Selected images from:
The Golden Deer of Eurasia: Scythian and Sarmatian Treasures from the Russian Steppes
Fig 1. Shield emblem, Scythian, end of the 7th century B.C. Northern Caucasus,
Kostromskaia kurgan Gold; 7 1/2 x 12 1/2 in. (31.7 x 19 cm)
The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg
The Slavs are the largest mass of European peoples sharing common ethnic and linguistic roots. Classical authors during the 1st century AD mention Slavs, and some scholars maintain that the Greek historian Herodotus wrote of the Slavs in the 5th century BC. The Lusatian culture, which dates back to the 2d millennium BC, is believed by some archaeologists to have been Slavic. Originally Asian, the Slavs migrated to Europe for economic and political reasons.
Various Slavic groups living in eastern Europe were conquered by the Huns during the late 4th century AD. The subsequent dissolution of the Hun empire during the mid-5th century sparked the great migration of the Slavs westward, southward, and northward. Some eventually settled in Bohemia, Bulgaria, and Macedonia. Others entered what are today Hungary and Romania. These groups have been identified as Antae, or East Slavs (Great Russians, White Russians, and Ukrainians); Sklaveni, or South Slavs (Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Bosnians, and Bulgarians); and Venedi, or West Slavs (Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, and Wends).
The Slavs first became a potent political force under Samo, a Frankish merchant who mobilized the Wends (also called Sorbs or Lusatians) and became their king (r. c.623-58), defeating the nomadic Avars from Asia and ending (630) the domination of the Wends by the Merovingians. During the century and a half after Samo's death the Wends were again subjugated by the Avars. The destruction of the Avar empire by Karl der Grosser, otherwise known in the West as Charlemagne, led to the establishment of a Moravian kingdom, which reached its height under Svatopluk (d. 894); he ruled parts of what are now Bohemia, Moravia, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary. This Slavic agglomeration, however, was destroyed by the Magyars in the early 10th century. In the 9th century, SaintsCyril and Methodius converted the tribes of this region, which remained under the influence of Roman Christianity.
Fig 2. Rhyton, Achaemenid, 5th?4th century B.C. Filippovka,
kurgan 1, treasure pit 2 Silver; 8 1/4 x 8 1/4 in. (9.8 x 9.8 cm)
Archaeological Museum, Ufa
During the 10th century several Slavic states were established in eastern Europe. In what is today Bulgaria, Simeon I created an empire that lasted for a century; establishing an emerging Croatian political force; the Bohemian state under the Premysl dynasty was integrated into the German empire; and the Piast family created a Polish state. These groups were generally affiliated with the Roman Catholic church.
Fig 3. The Parthian Empire
The Kievan state, which thrived from the 10th to the 13th century, was the first medieval state of the eastern Slavs. It was founded by the Varangians from Scandinavia; under the Rurik dynasty Kievan Russia grew by conquest and annexation to include modern Ukraine and Belarus as well as part of European Russia.
Fig 4. Rhyton, terminating in the forepart of a wild cat, 1st century B.C.?1st century A.D.;
Parthian period Iran Gilded silver; H. 10 13/16 in. (27.5 cm) Purchase, Rogers Fund,
Enid A. Haupt, Mrs. Donald M. Oenslager, Mrs. Muriel Palitz and Geert C.E. Prins Gifts;
Pauline V. Fullerton Bequest; and Bequests of Mary Cushing Fosburgh,
Edward C. Moore and Stephen Whitney Phoenix, by exchange, 1979 (1979.447)
The Viking overlords gradually merged with the Slavic inhabitants of the Kievan state, who were converted (c.989) to the Byzantine form of Christianity. Kiev dominated Russia until the Mongolian Tatar conquest of the 13th century. Today the Russians are by far the most numerous of the Slavic peoples.
Fig 5. Belt or harness ornament with an eagle and its prey, 1st
century B.C.?1st century A.D.; Parthian period, Iran
Gold inlaid with turquoise; W. 3 5/16 in. (8.4 cm)
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.2055)