The first epistle of st. Peter 1: 1-2: 17


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in Pontus. For all we know it may have been his native land, or he may on other private grounds have had occasion to go there, for his own affairs or those of others. Such an immediate cause of his voyage would be quite compatible with his undertaking a long subsequent journey to visit the principal congregations of Asia Minor, for the sake of placing in their hands the circular epistle from St Peter, and of cheering them under their trials by his own presence as a representative of the apostle.

This explanation of the order of the list is remarkably confirmed by a circumstance which has strangely escaped attention. Pontus and Bithynia stand at opposite ends of the list, although they together formed but a single province, the title of which combined both names; and a separation of the two names in an enumeration of provinces would have been highly improbable, unless it were actually prescribed by some adequate external cause; while an associated journey beginning with the one region and ending with the other would exactly fulfil this condition.

What then was the port by which Silvanus was to enter Asia Minor with the Epistle? In order to answer this question we must trace the chief variations of territorial arrangement in the regions bordering on the Euxine to the east of Bithynia during the time with which we are concerned. This is the more necessary, because the “Pontus” of the early Empire, as it appears in most books and maps, is a pure anachronism.

The Bithynian kingdom became a Roman province in B.C. 75 or 74 by bequest of Nicomedes III. This province received a small but important augmentation by conquest in B.C. 65, when the retreat of Mithradates left the greater part of the kingdom of Pontus in the hands of Pompey and his army. It was thought prudent to make over the regions east of the Halys, and also the inland part of Paphlagonia, to various friendly local chieftains. But the maritime part of Paphlagonia was annexed to the Roman dominions, and under the name Pontus was added as a second department to the recently formed province of Bithynia. In the designations of Roman provinces it is always to this Paphlagonian littoral, slightly lengthened to the east, or else to a part of it, that the name Pontus exclusively belongs.

Other portions of the old kingdom of Pontus did indeed eventually carry the name incorporated in their designations: but these were not provincial designations, and the districts themselves had nothing to do with the province “Pontus and Bithynia.” The first of these districts consisted of a short piece of seacoast in and about the delta of the Iris, immediately to the east of the provincial Pontus, together with a great extent of country in the interior to the south and south-west, with two important inland towns, Amasia and Comana. In B.C. 7 it was annexed to the Empire under the name Pontus Galaticus, being joined to the province of Galatia, not to provincial Pontus: in the same year inland Paphlagonia, that is the whole tract to the south of provincial Pontus, was likewise annexed to the Empire and joined to Galatia under the name Paphlagonia. Meanwhile all the remaining or eastern part of ancient Pontus was left outside the Empire as a vassal kingdom under Polemon and his family till A.D. 63, when Nero took possession of it, and made it an additional district of Galatia under the name Pontus Polemoniacus: its most important towns were Trapezus (Trebisond) on the coast and Neocaesarea in the interior. The reason why these two districts were joined to Galatia rather than to Cappadocia, which had been annexed and formed into a province in A.D. 17, was doubtless that Cappadocia was for military purposes dependent on the legate of Syria. Frontier troubles however induced Vespasian in or about A.D. 70 to provide Cappadocia with legions of its own, and to place it under a consular legate instead of a procurator. Either at this time or soon afterwards it became the custom to entrust to the same legate the government of both Galatia and Cappadocia; and this practice lasted, though not without at least one interruption, till about the end of the century, or perhaps later. Early in the second century the two provinces were again separated; and a rearrangement was made, probably at the same time, by which Pontus Polemoniacus and Pontus Galaticus were transferred to Cappadocia from Galatia, which, as will presently appear, received some compensation on the seacoast to the west.

This sketch will suffice to show the relations of the tract of country familiarly associated with the name “Pontus” to the Roman provinces of Asia Minor, at the three principal dates to which the Epistle has been referred. At the beginning of Nero’s reign Pontus Galaticus formed part of the province of Galatia; while the region to the east was not yet Roman soil. In the latter years of Nero’s reign, from 63 onwards, both regions were alike within the Empire, and alike included in Galatia. At some early year of the second century, perhaps not later than the third supposed date of the Epistle, they were shifted to Cappadocia, another province named in the list. Throughout they are treated as appendages to more important regions. It may be added that they contain no towns that can be named with the towns of provincial Pontus as likely places to contain Christian communities even as late as Trajan’s reign, still less as likely ports for Silvanus to land at.

