Ludy Europy Wschodniej
Material culture of the Polovtsians
Jasinowataja lustro (Połowcy)
  A Polovtsian type mirror and earrings (Yasinovataia,
Starobeshivskyi raion, Donetsk Oblast – based on
Archeologicheski Almanach Nr 7, 1988)*

The Polovtsians, as heirs of the tradition of the T'u-küe, have not only brought rich customs, that showed many foreign influences on the symbolic culture of their ancestors, to the Black Sea steppes, but they have also introduced a remarkable material culture, separate and distinct from their kinsmen, as the Pechenegs, the Tokuz-Oguz and the federation of the Cherniye Klobuki, that were a cultural mixture of related tribes, or the older kinsmen, descending from the Turkic ethnos, the Bulgarians and Hungarians. The ornaments and the parts of the gear, the armaments, the everyday use items and the pottery, presented on the anthropomorphic steles have their referents in the burial inventories and their origins can be traced back to distant centuries and territories, from which the ancestors of the Polovtsians have acquired them.

Due to the features of the canon of imaging of the developed Polovtsians sculpture, some luxurious items, that show the social status of their dead owners and also those being in everyday use have not been imaged by the sculptors. This category contains mostly the symbols of power, the cauldrons, the amphorae, the big vessels (pitchers), the carts, the pieces of various minerals and stones and the coins, that were carried in the pouches or remade to become ornaments.

The horse tack also belongs to this category. The horse burial was also deposed into the grave with the dead (see: Funeral rite). The sacrificial animal was set on a separate stair, above the grave pit. In some cases, the hide, the skull and the limbs of the animal were set in the anatomical order. The harness could also be found in graves, in which no animal has was buried.

Archaeological sources

The chapters on the evidence of the rich culture of the Polovtsians have been based on the materials gathered in the catalogue part master's theses of the author. The catalogue is based on data from scientific literature, referring to the sepulchral sites, linked with the Polovtsians and published so far.

The occurrence area of the selected sites is located in the steppe terrains, stretching from the left bank of the Dnieper in the west (occasionally passing this frontier of Polovtsian rule), to the to the highland along the line of the right bank of Volga in the east and from the right bank of the middle and lower Don River (reaching far into the forest steppe zone) in the north and from the Crimea (Ukraine) to the right bank of the Kuban River in the south (North Caucasus in Russia),

The sites were dated from the 2nd half of the 11th century to the 15th century and covered the period of nomadic expansion in the terrains of the Black Sea steppes, the territorial stabilization of the Polovtsian hordes and the situation after the Mongol invasion.

The Russian and Ukrainian researchers estimate the number of the burials investigated so far for about 1500, describing them unprecisely as “late-nomadic”, which causes the true number of the burial sites attributed to the Polovtsians difficult to define. The level of the papers does not always allow to identify the cultural membership of the dead, especially if it is limited to a short report, not followed by a longer article, nor a monograph. Unfortunately, in some cases, it is difficult to re-construct the inventory entirely. It happens frequently that the authors merely mention the finds, attributed to a general group of late nomads. The material happens to be displaced in several scientific research institutions and is, in some cases, inaccessible for a researcher.

The data presented in the following chapters, presenting an image of the material culture of the Polovtsians, belongs mostly to the category of finds, coming mostly from the rich equipped burials of the aristocratic families or well conserved and published sites, in which a poorer type of grave inventory has been preserved. The sites that were robbed, destroyed or insufficiently preserved until the time of their discovery have also been taken into consideration, however, most papers only mention the items found, without providing their detailed descriptions. Certainly, it does not offer an objective image of the material world of the Polovtsians, but the image of reality, “seen” by the rich, being the highest class in the social hierarchy. As the research and discoveries continue, this vision may be extended and allow to reconstruct the every day life of the nomads, showing also the life of the lower classes of the society.

* all photos and drawings of the inventories from Yasinovataya site are included thanks to Mrs Olga Yakovlevna Privalova's kind consent.