Antropomorphic images in the touretics of the Middle Ages of the steppe Eurasia

The toreutics became the leading direction in the art of steppe Eurasia of the Middle Ages. The artistic metal was used in the design of costume, weapons, horse and equipment. These items were endowed with special significance and therefore they are valuable source for the reconstruction of various aspects of the life of the past people. The toreutics of the Kimaks is of particular interest, who created the state in the Ob-Irtysh interfluve in the IXth century. Under the domination of floral elements, a certain place was given to subjects with the image of man, animals, and geometric figures. The images of a man are a small group, but they are important because they allow us to analyze how a man represented himself in that distant era. In the toreutics of the Kimaks are image: scene of feast, a hunting scene, images of the horsemen figures, figure of an archer on the horse, parts of the body, in this case, heads. The images of human figures are made realistic, stylization is characteristic only during the manufacture of masks. Reading the symbolism of these images is possible, based on the purpose of these products. The male characters are depicted exactly on the surface of the sword, belt, that is, things belonging to the soldiers. The scenes of feasting and hunting — the most important elements of socialization in the steppe society are reproduced. Thus, the appearance of a warrior in the Middle Ages was supplemented by the images on a heroic or secular theme.


The important source for the study of anthropomorphic images in the Middle Ages art is the Kimaks' toreutics. It is extremely interesting how a man of the past saw himself, how he identified himself. The most complete pictorial standards of their time characterize the famous stone sculptures in the Middle Ages art, which were spread in the space between Mongolia and Eastern Europe. The anthropomorphic motifs take a certain place among the images on the surface of stone (petroglyphs), ceramics and metal. The Kimaks are the Turkic tribes that created state in the Ob-Irtysh interfluve in the IXth century. The items of toreutics were used for the design of costume elements, military equipment and horse harness.

The subjects with anthropomorphic images in the Kimak toreutics are represented by the single products. Two scenes are related to the design of the saber elements (mound № 145, Zevakinо burial ground, Upper Irtysh) [1; photo 5]. On the surface of the scabbard tip are two characters, one dancing, and the second playing on a musical instrument (Fig. 1).

On the surface of the scabbard hoop, a man sits between the birds (Fig. 2). The absence of specifically shown signs of gender, suggests the men depicted in human figures.

The men depicted on the tip of the scabbard are placed in a full face, while they slightly tilted their heads to each other. The images are realistic. The character playing on a musical instrument is on the left side. It is a large head with a small rounded headdress. The details of the face are impossible to make out, on the left side is visible an arched figure (hair?).

The man holds a lute at the chest level, oriented with the neck to the left. The shape of the instrument is not definable; we can say that the resonator is rounded. There is a longitudinal stripe in the neck area. The right hand is at the level of the resonator, the left-at the top of the neck. The legs are straddled with heels inside. A man wears a knee-length caftan (?); it is engirdled with a waistband, the long ends of which symmetrically hang down. The sleeves have a normal length.

The dancing character is characterized by a large number of parts, rather than a «musician». Very large eyes and nose that merges with a fuzzy brow line are shown. On the right side the face is bordered by hair (?). The arms are bent at the elbows, and the legs are also straddled. You can see such details of clothing:

Corresponding author. E-mail: (B.М. Khasenova)

lapels on the caftan, long sleeves, waistband, the ends of which also hang down. The characteristic placement of the lapels suggests a left-handed wrap.

The dancing character is characterized by a large number of parts, rather than a «musician». Very large eyes and nose that merges with a fuzzy brow line are shown. On the right side the face is bordered by hair (?). The arms are bent at the elbows, and the legs are also straddled. You can see such details of clothing: lapels on the caftan, long sleeves, waistband, the ends of which also hang down. The characteristic placement of the lapels suggests a left-handed wrap.

A man with birds, depicted on the surface of the clip of a saber sheath, sitting with his legs tucked under him — «curled up», holding a vessel in the form of a high сup with both hands [1, photo 6]. The arms are placed at the level of stomach. A pointed headdress is on the head of the character. The details the rounded eyes, a long large nose that connects with a straight line of eyebrows, round cheeks and a small mouth are shown in detail. The hair is depicted on both sides of the face. Any details of clothing are difficult to distinguish; it is only visible that it is without a collar. The edges of sleeves are also shown. It should be noted that the figures of man and birds are made in a different manner: the image of a man is quite realistic, in turn, the birds were stylized and their images are conditionally given.

