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Main page / "Knowledge. Understanding. Skill" Journal / Contents / 2015 / 1

Yatsenko S. A., Vdovchenkov E. V. Some Aspects of the Military Organization of the Ancient Nomads of European Steppes

(Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow University for the Humanities),
(Southern Federal University, Rostov-on-Don)

Abstract ♦ The article continues the series of our publications on Sarmatians social order. This group of early nomads has been extensively studied archeologically, with the research covering a very large territory. But the analysis of social institutes remains sarmatologys weakest link. Traditionally, the study of social stratification has merely implied complex and itemized statistical listings of how burials were made and which accompanying artifacts they contained, etc. We take a different approach by classifying burial mounds according to how they were formed, outfitted and (consequently) robbed.

In this article, we compare three burials of the bodyguards of the mid-1st early 3rd cc. CE (found in the various parts of Sarmatia) on the basis of universal presence of weapons by the bodies of all men. In every case, the burial rites seem to have been standardized. Such necropolises were located near the settlements of the dependent farmers; with every such settlement defended by a small band of warriors. The professional warriors equipment was not standard; it depended on that of the enemies, on the tributaries resources and the abundance or scarcity of the spoils of war. We can easily identify the graves of military leaders, distinguished by a number of details in their weapons and clothes and also by a special design and planigraphy of their barrows. Buried beside with the men were the wives they brought over from the homeland and some more important children. There are no reasons for construing the burial as that of aristocrats; most likely, these were hired bodyguards. Such bands of warriors were most likely formed during the military confrontation with the Roman Empire and its allies at the peak of their activity along the north-eastern borders.

Our conclusion that a band of Sarmatian bodyguards existed in the town of Tanais in late 2nd early 3rd cc. CE is based on epigraphic data. The inscriptions reveal the specific organization of the citizenry and the big role Sarmatians played in its public life. The analysis of names and bynames of Sarmatian origin proved very important, as their etymology sometimes is connected with military action.

Written sources note a special role of women in some tribes living at the mouth of the Don. This has been fully corroborated by archaeological finds. In the Novyi necropolis, armed women (usually married ones) accounted for about 16% of all burials and their range of weapons was similar to that of the males. In most necropolises, a single ceremonial weapon was the status symbol of the wives of second-rank nobility. 

Keywords: archaeology, Sarmatians, Middle Sarmatian culture, Late Sarmatian culture, nomads, bodyguard groups, warriors necropolises, military leaders, Tanais (town), female warriors, Lower Don basin, weapons  

Yatsenko Sergey Aleksandrovich Doctor of History, Professor, Department of History and Theory of Culture, Russian State University for the Humanities; Professor, Department of Philosophy, Culturology and Politology, Moscow University for the Humanities, member of the European Association of Archaeologists and Signum, International Society for Mark Studies. Postal address: 6 Miusskaya pl., Moscow, GSP-3, Russian Federation, 111531. Tel.: +7 (499) 250-68-27, +7 (495) 300-72-26. E-mail:

Vdovchenkov Evgeny Viktorovich Candidate of History, Associate Professor, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Institute of History and International Relations, South Federal University. Postal address: 33 B. Sadovaya St., Rostov-on-Don, Russian Federation, 344000. Tel.: +7 (863) 240-18-66. E-mail:


Citation: Yatsenko, S. A., Vdovchenkov, E. V. (2015) Some Aspects of the Military Organization of the Ancient Nomads of European Steppes [ ]. Znanie. Ponimanie. Umenie, no. 1, pp. 171-182. (In Russ.). DOI: 10.17805/zpu.2015.1.16

Submission date: 19.12.2014.



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