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Kurgans and cultic sites of the steppe cultures (burials and mounds)
|available in German
|Tuekta-Bashadar-Pazyryk-Culture North Altai
During the 8th 7th centuries BC the populations around the Altai (South Siberia Republic Altai, Tuva, and northwestern Mongolia) are considered to have been a united cultural-political unit. In the first half of the 6th century BC profound changes took place. The southern areas of Altai became a single unit with a center in northeastern region and were of the TuektaBashadarPazyryk type. The tradition of erecting deer stones and kheregsur pottery disappeared north of the Sayan and Altai region as well as in Mongolia during the 6th century BC. The appearance of new handicraft may be accorded to the immigration of militant nomadic clans from Asia Minor at the end of the 7th or the beginning of the 6th century BC. Parallels oint to a relationship between immigrants in Altai and a Gordion population in the region of Anatolia. Gordion was the capital of the Phrygian kingdom and lay to the southwest of today’s Ankara at the Sangarios River today’s Sakarya. An elite of these immigrants probably hailed from Gordion or the surrounding regions. They occupied the fertile valley of the Altai. Burial mounds are located along the central Altaic route (the Chuyskaya Road) that leads through the Altai from east to west as well as from north to south. Clans from Central Asia or Asia Minor brought new handicraft, pots with long necks, incense cups, bridles with bits, weapons forged of iron and decorated with gold inlays, tools whose heritage can be accorded to Assyrian handiwork, jewelry with depictions of animals (lions, griffins, fantastic animals etc. see jewelry plaques) and lotus motifs (see Ornamente 1 and 2). Finds from the first half of the 6th century BC, weapons and tools of iron, also indicate a connection to Asia Minor. A military, strongly connected group formed a new community in which the elite of the diverse population previously located here was formed a new in the 6th and 5th centuries BC. Their ethnogenetic image was probably even more complex than it has been previously described. Relationships existed to the people settled in Southeast Kazakhstan and more distant regions within the Central Asian region and China. On the basis of these arguments, archaeology must incorporate the history of this area even more into its research. Was there an affinity between the then immigrated nomadic clans that could be descendants of the Cimmerians (1) of Asia Minor? After they arrived, did they commingle with the local Maiemir tribes that occupied this region before them and forge an independent community? Did only one ruling elite make out this Pazyryk culture during 6th through 4th century BC?
- (1) Cimmerians: 8th and 7th centuries BC
An Indo-European riding people that according to Greek authors like Herodot lived on the Cimmerian Bosporus (today’s Strait of Kerch) between the Crimea and South Russa and in North Caucasus. Aristeas of Proconnesos first mentioned these nomadic people (Cimmerians), inhabitants of the steppes on the north shore of the Black Sea. The Cimmerians were banished from their tribal area by the encroaching Scythians in the 8th century BC. Following this they followed the sea boarder and entered Asia Minor. Several tribes came via the Caucasus. They then settled in Anatolia between the Mannai (kingdom at Lake Urmia) and the Medes (an old Iranian people).
more information on the tribes see “History of the Equestrian Nomads“
A stagnation in the development occurred in the time frames of 8th 7th and 6th 4th century BC that can be observed in the finds in the Altai. The Maiemir tribes (8th 7th centuries BC) were heterogeneous within their ethnic structure and generally buried their dead on the old cemetery or in rather shallow graves, orientating their heads to the northwest. They included clay vessels in the tomb. Horses were buried separately in pits next to humans. During this time, contacts had been established between the Altai tribes and the peoples of Central Asia and the Middle East. During the first half of the 6th century BC, new burial rituals were established in the Altai, for example that of the BashadarTuektaPazyryk Culture with great and small barrows (see example grave barrow with grave construction). Nomads brought new rites and are probably ancestors of this Pazyryk Culture. In burials their heads were oriented east and for the first time weapons were found in the graves. Humans and horses were buried in the same pit and wood constructions protected them. Graves contained instruments in the shape of ships with long necks (see lute), bridles with cheekpieces, chariots (see chariot), jewelry and iron tools. These were similar to this kind of handiwork and burials in Middle Eastern grave finds with animal style motifs. It should be noted that anthropologists found Europoid skeletons in the Altai for the first time, a type from Eurasia. Yet everything points to the fact that there are no cultural or genetic links to the early Altai cultures. However, similarities to the Gordion tumuli in Southwest Ankara were found in Turkey. These graves show parallels to the Altai graves and seem to be due to the immigrant clans from the 6th century BC. Handicraft whittled from wood in the animal atyle was made with the following motifs: stag, lion, griffin and geometric figures. These motifs were found both in Gordion and now in the Altai. It should be mentioned that the five largest Pazyryk kurgans found date back to ca. 455406 BC so long before the great kurgans of Bashadar and Tuekta that were built between 590 and 570 BC. The immigration of nomadic clans that were descendants of these Cimmerians from the Middle East therefore seems probable. They achieved sovereignity over these indigenous people in the Altai sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. Anthropologists have pointed out the presence of a Europoid human from the Middle East and Central Asia that is identical with finds in the Altai. The appaearance of new clans could explain the changes to previously unknown rites in the Altai region. At the beginning of the 6th century BC the clans of the Medians and the Lydians banished the Cimmerians from Asia Minor after fights (between 610 and 585 BC). In this time frame they may have immigrated via the Eurasian steppes, Central Asia and Tien Shan into the Altai.
- more information on the Animal style and motifs of early Shamanism and Petroglyphs and motifs of early shamanism
Shamanism developed based on self-discovery and the attempt to transfer human consciousness into other worlds. Meditation was used to achieve this goal and as a form of explanation. Souls exist in every individual and they can be manipulated. Nature is also considered to have a soul in animism. Plants, animals, mountains, and countrysides have powers and characteristics. Every individual could find his or her own way of dealing with these powers to achieve a balance between and within human communities and to communicate with invisible forces such as ghosts or ancestors. This made it possible to protect the community from exterior forces. Other active forces in the surroundings could be mentally included or asked for help via rituals. It was also possible to capture them in the zoomorphic forms. Higher powers are considered to have a combination of shapes and qualities. External forces or “the art of reality” are so presented.
In times before the invention of metals, such depictions were only seldom made from lasting materials like stone or bone. Most of such facilitating props did not survive their use. Convictions changed with the development and advancement of sedentary communities during the Metal Ages. Animist world views became less important in the early transitional period to warrior aristocracy. Riches acquired through trade or war could now be amassed and became lasting symbols of a new power in the shape of copper, bronze, gold, and iron handicraft. The Bactrian artisans of the Bronze Age were masters in this art form and traded their pieces with the Indus Civilization, Luristan, the Babylonian and Assyrian Empires as well as with the Saka, Scythians, Greeks and China. Applications with zoomorphic symbols of a Stone Age concept were created with predators, stags, eagles, owls and other animals and worn for protection on clothing, weapons, amulets and as jewelry.
