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The Scythians or Scyths,[note 1] (from Ancient Greek: Σκύθης Skúthēs, Σκύθοι Skúthoi), and Ishkuzai (Akkadian: 𒅖𒆪𒍝𒀀𒀀 Iškuzaya) or Askuzai (Akkadian: 𒌷𒊍𒄖𒍝𒀀𒀀 Asguzaya, 𒆳𒊍𒆪𒍝𒀀𒀀 mat Askuzaya, 𒆳𒀾𒄖𒍝𒀀𒀀 mat Ášguzaya), also known as Saka and Sakae (Old Persian: 𐎿𐎣𐎠 Sakā; Ancient Egyptian: 𓋴𓎝𓎡𓈉 sk, 𓐠𓎼𓈉 sꜣg; Ancient Greek: Σάκαι Sákai; Latin: Sacae) were an ancient nomadic people living primarily in the region known as Scythia, in what is modern-day Ukraine and Southern Russia. Classical Scythians, also known as Pontic Scythians, dominated the Pontic steppe from approximately the 7th century BC until the 3rd century BC, and were led by a nomadic warrior aristocracy known as the Royal Scythians.
The Scythians were part of the wider Scythian cultures, stretching across the Eurasian Steppes of Kazakhstan, the Russian steppes of the Siberian, Ural, Volga and Southern regions, and eastern Ukraine. In a broader sense, Scythians has also been used to designate all early Eurasian nomads, although the validity of such terminology is controversial, and other terms such as "Early nomadic" have been deemed preferable. Although ancient Persians and ancient Greeks respectively used the names "Saka" and "Scythian" for all the steppe nomads, the name "Scythian" is used specifically for western members of the Scythian cultures while the name "Saka" is used specifically for their eastern members.
The Scythians are generally believed to have been of Iranian origin; they spoke a language of the Scythian branch of the Iranian languages, and practiced a variant of ancient Iranian religion. Among the earliest peoples to master mounted warfare, the Scythians replaced the Cimmerians as the dominant power on the Pontic steppe in the 8th century BC. 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, creating what has been called the first Central Asian nomadic empire.
In the 7th century BC, the Scythians crossed the Caucasus and frequently raided the Middle East along with the Cimmerians, playing an important role in the political developments of the region. Around 650–630 BC, Scythians briefly dominated the Medes of the western Iranian Plateau, stretching their power to the borders of Egypt. 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. The Scythians subsequently engaged in frequent conflicts with the Achaemenid Empire, and suffered a major defeat against Macedonia in the 4th century BC and were subsequently gradually conquered by the Sarmatians, a related Iranian people living to their west. 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. 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. The Scythians were instrumental in the ethnogenesis of the Ossetians, who are believed to be descended from the Alans.
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. 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.
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. The scientific study of the Scythians is called Scythology.
Linguist Oswald Szemerényi studied synonyms of various origins for Scythian and differentiated the following terms: Skuthes Σκύθης, Skudra 𐎿𐎤𐎢𐎭𐎼, Sugᵘda 𐎿𐎢𐎦𐎢𐎭 and Saka.
From the Indo-European root (s)kewd-, meaning "propel, shoot" (cognate with English shoot), of which *skud- is the zero-grade form, was descended the Scythians' self-name reconstructed by Szemerényi as *Skuδa (roughly "archer"). From this were descended the following exonyms:
A late Scythian sound change from /δ/ to /l/ resulted in the evolution of *Skuδa into *Skula. From this was derived the Greek word Skṓlotoi Σκώλοτοι, which, according to Herodotus, was the self-designation of the Royal Scythians.
Other sound changes have produced Sugᵘda.
From an Iranian verbal root sak-, "go, roam" and thus meaning "nomad" was derived the term Saka, from which came the names:
Although both were closely related nomadic Iranian peoples, the Saka are to be distinguished from the European Scythians and inhabited the northern and eastern Eurasian Steppe and the Tarim Basin.[better source needed]
See also: Scythian cultures
In scholarship, the term Scythians generally refers to the nomadic Iranian people who dominated the Pontic steppe from the 7th century BC to the 3rd century BC.
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. Cultures sharing these characteristics have often been referred to as Scythian cultures, and its peoples called Scythians. Peoples associated with Scythian cultures include not only the Scythians themselves, who were a distinct ethnic group, but also Cimmerians, Massagetae, Saka, Sarmatians and various obscure peoples of the forest steppe, such as early Slavs, Balts and Finnic peoples. 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.
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. Nicola Di Cosmo writes that the broad concept of "Scythian" is "too broad to be viable", and that the term "early nomadic" is preferable.
Modern interpretation of historical, archaeological and anthropological evidence has proposed two broad hypotheses on Scythian origins.
