Scilouros was the most important Scythian ruler in the Hellenistic period, who reformed the Scythian culture and led to prosperity; a phase which is called by scholars Late Scythian culture. His name reveals his royal descent because it contains the characteristic word skuda (tiara), a royal symbol par excellence.1
His reign probably started in the third quarter of the 2nd c. BC, circa 135, and was terminated upon his death around 114-113 BC.2 He lived in a period when the region of the Caucasus found itself at the centre of large-scale historical developments due to the interference of Rome in issues concerning the kingdoms of the region. His predecessor was Argotus.3
2. The Kingdom of Scilouros and its structure
The region that became the heart and starting point of Scilouros’ territory, the Crimean Peninsula, was a rather restricted area as compared with the land occupied by the Scythian Kingdom after the Scythian tribes spread in the Late Classical period (4th c. BC). His kingdom was structured according to the standards of the non-Greek Iranian states of Asia Minor (Pontus, Cappadocia) and Armenia. Archaeological research in Crimea brought to light evidence indicating that between 140 and 130 BC a new Scythian aristocracy with strong nomadic features was imposed and mingled with the earlier, permanently settled Taurian-Scythian tribes of the region, under Sarmatian pressure. This fusion, combined with the exploitation of the Greek element remaining in the region, particularly in big Greek cities like Panticapaeum, triggered the development of a powerful kingdom under Scilouros around the capital of Scythian Neapolis. He also built other forts (Chavae, Palakion), aiming to reinforce his kingdom’s defense against the expansionary disposition of the Pontic kings.4
The kingdom of Scilouros extended from the mountains of south Crimea and the steppe to the east as far as Sevastopol and Tchernomorskoe to the west.5 It included a central zone around Neapolis, where fortified settlements prevailed, a number of advanced positions to the east aiming to control the commercial routes leading to the Kingdom of Bosporus, the northwestern zone corresponding to the mainland of the Crimean Peninsula, and a less researched southwestern zone.6
The capital of Scilouros’ state, Neapolis, was built on a fortified rocky hill, a suburb of modern Simferopol. It has been systematically excavated already from the early 19th century. Research of Soviet and soon after Ukrainian archaeologists since 1945 has brought to light a wealth of evidence.
Apart from archaeological findings, inscriptions, coins as well as three passages by Strabo7 offer us the possibility to reconstruct up to a certain point the course of events that took place during the well documented reign of Scilouros and his son and successor, Palacus.
3. Monuments connected with Scilouros
The main monuments connected with Scilouros are the south palace, a fortified palace with Dorian columns on the facade and decorations including statues of deities in Greek style, and the king’s mausoleum.
3.1. The Palace (Megaron)
The palace covers an overall area of 2,500 square metres and stands near the city gates. It consists of a number of buildings and stoas, with the most important of them being the so-called megaron measuring approximately 25×10 m. The palace was built in the mid-2nd c. BC, was destroyed circa 135 BC and was rebuilt in 120 BC, before it was left again in ruins by Diophantus, the Greek general of Mithridates VI Eupator, towards the end of the century .8 Clay incence burners and altars, possibly elements of the worship of the Scythian goddess Ditagoia, the patron of Scilouros’ dynasty, were found in the palace.9
3.2. The King’s Mausoleum
The mausoleum is a four-sided building originally including only one grave. King Scilouros is believed to have been buried there, on a marble throne. He was accompanied by his armor, which included an iron helmet of Attic type, a sword of Celtic type, arrow and spear heads as well as golden items decorating the garment. Another seventy people were later buried there, while at a subsequent moment the dead king was possibly secretly displaced a little farther from his original position.10
3.3. Sculpture – Pottery – Handicraft
Relief sculptures allegedly representing the king and his eldest son and successor, Palacus, have been found in Neapolis, along with a relief depicting Palacus riding a horse. The city abounds in amphoras and stamped handles of Rhodian amphoras, tiles from Sinope and clay figurines and small altars from Olbia.
4. The Kingdom’s heyday
The kingdom reached its full swing when the Sarmatians, enemies of the Scythians and allies of the Kingdom of Pontus, finally joined Scilouros. The latter mounted a number of successful campaigns: he attacked and captured Panticapaeum, the powerful city and capital of the Kingdom of Bosporus. The supremacy of the Scythian Kingdom led the second biggest Greek city of the northern coast of the Black Sea, Olbia, to ask for Scilouros’ protection.11 Helped by a Rhodian aristocrat seaman, the Scythian king managed to eliminate pirates from his territory.12
Scilouros minted bronze coins in Olbia depicting the head of bearded Hermes turned to the right on the obverse and a staff with the phrases ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ ΣΚΙΛΟΥΡΟΣ (KING SCILOUROS) and ΟΛΒΙΟ (OLBIO) on the reverse.13
6. Death and succession of Scilouros
One of the most famous sayings of Antiquity is attributed to Scilouros and has been handed down by Plutarch. Shortly before his death, the Scythian king, who had eighty or, according to other sources, fifty sons, called them beside him and asked from each one of them to crush eighty wooden sticks. None of them managed it. Then Scilouros took the sticks and broke them one by one, advising his sons to stay together.14
His successor was less effective. He attacked Pontus but was defeated, while his capital was occupied and destroyed by the enemies. Thus, in its late period, the Scythian state was subordinated to the Kingdom of Pontus.
