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The Scythian civilization. History and culture.

What we know about the Scythians

The ethnonym of the Scythians and its mention

The Scythians, like other closely related peoples who lived in the Eurasian steppes in the first millennium BC, did not have their own written language, and therefore their social and political history has to be recreated mainly on the basis of information preserved in foreign cultural sources, and according to archaeological data.

The name of the Scythians, known to us primarily from the writings of Greek and Latin authors, was used there in different meanings. Ancient writers often referred to the Scythians as a wide range of peoples who lived at that time in the vast expanses of the Eurasian steppe belt and had a largely similar culture. But a careful study of the use of this name in ancient sources indicates that only the inhabitants of the Northern Black Sea Region and the Azov Sea region called themselves this way, or even initially only one tribe, in the first centuries of the first millennium BC. which subjugated the rest of the population of this region and created on this basis a powerful union of tribes, which later developed into an early state formation. The Greek settlers, who began active colonization of the northern coast of the Black Sea in the seventh century BC, initially came into contact with this people. As time went on, the Greeks began to expand their knowledge of the inhabitants of the Eurasian steppes and to discover in their culture and way of life many similarities with what they already knew about the Scythians, and they began to designate all the peoples of this circle by the name of the one who was familiar to them earlier and better than others. So the term “Scythians” acquired an expansive meaning. But many ancient authors retained an understanding of its specific ethno-historical meaning and distinguished the Scythians themselves from other steppe peoples, whose names were also known to them — from the Sauromats, Massagets, Issedons, etc.

Image of a predator. The Scythians.

Image of a predator. Kulanovsky mound. Crimea.


The historical science of Modern times has long paid attention to the information about the Scythians preserved by the Greco-Roman tradition — in the works of Herodotus, Strabo, Pliny the Elder and other authors. The critical analysis of these texts became more and more profound as archaeological data comparable to ancient evidence accumulated. Interest in the antiquities of the Black Sea Scythians was awakened at the end of the XVIII century. Modern science already has a fairly complete understanding of the history and culture of the Scythians and other peoples of the widely understood “Scythian world” of the Eurasian steppes.

Unfortunately, there is almost no data on the Scythian language. All that scientists have is a certain number of personal names and geographical names that remain in foreign-language texts. But these remains were enough to determine that the Scythian language belonged to the Iranian group, which is part of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family of languages. The ethnolanguage of other peoples of the Eurasian steppe zone remains more hypothetical, but some data are available on this score. Thus, about the Sauromatians — the closest eastern neighbors of the Scythians — Herodotus reports that they allegedly descended from the marriages of Scythian youths with Amazons and speak a Scythian language, but “since ancient times corrupted”. In other words, the language of the Sauromatians is essentially a dialect of Scythian. Some extant names and names indicate that other Iranian-speaking peoples also lived in the Eurasian steppes.


The question of the origin of the Scythians is solved by the synthesis of written and archaeological data. Of the ancient authors, Herodotus writes about this in the most detail. According to his story, the Scythians came to the Black Sea region from Asia, displacing the Cimmerians from here. The message of Diodorus Siculus echoes this news, telling that once the Scythians were a weak and few people and lived on the shores of the Arax, but then they strengthened and conquered the Ciscaucasia and the entire northern coast of the Black Sea. Unfortunately, it is not clear which river Diodorus calls the Arax — the ancient authors called different rivers so, and therefore in science there are different opinions about the original Scythian habitat. Sometimes, based on Herodotus, it is localized very far to the East, for example, in Central Asia. But if we recall that the ancient geographers considered the border between Asia and Europe to be the Tanais River (modern. Don), then the validity of this hypothesis will be seriously shaken.

Most likely, the ancestral home of the Scythians was not located east of the Volga basin (in some ancient sources it is called Ra, maybe this is the Arax?) or, in extreme cases, the Urals. By the way, this assumption is better consistent with the data of linguistics on the zone of formation of the Iranian languages. In the pre-Scythian period, the Northern Black Sea Region and the Lower Volga region were inhabited by the bearers of one archaeological culture — srubnaya. Apparently, one of the movements within this culturally homogeneous area, archaeologically almost elusive, is recorded in the tradition recorded by Herodotus and Diodorus.

