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On Some Scythian and Sarmatian Symbols

Sergei V. Rjabchikov

Krasnodar, Russia

<srjabchikov@hotmail.com>

 

Copyright © Sergei V. Rjabchikov, 2003. All rights reserved.

Published 22 June 2003  Last posted 23 September, 2005


A new portion of Scythian and Sarmatian records is investigated in this article. The inscriptions help to illuminate some Scythian, Sarmatian and Slavonic religious beliefs. Here the field materials of the South Russian folkloric-ethnographic expedition under the leadership of Sergei V. Rjabchikov collected in 2003 are used.

Photos of Scythian/Sarmatian (Bosporan) artifacts and patterns of the Slavonic decorative art:

Copyright © Sergei V. Rjabchikov, 2003.

PHOTO 1

Photo 1 - A fragment of a Bosporan vessel from the ancient town Hermonassa which was found at the village Taman' (the Kingdom of the Bosporus; the Krasnodar region, Russia). A private collection.

PHOTO 2

Photo 2 - Casings of windows of a house in the village Pavlovskaya (the Krasnodar region, Russia).

PHOTO 3

Photo 3 - A casing of windows of a house in the village Pavlovskaya (the Krasnodar region, Russia).

PHOTO 4

Photo 4 - Casings of a pediment and windows of a house in the village Pavlovskaya (the Krasnodar region, Russia).

PHOTO 5

Photo 5 - A casing of windows of a house in the village Pavlovskaya (the Krasnodar region, Russia). A pediment and a corner of the house are also decorated with certain symbols.

PHOTO 6

Photo 6 - Vessels and their fragments from the Bosporan town Tanais which are exhibited in the Rostov Regional Museum of Local Lore (Rostov-on-Don, Russia).

PHOTO 7

Photo 7 - A Bosporan fishnet sinker that was found in the Taman' bay near the village Taman' (Hermonassa; the Krasnodar region, Russia). A private collection.

PHOTO 8

Photo 8 - The upper part of a Bosporan painted religious vessel of the 3rd century B.C. which was found on the Taman' peninsula. This artifact is exhibited in the Taman' Archaeological Museum (the village Taman', the Krasnodar region, Russia).

PHOTO 9

Photo 9 - A casing of windows of a house in the village Pavlovskaya (the Krasnodar region, Russia).

PHOTO 10

Photo 10 - A casing of windows of a house in the village Pavlovskaya (the Krasnodar region, Russia).

1. The Scythians and Sarmatians used not only the syllabic script based on Linear A (B), but also the letters of the Greek alphabet as well as some syllables and determinatives (Rjabchikov 2000a).

Let us examine a fragment of an amphora of the 1st century A.D. from the western Crimea, Ukraine (Solomonik 1983: 93-4, figures 12, 13). Here I read sign 80 ma, cf. Scythian/Sarmatian ma 'the sun; solar; solstice; fire; funeral pyre'. Besides, Ma is the name of the Scythian and Sarmatian supreme goddess of the sun, fire, war, fertility, cf. the name Ma Kosh' of the Old Russian pagan goddess (Rjabchikov 2002a: 14). The same sign is painted on a fragment of a vessel from the ancient town Hermonassa which was found at the village Taman' (the Kingdom of the Bosporus; the Krasnodar region, Russia). The artifact is housed in a private collection, see photo 1. The word Ma is the name of the Scythian and Sarmatian goddess known in particular as Tabiti and Yaga (Aga).

A fragment of a stele with a bas-relief of the goddess Aphrodite with certain local features of the 2nd - 1st centuries B.C. was found at the ancient settlement Batareyka II of the Kingdom of the Bosporus (the Taman' peninsula; the village Batareyka, the Krasnodar region) (Sokolsky 1978: 129, figure). N.I. Sokolsky (1978: 133) believes that this syncretic goddess is the Bosporan supreme deity indeed (1). I distinguish two similar compound symbols in the upper part of the stele. They consist of sign 80 ma and the sign "round" (THE SUN; the determinative). So the Barbarians - the Scythians and Sarmatians (including the Sindi and Meotians) - called this goddess Ma 'The sun; solar; solstice; fire; funeral pyre'.

