‘Battle of Pygmies with Cranes’ theme in the Bosporan Kingdom: Flight of Soul to Afterworld?


The legend of the Battle of Pygmies with Cranes was very popular in the Bosporan Kingdom in ancient times. As a reminder, the Bosporan Kingdom was located in eastern Crimea and the Taman Peninsula. The capital of the Kingdom was the city of Panticapaeum which was situated in the area of the present-day city of Kerch. Curiously enough, the Battle of Pygmies and Cranes was used in the Kingdom only in the funeral context. It was represented on the Bosporan pelikes that were found in the burials. It was used as decoration on the walls of the Bosporan crypts.
Scholars think that the myth had a special appeal to the Bosporans because it was to the neighboring Scythia the cranes arrived for the summer from the country of the Pygmies somewhere in central Africa. In the eyes of the Bosporans, of all the birds, the cranes were unique because of the distance they covered during their flight and the places they had an opportunity to see. “They may be said to come from the ends of the world, as in the case of the crane,” wrote Aristotle and it meant for the people of the time that the cranes had an opportunity to see the things “behind” the end of the real world. Thus most likely, the way of the cranes became associated with the way of a soul to the afterworld. On the border with the afterworld, the soul of a deceased had to face the battle with mythical creatures such as the Pygmies.
What other mythical creatures the souls of the Bosporan nobility had to fight and what role had Achilles in the funeral iconography of the Kingdom can be learned in the “Cradle of Civilizations” book.

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Wall of a Bosporan crypt with the scenes of the Battle of Pygmies with Cranes


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