Ludy Europy Wschodniej
Polovtsian antropomorphic steles

The evolution of an anthropomorphic imaging canon, known in the Russian literature as “stone baba” is connected with the history of the Polovtsians from the moment when they have passed the Volga and spread quickly on the Black Sea steppes, until the invasion of the Mongolians. It is also proves the sculpture tradition and the ethnic origins of that people to be embedded in Central Asia. The word “baba” itself is derived from a Turkic word, meaning an ancestor, father, grandfather, from “balbal” - a statue or a stone with an inscription, or from Persian “pahlaban” and Uzbek “palwan” - meaning a hero, a strong man, though the least two words never referred to a statue.

The author of the first classification of Polovtsian statue was A. S. Uvarov, who devided them into three types: standing, sitting/semi-sitting and similar to steles. Within each type, images of men and women have been considered separately.

This distinction have been developed further by S. A. Pletneeva, in her vital paper from 1974. She had organized the male and female steles from the primitive images to the highly artistic statues, compared the techniques of making, the material, presented details and she has considered all these elements in the context of the Polovtsian history in Europe, which allowed to describe the chronology of the steles.

The types I and VI (stele-like in shape, flat, early and late), connected threw the features enumerated hitherto, were very similar to the steles from the bassin of Irtish, which has been conquered by the tribes of Kypchaks and Kimaks before the end of the 10th century. On that basis, both types have been believed to come from the 10th - 11th century. Their occurrence in the north Priazov and along the low Seversky Donets could prove these terrains to have been conquered by the first waves of the nomads. Type II (spatial torso, flat lower part of the stele) is a transition between the flat image of a human being and its spatial representation, characterised by rounding of the steles. Along with type II, type IV appears (a sitting character, spatial upper part, flat lower part), showing images of sitting men and women. Both of them appear in the same terrains as type I and VI, and they spread towards the west, reaching the high Severski Donets, the left bank of the Dnieper and the region of the North Caucasus. The expansion of the nomads to these terrains has been proceeded in the 11th and the early 12th century. The type IV statues appeared later on in all territories captured by the Polovtsians.

The type III (statues presenting standing characters, spatial), are distinct by the high level of craft, are usually made in soft types of sandstone, showing a suite of details, concerning the vestments, ornaments and armaments, apart from the face. It referred to the latest group of steles, from the end of 12th century and early 13th century. It was encountered practically in all lands, captured by the Polovtsians. The occurrence of type V (standing, spatial statues) was parallel. Contrary to the type III, the artisans imaged also the face details. The particularly rare feature, that the faces were not imaged, have been connected with the influence of the Islam, reaching the Priazov region in the 2nd half of the 12th century. Both types are linked with the period, when the art of sculpture was blooming, the culture and political power of the Polovtsians was supreme.

The type VII (stele-like shape, spatial) was represented by fairly numerous specimens in the region of the Volga and much less in the Priazov region, The steles appeared there in the 13th century and their quick disappearance was connected with the switch in the political reality of the region – the dominance of the Mongolians.

In 1999, K. I. Krasilnikov, basing on the latest data, has modified the typology of Pletneeva and distinguished six types of imaging:

  1. the types I and III remained unchanged,

  2. the type II was defined as early images in shape of a pole, imaging the head and the torso,

  3. the type IV – semi-sitting,

  4. the type V – sitting,

  5. the type VI – in shape of a pole, late,

  6. no sub-categories of silhouette image nor type VII have been defined.

The type I and II, according to Krasilnikov, is linked with the period, when the Polovtsians have expanded towards the Priazov region in the 11th and the first half of the 12th century. Along with the nomads, the signs of their cults also spread, which can be illustrated by the occurrence of the steles. Therefore, the origins of the types enumerated lied in schematic, stele-like shaped images of the warriors, known from the terrains of Semirechye and dated for the 8th and the 9th century. The construction of the type III, IV and V statues is linked with the period of sculpture craft development and the appearance of a convention. As the reason for the lack of face details, the representation of a symbolic image of the set of features of one Turkic ancestor of all Polovtsians, in one face is mentioned, as well as the Islamic influence or technical difficulties with the material. The stage, when the steles of the three enumerated types have been produced started in the second half of the 12th century and lasted until the 30s of the 13th century. The type VI, the poles with anthropomorphic features, which were deeply schematic and characterised by underlined details of head and torso. It proves that the art already regressed. An irregular phenomenon is the appearance of a large number of steles, showing the features of both genders. It could have been caused by the mass production, which meant haste, or could be a proof of the dramatic struggle for the multiplication of divine forces, enchanted in stone images. It is dated for the last decades of the first half of the 13th century.


