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Current Name
Ancient Name
Medieval Name
Cherson, Sarsona, Korsun
History of the name

Chersonesos can be translated from ancient Greek language as ‘peninsula’ perhaps referring to location of the city on Heraclean Peninsula.
Cherson is apparently a Byzantine Greek reduced form of the ancient Greek name of the city later transformed into Sarsona by Genoese and into Korsun by Slavs.
Sevastopol was arguably originally chosen following the trend of giving Greek names to newly founded cities on the northern coast of the Black Sea perhaps reflecting ancient Greek origins of initial settlements. This name is a compound of two Greek nouns: sevastos (venerable) and polis (city).

Place :

Geopolitical Unit
None (City with Special Status)
Administrative subdivision
In the southwest part of the Crimean Peninsula, about 1050 km from the capital city of Kyiv (44°37' N 33°31' E).
Foudation Date
5th century BC
Current condition
The present-day area of Sevastopol is actually a conglomerate composed of two cities (Sevastopol proper and Inkerman) and a number of smaller settlements and villages with a total population of nearly 384,000 residents (as per April 1st, 2013). Geographic location of the city in a rather unique subtropical environment, multicultural coloring of its population, rich history combined with over 2,000 historic monuments and archaeological sites make Sevastopol perhaps the largest in Crimea cultural and research center, a popular seaside resort and a famous tourist destination. The city houses 7 museums, 4 theaters and 9 institutions of higher education and is also known as a center of marine biology research. Favorable navigation conditions of harbors of Sevastopol also make it a strategically important naval point. Today in the city there are two naval bases (the one is of Ukrainian Naval Forces and the other is that of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation), two ports (a commercial one and a fish-processing one) and several docks and shipyards. In addition to fishery and fish-processing industry, Sevastopol is country-wide renowned for its numerous vineyards and good wines, the latter being well known and recognized far outside Ukraine.

Extremely scanty evidence for human occupation of this locality prior to Greek colonization of the northern coast of the Black Sea has been so far recovered by archaeologists even though excavations have been going here since 1820-1830s. Only a few sites and artifacts found in this area date to the period from Mesolithic to the early 2nd millennium BC. Decades of archaeological research have suggested that material remains from preceding populations had been most likely completely destroyed in the course of extensive construction works carried out in ancient and medieval Chersonesos over centuries.

It is generally accepted that Chersonesos was founded in 422-421 BC by ancient Greek colonists from Heraclea Pontica though some archaeological data indicate that it might have first appeared as an Ionian settlement as early as the 6th c BC. Due to its favorable location on the maritime routes connecting mainland Greece and Greek cities on the southern coast of the Black Sea with newly colonized North Pontic area, already in the late 5th - early 4th cc BC Chersonesos turned into the most important post of transit trade in the region.

During the second half of the 4th c BC the flourishing and growing polis of Chersonesos expands to absorb the entire area of Heraclean Peninsula and fertile plains of the northwestern Crimea turning these vast territories into its agricultural grounds or chora. Cultivation of grains and vines placed Chersonesos among the largest North Pontic exporters of local produce and by the late 4th – early 3rd cc BC the polis had reached the peak of its economic and cultural development.

However, already in the first third of the 3rd c BC local Scythians ravaged most of rural Greek settlements in the chora. Material evidence collected during archaeological excavations indicate significant economic decline in Chersonesos in the beginning of the 2nd c BC. Under these circumstances in the late 2nd c BC Chersonesos sought help in its struggle against Scythians from Pontic king Mithridates IV Eupator. Intervention of Mithridates did save Chersonesos from Scythian raids but it cost independence to the polis which was incorporated to the Pontic Kingdom.

Following defeat of Pontic Kingdom by Romans in the 1st c BC, Julius Caesar granted freedom to Chersonesos in 46-45 BC but de facto until the 120-130s AD the city remained dependent from Rome, especially when it concerned its protection from neighboring barbarian tribes. Roman protectorate eventually resulted in direct introduction and long-term presence of Roman troops in the city starting from the late 130s – 140s AD. From the middle of the 2nd c to the third quarter of the 3rd c AD Chersonesos also functioned as a large naval base of Roman Moesian Fleet. Roman presence in Chersonesos secured maritime trading routes thus stimulating increase in external trading.

