Ludy Europy Wschodniej
Utility, luxury and unique items
Feminine utility items

The following categories of items belonged to the personal equipment of the women, imaged on steles by the artists: mirrors, combs, flints, knives and other items, which were kept in diverse purses and pouches, attached to the belt. These containers, of various size had square, trapezoid, triangle or round shape and were carried two or three at time, which is represented on the statues.

The mirrors appear very frequently on feminine steles and were imaged as round items, tied to the left or the right side of the belt with a ribbon or a strap. Their reverse often was adorned with the motif of a cross, of arcades, of arcades inscribed in a cross, or outgoing rays. The edge of the mirror was also marked. It may be assumed that some pouches of round shape were meant to hold the mirrors and it has been confirmed by archaeological finds.

One sided combs were also attached to the left or the right side of the belt with ribbons or straps.

Whips attached to the left or the right side of the belt are a frequent enough part of the feminine steles. Giovanni da Pian del Carpine was surprised and he admired the horse riding proficiency of the Polovtsian women: „Girls and women ride on horseback and jump on horses with agility, just as men do. We have seen them carrying quivers and bows as well. They can also, just like men ride on horseback with endurance and long duration” [footnote 1] (Historia Mongołów, 1957, chapter four, § IV.III).

Small items, as flints, flint stones, polishing utilities, needles, cloth spinning rings, were kept in small poaches and boxes made of wood, birch bark and diverse cloths. In most cases, they have not been preserved until nowadays.

In the burial inventories, combs were quite rare. They were made of bone or wood. The mirrors were quite frequently found in feminine burials. They were usually cast of bronze, copper, more rarely of silver or bullion. They were usually put by the right side and less frequently by the left side of the dead. It is possible that originally they were attached at the front or at the back of the belt, as the mirrors were sometimes found left between the knees or the thighs of the dead. They were very often kept in sacks or boxes, made of leather, silk, brocade or birch covered with leather. In the central part, the mirrors had attachment clips. In some cases, these clips were placed on the edges. The underside of the mirrors was commonly adorned with relieves imaging animals following one another, e.g.: walking hounds, running hares, fantasy creatures and fishes moving together (a typical manner of ornament, used in the world of medieval nomads). The conventions equally liked were various combinations of geometric figures, including encircled crosses, arcades and herring-bones. The motif of a floral ribbon also was an attractive kind of mirror ornament of the Polovtsians. On one of the mirrors found, the reverse was adorned with styled deer horns. Arabic inscriptions also happened to be used.

A category existing in burials, though not imaged on steles includes scissors – made of iron, based on hinges, with open handles. They were kept on the left or on the right side, sometimes in holders. The holders were commonly made of, for example, leather covered with brocade. Beside their utility purpose, they were also meant to guard the dead from the evil spirits and so, e.g.: in one of the feminine burials, the scissors were found with their edges turned towards the pelvis. Needles and awls were used for sewing. According to Giovanni da Pian del Carpine: “Their wives (of the Cumans – the author) can make everything: sheepskin coats, clothes, boots, horse riding footwear and all what can be made of leather (...) [footnote 2] .”(Historia Mongołów, 1957, rozdział czwarty, § IV.III).

Brushes were also found in graves of the women. They had bone handles. They probably had utility purposes as they were used to clean the clothes and in for hygienic purposes and some of them, at last, were used to sweep the “towers” (meaning mobile habitation constructs – a kind of yurts, installed on carts).

Masculine utility items

The category of items imaged on the stone statues of the warriors includes: combs, flints, hooks, fishing hooks, hones, musical instruments, abacuses and different kinds of poaches, attached to the left or the right side of the belt. There are known images of one-sided combs, having triangle, oval and trapezoid handles, but also two-sided combs, shown on the right side of the statues. A statue of a warrior with a mirror, typical for feminine statues, attached to his right side is a unique specimen.

Poaches, most frequently trapezoid, but also rectangular, square, triangle, round, in shape of a heart upside down, were carved on the right or the left side of the stone statues. In some cases, two or more poaches were imaged.

