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Copyright © 2000 by Sergei V. Rjabchikov. All Rights Reserved.

ON THE SEMANTICS OF SOME SARMATIAN AND SCYTHIAN ARTIFACTS

by Sergei V. Rjabchikov

Some tribes which lived near the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov in ancient time were the Proto-Slavs. The name Scythians (literally 'nomads') is associated with the Slavonic root skit, cf. Russian skitat'sya 'to wander'. Aorsi and Siraki belonged to the Sarmatae. The first name resembles the name of the Old Russian Principality Arsa, here I distinguish the root rs 'Russian'. The term Sarmatae means s ar ma-tai 'The solar (ma) people near (s) the furious (ar) people (i.e. Aryans)' (1). The term Siraki consists of si 'these' and rak 'Russian'. The name of the tribe Roksolani is indeed Roks (Russian) Alani (2). On these grounds, Scythian Araks 'the Volga river' (Grakov 1971: 19) might mean 'the Russian river'.

In this article I research the motifs presented on some Sarmatian and Scythian artifacts.

1. The goddess Aphrodite riding a goat is represented on the Sarmatian phalar housed in the Temryuk museum (the Krasnodar Territory, Russia). There are the six solar rounds on this artifact. It was dated to the end of the 2nd - the beginning of the 1st century B.C., and it was found near the village Kurchanskaya near the town Temryuk (Dvornichenko, Fedorov-Davydov 1981: 101, 104). In my opinion, these signs are calendar ones. Really, the Scythian/Sarmatian goddess Argimpasa is equal to the Celestial Aphrodite in the History of Herodotus: Book IV, and I translated her name as 'The transformation from the winter to the spring - the cattle'. It is known that the star Capella 'She-goat' was a sign of the spring in the Indo-European beliefs from 4400 B.C. till 20 A.D. (Shilov 1995: 212). Let us start up the RedShift 2 computer program. The date of the heliacal (morning) rising of the star Capella, for instance, is 10 April 100 B.C. for the Taman' Peninsula. So this goddess connected with the goat is a symbol of spring, perhaps even the vernal equinox of March 21 (22). The six solar rounds denote half a year. Compare also the parallel in the Etruscan calendar.

2. The two goats on both sides of the sacred tree are depicted on the lower part of the Scythian gold axe's hilt from the Kelermes barrow No 1, near the Kelermesskaya village (the Giaginsky district, the Krasnodar Territory, Russia). It was dated to 7th - 5th century B.C., now it is in the Hermitage (St. Petersburg, Russia) (Anfimov 1987: 77). The sign of the sun is presented on the left goat, and the sign of the moon is presented on the right goat. The sacred tree is the World Tree. Three rounds are attached to the left of the Tree; they are signs of the three months. Furthermore, three rounds are attached to the right of the Tree; they are also signs of the three months. One round is presented on the top of the Tree. By this is meant that the time of the day is equal to the time of the night, therefore the date of the vernal equinox (March 21 or 22) is registered on this artifact. So March 21 (22) minus three months correspond to the winter solstice; on the other hand, March 21 (22) plus three months correspond to the summer solstice.

3. The baton of a prominent Sarmatian woman is housed in the Krasnodar Historical-Archaeological Museum (Krasnodar, Russia). It was dated to the middle of the 1st century B.C., and it was found near the small village Peschanny (the Tbilissky district, the Krasnodar Territory, Russia). On top of this baton one can distinguish an arrow directed to the sky. The wordplay is quite possible: Old Indian bana 'arrow' and bhanu 'the sun'. On the top of this baton there are four figurines of the heads of deer with their horns which denote the four seasons (four cardinal points). Interestingly, in the Old Indian beliefs the five fires are the four cardinal points and the sun. The wordplay is quite possible: cf. Old Russian elen' 'deer', Greek elios 'the sun', Old Indian alankar 'decoration'. Perhaps the name of Alani correlates with the image of deer which is widespread in the Scythian/Sarmatian art. Actually, in the Scythian beliefs deer is connected with the Tree of Life (Bessonova 1983: 118). The Greek letters PAI are inscribed on the Scythian gold figurine of a deer from the Kul-oba barrow (the Kerch Peninsula, the Crimea, Ukraine; this artifact is in the Hermitage; it was dated to 4th century B.C.). I suppose that this word is a variant of the name of the Scythian/Sarmatian god of the heavens, the thunderer (the god of rain), Papaios, associated with Russian bit' (the root bi-) 'to beat', boy 'beating', bah, babah 'bang!', bahnut', babahnut' 'to bang', Old Indian payate 'he gives to drink'. The interpretations of the name of the god Papaios correlate with the Greek letters PAI inscribed on the fragment of a Greek vessel from Kepoi housed in the Taman' museum and dated to the end of 4th - the beginning of 3rd century B.C. (Morgan 1999: 33). On the other hand, Russian bit' 'to beat' is associated, in particular, with Greek fitros 'trunk, stake' and Armenian bir 'stick, baton' (Vasmer 1986: 169). Thus, the arrow is a symbol of the sun deity or lightning (the god Papaios). The cauldron of the same collection of the Krasnodar Historical-Archaeological Museum is decorated with one head of a deer and with two signs of the sun. Therefore I prefer to interpret the Scythian/Sarmatian signs of deer as symbols of the god Papaios.

