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BITHY´NIA (Βιθυνία, Βιθυνίς), a division of Asia Minor, which occupied the eastern part of the coast of the Propontis, the east coast of the Thracian Bosporus, and a considerable part of the coast of the Euxine. On the west it bordered on Mysia; on the south, on Phrygia and Galatia; the eastern limit is less definite. The Rhyndacus is fixed by some geographers as the western boundary of Bithynia; but the following is Strabo's statement (p. 563): “Bithynia, on the east, is bounded by the Paphlagones and Mariandyni, and some of the Epicteti; on the north by the Pontic Sea from the outlets of the Sangarius to the straits at Byzantium and Chalcedon; on the west by the Propontis; and to the south by Phrygia named Epictetus, which is also called Hellespontiaca Phrygia.” His description is correct as to the northern coast line; and when he says that the Propontis forms the western boundary, this also is a correct description of the coast from Chalcedon to the head of the gulf of Cius. In his description of the western coast of Bithynia, he says, that after Chalcedon we come to the gulf of Astacus; and adjoining to (and south of) the gulf of Astacus is another gulf (the gulf of Cius), which penetrates the land nearly towards the rising sun. He then mentions Apameia Myrleia as a Bithynian city, and this Apameia is about half way between the head of the gulf of Cius and the mouth of the Rhyndacus. But he says nothing of the Rhyndacus being the boundary on the west. Prusa (Brusa), he observes, “is built on Mysian Olympus, on the confines of the Phrygians and the Mysians.” (p. 564.) Thus we obtain a southern boundary of Bithynia in this part, which seems to extend along the north face of Olympius to the Sangarius. Strabo adds that it is difficult to fix the limits of the Bithyni, and Mysi, and Phryges, and also of the Doliones, and of the Mygdones, and of the Trees; “and the cause is this, that the immigrants (into Bithynia), being soldiers and barbarians, did not permanently keep the country that they got, but were wanderers, for the most part, driving out and being driven out.”

It was a tradition, that the Bithyni were a Thracian people from the Strymon; that they were called Strymonii while they lived on that river, but changed their name to Bithyni on passing into Asia; it was said that they were driven out of Europe by the Teucri and the Mysi (Herod. vii 75). Strabo (p. 541) observes, “that the Bithyni, being originally Mysi, had their name thus changed from the Thracians who settled among them, the Bithyni and Thyni, is agreed by most; and they give as proofs of this, with respect to the nation of the Bithyni, that even to the present day some in Thrace are called Bithyni; and with respect to the Thyni, they give as proof the acte called Thynias, which is at Apollonia and Salmydessus.” Thucydides (4.75) speaks of Lamachus marching from the Heracleotis along the coast, through the country of the Bithyni Thraces, to Chalcedon. Xenophon, who had seen the coast of Bithynia, calls the shore between the mouth of the Euxine and Heracleia, “Thrace in Asia;” and lie adds, that between Heracleia and the coast of Asia, opposite to Byzantium, there is no city either friendly or Hellenic, but only Thraces Bithyni (Anab. 6.4). Heracleia itself, he places in the country of the Mariandyni. The name Bithynia does not occur in Herodotus, Thucydides, or Xenophon; but Xenophon (Xenoph. Hell. 3.2.2) has the name Bithynis Thrace, and Bithynis. It appears, then, that the country occupied by the people called Bithyni cannot be extended further east than Heracleia, which is about half way between the Sangarius and the river Parthenius.

