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According to the general modern view the steppes of the northern Black Sea region, from the Danube to the Ural valleys, in the period from the third century BC to the mid-third century AD, were inhabited by Sarmatian tribes using a burial mound rite. Several consecutive waves of Sarmatian peoples came to this territory from the East, conquering the local population. This view is based on the paradigmatic explanatory model, which has its roots in the history of the Russian Empire. However, the archaeological culture of the Volga–Don and Ural steppes, known as the ‘Sarmatian Motherland’, is apparently not related to the Sarmatians of the written sources. In addition, the culture of the northern Black Sea region features various kinds of archaeological monuments (settlements, votive depositions, kurgans, flat necropolises), which are characteristic of different cultural-economic types. This demonstrates the complexity and diversity of the culture in the region, which could be influenced by many factors: the presence of Greek settlers on the northern shore of the Black Sea, the expansion of the Roman Empire, the pressure of nomadic tribes from the East, the advance of the Celtic–Thracian peoples from the West, changing environmental conditions, etc.
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VALENTINA MORDVINTSEVA
THE SARMATIANS: THE CREATION OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL
EVIDENCE
Summary. According to the general modern view the steppes of the northern
Black Sea region, from the Danube to the Ural valleys, in the period from the
third century BC to the mid-third century AD, were inhabited by Sarmatian
tribes using a burial mound rite. Several consecutive waves of Sarmatian
peoples came to this territory from the East, conquering the local population.
This view is based on the paradigmatic explanatory model, which has its roots
in the history of the Russian Empire. However, the archaeological culture of the
Volga–Don and Ural steppes, known as the ‘Sarmatian Motherland’, is
apparently not related to the Sarmatians of the written sources. In addition, the
culture of the northern Black Sea region features various kinds of
archaeological monuments (settlements, votive depositions, kurgans, flat
necropolises), which are characteristic of different cultural-economic types.
This demonstrates the complexity and diversity of the culture in the region,
which could be influenced by many factors: the presence of Greek settlers on
the northern shore of the Black Sea, the expansion of the Roman Empire, the
pressure of nomadic tribes from the East, the advance of the CelticThracian
peoples from the West, changing environmental conditions, etc.
INTRODUCTION
Owing to its geographical situation the northern Black Sea region was always a contact
zone between the steppe peoples, with their mainly pastoral way of life, and the inhabitants of
the coastal area, who were engaged in agriculture, fishing, craft and trade. After the first Greek
colonies were founded there in the seventh and sixth centuries BC, the region came into direct
contact with the Mediterranean world, one consequence of which was its inclusion in the
common sphere of Greek and Roman literary traditions.
In the early texts the Sarmatians are referred to by various names, ‘Sarma
´tai’,
Sauroma
´tai’, ‘Surma
´tai’, around the Sea of Maiotis and near the Tanais river (Herod. IV, 21;
IV, 116; Ps.-Hipp., De aër. 25; Ps.-Scyl. 68, 70; Antig., Hist. Mirab. CLII, 97). These early
references are fragmentary and give little specific information (Stolba 1993, 56). The later texts
contain more detailed information, after the region became the scene of political activity
involving Rome and its prominent enemy, Mithridates VI Eupator (Olbrycht 2001, 426).
According to this new information the Sarmatians inhabited the northern Black Sea region along
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with other political and/or ethnic entities such as, for instance, the Scythians, Thracians, Getae,
Tiragetae and Bastarnae (Strabo, Geogr. II 5, 30; VII 3, 2; VII 3, 13; App., Mithr. 15; 57; 69).
The Sarmatians are described as warlike nomadic tribes, similar to the Scythians in their
way of life and language. By a certain date the northern Black Sea region was called European
Sarmatia (Ptolem., Geogr. III, 5), which could reflect important changes that had occurred here
during a previous period. When, what, and how change occurred are rather difficult to determine,
because the texts are fragmentary and could have been altered by creative medieval copyists.
However, it is generally accepted that this crucial event was indicated in the famous passage by
Diodorus in the first century BC, who wrote that later the Sauromatians ‘became powerful and
ravaged a large part of Scythia, and destroying utterly all whom they subdued they turned most
of the land into a desert’ (Diod. Sic., Hist. II, 43, 7). It is generally accepted that this might have
happened at the end of the fourth or in the first decades of the third century BC (Tokhtasyev
2005, 292).
The name Sarmatians is rarely found in the epigraphic sources. The Protogenes decree,
dated to the last two decades of the third century BC (Vinogradov 1989, 182), describes a threat
to Olbia from the Skiri and Galatae (IOSPE I232). In the vicinity of the city are mentioned the
Sai and Saudaratae. These tribal designations are associated by many scholars with the
Sarmatians (Harmatta 1970, 11–12; Smirnov 1984, 67; Simonenko and Lobay 1991, 76–9;
Shchukin 1994, 97; Polin and Simonenko 1997, 92–3; Vinogradov 1997, 106; Puzdrovskiy
2001, 87; Tokhtasyev 2005, 295).
In the second half of the second century BC the Greek city of Olbia minted coins with
the image and name of the Scythian King Skiluros being, thus, under his protectorship (Frolova
1964, 44). Anew inscription from Neapolis Scythica (modern Simferopol’), dated ‘not later than
154 BC’ (Sidorenko 2005, 69) or ‘not earlier than 130 BC’ (Vinogradov and Zaytsev 2003, 51),
refers to victories by the ‘Ruler of Scythia’ over Thracians and Maiotae. The Diophantus decree
lists the Scythians, Reuxinali and Tauri, describing events in the vicinity of Chersonesos Taurica
at about the same time (IOSPE I2352). Another contemporary Chersonesean decree mentions an
attack by the Scythians and, apparently, Sarmatians on the Greek city of Kalos Limen, in the
western Crimea (IOSPE I2353). The later epigraphic sources, dated to the early centuries AD,
outline the threat posed by the Sarmatians more clearly (IOSPE I2369; IOSPE I254; Vinogradov
1994, 167; Sidorenko 1996, 36; Vinogradov and Shestakov 2005; Saprykin 2005).
