Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.05.08

Elias K. Petropoulos, Alexander A. Maslennikov (ed.), Ancient Sacral Monuments in the Black Sea.   Thessaloniki:  Kyriakidis Brothers' Publishing House, 2010.  Pp. 576.  ISBN 9789604672080.  

Reviewed by Gocha Tsetskhladze, University of Melbourne (

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

This volume is further demonstration of how popular Black Sea archaeology has become in the West over the last decade. It is a collection of 17 papers by authors from Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and Britain, varying in length from 9 pp. (Braund) to 111 pp. (Maslennikov), arranged clockwise around the Black Sea from Bulgaria, examining temples, sanctuaries, cults and burial practices. Unfortunately, there is no introductory chapter to explain the volume’s rationale, themes and, specifically, its use of terminology (temple, sanctuary, cultic complex, and what distinguishes them).

The first contribution by Lazarenko et al., thoughtful and well-researched, deals with the remarkable discovery made during construction work in 2007 at Balchik, Bulgaria (ancient Krounoi/Dionysopolis) of the temple of the Pontic Mother of Gods. This is a temple in antis, built in the first half of the 3rd century BC and destroyed in the 4th century AD. We are given a very detailed description of its interior. A wealth of material was unearthed, notably marble and limestone sculptures and reliefs of deities and human figures, of which the largest group represents Cybele. There was a silver statue of Cybele in the temple, attested by the discovery of its pedestal with a Latin inscription. More than 30 inscriptions and fragments were found, 4th century BC-4th century AD (the earliest predates the temple and was reused), plus numerous graffiti on plaster fragments. These inscriptions, most dedicatory, let us consider this temple to have been that of the Pontic Mother of Gods. Some mention festivals and rituals, including ceremonies performed by women in Dionysopolis, the activities of priestesses, etc. Ceramic, glass, bone and metal artefacts were found, and 167 coins.

Next, Rousyaeva on the sanctuaries in Olbia and their historical development. Here, and in many other papers, sanctuary is used where temple would be more appropriate. Her focus is the city’s two temene: eastern and western. Aphrodite Delphinius played the main role in the eastern temenos, and Zeus and Athena minor ones. There is a description of the different construction phases of the temples. In the better preserved western temenos, the main deity was Apollo Ietros. Separate sanctuaries/temples existed to the Mother of Gods, jointly to Hermes and Aphrodite, and to the Dioscuri.

Krizhitskiy provides an overview of Greek temples of the northern Black Sea region from the second quarter of the 6th to the middle of the 1st century BC. The remains of more than a dozen temples have been unearthed. His emphasis is on architecture and architectural decoration. His proposed reconstructions of the temples are most valuable.

Krapivina presents the ‘home’ (surely ‘domestic’) sanctuaries of the northern Black Sea littoral. These were not only in Greek colonies but also in the rural settlements of their chorae. They took various forms – hearths, sacrificial altars, the basements of houses and, in some rural settlements, ‘semi-circular fences filled with ash’. Domestic sanctuaries were dedicated to Demeter, Aphrodite, Cybele, Artemis, Hestia, Apollo, etc.; they contain terracotta figurines, graffiti with the names of the deities, and other objects.

An appendix (pp. 148-70) – not in the table of contents – gives new data (last quarter 6th century BC-second quarter 3rd century AD) on the significance of the cult of Aphrodite in Olbia Pontica, demonstrating that it was more popular than had hitherto been thought. Earliest evidence comes from the eastern part of the Upper City: objects with dedications to Aphrodite, including a ‘pit-bothros’, a metal workshop connected to Aphrodite’s sanctuary, a fragment of marble sculpture of Aphrodite, and a marble statuette of her from a domestic sanctuary.

Next, Maslennikov takes us to rural sanctuaries on the Azov coast of Crimea, providing detailed information in this long piece on each of a dozen sites dating to the Late Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods. They were identified through terracotta figurines of Demeter, Aphrodite, Cybele, and other divinities. Rooms with altars are classified as rural sanctuaries. A few settlements are described as having a temenos and some sanctuaries were located on mountain tops. Excavation has yielded fragments of marble statuettes, terracotta figurines and votive reliefs. None of these sites yielded dedicatory inscriptions, or if they did, nothing is mentioned in the text.

