Monday, December 7, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Michèle Daumas, L'or et le pouvoir: armement scythe et mythes grecs. Nanterre: Presses universitaires de Paris ouest, 2009. Pp. 206; 16 p. of plates. ISBN 9782840160427. €35.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Todd Clary, Cornell University

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Gold and Power: Scythian Weaponry and Greek Myth is a detailed study of several 4th century BCE bow-case covers and scabbard casings associated both with Scythian culture and Greek colonization within the Black Sea region. The original wooden scabbards and bow cases (henceforth 'gorytos' as per the bow case of Odysseus at Odyssey 21.54) all bore sheet-gold covers with scenes in relief duplicated on multiple items, suggesting repeated production from single soft clay or wax matrices. : Some of the reliefs, particularly on the gorytoi covers, have been subject to widely disparate interpretations. Early critics attempted to derive them from Greek epic and tragedy, but subsequent studies either related them to Iranian myth, or saw them as a confused medley of figures produced in no intelligible sequence, the work of artisans replicating mythic iconography they may have encountered secondhand, but did not understand. There is also no consensus as to whether the crafters of the original matrices were Greek or Scythian. In Gold and Power, Daumas argues that the matrices were the work of Greek artists commissioned by members of the Scythian elite eager to tap into the symbolic potential of gold to substantiate and immortalize their prestige. She also asserts that the relief scenes on this weaponry consist of connected sequences that relate to the Greek Epic Cycle, primarily the Cypria, and Epigonoi, sequel to the Thebaid. To support her arguments, Daumas makes insightful comparisons between Scythian weaponry and a broad range of Greek and Macedonian art, including artifacts from Vergina which are relevant to the debate over whether Tomb II belonged to Philip II or Philip III. She combines this comparative approach with exacting examinations of the details of each item, and, in the end, reaches conclusions that are both persuasive and ingenious.

In the book's first four sections Daumas discusses four gorytoi all bearing the same relief scene, referenced by their findspots: Chertomlyk (St. Petersburg, Hermitage, DN 1863 1/435); Il'intsy (formerly in St. Petersburg, lost in WWII); Melitopolis (Kiev, Ukrainian Museum of Historical Treasure, AZS-1416); and Five Brothers (from tomb 8 of the Five Brothers Kurgan, now at Rostov-on-Don, KP 1638/17). The earliest discovered gorytos (1863) gives its name to the type: the "Chertomlyk type" Melitopolis, however, is actually the best specimen of the group. It appears to have been formed first, before degradation of the matrix from repeated processing, while the others have lost some clarity of detail. In fact, Daumas argues convincingly that the Chertomlyk example stands at the end of this process, after the details of the original matrix had become so degraded that they had been retouched, and thus reinterpreted.

Gorytoi of the Chertomlyk type have two main registers with elaborate scenes on each, surrounded by intricate animal, vegetal and quasi-geometric motifs. In the late 19th century, C. Robert1 identified a figure on the top register as Achilles, dressed as a woman in the gynaeceum at the house of Lycomedes in Scyros, at the point when Odysseus and Diomedes have caused him to drop his disguise by planting weaponry among gifts to Deidamia and her sisters. Perhaps behind the strength of Achilles' cultic associations in the Bosphorus (he is even said to reign over Scythians in a fragment of Alcaeus), this whole relief has hence become known as "scenes from the life of Achilles." However, in 1991 H.H. Nieswandt2 raised systematic objections to Robert's interpretation, concluding that the scenes showed a conflation of motifs without a unifying theme, and K. Stähler, in the second part of the same article, related several of the scenes to an Iranian story of dynastic succession. Set within this debate, Daumas' analysis of the gorytoi revisits that of Roberts, while taking into account the criticisms of Nieswandt.

She interprets the scenes on the two registers as follows, from top left to bottom right: Telephus supplicating a statuette of Apollo as he seeks advice for healing his wound; Deidamia turning away as a nurse comforts Neoptolemus, transvestite Achilles grabbing a sword held by Diomedes; a young woman seated on a chest and Achilles, still transvestite, brandishing his shield; Agamemnon and Achilles stuck at Aulis; an aged nurse, Clytemnestra, Iphigenia and an amphipolos on their way to Aulis on a baldachinned wagon; Agamemnon looking on as Telephus is healed, Clytemnestra with infant Orestes. All of this was material covered in the Cypria of Stasinus according to the summary of Proclus, the general theme being the trials and tribulations of the Greeks in their attempts to reach Troy.