- more information: Schmanisums (Tengerism) in Mongolia
- more information: Religion of the indigenous people of Siberia
Their spiritual kinship to the Cimmerians in Asia Minor During the 8th 7th centuries BC in Asia Minor and the Middle East several independent city states and kingdoms were formed; Babylonia, Urartu, Phrygia, Lydia, Syria, Palestine, Manna, and Media (see map). These states constantly waged war with each other and were vasall by Assyria. In addition to these peoples of the region relatively small nomadic groups from the Eurasian region that entered during the 8th 7th centuries BC brought unrest: first the Cimmerians and then in the seventh century BC the Scythians. The Cimmerians and the Scythians are mentioned in the Assyrian and Greek writings as an independent ethnic group. These nomads were professional and brave warriors and were recruited as mercenaris by ancient Middle eastern sovereigns and later by Greeks as bodyguards or elite units for various rulers, to uphold law and order. They also served as border patrols, as allies of small states. Of course the Cimmerians and the Scythians had their own motifs for their mercenary roles. They were able to establisch themselves at the cost of rich rulers and to gain wealth. The Cimmerians did not destroy Urartu completely as a state, but they did manage to achieve a strong power for a short time in the east of Asia Minor and were active participants in wars against the Phrygian kingdom. Groups of tumuli were erected in Gordion and other locations between 750 and 710 BC. The graves held chariots, iron weapons and pits with wood. They are similar to those found in the Altai region from the 7th century BC. The Cimmerians were probably considered equal to the Phrygian rulers and began to bury their leader in larger tumuli. These tumuli established comprehensive Phrygian, Ionian, and Assyrian burial rites in Asia Minor. The Cimmerians even contracted Phrygian master builders that helped them build the funerary constructions. Early descriptions from stories of the Lydians describe that Cimmerian and Thracian clans invaded this area at the beginning of the 7th century BC. A new strong dynasty in Lydia possibly came to power and finally defeated the Cimmerians around 692 BC after persistent and heavy fighting with the support of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. The Lydians sent the Assyrian king two captured Cimmerian leaders as a gift. In the middle of the 7th century BC the Cimmerians and the Scythians again occupied various regions within Asia Minor but conflicts continued amoung them. The Cimmerians mainly lived in the western region of Phrygia (modern Turkey). In 679 BC they fought their enemies again, the Assyrians in the east and the Lydians in the west. The Scythians settled farther east in the region, close to the Urmia Lake (in modern Iran) and often together with Middle eastern states like Manna and Media. In several situations they also supported the Assyrians. Between 650 and 640 BC the Cimmerians attacked Lydia twice time. King Gygges was killed on the battle field. At times the Cimmerians controlled a large part of the region and the Lydian capital Sardes and Ephesus. During the reign of the new Lydian king, Ardis son of Gygges, the nomads again conquered Sardis except for the town fortress (ca. 644 BC). It is probably due to the influence of the Cimmerians in this region that handicraft in the nomadic animal style was found in Sardes and Ephesus. In 626 BC Bablyonia was liberated and came under Assyrian control, and around 616 BC the Babylonians regained the fore under the leadership of king Nabopalasar. With variable success of the Babylonian king wars with Assyria occurred. Approximately from the end of the 7th until the 4th century BC, history is full of the creation of new powerful states in Asia Minor and the Middle East. Media to the east and Lydia to the west conquered new Assyrian territories. These new powers now considered themselves strong enough to uphold the new order and tried not to be bothered by the Cimmerian or Scythian clans that were at once their former allies and their new enemies. In this fashion the Medians formed an alliance with the Scythians and the Lydians against the Cimmerians. At the end of the 7th or the beginning of the 6th century BC, under the reign of king Alyattes of Lydia, the “Cimmerians were exiled from Asia” (Herodotus I.16). The word “exile” in this case doesn’t mean that the Cimmerians were destroyed but instead that they were driven ot of Asia Minor to some other territory. The Cimmerian tumuli such as at Gordion were similar to the Vysokaya Mogila Tomb at Dniepro in the Ukraine and the Tuekta-Bashadar kurgans in the Altai. The eastern orientation of the body, the appearance of wood constructions in the pit, the similar ornaments on clay vessels (see pottery), the burial with weapons such as daggers, quiver with arrows, the presence of a diadem (brow- or headpiece), the covering of the walls with clay. Similar arrowheads from Asia Minor were also found in Transcaucasia, in the northern Black Sea region and in the steppes of Eastern Europe. The first quarter of the 4th century BC was a dark time in history as the reduction in the number of archaeological finds goes to show. One of the most important attributes of the Cimmerian warriors were their high pointed headdresses (see headdresses, cloths and Altaiwoman) which were sometimes bent forwards. Fur headdresses were discovered during the excavations in tumuli in the Ukok Plateau (Republic Altai see map of Ukok-Platea, Tujekta-Baschadar-Pasyryk and fotos: guardian stone and stone circles to grave site). They comprise further kinds of headdresses with a slightly bent top end decorated with bird head motifs. In written sources the Cimmerians are mentioned with the Amazons. The Saka in the steppes between Lake Aral and the Caspian Sea also wore this kind of pointed cap as was found on the Behistun rock relief (1) from the 6th century BC and like those in the Polis (2) in the 5th century BC. The headdress with armor in gold from the Issyk kurgan was also similar in appearance to that of the Ukok Plateau and this is also what the Cimmerian headdresses are said to have been like. Like the semantically complex arrowheads and four symbolic arrows with leaf-shaped tips they were also characteristic for the Cimmerians in their early Scythian period. It is very probable that the “Issyk Gold Armor” (3) actually stems from a female amazon.
- (1) The Behistun inscription is a carved relief, a royal proclamation carved by Darius I on the great cliff known as "Mountain of the Gods" which celebrates his initial victories when taking power and consolidating the empire. Etched on a cliff face about 100 meters off the ground along the road between modern cities of Hamadan (Iran) and Baghdad (Iraq), near the town of Bisotun. It orginally build on the trade route between Babylon and Susa.
- (2) The Polis (city state) became the predominant form of government. The nobility that was originally not determined by birth became more influential and at the same time the king’s reign was diminished and also disappeared. Therefore oligarchs became more frequent while in other states the population was more involved in government. Democracy and the isonomic principle were developed but equal rights did not apply until classical times.
Since the development of the polis in archaic times and because of the great number of reestablishments in Hellenic times, the Mediterranean area stayed urban over the course of centuries despite the majority of people living in the countryside (because normally most of the rural population was peasants or dependant on a polis). Especially in the east, the Roman empire depended increasingly on the only semi-autonomos poleis that experienced their downfall all over in the late antique time. In the 6th century last attempts to strengthen the cities failed and the Islamic expansion of the 7th century finally lead to the downfall of most poleis. In the Byzantine Empire most cities changed from poleis into fortified and comparably very small cities.
- (3) Altyn Adam Since the 7th century BC cultural traces of the Saka and Uysyn can be found in the region of Almaty. The best known and most interesting evidence of the Saka culture is the so-called “Altyn Adam”, the “Golden Man, from the Issyk-kurgan near the city of Issyk, approximately 50 km east of Almaty. It is a completely preserved and richly decorated armor made of gold.