The warrior steles contain also the images of wining devices, attached to the left or to the right side of the belt. In some cases, two wining devices were attached to the back of the belt.

Two-sided wooden combs, placed in poaches, were found left with their owners in grave pits. They were attached to the right side of the belt.

Poaches are a fairly numerous category of items, accompanying the dead. In most cases, leather was the material of the items, which were preserved until nowadays. Leather holders often had silk interior covers. A rare form of a sack-envelope, made in leather and covered with brocade, had a poach found attached to the centre of Polovtsian aristocrat's belt. Probably, elongated, rectangular items, imaged on steles, were in fact boxes of different kinds, which may be proved by the finds of birch boxes, attached to the belts of the dead men.

Little was the number of wining devices, found in the burial inventory: one put beside the saddle in an aristocrat’s grave, one in the right hand of another dead, or by the left side of a buried warrior.

In masculine burials, beside the categories of finds enumerated hitherto, different kinds of items, used daily by the Polovtsians, also the items indispensable in the Underworld, were present. Those were flints, files, spoons and shovels.

The fragments of iron flint, were often found near the pelvis, or near the thigh bones of the warriors. Therefore, they were originally attached to the centre of the belt and rarely to the left or to the right side of the belt. They were probably kept in poaches, which usually were not conserved until the time, when they could have been discovered by the researchers. The most common kinds of flint were oval forms, open or closed. A khan known from the Zamożnoye site, has been equipped with a two-sided, oval flint, kept in a small silk sack. Flints could also have rectangular, letter „S” or letter „C” shape.

The flint stones and flints were commonly carried together in sacks, though there are some finds of sacks, containing only the flint stones, attached to the left or to the centre of the dead man’s belt, or put at the feet of the buried.

The dead were also equipped with fishing hooks and iron hooks, used probably to attach items (by the left side of the body or hanged on the chest).

Of the rare items, the following have been found: a wooden abacus, lying by the right side of the dead, a hone, iron files, placed in sacks and in a wooden case. The rare finds contain also: a wooden spoon, found by the right side of the dead, a shovel put on the body of the dead man, the scissors, typical for the feminine burials and a bone piercing item. Another item of utility purpose was a lasso, made of bristles, of which the pieces have were found in a burial.

Until nowadays, none burial containing a musical instrument has been found. Furthermore, none of the dead was equipped with a mirror. It does not mean thought, that those items were not daily used by the Polovtsian men.



1. Stretched hryvnias

This kind of specimens exist only in rich burials of men and women. In most cases, they were set by the right side of the dead. They were interpreted as sings of dignity, insignia of power or symbols of high birth, but also as sings of the tree of life – a model of the cosmic order. According to the second of these hypotheses, a hryvnia could be used to consecrate the burial place and help the dead to enter the Underworld easily, though they were indirectly linked with the cult of the ancestors. The origin of the concept of the hryvnia necklace may be traced back to the similar ornaments, used by the Scythians and marking aristocratic birth among them and which have disappeared about the 3rd century BC. Their appearance on the Polovtsians steles (in shape of curved wire, hanged on the neck) and in burials (so-called stretched hryvnias) was rather not an evidence that their have been acquired from the peoples of the Central Asia, the Slavs, the Baltic peoples, the Varangians or from Ruthenia, where they were a popular feminine ornament from the 12th to the 14th century. Perhaps that the idea of stretched hryvnias had its origins in China under the rule of the T’ang Dynasty. In the court of the emperor, such stretched bar, gilded at the ends, called kin-wu, was worn by the first official of the emperor, whose task was to guarantee the safety of the monarch. Such bar could have been seen by the participants of the funeral of Köl-Tegina (8th century) – the ancestors of the Polovtsians. One of the interpretations, presented so far, speaking of the dead person’s safety, during his perilous journey to the Underworld, would find its confirmation here.

Grzywna rozprostowana (Połowcy)
Stretched hryvnia, gilded silver    

In the burials of the aristocratic women, supposedly wives of the khans and of the family leaders, stretched hryvnias occurred as well. The following items have been found: a hryvnia made of a an enlarged tetragonal, silver wire, held in by the dead in her right hand or a similar hryvnia in a leather case, found among the tibia of a dead aristocratic woman.

