A masterpiece from the land of the Scythians. A golden comb depicting a battle on its back: Scythian horseman and infantry fighting (from the royal tomb of  Solokha).




By  Periklis    Deligiannis

Eumelos suggested a compromise to his brother, Prytanis, based on the division of the kingdom into two territories, which they would share. But his brother rejected his proposal. Prytanis went to Panticapaeum to ensure his control on the kingdom. The aristocrats and the citizens of the Greek cities could exploit the power vacuum which was created by the dynastic war, overthrowing the tyranny of  the Spartocids. Prytanis’ absence gave the opportunity to Eumelos and his allies to capture the small city Gargaza and other towns, which were probably in the modern Taman peninsula (May 309 BC). When Prytanis secured his authority on Panticapaeum, he returned to the Kuban region joining again his army. But his military forces were already highly stressed by Eumelos’ army, and were finally defeated in a new conflict. Eumelos clustered the enemy army in the region of Lake Maeotis (modern Sea of Azov) and thereby he forced Prytanis to resign the throne. Eumelos was proclaimed king but his brother made a last attempt to regain the throne when he returned to Panticapaeum. Prytanis failed, bringing about the wrath of his brother because of his attempt. Eumelos executed him along with his family and Satyrus’ family (June 309 BC).

The new king was murderous, ordering the killing of many friends of his dead brothers. Thus he ultimately caused the counteraction of his subjects, who were sick and tired of his atrocities. Eumelos realized that he would face a revolution and so he called the people of the capital in a popular assembly, in which he announced economic measures favorable to the merchant class, whose support he was intended for. Thereby he consolidated his authority. The kings Paerisades and Satyrus were active and capable rulers. Eumelos proved worthy of them in his five years of rule. The indigenous peoples of the northern and eastern shores of the Black Sea region, especially the Tauri (Taurians), the Heniochi (‘charioteers’) and the Achaeans (not to be confused with the Greek Achaeans) were conducting piracy against the Greek merchants of the Bosporus, damaging seriously its economy. Eumelos used the Bosporan fleet against them, which he reinforced, and managed to crush them. Thereby he strengthened the Bosporan trade and gained over consistently the strong middle class of traders. He also strengthened the military forces by recruiting more Greeks from the urban centers, who provided by then only a limited number of men in the royal army.


Leaf-shaped hoplite spears (representation by the British Historical Association Hoplite Association based on archaeological finds from the Peloponnese).

Eumelos’ main land campaign was the recapture of the territory of the old Miletian colony Tanais at the mouth of the great river Tanais (modern Don), which was abandoned because of the barbaric pressure. It was a highly strategic site (near the modern Russian city Rostov), ​​in which the Bosporans reestablished and fortified the city of Tanais. The colony was the most advanced political, military, commercial and cultural outpost of ancient Hellenism in Eastern Europe. As estimated, Eumelos had laid ambitious plans for the expansion of the Bosporan territory. He intended to annex gradually all the countries of the northern Black Sea coast, thereby creating a powerful Hellenistic kingdom which could confront the powerful State of Lysimachus, the famous general of Alexander the Great. At that time, Lysimachus controlled Thrace and the west coast of the Black Sea, possibly having aspirations of expansion towards the northern coast. However, Eumelos was killed in 304 BC in a strange ‘accident’ which was possibly set up by adherents of Satyrus and Prytanis.

