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

Iluraton in the 1st century AD

The size of early Iluraton is unknown, but it most likely complies with what we know for the later periods. The presence of finely carved rusticated facing of the blocks at the front of the base on the inside of the south-west defensive wall attracts our attention (Gajdukevic V.F., 1981, p. 133. Fig. 50). Here, alongside a stretch of wall next to tower V, up to four rows of limestone block have survived. This section of wall differs from the usual appearance of the fortifications at Iluraton so strikingly, that V.F.Gajdukevic initially assumed quite naturally a secondary use of these rusticated slabs taken from some earlier fortification work, situated, perhaps, exactly in this same place (Gajdukevic V.F., 1981, p. 135). The question was finally clarified by the discovery of remains of fortifications from an earlier period on the opposite side of the settlement: a small tower measuring 4.4 x 2.8 m and an adjoining section of defensive wall with rusticated stretchers on the outer face (Fig. 3, 1). It had been assumed earlier that it was pointless to search for the remains of a defensive wall here on account of the natural destruction of the rock. Nevertheless, the tower was discovered by chance exactly where it had been seen by P. Dubrux, who had marked it on his plan with the letter N (Gajdukevic V.F., 1958, p. 13. Fig. 3; Tunkina I.V., 2002. Fig. 53). Remains of the early defensive wall were preserved at a length of 27 m. The wall was 2.5 m wide with a three-part structure: two masonry faces, where the blocks had been laid with their broken sides facing inwards, with a fill of rough-stones in between them. The durability of such masonry was not only assured by its own weight, but wooden beams were also laid width-wise in the wall. Cuts for them were discovered both in the tower, and in the curtain wall. Taking into account the relatively high seismic activity in this area of the Crimea, this construction detail seems to be well thought out.

According to the in-vogue principles at the time, the fortifications were constructed on a basis of trimmed stones consisting of well carved limestone stretchers. The measurements of the front face of these blocks are between 0.9 x 0.45 m and 1.2 x 0.42 m, and they bear signs of cutting and trimming by a saw. They also bear signs of later working by an instrument such as a chisel or adze, with a working edge measuring between 4 and 10 cm. The masonry on the front face is stepped, and bears no sign of any bonding mortar. The blocks were then trimmed to an even height. Consequently, considering the fact that the rustication at the edge of the blocks is only 1-2 cm wide, this trimming was a technical method available for the best adjustment of the variously sized limestone stretchers. The application of such methods in Iluraton's south-west and north-east defensive walls allows us to state that the traditions of late Hellenistic building technique were still preserved in the Bosporan fortifications of the earliest centuries AD. Hereupon, Iluraton is by no means out of the ordinary. In the Black Sea region rusticated stretchers can also be found in the Roman period defensive walls at Tiritaka (Gajdukevic V.F., 1958, p. 162), and also at Abritus and Philippopolis in Thrace (Ivanov Т., 1980, p. 49, 91, 118, 208. Fig. 39,101,136,230).

The space between the hill slope and the wall in this part of the fortifications was leveled with debris up to a height of 3.5 m, which constituted the difference in height between the tower base and the higher pavement of the latter inhabited complex of the 2nd-3rd century AD. The dated material comes from the layer at the foot of the north-eastern defensive wall, which mainly consists of red-lacquer ceramics dating from a period not later than the second third of the 1st century AD. The date is confirmed by the find of an ass struck by queen Gipepiria ass in the wall's fill. Material from the sockets cut in the rock along the line of the Big Longitudinal street, from the lower layers of an ash pit beyond the south-eastern gate of the fortress, and from grave assemblies in the necropolis do not conflict with such an inference. We also note, that the earliest coin discovered at the site so far is an ass of King Aspurgus dated to AD 37/38.

The problem of the water supply was probably also resolved during this earliest phase on construction. The topography of the site, however exploited, had one major disadvantage: there was no source of water within the defensive walls, which would assure the surrender of the place when under siege. The only remedy was to construct a system of cisterns for collecting the rainwater (Arist. Pol. VII. 10. 2), which in ancient times was considered even more salubrious than spring water (Vitr. VIII. 2.1). In Hellenistic cities astynomoi were quite often charged to count all cisterns situated within houses, and to produce a list of them to the strategoi, to ensure that the owners kept the cisterns clean and closed them with appropriate lids. Apparently, such requirements occurred in Iluraton as well. Bell-shaped cisterns with a capacity of from 7 to 10 cubic metres have been cut into the hard native rock in the courtyards of many houses and even in the main street. The especially thorough trimming of the mouth of the cistern is distinctive. Normally a square slab with a round hole about 0.6 m in diameter cut in it was put over the top of the opening. The hole was closed with a round stone lid, which exceeded the mouth in size just a bit. Slightly to one side an enclosure formed by limestone slabs up to 0.5 m in height mounted sideways is usually found. In one case an empty pythos about 1.5 m deep, closed up with the same type of lid, was found in line with the street. Quite possibly, it had also acted as a cistern. Certainly, such constructions could not have entirely satisfied the needs of Iluraton's population for drinking water in case of hostilities.

P.Dubrux had, however, passed the following remark: 'A little bit lower than the northern corner tower at the foot of a rock there is a cavity now filled with earth, which in former times probably constituted a secret passage through which the defenders of the fortifications could leave and return to the fortress' (Dubrux P., 1858, p. 56). V.F. Gajdukevic also thought the feature to be the exit from a tunnel cut down into the rock. In his opinion a long ditch-like cavity which runs down the slope near the northern corner of the fortress could have been formed as a result of earth sinking into the line of a collapsed underground passage. This depression comes to an end with a big funnel-shaped hollow at a depth of 1.5 m. The presence of such a construction in this place is explained by the location of water sources nearby in a gully (Gajdukevic V.F., 1958, p. 20).