Petropoulos follows with brief observations on the cult of Apollo in the Black Sea. This contains nothing new and shows no awareness of more detailed discussion of this subject in the books of Ehrhardt and Chiekova.1

Molev and Moleva write about the sacral complexes of the small Bosporan Greek colony of Kytaia. Two complexes are singled out near the south-western and south-eastern parts of the city walls and a third, situated not far from the town itself, is interpreted as a rural sanctuary. An ash-hill in the centre of the settlement has yielded extensive material from the Classical and Hellenistic periods, including graffiti on pottery with abbreviations of the names of Demeter, Kore, Bacchus, etc. as well as terracotta figurines of Demeter, Cybele and other deities. An exceptionally large number of porcine bones have been discovered too. From the Hellenistic period a town temenos was formed, domestic sanctuaries were unearthed, and the worship of Aphrodite, Dionysos, Apollo and Artemis commenced. A temple to the thunder god was built in the Roman period in the centre of the ash-hill.

With Tolstikov’s somewhat discursive piece we reach Panticapaeum. Tolstikov, who spent many years excavating the acropolis, re-examines the published and unpublished architectural details found there which gave rise to V.D. Blavatskii’s universally accepted 1950 theory, that a temple of Apollo existed in the city’s acropolis from the early 5th century BC: the plinth of a column base in Ionic order, an architrave beam, an Ionic capital, a fragment of a gutter-spout, etc. A temple of Apollo definitely existed in the 4th-3rd centuries BC but further excavation is needed to regarding the earlier temple of 500-485 BC and its fate: destroyed, then restored?

Vakhtina, Vinogradov and Goroncharovskiy present evidence of cult activity at three sites excavated by the Institute for the History of Material Culture, Russian Academy of Sciences, St Petersburg. The first is Porthmion, a small Greek colony on the Kerch Strait. This revealed a limited number and range of finds shedding light on the religious life of the time. A black-glazed cup of the early 5th century BC carries a graffito demonstrating the worship of a female deity by the name of Parthenos. Other evidence is a monumental altar; and terracotta figurines of Demeter, Cybele, Heracles, Eros and Dionysos. A nearby domestic shrine contains a terracotta figurine of Aphrodite. The second, Artyushchenko 1, a rural settlement on the Taman peninsula, yielded an exceptionally large number of terracotta figurines of female deities, also altars and a pit full of fragments of terracotta statuettes of deities. Dugout VIII was occasionally served as an underground shrine. Finally, Labrys (Semibratnee city-site), in the hinterland 28 kilometres north-west of Anapa (ancient Gorgippia), which had a temenos. Here was an Early Hellenistic boundary wall, and part of the temenos yielded an altar built from massive limestone slabs.

Khrshanovskiy considers the necropolises of two small Bosporan towns: Iluration (1st-3rd centuries AD), where seven stone circles, interpreted as ‘funerary ritual constructions’ were found, and Kytaia, where altars were discovered. Near Iluration, interpreted as sanctuaries, were almost-rectangular constructions made of several limestone blocks, within which pottery and bones (ovine, equine, bovine, avian) were recovered.

With Ilyina we reach Maiskaya Mount, just south of Phanagoria on the Taman peninsula. In antiquity it was a natural mud volcano with two craters. I.D. Marchenko excavated the area between them in 1958-64 and uncovered remains of two stone buildings. The first, with a naos and pre-naos, Marchenko thought was a temple or treasury; of the second, attached to it from the west, only a wall was excavated. Finds included amphorae, pottery of Phanagorian production, some terracotta figurines, and a large number of 2nd-century BC coins. The building was of the late 4th/beginning 3rd century BC; it ceased to exist in the first quarter of the 1st century BC. To its south was a large natural cleft full of pottery, bronze objects, terracotta figurines, etc., all middle 5th-middle 3rd centuries BC. The several hundred figurines contained representations of Demeter, Kore, Aphrodite, etc., leading Ilyina to conclude that the cleft was used as a favissa and that the buildings were temples.

With the next group of papers we jump to Georgia. Braund’s short contribution is on the archaeologically unlocated Phasis. Thus, our knowledge is based upon written sources and a (very) few inscriptions. Yet again, using Arrian (Periplus 9) and Pseudo-Plutarch (‘On Rivers, Phasis’), he emphasises, as he and others have before, that the cult of the River Phasis existed in the eponymous city, as did a temple dedicated to the Phasian goddess. Like Petropoulos, he mentions the silver phiale with the inscription connected to Phasis. However, he dismisses all scholarship about it except for O.D. Lordkipanidze’s 2000 book,2 at the same time offering practically nothing new.

The two following contributions are also brief, share an author and the distinction of referring in the text to illustrations which have not been included! Amiran and Emzar Kakhidze examine the burial customs of Greeks and locals in Pichvnari in the Classical period, in a paper whose inclusion stretches the title of the volume somewhat.3 E. Kakhidze and Mamuladze’s piece is based on excavations at Gonio-Apsarus 1995-2009. The material unearthed dates to the 1st-3rd centuries AD and the site has yielded rarely found cult items. The authors’ concern is a bronze statuette of Serapis, which suggests that his cult was widespread here. Supporting evidence is cited – coins with his representation as well as finger-rings bearing images relating to his cult.

