TAURIC CHERSONESOS. Tamyrake. Circa 400-375 BC.
Diobol (Silver, 9 mm, 1.28 g, 11 h). Head of a young Kabeiros to right, wearing laureate conical cap. Rev.
TAM Lion crouching left; all within incuse square. Anokhin -. HGC 3.2, -. SNG BM Black Sea -. SNG Moskau -. SNG Stancomb -. Unpublished and unique. A wonderful small silver coin of the greatest historical importance, with a beautiful head of a Kabeiros. Slightly rough, otherwise,
nearly extremely fine.
From a European collection, formed before 2005.
The emergence of this wonderful coin now confirms what Imhoof-Blumer suggested more than a century ago, namely that a series of extremely rare silver and bronze coins showing the head of a Kabeiros on the obverse and a crouching lion above the inscription TAM does not belong to Temnos or any other mint in Asia Minor, but to the obscure city of Tamyrake on the Tauric Chersonesos, modern-day Crimea (Imhoof-Blumer, KM, p. 527, 1). In fact, the discovery of this coin now finally proves that a full-fledged polis of this name actually existed in the early 4th century BC. With the exception of the Athenian tribute lists, which record Tamyrake as being part of the Ποντικòς φόρος (the Black Sea phoros), and Ptolemy, who speaks of Tamyrake as a settlement between 'Pulcher harbor' and the 'mouth of the Karkinitis river' (Ptolem. Geogr. III, 5, 2), the few other ancient sources recording the name only know it as a cape, after which the 'Gulf of Tamyrake', otherwise known as the Gulf of Karkinitis, was also called (Strabo 7.3.19, see also Arrian, Anon. Peripl. Pont. Eux. 31).
Imhoof-Blumer's suggestion was repeatedly dismissed by later authors, and although V. Kutajsov argued in favor of his attribution of the coins in question to Tamyrake (V. A. Kutajsov: Aspects de la Colonisation de la Crimée Occidentale, in: O. D. Lordkipanidze and P. Lévêque (eds.): Sur les traces des Argonautes. Actes du VIe symposium de Vani (Colchide). Besançon and Paris 1996, pp. 298-301), this was not enough to sway consensus. With the emergence of our coin, however, the case is now decidedly settled in favor of the great Swiss numismatist. Style and fabric of this wonderful diobol so clearly align the city's coinage to the contemporary output of other poleis on the Tauric Chersonesos and the Cimmerian Bosporus that there can be no doubt that the reverse inscription TAM indeed stands for Tamyrake. Crucially, the coin is stylistically very closely related to the magnificent diobol from Theodoseia that appeared in Leu 13 (2023), 105, rendering it likely that the two obverse dies were crafted by the same gifted artist (note the virtually identical rendering of the eye, nose, mouth, lips, and chin). This either points to a travelling artist, or, more likely, to a production of the ephemeral coinage of smaller cities in the region in a larger, centralized mint. Such cooperation would hardly be surprising, for there would be neither the need nor the funds for small poleis such as the obscure Tamyrake to set up their own mints, when they could just order their limited coinage from an established mint in one of the larger cities instead (the most obvious candidate being, of course, Pantikapaion).
As for the location of Tamyrake, Ptolemy's longitudes and latitudes, as well as the information given by Strabo and in Arrian's Periplus of the Euxine Sea, roughly place it somewhere on the western coast of Crimea, between Karkinitis (modern-day Jewpatorija) and the Isthmus of Perekop. Exactly where is unclear, but there is some circumstancial evidence, namely that Strabo refers to Tamyrake as the name of a cape and mentions a 'mooring-place that faces the mainland', whereas Arrian says the cape lies beyond Kalos Limen (modern-day Chornomorske), and that there was a small lake nearby. All of this points to the surroundings of Sterehusche on the northwestern coast of Crimea, where the Bakal's'ke Lake extends along the western side of a narrow peninsula pointing north into what is today still called the Karkinit Bay (after the ancient name Karkinitis), creating a safe anchorage facing northwards towards the Ukrainian mainland. Why the polis
of Tamyrake left almost no traces in written sources is unclear. Perhaps it was sacked by one of the many barbarian incursions that plagued the region throughout antiquity, or simply deserted due to its remoteness, reducing its previous status as a polis to a village, a seasonal trading post, or a mere anchorage for trade and fishing vessels, with its name only surviving in historiography as a toponym. In any case, with this coin, knowledge of the polis
of Tamyrake now reemerges, providing a unique glimpse into one of the less enduring Greek colonization efforts in these exotic and dangerous lands at the northern edge of the Graeco-Roman world.