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Chatyr-Dag: a nekropolis of Roman Period in the Crimea by V.L. Myts, A.V. Lysenko, M.B. Shchukin,O.V. Sharo


     This book is a publication of one of the most interesting and intriguing burial-grounds in the Crimea with cremation burials in stone cists, which are quite unusual for the Crimea. Similar graves are known here only in two places.

     The burial-ground in question is situated on the southeastern slope of the mount Chatyr-Dag in 8 km from the health resort city Alushta and 557 m over the sea level. The excavations were carried out with long interruptions from 1980 until 2002 by the Crimean Branch (head Victor Myts) of the Ukrainian Institute of Archaeology and the Slavic-Sarmations Expedition (leader Mark Shchukin) of the State Hermitage Museum of St.-Petersburg also joined in 1994 the investigation. The excavations were partially funded by a grant of INTAS within wider projects.

     The book consists of two parts. The first one (Chapter 1) contains a detailed description of all 55 graves discovered there and also 11 objects which we call "waking pits". They contained some traces of fire, sometimes burnt items, but there were no human bones. This part also includes 63 plates representing plans and cross-sections of every grave as well as funeral Roods in them, grave in this abstract we will only refer to the most outstanding ones.

     The second part (Chapters 2-4) of the book is analytical. Burial rites and objects found in graves are discussed here. There are amphorae, red-slip vessels, hand-made ceramics, weapons, implements, buckles, fibulae and other ornaments, beads and so on. A special part is devoted to the controversial problem of chronology. In the Conclusion we give an account of various attempts to interpret the cemetery Chatyr-Dag that already appeared in the literature. Then we compare Chatyr-Dag with the necropolis Harax near Yalta, where cremation graves in stone boxes containing combination of weapons and agricultural tools are also present. (, 1951; , 1987).

     Finally we attempted to put Chatyr-Dag into the historical context of relations between the Bosphorian Kingdom, Rome, Chersoneses, the Goths and other people.

     One has to say few words about the layout of the cemetery in question. If one looks at a standard map of the site (Plate 1), one can notice that the graves are not distributed equally, but form two areas, "bushes", the southern and the northern ones. A distance between them is around 80 m.

     The first excavations were carried out by Victor Myts in 1980-1982 after the destruction of several stone-boxes on the southern spot by contemporary construction workers. Eleven graves were discovered there and the most interesting was grave number 1. (Plates 3, 4). An amphora-urn has been placed into a sandstone cist. Fifteen bronze coins have been scattered inside the cist. These were the coins of Roman Emperors of the Tetrarchy: Diocletian (284-305), Constan-tius Chlorus (305-306), Maximinus Daia (308-313) and Licinius (307-323).

     Graves 2 and 3 (Plates 5, 6, 7) were destroyed during the construction works, but funeral goods were preserved. Both graves were also stone-boxes with amphorae-urns and sets of weapons and implements. In grave 2 there were discovered a bent sword, a spearhead, a javelin-head and also a sickle. Grave 3 consisted of a shield boss, a shield handle, a spearhead, a sickle and an axe-mattock or axe-adze. Such multifunctional implements were widely used by the legionaries of the Roman army when marching camps were erected.

     Graves of the northern "spot" situated on a glade occupied the top and the eastern slope of a small stony hill (Plate 1: Plate 13). The construction works conducted at the foot of the hill in 1988 destroyed several graves with stone constructions. The rescue excavation was done by Victor Myts and 11 more graves were investigated.

     In 1994, the investigations began at the northern spot on the slope and the top of the hill with a wider area of excavations. Totally 43 burials and 11 "waking pits" were discovered. On the slope of the hill, mainly pit-cremation graves were found (Plate 13) and one more sandstone box, grave 55 (Plates 51, 52, 53), that hadn't been disturbed by modern builders.
A large amphora containing cremated human bones, several hand and wheel-made vessels, various bronze and iron objects were found in the cist. Among them was a bronze coin by emperor Diocletian minted in 284-287 AD. A spearhead and a siekle have been placed behind the stone slabs.

     As for the "waking pits", they were concentrated mainly on the top of the hill (Plate 13). The most interesting among them is the pit number 8 (Plate 57A), where a piece of wooden square bar was found. It seems likely that a large square pole had been put into the pit, perhaps an idol or a totem.

     Several separate items were found on the ground on the top the hill (Plates 14A; 15B). These were a spear-head, three knifes, a pair of awls, a pendant made from a rubbed bronze Bos-phorian coin, fragments of iron rings, several rivets perhaps for shield bosses or other objects, an iron axe thrust into the ground.

     It is not impossible that the top-ground had been used as a place for sacrifice, wakes or some similar ritual.

