By Periklis Deligiannis
King and Queen of a Scythian tribe in a representation based on the archaeological finds from Central Asia. Since around 300 BC, the Scythians systematically attacked the Bosporan kingdom but a part of them settled in its territory becoming subject to the Bosporan king. In the last centuries of the Bosporan history, the Iranians (Scythians and Sarmatians) became the main population of the kingdom.
CONTINUED FROM PART I
In this way, the city-state of Panticapaeum turned into an extensive hegemony, which later evolved into a Hellenistic kingdom. Generally speaking, Panticapaeum had the same evolution as Syracuse, the birthplace and capital of the Hellenistic kingdom which was founded in Sicily. The Greeks and the Hellenized Thracians were originally the ruling class of the Cimmerian Bosporus, but the status of the indigenous population and the Scythian/Iranian minority, was also important. The two peoples (Greeks and non-Greeks) supported each other: the natives were Hellenized and the Greeks gradually adopted the spirit and the habits of the natives. This duality is obvious in every aspect of the social life of Cimmerian Bosporus. Thus a special Bosporan Greek identity was formed in the Northern Black Sea coast, based on the Ionians.
King Paerisades I died in 310 BC. His eldest son, Satyros, was proclaimed king but soon faced the rebellion of his younger brother Eumelos who claimed the throne. Eumelos had secured the support of Aripharnes, king of the Thataeans as mentioned by Diodorus Siculus, the people who lived on the region of the river Thatis. This river was probably one of the tributaries of Hypanis (Kuban River). It is almost certain that the “Thataeans” (a name which is not national but geographical) are identified with the Siracae, a major Sarmatian tribe who had settled in the Kuban region during the reign of Paerisades I who made them his tributaries. The Sarmatians were a group of nomadic peoples of Central Asia, belonging to the Northern Iranian (Saka, Sakic) stock together with the Scythians. Since the 4th century BC, most of them began migrating towards the steppes north of the Black Sea, while some of their tribes began to move towards China. The various Sarmatian tribes (Sauromatae, Siracae, Aorsi/Alans, Aspourgi, Roxolani, ‘Royal’ Sarmatians, and later the Iazyges, the Alans, the modern Ossetians etc.) were independent and often fought each other. The Sarmatians fought primarily as horsemen and cavalrymen with a long cavalry spear called ‘kontos’. Other arms used by them were their typical medium and long swords, the daggers and a kind of compound bow, less powerful than the Scythian.
Eumelos and Aripharnes of the Siracae confronted Satyros and his Scythian allies in the great battle of the river Thatis , one of the greatest cavalry battles in Antiquity, in which 10,000 Scythian and 20,000 Sarmatian horsemen and cavalrymen participated. It is certain that the Siracae were supported by many other Sarmatian horsemen, because the Sarmatians in general were trying to oust the Scythians from the Black Sea steppe.
Stater of Panticapaeum. Panticapaeum was the largest and strongest Greek city of the north Black Sea coast and the capital of the Cimmerian Bosporus Kingdom.
Although the Siracae were defeated, the winner Satyros died shortly afterwards at the siege of Aripharnes’ capital. After new struggles, Eumelos managed to capture the throne of the Cimmerian Bosporus.
Pairisades I and Satyros were capable and effective leaders. Eumelos proved worthy them in the five years of his reign. The indigenous peoples of the northern and eastern coast of the Black Sea, especially the Tauri, the Heniochi and the Achaeans (not to be confused with the Greek Achaeans) were praying by piracy the Greek maritime merchants, seriously damaging the Bosporan economy. Eumelos used the Bosporan war fleet which he reinforced, against them and managed to annihilate the pirates. Thereby he strengthened the state and its trade, and so he gained over consistently the strong middle class of the merchants. He also strengthened the military forces by recruiting more Greek hoplites from the urban centers, which had not provided by then enough men in the royal army (being officially free citizens).
