Scythia
Overview
In antiquity, Scythian or Scyths were terms used by the Greeks to refer to certain Iranian
Iranian peoples
The Iranian peoples are an Indo-European ethnic-linguistic group, consisting of the speakers of Iranian languages, a major branch of the Indo-European language family, as such forming a branch of Indo-European-speaking peoples...

 groups of horse-riding
Equestrianism
Equestrianism more often known as riding, horseback riding or horse riding refers to the skill of riding, driving, or vaulting with horses...

 nomadic pastoralists who dwelt on the Pontic-Caspian steppe
Pontic-Caspian steppe
The Pontic-Caspian steppe is the vast steppeland stretching from the north of the Black Sea as far as the east of the Caspian Sea, from western Ukraine across the Southern Federal District and the Volga Federal District of Russia to western Kazakhstan,...

. However, the name "Scythian", and the related word Saka (in Persian), was also used to refer to various peoples seen as similar to the Scythians, or who lived anywhere in a vast area covering present-day Central Asia
Central Asia
Central Asia is a core region of the Asian continent from the Caspian Sea in the west, China in the east, Afghanistan in the south, and Russia in the north...

, Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

, and Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

—known until medieval times as Scythia
Scythia
In antiquity, Scythian or Scyths were terms used by the Greeks to refer to certain Iranian groups of horse-riding nomadic pastoralists who dwelt on the Pontic-Caspian steppe...

. They have been described as "a network of culturally similar tribes."

The historic European Scythians spoke an ancient Iranic
Ancient Iranian peoples
Iranian peoples first appear in Assyrian records in the 9th century BCE. In Classical Antiquity they were found primarily in Scythia and Persia...

 language, and throughout Classical Antiquity
Classical antiquity
Classical antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, collectively known as the Greco-Roman world...

 dominated the Ponto-Caspian steppe, known at the time as Scythia
Scythia
In antiquity, Scythian or Scyths were terms used by the Greeks to refer to certain Iranian groups of horse-riding nomadic pastoralists who dwelt on the Pontic-Caspian steppe...

.

By Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity is a periodization used by historians to describe the time of transition from Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages, in both mainland Europe and the Mediterranean world. Precise boundaries for the period are a matter of debate, but noted historian of the period Peter Brown proposed...

 the closely related Sarmatians
Sarmatians
The Iron Age Sarmatians were an Iranian people in Classical Antiquity, flourishing from about the 5th century BC to the 4th century AD....

 came to dominate the Scythians in the west.
Encyclopedia
In antiquity, Scythian or Scyths were terms used by the Greeks to refer to certain Iranian
Iranian peoples
The Iranian peoples are an Indo-European ethnic-linguistic group, consisting of the speakers of Iranian languages, a major branch of the Indo-European language family, as such forming a branch of Indo-European-speaking peoples...

 groups of horse-riding
Equestrianism
Equestrianism more often known as riding, horseback riding or horse riding refers to the skill of riding, driving, or vaulting with horses...

 nomadic pastoralists who dwelt on the Pontic-Caspian steppe
Pontic-Caspian steppe
The Pontic-Caspian steppe is the vast steppeland stretching from the north of the Black Sea as far as the east of the Caspian Sea, from western Ukraine across the Southern Federal District and the Volga Federal District of Russia to western Kazakhstan,...

. However, the name "Scythian", and the related word Saka (in Persian), was also used to refer to various peoples seen as similar to the Scythians, or who lived anywhere in a vast area covering present-day Central Asia
Central Asia
Central Asia is a core region of the Asian continent from the Caspian Sea in the west, China in the east, Afghanistan in the south, and Russia in the north...

, Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

, and Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

—known until medieval times as Scythia
Scythia
In antiquity, Scythian or Scyths were terms used by the Greeks to refer to certain Iranian groups of horse-riding nomadic pastoralists who dwelt on the Pontic-Caspian steppe...

. They have been described as "a network of culturally similar tribes."

The historic European Scythians spoke an ancient Iranic
Ancient Iranian peoples
Iranian peoples first appear in Assyrian records in the 9th century BCE. In Classical Antiquity they were found primarily in Scythia and Persia...

 language, and throughout Classical Antiquity
Classical antiquity
Classical antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, collectively known as the Greco-Roman world...

 dominated the Ponto-Caspian steppe, known at the time as Scythia
Scythia
In antiquity, Scythian or Scyths were terms used by the Greeks to refer to certain Iranian groups of horse-riding nomadic pastoralists who dwelt on the Pontic-Caspian steppe...

.

By Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity is a periodization used by historians to describe the time of transition from Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages, in both mainland Europe and the Mediterranean world. Precise boundaries for the period are a matter of debate, but noted historian of the period Peter Brown proposed...

 the closely related Sarmatians
Sarmatians
The Iron Age Sarmatians were an Iranian people in Classical Antiquity, flourishing from about the 5th century BC to the 4th century AD....

 came to dominate the Scythians in the west. Much of the surviving information about the Scythians comes from the Greek historian Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 (c. 440 BC) in his Histories
Histories (Herodotus)
The Histories of Herodotus is considered one of the seminal works of history in Western literature. Written from the 450s to the 420s BC in the Ionic dialect of classical Greek, The Histories serves as a record of the ancient traditions, politics, geography, and clashes of various cultures that...

 and Ovid
Ovid
Publius Ovidius Naso , known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best known as the author of the three major collections of erotic poetry: Heroides, Amores, and Ars Amatoria...

 in his poem of exile Epistulae ex Ponto
Epistulae ex Ponto
Epistulae ex Ponto is a work of Ovid, in four books. It is especially important for our knowledge of Scythia Minor in his time....

, and archaeologically from the depictions of Scythian life shown in relief on exquisite goldwork found in Scythian burial mounds
Kurgan
Kurgan is the Turkic term for a tumulus; mound of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves, originating with its use in Soviet archaeology, now widely used for tumuli in the context of Eastern European and Central Asian archaeology....

 in Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

 and Southern Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

.

The ultimate "origins" of, both, Scythian culture and historic groups remains a focus of academic debate. The classical histories and archeological evidence give only a partial understanding of the origins of Scythian culture. What is certain is that, during the Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

, a broadly similar Scythian culture flowered in a vast zone from the eastern European steppe to the Altai Mountains.

Language

Scythian belonged to the Indo-European
Indo-European languages
The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects, including most major current languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and South Asia and also historically predominant in Anatolia...

 language-family. The Linguist List
Linguist List
The LINGUIST List is a major online resource for the academic field of linguistics. It was founded by Anthony Aristar in early 1990 at the University of Western Australia, and is used as a reference by the National Science Foundation in the United States...

