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Tauric Chersonesos is an ancient Greek and Byzantine city-state in the southwestern part of Crimea, stretching between the Quarantine and Sand Bays (Sevastopol City Council), which in ancient times became an important trade, craft and political center of the southwestern coast of Taurica. For almost the entire 20th century, 422-421 BC was generally accepted as the date of foundation of Chersonesos. However, the oldest archaeological finds in its territory date back to the 3rd and 4th quarters of the 6th century BC.
The site of the ancient settlement of Chersonesos is a remnant of the ancient city of Tauric Chersonesos (during Byzantium it was called Kherson). Initially, fortifications separated the lands of the northeastern region of Chersonesos from the port. At the turn of the 4th century BC, the territory of the city more than doubled and new fortifications were built. At this time, the gate was being built in the port part. In the 3rd century BC the Tower of Zeno was erected as a powerful corner defensive structure that protected the entrance to the main gate to the port part of the city. In Roman times around the 2nd century AD the proteichism was erected as an external protective wall that formed a peribol (a corridor between two walls) together with the main wall, protecting the entrance to the main gate. The port area was also completely rebuilt, a citadel with a praetorium and a customs house with warehouses were erected there, and the Tower of Zeno was rebuilt and strengthened. The territory of the city was expanding to the south, probably due to population growth and the needs of housing development. New defensive walls were built on an elevated part near the Sand Bay on the site of Hellenistic necropolises. In Byzantine times, the fortifications of Kherson also underwent radical reconstruction, changing the system of entrances and defensive towers. This system functioned until the perish of Chersonesos at the turn of the 14th century from the invasion of the Tatars.
The street system of Chersonesos demonstrates a classic example of an ancient city created according to the Hippodamus plan, i.e. long longitudinal streets intersected at right angles with additional transverse ones. Streets divided urban developments into insular neighborhoods. The quarters were built up with classic antique houses with an andron (courtyard). In each such house, there was a small home sanctuary. In Christian times the planning of the city did not change, except for the fact that a small chapel emerged in each insular quarter. Instead of the ancient temples destroyed on the temenos in the 4th-6th centuries, Christian temples were built in the Byzantine architectural tradition in different parts of the city.
The main street of Chersonesos still functions as the main street of the Tauric Chersonesos Reserve. It starts from the northern church, the Christian basilica rebuilt from the ancient temple, and cuts through the center along with the entire settlement to the present southern gate. All the pedestals of the statues of honored citizens and the remnants of decrees were placed on this street. The stelai with the inscribed oath of Chersonesos citizens was also found there. In Roman times, the main street was paved with stone slabs and is still the only paved Roman road in Ukraine. The only ancient theater in the Northern Black Sea region was located also in Chersonesos. Water supply in Chersonesos until the 6th century was carried out through the collection of rainwater in home cisterns in the yards of houses and public wells on the streets of the city. Only in the 6th century AD cisterns in the yards were filled with rubbish, which is due to the appearance of a large catchment cistern-pool in the south-eastern part of the city. Water was supplied to it through ceramic pipes from the mountain range Karagach and Sapun mountain through the entire Heraclean Peninsula.
Around Chersonesos there are located its numerous necropolises, i.e. cemeteries. In Christian times, some of them, where the first Christians killed by pagans were buried, received the status of holy places. One of the early Christian cemeteries of the city is located on Maiden Hill, which is close to the Chersonesos settlement. In medieval sources, this place is known as the “Holy Graves”. Later, an underground crypt appeared on this place, and then an above-ground temple. This early Christian funeral and memorial complex, and later the monastery, continued to function as the monastery of the Virgin of Vlahern during the reign of the Ottomans after the perish of Chersonesos-Kherson.
The Chora or agricultural district of the ancient polis of Chersonesos was the basis of its functioning and the foundation of democracy. It consisted of private land plots belonging to the citizens of the polis (the presence of private ownership of land with the right to inherit it was the basis for the emergence of citizenship and acquisition of the right of the politês, i.e. a citizen of the polis), and urban community lands (public lands and sacred sites).
