A vision inside the Scythian Steppe
The rumbling mixture of heated air, whispers of steppe spirits, the measured rocking of a train car and mystical primordial rhythms of The Doors is able to evoke pictures and images in the mind.
The second day of the journey gave me a vivid vision. The chain of the right nerve endings closed due to the fortunate combination of a number of circumstances: a strong musical composition coupled with precipitation after my recent Wild Journey into the heart of a psychedelic dream, the final point of which was the strongest trip in which shamans spoke to me. The catalyst for the vision was the intense heat in the wagon and the hot air of the southern steppes through which we were passing. The thoughts that were swirling in my head during those days also played a significant role: in the train I finally started reading the literature on shamanic practices and culture, comparing the worldview of peoples practicing shamanism with the philosophy of Zen Buddhism, which I also started reading about. This was the jigsaw puzzle of different elements that finally formed in my mind and gave birth to the vision.
I was lying on the top shelf of a wagon, dying of extreme stuffiness. Only my head was in a different microclimate: the hot air of the southern steppes was blowing on it from the open window. I was traveling along the ancient land of the Scythians and I had a feeling that even a thousand years later it would not be considered Russian: the spirit of the ancient tribes still lives in these steppes, and a man cannot banish it. The Doors track “The End” came on in my headphones, I closed my eyes and the journey began.
(Photo: Lomo-Cam / flickr.com)
At first I saw myself standing at the very edge of Hindustan, the place where the land ends and where the boundless ocean begins. I was standing on the edge of the earth where Alexander had tried so desperately to reach – with all my spirit I felt that here the world was ending, and ahead for thousands of miles there was nothing but a blue, salty desert. I knew I had traveled a long way to get to this place – I was happy and proud. It’s easy to explain why this picture came to my mind: my dream was to travel all the way from the Ural Mountains to the southern borders of Asia, all for the sake of being able to feel what it means to reach the ends of the earth at the end of the journey.
But those images changed to other images, and in a flash I was in the vast steppe with tall yellow grass. I was dancing to the music of The Doors and singing along to Morrison. There was a snake in my hands – I was holding it by the throat, looking it in the eyes, teasing it, spinning in a crazy wild Scythian dance. It all lasted a long time, and I was at the pinnacle of ecstasy. And at the climax of the composition, I sank my teeth into the snake’s flesh in such a way that blood spurted in all directions and flowed from my fangs. At that moment, I reached the highest point of living the vision. Then the musical tension began to subside, and tranquility slowly returned to me. When it was over, I returned to the world of the measured clatter of wagon wheels and looked out the window – my body was instantly stiffened by the picture I saw: the train was driving in the middle of the steppe, which was densely covered with power transmission towers as far as the eye could see. And I realized that I had seen it before. And I knew where – the same landscape had been shot by Oliver Stone for the opening shots of The Doors, for that scene where little Jim is driving in the car with his parents through the desert among the same power towers. That moment in the movie breathes the desert and the power of the spirits that inhabit it. I remembered and felt Jim’s connection to Native American shamanistic culture. I also felt a connection to himself. And I couldn’t have felt otherwise, being in the Scythian Steppe and breathing in the hot wind that blew over it.
After what I have experienced, I have no doubt that by directing my gaze towards the world of shamans, I have chosen the right path for my Journey.
A small selection of videos for those who also want to touch that world:
A video with a slice of footage from the film (playing “The End”) (edited in 1996 at the Academy of Art University, San Francisco):
The Late Scythians.
The final stage in the history of the Scythians covers the period from the 3rd century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D. It is characterized by a considerable shrinkage of their territory (down to the Lower Dnepr, foothill and north-western Crimea) and their transition to a settled life.
