Epigraphic research over time

 Discoveries of Greek inscriptions in the Black Sea littoral have abounded in the past few centuries. Many stones have been lost, while others have made their way into various collections of antiquities. In the early 20th century epigraphists, historians and Grecians of the West were cut off from direct contact with these regions owing to historical circumstances. For most of the century the only researchers present in the region were the Russians and Ukrainians, and starting from the second half of the century also Polish archaeologists and epigraphists.

Literary sources are modestly represented among the Greek inscriptions from the Bosporan kingdom, hence the importance of poetic texts in this assemblage. Their critical analysis gives an idea, even if limited, of the extent of Hellenization of the Bosporan urban society and again in a limited extent, the ties with mainstream poetry as demonstrated by the much more numerous texts from other territories of the Greek oikumene, especially Asia Minor, mainland Greece as well as Egypt and the western reaches of the Imperium Romanum.
Greek epitaph poetry from the Bosporan kingdom, indeed Greek poetry in general from this region, has yet to be studied as a whole. Numerous publications of individual texts, even if richly laced with remarks and analyses, can hardly make up for a synthesis of this important category of sources contributing to understanding the phenomenon that was the Bosporan Kingdom. Having said this, one should note the long and rich research tradition mostly among the Russians, concerning Greek epigraphy from the Bosporan Kingdom.
An overwhelming majority of epigraphic finds are kept in the collection of Kerch Museum. Extensive collections of Bosporan inscriptions, removed mostly in the 19th century can be found also in the Hermitage in St Petersburg, the Historical and Pushkin Museums in Moscow and the museum in Odessa.[1] Other finds are scattered around the world, the British Museum deserving special mention in this regard as the keeper of stelae and other finds spirited out of Kerch during the Crimean War. The London-based collection initiated serious research on the Bosporan Kingdom. A limited number of pieces, mostly from recent excavations, can be found in local museums in the Taman peninsula.
Epitaphs dominate the assemblage of Greek inscriptions from the Bosporan Kingdom (approximately 70% of the finds). They are for the most part simple texts mentioning the name of the deceased with modest personal data like the father’s name, kinship, seldom dates. Their greatest contribution is to prosopographic and onomastic studies mainly with regard to Iranian names and terms (Scythians and Sarmathians), as well as Thracian ones. Longer texts include epitaph poetry, decrees, honorific texts, foundations, religious dedications and texts connected with the activity of religious colleges. Some are exceedingly interesting from the epigraphic point of view producing important data for archaeologists and historian interested in the Bosporan Kingdom. Regarding the chronological range covered by these texts a few only originate from before the 5th century BC and perhaps a handful more from the 4th century BC. Most date back to the Hellenistic and Roman periods (including a large part of the tombstones).
Any epigraphic publication is preceded by a search for information about the object and its earlier publications. In the case of Bosporan inscriptions, the specificity of the situation merits a few words of comment. Odessa was the first leading center of epigraphic research with Władysław Jurgiewicz, longtime head of the History and Antiquity Society, taking the lead. The first, still quite amateurish publications were published there. When a large collection of Bosporan inscriptions reached the Hermitage in the latter part of the 1850s, it sparked the establishment of a research center on Bosporan epigraphy that has retained its leading position even today. The outstanding Russian epigraphist of the time, Vasilij Latyshev (1855—1921) from Petersburg, undertook the first serious work, publishing in effect a monumental and esteemed series entitled Inscriptiones antiquae orae septentrionalis Ponti Euxini Graecae et Latinae [IOSPE], in four volumes (vol. I, first edition 1885; second edition 1916), vol. II (1890), vol. IV (1901, with addenda for 1885—1900), issued under the auspices of the Russian Archaeological Society in Petersburg. The publication was reprinted in 1965 (Hildesheim, Georg Olms). It is a typical editio maior, including a detailed description of the object, drawing of the text (printed with special epigraphic fonts) and more seldom a photographic image.
Latyshev intended a new edition of volume II with texts from the Bosporan kingdom and even started preparing a manuscript after 1916, but his death in 1921 interrupted the project. His unfinished manuscript is in the Archives of the Petersburg branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. It contains studies of inscriptions from volumes II and IV of Inscriptiones Ponti Euxini, published by the Archaeological Commission in Petersburg, containing new finds from the years 1901—1918, and from J.J. Martii’s publications in the Notes of the Odessa Society  and W.W. Shkorpil’s in the Bulletin of the Imperial Archaeological Commission. Altogether about 1200 Bosporan inscriptions published in Latyshev’s time which were supposed to be included in the new editions (the published versions of volumes II and IV contained approximately 780 texts).
Latyshev’s work on the Bosporan inscriptions was taken up after his death by Academy member Sergius Zhebelev (1867—1941), who managed to look at 1200 texts. Zhebelev prepared what is principally an editio media with abbreviated descriptions, but often illustrated with photographic images. His decision is justified considering the excellent publications of Bosporan tombstones making up a lion’s share of the material by G. Kieseritzky (Hermitage director) and C. Watzinger in: Griechische Grabreliefs aus Südrussland, Berlin (1909). Other researchers who took up the subject later one included A.P. Ivanova (1961, chapters 5 and 6) and Tatiana A. Matkowska (numerous articles).
In 1945—1949, S. Luria (18911964), a disciple of Zhebelev and Rostovtsev, co-editor of SEG in 1929—1937, undertook further editorial work. Judging by the surviving documents, he and his associates managed to study 210 texts in Kerch and Simferopol, before being ultimately removed from the work under accusations of “cosmopolitanism” and succumbing to “foreign influence”. A consequence of these actions was the decision in 1949, of publishing the corpus in Russian.
Between 1950 and 1952, the next editor Ivan Tolstoy (1880—1954) supervised the translation of the text into Russian and a review of approximately 800 texts. According to Boltunova,[2] altogether 1200 texts of inscriptions were prepared for publication. In her review of the manuscript T.N. Knipowich pointed out a number of deficiencies, not the least being a lack of photographic images. Tolstoy’s illness and death once again cut short work on the final publication.
In 1956 Wasilij Struwe (1889—1965), an Orientalist with good knowledge of Black Sea issues, took up the editing work bringing out finally in 1965 the Korpus Bosporskich Nadpisov [KBN=CIRB[3]] which included 1328 inscriptions. Its major drawback is a lack of photographic images despite the fact that Struwe had access to Latyshev’s abundant collection. A volume of illustrations was planned, but was never published for lack of money resources. Another significant deficiency is editorial leniency which resulted in unbalanced commentaries, T. N. Knipowicz’s and W. F. Gajdukevich’s being mainly historical in nature and A. I. Dovatur’s mostly linguistic. Also, there is almost no comment on barbarian names despite the fact that these are of greatest significance in Bosporan epitaphs and despite the existence of relevant comments (see for example IOSPE IV, 1901, nos 249, 279, 339) prepared by Latyshev in association with outstanding Iranicist W.F. Miller.
Indeed this seems to be one of the few departures from Latyshev’s work because otherwise CIRB is largely based on the earlier publications and the unpublished manuscript of this scholar. The dependence can be observed by a simple comparatio numerorum. Out of 1328 inscriptions 1200 were studied, in published or manuscript form, by Latyshev. The arrangement of the material and the indices also show a dependence, as do many archaeological descriptions of objects (e.g. nos 36, 78, 84, 87, 90, 103), the translations (e.g. nos 48, 52, 54, 78, 113, 114, 120, 124, 126, 129, 130, 131 etc.), the commentaries (e.g. nos 29, 30, 78,125, 130 etc.) and even some of the errors.
In later years outstanding Russian epigraphists like E. I. Salomonik, A.I. Boltunova, T. N. Knipowicz, J.G. Vinogradov and S.R. Tochtasev concentrated mainly on the material from Olbia [4].
Work on the inscriptions was undertaken again in Petersburg quite recently, resulting in the publication in 2004 of an Album Imaginum for CIRB edited by A. K. Gavrilov. The archival images reflect the state of the monuments from at least several dozens of years ago. The photos of monuments, as well as drawings and estampages are furnished with brief notes in Latin supplying the essential data about given monuments, occasionally also circumstances of discovery and bibliography post-dating 1965. The problem with these notes is that they are very brief and hardly regular in nature. Despite the largely valid criticism on the part of several specialists,[5] the actual publication of photographic images is a milestone in Bosporan epigraphic studies.
It has also been found that the storage conditions in the Kerch Museum had not been conducive to the preservation of the objects which are for the most part made of limestone. Many tombstones stood out in the open or were kept in the Adzhimushkai quarries. The detrimental impact of these conditions on the objects was extensive.