Thus, the information about the Sarmatians that is given in the literary sources is rather
sparse, being limited by the interests of ancient authors and their audience, who expressed the
‘outside view’ of these ‘barbarian’ peoples. In fact, their culture should be better represented by
the archaeological material, providing the ‘inside view’ and reflecting their self-identity.
However, the information provided by archaeological sources depends to a great extent on
scholars whose subjective views were developed in written forms through particular explanatory
models. Nowadays these scholarly theories themselves play a great role in the study of Sarmatian
culture. When starting new independent research on the subject it is necessary to take into
account the circumstances under which these main explanatory models originated.
THE SARMATIANS: BIRTH OF THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION
The first firm attributions of any archaeological material relating to the Sarmatians
appeared in the early twentieth century. By this time a certain tradition in the writing of the
history of the Scythian and Sarmatian peoples had already developed.
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In the first written history of the Russian Empire there was already a clear concept of the
pre-Slavic ‘Scythian–Sarmatian’ period (Tatishchev 1768). It connected pieces of information
taken from the ancient writers, medieval chronicles and later sources. The Scythians, Sarmatians
and Slavs were regarded together as a continuation of the most important peoples of eastern
Europe (Tatishchev 1768, 72). In the History of the Russian State by N. Karamzin (1818) the
steppes of southern Russia are represented as a scene in which peoples coming from the depths
of Asia constantly replace one another. S. Solovyov (1851) assigned the very originality of the
historical development of Russia to the steppe landscape: since the beginning of time crowds of
nomadic peoples had passed through the wide gateways between the Ural Mountains and the
Caspian Sea, and occupied spacious lands in the Lower Volga, Don and Dnieper areas; ancient
history saw them as being the dominant populations in these areas. In Solovyov’s opinion, the
historical destiny of the northern Black Sea region was to delay these innumerable hordes from
entering further westwards, into Europe.
This idea concerning the consecutive appearance of new nomadic peoples in the steppes
of southern Russia, regarded as a buffer zone between East and West, became a core of the
explanatory model applied to the archaeological material. Perhaps this paradigm crystallized a
historical experience of the population of eastern Europe, retaining memories of two great
invasions: those of the Huns and the Tartar–Mongols (compare Frachetti 2011, 199).
Accordingly, the archaeological remains should be regarded as sources for the illustration and
enrichment of the notion of a buffer zone.
By the 1830s interest in antiquities had increased rapidly in Russian society. The
reconstructed history of the past was based on the synthesis of Classical literary evidence,
material culture and language (Tunkina 2002, 233).As a rule, the archaeological monuments that
were discovered were ascribed to the known historical peoples reported to inhabit particular
regions. Of great surprise was the fact that the burial rite of the Scythians described by Herodotus
corresponds to that practised by the population of the North Pontic region. The analogous burial
rite was also discovered in the Kuban area, which he did not mention as being Scythian territory.
Such analogy made a great impact on contemporary scholars. Archaeological monuments
seemed to provide the possibility of substantiating the information given by the ancient authors.
The first classification of Scythian and Sarmatian antiquities of the North Pontic region
was made by D. Samokvasov. He divided the known archaeological material into two
chronological groups: the Scythian (from the fifth to the first century BC) and the Sarmatian
(from the first to the fifth century AD). He suggested that for the ‘true Sarmatian monuments’one
should search eastwards of the Don, between the Don, Volga and the Caspian Sea, and the
Northern Caucasus (Samokvasov 1892, xxi–xxiv; 1908, 149–50).
These ‘true Sarmatian monuments’ were soon discovered by M. Rostovtzeff, who
created the first explanatory model of the Sarmatian archaeological culture.
THE IDEA OF LONG-DISTANCE MIGRATION FROM THE EAST
At the time when Rostovtzeff turned his scientific interests to the northern Black Sea,
archaeological monuments belonging to the historical Sarmatians had not yet been identified. It
was especially difficult to identify their early complexes dated to the time of the suggested
Sarmatian conquest of Scythia, which had happened, it was generally assumed, at the end of the
fourth or in the third century BC (Rostovtzeff 1922, 121). At about this time, in accordance with
the information from Diodorus, the archaeological monuments of the Sarmatians should be
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situated somewhere eastwards of the Don. By the time of conquest, however, they should appear
in the North Pontic region, on Scythian territory. However, in ascribing any archaeological site
specifically to the Sarmatians one needed to identify features of their material culture, which was
regarded as a direct proxy for an ethnic entity. It is important to note therefore that Rostovtzeff
started his search for the ‘true Sarmatians’ with this historical concept already formed.
Rostovtzeff regarded the Sarmatian invasion as the appearance of a new Iranian people
advancing into the North Pontic steppe from the depths of Asia. As the first Sarmatians he
suggested the ‘Syrmatae mentioned by Eudoxos of Cnidos on the Don c.338 BC. The similarity
of the names ‘Syrmatae’ and Sauromatae led to its transformation into ‘Sarmatae’ and ‘to the
permanent confusion of two distinct people in our historical tradition’ (Rostovtzeff 1922, 114).
In contrast to his contemporaries, Rostovtzeff denied any relationship between
Sarmatians and Sauromatians. He defined the Sauromatians as a local Maiotean tribe with
matriarchal relics in their culture (Rostovtzeff 1922, 33). The Sarmatians were, on the contrary,
patriarchal. Under this name various Iranian peoples constantly invaded the steppes of southern
Russia from the East ‘as a series of separate groups moving westward in uninterrupted
succession’. There were two main waves of migration: the early (Saka) and the late (Ÿue-chi).
In origin both were closely connected with Iran, which is particularly apparent in their distinctive
art (polychromy, Animal Style), religion (fire-worship), patriarchal way of life, and the military
organization of their society (Rostovtzeff 1922, 121, 124).A remarkable feature of the Sarmatian
material culture was their weapons, which according to a rather late description by Ammianus
Marcellinus should consist of a long heavy spear, a long sword, a dagger and armour.
