By the end of WWI, the Greeks whom we still hear claiming they want “no more lost homelands” reclaimed the recognition of their patris on the south-eastern Black Sea shore. Like for their Ancient and Byzantine ancestors, the strongest foundation of their identity was their difference from their environment and their claimed kinship with the Mediterranean Hellenism. However, above their attachment to Hellenicity, their community has been always defined by their Aegean cognates through their remoteness and acculturation.
A critical, global history of Hellenism in Pontus still needs to be written. Several points suggest the complexity of this study. “Pontus” designates the surroundings of the Euxine Sea and the North-Eastern Asia Minor – two territories whose real and imaginary frontiers have been shifting during four millennia of history. The sources, partial and fragmentary, involve multidisciplinary methodologies. The theoretical concept of “identity” must be refined: as Pontikos and Pontios cover different cultural realities, represented by various concepts over the time, the research must be focused on singulary aspects mentioned alltogether in the claims of the Pontians.
Concentrating on the Ancient Pontians, one undertands the need to distinguish between “Pontiacness”, as a geographic identity which corresponds to topic groups, and “Pontianness”, as an ethnic identity which involves community of language, religion, customs, and memory of single origin. The first Pontian ethnos was proclaimed in the context of Mithridates Eupator’s kingdom and of Pompey’s Bithynian province. A political willpower, extending upon a territory and acting for the cultural uniformisation of a plural society are the three factors to be studied in order to explain what made this people a people. Achaemenid, Anatolian and Hellenic elements, revealed by litterary, epigraphic, numismatic sources and archaeological finds, fournished the material of this historical process.
What were the Greeks doing so far to the east? Taganrog was the outpost of Greek settlement furthest away from the ancestral Greek homeland in the furthermost northern Black Sea region. The Greeks had begun colonizing this area in the second half of the 7th century BC. They had advanced as far as the mouths of the Don and Myus Rivers on the shores of the Sea of Azov. About ten kilometers west of the present-day mouth of the Don, traces of an early Greek settlement have been found. At that time, the adjacent steppes and the Don delta were already settled; by the late Bronze Age, a system of settlements had arisen that may have been used temporarily by half-settled nomads. Taganrog was a trading post with local and Greek population; it seems to have lived on into the Middle Ages, though evidence of this is still lacking. The reason is obvious: the Don delta was always an attractive area for settlement, being in a favorable transportation location and having rich stocks of fish.
But one of the crucial questions for research is why no city developed here of the kind found everywhere else that the Greeks colonized. The problem cannot have been a lack of means of livelihood. Were there political reasons for the exception? Did nomadic peoples prevent the formation of a city? Or did Crimean or Tatan Greeks want to prevent competition?
Archaeologists and geo-scientists work hand in hand to trace the connection between the developments in the natural surroundings and in culture in the late Bronze and early Iron Age. As in the Land of Seven Rivers, here too the landscape is characterized by huge kurgans.
Settled People and Nomads
For archaeology, the kurgans are cultural monuments. Archaeologists make cuts into them and examine the artifacts found in them to learn about the burial rites of the builders. The geo-scientists view the kurgans’ arrangement in the landscape and the meaning that might be behind it. The basic issue bringing the two disciplines together is how people lived in the early civilization. What did the landscape around Taganrog look like before and during Greek colonization?
Pollen is durable, even in inhospitable environments. If it must, it can survive thousands of years. So it is especially well suited to provide information on the vegetation of the past, the way the landscape was used, and the forms of agriculture. Plant matter – along with pollen, also “large botanic remnants” like parts of seeds and fruits – is extracted from sediment layers in selected spots. The geo-scientists know where the best “archives” can be expected: former river channels and the feet of mountain slopes are promising. The inspection of the smallest particles joins the view from great elevation. Aerial photography is another method for reconstructing the landscape around Taganrog and its temporal changes in the last 2000 years and for answering the essential research questions: How did the conditions of the natural space influence the cultural development of the nomads and settled groups, how did they shape the landscape, and was there climate change?
Svend Hansen is Direktor of the Eurasia-Department of the German Archaeological Institute and Honorary Professor for Prehistoric Archaeology at the Freie Universität.
Currently he excavates at the Neolithic settlement of mound Aruchlo/Georgia and at Pietrele in Romania, a Copper Age settlement. In research he focuses on social archaeology, the circumstances of technological innovations and on prehistoric techniques. He is member of the network “Forging Identities: The Mobility of Culture in Bronze Age Europe” of The European Commission. In Topoi Svend Hansen is working about Bronce Age depositions (Hoards).
For further projects – not related to TOPOI, see Svend Hansen in profile.