The Scythians (/ˈsɪθiən/ or /ˈsɪðiən/) or Scyths (/ˈsɪθ/, but note Scytho- (/ˈsθʊ/) in composition) and sometimes also referred to as the Pontic Scythians,[3][4] were an ancient Eastern Iranic[5] equestrian nomadic people who had migrated during the 9th to 8th centuries BC from Central Asia to the Pontic Steppe in modern-day Ukraine and Southern Russia, where they remained established from the 7th century BC until the 3rd century BC.

Scythians
Skuδatā (earlier)[1][2]
Skulatā (later)[1][2]
c. 9th–8th century BCc. 3rd century BC
Maximum extent of the Scythian kingdom in West Asia (680–600 BC)
Maximum extent of the Scythian kingdom in West Asia (680–600 BC)
Maximum extent of the Scythian kingdom in the Pontic steppe (600–c. 200 BC)
Maximum extent of the Scythian kingdom in the Pontic steppe (600–c. 200 BC)
LocationCentral Asia (9th–7th centuries BC)

West Asia (7th–6th centuries BC)

Pontic Steppe (6th–3rd centuries BC)
CapitalKamianka (from c. 6th century BCc. 200 BC)
Common languagesScythian

Akkadian (in West Asia)
Median (in West Asia)
Phrygian (in West Asia)
Urartian (in West Asia)

Thracian (in Pontic Steppe)
Ancient Greek (in Pontic Steppe)
Proto-Slavic language (in Pontic Steppe)

Maeotian (in Pontic Steppe)
Religion
Scythian religion

Ancient Mesopotamian religion (in West Asia)
Urartian religion (in West Asia)
Phrygian religion (in West Asia)
Ancient Iranic religion (in West Asia)

Thracian religion (in Pontic Steppe)

Ancient Greek religion (in Pontic Steppe)
Demonym(s)Scythians
GovernmentMonarchy
King 
• unknown–679 BC
Išpakaia
• 679–c. 659/8 BC
Bartatua
• c. 659/8–625 BC
Madyes
• c. 610 BC
Spargapeithes
• c. 600 BC
Lykos
• c. 575 BC
Gnouros
• c. 550 BC
Saulius
• c. 530–510 BC
Idanthyrsus
• c. 430 BC
Scyles
• c. 490–460 BC
Ariapeithes
• c. 460–450 BC
Octamasadas
• c. 360s–339 BC
Ateas
• c. 310 BC
Agaros
Dependency of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (from c. 672 to c. 625 BC)
Historical eraIron Age:
Srubnaya culture (earlier)
Scythian culture (later)
• Scythian migration from Central Asia to Caucasian Steppe
c. 9th–8th century BC
• Scythian alliance with the Neo-Assyrian Empire
c. 672 BC
• Scythian conquest of Media
c. 652 BC
• Scythian defeat of Cimmerians
c. 630s BC
• Median revolt against Scythians
c. 625 BC
• Scythian raid across the Levant as far as Egypt
c. 620 BC
c. 614–612 BC
• Expulsion of Scythians from West Asia by Medes
c. 600 BC
513 BC
• War with Macedonia
340–339 BC
• Celtic, Getic, and Germanic invasion of Scythia
c. 4th century BC
• Sarmatian invasion of Scythia
c. 3rd century BC
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Cimmerians
Agathyrsi
Urartu
Mannai
Median Empire
Lydian Empire
Scythian kingdom in Crimea
Scythian kingdom on the lower Danube
Sindica
Sarmatians
Kingdom of Pontus
Today part ofUkraine, Russia, Moldova, Romania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Iran

Skilled in mounted warfare,[6] the Scythians replaced the Agathyrsi and the Cimmerians as the dominant power on the western Eurasian Steppe in the 8th century BC.[7] In the 7th century BC, the Scythians crossed the Caucasus Mountains and frequently raided West Asia along with the Cimmerians.[7][8]

After being expelled from West Asia by the Medes, the Scythians retreated back into the Pontic Steppe and were gradually conquered by the Sarmatians.[9] In the late 2nd century BC, the capital of the largely Hellenized Scythians at Scythian Neapolis in Crimea was captured by Mithridates VI and their territories incorporated into the Bosporan Kingdom.[10]

By the 3rd century AD, the Sarmatians and last remnants of the Scythians were overwhelmed by the Goths, and by the early Middle Ages, the Scythians and the Sarmatians had been largely assimilated and absorbed by early Slavs.[11][12] The Scythians were instrumental in the ethnogenesis of the Ossetians, who are believed to be descended from the Alans.[13]

After the Scythians' disappearance, authors of the ancient, mediaeval, and early modern periods used the name "Scythian" to refer to various populations of the steppes unrelated to them.[14]

The Scythians played an important part in the Silk Road, a vast trade network connecting Greece, Persia, India and China, perhaps contributing to the prosperity of those civilisations.[15] Settled metalworkers made portable decorative objects for the Scythians, forming a history of Scythian metalworking. These objects survive mainly in metal, forming a distinctive Scythian art.[16]

Names

Etymology

The English name Scythians or Scyths is derived from the Ancient Greek name Skuthēs (Σκυθης) and Skuthoi (Σκυθοι), derived from the Scythian endonym Skuδatā, meaning "archers."[1][17][2][18] Due to a sound change from /δ/ to /l/ in the Scythian language, evolved into the form *Skulatā.[1][2] This designation was recorded in Greek as Skōlotoi (Σκωλοτοι), which, according to Herodotus of Halicarnassus, was the self-designation of the tribe of the Royal Scythians.[18]

The Assyrians rendered the name of the Scythians as Iškuzaya (𒅖𒆪𒍝𒀀𒀀), māt Iškuzaya (𒆳𒅖𒆪𒍝𒀀𒀀), and awīlū Iškuzaya (𒇽𒅖𒆪𒍝𒀀𒀀),[19][20] or ālu Asguzaya (𒌷𒊍𒄖𒍝𒀀𒀀), māt Askuzaya (𒆳𒊍𒆪𒍝𒀀𒀀), and māt Ašguzaya (𒆳𒀾𒄖𒍝𒀀𒀀).[19][21]

The ancient Persians meanwhile called the Scythians "Sakā who live beyond the (Black) Sea" (𐎿𐎣𐎠 𐏐 𐎫𐎹𐎡𐎹 𐏐 𐎱𐎼𐎭𐎼𐎹, romanized: Sakā tayaiy paradraya) in Old Persian and simply Sakā (Ancient Egyptian: 𓋴𓎝𓎡𓈉, romanizedsk; 𓐠𓎼𓈉, romanized: sꜣg) in Ancient Egyptian, from which was derived the Graeco-Roman name Sacae (Ancient Greek: Σακαι; Latin: Sacae).[22][23]

Modern terminology

The Scythians were part of the wider Scytho-Siberian world, stretching across the Eurasian Steppes[18][24] of Kazakhstan, the Russian steppes of the Siberian, Ural, Volga and Southern regions, and eastern Ukraine.[25] In a broader sense, Scythians has also been used to designate all early Eurasian nomads,[24] although the validity of such terminology is controversial,[18] and other terms such as "Early nomadic" have been deemed preferable.[26]

Although the Scythians, Saka and Cimmerians were closely related nomadic Iranic peoples, and the ancient Babylonians, ancient Persians and ancient Greeks respectively used the names "Cimmerian," "Saka," and "Scythian" for all the steppe nomads, and early modern historians such as Edward Gibbon used the term Scythian to refer to a variety of nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples across the Eurasian Steppe,[27]

  • the name "Scythian" in contemporary modern scholarship generally refers to the nomadic Iranic people who from the 7th century BC to the 3rd century BC dominated the steppe and forest-steppe zones to the north of the Black Sea, Crimea, the Kuban valley, as well as the Taman and Kerch peninsulas,[32][23]
  • while the name "Saka" is used specifically for their eastern members who inhabited the northern and eastern Eurasian Steppe and the Tarim Basin;[23][33][better source needed][34][35]
  • and while the Cimmerians were often described by contemporaries as culturally Scythian, they formed a different tribe from the Scythians proper, to whom the Cimmerians were related, and who also displaced and replaced the Cimmerians in the Pontic Steppe.[36]

The Scythians share several cultural similarities with other populations living to their east, in particular similar weapons, horse gear and Scythian art, which has been referred to as the Scythian triad.[18][26] Cultures sharing these characteristics have often been referred to as Scythian cultures, and its peoples called Scythians.[24][37] Peoples associated with Scythian cultures include not only the Scythians themselves, who were a distinct ethnic group,[38] but also Cimmerians, Massagetae, Saka, Sarmatians and various obscure peoples of the East European Forest Steppe,[18][24] such as early Slavs, Balts and Finno-Ugric peoples.[39][40]

Within this broad definition of the term Scythian, the westernmost Scythians have often been distinguished from other groups through the terms Classical Scythians, Western Scythians, European Scythians or Pontic Scythians.[24] Nevertheless, the archaeologist Maurits Nanning van Loon in 1966 instead used the term Western Scythians to designate the Cimmerians and referred to the Scythians proper as the Eastern Scythians.[41]

Scythologist Askold Ivantchik notes with dismay that the term "Scythian" has been used within both a broad and a narrow context, leading to a good deal of confusion. He reserves the term "Scythian" for the Iranic people dominating the Pontic Steppe from the 7th century BC to the 3rd century BC.[18] Nicola Di Cosmo writes that the broad concept of "Scythian" to describe the early nomadic populations of the Eurasian Steppe is "too broad to be viable," and that the term "early nomadic" is preferable.[26]

Location

Early phase in the western steppes

The earliest Scythian groups and Scythian culture are thought to have emerged with the Early Sakas from eastern Eurasia in the early 1st millennium BC.[42] After migrating out of Central Asia and into the western steppes, the Scythians first settled and established their kingdom in the area between the Araxes, the Caucasus Mountains and the Lake Maeotis.[43][44][45][46][47]

In West Asia

In West Asia, the Scythians initially settled in the area between the Araxes and Kura rivers before further expanding into the region to the south of the Kuros river in what is present-day Azerbaijan, where they settled around what is today Mingəçevir, Gəncə and the Muğan plain, and Transcaucasia remained their centre of operations in West Asia until the early 6th century BC,[48][49][50] although this presence in West Asia remained an extension of the Scythian kingdom of the steppes,[18] and the Scythian kings' headquarters were instead located in the Ciscaucasian steppes.[45][46]

During the peak of the Scythians' power in West Asia after they had conquered Media, Mannai and Urartu and defeated the Cimmerians, the Scythian kingdom's possessions in the region consisted of a large area extending from the Halys river in Anatolia in the west to the Caspian Sea and the western borders of Media in the east, and from Transcaucasia in the north to the northern borders of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the south.[51][52][53]

In the Pontic steppe

 
For the Achaemenids, there were three types of Sakas: the Sakā tayai paradraya ("beyond the sea", presumably the Scythians between the Greeks and the Thracians on the Western side of the Black Sea), the Sakā tigraxaudā (Massagetae, "with pointed caps"), the Sakā haumavargā ("Hauma drinkers", furthest East). Soldiers in the service of the Achaemenid army, Xerxes I tomb detail, circa 480 BC.[54]

The territory of the Scythian kingdom of the Pontic steppe extended from the Don river in the east to the Danube river in the west, and covered the territory of the treeless steppe immediately north of the Black Sea's coastline, which was inhabited by nomadic pastoralists, as well as the fertile black-earth forest-steppe area to the north of the treeless steppe, which was inhabited by an agricultural population,[55][47][56][57] and the northern border of this Scythian kingdom were the dedicuous woodlands.[58]

Several rivers flowed southwards across this region and emptied themselves into the Black Sea, of which the largest one was the Borysthenes (Dnipro), which was the richest river in Scythia, with most of the fish living in it, and the best pastures and most fertile lands being located on its banks, while its water was the cleanest; due to this, Graeco-Roman authors compared it to the Nile in Egypt. Other important rivers of Scythia were the:[58][59]

The region within the Scythian Pontic realm which was covered with forests was named by the Greeks as the country of Hylaea (Ancient Greek: Υλαια, romanizedHulaia, lit.'the Woodland'), and consisted of the region of the lower Dnipro river along the territory of what is modern-day Kherson.[60][61]

Earlier ancient West Asian and Greek sources also included Ciscaucasia within the confines of Scythia. However, Ciscaucasia was no longer part of Scythia by the 5th century BC, and the Don river formed its easternmost limit.[62]

Little Scythia

After the 3rd century BC, Scythian territory became restricted to two small states, each called "Little Scythia," respectively located in Dobruja and Crimea:

  • in Dobruja, the Scythian kingdom's territory stretched from Tyras, or even Pontic Olbia in the north, to Odessus in the south;[63]
  • in Crimea, the Scythian kingdom covered a limited territory which included the steppes and foothills of Crimea from contemporary Taurida, the lower Dnieper River, and the lower Southern Bug rivers.[47]

History

 
Curled-up feline animal from Arzhan-1, circa 800 BC.[64]

Because the Scythians did not use writing and they did not leave much material remains due to their nomadic lifestyle, most of the information regarding them has been pieced from the accounts of outsiders such as the Assyrians, Persians, and Greeks, as well as from archaeological study of their burial mounds.[65]

Origins

Based on initial archaeological evidence, it was generally agreed that the Scythians originated in the region of the Volga-Ural steppes of western Central Asia, possibly around the 9th century BC,[63] as a section of the population of the Srubnaya culture[47][66] containing a significant element originating from the Siberian Andronovo culture.[67] The population of the Srubnaya culture was among the first truly nomadic pastoralist groups, who themselves emerged in the Central Asian and Siberian steppes during the 9th century BC as a result of the cold and dry climate then prevailing in these regions.[58]

Based on more recent archaeological evidence, eastern Central Asia and the Altaian region is now favored as initial place of origin of the Scythian material culture, which later would have been mediated westwards, paired with at least some demic-diffusion via Saka-like groups. The Saka themself arose from admixture between earlier Eastern Iranian peoples with local Siberian groups. As such, the emergence of Scythian cultures is not a direct continuation of the Bronze Age Srubnaya culture, but a later development.[68]

Genetic evidence has suggested that Western Scythians may have been closely related to the Srubnaya culture, however, this does not imply direct continuity from Srubnaya, and the Western Scythians themselves derived ancestry from other populations as well.[24][69][70]

Early history

During the 9th to 8th centuries BC, a significant movement of the nomadic peoples of the Eurasian Steppe started when another nomadic Iranic tribe closely related to the Scythians from eastern Central Asia, either the Massagetae[45] or the Issedones,[71] migrated westwards, forcing the early Scythians to the west across the Araxes river,[72] following which some Scythian tribes had migrated westwards into the steppe adjacent to the shores of the Black Sea, which they occupied along with the Cimmerians, who were also a nomadic Iranic people closely related to the Scythians.[47]

Arzhan kurgan (8–7th century BC)
Some of the earliest Scythian artefacts in Animal style, Arzhan kurgan, Southern Siberia, dated to 8–7th century BC.

Arrowheads from the 1st kurgan of the Arzhan burials suggests that the typical Scythian socketed arrows made of copper alloy might have originated during this period.[73][74]

Over the course of the 8th and 7th centuries BC, the Scythians migrated into the Caucasian and Caspian Steppes in several waves, becoming the dominant population of the region,[45] where they assimilated most of the Cimmerians and conquered their territory,[47] with this absorption of the Cimmerians by the Scythians being facilitated by their similar ethnic backgrounds and lifestyles,[75] after which the Scythians settled in the area between the Araxes, the Caucasus, and the Lake Maeotis.[72][44][47][45][46]

Archaeologically, the westwards migration of the Early Scythians from Central Asia into the Caspian Steppe constituted the latest of the two to three waves of expansion of the Srubnaya culture to the west of the Volga. The last and third wave corresponding to the Scythian migration has been dated to the 9th century BC.[76] The Scythians were already skilled at goldsmithing at these early dates.[77]

Materially, the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk culture with which the Cimmerians are associated showed strong influences originating from the east in Central Asia and Siberia (more specifically from the Karasuk, Arzhan, and Altai cultures), as well as from the Kuban culture of the Caucasus which contributed to its development,[45] thus making it difficult to distinguish from the Late Srubnaya culture of the early Scythians who became dominant in the Pontic steppe and replaced the Cimmerians in the Caucasian steppe, with both the Cimmerians and the Scythians being part of the larger Chernagorovsk-Arzhan cultural complex,[78] and both Scythians and the Cimmerians used Novocherkassk objects when the Scythians initially arrived into the Caucasian and Pontic steppes.[75] The transition from the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk culture to the Scythian culture appears to have itself been a continuous process,[78] and the Cimmerians cannot be distinguished from the Scythians during the period of transition from the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk culture to the Scythian culture.[79]

During this early migratory period, some groups of Scythians settled in Ciscaucasia and the Caucasus Mountains' foothills to the east of the Kuban river, where they settled among the native populations of this region, and did not migrate to the south into West Asia.[80]

Arrival into West Asia

 
Scythian warriors (reconstruction)

Under Scythian pressure, the displaced Cimmerians migrated to the south along the coast of the Black Sea and reached Anatolia, and the Scythians in turn later expanded to the south, following the coast of the Caspian Sea and arrived in the Ciscaucasian steppes, from where they settled in the area between the Araxes and Kura rivers before further expanding into the region to the south of the Kuros river in what is present-day Azerbaijan, where they settled around what is today Mingəçevir, Gəncə and the Muğan plain, and turned eastern Transcaucasia into their centre of operations in West Asia until the early 6th century BC,[48][49][50][47][80][51][81] with this presence in West Asia being an extension of the Scythian kingdom of the steppes.[18]

The earliest Scythians had belonged to the Srubnaya culture, and, archaeologically, the Scythian movement into Transcaucasia is attested in the form of a migration of a section of the Srubnaya culture, called the Srubnaya-Khvalynsk culture, to the south till the northern foothills of the Caucasus Mountains, and then further south along the western coast of the Caspian Sea into Transcaucasia and Iran.[67][47][82]

Although the Early Scythians initially belonged to a pre-Scythian archaeological culture of Central Asian origin,[83][18] their original Srubnaya culture, which contained significant admixture from the Andronovo culture, evolved into the Scythian culture from coming in contact with the peoples of Transcaucasia and the Urartians,[67] and further contacts with the civilisation of West Asia, and especially with that of Mesopotamia, would also have an important influence on the formation of Scythian culture.[45][46] The Scythians were still a Bronze Age society until the late 8th century BC, and it was only when they expanded into West Asia that they became acquainted with iron smelting and forging.[84]

During this period, the Scythian kings' headquarters were located in the Ciscaucasian steppes, and this presence in Transcaucasia influenced Scythian culture: the akīnakēs sword and socketed bronze arrowheads with three edges, which, although they are considered as typically "Scythian weapons," were in fact of Transcaucasian origin and had been adopted by the Scythians during their stay in the Caucasus.[85][80] Alternatively, the typical Scythian arrowheads might have originated in Siberia during the 9th century BC[73][74] and was introduced into West Asia by the Scythians.[73]

Arrival in the Pontic steppe

 
Scythian horse-mounted warrior (reconstruction).

