March 12, 2021, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the outstanding historian, epigrapher, and specialist in northern Black Sea numismatics, Pyotr Osipovich Karishkovskiy, who was a corresponding member of the German Archaeological Institute and the American Numismatic Society.
Karyshkovskiy was born in Odessa (Ukraine) on March 12, 1921, in the family of a professional military man, who had participated in the Russo-Japanese War, World War I, and the Russian Civil War, and who retired in 1923. His mother, from a Russian-Polish high-ranking clergy family, was an elementary school teacher. In 1939, after graduation from high school, Pyotr Karishkovskiy began studying in the history department of Odessa State University.
At the beginning of the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, he was a second-year student. Due to vision problems he was not recruited into the Red Army; however, during the defense of Odessa in June–September 1941, Karyshkovskiy worked on the construction of the city’s defensive line, digging anti-tank trenches. Unfortunately, his family could not evacuate, due to a serious illness of his mother, who died in 1942, so they remained in Odessa while it was occupied by the Germans and Romanians. During that time, he continued to study at the University, re-opened by the Romanian occupation authorities, and worked at the University’s library. In 1945, after the liberation of Odessa, Karyshkovskiy graduated from Odessa State University, and in 1946 he became a postgraduate student. However, his stay in Odessa during the occupation haunted his career. His teacher in classical philology at the university, Prof. Boris Varneke (1874–1944), was arrested on a charge of high treason and died in the prison hospital (though he was rehabilitated posthumously in 1955). Karyshkovskiy was arrested at the same time and only released through the intercession of the dean of the history faculty at the university, Prof. Konstantin Pavlovich Dobrolyubskiy (1885–1953).
Even in this difficult and gloomy atmosphere, Karyshkovskiy continued to work on his master’s thesis—“Political Relations between the Byzantine Empire, Bulgaria, and Russia, 967–971”—which he completed in 1951. His study of the sources on this topic is relevant to this day and is constantly cited by modern researchers. At the same time he began to publish articles in prestigious Soviet academic journals such as Bizantiyskiy Bremennik (Byzantine Chronicle) and Vestnik Drevhey Istorii (Journal of Ancient History). However, the problems due to his stay in Odessa during the occupation period continued almost until the end of his life. He was not allowed to travel abroad to visit museums, attend conferences, or participate in any other international scholarly events.
Beginning during his postgraduate studies, Karyshkovskiy was actively engaged in teaching at the university. He soon showed himself to be a talented teacher. His lectures on the history of Ancient Greece and Rome, the Byzantine Empire, and history of the Middle Ages, as well as special courses including an introduction to numismatics, impressed due to his breadth of knowledge. He was fluent in German and French and could read and translate English, Romanian, Polish, Czech, Bulgarian, and Serbian, in addition to his professional knowledge of Ancient Greek and Latin. Even students from outside the humanities (such as physics and mathematics) were interested in attending his lectures. From 1963 until his last days, Karishkovskiy headed the Department of the History of Ancient World and Middle Ages at Odessa State University. Many of his former university students are still proud that they had an opportunity to listen the legendary “Professor P. O.” (as many of his students refer to him, with respect and admiration) and that they prepared their master’s and doctoral theses under his supervision.
Over the course of time, Karyshkovskiy’s research interests evolved. He explored various aspects of the ancient history, epigraphy, and numismatics of the northern Black Sea region, and especially of the ancient Greek colony of Olbia, established by the Ionian city of Miletus on the shore of the Dnieper-Bug estuary.
In 1969, Karishkovskiy successfully defended his doctoral dissertation, “Coins and Monetary Circulation in Olbia (6th century BC–4th century AD)”. This fundamental work examined Olbian coins as one of the most important sources for the history of this ancient polis. Hestudied the technical features and weights of Olbian monetary systems, and described in detail the coin types and inscriptions. He also classified Olbian coin issues, attributing them to specific periods and establishing their absolute chronology. He reviewed evidence for monetary circulation at all stages of the city’s history between the sixth century BC and the fourth century AD. Based on die analysis, coin finds, and metrological and iconographic studies, he reconstructed the essential economic characteristics and development of the Olbian monetary system against the background of the general trends of the ancient economy.
