Review of literary sources

 Excepting the epos and the earliest Ionic literature, where myth is difficult to distinguish from fact in mentions of the Black Sea and the Cimmerians,[1] the oldest surviving literary source is Herodotus, especially his Book IV. Without going into the complicated issue of Herodotus’ credibility and his sources, his work can be said to be the first serious mention of the territory of the Bosporan kingdom. Admittedly, according to what we know from Hekataios, Herodotus mentioned Phanagoria [2] and the nearby temple of Aphrodite,[3] Hermonassa[4] and also the Scythian tribes living on the “Asiatic” side”,[5] but determining to what extent Herodotus drew on Hekataios in describing the area around the Kerch Strait is a difficult task not to be undertaken here, especially as his mention of these Greek colonies is perfunctory, he having preferred to concentrate on the wild barbarian tribes.

The historian Hellanikos should be mentioned next,[6] although his Skythika, similarly as most of his other works, is known from fragments.[7] These suffice nonetheless to suspect him of a mythical and legendary approach to the subject.[8] In turn, the anonymous author of a pseudo-Hippocratic treatise Peri\ a)e\rwn,to/pwn, u(da/twnwrote of the Colchians, Scythians and Sauromatians in a way that is indicative of first-hand knowledge.[9] Yet in all these cases knowledge of the Kerch region is extremely limited, hence these works are proof solely of a general interest of the Greek authors in the Black Sea area.[10] The surviving Periploi and Periegeseis of this region, mostly from the 5th through 1st centuries BC, stand in confirmation.[11] Of these the Periplus of Pseudo-Skylax[12] is practically the oldest to give a more or less precise description of the land of the Bosporan kingdom. It might reflect a shift in Greek interests from the western part of the Black Sea dominated by Olbia to the northeastern part with Pantikapaion at the top of the list. The nature of the source determines that we are given little beyond an excellent description of the geography of the Bosporus. Understanding this is significant because it is extremely likely that most later authors used it as their source,[13] while its author himself relied most probably on Ephorus in his description of the Crimea (823-835) and of Pantikapaion[14] and first hand knowledge[15] in the case of the “Asiatic” side of the kingdom. Without embarking on a discussion of the sources used by Ephorus and Demetrius, it can be assumed with considerable certainty that they had availed themselves at least partly of Herodotus and possibly also the earlier Ionian writers. The speeches of Isokrates, Demosthenes and Aischines as well as Deinarchos also produce information about the history of the Bosporan kingdom, albeit treated marginally. The form of government in the age of Leukon was mentioned also by Aeneas the Tactician.[16] This information attests to Athenian interest in the region, but it is largely circumstantial. The same cannot be said of the work of Diodorus,[17] which is a coherent and precise historical excursus. Diodorus is also the most important literary source on the history of the Bosporan Kingdom and its earliest phase in particular. We can only speculate as to his sources, which would be all the more interesting considering that Diodorus [18] Upon analysis it seems that Diodorus may have used, either indirectly or directly, some Bosporan text, perhaps a panegyric in honor of the rulers. In any case, someone before Diodorus had prepared a chronology and history of the Bosporan Kingdom in the Hellenistic period.[19] This assumption has interesting bearing on the present study, because it could be assumed that at least a small group of historians, chronographers, had been working for the Bosporan rulers in the 4th-3rd century BC, presumably in Pantikapaion. It would suggest the existence of a literary community, which would have certainly affected in turn the form of the epitaphs.[20] This phenomenon was not limited to the Bosporan Kingdom as there is data on historians working in other Black Sea centers.[21] For the most part, however, these historians and chronographers devoting their work to the Bosporus remain anonymous to scholarship today.[22]
Eratosthenes is another important author writing about the Black Sea in antiquity[23] and he was even cited on this issue by Strabo.[24] Of particular interest is the reference to an epigram of the priest Stratios telling about a bronze urn deposited in the temple of Asklepios in Pantikapaion[25]
Other authors were mainly antiquarians repeating information from earlier sources; some like Diophantes for example,[26] are known only by name, the books of others, like Polybius for example,[27] have not survived. Slightly more is known about authors writing in the 2nd century BC: Artemidoros from Ephesus,[28] Apollodoros,[29] Pseudo-Skymnos and Poseidonios[30] from Apamea (or Rhodes). The latter is generally considered the most important of these authors, mostly following Ephorus in matters concerning the Bosporus and himself being one of the most important sources for Strabo in his Book VII.[31]
Strabo’s work appears to be a synthesis of these writings (a discussion of his sources is far from closed and hardly needs to be analyzed here): Eratosthenes, Ephorus, Poseidonios, Artemidoros, Homer’s commentators, historians describing the history of Mithridates and Pompeius. The state of preservation of ancient literary sources leads to the determination that about half of the surviving information about the Black Sea originated from Strabo’s work, which by the same precedes Herodotus in the ranking of the most important ancient sources for this region.
