In the Synecdemus of Hierocles (official list of the Byzantine cities of the first half of the 6th century AD) the coastal city of Amisos is registered1 among the seven cities of the province of Helenopontos in the diocese of Pontica. Amisos was situated to the east of Sinope, which secured the communication between north-east Asia Minor and Crimea, as well as the communication between the ports of the Pontos Polemoniakos and the Helenopontos; and to the west of Trebizond, the gateway into Persia. The city was known in Antiquity as Amisus and from the Roman period onwards as Missos. By the 10th century it is usually mentioned in the sources as Aminsos. During the Middle Byzantine period Amisos formed the northern border between the theme of Paphlagonia and the theme of Armeniakon. The fertile hinterland yielded abundant harvests of olives (the plains of Phazemonitis and Chiliokomon and the valley of the river Lycus), providing ample supplies to Amisos, and rendered it an ‘intermediate harbour’ towards Constantinople and Crimea. The outskirts of the city were cultivated, as mentioned in the sources and confirmed by modern surveys. Furthermore, Amisos controlled the routes of the caravans to and from Sebasteia (mod. Sivas),2 Aleppo and Baghdad. These cities played a key economic role during the Middle Ages, irrespective of their political masters or the particularities of the historical conditions.
2. Military and political history
During the reign of Diocletian (284-305), the city of Amisos belonged to the province of Diospontos, which was renamed Helenopontos by Constantine I (324-337). In around 860 it was a tourma in the theme of Armeniakon. In 863 the Arab emir of Melitene Omar (Amr) ibn Abdallah ibn Marwan al-Aqta' invaded Amisos, sacked it and caused great devastation.3 The city, however, managed to recover. In the 10th and towards the 11th century it was the seat of a tourma as indicated by the seal of Christophoros, tourmarch and paraphylax of Amisos.4 Presumably in the mid-1070s, Armenians originating from Amaseia (mod. Amasya) settled in the city.5 Between 1194 and 1204 the city came under the rule of the future Seljuk sultan Rukn al Din (1197-1204), a friend and ally of Alexios Angelos, the future Alexios III (1195-1203), probably without a fight.6 But the settlements of the Turkmen in the lower city are dated a few decades before 1194. In 1204 Alexios I Grand Komenos (1204-1222) recaptured the city. Amisos was probably definitively captured by the Seljuk Turks in 1214.7Genovese traders active in the Black Sea had settled in the city before 1285. George Scholares, the former megas doux of the Empire of Trebizond, sought refuge among the city’s Genoese in 1363; in 1354 he had initiated an unsuccessful rebellion against Alexios III Grand Komnenos (1349-1390). In 1419 Amisos was annexed by the Muslim principality of Castamone and subsequently the city became a possession of the Ottoman Turks.
3. Amisos’ importance
3.1. Early- and Middle Byzantine periods
During the Late Antiquity and throughout the Byzantine era, Amisos was a significant city. By the Middle Byzantine period the settlement on the city’s citadel had been abandoned. Contrary to the norm for this period, when the unfortified cities and markets fall into decline and new settlements on citadels or castles are created instead, the city of Amisos was transferred from the naturally fortified citadel towards the coast, where it developed inside a castle. Amisos played a key role in Byzantine economy, closely related to the state’s external policy. Constantine VII Porphyrogennitos (913-959) argues that, if the agricultural production is not transported via the port of ‘Aminsos’ and (the themes) of Paphlagonia, Boukellarion and the (borderline areas) of the theme of Armeniakon, the inhabitants of the (Crimean city of) Cherson will not be able to survive.8 The provisioning of the Greek city in Crimea depended on the security of the trading activities in the Pontus and on the agriculture of north-central Asia Minor. Amisos had been long established as the principal harbour of this region. It also functioned as a centre for imported goods from Lazica, Bosporus and Cherson.9 Amisos was a kommerkion in the theme of Armeniakon, as attested by the seal of the kommerkiarios Kyrillos10 and it was the fifth official city of the theme. In the second half of the 9th and throughout the 10th century it was a kommerkion and an export centre for cereals, as attested by the lead seals of Moschos, the horrearius of Amisos in the 9th century, and Paul, the chartoularios and horrearius of Amisos in the 10th-11th century, as well as the seat of abydikos.11 During this period fiscal officials were stationed in the city. The seals of the dioiketes John (8th-9th century) and the dioiketes Alexander (9th-10th century) are preserved.12
3.2. Late Byzantine Period
In 1200 the Seljuk governor of Amisos Rukn al Din took measures that undermined the interests of the Turkmen merchants of the city, in an obvious attempt to promote the interests of merchants in the rival city of Sebasteia. Later, in the early 13th century, Amisos was a kommerkion in the Empire of Trebizond. During this period, Sebasteia, the commercial centre of the Sultanate of Rum, was greatly affected; actually the Seljuk Turks are considered to have altogether been excluded from commercial activities in the Black Sea.13 Subsequently, since Amisos came again under the control of the Seljuk Turks, the community of the Turkmen in the city, as well as that of the Genovese, developped after 1214 and after 1285 respectively. In the 14th century Amisos, cut off from the inland, was the most important import centre for Crimean cereal. The commerce conducted through the port of Amisos depended on products destined for Constantinople originating from the Pontus, as well as from the Middle and Far East via Trebizond. The city was also connected to the commerce destined for the Crimean market which involved Byzantine products, and to the transactions of the Eastern merchants maintained in the currency of the Byzantine Empire in general.14 The harbour and the kommerkion of Amisos, located between Sinope and Trebizond, was the destination of all western and eastern roads, and for this reason it was an obvious locus of exchanges between the two worlds.
