1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bosporus Cimmerius

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BOSPORUS CIMMERIUS, the ancient name for the Straits of Kerch or Yenikale, connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov; the Cimmerii (q.v.) were the ancient inhabitants. The straits are about 25 m. long and 21/2 m. broad at the narrowest, and are formed by an eastern extension of the Crimea and the peninsula of Taman, a kind of continuation of the Caucasus. This in ancient times seems to have formed a group of islands intersected by arms of the Hypanis or Kuban and various sounds now silted up. The whole district was dotted with Greek cities; on the west side, Panticapaeum (Kerch, q.v.), the chief of all, often itself called Bosporus, and Nymphaeum (Eltegen); on the east Phanagoria (Sênnája), Cepi, Hermonassa, Portus Sindicus, Gorgippia (Anapa). These were mostly settled by Milesians, Panticapaeum in the 7th or early in the 6th century B.C., but Phanagoria (c. 540 B.C.) was a colony of Teos, and Nymphaeum had some connexion with Athens—at least it appears to have been a member of the Delian Confederacy. The towns have left hardly any architectural or sculptural remains, but the numerous barrows in their neighbourhood have yielded very beautiful objects now mostly preserved in the Hermitage in St Petersburg. They comprise especially gold work, vases exported from Athens, textiles and specimens of carpentry and marquetry. The numerous terra-cottas are rather rude in style.

According to Diodorus Siculus (xii. 31) the locality was governed from 480 to 438 B.C. by the Archaeanactidae, probably a ruling family, who gave place to a tyrant Spartocus (438–431 B.C.), apparently a Thracian. He founded a dynasty which seems to have endured until c. 110 B.C. The Spartocids have left many inscriptions which tell us that the earlier members of the house ruled as archons of the Greek cities and kings of various native tribes, notably the Sindi of the island district and other branches of the Maitae (Maeotae). The text of Diodorus, the inscriptions and the coins do not supply sufficient material for a complete list of them. Satyrus (431–387), the successor of Spartocus, established his rule over the whole district, adding Nymphaeum to his dominions and laying siege to Theodosia, which was a serious commercial rival by reason of its ice-free port and direct proximity to the cornfields of the eastern Crimea. It was reserved for his son Leucon (387–347) to take this city. He was succeeded by his two sons conjointly, Spartocus II. and Paerisades; the former died in 342 and his brother reigned alone until 310. Then followed a civil war in which Eumelus (310–303) was successful. His successor was Spartocus III. (303–283) and after him Paerisades II. Succeeding princes repeated the family names, but we cannot assign them any certain order. We know only that the last of them, a Paerisades, unable to make headway against the power of the natives, called in the help of Diophantus, general of Mithradates VI. (the Great) of Pontus, promising to hand over his kingdom to that prince. He was slain by a Scythian Saumacus who led a rebellion against him. The house of Spartocus was well known as a line of enlightened and wise princes; although Greek opinion could not deny that they were, strictly speaking, tyrants, they are always described as dynasts. They maintained close relations with Athens, their best customers for the Bosporan corn export, of which Leucon I. set the staple at Theodosia, where the Attic ships were allowed special privileges. We have many references to this in the Attic orators. In return the Athenians granted him Athenian citizenship and set up decrees in honour of him and his sons. Mithradates the Great entrusted the Bosporus Cimmerius to his son Machares, who, however, deserted to the Romans. But even when driven out of his own kingdom by Pompey, Mithradates was strong enough to regain the Bosporus Cimmerius, and Machares slew himself. Subsequently the Bosporans again rose in revolt under Pharnaces, another of the old king’s sons. After the death of Mithradates (B.C. 63), this Pharnaces (63–47) made his submission to Pompey, but tried to regain his dominion during the civil war. He was defeated by Caesar at Zela, and on his return to Rome was slain by a pretender Asander who married his daughter Dynamis, and in spite of Roman nominees ruled as archon, and later as king, until 16 B.C. After his death Dynamis was compelled to marry an adventurer Scribonius, but the Romans under Agrippa interfered and set Polemon (14–8) in his place. To him succeeded Aspurgus (8 B.C.A.D. 38?), son of Asander, who founded a line of kings which endured with certain interruptions until A.D. 341. These kings, who mostly bore the Thracian names of Cotys, Rhescuporis, Rhoemetalces, and the native name Sauromates, claimed descent from Mithradates the Great, and used the Pontic era (starting from 297 B.C.) introduced by him, regularly placing dates upon their coins and inscriptions. Hence we know their names and dates fairly well, though scarcely any events of their reigns are recorded. Their kingdom covered the eastern half of the Crimea and the Taman peninsula, and extended along the east coast of the Sea of Azov to Tanais at the mouth of the Don, a great mart for trade with the interior. They carried on a perpetual war with the native tribes, and in this were supported by their Roman suzerains, who even lent the assistance of garrison and fleet. At times rival kings of some other race arose and probably produced some disorganization. At one of these periods (A.D. 255) the Goths and Borani were enabled to seize Bosporan shipping and raid the shores of Asia Minor. With the last coin of the last Rhescuporis, A.D. 341, materials for a connected history of the Bosporus Cimmerius come to an end. The kingdom probably succumbed to the Huns established in the neighbourhood. In later times it seems in some sort to have been revived under Byzantine protection, and from time to time Byzantine officers built fortresses and exercised authority at Bosporus, which was constituted an archbishopric. They also held Ta Matarcha on the Asiatic side of the strait, a town which in the 10th and 11th centuries became the seat of the Russian principality of Tmutarakan, which in its turn gave place to Tatar domination.

The Bosporan kingdom is interesting as the first Hellenistic state, the first, that is to say, in which a mixed population adopted the Greek language and civilization. It depended for its prosperity upon the export of wheat, fish and slaves, and this commerce supported a class whose wealth and vulgarity are exemplified by the contents of the numerous tombs to which reference has been made. In later times a Jewish element was added to the population, and under its influence were developed in all the cities of the kingdom, especially Tanais, societies of “worshippers of the highest God,” apparently professing a monotheism which without being distinctively Jewish or Christian was purer than any found among the inhabitants of the Empire.

We possess a large series of coins of Panticapaeum and other cities from the 5th century B.C. The gold staters of Panticapaeum bearing Pan’s head and a griffin are specially remarkable for their weight and fine workmanship. We have also coins with the names of the later Spartocids and a singularly complete series of dated solidi issued by the later or Achaemenian dynasty; in them may be noticed the swift degeneration of the gold solidus through silver and potin to bronze (see also Numismatics).

See, for history, introduction to V. V. Latyshev, Inscrr. orae Septent. Ponti Euxini, vol. ii. (St Petersburg, 1890); art. “Bosporus” (2) by C. G. Brandis in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencycl. vol. iii. 757 (Stuttgart, 1899); E. H. Minns, Scythians and Greeks (Cambridge, 1907). For inscriptions, Latyshev as above and vol. iv. (St Petersburg, 1901). Coins: B. Koehne, Musée Kotschoubey (St Petersburg, 1855). Religious Societies: E. Schürer in Sitzber. d. k. pr. Akad. d. Wissenschaft zu Berlin (1897), i. pp. 200-227. Excavations: Antiquités du Bosphore cimmérien (St Petersburg, 1854, repr. Paris, 1892) and Compte rendu and Bulletin de la Commission Imp. Archéologique de St. Pétersbourg.  (E. H. M.)