Rostovtzeff was looking for these specified features of the Sarmatian culture among
archaeological monuments located eastward from the Don, and dated from the fourth to the third
century BC. In identifying the Sarmatians, he found a perfect example in the Prokhorovka
kurgans excavated near Orenbourg, where Rostovtzeff was, by chance, visiting his parents (Zuev
1997, 71). In kurgan 1 there were found armour, weapons, Animal-Style objects and
Achaemenidian phialae, i.e. direct Iranian imports. This was regarded as proof that the grave
belonged to the Sarmatians – new Iranians who had advanced from the East (Rostovtzeff 1918).
Rostovtzeff also pointed out two groups of kurgans, closely connected with Prokhorovka: in the
Kuban area, and near Elisavetovskaya stanitsa on the Don (Rostovtzeff 1922, 125, 128–9). These
groups showed the directions of the Sarmatian movement from the Ural region (Orenbourg
group, ‘true Sarmatians’) to the Don (probably ‘Syrmatae’) and the Kuban.
After the conquest, by the second century BC, the Sarmatians appeared in southern
Russia, one tribe after another. Their advancement was marked by the total disappearance of
Scythian graves and the gradual spread of new burial forms – similar, but not identical, to those
of the Scythians (Rostovtzeff 1929, 43). ‘Great Scythia’ fell, and the Scythians escaped to the
Crimea and Dobrudzha (Rostovtzeff 1922, 98).
Along with this migration from the East, Rostovtzeff mentioned a movement of
Thracian, Celtic and probably German peoples from the West (Rostovtzeff 1922, 70). However,
this western movement was not given as much attention and interpretation. The fall of Scythia
was associated exclusively with the invasion of eastern peoples.
A material expression of the first eastern invasion was seen by Rostovtzeff in the
phalerae from horse harness, which he ascribed to a new Iranian culture (Saka) alien to that of
the Scythians (Rostovtzeff 1929, 41–2, 45). This new culture also brought polychromy in various
forms: a combination of silver with partial gilding (phalerae, tableware), and the decoration of
jewellery with coloured stones or glass inlays (brooches).
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The second invasion from the East (Ÿue-chi) was reflected in subsequent changes in the
material culture, namely in the appearance of the Sarmatian Animal Style. Rostovtzeff
considered the Maïkop and Bulgarian belts dated to the third or second century BC to be the
earliest items of the Sarmatian Animal Style (Rostovtzeff 1929, 95). He regarded similar articles
from the Siberian Collection and Sarmatian graves (Khokhlach Barrow, Kuban finds), dated
from the first century BC to the first century AD, as derivates of these ‘originals’ (Rostovtzeff
1929, 46–57). In fact, they have been proved to be fakes made at the beginning of the twentieth
century (Iessen 1961). Rostovtzeff argued that the Animal Style spread simultaneously in
southern Russia, Siberia and China from a common centre in Central Asia. The occurrence of
such objects in Sarmatian graves coincided with the appearance of the Alans on the historical
stage (Rostovtzeff 1922, 67–8, 93–4, 116).
Thus, the objective of Rostovtzeff’s research was to find the archaeological monuments
of the Sarmatians. At his disposal were written, epigraphic and archaeological sources. As the
political history and ethnographic description of the Sarmatians were poorly reflected in the
literary sources, the research was focused on the ethno-genetic and ethno-historical
reconstructions based on the material culture. Among the archaeological material much of the
attention was devoted to the elite complexes, because at that time most of the field archaeologists
were looking mainly for precious rarities to replenish the collections of the Imperial Hermitage
and other museums. The ethno-defining features, ascribed by Rostovtzeff to the Sarmatian
culture, were therefore confined to some categories of precious objects (phalerae, brooches) and
to decorative qualities (polychromy, Animal Style). To prove the eastern origin of the ethnic
categories and decorative qualities he widely applied the method of analogies – a search for
similarities in one or more attributes among diverse objects. In doing this he assigned attributes,
often randomly and only applying to some items (as in the case of Khokhlach jewellery), to the
total body of the material.
The principal idea of Rostovtzeff’s explanatory model (invasion waves from the East)
derived from the historical paradigm formed during the foundation of the Russian Empire and as
a result of the restricted number and character of the data. Having built up a system of
archaeological evidence for his historical concept, Rostovtzeff distinguished culturally
significant features of the Sarmatian ‘ethnic’ culture and thus identified the Sarmatian
monuments. In accordance with his concept:
1) The Prokhorovka kurgans in the Ural area were the earliest Sarmatian monuments.
2) Various Sarmatian peoples appeared in the North Pontic region as waves, each bringing new
kinds of artefacts.
3) All these innovations were of eastern origin.
In 1918 Rostovtzeff emigrated to the West, leaving his archives in revolutionary
Petrograd. Nearly all his subsequent works were published abroad. However, the explanatory
model remained largely unchanged.
THE CONCEPT OF SHORT-DISTANCE MIGRATION FROM THE EAST
The evolutionary model. Anew model of the Sarmatian culture was created in the Soviet
State in the 1920s–1940s. It was a time of crucial changes in the political and economic spheres.
Cultural and educational institutions underwent fundamental reforms. Marxism became an
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official methodology in the sciences and humanities. A great impact on the humanities was made
by the ‘new doctrine of language’ and the associated ‘theory of stages’ of N. Marr.1
The ‘theory of stages’ denied the role of migration and emphasized gradual changes
within a society at various stages of its development.Any migration concept was regarded as an
anti-scientific racial theory (see also Frachetti 2011, 197–8). The views of the ‘bourgeois
academic’ Rostovtzeff were condemned. His idea about the Sarmatian movement from the East
to the Lower Dnieper was denied as ‘an artificially created migration scheme’(Rabinovich 1936,
81).
