Friday, July 22, 2016

The Khokhlach Barrow

The Khokhlach Barrow is part of a large mound cemetery near Novocherkassk on the lower Don River. Sometime in the 1st century CE, a royal Sarmatian woman was buried there. The mound was dug up in 1864 by people who were supposed to be working on a road nearby.

The most famous item from the mound is this diadem, made in an intriguing mix of Greek and Sarmatian styles. The amethyst bust is obviously Greek work, but opinions differ as to whether the whole thing was made in a Greek workshop or if it was assembled by a Sarmatian craftsman. It is now in the Hermitage Museum.

The Sarmatians replaced the Scythians as the dominant people of the Black Sea steppes around the 2nd century BCE. Most likely the population of the steppes always contained diverse groups speaking a variety of languages, and what changed was simply the ruling clique. This torque is one of the non-Greek items found in the tomb, almost certainly made on the steppes.

The Sarmatians were nomadic herders and raiders like the Scythians. But while the Scythians had primarily been lightly-armored horse archers, the core of the Sarmatian army was heavy cavalry armed with lances as well as bows, more like medieval knights. These are Sarmatians on Trajan's column.

Bracelet, another steppes work.

Ornaments that lined the fringes of the princess's cloak.

Small golden flask.

Lid to a gold locket.

Gold vessel.

Wealthy Sarmatians had a habit of marking their possessions with signs that we call Tamga. Here are some examples. Whatever these meant to the Sarmatians, but the late Middle Ages nobles in Poland used them as symbols for their families, something like the heraldry of the west. I have always found the survival of these symbols across 1500 years fascinating. Anyway I have read that some of the gold and silver vessels from Khokhlach are marked with Tamga, but I can't find any pictures that show them. But the examples above and below give some idea of what they would be like.

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