Scythians
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Scythians
Scythians
Sku?at? (earlier)
Skulat? (later)
Scythia-Parthia 100 BC.png
The approximate extent of Eastern Iranian languages circa 170 BC
Regions with significant populations
Central Asia (9th-7th centuries BC)

Western Asia (7th-6th centuries BC)
Pontic Steppe (6th-3rd centuries BC)

Crimea and Dobruja (3rd century BC-2nd century AD)
Languages
Scythian
Religion
Scythian religion
Related ethnic groups
Agathyrsi, Amardi, Cimmerians, Massagetae, Ossetians, Saka, Sarmatians
Scythian comb from Solokha, early 4th century BC

The Scythians or Scyths,[note 1][note 2] and sometimes also referred to as the Classical Scythians and the Pontic Scythians,[1][2] were an ancient Eastern[3] Iranian[4] equestrian nomadic people who primarily lived in the region corresponding to modern-day Ukraine and Southern Russia, which was known as Scythia or Scythica after them, and who dominated the territory of the Pontic steppe from approximately the 7th century BC until the 3rd century BC. The Scythians were led by a warrior aristocracy known as the Royal Scythians.

The Scythians were part of the wider Scythian cultures, stretching across the Eurasian Steppes[5][6] of Kazakhstan, the Russian steppes of the Siberian, Ural, Volga and Southern regions, and eastern Ukraine.[7] In a broader sense, Scythians has also been used to designate all early Eurasian nomads,[6] although the validity of such terminology is controversial,[5] and other terms such as "Early nomadic" have been deemed preferable.[8] Although both were closely related nomadic Iranian peoples, although the ancient Persians, ancient Greeks, and ancient Babylonians respectively used the names "Saka," "Scythian," and "Cimmerian" for all the steppe nomads, the Saka who inhabited the northern and eastern Eurasian Steppe and the Tarim Basin are to be distinguished from the European Scythians, and the name "Scythian" is used specifically for western members of the Scythian cultures while the name "Saka" is used specifically for their eastern members;[9][10][better source needed][11][12] and while the Cimmerians were often described by contemporaries as culturally Scythian, they may have differed ethnically from the Scythians proper, to whom the Cimmerians were related, and who also displaced and replaced the Cimmerians.[13]

Among the earliest peoples to master mounted warfare,[14] the Scythians replaced the Cimmerians as the dominant power on the Pontic steppe in the 8th century BC.[15] During this time they and related peoples came to dominate the entire Eurasian Steppe from the Carpathian Mountains in the west to Ordos Plateau in the east,[16][17] creating what has been called the first Central Asian nomadic empire.[15][18] In the 7th century BC, the Scythians crossed the Caucasus Mountains and frequently raided West Asia along with the Cimmerians, playing an important role in the political developments of the region.[15][18] Around 650-630 BC, Scythians briefly dominated the Medes of the western Iranian Plateau,[19][20] and stretched their power to the borders of Egypt.[14] After losing control over Media, they continued intervening in Middle Eastern affairs, playing a leading role in the destruction of the Assyrian Empire in the Sack of Nineveh in 612 BC. After being expelled from West Asia by the Medes, the Scythians subsequently engaged in frequent conflicts with the Achaemenid Empire, and suffered a major defeat against Macedonia in the 4th century BC[14] and were subsequently gradually conquered by the Sarmatians, a related Iranian people living to their west.[21] In the late 2nd century BC, their capital at Scythian Neapolis in the Crimea was captured by Mithridates VI and their territories incorporated into the Bosporan Kingdom.[22] By this time they had been largely Hellenized. By the 3rd century AD, the Sarmatians and last remnants of the Scythians were dominated by the Alans, and were being overwhelmed by the Goths. By the early Middle Ages, the Scythians and the Sarmatians had been largely assimilated and absorbed by early Slavs.[23][24] The Scythians were instrumental in the ethnogenesis of the Ossetians, who are believed to be descended from the Alans.[25]

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.[26] 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.[27]

The name of the Scythians survived in the region of Scythia. Early authors continued to use the term "Scythian," applying it to many groups unrelated to the original Scythians, such as Huns, Goths, Turkic peoples, Avars, Bulgars, Khazars, and other unnamed nomads.[22][28] The scientific study of the Scythians is called Scythology.

Names

Etymology

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

Linguist Oswald Szemerényi studied synonyms of various origins for Scythian and differentiated the following terms: Skuth?s (), Skudra (), Sug?da () and Sak? ().[29]

From the Indo-European root (s)kewd-, meaning "propel, shoot" (and from which was also derived the English word shoot), of which *skud- is the zero-grade form, was descended the Scythians' self-name reconstructed by Szemerényi as *Sku?a (roughly "archer").[29] The collective endonym of the Scythians, *Sku?at?, was formed by the addition of the suffix *-t?, which denoted the plural form.[5][30]

From *Sku?a were descended the following exonyms:[29]

A late Scythian sound change from /?/ to /l/ resulted in the evolution of *Sku?a into *Skula, from which was derived the collective endonym of the Scythians at a later date, *Skulat?, formed by the addition of the plural suffix *-t?.[30] This designation was recorded in Greek as Sk?lotoi , which, according to Herodotus of Halicarnassus, was the self-designation of the Royal Scythians.[5]

Other sound changes have produced Sug?da .[29]

From an Iranian verbal root sak-, "go, roam" and thus meaning "nomad" was derived the term Saka, from which came the names:

Identification

The name Sak? was used by the ancient Persian to refer to all the Iranian nomadic tribes living to the north of their empire, including both those who lived between the Caspian Sea and the Hungry steppe, and those who lived to the north of the Danube and the Black Sea. The Assyrians meanwhile called these nomads the Ishkuzai (Assyrian cuneiform U12156 MesZL 357.svgAssyrian cuneiform U1228D MesZL 297.svgAssyrian cuneiform U120A0 or U12365 MesZL 810 or U121AA or U12089 MesZL 808 or U12306 or U12247 MesZL 809 and MesZL 811.svgAssyrian cuneiform U1235D MesZL 851 or U12409 MesZL 852 or MesZL 853.svgAssyrian cuneiform U12000 MesZL 839.svgAssyrian cuneiform U12000 MesZL 839.svg I?kuzaya,[36][37] Assyrian cuneiform U12337 MesZL 71.svgAssyrian cuneiform U1228D MesZL 297.svgAssyrian cuneiform U12116 MesZL 891.svgAssyrian cuneiform U1235D MesZL 851 or U12409 MesZL 852 or MesZL 853.svgAssyrian cuneiform U12000 MesZL 839.svgAssyrian cuneiform U12000 MesZL 839.svg Asguzaya[36][38]), and the Ancient Greeks called them Skuthai ( Skuth?s, Skuthoi, Skuthai).[39]

For the Achaemenids, there were three types of Sakas: the Sak? tayai paradraya ("beyond the sea", presumably between the Greeks and the Thracians on the Western side of the Black Sea), the Sak? tigraxaud? ("with pointed caps"), the Sak? haumavarg? ("Hauma drinkers", furthest East). Soldiers of the Achaemenid army, Xerxes I tomb detail, circa 480 BC.[40]

The Achaemenid inscriptions initially listed a single group of Sak?. However, following Darius I's campaign of 520 to 518 BC against the Asian nomads, they were differentiated into two groups, both living in Central Asia to the east of the Caspian Sea:[39][41]

A third name was added after the Darius's campaign north of the Danube:[39]

  • the Sak? tayaiy paradraya ( ? ? ? ) - "Sak? who live beyond the (Black) Sea", who were the Pontic Scythians of the East European steppes

An additional term is found in two inscriptions elsewhere:[49][39]

  • the Sakaibi? tayaiy para Sugdam ( ? ? ? ? ) - "Sak? who are beyond Sogdia", a term was used by Darius for the people who formed the north-eastern limits of his empire at the opposite end to satrapy of Kush (the Ethiopians).[50][51] These Sakaibi? tayaiy para Sugdam have been suggested to have been the same people as the Sak? haumavarg?[52]

Moreover, Darius the Great's Suez Inscriptions mention two group of Sakas:[53][54]

  • the S?g p? (?) - "Sak? of the Marshes"
  • the Sk t? () - "Sak? of the Land"

The scholar David Bivar had tentatively identified the Sk t? with the Sak? haumavarg?,[55] and John Manuel Cook had tentatively identified the S?g p? with the Sak? tigraxaud?.[52] More recently, the scholar Rüdiger Schmitt has suggested that the S?g p? and the Sk t? might have collectively designated the Sak? tigraxaud?/Massagetai.[56]

Modern terminology

Although ancient Persians and ancient Greeks respectively used the names "Saka" and "Scythian" for all the steppe nomads, and early modern historians such as Edward Gibbon mistakenly used the term Scythian to refer to a variety of nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples across the Eurasian steppe,[57] the name "Scythian" in contemporary modern scholarship generally refers to the nomadic Iranian people who dominated the Pontic steppe from the 7th century BC to the 3rd century BC.[9]

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.[5][8] Cultures sharing these characteristics have often been referred to as Scythian cultures, and its peoples called Scythians.[6][58] Peoples associated with Scythian cultures include not only the Scythians themselves, who were a distinct ethnic group,[59] but also Cimmerians, Massagetae, Saka, Sarmatians and various obscure peoples of the forest steppe,[5][6] such as early Slavs, Balts and Finnic peoples.[32][60] Within this broad definition of the term Scythian, the actual Scythians have often been distinguished from other groups through the terms Classical Scythians, Western Scythians, European Scythians or Pontic Scythians.[6]

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 Iranian people dominating the Pontic steppe from the 7th century BC to the 3rd century BC.[5] Nicola Di Cosmo writes that the broad concept of "Scythian" is "too broad to be viable," and that the term "early nomadic" is preferable.[8]

History

Origins

Archaeology

Modern interpretation of historical, archaeological and anthropological evidence has proposed two broad hypotheses on Scythian origins.[61]

Animal style artifacts of the Arzhan culture (8-7th century BC), Tuva, Siberia.

The first hypothesis, formerly more espoused by Soviet and then Russian researchers, roughly followed Herodotus of Halicarnassus's account of the Scythians as an Eastern Iranian-speaking group who arrived from Inner Asia, i.e. from the area of Turkestan and western Siberia.[61] The early Scythian remains of Arzhan (8th-7th century BC) in Siberia now tend to confirm that the origins of Scythian culture, characterized by its kurgans burial mounds and its Animal style of the 1st millennium BC, are to be found among Eastern Scythians rather than their Western counterparts: eastern kurgans are older than western ones (such as the Altaic kurgan Arzhan 1 in Tuva), and elements of the Animal style are first attested in areas of the Yenisei river and modern-day China in the 10th century AD.[62][63]

The second hypothesis, according to Roman Ghirshman and others, proposes that the Scythian cultural complex emerged from local groups of the Srubnaya culture at the Black Sea coast,[61] although this is also associated with the Cimmerians. According to Pavel Dolukhanov this proposal is supported by anthropological evidence which has found that Scythian skulls are similar to preceding findings from the Srubnaya culture, and distinct from those of the Central Asian Saka.[64] Yet, according to J. P. Mallory, the archaeological evidence is poor, and the Andronovo culture and "at least the eastern outliers of the Timber-grave culture" may be identified as Indo-Iranian.[61]

Anthropology

Physical and genetic analyses of ancient remains have concluded that Scythians as a whole possessed predominantly features of Europoids. Mongoloid phenotypes were also present in some Scythians but more frequently in eastern Scythians, suggesting that some Scythians were also descended partly from East Eurasian populations.[65][66]

Archaeogenetics

PCA of ancient individuals (n = 214) of the Eurasian Steppe from three major periods projected onto contemporary Eurasians (Scythians as "Chandman_IA" symbols).[67]

In 2015 was analyzed genome of a Scythian individual from Nadezhdinka, Samara Oblast, Russia. Autosomally had an admixture similar to other Bronze Age steppe samples, belonged to Y-DNA haplogroup R1a1a1b2a2a-Z2123 (related to Western Steppe Herders) and mtDNA haplogroup G2a4.[68]

In 2017, a genetic study of 96 various Scythian samples, was published in Nature Communications. The study found that Late Bronze Age and early Iron Age Scythians harbored nearly exclusively European-related ancestry, close or identical to the earlier Sintashta, Andronovo, and Afanasievo cultures. Since the late Iron Age the Scythian gene pool became more diverse, and late Iron Age Scythians can be described as admixture between European-related ancestry from the Yamnaya culture, and an East Asian/Siberian component, which peaks among Nganasan people. Iron Age Scythians can furthermore be differentiated into Western Scythians, which had predominantly European-related ancestry, and Eastern Scythians, which harbored significant East Asian-related ancestry and resembled modern day Turkic-speaking groups of the region, who are of primarily East Asian descent. While the origin of the Scythian material culture is disputed, their evidence point to an origin in the East. Modern populations relative closely related to the ancient Scythians were found to be populations living in proximity to the sites studied, suggesting genetic continuity,[6] as "contemporary descendants of western Scythian groups are found among various groups in the Caucasus and southern Central Asia (Ossetians and Tajiks, specifically Yaghnobis),[69] while similarities to eastern Scythian are found to be more widespread, but almost exclusively among Turkic speaking nomadic groups, particularly from the Kipchak branch of Turkic languages.[6] The found mtDNA haplogroups "in the Iron Age nomads are predominant in modern populations in both west (HV, N1, J, T, U, K, W, I, X) and east Eurasia (A, C, D, F, G, M, Y, Z)",[6] and were also extracted Y-DNA haplogroups in three Scythian individuals, one from Pazyryk culture belonged to R1a1a1b2-Z93, another from related Aldy-Bel culture to R1a1a1b-S441, while from Zevakino-Chilikta phase to Q1a-F903.[70]