The Chora of Chersonesos on the Heraclean Peninsula, or the nearby Chora, was divided in two phases. In the first half of the 4th century BC there happened the parcelling of land plots in the northern part of the peninsula in the immediate vicinity of the bays along with one of the first ancient routes, from Chersonesos on the shores of Quarantine Bay to Strabonov Chersonesos on the Lighthouse Peninsula. Around the middle of the 4th century BC the Heraclean Peninsula was completely devided into land plots, this time according to a single plan, together with the re-planning of Tauric Chersonesos itself, probably uniting around itself all the ancient settlements of Heraclea. The parceling of land plots took place according to the system of Hippodame Miletsky. The network of longitudinal and transverse roads and boundary walls, which intersected at right angles, divided the land into more than 400 flat land portions with an area of 26.5 hectares each. Each of these land portions was limited by carriageways and divided in turn by boundary stone walls up to 2 m high into six equal land plots of about 4.5 hectares each. Two such land plots made up the clare, i.e. a share of the land belonging to the polis, which was distributed among its citizens by lot. The land plot also had an internal division into fields, plantations for vineyards and estates. Thus Chersonesos distributed more than 10,000 hectares on the Heraclean Peninsula alone. The unique system parceling of land plots in Tauric Chersonesos is almost perfectly in line with the Hippodame Plan, together with the same planning system of the city of Chersonesos and very good preservation of the building remains of this ancient polis with the Chora became the main argument for the inscription of this site on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2013.
In 2009, Tauric Chersonesos was inscribed in the State Register of Immovable Monuments of Ukraine as a cultural heritage site of national importance (protection No. 270001-N). Later, the necropolis complex of Tauric Chersonesos (4th century BC – 13th century AD, protection No. 270020/1-N) and the ancient road to Chersonesos with the remains of production workshops (protection No. 270020/3-N) were also inscribed in the register.
On June 23, 2013, during the 37th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, Tauric Chersonesos and its Chora (agricultural district) were unanimously inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Appropriation and destruction of Ukrainian heritage. Monitoring of developments.
After the occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, during 2015-2016 the Government of the Russian Federation issued a number of resolutions by which Tauric Chersonesos was assigned to the “cultural heritage sites of federal importance” and inscribed in “the unified state register of cultural heritage sites (monuments of history and culture) of the peoples of the Russian Federation” under number 921520336350006.
Like other cultural sites on the Crimean peninsula, Chersonesos was unlawfully appropriated by the occupation authorities.
On February 1, 2017, Donetsk National University (hereinafter referred to as DonNU) entered into a “partnership agreement” No. 01/21-13 with “Federal state-owned budget-funded institution of culture “Tauric Chersonesos State Historical and Archaeological Museum-Reserve.” That year, students of “DonNU” were involved in unlawful excavations of the Roman guard post of 2nd -3rd centuries AD on the Suzdal Heights in Sevastopol. This and further “internships” of “DonNU” students in the occupied city took place under the supervision of “Professor of the Department of World History of the Faculty of History of DonNU” Larysa Shepko. On August 8, 2019, the State Duma deputy Dmitry Sablin, who is also the “secretary” of the Sevastopol “branch” of the “United Russia” party, during the patronage of classes for 14 students of the “historical faculty of DonNU” stressed that they are practising at excavations in Chersonesos, thus “getting acquainted with the new history of Sevastopol as part of Russia.” The press release stated that students of the “Faculty of History of DonNU” have been coming to Chersonesos for more than a year for a summer internship led by teachers and that they would study the basics of pottery restoration, take part in excavations, get acquainted with excavations on Mount Maslyanaya as part of “archaeological internship”. At the same time, in her interview in September 2020, Larysa Shepko stated that in 2019, students of the DonNU Faculty of History did not take part in excavations on the territory of the Crimean Peninsula. In August 2020, 7 students of 2-4 courses of the “Faculty of History of DonNU” together with “researchers” of the Tauric Chersonesos State Historical and Archaeological Museum-Reserve passed an “internship”, which consisted in their involvement in unlawful “archaeological excavations” of the section of the ancient road near Korchagin Street and Antichny Avenue in Sevastopol. In her interview, “Professor of the Department of World History of DonNU” Larysa Shepko said that this “historical and archaeological internship” was organized and conducted in the framework of “integration into the Russian cultural and educational space” in accordance with the “agreement” between “DonNU” and “Tauric Chersonesos State Historical and Archaeological Museum-Reserve.” She said that in 2020, together with her students she took part in unlawful excavations of the ancient road of the 4th century BC, which connected Chersonesos with rural estates and was discovered in the early 2000’s, as part of the “archaeological expedition” of the “museum-reserve”.
On September 7, 2017, following the visit to occupied Sevastopol, the RF President Vladimir Putin instructed the Government of the RF, together with the so-called “Sevastopol Government” and with the participation of the Russian Academy of Sciences, to decide on the creation of the so-called Tauric Chersonesos Historical and Archeological Park and to designate the boundaries of its territory. The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation was instructed to ensure the clearing of the land plots necessary for the creation of the Tauric Chersonesos Historical and Archaeological Park and their transfer to the ownership of the city of Sevastopol.
