Beautiful gold artifacts, two-and-a half millennia old, from the Russian Steppes are on display at the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum, in Kaminobori-cho.
The Scythians, a fierce nomadic tribe that flourished more than 2500 years ago in what is present-day Ukraine, are among the most fascinating, but least familiar, of the great warrior cultures that dominated the European steppes for centuries. Although the Huns and Mongols were also known for their ferocity and ruthlessness, the Scythians left a more tangible and artistic legacy through their lavishly provisioned tombs, which preserved one of the most complete material records of any nomadic people.
The Scythians left no written record of their culture, but two rich sources of information about them have survived to this day: the historical writings of Greeks such as Herodotus, and archaeological evidence excavated from Scythian burial sites. Scythian gold artifacts, first unearthed in the 1770s from massive burial mounds known as kurhans, were so extraordinary that the Russian empress Catherine the Great ordered their systematic study, launching what became the field of Scythian archaeology. In the ensuing years exquisite gold pieces, including jewelry, weapons, and ceremonial objects were excavated by Russian and Ukranian archaeologists from the Scythian burial mounds in the steppes of Ukraine and Russia.
Some of the most extraordinary finds have been made within the last two decades. In surprising contrast to the belief that the Scythians were savage warriors, modern archaeological work has disclosed that they were among the greatest art patrons of their day. Some of the objects in Scythian burial mounds were clearly made by the Scythians themselves, displaying a sophisticated version of the “animal style” that is associated with the central Asian steppes. Other objects reveal considerable influence from the artistic traditions of ancient Near Eastern cultures. But much of the lavish gold jewelry, vessel work, and weaponry found in the tombs was commissioned by the Scythians from workshops in the Greek settlements along the northern coast of the Black Sea. Many of these gold objects reveal a collaboration between trained, and most likely Greek, metalworkers and less-skilled apprentices who may well have been Scythian.