From their base in the Caucasian Steppe, during the period of the 8th to 7th centuries BC itself, the Scythians conquered the Pontic and Crimean Steppes to the north of the Black Sea up to the Danube river, which formed the western boundary of Scythian territory onwards,[63][45][63][86][87] with this process of Scythian takeover of the Pontic Steppe becoming fully complete by the 7th century BC.[88]

Archaeologically, the expansion of the Scythians into the Pontic Steppe is attested through the westward movement of the Srubnaya-Khvalynsk culture into Ukraine contemporaneous with its movement to the south along the coast of the Caspian Sea. The Srubnaya-Khvalynsk culture in Ukraine is referred to in scholarship as the "Late Srubnaya" culture.[82]

The westward migration of the Scythians was accompanied by the introduction into the north Pontic region of articles originating in the Siberian Karasuk culture, such as distinctive swords and daggers, and which were characteristic of Early Scythian archaeological culture, consisting of cast bronze cauldrons, daggers, swords, and horse harnesses,[46][89] which had themselves been influenced by Chinese art, with, for example, the "cruciform tubes" used to fix strap-crossings being of types which had initially been modelled by Shang artisans.[90]

The Scythian migration into the Pontic Steppe destroyed earlier cultures, with the settlements of the Sabatynivka culture [uk] in the Dnipro valley being largely destroyed around c. 800 BC, and the centre of Cimmerian bronze production ceasing to exist during the 8th to 7th centuries BC, around the time which the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk culture was also disturbed. The migration of the Scythians affected the steppe and forest steppe areas of south-east Europe and forced several other populations of the region, especially many smaller groups, to migrate towards more remote regions,[63] including some North Caucasian groups who retreated to the west and settled in Transylvania and the Hungarian Plain where they introduced Novocherkassk culture type swords, daggers, horse harnesses, and other objects:[91] among these displaced smaller populations from the Caucasus were the Sigynnae, who were displaced westward into the eastern part of the Pannonian Basin.[92][93][45]

Among the many peoples displaced by the Scythian expansion were also the Gelonians and the Agathyrsi, the latter of whom were another nomadic Iranic people related to the Scythians as well as one of the oldest Iranic population[94] to have dominated the Pontic Steppe. The Agathyrsi were pushed westwards by the Scythians, away from the steppes and from their original home around Lake Maeotis,[45][94] after which the relations between the two populations remained hostile.[45] Within the Pontic steppe, some of the Scythian tribes intermarried with the already present native sedentary Thracian populations to form new tribes such as the Nomadic Scythians and the Alazones.[76]

In many parts of the north Pontic region under their rule, the Scythians established themselves as a ruling class over already present sedentary populations, including Thracians in the western regions, Maeotians on the eastern shore of Lake Maeotis, and later the Greeks on the north coast of the Black Sea.[18][95]

Between 650 and 625 BC, the Pontic Scythians came into contact with the Greeks, who were starting to create colonies in the areas under Scythian rule, including on the island of Borysthenes, near Taganrog on Lake Maeotis, as well as more places, including Panticapaeum, Pontic Olbia, and Phanagoria and Hermonassa on the Taman peninsula; the Greeks carried out thriving commercial ties with the sedentary peoples of the forest steppe who lived to the north of the Scythians, with the large rivers of eastern Europe which flowed into the Black Sea forming the main access routes to these northern markets. This process put the Scythians into permanent contact with the Greeks, and the relations between the latter and the Greek colonies remained peaceful, although the Scythians might have destroyed Panticapaeum at some point in the middle of the 6th century BC.[18][96] The territory around Pontic Olbia was under the direct rule of that city and was inhabited only by Greeks.[97]

 
Scythian mounted archer, Etruscan art, early 5th century BC.[98]

Using the Pontic steppe as their base, the Scythians over the course of the 7th to 6th centuries BC often raided into the adjacent regions, with Central Europe being a frequent target of their raids, and Scythian incursions reaching Podolia, Transylvania, and the Hungarian Plain, due to which, beginning in this period, and from the end of the 7th century onwards, new objects, including weapons and horse-equipment, originating from the steppes and remains associated with the early Scythians started appearing within Central Europe, especially in the Thracian and Hungarian plains, and in the regions corresponding to present-day Bessarabia, Transylvania, Hungary, and Slovakia. Multiple fortified settlements of the Lusatian culture were destroyed by Scythian attacks during this period, with the Scythian onslaught causing the destruction of the Lusatian culture itself. Attacks by the Scythians were directed at southern Germania, and, from there, until as far as Gaul, and possibly even the Iberian Peninsula; these activities of the Scythians were not unlike those of the Huns and the Avars during the Migration Period and of the Mongols in the mediaeval era, and they were recorded in Etruscan bronze figurines depicting mounted Scythian archers as well as in Scythian influences in Celtic art.[45][63][99] Among the sites in Central Europe attacked by the Scythians was that of Smolenice-Molpír [sk], where Scythian-type arrows were found at this fortified hillfort's access points at the gate and the south-west side of the acropolis[100]

The Scythians attacked, sacked and destroyed many of the wealthy and important Iron Age settlements[101] located to the north and south of the Moravian Gate and belonging to the eastern group of the Hallstatt culture, including that of Smolenice-Molpír [sk],[100] leading to the adoption of the Scythian-type "Animal Style" art and mounted archery by the population of these regions in the subsequent period.[101][102] It was also at this time that the Scythians introduced metalwork types which followed Shang Chinese models into Western Eurasia, where they were adopted by the Hallstatt culture.[90]

As part of the Scythians' expansion into Europe, one section of the Scythian Sindi tribe migrated during the 7th to 6th centuries BC from the region of the Lake Maeotis towards the west, through Transylvania into the eastern Pannonian basin, where they settled alongside the Sigynnae and soon lost contact with the Scythians of the Pontic steppe.[45][99] Another section of the Sindi established themselves on the Taman peninsula, where they formed a ruling class over the indigenous Maeotians, the latter of whom were of native Caucasian origin.[46][96]

Presence in West Asia

 
Gold Scythian belt title, Mingəçevir (ancient Scythian kingdom), Azerbaijan, 7th–4th century BC[103][104]

During the earliest phase of their presence in West Asia, the Scythians under their king Išpakaia were allied with the Cimmerians,[47] and the two groups, in alliance with the Medes, who were an Iranic people of West Asia to whom the Scythians and Cimmerians were distantly related, as well as the Mannaeans, were threatening the eastern frontier of the kingdom of Urartu during the reign of its king Argishti II, who reigned from 714 to 680 BC.[105] Argishti II's successor, Rusa II, built several fortresses in the east of Urartu's territory, including that of Teishebaini, to monitor and repel attacks by the Cimmerians, the Mannaeans, the Medes, and the Scythians.[106]

The first mention of the Scythians in the records of the then superpower of West Asia, the Neo-Assyrian Empire, is from between 680/679 and 678/677 BC,[18] when their king Išpakaia joined an alliance with the Mannaeans[107] and the Cimmerians in an attack on the Neo-Assyrian Empire. During this time, the Scythians under Išpakaia, allied to Rusa II of Urartu, were raiding far in the south till the Assyrian province of Zamua. These allied forces were defeated by the Assyrian king Esarhaddon.[108][50]

The Mannaeans, in alliance with an eastern group of the Cimmerians who had migrated into the Iranic plateau and with the Scythians (the latter of whom attacked the borderlands of Assyria from across the territory of the kingdom of Ḫubuškia), were able to expand their territories at the expense of Assyria and capture the fortresses of Šarru-iqbi and Dūr-Ellil. Negotiations between the Assyrians and the Cimmerians appeared to have followed, according to which the Cimmerians promised not to interfere in the relations between Assyria and Mannai, although a Babylonian diviner in Assyrian service warned Esarhaddon not to trust either the Mannaeans or the Cimmerians and advised him to spy on both of them.[50] In 676 BC, Esarhaddon responded by carrying out a military campaign against Mannai during which he killed Išpakaia.[50] Išpakaia was succeeded by Bartatua, who might have been his son.[108]

In the later mid-670s BC, in alliance with the eastern Cimmerians, the Scythians were menacing the Assyrian provinces of Parsumaš and Bīt Ḫamban, and these joint Cimmerian-Scythian forces together were threatening communication between the Assyrian Empire and its vassal of Ḫubuškia.[109] The Mannaeans, eastern Cimmerians, and Medes soon joined a grand coalition headed by the Median chieftain Kashtariti.[110]

Bartatua and the alliance with Assyria

Išpakaia was succeeded by Bartatua, who might have been his son,[108] and with whom they had already started negotiations immediately after Išpakaia's death[50] and they had been able to defeat Kashtariti in the meantime in 674 BC, after which his coalition disintegrated.[108]

In 672 BC[18] Bartatua himself sought a rapprochement with the Assyrians and asked for the hand of Esarhaddon's daughter Šērūʾa-ēṭirat in marriage, which is attested in Esarhaddon's questions to the oracle of the Sun-god Šamaš. Whether this marriage did happen is not recorded in the Assyrian texts, but the close alliance between the Scythians and Assyria under the reigns of Bartatua and his son and successor Madyes suggests that the Assyrian priests did approve of this marriage between a daughter of an Assyrian king and a nomadic lord, which had never happened before in Assyrian history; thus, the Scythians were separated from the Medes and were brought into a marital alliance with Assyria, and Šērūʾa-ēṭirat was likely the mother of Bartatua's son Madyes.[50][47][108][106][111][112][73]

Bartatua's marriage to Šērūʾa-ēṭirat required that he would pledge allegiance to Assyria as a vassal, and in accordance to Assyrian law, the territories ruled by him would be his fief granted by the Assyrian king, which made the Scythian presence in West Asia a nominal extension of the Neo-Assyrian Empire and Bartatua himself an Assyrian viceroy. Under this arrangement, the power of the Scythians in West Asia heavily depended on their cooperation with the Assyrian Empire; henceforth, the Scythians remained allies of the Assyrian Empire,[46] with Bartatua helping the Assyrians by defeating the state of Mannai and imposing Scythian hegemony over it.[113] Around this time, the Urartian king Rusa II might also have enlisted Scythian troops to guard his western borderlands.[106]

The marital alliance between the Scythian king and the Assyrian ruling dynasty, as well as the proximity of the Scythians with the Assyrian-influenced Mannai and Urartu, thus placed the Scythians under the strong influence of Assyrian culture,[46] and contact with the civilisation of West Asia would have an important influence on the formation of Scythian culture.[45] Among the concepts initially foreign to the Scythians which they had adopted from the Mesopotamian and Transcaucasian peoples was that of the divine origin of royal power, as well as the practice of performing human sacrifices during royal funerals, and the Scythian kings henceforth imitated the style of rulership of the West Asian kings.[114][47]

West Asian influence on Scythians
 
The Scythian Snake-Legged Goddess and other artifacts, from Kul-Oba.

The Scythians adopted many elements of the cultures of the populations of Urartu and Transcaucasia, especially of more effective weapons: the akīnakēs sword and socketed bronze arrowheads with three edges, which, although they are considered as typically "Scythian weapons," were in fact of Transcaucasian origin and had been adopted by the Scythians during their stay in the Caucasus.[85][80]

The art typical of the Scythians proper originated between 650 and 600 BC for the needs of the Royal Scythians at the time when they ruled over large swathes of West Asia, with the objects of the Ziwiye hoard being the first example of this art. Later examples of this West Asian-influenced art from the 6th century BC were found in western Ciscaucasia, as well as in the Melhuniv kurhan [uk] in what is presently Ukraine and in the Witaszkowo kurgan [pl] in what is modern-day Poland. This art style was initially restricted to the Scythian upper classes, and the Scythian lower classes in both West Asia and the Pontic steppe had not yet adopted it, with the latter group's bone cheek-pieces and bronze buckles being plain and without decorations, while the Pontic groups were still using Srubnaya- and Andronovo-type geometric patterns.[115]

Within the Scythian religion, the goddess Artimpasa and the Snake-Legged Goddess were significantly influenced by the Mesopotamian and Syro-Canaanite religions, and respectively absorbed elements from Astarte-Ishtar-Aphrodite for Artimpasa and from Atargatis-Derceto for the Snake-Legged Goddess.[116]

Conquest of Mannai

Over the course of 660 to 659 BC, Esarhaddon's son and successor to the Assyrian throne, Ashurbanipal, sent his general Nabû-šar-uṣur to carry out a military campaign against Mannai. After trying in vain to stop the Assyrian advance, the Mannaean king Aḫsēri was overthrown by a popular rebellion and was killed along with most of his dynasty by the revolting populace, after which his surviving son Ualli requested help from Assyria, which was provided through the intermediary of Ashurbanipal's relative, the Scythian king Bartatua, after which the Scythians extended their hegemony to Mannai itself.[113][108]

Around this same time, Bartatua's Scythians were also able to take over a significant section of the south-eastern territories of the state of Urartu.[108]

Madyes

Bartatua was succeeded by his son with Šērūʾa-ēṭirat, Madyes, who soon expanded the Scythian hegemony to the state of Urartu.[117][47][46]

Conquest of Media

When, following a period of Assyrian decline over the course of the 650s BC, Esarhaddon's other son, Šamaš-šuma-ukin, who had succeeded him as the king of Babylon, revolted against his brother Ashurbanipal in 652 BC, the Medes supported him, and Madyes helped Ashurbanipal suppress the revolt externally by invading the Medes. The Median king Phraortes was killed in battle, either against the Assyrians or against Madyes himself, who then imposed Scythian hegemony over the Medes for twenty-eight years on behalf of the Assyrians, thus starting a period which Greek authors called called the “Scythian rule over Asia,”[117][51][47][46] with Media, Mannai, and Urartu all continuing to exist as kingdoms under Scythian suzerainty.[117]

During this period, the Medes adopted Scythian archery techniques and equipment due to their superiority over those of the West Asian peoples,[50] and the trade of silk to western Eurasia might have started at this time through the intermediary of the Scythians during their stay in West Asia, with the earliest presence of silk in this part of the world having been found in a Urartian fortress, presumably imported from China through the intermediary of the Scythians.[106]

 
An Assyrian relief depicting Cimmerian mounted warriors
Defeat of the Cimmerians

During the 7th century BC, the bulk of Cimmerians were operating in Anatolia, where they constituted a threat against the Scythians’ Assyrian allies, who since 669 BC were ruled by Madyes's uncle, that is Esarhaddon's son and Šērūʾa-ēṭirat's brother, Ashurbanipal. Assyrian records in 657 BC might have referred to a threat against or a conquest of the western possessions of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in Syria,[118][119] and these Cimmerian aggressions worried Ashurbanipal about the security of his empire's north-west border.[120]

By 657 BC the Assyrian divinatory records were calling the Cimmerian king Tugdammi by the title of šar-kiššati ("King of the Universe"), which could normally belong only to the Neo-Assyrian King: thus, Tugdammi's successes against Assyria meant that he had become recognised in ancient West Asia as equally powerful as Ashurbanipal, and the kingship over the Universe, which rightfully belonged to the Assyrian king, had been usurped by the Cimmerians and had to be won back by Assyria. This situation continued throughout the rest of the 650s BC and the early 640s BC.[118]

In 644 BC, the Cimmerians, led by Tugdammi, attacked the kingdom of Lydia, defeated the Lydians and captured the Lydian capital, Sardis; the Lydian king Gyges died during this attack.[121][120][122] After sacking Sardis, Tugdammi led the Cimmerians into invading the Greek city-states of Ionia and Aeolis on the western coast of Anatolia.[118]

After this attack on Lydia and the Asian Greek cities, around 640 BC the Cimmerians moved to Cilicia on the north-west border of the Neo-Assyrian empire, where, after Tugdammi faced a revolt against himself, he allied with Assyria and acknowledged Assyrian overlordship, and sent tribute to Ashurbanipal, to whom he swore an oath. Tugdammi soon broke this oath and attacked the Neo-Assyrian Empire again, but he fell ill and died in 640 BC, and was succeeded by his son Sandakšatru.[121][120]