One can see signs 80 ma (the symbolism of the Scythian, Sarmatian and Slavonic goddess of the fire, hearth and home) on casings of windows and corners of some houses in the village Pavlovskaya, the Krasnodar region (The field materials, 2003), see photos 2 - 5. Windows, pediments and corners of some houses are decorated with symbols "arrow", see photos 3 - 5. Such symbols are associated with the solar cult, cf. Scythian/Sarmatian *ban- (*pan-) 'arrow; the sun; brightness; light or ray; shine' (Rjabchikov 2000b; 2001a; 2002a: 9, 155, 228; 2002b) (2). The casing of the window is decorated with the symbol "the rising sun", see photo 3.

On a fragment of a Bosporan amphora from the ancient town Tanais (the Kingdom of the Bosporus; the Rostov region, Russia) the following graffito is inscribed by Greek letters: PANNAS (Shelov 1965: 105). In D.B. Shelov's opinion (ibid.), this proper name is comparable with the name Panasagor- (Panasagorus) of a Scythian prince. So I read the first Scythian/Sarmatian name Pan- as- 'The sun/arrow - the brightness' or Pan- s- 'The sun/arrow - the sun', cf. Scythian/Sarmatian *ban- (*pan-) 'arrow; the sun; brightness; light or ray; shine', s- 'the sun; shine; heat; light; eye; bright' and as- 'bright; solar; heavenly; the sky' (Rjabchikov 2001a; 2002a: 6; 2002c: 133; 2002a: 68, 131). The second Scythian/Sarmatian name reads Pan- as- gor- 'The sun/arrow - the brightness - the fire' or Pan- s- gor- 'The sun/arrow - the sun - the fire', cf. Scythian/Sarmatian gar- 'fire; to burn; light; heat' (Rjabchikov 2001a; 2002a: 33, 125). Let us examine a bottom of a vessel from Tanais which is exhibited in the Rostov Regional Museum of Local Lore (Rostov-on-Don, Russia), see photo 6. The following graffito is inscribed by Greek letters: GOR. I read the Scythian/Sarmatian word (name) gor- (gar-) 'fire; to burn; light; heat'.

Recently the Literary Museum of the Kuban Land (Krasnodar, Russia) showed the exposition "Magical Signs" from the Kargopol State Historian Architectural and Art Museum (Kargopol, Russia). A Russian embroidered towel is decorated with the following pattern, see figure 1.

 

FIGURE 1

 

 

A bird is represented at the left. Its tail looks like five solar symbols, and its head is decorated with sign 80 ma. The five solar signs denote the rising sun. On the other hand, the name Ma denotes the sun goddess (Ma Kosh'). In the Russian fairy-tales the Fiery Bird Zhar-ptitsa 'The Heat-Bird' is known, and this bird is associated with the sun (Afanasiev 1865: 512-3; 1996: 149-50, 152, 239, 250). One can offer the following linguistic parallels: Scythian/Sarmatian gar- 'fire; to burn; light; heat', Old Indian gharma 'heat; brightness; cauldron', ghr 'to shine; to burn', ghrni 'heat', Russian  gar' 'burning', goret' 'to burn', zhar, zhara 'heat'. An ancient temple of the three suns (fires) is depicted on the towel at the right. The god Agni of the fire existing in the three fiery conditions in the Universe according to the Indo-Aryan mythology corresponds to the three characters Baba-Yaga 'The Old Woman Yaga' in some Russian fairy-tales (Rjabchikov 2002b: figures 6 - 8). Two rhombi connected together are placed inside the temple. The sign "rhombus" reads ay, cf. Scythian/Sarmatian ay 'egg; the World Tree; the sun; life, vitality; vigour; long life'. It is notable that the lower rhombus is decorated with a pair of rays. They resemble sign 77 ka, ga, cf. Old Indian go 'bull; cow; the sun; solar beam; arrow'. Moreover, two rhombi connected together are represented on an early Scythian sword which was discovered in the Lugansky burial ground (Republic of Tatarstan, Russia) (Terenozhkin 1975: 29, figure 21 [8]). I think that this motif is also the solar symbol. Under the rhombi three signs 72 be 'beating; beat; thunder' connected together are presented. I can state with assurance that this report is pertinent to the three fires of the Universe (Agni, Yaga/Aga, Indra).

