Ancient Cities of the Northern Black Sea Coast

Ancient Cities of the Northern Black Sea Coast

 

cities which came into being during the course of the Greek colonization of the northern shore of the Black Sea in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.

At the end of the seventh century B.C ., Greek trading posts (emporiums) sprang up on the northern shores of the Black Sea. In the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. the Northern Black Sea Coast entered into the sphere of the colonization movement of the Greeks, who were attracted to that region by the fertile lands, the abundance of fish in the river estuaries, and the possibility of carrying on extensive trade with the tribes of the steppes to the north of the Black Sea—with the Scythians, Sindians, Maeotae (Meotae), and others. In the sixth century B.C. the following Greek cities came into being on the Northern Black Sea Coast, founded by settlers from Ionia, Asia Minor, and islands in the Aegean Sea: Tyras, Olbia, Theodosia, Panticapaeum, Nymphaeum, Cimmericum, Tiritaca, Myrmekion, Phanagoria, Hermonassa, Kepi, and others. Chersonesus was founded in 422 B.C. and Tanais in the third century B.C.

The ancient cities of the Northern Black Sea Coast led an independent life, while maintaining trade and cultural ties with the Greek cities which founded them. Trade with cities in Greece and Asia Minor, as well as with the tribes living in the steppes to the north of the Black Sea, played an important role in the economic life of these ancient cities. The cities imported wine, olive oil, metal products, marble, ceramics, and expensive fabrics from the Aegean basin, and they exported grain, livestock, hides, salted fish, and slaves. Hunting and fishing, crafts, agriculture, and livestock breeding played an important role in their economies.

As to social and political structure, all the ancient cities of the Northern Black Sea Coast were originally slavehold-ing poleis (city-states). Certain cities located around the Kerch Strait united around Panticapaeum into a single Bos-poran state (Kingdom of the Bosporus) as early as 480 B.C. The ancient cities of the Northern Black Sea Coast flourished in the fourth century B.C., when they were the most important suppliers of grain and other consumer products for many cities in Greece and Asia Minor. Close contact with local tribes was maintained by the ancient cities of the Northern Black Sea Coast (especially by the Bosporan cities and Olbia). They had an economic and cultural influence on these local tribes, facilitating the decay of the clan structure among them as well as the development of property differentiation and the delineation of class relationships.

The art of the ancient cities of the Northern Black Sea Coast had many of the common characteristics shared by the artistic culture of the ancient world. These cities had regular town planning (the so-called Hippodamus system); they used orders in their cultic and public buildings, and housing of the type containing peristyles was widespread. From Greece the ancient cities of the Northern Black Sea Coast imported various artistic objects: sculpture, minor plastic art, gems, and painted vases. At the same time the art which was created in the ancient cities of the Northern Black Sea Coast exhibited native originality. It reflected the life of the surrounding peoples (Scythians, Sindians, Maeotae, and others), their religious pageants and rituals. Examples are a gold comb from the burial mound of So-lokha (fourth century B.C.) with a relief depicting the Scythians in battle and an electrum vessel from Kul’-Oba (fourth century B.C.) with reliefs showing scenes from the daily life of the Scythians. The ancient cities of the Northern Black Sea Coast developed some original varieties of funereal structures (stone crypt chambers under burial mounds which have dromi, or corridors, and are covered by step-shaped domes), decorative frescoes, stela-type grave monuments, and painted ceramics (vases from Olbia and the Bosporan state with stylized plant motifs, and “watercolor” pelikes from the Bosporan state). There were also unique bronze mirrors from Olbia with stylized images on the handles (sixth and fifth centuries B.c.). The striving for originality in the artistic culture of the ancient cities of the Northern Black Sea Coast appeared most fully in the art of the Bosporan state. It was also manifested in the religious beliefs of the inhabitants of the ancient cities of the Northern Black Sea Coast; together with the purely Greek deities (Apollo, Demeter, and others) they also had a widespread cult of non-Greek divinities—for example, the Tauric virgin goddess.

In the third century B.C. the ancient cities of the Northern Black Sea Coast experienced considerable economic difficulties because of a weakening of trade ties with Greece and the complicated situation in the region of the Northern Black Sea Coast. Crowded out of the steppes around the Don and Dnieper rivers by the Sarmatians, the Scythians began to exert pressure on the coastal cities. In the second century B.C. the Scythian king Scilurus conquered a weakened Olbia. His son Palacus seized the lands belonging to Chersonesus. The people of Chersonesus turned for help to the king of Pontus, Mithridates VI Eupator, and the city came under his power. At the end of the second century B.C. a revolt flared up in the Bosporan region under the leadership of Saumacus. After this revolt was put down by the army of Mithridates VI Eupator, he became the king of the Bosporan state, and Olbia also came under his rule. Thus, Mithridates reigned over all the ancient cities of the Northern Black Sea Coast. In his war against Rome (89–63 B.C.) he used the Northern Black Sea Coast as a base to supply his armies and as a source for replenishing them with soldiers. After the death of Mithridates VI there occurred a fierce struggle for the Bosporan throne, in which the Romans and the leaders of the tribes around the Bosporus took part. The Bosporan cities were badly ravaged and fell into decline. In the first few centuries A.D. the ancient cities of the Northern Black Sea Coast again experienced a period of prosperity. Olbia, however, having arisen from its ruins after being devastated by the Getae in the middle of the first century B.C., did not even approach its previous level of development. During the second half of the first century B.C. it came under the rule of the Scythian kings, and in the second century A.D. it came under the power of the Roman Empire. Chersonesus was at times dependent upon the Bosporan state and, at other times, upon the Roman Empire.

During the first few centuries A.D. non-Greek elements (for the most part, Sarmatian) played an ever-increasing role in the economic, political, and cultural life of the ancient cities of the Northern Black Sea Coast. In the middle of the third century A.D. these cities were subjected to destructive invasion by the Goths. Olbia was completely devastated. The Goths and the tribes allied with them temporarily seized power in the Bosporus region and made it a base for their piratical raids on the coasts of the Black and Aegean seas. A more successful resistance to the Goths was put up by Chersonesus, which evidently became a part of the Roman Empire at the end of the third century A.D. In the middle of the third century the Bosporan state began to decline rapidly; trade fell off sharply, crafts were curtailed, there was a reversion to natural economy in agriculture, and in the first third of the third century mintage of coins was discontinued. At the end of the fourth century the Northern Black Sea Coast was laid waste by the devastating raids of the Huns, completing the fall of these ancient cities.

The ancient cities of the Northern Black Sea Coast played an important role in the history of the peoples of Eastern Europe by transmitting to them slaveholding socioeconomic relations and a culture which were advanced for their time. They acted as intermediaries between these peoples and the slaveholding centers of the ancient Mediterranean world.

REFERENCES

Blavatskii, V. D. Antichnaia arkheologiia Severnogo Pri-chernomor’ia. Moscow, 1961.
Blavatskii, V. D. Iskusstvo Severnogo Prichernomor’ia antichnoi epokhi. Moscow, 1947.
Ivanova, A. P. Iskusstvo antichnykh gorodov Severnogo Prichernomor’ia. Moscow-Leningrad, 1953.
Zhebelev, S. A. Severnoe Prichernomor’e. Moscow-Leningrad, 1953. Anlichnye goroda Severnogo Prichernomor’ia. Moscow-Leningrad, 1955.
Shelov, D. B. Antichnyi mir ν Severnom Prichernomor’e. Moscow, 1956.

D. B. SHELOV and V. A. LEBEDEV

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