In 637 BC, the Thracian Treres tribe who had migrated across the Thracian Bosporus and invaded Anatolia,[123] under their king Kōbos and in alliance with Sandakšatru's Cimmerians and the Lycians, attacked Lydia during the seventh year of the reign of Gyges's son Ardys.[121] They defeated the Lydians and captured their capital of Sardis except for its citadel, and Ardys might have been killed in this attack.[124] Ardys's son and successor, Sadyattes, might possibly also have been killed in another Cimmerian attack on Lydia in 635 BC.[124]

Soon after 635 BC, with Assyrian approval[125] and in alliance with the Lydians,[126] the Scythians under Madyes entered Anatolia, expelled the Treres from Asia Minor, and defeated the Cimmerians so that they no longer constituted a threat again, following which the Scythians extended their domination to Central Anatolia.[51][121]

This final defeat of the Cimmerians was carried out by the joint forces of Madyes, whom Strabo credits with expelling the Treres and Cimmerians from Asia Minor, and of the son of Sadyattes and the great-grandson of Gyges, the Lydian king Alyattes, whom Herodotus of Halicarnassus and Polyaenus claim finally defeated the Cimmerians.[118][127] In Polyaenus' account of the defeat of the Cimmerians, he claimed that Alyattes used "war dogs" to expel them from Asia Minor, with the term "war dogs" being a Greek folkloric reinterpretation of young Scythian warriors who, following the Indo-European passage rite of the kóryos, would ritually take on the role of wolf- or dog-warriors.[128]

Scythian power in West Asia thus reached its peak under Madyes, with the territories ruled by the Scythians extending from the Halys river in Anatolia in the west to the Caspian Sea and the eastern borders of Media in the east, and from Transcaucasia in the north to the northern borders of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the south.[52][51][53]

A Scythian group might have left Media and migrated into the region between the Don and Volga rivers, near the Sea of Azov in the North Caucasus, during this period in the 7th century BC, after which they merged with Maeotians who had a matriarchal culture and formed the Sauromatian tribe.[45]

Decline

Revolt of Media

By the 620s BC, the Neo-Assyrian Empire began unravelling after the death of Ashurbanipal in 631 BC: in addition to internal instability within Assyria itself, Babylon revolted against the Assyrians in 626 BC under the leadership of Nabopolassar;[113] and the next year, in 625 BC, Cyaxares, the son of Phraortes and his successor to the Median kingship, overthrew the Scythian yoke over the Medes by inviting the Scythian rulers to a banquet and then murdering them all, including Madyes, after getting them drunk.[129][130][131][47][108]

Raid till Egypt

Shortly after Madyes's assassination, some time between 623 and 616 BC, the Scythians took advantage of the power vacuum created by the crumbling of the power of their former Assyrian allies and overran the Levant.[18][132]

This Scythian raid into the Levant reached as far south as Palestine, and was foretold by the Judahite prophets Jeremiah and Zephaniah as a pending "disaster from the north," which they believed would result in the destruction of Jerusalem,[108] but Jeremiah was discredited and in consequence temporarily stopped prophetising and lost favour with the Judahite king Josiah when the Scythian raid did not affect Jerusalem and or Judah.[108][133]

The Scythian expedition instead reached up to the borders of Egypt, where their advance was stopped by the marshes of the Nile Delta,[18][132] after which the pharaoh Psamtik I met them and convinced them to turn back by offering them gifts.[51][134]

The Scythians retreated by passing through the Philistine city of Ascalon largely without any incident, although some stragglers looted the temple of ʿAštart in the city,[135] which was considered to be the most ancient of all temples to that goddess, as a result of which the perpetrators of this sacrilege and their descendants were allegedly cursed by ʿAštart with a “female disease,” due to which they became a class of transvestite diviners called the Anarya (meaning “unmanly” in Scythian[18]).[51]

War against Assyria

According to Babylonian records, around 615 BC the Scythians were operating as allies of Cyaxares and the Medes in their war against Assyria, with the Scythians' abandonment of their alliance with Assyria to instead side with the Babylonians and the Medes being a critical factor in worsening the position of the Neo-Assyrian Empire,[136] and the Scythians participated in the Medo-Babylonian conquests of Aššur in 614 BC, Nineveh in 612 BC, and Ḫarran in 610 BC, which permanently destroyed the Neo-Assyrian Empire.[137][52][130]

The presence of Scythian-style arrowheads at locations where the Neo-Babylonian Empire is known to have conducted military campaigns, and which are associated with the destruction layers of these campaigns, suggests that certain contingents composed of Scythians or of Medes who had adopted Scythian archery techniques might have recruited by the Neo-Babylonian army during this war.[138]

These contingents participated in the battle of Carchemish in 605 BC,[138] while clay figurines depicting Scythian riders, as well as an Ionian shield and a Neo-Hittite battle-axe similar to those found in Scythian remains in the Pontic steppe, suggest that actual Scythian mercenaries had also participated at the final Neo-Babylonian victory over the Egyptians at Carchemish.[74]

The Scythian or Scythian-style contingents also participated in the Neo-Babylonian campaigns in the southern Levant, including in the Babylonian annexation of the kingdom of Judah in 586 BC.[138]

Expulsion from West Asia

 
Scythian warrior with axe, bow, and spear. Possibly Greek work 4th–2nd century BCE (archaic). Marble with red paint and gold leaf

The rise of the Medes and their empire allowed them to finally expel the Scythians from West Asia in the c. 600s BC,[139] after which, beginning in the later 7th and lasting throughout much of the 6th century BC, the majority of the Scythians migrated from Ciscaucasia into the Pontic Steppe, which became the centre of Scythian power.[114][108][45]

The inroads of the Cimmerians and the Scythians into West Asia over the course of the 8th to 6th centuries BC had destabilised the political balance which had prevailed in the region between the states of Assyria, Urartu, Mannaea and Elam on one side and the mountaineer and tribal peoples on the other, resulting in the destruction of these former kingdoms and their replacement by new powers, including the kingdoms of the Medes and of the Lydians.[50]

Some splinter Scythian groups nevertheless remained in West Asia, in the southeast Caucasus, and settled in Transcaucasia, especially the area corresponding to modern-day Azerbaijan[45] in eastern Transcaucasia,[46] due to which the area where they lived, and which corresponded to the core regions of the former West Asian Scythian realm, was called Sakašayana, meaning "land inhabited by the Saka (i.e. Scythians)," by the Medes after they had annexed this region to their empire.[140] The Median name for this territory was later recorded by Titus Livius under the form of Sacassani, and as Sakasēnē by Ptolemy, while the country was called the “Land of the Skythēnoi” by Xenophon.[80]

One such splinter group joined the Medes and participated in the Median conquest of Urartu, with Scythian arrowheads having been found in the destruction layers of the Urartian fortresses of Argištiḫinili and Teišebani, which were conquered by the Medes around c. 600 BC.[141][108] One group formed a kingdom in what is now Azerbaijan under Median overlordship, but eventually hostilities broke out between some of them and Cyaxares, due to which they left Transcaucasia and fled to Lydia.[142]

By the middle of the 6th century BC, the Scythians who had remained in West Asia had completely assimilated culturally and politically into Median society and no longer existed as a distinct group.[143]

Meanwhile, other Transcaucasian Scythian splinter groups later retreated northwards to join the West Asian Scythians who had already previously moved into the Kuban Steppe.[80]

Pontic Scythian kingdom

Early phase

 
An Attic red-figure vase-painting of a Scythian archer. Epiktetos, 520–500 BC.[144]
 
Red-figured amphora with a Scythian warrior, 480–470 BC, from Athens

After their expulsion from West Asia, and beginning in the later 7th and lasting throughout much of the 6th century BC, the majority of the Scythians, including the Royal Scythians, migrated into the Kuban Steppe in Ciscaucasia around 600 BC,[96] and from Ciscaucasia into the Pontic Steppe, which became the centre of Scythian power,[45] Although Herodotus of Halicarnassus claimed that the Scythians retreated into the northern Pontic region through Crimea, archaeological evidence instead suggests that the Royal Scythians migrated northwards into western Ciscaucasia,[145] and from there into the country of those Scythians who had previously established themselves in the Pontic steppe.[96][47]

Some of the Scythian groups who had settled in the eastern Pontic steppe to the east of the Dnipro river were displaced by the arrival of the Royal Scythians from West Asia, and they moved north into the region of the forest-steppe zone,[146] outside of the Pontic Scythian kingdom itself. These groups formed the tribes of the Androphagi, Budini, and Melanchlaeni.[145]

During this early phase of the Pontic Scythian kingdom, the hold of the Royal Scythians on the western part of the steppe located to the west of the Dnipro was light, and they were largely satisfied with the tribute they levied on the sedentary agriculturist population of the region. Meanwhile, the tribe of the Aroteres, which consisted of a settled Thracian population over which ruled an Iranic Scythian ruling class, imported Greek pottery, jewellery and weapons in exchange of agricultural products, and in turn offered them in tribute to their Scythian overlords.[147][97] However, the country of the Alazones tribe appears to have become poorer during this time, in the early 6th century BC, when many of the rebuilt pre-Scythian settlements in their territory were destroyed by the Royal Scythians arriving from West Asia.[56]

In Crimea, the Royal Scythians took over most of the territory up to the Cimmerian Bosporus in the east.[148] In western Ciscaucasia, where the Scythians were not large in number enough to spread throughout the region, they instead took over the steppe to the south of the Kuban river's middle course, where they reared large herds of horses.[96]

It was at this time[90] that the Scythians brought the knowledge of working iron which they had acquired in West Asia with them and introduced it into the Pontic Steppe, whose peoples were still Bronze Age societies until then.[84] Some West Asian blacksmiths might also have accompanied the Scythians during their nortwards retreat and become employed by Scythian kings, after which the practice of ironworking soon spread to the neighbouring populations.[84]

During this period, the tribe of the Royal Scythians would primarily bury their dead at the edges of the territories they occupied, especially in the western Cisaucasian region, instead of within the steppe region that was the centre of their kingdom; due to this, several Scythian kurgan nekropoleis were located in Ciscaucasia, with some of them being significantly wealthy and belonging to aristocrats or royalty, and the Royal Scythians' burials in the Kuban Steppe were the most lavish of all Scythian funerary monuments during the Early Scythian period.[149][18] [96] During the early 6th century BC, the some groups of Transcaucasian Scythians migrating northwards would arrive into the Pontic Steppe to reinforce the Royal Scythians who had already arrived there.[96]

Meanwhile, the Median, Lydian, Egyptian, and Neo-Babylonian empires that the Scythians had interacted with during their stay in West Asia were replaced at this time by the Persian Achaemenid Empire founded by the Persian Cyrus II. The Persians were an Iranic people just like the Scythians and the Medes, and, during the early phase of the Achaemenid empire, their society still preserved many archaic Iranic aspects which they had in common with the Scythians.[150] The formation of the Achaemenid empire appears to have pressured the Scythians into remaining to the north of the Black Sea.[139]

Soon after, during the Early Scythian period itself, the centre of power of the Royal Scythians shifted from the eastern Pontic steppe to the north-west, in the country of the Aroteres tribe, where was located the main industrial centre of Scythia:[147] and which corresponded to the country of Gerrhos, which was located in the eastern part of the country of the Aroteres, on the boundary of the steppe and the forest-steppe. During this period, the Royal Scythians buried their dead in the country of Gerrhos.[151]

At this time, there were close links between the new political centre of Scythia in Gerrhos and the Greek colony of Pontic Olbia, and members of the royal family often visited this city.[152]

During this period, the Scythians were ruled by a succession of kings whose names were recorded by Herodotus of Halicarnassus:[18]

At the time of Idanthyrsus, and possibly later, the Scythians were ruled by a triple monarchy, with Skōpasis and Taxakis ruling alongside Idanthyrsus.[18]

Scopasis was himself the king of the Sauromatians, who maintained peaceful relations with the Scythians, with a long road starting in Scythia and continuing towards the eastern regions of Asia existing thanks to these friendly relations.[153]

The Persian invasion

 
Map of the Scythian campaign of Darius I.
 
Persian soldiers (left) fighting against Scythians. Cylinder seal impression.[154]

In 513 BC, the king Darius I of the Persian Achaemenid Empire carried out a campaign against the Pontic Scythians. In response, the Scythian king Idanthyrsus summoned the kings of the peoples surrounding his kingdom to a meeting to decide how to deal with the Persian invasion. The kings of the Budini, Gelonians, and Sarmatians agreed to help the Scythians against the Persian attack, while the kings of the Agathyrsi, Androphagi, Melanchlaeni, Neuri, and Tauri refused to support the Scythians.[155]

When the armies of the Scythians fled to the territories of their neighbours in front of the advancing Persian army, the Agathyrsi refused to provide refuge to the Scythians, which forced them to retreat back into their own territory.[156]

Darius's invasion was resisted by Idanthyrsus, Skōpasis, and Taxakis, with the Scythians refusing to fight an open battle against the well-organised Achaemenid army, and instead resorting to partisan warfare and goading the Persian army deep into Scythian territory. The Persian army might have crossed the Don river and reached the territory of the Sauromatians, where Darius built fortifications, but resumed their pursuit when the Scythian forces returned. The results of this campaign were also unclear, with the Persian inscriptions themselves referring to the Sakā tayaiy paradraya (the "Saka who dwell beyond the (Black) Sea"), that is to the Scythians, as having been conquered by Darius, while Greek authors instead claimed that Darius' campaign failed and from then onwards developed a tradition of idealising the Scythians as being invincible thanks to their nomadic lifestyle.[157][47][18]

Although the Scythians and the Persians were both Iranic peoples related to each other, the Greeks tended to perceive the Scythians as being "savage" nomads whom they associated with the Thracians, while they saw the Persians as a "civilised" sedentary people whom they associated with the Assyrians and Babylonians. Therefore, the ancient Greeks saw the Persian invasion of Scythia as a clash between "savagery" represented by the Scythians and "civilisation" represented by the Persians.[150]

Early decline

Over the course of the late 6th century BC, the Scythians had progressively lost their territories in the Kuban region to another nomadic Iranic people, the Sauromatians, beginning with the territory to the east of the Laba river, and then the whole Kuban territory. By the end of the 6th century BC, the Scythians had lost their territories in the Kuban Steppe and had been forced to retreat into the Pontic Steppe, except for its westernmost part which included the Taman peninsula, where the Scythian Sindi tribe formed a ruling class over the native Maeotians, due to which this country was named Sindica. By the 5th century BC, Sindica was the only place in the Caucasus where the Scythian culture survived.[96][158]

Expansion

 
Scythian Gold Vessel from Crimea, 4th Cent. BC
 
Scythian golden gorytos, Melitopol kurgan (340–320 BC)
 
Scythian sword with golden sheath from Tovsta Mohyla kurgan, 4th century BC

After losing their territories in the Kuban Steppe in the late 6th century BC, the Scythians had been forced to fully retreat into the Pontic Steppe, and the Royal Scythians' centre of power within Scythia shifted to the south, in the region of the bend of the Dnipro, where the site of Kamianka became the principal industrial centre of Scythia, with the sedentary population of the city being largely metal-workers who smelted bog iron ores into iron that was made into tools, simple ornaments and weapons for the agricultural population of the Dnipro valley and of other regions of Scythia, and the city itself was the most prominent supplier of iron and bronze products to the nomadic Scythians; the city of Kamianka also became the capital of the Scythian kings, whose headquarters were located in the further fortified acropolis of the city. At the same time, a wave of Sauromatian nomads from the lower Volga steppe in the east immigrated into Scythia over the course of 550 and 500 BC and were absorbed by the Pontic Scythians with whom they mingled. A large number of settlements in the valleys of the steppe rivers were destroyed as a result of these various migratory movements.[159][160][161][47][46][18]

The retreat of the Scythians from the Kuban Steppe and the arrival of the Sauromatian immigrants into the Pontic steppe over the course of the late 6th to early 5th centuries BC caused significant material changes in the Scythian culture soon after the Persian campaign, changes which are not attributable to a normal autochthonous evolution. Some of the changes were derived from the Sauromatian culture of the Volga steppe, while others originated among the Kuban Scythians, thus resulting in the sudden appearance within the lower Dnipro region of a fully formed Scythian culture with no local forerunners, and which included a notable increase in the number of Scythian funerary monuments.[96][18]

The Scythians underwent tribal unification and political consolidation in reaction to the Persian invasion, and[18] the names of kings who ruled over the Scythians the 5th century BC are known, although it is unknown whether these kings were ruling only the western regions of Scythia located between the Danube and Pontic Olbia or over all the Scythians:[18]

  • Ariapeithes
  • Scyles, the son of Ariapeithes by a Greek woman from Histria
  • Octamasadas, the son of Ariapeithes by the daughter of the Thracian Odrysian king Teres I. Octamasadas deposed Scyles and replaced him on the throne

The Scythians also became more active and aggressive around this time, possibly as a result of the arrival of the new Sauromatian nomadic elements from the east, or out of necessity to resist Persian expansionism. This change manifested itself through the consolidation of the dominant position of the Royal Scythians over the other tribes within Scythia and through the Royal Scythians' hold on the western part of their realm to the west of the Dnipro, where lived the agriculturist populations, becoming heavier and more oppressive, and the Scythians may also have gained access to the Wallachian and Moldavian plains at this time, although Oltenia and parts of Moldavia were instead occupied by the Agathyrsi. Another result of the changes within Scythia during this period was increased Scythian expansionism:[18][63][162] one of the target areas of Scythian expansionism was Thrace, where the Scythians seem to have established a permanent presence to the south of the Danube at an early point, with the Greek cities of Kallatis and Dionysupolis in the area corresponding to the present-day Dobruja both being surrounded by Scythian territory; and, in 496 or 495 BC, the Scythians raided the Thracian territories far to the south of the Danube till the Thracian Chersonese on the Hellespont, as an attempt to secure themselves from Persian encroachment.[47][63][18]