Epitaph poetry, which counts 44 texts, is but a fraction (=3.6%) of the entire epigraphic assemblage from the Bosporan kingdom known to encompass about 1400 texts of different kinds. Even so, the importance of these texts greatly exceeds their insignificant number. Firstly, they are much more complicated than the average funerary text and secondly, they are extremely specific in character, strongly linked with the essence of that which can be defined as “Hellenism”, thus giving a better opportunity to analyze the impact of Greek culture on Bosporan society, especially during the heyday of this type of poetry in the Hellenistic period. At the same time the period corresponds to a time of the greatest prosperity of the kingdom indeed its acme. To fully evaluate the scale of this phenomenon in the Bosporan kingdom II will start with a brief historical outline, then present the epigraphic material and analyze it. On these grounds I will embark on demonstrating the degree to which Bosporan epitaph poetry was dependent on mainstream literature of this kind and on identifying special features distinguishing it from the rest of the material.


[1] The museum in Odessa and Kerch being united for a while under the management of one director.
[2] Boltunova 1966, pp. 230-232.
[3] Corpus Inscriptionum Regii Bosporani= CIRB 1965.
[4] Yailenko 1987, pp. 4-201,  which is a priceless appendix in the spirit of SEG not only for the Bosporan inscriptions published in CIRB, but also the dispersed publications post-dating CIRB
[5] See especially the review by Levinskaya and Toktasev 1995, pp. 179-198.