The importance of animals to the nomadic lifestyle of the Eurasian steppe peoples made them a central subject of steppe art. They are depicted naturalistically as well as in highly stylized, abstract and contorted forms, but always in objects that are small or portable and often highly functional.
This depiction of a wild boar is formed by simple, deep incisions in the bronze and its aesthetic is enhanced by the extensive pale green patina. Although a highly-abstracted representation of this fearsome beast, native to the northern forests of the Caucasus Mountains, the artist has skilfully captured its salient characteristics – threatening sharp tusks, beady eye, and bristly dorsal mane, rendered through a series of striations. On the reverse, a vertical rounded loop at one end was used for attachment. A very similar example was found in a kurgan at Sept-Frères in the Caucasus dating to the fifth century BC.
The stylisation and overall character of this attachment suggest it is probably Scythian in origin. The Scythians were a highly mobile people who inhabited the sparse lands of the Eurasian steppe, from Mongolia to the Carpathian mountains. Their presence in the ancient world was felt from an early stage; they were known to the settled peoples of Persia and the Greek world by the seventh century BC, when they swept down from the Caucasus to control Persia. By the time of Herodotus, in the early fifth century BC, the Scythians had established a homeland in the broad rim of territory north of the Black Sea, where they interacted with Greek settlers.
These people, whose wealth resided in the horses they rode and the objects with which they adorned their beasts, created some of the most remarkable metalwork in the ancient world. The choice to adorn a portable object with such zoomporhic subject matter indicates the importance of nature and hunting to the lives of these nomadic communities, whilst also expressing their reverence for the might and power for the beasts with whom they shared this unforgiving landscape.
For the example from Sept-Frères, V. Schiltz, Les Scythes et les nomades des steppes: 8 siècle avant J-C. 1 siècle après J-C. (Paris, 1994), pl. 19.
Private Collection, B.K.W. Canada, 1980s.
Published: T. Pang, Treasures of the Eurasian Steppes: Animal Art from 800 BC to 200 AD (New York, 1998), no. 11.