Etymology of the name
The Greeks named the region after its inhabitants, the Tauri: Ταυρικὴ Χερσόνησος (Taurikē Khersonesos) or Χερσόνησος Ταυρική (Khersonesos Taurikē), "Tauric peninsula". Chersonesus Taurica is the Latin version of the Greek name (chersonese literally means "peninsula"). This Latin variant of the name should not be confused with the city of Chersonesus in Taurica.
As the Tauri inhabited only mountainous regions of southern Crimea, at first the name was used only for this southern part, but later it was extended to the whole peninsula.
Legend about the Tauri
According to Greek legends, the Tauri were the people to whom Iphigeneia was sent after the goddess Artemis rescued her from her father Agamemnon, who was about to sacrifice her to appease Artemis. She became a priestess at the goddess's temple in the land of the Tauri, where she was forced by King Thoas to sacrifice any foreigners who came ashore. The land of the Tauric Chersonese and its rumored custom of killing Greeks are described by Herodotus in his histories, Book IV, 99-100 and 103.
The Tauric Chersonese was inhabited by a variety of peoples. The inland regions were inhabited by Scythians and the mountainous south coast by the Tauri, an offshoot of the Cimmerians. Greek settlers established a number of colonies along the coast of the peninsula, notably the city of Chersonesus near modern Sevastopol.
According to Diodorus Siculus (xii. 31), the region was governed from 480 BC to 438 BC by a line called the Archaeanactidae, probably a ruling family, which gave way to the tyrant Spartocus (438 BC - 431 BC), apparently a Thracian. He founded a dynasty which seems to have endured until around 110 BC. The Spartocids have left many inscriptions which indicate that the earlier members of the house ruled as archons of the Greek cities and kings of various native tribes, notably the Sindi of the island district and other branches of the Maeotae. The texts, inscriptions and coins do not supply sufficient material for a complete list of these monarchs.
Satyrus (431 BC - 387 BC), Spartocus' successor, established his rule over the whole district, adding Nymphaeum to his dominions and laying siege to Theodosia, which was a serious commercial rival because of its ice-free port and proximity to the grain fields of eastern Crimea. It was reserved for his son Leucon (387 BC - 347 BC) to take this city. He was succeeded by his two sons conjointly, Spartocus II, and Paerisades; the former died in 342, and his brother reigned alone until 310. Then followed a civil war, in which Satyrus defeated his younger brother Eumelus at the Battle of the River Thatis in 310 BC, but then was killed, giving Eumelus the throne.
His successor was Spartocus III (303 BC - 283 BC) and after him Paerisades II. Succeeding princes repeated the family names, but no certain order can be assigned. It is known that the last of them, Paerisades V, unable to make headway against the power of the natives, in 108 BC called in the help of Diophantus, general of Mithridates the Great of Pontus, promising to hand over his kingdom to that prince. He was slain by a Scythian named Saumacus who led a rebellion against him.
The house of Spartocus was well known as a line of enlightened and wise princes; although Greek opinion could not deny that they were, strictly speaking, tyrants, they are always described as dynasts. They maintained close relations with Athens, their best customer for the Bosporan grain export, of which Leucon I set the staple at Theodosia, where the Attic ships were allowed special privileges. The Attic orators make numerous references to this. In return, the Athenians granted him citizenship and set up decrees in honour of him and his sons.
In the 2nd century BC, the eastern part of the Tauric Chersonese became part of the Bosporan Kingdom.
In the 1st century BC, after his defeat by Pompey in 63 BC, Mithradates VI, King of Pontus, fled with a small army from Colchis (modern Georgia) over the Caucasus Mountains to Crimea and made plans to raise yet another army to take on the Romans. His eldest living son, Machares, viceroy of Cimmerian Bosporus, was unwilling to aid his father. Mithradates had Machares killed, and took the throne of the Bosporan Kingdom. Mithradates then ordered conscription and preparations for war. In 63 BC, Pharnaces II, his younger son, led a rebellion against his father, joined by Roman exiles in the core of Mithridates' Pontic army. Mithradates withdrew to the citadel in Panticapaeum, where he committed suicide the same year. Pompey the Great buried Mithradates in the rock-cut tombs of his ancestors in Amasya, the old capital of Pontus.