2. Several vessels found in Scythian and Sarmatian graves are covered with signs. These records may be dedicated to Scythian and Sarmatian deities.

Two crosses are painted on an amphora found at the edge of an oval ground near the Scythian grave No 1 in the barrow No 12 in the environs of the town Nikopol (the Dnepropetrovsk region, Ukraine), see figure 2.

 

FIGURE 2

 

 

It is anticipated that this amphora was used in a funeral feast (Terenozhkin, Ilinskaya, Chernenko and Mozolevsky 1973: 169, 171, figure 46 [2]). I read the sign "cross" ay, cf. Scythian/Sarmatian ay 'egg; the World Tree; the sun; life, vitality; vigour; long life'. The oval ground was an image of the Egg, a representation of the initial condition of the Universe as well as of the sun deity.

A compound symbol is incised on a Sarmatian jug from the burial No 20/1956 discovered in the Kobyakovsky burial ground (Rostov-on-Don) (Kosyanenko 1989: 8-9, figure 2 [4a]), see figure 3. I divide this symbol into the sign "round" (THE SUN; the determinative) and sign 77 ka, ga, cf. Old Indian go 'bull; cow; the sun; solar beam; arrow'. This record is related to the Indo-Aryan cult of solar cows, to the Indo-Aryan deities incarnated in the solar bull, cow, calf.

 

FIGURE 3

 

 

Two signs are inscribed on a Sarmatian jug discovered in a ditch near the barrow No 16 of the burial ground Zhurovka (the Rostov region) (Bezuglov and Zakharov 1988: 9, 11, figure 3 [22]), see figure 4.

 

FIGURE 4

 

 

The left sign is a "wave", it means 'water; rain'; the right sign is a "cross", it reads ay, cf. Scythian/Sarmatian ay 'egg; the World Tree; the sun; life, vitality; vigour; long life'. The latter sign is engraved on the jug's handle looking like a wild beast. In my opinion, both words are associated with the cult of the Scythian and Sarmatian goddess Ma (Yaga/Aga, Tabiti) of the sun, thunderstorm, fire, life-giving liquid, fertility, and this animal is an incarnation of this goddess. It is worth noting that burial chambers have an oval form in four barrows of the burial ground Zhurovka (Bezuglov and Zakharov 1988: 7-8). I suppose that the oval form may be connected with the form of an egg, cf. Scythian/Sarmatian ay 'egg; the World Tree; the sun; life, vitality; vigour; long life'. Hence, the deceased was transformed into the initial condition of the Universe (a symbol of the birth and death) departing out of this world in conformity with the Sarmatian beliefs. A terra-cotta was found in the necropolis of Tanais (Arsenieva, Bezuglov and Tolochko 2001: 129-30, table 46 [573], table 93 [1129]). The Bosporan supreme goddess sits on a throne, she holds a bowl in the left hand and an egg in the right hand. I conclude that this is the Scythian and Sarmatian goddess Ma of fertility, birth and death.

3. A compound symbol is painted on a vessel which is exhibited in the Taman' Archaeological Museum (the village Taman'), see figure 5.

 

FIGURE 5

 

 

One can read three signs from bottom to top as follows: sign 80 Ma (the name of the Scythian and Sarmatian supreme goddess of the fire), the sign "eye" tara (the name of the Scythian and Sarmatian god Targitai of the sun and thunder) and sign 77 ka, ga, cf. Old Indian go 'bull; cow; the sun; solar beam; arrow'. It should be borne in mind that the latter sign is decorated with two small rounds (THE SUN; the determinative). Thus this record is associated with the cult of the sun, fire, home, with the symbolism of cattle, wealth, life and death.

4. Let us consider a fragment of a Slavonic embroidered towel of the end of the 19th century - the beginning of the 20th century which is housed in a private collection (the village Pavlovskaya) (The field materials, 2003), see figure 6.

