Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.05.06

Pia Guldager Bilde, Vladimir F. Stolba, Surveying the Greek Chora: The Black Sea Region in a Comparative Perspective. Black Sea Studies, 4.   Denmark:  Aarhus University Press, 2006.  Pp. 346.  ISBN 87-7934-238-8.  €39.95.  

Reviewed by Elias K. Petropoulos, Democritus University of Thrace (
Word count: 2255 words

[The individual essays are listed at the end of the review.]

The papers collected in this volume represent the revised proceedings of an international conference on Chora, Catchment and Communications. The present state and future prospects of landscape archaeology in the Black Sea region, 7th century BC - 4th century AD held at Sandbjerg Estate in Sonderborg, Denmark, by the Danish National Research Foundation's Centre for Black Sea Studies, 31 August-3 September 2003. The two-fold purpose of the present book, as well as the central theme of the conference, as stated by the Editors on page seven of the Introduction (7-12), is to "establish an overview of the relationship between the larger Greek cities and their territories through discussing how the chorai were defined and organised in time and space, but also to take the pulse on the current status of landscape archaeology in the Black Sea region". The authors have endeavored to represent the main ancient cities of the west, north and south coasts of that region, but one also finds extremely interesting articles written by specialists working in the Mediterranean, thus providing a fruitful comparative perspective. This offers the readers the opportunity to comprehend in depth the problems of how colonial landscapes changed throughout different periods of time (a very modern field in archaeological research)1 and the ability to face these problems in a comparative investigation context. I think that the editors have done their job very well with the preparation and the organization of the volume and deserve to be praised for their work.

Reading through the present volume one perceives two main issues discussed in the conference: on the one hand the problem of methodology or methodologies, and on the other problems of a practical nature, such as the organization of territories, settlement patterns, demography, and the productive capacity of the territories. The question of methodologies is one of the most important keys for scientific work, and we are now able to understand the differences between methodological surveys in Mediterranean and in Black Sea schools of archaeology. Therefore such a debate is to be welcomed, and the exchange of ideas has become necessary and timely.

The discussion opens with the article of John Bintliff (13-26), who presents aspects of method and theory relating to the agricultural territory of the Classical Greek polis in the Aegean homelands, and offers ten questions about related topics in the Black Sea colonial territories. In his contribution B. raises very important questions concerning the way in which landscape changed in mainland Greece and attempts to provide a comparison with the situation in the colonial areas. One of the most debated questions has to do with Graeco-barbarian interactions in general and in the chora of the colonies in particular and how the indigenous populations contributed to the development of the agricultural territories of the ancient Greek settlements in the Black Sea littoral (22-25).2

The second article, written by Susan E. Alcock and Jane E. Rempel (27-46), refers to sites other than settlements ('special-purpose sites', as they propose to call them), such as sanctuaries and off-site scatters (shrines, graves, quarries, caves, kilns, cisterns, agricultural processing sites, mines, dumps, lithic knapping debris, roads and paths, bridges etc.), which are intensively discussed in Mediterranean landscape archaeology. The goal of the authors is to focus attention on these more unusual dots on the map, exploring what they can offer to the study of chora, catchment and communication and thus to the broader domain of landscape archaeology (28). After the examination of how two Mediterranean projects have recognized and treated such places recently, the authors try to account for the developments thus observed. The ultimate goal of the article, from a Mediterranean perspective, is to stimulate thinking about what such special sites might contribute to the future of landscape archaeology in the Black Sea region (28).3

The next paper is devoted to the exploration of the hinterland of one of the most important Black Sea colonies, Sinope (47-58). Its author, Owen Doonan, is a well known archaeologist whose survey around Sinope (1996-1999) brought to light useful evidence.

The investigation of the territories of two ancient Greek settlements on the west shore of the Black Sea (Istros and Kallatis) is presented in the following paper by Professor Alexandru Avram (59-80). His article is an overall study of issues such as the interaction between polis and its chora, as well as the internal organization of the chora itself. According to the archaeological evidence and the testimonies of the ancient writers, the settlement of Istros is the earliest Milesian colony on the west Black Sea littoral (if not in the whole Black Sea region), founded in the mid-7th century BC or soon thereafter in a territory which seems to have been uninhabited by any local population. A. claims that the Greek settlers who founded their settlement on the coastal zone not only did not destroy the native settlements but in fact attracted the natives to their homes (63). Other noteworthy conclusions of the author are the suggestion of a recolonization of the area in approximately 600 BC, when the true control over the territory of Istros began, and a second wave of colonists about the mid 6th century BC which is also to be taken into serious consideration.