The political climate also played an important role in forming a new concept of the
Sarmatian culture. Systematic archaeological excavations were not possible in the regions
involved in the Civil War (1918–23) and suffering from its consequences (Ukraine, Lower Don,
Kuban and the Northern Caucasus). Excavations in these territories were often rescue operations,
and were not intended to be highly scientific. On the contrary, in the Volga and Ural regions, the
local history movement was widespread in the first years of the Soviet government. Systematic
excavations were held in the 1920s by the State Historical Museum (Moscow), Saratov
University, and the Central Museum of Volga Germans (Pokrovsk). The survey and study of
archaeological complexes in the Volga–Ural area progressed rapidly. These materials were used
as a basis for the new concept of the Scythian–Sarmatian culture shaped by the end of the 1940s.
Burial structures of the Scythian period were studied by Boris Grakov.2He analysed all
the known burials at the time, and dated them from the sixth to the fourth century BC (Grakov
1928, 47–60). He concluded that these graves belong to the same period and culture as the graves
of Scythians from the North Pontic region and the Kuban (Grakov 1928, 50, 53). Grakov noted
the ‘purity’ of the local nomadic culture compared to that of the Dnieper, and suggested that it
belonged to Scythians, who did not advance further west (Blumenfeld Culture). In the fourth
century BC this culture was replaced by the Prokhorovka culture, with new burial customs and
types of grave goods (Grakov 1929, 170). These changes Grakov initially attributed, in
accordance with Rostovtzeff, to the Sarmatian migration from the East (Grakov 1928, 61).
The Volga–Ural kurgans of the Sarmatian period were summarized in the works of Pavel
Rykov and Paul Rau. Rykov regarded these complexes as belonging to the Alans and Aorsi
(Rykov 1925, 25). As closest parallels to their material culture he suggested graves of the ‘Gold
Cemetery’ excavated by N. Veselovskiy in the Kuban region. In contrast to Veselovskiy, who
regarded them as graves of Romans, Rykov attributed these burials to the Sarmatians (Rykov
1925, 24; 1936, 106).
A detailed description of the Sarmatian culture was given by Paul Rau.3He established
a detailed chronological classification of the excavated burials (Rau 1926, 64). Rau distinguished
two main chronological and cultural groups – the nameless, ethnically neutral ‘Ostwestgräber’,
and the Sarmatian ‘Meridionalgräber’ (Rau 1929, 54–5). He considered the difference in
1 ‘His method was new and to some extent bad. He had a very strong personality that, owing to the revolution, was
able to play a part suitable to his exceptional gifts, but I find it difficult fully to comprehend his linguistic and
sociological ideas . . .’ (Tallgren 1936, 149).
2 B. Grakov was born in 1899, excavated in the Volga and Ural regions and in Ukraine. From 1922 he worked as
a research fellow at the State Historical Museum (Moscow), from 1932 as a lecturer at the Institute of History,
Philosophy and Literature (Moscow), and by 1939 as a professor of Moscow University. In the 1940s he founded
and then directed the Department of Scythian–Sarmatian Archaeology at the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.
3 P. Rau was born in 1897. He was employed as Head of the Archaeological Department and, later, Director of the
Central Museum of the Volga Germans (Pokrovsk).
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orientation and forms of burial constructions as the main distinguishing feature. Between the two
chronological groups he saw, however, a type of inner kinship, which was primarily revealed in
the ‘survivals of the burial rite’.
Responding to the question as to which historical people the ‘Ostwestgräber’ culture
belonged, Rau took a position that was different from that of Rostovtzeff and Grakov. The
western area of its distribution he connected with the Sauromatians, the eastern neighbours of the
Scythians, while the question about the ethnic identity of the Samara–Ural population he left
open (Rau 1929, 60). He regarded the Sauromatians as predecessors and relatives of the
Sarmatians. Thus, Rostovtzeff’s view of the Sarmatians as the equestrian aristocracy that ruled
the local, non-Sarmatian population of the northern Caspian area gave way to the opinion that the
Sarmatians were native inhabitants of these lands. Accordingly, a concept was formed of the
Volga–Ural region as being ‘the Motherland’ of the Sarmatians, i.e. the territory, from which
their culture spread westwards and eastwards.
In 1937 the Saratov archaeological school of thought was completely discredited. Rau
had committed suicide in 1930 after a press campaign attacking him and calling his work ‘a
direct wrecking’ (Erina et al. 1996, 124). Rykov was arrested in 1937 on charges of involvement
in the overthrow of Soviet power and the restoration of capitalism, subsequently being sentenced
to ten years in a prison camp, where he died in 1942.
The ‘ethnic’ model. By the late 1930s the question of the ethnic identity of
archaeological cultures had become predominant. In order to ‘defeat views of the bourgeois
scientists’ the Soviet archaeologists were instructed to focus themselves on the ethnic
interpretation of archaeological material, in particular on the problem of the origin of the Slavs
and their genetic relationship with the ancient population of eastern Europe. The Scythian–
Sarmatian culture was regarded as ‘the source of studying the pre-Slavic period of history’
(Grakov 1950, 4).
At this time the concept of ‘short-distance migration’ by the Sarmatians from the
Volga–Ural region was finally shaped in an article by Boris Grakov (1947). In contrast to the
studies of the 1920s and 1930s, the ethnic character of cultural development was strongly
emphasized in this work. Its title, ‘The remains of matriarchy among the Sarmatians’, was to put
aside the idea of their ‘patriarchy’ advanced by Rostovtzeff as one of the fundamental differences
between Sauromatians and Sarmatians. Having summarized the works of Rykov, Rau and his
own, Grakov concluded that in the Volga and Ural regions from the sixth century BC to the fourth
century AD there spread a single archaeological culture. The western area of this culture in the
Scythian period corresponded to the historical Sauromatians, i.e. the Blumenfeld/Sauromatian
stage of the Sarmatian culture. The Prokhorovka/Sauromatian–Sarmatian stage (from the fourth
to the second century BC) was formed on the basis of the previous one, and spread westwards.
This stage was followed by the Susly/Sarmatian (from the late second century BC to the second
century AD) and Shipov/Alanian (from the second to the fourth century AD) stages. Thus,
Rostovtzeff’s thesis about a continuous migration of Sarmatian hordes over Caspian steppes to
the West remained valid. However, the starting point of these movements now became the
Volga–Ural region. In subsequent years Grakov developed his concept further. He discussed
the problem of a detailed chronology, origin and development of the Sarmatian culture in the
northern Caspian area and the Northern Caucasus, as well as the ‘problem of Roxolani, who
occupied an important place in the ethno-genesis of the Eastern Slavs’ (Grakov 1950, 5).
