Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.03.45

Gülden Erkut, Stephen Mitchell, The Black Sea. Past, Present and Future.   London:  British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara, 2007.  Pp. 172.  ISBN 978-1-898249-21-4.  £30.00.  

Reviewed by Deniz Burcu Erciyas, Middle East Technical University, Ankara (
Word count: 2437 words

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The British Academy established a three-year program of research in 2002 in order to support and promote studies of the Black Sea area in British universities and establish cooperation between British scholars and those around the Black Sea. This program was then extended until March of 2007 to further support publication of this very volume that will be reviewed here, to finalize databases and to support a research project at Hellenistic Pichvnari in Georgia. The scholarship has benefited greatly from this research program during which several conferences were organized; scholars from around the Black Sea spent valuable time at the Library of the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara; several databases were prepared; and projects were supported BABSI (British Academy Black Sea Initiative). It has indeed promoted collaboration and almost institutionalized the momentum of research in the circumference of the Black Sea. This volume is the proceedings of a conference "The Black Sea: Past, Present and Future" organized with the collective efforts of the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara and Istanbul Technical University, with the financial support of the British Academy Black Sea Initiative.

The papers are presented under five headings, in a chronological order and also within a thematic scheme: The Earliest History; Settlement, Acculturation and Exchange in the First Millennium B.C.; Black Sea Interconnections from Medieval to Modern Times; Social and Economic Change in the Turkish Black Sea Region; and the Future of the Past in the Black Sea Region. Half of the book handles historical and less archaeological data, and the other half is dedicated to the modern dynamics in the Turkish Black Sea region, with a consideration of possibilities to enhance the development of micro regions and improve cooperation amongst the countries around the Black Sea as well as protection of cultural and environmental values in the greater Black Sea circumference. The diversity of papers in this book indicates the significance of inter-disciplinary research and the benefits of exchange of ideas and information amongst scholars from various fields. The wide range of the book makes some of the articles, especially those that discuss the more recent problems due to swift urbanization in the area, seem redundant.

The book starts of with an introduction written by the two organizers of the conference; Gülden Erkut and Stephen Mitchell. The Introduction includes a very brief historical account of the Black Sea area and then lists the papers, providing short descriptions of each topic discussed. Here a similar method of presentation will be used.

The first paper of the first section, is a discussion of the highly debated topic of the transition of the Black Sea from a lake into a sea and a reconsideration of the Noah's Flood Hypothesis formulated by William Ryan and Walter Pitman in 1998.1 Yanko-Hombach suggests that the sea level has risen 3cm/100 years and not 15cm/day as was suggested by Ryan and Pitman, and therefore this change could not have been noticed. This would also mean that a migration of peoples inland from the Pontic lowland is highly unlikely. Yanko-Hombach further suggests that the Holocene transgression coincided with an opposite direction of human migration from the Mediterranean into the Pontic lowland. The author provides both geological and archaeological data pertaining to the discussion and contributes greatly to this important debate that concerns many archaeologists who conduct projects around the Black Sea by presenting the research of eastern European marine geologists, paleontologists and archaeologists, a debate otherwise known only to a limited group of people.

The second and last article of "The Earliest History" is a summary of the results of a survey carried out in north Armenia between 2003 and 2004. The article begins with an introduction to the geology and geomorphology of the region and presents the finds from several Acheulean and Mousterian sites which suggest that the area was settled by early hominids and Neanderthal. The Last Glacial Maximum did not provide suitable conditions for habitation, especially in the Lesser Caucasus, but re-colonization began in the Late Glacial period. The article is a great source for the studies of early hominids since it reveals new data from a rather isolated area.

The second section contains four articles on the Archaic and Classical periods around the Black Sea with an emphasis on the impact of Greek colonization of the region. The first article in the group is by Latife Summerer who discusses the penetration of the Greek colonizers into the Halys basin through an examination of pottery and terracotta plaques and roof tiles. According to the author, the few pieces of pottery found inland at sites such as Akalan, Bogazköy, and Kaman suggest early contacts between the natives and the Greeks. The terracotta relief plaques used as architectural revetments discovered at Akalan and at Köic,i Tepesi and roof tiles discovered at Parali, Bogazköy, and Kaman have suggested to the author that "the Greeks paid special attention" to the Halys basin as a result of the abundance of red pigments and other minerals. The author explains the varying degrees of adaptation of Greek style (especially figurative representations) to terracotta revetments and roof tiles as varying limits set by these sites "on the level of adoption of foreign elements". Identification of the actual presence of Greeks or a direct contact between the Greeks and the natives at such an early date with little evidence has been a common error among scholars studying Greek colonization around the Black Sea.2 The article would have benefited greatly from a consideration of the use of terracotta architectural elements in Phrygian and Lydian contexts instead of limiting the identification to the Greeks, especially when the examples are not from securely dated contexts (probably with the exception of Kaman, for which a date was not provided by the author).

