Scholarly Traditions in the Studies of the ‘Late Scythian Culture of the Crimea’ and ‘Crimean Scythia’
The expressions ‘Late Scythian culture’ and ‘Crimean Scythia’ are modern concepts. The first term appeared soon after 1946, and it was intended to designate the material culture of the Scythians, supposedly superseded by the Sarmatians in the 3rd century BC and later replaced by the Slavs, thus making a direct historical bridge from Scythians to Russians. The Late Scythian culture consisted of two enclaves, the Crimean-Dnieper and the Thracian one. The Crimean-Dnieper enclave was represented by two slightly different variants located in the Crimea and in the Lower Dnieper region. The term ‘Crimean Scythia’ was invented in late 1980s – early 1990s, and reflects the idea of the formation of a new separate Scythian statehood in the Crimea. According to the predominant point of view, the
Late Scythian culture of the Crimea was constantly transforming in the course of the ‘Sarmaticization’ process. This position seems to be unsustainable. In fact, some migrations to the Crimea from the North Pontic steppe or the Caucasus could have likely occurred. However, the newcomers (‘Sarmatians’?) certainly had a much lesser effect on the functioning of the social networks and the economic and cultural appearance of the ‘Crimean Scythia’ than the proximity of the ancient centres and geopolitical aspirations of the world hegemonic powers.
This volume collects 26 papers authored by lading experts from nine European culntries. It presents a wide range of the latest advances in the study of the ancient Black Sea in Greek and Roman times, with a focus on scholarly traditions, archaeology and religion. All the contributions address current debates about texts, epigraphy, numismatics, and iconography, as well as archaeological discoveries. They provide oppotunities to share perspectives, new methods and grameworks for future research. At the same teime, this book is in line with the efforts in recen years to bridge the large gap between the scholarly traditions of West and East in order to absorb, interpret and integrate the constant flow of new information about the Black Sea region into mainstream western classical scholarship.
The collective monograph “Crimean Scythia in a system of cultural connections between East and West (III c. BC – VII c. AD)” consists of articles devoted to the actual problems of ancient history of the Crimea. It is intended for archaeologists, historians, museum staff, teachers and students of archaeology and history.
There are published results of study of the grave 1 excavated in the necropolis of Luchistoe-2, which is yet the only known archaeological site of the Southern Crimea with burial structures of the Early Roman period. As a result there is proposed a general idea about the size and chronological position of the necropolis, as well as about the funeral ceremony, ethnographic costume, and cultural connections of the society using the burial ground. There was established that the published grave contained a burial of a woman of a high social status (probably, a priestess), which was committed at the late 1st or early 2nd century AD. The analysis of the archaeological material in comparison with the information about location of the necropolis and the data of contemporary epigraphic documents and ancient narrative tradition, leads to the conclusion that the burial ground was located in ‘Taurica’ – the territory between the Greek polis of Chersonesos and the Bosporan kingdom. It was used by the population, which was named in written sources as Scytho-Taurians (Plin. NH. IV, 85–86; Arr. PPE. 30). Evidently, these peoples were bearers of the so-called Late Scythian archaeological culture, and were incorporated in the sphere of cultural influence of the Bosporan state. This information can be used in further reconstructions of the ethno-political situation in the Crimea in Roman times.
In 2015 during excavations in the Ust’-Al’ma necropolis there was discovered a niche-grave No. 1074 with a burial of male 25-35 years old having many intravital injuries which should be traces of battle strokes. The burial complex is dated to the mid-1st century AD. It belongs to a group of burials of barbarian elite accompanied by gold funeral wreaths and face-coverings (eye- and mouth-pieces). Most of these graves are earthen catacombs located along the road leading towards the ancient fortified settlement of Ust’Al’ma on the western coast of the Crimean peninsula. Male burial complexes of this group usually consist of weapons (sword, bow, arrows). As a rule, the burial goods are plentiful and rich. The utilitarian elements of burial dress are often made of precious metals, and are represented by arm-rings, brooches, pendants, amulets, elements of belt-equipment, sewn plaques. Among other burial goods there are amphorae, wooden utensils with carved figures of animals, and Roman imported bronze and silver ware etc. Taking in consideration the use of the burial structures of a special type, placement of the graves in a special area along the road leading to the settlement, as well as the extraordinary splendor of the funeral equipment, it can be concluded that here there was buried representatives of the social elite of a highest rank. The use of a not usual type of the burial structure (a nich-grave) and the relative scarcity of funeral inventory presenting, however, signs of a high social status (funeral wreath, face-coverings, a sword) indicate the special status of the buried in the grave No. 1074 person.
