The Mirmeki Treasure. New discoveries on the
Cimmerian Bosporus by the Hermitage Archeological Expedition
On 11 April 2006 an exhibition organized by the State Hermitage and the Kerch State Cultural and Historical Reserve opened in the Rotunda (Room 156, 155) of the Winter Palace.
In the course of work carried out by the Mirmeki Archeological Expedition of the State Hermitage in 2003, a treasure of electron coins from the Asia Minor city of Kizik was found. This find was turned over to the collection of the Kerch Museum. This discovery is unique insofar as it is the first treasure of coins from Kizik to reach archeologists is unplundered, pristine form, all of which considerably enhances its scientific value. For scholars the treasure has huge value precisely because these objects were found in one place and so it is possible to determine how they all coexisted in one or another period of time. This is particularly important in the case of coins, when even a single coin can alter or make more precise the dating of the entire find.
The treasure consists of 99 electron coins which were found in a bronze jug. During the centuries that the vessel lay in the ground, the bronze was seriously cracked and broke into layers.The jug broke into parts but its shape could be restored. It appears that on the lower part of the handle there was a small relief with a depiction of the Gorgon Medusa or a lion. Vessels of similar form were made in the second half of the 5th to first half of the 4th century BC.
Kizik coins were extremely widespread among the Greeks living along the Black Sea Littoral. They are to be found in nearly all the major treasures of gold coins dating from the 5th - 4th centuries such as the Mirmeki Treasure. All the coins are Ancient Greek states. On one side there is the depiction of an emblem with the mandatory symbol of the city of Kizik - a tuna fish. On the obverse there is the so-called quadratum incusum (a rectangular indentation made by a rod by which a metallic ball pressed into the mold).
The Treasure includes at least 53 types of coins. A considerable number of them have depictions of various divinities and mythological personages. Here we find Poseidon seated on his throne and holding his trident, the bearded Dionysus, Apollo wearing a laurel wreath, Heracles with his club and lion skin, winged Nike, and the god of the sea, Triton.
A special place is given to Athena and the divinities worshiped in Athens, which is explained by the subordination of the city of Kizik to the Athenian naval alliance. Aside from depictions of the protector of Attica, here we find the goddess of the Earth, Gea holding an infant in her arms, the part-serpent Kekrop with an olive, the emissary of Demeter Triptolem with an ear of wheat on a chariot drawn by winged serpents.
Many figures of nude heroes and warriors with pikes or swords cannot be identified, but one cannot exclude the possibility that among them there is the archer Paris, who was revered in Asia Minor, where the territory of Kizik was situated. Several figures of warriors very likely depict running contests in full armor (oplitis dromos).
Other coins present a real bestiary. Aside from a powerful boar, goat, sheep and numerous lions, bulls and dolphins, one encounters here fantastic beings. Winged sphinxes and griffons were especially widespread. One can also see the winged horse Pegasus, the three-headed dog Cerberus and a chimera which has the head of a goat growing from the spine of a lion's body. All of the Kizik treasures date from the 5th century B.C.
The wall under which the treasure was found belonged to the building of a sanctuary dedicated to the goddess of agriculture, Demeter. Most likely the coins which have been found were part of the temple treasure. Judging by the observations of archeologists, the treasure could not have been concealed earlier than the second quarter of the 4th century B.C.
In terms of its size, the Mirmeki Treasure stands apart from other finds. Major Kizik treasures are rather rarely met with on the territory of the Mediterranean Sea, and each of them draws the undivided attention of researchers. However, this discovery has more than just material and scientific value. The molds for making Ancient Greek coins were made by the very best master cutters and sculptors, who turned every object of precious metal into an elegant miniature.
The second half of the exhibition presents to the public the material culture of the ancient urban settlement of Mirmeki. Here we see bronzes, ceramics, sculptures and objects of bone from the collection of the State Hermitage. The finds of medieval burials pose special interest.
The author of the scholarly catalogue and curator of the exhibition is A.M. Butyagin, senior researcher and director of the Sector of the Northern Black Sea Littoral within the Department of the Ancient World, State Hermitage.