A History of Trabzon

The church of St Sophia at Trabzon, looking north

Sam Topalidis. 2015

1. Introduction

Trabzon is a town with over 230,000 people (2009 census – it is currently believed to be over 300,000) on the northeast Turkish Black Sea coast at latitude 41°00′ north and longitude 39°45′ east (Figure 1).  It is the second largest Turkish urban centre (after Samsun) on the Black Sea.

It is the second largest Turkish urban centre (after Samsun) on the Black Sea.  The Turkish northern coastline from Samsun to Batumi in the east is hemmed in to the Black Sea by the Pontic Alps (Figure 1) which rise to over 4,000 metres in the east (Bryer 1970).  The mean annual rainfall in Trabzon is around 760 millimetres with autumn being the peak rain season.  Snow can fall in winter (Acar et al 2007).  

Trabzon was settled by Greeks probably by the 7th century BC (Tsetskhladze 1994 see Note 1), but there were indigenous people already living in the area.  Trabzon was the ancient capital of the Greek speaking Komnenos Byzantine Kingdom (1204–1461) within the Pontos—the northeast portion of Anatolia adjacent the Black Sea.  It survived until 1461, 8 years after the fall of Byzantine Constantinople when both localities fell to the Ottoman Turks. 

Trabzon was previously called Trebizond which was the English name for the Greek Trapezous (Τραπεζος).  (Trapezi (τραπέζί) means table in Greek.)  It was named after the flat table like promontory on which the town was sited. 

In the 16th century, Ottoman Turks referred to the town as Tarabzon (Dankoff 2009).  Today, Turks use the name Trabzon, while the Greeks refer to the town as Trapezounta (Τραπεζούντα).  

Figure 1. The Black Sea region (King 2006) 

The classical town of Trabzon was protected by ravines on its eastern and western sides and on the northern side by a cliff overlooking a foreshore.  The site is trapezoid in form with the narrow side at the southern end; here there are no natural defences and a strong wall was built to close off the town from the rest of the neck of land (Bryer and Winfield 1985).

Historically, Trabzon was a strategic and commercially important port.  It was one of the few ports on the Anatolian Black Sea.  It was the capital of a distinct local identity with a productive hinterland, a combination of indigenous, especially Caucasian people and of Greek colonists and culture, the most easterly port (Figure 2) through which European shipping could once reach a major overland route over the Pontic Alps that penetrated central Asia.  The periods of Trabzon’s major commercial importance were from 1258 to 1475 and from 1829 to 1869 (Bryer 2006).  

In the 14th century the town walls were extended northward to the sea.  The ancient and medieval Trabzon possessed no natural harbour lying within the shelter of its defences; but there was protection for boats to the east at a bay called Daphnous.  There is no level hinterland to the town but the hills rise gently behind it for some distance inland (Bryer and Winfield 1985).  (See Note 2 for descriptions by some travellers who visited Trabzon from 1404 to 1916.)

The purpose of this work is to consolidate a more detailed summary in English of a history of Trabzon.  It concentrates on the history of the settlement of Trabzon with little reference to its hinterland.  The article covers the settlement of indigenous people around Trabzon, Greek colonisation, the Mithradatic Wars with Rome, the Byzantine period, the Seljuk Turks, the Ottoman Turks, its commercial rise in the 19th century, the Russian occupation during World War I, the exchange of christian and muslim populations between Greece and Turkey in the 1920s and some more recent developments in modern Trabzon. 

Figure 2. Trabzon port, from Boz Tepe looking north (2003, author’s collection) 

2. Early Human Settlement

Unfortunately, there are no archaeological findings on the site of Trabzon.  The ancient town is buried beneath the modern town.  In addition, the level of the Black Sea has risen up to 4 metres since the 1st century AD and this rise in the sea level may disguise its ancient foundations.  As a consequence, it is unknown when humans first settled in the Trabzon area (Tsetskhladze 2007).  

When the Greeks settled the site of Trabzon in the 7th century BC there was a local population living there.  These people were probably the same people (e.g. Colchians), mentioned by Xenophon when he arrived there in 400 BC with 10,000 Greek mercenaries from their journey deep in Persian territory. 

Before Xenophon, the Greek historian Herodotus (born c. 485 BC–died 425 BC) mentions the Moschians, Tibareni, Macrones and Mossynoeci (around Trabzon) as being included in a satrapy of the Persian Achaemenid Empire which fought under Xerxes (486–465 BC).  Thus, the Pontos appears to have been included within the Persian Empire from the 6th or 5th centuries BC and the Greek colonies would have been subject to it if only as vassals (Hewson 2009). 

According to Xenophon, Trapezous, a Greek settlement, was a colony of Sinope in Colchian territory (Sinope is 400 kilometres to the west).  In turn, Sinope was a Greek colony of Miletos, on the Anatolian west coast (Avram et al 2004).  Xenophon does not record if the Sinopian Greeks had to remove local people from the site of Trabzon. 

Xenophon stated that Trabzon continued to pay tribute to Sinope, so at that time (400 BC), they were not part of the Persian Empire Satrapy.  (But they may have paid gifts to Persia.)  Xenophon mentions that some local indigenous people were friendly to the Trabzon Greeks while other Colchian tribes were not.  

Xenophon describes several indigenous peoples near Trabzon, such as the Macrones immediately south and assorted Colchian tribes at the coast.  At the present site of Machka (32 kilometres south of Trabzon) Xenophon was initially barred from crossing the north bank of the river by the Macrones.  The Macrones were subsequently persuaded to help the Greeks.  In 3 days, due the difficult terrain, the Greeks covered only 19 kilometres above the east bank of the Degirmen River.  The river probably formed the natural boundary belonging to the Colchians.  It took the Greeks two further days to reach the sea at Trabzon (Mitford 2000).

3. Mithradates and the Romans

When Alexander the Great (356–23 BC) defeated the Persian King Darius III in Anatolia, on his way to defeating the Persian Empire, he did not advance north of Ankara.  So the west Pontos remained under the satraps of Persia while the remote eastern Pontos had not been conquered.  After the death of Alexander in 323 BC and the creation of the Hellenistic Kingdoms, Mithradates I declared east Pontos independent and at least no later than 302 BC established the Kingdom of Pontos (Koromila 2002). 

The origins of Mithradates I Ktistes (the builder) (302–266 BC), the first Pontic king, is not well understood.  He probably came from the upper classes of Pontos, and was possibly related to the Persian dynasts.  He did not interfere with the body politic in the Greek cities of the coast which controlled the markets and shipping.  Greek was the official language.  Mithradates I and a succession of kings from the same family ruled over the area from Heraclea (modern Eregli) to Trabzon on the Black Sea (see Figure 1) for over 150 years until the reign of Mithradates VI Eupator (120–63 BC), where the Kingdom of Pontos reached its peak (Erciyas 2001). 

Mithradates VI had ambitions beyond the Black Sea as he set his sights on the Hellenistic world of Anatolia which was under Roman rule.  The series of Mithradatic Wars waged against the Romans forced Rome to send considerable forces to Pontos to quash Mithradates.  Pompey defeated Mithradates in 64 BC bringing about the dissolution of the Mithradatic Kingdom (Koromila 2002). 

After the removal of Mithradates VI, Rome gave Trabzon to Deiotaros, the Galatian King south of Trabzon.  After his death of Deiotaros, Anthony transferred it to a grandson of Mithradates and after that, in 36 BC it became part of the reconstituted Pontic Kingdom under Polemo I, the former ruler of Cilicia Tracheia.  When Polemo II abdicated in 64 AD, it was incorporated as a free city into the expanded Roman province of Galatia.  After 64 AD, Trabzon became a station of the Roman fleet in the Black Sea making it the port of Santala, the Roman legionary and communications centre south of the Pontic Alps (Bryer and Winfield 1985).  

