BMCR 2005.09.70

Chronologies of the Black Sea Area in the Period c. 400-100 BC

, , Chronologies of the Black Sea area in the period, c. 400-100 BC. Black Sea studies ; 3. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2006. 1 online resource (338 pages) : illustrations.. ISBN 9788779349247 $46.00.

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

Chronologies of the Black Sea Area in the Period c. 400-100 BC is a superb example of the growing interest in collaboration in the archaeological studies around the Black Sea. Successfully edited by Vladimir F. Stolba and Lise Hannestad, this book brings together 13 papers presented at a conference held by the Danish Research Foundation’s Centre for Black Sea Studies that discuss wider chronological problems in relation to those specifically connected with the Black Sea. The papers can be categorized into two groups, one discussing chronologies established outside the Black Sea area but with an important role in forming local chronologies and the other discussing local chronologies through case studies. The material involves amphora stamps, coins, imported fine-ware pottery, and ancient sources to a certain extent. International scholars from different fields and disciplines were invited to contribute, the result of which emphasizes the necessity of diversity in archaeological assessment. On the one hand, the traditional chronologies are extensively used, though with care; on the other hand, revisions to these traditional dates are proposed. In this respect, the book may be considered revolutionary since it challenges long-established rules, whether it be for the amphora stamps or for coinage. In another way as well the book is revolutionary: it is among the few books that collect articles on the archaeology of the Black Sea in English which provides wider dissemination of knowledge.1 The Danish National Foundation’s Centre for Black Sea Studies should be applauded for initiating such a series, of which this is the third.2 The book is well produced, in terms of the editing and the general appearance, i.e. images and layout; there are, however, a few spelling mistakes.

The first article, by Susan Rotroff, discusses the five fixed chronological points of Athenian Hellenistic pottery (the destruction of Olynthus, the foundation of Alexandria, the occupation of Koroni, the destruction of Corinth, and finally the Sullan attack on Athens) in relation to archaeological deposits and re-evaluates the chronology of Hellenistic pottery today. In her conclusion, she relates the chronology of the Athenian pottery to its existence in the Black Sea area. She recognizes that the number of Athenian imports during the first 150 years of that period (400-250 B.C.) is significant, with a dramatic decrease afterwards. The author reminds the reader of the difficulty in establishing chronologies depending on imported pottery and the importance of local chronologies when evaluating ceramic data. The difficulty arises from using the disappearance of imports as a terminal date for a particular archaeological deposit whereas it might only suggest a decline in imported pottery. The article is very helpful in understanding the basics of Hellenistic pottery chronology and the keys to building chronological groups since it presents very complicated data in a very sophisticated yet straightforward way.

Amphora and amphora stamp studies have been crucial in dating throughout the Mediterranean because amphoras are not only recognizable through their forms but also datable through the names of the astynomoi on their stamps. It is a bit more difficult to work with unstamped amphoras, but in general amphoras are invaluable because they travel and end up in deposits otherwise impossible to date. Most of the dating around the Black Sea depends on amphora dates, and chronologies have been based on a few key studies.3 Hence, the following three articles discuss amphoras.

Mark Lawall in his article brings together the main issues around amphora chronologies through a study of Thasian amphora chronology. The basic turning points, i.e., the starting date of epigraphic stamps and the date of the transition from old-style two-name to new-style one-name Thasian stamps, have been increasingly significant for Black Sea chronologies. Thasian amphoras were found abundantly throughout the Black Sea, and they declined following the introduction of the new style. Lawall presents a meticulous account of previous studies by Grace, Avram and Garlan (see note 3) and associates Thasian amphoras with Chian amphora feet, Mendean amphoras, and black-glaze fine wares recovered together in closed contexts in order to obtain more precise chronological divisions. Among the deposits that have played a significant role in establishing Thasian amphora chronology is Pnyx III, which receives special attention from Lawall. The article concludes in a skeptical tone, once again inviting us to be vigilant when relating dated objects with undated objects or features.

Amphora discussion is continued by Sergej Ju. Monachov in the next article. Here, the Rhodian amphoras which began to be produced only in the 4th century B.C. are considered in terms of their forms and standards, a topic the author believes has been overlooked. The article includes a useful review of scholarship on Rhodian amphoras. Monachov divides Rhodian amphoras into two types: 1) long-necked (began in the late 4th century B.C. and became the only type at the end of the first quarter of the 3rd century B.C.); and 2) short-necked (emerged in the first third of the 3rd century B.C., and was short-lived).

