Pon'tus (Πόντος, the sea), a large district in the north of Asia Minor, extending along the coast of the Pontus Euxinus, from which circumstance the name was derived. It is mentioned in the New Testament as furnishing a portion of that audience which listened to the apostles on the day of Pentecost (Ac 2:9), as the birthplace of Aquila (Ac 18:2), and as one of the districts through which "the strangers" addressed by Peter in his first epistle "were scattered abroad" (1Pe 1:1). All these passages agree in showing that there were many Jewish residents in the district. The term Pontus signified a country of very various extent at different times, and while the boundaries of all the provinces of Asia Minor were continually shifting, none were more affected by the changes of the times than those of Pontus. In the earlier period of its history it was merely a province of Cappadocia, which then extended from Mount Taurus to the Euxine; and tradition states that the petty kingdoms of which it was composed were subdued and consolidated by Ninus. It then fell under the alternate dominion of the Medes and Persians, the latter of whom divided it into satrapies; and in the reign of Darius Hystaspis the country of Pontus was bestowed by that prince on Artabazes, a member of his own family, who henceforth assumed the title of king of Pontus, and was the ancestor of a long line of princes rescued from oblivion by the genius, the crimes, and the vicissitudes of Mithridates VII, sometimes called "the Great." The kingdom of Artabazes was comprised between 41° and 43° N. lat., and between 35° and 42° E. long.; and was bounded on the north by the Euxine, on the south by Armenia Minor, on the east by Colchis, and on the west by the river Halys. The inhabitants were a bold, active, and warlike race, and in the reign of Ariobarzanes they shook off the yoke of Persia, to whose sovereigns their own had from the time of Artabazes been tributary, and established the complete independence of their country. From this period the kingdom of Pontus prospered. Its monarchs gradually added to their dominions the whole of Cappadocia and Paphlagonia and a large part of Bithynia, thus dividing Asia Minor with the Attalian dynasty, which ruled at Pergamos. Mithridates VI formed an alliance with the Romans, sent a fleet to aid them in their wars against Carthage, and when, on the death of Attalus, who left his kingdom of Pergamos to the Roman people, Aristonicus contested the legacy, and attempted to make himself king of Pergamos, Mithridates espoused the cause of Rome, and aided in driving the usurper out of Asia. The policy of this able prince was reversed by his son and successor. Mithridates VII ascended the throne at the age of eleven years, and early began a career of enmity towards the Romans, the ultimate result of which was the entire subjugation of the country over which he ruled, and its reduction to the condition of a Roman province. Mithridates did, however, succeed so far as to make himself master of all Lesser Asia and of many of the adjacent islands. At Cos he plundered the Jews of a large sum of money, he annexed Athens itself to his kingdom, while his son Ariarathes overcame Macedonia and Thrace. At this period of his reign he was the master of twenty-five nations; and so great were his accomplishments as a linguist, that he is said to have been able to converse with the natives of all without the aid of an interpreter. He determined utterly to root out the Roman dominion from Asia, and in order to compromise the inhabitants of the country beyond the possibility of return, he issued orders that on a certain day throughout his dominions every Roman should be put to death, not excepting even women and children. This atrocious decree, which has covered the name of Mithridates with infamy, was carried out, and the number of persons who perished in the massacre is variously estimated at from eighty to one hundred and sixty thousand. From this time his real power began to decline; and after a romantic series of vicissitudes he was killed at his own request in the seventy-first year of his age, B.C. 64. After the death of Mithridates, his son Pharnaces submitted to the Romans. He was made king of Bosphorus, and proclaimed the ally of Rome; but after the return of Pompey he regained his hereditary kingdom, and ventured to oppose the Romans with as much obstinacy as his father, but with less success. Julius Caesar marched against him, and reduced the country to the condition of a province. Marc Anthony restored Darius, the son of Pharnaces; and a short line of princes, none of whom require any notice in this place, governed the country till the time of Nero. The last of these, Polemo II, was the father of that Berenice who married Herod Agrippa II, before whom Paul pleaded his cause with so much eloquence. From this time Pontus ceased to be an independent state, constituting a province or dependency of the Roman Empire. On the east it was bounded by Colchis, on the south by Cappadocia and part of Armenia, and on the west by Paphlagonia and Galatia. Ptolemy (Geog. 5, 5) and Pliny (Hist. Nat. 6:4) regard Pontus and Cappadocia as one province; but Strabo (Geog. 12:541) rightly distinguishes them, seeing that each formed a distinct government with its own ruler or prince. Ptolemy divides what may be called the true Pontus into three districts-Pontus Galaticus, Pontus Cappadocius, and Pontus Polemoniacus. This last was imagined to be the country of the Amazons.
The climate of Pontus is hot in summer, but severe in winter, especially along the shores of the Euxine. The soil is fertile, but less so than in the more southern parts of Asia Minor; yet it abounds with olives and cherry- trees, and the valleys produce considerable quantities of grain. These advantages it owes to its being watered by many small rivers, while the great river Halys flows far into the interior. The inhabitants were a hardy and industrious race; deriving their origin, according to tradition, from Tubal Cain. They were industrious as well as warlike, and addicted to commerce, and the inhabitants of Pontus Cappadocius were celebrated for their skill in the manufacture of arms, and for working in metal in general. They had many convenient harbors on the Euxine, and abundance of fine timber for shipbuilding, and of these they seem very early to have taken full advantage. They retained more of the Eastern elements in their language and religion than the inhabitants of Lydia and Pergamos, who were brought more entirely under the influence of Greek art, literature, and philosophy. They spoke a dialect of the Persian, largely corrupted with Greek; and their religion seems to have been a compound of Greek, Scythian, and Persian. Demeter, Zeus, and Poseidon were their chief deities; but this comes to us on Greek authority; and they sacrificed to the last-named deity white horses, by harnessing them four abreast to chariots, and driving them into the sea, where they were drowned. The principal towns of Pontus were Amasia, the ancient metropolis, and the birthplace of Strabo, Themiscyra, Cerasus, and Trapezus; which last is still an important town under the name of Trebizond. See Cellarius, Notit. 2, 287; Mannert, 6:350; Rosenmüller, Bibl. Geog. 3, 5-9; Encyclop. Methodique, sect. Gog.
Ancienne, s.v. Pontos; Smith, Dict. of Gr. and Rom. Geog. s.v. Pontus; Conybeare and Howson, Life and Epistles (N. Y. ed.), 1, 247. SEE ASIA MINOR.