BMCR 2004.09.01

Ancient Greek Colonies in the Black Sea. 2 volumes. Publication of the Archaeological Institute of Northern Greece, no. 4

, , Ancient Greek colonies in the Black Sea. Publications of the Archaeological Institute of Northern Greece ; nr. 4. Thessaloniki: Archaeological Institute of Northern Greece, 2003. 2 volumes (1431 pages) : illustrations, maps ; 28 cm.. ISBN 9602140739 €200.00.

The aim of this voluminous work, as stated on p. 13, is to present for the first time a comprehensive description — by the archaeologists themselves working at the sites — of the archaeological finds of almost thirty Greek colonies on the coasts of the Black Sea.

A short introduction by D. V. Grammenos (13-15) is followed by an introductory overview on “Problems in the History and Archaeology of the Greek Colonization of the Black Sea” by E. Petropoulos (17-93; see below). The individual sites are then presented clockwise from the left (i.e. the northwest) around the Black Sea; the first three articles deal with places in modern Bulgaria: D. Nedev – K. Panayotova, Apollonia Pontica (end of the 7th – 1st centuries BC) (95-155); H. Peshlenov, Mesambria (157-208); and A. Minchev, Odessos (209-278). The next two places are situated in modern Rumania: A. Avram, Histria (279-340); M. Mancu-Adamesteanu, Orgame (341-388); these are both in French. Obviously special attention was paid to the northern Black Sea Coast (today Ukrainia) and the Crimea, including the easternmost colony the Greeks founded in this part of the world, Tanais (now near Rostov on the Don, at the Sea of Azov, the ancient Maiotis). Fourteen articles are devoted to this part of the Pontos: S. Kryzhitskyy et al. Olbia – Berezan (389-505); id. – V. Krapivina, Olbian chora (507-561); V. A. Kutaisov, Kerkinitis (563-602); M. J. Zolotarev, Chersonesus Tauricus (sic; 603-644); Y. A. Katyushin, Theodosia (645-695); V. P. Tolstikov, Panticapaeum (707-758); O. Y. Sokolova, Nymphaeum (759-802); Yu. A. Vinogradov et al., Myrmekion – Porthmeus (803-840); Y. A. Molev, Kyta (841-893); V. A. Kuznetsov, Kepoi – Phanagoria – Taganrog (895-855); Y. M. Alexeeva, Gorgippia (957-1005); S. I. Finogenova, Hermonasse (1008-1045); T. M. Arseneyeva, Tanais (1047-1102); A. P. Abramov – A. A. Zavoykin, Patraeus – Cimmeris – Achilleion (1103-1153); and A. A. Maslennnikov, Rural territory of ancient Cimmerian Bosporus (1155-1213).

Then follow three Greek colonies in modern Georgia: A. N. Gabelia, Dioscurias (1215-1265); G. Kvirkvelia, Gyenos (1267-1296); and O.D. Lordkipanidze, Phasis (1297-1329). The last four places are in Turkey: S. Atasoy, Amisos (1331-1377); O. Doonan, Sinope (1379-1402); and D. B. Erciyas, Heraclea Pontica – Amastris (1403-1431).

With a few exceptions (most notably Tanais, founded during the reign of the Bosporan king Pairisades II [280-275 BC], and Amastris, founded by the eponymous queen around 300 BC by merging several settlements), the majority of the sites were established during the great Greek colonization of the Pontos in the 7th and 6th cent. BC. It was the city of Miletos which founded most of the colonies, with the exception of Mesambria, the only Dorian polis on the Black Sea coast, established by settlers from Megara, Byzantion and Chalcedon.

Although there are several Greek myths linked with the region (most notably the Golden Fleece), written historical sources for the colonies are often scarce or date from considerably later times, e.g. Strabo, Arrian, Ps.-Scylax and the often-quoted encyclopedia of Stephanus of Byzantium, to name only the most often mentioned. To provide such a wealth of archaeological material and data is therefore in itself most welcome; compared with the ‘centers’ of the Classical world, the Black Sea region is still sadly neglected in mainstream Western scholarship, although interest in it and research have been rapidly growing in recent years. That research, however, is still hampered by the fact that primary archaeological literature and excavation reports are only accessible with difficulty, partly for ‘physical’ reasons (that literature is not often found in Western libraries), partly for linguistic ones (it is written in languages few Westerners manage). The present two volumes aim to remedy this. Almost every article in them provides a more or less extensive history of the research on the site it deals with and thereby often shows how early ‘indigenous’ interest in these sites developed but then dropped completely out of view of Western scholarship after having been sometimes mentioned by a bishop for their early Christian basilicas (e.g., Orgame or the sites on the Crimea) or an adventurous scholar of the 18th or 19th cent. All in all, it certainly makes sense to publish a huge amount of this material in English in order to enlarge the basis of present scholarly discussions (14). How well this has been done, however, is another matter.

