Городище Херсонеса Таврійського
Брукування римського часу головної вулиці Херсонеса, 2006 р. Фото Е.Кравченко.

American page of the history of Chersonesus


The process of colonization by Greek settlers of the Crimean Peninsula began as early as the fifth century BC. The first settlers of Chersonesus were the natives of Heraclea of ​​Pontia. Active life on the territory of the city continued until the beginning of the 15th century, the decline of which was not so much related to military and civilizational challenges (which also took place), but to competition with Venetian and Genoese merchants. Since the 15th century, the last settlers have left the city, and since then Chersonese has become a ghost town.

Being located in the southwest of the Crimean peninsula, Chersonese developed over two thousand years and already in the first years of its existence came into contact with the local ethnic group, which at that time were Tauri and Scythians. It is a unique place of its kind – as it is almost the only city that has maintained its existence for more than a thousand years and has such a high level of historical preservation. Greek cities – settlements, the Bosporus kingdom, the Pontic kingdom, the Roman state, the Eastern Roman Empire or the Byzantine Empire, the Trebizond Empire – the city of Chersonese survived all these states. Different states, peoples, trade routes and beliefs from the neighbors of the Scythians to the Lithuanian state – could not help but leave behind a unique historical legacy, each of which we can find today in the Tavrian Chersonesus.

The development of the current city, which developed, evolved and declined under the influence of history from Akyar to Akhtiar and Sevastopol, is connected with the moment of Chersonesus’ departure into history. History determined that at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Crimean Peninsula belonged to Ukraine within the framework of the socialist state, and accordingly, at the time of the declaration of independence, it became an integral part of the state of Ukraine.

The study of the historical heritage of Chersonesus first began during the time of the imperial occupation of Crimea by Catherine II as a result of the end of another Russo-Turkish war and the signing of the Kyuchuk-Kainardzhii peace treaty at the end of the 18th century.

Expeditions took place repeatedly and later both during the times of imperial and Soviet power. But Chersonesus gained its greatest historical glory during the time of Ukraine’s independence.

The history of Chersonesus in Ukrainian historiography began in the early 90s with the participation of professor, director of the Institute of Ancient Archeology of the University of Texas Joseph Carter in a scientific conference of the countries of the Black Sea region, where he had the opportunity to meet Ukrainian scientists who were working in Chersonesus at that time. From that moment, Ukrainian historians-archaeologists began their acquaintance with the international historical and archaeological community, in the same year a scientist[1] arrived in Ukraine with the aim of fully studying the Tavrian Chersonesus.

In one of his interviews, Professor Carter noted: “I became interested in Chersonesos 14 years ago (2000 interview – author). The main question that attracted my attention as a scientist was and remains, as before, one: how people lived in ancient times, and not in cities, but in the countryside. This concerns the way of life of the people of that time, their traditions, lifestyle, and psychology. I was prompted to this work by the great Romanian scientist Dino Adenastianu, who came to the conclusion that a large part of the population of the ancient world lived outside the walls of settlements, that is, in the countryside, and naturally engaged in agriculture. There are two places in the world where you can study this issue: in Italy (Metaponto region) and in Chersonese»[2]. Later, in his annual report for 1999, the professor noted “how many hundreds of farms and burial grounds on the territory of Metaponto were destroyed in the 1970s…”.[3] Thus, today the Ukrainian Chersonesus Tavriyskyi is the only place on earth where you can fully explore the life of not only the city itself, but also its surroundings, which existed around the city’s ancient settlement.

Before the start of the work, the team of American archaeologists had certain fears about the possibility of their presence on the territory of the city, because during the Cold War during the time of Soviet power, Sevastopol was one of the most closed places in the world, where the Black Sea Fleet of the Soviet Union was based. “It was effectively a closed city until 1996, requiring a special visa and permission to work there,” Professor Carter wrote in a 1998 report to the university’s director.[4]

Upon arrival, having made a preliminary historical assessment of the site without conducting an archaeological dig, it is immediately clear to Carter’s team that they were not mistaken in their earlier assumptions. Already in two years, in 1994, a team of American scientists with the participation of foreign colleagues, archaeologists and specialists from all over the world – the USA, Great Britain, Italy and the Russian Federation – in cooperation with Ukrainian colleagues, began their first expedition to study and research the Tavrian Chersonesus and its choirs. . In the history of Ukrainian archaeological science, such an event happened for the first time – for the first time, the study of an object of antiquity was given such high attention at the international level. In the same year, under the auspices of the Crimean branch of the Institute of Archeology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, a joint Ukrainian-American Black Sea archaeological project was created: the Chersonesus Taurian National Reserve (Ukraine), Macalester College and Puget Sound University (USA) focused on the archaeological study of Chersonesus Taurian Roman era.[5]

The first full-scale excavations were carried out in the area of ​​the choir on the Nameless Height. The work focused on early Byzantine fortifications (the historical layers of the Greek and Roman periods were located much deeper) – a period later than the Greek and Roman periods, and one that is relatively little known to today’s science. These excavations were a joint project of the Khersones-Tavrii National Reserve, graduate students in classics, anthropology, and geography at the University of Texas, as well as graduate students from the University of Michigan, Kyiv, Simferopol, Sevastopol, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the University of Texas.

