Pre-colonization Period

Ancient Period

Medieval Period

Chersonesos Cited in Works by Ancient Authors

The "Stone Archive" of Chersonesos

"Tales of Chersonesos"

Queries to Preserve Scholars

Pre-colonization period

  • The Geography of the Heraklean Peninsula    
  • Evidence for the Prehistoric Settlement of this Territory    
  • Archaeological investigations of the Heraklean Peninsula    
  • Archaeological Study of Pre-Colonization Sites    
  • Map of Archaeological Sites of the Pre-Colonization Period    
  • Catalogue of Archaeological Sites of the Pre-Colonization Period

        The Heraklean, or Trachean, Peninsula forms a triangular projection on the southwestern edge of the Crimean peninsula. The cape of Chersonesos (called Fanar on old maps) lies at the vertex of this triangle, and the straight line between upper Sevastopol Bay (together with North and Large Bays) and upper Balaklava Bay constitutes its base. This geographic zoning appears in the ancient period. The Greek geographer and historian Strabo (circa 64/63 BC - circa AD 20) referred to the Crimean peninsula as Tauric or Scythian Chersonesos, that is, the peninsula of the Taurians, or the Scythians (from the names of peoples living there). At times he also called Crimea - Chersonesos Major to differentiate it from another Tauric Chersonesos (or Chersonesos Minor) located on this peninsula, namely, what has been termed the Heraklean Peninsula since the 19th century [Strabo, VII, IV, 1-2]. The isthmus which connects Chersonesos Major and Minor is located between Symbolon Limen harbor (modern Balaklava Bay) and Ktenuntos harbor (modern Sevastopol Bay). There was a colony founded by settlers from Heraklea Pontica (in Asia Minor) on Chersonesos Minor, a city that was also called Tauric Chersonesos [Strabo, VII, IV, 2]. Crimea, or Chersonesos Major, covers an area of about 26,000 square kilometers, while the area of Chersonesos Minor (i.e. the Heraklean Peninsula) measures approximately 126 square kilometers.
        From the point of view of Strabo and other Greek authors, Chersonesos Minor was remarkable only because of the existence there of a Greek city called Tauric Chersonesos. Citizens from Delos, expatriated from their island by the Athenians, participated in the founding of Chersonesos together with the Herakleans. It is supposed that the citizens of Delos were expatriated twice, in 528 BC and 422/21 BC, which is why the foundation of Chersonesos is dated either to 528 BC or 422/21 BC. The majority of scholars consider the latter date to be more convincing.
        The results of archaeological excavations suggest that Chersonesos Minor, or the Heraklean Peninsula, was developed by Greek colonists and became the agricultural territory (chora) of the city of Chersonesos by the last quarter of the 4th century BC. The colonists divided about 10 square kilometers of the chora into plots.


        The large-scale agricultural development of the ancient period and the construction of modern Sevastopol considerably reduced any traces of life which preceded the foundation of Chersonesos and the colonization of its outlying areas. From time to time these traces are recovered by finds of artifacts from the pre-colonization period made during excavations in Chersonesos and the ancient sites of its chora; however, for the most part they have not attracted the attention of scholars. Indeed, the only hypothesis scholars are willing to make on the relative lack of information is that this territory was populated from extreme antiquity. Scholars have concentrated mainly on ancient and medieval Chersonesos and a group of sites related to it.


