A Bosporan Polis in Ancient Sindike

By: Ekaterina M. Alekseyeva

Originally Published in 1994

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In the 6th century B.C., Ionian and Aeolian colonists founded the first Greek poles (city-states) on the shores of the Cimmerian Bosporus (modern Ketch
Strait). At the end of the 5th century or the beginning of the 4th century B.C., these poleis merged into a vast state, uniting the lands of eastern Crimea, the Taman peninsula, the Sea of Azov region, and a significant part of the northern Caucasus, right up to the modern city of Novorossiysk. The capital of this state became Panti-kapaion, located on the modern Kerch peninsula. Other large cities of the Bosporus were Theodosia, Nymphaion, and Myrmekion, within the territory of the Crimea; Hermonassa and Phanagoria on the Asiatic side of the strait; Tanais at the mouth of the Don River; and Gorgippia in the foothills of the Caucasus, in the land of Sindike.

Gorgippia has recently been the focus of a large, multidisciplinary program of archaeological research (Treister and Vinogradov 1993:560-62). The ancient city (40 hectares) and its necropolis (60 hectares) are now completely over-laid by the center of the modern resort of Anapa, whose reconstruction precipitated the large-scale investigation of the underlying city. The Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences has been working in Anapa since 1960, and an open-air archaeological park has been created, with exhibits of excavated parts of the ancient city on view.

Several aspects of the site have been studied in the course of the last two decades. The domestic quarters have been explored (entailing the excavation of 2.5 per-cent of the city’s area), over 400 burials in the necropolis have been excavated, and the composition of an ethnopolitica map of the city’s environs is under way. This article presents some highlights of this recent activity.


Gorgippia became a large polis in the beginning of the 4th century B.C. Like any ancient city, it pos­sessed a charm, or open land, which lay in the highly fertile region of Kuban, today the breadbasket of Russia. From the city’s seaport, grain flowed into other centers of the Black Sea region and of the Mediterranean. The Greek orator Deinarkhos reported in 344 B.C. that a bronze statue of Gorgippus, after whom the city is named, was erected in the Athenian agora in gratitude for his supplying grain to the Athenians during their lean years.

This city-state was, however, preceded by an earlier settlement, nameless so far, that arose no later than the last quarter of the 6th century B.C. These first colonists settled on the shore of modern Anapa Bay. Their pit dwellings were replaced in the course of time  by houses of unfired brick on sturdy stone foundations up to a meter wide. In the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. the city stretched along the sea for about 400 meters; origi­nally, it was fortified with a ditch and, at the end of the 5th century B.C., with a stone wall 2.4 meters wide.

In the first quarter of the 4th century B.C. the city burned down (over the course of its existence it burned down and was rebuilt no less than four times). Just at that time the Bosporan state was expanding, conquering new lands along the foothills of the Caucasus, and the small Greek polis on the shore of Anapa Bay was subsequently rebuilt, at twice its previous size. The new city plan survived the centuries, its main streets and blocks remaining unchanged until the final destruc­tion of the cit in the mid 3rd cen­tury A.D. (Fig. 2).

Gorgippia experienced hey­days, notably in the second half of the 4th century B.. and in the 2nd century A.D. In the 4th century B.C. it was suddenly inundated by newcomers, most likely Bosporan Greeks, who received a special right of citizenship along with their land. It was in the interest of these new settlers that the state undertook land expansion, similar to that of the self-governing Greek poles, who strove to expand their holdings.

The second period of expansion was characterized by an enormous wave of domestic construction. Large houses were built, with five to seven deep basements that occupied up to two-thirds of the total area of the whole structure. The basements extended partially into the bedrock, reaching depths of up to three meters. The construction of these multiple-basement houses de­stroyed all traces of previous occupation.

The sudden fire and subsequent destruction of the city in the mid 3rd century A.D. (the latest coins found date to 238/240 A.D.) can be connected with the early movement of Gothic tribes to the west, although Gorgippia could also have suffered from invasions by the neighboring Mans to the east. When the wooden floors- Bing in the houses burned, every­thing in the aboveground living rooms—including household utensils left behind by the inhabi­tants—collapsed down into the deep basements, crushing any objects situated there. The ruins were not cleared away as was done in previous periods, thus preserv­ing for us priceless, rich com­plexes of finds.

In earlier centuries, the site of a burned house was usually lev­eled and new construction begun in the same location. But the city was not reconstructed after the fire of A.D. 240; we pinpointed only the erection of several temporary shacks with crooked walls, attached to surviving masonry. However, large coin hoards found in Anapa’s environs contain Bosporan issues of A.D. 285-342 and prove the revival of intensive life near the devastated ancient polis. Gorgippia was destroyed com­pletely by the Hun invasion of the 370s A.D.