Unfortunately, this dissertation was not published during Karishkovskiy’s lifetime. The specialized scientific publishing houses in the Soviet Union did not dare to print it, citing the pretext that it was too large. After Karishkovskiy’s death, the dissertation was prepared for publication by his colleagues and apprentices, and issued only in 2003 as a separate monograph.
Certain portions of his dissertation, with some newer observations and additions, were included in the small monograph Olbian Coins, which he prepared shortly before his death and which was published soon after his death in 1988.
Over the years Karishkovskiy also became an authority of the history, archaeology, and monetary system of another ancient Greek colony of the North Pontus: ancient Tyras, which like Olbia was founded by Ionian Greek colonists from Miletus, on the right bank of the Dniester estuary.
In 1985 Karishkovskiy and a co-author, Isaak Benzionovich Kleiman (an archeologist who was head of the Classical Department of the Odessa Archaeological Museum), published the monograph The Ancient City of Tyras: A Historical and Archaeological Essay.
This monograph, on the basis of archaeological and written evidence, reconstructs the history of Tyras, as well as the social structure and culture of the city, its place among other ancient poleis, and the role of other peoples surrounding the northwestern Black Sea region from the founding of Tyras in the sixth century BC to its demise in the fourth century AD. It makes a number of important observations on the chronology of the coin emissions of Tyras. The book also clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of a close and comprehensive interaction of numismatic and archeological finds as historical evidence.
In 1994 this important monograph was translated into English and published by a private publishing house in Odessa, making this significant study of Tyras more accessible for foreign historians, archaeologists, and numismatists.
Karishkovskiy’s monographs, like various of his scholarly articles, were published by the Odessa Archaeological Museum (OAM) of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences.
For many years Karishkovskiy was closely connected with the OAM, which was founded in 1825, making it one of the oldest archaeological research institutes in what was then the Russian Empire. Karishkovskiy followed in the best traditions of the great archaeologists and numismatists associated with the OAM, including its founder I. P. Blaremberg (1772–1831), as well as A. L. Bertier de la Garde (1842–1920), E. R. von Stern (1859–1924), and the widely known scholars A. V. Oreshnikov (1855–1933) and A. N. Zograf (1889–1942). He even stood at the origins of the revival of the Odessa Archaeological Society in 1959, which was the successor of the famous Odessa Society of History and Antiquities (1839–1922). From 1968 he became its permanent chairman.
While continuing to teach at the University, Karishkovskiy maintained a close connection with the work of the Odessa Archaeological Museum. Under his guidance, the museum organized research conferences as well as archaeological and numismatic publications. He participated directly in the creation of a numismatic department separate from the main archaeological storage of the museum, and also created the numismatic portion of the exhibition.
Karishkovsky’s academic heritage consists of over 180 articles and monographs, based on complex historical, archaeological, epigraphic, and numismatic sources. He sent some of his publications to the library of the American Numismatic Society. Many are accompanied by English translations done by H. Bartlett Wells (1908–1988), an ANS Fellow and Foreign Service officer who translated from French and Russian and was also a devoted collector of Greek and Roman coins.
Karishkovskiy never had the opportunity to visit the major numismatic collections outside the Soviet Union, or to see the ancient monuments and excavations in Greece and Rome. The Soviet system held him behind the “iron curtain.” This is probably why he was so appreciative of his time at the archaeological excavations of Tyras, Olbia, and Berezan, where he could “touch the mystery and breathe freedom”, as he wrote. These mysteries of past centuries could be revealed only by talented, persistent, and hard-working scholars and one of them was Pyotr Osipovich Karyshkovskiy. His work provides a valuable base for future generations in the study of the ancient history of the Pontus Euxinus.