D. How ancient is the connection between Greece and the Black Sea region?

There is a good deal of evidence of Greek contacts with Anatolia. Note first that

place names with non-Indo-European terminations in -ssos or -ttos, in -inthos or -indos and in the plural -enai (e.g. Parnassos, Hymettos, Cnossos, Corinth, Tiryns, Athenai and Mycenai) … are found most thickly in western and southern Asia Minor, the Aegean islands, and eastern peninsular Greece, but rarely in Macedonia and Epirus. (Hammond 1986: 38-9)

More recent research suggests that the place name endings are in fact Indo-European and “can be accounted for as typically Anatolian or, to be more precise, Luwian” (Finkelberg 1997: 7).

Hammond (1986: 38-9) believes that “this pattern of distribution [of place name endings] is an indication of settlement”. We may certainly agree that is an indication of early interaction between Greece and Anatolia. In this connection it is well to note that Homer (Il.4.681) speaks of a “Pelasgian Argos” in Thessaly which Kirk (1985: 228-29) explains

must be the region of the Sperkheios River and the Malian plain. The Pelasgoi were thought of as prehistoric inhabitants of Greece. … There were Pelasgoi in Crete according to Od. 19.177 … [and] there were Pelasgoi in Asia Minor too. (See Il. 2.840)

Hittite texts of (roughly) the fourteenth to thirteenth century mention the countries of Ahhiyava and Lazpa and someone named Tavakavalas is termed an Ayavalash king and a “brother” of the ruler of Ahhiyava. In discussing these references Hammond (1986: 51-2) maintains that

The word “Ahhiyava” (or in an earlier form “Ahhayiva”) is clearly a transcription of the Greek word “Akhaïa,” just as “Ayavalash” (of which the ending is a Hittite ethnic) is a transcription of “Akhaïos” … “Lazpa” was doubtless the island Lesbos, and “Tariosa” (in another Hittite document) was Troy.

With respect to the linguistic difficulties in identifying the ethnikon Ahhiyawa with Greek Achaioi, Finkelberg (1988) has argued that the Greek can be derived from the Hittite by means of the application of phonetic developments operative in Greek between the fourteenth and eighth centuries, the time of Homer.

Hiller (1991: 214) notes a “striking correspondence” between names in the Argonaut epos and names in Mycenaean Linear B, especially from Pylos: He lists Aiaia (the island of Aia), Aites (the Lord of Aia), Athamas (father of Phrixos), Kretheus (brother of Athamas), Amythaon (son of Kretheus), Iason (leader of the Argonauts), Mopsos (seer of Argonauts), and Lynkeus (spy of Argonauts). Hiller (1991: 214) concludes most significantly that

These names (for some of which it has to be admitted that they can be transliterated also in other ways) cannot, of course, prove anything else but their mere existence already in the Mycenaean period. It could, however, be of some importance that for the greater part they are attested in the Pylos tablets. The Argonauts are traditionally regarded as Minyans who were at home in Southern Thessaly and Northern Boeotia; the same is true for the Pylian Neleides. As has been recognized long ago, there is a remarkable coincidence of river names both in Thessaly and in the Thessalian offspring of the Neleid dynasty. For the same reason a clustering of heroic personal names, originally at home in Thessaly, could be expected to reappear in Mycenaean Pylos. That this is really the case, lends further confidence to the assumption of a Mycenaean origin of the Argonaut epos (Emphasis added).

Certainly this kind of evidence does on balance favor the idea that mainland Greece was involved in Anatolian and Pontic affairs no later than the second half of the second millennium (see Gütterbock 1983; Bryce 1989).

Turning to archaeological evidence, let us first of all note the important evidence from Samothrace. (It will be remembered [see I.E] that the Argonauts voyaged from Lemnos to nearby Samothrace to be initiated in the mysteries of the Kabeiroi.)

Drawing of Linear A Inscription from Samothrace (Source: Matsas 1995: Pl. XXXVIIc)

Dimitri Matsas (1995) published a Linear A inscription–in fact, one in the series of five finds inscribed in Cretan Hieroglyphic and Linear A–which was unearthed in Samothrace in the northeastern Aegean. The archaeological context suggests that these finds–two roundels, two noduli and a nodule–should be dated as early as MM II/MM IIIA (the second half of the 18th century BC).(I thank Margalit Finkelberg for calling this reference to my attention.)

Moving from a coastal island to the continent, J. Warner (1979: 146) suggests that “The West Anatolian building tradition of the Early Bronze Age seems most closely related to the architecture of Thessaly and SE Europe where both the megaron and aspidal plans appear in the Early Bronze Age and before; the relationship is particularly close between the Anatolian and Thracian examples.” Vase shapes (the kantharos with crinkled rim) believed to be of Anatolian origin have been discovered at Crete and dated to the early second millennium (Watrous 1987:67, 70, citing E. Davis). Indeed, Pefkakia (ancient Neleia?), a port on the coast of Thessaly near Volos (Iolkos) was receiving pottery linked to western Anatolia as early as the end of the third millennium (Warren 1989: 7). Figurines attributed to the Hittites have been found in Tiryns and Nezero in Thessaly (Yakar 1976: 126, citing Canby).

