Late Hellenistic period

 The general political situation in the 2nd and 1st century BC affected the Bosporan Kingdom as well. The Hellenistic monarchies were in decline, which translated into waning interest in Pontic affairs. Distant Rome began to play a growing role also in this region starting from the 2nd century BC, but until the 1st century when it came to rule the Black Sea undivided, it remained a very distant power for the Bosporan Greeks. By the same, the Kingdom was faced with the challenge of dealing with the barbarian tribes around it largely by itself. The increasingly powerful Sarmathians constituted the biggest threat and the Bosporan kings apparently paid tribute.[1] The Scythians also seem to have regained some of their old power in the western and southern Crimea and on the western Black Sea shore. In any case, the 2nd century BC saw more and more dynastic marriages between the Bosporan kings and daughters of Scythian princesses (or the other way round).[2] According to Vinogradov, this demonstrates a close alliance between the Scythians and the Bosporus directed against the Sarmathians.[3] Despite the alliances the Kingdom was in decline, becoming easy prey to challengers from outside, from Asia Minor foremost. The first to make a real effort to place the region under his domination was Pharnakes[4] A preserved defense pact between Pharnakes I and Chersonesos, dated to 179 BC and directed against barbarians threatening the Crimean city, preceded by a hundred years similar developments in the Bosporus.[5] The alliance seems to have worked, because the Scythians ceased to raid Chersonesos [6] A turning point was reached in the struggle between the Scythians and Sarmathians regarding control of the region with the Sarmathians gaining superiority thanks to their alliance with Pharnakes. Rome played a decisive role in negotiating a peace treaty for the first time in 179 BC.[7] In these events, in which Pharnakes eventually lost out, the Bosporan Kingdom was a victim rather than a side. Pharnakes’ dream to unite the Black Sea was made real by his grandson, Mithridates VI.[8] His military expedition to Chersonesos constituted a prelude to the First Pontic War. Chersonesos was at the time, like other cities in the region, close to annihilation at the hands of its Scythian neighbors.[9] The expedition was a logical follow-up to Pharnakes’ political strategy and initiated a series of events which led to the peaceful transfer of the Bosporan Kingdom to Mithridates by the last Spartokid king.[10] After putting down a rebellion in the Bosporus led by Pairisades V, the Bosporan Kingdom was practically incorporated into the Pontic state of Mithridates. This political unity of the region unfortunately led to conflict with Rome, the economic fall of the state and ultimate loss of independence, although in the beginning of the 1st century BC there seems to have been some economic stabilization and development of commerce.[11]

The course of events reveals a progressing loss of vitality on the part of the Bosporan Kingdom and the other Greek colonies in the northern Black Sea littoral. Culture became barbarized in consequence as well. It is more of a general principle, a process that is especially well documented in Egypt. The simultaneous Hellenization of the barbarian tribes is unquestionable, attested to in part in the epigraphic sources, for instance by the already mentioned dynastic marriages between Greek and Scythian aristocrats. Add to this a growing cosmopolitism, which is evidenced in the epigraphic sources: the inscriptions tell us about specialists in a variety of fields coming from all parts of the oikumene.[12] It can safely be assumed that the mood was receptive to new trends and cultural models, also in the case of epitaph poetry. From the 2nd century BC the kingdom of Pont must have also served as an important model. For about a century it was slowly at first and then more boldly acting as a hegemonist in the entire Black Sea region.

[1] Vinogradov 1987 b=PS, pp. 526-562.
[2] The marriage of Kamasaria, widowed queen of Pantikapaion[3] Vinogradov 1987=PS, p. 57.
[4] Kolobova 1949, p. 28. This is not the place for analyzing the political strategy of Pharnakes I and contributing by the same to a lively debate on the political situation in the Mediterranean in this period. Polybius, 25, 2, 10 ff. and Arrianus, PPE 16 are the primary sources for Pharnakes’ campaign; for Rome’s reaction, Polybius 23, 9, 2.
[5] IOSPE I2 402; newer comments: Burstein 1980, p. 7, Saprykin 1990, p. 207, BE 1990, 559.
[6] Shcheglov 1978, pp. 129-131.
[7] Harmata 1970, p. 19.
[8] The issue of the carrier of Mithridates VI Eupator will nit be discussed; it has been the object of research for more than a hundred years: Niese 1887, pp. 567-569, Meyer 1879, p. 85, Reinach 1895, chapter 2, Brandis 1899, p. 773, Olshausen 1978, col. 420, Glew 1981, pp. 109-130, Shelov 1982, p. 243 f., Vinogradov 1985, pp. 643-645.
[9] Strabo[10] Strabo[11] Vinogradov 1987 a, pp. 65-67
[12] Cf. IOSPE I2 77, 78, 670, 671, 672 (Posideos in the service of King Skyluros of the Scythians); for a synthetic review, see Vinogradov 1987 a, p. 68. Highly interesting commemorative material on the court of the king of Pont presented in Olshausen 1974.