Subject: "Brit-Am Now"-231: Scythian Art
April 11, 2003
Concerning the exile of the Lost Ten tribes, the Bible says that one of the
areas the exiles were taken to was THE CITIES OF THE MEDES.
<<IN THE NINTH YEAR OF HOSHEA THE KING OF ASSYRIA TOOK SAMARIA, AND CARRIED
ISRAEL AWAY INTO ASSYRIA, AND PLACED THEM IN HALAH AND IN HABOR BY THE
RIVER OF GOZAN, AND IN THE CITIES OF THE MEDES>> [2-Kings 17:6].
We trace the Lost Ten Tribes to the Cimmerians, Scythians, and Goths. One
of our proofs is Scythian art. In connection with Scythian art the
following articles are pertinent. The suggested conclusions are similar to
our own but the authoress is more reserved about saying so openly since
that is not the purpose of her writing. Remember Luristan(where
Scythian art originated) is another term for Media. Also keep in mind that
the term Phoeniciancan also mean Israelite.
The second article states:
<<Scythian history has been traditionally linked with Slavic history but it
has also been clear for some time that Scythian art has strong connections
with Celtic, ancient Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon art.>>
The authoress is an artist and craftswomen and an art expert. For the
articles in full plus good illustrations of Scythian artwork and more notes
on the same subject go to:
Where Did the Scythians Come From?
Historians offer more than one theory and no definite conclusion as to
where the Scythians originated. One idea is that they came from the north
into the steppe area. Another cites evidence that they migrated from the
borders of China.
Since the Scythians apparently left no written records and the writings by
their neighbors about them were sketchy, it is necessary to rely on
archaeological evidence to attempt to trace their source. Since the early
18th century many artifacts worthy of study have been retrieved from a
number of widely scattered burial sites . They have been analyzed and much
has been written about them but the field remains complicated and
controversial. This is due, in part, to the fact that the Scythian areas of
occupation in Southern Russia, Central Asia and Siberia were for hundreds
of years a boiling pot of a multitude of tribes and subtribes - peoples
that were ever on the move. At times war or drought would push groups
westward toward Europe, then they would migrate back, later westward again
into Europe. Confederacies were formed and broken, tribal names borrowed,
changed or mutated into a different form. This fluidity in the nomadic
culture made both the written and archaeological record difficult to
analyze with certainty.
Evidence of one source of Scythian origin does consistently appear and
reappear both in the study of linguistics and in the archaeological and
written record. That source is in the present day area of Luristan, in
Iran. Anciently this area was occupied by the nomadic horse riding people
the Medes (who were later part of the Persian empire), and the Cimmerians,
a people who appear to either have been identical with or closely related
to the Scythians. Artifacts from Luristan appear to be strongly Scythian in
character. Researchers have concluded that a treasure found at nearby
Ziwiyeh was from the tomb of a Scythian prince. (Ziweyeh was located in an
area once called the kingdom of Mannae - an area eventually overtaken by
Luristan also shows strong links with an area between the Black Sea and
Caspian Sea known in ancient times as the kingdom of Urartu. Urartian (also
known as Hurrian) art in turn shows strong links with the art of Syria and
Phoenicia. (2) Its colorful style (using enamel and stone accents in their
metal work) is a departure from the art of Assyria and Babylonia but more
in keeping with the inlay style of the Near East and even that of Egypt.
(3) One researcher, K. Jettmar, lists the different treatments of animal
forms in Scythian art that come from the Near East.
1. Zoomorphic juncture
2. Inversion (bending rear part of body 180 degrees
3. Arrangement of animals in form of cross or whirl
4. Recumbent posture
5. Lotus blossom motif
6. Palmette motif
8. Fallow deer
10. "Fabulous" creatures (composite creatures) (4)
It may seem strange that an art from the Near East could have traveled so
far inland and appeared (as in Luristan ) with no apparent signs of early
development (5) in more than one place at about the same time. But a
significant point to remember is that both Urartu and Luristan (Media) were
at that time within the Assyrian administration. The timing of the
appearance of Scythian art coincides with the invasions of the Assyrians
into Syria, Phoenicia and the northern kingdom of Israel. Not only were
luxury articles carried away as a result of these invasions, craftsmen were
deported and put to work in the various Assyrian areas of control. Evidence
of this is seen in the flowering of what is called Neo-Assyrian art, the
last phase of Assyrian art which is said to have started in the reign of
Tiglathpilesar. Another term given by art historians for this new Assyrian
style is "Phoenician".(6) It is worth considering that Scythian art (which
by its character could carry the name "Phoenician" even more easily) may be
evidence not just of the influence of deported craftsmen but of actual
population groups deported from the areas of invasion (as was the Assyrian
habit when conquering a territory) These groups may have been more than one
people of different ethnic origins from the Near East but who had similar
or at times indistinguishable art styles.
(1) The Art of Ancient Iran by R. Ghirsham p. 98 (2) Urartian Art by Van
Loon pp.96, 99, 133, 169 ,174 (3) The Animal Style in South Russian and
China by M. Rostovtzeff pp.38-9 (4) Art of the Steppes by K. Jettmar pp.
35, 134 (5) Art of Ancient Iran by R. Ghirsham p.81 (6) The /Animal Style
in S. Russia and China by M.Rostevtzeff p.25.
Welcome to a treasure trove of images of Scythian art
Scythian "animal style" art is a decorative art style that appeared in
ancient times in the area of what is now southern Russia and Central Asia.
Archaeological artifacts record its use all the way from the edges of
Europe to the Great Wall of China. This was the territory of the nomadic
Scythians and Scythian-type tribes over hundreds of years in ancient times
from about 700 B.C.