The first hypothesis, formerly more espoused by Soviet and then Russian researchers, roughly followed Herodotus' 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.
The second hypothesis, according to Roman Ghirshman and others, proposes that the Scythian cultural complex emerged from local groups of the Srubna culture at the Black Sea coast, 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 Srubna culture, and distinct from those of the Central Asian Saka. 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.
In 2017, a genetic study of the Scythians suggested that they can best be described as a mixture of European-related ancestry from the Yamna culture and an East Asian/Siberian ancestry, and emerged on the Pontic steppe. The authors concluded that there is evidence for significant geneflow from East-Eurasia to West-Eurasia, from various migrations during the early Iron Age. Based on the analysis of mithocondrial lineages, another later 2017 study suggested that the Scythians were directly descended from the Srubnaya culture. A later analysis of paternal lineages, published in 2018, found significant genetic differences between the Srubnaya and the Scythians. They further found that the nomadic population of Central Asia, e.g. the Scythians, were genetically heterogeneous and carried genetic affinities with populations from several other regions including the Far East and the southern Urals. Another 2019 study also concluded that migrations must have played a part in the emergence of the Scythians as the dominant power of the Pontic steppe.
The same study also revealed that contemporary populations linked to western Iron Age steppe people can be found among diverse ethnic groups in the Caucasus, Russia, and Central Asia (spread across many Iranian and other Indo-European speaking groups), whereas populations with genetic similarities to Eastern Scythian groups are found almost exclusively among Turkic peoples.
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 nomadic groups, particularly from the Kipchak branch of Turkic languages.
The Scythians originated in Central Asia, and they arrived in the Caucasian Steppe in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE as part of a significant movement of the nomadic peoples of the Eurasian Steppe. This movement started when the Massagetae, another nomadic Iranian tribe closely related to the Scythians, migrated westwards, forcing the Early Scythians of the to the west across the Araxes river, following which the Scythians moved into the Caucasian Steppe, displaced the Cimmerians, who were also a nomadic Iranian people closely related to the Scythians, and conquered their territory.
The Scythian migration destroyed earlier cultures, with the settlements of the Sabatinovka culture in the Dnieper valley being completely destroyed and the centre of Cimmerian bronze production stopping existing at the time, and 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. Among these populations were the Sigynnae, who were displaced westward into the "plain of Laurion", which is likely the eastern part of the Pannonian Basin. Another nomadic Iranian people related to the Scythians, the Agathyrsi, who were the oldest Iranian population to have dominated the Pontic Steppe, were displaced by this Scythian migration to the west. The Agathyrsi were pushed westwards by the Scythians, away from the steppes and their original home around Lake Maeotis, after which the relations between the two populations remained hostile, and they settled in the territories of present-day Moldavia, Transylvania, and possibly Oltenia, where they mingled with the indigenous population who were largely Thracians, became acculturated to the local Thracian Getic populations while retaining Iranian names such as Haxāθrᵃušᵃ (Ancient Greek: Ἀγαθυρσος; Latin: Agathyrsus) and Spargapaiθa (Ancient Greek: Σπαργαπείθης, Latin: Spargapeithēs) for their kings, and eventually became completely assimilated by the Geto-Thracian populations and disappeared from history soon after the 4th century BCE.
During this early migratory period, some groups of Scythians settled in the North Caucasus and the Caucasus 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.
Under Scythian pressure, the Cimmerians fled to the south along the coast of the Black Sea and reached Anatolia, and the Scythians in turn pursued the Cimmerians, following the coast of the Caspian Sea and arrived in the steppes in the Northern Caucasus, from where they expanded into the region of present-day Azerbaijan, where they settled around what is today Mingachevir, Ganja and the Mugan plain, and turned eastern Transcaucasia into their centre of operations in Western Asia until the early 6th century BCE. While the earlier modern view of the Scythian presence in Western Asia held that a separate group of Scythians had migrated there, the more recent view is that the Scythians in Western Asia never lost contact with the Scythian kingdom of the steppes, and their activities in fact constituted a series of lengthy military expeditions in Western Asia rather than an attempt at permanent conquest. During this period, the Scythian kings' headquarters were located in the steppes to the north of Caucasus, and contact with the civilisation of Western Asia would have an important influence on the formation of Scythian culture.
From their base in the Caucasian Steppe, the Scythians conquered the Pontic Steppe to the north of the Black Sea during the period of the 8th to 7th centuries BCE itself. In Crimea, the remnants of the Cimmerians were assimilated by the Scythians. 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.