 

FIGURE 6

 

 

Here I recognise several motifs of the Scythian and Sarmatian time. The picture can be divided into three segments, and the first and third ones are mirror images of each other. The central segment contains a flower (the World Tree) surrounded by two cocks. They may be related to the formula izbushka na kur'ih nozhkah 'the hut on chicken legs' from Russian fairy-tales (Rjabchikov 2001b). This hut belongs to Yaga. It is known that a hero enters the hut, and he leaves it either on the back of a horse or on an eagle or having turned into an eagle himself (Propp 1998: 153). In these terms the death of the hero and his trip into the other world are described. The first and third segments contain the common symbols: a winged lion (gryphon), two dogs, two crosses, a square with four <-shaped rays. Besides, a person with crossed legs is presented here. As has been shown earlier (Rjabchikov 2001a), the god Targitai (the Indo-Aryan god Indra) and the two dogs of Yama, the Indo-Aryan king of the dead, are depicted on a wall of a crypt of the Scythian Naples (the Crimea, Ukraine). Hence, the two dogs presented on the embroidery are the symbols of death. Two dogs called Stavr and Gavr of the legendary prince Boy 'The battle' are associated with forefathers in the Byelorussian beliefs (Ivanov and Toporov 1991: 364). I conclude that in the Slavonic mythology two dogs are an emblem of the deity of the sun, fire, war, life and death. The name Stavr compares with Greek stauros 'stake', Scythian/Sarmatian so 'the sun; shine; heat; light; eye; bright', Greek tauros 'bull', and the name Gavr compares with Old Indian gavya 'came from a cow', Russian gavkat' 'to bark', Scythian/Sarmatian ra 'the sun; fire'. The signs "cross", "square" ("rhombus") read ay, cf. Scythian/Sarmatian ay 'egg; the World Tree; the sun; life, vitality; vigour; long life'. An effort must be made to realise the semantics of the figure of the person. The crossing of legs in the region of shins is a Sarmatian indication of burials in ancient towns of the Taman' peninsula (Maslennikov 1990: 54). In this custom one can decode the sign "cross" ay, cf. Scythian/Sarmatian ay 'egg; the World Tree; the sun; life, vitality; vigour; long life'. It is the symbolism of the Scythian and Sarmatian goddess Ma of the sun and fire, of the successful transition of the deceased to this goddess into the other world (Rjabchikov 2002a: 90). It is conceivable that the figure of the person with crossed legs denotes the deceased. Moreover, this figure can be an image of the sun deity. I suggest that the gryphon is an image of the god Tara (Targitai) of the sun and thunderstorm (3). Let us examine a picture on a rhyton from one of Kelermes barrows (the village Kelermesskaya, Republic of Adygea, Russia) (Bessonova 1983: 84, figure 9 [1]). Signs 76-76 ra-ra are presented on figures of two gryphons, cf. Scythian/Sarmatian ra-ra 'the very bright sun'. Interestingly that this word is associated with Russian Rarog, another name of the Fiery Bird (Rjabchikov 2002d: 215). In this case the gryphon (Greek gruy, grupos 'gryphon' < Scythian/Sarmatian gar- *ap- or p- 'the fire - the water/beat/reproduction') compares with the fairytale bird (cf. Old Indian vi 'bird; horse', Russian vyt' 'to howl (of the wind, animals, etc.)', vikhr' 'whirlwind' < Scythian/Sarmatian *vi har- 'the bird/horse - the sun'). South Russian (Kuban) truna 'coffin' < Scythian/Sarmatian *Tar-un- '(belonging to the god) Tara'. It is safe to say that the god Tara as well as the goddess Ma were not only deities of life, but also of the kingdom of death. Since the funeral and marriage are close connected in the Slavonic beliefs (Rjabchikov 2002e), I suppose that the archaic symbols of the Kuban embroidery are relevant to funeral or wedding rites.

