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                Year 1994                                 Year 2004


Alfred Twardecki

Inscription of the Phoderago (KL 1839) reconsidered

About two years ago, I have published[i] funerary stele of Phoderago and his two children: son Mastous and daughter Tryphera. The main difficulty in publishing this inscription was the name Phoderago. I will shortly remind main points of my earlier paragraph on this name.

Phoderago is nomen hapax and I did not find any another mention about this name or substantive. There is possibility, that this name is barbarian especially[ii], that we know some number of barbarian names in Greek language with suffix –ago[iii].

I have examined specifically the possibility of Phoderago as Greek name and in conclusion, I have written, that Phoderago could be a Greek name derived from an office of the captain of Foidera/toi. I have found then unsatisfactory all “barbaric” examples and have concetrated on the possibility of Greek etymology of the name althoug in the conclusion of the paper I have written about “mysterious name Phoderago, which is probably Graecised form of a certain barbaric name” and presumed that “Phoderago was maybe one of the barbarians serving in the Bosporan army”.

In the meantime I did research on the subject of “barbaric” etymology of the name and I begun feeling a need for more detailed analysis of the possibility that Phoderago is Hellenised barbaric name. This paper is an attempt on such analysis.

Firstly the pure Greek roots of the name, although may not be excluded, are less convinced than barbarian. Nominativus with suffix –ago is extremely rare in the Greek sources and appears mainly as Hellenised barbaric names or in the archaic period, before Athenian reform of the alphabet in 403 BC. It seems to me therefore more probably, that the name derives from some barbarian language.

I would like to start with a short mention on the historical context of the Bosporan Kingdom in 1st-2nd centuries AD (foundation of the inscription), and especially on its contacts with barbarian neighbours. Generally, we may say, that external changes caused significant internal changes in the Kingdom. The expansion of Sarmatian tribes caused since 1st century AD distinct Sarmatian influences on the Bosporan culture[iv]. Even ruling dynasty was very close connected to the Sarmatian aristocracy and some of Bosporan kings gone by the name of Sauromates[v]. Sarmatians, known as excellent soldiers, have had brought troubles even to Roman army during challenges as for example in conflicts with Dacians since reign of Burebista. Most wars in 1st and 2nd centuries AD, in which Bosporan Kingdom was involved, were conflicts with Scythians and Sarmatians. Sarmatian influences in the Bosporan society, culture and even army were still growing and many names found on inscriptions from Bosporan poleis could be of Sarmatian origin. I will only repeat truism, when I mention about sarmatisation of the Bosporan Kingdom in this period. Nevertheless, cultural sarmatisation is not equal with ethnic sarmatisation[vi]. The ethnic situation in Bosporan Kingdom should be examined separately.

I must repeat another truism again: the ethnic situation in the Pantikapaion and neighbour Greek cities in this period was very complicated. I agree with point of view that in first ages after colonisation the population of Greek poleis in the region was in most part Greek or Hellenised[vii]. Other situation was in chora, which was in major part settled by indigenous (mainly Scythian) peoples. Already in the 1st century AD, we observe a process of unification (also in chora) – unification based on Greek-Bosporan culture and not on new ethnicity[viii] and this opinion is already not a next truism. The ethnic situation of the Bosporan Kingdom in 1st-2nd centuries AD seems also become heavy complicated. We have there still predominant (especially in the cities[ix]) Greek element mixed with the barbarian elements from Asia Minor, Thracia[x], Scythia, and Sarmatia. Romans and Germans[xi] were in this time more or less marginal.

All traces indicate that main barbaric ethnic and cultural elements in the first two centuries AD were in Bospor of Iranian origin and more precisely – of Scytho-Sarmatian origin. Important supporting arguments follow mainly from ceramics and prosopography but we have also other indications. For example, the examination of the Bosporan religion brings interesting information about barbaric influences. They are in this period also mainly Iranian.[xii] In that matter, I follow generally Ustinova’s point of view. Her idea seems attractive and probably correct in despite of some infirmities, of which main is an ethnicity-ascription based on archaeological sources[xiii]. Other indication brings an interesting article about men’s costumes used in the European part of Bosporan Kingdom – they were of mixed Greek and Scythian origin[xiv]. I may add even more traces on the favour of above formulated opinion.

In this situation, although there are theoretically several possibilities in choice for the origin of the Phoderago name: Sarmatians, Scythian (Iranians) or even Germans not to say about peoples of Asia Minor, I would prefer Sarmatian. Nevertheless, I start linguistic examination of the name with the German languages. I would like to examine German possibility on example of Gothic language, because this language is relative well known and we may found there few interesting roots, which are still valued in other Indo-European languages. The only East-German language we know better is Gothic, including Crimean dialect, which was still in use until 16 century. Goths, however, came to the Black See shores in the 2nd century AD and our inscription was made most probably in the 1st-2nd century AD., it is not quite impossible that Phoderago was of Gothic or more wide German origin.