        In 1922-1924 Lev Solovev, an employee of the museum of Chersonesos, started the purposeful search for sites of the pre-colonization period on the Heraklean Peninsula and neighboring areas. He found the sites of many settlements and cemeteries of the Bronze and Early Iron age that are well-known today. Unfortunately, his archaeological investigations have never been continued and developed. His results are still unpublished and unknown to the majority of scholars. In the early 1950s Stanislav Strzheletskiy collected and systematized data from libraries and archives and as a result he attributed more than twenty sites on the Heraklean Peninsula with traces of the Bronze Age or Early Iron Age settlements or individual artifacts, three to four groups of megalithic stone burial constructions (cist burials), and at least ten groups of kurgans. At the same time he supervised the large-scale excavations of houses and household pits of the early 1st millennium BC in the Uch-Bash settlement near modern Inkerman, and a cemetery of megaliths (cist burials), which was probably related to this settlement. In the early 1970s Strzheletskiy's investigations were continued by the Sevastopol archaeological expedition of the museum of Chersonesos headed by Oleg Savelya. Consequently, a group of Bronze and Early Iron Ages sites were found to be located in modern building zones and developed land plots in Sevastopol. Several sites were excavated.
        The results of the aforementioned investigations provide us with a perforated outline of the history of Tauric Chersonesos (i.e. the Heraklean Peninsula) and its adjoining area in the pre-colonization and early-colonization periods.


        Two kurgans of the Kemi-Oba and Pit Grave archaeological cultures signify that the Heraklean Peninsula was populated in the 3rd - early 2nd millenia BC. There is no reliable data for the Late Stone Age (Mesolithic and Neolithic); however, no specialists dealing with the Stone Age have studied the area. There are sites with apparent Mesolithic and Neolithic traces situated near the Heraklean Peninsula, and it is possible that the Stone Age sites of Tauric Chersonesos are merely waiting to be uncovered by scholars.
        From the earlier Bronze Age there are eight settlements of the Catacomb archaeological culture. They are located on the terraces of hollows and gullies, in places with fertile and water-bearing soils. A cemetery of the late stage of the Catacomb culture, many features of which are similar to the sites of the Kamenka - Liventsy group, has been excavated near the Heraklean Peninsula. However, in general terms there has been no purposeful and large-scale study conducted according to modern scholarly standards of these sites and sites of the Frame Grave culture (or culture of log cabin burials) (Late Bronze Age) located on Chersonesos Minor (the Heraklean Peninsula).
        In areas near the Heraklean Peninsula there are numerous settlements of the Kizil-Koba culture (Early Iron Age): in the lower valleys of Belbek and Chorna rivers, especially in the region of Inkerman. On the Heraklean Peninsula itself there are more than twenty sites bearing features of the Kizil-Koba settlements. Many scholars tie the bearers of the Kizil-Koba culture to the Taurians of ancient myths and descriptions.
        These settlements were located on slopes of gullies and hollows that were protected from the wind, and near fertile and water-bearing soils of floodlands and thalwegs, sometimes on former settlements of the Bronze Age. The sizes and configurations of these settlements depended mainly on the topography of the area.
        No evidence exists for the regular planning of these settlements. Semi-pit dwellings, pit-dwellings, and fragile ground constructions have not been investigated adequately. Traces of settlements consist for the most part of household pits, which were used for short periods and then filled with refuse. The results of archaeological studies indicate that the main occupations of the bearers of this culture were farming and tending animals. It is possible that at least some of the household pits were used as sacrificial places. In several cases, including those on the Heraklean Peninsula, there were dog and even human burials inside these pits. The latest burials date to the 5th-4th centuries BC. (Herodotus' story of the Taurian ritual of human sacrifice is unwittingly brought to mind.)
        In recent years fragments of Greek fine ware and amphorae of the 5th-4th centuries BC have been discovered in infills of household pits on the Kizil-Koba settlements located on the territory of the later Greek chora of Chersonesos (divided into land plots by the last quarter of the 4th century BC). Thus emerges the first evidence for the co-existence of Greek Chersonesos with the neighboring Taurians - contacts which were established in the first stages of the life of the city. A line of new barbarian settlements appeared along the frontiers of the Heraklean Peninsula approximately in the middle of the 4th century BC. From the point of view of topography these settlements were related to the system of the Greek land plots of Chersonesos. Thus it is possible to hypothesize that the barbarian settlements and their adjacent plots made up part of the structure of the chora of Chersonesos in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC.
        Archaeological data suggest that the situation in Tauric Chersonesos considerably differs from that in another areas of the northern Black Sea region that underwent Greek colonization.


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    [Under construction]

    © O. Ya. Savelya, 2000.

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