BILYAYEVA Svitlana et Alii

In the 2005-6 season an international team under the direction of Dr. Svitlana Bilyayeva continued its study of the northern Black Sea coastal stronghold of Aqkerman. The team's common goal is to bring together archaeological and historical evidence in order to throw new light on the history of the fortress. The archaeological component includes both survey and excavation of the fortress's visible and concealed remains, while the historical component utilises documents relating to its construction and repair and rebuilding primarily drawn from the Ottoman archives in Istanbul. Funding from the Fondation van Berchem, augmented by a grant from the British Institute of Archaeology in Ankara, is enabling this previously under-resourced interdisciplinary project to be planned and carried out more effectively than before. Participants are drawn from Canada, Turkey, Ukraine, UK, and USA.
Aqkerman fortress (long. 30.35; lat. 46.20, Fig.1), one of the most remarkable monuments of the Black Sea region, today stands in Ukraine, close to the Moldovan border. It is situated on a promontory 10 km within the liman, or estuary, of the Dniester River. The main part of the fortress is built on top of ancient Tyras, a Greek colony of Miletus in Anatolia, some remains of which have been excavated and are visible outside the walls. At various times Aqkerman was held by the Romans, Byzantines, Ruthenians and Genoese, and by the end of the 14th century the fortress was in the hands of the principality of Moldavia.


Plan of Aqkerman defensive complex

Fig.1 Plan of Aqkerman defensive complex, 1955. A = citadel; B = northern or garrison yard; C = southern or civil yard, D = port yard. 1-30 = towers of the fortress (Marianna Slapac, Belgorod-Dnestrovskaja krepost': Issledovanie oboronnogo zodchestva [Chisinau: ARC, 2001], p. 90)

In 1484, Aqkerman was conquered by the Ottoman sultan Bayezid II and for more than three hundred years, until the Russians took it early in the 19th century, remained an Ottoman possession. Over the centuries the Ottomans fortified their northern frontier with a chain of massive strongholds intended to protect the Black Sea and the sultan's territory beyond from interlopers from the steppe. These strongholds once stretched in an arc from the Danube to the Sea of Azov, but from the end of the 18th century, following the victory of the Russian Empire over the Ottomans, many of them were razed. Aqkerman is probably the best preserved. The current campaign is the first that has focused on the Ottoman occupation of the site. Previous archaeological work at the fortress has ignored or deliberately destroyed remains from these centuries, and it has long been denied that there were any significant Ottoman building works at Aqkerman.
The circumference of Aqkerman fortress is over 2 km; on its landward side it is surrounded by double walls and a ditch 13 m deep. Thirty out of 34 towers are preserved until today. Within the fortress, the medieval citadel is situated to the north and all but encircled by an enclosure known as the garrison yard. To the south of this is a larger enclosure known as the civil yard, and to the west, along the Dniester shore, a third enclosure referred to as the port yard (Fig.2).


Geodesic plan

Fig.2 Geodesic plan of the central part of the Port yard.

The archaeological investigations undertaken in June-September 2006 concentrated on the port yard, where Ottoman structures had been discovered in previous years. In particular, a hamam, or bath house (Fig.3), situated on the east side of the port yard close by the gate giving access to the garrison yard, was excavated (by the Turkish team under Prof. Bozkurt Ersoy). The walls of the bath house, some of which are preserved up to 2.5 m above the original floor of the caldarium (sicaklik), have been revealed down to the level of the solid rock upon which the fortress stands. The layout, materials and GPS survey of the bath house suggest that it dates from the sixteenth century. Documentary evidence adduced by the historical team (Dr. Caroline Finkel and Dr. Victor Ostapchuk), in the form of a sultanic edict from 1576, seems to confirm this date.