, representing the most current view of mainstream scholarship, classifies Scythian as a member of the Northeast Iranian branch. Many non-Iranian tribes included under the Scythian umbrella spoke other languages; for example, the Meotians (Sindi
Sindi (people)
The Sindi were an ancient people in the Taman Peninsula and the adjacent coast of the Pontus Euxinus , in the district called Sindica, which spread between the modern towns of Temryuk and Novorossiysk...

), spoke Indo-Aryan
Indo-Aryan languages
The Indo-Aryan languages constitutes a branch of the Indo-Iranian languages, itself a branch of the Indo-European language family...

 dialects.

Naming and etymology

Sulimirski views the Histories of Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 as the most important literary source relating to ancient Scyths. Herodotus provides a depiction that can be related to the results of archaeological research, but apparently knew little of the eastern part of Scythia. He did say that the ancient Persians called all the Scyths Σάκαι (Sacae, Herodotus 7.64). Their principal tribe, the "Royal Scyths", ruled the vast lands occupied by the nation as a whole (Herodotus 4.20), calling themselves Σκώλοτοι (Scōloti, Herodotus 4.6). Oswald Szemerényi
Oswald Szemerényi
Oswald John Louis Szemerényi was a Hungarian Indo-Europeanist with strong interests in comparative linguistics in general....

 devotes a thorough discussion to the etymologies of ancient ethnic words for the Scythians in his work "Four old Iranian ethnic names: Scythian – Skudra – Sogdian – Saka". In it the names of Herodotus and the names of his title, except Saka, as well as many other words for "Scythian," such as Assyrian
Akkadian language
Akkadian is an extinct Semitic language that was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia. The earliest attested Semitic language, it used the cuneiform writing system derived ultimately from ancient Sumerian, an unrelated language isolate...

 Aškuz and Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 Skuthēs, descend from *skeud-, an ancient Indo-European
Indo-European
Indo-European may refer to:* Indo-European languages** Aryan race, a 19th century and early 20th century term for those peoples who are the native speakers of Indo-European languages...

 root meaning "propel, shoot" (cf. English shoot). *skud- is the zero-grade; that is, a variant in which the -e- is not present. The restored Scythian name is *Skuda (archer
Archery
Archery is the art, practice, or skill of propelling arrows with the use of a bow, from Latin arcus. Archery has historically been used for hunting and combat; in modern times, however, its main use is that of a recreational activity...

), which among the Pontic or Royal Scythians became *Skula, in which the d has been regularly replaced by an l.

Saka, on the other hand, Szemerényi relates to an Iranian verb
Verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

al root, sak-, "go, roam", and hypothesizes that the Achaemenids used "nomad" to refer to the northern tribes, rather than their endonym. The name does appear somewhat further east than the Achaemenid Empire, as the Chinese knew the Asian Scythians as Sai (Chinese character
Chinese character
Chinese characters are logograms used in the writing of Chinese and Japanese , less frequently Korean , formerly Vietnamese , or other languages...

: 塞, Old Sinitic *sək). Whether they adopted the Achaemenid name or Saka came to be an endonym is not clear. Some Saka settled in greater numbers within the Persian Empire. The modern Iranian province of Sistan
Sistan
Sīstān is a border region in eastern Iran , southwestern Afghanistan and northern tip of Southwestern Pakistan .-Etymology:...

 takes its name from the classical Sakestan (place of Saka).

Sakestan was not the only province of Scythian origin on the eastern margin of the Persian Empire. According to Szemerényi, Sogdiana
Sogdiana
Sogdiana or Sogdia was the ancient civilization of an Iranian people and a province of the Achaemenid Empire, eighteenth in the list on the Behistun Inscription of Darius the Great . Sogdiana is "listed" as the second of the "good lands and countries" that Ahura Mazda created...

 was named from the Skuda form. Starting from the names of the province given in Old Persian inscriptions, Sugda and Suguda, and the knowledge derived from Middle Sogdian that Old Persian -gd- applied to Sogdian was actually pronounced as voiced fricatives, -γδ-, Szemerényi arrives at *Suγδa as an Old Sogdian endonym. Applying sound changes apparent in other Sogdian words and inherent in Indo-European he traces the development of *Suγδa from Skuda, "archer," as follows: Skuda > *Sukuda by anaptyxis > *Sukuδa > *Sukδa by syncope > *Suγδa.

Literary evidence

The Scythians first appeared in the historical record in the 8th century BC. Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 reported three contradictory versions as to the origins of the Scythians, but placed greatest faith in this version:
Subsequently, the term Scythian, like Cimmerian, was used to refer to a variety of groups from the Black Sea to southern Siberia and central Asia. "They were not a specific people", but rather variety of peoples "referred to at variety of times in history, and in several places, none of which was their original homeland" The Bible includes a single reference to Scythians in Colossians 3:11, immediately after mentioning barbarian, possibly as an extreme example of a barbarian.

Archaeology

Modern interpretation of historical, archaeological and anthropological evidence has proposed two broad hypotheses. The first, more popularly supported, theory roughly follows Herodotus' (third) account, stating that the Scythians were an Iranic group who arrived from Inner Asia
Inner Asia
Inner Asia has a range of meanings among different researchers and in different countries. Denis Sinor defined Inner Asia broadly as the homelands of the Altaic peoples and the Uralic peoples .German makes a distinction between "Zentralasien", meaning Mongolia, Tibet, Xinjiang, and...

, i.e. from the area of Turkestan and western Siberia.

A second school of thought suggests an origin in the Pontic steppe/trans-Caucasian region. Followers of this theory argue that the Scythians emerged from local groups of the "Timber Grave" (or Srubna) culture
Srubna culture
The Srubna culture , was a Late Bronze Age culture. It is a successor to the Yamna culture, the Pit Grave culture and the Poltavka culture....

 (although this is also associated with the Cimmerians). This second theory is supported by anthropological evidence which has found that Scythian skulls are similar to preceding findings from the Timber Grave culture, and distinct from those of the Central Asian Sacae.
Such scenarios need not be mutually exclusive, especially when considered against a broader culture-historial and geo-ecological backdrop. The commencement of the first millennium BC saw increasingly arid conditions in the steppe lands, as well as the transition to an Iron Age in terms of metallurgical development. This led to a less sedentary, more mobile way of life with greater competition for resources. A more militarized and socially stratified steppe society might be a natural consequence. A mobile, broadly similar lifestyle would have facilitated contacts amongst disparate ethnic groupings along the expansive Eurasian steppe from the Danube to Manchuria, leading to many cultural similarities. Nevertheless the peoples recorded historically as Scythians and Sakas were a heterogeneous mix with independent histories. The final development of Scythian culture was intimately linked to a variety of elements, including a Scytho-Siberian platform modified by Caucasian, Greek and Assyrian-Urarturian influences.