The initial colonial encounters of the Greeks, above all the Milesians, in the Black Sea area is very closely linked with the interpretation of the so-called dugout or semi-dugout dwellings, found everywhere in the northern part of the region and in several places in the western and eastern parts. Istros is one such place, and a Greek rural settlement situated about 18 km west of the city is another, founded in the first quarter of the 6th century BC. Interpretation of the ethnic attribution of the handmade pottery discovered in these idiosyncratic habitations is real headache for scholars (61-3). The foundation of Kallatis is still a very problematic issue, though it is now clear that the city took control over the territory at the beginning of the fourth century BC, i.e. either the Kallatians took over their chora with a delay of more than a century, or the foundation of Kallatis was more or less contemporary with the settling of its rural territory (67).4

A discussion of similar topics is continued by the following author, Sergej B. Ochotnikov, from the Odessa State Museum of Archaeology (81-98). He undertakes to familiarize us with the results of the archaeological excavations in the agricultural territories of the ancient cities in the Lower Dniester Area. According to the available archaeological evidence, in this region there existed, with a fair degree of probability, only two poleis: Tyras and Nikonion, founded at the end of the sixth century BC. That means that Greek colonization in this region began later than in the Lower Danube region, with a delay of approximately more than one hundred years. By the beginning of the Hellenistic era, seventy komai (villages) had already been established on both banks of the river Dniester (86).

The next paper is written by one of the major researchers of the ancient Greek colony of Olbia Pontica, Sergej D. Kryzhickij, and it is dedicated to the examination of the rural environs of the city of Olbia, in the Lower Danube region. K. offers an important discussion of the initial character of the chora organization and the communications within the city of Olbia. Other important issues touched upon in his discussion concern the difficulties in identifying the types and hierarchies of the settlements, changes in the demographic situation, and the manifestation of barbarian elements in the population's culture. K. insists that there are solid grounds to suppose that Greek settlers were the major and absolute dominant component of the population both in the chora and in the city, though the possibility of infiltration by a small number of natives form the surrounding tribes should not be excluded (110).

The following articles contain the results of research on the agricultural territories of ancient Greek cities in the Northern area of Pontos by leading specialists: the chorai of Olbia Pontica (S. B. Bujkich, 115-139), of Kerkinitis (V. A. Kutajsov, 141-149), of Tauric Chersonesos (G. M Nikolaenko, 151-174), of Theodosia (A. V. Gavrilov, 249-272),5 of the Bosporan Kingdom (S. Ju. Saprykin, 273-288),6 and of Nymphaion (V. N. Zin'ko, 289-308). The main purpose of these contributors is to show the dynamic of the territories through the changes they underwent over time.

Of particular interest is J. Carter's article (175-205), dedicated to a comparative study of the chorai in the West and East, namely in Metapontion (Southern Italy) and Chersonesos (Northern Pontos). In his paper C. continues the discussion raised by other authors in previous articles concerning the interpretation of handmade pottery and living units dug partly into the ground. In varying quantities, both can be found in the colonial settlements as well as in the chora settlements and not merely in the initial phases of colonization. Some authors believe that the presence of both these elements shows Greek accommodation to local climate and resources (S. B. Bujskich and S. D. Kryzhickij), while other researchers are of the opinion that this is a sign of an ethnically mixed population (A. Avram, A. V. Gavrilov, S. B. Ochotnikov). C. develops his arguments on the idea that the barbarian populations presented a much greater challenge in the Black Sea region than they did in other colonial areas in the ancient oecumene, arguing strongly against modern preconceptions of nation states and racial purity. In order to avoid any kind of polarity, C. proposes the investigation of skeletal material on a large scale, as has been done with great success in the chora of Metapontion, to name one example. He concludes that this investigation "might shed much light on the vexed question of supine versus flexed burials at Chersonesos and in its farther chora and of the biological relationships between Scythians, Taurians, and immigrant Greeks" (199).

The article by T. N. Smekalova and S. L. Smelakov is a combination of aerial and satellite photography with historical and contemporary topographical maps. Their study confirms the established view in Soviet archaeology concerning the orthogonal organisation of the Chersonesean territory on the outer tip of the Tarchankut Peninsula, S.-W. Crimea. They also demonstrate that the European part of the Bosporan Kingdom (Eastern part of the Crimea) was similarly divided into orthogonal land-plots (226). The final paper in the volume, by Sven Conrad, is dedicated to the archaeological survey on the Lower Danube region during the mid-1990s. His aim is to give a summary for the periods from the later Iron Age up to the early Middle Ages following the conclusion of fieldwork, including a short preview on prospects for further similar research enterprises in the Eastern Balkans and the Black Sea region.

