top of page
  • hbanziger

F - 170 : A Forgotten Time of Peace

Wanted to write about Turkish Honey today. But now that Russia attacks Ukraine and kills innocent people, I will write about a time 2’000 years ago when life in this part of the world was different, peaceful and prosperous. We all long for safety and peace so we can go about our daily business and devote our time to family and friends. Only power-crazy lunatics enjoy and pursue wars.

The peaceful Bay of Taman, seen from the Bosporan Site of Phanagoria (today Sennoy)

For almost a thousand years (520 BC – 375 AD), the Bosporan Kingdom, or Kingdom of the Cimmerian Bosporus, provided peace and safety for its people. It was not a democracy. At times the succession of kings was bloody and there were wars with the Scythians, their nomadic neighbors. But by and large, the Bosporian Kingdom was part of the civilized world and prospered. The ruins left behind are as impressive as the remains of Magna Greacia in Sicily, Calabria and Puglia which we visited last year and in 2020. It was cultured and wealthy.

The Kingdom’s prosperity was based on its export of wheat and fish they caught in the Sea of Azov. Both were processed and shipped south, to Greece and the Roman Empire. Athens and Constantinople were its most important customers. These cities had outgrown their local food supply. It is estimated that Athens had to buy 90’000 tons of grain every year. For Constantinople, the number was twice as high. For comparison, Rome imported 350’000 tons of grain per year in the 1st and 2nd century AD.

Replica of a Roman Commercial Vessel in Ephesus, Turkey - the Greek Vessels looked similar

Agriculture in the Crimean and around the Sea of Azov was not as easy as it looks. Whilst the land is flat and the soil fertile, there are no big rivers to irrigate the fields. The Don River is too far away. The smaller creeks did not carry enough water in drier times. The climate was and is continental. Cold and snowy winters, hot and dry summers. During the Roman Climate Optimum, it was milder and wetter though. In normal years, agriculture did well. For the years of droughts, the Bosporan Kings built large grain storage facilities.

Most Greek Colonies on the shores of the Black Sea were founded from Miletus or Megara

Due to its climate, Bosporan grain export was less reliable than exports from Egypt. But the proximity and short transportation times led to close ties between Athens and the Bosporan Kings. The supply of grain was so important that Athens granted them citizenship. Some Athenians raised eyebrows that “Barbarians” from far away were given such honors. The Bosporian though had always maintained close ties with Greece. Its cities were founded by settlers from Miletus and Megara; the links between the Black Sea colonies and Greece were never severed. Occasionally, archeologists find Bosporan treasure troves in southern Russia and the Crimea with jewelry, pottery and coins from Greece. The northern shore of the Black Sea was fully integrated into the old classical world.

View from the Acropolis of Pantikapeon (today Kerch) - in the Back Putin's new Bridge from Russia to the Crimea occupied in 2014

The proceeds from the grain sales allowed the Bosporan Kings to fortify their towns against Scythian attacks and to keep an army that could protect them against raiders. The Scythian were an Indo-European people which dominated the Central Asian steppes before the Huns. The Greek world knew them well. They were famous for their deep raids into enemy territory and long, orgiastic festivities fueled by weed and alcohol. It is said that the Scythian female warriors were the source for the legend of Lesbian warrior queens.

Scythian Territorial Expansion around 700 - 300 BC

The Bosporan Army was a mix of Greek foot soldiers who fought as phalanx and could resist cavalry attacks with their long spears plus Scythian mercenaries who served as mobile units. Combined, both were effective in keeping Scythians at bay. Not being able to make loot any longer, the nomadic raiders had to switch to trading. Luckily, the Bosporan Army needed horses. The Scythian supplied them in large numbers. With the proceeds the Scythian then bought the luxury goods they craved for. Interesting how trading can replace warfare. As long as the Bosporan Kings had the money to pay.

Burial Chamber of Bosporan Kings in Kerch - looks almost like

the Entrance to Agamemnon's Tomb in Mycene in Greece

The arrival of Romans in Asia Minor reinforced these pattern. The export markets for the Bosporian Kings got larger. Due to its military and commercial might, the Roman Empire became kingmaker and the Bosporan state became a client state of Rome. Its Kings used the titles “Augustus Tiberius”. A few Roman Garrisons protected important towns. But their presence was limited. These arrangements stayed in place until 375 AD when the Huns overrun the kingdom. The Roman Empire - suffering from debillitating inflation - could not make the payments the nomads were used to. So they reverted to raiding and looting.

Pottery Vessel in the Shape of Aphrodite inside a shell;

From Attica in Greece. Found in a tomb in Phanagoria

There was a short time in the 5th and 6th century when Byzantium resurrected the Bosporan Kingdom but when Constantinople had its own problems due to the Arab invasion in the 7th century, it had to let it go. The Bosporan Kingdom was no more. As the Roman economy shrunk and long-distance trade collapsed, there were no more big towns in need of food imports. The Bosporan Kingdom lost its markets. 1’000 years of history came to an end. Europe descended into the dark middle ages. The lands of the Bosporan Kingdom became nomadic steppes again. Its once glorious towns are now berried under 2 - 3 meters soil. But the Bosporan gave us a good example of how trade can support a prosperous development and finance a strong army that keeps the country safe.

Phanagoria was the biggest town in the Bosporan Kingdom. It is being excavated as I write

These lessons from the past still valid for a peaceful future. I wish the Ukraine Army the same success as the Bosporan Army. Si vis pacem, para bellum. If you want peace, prepare for war.

21 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page