Saprykin’s large piece is an extensive summary of his Russian book (2009) on the same subject. Using all kinds of sources – literary, epigraphic, numismatic, archaeological – to present evidence of the worship of Zeus, Poseidon, Asclepius, Apollo, Helios, Hermes, Dionysos, etc., he concludes that all male gods bear a completely syncretic character and had mixed cults.

With Dönmez we move to north-central Anatolia, mainly its hinterland. The focus is the Iron Age, particularly settlements where terracotta revetment plaques have been discovered. Dönmez maintains that these were parts of temples, contra the more plausible opinion of L. Summerer that they probably belonged to the residences of the settlement’s elite. Briefly he presents important material of the Archaic period from a new excavation not far from Samsun. His final section is dedicated to temples and rock-cut tombs in Tokat, Sinop, Samsun, Amasya and Kastamonu provinces.

Finally, Manoledakis gives a discussion, once again, of the information about the establishment of Sinope in Pseudo-Scymnus: that it was founded by Thessalian heroes in the 8th century BC, succeeded later by Milesians. Manoledakis believes that Autolycus was the city’s hero-founder, that he was later worshipped as a god there, and that probably a temple was dedicated to his cult. A brief section considers the cult of Leucothea in Sinope, about which, as the author admits, little is known.4

To find a book with inverted commas around its title and that title containing a typo (‘Secral’!) does not inspire confidence. Closer inspection reveals major editorial shortcomings throughout: actually, a severe shortage of editing. Does this matter? Yes! Editing is laborious but editors must make the effort. Here, alas, there is no evidence of any effort.5 For a solid book with many useful papers and numerous, informative, well-reproduced illustrations (plans, drawings, reconstructions and photographs in a dozen of the contributions and, if done properly, in a brace more), this is a pity.

A few examples. The well-known Russian publication, VDI is Vestnik Drevnei Istorii (untranslated) in a list of abbreviations on p. 80; Vestnik Drevney Istorii (translated as Journal of Ancient History and also given in Cyrillic) on p. 110; Vestnik drevnej istorii (translated as Herald of ancient history) on p. 142; VDI – ВДИ and as p. 110 with some differences of layout and the addition of Moscow as place of publication on p. 234; as on p. 110 with the addition of ‘in Russian, with summaries in English’ on p. 290; Vestnik drevney istorii plus the Cyrillic form, the translation Journal of Ancient History, but now set in italics, plus ‘Moskva (in Russian)’ (p. 377); Vestnik Drevnei Istorii plus the Cyrillic, the translation The Herald of Ancient History (in italics) and ‘Moscow (in Russian)’ on p. 448; the abbreviation in bold type, Vestnik drevnei istorii, the Cyrillic form, italicised translation as Bulletin of Ancient History, plus ‘Moscow (in Russian)’ on p. 460; and Vestnik drevnej istorii plus Cyrillic on p. 500 (capitalisations as in volume). Separate lists of abbreviations, where not engulfed in general bibliography, may be in Roman, mixed Roman and Cyrillic, dual abbreviations for one publication or lists subdivided by alphabet, or even subdivided into multiple categories by type! What one person abbreviates, another does not, or does so differently.

This exemplifies the inconsistency of approach, transliteration, translation and typography that litters the bibliographies (and text): almost as many styles of bibliography as chapters, indeed variations of style within a bibliography (some follow Soviet standards almost incomprehensible to outsiders), and several outright errors. It can be impossible to differentiate articles from books, underlining and italics are haphazard, dates and places of publication sometimes absent. Citation is split between Harvard text references (following different conventions) and footnotes. All possible variations in the use of hyphens and dashes, with and without spaces, are present, sometimes jumbled up on a single page.

Brief details of affiliation are given for a few authors. The headers on pp. 418-30 belong to the following chapter. Some chapters have plates, others figures; all un-differentiable, some with bilingual captions. The general map of the Black Sea (pp. 10-11) is grossly insufficient – indeed, many places in the titles of individual contribution are absent. Some provide their own maps. An index would also have helped.

All papers are in English (often laboured and opaque), spelling is inconsistent, German-style quotation marks creep in, etc. A modest extra effort would have produced a far better volume. Here, instead, we have another wasted opportunity.

