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Of Amazons, King Arthur and Sarmatian Warrior Priestesses

Sarmatian royalty
The female in this depiction of Sarmatian royalty shared equal status with her male counterpart

This Summer Russian archeologists made a discovery of fantastic significance near Rostov-on-Don in southwestern Russia. The tomb of a Sarmatian noble woman warrior was found untouched, and containing priceless artifacts that give more clues as to who the ancient Sarmatians were. The discovery may lead to a far better understanding of not only the ancient world, but of our human connectedness both culturally and spiritually today. 

Sealed inside the undisturbed tomb of this apparent noblewoman were found knives, a sword, gold and silver jewelry, elaborate clothing, a mirror, 100 iron arrowheads, and a fascinating gem with an Aramaic inscription. This 1st century AD Sarmatian woman entombed lends credence to the ancient Greek accounts of Sarmatian and Scythian women being the true warrior-women of lore, the legendary Amazons. Artifacts with this tomb surrounded a noblewoman who worshipped fire, and who, unlike her Scythian cousins, maintained a more prominent role in society and in warfare. The Sarmatians were nomadic people who flourished from about the 5th century BC to the 4th century AD in parts of  souther Russia, the Caucasus, and in the steppe surrounding the Black Sea region as far away as Hungary. 

The woman was also buried alongside someone archeologists suggest was her husband, but his tomb had been looted centuries ago. Scientists from the Institute of Archeology, of the Russian Academy of Sciences have discovered 29 other burial mounds unearthed during the construction of a new airport for the region. 

Sarmatian tomb location Rostov-on-Don

The discovery of so many iron arrowheads next to this noblewoman attests to the "Amazon" status of the woman, but the golden items and finery reveal a woman warrior of much higher status than ever discovered before. Some of the researchers suggest this woman may have in fact been a war-chief in her own right. The sword and the knives found in the tomb further intrigued the archeologists, since those items spanned some 200 years. Scientists theorize they may have been heirlooms passed down through generations, and finally entombed with her. 

Sarmatian warrior queen tomb

The empire of the Sarmatians extended from the Caspian Sea to the Vistula River and south to the Danube. These people were independent tribes that at their height occupied parts of Russia, the Ukraine and the Baltic states, Romania, Poland and parts of Central Asia. They were extremely powerful, and demanded tribute from not only the ancient Greeks, but from the Romans as well. Some of the Sarmatians eventually settled down in Dacia, while others were assimilated by the Huns and Goths.

There is historic, genetic, and archeological evidence of Sarmatians as far off as England as well. In fact some researchers point to a Sarmatian connection to the Arthurian legend. According to some historians, Lucius Artorius Castus, a Roman cavalry officer serving in the 2nd century AD is associated with the legend for having supposedly commanded a legion of Sarmatian cavalry. Looking into this aspect of these people is a fascinating revelation actually. For readers interested in the Arthurian connection, this piece at Heroic Age is significant. What's most fascinating about the Rostov discoveries so far though, are the significance of family artifacts finally buried with this woman, and the strange Aramaic seal found so prominently set on the warrior woman's adorned figure. The "why" of the seeming termination of tradition is mesmerizing. "Was this the end of a family line?" Who was this woman? 

Arthur's Sarmatian cavalry
A depiction of King Arthur's Sarmatian cavalry

As to the former case, the Archaeologists who discovered the Sarmatian noblewoman are hard at work putting the pieces of her identity back together. Of her relative importance at the time of her death, it seems fair to assume her stature was that of a queen. But it's the gem found on this "queen's" chest that offers us the most tantalizing and perhaps impactful clue as to her identity. This Haaretz article offers some more clarity. 

