray, Autolycus and his two brothers dwelt at Sinope until they joined the expedition of the Argonauts.

Head of Tyche of Sinope with a corona muralis. Sinop Archaeological Museum.
The Statue of Diogenes, a monument erected in 2006 in honour of the Greek philosopher Diogenes, who was born in Sinope in 412 or 404 BC. The 5.50 m tall statue depicts Diogenes the Cynic standing with his dog on his dwelling barrel and lantern in hand, looking for an honest man.

During the Third Mithridatic War in 71 BC, Sinope was besieged by the Roman general Lucullus, who conquered the city but later helped rebuild it. Sinope’s heyday came after Julius Caesar made it a Roman colony in 45 BC, Colonia Iulia Felix Sinope, to harbour his veterans. The title of the city and the date of the deduction can be inferred from coins and inscriptions. Sinope later became the base of the classis Pontica. In the time of Strabo, Sinope was still a large and well-fortified city, magnificently adorned with an agora, a gymnasium and porticos (Strabo, 12.3.11). Sinope’s population in the Roman period must have ranged from 10,000 to 20,000 inhabitants.

However, according to Pliny (Plin., Ep. 10.91), the Sinopeans needed a better supply of water, which he tried to solve by a grant from the emperor Trajan to erect an aqueduct conveying water from a source situated 16 Roman miles (24 kilometres) from Sinope. Roman engineers used the layout and the stones of the Hellenistic fortification to construct the aqueduct. 

Pillars and arches of the aqueduct, Sinop Fortress Prison.

The fortress of Sinope was strong. Its defensive walls (still standing), which mark the Greek city, follow the coastline north and south of the isthmus. The Southern citadel, used until recently as a prison (known as the Sinop Fortress Prison), covered an area of 9,500 m² while the Northern citadel was built on an area of 16,875 m². There were eleven towers of 22 m in height, of different shapes and orientations, to provide a more effective defence, five of them added during the construction of the inner fortress. In the following centuries, the citadels and walls were expanded, restored and modified by the Romans, the Byzantines and the Seljuks.

Several modern projects have been carried out in the city, including field surveys and excavation campaigns from the Sinop Kale Excavations 2016 and another project coordinated by Prof. Claire Barat from the University of Valenciennes and Hainaut-Cambrésis (UVHC) in France in collaboration with the Sinop Archaeological Museum.

View of Sinop (Author, Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, 1717).
The north fortification walls of Sinop Castle. They were most likely built before the city witnessed a failed sieged attempt in 220 BC.
Remains of the Hellenistic fortification of Sinope.

The city of Sinope had a rich religious life, with traditional cults imported from Miletus like Apollo Delphinios and Poseidon Helikonios. There was supposed to be a temple of Serapis in the city, and also a famous temple to Zeus Dikaiosynos (IK Sinope 77), near the town. In the reign of Mithridates VI Eupator, Sinope was a mint for the Pontic kingdom. The coins had many divinities on their reverses, including Artemis, Perseus, Eros, Apollo, Zeus, Ares, Athena, Nike, and Dionysus (Barar 2021). Under the Roman Empire, many of these Greek gods can be found in the pantheon of Sinope, but Isis, Nemesis, Asclepius and Marsyas were added. On a coin of the time of Hadrian, we find Serapis -or Zeus Serapris- (RPC III, 1224) and Athena/Roma (RPC III, 1221), Apollo on a coin of Sabina (RPC III, 1227), and the twins Romulus and Remus on the only known Antinous issue (RPC III, 1228).

With its Roman colony status, Sinope issued coins with legends in Latin rather than Greek. On the obverse, the long or short legends with the name and title of Hadrian, similar to imperial coins, were placed. On the reverse was the name of the colony, C(olonia)I(ulia) F(elix) and a year referring to the local chronology of the city. Sinope also issued pseudo-autonomous coins (14 mm, 2–3 g) with the image of Diogenes during the reign of Trajan or Hadrian (RPC III 1230). Placing his image on the coins was associated with a return to the city’s historical tradition.