On the surface of the belt plaques found in mound 6 of the Bobrovsk burial ground, the scene of a man hunting on a cat predator is depicted [2, fig. 185]. The image is given in profile. On the head of a rider is a pointed headdress, the blades of which go down to the level of shoulders. A man bent down, leaning his body forward. It should also be noted that a human figure is disproportionately large in comparison with the figures of animals.

He holds a spear in his right hand, which strikes an animal. According to the way the tail is depicted- long and straight, it can be assumed the figure of this animal is a tiger. Both animals are depicted in jump.

The interesting groups of items of toreutics are small figures of horsemen, probably, representing pendants. The collection consists of 7 exemplars.

1. Six of them are stylistically related to the same group of images. In the article where they are published, an interesting conclusion is made: «All plaques belonging to this type, in the manner of execution and set of realities are very similar, except for some details and probably made on the same sample» [3, p. 85].

Among the common elements is, first of all, the rider's half-turned position, face to face forward, he holds a spear with both hands, located in a horizontal position, the pike up, the left hand is pushed forward. In the design of a human figure, there are such parallels: on the head, basically, are hats (helmets?), coneshaped or rounded with cones on top, the body is protected by a knee-length shell. Its structure is shown by means of strips, placed crosswise.


Among the same elements of the warrior's equipment are also a short spear with a rhomb-shaped tip and a cold weapon in a sheath placed at the left side. The riders have boots on their feet (?) with an extended upper part and a raised toe.

The rounded shield behind the back is decorated on the plaques from Kondratyevka, Srostki, Semipalatinsk, on the plaque from Upper Irtysh, it is complemented from above by another disk of smaller diameter. The facial features are elaborated on the surface of four plaques (from Semipalatinsk, Upper Irtysh and Kondratyevka 4 burial ground), showing a large nose and eyes, mouth in the form of a narrow dash, nose and eyebrows are made in one line.

The rounded holes are located in the upper part of the shield.

2. The plaque from Gilevo XII burial ground depicts a man on a horse, placed in profile [4, p. 31]. It is broken in the lower part, thus, the legs and tail of the horse were not preserved. A rider leans forward with his body, holds a bow, and stretches a bow with his right hand, bent at the elbow. There is a peaked headdress on the head, reaching to the level of cheeks in the lower part. Arch has M-shaped» form. There is a large circle behind a person's back. In it, near the head of a character, was made a hole. A quiver is attached at the right hip, placed at an angle.

The interpretation of some elements is difficult. First of all, it is not clear what is on the head of some characters-a helmet with a bump or a hairstyle with a bunch of hair on top is shown in this way. For Turkic iconography, the image of braids is typical, and «the fashion for hairstyles with a bunch on the top of the head should be associated in a broad historical and cultural context with the population, confessing Bud- dhism» [5, p. 411].

The ambiguous interpretation is also applied to a large circle, located behind a rider. It is acknowledged that this way shows a nimbus, indicating a religious essence of the image. It is also suggested that in this case a shield was depicted [6]. There are the images of warriors in the shells at the Zhyltyrak-Tash rocks (the upper reaches of the Talas, Republic of Kyrgyzstan). The reticulate texture on the figures of warriors, a kind of cut of clothing: the upper part adjacent to the body, from a belt line — an extension, suggest that this is how the shell is shown [18, fig. 9, 3–5].

According to A.Yu. Borisenko and Yu.S. Khudyakov, the prototype for the appearance of such figures in the steppe region were the images on the frescoes of East Turkestan. It is necessary to note the spread of plaques with the image of a warrior on a horse in the previous time-the first Turkic khaganats, but they are made in a different manner [5, fig. 1; 2, 1, 3].

Their appearance, according to Yu.S. Khudyakov and A.Yu. Borisenko, is the evidence of «Turkic- Sogdian cultural symbiosis». The Sogdian pictorial plot fully met the tastes of the steppe people and after the original image was endowed with Turkic features, it became widespread [5, p. 90].