The name Bithyni does not occur in Homer. When the Bithyni passed over to Asia, they displaced the Mysi and other tribes. The Bithyni were subjected, with other Asiatic peoples, by Croesus, king of Lydia ; but Herodotus (1.28) makes Thracians their generic name, and Thyni and Bithyni the names of the two divisions of them. In course of time, the name Thyni fell into disuse, and the name Bithyni prevailed over the generic name of Thracians. Pliny's statement (5.43) is, that the Thyni occupy (tenent) the coast of Bithynia from Cius to the entrance of the Pontus, and the Bithyni occupy the interior; a statement that certainly has no value for the time when he wrote, nor probably for any other time. The Bithyni were included in the Persian empire after the destruction of the Lydian kingdom by Cyrus and the Persians; and their country, the precise limits of which at that time we cannot ascertain, formed a satrapy, or part of a satrapy. But a Bithynian dynasty sprung up in this country under Doedalsus or Dydalsus, who having, as it is expressed (Memnon, Ap. Phot. Cod. 224), “the sovereignty of the Bithyni,” got possession of the Megarian colony of Astacus [ASTACUS]. The accession of Doedalsus is fixed with reasonable probability between B.C. 430 and B.C. 440. Nine kings followed Doedalsus, the last of whom, Nicomedes III., began to reign B.C. 91. Doedalsus was succeeded by Boteiras; and Bas, the son of Boteiras, defeated Calantus, the general of Alexander of Macedonia, and kept the Macedonians out of the Bithynian territory. Bas had a son, Zipoetes, who became king or chief B.C. 326, and warred successfully against Lysimachus and Antiochus the son of Seleucus. Nicomedes I., the eldest son of Zipoetes, was his successor; and his is a genuine Greek name, from which we may conclude that there had been intermarriage between these Bithynian chieftains and Greeks. This Nicomedes invited the marauding Galli to cross the Bosporus into Asia soon after his accession to power (B.C. 278), and with their aid he defeated a rival brother who held part of the Bithynian country (Liv. 38.16). Nicomedes founded the city Nicomedeia, on the gulf of Astacus, and thus fixed his power securely in the country along the eastern shore of the Propontis. The successor of Nicomedes was Zielas, who treacherously planned the massacre of the Gallic chieftains whom his father had invited into Asia; but the Galli anticipated him, and killed the king. His son Prusias I., who became king in B.C. 228, defeated the Galli who were ravaging the Hellespontine cities, and massacred their women and children. He acquired the town of Cins, on the gulf of Cius, and also Myrleia (Strab. p. 563), by which his dominions on the west were extended nearly to, or perhaps quite, to the Rhyndacus. He also extended his dominions on the east by taking Cierus in the territory of Heracleia, to which he gave the name Prusias, as he had done to Cius on [p. 1.405]the Propontis. He also took Tius at the mouth of the Billaeus, and thus hemmed in the Heracleotae on both sides: but he lost his life in an attempt on Heracleia. His successor (B.C. 180) was Prusias II., who was followed by Nicomedes II. (B.C. 149); and the successor of Nicomedes II. was his son Nicomedes III. (B.C. 91). This last king of Bithynia after being settled in his kingdom by the Romans in B.C. 90, was driven out by Mithridates Eupator B.C. 88 (Liv. Ep. 76), but he was restored at the peace in B.C. 84. He died childless, and left his kingdom to the Romans B.C. 74. (Appian, App. Mith. ch. 71.) The history and chronology of the kings of Bithynia are given in Clinton's Fasti.

Mithridates Eupator added to his dominions, or kingdom of Pontus, the sea coast of Asia Minor westward as far as Heracleia. The parts beyond Heracleia, that is, west of it to the straits, and to Chalcedon, remained to the Bithynian king; but when the kings were put down (as Strabo expresses it), the Romans preserved the same limits, so that Heracleia was attached to Pontus, and the parts on the other side belonged to the Bithyni. (Strab. p. 541.) On the death of Nicomedes III. the Romans reduced his kingdom, according to their phrase, into the form of a province (Liv. Epit. 93); and after the death of Mithridates, they added to Bithynia the western part of the Pontic kingdom, or the coast from Heracleia to Sidene, east of Themiscyra; and Cn. Pompeius divided it into eleven communities or municipalities. (Dio Cassius, 38.10--12; Strab. p. 541.) It is proved that Amisus belonged at this time to Bithynia, from the coins of Amisus, on which the name of C. Papirius Carbo, the first known proconsul of Bithynia, occurs; and Themiscyra and Sidene belonged to the territory of Amisus. That part of the kingdom of Mithridates which Pompeius gave to the descendants of Pylaemenes, was in the interior, about mount Olgassys, a range which lies between the Billaeus and the Halys; and this part Augustus appears to have added to Bitlynia in B.C. 7, together with the Pontic town of Amasia on the Iris. So large a part of Pontus being added to Bithynia, the province may be more properly called Bithynia and Pontus, a name which it had at least from A.D. 63, as we see from inscriptions (Procos. provinciae Ponti et Bithyniae), though it is sometimes simply called Bithynia. (Tac. Ann. 1.74.) The correspondence of Pliny, when he was governor of Bithynia, shows that Sinope and Amisus were within his jurisdiction, and Amisus is east of the Halys. (Plin. Ep. 10.93, 111.) And in several passages of his letters, Pliny speaks of the “Bithynae et Ponticae civitates,” or of the “Bithyni et Pontici,” from which it appears that his province, which he calls Bithynia, comprehended the original Bithynia and a large part of the Mithridatic kingdom of Pontus. The governor of Bithynia was first a Propraetor, sometimes called Proconsul. (Tac. Ann. 1.74; 16.18.) On the division of the provinces under Augustus, Bithynia was given to the senate; but under Trajan it belonged to the emperor, in return for which the senate had Pamphylia. Afterwards the governors were called Legati Aug. Pr. Pr.; and in place of Praetores there was Procuratores.

