Universiteit Leiden

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Warrior Initiations, Midwinter Dog Sacrifices, and the Psychology of War

Tuesday 6 November 2018
Van Steenis
Einsteinweg 2
2333 CC Leiden
Main hall

Indo-European youthful initiatory war bands have not previously been documented archaeologically. Here we describe an archaeological site at Krasnosamarskoe, Russia, dated 1900-1700 BC, that revealed the remains of a repeated series of winter-season sacrifices totaling at least 51 dogs, mostly older male dogs, and 7 wolves that were roasted, chopped and apparently eaten, an inversion of the local custom of avoidance of dogs and wolves as food. Krasnosamarskoe was a Late Bronze Age (LBA) settlement of the Srubnaya culture located in the middle Volga steppes near Samara, Russia. No other Srubnaya settlement in the region has produced so many canid bones, or canids chopped and segmented in this way.

We use resources from comparative Indo-European linguistics and mythology to suggest that the canid-centered sacrificial rituals at Krasnosamarskoe were linked to the institution of initiatory Indo-European war-bands.  Initiatory warrior bands associated with dogs and wolves can be found in mythological and epic traditions known in Germanic (Männerbünde), Celtic (fian), Italic (luperci or sodales), Greek (*koryosephebes), and in Indo-Iranian, particularly in Vedic sources (vrātyas).

One largely unexplored aspect of this institution through which boys were prepared to become warriors was its psychological function. Behavioral studies of modern and ancient warfare permit us to evaluate the psychological efficacy of IE warrior bands as an institution to train young men to fight together while avoiding the psychological traumas that often affect warriors on their return home.

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