Roman Emperor Hadrian (117–38 AD) probably visited Trabzon in 129 AD.  The harbour was then built or improved.  Traditionally, Hadrian’s harbour is associated with the now largely submerged Molos below the Lower City.  The first major blow came when the Goths sacked Trabzon in 257 AD.  The town was slow to recover.  It stopped minting its own coins and lost its status as a free city.  St Eugenios and his martyrs were believed to have been put to death under Roman Emperor Diocletian (284–304 AD).  The martyr overthrew the statue of Mithras on Mt Minthrion (the 240 metre high hill now called Boz Tepe) which overlooked the town from the southeast (Bryer and Winfield 1985).  

4.  The Byzantines and the Megas Komnenoi of the Trapezuntine Empire

Trabzon had an important position in Byzantine Emperor Justinian’s Persian war (6th century) and the town had a revival in prosperity.  Under Emperor Leo the Isaurian (717–41), the Byzantine Empire was reorganized and divided into themes (administrative divisions); Trabzon became the capital of the 8th theme, Chaldea.  Its strong fortifications protected it from the Seljuk Turk invasion which swept over Anatolia after the battle of Manzikert in 1071 and at that critical time, Theodore Gabras, a local leader, saved it from the invaders.  Gabras was the first strong man who emerged out of the history of Byzantine Trabzon.  Another Gabras (Constantine) held Trabzon in 1139, which he governed like a tyrant (Miller 1926). 

Trabzon was walled before 257 AD and was probably restored during the Byzantine period in the 6th century and possibly in the 9th and late 11th century (Bryer and Winfield 1985). 

        In 1204, Trabzon became the capital of the Komnenos Byzantine Empire which existed more in a constitutional than a geographical sense.  It consisted of a long strip along the southern shore of the Black Sea protected from central Anatolia by the Pontic Mountains.  Its wealth and influence far outstripped its size and population.  The transit trade via land and sea was very profitable due to the collected taxes on goods entering and leaving the town to and from Asia.  The Komnenos Emperors of Trebizond listed in Table 1 were Greek by language, Byzantine by culture and tradition and Orthodox christian by faith.  This microcosm of a Byzantine Empire was constantly threatened by its Mongol and the Turk neighbours in the interior of Anatolia.  Their Emperors prospered partly by paying tribute and partly by marrying their daughters or sisters with their leaders (Nicol 1996).  This small empire outlasted the Byzantine Empire at Constantinople by 8 years.  A description of some of the Emperors’ Komnenos follows.   

Table 1. The Komnenos Emperors of Trebizond (Bryer and Winfield 1985)  


Years of reign


Alexios I


Grandson of Byzantine Emperor Andronikos I.

Andronikos I Gidon


Son-in-law of Alexios I. 

John (Ioannes) I Axouchos


Son of Alexios I.  Died in 1238 while playing a form of polo.

Manuel I


Son of Alexios I.

Andronikos II


Born c.1236 & died 1267.  Son of Manuel I. 



Born 1254.  Son of Manuel I.  Died 1280.  Deposed by his brother John. 

John (Ioannes) II

1280–85 & 1285–97

Son of Manuel I.



Half-sister of John II.

Alexios II


Son of John II.

Andronikos III


Died 1332. Son of Alexios II.

Manuel II


Born 1324. Son of Andronikos III. Overthrown by his uncle Basil.



Died 1340.  Son of Alexios II.

Anna Anachoutlou

1341 &

Murdered in 1342.  Daughter of Alexios II.


1341 &

Born c. 1285 & resigned in 1349.  Son of John II. 

John (Ioannes) III


Son of Michael.  Deposed in 1344. 

Alexios III


Second son of Basil.

Manuel III


Son of Alexios III.

Alexios IV


Son of Manuel III.

John (Ioannes) IV


Deposed his father Alexios IV.



Son of Alexios IV.  Dethroned 1461.


Alexios I (1204–22)

During the rule of the Byzantine Empire (c.324 to 1453), Greek unity was maintained until 1204 when the Latin Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade conquered Constantinople.  Then the Pontos separated from the state of Constantinople (Miller 1926). 

Alexios Komnenos was born in 1182, son of Manuel and grandson of Byzantine Emperor Andronikos I.  Alexios died in 1222.  Andronikos I had occupied the throne and was murdered in 1185.  His eldest son Manuel also died, leaving two children, Alexios and David.  In 1204, just before Constantinople fell to the crusaders of the Fourth Crusade, the 22 year old Alexios and his brother, David, left Constantinople for Georgia.  From there with a Georgian contingent, provided by their paternal Aunt Thamar they occupied Trabzon (Miller 1926). 

In 1214 the Seljuk Turks occupied Sinope and forced Alexios Komnenos to pay tribute and render military service.  The Empire of Trabzon was reduced to a narrow strip of land to the east of the Iris and Thermodon rivers (Miller 1926). 

Andronikos I Gidon (1222–35)

Alexios I was succeeded by his able son-in-law Andronikos Gidon who had great experience in warfare.  Melik (son of the Seljuk Sultan Kai Kubad I and succeeded to the throne of Iconium in 1220) marched on Trabzon in 1223, but without success.  Melik was captured and then sent home.  From 1223 to 1231, Trabzon no longer needed to pay tribute to Iconium nor supply any military service.  After 1231 however, Trabzon once again became vassal of the Sultan of Iconium.  Andronikos I died in 1235 (Miller 1926). 

Manuel I (1238–63)

Son of Alexios I (Table 1) and died in 1263.  Manuel’s reign witnessed the exchange of Seljuk Turk for Mongol control.  His lances served the Seljuk ranks at the battle of Kousadac in 1243 when the Mongols routed the forces of the Seljuk Sultan.  After 1258, the date of the destruction of Bagdad by the Mongols, there was an increase in trade through Trabzon when goods from the East were transported to Trabzon and the Black Sea, instead of to the Mediterranean (Miller 1926). 

John II (1280–85 & 1285–97)

Born in 1262–63, son of Manuel 1 and died in 1297 after a weak and turbulent reign (Miller 1926).  In 1280, John II usurped the throne from his brother George.  In 1285, his half-sister Theodora temporarily gained power (Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World).

In 1282 John II went to Constantinople to wed the Byzantine Emperor’s daughter, Eudokia.  John II was asked by the Constantinople envoys to remove his red boots (the symbol of the Imperial dignity) and wear black boots.  The Byzantine Emperor gave his son-in-law, John II, the lesser title of, ‘Emperor and Autocrat of all the East, the Iberians, and the Transmarine Provinces’.  The church of St Gregory of Nyssa in Trabzon contained his portrait with his robes adorned with single-headed eagles, the ‘special emblem of the Komneni of Trabzon’.  His wife’s robes were adorned with double-headed eagles of Byzantium, to show her ‘superior’ origin (Miller 1926).  Today, Pontic Greeks revere the emblem of the single-headed eagle. 

Alexios II (1297–1330)

Born in 1283, son of John II and died in 1330.  In 1301, Alexios mounted a victorious campaign to drive the Turkmens out of Kerasous (modern Giresun).  He signed treaties with Genoa (1316) and Venice (1319) granted both Italian cities trade privileges.  Alexios built the Lower City walls of Trabzon that run down to the sea (The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium) (Figures 3 & 4).  This increased the total walled area from over 86,000 square metres to nearly 220,000 square metres (Bryer and Winfield 1985).  

