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Roman provinces in Asia Minor

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Location of the geographic lands of antiquity on the Asia Minor peninsula
Location of the geographic lands of antiquity on the Asia Minor peninsula

When reading about events in the history of the Roman Empire, you sometimes come across geographical names that cannot be intuitively defined on the map of modern countries. Names of lands, such as: Pont, Bithynia, Cilicia, Phrygia, Galatia, Lydia, Pamphilia or Paflagonia are not to be found on the maps of contemporary school geographic atlases.

These regions are situated on the peninsula of Asia Minor, and in the Middle Ages they were conquered by the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks, hence they have modern Turkish names. Similarly, cities are known from the history of ancient Greece and Rome, such as: Nicomedia (the main residence of Emperor Diocletian ), Nice, Ephesus, Caesarea Cappadocia, Trapezunt, and finally located partly in Asia “new Rome” – Constantinople, founded by Constantine the Great today have different names and it’s hard to pinpoint their location at first. A short description of the Roman provinces on the peninsula of Asia Minor can certainly help in this. From the first century CE to the reforms of Diocletian, these provinces were Asia, Bithynia and Pont, Galatia, Cappadocia, Licja and Pamphilia, and Cilicia.

Asia’s first Roman province – Asia

The first Roman province in Asia bore the same name as the entire continent (Latin Asia). This is not a coincidence – the name was later extended to the continent. It covered almost the entire western part of Asia Minor: the Aegean coast, the Hellespont strait and the lands called Myzja, Troada, Eolia, Ionia, Karia, Lydia and Phrygia. The territory came under Roman rule in 133 BCE, when the last ruler of the Kingdom of Pergamon, Attalus III, bequeathed it to the Roman Republic in his will. Pergamon was an ally of the Romans in their previous wars with Macedonia and the Seleucid State. The decision of the last Attalida did not arouse enthusiasm in the eyes of the usurper of the throne of Pergamon – Aristonicus, who assumed the title of Eumenes III. The so-called uprising of Aristonicus, started in 133 BCE, lasted until 130 BCE After initial successes, destroying the army of allies of the Roman kings of Bithynia, Paphlagonia and Cappadocia and the Roman corps under the command of consul Publius Licinius Crassus, Eumenes III suffered a defeat at Stratonica in 130 BCE with the Roman army of Marcus Perpenes. Manius Aquilius, the consul of 129 BCE, finally made Asia a Roman province, but part of the former Kingdom of Pergamon was turned over to the Kingdoms of Pontus and Bithynia.

Asia belonged to the senatorial provinces, being ruled by an official elected by the senate – a proconsul. Ephesus became the capital, and the other major cities were Pergamon, Smyrna, Miletus, Sardis, Adramyttium, Cyzicus, Synnada, Halicarnassus, Tralleis, Mylasa, and Aizanoi. The very borders of the province changed many times, in 88 BCE its territory was taken by Mithridates VI Eupator. The result was the so-called Ephesus Vespers – slaughter, according to various estimates, from 80,000 to 150,000 Romans who settled there. As a result of the campaign of Lucius Cornelius Sulla and Gaius Flavius ​​Fimbria, Mithridates was defeated and forced into peace, which in 85 CE obliged the King of Pontus to give up the territory of the province of Asia (peace at Dardanos ending the First War between Rome and Mithridates). During the Third War with the King of Pontus (74-66 BCE), Asia was under attack, but the long and time-consuming defence of Kyzikos allowed the Romans to organize an army led by Lucius Licinius Lucullus ousted Mithridatida’s troops. Soon Mithridates was finally defeated by Pompey the Great.

During the reign of Augustus, the territorial scope of the Asian provinces was confirmed, and the creation of Roman centres of power from cities resulted in their rapid development, hence for many centuries, it was one of the richest regions of the Roman Empire. The Greek population predominated in the cities, and the indigenous population of Asia Minor dominated in the villages. The province of Asia, or at least its urban population, was quickly Christianized. As a result of Diocletian’s administrative reform, the provinces were created 7 smaller provinces, named after traditional regions. These new provinces were: Asia (included only the Aegean coast), Insulae (included the Aegean islands), Hellespont (the coasts of the strait of that name, today the Dardanelles), Lydia, Karia, Frygia Pacatiana and Phrygia Saluatris.

The division of Asia Minor into provinces that held with minor changes from the 1st century CE to the administrative reform of Diocletian at the end of the 3rd century CE.

Bithynia et Pontus

Bithynia is a land in the northwestern part of Asia Minor, covering the eastern part of the Propontida coast (today’s Sea of ​​Marmara) and the western part of the Black Sea coast. It bordered Mysia to the west, Paphlagonia to the east, and Phrygia and Galatia to the south. Bithynia functioned from the 4th century BCE as an independent Kingdom, and in the wars of Rome with the Seleucids, like Pergamon, it was an ally of Rome. It was in Bithynia that Julius Caesar took refuge in repression during the Sulla dictatorship (80-78 BCE).