Bath house

Fig.3 Bath house (hamam), general view

The barbican, which is situated on a promontory on the shore, was a major object of attention, as it will continue to be in 2007. Its layout was revealed to show that it includes at least two rooms and a tower; some traces of a fireplace were discovered (fig. 4). Of particular note was the identification of an external gateway to the shoreline in the south wall of the barbican, and the passageway that would have led from the shore into the port yard (hence the designation 'barbican'). For the first time the plan of the barbican is becoming clear and analysis of its architectural remains is providing the basis for understanding its building chronology and its functional relationship to the larger fortress. The correlation of building structure, architectural remains and cultural remains are providing us with evidence for establishing when the port yard was constructed. Preliminary indications are that it is the result of Ottoman building activity in the 16th c.


Bath house hamam

Fig.4 Bath house (hamam), general view

This season thousands of artefacts were found in the barbican, bathhouse and port yard in the course of surface survey and excavation. Some are pre-Ottoman, dating to the 13th-15th c., and originate from a wide area of the Black Sea region including the coast of modern Ukraine: ceramics in the sgraffiato technique, and of the so-called Miletus group, show the influence of Anatolian types. Most artefacts, however, are from the Ottoman period, and include items of clay, metal, glass, stone and other materials. Ceramics predominate, and include pottery of local production such as unglazed, monochromic and polychromic kitchen ware; dining ware with green, yellow and brown glaze; and tiles. Imports of Iznik and Kütahya manufacture are represented by plates and dishes of semi-faience, and faience ware for tea and coffee. All periods are represented. The wide geographical spread of imports is shown by the presence of Chinese porcelain. Numerous faience and china cups have letters on the bottom, presumably indicating the maker's mark. There were also candles of different types, the surface of which were covered by green or brown glaze and unglazed and glazed tiles. A significant part of the Ottoman finds is represented by hundreds of tobacco pipes of the 17th-18th c., covered by slip, some with stamps (letters, rosettes, and images of birds or fish). Ukrainian glazed tobacco pipes and ware were also found. Metal items are of iron, bronze, silver and lead; they include coins, horseshoe nails, moulds for bullets, buttons, belt buckles, kettles, etc., some of which are brilliant examples of metal work and richly decorated. Further finds are of glass (vessels, adornments, window glass), stone, and bone.
The GPS survey of the entire fortress was begun, using a Trimble R-3. This has so far produced detailed plans of the port yard, including the barbican and bath house. In 2007, priority will be given to the complete survey of the curtain walls, towers and the ditch beyond which was started, but has not yet been completed owing to lack of time. A fulltime survey team will be assembled, and we hope also to survey with laser scanner and conduct a resistively survey for buried structures in 2007.
A preliminary architectural survey of the fortress was undertaken by a specialist on fortifications (Dr. James Mathieu). Working from the 1955 plan of the site, he found numerous discrepancies between this and the current situation. He also completed a photographic survey of the walls and ditch. Our goal is to understand the construction phases of the various parts of the fortress, identifying probable dates for construction and/or modifications, and acquire an understanding of how the fortress functioned in different periods. The completion of the GPS survey of the fortress will provide an opportunity to match the surviving architectural remains at Aqkerman with detailed historical information currently being gleaned from Ottoman documentary sources by the historical team.

Barbican general view
Fig.5 Barbican, general view

The historical team has been concerned with locating and photocopying archival documentation relating to both new construction and also repair and rebuilding work of the Ottoman period. Very little material relating to the Ottoman centuries at Aqkerman was previously known, and much new documentation has now been found. The documents in question may be descriptive or quantitative: the descriptive documents refer, for instance, to the fact that building works are necessary, but do not provide estimate of costs or precise extent of the proposed works, while quantitative documents refer to either precise appraisal of possible building works, including cost, or accounting for works completed. Specific locations or features of the fortress, such as named towers and gates, are mentioned in both classes of document, while the quantitative documents also detail the physical extent of the feature that is to be newly constructed or repaired or rebuilt, along with the materials to be employed, and much more. The participation of a fortress specialist this season has enabled us to localize some of the towers (kule) of the fortress that are referred to in the Ottoman documentation, and establish that there are apparently no extant traces of the features referred to as 'bastions' (tabya). We hope to be able to widen our search for material relating to Aqkerman to maps and plans and other documents in Russian and Ukrainian archives.

Dr. Svitlana Bilyayeva
Dr.Caroline Finkel
Prof.Victor Ostapchuk