Scythian plate

What is it?

This silver plate depicting a winged Scythian goddess, anthropomorphic figures, and mythical creatures was recently found in a Scythian burial ground in Russia. The rectangular plate is 34.7cm long, and 7.5m wide in the middle section, with two decorated square plates attached to the left end of the object and two round buckles with further decorations attached to the right end. The presence of many small silver nails reveals that the plate was once attached to a wooden base, although most of this wood has been lost over time. It is currently not known what type of object the plate once adorned.

Photo: Institute of Archaeology RAS.

Where was it found, and when?

The plate was found in 2021 at the Devitsa V cemetery in the Ostrogozhsky District of the Voronezh region, Russia. The site, which consists of 19 burial mounds, was discovered in 2000 and has been the subject of systematic investigations by the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences since 2010. The silver plate was discovered in Barrow 7, which is one of the largest mounds in the necropolis, measuring 40m in diameter. The burial belonged to a man aged 40-50 years old and dates to the 4th century BC. The tomb was robbed at some point in the past, but the collapse of the roof protected some of the grave goods and, in addition to the silver plate, archaeologists discovered weapons, equestrian equipment, and horse and bear bones.

Why does it matter?

The plate is particularly interesting because of its decoration. In the central section is a winged figure wearing a horned headdress, believed to represent a goddess of fertility, known as Argimpasa to the Scythians, and as Cybele in ancient Anatolia. The goddess is surrounded by eagle-headed griffins. On the left side of the object are two square plates engraved with hybrid creatures displaying different features from multiple species, in a heraldic pose. On the right side of the plate are two round buckles, each of which depicts an anthropomorphic figure wearing a crown and accompanied by more griffins. It is currently not known who these figures represent.

The style of the figures depicted on the plate combines traditions from Asia Minor and ancient Greece. Similar styles have been observed in finds from other Scythian barrows in the Northern Black Sea region, Dnieper forest-steppe region, and the Northern Caucasus. However, no other objects with depictions of gods from the Scythian pantheon have ever been found in barrows from the Middle Don region, where the Devitsa V cemetery is located. The discovery of such a find at a site situated so far away from the main Scythian centres is fascinating, and it makes an important contribution to our understanding of Scythian cultures and beliefs.

The plate is currently undergoing further investigation by researchers at the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.