The article concerns cultural and historical processes in the "barbarian" world of the Crimea studied on the material of burial assemblages of elites.
On the basis of archaeological sources, it is expedient to study cultural transformations conditioned by events of a socio-political nature. Networking in the political sphere is closely connected with the exchange of symbols of power and status. In material culture, such symbols might be represented among the so-called ‘prestige objects’. Changes in the assortment of such items observed over a long time-span can help us visualize the development of domestic and external relationships among social elites. Proceeding from such preconditions, the present paper will look at funeral complexes of the Crimean ‘Barbarian’ elites located on the territory between Chersonesus Taurica and the Bosporan kingdom dating from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD. In the late 4th century BC, a fortress of central importance was erected at Ak-Kaya. Here and in other strategical places, there are traces of fires and subsequent restoration or enhancements of the defensive systems dating to the 270s BC. Shortly afterwards, the burial complexes of the ‘Barbarian’ population display prestige La-Tène-style objects belonging to the military elite. These elites controlled probably the territory of the Crimean ‘Barbaricum’, as well as the steppes adjoining the Crimea from the north, including settlements from the nearby territory of Olbia. By the mid-2nd century BC, the consolidation and centralization of the elites seems to have taken place. The capital fortress was moved westwards (Neapolis Scythica) and developed into a capital of a state of early-Hellenistic appearance. The process of consolidation was interrupted in the late 2nd century BC through the annexation of the Crimea by Mithradates VI Eupator. For a short time, the region got under his direct influence, which allowed for further elite contacts. Since their victory upon Mithradates, the Romans recognized the strategical importance of the region, not least during their conflicts with Parthia. The elite burials reflect interactions with new contact zones. On the one hand, they contain Roman bronze and silver tableware, and funeral wreaths – customary for Greco-Roman burial rites. On the other hand, there are Chinese Lacquer Boxes and the silk clothing. The subordination of the ‘Barbarian’ elites to the centers of the Greco-Roman civilization continued throughout the second and third centuries AD until the demise of Roman imperial policy in the region.
The terms “Crimean Scythia” and “Late Scythian Culture of the Crimea” are modern concepts reflecting an interpretation model formed by the study of written and epigraphic sources. The term “Late-Scythian Culture” appeared rather late in comparison with other culture-terms known in the Northern Black Sea Region, after 1946, in the frame of the work of the Tauro-Scythian expedition headed by Pavel Schulz. It is formed according to the ethno-chronological principle for the designation of the material culture of the “Scythians” supposedly superseded by the “Sarmatians” from most of the territory occupied by the “Great Scythia” of the 6th till the 4th BCE, and formed two enclaves – the Crimean-Dnieper and the Thracian, both known from Strabo as the “Scythia Minor” (Strabo, Geogr. VII.4.5).
The term “Crimean Scythia” for the designation of the Crimean part of the Strabo’s Scythia Minor appeared in the late 1980s – early 1990s under conditions of the collapse of the USSR. The continuity between the Scythian kingdom in the Crimea and the Great Scythia was questioned. It seemed that its formation took place in the conditions of the appearance of new ethnic groups in the Crimea, first of all the Sarmatians of Prokhorovka culture. In this sense, the term “Crimean Scythia” reflects the idea of the appearance in the Crimea of a separate new Scythian state and, in fact, represents an expression in historical terms of the concept of the Late Scythian culture of the Crimea.
At the present stage, the phenomenon of the Late Scythian archaeological culture of the Crimea seems to be a reflection of the economic and cultural development of the Barbarian population of the Crimean peninsula in the context of its involvement in the world-system with two geopolitical centers – Rome and Parthian Iran. Their weakening or destruction in the 3rd century AD led to the rupture and reformatting of most of the networking systems – ideological, military, trade and economic. Under these conditions, the idea of transforming the Late-Scythian culture under the influence of “Sarmaticization” seems meaningless. The migrations from the steppe or the Caucasus being very likely, which are confirmed by the data of physical anthropology, had a much lesser effect on the functioning of social networks and the economic and cultural appearance of the Crimean Scythia than the proximity of the ancient cities and geopolitical aspirations of the main hegemonic powers.
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 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. Besides, 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 affected by many factors: the residence 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 of environmental conditions, etc.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 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. Besides, 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 affected by many factors: the residence 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 of environmental conditions, etc.