The great distance of ca. 4000 km between similar burial rituals and craftwork from Anatolia in Turkey and the Altai Region was not necessarily an impenetrable barrier. Even then there existed a well functioning trade route. The nomads could cover this distance within one to two years. Historically, marches with herds of up to 5000 to 6000 km are known. During the 4th century BC Alexander the Great, a Macedonian, covered such distances to India with his armies. The Mongolians covered and conquered distances to the Hungarian Steppe in the 13th century AD.
Nomads are a population whose economical foundations was the keeping of animals with who they moved from pasture to pasture along the steppe belt (see map of grasland). They mainly owned cattle, sheep, goats and horses, camels and in higher regions also yaks. They migrated with their animals to seasonal pastures with horses and mobile housing. Every year they would return to a base for the winter. They only moved on when it was necessary to find new feeding places for their herds. Decampment to find new more remote pastures was caused by a strong population growth, climate changes or wars. They often moved within the same area, huts were found on higher pastures and in deep, protected valleys. The return to the winter pastures was rarely changed unless the situation forced this change. They wintered in small groups of three to seven yurts (felt tents). While they spent all year in this kind of transportable tent, their winter dwellings were in lower river valleys and may have been permanent living quarters for members of the clan that spent all year there in wood houses. The Mountain Kazakhs (Kara Kirghis), the Altaians (Oirat or Dzungar people) and Mongolian clans practiced this nomadic lifestyle in the Altai Mountain region until modern times. They only changed with the Russian conquering of Siberia.
|Beiram Mound in the Altai Mountains a cultic site in northwestern Mongolia
|A stone covered mound located at the Beiram mountain pass in Uvs aimag may be allocated to Saka burial mounds (ca. 450400 BC) that settled in southern and eastern Kazakhstan as well as in the Altai (semi-autonomous Republic Altai) in southern Siberia. They constructed burial mounds within the permafrost zone (see image 1 and 2). The geography and climatic conditions vary dramatically from the Siberian north to the dry southern Gobi; from the low grassy steppes in the east to the high Altai glaciers in the west. The excavations at the Beiram Mound revealed no skeletons. A burial site in which there were more than 4000 artifacts allows the assumption that this was a site for ritual and religious cults. More of these locations in the Altai and the Tien Shan mountains can be allocated to the Scythians that immigrated at a later point in time. The term Saka is probably derived from ancient historical sources and is used for the major nomadic tribes that inhabited the area from the eastern Aral Sea steppes, southern Siberia, and the Tien Shan or Sayan-Altai mountains. The term Saka is generally used in reference to finds associated with Iron Age nomads. Other terms include: Scytho-Siberian, Altaic Scythians, Uyuk Culture, Chandman Culture, or Ulaangom Culture. Kurgans were burial mounds that contain human remains; a cenotaph or mound is a burial mound without human remains. They were commemorative sites for ritual or religious cults and were similarly constructed.
Influences through interactions within the clans or by immigrations of clans have lead to changes. This was noticeable through excavations in north central Mongolia, for example in the Selenge Valley (a river that flows into the Baikal). Historically and culturally the northern and northwestern part of Mongolia is similar to the neighboring Gorny Altai (the semi-autonomous Republic Altai), Tuva and Transbaikalia (a region east of the Baikal lake). Despite the fact that their high altitude and fluctuating temperatures did not provide good conditions for the development of sedentary settlements with cattle breeding and agriculture, seasonal pastures and alpine farming could be implemented as in the Neolithic Age and the early Bronze Age. Nomadism with wandering herds did not develop until the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age. A large increase in population and a change in climate probably led to this development. Early cattle breeding in Mongolia dates back to the Neolithic and the beginning of the Bronze Age as remains of domesticated sheep and cattle found near the Selenge River have been found. Cattle breeding and agriculture was engaged in during the third and early second millennium BC in the Minusinks Basin and the Gorny Altai (semi-autonomous Republic Altai) in southern Siberia as well as on the eastern and western slopes of the Hangai Mountains in Mongolia.
Cattle breeding and metallurgy were further developed in the Bronze Age where they were engaged in by a Seima-Turbino community (1) as finds from the mid-2nd millenium BC show. Weaponry with decorative elements are related to the Karasuk Culture (2) in the region of Minusinks in southern Siberia as well as the Zhou Dynastie (3) in China. From a transition period from Bronze Age to Early Iron Age, "olenniye kamni" (see photo), monolithic stone steles incised with a variety of motifs, were found in Arkhangai Aimag. Stylized deer (see deer stones from the Ukok- Plateau) date back to 1000 - 800 BC. These stones have not been connected with any particular culture, yet iconographic motifs similar to these were found in the following nomadic communities from the Early Iron Age. A wide distribution of such stones was found in the region of Chita near the Mongolian border, east of the Baikal Lake, in Transbaikalia. Such grave stones (stele) were also found in the Uyuk Culture in Tuva similar to the Saka kurgans in the Gorny Altai and in western Mongolia. In Siberia, the Karasuk Culture (Late Bronze Age) was followed by the Slab Grave Culture (4). Their tradition of artifacts with ornamentation and bronze casting with drawings, survived (see also „Ornaments of the Yakuts“). The Slab Grave Culture belonged to a group, that settled in North Central and Northeastern Mongolia and their graves were identical with those in Transbaikalia. In Western Mongolia, Slab Graves are noted in the Uvs aimag along the eastern edges of the Altai Mountain. In the Bayan Ulgii aimag , the highest and westernmost region of Mongolia, Slab Graves were found in the Tsengel and Ulaanhus sums; south of Achet Nuur; and following a swath running east/west, and slightly north of the Ulgii. Interestingly, such slab graves were not found in the Gorny Altai or in Tuva, but are known in Xinjiang, in western China, in the Chinese Altai and in Tibet. Skulls that were found in burial sites had Mongoloid and Europoid shapes and have parallels to skulls and grave objects similar to those of the Karasuk and Okunevo Culture in southern Sibera, in Tuva and the Usun-Saka (5) and graves in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and the Tien Shan Mountains. During this time pastoral nomads practiced uniform burial rituals. The deceased of the Slab Grave Culture were placed in ground pits or stone boxes in the supine position, and oriented to the east. Pottery, bronze knives, weaponry, bone and horn-carved objects, and personal adornments, such as turquoise and carnelian beads, were included among the funerary artifacts. Following burial, the site was marked with flat stones placed in an upright position like a fence. The surface was covered with more slabs. From before the beginning of the first millennium BC, a specific ethnocultural group developed that settled in northern Mongolia and the adjacent region of the Altai and Sayan mountains in which the burials were similar to those from Pazyryk I in the Gorny Altai, the Siberian Ukok plateau, and Tuva. The only cemetery that has been found and can be attached to an early Iron Age lies in Western Monglia in the Uvs aimag. In the drainage basin of the great Ubs Nuur (lake) in the hills near the small Chandman (mountain), approximately 10 km south of Ulaangom. Here bone, bronze and iron artifacts and a number of ceramics with ornaments were found. Equally well preserved graves contained skeletons in stone boxes. Petroglyphs in the vicinity of the Chandman Mountain also reveal the presence of Iron Age nomads. Artifacts were found in burials of the Late Uyuk Culture in the northwest of Mongolia and in Tuva, but these are completely different from those of the Slab Grave Culture. Therefore two types of burial rituals can be identified that have different anthropomorphic depictions in West Mongolia during the first millennium BC. These people probably had contacts, primarily concerning the nomadic lifestyle and shared several cultural elements including such Scythian trilobed arrowheads, bridal bits and some Animal Style motifs.