The first mention of the Scythians in the records of the Neo-Assyrian Empire is from between 680/679 and 678/677 BCE, when their king Išpakaia joined the Mannaeans and the Cimmerians in an attack on Assyria and was killed in battle by the Assyrian king Esarhaddon.
Išpakaia was succeeded by Bartatua, who might have been his son. Unlike Išpakaia, Bartatua sought a rapprochement with the Assyrians, and in 672 BCE he asked the hand of Esarhaddon's daughter Serua-eterat in marriage, which is attested in Esarhaddon's questions to the oracle of the Sun-god Shamash. Whether this marriage did happen is not recorded in the Assyrian texts, but the close alliance between the Scythians and Assyria under Bartatua's reign suggested that this matrimonial alliance did happen, and it is possible that Serua-eterat might have been the mother of Bartatua's son Madyes; henceforth, the Scythians remained allies of the Assyrian Empire until it started unravelling after the death of Esarhaddon's son Ashurbanipal. Bartatua's marriage to the Assyrian princess required that he would pledge allegiance to Assyria as a vassal, and in accordance to Assyrian law, the territories ruled by him would be his fief granted by the Assyrian king, which made the Scythian presence in Western Asia a nominal extension of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Under this arrangement, the power of the Scythians in Western Asia heavily depended on their cooperation with the Assyrian Empire.
Bartatua was succeeded by his son, Madyes, who would bring Scythian power in Western Asia to its peak. In 653 BCE, Madyes invaded the Medes, an Iranian people native to Western Asia who were engaged in a war against Assyria, and the Median king Phraortes was killed in battle, either against the Assyrians or against Madyes. Madyes then imposed Scythian hegemony over Media for twenty-eight years on behalf of the Assyrians, thus starting a period which Herodotus called the "Scythian rule over Asia". Madyes soon expanded the Scythian hegemony to the states of Mannae and Urartu.
In 637 BCE, the Thracian Treres tribe who had migrated across the Thracian Bosporus and invaded Anatolia, under their king Kobos and in alliance with the Cimmerians and the Lycians, attacked the kingdom of Lydia during the seventh year of the reign of the Lydian king Ardys. They defeated the Lydians and captured the capital city of Lydia, Sardis, except for its citadel, and Ardys might have been killed in this attack. Ardys's son and successor, Sadyattes, might possibly also have been killed in another Cimmerian attack on Lydia in 635 BCE. Soon after 635 BCE, with Assyrian approval and in alliance with the Lydians, the Scythians under Madyes entered Anatolia, expelled the Treres from Asia Minor, and defeated the Cimmerians so that they no longer constituted a threat again, following which the Scythians extended their domination to Central Anatolia until they were themselves expelled by the Medes from Western Asia in the 590s BCE. This final defeat of the Cimmerians was carried out by the joint forces of Madyes, who Strabo credits with expelling the Cimmerians from Asia Minor, and of Gyges's great-grandson, the king Alyattes of Lydia, whom Herodotus and Polyaenus claim finally defeated the Cimmerians.
By the 620s BCE, the Assyrian Empire began unravelling after the death of Ashurbanipal. In addition to internal instability within Assyria itself, Babylon revolted against the Assyrians in 626 BCE. The next year, in 625 BCE, Cyaxares, the son of Phraortes and his successor to the Median kingship, overthrew the Scythian yoke over the Medes by inviting the Scythian rulers to a banquet and then murdering them all after getting them drunk; Madyes was likely killed during this massacre.
Shortly after, some time between 623 and 616 BCE, the Scythians took advantage of the power vacuum created by the crumbling of the power of their former Assyrian allies and overran the Levant and reached as far south as Palestine until the Egyptian pharaoh Psamtik I met them and convinced them to turn back by offering them gifts. The Scythians retreated by passing through Ascalon largely without any incident, although some stragglers looted the temple of Astarte in the city, which was considered to be the most ancient of all temples to that goddess. According to Herodotus, the goddess punished the perpetrators of the sack of her temple and their descendants with a "female disease", due to which they became a class of transvestite diviners called the Enarees (in Scythian, *anarya, meaning "unmanly").
According to Babylonian records, starting around 615 BCE, the Scythians were operating as allies of Cyaxares and the Medes in their war against Assyria, and were finally expelled from Western Asia by the Medes in the 590s BCE, after which they retreated to the Pontic Steppe. Some splinter Scythian groups nevertheless remained in Western Asia and settled in Transcaucasia and the area corresponding to modern-day Azerbaijan. One such splinter group likely joined the Medes and participated in the Median conquest of Urartu, while some other Transcaucasian Scythian splinter groups might have retreated northwards to join the Scythians who had already moved into the Kuban Steppe previously. One group formed a kingdom in what is now Azerbaijan under Median overlordship, but eventually hostilities broke out between them and Cyaxares, due to which they left Transcaucasia and fled to the kingdom of Lydia as refugees, although a section of these Scythians still remained in the southeast Caucasus, and were later mentioned by Livy under the name of Sacassani, while the country was called the Land of the Skythenoi by Xenophon and Sakasene by Ptolemy. By the middle of the 6th century BCE, 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.