Spartocos III (see note),  Eumelos’ son, was proclaimed new king of Cimmerian Bosporus (304-284 BC). During his reign, Athens finally recognized the Bosporan independence, which was established de facto more than a century. After the destruction of the Athenian fleet by the Macedonians in the Aegean Sea (battle of Amorgos and other sea battles in 322 BC) and the effective banishment of the Athenian naval crews by Antipater (regent of Macedonia), Athens could not undertake any serious overseas campaigns to restore her old zone of influence. Spartocos III, who (like all his predecessors) was a “king” for his non-Greek subjects but a mere “ruler” for his Greek subjects, followed the example of Alexander’s generals – who at that time nominated themselves as ‘kings’ – and did the same, retaining only the first title for all his subjects.
The outcome of the Battle of the River Thatis was judged by the military capabilities of Satyrus and the fighting value of the Scythian cavalry. The Scythians smashed successively two battle lines of the Siracian/Sarmatian cavalry, and reorganized immediately their units, in order to attack at the same speed in the opposite direction, against Eumelos’ cavalry. These impressive maneuvers demonstrate the outstanding flexibility and discipline of the Scythian cavalry and the fighting spirit of its men, and also Satyrus’ high tactical ability. It is noteworthy that the Scythian horsemen managed to maintain the cohesion of their units after successive local victories, without unleashing a misguided pursuit of the defeated enemy. This kind of chase was carried out in many other ancient and medieval battles, by troops that had prevailed locally, leading in several cases to their final defeat because of the dissolution of their files while chasing the enemy.

Representation of Scythians by an Ukrainian historical Association. Note the scale armour. The Iranian peoples had a long tradition in manufacturing metal cuirasses and are considered to be the inventors of lamellar armour and mail armour (until recently the Celts were considered to be its inventors) and possibly of the scale one too (copyright: Experiment).


The armed forces of the Bosporan kingdom did not actually participate in the battle of the River Thatis. But their composition is interesting because they belonged to a colonial state quite remote from mainland Greece. The two main military units of the Bosporan army, were the cavalry of the aristocrats (equipped much like their Scythian neighbors) and the Greek infantry of the cities (apparently hoplites and ‘psiloi’ [lightly armed] at the time of the Battle of Thatis). The military equipment of the local Greeks in later tombstones (especially in the tombstones of the neighboring independent city-state Chersonesus in Crimea) comprises scutum-type shields (θυρεός, ‘thyreos’ in Greek), a fact that indicates the adoption of the new Greek military equipment of the ‘thyreophoros’  which gradually prevailed in all the Greek cities during the 3rd century BC. Their numbers were not great because of their unwillingness to serve the Spartocid tyrants, and so the infantry phalanx was complemented with mercenaries from mainland Greece and Greek Asia Minor.

But Eumelos and his successors mobilized gradually more and more Bosporan Greeks because of the financial problems of the kingdom, and mainly because of the external threats which were growing rapidly. During the AD centuries, the Bosporans were equipped in “the Roman way” as stated by the chroniclers, apparently like the auxiliaries of the Roman Empire, which had made the Bosporan kingdom a client state.
The Bosporan aristocratic cavalry had mixed origins: Thracian, Cimmerian, Greek, Scythian, Maeotian, Sarmatian etc. The infantry forces of Bosporus were complemented by lightly armed warriors who belonged mainly to the pre-Greek population of the Bosporan hinterland and the adjacent areas: Taurians, Maeotians, Sindians, Northern Thracians, Post-Shrubnaya culture peoples etc. The Thracian mercenary peltasts seemed to be numerous, coming from Thrace south of the Danube. Finally, the Bosporan forces included a significant fleet, which was gradually strengthened after the fall of the Athenian influence in the area and the establishment of the Spartocid regime. Many Greek city-states of the Black Sea maintained the maritime tradition of its Ionian and Megarian founders. At least Panticapaeum, Sinope, Heraclea and other large cities had fleets of triremes. The Spartocids of Panticapaeum had concluded a special agreement with Athens to recruit crews from Attica for their merchant ships and warships (346 BC). The famous Russo-Ukrainian archaeologist M. Rostovtzeff who thoroughly researched the ancient history of the region, estimated that the Cimmerian Bosporan kingdom had a strong army and navy.

The same Thracian personal name ‘Spartocos’ (from which the dynastic name of the Spartocids derives) belonged to several kings and princes of Thrace proper and also to the Thracian Spartocos (spelled falsely in Latin as ‘Spartacus’), the charismatic leader of the greater and more threatening Slave revolution in the Roman history (first century BC).

Periklis  Deligiannis

(1) Diodorus Siculus: HISTORICAL LIBRARY.
(2) Herodotus: HISTORY.
(3) Strabo: GEOGRAPHY.