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The archaeological park of Tanais
|Location||Nedvigovka, Rostov Oblast, Russia|
|Builder||Settlers from Miletus|
|Founded||Late 3rd century BC|
|Abandoned||Second half of the 5th century AD|
|Periods||Hellenistic to Late Antiquity|
Tanais (Greek: Τάναϊς Tánaïs; Russian: Танаис) was an ancient Greek city in the Don river delta, called the Maeotian marshes in classical antiquity. The delta reaches into the northeasternmost part of the Sea of Azov, which the Greeks called Lake Maeotis. The site of ancient Tanais is about 30 km west of modern Rostov on Don. The central city site lies on a plateau with a difference up to 20m in elevation in the south. It is bordered by a natural valley to the east, and an artificial ditch to the west.
The site of Tanais was occupied long before the Milesians founded an emporium there. A necropolis of over 300 burial kurgans near the ancient city shows that the site had already been occupied since the Bronze Age, and that kurgan burials continued through Greek and into even Roman times.
Greek traders seem to have been meeting nomads in the district as early as the 7th century BC without a formal, permanent settlement. Greek colonies had two kinds of origins, apoikiai of citizens from the mother city-state, and emporia, which were strictly trading stations. Founded late in the 3rd century BC, by merchant adventurers from Miletus, Tanais quickly developed into an emporium at the farthest northeastern extension of the Hellenic cultural sphere. It was a natural post, first for the trade of the steppes reaching away eastwards in an unbroken grass sea to the Altai, the Scythian Holy Land, second for the trade of the Black Sea, ringed with Greek-dominated ports and entrepots, and third for trade from the impenetrable north, with furs and slaves brought down the Don. Strabo mentions Tanais in his Geography (11.2.2).
The site for the city, ruled by an archon, was at the eastern edge of the territory of the kings of Bosporus. A major shift in social emphasis is represented in the archaeological site when the propylea gate that linked the port section with the agora was removed, and the open center of public life was occupied by a palatial dwelling in Roman times for the kings of Bosporus. For the first time there were client kings at Tanais: Sauromates (AD 175-211) and his son Rescuporides (c. AD 220), who both left public inscriptions.
In AD 330 Tanais was devastated by the Goths, but the site was occupied continuously up to the second half of the 5th century AD. Increasingly, the channel silted up, probably the result of deforestation, and the center of active life shifted, perhaps to the small city of Azov, halfway to Rostov.
The city was refounded around the 13th century by the Venetians. Later it was acquired by the maritime Republic of Genoa for which it was an important place for trade with the Golden Horde. It decayed again after 1368. In 1392 it was conquered by Timur, by the Ottoman Turks in 1471, by the Russians in 1696, again by the Turks in 1711 and by the Russian Empire in 1771.
In 1823, I.A. Stempkovsky first made a connection between the visible archaeological remains, which were mostly Roman in date, and the "Tanais" mentioned in the ancient Greek sources.
Systematic modern excavations began in 1955. A joint Russian-German team has recently been excavating at the site of Tanais, with the aim of revealing the heart of the city, the agora, and defining the extent of Hellenistic influence on the urbanism of the Bosporan Greek city, as well as studying defensive responses to the surrounding nomadic cultures.
In his last book Jakten på Odin Thor Heyerdahl advanced a highly controversial idea postulating connections between Tanais and ancient Scandinavia. In preparation of the book he conducted some archaeological research on the site of Tanais.
- "The Population of Southern Russia Across the Ages (The Don Readings in Physical Anthropology): Collection of papers" (PDF). Russian academy of sciences.
- (Russian) Official website of the Tanais Archeological Reserve Museum
- Information about the museum on the Russian Cultural Heritage Web Portal