The citadel of Amisos was constructed on a natural highland plateau15 to survey the sea. The site of Aghia Anna is very close to the coast, according to the Greek portolans. It is unlikely that a pier ever existed there. The temple of St Peter on the south side of the citadel and the ‘Manasteri’ (probably the temple of St John the Baptist) on the west have been preserved;16 in the second one, some traces of the frescoes are still discernible. Two marble columns have been preserved in an Early Byzantine cistern. Other, less impressive, cisterns have been preserved as well, moreover a circular and a number of semi-circular towers, extremities of buildings, the ruins of the temple of St Theodore incorporated into a mosque, marble sculpture fragments and architectural members of an unidentified temple a.o. Before 1194 the settlement was relocated to the coast southeast, and a castle was constructed on the seashore. The older building phase of the city’s wall dates to the Middle Byzantine period, terminus ante quem the year 1194, and the latest one to the Seljuk or Ottoman period, after 1214 or 1419; this work clearly strengthened the defensive capabilities of the fortifications. A possible Genovese restoration after 1285 is not easily attested in the masonry.17
In 1404, Ruy Gonzales Clavijo saw two castles.18 In fact Amisos developed into two independent settlements with separate defensive walls, one of the Genoese (Samsun) and the other, featuring a port, of the Seljuk Turks (Samsun). The settlements faced each other, being an arrow’s flight away from each other (c. 300 m). Today one can no longer clearly discern which ruins belong to the castle of the Genoese and which to that of the Seljuk Turks. The modern city of Samsun spreads for 3 km along the shore, divided into four main building complexes. During the 19th century the two of them, the ones on the slopes of the hill south and east of the citadel, formed the Greek and the Armenian quarters respectively. The other two, those laying close to the sea, were the Ottoman quarters. The oldest quarter must correspond to Late Byzantine Amisos and early Samsun. Here the old bazaar of the 13th century and the Mongolian Pazar CamiJ survive.
1. Honigmann, E., (ed.) Le Synekdèmos d'Hiéroklès et l’ opuscule géographique de Georges de Chypre, (Bruxelles 1939) p. 37a, col. 702.
2. Sebasteia especially became a commercial centre of the Sultanate of Rum, while the other ports of the Pontus fell into decline, since the roads were no longer safe in the 11th century; the cities connected with Sebasteia however found themselves in an advantageous position, see Belke, K, Mersich, N., (eds) Paphlagonien und Honorias. Tabula Imperii Byzanini 9 (Wien 1996) s.v. ‘Kromna’ p. 241.
3. Omar (Amr) ibn Abdallah ibn Marwan al-Aqta' reached Amisos by crossing Cappadocia. The Byzantines, under the general Petronas, could not reach the city in time. See Theophanis Continuatus, ed. C. De Boor (Bonn 1838), pp. 179, 14-16. See also Bλυσίδου, Β. et al., H Mικρά Aσία των Θεμάτων: έρευνες πάνω στην γεωγραφική φυσιογνωμία και προσωπογραφία των βυζαντινών θεμάτων της Mικράς Aσίας (7ος - 11ος αι.), (ΙΒΕ/EIE, Eρευνητική Bιβλιοθήκη 1, Aθήνα 1998) p. 151, it is most likely that it was Amisos and its outskirts that were sacked, not two homonym cities, one of which would be completely unknown.
