Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Dimitrios V. Grammenos, Elias K. Petropoulos (ed.), Ancient Greek Colonies in the Black Sea 2 (2 vols.). BAR International Series; 1675 (1-2). Oxford: Archaeopress, 2007. Pp. viii, 1262. ISBN 9781407301105. £140.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Stanley Burstein, California State University, Los Angeles

[This review should have been paired with BMCR 2009.04.79. The editors apologize for the lapse.]

Ancient Greek Colonies in the Black Sea 2 is a frustrating and, ultimately, disappointing book, especially since there is a real need for such a work. In antiquity the Black Sea was virtually a world unto itself, and the same is true for scholarship on the history of the Pontic Greeks. Large-scale archaeological investigation of the Greek cities ringing the Black Sea began in the 19th century and has continued to the present, generating in the process an enormous body of scholarship on all aspects of the Greek experience in the region. Because the majority of this scholarship is published in journals and books that have limited circulation in Europe and America and in local languages--principally Russian but also Rumanian, Bulgarian, Georgian, and Turkish--synthetic works are essential if Western scholars are to have access to this material. Ellis Minns' monumental Scythians and Greeks,1 published just before the outbreak of World War I, performed that service for generations of scholars, masterfully summarizing the results of Czarist period scholarship on the Greek cities of the coasts of the Ukraine and their relations with their Scythian hinterlands. Minns' work, however, has long needed a replacement, having been rendered obsolete by almost a century of continued excavation and study by Soviet and East European archaeologists and historians. The only subsequent work planned on a similar scale, M . I. Rostovtzeff's Skythien und der Bosporus,2 was left an unfinished torso thanks to revolutionary politics. By default, therefore, the principal general guides to this scholarship available to Western historians have been E. Belin de Ballu's bibliographical survey, L'Histoire des Colonies Grecques du Littoral Nord de la Mer Noire (Leiden, 1965), and V. E. Gajdukevic' masterful Das Bosporanische Reich (second edition, trans. G. Janke, Berlin, 1971), both of which, however, are also out of date. What has long been needed, therefore, is a work that does for Soviet Period scholarship what Minns' did for Czarist scholarship, but expanded to cover the Greek cities of the west, east, and south coasts of the Black Sea.

Because of the vast expansion of scholarship on the Greek cities of the Black Sea, no individual scholar can master it in the same way Minns did almost a century ago. Only a collaborative work could replace Scythians and Greeks, and Ancient Greek Colonies in the Black Sea 2 forms the second half of what is intended to be such a work. The first two volumes of the set were published by the Archaeological Institute of Northern Greece in 2003.3 These two volumes complete the work, although insufficient funds delayed their publication, and a change of publisher was needed for them to appear in order . Unfortunately, the initial two volumes of the set met with generally mixed reviews, and these volumes are beset by the many of the same problems that reviewers noted in their predecessors.

Like Ancient Greek Colonies in the Black Sea 1, Ancient Greek Colonies in the Black Sea 2 is a massive work: two volumes, 1262 pages, and thirty-four articles. The work is organized as an archaeological "periplus" of the Black Sea, beginning with sites on the coasts of Bulgaria and Romania, continuing with sites in Ukraine and the Crimea, Georgia, and finishing with sites on the north coast of Turkey.

Thirteen articles treat west coast sites: M. Damayanov, "Dionysopolis, its territory and neighbors in the Pre-Roman Period"; A. Salkin, "Bizone"; Z. Gotcheva, "La Thrace Pontique et la Mythologie Grecque"; K. Panayotova, "Burial and post-burial rites in the necropoleis of the Greek colonies on the Bulgarian Black Sea Littoral"; I. Karayotov, "La monnayage de Messambria et les Monnayages d'Apollonia, Odessos et Dionysopolis"; H. Todorova, "Durankulak-A Territorium Sacrum of the Goddess Cybele"; A. Avrum, "Kallatis"; L. Buzoianu and M. Barbulesku, "Tomis"; V. Lungu, "Necropoles Grecques du Pont Gauche: Istros, Orgamé, Tomis, Callatis"; V. Cojocaru, "'L'histoire par les noms' dans les villes Grecque de Scythie et Scythie Mieneure"; and T. Samoylova, "Tyras: The Greek City on the River Tyras."

Fifteen deal with cities and sites of the north coast: N. Serkerskaya, "The Ancient City of Nikonion"; Y. Redina, "Greek Settlements on the Shores of the Bay of Odessa and Adjacent Estuaries"; S. Okhotnikov and A. Ostroverkhov, "Achilles on the Island of Leuke"; N. Gavrilyuk and V. Krapivina, "Lower Dnieper and Hillforts and the Influence of Greek Culture (2nd Century BC--2nd Century AD"; V. Krapivina, "Olbia Pontica in the 3rd--4th Centuries AD"; N. Gavrilyuk, "Greek Imports in Scythia"; S. Lantsov and V. Uzhentsev, " Distant Chora of Taurian Chersonesus and the City of Kalos Limen"; V. Zubar, "Tauric Chersonesus and the Roman Empire"; Y. Zatsev, "The Scythian Neapolis and Greek Culture of the Northern Black Sea Region in the 2nd Century BC"; V. Zinko, "Tyritake"; A. Maslemnikov, "Small and poorly studied towns of the ancient Kimmerian Bosporos"; V. Gorontcharovsky,"Pluraton: A Fortress of 1st--3rd centuries AD on the Euopean Kimmerian Bosporos"; A. Malyshev, "Torikos and the South-Eastern Periphery of the Bosporan Kingdom (7th C. BC--3rd C. AD)"; A. Malyshev, "Greeks in the North Caucasus"; N. Fedoseev, "The Necropolis of Kul Olba"; and A. Kulikov, "Akra and its Chora"; V. Golenko, "Kimmerikon."