After their expulsion from Western Asia, and beginning in the later 7th and lasting throughout much of the 6th century BCE, the majority of the Scythians migrated from the Northern Caucasus into the Pontic Steppe, which became the centre of Scythian power, and in the northwest Caucasus, from where the Scythians, not large in number enough to spread throughout the North Caucasus, instead took over the steppe to the south of the Kuban river's middle course. During the early 6th century BCE, these Pontic Scythians were reinforced by some groups of Transcaucasian Scythians migrating northwards; with the arrival of the Scythians from Western Asia into the Kuban Steppe around 600 BCE, the older Novocherkassk Culture was replaced by a new Scythian Culture which consisted of barrow-graves in the steppe, as well as settlements and earthworks largely in the Kuban valley populated by the indigenous Maeotians: while the Maeotians buried their dead in "flat" cemeteries, the Scythian ruling class buried its dead in kurgans, with these Scythian burials including human sacrifices and burnt horse hecatombs, which were practices adopted by the Scythians from the native West Asian peoples of Transcaucasia and Mesopotamia, and which the Scythians introduced into the Steppe. Within the earlier Scythian kurgans of the Kuban Steppe were buried articles which had been produced by Assyrian and Urartian workshops during the Scythians' presence in Western Asia.
As part of this Scythians' expansion into Europe, one section of the Scythian Sindi tribe migrated from the region of the Maeotian Lake towards the west into the eastern Pannonian basin, where they settled alongside the Sigynnae. Another section of the Sindi established themselves on the Taman peninsula, where they formed a ruling class over the indigenous Maeotians.
From late 7th century BCE, and throughout the 6th to 5th centuries BCE, the Scythians came into contact with the Ancient Greeks who were founding colonies on the western coast of the Taman Peninsula, of which the most prominent were Phanagoria and Hermonassa, as well as on the island of Borysthenes, near Taganrog on the Maeotian Lake, and later at Panticapaeum, Olbia, and other sites. This brought the Greeks into permanent contact with the Scythians, and relations between the two peoples were largely peaceful, although the city of the Panticapaeum might have been destroyed by the Scythians in the mid-century BC. During this time, the Scythian philosopher Anacharsis traveled to Athens, where he made a great impression on the local people with his "barbarian wisdom". After the Scythians' retreat to the north and the end of their contact with the Western Asian peoples, they instead switched to commissioning their burial articles from Greek and Bosporan artisans who combined Oriental art styles with local ones fitting the demands of their Scythian patrons, due to which the Late Scythian art styles evolved to be different from those of the earlier periods. The principal trade connections of the Greeks were however not their Scythian neighbours, but the sedentary populations who lived further north in the forest steppe, and who were reached by the way of the large rivers flowing through the steppe and emptying themselves into the Black Sea.
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, and Scythian incursions reaching Transylvania, Podolia, and the Hungarian Plain, due to which new objects originating from the steppes started appearing in Central Europe from the end of the 7th century onwards, and which included weapons and horse-equipment. Multiple fortified settlements of the Lusatian culture were destroyed by Scythian attacks during this period.
By the late 5th century BCE, the Kuban Scythians progressively lost their territories to the Sarmatians, another nomadic Iranian people, who were migrating to the west, beginning with the territory to the east of the Laba river, and then the whole Kuban territory except for Sindica, where the Scythian Sindi tribe formed a ruling class over the native Maeotians, and was by around 400 BCE the only place in the Caucasus where the Scythian Culture survived. By the end of the 5th century BCE, the Scythians of the Kuban Steppe had been forced to retreat northwards into the Pontic Steppe, where they destroyed a large number of settlements in the valleys of the steppe rivers during their arrival.
By the late 6th century BC, the Achaemenid king Darius the Great had built Persia into becoming the most powerful empire in the world, stretching from Egypt to India. Planning an invasion of Greece, Darius first sought to secure his northern flank against Scythian introads. Thus, Darius declared war on the Scythians. At first, Darius sent his Cappadocian satrap Ariamnes with a vast fleet (estimated at 600 ships by Herodotus) into Scythian territory, where several Scythian nobles were captured. He then built a bridge across the Bosporus and easily defeated the Thracians, crossing the Danube into Scythian territory with a large army (700,000 men if one is to believe Herodotus) in 512 BC. At this time Scythians were separated into three major kingdoms, with the leader of the largest tribe, King Idanthyrsus, being the supreme ruler, and his subordinate kings being Scopasis and Taxacis.
