Wednesday 26 October 2011
Source: The Day Weekly Digest
By Mykola SEMENA
While preparing documents to place the Crimea-based Chersonesus Taurica and Bakhchisarai Palace on the UNESCO World Heritage list, Serhii Tur, chair of the Crimean Committee for Cultural Heritage Protection, has suggested in a letter to Simferopol Mayor Viktor Ahieiev that the authorities consider the question of re-estimating the date the city was founded. Should this idea be supported, it will be considered that the Crimean capital was established in 185 BC, the year Scythian Neapolis, the capital of the Scythian state, appeared. «Long-time archaeological exploration of this monument resulted in discovering strong defensive walls, the remnants of palaces and royal mausoleums. All the information we have today confirms that Scythian Neapolis was the Crimea’s oldest populated area, which enjoyed the status of capital», the letter says. «This allows us to raise the question of considerably increasing the historical age of the Crimea’s capital. We think it advisable to reconsider the information about the official historical age of Simferopol, raising it from 226 to 2,196 years.»
The Crimea-based historian Georgy Kogonashvili, in charge of the abovementioned committee’s relations with the media, has noted that the “aging” of Simferopol will allow it to be put on the UNESCO lists and become an international monument city. The Crimean capital will thus attract a large number of tourists, researchers of antiquity, and, hence, the funds.
«It is common knowledge that Simferopol, capital of the Crimean Autonomous Republic, was founded by decree of Russian Empress Catherine II in 1784 on a place that was not empty», Serhii Tur says, explaining his viewpoint. «The so-called Russian part of the city, which at first received regular planning, was laid right to the west of the Crimean Tatar town Aqmescit (آق مسجد, “The White Mosque”) that had existed at that place perhaps since the 15-16th centuries. In its turn, Aqmescit stood next to the remnants of a much more ancient fortress locally known as Kermenchyk, “little fortress”.»
It is also interesting that the first archaeological discoveries in this fortress were made almost 200 years ago when stones were being taken to erect buildings in Simferopol. The very first findings made it clear to scientists that there had been an outstanding town here linked with the name of the famous King Skilurus and his royal fortress Neapolis which was mentioned in ancient texts. Since then many generations of archaeologists have amassed rich material in the history and culture of this ancient city that existed from the 2nd century BC until the 3rd century AD – open remnants of defensive walls, tombs, palaces, and houses for ordinary people.
The most prominent and important historical artefact at this ancient settlement – a tombstone bearing a rhymed inscription in Old Greek – was found in 1999. It mentions King Argos, “the sovereign of Scythia rich in horse pastures”. This historical character had been previously known as husband of the Bosporus Queen Kamasaria who lived in the mid-2nd century BC, and, as far as Scythian Neapolis is concerned, he is the first historical person who really dwelt and was buried on the fortress’s territory. In all probability, the famous King Skilurus was his successor. Paradoxically, such brilliant findings and active scientific research were in sharp contrast to the extremely neglected condition of the monument itself which, incidentally, has national status. Scythian Neapolis has been in the highlight of scientific interest in the past 20 years, for this period has seen the creation of the most up-to-date concept of its stage-by-stage development as well as heated debates on some controversial questions of its history.
In 2010-11, on the initiative of the Crimean Committee for Cultural Heritage Protection and thanks to efforts of the Crimean Council of Ministers, a historical and archaeological reserve was established on the basis of Neapolis and archaeological research was resumed. New finds and discoveries came very soon: brands were found on the handles of Rhodes-made amphorae next to the mausoleum tower, which allowed putting the end to the debate on the time the Neapolis fortress was built and finally confirmed the hypothesis that says that this event occurred in about 185 BC.
The most up-to-date research findings show that Scythian Neapolis was a city of rich multinational culture which mixed Greek, Scythian, Thracian, Celtic, Tauric, and Sarmatian features. In the 2nd century BC it was the main royal fortress of the Crimea (Crimean Scythia) associated with the names of the rulers Argos, Skilurus, and Palacus.
A history park is soon to be laid out where Scythian Neapolis used to be. As Yurii Zaitsev, senior research associate at the Archaeology Institute’s Crimean branch, said during the launching of the film Scythian Neapolis: Coming Back from Oblivion, «gone is the time of the academic demonstration of antiques. Europe is no longer afraid to experiment. The monument needs to be filled with a living history. For example, nobody is against using the mock-ups of battering machines and hoisting mechanisms…» As an archeological object, Scythian Neapolis is also interesting because a broken tombstone of a royal-rank person, so far the only one on the Northern Black Sea Coast, with an eight-line inscription was found on its territory in 1999. «These are the remnants of King Argos’s mausoleum. The Greek-language rhymed inscription says it is the tomb of the glorious Argos, the powerful sovereign of Scythia rich in horse pastures. We can, therefore, name the first “Simferopol resident” who was the King of Neapolis. He died in the 2nd century BC,» Zaitsev says.