University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Lada Onyshkevych

Archaic and Classical Cult-related Graffiti from the Northern Black Sea Region (Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World)

The Olbian Calendar Inscription, the Olbian Louterion Graffito, the Berezan Bone Plaque, and the Olbian Hermes Graffiti all have great potential significance in their unique contributions to our understanding of certain local cults in the Northern Black Sea region, as well as in the larger Greek world, in the Archaic and Classical periods. Yet the interpretations of the texts and of the overall significance of these graffiti, as provided in the initial publications, are inadequate in many respects, including establishment of key aspects such as chronology, linguistic and epigraphic analysis, and relevance to known religious practices. In this study, these graffiti are reexamined in every aspect, to form a more solid basis for new interpretations. The study includes reassessment of the archaeological context of each object, analysis of pottery shapes and epigraphical forms, and investigation of relevant evidence of religious practices in the Olbia-Berezan region and in the larger Greek world. New readings are presented in most cases, based on careful examination and study of the original objects. Linguistic aspects are explored, including comparisons with morphology and phrasing in other inscriptions and in literary texts. After each of these key aspects of preliminary study are established, new interpretations for the significance of each text and object are proposed, although some problems necessarily remain unresolved due to lack of sufficient evidence. Each graffito yields valuable information on such aspects of local Greek religious life as the calendar in Olbia, the aspects of Apollo chosen for emphasis by local cults, such as letros and Delphinios, the role of Hermes' cult in the region, and the presence in Berezan of an Orphic-like hebdomadic cult group, connected to Apollo. The general picture yielded by these graffiti as a group is of a rich and varied religious life in Olbia and Berezan, grounded in the traditions of the mother-city, Miletus, but growing and developing on its own as well, and placing particular emphasis on individual cult aspects which suit the needs of these young colonies.

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