Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Gocha R. Tsetskhladze (ed.), The Black Sea, Greece, Anatolia and Europe in the First Millennium BC. Colloquia antiqua, 1. Leuven; Paris; Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2011. Pp. xxiv, 448. ISBN 9789042923249. €80.00.

Reviewed by Askold Ivantchik, CNRS, France / Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia (

Version at BMCR home site

The book reviewed below is the first volume in a new series Colloquia Antiqua replacing Colloquia Pontica, which ceased to appear in 2006. The volume is dedicated to the 75th birthday of the Czech Classical scholar, Jan Bouzek. As is often the case in a Festschrift, the volume consists of a selection of articles, which vary widely, as regards both their subjects and genres and also their academic value. The articles in this collection can be divided into two types: one type presents general, synthetic conclusions about broad cultural or geographic areas, while the other reports on new research into specific subjects.

N. Theodossiev in "Ancient Thrace during the First Millenium BC" presents a general survey of the history and archaeology of Thrace (mostly of its Bulgarian part) with an extensive bibliography, which is perhaps the most valuable part of the article. There is no mention of the recently published corpus of Greek inscriptions from the Greek part of Thrace or the sensational discovery of the large series of graffiti in the Thracian language in Zone and on the island of Samothrace (for a preliminary analysis see Brixhe 2006),which bring us for the first time reliable data about the Thracian language.

L. Bonfante's article "The Etruscan Impact on Ancient Europe" treats the cultural influence of the Etruscans on territories north of Etruria, including those north of the Alps and also their role as intermediaries between Greek culture and European 'barbarians'. Examples include finds from the Verucchio necropolis in northern Italy, "situla art" in the Alpine region, erotic scenes originating from Thrace and stone male statues from the territory of Germany (Hirschlanden, Glauberg et al.), which were set up at the summits of burial mounds. She traces these statues back to Greek kouroi. This conclusion appears dubious to me, when we take into account the setting up of sculptures of this kind on funerary monuments in Eastern Europe as early as the Chalcolithic period and right up to the Scythian-Sarmatian era and even the Middle Ages.

B. Teržan endeavours in her article "Hallstatt Europe: Some Aspects of Religion and Social Structure" to single out certain features of the world view of the people of the Hallstatt culture on the basis of the funerary rite attested in their élite burials, particularly the cult wagon from Strettweg on which a goddess is depicted accompanied by warriors: the author interprets the whole scene as a sacred marriage.

R. and V. Megaw's "The Elusive Arts: The Study of Continental Early Celtic Art since 1944" consists of a clear, useful and stimulating review of research into Celtic (La Tène) art carried out after the fundamental study on this subject by P.F. Jacobsthal (1944). Their main advances are the compilation of a number of corpora for specific categories of La Tène materials (stamp-decorated pottery, brooches etc.) and detailed examination of closed finds.

A review of Iron-Age archaeology in Central Anatolia is offered by H. Genz ("The Iron Age in Central Anatolia") who draws attention to the fact that the archaeological materials were not always completely compatible with the data provided in written sources and recommends that the latter should be used with the utmost care. At the same time it is misguided to maintain that the archaeological traces of Lydian or Achaemenid influence, which the written sources lead us to expect, are not to be found. Evidence of this kind is available from Tatarlı (Summerer 2007), mentioned here with a wrong date, and Kelainai (published too late to be included).

The article by I. Ondřejová "The Role of Jewellery in Ancient Societies" concludes that jewellery not only had an aesthetic function but was also a sign of social prestige.

The remaining articles are devoted to specific questions and are pieces of original research. Among the most successful of these is an article by A. Avram ("The Getae: Selected Questions"), in which he considers the protectorate relations that existed between the Greek cities in the West Pontic region and the Thracian and Getic kingdoms. He focuses particular attention on the use of exchanges of gifts and the payment of tribute as political tools and he provides a convincing reconstruction of the pattern of relations between the Greeks and the barbarians in that part of the Pontic region.

J. Hind's article "The Black Sea: Between Asia and Europe" brings us certain observations regarding the structure of Herodotus' Scythian Account (IV, 1-144). Instead of following the usual approach, dividing it into two parts –geographical/ethnographic (1-82) and the description of Darius' invasion (83-144) – the author suggests dividing the first part into two, with chapters 1-45 devoted to the Scythians and the peoples connected with them from Europe as a whole, while chapters 47-82 are devoted specifically to the Pontic Scythians.

