The Scythian Women - Illuminated by the Sun

Two and a half thousand years ago, in the territory of modern-day Ukraine, lived the Scythians - a nation of herdsmen and warriors.

Ancient stories and legends have preserved tales of outstanding heroes who defeated their enemies on the battlefield and protected their homeland from all kinds of evil.

Garment applique with anthropomorphic plot (400 - 300 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

Alongside brave male warriors were their wives who were in no way inferior to their husbands.  They were responsible for raising children and running households, but when necessary, they could take up arms and repel attackers.

On some artifacts dating back to the Scythian era, depictions of Scythian women can be observed, allowing us to gain insight into their attire. These garments consisted of long dresses adorned with applique and, in all probability, embroidery, accompanied by warm outerwear and a variety of headwear, which were typically covered with lightweight cloaks

Plates for decorating clothes (350 - 320 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

We are familiar with a significant number of golden appliques depicting anthropomorphic characters, zoomorphic figures, and plant motifs, which were sewn onto the clothing of Scythian women, based on archaeological findings.

The upper part of the dress and the sleeves were the first to be decorated, with the use of anywhere from ten to several hundred applique plates. The largest collection of such adornments was found in central tomb of the royal burial mound of Kul-Oba in Crimea (over a thousand, although the exact number is unknown), the female tombs of the royal burial mound of Chortomlyk in the Dnipro River region (around 1,500), and the aristocratic burial mound of Melitopol in the Azov region (over 3,000).

Reconstruction of the headdress with original decorations (400 - 300 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

In addition to clothing, valuable appliques were also used to embellish headgear. The shape of these hats could reveal much about their owner, and it is believed that unmarried girls wore high, conical hats, which could also be part of wedding attire.

Reconstruction of headdresses with original decorations (380 - 360 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

Married women's appearance reflected their social status. They wore cylindrical headgear with distinct decorations, possibly inspired by ancient Greek/Roman cities.

Plate with the image of a deer (700 - 625 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

Among the images that adorned clothing, animal images have prevailed since ancient times - proud deer, mysterious goats, and sly predators.

Temporal pendants (400 - 350 ВСE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

Sometimes, the main headdress was supplemented with temple pendants. These consist of a shield with images of plants and a scene of a griffin fighting a man and a cascade of pendants on thin chains.

During movement such decorations ring melodiously. It was believed that this helps to protect the woman from various evil spirits.

Ring-shaped earrings with shell pendants (350 - 325 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

The most common and favorite decorations of Scythian women were earrings of various fanciful shapes. Some of them are quite heavy (over 7 grams), so it is believed that such decorations could also be worn as pendants for headdresses.

Boat-earrings with pendants (400 - 300 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

The most beloved form of earrings were "boats", possibly associated with the worship of the Moon. Such earrings were decorated with various patterns - chased or laid out with grains of gold. Quite often an additional element, such as image of flowers, was placed on the horns.

Some "boats" were adorned with images of birds - ducks. Supposedly, at the ends of the horns are a pair of parents who watch over their children, and on the chains are ducklings that always stay close. There is an assumption that such earrings were given to a girl as a wish for a strong family (as ducks, like swans, are paired birds) and a large friendly family, as well as a powerful talisman.

During the movement of a woman wearing such earrings, there is also a constant subdued ringing - supposedly maternal prayers for children which continuously rise to the gods.

Ring-shaped earrings with pendants (400 - 300 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

Sometimes earrings were adorned with precious stones, but overall this tradition was not typical for the Scythian era. It spread later when the Sarmatians took over the Ukrainian steppes, and Greek cities on the Black Sea coast fell under the influence of Hellenistic culture.

Neck jewelry hryvna (400 - 300 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

Other decorations were also popular. The noblest women wore ring-like necklaces, which conventionally are called "hrivna". Some of these products were adorned with images of lionesses. Perhaps, such zoomorphic decoration was a sign of the owner's belonging to the royal family.

Necklace with pendant (400 - 300 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

The Scythian women had a penchant for adorning themselves with a variety of necklaces. These were precious strings crafted from gold or silver components, with some sets made from ceramics and covered with a thin gold foil. They were often complemented with talisman pendants.

Necklace (400 - 300 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

One of the widely used necklaces was a vibrant glass bead necklace crafted in the workshops of ancient Greek/Roman cities, with some serving as talismans as well. Specifically, the beads decorated with concentric circles - "eyes" were believed to protect women from the evil eye.

Pendant (400 - 300 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

Even goddesses were replicated in gold. Scythian women boldly employed images of Greek deities, regarding them as their own divine beings.

Ring-shaped earrings with pendants (375 - 325 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

Each Scythian woman had her own set of detachable adornments such as pendants, earrings, and necklaces. While walking or moving most of these pieces would chime and rustle, producing a soft melody that was always unique.

Ring (400 - 300 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

Rings were the finishing touch of their adornments. The most common were simple gold rings with a flat or convex round shield, which could either remain smooth or be embellished with some image. Such rings were typically worn in sets of 6-10.

We can envision a Scythian woman donning exquisite ceremonial attire: a dress and headwear adorned with golden plates, pendants, earrings, necklaces, and breastplates. All of these elements created a golden radiance around her face, shimmering and sparkling in the vivid steppe sunlight. Countless rings caught the sun's rays as she moved her hands, causing hundreds of reflections and sparks to scatter. Scythians regarded gold as the metal of the gods, symbolizing the Sun.

Earrings with the image of the goddess (350 - 325 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

The renowned depictions of Scythian goddesses are the Argimpasa, Api, or Tabiti. The images on their earrings and pendants portray a mature woman sitting on a throne surrounded by lions and mythical creatures.

Plate with the image of a woman's head (350 - 300 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

She is commonly referred to as the "Mistress of the Beasts," as it is difficult to definitively identify which goddess is depicted in this particular case.

These Scythian women have gone down in history adorned in gold, shining like the sun. Whether earthly women or goddesses who have descended to earth, they are a sight to behold.

Credits: Story

Research and text: Yurii Polidovych
Project Сurator: Nataliia Panchenko
Technical implementation: Oleg Mitiukhin, Oksana Mitiukhina, Liudmila Klymuk
Text editor: Nataliia Panchenko
Translation: Dmytro Mitiukhin
Selection of exhibits: Yurii Polidovych
Photographer: Oleg Mitiukhin, Dmytro Klochko

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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