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Humanitarian sciences in Siberia

2015 year, number 2


Yu.A. Plotnikov
Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of SB RAS, 17 Akademician Lavrentiev Av., Novosibirsk, 630090
Keywords: Herodotus, Scythian Ares, akinak, Thunder God, Nartian Epos, Batradz, Indra, Verethragna, dying and reviving God, Scythian Epos


The task of reconstructing some Scythian epic storylines is difficult but not hopeless. As an object for reconstruction the author has sel ected a famous story by Herodotus about Scythian Ares honored as an ancient iron sword put on the top of the pile of brushwood (Herodotus, IV, 62). According to the author, using such unusual material in construction of sanctuaries could be justified only by an exceptionally important functional requirement that during the ceremony the altar was to be burnt down. The Ossetian Tales of the Nart Batradz, who was considered inseparable fr om his sword, demonstrate the utmost similarity with the Herodotus story. The researchers convincingly trace the origin of the name of Batradz to the name of the Iranian God of Storms Verethragna-Bahram and then to the Vedic Indra. Assuming that the worship of the patron deity of warriors dates back to the steppe Bronze Age, it is concluded that there is 99 percent probability that the sword was made of bronze. As bronze has lower melting point (930-1140ЪC) than iron (1539ЪC), the bronze sword would disappear in the flaming fire, what was perceived as its ascension to heaven with a column of smoke and flame. In this case, the thunder-bearer of Late Bronze Age, honored by the Scythians ancestors, appears as a dying (disappearing) and resurrecting (returning) God. The seasonal ritual of his dying-ascension should have been necessarily paralleled by a symmetric seasonal holiday of revival-returning. An attempt to use iron weapons in the ancient ritual, undertaken by the Scythians approximately in the VIII-VII centuries B.C. led to a catastrophe - the God sharply changed his behavior. Obviously, the image of a red-hot blade was perceived as a manifestation of the deity’s violent rage. The author suggests that Herodotus retold in a generalized form an etiological myth explaining the established cult practice of honoring iron sword with bloody propitiations in the early Iron Age.