The article contributed by N.T. de Grummond, S.V. Polin, L.A. Chernich, M. Gleba and M. Daragan ("The American-Ukrainian Scythian Kurgan Project, 2004–2005: Preliminary Report") outlines the results of the new research into the Alexandropol burial mound (one of Scythia's five largest 'royal' burial mounds) and the Krasnokutsk burial mound, which had been excavated as far back as the 19th century with the use of only rather limited methods. The find of 158 amphorae (of which 21 were stamped) from the funeral feast in the Alexandropol burial mound made it possible to date its construction to c. 325 BC. The article includes a catalogue of amphora finds and an analysis of the human and animal bone remains discovered during the excavations. The results published here are of major interest for the study of Scythian culture in the 4th century BC, including its chronology.

The short note by J. Boardman, "Persia in Europe", is devoted to the presence of the Persians in Greece, Thrace and Macedonia, which the author regards as an episode of no great importance, which hardly left any archaeological traces behind, and which did not influence the development of Greek culture.

In his article M.A. Tiverios ("An Archaic Alphabet on a Thasian Kylix") publishes a fragment of a kylix of unknown origin dating from the first half of the 6th century BC and held in the University of Thessaloniki. On it have been inscribed the first five letters of the Parian-Thasian alphabet. The author cites various interpretations of abecederia which have been suggested in the academic literature but refrains here from accepting any particular one.

Much less successful is the article of C. Sagona and A. Sagona ("The Mushroom, the Magi and the Keen-Sighted Seers") examining the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms in the ancient cultures of Eastern Anatolia. They wrongly identify the Medes with the Matieni and locate Media in the vicinity of Erzerum in North-East Turkey.1 The main part of the article is devoted to their search for evidence of the use of hallucinogens prepared from mushrooms in archaeological materials of the 3rd and 2nd millennia in Anatolia, the Caucasus and other regions. They interpret geometrical decoration on pottery of the Kura-Araxes and other cultures as depictions of hallucinations appearing at various stages of narcotic intoxication and they see depictions of mushrooms in any volute-shaped depictions (in particular on the ends of pins from the Caucasus). The unbridled flights of fancy go here hand in hand with disregard for precision of specific data: the authors date for example the Pazyryk II Burial-mound, which has been reliably dated to c. 300 BC, to the 8th-7th centuries BC.

Equally unsuccessful is G. Tsetskhladze's article ("The Scythians: Three Essays"). The first essay is a summary of "Scythian" finds in the territory of Georgia, which are presented to the reader in the form of a table, borrowed in part from the book by Esayan and Pogrebova (1985) and in part uncritically compiled using various publications (no references are given however in the table) without any verification of the original materials. He mistakenly maintains for example that Scythian arrowheads and swords were found in five burial grounds in the Borzhomi Gorge, basing his assertion on no more than an erroneous interpretation of a vague indication in the short abstract of a paper by V. Licheli. Tsetskhladze's summary is not only unreliable, but also incomplete: for data on this subject one should turn to a far more complete and reliable summary of the material in a monograph by Mehnert (2008), which is mentioned by him but not really used. In his interpretation of the material he is starting out from erroneous ideas about both the chronology and the character of Scythian culture and about the significance of so-called Scythian-type objects. For example, he puts forward as one of the possibilities for dating the beginning of the Scythians' incursions into the Near East the last third of the 7th century BC. He would appear not to know that Akkadian texts mention their presence in the Manna area from c. 680 BC. In another place (p. 114) he suggests that the Scythians were in Kakhetia at the end of the 2nd/beginning of the 1st millennium BC. In actual fact there is no justification for speaking about Scythians at such an early date, neither on the basis of archaeological data nor on the basis of the written sources and naturally there were no traces of the presence of Eurasian nomads in Kakhetia at that time. He attributes also the Treli II Burial-ground and the settlement of Treligorebi (p. 112) to the Scythians, despite the fact that no Scythian artefacts have been found there and a burial with a large selection of bridles clearly relates to the pre-Scythian period (end of the 9th century BC or beginning of the 8th), which has been confirmed by a radio-carbon date. His idea to the effect that in Georgia "Scythian-type arrowheads… should indeed be connected with the Scythians" (p.111) ignores the fact that arrows of that kind had been adopted no later than the 6th century BC by all the armies of the Near East, Asia Minor, Iran, the Balkans and other regions; for that reason it is, of course, impossible to assume that Scythians were present in Pichvnari or Vani in the 5th-4th centuries BC on the basis of the arrowhead finds there, as Tsetskhladze proceeds to do.