The last king of Bithynia, Nikomedes IV Philopator, in order to save the land from entering the sphere of influence of his enemy, king of Pontus – Mithridates VI Eupator, in 74 BCE bequeathed his kingdom to the Roman Republic. His state then included not only Bithynia itself, but also part of Paphlagonia and the border areas received after the annexation of the Asian province to Rome. Immediately after this fact, the Senate voted to annex the country directly to the republic as another province, under the name of Bithynia. Lucius Licinius Lucullus and Marcus Aurelius Kott were sent to secure Roman power. They drove the army of King Pontus from Bithynia. After the final defeat of Mithridates in 63 BCE, all of Paphlagonia and the western part of Pontus were incorporated into Bithynia. From that year on, the province called Bithynia and Pont (Latin Bithynia et Pontus) covered most of the Black Sea coast in Asia Minor. The eastern part of the land of Pont was given to the allies of Rome by Pompey the Great, to later, under Nero, finally become part of another province – Cappadocia. The provincial capital was Nicomedia, the other major cities were Chalcedon, Cius, and Apamea, and the easternmost major city was Trapezunt. In the years 110-113 the provincial governor was Pliny the Younger who quite accurately described his province in extant letters to the emperor Trajan. During Diocletian’s reform in CE 295, the province was divided into three smaller ones: Bithynia, Honorias, and Paphlagonia.

Galatia (Galatia)

Geographically, Galatia is a land in the central part of Asia Minor, bordering on the north with Bithynia and Paphlagonia, on the east with Ponte and Cappadocia, on the south with Cilicia and Lycaonia, and on the west with Phrygia. The capital and main city was Ancyra (today Ankara, the capital of modern Turkey after 1923). The land, which was unique in Asia Minor, was inhabited mostly by Celtic people who arrived there at the beginning of the 3rd century BCE. They invaded the Balkans, reaching Asia Minor. Some of the Celts and their families, after defeating them by the Seleucids, stayed in Asia, settling in Galatia, the name of which comes from Gaul, where the settlers came from.

At the time of the beginning of Roman influences in the 2nd-1st century BCE, this population was already Hellenized, but the Romans called them Gallogrekami. The Kingdom of Galatia became a client state of Rome after the Third War with Mitydates (63 BCE), for numerous services rendered to Pompey’s army in this war, the ruler of Galatia was Dejotarius, tetrarch of one of the Celtic tribes in that region. The eastern part of the Kingdom of Pontus and Little Armenia were also placed under his authority. In the Kingdom of Galatia, there were also the regions of Pisidia and Lycaonia and part of Pamphylia. Dejotarius was later involved in a power conflict between Julius Caesar and Pompey, siding with Pompey, temporarily losing power in Pontus and Little Armenia.

Dejotarius was succeeded by his grandson Kastor, and then the former secretary of Amyntas. This last ruler received from Marcus Antony Paphlagonia and all of Pamphylia, and possibly part of Phrygia. Despite these grants in the Civil War, he quickly joined Octavian’s side. In 25 BCE Amyntas was killed in wars with the tribes of Lycaonia. After his death, a new Roman province was created from Galatia – it included Galatia proper, Pisidia and Pamphylia. During the time of Emperor Vespasian Pamphylia joined Lycia to form the province of Licia and Pamphylia. The province of Galatia was mountainous and sparsely urbanized but played an important strategic role on the peninsula. During Diocletian’s administrative reform, the province was divided into two smaller ones: Galatia and Pisidia, and then after the division of the Empire into eastern and western parts into smaller parts: Galatia Prima, Galatia Secunda and Salutaris.

Cappadocia (Cappadocia)

Cappadocia is a mountainous region in the eastern part of the Asia Minor peninsula. After the death of Alexander the Great, a state ruled by the Ariaratid dynasty was created on its territory. They were dependent on the diadochi, and in the war between the Romans and Antiochus III stood on the side of Seleucid. However, after his defeat, the rulers of Cappadocia became one of the greatest allies of the Romans in the east. King Pontus Mithridates VI Eupator, even before the wars with the Roman Republic, tried to obtain Rome’s consent to annex Cappadocia to his state. The Roman Senate in 95 CE, however, confirmed its “independence” from other kingdoms by placing on the throne of the Kingdom of Cappadocia, a king dependent on Rome. The Kingdom of Cappadocia was an ally of Rome in the wars with Mithridates but was conquered by him and his ally, the king of Armenia, Tigranes the Great.

From the defeat of Mithridates to the beginning of the Tiberius reign Cappadocia was a client state of Rome, one of the buffer states between the Empire and the Parthian state. Tiberius changed the concept of the buffer states and in 17 CE turned the Kingdom of Cappadocia into another Roman province, recalling and closing the last king in Rome – Archelaus.

