Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sarmatian-related Objects in the British Museum

  I was actually able to find some Sarmatian-related things in the British Museum! Yay! Many of them were artifacts from sedentary cultures that were either traded from or influenced by their steppe neighbors, be they Sarmatian or contemporaries of the Sarmatians.

  First up is something a sedentary culture picked up from either the Sarmatians or a contemporary steppe culture. They liked to sew gold plaques on their clothing. There were some in a case of Parthian items from the 1st century AD.
  There are tiny holes on the edges for the thread. Not pictured above these were some gold leaves mimicking early Greek head wreaths. The label notes that the wreath was probably placed on a corpse, so in this case the gold plaques may have been a funerary-specific thing.

 There were also a type of small, three-sided arrowhead which were apparently indicative of Central Asian steppe cultures before some sedentary ones decided they were awesome and started using them themselves. They were apparently quick and easy to make and good at piercing armor. They were fired out of recurved bows—also introduced form the steppes.
 These are from a soldier's cemetary (Deve Hüyük) from the mid-6th to 4th century BC in northern Syria, which was then part of the Achaemenid Empire.

  This horse bit is from the same site as the arrowheads. Nothing was said about whether the style was native Achaemenid or steppe-influenced, but I've included it here since it's contemporary and may be of interest to equestrians.
  I wouldn't advise actually using these on your horses, though. The label noted that the knobs on the snaffle, while allowing control with very small movements, would be uncomfortable for the horse.

  They also found items in at least one female grave there. Bronze mirrors were also ritually buried with priestesses in steppe nomad kurgans. It used to have a wooden handle. The bone tube used to have a lid and contained some sort of makeup. The other items are a cloak brooch and bracelets with stylized calf's head motifs.
  Anyone know what the burial practices of an Achaemenid garrison would have been?  Would they bury wives of soldiers there as well? Would they have had a religious leader there? Or did women sometimes fight in their culture like the Sarmatians? The labels didn't say if these were found alongside martial artifacts or not.

  Fast-forward in time to the Sassanian Empire—the last Iranian empire before the spread of Islam. They made seal stamps out of various minerals. People, animals (real and mythical), plants, and inanimate objects were all possible images on the seals. ...So were tamgas. :)
  The BM display only had the one tamga seal (no provenance given), but you can see quite a few more in a private Austrian collection on this website.

   And, finally, there was the Ribchester Hoard. The hoard itself is too early to belong to any of the Iazyges Sarmatians that were stationed there, but other, later Roman artifacts were displayed in the same case. And some of them looked to be lifted from the Sarmatians. One of the re-enactment groups I'll talk about soon discussed how Romans tended to absorb weapon and armor styles from the people they conquered.
  There were a number of weapons in this case—swords, daggers, etc...—and one of them is a ring pommel sword. Ring pommel swords were popular among Sarmatian from the 2nd century to the 2nd century AD (mentioned in the Osprey book on them). They were also used by other Central Asian peoples, though it doesn't seem like they were very popular until later according to the discussion on this forum. About the time the Iazyges were first drafted into the Roman army, ring pommel sword became popular amongst Romans.
  This sword is from the 2nd-3rd century AD, Pevensey, East Sussex. It was found with coins from Emporer Commodus' reign (176-192AD). It was buried in the ground intact. The wood and leather scabbard(?) (I think they may have meant to say grip there...) rotted away, but the tin-coated bronze pommel is intact.

  I'll talk more about the Ribchester Hoard and the Sarmatian ala there in an upcoming post on the Ribchester Roman Museum.


  1. AW YISS NEW UPDATE! I got so excited when I saw this but I'd just had two cavities filled and half my mouth was numb (still is) and all I could do was raise a hand to my mouth in joy (which my mom mistook for horror). Anyway, nice to have you back!

    Regarding your question about Persian (warrior?) women, I think I can provide somewhat of an answer. While I'm no expert on Achaemenid Persia, I do find the period and culture fascinating (and often overlooked) so I've done a bit of reading in my free time. This website here ( has an amazing list of famous Persian women, many of whom commanded armies and/or fought in battle. Most of them are of noble birth, but I think the fact that there's so many of them probably indicates something!

    PS: Is that some scale armor by the sword?

    1. :D
      Site bookmarked! Thanks!
      Yes it is. :) Tinned bronze from either the 1st or 2nd century AD of Chester, Somerset, or Dorset. They lumped different bits together on the labels without telling me which was which.

    2. Also, they were fastened to fabric or leather.