1. Cornillot, F., “L’origine du nom des Scythes”, Indo‑Iranian Journal 23 (1981), p. 33 and 38, n. 28. The word skuda is the root of several Scythian royal names (Σκύθης and Σκύλης).
2. Zajcev, J.P., “Absolute and Relative Chronology of Scythian Neapolis in the 2nd century BC”, in Stolba, V.F. – Hannestad, L. (edit.), Chronologies of the Black Sea Area in the Period c. 400‑100 BC (Aarhus 2005), p. 264.
3. Zajcev, J.P., “The Scythian Neapolis and Greek Culture of the Northern Black Sea Region in the 2nd century BC”, in Grammenos, D.V. – Petropoulos, E.K. (edit.), Ancient Greek Colonies in the Black Sea 2 (BAR International Series S1675, Oxford 2007), pp. 789‑826: A Greek inscription was discovered in 1999 reporting that the ruler of Scythia built the monument for Argotus. The ruler is identified with Scilouros, who obviously wanted to honor his predecessor.
5. Daskevskaja, O.D., Pozdnie skify v Krymu (Moskva 1991), pl. 1.
6. Burgunder, P., “Le royaume scythique de Skilouros dans ses relations avec les Grecs”, Association Suisse d’Archéologie Classique, Bulletin (2007), p. 13.
7. Strabo, 7.3.6, 7.4.3 and 7.4.6.
8. Puzdrovsky, A.Y., “Σχεδίασμα της πολιτικής ιστορίας της κριμαϊκής Σκυθίας: 3ος αι . π.Χ. ‑ 3ος αι. μ.Χ.”, Vestnik drevnei istorii (2001.3), pp. 86‑118. For the palace, see Zajcev, J.P., “Το νότιο ανάκτορο της Σκυθικής Νεάπολης”, Vestnik drevnej istorii (1997.3), pp. 36‑50 (in Russian).
9. The worship of this goddess is also evidenced in Panticapaeum, where a clay altar dedicated to one of Scilouros’ daughters has been found: see Zajcev, J.P., “The Scythian Neapolis and Greek Culture of the Northern Black Sea Region in the 2nd century BC”, in Grammenos, D.V. – Petropoulos, E.K. (edit.), Ancient Greek Colonies in the Black Sea 2 (BAR International Series S1675, Oxford 2007).
10. Zajcev, J.P., “Το μαυσωλείο στη Νεάπολη των Σκυθών”, Arkheologia 1 (1992), pp. 93‑99 (in Russian) and “Absolute and Relative Chronology of Scythian Neapolis in the 2nd century BC”, in Stolba, V.F. – Hannestad, L. (edit.), Chronologies of the Black Sea Area in the Period c. 400‑100 BC (Aarhus 2005), pp. 259‑273; Burgunder, P., “Le royaume scythique de Skilouros dans ses relations avec les Grecs”, in Bulletin de l' Association Suisse d’Archeologie Classique, (2007), pp. 14‑16.
11. Ivantchik, A., “Une nouvelle proxénie d’Olbia et les relations des cites nord‑pontiques avec le royaume scythe de Scilouros”, in Bresson, A. – Ferrary, J.‑L. – Ivantchik, A. (edit.), Une koinè pontique. Cités greqcues, sociétés indigènes et empires mondiaux sur le littoral nord de la Mer Noire (VIIe s. a.C.‑IIIe s. p.C.) (Bordeaux 2002), from p. 126 onwards.
12. Hupe, J., “Überlegungen zu den Statuenweihungen des Posideos an Achilleus und rhodische Gottheiten aus Neapolis Scythika (Krim)”, Eurasiatica Antiqua 9 (2003), pp. 281‑301.
13. Vinogradov, J.G. – Kryzickii, D., Olbia. Eine altgriechische Stadt im nordwestlichen Schwarzmeerraum (Leiden 1995), pp. 141‑142.
14. Plut., Βασιλέων Αποφθέγματα και Στρατηγών 174F.