Beautiful gems used as seals are often found in burials like the one in southwestern Russia, but the time and distance factors of the Rostov one discovered buried with this noblewoman differentiate this find. Geography and time wise, the Aramaic seal predated this woman by at least 700 years and traveled literally half a world away. Prof. Christopher Rollston of George Washington University, frames the origins and significance of the find in the Haaretz piece by identifying "Elyashib," son of Oshiyahu, whom we know as the commander of an isolated Judean fortress, Arad, and with this statement: 
“The script is the Old Hebrew script. It would be dated paleographically to the 8th century BCE, not later. The [letter] shin bothers me, though.  It's not a good 8th-century form (rather a pretty bad one), though the rest of the forms are standard 8th-century BCE forms.”
Israelite seal found on Sarmatian queen
Our "Amazon" royal was a Sarmatian, and this "seal" was at her breast bearing the ancient inscription of an Israelite commander.
 
It has been suggested that the ancient Scythians, whom the Sarmatians later conquered, were in fact one of the lost tribes of Israel. While Judea was in fact along major trade routes leading to and from Persia, an obvious linkage to the nomadic Scythians and Sarmatians may be less obvious, and far more interesting. Why, for instance, would a warrior queen of such deportment find precious a relatively mundane "looking" ornament? What spiritual or traditional significance would this ancient symbol hold for her? My point here is, nothing in these or other ancient tombs is placed alongside the departed, that is not of utmost importance. The commander of the fortress at Arad, Elyashib is mentioned many times in a biblical sense. It is significant to note, all mention of him ended with the fall of Jerusalem after the siege of 597 BC by the Neo-Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II. The month the city was besieged was very likely the last time Arad was a garrison of Judea. (see An Historical Reconstruction of Edomite Treaty Betrayal in the Sixth Century)
 
Tel Arad
The fortress at Tel Arad today - Lior Golgher • ליאור גולגר Creative Commons
 
Finally, while it is still highly speculative to suggest these nomadic tribes are in fact descendent from the so-called "lost tribes" of Israel, the concept is a compelling one. At the extreme we must wonder at the connective in between an Israelite commander and a veritable Amazon royal. Delving into this quesi-theory of origins, it's fascinating to note too, that among the most significant artifacts unearthed from this time are ostraca dating from the mid-7th century BCE, referring to this citadel as the House of Yahweh. The temple at the fortress of Arad is the only Judean temple recovered by archeologists to date outside of Jerusalem. The incense altars and two "standing stones" may have been dedicated to Yahweh and Asherah. It is in this the hierarchy of Israel at the time, the position of Elyashib as commander of a key garrison, and the significance of a Sarmatian royal intersect. And the significance of of this "house of God" outside the holy city, bears scrutiny as well. 
 
In the book King Saul in the Historiography of Judah (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament)  , the author draws attention to the nature of "seals" such as the one found in the Sarmatian tomb. Officials such as the fortress' commander, and key private citizens, possessed such seals by way of a very elitist system of rule. The aforementioned book goes further to suggest literacy itself was under strict control by Judaism at this time. This adds a mathematical probability aspect to the whole idea of a tiny symbol traversing thousands of miles and centuries, ending up in the tomb of an Amazon. As subjective as my suspicions may be, they are not without merit. Tel Arad, a seal bearing the name of the commander of this crucial fortress, the fascinating and unique temple found there, the significance of the "holy of holies" at this temple, these and other tidbits of the Sarmatian puzzle are tantalizing. I'll leave the reader with another interesting parallel here. 
 
The lost tribes of Israel
The lost tribes of Israel migration via a map I found online

The Tel Arad sanctuary described is divided into three parts, and is similar to the Jerusalem temple. Inside the holy of holies, in the innermost section, archeologists discovered two incense altars and two slabs of stone (called stela, or stelae in the plural). The duality here is absolutely mysterious in their implications. Why were there two? Were the Israelites attempting to represent the masculine and feminine of God? How does this equate with typical Scythian or Sarmatian gender attitudes? Is this further evidence the great civilizations like the earlier Minoans were more attuned to this duality of godhead? As is usually the case, the unlocking of one riddle leads to still more puzzle pieces.

I'll continue following these finds and report accordingly once I've contacted the teams of archeologists, but the implications here are stunning. A seal from a fortress and temple which represented a departure from typical Judaic principles (two altars) is subsequently discovered on royal of a society where women are treated equal - what are the chances? 

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