Authors writing after Strabo, already in the Roman age, were not so much of lesser format than of lesser fortune: they are much less well recognized than authors from Hellenistic and Classical times. Of these the oldest are Pomponius Mela[32] and Pliny[33] while their copiers in the field of geography remain anonymous on the whole. For example, the true authors of the map of the Empire created by Agrippa and the emperor Augustus are most certainly not known,[34] while their work was later used both by Pliny and by most later authors.[35]It should be remarked, however, that Roman geographers for the most part based their work on the writings of Hellenistic authors whom we cannot identify by name on the whole. In Pliny’s case here could also have been a Latin source from the late Republic.[36]
Our knowledge of the region was augmented also by the Roman poets Lucian[37] and Valerius Flaccus,[38] although these mentions are general and contain no credible information about the Bosporan Kingdom. The sources in these cases were in all likelihood Hellenistic and late Republican texts, complemented with information supplied by Roman officers and officials from the time of Augustus and the first of the Caesars. This literature is still unknown or little known,[39] the one exception being Arrian, although in this case as well we are dealing with a secondary citing of earlier descriptions of the Bosporus.[40] We learn of the growing weakness of the Bosporan Kingdom and the rising threat from the Scythian-Tauric state,[41] but we cannot be sure whether this is firsthand knowledge or a rehash of literary studies with the description lifted from some periplus from before the rule of Mithridates VI or right after him. Unlike it, an anonymous periplus from the 5th century AD is a product of purely literary studies, even though it is extremely difficult with regard to the description of towns lying on the Cimmerian Bosporus to identify the original source of information.
The work of Claudius Ptolemy needs to be treated separately.[42] No other ancient source gives so much precise information on the cities lying in the Bosporan Kingdom, giving rise to a certain anxiety regarding the sources of this knowledge and perhaps even their credibility. It is not very likely for Ptolemy to have taken this information from some unknown geographical work, considering the extent of our present knowledge on ancient geography. Rostovtzev[43] already voiced a theory which is probably nearest to the truth, that like Pliny[44] His importance lay more in popularity than in real cognitive value and his readers got to know, beside a list of the wild tribes inhabiting the region, that it was fearfully cold in the northern Black Sea littoral.[45]
Closing the list of ancient authors writing about the Bosporan Kingdom is Ammianus Marcellinus.[46] He failed however to add anything new to the field, quoting mainly earlier authors mentioned above (Dionysius Periegetes, Ptolemy and others). The only novelty is a mention of the Alan tribe. Later Byzantine authors were largely repetitive with respect to earlier works.
Summing up the known ancient literary sources treating on the Bosporan Kingdom, one finds that new information appeared in it in stages. In the first period we are dealing with the Ionian logographers and Herodotus who in a sense summed up knowledge current at the time about the region. Then, in the times of the Spartokid

[1] Cimmerians in the Oddysey: 10, 81-86; 11, 14 ff. The Black Sea was also mentioned by Anaxymander in his lost map of the world, and by Hekataios FGrH 1, F 184-194, 195-216; the Cimmerians were mentioned also by Kallinos and Archilochos.