The first phase of the archaeological excavation and conservation program, which began as a pilot project in 1996, was successfully completed in the summer of 1998. The team was led by Professors Jerome and Weiss from Columbia University, and included graduate students from Columbia University’s Historic Preservation Program and from the University of Texas School of Architecture. Efforts to preserve the site are part of a much larger project to create an archaeological park of the city and choir of Chersonese. Immediately afterward, Professor Jeffrey Chusid, director of the University of Texas Historic Preservation Program, developed a preliminary project plan for managing the park’s facilities. Thanks to the efforts of the entire team, Chersonesos and its choir was included in the list of the World Monuments Fund in New York and was among the 100 most endangered monuments of world cultural importance for three years (as of 1998). Chersonesus was later presented at the International Conference “Art, Antiquity and Law: Preserving Our Global Cultural Heritage”, at Rutgers University in late October of the same year.

In 1997, an expedition with the participation of foreign guests had a very unpleasant incident with Chersonesus. “Helicopters flew to the historical site, the perimeter was surrounded and it was something like a military operation,” Professor Carter said during his report at the round table[6]. After that, the project team had a meeting with the Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine Zhulynskyi, the Minister of Culture Bohdan Stupka and the US Ambassador to Ukraine William Miller. At the same time, in order to prevent negative consequences for the future, the team decided to do everything in order to include the Tavrian Chersonesus among the objects of the historical heritage of mankind. Since then, even more active work has begun, the ultimate goal of which was to achieve the entry of the ancient city and its choir into the UNESCO list. “Fortunately, there were no big problems with the financing of the project thanks to Dr. David Packard, he is an ancient Greek classical scholar and the son of one of the founders of Hewlett-Packard, so the issue of resources was almost completely resolved,” the professor noted at the time same event As a result of the joint work of American and Ukrainian colleagues, the UN Committee on Education, Science and Culture included Chersonesus among the 150 most outstanding ancient monuments, where it stands next to such “wonders of the world” as the Egyptian pyramids, the Athenian Parthenon, the Roman Colosseum.[7] ] Thanks to the American side, a three-year grant from NASA was received, as a result of which the team was able to more fully study the territory of the old city with the help of the most modern satellite images. And already in 2003, an expedition led by an American professor developed the first map of Chersonese since 1958 using advanced technologies. At the same time, the first guidebook of the State Reserve “Khersones Tavriyskyi” appeared in English. The mentioned guide was supposed to contribute to a better coverage of the history of Chersonese to foreign tourists, and contained high-quality images, which were also taken from a helicopter. The International Foundation for Monuments (headquarters in New York) included Chersonesus in the list of the hundred best monuments in the world back in 1996. At the end of 2003, he was awarded a certificate of special achievements for preserving the historical and cultural monuments of ancient civilizations.[8] At the same time, a step-by-step archaeological survey of Chersonese and its choirs was started.

In 2002, with the participation and funding of the Institute of Classical Archeology of the University of Texas, a large special preparatory conservation program began, which included the conservation not only of the finds that were in the museum, but also the special conservation of mosaics, basilicas and other historical objects. Work has begun on the preparation of Chersonesus Tavriyskyi for nomination to be included in the list of UNESCO world heritage sites in three areas: conservation, preservation and interpretation. This direction from the university was supervised by Adam Rabinowitz, a professor at the Institute of Classical Archeology at the University of Texas. At the same time, the information platform of Chersonesus began to work, which helped to better analyze the current state of affairs at the facility and made it possible to understand the need to carry out certain works at the facility or areas. Thus, on the basis of the first indicators of this program, it was immediately clear that the most urgently needed conservation and preservation works are the city walls[9].

State-of-the-art satellite technology was used to write the management plan, preserve visible archaeological structures, and analyze the surface landscape, thanks to the NASA grant mentioned above. These pictures helped scientists better understand the broad context of the picture, how the city developed, how it was built and how the building threatens the preservation of ancient history and Chersonesos itself.

By 2006, the “Packard Laboratory” was opened with private funds in the National Historical and Archaeological Museum-Reserve “Khersones Tavriyskyi” – the first international scientific research institution of this level in Ukraine named after David Packard, the founder of the charitable foundation. The laboratory was equipped with the most modern research equipment, as well as an exhibition hall for the storage of archaeological finds.