Some stages of the history of the Scythians

Parish in the Black Sea Region

According to Herodotus, in the original period of the Scythians ‘ history, they expelled all the Cimmerians from their land. But this is not confirmed by archaeology: much in the culture of the Scythians reveals a direct continuity from the culture of the Black Sea region of the previous time. Most likely, the Scythian union of tribes was formed during the conquest of the closely related inhabitants of this territory by a tribe that came from the east. It is possible that the conquerors were the direct ancestors of the Scythian tribes, which Herodotus in the V century BC. he knows them under the name of “the Scythians of the tsar”, saying that they rule over the rest of the Scythians, considering them their slaves. Probably, this tribe was originally the bearer of the self-name “Scythians”.

The Scythian mirror. Kuban

The reverse side of the mirror. Detail. The Kelermes mound. Kuban.

According to the story of Herodotus, after the conquest of the Black Sea region, the Scythians, chasing the fleeing Cimmerians, invaded the Front Asia. This message is confirmed by the data of Ancient Eastern texts, in which the invading people are called “shkuda” — another transfer of the same ethnic name. Most often, however, the eastern scribes called all the northern newcomers “gimirri” – Cimmerians, and this generalized naming of them best speaks for the fact that the Scythians and Cimmerians were close to each other ethnically and culturally. Most likely, in reality, there was not a one-time invasion of the inhabitants of the Black Sea region to the ancient East, but a gradual — in several waves-their penetration here since at least the end of the VIII century BC.

Scythians in the Near East

Throughout the entire seventh century BC, Scythian-Cimmerian military detachments actively participated in the political life of the Near East, intervened in conflicts between states, supported some, and struck others. Later, having suffered a series of defeats, the Scythians left this region and returned to the Northern Black Sea region. From this time, the approximately four-hundred-year period of their domination in the Black Sea steppes begins. But the stay of the Scythians in the Middle East, acquaintance with the ancient Eastern civilization did not pass without a trace, leaving a noticeable trace in the appearance of the Scythian culture.

Before the mentioned campaigns, the inhabitants of the Black Sea steppes (like other Indo-Iranian peoples in the early stages of their history) did not know the visual arts, limiting themselves to decorating their household and ritual utensils with the simplest geometric ornaments. When the social development of Scythian society, especially accelerated just during the period of the Scythian conquest of the Black Sea region and their campaigns in Front Asia, required the creation of an artistic language designed to embody certain religious and mythological concepts associated with the ideas of the hierarchical organization of society and the divine origin of the institution of royal power, images borrowed from the ancient Eastern artistic repertoire were used for this purpose.

Scythian culture

Animal style

Reinterpreted in the spirit of the actual Scythian concepts, these images were fixed in the Scythian culture. For reasons not yet fully understood by researchers, the most popular in Scythia were various images of animals, which served as the basis for the formation of the famous Scythian animal style — the most interesting and original element of Scythian culture. This art is characterized by the embodiment of strictly defined images-mainly ungulates, primarily deer, as well as feline predators and birds-depicted in several canonical poses. These motifs served mainly to decorate items of military equipment, horse headdress, and ritual vessels. It is quite obvious that all these images had some important content in the eyes of the Scythians, but the question of the semantics of the Scythian animal style is still the subject of discussion.

Some researchers are of the opinion that it is based on magical representations — the desire to provide the owner of these images with those outstanding qualities that are inherent in the embodied animals. Others associate them with Scythian mythology, believing that the Scythians thought of their gods as having a zoomorphic appearance. Sometimes the animal style is considered as a kind of symbolic sign system, designed to embody general ideas about the structure of the universe. The question of the semantic load of Scythian animal art requires further in-depth development. Be that as it may, the art of the animal style, formed on the basis of the synthesis of ancient Iranian ideas about the world and Ancient Eastern iconography, has become the most vivid and original phenomenon of Scythian culture.

A vessel from the Kul-Oba mound. Gold. Crimea.

A vessel from the Kul-Oba mound. Gold. Crimea.

