Why is Crimea called Taurida?


«There should be its Cerberus in every hell, and I will remain such Cerberus near these holy stones».

O.K. Takhtai [Hrab V. I., Suprunenko O. B. Archeologist Oleksandr Takhtai, Poltava, 1991].

Bakhchisarai, May 2014. Dad takes his son to kindergarten. The kid enters the yard of the kindergarten, raises his head and asks loudly and excitedly: «Daddy! Why did they hang someone else’s flag here? And where is our flag?». «Mummy, mummy, why is it different coloured here?» – the son asks his mum looking at the map of Europe in some foreign popular science journal.

Why is Crimea called Tavrida?
Estuary to the Balaklava Bay (Simbolon Limen), 2012. Photo by E. Kravchenko

These are not the invented questions – they were raised by children of my Crimean friends to their parents just after the occupation. My friends asked me: «Tell me what should I tell a child?! Should I lie? Should I tell the truth? What should I reply to my child?». So I’ve got my own answer for the journalists’ question what we lost together with Crimea. Crimea was the part of my life that was completely dependent on studying the ancientry, and my destiny was the Crimean archeologist’s destiny during 15 years. The Crimeans’ destinies for me are not just an abstract phrasing, these are my friends’ destinies that are almost my relatives, colleagues, people I know, neighbours, salespersons in shops, yard-keepers in parks, doctors and hairdressers, painters and jazzmen, Chersonese cats, my dog Trotil and Sevastopol homeless persons that had never forgotten to wish good morning when I was back at excavations at daybreak. That is why I don’t hurry to model the answer to all questions quickly, and first to give such a reply to myself, and this reply should not be heard as non-natural and false.

So what is Crimea for me? This is a small perfect universe, peninsula in Ukraine where so much happened throughout history of mankind, so much had grown and died even before its beginning that the fraud with an attempt of annexation against this background seems like a bad joke. You will ask: «Where is it known from?». I will reply to you: «From the Crimean land».

This story began in my childhood when I was presented the book «Crimea’s legends» that is known I suppose by everyone. There was also a story about a girl by the name of Iphigenia, daughter of the Greek czar and bride of the hero Achilles that was sacrificed by Greeks to the god Poseidon during the trip to Ilium also known as Troy. Those events anthemed by Homeric bard, chanter of the ancient history of Hellas – Homer in the «Iliad» hymns took place about 1200 BC and are known as the Trojan War. According to the legend the goddess Artemis kidnapped the girl from under the sacrificial knife putting a white fallow deer instead. The goddess carried Iphigenia over to her sacrarium in Taurida – the land of Tauri where she was sacrificing all Greeks that came to these lands for the rest of her life. Achilles was looking for his bride for a long time but he never found her having obtained possession of the Levke island and immortality from gods.  Later Iphigenia’s brothers Orestes and Pylades kidnapped her from the Tauri together with the idol of Artemis and brought to Aulis that was in Hellas where Artemis’ sacrificer lived out her life. A long sand bar on the Euxine coast that is called the Black Sea now (russiatoday considers that it has been excavated by mythic Ukies (sic!)), was named the Achilles Big. According to the ancient chartographers, Achilles was running along this sand bar trying to catch up with his bride. Its current name is Tendrivska spit that is in Mykolayiv region. The Levke island (from Ancient Greek – White) presented to Achilles by gods after his death and called the Snake Island now is our border post in Odesa region.

«… It is also called the Achilles Big (the White shore) as at that time when Achilles asked Iphigenia in marriage and she was brought to Aulis for his sake, in consequence of disaster that had happened to Hellenes for sailing to Ilium, they wanted to sacrifice her for the successful voyage but Artemis grasped her and brought to Scythia to the Tauri, and the passionate Achilles followed her and accompanied to that island that was called the White one» [Scholia to Pindar (VІ-V centuries BC) Schol. ad Pind,. Nem ,. ІV, 79 (49)].

