'Black Sea' by Neal Asherson
Crimea, whose beauty provokes almost sexual yearnings of possession in all its visitors, has demonstrated this joke in every century of its history. It has no natives no aboriginals. Before the Scythians, before the Cimmerians who preceded them or the Bronze Age populations who raised first burial-mounds, there were human beings who had come from somewhere else... Only in recent times has the Crimean truth - that it belongs to everybody and to nobody - been violated. Two of these violations, which would be merely absurd if they did not imply so much blood and suffering in the past and very probably in the future, are the declarations of two autocrats. In 1783, Catherine II ('The Grate') proclaimed that the Crimean peninsula was henceforth and for all time to become Russian. And in 1954 Nikita Khrushchev, a Ukrainian (здесь явно ошибка автора, Хрущев был русским. - Габелок) seeking to divert the attention of his own people from their miseries, announced that he was transferring Crimea from Russia to become for all time Ukrainian."
Mangup is about all these Crimean ironies. Most of the ruins on the Mangup summit belong to a forgotten, improbable principality of the Middle Ages. The fortress of Theodoro-Mangup contained an independent Greek principality, ruled by the Princes of Gothia. But what 'Greek' mean up here, or 'Gothic'?
The Goths came to the Black Sea and to Crimea from an unusual direction, from the north-west rather than from the east. A proto-Germanic confederation of peoples from southern Scandinavia, they had occupied Crimea in the third century AD, in the course of their conquest of most of the Black Sea’s northern shore. A hundred years later, the Black Sea Goths were defeated by the Huns. Many headed westward, on the next leg of a migration which in the time of their great-grandchildren would deposit them in Italy as the army of their king, Theodoric the Great. But some remained in the Crimean mountains. Christianized and then incorporated into the Byzantine Empire, they were still there in the sixth century when the emperor Justinian I fortified Mangup as part of a line of strong points intended to shield the costal cities against attack of steppes.
When the Khazars conquered Crimea in the eight century, the remnants of the Christian Goths retreated up into the mountain zone of the spirit. John, Prince-Bishop of Gothia, sallied down from Mangup to lead an unsuccessful rising against the Khazars, but the Byzantine emperors betrayed him. They preferred to come to terms with the Judaised Khazars, recognizing them as powerful allies who could form a buffer-zone between the Empire and wilder nomad nations approaching the Black Sea from the steppe; two Byzantine Emperors – Justinian II and Constantine V – married Khazar princesses. Gothia went back to its hill and left history for nearly seven hundred years.
Below this ‘Lost World’ on its plateau, the world continued to change, but Gothia kept on worshipping in its huge basilica and ignoring the turmoils at the foot of its cliffs until – in 1475 – the Ottoman Turks arrived. Mopping up the fringes of the Byzantine Empire, after the capture of Constantinople in 1453, the Turks and their Crimean Tatar allies stormed the Principality of Theodoros on its mountain and brought Gothia to an end.
The Basilica of Constantine and Helen, dating from the ninth century, stood desolate for a time. In 1579, a polish nobleman scrambled up to look at it. Marcin Broniewski (‘Broniovius’) had been sent by King Stefan Batory on a diplomatic mission to Mehmet Giray, khan of the Crimean Tatars, and he wrote an elegant latin account -- Tartariae Descripto – which was translated into English a century later by Samuel Purchas. ‘Marcopia’ [Mangup] … hath had two Castles, Greeke Temples and Houses sumptuous, with many cleere Rils running of the stone: but eighteene years after that the Turkes had taken it (as the Greeke Christians affirm) it was destroyed by a sudden and horrible fire.’
Broniewski found still standing ‘the Greeke Church of Saint Constantine, and another meane one of Saint George. One Greeke Priest and some Jews and Turkes dwell there; Oblivion and Ruine hath devoured the rest; nor are there men or Stories of the quondam inhabitants, which I with great care and diligence everywhere sought in vaine.’ Yet Broniewski had been able to question the Orthodox priest, who told him that ‘a little before the Turkes besieged it, two Greeke Dukes of the Imperial bloud of Constantinople or Trapezond [Trebizond], there resided, which were after carried alive into Constantinople, and by Selim the Turkishe Emperor slaine. In the Greeke Churches on the walls are painted Imperial Images and Habits…’
Gothic, with Greek and probably Hebrew, was one of the languages which continued to be spoken in Crimea as it emerged into the modern period. … In 1562 the Austrian diplomat Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq (more famous as the man who sent the first tulip bulbs from Turkey to Europe) collected a list of eighty-six words and phrases in Gothic which he had gathered from Crimeans he had met in Constantinople, and the last Gothic-speakers seem to have died out in the seventeenth century.
Lakes of ink have been uselessly spilled over Mangup and its ‘Problem of the Crimean Goths’, which was in truth no problem but an obstinate, perverse attempt to hammer modern definitions of ethnicity onto an ancient society in which they were irrelevant. Excavations began on the Mangup hill-top in the nineteenth century. The antiquaries Uvarov, Brun and Lapier laid out theories. Germanic scholars, excited by the Germanic ethnicity of the Goths, longed to find in Crimea evidence of an ancient Teutonic state which raised stone cities and dominated its neighbours. But the evidence was meager. The fantasy of an ur-German Crimea, of Teutonic urban civilization picking up the torch of culture as decadent Rome let it fall, was thrown away by later scientists.
Then, however, it was retrieved by the Nazi mind – that drain filter of broken, discredited and putrescent ideas – and recycled into a new version of pseudo-history and political legitimation. Crimea must be reconquered and the Gothic realm restored. Cleared of Tatars, Jews and Russians, except for a temporary labor force of field slaves, the peninsula would be the destination for trainloads of German settlers. Sevastopol was to become Theodorichafen. Simferopol became Gotenberg. Crimea itself was to be known as Gotland
p.28 ….In April 1941, two month before Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, it was agreed that Crimea should separated from Russia and ceded to a puppet Ukrainian state. In July, when the German armies were already penetrating deep into Soviet territory, Hitler himself chaired a meeting on Crimean policy at which the ‘Gotland’ project was in principle accepted. As for the Crimean Tatars, they were judged to be racially worthless – like the Jews – but their deportation would be delayed in order not to offend Turkey, their protector through so much of their history. The real attraction of the ‘Gotland’ scheme for Hitler, however, lay far from the Black Sea: it offered a possible way out of his South Tyrol dilemma.