- more information on the Animal style and motifs of early Shamanism and Petroglyphs and motifs of early shamanism
In the South Siberian Altai, the kurgan, Ak-Alakha I, and other kurgans are similar to the Beiram Mound in both size and architectural configuration, even to being outlined with a ring of stones. Similar kurgans are also known in the Issyk region (60 km northeast of Almaty) in southern Kazakhstan. All of these sites are dated to the Early Iron Age. Turkic monuments dating to the 6th 8th/9th centuries AD are dominant in the Altai Mountains west of the Beiram Mound in the Uvs aimag and in the steppes west of the great Uvs Nuur. But these have nothing to do with the previously discussed Saka Culture. Burial sites that are similar in architecture and construction were found in the first millennium BC and can be ascribed to the Saka kurgans (burial mounds). These were constructed solely for ritual or religious purposes. Pits were dug and filled with organic material and ritual objects. Large rocks were brought to the pits and carefully placed across the entire surface like a fence. Because of the amount of humus at these places it appears that spade delves were made under trees. Surface stones were gathered and layered. An extensive amount of wood was carved or whittled into motifs. Woodcarvings were found in the ditch. These animals whittled out of wood were small and other handicraft whittled onto agalihorns (mountain sheep ram's horn), animal bones and horse teeth were among the votive objects (6). It is not clear who held these rituals in the Beiram Mound for centuries. But it seems that, measured by the amount of as agalihorns and other animal remains, these early nomads were very wealthy. During the 17th century AD, the Manchu (7) must have been nomadizing along the lower slopes and visited this high and isolated locale, because who else had connections and brought glazed vases that contained grain and where do the field stones come from? A piece of bamboo was found with an inscription in black ink that was translated from old Mongolian. The incretion was written around 1648 by Naikhaijamtsam, a Buddhist educated lama born in 1599 in West Mongolia. Iron objects were even more frequent than Bronze objects. These were possibly made at this location, since an iron smelter was found 2-3 km northeast from the excavation site near a valley bottom. Excavations revealed no artifacts even though large amounts of slag were present beneath the top layer of humus. The Beiram Mound certainly was used for a type of burial rituals and therefore conveys an early nomadic religious belief system involving a cultic site.
- (1) Seima-Turbino Type refers to burial sites dating around 1500 BC found across northern Eurasia, from Finland to Mongolia. The buried were nomadic warriors and metal-workers, travelling on horseback or two-wheeled chariots. These nomads originated from the Altai Mountain. Although they were the precursor to the much later Mongol Invasions, these groups were not yet strong enough to attack the important social sites of the Bronze Age.
- (2) The Karasuk Culture (named for the Karasuk, a side arm of the river Yenisei) was prevalent around the end of the second millennium BC at the middle of the Yenisei in the vicinity of Minusinsk in modern Kakasia in South Siberia. The settlements are mostly comprised of less than 10 pit dwellings around a central square. The settlements may only have been seasonal dwellings. The economy was probably dominated by animal husbandry as shown by bone findings in the settlements. These also show that bronze and copper metallurgy was practiced.
- (3) During the Zhou Dynastie (1046 - 256 BC, the use of iron was introduced to China, consider the zenith of Chinese bronzeware making. The dynasty also spans the period in which the written script evolved into its modern form with the use of an archaic clerical script that emerged during the late Warring States period.
- (4) The Slab Grave Culture is an archaelogical culture of the late Bronze Age and beginning of Iron Age. According to various sources, it is dated from 1100 to 300 BC. Slab Grave Culture is a descendent of the Bronze Age (18th 13th centuries BC), Glazkov culture of ancient Tungus. Mongolid tribes spread in the Baikal area. The Glazkov Tunguses came to Siberia from the south, displacing Yukagir tribes. The Slab Grave Culture became an eastern wing of a huge nomadic Eurasian world which in the beginning of the 1st millennium BC produced a bright civilization known as Scythian-Siberian World. The anthropological type of the population is predominantly Mongoloid, the western newcomers from the area of Tuva and northwestern Mongolia were Caucasoids (Europoid).
Slab Grave cultural monuments are found in northwestern China, northern and northeastern Mongolia, southern, central-eastern and southern Baikal territory. its graves have rectangular fences (chereksurs) of vertically set slabs of gneiss or granite, with stone kurgans inside the fence. Were found settlements, burial and ritual structures, rock paintings, deer stones, and other remains of that culture. The slab graves are both individual and collective in groups of 5-8 to large burials with up to 350 fences. Large cemeteries have a clear plan. In Aga Buryat District more than 3000 fences were found. Most of the graves are burials, some are ritual fences cenotaphs. Graves are oriented along the west-east axis. Deceased are laid on the
back, with the head to the east. The fate of the Slab Grave culture people is a matter of scientific debate. Most recent graves date from the 6th century BC, and the earliest monuments of the next in time Hun culture belong to the 2nd century BC. The gap is not less than three centuries, and the monuments that would fill this chronological gap are almost unknown.
- (5) The Usun nomads lived during the age of the Saka. An intense interaction between the Saka and the Usun in South Kazakhsztan, the Xinjiang region and the Tien Shan are apparent. The burials of the Usun elite in the Tien Shan Mountains and the many in the Xinjiang in China are similar to those of the Saka.
- (6) A votive offering (from latin votum: vow) is the artificial or natural object that is given in accordance with a solemn vow (ex voto) in a holy place as a sign of thanks for salvation from distress. This act differs from prayer by the promise and the bringing of a gift. The process is similar to a legal act: If one side fulfils its promise, the other must do the same by bringing a votive offering.
- (7) The Manchu people that reigned in China from 1644 until 1911 were descendants of the Jurchens that reigned in northern China during the Qing Dynasty in the 12th century.
more information on the tribes see “History of the Equestrian Nomads“
|Rituals from Tillya Tepe the golden hill (Tillya Tepe in North Afghanistan)
|Tillya Teppe the remains of an ancient zoroastrian fire temple that was built in the second millenium BC. Ceramics, several knives and bronze arrowheads were found. The place seems to have been lived in for a long time but it is not possible to name precise dates. Culturally, this fort is comparable to other archaeological sites in Central Asia. The culture found here belongs to the time after the demise of the Oasis Culture Oxus Civilization (1) of Central Asia.
- (1) The Oasis Cultur Oxus Civilization (Amudarja river’s ancient name) refers to a Bronze Age Culture in the desert of Karakorum in modern Turkmenistan and parts of Afghanistan. It probably existed between 2200 and 1700 BC and was therefore a contemporary of the Indus Civilzation, the Elamite Empire in Mesopotamia and the Central Empire in Egypt. The disappearance of the Oxus Civilization can not be sufficiently explained but it was probably caused by changes in climate that led to an emigration.
