The author proposes an approach to determine self-identities, boundaries, internal political organization and foreign relations of ancient societies using materials of burials of élites in the lack of representative written sources.
Cultural change in the “barbarian” world of the North Pontic region from the 3rd century bc to the mid-3rd century ad was not a special field of interest for ancient authors. Classical narratives only contain information about certain manifestations of such processes. In Russia, interest in studying the cultural changes that took place in the steppes of Eastern Europe in Antiquity appeared in the early 18th century, in connection with the accession of new territories to the East and West. The core of the cultural-historical model, which took shape and then developed in Russian historical research, was the idea of a constantly changing succession of peoples in the North Pontic region and of the historical role of this region as a buffer zone between East and West. On this basis, an aetiological myth of the Russian Empire took root, justifying its impressive size, its length along the meta-geographical axis of Eurasia and its historic role in the destiny of Europe. This concept assumed its definitive form in the early 20th century in the works of Mikhail Rostovtsev.
The paper presents a comparative analysis of burial assemblages of ‘barbarian’ élites located on the territory of the Crimea between Chersonesos Taurica and the Bosporan kingdom dating from the 3rd century BC to the mid-3rd century AD. The main goal of the research is to define indications of self-identities of the Crimean non-urban societies represented by their élites and to outline their networking inside and outside the peninsula as well as their changes during four chronological periods. The research is based on the precondition that networking in the political sphere is closely connected to the exchange of symbols of power and status. In material culture, such symbols might be represented by the so-called ‘prestige objects’. Changes in the assortment of these items observed over a long time-span are helping to visualize the development of internal and external relationships of social élites.
The article concerns the composition and the origin of prestige markers from burial contexts of the Volga-Don region in four chronological groups (3rd–2nd c. BC, 1st c. BC, 1st–mid-2nd c. AD, mid-2nd–mid-3rd c. AD). Certain ‘core features’ were noticed among male and female sets of prestige goods, which did not change with time, as well as other changing elements in each period. By the origin, the prestige goods are divided into intra-cultural, cross-cultural, and external-cultural ones. The use of prestige goods of different origins at the funerals of the social élite members reflects the inclusion of the societies in various contemporary networks. Thus, during the first period, there are noted connections of the élites of the Western Volga-Don subregion with the élites of the Northern Black Sea (mostly Lower Dnieper and Dniester regions) and Eastern Europe, while the élites of the Eastern subregion were focused on communication with nomadic communities of the Eurasian steppe belt (Siberia, Mongolia, Transbaikalia). In the second period, these interactions generally persisted, while the links with élites of the Iranian world markedly intensified, particularly in the Eastern subregion. In the third period, the Volga-Don élites were predominantly oriented in the direction of Parthian Iran. In the fourth period, the contacts of the barbarian élites of the region are noted mainly with the Bosporan kingdom.
In 2015 during excavations in the Ust’-Al’ma necropolis, a grave with a side-chamber was discovered (No. 1074). The deceased was a male aged 25-35 who had suffered many injuries during his life which could be traces of blows received in battle. The burial complex dates from the mid-1st century ad and belongs to a group of ‘Barbarian’ elite burials complete with gold funeral wreaths and face-coverings (eye- and mouth-covers). Most of these graves are earthen catacombs located along the road leading towards the ancient fortified settlement of Ust’-Al’ma on the western coast of the Crimean peninsula. Assemblages from male burials of this group usually contain weapons (sword, bow, arrows). As a rule, the burial goods are plentiful and rich. Elements of burial attire are often made of precious metals, and are represented by armlets, brooches, pendants, amulets, items from belt-sets and plaques which would have been sewn on to items of apparel. Among other burial goods, there are amphorae, wooden utensils with carved figures of animals and Roman imported bronze and silver ware. Taking into consideration that these burial structures were of a special type, that the graves had been positioned in a special area along the road leading to the settlement, as well as the extraordinary splendor of the grave goods, it can be concluded that they were burials for individuals belonging to the highest ranks of the social elite. The use of an unusual type of burial structure (a grave with a side-chamber) and the relatively small number of grave goods, which were nevertheless signs of high social rank (a funeral wreath, face-coverings, a sword), indicate the special status of the individual buried in Grave No. 1074.
