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Accomplished horse-breeders and horsemen, Sarmatians were nomadic Indo-European tribes closely related to the Scythians. Originating in the southern Ural region, the Sarmatian expansion put an end to Scythian rule in the North Black Sea area in the 3rd century BC. The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus describes Sarmatian tribesmen as “tall and handsome, their hair inclines to blond; by the ferocity of their gaze they inspire dread. They delight in danger and warfare.”

Sarmatians were troublesome neighbors of the Roman Empire. Ovid complained about his difficult life in exile on the “barbarous coast,” susceptible to attacks by marauding nomads “strong in horses and strong in far-flung arrows.” Equipped with long swords, Sarmatians wore pointed helms and scale armor made of splintered horn or horse hoofs, later replaced by metal plates and rings. The military prowess of the Sarmatians was of such merit that a manual on Sarmatian warfare was issued to the Roman legions.


Turning the nomadic problem into part of the solution, Roman military leaders recruited Sarmatian cavalry into the Roman cohorts. In the 2nd century, 5,500 Sarmatians were sent to Britain by Emperor Marcus Aurelius. According to some historians, stories of these armored horsemen contributed to the legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

A fascinating feature of Sarmatian society was the high status accorded to women. Sarmatian warrior queens were renowned in antiquity. Herodotus affirmed that the Sarmatians were descendants of the Amazons and Scythians, whose women “frequently hunted on horseback with their husbands; in war taking the field; and wore the very same dress as the men.” The Sarmatian tradition had it that “no girl should wed till she had killed a man in battle.” In ancient kurgans, sumptuous female burials often included swords and arrowheads together with elegant jewelry inlaid with dazzling gems in the Hellenistic style. Eastern campaigns of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) spread Greek influences throughout his huge empire and exposed local artisans to new styles. The composite style that emerged is known as Hellenistic.

The Sarmatians were overrun by the invasions of the Goths and Huns in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. The intense multi-ethnic encounter on the steppe resulted in a complex mix of cultures and artistic styles, evident in the artifacts found in the region.




1. Painting depicting  Ovid meeting the Scythians 

2. Bust of Alexander the Great



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