Unable to receive support from neighboring nomadic peoples against the Persians, the Scythians evacuated their civilians and livestock to the north and adopted a scorched earth strategy, while simultaneously harassing the extensive Persian supply lines. Suffering heavy losses, the Persians reached as far as the Sea of Azov, until Darius was compelled to enter into negotiations with Idanthyrsus, which, however, broke down. Darius and his army eventually reatreated across the Danube back into Persia, and the Scythians thereafter earned a reputation of invincibility among neighboring peoples.
In the aftermath of their defeat of the Persian invasion, Scythian power grew considerably, and they launched campaigns against their Thracian neighbors in the west. In 496 BC, the Scythians launched an great expedition into Thrace, reaching as far as Chersonesos. During this time they negotiated an alliance with the Achaemenid Empire against the Spartan king Cleomenes I. A prominent king of the Scythians in the 5th century BC was Scyles.
The Scythian offensive against the Thracians was checked by the Odrysian kingdom. The border between the Scythians and the Odrysian kingdom was thereafter set at the Danube, and relations between the two dynasties were good, with dynastic marriages frequently occurring. The Scythians also expanded towards the north-west, where they destroyed numerous fortified settlements and probably subjucated numerous settled populations. A similar fate was suffered by the Greek cities of the northwestern Black Sea coast and parts of the Crimea, over which the Scythians established political control. Greek settlements along the Don River also came under the control of the Scythians.
A division of responsibility developed, with the Scythians holding the political and military power, the urban population carrying out trade, and the local sedentary population carrying out manual labor. Their territories grew grain, and shipped wheat, flocks, and cheese to Greece. The Scythians apparently obtained much of their wealth from their control over the slave trade from the north to Greece through the Greek Black Sea colonial ports of Olbia, Chersonesos, Cimmerian Bosporus, and Gorgippia.
When Herodotus wrote his Histories in the 5th century BC, Greeks distinguished Scythia Minor, in present-day Romania and Bulgaria, from a Greater Scythia that extended eastwards for a 20-day ride from the Danube River, across the steppes of today's East Ukraine to the lower Don basin.
Scythian offensives against the Greek colonies of the northeastern Black Sea coast were largely unsuccessful, as the Greeks united under the leadership of the city of Panticapaeum and put up a vigorous defence. These Greek cities developed into the Bosporan Kingdom. Meanwhile, several Greek colonies formerly under Scythian control began to reassert their independence. It is possible that the Scythians were suffering from internal troubles during this time. By the mid-4th century BC, the Sarmatians, a related Iranian people living to the east of the Scythians, began expanding into Scythian territory.
The 4th century BC was a flowering of Scythian culture. The Scythian king Ateas managed to unite under his power the Scythian tribes living between the Maeotian marshes and the Danube, while simultaneously encroaching upon the Thracians. He conquered territories along the Danube as far the Sava river and established a trade route from the Black Sea to the Adriatic, which enabled a flourishing of trade in the Scythian kingdom. The westward expansion of Ateas brought him into conflict with Philip II of Macedon (reigned 359 to 336 BC), with whom he had previously been allied, who took military action against the Scythians in 339 BC. Ateas died in battle, and his empire disintegrated. Philip's son, Alexander the Great, continued the conflict with the Scythians. In 331 BC, his general Zopyrion invaded Scythian territory with a force of 30,000 men, but was routed and killed by the Scythians near Olbia.
During the end of the 4th century BCE, the Scythians were military defeated by a Macedonian king again, this time by Lysimachus in and 313 BCE, after which they experienced another military setback after participating in the Bosporan Civil War in 309 BCE, and they came under pressure from the Thracian Getae and the Germanic Bastarnae. In the aftermath of conflict between Macedon and the Scythians, another nomadic Iranian people related to the Scythians, the Sarmatians, overwhelmed them beginning in the late 4th century BCE, while the Celts and Germanic Bastarnae displaced the Scythians from the Balkans during the 3rd century BCE.
As the result of the Sarmatian, Getic, Celtic, and Bastarnae advances, the Scythian kingdom disappeared from the Pontic Steppe, and the Scythians themselves became limited to small enclaves in Crimea, Dobruja, and nearby regions.
By around 200 BC, the Scythians had largely withdrawn into the Crimea. By the time of Strabo's account (the first decades AD), the Crimean Scythians had created a new kingdom extending from the lower Dnieper to the Crimea, centered at Scythian Neapolis near modern Simferopol. They had become more settled and were intermingling with the local populations, in particular the Tauri, and were also subjected to Hellenization. They maintained close relations with the Bosporan Kingdom, with whose dynasty they were linked by marriage. A separate Scythian territory, known as Scythia Minor, existed in modern-day Dobruja, but was of little significance.