The custom of constructing statues is the reason to ask a question: how has the material for the statues been acquired, prepared, transported and proceeded?

The statues were made of wood and stone. Stone steles have been made of both hard, volcanic rocks, as well as softer sedimentary rocks. Wooden steles were made in oak and pine.

Basing on the petroarchaeological research, a few places, from which the material might have been taken were defined. This led to the discovery of stone mines in which, for example, abandoned, unfinished and often broken steles have been found. The searches of stone resources have been carried out by the artisans, who knew well the features of the particular types of stones. There were attempts at the reconstruction of the process of extraction and use of the sandstone, through the analyses of items found in the region of Donetsk. It is assumed, that the technological process of other stone types was very similar. After the choice of a resource, the extraction of stone blocks was initiated. Their size depended on the size of future statues (from 1,6 to 3,5 meters of height). In order to do that, holes were made and wooden or metal wedge (made of bronze or copper) were led in. The stone has also been softened by water. After the extraction, the block was taken to the exit and there an item was produced. The particular parts, the head, the torso, the arms, the legs, the vessel and the stand, of the statue were marked and then carved and modelled.

The tools used to produce the statues were the chisels and the files, made of copper, bronze and iron, as well as the hammers, made of copper, bronze, lead and iron, which were meant to be used for precise strikes, not destroying the stone. After the details were shaped, the statue was polished to conceal the marks of strikes. Probably, the stone blocks were extracted in the Spring. In the Summer and in the Autumn, the statues were shaped and in the Winter, they were transported on sleigh, pulled by horses or oxen to their destination.


The male and female faces usually have an oval shape. The brews and the nose seem often similar to the letter “T”. The eyes have often the shape of eyelids, while the lips are full or narrow. On male faces, long moustaches are visible The features enumerated hitherto are interpreted as a sign of a Turkic-Mongol origin of the portrayed people. European features are only present on few images.

Initially, the statues featured men-warriors. A short time, before the Polovtsians appeared in the eastern part of Priazov steppes, the steles featuring women were mass produced.

[Rozmiar: 44442 bajtów]

The classic convention of imaging a man imaged him as a warrior in his armaments. He had a helm (of Ruthenian type), more rarely a cap, enforced with fur or metal plates. On his torso, in the front, he had two oval, often adorned, breast plates. They were connected with a set of straps, linked with a metal ring, or a zoomorphic clasp on the back. Initially, they were believed to prevent a chainmail underneath from moving, but their role was to secure the breast from being hit by an arrow. An armour was very rare among the Polovtsians, until now, only one of known warrior images, features a warrior with a an armour similar to a cuirass. Another element of the inventory were the sabre and the bow, held at the left side of the belt. The hilt of the sabre was often adorned with fringes. A flat or adorned quiver, with arrows ended in rhombic heads, or heads with two horns, was usually kept on the right side. A warrior also had a sort of a whip, made of fringes attached to a ring-hilt. The everyday usage items, such as knives, flints, combs and sacks of various shapes, were also held at the belt. The knives were usually carried at the right side in a sheath. They were the most commonly used occurring weapon. There are also images of combat knives, kindjals. The flints were featured seldom and their shape was oval or rectangle. They were carried at the both sides of the belt. The warriors usually had plaits, one or three, which were left down on their backs. The clothing contained a shirt, trousers, an adorned or flat kaftan and hight boots, tied with a system of, often adorned, straps and a ring to the belt around the waist.