When its defences were completed by 1324, Trabzon consisted of three connected but distinct walled enclosures, the Lower City, the Middle City, and the Citadel.  The Lower City, near sea level was over 134,000 square metres in size; above it is the Middle City, of about 67,000 square metres.  Finally, nearly 1 kilometre inland, 50 metres above sea level and 40 metres above the ravine beds below, lay the Citadel, of about 19,000 square metres (Bryer and Winfield 1985). 

During his reign, the Empire of Trebizond reached its peak.  He was a patron of the arts and science (Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World).  

Figure 3. Map of Trabzon (Finlay 1850 in Bryer and Winfield 1985, between pp. 194–95) 

Figure 4. Lower City, Zağnos Kapisi Tower from the southwest (2003, author’s collection)

Alexios III (1349–90)

Born in 1338, son of Basil I and died in 1390.  He enjoyed the longest reign of any Trebizond Emperor.  Alexios cemented good relations with the Turkomans by marrying two of his sisters and four of his daughters to their various rulers.  Alexios founded the monastery at Vazelon and restored the monastery at Soumela (south of Trabzon) (The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium). 

During his reign he was confronted with civil wars between aristocratic families of Trabzon.  He also encountered the rivalries between the Venetians and the Genoese merchants, as well as the attacks by the Turkomans.  Alexios was a great patron of higher education and of many churches and monasteries of the area.  He also restored the walls of the Middle City (Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World). 

From the mid-14th century, double-headed eagles appear on the coins of the Trapezuntine Empire and symbolise it on Catalan maps.  The ‘double’, rather than the ‘single’ headed eagle seems to have been used as a mark of the Empire.  It was, of course, a much more common symbol of the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople (Bryer and Winfield 1985).  Theodora Kantakouzene, wife of Alexios III, is depicted at the head of their chrysobull (document of state sealed with the seal of the Emperor) of 1385 for Dionysiou Monastery at Mt Athos, wearing double-headed eagles on her costume (Figure 5).


Figure 5. Alexios III and Theodora Kantakouzene from a chrysobull in the archives of the Dionysiou Monastery.

Manuel III (1390–1417)

Born in 1364, son of Alexios III and died in 1417.  Under the 1390 peace treaty, the Empire became tributary to Tamerlane (the muslim Turko-Mongol conqueror from central Asia).  In 1396, Alexios III granted the Venetians the privilege to trade over the Trapezuntine Empire (Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World). 

Manuel III’s troops fought on the side of Tamerlane which defeated the Ottoman Turks thus allowing Trabzon to be spared after the battle of Ankara in 1402 (Nicol 1972).  In 1405, Tamerlane died and by 1430 the Ottoman frontier was back where it had been in 1401 (McEvedy 1992). 

Alexios IV (1417–29)

Born 1382, son of Manuel III, murdered in 1429.  He was the benefactor of many monasteries and churches.  Alexios managed to secure his territories against external threats by marrying female family members to other rulers.  Alexios was assassinated by the supporters of his son, John IV and buried near the Chrysokephalos church (Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World).  His remains were discovered by Russian archaeologists in 1917 during the Russian occupation of Trabzon during World War I.  His remains were transferred to Greece by Metropolitan Chrysanthos when the latter left Trabzon during the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey (Bryer and Winfield 1985).  The remains are currently buried in the new Panayia Soumela Monastery in northern Greece.

John IV (1429–58)

Born around 1404–05, the son of Alexios IV and died in 1458.  In 1429 he deposed his father.  He was confronted by Turkmans including the Ottomans in Anatolia.  After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mehmet II turned against Trabzon.  John was forced to sign a peace treaty with the Ottoman Sultan and pay an annual tribute.  To build an alliance, John IV married his daughter Theodora, to Uzun Hasan (Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World), Sultan of the White Sheep Turkomans (the ruler from eastern Anatolia to western Iran). 

David I (1458–61)

Born around 1408, the third son of Alexios IV and was executed in 1463.  David was the last Emperor of Trebizond.  In 1461, he surrendered Trabzon to the Ottomans after a siege of over 1 month.  He and his family were taken prisoner and shipped to Constantinople.  Two years later he was accused of a conspiracy and executed by Sultan Mehmet II (The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium).

5. Main Churches in Trabzon (still standing)

There were christians in Trabzon before the 3rd century AD.  The earliest evidence of a bishop or a prelate, of Trabzon comes in 253–54.  The earliest church, St Anne, appears prior to 884.  Trabzon was well served with churches.  In 1847, Feruhan Bey reported that the town had 24 Greek churches, of which many were in ruin and only 12 were open continuously, others were closed for months at a time (Lowry 2009).  The Greek Metropolitan, Constantios of Trabzon (1830–79), rebuilt every medieval church still in Orthodox hands.  By 1973 only 10 monuments survived more or less intact, four as mosques and St Sophia as a museum and 12 in a ruinous condition (Bryer and Winfield 1985). 

St Andrea

        Situated on the western side of the western ravine in the Lower City.  The only surviving example in the town of an Anatolian barn church.  Built in the 10th or the 11th centuries.  The church was probably abandoned after 1461 and probably converted into the Molla Nakip mosque by 1609.  It was abandoned in the 19th century (Bryer and Winfield 1985). 

St Anne

Located off Meraş Caddesi in the eastern suburbs, it is the oldest surviving church in Trabzon.  It was restored in 884–85 and was an important mortuary chapel in the late 14th and early 15th century (Bryer and Winfield 1985).  It is now closed. 

Panayia Chrysokephalos (Golden-headed)

It stands in the centre of the Middle City (Figure 3) and was the most important church in the Trapezuntine Empire.  The Chrysokephalos was the metropolitical, coronation, and funerary church of the Grand Komnenoi and the church of one of the richest monasteries of the Empire.  It was the cathedral of Trabzon by 914.  It was rebuilt as an imperial basilica by 1235 and reconstructed by 1351 (at the latest).  After 1461 it became the principal mosque of Trabzon by Sultan Mehmet II.  It is now called the Ortahisar mosque (Figure 6) (Bryer and Winfield 1985). 

Figure 6. Panayia Chrysokephalos (Ortahisar mosque) (Kokkas 2005, p. 130) 

St Elefterios

        The church in the Çömleçi quarter was believed to be built by the Genoese (Figure 3) in the 15th century.  It was still used as a church after the Ottoman conquest up to 1923 when it was abandoned and was later used as a warehouse.  In 1953 it was converted into the Hüsnü Köktuğ mosque (Yücel 1988). 

St Eugenios

Originally dedicated to St Eugenios and is situated nearly 200 metres east of the Citadel of Trabzon, on a small hill overlooking the eastern ravine (Figure 3).  It was built before 1223 and the church was either fire damaged or burnt down in 1340.  St Eugenios and his martyrs were believed to have been put to death under Roman Emperor Diocletian (285–305 AD) after overthrowing the statue of Mithras on Mt Minthrion (Boz Tepe) (Bryer and Winfield 1985). 

Alexios I Komnenos (1204-1222) had the St Eugenios church built at the place where St Eugenios was buried (Yücel 1988).  It was converted into the Yeni Cuma mosque after 1486 (Figure 7) (Lowry 2009). 

