By Periklis Deligiannis
Map of the Kingdom of Cimmerian Bosporus with the stages of its expansion. The Scythians and the Siraces are noted in the map. River Thatis was a tributary of the river Hypanis (Kouban).
The Kingdom of Cimmerian Bosporus was founded in 438 BC when Spartocus, a Hellenized Thracian, had established himself as a tyrant in the Greek colony of Panticapaeum (modern Kerch in Crimea). Panticapaeum was a colony of Miletus in Ionia (Asia Minor), and the most powerful of the Ionic (Greek) colonies in the northern shore of the Black Sea. Most of these cities were colonies of Ionic Miletus, and they were founded mostly in the peninsulas of Crimea and Phanagoria (modern Taman). Spartocus’ Hellenized successors, Satyrus (his son, 431-389 BC) and Leucon (his grandson, 389-349), conquered many of the nearby cities, reducing sharply the Athenian military and political influence in the area. Most of the Greek cities of the Northern shore of the Black Sea were Athenian protectorates until then, with the exceptions of Chersonesus (a Doric colony of Heraclea) and Olbia. Satyrus annexed the cities Nymphaeon (an Athenian military colony) and Kimmerikon (Cimmerikon), but Leucon was the one who made the Hegemony of Panticapeum a real kingdom: the kingdom of the Cimmerian Bosporus.
“Cimmerian Bosporus” was the Greek name for the modern straits between the peninsulas of Crimea and Taman. Leucon annexed the Greek cities Theodosia (modern Feodosiya), Hermonassa, Phanagoria, Gorgippia, Parthenion, Athenaeon (an Athenian military colony), Myrmenkion etc. The same tyrant/king subjucated also the native Sindians and the native as well Maeotic tribes (Dandarii, Psessae, Toretae, Heniochi et al.). Paerisades I (348-310 BC), Leucon’s successor, extended furthermore the Bosporan rule. During his reign, the kingdom of Cimmerian Bosporus covered an area of about 30-35,000 sq. Km. Athens had no other option but to abandon her rights in the area. The Spartocid dynasty recognized only some commercial rights to the Athenians.
Paerisades I died in 310 BC. His eldest son, Satyros, was proclaimed king but soon he faced the rebellion of his younger brother Eumelos who claimed the throne. Eumelos had secured Aripharnes’ support: Aripharnes was the king of the Thataeans as mentioned by the ancient Greek writer Diodorus Siculus, meaning the people who lived in the area of the river Thatis. Thatis was probably one of the tributaries of the river Hypanis (modern Kuban, not to be confused with the western Hypanis, modern Bug). It is almost certain that the “Thataeans” (a name which is not national but geographical) coincide with the Siraces, a Sarmatian nomadic people that had settled in the Kuban region during the reign of Pairisades I, who made them tributary vassals. The Sarmatians were a group of Northern Iranian (Sacian) nomadic peoples of Central Asian origins. From the 4th century BC they began to move towards the steppes north of the Black Sea, while other Sarmatian tribes were moving towards the Chinese area.
The Sarmatian tribes (Sauromates, Siraces, Aorsi, Aspourgians, Borani, Roxolani, “Royal” Sarmatians, and later the Iazyges, the Alans, the modern Ossetians etc.) were independent and they often fought each other. The Sarmatians used to fight primarily as cavalry lancers using a long spear (the lance “Kontos”). But they used also a variety of swords and a type of compound bow, less strong than the Scythian one. Many Sarmatians were horse-archers or light horsemen. According to a widespread theory, the Northern Iranian peoples (Sacians/Scythians, Sarmatians, Dahae, Sacauracae etc.) adopted the aforementioned long cavalry spear when they fought in 330/329 BC the Macedonian and Thessalian cavalrymen of Alexander the Great in Central Asia, who used this weapon.
King Aripharnes gave shelter to Eumelos when he left Panticapaeum, aiming at overthrowing the Bosporan suzerainty on his people. So he offered military aid to the pretender of the Bosporan throne, aiming at the weakening of the kingdom of Bosporus and possibly at the expansion of the Siracian territory. On the other hand, the Scythians who lived in the north of the Bosporan kingdom, offered military aid to the king Satyros, because they feared the constant advance of the warlike Sarmatian tribes in their territory. The Siraces had already settled in an area which belonged to the Scythians. Additionally the Scythians would be lured by the emoluments offered by Satyros to them, and by the prospect of looting the enemy country.
A night attack of Scythian raiders in a fortified village of natives of Eastern Europe. An archaeologically accurate depiction.
Satyros appeared soon in the river Thatis area with his army, seeking to crush the rebels. His forces consisted of 30,000 Scythians (10,000 cavalry and 20,000 light infantry), 2,000 Greek mercenaries and 2,000 Thracian mercenaries. The 20,000 “Scythian” infantry consisted in fact of ill-trained warriors of the native pre-Scythian peoples of modern Crimea and Ukraine; the People of the old Shrubnaya culture (of unknown origins), the Northern Thracians (natives of modern southwestern Ukraine), the Taurians etc (these native peoples were subject to the Scythians who were also invaders of Central Asian origins like the Sarmatians). The same goes for the “Thataean/Siracian” infantry who had respective origins (mainly Shrubnaya People and Kartvelians, ancestors of the modern Circassians/Adigeans). These infantrymen of the Scythians and the Siraces were equipped in the same way (lightly armed with no helmet or any kind of armor, and militarily much weaker than the also lightly armed Thracian peltasts). The Greek cities of the Bosporus had thousands of citizen hoplites while their aristocracy provided a powerful cavalry. Diodorus does not mention any significant Bosporan forces among Satyros’ troops, who relied mostly on mercenaries and allies. He apparently doubted the loyalty of his Bosporan subjects and left his royal army as a guardian of his rule in Panticapaeum and other cities, marching against Eumelos only with mercenary and allied troops and of course with his royal bodyguard. However, it is likely that many or most of his Greek mercenaries came from the Bosporan cities.
Most researchers have assumed rightly that Satyros’ Greek mercenaries were hoplites and that his Thracians were peltasts. Scythian cavalry, like the Sarmatian one, consisted of heavy cavalrymen with armour and spear (but a weaker spear than the Sarmatian lance), and light horse-archers and other horsemen. On the other hand, Eumelos relied on Aripharnes’ army, consisted of 20,000 cavalry and 22,000 infantry. As mentioned before, the infantry consisted of ill-trained warriors of the pre-sarmatian population, subjugated to the Siraces. The only well trained and well equipped infantry of both armies were the Thracian and Greek mercenaries of the Bosporan king.
I believe that the Siracian/Thataean cavalry consisted not only of Siraces but of other Sarmatians too, because the Siraces could not provide 20.000 cavalry. The Sarmatian tribes were usually hostile to each other, but they were aiming at conquering the Black Sea steppes from the Scythians. Thus the other Sarmatians had most probably enforced their Siracian kinsmen with cavalry, mostly the neighboring Aorsi (ancestors of the Alans) and Saii. The Sarmatian cavalrymen and horsemen were equipped largely like their Scythian opponents, but they had fewer armored cavalrymen and fewer horse-archers. But the Sarmatians had many more lancers.
Map of the three main phases of the battle of river Thatis (copyright: Osprey publishing).
Corrections in the map according to my point of wiew: Thataeans= Siraces. Eumeles= Eumelos. The name of Meniskos, commander of the Greeks and Thracians, should be added. Following Alan Webster, most of Eumelos’ troops were cavalrymen. And In my point of view, Satyrus’ left wing was comprised overwhelmingly of light infantry.
Continue reading in PART II
BIBLIOGRAPHY: in the end of the article (Part III)