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Chapter 3. Mythological images in culture Central and East-European barbarians

Images of Thraco-Dacians deities.

The Thraco-Dacians at all have not left written certificates on the religion. Knowledge of it we are compelled to scoop from not numerous certificates of antique authors and, mainly - Thracian art. As writes Adrian Dalicovitchin: "It there was polytheistic religion inside which the main deities were Zalmoxis (a chthonic deity), Hebeleyzis (a heavenly deity), Bendis (the goddess like Greek Artemis) and a deity like Roman Mars. <...> According to Jordanes, the Dacians suspended sacrifices to the god of war". On other data, "the Greeks of Istria and Odessa where Greek-Thracian connections were close, recognised Supreme Thracian 'the Great god' <...> The tribal ancestor-hero-protector could be the highest personal concept in Thracian religion" (Hoddinott, 1981). According to the Greek certificates, the Thracians during a thunder-storm shot at clouds to strike enemies of the god. Hoddinott writes, that it specifies connection of the last with the sun and cites as an example a coin 6-th c. B.D., where the person in a horned helmet is represented. He goes on a chariot, in which harnessed the bull. Between them the solar disk is placed.

But we should understand, that the listed names mean they belong to what types of gods. About Hebeleyzis it is impossible to tell anything certain. Not clear, whether it was the God of Thunder or the God of Clear Sky. As for Zalmoxis we have some information. Herodot speaks about him as about divine defender of people. The Greek certificate was kept. Affirmed, that Zalmoxis was a Thracian, who was serve of Pithagor, and joined to his wisdom. After homecoming, he started to preach to fellow tribesmen idea of personal immortality, but has met mistrust. Having invited dear people of Thrace on a feast, Zalmoxis has predicted the future troubles. When troubles have really come, all were threw to search for a wise man, but could not find, for that has beforehand left in a certain secret refuge. Zalmoxis again was to fellow tribesmen in some years and those, having made sure of his wisdom, have accepted the doctrine and began to esteem him as the god. The given certificate is typical of Greeks who tried to attribute the majority of achievements of next peoples to the influence. However in there are important data: idea of personal immortality of the person achievable through the help of the divine defender and connection Zalmoxis with chthonic type of the dying and reviving god. The information on the mythical character in which it is possible to see features of the Cultural Hero was kept also. "According to Iliad to us the most ancient Thracian hero-ancestor is known Rhesus. The late version (Philostratos, Heroica 691) tells about him as still living, planting the horses, going in an armour and hunting. Wood animals offered themselves to him in a victim <...> About Rhesus also it was spoke, that he protected his country from epidemics" (Hoddinott, 1981). Now more or less clearly, that Zalmoxis and so-called Thracian Mars or the God of Earth Powers and the Cultural Hero, or both represent the Hero (a difference is not important in this case). The Thracians shot from bows at clouds with the purpose to save the hero from the God of Thunder, recognising by them as hostile force. So, despite of originality of the similar fact, from our point of view it is quite explained.

As for Bendis then all is clear. Her attributes healer goddesses, connection with a cult of three Thracian nymphs of sources, and an identification with Greek Artemis (which though it was esteemed in classical epoch as the maiden, but patronized birth) are known. There are features of the Great Goddess.

The Studying of the Thracian art deepens our understanding of their mythology. From 10 - 7-th centuries B.D. the bronze subjects were kept - the edges of axes decorated bull heads, sculptures of the deers speaking about agrarian, chthonic cults. Their style represents typical product of the Bronze Age. Later times (it is especial 4-th c. B.D.) Have left to us rich arts and crafts, whose samples find basically in pool of Danube. These are the decorated gold helmets and where the men gallop on horses or unknown animals are represented, battling with the snakes, sitting with a horn for drink in a hand. These are precious cups and vessels where images West Asian art are fancifully combined with the Greek and Scythian ones: the goddess holding for paws of two predators; horses with wings and a human head; east type of the griffins (with the ram horns); bulls; images of torment. There are the separate images of the Great Goddess. We can see them in northern Thracians art also. In one of Sarmizegetusa sanctuaries the terracotta medallion on which image of Diana with Roman coins dated 80-ages B.D. is reproduced was found. It connects with a cult of goddess Bendis. In general, the Dacians showed a human figure seldom. The small bronze masks representing the woman, presumably Bendis were exception.

On the contrary, the southern Thracians have created rich figurative art. As it was already spoken, the Persian and Greek influences were reflected in it. However Thrace finally has developed own original 'barbarous' style which brightest display became an image of 'the Thracian Hero' Rich products of arts and crafts especially silver plaquettes with gilding were kept in storehouse in Letnitsa. There is on one of them the stage of struggle between the hero and three-headed serpent. Some features of the image specify influence of Greek images of Hercules and Hydras. But the plot goes back to ancient Indo-European myth about a victory of the hero above three-headed dragon (which it will be in detail considered in connection with Scythian-Sarmatians). The Hercules's images are typical for the Thracians. In the centre silver phalar from Old Zagora we see the person struggling with a lion, and on perimeter - winged lions and griphons (in what has had an effect, the mixed Greek-Persian influence). The silver plate from Panagyurishte shows Hercules with club, a certain animal holding for a nape - whether a lion, whether - a Cerberus (as it was already spoken, these monsters go back to a uniform prototype). The Hercules's type - the person, for the feats and superhuman works of the reached divine status becoming an ancestor of Thracian people has merged with type of the national Hero.