In the 3rd century BC the process of settling of the Scythians on the land begins. Land cultivation begins to play an important role in the economy. This resulted in a new complex of the material culture and transformation of the social relations and religious beliefs. This archaeological culture was named Late Scythian, this term on the one hand underlines the ethnic and cultural continuity from the nomadic Scythians, on the other hand – marks the fundamental socio-economic, political and cultural changes within the Scythian society. What reasons contributed to the reduction of the Scythian range and their settling on the land cannot be unequivocally answered. At present, the theory of a climatic catastrophe put forward by S.V. Polin is discussed in scientific circles. According to this theory, in the 3rd century BC, a severe drought occurred in the Northern Black Sea steppes, which severely damaged the economy of the Scythians, and led to the above-described consequences. This assumption is also confirmed by the fact that no burial complexes belonging to the Scythians or Sarmatians were discovered in the territory of the steppe Ukraine in the 3rd century BC. The first Sarmatian burials appear here in the II-I centuries BC. Consequently, these lands were unpopulated in the 3rd century BC. It is probable that this was due to the lack of fertile pastures. In this case, there was no opportunity to engage in cattle breeding, which was the basis of the nomadic economy.
In Crimea, the Scythians settled in the foothills in the river valleys. Late Scythian settlements were discovered along the Salgir, Kachi, Alma, Western Bulganak, Beshterek, Zui, Biyuk and Kuchuk-Karasu. Settlements were located on the tops of high hills, on promontories, or adjacent to the precipitous edge of the plateau. They were fortified by stone walls with towers, ramparts and moats. As a rule, settlements were built so that they were protected by steep cliffs on three sides, and defensive structures were built on the fourth, flattering side. There are cases, when a wall or a rampart was built along the whole perimeter of a settlement. Sometimes in the Late Scythian hill forts there was a second inner line of fortifications, separating the acropolis. In the North-Western Crimea, on the occupied territories from Chersonesos, the Scythians used Greek walls to which were sometimes enclosed earth ramparts. Houses were rectangular, with two or three rooms, and exits led directly to the street. The walls of such buildings were made of large stones in the lower part and mud bricks in the upper part. The floors were earthen or covered with clay. The roofs were made of organic materials, sometimes Greek tiles were used. An important element of the Late Scythian culture were semi-dwellings. They were rectangular or circular. The ground part was made of mud bricks or poles smeared with clay. Household pits were made for household needs at the settlements. Pottery ovens were discovered at the sites of Tarpanchi and Krasnoye. Glassmaking workshop of II-III cc. AD with three kilns was excavated at Alma-Kermen settlement. It is believed to be the residence of the Roman legionaries.
Scythian Naples is considered the capital of the Late Scythian state. In addition to Naples, there are four other large settlements: Ust’-Alma, Bulganak, Zales’e and Krasnoe. In addition to this are known such settlements as: Kermen-Kyr, Alma-Kermen, Yuzhno-Donuzlav, Belyaus, Kulchuk, Tarpanchi, Zuisky, Solovyevka, Snake, Dzhalman, Chaika, etc.
Early funerary monuments of the Late Scythian culture from the 3rd-2nd centuries BC are represented by single burials in stone tombs with multiple burials. The inventory of such burials is not rich. They are mainly pottery, knives, axes and spindles. Sometimes beads, bronze jewelry and mirrors are found. Weapons and horse harness are very rare.