The creation of this park was allegedly due to the need to protect and defend the historic complex. However, in reality it was the reason for the deployment of construction projects of the occupation authorities in the interests and to strengthen the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church (hereinafter, ROC) in Crimea and destruction of archaeological heritage. The Byzantine past of Chersonesos and the connection of the ancient city with early Christianity is used by the ROC as a foundation for its own religious expansion.
Thus, since December 2017, the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation together with the governing and advisory bodies of the ROC began to implement the project of construction of the park. In the framework of this project in the period from February to August 2020 unlawful large-scale archaeological work of the so-called “Comprehensive Chersonesos archaeological expedition” were organized and funded by the Humanities Support Fund “My History” (project operator), with the participation of the ROC, “Government of Sevastopol” and “The federal state-owned budget-funded institution “Department of Cultural Heritage Protection of Sevastopol” (“Sevnasledie”).
This expedition consisted of archeological team of the Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the State Hermitage and the federal state-owned institution of culture “Tauric Chersonesos State Historical and Archaeological Museum-Reserve”
During this period, at the place where the Hellenistic necropolis dating back to the 4th century BC was thought to be located, a previously unknown part of ancient Chersonesos was discovered. The occupation authorities put the site on record in the so-called “Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of the City of Sevastopol” as a new cultural heritage site called “Southern suburb of the ancient city of Tauric Chersonesos”.
During the unlawful archeological works, the participants of the “complex expedition” found three residential complexes (two rock-hewn premises and one premise hosted by a natural grotto), rock-hewn burials of the Hellenistic era (a crypt with a long dromos, a tomb with two ledges, etc.). According to the participants of the so-called complex expedition, utility and production facilities, new defensive walls, water cisterns, a wine press ground with the tarapan press were also discovered and inspected. The research also revealed family crypts and single burials in simple pit graves.
A considerable collection of antique red- and black-glazed ware, white clay glazed pottery of Constantinople production, metal, glass, stone and bone products, necklaces and other ornaments, lamps, terracotta, branded amphorae for wine produced in Chersonesos, Rhodes and Sinopа were unlawfully seized from the archeological site. More than 600 coins, including silver and gold ones, were also seized.
Among multiple archaeological finds, at least the following unique artifacts have been seized from the excavation site:
- Golden semises of the time of Byzantine Emperor Artavasdos (742);
- Fragment of a gold coin, times of Byzantine Emperor Constantine X Doukas (1059–1067);
- Gold coin of the Ottoman Empire, times of Sultan Abdul Majid (1843);
- Gold sewn-on plaques (1st-2nd centuries);
- Rare molyvdoses (lead seals) of Byzantine officials, including the one of the chief logothetes, the imperial protospathari Epiphanius (9th century);
- Bronze and silver Byzantine coins (8th-9th centuries);
- Slavic moon-shaped earring (lunnytsia), the 9th century;
- Multiple copper cast Chersonesos coins (9th-10th centuries);
- Bronze rings; and
- Fragment of a marble tombstone with the image of a woman’s head (1st-2nd centuries).
In 2021, these works of the State Hermitage and the Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences were continued. They include “Tauric Chersonesos State Historical and Archaeological Museum-Reserve”, “Institute of Archeology of Crimea of the RAS”, “Sevastopol State University”.
At the site of the planned construction of the so-called historical and archaeological park in a rock ledge in the buffer zone of Chersonesos a unique crypt was excavated, previously dated back to the 4th – 7th centuries, that could have been a family tomb. The crypt contained a wide burial chamber with three couches, on which the remains of more than 10 people are preserved.
Statements by the occupation authorities about the creation of a historical and archeological park and the chosen method of construction threaten to destroy the unique site of the ancient city of Chersonesos and its Chora.
“The study area itself is very large. It is more than 30 thousand square meters. Deadlines are short, but we hope that we will meet these deadlines and do the work on time,”- Sergey Solovyov, a researcher at the Department of Protective Archeology of the Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the head of unlawful activities, stated in on of his interviews in June 2021.
During May-July 2021, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation supervised a number of earthworks and construction works on the territory of Tauric Chersonesos’s protection zone, where excavators, dump trucks, and other heavy construction machinery were used amid indiscriminate and reckless excavation of deep layers of soil. As a result of these actions, the previously unexplored cultural layer of the world-famous site “Tauric Chersonesos and its Chora” was irretrievably destroyed.