«…Iphigenia: But Artemis kidnapped me from the Achaeans having given a fallow deer instead of me, and brought by the light air, settled me in this land of Tauri where the barbarian Phoant who, moving his fast legs like wings, had got such a name for the speed of legs, was reigning over barbarians. He made me a sacrificer in this temple where the goddess Artemis was enjoying such customs during the holiday one name of which is beautiful and as for the other ones I will remain silent being afraid of the goddess. According to tradition that has existed in this country before, I sacrifice every Hellene that comes to this land. I bless the sacrifice, and the other ones deal with his secret murder within these halls of the goddess» [Euripides. Iphigenia in Taurida,(V century BC) Eurip., If., 28-41].

«… When Iphigenia had appeared to become a sacrifice and they wanted to put a knife into her, a bear or a bull or an old woman or a deer ran in the midst of Hellenic havings, at seer’s dictation this running creature has killed oneself , and Iphigenia who survived is running to Scythia, becomes the sacrificer of Artemis and kills all Hellenes that arrived there. Some writers as Duris, for example, calls this Iphigenia a daughter of not Agamemnon but of Theseus that was born by Elena and adopted by Klytemnestra… Others say that Iphigenia was a daughter of neither Elena nor Klytemnestra, and confirm that Christ’s daughter Astinoma and Agamemnon gave birth to the children Chryses and mentioned Iphigenia. After the destruction of Ilium, during the return voyage of Hellenes, Chryses died in the so called Chrysopolis, at the Euxinus Pontus, and his sister Iphigenia was captured by the Tauri-Scythians and made a sacrificer of Artemis, namely Luna (ζεφηνηα [Isakiya, or explanation of Ioannes Tzetz to Lycophron’s «Cassandra» (ІІІХ ІІ century CE) Tzetz. ad Licophr., 183].

Why is Crimea called Tavrida?
Tauric Chersonesos. Excavations of the insula of Roman and Medieval period, 2011. Photo by E. Kravchenko

Whether it was like that more than three thousand years ago or not – nobody can  answer this question precisely. Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the best experts in ancient philosophy, pointed out that culture can develop only in the myth-defined horizon. Ancient literature has a lot of versions of this myth but all this shaped the worldview of Hellenes and finally created the oecumene – the dear land of early greeks. For a Hellene the oecumene was something greater than our term «motherland». The sea people that were creating their world by settling or developing the own colonies considered any land where the Hellene has gone before to be the oecumene. The Hellenes that had opened the new lands were considered the heroes. Later, when centuries went by after the Trojan War, Greeks were not afraid to sail the inhospitable Auxin Pontus to the cold lands of Northern Black Sea coastal area – to Scythia and Tauris where the barbarians Scythians and the wild men Tauri were ruling, and to found new cities as their heroes – Achilles, Herakles or Iphigenia – had already been there. All these ancient stories made their mark on the ancient maps – peripli and periegesses. Tauris, or the land of Tauri – so Herodotus calls the Crimean uplands in the South stretching towards the east wind. Herodotus’ Tauris ends with the rocky peninsula that is called the Kerch Peninsula now. Hecataeus of Miletus whose Europe’s description precedes the writing of «Histories» by Herodotus describes Tauris as a peninsula in the form of Scythian bow and recalls the city of Kerkinitis (current Yevpatoria) in it. And only Pseudo-Skilak, the author of the 4th century BC who lived after Herodotus, recalls the emporium Chersonese in Tauris.

You will ask what is Taurida here for? And here the famous ancient metamorphoses begin – transferring the ancient narratives to the current for an early greek events. In his story about Tauris Herodotus cites a legend about Iphigenia and recalls the supreme Tauri goddess – Diva, or Parthenos in which we can guess Iphigenia that is already familiar to us or even her patroness Artemis Tauropolos or Parthenos (Artemis-Volopaska or Artemis-Diva).