Genetics

Given that declared eastern origin, some scholars, before the 20th century, assumed that the Scythians were descended from the Turkic
Turkic peoples
The Turkic peoples are peoples residing in northern, central and western Asia, southern Siberia and northwestern China and parts of eastern Europe. They speak languages belonging to the Turkic language family. They share, to varying degrees, certain cultural traits and historical backgrounds...

/Mongolic people. The Scythian community did inhabit western Mongolia in the 5th and 6th centuries, but were not Mongolian. The mummy of a Scythian warrior, which is believed to be about 2,500 years old, was a 30-to-40 year-old man with blond hair, and was found in the Altai, Mongolia
Mongolia
Mongolia is a landlocked country in East and Central Asia. It is bordered by Russia to the north and China to the south, east and west. Although Mongolia does not share a border with Kazakhstan, its western-most point is only from Kazakhstan's eastern tip. Ulan Bator, the capital and largest...

.

Mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA is the DNA located in organelles called mitochondria, structures within eukaryotic cells that convert the chemical energy from food into a form that cells can use, adenosine triphosphate...

 extracted from skeletal remains obtained from excavated Scythian kurgans have produced a myriad of results and conclusions. Analysis of the HV1 sequence obtained from a male Scytho-Siberian's remains at the Kizil site in the Altai Republic
Altai Republic
Altai Republic is a federal subject of Russia . Its capital is the town of Gorno-Altaysk. The area of the republic is . Population: -Geography:...

 revealed the individual possessed the N1a maternal lineage. The study also noted that haplogroup mtDNA N1a was found at a relatively high frequency in the southern fringes of the Eurasian steppe
Eurasian Steppe
The Eurasian Steppe is the vast steppe ecoregion of Eurasia in the Temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands Biome. It stretches from Hungary to Mongolia...

, Iran
Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

 (8.3%). From this, a possible link to ancient populations presumed to have come from Europe that lived in the neighboring northwestern parts of the Subcontinent
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

 and Iran
Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

 was suggested.

Additionally, mitochondrial DNA has been extracted from two Scytho-Siberian skeletons found in the Altai Republic (Russia) dating back 2,500 years. Both remains were determined to be of males from a population who had characteristics "of mixed Euro-Mongoloid origin". ("Europoid" in this context means Western Eurasian). One of the individuals was found to carry the F2a maternal lineage, and the other the D lineage, both of which are characteristic of East Eurasian populations.

Maternal genetic analysis of Saka period male and female skeletal remains from a double inhumation kurgan located at the Beral site in Kazakhstan determined that the two were most likely not closely related and were possibly husband and wife. The HV1 mitochondrial sequence of the male was similar to the Anderson sequence which is most frequent in European populations. Contrary, the HV1 sequence of the female suggested a greater likelihood of Asian origins. The study's findings were in line with the hypothesis that mixings between Scythians and other populations occurred. This was buttressed by the discovery of several objects with a Chinese inspiration in the grave. No conclusive associations with haplogroups were made though it was suggested that the female may have derived from either mtDNA X or D.

The haplotypes and haplogroups of 26 ancient human specimens from the Krasnoyarsk
Krasnoyarsk
Krasnoyarsk is a city and the administrative center of Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia, located on the Yenisei River. It is the third largest city in Siberia, with the population of 973,891. Krasnoyarsk is an important junction of the Trans-Siberian Railway and one of Russia's largest producers of...

 area in Siberia
Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

 dated from between the middle of the second millennium BC. to the 4th century AD (Scythian and Sarmatian timeframe). Nearly all subjects belong to haplogroup R1a1-M17
Haplogroup R1a (Y-DNA)
Haplogroup R1a is the phylogenetic name of a major clade of Human Y-chromosome DNA haplogroups. In other words, it is a way of grouping a significant part of all modern men according to a shared male-line ancestor. It is common in many parts of Eurasia and is frequently discussed in human...

 which is thought to mark the eastward migration of the early Indo-Europeans . The results also confirm that throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages, south Siberia was a region of overwhelmingly predominant Europoid settlement, suggesting an eastward migration of Kurgan people across the Russo-Kazakh steppe. Finally, the study authors suggest that their data shows that between Bronze and Iron Ages, the constellation of populations known variously as Scythians, Andronovians, etc. were blue (or green)-eyed, fair-skinned and light-haired people which might have played a role in the early development of the Tarim Basin
Tarim Basin
The Tarim Basin is a large endorheic basin occupying an area of about . It is located in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China's far west. Its northern boundary is the Tian Shan mountain range and its southern is the Kunlun Mountains on the northern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. The...

 civilization.

This confirms impressions based on depictions of Scythian men in art. Scythians possessed pronounced Europoid faces and sported a beard and long hair; perhaps most resembling later medieval Slavs. This is confirmed by accounts of the Alans
Alans
The Alans, or the Alani, occasionally termed Alauni or Halani, were a group of Sarmatian tribes, nomadic pastoralists of the 1st millennium AD who spoke an Eastern Iranian language which derived from Scytho-Sarmatian and which in turn evolved into modern Ossetian.-Name:The various forms of Alan —...

, a successor ancient Iranic steppe group, who were described by Ammianius as being tall and blonde.

Classical Antiquity (600 BC to AD 300)

Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 provides the first detailed description of the Scythians. He classes the Cimmerians
Cimmerians
The Cimmerians or Kimmerians were ancient equestrian nomads of Indo-European origin.According to the Greek historian Herodotus, of the 5th century BC, the Cimmerians inhabited the region north of the Caucasus and the Black Sea during the 8th and 7th centuries BC, in what is now Ukraine and Russia...

 as a distinct autochthonous tribe, expelled by the Scythians from the northern Black Sea coast (Hist. 4.11–-12). Herodotus also states (4.6) that the Scythians consisted of the Auchatae, Catiaroi, Traspians and Paralatae or "Royal Scythians."

In 512 BC, when King Darius the Great of Persia
Achaemenid Empire
The Achaemenid Empire , sometimes known as First Persian Empire and/or Persian Empire, was founded in the 6th century BCE by Cyrus the Great who overthrew the Median confederation...

 attacked the Scythians, he allegedly penetrated into their land after crossing the Danube
Danube
The Danube is a river in the Central Europe and the Europe's second longest river after the Volga. It is classified as an international waterway....