Tsetskhladze prefers not to express any definite opinions on the subject of Scythian chronology, simply taking on the dates given in the works to which he has turned, although they sometimes contradict each other. Although he has learnt secondhand about the controversy concerning the date for the beginning of Early Scythian culture, he does not even mention key works on the subject by G. Kossack, I. Medvedskaya, M. Daragan or my own. In a number of cases it is precisely Scythian objects which have indicated the dates of assemblages from Transcaucasia and their dates, in turn, depend on the dating of Scythian objects at the time of publication. Tsetskhladze seems to be unaware of this fact and attempts, on the contrary, to date Scythian finds on the basis of Transcaucasian assemblages. As for Transcaucasian chronology as such, Tsetskhladze starts out from the chronology proposed by R. Abramishvili in 1957, evidently unaware of the works by G. Kossack or A. Pruß, who put forward detailed substantiation for other dates back in the 1980s and 1990s. The only conclusion Tsetskhladze draws is that "not only did the Scythians pass through Georgia… some of them also stayed and settled down"; it was already trite in the 1970s. Admittedly nobody had previously thought of citing finds of "Scythian" arrowheads of the 5th and 6th century BC in support of it, assuming therefore that the Scythians preserved their cultural identity for no less than 200-300 years. The second shorter essay is devoted to the presence of the Scythians within the territory of Anatolia. In this case Tsetskhladze rightly states, in the wake of many researchers and in contrast to the point of view he takes in the previous essay, that "socketed arrowheads can no longer be used as an ethnic marker" and do not necessarily belong to Scythians. Here though he goes even further. While within the territory of Georgia the presence of arrows of a "Scythian" type indicated the presence of Scythians, in Anatolia, not only arrowheads, but other items of weaponry, horse's bridles and objects in the Animal Style typical of Scythian culture, in his opinion were not evidence for the presence of Scythians or Cimmerians and could be attributed to local inhabitants. This assertion is highly dubious, since there are no data available concerning wide-scale borrowing of these specific objects by the local inhabitants.2 Tsetskhladze cites a recent article by A. Hellmuth (2008), who attempted to date the well-known assemblage from Imirler to the end of the 9th or beginning of the 8th century BC. Hellmuth did however draw a conclusion from her own dating that the incursions of Eurasian nomads (Cimmerians and Scythians) into the Near East had begun earlier than the dates given in the written sources (at the end of the 8th century BC). Tsetskhladze meanwhile draws another conclusion, namely that the objects of Scythian type (not only arrowheads) were not connected with the Scythians and were produced by local peoples before those incursions. He also states here that the weapons of the Scythians and Persians of the Achaemenid era were the same (which is incorrect). What the Achaemenids were doing in the 8th century BC remains unclear. It should be noted that the article by Hellmuth, who serves as the chief authority on the subject for Tsetskhladze, is also far from being a model of professional research.3 Finally we learn with astonishment from this article that "Scythians" was not self-designation of this people, but merely a Greek name for them. Anyone who knows anything about Scythian matters, knows that this is not the case (Greek Σκύθαι, Akkadian Iškuzāia, Hebrew 'šknz< 'škwz reflect one and the same ethnonym, which was the Scythians self-designation; the name Σκόλοτοι was its dialectal form [Hdt. IV, 6]).

The last of the three essays is devoted to the Scythians' transition from a nomadic to a settled way of life. In Tsetskhladze's view, the Scythians of the Archaic period (7th-6th century BC) were nomads, but in the 5th and 4th centuries BC they made the transition to a settled way of life, as can be seen from the appearance of their fortified settlements of the Kamenskoye type. This schema distorts the actual path of development and the complex relations which existed between the nomadic and settled groups through the whole of Scythian history. Tsetskhladze appears not to know about the existence of a settled Scythian (at least from the archaeological point of view) population of the Archaic period in the forest steppe of the Ukraine, where numerous and rich Scythian burial-mounds have been found together with numerous settlements. The largest of all the Scythian fortified settlements – Belskoye – as well as Nemirovskoye and a whole number of others date to the Archaic period. Evidence for trade with the Greeks starting in the 7th century BC has been also found on these sites. Tsetskhladze's approach to epigraphic data is still more regrettable. When referring to the Scythian era (5th-4th centuries BC) he writes: "Inscriptions from Olbia tell us that the city needed to import grain (IOSPE I2, 32, 25, 34, 240)" (p. 128). In reality none of the inscriptions he lists have anything to say about the import of grain (in the decree in honour of Protogenes mention is made of the sale of grain to the state by its citizens). Moreover, only one of them (25+31, the join of two fragments made in 1982 is unknown to him) dates from the 4th century BC. The letter from Kerkinitis which he mentions later on was written not on lead but on a pottery sherd. There are too many inaccuracies and blatant errors for it to be possible for them to be listed. In general this article cannot be recognized as professional by any standards and not a single sentence in it can be relied on. Another reviewer in this same journal drew a similar conclusion regarding Tsetskhladze's book published in 1999 (BMCR 2000.11.24): unfortunately the situation has not improved since then.