In the 6th c AD, probably under Emperor Justinian I (527-565), Chersonesos becomes the administrative center of a province of the Byzantine Empire and witnesses rapid spread of Christianity. By this time the city had already been known under the name of Cherson. Throughout the Middle Ages the city served as the main Byzantine outpost in the northern coast of the Black Sea used by Constantinople for preventing aggression of hostile neighbors against northern boarders of the Empire. Though a large trading and cultural center in Crimea, for the Empire Cherson nonetheless remained a remote small town and often was used as a place for exile of undesirable political and public figures such as Pope Martinus I (655) and the deposed Emperor Justinian II (695).

In the late 10th c Cherson apparently joined the rebellion in Asia Minor against the Byzantine Empire but the city was suppressed by the Constantinople’s ally Prince Vladimir of Kiev. It was in Cherson (or Korsun in Russian transcription) that Prince Vladimir was baptized. Since then Korsun has been commonly referred to as the cradle of Christianity in Kievan Rus and the successor states.

Following frequent devastations by Mongols and Tatars, in the last third of the 13th c territory of Cherson dramatically shrank being limited now only to around the port. Eventually, after a complete destruction of the city by Tatars it was abandoned in the first half of the 15th c.

Until the late 18th c Crimean peninsula remained under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. During this time, however, near the ruins of once powerful city there existed only a small Tatar settlement of Aqyar. Following annexation of this area to Russian Empire the harbor by this settlement was chosen for the naval base of the future Russian Black Sea Fleet. Construction works began in the summer of 1783 and already in February of 1784 Empress Catherine the Great ordered to build here a large fortress named Sevastopol. In 1804 the city becomes the main Russian military port on the Black Sea. The city and the port played important part during the Crimean War (1853-1856).


Over 2,000 years of its history architectural appearance of Chersonesos witnessed multiple changes caused by wars, fires, demographic expansion and religious beliefs.

In Hellenistic and Roman periods the city represented a fortified settlement with a regular layout. By the beginning of the 3rd c BC it had reached nearly 30 ha in area. As any other city enclosed by fortress walls Chersonesos showed compact planning with narrow streets and small open squares. There were 9 longitudinal and 27 latitudinal streets. Blocks of residential buildings were normally composed of 2 to 4 houses. In the middle of the main street there was an agora preserved until today. Archaeological research has shown that in antiquity in agora there were temples, altars and statues of gods. During this period there was built a theater which today in the only preserved ancient theatrical structure in Ukraine. The city also had an acropolis, a port and a citadel. The latter served as headquarter of the Roman garrison.

Though in early medieval or Byzantine period the original regular layout of the city did survive, its planning became more compact due to reduction in both quantity of streets and their widths. Blocks of residential buildings were combined into larger quarters. With adoption of Christianity sacral structures related to cults of pagan deities were destroyed. Instead, new temples were built such as so called “basilica-in-basilica” initially erected in the 6th c under Justinian I and later rebuilt in the 10th c. New architectural ensemble composed of seven temples also appeared in the agora.
Following foundation of Sevastopol in the area of Chersonesos there were built several new structures including a building of St. Vladimir Cathedral erected in the former agora in the middle of the 19th c. Since that time, however, the city of Sevastopol and its port have been developing outside of the area of the ancient town while the territory of Chersonesos has been a subject to extensive archaeological research. Nowadays archaeological remains and buildings from Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and later periods can be seen in the National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos occupying an area of some 45 ha.


Chersonesos served as an important trading port on the northern coast of the Black Sea starting from the late 5th c BC. In antiquity the city exported fish, wines, red-glazed pottery, glassware, products of metalworking, grains, cattle, furs, honey as well as slaves. Imported products included glassworks and pottery from Asia Minor and Syria, black-glazed pottery from northern Mediterranean and North Africa, glassware from northern Germany as well as olive oil and marble from mainland Greece and Aegean islands.

The appearance of an ancient port remains unknown because it is now submerged in the sea. We only know that in the 10th-11th cc on the shore of the harbor of Chersonesos there were built Seaside Gates, an entrance to the city from the sea. Unfortunately, only underwater ruins of two pylons remind about these gates today. Archaeological excavations in the surroundings of ancient harbor revealed remains of residential buildings and other structures that served the Roman garrison including a citadel as well as living quarters and storehouses from the medieval period.

