These distinctive ornaments exemplify the exquisite portable art that is such a hallmark of Scythian culture. The Scythians, famous for being formidable warriors, were also immensely skillful artisans whose artworks were created to decorate their costumes and to embellish their horses. As a people constantly on the move, it is not surprising that they found inspiration in the natural world and that so much of their art depicts the animals that were such an integral component of their everyday lives, whether realistically or in a highly-stylized fashion. The use of felines, alongside stags and birds, was foremost in Scythian art. These fierce creatures were not only symbolic of the Scythian connection with nature, but may also have been used as apotropaic devices when worn as garment appliqués or fixed to horse trappings and other objects used in combat.
The larger of the two attachments takes the form of a lion’s head, representing the feline in a characteristic moment of aggression, bearing its teeth ferociously. The mane is simply rendered with deeply incised lines from which a leaf-shaped ear emerges. A ridge around the lion’s mouth emphasizes the somewhat sad and drooping expression of the creature’s eye. On the reverse, a small horizontal loop remains. Similar representations of lions have been found on silver vessels from the northern Black Sea region. The second attachment is in the form of a stylized animal head in profile, perhaps a fantastical or hybrid creature. It is depicted with its mouth open to reveal comma-shaped curls that may represent teeth. Along the lower edge, striations suggest a mane above which a pointed perforated ear extends. Deep incisions give the cheek area a three-dimensional, fleshy quality. A thick rounded vertical loop for attachment sits in the centre of the reverse side.
E.C. Bunker, C.B. Chatwin, and A. Farkas, ‘Animal Style’ Art from East to West (New York, 1970).
For a silver vessel from Koul-Oba in the Crimea dating to the fourth century BC, with a similar representation of a lion, see V. Schiltz, Les Scythes et les nomades des steppes: 8 siècle avant J-C. 1 siècle après J-C. (Paris, 1994), pl. 121.
Private Collection, Connecticut, 1980s.
Published: T. Pang, Treasures of the Eurasian Steppes: Animal Art from 800 BC to 200 AD (New York, 1998), nos 17 and 24.