In the masculine burials, the finds of stretched hryvnias occur more frequently. In most cases, these items were made of an enlarged, square in its section, wire, with its ends shaped to form small rings, in some cases, possibly intentionally, cracked. Such hryvnia was rarely replaced by a flat, silver wire. It was usually placed in the right hand of the dead. In some cases, it was secured additionally by cloth and birch bark. In some cases, the hryvnias were placed at the feet or near the chest of the khans. A unique, enlarged, square in its section, golden was placed in the hand of the dead khan, found in the Zamożnoye site. A similar hryvnia, placed in a cloth case, was put in the right hand of another buried aristocrat. An enlarged, square in its section, bronze, wire, covered with golden foil, was found put in the right hand of a man, deposed in a rich burial. Probably, an enlarged, hexagonal in its section, iron hryvnia, found on the lid of a grave with a masculine burial, a round in its section, iron bar, found in a box of birch bark, by the right side of the dead and a square in its section, iron one, found with the remains of a dead man, were the insignia of lower power, as family leaders or begs.

2. Tamgas

The family tamgas, according to Mahmud of Kashgar, were originally used by the 22 tribes of the T'u-küe, to distinguish their herds and horses. In later period, they were sings of family membership. A family tamga was usually presented on an oval stone in a bronze ring on a finger of the right hand of a buried woman. This kind of items belong though to the rare finds.

The family tamga of Kypchaks was represented by a silver, gilded goblet, deposed in the burial of an aristocrat from the Zamoznoye site. Within the burial inventory, there also was a wooden bowl, adorned with a tamga at the bottom.


Coins were fairly rarely found in the burials of the Polovtsians. Their origin was Byzantium. They were linked with the period of the Polovtsian expansion to the Black Sea steppes and of the stabilization of the frontiers of the territories of particular hordes. The rest of the coins found were associated to the mints of the Golden Horde’s khans.

The first of these groups is represented by the golden, Byzantine coins, produced during the reign of Manuel I Komnenos (1143-1180), used as metal blades, adorning dress and as a badge, attached to a bracelet, both found in a feminine burial. In the masculine burials, the Byzantine solidi were found, for example a golden solid of Nikifor III Boniatrates (1078-1081).

The find of a silver coin of Abdullah (1362-1369) in a feminine grave, was associated to the period of domination of the Golden Horde’s khans. Silver dirhemy, produced in Nauru (1361-1362); silver coins produced under the reign of Özbek-Khana (1313-1339), and of Nauruz-Khan (1359-1360), also coming from the mint in New Saray (1345-1346), produced during the reign of Dżanibek–Khana, (1342-1343), a silver dirhem, dated for the 2nd quarter of the 14th century, silver coins produced in Crimea in the 1st half of the 14th century, with the word “khan” carved, silver dirhems, produced under Birdibek-Khana (1359), Khyzr-Khana (1362) and Abdullah-Khan (1365), were all found in masculine burials.


The cauldrons, occurring in masculine, but also, less frequently in feminine burials, belong to the category of metal wares. Copper and bronze cauldrons, with iron attachment parts and cauldrons wrought in iron belong to the common finds. The edges of the bronze and copper cauldrons had also iron forges in some cases. Hooks, used to hang the cauldrons over the fire, have been preserved in some pits.

Among the items, deposed to the grave of an aristocrat, a wrought, bronze pitcher. A silver ciborium, adorned with floral, zoomorphic and fantastic motifs from the Zamoznoye site was a gift, an import item or a loot, produced at the silversmith's in France or Germany (1150-1250).

Similarly to the feminine burials, in masculine graves, clay reserve and ornamental vessels occurred as well. They were put on the lids of the graves, by the side of the grave or intentionally broken at the tomb. The amphorae of red clay, an adorned with painting clay pyksis and a clay bottle from the Zamoznoye site, dark red clay pitchers and a red, tube-like container, were made at Crimean workshops.

