Journal of World Prehistory

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 435–483 | Cite as

Eurasian Steppe Chariots and Social Complexity During the Bronze Age

  • Igor V. ChechushkovEmail author
  • Andrei V. Epimakhov


This paper aims to examine some societal principles that underlie the development of horse-drawn chariots in Inner Eurasia during the Middle and Late Bronze Age (cal. 2050–1750 BC). Analysis is based on an evaluation and re-examination of the archaeological evidence for horse-drawn chariots, and the social constructs they entail. Chariots were developed in the zone of the Northern Eurasian steppes before c. 2000 BC in the context of complex but stateless societies. Because chariots depend on a set of developed skills, valuable resources, and complicated technologies, which involve several outstanding improvements to previously known solutions, they require specific conditions for their development and maintenance in social life. Most fundamentally, they require a group of people with an interest in this complex technology: a class of military elites characterized by aggrandizing behavior. The competition between collectives of military elites for resources, power and prestige brought into life the earliest chariot complex in the world.


Chariot Bronze Age Eurasia Sintashta Social complexity 



On behalf of the South Ural State University, the authors thank the Ministry of Culture and Science of the Russian Federation for the financial support (grant # 33.5494.2017/ВР). The authors would like to thank colleagues from the University of Pittsburgh, Elizabeth Arkush, Robert Drennan, Maria Liz Baiocchi, Lauren Herckis, Patrick Mullins, Camilla Kelsoe, Mathew Kesterke and Loukas Barton, for the discussion and valuable comments to this paper. Gail Brownrigg provided valuable feedback and helped to pronounce our ideas in the clearest possible way. Two anonymous reviewers also gave us important feedback and suggestions to improve this article. We also gratefully acknowledge the following colleagues who supported this research over the years: Nikolai Vinogradov, Ludmila Koryakova, and Natalia Berseneva. Irina Shevnina kindly allowed us to provide the illustrations of the Bestamak Cemetery and Igor Novikov provided images of the Ozernoye-1 Cemetery. Stanislav Arefyev identified tree species of the ethnographic wheels. All opinions and mistakes within this paper are the sole responsibility of the authors.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Institute of History and Archaeology, The Ural Division of the Russian Academy of ScienceSouth Ural State UniversityChelyabinskRussia

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