Scythian folklore

Another event in the history of relations between the Scythians and the ancient East had a completely different character — their struggle against the invasion of their lands by the troops of the Persian king Darius I. The invasion of huge hordes threatened Scythia with great misfortunes. Paradoxically, however, this episode is of interest to us primarily not as an important page in the political history of the Scythians, but from the point of view of the study of Scythian culture. The fact is that the detailed account of this war, preserved by ancient authors (primarily Herodotus), goes back, judging by a number of its features, to the Scythian oral epic tradition itself. The folklore of any nation reflects the most important aspects of the history of its culture, and its study is extremely important. The folklore of the Scythians is almost completely lost, and ideas about it can be formed only from its meager foreign-cultural retellings.

According to the tradition preserved by Herodotus, Darius, having crossed the Danube, for two months advanced through the Black Sea steppes after the Scythians, who left without taking the fight. The attempt of the Persian king to challenge the Scythians to a decisive battle did not bring success. The Scythians motivated their refusal by the fact that, having neither cities nor cultivated land that would be worth defending from the enemy, they do not see the need for an active struggle, but simply continue to lead their usual nomadic lifestyle. Nevertheless, they constantly disturbed the Persians with small raids, causing them significant damage. As a result, the army of Darius, having passed through all of Scythia and some neighboring lands, was forced to flee from the Black Sea region, suffering heavy losses.

About the real events of the Scythian-Persian war, this story, apparently, contains very little information. Even the route described in it does not so much reflect the true course of military operations, as it is intended to embody the idea of the total nature of the conflict and is dictated by the ritual and magical concepts of the ancient Iranian-speaking peoples. But this narrative contains the most interesting data about Scythian customs, ideas, and cultural models. The majestic figure of the Scythian leader, King Idanfirs, a wise ruler and military commander, typical of the ancient epic, is noteworthy.

Scythian burial mounds

After the repulse of the Persian invasion, Scythia begins an almost two-hundred-year period of prosperity. It is to this time that the absolute majority of the Scythian monuments studied by archaeologists belong. These are mainly burial mounds. Their size varies considerably: over the burials of ordinary soldiers, small mounds were built, which now — after centuries of plowing and weathering-barely rise above ground level; but over the graves of tribal leaders or kings, giant earthen hills were built, sometimes with the use of stone structures.

Pectoral. The mound is a thick grave. Scythians

Pectoral. The mound is a thick grave. Gold. Lower Dnieper region.

So, one of the most famous royal burial mounds of Scythia — Chertomlyk-on the eve of excavations had a height of more than 19 m. and a base circumference of 330 m., and the height of another mound-Alexandropolsky-exceeded 21 m. Under the mound mound was located a grave. Most often, this is the so — called catacomb-a kind of cave of a simple or complicated configuration, dug under one of the side walls of a deep (up to several meters) entrance well. In the burials of the nobility, there could be several such chambers.

Funeral rite

In the space of the chamber, and sometimes the entrance pit, the main inventory accompanying the deceased was placed. In aristocratic burials, the bodies of the servants buried with the “lord” — a squire, a groom, a maidservant, as well as riding horses intended for the deceased-were often laid here or in special additional graves.

In the funeral ceremony of the Scythian leader, according to Herodotus, all his subjects participated, by whose forces the giant mound was erected. These same people were participants of the trizna-a memorial ritual, traces of which are often found during excavations. So, in the moat surrounding the mound Tolstaya Grave (rich, although not too large), the bones of such a large number of domestic and wild animals were found, which allows us to believe that about 2.5-3 thousand people took part in the funeral. The burial of an ordinary member of the society was performed by his closest relatives and friends.


The set of equipment in Scythian graves is quite traditional, although in aristocratic burial mounds it is, of course, immeasurably richer than in ordinary ones. In male burials, these are primarily weapons items. The validity of Herodotus ‘ remark that every Scythian is a mounted archer is confirmed by the presence of bronze arrowheads in the grave, and sometimes the remains of the bow itself. With the shape of the Scythian bow, ancient authors compared the outlines of the Black Sea, the straight line of the southern coast of which corresponds to the bowstring, and the northern coast-the shaft with a bend in the place where the arrow’s hand was located. How tight the Scythian bow was and what skill was required in handling it, is evidenced by the myth preserved by Herodotus about the three sons of the Scythian ancestor, who, in order to choose from them a worthy candidate for the royal throne, as a test offered them to pull the string on his bow; only the youngest of the sons could succeed in this test, according to Scythian tradition.

