Did the Pontic Greeks originally come from Greece?

Pontus Greeks

The Pontus Greeks or Pontier (GreekΠόντιοι, TurkishPontos rum) are the descendants of those Greeks who settled the historical landscape of Pontus in antiquity. Their language area extended over the Turkish Black Sea coast to neighboring parts of Georgia and spread as a result of migratory movements beyond the Caucasus region to Russia.[1] The Christian Pontic Greeks lived on the Turkish Black Sea coast until 1923 when the population exchange between Greece and Turkey was carried out under the Treaty of Lausanne. The Pontic Greeks, who became Muslim under state or cultural pressure, still live there today, are Turkish citizens and have adopted Turkish names. The Pontic Greek, which many of them still speak today, is characteristic of the Pontic Greeks. Its name can be derived from the ancient name of the Black Sea: Pontos Euxinos.


Main Products: Pontic language

The Pontic Greeks mostly still speak the Greek dialect, which emerged from ancient Greek and was spoken in the respective mother city of the Pontic colonies (depending on whether it is Ionic / Attic, Doric, Phoca, Macedonian or Arcadian colonies), but in a different way than standard Greek (Dimotiki, Δημοτική, see also Greek language) and is therefore noticeably different from it.

The number of speakers of the Pontic is declining in Greece by generations, as it is not taught in public schools and, at best, is only passed on orally. The language is most likely to be preserved in some parts of northern Greece, which is due to the fact that most of the pontiers were settled in cities such as Thessaloniki or Kilkis, but also in the northern Greek province. It is also spoken by Muslim Greeks who remained in Turkey, most of whom live in the villages around Tonya in the Trabzon province. However, the number of speakers is also falling there.



Pre-Christian time

The kingdom of Pontus reached its greatest expansion under Mithridates VI.
Mithridates VI., Coin illustration

The Greek presence on the Black Sea dates back to ancient times. Research shows the first activities of free traders and adventurers around 1000 BC. They were there mainly in search of gold and ores.

The traditional saga of the Argonauts about the journey of Jason and the 50 heroes to Colchis, the journey of Heracles on the Black Sea, the adventures of Odysseus in the land of the Cimmerians described in the Odyssey, the punishment of Prometheus by Zeus in the Caucasus and other related Greek myths to this region prove the existence of ancient trade routes.

In the 8th century BC Greek trading posts on the Pontic coast began to develop into permanent settlements. The city of Miletus founded Sinope, the first Greek colony on the Black Sea. Due to its port and good access to the hinterland, Sinope quickly developed into an important trading center. As a result, numerous cities were founded along the southern Pontic coast following a similar pattern, which over the centuries developed into densely populated centers for maritime trade and culture. So the Pontus brought forth personalities like Herakleides Ponticos or Diogenes of Sinope.
Archaeological finds and numerous written sources from antiquity and post-antiquity document the economic activity of the Pontic cities, their relationship to the mother cities (metropolises) and their relationships with each other as well as with the indigenous peoples.

The political and cultural dominance of the Greek cities on the Pontus becomes particularly evident when looking at the further development of the indigenous peoples of the region, who over the centuries largely adopted Greek culture and thought. In his anabasis, Xenophon describes his experiences in the “Train of the Ten Thousand” - the grueling and loss-making retreat of Greek mercenaries after the battle of Kunaxa - through the entire Persian Empire until reaching the Greek cities of the Black Sea, such as Herakleia Pontike, “Ἡράκλειαν πόλιν Ἑλληνίδα Μεγαρέων ἄποικον “, a Greek city of colonists from Megara.[2] Xenophon provides detailed reports on the country and its people, customs and traditions.

During the time of Alexander the Great and his successors, the economic power of the Greek cities was at its height. The impact of the Hellenistic culture on the indigenous peoples was enormous and had fundamentally influenced their social and cultural development. In the 1st century BC The Pontic king Mithridates Eupator elevated the Greek language to the official language of his empire and thus to the official general lingua franca of the numerous - and thus multilingual - indigenous peoples of Asia Minor, which now led to their Hellenization at the latest. (See also: Pontus (Kingdom)


The apostles Andrew and Peter brought Christianity to the Pontus region very early on. The status of Greek as the general lingua franca of the region was a welcome aid to Christianization, especially for the Hellenized indigenous communities - both initially for the apostles and later for the church fathers. On the other hand, the Christianization of the Hellenized indigenous population led to the definitive acceptance of Greek identity and culture. So they merged with the Greeks to form a unified culture based on the common basis of Christianity.

middle Ages

The conquest of Constantinople by the Franks in the Fourth Crusade resulted in the breakup of the Byzantine Empire into small Frankish states. But smaller Greek kingdoms also emerged. So it happened that Alexios Komnenos from the Komnenen dynasty founded the empire of Trebizond together with his brother David (both had fled before conquering the capital), with which the then rather insignificant Trebizond (today's Trabzon) took its place in world history secured.

The conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453 and the fall of Trebizond eight years later (1461) marked a turning point in their history for the Pontic Greeks. Many - especially wealthy residents of the wealthy coastal towns and villages - fled to the surrounding mountainous regions of the Pontus in an attempt to live in newly established and free Greek villages and towns, far from the attention of the new rulers. A large part migrated to the Russian Empire[1] or in its southern coastal areas to Georgia, Armenia and Kazakhstan, where they founded new Greek communities. This was how cultural centers arose, which in the following decades also took in Greeks who had fled from the now Ottoman Pontus.

The humanist and Cardinal Bessarion was one of the important Pontic Greeks of the Middle Ages.

Modern times

In the Ottoman Empire

In the centuries after the Ottoman conquest, large parts of the population migrated to Russia and the Caucasus region in particular.[1] In his work published in 1845 Fragments from the Orient Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer mentions Christian Pontus Greeks whom he met on his travels in the Ottoman Empire. They are Greek-speaking and serve the patron saint of their valley, the Panagia Sumela.[3] Fallmerayer describes them as "Byzantine Greeks" and their Greek as "Matschuka Greek" (after the place Maçka, Greek Ματσούκα).[4]

Genocide allegation

As a result of the rise of the Young Turks in the 20th century, many of the originally more than 600,000 Pontians - as well as Armenians and Arameans - were victims of deportations. Since the 1980s, there has been an increasing discussion as to whether this was also genocide. Proponents of the thesis speak of 353,000 Pontic Greeks who lost their lives. In 2004, the historian Konstantinos Fotiadis published a comprehensive study commissioned by the Greek parliament, but so far only in Greek. The British historian Christopher Walker speaks of a cruel persecution of the Pontus Greeks in the Trabzon province in the years 1922–1924, which almost destroyed their community.[5] The German sociologist Tessa Hofmann speaks openly of genocide and uses the terms customary in Greek-speaking countries for the events of that time Sphagi (Massacre) and Xerisomos (Uprooting). According to Hofmann, these terms describe five of six genocide crimes listed in the later UN Genocide Convention, such as the forcible transfer of children of the group to another group, as well as the deliberate imposition of living conditions that result in the total or partial physical destruction of the group Target group.[6] Other genocide researchers such as Boris Barth dispute the genocide thesis because the Pontic Greeks, unlike the Armenians, had the option of fleeing to the Greek state. In 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne ended the existence of the Pontic Greeks in Turkey.

The population exchange between Greece and Turkey regulated in the treaty meant for the Pontic Greeks de facto the expulsion from their homeland. Around 300,000 Christian pontiers were resettled to Greece; only a few thousand Muslim Pontian Greeks could remain. In total, almost two million people on both sides had to leave their homes under international law, including around 1.25 million Greeks and 356,000 Turks.[7]

Settlement in Greece after 1923

The settlement of the Pontic refugees in Greece was associated with enormous problems. The country, which until then had a population of only around 5.5 million, was now faced with a flow of refugees totaling around 1.5 million people. That meant an abrupt increase of over 25% of the previous population. After their arrival, the refugees were initially housed in camps, mostly on the outskirts of cities, especially the two large cities of Athens and Thessaloniki, whose populations of less than 200,000 at that time have now doubled in a very short time. The unsanitary conditions in the refugee camps and the first onset of winter ensured that epidemics such as smallpox and typhoid spread very quickly. The situation of the refugees assumed such tragic dimensions that the League of Nations Dr. Fridtjof Nansen asked to find suitable means for their support. This suggested a corresponding control commission under the leadership of the League of Nations, which should monitor the population exchange. The US rejected the proposal because it did not accept the leadership role of the League of Nations in this venture. Finally, a group of US feminists set up a quarantine station on Makronissos, an island off the Attic coast, where Pontic refugees could now be treated. The League of Nations supported the company financially with a loan. The makeshift tent camps on the outskirts of the big cities turned into settlements within a few years, the names of which still remind us today that they were founded by refugees from the east.

In the countryside, the Pontic Greeks were mainly settled on formerly Turkish property in the now Greek province of Macedonia. However, since the number of Turks expelled from Greece barely exceeded 500,000, the farmland that had become free was absolutely inadequate for the stream of millions of Greek refugees, which made it very difficult for the new settlers to establish a new livelihood.