In the next article, Conovici provides a comparative analysis of Sinopean, Thasian and Rhodian amphoras in particular centers. The article has three major aims: to harmonize different amphora chronologies by comparing the number of amphoras from well-dated export centers in an import city; to identify when trade increased, diminished, and decayed in the import city; and to understand the relationship between the Greek cities as emporia and the hinterland or the barbarians. Therefore, Conovici compares the number of Sinopean, Thasian and Rhodian amphoras at Istros, Tomis and Callatis and tries to identify peak periods for each type and observe their correspondence. His conclusions include a reassertion of the established chronologies, identifying differences in the dynamics of imports from different export centers and revealing the necessity of a comprehensive study of all sorts of imports in export and import cities.

Coins bear their own problems when it comes to dating, but coinage from the reign of Mithradates VI is exceptional in terms of providing exact dates. Until the end of the 2nd century and the early 1st century B.C., there were only three mints in the entire southern Black Sea area: Sinope, Amisos, and Trapezos. In the period corresponding to the reign of Mithradates VI, however, the number of cities minting bronze coins for daily interaction suddenly increased to at least thirteen. Following a lucid presentation of the problems concerning coin studies, François de Callatay goes on to challenge Imhoof-Blumer’s authoritative work on the bronze coins of Pontus.4 After an examination of hoards with safe dates, Mithradatic bronzes from excavations at Ilion, Pergamon, Delos, and Athens in the Aegean, and Tyritake, Myrmekion, and Kepoi in Bosporus, Callatay concludes that the dates of Imhoof-Blumer need revision. According to the data he presents, it seems that no Pontic bronzes were struck after the end of the first war. This conclusion has an impact on understanding the policy of Mithradates VI, which has been usually explained through coinage. Callatay suggests that the cities that began minting certain types of coins under the reign of Mithradates VI were not privileged or free but rather served the policy of the king.5 Thereby, he masterfully brings together a revised chronology with a long debated historical question.

The other historical question discussed in the book relates to the reign of Pharnakes I and the date of a well-known inscription from Chersonesos (IOSPE I2, 402). This significant inscription, which has potential for an exact date for the period before the reign of Mithradates VI, has been alternatively dated to 179 B.C. and 155 B.C. Jakob Munk Hojte introduces the sources and arguments for and against an early date and relates these arguments to the problems of the chronology of the Black Sea. Although he concludes that there is not sufficient evidence to support either date, his study is still a good exercise in trying to better understand the chronology of the Pontic kingdom. Hojte also suggests that further amphora studies may provide historical information.

Beginning with the seventh article, by Vladimir F. Stolba, the book takes a turn towards establishing local chronologies. Stolba’s article discusses Chersonesos’ fate in the 3rd century B.C. — focusing on a break in the second and third quarters of the century — through the study of Chersonesean and Thasian amphoras in archaeological contexts, previously dated coins, and hoards from the chora of the city. Despite a break in amphora production, which suggests a decline in wine production for several decades, Chersonesos picked up again in the last third of the 3rd century and reclaimed its position as a result of peaceful relations with the Scythians.

In the next article, Lise Hannestad attempts to date a monumental building complex at Panskoe I in northwestern Crimea. The amphora stamps (Sinope, Chersonesos, Herakleia, Amastris, and Thasos), Chersonesean bronze coins, and Attic fine black-glazed ware found in the building suggest a construction date of 320-310 B.C. and destruction around 270 B.C. for this square-planned, several-family residential building. The article is a superb example of the benefits of datable archaeological contexts which contain local and import items that can be chronologically compared.

In 1991, a cistern in a Byzantine house in the northeastern district of Chersonesos was excavated. Miron I. Zolotarev here discusses the archaeological material from both inside the cistern and the habitation layer above it. Once again amphora stamps (Chersonesos, Sinope, and Rhodos), Attic black-glazed ware, and common ware are used in order to date the fill of the cistern. While the objects found in the fill point to a date from the end of the first quarter to the middle of the final quarter of the 3rd century B.C., the habitation layer, which survived in another room, suggests that the building was in use in the 1st century A.D.

Valerie P. Bylkova takes on the very difficult task of building a regional chronology for the Lower Dnieper region in 400-100 B.C. Lack of archaeological data from the numerous excavations in the area forces her to pick representative sites from the east of the Olbian chora, the inner Scythian region, and late Scythian settlements, 13 sites in total. The chronology is based on stratigraphy as well as typology, and Bylkova uses amphora and tile stamps, imported pottery, coins, and fibulae. It is possible to distinguish three periods in the settlement history of the region. The greatest significance of this conclusion is of course the recognition of a unified chronology in an area inhabited by several population groups with distinct cultural traits.

Valentina V. Krapivina discusses the chronology of late Hellenistic Olbia, but, different from her colleagues, she offers a more general picture of the changes in the city’s settlement history, based on architectural remains, historical documents (inscriptions), and coins.

