Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Gocha R. Tsetskhladze, Sümer Atasoy, Alexandru Avram, Şevket Dönmez, James Hargrave (ed.), The Bosporus: Gateway between the Ancient West and East (1st Millennium BC-5th Century AD). Proceedings of the Fourth International Congress on Black Sea Antiquities Istanbul, 14th-18th September 2009. BAR international series, S2517, 2013. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2013. Pp. xxii, 460. ISBN 978140731135. £62.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Danijel Dzino, Macquarie University, Sydney (

Version at BMCR home site

Front matter

The regions of the Bosporus, Hellespont, Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea are placed at the crossroads of natural communications and thoroughfares, and it is not surprising that they are unique places for research of cultural contact and interaction in the past. Yet, the archaeology and history of these regions in prehistory and antiquity have been largely isolated from macro-historical narratives of the Mediterranean world. With rare exceptions, research has been conducted in languages not widely spoken in the West (eastern European, Turkish, Georgian, etc.) and poorly communicated outside scholarly circles of national archaeologies. The situation started to change from the 1980s, with five Congresses on Black Sea Antiquities bringing local research to the attention of the wider scholarly community. This volume is the outcome of the 4th International Congress on Black Sea Antiquities, which was held in Istanbul in September 2009. A total of 49 papers has been published, with the addition of two appendices—the first one containing a programme of the Congress (pp. 381-388) and the second containing summaries of all 183 papers presented at the Congress (pp. 391-456).

Personally, I am not too fond of large conference proceedings as they usually do not maintain quality of contributions or consistency of approach throughout, while the very size of the volume forces editors to impose strict limits on the authors. This volume is not an exception, and the collected papers visibly differ in quality, methodological approaches and use of modern scholarly paradigms. Yet, despite general problems affecting this type of publication, the present volume contains a few excellent papers and a substantial breadth of information presenting a wide range of different research conducted in the region or related to it. The papers encompass a large time span, covering periods from the earliest Greek colonisation of the Pontus region to the late antique/early Byzantine era. The emphasis is on the analysis of material evidence and archaeological research, with just a few papers dealing with textual evidence and historical geography. The papers are divided into four sections, three in chronological order covering the Greeks, Romans and the late antique/early Byzantine era, while the fourth section consists of the reports of new excavations and projects.

The largest section is entitled "Greeks around the Hellespont, the Sea of Marmara, the Bosporus, and the Western, Northern and Eastern Black Sea and Relations with the Mediterranean world" and contains 21 papers (pp. 3-164). The overreaching motive in most of the papers is the exploration of trade relations and different aspects of cultural contact. The contributions cover a range of topics: various aspects of the cult of Aphrodite in cultural contact (Immacolata Balena, Antoine Hermary; and Livia Buzoianu and Maria Bărbulescu), historical geography and representation of the space (e.g., Alexander V. Podossinov and Elton Barker), the earliest Greek pottery-finds in the Black Sea (Jan Bouzek), the use of Greek objects in local contexts (Gocha Tsetskhladze), trade relations between the Maeotian communities from Kuban and the ancient world (Vladislav V. Ulitin), trade relations between Tanais and the Pontic region (S. A. Naumenko), stamped amphorae from Sinope in the Hellenistic era (Jan de Boer), Corinthian conventionalising pottery from the Northern Black Sea (Anastasia Bukina), the distribution of Attic pottery in the northern Black Sea (Anna E. Petrakova), column-kraters of the 5th century BC from Thrace (Slava Vasileva), Greek commerce on the northern Black Sea coast from epigraphic sources (Marta Oller), Athens and the Pontic poleis in the Athenian tribute list from 425/424 BC (Luigi Gallo), the tyrannies of Heracleia Pontica after Clearchos (Stefania Gallotta), the question of archaic coins from western Asia Minor in Cycladic hoards (Kenneth Sheedy), decorative gold jewellery from 5th and 4th century burials in Colchis—modern Vani in Georgia, and ancient Odessos/ modern Varna in Bulgaria (Monica M. Jackson), Hellenistic and imperial Byzantion (Madalina Dana), comparison of architecture between the Greek north Aegean and the Black Sea settlements (Despoina Tsiafakis) and later perceptions of the Greek colonisation and cultural interaction (Staša Babić).