The most innovative attributions here involve the two depictions of Achilles in the gynaeceum in Scyros. The figure Daumas identifies as Diomedes Robert identified as Achilles; but Nieswandt correctly pointed out that this figure is not, in fact, dressed in women's clothes. Daumas thus shifts identification of Achilles to the one male figure who clearly is transvestite, while retaining the overall setting at Lycomedes'. Her arguments for this shift are quite convincing, and I believe that her identification of Achilles in this scene will stick. Perhaps more debatable is her assertion that the standing figure in the next scene, a figure previously thought to be a flustered Deidamia depicted as a maenad, is actually Achilles. One problem with Daumas' attribution here is that this figure was, in fact, interpreted as female in antiquity. As she points out herself, on the Melitopolis work the figure does not appear to have pronounced breasts (whether the figure has breasts at all is debatable), but on Chertomlyk and Il'intsy "she" clearly does. On pages 34-38 Daumas illustrates some striking parallels with depictions of Achilles brandishing his shield in the gynaeceum from later sarcophagi, and the machinery she uses to argue that the maker of the original matrix was depicting Achilles here is impressive, but ultimately one is left wondering about the feminine interpretation so early on within the production sequence of the gorytoi themselves. Still, even if we interpret this figure as Deidamia, this should not distract us from the excellence of Daumas' overall interpretation of the gorytoi. She makes it very difficult to argue that the artist was unaware of the pre-Trojan war material delineated in the Cypria. Further, in her intricate analysis of the decorative motifs framing the central relief, despite the fact that previous critics have questioned their indebtedness to Greek models, she establishes quite authoritatively that they do, in fact, bear testimony to a very Greek geometric spirit, and that there is little reason behind assertions that the original artisan must have been a non-Greek.

In the last two sections of part one, Daumas focuses on three scabbard casings3 of the Chertomlyk type, companion pieces to the Chertomlyk type gorytoi. The relief scene running the length of the blade on these casings has often been described in general terms as "Greeks Battling non-Greeks." In accordance with her interpretation of the gorytoi these casings undoubtedly went with, Daumas relates their main scene to the Cypria, namely the battle between the Achaeans and the Mysians commanded by Telephus at Teuthrania near the Caicus river. There is clearly a dead Greek on this relief, and Daumas argues that it is Thersander, whom Telephus has just killed, while Telephus himself is being treated by a doctor, having just been wounded by Achilles, pictured at the center of the relief. There is one obstacle to this interpretation, since the doctor treating the wounded man, supposedly Telephus, is actually quite clearly reducing a fractured right leg, a treatment that does not coincide with what we know of Telephus' wound, a spear wound to the upper left thigh. Daumas attributes this inconsistency to limitations of the artistic medium, but this argument seems a bit more specious than any she makes elsewhere in the book. Further, if the identification of Telephus fails, the rest of the scene might also be questionable, since none of the other figures have securely identifiable features. In the end, the Cyprian associations of their companion gorytoi may present the strongest case for the scene on these three reliefs depicting the battle at Teuthrania, but the details on the reliefs themselves remain somewhat enigmatic.

Part two of Gold and Power focuses, in four sections, on two gorytoi of the same basic configuration as the Chertomlyk type, but with entirely different relief scenes. They have sparked interest because of the diversity of their provenances: one from a Scythian Kurgan at Karagodeuashkh on the Taman peninsula, and another from Macedonia, the antechamber to the famous Tomb II at Vergina. Daumas calls this the Karagodeuashkh type, but the gorytos from Vergina is by far its best-preserved representative, the specimen from Karagodeuashkh being only preserved incomplete in seven fragments.4 The excavator of the Vergina tomb, M. Andronikos, saw on the relief of the Tomb II gorytos a representation of the taking of a town, and tentatively pointed to the taking of Thebes by the Epigonoi, while K. Stähler once again sought Iranian motifs, interpreting the scene as a Persian fratricidal war.5 For her part, Daumas had already argued that the scene was a depiction of the taking of a Kabiric sanctuary near Thebes mentioned by Pausanias (IX.25.7).6 In this book she expands and strengthens her previous arguments.

Gorytoi of the Karagodeuashkh type have two main registers, but unlike the "Chertomlyk" type, which has a sequence of scenes based on a general theme, they focus on a single event. Several relevant details on the reliefs themselves support Daumas' conclusion that this event is the pillaging of a Kabiric sanctuary by the forces of Thersander, who sacked several places in the vicinity of Thebes before finally defeating the Theban army at Glisas. Pausanias (IX.9.5) outlines these events in connection with the Epigonoi, and states that they were part of an epic poem, the Thebaid, attributed to Homer first by Callinus, then with warranted skepticism by Herodotus (4.32). The way in which Daumas delineates how specific details on the gorytoi line up with Kabiric symbols on other artifacts make her arguments here particularly strong. First, above the upper register of the Vergina gorytos a row of Bewick's swans fly off, as if startled by the battle, a scene with parallels in other Kabiric battle scenes (e.g. Boston, MFA Skyphos 99.532). Second, a half-buried jar on the gorytos coincides, in an extremely idiosyncratic way, with Kabiric iconography on vase paintings (e.g. Athens, Nat. Mus. Skyphos fragment 10426), as do the several piloi that have fallen off the heads of the young male victims, or are simply set up as votive objects throughout the scene. Finally, in the upper right of the relief two women take refuge on a rocky outcropping topped by an altar with statues of Kore and Demeter; this outcropping appears to be inside the temple, another odd detail in accord with Kabiric iconography. In the end, because of the presence of priestesses, and the statues of Demeter and Kore, Daumas concludes that this relief does not depict the pillaging of the Kabirion itself, but the Kabiric sanctuary of Demeter nearby.

