The Proto-Bulgarians in the Crimea in the VIII-IX cc.

The Crimea and the peninsula of Kerch were also affected by the migrations of the first half and the middle of the first millennium - the destruction, accompanying the Gothic and, especially, the Hunic invasions left to the abandonment of the smaller towns and almost all unfortified villages. Among the big towns only Chersones survived relatively intact and preserved its previous position. The town of Panticapeus, the capital of the local Kingdom of Bosporus, also survived and was renamed into Bosporus - the present Kerch. Its population and size decreased significantly, and its culture was barbarized [1]. Similar to the other survived coastal settlements, Bosporus began to supply the steppe inhabitants with artisan's goods - pottery, decorations and other luxury goods.

In the VI-th c. new steppe people started to settle down in some of the declined villages or the ruins of the abandoned towns. But this process was very slow till the mid-VII-th c. After the disintegration of Great Bulgaria and especially towards the end of the VII-th c. there was a new massive influx of nomads towards the flat country of the Crimea. The process was further intensified in the VIII-th c., when the new settlers occupied not only the plains but penetrated into the central part of Taurida and reached the NW coast of the peninsula [2]. Thus for a relatively short period of time the ethnic character of the area was significantly altered and a new culture appeared. The archaeological investigations in the last decades discovered more than 100 villages and 10 necropolises and threw new light on the ethno-cultural processes in the area [3].

Most of the settlements were unfortified which is easily explained by the political stability existing in South-Eastern Europe after the consolidation of the Khazar power. The villages were situated mainly near water, in the river valleys or on the sea coast. The inhabitants obviously were looking for the most favourite conditions for agriculture and stock-breeding. Another feature is the the new builders did not take into account the previously existing buildings. Usually new grounds were used, but even in case of overlapping, the new buildings were dug in within the older ones. The settlements were large - 200-250 decares on average and up to 1600 decares (Tau-Kipchak), but it did not mean they were populous - they consisted of several clusters of buildings some 50-200 metres apart. The researcher (Baranov) pointed out that this planning is similar to that of a number of mountainous villages in Caucasus and corresponds to the patriarchal family structure, where the head of the family occupies the central building with the other members taking the lesser buildings next ot it.

The traditional structure of the semi-dug-outs, however, could not be preserved  in the climate of Crimea - the underground parts of the dwellings had to be strengthened by a stone wall. Another stone wall was erected above the ground. The builders, former nomads, without the necessary experience in masonry, could not joint the walls and rounded the corners instead. The dug-outs also became shallower - up to 0.3-0.4 m, and later the whole buildings were erected above the ground.

Proto-Bulgarian semi-dug-outs from Tau-Kipchak and Geroevka
Schemes of the rectangular semi-dug-outs with rounded corners and stone wall from the Proto-Bulgarian settlements at Tau-Kipchak (1) and Geroevka (2) in the Crimea.

Under the influence of the local Crimean traditions the whole buildings started to be built of stones. But the unifying feature of all buildings of the "Saltovo-culture" Proto-Bulgarians in Crimea is the 'pine-tree' (imbrication) building technique. The researchers are unanimous that it spread in the Crimea and the neighbouring Taman peninsula only after the coming of the Proto-Bulgarians [4]. Pletnjova thinks that the 'pine-tree' technique was brought in here from the Caucasus, where it was well known in the VI-IX-th centuries. Her supposition is quite plausible, having in mind that the migration of a significant part of the population of the Northern Dagestan as a result of the Khazaro-Arab wars. It is also indicative that the 'pine-tree' technique appeared almost simultaneously in Taman and in the Crimea, which was also accompanied by a sharp increase in the number of the "Saltovo-culture" Proto-Bulgarian villages - 82 out of total number of 109 discovered Proto-Bulgarian settlements belong to the period between the second half of the VIII-th and the IX-th c.

The settlements of the later period in contrast to the previous period more often appear above the ruins of the previous towns. This increased the possibilities of contacts between the newcomers and the older population, which had preserved the traditions of the antiquity. The cultural influence of the latter increased further when a sizeable group of Greek population from Asia Minor was resettled in southern, coastal Crimea in the second half of the VIII-th c. The semi-dug-outs were replaced by dwellings (sometimes above the ground), consisting of one or two rooms. Such two-chamber dwellings from the IX-th c. are discovered in all more or less important agricultural settlements in the Crimea and Taman - Ilurat, Bakla, Alekseevka, Planerskoe, Phanagoria, etc.