Sergey Solovyov also deals with contacts between the Greek colonizers and the locals, in this case the Scythians in the northern half of the Black Sea. The Greek imports of the 7th century B.C. were found in four places, on Berezan island, Taganrog, Istros and Nemirov. Solovyov explains that the casual meetings of the Greek seafarers with the nomads who occupied steppe and fore-steppe Scythia developed into regular seasonal contacts in time. He interprets the Greek imports in the Scythian burials as gifts given during negotiations with the local leaders regarding trade and seasonal workshops and explains that by the end of the 7th and early 6th century B.C., the seasonal moorings along the coast were transformed into permanent settlements with mixed population such as at Kerkinitis, Chersonesus, Pantikapaion, Nymphaion, Hermonassa and Phanagoria.

The most fascinating article of this group is certainly Richard Posamentir's work on the gravestones (end of 4th- beginning of the 3rd century B.C.) found among the ruins of one of the late 3rd-2nd century B.C. towers of the so-called citadel at Chersonesos. Posamentir presents six important observations regarding these gravestones and explains the unique features of "the environment which the Greek settlers encountered". He suggests that the social equality (without an emphasis on the individuality of the deceased) visible in the shapes and decoration of the gravestones, the democratization in Chersonesos which was economically flourishing around the same time, and the large projects of land division and construction of a city wall all indicate a radical manifestation of democratic ideas. The funerary customs also indicate acculturation of the indigenous population as well as new customs introduced into Greek traditions. This article is a very well written, insightful study of a group of archaeological objects masterfully presented in their sociocultural and historical context.

Muzaffer Demir's article on a very common species of fish of the Black Sea, the salt-pickled hamsi, is a lengthy description of what hamsi is, how it was perceived throughout history, what was made from it and how it was consumed, as well as literary evidence regarding this fish, which is still abundant today. According to Demir, hamsi must have been imported into Athens, just like pelamys , since it was small-fry (thus tasty), although cheap and not praised for its salsamenta or garum.

The next section deals with the period from medieval to modern times and begins with Andrew Peacock's assessment of the role of the Black Sea in Islamic period between the 9th and 13th centuries. He observed that the area was one of the main arteries between the Islamic world and northeastern Europe. The trade relations were flourishing until the 11th century when traders began to bypass Constantinople and the significance of Trebizond also possibly began to decline. The silver crisis of the early 11th century could have been the main reason for this decline, but the Seljuk invasions must have also played an important role. According to Peacock, the Seljuks stimulated commerce in two ways: by conquering major posts, and by building caravanserais along the major routes. Their efforts were beneficial and trade was revived by the end of the 12th and beginning of the 13th century.

In her article on slave trading in the Black Sea, Zübeyde Günes-Yagci draws our attention to the fact that the slave trade had begun in the Black Sea area much before the Ottoman Empire, and in fact the Italian city-states, which began to colonize some parts of the Black Sea coast after the decline of the Byzantine Empire in 1204, played an important role in slave trading in the region. The slave demands of the Ottomans, Mamluks and other Middle Eastern societies were met by the Crimean Khanate from the 16th century onwards. The author demonstrates these developments with the help of Ottoman documents concerning customs taxes paid per slave.

The next article examines the role of Trabzon in trade throughout history. The developments in trade are explained in chronological sections with the help of description of routes, the traded goods, and historical events with fluctuations through time in the city's significance. The main interest of the authors Aydemir and Aydemir is the period after the 13th century; however, the gap between A.D. 395 and 1048 in their chronological chart still requires an explanation. The lack of reference to the monumental work of A. Bryer and D. Winfield is also rather surprising.3 Trabzon apparently lost its advantageous position in the 20th century as a result of sub-standard technology and inadequacy of roads and was never able to recover again.

