Olbia

Olbia Necropolis

Necropolis at Olbia

1. Who you will meet:

Depending on the time of your arrival, you were likely to meet a number of different kinds of people.  Greek colonists out of Miletus founded the city of Olbia around the year 647 BCE. [1]Olbia’s location on the northern shores of the Black Sea meant that at any given time, you might run into some Scythians.[2] Throughout its history, Olbia was invaded, sacked, burned to the ground, and garrisoned by various groups, including the Goths and the Romans.[3]  Additionally, Olbia’s success as a trade center increased the possibility of meeting people from other places along established trade routes.

Fun Fact: The name “Olbia” in Greek means “the fortunate one,” a rather unfortunate name for a city that was conquered four times in almost as many centuries.[4]

 

2. How you will get there:

Olbia was established on the northwestern coast of the Black Sea.  It was situated just below the junction of the Hypanis and Borythenes Rivers.  As a trading center, you could easily reach Olbia by land, sea, or river. [5] By boat, you could have traveled along the coast of the Black Sea, or come south by either the Hypanis or Borythenes.

 

Silver Coin of Olbia in the British Museum

Silver Coin of Olbia featuring the goddess Demeter

3. Why you would go there:

If you were in the trading business, Olbia was the destination for you.  As one of the most northern Greek cities, Olbia maintained many Hellenistic cultural and religious characteristics.  The city boasted several cults, including cults to Apollo, Demeter, and Cybele.  The most important cult was dedicated to Achilles Pontarches.[6]

If your interests leaned more towards the arts, you would have found there works in the Ionian, Attic, and Alexandrian styles, produced by artists such as Praxiteles, Polykrates, and Stratonides.[7]  One of the most impressive sites in Olbia was the Palace of Scyles.  Herodotus described the palace as large, expensive, and surrounded by marble sphinxes and griffins.[8]

 

4. What was Olbia like?

Geographically, Olbia was situated on a plateau.  The city, was divided into three parts: the Upper City, situated on top of the plateau and surrounded by fortifications, the Lower City, close to the harbor and market, and the Terrace Area which covered the slopes of the plateau.  Olbia boasted several natural harbors, ideal for use by commercial vessels. [9]

If you had any plans of visiting Olbia, you would probably have packed for cold weather.  According to Herodotus, winter lasts for eight months in that region, and four the other four months the weather is still cool.[10]

Things to Avoid: Flooding, invasion, and frostbite.

 

5. Sources:

Dio Chrysostom.  Lacus Curtis. Edited by J. W. Cohoon. 5 vols. Harvard University Press, 1940. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Dio_Chrysostom/Discourses/36*.html

Herodotus. The Histories. Edited by A. D. Godley. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0126%3Abook%3D7%3Achapter%3D153%3Asection%3D3.

Hirst, G. M., “The Cults of Olbia. I,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 22 [1902]: 245-267.

Ivantchik, Askold I., “Dedication to the Goddess Ma from Olbia,” Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia 10, no 1/2: [2004]: 1-14.

Kozlovskaya, Valeriya. “The Harbour Of Olbia.” Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia 14, no. 1/2 [2008]: 25-65.

Leypunskaya, Nina A., “Olbia Pontica and the “Olbian Muse,” Expedition 36, no. 2/3 [1994]: 7-17.

Strabo. The Geography of Strabo. Loed Classical Library edition. 3 vols. 1924. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Strabo/6B*.html.


[1] Hirst, G. M., “The Cults of Olbia. I,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 22 [1902]: 245-267.

[2] Herodotus The Histories IV.

[3] Leypunskaya, Nina A., “Olbia Pontica and the “Olbian Muse,” Expedition 36, no. 2/3 [1994]: 7-17.

[4] Leypunskaya [1994] 7-17.

[5] Kozlovskaya, Valeriya. “The Harbour Of Olbia.” Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia 14, no. 1/2 [2008] 25-65.

[6] Hirst [2002] 245-267.

[7] Leypunskaya [1994] 7-17

[8] Herodotus, The Histories IV

[9] Kozlovskaya [2008] 25-65.

[10] Herodotus The Histories IV.


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