4. An eye and a horse are represented on the Scythian bronze tip from a barrow near the aul Ul'sky (Ulyap) (Republic of Adygea, Russia) (Grakov 1971: table XVII). This artifact was dated to 6th - 5th century B.C., now it is in the Hermitage. I think that it is the designation of the Indo-Arian god Savitar. In fact, this deity was associated with a solar horse (Toporov 1992); cf. Old Indian viti 'brightness, shine', Russian vid 'look', videt' 'to see', and the name of the Slavonic god Sventovit.

5. Let us examine an artifact from the Seven Brothers barrow No 4, near the Varenikovskaya village (the Anapa district, the Krasnodar Territory, Russia). It is well to bear in mind that N.V. Anfimov (1987: 98) believes that findings from the Seven Brothers barrows belong to Sindians, whereas B.N. Grakov (1971) believes that they belong to Scythians. A dragon is depicted on the gold plate (Anfimov 1987: 118-9). It was dated to 5th century B.C., now it is in the Hermitage. I suppose that the image of this dragon was preserved in the Russian fairytale character Koshchei Bessmertny. On this plate there is the bird connected with this dragon. It is well known that the death of sun deity Koshchei/Kashchei Bessmertny is in an egg according to Russian fairy tales. Therefore the appearance of the bird denotes the death of this dragon (Koshchei/Kashchei). Really, this plate contains a spiral, too. The latter sign is a symbol of solar eclipses (Larichev 1993: 266), otherwise it is an encoded report about the death of Koshchei/Kashchei 'The Bone' (Rjabchikov 1998: 12). The wordplay is quite possible: Russian kost', Old Indian asthan 'bone' and astam 'to set (about heavenly bodies)'.

NOTES

1. The parallel is as follows: the name of the tribe Maitai 'Meotians' signifies 'the solar (mai) people'.

2. According to O.N. Trubachev (1981: 11), Russian Rus' 'Russia' came from Indo-Aryan ruksa- 'light-coloured'.

REFERENCES

Anfimov, N.V., 1987. The Kuban's Ancient Gold. Krasnodar: Krasnodar Book Publishers.

Bessonova, S.S., 1983. Religioznye predstavleniya skifov. Kiev: Naukova Dumka.

Dvornichenko, V.V. and G.A. Fedorov-Davydov, 1981. Serebryanye falary iz sarmatskogo pogrebeniya mogil'nika Krivaya Luka IX v Astrakhanskoy oblasti. KSIA, Antichnaya arkheologiya, 168: 100-5.

Grakov, B.N., 1971. Skify. Nauchno-populyarny ocherk. Moscow: Moscow State University.

Larichev, V.E., 1993. Sotvorenie Vselennoy: Solntse, Luna i Nebesny drakon. Novosibirsk: Nauka.

Morgan, C., 1999. Taman Antiquity. Vol. 2. A Catalogue of Attic Pottery in the Collection of the Taman Museum. St. Petersburg: State Hermitage Museum Publishing.

Rjabchikov, S.V., 1998. Tainstvennaya Tmutarakan'. Krasnodar: Torgovo-promyshlennaya palata Krasnodarskogo kraya.

Shilov, Y.A., 1995. Prarodina Ariev: Istoriya, obryady i mify. Kiev: SINTO.

Toporov V.N., 1992. Savitar. In: S.A. Tokarev (ed.) Mify narodov mira. Vol. 2. Moscow: Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya, p. 395.

Trubachev, O.N., 1981. Indoarica v Severnom Prichernomor'e. Istochniki. Interpretatsiya. Rekonstruktsiya. Voprosy yazykoznaniya, No 2: 3-21.

Vasmer, M., 1986. Etimologichesky slovar' russkogo yazyka. Vol. 1. Moscow: Progress.


Copyright © 2000 by Sergei V. Rjabchikov. All Rights Reserved.

Published 13 June 2000.

Sergei V. Rjabchikov, Krasnodar, RUSSIA.


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