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RA 7: The Bosporan Kingdom

The Straits of Bosporos controlled the access to the Black Sea from the Aegean. Similarly, the Straits of Kerč, in antiquity called the Kimmerian Bosporos, in the northeastern end of the Black Sea, controlled the important trade routes to and from the north through the Sea of Azov. Because of their strategic position and the fertile agricultural lands, a strong regional power grew up around the Straits. From the early fifth century BC, the Greek colonies, originally founded here for trading purposes, merged into a single state. It was under autocratic rule of a tyrant or a king, and it existed with short interruptions of foreign domination for over 800 years.

For more than a generation V.F. Gajdukevič's Bosporskoe Carstvo from 1949 (translated to German and up-dated in 1971 as Das Bosporanische Reich) has been the first and often only introduction to the Bosporan Kingdom accessible to western scholars. Today, however, this monumental study is outdated and a successor is an acknowledged desideratum both among eastern and western scholars. A wealth of archaeological material has been unearthed in the intervening period, and the way we interpret the archaeological record has in many ways changed considerably. Not least the archaeological data for the reconstruction of the chorai and the regions beyond (but still within the sphere of influence of the state) today allow a much more detailed reconstruction of how the territory was organised, how its infrastructure controlled and tied the region together, and how this changed over time than it has hitherto been possible. This in turn may throw new light on the continuously negotiated balance of power between the three major players in the kingdom: the king, the cities, and the indigenous tribes. Particularly the role of the non-Greek, or Barbarian population within and on the fringe of the kingdom has not been investigated satisfactorily. One of the interesting features of the Bosporan Kingdom is its multi-ethnic composition ranging from the inclusion of whole ethnic groups, e.g. the Sindoi, to the very top layers of society, where the royal line throughout much of the kingdom's history was of non-Greek, possibly Thracian, extraction. In this respect the Bosporan Kingdom differed from the two other powerful city-states in the northern Black Sea region: Chersonesos and Olbia. Instead, it is comparable to the Hellenistic kingdoms as for example the Kingdom of Pontos in northern Asia Minor, where foreign sovereigns ruled mixed populations (RA 4A). Nevertheless, much scholarship still preserves a very Hellenocentric perspective and tends to view the Greek city-states on the Bosporos as isles in a sea of mostly hostile Barbarians. The question is whether this contradiction actually existed, or whether different ethnic groups co-existed in mutual interdependence, or even whether the distinction between different ethnic groups is at all a viable path for understanding how the Bosporan Kingdom functioned. A case in point is the large kurgans that define the landscape and demarcate the territories of the cities. Fundamental questions such as which ethnic group raised these monuments and for what purpose have never been fully investigated (RA 6B).

Sub-projects:

RA 7A: The Bosporan Kingdom and Rome (Jakob Munk Højte)

RA 7B: Coinage and coin circulation in the Bosporan Kingdom in the Roman period (PhD project: Line Bjerg)


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