The etymology of the name and identity of the people remain unclear. Edward James  and William Smith were of the opinion that the term Maeotian was applied broadly to various peoples around the Sea of Azov, rather than the name of the sea deriving from a certain people. Their subdivisions included the Sindi, the Dandarii, the Toreatae, the Agri, the Arrechi, the Tarpetes, the Obidiaceni, the Sittaceni, the Dosci, and "many" others. Of these, the Sindi are the best attested, and were probably the dominant people among the Maeotians. The language of the Maeotians or even language family is uncertain. One princess of the Ixomates was called Tirgatao, comparable to Tirgutawiya, a name on a tablet discovered in Hurrian Alalakh.
Karl Eichwald claimed that the Maeotians originated as an "Hindu" (Indian) colony, but this view is rejected by the majority of scholars. Soviet archaeologists, historians, and ethnographers concluded the Maeotians were one of the Circassian tribes. The Cambridge Ancient History classifies the Maeotians as either of a people of Cimmerian ancestry or as Caucasian aboriginals under Iranian overlorship.
The earliest known reference is from the logographer Hellanicus of Lesbos. According to Strabo, the Maeotians lived partly on fish and partly from agriculture but were as warlike as their nomadic neighbors. These wild hordes were sometimes tributary to the factor at the River Tanais (the present-day Don) and at other times to the Bosporani. In later times, especially under Pharnaces II, Asander, and Polemon I, the Bosporan Kingdom extended as far as the Tanais.
- Other variant transcriptions include Mæotians, Maeotae, Maeotici, and Mæotici.
- James, Edward Boucher. "Maeotae" and "Maeotis Palus" in the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, 1st ed., Vol. II. Walton & Maberly (London), 1857. Accessed 26 Aug 2014.
- Strabo. Geographica, xi. ‹See Tfd›(in Latin).
- Boardman & Edwards 1991, p. 572
- Polyaenus. Stratagems, 8.55.
- AT 298 II.11.[clarification needed]
- Eichwald, Karl. Alt Geogr. d. Kasp. M.[clarification needed] p. 356.
- Bayer,[who?] Acta Petrop.[clarification needed] ix. p. 370.
- St. Croix,[who?] Mem. de l'Ac. des Inscr.[clarification needed] xlvi. p. 403.
- Larcher,[who?] ad Herod.[clarification needed] vii. p. 506.
- Ukert, Friedrich August, Vol. iii.[clarification needed] pt. 2, p. 494.
- The Great Soviet Encyclopedia. "Adyghe people".
- "The Kuban tribes (Adyghe people) are usually referred to by the ancient writers under the collective name Maeotae"
- Piotrovsky, Boris. Maeotae, the Ancestors of the Adgyghe (Circassians). 1998.
- "The study of language, toponymy and onomastics of the north-Western Caucasus gives the grounds referred ancient Maeotae population to the Adyghe- Kassogians ethnic array, which is also in line with archeological monuments Maeotae culture and its links with the subsequent cultures of medieval Adyghe (Circassians)."
- Hellanicus's actual reference is to a Maliōtai (Μαλιῶται), which Sturz[who?] emended to Maiōtai.