Warrior-Women of the Steppe?


‘Scythian’ female horse archer; broadly representative of a perhaps surprisingly viable typology of the Indo-European folk of the Steppe.

In my previous piece on Naga Panchami, I briefly mentioned the flawed speculative etymology of Sauromatai, the Sarmatians – noting that some had sought to suggest it derived from scale-like armour and serpentine standards of this Indo-European steppe people; whereas a rather more extraordinary, but perhaps better supported recent attempt had instead speculated that it was the prominence of the Sarmatians’ *Women* rather than their *serpents* that had in fact supplied the underpinnings of the name.

Now, if you’re familiar at all with the Scythians, then the spectacle of a lethally proficient Indo-European woman of the Steppes will almost surely conjure within your recollection the various tales of Amazons. And while it’s quite likely that the vast majority of even contemporaneous Classical treatments of the subject were … fanciful in the extreme, it’s nevertheless also considered reasonably plausible that, as with most enduring legends, there’s a grain of truth in there somewhere.

Before going any further, it’s probably necessary to briefly address the problematic ‘politicization’ of these sorts of probings.

That is to say that – without getting into value-judgments about the current currents of female empowerment in modern culture and society – there is often a temptation to significantly *over-read* into both archaeological and textual sources, to see hints of modern morality that *simply aren’t there*.

This can range from endeavours at taking this or that Greek-era source in a directly *literal* and uncritical fashion, largely if not entirely because it supports one’s agenda [and seriously, as undeniably /cool/ as Herodotus’ account of Queen Tomyris of the Massagetae killing Cyrus of Persia is … even Herodotus wasn’t *quite* sure that that was what had *actually* happened, to take but one example]; through to the perhaps more understandable ‘correlation/causation’ confusion of persons happening across internet mention of some latest find of a Germanic or other grave-site containing a (likely) female skeleton, plus a weapon, and instantly declaring that this is a “SHIELDMAIDEN”.

The generalized effect is often to attempt to promote a rather questionable in the extreme perspective that this or that [or, worse, *all*] ancient societies were somehow more egalitarian in many respects than the relatively contemporaneous United States of America – and so therefore, some 21st or latter 20th century political project is implicitly justified.

Which is, needless to say, *not* a good idea – either from a historical perspective (because it’s placing the ‘present’ in front of the ‘past’, and meaning we don’t get a very good look at the actual realities of the latter, through the wafting smoke of the polemical], or from a political perspective (because … I really think it’s kinda obvious why people should be thinking twice about *just how far* they want to go with attempting to guide present-day progressive causes via recourse to Bronze Age slash Early Iron Age moralities. I mean, you *can* … it’s just … actually, I think we’ll save that for a *future* article-series – ‘Bronze Age Solutions For Modern Problems’ .).

But I digress.

The fact of the matter, is that as applies a perhaps surprisingly prominent quotient of the Scythian & Sarmatian burials, what we appear to have is actual, tangible evidence of martially proficient women. Now, again, it is important to reiterate that this does *not* mean that *every* Indo-European Steppe woman was some kind of Amazon – whether in the literal, or the literary sense.

But whereas many times, when we encounter mention of a female burial bearing weapons, it later turns out that the weapons are merely symbolic of her or her family’s relative status, and are simply ‘correlate’ with her body in the grave, rather than having any real nor intrinsic linkage to who she was and what she did in life … with many of these Scythian & Sarmatian ‘warrior women’ burials, it’s different.

We actually find characteristic bone-stressors indicating that they actually *used* their weapons in life; we find signs and signifer-remains of previous injuries that can only have been sustained upon the field of battle; we find evidence that these women could, and did, ride horses [again, bone-stressors, this time located in the legs]; alongside an array of other, uniquely *feminine* grave-goods.

What makes this *particularly* interesting – from my perspective, anyway – is to consider these findings in light of the ongoing supposition that the Indo-European Steppe peoples ‘kept alive’ traditional features of far earlier Indo-European cultures far more so than some other and more immediately sedentary branches of the race.

The phenomenon of martially proficient, and perhaps even politically powerful female figures within these cultures, then, might plausibly tie in with the maintained subsequent prominence of female and feminine War Goddesses Who turn up in almost all Indo-European descendant mythoreligions.

Again, I am not enjoining support for the occasionally rather lurid over-readings into what has been passed down to us, in favour of this or that present-day political-reformer’s cause.

And as applies the Goddesses aforementioned, there are most definitely other elements which have gone into what is likely going on there [for a far more in-depth and detailed discussion upon which, perhaps consult my ‘BHARAT MATA AND THE INDO-EUROPEAN DEIFIC OF NATIONAL IDENTITY’ piece published on Indian Independence Day last year].

But at the same time, an interesting element of Indo-European history and heritage to look into.

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