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Olbia, Ukraine

Pontic Olbia
Ὀλβία Ποντική (Ancient Greek)
Ольвія (Ukrainian)
Remains of walls of small structures are seen in the foreground, while the Southern Bug estuary is seen in the background.
The ruins of Olbia
Olbia is located on the Black Sea coast of Ukraine, northwest of the Crimean peninsula.
Shown within Mykolaiv Oblast
Alternate name Olbia
Location Parutino, Mykolaiv Oblast, Ukraine
Type Settlement
Length 1 mi (1.6 km)
Width 0.5 mi (0.80 km)
Area 50 ha (120 acres)
Builder Settlers from Miletus
Founded 7th century BC
Abandoned 4th century AD
Periods Archaic Greek to Roman Imperial
Cultures Greek, Roman
Site notes
Excavation dates 1901–1915, 1924–1926
Archaeologists Boris Farmakovsky
Condition Ruined

Pontic Olbia (Ancient Greek: Ὀλβία Ποντική, Ukrainian: Ольвія) or simply Olbia was an ancient Greek city on the shore of the Southern Bug estuary (Hypanis or Ὕπανις,) in Ukraine, opposite Berezan Island. It was founded in the 7th century BC by colonists from Miletus. Its harbour was one of the main emporia on the Black Sea for the export of cereals, fish, and slaves to Greece, and for the import of Attic goods to Scythia.[1]


  • Layout 1
  • History 2
    • Archaic and Classical periods 2.1
    • Hellenistic and Roman periods 2.2
  • Excavation 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


Olbia and other Greek colonies along the north coast of the Black Sea(Euxine Sea), 8th to 3rd century BCE

The site of the Greek colony covers the area of fifty hectares and its fortifications form an isosceles triangle about a mile long and half a mile wide.[2] The region was also the site of several villages (modern Victorovka and Dneprovskoe) which may have been settled by Greeks.[2]

As for the town itself, the lower town (now largerly submerged by the Bug river) was occupied chiefly by the dockyards and the houses of artisans. The upper town was a main residential quarter, composed of square blocks and centered on the agora. The town was ringed by a defensive stone wall with towers.[3] The upper town was also the site of the first settlement on the site in the archaic period.[2] There is evidence that the town itself was laid out over a grid plan from the 6th century - one of the first after the town of Smyrna.[2]

By the later period of settlement, the city also included an acropolis and, from the 6th century BCE, a religious sanctuary.[2] In the early 5th century, a temple to Apollo Delphinios was also built on the site.[2]


Archaic and Classical periods

The Greek colony was highly important commercially and endured for a millennium. The first evidence of Greek settlement at the site comes from Berezan Island where pottery has been found dating from the late 7th century.[4] It is possible that it had been the site of an earlier native settlement and may even have been a peninsular rather than an island in antiquity.[4] It is not thought that the Berezan town survived until the 5th century BCE when it was either absorbed into the growing Olbian settlement on the mainland.[4]

During the 5th century BCE, the colony was visited by Herodotus, who provides our best description of the city and its inhabitants from antiquity.[5]

It produced distinctive cast bronze money during the 5th century BCE in both the form of circular tokens with dolphins.[6] These are unusual considering the struck, round coins common in the Greek world. This form of money is said to have originated from sacrificial tokens used in the Temple of Apollo Delphinios.

Martin Litchfield West speculates that early Greek religion, especially the Orphic Mysteries, was heavily influenced by Central Asian shamanistic practices. A significant amount of Orphic graffiti unearthed in Olbia seems to testify that the colony was one major point of contact.[7]

Hellenistic and Roman periods

After the town adopted a democratic constitution , its relations with Miletus were regulated by a treaty, which allowed both states to coordinate their operations against Alexander the Great's general Zopyrion in the 4th century BCE. By the end of the 3rd century, the town declined economically[note 1] and accepted the overlordship of King Skilurus of Scythia. It flourished under Mithridates Eupator but was sacked by the Getae under Burebista, a catastrophe which brought Olbia's economic prominence to an abrupt end.

Having lost two-thirds of its settled area, Olbia was restored by the Romans, albeit on a small scale and probably with a largely barbarian population. Dio of Prusa visited the town and described it in his Borysthenic Discourse (the town was often called Borysthenes, after the river).

