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Bosporan War under Diocletian?
At the end of Constantine Porphyrogenitus's 10th-century De Administrando Imperio, there's an account of a war between the Romans and the Kingdom of the Bosporus, 'when Diocletian was emperor'.

The Bosporans, led by their king 'Sauromatus, son of Criscoronus', circled the eastern shore of the Black Sea and entered the province of Pontus, where they were halted at the Halys river by a Roman expeditionary force led by a tribune named Constans (who appears to be Constantius Chlorus).

While the Romans and Bosporans (who C.P calls Sarmatians) waited in detente at the river, Diocletian sent a message to the client city of Cherson in the Crimea, asking them to invade the Bosporan lands from the west. The Chersonites advanced into Bosporan territory - presumably the peninsula of Kerch - and defeated the 'Sarmatians' with the help of wagon-mounted artillery. They then occupied the Bosporan cities and took many hostages. When King Sauromatus learned of this, he agreed a truce with the Romans and retreated to his own land; 'Constans' was later proclaimed emperor.

It's a vivid story, but there are several problems with it. The date of the campaign must fall between Diocletian's accession in AD284 and Constantius's elevation to Caesar in March 293. But the king of the Bosporan kingdom at that time (based on the regnal list, itself based on coinage evidence) was Theothorses, son of Teiranes. He did have a brother named Sauromates, who had reigned briefly before him as Sauromates IV: three previous kings of that name ruled in the eras of Trajan, Septimius Severus and Alexander Severus, and all seem to have been firm allies of Rome. The second even called himself Philoromaios.

There's also no evidence in any other sources for a war between the two peoples at this time. There is, however, a much earlier inscription, AE 1991, 1378, to a soldier of Legio I Italica Alexandriana, who while a tirone participated in a bellum bosporanum - the war in question would presumably date to Severus or Caracalla.

So what are the options? I can think of three:

1. The story is entirely fictional, perhaps Chersonite propaganda.

2. The campaign happened, but either C.P has the names of the Bosporan kings wrong, or our regnal list is wrong.

3. The campaign happened, but at an earlier time - perhaps it was the bellum bosporanum mentioned in the inscription, and dates to the period of the first or second Sauromates (who maybe took his pro-Roman title after the truce had been agreed).

Which seems most likely, do you think?
Nathan Ross
An interesting post, and the answer to your question at the end of your post is probably a bit of a mix between options 2 and 3. You may already be aware of it but the late Russian historian Benjamin Nadel wrote a paper on this supposed war in the 60s originally in Russian but later felt the issue needed re-examination so he rewrote the  paper in English in 1977 which can be read online at address below. Dr. Nadel was one of the world's leading scholars in the history and languages of the Black Sea area in antiquity and Middle Ages. Whether this war was fought against Sarmatian armies or local forces which were probably led and ruled by men who were descended from Sarmatian royalty we don't know but I think the rulers would have thought of themselves as Greek and probably spoke Greek no matter what their origins although the army would have been Sarmatised in its armour and weapons.

 Just on the wagon mounted artillery mentioned, Nadel made mention of the fact that the Chersonesian stories in De Administrando Imperio contain some details "which testify both to their local annalistic origin as well as to their composer's excellent acquaintance with the internal life in Chersonesus and with topics concerning the Bosporus kingdom in late antiquity. In the stories about the wars waged by the Chersonites against the Bosporus rulers the most powerful Chersonesian weapon is called cheirobolistrai or ballistrai and the word ballistrarioi is used for the soldiers armed with these arbalests (ballistae or crossbows). The Ňotitia dignitatum (Oriens VIII, 8= 43) lists balistarii seniores among the comitatenses legions under the military Magister per Orientem. For the IVth century the balistarii are mentioned more often in the East and especially in Thrace."
 It is very significant that from two rediscovered Chersonesian inscriptions we hear about a military formation of ballistarii in this city in late antiquity. A dedication to the emperors Valens, Valentinianus and Gratianus from the years 370-375 contains a mention of the ... a norum se n(iorum) ballistariorum engaged probably in some building works for fortification under the guidance of Domitius Modestus, the Praetorian Prefect of the Orient (IPE, 12, 449).
 The second inscription records on the rebuilding of the city walls in Chersonesus by Diogenes, Comes of Emperero Zeno, in 488 A.D. with financial (and munual ?) support of the garrison of the ballistrarioi.
 From the Novella Iustiniani 85,2 (de armis) we can conclude that the ordines balistariorum were recruited from the local population for garrison service and received financial help from the imperial government, while the inscription of 488 AD), leaves open the question whether the Chersonesian balistarii represented a local militia or a regular legion subsidized from the city budget. Russian historian Michael Rostovtsev and Black Sea expert was inclined to see here  a regular army unit rather than a local garrison.
 The speech attributed to Constantine the Great in De Administrando Imperio points out annual grants in supplies for the manufacturing of the arbalests and payment in kind (annona) for the balistarii corps as well as the the local and hereditary character of this military formation. Wink
Michael Kerr
Michael Kerr
"You can conquer an empire from the back of a horse but you can't rule it from one"
(02-26-2017, 03:31 PM)Michael Kerr Wrote: You may already be aware of it but the late Russian historian Benjamin Nadel wrote a paper on this supposed war in the 60s

I wasn't - thanks! A very interesting, and very detailed paper. I do think that Nadel has perhaps too readily overlooked the possibilities of this supposed war having happened at a different date though - although there's so very little to go on it's all speculation. But he makes a lot out of a little even so!

I did wonder whether a conflict like this might have happened as a repercussion of civil war within the empire - if the king of the Bosporus was perhaps a client or supporter of the losing side, and his invasion of Pontus intended to support his candidate by threatening the northern frontier, then he could still be 'pro-Roman'. If the war was under Diocletian, it might have happened early and been connected with the Margus campaign; if under Severus, the Bosporans could have been backers of Pescennius Niger, perhaps. Such a sideshow could easily have been ignored by Roman historians, more intent on what was happening on the main stage...
Nathan Ross
IIRC there's also an inscription mentioning the men stationed there were from Legio XI Claudia in the late 5th cenutry, if I recall correctly.
(02-28-2017, 02:56 PM)Flavivs Aetivs Wrote: the men stationed there were from Legio XI Claudia in the late 5th cenutry, if I recall correctly.

There are inscriptions from the 3rd-4th century from Cherson, Olba, Charax and other places naming legions I Italica and II Herculia, plus V Macedonia and XI Claudia and a couple of auxiliary cohorts. So it seems there was a garrison there, from the mid 3rd century at least, drawn from the Moesian and Scythian armies. Interesting that they remained there into the 5th century!
Nathan Ross
Especially considering their Balkans Garrisons were all annihilated in 441-447, rofl.
(02-28-2017, 02:56 PM)Flavivs Aetivs Wrote: an inscription mentioning the men stationed there were from Legio XI Claudia

Do you have a reference for that inscription? Was it in latin or greek - and by which form of title was the legion named?
Nathan Ross

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