Another 2017 genetic study, published in Scientific Reports, found on 19 samples that the Scythians shared common mithocondrial lineages with the earlier Srubnaya culture. It also noted that the Scythians differed from materially similar groups further east by the absence of east Eurasian mitochondrial lineages. The authors of the study suggested that the Srubnaya culture was the source of the Scythian cultures of at least the Pontic steppe.[71] A later analysis of 14 samples mostly from Moldova, published in 2018 in Science Advances, found significant genetic differences in paternal lineages between the Srubnaya and the Scythians because Scythian samples belonged only to Y-DNA haplogroup R1b1a1a2.[72]

A 2019 study of around 13 samples from Ukraine and Kazakhstan published in Current Biology, found that different nomadic Scythian groups could be genetically differentiated from each other, pointing to some diversity and regional substructure. They suggested that migrations must have played a role in the emergence of the Scythians as the dominant power on the Pontic steppe.[73] The patrilineal lineages belonged to R1a-Z645, R1a-M198, R1a-M417, R1a2-Z93, J1b-P58, J2a8-B437 and Q1c-L332.[74] In the same year a genetic study of 29 remains from the Aldy-Bel and Sagly culture from Tuva Republic in Russia was published in Human Genetics. They identified Scythians as mix of predominantly West-Eurasian and minor East-Eurasian paternal and maternal lineages confirming previous studies. Patrilineally 9 males belonged to R1a-M513 (two of them to R1a1a1b2-Z93 subclades), 6 to Q1b1a-L54 (five of them to Q1b1a3-L330 subclade), and 1 to N-M231.[75]

In 2020 research paper from Cell were analysed 9 easternmost Scythian individuals from Sagly/Uyuk culture cemetery, closely related to Chandman culture, from Ulaangom, Mongolia. They patrilineally belonged to R1a1a1b-Z645, R1a1a1b2-Z93, R1a1a1b2a2b-Z2122, Q1a2a-L213/L53, Q1a2a1c1-L332/L329, and autosomally can be seen as a combination of 51.3% Altai Middle Bronze Age/Sintashta, 42.2% Baikal Early Bronze Age (Baikal_EBA) and 6.5% Iranian (BMAC)-related ancestry, with third component admixture dated ca. 750 BC.[67] In the same year a study which examined 52 Xiongnu skeletal remains found that the Xiongnu shared paternal (R1a1a1b2a-Z94, R1a1a1b2a2-Z2124, Q1a and N1a) and maternal haplotypes found in Scythians and suggested on this basis substantial Eastern Scythian ("Scytho-Siberias") origin of the Xiongnu and Huns.[76]

A 2021 study on 111 ancient individuals across Kazakh Steppe published in Science Advances concluded that the Scythians were of heterogeneous origin but derived most of their ancestry from Bronze Age Steppe herders closely related to Europeans, with some geneflow from East Asians. The Eastern Scythians formed from admixture between "Steppe_MLBA sources (which could be associated with different cultures such as Sintashta, Srubnaya, and Andronovo) and a specific East-Eurasian source that was already present during the LBA in the neighboring northern Mongolia region". The patrilineal haplogroups were confirmed to mainly be West-Eurasian R1a (specifically subclade R1a1b-Z645 > R1a1a1b2-Z93, R1a1a1b2a-Z94), and some East Asian Q1a2a, Q1a1 subclades with others in traces.[77]

Early history

The 5th-century BC Greek historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus is the most important literary source on the origins of the Scythians

The Scythians originated in Central Asia possibly around the 9th century BC,[78] and they arrived in the Caucasian Steppe in the 8th and 7th centuries BC as part of a significant movement of the nomadic peoples of the Eurasian Steppe. This movement started when another nomadic Iranian tribe closely related to the Scythians, either the Massagetae[42] or the Issedones,[79] migrated westwards, forcing the early Scythians of the to the west across the Araxes river,[80] following which the Scythians moved into the Caspian Steppe from where they displaced the Cimmerians, who were also a nomadic Iranian people closely related to the Scythians, and conquered their territory, before settling in the area between the Araxes, the Caucasus and the Lake Maeotis.[80][81][42][82]

The Scythian migration destroyed earlier cultures, with the settlements of the Sabatynivka culture [uk] in the Dnipro valley being largely destroyed and the centre of Cimmerian bronze production stopping existing at the time, and the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk being disturbed during the 8th to 7th centuries BC. The migration of the Scythians also displaced other populations, 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:[82] among these displaced populations from the Caucasus were the Sigynnae, who were displaced westward into the eastern part of the Pannonian Basin.[83][42]

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 Western Asia.[82]

Under Scythian pressure, the 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 expanded into the region of present-day Azerbaijan, where they settled and turned eastern Transcaucasia into their centre of operations in Western Asia until the early 6th century BC,[84][85][82][86] with this presence in Western Asia being an extension of the Scythian kingdom of the steppes.[5] During this period, the Scythian kings' headquarters were located in the Ciscaucasian steppes, and contact with the civilisation of Western Asia would have an important influence on the formation of Scythian culture.[42] This presence in Transcaucasia influenced Scythian culture: the ak?nak?s sword and socketed bronze arrowheads with three edges, which are considered as typically "Scythian weapons," were of Transcaucasian origin and had been adopted by the Scythians during their stay in the Caucasus.[82]

From their base in the Caucasian Steppe, during the period of the 8th to 7th centuries BC itself, the Scythians conquered the Pontic Steppe to the north of the Black Sea up to the Danube river, which formed the western boundary of Scythian territory onwards, although the Scythians may also have had access to the Wallachian and Moldavian plains.[42][78] This expansion displaced another nomadic Iranian people related to the Scythians, the Agathyrsi, who were the oldest Iranian population[87] to have dominated the Pontic Steppe, and who were pushed westwards by the Scythians, away from the steppes and from their original home around Lake Maeotis,[42][87] after which the relations between the two populations remained hostile.[42]

The westward migration of the Scythians was accompanied by the introduction into the north Pontic region of articles originating in the Siberian Karasuk culture and which were characteristic of Early Scythian archaeological culture, consisting of cast bronze cauldrons, daggers, swords, and horse harnesses.[82] Several smaller groups were likely also displaced by the Scythian expansion.[78] Beginning in this period, remains associated with the early Scythians started appearing within interior Europe, especially in the Thracian and Hungarian plains, although it is yet unclear whether these represent any actual Scythian migration into these regions or whether these arrived there through trade or raids.[78]

Western Asia

Gold Scythian belt title, Ming?çevir (ancient Scythian kingdom), Azerbaijan, 7th century BC
The Scythian kingdom in Western Asia at its maximum extent, under the reign of the king Madyes.

During the earliest phase of their presence in Western Asia, the Scythians under their king I?pakaia were allied with the Cimmerians, and the two groups, in alliance with the Medes, who were an Iranian people of Western 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[88] and the then superpower of Western Asia, the Neo-Assyrian Empire.[89] These allied forces were defeated by the Assyrian king Esarhaddon,[90][91] and I?pakaia was later killed in a retaliatory military campaign by Esarhaddon.[91]

I?pakaia was succeeded by Bartatua,[82] who sought a rapprochement with the Assyrians and married Esarhaddon's daughter Serua-eterat.[92][93][94] Bartatua's marriage to Serua-eterat required that he would pledge allegiance to Assyria as a vassal, with the territories ruled by him would be his fief granted by the Assyrian king, thus making the Scythian presence in Western Asia an extension of the Neo-Assyrian Empire,[82] and henceforth, the Scythians remained allies of the Assyrian Empire,[82] with Bartatua helping the Assyrians by defeating the state of Mannai and imposing Scythian hegemony over it.[95]

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, placed the Scythians under the strong influence of Assyrian culture.[82]

Bartatus was succeeded by his son with Serua-eterat, Madyes,[82] who in 653 BC invaded the Medes who were engaged in a war against Assyria, thus starting a period which Herodotus of Halicarnassus called the "Scythian rule over Asia."[96][86][82] Madyes soon expanded the Scythian hegemony to the state of Urartu,[96] and, soon after 635 BC, with Assyrian approval[97] and in alliance with the Lydians,[98] the Scythians under Madyes entered Anatolia and defeated the Cimmerians.[99] Scythian power in Western 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.[86][100]

By the 620s BC, the Assyrian Empire began unravelling after the death of Esarhaddon's son and successor, Ashurbanipal: in addition to internal instability within Assyria itself, Babylon revolted against the Assyrians in 626 BC under the leadership of Nabopolassar,[101] and in 625 BC the Median king Cyaxares overthrew the Scythian yoke over the Medes by assassinating the Scythian leaders, including Madyes.[102][101][82] The Scythians soon took advantage of the power vacuum created by the crumbling of the power of their former Assyrian allies to overrun the Levant and Palestine until the borders of Egypt, from where they turned back after their advance was stopped by the marshes of the Nile Delta and the pharaoh Psamtik I met them and convinced them to turn back by offering them gifts;[103][86] they retreated through Askal?n largely without any incident, although some stragglers looted the temple of Astarte in the city; the perpetrators of this sacrilege and their descendants were allegedly afflicted by the goddess with a "female disease," due to which they became a class of transvestite diviners called the Anarya (meaning "unmanly" in Scythian).[5][86] Starting around 615 BC, the Scythians were operating as allies of Cyaxares and the Medes in their war against Assyria.[82]

The Scythians were finally expelled from Western Asia by the Medes in the 600s BC, after which they retreated to the Pontic Steppe.[82] Some splinter Scythian groups nevertheless remained in Western Asia and settled in Transcaucasia,[42] and one group formed a kingdom in the area corresponding to modern-day Azerbaijan[104] in eastern Transcaucasia.[82] By the middle of the 6th century BC, the Scythians who had remained in Western Asia had completely assimilated culturally and politically into Median society and no longer existed as a distinct group.[105]

The Pontic Steppe

The Scythian kingdom in the Pontic steppe at its maximum extent.

After their expulsion from Western 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 from Ciscaucasia into the Pontic Steppe, which became the centre of Scythian power,[42] and in the western Ciscaucasia, from where the Scythians, not large in number enough to spread throughout Ciscaucasia, instead took over the steppe to the south of the Kuban river's middle course; the northwards migration of the Scythians continued throughout the 6th century BC. With the arrival of the Scythians from Western Asia into the Kuban Steppe around 600 BC, the older Novocherkassk Culture was replaced by a new Scythian Culture.[82] Using the Pontic steppe as their base, the Scythians often raided into the adjacent regions, with Central Europe being a frequent target of their raids.[42] In many parts of their north Pontic kingdom, 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.[5][106]

Outside of the Pontic Scythian kingdom itself, some splinter Scythian groups formed the Vorskla and Sula-Donets groups of the Scythian Culture in the forest-steppe.[107]

Between 650 and 625 BC, the Scythians of the northern Pontic region came into contact with the Greeks, who were starting to create colonies in the areas under Scythian rule; 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.[5]

In 513 BC, the king Darius I of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, which had succeeded the Median, Lydian, Egyptian, and Neo-Babylonian empires which the Scythians had once interacted with, carried out a campaign against the Pontic Scythians, with the reasons for this campaign being unclear. Darius's invasion was resisted by the Scythian king Idanthyrsus, and the results of this campaign were also unclear, with the Persian inscriptions themselves referring to the Pontic Scythians as having been conquered by Darius, while Greek authors instead claimed that Darius's campaign failed and from then onwards developed a tradition of idealising the Scythians as being invincible thanks to their nomadic lifestyle.[5]

In the 5th century BC, the Scythians embarked on expansionist ventures, including in the west, where they raided south of the Danube into Thrace until the formation of the Thracian Odrysian kingdom blocked their advances, after which the Scythians formed an alliance with the Odrysians; as well as in the north, where they imposed their rule on the peoples of the forest steppe; and in the south, where they brought the Greek colonies on the northern shores of the Black Sea under their power.[78][5]

The peak of the Scythian kingdom of the Pontic steppe happened 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; the rule of the Spartocid dynasty in the Bosporan Kingdom was also favourable for the Scythians, and the Bosporan aristocracy had contacts with the Scythians. This period saw Scythian culture not only thriving, with most known Scythian monuments date from then, but also rapidly undergoing significant Hellenisation.[78][5]

The most famous Scythian king of the 4th century BC was Ateas, whose rule started around the 360s BC, and under whom the Greek cities to the south of the Danube were brought under Scythian hegemony; Ateas's main activities in Thrace and south-west Scythia, such as his wars against the Triballi and the Histriani, attest of the power that the Scythians held to the south of the Danube in his time. Ateas initially allied with Philip II of Macedonia, but eventually this alliance fell apart and Ateas was killed during a war with the Macedonians in 339 BC.[78][5]