The port of Sevastopol was founded in 1784 as mainly a naval base for Russian Fleet in the Black Sea.  International commercial port appeared in Sevastopol only in 1867. In 1964 there were also built a fish-processing port, which became the major southern base of fishing flotilla in the country. Today the commercial port is situated in four non-freezing harbors containing trans-shipping terminals for handling exported and transit cargos and capable of accepting cargo ships with deadweight up to 50,000 tons and 10,5 m draft. The port also has a passenger terminal with two piers (200 and 135 m long) capable of accepting cruise liners with a draft of respectively 8,6 m and 4,1 m.


While In the 5th - 4th cc BC a rather short wall girded Chersonesos, already in the late 4th – early 3rd c BC a new 3,5 km long, 3,5-4,0 m thick and 8-10 m high wall with towers up to 12 m in height was built around the city. These walls were made of large finely cut and processed stone plates placed flat. Construction of walls during Roman period shows a different technique featuring large smooth-surfaced stones placed vertically. During Byzantine period in the 9th – 10th cc yet another technique characterized by facing the walls with smooth stones was used.

In addition to the main high defensive wall in the late 1st – early 2nd cc AD Romans built another defend barrier – a low front wall called proteyhizma thus creating yet another fortification feature called peribol (space between the front and the main walls). The main city gates built in the 4th c BC were almost 4 m in width and functioned until the 2nd c AD.

Perhaps the most impressive remains of fortification structures in Chersonesos are represented by Tower of Zeno initially built in the late 3rd c BC. It is conventionally called so after the name of the Byzantine Emperor who rebuilt the tower in the 5th c BC. In the 8th-9th cc AD another rebuilding of the tower enlarged it to a diameter of 23 m.

There was also a citadel which at the times of its initial construction in the 3rd c BC during the times of confrontation with Scythians represented a small space enclosed by walls on three sides. Later, in the middle of the 2nd c AD the structure was reconstructed and functioned apparently as headquarter of Roman military contingent until the end of the second quarter of the 3rd c AD.  

During the Middle Ages gates were built near the Tower of Zeno. In the center of the citadel in the late 9th – 12th cc there appeared a praetorium composed of two buildings and a basilica with three apses. During that time Seaside Gates also were built on the shore of the harbor.

Construction of coastal fortifications in the area of Sevastopol began in 1778 even before foundation of the city itself.  Today they are represented by a fortress (two buildings of ravelins and a defensive tower) and remains of twelve cannon batteries built over a period from 1840 to 1940. Fortifications of Sevastopol (together with those of Kronstadt in Russia and Gibraltar) are considered one of the most famous naval citadels in Europe.

Medieval Sites


• Tower of Zeno, 2nd c BC – 10th c AD (National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos)

The mightiest tower in the southeastern defensive sector protecting the harbor area from the south. In construction of the tower there were used tombstones from the city necropolis some of which feature remains of polychromic paintings dated to the 4th – 3rd cc BC.
• Citadel, 2nd c BC – 4th c AD (National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos

An area enclosed by walls and towers conventionally referred to as “citadel”, which in the first centuries AD housed Roman legionnaires. Inside the citadel archaeologists excavated narrow streets, houses, a building of what is believed to be a praetorium (residence of the commander) and remains of Roman baths (terms) of the 2nd – 4th cc AD.

• City Gates, 4th - 3rd c BC (National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos)

The gates that once led into the city are 3,8 n wide and 8,4 m long. At the entry to the gates there are vertical grooves for raising and lowering a metal grate. In the 1st c AD the gates were sealed and in the 9th c AD above the buried part of the gates there was cut a small wicket.

• Theater, 3rd c BC (National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos)

Eight sectors of seating benches for spectators were cut in a slope of ravine. Each sector had 12 rows of benches. The theater could accommodate up to 2,000 people at once. In the 1st c AD during the Roman presence in Chersonesos the theater was significantly rebuilt and functioned as an arena for gladiatorial fights until the 4th c AD.

• Basil-in-Basil, 6th – 10th  cc (National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos)

This complex represents remains of two basils built in different times. The first and the larger one appeared in the 6th c. The basil had mosaic floors showing both a simple geometric ornaments and an intricate Christian symbolism. Some time in the 10th c the basil was destroyed and by the end that century from the remains of the older temple there was built another but much smaller basil. It the late 13th c the small basil burned in fire.