In the 2nd century BC, the Scythian kings Skilurus and Palakus sought to extend their control over the Greek cities north of the Black Sea. The Greek cities of Chersonesus and Olbia in turn requested the aid of Mithridates the Great, king of Pontus, whose general Diophantus defeated their armies in battle, took their capital and annexed their territory to the Bosporan Kingdom. After this time, the Scythians practically disappeared from history. Scythia Minor was also defeated by Mithridates.
In the years after the death of Mithridates, the Scythians had transitioned to a settled way of life and were assimilating into neighboring populations. They made a resurgence in the 1st century AD and laid siege to Chersonesos, who were obliged to seek help from the Roman Empire. The Scythians were in turn defeated by Roman commander Tiberius Plautius Silvanus Aelianus. By the 2nd century AD, archaeological evidence show that the Scythians had been largely assimilated by the Sarmatians and Alans. The capital city of the Scythians, Scythian Neapolis, was destroyed by migrating Goths in the mid-3rd century AD. In subsequent centuries, remaining Scythians and Sarmatians were largely assimilated by early Slavs. The Scythians and Sarmatians played an instrumental role in the ethnogenesis of the Ossetians, who are considered direct descendants of the Alans.
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. Mummification techniques and permafrost have aided in the relative preservation of some remains. Scythian archaeology also examines the remains of cities and fortifications.
Scythian archaeology can be divided into three stages:
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.
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. Examples of Early Scythian burials in the Near East include those of Norşuntepe and İmirler. 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.
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 Dnieper, and the southeastern parts of Scythian territories in the North Caucasus. 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.
Kurgans from the Early Scythian culture have been discovered in the North Caucasus. Some if 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. The greatest kurgans from the Early Scythian culture in the North Caucasus are found at Kelermesskaya, Novozavedennoe II (Ulsky Kurgans) 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.
Important Early Scythian sites have also been found in the forest steppes of the Dnieper. The most important of these finds is the Melgunov Kurgan. 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 Dnieper and its tributaries. The funerary rites of these sites are similar but not identical to those of the kurgans in the North Caucasus.
Important Early Scythian sites have also been discovered in the areas separating the North Caucasus and the forest steppes. These include the Krivorozhskiĭ 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 Krivorozhskiĭ also display Near Eastern influences.
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 Dnieper area are Trakhtemirovo, Motroninskoeand Pastyrskoe. East of these, at the banks of the Vorskla River, a tributary of the Dnieper, 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. 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 BC). Within the ramparts in these settlements there were areas without buildings, which were probably occupied by nomadic Scythians seasonally visiting the sites.
The Early Scythian culture came to an end in the latter part of the 6th century BC.
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.
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 Dnieper Rapids.
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.
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 Dnieper Rapids, and the Zolotoi and Kulakovskiĭ kurgans in the Crimea.
The greatest, so-called "royal" kurgans of the Classical Scythian culture are dated to the 4th century BC. These include Solokha, Bol'shaya Cymbalka, Chertomlyk , Oguz , Alexandropol and Kozel . The second greatest, so-called "aristocratic" kurgans, include Berdyanskii , Tovsta Mohyla, Chmyreva Mogila, Five Brothers 8, Melitopolsky , Zheltokamenka and Krasnokutskio .
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.
By the time of Classical Scythian culture, the North Caucasus appears to no longer be under Scythian control. Rich kurgans in the North Caucasus have been found at the Seven Brothers Hillfort, Elizavetovka 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 , but these are not as grand as the kurgans of the steppe further south.
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.
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.
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 Kamenskoeon 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. János Harmatta suggests that Kamenskoe served as a residence for the Scythian king Ateas.
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 Dnieper. Part of the settled inhabitants of Olbia were also of Scythian origin.
Classical Scythian culture lasts until the late 4th century or early 3rd century BC.
The last period in the Scythian archaeological culture is the Late Scythian culture, which existed in the Crimea and the Lower Dnieper from the 3rd century BC. This area was at the time mostly settled by Scythians.
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.
Recent excavations at Ak-Kaya/Vishennoeimplies 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.
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 AD. 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.
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.
The largest Scythian settlements after Neapolis and Ak-Kaya-Vishennoe were Bulganak, Ust-Alma and Kermen-Kyr . Like Neapolis and Ak-Kaya, these are characterized by a combination of Greek architectural principles and local ones.
A unique group of Late Scythian settlements were city-states located on the banks of the Lower Dnieper. The material culture of these settlements was even more Hellenized than those on the Crimea, and they were probably closely connected to Olbia, if not dependent it.