«…From Istru this is actually the original Scythia situated towards the South and south wind right up to the city that is called Kerkinitis. From here and further on the country stretching along the sea and which is the mountainous one and enters the Pontus, is inhabited by the Tauri tribe up to the peninsula that is called the Rocky Peninsula. This peninsula enters the sea towards the east wind… The place that is occupied by Tauri in Scythia looks like the place that would be occupied at the cape Sunion, from the deme Toric to the deme Anaphlists by some other tribe but not the Athenians… What I am saying here is important when you can compare the small with the big. This Tauris is like that» [Herodotus. «Histories» (V century BC), Herod., IV, 99].

But, according to the data from archeological excavations, we currently know that Parthenos was the supreme goddess of not Tauri but of Chersonesos Taurica. The beautiful Parthenos has been described at Chersonesos coins, mentioned as a saver and protectress in Chersonesos decrees, residents of Chersonesos sweared in allegiance to the state in her name. So, such a high deity that was devoted the whole cycles of  myths, protectress of one of the biggest polis of Northern Black Sea coastal area had to have a colossal temple central building and a lot of small temples. Herodotus and later authors recall Diva’s temple in Tauris but nobody gives the data as for its exact location. It’s likely that none of these authors was in Tauris, and the records remained from sailors’ and negotiants’ stories. Whether travellers saw the temple is also the question that cannot be answered.

In point of fact, not so many written sources about the Crimean ancientry have come down to us. But archaeological science exists to answer the unwritten questions. A long time ago, in the late 1970s, when I was a five-year-old girl and I came to visit my relatives to Sevastopol that was a «closed» city at that time, I couldn’t understand for a long time travelling the Chersonesos vestiges overrun with weeds that did not resemble the museum, where that city I had just read about  was.

Why is Crimea called Tavrida?
Parthenos. Coin of Chersonesos, drachma, silver, 3rd cent. BC. National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos

Crimea is Taurida, Tauris and Tavriya, then – Sary Kyrym. A lot truthful and mythic has been written about it since the fall of Troy. The first reference about the Crimean land in world literature and, as a consequence, in history is traditionally considered the fragment of Homer’s Odyssey with the description of the Laestrygone city Telepil where «pastor calls for pastor pinning the cattle, and the other answers already driving it to pasture».

«Some understand the phrasing «close ways of night and day» not only in the geographic area meaning, in other words that the night and day pastures are situated, as said, near the city, that’s why the cattlemen, as said, greet each other, but also in the temporal one that means that for some period of time there are very short nights there. That is why it’s not easy for someone, perhaps, to get enough rest during one part of the night and to pasture cattle during the second part because the beginning of night coincides closely with the sunrise that was shortly under the ground. That is why a person that can be satisfied with a nap earns twice there. It is said that Crates was the first one who gave such mathematical explanation and suggested the hypothesis about the shortness of local nights and said that the Laestrygones were living under the Dragon’s head that was situated among the stars over them; Aratus also said that it was located where «the ends of sunset and daybreak mix with each other». Therefore, it is said that the day is longer and the night is short. The Cimmerians observe the opposite effect whose myth is about the multi-day nights. That is why, as in Laestrygonia the sunrise is close to the sunset and the night is very short because of proximity to the day, the poet has said correctly that the ways of night are close to the ways of day» [Eustathios of Thessalonike, commentary on Homer’s Odyssey (XII–VI BCІІ half of ХІІ century CE), Eusth., Schol. ad Hom., Od., X, 86 (S.1649, fr.27)].

A French scientist-traveller DuBois de Montperreux saw in this fragment the description of the Crimean shore with Balaklava Bay.