A reaction to the new formulation of the Scythian–Sarmatian concept followed
immediately. A certain influence on its further development was the condemnation of the
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scientific school of N. Marr in 1950. The ‘autochthonism’ of Marr was rejected together with the
criticism of the migrationism of ‘bourgeois scientists’. A solution was seen in the recognition of
small-scale, gradual movements of peoples.
New fundamental ideas on the Sarmatian issue were introduced by Konstantin Smirnov,
a student of Grakov.4His basic concept was as follows: the Sauromatian stage with two variants
(Volga–Don and Samaro-Ural) was formed on the basis of ethnic components of various Bronze
Age cultures (Smirnov 1954, 197; 1964, 174–97). In the fourth century BC, against the cultural
background of the Samaro-Ural area (proto-Aorsi), new alliances of tribes appeared as a result
of the resettlement of various peoples. This led to the rise of the Prokhorovka/Early Sarmatian
culture (Upper Aorsi after Strabo), which also spread into the Volga region (Aorsi) (Smirnov
1957, 18; 1964, 287–8). In the second century BC representatives of the Early Sarmatian culture
moved in various directions – westwards, to the Dnieper–Don steppes (Roxolani) and to the
Kuban (Siraces), and eastwards, to the northern boundaries of Graeco-Bactria (Smirnov 1954,
201; 1964, 288–90). Infiltrating the Taman Peninsula and the Crimea, Sarmatian tribes inhabited
Greek poleis of the northern Black Sea (Smirnov 1954, 195; 1964, 3). By the first century AD
the Alani tribe ‘grows ripe’ inside the Aorsean ‘confederation of tribes’. At that time a uniform
Sarmatian culture with local variations was established throughout the whole North Pontic
region (Smirnov 1950, 106, 110; 1954, 203). On the basis of the next, Late Sarmatian stage, was
formed a single ethnic entity – Alanorsi – in the second century AD (Smirnov 1950, 111).
In order to support this concept the written sources were interpreted rather freely.
Grakov had already formulated the idea that certain socio-economic conditions lead to the
unification of major groups of tribes and to the creation of their alliances (military-democratic
confederations) (Grakov 1950, 3). Smirnov introduced the term ‘Sauromatian alliance of tribes’
arguing that (1) the Sauromatians, according to Herodotus, inhabited a vast territory (15 days’
travel); (2) ‘the later authors mentioned single tribal names (Yazamatai, Syrmatai)’ among the
Sauromatian group (Smirnov 1957, 16). In this way the names, ascribed by ancient authors to
certain particular areas and peoples, might be interpreted as names of alliances and, thus, used
to define archaeological cultures located in a different, often very large territory. Besides the
invention of ‘tribal alliances’there were also introduced new ethnic names, like the ‘proto-Aorsi’
(Smirnov 1964, 287), to mark archaeological cultures, which have features of the ethnic groups
that subsequently emerged. Also widely applied was the ascribing of particular ethnic identities
to the archaeological cultures on the basis of randomly selected features (‘ethno-indicators’). The
reasons for the selection of these features, as a rule, are nowhere mentioned, the area of their
main distribution not being considered during the analysis.
The following were selected as ‘ethno-indicators’ of the Sauromatian culture: simple
burial pits with flat wooden covers, inhumation in the field, finds of weapons in female graves,
dismembered carcasses of sheep, certain special types of ceramics, long swords, arrowheads, etc.
(Smirnov 1964, 260–2, 268). Ethnic features of the Sarmatian culture included special types of
burial constructions (catacombs and niche-graves), the diagonal position of the deceased, certain
types of ceramics, swords, mirrors, jewellery, etc. (Smirnov 1954, 201; 1964, 197).
In contrast to the ‘elite ethnic indicators’ noted by Rostovtzeff, these features reflected
a ‘standard’ culture associated with the monuments examined. At the same time, they have
4 K. Smirnov was born in 1917; in 1935–40 he studied at the Institute of History, Philosophy and Linguistics
(Moscow). In 1944 he finished his post-graduate study at Moscow University. In 1946 he defended his candidate’s
dissertation.
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something in common: in both cases these selected ‘indicators’, while found on other territories
(such as the Don, Kuban, north-eastern Caucasus, etc.), should provide evidence of a physical
presence of the Sarmatian tribes from the Volga–Ural region. Such an approach was quite
characteristic of ethnographic and archaeological research in the Soviet Union until recently
(Frachetti 2011, 198–9).
However, even with the use of such methods it was difficult to support the idea of the
movement of the ‘Prokhorovka tribes’ into the northern Black Sea region in the period from the
third to the second century BC. However, this idea was an integral component of the concepts of
long-distance and short-distance Sarmatian migration from the East. The Sarmatians
(represented by the Roxolani tribe) must have arrived in the North Pontic region in the third
century BC (Smirnov 1948; Vyazmitina 1954, 242).
Meanwhile, there were very few burials dated to the third or second century BC known
westwards of the Don, and even this small number demonstrated clear differences from the
contemporary cultures of the Volga–Ural region. Smirnov assumed that the reason was probably
owing to the insufficient depth of study of the Dnieper area, which ‘does not allow tracing this
first movement of the Sauromatians’ (Smirnov 1957, 18; 1984, 56, 69, 114). But the lack of
archaeological evidence did not affect the general explanatory model.
Thus, M. Abramova regarded a group of chance finds, known in the academic literature
as hoards, as confirmation of the ‘given evidence of the mass movement of the Sarmatian tribes’.
Following Smirnov she interpreted these chance finds as rich burials (Abramova 1961, 93–5).
The same idea, inspired by the works of Rostovtzeff, was introduced in the posthumously
published book by Smirnov, Sarmatians and Affirmation of their Political Domination in Scythia
(1984). To illustrate the movement westwards in a convincing way, the author dated the
easternmost complexes to an earlier time, and the westernmost to a later time, without sufficient
grounds.
