2,100-year-old burial of Aphrodite’s ‘priestess’ discovered in Russia
Russian archaeologists have unearthed an intricately detailed silver medallion of the Greek goddess Aphrodite in the 2,100-year-old tomb of a young woman, possibly a priestess, on the northeast Black Sea coast.
The medallion also shows 10 signs of the zodiac – not the known 12 – and provides unique insight into religious practices at that time and place.
Some scholars have proposed that the woman in the tomb was a priestess of Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of beauty and love, but there’s no way to be sure – although there is. have indications that her silver rings, earrings and other grave goods were also dedicated to the goddess.
“I do not call the woman buried with this medallion a ‘priestess'”, Nikolai Sudarev (opens in a new tab), an archaeologist from the Russian Academy of Sciences who helped make the discovery, told Live Science. But the burial and its possessions appear to be “connected to the cult of Aphrodite”, he said.
Related: Roman-era statues of Aphrodite and Dionysus discovered in Turkey
The tomb is among a number of striking finds unearthed this summer at a site near the shore of the Taman Peninsula, east of the Crimean Peninsula and between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Researchers also found the tomb of a warrior buried between the fourth and sixth centuries AD – about 500 years after the previous tomb – next to a large iron sword that indicates a Persian radiation.
Together, the latest finds confirm that the site was the ancient Greek colonial city of Phanagoria and show how the city developed over the following centuries. according to a statement (opens in a new tab) of the Volnoe Delo Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Russian billionaire and industrialist Oleg Deripaska that has sponsored research there since 2004. (Deripaska was indicted by the US Department of Justice (opens in a new tab) in September for violations of sanctions. The Volnoe Delo Foundation told Live Science that “Deripaska had previously called the sanctions against him ‘false and baseless’ and has been challenging them in court since 2019.”)
Ruben Bunyatyan, spokesperson for the foundation, told Live Science that archaeologists at the site were also conducting excavations underwater, as around a third of the ancient city has since been flooded.
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According to the ancient Greek historian Hecataeus of Miletus, Phanagoria was founded in the 6th century BC by refugees from Teos, a Greek city on the coast of Anatolia (modern Turkey) after being sacked around 540 BC AD by the Persian king Cyrus. great.
Phanagoria was located near other Greek colony towns in the northeastern Black Sea region known to the ancient Greeks as the Cimmerian Bosphorus, named after a local people called the Cimmerians and a word meaning “livestock passage”; it is also found in other places with Greek names, such as the Bosphorus Strait (also spelled “Bosphorus”) near Istanbul.
“Most Greeks lived in these cities from the 6th to the 2nd century BC,” Sudarev told Live Science in an email. “Over time, the number of barbarians and a mixed population increased.”
The silver medallion found in the tomb from the early first century BC shows the relief head, shoulders and hands of Aphrodite – identified by Sudarev and his colleague, archaeologist Mikhail Treister (opens in a new tab)based on other contemporary iconographic representations.
The portrait is surrounded by 10 symbols in relief which correspond to the signs of the zodiac, including a lion for Leo, a bull for Taurus and a scorpion for Scorpio. But the Aquarius and Libra zodiac sign symbols are missing, and researchers aren’t sure why.
According to Haaretz (opens in a new tab)an Israeli newspaper, the inclusion of the zodiac indicates that the medallion is a representation of “Aphrodite Urania” – the celestial aspect of the goddess, as opposed to her earthly aspect, “Aphrodite Pandemos”.
It also suggests a belief in astrology, the idea that the positions of celestial bodies can influence events on Earth, which was prevalent throughout the ancient world. “It is one of the earliest representations of zodiac signs in the Greek world,” Sudarev said. “It could have been brought from Ptolemaic Egypt.”
Related: Roman ‘Zodiac’ coin with Cancer sign discovered in Israel
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The large iron sword found in the later tomb of a warrior at the site is in the style of the swords of the Sassanids, or Second Persian Empire, who ruled the regions of Iran, Iraq, Turkmenistan and much of Afghanistan. Scholars believe the sword could have been a diplomatic gift or it could have been taken as a military trophy.
According to the statement from the Volnoe Delo Foundation, “this massive, expensive and prestigious sword was part of the equipment of horsemen in the era of the Great Migration”, a period when much of Europe and Asia western was threatened by invasions of peoples. from Central Asia, such as Huns.
“The unique find not only reflects the tastes of late ancient warriors from the Taman Peninsula, but also suggests that by the middle of the first millennium, Phanagoria had close political and cultural ties to the [Sassanid] Empire,” the statement read.
Fragments of a horse harness, buckles, belt spikes, glass jugs, utensils and wooden boxes were also found in the warrior’s tomb, and a pottery jug, beads, a mirror brass and a pair of iron scissors were discovered in the tomb of the first century BC. .
Sudarev said the latest findings add to the significance of the Phanagoria excavations.
“In recent years, excellent work has been done here and there have been a large number of discoveries,” he said. “Large necropolises with thousands of Greek burials have been excavated [and] beautiful antique vases with magnificent paintings were found there. There are thousands of them.”
Among the discoveries is a Old Persian inscription from around 480 BC. (opens in a new tab) this hints at an early Persian influence in Phanagoria, despite the supposed conflict that led to the founding of the city.
“In my opinion, this discovery can change our view of the history of Phanagoria and the entire Asian Bosphorus,” Sudarev said.
Editor’s note: Updated at 9:14 p.m. EDT to include a statement from the Volnoe Delo Foundation that Oleg Deripaska called the sanctions against him “false and baseless.”