In the 3rd century BC, the expansion in the northern Pontic region of the Sarmatians, who were another nomadic Iranian people related to the Scythians, as well as of the Thracian Getae, the Germanic Bastarnae and Sciri, and of the Celts, the Scythian kingdom disappeared from the Pontic Steppe and the Sarmatians replaced the Scythians as the dominant power of the Pontic steppe, due to which the appellation of "Scythia" for the region became replaced by that of "Sarmatia Europea" (European Sarmatia).[42][5][78]

Skilurus, king of Scythia Minor in Crimea. Relief from Scythian Neapolis, Crimea, 2nd century BC

Scythia Minor

The Scythians fled to the Scythia Minor in Crimea, where they were able to securely establish themselves against the Sarmatian invasion despite tensions with the Greeks, and to the Scythia Minor in Dobrugea, as well as in nearby regions, where they became limited in enclaves. The remnants of the Scythians on the Pontic steppe settled down in a series of fortified settlements located along the main rivers of the region. By then, these Scythians were no longer nomadic: they had become sedentary farmers and were Hellenised, and the only places where the Scythians could still be found by the 2nd century BC were in the Scythia Minors of Crimea and Dobrugea, as well as in the lower reaches of the Dnipro river.[42][5][78]

The territory of the Scythae Basilaei ("Royal Scyths") along the north shore of the Black Sea around 125 AD

By 50 to 150 AD, most of the Scythians had been assimilated by the Sarmatians.[5] 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.[108]

In subsequent centuries, remaining Scythians and Sarmatians were largely assimilated by early Slavs.[24] The Scythians and Sarmatians played an instrumental role in the ethnogenesis of the Ossetians, who are considered direct descendants of the Alans.[25]

Legacy

Late Antiquity

In Late Antiquity 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, Turkic peoples, Pannonian Avars, Slavs, and Khazars.[28][5] 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.[109]

Early Modern usage

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

Owing to their reputation as established by Greek historians, the Scythians long served as the epitome of savagery and barbarism.[]

The New Testament includes a single reference to Scythians in Colossians 3:11:[110] in a letter ascribed to Paul, "Scythian" is used as an example of people whom some label pejoratively, but who are, in Christ, acceptable to God:

Here there is no Greek or Jew. There is no difference between those who are circumcised and those who are not. There is no rude outsider, or even a Scythian. There is no slave or free person. But Christ is everything. And he is in everything.[110]

Shakespeare, for instance, alluded to the legend that Scythians ate their children in his play King Lear:

The barbarous Scythian

Or he that makes his generation messes
To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom
Be as well neighbour'd, pitied, and relieved,

As thou my sometime daughter.[111]

Characteristically, early modern English discourse on Ireland, such as that of William Camden and Edmund Spenser, frequently resorted to comparisons with Scythians in order to confirm that the indigenous population of Ireland descended from these ancient "bogeymen," and showed themselves as barbaric as their alleged ancestors.[112][113]

Romantic nationalism: Battle between the Scythians and the Slavs (Viktor Vasnetsov, 1881)

Descent claims

Eugène Delacroix's painting of the Roman poet, Ovid, in exile among the Scythians[114]

Some legends of the Poles,[115] the Picts, the Gaels, the Hungarians, among others, also include mention of Scythian origins. Some writers claim that Scythians figured in the formation of the empire of the Medes and likewise of Caucasian Albania.[]

The Scythians also feature in some national origin-legends of the Celts. In the second paragraph of the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, the élite of Scotland claim Scythia as a former homeland of the Scots. According to the 11th-century Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland), the 14th-century Auraicept na n-Éces and other Irish folklore, the Irish originated in Scythia and were descendants of Fénius Farsaid, a Scythian prince who created the Ogham alphabet.[116]

The Carolingian kings of the Franks traced Merovingian ancestry to the Germanic tribe of the Sicambri. Gregory of Tours documents in his History of the Franks that when Clovis was baptised, he was referred to as a Sicamber with the words "Mitis depone colla, Sicamber, adora quod incendisti, incendi quod adorasti." The Chronicle of Fredegar in turn reveals that the Franks believed the Sicambri to be a tribe of Scythian or Cimmerian descent, who had changed their name to Franks in honour of their chieftain Franco in 11 BC.[]

In the 17th and 18th centuries, foreigners regarded the Russians as descendants of Scythians. It became conventional to refer to Russians as Scythians in 18th-century poetry, and Alexander Blok drew on this tradition sarcastically in his last major poem, Skify (Russian: , lit.'The Scythians') (1920). In the 19th century, romantic revisionists in the West transformed the "barbarian" Scyths of literature into the wild and free, hardy and democratic ancestors of all blond Indo-Europeans.[]

Based on such accounts of Scythian founders of certain Germanic as well as Celtic tribes, British historiography in the British Empire period such as Sharon Turner in his History of the Anglo-Saxons, made them the ancestors of the Anglo-Saxons.[]

The idea was taken up in the British Israelism of John Wilson, who adopted and promoted the idea that the "European Race, in particular the Anglo-Saxons, were descended from certain Scythian tribes, and these Scythian tribes (as many had previously stated from the Middle Ages onward) were in turn descended from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel."[117] Tudor Parfitt, author of The Lost Tribes of Israel and Professor of Modern Jewish Studies, points out that the proof cited by adherents of British Israelism is "of a feeble composition even by the low standards of the genre."[118]

Legends about the origin of the population from the Scythian ancestor Targitaos - son of Borysthenes's daughter (that was the name of the Dnipro river in antiquity) - are popular in Ukraine. In Ukraine, which territory Herodotus of Halicarnassus described in his work on the Scythians, there are discussions about how serious the influence of the Scythians was on the ethnogenesis of Ukrainians.[119] Currently, there are studies that indicate the relationship of Slavic tribes living in Ukraine with the Scythian plowmen (plough man) and farmers who belonged to the Proto-Slavic Chernoles or Black Forest culture.[120][121] The description of Scythia by Herodotus is also called the oldest description of Ukraine.[122] Despite the absolute dissimilarity of modern Ukrainian and hypothetical Scythian languages, researchers claim it still left some marks,[123] such as the fricative pronunciation of the letter "?," the specific alternation, etc.[124]

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 Iranian peoples, and archaeological evidence.[5]

In a fragment from the comic writer Euphron quoted in Deipnosophistae poppy seeds are mentioned as a "food which the Scythians love."

Lifestyle

The early Scythians tribes were nomadic pastoralists, and their lifestyle and customs were inextricably linked to their nomadic way of life; the Scythians were able to raise large herds of horses, cattle and sheep thanks to the abundance of grass growing in the steppe, while hunting was primarily done for sport and entertainment; among the more nomadic Scythian tribes, the women and children spent their time in wagons where they lived, while the men spent their lives on horseback and were trained as fighters and in archery since an early age. But by the time the Scythians were living in the Pontic Steppe, beginning in the 7th century BC, they had become semi-nomadic and practised both nomadism and farming, although the Scythian tribes living in the steppe zone remained primarily nomadic.[78][125][126]

The Scythians did not use saddles or stirrups, which were a later Sarmatian invention, and they rode their horses sitting only on a piece of cloth.[127]

Unlike the other Scythic peoples such as the Sarmatians, where women were allowed to go hunting, ride horses, learn archery and fight with spears just like the men, the society of the Scythians proper was patriarchal and Scythian women possessed little freedom.[126]

The tribe of the Alazones, who were a population of either Scythian or mixed Thracian and Scythian origin, were sedentary farmers who cultivated wheat, onions, garlic, lentils and millet.[106]

Wine was primarily consumed by the Scythian aristocracy during the earlier phase of their kingdom in the Pontic steppe, and its consumption became more prevalent among the wealthier members of the populace in the Late Scythian period.[126]

Clothing

Kul-Oba vase
Scythian warriors, drawn after figures on an electrum cup from the Kul-Oba kurgan burial near Kerch, Crimea. The warrior on the right strings his bow, bracing it behind his knee; note the typical pointed hood, long jacket with fur or fleece trimming at the edges, decorated trousers, and short boots tied at the ankle. Scythians apparently wore their hair long and loose, and all adult men apparently bearded. The gorytos appears clearly on the left hip of the bare-headed spearman. The shield of the central figure may be made of plain leather over a wooden or wicker base. (Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg).

The Scythians wore clothing typical of the steppe nomads: the clothing of Scythian men included trousers and belts, they wore pointed caps during earlier periods, but they went bareheaded in later times; Scythian women wore long dresses and mantles decorated with triangular or round metallic plates, which were made of gold for wealthier women and of bronze for poorer women, and women belonging to the upper classes wore kandus cloaks over their dresses and a veil over their head.[126]

Scythian men and women both wore golden and brazen jewellery: both wore bracelets made of silver or bronze wire and neckrings and torcs made of gold and whose terminals were shaped like animal figures or animal heads; necklaces worn by the Scythians were made of gold and semi-precious stone beads; men wore only one earring. Scythian men also grew their hair long and their beards to significant sizes.[128]

Costume has been regarded as one of the main identifying criteria for Scythians. Women wore a variety of different headdresses, some conical in shape others more like flattened cylinders, also adorned with metal (golden) plaques.[129]

Men and women wore long trousers, often adorned with metal plaques and often embroidered or adorned with felt appliqués; trousers could have been wider or tight fitting depending on the area. Materials used depended on the wealth, climate and necessity.[130]

Men and women warriors wore variations of long and shorter boots, wool-leather-felt gaiter-boots and moccasin-like shoes. They were either of a laced or simple slip on type. Women wore also soft shoes with metal (gold) plaques.

Men and women wore belts. Warrior belts were made of leather, often with gold or other metal adornments and had many attached leather thongs for fastening of the owner's gorytos, sword, whet stone, whip etc. Belts were fastened with metal or horn belt-hooks, leather thongs and metal (often golden) or horn belt-plates.[131]

Scythian women used mirrors, and many Scythian women's burials contained Greek-made bronze mirrors. 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.[128]

Language

The Scythians spoke a language belonging to the Scythian languages, most probably[132] a branch of the Eastern Iranian languages.[3] 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.[133] 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.[134]

Religion

The religion of the Scythians was a variant of the Pre-Zoroastrian Iranian religionwhich differed from Zoroastrian and the post-Zoroastrian Iranian religions, and instead belonged to a more archaic stage of Indo-Iranian religious development than the Zoroastrian and Hindu systems.[22] The use of cannabis to induce trance and divination by soothsayers was a characteristic of the Scythian belief system.[22]

Our most important literary source on Scythian religion is Herodotus of Halicarnassus. According to him the leading deity in the Scythian pantheon was Tabiti, whom he compared to the Greek god Hestia.[5] Tabiti was eventually replaced by Atar, the fire-pantheon of Iranian tribes, and Agni, the fire deity of Indo-Aryans.[22] Other deities mentioned by Halicarnassus include Papaios, Api, Goitosyros/Oitosyros, Argimpasa and Thagimasadas, whom he identified with Zeus, Gaia, Apollo, Aphrodite and Poseidon, respectively. The Scythians are also said by Halicarnassus to have worshipped equivalents of Heracles and Ares, but he does not mention their Scythian names.[5] An additional Scythian deity, the goddess Dithagoia, is mentioned in the a dedication by Senamotis, daughter of King Skiluros, at Panticapaeum. Most of the names of Scythian deities can be traced back to Iranian roots.[5]

Halicarnassus states that Thagimasadas was worshipped by the Royal Scythians only, while the remaining deities were worshipped by all. He also states that "Ares," the god of war, was the only god to whom the Scythians dedicated statues, altars or temples. Tumuli were erected to him in every Scythian district, and both animal sacrifices and human sacrifices were performed in honor of him. At least one shrine to "Ares" has been discovered by archaeologists.[5]

The Scythians had professional priests, but it is not known if they constituted a hereditary class. Among the priests there was a separate group, the Enarei, who worshipped the goddess Argimpasa and assumed feminine identities.[5]

Scythian mythology gave much importance to myth of the "First Man," who was considered the ancestor of them and their kings. Similar myths are common among other Iranian peoples. Considerable importance was given to the division of Scythian society into three hereditary classes, which consisted of warriors, priests and producers. Kings were considered part of the warrior class. Royal power was considered holy and of solar and heavenly origin.[22] The Iranian principle of royal charisma, known as khvarenah in the Avesta, played a prominent role in Scythian society. It is probable that the Scythians had a number of epic legends, which were possibly the source for Halicarnassus's writings on them.[5] Traces of these epics can be found in the epics of the Ossetians of the present day.[22]

In Scythian cosmology the world was divided into three parts, with the warriors, considered part of the upper world, the priests of the middle level, and the producers of the lower one.[5]

Social organisation

The Scythians were monarchical and were ruled by tribal kings who held absolute power over their respective tribes, and in turn owed allegiance to the king of the Royal Scythians. Royal power among the Scythians was considered as having been divinely ordained; this conception of royal power, which is well documented in the ritual symbols depicted on Late Scythian toreutics, was initially foreign to Scythian culture and originated in Western Asia during the period of Scythian presence there in the 7th century BC.[126][135]