The three lives in the temple the priestesses, the warrior priestesses and the chamber warrior priestesses were celebrated with orgiastic cults.
The Tillya Tepe fire temple was devoted to priest nobility that were representatives of the gods and upheld cultic rituals in its high position. The Thracian Bendis iconography shows portrayals of how they were connected to warrior priestesses that were buried far to the east in the Kazak steppes in Sarmatian and Saka kurgans with weapons and accoutrements. These Indo-Iranians were integrated into the syncretism (1) of an east and west belief system, the world view that was also practiced in the Bactrian empire. It probably included a practice of orgiastic rituals (2) comparable to Anatolian, Greek and Roman cultures. Cults in temples for gods and ancestors with transvestites, hermaphrodites, and priestesses that also engaged in orgiastic rituals. Cohabitation was either the result of divine command or magical circumstances to achieve prestige among the gods and the population. This practice was enhanced with cultic components from the Altai and Tien Shan by the immigrated Kushan clans of the Yuehzhi confederation. For this reason shamanistic forms were also practiced and rites from the southern Ural were assimilated. Rituals were combined with those of the priestesses practicing at the Don River and those of Sauromatian and Sarmatian warrior priestesses. This type of syncretic cultic beliefs should not be surprising because the Tillya Tepe people were the recent descendants of a nomadic confederacy driven westward into Bactria. There they had encountered and assimilated the remnants of the Seluccid Empire (3).
- (1) Syncretism means the combination of religious ideas or philosophies into a new world view. It consciously chooses aspects of different religions and shapes them into something new.
- (2) In mythological times, lust (loss given sentient) and needs were regularly satisfied in cultic celebrations and orgiastic rituals.
- (3) The Seluccid Empire was one of the Diadochi states that formed after the death of Alexander the Great. During the third and second centuries BC, the Empire dominated the Orient and at its peak reached from the European Thracia to the Indus Valley.
The official language used in the top tiers of the Seluccid Empire was Greek, below these Aramaic was mainly spoken as assimilated from the Achaemenids. In the east there were also some royal decretes in Iranian languages. The indigenous peoples continued to speak their own languages such as Accadian, Phoenician or Hebrew. However, they adopted numerous Greek words into their languages during the Seluccid reign.
The Seluccid kings tried to uphold their rule over numerous nationalities by infusing them with Greek culture and with a dynastic cult. This cult was originally meant for the deceased leaders but in the second century BC it was extended to include living kings and their families. The ruler cult was predominantly of a political and not of a religious nature. It was meant to elevate the sacral Seluccid rule and also offered members of the dynasty easy access to priestly office for their deceased ancestors. Aside from the ruler cult, numerous other religions were tolerated by the Seluccid.
Troughout Eurasia, India, Korea, Africa, and North America diviners and shaman wore women’s clothing and practice women’s customs and rituals. Many diviners and seers that practiced rituals that utilized shamanistic elements were employed by Scythian kings for matters of State or illness. It is known from archaeological evidence that the Pazyryk Saka inhaled hallucinogenic smoke during rituals, and hallucinogenic seeds were excavated from a Sarmatian grave. Traces of Indo-Europeans have confirmed such shamanist ideologies. The Ossets, descendants of Alans, Scythians and Sarmatians, as well as other Caucasus peoples, have maintained many mythological and religious traditions of the early nomads. The most important diviners and seers in the Caucasus are to be found among the Ossetians even today. These include young women and girls who fall into a trance to escort the dead to the netherworld and incarnate them by allowing the spirits to speak through their mouth, preserve the cult of the mellutethe priestesses.
The fortress remained deserted during the reign of the Achaemenids (1) after having been destroyed in 800 BC, probably by a fire. Alexander the Great began his conquest of the Achaemenid Empire up to the Indian subcontinent. Back in Bactria he married the Sogdian princess Roxane. In the 4th century BC this area was settled in again. A small village formed that did not remain inhabited for long. Several centuries later, in the first century BC, the temple hill was refunctioned into a burial site. Six pit graves were found, covered with wood planks that create a hollow. The dead lay in wood coffins without a cover but were probably wrapped in blankets. The corpses were buried on their backs, in clothing intricately decorated with gold and with jewelry. More grave offerings, such as vessels, mirrors or cosmetics, were found in and around the coffins. There were no signs to show that more burial mounds existed but the hill of the castle ruin may have served as a burial hill. The graves found contained five women and one man. At the time of their death the fortress had already been destroyed and the graves are partly dug into the old walls. Evidence points to the fact that the interred were nomads or former nomads. Their clothing (pants) and several weapons such as bows, which were in the man’s grave, are typical for nomadic peoples. There was also a collapsible and therefore easy to transport crown. It was not possible to determine which people the interred belonged to. One possibility are the Yuezhi, that according to Chinese sources consisted of various clans and had penetrated the area, another are the Saka that belonged to the Scythian culture. The Kushana (2), a clan of the Yuezhi entered Bactria at approximately the same time as the Saka, but they settled more in the farther south Hindukush region and in South Afghanistan. The rich decoration of the burial sites with gold placques on the clothing, golden headdresses and many other gold offerings is actually very similar to Scythian burials that were found for example near the Black Sea. Clues that point to an involvement of the Yuezhi include a gold coin of King Heraios who belonged to these nomadic peoples. Also, many of the grave offerings are similar in style to the work with motifs of the Animal Style in Sibera and Mongolia, where the Yuezhi are originally from. The buried people may even have been past leaders of the Kushana who were also a clan of the Yuezhi. Others consider them to be Saka that were controlled by the Parthians. Today, researchers are more careful.
Until about 135 BC the region of Bactria belonged to the Greek-Bactrian kingdom, it was an antique state of the third and second centuries BC. After this they fell under the control of the Saka and the Yuezhi that conquered South Siberia and Mongolia. They continued westward into the kingdom where they also conquered the remains of the Seluccid Empire. They pillaged and destroyed numerous cities and demolished the kingdom. These nomads that some researchers consider to have been Scythians, finally settled in Bactria and adopted an urban lifestyle. In the time that followed the area was controlled by the Parthians even though the eastern borders of the Parthian Empire are debatable. Little is known about the period of time after the demise of the Greek-Bactrian Empire which is why it is known as the dark age of Central Asia. Afterwards, the area was conquered by the Kushana, a clan of the Yuezhi. Shortly after the Nativity, the Yuezhi and Saka clans managed to unite under the rule of Kujula Kadphises. The graves of Tillya Tepe probably date back to the time shortly before the Kushan Empire when the Yuezhi and the Saka ruled Bactria. After the capture of Bactria it was culturally and linguistically assimilated. The Kushans adopted the Bactrian language and culture and even their religion but did not forget that they were now the rulers of Bactria. Later, several leaders converted to Buddhism. Kanishka, the ruler of the Kushans, was a Zoroastrian. This is proven by a Zoroastrian fire temple in Baghdad that Kanishka dedicated to himself. The Kushans created an Empire that extended from the Aral Lake up to Western China and Central India. Bactria was thereby the most powerful empire of those days alongside the Sassanid Empire and the Chinese and Roman Empires, and it was also one of the most highly developed. Khorasan was the center of science, Buddhist-Hindu theologies and global economy. The Buddha statue in the Bamyan Valley that was destroyed by Pashtun Taliban dates back to the Kushans. All of these accomplishments were achieved with the aid of the silk road and the Kushans’ popularity in Asia and Europe. With the rise of the Sassanids in the west, the Kushan civilization melded with them (the Sassanid Empire was the second Persian Empire in Late Antiquity). Bactria was already known for its gold- and craftwork in Antiquity. The gold originally came from Siberia.