Four guises belong to the category of anthropomorphic images. It should be noted that the execution of the masks are decorated differently: there is no an integrated manner, in each case the parts of the face are made in their own way, only two pendants from the same burial are the closest to each other.

a) The face is differentiated in the manner of its execution, which is manifested in a careful elaboration of features, the presence of such additional techniques as the through holes for the eye pits, asymmetry (object 2, Belokamenka). The nose is straight, long, with a thin bridge of the nose (Fig. 3). It connects with a thin line of eyebrows, which in turn continue further, outlining the oval of face. The forehead is high and prominent. There are three holes. The eyes are large and oblong. The right eye is placed slightly higher. As the eye pits are rounded through holes. The mouth is wide open, shown in the form of an arcuate figure, its outlines are applied to the surface of the object and there is an oval through hole in the center, along the edges supplemented by chrism cloth, pointed on the outside. The corners of the mouth reach to the face edge; the left side is slightly raised above the right. The chin has a smooth rounded outline. As well as, elaborated rounded cheeks, at the same the right one is larger. It is not quite clear the design of mustache, it is entirely possible their absence.

The shape of face is at variance in the lower part of the object. An oblong plate is framed, repeating the shape of the lower half of the face in the upper part. The face protrudes above the surface of the plate in profile, two small bulges almost symmetrically located on the surface of the plate in the lower half part.

b) Two masks from the children burial mound 2 of Kondratyevka IV kurgan group (Altai) in the presence of a single manner, which is fixed in such elements as the degree of artistic expression, facial features, elaboration of the eyes, nose and eyebrows have some differences [7, p. 202]. The faces are made realistic.

The eyes are oblong, showing only the line of the lower eyelid, the top of the eye is limited by the eyebrows. The apple of the eyes is also oblong. The nose is straight with rounded nostrils. The contour of the nose continues higher, diverges in different directions above the level of the eyes and thus forms a line of eyebrows in the form of arched figures. The chin is narrow. There are small circles at the level of cheeks close to the face. The plates for the hole are equally decorated– in the form of a rounded shape. The first guise has a small mouth in the form of a straight short line. The headdress covers the upper half of the head. The upper part consists of several teeth. The guise completely occupies the surface on a trapezoidal plate, in the lower part of which is attached an oblong drop-shaped figure with a rounded end.

The second pendant is an image of a man's face. The face is broader. From the nostrils pass down the lines, diagonally placed. Probably, the moustache is shown in this way. The circles around the edges of the face are larger than those in the first face. The mouth is shown as a roller with pointed ends and a horizontal dash inside. The hairstyle is well-designed, in the middle of the forehead is the protrusion decorated with small sub-triangles, a straight hair fits flush with the head and reaches the length just below the level of the cheeks. The inner contour of the hairstyle forms a heart-shaped figure along with the outline of the face.

b) The face has sub-triangular shape, with prominent cheekbones, sharply narrowed in the forehead (burial 2, mound 4, Gilevo XII burial, North-East Altai) [4, p. 31]. The eyes are rounded, large, the pupils are shown. The nose is straight, long, connected with the line of the eyebrows, showing the nostrils. The mustache and beard are shown together, this area of the face is covered with frequent lateral stripes, diverging in different directions from the mouth area. The lower contour of the cheeks borders the moustache by semicircle. They are shown as frequent small transverse strokes above the upper lip. The mouth is open (?), shown as a segmented shape. The triangular headdress is placed above the forehead.

Results and Discussion

Apparently, saber drawing with men are participants of an epic feast. Their analogies were not found in the materials of the steppe toreutics. As a possible source of the appearance of this scene, the art of the East Turkestan can be considered. This topic is well represented in terracotta, paintings; there are images of individual musicians and dancers and instrumental dance groups. At the same time, the duets are numerically prevailed, «usually the dance is accompanied by playing on an instrument» [2, p. 513]. Such images are also recorded on the surface of the sarcophagus, discovered during excavations in XI'an, Shanxi province (China): various episodes from the life of a noble Sogdians and their entourage are depicted on stone walls: scenes of feasting, meetings and hunting. It should be noted the presence of dancing and playing on the musical instruments characters, involved in one of the scenes. According to the researchers, one of the scenes shows a Turkic Khagan playing on a musical instrument. The characters' clothes, as in our case, are similarly made in the form of a knee-long caftan, waistband and soft boots. The finding is dated back to 579 [8, fig. 2.24–29].