Necropolises were located near the settlements. Among the funerary structures, the mausoleum of the Scythian Naples stands out. There was a stone tomb with a royal burial, a carved wooden structure and 37 wooden coffins. The mausoleum was buried during the II century BC. – I century AD The central tomb in the tomb of slabs was of particular richness. Some scholars regard it as belonging to the Scythian king Skilur. In Naples, crypts of the 2nd and 3rd century A.D., cut in the rock and frescoed, have been discovered. The most widespread types of sepulchral structures are crypts and vaults. Vaults had a rectangular entrance pit and a round or oval burial chamber. The chamber was closed with a filling of stone slabs. Numerous burials were made in them, with dozens of bones in several layers. Such vaults were a characteristic feature of the Late Scythian culture. They begin to be used at the beginning of the culture in the 3rd-2nd centuries B.C. and continue to be used up to the 2nd century A.D. Under-floor graves spread in the 1st century A.D. and from the 2nd century A.D. they become the dominant type of burial structures in all Late Scythian burial grounds. Their appearance is associated with the migration of Sarmatian tribes to the Crimea. In some burial grounds (Levadki, Fontany and Belyaus) discovered catacombs, which are different from the crypts in that the entrance pit is parallel to the chamber, not perpendicular. Catacombs are typical for the 3rd-2nd centuries BC; they ceased to be built in the 1st century BC. In addition, the Scythians were buried in rectangular pits, pits with shoulders and slab graves. Sometimes horses are found buried. Children’s burials are known. A distinctive feature of the Late Scythian culture is the tradition to cover the entrance holes with stones. All sorts of things were placed in the tombs together with the dead. Most of them were earthenware and pottery, jewelry (rings, rings, bracelets and earrings), clothing details (fibulae, buckles and belt-tips), sometimes weapons (swords, daggers, spear and arrowheads), household articles (mirrors, knives, spinners, lathes etc.) and beads have been found. In the 1st-2nd centuries A.D. Sarmatian types of things appeared in the funeral inventory, features of Sarmatian culture spread – these are modeled censers, mirror-hangings, tamgas, the tradition of beads, etc. At the end of the II-III centuries A.D., the Late Scythian burial grounds take on a Sarmatian appearance.
From the beginning of the transition of the Scythians to sedentary life and the formation of the Late Scythian state (III-II centuries BC) they begin to actively participate in the political processes on the peninsula. In the 3rd BC the first armed clashes of the Late Scythians with Chersonesos occur, in the course of which the Scythians succeeded in capturing the northwestern Crimea, together with the towns of Kerkenitida and Kolos-Limenes, on the ruins of which the Scythian settlements appear. In the II century BC Chersonesus allied with the Pontic Kingdom, headed by a talented politician and military leader Mithridates VI Eupator intervenes in this conflict. As a result of the landing of the Pontic armies in the Crimea and their joint action with the Chersonesites, the Scythians were defeated. During this period the Scythians had active contacts with the Bosporan kingdom up to dynastic marriages. There was an active trade. In exchange for grain and cattle Scythians received from Greeks pottery (crockery, tiles etc.), luxury goods, wine, oil etc. The Greek influence had an impact on the architecture of Scythian Naples, the technique of erecting defensive structures (stone walls with towers) and religious beliefs. The Greeks settled in Scythian towns, and the Scythians in their turn were actively settling in the agricultural area of the Bosporus. I c. BC. – I century AD is a period of prosperity of the Late Scythian state and culture. At this time the Scythian kingdom reaches its largest scale. It includes the foothills and northwestern Crimea. The south-western Crimea is actively populated, new settlements are founded, the largest of them are Ust-Alma and Alma-Kermen. The southwestern border of the Scythian Kingdom reaches Chersonesos. The Scythian Naples is actively built up, and the existing settlements appear and are expanded. In the 1st century BC, the Scythians interfere in the internal feuds of the Bosporus, but not successfully. The clashes with Chersonesos lead to the appearance of Roman troops in the city in the I century BC. The Romans inflict a number of defeats on the Scythians, seizing the settlement of Alma Kermen, in which the Roman garrison stayed for a while. In the late 1st – early 2nd century AD the territory of the Late Scythian state considerably decreases, traces of severe fires are recorded in Naples and Ust-Alma, the acropolis of Bulgonak fortress is reduced to its limits, all settlements in the North-Western Crimea are abandoned. All this is associated with the active advance of Sarmatian tribes to the peninsula. In the II century AD the decline of the Late Scythian state begins. In II century AD, as a result of a series of wars, it was conquered by the Bosporus. In III century AD the Germanic Goth tribes invade the Crimea. As a result all Late Scythian settlements perished. The Late Scythian culture loses its integrity and ceases to exist.