This is the publication of a female burial in Catacomb No. 1119 of the Ust’-Al’ma necropolis situated on the south-western shore of the Crimea. In it were found items of personal jewellery (gold earrings, amphora-shaped pendants, beads of a necklace and plaques originally sewn on to garments) as well as grave goods (gold leaves from a funerary wreath, gold eye-pieces, two hand-moulded ceramic incense-burners, a ceramic jug, an iron knife, a ceramic unguentarium of the bulbous type, a ceramic red-slip bowl and two ceramic spindle whorls). The grave might have belonged to a representative of the social élite and it dates from the first half of the 1st century AD.
Metal jewellery used as votive offerings is discovered at the “barbarian” mountain sanctuary of Eklizi-Burun (the Crimea) and dating from the 1st to the 3rd centuries AD. Most of these items were probably part of female costume known from funerary contexts in the Central Crimea, which differ both regarding their location (in the Crimean Foothills and on the South-Coast), as well as the specific features of the burial rite (“cremation” vs. “inhumation”). A small part of the jewellery is characteristic only for the cemeteries in the South-Coast area containing burials with remains of cremation.
An analysis of the cultural environment, in which the jewellery items deposited in the Eklizi-Burun sanctuary of the Roman period were produced and used, suggests that its worshippers came from communities living on the southern macro-slope of the main ridge of the Crimean Mountains and practised cremation of the dead. Apparently, these people appeared in the Graeco-Roman narrative tradition and local epigraphic documents of the Roman period as “Tauri”, “Scythian-Tauri”, and “Tauro-Scythians” inhabiting “Taurica”. They are presumed to have appeared in the Crimean Mountains in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC (migrating from areas with archaeological cultures influenced by the La Tène culture?) and to have maintained their cultural identity until the beginning of the 5th century AD.
In 2004 a previously unknown burial-ground consisting of flat graves was discovered by grave-robbers on the northern slopes of the Central Caucasus range at a height of 800 metres above sea-level near the settlement of Mezmay in the Apsheronsk District of the Krasnodar region. In 2005 the first rescue excavations were undertaken.
Among the assemblages so far investigated, the most interesting has been Grave No. 3, in which a warrior of aristocratic descent and high social rank had been laid to rest. Apart from the deceased warrior, there were also horse burials in this funerary complex and a large range of grave goods, the number and quality of which make the complex unique, not only for the Northern Caucasus but also for the whole North Pontic region. Two bronze helmets were found in it for example, iron chain-mail, swords, spear-heads, short spears and arrows, a battle-axe, bronze, glass and pottery vessels, gold jewellery, a bronze mirror, an iron tripod bearing zoomorphic depictions and many other artefacts. The preliminary date which has been assigned to the burial ranges from the late 3rd to the early 2nd century BC, while the necropolis itself is considered as belonging to the Late Hellenistic and Early Roman eras. It is not possible to identify unequivocally the culture with which the Mezmay necropolis is linked, but it can for the time being be classified as linked to the range of Maeotian antiquities of the North-western Caucasus.
Apart from Burial No. 3, bronze and iron helmets from the spoil heaps of the grave-robbers’ excavations are also published in this article.
The article is a publication of the Grave 1 excavated in the necropolis of Luchistoe-2, which is so far the only known archaeological site in Southern Crimea with burial structures of the Early Roman period. The article includes suggestions regarding the scale and date of the necropolis, as well as the funerary rite, costume and cultural connections of the society using the burial-ground. It was established that the published grave contained the burial of a woman of high social status (probably a priestess) dated from the late-1st or early-2nd century ad. Analysis of the archaeological material in conjunction with information about the location of the necropolis and data from epigraphic documents and ancient litterary tradition, leads to the conclusion that the burial-ground was located in ‘Taurica’ – the territory between the Greek polis of Chersonesos and the Bosporan kingdom. It was used by the population, which was designated in the written sources as Scytho-Taurians (Plin. nh., iv, 85-86; Arr. ppe. 30). These peoples were bearers of the so-called Late Scythian archaeological culture and belonged to the sphere of the Bosporan state’s cultural influence. This information can be used in further reconstructions of the ethno-political situation in the Crimea in Roman times.