[2] F 212
[3] F 211
[4] F 208
[5] F 215, 216 - Iksibatai
[6] I have assumed that Hellanikos lived c. 490-405 BC.
[7] FGrH 1, 4 F 64 ff.                                
[8] F 186 – mention of the Hyperboreians and  F 189 – information about the Scythians inventing iron weapons, a belief that was deeply rooted in the minds of ancient authors: Hesiod (Clemens Alex., Strom. 1, 16, p. 132), Aischylos (Septem, 799; Prometheus, 301, 714 ff).
[9] This is not the place for a discussion of the origins of the Hippocrateian Corpus. I have assumed that this work was written not later than the 3rd century BC.
[10] Other authors writing of the Black Sea: Damastes FGrH 5), Eudoxos from Knidos and Pomponius Mela who drew upon him, Pliny the Elder.
[11] Pseudo-Skylax (c. 338 BC) is the most valuable; Ephoros was a contemporary, but his works have survived only fragmentarily; much later description by Pseudo-Skymnes.
[12] My assumption is that the author was an Athenian living in the first half of the 4th century BC, presumably close to the times of Ephoros.
[13] Strabo[14] FGrH 85 F 1. I have assumed that Demetrius of Kallatis was an important source for Pseudo-Skymnos (718 f), whom I date according to the dedication for King Nikomedes (identifying him with Nikomedes IV, King of Pontus, c. 90 BC) in the 2nd-1st century BC, also for the description of the Bosporan Kingdom contrary to Rostovtsev 1931, pp. 36-37, who dated him after Pareti to 133-110 or 121-110 BC.
[15] Especially as far as the Taman peninsula is concerned, 886-899.
[16] Taktika, 5,2. I have assumed that the work was written in 357-356 BC.
[17] I have assumed that he lived in 80-20 BC. The newest edition is Diodorus 1990-2000 prepared by Ch.H. Oldfather in the Loeb series with topic bibliography to which one should add Ambaglio, Landucci Gattinoni and Bravi 2008.
[18] Diodorus
[19]Arguments in favor presented already by Rostovtsev 1931, pp. 113-114.
[20] See Athenaios 8, 41, 349 citing after Machon[21] E.g. Memnon from Heraklea (approximately 1st century AD) FGrH, 434, who made use of the writings of earlier historians concerning this town: Nymphis (c. 247/246 BC) FGrH 432 and Domitius Kallistratos (1st century BC?), FGrH 433.
[22] So it is with the excursus contained in the work on the history of the Bosporus by Pompeius Trogus (second half of 1st century BC), which was almost surely based on a local source. It has not survived, even in the excerpts of Justin. See Yardley and Heckel 1997, who support the theory about the impact of Timagenes of Alexandria (1st century BC) on the work devoted to Phillip.
[23] I have assumed that Eratosthenes lived between 276 (or 273) and 194 BC. Among the most recent studies on Eratosthenes, see: Geus 2002, most recent edition with commentary: Eratosthenes 2010, classical edition of H. Berger: Eratosthenes 1880. Similarly as in other cases, I have refrained here from discussing the potential sources of this author for his description of the Bosporus.
[24] I have assumed that Strabo[25] Strabo[26] I have assumed that Diophantes was active still in the 3rd century BC, that is to say, he was older than Demetrius; see the mention in Agatarchides, Peri tes Erythras thalasses, 64. Agatarchides has been assumed here as living in the 2nd century BC.
[27] I am referring to Book 34 devoted to geography; fortunately mentions of trade with Black Sea towns have survived, 4, 38-39.