«…We sailed ahead from here [that was from the Aeolus Island ] with a crestfallen heart. People’s vivacity was leaking away from the heavy paddle caused by our stupidity as the favorable wind did not appear any more. For six days we were sailing in the same manner in the night and in the daytime, and on the seventh day we reached the inaccessible place, the Laestrygone Telepil where pastor calls for pastor pinning the cattle, and the other answers already driving it to pasture. There a sleepless person would get the double fee: one – for pasturing the oxen, and the other one – for pasturing the silver-white sheep as the ways of night and of day are close there. Here when we entered the glorious bay around which a steep rock was entirely rising on both sides, and the shores that had hung over were incurving opposite each other in the aber and narrow entrance, here everyone sailed the rounded boats into. They were tied closely to each other within the deep bay as neither big nor small wave had ever arisen in it, and the light calm was around. I kept the rock boat along the bay alone, there on the edge, having tied mooring berths to the rock, and alone, having climbed to the steep top, stood up [to see the lands]. There were not any oxen or people to be seen, and we saw only the smoke rising from the ground» [Homer, «Odyssey» (ХІІ-VІ centuries BC), Hom., Od., X, 77-99].

Another mythic people – the Laestrygones – plaited into the wreath of Crimean mythology. Debates on the legitimacy of correlation of this ancient text written long after the Trojan War events with the real piece of land near Balaklava have not died off yet. But Homer’s followers appeared. Leaving out the whole host of scholastics, we dwell on the father of history Herodotus and a great tragedian – Euripides. We like to anticipate whether the ancient writers could have been to those lands they described for some time. Usually the answer is negative, and even their contemporaries often criticized the logographers and accused of lack of knowledge of the subject they described, of wishing to decorate their tales with any fictions. Herodotus also had never been to Tauris but he used the sailors’ stories.  His contemporary Euripides put an ancient Greek legend on paper and presented the tragedy “Iphigenia in Taurida” to the world. But it is highly unlikely that we will be able to specify whether the legendary events took place in Herodotus’ Tauris or it was just a founding myth about some ancestral land. But it was Parthenos, Artemis Tauropolos, who was the main goddess and patroness of one of the biggest ancient polis of Tauris – Chersonese. After the Greeks’ descriptions there were also the other ones but the ancient texts are still the most interesting.

In fact, the already mentioned DuBois de Montperreux who was one of the first to describe the Crimean ancientries also relied on the ancient authors. Appearance of European scientists in the East of Europe and, in particular, in Crimea was not occasional. The other travellers aware of the situation as, for example, an English woman Mary Holderness, recall that it was related to Napoleon’s interest to these lands and, perhaps, even to his plans to regain the Crimean Tatar statehood.

Why is Crimea called Tavrida?
The plateau ledge with Ak-Kaya hillfort of Late Scythians. The region of Bilogirs`k, Vyshenne village, 2007. Photo by E. Kravchenko

«The history of Crimea has been detailed by many writers, from the time of its earliest inhabitants, the Taurians, almost to the present period. Of these histories, the most accredited is that by Sisterencovich, (a Polish nobleman), and published soon after the conquest by the Russians. He has been followed, amongst other and better writers, by M.Reuilly, who accompanied Monsieur le Duc de Richelieu, when he was first appointed to the government of the Taurida. Reuilly was supposed to have been sent thither by Buonaparte, to sound the feelings of the Tatars, and ascertain the political state of the Crimea. His brief detail of the ancient history of this country is a recapitulation of the above-mentioned writer; and in his continuation of its history, he had an able coadjutor and friend in Professor Pallas: nevertheless, there are subjects where the hasty judgment of a Frenchman is marked, or where the interval of time since he wrote, has produced change.

These alterations it is my intention to notice, and to fill up the small space which other writers have left, by giving some, though but an imperfect account, of the colonization of New Russia, or of the Taurida in general, of which the Crimea, it is well known, forms but a part» [M. Holderness. Journey from Riga to the Crimea, with Some Account of the Manners and Customs of the Colonists of New Russia. – London: Sherwood, Gilbert, and Piper, 1827, p. 105].