We must now return to the province “Pontus and Bithynia.” Its eastern department called “Pontus,” as constituted in B.C. 65, extended from Heraclea inclusive on the west to the Halys on the east. A generation later, apparently in B.C. 33, it was lengthened to the east, or rather south-east, to include the important town of Amisus. No further change of boundaries, so far as is known, took place for about a century and a half. At some time between Pliny’s administration in A.D. 111-113 and A.D. 150 or 160, probably in connexion with the transfer of Pontus Galaticus and Polemoniacus to Cappadocia, about three quarters of the Paphlagonian littoral, including such towns as Amisus, Sinope, and Abonoteichus, were taken from “Pontus” and added to Galatia. The remaining or western fourth, extending from a point a little eastward of Amastris to Heraclea, continued to form with Bithynia the province “Bithynia and Pontus.” This arrangement appears to have subsisted till late in the fourth century.

Provincial Pontus had an importance altogether disproportionate to its area. It consisted virtually of a chain of Greek towns along the coast, the most considerable of which were Heraclea, Amastris, Abonoteichus, Sinope, and Amisus. Some of them, Sinope above all, had taken a leading part in the commercial enterprise which had been vigorously carried on in the Euxine from very early times; and their names are of frequent occurrence in the confused history of the centuries immediately preceding the Roman occupation.

After successfully resisting the designs of Mithradates IV. in B.C. 220, Sinope was taken by his son Pharnaces I. in 183, and thus became a valuable accession to the Pontic kingdom. The next king, Mithradates V. or Euergetes, was assassinated there about 120. Apparently he had made Sinope the royal residence; for his son, Mithradates VI. or Eupator, the best known of the name, was born and bred in it, and himself “treated it with special honour, and esteemed it a metropolis of the kingdom.” Amisus, which stood next to Sinope in importance, received from him a similar distinction. He adorned it with temples, and built an additional royal quarter, named after himself Eupatoria. Heraclea, after a long and energetic independence, during which it had more than once been the ally of Rome, came into his power by treachery, apparently in 73. The two or three following years saw all three cities besieged and at length taken by the Romans. They all suffered severely, notwithstanding the efforts of Lucullus to spare Sinope and Amisus: Heraclea found in Cotta a less merciful conqueror. But prosperity soon returned. Sinope doubtless shared in the benefits of the restorative policy by which Pompey strove to heal the devastations of the war. When Mithradates died in 63 at Panticapaeum in his Bosporene kingdom and his son Pharnaces sent the body to Pompey, he received it at Amisus and gave it a stately funeral at Sinope. In 47 Sinope was captured by Pharnaces in the attempt to recover the Pontic kingdom: but his defeat by Julius Caesar was soon followed by its cession to Rome; and after two years Caesar made it a Roman colony. Strabo, writing under Tiberius in A.D. 18 or 19, dwells much on the advantages which nature and art had conferred upon it, its two harbours, its dockyards and “marvellous” equipment for the fisheries, its excellent walls, and its adornment with gymnasium, agora, and porticoes. About a century later we find Pliny corresponding with Trajan about supplying it with an aqueduct sixteen miles long. To all appearance it continued under the Empire to be the greatest emporium for the vast trade of the Euxine. Though much of the commerce with farther Asia which had once flowed through Sinope was now diverted into other courses, the loss must have been far more than compensated by the increased commercial needs and activities of the Empire.

Amisus must likewise have been a place of considerable wealth and importance, if we may judge from some incidents connected with its long siege by Lucullus about B.C. 73. His soldiers complained at one time that he did not press the siege with greater vigour, so that they might have the sacking of so “prosperous and rich a city.” When at last it was taken by stratagem, and the governor set it on fire before seeking refuge in flight, and the torches of the Roman plunderers caused fresh conflagrations, Lucullus exclaimed with tears that many times that day he had counted Sylla happy for his success in saving Athens, while he was now himself condemned by a cruel fate to bear the reputation of a Mummius. A city that could thus be named with Athens and Corinth by Lucullus must have been of no common dignity. The conqueror did his best to repair the ravages of his army, restoring most of the ruined buildings, welcoming back the fugitive inhabitants, inviting other Greeks to settle in the city, and attaching to it a considerable territory. He likewise bestowed on it the privileges of a “free city,” doubtless regarding this as the most effectual mode of securing its fidelity to Rome. During the next forty years it underwent various changes of fortune, succumbing to the rule of several local potentates, and twice restored to liberty, by Julius Caesar and by Antony or Augustus. But the Empire brought lasting peace, and by Strabo’s time Amisus had recovered prosperity. The reality of the freedom enjoyed by the city is curiously illustrated in the younger Pliny’s correspondence. When a petition on behalf of its benefit clubs was forwarded by him to Trajan, the emperor acknowledged the binding force of the terms of alliance, notwithstanding his jealous hostility to associations in general.