     An iron fibula of the so-called Pilviny type dated from 5-6 centuries ( 1989) was also found at this place (Plate 14A). It is the latest item found on the necropolis. In this time the funerals apparently were done on the slope of the hill. Among them apart from the aforementioned grave number 55 the following ones are the most interesting.

     Grave 12 (Plate 15A). The burial was destroyed by construction works, but the workers passed to the Alushta Regional Museum two objects: a dagger or a short sword (the blade is 51,2 cm long) and a bayonet-like lance-head.

     The dagger has two cuts on the upper part of the blade near handle. The arms of such kind are usually called in Russian archaeological literature the "daggers of Maeothian type", because they are often found at the Northern Caucasus and the Lower Don basin, although as a matter of fact they spread over a vaster area up to the Danube, where they are called "Micia type" ( 1971, . 72-78; Harchoiu 1988; Suep-pault 1996).

     There is some disagreement concerning the function of such weapon and the intention of the cuts on the upper part of the blade. The first version: the daggers were rather often found in graves together with long swords. A question arises, whether daggers were weapons for the left hand during the fencing. Such method is well known from old handbooks of fencing. (scukin 1993, p. 327).

     The second version: the cuts were made in order to tie the dagger to a staff transforming it into a lance ( 2004) or, to be more precise, into a kind of halberd.

     As a matter of fact these debates are superfluous, the weapon might have had double function. The daggers of the "Maeothian type" first appeared at the turn of the 3-rd4-th centuries and existed until the 6-th century, mainly during the late 4-thearly 5-th centuries (Souppault 1996).

     As for the bayonet-like armour-piercing spearhead (Plate 15A, 2) similar items are not found very often but some finds are known along the Rhein-Danubian Roman limes (Waurick 1994, S. 15). One piece originates from the famous bog-site Illerup in Denmark (Ilkjaer 1990. S. 53-59, 79-85, Abb. 197), which is dated from the period of the Marcomannic Wars of 166-180 or a little bit later. Similar piercers are also known in Abkhazia at the Caucasus, where they date back to the second part of the 4-th-5-th centuries (, 1982, . 2, 25, 26, . 124, 126).

     One could assume that bayonet-like points were used as protective heads for ballistae, which were used by the Roman army; every legion had 52 ballistae in its disposition (Vegetius I, 25). According to the information by Constantine Por-phirogenius a special detachment of ballistae mounted on vehicles was stationed in Chersoneses in the Crimea (Const Porph. 53) exactly in the period of Diocletian and Constantine the Great.

     The burial rite of the grave 13 (Plate 16) is quite unusual. A comparatively small stone box (0.5x0.3x0.2 m) was placed in a rather deep pit. Inside of the stone-box there were put cremated bones as well as fragments of bronze bracelets, rings, bead of lead and so on.

     The grave 14 (Plates 17, 18) is similar in construction. Stone box of the size of 60x34x34 cm was placed into the pit of the size of 70x40x80 cm. The northern slab of the box was larger then other ones and towered over the box over 12 cm. It was noticeable from the ground even nowadays. Apparently it marked the place of the burial. The stone-box was filled with products of burning including human bones and various small objects. There were fragments of bronze bracelets, a torque, finger-rings, pendants, numerous beads including the ones made of blue Egyptian faience. Except that, there were also found two bronze and one iron buckles as well as 6 small bronze bells and 6 small bronze rectangular decorated plates with two borders bent for fasting.

     The purpose of the plates is unclear, they could decorate different objects. However, in the inhumation graves of the burial-grounds Bitak and Nejsats in the Crimea similar items were discovered in situ on the foreheads of female skeletons. Those graves were dated from the turn of the 2-nd 3-rd centuries. ( 1998, . 1:1 1, 12). Apparently the plates once decorated either a headdress or kind of diadem or forehead wreaths.

     The plates and small bells of the tomb 14 in Chatyr-Dag were used perhaps for same purpose.

     It can be noticed that such decorations were rather rare in the Crimea and Northern Black Sea coast during the Roman Period, however a custom to wear forehead wreaths, the so-called "vainagi", was very popular among the women of Eastern Balticum (Vaskevicyte, 1992, p. 128-132) Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia. Ornamentation of the plates resembles the plaques from a burial-ground in the Kama river basin ( 1980 . , 1-30).

     It seems that these finds demonstrate certain contacts with population of the forest zone of the Eastern Europe the Balts, Proto-Slavs and Finno-Ugrians.

