Belt buckle with paired felines attacking ibexes

Date: ca. 3rd–2nd century B.C.

Geography: Mongolia or southern Siberia

Culture: Xiongnu

Medium: Gold

Dimensions: 2.62 x 3.12 in. (6.65 x 7.92 cm)

Classification: Metalwork-Ornaments

Credit Line: Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917

Accession Number: 17.190.1672

Description

During the first millennium B.C., many horse-riding nomadic tribes controlled the vast Eurasian steppes to the north of the Black and Caspian seas. Some of the nomadic groups—particularly Scythian tribes that lived in the plains north of the Black Sea—were described by the Greek historian Herodotus in his Histories. But we also know about them from their burial mounds, which contained sumptuous golden objects made in a variety of styles that reflect contacts with Greece, Persia, and China.

Following earlier Scythian migrations, Sarmatian tribes moved in the fourth century B.C. from the area north of the Caspian Sea into the Caucasus and Europe. Sarmatian animal-style art is distinguished by complex compositions in which stylized animals are depicted twisted or turned back upon themselves or in combat with other animals. Plaques, clasps, and weapons were frequently made of precious metals and embellished with polychrome inlays of stone and glass, many of which find stylistic parallels in the East.

This cast buckle depicts a heraldic composition with two felines biting the necks of two ibexes whose legs are folded beneath them. Although symmetrical confronted animals suggest a Scythian background, this plaque is surely later and also reflects an artistic environment much farther east.

Related