KERCH, or Kertch, a seaport of S. Russia, in the government of Taurida, on the Strait of Kerch or Yenikale, 60 m. E.N.E. of Theodosia, in 45° 21′ N. and 36° 30′ E. Pop. (1897), 31,702. It stands on the site of the ancient Panticapaeum, and, like most towns built by the ancient Greek colonists in this part of the world, occupies a beautiful situation, clustering round the foot and climbing up the sides of the hill (called after Mithradates) on which stood the ancient citadel or acropolis. The church of St John the Baptist, founded in 717, is a good example of the early Byzantine style. That of Alexander Nevsky was formerly the Kerch museum of antiquities, founded in 1825. The more valuable objects were subsequently removed to the Hermitage at St Petersburg, while those that remained at Kerch were scattered during the English occupation in the Crimean War. The existing museum is a small collection in a private house. Among the products of local industry are leather, tobacco, cement, beer, aerated waters, lime, candles and soap. Fishing is carried on, and there are steam saw-mills and flour-mills. A rich deposit of iron ore was discovered close to Kerch in 1895, and since then mining and blasting have been actively prosecuted. The mineral mud-baths, one of which is in the town itself and the other beside Lake Chokrak (9 m. distant), are much frequented. Notwithstanding the deepening of the strait, so that ships are now able to enter the Sea of Azov, Kerch retains its importance for the export trade in wheat, brought thither by coasting vessels. Grain, fish, linseed, rapeseed, wool and hides are also exported. About 6 m. N.E. are the town and old Turkish fortress of Yenikale, administratively united with Kerch. Two and a half miles to the south are strong fortified works defending the entrance to the Sea of Azov.
The Greek colony of Panticapaeum was founded about the middle of the 6th century B.C., by the town of Miletus. From about 438 B.C. till the conquest of this region by Mithradates the Great, king of Pontus, about 100 B.C., the town and territory formed the kingdom of the Bosporus, ruled over by an independent dynasty. Phanaces, the son of Mithradates, became the founder of a new line under the protection of the Romans, which continued to exist till the middle of the 4th century A.D., and extended its power over the maritime parts of Tauris. After that the town—which had already begun to be known as Bospora—passed successively into the hands of the Eastern empire, of the Khazars, and of various barbarian tribes. In 1318, the Tatars, who had come into possession in the previous century, ceded the town to the Genoese, who soon raised it into new importance as a commercial centre. They usually called the place Cerchio, a corruption of the Russian name K’rtchev (whence Kerch), which appears in the 11th century inscription of Tmutarakan (a Russian principality at the north foot of the Caucasus). Under the Turks, whose rule dates from the end of the 15th century, Kerch was a military port; and as such it plays a part in the Russo-Turkish wars. Captured by the Russians under Dolgorukov in 1771, it was ceded to them along with Yenikale by the peace of Kuchuk-Kainarji, and it became a centre of Russian naval activity. Its importance was greatly impaired by the rise of Odessa and Taganrog; and in 1820 the fortress was dismantled. Kerch suffered severely during the Crimean War.
Archaeologically Kerch is of particular interest, the kurgans or sepulchral mounds of the town and vicinity having yielded a rich variety of the most beautiful works of art. Since 1825 a large number of tombs have been opened. In the Altun or Zolotai-oba (Golden Mound) was found a great stone vault similar in style to an Egyptian pyramid; and within, among many objects of minor note, were golden dishes adorned with griffins and beautiful arabesques. In the Kul-oba, or Mound of Cinders (opened in 1830–1831), was a similar tomb, in which were found what would appear to be the remains of one of the kings of Bosporus, of his queen, his horse and his groom. The ornaments and furniture were of the most costly kind; the king’s bow and buckler were of gold; his very whip intertwined with gold; the queen had golden diadems, necklace and breast-jewels, and at her feet lay a golden vase. In the Pavlovskoi kurgan (opened in 1858) was the tomb of a Greek lady, containing among other articles of dress and decoration a pair of fine leather boots (a unique discovery) and a beautiful vase on which is painted the return of Persephone from Hades and the setting out of Triptolemus for Attica. In a neighbouring tomb was what is believed to be “the oldest Greek mural painting which has come down to us,” dating probably from the 4th century B.C. Among the minor objects discovered in the kurgans perhaps the most noteworthy are the fragments of engraved boxwood, the only examples known of the art taught by the Sicyonian painter Pamphilus.
Very important finds of old Greek art continue to be made in the neighbourhood, as well as at Tamañ, on the east side of the Strait of Kerch. The catacombs on the northern slope of Mithradates Hill, of which nearly 200 have been explored since 1859, possess considerable interest, not only for the relics of old Greek art which some of them contain (although most were plundered in earlier times), but especially as material for the history and ethnography of the Cimmerian Bosporus. In 1890 the first Christian catacomb bearing a distinct date (491) was discovered. Its walls were covered with Greek inscriptions and crosses.
See H. D. Seymour’s Russia on the Black Sea and Sea of Azoff (London, 1855); J. B. Telfer, The Crimea (London, 1876); P. Bruhn, Tchernomore, 1852–1877 (Odessa, 1878); Gilles, Antiquités du Bosphore Cimmérien (1854); D. Macpherson, Antiquities of Kertch (London, 1857); Compte rendu de la Commission Imp. Archéologique (St Petersburg); L. Stephani, Die Alterthümer vom Kertsch (St Petersburg, 1880); C. T. Newton, Essays on Art and Archaeology (London, 1880); Reports of the [Russian] Imp. Archaeological Commission; Izvestia (Bulletin) of the Archives Commission for Taurida; Antiquités du Bosphore Cimmérien, conservées au Musée Impérial de l’Ermitage (St Petersburg, 1854); Inscriptiones antiquae orae septentrionalis Ponti Euxini graecae et latinae, with a preface by V. V. Latyshev (St Petersburg, 1890); Materials for the Archaeology of Russia, published by the Imp. Arch. Commission (No. 6, St Petersburg, 1891). (P. A. K.; J. T. Be.)