Roman period

While the state of the sources supports a presentation of the Bosporan kingdom’s history through the 3rd century AD, the chronological distribution of preserved epitaphs reveals that the 1st century AD is in practice a significant limitation of this history for the purposes of the present study. Under Mithridates there occurred a significant change in state and power organization. The Bosporus was a part of the Iranian-Hellenistic state and lost its independence from the times of the Spartokid kings. In effect, the Romans entered a region that was integrated politically, economically and presumably also, although this is less easy to trace, culturally to a certain degree as well.
In the period of Roman domination entirely new economic trends appeared: intensive trade with the western part of the Black Sea region, especially with the Roman provinces on the Danube Fish become a staple export product. The state of the sources (mainly archeological) is insufficient to interpret this as a broader regularity or only as Roman army commissions. It is difficult to determine what effect this had on the traditional relations with the southern shores of the Black Sea. The epigraphic material most certainly does not reveal any indication of it. Latin texts are virtually absent, while ties with cities of Asia Minot continue to be present in the surviving texts.[1]
After the fall of Mithridates and his son Pharnakes power in the Bosporus passed in effect of a rebellion into the hands of Asander (47-17 BC) who gave rise to the Asandrite dynasty. He was a local aristocrat and a governor for Pharnakes in the Bosporus, and at least in the beginning of his rule he instigated a return to the Spartokid tradition. In any case he first used only the title of archon, which could suggest increased importance of the Greek cities, but after his marriage to Dynamis, daughter of Pharnakes whom he had betrayed, he adopted an Iranian titulature.[2] Asander defended his position against the Romans and Augustus finally accepted him as the ruler of the Bosporan Kingdom, but his death initiated a power struggle that Rome quickly took advantage of to establish control over the Bosporus. The titulature of successive kings is evidence enough: starting with Asander, we find epithets like “friend of the Romans” and also “friend of Caesar”. [3] There can be no doubt as to where the decision who sat on the Bosporan throne was made. The two epithets became a regular element of the titulature of the Bosporan kings. The dynasty as well as a basic dependence on Rome lasted through the 3rd century AD when the last gold coins were struck in the Bosporus under the joint rule of Tiberius Julius Kotys III (AD 227-235) and his son Tiberius Julius Ininthimeus (AD 235-240). The raid of the Goths at this time changed the power situation in the region irreversibly. In AD 342 the Ostrogoth king Hermanaric defeated and killed Tiberius Julius Rheskuporis VI, the last king of the dynasty, but fell victim himself to the attack of the Huns in AD 375.
Dependence on Rome was a time of stabilization on a much lower level of material culture than under the Spartokid kings. The period also witnessed growing Sarmathization of the state with most of the Aspargid kings taking as wives the daughters of barbarian chiefs. Most of them unfortunately are not known by name, although in a few cases a Sarmathian or other origin is determinable. Sarmathization can be observed in many other fields, the best example being supplied by representations on funerary stelae, in which the deceased are shown in Sarmathian dress.

Approximately half of the known Bosporan epitaphs come from the Roman period, but only three have been dated to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Inscriptions are on the whole the most important source for studying the history of the Bosporan kingdom, but the epitaphs contribute little in this respect and while it is difficult to form conclusions based just on the above cited statistics of chronological distribution, it does seem probable that the 1st century AD constituted a significant caesura for the role of Hellenic culture in the Bosporus.


[1] See the epitaph of Theophilia, daughter of Hekataios (no. 20 catalogue), 1st century BC, who came from Sinope
[2] CIRB 30 (Pantikapaion) ): (ba[sileu/ontoj basile/wj basile/wn]  mega/lou  ¹Asa/ndrou [fil]orwmai¿ou swth=roj.
[3] CIRB 40 (Pantikapaion): basile/a me/gan  ¹Aspou=rgon filorw¯maion, to\n e)k basile/wj  ¹Asandro/xou,  filokai¿sara kaiì filorw¯maion, basileu/onta panto\j  Boospo/rou,  Qeodosi¿hj  kaiì  Si¿ndwn kaiì Mai+tw½n kaiì Tarpei¿twn kaiì Toretw½n, Yhsw½n te kaiì Tana[e]itw½n, u(pota/canta Sku/qaj kaiì Tau/rou.