The emergence of the Thracian Odrysian kingdom during the 5th century BC soon blocked the Scythian advances in Thrace, and the Scythians established friendly contacts with the Odrysians, with the Danube river being set as the common border between the two kingdoms, and a daughter of the Odrysian founder king Tērēs I marrying the Scythian king Ariapeithes; these friendly relations also saw the Scythians and Thracians adopting aspects of each other's art and lifestyles.[47][63][18]

However, at some point in the 5th century BC, the Agathyrsian king Spargapeithes treacherously killed the Scythian king Ariapeithes.[155][163]

 
Scythian comb from Solokha, early 4th century BC

In the north and north-west, Scythian expansionism manifested itself through the destruction of the fortified settlements of the forest steppe and the subjugation of its population.[18]

In the south, the Scythians tried to impose their rule over the Greek colonies on the northern shores of the Black Sea: the Greek settlement of Kremnoi [uk] at Taganrog on the lower reaches of the Don river river, which was the only Greek colony in that area, had already been destroyed by the Scythians between 550 and 525 BC, and, owing to the Scythians' necessity to continue commerce with the Greeks, was replaced by a Scythian settlement at Yelizavetovskaya [ru] which became the principal trade station between the Greeks and the Scythians in this region.[18]

Although the relations between the Scythians and the Greek cities of the northern Pontic region had until then been largely peaceful and the cities previously had no defensive walls and possessed unfortified rural settlements in the area, new hostile relations developed between these two parties, and during the 490s BC fortifications were built in many Pontic Greek cities, whose khōrai were abandoned or destroyed, while burials of men killed by Scythian-type arrowheads appeared in their nekropoleis.[18] Between 450 and 400 BC, Kerkinitis was paying tribute to the Scythians.[18] The Scythians were eventually able to successfully impose their rule over the Greek colonies in the north-western Pontic shores and in western Crimea, including Niconium, Tyras, Pontic Olbia, and Kerkinitis,[63][18][97] and the close relations between Pontic Olbia and the Scythian political centre ended at this time.[152]

The hold of the Scythians over the western part of the Pontic region thus became firmer during the 5th century BC, with the Scythian king Scyles having a residence in the Greek city of Pontic Olbia which he would visit each year, while the city itself experienced a significant influx of Scythian inhabitants during this period, and the presence of coins of Scyles issued at Niconium in the Dnister valley attesting of his control over this latter city. This, in turn, allowed the Scythians to participate in indirect relations with the city of Athens in Greece proper, which had established contacts in Crimea.[63][18] The destruction of the Greek cities' khōrai and rural settlements however also meant that they lost their grain-producing hinterlands, with the result being that the Scythians instituted an economic policy under their control whereby the sedentary peoples of the forest steppe to their north became the primary producers of grain, which was then transported through the Southern Buh and Dnipro rivers to the Greek cities to their south such as Tyras, Niconium and Pontic Olbia, from where the cities exported it to mainland Greece at a profit for themselves.[18]

 
Scythians on a gold pectoral from Tovsta Mohyla kurgan

The Scythians were less successful at conquering the Greek cities in the region of the Cimmerian Bosporus, where, although they were initially able to take over Nymphaeum, the other cities built or strengthened city walls, banded together into an alliance under the leadership of Panticapaeum, and successfully defended themselves, after which they united into the Bosporan Kingdom.[18]

At the same time, the Scythians sent a diplomatic mission to Sparta in Greece proper with the goal of establishing a military alliance against the Achaemenid Empire. Ancient Greek authors claim that the Spartans started drinking undiluted wine, which they called the "Scythian fashion" of drinking wine because of these contacts.[164]

After Scyles, coins minted in Pontic Olbia were minted in the name of Eminakos, who was either a governor of the city for Scyles's brother and successor, Octamasadas, or a successor of Octamasadas. Around the same time, there were inner conflicts within the Scythian kingdom, and a new wave of Sauromatian immigrants arrived into Scythia around c. 400 BC, which destabilised it and ended Scythian military activity against the Greek cities of the Pontic shore. Scythian control of the Greek cities ended sometime between 425 and 400 BC, and the cities started reconstituting their khōrai, and Pontic Olbia regained control over the territory it occupied during the Archaic period and expanded it, while Tyras and Niconium also restored their hinterlands. The Scythians lost control of Nymphaeum, which became part of the Bosporan Kingdom that had itself been expanding its territories within the Asian side of the Cimmerian Bosporus. With the arrival of a new wave of Sauromatian immigrants, the Royal Scythians and their allied tribes moved to the western parts of Scythia and expanded into the areas to the south of the Danube corresponding to modern Bessarabia and Bulgaria, and they established themselves in the Dobruja region. One of the Scythian kings who ruled during the later 5th century BC was buried in a sumptuously furnished kurgan located at Agighiol during the early 4th century BC.[18][165]

Golden Age

 
The Scythian kingdom in the Pontic steppe at its maximum extent

The Scythian kingdom of the Pontic steppe reached its peak in the 4th century BC, at the same time when the Greek cities of the coast were prospering, and the relations between the two were mostly peaceful; some Scythians had already started becoming sedentary farmers and building fortified and unfortified settlements around the lower reaches of the Dnipro river since the late 5th century BC, and this process intensified throughout the 4th century BC, with the nomadic Scythians settling in multiple villages in the left bank of the Dnister estuary and in small settlements on the lower banks of the Dnipro and of the small steppe rivers which were favourable for agriculture; at the same time, the Scythians sold furs, fish, and grain to the Greeks in exchange of wine, olive oil, and luxury goods,[166] while there was high demand for the Scythians' exports done through the Greek colonies, such as trade goods, grain, slaves, and fish,[166][167] due to which the relations between the Pontic and Aegean regions, and most especially with Athens, were thriving; the importation of Greek products by the forest steppe peoples had instead decreased since the 5th century BC, and the Scythians captured territories from them in the area around what is presently Boryspil during this time.[47] Although the Greek cities of the coast extended their territories considerably, this did not infringe on the Scythians, who still possessed abundant pastures and whose settlements were still thriving, with archaeological evidence suggesting that the population of Crimea, most of whom were Scythians, during this time increased by 600%.[63][18]

The rule of the Spartocid dynasty in the Bosporan Kingdom was also favourable for the Scythians under the rules of Leukon I, Spartocus II and Paerisades I, with Leucon employing Scythians in his army, and the Bosporan nobility had contacts with the Scythians, which might have included matrimonial relations between Scythian and Bosporan royalty.[63][18] By the 4th century BC, the Bosporan kingdom became the main supplier of grains to Greece partly because of the Peloponnesian War that ragied in the latter region, which intensified the grains trade between the Scythians and the Greeks, with the Scythians becoming the principal middlemen in the supply of grains to the Bosporan kingdom: while most of the grains that the Scythians sold to the Greeks was produced by the agricultural populations in the northern forest steppe, the Scythians themselves were also trying to produce more grains within Scythia itself, which was a driving force behind the sedentarisation of many of the hitherto nomadic Scythians; the process of Scythian sedentarisation thus was most intense in the regions adjacent to the Bosporan cities in eastern Crimea.[47]

 
Scythian vessel from Voronezh, 4th century BC. Hermitage Museum.

The Scythian royalty and aristocracy obtained enormous profits from this grains trade, and this period saw Scythian culture not only thriving, with most known Scythian monuments dating from then, but also rapidly undergoing significant Hellenisation. The city of the Kamianka site remained the political, industrial and commercial capital of Scythian during the 4th and early 3rd centuries BC, during which time the Scythians founded a new settlement at Yelizavetovskaya [ru] which functioned as the main administrative, commercial and industrial centre of the lower Don river and northern Lake Maeotis areas and was also the residence of local Scythian lords. The main burial centre of the Scythians during this period was located in the Nikopol and Zaporizhzhia region on the lower Dnipro, where were located the Solokha, Chortomlyk, Krasnokutsk and Oleksandropil [uk] kurgans. Rich burials, such as, for example, the Chortomlyk mohyla [uk], attest of the wealth acquired from the grains trade by the Scythian aristocracy of the 4th century BC, who were progressively buried with more, relatives, retainers, and grave goods such as gold and silver objects, including Greek-manufactured toreutics and jewellery; the Scythian commoners however did not obtain any revenue from this trade, and luxury items are absent from their burials. Despite the pressure of some smaller and isolated Sarmatian groups in the east, the period remained largely and unusually peaceful and the Scythian hegemony in the Pontic steppe remained undisturbed, with the Scythian nomads continuing to form the bulk of the northern Pontic region's population.[47][63][18]

The most famous Scythian king of the 4th century BC was Ateas, who was the successor and possibly the son of the Scythian king buried at Agighiol, and whose rule started around the 360s BC. By this period, Scythian tribes had already settled permanently on the lands to the south of the Danube, where the people of Ateas lived with their families and their livestock, and possibly in Ludogorie as well, and at this time both Crimea and the Dobruja region started being called "Little Scythia" (Ancient Greek: Μικρα Σκυθια; Latin: Scythia Minor). Although Ateas had united the Scythian tribes under his rule into a rudimentary state and he still ruled over the traditional territories of the Scythian kingdom of the Pontic steppe until at least Crimea, around 350 BC he had also permanently seized some of the lands on the right bank of the Danube from the Thracian Getae, and it appears that he was largely based in the region to the south of the Danube. Under Ateas, the Greek cities to the south of the Danube had also come under Scythian hegemony, including Kallatis, over which he held control and where he probably issued his coins; further attesting of the power that the Scythians held to the south of the Danube in his time, Ateas's main activities which were centred in Thrace and south-west Scythia, such as his wars against the Thracian Triballi and the Dacian Histriani and his threat of conquest against Byzantium, which might be another possible location for where Ateas minted his coins. Ateas initially allied with Philip II of Macedonia, but eventually this alliance fell apart and war broke out between Scythia and Macedonia over the course of 340 to 339 BC, ending with the death of Ateas, at about 90 years old, and the capture of the Scythians' camp and the 20,000 women and children and more than 2,000 pedigree horses living there.[165][47][63][18]

The Scythians appear to have lost some territories on both sides of the Danube due to Ateas's defeat and death, with the Getae moving to the north across the Danube and settling in the lands between the Dnipro and the Prut rivers, although. These changes did not affect Scythian power: the Scythians still continued to nomadise and bury their dead in rich kurgans in the areas to the north-west of the Black Sea between the Dnipro and the Prut; the Scythian capital of the Kamianka site continued to exist as prosperously and extensively as it had before the defeat of Ateas; and the Scythian aristocracy continued burying their dead in barrow tombs which were as sumptuous as those of Ateas's time. In 331 or 330 BC, the Scythians were able to defeat an invasion force of 30,000 men led against them and the Getae by Alexander III's lieutenant Zopyrion and which had managed to attain and besiege Pontic Olbia, with Zopyrion himself getting killed. [63][47][18]

Decline and end

 
Scythian warrior, from Kul-Oba.

During the end of the 4th century BC, the Scythians were militarily defeated by a king of Macedonia again, this time by Lysimachus in and 313 BC. After this, the Scythians experienced another military defeat when their king Agaros participated in the Bosporan Civil War in 309 BC on the side of Satyros II, son of Paerisades I. After Satyros II was defeated and killed, his son Paerisades fled to Agaros's realm.[45][63][18]

The aftermath of the Scythian conflict with Macedon also coincided with climatic changes and economic crises caused by overgrazed pastures, producing an unfavorable period for the Scythians, and, following their setbacks against the Macedonians, the Scythians came under pressure from the Celts, the Thracian Getae, and the Germanic Bastarnae from the west; at this same time, beginning in the late 4th century BC, another related nomadic Iranic people, the Sarmatians, moved from the east into the Pontic steppe, where their smaller yet more active groups overwhelmed the more numerous yet sedentary Scythians and took over the Scythians' pastures. This deprived the Scythians of their most important resource, causing the collapse of Scythian power and as a consequence Scythian culture suddenly disappeared from the north of the Pontic sea in the early 3rd century BC.[45][63][18]

During the 3rd century BC, the Celts and Bastarnae displaced the Balkan Scythians. The Protogenes inscription, written sometime between 220 and 200 BC, records that the Scythians and the Sarmatian Thisamatae and Saudaratae tribes sought shelter from the allied forces of the Celts and the Germanic Sciri. Due to the Sarmatian, Getic, Celtic, and Germanic encroachments, the Scythian kingdom came to an end and the Scythian kurgans disappeared from the Pontic region,[45][18] replaced as the dominant power of the Pontic steppe by the Sarmatians, while "Sarmatia Europea" (European Sarmatia) replaced "Scythia" as the name for the region.[63]

Little Scythia

 
Remains of Scythian Neapolis near modern-day Simferopol, Crimea. It served as the capital of the Crimean Scythian kingdom.

Around 200 BC, after their final defeat by the Sarmatian Roxolani, the remnants of the Scythians left their centre at Kamianka and fled to the Scythia Minors in Crimea and in Dobrugea, as well as in nearby regions, their population living in limited, fortified enclaves. The settlements of those Scythians remaining on the Pontic were located in the lower reaches of the Dnieper river. These Scythians were no longer nomadic, having become sedentary, Hellenised farmers, and by the second century BC, these were the only places the Scythians could still be found.[45]

By 50 to 150 AD, most of the Scythians had been assimilated by the Sarmatians.[18] The remaining Scythians of Crimea, who had mixed with the Tauri and the Sarmatians, were conquered in the 3rd century AD by the Goths and other Germanic tribes who were then migrating from the north into the Pontic steppe, and who destroyed Scythian Neapolis.[168]

In subsequent centuries, remaining Scythians and Sarmatians were largely assimilated by early Slavs.[12] The Scythians and Sarmatians played an instrumental role in the ethnogenesis of the Ossetians, who are considered direct descendants of the Alans.[13]

Legacy

The Graeco-Roman peoples were profoundly fascinated by the Scythians. This fascination endured in Europe even after both the disappearance of the Scythians and the end of Graeco-Roman culture, and continued throughout Classical and Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, lasting till the 18th century in the Modern Period.[169]

Antiquity

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus wrote legendary accounts of the arrival of the Scythians into the lands of the Cimmerians, accounts for which evidence is lacking:[170][171]

  • in one story, Herodotus claimed that the approach of the Scythians led to a civil war among the Cimmerians because the "royal tribe" of the Cimmerians wanted to remain in their lands and defend themselves from the invaders while the rest of the population wanted to leave. This conflict allegedly resulted in the death of the royal tribe, whose bodies were buried near the Dnister river.[172]
  • in another account, Herodotus claimed that that the Scythians chased the Cimmerians out of their lands and forced them to migrate to the south into West Asia.[170][171]

By the 5th century BC, the image of the Scythians in Athens had become the quintessential stereotype used for Barbarians, that is for non-Greeks.[173] Following the Greeks' caricatural representation of foreigners as being unmoderated drinkers, they moreso associated the Scythians with drunkenness.[174]

Later Graeco-Roman tradition transformed the Scythian prince Anacharsis into a legendary figure as a kind of "noble savage" who represented "Barbarian wisdom," due to which the ancient Greeks included him as one of the Seven Sages of Greece.[175] Consequently, Anacharsis became a popular figure in Greek literature,[18] and many legends arose about him, including claims that he had been a friend of Solon.[175] Eventually, Anacharsis completely became an ideal "man of nature" or "noble savage" figure in Greek literature, as well as favourite figure of the Cynics, who ascribed to him a 3rd-century BC work titled the Letters of Anacharsis.[18]

The 4th century BC Greek historian, Ephorus of Cyme, used the perception of Anacharsis as a personification of "Barbarian wisdom" to create an idealised image of the Scythians being as an "invincible" people, which became a tradition of Greek literature.[18] Ephorus created a fictitious account of a legendary Scythian king, named Idanthyrsos or Iandysos, who, 1500 years before the reign of the mythical first Assyrian king Ninus and 3000 years before the first Olympiad, allegedly defeated the equally legendary pharaoh Sesostris and became the ruler of all Asia. This story was a continuation of Ephorus of Cyme's idealisation of the Scythians as an "invincible" people, and was drawn from Herodotus of Halicarnassus's accounts of the Scythian invasion of Asia and the campaign of Darius in Scythia.[176]

In the 4th century BC, the Athenian politician Aeschines referred to the Scythian ancestry of his opponent Demosthenes to attempt discrediting him.[174]

The Ancient Greeks included the Scythians in their mythology, with Herodorus of Heraclea making a mythical Scythian named Teutarus into a herdsman who served Amphitryon and taught archery to Heracles. Herodorus also portrayed the Titan Prometheus as a Scythian king, and, by extension, described Prometheus's son Deucalion as a Scythian as well.[177]

The ancient Israelites called the Scythians ʾAškūz (אשכוז), and this name, corrupted to ʾAškənāz (אשכנז), appears in the Hebrew Bible, where ʾAškənāz is closely linked to Gōmer (גֹּמֶר‎), that is to the Cimmerians.[50]

The richness of Scythian burials was already well known in Antiquity, and, by the time the power of the Scythians came to an end in the 3rd century BC, the robbing of Scythian graves started[178] and was initially carried out by Scythians themselves.[179]

The Romans confused the peoples whom they perceived as archetypical "Barbarians," namely the Scythians and the Celts, into a single grouping whom they called the "Celto-Scythians" (Latin: Celtoscythae) and supposedly living from Gaul in the west to the Pontic steppe in the east.[180]

During Late Antiquity itself, another wave of grave robbery of Scythian burials occurred at the time of the Sarmatian and Hunnish domination of the Pontic Steppe, when these peoples reused older Scythian kurgans to bury their own dead.[179]

