The State Hermitage, Classical gymnasium
GREEK INSCRIPTIONS FROM OLBIA, BOSPOROS AND CHERSONESOS
My report is devoted to the inscriptions found in Greek colonies on the North coast of the Black Sea, or Euxine Pontos, as it was known in antiquity [slide 1]. I’ll tell about the history of these colonies on the basis of epigraphical materials.
Greek sailors discovered the North coast of the Euxine Pontos in the beginning of the 1st millenium BC, during their occasional voyages to the area. Its colonization began in the 7th century and involved 3 regions: North-West Pontos, shores of the Cimmerian Bosporos (now Strait Kerch) and South-West Tauris (present-day Crimean Peninsula).
The 1st Greek colony in the Northern Pontos region was established by the Ionians from Miletos on Berezan island in the end of the 7th century BC [slide 2]. The earliest inscriptions from Berezan are graffiti scratched on pottery [slide 3]. We can see owners’ names, dedications to gods and convivial inscriptions among them.
A very interesting epigraphical monument from Beresan is a letter on lead [slide 4]. The tablet on which it was inscribed had been rolled up in scroll form with the direction written on the scroll. The document is in exellent state of preservation and is very rare of this kind: it is one of the earliest Greek letters inscribed on lead to have been found to date. This letter, written in the archaic Ionic dialect, was adressed by Achillodoros to his son Anaxagoras. Achillodoros writes that he has for some purpose sent his wife and other sons to the city, and that a certain Euneuros is to come to him to take part in a sacrifice.
In the early 6th century BC not far from Beresan Milesians established Olbia, which became one of the main poleis of the Northern Pontos region [slide 5]. In the second half of the 6th century BC Olbia was already quite a big city with many settlements around it. It was engaged in commerce with lots of Greek cities. Many proxenia decrees granting rights to merchants from another centers were issued. One of the earliest inscriptions of this type is a proxenia in honour of the citizen of Sinopa dated to the first half of the 5th century BC: “Ietrokles, son of Hekataios, citizen of Sinopa, and his descendants get a right of free trade...” [slide 6]. The next lines didn’t survive. This inscription is very brief unlike the later ones, such as proxenia in honour of Herakleotai dated to the 4th century [slide 7]. By this time the formula of proxenia decrees had been already worked out, and these documents were written after one model. The next inscription is the only proxenia in honour of Athenians found in the Northern Pontos region [slide 8].
The state paid much attention to coin minting. A decree of the first half of the 4th century prescribed to make all the trade calculations in olbian currancy [slide 9]. The infringement of the decree had to be followed by expropriation of goods and money.
The end of the 4th century and the first half of the 3rd century BC was a time of great prosperity for Olbia. The city grew larger and wealthier, turning into a beautiful and prosperous center adorned with magnificent temples, public buildings, altars and statues [slide 10]. This is an inscription on the marble base of a statue: “Leokrates, son of so-and-so, devoted to Apollo Iatros. Stratonides the Athenian made” [slide 11]. The sculptor Stratonides is also mentioned in the Athenian inscription of the 4th century. So we have an evidence of the cultural contacts between Olbia and Athens.
This is a very interesting graffito on the bottom of black-glazed skyphos [slide 12]. It’s a dedication to Apollo under different epithets with a list of 12 months of the Olbian calendar corresponding a Milesian one. This calendar did not change during all the history of Olbia.
From the middle of the 3rd century Olbia experienced an economic crisis connected with unfavourable international conditions. The city and its chora were often attacked by the Scythians who occupied vast territories in the North-West Black Sea region. The Olbiopolitai had to render a tribute in order to avoid armed conflicts. We know about these events from a famous decree in honour of Protogenes [slide 13]. He was a rich man and a public figure who lent enormous sums of money to the state for corn during a famine, for reconstruction of fortifications and rendering a tribute to barbarian tribes. In this critical situation the state established a board of Sitones to deal with corn perchasing. It is a dedication of Sitones to Hero Epekoos [slide 14]. This deity is often mentioned in the inscriptions of Thracia, but in epigraphy of the Northern Pontos region appears only twice.
Attacks of the barbarian tribes took place in the 2nd century, too. A decree honouring Neikeratos provides important information on the events of the beginning of the century [slide 15]. Neikeratos, one of the Olbian generals, repulsed an attack from the sanctuary near Olbia, but was perfidiously ambushed and killed by enemies. For some time Olbia fell under the control of Scythian state in Crimea and minted coins with names and images of Scythian kings [slide 15].
