BMCR 2006.05.24

Hellenic Colonization in Euxeinos Pontos. Penetration, Early Establishment and the Problem of the “Emporion” Revisited. BAR International Series 1394

, Hellenic colonization in Euxeinos Pontos : penetration, early establishment, and the problem of the "emporion" revisited. BAR international series ; 1394. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2005. ix, 181 pages : illustrations, maps ; 30 cm.. ISBN 1841718327 £32.00 (pb).

Even for the less well-known Black Sea region, the Greek colonization process has been widely discussed, though not completely understood. In this monographic work by Elias K. Petropoulos (EKP here onwards), which derived from the author’s doctoral thesis, the earliest Greek presence (7th century – early 6th century B.C.) in the Pontos Euxeinos is discussed with the help of archaeological material, and the term emporion is questioned with regard to the models of colonization in the Black Sea area. The book is designed in two main chapters, the first of which is a presentation of the earliest archaeological evidence, mostly from the Northern Black Sea littoral, including mainly Greek pottery and a few architectural elements from tombs and altars. The second chapter is a discussion of the terms emporion, apoikia and polis through a detailed study of Herodotus’ text regarding the emporia Oinoussai, Naukratis and several others in the Black Sea. An epigraphical monument from Thrace (dating to the early Hellenistic period) and a re-examination of the foundation of the Tauric Chersonesus have also been included. Although not listed as chapters, there are two sections in the book that could serve as an Introduction and Conclusion for the work. In the introductory pages, EKP has listed and explained his sources, historical, archaeological and epigraphical, and has provided an historiography of the problem of Greek colonization, concentrating especially on commercial and agrarian motives. For a conclusion, EKP has an Epilogue at the end of his book.

Anyone wishing to learn more about the details of the colonization process in the Mediterranean basin as well as the Black Sea should read this work by EKP. There seems to be a growing interest in the archaeological material, in other words, solid evidence, from the circumference of the Black Sea because the excavation projects have recently begun sharing their results. While some periods in the history of this region are better known to the West through translations and publications in English, fresh archaeological data is anticipated. In this context, EKP has done a good job in summarizing the data collected by the Russian and Ukranian scholars from the beginnings of the 20th into the 21st century.

Chapter 1, entitled “The Earliest Archaeological Evidence for Greek Presence in the Northern Euxeinos Pontos (7th-First Quarter of 6th century B.C.)”, is divided into eight parts (I.a-h), but it is possible to analyse it in three main sections. In I.a and I.b, the author introduces the Greek penetration of the Euxeinos Pontos and various problems associated with this early history of the region. The evidence indicates that it is difficult to speak of a Greek presence in the Black Sea before the 8th century B.C. although there is Sub-Mycenean pottery and ancient sources suggesting contacts. Another significant topic which is introduced here, and that recurs throughout the book, is the penetration of the Greeks into the Scythian highlands. According to the author, it is possible to suggest that the Greeks themselves appeared in the Scythian forest-steppe as early as the second quarter of the 7th century. A brief analysis of this proposition will be done in the coming paragraphs.

Sections I.a and I.b serve as an introduction to the description and discussion of Greek pottery from the 7th century B.C. found on the northern coast of the Black Sea as well as in the Scythian forest-steppes described in sections I.d through I.f. EKP has divided the period into four sub-phases. For each phase, he describes the pottery found at each site (he is able to do that because they are only few for the first three sub-phases) and evaluates the nature of the Greek presence. I will briefly summarize his results here for the reader and comment on them without actually going into deep criticism of his conclusions.

For the second quarter of the 7th century B.C., there is very little archaeological evidence.1 The few pieces of pottery, no more than 10, were found at Berezan, Boltyshka, Nemirovo and Belsk. Although the author acknowledges the fact that the evidence is scanty and the nature of contacts may have been about anything, he would like to believe in pre-colonization activities by the Greeks as early as the second quarter of the 7th century B.C.

In the second phase (third quarter of the 7th century B.C.), the pottery fragments are equally sparse (10 in total). EKP identifies two burials as Greek from the oinochoi found in them and further concludes that the colonial-exploratory missions were definitely organized since there must have been groups of colonizers who built these monuments and that there must have been the institution of the archegetes. These assumptions are attractive and the date is not necessarily too early for an organized mission of Greeks to settle in these lands; however, I find it very difficult to reach any conclusions from such scarce evidence. Maybe in the future, as the author hopes, further excavation would prove his assumptions.

In this section, the author also discusses the settlement types and the transition from dugouts and semi-dugouts to structures above the ground,2 which might help scholars better understand the transition from a pre-colonial to colonial stage, if indeed this is how it happened for the northern Black Sea area.