Reused architectural components, including various  elements of all three of the Classical orders, appeared again and again during excavation of the foundations of later structures. Among the sculptural works found in the city in recent years, a marble head of Aphrodite from the Hellenistic period (Fig. 1) and a bronze figurine of Mercury, probably dating to the 1st century A.D. (Fig. 3), stand out. Although there is a general paucity of small sculptural images from the ancient cities of the northern Black Sea region, Gorgippia has become distinguished for finds of this sort (Leskov and Lapushnian 1987:166-68, nos. 245-247).


From inscriptions, we know that Gorgippia was enclosed by defensive walls, of which only fragments remain. A repeatedly rebuilt, powerful stronghold on the northeast­ern edge of the city is currently under investigation; within this structure is a large intact house. At the moment of greatest danger in Gorgippia’s last period of existence, the stronghold barred access to one of the city’s main highways, a street 8 to 9 meters wide. This stronghold probably protected the harbor section.

Gorgippia was one of the most important centers in the Bosporan state, and controlled its own large port. The shipowners were united in a separate union of exporters, under the personal protection of the king, as an inscription testifies (CIRB 1134, found in the city; Rostowzew 1993:148, no. 41, with a new interpretation). Over the course of the centuries, Gorgippia maintained its separate status, attested by the fact that the city was granted the right to have its own mint, as well as by the vice-regency of members of the royal family.

The city lay at the borders of the state, and con­quered borders were protected. Approaches to the city were safeguarded by separately situated fortifications, which continued the fortress system of the Taman peninsula. Individual village farmsteads of the Got-gippian chora were also fortified; some were built as tower- houses, while for others separate towers were con­structed. The town of Semibratneye, lying between Gorgippia and the Taman peninsula, was enclosed by sturdy walls over 4 meters wide; apparently, it also served as a shield for the conquered land of Sindike, which was extremely important for the Bosporan state and in which Gorgippia lay. Semibratneye was situated near the Sea of Azov, at the mouth of the large Kuban River , whose bed is now dry.


Recent studies of the Gorgippian necropolis and of bur­ial grounds in the environs of the city have yielded a large number of magnificent finds. This work has also allowed us to conduct surveys important for reconstruct­ing the history of the region. For example, the funerary structures employed at the various burial grounds vary widely. Near Gorgippia, burials in stone coffins with slab covers predominate; they are surrounded by stone circles on the original surface and are completely covered by small broken stones. Sometimes, in place of a coffin, bur­ial pits were carved into bedrock. Such structures could hold up to 10 interments. Stone burial constructions from the environs of the city, dating from the 6th cen­tury B.C. onward, can be considered to be autochtho­nous, survivals from the Bronze Age. Nothing similar was found in either the necropolis of the early Greek, pre-Gorgippian settlement within Anapa or in the necropolis of Gorgippia. It appears that the Greek colonists who founded the polis lived there in isolation and did not venture beyond it.

With the expansion of the city in the 4th century B.C., however, the local material culture in the environs of Gorgippia became almost indistinguishable from the Greek. The city had a large market, and all the area inhabitants made use of it from the moment the polies was founded; therefore, autochthonous burial structures outside the city were often filled with objects made by Greek crafts- men.

Even the necropolis of Gorgippia itself reflects certain neigh- boring ethnic influences. In the 1st century A.D., there suddenly appeared crypts constructed of stone blocks (Fig. 10), as well as large, deep square pits sunk into the rock and covered either by logs or by huge slabs. Many of these tombs contained stone sarcophagi. Almost all of them were looted in antiquity, but the intact remains of one burial bear witness to their luxury and wealth of adornment. These tombs find parallels in graveyards of a Sarmatian tribe, the Aorsoi, living in the north Cau­casus. The sudden appearance in Gorgippia of tombs of the new type is connected with a new wave of inhabitants. These possibly were Aorsoi troops who had fought under the Bosporan ruler Cotys against his brother Mithradates

Within the settlement, the early necropolis was absorbed by the city blocks of the later Gorgippia; con­sequently it is impossible to keep track of chronological and territorial changes there. However, a section of prestigious and wealthy burials was revealed, situated as close to the city as possible. The graveyard lay at the exit of a wide, possibly main, street that merged with the trade road leading to neighboring poleis and tribes. In  the remaining section of the graveyard, interments with grave goods reflecting medium pros­perity are neighbors to those without any grave goods; how­ever, the latter may have been looted in antiquity.

Objects from the later burials of the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. are illustrated in the boxes that accompany this article. They attest to the quality of the small finds from this period in Gorgippia’s eventful history. Studies of not only the necropolis, but the city itself and its surrounding environs are ongoing. The story of Gorgippia’s past has just begun to be told.


The author sincerely thanks M. J. Treister, who accepted completely the painstaking task of analysis, dating, selection of analogies, and attribution of the gold ornaments found in the necropolis of Gorgippia.

Cite This Article

Alekseyeva, Ekaterina M.. "Gorgippia." Expedition Magazine 36, no. 2-3 (July, 1994): -. Accessed May 29, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/gorgippia/

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