(old Russian, Korsun’), an ancient Crimean city, now part of the city of Sevastopol’. Chersonesus was founded in 422 or 421 B.C. by Greeks from Heraclea Pontica. From the fifth to first centuries B.C. it was a polis; from the first to fourth centuries A.D. it was an aristocratic republic in vassalage to Rome; at the end of the fourth century it became a Byzantine dependency. The city existed until the mid-15th century.
In antiquity, the economy of Chersonesus was based on viticulture, fishing, handicrafts, and trade. Grain was brought from the western Crimean coastal area, which was ruled by Chersonesus from the fourth to second centuries B.C. Other possessions of the city were the cities of Cercinitis and Kalos Limen (Fair Harbor) and a series of fortifications. The city had nine streets parallel to the coast, which were intersected by 27 cross streets. Chersonesus had an acropolis, an agora, a marketplace, a port, and a citadel; the population was approximately 20,000.
In the late second century B.C., the Chersonesites, aided by Diophantos, routed the Scythians, who had laid siege to the city; they came under the rule, however, of the Pontic king, Mithridates VI. In 63 B.C., Chersonesus was subjugated by Rome. In the 60’s A.D. it became the principal base for Roman troops in the Crimea; it later played a similar role for Byzantine troops.
In the Middle Ages the chief occupations of the population were land cultivation, cottage industries, handicrafts, and trade. In the ninth and tenth centuries, the area of Chersonesus reached 40 hectares. The population was ruled by the landowning and commercial aristocracy and by Byzantine officials. In 989 the city was taken by the Kievan prince, Vladimir Sviatoslavich. Contacts between the city and Rus’ increased, and many Russians lived in the city. The final period in which the city flourished lasted from the second half of the ninth century to the 12th century. In this period the port was expanded, a new wall with sea gates was built, and churches were constructed. In the early 13th century Chersonesus came under the domination of the Trebizond Empire. The city was laid waste in 1299 by Nogai and at the end of the 14th century by Edigei.
Excavations of Chersonesus were begun in 1827 and have been conducted systematically since 1876 by such archaeologists as K. K. Kostsiushko-Voliuzhinich, R. Kh. Lener, K. E. Grinevich, G. D. Belov, and A. L. Iakobson. The excavations have uncovered walls, towers, gates (fourth century B.C. to 12th century A.D.), residential and artisans’ quarters, a classical theater with 3,000 seats, and more than 50 Christian churches (fourth to 15th centuries). Other finds include fish-salting cisterns, a water main, thermae, a potters’ quarter, and a necropolis. Excavations outside the city have unearthed Tauric settlements, traces of cleroi (plots of land) from the third and second centuries B.C., and a burial ground. Epigraphic texts found in the city include the oath of the Chersonesites (early third century B.C.) and decrees honoring Diophantos (late second century B.C.). Artistic remains include fragments of paintings (fourth century B.C.), stelae (fourth and third centuries B.C.), mosaic floors, and medieval frescoes. Approximately 20,000 coins have been found.
REFERENCESKhersonesskii sbornik, fascs. 1–6. Sevastopol’-Simferopol’, 1926–61.
Belov, G. D. Khersones Tavricheskii. Leningrad, 1948.
Iakobson, A. L. Srednevekovyi Khersones (XII–XIV vv.). Moscow-Leningrad, 1950.
Iakobson, A. L. Rannesrednevekovyi Khersones. Moscow-Leningrad, 1959.
Soobshcheniia Khersonesskogo muzeia [issues 1–4]. Simferopol’, 1960–69.
Kadeev, V. I. Ocherki istorii ekonomiki Khersonesa Tavricheskogo v I–IV. vv. n. e. Kharkov, 1970.
Khersones Tavricheskii: Remeslo i kul’tura. Kiev, 1974.