According to these images, our musician is playing on a lute. This image is often found in terracotta and paintings of the East Turkestan. There are analogies and the manner of holding a musical instrument — a high at the chest, the body of lute is turned to the left [2, p. 399–400]. The characters are dressed in the Turkic clothing. One of them has a left-sided wrap, rightly defined by researchers as the most important indicator of the Turkic costume tradition [9, p. 43–44; 10, p. 184).

The plot, which depicts a character in a feasting position and birds located on the sides of it, has a number of analogies in details and the principle of the composition construction. So, a man in a similar position is

depicted on the hryvnia from Kobyakovsk mound of the early nomads' period [11]. Among the materials of the Red River settlement (the Republic of Kyrgyzstan) there is a plaque (belt, judging by the presence of a split on it) with the image of a man between two birds. The figure of a man is given schematically in the form of a silhouette; he is depicted standing with his spread arms and legs. The birds are shown in profile [12; 37].

It should be noted that the facial features are designed in a manner that are characteristic of the sculptures of the Kipchak appearance [13, table 4.8]. On the other hand, a vessel in the form of a cup, which is held in both hands by a character, is the element of the iconography of the ancient Turkic sculptures [13, table 6, 7].

In the period of the ethnographic modernity, some people still have signs of the existence of a special feasting posture; it was part of the rules of сonduct. Thus, in the process of receiving guests, the Tuvin ceremonial included certain poses. The pose of baskaktanyr was prescribed for men, especially the elderly and the most respected, with their legs crossed under them. The rest sat in a pose sogedekteer, that is, bent their left leg, and the right, bent at the knee, put in front of them, at the same time, it was oriented to the entrance [14, p. 68].

According to some researchers, the cup was a symbol of an epic feast [15, p. 58]. In line with these ideas, apparently, the custom was formed, which spread in the early nomads' period and especially in the Middle Ages, to place vessels in a whole or fragmented form near fences and statues [16, p. 27]. From the data of ethnography, the peculiar shape of the vessels in the form of a cup, which is widely represented in the Turkic sculpture, finds an explanation. So, E.M. Peshereva gives information about the spread of this kind of «the ceramic cups used by the peoples of Central Asia as ceremonial dishes for water, airan, kumys, cream and syrups» [15, p. 58].

Having analyzed the heroic epic of Turkic and Mongolian peoples in detail, L.N. Ermolenko suggested another aspect of deciphering the meaning of this song: «But the specific military significance of the cup is manifested in the heroic epic (convivial drink), which consists in its connection with virtue» [17, p. 27]. The battle-feasting elements selected by the researcher are «displayed in the iconography of Scythian and ancient Turkic statues of warriors depicted in «feasting pose», in a combination of a feast (libation) and a battle..., in the decoration of precious (feasting) vessels with the battle scenes and scenes of heroic hunting» [17, p. 28].

The image on the belt plaques of the Bobrovsk burial ground refers to the military-heroic theme; also it can be attributed, according to L.N. Ermolenko, to the battle scenes, scenes of feasting, tor- ment/confrontation of animals [17, p. 16]. The image of a warrior on a horse is found in the rock paintings, bone engraving (Orlat, Kudyrge) and wall paintings (Afrasiab) [18, fig. 180; 19, fig. I-II]. In the image from Afrasiab there is also such an additional detail — the horse's tail is tied up and therefore shown as a short stump [19, fig. II, 2]. In the petroglyphs are recorded different ways of the actions of a soldier with the spear, holding it at a chest level, neck, belt, the same way at a waist level, as in this case, traced in the materials Sulek carvings [18, p. 177].

There are analogies to the plot in the materials of the Turkic toreutics. During the excavations of the Turkic burial in the territory of inner Mongolia, the belt with artistically decorated plaques was found, in particular, on the surface of plaques with holes for threading the straps, the images of a man on a horse, shooting a bow at a running predator were repeated [8, fig. 2.11].