Figure 7. St Eugenios (Yeni Cuma mosque) (Kokkas 2005, p. 131) 

Kaymakli monastery (Armenian monastery of the All Saviour)

Is situated on the eastern slopes of Boz Tepe, about 2 kilometres south of the harbour at Daphnous.  The monastery, consisting of approximately rectangular walled terrace of about 30 metres by 45 metres in which stand a main church, fountain, tower, a small chapel and an arcaded monastic building.  The chapel is dated 1421.  The Kaymakli monastery remained the centre of Armenian religious life in Trabzon till 1915, when its final function was as a transit camp for Armenians who were deported to Syria (Bryer and Winfield 1985), [during the Armenian massacres].  The remnants of the Monastery are now part of a farm. 

St Maria

Situated between the Meydan and the sea, the church was inaugurated in 1874 (Bryer and Winfield 1985).  It was still an operating christian church until it closed in 2006 after its Roman Catholic priest, Andrea Santoro, was tragically shot dead while praying inside the church.  Currently, there is no christian church open in Trabzon.

St Philip

          Situated in the southwest corner of Daphnous (Figure 3).  The church is believed to have been built before 1302.  In 1461, St Philip church became the second cathedral of Trabzon (after the Chrysokephalos church).  In about 1665 it was converted into the Kudrettin mosque (Bryer and Winfield 1985).  It was rebuilt in 1968–69 (Yücel 1988).

St Sabbas

Situated on the northern slopes and cliff face of Boz Tepe (Figure 3).  There had been a large rectangular enclosure and four chapels, three in the cliff face and one standing free below; all rock cut (Bryer and Winfield 1985).  In 1344 Trapezuntine Emperor John III was deposed and banished to St Sabbas.  In 1349 Emperor Michael was also deposed and banished for 1 year to St Sabbas (Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World).  Today the church is deserted and in disrepair. 

St Sophia (Holy Wisdom)

St Sophia is situated on a bluff nearly 2 kilometres west of the walled town just south of the seashore (Figure 3).  The monastery originally consisted of the main church (Figure 8), with three apses and three porches; a smaller church standing north of the main church; a tower standing west of the main church and remains of monastic buildings within a walled enclosure of about 90 metres by 50 metres.  The main church was founded by Manuel I (1238–63) or his

Figure 8. St Sophia, looking north (2003, author’s collection)

immediate successors (Bryer and Winfield 1985).  The conversion of the church of St Sophia into a mosque was in 1572, or slightly later (Lowry 2009). 

In 1601, Bordier observed it was always closed and allowed to fall into disrepair (Lowry 2009).  In 1836 it was still in a sad state of decay (Hamilton 1842).  By 1879, it had been appropriated for military purposes and was full of stores (Tozer 1881). 

During World War I it was used as a depot and military hospital.  After being restored by the University of Edinburgh, under David Talbot Rice and David Winfield, it was converted into a museum in 1964 (Yücel 1988).  The restored frescoes on the western entrance are quite spectacular.  In 2013, under some protest, it was again converted into a mosque. 

Panayia Theoskepastos (God-protected)

Located on Boz Tepe, midway between the harbour of Daphnous and the Citadel of Trabzon (Figure 3).  It was founded or endowed during the reign of Alexios III (1349–90).  The nunnery of the Theoskepastos included a 19th century church of St Constantine above the cave church, a large two-storied hall and the cave church of Theoskepastos itself.  The Theoskepastos was the only known nunnery in the Trapezuntine Empire and remained open until 1922 when it was abandoned (Bryer and Winfield 1985).  By 2003 it was run-down. 

Restoration of the monastery began in March 2014 and was nearing completion in January 2015.  The restoration will include the historical rock church and the rare frescoes.  Once completed, it is hoped the monastery will bring an increase in tourism to the town (Hurriyet Daily News, 30 January 2015).  As at June 2015 the restoration had not been completed. 

6. Ottoman conquest of Trabzon (1461)

The closest record of the population of Trabzon prior to the Ottoman conquest of Trabzon was by Pero Tafur who visited Trabzon in 1437–38.  Tafur estimated the town had about 4,000 inhabitants (Lowry 2009).  

In August 1461, the Emperor of Trebizond, David Komnenos, surrendered Trabzon to the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II after a siege of 32 days.  The Emperor and members of his family, together with their movable properties were sent to Istanbul (work of Chalkokondyles c.1430–c.1465).  The Emperor’s officials, plus other notables and some of its wealthiest families and their belongings, were also sent by ship to Istanbul (Lowry 2009). 

Mehmet II then selected around 1,500 young men and women from Trabzon and the surrounding countryside (the overwhelming majority came from the latter).  Of this number, around 800 of the boys were sent to Istanbul to join the Janissary Corps.  The remaining around 700 young women and men were enrolled in the personal service of the Sultan and also sent to the capital.  The remainder of the inhabitants were left in the town and confirmed in the ownership of their properties.  Mehmet II appointed a governor and left a garrison of 400 Janissaries in the citadel and settled a community of guards in the town (Chalkokondyles, Lowry 2009). 

Mehmet II died in 1481 and his son Bayezid II (1481–1512) became Sultan.  Bayezid II married Maria, a Greek girl from the village of Doubera, (over 30 kilometres south of Trabzon).  Maria was called Gulbahar Hatun and she held court in Trabzon where she died in 1505.  Bayezid’s son, the future Sultan Selim I (1512–20), was governor of Trabzon from 1489 to 1512.  Selim’s son, the future Sultan Suleyman (1520–66), was born and brought up in Trabzon (Bryer 1998).

7. ‘Estimated’ population figures

C.1486 to 1583

This section summarises the detailed research by Lowry (2009).  After the fall of Trabzon in 1461, there were four Ottoman tax registers (tahrir defters) compiled between c.1486 and 1583 and they provide information on the ‘estimated’ population in the Trabzon region.  The following estimated population figures, including a breakdown of the christian population, (Table 2) relate specifically to the town of Trabzon and exclude the nearby villages.  

Table 2. ‘Estimated’ population in Trabzon from c.1486 to 1583 tax registers 






% Greeks





% Armenian orthodox





% Catholic





% total christian

Less than 77%

Less than 84%



% muslim

Over 23%

Over 16%



‘Estimated’ total population





aAdjusted estimates by the author, of Lowry’s (2009) original work, producing a slight increase in the number of muslims to accommodate for widowed heads of muslim households and muslim guards not counted in the c.1486 tax register. 

In c.1486 there was an estimated 7,080 people recorded in Trabzon of which less than 77% were christians (author’s adjusted estimate of Lowry’s (2009) original work).  Most of the Trabzon’s muslims were involuntary immigrants.  (See Note 3 on the limitations of the tax registers for estimating population figures.)

In c.1523 there was an estimated 7,115 people recorded in Trabzon of which less than 84% were christians, mostly Greek (author’s adjusted estimates of Lowry’s (2009) work).  From c.1486, the recorded muslim population decreased in c.1523 as some muslims who were forced to settle in the town prior to c.1486, subsequently returned to their former homes.  

In 1553, the estimated population decreased to 6,100 people.  Around 47% of the total estimated population was recorded as muslim (see Note 3) with 53% christian.  In the around 30 years between the c.1523 and 1553 tax registers three factors were evident:

  • The town’s muslim population increased dramatically due to muslims moving into the town.
  • Probably around 2,000 christians were deported, probably to Istanbul. 
  • A smaller number of the town’s christians converted to Islam, probably so they would not be deported. 

In 1583, the estimated population rose dramatically to 10,575 of whom 46% were christians and 54% professed muslims.  The muslim population grew at a much faster rate than the christian population.  There was also a large number of christians converting to Islam.  The most important reason for the conversions was probably due to the higher taxes paid by christians (compared to muslims), a strong economic incentive for the poorest christians.  In 1583, around 70% of the population was most probably still largely Greek speaking. 