. Herodotus relates that the nomad Scythians succeeded in frustrating the designs of the Persian army by letting it march through the entire country without an engagement. According to Herodotus, Darius in this manner came as far as the Volga River.

During the 5th to 3rd centuries BC the Scythians evidently prospered. When Herodotus wrote his Histories in the 5th century BC, Greeks distinguished Scythia Minor
Scythia Minor
Scythia Minor, "Lesser Scythia" was in ancient times the region surrounded by the Danube at the north and west and the Black Sea at the east, corresponding to today's Dobruja, with a part in Romania and a part in Bulgaria....

 in present-day Romania
Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

 and Bulgaria
Bulgaria
Bulgaria , officially the Republic of Bulgaria , is a parliamentary democracy within a unitary constitutional republic in Southeast Europe. The country borders Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, as well as the Black Sea to the east...

 from a Greater Scythia
Scythia
In antiquity, Scythian or Scyths were terms used by the Greeks to refer to certain Iranian groups of horse-riding nomadic pastoralists who dwelt on the Pontic-Caspian steppe...

 that extended eastwards for a 20-day ride from the Danube River, across the steppe
Steppe
In physical geography, steppe is an ecoregion, in the montane grasslands and shrublands and temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biomes, characterized by grassland plains without trees apart from those near rivers and lakes...

s of today's East Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

 to the lower Don basin. The Don, then known as Tanaïs
Tanais
Tanais is the ancient name for the River Don in Russia. Strabo regarded it as the boundary between Europe and Asia.In antiquity, Tanais was also the name of a city in the Don river delta that reaches into the northeasternmost part of the Sea of Azov, which the Greeks called Lake Maeotis...

, has served as a major trading route ever since. The Scythians apparently obtained their wealth from their control over the slave-trade from the north to Greece through the Greek Black Sea
Black Sea
The Black Sea is bounded by Europe, Anatolia and the Caucasus and is ultimately connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas and various straits. The Bosphorus strait connects it to the Sea of Marmara, and the strait of the Dardanelles connects that sea to the Aegean...

 colonial ports of Olbia
Olbia
Olbia is a town and comune of 56,231 inhabitants in northeastern Sardinia , in the Gallura sub-region. Called Olbia in the Roman age, Civita in the Middle Ages and Terranova Pausania before the 1940s, Olbia was again the official name of the town after the period of Fascism.-Geography:It is the...

, Chersonesos, Cimmerian Bosporus, and Gorgippia. They also grew grain, and shipped wheat
Wheat
Wheat is a cereal grain, originally from the Levant region of the Near East, but now cultivated worldwide. In 2007 world production of wheat was 607 million tons, making it the third most-produced cereal after maize and rice...

, flocks, and cheese
Cheese
Cheese is a generic term for a diverse group of milk-based food products. Cheese is produced throughout the world in wide-ranging flavors, textures, and forms....

 to Greece.

Strabo
Strabo
Strabo, also written Strabon was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.-Life:Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus , a city which he said was situated the approximate equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea...

 (c. 63 BC –- 24 AD) reports that King Ateas
Ateas
Ateas was described in Greek and Roman sources as the most powerful king of Scythia, who lost his life and empire in the conflict with Philip II of Macedon in 339 BC...

 united under his power the Scythian tribes living between the Maeotian marshes
Maeotian marshes
In the geography of Antiquity the Maeotian marshes lay where the Don River emptied into the Maeotian Lake near Tanais. The marshes served as a check to the westward migration of nomad peoples from the steppe of Central Asia.The area was named after the Maeotae who lived around the Maeotian Lake....

 and the Danube. His westward expansion brought him in conflict with Philip II of Macedon
Philip II of Macedon
Philip II of Macedon "friend" + ἵππος "horse" — transliterated ; 382 – 336 BC), was a king of Macedon from 359 BC until his assassination in 336 BC. He was the father of Alexander the Great and Philip III.-Biography:...

 (reigned 359 to 336 BC), who took military action against the Scythians in 339 BC. Ateas died in battle, and his empire disintegrated. In the aftermath of this defeat, the Celts seem to have displaced the Scythians from the Balkans
Balkans
The Balkans is a geopolitical and cultural region of southeastern Europe...

, while in south Russia a kindred tribe, the Sarmatians
Sarmatians
The Iron Age Sarmatians were an Iranian people in Classical Antiquity, flourishing from about the 5th century BC to the 4th century AD....

, gradually overwhelmed them. In 329 BC Philip's son, Alexander the Great, came into conflict with the Scythians at the Battle of Jaxartes
Battle of Jaxartes
The Battle of Jaxartes was a battle fought in 329 BC by Alexander the Great and his Macedonian army against the Scythians at the Syr Darya River - the modern name for the River Jaxartes...

. A nomad army sought to take revenge for the death of Ateas against the Macedonians, as they pushed the borders of their empire north and east, and take advantage of a revolt by the local Sogdian satrap
Satrap
Satrap was the name given to the governors of the provinces of the ancient Median and Achaemenid Empires and in several of their successors, such as the Sassanid Empire and the Hellenistic empires....

. However, the nomad army was utterly crushed by Alexander, and following this defeat, the Scythians were no longer in a position to challenge the power of Macedon.

By the time of Strabo's account (the first decades of the first millennium AD), the Crimean Scythians had created a new kingdom extending from the lower Dnieper
Dnieper River
The Dnieper River is one of the major rivers of Europe that flows from Russia, through Belarus and Ukraine, to the Black Sea.The total length is and has a drainage basin of .The river is noted for its dams and hydroelectric stations...

 to the Crimea
Crimea
Crimea , or the Autonomous Republic of Crimea , is a sub-national unit, an autonomous republic, of Ukraine. It is located on the northern coast of the Black Sea, occupying a peninsula of the same name...

. The kings Skilurus
Skilurus
Skilurus or Scylurus was the best known king of Scythia in the 2nd century BC. He was the son of a king and the father of a king, but the relation of his dynasty to the previous one is disputed...

 and Palakus waged wars with Mithridates the Great
Mithridates VI of Pontus
Mithridates VI or Mithradates VI Mithradates , from Old Persian Mithradatha, "gift of Mithra"; 134 BC – 63 BC, also known as Mithradates the Great and Eupator Dionysius, was king of Pontus and Armenia Minor in northern Anatolia from about 120 BC to 63 BC...