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.
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 Dnieper, were populated at last partly by Greeks. Influences of Sarmatian elements and the La Tène culture have been pointed out.
The Late Scythian culture ends in the 3rd century AD.
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.
In a fragment from the comic writer Euphron quoted in Deipnosophistae poppy seeds are mentioned as a "food which the Scythians love".
See also: Trifunctional hypothesis
Scythians lived in confederated tribes, a political form of voluntary association which regulated pastures and organised a common defence against encroaching neighbours for the pastoral tribes of mostly equestrian herdsmen. While the productivity of domesticated animal-breeding greatly exceeded that of the settled agricultural societies, the pastoral economy also needed supplemental agricultural produce, and stable nomadic confederations developed either symbiotic or forced alliances with sedentary peoples—in exchange for animal produce and military protection.
Herodotus relates that three main tribes of the Scythians descended from three sons of Targitaus: Lipoxais, Arpoxais, and Colaxais. They called themselves Scoloti, after one of their kings.[note 2] Herodotus writes that the Auchatae tribe descended from Lipoxais, the Catiari and Traspians from Arpoxais, and the Paralatae (Royal Scythians) from Colaxais, who was the youngest brother. According to Herodotus the Royal Scythians were the largest and most powerful Scythian tribe, and looked "upon all the other tribes in the light of slaves."
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."
The Scythians were a warlike people. When engaged at war, almost the entire adult population, including a large number of women, participated in battle. The Athenian historian Thucydides noted that no people in either Europe or Asia could resist the Scythians without outside aid.
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.
The Greek historian Herodotus said that the Scythians scalped their enemies. 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.” 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.
The Ziwiye hoard, a treasure of gold and silver metalwork and ivory found near the town of Sakiz south of Lake Urmia and dated to between 680 and 625 BC, includes objects with Scythian "animal style" features. One silver dish from this find bears some inscriptions, as yet undeciphered and so possibly representing a form of Scythian writing.
Scythians also had a reputation for the use of barbed and poisoned arrows of several types, for a nomadic life centred on horses—"fed from horse-blood" according to Herodotus—and for skill in guerrilla warfare.
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."
Main article: Scythian metallurgy
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.
Main article: Scythian clothing
According to Herodotus, Scythian costume consisted of padded and quilted leather trousers tucked into boots, and open tunics. They rode without stirrups or saddles, using only saddle-cloths. Herodotus reports that Scythians used cannabis, both to weave their clothing and to cleanse themselves in its smoke (Hist. 4.73–75); archaeology has confirmed the use of cannabis in funerary rituals. Men seemed to have worn a variety of soft headgear—either conical like the one described by Herodotus, or rounder, more like a Phrygian cap.
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.
Scythian women wore long, loose robes, ornamented with metal plaques (gold). Women wore shawls, often richly decorated with metal (golden) plaques.
Based on numerous archeological findings in Ukraine, southern Russia, and Kazakhstan, men and warrior women wore long sleeve tunics that were always belted, often with richly ornamented belts.
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.
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.
Main article: Scythian religion
Scythian religion was a type of Pre-Zoroastrian Iranian religion and differed from the post-Zoroastrian Iranian thoughts. The Scythian belief was a more archaic stage than the Zoroastrian and Hindu systems. The use of cannabis to induce trance and divination by soothsayers was a characteristic of the Scythian belief system.
Our most important literary source on Scythian religion is Herodotus. According to him the leading deity in the Scythian pantheon was Tabiti, whom he compared to the Greek god Hestia. Tabiti was eventually replaced by Atar, the fire-pantheon of Iranian tribes, and Agni, the fire deity of Indo-Aryans. Other deities mentioned by Herodotus 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 Herodotus to have worshipped equivalents of Heracles and Ares, but he does not mention their Scythian names. 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.
Herodotus 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.
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.
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. 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 Herodotus' writings on them. Traces of these epics can be found in the epics of the Ossetians of the present day.
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.
Main article: Scythian art
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 royal 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.
By the late 3rd century BC, original Scythian art disappears through ongoing Hellenization. The creation of anthropomorphic gravestones continued, however.
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.
Main article: Scythian languages
The Scythians spoke a language belonging to the Scythian languages, most probably a branch of the Eastern Iranian languages. 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. 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.
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.
