BMCR 2021.02.25

Études bosporanes: sur un royaume aux confins du monde gréco-romain

, Études bosporanes: sur un royaume aux confins du monde gréco-romain. Études de lettres N° 309, 5/2019. Lausanne: Université de Lausanne, 2019. Pp. 458. ISBN 9782940331703 €25,00.

[The Table of contents is listed below.]

These ten French contributions gathered by the editor, Pascal Burgunder, result from a collaboration between the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) and the Historical Institute of Material Culture of Saint-Petersburg (Cultural Scientific Academy of Russia).

In a short introduction, Burgunder cites the main objectives and interests of this publication: to gather new contributions on the results of archaeological surveys in important sites of the Bosporan kingdom in the Crimea, on the one hand, and on recent explorations of museum collections and scientific archives, on the other hand. He presents elements of historiography on the subject and includes two general maps of the Bosporus, of good quality and in colour.

In the first article, Joanna Martin provides an in-depth look at Southern Russian antiquities in the Louvre. This is mostly a case of contemporary history, as the author does not study the Bosporan material itself, but rather the different sources (museum archives, military reports, private letters, etc) that provide glimpses of how the objects were obtained by the Louvre, how they were presented to the public, and how they were received. It is a valuable contribution that helps the reader to understand the current state of material culture on the Bosporan kingdom in France, after decades of disinterest towards the ancient Black Sea.

The next communication, by Ol’ga Vital’evna Gorskaja, also draws on a museum collection, that of the Greek jewellery (earrings and diadems) from the 6th– 4th centuries BC in the Hermitage museum. This jewellery come from several private collections and with unknown provenience in most cases. Here, the author studies the material itself rather than the collection’s genesis. Her aim is to present these unknown artefacts to the scientific community, in this article and others to come. She also tries to revise or specify the chronology of these finds, while giving some insights into the cultural history of the Bosporan kingdom in the Archaic and Classical periods, through the evolution of jewellery and the reconstruction of commercial circuits between production centres in the Aegean and the southern Black Sea and reception places in the northern Black Sea.

In the third contribution, Ol’ga Jur’evna Samar studies the stucco reliefs found on wooden sarcophagi from the Bosporan kingdom of the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. Wooden sarcophagi became a common feature of Bosporan funerary traditions by that period. Their decoration shows a peculiar combination of Greek, Roman and barbarian (Scytho-Sarmatian) influences that reflects the political and cultural situation of the Bosporan kingdom, on the margin of the Roman Empire and in contact with several nomadic peoples.

In the next article, Jurij Alekseevič Vinogradov discusses Juz-Oba, a 4th-century BC necropolis situated near Kerch (ancient Panticapeion), the capital city of the Bosporan kingdom. This site was excavated in the second half of the 19thcentury, but it has not been extensively studied in the recent past. The author tries to identify the diverse cultural influences present in the 40 kurgans that compose the necropolis, drawing on these elements to further understand the poorly known history of Scythian decline and the rise of the Sarmatians that took place in the short period of use of this necropolis.

Burgunder studies a painted tomb found in Kerch in the mid-19th century and lost thereafter. He resurrects two forgotten colour reproductions of the paintings from the first publication.[1] Burgunder draws attention to the fact that archival documentation and museum collections are important and underestimated sources for historical knowledge.

With an in-depth study of the votive inscriptions from the 4th century BC, Ivonne Ohlerich analyses the Bosporan religious practices as a social and cultural marker of identity. Votive practice—an individual and written way to express piety— is a well-known marker of Greek religious identity that appeared in the Borporus only in the 4th century BC and had mostly disappeared by the 3rd century BC, despite the known presence of Greek settlers as early as the  6th century. Unlike most historians, the author identifies cultural rather than only economic causes for this development, although acknowledging that both can be correlated. This approach opens new perspectives on the Bosporan religious identity and how it was forged by the melding of diverse influences.

In the seventh article, Svetlana Il’inična Finogenova and Tat’jana Anatol’evna Il’ina deal with archaeological surveys in the present city of Taman, reconstructing its history as the ancient Hermonassa, founded in the 4th century BC, until its last days under the name Tamatarkha in the 9th century AD. The main feature of this archaeological site lies in its relatively well-preserved structures, allowing the study of an uninterrupted urban evolution over more than a millennium. This longterm but necessarily superficial study sheds new light on local manifestations of the complex situation of the Bosporan kingdom, especially on the deep influence of local and nomad tribes (Alans, Goths, Huns) through the centuries.

Similarly, in the next contribution Sergej Mikhajlovič Il’jašenko draws on archaeological material to deal with the commercial history of Tanais, the northernmost city of the Bosporan kingdom. Tanais is often considered a major place of commercial exchanges between Greeks and Barbarians (mostly Scythians and Sarmatians), starting from its foundation in the 3rd century BC. The author uses primarily ceramics to challenge this theory. A pre-existing settlement, now known as Elizavetovka (its ancient name remains unknown), was the regional emporion between Greek merchants and the non-Greek population in the early 3rd century BC. This role was not endorsed by Tanais, which took over from Elizavetovka as the Greek settlement in the region, until the late 1st century BC. In between, the city was a Bosporan exclave, a political bridgehead of the Bosporan kingdom in foreign territory.