Into the 17th century there were limited Ottoman registers on Trabzon’s population.  It is estimated that in the middle of the 17th century, Trabzon had a population of around 13,000 people.  During 1651–56, muslims and non-muslims did not live separately in ghettos.  They were living within the same quarter neighbouring each other.  The local community displayed close interaction between the religious groups (Tuluveli 2002). 


Population figures for the town of Trabzon can be gleamed from population ‘guestimates’ from some of the travellers who visited Trabzon in the 19th century (Table 3).  The population appears to have risen most in the late 19th century/early 20th century with a strong christian minority (possibly up to 44% of the population). 

Table 3. ‘Estimated’ population and ethnicity in Trabzon 1840 to just prior to 1914








Prior to 1914g

% muslims








% Greeks
















% catholics








% foreigners








Estimated population








a  Fallmerayer (in Matossian 2009)

b  Feruhan Bey (in Lowry 2009)

c  Palgrave (in Bryer 1970)

d  Tozer (1881)

e  Shortly before 1890, Cuinet (in Hewson 2009) 

f  Trabzon villayet (province) Salname (Lowry 2009).  Population figure is high and is
not reported here, but the percentage of ethnic groups is reported.  Population is
believed to be lower than 44,000.

g  Dickerman (in Akarca 2002). Estimated population figure is high and is not reported
here, but the percentage of ethnic groups is reported.  Population is believed to be
lower than 44,000.

8. Oldest Trabzon mosques and tombs 

The following summary identifies the oldest mosques in Trabzon built before 1700, which had not been pulled down, sourced from Yücel (1988).  These mosques have undergone many alterations and some have lost their original features.  Excluding the Gülbahar Hatun mosque with its reverse T-plan, in general the mosques have a rectangular plan. 

The major tombs in Trabzon are also described which are also sourced from Yücel (1988). 

Ayşe-Gülbahar Hatun mosque

This mosque (Figure 9) has a special place in Trabzon as Ayşe-Gülbahar Hatun, [a Greek girl named Maria from Doubera, south of Trabzon] was a wife of Sultan Bayezid II and most probably mother of Sultan Selim.  Sultan Selim had this mosque built in Atapark, in the western suburbs, probably during 1505–06, while he was Governor of Trabzon.  Architecturally it has a reverse T-plan.  The Ayşe-Gülbahar Hatun Tomb is built next to the mosque.  The mosque’s praying area is covered by a dome measuring 15 metres by 15 metres.  The minaret on an octagonal base on the right side of the mosque has a balcony.  In 1803 and 1905 the mosque was repaired.  The fountain in front of the mosque indicates the presence of a former court.  This fountain was repaired in 1967. 

Erdoğdu Bey mosque

This mosque was built in 1577 by Trabzon Governor, Erdoğdu Bey.  It is located less than 1 kilometre south of the Ayşe-Gülbahar Hatun mosque.  It was repaired in 1899 and 1970.  The entrance on the northern side leads to the two-storeyed praying spaces onboth sides of the gate and then to the main praying area. 

Fatih Küçük mosque

Built between the 13th and 14th centuries in the Bahçecik quarter and was probably originally a church (name unknown) prior to its conversion to a mosque after 1461.  It is made of stone on a rectangular plan and is covered by a vault.  The minaret on the street in the west was built in 1981.  [The mosque was restored in 2012.]

Haci Kasim mosque

Built in the Haci Kasim quarter in the eastern suburbs by Haci Kasim (the Finance Minister of Sultan Selim) in the second half of the 16th century and has been through many modifications. 

Hasan Ağa mosque

The mosque was built in 1552 on Sakiz Meydani Street in Mumhane Önü in the western suburbs.  It has a pentagonal plan and does not have praying areas on the sides.  A balcony in the north serves as a minaret. 


Figure 9. Gulbahar Hatun Mosque (Yücel 1988, p. 51)

Hatun Hatuncuk mosque

Built on Kabak Meydane Street in the western suburbs, probably in the 16th century.  It was built as a Dervish lodge and then converted into a mosque after the Dervish lodges were abolished.  The concrete minaret with one balcony was built in 1971. 

Iskender Paşa mosque

It was built by Iskender Paşa who became Governor of Trabzon in 1512.  The mosque is located at Taksim Square behind the Trabzon Municipal Building in the eastern suburbs.  The tomb of Iskender Paşa is in the west of the mosque.  The stairs inside the mosque lead to the minaret carried by an octagonal base.  The mosque was repaired in 1803 and 1883. 

Kemer Kaya mosque

The mosque was converted from a church (name unknown) possibly in 1888 in the Kemerkaya quarter in the eastern suburbs near the sea.  The original construction date of the church is unknown. 

Musa Paşa mosque

Built in 1668 in the Musa Pasha quarter by Musa Paşa.  Preserving its original characteristics, it is the only single domed mosque in Trabzon belonging to the early Ottoman era.  Its minaret has one balcony. 

Semerciler mosque

Built on the Semerciler slope in the Çarşi quarter in the eastern suburbs in the 16th century and repaired in 1820.  It has a square plan and ashlar walls.  It has two gates, one in the west and the other in the north.  The stone minaret at the northwest corner is small and has one balcony. 

Şirin Hatun mosque

Built in 1470 in Içkale, by prince Abdullah, son of Sultan Bayezid II and Şirin Hatun and was dedicated to his mother.  It is a historical landmark and was repaired in 1869.  It has a rectangular plan, stone walls and a wooden roof. 

Tavanli mosque

Built in 1650 in the Gazi Paşa quarter next to the Tabakhane Bridge.  The mosque was repaired in 1874 and 1890.  The stone minaret, with one balcony, is ascended through the praying area.

Ayşe-Gülbahar HatunTomb

        In the east of the Ayşe-Gülbahar Hatun mosque (Figure 9) lays the tomb of Ayşe-Gülbahar Hatun, most probably the mother of Sultan Selim and a wife of Sultan Bayezid II (1481–1512).  The tomb was built in 1505 by Sultan Selim while he was Governor of Trabzon.  It has 3.8 metre wide octagonal sides covered by a dome with arched windows.  There are two additional marble sarcophagi in the tomb belonging to Prince Salih and Princess Kamer Sultan the daughter of Sultan Selim. 

The uncovered tomb (Açik Türbe)

        The Açik Türbe tomb is located opposite the Police Headquarters, 300 metres west of the Ayşe-Gülbahar Hatuntomb.  The hexagonal structure is built on a slope and is covered by a low dome supported by piers at each corner.  It houses the graves of Hasan Efendi (1778) and his son (1777). 

Osman Ağa Tomb (Emir Mehmet Tomb)

        This tomb is located next to the Hatun Hatuncuk mosque at Kabak Square.  Emir Mehmet, who is assumed had some relationship with the Dervish lodge (that was located there) is buried here.  The second grave there belongs to Şeyh Osma Baba, a respected religious leader.  The tomb has an octagonal plan covered by a dome. 

Ahi Evren Dede Tomb

        This tomb is located next to the Ahi Evren mosque in the Boztepe district.  The square tomb is covered by a dome.  It was repaired in 1887–88 by Haci Hakki Baba and includes the grave of Ahi Evren Dede and the graves of Haci Hakki Baba and his sons. 

9. Derebeys

To the non-muslims the local derebey wars brought misery, including a change in the legal status of large numbers of Greek peasants in the valleys.  Up to this time, their religious leaders dealt directly with Ottoman officials.  Connections with the government had been largely confined to the payment of the ‘head tax’ paid by non-muslims.  Official justice was largely in the hands of the Greek bishop and effective local justice was with the ‘peacemaking elders’.  But the derebeys were recognized by the Pashalik and the Porte on feudal terms: the payment of a tithe [paid as a compulsory tax to government] and military service.  These corresponded to the christian and muslim monetary and service tributes, but the derebeys required recruits for their armies and, where christians could not give military service, they demanded work service instead.  Thus many christians became serfs (Bryer 1970).