Common weapons among the Scythians were also spears and swords-akinaki, but the latter are more often found in aristocratic than in ordinary burials. In women’s graves, simple personal jewelry — earrings, rings, bracelets, as well as mirrors-is a common find.

The set of objects found in the burials of the nobility is much more diverse. The main categories of things here are the same, but their types are more diverse, and the decoration is richer. Akinaki scabbards and goritas-bow and arrow cases-are often decorated with gold plates, equipped with ritual and mythological images. Lavishly decorated with gold overlays and a ritual female headdress. Gold plaques with images were embroidered with the clothes of the buried and the veils that covered the walls of the burial chamber. Very common in aristocratic burials are ritual vessels of various shapes — spherical goblets, ritons, open bowls with two horizontal handles. Such vessels were made of precious metals or of wood with metal plates. All these objects, in addition to indicating the extraordinary wealth of the Scythian aristocracy, are important because the content of the images decorating them reflects the Scythian ideas about the power of leaders and kings as a God-given institution: its sacred character was confirmed by compositions on mythological subjects.

Influence of the Greek masters

Many products of this type are not the products of the Scythian masters themselves, but of the Greek masters. Since the Scythians themselves were essentially ignorant of fine art, it was up to the Hellenic world to create pictorial embodiments of their myths. The formation of specific Greek-Scythian art was a process in which both sides were equally interested: for the Scythians, it was a way to obtain monuments that embody their ideological concepts, and for the Greeks, it was to provide a market for their artistic and craft products.

In order to gain a stronger foothold in this market, the Hellenic craftsmen not only imported their mass-produced products to Scythia, but, adapting to the tastes and demands of the Scythian nobility, made monuments specially designed for sale in the Scythian environment. The various objects of this series, obtained during the excavations of rich Scythian mounds and decorating museum collections in Russia and other countries, belong to the stylistic appearance of the ancient art culture, embodying its highest achievements-dynamism, plasticity, authenticity and vitality in the transfer of the human and animal body. But the content of most of the images that adorn these objects is associated with the ideas inherent in the Scythian world, and therefore they serve as an invaluable source for recreating the ideological concepts inherent in the Scythians.

Felt tire. Scythians

Felt saddle tire from the First Pazyryk mound. Gorny Altai.

Thus, the electric cup from the Kul-Oba mound, excavated in the Crimea over 150 years ago, presents scenes of the already mentioned myth about the three sons of the Scythian first ancestor: the two older brothers are depicted at the moment when they heal injuries sustained during unsuccessful attempts to pull the bowstring on their father’s bow, and the third of the brothers-who succeeded in this test. The same plot is depicted on a silver vessel from a mound excavated in the vicinity of Voronezh, but its pictorial interpretation in this case is different: we see the expulsion of the two eldest sons from the country and the presentation of the father’s bow to the youngest as a symbol of power over Scythia.

Special attention should be paid to the gold openwork pectoral from the Tolstaya Grave mound. The Greek artist depicted on it a complex system of Scythian cosmological representations: the lower frieze of the three — tiered composition symbolizes the other world — the zone of domination of chaos and the forces of death, and the upper one-the world of people, opposing the chaos “cosmos”. In the middle frieze, a wonderful interweaving of plant ornaments symbolizes the “World Tree” that connects two such dissimilar worlds. In the central scene of the upper frieze, a ritual action is presented — the sewing of clothes from the sheep rune, to which many ancient peoples attributed the magical ability to ensure wealth and, in particular, the fertility of livestock.

There are also other ritual or mythological scenes in the Greco-Scythian art. Thus, on a large silver vase from the Chertomlyk mound, the shoulders are decorated with scenes of horse sacrifice in exact accordance with the description of this Scythian ritual, which was preserved by Herodotus.

Many ceremonial and ritual items from the Scythian mounds are provided with images on the subjects of Greek myths and legends. Here you can meet Hercules, Athena, Gorgon Medusa, episodes of the Trojan War. Sometimes these compositions are interpreted as evidence of the spread of Hellenic cults in the Scythian environment, but it is more likely that such images were reinterpreted by the Scythians, who interpreted them as illustrations to their own myths and the embodiment of their gods and heroes.

