Cimmerian, Scythian and Sarmatian arts 9th century BCE – 4th century CE
In the territory of Ukraine the objects of goldsmithry became widespread I millennium BCE - in the Early Iron Age - when the steppe and forest steppe were populated by the Iranian tribes of nomadic herdsmen.
The Cimmerians are the first people of Eastern Europe known after their proper name that was written down in Greek and Assyrian texts. The Cimmerians are considered to be nomadic and agricultural tribes who lived in the steppe and the forest steppe and used the weaponry set with sword, spear, axe, arrows, and the harness convenient for a chariot. Some written sources describe the Cimmerians as good herdsmen; others portray them as threatening riders. Images of the Cimmerians - cruel warriors who ravaged rich countries of Urartu and Assyria in the 8th – 7th centuries BCE – are present on ancient ceramic vases and stone bas-reliefs.
In the early 7th century BCE, the Scythian nomads arrived. Herodotus explains in his "History", written in the 5th century BCE, that the Cimmerians, expelled by the Scythians, retreated into Minor Asia and ruined there Phrygian kingdom, the cities of Magnesia, Smyrna, Sardis. After the Cimmerian had been defeated by the Assyrians, the Scythians appeared as the main military force that passed across the lands of Urartu, Media, Assyria till Egypt, where Pharaoh paid their moving away with rich gifts. During 28 years (from 652 to 625 BCE) the Scythians plundered Asian countries, causing discontent. The Median king avenged of the all: he invited all Scythian chiefs for a great feast, when they were drunk the Median ordered to kill them. Then the Scythians returned to "their plains" north of the Black Sea. During the 7th century BCE the Great Scythia embraced the lands between the rivers Don "Tanais" and Danube "Ister", and its northern boundary was the forest zone of Polissia.
At the same time on the north coast of the Black Sea "Pontus Euxinus" appeared Greek colonies of settlers from Minor Asia. The most of them sailed from Miletus to found important colonies of Olbia in estuary of the Dnipro, Tyras in estuary of the Dnister and Pantikapaeum, the greatest Greek city in the Crimea, "Taurica". Another important city Chersonesos was founded on the southern coast of the Crimean peninsula by colonists from Heraclea Pontica. Those were the most important cities that became centers of economic, trade and cultural relations between the Greek civilization and the Scythian world.
During the 4th century BCE, under the reign of Atei, the Great Scythia lived its richest period.
But in the 3rd century BCE it began to decline. One of the main reasons was environmental: high solar activity made dry grasslands that forced the nomads to move to lower reaches of the Dnipro river and into the Crimea.
Later, in the 2nd century BCE, deserted steppes above the Black Sea were repopulated by the nomadic Sarmatians "armed with the sword". Their tribes arrived from the depths of Asia and gradually inhabited the steppe from the foothills of the Caucasus to the valley of the Danube. For next six hundred years the cities-states by the Black Sea, being under Roman influences, had been feeling a permanent fear of the Sarmatian cavalry. The city of Olbia was some time under control of the Sarmatian kings - Farzoi and his son. Some Hellenic cities on the low Dnipro were destroyed by Sarmatian raids. Iranian domination ended in the 4th century CE with the Turkic migration.
In the nowadays Ukrainian steppe there are many thousands kurgans – barrows left by the Cimmerians, the Scythians and the Sarmatians. The greatest among them are tombs of nomadic elite where the archaeologists excavate many artifacts. Among them there are gorgeous examples of ancient metal art created by local goldsmiths or imported with commercial operations and military campaigns.
The examples of the most ancient jewelry are the adornments found in the graves from the 9th – 7th centuries BCE. They decorated the Cimmerian warriors, their weapons, clothes, utensils and horse equipment. Cimmerian art has geometric motifs: circle, semicircle, spiral, squares, rhombus, crosses, etc. Metal decorations were created thanks to lost-wax casting, forging, stamping, carving and brazing. Some items were inlaid with glass.
The Scythians brought a fascinating animal style with images of stags, horses, mountain goats, feline predators. The realistic representation with special stylistic accent on an element offers to feel some vital vigour. Every image had some signification and was used as an amulet, talisman. The metal decorations are usually created by embossing and chasing, or sometimes cast as miniature sculpture.
Along with countless toreutic decorations made in the Great Scythia there are more sophisticated adornments created by the goldsmiths in the city-states by the Black and Mediterranean seas. Pontic artists gradually transformed relief realistic images of animals into flat stylized abstract patterns. Since the late 5th century BCE in the decorative art of the northern shore of the Black Sea appeared the Scythian-Hellenic style – where the main image taken from Greek mythology got some local features. The Scythians liked to use Greek adornments bearing the traditional scenes: sacrifices with mythical and terrestrial beasts, battles of the hero with a beast, ceremonies with presence of the gods and the humans.
Thus, the silver-gilded "Haymanova Cup", from the tumulus of Haymanova Mohyla, presents two couples of Scythian noble men flanked by humble servants. Thanks to a very detail engraving work on the embossed figures there is opportunity to see every personage with its own features, portrait, hairdressing, cloth, weaponry.
The gold "Helmet", from Perederiyeva Mohyla, is ingraved with the battle in steppe where two bearded men triumph over four young lads. All six warriors are wearing cloths in the same Scythian style. That scene evocates History by Herodotus where Melpomene 3 says: "From their slaves and from their wives had been born and bred up a generation of young men, who having learnt the manner of their birth set themselves to oppose the Scythians as they were returning from the Medes. Afterwards when the Scythians attempted to invade the land, they took up a position against them and fought; and as they fought many times, and the Scythians were not able to get any advantage in the fighting. When they were advised to leave spears and bows and that each one takes his horse-whip for the young would see their whips instead of arms, and perceive to be their slaves."
The Pectoral is the most perfect decoration of the Great Scythia created specially for the nomadic basileus by some skilful master who evidently worked in an important Greek goldsmithry. "It embodies the soul of the all Scythian people" - wrote Borys Mozolevsky, Ukrainian archaeologist who excavated the Pectoral in the hiding place of the tumulus Tovsta Mohyla on June 21, 1971. Three levels of the Pectoral with breathtaking gold figurines, cast after lost-wax technology and engraved in details, represent the Scythian life in spring, the under-earth world of death and the space of celestial being.
In the Hellenistic period (late 4th century BCE – 1st century CE) the utensils became more luxurious, the jewelry became more refined. The Scythian elite followed some Hellenic modes of jewelry, also cloths and even habits. The gold decorations became polychrome thanks to the encrustation with gems or enamel.
Since the 1st century CE - the Gold Age of the Sarmatians – their richest barrows keep interesting antique items from the jewelry centers of Bosporus, Thracia and Asia Minor. The Sarmatian art presents the domination of zoomorphic images interpreted in another manner: animal figurines were often decorated with blue-colored inlaid. Next centuries saw the mode for geometric patterns and the total incrustation of the gold adornments with semi-precious stones, colored glass and enamel.
The highlight of this style is a fascinating pair of gold bracelets from the Nohaychynsky barrow. The external side of their hollow gold torus is entirely covered with uncountable pearls and some onyx gems beaded on the fifty gold fine wires. The wrist is decorated with a big yellowish semi-precious stone framed besides with two gold figurines that make think about the couple of Eros and Psyche.
Cultural achievements by the antic inhabitants of the South Ukraine inspired the artistic creation of next generations.
During the 4th – 7th centuries the epoch of the Great Migration saw further development of the precedent jewelry art, especially remarkable with the use of the polychrome style.