According to the Scythologists Askold Ivantchik and Mikhail Bukharin, the Scythians had been ruled by at least three dynasties, including that of Bartatua, that of Spargapeithes, and that of Ariapeithes.[5][136] The historian and anthropologist Anatoly Khazanov instead suggested that the Scythians had been ruled by the same dynasty from the time of their stay in Western Asia until the end of their kingdom in the Pontic steppe.[137]

The Scythian Husbandsmen consisted of a large populace of Thracian origin over which ruled an Iranic Scythian ruling class. These Scythian Husbandsmen were a war-like people who were organised into small units settled in strongholds covering between sixteen and twenty-four hectares, each possessing a large industrial centre, and which each functioned as industrial centres. Among the Scythian Husbandsmen, the sedentary Thracians were buried in poorly furnished shaft tombs, while the Scythian ruling class were buried in large underground burial chambers or in timber sepulchres whose grave goods included Greek pottery, weapons, and personal ornaments.[138]

Tribal divisions

The Scythians were composed of a number of tribal units, including:[78][106]

  • the Royal Scythians, also called the Sk?lotoi () and the Paralatai (), were an Iranian tribe who nomadised in the central Pontic Steppe between the Dnipro and the Don rivers and in Crimea. The Royal Scythians were the main Scythian tribe, and they were the ruling tribe of the whole of Scythia.
    • the name Paralatai corresponds to the Young Avestan name Parata (), meaning "placed at the front."[139]
    • the name Sk?lotoi is the Greek form of the Scythian endonym Skulat?, formed by the addition of the plural suffix -t? to the Scythian endonym Skula[5][30]
  • the Nomadic Scythians, who nomadised to the west of the Royal Scythians, between the Inhul and the bend of the Dnipro, were a mixed Thracian and Iranic Scythian tribe.[140]
  • the Alazones (Ancient Greek: ) or Aliz?nes (Ancient Greek: ) occupied the steppe between the Inhul and the Dnister, and led semi-nomadic lives, with some of them being pastoral nomads and others being farmers who cultivated wheat, onions, garlic, lentils and millet. The Alazones might have been of mixed Thracian and Iranic origins.
  • the Scythian Husbandsmen or Arot?res (Ancient Greek: ) or Gerrhoi (Ancient Greek: )[141] were a Thracian population of Scythia who lived in a region with fertile black earth corresponding to the modern-day part of Ukraine which lies on the west of the Dnipro river. These Scythian Husbandsmen were sedentary agriculturists over whom had ruled an Iranian ruling class since the second half of the 2nd millennium BC.
  • the Callipidae (Ancient Greek: ?, romanizedKallipidai) were a 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 Scythian Agriculturalists or Ge?rgoi (Ancient Greek: ?) were another population of Thracian origin. The Scythian Agriculturalists lived in the valley of the lower Dnipro river.

Herodotus of Halicarnassus relates that three main tribes of the Scythians descended from three sons of Targitaos:[142]

Although scholars have traditionally treated the three tribes as geographically distinct, Georges Dumézil interpreted the divine gifts as the symbols of social occupations, illustrating his trifunctional vision of early Indo-European societies: the plough and yoke symbolised the farmers, the axe--the warriors, the bowl--the priests. The first scholar to compare the three strata of Scythian society to the Indian castes was Arthur Christensen. According to Dumézil, "the fruitless attempts of Arpoxais and Lipoxais, in contrast to the success of Colaxais, may explain why the highest strata was not that of farmers or magicians, but, rather, that of warriors."[143]

Related and neighbouring populations

The neighbours of the Scythians included:[106]

  • 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. 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 Volga.
  • the Neuri, who were a Baltic population of the region of the forest steppe corresponding to modern-day Belarus.
  • the Budini, to the east of the Neuroi, were one of the many Finno-Ugric populations living in the eastern forest steppe until the Ural Mountains.
  • the Maeotians lived on the eastern coast of Lake Maeotis.
  • the Tauri lived in the Crimean Mountains.

Warfare

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.[144]
Scythian bronze arrowheads, c700-300 BC

The Scythians were a warlike people. When engaged at war, almost the entire adult population, including a large number of women, participated in battle.[145] The Athenian historian Thucydides noted that no people in either Europe or Asia could resist the Scythians without outside aid.[145]

The main Scythian weapon was the composite short bow, which when not used was carried in a combined quiver-bowcase, made of bark or leather and decorated with golden or bronze plaque, called a gorutos. Each gorutos could contain up to 300 arrows, which were made either of reed or of wood, and whose arrowheads were typically socketed and had three edges, and are presently called "Scythian type" arrows, although they were not a Scythian invention but had been borrowed during the Scythian period in Western Asia from the peoples of Transcaucasia. The ak?nak?s sword, which was a short iron dagger whose haft was richly decorated, and shaft-hole sagaris war axes, which are also considered to be "typically Scythian" weapons, were also adopted by the Scythians from the Transcaucasian populations, and more specifically were derived from Georgian Bronze Age weapons. Other Scythian weapons included lances, darts, lassoes, and slings.[127]

Golden decorative plate shaped like a stag from a Scythian shield.
Golden decorative plate shaped like a panther from a Scythian shield.

The Scythians used leather or hide armour, although the aristocracy commonly used iron, bronze, or bone scale armour, which the Scythians had adopted from the Western Asian peoples during the 7th century BC and made into a prevalent aspect of the Scythian culture of the northern Pontic region. 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 Scythians also small hide or wicker shields reinforced with iron strips, with the shields of Scythian aristocrats often being decorated with decorative central plaques. The Scythians sometimes also protected their horses, most especially their chests, with scale armour.[127]

Other defensive armour used by the Scythians included bronze helmets made by the native Caucasian peoples in the 6th and early 5th centuries BC in western Ciscaucasia, which by the 5th century BC had been replaced by Greek-made Attic helmets. The Scythians also imported Greek-made greaves.[127]

Scythians were particularly known for their equestrian skills, and their early use of composite bows shot from horseback. With great mobility, the Scythians could absorb the attacks of more cumbersome footsoldiers and cavalry, just retreating into the steppes. Such tactics wore down their enemies, making them easier to defeat. The Scythians were notoriously aggressive warriors. Ruled by small numbers of closely allied elites, Scythians had a reputation for their archers, and many gained employment as mercenaries. Scythian elites had kurgan tombs: high barrows heaped over chamber-tombs of larch wood, a deciduous conifer that may have had special significance as a tree of life-renewal, for it stands bare in winter.[146]

The Greek historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus said that the Scythians scalped their enemies.[147] Herodotus related that Scythian warriors would behead the enemies they defeated in battle and present the heads to their king to claim their share of the plunder. Then, the warrior would skin the head "by making a circular cut round the ears and shaking out the skull; he then scrapes the flesh off the skin with the rib of an ox, and when it is clean works it with his fingers until it is supple, and fit to be used as a sort of handkerchief. He hangs these handkerchiefs on the bridle of his horse, and is very proud of them. The best man is the man who has the greatest number."[148] A skull from an Iron Age cemetery in South Siberia shows evidence of scalping. It lends physical evidence to the practice of scalp taking by the Scythians living there.[149]

Some Scythian-Sarmatian cultures may have given rise to Greek stories of Amazons. Graves of armed females have been found in southern Ukraine and Russia. David Anthony notes, "About 20% of Scythian-Sarmatian 'warrior graves' on the lower Don and lower Volga contained females dressed for battle as if they were men, a style that may have inspired the Greek tales about the Amazons."[150]

Crafts

Though a predominantly nomadic people for much of their history, the Scythians were skilled metalworkers. Knowledge of bronze working was present when the Scythian people formed, by the 8th century BC Scythian mercenaries fighting in the Near East had begun to spread knowledge of iron working to their homeland. Archeological sites attributed to the Scythians have been found to contain the remnants of workshops, slag piles, and discarded tools, all of which imply some Scythian settlements were the site of organized industry.[151][152]

Scythian bronze-working products included large bronze semi-spheric cauldrons with truncated cones as their stands. These were decorated in cast and had either two or four animal-shaped handles on their rims. Such cauldrons were placed in burials along with deceased individuals, containing within them remains of horse and mutton bones, which were remnants of food for the deceased in the afterlife. Also manufactured by this bronze industry were socketed bronze finials which were placed at the top of poles and decorated with various animal figures.[153]

The centre of early Scythian industry 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; the Scythians also obtained simple tools and ornamentations and some weapon types from the sedentary Thracians who lived in their kingdom, and who manufactured products such as pottery, woodwork, and weaving, as well as bronze metal-working made out of raw materials imported from Transylvania. By the Late 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.[153]

Art

Gold pectoral, or neckpiece, from an aristocratic kurgan in Tovsta Mohyla, Pokrov, Ukraine, dated to the second half of the 4th century BCE, 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 art of the Scythians and related peoples of the Scythian cultures is known as Scythian art. It is particularly characterized by its use of the animal style.[5]

The various groups of Scythian art across the Eurasian steppe developed independently from each other: the populations of the Srubnaya and Andronovo cultures from which initially originated the early Scythians used solely geometric patterns on their pottery and cheek-pieces made of bone, and the art of the Scythians proper was developed under the influence of the art of West Asian cultures during the Scythian presence in Western Asia and later under the influence of the naturalistic art of the inhabitants of the forested regions of Eastern Europe, as well as of Thracian and Greek art.[5][154]

The art of the Scythians proper originated between 650 and 600 BC for the needs of the aristocracy of the Royal Scythians at the time when they ruled over large swathes of Western Asia, with the objects of the Ziwiye hoard being the first example of this art. Later examples of this Western Asian-influenced art from the 6th century BC were found in western Ciscaucasiam burials, 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 Western 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 group were still using Srubnaya- and Andronovo-type geometric patterns.[154]

In the earlier phases of the art of the Scythians proper, Western Asian motifs dominated the earlier Srubnaya-inherited Scythian elements; Greek elements were later incorporated into this artistic tradition in the regions corresponding to modern-day Ukraine and Georgia; in addition to this, the art of the Scythians was also influneced by that of the peoples of the East European forest steppe. This Scythian art formed out of various influences later spread to the west, in the region which corresponds to present Romania, and eventually to Western Europe too, where it brought influences from Iranian and West Asian art into Celtic art.[155]

Scythian animal style appears in an already established form Eastern Europe in the 8th century BC along with the Early Scythian archaeological culture itself. It bears little resemblance to the art of pre-Scythian cultures of the area. Some scholars suggest the art style developed under Near Eastern influence during the military campaigns of the 7th century BC, but the more common theory is that it developed on the eastern part of the Eurasian Steppe under Chinese influence. Others have sought to reconcile the two theories, suggesting that the animal style of the west and eastern parts of the steppe developed independently of each other, under Near Eastern and Chinese influences, respectively. Regardless, the animal style art of the Scythians differs considerable from that of peoples living further east.[5]

Scythian animal style works are typically divided into birds, ungulates and beasts of prey. This probably reflects the tripatriate division of the Scythian cosmos, with birds belonging to the upper level, ungulates to the middle level and beasts of prey in the lower level.[5]

Images of mythological creatures such a griffins are not uncommon in Scythian animal style, but these are probably the result of Near Eastern influences. By the late 6th century BC, as Scythian activity in the Near East was reduced, depictions of mythological creatures largely disappears from Scythian art. It, however, reappears again in the 4th century BC as a result of Greek influence.[5]

Anthropomorphic depictions in Early Scythian art is known only from kurgan stelae. These depict warriors with almond-shaped eyes and mustaches, often including weapons and other military equipment.[5]

Since the 5th century BC, Scythian art changed considerably. This was probably a result of Greek and Persian influence, and possibly also internal developments caused by an arrival of a new nomadic people from the east. The changes are notable in the more realistic depictions of animals, who are now often depicted fighting each other rather than being depicted individually. Kurgan stelae of the time also display traces of Greek influences, with warriors being depicted with rounder eyes and full beards.[5]

The 4th century BC show additional Greek influence. While animal style was still in use, it appears that much Scythian art by this point was being made by Greek craftsmen on behalf of Scythians. Such objects are frequently found in aristocratic Scythian burials of the period. Depictions of human beings become more prevalent. Many objects of Scythian art made by Greeks are probably illustrations of Scythian legends. Several objects are believed to have been of religious significance.[5]

By the late 3rd century BC, original Scythian art disappears through ongoing Hellenization. The creation of anthropomorphic gravestones continued, however.[5]

Works of Scythian art are held at many museums and has been featured at many exhibitions. The largest collections of Scythian art are found at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg and the Museum of Historical Treasures of the Ukraine in Kyiv, while smaller collections are found at the Staatliche Antikensammlungen in Berlin, the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford, and the Louvre of Paris.[5]

Trade

The Pontic Scythians practised trade extensively, and beginning in the 7th and 6th centuries BC, they 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 Classical Scythian period of the 5th century BC, the Scythians were importing Corinthian and Athenian pottery; and by the Late 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 gorutoi.[153]

