1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Chersonese
CHERSONESE, Chersonesus, or Cherronesus (Gr. χἐρσος, dry, and νῆσος, island), a word equivalent to “peninsula.” In ancient geography the Chersonesus Thracica, Chersonesus Taurica or Scythica, and Chersonesus Cimbrica correspond to the peninsulas of the Dardanelles, the Crimea and Jutland; and the Golden Chersonese is usually identified with the peninsula of Malacca. The Tauric Chersonese was further distinguished as the Great, in contrast to the Heracleotic or Little Chersonese at its S.W. corner, where Sevastopol now stands.
The Tauric Chersonese (from 2nd century A.D. called Cherson) was a Dorian colony of Heraclea in Bithynia, founded in the 5th century B.C. in the Crimea about 2 m. S. of the modern Sevastopol. After defending itself against the kingdom of Bosporus (q.v.), and the native Scythians and Tauri, and even extending its power over the west coast of the peninsula, it was compelled to call in the aid of Mithradates VI. and his general Diophantus, c. 110 B.C., and submitted to the Pontic dynasty. On regaining a nominal independence, it came more or less under the Roman suzerainty. In the latter part of the 1st century A.D., and again in the succeeding century, it received a Roman garrison and suffered much interference in its internal affairs. In the time of Constantine, in return for assistance against the Bosporans and the native tribes, it regained its autonomy and received special privileges. It must, however, have been subject to the Byzantine authorities, as inscriptions testify to restorations of its walls by Byzantine officials. Under Theophilus the central government sent out a governor to take the place of the elected magistrate. Even so it seems to have preserved a measure of self-government and may be said to have been the last of the Greek city states. Its ruin was brought about by the commercial rivalry of the Genoese, who forbade the Greeks to trade there and diverted its commerce to Caffa and Sudak. Previous to this it had been the main emporium of Byzantine commerce upon the N. coast of the Euxine. Through it went the communications of the empire with the Petchenegs and other native tribes, and more especially with the Russians. The commerce of Cherson is guaranteed in the early treaties between the Greeks and Russians, and it was in Cherson, according to Ps. Nestor’s chronicle, that Vladimir was baptized in 988 after he had captured the city. The constitution of the city was at first democratic under Damiorgi, a senate and a general assembly. Latterly it appears to have become aristocratic, and most of the power was concentrated in the hands of the first archon or Proteuon, who in time was superseded by the strategus sent out from Byzantium. Its most interesting political document is the form of oath sworn to by all the citizens in the 3rd century B.C.
The remains of the city occupy a space about two-thirds of a mile long by half a mile broad. They are enclosed by a Byzantine wall. Foundations and considerable remains of a Greek wall going back to the 4th century B.C. have been found beneath this in the eastern or original part of the site. Many Byzantine churches, both cruciform and basilican, have been excavated. The latter survived here into the 13th century when they had long been extinct in other Greek-speaking lands. The churches were adorned with frescoes, wall and floor mosaics, some well preserved, and marble carvings similar to work found at Ravenna. The fact that the site has not been inhabited since the 14th century makes it important for our knowledge of Byzantine life. The city was used by the Romans as a place of banishment: St Clement of Rome was exiled hither and first preached the Gospel; another exile was Justinian II., who is said to have destroyed the city in revenge. We have a considerable series of coins from the 3rd century B.C. to about A.D. 200, and also some of Byzantine date.
- In Pliny “Heraclea Chersonesus,” probably owing to a confusion with the name of the mother city.