- (1) The Achaemenid Empire was also known as the First Persian Empire. It extended over modern Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt from the late 6th century BC until the late 4th century BC. It expanded for the first time in 550 BC under the rule of Cyrus II who annexed Median Empire. His descendants continued his work until the greatest extension of the Empire at its height in 500 BC, at this time including parts of Libya*, Greece, Bulgaria, Pakistan and parts of the Caucasus, Sudan and Central Asia. In 330 BC, Alexander the Great ended the rule of the Achaemenids.
* Libya: In Ancient times this referred to the country on both sides of the Gulf of Sidra.
From the 7th century BC, colonies were formed along the coast, among these the city of Cyrene. This part of the country, the Cyrenaica, was ruled over by Egypt in the following centuries. West of this area, the Phoenicians founded three cities around 700 BC: Sabratha, Oea and Leptis Magna. The name Tripolitania (three city country) originated here. Already in the 6th century BC, Carthagos took over the rule. After its destruction in 146 BC, Tripolitania fell under Roman reign in approximately 96 BC.
- (2) The Kushan Empire lay in Central Asia and North India and extended at its peak between 100 and 250 BC from modern Tajikistan to the Caspian Sea and from modern Afghanistan into the Indus Valley and the Ganges-Yamuna Triveni Sangam. The empire was founded by the Indo-Scythians or the Yuezhi from modern Xinjiang. They had diplomatic contacts with the Roman Empire, Sassanid Persia and the Chinese Empire. During the reign of Kanishka, the empire extended from Benares over Kashmir and Bactria until the Oxus (Amudarja) and in the south up to the Pakistani province Sindh.
Under the rule of the Kushans in Northwest India and the adjoining regions, seagoing trade flourished as well as trade along the Silk Road to China and with caravans between Europe and Asia. The name Kushan comes from the Chinese word Guishuang that was used in historic writings to mean a branch of the Yuezhi a loose confederation of an Indo-European group that had lived in Northwest China until they were banished by the Xiong-nu between 176 and 160 BC. Around 135 BC they reached Bactria under the rule Kujula Kadphises after uniting with various clans since the first century BC. Eventually they controlled areas of the Parthians and continued south into northwestern India which was called Gandhara (areas of modern Pakistan and Afghanistan). Their writing used a form of the Greek alphabet and Kujula’s son was the first Indian ruler.
more information on the tribes see “History of the Equestrian Nomads“
|Kanishka The king from the Kushan dynasty was the most prominent ruler of the Yuezhi that erected an empire in Bactria and Gandahara around 1 BC. The state reached its climax in the early second century under the reign of Kanishka, with Iranian, Indian and Greek influences and equally many gods. Kanishka enlarged the empire to Turkestan, Kashmir and North India up to Benares. He is said to have reestablished Kushan rule in Turkestan. The king was devoted to Greek, Brahman and Zoroastrian gods and was affiliated with Buddhism and the Mithras cult. There was a large fire temple near Surkh Kotal in modern Afghanistan, a holy site that was also dedicated to the ruler cult. A woman riding on a cat was a symbolic motif of the Kushan dynasty where she resurfaced as the goddess Nana or Nanaia. Mithraism or Mithraic Mysteries was practiced in Asia Minor and later in all of the Roman Empire. It is very different in mythology and religious practice from the Indian and Persian Mithras worship. It is therefore not sure whether it developed from Zarathrism or independently.
In the 18th 17th centuries BC stone or bronze figurines were produced in Bactria (North Afghanistan) and East Iran.
The bronze artifacts were cast in wax and amulets produced with natural occurences. The ornaments varied: geometric and floral; rosettes dominated although zoomorphic images (gods in animal form) of a scorpion, goat, or eagle with spread wings were predominant. Some images appear to be of mythological origin, having human attributes but with birds feet. Several anthropomorphic images were probably worn like amulets for protection. One of the rare anthropomorphic motifs on seals, as they are called, was the image of a female rider on a cat or lion. These were also found in Syria and Anatolia, dating to an orgiastic cult of the 7th through 6th centuries BC. Cybele (1) and other goddesses entertained transvestite priests. The Thracians, noted for their Anatolian connections, also engaged in orgiastic rituals and the Scythians had a cult similar to that of Cybele. These types of rituals and depictions honored the gods of these people and fantastic animals ruled their world view. Similar depictions and motifs are also found amoung the Hurrian in the Mitanni empire (3), where similar cylinder seals were found. Some of the exotic iconography from the Levant (sunrise represents the east and the orient) becomes the hallmark of ritual and sumptuary artifacts belonging to a small group of 1st century BC high status Indo-Iranians of Bactria and the surrounding steppes whose lifestyle and cultural affinity had been nomadic before being buried at Tillya Tepe.
- (1) Cybele, the great mother goddess from Mount Ida is a goddess that was originally worshiped in Phrygia (Asia Minor) and lader in Greece and Rome alongside her lover Attis. The Cybele and Attis cult was a mystery cult spread all over the Roman Empire as was the Mithras cult (2).
- She was the great mother goddess in Anatolia and Lydia in the 7th century BC. She was the goddess of fertility, healed or spread disease, was the goddess of wild nature that was symbolized along with her companion the lion. She became known in Greece in the 5th century. The Romans knew this cult and Eastern priests served her. Cybele is generally represented in a naiskos (temple) and carries a mural crown or kalathos (the lily shaped basket of Greek women). The performances were held libation bowls and drums and flanked by lions or holding these on one’s lap. Eunuch priests participated in such Cybele cults but were not restricted to these, they were instead characteristic for Anatolian cults and female goddesses. Transvestites were involved in such cults and prophetic rapture and were thought to not feel pain; transvestism was practiced in dance performances, men in women’s clothing with paled faces.
- This cult was also practiced in Bactria, between Amu Darya (ancient Oxus) and the mountains of the Hindukush in North Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and in South India. Maybe even before 600 BC and until 600 AD caravans in the region traded between east and west that brought not only commodities but also rituals. The artisans in the province of Balkh (Bactria) contributed a great deal to the spread of religious beliefs and artistic iconography over a huge area. The region was still the entryway to the Eurasian steppe where nomadic cultures flourished. 200 years later, after Alexander the Great was defeated, Darius III founded the Seluccid Empire that reached from Bactria to Iran and Babylonia and from Syria to Anatolia.