In 1978 and 1998 Mee surveyed the archaeological indications of Aegean trade/settlement in Anatolia. He cites the finding of: (1) Mycenaean pottery sherds in central and coastal sites, especially Troy; (2) Minoan style pottery at Akbük, Didyma, Iasos (also Minoan style architecture) and, especially, Miletus (together with Minoan architecture, frescoes and jewellery); and (3) Middle Minoan pottery linking Caria with the Cyclades in the third millennium.

Mention should be made of a Mycenaean-type sword found accidentally at the Hittite capital, Hattushas (Cline 1996). Lightfoot (1998: 47-8) reports the find of two relief vases in northern central Anatolia which are tentatively dated to the seventeenth century BCE:

The smaller of the two vases bears one particularly striking and significant scene, for it depicts a bull above which there are two somersaulting acrobats. Since the vase would seem to predate the famous bull fresco found in the Minoan Palace at Knossos in Crete, the discovery provides new evidence for cross-cultural links and, possibly, for Anatolian influences on Minoan civilization.

Several caveats must be kept in mind, however. Maria C. Shaw points to the remains in Crete of bull-leaping frescoes that are earlier than the “famous” example and, more importantly, that

we need to see illustrations of this vase before we can from an opinion on the question of interconnections and transmissions of themes. There is no reason why bull leaping may not have been practiced both in the Aegean and the Near East. When it comes to representations in art, however, that is a much more complex issue. So far “bull leaping” representations I have seen in Near Eastern scenes are idiosyncratic; they look different from those in the Minoan frescoes of the theme. (AEGEANET, February 6, 1998)

Before we can be sure we must see a more official publication of the vase.

Niemeier (1998) reports strong evidence, in the form of masonry techniques, pottery, fragments of wall-frescoes, of Minoan and Mycenaean influences at Miletus and other sites in western Anatolia. He concludes that the Miletus evidence favors an actual Minoan settlement possibly as early as the mid-seventeenth century and, somewhat later, settlement by Mycenaeans. Further, the excavators of Miletus found two fragments of local pithoi each bearing a sign that was incised before firing. Both are regarded as Linear B signs “but this identification is not completely unequivocal” (Niemeier 1998: 37). Most dramatically, Niemeier (1996; 1998:28) reports the find in a secure deposit dated to c. 1425 (Aegean low chronology) or c. 1490/70 (Aegean high chronology) of three joined fragments of a local clay vessel bearing three signs, incised before firing, in the Linear A script. There are also “claimed Linear A inscribed ‘spindle whorls’ from Troy” (Godart, cited by John Younger, AEGEANET, November 29, 1998). Tom Palaima writes: “The Linear A on spindle whorls is pure fantasy. These aree spindle whorls with abstract patterns, nothing more (AEGEANET April 25, 2004).

With respect to the Miletus Linear A inscription, Palaima suggests that

Sign no. 1 (L 1/AB 56) occurs infrequently also in Mycenaean Greek Linear B, but in a pattern of alternative spellings that clearly shows that the sign was retained by the Mycenaean scribes to render in precise spellings Minoan anthroponyms, theonyms, toponyms, and two Minoan loan words for a special kind of vessel and a particular color used in dyeing textiles. As such AB 56 (along with AB 22 and AB 29) are closely connected with the phonological peculiarities of the Minoan language. This makes it nearly certain that the Linear A MIL Zb 1 represents a Minoan word. (AEGEANET, July 25, 1996)

I understand that other interpretations of AB 56 have been advanced and I will look into them as soon as possible. Meanwhile, I am struck by any possible relationship, however ambiguous, between the Linear A inscription and the dyeing of cloth.

Margalit Finkelberg notes that “most of the hypotheses circulating today claim that the Minoan language is somehow related to ANATOLIAN” and she cites new evidence that may point in this direction (AEGEANET, March 8, 1998). Issues of this kind are, however, beyond the scope of this essay.

For the present study of course evidence of interactions in the Pontic area are of the greatest importance. Rubinson (1991: 283-85) reports that

Some kind of contact, either direct or indirect must have existed between Transcaucasia and Mycenae during the mid-second millennium B.C.E. … The primary evidence comes from the site of Trialeti … located on the Tsalk Plateau in the southern Georgian SSR. It is the burials belonging to the last phase, Middle Bronze III, ca, 1600 to ca. 1450 B.C.E. from which the materials with Aegean parallels are found. … In light of the close technical and stylistic similarities of the cauldrons [the Trialeti cauldron and one found in Shaft Grave 4 at Mycenae], the features of the spear points and other weapons shared between Trialeti and the Aegean may be considered possible influences, rather than accidental similarities. … [D]ating to slightly later, the thirteenth century B.C.E., Mycenaean IIIB ceramics were found at Mashat in Anatolia, not far from the Black Sea Coast. These may have arrived there via the Black Sea rather than overland as the excavator suggests.