Scythian society and its decline

Religious beliefs of the Scythians

According to Herodotus, the seven main gods were particularly revered by the Scythians. The first place among them belonged to Tabiti-the goddess of fire, an element considered especially sacred among all the Indo-Iranian peoples of antiquity. Next to her in the Scythian religious and mythological hierarchy, a married couple was worshipped — the deities of heaven and earth Papaya and Api, who were considered the progenitors of people and the creators of the entire earthly world. The four gods of the third “category” represented, apparently, this earthly, corporeal world. Among them, the most famous is the god incarnated in the ancient iron sword. His Scythian name has not come down to us, but Herodotus describes in detail the ways of worshipping him. According to the historian, in each of the regions of the Scythian kingdom, a giant altar dedicated to this god was built from brushwood. To the akinak sword mounted on the top of the altar, domestic animals and every hundredth captive were sacrificed.

Horse harness decoration. Scythia

Decoration of horse harness from the First Pazyryk mound. Gorny Altai.

The common Scythian shrine was, apparently, a huge bronze cauldron located in the tract of Eksampey, between the rivers of the Dnieper and the Southern Bug: according to Herodotus, this cauldron was cast from bronze arrowheads, brought here-one from each warrior – at the behest of the Scythian king Ariant, who wanted to find out the number of his subjects in this way. The cauldron, of course, has not been preserved, but its shape can be judged by the numerous bronze cauldrons, often found in Scythian mounds. As for the size of the cauldron located in Exampea, the data of Herodotus on this account are undoubtedly exaggerated and have a purely legendary character.

Social hierarchy

In accordance with the ancient Indo-Iranian tradition, Scythian society was divided into three classes— warriors, priests and ordinary community members: farmers and cattle breeders. Each of the estates was descended from one of the sons of the first ancestor and had its own sacred attribute. For the warriors, they served as a battle axe, for the priests-a bowl, and for the commons-a plow with a yoke. The Scythian myth tells us that these golden objects fell from the sky at the beginning of the world and have since become an object of veneration among the Scythian kings.

To the mythical era of the first creation, tradition also refers to the formation of the political structure of the Scythian kingdom, which was headed by three kings. Such a political organization existed, as we know, in the era of the Scythian-Persian war. Its collapse dates back to the middle of the IV century BC, when King Atey became the sole ruler of Scythia. The age of Atea, to which almost all the most famous rich Scythian mounds belong, is the period of the last rise of the power of the Scythians. The internal reasons for the subsequent decline of Scythia are not yet fully clear to researchers.

Sarmatian invasion

We are better aware of the external factors that contributed to this. Thus, ancient sources have preserved information about the serious defeat inflicted on the Scythians in 339 BC by Philip of Macedon, when the Scythian lord Ateus himself, by that time already a 90-year-old elder, was killed in battle. But the main role in the collapse of Scythia was played by the invasion from the east, from the Ural steppes, of the Sarmatians-a people belonging to the same ethno-linguistic family as the Scythians. By the second century BC, the Sarmatians had already occupied the entire Dnieper left bank, and a little later they penetrated to the right bank of the Dnieper.

Describing the Sarmatian invasion of Scythia, Diodorus Siculus reports that they devastated a significant part of it and, ” completely exterminating the defeated, turned most of the country into a desert.” Of course, this catastrophe could not destroy the entire population of Scythia. The remains of the Scythian population were preserved, in particular, in numerous fortified settlements that arose at this time on both banks of the Dnieper. The culture of their inhabitants merged features inherited from the heyday of the Scythian Kingdom, and those that were brought by the new population of the Black Sea region-the Sarmatians. But it was already a new page in the history of the region, known in sufficient detail.

Eurasian Steppe Belt

Felt figures of swans from Pazyryksky kurgan

Felt figures of swans from the V Pazyryksky mound. Gorny Altai.