Contents (preserving original capitalisation but correcting a typo)

The Temple of the Pontic Mother of Gods in Dionysopolis
Igor Lazarenko, Elina Mircheva, Radostina Encheva, Nikolaj Sharankov, pp 13-62
Sanctuaries in the Context of the Cultural And Historical Development of Olbia Pontica
Anna S. Rousyaeva, pp 63-92
Hellenic Temples in the Northern Black Sea Region
Sergey D. Krizhitskiy, pp. 93-126
Home Sanctuaries in the Northern Black Sea Littoral
Valentina V. Krapivina, pp 127-70
Ancient rural sanctuaries of the Crimean Azov coast
Alexander A. Maslennikov, pp. 171-281
Apollo’s Cult in the Black Sea Area and the Greek Colonists: Some Remarks
Eliaz K. Petropoulos, pp. 283-93
Sacral complexes of Kytaia
Molev, E.A., Moleva, N.V., pp. 295-333
The Early Temple of Apollo on the Acropolis at Panticapaeum: Questions of Dating, Typology and the Periods of its Construction
Vladmimir P. Tolstikov, pp. 335-65
Cult complexes and objects discovered by the Bosporan Expedition of the Institute for History of Material Culture, Russian Academy of Sciences (Saint-Petersburg)
Marina Yu. Vakhtina, Yuriy A. Vinogradov, Vladimir A. Goroncharovskiy, pp. 367-98
Ritual Constructions In The Necropoleis Of Small Cimmerian Bosporus Towns Of Kytaia And Iluraton
Vladmimir Khrshanovskiy, pp. 399-415
The Sanctuary on the Maiskaya Mount
Tatiana Ilyina, pp. 417-30
The religious landscape of Phasis
David Braund, pp. 431-40
Burial customs of Greek and local population of Pichvnari
Amiran Kakhidze & Emzar Kakhidze, pp. 441-53
Specimens related to cult from the fort of Apsarus
Emzar Kakhidze & Shota Mamuladze, pp. 455-64
Male Deities And Their Cults On The South Black Sea Coast: Hellenistic and Roman Periods
Sergey Jurevich Saprykin, pp. 465-514
Sacral Monuments Of The North-Central Anatolia
Şevket Dönmez, pp. 515-62
On the cults of Sinope and the founders of the city
Manolis Manoledakis, pp. 563-76


1.   N. Ehrhardt, Milet und seine Kolonien: Vergleichende Untersuchung der kultischen und politischen Einrichtungen, Frankfurt-Bern-New York-Paris 1988, 2 vols.; D. Chiekova, Cultes et vie religieuse des cités grecques du Pont Gauche (VIIe-Ier siècles avant J.-C.), Bern-Berlin-Brussels-Frankfurt-New York-Oxford-Vienna 2008. See also A. Avram, J. Hind and G. Tsetskhladze, ‘The Black Sea Area’. In M.H. Hansen and T.H. Nielsen (edd.), An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis, Oxford 2004, 924-73 (this piece contains a site by site descriptions, including the cults of the various cities, temples, etc.). Mention on p. 288 of a silver phiale with an inscription, connected to Phasis but found in the northern Caucasus in a grave dated several centuries later, shows no knowledge of the articles about it by Treister and myself: M.Y. Treister, ‘The Toreutics of Colchis in the 5th-4th Centuries BC: Local Traditions, Outside Influences, Innovations’. Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia 13 (2007), 92-97; G.R. Tsetskhladze, ‘The Silver Phiale Mesomphalos from the Kuban (Northern Caucasus)’. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 13.2 (1994), 199-215.
2.   O.D. Lordkipanidze, Phasis: The River and City in Colchis, Stuttgart 2000, 62-77. See also note 2 above.
3.   They still maintain that the two groups had separate burial grounds, although others have expressed doubt about this and believe that one necropolis served both communities. See G.R. Tsetskhladze, ‘The Interpretation of Pichvnari’. Dialogues d’histoire ancienne 20.1 (1994), 127-45; G.R. Tsetskhladze, Pichvnari and Its Environs, 6th c BC-4th c AD, Paris 1999, 43-72.
4.   For Sinope and its colonies, see now G.R. Tsetskhladze, ‘Secondary Colonisation in the Black Sea: Sinope and Panticapaeum’. In M. Lombardo and F. Frisone (edd.), Colonie de Colone: Le fondazioni sub-coloniali Greche tra colonizzazione e colonialismo. Atti de; Convegno Internazionale (Lecce, 22-24 giugno 2006), Lecce 2009, 230-39.
5.   This is a common fault with Petropoulos’s other edited Black Sea volumes, as many reviewers have remarked – see BMCR 2009.04.79 for just one example (practically all comments made there are pertinent here).

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