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. Gold was traded from eastern Eurasia until Pontic Olbia through this route, and the Scythian trade 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.[153]

As a consequence of these flourishing trade relations, which were themselves possibly 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, and the Scythian upper classes were also able to significantly enrich themselves.[153]

The relations between the Scythians and the Greek cities became more hostile during the 5th century BC, with the former destroying the latter's kh?rai and rural settlements and therefore 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 Bug 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. This arrangement came to an end sometime between 435 and 400 BC, with the Greek cities regaining their independence and rebuilding their kh?rai.[5]

Another consequence of trade between the Greeks and the Scythians was that Greek art significantly influenced Scythian art and artistic preferences, and by the Late Scythian period most of the artwork in the Scythian tombs consisted of Scythian motifs and scenes representing Scythian life which had been done by Greek artisans.[153]

Physical appearance

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

In artworks, the Scythians are portrayed exhibiting Caucasoid traits.[156] In Histories, the 5th-century BC Greek historian Halicarnassus of Halicarnassus describes the Budini of Scythia as red-haired and grey-eyed.[156] In the 5th century BC, Greek physician Hippocrates argued that the Scythians were light skinned[156][157] as well as having a particularly high rate of hypermobility, to a point of affecting warfare.[158] In the 3rd century BC, the Greek poet Callimachus described the Arismapes (Arimaspi) of Scythia as fair-haired.[156][159] 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.[156] In Natural History, the 1st-century CE Roman author Pliny the Elder characterises the Seres, sometimes identified as Saka or Tocharians, as red-haired, blue-eyed and unusually tall.[156][160] In the late 2nd century AD, the Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria says that the Scythians and the Celts have long auburn hair.[156][161] The 2nd-century Greek philosopher Polemon includes the Scythians among the northern peoples characterised by red hair and blue-grey eyes.[156] 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.[156][162] The fourth-century Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus wrote that the Alans, a people closely related to the Scythians, were tall, blond and light-eyed.[163] The fourth-century bishop Gregory of Nyssa wrote that the Scythians were fair skinned and blond haired.[164] The 5th-century physician Adamantius, who often followed Polemon, describes the Scythians as fair-haired.[156][165]

Scythian warrior in bronze scale armour

Archaeology

Scythian defence line 339 BC reconstruction in Polgár, Hungary

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.[166] Mummification techniques and permafrost have aided in the relative preservation of some remains. Scythian archaeology also examines the remains of cities and fortifications.[167][168][169]

Scythian archaeology can be divided into three stages:[5]

  • 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.

Early Scythian

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 to the south along the western coast of the Caspian Sea. This section of the Srubnaya culture developed into the Early Scythian Culture through contact with the populations of Urartu and Transcaucasia while the Scythians who had expanded into the Pontic steppe maintained their Srubnaya culture in its Late Srubnaya form.[170][140] The lavish equipments which included West Asian-manufactured grave goods and animal and human sacrifices of the later Ciscaucasian Scythian kurgans (barrow-graves) were present in neither the pre-Scythian kurgans of the Pontic Steppe nor in those of the Srubnaya and Andronovo cultures ancestral to the Scythians and Sarmatians, and were not found among the Saka tribes to the east of the Ural Mountains either, having been borrowed from the peoples of West Asia by the Scythians during the 7th century BC.[171]

The Scythians and Cimmerians were both members of the same Early Scythian culture,[172] thus making it difficult to distinguish them apart archaeologically. The adoption of Scythian techniques by the Medes also makes it difficult to archaeologically distinguish the Scythians from the Medes.[91]

In the south of Eastern Europe, Early Scythian culture replaced sites of the so-called Novocherkassk culture. The date of this transition is disputed among archaeologists. Dates ranging from the mid-8th century to the late 7th century BC have been proposed. A transition in the late 8th century BC has gained the most scholarly support. The origins of the Early Scythian culture is controversial. Many of its elements are of Central Asian origin, but the culture appears to have reached its ultimate form on the Pontic steppe, partially through the influence of North Caucasian elements and to a smaller extent the influence of Near Eastern elements.[5]

The initial westward migration of the Scythians from Central Asia was accompanied by the introduction into the north Pontic region of articles originating in the Siberian Karasuk culture and which were characteristic of Early Scythian archaeological culture, consisting of cast bronze cauldrons, daggers, swords, and horse harnesses.[82] The initial Scythian movements of the 8th to 7th century BC into the Pontic steppe had also destroyed most of the Sabatynivka culture [uk],[82] although some sections of the Sabatynivka culture nevertheless subsisted in the western part of the steppe, in the country of the Alazones, until around 450 to 400 BC,[107] as well as in the region inhabited by the Scythian Husbandsmen, some of whose settlements corresponded to the later phases of the Sabatynivka culture, some of whose settlements corresponded to the later phases of the Sabatynivka culture.[173]

The period in the 8th and 7th centuries BC when the Cimmerians and Scythians raided the Near East are ascribed to the later stages of the Early Scythian culture, to which both the Scythians and the Cimmerians belonged.[174] thus making it difficult to distinguish them apart archaeologically. The adoption of Scythian techniques by the Medes also makes it difficult to archaeologically distinguish the Scythians from the Medes.[91] Attesting of these movements are archaeological records of Scythian presence to the south of the Caucasus range in the 7th century BC, which predate the earliest Scythian material remains to the north of the Caucasus Mountains, which are from the 6th century BC; the earliest Scythian antiquities from the north of the Caucasus Mountains also show significant Western Asian influence. Examples of Early Scythian burials in the Near East include those of Nor?untepe and ?mirler. Objects of Early Scythian type have been found in Urartian fortresses such as Teishebaini, Bastam and Ayanis-kale. Near Eastern influences are probably explained through objects made by Near Eastern craftsmen on behalf of Scythian chieftains.[5][175]

Among the remains of the Scythian presence in Western Asia is the Ziwiye hoard, within which was buried a Scythian king in a sarcophagus along with his queen, some female servants, several armed guards, and eleven horses, all immolated, as well as a chariot. The grave goods of the king included a ceremonial golden sword and its scabbard, which had been decorated with gold and silver and ivory, as well as a breastplate, pectorals, a silver shield, three iron daggers, seven iron lance-heads, bronze disc-shaped shield bosses belonging to the guards, bows and arrows, gold and bronze vases, pottery, horse gear, a decorated silver chamfron, sculpted ivory, and jewellery belonging to the queen. The objects of the Ziwiye hoard had been made over the 7th century BC, and were placed in the burial at the end of that century or possibly around 600 BC. The hoard also contained a bronze sarcophagus on which was represented the deceased, dressed as an Assyrian high official, towards whom Median, Urartian and Mannaean tribute-bearers were being led. According to Tadeusz Sulimirski, this burial belonged to Bartatua, and was the first West Asian-influenced Scythian burial whose model would be emulated by subsequent Scythian rulers. The custom of performing human sacrifices during funerals had itself been adopted from the Mesopotamian and Transcaucasian peoples.[155]

Kurgans from the Early Scythian culture have been discovered in Ciscaucasia. Some of these are characterized by great wealth, and probably belonged royals of aristocrats. They contain not only the deceased, but also horses and even chariots. The burial rituals carried out in these kurgans correspond closely with those described by Herodotus of Halicarnassus. The greatest kurgans from the Early Scythian culture in Ciscaucasia are found at Kelermesskaya, Novozavedennoe II (Ulsky Kurgans [ru]) and Kostromskaya. One kurgan at Ulsky was found measured at 15 metres in height and contained more than 400 horses. Kurgans from the 7th century BC, when the Scythians were raiding the Near East, typically contain objects of Near Eastern origin. Kurgans from the late 7th century BC, however, contain few Middle Eastern objects, but, rather, objects of Greek origin, pointing to increased contacts between the Scythians and Greek colonists.[5]

The earliest Scythian antiquities from the north of the Caucasus Mountains, which date from the 6th century BC, show significant Western Asian influence, due to the preceding period of Scythian presence in Western Asia; these would later be replaced by objects made locally for the Scythian market by Greek artisans. Attesting of these movements are archaeological records of Scythian presence to the south of the Caucasus range in the 7th century BC, which predate the earliest Scythian material remains to the north of the Caucasus Mountains, which are from the 6th century BC.[175] In western Ciscaucasia, where a Scythian elite ruled over the native Maeotian population, the Maeotians buried their dead in "flat" cemeteries, while the Scythian ruling class buried its dead in kurgans. The royal burials of the western Ciscaucasian Scythians during the Early Scythian period included human sacrifices and burnt horse hecatombs, which were absent from the contemporary Scythian royal burials within the Pontic steppe itself. These funerary practices had been adopted by the Scythians from the native West Asian peoples, and were based on the notion of the divine origin of royal power, which was itself borrowed by the Scythians from the populations of Transcaucasia and Mesopotamia, and within the earlier Scythian kurgans of the Kuban Steppe were also buried articles which had been produced by Assyrian and Urartian workshops during the Scythians' presence in Western Asia; the Scythians in turn introduced these customs into the Steppe.[82][176] Scythian kurgans started spreading in the Pontic steppe in the 6th century BC, corresponding with the northwards migration of the Royal Scythians from Western Asia to the Pontic steppe. A Scythian kurgan of this period from Alekseyevka-Krivorozhe, and which belonged to a Scythian who had recently arrived in this region from Western Asia or a descendant of such a Western Asian Scythian newcomer, contained a bull head-shaped silver terminal which had once been part of an Assyrian stool, a wreath made of electrum, a bronze helmet's decoration, and an animal-shaped Ionian Greek vase from Samos.[107]

Scythian material remains in Ciscaucasia from the 6th century BC continued showing significant West Asian influences resulting from the period of the Scythians' presence in Western Asia: Kurgan 1 of the Kelermes kurgans [ru], dated from some time between 675 and 550 BC, contained the burial of an aristocrat along with grave goods all originating from Western Asia, more specifically of Urartian and or Median provenance; in Kurgan 2 of the same groups, a man's burial contained objects decorated with Scythian style deer figures, while a woman's grave contained an Ionian Greek gilt mirror made in the 7th or 6th century BC;[155] these burials belonged to the Scythian ruling class whom the Medes had expelled from Western Asia around 600 BC. The royal burials from Kelermesskaya and Kostromskaya contained shields which were decorated with a central stag-shaped plaque. The early Scythian royal burials in western Ciscaucasia, from the 6th and early 5th century, contained bronze helmets made by the native populations of the Caucasus; from the 5th century BC, Greek Attic-type helmets started appearing in the burials of this region; and 4th century BC tombs in the area contained bronze greaves imported from Greece and Caucasian-made helmets.[127][176] Mirrors made in Pontic Olbia were commonly placed in the burials of Scythian women during the earlier phases of the Pontic Scythian kingdom.[126] Scythian art from the 6th century BC continued showing showing West Asian influences even after the Scythian retreat into the steppe, with examples including those found in western Ciscaucasian burials, 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.[154] The royal burials from Kelermesskaya and Kostromskaya contained shields which were decorated with a central stag-shaped plaque.[127]

The most lavish Ciscaucasian Scythian tomb is the Ulski kurgan [ru], dating from the Early Scythian period. This tomb was 15 metres high, contained the skeletons of more than 400 horses, and followed the West Asian-influenced model of Scythian royal funerals first established with the Ziwiyeh tomb. Its layout and contents corresponded to the description of a Scythian royal funeral as described by Herodotus of Halicarnassus, according to whom 50 Scythian youths were sacrifices and their bodies were impaled and mounted atop the bodies of sacrificed horses around the top of the burial mound one year after the funeral.[138][155]

The oldest known Scythian burial within Scythia itself in the Pontic steppe is the Melhuniv kurhan [uk], which has been dated to sometime between 575 and 550 BC, and contained grave goods of primarily Urartian and Median origin which had been manufactured before the Scythian retreat from Western Asia, while it contained barely any objects of Greek origin. Grave goods imported from Ciscaucasia and Transcaucasia were also found in the earlier burials of the Tiasmyn group of the Scythian culture, where was located the country of Gerrhos where were buried the kings of the Royal Scythians.[141]

Arzhan kurgan in Tuva Republic, southern Siberia, Russia

Early Scythian culture is known primarily from its funerary sites, because the Scythians at this time were nomads without permanent settlements. The most important sites are located in the northwestern parts of Scythian territories in the forest steppes of the Dnipro, and the southeastern parts of Scythian territories in Ciscaucasia. At this time it was common for the Scythians to be buried in the edges of their territories. Early Scythian sites are characterized by similar artifacts with minor local variations.[5] Inhumation was the main mode of final disposition in Scythia. The burials and funeral rites across Scythia varied on a regional and class basis, and also evolved with time, especially due to the immigration of new nomadic groups into Scythia:[176]