Jurij P. Zajcev presents a unique case of the residence and burial of a king discovered within one complex in the north Black Sea region. Scythian Neapolis was inhabited from the 2nd century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D. In the second half of the 2nd century B.C. it was the residence of King Skilouros and included a Mausoleum built for Skilouros and Argotas. Through the study of a late [L.C. 1] Hellenistic layer and changes that took place in the architectural layout of the Southern Palace, Zajcev dates two horizons within the layer and the burials from the Mausoleum to the 2nd century B.C., thereby introducing a new chronological sequence for the scholars of the northern Black Sea region.

The final paper of the book is devoted to an extraordinarily rich barrow discovered in the Crimean peninsula. Valentina I. Monachov’s presentation is very straightforward and describes the tomb and the burial gifts that accompanied the tomb’s occupant, a 35 to 40 year-old woman. An examination of the jewelry, imported vessels, and local objects dates the burial to the early 1st century B.C., the time of Mithradates VI. The significance of this exciting discovery in the wider context of the Black Sea history and archaeology under the rule of Mithradates VI is unfortunately overlooked in the article. This is the only paper that contains spelling mistakes.

Chronologies of the Black Sea Area in the Period c. 400-100 BC is a remarkable collection of chronological debates not only in the Black Sea but also in the Aegean. The first part of the book is an excellent background for the case studies that follow. The book not only contains a large amount of information with an extensive bibliography but also brings forth very important problems and possible solutions through different methodologies. In that way, it is a very useful resource and a collection of articles by respected scholars of Black Sea archaeology.


Susan I. Rotroff, Four Centuries of Athenian Pottery

Mark Lawall, Negotiating Chronologies: Aegean Amphora Research, Thasian Chronology, and Pnyx III

Sergej Ju. Monachov, Rhodian Amphoras: Developments in Form and Measurements

Niculae Conovici, The Dynamics of Trade in Transport Amphoras from Sinope, Thasos and Rhodos on the Western Black Sea Coast: a Comparative Approach

François de Callatay, Coins and Archaeology: the (Mis)use of Mithradatic Coins for Chronological Purposes in the Bosporan Area

Jakob Munk Hojte, The Date of the Alliance between Chersonesos and Pharnakes (IOSPE I2, 402) and its Implications

Vladimir F. Stolba, Hellenistic Chersonesos: Towards Establishing a Local Chronology

Lise Hannestad, The Dating of the Monumental Building U6 at Panskoe I

Miron I. Zolotarev, A Hellenistic Ceramic Deposit from the North-eastern Sector of Chersonesos

Valeria P. Bylkova, The Chronology of Settlements in the Lower Dnieper Region (400-100 BC)

Valentina V. Krapivina, Problems of the Chronology of the Late Hellenistic Strata of Olbia

Jurij P. Zajcev, Absolute and Relative Chronology of Scythian Neapolis in the 2nd century BC

Valentina Mordvinceva, The Royal Grave from the Time of Mithridates Eupator in the Crimea.


1. A second series specializing in Black Sea Studies, the Colloquia Pontica edited by Gocha Tsetskhladze, was started by Oxbow Books and is now continued by Brill. The same publisher also collaborates with Gocha Tsetskhladze in publishing a brand new journal, Ancient West and East, which offers a platform for scholars at the peripheries, in terms of both geography and subject matter. The multi-lingual conferences held in the past five years (in Russia, Turkey, Georgia, Denmark etc.) have also contributed to the dissemination of knowledge among scholars of the Black Sea.

2. The other two books from the series are: P.G. Bilde, J. Munk, H. & V.F. Stolba (edd.), The Cauldron of Ariantas. Studies Presented to A.N. Sceglov on the Occasion of his 70th birthday (2003), and T. Bekker-Nielsen (ed.), Ancient Fishing and Fish Processing in the Black Sea Region (2005).

3. Avram, A. 1996. Histria. Les résultats des fouilles. VIII. Les timbres amphorique. 1. Thasos. Bucarest-Paris; Garlan, Y. 1999. Les timbres amphoriques de Thasos. 1. Timbres protothasiens et thasiens anciens. Études Thasiennes, 18. Athens-Paris; Grace, V.R. 1974. “Revisions in Early Hellenistic Chronology,” AM 89, 193-200; Finkielsztejn, G. 2001. Chronologie détaillée et révisée des eponyms amphoriques rhodiens, de 270 à 108 av. J.-C. environ: Premier bilan. BAR International Series, 990. Oxford.

4. Imhoof-Blumer, F. 1912. “Die Kupferprägung des mithradatischen Reiches und andere Münzen des Pontus und Paphlagoniens,” NZ 5, 169-192.

5. For a similar approach see Erciyas, D.B. 2005 (in press). Wealth, Aristocracy, and Royal Propaganda under the Hellenistic Kingdom of Mithradatids in Central Black Sea Region in Turkey (Leiden), 115-121.