Friday, October 14, 2011


  Sarmatians are usually pictured with a type of jacket called a kurta over their tunics. Kurtas are a type of kaftan, which are worn in various forms by Asian peoples such as Mongols and Indians. Picture a T-tunic in which the front is made of two triangular flaps which cross one over the other and you'll have the general appearance of a kurta (for Sarmatians, it seems the right flap goes on top). The Sarmatians cut them off at mid-thigh and they could have slits up the sides. This kept them from bunching up and pulling or whatnot while riding a horse. Some sort of trim could be included.
The man on the horse is wearing a quilted kurta. The one being attacked is a Scythian. I'm not sure what the woman's jacket was based on.
Wrist straps
  The ends of the sleeves could be longer than the wrist (though they weren't all this way). The reason for this was to create a hand flap which functioned as a sort of glove when the temperature was cold. If you don't want the glove, you pull the end back over your wrist. There's an image of Scythian men with this same modification and they have straps hanging down which would have been sewn to the inside of the sleeve. I'm guessing the straps were used to tie the hand flap closed. In the image, they had the flaps folded back over their wrists and let the ties hang. It looks like the ties end in a big triangular shape.
A pot made by Greeks. They seemed to have made a lot of things depicting the Scythians for the Scythians
  The fronts of these Scythian jackets look a little different from Sarmatian kurtas, though- this particular style has two slits in front- one over the mid thigh and one over the inner-thigh. I haven't seen this in any Sarmatian kurtas.
Scythian kurta with multiple slits
A polka-dotted Scythian
  Sarmatian kurtas could be made out of leather (deer is common) or cotton (which can be quilted). They could also be lined in fur (squirrel seems to be common). Cotton might seem out of time for those of you who have Western personas, but it was around and used for clothing in the East long before it showed up in the West. They could be decorated with floral or geometric designs. Little gold plaques which would have been sewn on are commonly found in kurgans. Fabric paint is another option which is known to have been used by Scythians (One known paint pattern- polka dots. C'est amusant.). There's a leather saddle with felt appliques preserved, so it seems like a logical inference to say leather kurtas could too, but I haven't seen any examples illustrating this. You have the option to include it if you lean heavily towards the "creative" side of the SCA, but unless I find evidence of it, I don't really feel comfortable including them on mine. For the most part, though, Sarmatian kurtas seem relatively unadorned in comparison with Scythian ones.
  Most of the documentation you find will be in images of the Sarmatians created by other people. We actually did get very lucky, though, in that a child's kurta was preserved in a Siberian kurgan, which is now housed in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russian.
Child's Fur Coat
Fur; l. 35 cm
Tashtyk Culture. 3rd - 4th century
Oglakhty Burial VI, Grave No. 4 (Excavations of Prof. L.R. Kyzlasov), South Siberia, Khakassia Republic, left bank of the River Yenisei, near Mount Oglakhty, Russia
Source of Entry:   Archaeological Expedition to Khakassia of the Moscow State University. 1969

  I just made my first kurta in time to wear at the St. Denys' Day event. I wanted to go the leather route, but unless I had gotten lucky and found enough for sale at an event, my cheapest option was to invoke the unwritten "Ten Foot Rule" (if it looks genuine from ten feet, it's acceptable [unless on enchanted grounds]). Which means that this financially-limited student used tan moleskin from Joanne's Fabrics to imitate deer leather.
  I did some things wrongly because my measurements turned out to be wrong- the jacket doesn't go past my hips, for one- but given that I'm a novice seamstress making my first kurta, I wasn't expecting perfection (another reason I used cheaper fabric). From a lot of the depictions, it seems like they didn't have inserts (gores and gussets), but I didn't trust my patterning skills (or lack thereof) to make one without gussets in which I my arms would still have full mobility, so I included them. But then I more closely examined the child's coat above, and it looks to have gores that go all the way from hem to armpit sewn next to roughly rectangular front pieces. The shape modifications around the arm-body seam look similar to those in the above depiction of Scythian men. I'll try this solution in my next run and see how that goes.
  Because I used woven fabric instead of leather, I had to hem all ends that weren't cut on the bias, though the child's coat didn't have them except maybe on the ends of the sleeves (one side looks like it was hemmed but the other doesn't; not entirely sure what's going on there). Other options I chose were: side slits, no hand flaps, and no decorations
  Below are results of the pattern I actually used. Once I make another, I'll do a second post about the modified pattern. Don't make your own with this pattern, it's only here for future reference so you can see the differences from it and from a standard T-tunic build. There are so many things wrong with it...

