The city of Athenai (Ἀθῆναι, modern Pazar, Turkey), in some contexts referred to as Pontic Athens, situated on the Pontic shore about halfway between Trapezus (modern Trabzon, Turkey) and Bathys Limen (modern Batumi, Georgia).

The settlement was testified by classical and medieval authors including Arrian, Procopius, and Stephanos Byzantinos; the origin of its name, however, was less clear. Procopius wrote in Wars (VIII, ii, 10-11) that:

And there is a certain village there named Athenae, not, as some suppose, because colonists from Athens settled there, but because a certain woman named Athenaea in early times ruled over the land, and the tomb of this woman is there even to my day.

The Byzantine Monuments and Topography of the Pontos (Dumbarton Oaks, 1985) mentions another interpretation (p. 335-6):

In fact, as Allen points out, Athenai may well be derived, like so many place names of this area which begin with A-, from a Laz word - in this case a word meaning "the place where there is shade." There is indeed another medieval site called Aténi in Georgia proper. By the same token, Rhizaion may be "the place where people (or soldiers) meet," and Mapavri suggests "leafy."

Some sources, such as an article found on Turkish Wikipedia, also suggest a Milesian foundation, but so far I've found no textual references in support of this theory (although it is worth pointing out that this was historically possible given the strong presence of Milesians in the region). Additionally, settlements along the Pontic coast were frequently relocated during Hellenistic period, and population exchanges were not uncommon. So far, no conclusive evidences for a Milesian origin have been discovered.

I would like to know if any new research has been done on this topic, and what - if any connections the site had with Athens, either directly or indirectly. Much thanks in advance.

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    According to Turkish wiki, it was founded by Greeks from Miletus so there doesn't seem to be a direct connection (at least) to Athens. Do you have any reason for suspecting otherwise, especially given that your research so far indicates quite the contrary? Commented Feb 3, 2019 at 1:51
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    @LarsBosteen That Wiki page did not provide references for that claim though. As far as I know, no existing ancient sources point to a Milesian foundation of the site (although it is possible given the strong Milesian presence in the region). Apart from the seemingly obvious connection in name, the case for an Athenian foundation/connection mainly comes from archaeological findings; for instance, temple columns from Athenai have been noted to resemble Athenian counterparts as early as 19th century. Commented Feb 3, 2019 at 2:25
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    As someone has voted to close this question as promoting a specific idea or theory, it would be a good idea to edit some of this into your question. The lack of a source for the Miletus connection is worth pursuing, but the connection in name to Athens may simply be explained by the goddess or else the princess Athenaea (a clue which may also be worth pursuing). Also, I'm not sure about the architecture link - I'm no expert on this area but my guess is you'd find similarities in many locations. To be honest, I doubt if there is much more to be known but I'd be happy to be proved wrong. Commented Feb 3, 2019 at 2:58
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    @LarsBosteen Thanks for the advice. I just added a bit more background information concerning a Milesian foundation. I think you are right about architectural similarity, and I will also double-check my sources because I remember that specific reference regarding columns from only one journal article published a long time ago. Commented Feb 3, 2019 at 3:24
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    Please do not respond in comments; comment discussions are a serious disincentive to answering the question. Questions raise issues/questions; OP should edit the question to clarify.
    – MCW
    Commented Feb 3, 2019 at 11:56

2 Answers 2


Note: I contributed to a number of articles on the Trebizond Empire for Wikipedia, so while I do not claim to be an expert on this subject, I can speak with some authority on the available scholarship.

The etymology of Athenae/Atina/Pazar is uncertain. Some favor a Greek origin -- but fail to provide a convincing rationale to explain it. Some favor a Laz origin I'm partial to this etymology for a number of reasons: Laz is the local language, predating Turkish & Greek in the area; there a nearby river named Adienus. I have seen experts offer a Laz etymology for a number of place names in the area, for instance Trebizond.

But about scholarship. This is a part of the world whose history has not attracted much attention -- but deserves much more! The latest work in English on Athenae/Atina are the works of Anthony Bryer. (The previous writer in English about this part of the world is William Miller, whose Trebizond: The Last Greek Empire was published in 1926.) The latest scholarly work I know of has been published in Greek & Russian. I say "know of" because there might be articles in Georgian, Armenian an/or Turkish.

In short, the place name may come from Greek or Laz. Until more research is performed & published, your guess is as good as mine.

  • The first recorded occupation is the trading colony Αθήνα established here by the Ancient Greeks of Miletos in the 8th century BC....Miletus (/maɪˈliːtəs/; Ancient Greek: Μῑ́λητος, romanized: Mīlētos; Hittite transcription Millawanda or Milawata (exonyms); Latin: Miletus; Turkish: Milet) was an ancient Greek city on the western coast of Anatolia,.. Miletus was considered the greatest and wealthiest of Greek cities... So where is the confusion? What language did the wealthiest Greeks in Greece/Turkey, speak?
    – user45344
    Commented Aug 7, 2020 at 22:57
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    The Greeks may have adopted a local toponym, as they had in other cases, such as Parnassus & Corinth. In the cases of Athenae/Atina & Trebizond, they modified the word into a more familiar form -- but as I said above, your guess which is right is as good as mine.
    – llywrch
    Commented Aug 7, 2020 at 23:18
  • What guess? Αθήνα is the greek word for Athens. It is also the the word they chose for Athina. Does that not answer it? Αθήνα + Αθήνα = confusion?
    – user45344
    Commented Aug 7, 2020 at 23:25
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    ? A Greek settlement/colony on Italic shores doesn't make Latin a likely source of etymology for Napoli? Bryer died in 2016, and I quote a German/Turkish scholar writing in English from Toronto with a pub-date of 2019. Why his speculation is good should be recognisable from the excerpts I present. Or, better yet, by reading the full paper? Commented Aug 8, 2020 at 1:17

In short: probably yes.

Prokopios mentions the village only to refute the local tradition that it had been founded by its more famous namesake. Scholars have shared this skepticism and thus largely relegated Pontic Athens to footnotes or condemned it to complete oblivion.
But nothing is more plausible than regarding it as a result of Perikles’ expedition to the Euxine (ca. 437/35 BC). Athenai may have a pre-history as a Milesian apoikia called Limne. Less certain is the role it played after the breakdown of Athenian thalassocracy (405 BC).

[…] a foundation under Athenian auspices in the 430s BC is the most likely.

Altay Coşkun: "Pontic Athens. An Athenian Emporion in its Geo-Historical Context", Gephyra 18, 2019, p11–31.
(Gephyra – Günümüz Türki̇yesi̇ʼnin anti̇k devi̇rʼdeki̇ tari̇hi̇ ve kültürü i̇çi̇n dergi̇/Journal for the Ancient History and Cultures of the Eastern Mediterranean Access PDF)

This very recent English language paper weighs the scarce evidence and argues quite convincingly that a Milesian settlement may have been around in the vicinity, and that locals might have spoken another language than Greek, but that etynology doesn't favour a really probable connection to either. A small Athenian outpost not only offers the most parsimonious explanation, it also has the most pro-argumets going for it.


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