While studying the materials Smirnov encountered some categories of objects which
were surprisingly quite uncharacteristic of the Prokhorovka culture: Celtic helmets, Middle La
Tène brooches and phalerae. These items were so alien to the ‘homeland’ of the Sarmatians that
they were quite reasonably not included in the ‘Survey of monuments of the Sarmatian culture’
(Moshkova 1963). Smirnov did not attempt to explain the presence of these very ‘non-
Prokhorovka’ burial goods in the complexes, confining himself to mentioning opinions about
their probable production centres: ‘in the Pontic, or even in distant Central Asian workshops’
(Smirnov 1984, 74, 112). The conclusion of the book coincides with the position that the author
expressed in his earlier works. The powerful tribal alliances, formed in the south Ural and Volga
regions, ‘so strengthened and consolidated in the fourth and third centuries BC that they were
capable of a large-scale conquest and resettlement in the North Caucasus and in the politically
weakened Scythia’(Smirnov 1984, 115). Smirnov explained the difference in the Lower Dnieper
culture as ‘probably the Prokhorovka-Sarmatians slightly altered their culture wandering to other
areas, as we normally observe by nomads increasingly losing touch with their former homeland’
(Smirnov 1984, 77).
A contradictory view of the concept of ‘short-distance migration’ was manifested also in
the attempt to trace the evolution of the next ‘ethnic indicator’ of the Sarmatian culture, the
Animal Style. Smirnov stressed the stylistic continuity between the Sauromatian Animal Style
objects and the Sarmatian ones (Smirnov 1976). But he acknowledged that ‘in the Prokhorovka
culture the zoomorphism is much more weakly represented, and it comes to a temporary decline’
(Smirnov 1976, 80).
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Meanwhile, new circumstances and new evidence, including archaeological discoveries
in the East, led to the revival of the ‘long-distance migration model’ on a new level.
THE LONG-DISTANCE MIGRATION MODEL RECONSIDERED
The political ‘thaw’ of the 1960s allowed a return to the works of those scholars whose
opinions had been condemned as ‘bourgeois’. In academic circles, especially inside the Leningrad
school of scholars, increased attention was given to Rostovtzeff’s heritage. His detailed analysis
of written sources looked much more attractive and convincing than the manipulations with
ancient texts in the works of the Sarmatologists of the 1940s–1960s. Dmitriy Machinskiy noted
that the ‘views of chronological and territorial borders, and relationships of the most significant
and stable unions of nomads are still widespread in the archaeological literature, but they have
never been reflected in written sources’(1971, 30). In fact, he revived Rostovtzeff’s opinion about
the difference between the Sauromatians and Sarmatians, and his idea of the ‘long-distance
migration’ waves from the East. Machinskiy suggested that the nomadic economy caused the
occurrence of such migrations every 200–300 years (Machinskiy 1971, 50).
The discovery of the Tillya-tepe royal tombs in 1979 in northern Afghanistan by V.
Sarianidi has played a catalytic role in the revival of Rostovtzeff’s ideas concerning the
archaeological sources. Thousands of pieces of golden jewellery with turquoise inlays were
brought to the Hermitage Museum for restoration, and became a sensation in academic circles.
There were impressive similarities with the objects from the Khokhlach Barrow and the Siberian
Collection of Peter the Great. Again, the question concerning the origin of the SarmatianAnimal
Style arose.
One of the weakest parts of Smirnov’s concept was a statement relating to the evolution
of the Animal Style from the Sauromatian to the Sarmatian. Thus, in a paper by L. Malovitskaya,
written under the influence of Smirnov’s ideas, the development of Sarmatian art appeared as a
single process broken up into separate periods: the genesis of the Sarmatian Animal Style, its
distribution, and its fall. These periods coincided respectively with the Sauromatian, Early,
Middle and Late Sarmatian stages or cultures (Malovitskaya 1971; Smirnov 1976).
The artificial character of the scheme was clearly shown by I. Zasetskaya (1980; 1989).
In her view, there was a chronological gap between the Sauromatian and Sarmatian Animal Style:
the Early Sarmatian culture offers no examples of such art objects. Both styles are very different
in their choice of subjects and motifs, as is their realization. The centre of attention was still a
region of the Lower Don and the Volga. Zasetskaya and B. Raev attributed this new art to an Iranian
tribe, the Alani, which had appeared in eastern Europe (Raev 1984, 133–5; Zasetskaya 1989, 44,
46). According to Raev’s view (1986), practically all rich barbarian burials of the North Pontic
region, Lower Don and Volga should be dated to the third quarter of the first century AD. To this
period belongs the first reference to the Alani in the literary sources. This idea became so popular
in academic circles that soon all elite burial complexes, from the Dniester in theWest, to the Volga
in the East, were associated by many scholars exclusively with this remarkable ethnic entity and
dated to the second half of the first century AD, regardless of the chronological context.5
Large-scale excavations in the Volga–Don area produced much new material, which led
to a revision of old schemes and concepts. In the graves dated to the second and first centuries
5 See, for example, the discussion on the date of the Nogaychin Barrow (Simonenko 1993; Mordvintseva and
Zaytsev 2003; Zaytsev and Mordvintseva 2007).
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BC there were found various objects originating from Siberia and Mongolia: bronze belt plaques
with images of camels, pendants in the shape of miniature vessels and bells, etc. (Skripkin 1990;
1997, 54). They clearly pointed to the more distant connections of the Volga–Don population
than with the neighbouring Ural region.