Roman Bosporan Kingdom
After the death of Mithridates, Pharnaces (63 BC - 47 BC) made his submission to Pompey, then tried to regain his dominion during the civil war, but was defeated by Caesar at Zela and later killed by a former governor of his.
A pretender, Asander married his daughter Dynamis, and in spite of Roman nominees, ruled as archon, and later as king, until 17 BC. After his death, Dynamis was compelled to marry a Roman usurper called Scribonius, but the Romans under Agrippa interfered and set Polemon I of Pontus (16 BC - 8 BC) in his place. Dynamis died in 14 BC and Polemon ruled until 8 BC.
After Polemon's death, Tiberius Julius Aspurgus (8 BC - 38), son of Dynamis and Asander, succeeded him and founded a line of kings which endured with certain interruptions until 341 AD. Originally called Aspurgus, he adopted the names "Tiberius Augustus" because he enjoyed the patronage of the first two Roman emperors, Augustus and Tiberius. All of the following kings adopted these two Roman names followed by a third name, mostly of Pontic and Thracian origin (such as Kotys, Rhescuporis and Rhoemetalces), but sometimes of local origin (such as Sauromates, Eupator, Ininthimeus, Pharsanzes, Synges, Terianes, Theothorses and Rhadamsades).
As the dynasty descended from Mithridates VI through Aspurgus, the kings adopted the "Pontic era" introduced by Mithridates, which started with 297 BC; this era was used to date coins. Bosporan kings struck coinage throughout the kingdom period, which included gold staters bearing portraits of the respective Roman emperors. However this coinage became increasing debased in the 3rd century. The rulers' names and dates are fairly well known, though scarcely any events of their reigns are recorded. Their kingdom covered the eastern half of Crimea and the Taman peninsula, and extended along the east coast of the Maeotian marshes to Tanais at the mouth of the Don, a great market for trade with the interior.
They carried on a perpetual war with the native tribes, and in this were supported by their Roman suzerains, who even lent the assistance of garrisons and fleets. In 63 AD, for unknown reasons, the Roman Emperor Nero deposed Tiberius Julius Cotys I from his throne: the Bosporan Kingdom became a Roman province from 63-68. In 68 AD, the new Roman emperor, Galba, restored the Bosporan Kingdom to Tiberius Julius Rhescuporis I.
During the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd centuries AD, Taurica was host to Roman legions and colonists in Charax. Charax was founded under Vespasian with the intention of protecting Chersonesus and other Bosporean trade centres from the Scythians. The Roman colony was protected by a vexillation of the Legio I Italica; it also hosted a detachment of the Legio XI Claudia at the end of the 2nd century. The camp was abandoned by the Romans in the mid-3rd century.
Taurica remained a vassal state of the Romans for nearly five centuries, and the southern shores remained under Byzantine control until the AD 13th century. At times, rival kings of some other races arose and probably produced some disorganization. At one of these periods (255), the Goths and Borani were able to seize Bosporan shipping and raid the shores of Anatolia.
With the coins of the last king, Tiberius Julius Rhescuporis VI, in 341 AD, materials for a connected history of the Bosporus Cimmerius come to an end. The kingdom probably succumbed to the Huns, who defeated the nearby Alans in 375/376 AD and moved rapidly westwards, bringing destruction in their wake.
After the annexation of Crimea in 1783, the newly installed Russian authorities made an attempt to revive the ancient name, and the former lands of the Crimean Khanate were organized into the Taurida Governorate. But this name was used only in the official documents and "Crimea" remained a common name for the country.
Following the 1917 October Revolution, the Taurida Governorate was briefly reformed as the Taurida Soviet Socialist Republic in early 1918 before being overrun by the World War I Central Powers. After the reassertion of Soviet control in 1921, the governorate was divided between the peninsular Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic under the Russian SFSR and the mainland portions which were incorporated into the Ukrainian SSR.
Modern use of the name
Since 1921, the name Taurida has had no official status in Crimea and is used almost only in historical context. However, some institutions of the republic still use it, for example Taurida National University, the main university in Crimea.
- The Roman site at Charax (Russian)
- Lost Roman City
- High resolution zoom-able Image of an antique map of the region
- Taurica History