Overall, this is a highly successful volume, and the editors are to be commended for an interesting and worthwhile collection of articles, logically organized, and tightly edited. The (fifteen) contributions from participants from six different countries, who analyse the territories of the main ancient cities of the west, north and south coasts of the Black Sea region, discussing them also from a comparative, Mediterranean perspective, are of great importance for the future of landscape archaeology. They offer the reader interesting and thought-provoking insights into this field. As one can easily understand from the contents, the particular aim of the volume is to join the forces of Eastern and Western researchers in establishing an overview of the relationship between the larger ancient cities and their territories. The methodological debate on this approach that is current in Mediterranean archaeology has, however, had only a limited impact to date on Black Sea region research, with most Western researchers still lacking fundamental knowledge about Black Sea data and how they are generated. That is why this book is an indispensable tool for students or scholars who wish to have a clear idea of the directions towards which modern archaeologists' and historians' scientific approaches are tending.


Pia Guldager Bilde & Vladimir F. Stolba, "Introduction" (7-12)

John Bintliff, "Issues in the Economic and Ecological Understanding of the Chora of the Classical Polis in its Social Context: A View from the Intensive Survey Tradition of the Greek Homeland" (13-26)

Susan E. Alcock & Jane E. Rempel, "The More Unusual Dots on the Map: 'Special-Purpose' Sites and the Texture of Landscape" (27-46)

Owen Doonan, "Exploring Community in the Hinterland of a Black Sea Port" (47-58)

Alexandru Avram, "The Territories of Istros and Kallatis" (59-80)

Sergej B. Ochotnikov, "The Choraiof the Ancient Cities in the Lower Dniester Area (6th century BC - 3rd century AD)" (81-98)

Sergej D. Kryzhickij, "The Rural Environs of Olbia: Some Problems of Current Importance" (99-114)

Sergej B. Bujskich, "Die Chora des pontischen Olbia: Die Hauptetappen der räumlich-strukturellen Entwicklung" (115-139)

Vadim A. Kutaisov, "The Chora of Kerkinitis" (141-149)

Galina M. Nikolaenko, "The Chora of Tauric Chersonesos and the Cadastre of the 4th-2nd century BC" (151-174)

Joseph C. Carter, "Towards a Comparative Study of Chorai West and East: Metapontion and Chersonesos" (175-205)

Tat'jana N. Smelalova & Sergej L. Smelakov, "Ancient Roads and Land Division in the Chorai of the European Bosporos and Chersonesos on the Evidence of Air Photographs, Mapping and Surface Surveys" (207-248)

Alexander V. Gavrilov, "Theodosia and its Chora in Antiquity" (249-272)

Sergej Ju. Saprykin, "The Chora in the Bosporan Kingdom (273-288)

Viktor N. Zin'ko, "The Chora of Nymphaion (6th century BC - 6th century AD)" (289-308)

Sven Conrad, "Archaeological Survey on the Lower Danube: Results and Perspectives" (309-331).


1.   The undersigned recently had the chance to attend a very interesting symposium held at Cambridge (24-29 March 2007) on a similar subject, where contributors presented the results of their investigations at a very high scientific level. Archaeological investigation in the Black Sea area was also included in the interests of the organizing committee. It thus provided a valuable opportunity to see the colonial encounter of the ancient Greeks in its full dimensions, from the Black Sea to the pillars of Heracles.
2.   On this topic see now the two-volume work Ancient Greek Colonies in the Black Sea, edited by D. V. Grammenos & E. K. Petropoulos, Thessaloniki, 2003.
3.   For a recent survey of sanctuaries on the Maiotis Lake (Sea of Azov), dated to the second half of the first century BC and found at the settlement of Polyanka, see A. A. Maslennikov, Ancient Sanctuary on the Maiotis, Moscow, 2006 (text in Russian and English).
4.   See also A. Avram, "Kallatis", in: Grammenos D. V. & E. K. Petropoulos, (eds.), Ancient Greek Colonies in the Black Sea -2. British Archaeological Reports International Series. Oxford (forthcoming).
5.   For a more detailed study, see Ye A. Katyushin, "Theodosia", in Ancient Greek Colonies in the Black Sea. (above n. 2) 645-695.
6.   For a more detailed study, see A. A. Maslennikov, "Rural Territory of Ancient Cimmerian Bosporos", in Ancient Greek Colonies in the Black Sea (above n. 2) 1155-1213.

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