(Re-) Locating Greek & Roman Cities along the Northern Coast of Kolchis. Part I: Identifying Dioskourias in the Recess of the Black Sea

 
PIIS032103910009662-1-1
DOI10.31857/S032103910009662-1
Publication type Article
Status Published
Authors
Affiliation: University of Waterloo
Address: Canada, Waterloo (ON)
Journal nameVestnik drevnei istorii
EditionVolume 80 Issue 2
Pages354-376
Abstract

The reconstruction of the Kolchian land- and riverscapes faces several difficulties, most of all changing riverbeds and coastlines. In the first part of my study, presented here, I offer arguments for the new location of Dioskourias at Ochamchire Harbour. The city of Phasis is yet unlocated, but rightly expected somewhere near the mouth of the Phasis / Rioni River by Paleostomi Lake. Common opinion identifies Greek Dioskourias and Roman Sebastopolis with modern Sukhumi, although this lacks sufficient support in the material evidence. My revision of the ancient literary tradition, mainly drawing on Strabo (with Eratosthenes) and Pliny (with Timosthenes of Rhodes), besides Claudius Ptolemy and Pomponius Mela, has led me instead to the Hippos / Tsk-henistsqali and Moches / Mokvi Rivers in the bay of Ochamchire. This is consistent with the tradition that it was located ‘in the recess of the Black Sea’ and gains further support through the Argonautic themes in its toponomastic context. For Gyenos, which scholars previously situated at Ochamchire, we should rather look somewhere along the lower course of the Kyaneos / Okumi River, for Roman Sebastopolis at the Kodori Delta south-east of the Sukhumi Airport, for Graeco-Roman Pityous at the estuary of the Khipsta River, and only for its Byzantine refoundation at Pitsunda by the Korax / Bzipi River. The traditional location of Caucasian Herakleion on Cape Adler conforms with the results of our study.

KeywordsBlack Sea, Kolchis, ancient Greek geography, Strabo, Pliny the Elder, Dioskourias, Sebastopolis, Aia, Gyenos, Pityous, Phasis, Kyaneos, Herakleion, Hippos, Korax, Moches
AcknowledgmentSocial Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada, project ‘Ethnic Identities and Diplomatic Affiliations of the Bosporan Kingdom’ (2017–2022).
Received19.03.2020
Publication date19.06.2020
Number of characters74819
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1 Dioskourias, the Milesian colony located ‘in the recess of the Black Sea’ outshone all other Greek cities on the eastern-Pontic coast, at least for some generations in the Classical and Hellenistic periods. By the end of the first millennium BC, its glamour was over, but its erstwhile fame continued to be reflected in a broad geographical tradition, which has hitherto remained underexplored. The present study will scrutinize these literary accounts, question the prevailing location of Dioskourias in the Sukhumi area and suggest looking for this yet undiscovered city around Ochamchire Harbour instead.
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1. DIOSKOURIAS / AIA / SEBASTOPOLIS – AN INTRODUCTION

 

Strabo of Amaseia conveys the impression that Dioskourias was a thriving city when he was writing in the Augustan period (with a few random additions dating early under Tiberius). He praises this polis as the urban centre of northern Kolchis, as the economic hub for about 70 tribes in-between the Kolchian plain and the Main Caucasus, although the geographer rejects the number of 300 as exaggerated. Strabo is not aware of any major changes in the recent past, so the information he is drawing on may be somewhat dated, as is so often the case in his Geography1. Pliny seems to be exploiting at least one of the same sources on the eastern Black Sea littoral for his Naturalis Historia, when attributing to Dioskourias ‘300 nations with different languages’ (CCC nationes dissimilibus linguis). He ascribes this piece of information explicitly to the third-century scholar Timosthenes of Rhodes2. The greatness of Dioskourias was, however, history for Pliny, since he regarded it as abandoned (nunc deserta), whether based on hearsay or following one of his younger written sources. Timosthenes cannot have been Pliny’s source for the city’s abandonment, since it still served Mithradates VI Eupator as a residence in the winter of 66/65 BC3. Its history in the subsequent two centuries is obscure, until Arrian of Nikomedeia talks of it again in his Periplus Maris Euxini (around AD 132). By this time, the name had changed from Dioskourias to Sebastopolis, as he explains. The identity of the two communities is further confirmed by the geographer Claudius Ptolemy a generation later4. Another witness is the ethnographer Stephanos of Byzantion (sixth century AD), who is the only ‘ancient’ source to attest that Dioskourias had claimed to be (the successor of) mythical Aia, the capital of King Aïetes5.

1. Strab. 11.2.16 (497–498C), quoted below, n. 37. For general scholarship on Strabo, see, e.g., Engels 1999; Dueck 2017; Roller 2018.