A third town requiring consideration is Heraclea, in earlier centuries a place of great importance, ruling over a large tract of country. Little is known of its condition under the Empire: one writer however calls it “a very great city”; and its harbour secured for it a large share in the extensive trade in cured fish which had sprung up on the shores of the Euxine. Three other seaports, lying between Heraclea and Sinope, are specially named with Heraclea in connexion with this trade, Tium, Abonoteichus, and Amastris, the last-named being a handsome and well-built town with two harbours, and “metropolis” of Pontus.

Any one of these six towns may possibly have been the gate through which Silvanus was expected to enter Asia Minor: but, if a choice is to be made, there can be little doubt that Sinope stands out before the rest. It was probably the most important in all respects, certainly in commercial activity. Its merchant vessels carried not only fish and various vegetable products of the rich slopes bordering on the Euxine, but iron, Sinopic earth, and not least timber for shipbuilding; and ships were built in its own docks. As a Roman colony it would naturally have a specially free intercourse with Rome.

Jews from Pontus are included in the enumeration of those who were present at Jerusalem at the first Christian Pentecost. With this exception nothing is certainly known of them except as regards two men, bearing the same name. They are the Aquila of the New Testament, “a Jew, a man of Pontus by birth,” to whom we must return presently; and Aquila the translator, a proselyte who lived in Hadrian’s reign and in some accounts appears as the emperor’s kinsman, likewise called a man of Pontus, and by one writer said to come from Sinope. The presence of Jewish colonies in this region may also be reasonably inferred from the manner in which the epistle of Agrippa, as quoted by Philo, describes them as sent forth even “to the remote Pamphylia, Cilicia, the chief parts of Asia as far as Bithynia and as the recesses of the Pontus.” Although “the Pontus” of the last phrase is doubtless not a region of land but the Euxine, and its “recesses” must be the eastern end of the Euxine, with the Cimmerian Bosporus and other inlets and bays on its northern side, it is most unlikely that the intervening seaports would have no Jewish population, even if “Bithynia” was not meant to include, as often, the whole double province.

To Pontus probably belongs the most important notice of early Christianity which comes to us from an external source. Those of Pliny’s letters to Trajan which are concerned with the local affairs of Pontus, as distinguished from Bithynia, stand near together towards the end of the correspondence; and among them stands the letter consulting the emperor about the treatment of the “many” Christians “of every age, every rank, and both sexes,” not in “the towns only but in the villages and the country,” through whom the temples had come to be “well-nigh deserted,” and “the sacred rites” to be “long suspended.” No certain determination of the locality seems however to be possible. A letter referring to Sinope, and apparently written there, is followed by a letter referring to Amisus; and this in its turn, after the interposition of a letter on a private matter, is followed by the long letter on the Christians. Then comes a letter apparently written at Amastris. Among the remaining eleven letters the only one in which a local reference can be recognised is about an application made to Pliny, apparently a little time before, by a public official of Amisus. This order of the letters suggests that Pliny traversed the Pontic department of his province from West to East, and that his letter about the Christians was written either from Amisus, at its eastern extremity, or from Amastris, almost at its western extremity, or from some intermediate point of his return journey to Bithynia, Sinope being by far the most probable of such intermediate stations.

The next glimpse which we obtain of Christianity in Pontus is distinctly connected with Sinope. It was the birthplace of Marcion, whose father was a bishop. The harbour and commerce of Sinope supplied him with the wealth which enabled him in his youth to make an offering of 200,000 sesterces to the Roman church, for he was by occupation a ship-owner and ship-master.

One more notice meets us in the latter part of the second century. Among the letters which Eusebius describes as addressed by Dionysius of Corinth to foreign churches was one which he sent “to the church sojourning at Amastris, together with the [churches] in Pontus,” partly on marriage and continence, partly on the duty of receiving back penitents after lapse and misconduct or even heresy. It was written at the request of two persons who were named: the bishop was not one of them, and his name, Palmas, was mentioned only incidentally. These circumstances are sufficient to explain the prominence given to Amastris. The letter was a reply to an appeal from individual Amastrians, though Dionysius seized the opportunity to signify his opinion to the neighbouring churches, in which similar questions of discipline were doubtless agitated.

These scanty testimonies respecting Jews or Christians in Pontus at an early time contain nothing at variance with the presumptions suggested by what is independently known respecting the towns of provincial Pontus and their inhabitants. Any one of several seaports might without any improbability be the place where Silvanus proposed to land; while the name of Sinope is that which offers itself most readily if we wish to think of one rather than another.

