This history of the Crimea is essential reading for all those who have been perplexed by what lies behind Russia’s recent return to the Black Sea peninsula.
In 2016 Crimea shapes the headlines much as it did some 160 years ago, when the Crimean War pitted Britain, France and Turkey against Russia. Yet few books have been published on the history of the peninsula. For many readers, Crimea seems as remote today as it was when colonised by the ancient Greeks.
Neil Kent’s book recounts the history of the Crimea over three millennia. A crossroads between Europe and Asia, ships sailed to and from Crimean ports, forming a bridge that carried merchandise and transmitted ideas and innovations.
Greeks, Scythians, Tatars, Russians, Armenians and Genoese are among those who settled in the peninsula since antiquity, a veritable demographic patchwork. Their religious beliefs are almost as numerous: Islam, Judaism, Russian and Greek Orthodoxy, as well as Roman Catholicism have all taken root. This mosaic is reflected also in places of worship and the palaces which still adorn Crimea: imperial Romanov Massandra, the ‘noble nest’ of Prince Vorontsov at Alupca or the Palace of Bakhchisaray, built for the Tatar Khan. For some two centuries balmy Yalta and its environs were a veritable Black Sea Riviera, where Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin met at the end of the Second World War.
‘Russia’s seizure of Crimea was justified in Moscow as a rectification of an alleged “historic wrong”. Why that was so, and why this ethnically-mixed peninsula became the cornerstone of Russia’s political aspirations for over two centuries is the fascinating story which Neil Kent tells with great verve in this erudite and gripping volume.’ — Jonathan Eyal, International Director, Royal United Services Institute
‘Neil Kent has written a lively and informed volume that infuses the current debate with its missing historical context. A must read for anyone who wishes to probe beyond the headlines and learn more about this contested land’s tragic past.’ — Brian Glyn Williams, author of The Crimean Tatars: From Soviet Genocide to Putin’s Conquest
‘Neil Kent has produced a fascinating account of the history of Crimea. He takes readers through the history of the peninsula, from Ancient Greek colonies and Ottoman palaces resting on the slopes of the magnificent bays of the Black Sea to such cosmopolitan cities as Sevastopol and Feodosia, in and around which so many deadly battles were fought by Russia, the Ottoman Empire and its Western European allies during the Crimean War. His conclusions are thought-provoking and at times even controversial, and will encourage lively debate on many aspects of Crimean history, ancient and modern.’ — Vsevolod Samokhvalov, Fellow of the Cambridge Security Initiative, University of Cambridge
‘This is a much-needed and well-written book focusing on the past and present of a highly important region of Europe. The author fits the complex history of Crimea into a well-woven narrative, merging historical developments with highly interesting details. Crimea is highly recommended to those interested in the context of the drama playing out between Russia and Ukraine today.’ — Vicken Cheterian, author of Open Wounds: Armenians, Turks and a Century of Genocide
Neil Kent is Associate at the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge University. His many previous books include The Soul of the North: A Social, Architectural and Cultural History of the Nordic Countries, 1770-1940 and Helsinki: A Cultural and Literary History.