 (reigned 120–63 BC) for control of the Crimean littoral, including Chersonesos and the Cimmerian Bosporus. Their capital city, Scythian Neapolis
Scythian Neapolis
Scythian Neapolis was a settlement that existed from the end of the 3rd century BC until the second half of the 3rd century AD. The archeological ruins sit on the outskirts of the present-day Simferopol. This city was the center of the Crimean Scythian tribes, led by Skilurus and Palacus...

, stood on the outskirts of modern Simferopol
Simferopol
-Russian Empire and Civil War:The city was renamed Simferopol in 1784 after the annexation of the Crimean Khanate to the Russian Empire by Catherine II of Russia. The name Simferopol is derived from the Greek, Συμφερόπολις , translated as "the city of usefulness." In 1802, Simferopol became the...

. The Goths
Goths
The Goths were an East Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin whose two branches, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, played an important role in the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of Medieval Europe....

 destroyed it later, in the mid-3rd century AD.

Sakas

Asians, especially Persians
Persian people
The Persian people are part of the Iranian peoples who speak the modern Persian language and closely akin Iranian dialects and languages. The origin of the ethnic Iranian/Persian peoples are traced to the Ancient Iranian peoples, who were part of the ancient Indo-Iranians and themselves part of...

, knew the Scythians in Asia as Saka
Saka
The Saka were a Scythian tribe or group of tribes....

s. The Indo-Scythians had the name "Shaka" in South Asia
South Asia
South Asia, also known as Southern Asia, is the southern region of the Asian continent, which comprises the sub-Himalayan countries and, for some authorities , also includes the adjoining countries to the west and the east...

, an extension on the name "Saka". Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 (7.64) describes them as Scythians, called by a different name:
Some Asian Saka include, Nagbanshi, Bala, Gurjjara.

Indo-Scythians

In the 2nd century BC, a group of Scythian tribes, known as the Indo-Scythians
Indo-Scythians
Indo-Scythians is a term used to refer to Sakas , who migrated into Bactria, Sogdiana, Arachosia, Gandhara, Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, from the middle of the 2nd century BCE to the 4th century CE....

, migrated into Bactria
Bactria
Bactria and also appears in the Zend Avesta as Bukhdi. It is the ancient name of a historical region located between south of the Amu Darya and west of the Indus River...

, Sogdiana
Sogdiana
Sogdiana or Sogdia was the ancient civilization of an Iranian people and a province of the Achaemenid Empire, eighteenth in the list on the Behistun Inscription of Darius the Great . Sogdiana is "listed" as the second of the "good lands and countries" that Ahura Mazda created...

, Arachosia
Arachosia
Arachosia is the Latinized form of the Greek name of an Achaemenid and Seleucid governorate in the eastern part of their respective empires, around modern-day southern Afghanistan. The Greek term "Arachosia" corresponds to the Iranian land of Harauti which was between Kandahar in Afghanistan and...

 and Gandhara
Gandhara
Gandhāra , is the name of an ancient kingdom , located in northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. Gandhara was located mainly in the vale of Peshawar, the Potohar plateau and on the Kabul River...

. The migrations in 175-125 BC of the Kushan (Chinese: "Yuezhi
Yuezhi
The Yuezhi, or Rouzhi , also known as the Da Yuezhi or Da Rouzhi , were an ancient Central Asian people....

") tribes, who originally lived in eastern Tarim Basin
Tarim Basin
The Tarim Basin is a large endorheic basin occupying an area of about . It is located in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China's far west. Its northern boundary is the Tian Shan mountain range and its southern is the Kunlun Mountains on the northern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. The...

 before the Huns
Huns
The Huns were a group of nomadic people who, appearing from east of the Volga River, migrated into Europe c. AD 370 and established the vast Hunnic Empire there. Since de Guignes linked them with the Xiongnu, who had been northern neighbours of China 300 years prior to the emergence of the Huns,...

 tribes dislodged them, displaced the Indo-Scythians from Central Asia
Central Asia
Central Asia is a core region of the Asian continent from the Caspian Sea in the west, China in the east, Afghanistan in the south, and Russia in the north...

. Led by their king Maues
Maues
Maues was an Indo-Scythian king who invaded the Indo-Greek territories.-Conqueror of Gandhara:...

, they ultimately settled in modern-day Afghanistan/Pakistan from around 85 BC, where they replaced the kingdom of the Indo-Greeks by the time of Azes II
Azes II
Azes II , may have been the last Indo-Scythian king in northern Indian subcontinent . After the death of Azes II, the rule of the Indo-Scythians in northwestern India and Pakistan finally crumbled with the conquest of the Kushans, one of the five tribes of the Yuezhi who had lived in Bactria for...

 (reigned c. 35–12 BC). Kushans invaded again in the 1st century, but the Indo-Scythian rule persisted in some areas of Central India until the 5th century. Abars, one of the Scythian tribes entered in Indian in 1st century BC. Hellenic-Scythian contact still focused on the Hellenistic cities and settlements of the Crimea
Crimea
Crimea , or the Autonomous Republic of Crimea , is a sub-national unit, an autonomous republic, of Ukraine. It is located on the northern coast of the Black Sea, occupying a peninsula of the same name...

 (especially in the Bosporan Kingdom
Bosporan Kingdom
The Bosporan Kingdom or the Kingdom of the Cimmerian Bosporus was an ancient state, located in eastern Crimea and the Taman Peninsula on the shores of the Cimmerian Bosporus...

). Greek craftsmen from the colonies north of the Black Sea made spectacular Scythian-style gold ornaments (see below), applying Greek realism to depict Scythian motifs of lions, antlered reindeer, and gryphon
Griffin
The griffin, griffon, or gryphon is a legendary creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle...

s.

Late Antiquity (AD 300 to 600)

In Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity is a periodization used by historians to describe the time of transition from Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages, in both mainland Europe and the Mediterranean world. Precise boundaries for the period are a matter of debate, but noted historian of the period Peter Brown proposed...

 the notion of a Scythian ethnicity grew more vague, and outsiders might dub any people inhabiting the Pontic-Caspian steppe
Pontic-Caspian steppe
The Pontic-Caspian steppe is the vast steppeland stretching from the north of the Black Sea as far as the east of the Caspian Sea, from western Ukraine across the Southern Federal District and the Volga Federal District of Russia to western Kazakhstan,...

 as "Scythians", regardless of their language. Thus, Priscus
Priscus
Priscus of Panium was a late Roman diplomat, sophist and historian from Rumelifeneri living in the Roman Empire during the 5th century. He accompanied Maximinus, the ambassador of Theodosius II, to the court of Attila in 448...

