Phanagoria

The research into the largest Classical site in Russia — Phanagoria, situated on the Taman Peninsula — is of a multi-disciplinary nature. Over the course of many years, excavations have been carried out not only within the territory of the city but also in its necropoleis, in the sunken part of the site and in the surrounding countryside. Archaeologists and historians, anthropologists and palaeo-zoologists, numismatists, soil-scientists, micro-biologists, palaeographers, restoration experts and other specialists have been involved in these investigations.
Recent excavations in the central part of the city, on the acropolis, have yielded results of extreme importance for the study of various periods in the history of Phanagoria. Blocks of the 6th and early 5th centuries BC relating to the Archaic period have been uncovered. Along with the earliest dwellings made of mud bricks a public building, supposedly a temple and several workshops, including one of a goldsmith, have been revealed here. In one of the houses a unique find came to light — that of a small jug containing 162 Archaic silver coins struck with a variety of dies. This hoard — the first of this kind in the North Pontic region — provides grounds for assigning an earlier date, than that which had previously been proposed, to the beginning of minting in the Bosporus.
The most striking event at Phanagoria in recent years is the discovery of a large building destroyed in a serious fire. This structure occupying an area of over 500 m2 has been excavated in part. The archaeological materials found and data from written sources have made it possible to identify it as a royal residence of Mithradates VI Eupator. Numerous numismatic finds have provided the precise date of the building’s demise — 63 BC, when Phanagoria rose up against the Pontic king. Information about this event is provided by the Roman historian Appian who also reports on a military garrison and six of Mithradates’ children who had been in the city’s acropolis. The insurgents had burnt the acropolis but thanks to help from Panticapaeum the ruler’s children had managed to escape. The significance of a find made during underwater excavations at Phanagoria in 2005 has now become clear — that of a marble tombstone erected for the king’s wife Hypsikratia, which had been brought into the city from the necropolis and inserted into the underwater foundations. The find bears witness to the fact that during the revolt Hypsikratia had been with her children on the acropolis where she had perished.
Study of soils at the site has shown that in antiquity there had been far more woods around Phanagoria than is now the case. In the area there were various animals, while in the city itself, apart from traditional domestic animals, exotic ones, such as leopards, for example, appeared.
In the eastern necropolis numerous burials have been discovered in various types of funerary structures — ranging from simple graves to underground vaults and so-called “stone cists”. The rich variety of grave goods makes it possible to single out both the general and the distinctive features in the funerary rites used by the population of Phanagoria. Anthropological research has enabled scholars not only to reconstruct the physical appearance of the city’s inhabitants, but also to determine the level and duration of their lives, the nature of the diseases from which they suffered and of the fatal wounds inflicted on the men.
Study of the submerged part of Phanagoria has made it possible to clear virtually the whole of the underwater foundations or cribwork, on which one of the port buildings was erected in antiquity. Underwater research in this part of the site is not yet complete, because a large number of building blocks and architectural details is still concentrated around these foundations. They were thrown into the sea so as to protect the cribwork from being washed away by storms. Among the finds made under water are the head of a statue, a triglyph and a metope with a representation of a deer from the cornice of a public building, tombstones and so on.
Systematic research carried out in the chora of the city has enabled us to reconstruct the system of rural settlements and roads and to determine the dates when they had been in use. The expedition’s future plans involve excavation of the most important estates.

V.D. Kuznetsov

Digital publication