2. Plin. NH. 6.5.15; cf. Lordkipanidze 1996, 240; Radt 2008, 253. Pace Liddle 2003, 103: ‘by Strabo’s time [Dioskourias] was a flourishing emporium’. Strabo probably used Timosthenes’ work On Harbours through Eratosthenes, see Geus, Guckelsberger 2017, 168. For comparison, Anon. Peripl. M. Eux. 9v9 (ed. Diller 1952) speaks of 60 different languages for the trade hub of Phasis.

3. App. Mithr. 101.467. Cf. Strab. 11.2.13–19 (496–499C), who mentions Dioskourias in the context of the king’s flight, though not his stay there, but Strabo’s information on the city at least in part draws on the historians of the Mithradatic Wars.

4. Arr. Peripl. M. Eux. 10.4; see part II.5 for the date. And Ptol. Geogr. 5.10.2; 8 map 3 (Stückelberger, Graßhoff 2006, II, 854).

5. Steph. Byz. s.v. Διοσκουριάς (Δ 93 edd. Billerbeck, Zubler 2011): Διοσκουριάς, μία τῶν ἐν Λιβύῃ Λευκῶν νήσων. ὁ νησιώτης Διοσκουρίτης. ἔστι καὶ ἑτέρα περὶ τὸν Πόντον, ἥ τις Σεβαστόπολις καλεῖται. καὶ πρότερον δὲ Αἶα ἐκικλήσκετο, ὡς Νικάνωρ. ὁ πολίτης Διοσκουριεύς. ἔστι καὶ ἐν τῇ Ἐρυθρᾷ θαλάσσῃ νῆσος Διοσκουρίδου. Nikanor is a third-century-BC author, see Müller, FHG III, 632–633 praefatio and no. 4 (cf. DFHG s.v. Nicanor). I shall revisit the evidence for multiple Aiai in ancient Kolchis elsewhere.
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coskun_1

Fig. Ancient Kolchian Littoral from Apsaros to Herakleion

4 That Dioskourias / Sebastopolis was in or near the modern city of Sukhumi is the common opinion today. This identification, however, needs reconsideration, as I shall try to demonstrate in the present study. After pointing to the shortcomings of current scholarship (§ 2 below), I shall revisit the shape of the Kolchian coastline, since the consensus of the ancient tradition locates Dioskourias in the ‘recess’ of the Black Sea. This recommends the area of Ochamchire Harbour, although this is most often identified with the Greek polis Gyenos (§ 3). The remarkable concentration of Argonautic toponymy point to the same area as the site of Dioskourias / Aia (§ 4). More information on Sebastopolis, Pityous and Herakleion will be relegated to three appendices. In part II, I shall argue that the re-attribution of the Ochamchire Harbour area to Dioskourias / Aia also allows us to make better sense of the ancient periplus literature. After introducing our main source, Arrian’s Periplus (§ 5), and explaining the pragmatic approach to his use of the stade as measure of distance (§ 6), we shall follow up the coastline first from Phasis to Sebastopolis (§ 7), then, after some methodological reflection and adjustments (§ 8), further to Caucasian Herakleion (§ 9), before summing up the conclusions of the individual sections (§ 10).
5 My research owes much to the standard reconstruction of the region by David Braund and T. Sinclair, which is to be found in Richard Talbert’s Barrington Atlas6 and has also informed the map produced by Talbert and others for the Ancient World Mapping Center (2008). I gratefully acknowledge the use of these tools, based on which my cartographer Stone Chen prepared several maps of the (eastern) Black Sea littoral to reflect my new conclusions. The one included in the present article contrasts the traditional attributions of the main Greek and Roman cities with my own suggestions (fig.)7. It is designed to navigate the reader as much through a contested landscape as through my complex argument. 6. Braund, Sinclair 1997/2000, 1226–1242; map 87.

7. Talbert et al. 2008 quote, besides Braund, Sinclair 1997/2000, Silberman 1995 and Liddle 2003 as their sources. More maps are accessible at >>>>
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2. SEBASTOPOLIS / DIOSKOURIAS = SUKHUMI?

 

Scholars largely agree that the material, numismatic or epigraphic evidence for the equation of Dioskourias with Sukhumi is very slim. Early pottery from the bay of Sukhumi is overwhelmingly indigenous and the urban grid of a Greek polis yet to be uncovered, so that most scholars assume that Dioskourias has been submerged by the sea8. The army camp of Sebastopolis mentioned by Arrian is also claimed for Sukhumi, although all we have are mere hints at some Roman military presence probably as early as the second century AD9. More noteworthy are some third-century-BC amphorae stamped with the abbreviated name ΔIΟΣ / KOY, especially since some examples have been found in a kiln at Gvandra somewhat north of Sukhumi and west of Eshera. These inscriptions have been adduced to confirm the toponymy only occasionally, perhaps because such stamps normally denote the entrepreneur or his workshop rather than his hometown. In this specific case, however, the view has gained currency that the city of Dioskourias exerted ‘state control’ over the production process – a very difficult-to-prove hypothesis. But, even if it should be granted to take these stamps as evidence for economic activity controlled or run by the polis of Dioskourias, this alone would not yet be sufficient to prove that the site of Gvandra was located in the chora of the polis also contiguous with the asty10.

