John Boardman, Оxford.
Review: L. K. Galanina Die Kurgane von Kelermes (Steppenvölker Eurasiens. Band I; Eds. A. Ivantchik, H. Parzinger) Moscow, 2001. Parallel text in Russian and German.

North Pontic Archaeology. Recent Discoveries and Studies. Brill: Leiden, 2001, p. 449–451.


This volume can be welcomed without reservation. The time and money spent on it is wholly to the benefit of scholarship, which is more than can be said of many new excavations which may or may not get fully published. It is part of an enterprise to publish in catalogue form, with modern commentary, in both Russian and German, major complexes of finds from past excavations which are only partially known and inadequately illustrated. The German translation of the Russian is only slightly abridged, and the only section wholly in Russian is the summary catalogue. There should, of course, be no language barrier, and Western scholars committed to Black Sea studies usually learn Russian, though perhaps not also Georgian, Bulgarian, Romanian and Turkish. But there are many other archaeologists in the West whose interests lie mainly elsewhere but for whom the Black Sea finds are of more than peripheral importance. There is still, however, a problem, since Western ignorance of Russian literature is matched by an incomplete control by Eastern colleagues of the Western literature which, directly or indirectly, maybe of great relevance; this applies even to accessible Western publication of Black Sea material which may not always be easily recognised from the Russian references, and even to Russian-published picture books and many exhibition catalogues much used in the West. There is no easy answer here except for a more liberal supply of books to the East, where they must be used to help Western readers too, encouragement for visits, and appreciation by authors of the needs and resources of their readers.

The Kelermes tombs are perhaps the most important early assemblage of finds relating to what we commonly call Scythians. They raise questions of date, of relationship to the Near East and the passage to and from the Kuban, and of relationship to Greece. L. Galanina has studied the excavation records and we have at last an authoritative account of what was found in which tomb. By taking more account than has been done in the past of the less spectacular finds she has been able to align much from the tombs with other better classified finds, especially of harness and weapons. The sequence of the Kelermes tombs is established and correlated with other finds for which dates have been proposed. One result is that they are then seen to be a phenomenon of the middle and later part of the 7th century and not at all of the 6th where many of the finds have been placed hitherto. Here we could have wished for a fuller statement of the dating evidence for comparanda, which are of types and styles in which change comes slowly and perhaps irregularly in different places. At the one end of the scale there are complexes and comparisons whose dates have to be justified by rather vague associations with various stages of mainly Assyrian work, since we are not in a period when absolute dates for non-luxury objects mean very much, and it is too early for Greek comparanda of significance. At the lower end of the scale there are stylistic comparisons with Greek work which can be quite closely dated. This led Maximova to place the famous decorated mirror and rhyton in the 6th century (570s). Her reasons for this are not investigated in detail to see whether they can bear the updating. I think it is just possible that they can, though I and others have proposed dates even later than Maximova's; indeed, over the years I see that mine have ranged from early to late 6th century, a tribute to the difficulty of stylistic analysis rather than, I hope, inconsistency. A problem is that we are dealing with an orientalising style of great longevity, but which was slow to develop in the East Greek world, yet, once established, persisted for a very long time, even well into the Classical period. This is where cognisance of other Western literature might have helped (or complicated) the issue; for example Greifenhagen's study of a Lydian bronze mirror (Antike Kunst 8 [1965] 13–19) which bears obvious relationship to the Kelermes decorated silver and which he placed near the mid-6th century. Can the Kelermes silver really be so much earlier than the Vani aryballos and much Lydian silver? There are technical points too, relating to the use of twisted wire on the gold lion (nos. 91–92) and griffin (no. 38) heads, which might say something about date and sources for technique. On a different score, Susanne Ebbinghaus points out to me the close similarity of the lion-head vessel (no. 40) to finds in the so-called Median Treasure (dispersed, but part in Teheran). This bears Neo-Elamite inscriptions datable to the first half of the 6th century (F. Vallat, Nouvelles assyriologiques 1996.1, 21–22) while related vessels on Samos have been put to the end of the 7th century. She judges that the inspiration for the Kelermes vessel is certainly southern, though perhaps not the gold appliqués at its lip.

If the Kelermes material is early it poses interesting if not insoluble questions of how and where such Greek style and subjects were practised: for this is what some of them unquestionably are, even with an Animal Style additive and in a part-oriental technique on an Eastern object — V. Schiltz in BCH Suppl. 14 (1986) 273-83, is most informative about this. The date proposed is too early for the nearest Greek colonies (on the Cimmerian Bosporus), which would otherwise seem the obvious locale. Perhaps a Greek from Anatolia was as readily accessible, though his home was distant, as were the Mesopotamian craftsmen who also seem to have contributed to other Kelermes finds, and not all on objects which might be simply imports. (Surely monster 16 on the gold axe is an elephant, drawn by someone who had either never seen one or whose memory was defective for detail.)

The vexed historical problems of the passage of nomads through or into the Near East, and relationships with the Ziwiye finds, are fully explored, though without reference to much of the plentiful literature of the last 40 years which has addressed the problems directly or indirectly; also the identity of the owners of the tombs and their relationship to any putative Maeotian race or culture. It is tempting to let the finds speak for themselves in terms of the rest of the material evidence from antiquity, rather than force semi-historicales names on them.

For more information and inquiries please write to:

© Paleograph-Press, 2006–2017