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Full Access Silver Phalerae with a Depiction of Bellerophon and the Chimaira from a Sarmatian Burial in Volodarka (Western Kazakhkstan). A Reappraisal of the Question of the So-Called Graeco-Bactrian Style in Hellenistic Toreutics

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Silver Phalerae with a Depiction of Bellerophon and the Chimaira from a Sarmatian Burial in Volodarka (Western Kazakhkstan). A Reappraisal of the Question of the So-Called Graeco-Bactrian Style in Hellenistic Toreutics

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Abstract This article aims to publish unique specimens of Hellenistic toreutics – a pair of silver phalerae decorated with gilding and forming part of an horses’ harness, which was found during excavation of the Volodarka-I Burial-ground on the west bank of the River Ural in western Kazakhstan in 1981. A detailed analysis is provided of the subject depicted on the phalerae – fighting between Bellerophon seated on the winged horse Pegasos and the monster Chimaira, of the iconography of the figures, of the details and decorative elements of the depictions and the techniques used. The phalerae from Volodarka are compared with other phalerae, similar with regard to their construction and the composition of the depictions, which were found in the lower reaches of the Volga (Novouzensk), on the bank of the River Ishim and on the east bank of the Irtysh (Sidorovka), and also with phalerae of unknown origin bearing depictions of elephants from the Hermitage collection. In this connection a detailed discussion on the question of the “Graeco-Bactrian style” in toreutics and the possibility of classifying of examples of Hellenistic artwork in silver follows. The author draws the conclusion that the given phalerae cannot be regarded as examples of one particular style of Hellenistic toreutics, as certain scholars would have us believe. The analysis we have carried out shows that a subject widespread in the Classical art of the 5th-4th centuries BC was taken as the basis of the composition for the Volodarka phalerae, albeit with minor innovations typical for the art of the Hellenistic era. Certain difficulties arise when it comes to determining their centre of production: these make it impossible to classify them unequivocally as examples of Graeco-Bactrian or Parthian toreutics. Observations regarding the style, dimensions and weight of the phalerae would appear rather to point to the first option. The fact that we possess documentary confirmation (Khorezmian inscriptions and a Parthian one on vessels from Isakovka) of the probable origin of at least some silver vessels found in Isakovka as being from Parthia and Khorezm, does not, however, give us grounds for ruling out the other option. The probable historical context (the movement of nomadic tribes in Central Asia, the fall of Graeco-Bactria, incursions into Parthia by nomads) does not contradict observations made during analysis of the phalerae and makes it possible to define the third quarter of the 2nd century BC as the terminus ante quem for the manufacture of the Volodarka phalerae, some of the most striking examples of Eastern toreutics from the Hellinistic period. The phalerae, found in a warrior’s burial at Volodarka, were most likely acquired by their owner as war booty between 145 and 120 BC. There is every reason to link the appearance of the silver phalerae and of silverware found in nomads’ burials across an enormous arc between the interfluve of the Lower Volga and the River Ural in the West and the east bank of the Irtysh in the East with the above mentioned historical events.

10.1163/157005712X638654
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Abstract This article aims to publish unique specimens of Hellenistic toreutics – a pair of silver phalerae decorated with gilding and forming part of an horses’ harness, which was found during excavation of the Volodarka-I Burial-ground on the west bank of the River Ural in western Kazakhstan in 1981. A detailed analysis is provided of the subject depicted on the phalerae – fighting between Bellerophon seated on the winged horse Pegasos and the monster Chimaira, of the iconography of the figures, of the details and decorative elements of the depictions and the techniques used. The phalerae from Volodarka are compared with other phalerae, similar with regard to their construction and the composition of the depictions, which were found in the lower reaches of the Volga (Novouzensk), on the bank of the River Ishim and on the east bank of the Irtysh (Sidorovka), and also with phalerae of unknown origin bearing depictions of elephants from the Hermitage collection. In this connection a detailed discussion on the question of the “Graeco-Bactrian style” in toreutics and the possibility of classifying of examples of Hellenistic artwork in silver follows. The author draws the conclusion that the given phalerae cannot be regarded as examples of one particular style of Hellenistic toreutics, as certain scholars would have us believe. The analysis we have carried out shows that a subject widespread in the Classical art of the 5th-4th centuries BC was taken as the basis of the composition for the Volodarka phalerae, albeit with minor innovations typical for the art of the Hellenistic era. Certain difficulties arise when it comes to determining their centre of production: these make it impossible to classify them unequivocally as examples of Graeco-Bactrian or Parthian toreutics. Observations regarding the style, dimensions and weight of the phalerae would appear rather to point to the first option. The fact that we possess documentary confirmation (Khorezmian inscriptions and a Parthian one on vessels from Isakovka) of the probable origin of at least some silver vessels found in Isakovka as being from Parthia and Khorezm, does not, however, give us grounds for ruling out the other option. The probable historical context (the movement of nomadic tribes in Central Asia, the fall of Graeco-Bactria, incursions into Parthia by nomads) does not contradict observations made during analysis of the phalerae and makes it possible to define the third quarter of the 2nd century BC as the terminus ante quem for the manufacture of the Volodarka phalerae, some of the most striking examples of Eastern toreutics from the Hellinistic period. The phalerae, found in a warrior’s burial at Volodarka, were most likely acquired by their owner as war booty between 145 and 120 BC. There is every reason to link the appearance of the silver phalerae and of silverware found in nomads’ burials across an enormous arc between the interfluve of the Lower Volga and the River Ural in the West and the east bank of the Irtysh in the East with the above mentioned historical events.

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