Both of these points are certainly true of this week's civilization: the culture that grew up around the ancient city of Trebizond (currently known as Trabzond), on the southern shores of the Black Sea. I had always wondered about the place named Trebizond since I was a kid looking through my father's Penguin Atlas of History (a really wonderful series of books by Colin McEvedy). But what sparked my attention again was stumbling across Pisanello's remarkable depiction of Trebizond at the height of its wealth in a fifteenth century fresco complete with sailing ships, saints, dogs and hanged men:
Trebizond reached its cultural and political peak in the twelfth century, when it was an important breakaway state from the Byzantine empire and one of the principle termini of the Silk Road (see below map), but its historical roots are ancient.
Xenophon, the mossynoikoi were "fair-complexioned and white-skinned, with their backs variegated and their breasts tattooed with patterns of all sorts of flowers."
|Coin of Mithridates VI of Pontus.|
|A bust of Mithridates.|
However it was not until the sack of Constantinople by Christian crusaders in 1204 that Trebizond reached its cultural and political zenith, when it became the capitol of a new breakaway Empire of Trebizond declared by the Georgian prince Alexios Komnenos.
|Alexios and his queen.|
|The beautifully-situated Sumela monastery in winter.|
|A view from a courtyard at Sumela. A frescoed chapel wall is visible to the left.|
|The castle-like monastery of Dionysiou, greatly enlarged by Alexios.|
Some Trebizondian ruins:
|A Byzantine hilltop fortress, at left, and at right a Roman-era tomb carved into a cliffside.|
|A Trebizondian castle and the secret tunnel that connected it to the world.|