Harding (1984: 49) mentions that “two {copper] ingots, one allegedly bearing Aegean signs [“stamped or incised Linear A or Cypro-Minoan signs”], have been recovered from the Black Sea off Bulgaria” (Emphasis added). My understanding is that one ox-hide(??) ingot, without incised signs, was found in the Black Sea by underwater archaeology near Cape Kaliakra, in the region of Balchik on the northern Bulgarian coast. [J.G. de Boer (2002: 444), however, states flatly that the description of this ingot “as an ox-hide ingot is a pure invention on the part of the excavator”.] The second, more standard looking copper ox-hide ingot, lacking only the four carrying handles, does bear Linear script. It comes from the Bulgarian village of Cherkovo in the Bourgas region (Petya Hristova, AEGEANET, January 21, 1999). Hiller (1991: 209-10) states that “The ingot from Cerkovo (near Karnobat) – it seems to be of copper – bears an incised mark comparable to Aegean Linear signs.”

Cherkovo ingot with incised mark. (Source: Hiller 1991: Pl. LV, b)

Brendan McDermott cautiously suggests that the incised mark looks like a plus sign (AEGEANET, January 21, 1999). I cannot help recalling in this connection Robert Drew’s suggestion (in personal correspondence dated August 22, 1989) that “A Golden Fleece does suggest an imaginary ingot of gold (analogous to the ‘ox-hide ingots of copper that have turned up in so many places).” The ox-hide ingots of copper date from the period 1500 to 1100 (see Silver 1995: 142). Yet another Bulgarian find is a clay object in the form of a prism bearing a Linear inscription and a pictograph, possibly of a metal ingot. This object comes from the surface of a pre-historic settlement near Bourgas. There is also a clay tablet with Linear script which was found in the pre-historic settlement at Drama in Iambol. The analysis and evaluation of these objects is apparently nearing completion (Petya Hristova. AEGEANET, January 21, 1999).

Mellink (1988: 115-16) adds that Lévèque “confidently” lists several indications of Aegean-Pontic contacts:

One is the silver “Vaphio cup” [Vaphio lies to the south of Sparta] from Kirovakan in Soviet Armenia. … It dates to the 15th or 16th century B.C. … The other reference is to the ingot found near Cape Kaliakra [noted above], and several anchors of East Mediterranean type

Mention should also be made of some very insecure evidence in the form of a terra cotta ram or horned sheep with a supposed Linear A inscription. Nothing is known about the

“Samsun” ram

circumstances of the find except that the ram is supposed to be “from Samsun,” a port on the Black Sea which could have served as a maritime outlet for the Hittites. Sayce acquired the object and a line drawing was published by Evans (1964: 768) in 1935 and reproduced by Bossert (1942). It is now in the Ashmolean Museum. I understand that the Ashmolean dated the ram to the mid-late first millennium CE, which makes the Linear A inscription a fake. Here is the strange part of the story. Evans (1964: 768) says that “a careful examination of the graffiti has assured me that the bulk of the signs represent recognizable form of the Minoan linear Class A” and he adds in footnote 3:

Obviously the votive figure had been acquired by Professor Sayce in pre-Minoan days [that is, prior to the discovery of Linear A inscriptions]. In his MS. description it appears as a “graffito inscription in an unknown script”.

Assuming that (1) the inscription is really Linear A and that (2) Sayce would have recognized the inscription as Linear A once that script had been discovered in the Aegean, we are left with the conclusion that someone forged a Linear A inscription before Linear A was known!

In summary, there is certainly evidence suggesting the existence in the second millennium of Greek contacts with Anatolia generally and specifically with the Pontic region. Of course it may be objected that nothing unquestionablyGreek dating from much earlier than the seventh century BCE has been excavated at the Black Sea and its approaches, including Cyzicus. I suppose that this must be granted. On the other hand, as Boardman (1980: 239) has noted, the archaeological evidence is hardly exhaustive (cf. Drews 1976: 19) and, in any event, cloth exports, unlike the pottery containers of wine and oil, rarely leave a trace in the archaeological record. Niemeier’s striking results for Miletus and the Bulgarian copper ingot and clay prism finds give us hope that the best is yet to come. By way of conclusion it may be stated with confidence that early merchants were capable of negotiating the difficult corridor (Propontis) from the Aegean through the Dardenelles (Hellespont) and the Bosporus into the Black Sea.29


Morris Silver

Economics Department

City College of New York


29See Boardman (1980: 239); Drews (1976: 19); and, especially, Graham (1958: 26-31) and Labaree (1957).


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