Especially complated Thracian understanding of the Hero was expressed on a series of plaquettes from the same Letnitsa. Their four and everywhere the Hero is shown galloping on a horse (that not so typically for Greeks). On the first plaquette he is represented as great drinking, with a bowl in a hand. Behind, the wild boar skips. On other plaquette the Hero is shown with spear. On the third horse head behind a back of the horseman testifies to his riches and authority above the horses. The fourth and fifth plates show the hero, accordingly, with man and female heads behind a back that speaks about a role of a primogenitor of a tribe. One more plaquette testifies to same role from Letnitsa on which the Hero embracing woman. Itself same it is shown and separately, sitting on hyppocampa.

Other plaquettes with the horse hero were kept also. One of them shows similarity of a composition with mentioned in the chapter devoted to the Celtics and Germanics, Vendel helmets. The Thracian variant represents the Hero amazing with a spear of one predatory animal and a horse trambling down by hoofs of anothers. The similar composition as we saw, is traced and in Etruskan art. Other plaquette (Lukovit, 4-th. c. B.D.) represents iconography, survived millenniums. It is Saint George's prototype. Last, having the prototype of the real Roman aristocrat living in epoch of emperor Diokletian, has turned to an image combining features dying and a reviving agrarian deity with features of the hero, winning dragon or (is symptomatic) - the wolf.

In Hellenistic period and it is especial after the Roman gain of Thrace, the image of the Hero - the horseman was canonised in art. "The most widespread kind were carved relieves on stones, is usual 30 - 40 on 20 - 30 see. G. Katsarov identified three main groups with many divisions. In one horse hero rides, slowly coming nearer to the woman, an altar or a tree around of which it was twisted snakes. The second group includes the plates representing the hero with a dog, attacking a wild boar appearing from for a tree, (it happens it is replaced with an altar). On plates of the third group the hero comes back from hunting, carrying a killed deer. Sometimes there are also other figures; instead of a wild boar the lion (Hoddinott, 1981) can be shown. Hoddinott believes, that iconography relieves of the first group had the Greek roots, and the second - Persian (occurring from stella 400 B.D. in Thracian province of Persian empire). "The wild boar was heroic game in eyes of Greeks from them Hercules associations, it also was devoted to Artemis and had a reputation of general chthonic beast among the Indo-European peoples. The tree should be tree of lives and a symbol of fertility. The snake can symbolise immortality as it is not attacked by the hero and to personify apotrophic aspect which, irrespective of healer associations, conducts to images on sacred vessels. The woman occurs from the goddess, but in opinion of the Thracians can symbolise returning of the hero home. <...> The Hero identified with Apollo-healer, or with Dionysos. When the genre of funeral stellas has was extended in Southern Thrace (the Roman period), the dead person was frequently represented as the hero going by top, symbolising immortality. The majority of these stellas can be dated 2 - 3 centuries A.D., but them continued to put up to Rescript in Thessaloniki in 380 <...> After acceptance of Christianity and arrival of the Slavs, many relieves began to be considered as image of Saint George and Saint Dimitrios. In 1907 peasants still made some kind of pilgrimage to a tomb of the Hero per day Saint George to recover. One of relieves served as an icon in Plovdiv, another was built - in church Saint George in Izvorovo (Katsarov, 1958), the third is fixed into a wall near to the main gate of a medieval citadel in Ainos (the Casson, 1926, figs. 98). <...> Whether as Marco-Kralevitsh whether as Saint George, the horse hero continued to be represented both Byzantium and old Slavic church have brought this image in new Russian church" (Hoddinott, 1981).

Illyrian 'Mithra'.

Sources on own religion of the Illyrians are very insignificant. Probably, it is possible to tell, that though this people though forms independent language group, on the mythological representations it is close to the Thracians, For the Illyrians decorative style is characteristic, and figurative images can be connected with Greek-Etruskan influences. Monumental art meets seldom. First of all, it is images on so-called Japodic urns or on the stellas which belong to pre-Roman time. They were made in style of imitation of woodcarving while their motives, such as panegyrics remind the deceased stellas archaic Laconica. Draga Garashanin has stated the assumption, that the monumental sculpture of Illyria originally could develop in a tree" (Илири и дачани, 1971, 45).

There is a known image of the horseman and the rough - naturalistic image of birth (on stellas). Probably, these sculptures were in the certain temple. Garasanin writes, that cults on Illyrian territory in the Roman period show preservation of old gods of Illyrian pantheon, such as Medura - patron of Risan on an inscription from Zambesa or god Magla and goddess Thana from Topusko. However, sacrificial relieves of god Silvan with the nymphs made in very primitive engineering who are known from various places of the Roman Dalmatia, specify the Roman interpretation of some primordial Illyrian gods who about today have kept anonymity. (Garasanin, 1977, 46).

