Carved Plates from the Front Bow of a Saddle

Created: First Turkic Kaganate. Turkic Culture. 7th century

Found: Kudyrge Cemetery. Altai Territory

In AD 551 First Turkic Khaganate formed on the territory of Mongolia. An active policy of conquest meant that just 20 years later, its borders extended from Manchuria to the Sea of Azov. The Kaganate maintained diplomatic relations with China, Sassanid Iran and Byzantium, all of which had to reckon with its military might. The Kaganate was short-lived, however: 50 years after its foundation, it broke apart into a western (Central Asian) part and an eastern one centred on northern Mongolia. In the Eastern Kaganate a nomadic way of life predominated, and the power of the ruling kagan was considerably stronger than in the western territories of the once-united state. Nevertheless, a domestic crisis, defeats at the hands of Chinese forces and revolts by vassal tribes brought about the demise of the Eastern Kaganate in AD 630. That same year, one of the local rulers, Chebi Khan, withdrew to the Altai mountains with his horde. In 650 he was defeated and taken prisoner, and part of his people were resettled in the dense Ötüken forests on the slopes of the Khangai range (Central Mongolia). The Turkic peoples of the First Khaganate took some innovations with them from east to west across the Eurasian steppes, among which particular mention can be made of stirrups and rigid saddles. The use of these increased a horseman’s manoeuvrability, leading to changes in the tactics of cavalry warfare and prompting the appearance of a new type of weapon – the sabre. Besides horse tack and new types of equipment, Turkic traditions in decorative and applied art were also spread widely. However, despite the fact that the territory of the First Turkic Kaganate was very extensive, there are not many archaeological sites from that period. The most famous of them is the Kudyrge cemetery in the Altai. The human interments o at that site are accompanied by pieces of horse tack or burials of horses. A real masterpiece among the finds made during excavations are the bone decorative plates from the front bow of a saddle bearing a hunting scene (the right-hand part of the large showcase). The multi-figure composition was made in the engraving technique. The paired figures of tigers that occupy the central place in the composition display the influence of the art of Sassanid Iran, while the fallen roedeer is reminiscent of Pazyryk artefacts from the Scythian period. The horsemen’s hairstyles can be regarded as visual confirmation of the accounts found in several written sources of the Turkic warriors plaiting their hair. It is quite possible that some of the burials at the Kudyrge site dating from the first half of the 7th century belong to people who moved to the Altai mountains with Chebi Khan after the events of AD 630.


Carved Plates from the Front Bow of a Saddle

Place of finding:

Archaeological site:

Kudyrge Cemetery



carving, inlaid


height: 25 cm; width: 30,5 cm (two plates together)

Inventory Number: