The region now known as Crimea was inhabited by the Early Paleolithic era.
A large number of Neolithic dwellings have been found in the Crimean Mountains.
More than 170 burial sites of the Kemi-Obinsk culture of the Neolithic period
have been discovered.
There are many Mousterian culture settlements in Crimea. The earliest settlers,
mentioned in historical records were the Cimmerians, who lived in the central
and northern parts of the peninsula from the 15th to 7th centuries BC. The
coastal and mountainous regions were inhabited by the Taurians, after whom the
peninsula was named Taurica. At least 100 Taurian settlements have been located
In the 7th century BC. the Cimmerians were forced out by the Iranian-speaking
Scythian tribes who had come from Asia. By the 4th century BC. a Scythian
kingdom was established in the steppes of northern and central Crimea. Its
capital became Neapolis, which was situated in the south-eastern part of
By the 5th century BC Greek colonists arrived from Miletus and then other
cities. They founded Panticapaeum, Tipitaca, Nimfei, and Mirmeci, which were
united in the Bosporan Kingdom around the straits of Kerch. The great colony of
Chersonese was established in the district of present-day Sevastopol. And
smaller Greek cities were laid out along the western and northwestern Crimean
coasts. In the first century BC. Chersonese became a vassal state of the Roman
Empire. Later it served as the main base of the Roman army. A garrison was
located in the fortress of Kharaks, 9 km from present-day Yalta.
At the beginning of the new era the Scythian kingdom was conquered by the
Germanic Goths. In the 4th century AD. the Crimea was invaded by the Huns who
destroyed the greater part of the peninsula's population. Later Khazar tribes,
whose descendants some consider to be the Karaites, appeared from the Volga -
Kuban region. They were eventually ousted by the Pechenegs, and later, by the
Polovetsi. The former Greek coastal colonies by then were under the control of
In the 3rd century AD. Byzantine Orthodox Christianity arrived in the Crimea.
It played a significant role during the 5th to 9th centuries. After waging a
campaign against Chersonese, the Kievan prince Vladimir spread Christianity
from Crimea throughout Kievan Rus. His military campaigns helped the Slavs to
gain a foothold in the Crimean Peninsula, where in the 10th c. they established
the principality of Tmutorokan.
In the 13th c. some of the coastal lands were captured by Italian traders from
the city-republics of Venice and Genoa. In 1223 the Mongol army of Subodai and
Batu Khan passed through. The Mongols returned in 1238 - 40 to become overlords
of the Kypchak (Cuman) Turkic nomads throughout the steppes. They gave the
peninsula its present name -Kyrym (Krym). For two centuries Crimea was
controled by the Golden Horde from Sarai on the Volga. As part of their
emphasis on deriving wealth from control of international commerce the Horde
rulers allowed Italian merchants to reestablish trading posts along the Crimean
coast. And an independent principality, Feodoro, continued to exist in the
mountaneous region between the coastal ports and the northern steppes.
With the breakdown of Horde power, in the 15th century control over the Tatar
(Turkic) population fell to the Crimean Tatar Khanate. The Khanate rulers had
the distinction of being the last to claim direct decendency from Chingis Khan.
They continued a policy of coexistance with the Christian inhabitants of the
mountains and coastal enclaves. One major source of their wealth was derived
from campaigns against Ukraine and Russia in which people, livestock and
moveable goods were carried off. The Crimean sea ports became one of the
largest slave-trading markets. All of Crimea came under the control of the
Ottoman Turks in 1475. They eliminated the Italian coastal trading posts and
stormed the remaining Christian mountain fortresses.
The Crimean Tatars and Ottoman Turks continued to wage war against both Poland
and Muscovy. Neither Poles nor Muscovites were able to mount successful
campaigns deep into Crimea. But the growing communities of Cossacks along the
Don and Dnieper were more effective by sea. During Zaporozhian Cossack
campaigns against the peninsula they captured Hezlev (present-day Yevpatoria)
in 1589 and in 1616 they stormed Kaffa (present-day Feodosiya).
During the regency of Sophia, the Muscovite Russians launched two major
overland campaigns against Crimea, both of which failed before even reaching
the Perekop isthmus. Peter I conducted two large-scale offensives against the
Ottoman fortress at Azov, capturing the place in the second effort, but never
dared attempt a campaign into Crimea. During the reigns of his successors
Russian power increased and offensive campaigns gradually reached deeper across
the steppe and into Crimea. After winning a decisive victory in the
Russo-Turkish War of 1768-1774, Russia annexed the Crimea. It was settled by
Ukrainians and Russians, as well as by Bulgarians and Germans. In 1854-1855 the
peninsula became the main theatre of the Crimean War between England, France,
In 1918 the Crimea became a part of the Ukrainian Peoples' Republic. In 1920
the Bolsheviks occupied the Crimea. In 1921 the Crimean ARSR was established.
During World War II its territory was the arena of savage battles between the
Soviet Army and the Germans. Sevastopol suffered from first German and then
Soviet sieges. In 1944, after being unjustly accused of collaborating with the
Germans, the Crimean Tatars were deported from the peninsula. In 1954 the
Crimea became a part of the Ukrainian SSR.
In the course of our trip to Crimea in 1997 we visited archeological sites
pertaining to the Scythians, the ancient Greeks and Byzantine empire, the
Khazars, the medieval Feodoro (Mangup) principality, the Kariates (both Chufut
- Kale and Evpatoria), the Genoese at Sudak, Chembalo, and Kaffa, and of course
the Great Eastern (Crimean) War. Discussion and illustrations of all of these
will appear on these pages as quickly as we can prepare the material. Return to