In artworks, the Scythians are portrayed exhibiting Caucasoid traits. In Histories, the 5th-century BC Greek historian Herodotus describes the Budini of Scythia as red-haired and grey-eyed. In the 5th century BC, Greek physician Hippocrates argued that the Scythians were light skinned as well as having a particularly high rate of hypermobility, to a point of affecting warfare. In the 3rd century BC, the Greek poet Callimachus described the Arismapes (Arimaspi) of Scythia as fair-haired. 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. In Natural History, the 1st-century AD Roman author Pliny the Elder characterises the Seres, sometimes identified as Saka or Tocharians, as red-haired, blue-eyed and unusually tall. In the late 2nd century AD, the Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria says that the Scythians and the Celts have long auburn hair. The 2nd-century Greek philosopher Polemon includes the Scythians among the northern peoples characterised by red hair and blue-grey eyes. 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. The fourth-century Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus wrote that the Alans, a people closely related to the Scythians, were tall, blond and light-eyed. The fourth-century bishop Gregory of Nyssa wrote that the Scythians were fair skinned and blond haired. The 5th-century physician Adamantius, who often followed Polemon, describes the Scythians as fair-haired.
In 2017, a genetic study of various Scythian samples, was published in Nature Communications. The study suggested that the Scythians arose as admixture between European-related groups from the Yamnaya culture and East Asian/Siberian groups. Further they found evidence for massive geneflow from East-Eurasia to West-Eurasia during the early Iron Age. While the origin of the Scythian material culture is disputed, their evidence suggest 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.
Another 2017 genetic study, published in Scientific Reports, found 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.
Krzewińska et al. (2018) found that the historical Central Asian Steppe population was genetically heterogeneous and carried genetic affinities with populations from several other regions including the Far East and the southern Urals.
In 2019, a genetic study of remains from the Aldy-Bel culture of southern Siberia and proper Scythians from the Pontic–Caspian steppe, which are materially similar to each other, was published in Human Genetics. They identified Scythians as mix of West-Eurasian and East-Eurasian lineages. East Asian admixture was estimated at 26,3%. The samples of Aldy-Bel in contrast revealed increased East-Eurasian ancestry. The results indicated that the Scythians and the Aldy-Bel people were of different origins, with almost no gene flow between them.
Järve et al. (2019) found that the nomadic Scythians were of different genetic origins. They suggested that migrations must have played a role in the emergence of the Scythians as the dominant power on the Pontic steppe.
In Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, the name "Scythians" was used in Greco-Roman literature for various groups of nomadic "barbarians" living on the Pontic-Caspian steppe. This includes Huns, Goths, Ostrogoths, Turkic peoples, Pannonian Avars and Khazars. None of these peoples had any relation whatsoever with the actual Scythians.
Byzantine sources also refer to the Rus' raiders who attacked Constantinople circa 860 in contemporary accounts as "Tauroscythians", because of their geographical origin, and despite their lack of any ethnic relation to Scythians. Patriarch Photius may have first applied the term to them during the siege of Constantinople.
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: 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.
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.
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.
Some legends of the Poles, 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.
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, 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." 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."
Legends about the origin of the population from the Scythian ancestor Targitai – son of Borisfen's daughter (that was the name of the Dnipro river in antiquity) – are popular in Ukraine. In Ukraine, which territory Herodotus described in his work on the Scythians, there are discussions about how serious the influence of the Scythians was on the ethnogenesis of Ukrainians. 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. The description of Scythia by Herodotus is also called the oldest description of Ukraine. Despite the absolute dissimilarity of modern Ukrainian and hypothetical Scythian languages, researchers claim it still left some marks, such as the fricative pronunciation of the letter "г", the specific alternation, etc.
Herodotus 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 the Agathyrsi, Geloni, Budini, and Neuri.
[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.
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.
The Śaka 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.
The nomadic populations were heterogeneous and carried genetic affinities with populations from several other regions including the Far East and the southern Urals. Genetic analyses of maternal lineages of Scythians suggest a mixed origin and an east-west admixture gradient across the Eurasian steppe (10–12). The genomics of two early Scythian Aldy-Bel individuals (13) showed genetic affinities to eastern Asian populations (12).
Mitochondrial lineages in the NPR Scythians analyzed in this study appear to consist of a mixture of west and east Eurasian haplogroups. West Eurasian lineages were represented by subdivisions of haplogroup U5 (U5a2a1, U5a1a1, U5a1a2b, U5a2b, U5a1b, U5b2a1a2, six individuals total, 31.6%), H (H and H5b, three individuals total, 15.8%), J (J1c2 and J2b1a6, two individuals, 10.5%), as well as haplogroups N1b1a, W3a and T2b (one individual each, 5.3% each specimen). East Eurasian mt lineages were represented by haplogroups A, D4j2, F1b, M10a1a1a, and H8c (represented by a single individual), in total, comprising 26.3% of our sample set. 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 different paternal lineage makeup with nearly no gene flow from male carriers between them.
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.