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Why Russia starts near Minusinsk

тагарский котел
© Форпост Северо-Запад/ Горный музей

The history of non-ferrous metallurgy in the south of the Krasnoyarsk Territory began not with the construction of a refinery in 1941, and not with the commissioning of one of the world's largest aluminum plants in the mid-1960s. The first bronze items were cast here by the Iranian-speaking Tagars long before the heyday of ancient Athens, in the 7th century BC.

Their civilization was one of the main centers of bronze smelting throughout the vast expanse of the Eurasian continent. Tagar belongs to the Scythian ethnic group. The very one with which Alexander Blok associated the people of Russia in one of his most famous poems:

“For you - centuries, for us - a single hour.
We, like obedient serfs,
Held a shield between two hostile races
Mongols and Europe!"

Of course, the poet expressed himself metaphorically about the servility of the Tagars. And the shield is literally mentioned - they made light and effective military equipment. Their blades made of an alloy of tin and copper were not inferior in quality to iron ones, which were already used then, for example, by the Assyrians.

The main military opponent of the settled Tagars were the nomadic Altai tribes of the Xiongnu (the ancestors of the modern Turkic-speaking peoples), who also fought with China. The raids of these mounted archers are also described in ancient Chinese literature:

"Sixth month, on the fragrant morning of spring,

carts lined up in rows loaded with weapons and food,

getting ready for the big fight...

This happened because the Xiongnu from the north were attacked unexpectedly,

fierce, ferocious with anger ... "

It was the militancy of the Xiongnu that became the reason for the construction of the Great Wall of China. There was no such protection in the northwest, and at the end of the 3rd century BC, the Tagars had to cede their lands and withdraw to the west.

Акварель Василия Сурикова "Минусинская степь", 1873
© Акварель Василия Сурикова "Минусинская степь", 1873

Traces of their culture, starting from the expedition of Daniel Messerschmidt, the founder of Russian archeology in 1722, are found mainly in the burial mounds of the Minusinsk depression, located in the steppes of the middle reaches of the Yenisei, between the Kuznetsk Alatau and the Sayans.

Together with the dead, they buried weapons or jewelry and, of course, vessels, ceramic or bronze. Of the latter, boilers are the most common, perhaps the most versatile item of Tagar life. In addition to the main, kitchen, purpose, they were used as decorative and cult items. One of the Minusinsk inscriptions (ancient images on stone) depicts the dance of shamans in horned hats around such a cauldron. They passed from generation to generation, patched up and could serve one family for up to 200 years.

A typical Tagar cauldron of the 5th-4th centuries BC is presented, for example, in the exposition of the Mining Museum in St. Petersburg.