8. E.g., Tomaschek 1905, 1125; Oberhummer 1921; Bryer, Winfield 1985, I, 387; Ehrhardt 1988, 84; Brodersen 1996, 18, 168: ‘die Unterscheidung, die Plinius hier trifft, ist irrig’; Braund, Sinclair 1997/2000, 1231 and Map 87; Tsetskhladze 1998, 15–21 (Dioskouria); 2013, 294; 2018a, 37; Bäbler Nesselrath 1999, 1058; Gabelia 2003, 1218–1219, 1222, 1223 (tracing the identification back to the 17th century), 1225 (discussing an onomastic argument that links Dioskourias with Sukhumi), 1227 etc. as well as 2015, 101–103 (Gabelia is heavily drawing on the publications of Voronov, esp. Voronov 1980 (non vidi)); Avram, Hind, Tsetskhladze 2004, 952–953 (Dioskouris); Counillon 2004, 57; von Bredow 2006 (under or beneath Sukhumi); Radt 2008, 253; Belfiore 2009, 176 n. 94 (but see below, n. 27, for a distinction between Sebastopolis / Sukhumi and Dioskourias); Roller 2010, 229; 2018, 640. Silberman 1995, 32–33 assumes that the city was ‘déja immergée à l’époque d’Arrien’, but admits his aporia in the face of the inconsistent literary evidence. Part of his problem is artificial albeit, since Ptol. Geogr. 5.10.2 (not 5.9.2) does not locate Sebastopolis at the mouth of the Korax, but before this, and the same river equals the modern Bzipi, not the Kodori. Lordkipanidze 1996, 235–239 and Sens 2009, 57–99 (S. 62 Anm. 222 with a survey going back to the nineteenth century) also accept the identity, despite some hesitation due to the scarcity of material evidence. Further references are given below.

9. See, e.g., Braund 1994, 193–198, who surveys older scholarship, mentioning an obscure epigraphic fragment (which seems to have attested either the presence of a legion or the activity of a legatus Augusti pro praetore, cf. AE 1905, 175) and structures of a Roman fort from the late second and fourth century AD. As far as I can see, older layers have not yet been uncovered, cf., e.g., Liddle 2003, 103; Belfiore 2009, 176–177; Sens 2009, 61 Anm. 215: ‘Aus den Funden ragt eine leider bereits seit langem verschollene Inschrift heraus, die auf die Präsenz römischen Militärs hindeutet.’

10. See Tsetskhladze 1991, esp. 362–363 (on the kiln); 370; 374–375 and Tsetskhladze, Vnukov 1992, 372–374, who attribute 9 examples to the ‘the production complex at Gvandara’ and the rest to Eshera (1), Pantikapaion (3) and Nymphaion (2), sometime in the third century. They conclude (p. 373): ‘Study of these stamps and of marks on the locally produced amphorae suggests that state workshops existed in the cities of the east coast of the Black Sea (in Dioskouria, for example, since the stamps from the city incorporate an ethnikon). Some privately owned workshops may also have existed, however.’ Cf. Braund 1994, 143: ‘the city involved itself in the production of these amphorae’; Gabelia 2003, 1240: ‘branding of amphorae in the Greek world served as the guarantee of standard stipulated by the state control of the earthenware industry’; Sens 2009, 99 with Anm. 561, who draws on them as an additional argument for the late foundation of Dioskourias around the mid-fourth century. But, as far as I understand the descriptions of the evidence, it has not yet been demonstrated that the amphorae were really produced in the aforementioned kiln, whose final usage seems to have been that of a garbage pit. I am not aware of any stamps among the findings, nor do the above-quoted reports state that some of the stamped amphorae had been unfinished or unused. But even if we concede the local production of those amphorae, the standard practice seems to have been that names or symbols on the amphorae denoted the workshop or its owner, as Tsetskhladze, Vnukov 1992, 373–374, admit for all other Kolchian examples that they address. The closest parallel for the claimed state-controlled production process is provided by the tile stamps from Vani reading Βασιλική (κεραμίς), but royal ownership of estates or factories is quite a different category, as is a cooperative of independent entrepreneurs or producers (as hypothetically described by Tsetskhladze 1991, 374). Alternatives are of course possible. Most famous are the names of the eponymous magistrates on Rhodian amphorae; see Finkielsztejn 2001. But as long as there is no firm evidence that Dioskourias was located in the bay of Sukhumi and that its territory extended beyond the Gumista River, we should refrain from any firm conclusion and at least consider the possibility that the production center was located on a territory not contiguous with the asty or chora of Dioskourias. There is the further possibility that those amphora stamps referred to a producer called Dioskourides or the like.

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