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EUXI´NUS PONTUS (Εὔξεινος, Πόντος Εὔξεινος: the Black Sea), the sea which washes the shores of Asia Minor, Sarmatia, and Colchis, and which was considered (as indeed physical and geological views require) by the ancients (Strab. ii. p.126), to form together with the MAEOTIS, part of the common basin of the great “Interior Sea.”

1. The Name.

The Euxine bore in earlier ages the epithet of Axenus, or “inhospitable.” (Πόντος Ἄξενος, Scymn. 734; Strab. vii. p.298; Schol. ad Apollon. Rhod. 2.550; Pomp. Mela, 1.19.6; Plin. Nat. 4.12, 6.1.) “Frigida me cohibent Euxini littora Ponti,
Dictus ab antiquis Axenus ille fuit.

(Ovid, Ov. Tr. 4.4. 55.)

It owed this name probably to the weather so frequently described by the ancient writers to the discredit of this sea, as well as the reported cannibalism of its northern Scythian hordes. The more-friendly title, no doubt, came into vogue when its waters were thrown open to Grecian navigation and commerce. It is questionable whether its existence was known to Homer, but it appears under both names in Pindar (Πόντος Ἄξεινος, Pyth. 4.362; Εὔξεινον Πέλαγος, New. 4.79.)

Other appellations are Πέλαγος τὸ Ποντικόν (Strab. i. p.21, xii. p. 547); MARE EUXINUM (Pomp. Mela, 2.1.3; Ovid, Ov. Tr. 4.10. 97); MARE SARMATICUM (Ovid, ex Pont. 4.3. 38; Val. Flac. 8.207); PONTUS TAURICUS (Avien. Or. Mar. 2). The Black Sea is called by the Turks Karadenghez, by the Greeks Maurethalassa, and by the Russians Czarne-More.

2. Historical Geography.

The principal epoch which brought the shores of the Euxine into contact with other land, unless we accept tile account of the expedition of Ramses-Sesostris to Colchis and the banks of the Phasis (Hdt. 2.103), was that national desire to open the inhospitable Euxine, which, clothed in mythical garb, is called the “Expedition of the Argonauts to Colchis.”

“The legend of Prometheus and the unbinding the chains of the fire-bringing Titan on the Caucasus by Hercules in journeying eastward--the ascent of 10 from the valley of the Hybrites towards the Caucasus--and the mythus of Phryxus and Helle--all point to the same path on which Phoenician navigators had earlier adventured.” (Humboldt, Cosmos, vol. ii. p. 140, trans.)

In the historic ages the shores of the Propontis, the Black Sea, and the Palus Macotis, were covered with Grecian settlements. Nearly all these were colonies of the city of Miletus alone, and were, without exception, the marts of a prosperous trade. Although the dates of each cannot be precisely fixed, they must have arisen between the eighth and sixth centuries before our era.

The colonies in the Black Sea were HERACLEIA on the S. coast of Bithynia, in the territory of the Mariandyni. In Paphlagonia was SINOPE which established a species of sovereignty over the other communities. In Pontus was AMNISUS the mother city of TRAPEZUS On the east coast stood the cities of PHASIS, DIOSCURIAS and PHANAGORIA; this last was the principal seat of the slave trade, and during the Macedonian period, the staple for Indian commodities, imported across the Oxus and the Caspian Sea. PANTICAPAEUM in the Tauric Chersonese, was the capital of the little kingdom of the Bosporus, so intimately connected with the corn trade of Greece, especially of Athens. On the north coast was the city of TANAIS on the river of the same name; and OLBIA at the mouth of the Borysthenes. These two places, and Olbia in particular, were of the highest importance for the inland [p. 1.887]trade, which, issuing from thence in a northern and easterly direction, was extended to the very centre of Asia. The settlements on the south-west coast appear never to have attained any consideration; the principal traffic of Greek ships in that sea tended to more northerly ports.

ISTRIA was near the south embouchure of the Danube; TOMI, CALLATIS, ODESSUS and APOLLONIA more to the south. (Comp. Heeren, Man. of Anc. Hist. p. 162, trans; Grote, Hist. of Greece, vol. iii. p. 316, vol. iv. p. 337.)

