Located between two seas, this was a pleasant place with a good climate and numerous resources. Millions of years ago, people valued its riches.
Kermek is the oldest site, not only in Russia but in the whole of Western Asia beyond the borders of the Caucasus. It is located on the Sea of Azov side of the peninsula, at the Akhtanizovsky settlement, a kilometer and a half to the northwest of the village of Za Rodinu. The site encampment is approximately 1.8-2.1 million years old. The people who left behind traces of their life and work here on the high seashore in the form of tools are believed by experts to be part of the Oldowan culture that was first discovered in African Tanzania and named Homo habilis (literally, "skilled man").
The Stone Age lasted for almost two million years, until man learned to source copper. The implementation of copper ushered in the Bronze Age. At the turn of the 4th–3rd century B.C., the Maykop Culture became the jewel of this region. Its craftsmen created magnificent golden bulls and pots made of sheet bronze. The culture had every chance of becoming a civilization of the same magnitude as those flourishing in Western Asia, but it was not to be.
From the middle of the 3rd century B.C., life began to develop towards the steppe, as people moved north in search of new grazing lands.
With the onset of the Iron Age (9th–7th centuries B.C.), the Doric Order and Sparta-Argos waged wars, Hesiod wrote poetry, Aesop wrote fables — and nomads, the Cimmerians and Scythians, made their way across the Taman Peninsula. Other barbarians lived a more settled way of life; namely, the Maeotians (as the Ancient Greeks called the native population of the Kuban region). It is difficult to say who these people were. There are fragmentary reports of them from Greek historians and Assyrian chroniclers, who described the trading journeys of their merchants or the battles of their military commanders. In those difficult times, the Cimmerians frequently became a military problem for many tribes.
A little later, in the 6th century B.C., the Greeks established city-colonies on the Taman Peninsula: Phanagoria (the southern outskirts of the village of Sennaya), Hermonassa (modern Taman), Kepy (the northern outskirts of the village of Sennnaya), and Patrei (the village of Garkusha). The colonists entered into trade and personal relations with the local populations, and gradually the state of Sindica arose. We know little of this state, but it clearly maintained a strong trade with Greece, which influenced the culture and way of life of its inhabitants and, to a certain extent, created blood ties with the Maeotians. However, the story remains a complex one.
Towards the end of the 4th century B.C., Sindica became part of the Bosporan Kingdom, with its capital in Panticapaeum (today's Kerch), inhabited by Greeks, Sarmatians, and the local peoples. By that stage, the Kingdom had grown weak, but continued to wage internal wars. In the 1st century B.C., it became a dependent of the Roman Empire, losing the right to mint gold coins. Then came attacks by the Goths from the West (2nd century A.D.) and an invasion by the nomadic Huns from Asia (4th century A.D.). Effectively having lost its cities (the Huns reduced them to ruins), the Bosporan Kingdom appealed to Byzantium for aid and subordinated itself to that state in return for protection. The Huns preferred to avoid an entanglement with Byzantium, and the Hun Prince Grod even adopted the Christian faith and began to collect tribute for Byzantium from his tribesmen and to fight against paganism. A Hun uprising that took place as a result of this treachery was crushed by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian: the Huns were driven off the peninsula and the Bosporan Kingdom was rebuilt anew.
However, this peace did not last long. By the middle of the 6th century A.D., a new empire had formed: the Turkic Khaganate, stretching from the Chinese border to the Black Sea region. At first, the two empires — the Byzantine and the Khaganate – acted as allies against Iran and even organized a northern branch of the Great Silk Road in order for trade to prosper, but relations quickly worsened and the Turkic forces, led by Turksanfa, attacked the Bosporan Kingdom, pillaging it and taking many slaves. However, the Turkic side did not enjoy their victory for long. Their ranks included the Bulgars who founded their own state, Greater Bulgaria, with Phanagoria as its capital(today the settlement of Sennaya). This took place under the leadership of Khan Kubrat (who spent his youth in the imperial palace in Constantinople and was raised in the Byzantine manner), and with the participation of a series of settled tribes from the Black Sea region. They became masters of the incredible riches of their predecessors, but Kubrat died and internecine conflicts broke out once again, such that Greater Bulgaria broke up into smaller regions.
The Bulgarians were eventually finished off by the Khazars, who in the 7th century developed a powerful, early feudal state. In the 7th and 8th centuries, the Khazar Khanate occupied the Taman Peninsula and faced no opposition in the northern Black Sea region. The Khaganate's main town on the Taman Peninsula became Tamatarkha (formerly the Greek Hermonassa). Khazaria, which did not exist for long, is of interest to us for its religious order. Pagans, Muslims, and Christians numbered among the state's subjects, but at the end of 8th century, the state religion of the Khazars became Judaism.
However, in certain regions, practice of the Christian faith continued, one such place being the Taman Peninsula. We know of references to the diocese of Tamatarkhi dating to 8th century, as well as the Khazar mission of Cyril and Methodius in the 9th century, their route having taken them through Taman.
In the 9th century, the Pechenegs began to impinge on the Khazar Khaganate. The Grand Duke Svyatoslav Igorevich Khrabry ("the Brave", son of Igor the Old and Princess Olga) ultimately finished the Khaganate off by means of an alliance between the Pechenegs and the Ghuzz, a Turkic people. The Taman Peninsula was transferred to Kievan Russia, becoming the Tmutarakansky Principality, and Tamatarkha became Tmutarakan.
It is no accident that Tmutarakan is a name with negative connotations in Russian culture. The fate of this state is associated with continual infighting among the descendants of Svyatoslav Igorevich in the Middle Ages. In addition, Tmutarakan became a place of exile for princes who had lost their throne. The last reference to Tmutarakan in the old Russian chronicles dates back to 1094. In "The Tale of Igor's Campaign", we can find a reference to Tmutarakan as an "unknown land." According to the text of this important literary text, Prince Igor, upon heading off on his campaign, wanted "to search for the town of Tmutorokan."
In 1792, Admiral A. V. Pustoshkin and Lieutenant-Colonel X. Rozenberg (or A. A. Golovaty, according to one version of events) found the so-called "Tmutarkan Stone" during a redeployment of Cossack forces. The circumstances surrounding the discovery and the transportation of the object are steeped in legend. However, it is clear that this is an old and highly significant landmark in Russian epigraphy, if it is indeed authentic. The microscopic investigation of the erosion of the marble by doctor of historical sciences B. V. Sapunov has largely resolved the debate: the ancient provenance of the work can be established by micro-fractures where the text was carved into the stone. The inscription indicates that in 1068, the Tmutarakan Prince Gleb Svyatoslavich measured the distance between the central places of worship in Tmutarakan and Korchev (today's Kerch) and it amounted to 14,000 "makhovie sazhen", which is equivalent to 24 kilometers. The original stone has been preserved in the State Hermitage Museum since the mid-19th century.