In Late Antiquity itself, as well as in and the Middle Ages, the name "Scythians" was used in Greco-Roman and Byzantine literature for various groups of nomadic "barbarians" living on the Pontic-Caspian Steppe who were not related to the actual Scythians, such as the Huns, Goths, Ostrogoths, Gokturks, Pannonian Avars, Slavs, and Khazars.[14][18] For example, Byzantine sources referred to the Rus' raiders who attacked Constantinople in 860 AD in contemporary accounts as "Tauroscythians" because of their geographical origin, and despite their lack of any ethnic relation to Scythians.[181]

Mediaeval period

Following the Christianisation of Europe, the view that the peoples of this continent originated in West Asia as the descendants of Japheth became the normative historiography.[182]

 
The flight of the Scota, Goídel Glas, and the Scythians from Egypt, in a 15th-century manuscript of the Scotichronicon of Walter Bower

At the same time, drawing on the Classical authors' lumping together of the ancient Celts and Scythians under the label of "Barbarians," whereby these peoples, who were the other for the Graeco-Romans, were pictured as sharing traits and resemble each other in how "strange" they were, the various cultures of Northern Europe started claiming ancestry from the "Celto-Scythians" and adopted the Graeco-Roman vision of the "barbarity" of ancient peoples of Europe as legitimate records of their own ancient cultures.[183]

In this context, the similarity of the name Scythia with the Latin name of the Irish, Scotti,[184] led to the flourishing of speculations of a Scythian ancestry of the Irish, as recorded in the Historia Brittonum of Nennius,[182] and consequently the 8th century text, the Auraicept na n-Éces, claimed that a Scythian named Fénius Farsaid (lit.'Irishman the Pharisee') presided over 27 scholars using the best parts of the new confused languages at Babel to create the Irish language.[185]

Drawing on the confusion of the Scotti with both Scythia and the Picti, as well as on the late antique conceptualisation of Scythia as a typical "barbarian land" which had persisted into the Middles Ages, Bede in the 8th century itself invented a Scythian origin for the Picts in his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum.[186]

The Irish mythological text titled the Lebor Gabála Érenn repeated this legend, and claimed that these supposed Scythian ancestors of the Irish had been invited to Egypt because the pharaoh admired how Nel, the son of Fénius, was knowledgeable on the world's many languages, with Nel marrying the pharaoh's daughter Scota.[187] According to the Lebor Gabála Érenn, the Scythians fled from Egypt when the pharaoh drowned after Moses parted the Red Sea during the flight of the Israelites, and went back to Scythia, and from there to Ireland via Africa and Spain[187] while Nel's and Scota's son, Goídel Glas, became the eponym the Gaelic people.[188]

Little is known of the situation of Scythian tombs during the Mediaeval period, when Turkic tribes had moved into the regions formerly inhabited by the Scythians,[179] although the earliest recorded cases of Scythian burials being robbed date from the 15th century BC.[189]

Modern period

 
Eugène Delacroix's painting of the Roman poet, Ovid, in exile among the Scythians[190]

Drawing on the Biblical narrative and the Graeco-Roman conflation of the Scythians and Celts, early modern European scholars believed that the Celts were Scythians who were descended from Japheth's son Magog, and that they were related to the Gauls, whom they believed were descended from Japheth's other son Gomer. It therefore became popular among pseudohistorians of the 15th and 16th centuries who drew on this historiography to claim that the Irish people were the "truest" inheritors of Scythian culture so as both to distinguish and denigrate Irish culture.[191]

 
Scythians at the Tomb of Ovid (c. 1640), by Johann Heinrich Schönfeld

During the early modern era itself, colonial ethnographers used the narrative of Herodotus of Halicarnassus to create an image of the Scythians as a notorious and "savage" people chauvinistically attached to their own customs and opposed to outside influences. Fascinated by this imagery, these ethnographers drew on it to claim populations who were completely unrelated to the Scythians, such as the Irish, Tatars, Mongols, Turks, and Indigenous peoples of the Americas, as being alleged descendants of the Scythians.[192]

While claims of Scythian and Japhethic ancestry in much of Europe were abandoned during the Reformation and Renaissance, British works on Ireland continued to emphasise the alleged Scythian ancestry of the Irish to confirm their "barbaric" nature; these endeavours were further reinforced by 17th century proto-linguistic hypotheses about "Scytho-Celtic" languages and enjoyed enthusiastic popularity during the 18th century, until these origin hypotheses were finally discredited by early 19th century advances in philology[193] and by the discovery of features common to the cultures of the ancient continental Celts and the Irish.[191]

During the early modern period itself, Hungarian scholars identified the Hungarians with the Huns, and claimed that they descended from Scythians.[194] Therefore, the image of the Scythians among Hungarians was shaped into one of "noble savages" who were valorous and honest, uncouth and hostile to Western refinement, but at the same time defended "Christian civilisation" from aggression from the East, such as from the Pechenegs, Cumans, and Tatars in the Middle Ages, and from the Ottomans in the early modern period.[195] This view was later superseded by the now established scientific consensus that the Hungarians are a Finno-Ugric people.[196]

The 17th century Irish historian Roderick O'Flaherty continued the claim of the Lebor Gabála Érenn that the Irish descended from the Scythians in his history of Ireland titled Ogygia: seu Rerum Hibernicarum Chronologia & etc., in which he identified Fénius Farsaid with the figure of Phoenix, who in Greek mythology was believed to have created the Phoenician alphabet. O'Flaherty elaborated on this by claiming that Fénius Farsaid also invented the Ogham script and the early Greek alphabet from which the Latin alphabet evolved.[197]

Large scale robbery of Scythian tombs started when the Russian Empire started occupying the Pontic steppe in the 18th century:[198] in 1718 the Russian Tsar Peter I issued decrees overseeing the collection of "right old and rare" objects to Saint Petersburg in exchange for compensation, and the material thus obtained became the basis of the Saint Petersburg State Hermitage Museum's collection of Scythian gold. This resulted in significant grave robbery of Scythian burials, due to which most of the Scythian tombs of the Russian Empire had been sacked by 1764.[189]

In the 18th to 20th centuries, the racialist British Israelist movement developed a pseudohistory according to which, after population of the historical kingdom of Israel had been deported by the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 721 BC and became the Ten Lost Tribes, they fled to the north to the region near Sinope, from where they migrated into East and Central Europe and became the Scythians and Cimmerians, who themselves moved to north-west Europe and became the supposed ancestors of the white Protestant peoples of Northern Europe; being an antisemitic movement, British Israelists claim to be the most authentic heirs of the ancient Israelites while rejecting Jews as being "contaminated" through intermarriage with Edomites or adhere to the antisemitic conspiracy theory claiming that Jews descend from the Khazars.[199][200] According to the scholar Tudor Parfitt, the proof cited by adherents of British Israelism is "of a feeble composition even by the low standards of the genre."[201]

In the 19th century, Scythian kurgans in Ukraine, Kuban, and Crimea had been looted, so that by the 20th century, more than 85% of Scythian kurgans excavated by archaeologists had already been pillaged.[189] The grave robbers of the 18th and 19th centuries were experienced enough that they almost always found the burial chambers of the tombs and stole the treasures contained within them.[198]

 
Battle between the Scythians and the Slavs (1881) by Viktor Vasnetsov

In the later 19th century, a cultural movement called Skifstvo [ru] (Russian: Скифство, lit.'Scythianism') emerged in Russia whose members unreservedly referred to themselves and to Russians as a whole as Skify (Russian: Скифы, lit.'Scythians').[202] Closely affiliated to the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, the Skify were a movement of Russian nationalist religious mysticists who saw Russia as a sort of Messiah-like figure who would usher in a new historical era of the world,[203] and their identification with the ancient Scythians was a positive acceptance of Dostoevsky's view that Europe had always seen Russians as being Asiatic. The Skify therefore used this image to distinguish Russia from the West, although they nevertheless did not see Russia as being a part of Asia, and their ideas were instead a revival of the old conceptualisation of Russia as being the bridge linking Europe and Asia.[204]

The culmination of Skifstvo was the famous poem written in 1918 by Aleksandr Blok, titled Skify (Russian: Скифы, lit.'The Scythians'), in which he presented "Scythia," that is Russia, as being different from the rest of Asia while also being closer to Europe. In Skify, Blok depicted Russia as a barrier between the "warring races" of Europe and Asia, and he made use of the racist Yellow Peril ideology by threatening that Russia was capable of stopping its "protection" of Europe and allow East Asians to overrun it.[205]

 
Life restoration of Protoceratops
 
Ancient Greek sculpture of a griffin

The scholar Adrienne Mayor hypothesised over the course of 1993 to 2011 that the legend of the griffin originated among the Scythians, who came across fossilised skeletons of the dinosaur Protoceratops in Mongolia while mining for gold, and retold this discovery to the ancient Greeks, who interpreted them as mythical beings, thus creating the myth of the griffin. This hypothesis was contested in 2016 by the palaeontologist Mark P. Witton, who demonstrated that the imagery of the griffin originated in early Bronze Age West Asia and was transmitted from there into ancient Greek art during the Orientalising period.[206] The imagery of griffins in Scythian art itself was borrowed from the artistic traditions of West Asia and ancient Greece.[18]

Culture and society

 
Kurgan stelae of a Scythian at Khortytsia, Ukraine

Since the Scythians did not have a written language, their non-material culture can only be pieced together through writings by non-Scythian authors, parallels found among other Iranic peoples, and archaeological evidence.[18]

Archaeology

 
Scythian defence line 339 BC reconstruction in Polgár, Hungary

Scythian archaeology can be divided into three stages:[18]

  • Early Scythian – from the mid-8th or the late 7th century BC to about 500 BC
  • Classical Scythian or Mid-Scythian – from about 500 BC to about 300 BC
  • Late Scythian – from about 200 BC to the mid-3rd century AD, in the Crimea and the Lower Dnipro, by which time the population was settled.

Archaeological remains of the Scythians include kurgan tombs (ranging from simple exemplars to elaborate "Royal kurgans" containing the "Scythian triad" of weapons, horse-harness, and Scythian-style wild-animal art), gold, silk, and animal sacrifices, in places also with suspected human sacrifices.[207] Mummification techniques and permafrost have aided in the relative preservation of some remains. Scythian archaeology also examines the remains of cities and fortifications.[208][209][210]

Language

The Scythians spoke a language belonging to the Scythian languages, most probably[211] a branch of the Eastern Iranic languages.[212] Whether all the peoples included in the "Scytho-Siberian" archaeological culture spoke languages from this family is uncertain.

The Scythian languages may have formed a dialect continuum: "Scytho-Sarmatian" in the west and "Scytho-Khotanese" or Saka in the east.[213] The Scythian languages were mostly marginalised and assimilated as a consequence of the late antiquity and early Middle Ages Slavic and Turkic expansion. The western (Sarmatian) group of ancient Scythian survived as the medieval language of the Alans and eventually gave rise to the modern Ossetian language.[214]

Social organisation

Clan structures

Scythian society was constituted of kinship structures where clan groups formed the basis of the community[215] and of political organisation.[216]

Clan elders wielded considerable power, and were able to depose kings, such as when the Scythian army overthrew the king Scyles and the Scythians demanded his extradition from the Thracians, after which he was executed. Following the deposition of Scyles, the power of both the king and the warrior-aristocracy became further entrenched.[217]

As an extension of clan-based relations, a custom of blood brotherhood existed among the Scythians, whereby the blood of the sworn blood brothers was poured in a cup of wine in which their swords, arrows, battle-aces, and spears were lowered before they drank it.[215]

Tribal structures

The Scythians were furthermore organised into tribes which were themselves headed by local lords. These tribes were subject to the dominant tribe of the Royal Scythians, who formed the tribal aristocracy of the Scythians and whose ruling lord was the king of all Scythians.[218]

The Scythians were composed of a number of tribal units, including:[219][220][221][222][3][223][216]

  • the Royal Scythians, also called the Skōlotoi (Σκωλοτοι) and the Paralatai (Παραλαται), were an Iranic tribe who nomadised in the Pontic Steppe, in an area limited by the Dnipro river in the west, and the Don river and the port of Kremnoi in the east, as well in Crimea up to the Cimmerian Bosporus in its east. The Royal Scythians and the Nomad Scythians were the only fully nomadic tribes within Scythia.
    • The Royal Scythians were the main Scythian tribe, and they were the ruling tribe of the whole of Scythia.[148] They were the dominant tribe within Scythia to whom all the other tribes were subjects, and the high king of all the Scythians came from the tribe of the Royal Scythians.[218]
      • the various tribes being each led by their own lords were all subservient to the lord of the Royal Scythians, and they all paid tribute to the Royal Scythians and provided them and the high king with servants.[218]
    • the name Paralatai (Scythian: Paralāta) corresponds to the Young Avestan name Paraδāta (𐬞𐬀𐬭𐬀𐬜𐬁𐬙𐬀‎), meaning “placed at the front.”[212]
    • the name Skōlotoi is the Greek form of the Scythian endonym Skulatā, formed by the addition of the plural suffix -tā to the Scythian endonym Skula[18][2]
  • the Nomad Scythians, who lived to the west of the Royal Scythians, between the Inhul and the bend of the Dnipro, were a mixed Thracian and Iranic Scythian nomadic tribe. The Nomad Scythians and the Royal Scythians were the only fully nomadic tribes in Scythia.
  • the Free Scythians, who were a tribe of mixed Scythian-Sauromatian origin, lived in the southeastern Pontic Steppe, between the port of Kremnoi and the Don or the Donets river.
  • the Alazones (Ancient Greek: Αλαζονες) or Alizōnes (Ancient Greek: Αλιζωνες), who were the westernmost Scythian tribe, were semi-nomads who occupied the steppe between the Inhul and the Dnister around the region where the Dnister and the Southern Buh flow the closest to each other.
    • The Alazones led semi-nomadic lives, with those of them who lived in the steppe being pastoral nomads and those who lived in the valleys of the Southern Buh and nearby rivers being farmers who cultivated wheat, onions, garlic, lentils and millet. The Alazones were the southern neighbours of the Aroteres and, like them, might have been of mixed Thracian and Iranic origins. The Alazones were themselves in turn the northern neighbours of the Callipidae.
  • the Scythian Ploughmen or Scythian Husbandmen or Arotēres (Ancient Greek: Αροτηρες) or Gerrhoi (Ancient Greek: Γερροι),[224] who were the northern neighbours of the Alazones, were sedentary agriculturists who lived in a region with fertile black earth corresponding to the modern-day part of Ukraine which lies to the west of the Dnipro river until the region of Vinnytsia. Their neighbours to the north were the Baltic Neuri, and to the south were the Alazones.
    • The Aroteres were large sedentary Thracian population of Scythia who descended from the Late Bronze Age Sabatynivka Culture, over whom had established themselves an Iranic Scythian ruling class during the 6th century BC.
  • the Callipidae (Ancient Greek: Καλλιπιδαι, romanizedKallipidai) were a semi-nomadic population of Thracian origin who lived across a wide section of land adjacent to the shores of the Black sea ranging from the estuary of the Southern Buh river to the area of modern-day Odesa or even until the estuary of the Dnister. The western neighbours of the Callipadae across the Dnister river were Thracian tribe of the Getae in Bessarabia, while Thracian populations under Scythian rule lived on the coast. Their northern neighbours were the Alazones.
    • The Callipidae were a considerably Hellenised tribe who consisted of a large settled Thracian population with a Scythian ruling class.
  • the Scythian Agriculturalists or Geōrgoi (Ancient Greek: Γεωργοι) were another population of Thracian origin. The Geōrgoi lived in the valley of the lower Dnipro river, in the wooded country of Hylaea, and they may have been sedendaty or semi-nomadic.
  • a tribe not named by the Greek authors lived on the north-west shore of Lake Maeotis, and corresponded to the archaeological "Obytichna 12 type" settlements.

In addition to the Scythians themselves, as well as the Thracians who had inhabited the region since the Bronze Age, the population of the Pontic Scythian kingdom consisted of Greeks living in colonies on the northern shore of the Black Sea.[219]

There were few differences between the many Scythian tribes and tribal groupings in the early period of the Pontic Scythian kingdom, which later became more pronounced as these eventually conquered various native populations.[225]

Neighbouring populations

The neighbours of the Scythians included:[219][226][3]

  • the Thracian Getae, who lived to the west of Scythia, across the Danube river.
  • the Melanchlaeni and the Androphagi, who lived to the east of the middle Dnipro river, in the forest steppe bordering the territory of the Royal Scythians to the north, respectively in the valleys of the Donets and Sula rivers. These populations were either of Scythic or of mixed Scythic and native origin.
  • the Sauromatians, who lived to the east of the Scythians, in the steppe between the Don and the Volga, were another Scythic people. They were the immediate neighbours of the Royal Scythians to the east, across the Don river.
  • the Neuri, who were a Baltic population of the region of the forest steppe corresponding to modern-day Belarus, lived to the north of the Aroteres. They corresponded to the Milograd culture.
  • the Agathyrsi lived to the west of the Aroteres and of the Neuri.
  • the Budini, to the east of the Neuroi and in the valley of the Vorskla river, were either a Scythic tribe,[227] or one of the many Finno-Ugric populations living in the eastern forest steppe until the Ural Mountains.
  • the Gelonians, to the east of the Dnipro, in the valley of the Vorskla river.
  • the Maeotians lived on the eastern coast of the Lake Maeotis.
  • the Tauri lived in the Crimean Mountains.
Related populations

The Scythians were closely related to other Iranic nomads who occupied the Eurasian steppe during Antiquity, such as:[228]

Class structure

Scythian society was stratified along class lines.[229] Herodotus of Halicarnassus named the three classes of Scythians only once in his writings,[230] where he described them as descended from the three sons of the Scythian ancestor-god Targitaos:[231][232]

  • the Auchatae (Ancient Greek: Αυχαται, romanizedAukhatai), who were the priestly class, descended from Targitaos's eldest son, Lipoxais;
  • the Catiari (Ancient Greek: Κατιαροι, romanizedKatiaroi) and Traspies (Ancient Greek: Τρασπιες, romanizedTraspies), who were the farmer-and-peasant class, descended from Targitaos's middle son, Arpoxais;
  • the Royal Scythians, also called the Scoloti (Σκωλοτοι) and the Paralatae (Παραλαται), who were the warrior-aristocracy, descended from Targitaos's youngest son, Kolaxais.

