Author: by Vladimir KUZNETSOV, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), head of the Taman field expedition, Archeology Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences
Articles in this rubric reflect the opinion of the author.-Ed.
A field party of archeologists has unearthed a block of houses in what used to be the city of Thanagoria founded by Greek settlers in the sixth century B.C. This discovery challenges the view uttered by some historians that archaic Greeks colonizing the northern coast of the Black Sea lived just in primitive mud-huts and dugouts rather than in well-appointed homes...
But they did not. Wearied by a long war they had been waging against oriental tyrannies in the 7th-6th centuries B.C., Ionian Greeks had to leave their native land, the western coast of Asia Minor, and settle elsewhere, in various parts of the Mediterranean and on the coasts of the Black Sea (Pontus Euxinus). Here and there the lonians founded Greek colonies on the fringe of the lands populated by Barbarians. The residents of the Greek cities of Phocaea and Teos-all of them, in a body! - pulled up stakes. A word from the Greek historian Herodotus (5th century B.C.), otherwise known as "the father of history":
"The people of Teos acted in much the same wise as did the Phocaeans. After Harpagus [Persian warlord], on building up an embankment, had seized the walls [of the townl, all Teosians boarded ships and set out for Thracia. Once there, they settled in the town ofAbdera." We cannot tell why Herodotus made no mention of another Teosian colony, Thanagoria, founded in about the same time as Abdera. Yet other ancient historians did mention it. Thus, according to Flavius Arrhianus (2nd century B.C.), the founder of Thanagoria was Thanagoras, a Teosian who had fled from the Persians.
Unlike the Mediterranean, the northern coast of the Black Sea was a terra incognita to Greeks. The Taman Peninsula (part of the present Krasnodar Territory), for one:
the first Greek colonies appeared there in the 70s of the 6th century B.C. One of those colonies was Thanagoria, founded ca. 540 B.C. Ancient written testimonies identify it with a large encampment site situated in the southeastern part of the Gulf of Taman (less than 1 km west of the present community of Sennaya). The famed Greek geographer Strabo mentioned Thanagoria as the principal Greek city within the Asian Bosporus (i.e. Taman
Peninsula). That's true: it was the largest in area (more than 150 acres in its heyday) and in what remains of its habitation deposits. Thanagoria lay on two plateaus (tracts of flat land, upper and lower) descending towards the sea. A large necropolis, or cemetery, surrounded the city on three sides. Down in the valley was a chora, or land possessions of the Thanagorians who grew cereals and many other kinds of produce. In the 4th century B.C. Thanagorians exported significant stocks of grain to Athens, as testified by the famous Athenian orator and statesman Demosthenes and other ancient authors. Besides, the land was rich in fish, fowl, wild animals, and also in fresh water.
The lonians founded many colonies, or apoikies on both sides of the Kerch Strait, i.e. in the Crimea and on the Taman Peninsula. The political status of these settlements is still being debated in the literature. Were they city-states (poleis) indeed? Now a city- state (poly) was the backbone of the ancient Greek civilization. Since Greeks (calling themselves Hellenes) did not know of any other form of body politic, it would be natural to assume that new apoikies sprung up as city-states. This means that Thanagoria, too, was an independent self-governing community with its own territory and government, the popular assembly, that exercised jurisdiction within that small state.
Thanagoria endured for 16 centuries and perished in consequence of some invasion in the tenth century A.D. The city-state had its ups and downs, and often happened to be in the focus of big historic events. In the 1st century B.C., Mithridates Eupator, the Pontic ruler, besieged Thanagoria, but all in vain. The then omnipotent Rome granted independence to Thanagoria for its stiff resistance to the despot. In the 4th century A.D. the city was wiped out in a marauding raid of the Huns, nomadic tribes that moved there from the steppes of northern
China. That sad event drew the line under the antique period of Thanagoria. In the Middle Ages Thanagoria became an administrative center of the Khazar state south of Kievan Rus.
Thanagoria was a place where the Byzantine Emperor Justinian II (who ruled in Constantinople in 685-695 and then again in 705-711) was banished. He was the world's first ruler to strike coins with the image of Jesus Christ...
It was from Thanagoria that Khan Asparukh, the founder of the First Bulgarian Kingdom, embarked on his march toward the Danube in the seventh century. Russia's first Christian and Judaic communities appeared there, in Thanagoria, a fact confirmed by written documents and archeological evidence. In particular, the Thanagorian synagogue is known to have been active in the sixteenth century...