Eumelos’ primary land military operation was the recapturing of Tanais, an old Greek colony at the mouth of the great river Tanais (modern Don) which was abandoned because of the barbarian assaults. It was a very strategic site near the modern Russian city Rostov, in which the Bosporans refounded the city of Tanais. The colony was the most distant civil, military, commercial and cultural outpost of Hellenism in Eastern Europe. As estimated, Eumelos had laid grand plans for the expansion of his territory. He intended to gradually annex the whole region of the northern Black Sea coast to the Bosporan kingdom, thus creating a powerful Hellenistic state which could confront the kingdom of Lysimachus (Lysimachos), the Thessalian general of Alexander the Great. At that time, Lysimachus controlled Thrace and the western coast of the Black Sea, possibly having aspirations of expansion to the northern coast. However Eumelos was killed in 304 BC in a strange accident that it was possibly ‘fixed’ (organized) by supporters of the dead king Satyros.
Modern restoration of Scythian women’s jewelry and clothing by the jeweler Lidia Stadnichenko, based on archaeological finds from the Scythian tombs in the region of Tanais (Don) (presentation in St. Petersburg). Many of these jewels were made by Greek jewelers of the Black Sea, Asia Minor and mainland Greece.
Eumelos’ son, Spartocos III was proclaimed the new king of Bosporus (304-284 BC). During his reign, Athens officially recognized the full independence of the Cimmerian Bosporus, which certainly occurred in fact more than a century. After the destruction of her fleet by the Macedonians in the Aegean Sea (battle of Amorgos and other sea battles in 322 BC), Athens could not undertake any more serious overseas campaigns to restore her old zone of influence . Spartocos III like all his predecessors was a king for his native subjects, but he was just a ‘ruler’ for the Greeks of Bosporus. He soon followed the example of Alexander’s generals who proclaimed at that time themselves kings, and he did the same retaining only the title of the king of all the Bosporans, Greek or native.
In the 3rd century BC, the kingdom of Bosporus went into decline, facing intense military pressure by the Scythians who flocked en masse in the Crimea because of the Sarmatians, who defeated and expelled them from the Ukrainian steppe. The kingdom had experienced a revival during the Roman period, when it was put under the protection of the Romans, who increased its territory by annexing neighboring states to it (including the city-state Chersonesus for some time). Rome generally protected the Greeks of the northern coast with garrisons and naval forces based at Chersonesus, Olbia and other ports. However, the Roman civil wars of the mid-3rd century AD forced her to abandon these distant military mountings.
The Greek character of the Bosporan kingdom had already declined in favor of the Iranian identity. The Iranian Scythians and Sarmatians rapidly increased in population within the kingdom, at the expense of the Greeks, supplanting them in the Late Roman Period. In the 3rd century AD, the withdrawal of Rome enabled the Goths and the Sarmatians who lived altogether in the Ukrainian steppe, to inflict serious blows on the once strong Bosporan kingdom, which finally collapsed because of the Hunnish invasion in the region (4th c.). The Huns killed much of the population. Panticapaeum survived but she lost her Greekness, becoming an Iranian city, later Tatar and nowadays Slavic (modern Kerch). The once wealthy and populous Olbia was reduced to a small fishing village that was trying to survive. Only Chersonesus and a few towns continued to be protected by the Romans and then the Byzantines.
A night attack of Scythian raiders in a fortified village of natives of Eastern Europe. The Scythian-type heavy cavalry consisted a part of the Bosporan army.
APPENDIX: THE ARMY OF THE KINGDOM OF BOSPORUS
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 Ionic 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.
(1) Diodorus Siculus: HISTORICAL LIBRARY, Loeb Classical Library.
(2) Herodotus: HISTORIES, Loeb Classical Library.
(3) Strabo: GEOGRAPHY, Loeb Classical Library.
(4) Koromela Marianna: THE GREEKS IN THE BLACK SEA REGION FROM THE BRONZE AGE TO THE EARLY 20th CENTURY (in Greek), Athens, 1991.