  • the Scythian ruling classes were buried in large underground burial chambers or in timber sepulchres whose grave goods included Greek pottery, weapons, and personal ornaments decorated in the animal style,[138] and these kurgans were decorated on their surface with stelae consisting of large slabs of rocks whose surfaces had been carved into crude human figures in relief and which represented armned men whose dress, swords and weapons had been sculpted in detail. The burials of the Early Scythian period consisted of rectangular shafts with mounds of earth over them. These graves, especially those belonging to the aristocracy, consisted of special wooden structures which had been sunken into a large shaft or had been built into the ground. This tradition had already existed in the region of the Pontic Steppe since the 3rd millennium BC, and had later been adopted by the Scythians.
    • Scythian bronze cauldrons, containing within them remains of horse and mutton bones, which were remnants of food for the deceased in the afterlife, were placed in burials along with deceased individuals.[153]
  • among the Scythian Husbandsmen, where a Scythian ruling class ruled over a population of Thracian origin, the sedentary Thracians were buried in poorly furnished shaft tombs[138] or were cremated, with the Scythian Husbandsmen being the only group in Scythia among whom cremation is attested.
  • the Scythian Agriculturalists were instead buried in flat graves with no outside marks.
  • the tombs of the Callipidae similarly consisted of small and flat burials or Scythian-type burial mounds, with the latter type being similar to those of the Tiasmyn group, suggesting that the populations of these two areas might have had close connections.[173]

The culture of the Scythian Husbandsmen corresponded to that of the Tiasmyn group of the Scythian Culture, and to the Kyiv group of the Scythian culture which evolved out of it, which covered the area of the forest-steppe zone on the western shore of the middle Dnipro river ranging from Kremenchuk to Kyiv; at some point during the Early Scythian period, the centre of the Royal Scythians' power shifted from the eastern Pontic steppe to the region where lived the Scythian Husbandsmen and where was located the Tiasmyn group.[138]

During the 6th and 5th centuries BC, in the Early Scythian period itself, common members of the Royal Scythian tribe were buried around the northern limits of the steppe, in the region around present-day Kramatorsk.[107]

Important Early Scythian sites have also been found in the forest steppes of the Dnipro. The most important of these finds is the Melgunov Kurgan [uk]. This kurgan contains several objects of Near Eastern origin so similar to those found at the kurgan in Kelermesskaya that they were probably made in the same workshop. Most of the Early Scythian sites in this area are situated along the banks of the Dnipro and its tributaries. The funerary rites of these sites are similar but not identical to those of the kurgans in Ciscaucasia.[5]

Important Early Scythian sites have also been discovered in the areas separating Ciscaucasia and the forest steppes. These include the Krivorozhski? kurgan on the eastern banks of the Donets, and the Temir-gora kurgan in the Crimea. Both date to the 7th century BC and contain Greek imports. The Krivorozhski? also display Near Eastern influences.[5]

The famous gold stag of Kostromskaya, Russia

Apart from funerary sites, numerous settlements from the Early Scythian period have been discovered. Most of these settlements are located in the forest steppe zone and are non-fortified. The most important of these sites in the Dnipro area are Trakhtemirovo, Motroninskoe [uk] and Pastyrskoe. East of these, at the banks of the Vorskla River, a tributary of the Dnipro, lies the Bilsk settlement. Occupying an area of 4,400 hectares with an outer rampart at over 30 km, Bilsk is the largest settlement in the forest steppe zone.[5] It has been tentatively identified by a team of archaeologists led by Boris Shramko as the site of Gelonus, the purported capital of Scythia.

Another important large settlement can be found at Myriv. Dating from the 7th and 6th centuries BC, Myriv contains a significant amount of imported Greek objects, testifying to lively contacts with Borysthenes, the first Greek colony established on the Pontic steppe (ca. 625 AD). Within the ramparts in these settlements there were areas without buildings, which were probably occupied by nomadic Scythians seasonally visiting the sites.[5]

The Early Scythian culture came to an end in the latter part of the 6th century BC.[5]

Classical Scythian

Distribution of Scythian kurgans and other sites along the Dnipro Rapids during the Classical Scythian period

By the end of the 6th century BC, a new period begins in the material culture of the Scythians. Certain scholars consider this a new stage in the Scythian culture, while others consider it an entirely new archaeological culture. It is possible that this new culture arose through the settlement of a new wave of nomads from the east, who intermingled with the local Scythians. The Classical Scythian period saw major changes in Scythian material culture, both with regards to weapons and art style. This was largely through Greek influence. Other elements had probably been brought from the east.[5]

Like in Early Scythian culture, the Classical Scythian culture is primarily represented through funerary sites. The area of distribution of these sites has, however, changed. Most of them, including the richest, are located on the Pontic steppe, in particular the area around the Dnipro Rapids.[5]

At the end of the 6th century BC, new funerary rites appeared, characterized by more complex kurgans. This new style was rapidly adopted throughout Scythian territory. Like before, elite burials usually contained horses. A buried king was usually accompanied with multiple people from his entourage. Burials containing both males and females are quite common both in elite burials and in the burials of the common people.[5]

The most important Scythian kurgans of the Classical Scythian culture in the 6th and 5th centuries BC are Ostraya Tomakovskaya Mogila, Zavadskaya Mogila 1, Novogrigor'evka 5, Baby and Raskopana Mogila in the Dnipro Rapids, and the Zolotoi and Kulakovski? kurgans in the Crimea.[5]

During the 5th century BC itself, further burials of members of the Royal Scythian tribe first start appearing more westwards, in the area to the south of the Dnipro river's bend.[107]

After the migration of the western Ciscaucasian Scythians into the region of the lower Dnipro river in the early 4th century BC, rich Scythian burials started appearing in this area whose contents and burial rites continued those which the Royal Scythians had adopted during their stay in Western Asia, albeit with less sacrifices.[155] The contents of these tombs included horse harnesses and decorative plaques, as well as human and horse sacrifices, which continued the tradition of western Ciscaucasian Scythian burials and were similar to them.[177] Meanwhile, in the 4th century BC, the rest of the Scythian elite were progressively buried with more grave goods, relatives, and retainers, such as for example the Chortomlyk mohyla [uk].[5] The greatest, so-called "royal" kurgans of the Classical Scythian culture are dated to the 4th century BC. These include Solokha, Bol'shaya Cymbalka [uk], Chortomlyk mohyla [uk], Oguz [uk], Alexandropol [ru] and Kozel [uk]. The second greatest, so-called "aristocratic" kurgans, include Berdyanskii [ru], Tovsta Mohyla, Chmyreva Mogila, Five Brothers 8, Melitopolsky [ru], Zheltokamenka [uk] and Krasnokutskio [ru].[5]

The immigration of the Sauromatian nomads into Scythia and their intermarriage with the Pontic Scythians introduced articles from eastern Eurasia into the Pontic steppe. Such elements appeared in the Sula-Donets group of the Scythian culture, but also in the Kyiv region, where were found bronze daggers from the Tagar culture, which had been produced during the 6th to 5th centuries BC in Siberia and arrived in Pontic Scythian around 400 BC. Individuals with East Asian features started appearing for the first time in the graves of the Tiasmyn group of the Scythian culture, and a skeleton of a Central Asian camel was found in the aristocratic tomb of Novosilka near Lypovets while individual camel bones were found in the earthwork of Kamianka.[177]

The Ciscaucasian Scythians' migration and the Sauromatian immigrants' arrival in the late 5th and early 4th centuries BC led to significant changes in the Scythian culture which are not attributable to a direct evolution of the Pontic steppe's Scythian culture. These changes included the introduction of elements from the eastern steppe, including the introduction and popularisation of "catacomb" or "niche" graves made of a shaft with a deep niche or an underground chamber diggen on their wider side. The content of the Scythian burials also became more uniform across Scythia, and the differences between the local groups of the Scythian culture therefore decreased. The Tiasmyn group also lost its predominant position due to these migrations during the late 5th century BC, when the centre of power in Scythia later moved southwards towards the area of the Dnipro river's bend, although it still remained powerful.[138] The centre of Scythian power instead moved to the site of Kamianka, where was built a large earthwork covering 1,200 hectares and was made of two principal parts: the largest part of the Kamianka site was consisted of an important industrial and metallurgical centre where bog iron ores were smelted into iron and made into tools, simple ornaments and weapons for the agricultural population of the Dnipro valley and of other regions of Scythia; the smaller part of Kamianka was its "acropolis," which was the administrative centre of Scythia and the capital of its kings, and which enjoyed close relations with the Bosporan cities, as attested by the imported goods, such as Greek pottery, found there.[178]

Another change resulting from these migrations was the new appearance of tombs of the common people of Scythia, which had not been present in the steppe region until then. The grave goods of the common Scythian population included weapons, local pottery, and stacked horse, cow or sheep bones with an iron knife in them for the men, and of bronze mirrors, jewellery, and beads; human or horse sacrifices were not present in these burials, and were instead replaced by parts of horse harnesses, including straps decorated with representations of Scythian-style animal figures, which for the better equipped tombs were made of gold and had been made by Greek by artisans while the simpler plaques had been made in Scythian workshops.[179]

Lavishly furnished tombs of members of the aristocracy also became more common during this period. Their structure was not different from the graves of the common people, and they were demarcated from these only by the richness and better quality of their grave goods, and the by the presence of both human and animal sacrifices in these. These kurgans were located in the area around the southern part of the Dnipro river's bend, and extended to the Inhulets river in the west and to the Molochna river in the east. Most of these tombs had already been looted during antiquity itself, and only few have been found intact. Among these tombs are included:[177]

  • the Chortomlyk kurhan [uk], dated to c. 400 BC, in which were buried a Scythian king, his queen, multiple serfs, and a groom. Most of its grave goods had already been rancacked in ancient times. The articles from this grave which had been recovered suggest that the royal family of Scythia had connections with the eastern regions, and the 250 decorated horse bridles, saddles, and finials from this tomb represented a symbolic immolation of many horses, recalling the 300 horses which had been immolated in the Ulski kurgan.
  • the remains of the aristocrat buried in the Oleksandropilskiy kurhan [uk] belonged to a Sauromatian from the Volga steppe, while the serfs buried in it belonged to Pontic Sythians. Among the eastern Eurasian elements in the Oleksandropilskiy kurhan were large Siberian cast-bronze cauldrons.
  • some 4th century BC Sauromatian tombs in the lower Dnipro area contained the bodies of migrants who had newly arrived into Scythian from the lower Volga steppe. These tombs included ones where were buried armed women, which specifically belonged to Sarmatian culture; these tombs contained bronze arrowheads in a quiver, a dagger, and even scale armour.
  • the burial of the Haymanova mohyla [uk] contained the tomb of a Scythian king. It consisted of a large underground chamber with a dromos, in which were burried 10 persons, including the king and his family, as well as armed guards and women servants, and several horses of which only one skeleton but several bridles remained when the tomb was excavated. The burial had already been looted when it was excavated, but it included a hoard which remained intact and within which were vessels made of gold and of wood covered with gold leaf decorated with West Asian motifs. These, along with the human and animal sacrifices, continued the western Ciscaucasian traditions, and show that the king buried within it was of western Ciscaucasian origin or ancestry.
  • several persons, as well as six horses, were buried in the Tovsta Mohyla.
  • the Rozkopana Mohyla contained the skulls of 17 horses and a large bronze cauldron cast in Pontic Olbia in the late 5th century BC.
West side of the Kozel Kurgans [uk]

Excavation at kurgan Sengileevskoe-2 found gold bowls with coatings indicating a strong opium beverage was used while cannabis was burning nearby. The gold bowls depicted scenes showing clothing and weapons.[180]

By the time of Classical Scythian culture, Ciscaucasia appears to no longer be under Scythian control. Rich kurgans in Ciscaucasia have been found at the Seven Brothers Hillfort [ru], Elizavetovka [ru] and Ulyap, but although they contain elements of Scythian culture, these probably belonged to an unrelated local population. Rich kurgans of the forest steppe zone from the 5th and 4th centuries BC have been discovered at places such as Ryzhanovka [ru], but these are not as grand as the kurgans of the steppe further south.[5]

Funerary sites with Scythian characteristics have also been discovered in several Greek cities. These include several unusually rich burials such as Kul-Oba (near Panticapaeum in the Crimea) and the necropolis of Nymphaion. The sites probably represent Scythian aristocrats who had close ties, if not family ties, with the elite of Nymphaion and aristocrats, perhaps even royals, of the Bosporan Kingdom.[5]

In total, more than 3,000 Scythian funerary sites from the 4th century BC have been discovered on the Pontic steppe. This number far exceeds the number of all funerary sites from previous centuries.[5]

Apart from funerary sites, remains of Scythian cities from this period have been discovered. These include both continuations from the Early Scythian period and newly founded settlements. The most important of these is the settlement of Kamenskoe [ru] on the Dniepr, which existed from the 5th century to the beginning of the 3rd century BC. It was a fortified settlement occupying an area of 12 square km. The chief occupation of its inhabitants appears to have been metalworking, and the city was probably an important supplier of metalwork for the nomadic Scythians. Part of the population was probably composed of agriculturalists. It is likely that Kamenskoe also served as a political center in Scythia. A significant part of Kamenskoe was not built up, perhaps to set it aside for the Scythian king and his entourage during their seasonal visits to the city.[5] János Harmatta suggests that Kamenskoe served as a residence for the Scythian king Ateas.[22]

By the 4th century BC, it appears that some of the Scythians were adopting an agricultural way of life similar to the peoples of the forest steppes. As a result, a number of fortified and non-fortified settlements spring up in the areas of the lower Dnipro. Part of the settled inhabitants of Olbia Pontik? were also of Scythian origin.[5]

During the 4th century BC itself, Scythian objects started appearing in the Dobruja region, corresponding to the Scythians' expansion into that area, and possibly even into the territory corresponding to modern Bulgaria, where 4th century BC Berezovo-Panaguriste type aristocratic kurgans dependent on the Greek and Scythian cultures were found.[181]

Within the Dobruja region, at Agighiol, is located large and sumptuously furnished Scythian kurgan dating from the early 4th century. It contained a dromos, a burial chamber, as well as human and horse sacrifices, and was of the same type as contemporary burials from the southern parts of Scythia, such as those of Oguz Mohyla [uk], Solokha, and Kul-Oba, and like them it continues the burial traditions of the western Ciscaucasian Early Scythians. The Agighiol burial included an elaborate stone tomb similar to Bosporan ones, and its grave goods consisted of weapons, vases, and toreutics decorated in the Thraco-Scythian style, which was itself an adaptation of the North Pontic Scythian animal style art which still possessed West Asian influences; these goods were made by Greek goldsmiths from Histria, and many similar pieces of art were found from contemporary sites in Romania and Bulgaria, reflecting the Scythian influence on Thracian art. The Agighiol kurgan belonged to a Scythian ruler who resided in the northern Dobruja region in the late 5th century BC was buried there in the early 4th century BC, and who may have been a predecessor or even the father of the famous Scythian king Ateas.[181]

Classical Scythian culture lasts until the late 4th century or early 3rd century BC.[5]

Late Scythian

Remains of Scythian Neapolis near modern-day Simferopol, Crimea. It served as a political center of the Scythians in the Late Scythian period.