The next section has a very similar title: "Romans around the Hellespont, the Sea of Marmara, the Bosporus, and the Western, Northern and Eastern Black Sea and Relations with the Mediterranean world", and focuses on the impact of the Romans and Roman empire on these regions (pp. 167-229). There are 9 papers in total, covering topics such as military importance of the Bosporus and the Dardanelles in the Principate (Marek Żyromski and Jerzy Hatłas); the coastal defence of Lower Moesia and Thrace in the early empire (Mihail Zahariade); numismatic evidence for the cult of Isis in the Troad and Bythinia (Jean-Louis Podvin); Julio-Claudian statuary groups from the Black Sea, Hellespont and Bosporus (Mario Cesarano); internal mobility in Moesia Inferior from epigraphic sources (Lucreţiu Mihailescu-Bîrliba); the administrative acts and relations of cities along the southwest Black sea coast (Hristo Preshlenov); settlement archaeology of Halmyris/Salmorus on the Lower Danube (Ileana Ildiko Zahariade); Roman amphorae from Heraclea Pontica found in Dobrudja (Dorel Paraschiv) and the ram-shaped jug from Olbia in the Akademisches Kunstmuseum in Bonn (Alexandru Popa).

The third section, entitled "The Black Sea and Surrounding Regions in Late Antiquity and the Early Byzantine Period", contains 7 contributions (pp. 233-286). The papers cover the topics of early Byzantine sources on the Oghuric tribes in the northern Black Sea area (Agustí Alemany); the settlements of the Bosporus hinterland in the early Byzantine times (Dimitris P. Drakoulis); early Byzantine churches in the southwest Crimea (Annegret Plontke Lünning); ancient Chersonite narratives in chapter 53 of De Administrando Imperio (Lubov I. Gratsianskaya); Western Georgia in the 5th and 6th centuries AD (Emzar Kakhidze and Nadim Varshanidze); the Roman game from the grave in Voitenki in Ukraine, belonging to the Sântana de Mureș–Chernyakhov culture, as an indicator of social status (Michail Liubichen and Erdmute Schultze) and early Byzantine embossed coins on the western coast of the Black Sea (Alena Tenchova).

Finally, there is the section on new excavations and projects with 12 papers. The contributions discuss archaeology and development in the Black Sea (Arlene K. Fleming); volume 2 of the Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World, which is concerned with the Black Sea (Ioannis Georganas and Athanasios Sideris); Black Sea 'tomb raiders' and archaeologists (Andrzej Jakubowski); the site of Kale-Krševica in southeastern Serbia (Petar Popović and Ivan Vranić); urban organisation of the Apollonia of Pontus (e.g., Alexandre Baralis); images of the dead on Hellenistic funerary reliefs from Mesambria (Aneta Petrova); funeral feast compositions from the National Museum of Archaeology in Sofia (Sasha Lozanova); bowls with Hellenistic reliefs from Histria (Pierre Dupont); Athenian pottery from Berezan at the Hermitage (Tyler Jo Smith); recent finds in Apsarus in modern Georgia (Shota Mamuladze and Jumber Vardmanidze); the analysis of the Iron Age and Hellenistic layers at the site of Oluz Höyük in Turkey (Şevket Donmez) and reports from new explorations in Filyous/Tops on the Turkish Black Sea coast (Sümer Atasoy).

Overall the volume is properly edited and the presentation of images is very satisfactory. There are 310 figures and 19 tables in the volume—an impressive job, well done on the part of the editors. English contributions dominate, with just a handful of the papers in French or German. Producing an edited book of this size requires incredible energy and it is understandable that its publication requires some time. Still, it is quite unfortunate that the book was published four years after the Congress—yet, just in time for the fifth Congress of Black Sea Antiquities, which was held in September 2013 in Belgrade.1 As with other Archaeopress publications, tThis volume will be a welcome addition to university libraries and libraries of archaeological institutes concerned with the study of ancient and early medieval world.


1.   5th International Congress on Black Seas Antiquities.

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