Dippers occurred rarely. There is a known find of a silver dipper, with a handle shaped as a head and the body of a dragon, adorned on the inside and on the outside with floral motif and a wooden, painted dipper-mazer.


The brindle items, such as: brownbands, bits, girth straps and stirrups belong to the most frequently preserved items of the horse tacks, while saddles and their linings occur less frequently. The harness was used to be deposed to both masculine and feminine burials, regardless whether a horse burial accompanied them or not.

Feminine graves

In feminine graves, such items as: bits, brindle and girth straps, small blades, which were the forges of the straps, ferrules, girth buckles and stirrups, have been well preserved. In the grave of an aristocratic woman at the Olien-Kołodiez site, the stirrups have been found despite the lack of a horse burial. The saddles, of which the remains are bone parts and nails, have been found both in feminine graves with horse burials or without the animal remains, equally.

Masculine graves

In masculine burials, accompanied by horse burials, iron bits and brindles, adorned for example with a silver foil or golden blades, have been found. Bits occurred as well in graves containing no horse remains.

Small blades, installed on straps of the harness, come from the sites, where a horse burial took place as well. In burials with horse and without horse, bone welts, balls and the most frequently preserved girth parts, various iron and bone buckles, have been found.

A ceremonial part of the brindle, the browband in form of a blade adorned with volutes, comes from a rich burial with horses at the Zamoznoye site, just like a mountain crystal diverter, adorning the brindle. In another rich masculine burial, a silver brownband with a cizeled scene of a hawk, hunting antelopes. A round, silver blade, with a floral motif was found in a masculine burial without horse. A copper blade with chains, covered with silver, was found in a burial of a warrior with horse. A bone part of the brownband, which was an ornamental item, was found within the burial inventory. The burials without horses were often accompanied by convoluted cones of metal blade – a form of brownbands, similarly to a square blade with cone.

Iron stirrups were often preserved, equally in burials with horse or without it.

The saddles come from the sites with horse burials. Wooden saddles, covered with leather and fragments of saddles adorned with blades were preserved perfectly. In some cases, the saddles had silverplated saddle pommels (Zamoznoye site) and bone, rich adorned linings. The saddle parts have been preserved also in the graves without horse burial.


The elements of two-wheeled carts, such as wooden parts of the bodywork, sometimes used as grave lids or to seal the entry to the grave pit, or as spoke-wheels. Such elements occurred also in feminine burials.

In case of the masculine burials, the details of the cart, as axles, wheels, ring with a rod, bodywork and spoke-wheels.


The dead of both sexes were equipped for their journey to the Underworld, with ford and drink. A common trace of such sacrifices-gifts, were animal bones of sheep, cattle and birds.

0175 (Majaki zabytki)
A piece of a quern-stone    
(Mayaki, Slovyanskyi raion, Donetsk Oblast)    

Ram bones remained on the lid of a grave in the Zamoznoye site, a ram’s horn lied beside another dead. A big bird was impaled on the spearhead of an aristocrat from the Wysokaja Gora site. Fish bone and fish scales were also found in the grave pits. The bones of horse and men, proving perhaps a sacrifice made to the dead, was found in one of the Polovtsian kurgans.

In the burial inventory, the following items have been stored: a leather-like cloth, covering a dead woman, a leather covering of a rich woman’s coffin, leather covering the bottom of the grave pit and a leather pillow, under a dead man’s head.


In some cases, pieces of stones, such as chalk and limestone have been found in graves. A abraded plate of sandstone (probably a hone), were put aside the head of a dead man.

[1] „Девушки и женщины ездят верхем и ловко скачут на конях, как мужчины. Мы также видели, как они носили колчаны и луки. И как мужчины, так и женщины могут ездит верхем долго и упорно”

[2] „Жены их всё делают: полушубки, платья, башмаки, сапоги и все изделия из кожи”.


Gołębiowska-Tobiasz A.
2004 - „Inwentarze grobowe a stele antropomorficzne u Połowców”, Katalog – and further sources there. Master Theses, no. 339, stored at IAUJ (The Institute of Archaeology at the Jagiellonian University).