Phalerae from Votive Hoards of the North Pontic Area of the 3rd–1st Centuries BC and the Sarmatian Paradigm

Mordvintseva Valentina I.

Silver phalerae with representations of gods, various scenes and vegetable motifs became especially wide-spread in the North Pontic area in the last centuries BC. In Rostowtzeff’s opinion, they were brought to the steppes of the North Pontic area by the Sarmatians, tribes of Iranian origin who had come from the borders of Bactria. Further research showed that the phalerae examined by Rostowtzeff were of North Pontic origin. According to their types and styles, the phalerae were sorted into two groups, each belonging to one of two areas: the «western» (North Pontic) and the «eastern» (steppes of the Volga and the Ural). In Kuban region both types can be found. These two areas differ as well in the character of the ritual use of phalerae. In the «eastern» region they are found in votive hoards, while in the «western» area they were used in burials. The difference in the ritual use of objects denoting high social status reflect differences in mentality and, probably, in the ethnic reality of the two cultures. It is assumed, though, that in the 3rd–2nd centuries BC Pontic Scythia was conquered by Sarmatian tribes, bearers of early Sarmatian («Prokhorovka») archaeological culture of the Volga-and-Ural districts. This paradigm of Sarmatian culture was for the first time described by Rostowtzeff and developed in later studies. However, votive hoards were not known in the area in question. They are rather characteristic of Central Europe and its cultural phenomenon. Written sources of this period are very fragmentary and cannot confirm the threat of military intrusion from the East. On the other hand, a similar threat from the West is attested in the epigraphic sources. All this comes into conflict with the existing Sarmatian paradigm. The author suggests that there are no grounds for considering the Volga and the Ural areas a model centre of the Sarmatian culture and the homeland of the «Sarmatians» of the written tradition. This scheme was drawn from just a few tombs in the early 20th century. The view that certain tribes moved from the Volga and the Ural steppes to the North Pontic Area is nothing but a speculation made on the basis of a biased interpretion of written sources.

Keywords: archaeology, votive offerings, hoard, North Black Sea region, Pontic region, phalerae, Sarmatians