The last period in the Scythian archaeological culture is the Late Scythian culture, which existed in the Crimea and the Lower Dnipro from the 3rd century BC. This area was at the time mostly settled by Scythians.[5]

Archaeologically the Late Scythian culture has little in common with its predecessors. It represents a fusion of Scythian traditions with those of the Greek colonists and the Tauri, who inhabited the mountains of the Crimea. The population of the Late Scythian culture was mainly settled, and were engaged in stockbreeding and agriculture. They were also important traders, serving as intermediaries between the classical world and the barbarian world.[5]

Large numbers of Greek amphorae were found in the tombs of rank-and-file Scythians of the 4th to 3rd centuries BC, attesting of the prevalence of the consumption of wine among non-aristocrats during the Late Scythian period.[126]

Recent excavations at Ak-Kaya/Vishennoe [ru] implies that this site was the political center of the Scythians in the 3rd century BC and the early part of the 2nd century BC. It was a well-protected fortress constructed in accordance with Greek principles.[5]

The most important site of the Late Crimean culture is Scythian Neaoplis, which was located in Crimea and served as the capital of the Late Scythian kingdom from the early 2nd century BC to the beginning of the 3rd century CE. Scythian Neapolis was largely constructed in accordance with Greek principles. Its royal palace was destroyed by Diophantus, a general of the Pontic king Mithridates VI, at the end of the 2nd century BC, and was not rebuilt. The city nevertheless continued to exist as a major urban center. It underwent significant change from the 1st century to the 2nd century AD, eventually being left with virtually no buildings except from its fortifications. New funerary rites and material features also appear. It is probable that these changes represent the assimilation of the Scythians by the Sarmatians. A certain continuity is, however, observable. From the end of the 2nd century to the middle of the 3rd century AD, Scythian Neapolis transforms into a non-fortified settlement containing only a few buildings.[5]

Apart from Scythian Neapolis and Ak-Kaya/Vishennoe, more than 100 fortified and non-fortified settlements from the Late Scythian culture have been discovered. They are often accompanied by a necropolis. Late Scythian sites are mostly found in areas around the foothills of the Crimean mountains and along the western coast of the Crimea. Some of these settlements had earlier been Greek settlements, such as Kalos Limen and Kerkinitis. Many of these coastal settlements served as trading ports.[5]

The largest Scythian settlements after Neapolis and Ak-Kaya-Vishennoe were Bulganak [ru], Ust-Alma [ru] and Kermen-Kyr [ru]. Like Neapolis and Ak-Kaya, these are characterized by a combination of Greek architectural principles and local ones.[5]

A unique group of Late Scythian settlements were city-states located on the banks of the Lower Dnipro. The material culture of these settlements was even more Hellenized than those on the Crimea, and they were probably closely connected to Olbia Pontik?, if not dependent it.[5]

Burials of the Late Scythian culture can be divided into two kurgans and necropolises, with necropolises becoming more and more common as time progresses. The largest such necropolis has been found at Ust-Alma.[5]

By the Late 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 gorutoi. Unlike during the Early and Classical Scythian periods, grave goods made in Pontic Olbia disappeared from the tombs of the upper class steppe Scythians, and were replaced by fine toreutics, plaques and ornaments made in the Bosporan kingdom. Contemporary grave goods across large distances in Scythia during this period were identical, such as the gold decorations of gorutoi from the Chortomlyk mohyla [uk], the Melitopolskiy kurhan [uk], Illintsi, and Yelizavetovskaya aristocratic burials, were identical and had only slight adaptations based on the tastes of local aristocrats.[177]

By the Late Scythian period, some of the Scythian tombs, including several aristocratic ones, consisted of elaborate stone constructions modelled on Crimean Greek plans and structures and most of the art decorating Scythian tombs no longer consisted of Scythian art, but of works done by Greek artisans which Scythian motifs and scenes representing Scythian life.[153] These Greek-influenced burials were present both in Crimea, such as at Kul-Oba, and in the steppe to the south of the Dnipro, and they contained only small numbers of grave goods decorated in the Scythian animal style art.[177]

Because of close similarities between the material culture of the Late Scythians and that of neighbouring Greek cities, many scholars have suggested that Late Scythian cites, particularly those of the Lower Dnipro, were populated at last partly by Greeks. Influences of Sarmatian elements and the La Tène culture have been pointed out.[5]

The Late Scythian culture ends in the 3rd century AD.[5]

List of rulers

Kings of Early Scythians

Kings of Pontic Scythians

Kings of Crimean Scythians

Kings of Danubian Scythians

Related ancient peoples

Herodotus of Halicarnassus and other classical historians listed quite a number of tribes who lived near the Scythians, and presumably shared the same general milieu and nomadic steppe culture, often called "Scythian culture," even though scholars may have difficulties in determining their exact relationship to the "linguistic Scythians". A partial list of these tribes includes:

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Scythian or , Scyth /'s/, but note Scytho- /'sao?/ in composition (OED).
  2. ^ see section about names below

