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Chersonesos Cited in Works by Ancient Authors

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Chersonesos Cited in Works by Ancient Authors

According to G. D. Belov

       In studying the history of Chersonesos one can use two types of sources: written and archaeological. The first is relatively limited in quantity and consists of works by Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, and other writers. Besides this, some information about Chersonesos can be garnered from hagiographic sources, letters of contemporaries, Rus' chronicles, and treaties between Rus' princes and Byzantium.
       Apart from a few cases, written sources supply fragmented data which describe only isolated moments from the history of Chersonesos. Epigraphic monuments found during excavations compose a unique and rather extensive category of written sources.
       The earliest information about Chersonesos dates to the second half of the 4th century BC and is found in the Periplus ("description of the sea") attributed to a Greek author, Skilakes of Kariand. The Periegesis ("description of the Earth") of the late 2nd century BC attributed to Skimnos of Chios is the basic source of information for the founding of Chersonesos by Heraklea Pontica and Delos. However, this Periegesis was not actually written by Skimnos; it originates from earlier works, such as the historical geography by Ephorus and the geography by Dimitrios of Kallatis. The latter lived in the late 3rd century BC and had a good knowledge of the geography of the Pontus.
       The geographer Strabo, who lived in the early 1st century AD, composed the most detailed and complete description of Crimea. His Geography gives a detailed description of the history of Crimea during the Mithradatan period (end of the 2nd - 1st centuries BC). Despite the fact that Strabo supplied a great deal of information about Chersonesos and its environs, he himself had never been to Crimea and used works by other authors, like Dimitrios of Kallatis, as sources for his Geography.
       Although later Greek authors briefly mention Chersonesos, the majority of them used works by their predecessors, and thus do not supply new data about Chersonesos. Among these authors are: a contemporary of the Flavius dynasty, Joseph Flavius; Memnos, who lived in the late 1st - early 2nd centuries; Flegon of Tralls, who lived during the reign of Adrian; Appian, a contemporary of Adrian and Antoninus; Ptolemy and Polyenus, contemporaries of Marcus Aurelius; and Stephen of Byzantium and Pseudo-Arius, authors of the 5th century.
       Among Roman authors, Pliny the Elder, Pomponius Mela, and Pompey Trog supply brief information about Chersonesos.
       Byzantine authors provide significant information about the history of medieval Chersonesos (or Cherson, as it was called in medieval Byzantine sources, or Korsun' in Rus' literature). Procopius in his treatise On structures writes that during the reign of Justinian I new fortifications were built in Crimea, and the walls of Chersonesos were restored. In his Gotica the historian Jordanus writes about the barbarian population of Crimea, about the Hun tribes, who lived in the neighborhood of Cherson, and about that city's trade with Asia. Theophanus, Nicephorus, and Constantine Manassis give evidence for the events related to Justinian II's exile to Chersonesos and his later siege of the city. Pope Martin I, who was also exiled to Chersonesos, describes in his letters the economy of the city in the middle of the 7th century.
       Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus dedicates the entire 53rd chapter of his De administrando imperio to Chersonesos. He comprehensively describes the wars between Rome and the barbarians in Crimea and in the Balkans, and the active role of Chersonesos in these events. Constantine's story of Chersonesos suggests that there was probably an extremely patriotic local source behind its writing, which is why some of the author's data should be considered improbable and anecdotal. However, Constantine's advice to his son Romanus, which gives a contemporary description of the political and economic situation in Chersonesos of the mid 10th century, accounts of the city's trade contacts with Asia Minor, and its relations with local tribes and Byzantium itself are highly valuable.
       There is a long list of sources for the early Christian period of Chersonesos. The Life of St. Clement tells the story of Pope Clement's life in exile in Chersonesos. The so-called "Italian legend" describes the circumstances surrounding the discovery of his relics. A Vatican librarian, Anastasius, wrote a letter based on the description of the transfer of St. Clement's relics provided by the bishop Mithrophanus, who was exiled to Chersonesos in the mid 9th century and witnessed the event. The Memory and Life of St. Cyril supplies information about the discovery of these relics, about Cyril and Methodius' visit to Chersonesos in the 860s, and Cyril's missionary activities among the Khazars.
       The Lives of the Bishops of Cherson provides accounts of the first Christian missionaries who arrived in Chersonesos in the early 4th century.
       Various sources from Rus' and elsewhere describe the Kyivan Rus' chapter in the history of Chersonesos. The Life of George of Amastrius contains the story of the Rus' invasions of coastal towns of Asia Minor. The Life of Stephen of Surozh tells about the Rus' prince Bravlin's attack on the southern coast of Crimea. Patriarch Photius, Rus' chronicles, and treaties between Rus' princes and Byzantium all give accounts of the Kyivan Rus' raids on Constantinople. The events related to Grand Prince Volodymyr's campaign against Chersonesos-Korsun' are described for the most part in Rus' sources: chronicles, the Life of Volodymyr, the Glory of Volodymyr, the Tale by Metropolitan Illarion and others. Foreign sources also contain some data, such as works by the Byzantine authors, Leo the Deacon and Michael Psellus, Cedrenus and Zonara, Armenian historian Asokhik, Arabian authors Al-Mekin, Ibn-al-Asir, and others.
       Several monuments of Rus' literature are important sources for the later history of Chersonesos. The chronicle of 1066 relates how the "kotopan" (the kotopan or strategus was the commander appointed by the Byzantine emperor) poisoned the prince of Tmutarakan', Rostislav Vladimirovich. This source supplies information about Chersonesos' rebellion against Byzantium in 1073-1074. The Pateryk of the Kyivan Cave Monastery contains information about the trade of Rus' captives in Chersonesos. The Tale of Ihor's Regiment calls Korsun' one of "unknown" lands.
       In the Legend of Miracles of Eugenius of Trebizond there is an account of Chersonesos' political dependence on the Trebizond empire in the early 13th century, and of the Turks pillaging Chersonesos and the Crimean coast.
       We learn about the foreign relations of Chersonesos and the unrest which unsettles the city circa 1240 from Bishop Theodore's "Alanic epistle."
       Thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Chersonesos is briefly mentioned in the works of the Arab writers Idrisi, Ibn-al-Asir, and Ismail Abul-Feda, as well as by the French ambassador William de Rubruquis. The latter saw a monastery on an island near Chersonesos as he was traveling by sea on his way to the Mongol khan in 1253. Documents of the patriarchy of Constantinople of the 14th century contain some material about the ordeals of the metropolitanate of Chersonesos and its metropolitan's conflicts with other metropolitans.
       In the 14th-15th centuries information about Chersonesos becomes more and more sparse. Metropolitans of Chersonesos are mentioned more often than the town itself, which by this time finally lost its important commercial role.
       Despite the abovementioned facts, the Italian travelers of the 14th-15th centuries continued to register Chersonesos on their maps, as is evidenced in the map of Visconti, the Catalan map of 1375, maps of Benincasa of 1476 and 1480, Barbaro and others. During this period the name of Chersonesos becomes completely distorted, being variably called Cersona, Gerizonda, Sarsono and Zurzona. The Turks called Chersonesos Sari-Kermen, that is, "yellow fortress."
       Taking into account that on the threshold of the 14th and 15th centuries Chersonesos was burnt and destroyed, one can hypothesize that descriptions of it dating to the 15th and 16th centuries were related not to the town itself, but to its ruins.

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