    The same direction of contacts could be shown by a find from the grave 15 (Plate 19A). Unfortunately the tomb was destroyed during the building works although the remains of the burial were found as a spot of dark earth, which included burnt bones, charcoal, fragments of sandstone slabs and several objects. Among them the most important is a fragment of a bronze large fibula of the so-called "cross-stepped" or "cross-pieces" type.

     Such objects until that moment were not known in the Crimea and the Northern Black Sea coast, but the brooches of that kind in various variants are rather typical for the archaeological sites of Latvia, Lithuania, Sambian peninsula and Mazuria (Lietuvos, 1978, p. 36-38, pav. 25, 3; Mi-chelbertas, 1986, pav. 37: 2-4, p. 368; Moora, 1938, Abb. 18-19. S. 81-100). Probably they were a local derivation of fibulae Almgren 94-98 widespread over the territories of the Central Europe during the stages B2/C1 and Cla of the Roman Period, that is the second part of the 2-nd and early 3-rd centuries (Almgren, 1923, Taf. IV-V; Godliowski, 1970). The local variants appeared perhaps a little bit later.

     Sometimes the large "cross-pieces" fibulae are decorated with red enamel in the champleve technique. The brooch from the grave 15 in Chatyr-Dag obviously belongs to the same type.

     The objects decorated by red champleve enamel (fibulae, pendants, links of chains and so on) are typical feature of various archaeological cultures of the Eastern Europe between the Baltic and Black Seas littorals, the Vistula and the Volga. They were catalogued by. G. F. Korzukhina in 1978 (, 1978) and dated from 5-th 6-th centuries. However E. L. Gorokhovskij argued then that most of the ornaments dated from the late 2-nd4-th centuries (, 1982).

     Among the finds of the enamelled objects G. F. Korzukhina noticed 17 "cross-pieces" fibulae. Their finds concentrate on the right bank of the Middle Dnieper and several ones are also marked as coming from the basin of the rivers Desna, Don and Volga (Fig. 11 A).

     According to the latest research most of them dated from the turn of the 3-rd 4-th centuries (, 1982; , , 1899; , 2000). Judging by the size and the configuration, the fragment of the fibula found in Chatyr-Dag is closest to examples from Nizhnij Bishkin (, , 1999, 146, . 3,7) and Khmelna in the Middle Dnieper basin, the one found during the excavation of the earthwork Duna near the town of Tula not far from Moscow and the fibula from Dworaki Pikuty in Eastern Poland (, 1978, . 23, 55, 58, 59).

     Grave 21 (Plates 24-25) is rather peculiar. It is two-storied. A funeral pit (1,05x0,85x0,63 m) was faced and covered with sandstone slabs. The slabs of the western wall of the stone-box were higher than the others and towered over the surface, thus marking the place of the grave. Inside of the stone-box there were placed the remains from the cremation. On the bottom of the pit there was a hollow of the size of 0,45x0,60x0,30 covered with sandstone slabs. A corpse of a baby almost completely decayed was discovered here. A red-slip jug (Plate 25, 1) and various objects were placed near the baby. There were 5 bronze bracelets, bronze finger-ring, bronze torque with a large black bead string on it, beads of glass and some other items (Plate 25). Three silver coins were also found - Trebonian Gallus (251253 AD), Gallienus (253268 AD) and a coin by a Bosphorian king Rescuporis IV printed in 266 AD.

     A gold oval medallion was found in the upper part of the tomb. A bronze oval base-plate was covered by a gold leaf with stamped ornamentation and a large cornelian was inlaid in the centre of the medallion. (Plate 25, 7; Plate 14B).

     It looks like the medallion was used for the second time. Originally, it was probably a central part of a wide gilded bracelet of hinge construction. Specimens of such jewellery are rather well known among the antiquities of the Crimea. For example such bracelets were discovered on the cemeteries Chernaja Rechka (, 1963 . 99, . XIII, 1) and Druzhnoe (, 1994 . 524, 531, 534, 535. . 5: 4, 5; , 1999 . 152, . 4: 7). They were found together with coins by Gordian III (238-244 AD), Philipp the Arab (247249 AD), Trajan Decius (249251 AD). Similar ornaments existed also in later time, in the burials of the middle of the 3-rd and first half of the 4-th centuries (, 1974, . 42, 51, III, 14: , 1905, c. 123, . 28; , 1997, . 108, . 58: 5). Most of the scholars believe that the bracelets of this sort were mainly in vogue during the middle of the 3-rd and the first half of the 4-th centuries (, 1994, . 77, . 2: 7; , , 1999, . 244-245, . 1: 25, 32).