Sinopean coin of Hadrian with Serapis on the reverse. Dated Year 177 = AD 131/2.
The cult of Separis is said by Tacitus to have been brought by Ptolemy I to Egypt from Sinope on the Black Sea, and from there, it spread throughout the Greek and, later, Roman world.
Münzkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (link)

The city of Sinope was well-known in the Roman Empire thanks to its products (particularly olives) and people. Many of those who left Sinope travelled in the service of the emperor, military or civil. They also participated in athletic contests around the Empire, such as the famous pugilist (boxer) Marcus Iutius Marcianus Rufus. A memorial stone erected in his honour provides us with some evidence for the number of his victories: 150 in twenty-seven sacred games, not only in Italy and Greece but also in the contests sponsored by the provincial commonalties of Bithynia and Asia in the cities of Nicomedia, Nicaea, Smyrna, Pergamon, Ephesus and more (see here). Another well-known Sinopean was Titus Veturius Campester, a priest of the Imperial cult and Mercury. He was sent four times as ambassador on behalf of his city to Rome, once to Hadrian and three times to Antoninus Pius, at his own expense. For all of this, he received the title of conditor patriae (see here).

Dedication (statue base) to Hadrian. This is the only example of Hadrian being honoured in Sinope. Since the remaining part of the inscription is broken, it is unclear who the dedicator was.
Sinop Archaeological Museum.
A map of Roman Paphlagonia in the 2nd century AD.

Following the coast from Sinope in a westerly direction, Hadrian must have moored in the harbour of the beautiful city of Amastris (today’s Amasra). Like Sinope and all the other seaside cities in the Paphlagonia Region, Amastris had a long history extending as far back as the period of Milesian colonisation in the Black Sea and stood on the isthmus of a peninsula projecting into the sea. The Greek city was prominent enough to get a mention in the Iliad by Homer (Il. 2.855).

Silver Stater issued by Queen Amastris.

The earliest Classical city on the site was known as Sesamos but acquired the name of Amastris in the late 3rd century BC when the Persian princess Amastris, the niece of Darius III and wife of the tyrant Dionysius of Heraclea, reorganised the area. Amastris was the first woman in the Mediterranean to be publicly identified as the political, economic, and administrative royal authority and to issue coins in her own name with the reverse legend Basilissês Amastrios (‘of Queen Amastris’). Amastris developed the city, and her urban development program included the construction of a new Acropolis, temples and ports.

View of Amasra with the Roman bridge (Kemere Köprüsü) built to link the two hills of Amastris.

Amastris later became part of the Kingdom of Pontus and remained in the Pontic kingdom until its capture by Lucullus in 70 BC. Under Roman rule, the town flourished and was endowed with new amenities, such as a theatre and a colonnaded street. Pliny describes Amastris, in another letter to Trajan (Ep. 10.98), as well laid out and beautiful (civitas elegans et ornata), with a very long open place. However, an exposed sewer running through the main street gave off a filthy odour and posed a health risk. Pliny asked permission to have the sewer covered, and Trajan agreed. The Roman sewer was so good that it lasted until the 20th century, when it was destroyed in a storm. Legends placed on the local coins of Trajan emphasize the status of metropolis (ΜΗΤΡΟΠΟΛΕΙΤΩΝ) of the city (RPC III 1205-1209).

The Acropolis of the city was situated on the peninsula (today known as Boztepe) and probably housed the temple of Zeus Strategos, the main deity of Amastris. Today, Boztepe is scattered with stretches of ancient fortifications from a Byzantine fortress adapted by the Genoese during the 14th century.

The harbour of Amasra and the Boztepe Peninsula.
A drawing of ancient Amastris. The original nucleus of the city of Amastris was a peninsula and adjacent island on the west side of a sheltered bay which formed the main harbour.
A representation of the port of Amastris in the Roman period.
Amasra Museum.

In 1993, four headless statues were unearthed during rescue excavations conducted by the Amasra Museum, including a cuirassed torso of Hadrian, part of an over-life-size statue of the emperor dressed in a decorated cuirass of so-called “Eastern Hadrianic Breastplate Type” (Gergel, 2004), a type very common in the Greek-speaking eastern part of the Empire characterised by the representation of Victories flanking a statue of Athena (or Palladium) standing on the back of the she-wolf with nursing twins (see here). The statue could have been set up on the occasion of Hadrian’s visit to Amastris in AD 123.