Trabzon itself was divided into three timariot holdings: the eastern suburbs and western suburbs and the lower walled city.  The Citadel was held by the Ottoman Pasha and a Janissary garrison.  In the 18th century, the family which held the eastern suburbs was particularly oppressive (Bryer 1969). 

Local wars between the derebeys were a curse.  In 1758–59 the central and lower walled cities, St Eugenios and the Theoskepastos monastery were used as derebey strongholds against the Pasha and his Janissary garrison.  In 1812, Sultan Mahmud II proclaimed the first 19th century Ottoman reform and ordered the destruction of the derebeys.  The massacre of the Janissaries followed in 1826 and the abolition of the last timar holdings in 1832 (Bryer 1969).  The destruction of the derebeys in Trabzon occurred during 1812–40 (Bryer 1970).  

10. Revival of the Trabzon-Erzurum-Tabriz trade route, 1829–69

After the 15th century the Trabzon–Erzurum–Tabriz trade route was largely abandoned.  The Ottoman closure of the Black Sea to foreign commerce had ended Trabzon’s importance as a transit centre, although in 1774, the Black Sea was opened again (King 2006). 

Tabriz in Persia was the terminal point for most of the European goods shipped through Trabzon with Persian and a few Armenian merchants handled most of this trade in the mid-1830s.  Trabzon’s commerce prospered (Braude and Lewis 1982).  The period coincided with the Ottoman reforms of 1812 and 1839, and the suppression of the Pontic derebeys of Trabzon (Bryer 1970). 

In 1837, however, the imports of Tabriz fell to 30% of the previous year.  As a result, several major Persian merchants in Istanbul and Tabriz, who had over extended themselves, went bankrupt.  Their places were mostly taken by Russian, Greek and Armenian merchants.  Most of the Greek merchants had attained Russian consular protection (Braude and Lewis 1982). 

As the activities of the Greek and Armenian merchants of the Russian Black Sea ports and Tabriz increased, the position of the Greeks and Armenians in Trabzon, acting as intermediaries, became increasingly important.  Meanwhile, these merchants attracted the attention of the Russian and the British consuls at Trabzon, who saw them as sole agents of European trade (Braude and Lewis 1982). 

In 1838, Trabzon’s trade was stimulated by the Anglo-Ottoman Commercial Convention which removed all Ottoman monopolies.  Soon after, trade agreements were signed with other major European powers and Russia (Braude and Lewis 1982). 

The Crimean War (1853–56) had a significant impact on Trabzon’s trade; many supplies of the Allied armies (of Britain, France, Sardinia and the Ottoman Empire) were shipped through this port (Braude and Lewis 1982).  In 1856, most remaining civil restrictions on the non-muslims were lifted and the crypto-christians (see Note 4) were allowed to declare their christian faith.  By 1867 the British consul in Trabzon reported on the status of Pontic Greeks with, ‘they do not aim at equality, which they have already got, but at mastery.’  The Turkish majority was becoming aware it was entering second-class citizenship and friction between the two groups was inevitable (Bryer 1970). 

In the 1860s and 1870s Trabzon’s trade decreased and then levelled off.  Two developments permanently undermined the Trabzon–Erzurum–Tabriz route.  First, the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and secondly the building of an alternative route by Russia in the Caucasus to divert the Persian transit trade.  As Europeans initiated broader economic and technological changes, the economic influence and control of christian elements in the Ottoman Empire expanded.  Combined with personal connections in Europe, provided to the Greek and Armenian Ottoman traders they assumed prominent positions in foreign trade (Braude and Lewis 1982). 

The economic dominance of the christians was reflected in Trabzon.  By 1884, the foreign trade of Trabzon was dominated by Greek and Armenian merchants.  In extending protection to christian Ottomans, European diplomats and consuls in major Ottoman cities abused privileges granted to them.  They extended the rights accorded to their own nationals to some non-muslims Ottoman subjects for their own aims.  In this way, they created a privileged class – by helping them obtain tax exemptions and preferential treatment (Braude and Lewis 1982). 

The muslim merchants, subject to higher taxes than their christian counterparts lost considerable leverage in the economic life in the town.  The advantages the Greek and Armenian merchants who held Russian passports created firm resentment within the muslim merchant community.  This resentment later materialised in the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries in the form of political action and conflicts between the different ethnic groups (Braude and Lewis 1982) (see Note 5). 

11. Beginning of the christian massacres

In May 1895 the Trabzon Armenian primate was murdered by Ottoman Turkish irregulars.  The Armenians believed that the Vali of Van was responsible.  An assassination attempt on the Vali was unsuccessful with severe ramifications.  The Vali then ordered the light cavalry regiments to massacre the entire Armenian population of the Trabzon province (Suakjian 1981).  The massacres committed under Sultan Abdul Hamid against the Armenians in the province of Trabzon occurred in October 1895 and claimed about 1,000 lives.  The massacres led to mass emigration (Payaslian 2009).  In Trabzon, on 18 October 1895, somewhere between 180 and 500 Armenians were killed (see Note 6).

On 26 June 1915 an official Ottoman proclamation stated that all Armenians (except for the sick) were to leave Trabzon within 5 days of the proclamation, for the interior under the escort of the gendarmerie.  Between 1 and 18 July almost 6,000 Armenians left Trabzon in 5 caravans under escort.  Very few escaped being murdered (see Note 7).  Armenians were also deliberately drowned at sea.  There are eye witness accounts by the Italian and the American consuls in Trabzon of the genocide.  Of the approximately 65,000 Armenians in the province of Trabzon, all but 15,000 were deported and subsequently dispatched to their deaths (Suakjian 1981).  

12. Traumatic period 1915–24

1915 to the end of World War I (1918)

The American Consul in Trabzon (Heizer) estimated that over the winter of 1914–15, between 5,000 and 6,000 Ottoman soldiers and civilians had died of typhus in Trabzon (Rogan 2015).  In 1915, the Russian Black Sea Fleet bombarded Trabzon causing over 1,300 casualties (The Encyclopaedia of Islam 1998). This led to Trabzon being captured by the Russians in April 1916. 

When the Russians arrived in Trabzon it had approximately up to 15,000 Greeks; but the majority of the Ottoman Turk population had already fled (although significant numbers stayed in the surrounding villages) (Akarca 2002).  The first months of occupation were chaotic with looting and destruction of the districts abandoned by the muslims.  Within 5 months, there was an influx of Armenians into the Russian held territory.  Some of the Armenians were organised into gangs and wreaked revenge [in retribution of the Ottoman Armenian Genocide in 1915] on the remaining Turks.  During the occupation there was a food shortage and widespread disease that killed many soldiers and civilians (Mintslov 1923).  

During the Russian occupation, the Greek Metropolitan of Trabzon, Chrysanthos, worked to ensure that locals, regardless of religion, did not suffer unbearably (Clark 2006).  In January 1918, a month before the Ottoman re-occupation of Trabzon and at the first symptom of revolt against the Greeks by the Turks, Chrysanthos distributed arms to the christian inhabitants so they could defend themselves (Greek Patriarchate 1919). 

The complete withdrawal of the Russians from the Trabzon region forced 30,000 panic stricken Greeks to leave with the Russians (see Note 8).  According to Kwiatkowski (Austrian Consul at Trabzon) 8,000 were inhabitants of the town (Photiades 1987).  This left only 2,300 christians in Chrysanthos’s Trabzon Diocese (Greek Patriarchate 1919). 

