The Sarmatians: Myth and Reality

The ideology of Polish sarmatism was a mythical origin theory of the XVIth –XVIIIth century Polish nobility. Poland has been called Sarmatia first in the humanist literature of the first half of the XVIth century, interestingly coinciding with the theory of Petrus Ransanus about the Sarmatian origin of the Hungarians. In the Renaissance period, proponents of the Sarmatian origins of Poles referred to Pliny the Elder, who said that the border of the country os Sarmatians was the Vistula River, although the political influence of the Sarmatian peoples, concentrated on the Pontic steppe, did not really reach north. As almost a tenth of the Polish population was a nobleman (unlike other Eastern and Central European societies of the time), the influence of Sarmatism became widespread on Polish folk-national consciousness. Sarmatism was a combination of costume (long jacketed dresses with oriental elements), the usage of a special saber type, the karabela, hairstyle, hussar martial art and historical noble consciousness. The Sarmatism became the noble ideology of the multiethnic Polish-Lithuanian state, the Rczeczpospolita. In addition to the earlier plate-type hussar types, The Polish Hussars, the wealthy noble insurgents in the 17-18th century, stated to use "Sarmatian" type armours (so- called Karacenas), inspired by the ancient Sarmatian scale armour andand Roman depictions of it, such as Traian’s column. The lifestyle of ancient Sarmatians was seen as an example to be followed, and became an ideal of the nobility of the Polish-Lithuanian Confederation.
It was later attempted to put the theory on a scientific basis. Tadeusz Sulimirski who was the first to summarize the archeology and history of the Sarmatians, tried to identify the ancestors of the Western Slavs with the Alans. According to his theory by the end of the I2nd century, the southern part of Lesser Poland, Silesia and Great Poland was under the rule of ants, a "Sarmatian" tribe. Later in the Hun Empire, at the northern Slavic territories, the Alans would have occupied a dominant role in the hierarchy of the Hun empire.
Although the idea of Polish-Sarmatian kinship is now considered a historical fiction, it was a major factor in cultural history and had an important role int he development of Polish national consciousness. The exhibition contrasts the Sarmatistic ideology of 16th-18th century material culture, apparel, armor, and fine arts with the genuine Sarmatian finds of the Carpathian Basin, from the jewel-rich first graves of the Iaziges in the 1-2. century, to the remains of the cemeteries and settlements of the Roxolans and the Alans, from the massive burials and the weapons of real Sarmatian armies to the typical grey-colored Sarmatian ceramics of everyday life, or even the pearly embroidery on the remains of women's trousers and skirts.