I found only very few interesting roots in question in German languages. Fod-eins means in Gothian: nourishment, nutrition or simply food, furthermore fod-jan means: feed, nourish, nurture, bring up, rear (lat. filios educare = goth. barna fodjan) and fod-r means scabbard, sheath, casing[xv]. To the first meaning, we may add Indo-Germanic root poid- (pid), which means: fat, fruitful, reach[xvi]. Also interesting is Indo-Germanic root ped- (pod-), which in first sense means: hold, grasp (look germ. fatjan­-fassen) but also bring, marry or find, arm, decorate (goth. fetjan), vessel, dress (clothes). The second meaning is more wide[xvii] confirmed as: walk, feet.

The examination of the Sarmatian and Scythian (Iranian) plot is a little complicated because of our knowledge of both languages[xviii].We know only, that these tribes were most probably of Iranian origin. Most sources are Greek or Latin inscription, eventually names known from Greek or Latin literature. Helpfully are also comparative studies with Ossetian language (Ossetians are presumed as Scytho-Sarmatian descendents[xix]). Although Scythian was most probably a mixed language, I made an assumption, that it was in origin an Iranian language[xx]. With Sarmatians, we have no such problem – our knowledge about this language is not so limited. I used therefore for comparison also other Iranian languages[xxi].

In the Iranian (Scythian?) language poda (Persian, Pushtu pada, Yazgulamian, Yagnobian poda, Pamirian pod-r) means herd, pasture. We have also other possibilities – similar to the German languages: pad (Pushtu pata, Yazgulamian, Sarykolian ped, Pamiria pad, Yagnobian po’da) which means foot and padar (Persian pedär, Pamirian, Sarykolian padar).

After all examinations, although the origin of Phoderago remains uncertain, in my opinion he was most probably of Iranian (Sarmatian?) origin.

In the case I will opt for the root poda, which well corresponds with main Scythian (Sarmatian) occupation. Apart from decision which language spoke Phoderago in his childhood, there is no doubt, that his children were Hellenised and his own Hellenised name was clearly readable for his family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. I am convinced that in Greek ears the name Phoderago was in this time, independently of real origin, associated with “leader of phoideratoi”.


[i] Inscription of the Phoderago (KL 1839) in: The Cimmerian Bosporus, Pontos, and Barbarian World in the Period of Antiquity and Middle Ages, The Materials of the Third Bosporan Readings, Kerch 2002, s. 292-294.

[ii] Unfortunately I couldn’t find any similar going barbaric name but compare for example: :  )Argoua/nagon Kara/ctouj;  )/Abragoj Xouarsa/zou;  )Arshou/axoj Kasa/gou (IosPE I(2), 82.1 – Olbia II-III AD)

[iii] For example Qrai=c Peiqago/ (IG I3, fasc. 2, No 1032 IX f 383 – Athenian Acropolis, 413? – 408? BC). Comp. G.G. Mateescu, Nomi traci nei territorio scito-sarmatico, Ephemeris Dacoromana [Annuario della Scuola Romana di Roma, Bucarest-Rome.] 2 (1924), pp. 223-238. Probably we have to do with a patronimikon in Genitive like IG I3 3: [G]na/qij Timok[h/d]o[j, )A]nacandri/dhj Tima[g]o/ro / xorhgo=ntej kwmwidoi=j e)ni/kwn: /  )Aristofa/nhj e)[d]i/dasken. / e(te/ra ni/kh tragwidoi=j: / Sofoklh=j e)di/dasken. (Eleusis, 425-406 BC). But all examples are dated before reform of the alphabet in 403 BC. More interesting are perhaps examples from the northern Black Sea coast: :   (Hdi/sth / Eu)ago/ro / quga/thr (SEG 24.1141, 1-3, Istros 400-350 BC);  (Hgh/[s]androj  )Aleca/ndro. (SEG 24.1144, Istros, 400-350 BC).

[iv] See V. F. Gajdukevic, Das Bosporanische Reich, Berlin, 1971 chapter 10, pp. 333 ff.

[v] Sauromates I ruled in the years 93-123 AD.

[vi] V. N. Korpusova, Ob etnicheskoi pp.13-17.

[vii] V.V. Lapin, O principach etnizacii v reshenii problematiki vzaimootnoshenii mestnogo i grecheskogo in: Mestnoe naselenie Prichernomoria, Tbilisi, 1979, p. 4 and other point of view: Yu. G. Vinogradov, Varvary v prosopografii Olvii IV-V vv. do n. e. in: Demografskaa situacia v Prichernomorie v period Velikoi grecheskoi kolonizacii, Tbilisi, 1981, p. 11.

[viii] V. N. Korpusova, K voprosu ob etnographicheskich osobennostiach naselenia evropeiskogo Bospora rimskogo vremeni in: Problemy antichnoi istorii i klassicheskoi philologii. Charkov, 1980, pp. 25—26; V.V. Lapin, O principachp. 41. Korpusova has changed her earlier point of view: Ob etnicheskoi prinadleznosti selskogo naselenia evropeiskogo Bospora in: Antichnye gosudarstva Severnogo Prichernomoria i varvarskii mir, Leningrad 1973, pp. 18—19.

[ix] S. Krykin, Frakiiskii substrat v antichnych koloniach severnogo prichernomoria, Thracia 8 (1988), p. 59.

[x] V. D. Blavatskii, Pantikapei. Ocherki istorii stolicy Bospora, Moskwa, 1964, pp. 136-137, 189. The main sources are epigraphic and ceramic; significance of the last one is still discussed.

[xi] However Germans (and Scythian Alani) were mentioned as Sarmatian allies: Martialis, 7,2,1; 7,30,6.

[xii] See interesting work of Yu. Ustinova: The Supreme Gods of the Bosporan Kingdom: Celestial Aphrodite and the Most High God, Leiden, 1999. She argues there, that cults of Aphrodite and Hypsistos God were not of Jewish (Schürer) or Thracian (Latyshev) influence but of Iranian and local.

[xiii] See Yu. Ustinova, The Bosporan Kingdom in Late Antiquity: Ethnic and Religious Transformations in: Ethnicity and Culture in Late Antiquity, (ed.) S. Mitchell, G. Greatrex, London-Duckworth-Swansea, 2000, pp. 151-172.

[xiv] T. A. Matkovskaa, Mushskoi kostum evropeiskogo Bospora pervych vekov n. e. in: Bosporskie Issledovania, Simferopol, 2001, pp. 101-136. The research was made on the ground of sculpture representations from the lapidary of the Kerch Museum.

[xv] Gerhard Köbler, Gotisches Wörterbuch, (2. Auflage) 1989, ss.vv.

[xvi] Gerhard Köbler, Indogermanisches Wörterbuch, 3. Auflage 2003, s.v. (1) pp. 792-793.

[xvii] Confirmed in the Indian, Iranian, Armenian, Greek, Albanian, Italian, Celtic, German, Baltic,

Slavic, Tocharian, Hethitte languages. See op. cit., s.v. (2) p. 721.

[xviii] V. I. Abaev, Skipho-evropeiskie izoglossy. Na styke Vostoka i Zapada, Moskva, 1965; V. I. Abaev, Skipho-sarmatskie narecia, osnovy iranskogo iazykoznania in: Drevneiranskie Iazyki, Moskva, 1979, pp. 272-363; K.T. Vicak, Skiphskii iazyk: opyt opisania, Voprosy Iazykoznania 5 (1992), pp. 50-59.

[xix] Opp. citt. and additional: V. I. Abaev, Osetinskii iazyk i folklor, Moskva-Leningrad, (1949) especially pp. 31-41 and 129-335; R. Brzezinski, M. Mielczarek, The Sarmatians 600 BC-AD 450 (Men-At-Arms 373).

[xx] See: M. Z. Zakiev, Tatars: Problems of the History and Language, Kazan, 1995. Pp.12-37, who suggests Türkic influences. Although his review of the history (since 18 century) of researches about Scytho-Sarmatian history and language in the § two is impressive, I am not convinced by his arguments. In my opinion the theory about Iranian origin of Scythian and Sarmatian languages, at first time formulated by K. Müllenhoff in the 19 century and later developed by many scholars (Abaev including), is still the best answer to this question. Other ideas, such as Slavonic origin of Sarmatians and Scythians I reject in toto.

[xxi] Very useful were in this case: R. Schmitt, Iranier-Namen bei Aischylos, Iranica Graeca Vetustiora. I, Wien (1978) [Veröffentlichungen der Iranischen Kommission 6 Sitzungsberichte; Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-historische Klasse; Bd. 337]; R. Schmitt, Die iranischen und Iranier-Namen in den Schriften Xenophons (Iranica Graeca Vetustiora II), Wien (2002) [Veröffentlichungen der Kommission für Iranistik Nr. 29; Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-Historische Klasse. Sitzungsberichte Bd. 692. I have used also an elder work: Chr. Bartholomae, Altiranisches Wörterbuch Strassburg (1904).