Bosporan State

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Bosporan State


(Bosporus), an ancient slave-owning state, located on the northern Black Sea shore.

The Bosporan state formed around 480 B.C. as a result of the unification of the Greek cities on the Kerch and Taman peninsulas. The capital of this state was Panticapaeum (present-day Kerch), and the major cities were Phanagoria and Hermonassa (present-day Taman) on the Taman Peninsula; Theodosia, Tiritaka, Nymphaeum, and others on the Kerch Peninsula; and Gorgippia (present-day Anapa) and later Tanais at the mouth of the Don River. Also included in the Bosporan state from the end of the fifth century to the first half of the fourth century B.C. were the lands settled by the Scythians (Kerch Peninsula) and the Sindo-Maeotian tribes—the Lower Kuban area and the eastern Azov area. At first the Bosporan state was ruled by the Greek Archaeanac-tidclan (480–483 B.C.), which was replaced by the indigenous Greek dynasty of the Spartocids (438–109 B.C.).

The fourth and third centuries B.C. were a time of economic and cultural flowering in the Bosporan state. During this period it was the most important exporter of grain to the cities of Greece and Asia Minor. Also exported were livestock, fish, hides, and slaves. In exchange for these the Bosporan state imported wine, olive oil, fabrics, metal products, ceramics, and so on from the Mediterranean area. A considerable portion of this imported material was traded by the Bosporan merchants with the steppe tribes of the Black Sea area—the Scythians and Sarmatians, among others. In the Bosporan state itself, agriculture, livestock breeding, the extraction industries (especially fishing), and the crafts reached a high stage of development. The economy of the Bosporan state was based on the exploitation of slaves as well as of the dependent or semidependent rural population.

The art produced by the Bosporan state contained a unique combination of the features of the ancient artistic culture and the features of the local culture. In their construction the cities were akin to those of Greece and Asia Minor. One can assume the presence of regular city planning in Phanagoria, and excavations have revealed an acropolis in Panticapaeum. In the temples and public buildings, Ionic or Doric orders were used (for example, the Temple of Aspurgos in Panticapaeum, dating from the first century A.D.). The stone crypt, located under the burial mound, was extensively developed. This crypt had one or two burial chambers and a dromos. Stepped vaults formed by successive rows of stones, each suspended above the other—for example, the crypt of the royal burial mound near Panticapaeum, fourth century B.C. —were used for the chamber ceilings and sometimes for the dromos. At the turn of the third century B.C. crypts with semicircular vaults —for instance, the Vasiurinskii crypt on the Taman Peninsula—also appeared.

From the fifth to the first century B.C., the sculpture of the Bosporan state was represented primarily by artifacts brought from Greece. Examples include the fragment of a marble stela from Panticapaeum, with the depiction of a youth, and terra-cotta figured vessels with depictions of a sphinx, Aphrodite, and a siren—all from the fifth century B.C.—now in the Hermitage, Leningrad. During the first few centuries A.D. there was a sharp increase in the number of works created in the area. From the third century B.C. there was widespread use of limestone monumental stelae with reliefs depicting the dead in heroic aspects or scenes from their past lives. Largeness, typical of the early monuments, was replaced during the first few centuries A.D. by a graphic quality, which evidently was more in keeping with the tastes of the Sarmatianized population of the Bosporan state. This same graphic quality, the penchant for local color, and the hieratic quality of the human figure gradually became characteristic of the Bosporan painting that decorated the crypt walls.

Original examples of ancient painted ceramics were vases with stylized plant motifs, painted with mineral-based paints—the so-called watercolor pelikes. The makers of the widely known metal artifacts decorated with reliefs, which date from the fourth century B.C., were known for sharp observation and a genuine knowledge of the life of the Scythian nomads. Their work includes a gold comb from the Solokha Burial Mound, a silver vase from the Chertomlyk Mound, and an electrum vessel from Kul’-Oba (all now in the Hermitage). A high degree of development was reached in minting coins (depicting the rulers) as well as in the artistic working of wood (for example, sarcophogi and caskets).

During the second century B.C. the Bosporan state experienced a severe socioeconomic crisis, aggravated by increased pressure from the Scythian state in the Crimea and by the Sarmatians in the Kuban area. In 107 B.C. a revolt of dependent Scythians and slaves under the leadership of Savmak flared up in the Bosporus area. The rebels killed King Perisades V, but they were defeated by the troops of Mithridates VI Eupator, King of Pontus, to whom Perisades V had transferred power in the Bosporus area even before the rebellion.

Having fallen under the domination of the king of Pontus, the Bosporan state was drawn into the protracted war between Mithridates VI and Rome, and after Mithridates perished in this struggle in 63 B.C. the state became dependent upon Rome. For the most part this dependence was merely nominal. The Bosporan kings, who descended from the local Sarmatian aristocracy and were genealogically connected with Mithridates VI, considered the Roman emperors as their protectors; they even bore Roman dynastic names such as Tiberius and Julius. But they carried on an independent policy and minted their own coins.

During the first and second centuries A.D. the Bosporan state again had a period of flowering. At this time its dominions extended to Chersonesus and most of the Crimea. But the general crisis of the slave-owning system led to a new weakening of the Bosporan state. In the third century A.D.the Bosporan state was attacked by barbarian tribes, the most powerful of which were the Goths, Herulians, and Boranas. The barbarians even seized power for a time in the Bosporus area. The final blow to the Bosporan state was inflicted by the invasion of the Huns, who in the late fourth century laid waste to its cities and annihilated the Bosporan state.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.