Golden Vessel Used In Scythian Drug-Fueled Rituals Is Expected to Sell for $57K At Auction
A remarkable tiny golden vessel is going on auction in London. The item comes from the nomadic Scythian culture, who once dominated the Eurasian Steppe in classical times. It is valued at 45,000 GBP or $57,000 and is being sold by Timeline Auctioneers.
What is striking about this vessel is that it is similar to others that contain traces of cannabis and opium. The artifact is providing more evidence indicating that the ancient nomads used powerful drugs.
The object is just a “3 inch (7.6 centimeters) vessel, which weighs just 4.4 ounces (125 grams)” according to the Daily Mail. It is made from gold and is the work of master craft persons. The vessel is in the shape of a cone and is decorated with what appears to be a leaf design.
At the bottom of the vessel is a small aperture or hole. It is being put up to auction by a European collector who appears to have obtained it from another collector in North America. Before this no-one really knows who owned the precious golden object.
The Scythian ritual vessel is in the shape of a cone and is decorated with what appears to be a leaf design (Timeline / Fair Use)
The Scythians Warriors of the Steppes
This vessel, based on its design, is almost certainly Scythian. These were Iranian nomads who dominated much of Eurasia from China to Poland. They were fierce warriors, who were great horseback archers, and who were accused of practicing human sacrifice and drinking the blood of slain warriors.
Many, including the Assyrians, considered them to be near invincible in battle and they even defied the mighty Achaemenid Persian Empire. They were renowned for their skills as artisans and this is evident from their lavish grave goods.
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Scythian archer. (Lunstream / Adobe)
The Scythians established a large Empire and often traded with the Greek cities in the Crimea. These nomads played a crucial role in the development of the Silk Road. They were eventually superseded by other nomads known as the Sarmatians.
The item is very similar to other objects that have been recently excavated from Scythian kurgans or mounds in the Steppes of Russia and Ukraine. They were found with an “a black residue inside that, when tested, was discovered to be a mixture of cannabis and opium” according to the Daily Mail.
It appears that the vessel being sold was designed to allow the ancient nomads to smoke opium and cannabis. The Daily Mail quotes the managing director of the auction house selling the object, Chris Wren, stating that the object “shows that clearly, drugs are not just a modern problem!”
Drugs and the Scythians
Some drugs have been found in their kurgans or burial mounds. In the burial mound of one Scythian warrior, cannabis was found among the grave goods. According to the British Museum “like many cultures, the Scythians drank to excess and got high.” It is also known that the nomads used hemp in hot baths and the vapors from the water would have intoxicated the bathers.
However, it seems likely that the conical vessel was used for ritual purposes. We know quite a bit about the culture of these nomads from the Greek Historian Herodotus (490-425 BC). He recorded that the Scythians, like other nomads, had a shamanic religion and that their shamans were known as Enaree or Anaree.
Drug taking is frequently a feature of shamanic religions because it is believed to allow individuals to become one with the deities or to enter the spirit world. Given the fact that the vessel is made of gold, it seems likely that it was not used in feasts or just to get high.
The vessel is not only an important piece of nomadic art, but it is also of real historical importance. It is another piece of evidence that shows the importance of drug-taking in Scythian culture and religion. The study of objects such as this conical vessel is very important, for our understanding of the Scythians. This is because the nomads were not a literate culture and left no written historical documents.
Example of Scythian art, gold neckpiece, from a royal kurgan, 4th century BC. (AeroSSC / Public Domain)
Top image: The 3000 year old Scythian gold ritual vessel is on action. Source: Timeline / Fair Use.
By Ed Whelan