The Scythian aristocracy were property owners who possessed landed estates large enough that it sometimes took a whole day to ride around them.[233] These freeborn Scythian rulers used the whip as their symbol.[234]

The commoners were free but still depended to some extent on the aristocracy. They were allowed to own some property, usually a pair of oxen needed to pull a cart,[235] hence why they were called oktapodes (Ancient Greek: οκταποδες, lit.'eight-feeters') in Greek.[236] By the 4th century BC, the exploitation of these free commoners became the main economic policy of Scythia.[237]

Serfs belonged to the poorest sections of the native populations of Scythia, and, being tied to the land and not possessing cattle, they were not free and did not own cattle or wagons. Stablemen and farmers were recruited from the serf class.[235]

A rudimentary form of slavery was also practised in Scythia,[238] and the Scythian ruling class used a large number of slaves to till the land and tend to the cattle. Slaves were also assigned to the production of dairy products. The Greek author Herodotus of Halicarnassus claimed that the Scythians used to blind their slaves to prevent them from eating the most valuable of these dairy products. He also claimed that the Scythian kings considered the inhabitants of Crimea to be their slaves.[233]

This class structure thus existed in a hierarchy where the farmer-peasant class occupied the lowest social position, the clergy occupied the middle position, and warrior-aristocracy occupied the highest social position and dominated the other two classes,[239] with the Scythian kings belonging to this dominant class.[240] The class stratification of Scythian society corresponded to a hierarchy of social standing and property ownership which is visibly in how export of the grain cultivated by the common freemen profited only the aristocracy but not these commoners, whose graves lacked the lavish furnishing of the aristocratic burials.[237]

This drastic difference between the aristocracy and the commoners is also visible in how Scythian art only represented the interested of the Scythian ruling classes.[241]

Gender roles

Scythian society was a patriarchal one where women were subordinate to men, although women from the upper classes were free to ride horses, while women from the lower classes may have not been free to do so and may have spent most of their time indoors.[242] Among the more nomadic tribes, the women and children spent most of their time indoors in the wagons.[243]

Polygamy was practised among the Scythian upper classes, and kings had harems in which both local women and women who had been bought lived. Some of these women were the kings' legal wives and others were their concubines. Reflecting the patriarchal structure of Scythian society, the wives and concubines could be passed down as inheritance, as when the Scythian king Scyles married Opoea, who had been one of his father's wives.[242]

Women were likely in charge of tending the herds and organising the livelihood when the men were away to fight.[244]

Within Scythian priesthood there existed a group of transgender soothsayers, called the Anarya (lit.'unmanly'), who were born and lived their early lives as men, and later in their lives assumed the mannerisms and social roles role of women.[245]

Administrative structure

Kingship

The Scythians were monarchical, and the king of all the Scythians was the main tribal chief,[246] who was from the dominant tribe of the Royal Scythians.[218] Power among the Scythian kings was passed down a single dynasty,[247] and the historian and anthropologist Anatoly Khazanov has suggested that the Scythians had been ruled by the same dynasty from the time of their stay in West Asia until the end of their kingdom in the Pontic Steppe.[248] The Scythologist Askold Ivantchik has instead proposed that the Scythians had been ruled by at least three dynasties, including that of Bartatua, that of Spargapeithes, and that of Ariapeithes.[18]

Although the kings' powers were limited by the popular [247] and warrior assemblies,[218] royal power itself was held among the Scythians to be divinely ordained: this conception of royal power, which is well documented in the ritual symbols depicted on 5th to 3rd century BC Scythian toreutics, was initially foreign to Scythian culture and originated in West Asia during the period of Scythian presence there in the 7th century BC.[246][249]

The Scythian kings were later able to further increase their position through the concentration of economic power in their hands because of their dominance of the grains trade with the Greeks, which made them and the Scythian warrior-aristocracy as a whole, very wealthy.[247]

After their death, the Scythian kings were buried along with one or some of their wives.[242] The kings also chose servants, cupbearers, courtiers, and members of the royal entourage from the tribes under his authority, who were to be killed and buried along with him to follow and serve him in the afterlife. Warriors belonging to the entourage of Scythian rulers were also buried in smaller and less magnificent tombs surrounding the tombs of the rulers.[250]

By the 4th century BC, the Scythian kingdom had developed into a rudimentary state after the king Ateas had united all the Scythian tribes under his personal authority.[237]

Popular and warrior assemblies

The Scythians were organised into popular and warrior assemblies that limited the power of the kings.[218][247] The gatherings of these assemblies were held in the nomes, such as the one at which the overthrow of the king Scyles was decided.[247]

Administrative divisions

The Scythians were ruled by a triple monarchy, with a high king who ruled all of the Scythian kingdom, and two younger kings who ruled in sub-regions. The kingdom was in turn made of nomes headed by local lords.[251]

Lifestyle

The peoples of Scythian consisted of a mix of sedentary farmer populations and nomads,[216] and the tribes living in the steppes remained primarily nomadic, with their lifestyle and customs were inextricably linked to their nomadic way of life.[243] with the tribe of the Royal Scythians initially leading a transhumant pastoralist nomadic way of life.[252][253]

Between the 9th and 5th centuries BC, the climate in the steppes was cool and dry, which was a catalyst for the emergence of equestrian nomadic pastoralism in the northern Pontic region. The climate became warmer and wetter during the 5th century BC, so that it was more wet and damp compared to present-day Ukraine, which allowed the steppe nomads to move into the steppes proper and led the ancient Greeks to see this region as damp and foggy.[58][254]

In these favourable climatic conditions, the ranges of beavers and elk extended further south than presently, with beavers then being present in the lower Dnipro and lower Southern Buh river valleys, and elk living until the environs of Olbia, and the bones both these animals have been found in kitchen refuse dating from the Scythian period.[60]

With the integration of Scythia with the Greek colonies on the northern shore of the Black Sea, the Scythians soon became involved in activities such as cultivating grain, fishing, trading and craftsmanship,[3] due to which they had already started becoming semi-nomads and sedentary farmers by the 5th century BC, and they had largely become settled farmers by the 3rd century BC.[255]

Equestrianism

Being equestrian nomads, the Scythians excelled at horsemanship,[65] and Scythian men spent most of their lives on horseback.[243]

The Scythians reared a small but very swift breed of horse that they rode directly and also used for drawing carts. Graeco-Roman authors claimed that the Scythians and Sarmatians would castrate their horses because they were otherwise too turbulent to handle.[252]

The saddle was invented by the Scythians in the 7th century BC, and consisted of two felt cushions stuffed with stag hair and mounted on felt sweatbands; in some cases, the cushions were attached to wooden saddle frames placed to their back and front.[256] Scythian saddles had four raised bolsters at each corner, which, at a time when the stirrup had not yet been invented, allowed the riders to lean into the forward bolsters and raise themselves without being encumbered by the bouncing of their running horses.[257]

Scythian saddles very colourful and dyed in red, yellow, dark blue, black, and white; they were also wholly decorated with wool, appliqué leather, and felt, as well as wooden carvings decorated in gold leaf.[256]

Pastoralism

Thanks to the propitious climate then prevailing to the north of the Black Sea, grass grew abundantly on the treeless steppe, which permitted the nomadic Scythians to rear large herds of cattle and horses.[60][258]

The society of the Scythians was therefore highly based on nomadic pastoralism,[252][243] which was practised by both the sedendary and nomadic Scythian tribes, with their herds being made up of about 40% horses, 40% cattle, and 18% sheep, but no pigs, which the Scythians refused to keep in their lands.[259][3][243]

Horse rearing was especially an important part of Scythian life, not only because the Scythians rode them, but also because horses were a source of food.[252]

The strong reliance of the Scythians on pastoralism itself ensured the self-sufficiency of the Scythians, and was conducive towards the nomadic lifestyle.[260] This importance of pastoralism for the Scythians is visible in how representations of pastoral activities formed the predominant theme of Scythian petroglyphic art.[32]

Scythian women tended the herds while men were engaged in fighting.[244]

Hunting among the Scythians was primarily done for sport and entartainment rather than for procuring meat,[243] although it was occasionally also carried out for food.[252]

Agriculture

Conditions in the southern lands near the shores of the Black Sea, such as in Hylaea and the valleys further north along the Dnipro, were propitious for agriculture[61] and for cultivating cereals, orchards and vineyards.[261]

This allowed the Scythians to, in addition of being principally reliant on domesticated animals, also complement their source of food with agriculture,[252] and the Scythian upper classes owned large estates in which large numbers of slaves and members of the tribes subordinate to the Royal Scythians were used to till the land and rear cattle.[233]

Among these subordinate tribes, the sedendary Scythian tribes of the Callipidae, Aroteres, Georgoi, and Alizones, engaged in agriculture, and grew crops for their own use as well as to be exported to the Greeks on the northern shores of the Black Sea. These tribes were able to cultivate large quantities of crops thanks to the use of the plough.[262] The ancient Greek author Herodotus of Halicarnassus recorded that these sedendary Scythian tribes grew wheat, barley, millet, lentils, beans, onions, and garlic; and an oven used to dry grains of wheat, barley, and rye was located at the site of Shyroka Balka, near Pontic Olbia.[262][263]

The Callipidae cultivated crops including wheat and millet, and also engaged in animal husbandry and fishing at sea.[152]

Diet

The Scythians ate the meat from the horses, cattle, and sheep they reared.[259][252] Milk, especially that of mares, was also an important part of the Scythians' diet, and it was both consumed and used to make cheese and an alcoholic drink made from milk similar to the kumys still widely consumed by Eurasian steppe nomads.[252][264]

The Scythians also supplemented, to varying extents depending on the regions where they lived, their diets by hunting deer, steppe antelopes, beavers, and other wild animals, as well as by fishing from the large rivers flowing through Scythia.[252][265]

In addition to these, the Scythians consumed large amounts of wine, which they bought from the Greeks. Unline the Greeks, who diluted wine with water before drinking it, the Scythians drank it undiluted, due to which undiluted wine was called "Scythian-style wine" among the Greeks,[266] who also equated the drinking of wine "in the Scythian way" with immoderate and unrestrained binge drinking.[267] During the earlier phase of the Scythian Pontic kingdom, wine was primarily consumed by the aristocracy, and its consumption became more prevalent among the wealthier members of the populace only after the 5th century BC.[243]

Clothing and grooming

Scythian warriors, drawn after figures on an electrum cup from the Kul-Oba kurgan burial near Kerch.

Scythian garments were sewn together from several pieces of cloth, and generally did not require the use of fibulae to be held in place, unlike the clothing of other ancient European peoples.[268] Scythian dress consisted of combination of various leathers, textiles,[269] and furs. Silk appears to have been imported from China.[270] Scythian clothing was expensively decorated with gold embroidery and applique work, as well as facings of pearl and gold.[271][32] Their clothing was brightly coloured using resist painting.[272]

The clothing of Scythian men consisted of long-sleeved jacket made of embroidered leather with fur trim. Long trousers (called šarabāra in the Scythian language[273]) were also worn. Boots were either tied to the feet with narrow laces under the ankle or around the foot itself. Scythian men wore pointed caps with flaps on the side and on the back that could be tied at the front during earlier periods;[274] Scythian men went bareheaded in later times.

Scythian women wore[275] shoes or short boots; long dresses that could be pleated or have furbelows on the lower edges; and mantles. women belonging to the upper classes wore kandus cloaks over their dresses; tall headdresses whose shapes ranged from simple diadems to close-fitting caps to 30 cm-high kalathoi-shaped hats; or veil over their head.

Scythians wore jewellery usually made of gold, but sometimes also of bronze,[276][277] this would inckude earrings, bracelets made of silver and bronze wire; necklaces made of gold beads and various imported semi-precious stones, earrings; elaborate torcs; rings of various shapes; and gold bangles.

Scythian men grew their hair long and their beards to significant sizes.[246] Nothing is known about the hairstyles of Scythian women.[277] The Scythians were acquainted with the use of soap, which they used to wash their heads.[278] According to Herodotus of Halicarnassus, Scythian men however did not wash their bodies with water, and instead cleaned themselves in a steam bath in a small tent where the flower buds of cannabis were thrown on hot stones to induce intoxication.[279][280]

Scythian women used a paste made from the wood of cypress and cedar, ground together with frankincense, and water on a stone until it acquired a thick consistency. This was applied to their bodies and removed after a day, leaving their skin clean, glossy, and sweet-smelling.[281][282][283] Scythian women also used cosmetics such as scented water and various ointments.[277]

Scythian men and women both used mirrors, and bronze mirrors made in Pontic Olbia and whose handles were decorated with animal figures such as those of stags, panthers, and rams, were popular during the early Scythian periods.[284][277]

Medicine

A group of Scythian shaman-priests called the Agaroi (Αγαροι, Latin: Agari) was knowledgeable in the use of snake venom for medicinal purposes.[285][286] During the Third Mithridatic War, these Agaroi used used snake venom to stop a thigh wound received by Mithridates VI of Pontus from haemorrhaging.[287]

The Scythians applied the oil of wild cabbage, which has analgesic, circulation-stimulating, and anti-bacterial properties, on their bodies to help them withstand the cold in winter and to repel insects in the summer.[288]

The paste made of cypress and cedar wood, frankincense, and water used by Scythian women to clean themselves also had medicinal properties since cedar and cypress oil and frankincense possess antiseptic properties useful for fighting infection, with cedar and cypress oil also being astringents capable of ameliorating oily and flaky skin and treat acne and dermatitis, while frankincense has anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, and anti-depressant properties.[289]

Cannabis was used by the Scythians as a way to relieve pain from daily activities, arthritis, and constant warfare.[289]

Crafts and materials

Aside from the consumed milk and meat, other parts of the animals reared by the Scythians were used to make skins and wool:[259]

  • felts made of sheep's wool and sewn sheepskins were used to make caps and tents;
  • wool, hide, and fur was used to make clothing and blankets;
  • leather was used to make armour, helmets, trousers, shoes, pendants, felts, and quivers;
  • horse hair was used to make ropes used to cut animals from the herds and tether, laden, and bridle them;
  • hemp from cannabis plants was used to make lariats used to herd horses and lassoes used in warfare;[278]
  • bone was a light and accessible material:
    • bone was easily worked into many types of tools and ornaments;
    • bone was also used as fuel because it produced higher temperatures when burnt.

The native sedentary Thracians populations who lived in Scythia manufactured products such as pottery, woodwork, and weaving, as well as bronze metal-working made out of raw materials imported from Transylvania. From this practice of handicraft, the peoples of Scythia obtained simple tools and ornaments, as well as certain types of weapons:[290]

  • wood was a light, important, and accessible material:
    • it was easy to work into many types of tools and ornaments, such as spear shafts, arrows, battle-axes, tools, composite bows, ploughs, wagons, tents, and other objects used in daily life;
    • it was also used as fuel;
    • wood was obtained from the extensive woodlands on the well-watered lands of the lower Dnipro;[291][60]
Metalworking

The populations of Scythia practised both metal casting and blacksmithing, with the same craftsmen usually both casting copper and bronze and forging iron:[265][290]

  • cast bronze bronze and iron were used to produce weapons and heavy tools;
  • Scythian bronze-working products included:
    • large bronze semi-spheric cauldrons with truncated cones as their stands, and which were decorated in cast and had either two or four animal-shaped handles on their rims;
    • socketed bronze finials which were placed at the top of poles and decorated with various animal figures;
  • The ores from which copper and tin were smelted were likely mined in the region of the Donets Ridge, and metal might also have been imported from the Ural Mountains and the Caucasus. Iron was meanwhile smelted out of bog iron ores obtained from the swampy regions on the lower Dnipro.[265]

The Scythians and the peoples of the Pontic steppe were still Bronze Age societies until the 8th century BC, and it was only after the Scythians had expanded into West Asia that they acquired knowledge of ironworking, which they then brought with them into the Pontic Steppe[84] after they had been expelled from West Asia around c. 600 BC.[90]

Goldsmithing

The Scythians had practised goldsmithing from an early date, with remains from the 2nd kurgan of the Arzhan burials attesting that the Scythians were already skilled in working gold before their migration out of Central Asia.[77]

Textiles

The Scythians manufactured textiles using spindles,[292] and wool, hemp, ramie, and mixed fibres were made into cloth through plain, twill and tapestry weaving,[269] while silk appears to have been imported from China.[270]

Art
 
Gold pectoral, or neckpiece, from an aristocratic kurgan in Tovsta Mohyla, Pokrov, Ukraine, dated to the second half of the 4th century BC, of Greek workmanship. The central lower tier shows three horses, each being torn apart by two griffins. Scythian art was especially focused on animal figures.
The "Animal Style"

The art of the Scythians was part of specific zoomorphic style called the "Animal Style," which was typical of the Eurasian steppe nomads and represented a limited and specific range of animals in very specific canonical poses.[18]

Development

The "Animal Style" art of the Scythians was a variant of the art of the Eurasian Steppe nomads, which itself initially developed in eastern Eurasian steppes of Central Asia and Siberia during the 9th century BC[58] under the partial influence of ancient Chinese art[18] and of the "static" naturalistic art of the inhabitants of the Siberian woodlands,[141] after which it arrived westward into eastern Europe during the 8th century BC.[18]

