You are here

Crimea Treasures: Scythian Naples

Planned museum cythian burial mound
A concept museum design on site - a cythian burial mound (Archello)

One of ancient Crimea’s most fascinating archeological structures is situation on the Simferopol's outskirts. Better known as the “Scythian Naples,” the ruins here are considered one of the seven wonders of Crimea’s capital. A city founded around the 3d century B.C., Scythian Naples would rule the region for more than 6 centuries.

The town was easily recognizable to travelers in ancient times because of the powerful walls and formidable towers we can still see remnants of to this day. At the center of ancient trade routes, this part of Crimea was a great economical, political and cultural center. The main square of the town sat in front of a lavish royal palace, where wealthy citizens’ houses sat alongside splendid temples containing awe inspiring sculptures and works of art.

Scythian gold jewellery
Scythian gold jewellery detail was so extraordinary, only the most skilled goldsmiths even now can produce such pieces.

The Scythians, for those unfamiliar, were nomadic civilization that became the subject of Greek and Persian lore for their fierceness and horsemanship. These magnificent peoples’ realm stretched at one time from the plains of Hungary to Mongolia, Persia, and beyond. Their influence affected art and culture, and helped forge or alter the course of human history afterward. By the time the Scythian state capital was destroyed by the Goths in the 3rd Century AD, the people of this oft misunderstood civilization had influenced the known world as significantly as Greece or Rome. Often written off as barbaric tribesmen, it was historian, William Montgomery McGovern, who claimed:

“From the mass of evidence now before us, it seems highly probably that this Scytho-Sarmatian animal style spread to all parts of the ancient world and had an important effect not only upon European art but upon the art of ancient China.”

The tower-mausoleum Scythian ruins
The tower-mausoleum photographed in 2006 ((The Scythian Neapolis -> Skifskiy Neapol -> Скифский неаполь)

While Scythian culture may have died out long ago, remnants of that wondrous civilization remain in the form of ruins, burial mounds, and artifacts like the fabulous gold ornaments McGovern was referring to. Their burial mounts in particular, betray the fact these people had a profound connection with their own spirituality. The largest of the so-called “kurhans” (mounds) were built for Scythian kings, were six story tall repositories created with special sod layers so that the chieftains’’ horses could graze in the afterlife.

As for Scythian Naples, the town was only discovered when a local man was quarrying for stone for his house uncovered a strange limestone slab carved in relief. The relief showed a horseman, and contained inscriptions referring to the Prince Skilur. While excavating this site many unique artifacts of the Late Scythian culture were unearthed. Below you will find more fascinating facts about this magnificence civilization.

  • The Scythians were directly and indirectly responsible for the fall of the Assyrian Empire. Scythians displaced and drove another steppe tribe, the Cimmerians, toward Assyrian territory, weakening them, along with the Egyptians. Finally, Babylonians and Medes formed an alliance and joined the Scythians in shattering the Assyrian Empire.
  • While some historians once considered the Scythians simple barbarians, the typical class of Scythians wore iron scale armor sewn to leather jackets, along with tall pointed caps, long coats clasped around their waists by a belt, and pants tucked into their boots.
  • Scythian nobility was very elaborate. In one kurhan (burial mound) uncovered in 1898, archaeologists found 400 horses arrayed in a geometric pattern around the body of the slain warrior. Noblemen were not only buried alongside horses, but consorts and retainers also had the dubious honor of joining their lord in the afterlife.
  • The Scythians were noted for their fine gold work, much like the Bronze Age Minoans of Crete were. Gold was sewn into their garments in the form of plates, fashioned into belts, broaches, necklaces, torques, scabbards, helmets, earrings, and ornaments, as well as ornamenting their various weapons.
  • Herodotus testified that the fact Scythians wore tattoos as a sign of their nobility. It is said, that a Scythian without tattoos identifies he or she as being of low station. Chieftans and noblemen were known to have born elaborate tattoos.
  • Scythian warriors would drink the blood of the first enemy he had killed, then decapitate their victim to redeem for war prizes at the feet of their chieftains.  
  • Herodotus also believed the legendary Amazons fought alongside their Scythian suitors in battle. While the suggestion has never been proven, heavily armed female Scythians do fuel the fire of myth. 

Fragment of pottery in Crimea
A new discover by the Crimea Neopolis Museum - a fragment of a painted jar with the inscription in Turkic runes.

An architectural masterpiece encompassing this important site was designed by noted architect ​Andrey Turchak of the Simferopol engineering firm ООО "Кирамет" (KIRAMET). The concept for the museum being, the current site encompassed within a Scythian burial mound, an interactive showplace where a three dimensional cross section of this culture can be preserved and revealed. Within the proposed complex, the sacred burial structure would hold a multi-functional interior space that combines museum rooms, exhibits, and interactive media to educate visitors about these fascinating ancients. 

For more information, we encourage readers to visit the museum website here