• Alarm Bell, 1783 (National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos)

Originally the bell was intended to be used in the St. Nicolas Church being built in Sevastopol in the late 18th c. However, after the defeat of Russia in the Crimean War the allied British and French troops took as their trophy 13 church bells out of Sevastopol. Many decades later one of these Russian bells was found on the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Paris. Due to the effort of both Russian and French diplomats in 1913 the bell returned to Sevastopol and in the 1920s it was installed on the seashore as a navigation alarm bell.

• Cathedral of St Vladimir, 19th c (National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos)

The cathedral built in the middle of the 19th c over ruins of a medieval temple is dedicated to Vladimir, the Prince of Kievan Rus, who according to Russian chronicles was baptized in Chersonesos (Korsun). The two-storey building is composed of two churches – that of Nativity of Our Lady of Korsun on the ground floor and the church of St. Vladimir on the upper floor. The cathedral was severely damaged during the World War II and nowadays it is undergoing restoration.

• Monument to Sunken Ships, 1905 (Harbor of Sevastopol, Primorsky Boulevard)

The monument commemorates a dramatic episode of the siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War (1853-1856), when the Russians had to sink their entire fleet to prevent it from falling into the hands of the enemy and at the same time to block the entrance of the allied British, French and Turkish fleet into the inlet. The monument represents a diorite pillar of Corinthian order crowned with a bronze double-headed eagle carrying in its beak a laurel wreath, a symbol of glory.

• Monument to Admiral Naknimov, 1898, reconstructed 1959 (Nakhimova Square)

The monument features a bronze figure of Pavel Nakhimov, the legendary Russian admiral who was mortally wounded in Sevastopol during the Crimean War in 1855.

• Malakhov Kurgan, 1851 (Nakhimova Square)

This 97 m high mound is a memorial site at disposition of fortifications that played important part in defense of Sevastopol during the Crimean War and the World War II. On the mound there one can observe remains of old fortification structures, an open-air exposition of weapons and monuments to historic military figures.


• National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos (1 Drevnia Street)

It is an open-air museum and archaeological site of some 45 ha in area showing buildings, structures and other ancient artifacts of all historic periods of the city from the time of its foundation in the 5th c BC till the abandonment of the medieval city in the 15th century. In 2013 the Ancient city of Tauric Chersonesos and its Chora were inscribed on the UNESCO List of World Heritage.

• Panorama of the Siege of Sevastopol in 1855 (Istorychny Boulevard)

The panoramic picture shows Russian defenders of Sevastopol repulsing the attack of French and British troops on June 6th 1855. The picture 14 m in height and 115 m in circumference was created by a renowned Russian painter of battle-pieces Franz Roubaud in Munich in 1901-1904. Restored in 1954.

• Museum of History of Black Sea Fleet (11 Lenina Street)

Today the museum founded as early as 1869 has over 30,000 artifacts presenting the entire history of Russian (and later Soviet) Fleet in the Black Sea: documents, weapons and other military and naval relics from times of Russian-Ottoman wars, the Crimean War, revolutionary turmoil of 1905-1917 and the World War II.

• Museum of Fine Arts (9 Nakhimova Avenue)

The museum is located in a beautiful 19th-century building features several collections of artworks. The collection of West European art is represented by nearly 250 paintings by Italian, French, Flemish and Dutch authors from 16th – 19th centuries including works by Jacopo Bassano, Luca Giordano, Francesco Giuseppe Casanova, Frans Snyders, David II Teniers and Adam Frans van der Meulen. The Collection of domestic art contains landscape paintings from 18th – 20th centuries by such painters as Ivan Ayvazovsky, Arkhip Kuindzhi, Ivan Shishkin, Vasily Polenov, Isaak Levitan and Konstantin Korovin. Finally, there is the collection of modern art represented by Russian and Ukrainian painters of 20th-21st centuries.

Textual Sources

The earliest reference to Chersonesos comes from Periplus of Pseudo-Skylax (mid-4th c BC). Main information about foundation of the polis is found in works of Skymnes from Chios dated to the late 2nd c BC (it appears that in his writings Skymnes used information from works of earlier geographers: Ephorus and Demetrius of Kallatis). The most detailed description of Chersonesos and its surroundings in the late 2nd – 1st c BC is provided in Strabo’s Geography written in the early 1st c AD. Brief descriptions of the city can also be found in works by other ancient authors such as Josephus Flavius, Appian, Ptolemy, Polyaenus, Stephanus of Byzantium, Pseudo-Arrian, Plinius the Elder and Pomponius Mela.