The guises are quite common in the toreutics of the steppe. It is necessary to note the special characteristics of one of them, found in the burial place at the village of Belokamenka. The uniqueness is defined by a very high level of realism. Unfortunately, due to the conditions of this item discovery, it is not possible to determine its purpose.


Thus, toreutics of the Kimaks demonstrates the most important principle of steppe art of the Middle Ages. Under the domination of floral elements, a certain place was given by the ancient masters to the scenes with the image of man, animals and geometric figures. In the toreutics of the Kimak is presented the such images: scene of feast (2 cases), scene of hunting (1 case), images of riders figures (7 cases), image of an archer figure on horse (1 case), individual parts of bodies, in this case, heads (4 cases). It should be noted that the art of the Middle Ages of the Eurasian steppes is alien the realism, however, it is in the anthropomorphic images of that time, as an artistic technique, it is used quite often. The stylization, as an artistic technique, is characteristic, first of all, for images of guises. Here we see the design of the face in the form of a triangle, showing disproportionately large eyes. The face is often depicted as a heart-shaped. In other cases, when the entire human figure is depicted, the characteristic detail is the image of a very large head.

In the study of the images of anthropomorphic characters of the Kimaks toreutics, there is a harmony with the iconography of the monumental sculpture of nomads of the steppe Eurasia. It is completely similar to the elaboration of facial features in the manufacture of guises. First of all, the conjoint elaboration of the eyebrows and nose that make up T-shaped figure is a characteristic feature of the Turkic sculptures as a whole [15]. The elaboration of other facial features allows identify cultural background more clearly. Thus, the heart-shaped face is typical for the sculptures of the Kipchak appearance, the mouth is similarly decorated [13, table 4, 10–11].

The scene with a seated man surrounded by two birds is of particular interest. The similarly executed sculptures from the territory of Mongolia, dating back to the ancient Turkic period are known. One such sculpture is known in East Kazakhstan [20, fig. 5, 9]. According to Z. Samashev, the sculptures that reproduce sitting characters with their legs bent at the knees represent images of the kagans. It should be noted that the sabre decorated with this remarkable scene was found in the richest burial at the moment of the Kimak noble warrior. He was buried, accompanied by four horses and his costume included three belts [1, p. 30].

Reading the symbolism of these anthropomorphic images is possible based on the purpose of these products. It should be noted that it is no coincidence that the male characters are depicted on the surface of the sword, belt, that is, the things belonged to the soldiers. Here are reproduced scenes of feasting, hunting- the most important elements of socialization in the steppe society.

Analyzing the iconography and attributes of stone sculptures of the Early Iron Age and the Middle Ages of steppe Eurasia, K.V. Yumatov came to the conclusion: «the generalized image of the hero-warrior in the iconography of the nomads of Eurasia is a canonized image of a broadcast character and reflects the militarized nature of the steppe social and state formations at the heroic stage of development» [21, p. 22]. That is why the male characters, as opposed to female, occupy a certain place in the art of the Early and partially developed Middle Ages. The anthropomorphic scenes, act as the part of the design of the male costume.

In the elaboration of facial features in the toreutics of the Kimaks are present T-shaped rendering of the face and large eyes. These elements are completely in tune with the iconography of medieval anthropomorphic sculptures of steppe Eurasia. On their occasion, the interesting opinion was given by N. Ermolenko. She considers that these pictorial features of the iconography of some sculptures may be signs of «iconography of anger». From the point of view of this tradition, it is possible to explain the smile on the face of an anthropomorphic character (object 2, Belokamenka burial ground). The guises, expressing rage, not only served as apotropaia in view of the repulsive action of «mask» of anger, but symbolized the furious essence of the objects and beings to which they belonged» [17, p. 25].

The Kimaks, like other steppe tribes of the Middle Ages, were extremely militarized. Apart from the archaeological materials, this is evidenced by the written sources. Thus, the Arab geographer al-Idrisi writes: «the king of the Kimaks is one of the great kings and one of the famous for his dignity... the Turkic kings are afraid of the power of Hakan, fear his revenge, beware of his power and raids, as they had already known it and had experienced the similar actions from him before» [22, p. 120]. The art has become a clear confirmation of this phrase.



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Year: 2020
City: Karaganda
Category: History