The editors themselves state that only some of the settlements were included, so one cannot hope for a complete picture; yet one wonders whether places like, e.g. Tomis, Tyras or Trapezus were left out by design or by mere chance. On the other hand, it is welcome to find presented several of the smaller towns on those parts of the Crimea on the Taman peninsula that form the Cimmerian Bosporus (today Strait of Kerch); there in the 5th cent. BC the Bosporan kingdom with its capital Panticapaeum emerged, whose grain supply was vital for classical Athens. Equally important is the article on Dioscurias in modern Abkhazia, a region certainly not easily accessible for scholarship at the moment. The research on Phasis by the late O. Lordkipanidze is now available in an English monograph.1

In the first article (17-93) Petropoulos gives an exhaustive survey of the history of and state of research on Greek colonization of the Black Sea area and lists several main issues: the relationship between Greek settlers and the native populations; the date of the earliest arrival of the Greeks (connected with this is the question whether there were pre-colonial contacts); and the character and goal of their colonization, which boils down to the question whether it was more agriculturally or commercially oriented, and whether and how we can distinguish emporion and apoikia. P. treats at length the “emporian stage” (39-61), which in his opinion was the first phase of the settlements. Yet these problems do not seem to be issues in most of the following articles. Foundation dates are, apart from that of Sinope (1380-82), merely mentioned and seldom discussed; graves are confidently ascribed to the Greek or indigenous population (e.g. 959f.), although whether this can be told from the contents of the graves is a matter of debate. Moreover, an “emporian stage” is mentioned only for the colonies in Colchis.

This brings me to another point, namely the lack of coordination among the individual contributions. This is not entirely a bad thing: someone interested in one specific place will get a fairly complete historical and archaeological survey of it. On the other hand, a reader who covers major parts or even the whole book will find many very similar historical outlines or summaries, first (for the Thracian sites) about the Odrysian kingdom and Lysimachus’ reign in Hellenistic times; then (for the sites on the Northern Pontic shore) about Darius’ campaign against the Scythians, Scythian aggression against the Greeks settlements during the 5th cent. BC, the period of mutual arrangement (often in the form of a Scythian protectorate) and a period of prosperity that usually followed; the general crisis that affected all these settlements in the 3rd cent. BC, the Mithridatic wars; and the revival of the settlements in Roman times until their end due to the destructions by the Goths and the Huns in the 3rd and 4th cent. AD. To a somewhat lesser extent the same is true for the cults and the political institutions of the colonies, which were in most parts (at least initially) the same, since they were brought by colonists from the same mother city. I wonder whether an arrangement of the articles within, e.g. broader geographical sections, with a historical introduction to each section, would not have made more sense.

Most of the archaeologists agree that the firsts colonists on the Northern Black Sea shore lived in dugouts or semi-dugouts (see e.g. Olbia 414, 428f.; Gorgippia 957f.), many of which have been excavated; yet this opinion is attacked by V. D. Kuznetsov (918-920) in an extremely harsh way which does not do justice to the phenomenon of “barbarization” of the Greek colonists. These pit-dwellings were by no means “primitive” holes (nor was Greek private architecture so much more advanced at this time), but had up to two rooms, threshold, entrance corridor and walls faced with stones, so that they probably were simply the most efficient way to cope with harsher climatic conditions.

Certainly a major achievement of the two volumes is the wealth of pictures (many of excellent quality) and extensive bibliographies that accompany every article; the latter provide a rich mine for anyone interested in more information and make this book an important work of reference for several less known sites.

