Sunday, December 15, 2013

A scabbard from Takht-i Sangin

Takht-i Sangin is the archaeological site of a Graeco-Bactrian town in southern Tajikistan, excavated in 1976.  At the center of the settlement was a temple which was apparently used for both Greek and native Mazdaist sacraments, and contained a hoard of temple offerings.  It is believed by some to be the origin of the Oxus Treasure.

Among the temple hoard was a scabbard, believed to date from the Achaemenid period.  It is of the typical Medo-Persian akinakes type, with a distinct chape (which I think is still a contiguous piece with the scabbard, as on the wooden one from Egypt) and "bellied" belt tab.  What makes it different from other finds is that it's made of solid ivory, deeply carved across its entire surface with a relief of a lion clutching a deer.  It also has a patterned border and the chape features the classic curled goat motif.

This may be going out on a limb here, but I think this find could perhaps justify including relief carvings on wooden scabbards for our period.  Even if the ivory scabbard is entirely ceremonial, I know of no reason that such techniques could not be applied to functional items; generally speaking, ancient people liked their military gear to be as gaudy as they could afford.

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