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The region

For millennia, the Halys river (today's Kızıl Irmak) has been at the interface between the cultures of continental Asia and mediterranean Europe. According to the famous story told by Herodotos, Apollo's oracle promised king Kroisos that if he crossed the Halys to invade the dominions of the Persian king, a great kingdom would be destroyed – but the kingdom that Kroisos brought down was his own. The Persians extended their dominion across the Halys into western Asia Minor and retained it until Alexander the Great united Macedonia and Persia within a vast empire that after his death dissolved into a packwork of successor states, one of which became the kingdom of Pontos.

In 281 BC, a Persian kinglet by the name of Mithradates established his capital at Amaseia. He and his successors on the Pontic throne used Greek as their language of administration and diplomacy, but the structure of power remained unmistakably Iranian. Royal govenors in fortified strongholds controlled vast territories, with most of the remainder being held by three temple-states whose priests, assisted by thousands of sacred slaves (hierodouloi) maintained the cult of Iranian deities. The characteristically Greek institution of the autonomous city (polis) was conspicuously absent and in two centuries of rule, the Pontic kings created only two cities, Laodikeia and Eupatoria, in their inland territories. The quasi-Hellenistic kingdom of the early Mithradatids was as Iranian and Phrygian as it was Greek.

In the second century BC, however, the kings of Pontos relocated their capital from the mountain citadel of Amaseia to Sinope on the Black Sea coast. This reflects the Mithradatids' ambition to place their kingdom on the political map and participate on equal terms in the game of diplomacy and dynastic alliances between the Hellenistic kingdoms. Under Mithradates VI Eupator (120-63 BC), this ambition was carried to its disastrous conclusion and the Pontic kingdom was absorbed into the imperium Romanum.

As a case study at the local level, we have selected the city known to antiquity as Neapolis, Neoklaudiopolis, or Andrapa, located east of the Halys and ten kilometres from Oymaağac Hüyük, plausibly identified with the Hittite capital of Nerik and the object of a survey and excavation project financed by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (www.nerik.de) with Dr Rainer Czichon, Free University of Berlin, as field director. Compared to the other Pompeian foundations, Neoklaudiopolis is well documented in the epigraphic, literary and numismatic record.

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