Saturday, July 26, 2014

Scythian and Scythian-related Objects in the British Museum

I was quite happy with the British Museum (BM). They had many steppe nomad and steppe nomad-related artifacts on display. And, because they're an archeology museum, their labels were much more informative than the Louvre's. Also, there's so much I want to talk about that I've decided to split my visit there into two posts--this one focused on the Scythians and the next on the Sarmatians.

The Oxus Treasure
Scythian feline on a ring biting its tail.
Similar to the pommels at the Met.
The Oxus Treasure is a collection of Achaemenid-period metalwork and coins found in modern-day Tajikistan just across the border with Afghanistan. Much of it was unfortunately cut or melted down for bullion by the merchants the finders originally sold it to, so museums only contain part of the find now. The art styles in the hoard are highly variable, so one hypothesis is that the hoard was temple tribute, with individual pieces being of various ages and originating from various cultures. The BM dates the metalwork to the 5th or 4th century BC. Some of them are the steppe nomad's Animal Style. Others simply demonstrate interactions with them.

Scythian bracelet with two
interlocking monsters.
Luristan Bronzes
The most adorable little Scythian monster ever!
Originally, it would have had stone inlays
and may have been on a hat or hair accessory.
This Achaemenid piece shows a
Persian hero killing steppe nomads.
I finally found out what those deer-ibex motifs in the Louvre are--they're from a group of artifacts called the Luristan Bronzes. They're from the Early Iron Age of west-central modern-day Iran. Some pieces are ornamentative, some ceremonial, and others had more practical purposes (e.g., the weapons). The BM had more on display, including some that looked like humans shaped to be rather, uh...phallic. I haven't included any pictures of this collection.

Caucasian artifacts
There was an entire section on the early first millennium BC Caucasus as the "gateway to the north" for Iran. Some of the artifacts in this section were of Scythian style from northwest Iran, while others were Caucasian (Koban culture). Below are gold fragments from late 8th century belts from Ziwiye in north-east Iran, which would have been sewn onto cloth or leather backings and are daggers from Iran and Georgia.

Scythian-style feline motifs with missing stone inlays
Look familiar? The label here gave more information on this
artifact than the one in the Met, some of it conflicting. I'm
not sure if they're two pieces of the sameartifact with the
Met either getting the less battered piece or restoring their's
more nicely, or if they're two separate artifacts made by the
same person. There are two different styles here.
The stags and ibexes are done in Scythian style. The motif
encasing them is more along the lines of Near Eastern art.
I do wonder about its identification as apiece of a belt...that
would have to be a pretty wide belt...even wider for the Met's.

10th-9th century BC Iran
The style is similar to some found in both northwest Iran and Georgia.
The handle was covered in wood held attached with small cooper
rivets. The edges have been sharpened, so it has actually been used
as a weapon.
14th-9th centuries BC, Georgia
These are types of Caucasian daggers.
The left is of a style often found with
other weapons (swords, axes, spearheads)
 in graves in Armenia and Georgia. The
right is younger and of the Koban culture.
 The style with animals facing each other
on the handle may have influenced later
Scythian handles.

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