It is necessary to briefly touch on the culture of those parts of the Eurasian steppe belt that were located to the east of Scythia. Their material culture is the result of the excavation of hundreds and thousands of mounds. It was the excavations that made it possible to reveal the cultural affinity of the inhabitants of the Eurasian steppes and the Black Sea Scythians, although each of the peoples of this circle had specific, only inherent cultural features. The burial mounds of these tribes were explored in the lower reaches of the Syr Darya and in Central Kazakhstan, in the Tien Shan, Pamir and Altai, in the Minusinsk basin, and even in East Turkestan.

Perhaps the most noteworthy monuments of the so-called Pazyryk culture, discovered in the Altai Mountains. The climatic conditions characteristic of the zone of distribution of the Pazyryk monuments and the design features of the burial structures inherent in them led to the formation of local permafrost lenses in the underground space. This ensured the preservation of objects made of organic materials, which usually collapse in the ground without a trace, in the graves of Pazyryk and some other burial grounds in the region. Among them are the clothes of the buried, ornaments and utensils made of carved wood, felt and pile carpets, etc. Even the bodies of the people buried here themselves, decorated with intricate tattoos, were well preserved by the permafrost.

With each generation, even with each field season, knowledge about the life, life, and culture of long-vanished peoples is steadily replenished.

The culture of the Meots-the neighbors of the Scythians in the Azov Sea

The latest remarkable finds are associated with the study of the monuments of the Kuban. The inhabitants of this region in the first millennium BC were the Meotian tribes, which belong to the Ibero-Caucasian language family. The first mention of the Meotians by ancient authors dates back to the VI century BC. Judging by Herodotus, Strabo, and numerous epigraphic monuments of the Bosporan Kingdom, these tribes lived in the Eastern Azov region and the Kuban.

In 1982-83, in Zakuban, near the Adyghe village of Ulyap, the Caucasian archaeological expedition of the GMINV (State Museum of Oriental Art) under the leadership of A. M. Leskov explored a number of Meotian mounds and a dirt burial ground of the VI-IV centuries BC. Of particular interest are several Meotian sanctuaries of the IV century BC, built on existing mounds of the Bronze Age. In the sanctuary of the Ulyapsky kurgan No. 1, among the numerous bones of animals and humans, there were a large number of various finds (bronze cauldrons, antique amphorae and bronze vessels, tools, parts of horse headdress, weapons, various gold jewelry). Of greatest interest are two large gold plates in the form of figures of walking deer. The head, set squarely on a powerful neck, is crowned with branching horns, the body is surprisingly proportioned on long, slender legs, as if pointing forward. Such are the Ulyap deer — a remarkable example of the Scythian-Meotian animal style, which combines a realistic interpretation of the figures of these noble animals with conventionally transmitted horns in the form of a bizarre combination of stylized griffin heads.

Riton. Scythia. 5th century BC

Rhyton. Whoopee. V-IV centuries BC.

The most significant finds from the first Ulyap sanctuary are two sculptural finials. One of them is in the form of a boar lying on its legs with its snout stretched out. The sculpture is made of two massive stamped silver plates, fastened together on a wooden base of hazel with silver studs, each of which is soldered with a gold hat. The plates have relief-framed cutouts for the fangs, eyes, and ears. They are covered with gold inserts attached to a wooden base under silver plates. The lower edges of the plates, although bent at right angles to the plane with the image of a boar and have holes for attaching to the base, do not converge. This fact indicates that the boar sculpture served as a pommel, worn on a flat base that protruded below the base of the plates. Apparently, this base was attached to the pole.

The pommel is in the form of a deer's head. Scythians

The pommel is in the form of a deer’s head. Fragment. Ulyap. V century BC.

Plates with stylistically similar images of wild boar are known in Scythian art (the steppes of Ukraine and the Don region). However, the round boar sculpture, which was created using different materials and types of equipment (stamping, engraving, soldering), was found in Scythian-Meotian art for the first time. The boar-shaped finials were also not previously known. The second pommel in the form of a deer sculpture is only partially restored (the silver plate of the torso is still in restoration). It was possible to restore the head of the deer, planted on a slender long neck. By stingy, laconic means (the nostrils and mouth of the animal are marked with oblong indentations, the eyes are somewhat more complex), the master achieves rare expressiveness. The image is completed by massive branched silver horns. The sculptural head of the Ulyap deer, created without any schematism, conventionality and stylization, can be put on a par with the best examples of early Scythian-Meotian art.