The next five articles deal with the impact of globalization, regionalization, changing networks of socio-economic relations within the region as well as with the outside world, effects of de-industrialization and natural disasters on the micro and macro economical development, the integration and disintegration of the area, settlement patterns and the like. Among these Erkut and Baypinar's article is a significant contribution to the understanding of the "supra- national and national level political, economic and cultural grounds for establishing horizontal local level co-operations". The article by Gür Sener and Özsoy is a re-consideration of the investigation of the environmental impact on settlement strategies and is nicely positioned towards the end of the book, almost mirroring the article by Yanko-Hombach on the Late Quarternary history of the Black Sea. While this group of articles may not be of considerable interest to the readers of the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, they might be useful for those who have an interest in the broad history of the region.

The final article before the closing article by Susan Heuck Allen and the Epilogue by Anthony Bryer is an evaluation of the status of Cultural Heritage Management activities around the Black Sea, with an account of the sites that are on the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russian Federation, Turkey and Ukraine. The authors, Gülersoy and Günay, also provide an evaluation of each country's attitude towards cultural heritage. There is a very useful chart on the "Basic threats to cultural heritage" and "Basic opportunities for cultural heritage" for each country as well as a proposal for developing cooperative cultural policies.

Susan Heuck Allen emphasizes the strategic location of the Hellespont and the Bosphorus straits from the Hittite period through modern times using the World System Analysis developed by Wallerstein in 1970s. She presents the history of the region in a very comprehensive way and demonstrates how military alliances gave way to economic cooperation and global political integration, reminding the reader of the significance of understanding the constantly changing relationship between core-periphery and contested periphery due to diverging dynamics.

As Anthony Bryer rightly states in his Epilogue, which provides an historical account of the British consulate in Trabzon from 1830-1956, this volume is indeed a collection of "intellectual baggage" and an especially good source of bibliography on almost every aspect and period of the Black Sea. The archaeology section, however, is strikingly small which is not a shortcoming of this conference but rather a good demonstration of how little has been done so far and how much there still is to do for understanding the ancient past of the Black Sea, especially on the west, east and south coasts and their hinterland.


Gülden Erkut and Stephen Mitchell, Introduction

Valentine Yanko-Hombach, Late Quarternary History of the Black Sea: an Overview with Respect to the Noah's Flood Hypothesis

Pavel M. Dolukhanov, Environment and Early Human Migrations in the Eastern Black Sea Area

Latife Summerer, Greeks and Natives on the Southern Black Sea Coast in Antiquity

Sergey L. Solovyov Ancient Greek Pioneering in the Northern Black Sea Coastal Area in the Seventh Century B.C.

Richard Posamentir, Colonisation and Acculturation in the Early Necropolis of Chersonesos

Muzaffer Demir, The Trade in Salt-Pickled Hamsi and Other Fish from the Black Sea to Athens during the Archaic and Classical Periods

Andrew C. S. Peacock, Black Sea Trade and the Islamic World down to the Mongol Period

Zübeyde Günes-Yagci, The Slave Trade in the Crimea in the Sixteenth Century

Saliha E. Aydemir and Sinasi Aydemir, The Historical Function and Future Prospects of Trabzon

Gülden Erkut and Mete Basar Baypinar, Istanbul, Odessa and Regional Integration in the Black Sea

Dilek Özdemir and Oya Akin, Development and Change in the Turkish Black Sea Provinces: Regional Growth and Integration Dynamics in Zonguldak-Bartin-Karabük

Iclal Dinc,er and Nilgün Erkan, The De-industrialisation of the Zonguldak-Bartin-Karabük Sub-region: Planning and Restructuring Strategies

Ferhan Gezici, Spatial Effects of Development in the Turkish Black Sea Provinces

Elmira Gür Sener and Ahsen Özsoy, Housing Development in Istanbul and the Environmental Impact of the 1999 Earthquake

Nuran Zeren Gülersoy and Zeynep Günay Cultural Heritage and Intercultural Dialogue in the Black Sea Region

Susan Heuck Allen, The Hellespont and Bosphorus Straits as a Contested Periphery Conduit between Europe and Asia

Anthony Bryer, Epilogue.


1.   Ryan, W.B.F. and W.C., Pitman, Noah's Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries about Events that Changed History. New York, 1998.
2.   See the author's review of E. Petropoulos's book in Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.05.24.
3.   A. Bryer and D. Winfield, The Byzantine Monuments and Topography of the Pontos I-II. Washington D.C., 1985.

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