The regulations (Lex Pompeia) of Cn. Pompeius for the administration of Bithynia, are mentioned several times by the younger Plinius (Ep. 10.84, 85, &c.). The chief town of Bithynia, properly so called, or of the part west of Heracleia, was Nicomedeia, which appears with the title of Metropolis on a coin of the time of Germanicus, though Nicaea disputed this title with it; but Nicaea is said to have got the title of Metropolis under Valentinian and Valens. The Ora Pontica had for its metropolis the city of Amastris; this Bithynia was the part which Pompeius distributed among eleven municipalities. (Strab. p. 541.) The third division, already mentioned as made in B.C. 7, had two metropoleis ; Pompeiopolis for Paphlagonia; and Amasia, on the Iris, for the portion of Pontus that was joined to this Paphlagonia.

The remaining part of Pontus commenced south of Amasia, about the city of Zela, and was probably bounded on the south by the mountains which form the southern side of the basin of the Iris. On the coast it extended from Side to Trapezus (Trebizond). This country was given by M. Antonius, B.C. 36, to king Polemo, and this kingdom, after passing to his widow and to his son Polenso, was made into a separate province by Nero, A.D. 63; but the administration seems to have been sometimes joined to that of Galatia.

This explanation is necessary to remove the confusion and error that appear in many modern books, which make the Parthenius the eastern boundary of Bithynia. In the maps it is usual to mark Paphlagonia as if it were a separate division like Bithynia, and the limits of Bithynia are consequently narrowed a great deal too much. In fact, at one time even Byzantium belonged to the government of Bithynia (Plin. Ep. 10.57), though it was afterwards attached to Thrace. Prusa, under Trajan, was raised to the condition of an independent town. Among the towns of Bithynia and Pontus in the imperial period, Chalcedon, Amisus, and Trapezus, in Pontus, were free towns (liberae); and Apameia, Heracleia, and Sinope, were made coloniae, that is they received Roman settlers who had grants of land. (Strab. pp. 564, 542, 546.) Sinope was made a colony by the dictator Caesar, B.C. 45. Nicomedeia is not mentioned as a colonia till the third century A.D. It was not till after Hadrian's time that the Province of Bithynia was allowed to have a common religious festival; the place of assembly for this great solemnity was, at least at one time, Nicomedeia. The Romans also were very jealous about the formation of clubs and guilds of handicraftsmen in this province, for such associations, it was supposed, might have political objects. (Plin. Ep. 10.36, 96.) During the administration of the younger Pliny in Bithynia, he was much troubled about the meetings of the Christians, and asked for Trajan's advice, who in this matter was more liberally disposed than his governor. (Plin. Ep. 10.97, 98.)

The southern boundary of Bithynia may be determined, in some degree, by the towns that are reckoned to belong to it. Prusa (Brusa), in the western part, is at the foot of the northern face of Olympus; and Hadriani, south of Brusa, belongs to Bithynia. East of Prusa, and a little more north, is Leucae (Lefke), on a branch of the Sangarius, and perhaps within the limits of Bithynia. Clau. diopolis, originally Bithynium, was a Bithynian town. Amasia, on the Iris, has been mentioned as ultimately included in the province of Bithynia; but to fix precisely a southern boundary seems impossible. [p. 1.406]