And yet my overall impression is mixed, and the collection’s aim — to promote the study of the region and make vast quantities of material accessible to a wider public — has (in my opinion) been only partly achieved. This is especially regrettable since the weaknesses I have to criticize could have been avoided. Obviously many of the articles were translated by persons with no knowledge of archaeology or Classics, so that the (original) Russian spelling of proper names was simply transliterated. Spellings like “gimnezium” (424), “Martsellin”, “Ariapejt”, “Borishtenida” (399), “Ktesyphontos” (759) or “Ctesyphontos” and “Eschynus” (896, meaning Aischines’ speech against Ctesiphon), “Perthephone”, “Horhon” (for Gorgo 961, 987), “Synds” (for Sindians, 963), to mention only a very few, may seem merely irritating, but to find out that “Skil” (399, 460) is the name of the Scythian king Skyles, “Leoks” (460) is the youth Leoxos mentioned on a grave stele from Olbia, “the Satyrs Kingdom” (963) is the reign of the Bosporan king Satyros I, and “phias” (732) means simply the Dionysian thiasos might cause real problems for people not familiar either with the region or the Russian language. A good knowledge of Greek authors combined with some imagination is also necessary to recognize Lucian of Samosata behind “Lycian of Samos” (730) or Hecataeus of Miletus and Scylax of Caryanda behind “Gekatey Miletskiy” and “Skilak-Kariandskiy” (1107).

This points to a more general problem. The quality of the English of the individual articles is extremely uneven (so that it would probably have made sense to name the translators responsible for it). Some are reasonably well written or at least intelligible, many actually very good (esp. those from the Georgian scholars and those about the sites in Turkey; this is true also for the two contributions in French, but there seems to have been a computer problem with the Greek letters in the article of A. Avram). At least half a dozen, however, are simply disastrous, and in parts virtually unintelligible. I give a few examples so that the reader may judge for himself:

“So, the figurine of Athens — Parthenos — found in Olbia, is one of free images of well-known Statue of Fidios. The goddess is dressed in Doric tunic with armour-aegis and image of Gorgone, the left hand she leans on a shield (was not kept)” (461).

“Most mighty and well study on Berezan is the archaic cultural layer… As was already spoken, with Berezan associate the message of Eusebius about the foundation of colony Borysthenes per 647 B.C. … The heart of the problem is, that in the tables particular events will be clocked on several reference lines, and while translating of such synchronisms in dates on modern chronology, it usually do not coincide. In judgement by V. M. Otreshko, with reference to colony of Miletus it is better to draw a parallel with a history of Lydia, while usually used count from olympiads. In this case, according to reduced by Eusebius the data of middle East sources, the basis Borysthene concerns to 625 B. C. This date is better correspond with the archaeological data” (466f.).

“… the minting of that coins was connected with rather popular in early Ionian colonies deity” (567).

“Consequence of the Goddess cult not only in Phanagoria but in the Asiatic part of Bosporos as well (Taman peninsula) is underlined by existence of the sanctuary of this Goddess (extra muros) not found till now” (898).

“Why do not Herodotus or Strabo mention establishment of Phanagoria by Teos, which we know only from later authors (beginning since IInd BC)? The answer is alternative: or we have to acknowledge Herodotus and Strabo failure to mention for occasion and count Phanagoria as Teian apoikia founded at the same time as Abdera, either refuse this status” (899).2

“Without aggravation it might be noted that the brainchild for Kobylina M. M. was the trenches “Kerameikos” and “Central” (905).

“Was found a grave stone to a merchant from Helica with an epithapy on the Ionic dialect” (959).

“It has 90 stadies from the Satir monument. The monument seemed to be a tsar burial mound, brightly ruled on the Bospore territory” (1107).

“Apart from the changing of landscape in two last thousand, which hampers the localization of Cimmeris, it is necessary to take into account a probability that the city in the period of autonomy, the city founded by the bosporan tyrants (Pseudo-Scymnos) and the Cimmerian settlement (Strabo) may have presented no one, but two or three sites, located for a distance from each other” (1136).

Surely these interesting places deserved better than to be presented in this fashion. It is not only extremely tedious to cope with several hundred pages in this style, it also spoils the general impression of the book, and (in my experience) this kind of weakness also tends to reinforce Western prejudices about the quality of Eastern European scholarship. To make these volumes a useful book for a large audience it would have been necessary to get a native English speaker to provide an intelligible style and a classicist to handle the proper names (there are also lots of misprints, especially in the German and English titles in the bibliographies). While I do acknowledge that getting the former may be a real problem when no one volunteers and funding is scarce, doing the latter would undoubtedly have been the duty of the editors. So the remaining impression is mainly one of a huge work undertaken with the best intentions but which turned, regrettably, into a missed opportunity due to the lack of revisions and corrections.


1. O. Lordkipanidze, Phasis. The River and City in Colchis (Geographica Historica 15, Stuttgart 2000).

2. For information about the rather complicated tradition about the foundation of Phanagoria, readers of German may turn to the article by the same author (V. D. Kusnetsov) in J. Fornasier – B. Böttger (edd.), Das Bosporanische Reich (Mainz 2002), 59-68.