Much material had accumulated by the end of the 1990s, and new trends in its
interpretation were noted by Anatoly Skripkin, who formulated a new version of the concept of
‘long-distance migration’ as follows. Every Sarmatian culture or stage of the Grakov–Smirnov
periodization he correlated with the appearance of a new nomadic wave from the East,
emphasizing the cyclical character of these migration movements. The Early Sarmatian culture
he attributed to the Aorsi, the Middle Sarmatian to the Alani, and the Late Sarmatian to some
nameless tribes of Iranian origin (Skripkin 1990, 206–9; 1997, 15, 24–32, 37–44). With each new
wave Skripkin correlated certain works of art; he believed that their appearance was caused by
ethnic changes (Skripkin 1997, 32, 51, 55–6). All rich burials from the Dniester to the Volga have
been interpreted as Alanian (Skripkin 1990, 209; 1997, 12). The chronology of Sarmatian
cultures has also been corrected in accordance with ideas concerning the time of appearance of
certain peoples on the historical scene. These chronological rearrangements caused a number of
categories of material to be redated, including imported fusiform unguentaria (Sergatskov 2004),
which in themselves are an excellent chronological indicator.
By the time of the formulation of this concept some of its ideas were already
inconsistent. It was wrong to relate all rich burials to a certain ethnic group, especially without
a comparative analysis of the burial rite and of the burial goods. It is well known that ostentatious
burials of a particular chronological period have features in common (Kossack 1998). However,
the most important disadvantage of the newly revived concept of ‘long-distance migration from
the East’ was that the monuments of the North Pontic region, dated to the time of this migration,
were radically different from the complexes of the Don and Volga region and any other eastern
territory, which were supposed to serve as their prototypes. At the same time, it was a fact that
in the third century BC something disastrous had happened in the northern Black Sea region. The
map of the fourth century BC shows clusters of kurgan mounds in the bend of the Lower Dnieper
and in the northern Crimea, and relatively small numbers of burials in the Lower Don and Volga
regions (Fig. 1). By the third century BC the number of sites in the Dnieper region is
considerably reduced, and their types change (Fig. 2). Large kurgan cemeteries and flat
necropolises did not exist at this time. Burial constructions are represented mainly by single
burials in kurgans (c.70 burials) and by so-called votive depositions (c.30 complexes) (Smirnov
1984; Simonenko 1993). A distinct change in material culture is observed at the same time as
most of the barbarian settlements ceased to exist.
The proponents of the concepts of short- or long-distance migration from the East
explain the absence of monuments of eastern appearance in the area between the Dniester and the
Don either by a total migration from the East, analogous to that of the Huns, which indeed left
few traces, or by the poor state of field research (which is not true), or by an environmental
disaster. This latter explanation deserves to be regarded as a separate conceptual model.
THE CONCEPT OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL CATASTROPHE
The total disappearance of Scythian barrows by the beginning of the third century BC,
followed by an almost complete absence of archaeological monuments, led to the emergence of
an entirely new solution to the problem of the Sarmatian conquest of Scythia. According to this
VALENTINA MORDVINTSEVA
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Figure 1
Distributionmap of the archaeological sites dated to the fourth century BC. 1 Burial mounds (kurgans).
2 Settlements and flat necropolises. 3 Greek cities. 4 Votive depositions.
Figure 2
Distributionmap of the archaeological sites dated from the third to the first century BC. 1 Burial mounds (kurgans).
2 Settlements and flat necropolises. 3 Greek cities. 4 Votive depositions.
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concept the changes in the archaeological culture of the North Pontic region occurred as a result
of an environmental catastrophe and various economic factors.
Sergey Polin has analysed the archaeological complexes of the Lower Dnieper region
traditionally dated to the period between the fourth and the third centuries, and to the third
century BC. He argued that most of them are either earlier or later than this time (Polin 1992, 66,
145–6). In doing so, he excluded the third century BC from the chronological scale. Polin noted
that the same situation is also observed in other ‘Sarmatian’ areas – the Kuban, Don and
Volga–Don, as well as in the more distant territories – central Kazakhstan, southern Balkhash
and Tuva (Polin 1992, 66–72, 104). Polin suggested that recurrent droughts had caused a disaster
in the nomadic economy, which affected all the archaeological cultures of the Eurasian steppe,
and that there are therefore no sites anywhere dating to the third century BC. Along with
Abramova (1961, 100), Polin denies the occurrence of the Sarmatians in the northern Black Sea
region earlier than the mid-second century BC. The end of Scythia in the early third century BC
he explains by the fact that the steppe was deserted as a result of severe droughts (Polin 1992, 80,
104, 117).
This point of view caused a stormy discussion in academic circles and has produced,
inter alia, a new dating of the Early Sarmatian culture of the Volga–Don and Ural regions, the
‘advanced’ stage of which now started by the mid-second century BC. The concept has been
criticized by both archaeologists and historians (Bruyako 1999; Vinogradov 1997, 106–7). On
the one hand, the chronological analysis carried out by Polin seems not to have been very
thorough; some complexes should certainly belong to the ‘empty’ third century BC (see, for
instance, Klepikov 2002). On the other hand, the archaeological monuments of the Lower
Dnieper dated from the mid-second to the first century BC also constitute a very small number
and look quite different from those from the Don, Volga, Kuban and Ural regions. Thus, at the
time when the Sarmatians, according to the written sources, should already have reached the
Danube, the steppes between the Danube and the Don reveal no monuments comparable with
those from the territory of the ‘Sarmatian Motherland’. The explanatory model of Sarmatian
invasion from the East does not work. However, there is another, less popular, explanatory
model, which should be considered.
THE CONCEPT OF MIGRATION FROM THE WEST
Although the concept of the great Sarmatian invasion from the East, which destroyed
Great Scythia in the third century BC, is still dominant, there is an argument that the invasion
happened in the opposite direction: the Celtic movement from the West. This point of view is
based on literary tradition, epigraphy and archaeology.
The main source of information is the Protogenes decree which mentions the Galatae
and Skiri, who threatened Olbia. The decree is dated to the early third, or to the division between
the third and the second, or even to the early second century BC (Vinogradov 1997). Thus, this
event correlates well with the great historical expansion of the Celts, who in 279 BC invaded
Macedonia, Thrace, Greece and Asia Minor. A Celtic–Thracian kingdom existed in Thrace in
279–213 BC. The following Celtic movement eastwards resulted apparently in the destruction of
Olbia and its chora, and consequently in the economic crisis of the poleis (Ruban 1985, 43–4).