After the publication of information about the destruction of the cultural layer of the Chersonesos Chora in connection with the use of heavy construction machinery in the Chora sections, which had not previously been studied by scientists, a leading researcher at the Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences Yuri Vinogradov, to whom the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation issued licences (“open letters”) for unlawful excavations in the southern suburb of the ancient settlement of Tauric Chersonesos and who even under the law of the Occupying Power is responsible for determining the sequence of archaeological work and research methods, made a statement. In an interview with the Sevastopol TV channel “NTS”, Vinogradov said that he did not give any instructions on the use of heavy construction machinery in the buffer zone of the settlement. He, as the person directly responsible for “archeological excavations”, does not know who made the decision to use heavy machinery.
However, for a long time (at least during May-July 2021) construction works using excavators and dump trucks continue without prior archaeological research. Vinogradov confirmed that the works are carried out by military units of the Russian Federation.
Local residents, including scientists, find elements of ancient utensils, ancient Greek coins in the land dumps.
Subsequently, Vinogradov called the site where the heavy machinery was working to be uninteresting from the archeological point of view because the soil on it was imported. Thus, the work of machines “does not cause” special losses of historical finds. At the same time, in 2020, specialists from the Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences laid 47 pits up to 5 m deep in the territory of the southern suburb of Chersonesos, the area of one of which being 76 square meters, the area of the majority of others being 25 square meters. During the test pitting it was found that the studied “garbage layer” is antique.
It is worth noting that although the discovery of the ancient suburb of Tauric Chersonesos took place due to the unlawful actions of the occupation authorities, it is still an extraordinary event in ancient archeology not only in Ukraine but in the Black Sea region in general. Such suburbs are known in the vast majority of ancient polises, but in TAuric Chersonesos they were not previously discovered. The emergence of the suburb of Chersonesos on the site of the necropolis is somewhat unexpected. However, this site of world importance is clearly extremely valuable in terms of its scientific and cultural significance. The occupation authorities removed the previous team of archaeologists from archeological research in order to accelerate the construction of a new complex aimed at promoting the new Russian Orthodoxy. Instead, the “liquidation” of the archeological site was undertaken by those who agreed to this activity, being criminal not only in terms of law but also in terms of science. The situation with the excavations organized by the occupation authorities in Tauric Chersonesos clearly illustrates that any attempt to whitewash unlawful activities under the pretext of saving an archeological site is nothing but a cover for criminal intentions and the destruction of real cultural heritage for a clear goal set by the customer (in this case, the authorities of the Russian Federation) for the archaeologists who volunteered to be executors.
At the same time, the Occupying Power conceals information about the persons who own the land on which the construction works are carried out, as well as about those who carry out the construction and/or are responsible for it, using the time to prevent further archaeological work that slows down construction and/or question the possibility of new construction.
The destruction of Chersonesos and its Chora and the task of harming ancient specimens of ancient Greek (Hellenistic) and other cultures is based on the decision and under the control of the top political leadership of the Russian Federation.
The nature and the method of the activity chosen by the Occupying Power testify to further large-scale unlawful earthworks and landscape transformations in the territory where construction is prohibited, which shall be under unconditional protection in accordance with the norms of international law.
During the occupation of the Crimean Peninsula, specialists of the State Hermitage (a group of people led by a researcher of the Department of Ancient World of the State Hermitage Novoselova N.Yu.) in the period from 2014 to 2021 actively conducted unlawful “archaeological excavations” in the territory of the XX area of the northern side of the settlement of the site “The Ancient city of Chersonesos and its Chora”.
A basement was excavated in the north-eastern corner of the quarter under medieval building complexes. The size of the uncovered part is 2.5 × 2.5 m, depth is 2 m. All the artifacts removed from the site date back to the 3rd -2nd centuries BC, including a valuable architectural detail with a preserved painting.
Unlawful works on the plot of about 100 square meters. There were excavated a Hellenistic cellar, a medieval kiln for firing tiles, layers of Hellenistic, Roman and medieval times. A collection of medieval tiles with labels, fragments of Megarian bowls, vessels with embossed ornaments, fragments of tableware and kitchen utensils, rare fragments of red-figured pottery, as well as a drum of a marble column with flutes and paired limestone altars with traces of paint were unlawfully removed from the site.
Unlawful works on the plot of about 100 square meters at a depth of more than 4 meters in some areas. Cultural layers dating back to ancient and medieval times were excavated, in particular the basement of a Hellenistic estate, from which a unique complex of artifacts of the 2nd century BC was unlawfully removed, including fragments of Megarian bowls, terracotta, bone products, coins, fragments of marble tiles, fragments of painted plaster. 