It may reasonably be assumed that the charge from St Peter was not the sole occasion of Silvanus’s voyage to Asia Minor: otherwise the choice of port would be hard to explain. The precise nature of the purpose which took him into the Euxine cannot be known: but indications of personal relations with which it may naturally have been connected are not wanting in the apostolic writings. The Aquila of the New Testament, a Jew before his conversion to the Gospel, was by birth a native of Pontus. Rome however apparently became his second home. When St Luke describes him circumstantially as “having recently come from Italy” at the time when he was first found by St Paul at Corinth, and proceeds to give the reason, namely, “that Claudius had decreed that all the Jews should depart from Rome,” we may be sure that he meant to mark him as having become in a strict sense a Jew of Rome. If Aquila had been a mere visitor at Rome, a writer so little given to superfluous detail as St Luke would not have wasted words in accounting for his being at one place of sojourning rather than another. On the other hand, on the probable supposition that many of his readers were already well acquainted with Aquila’s name, there were good reasons why his early settlement at Rome should interest them. Having once left Rome, Aquila and his wife apparently remained some years in the East. At all events they spent a year and a half at Corinth, during which time St Paul worked with Aquila at his handicraft; they accompanied St Paul to Ephesus; they were left by him there on his departure for Jerusalem; and they were either still there or again there between two and three years later, when he wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians. About a year afterwards however we find them again at Rome; for assuredly to Rome, not to Ephesus, the last chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is addressed no less than the rest of the Epistle. In the Second Epistle to Timothy they are found once more at Ephesus; but the manner in which they are saluted contains nothing at variance with the supposition that they were paying a temporary visit to a city where they must have left many friends.

This latest reference then does not interpose any difficulty in the way of supposing not merely that Aquila and his wife returned to Rome after their long stay in the East, but that Rome became once more their habitual home. If they were settled residents in the great city when they were driven forth by Claudius’s decree, it was natural that they should return when the danger had blown over; not necessarily at the first moment of security, but when the private circumstances of their calling and the needs of the churches left them free to return. Nay, private and still more public considerations of these kinds might well suffice to lead them to choose Rome as their place of future habitual residence, even if they had made it no more than a halting-place before. Enough is recorded of their relations with St Paul to show how welcome to him would be their presence in the great capital and their influence in the church which interested him so warmly, but which he had hitherto been unable to visit.

In the long list of his salutations to Christians at Rome the names of Prisca and Aquila stand first, with accessory language from which their position in the Roman church can to a certain extent be safely inferred. Not merely were they “fellow-workers” of St Paul; not merely had they risked their lives for his; but “all the churches of the Gentiles” gave them thanks as he did, evidently for similar acts of devotion; and they had a congregation in their house. The thanks thus emphatically conveyed must have been earned by services in which all the churches of the Gentiles had some special interest; and this is just what could be rightly said of services rendered to the church of the central city of the Empire, the mother and queen of “the Nations”. It is easy to imagine how many perils the little Christian community might escape through the devotedness of leading members having social influence in the city, and how often such devotedness could not be exercised without the gravest personal risks. The position of Aquila and Prisca in the Roman church is further marked by the fact that there was a congregation in their house, no similar statement being made as to any other of the many persons saluted in the following verses; they had in like manner had a congregation in their house at Ephesus.

The inland route intended to be taken by Silvanus can within moderate limits be conjectured with tolerable certainty. Of the vast province of Galatia the part to be visited between Pontus and Cappadocia could be only Galatia proper, the Galatia of St Paul’s Epistles. Ancyra its capital would be a convenient centre for communication with the other Galatian congregations; and it would be reached without difficulty from any of the Pontic seaports by one or other of the routes which traversed the Paphlagonian hills. From Ancyra more than one road would lead to the Cappadocian Caesarea, either directly, or through Tavium, another mercantile town of Galatia proper. Jews in Cappadocia are mentioned several times in rabbinical literature (comp. Acts 2:9); and it is morally certain that Caesarea would be their chief place of resort: it was almost the only town of any magnitude in Cappadocia, and it was the great emporium for the products of the interior of eastern Asia Minor. The proximity of Lycaonia on the S.W. and Galatia proper on the N.W. would ensure the speedy formation of a Christian community in such a place. Having once reached Caesarea, Silvanus would find himself on the great road which ran westward to Ephesus through Apamea (Celaenae). Reentering the province of Galatia he would pass through the midst of the Lycaonian and Phrygian churches, and so reach Provincial “Asia” and the shores of the Aegean. He would then only have to pass northward through a region known to contain many Christians till at length he reached Bithynia, and either took ship at some Bithynian port or reembarked where he had landed; and so the circuit would be complete. In thus following by natural and simple routes the order of provinces which stands in the first sentence of the Epistle, Silvanus would be brought into contact with every considerable district north of the Taurus in which there is reason to suppose that Christian communities would be found.

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