The practical implementation of the subordination of the provinces fell to Germanicus in 18 CE. In CE 62, the eastern part of the Black Sea coast of the peninsula Asia Minor was incorporated into the province of Cappadocia, from the Trapezont in the west to Colchis. The provincial capital was Caesarea Cappadocia. Due to the proximity of the still troubled eastern border of the Empire, numerous Roman troops were stationed in the province and the territory was one of the bases of numerous expeditions of emperors to wars with the Parthians or Persians.

After Diocletian’s administrative reform, the province was divided into smaller ones: Cappadocia, Little Armenia and Pontus Polemoniacus. Cappadocia was one of the earliest Christianized provinces of the Empire, many eminent theologians came from it, such as: Basil the Great of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus. Cappadocia was also the cradle of Christian religious life (in the formulas of cenobitism and anachoreticism).

Lycia et Pamphylia

The province of Licja and Pamphilia was formed from two regions with these names in the southern part of the Asia Minor Peninsula. The land of Licja bordered on Caria to the west, Pisidia to the north, and Pamphylia to the east. In Asia Minor, it was the region that maintained its independence from Rome the longest. In the 2nd century BCE, it created the so-called The Lycian Federation with the island of Rhodes, which had the status of an independent ally of Rome. The Lycians did not surrender to either Mithridates Eupator during his wars with Rome or to Brutus during the Roman civil wars. The latter fact made the winner of Brutus Mark Antony guarantee their independence. This state of affairs lasted until 43 CE when Emperor Claudius made Lycia a province.

Around 74 CE, Vespasian detached Pamphylia from Galatia and created a province officially named Licja and Pamphilia. The largest cities in the province were Perge, Side, Sillyon, Aspendos, Xanthos, Tlos, Patara, Pinara. During Diocletian’s reform, Licja and Pamphilia were separated into separate provinces.

Cilicia

Cilicia is a geographical region in the south-eastern part of Asia Minor on the border with Syria, south of Cappadocia and east of Lycaonia and Pamphylia. The terrain is lowland and surrounded by mountain ranges: Taunus and Amanus. The so-called The Cilicia Gate (Latin Pylae Ciliciae) – a narrow pass connecting Anatolia with Syria, an important place from a strategic point of view. The coast of the Mediterranean Sea was formed by rocky headlands, which were natural harbours, hence the activity of Cilicia pirates at sea.

Cilicia was divided into two parts – Cilicia Trachea (“Rough Cilicia”) – western part, mountainous, an area famous for pirate activity and the exploitation of timber for shipbuilding, and Cilicia Pedias (“Flat Cilicia”) – lowland, fertile agricultural area. The first to be conquered by the Romans was the lowland part of Cilicia – in 103 BCE it was done by Marcus Antony the Orator, grandfather of the triumvir Mark Antony, defeating the Cilician pirates. Eventually, they were defeated by Pompey the Great in 67 BCE at the Battle of Coracaesium, which allowed the Romans to conquer the land of Cilicia Trachea. After the defeat of Mithridates in 63 BCE, the province of Cilicia was established, encompassing both parts of it, extended to part of Phrygia. Cilicia was temporarily combined into one province with Syria and Phenicia. The capital of the province was Tarsus (Tarsus). As a result of Diocletian’s reform, Cilicia was divided into Cilicia proper and Isauria (which roughly corresponded to the land of Cilicia Trachea).

Further fate of the provinces in Asia Minor

As a result of Diocletian’s administrative reform of 293 CE, the provinces were divided into smaller provinces, and their former role was taken over by dioceses. There were two main dioceses in Asia Minor: Asiana (former Asia and Licja and Pamphilia) and Pontica (Galatia, Bithynia and Pont and Cappadocia), while Cilicia was incorporated into the diocese of Oriens. After the division of the Empire, Asia Minor became part of the Byzantine Empire, and then in the Middle Ages it was conquered by the Turks.

Author: Eligiusz Idczak (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
Sources
  • Hartwin Brandt, Frank Kolb, Lycia et Pamphylia. Eine römische Provinz im Südwesten Kleinasiens, Moguncja 2005.
  • Tilmann Bechert, Die Provinzen des Römischen Reiches. Einführung und Überblick, Moguncja 1999.
  • Maria Jaczynowska, Danuta Musiał, Marek Stępień, Historia starożytna, Warszawa 2006.
  • Frank Daubner, Bellum Asiaticum. Der Krieg der Römer gegen Aristonikos von Pergamon und die Einrichtung der Provinz Asia, Monachium 2006.
  • Christian Marek, Pontus et Bithynia. Die römischen Provinzen im Norden Kleinasiens, Moguncja 2003.
  • Karl Strobel, Bithynia et Pontus. A. Römische Zeit, Stuttgart 1997.

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