Cuirassed statue of Hadrian, which may have stood in the Agora of Amastris.
Amasra Museum.

Although headless, the statue from Amastris has been identified as a variation of the well-known Hierapytna type, named after the provenance of the most famous and complete of the twenty works representing statues of Hadrian with the eastern breastplate. The torso, carved from a grained, greyish marble, is preserved to a height of 140 cm, but when the statue was complete, it was larger-than-life-size, probably standing more than 2 m high. The missing head was made separately and attached to the body (Aydın, Buccino and Summerer, 2015).

Hadrian is dressed in full military regalia in this over-life-size headless portrait statue. His torso is covered with a muscle cuirass and a skirt of leather strap, with the customary military cloak (paludamentum) draping over the missing right shoulder. His armour is worn over a long tunic and a leather, vest-like garment with tasselled straps over the shoulders fastened to the breastplate with a lion-headed attachment device. The upper ends of the pteryges (hanging flaps) feature relief motifs, including the heads of Medusa, a lion, Zeus Ammon, a satyr and a ram, and a full figure of an eagle.

The cuirass is decorated with a statue of Athena at the centre, who wears a double-girded chiton and probably a Corinthian helmet. She holds a spear in her right hand, with the tip pointing downwards, and her left hand has a shield. On either side of her is a winged Victory carrying crowns. Athena stands on the back of the she-wolf, suckling Romulus and Remus. The decoration of the cuirass is topped by a gorgoneion (Medusa head). The elaboration of the cuirass decoration on the torso from Amastris has been considered provincial and simplified (Aydın, Buccino and Summerer, 2015). When complete, the statue showed Hadrian standing in the attitude of a victorious general with his right arm raised, probably holding a spear or sword.

The torso was discovered among three other headless statues (see here), all buried in a pit covered by a 10–15 cm thick layer of soil and large flat stone slabs in the Bedesten area of ​​Amasra where the Plateia, the broad street decorated with colonnades and mentioned by Pliny the Younger as a particularly elegant feature of the city, was probably located. The Bedesten itself is an Early Imperial construction of brick-built walls and opus reticulatum, enclosing an area of 5,000 m2 (see here) and variously described as a market, imperial palace and warehouse (horreum).

More recent excavations in the same area have unearthed a statue of a water nymph (or Aphrodite?) in unusually complete condition. The statue is missing only the left side of its nose and right hand. Archaeologists estimate that the statue dates to the 2nd century AD. The statue was put on display at the Amasra Museum after the restoration work on 18 October 2023 (see video below). Another excavation project that started in 2022 has uncovered the remains of a monumental structure with marble column capitals and 350 artefacts, 250 of which are coins (see here).

Until the beginning of the Imperial period, the Pontic cities on the Black Sea coast were probably still connected only by sea. The earliest evidence of road-building dates to the reign of Claudius, when Gaius Julius Aquila, proconsul of Bithynia and Pontus between AD 41 and 54, cut a new road through the mountainside along the coast. Aquila dedicated the work to Claudius and built a monument carved in relief into the rockface. The roadside monument, known today as Kuşkayası Yol Anıtı (literally bird rock road monument in Turkish), features a niche with a life-size relief of a male figure wearing a himation (likely representing the governor Aquila), flanked by an eagle perched on a tall column. Both have lost their heads, probably due to Christian mutilation in Late Antiquity (Silvia, 2021). 

Bird’s Rock Roman Road Monument near Amasra.

Two inscriptions (tabula ansata), one above the niche written wholly in Greek and one bilingual to its left, give the cursus honorum of the governor and state that he had this monument set up at his own expense to the glory of the emperor and to foster the Pax Augusta. The bilingual inscription (CIL III, 321) is better preserved and records that Aquila had served twice as prefectus fabrum (in charge of construction projects) during the consulships of Aulus Gabinius Secundus and Titus Statilius Taurus and built a road at his own expense.