The catastrophe broke out in the middle of the 1st century BC, when the tribes of Gets attacked the city and destroyed it. Many people were killed, the other escaped to neighbour cities. Life in Olbia stopped for some time. Two or three decades later the inhabitants returned to Olbia, but the city had never reached its former prosperity. Its territory became two times less than it was before the disaster, its population extremely decreased and barbarized. An orator Dion Chrysostomos who had visited Olbia in the end of the 1st century BC wrote that the Olbiopolitai wore the Scythian clothes, always carried armour, spoke not very good Greek, but at the same time they felt as they were Greeks and could recite Homer’s poems by heart.
As for the Dion’s remark about bad Greek spoken by the Olbiopolitai, there are no deviations from the grammatical norms of Greek language in the epigraphical sources of this time. This slide represents a dedication to Achilles the Hero [slide 16]. The cult of Achilles was very popular in the Olbian polis during all its history, but the epithet “Hero” is known only from this dedication. A half of names mentioned here are of Iranian origin [they are marked yellow], and this fact reflects changes of the ethnic situation in Olbia.
In the middle of the 2nd century AD the Roman troops garrisoned in Olbia, and the city was included in the province of Moesia. Location of the Roman legions was favourable for Olbia, because the barbaians didn’t raid into the city.
During the first centuries AD despite of the barbarian and Roman influence the culture of Olbia preserved a Greek character. The most worshipped deities were Apollo Prostates [slide 17] and Achilles Pontarches [slide 18]. These cults had a great significance and were supported by the state.
The period of revival of Olbia lasted before the middle of the 3rd century, when the entire Greek and Roman world of North Pontos got involved into a series of military campaigns known as the Goth Wars. The Romans had to withdraw their garrison from the city. Olbia, left by the troops, was siezed by the nomads and almost completely destroyed. A life remained there for hundred more years and finally died in the 4th century.
As well as the North-West Pontos, the Greeks from Miletos also colonized the shores of the Cimmerian Bosporos [slide 19]. In the first half of the 6th century BC they founded Pantikapaion [slide 20], Nymphaion [slide 21], Myrmekion [slide 22] and Tyritaka [slide 23] along the western shore. On the eastern shore, Phanagoria, Hermonassa [slide 24], Gorgippia [slide 25] and other settlements were established [slide 26].
In the late 6th century the Scythians sent a series of military expeditions against the Hellenic colonies. The external threat from barbarian nomads caused political and military integration of the Greek cities into the Bosporan Kingdom with the capital in Pantikapaion.
The economy of the Bosporos was based on agriculture, so its rulers aimed at the expansion of the territory and gradually occupied the nearby lands. Inscriptions including titles of the kings let us know the sequence of these occupations. The 1st polis to be captured was Theodosia, a Milesian colony, having an exellent harbour and fertile lands. This inscription on the herma includes a title of the Bosporan king Leuko I (389 – 347 BC) [slide 27]. He is named “”. In fact, the Bosporan rulers were tyrants, or kings, but traditionally were named “”. Leuko also succeeded in subjugating of numerous barbarian tribes. By the time of carving of this inscription he had already become a king of the Sindi, Toretai, Dandari and Psessai [slide 28]. So, by the middle of the 4th century BC Bosporos covered an area of 5 000 sq. km and grew into one of the largest Greek states of its time.
In the 4th century the Bosporan cities reached the peak of their cultural and economic growth. Relations with Athens played an important part of the foreign policy of the Bosporan Kingdom. This is a proxenia decree in honour of the citizen of Piraeus [slide 29]. According to Demosthenes, Bosporos supplied Athens with a half of necessary grain. The colonies imported fine pottery, marble statues, olive oil, furniture and metal production. These attic red-figure and black-glazed vessels come from the excavations of the Bosporan sites [slide 30].
On the other hand, the Bosporan cities grew into important centers of handicraft production. Many examples of fine jewellery made by craftsmen from Pantikapaion were found in the barbarian barrows [slide 31]. The erection of such magnificent constructions was connected with the growth of prosperity of the Bosporan nobility that included people from barbarian tribes [slide 32].
Abundant finds of dedications to different deities, sculptures of gods, coins showing altars, as well as remains of temples and sanctuaries, indicates that religion played a significant part in the life of the Bosporan Greeks.