At least after the travels of Europeans DuBois de Montperreux and Peter Simon Pallas the Crimean ancientries became the object of study for ancient historians. Their descriptions were actually the first scientific systematized works in Crimean archaeology. Most of described by them was about the fortresses-isars of Crimean Goths, Venetians and Genoese abandoned in XIV-XV centuries that were not so old in the late XVIII – in the early XIX century. These were quite successful states some 300-350 years before that. But the French left the descriptions of more ancient vestiges as well. First of all that was the already mentioned by Pseudo-Skilak Chersonese.

Due to the ancients the image of Parthenos emerged along with Chersonese at once. And later, after the war with Napoleon, the Russian upper class that began to pay attention to Crimea more often, brought in this image to the surface in its guide-books. In fact, the first thing from ancientries they started looking for in Crimea was the temple of Diva, or Parthenos. Now we can only assume but it’s quite possible that the emphasis on this myth was placed by O.S. Pushkin sent fleeing into exile in some poetic words.

So, the history of research of Crimea goes back more than two and a half hundred years of archaeological researches. During that time Chersonesos Taurica and Kerkinitis in the West, Panticapaeum and Mirmekium in the East, Kharaks, Aphineon and Symbolon Limen in the South of the peninsula were excavated, the great amount of isars, medieval fortresses were explored. Currently, according to  archaeological data, we know about the state of Crimean Goths Theodoro, its capital Mangup, harbor Kalamita along the upper reaches of Sevastopol Bay, the capital of late Scythians Naples Scythian, a grandiose ancient sanctuary near the Gurzuf Saddle and many other sights that you can not only read about but also see them with your own eyes and even touch their vestiges with your hands.

«…Searches of the wisdom of existence may not be locked in a narrow circle of modernity. They lead up to the past and the future. Where did we come from? Where does our road lead to? – this enfolds our mind, and not that wisdom focused on the individual self that will teach how to prolong our private time for many years. We are trapped between the past and the future, and our true immortality is in it. Between the history and the futurology.

Every stone of an ancient ruin warm with human hands, in every fragment there is a particle of human consciousness. They are not equal and not univocal – a small isar at the South Coast of Crimea, a majestic Parthenon of Athens, a group of Memphis pyramids, a barely perceptible early men site. But each of them is a landmark on our way from the past to the future…» [L. V. Firsov. Isars. Essays on the history of medieval fortresses of the Southern Coast of Crimea, Novosibirsk: Nauka,1990, P. 12-13].

Why is Crimea called Tavrida?
Zyndzhyrly-Medrese, Salachik, Bakchisarai, 2005. Photo by E. Kravchenko

Archaeologists get even more information from what is not subject to museumification – from the ground. The Crimean land hides the vestiges of the most recent Neanderthalers, the most recent hunters of the Ice Age, in Crimea the rest of steppe cattle herders of the Bronze Age and the most recent Scythians were living out their days, till the XV century the Goths stayed there, and the planning of Byzantine Cherson comletely corresponds to the structure of ancient Chersonese. The Crimean Khanate emerged on the ruins of the Golden Horde. Crimea constantly demonstrates the latest aspects of economic models and the vestiges of peoples that had already disappeared on the continent at that time. As one of my Crimean friends has told me after the occupation: the only good news is that almost all empires ended their existence on the Crimean issue. The only thing that is missing in the layers of Crimean ground is the Tripolie culture, its Neolithic predecessors and Aeneolithic neighbours. It’s most likely that it is related to the Black Sea level in the times of the Tripolie culture. According to climate researchers’ scheme, the golden age of the Tripolie culture coincides with the period of global warming – the Atlanticum, the Perekop was covered with water then, and Crimea was an island.