After Amastris, Hadrian would reach Bithynia proper and spend the winter of 123/4 at Nicomedia, the hometown of his friend Arrian, who may have been his host. During his stay in the Bithynian province, visits to a few cities can be inferred or are attested, including Heraclea Pontus, Claudiopolis (former Bythinium), the birthplace of his Antinous, who would later become the imperial favourite (Paus. 8.9.7), Prusias ad Hypium and Nicaea.

Sources & references:

  • Birley, Anthony R. (1997). Hadrian. The restless emperor, Routledge London New York pp. 155-161.
  • Periplus of the Euxine Sea by Arrian of Nicomedia, translated by William Falconer (1744-1826)(Oxford 1805) link
  • Pliny the Younger: Letters – Book 10 link
  • Mitford, T.B. (1974). Some inscriptions from the Cappadocian Limes, Journal of Roman Studies 64: 160–75
  • Mitford, T. B. (2018). East of Asia Minor. Rome’s Hidden Frontier, Oxford.
  • Mitford, T. B. (1998). The Roman frontier on the Upper Euphrates, R. MATTHEWS (ed.), Ancient Anatolia, Fifty years’ work by the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara, British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara, Londra 1998, ss. 255-272.
  • Doonan, Owen. (2010). Sinop Landscapes: Towards an Archaeology of Community in the Hinterland of a Black Sea Port. Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia. 16. (PDF).
  • Boatwrıght, Mary T. (2000). Hadrian and The Cities of The Roman Empire, OUP, Oxford, p. 119, 137, 139-140.
  • H.-Chr. von Mosch, Hadrians „Sandalenlöser“. Der Hermes des Lysipp (?) auf Münzen von Trapezous, Amastris und Markianopolis, JNG 63, 2013, 93-149. 101 M 1 mit Abb. und Abb. 3 (dieses Stück, mit Lit.).
  • Elmas Kaya, “Trabzon Ġl Merkezinde Kurtarma Kazısında Ortaya Çıkan Buluntular”, IX. Müze Kurtarma Kazıları Semineri, Ankara 1999, s. 321-334.
  • Kılıç, S., Demirel, S., Çalışkan Akgül, H. “NEW ARCHAEOLOGICAL OBSERVATIONS ON ANCIENT TRABZON: “HADRIAN PORT””.Journal of Black Sea Studies 15 (2021): 387-428
  • Sakartvelo, S. M. (2022). Pontos Limes: Romans in Eastern Black Sea Region. TSU-TI — THE INTERNATIONAL SCIENTIFIC JOURNAL OF HUMANITIES1(1).
  • Jaworski, P., Karasiewicz-Szczypiorski, R., and Mamuladze, S. (2021). The rise and fall of the Roman fort in Apsaros: recent numismatic evidence. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 30/2, 289–306.
  • Yılmaz, C. “Tarihi Sinop Kalesi Cezaevi”, Eastern Geographical Review, Vol.14-22, pp.1-16
  • Barat, Claire. (2021). Cults in Ancient Sinope: Originality and Standardisation. link
  • Barat, C. 2011. La Colonia Iulia Felix Sinope, un exemple de fondation coloniale au nord de l’Anatolie. In Barrandon, N., & Kirbihler, F. (Eds.), Les gouverneurs et les provinciaux sous la République romaine. Presses universitaires de Rennes. link
  • Buccino, L., Summerer L., Aydin B. (2015). Honoured, beheaded, buried. A new deposit of statues from Amastris, in: Landscape Dynamics and Settlement Patterns in Northern Anatolia (Stuttgart 2015) 219-238. (link)
  • Silvia. D. (2021). Decapitation and Dynamite: The Mutilated Mountainside Monument of Gaius Julius Aquila on the Coast of Bithynia et Pontus, in: Vol. 7 (2021): CLARA: Classical Art and Archaeology (link)

2 thoughts on “Autumn AD 123 – Hadrian reaches Trapezus and sails westwards along the Pontic coast (#Hadrian1900)”

  1. Another fabulous effort! Thank you very much for it. Spent a couple of weeks in Turkey this month, but certainly didnt get to there remote sites you visit.

  2. Thank you very much for this again wonderfully written travel diary. As always I appreciate your outstanding academic approach! 👏

    Looking forward to reading more of you from future excursions in the name of the big emperor! 🌺🌺

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