The last two articles deal with the small city of Ilouraton. Vladimir Anatol’evič Gorončarovskij gives a general overview of the archaeological surveys of the fortress and traces its political and military history during the first three centuries AD. He establishes three phases of its development, each of which saw the amelioration of defensive structures in accordance with Roman and Eastern art of fortification in the same period.

The cemeteries and sanctuaries of Ilouraton are studied by Vladimir Andreevič Khršanovskij for their cultural elements. He outlines current knowledge and the main questions concerning this complicated necropolis, which was not developed together with the fortress nearby but rather followed its own course on parallel with it and existed for a much longer period. More archaeological research will be needed to answer some of the numerous issues raised by this site and addressed in the article, such as the ethnocultural belonging of the sanctuaries of Ilouraton.

This book is primarily addressed to Western scholars who do not have easy access to Russian scholarship. Most of the contributions are too specialised and use too advanced a methodology for students. In the wake of Burgunder’s preceding publication in the same collection, the present volume aims at facilitating the scholarly relations between Russian and Western scientists working on the ancient Black Sea.[2] It makes accessible some of the major research areas in recent archaeological and material culture studies on the Bosporan kingdom—a difficult topic to understand and investigate without good knowledge of the Russian language and scholarship. Some other recent studies should be cited, particularly David MacDonald’s overview of the Bosporan kingdom’s history and coinage, or Christel Müller’s study of the ancient Black Sea political and commercial history, whose absence in the bibliography of this book is regrettable.[3] The same regrets can be expressed about the absence of any reference to Valentina Mordvintseva’s works on the Sarmatians. Her original and challenging assessments of the material culture attributed to these peoples would have helped refine the methodology of many of the papers involved.[4] Finally, neither the introduction nor any other article provides a general overview of the history and geographical setting of the Bosporan kingdom, nor of the present state of research.[5] Not withstanding these omissions, this book stands as a valuable addition to the relatively scarce corpus of studies in a Western language on the Bosporan kingdom in Greek and Roman times. The numerous high-quality figures are, by themselves, a valuable element for every researcher working on the cultural background of the Northern Black Sea area.

Table of Contents

Pascal Burgunder, ‘Introduction’ (7-22)
Joanna Martin, ‘Les antiquités de Russie méridionale au Louvre et la collection Messaksoudy’ (23-62)
Ol’ga Vital’evna Gorskaja, ‘Diadèmes et pendants d’oreilles grecs des VIe-IVe s. av. J.‑C. provenant de collections privées des XIXe et XXe siècles, d’après les objets du Département du monde antique du musée de l’Ermitage’ (63-92)
Ol’ga Jur’evna Samar, ‘Forme et signification des décors en stuc des sarcophages bosporans’ (93-144)
Jurij Alekseevič Vinogradov, ‘Juz-Oba, une nécropole tumulaire de l’aristocratie bosporane du IVe s. av. J.‑C.’ (145-180)
Pascal Burgunder, ‘Ombres et lumières du tombeau peint découvert par A. B. Ašik’ (181-241)
Ivonne Ohlerich, ‘Formes de piété individuelles et collectives dans le royaume du Bosphore cimmérien. L’exemple des inscriptions votives’ (243-283)
Svetlana Il’inična Finogenova, Tat’jana Anatol’evna Il’ina, ‘Fouilles de la cité de Taman : de l’antique Hermonassa à la Tamatarkha médiévale’ (285-326)
Sergej Mikhajlovič Il’jašenko, ‘Les importations de céramique. Une source pour l’histoire de la formation et du développement de la place de commerce de Tanaïs’ (327-376)
Vladimir Anatol’evič Gorončarovskij, ‘La forteresse bosporane d’Ilouraton du Ier au IIIe siècle : bilan des recherches’ (377-410)
Vladimir Andreevič Khršanovskij, ‘Nécropoles et sanctuaires du plateau d’Ilouraton’ (411-458)


[1] Ašik, Anton Baltazarovič. Kerčenskie drevnosti o pantikapejskoj katakombe, ukrašennoj freskami [Kerch Antiquities. On a Painted Catacomb in Panticapeion]. Odessa, Tipografija A. Brauna, 1845.

[2] Burgunder, Pascal (ed.). Études pontiques. Histoire, historiographie et sites archéologiques du bassin de la mer Noire. Études de lettres 290, 1-2. Lausanne, Université de Lausanne, 2012.

[3] MacDonald, David. An Introduction to the History and Coinage of the Kingdom of the Bosporus. Lancaster, 2005; Müller, Christel. D’Olbia à Tanaïs. Territoires et réseaux d’échanges dans la mer Noire septentrionale aux époques classique et hellénistique. Bordeaux, Ausonius, 2010.

[4] Mordvintseva, Valentina. ‘The Sarmatians: The Creation of Archaeological Evidence’, Oxford Journal of Archaeology 32 (2), 2013, 203-219; ‘The Sarmatians in the Northern Black Sea region’, in Kozlovskaya V. (ed.), The Northern Black Sea in Antiquity, Cambridge, 2017, 233-283.

[5] See the introduction to Études pontiques. Histoire, historiographie et sites archéologiques du bassin de la mer Noire.