The image of the horseman has uniform features with type of the Thracian hero. Here again we approach to a problem of mithraism. Image of Mithra the roots ascends to time of Indo-Iranian unities. In vedic hymns his name is mentioned usually near to Varuna. Thus as Toporov writes "...Varuna is more connected with natural, than social world, to night, the moon, with distant, with secret and magic" (Myths of nations of the world, 1998. v. 1, p. 217). "In finding-out of mythological background of Mithras's image it is necessary to count a starting point presence of pair the appropriate deities in the Iranian and Indian traditions: Mithra - Ahuramazda in "Avesta" and Mithra - Varuna in "Rigveda". In this pair <...> Ahuramazda (accordingly Varuna), probably, modelled in Indo-Iranian period basically cosmological elements of the universe, and Mithra, obviously, knew the social organisation of people and accordingly, the device of the "human" universe, carried out intermediary function between top and a bottom, the sky and the ground, external and internal space, divine and human. (Myths of nations of the world, 1998. v. 2, p. 156). A parity: Varuna/Ahuramazda - Mithra it is possible to treat as variant of pair: the God of Earth Powers - the Cultural Hero. For the benefit of the given assumption speaks also connection Mithra with the sun, and his name which, on V.N. Toporov's words, "goes back to Indo-European root mi-: mei-, concerning a designation of idea of intermediary, reciprocity, an exchange (and measures), laws, the consent, a condition of the world, friendship, sympathy" (Myths of nations of the world, 1998. V. 2, p. 154). As mediator Mithra is near to such images, as Hermes /Mercury and Odin /Wodan. Pair: Varuna - Mithra reminds similar Cernunnos - Smertrius. Assimilation by Mithra of some dark features of Varuna - does not surprise also images of the Cultural Hero and the God of Earth Powers not always precisely divided (the same, for example, can be told and about Odin, assimilating some features of Freyr). The major plot connected to this deity - ritual murder of first bull by Mithra from which body there were all useful plants. It like the legend as Odin has killed giant Imir and cow Audhumla and was ordered with the world. In Zoroastrian mythology the given plot appeared deformed (the bull demons there kill). The cult of Mithra was rejected by Zaratushtra for the benefit of strict Ahuramazda 's monotheism. However gradually reverence of Mitra is restored. At late Ahemenids he is considered the patron of imperial authority. Moreover, in the period Parthian dynasties, around of the given image the new religion - mithraism where Mithra it is allocated with Ahura Mazda's functions is formed and thought as the Supreme god of goods and light. The Roman soldiers have apprehended this cult during Pompei's campaigns and have brought it to Rome. New religion was in the Roman provinces from Rhein up to Euphrates. Mithra it was represented by "the Invincible sun", being identified with Apollo and Helios. But his cult has achieved especial force in Thrace and Illyria. Probably, the reason of it was similarity of images of Mithra and the Hero - their favourite god. Mithra is known as 'Giving life', 'Giving sons', the allocator of herds. The white horse was considered Mithra's incarnation - and you see the Thracian Hero was represented by the horseman on a white horse. Mithra "provides with houses, women, chariots (10 30), riches, happiness, corporal health, comfort, posterity (10 108.)" (Myths of nations of the world, 1998. v. 2, p. 156). As far as it is similar to the concept of the Hero in the Thracian religion! And, probably, not casually pay to itself attention mithraistic feature of some stages on the boiler from Gundestrup (sacrifice of bulls), attributed to Celtic-Thracian masters. Paradoxically, the deity sacrificing the bull, itself associates with the bull (we shall recollect horned Odin). During empire "...Mithra it was represented as the person with a head of the bull or as the young man, killing bull" (Rak, 1998, 490). So, ancient - Kreta-Minoan and new - mithraistic archetypal plots of sacrifices of the bull merge together.

Limitation of Thraco-Dacian and Illyrian mythological sources, in comparison with Celtic and Germanic-Scandinavian ones has got the certain problems. So, for example, not clear, whether were esteemed within the framework of the given cultures gods of the Thunder and the Clear Sky though separate hints on their cult are present. It is impossible to identify with full confidence and the God of Earth Powers (it is possible, it Zalmoxis). About Bendis - the Great Goddess we also have very small volume of the information. Actually, all of them were eclipsed by the Cultural Hero in characteristic embodiment of the horseman. It is possible to count the reason of this phenomenon very early development of rather centralised imperial authority in Thraco-Dacian and Illirian traditions. Influence of an image of the Cultural Hero on mass consciousness was so great, that he in later epoch determined character of relation with the advanced religions (that was shown in features of recognition of Mithraism by the Illyrians and Christianities by Thraco-Dacians).

Fantalov Alex


Speciality 24.00.01 - the theory and a history of culture

The dissertation on competition of a doctor degree of cultural science

3.2. Mythological images in Scythian-Sarmatian culture.



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