[28] I have assumed that Artemidoros lived about 100 BC. Owing to his importance for Strabo, information about him can be found in the comments and studies on the latter author. He seems to have used largely Demetrios, although one cannot be sure because Martial’s excerpts in the part concerning the Bosporan Kingdom have mostly been lost. The loss is all the more grievous because Artemidoros often referred to first-hand knowledge. The recent discussion of a papyrus with a fragment of the map, discovered in 1900 but not read until 1994, does not concern the Black Sea, but rather Iberia.
[29] I have assumed that Apollodoros lived around 180-120, the latter date being post quem. In all likelihood, he made use of different sources of information than Artemidoros, which is important owing to the fact that he was one of Strabo’s most important sources.
[30] It has been assumed here that Poseidonios lived abut 135-51 BC.
[31] Again I shall refrain from going into the discussion of the issue initiated by Mommsen 1881 and taken up most recently by Drijvers 1999.
[32] I have assumed that Claudius Pomponius Mela created his work De situ orbis libri III about AD 43. Here and when discussing Pliny I have refrained from going into the rich literature devoted to an analysis of the writings of both authors. Romer 1997 has compiled a full list of references on Mela. I have also adopted Rostovtsev’s theory (1931, p. 45) on Mela using a Hellenistic author from the turn of the 2nd century BC in his description of the Bosporus.
[33] I have assumed that Pliny[34] The most important summary of present-day knowledge of Roman geography and surviving maps (Dimensuratio provinciarum and Divisio orbis terrarum) is still Schnabel 1935 and Linderski 1964, who analyzed the sources for the geografical treatise of Alfred the Great.
[35] E.g. Caius Iulius Solinus, whom I have dated to the middle 4th century AD, see Walter 1969.
[36] The Black Sea is mentioned in Pliny[37] I have assumed that Marcus Annaeus Lucanus lived in AD 39-65; Bellum civile 3, 266 ff suggests knowledge of some geographical description.
[38] I have assumed that Caius Valerius Flaccus lived in the end of the 1st century BC and wrote Argonautica in AD 75-90. The newest bibliography on the subject in Thurn 2008. Of greatest interest here are books V and VI.
[39] Rostovtsev 1931, p. 57, who considers as the most important sources of these authors the periplus of Arrian, an anonymous periplus of the Black Sea and the periplus of Menippos of Pergamon (Strabo’s contemporary) preserved partly in excerpts made by Martianus of Heraklaea (c. 25 BC). These works and their importance in ancient literature is still best presented by Diller 1952.
[40] I have assumed hat Lucius Flavius Arrianus was born c. AD 85-90 in Nikomedia and died in 145/146. One of the newest and better editions is Arrianus 2002. On Arrianus and his oeuvre, see Bosworth 1980/1995 and Bosworth 1988, although this is a work devoted mainly to the history of Alexander the Macedonian, and an important article (Syme 1982). The issue of Arrianus’ visit in the Crimea after the death of King Kotys has been disputed in the literature on the subject for quite some time. I am inclined to share the opinion that Arrianus traveled in the region already after he had started writing the periplus and added to his descriptions later on.
[41] The mention of ravaged and abandoned Theodosia in par. 19 may be taken as proof of this.
[42] I have assumed that he lived c. AD 100-175. The newest edition with references, Ptolemaios 2006 and Ptolemy 2001.
[43] Rostovtsev 1931, p. 70; there is skepticism today concerning the regular presence of Roman army units in the territory of the Bosporan Kingdom.
[44] I have assumed that he lived in the 2nd century AD. There is a newer edition of Dionysios Periegetes (1994), but Müller’s old edition, GGM 1861, remains valuable, and Bernays’ 1905 edition is still good.
[45] W. 605 ff.
[46] I have assumed that Ammianus Marcellinus lived in AD 330–395 or 400.The newest edition is Ammianus 1978, among the important new studies one should include Drijvers and David 1999, Kelly 2008, Matthews 2008. Marcellinus devoted to the Black Sea an excursus in his Book XXII, 8, 1-48. There is no need here to go into the extensive and complex debate on the credibility of Marcellinus and his sources.