     As for the others burials of the necropolis they are mainly pit-cremations. The corpses were burnt anywhere outside, the burnt bones and the remains of the funeral fire were put into the pits of various depth and form. Sometime the pits ,were covered with stones. Various goods were placed into the pits such as ceramics, ornaments and so on. The form and the configuration of the pits very often depended on the uneven surface of the rock that formed the base of the hill (Fig. 1, 2).

     As for the chronology of the cemetery, the dating of every type of the objects and every grave is discussed in the corresponding part of the book. Apart from this, all data are shown on the fig. 18, 19, where the chronological position of every type of objects and their assemblages in graves are shown according to the method of "short dating" and "rhombus approach" (, 1978; Shchukin, Sharov, 1999; , 2004). We came to the following conclusions.

     There is a certain small probability that the earliest graves were made already in the first part of the 3-rd century; however, it is more likely that they were done in the middle of the 3-rd century. It is exactly the cemetery that was used during the later 3-rd early 4-th centuries during the Tetrarchy from Diocletian to Licinius. At any rate it was a period approximately between 280 and 320 AD when the majority of the people buried in the necropolis were particularly active in their life. The period of the middle of the 4-th century also should not be excluded, although it is less probable. Most of the graves in the stone cists perhaps were done at the same times.

     The likelihood of functioning of the cemetery in the late 4-th and in the 5-th centuries is minimal.

     The fibula of the type Pilviny (Plate 14A, 5) found separately on the upper sacral ground of the hill could be explained by two reasons. Either it is an accidental find or somebody still visited the already neglected cemetery.

     Conclusion. Some scholars suppose that the cremation burial rite appeared on the peninsula in connection with the penetration in the middle of the 3-rd century of the Germans and other northern tribes, the participants of the so-called "Scythian" or "Gothic" Wars, when the bands of the invaders tormented the Balkan and Asia Minor provinces of the Roman Empire. As a matter of fact there is no direct evidence in the written sources for the presence of the Germans on the southern coast of the Crimea during the period in question, although according to some indirect evidence of archaeology one could suppose that.

     At any rate some form of hand-made ceramics from Chatyr-Dag resembles pottery of Northern Europe (Fig. 5)

     The most intriguing fact is that one could see on Chatyr-Dag a combination of the following features: cremation in stone cists, bent weapons and agricultural implements placed into the graves together. This phenomenon is known in the Crimea only in one place. It is the burial ground Harax near Yalta (, 1951; , 1987). There is nothing similar on the surrounding territories neither in the Ukraine nor in the Northern Caucasus, neither in Central nor in Eastern Europe. Never.

     As Michel Kazanski has once noticed, there is only one rather remote place in Europe, where one could see similar combination of these features. It is Southern Norway. He listed a series of sites: Snipstad, Ovre Stabu, Gile, Burel, Evang, Haakenstad, Valle, Sunkenstad, Ringm, Krabe, Konsengen, Egge, Brntehangen-Einung, Fjellberg, Snortheim, Ula, Vahaugen, Medladen and so on (Kazanski, 1991, p. 496).

     One could suppose that this is a coincidence, nothing more. However, on the other hand during the period of the great migrations from the Marcomanning and until the Gothic Wars, all long distance movement of the groups of populations who disturbed the borders of the Roman Empire were possible and real.

     As it was noticed (Shchukin, 2000), the contacts between the Baltic and Black Seas littorals occurred by three ways. The first and the main one was the way along the Vistula, the Western and the Southern Bug rivers as well as along the Dniester. This way marked the movement of the population of the Wielbark culture to the Southeastern direction. It was rather remarkable massive migration (Kucharenko, 1967; , 1980; Szczukin, 1981; Wolagiewicz, 1993 and so on).

     However, there also existed other ways. The second western one was a way along the Vistula to the Tisza and then to the Lower Danube region. The third eastern one came by the Eastern Europe along the Neman or the Western Dvina to the Upper Dnieper or the Desna rivers and further to the South. The existence of all the three ways is supported by the distribution of the archaeological finds. (Shchukin, 2000).

     Because of a rather dense population of the regions on both western and eastern routes, only certain comparatively small groups of traders and travellers could penetrated by these two ways. Since the "cross-pieces" fibula was found in the grave 15 and the objects of such kind are typical solely for Eastern Europe, one could suppose that the small group of travellers going from Scandinavia reached the Crimea by the eastern route.

     It is likely that the emperors of the Tetrarchy used the newcomers as mercenaries to control an important mountain road along the southern coast of the Crimea from Chersoneses to Theo-dosia. Both Chatyr-Dag and Harax lay exactly on this road.

     Of course, all these speculations are nothing more than a hypothesis.

©Writed by Mark Shchukin
Corrected by Anastasya Lukina

6 2009 .
© ..