, a Byzantine
Byzantine
Byzantine usually refers to the Roman Empire during the Middle Ages.Byzantine may also refer to:* A citizen of the Byzantine Empire, or native Greek during the Middle Ages...

 emissary to Attila, repeatedly referred to the latter's followers as "Scythians". But Eunapius
Eunapius
Eunapius was a Greek sophist and historian of the 4th century. His principal surviving work is the Lives of the Sophists, a collection of the biographies of twenty-three philosophers and sophists.-Life:He was born at Sardis, AD 347...

, Claudius Cladianus and Olympiodorus
Olympiodorus of Thebes
Olympiodorus was an historical writer of classical education, a "poet by profession" as he says of himself, who was born at Thebes in Egypt, and was sent on a mission to the Huns on the Black Sea by Emperor Honorius about 412, and later lived at the court of Theodosius II, to whom his History was...

 usually mean "Goths" when they write "Scythians".

The Goths
Goths
The Goths were an East Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin whose two branches, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, played an important role in the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of Medieval Europe....

 had displaced the Sarmatians
Sarmatians
The Iron Age Sarmatians were an Iranian people in Classical Antiquity, flourishing from about the 5th century BC to the 4th century AD....

 in the 2nd century from most areas near the Roman frontier, and by early medieval times, the Turkic migration
Turkic migration
The Turkic migration as defined in this article was the expansion of the Turkic peoples across most of Central Asia into Europe and the Middle East between the 6th and 11th centuries AD . Tribes less certainly identified as Turkic began their expansion centuries earlier as the predominant element...

 marginalized East Iranian dialects, and assimilated the Saka
Saka
The Saka were a Scythian tribe or group of tribes....

 linguistically.

Archaeology

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
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

, silk
Silk
Silk is a natural protein fiber, some forms of which can be woven into textiles. The best-known type of silk is obtained from the cocoons of the larvae of the mulberry silkworm Bombyx mori reared in captivity...

, and animal sacrifices, in places also with suspected human sacrifice
Human sacrifice
Human sacrifice is the act of killing one or more human beings as part of a religious ritual . Its typology closely parallels the various practices of ritual slaughter of animals and of religious sacrifice in general. Human sacrifice has been practised in various cultures throughout history...

s. Mummification
Mummy
A mummy is a body, human or animal, whose skin and organs have been preserved by either intentional or incidental exposure to chemicals, extreme coldness , very low humidity, or lack of air when bodies are submerged in bogs, so that the recovered body will not decay further if kept in cool and dry...

 techniques and permafrost
Permafrost
In geology, permafrost, cryotic soil or permafrost soil is soil at or below the freezing point of water for two or more years. Ice is not always present, as may be in the case of nonporous bedrock, but it frequently occurs and it may be in amounts exceeding the potential hydraulic saturation of...

 have aided in the relative preservation of some remains. Scythian archaeology also examines the remains of North Pontic Scythian cities and fortifications.

The spectacular Scythian grave-goods from Arzhan, and others in Tuva
Tuva
The Tyva Republic , or Tuva , is a federal subject of Russia . It lies in the geographical center of Asia, in southern Siberia. The republic borders with the Altai Republic, the Republic of Khakassia, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Irkutsk Oblast, and the Republic of Buryatia in Russia and with Mongolia to the...

 have been dated from about 900 BC onward. One grave find on the lower Volga gave a similar date, and one of the Steblev graves from the eastern, European end of the Scythian area was dated to the late 8th century BC.

Archaeologists can distinguish three periods of ancient Scythian archaeological remains:
  • 1st period – pre-Scythian and initial Scythian epoch: from the 9th to the middle of the 7th century BC
  • 2nd period – early Scythian epoch: from the 7th to the 6th centuries BC
  • 3rd period – classical Scythian epoch: from the 5th to the 4th centuries BC


From the 8th to the 2nd centuries BC, archaeology records a split into two distinct settlement areas: the older in the Sayan-Altai area in Central Asia, and the younger in the North Pontic area in Eastern Europe.

Kurgans

Large burial mounds (some over 20 metres high), provide the most valuable archaeological remains associated with the Scythians. They dot the Ukrainian and south Russian steppes, extending in great chains for many kilometers along ridges and watersheds. From them archaeologists have learned much about Scythian life and art.
The Ukrainian term for such a burial mound, "kurhan" (Ukrainian: Курган) as well as the Russian term kurgan, derives from a Turkic
Turkic languages
The Turkic languages constitute a language family of at least thirty five languages, spoken by Turkic peoples across a vast area from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean to Siberia and Western China, and are considered to be part of the proposed Altaic language family.Turkic languages are spoken...

 word for "castle".

Some Scythian-Sarmatian cultures may have given rise to Greek stories of Amazons
Amazons
The Amazons are a nation of all-female warriors in Greek mythology and Classical antiquity. Herodotus placed them in a region bordering Scythia in Sarmatia...

. 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
Don River (Russia)
The Don River is one of the major rivers of Russia. It rises in the town of Novomoskovsk 60 kilometres southeast from Tula, southeast of Moscow, and flows for a distance of about 1,950 kilometres to the Sea of Azov....

 and lower Volga
Volga River
The Volga is the largest river in Europe in terms of length, discharge, and watershed. It flows through central Russia, and is widely viewed as the national river of Russia. Out of the twenty largest cities of Russia, eleven, including the capital Moscow, are situated in the Volga's drainage...

 contained females dressed for battle as if they were men, a style that may have inspired the Greek tales about the Amazons."

Tamgas

Scythian tribes and clans have left behind them as important ethnological markers their tamgas (brand-marks which identify individual possession), a must for pastoral societies with shared grazing-ranges. Tamgas allow reconstruction of movements and family links where no written records have survived.

Besides identifying property, tamgas marked participation of members of the clan in collective actions (treaties, religious ceremonies, fraternization, public functions), and served as symbols of authority for minting coins. The tamga forms stayed unchanged for about 2,000 years within kindred ethnic groups, but after the decline of some famous clan another clan would adopt its tamga.

Analysis of tamgas for most powerful clans and for the kings of the Bosporus has allowed scholars to define precisely their genealogy and their relations with territories from where their forefathers migrated to Europe: Chorasm
Khwarezm
Khwarezm, or Chorasmia, is a large oasis region on the Amu Darya river delta in western Central Asia, which borders to the north the Aral Sea, to the east the Kyzylkum desert, to the south the Karakum desert and to the west the Ustyurt Plateau...