Their already difficult situation was additionally burdened by a wave of racism on the part of the local population. This sometimes hit the Pontic refugees the hardest. The reason for this is the Pontic variant of Greek with its own phonology, which was largely unknown in the Balkans, as well as the strange-looking Pontic customs as a whole, which had grown in over two millennia on the distant Black Sea and partly also from the Turkish-Ottoman culture have been influenced. The Pontic refugees were perceived by the mostly uneducated rural population as unwelcome Turks, to whom the state actually allocated arable land to which they were entitled.

Many of the refugees brought their professional qualifications with them, for example in textile and tobacco processing. For the Greek economy they became a quasi inexhaustible source of cheap labor and as such they were used extensively. Like the other refugees from the east, the pontiers also contributed to the industrialization of the country.

In the Soviet Union

In the 18th and 19th centuries, a significant Pontic migration from the Ottoman Empire began, particularly to Russia and the Caucasus region. As a result, a second Pontic culture was formed there, which existed and developed independently alongside that on the Turkish Black Sea coast. The Greek dialects of these areas are now considered to be the most vital form of Pontic. In 1989 there were 40,000 speakers in Russia, including 15,000 each in the Krasnodar region and near Stavropol.[1] Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, however, there have been great migratory movements among the Pontic Greeks living on the territory of the former Soviet Union. They increasingly left these areas and mostly emigrated to Greece or Germany. For example, around 100,000 Pontic Greeks lived in Georgia in 1989. In 2002, their number had fallen to around 15,000.[8]


Pontic Greeks developed their own folk culture with songs and dances. The music is related to that of the Turks and Georgian lases who still live on the Black Sea today. The most popular musical instrument of the Pontus Greeks is the (Pontic) lyre (also Kemençe) - a bowed box-neck lute that differs from the pear-shaped (Cretan) lyre differs. The bagpipe Tulum is also played solo or occasionally by the cylinder drum Davul accompanied. In addition, there is the wooden longitudinal flute, which is widespread in the Balkans and Turkey Kaval. Typically, the melody on the kemençe is played in parallel fourths by fingering two sides at the same time. In dance music, fast asymmetrical rhythms are common (3 + 2 or 3 + 4 measure units).[9]

Many Pontos Greeks also try to preserve their cultural identity in Greece or in other countries (Germany, USA). For example, there are various cultural associations of Pontos Greeks or other clubs, such as the football club Apollon Kalamarias, which was founded by the Pontos Greeks in 1924 to preserve their identity.



The Christian Pontos Greeks can usually be recognized by their family names. These often have the ending -idis or. -iadis (male form) or –Idou or. –Iadou (female form), e.g. Dimitriadis or. Dimitriadou or Michailidis or. Mikhailidou (Clan of Michael).

These are patronymic formations that can be traced back to antiquity. The endings -ides and -iades were attached to the father's name, which was meant to express whose son you are. So, for example, Achilles, son of Peleus was also Pelides or. the pelide called. The supposed change in these endings (from –Ides on -idis) can be explained by the fact that today Greek names are no longer translated into German after the Erasmic pronunciation. The Greek Eta (Η, η) is therefore no more than e, but as i transfer. So while in the past the name Μιχαηλίδης as Michaelides was translated into German, is the form today Michailidis common. In Greek, the spelling (-ίδης, -ιάδης) has not changed since ancient times.


The Muslim Pontus Greeks who remained in Turkey adopted Turkish family names in accordance with the Family Name Act of June 21, 1934. These are from the Greek side "τουρκόφωνοι / Turkofoni" (Turkish speaking) called.


  • Waiting for the clouds. (2004) Film drama by the Turkish director Yeşim Ustaoğlu about the expulsion of the Pontic Greeks.


  • Tessa Hofmann (Ed.): Persecution, expulsion and extermination of Christians in the Ottoman Empire 1912-1922. Münster 2004, ISBN 3-8258-7823-6.

Individual evidence

  1. 1,01,11,21,3 Christopher Moseley: Encyclopedia of the world's endangered languages. 2007, p. 265.
  2. ↑ Xenophon, Κύρου Ανάβασις, 6.2.1
  3. ↑ Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer: Fragments from the Orient. Second volume. Stuttgart and Tübingen 1845, p. 155.
  4. ↑ Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer: Fragments from the Orient. Second volume, Stuttgart and Tübingen 1845, p. 102.
  5. ↑ Christopher J. Walker: Armenia: The Survival of a Nation. London 1980, p. 345.
  6. ↑ Tessa Hofmann: Persecution, expulsion and extermination of Christians in the Ottoman Empire 1912–1922. 2nd edition, Berlin 2006, p. 17.
  7. ↑ Donald Bloxham: The Great Game of Genocide: Imperialism, Nationalism, and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians. New York 2005, p. 106.
  8. ^ Statistical Yearbook of Georgia 2007
  9. Şarkıları Bridge. 1930 Ses Kayıtları / Songs of Pontos. Recordings of 1930. Double CD, Kalan Müzik 2003

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