In the final two sections of part two, after establishing the Kabiric associations of the Karagodeuashkh type gorytoi, Daumas explores the ramifications of these associations for the identification of the deceased in Vergina, Tomb II. Debate over this topic has raged since Andronikos first asserted that the tomb was that of Philip II.7 Daumas adds an interesting dimension to this puzzle by noting the likelihood that Philip II became an initiate in the Kabiric rites when he was in Thebes in 369 and 368 BCE. Her attribution of the scene on the gorytos, therefore, favors attribution of Tomb II to Philip II, although she is cautious not to draw too much from evidence that is clearly not conclusive. Attribution of the tomb to Philip II leads, in turn, to an explanation of why an identical artifact with Kabiric connections would turn up as far away as in Karagodeuashkh: the spread of Kabiricism coincided with Philip II's political expansionism. Daumas then broadens her scope to postulate that all of this Scythian weaponry was the product of pre-Hellenistic Macedonian workshops with craftsmen who had recourse to texts of the Epic Cycle. She admits that many uncertainties remain: the Scythian princes who carried this armor will probably always be anonymous; but the fact that they were attracted to weaponry with distinctly Greek motifs attests to the profound interconnectedness of the Hellenic and Scythian worlds in the late fourth century, and validates the conception of a unique, Graeco-Scythian art.

Overall, the production quality of Gold and Power is quite good and its organization clear and helpful. At the back of the book the reader will find three maps, an extensive bibliography, a list of museums, indices of ancient sources cited, proper names, place names, and a glossary of nomenclature. This material precedes a table of illustrations, table of contents, and finally, a series of 41 exquisite color plates. These plates include both overall and detailed pictures of the primary reliefs studied, as well as pictures of the most important comparative items, and readers will inevitably turn to them again and again as they follow Daumas' arguments.


Page 10: Daumas cites "gorytos" at Odyssey 21.51-52; the Oxford and Teubner texts, and the LSJ citation, have Od.21.54.

Page 18: The gorytos from the tomb of the Five Brothers is listed as plate II-3, but there is no plate II-3. In fact, this artifact is not pictured in the entire book.

Page 23: Ovid, Metamorphoses 155-156 refers to lines 165-166 in the Teubner text.

Page 102: section 3, citation of pl. IX-1 should be pl. VIII-2.

Page 132: fig. 64 is listed as Skyphos fragment, Boston, MFA Acc. 99532, but, on the repository website, is listed under accession number 99.532.

Table of contents (translated by the reviewer):


First part: Tchertomlyk type gorytoi

The four gorytoi
I. Location of the gorytoi
II. Description of decor
III. Different interpretations
The story of Achilles
I. Achilles at Lycomedes'
II. Iphigenia at Aulis
III. Connection of the two scenes and subject identification
The story of Telephus v
I. Succession of scenes on the lower register
II. Healing of Telephus and the Trojan War
III. Telephus consults the oracle of Apollo
The surrounding decor
I. Animal motifs.
II. Vegetal motifs
The three sword scabbards
I. Three examples
II. Past interpretations
III. Origin of the scene
Some responses to problems
I. One or more matrices?
II. Greek myth and Scythian culture

Part two: Karagodeuashkh type gorytoi

The Vergina gorytos
I. Discovery of the Vergina gorytos
II. The two gorytoi
III. Different interpretations
The battle of the Cabiri and the Epigonoi
I. Preliminary remarks
II. A Theban epic
III. The scene depicted on the gorytoi and Theban legends
The gorytos and the deceased in Vergina tomb II
I. The funerary context
II. Identity of the deceased in Vergina tomb II
III. The gorytos, booty or gift?
The gorytos of Vergina and history of Macedonia
I. Difficulties of attribution of the tomb to Philip III
II. An original work reproduced on gorytoi elsewhere?
III. Macedonian workshops working for Scythians?


1.   Robert, C. 1889. "Archäologische Gesellschaft", AA, 151-153.
2.   Stähler, K.-Nieswandt, H.H. 1991-92. "Der skythische Goryt aus dem Melitopol-Kurgan", Boreas, 14-15, p. 85-108.
3.   St. Petersburg, Hermitage, D.N.N. 1863 1/447 (from Chertomlyk); New York, MM, 30.11.12 (provenance unknown); Rostov-on-Don, KP-1839/17 (from Five Brothers kurgan).
4.   The fragments are in St. Petersburg, Hermitage, 2492/38. The gorytos from Tomb II is Vergina Museum, BE 3.
5.   See Andronikos, M. 1984. Vergina, p. 180-186, and Stähler, K. 1997. "Zum Gorytrelief aus dem sog. Philippsgrab in Vergina", Zur Graeco-skythischen Kunst. Archäologisches Kolloquium Münster, 24-26 November 1995, p. 85-114.
6.   Daumas, M. 1998. Cabiriaca, Recherches sur le culte des Cabires.
7.   Anyone curious about the history of this debate can refer to: Hatzopoulos, M. 2008. "The Burial of the Dead (at Vergina) or the Unending Controversy on the Identity of Occupant of Tomb II", Tekmeria 9, p. 91-118.

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