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The remains of a Scythian warrior king and his horse.

Archaeologists unearth remains of Scythian warrior in golden cloak and his horse

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The remains of an ancient Scythian warrior have been found buried in a cloak covered with gold. Archaeologists believe he ruled an area on what is now the Russian steppes around 2,500 years ago. He was laid to rest in a tomb covered by a burial mound (known as a kurgan) in the Altai Mountains, near the village of Krasny Yar, southern Russia. Archaeologists believe the tomb dates to between 500 BC and 400 BC. The tombs occupant is thought to have been a Scythian king.

The man’s horse was buried with him – the Scythians were excellent cavalrymen – and other artefacts were found at the site including an iron Scythian sword, known as an akinak, and a bronze knife shaped like a chisel.

An illustration of a typical Scythian kurgan (mound).

An illustration of a typical Scythian kurgan (mound). (Wikipedia)

Lamb bones found at the site may have been part of a ceremonial meal eaten at the man’s funeral.

“Although the material of the warriors clothing had long rotted away, the gold flakes were still present in the soil” said Professor Alexander Kazakov, lead archaeologist, speaking to The Daily Mail. Professor Kazakov is head of research at the Barnaul Law Institute of the Russian Interior Ministry. “Until now we have very little details about how they went about the burial process which is why this tomb is so valuable” Kazakov added.

The Scythians were nomads whose kingdom stretched from Iran to China and extending westwards into what is now Eastern Europe. They are mentioned several times in Ancient Greek and Chinese texts, particularly in relation to their fighting skills on horseback. Their most favoured weapons were the short bow and the short sword. Herodotus wrote extensively about them in his Histories. The Scythian kingdoms were ruled by wealthy aristocrats, known as the Royal Scyths and it is in their Russian and Crimean territories that some of the finest discoveries have been made. The Royal Scyths eventually intermarried with the Greeks and was eventually destroyed in the 2 nd century BC.

The small pieces of gold covering the man’s clothing is indicative of the Scythian love of jewellery. By the 5 th century, they had established extensive trading networks with neighbouring regions, including Greece. Although the tomb had been almost obliterated by farming, the remains of its occupant was protected by a stone ring.

The Scythians left few records behind them, but their jewellery was produced by master craftsmen. It’s known that the bulk of the Scythian army consisted of freemen who were unpaid, although they could share in captured booty if they presented the head of a slain opponent. Many of them wore helmets similar to those worn by the Greeks as well as chain mail jerkins. Their bows were double-curved, firing trefoil-shaped arrows. When Scythian aristocrats died, not only were their horses buried with them but also their entire household.

A gold Scythian belt buckle, Azerbaijan, 7th century BC.

A gold Scythian belt buckle, Azerbaijan, 7th century BC. (Wikipedia)

The Scythians were also known for their drug-fuelled rituals, also mentioned by Herodotus. In the summer of 2013 archaeologists discovered gold bucket-sized vessels in a kurgan which contained traces of a black residue. When this was analysed it was found to be cannabis and opium. The opium was probably drunk while the cannabis burnt nearby, releasing its fumes into the air.

The discovery follows that of another Scythian earlier this month, on this occasion involving the last resting place of a ‘warrior woman’. Her tomb contained over 100 arrowheads, a horse harness, a collection of knives and a sword. In the Scythian warrior societies, women fought alongside the men, thereby giving rise to legends about the Amazons.

Featured image: The remains of a Scythian warrior king and his horse. Credit: Europics /

By Robin Whitlock



Robin Whitlock's picture

Oh really? Yes, I know where this comes from. The notion in the Declaration of Arbroath (1320) that the Scots were descended from the Scythians. However, ‘Scot’ comes from ‘Scotti’ – the name applied to the Irish. The origin of the term is late Latin (appearing around 400 AD) which does not have any equivalent in Irish tribal names (the Irish basically appear to have borrowed it from Latin). When the Irish who by the 6th century were calling themselves Scotti invaded Northern Britain, the area they settled in steadily became known as ‘Scotland’.

The notion that the Scots came from Scythia is mentioned by Bede in the 7th Century. However, there is also the notion that they were descended from an Egyptian princess called ‘Scota’ who was said to have brought ‘the stone of destiny’ to Scotland. What underlies all this? Politics!! The Scots in the 14th century were trying to depict themselves as an ancient race in order to strengthen their claim to independence from England, and the whole ‘stone of destiny’ thing was an ideal way in which to motivate people to fight against the English.

Straight out of Braveheart basically – or in other words, highly unlikely. Unless that is you can supply any more detailed evidence about this.


I suggest to you that they would be better known as Scotians.

Robin Whitlock's picture

Robin Whitlock

Robin Whitlock is a British freelance journalist with numerous interests, particularly archaeology and the history of the ancient world, an interest that developed in childhood. He has numerous published magazine articles to his credit on a variety of subjects, including... Read More

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