Medieval history of Chersonesos - Cherson is reflected in works of Byzantine authors Procopius, Jordanes, Theophanes, Nikephoros I of Constantinople, Pope Martinus I, Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, Photios I of Constantinople, Leo the Deacon, Michael Psellos, George Kedrenos, Ioannes Zonaras, Armenian historian Stepanos Asoghik, Arab writer Ali ibn al-Athir and Russian chronicles of the 11th c such as Kiev Patericon and The Tale of Igor's Campaign. Brief mentions of the city in the 12th – 14th cc have also been found in works of Arab writers Muhammad al-Idrisi and Ali ibn al-Athir as well as the Flammish monk Guillaume de Rubrouck. Italian maps of the 15th – 16th cc show only ruins of Chersonesos.


• Anokhin, V.A. The Coinage of Chersonesus: IV century B.C.–XII century A.D.. Oxford : British Archaeological Reports, 1980.
• Antichnye gosudarstva Severnogo Prichwernomoria (Arkheologiia SSSR) [Ancient States on the Northern Coast of the Black Sea (Archaeology of the USSR)] (in Russian). Moscow, 1984.
• Carter, J.C., Crawford M., Lehman P., Nikolaenko G. Trelogan J. The Chora of Chersonesos in Crimea, Ukraine. In American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 104, No. 4, 2000. - pp. 707–741.
• Carter J. C. Color at Chersonesos (on the Black Sea): Funerary Monuments from the Early Hellenistic Necropolis.   In: Color in Ancient Greece: The Role of Color in Ancient Greek Art and Architecture. Thessaloniki, 2002. pp. 161-170.
• Carter J.C., Mack, G.R. Crimean Chersonesos: City, Chora, Museum, and Environs. Austin, Texas, 2003.
• Cordova C., Lehman P. Archaeopalynology of synanthropic vegetation in the chora   of Chersonesos, Crimea, Ukraine.   Journal of Archaeological Science, Vol. 30, 2003. – pp. 1483-1501.
• Hersones Tavricheskiy v seredine I v. do n.e. – VI v. n.e.: Ocherki istorii I kultury [Tauric Chersonesos in the middle of the 1st c BC – the 6th c AD: Studies in History and Culture] (in Russian). Kharkov, 2004.
• I genovesi in  Crimea: Guida storica [Genoese in Crimea: Historic Guide] (in Italian and Ukrainian). Kiev, 2009.
• Kadeev V.I. Hersones Tavricheskiy. Byt I kultura (I-III vv. n.e.) [Tauric Chersonesos. Life and Culture (1st – 3rd cc AD)] (in Russian). Kharkov, 1996.
• Kozelsky M. Ruins into Relics: The Monument to Saint Vladimir on the Excavations of Chersonesos, 1827–57. In: The Russian Review, Vol. 63, No. 4., 2004. - pp. 655–672.
• Saprykin, S.Yu. Heracleia Pontica and Tauric Chersonesus before Roman domination: (VI–I centuries B.C.). Amsterdam, 1997.
• Sorochan S.B., Zubar V.M., Marchenko L.V. Zhizn I gibel Hersonesa [Life and Death of Chersonesos] (in Russian). Kharkov, 2000.
• Sorochan S.B. Vizantiyskiy Herson (vtoraya polovina VI – pervaya polovina X vv.). Ocherki istorii I kultury [Byzantine Cherson (first half of the 6th – first half of the 10th cc AD). Studies in History and Culture] (in Russian). Kharkov, 2005.
• Zubar V.M. Hersones Tavricheskiy i Rimskaya imperiia. Ocherki voenno-politicheskoy istorii [Tauric Chersonesos and Roman Empire. Studies in Military and Political History] (in Russian). Kiev, 1994.
• Zubar V.M. Bogi I geroi antichnogo Hersonesa [Gods and Heroes of Ancient Chersonesos] (In Russian). Kharkov, 2005.

Links (Sevastopol City State Administration) (Committee for Preservation of Cultural Heritage in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea) (National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos) (Chersonesos as a World Cultural Heritage Site) (University of Texas at Austin Institute of Classical Archaeology Chersonesos Project) (Sevastopol Commercial Sea Port) (Panorama of the Siege of Sevastopol in 1855) (Museum of History of Black Sea Fleet) (Museum of Fine Arts)

Visual Material
Writer / Date
Sofronios Paradeisopoulos, Brach of the Hellenic Foundation for Culture Valeriy Suntsov 25/05/2013
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