, Kang-Kü, Bactria
Bactria
Bactria and also appears in the Zend Avesta as Bukhdi. It is the ancient name of a historical region located between south of the Amu Darya and west of the Indus River...

, Sogdiana
Sogdiana
Sogdiana or Sogdia was the ancient civilization of an Iranian people and a province of the Achaemenid Empire, eighteenth in the list on the Behistun Inscription of Darius the Great . Sogdiana is "listed" as the second of the "good lands and countries" that Ahura Mazda created...

.

Pazyryk culture

Some of the first Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

 Scythian burials documented by modern archaeologists include the kurgan
Kurgan
Kurgan is the Turkic term for a tumulus; mound of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves, originating with its use in Soviet archaeology, now widely used for tumuli in the context of Eastern European and Central Asian archaeology....

s at Pazyryk in the Ulagan district of the Altai Republic
Altai Republic
Altai Republic is a federal subject of Russia . Its capital is the town of Gorno-Altaysk. The area of the republic is . Population: -Geography:...

, south of Novosibirsk
Novosibirsk
Novosibirsk is the third-largest city in Russia, after Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and the largest city of Siberia, with a population of 1,473,737 . It is the administrative center of Novosibirsk Oblast as well as of the Siberian Federal District...

 in the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia
Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

. Archaeologists have extrapolated the Pazyryk culture
Pazyryk culture
The Pazyryk culture is an Iron Age archaeological culture identified by excavated artifacts and mummified humans found in the Siberian permafrost in the Altay Mountains. The mummies are buried in long barrows similar to the tomb mounds of western Scythian culture in modern Ukraine...

 from these finds: five large burial mounds and several smaller ones between 1925 and 1949, one opened in 1947 by Russian archaeologist Sergei Rudenko
Sergei Rudenko
Sergei Ivanovich Rudenko was a prominent Russian/Soviet anthropologist and archaeologist who discovered and excavated the most celebrated of Scythian burials, Pazyryk in Siberia....

. The burial mounds concealed chambers of larch-logs covered over with large cairn
Cairn
Cairn is a term used mainly in the English-speaking world for a man-made pile of stones. It comes from the or . Cairns are found all over the world in uplands, on moorland, on mountaintops, near waterways and on sea cliffs, and also in barren desert and tundra areas...

s of boulders and stones.

Pazyryk culture flourished between the 7th and 3rd century BC in the area associated with the Sacae.

Ordinary Pazyryk graves contain only common utensils, but in one, among other treasures, archaeologists found the famous Pazyryk Carpet, the oldest surviving wool-pile oriental rug
Oriental rug
An authentic oriental rug is a handmade carpet that is either knotted with pile or woven without pile.By definition - Oriental rugs are rugs that come from the orient...

. Another striking find, a 3-metre-high four-wheel funerary chariot, survived superbly preserved from the 5th century BC.

Although some scholars sought to connect the Pazyryk nomads with indigenous ethnic groups of the Altai, Rudenko summed up the cultural context in the following dictum:

Belsk excavations

Recent digs(see:Gelonus
Gelonus
Gelonus, was according to Herodotus, the capital of the Scythian tribe Budini.- Search for Gelonus :In his account of Scythia , Herodotus writes that the Gelonii were formerly Greeks, having settled away from the coastal emporia among the Budini, where they "use a tongue partly Scythian and partly...

) in Belsk  near Poltava
Poltava
Poltava is a city in located on the Vorskla River in central Ukraine. It is the administrative center of the Poltava Oblast , as well as the surrounding Poltava Raion of the oblast. Poltava's estimated population is 298,652 ....

 (Ukraine) have uncovered a "vast city", with the largest area of any city in the world at that time. It has been tentatively identified by a team of archaeologists led by Boris Shramko
Boris Shramko
Boris Shramko is a Ukrainian historian and professor of history.Excavations at Bilske Horodyshche near the village of Belsk in the Ukraine have led to suggestions by archaeologist Boris Shramko and others identifying it as the Scythian capital Gelonus...

 as the site of Gelonus
Gelonus
Gelonus, was according to Herodotus, the capital of the Scythian tribe Budini.- Search for Gelonus :In his account of Scythia , Herodotus writes that the Gelonii were formerly Greeks, having settled away from the coastal emporia among the Budini, where they "use a tongue partly Scythian and partly...

, the purported capital of Scythia. The city's commanding ramparts and vast area of 40 square kilometers exceed even the outlandish size reported by Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

. Its location at the northern edge of the Ukrainian steppe would have allowed strategic control of the north-south trade
Trade
Trade is the transfer of ownership of goods and services from one person or entity to another. Trade is sometimes loosely called commerce or financial transaction or barter. A network that allows trade is called a market. The original form of trade was barter, the direct exchange of goods and...

-route. Judging by the finds dated to the 5th and 4th centuries BC, craft workshops and Greek pottery abounded.

Tillia tepe treasure

A site found in 1968 in Tillia tepe
Tillia tepe
Tillya tepe, Tillia tepe or Tillā tapa or is an archaeological site in northern Afghanistan near Sheberghan, surveyed in 1979 by a Soviet-Afghan mission of archaeologists led by Victor Sarianidi, a year before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.The hoard is a collection of about 20,000 gold...

 (literally "The golden hill") in northern Afghanistan
Afghanistan
Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

 (former Bactria
Bactria
Bactria and also appears in the Zend Avesta as Bukhdi. It is the ancient name of a historical region located between south of the Amu Darya and west of the Indus River...

) near Shebergan consisted of the graves of five women and one man with extremely rich jewelry, dated to around the 1st century BC, and generally thought to belong to Scythian tribes. Altogether the graves yielded several thousands of pieces of fine jewelry, usually made from combinations of gold
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

, turquoise
Turquoise
Turquoise is an opaque, blue-to-green mineral that is a hydrous phosphate of copper and aluminium, with the chemical formula CuAl648·4. It is rare and valuable in finer grades and has been prized as a gem and ornamental stone for thousands of years owing to its unique hue...

 and lapis-lazuli.