An undeveloped part of the XX area was excavated, where a powerful tile backfill of the beginning of the 11th century was discovered, as well as the so-called house of Archelaus, founded in early Hellenistic times and completely rebuilt in the middle of the 2nd century BC. The house of Archelaus got its name from the Greek graffiti found during excavations in 2016 on the wall of the Colchis amphora. The basement soil contained samples of black-lacquered Hellenistic pottery from the end of the 3rd century BC, painted pottery, fragments of the sculpture, indigo paint, fragments of pottery and Hellenistic amphorae. During the research of the house of Archelaus, the depth of the excavation site reached 4 meters, the undeveloped part of the XX area being about 0.8 meters. The total area of unlawful excavations was about 300 square meters.
Byzantine houses of the 9th-10th and 12th-13th centuries were excavated. The following objects were removed from the site: samples of Byzantine ceramics in the technique of sgraffito in good condition, fragments of ceramics which are rare for Chersonesos, whole forms of white clay vessels, as well as a chalcedony stamp with the name of Astinoma Heraclius dating back to the end of the 4th – beginning of the 3rd century BC used for sealing state documents, which is a rectangular plate (3 × 2 cm) with the inscription and a protruding rectangular groove (3 × 1 cm) on the reverse side in the center for mounting the attachable handle. Similar findings of antiquity are unknown. The unlawfully seized stamp is a unique object of interest of the ancient stone carving and of the state history of Chersonesos. The total area of unlawful excavations was about 300 square meters.
Samples of high-quality Byzantine white painted pottery, collected whole forms in the sgraffito technique, as well as a fragment of marble containing a three-line inscription of the 1st century AD mentioning a “grammarian” were unlawfully seized from the site.
Thus, by the decision of the top political leadership of the Russian Federation, the Occupying Power expropriated the property of the state of Ukraine, organized and with the involvement of Russian government-funded institutions of science and culture carried out unlawful excavations, seized valuable artifacts from the archaeological site, started construction in the buffer zone of the site of the world significance, destroying the site of the world significance “The Ancient city of Chersonesos and its Chora”.
These actions of the Russian Federation, together with other actions of the Occupying Power in their entirety may constitute a war crime in the form of extensive destruction and appropriation of cultural property, not justified by military necessity, and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.
Involvement of leading scientific and educational institutions of the Russian Federation, in particular, the State Hermitage and institutions of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in unlawful activities on the archeological site increases the threat of impunity for the destruction of the site due to the business, scientific and cultural ties of this institution and its employees with scientific, cultural, political circles of foreign countries.
The destruction of the cultural layer of the site “The Ancient city of Chersonesos and its Chora” by the Russian Federation continues.
The group of monitoring experts of the Regional Center for Human Rights,
the working group of the expert network “Crimean Platform – Humanitarian Policy”
 See the Resolution of the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev № 1721-r dated September 3, 2015 ( https://cutt.ly/OnENUqH) and № 206-r dated February 12, 2016 ( https://cutt.ly/enENOlO), as well as the order of the Acting Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation Nikolai Malakov № 1279 dated June 8, 2016 “On the inscription of the identified cultural heritage site, a memorial site “Ancient city of Tauric Chersonesos and the fortress of Chembalo and Kalamita” (Sevastopol) in the unified state register of cultural heritage sites (monuments of history and culture) of the peoples of the Russian Federation as an object of the cultural heritage of federal importance, as well as the approval of the boundaries of its territory” (https://archive.ph/BJJKJ)
 Archaeological research of the suburbs of Chersonesos. Authors: D.A. Kostromichev (GIAMZ “Tauric Chersonesos”), N.Yu. Novoselova (State Hermitage), O. V. Sharov (Institute of Archeology of the RAS). Access mode: https://www.hermitagemuseum.org/wps/wcm/connect/477e5985-50ab-4a0c-9b0e-0046140e48ea/%D0%90%D1%80%D1%85%D0%B5%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%BE%D0%B3%D0%B8%D1%87%D0%B5%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%B5+%D0%B8%D1%81%D1%81%D0%BB%D0%B5%D0%B4%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B5+%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%B3%D0%BE%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%B4%D0%BE%D0%B2+%D0%A5%D0%B5%D1%80%D1%81%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%B5%D1%81%D0%B0.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CVID=nmqdiVZ
 Video from the Youtube-channel “My History Foundation” under the title “Unseen crypt of the 4th – 7th centuries discovered in the “Southern suburb of Chersonesos” dated June 30, 2021. Access mode: https://youtu.be/lnc4l1MlUTA
 № 0515-2021, № 0548-2021 (period of validity: 28.04.2021-19.04.2022), № 0555-2021 (period of validity: 25.05.2021-19.04.2022). https://culture.gov.ru/upload/iblock/aed/aeda9ea36fb6fbc4567986693a012bf0.docx
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