This exhibition features samples of ancient art originating from the burial sites found in the Lower Don region, in particularly the burial mounds of Khokhlach (located in the Novocherkassk city vicinity and excavated in 1864) and Dachi (discovered in 1986 not far from Azov). The former tomb is that of a distinguished woman (a priestess of the goddess of fertility), the latter being that of a glorious warrior or a tribal king. Both burial complexes had been the subject of attacks by grave-robbers who failed to discover the hidden recesses where the kinsmen of the deceased carefully placed the most valuable offerings.
The most remarkable artifact is the unique silver vessel with a zoomorphic handle, ornamented with a decorous ritual inscription that is a lection from the Avesta (ancient scripture of the Iranian nations). Sarmatians gained possession of such objects in various ways. Some of them were received as gifts of distinction from Roman emperors: Sarmatians were skilled warriors and often served as mercenaries in the Roman army. But the fact did not prevent them from occasionally sacking cities and provinces of the empire, so some of the items may have been seized as trophies. Finally, they may have been obtained by way of peaceful trade and barter.
For more than a thousand years the Northern Black Sea littoral region was dominated by nomadic tribes of cattle-breeders who used to speak languages of the Iranian family and are collectively referred to by contemporary authors as Scythians (7th – 3rd centuries B.C.) and Sarmatians (2nd century B.C. – 4th century A.D.). Being basically nomadic people, Sarmatians founded no stationary settlements. The numerous burial sites scattered all over the steppes of Southern Russia, are the only source of archaeological data on their culture and way of life.
The Sarmatians traditionally laid their dead ones to rest in wide rectangular ditches or catacomb graves under earthen mounds. Like other ancient people, they believed in life after death, and placed his/her paraphernalia inside the tomb, together with other gifts and offerings. The more well-off and distinguished the deceased had been, the more numerous and variegated were the items included for the afterlife. These gifts often consisted of a garment decorated with sewn-on golden plaques and a number of gold adornments: grivnas, bracelets and belt buckles. In case the deceased was a female the offerings included all kinds of jewellery pieces: earrings, rings, bracelets, necklaces of beads made of gold or coloured glass, alongside with toiletware: bronze mirrors, bone combs, decorous flasks for perfume, rouge and ceruse.
Sarmatian culture flourished at the dawn of the first century AD, especially after the Alan tribes came to inhabit the Lower Don region. It is from this period that the most well-known local burial sites are dated.
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