- The similarity between the great Mother Cybele and the great Mother of Indian Tantrism “Kali Durga, Ganga” is astounding. As Cybele belongs to the mythological Mount Ida (which was localized in different places), so Kali belongs to the mythical Mount Meru. Both are accompanied by a lion, the mauling and devouring animal. However, above all both are associated with a deceased lover. As Cybele mourns forever at the grave of Attis, so Kali stands over the body of her lover, the sky and sun god Shiva, in all her temples. Both are responsible for the death of their lover for Cybele drove Attis to suicide and Kali mauled and devoured Shiva following an esoteri ritual.
- (2) Mithraism was a mystery cult practiced first in Asia Minor and later in the whole Roman Empire, and in its center stood the form of Mithras. Whether he identified with the Persian god or hero Mithra or was a development of the same, as was generally assumed until the 20th century, is unsure because the Asia Minor Roman Mithras cult shows clear differences in its mythology and religious practice to the Indian Persian Mithra worship. It is therefore controversial whether the Mithras cult is a side arm of Zarathustriasm or developed independently. It was assumed that the Romans adopted the Persian cult surrounding Mithras and adapted it (in a fashion similar to the Egyptian Isis), but today one is more careful. Without a doubt, Mithras is the Hellenistic version of the name Mithra and many elements of the Mithras cult are connected to the Persian culture.
- (3) The Hurrians were a people of the Ancient Middle east who lived in Mesopotamia and adjacent regions during the Bronze Age. The largest and most influential Hurrian nation was the kingdom of Mitanni. The population of the Hittite Empire in Anatolia to a large part consisted of Hurrians, and there is significant Hurrian influence in Hittite mythology. By the Early Iron Age, the Hurrians had been assimilated with other peoples, except perhaps in the Kingdom of Urartu.
In the first millennium BC (Iron Age) a cult was practiced in the Anatolian region (Asia Minor) and religious figurines were used in ceremonies that originated in the Bronze Age. Relics of the Hittites, Mitanni and Hurrians show parallels to the rites of religious concepts. In Mitanni (1), an empire in North Syria and Mesopotamia, an elite class, the Maryannu, ruled. They apparently came from east of the Tigris, in the Zagros mountains and Armenia (Urartu). They spread westward, and under the domination of the Mitanni, overthrew Assyria, controlled northern Mesopotamia, Syria, and eastern Anatolia where their influence on the Hittite Culture, particularly religious and cultic beliefs, was very strong. Puduhepa, wife and mother of two Hittite kings, and co-regent with both, was of a Hurrian priestly family. She introduced many Hurrian deities into the Hittite pantheon and may have been responsible for the rock carvings at Yazlikaya. Virtually nothing is known of Mitanni major arts, although expressive cylinder seals, the principal extant Mitanni art form, reveal iconographic motifs including The Sacred Tree (2), the griffin, and the goddess riding on an animal in association with the Mistress of Animals. In Anatolia in the first millennium BC, the major Phrygian divinity was Mata (Mother 3); her name appears in ten inscription in the Paleo-Phyrgian language, the epithet kubileya is added twice. After the Cimmerians destroyed Phrygia ca. 676 BC, Lydia in southwestern Anatolia began to expand, established a dynasty, and exerted influence over the Ionian Greeks. At the 7th century BC Lydian votive sculpture (votive gift 4) reveals Hittite stylistic influence (this type of votive statue was also known as a votive gift in old Lydia) and is comparable to these small sculptures from the temple of Artemis in Ephesus (5). The conserved gold or ivory statuettes are representations of women and beardless eunuch priests, the latter wearing long robes, a staged headpiece and heavy pearls. Other sculptures come from Lycia, a maritime city along the Mediterranean coast in southwestern Anatolia. In the Hittite annals the people were recorded during the 14th and 13th centuries BC as the Lucca and the country served as a wedge between the Hittites and the Aegean Greeks on the coast. The Lycians reappeared in the 8th century BC. Their territory is noted for the large grave hills which are similar to those of the Phrygians at Gordion. The Phrygians are said to be of European heritage and were known for their orgiastic worships (6) in the Cybele cult. Lycia’s artifacts show cultic connections between the Hittites and the Phrygians. In western Phrygia there are reliefs of Mata and Arslan Kaya, the mistress of the animals, which may stem from Mitannia and be influenced by the Hittites. Around 550 BC, when the cult of the Magna Graeca developed, Mata was a kind of Artemis mistress of the animals while retaining Cybele’s lions and other attributes in an incarnation as Mata Cybele. Before the acceptance of orgiastic and ecstatic attributes, she was associated with streams of water. The streams of water were found in northern Mesopotamia in the city of Mari, where water was a goddess, as representations in the key for the investiture of the king. Hittite water goddess megalith (7) can still be found on the Turkisch Konya plains. Cults surrounding water goddesses and snakes can still partly be found in Syria and Mesopotamia.
Chtonic images (earth god depictions) from Tchoga Zanbil (basket hill) (8), one from another ziggurat (temple of the gods), as well as one on a cylinder seal have the same attributes as those of Lydian eunuch priests, their headdresses, pearls and a ringlet in front of the ear with a “Mona Lisa” smile and the also represent water goddesses. Comparisons to western influences were present in the royal palace as findings from the graves of Tchoga Zanbil and the nearby Elamite ziggurat ca. 1250 BC, have shown. Burnt corpses could be burial sites of the kings even though no insignia marks this. The cremation of Hittite kings and some kings of Mitanni were found here. The Thracian migration from southern Europe to Anatolia around 1000 BC proves the introduction of this kind of orgiastic ritual (6) that is not part of the cult of Mata (the name of a bright star). In ancient times, Dionysus (9) was originally a Thracian god that came from the north of Greece. The Thracians did not worship any gods but Ares, Dionysus and Artemis were Greek names for gods that were adopted and were holy at the location of their prophecies. The Bessi were prophets of the shrine and also the priestess that utters the oracle as it was the case later on among the Greek in Delphi. The syncretism (10) of the belief systems of the Phrygian Mata cult (3) that later became the Cybele cult relating to Attis, apparently occurred between the 12th and 6th (or 7th) centuries BC. Interactions between southern Thracia (11) (South Bulgaria), are refered to on archaeological finds from the middle of the second millennium BC. Thracian art forms that can be found in the burial fields northeast of Varna contain semantic elements relating to two large regions: Ancient Orient and Anatolia. Many grave pits contained proof of highly developed metallurgic works (gold and copper), ceramics (among others vessels with geometric, extremely stylized and gold painted symbols), as well as valuable firestone and obsidian blades (see image), pearls and shells. These testify to the great technical and practical talent of the artists. Among the grave finds are bracelets and headbands, necklaces and massive decorations of scepters as well as numerous décor pieces from clothing made of gold foil, some of which depicted animals. Several graves can be dated back to 4600 - 4200 BC (late Eneolithic early Copper Age) and belong to the Varna culture or the local version of the Karanovo culture. From the 10th to the 6th centuries BC (Early Iron Age) Thracian art, conforming to the Geometric Style found parallels from Austria to the Caucasus to the Iranian Plateau. Textual as well as archaeological evidence indicates that, in alliance with the Trojans the Thracians controlled trade passing from the Aegean to the Black Sea. From the many magnificent gold hordes recovered in Thracian territory, it is apparent that nobility was able to amass more than significant wealth. In Thracia, the major female deity was Bendis who, with a variety of epithets, enjoyed a multiplicity of functions. The Bendis cult was mentioned in Athens in 429 428 BC in many inscriptions, dedications, and reliefs. In southwestern Thracia as early as the 7th century BC, she appears iconographically holding a spear and twig; a ceramic fragment of the same dating from Lemnos has her carrying two spears. Two Attic reliefs were found with the best portrayals of the Thracian goddess: She is dressed in chiton, an animal skin over her shoulders, wearing a pointed cap (like the Phrygian or nomadic people), and clasping two spears. “The Mistress of Animals” semantics were special and domineering versions of the Bendis cult in the 5th century BC. Thracian symbiotic relationships with the Sarmatians from the 2nd until the 1st century BC are enlightening. A Thracian greave (shin guard) in the shape of very stylized female attributes was related to the Scythian snake-goddess which was an especially important symbol of the Thracian royal family and represented territorial rights as represented by home and hearth. This chtonic snake (life, fertility and death) is an important symbol in Elamite art and is related to the water goddess. An orgiastic cult (3) similar to that of the Cybele cult was also practiced by the Scythians. Orgiastic ritual symbols in pendants and plaques seem to have come into fashion for burials in the 4th century BC. They show women with animal heads and weapons frenetically dancing but it is not known whether these dancers were actually women or transvestites. The eunuch priests that belonged to the “powerful nobility” and wore women’s clothing, that also practiced women’s jobs and spoke like women, were particularly renowned. This respect was due to the fear of being enchanted by them. Scythian clans probably knew of this orgiastic cult of the Middle East and the worship of the fertility goddess.