The editing of this book has been carried out rather carelessly. Illustrations are sometimes left with Russian captions, and are sometimes too large (p. 157) or too small. In the article by N.T. de Grummond et al., a large part of which would appear to have been translated from the Russian, there are still some untranslated Russian words (such as materik), which are hardly likely to be understood by English-speaking readers. In the bibliographies, works quoted in the text are sometimes either missing or listed with incorrect details. Sometimes even the names of authors are misspelt (for example, Pirtskhelauri for Pitskhelauri in the article by the editor himself). In addition, it would appear that most of the articles had been prepared for the previous occasion when J. Bouzek's birthday was due to have been celebrated (his seventieth in 2005); for example, the articles by Megaw and Genz, among others, do not acknowledge works published after 2005. All in all, this book, while attractive to look at, is disappointing as regards its content. Some articles are useful and of good quality, but other can hardly be considered as professional. This disparity is not very uncommon in Festschrifts, but the fact that the editor's contribution belongs to the second category, is more rare.4


1.   For each of the Median tribes mentioned by Herodotus (I, 101), including the Magi, they identify territories they surveyed, basing their account mainly on names which are consonant with modern ones, as well as speculative comparisons from popular etymology and wrongly dating the Iranians' (or even the Indo-Iranians') occupation of this territory to the 2nd millennium BC. The link of the Iranian cult of haoma with hallucinogens, about which the authors have a great deal to say, is well-known; however their hypothesis to the effect that these practices as well as "Mazda belief system" stem from the area around Erzerum has not been confirmed by any data and is completely improbable.
2.   About it and about archaeological identification of the Cimmerians which Tsetskhladze claims to be impossible, see my monograph (2001). Tsetskhladze ignores it, referring instead to his own article containing no concrete data. In general he quotes abundantly his own work: in the bibliography his own articles take up one and a half pages, far more than the works of any other author.
3.   The date she proposes is based on the similarity between bridle parts and arrowheads from Imirler and the Arzhan-1 burial mound in Tuva, which dates indeed from the end of the 9th century BC. Yet neither does she deny the similarity between those objects and those discovered at sites of Early Scythian culture. In essence, she does not see a difference between objects from the Arzhan-1 Burial-mound, from sites of the Chernogorovka type and Early Scythian sites. Of course there is a similarity between them, but what are being considered here are different stages in the development of the nomadic culture of Eurasia. Any specialist in this field would distinguish between assemblages of the Chernogorovka type and the Early Scythian ones. The Early Scythian and Chernogorovka sites are further subdivided into smaller chronological strata. The position of the burial from Imirler within this chronological sequence has long been established: it belongs to Early Scythian culture and not its earliest stage (the Kelermes stage or ESC-2 according to the chronology by Kossak and Medvedskaya), which in any chronology relates to the 7th century BC.

Brixhe, C. 2006: Zônè et Samothrace : lueurs sur la langue thrace et nouveau chapitre de la grammaire comparée ?, CRAI, 150, 121-146.
Esayan, S.A., Pogrebova, M.N. 1985: Scythian Monuments of Transcaucasia. Moscow (in Russian).
Hellmuth, A. 2008: The Chronological Setting of the so-called Cimmerian and Early Scythian Material from Anatolia, ANES, 45, 102-122.
Ivantchik, A. 2001: Kimmerier und Skythen. Moskau, Berlin.
Mehnert, G. 2008: Skythika in Transkaukasien. Wiesbaden.
Summerer, L. 2007: Picturing Persian Victory: The Painted Battle Scene on the Munich Wood, ACSS, 13, 3-30.

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