The distinctive style of art characteristic of the Scythians proper emerged during their stay in Western Asia during the 7th century BC,[293] and especially during their occupation of Media, when the Scythian upper class came under the influence of West Asian culture,[141] as a consequence of which the art of the Scythians absorbed many West Asian motifs and themes.[294]

Beginning in the 5th century BC, Scythian art experienced the influence of arriving Sauromatians from the east,[18] the borrowing of elements from Thracian art[141] as well as the incorporation of elements from Greek[295][296][18] and Achaemenid Persian art.[18]

This Scythian art formed out of various influences later spread to the west, in the region which corresponds to present Romania, and eventually it brought influences from Iranic and West Asian art into Celtic art,[295] and also introduced metalwork types which followed Shang Chinese models, such as "cruciform tubes" used in harnesses, into Western Eurasia, where they were adopted by the Hallstatt culture.[90]

Scythian art stopped existing after the end of the Pontic Scythian kingdom in the early 3rd century BC, and the art of the later Scythians of Crimea and Dobruja was completely Hellenised, with their paintings and sculptures belonging to the Greek artistic tradition and having probably been made by Greek sculptors.[18]

Industrial organisation

The centre of industry during the Early Scythian period was located in the region of the Tiasmyn group of the Scythian culture, which corresponded the country of the Scythian Husbandsmen where an Iranic Scythian elite ruled over a sedentary Thracian population.[297]

By the Middle Scythian period, its principal centre was at a site corresponding to present-day Kamianka-Dniprovska, where bog iron ores were smelted to produce iron, and various tools, ornaments, and weapons were made.[298] Blacksmiths' workshops in Scythian settlements from this time were located in both the ground-level and pit houses, where they formed groups of craftsmen's quarters.[299]

Habitations

Among the various Scythian tribes, the sedentary farmer tribes lived in western Scythia between the Danube and the Dnipro, while the nomadic pastoralist tribes lived in eastern Scythia between the Dnipro and the Don. Some of these sedentary farmers later moved into Crimea.[167]

The more nomadic Scythians lived in habitations suited for nomadic lifestyles, such as tents of the same type as the more recent yurt of the Turkic peoples and the ger of the Mongolic peoples that could easily be assembled and disassembled to be transported to different locations, as well as covered wagons that functioned as tents on wheels.[32][300] The walls and floors of these portable habitations were made of felt and the tents themselves were bound together using ropes made from horse hair.[32]

The division of Scythian burial chambers into weapon-arsenals, kitchen areas, stables, and living rooms for the deceased family members and their servants, as well as their furnishings, were modelled on the habitations in which the Scythians dwelt during their lives.[301]

At the site of Shyroka Balka, near Pontic Olbia, the local inhabitants built square and round pit hute before this region was Hellenised in the 6th century BC.[299]

Beginning in the 5th and 4th centuries BC, the Scythians started building fortified sedentary settlements. The most important of these was the settlement of Kamyanka, which was protected by the steep banks of the Dnipro river on one side and by ramparts on the other. The houses of the Scythian upper classes, which were built from stone, were located on the acropolis of Kamyanka, and have yielded significant amounts of Greek pottery and imported jewellery.[302]

The houses in these Scythian settlements, which were single-storeyed and had gabled roofs, were built from wooden beams, with the walls being made of beams stuck into the ground and covered with clay while felt fabrics were placed on their inside. Their sizes ranged from 40 to 150 metres square, and they could include multiple rooms. The settlements also contained square pit houses made of wooden posts.[299]

The tripe of the Callipidae lived in rammed earth houses built on stone foundations located in open settlements and earthworks, and buried their dead in flat graves while their Scythian ruling class were buried in kurgans.[152]

The tribe of the Aroteres were organised into small territorial units[303] that lived in open undefended settlements[304] and strongholds covering between 16 and 24 hectares, with the largest one covering 52 hectares, each possessing a large industrial quarter and functioning as industrial centres.[303]

The large number of Aroteres settlements and earthworks suggests that they formed a large and dense population in the black-earth region of the steppe.[303] The earthworks of the Aroteres contained within them kurgan cemeteries, lasting from the 6th to 3rd centuries, that each included up to 400 kurgans where their inhabitants were buried, showing that their settlements also had dense populations.[305][303]

Religion

The religion of the Scythians was a variant of the Pre-Zoroastrian Iranic religion which differed from Zoroastrian and the post-Zoroastrian Iranic religions, and instead belonged to a more archaic stage of Indo-Iranic religious development than the Zoroastrian and Hindu systems.[10] The use of cannabis to induce trance and divination by soothsayers was a characteristic of the Scythian belief system.[10]

Warfare

The Scythians were a people with a strong warrior culture,[65] and fighting was one of the main occupations of Scythian men, who were all trained in war exercises and in archery from a young age,[243] and the furnishings of Scythian burial chambers, which included weapons, reflected the martial nature of their society, which was made of mounted warriors.[301] The Aroteres were an especially war-like Scythian tribe.[303][304]

However, the mostly small number of depictions of warfare compared to the larger number of representations of peaceful pastoralist activities in Scythian petroglyphic art suggests that the war-like tendencies of the Scythians might have been exaggerated by Herodotus of Halicarnassus and the modern authors who drew on him as a source.[32]

Weapons

The Scythians used weapons made from cast iron and bronze.[32]

Archery

Mounted archery was the main form of Scythian warfare.[257] Scythian saddles had four raised bolsters at each corner, which, at a time when the stirrup had not yet been invented, allowed the riders to lean into the forward bolsters and raise themselves so they could use shoot their arrows from horseback. This type of saddle preserved the mounted archer from the bouncing of the running horses, thus allowing Scythian mounted archers to operate at very high performance levels.[257]

 
Scythian archers using the Scythian bow, Kerch (ancient Panticapeum), Crimea, 4th century BC. The Scythians were skilled archers whose style of archery influenced that of the Persians and subsequently other nations, including the Greeks.[306]
 
Scythian bronze arrowheads, c700-300 BC

The main Scythian armament were the bow and arrows:[18][284]

  • the typical weapon of the Scythians was the very recurved composite bow that was easy to use for mounted warriors. Scythian bows were:[307][308]
    • the most complex composite bows in both their recurved profiles and their cross-sections;
    • highly engineered bows made from wood, horn, sinew, and fish glue made from sturgeons through laborious craftsmanship;
    • around 115 centimetres when strung;
    • capable of being drawn to the ear;
    • capable of delivering military draw weights;
  • although the shape of Scythian arrows changed with time, they maintained a basic structure. Scythian arrows:
    • were between 76 and 78 centimetres long;
    • had shafts made of reed or birch wood;
    • Scythian arrowheads were:[309][310]
      • largely made of bronze, and iron and bone were more rarely used;
      • composed of a socket;
        • during the earlier periods, the arrowheads possessed an outer socket;
      • made bronze and were bilobate, and made of bone and had square or circular cross-sections during the earliest Scythian period in Central Asia;
      • made of bronze, were bilobate and trilobate, and were almond- or rhombus-shaped during the 8th century BC; this arrow shape started disappearing during the 7th century BC;
      • in the 7th century BC, elongated trilobate and three-edged arrowheads with inner or slightly protruding sockets first appeared;
        • an inner socket was added to these arrowheads during the later 7th century BC;
      • the new trilobate arrowhead type with an inner socket replaced the older ones in the 5th and 4th centuries BC;
      • trilobate arrowheads with outer sockets were still used after the 6th century BC, although they were slender and light, and their sockets were short;
        • although the shape of the arrowheads changed slightly with time, this type remained in use until the end of the Pontic Scythian kingdom;
      • Scythian trilobate arrowheads possessed propeller twists that made them spin, thus making them more aerodynamically efficient;
      • sometimes made with a single barb on one side:
        • these barbed arrows caused star wounds that were more difficult to sew together, therefore increasing the risk of haemorrhage among those shot, which terrorised those who received such wounds;
        • the barbs stopped being used arrowheads with outer sockets after the 6th century BC;
      • small in size, and likely fitted on foreshafts made of hardwood:
        • since the foreshafts were detachable from the main arrow body, they could be:
          • abandoned while recovering the arrows during hunting or war;
          • easily recovered from an embedded arrow with a barbed arrowhead without breaking it;
          • ensured to remain in the body thanks to the detachability of the foreshafts, which made them especially useful when using poisoned arrows;
  • the shape of Scythian bows and the shape of their bronze arrowheads made them the most powerful firing weapon of their time, due to which they were adopted by West Asian armies in the 7nd century BC.[18][138]

When not used, Scythian bows and arrows were kept in a combined quiver-bow case called a gōrytos:[311]

  • the gōrytos was made of leather or bark and was decorated with gold or bronze plates;
  • gōrytoi could each contain up to 300 arrows;
  • unlike quivers that were set at the right hip among all other cultures, Scythian gōrytoi were hanged from belts at the left hip;
  • arrows were usually taken from the gōrytoi using the bow hand and drawn on the bowstring using the right hand, although the Scythians were skilled at ambidextrous archery.[285]

Scythian bows and arrows might have required the use of thumb rings to be drawn, although none have been found yet, possibly because hey might have been made of perishable materials.[312]

Poisons

The Scythians coated their arrows with a potent poison referred to in Greek as Skythikon (Σκυθικον). To prepare this poison, the Scythians captured small adders that had recently given birth, which they left to decompose, while the Scythian priests filled leather bags with human blood and buried them in dung to putrefy it, after which they mixed decomposed matter in the blood with the decomposed remains of the snakes.[285][313][314]

In addition to the snakes' venom retaining its effect in their decomposed bodies, the human blood was propitious for the growth of bacterial populations such as tetanus- and gangrene-causing germs from the dung. Thus, if an individual initially survived being shot with a poisoned Scythian arrow, they would still experience the effects of the snake poison, including the disintegration of blood cells, shock, and respiratory paralysis, with the gangrening of the wound starting the next day, followed by tetanus after around a week.[285]

The Skythikon was crafted to cause lasting harm, and even the most minor wounds from arrows coated with it had a high likeliness to be lethal,[285] and the unlikely possible survivors of Skythikon poisoning would have been incapacitated for life.[315]

The Skythikon was used only against human enemies, and was not used for hunting since the meat of animals contaminated with the toxins would not have been proper for consumption.[316]

The stench of the Skythikon-coated arrows also functioned as stench weapons because the near-unanimous revulsion by human cultures for smell of rotting and faeces, and the belief in ancient periods that such foul miasmas caused disease.[313]

Another poison used by the Scythians to coat their arrows was hemlock.[285]

The shafts and foreshafts of Scythian poisoned arrows were painted with zigzag and diamond patterns emulating the scaly designs of snake skins.[287][317]

Other weapons

In addition to the bow and arrow, the Scythians also used weapons such as:[18][284]

  • iron spears measuring between 1.70 and 2.20 metres long with bay leaf-shaped spearheads that sometimes had a ferrule at the bottom;
  • long swords in the early period;
  • 50 to 70 centimetre-short iron swords and daggers called akīnakēs:
    • although considered "typically Scythian" weapons, the akīnakai had been borrowed by the Scythians from Transcaucasian peoples, more specifically from Georgian Bronze Age weaponry.
    • the hafts of akīnakai were richly decorated;
    • the hilts of akīnakai had bar-shaped terminals and heart-shaped or butterfly- or kidney-shaped crossguards;
    • in the 5th and 4th centuries BC, the shapes of the crossguards and terminals changed:
      • in the 5th century BC, the crossguards became thinner and the terminals shaped like two claws or horns became more widespread;
      • in the 4th century BC, the swords and daggers had triangular narrow crossguards with notches on their lower edges and oval terminals;
  • bimetallic pickaxes, called sagaris, made of an iron blade and a bronze socket;
  • shaft-hole war-axes;
  • other sorts of battle-axes;
  • lances;
  • darts;
  • lassoes;
  • and slings.

Armour

Some Scythian warriors wore rich protective armour and belts made of metal plates,[276] including:[18][290]

  • commoner warriors used leather or hide armour;
  • aristocrats used scale armour made of scales of bone, bronze, and iron sewn onto leather along the top edge;
    • scale armour had been borrowed by the Scythians from the peoples of West Asia during the 7th century BC and then made into a prevalent aspect of the Scythian culture of the northern Pontic region;
    • scale armour was also used to protect horses, especially in the chest area;
  • sometimes, instead of armour, the Scythians used battle-belts, which were made of scales sewn onto wide strips of either iron sheet, hide, or leather;
 
The Kostroma deer, from Kostromskaya, 7th-6th century BC.[318]
 
Golden decorative plate shaped like a panther from a Scythian shield. Kelermessky kurgan 1 (Келермесские курганы), near Kelermesskaya. 7th century BC.[319]
  • helmets:
    • cast bronze helmets with an opening for the face, called of the "Kuban type," were made by the native Caucasian peoples in the 6th and early 5th centuries BC for Scythians;
    • Greek-made Attic, Corinthian, Chalcidic, and Thracian helmets replaced the Caucasian-made "Kuban type" helmets in the 6th century BC;
    • scale helmets made of iron or bronze plates started being used in the later 6th century BC;
  • Greek-made greaves were imported from the 5th century BC.

The Scythians used small hide or wicker shields reinforced with iron strips, with the shields of Scythian aristocrats often being decorated with decorative central plaques.[284]

Command structure

The high king had the supreme authority over the armies of the Royal Scythians and their subordinate tribes; the local lords were in charge of the army of a nome; the heads of clans were in charge of war bands.[251]

The nomes of the Scythian kingdom were in charge of spreading information about the war at the time of the Persian invasion of Scythia.[247]

Mounted archery was the mode of fighting of the free commoners of Scythia, who were called hippotoxotai (Ancient Greek: ιπποτοξοται, lit.'horse-archers'[285]) in Greek.[257][235]

Serfs and slaves were subordinate to the warriors and accompanied them unarmed, and would be armed with spears only in extremely severe situations.[235]

War customs

The Scythians had several war-related customs:[320][321]

  • every Scythian warrior would drink the blood of the first enemy they would kill;
  • the Scythians would collect the severed heads of their enemies and bring them to their king;
    • the war spoils would be divided among the warriors depending on the number of heads they brought;
    • it was also on the number of severed heads that a warrior had brought to the king that depended the rank of honour given on the warriors at the annual ceremony where the local lords of the nomes would pour wine into a large vessel for the warriors who had been successful in battle by killing at least one enemy;
    • it was considered the worst disgrace possibly by the Scythians to sit to one side due to having killed no enemies;
  • the heads of enemies were scalped, and the scalps themselves were tanned and used as:
    • decorative handkerchiefs tied to the bridles of horses;
    • as towels to be shown off;
    • the ancient Greeks associated the practice of scalping so closely with the Scythians that they used the term aposkuthizein (αποσκυθιζειν), literally meaning "to Scythianise away," as name for scalping;
  • the Scythians would fashion the tops of their enemies' skulls into drinking bowls which were covered in leather, and would be gilded on the inside if they belonged to rich Scythians;
    • this custom was likely derived from the belief that this was a way of absorbing the power of an enemy;
  • the corpses of enemies would be flayed, after which the skin would be tanned, and the warriors would:
    • either stretch them on wooden frames and carried by the warriors;
    • or made into saddles;
    • the skin and fingernails from the enemies' right hands was used to make gōrytoi.[322]

Although most authors have tended to focus on the Scythians' warrior culture, battle and fight scenes were only rarely depicted in Scytian petroglyphic art, where depictions of wild animals and peaceful pastoral activities instead predominated.[32]

Trade

The Pontic Scythians practised trade extensively,[298] with the substantial trade relations existed between the Scythians and the Greeks which continued the long-established exchanges of goods between the northern Pontic and Aegean region that had already existed since the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC. These trade relations became more intense after the Greeks established colonies on the shores of the Black Sea, as a consequence of which the Scythians engaged in trade with both European and Asian Greece.[323]

The Scythians exported grain, fish, honey, wax, skins, wood, horses, cattle, sheep, and slaves[166][167] to Greece, as well as beavers and beaver-skins, and rare furs that the Scythians had themselves bought from the populations living to their north and east such as the Thyssagetae and Iurcae of the Ural Mountains who hunted rare animals and sewed their skins into clothing.[324][166] The Greeks were especially interested in buying Scythian horses.[325]

The grain trade

The most important of these export goods was grain, and most especially wheat,[167] with the Scythians on the lower Dnipro river cultivating crops principally for export,[167] and the tribes of the Callipidae, the Aroteres, the Georgoi, and the Alizones, selling part of their large crop yields to the Greeks; an oven used to dry grain such as wheat, barley, and rye, was located at Shyroka Balka.[167]

The relations between the Scythians and the Greek colonies became more hostile in the early 5th century BC, with the Scythians destroying the Greek cities' khōrai and rural settlements, and therefore their grain-producing hinterlands. The result was that the Scythians instituted an economic policy under their control whereby the sedentary peoples of the forest steppe to their north became the primary producers of grain, which was then transported through the Buh and Dnipro rivers to the Greek cities to their south such as Tyras, Niconium and Pontic Olbia, from where the cities exported it to mainland Greece at a profit for themselves.[18]

Beginning in the 5th century BC, the grain trade with Greece was carried out through the intermediary of the Bosporan kingdom, due to which the Scythians expanded their agricultural activities to the areas adjoining the Bosporan Kingdom, including in Crimea,[323] resulting in some of the sedentary Scythian farmers moving into Crimea so as to cultivate their crops in close proximity to these clients.[167] As a consequence of the Peloponnesian War, the Bosporan Kingdom became the main supplier of grain to Greece in the 4th century BC, which resulted in an increase of the trade of grain between the Scythians and the Bosporans.[237]