- (1) Mittani (Hurrians) 16th century until 13th century BC
The beginnings of the state of Mittani lie in darkness. Its kings exclusively held non-Hurrian regnal names though some of them have been identified as Indo-Arian. The population consisted of Hurrians, Amorites (small cattle nomads) and Assyrians. They used the cuneiform script of the Accadians. These were decorated with mythical drawings (humans and animals with wings, dragons and monsters). The line between god and demon was blurred, with good and bad spirits. Proof of Hurrian, Accadian and old Anatolian languages exists from Mitanni. The pantheon of the Mittani was a mixed religion of various Middle Eastern peoples. Some numbers and names of gods came from the Vedic and Persian pantheon. These are called “rare relicts of Arian coinage” as for example the Rigevda (a collection of scriptures) that consist of Vedic and Sanscrit verses. These are some of the oldest of the four Veda and are therefore some of the most important scriptures of Hinduism. The Indo-Arian langugages are a branch of the Indo-German language family that is predominantly known in South Asia. It is therefore assumed that the top tiers can be attributed to the Indo-Arian group and heritage (which has not been proven). Together with the Iranian languages, the Indo-Arian languages form an Indo-Iranian subgroup within the Indo-German language family. The over 100 Indo-Arian languages spoken today are used by approximately a billion people, mostly in North and Central India, in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
- more information in “Assyrians” in “Kingdom of Urartu” in “History of the Equestrian Nomads“
- (2) The iconography, especially that relating to the “Tree of Life” point to an involvement of the eastern Eurasian steppe’s belief systems (see images 01 und 02).
- (3) Mater cult (also known as Mata, mother). In several cultures and myths she towers above the male gods and is superior to these. Devi is considered the creator and protector of the universe, she is the creating aspect of the absolute (Brahman) and universal mother. She is therefore also called “mata”, mother. Devi is considered the active power (Shakti) that manifests itself as the universe. She is the foundation and root of existence and existence itself and in this function she is Maya. She is considered the highest reality and in this form is an active, creative and transcending power. In several cults and myths she overpowers the male gods in her superiority and is the highest form of the absolute, the absolute reality and absolute truthe. In these myths Devi is the elemental force from which the male gods receive commands to create or destroy.
- (4) A votive offering (from latin votum: vow) is the artificial or natural object that is given in accordance with a solemn vow (ex voto) in a holy place as a sign of thanks for salvation from distress. This act differs from prayer by the promise and the bringing of a gift. The process is similar to a legal act: If one side fulfils its promise, the other must do the same by bringing a votive offering.
- (5) The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, or Artemision, was the greatest building of a temple in Antiquity and is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Greek city Ephesus (whose ruins can be seen in Turkey near Selcuk and close to Izmir today) was known for its wealth in those times. It was later one of the largest cities of its time and the capital of the Roman province Asia. Artemis is the Greek goddess of hunting, the forest and the keeper of women and children. She is one of the twelve great Olympian gods and is therefore one of the most important Greek goddesses.
- (6) In mythological times, lust and needs were regularly satisfied in cultic celebrations and orgiastic rituals.
- (7) A megalith is a large and often unchipped stone slab that is used as a building block for graves and cultic sites or erected as a monolith positioned in a stone setting. The west and north Eurpean megaliths were all erected in the Neolithic and early Bronze Age.
- (8) Chogha Zanbil is an Elamite seat of royal power that was built by king Untash-Napirisha (Untash-Gal), the son of Himbn-Numena, in 1275 1240 BC. The city lies approximately 40 km southeast of Susa in the province of Khuzestan in modern Iran. Like other Oriental leaders of that time, Untash-Napirisha left the capital of his country to build a new city. The city was lived in until the end of the Elamite era in the 6th century BC. In the middle lies a temple surrounded by a wall, whose central piece is a ziggurat that is today 25 m high (probably originally it was more than 50 m high). It consisted of a high temple on four terraces and was dedicated to Napirisha and Inshushinak (Sumerian for “lord of Susa” the main go of the Elamite people).
- (9) Dionysus is the god of wine, joy, grapes, fertility and ecstasy in the Greek (originally Thracian) world of gods. He was also called Bromis or Bacchus because of the noise made by his following. In literature and poetry he is sometimes called Lyaeus, he who releases from worries.
Dionysus the Thracian: son of Semele, was also very popular among the Greeks because of the orgiastic cults connected to him. During these raw meat was eaten to consume the god and a lot of wine was drunk.
- (10) Syncretism means the combination of religious ideas or phiolophies into a new world view. It consciously chooses aspects of different religions and shapes them into something new.
- (11) Thracian is the “golden Empire of Orpheus” (Homer), one of the oldest cultural regions of Europe and known for its philosophers. Everywhere in Thracian one can find traces of the old cultures and historical places. Many of them have barely been studied and are not well known. In the landscape one can find Thracian dolmi and tumuli (Thracian royal graves).
more information on the tribes see “History of the Equestrian Nomads“
© Albi early April 2012 Proofread and translated into English by Hermelinde Steiner November 2012