The Scythians were nomads who inhabited much of modern-day Russia and Ukraine from about 600 B.C. to 300 A.D. They fought off their enemies from horseback with bows and arrows and interred their nobility in elaborate tombs, where they buried horses, gold and other treasured items alongside the dead. Higher-ranking Scythian warriors often had elaborate tattoos, according to Greek historian Herodotus, who described the Scythians as barbaric warriors at times prone to indulge in marijuana.
Alexander Blok wrote about them in 1918, months after the October Revolution, in his famous poem "The Scythians." Frustrated by Russia's dragging involvement in World War I, Blok lashed out at Europe. He presented the Scythians as a savage eastern streak lingering in Russia's blood, ready to pillage Europe should the Continent neglect to end the war and fail to embrace the socialist uprising.
"Would we be to blame if your skeleton cracks to bits in our heavy, tender paws?" Blok wrote in the poem, addressing Europe's powers.
Such ideas of Russia's special Eurasian destiny opposed to Western Europe have undergone a revival under President Vladimir Putin, who since his return to the Kremlin in 2012 has promoted Russia as an alternative to Europe with different values.
The controversy over the Amsterdam exhibit isn't the first time Scythian gold has emerged as a flare-up in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Russian media outlets recently accused Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk of smuggling Scythian gold treasures from Ukraine's national gold reserve to the U.S. as a guarantee for Western loans ahead of a March meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington. Ukrainian authorities called the claim a fantasy of Russian spin-doctors.
Related link: Scythian Gold Caught in Ukraine Dispute