The Scythian aristocracy played an important role in this grain trade by becoming the main intermediary in providing grain, obtained both through from the agriculturalist peoples of the forest-steppe and cultivation within Scythia itself, to the Bosporan Kingdom.[237] The Scythian aristocracy was the main beneficiary of these commercial activities,[323] from which it derived immense revenue[237] and was able to significantly enrich itself,[326] hence why it sought to increase the amount of grain produced in Scythia.[237]

The rich aristocratic burials richly furnished with imported grave goods and gold silver objects, including fine Greek-made tauretic and jewellers, attest of the Scythian aristocracy's economic power derived from the grain trade, due to which the coins minted by Scythian kings at Pontic Olbia were struck with depictions of ears of wheat. Scythian commoners did however not obtain any benefits from this trade, and luxury goods were absent from their tombs.[237]

Inscriptions from the Greek cities on the northern Black Sea coast also show that upper class Greek families also derived wealth from this trade,[323] and as a consequence of these flourishing trade relations, which were themselves possible only thanks to the protection and cooperation of the Scythian kings, the Greek colonies on the northern shores of the Black Sea rapidly grew during the 6th century BC.[326]

The Scythian monopoly over the trade of grain imported from the forest steppe to the Greek cities came to an end sometime between 435 and 400 BC, after which the Greek cities regaining their independence and rebuilding their khōrai.[18] The grain trade between the Scythians and the Greeks declined in the 3rd century BC because of competition from wheat imported into Greece from Egypt, and due to the collapse of Scythian agriculture resulting from the Sarmatian invasion.[324]

The slave trade

 
An Attic vase-painting of a Scythian archer (a police force in Athens) by Epiktetos, 520–500 BC

The Scythians also sold slaves to the Greeks, with the slaves to be sold being acquired from neighbouring or subordinate tribes during military campaigns,[233] and the Greek colonies on the northern Black Sea coast being hubs of slave trafficking. After the Greek city-state of Athens had defeated the Persians at Salamis in 480 BC, it bought 300 Scythian slave archers who acted as a police force in the city and who lived in tents. When the Greek city of Mytilene broke away from the Delian League in 428 BC, it also bought a similar force of Scythian warriors.[327][235]

Scythian imports

In exchange for their many exports, the Scythians bought various Greek products, especially amphorae of wine, and the pottery used to consume said wine, such as oinokhoai and kylikes.[266] The Scythians also bought olive oil, perfumes, ointments, and other luxury goods from the Greeks.[166][215]

Beginning in the 7th and 6th centuries BC, the Scythians had been importing luxuries such as personal ornaments, gold and silver vases, carved semi-precious and gem stones, wine, oil, and offensive and defensive weapons made in the workshops of Pontic Olbia or in mainland Greece, as well as pottery made by the Greeks of the Aegean islands.

During the earlier Middle Scythian period of the 5th century BC, the Scythians were importing Corinthian and Athenian pottery; and by the later Middle Scythian period of the 4th to 3rd centuries BC the market for Pontic Olbia was limited to a small part of western Scythia, while the rest of the kingdom's importations came from the Bosporan kingdom, especially from Panticapaeum, from where came most of Scythia's imported pottery, as well as richly decorated fine vases, rhyta, and decorative toreutic plaques for gōrytoi.[298]

A consequence of the Scythian import of Greek-manufactured art and luxury goods was that Greek art significantly influenced Scythian art and artistic preferences, and, by the Middle and Late Scythian periods, most of the artwork in the Scythian tombs consisted of Scythian motifs and scenes representing Scythian life which had been done by Greek artisans.[326]

The gold trade route

An important trade route existed in Scythia during the Early Scythian period which started in Pontic Olbia and followed the course of the Inhul river and crossed the Dnipro, after which it turned east until the country of the Gelonians and, after crossing the Don and the Volga, passed through the Ural Mountains and continued into Asia until the Altai Mountains.[298][328]

Gold was traded from eastern Eurasia until Pontic Olbia through this route, and the Scythian tradesmen went to the distant regions on its course to carry out commerce. The conquest of the north Pontic region by the Scythians and their imposition of a "Pax Scythica" created the conditions of safety for traders which enabled the establishment of this route.[329] Olbian-made goods have been found at multiple locations lying on this route till the Ural Mountains.[330]

This trade route was another significant source of revenue for the Scythian rulers,[330] and its location also provided to Pontic Olbia the important position of being a commercial and cultural centre in the northern Pontic region for at least two centuries, and the city itself maintained friendly relations with the populations neighbouring it.[328]

Coinage

Although the Scythians adopted the use of coinage as a method of payment for trade with the Greeks, they never used it for their own domestic market.[281]

Physical appearance

The Scythians looked similar to the populations of Europe,[331] and depictions of Scythian men in Persian sculptures and Scythian gold objects show them as stocky and powerfully built, with strong facial features and long and thick wavy hair.[3]

Upper class Scythians were particularly tall, with the men usually being over 1.80 metres tall, and sometimes reaching 1.90 metres, and on some rarer occasions being even more than 2 metres tall.[332]

The difference in height between these upper class Scythians and the Scythian commoners was of around 10 to 15 centimetres, with the height difference being a symbol of status among the upper-class men. Analysis of skeletons shows that Scythians had longer arm and leg bones and stronger bone formation than present-day people living in their former territories.[332]

Due to his unfamiliarity with Scythian dress, Pseudo-Hippocrates inaccurately claimed that the Scythians suffered from hypermobility of the joints.[271]

In Histories, the 5th-century BC Greek historian Herodotus describes the Budini of Scythia as red-haired and grey-eyed.[333] In the 5th century BC, Greek physician Hippocrates argued that the Scythians were light skinned.[333] In the 3rd century BC, the Greek poet Callimachus described the Arismapes (Arimaspi) of Scythia as fair-haired.[333] The 2nd-century BC Han Chinese envoy Zhang Qian described the Sai (Saka), an eastern people closely related to the Scythians, as having yellow (probably meaning hazel or green) and blue eyes.[333] In the late 2nd century AD, the Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria says that the Scythians and the Celts have long auburn hair.[333] The 2nd-century Greek philosopher Polemon includes the Scythians among the northern peoples characterised by red hair and blue-grey eyes.[333] In the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD, the Greek physician Galen writes that Scythians, Sarmatians, Illyrians, Germanic peoples and other northern peoples have reddish hair.[333] The fourth-century bishop Gregory of Nyssa wrote that the Scythians were fair skinned and blond haired. The 5th-century physician Adamantius, who often followed Polemon, describes the Scythians as fair-haired.[333]

Genetics

Genetic makeup of Bronze and Iron Age Steppe populations
Map of Scythian cultures, including different Saka populations with genetic profiles

The Scythians (specifically Western or Pontic Scythians, as in differentiation from Eastern Scythian Saka) primarily emerged from the Bronze and Iron Age population of the Pontic-Caspian and Central Asian Steppe (Western Steppe Herders or "Steppe_MLBA").[334] The (Western or Pontic) Scythians (such as Sarmatians) fall in or close to the European-related cluster, while Eastern Scythians (such as the Pazyryk culture) are more heterogeneous, both genetically and culturally.[335] Western Scythian groups display some admixture from Eastern Scythian groups, which is in part associated with the expansion of initial Scythian material culture.[68]

Maternal haplogroups

Western Scythians carried diverse West Eurasian and East Eurasian maternal lineages. Initially, the Western Scythians carried only West Eurasian maternal haplogroups, however the frequency of East Eurasian haplogroups rises to 26% in samples dated from the 6th-2nd centuries BCE.[336] Among the Western Scythians discovered at Rostov-on-Don, in European Russia, East Eurasian maternal haplogroups make up 37.5% of the total. These results suggest that there was increasing marriages to women of East Eurasian origin among the Western Scythians.[337] The East Eurasian maternal lineages were likely brought by individuals sharing affinities with modern-day Nganasan people, as well as the ancient Okunevo culture.[338]

Paternal haplogroups

In terms of paternal haplogroups, almost all Western Scythians carried West Eurasian-associated haplogroups. Western Scythian remains have been observed to carry a specific clade of haplogroup R1b, characteristic of the Northern Pontic-Caspian steppe, which distinguishes them from Eastern Scythians, who most commonly carried haplogroup haplogroup R1a.[339] One Scythian from the Samara region carried R1a-Z93.[340]

List of rulers

Kings of Early Scythians

Kings of Pontic Scythians

Sub-kings:

Kings of Crimean Scythians

 
Relief of Skilurus and Palacus.

Kings of Danubian Scythians

Genealogy

The relationships of the various Scythian kings with each other are not known for certain, although the historian and anthropologist Anatoly Khazanov suggests that the Scythians had been ruled by the same dynasty from the time of their stay in West Asia until the end of their kingdom in the Pontic steppe, and that Madyes and the later Scythian kings Spargapeithes and Ariapeithes belonged to the same dynasty,[248] and Ellis Minns suggested in 1913 that Idanthyrsus was probably the father of Ariapeithes,[344] which is a position shared by the Scythologist Mikhail Bukharin [ru].[345]

Meanwhile, the scholar Askold Ivantchik instead considers Madyes, Spargapeithes, and Ariapeithes to have each belonged to a different dynasty.[18]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d Vitchak 1999, p. 52-53.
  2. ^ a b c d e Novák 2013, p. 10.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Jacobson 1995, p. 32.
  4. ^ Cunliffe 2019, p. 42.
  5. ^ Sulimirski 1985, pp. 149–153: "During the first half of the first millennium B.C., c. 3,000 to 2,500 years ago, the southern part of Eastern Europe was occupied mainly by peoples of Iranian stock [...] The main Iranian-speaking peoples of the region at that period were the Scyths and the Sarmatians [...]"
    Melyukova 1990, pp. 97–98: "From the end of the 7th century B.C. to the 4th century B.C. the Central- Eurasian steppes were inhabited by two large groups of kin Iranian-speaking tribes – the Scythians and Sarmatians [...]"
    Melyukova 1990, p. 117: "All contemporary historians, archeologists and linguists are agreed that since the Scythian and Sarmatian tribes were of the Iranian linguistic group [...]"
    Davis-Kimball, Bashilov & Yablonsky 1995, p. 91: "Near the end of the 19th century V.F. Miller (1886, 1887) theorized that the Scythians and their kindred, the Sauromatians, were Iranian-speaking peoples. This has been a popular point of view and continues to be accepted in linguistics and historical science [...]"
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    West 2002, pp. 437–440: "[T]rue Scyths seems to be those whom [Herodotus] calls Royal Scyths, that is, the group who claimed hegemony [...] apparently warrior-pastoralists. It is generally agreed, from what we know of their names, that these were people of Iranian stock [...]"
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    Rostovtzeff 1922, p. 13: "The Scythian kingdom [...] was succeeded in the Russian steppes by an ascendancy of various Sarmatian tribes — Iranians, like the Scythians themselves."
    Minns 1913, p. 36: "The general view is that both agricultural and nomad Scythians were Iranian."
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  9. ^ "Sarmatian". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved October 4, 2019.
  10. ^ a b c Harmatta 1996, pp. 181–182.
  11. ^ Brzezinski & Mielczarek 2002, p. 39: "Indeed, it is now accepted that the Sarmatians merged in with pre-Slavic populations."
  12. ^ a b Mallory & Adams 1997, p. 523: "In their Ukrainian and Polish homeland the Slavs were intermixed and at times overlain by Germanic speakers (the Goths) and by Iranian speakers (Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans) in a shifting array of tribal and national configurations."
  13. ^ a b Davis-Kimball, Bashilov & Yablonsky 1995, p. 165: "Iranian-speaking nomadic tribes, specifically the Scythians and Sarmatians, are special among the North Caucasian peoples. The Scytho-Sarmatians were instrumental in the ethnogenesis of some of the modern peoples living today in the Caucasus. Of importance in this group are the Ossetians, an Iranian-speaking group of people who are believed to have descended from the North Caucasian Alans."
  14. ^ a b Dickens 2018, p. 1346: "Greek authors [...] frequently applied the name Scythians to later nomadic groups who had no relation whatever to the original Scythians"
  15. ^ Beckwith 2009, pp. 58–70
  16. ^ "Scythian art". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved October 4, 2019.
  17. ^ Bukharin 2013, p. 25-26.
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  20. ^ "Iškuzaya [SCYTHIAN] (EN)". oracc.museum.upenn.edu. Archived from the original on 2022-09-21. Retrieved 2021-10-14.
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  22. ^ Although ancient Persians and ancient Greeks respectively used the names "Saka" and "Scythian" for all the steppe nomads, the name "Scythian" is used specifically for the ancient nomads of the western steppe while "Saka" is used for a related group of nomads living in the eastern steppe.
  23. ^ a b c
    • Dandamayev 1994, p. 37: "In modern scholarship the name 'Sakas' is reserved for the ancient tribes of northern and eastern Central Asia and Eastern Turkestan to distinguish them from the related Massagetae of the Aral region and the Scythians of the Pontic steppes. These tribes spoke Iranian languages, and their chief occupation was nomadic pastoralism."
    • Cernenko 2012, p. 3: "The Scythians lived in the Early Iron Age, and inhabited the northern areas of the Black Sea (Pontic) steppes. Though the 'Scythian period' in the history of Eastern Europe lasted little more than 400 years, from the 7th to the 3rd centuries BC, the impression these horsemen made upon the history of their times was such that a thousand years after they had ceased to exist as a sovereign people, their heartland and the territories which they dominated far beyond it continued to be known as 'greater Scythia'."
    • Melyukova 1990, pp. 97–98: "From the end of the 7th century B.C. to the 4th century B.C. the Central- Eurasian steppes were inhabited by two large groups of kin Iranian-speaking tribes – the Scythians and Sarmatians [...] "[I]t may be confidently stated that from the end of the 7th century to the 3rd century B.C. the Scythians occupied the steppe expanses of the north Black Sea area, from the Don in the east to the Danube in the West."
    • Ivantchik 2018: "Scythians, a nomadic people of Iranian origin who flourished in the steppe lands north of the Black Sea during the 7th–4th centuries BC (Figure 1). For related groups in Central Asia and India, see [...]"
    • Sulimirski 1985, pp. 149–153: "During the first half of the first millennium B.C., c. 3,000 to 2,500 years ago, the southern part of Eastern Europe was occupied mainly by peoples of Iranian stock [...] The main Iranian-speaking peoples of the region at that period were the Scyths and the Sarmatians [...] [T]he population of ancient Scythia was far from being homogeneous, nor were the Scyths themselves a homogeneous people. The country called after them was ruled by their principal tribe, the "Royal Scyths" (Her. iv. 20), who were of Iranian stock and called themselves "Skolotoi" (iv. 6); they were nomads who lived in the steppe east of the Dnieper up to the Don, and in the Crimean steppe [...] The eastern neighbours of the "Royal Scyths," the Sauromatians, were also Iranian; their country extended over the steppe east of the Don and the Volga."
    • Sulimirski & Taylor 1991, p. 547: "The name 'Scythian' is met in the classical authors and has been taken to refer to an ethnic group or people, also mentioned in Near Eastern texts, who inhabited the northern Black Sea region."
    • West 2002, pp. 437–440: "Ordinary Greek (and later Latin) usage could designate as Scythian any northern barbarian from the general area of the Eurasian steppe, the virtually treeless corridor of drought-resistant perennial grassland extending from the Danube to Manchuria. Herodotus seeks greater precision, and this essay is focussed on his Scythians, who belong to the North Pontic steppe [...] These true Scyths seems to be those whom he calls Royal Scyths, that is, the group who claimed hegemony [...] apparently warrior-pastoralists. It is generally agreed, from what we know of their names, that these were people of Iranian stock [...]"
    • Jacobson 1995, pp. 36–37: "When we speak of Scythians, we refer to those Scytho-Siberians who inhabited the Kuban Valley, the Taman and Kerch peninsulas, Crimea, the northern and northeastern littoral of the Black Sea, and the steppe and lower forest steppe regions now shared between Ukraine and Russia, from the seventh century down to the first century B.C [...] They almost certainly spoke an Iranian language [...]"
    • Di Cosmo 1999, p. 924: "The first historical steppe nomads, the Scythians, inhabited the steppe north of the Black Sea from about the eight century B.C."
    • Rice, Tamara Talbot. "Central Asian arts: Nomadic cultures". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved October 4, 2019. [Saka] gold belt buckles, jewelry, and harness decorations display sheep, griffins, and other animal designs that are similar in style to those used by the Scythians, a nomadic people living in the Kuban basin of the Caucasus region and the western section of the Eurasian plain during the greater part of the 1st millennium bc.
  24. ^ a b c d e f Unterländer, Martina (2017). "Ancestry and demography and descendants of Iron Age nomads of the Eurasian Steppe". Nature Communications. 8: 14615. Bibcode:2017NatCo...814615U. doi:10.1038/ncomms14615. PMC 5337992. PMID 28256537. Contemporary descendants of western Scythian groups are found among various groups in the Caucasus and Central Asia, while similarities to eastern Scythian are found to be more widespread, but almost exclusively among Turkic language speaking (formerly) nomadic groups, particularly from the Kipchak branch of Turkic languages.
  25. ^ Järve, Mari; et al. (2019). "Shifts in the Genetic Landscape of the Western Eurasian Steppe Associated with the Beginning and End of the Scythian Dominance". Current Biology. 29 (14): 2430–2441. Bibcode:2019CBio...29E2430J. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2019.06.019. ISSN 0960-9822. PMID 31303491. S2CID 195887262. E10.
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Early sources

Modern sources

Further reading