The colonization by the Greeks, either from mainland
Greece or from Asia Minor remains a fascinating subject. I touched the
topic before when discussing Magna Graecia (see: Magna
Graecia, the forgotten Greek legacy) and this time I will concentrate
on the shores of the Black Sea, the Pontus
Euxinus of antiquity.
The first settlers arrived in the second half of the 7th century BC mainly from Ionia but by far the most prominent group came from Miletus. Ancient authors go as far as claiming that the city possessed between 75 and 90 colonies but this number does not immediately refer to cities founded and populated by Miletus since they did not have enough manpower to occupy so many settlements. In fact, Miletus rather acted as their organizer and the initial true number of colonies was about 25.
The reason for people from Asia Minor to emigrate is complex but one of the main causes to relocate was the westward expansion of the Persian Empire who even attacked
itself. The Ionians were
facing a simple choice to either submit to the Persians with the risk to be
killed or enslaved or to leave their homeland for new horizons. Greece
The Actual Archaeology Magazine of May 2011 published a very interesting article, “Greek Colonisation of the Black Sea” written by Gosha R. Tsetskhladze about the origins of a great number of settlements on the shores of the Back Sea including both sides of the Cimmerian Bosporus.
Among the first settlements, we find Berezan (modern Borysthenites) founded in the third quarter of the 7th century BC and Tangarog (on the
Sea of Azov) in the last third of the 7th century
BC (completely destroyed by the sea). Other colonies were located on the
western shore of the Black Sea like Histria (at the mouth of the Danube)
in ca. 630 BC, Apollonia Pontica (modern Sozopol in Bulgaria)
in ca. 610 BC and Tomis (modern Constanta in ) at the end of the first
quarter of the 6th century BC. On the southern shoreline we find Sinope
(modern Sinop in Romania Turkey) from the late 7th century BC
in ) from ca.
564 BC. Olbia (in modern Turkey Ukraine)
was settled on the northern side the Black Sea
by the end of the first quarter of the 6th century BC.
Between 580 and 560 BC, Miletus colonized new territories on the
(western side of the Cimmerian Bosporus) and the Taman
peninsula (eastern side of the Cimmerian Bosporus). On the European side of the
straight, we find cities like Panticapaeum, Nymphaeum, Theodosia, Myrmekion
and Tyritake (all on the Crimean peninsula); and on the Asian side
we name Kepoi, Patraeus, Corocondame (destroyed by the sea) and
Hermonassa (joined colony of Miletus
In the wake of Cyrus’ westwards conquests during which he took the stronghold of Sardes in 546 BC, the Black Sea area was once again flooded by a new wave of Ionians – this time by people not exclusively from Miletus. The Megarians and the Boeotians founded Heraklea in 554 BC on the south shores, and Miletus founded Odessos (modern Varna in
on the western shore. In turn, those colonies who already had settled around
the Bulgaria Black Sea created many small settlements
of their own.
Around that same time, new cities like Tyras and Nikonian appeared together with some fifty rural settlements under their control. Non-Milesians founded Gorgippia (modern Anapa in Russia), Toricos (near modern Gelendzhik in Russia), Akra (in Russia, destroyed by the sea), Porthmeus (in Russia) and several other colonies on the Cimmerian Bosporus and around 542 BC the Teians established the colony of Phanagoria on the Taman Peninsula (as well as the city of Abdera in Thrace).
Ionians settled even further north along the Black Sea coast and by 422/1 BC, Herakleia Pontica founded a small town that would become the later Chersonesus (near modern
Sevastopol in Crimea). The Milesians, once again, founded Colchis
(modern western )
who in turn established the cities of Phasis, Gyenos and Dioscuria,
and two more settlements, Pichvnari and Tsikhisdziri. The last
wave arrived when the Ionians were defeated in their revolt against Georgia . Mesambria
in Persia Bulgaria) was founded on
the western shore of the Black Sea by the Chalkedonians and Byzantines, and in
western Crimea the Ionians established Kerkinitis
and Kalos Limen which later on became part of Chersonesus.
[Picture from Bosporan Kingdom growth map-pt.svg:]
In the days of Alexander and even during the reign of his father Philip, we read about ships bringing corn from the Black Sea to
. This leads us to believe that
this traffic existed already in earlier centuries. It has been established,
however, that the earliest ships loaded with corn circulated at the end of the
5th/beginning of the 4th century BC, and that they were
not meant for Athens Athens but for the island of Aegina
and the Peloponnese instead. Except in case
of emergency, it appears – according to the abovementioned article - was
perfectly capable of feeding its citizens. Athens
With so many sites spread over so many countries around the Black Sea (from
to Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine,
Russia, and ) one
can wonder how much of these colonies still exist or have been excavated and,
if so, to what extend. Yet the fact remains that this geographical knowledge was part of Alexander’s baggage and his Companions. The ancient world was much
and much larger than what we like to believe! Georgia
The heavy colonization shows that emigration is not a modern phenomenon but existed in eons past. Famine may have been a major reason for people to leave their house and hearth but generally it was and is war that triggers the displacement of entire populations. In any case, it is quite amazing to see how many peoples were on the move between the 7th and the 5th century BC. In my opinion, these three centuries of constant emigration explain - at least in part – the general Greek resentment against the Persians. Their occupation of
and the burning of the
Acropolis is, of course, another valid reason for their grudge. Greece