This distinctiveness of atavisms in Crimean history and demography defines the archaeologists’ interest to it, and 250 years of research show a very high level of developing the scientific challenges. Another very important factor defining the archaeologists’ interest to the Crimean land is its geotectonic geology. The fact is that the Black Sea level greatly varied from the Pleistocene to the Holocene. Advances and relictions were also fixed for it during the Holocene. The rock which Crimea is lying on is represented by the remains of meganticlinorium in the South that forms the main ridge of the Crimean Mountains, anticlines and synclinals of the piedmont and coastal regions. The high topography of archaeological monuments of Crimea protected them from flooding or washing out during the high tides. This Crimea qualitatively differs from the coastal path of the mainland of Northern Black Sea coastal area. The archaeological monuments in Crimea contain the remains of life, as it’s said in situ, in other words for the moment of termination of life. This is also facilitated by the poor soils of Crimea with a minimum of ground animals that mix the layers. This, and the mirror image of all events taking place at the mainland of Black Sea coastal area, created in Crimea the unique stratigraphic columns enabling the archaeologists to establish the succession of events without the written sources data. Filling the archaeological monuments of Crimea with things exceeds several times the monuments of mainland Ukraine.

Unforunately, the Crimean museums contain mainly the mass material from archeological excavations. Rare objects and the best works of art are preserved and exhibited in the Hermitage and the State Historical Museum in Moscow. Some of the artefacts from Crimea are in the Odesa Archaeological Museum (collection of the Odesa Society of History and Antiquities), few items appeared to be in the British Museum, Metropolitan Museum, National Museum of History of Ukraine, the Khanenko Museum, etc.

Against the background of such a mass export of rare objects from Crimea to Saint Petersburg and Moscow an issue of the Crimean Gold exhibition in Amsterdam the return of which to Kyiv is defended by Ukraine through judicial procedures now is particularly sensitive. Only for 25 years of independence they stopped exporting the rare objects from Crimea to form the collections of Russian museums, and therefore, museums of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea were able to form all their gold storerooms – in the Kerch Museum-preserve, the Bakhchisaray Museum-Reserve, the Central Museum of Tavrida, the Yalta Historical and Literary Museum and the National Preserve «Chersonesos Taurica». The last one was granted protected status of the monument of universal significance in 2013, a great work for giving the same status to the Bakhchisaray Reserve and the Sudak Fortress began. Currently all monument protective activities in Crimea have been stopped, and the use of archeological monuments of national, state, local or universal significance by occupation authorities was leveled to merely the user’s one. Such nihilism can lead to the rapid destruction of monuments, and it is likely that the occupation authorities will let the matter rest.

The situation with protected archaeology is no less worrying as well. The local Crimean authority’s position has not changed since the occupation, and this authority itself has not changed as well. Then this position was to create as many obstacles as possible for archeological excavations, «ran a protection racket» for the robbers of archaeological monuments and made decisions in favour of construction companies when the monuments of national significance appeared under the excavator grab. Now nothing has changed in civil servants’ attitude toward the archaeological heritage, however, the speed of construction reduced. The monuments at the designed major pipelines, roads, cottage building co-operatives and military bases are still appearing under the excavator grab. It’s a shame but once and again we are also hearing the words of our colleagues – the Crimean archeologists about the «public necessity» and the need to make a sacrifice of something for the sake of Russia.

In conclusion I would like to provide such a storyline. Near the entrance to the Quarantine Bay under the northern coast of Chersonese a postament of statue with an inscription and deepenings from the figure’s feet was found. It is likely that the postament belonged to the protectress of the city and sailors’ patroness Parthenos or Artemis that was turned to the sea with her face greeting the ships that entered the Chersonese port in the Quarantine Bay. For the lyrical digression I will recall an analogic storyline «Running on the waves» and the city of Liss of a great Crimean Alexander Green. A founding myth has not died, was continued and got another scholium-explanation and, I assure you it will bring us surprises on our way from the past to the future. Well, and Diva’s temple has not been found yet…

Evelina Kravchenko, PhD, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Archaeology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine

The project has been implemented with the support of the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation

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The project was implemented with the support of the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation

Evelyna Kravchenko

Candidate of Historical Sciences, Senior Researcher at the Institute of Archeology of the NAS of Ukraine, Head of the Inkerman Expedition of IA NASU

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