Finished product

Waaaaay too short

*--Unless otherwise specified, pictures of artifacts all come from "From the Lands of the Scythians"

From The Land of the Scythians: Ancient Treasures from the Museums of the U.S.S.R., 3000 B.C. - 100 B.C. (Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Volume XXXII, Number 5, 1975)
Brzezinski, R., and Mielczarek, M., 2002, Men-at-Arms: The Sarmatians 600BC-450AD, Osprey publishing.

Sulimirski, T., 1970,  The Sarmatians, vol. 73 of Ancient Peoples and Places, Praeger Publishers, Inc.


  1. ... Polka dots ... *snicker*

    My first bodice was way too short, too, if it makes you feel any better. Apparently, my torso stopped at about my ribs - forget waist and hips.

  2. Beware the fierce steppe warrior wearing...polka dots...
    Yeah, I can't take it seriously either. ;)
    The best I can figure is that I measured 40 inches, then somewhere between there and the fabric it turned into 30 inches in my head.
    I can see the short bodice working as something to wear at a Renaissance Faire or a con. I have a purple bodice not much longer than that.

  3. I am trying to get started in SCA as a Sarmatian. Could you possibly post some pics of the basic shape of each piece of the kurta, even if I did have to imagine it longer? I can't really find any sort of pattern or anything (totally new to the world of sewing btw). I really need to find a basic pattern quickly... its almost time for my first event! Just another two weeks... thanks!

    1. Here you go:
      Hope it helps (and works)! If you aren't already, spend some time familiarizing yourself with standard, tested tunic construction. Googling phrases like "period T-tunics" will turn up lots of hits you can browse through.

    2. Thank you for the advice! I'm trying to get an authetic Sarmatian outfit before the event, and it's taking longer than I thought... I'm also still trying to come up with a name. So far I'm looking at Maiosara thugatêr Kainaxarthou and Maiosara thugatêr Maipharnou. I like the former better, but the latter shares a syllable with the 'father'. Was that common in Sarmatian society? My library is hopelessly empty of any and all books on the culture.

    3. No problem. I don't think it matters. There are plenty of examples in Zgusta where no syllables are shared.

    4. Thank you! I've been looking everywhere for info on that. Until I can find a good pattern (and material) for a tunic, i'm trying to make do with a long-sleeved t-shirt. It doesn't look half bad as a substitute, actually. for a kurta, until i can get the material for it, I found a cotton sweater-type thing my aunt gave me. its long enough, and the material overlaps enough, but the sleeves are kind of bunched to give it a slightly 'poofy' appearance. I can tack them under and it look smooth. my only other problem with it is that its purple. i cant find anything about purple being period for Sarmatians, so i'm going to dye it brown or red or something similar. paired with cloth pants i found and flat-soled cowgirl boots, i think i've got something looking fairly close. would you say so? I know i ask a LOT of questions, but i'm having trouble researching because my library is limited and there are only a couple of reliable web sites about this culture. I do appreciate your help and patience with me!

    5. Hi. I”m Sergiu Enache, I”m student at Archaeology in Romania, Tinmisoara and my master degree is axed on the III- IV century C.E., the period whent the Iazyges Sarmatians arrived in the Western part of Romania. I think your work is really interesting, because it takes a lot of time for documentation and also for making a replica. Thank you for the article, I really find out a lot of new things about the sarmatian clothing that would help me. I”m actually working on an article about the ”reminiscences of the Sarmatian clothing in the Romanian medieval costumes” and its really amazing how many similar elements they have. For example the Sarmatians wear a lot of beads, the same that one part of the Romanians wear when they marry their daughters. I hope you like the subject, and maybe in the future I will sent you some photos or bibliographical sources about sarmatians and also about romanian costumes and I”ll hope you can send me too. So, I will let you my e-mail in case you want to talk more about this subject or other subjects about Sarmatians (my email is: I hope we”ll talk. bye.

    6. Hey, sorry I haven't e-mailed you yet! School's been really busy this semester and I've let SCA stuff fall by the wayside. I am interested in talking to you and will e-mail you once I have some time on my hands.