Strabo’s reference to the Getae, Tiragetae and Bastarnae between the Danube and the Don could
be considered as indirect evidence of these events.
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This historical background is well illustrated by the archaeological evidence.Apart from
the differences in types and number of archaeological monuments between the northern Black
Sea region and the eastern neighbouring territories, there are certain types of objects that show
similarities with the La Tène cultures of the West. These are Montefortino helmets, silver
phalerae from horse harnesses, belt fittings, brooches of the La Tène C scheme, bronze and silver
vessels, etc. (Mordvinceva 2001; Mordvintseva 2008; Zaytsev 2008).
However, there is still not enough evidence to favour this explanatory model over others,
especially given the deep roots of the paradigm concerning nomadic invasion from the East.
Furthermore, when the archaeological evidence is used in an illustrative way, it will always create
problems of interpretation because the written sources on the topic are ambiguous and will allow
various possible explanations. The study of the social, economic and political developments in the
steppe region has rarely been taken into account in anthropological comparative models for
understanding social evolution and change within world prehistory (Hanks 2010, 479).
THE COMPLEXITY OF INTERACTION IN THE NORTHERN BLACK SEA REGION
The analysis undertaken enables us to draw the following conclusions. The
archaeological culture of the Volga–Don and Ural steppes, called Sarmatian, is apparently
unrelated to the Sarmatians of the written sources. The features of a similar culture, undoubtedly
of a nomadic nature (an absence of settlements, a burial mound rite, and a sheep leg and weapons
as part of the standard burial offerings), appeared by the first century BC in some areas of the
Lower Dnieper territory. In addition, the culture of the northern Black Sea region includes
various kinds of archaeological monuments (settlements, votive depositions, kurgans, flat
necropolises), which are characteristic of different cultural-economic types. This demonstrates
the complexity and diversity of the culture in the North Pontic region, which could be affected
by many factors: the presence of Greek settlers on the northern shore of the Black Sea, the
expansion of the Roman Empire, the pressure of nomadic tribes from the East, the advancement
of the Celtic–Thracian peoples from the West, changing environmental conditions, etc. To reveal
the nature of cultural exchange and interaction between the various barbarian groups inhabiting
the periphery of the ancient world, one should disengage from the narrative tradition and a priori
explanatory models and refer exclusively to the analysis of archaeological data, the number and
representative variety of which have now shifted qualitatively to a new level.
Crimean Branch
Institute of Archaeology
Yaltinskaya 2
Simferopol 95007
UKRAINE
E-mail: v_mordvintseva@mail.ru
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Chapter
In the ancient and late antique world, various peoples engaged in competitive ethnic apologetics. In so doing, they drew on central tropes of the civilized/barbarian dichotomy, first formulated by the Greeks, which valorized law as the definitive mark of a civilized people and bulwark against barbarian savagery. Invoking familiar tropes of the “barbarian repertoire” (described by Kostas Vlassopoulos), ancient and late antique writers adopted a double strategy of apologetics and redirection, defending themselves against the charge of barbarism and redirecting it on to their accusers. Palestinian rabbis participated in this competitive ethnic apologetics in two ways. First, they defended themselves from the charge of barbarism by neutralizing violent elements of biblical death penalty law. Specifically, they “barbarized” the stubborn and rebellious son of Deuteronomy 21, and they imported substantive and conceptual elements from Roman law in order to conform biblical executions to the Roman standard of a dignified and aesthetically pleasing death. Second, they redirected the charge of barbarism onto Rome through ironic narratives focused on the savagery of Roman emperors.
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I will discuss the history of the “Lost Tribes of Israel” and follow their ancient migrations into every corner of the Earth. The wandering of the Israelite tribe of Dan from ancient Greece to Central Asia and their subsequent migration to Europe will be discussed, based on the Old and New Testaments, Icelandic Sagas, scientific, linguistic, archeological and DNA data, Jewish Torah and secular writings. Many other historical sources will be brought to light. You will learn many new things contrary to your current understanding of the ancestral and cultural identity of many different nations of the World. You will also discover that modern historians and academia have either intentionally or mistakenly omitted certain historical information from the contemporary academic education curriculum. This has resulted in a completely different perspective of ancient history. This has resulted in the belief that the ancient Israelites are either “Lost” in history and/or the assertion that the modern Israeli’s are the last remnant of the descendants of the Israelite descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – both of which are not true. The ancestors of the Tribe of Dan in the Old Testament include the Danes and all modern European nations. • The Word of Bible is historically accurate, although subject to the prejudices and distortions of numerous translations by different cultures and linguistic imperfections. The Israelites were scattered throughout all corners of the Earth into every nation and kingdom, just as the Most High God AHAYAH (I AM that I AM, Exodus 3:13-15) said that they would be. We will discover part of the history of the ancient Israelites and their associations with the Scythians and Aryans of secular history. The Israelites became known as the Scythians and in Persia as the Parthians, after their assimilation with these peoples. They also became rulers of many of the foreign lands they migrated or were once enslaved in and founded many ancient empires because of their warrior prowess. The ancient origins of European nations and Scandinavians began with this massive migration of populations, well before the Diaspora in 722 B.C.
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Cambridge Core - Prehistory - Globalization in Prehistory - edited by Nicole Boivin
Chapter
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International interest in the prehistory and archaeology of the Eurasian steppes and Mongolia has increased dramatically since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. This article surveys important new evidence and interpretations that have emerged from several collaborative projects in the past two decades. A particular emphasis is placed on issues that are crucial to regional studies in the steppe ecological zone; however, it also is suggested that steppe prehistory must come to play a more significant role in developing more comprehensive understandings of world prehistory. Key developments connected with the steppe include the diffusion of anatomically modern humans, horse domestication, spoke-wheeled chariot and cavalry warfare, early metal production and trade, Indo-European languages, and the rise of nomadic states and empires. In addition to these important issues, thoughts are offered on some of the current challenges that face archaeological scholarship in this region of the world.
Monety skifskogo tsarya Skilura
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