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Regular version of the site

Book chapter

‚Iraner‘ und ‚Sarmaten‘ in der Weltsicht Michael Rostovtzeffs.

P. 25-44.

Michael Rostovtzeff designed a model of cultural history of the North Pontic region that span from the
Archaic period to the early Middle Ages, covered much of the Eurasian territory and tried to integrate the literary, epigraphic, numismatic and archaeological sources available in the early-20th century. In essence, he reduces the cultural development of the 1st millennium BC with an antagonism between a dominant Greek and a recessive Iranian culture, the latter represented by the ‘Scythians’, who were receptive of Hellenizing influences. In contrast, the period
of Roman political domination is defined by a ‘Sarmatization’ in ethnic and cultural terms, which Rostovtzeff also calls ‘new Iranization’ and ‘Barbarization’ nearly without distinction. He extends this second phase into Late Antiquity, when ‘waves’ of Iranian migrations are seen as thoroughly impacting Western European civilization. This synthesis commanded so much respect that it continues influencing cultural history in Russian scholarship (and beyond), especially in Classical and Scythian-Sarmatian archaeology. Rostovtzeff's ideas root in concepts prevalent in his days. First, the etiological myth of the Russian Empire had already been well-established by the end of the 19th century, where the steppe corridor of Eurasia was considered a ‘world axis’, regularly inviting mass migration from East to West, substantially affecting the ethnic composition of the European population. At the same time, the steppes of Eastern Europe were seen as a ‘buffer zone’ that slowed down or mitigated the impact from the Far East. Second, the predominant role that Rostovtzeff ascribes to the common people in the context of cultural change ultimately goes back to Marxist theory. Third comes the direct association of certain elements of the archaeological material with specific ethnic groups, whence a change of material culture is regularly explained with the migration of peoples. Since such paradigms tend to be internalized at the early stages of a scholar’s socialization, they are slow to change, even when current international scholarship draws on more nuanced socio-cultural concepts and research methodology, largely incompatible with Rostovtzeff’s premises and conclusions.