After the Armistice, the persecution of the christians continued.  This forced some Greeks to organize armed bands of volunteers (militias) to defend the Greek population against the irregular Turkish soldiers and brigands (Ligue Nationale du Pont Euxin 1919). 

After World War I

The Greek community in the Pontos began calling for an independent Pontos state and argued their case in 1919 at the Paris Peace Conference.  In the same year, under international pressure, the Istanbul Government agreed to investigate the treatment of christians in Trabzon to ‘prove’ no mistreatment was occurring.  Finally, to restore order, Mustafa Kemal (the future Ataturk) was appointed by the Istanbul Government to head the regional army and in 1919 he landed in Samsun (Stanley 2007).  

Over the next 2 years localised fighting got worse.  Various Greek militias were formed in the Pontos in both the mountains and the towns (see Note 9).  Finally, in April 1920, the Turks created the Central Army to crush the rebels and by 1923, Mustafa Kemal and General Kazim Karabekir Pasha finally brought the region back under Ottoman Turk control.  In 1921–22, one technique used was to forcibly exile Greek men aged between 15 and 50 years from the Black Sea coastal region to join labour battalions.  Most of Trabzon’s male Greeks were marched to central Anatolia, where most were to die (see Note 10) (Stanley 2007).  

Tragically, in May 1922, it was reported that all Greek boys as young as 11 to 14 years of age from Trabzon were to be massacred at Machka (south of Trabzon) (The Christian Science Monitor, 31 May 1922) (see Note 11).  

In December 1922, Greeks from the Black Sea area including Trabzon, began to arrive in Istanbul and were placed into refugee camps on route to Greece (Yildirim 2012).  In January (winter) 1923 most of the Orthodox christian families who still lived in Trabzon were told they must leave their homes permanently and gather near the harbour bringing only what they could carry.  Within a few days, the uprooted Greeks were taken to disease-ridden refugee camps in Istanbul (where many died), on to Greece, their notional homeland (Clark 2006).  (Many also died who had to walk long distances from their villages to the ports.)

In the end, the only real choice for christian Pontic Greeks was to leave their homeland or convert to Islam and remain in Anatolia (Psomiades 2006).  

By 1924 about 1.4 million of the surviving Anatolian Greeks were forcibly uprooted and settled in Greece as part of the compulsory exchange of Greek [christian] and Turkish [muslim] populations contained in the peace settlement with Turkey at the Conference of Lausanne.  (Many thousands of Greeks had previously left with the departing Russian army in 1918.  They were not to leave in bulk from the Caucasus for Greece until 1939 or later.) 

Of the much smaller number of muslims forced to leave permanently from Greece to their notional home of Turkey; 56,347 were sent to the Turkish Black Sea region.  However, of the 1,328 people who arrived in Trabzon, only 393 people settled.  Initially, Trabzon was not selected for settlement since the large number of the houses vacated by Greeks and Armenians had all been occupied by local residents.  Trabzon also lacked adequate land for the migrants.  Houses and shops in the centre and 59 hectares of land located in the green belt zone were distributed to the 393 people (Çomu 2012).  

13. Trabzon in more recent times

In 1930, Trabzon’s share of the Persian transit trade had fallen to less than 4% compared to 53% before World War I (Aydemir and Aydemir 2007).  By 1936, this reduced Persian trade was conducted by lorry which had finally replaced the camel.  In 1939, Trabzon was left isolated by the extension of the Ankara-Erzincan railway to Erzurum, (located southeast of Trabzon),  (www.trainsofturkey.com/w/pmwiki.php/History/TCDD#toc6).  In 1941, the production of nuts was still the life-blood of the town.  By 1945, Trabzon’s population had dropped to 25,000 (1945 Census) which was much lower than its pre-World War I population (Table 3) (Wright 1945).  By 1950, Trabzon remained isolated from the rest of Anatolia (Harris 2005). 

The port was modernised in 1954 including a new breakwater, but it handled much less traffic than nearby Samsun.  The airport was opened in 1957 and a Technical University was founded in 1963 which expanded to a full-scale University in 1982 (The Encyclopaedia of Islam 1998).  

On the sporting front, from its founding in 1967, Trabzonspor, the town’s professional football team, has enjoyed winning several titles in the Turkish Super League and continues to be a very competitive team.  It continues to be a source of much sporting pride. 

The 1960s and 1970s witnessed significant population growth for the town.  There was another spurt of in-migration after the fall of the Soviet Union as traders from the Caucasus made Trabzon their key entrepot (Stanley 2007).  Trabzon’s population rose to 140,000 in 1990; 180,000 in 1998 (Papadopoulou-Symeonidou 2001) and 230,000 in 2009 (2009 census).

The major regional imports are coal, heavy lumber, timber and cars.  Agricultural products, like hazelnuts, nut products, vegetables and fruits cover 94% of exports, about half of them produced regionally (Aydemir and Aydemir 2007).  

Trabzon’s manufacturing industry is still agro-based.  There are tea and hazelnut processing facilities, the manufacturing of cement, building materials, medical, metal, glass products, together with trade in items made of copper, silver and gold.  In addition, there are fish canning factories (www.kultur.gov.tr/EN,33572/the-economy-and-trade-in-trabzon.html).  

Tourism accounts for a considerable part of Trabzon’s economy with visitors to the ‘restored’ Soumela monastery (south of Trabzon) and expectedly to the recently restored Theoskepastos monastery.  The opening of the border between Turkey and the newly-formed Commonwealth of Independent States (countries of the former Soviet Republics) has introduced Trabzon to ‘trade tourism’. 

Unfortunately, there are serious infrastructure problems in Trabzon, e.g. there is no railway.  But the town aims to become a major international trade centre with the establishment of a Trans Caucasian Corridor passing through the Caucasus into the Middle East.  May it prosper. 


14. Notes

Note 1

The Armenian version of Eusebios (one edition being, Eusebii Chronicorum Libri Duo, ed. A Schoene, Berlin, 1866) provides a date for the founding of Trabzon of 757–56 BC, which is plainly wrong.  Eusebios was referring to another city in the Propontis.  There is no precise colonisation date for Trabzon (Avram et al 2004).  It is disappointing that so many people continue to quote this inaccurate foundation date for Trabzon. 

Note 2

In April 1404 Spanish traveller, De Clavijo described Trabzon as:

built near the sea, and its wall rises up over some rocks, and on the highest part there is a very strong castle, which has another wall round it.  A small river passes by the castle, and dashes over the rocks, and on this side the city is very strong, but on the other side it is on open ground.  Outside the city walls there are suburbs, … On the shore there are two castles, with strong walls and towers, one belonging to the Venetians and the other to the Genoese (Clavijo 1859, pp. 62-3). 

In 1701, the French scientist, Tournefort (1741), described the town as big but not well peopled with well-built houses which were one story high.  The castle which was pretty large was much neglected and was situated upon a flat rock that was commandable.  Its ditches were very fine, being generally cut in the rock 

In 1836, Hamilton (1842) wrote that in the Greek quarter, to the east of the walled town, all the houses were surrounded with gardens, and the streets were the narrowest he had ever seen.  The principal articles of trade were alum and copper brought from the mines in the interior.  The copper was manufactured there into different articles for domestic or culinary purposes. 

