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Tanais, the Greek name for the River Don in antiquity, was also the name of the city on the river situated in the Don river delta that reaches into the northeasternmost part of the Sea of Azov, which the Greeks called Lake Maeotis. The site of ancient Tanais is about 40 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 on the east, and an artificial ditch on the west.
History of Tanais
The site of Tanais was occupied long before the Miletans founded an emporium there. A necropolis of burial mounds, over 300 of them, near the ancient city show that the site had already been occupied since the Bronze Age, and that mound burials were carried on through Greek and into even Roman times.
Greek traders were meeting nomads in the district as early as the 7th century BCE without a formal, permanent settlement, apparently. 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 BCE, by merchant adventurers from Miletus, Tanais quickly developed into an emporium at the farthest northeastern extension of the Hellenic cultural sphere, 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, 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 Cimmerian Bosporus
Tanais prospered. 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 (175-211 A.D.) and his son Rescuporides (ca 220 CE) both left public inscriptions.
In 330 CE Tanais was devastated by the Goths, but the site was occupied continuously up to the second half of the 5th century CE. Increasingly the channel was silting, probably the result of deforestation, and the center of active life shifted, perhaps to the small city of Azov, halfway to Rostov.
Archaeology of Tanais
I. A. Stempkovsky first made the connection between the visible remains— which were mostly Roman in date— with the Greek "Tanais" mentioned in literature; that was in 1823. Systematic modern excavations began in 1955.
A cooperative Russian-German team has been opening Tanais, with the objectives of revealing the heart of the city the agora, to define the degree of Hellenistic influence on the urbanism of a city founded by Bosporan Greeks, and to study the defensive responses to the increasing pressure of the surrounding nomadic cultures.
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