Apollo, worshipped under various epithets, was apparently the most popular deity. There are lots of dedications to Apollo Iatros who was considered to be a patron of the first Milesian colonists [slide 33].
The cults of the agricultural deities, Demeter and Dionysos, were very wide-spread, too. This slide represents some potsherds from Demeter’s sanctuary in Nymphaion with the name of the goddess scratched on them [slide 34].
Dionysos is mentioned in the inscription carved on the architrave of propylaia, the main enrtance to the sacred precinct [slide 35]. It reads as follows: “Theopropides, son of Megakles, dedicated this entrance to Dionysos, being an agonothetis under Leuko, archon of Bosporos and Theodosia, and the entire Sindike, Toretai, Dandari and Psessai”. We don’t know yet where this entrance led, because the sector behind the propylaia have not been completely excavated. The text provides information that there was an agonothetis in Nymphaion, a man who organized some competitions.
Besides that, one more singular epigraphical monument was discovered in Nymphaion. In one of the rooms of the Hellenistic sanctuary numerous fragments of plaster with polychrome paintings, that had covered the walls in antiquity, were found [slide 36]. Drawings and inscriptions were scratched over the entire plastered surfice. Thousands of fragments were brought to the State Hermitage in St-Petersburg, and specialists were solving this puzzle for some years. The texts contain information on sacrifices in the sanctuary, debt repayments, the departure of a ship to the sea [slides 37 – 38]. Some inscriptions mention Apollo and Aphrodite, who appear as patrons of seafaring [slide 39]. The most impressive depiction is of a warship (trieris), which is 1.2 meter long and represents a scale drawing that permits to estimate the actual dimentions of the vessel [slide 40]. On the basis of the texts and drawings, the entire architectural comlex was interpreted as a sanctuary of patron deities of seafaring, in paricular Aphrodite.
The period of prosperity for the Bosporos was, however, short-lived. Pressure from the neighbouring tribes increased over the years, and the state was under the threat of invasion. It fell under the power of the Pontic King Mithridates VI Eupator [slide 41]. In the 60s years of the 1st century BC he arrived to Pantikapaion which became his residence during preparation for the war with Rome. Preparing for this campaign, he ignored entirely the interests of his people. The major Bosporan cities rebelled against the king. His son Pharnakes took the side of the rebels. Mithridates commited suicide in his palace in Pantikapaion.
After that a new period – period of Roman protection began for the Bosporos. The Roman admistration regarded it as a state dependent on Rome and interfered in its domestic affairs. In this inscription the Bosporan Queen Dynamis, granddaughter of Mithridates, is named “” [slide 42].
Very interesting underwater explorations were conducted in Phanagoria (on the Taman Peninsula) [slide 43]. In 2004 excavations unearthed some marble blocks with inscriptions and among them a pedestal of a statue bearing an inscription in honour of the Bosporan king Sauromates II [slide 44]. This inscription presents one of the longest known titles of Bosporan kings, which underlines distinctly their dependance of Rome.
In exchange for freedom, Greek cities received protection from external enemies. In the 2nd and early 3rd centuries AD the Bosporan Kingdom prospered again. We know many inscriptions about the construction of the new buildings and reconstruction of the old ones. These documents from Tanais tell us about restoration of the city center and building of new defensive walls [slide 45].
In the first centuries AD the ethnic structure of the Bosporan cities changed. That’s why we can see lots of non-Greek names in the inscriptions of this time, especially in epitaphs [slide 46].
In the mid-3rd century AD the period of relative prosperity came to the end. Some cities and rural settlements were burnt to the ground in the frequent barbarian attacks. Names of the Bosporan kings who reigned in the second half of the 3rd and 4th centuries, give no clues to their ethnic origins. According to the historian Zosimus, “worthless men” came to power. In the late 4th century a new wave of barbarians swept from east to west. These were the Huns. Recent research has shown that Pantikapaion survived their invasion. Furthermore, the Huns reappeared in the Bosporos and mixed with the populations of the Bosporan cities.
The last ancient center of the Northern Pontos region I’d like to tell about is Chersonesos. It was founded later than the other big colonies of this region, in the end of the 5th century BC, by the Greeks from doric polis Herakleia Pontica, just opposite on the south coast of the Black Sea [slide 47]. Chersonesos is one of the best-preserved ancient Greek and Medieval sites in the region [slide 48]. It has a well-preserved system of fortifications [slide 49], a citadel, which housed the Roman garrison [slide 50], as well as remains of houses and temples [slide 51].