The exchange of commodities led the traders beyond the Palus Maeotis, through the steppe, where the horde of the central Kirghîz now pasture their herds,--and through a chain of Scythian-Scolotic tribes of the Argippaeans and Issedones, to the Arimaspae, dwelling on the northern declivity of the Altai, and possessing much gold. This tract, the locality of which has been placed between the 53rd and 55th degrees of latitude, and which has again become famous by the Siberian gold-washings, opened up by means of the Black Sea an important source of wealth and luxury to the Greeks. While in another direction the inland traffic between the Prussian coasts and the Greek colonies, the relations of which are shown, by fine coins, struck probably before the eighty-fifth Olympiad, which have been recently found in the Netz district (Abhandl. der Berl. Akad. 1833, pp. 181--224), brought the coasts of the Northern Ocean into connection with the Euxine and Adriatic. The amber, of which this trade consisted, was conveyed to people from people, through Germany, and by the Kelts on either declivity of the Alps, to the Padus, and through Pannonia to the Borysthenes. (Humboldt, Cosmos, vol. ii. pp. 129, 141, trans.)

The Byzantines were masters of the commerce of the Euxine, and it was through them that the supply of articles for which it was celebrated, was brought into the markets of the Mediterranean. These are stated by Polybius (4.38) to be hides (some assert that θρέμματα, and not δέρματα, is the true reading), slaves of the best description, honey, wax, and salt-fish. The pickled fish of the Euxine was famous throughout antiquity (Athen. 3.116), and the figure of a fish on the coins of the Greek cities on this sea, as well as of a fish-hook on those of Byzantium, shows what a value was set upon this trade.

The carrying trade of Central and Northern Asia, which even as early as the times of the Seleucidae had taken the route of the Black Sea, became for the Greeks under the Romans, and during the earlier portion of the Lower Empire, a most important branch of commerce.

The inroads of the Goths and Huns upon the provinces of the Black Sea diverted in great measure the Indian trade into other channels. When the route from Europe to India by the Red Sea was cut off in consequence of Aegypt being under the dominion of the Arabs, commerce sought and obtained an outlet in another direction, and Constantinople became the depôt of Eastern trade.

In the twelfth century Genoa owed her commercial prosperity to the overland trade with India, which she carried on by means of her mercantile establishments on the Euxine.

3. Shape and Admeasurements.

The ancients compared this sea to a Scythian bow; of which the north coast between the Thracian Bosporus and the Phasis constituted the bow, and the south coast the string. (Hecat. Fr. 163; Strab. ii. p.186; Dionys. A. R. 146; Plin. Nat. 4.12.)

In respect of dimensions as far as regards the: circumference, and some transverse lines across it, they seem to have been sufficiently informed. But though Strabo knew its general dimensions, he has totally failed in point of form, for he imagined the: west side from the Bosporus to the Borysthenes was a straight line, while at Dioscurias it formed a narrow deep gulf. (i. p. 125.) On the other hand, the form as given by Ptolemy (3.10) is very tolerable. He places the Phasis and Gulf of Varna opposite to each other, as they nearly are, and the widest part between the Bosporus and the Borysthenes. He also approaches the truth in the space between Carambis and Criumetopon, as well as their relative bearings. But his Maeotis is disproportionably large. (Rennell, Compar. Geog. vol. ii. p. 276.) Strabo (p. 124) places the narrowest distance between Carambis and Criumetopon. [CARAMBIS]

The entire circuit of the Euxine, according to Rennell (l.c.), measured through the different points mentioned in the Periplus, and in the line that an ancient ship would have sailed to coast it, is 1,914 geog. miles, and which turned into Roman miles in the proportion of 60 to 72 are equal to 2,392 M. P. It appears an extraordinary coincidence that 2,360 M.P. should be the estimate of Agrippa, as reported by Pliny (4.12) for the circuit of the Euxine. Other estimates in Pliny (l.c.) are Varro 2,150; Mutianus 2,865; Artemidorus 2,619. Strabo (ii. p.125) makes it out at 25,000 stadia, while Polybius (4.5) has 22,000 stadia. It is a remarkable fact that Polybius, quoted by Pliny (4.12) states that the distance between the Thracian and Cimmerian Bosporus on a straight line was 500 M. P., which agrees so well with the actual distance, that it proves the exact knowledge of the ancients on this point; and that they had a more accurate method of determining a ship's way than has been believed. The Periplus of Arrian addressed to Hadrian contains, according to Gibbon's epigrammatic expression in his 42nd chapter, “whatever the governor of Pontus had seen from Trebizond to Dioscurias; whatever he had heard, from Dioscurias to the Danube; and whatever he knew, from the Danube to Trebizond.” Thus, while Arrian gives much information upon the south and east side of the Euxine, in going round the north shore his intervals become greater, and his measurements less attended to. Rennell, in the second volume of the work already quoted, has identified most of the cities, promontories, and embouchures of rivers, that appear in the Periplus.