Enlightened travelers, who visited Taman in the Middle Ages, spoke of the ruins of a large city and of the many mounds around it. Picking in the rubble, Genoese merchants resident in the Crimea searched for articles of ancient jewelry. For many centuries local residents pillaged the ruins for building materials and marble. Another remarkable case: closer to our days, in the first half of the nineteenth century, the builders of a church in the village of Akhtanizovka (about 12 km from the dead town) utilized the stone of a burial mound in the eastern necropolis. All that did great damage to the habitation level and artifacts
hidden there. Things started changing for the better with the accession of Taman to Russia. The glorious Russian general Alexander Suvorov (1729/1730-1800), whose troops captured Taman, issued an order that forbade the dismantling of ancient structures and trading in historic valuables. An end had to be put to sack and plunder.
The first large-scale excavations of the Thanagorian necropolis were begun in the nineteenth century. They were sponsored by the Kerch Museum of Local History and His Majesty's Archeological Society with the aim of retrieving jewelry and works of art. Dozens of burial mounds were opened and lots of most precious articles recovered, some of them real masterpieces on a par with the world's best finds. Breaking open a vault in one of the largest mounds, Bolshaya Bliznitsa, a field party found exquisite gold rings, a pectoral (necklace), a kalaf (female headgear), nice earrings and a good many other lovely things. These works of art are now in the custody of the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg.
It's a pity but 19th century Russian archeologists used rather primitive and crude methods. Looking back at the archeological works on the Taman Peninsula, one of the experts, Karl Herz, recalled: "... They worked hastily, in a hit-or-miss way-opening one mound and then abandoning it at the very first difficulty; often failing to recover the material underneath ... the greed for gold was the
sole motive. Near the station of Sennaya we were shown an intact mound where the diggers, suspecting the presence of a vault, not plundered yet, started from the top, which was the speediest and less laborious way of entering it. But the stone vault did not bear the onslaught ... and caved in: the wooden sarcophagus with its gilding, metal vases, gold articles-everything was crushed and broken into smithereens." Such barbarous methods wrought havoc in dozens of burial mounds.
The scientific studies at Thanagoria, launched in 1936, continue to this day. Archeologists have determined Thanagoria's boundaries, its habitation (cultural) level and the time limits of its existence. Since the site of the erstwhile city-state is now open country, any scientific projects can be ventured here, at what is Russia's largest monument of antiquity.
In the course of their diggings our archeologists have uncovered what lay beneath- streets and squares, residential houses and public edifices, workshops and distilleries; and a great number of artifacts (fragments of marble statues; copper, silver and gold coins; also, terra-cotta figurines, amphora handles with brands on, painted ceramics, and a good deal of other things).
Some finds are of great historic value, specifically, those related to the archaic period (6th century B.C.). Yet it is quite seldom that we hit upon habitation deposits of that time-such deposits are buried under later-day layers (to a depth of 7 meters in Thanagoria) and have been damaged by sundry builders over many centuries.
For quite some time we failed to find any deposits of Thanagoria's earliest period. We searched high and low-in the middle of the town, on the seashore and on the outskirts- alas, to no avail. Finally, we had a lucky break: it was the hill above the upper plateau that holds a commanding view of the town. The first exploratory digs carried out by our field party in 1997 produced materials dated to the middle of the sixth century B.C. Thereupon we probed deeper and came upon a habitation deposit contemporaneous with Thanagoria's foundation time. We were staggered at the sight: it was a well-preserved town block where Ionian colonists had lived. So what, you may ask? Yet according to the pervasive view in the literature, the Greek colonists who settled on the northern coast of the Black Sea lived in dugouts and mud-huts rather than in regular homes. Even quite preposterous views gain currency now and then-say, 3-5 m2 holes dug up in the backyards for household purposes are passed off as "residential dugouts". What gives ground to absurd ideas like that is the poor condition or total absence of the earliest habitation deposits in the Ionian colonies. For instance, the oldest deposits of the city of Kaepa (Sada) that lay next to Thanagoria but was built somewhat earlier have been annihilated as a result of man's economic activities. And what makes our finds really unique is that the picture is about the same even in the mother country, lonia.
A residential block of the archaic Thanagoria was composed of dwellings aligned according to the cardinal points, which means that the town builders proceeded from
a master plan. The homes were built of neatly made adobe bricks still well preserved. Most of the structures had no foundation, with bricks laid on the leveled ground. As a rule, the abodes had a living room 15 to 25 sq. meters large. One of them is without peer from an archeological angle. Its walls- their lower parts 1.5m tall-are still there. This dwelling had a semibasement used as a storeroom for victuals and as a workshop, and a 12.5 sq. m living room above. On the inside and outside the walls were daubed with a water repellent that protected the home against the destructive effects of the elements for decades. It was built in the 530s and 520s B.C. and destroyed by a bad fire in the fifth century B.C. (lying about on the floor were the boards of a double door, a basket, an amphora from Chios [Khios], an island off the western coast of Asia Minor, and small fragments of a marble sculpture). About four meters from the entrance we found what remained of a bronze foundry, as evidenced by bits of the clay coating used in casting bronze statues-the bits and pieces lay scattered both in the workshop and in the semibasement. One fragment had distinct fingerprints on it. Clearly, the houseowner was a sculptor who had cast a bronze human statue, full length.
