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HOME : Near Eastern Art : Scythian Art : Scythian Gold Plaque
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Scythian Gold Plaque - OS.242
Origin: Central Asia
Circa: 500 BC to 400 BC
Dimensions: 1.30" (3.3cm) wide
Collection: Near Eastern Art
Medium: Gold

Location: Great Britain
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The Scythians ruled the lands north of the Black Sea, having migrated to this area from further east in the 7th century BC. Literary evidence of this nomadic civilisation comes largely from the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus. Material remains have been found in the lavishly equipped funeral mounds (known as kurhans) and demonstrate the Scythian obsession with finely crafted gold. The source of the gold used in these pieces is unknown; there are no natural gold sources in Scythia or modern Ukraine. It may have been obtained by trade with the Caucasus region or have come from Kazakhstan, the Altai Mountains or Transylvania. Undoubtedly Scythian craftsmen were responsible for some of the metalwork that survives, other pieces would have been produced by foreigners, particularly the Greeks. This artistic interchange with the classical and Near Eastern worlds was a result of extensive trade. Indeed the Scythian rulers acquired great wealth by supplying the Greek world with grain and other products, such as animal skins.

Gold plaques were extremely popular amongst the Scythian elite as a means to embellish clothing and horse trappings. Animal motifs were ubiquitous and reflect the importance of horses and hunting to the Scythian way of life. The stag was undoubtedly the most popular image but leopards and birds of prey were also common. Mythological animals appear more rarely and seem to have been adapted from a variety of sources, for example, the griffin with a raised paw is of Near Eastern origin. This plaque depicts a dragon-like beast with flickering tongue, horns and raised tail/wing. The image has been predominantly hammered from the reverse however a design of repeating circles has been added to the neck and lower body from the obverse. Scythian animals often appear locked in combat, curled into a circle or running- as evident in the present plaque. This emphasis on speed and motion has been linked to the values of the Scythian elite, masters of the art of war and hunting. The reverse has four gold hooks placed at equal intervals for attaching the plaque. (AM) - (OS.242)


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