The area of the Black Sea differs but little from that of the Caspian. The Euxine and Maeotis, taken together, are about 1/24 larger than the Caspian.

4. Physical Geography.

Polybius (4.39-43) has hazarded a prediction that the Euxine was doomed to become, if not absolutely dry land, at any rate unfit for navigation. The reasoning by which he arrived at this conclusion is curious. Whenever, he says, an infinite cause operates upon a finite object, however small may be the action of the cause, it must at last prevail. Now, the basin of the Euxine is finite, while the time during which the rivers flow into it, either directly or through the Palus Maeotis, bringing with them their alluvial deposit, is infinite, and should it, therefore, be only a little that they bring, the result described must [p. 1.888]ultimately come to pass. But when we consider how great the accumulation is from the numerous streams that empty themselves into this basin,--that is, how powerful and active is the operation of the cause--then it is manifest that not only at some indefinite time, but speedily, what has been said will come to pass.

He then strengthens his position thus assumed, by stating that, according to all tradition, the Palus Maeotis, having been formerly a salt sea conjoined, as it were, in the same basin (σύρρους) with the Euxine, had then become a fresh-water lake of no greater depth of water than from five to seven fathoms, and no longer therefore navigable for large ships, without the assistance of a pilot; and he further instances, as an evidence of the progress of his cause, the great bank (ταινία) 1,000 stadia long, which appears in his time to have existed one day's sail off the mouths of the Danube, and upon which the sailors, while they thought themselves still out at sea, very often ran aground by night, and which was familiarly called by them οτήθη, or the breast, as in Latin the word “dorsum” was applied to the same formation. (Comp. Strab. i. p.50; Amm. Marc. 26.8.46.) Arrian makes no mention of this bank, nor can any traces of it be found now. Either, therefore, the weight of water has been sufficient, at some time or other, to disperse this accumulation which it had before assisted to form, or the land at the mouth of the river has so increased since the time when Polybius and Strabo wrote, that what was then a bank at a distance of thirty-five or forty miles (a moderate computation for a day's sail), has now become an integral part of the main-land.

This opinion of Polybius was not altogether new. Straton of Lampsacus (Strab. i. pp. 49, 50) held the same view; indeed, he said more. According to him the Euxine is very shallow,--was then filling up with mud from the deposit of the rivers (ἴλους πληροῦσθαι), its water was perfectly fresh, and would shortly be choked up; and its west side was already nearly in that state.

However plausible the theory of Polybius may be, there seems no probability of his anticipation being realised. The depth of the Euxine itself, and the constant and vigorous rush of water through the comparatively straight, narrow, and deep passage of Constantinople, will always be sufficient to contain, or rather to carry off, any deposit, however large, which the Danube, the drainage of so large a portion of Europe, or the Phasis, the Halys and other Asiatic streams, or the mighty rivers of the North can bring down from the countries through which they flow. (Journ. Geog. Soc. vol. i. pp. 101--122; Lyell, Princ. of Geology, vol. i. p. 24.)

It has been thought that, at an epoch long anterior to the historical ages, the Caspian and the Euxine were united (comp. Humboldt, Asie Centrale, vol. ii. p. 146). The physical traces of this may easily have given rise to the fancies of the ancients connecting the Caspian with the Euxine by means of the river Phasis (Hecat. p. 92, Ed. Klausen), or through the Palus Maeotis (Strab. xi. p.509), as well as their traditions about the over-pourings of the swollen higher seas into those that were lower. [E.B.J]

hide References (11 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (11):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.103
    • Polybius, Histories, 4.39
    • Polybius, Histories, 4.5
    • Polybius, Histories, 4.38
    • Polybius, Histories, 4.43
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 4.12
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 6.1
    • Ovid, Tristia, 4.10
    • Ovid, Tristia, 4.4
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.10
    • Athenaeus, of Naucratis, Deipnosophistae, 3
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