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 Vladimir Anatolyevitch Gorontcharovskiy
Iluraton: A Fortress of the 1st- 3rd centuries AD on the European Kimmerian Bosporos

The History of Excavations of the site

Archaeological exploration of the site of Iluraton has a long history. One may divide it into two stages. The first stage began in 1827 and was mainly the work of the well-known amateur-archaeologist Paul Dubrux (1770-1835). He was the first to describe the ancient ruins near the Tatar village of Kermesh-Kelechik (Fig. 2). He was fascinated in collecting the classical antiquities of the eastern Crimea, which formed a basis of the Kertch museum. Sometimes he would walk along the coast of the peninsula, making plans of the remains of the ancient settlements. In this way the hill-fort identified as Iluraton was discovered. Dubrux thought that it might be the acropolis of some ancient city, or a palace once belonging to the Bosporan kings (Dubrux P., 1858, p. 54-63; Gajdukevic V.F., 1950, p. 173 ff; Tunkina I.V., 1999, p. 16). Such assumptions were certainly farfetched, but the main service of Dubrux was to carefully locate and describe the fortifications and other building remains, including those in the adjoining territory. In particular, he carried out the first minor excavations of the necropolis (Gajdukevic V.F., 1950, p. 177, 182; Tunkina I.V., 1999, p. 16; idem, 2002. Fig. 54). In any case his observations have facilitated the work of subsequent generations of archaeologists working on the site.

Figure 2. Plan of Iluraton by P. Dubrux (1833).

Figure 3.
1. Northeastern defensive wall with small tower (plan and facade).
2. Section of the northeastern slope of Iluraton with well and underground passage.

The second stage in the research of Iluraton is constituted by the systematic exploration of the site by the Bosporan expedition of the IIMK (Institute of History of Material Culture, later called the Leningrad Branch of the Institute of Archaeology) of the Russian Academy of Sciences. It began after the Second World War and continued up to 2000. The first regular excavations started with V.F.Gajdukevic as the director (Kublanov M.M., 1948, p. 27-54; Gajdukevic V.F., 1950, p. 188-190). This outstanding scientist carried out excavations at Iluraton during the years 1948 to 1960 and then in 1966 (Gajdukevic V.F., 1958, p. 6 ff.; idem, 1981, p. 76). During the years 1968-1981, with short intervals, the excavations of the Bosporan expedition were continued with I.G.Šurgaja's acting as a director (Šurgaja I.G., 1970, p. 61 ff.; idem, 1974, 109 ff; idem, 1975, p. 102 ff; idem 1984, p. 70-71). From 1982 to 2000 the expedition was headed by V.A. Goroncharovski (Goroncharovski V.A., 1984, p. 251 ff.; idem, 1987, p. 83 ff; idem, 1991, p. 14 ff.; idem, 1993, p. 23 ff.; idem, 1993a, p. 49 ff.; idem, 1993b, p. 547 ff.; idem, 1994, p. 84). At the same time the upper and lower necropoleis of Iluraton were explored by M.M.Kublanov, V.A.Goroncharovski and V.A.Khrshanovski (Kublanov M.M., 1983, p. 104-128; Goroncharovski V.A., 1991, p. 14-16; idem, 1994, p. 85-86; Khrshanovski V.A., 2003, p. 270-275). Since 2001 only Iluraton's upper necropolis has been excavated by V.A. Khrshanovski.

More than 50 years of intensive excavation have unearthed a quarter of the territory of the hillfort and about 250 graves. Today, due to efforts of many scientists, Iluraton can be considered one of the best excavated archaeological sites of the Bosporan Kingdom, providing us with unique information about life and culture of this small Bosporan city during the Roman period.

Topography of the site

Excavations have shown that Iluraton was founded in the second third of the 1st century AD as one of main strongholds in the system of roads and fortifications of the European side of Bosporos (Zubarev V.G., 1998, p. 118. Fig. 4). From a strategic point of view, Iluraton overlooked the routes leading to the Panticapaeum area from the southwest. The well considered choice of location of the fortress, as well as the full use made of natural defences testify to the high level of professionalism of the Bosporan military engineers. The rains of Iluraton are located on a flat rocky plateau about 45 m high, near a small river, which flows into the Churubash salt-lake 5 km further on. In antiquity this lake was probably a gulf of the sea (Zenkevich V.P., 1958, p. 175,194). Near Iluraton the river valley is narrow with steep slopes. It has narrow flood plain and the remains of two terraces. The depth of the river valley differs greatly from place to place, up to about 12 m over a kilometer. This rules out navigation on the river. During pouring rain all water instantly flows down to the salt-lake, and in summer the water in the stream almost dries up. The rocky plateau consists of powerful horizontal layers of limestone and waterproof layers of clay, due to which fresh-water springs are to be found in the slopes of the valley. In antiquity the valley was probably covered by a mixed forest providing the population of fortress with wood and fuel.

Study of the topography of the northeast slope (Fig. 4, 1) has revealed a quite wide ramp by the eastern corner of the fortress. Most likely of natural origin, the ramp has apparently been adapted by the local inhabitants to rise in easy stages from the valley up to the plateau. Carriages or horsemen could easily reach the plateau thanks to this feature. Gradually moving away from the defensive wall, the road approaches the northern corner tower, where the river makes an abrupt turn. Probably there was a ferry here, for on the opposite side of the valley there is convenient access to a gorge rising upwards. The road leading along the northeast part of the settlement was marked on the plan of P. Dubrux (Gajdukevic V.F., 1958, p. 12-13). It was vital to the inhabitants of the fortress as it led to the plots of arable land, which were located to the north of the river. The southern bank of the river valley has a large rocky surface covered with wormwood steppe - ideal pasture for sheeps. It would have been possible to graze cows and horses in the flood-plain of the river.

Figure 4.
1. View of the northeast slope of Iluraton.

The slope of the valley under the northwest wall of the fortress is also of interest from a topographic point of view. It consists of a high terrace of the flood-plain. Its summit has no constant height and lowers appreciably to the north. The rocky plateau on which the fortress lies also lowers away to the northeast. The difference in height between these two features is about 15 m. This has caused a particular system of urban spatial organization, which features several artificial terraces of heights from 0.6 up to 2m high. The stone extracted during the construction of these terraces was used for construction on the site.

Stages of construction and basic elements of the fortifications

The long lasting archeological excavations at Iluraton have revealed the basic elements of the fortifications and the stages of construction of the fortress, which was a military-administrative centre for the adjacent agricultural district (Goroncharovski V.A., 1989, p. 36 ff; idem, 1995, p. 60; idem, 2002, p. 68 ff.). It needs to be stressed that it is almost impossible to determine the initial appearance of the fortifications, because the earliest layers have practically been destroyed during subsequent construction works on the site, when the terracing was carried out.

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