A magnificent complex of finds was discovered at the ritual site located on the top of the Ulyapsky mound No. 4, around which there was a ground burial ground of the IV century BC. Here were found a human skull, three antique bronze vessels, a silver phial, a gold hryvnia and plaques, as well as two rhyton — gold and silver. The golden rhyton at the inflection point is encircled by a plate, the entire field of which is decorated with wire overlays in the form of the letter S with coiled ends. On the base of the rhyton is a tip in the form of a tube, decorated with four braided belts and ending with a sculptural image of the head of a panther. Its ears, which have a triangular, heart-shaped shape, help to determine the place of production of rhyton. This interpretation of the ear goes back to the antiquities of the Hitto-Hurrian circle and Nuristan. Later, this shape of the ear is found in the earliest images of the panther, made in the Scythian animal style (treasure from Zivie).

Riton. The Scythians. 5th century BC

Rhyton. Ulyap. V century BC.

Since the middle of the VI century BC in the monuments of the Scythian-ancient Toreutics, such an image of the ear is not found, which means that there is every reason to believe that this rhyton was brought from Iran or Asia Minor. The second silver rhyton on a slender glass-shaped leg has a straight, high body with a slightly curved edge. The crown of the vessel is encircled from the inside and outside by an overlay gilded plate, decorated on the outside with palmettes and stylized lotus flowers, made by embossing and engraving. Below the body of the vessel there are a number of gilded palmettes and a partially preserved figure of a Satyr. Gently curving, the rhyton ends with the protoma of the winged horse Pegasus, whose powerful neck is crowned by a head with a gilded mane. Raised ears, large eyes once inlaid with amber, slightly parted lips, through which you can see the teeth and gilded tongue, flared nostrils, prominent veins – this was the master of the divine horse. The rich gilding of the upper part, as well as the mighty gilded wings, mane, headband straps and leash, which stand out vividly against the silver background, give the rhyton a solemn appearance worthy of a royal table.

Of great interest is the frieze encircling the middle part of the body of the vessel. On a gilded plate in high relief, the artist with an extraordinary talent depicted six opposing pairs, introducing the world to another version of the reflection in the applied art of the ancient Greek myth of the struggle of the gods and giants (gigantomachy). Among the Olympian gods, it is easy to recognize Zeus, who strikes his opponent with “perunami”, Hermes, depicted twice with a caduceus in his left hand, Hephaestus with blacksmith’s pincers and a fire kritsa clenched in them. In the scene where the lion helps the god, most likely, you should also see Zeus, because it is he, the favorite of the mother of the gods Rhea, who is helped by the accompanying king of animals. If this assumption is correct, then it becomes clear why the artist twice uses an impression with the image of Hermes — then on the two extreme scenes on both sides of the frieze, the same gods — Zeus and Hermes-fight side by side. It is more difficult to determine which of the Olympian goddesses is depicted on the frieze. It is possible that this is the wife of Zeus Hera, attacking the giant with the temple key.

Judging by the iconography of the characters depicted on the frieze, the rhyton was created no later than the middle of the V century BC, in the era of the highest flowering of ancient art and culture. It was then that an unknown master of applied art created, who gave this masterpiece to the world. The Ulyapsky rhyton with the Pegasus protoma is rightfully one of the unique works of ancient art discovered by Russian archaeology.

Scythian pommel in the form of a boar

Scythian pommel in the form of a boar. Whoopee. IV century BC.

Scythian Heritage

None of the ancient peoples leaves the historical scene without a trace. Its cultural heritage passes on to its successors. The most tangible Scythian layer was deposited in the Nart epic, which is common among different peoples of the North Caucasus. Among these peoples, of course, we should first of all name the Ossetians — an Iranian-speaking people, related if not to the Scythians themselves, then to the tribes of the Scythian circle. Now the Nart epic is the property of the most diverse Caucasian peoples, and in each of its versions it is possible to identify elements dating back to the era of the Scythians — a people who lived on earth in the distant past, but left a noticeable and original mark in the history of world culture.

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