0078 Donieck 2007-8
0108 Donieck 2007-8

The details or arms are characteristic for the male standing type of statues, which is often considered as an image of the military aristocracy, shown ready to fight. The sitting type statues have sacks and their only weapons are knives. Instead of helms, they have caps. They are meant to show the rich members of the society. As the first group was in its position thank to war expeditions, plunder and ransom, the second became rich through breeding animals, trade and collecting taxes. It seem that a distinction was present between two different groups of aristocracy, of which each had different functions and which complemented one another. The late statues, linked with the Mongol invasion, feature warriors-leaders, often with feminine breasts – a symbol of strength and immortality.

[Rozmiar: 24198 bajtów]

A woman's dress, featured on the statues, usually contained a shirt, a well-adorned kaftan, sharavars and high boots. Until now, there is only one image of a female warrior, with a helm on her head, with breast plates, armed in a sabre and a quiver. Women used to have a complicated head clothing, made of a cap and a scarf over it, under which hair, done in two or four plaits, was hidden. The scarf was reaching the belt. The head clothing is rich adorned with ribbons and pieces of fabric. In classic statues, the faces of women were surrounded by “horns”, a kind of ornaments, which could have been reconstructed on the basis of archaeological research. They were made of rollers, surrounded with costly fabrics, metal tapes or rings, which were connected by semi-noble stones. The horns were connected to the cap in diverse ways. This ornament was typical from the women between 25 and 35. Women had numerous ornaments, such as earrings and necklaces of metal plates, diverse in shapes and of semi-noble stones, as well as amulets and sacks for amulets hanging on strings, which has been represented in details by the artists. The most popular neck ornament was, so called, “hryvnia”, a coin, flat or carved. A woman could be wearing one, two or three of them. Bracelets were also used. Knives, flints, combs, sacks and mirrors were at the belts. A characteristic feature of a woman's image were naked breasts [footnote 1] .

0073 Donieck 2007-8
0108 Donieck 2007-8

The standing statues type is characterised by richness of clothing and adornments, detailed imaging of the features of faces and items. Similarly to male statues of this type, it is believed that those statues show the wives of military aristocrats, while the sitting type woman images could have been intended to show the wives of the rich merchants. Perhaps that a more modest way of showing them reflected the difference of tasks, which, except the government of wealth, were assigned to them, while their men were away.

Common to both genders and all types of statues is an item held in both hands, under the stomach, which is a vessel. Its shape may be similar to a cylinder, a dish, a pitcher, a mug or a chalice, with a foot. Its symbolic is difficult to be interpreted without ambiguity. It could be an urn, containing symbolically the ashes of an ancestor, or it could have been a ritual vessel with the drink of immortality, a place where a soul might be kept or finally, it could have been a sacrifice vessel.

[1] In the sources of many Turkic language nations, a motif of a hero, who, after drinking some “golden, dense milk”, from the breast of a woman, the bearer of strength an immortality, becomes invincible appears very frequently. If he drank the milk of a witch, he was turning to her son. This way, he “entered” her kin and forced her to help.


Гуркин C. В.
1987 - Пoлoвeцкиe святилищa с дeрeвянными извaяниями нa Нижнeм Дoну; Сoвeтскaя Архeoлoгия Нo. 4; (рeд.) Б. A. Рыбакoв; Aкaдeмия Нaук CCCP Институт Aрхeoлoгии; Издaтeльствo «Нaукa»; Мoсквa; c. 100 – 109.

1998 - Святилищa пoлoвeцкого времени с дeрeвянными извaяниями из раскопок Волго-Донской архeoлoгической экспедиции ЛОИА АН CCCP; Дoнскaя Археoлoгия; Нo. 1; Рoстoв нa Дoну; с. 29 - 37.

Красильников К. И.
1999 - Древнее камнерезное искусство Луганщины. По материалам археологических коллекций антропоморфных стел и половецких каменных изваяний парка-музея Луганского пединститута и музеев Луганской области; „Шлях”; Луганск

Плетнева С.А.
1991 - Пoлoвецкие каменные извaяния; АCCCP; (рeд.) Б. A. Рыбакoв; Aкaдeмия Нaук CCCP Институт Aрхeoлoгии; Издaтeльствo «Нaукa»; Мoсквa

Швeцoв М. Л.
1987 - О головном уборе Половчанки; Проблемы архeoлoгии Поднепровья, Межвузовский сборник научных трудов; Издaтeльствo ДДУ; Днепропетровск; c. 104 - 114.