The coast line of Bithynia from the Rhyndacus to the Bosporus contained the bays of Cius and Astacus, which have been mentioned; and a narrow channel called the Thracian Bosporus separated it from Byzantium and its territory. From the mouth of the Bosporus the coast runs nearly due east to the promontory and port of Calpe, which was visited by Xenophon (Xen. Anab. 6.4). The mouth of the Sangarius is east of Calpe; and east of the Sangarius the coast makes a large curve to the north as far as the Acherusia Chersonesus, near the town of Heracleia. The Acherusia Chersonesus is described by Xenophon (Xen. Anab. 6.2). From Heracleia to the promontory Carambis (Kerempe) the coast has a general ENE. direction; and between these two points is the mouth of the Billaeus, and east of the Billaeus the city of Amastris on the coast. From Cape Carambis the coast line runs east to the promontory Syrias or Lepte, from which the coast turns to the south, and then again to the east, forming a bay. On the peninsula which forms the east side of this bay is the town of Sinope (Sinub). Between Sinope and the mouth of the Halys, the largest river of Asia. Minor, the coast forms a curve, but the mouth of the Halys is near half a degree further south than the promontory of Lepte. From the mouth of the Halys the coast turns to the south, and then turns again to the north. A bay is thus formed, on the west side of which, 900 stadia from Sinope, and about 30 miles further south than the mouth of the Halys, is the town of Amisus (Samsun). At the extremity of a projecting tract of country which forms the east side of this bay are the outlets of the Iris, the river on which Arnasia stands, and a river that has a much longer course than is given to it in the older maps. The coast of the province Bithynia extended still further east, as it has been shown; but the description of the remaining part of the coast to Trapezus may more appropriately be given under PONTUS

The principal mountain range in Bithynia is Olympus, which extends eastward from the Rhyndacus. Immediately above Brusa Olympus is covered with snow even to the end of March. It is not easy to say how far the name Olympus extended to the east; but probably the name was given to part of the range east of the Sangarius. Tile mountains on the north side of Asia have a general eastern direction, but they are broken by transverse valleys through which some rivers, as the Sangarius and Halys, have a general northern course to the sea. A large part of the course of the Billaeus, if our maps are correct, lies in a valley formed by parallel ranges, of which the southern range appears to be the continuation of Olympus, on the southern border of Bithynia. The Arganthonius occupies the hilly country in the west between the bays of Astacus and Cius. The Ormenium of Ptolemy is in the interior of Bithynia, south of Amastris, between the sea and the southern range of Bithynia. The 0lgassys (Strab. p. 562) is one of the great interior ranges, which extends westward from the Halys, a lofty and rugged region. The country along the coast of Bithynia, east of the Sangarius, is hilly and sometimes mountainous; but these heights along the coast are inferior to the great mountain masses of the interior, the range of Olympus, and those to the east of it. Bithynia west of the Sangarius contains three considerable lakes. Between Nicomedeia and the Sangarius is the lake Sabanja, probably Sophon, a name which occurs in. the Greek writers of the Lower Empire; and certainly the lake which Pliny, when he was governor of Bithynia, proposed to Trajan to unite to the gulf of Astacus by a canal (Ep. 10.50). The Aseania [ASCANIA] on which Nicaea stands is larger than lake Sabanja. Both these are mountain basins filled with water. The lake of Abullionte, through which the Rhyndacus flows, is also a mountain lake, and abounds in fish. This is the Apolloniatis of Strabo, but the basin of the Rhyndacus does not appear to have belonged to Bithynia. The part of Bithynia west of the Sangarius is the best part of the country, and contains some fertile plains. It was formerly well wooded, and there are still extensive forests, which commence in the country north of Nicomedeia (Izmid), and extend nearly to Boli on the Sangarius. The large towns of Bithynia are west of the Sangarius. The places east of the Sangarius in the interior were of little note; and the chief towns were the Greek settlements on the coast. The interior, east of the Sangarius, was a wooded tract, and there are still many forests in this part. One great road ran along the sea from the point where the coast of the Euxine commences near the temple of Jupiter Urius, past Heraclea, Amastris, and Sinope, as far as Amisus. A road ran from Chrysopolis, which is near the junction of the Bosporus and Propontis, to Nicomedeia. But there is no road east of the Sangarius, that we can trace by the towns upon it, which did not lie far in the interior; nor do there appear at present to be any great roads in the interior in an eastern direction, except those that run a considerable distance from the coast, a fact which shows the mountainous character of the interior of Bithynia.

There is a paper in the London Geog. Journal, vol. ix., by Mr. Ainsworth, Notes of a Journey from Constantinople by Heraclea to Angora, which contains much valuable information on the physical character of Bithynia.


hide References (16 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (16):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.28
    • Thucydides, Histories, 4.75
    • Xenophon, Anabasis, 6.2
    • Xenophon, Anabasis, 6.4
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 3.2.2
    • Appian, Mithridatic Wars, 10.71
    • Tacitus, Annales, 16.18
    • Tacitus, Annales, 1.74
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 10.111
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 10.36
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 10.57
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 10.93
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 10.96
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 10.97
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 10.98
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 38, 16
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