The settlement, incorporated into the Roman province of Lower Moesia, was eventually abandoned in the 4th century CE, when it was burnt at least twice in the course of the so-called Gothic (or Scythian) wars.


Distinctive Olbian "Dolphin" coin, circa 5th-4th Century BC

The site of Olbia, designated an archaeological reservation, is situated near the village of Parutino in the district of Ochakiv. Before 1902, the site was owned by the Counts Musin-Pushkins, who did not allow any excavations on their estate. Professional excavations were conducted under Boris Farmakovsky from 1901 to 1915 and from 1924 to 1926. As the site was never reoccupied, archaeological finds (particularly inscriptions and sculpture) proved rich. Today archaeologists are under pressure to explore the site, which is being eroded by the Black Sea. Many of the more notable finds from the period are visible in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Notable finds from the town include an archaic Greek house in a good state of preservation from the area of the later acropolis and a private letter (written on a lead tablet) dating to around 500 BCE, complaining about an attempt to claim a slave.[4]


  1. ^ A board of food commissioners was set up to distribute cereals among the population.


  1. ^ Encyclopedia Of Ancient Greece (ed. by Nigel Guy Wilson). Routledge (UK), 2005. ISBN 0-415-97334-1. Page 510.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Boardman, John (1980). The Greeks Overseas: Their Early Colonies and Trade. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. p. 251. 
  3. ^ Wasowicz, Aleksandra. Olbia Pontique et son territoire : l'aménagement de l'espace Paris: Belles-lettres, 1975. OCLC 3035787
  4. ^ a b c d Boardman, John (1980). The Greeks Overseas: Their Early Colonies and Trade. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. p. 250. 
  5. ^ Herodotus, Histories, 4.19
  6. ^ "Olbia". Odessa Numismatic Museum. 
  7. ^ West, M. L., The Orphic Poems, Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1983. ISBN 0198148542. Cf. p.146

Further reading

  • Braund, David; Kryzhitskiy, S. D., eds. (2007). Classical Olbia and the Scythian World: From the Sixth Century BC to the Second Century AD. Proceedings of the British Academy 142. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  
  • Karjaka, Alexander V. (2008). "The Defense Wall in the Northern Part of the Lower City of Olbia Pontike". In Bilde, Pia Guldager; Petersen, Jane Hjarl. Meetings of Cultures in the Black Sea Region: Between Conflict and Coexistence. Black Sea Studies 8. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press. pp. 163–180.  
  • Karjaka, Alexander V. (2008). "The Demarcation System of the Agricultural Environment of Olbia Pontike". In Bilde, Pia Guldager; Petersen, Jane Hjarl. Meetings of Cultures in the Black Sea Region: Between Conflict and Coexistence. Black Sea Studies 8. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press. pp. 181–192.  
  • Kozlovskaya, Valeriya (2008). "The Harbour of Olbia". Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia 14 (1–2): 25–65.  
  • Krapivina, Valentina; Diatroptov, Pavel (2005). "An Inscription of Mithradates VI Eupator's Governor from Olbia". Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia 11 (3–4): 167–180.  
  • Krapivina, Valentyna V. (2010). "Ceramics from Sinope in Olbia Pontica". Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia 16 (1–2): 467–477.  
  • Osborne, Robin (2008). "Reciprocal Strategies: Imperialism, Barbarism and Trade in Archaic and Classical Olbia". In Bilde, Pia Guldager; Petersen, Jane Hjarl. Meetings of Cultures in the Black Sea Region: Between Conflict and Coexistence. Black Sea Studies 8. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press. pp. 333–346.  

External links

  • Ancient Coinage of Sarmatia, Olbia
  • Blog about Olvia (Olbia) and artifacts found at its site
  • Pyotr Karyshkovsky , 1988.Coins of Olbia: Essay of Monetary Circulation of the North-western Black Sea Region in Antique Epoch. Киев ISBN 5-12-000104-1.
  • Pyotr Karyshkovsky.) Odessa (2003)Coinage and Monetary Circulation in Olbia (6th century B.C. – 4th century A.D. ISBN 966-96181-0-X.
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