With the submission of international and philanthropic organizations, including the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, work began on the preservation of archival funds, old collections of the reserve, and documentation starting from the 19th century and all other available resources, such as 12,000 negatives and records excavations carried out in the 1890s and early 1900s.[10]

Many of these materials have not only been physically preserved and digitized, but have also been incorporated into a series of websites, most of which still exist and are publicly available, presenting material on the history of research and scholarship that anyone can use.

The work carried out in Chersonese during 2003-2013 included not only preparation for the nomination, but in parallel, step by step, the historical mysteries of the ancient (and not so) city were revealed. With the arrival of American scientists and foreign capital, the Ukrainian historical environment began to actively integrate into Western scientific circles of leading universities and historical schools of the world. Almost simultaneously, as a result of such excavations, the mass printing of magazines, manuals, materials, methodological articles began, which can be read in detail in the reports[11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] of overseas partners and others resources. The study of Chersonesus gave Ukrainian scientists the opportunity to start the study of antiquity in cooperation with leading world and European institutions. It is appropriate to recall the words of the Ukrainian archaeologist, head of the Inkerman Expedition of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, candidate of historical sciences Evelina Kravchenko[18] during the international professional discussion “Crimea under the rule of the Herostrats”,[19] dedicated to the problems of preserving the monument “Tavrian Chersonese”, which is thanks to Joseph Carter and his team on the study of Chersonesus grew up a whole constellation of Ukrainian historians – archaeologists on issues of antiquity, among whom Mrs. Evelina includes herself.

Finally, by joint efforts, in 2013, Chersonesus Tavriyskyi was included in the list of world heritage sites. By order of the Government of Ukraine[20], Professor Carter Joseph Koleyman was included in the supervisory board of the Chersones Tavriyskyi National Reserve, which is an indisputable recognition of the contribution of Professor Carter and his team to the development of the monument.

In one of his interviews, in response to a journalist’s question about the professor’s vision of the future of Chersonese in the 2000 year, J. Carter emphasized: “This year, we proposed to the government of Ukraine a long-term project to create an international-class archaeological park on the territory of the Khersones Tavriyskyi National Reserve, securing financial support from a number of American private non-profit foundations in advance. Support for our project is promised for the next ten years, and here we are already talking about significant financial resources. I want to be understood correctly, but I would like to add that my mother, who is already over 80 years old, and my brother each year allocate several thousand dollars for archaeological excavations in Chersonese. We also hope to receive money from a number of international agencies for the implementation of such large-scale projects as: stopping coastal erosion processes and creating infrastructure for international tourism.”

Thanks to the scientific, organizational and financial support of private individuals and institutions of the USA, Chersonesus Tavriysky took on a different, new life, under the Ukrainian sky of independence – a life that had a future. Such a future would certainly come.

However, with the beginning of the occupation of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation, a completely different page of history began – a page without guests from abroad, without international conferences and exhibitions, life in isolation, looting and the occupier’s attempts to appropriate World Heritage, steal history and use the monument for the sake of achieving their temporary political goals.



[1] https://www.radiosvoboda.org/a/906237.html

[2] https://day.kyiv.ua/uk/article/ukrayina-incognita/povernennya-hersonesa

[3] https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/64242

[4] http://hdl.handle.net/2152/64272

[5] https://day.kyiv.ua/uk/article/cuspilstvo/novi-rezultati-mizhnarodnoyi-arheologichnoyi-ekspediciyi

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdMsDJmmznA&t=830s&ab_channel=RegionalCentreforHumanRightsRCHR

[7] https://day.kyiv.ua/uk/article/ukrayina-incognita/povernennya-hersonesa

[8] http://www.golos.com.ua/article/227975

[9]  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdMsDJmmznA&t=1214s&ab_channel=RegionalCentreforHumanRightsRCHR

[10] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdMsDJmmznA&ab_channel=RegionalCentreforHumanRightsRCHR

[11] http://hdl.handle.net/2152/64266

[12] https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/64267

[13] http://hdl.handle.net/2152/64217

[14] http://hdl.handle.net/2152/64219

[15] http://hdl.handle.net/2152/63970

[16] https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/63969

[17] http://hdl.handle.net/2152/63967

[18] https://iananu.org.ua/struktura/naukovi-viddili/viddil-arkheologiji-rannogo-zaliznogo-viku?id=210

[19] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdMsDJmmznA&t=1214s&ab_channel=RegionalCentreforHumanRightsRCHR

[20] Decree of the CMU dated February 16, 2011 No. 123-r “On approval of the composition of supervisory boards of national reserves”


Implemented within the project “Information Platform” Voice of Crimea. Culture “- about Crimea honestly, qualitatively, actually” with the support of the Media Development Fund of the US Embassy in Ukraine. The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect the official position of the US government.

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