More on the Black Ship

So I’m reading Valeriya Kozlovskaya’s The Harbour of Olbia (which, aside from being tremendously informative has some really great maps and illustrations) and wondering if she’s going to mention the ship on the the bone plaque, when she does: 

Another schematic representation of a ship is drawn on a bone plaque. The ship, probably a commercial vessel, has a rounded outline and a sail. The inscription ∆ιον next to the prow of the ship, interpreted as Διόν(υσος), prompted scholars to connect the plaque with the cult of Dionysus, which was very prominent in Olbia from the 5th century BC onwards.

Minor correction: ∆ιον isn’t inscribed next to the prow of the ship, as you can see in figure 4a – the delta actually forms part of the prow. (Or at least overlaps it.)

I don’t believe that’s accidental; rather, I take it to be a representation of the Black Ship paraded through the city during Anthesteria, with the blessings and energy of the God graphically radiating out from it via the Dionysiac tag. I’ll have to go back and see if any scholars have hit on this interpretation. If I’m correct that would mean the festival was celebrated at Olbia pretty early in its history. This would make sense considering that Anthesterion appears on the civic calendar and a couple of inscriptions, but I have no idea when it was formally adopted.

Wanna know something else pretty neat?

Ancient Olbia occupied a triangularly-shaped territory on a plateau and topographically consisted of three parts: the Upper City on top of the plateau, the Lower City down at the water, and the Terrace Area on the slopes of the plateau. Today the extant territory of the settlement measures about 30 ha, but it is estimated that over time the waters of the Bug liman have destroyed about 20 to 25 ha. In antiquity the populated area of the city must have continued for at least 200 m east beyond the modern cliff, and the ancient shoreline probably lay 300 to 500 m away from the cliff.

Actually, two things.

First, the city was shaped like a delta, the first letter in Dionysos’ name.

And secondly, that probably answers a question many a scholar has posed, namely: if evidence of Dionysian cultus is so prevalent in Olbia why has nearly a century of excavations not turned up any trace of a Bakcheion or other temple for him?

Well, in many poleis his sanctuaries were located on the outskirts, especially near marshes, lakes or grottoes (natural or man-made) hence the epiklesis Λιμναιος. As such it probably would not have survived the shifting of the shoreline.

All this, and I’m just a couple pages in. I can’t wait to see what else Kozlovskaya uncovers, and the insights that inspires!