Chersonesos became an autonomous state and a polis in the beginning of the 4th century BC, when it began to mint its own currency [slide 52]. Throughout the 4th century BC Chersonesos incorporated to the polis fertile lands in Western Crimea with the cities of Kalos Limen and Kerkinitis [slide 53]. So, Chersonesos grew into a considerable state with vast territories and well-organized agricultural structures specializing in cereals growing, viticulture and wine-making, and became one of the main Black Sea centers exporting grain and other goods .
A remarkably complete monument inscribed on marble, the Civic Oath, reveals much about the economic and social life of this time [slide 54]. The oath is likely to be passed after serious political fight and restoration of temporary lost democracy. I’ll quote some lines: “I swear by Zeus, Gaia, Helios, Parthenos, the Olympian gods and goddesses, and all the heroes who protect the polis, chora, and forts of the people of Chersonesos. My only thoughts shall be about the protection and freedom of the state and its citizens. I shall not betray to anyone, wheather Greek or barbarian, Chersonesos, Kerkinitis, Kalos Limen, the other forts, and the rest of the chora, which the people of Chersonesos inhabit or inhabited. But I shall carefully guard all of these for the people of Chersonesos. I shall not put down the democracy”.
During the excavations of the 17th tower of the Chersonesan fortifications, known as the Tower of Zeno [slide 55], the archaeologists found polychrome grave stelai, numbering about 350 in all, which were apparently removed from a necropolis just outside the wall and reused for the inner revetment of the tower [slides 56 – 58]. Analysis of the style of the stelai, their carved and painted decoration, and the inscriptions that occur on more than 40 of them, indicates a date from the late 4th century to the first half of the 3rd century BC. The paints on the stelai were much brighter in antiquity than they are now. This slide represents reconstruction of a stele and of the necropolis [slide 59].
In the 3rd century BC Chersonesos and its chora suffered from Scythian attacks. We know about these events from a decree in honour of a historian Syriskos who, according to the text of the inscription, narrated the barbarian raids into the city and was awarded for this with a golden wreath [slide 60]. The city had to seek help from the Pontic King Pharnakes. The two states signed an agreement in which Pharnakes promised to help the city [slide 61].
By the end of the 2nd century BC the Scythians approached right up against the walls of Chersonesos. The citizens sought help from the successor of Pharnakes, Pontic King Mithridates Eupator. Mithridates immediately sent his general Diophantos to Tauris. The latter, together with troops from Chersonesos, defeated the barbarians. A decree in honour of Diophantos reads that: “He necessarily accepted battle and put the Scythians to rout, reputed invincible” [slide 62]. Following this defeat, Chersonesos came within the political ambit of the Pontic Kingdom.
In the second half of the 1st century BC the city fell under the political influence of Rome. A Roman garrison composed of units of the 1st Italic Legion and the 3rd Hallic Cohort was installed in Chersonesos and its vicinity. Epitaphs in Latin language and Roman motives in grave reliefs appeared in this period [slide 63]. But there were also a lot of traditional Greek epitaphs, for example, this metrical inscription on the grave monument of Xanthos [slide 64].
This list of the winners of sport competitions [slide 65] is an evidence of the fact that sport games were arranged in Chersonesos. Gladiatorial combats were apparently also popular. We have a fragment of a marble frieze with an image of battling gladiators and the Greek name of the winner – Xanthos [slide 65]. The combats were likely to be held in a theatre found under the remains of the medieval church [slide 66]. The theatre was built in the 3rd century BC and it is the only theatre so far identified in a Black Sea colony. Olbia is known to have had theatre, though it has not been found yet.
In the late 4th century AD the populaton of Chersonesos went through significant changes in ideology. The elite and, subsequently, common citizens adopted Christianity as the official religion of the state. Excavations at Chersonesos show that its fortifications were reinforced in the late 4th – early 5th century AD. Most likely, this happened with the assintance of the imperial administration during the Hun invasion, so Chersonesos was a major military center at this time, controlling a large territory. Thanks to Roman support, Chersonesos, unlike Olbia and Bosporan cities, managed to survive and subsequently grew into a large medieval center. But this is already another story.
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