There were, however, differences between the Byzantine and the Saltovo two-chamber buildings. The Byzantine ones consisted of two rooms, with a door between them and fireplaces in each of the rooms, which indicated that both rooms were inhabited. The roof was covered with tiles. The Saltovo examples only one of the rooms had fireplace and the two rooms were not connected. Therefore, only one of the rooms was inhabitable while the other one served economic purposes. The floor was dug in a little bit and the walls were constructed of clay laid on a wooden framework, with stone foundation built in the 'pine-tree' style and a straw roof. The differences with the Byzantine buildings are also displayed in the two Proto-Bulgarian churches in Planerskoe and in Kordon-Oba. The church in Planerskoe is built of bricks arranged in the 'pine-tree' style [5]. The church in Kordon-Oba displays the same construction and the inability to joint the walls at the corners. These two churches illustrate the increased Byzantine influence and the adoption of Christianity by part of the population but also their conservatism.

The conservatism in the material culture is also displayed in the pottery, which preserved the main characteristics of the steppe variant of the Saltovo-Majack culture. An interesting development is observed in the manufacturing of roof tiles. First, in the VIII-IX-th cc. it was concentrated in the towns where the buildings were constructed in the 'pine-tree' style. Later - in the IX-X-th cc. its centre moved to the Byzantine-held Chersones. The tiles bear various embossed signs, up to 1 cm high. Most of the signs are Greek letters or combinations of letters and obviously indicated the work of certain masters or production centres. In the smaller and the older centres the signs, however, resemble runic letters, animal figures or symbols of trees, crosses, pentacles [6] and are never found in Chersones. Jakobson pointed out that these relief signs are characteristic only for the lands to the north of the Black sea and especially for the Crimea. They are not found during this period of time (VIII-X cc.) in Byzantium. In the earlier centuries (VI-VII cc.) these signs were not found in the Crimea either. According to him it is not a coincidence that the tradition of embossing such signs spread in the VIII-th and IX-th centuries, and exactly in those villages where life was resumed after the influx of the new population with noticeable signs of nomadic culture. The drawings and signs on quadras from Crimes also much resemble those from the Proto-Bulgarian artefacts from Don and Kuban. All this points that the practice of putting signs of the roof tiles in Taurida was brought by the Proto-Bulgarians who settled there in the VIII-th c.

The necropolises, although still poorly studied, show that the pit burials in Crimea are closely related to the typical Proto-Bulgarian burials of the 'Zlivka' type. Europeid brachyocranic types, rarely with Mongoloid features, predominate [7]. This anthropological type is not found in Chersones, although it is characteristic for the cave monasteries of the Crimea [8]. All collected data make the researchers conclude that in the VIII-IX-th centuries the Proto-Bulgarians, frequently mixed with the remains of the local population, were the main inhabitants not only of Eastern, but (apart from several larger towns) also of the Southern and SW Crimea [9].

At the end of the IX-th c. or in the beginning of the X-th century almost all Proto-Bulgarian settlements were destroyed and abandoned by their inhabitants [10]. The most plausible explanation is that it was caused by the invasion of the Pechenegs, who destroyed almost all Saltovo-Majck type settlements [11]. The Pecheneg invasion also affected the cave monasteries, built in the mid-VIII-th c. by immigrants from Asia Minor. The affected population had to flee, some of them found refuge in the coastal towns, while others had to leave the Crimea and to look for safer places farther in the west, where they spread many characteristics of the Crimean culture.

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1.  V.F. Gajdukevich. Bosporkoe carstvo. M., 1949, s. 479

2.  I.A. Baranov. Nekotoriie itogi izuchenija tjurko-bolgarskih selisht Tavriki. - V: antichnaja drevnost' i srednie veka, viip. 10. Sverdlovski, 1973, s. 131-132.

3.  I.A. Baranov, Op. cit., s. 57

4.  A.L. Jakobson. Rannesrednovekoviie sel'skie poselenija Jugo-Zapadnoj Tavriki. - MIA, 168, 1970, s. 118-199.

5. V.P. Babenchikov. Itogi issledovanija srednevekovogo poselenija na holme Tepsen'. - V: Istoija i arheologija srednevekovogo Kriima, M., 1958, s 147.

6.  A.L. Jakobson, Op. cit., s. 156

7.  Ju.D. Benevolenskaja. Antropologicheskie materialii iz srednevekoviih mogil'nikov Jugo-Zapadnogo Kriima. - MIA, 168, s. 196 sl.

8.  G.F. Debec. Antropologicheskij sostav naselenija srednevekoviih gorodov Kriima. - MAE, XII, 1949, s. 346, 386.

9.  A.L. Jakobson. Kul'tura i etnosrannesrednovekoviih selisht Tavriki. - V: Antichnaja drevnost' i srednie veka, viip. 10. Sverdlovsk, 1973, s. 131-132.

10.  A.L. Jakobson. Rannesrednovekoviie poselenija ..., s. 500-501; A.N. Shcheglov. Rannesrednovekoviie poselenija na Tarkhankutskom poluostrove Kriima. - SA, 1970, kn. I, s. 259

11. I.I. Ljapushkin. Pamjatniki saltovo-majackoj kul'turii..., s. 148