Thus from the very outset the Ionian settlers of the Black Sea Coast put up the same homes as in their native parts. Small wonder, for they represented a fairly advanced civilization famous for numerous architectural masterpieces. It was not accidental that Herodotus described Miletus, an ancient Greek city in Asia Minor, as a "gem of lonia". The natives of that city, now in ruins, founded many colonies on the northern coast of the Black Sea.
As shown by archeological studies, in its flourishing period (4th-3rd centuries B.C.) Thanagoria was a typical Greek poly, or city-state. Powerful fortifications protected
it against enemy attacks- the unearthed foundations of the city wall (5th century B.C.) are proof of that. The colony had many temples dedicated to various gods. One standout was the temple of Aphrodite Caelestis which, Strabo says, was known far and wide in the Hellenic world. Another sanctuary, consecrated to the fertility goddess, Demeter, was put up at the close of the sixth century B.C. on a hill between the town and farmlands. Here we have dug out thousands of terra-cotta figurines which citizens hoping for good crops brought to the temple to placate pagan deities.
Most of the Thanagorian abodes comprised a few rooms. Their walls were decked with variegated plaster and ornamental designs. Many houses were upwards of 200 sq. meters large. The central town square- agora (or " marketplaces-was the site of public edifices flanked by marble and bronze statutes devoted to gods and illustrious citizens. As shown by aerial photography data, the city had several gates opening onto highways. In keeping with Greek tradition, cemeteries (necropoleis) were set up at the roadside, with images of the dead and their names incised on the tombs (steles).
The Thanagorian excavations have produced a vast number of most diverse finds giving an insight into various facets of life in that ancient city. The kitchen-ware (casseroles, frying pans) and tableware (plates, basins, dishes) are indicative of the people's eating habits-how they cooked, how they ate. From the terra-cotta statuettes we learn what deities they worshiped (Zeus, Dionysus, Aphrodite, Demeter, Apollo). The numerous coins, among them of local mintage (the first were struck all the way back in the 6th century B.C.) attest to the well-developed money circulation in Thanagoria. Hundreds of thousands amphora fragments (the amphoras were made in various cities of the Mediterranean and of the Black Sea Coast) are illustrative of the city's commercial ties: the amphoras were used as containers for wine, olive oil and dry foodstuffs brought in from Chios, Lesbos, Thasus, Rhodes, Cos (Coos) and other Greek islands, as well as from the cities of Clazomenae, Corinthus, Miletus, Sinopa, Heraclea and many others. By far not all the imported commodities were consumed then and there, for Thanagoria was also a major hub of transit trade, with many goods shipped farther north over to the Kuban and even Ural areas (classical Greek amphoras have been found in the Urals too).
Thanagoria was a stratified society, as shown by the inspection of the necropoleis. The poorest were laid to rest in quite simple graves. Those who had some property to their name were buried in stone caskets or in earthern vaults under a mound. The mortal remains of the upper crust found their repose in stone vaults under very high burial mounds, many of them real monuments of architecture and building crafts. Placed inside were wooden, stone and even marble sarcophagi bedecked with lavish decor.
Every now and then the Greek colonists found themselves at the mercy of the elements. The rises in the level of the Black Sea often inundated the maritime colonies. Thanagoria was no exception either, as it was established by a field party led by Professor Vladimir Blavatsky in the late 1950s. The expedition, exploring the sea floor there, found the sea had engulfed close to 20 hectares (50 acres) of the town area, and the layer of the habitation deposits was only two meters thick there.
In the 1990s our expedition set to the work of exploring the flooded part of the city. Thanks to the assistance of experts from the Voronezh-based enterprise Pyotr specializing in submarine water management and engineering we were able to investigate the sea bottom there in the summer of 1999. Our fellow workers brought in up-to-date surveying gear and equipment needed for carrying out excavations under water. Echo-sounding studies indicated the presence of huge masses of stones most diverse in form. There were blocks of marble every here and there, probably from some large public edifice or temple. Two column drums, each over 0.8 m in diameter, are proof positive: the structure was quite impressive in its dimensions indeed. Other finds include a part of the torso of a marble female statue draped in a tunic, and also an intact wooden comb that has survived quite well for many centuries owing to the water medium.
Although our archeologists have done a good deal of work in unlocking the mysteries of Thanagoria, most of the job is still ahead: we have stripped less than one percent of its total area. This magnificent city-state is still little studied and, if we persevere in our efforts, it will yield us more and more of the thrilling finds.
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