The water-bearing strata cause springs to appear at the bottom of the rocky plateau. Therefore it was possible to assume that the inhabitants of Iluraton would have dug a well in a low-lying place to guarantee a constant source of water in case of a prolonged siege. And indeed in 1981 at a depth of 2.5 m from the contemporary surface, the massive masonry of a secret siege well with almost square mouth - 1.85 x 1.8 m (Goroncharovski V.A., 2001, p. 31 ff.) was discovered (Fig. 3, 2). It has been excavated at a depth of 7.85 m. When the fill was removed, it was found to consist of fitting calcareous blocks fixed in place by a limy solution with an admixture of sand. The height of the rows varied from 0.45 to 0.67 m. The special care taken over the work points at the significance, which was given to this construction. Excavation of the well yielded insufficient dating material. We may nevertheless conclude that its construction is dated to the 1st century AD, as without such a construction the fortress could not exist.

Some interesting technological details were revealed while cleaning up the walls of the well. At a distance of 2.05 and 2.2 m from each other three lines of grooves had been cut in advance into the calcareous blocks. These grooves were located alongside a joint between the rows of blocks. When the perimeter of the construction settled down, the grooves were left varying about 7 cm in level from one another. The grooves, which occur on opposite walls, lie opposite to one another. They were probably used for keeping beams in place during the construction process. These would have formed a rigid support on which boards would have been laid to form a temporary floor. The successive layers of the stonework would have been laid working from this base. A piece of a wooden beam 0.12 x 0.1 m in section was found in one of these grooves, which lay under the water table. It was made of the trunk of an old pine tree of a large diameter. When the well was on operation, the grooves were probably used to construct a system of floors and ladders along which it was possible to move up and down in order to clean out the bottom of the well. There was undoubtedly also some mechanism for drawing water built alongside it. As a whole, give its significant dimensions, the well should have provided a system effective enough, for gathering the water carried along water-bearing strata.

The remains of a stone construction were removed from the bottom of the well, which once covered its mouth. It consisted of blocks of sawn limestone, 0.7 x 0.25 x 0.22 m in size even in fragments, the total number of which would have reached 142. As some of the surviving blocks had rectangular grooves carved in them, it is likely that wooden joists were also used in the construction. It is also possible, however, that there was a floor in the construction. There is no reason to misbelieve that they may have been used to cover an underground passage about 40 meters long, running from the line of the defensive wall down to the well in a number of flights, each with a pise floor.

This one, as well as similar constructions on the Bosporos can probably be linked to the influence of architectural traditions derived from the Pontic Kingdom and used by Mithridates VI and his successors. Staircase descents of this type, cut into rock and leading to underground water tanks, are widely known in Cappadocia, Pontos, Paphlagonia, Armenia Minor and Phrygia. Fortified settlements in these areas were as a rule situated on remote tops of hills or rocky plateaus, which were usually waterless. Therefore a paramount problem was to cut such descents down to the water, at times comprising up to two hundreds steps. Two types of tunnels are commonly found: one leading to a source of water located beneath the rock, while others led to an underground reservoir cut into the rock itself (von Gall H., 1967, p. 509; Saprykin S. Ju., 2002, p. 186-190). Iluraton's underground passage is related to the first group. It had a rather simple structure, as the shaft has been cut down from the surface through clay. Its walls have been strengthened with stone masonry which remain up to a height of 1.8 metres, and for which huge limestone joist slabs were used. The width of the underground passage is 1.4 metres, whereas three stone slabs from the collapsed covering structure found inside had lengths of 1.05-1.1 m. Consequently they must have been laid in at least two or three ledges no each side.

The line of an underground passage also passes near to corner tower IX, near its southeast wall. A round hollow some 1.25 m in diameter was noticed here, and excavation has shown that it was formed by washing in of rocks. It gradually narrows down at a depth of 1.5 m where it dips downwards. Cracks and holes were noticed to the right and left from which came cold air. So it seems that the top part of the passage, which was sited directly under the defensive works, has been cut into the rock and, obviously, led to the courtyard of a nearby house. Taking into account the location and size of this underground passage, in which two persons could hardly pass alongside one another, it was possible to assume, that it was not a unique feature in the water-supply system of the fortress. In 1999-2000 in the same place, on the northeast slope of the settlement, a hollow about 5 metres in diameter was excavated, located on the same horizontal level as the well found earlier, some 80 metres to the southeast of it. A trench 3.6 meters in width was found cut down into the base clay. At a depth of 5.1 m part of the masonry construction was found: two blocks of sawn limestone assembled in a line. They seem to come from the mouth of a second well, which most probably connected the fortress to the area of the Big Longitudinal Street by an underground passage. From there it would have been possible to deliver water easily to any of the city housing blocks.

The early fortress probably did not exist for long and underwent destruction about the end of the 1 st century AD. The still existing threat of attack from Sarmatians and the Crimean Scythians upon the western boundaries of the kingdom caused a full reconstruction of the entire defensive system and inhabited quarters of Iluraton some decades later. The absence of coins from the reign of King Sauromates I (92/93-123/24) in the archaeological strata also supports our assumption about the date of the beginning of the second building period at Iluraton.

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