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The Tanais River and the Greek colony of the same name, along with other Greek colonies along the north coast of the Black Sea.


Tanais ( ) is the ancient name for the River Don in Russiamarker. Strabo (Geography 11.1) regarded it as the boundary between Europe and Asia.

In antiquity, Tanais was also the name of a city in the Don river delta (Maeotian marshes) that reaches into the northeasternmost part of the Sea of Azovmarker, which the Greeks called Lake Maeotismarker. The site of ancient Tanais is about 30 km west of modern Rostov on Donmarker. The central city site lies on a plateau with a difference up to 20m in elevation in the south. It is bordered by a natural valley to the east, and an artificial ditch to the west.

History of Tanais

The site of Tanais was occupied long before the Milesians founded an emporium there. A necropolis of over 300 burial mounds near the ancient city show that the site had already been occupied since the Bronze Age, and that mound burials continued through Greek and into even Roman times.

Greek traders seem to have been meeting nomads in the district as early as the 7th century BCE without a formal, permanent settlement. Greek colonies had two kinds of origins, apoikiai of citizens from the mother city-state, and emporia, which were strictly trading stations. Founded late, in the 3rd century BCE, by merchant adventurers from Miletusmarker, Tanais quickly developed into an emporium at the farthest northeastern extension of the Hellenic cultural sphere, a natural post first for the trade of the steppes reaching away eastwards in an unbroken grass sea to the Altaimarker, the Scythian Holy Land, second for the trade of the Black Seamarker, ringed with Greek-dominated ports and entrepots, and third for trade from the impenetrable north, furs and slaves brought down the Don. Strabo mentions Tanais in his Geography (11.2.2).

The site for the city, ruled by an archon, was at the eastern edge of the territory of the kings of Bosporus. A major shift in social emphasis is represented in the archaeological site when the propylea gate that linked the port section with the agora was removed, and the open center of public life was occupied by a palatial dwelling in Roman times for the kings of Bosporus. For the first time there were client kings at Tanais: Sauromates (AD175-211) and his son Rescuporides (c. AD 220), who both left public inscriptions.

In AD 330 Tanais was devastated by the Goths, but the site was occupied continuously up to the second half of the 5th century AD. Increasingly the channel silted up, probably the result of deforestation, and the center of active life shifted, perhaps to the small city of Azovmarker, halfway to Rostov.

The archaeology of Tanais

An archaeological park and museum in Tanais.
In 1823, I.A. Stempkovsky first made a connection between the visible archaeological remains, which were mostly Roman in date, and the "Tanais" mentioned in the ancient Greek sources.

Systematic modern excavations began in 1955. A joint Russian-German team has recently been excavating at the site of Tanais, with the aim of revealing the heart of the city, the agora, and defining the extent of Hellenistic influence on the urbanism of the Bosporan Greek city, as well as studying defensive responses to the surrounding nomadic cultures.

In his last book Jakten på Odin Thor Heyerdahl advanced a highly controversial idea postulating connections between Tanais and ancient Scandinavia. In preparation of the book he conducted some archaeological research on the site of Tanais.

External links



See also

Tanais stone


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