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'Scythian' Archers on Archaic Attic Vases: Problems of Interpretation

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image of Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia

The article analyses the depictions of archers in so-called 'Scythian' clothes (a high sharp cap or a rounded hood, a caftan and trousers) in Attic archaic vase-painting. The author concludes that these figures were neither conceived as real ethnical Scythians, nor associated by vase painters or their customers with this or any other people. The clothes were rather an iconographic conventionality symbolising a second rank character accompanying a hero. The latter was depicted as a hoplite. The 'Scythian' clothes corresponded to the character's function, not to his ethnical identity. This scheme in vase-painting existed between c. 530 and 490 BC, and then went out of use, because after the Greco-Persian wars these clothes began to be associated with ethnical identity, though not Scythian, but Persian. The real prototype of the 'Scythian' archers were the archers of different ethnical groups first of Median, and later of Persian army. The 'Scythian' attire of the archers on the vases, therefore, has nothing to do with the real Scythians of the North Pontic area.


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