  4. Wow, Aritê, I am loving this blog, it is beginning to rival myArmoury as my favorite web-place. I just made my first kurta this week before I saw this. Incidentally, it is the exact same color as yours. Your kurta looks really good, though I suppose it is easy to make clothes look good with a figure like that ;) I theorize that the polka-dot pattern depicted in art represents bronze or gold roundels. I have a bunch of bronze buttons from Quiet Raymond that I plan on using to decorate my next kurta. I am a member of a Viking Age reenactment group, but I can use my kirta for that too, as the Vikings adopted the kirta unchanged, with the Hedeby example being completely identical to examples from the steppes centuries earlier. Even the mammen-style decorative embroidery popular at that time is almost identical to Scytho-Sarmatian versions. Also, the name kirtle is directly descended from the word kurta. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on your blog, it is so hard to research steppe tribes, and you are just full of great info. Thanks a lot,

    Scott Woodruff

    1. Hi Scott!
      I'm glad you're enjoying it. :) Thanks for all the thoughts and info in your comments."

      Polka dots- I know I read somewhere that there's some extant Scythian fabric with painted-on orange dots. I need to figure out which reference that came from. The gold roundels idea is still feasible, given that they liked sewing golden plaques on the their clothing. Off the top of my head, I think I've only ever seen animal motifs done this way, though.

      When did Vikings adopt kurtas? And which culture did they get them from? I didn't know that, but it's really good information to disseminate in a Norse-heavy SCA kingdom like mine.

  5. Oh, I noticed one more thing. I think you may be misinterpreting the depiction on the gold and silver wine vessel shown above. Every author I have read interprets what you see as "straps" as a nagaika whip being held in the hand. Of course it is not a photograph and is open to interpretation, and I do like your interpretation. I have seen pics of a Sarmatian leather hat with cloth (silk maybe?) strips sewn to the inside of the brim right above the eyes. If allowed to hang straight down they would hang right over the face and down to at least the waist. Perhaps they were wrapped turban-style around the hat, or alternately they may have been coiled or folded inside the hat normally and taken out and wrapped around the face when needed for protection from cold, sun or dusty wind, three things one must often deal with on the steppes.


    1. Long things: Which authors are these? Somehow I haven't run across that interpretation. I think Sulimirski is the one who mentioned the ties idea as being something similar to what later Altaic nomads do. It's an old reference, though, so it could be wrong.

      Hat: D'you mean this one? It's from too far east to be Sarmatian but for some reason it shows up in a search for "Sarmatian" on the Hermitage Museum's website, so at least one website has picked up referring it to them.

  6. I keep discovering things above that I want to comment on, so here's another one :) My kurta uses these long triangular gussets that function as armpit gussets as well. I have found this to be the easiest and most practical way to go about it. I basically use a 3,3,5 pattern, that is rectangular body panels 3 units wide and 5 units long, sleeves 3 units long and 2 units in circumferance at the widest point. Then I can simply alter the width of the triangular gusset and taper of the sleeve to achieve a good fit. For instance, mine is 1m long, with 60cm wide body panels, 60 cm sleeves that are cut 40 cm wide tapering to 25 cm. The triangular gusset starts about 15cm down the sleeve and is 50 cm wide at the bottom hem and is made up of all the scraps, 3 pieces in one and five in the other. If you just leave the front panel whole instead of splitting it, you have a Byzantine style tunic like the one found in that cave in Turkey, or you can make a narrower side gusset, split the front panel and you have a kaftan pattern. I have found that these are ridiculously easy to make and especially to fit once you get the hang of how these period tailoring techniques work. Patterns were kept in the memory back then, so mneumonic devices that help one to remember the pattern seem to have been commonly used. One thing I noticed doing this kurta is that a square-cut hem is hard to line up and keep lined up in wear. I think this why the pointed fronts like that on the childs kurta were used. The Scythian tunics worn by the guys on the silver and gold wine vessel are just an exaggerated version of this, with enlogated dags. It has been theorized that these were made to flap about most impressively as a warrior rode into battle. I have some thin pig and lamb skin that I am saving up to do a leather kurta, but I don't think I have quite enough. What do you think of a leather kurta with felt or felted tabby wool gussets? It does seem from some depictions in period art that the kurta may have sometimes been made up of either different color cloths or different materials altogether.


    1. Can I re-post this in a new post (with credit to you, of course, and a link to your website if you have one)? I've had requests for a better kurta pattern but the truth is I started out royally sucking at pattern-making and have a very steep learning curve for it. You've brought up several points I've been thinking about after taking a few classes at events and perusing steppe nomad documentation in general.

      I haven't personally seen the art you're referencing. I know they did plenty of felt-on-leather appliques.

  7. Hi..My name is John. I dont belong to the SCA but do a little bit of ancient period living history now and then, as Lusitanian slinger and a Germanic peasant warrior. I ahve always admired the various nomadic steppe cultures and think what you are doing is very cool. I am crap at making stuff , other wise I might have a go at portraying a Hun......keep up teh good work