In the final quarter of the 7th century B.C., Greek pottery was found in abundance at Berezan, Yagorlyk, Nemirovo, Trakhtemirov, Zhabotin, Taganrog, Repyakhovataya Mogila and the kurgans in Krasnogorovka and Kolomak. EKP concludes from the data that by this time, the Greeks had established at least three permanent settlements in the northern section of the Black Sea (at Berezan, Yagorlyk and possibly at Taganrog).

The final sub-phase included here is the end of the 7th and the beginning of the 6th century B.C. At this point, the number of pottery fragments is high not only for the coastal settlements but also for sites such as Belsk and Nemirovo in the Scythian highlands. While it has previously been suggested that the Greek pottery was brought by the Scythians, the author would like to see Greeks meeting Scythians at their homeland and supports his claim through the discovery of a Greek(?) decorated clay altar dating to the second quarter of the 7th century B.C. found in Tarasova Goran in the inland.

The author closes this chapter with a harsh criticism of previous examinations of the nature of early Greek colonization process in the Black Sea, with an emphasis on two aspects: first, the handling of the archaeological material and second, of the ancient sources. EKP seems to be especially uncomfortable with the prior conclusion that there was “no general pattern of pre-colonial contacts” (p.70) and suggests himself that a quest for a specific pattern would be applicable for mass migration only. This conclusion, he believes, emerged from a mis-handling of or failure to include all archaeological data in previous discussions. He also criticizes the scholars who would like to see mythology and ancient sources as unreliable in identifying Greeks on the northern coast of the Black Sea. Since most of his criticisms are directed towards the works of G.R. Tsetskhladze, one can hope for a response from Tsetskhladze which might contribute further to this scholarly debate.

The second part of the book requires a less detailed examination since it appears as a review of all information regarding the definition of a colony (whether it was an emporion or an apoikia/polis) for the author himself before venturing into the more specific area of the Black Sea colonization. He has a very explicit view of what an emporion and an apoikia were and his aim in this chapter seems to be to prove this view. According to EKP, emporion means a proto-settlement instead of a trading post as generally accepted, and apoikia was a regular Greek city. In order to prove this, he discusses Herodotos’ use of the term emporion for Oinoussai, Naukratis and a few sites in northern Pontus, such as Tartessos and Borysthenites. While the examination of Oinoussai is brief and to the point, in his long description of Naukratis, which in fact is an exceptional example, EKP seems to lose his context.

The Thracian inscription, which is presented in full in section II.g, dates to the 4th century B.C., and its exact function here is not very clear. It does provide insights into the internal organization of an emporion, an identification which the author rejects, and the relationship between the emporitai and the emporion; however, its utilization in order to reconstruct the situation at Belsk 300 years earlier seems very haphazard..

The examination of Chersonesos Taurike has the same effect, and the author himself begins the section by saying that it is neither mentioned as an emporion by Herodotos nor within the chronological boundaries of the study.

EKP’s conclusions at the end of this chapter are of some interest. Having identified emporia through historical documents, EKP concludes that emporia must have been proto-colonies with the political organization of a colony. He further adds this definition to the other two definitions he extracted from Herodotos: 1) an emporion is a harbor or place in a city where commerce takes place (Oinoussai); 2) an emporion is a place outside of Greece settled for commerce near natives (Naukratis).

In his general conclusion, EKP divides the colonization process in the northern Black Sea area into three periods: 1) The “reconnaisance” until mid 7th century B.C.; 2) The “emporion period” (proto-colony/proto-polis) until late 7th-early 6th century B.C.; 3) The colony period from 590-580 B.C.

He brings together here his observations on the archaeological material and on the terminology of the colonies. According to EKP, emporia were the earliest Greek settlements until they became apoikia/polis and not necessarily settlements with the specific function of commerce. Obviously, the author would like to see in these terms a temporal order instead of a functional one.

The main text is followed by an extensive bibliography divided into two parts, Cyrillic and other, and the author should be praised for that.

Before concluding, a few comments on the format of the book and the presentation of the topic in general is necessary. First of all, the book would have profited greatly from the addition of visual material such as better maps, site plans, drawings or photographs of pottery, especially the clay altar from Tarasova Gora. Secondly, if the long excerpts from the works of scholars in their original languages in the first chapter (such as French on p. 25 and Italian on p.21) were translated or at least explained, their value would have been greater. But most of all, there seems to have been a difficulty in the organization of thoughts, especially apparent in the second part of the book. EKP did not separate the presentation of ideas from the data or from his own conclusions, which results in a shower of conclusions end-to-end.

The period which the author chose to tackle is a very problematic period but the archaeological data is increasing everyday. Elias K. Petropoulos bravely re-handled the archaeological evidence from various sites in order to identify the nature of the early years of Greek colonization in the northern Black Sea and possibly opened new areas of discussion.


1. And there is an on-going debate on the dating of this very scanty archaeological evidence (i.e., pottery).

2. He has a harsh criticism of J.G. Vinogradov, who claimed Greeks needed around seventy to eighty years of a transition period.