Three articles deal with sites in Georgia: V. Licheli, "Hellenism and Ancient Georgia"; A. Kakhidze, "Greek Necropolis of Classical Period at Pichvnari"; and S. Atasoy, "Ancient Greek Settlements in Eastern Thrace." Two articles treat sites on the north coast of Turkey: D. Erceiyas, "Kotyora, Kerasos and Trapezus: The Three Colonies of Sinope"; and S. Dönmez, "The Central Black Sea Region, Turkey, during the Iron Age: the Local Cutures and the Eurasian Horse-Riding Nomads." The collection concludes with an article treating the Black Sea as a whole: J. Bouzek, "Greek Fine Pottery in the Black Sea Region."

Despite the unity imposed on the work by geography, it has the feel of a miscellany, uneven in coverage and, unfortunately, also in quality. The uneven overage with only five articles treating Georgian and Turkish sites as opposed to thirteen devoted to west coast sites and fifteen to north coast sites is largely the result of two facts: the longer and richer traditions of archaeological and historical scholarship on the Greek colonies of the west and north coasts and the treatment of the most of the major Black Sea cities and sites in Ancient Greek Colonies in the Black Sea1. As a result, the volumes' contents are divided between articles on cities such as Kallatis, Tomis, and Tyras, which are intended to fill in gaps in the earlier volumes, and more specialized articles dealing with what is essentially a random selection of topics linked by no common themes. This is not to deny, however, that there is much of interest in these volumes.

First and foremost is the sheer mass of archaeological data that is made available in these articles, most of which consist of brief historical introductions and conclusions between which are sandwiched detailed--sometimes item-by-item--summaries of archaeological finds and sites. Also valuable are articles that provide either detailed accounts of recent excavations of important sites such as, for example, S. Okhotnikov and A. Ostroverkhov, "Achilles on the Island of Leuke" and V. Gorontcharovsky,"Pluraton: A Fortress of 1st--3rd centuries AD on the Euopean Kimmerian Bosporos" or surveys of the current state of scholarship on topics related to trade between the Mediterranean and Pontic regions such as N. Gavrilyuk, "Greek Imports in Scythia" and J. Bouzek's valuable supplement to his important 1990 book Studies of Greek Pottery in the Black Sea area (Prague). Finally, reflecting current scholarship, there is a welcome change of emphasis from the Archaic period that was typical of early 20th century scholarship to the Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman Imperial periods in the historical summaries and especially in the articles on the Roman period at Olbia and Chersonesus and other sites.

Unfortunately, these volumes also have serious weaknesses that are in many ways a reflex of the empiricism that is their great virtue. So, while literary sources are diligently collected and cited, they are largely taken at face value with little or no critical evaluation. Likewise, while relations between Greeks and non-Greeks are an important theme in numerous articles, analysis generally is limited to discriminating between Greek and native remains--mainly funerary and ceramic--and identifying generalized "influences" with little regard for the social and cultural contexts in which those "influences" occurred. Similarly, relations between Greek cities--particularly economic relations--receive considerable attention. Interpretation tends to be simplistic, however, with the geographical and chronological distribution of coin finds and amphora types being used to reconstruct the historical development of trade relations between cities with little attempt to identify the reasons behind the distribution patterns perceived in the archaeological record. Finally, and most seriously, just as was true of its predecessor, the English of many articles is marred by numerous grammatical and syntactical errors that render many passages difficult to understand. As a result, while these volumes will provide scholars already familiar with the history and archaeology of the Black Sea with a treasure trove of useful data, the need for an up-to-date vade mecum to the field that would replace Minns' great work still remains.


1.   Ellis H. Minns, Scythians and Greeks: A Survey of Ancient History and Archaeology on the North Coast of the Euxine from the Danube to the Caucasus (Cambridge, 1913).
2.   M. I. Rostovtzeff, Skythien und der Bosporus (Berlin, 1931). M. Rostowzew, Skythien und der Bosporus, Band II. Wiederentdeckte Kapitel und Verwandtes, ed. and trans. by Heinz Heinen, Historia Einzelschriften 83 (Stuttgart, 1993).
3.   Dimitrios V. Grammenos and Elias K. Petropoulos (edd.). Ancient Greek colonies in the Black Sea 1, 2 vols. (Thessaloniki, 2003).

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