Bosporan Kingdom

Bosporan Kingdom

The Bosporan Kingdom or the "Kingdom of the Cimmerian Bosporus" was an ancient state, located in eastern Crimea and the Taman Peninsula on the shores of the Cimmerian Bosporus (see Strait of Kerch). It is interesting as the first truly 'Hellenistic' state - in the sense of one in which a mixed population adopted the Greek language and civilization.

The prosperity of the Bosporan Kingdom was based on the export of wheat, fish and slaves, and this commerce supported a class whose showy wealth over the centuries is still being dug out, often illegally, from numerous burial barrows or "kurgans". The once thriving cities of the Bosporus have left extensive architectural and sculptural remains, while the kurgans continue to yield spectacular Greco-Sarmatian objects, the best examples of which are now preserved in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. These include gold work, vases imported from Athens, coarse terracottas, textile fragments and specimens of carpentry and marquetry.

Early Greek colonies

The whole district was dotted with Greek cities: on the west side, Panticapaeum (Kerch), the chief of all, often itself called Bosporus, Nymphaeum and Myrmekion; on the east Phanagoria (the second capital), Cepoi, Germonassa, Portus Sindicus, Gorgippia. These Greek colonies were mostly settled by Milesians, Panticapaeum in the 7th or early in the 6th century BC, but Phanagoria (c. 540 BC) was a colony of Teos, and Nymphaeum had some connection with Athens — at least it appears to have been a member of the Delian League.

Kings of Cimmerian Bosporus

According to Diodorus Siculus (xii. 31) the locality was governed from 480 BC to 438 BC by a line called the Archaeanactidae, probably a ruling family, who gave place to a tyrant Spartocus (438 BC - 431 BC), apparently a Thracian. He founded a dynasty which seems to have endured until c. 110 BC. The Spartocids have left many inscriptions which indicate 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 Maeotae. Unfortunately, the texts, inscriptions and coins do not supply sufficient material for a complete list of these monarchs.
Satyrus (431 BC - 387 BC), 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 because of its ice-free port and proximity to the grain fields of eastern Crimea. It was reserved for his son Leucon (387 BC - 347 BC) 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 BC - 283 BC) was successful.

His successor was Spartocus III (303 BC - 283 BC) 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, Paerisades V, unable to make headway against the power of the natives, in 108 BC called in the help of Diophantus, general of Mithridates the Great of Pontus, promising to hand over his kingdom to that prince. He was slain by a Scythian named 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 grain export, of which Leucon I set the staple at Theodosia, where the Attic ships were allowed special privileges. The Attic orators make numerous references to this. In return the Athenians granted him Athenian citizenship and set up decrees in honour of him and his sons.

Mithridates 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, Mithridates was strong enough to regain the Cimmerian Bosporus, and Machares slew himself. Subsequently the Bosporans again rose in revolt under Pharnaces, another of the old king's sons. After the death of Mithridates (63 BC), this Pharnaces (63 BC - 47 BC) made his submission to Pompey, then tried to regain his dominion during the civil war, but was defeated by Caesar at Zela and later killed by a former governor of his. A pretender, Asander married his daughter Dynamis, and in spite of Roman nominees ruled as archon, and later as king, until 17 BC. After his death, Dynamis was compelled to marry a Roman usurper called Scribonius, but the Romans under Agrippa interfered and set Polemon I of Pontus (16 BC - 8 BC) in his place. Dynamis died in 14 BC and Polemon ruled until 8 BC. After Polemon's death, Tiberius Julius Aspurgus, son of Dynamis and Asander, succeeded Polemon.

Tiberius Julius Aspurgus (8 BC - 38), founded a line of kings which endured with certain interruptions until 341. These kings, mostly bore Pontic and Thracian names such of Kotys, Rhescuporis and Rhoemetalces. The kings also bore natives names such as Sauromates, Eupator, Ininthimeus, Pharsanzes, Synges, Terianes, Theothorses and Rhadamsades. The Bosporan Kings assumed the Roman name Tiberius Julius from an earlier king Tiberius Julius Aspurgus. Aspurgus assumed the name Tiberius Julius, because he enjoyed the patronage of the first two Roman Emperors Augustus and Tiberius. Then their third name was either a Pontic or Thracian or local name. From Aspurgus, they were descendants of King Mithridates VI of Pontus. From the Pontic era (starting from 297 BC) introduced by Mithridates, the kings regularly placing dates upon their coins and inscriptions. The kings struck coinage throughout the kingdom period, which included gold staters bearing portraits of the respective Roman Emperors. However this coinage increasing became debased in the 3rd century. 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 Crimea and the Taman peninsula, and extended along the east coast of the Maeotian marshes to Tanais at the mouth of the Don, a great market 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 races arose and probably produced some disorganization. At one of these periods (255) the Goths and Borani were able to seize Bosporan shipping and raid the shores of Anatolia. With the last coin of the last Rhescuporis, in 341, materials for a connected history of the Bosporus Cimmerius come to an end. The kingdom probably succumbed to the Huns, who defeated the nearby Alans in 375/376 and moved rapidly westwards bringing destruction in their wake.

Byzantine Cimmerian Bosporus

A few centuries after the Hunnic invasion, the Bosporan cities seem to have enjoyed a revival, under Byzantine protection. From time to time Byzantine officers built fortresses and exercised authority at Bosporus, which constituted an archbishopric. They also held Ta Matarcha on the eastern side of the strait, a town which in the 10th and 11th centuries became the seat of the Russian principality of Tmutarakhan, which in turn gave place to Tatar domination.

With the Diaspora, and thanks to the nearby Khazar state, a Jewish element had been added to the population, and under its influence were developed in all the cities of the kingdom, especially Tanais, societies of "worshipers of the highest God," apparently professing a monotheism without being distinctively Jewish or Christian.

Numismatics of the Bosporan Kingdom

Although considered somewhat exotic prior to the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Bosporan coins are now plentiful on the international coin markets, hinting at the vast quantities once produced. Several large series were produced by Bosporan cities from the 5th century BC, particularly in Panticapaeum (modern Kerch). The gold staters of Panticapaeum bearing Pan's head and a griffin are specially remarkable for their weight and fine workmanship. There are 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.


* Jochen Fornasier and Burkhard Böttger: "Das Bosporanische Reich", Mainz 2002, ISBN 3-8053-2895-8.
* [ Coinage and information about the Bosporan Kings]

External links

* [ "Rare and Unique Coins of Bosporan Kingdom"] . Bulletin of the Odessa Numismatics Museum. Issues 7,8,9. 2001. Odessa. Ukraine.

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