References

  1. ^ Jacobson 1995, p. [page needed].
  2. ^ Cunliffe 2019, p. 42.
  3. ^ a b
    • 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."
    • 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 [...]"
    • Melykova 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 [...]"
    • Melykova 1990, p. 117: "All contemporary historians, archeologists and linguists are agreed that since the Scythian and Sarmatian tribes were of the Iranian linguistic group [...]"
    • 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 [...]"
    • 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 [...]"
  4. ^
    • Ivantchik 2018: "Scythians, a nomadic people of Iranian origin [...]"
    • Harmatta 1996, p. 181: "[B]oth Cimmerians and Scythians were Iranian peoples."
    • 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 [...] [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" [...]"
    • 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 [...]"
    • Rolle 1989, p. 56: "The physical characteristics of the Scythians correspond to their cultural affiliation: their origins place them within the group of Iranian peoples."
    • 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 2011, p. 36: "The general view is that both agricultural and nomad Scythians were Iranian."
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn bo bp bq br bs bt Ivantchik 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Unterländer, Martina (March 3, 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.
  7. ^ Järve, Mari; et al. (2019-07-22). "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. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2019.06.019. ISSN 0960-9822. PMID 31303491. S2CID 195887262. E10.
  8. ^ a b c Di Cosmo 1999, p. 891: "Even though there were fundamental ways in which nomadic groups over such a vast territory differed, the terms "Scythian" and "Scythic" have been widely adopted to describe a special phase that followed the widespread diffusion of mounted nomadism, characterized by the presence of special weapons, horse gear, and animal art in the form of metal plaques. Archaeologists have used the term "Scythic continuum" in a broad cultural sense to indicate the early nomadic cultures of the Eurasian steppe. The term "Scythic" draws attention to the fact that there are elements - shapes of weapons, vessels, and ornaments, as well as lifestyle - common to both the eastern and western ends of the Eurasian steppe region. However, the extension and variety of sites across Asia makes Scythian and Scythic terms too broad to be viable, and the more neutral "early nomadic" is preferable, since the cultures of the Northern Zone cannot be directly associated with either the historical Scythians or any specific archaeological culture defined as Saka or Scytho-Siberian."
  9. ^ a b
    • 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'."
    • Melykova 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 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.
  10. ^ Kramrisch, Stella. "Central Asian Arts: Nomadic Cultures". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2018. The ?aka tribe was pasturing its herds in the Pamirs, central Tien Shan, and in the Amu Darya delta. Their 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.
  11. ^ Lendering, Jona (February 14, 2019). "Scythians / Sacae". Livius.org. Retrieved 2019.
  12. ^ Unterländer 2017. "During the first millennium BC, nomadic people spread over the Eurasian Steppe from the Altai Mountains over the northern Black Sea area as far as the Carpathian Basin [...] Greek and Persian historians of the 1st millennium BC chronicle the existence of the Massagetae and Sauromatians, and later, the Sarmatians and Sacae: cultures possessing artefacts similar to those found in classical Scythian monuments, such as weapons, horse harnesses and a distinctive 'Animal Style' artistic tradition. Accordingly, these groups are often assigned to the Scythian culture [...]"
  13. ^ Tokhtas'ev, Sergei R. (1991). "Cimmerians". Encyclopædia Iranica. As the Cimmerians cannot be differentiated archeologically from the Scythians, it is possible to speculate about their Iranian origins. In the Neo-Babylonian texts (according to D'yakonov, including at least some of the Assyrian texts in Babylonian dialect) Gimirri and similar forms designate the Scythians and Central Asian Saka, reflecting the perception among inhabitants of Mesopotamia that Cimmerians and Scythians represented a single cultural and economic group
  14. ^ a b c "Scythian". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 2019.
  15. ^ a b c Hambly, Gavin. "History of Central Asia: Early Western Peoples". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 2019.
  16. ^ Beckwith 2009, p. 117: "The Scythians, or Northern Iranians, who were culturally and ethnolinguistically a single group at the beginning of their expansion, had earlier controlled the entire steppe zone."
  17. ^ Beckwith 2009, pp. 377-380: "The preservation of the earlier form. *Sakla. in the extreme eastern dialects supports the historicity of the conquest of the entire steppe zone by the Northern Iranians--literally, by the 'Scythians'--in the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age [...]"
  18. ^ a b Beckwith 2009, p. 11
  19. ^ Young, T. Cuyler. "Ancient Iran: The kingdom of the Medes". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 2019.
  20. ^ Beckwith 2009, p. 49.
  21. ^ "Sarmatian". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 2019.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h Harmatta 1996, pp. 181-182
  23. ^ Brzezinski & Mielczarek 2002, p. 39: "Indeed, it is now accepted that the Sarmatians merged in with pre-Slavic populations."
  24. ^ 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."
  25. ^ 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."
  26. ^ Beckwith 2009, pp. 58-70
  27. ^ "Scythian art". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 2019.
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  29. ^ a b c d Szemerényi 1980
  30. ^ a b c Novák, ?ubomír (2013). Problem of Archaism and Innovation in the Eastern Iranian Languages. Charles University. Retrieved 2022.
  31. ^ Davis-Kimball, Bashilov & Yablonsky 1995, pp. 27-28
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  41. ^ Dandamayev 1994, p. 44-46.
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  43. ^ Olbrycht 2021: "Apparently the Dahai represented an entity not identical with the other better known groups of the Sakai, i.e. the Sakai (Sak?) tigrakhaud? (Massagetai, roaming in Turkmenistan), and Sakai (Sak?) Haumavarg? (in Transoxania and beyond the Syr Dary?)."
  44. ^ Harmatta 1999.
  45. ^ Abetekov, A.; Yusupov, H. (1994). "Ancient Iranian Nomads in Western Central Asia". In Dani, Ahmad Hasan; Harmatta, János; Puri, Baij Nath; Etemadi, G. F.; Bosworth, Clifford Edmund (eds.). History of Civilizations of Central Asia. Paris, France: UNESCO. pp. 24-34. ISBN 978-9-231-02846-5.
  46. ^ Zadneprovskiy, Y. A. (1994). "The Nomads of Northern Central Asia After the Invansion of Alexander". In Dani, Ahmad Hasan; Harmatta, János; Puri, Baij Nath; Etemadi, G. F.; Bosworth, Clifford Edmund (eds.). History of Civilizations of Central Asia. Paris, France: UNESCO. pp. 448-463. ISBN 978-9-231-02846-5. The middle of the third century b.c. saw the rise to power of a group of tribes consisting of the Parni (Aparni) and the Dahae, descendants of the Massagetae of the Aral Sea region.
  47. ^ Schmitt, Rüdiger (2003). "HAUMAVARG?". Encyclopædia Iranica.
  48. ^ Dandamaev, Muhammad A.; Lukonin, Vladimir G. (1989). The Culture and Social Institutions of Ancient Iran. Cambridge University Press. p. 334. ISBN 978-0-521-61191-6.
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  51. ^ Briant, Pierre (29 July 2006). From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire. Eisenbrauns. p. 178. ISBN 978-1-57506-120-7. This is Kingdom which I hold, from the Scythians [Saka] who are beyond Sogdiana, thence unto Ethiopia [Cush]; from Sind, thence unto Sardis.
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  53. ^ Young 1988, p. 89.
  54. ^ Francfort 1988, p. 177.
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  56. ^ Schmitt, Rüdiger (2018). "MASSAGETAE". Encyclopædia Iranica.
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  58. ^ Watson 1972, p. 142: "The term 'Scythic' has been used above to denote a group of basic traits which characterize material culture from the fifth to the first century B.C. in the whole zone stretching from the Transpontine steppe to the Ordos, and without ethnic connotation. How far nomadic populations in central Asia and the eastern steppes may be of Scythian, Iranic, race, or contain such elements makes a precarious speculation."
  59. ^ David & McNiven 2018: "Horse-riding nomadism has been referred to as the culture of 'Early Nomads'. This term encompasses different ethnic groups (such as Scythians, Saka, Massagetae, and Yuezhi) [...]"
  60. ^ Davis-Kimball, Bashilov & Yablonsky 1995, p. 33
  61. ^ a b c d Mallory 1991, pp. 51-53
  62. ^ Unterländer, Martina; Palstra, Friso; Lazaridis, Iosif; Pilipenko, Aleksandr; Hofmanová, Zuzana; Groß, Melanie; Sell, Christian; Blöcher, Jens; Kirsanow, Karola; Rohland, Nadin; Rieger, Benjamin (2017-03-03). "Ancestry and demography and descendants of Iron Age nomads of the Eurasian Steppe". Nature Communications. 8: 14615. Bibcode:2017NatCo...814615U. doi:10.1038/ncomms14615. ISSN 2041-1723. PMC 5337992. PMID 28256537. The origin of the widespread Scythian culture has long been debated in Eurasian archaeology. The northern Black Sea steppe was originally considered the homeland and centre of the Scythians until Terenozhkin formulated the hypothesis of a Central Asian origin. On the other hand, evidence supporting an east Eurasian origin includes the kurgan Arzhan 1 in Tuva, which is considered the earliest Scythian kurgan. Dating of additional burial sites situated in east and west Eurasia confirmed eastern kurgans as older than their western counterparts. Additionally, elements of the characteristic 'Animal Style' dated to the tenth century BC were found in the region of the Yenisei river and modern-day China, supporting the early presence of Scythian culture in the East.
  63. ^ Murphy, Eileen M. (2003). Iron Age Archaeology and Trauma from Aymyrlyg South Siberia: An examination of the health diet and lifestyles of the two Iron Age populations buried at the cemetery complex of Aymyrlyg. BAR International Series. p. 4. ISBN 978-1-84171-522-3. Dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating have ascribed the Arzhan Kurgan to the end of the 8th century BC (Bokovenko 1994b, 32). As such, it is considerably older than the generally recognised Scythian remains throughout the rest of the steppe region. The dating of the Arzhan Kurgan has been used to support the argument for an eastern Central Asian origin of the Animal Style of artwork and the entire Scythian World (Askarov et al 1992, 470).
  64. ^ Dolukhanov 1996, p. 125
  65. ^ "Frozen Tombs of Siberia: The Pazyryk Burials of Iron Age Horsemen". Archived from the original on 15 October 2014.
  66. ^ Chikisheva, T.A. (December 2008). "The origin of the early nomadic populations of Tuva: craniometrical evidence". Archaeology, Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia. 36 (4): 120-139. doi:10.1016/j.aeae.2009.03.012. Retrieved 2022.
  67. ^ a b Jeong, Choongwon; Wang, Ke; Wilkin, Shevan; Taylor, William Timothy Treal; Miller, Bryan K.; Bemmann, Jan H.; Stahl, Raphaela; Chiovelli, Chelsea; Knolle, Florian; Ulziibayar, Sodnom; Khatanbaatar, Dorjpurev (2020-11-12). "A Dynamic 6,000-Year Genetic History of Eurasia's Eastern Steppe". Cell. 183 (4): 890-904.e29. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2020.10.015. ISSN 0092-8674. PMC 7664836. PMID 33157037.
  68. ^ Mathieson, Iain (November 23, 2015). "Genome-wide patterns of selection in 230 ancient Eurasians". Nature. Nature Research. 528 (7583): 499-503. Bibcode:2015Natur.528..499M. doi:10.1038/nature16152. PMC 4918750. PMID 26595274.
  69. ^ Guarino-Vignon, Perle; Marchi, Nina; Bendezu-Sarmiento, Julio; Heyer, Evelyne; Bon, Céline (2022-01-14). "Genetic continuity of Indo-Iranian speakers since the Iron Age in southern Central Asia". Scientific Reports. 12 (1): 733. Bibcode:2022NatSR..12..733G. doi:10.1038/s41598-021-04144-4. ISSN 2045-2322. PMC 8760286. PMID 35031610.
  70. ^ Unterländer 2017, pp. 54, 71-72: "Individual I0563 (Pazyryk) belonged to the Z93 clade45 which is frequent in Central Asia45,46 and was also recorded in Bronze Age individuals from Mongolia47 and the Sintashta culture from Samara33. Individual I0577 (Aldy Bel) also belonged to haplogroup R1a1a1b- but could not be determined more downstream. Individual IS2 belonged to haplogroup Q1a which was also found in the Eneolithic period in Samara33 in Europe but is most commonly found in present-day people from Siberia and the Americas48 (Supplementary Table 22)."
  71. ^ Juras, Anna (March 7, 2017). "Diverse origin of mitochondrial lineages in Iron Age Black Sea Scythians". Nature Communications. 7: 43950. Bibcode:2017NatSR...743950J. doi:10.1038/srep43950. PMC 5339713. PMID 28266657.
  72. ^ Krzewi?ska, Maja (October 3, 2018). "Ancient genomes suggest the eastern Pontic-Caspian steppe as the source of western Iron Age nomads". Science Advances. 4 (10): eaat4457. Bibcode:2018SciA....4.4457K. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aat4457. PMC 6223350. PMID 30417088.
  73. ^ Järve et al. 2019. "The Early Iron Age nomadic Scythians have been described as a confederation of tribes of different origins, based on ancient DNA evidence [1, 2, 3]. All samples of this study also possessed at least one additional eastern component, one of which was nearly at 100% in modern Nganasans (orange) and the other in modern Han Chinese (yellow; Figure S2). The eastern components were present in variable proportions in the samples of this study."
  74. ^ Järve et al. 2019. Supplemental Information: Table S2
  75. ^ Mary, Laura (March 28, 2019). "Genetic kinship and admixture in Iron Age Scytho-Siberians". Human Genetics. 138 (4): 411-423. doi:10.1007/s00439-019-02002-y. PMID 30923892. S2CID 85542410. Genetic analyses of maternal lineages revealed the presence of both western (H, H14b2, H6a1a1, HV6, HV14a, T2d2, U4a1a, U5a2a1 and U5a1f1) and eastern (D4j7, C4a1a3, C4d, F1b1b and G2a1g) Eurasian lineages equally distributed in our Scytho-Siberian sample (n=13/26 for each) ... It, therefore, appears that the mtDNA pool of the Scytho-Siberians analyzed presents significant Western/Eastern Eurasian admixture and that, although it shares that characteristic with European Scythians, there are significant diferences in the proportions of Eastern and Western haplogroups. Scytho-Siberians carried more lineages associated with Eastern Eurasia than their European counterparts, testifying to greater Asian infuence or ancestry ... Thus, these results are similar to what we have described for maternal lineages with Scytho-Siberians carrying more paternal lineages associated with Eastern Eurasia than Western Eurasia. The absence of R1b lineages in the Scytho-Siberian individuals tested so far and their presence in the North Pontic Scythians suggest that these 2 groups had a completely diferent paternal lineage makeup with nearly no gene fow from male carriers between them.
  76. ^ Keyser, Christine; et al. (July 30, 2020). "Genetic evidence suggests a sense of family, parity and conquest in the Xiongnu Iron Age nomads of Mongolia". Human Genetics. Springer. 557 (7705): 369-373. doi:10.1007/s00439-020-02209-4. PMID 32734383. S2CID 220881540. Retrieved 2020. Using a fne-scale approach (haplotype instead of haplogroup-level information), we propose Scytho-Siberians as ancestors of the Xiongnu and Huns as their descendants ... Close matches were also found with 2 Scytho-Siberians from the Tuva Republic (ARZ-T1,-T28) (Mary et al. 2019) ... Moreover, the mtDNA haplotype carried by TUK46 and afliated to Hg D4j7 was closely related (4 differences) to the haplotypes carried by 3 Scytho-Siberians from the Tuva Republic in Russia, afliated to the same haplogroup (Mary et al. 2019) ... All R1a1a haplotypes among our TUK samples are closely related and were attributed to sub-Hgs R1a1a1b2a-Z95 or R1a1a1b2a2a-Z2125. Both are subclades of R1a1a1b2-Z93, considered to be the Asian branch of the R1a1a haplogroup that would have originated in the Eurasian steppes (Pamjav et al. 2012; Haak et al. 2015). Most of these haplotypes were very close to those of Southern Siberian Middle Bronze or Iron Age individuals from the Krasnoyarsk region (Keyser et al. 2009) and the Tuva Republic (Mary et al. 2019) confrming the presence of Andronovo or Scytho-Siberian ancestry in the Xiongnu, as previously suggested (Damgaard 2018) and supporting the Xiongnu-Yenisseian hypothesis (Huang and Li 2016).
  77. ^ Gnecchi-Ruscone, Guido Alberto; Khussainova, Elmira; Kahbatkyzy, Nurzhibek; Musralina, Lyazzat; Spyrou, Maria A.; Bianco, Raffaela A.; Radzeviciute, Rita; Martins, Nuno Filipe Gomes; Freund, Caecilia; Iksan, Olzhas; Garshin, Alexander (March 2021). "Ancient genomic time transect from the Central Asian Steppe unravels the history of the Scythians". Science Advances. 7 (13). Bibcode:2021SciA....7.4414G. doi:10.1126/sciadv.abe4414. PMC 7997506. PMID 33771866. Our findings shed new light onto the debate about the origins of the Scythian cultures. We do not find support for a western Pontic-Caspian steppe origin, which is, in fact, highly questioned by more recent historical/archeological work (1, 2). The Kazakh Steppe origin hypothesis finds instead a better correspondence with our results, but rather than finding support for one of the two extreme hypotheses, i.e., single origin with population diffusion versus multiple independent origins with only cultural transmission, we found evidence for at least two independent origins as well as population diffusion and admixture (Fig. 4B). In particular, the eastern groups are consistent with descending from a gene pool that formed as a result of a mixture between preceding local steppe_MLBA sources (which could be associated with different cultures such as Sintashta, Srubnaya, and Andronovo that are genetically homogeneous) and a specific eastern Eurasian source that was already present during the LBA in the neighboring northern Mongolia region (27) ... see Supplementary Material data file S1 for uniparental haplogroup assignment
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  95. ^ Diakonoff 1985, p. 110-119.
  96. ^ a b Diakonoff 1985, p. 117-118.
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  155. ^ a b c d e Sulimirski 1985, pp. 169-171.
  156. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Day 2001, pp. 55-57
  157. ^ Hippocrates 1886, 20 "The Scythians are a ruddy race because of the cold, not through any fierceness in the sun's heat. It is the cold that burns their white skin and turns it ruddy."
  158. ^ Beighton, Grahame & Bird 2011, p. 1.
  159. ^ Callimachus 1921, Hymn IV. To Delos. 291 "The first to bring thee these offerings fro the fair-haired Arimaspi [...]"
  160. ^ Pliny 1855, Book VI, Chap. 24 ". These people, they said, exceeded the ordinary human height, had flaxen hair, and blue eyes [...]"
  161. ^ Clement 1885, Book 3. Chapter III "Of the nations, the Celts and Scythians wear their hair long, but do not deck themselves. The bushy hair of the barbarian has something fearful in it; and its auburn () colour threatens war [...]"
  162. ^ Galen 1881, De Temperamentis. Book 2 "Ergo Aegyptii, Arabes, & Indi, omnes denique qui calidam & siccam regionem incolunt, nigros, exiguique incrementi, siccos, crispos, & fragiles pilos habent. Contra qui humidam, frigidamque regionem habitant, Illyrii, Germani, Sarmatae, & omnis Scytica plaga, modice auctiles, & graciles, & rectos, & rufos optinent. Qui uero inter hos temperatum colunt tractum, hi pilos plurimi incrementi, & robustissimos, & modice nigros, & mediocriter crassos, tum nec prorsus crispos, nec omnino rectos edunt."
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Early sources

Modern sources

Further reading


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