5. Let us examine a Bosporan fishnet sinker that was found in the Taman' bay near the village Taman'. The artifact is housed in a private collection, see photo 7. Sign 45 de is engraved on this sinker. This word is comparable with Scythian/Sarmatian da 'heat; giving'. Signs 12-33 Sora are incised on a Meotian net sinker, and sign 72 be is incised on another (Rjabchikov 2002c: 134). In the first case there is the name Sora (Sol-) of the Scythian and Sarmatian solar deity. In the second case Scythian/Sarmatian b- means 'to beat; to increase; to breed' (Rjabchikov 2002a: 8, 95). Let us examine a symbol of a Bosporan net sinker that is exhibited in the Taman' Archaeological Museum, see figure 7. It is an "eight-pointed star" that depicts the sun. Maybe such records on net sinkers were destined for the increasing of the catch of fish as well as of fertility as a whole. A net is a symbol of fertility and abundance in the Slavonic folklore and rites (Rjabchikov 2002a: 233-4). The wordplay is quite possible, cf. Old Indian sic 'net; to pour out; to emit semen; to water (plants)'.

 

FIGURE 7

 

 

6. Recently the Taman' Archaeological Museum prepared the exposition "The Ancient World of Ceramics". Let us consider the upper part of a Bosporan painted religious vessel of the 3rd century B.C. which was found on the Taman' peninsula, see photo 8. Several pairs of signs looking like a heart are painted in a circular position. In my opinion, this vessel was manufactured by a Greek for Barbarians. The pairs of symbols are signs 26-26 read ru-ru in fact. This word is associated with the cult of the sun deity, cf. Old Indian ru 'cutting; dividing; to break; sound; noise; to make any noise or sound; war; battle', Russian rubit' 'to cut' (Rjabchikov 2001c). Let us consider a compound symbol engraved on a stone slab from Tanais (Shelov 1972: 240, the lower figure), see figure 8.

 

FIGURE 8

 

 

I read it as signs 26-26 ru-ru with the same meanings. One can see signs 26-26 ru-ru (the symbolism of the Scythian, Sarmatian and Slavonic goddess of the fire, hearth and home; cf. Russian lyul'ka 'cradle') on casings of windows of a house in the village Pavlovskaya (The field materials, 2003), see photo 9.

7. I have read a number of Scythian/Sarmatian brief inscriptions with sign(s) 33 ra 'the sun; fire' (Rjabchikov 2001d; 2002a; 2002b). Let us examine two Scythian artifacts - a bronze pendant and an ear-ring - from the burials of barrows of the eastern Crimea, Ukraine (Yakovenko, Chernenko and Korpusova 1970: 149, figure 5 [6]; 166-7, figure 20 [9]). They are suggestive of sign 33 ra 'the sun; fire'.

One can see two signs 33 ra with the same meanings and the sign "rhombus" ay (the symbolism of the Scythian, Sarmatian and Slavonic goddess of the fire, hearth and home) on casings of windows of a house in the village Pavlovskaya (The field materials, 2003), see photo 10.

Let us consider a fragment of a Slavonic embroidered towel of the end of the 19th century - the beginning of the 20th century which is housed in a private collection (the village Pavlovskaya) (The field materials, 2003), see figure 9.

 

FIGURE 9

 

 

Here I recognise several motifs of the Scythian and Sarmatian time. The left symbol resembles a compound symbol that was studied by the author earlier (Rjabchikov 2002b: figure 8). I read three signs 33 ra 'the sun; fire', the sign "round with a dot" (THE SUN; the determinative), a sign that looks like a tree (the World Tree) or even a sword. The right symbol consists of sign 12 so (cf. Scythian/Sarmatian so 'the sun; shine; heat; light; eye; bright'), the sign "round with a dot" (THE SUN; the determinative), two heads of horses (the symbolism of the Scythian god Tara, the Indo-Aryan god Indra), a tree (the World Tree). I suppose that the symbols of the Kuban embroidery are relevant to wedding rites.

 

NOTES

 

1. See also (Shelov 1972: 280-1).

2. See also (Rjabchikov 2002a: 200-2).

3. See also (Rjabchikov 2002a: 33, 36, 123, 168).

 

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The field materials, 2003 - The field materials of the South Russian folkloric-ethnographic expedition under the leadership of Sergei V. Rjabchikov in 2003: the materials of Sergei V. Rjabchikov, archives, Krasnodar.

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