The town was very picturesque, bounded to the east and west by rocky ravines of considerable depth, in all parts of which are rich and luxuriant trees, and well watered gardens; while the summits were fringed with the venerable ruins of the Byzantine walls, which, with their numerous turrets and battlements.  This part of the town was connected with the suburbs by a narrow bridge on each side and is defended by strongly-fortified gateways, above which, and entirely occupying the ground between the two ravines, are the extensive remains of an old and picturesque castle, the outer walls of which are of great height (Hamilton 1842, p. 161).

In May 1916, Russian officer Mintslov (1923), described Trabzon as having many crooked and narrow by-streets, meandering between tightly shut little forts and homes.  Stone walls up to around 4 metres in height surround them on all sides.  Along the main commercial street; rows of grocery shops stretched along both sides of the street; on the threshold of each of them on the footpaths were mountains of tobacco piled high.

Note 3

The Ottoman tax registers cannot be considered a population census in the modern sense.  Only the number of male head households was counted in the tax registers, not the number of every person in the town.  To accommodate this gap, Lowry (2009) multiplied the number of male head households by five to determine the average size of the population.  The author has added 132 muslim guards to Lowry’s c.1486 muslim figure.  (The muslim guards were counted in the c.1523 register.) 

The number of households headed by a female was not recorded for muslim communities, but counted for christian communities in the c.1486 and c.1523 registers (Lowry 2009).  The author has slightly adjusted up the original number of the approximate percentage of muslim inhabitants. 

The tax registers, by listing only the adult married male heads of households, do not allow us to determine which of these males may have had more than one wife and family.  So all the derived population figures for muslims would require a slight increase (Lowry 2009).

Although christian Greeks of Trabzon had pressure to convert to Islam so they would not be deported, as reported in the 1553 register, financial pressure (especially for the poorer families), as recorded in the 1553 and 1583 registers, this ‘open conversion’ was not necessarily what they believed at home.  This was probably the first sign of crypto-christians in Trabzon. 

Under sharia law, conversion or reconversion out of Islam met the death penalty in the Ottoman Empire until 1839 (Bryer 1998). 

Note 4

On 18 February 1856, a new reform charter, the Hatt-i Hümayun, was promulgated by the Sultan confirming the principle of freedom of religion within the Ottoman Empire (Bryer 1983).  Crypto-christians were christians who due to the muslim persecution publicly declared themselves muslims.  However, in secret, they upheld their Greek language and christian religious practices.

When Ottoman subjects were given freedom of religion in 1856, crypto-christians were reported in 1857 in the Trabzon region to be almost exclusively drawn from 55 upload settlements.  The population ‘estimates’ (based on 5 members per family) for these villages of that date were: 9,535 muslims, 17,260 crypto-christians and 28,960 open Greek christians.  The highest concentration of crypto-christians was in the Stavri-Kurum-Imera and Santa districts (south of Trabzon) where no more than 12 muslim families were recorded (Bryer 1970). 

Note 5

Despite Ottoman reforms in the 19th century, christians from Trabzon found it difficult to remain loyal subjects of the Ottoman government as well as its religious patriarchate in Istanbul, because from 1829 they were exposed to two external distractions.  The first factor was Orthodox Russia.  Throughout the century the Russian Consul-General in Trabzon actively solicited Pontic Orthodox emigrants to build the infrastructure in the Caucasus and to counter the immigration of muslims in the opposite direction after 1856.  The second factor was the new state of Greece, (which was less significant than Russia) which brought notions of nation, historical determinism and identity by language (Bryer 1991). 

At the beginning of the 19th century a male Pontic Greek christian might have described himself as being from a particular village first and then as a ‘Roman’ (Rum) Orthodox subject of the Sultan; by the end of the century he was calling himself Greek and later after he had finally left the Pontos in 1923 for Greece, a Pontic Greek (Bryer 1991). 

Note 6

The New York Times, October 18 1895, ‘Hundreds Killed at Trebizond: Soldiers Joined the Mob in Looting and in Firing on Armenians’.

… an eye-witness of the rioting at Trebizond.  He says four separate moslem mobs surrounded the Armenian quarters at 11 o’clock on the morning of Oct 8, and began to pillage the shops.  Being opposed, they fired on the Armenians and soon a general massacre began. 

Soldiers joined the mob in firing on the Armenians and in pillaging the shops and houses.  The scene continued until 4 o’clock in the afternoon …

An official return places the number of the dead at 180, but well-informed persons place it at between 400 and 500.

Note 7

The fourth caravan identifying almost 700 Armenians leaving Trabzon, is only mentioned by the Armenian sources, so its validity maybe doubtful (Suakjian 1981).  

Note 8

The Russian occupation of the Trabzon region from April 1916 to February 1918 saved many thousands of christian Pontic Greeks from being massacred during the Ottoman deportations which occurred further west in the Pontos. 

Note 9

The Andartes (militias) never totalled more than some 2,000 combatants in the Trabzon-Santa region.  They were essentially a defensive force with limited offensive capabilities.  They lacked an effective communications network and a single command and control structure.  They lacked arms, ammunition and equipment required for sustained combat; they lacked food and medicine for themselves and the large number of people in their care.  Hemmed in by Ottoman Turk forces in their mountain retreats, their movements were severely restricted (Psomiades 2006). 

Note 10

The New York Times, 7 June 1922, ‘Says 22,000 Greeks died on the march, Ward declares only quick action by Washington can stop Turkish massacres. Christian girls for harem; Turks forbade American orphanages to shelter those who were more than 15’. 

… Discussion with The New Times correspondent today the atrocities of which he has been a witness, Dr. Ward estimated that only 8,000 of the 30,000 Greeks he knew to have been deported from the Trebizond region ever reached their destination ...

Note 11

In October 1921, the British military officer Rawlinson observed many gangs of Greeks under guard being exiled to their death along the Trabzon to Erzurum road on their way to the interior (Stavridis 2011). 

It was reported in May 1922 from Dr Ward that, the whole Greek male population above 15 years of age from the Trabzon region and the adjoining areas was deported having as its destination the work battalions of Erzurum, Kars and Sari-Kamish (Tsirkinidis 1998). 

The Christian Science Monitor 31 May 1922, pp. 1 & 2. ‘Greek Massacres by Turks Continue: Ruthless Policy of Extermination Continues–Evidence of Americans Living in Anatolia’ by Herbert Adams Gibbons PH.D. 

… the Angora [Ankara] Turks are following a deliberate and ruthless policy of extermination of the Greeks.  I find that Trebizond is being cleared of the remaining Christian population. … Today between the ages of 80 and 14, the male population numbers six priests and 10 civilians. …

Now after having deported all the older boys the Angora Government has ordered the seizure of children of 14 down to 11 years of age.  It is a heartrending sight to see the poor little children herded like cattle, driven through the streets to the Government House where they are being thrown into a filthy underground dungeon. 

This week these will follow their elders to the barbed-wire enclosure near Jevislik [Machka, south of Trabzon] on the road to Erzerum, far from the unpleasantly inquisitive eyes of foreigners, and where they will disappear forever.  For the deportees, once entering the Jevislik camp never leave it.  The Turks give them no food, which, of course, can only have one result.  Not only Trebizond, but all the Greek villages of this region feed their mankind into the Moloch jaws of Jevislik. 



This work is a collation of sources written in English which provides a summary of a most rich history of Trabzon.  Unfortunately, it does not include Turkish sources which have not been translated into English.  

The author very warmly acknowledges the influence of ‘Megas’ Emeritus Professor Anthony Bryer OBE in this work of his beloved Trabzon.  Warm thanks also to Dr Stavros Stavridis for his suggestions and to the most learned Russell McCaskie for his translation of the Russian text, Mintslov (1923) and for his comments on the draft work. 


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