Who were these mysterious Scythians? Historians and archaeologists, even
though they have known for some time that many or perhaps most Scythians
were Caucasian, have been reluctant to identify them with confidence due to
a number of factors.
Scythian history has been traditionally linked with Slavic history but it
has also been clear for some time that Scythian art has strong connections
with Celtic, ancient Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon art. Art historians have
been reluctant to play up the connection between Scythian art and the art
of the predecessors of western civilization. The tradition in historical
circles has been to emphasize the influence of the classical Greco-Roman
world on European culture and thus on its ancient art. More and more,
though, this is changing to recognition of the "barbarian" and "eastern"
roots of European culture.
There is, oddly, a sense about some Scythian ornaments that reminds one of
American Indian art. Where gems are used in Scythian ornaments, the gem
frequently used is turquoise. It is not difficult to adapt many Scythian
motifs to designs suitable for sterling silver jewelry pieces that could be
worn with denim and other casual wear in much the same way as Southwest
Indian jewelry is worn. Alternately, some Scythian ornaments (often those
found in western sphere of Scythian habitation where Greek influence was
more prevalent) are so refined in style that they would be suitable sources
for inspiration for fine gold jewelry designs.
Basic Information on Scythians and Their Art
The animal style art of the Scythians is evident in hundreds of artifacts
found in kurgans (burial mounds) thousands of which were constructed in
burial areas across the steppes of Russia from the Carpathian Mountains
into the area of northern Iran and extending all the way to the border of
China. According to archaeologists Scythian art burst upon the scene around
700 B.C. Much of what has been excavated is gold jewelry, horse ornaments
(often gold or bronze), some weaponry, and some silver and gold vessels.
The richness of these artifacts confirms ancient reports that the Scythians
who sat on the trade routes of Asia were fabulously wealthy.
Amazingly, in addition to metal artifacts, fabric items have been found.
Among them, highly decorated horse gear made of colorful felt, blankets
decorated with felt appliqué and rugs of the Persian style decorated in
Scythian motifs. These artifacts had been preserved in frozen tombs until
their discovery in Siberia in the Altai area near the border of China.
Along with them were found the preserved frozen bodies of the dead,
tattooed with fascinating animal symbols. Since Scythians on the whole were
not a settled people they did not leave their art in architecture or on
monuments. Their art is primarily ornamental. In a nomadic society where
wealth must be easily portable the craftsman's efforts were put into small
items such as gold jewelry, bridle ornaments, horse gear, hand mirrors,
arrow cases, swords and battle axes. Scythian clothing was often decorated
with many small wafer thin gold plaques chased with geometric or animal
shapes. They were attached to the fabric in such a way that when they moved
with each movement of the wearer it created what must have been a dazzling
sight in bright daylight.
In Scythian art the multitude of animal representations well illustrates
the preoccupation of this nomadic people with animals in their environment.
Usually only wild animals are represented. Commonly depicted are: stags and
deer, lions or other large cats, eagles, birds heads (perhaps of ravens),
cranes, swans, griffins, snakes, hounds, wolves, hares, rabbits, fish,
goats, ibex, rams, boars, moose (elk), yak, sheep and bears.
The occasional exception to the wild animal rule is domesticated horses -
important because the Scythians were horse breeders and their whole culture
revolved around their dependence on the horse. Representation of humans is
relatively rare in Scythian art, but the few pieces that have been found
show these people is such a realistic style as to give us a very good idea
of what at least the men looked like.
Scholars debate the purpose and meaning of the animal motifs used in
Scythian ornaments. It appears that in some cases the work was intended to
be purely ornamental, while many times the motifs had symbolic meaning
(such as the successful dominance of the aggressor over the victim
portrayed in the attack scenes). Magical use of symbols may have been
intended to guarantee the power of the aggressor. In some cases a
particular animal may have been a clan symbol, a mark of tribal identity.
There are several characteristics of Scythian art that make it unique from
other art styles. Some of these can be found in the arts of other cultures,
but taken together they represent what makes Scythian art Scythian.
1. Profusion of animals used in one piece or device. The animals are
primarily used in a decorative fashion as opposed to a narrative fashion.
2. Lively depiction of animals, much movement expressed as opposed to
the stiff, formal form used in the art of adjacent Near Eastern cultures.
3. "Zoomorphic Juncture" - animals combined with parts of other animals
or animals depicted within other animals.
4. Attack scenes of predator upon prey.
5. Circular manifestation of animal shapes especially cats or several
identical animals in circular formation.
6. Distortion or contortion of animal to fit a preconceived shape of
ornament such as a rectangle or circle.
7. Preference for deer motifs.
8. Reclining deer depictions with folded legs (recumbent).
9. Exaggerated formation of antlers on deer often in curled form or
with points ending in bird heads (beak heads).
10. Animals with head facing backwards over shoulder (inverted) often in
11. Head to head pairs of animals.
12. Crouching lioness or cat, nose to the ground.
13. Decorative circular swirls, crescents or oval forms drawn on the
haunches of animals indicating muscles. Sometimes rib cages are also
14. "Flying Leap" posture of deer or cats.
15. Frequent addition of bird's heads (known as beak heads) to extremities
of animal form.
16. Queued or stacked animals.
It is interesting and somewhat ironic that an art form that is clearly of a
barbaric culture and often displays its barbaric mindset openly in its art,
also occasionally shows almost a sentimental or humorous touch in some of
its designs. A formation of a mother cat with kitten standing on her back,
or a mare with a foal or pony riding on her back is not what one expects in
an expression of the barbarian mind. Neither is that of a depiction of a
goat nursing her young or a cat biting its own tail. The use of the odd
rabbit, that most harmless of creatures, to fill in a corner of a design in
gold seems a bit peculiar but is a gentle relief to the wild aggressiveness
displayed in much Scythian art.