4. Mc Geer, Er. – Nesbitt, J. – Oikonomidès, N. (+) (eds.) Catalogue of Byzantine Seals at Dumbarton Oaks and in the Fogg Museum of Art, τ. 4: the East, (Washington D.C. 2001) p. 74.
5. The Armenians were driven out of their homeland Amaseia after 1070, when the city fell to the Seljuk Turks. The Armenians of Amisos spoke the dialect of Dokeia (mod. Tokat). It is possible that they settled in Amisos following the capture of Amaseia by the Seljuk Turks, or after the capture of Sebasteia by the Mongol khan Tamerlane, i.e. after 1400.
6. The circumstances remain uncertain. The available information on the policy of the Seljuks in Amisos forced scholars to suggest that the city was probably ceded, and not captured. It is also suggested that the two communities, Greek and Turkish, coexisted harmoniously.
7. During 1233-1248 a mint operated in the city of Amisos. In the late 13th century, the Seljuk sultan Kaikubad III (1284-1307), tributary vassal to the Mongols, entrusted the administration of Amisos and the income from the imposed taxes to his grandson Masud Beğ. In 1392 or 1394, the city was successfully claimed by the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I (1389-1402). The Mongols reacted effectively in favour of their tributaries. In 1404, Mir Suleyman Çelebi, great-grandson of the Seljuk sultan Kaikubad III, became the city’s governor. After 1400, Armenians from Amaseia, which was captured by the Mongols, may have settled in Amisos.
8. In his “Πρὸς τὸν ἴδιον υἱὸν Ῥωμανὸν” («To his son Romanos»), see Moravcsik, G. – Jenkins, R.J.H.(ed.-transl) Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De Administrando Imperio, (Washington, D.C. 1967) p. 286.
9. The testimony dates to the late 6th century; see Zepos, I., Zepos, P.(eds.), Jus Graeco-Romanum I: Novellae et aurae Bullae post Iustiniam (Aθήνα 1931), pp. 18,19: the novella of Tiberius II Constantine no. 11, of the year 575, «περὶ κουφισμῶν δημοσίων».
10. Zacos, G. - Nesbitt, J. (eds.), Byzantine Lead Seals II (Bern 1984), no. 200: the seal of kommerkiarios Kyrillos, c.860.
11. Mc Geer, Er. – Nesbitt, J. – Oikonomidès, N. (+) (eds), Catalogue of Byzantine Seals at Dumbarton Oaks and in the Fogg Museum of Art 4: the East (DORLC, Washington D.C. 2001), p. 74. According to Laurent it was the seat of abydikos, Laurent, V., Le Corpus des sceaux de l'Empire byzantin (Paris 1965-1981) p. 284.compare Zacos, G. - Nesbitt, J. (eds), .Byzantine Lead Seals II (Bern 1984), no. 200.
12. Mc Geer, Er. – Nesbitt, J. – Oikonomidès, N. (+) (eds.), Catalogue of Byzantine Seals at Dumbarton Oaks and in the Fogg Museum of Art 4: the East (DORLC, Washington D.C. 2001), p. 74.
13. Cahen, C., Pre-Ottoman Turkey. A General Survey of Material and Spiritual Culture and History c. 1071-1330, (London 1968) pp. 119, 164.
14. See Hendy, M.F., Studies in the Byzantium Monetary Economy c.300-1450 (Cambridge Mass. 1985), pp. 257ff., 276, 470, regarding the control over the gold coin’s circulation within the empire.
15. The citadel, modern Kara or Eski Samsun, lays at a height of 159m, and covers an area of 2.7km by 1.5km with an N-S orientation. Amisos is generally considered to have been an easily defensible settlement.
16. See Cumont, Fr. – Cumont, Eu., Voyage d’ exploration archéologique dans le Pont et la Petite Arménie, Studia Pontica II (Brussels 1906), pp. 111-117.
17. In the 19th century, when the castle was still visible, there was a light construction over the basic fortifications. Was this the Genovese addition or a third building phase? And was the Turkish phase constructed by the Seljuks?
18. Ruy Gonzales Clavijo was an ambassador of Henry III of Castile to the court of the Mongol khan Tamerlane in the early 15th century. He visited and described many sites of the Pontus in the context of his travel to the Ilkhanate. He did not go ashore in Amisos but preferred to remain onboard, because the port belonged to the Turkish city. The description of Amisos brings to mind Smyrna, where the two castles, the Genovese and the Turkish, faced each other.