A high degree of cultural syncretism
Syncretism
Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs, often while melding practices of various schools of thought. The term means "combining", but see below for the origin of the word...

 pervades the findings, however. Hellenistic cultural and artistic influences appear in many of the forms and human depictions (from amorini to rings with the depiction of Athena
Athena
In Greek mythology, Athena, Athenê, or Athene , also referred to as Pallas Athena/Athene , is the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, warfare, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, justice, and skill. Minerva, Athena's Roman incarnation, embodies similar attributes. Athena is...

 and her name inscribed in Greek), attributable to the existence of the Seleucid empire
Seleucid Empire
The Seleucid Empire was a Greek-Macedonian state that was created out of the eastern conquests of Alexander the Great. At the height of its power, it included central Anatolia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Persia, today's Turkmenistan, Pamir and parts of Pakistan.The Seleucid Empire was a major centre...

 and Greco-Bactrian kingdom in the same area until around 140 BC, and the continued existence of the Indo-Greek kingdom
Indo-Greek Kingdom
The Indo-Greek Kingdom or Graeco-Indian Kingdom covered various parts of the northwest regions of the Indian subcontinent during the last two centuries BC, and was ruled by more than 30 Hellenistic kings, often in conflict with each other...

 in the northwestern Indian sub-continent until the beginning of our era. This testifies to the richness of cultural influences in the area of Bactria
Bactria
Bactria and also appears in the Zend Avesta as Bukhdi. It is the ancient name of a historical region located between south of the Amu Darya and west of the Indus River...

 at that time.

China

Ancient influences from Central Asia became identifiable in China following contacts of metropolitan China with nomadic western and northwestern border territories from the 8th century BC. The Chinese adopted the Scythian-style animal art of the steppe
Steppe
In physical geography, steppe is an ecoregion, in the montane grasslands and shrublands and temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biomes, characterized by grassland plains without trees apart from those near rivers and lakes...

s (descriptions of animals locked in combat), particularly the rectangular belt-plaques made of gold or bronze, and created their own versions in jade
Jade
Jade is an ornamental stone.The term jade is applied to two different metamorphic rocks that are made up of different silicate minerals:...

 and steatite.

Following their expulsion by the Yuezhi
Yuezhi
The Yuezhi, or Rouzhi , also known as the Da Yuezhi or Da Rouzhi , were an ancient Central Asian people....

, some Scythians may also have migrated to the area of Yunnan
Yunnan
Yunnan is a province of the People's Republic of China, located in the far southwest of the country spanning approximately and with a population of 45.7 million . The capital of the province is Kunming. The province borders Burma, Laos, and Vietnam.Yunnan is situated in a mountainous area, with...

 in southern China. Scythian warriors could also have served as mercenaries for the various kingdoms of ancient China. Excavations of the prehistoric art of the Dian
Dian Kingdom
The Dian Kingdom was established by the Dian people, who lived around Lake Dian in northern Yunnan, China from the late Spring and Autumn Period until the Eastern Han Dynasty. The Dian buried their dead in vertical pit graves...

 civilization of Yunnan have revealed hunting scenes of Caucasoid horsemen in Central Asian clothing.

Northeastern Asia

Scythian influences have been identified as far as Korea and Japan. Various Korean artifacts, such as the royal crowns of the kingdom of Silla
Silla
Silla was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, and one of the longest sustained dynasties in...

, are said to be of Scythian design. Similar crowns, brought through contacts with the continent, can also be found in Kofun era Japan.

Society

Scythians lived in confederated tribes, a political form of voluntary association which regulated pastures and organized a common defence against encroaching neighbors for the pastoral tribes of mostly equestrian
Domestication of the horse
There are a number of hypotheses on many of the key issues regarding the domestication of the horse. Although horses appeared in Paleolithic cave art as early as 30,000 BCE, these were truly wild horses and were probably hunted for meat. How and when horses became domesticated is disputed...

 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 brothers, Lipoxais, Arpoxais, and Colaxais:
Herodotus also mentions a royal tribe or clan, an elite which dominated the other Scythians:

This royal clan is also named in other classical sources the "Royal Dahae". The rich burials of Scythian kings in (kurgans) is independent evidence for the existence of this powerful royal elite.

Although scholars have traditionally treated the three tribes as geographically distinct, Georges Dumézil
Georges Dumézil
Georges Dumézil was a French comparative philologist best known for his analysis of sovereignty and power in Proto-Indo-European religion and society...

 interpreted the divine gifts as the symbols of social occupations, illustrating his trifunctional vision
Trifunctional hypothesis
The trifunctional hypothesis of prehistoric Proto-Indo-European society postulates a tripartite ideology reflected in the existence of three classes or castes—priests, warriors, and commoners —corresponding to the three functions of the sacral, the martial and the economic, respectively...

 of early Indo-European
Proto-Indo-European society
Proto-Indo-European refers to the single ancestor language common to all Indo-European languages. It is therefore a linguistic concept, not an ethnic, social or cultural one, so there is no direct evidence of the nature of Proto-Indo-European 'society'. Much depends on the unsettled Indo-European...

 societies: the plough and yoke symbolised the farmers, the axe – the warriors, the bowl – the priests.
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."

Ruled by small numbers of closely allied élites, Scythians had a reputation for their archers
Archery
Archery is the art, practice, or skill of propelling arrows with the use of a bow, from Latin arcus. Archery has historically been used for hunting and combat; in modern times, however, its main use is that of a recreational activity...

, and many gained employment as mercenaries
Mercenary
A mercenary, is a person who takes part in an armed conflict based on the promise of material compensation rather than having a direct interest in, or a legal obligation to, the conflict itself. A non-conscript professional member of a regular army is not considered to be a mercenary although he...

. Scythian élites had kurgan
Kurgan
Kurgan is the Turkic term for a tumulus; mound of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves, originating with its use in Soviet archaeology, now widely used for tumuli in the context of Eastern European and Central Asian archaeology....

 tombs: high barrows heaped over chamber-tombs of larch
Larch
Larches are conifers in the genus Larix, in the family Pinaceae. Growing from 15 to 50m tall, they are native to much of the cooler temperate northern hemisphere, on lowlands in the north and high on mountains further south...

-wood – a deciduous conifer that may have had special significance as a tree of life-renewal, for it stands bare in winter. Burials at Pazyryk in the Altay Mountains
Altay Mountains
The Altai Mountains are a mountain range in East-Central Asia, where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan come together, and where the rivers Irtysh and Ob have their sources. The Altai Mountains are known as the original locus of the speakers of Turkic as well as other members of the proposed...

 have included some spectacularly preserved Scythians of the "Pazyryk culture" – including the Ice Maiden of the 5th century BC.

Scythian women dressed in much the same fashion as men. A Pazyryk burial found in the 1990s contained the skeletons of a man and a woman, each with weapons, arrowheads, and an axe.

As far as we know, the Scythians had no writing system
Writing system
A writing system is a symbolic system used to represent elements or statements expressible in language.-General properties:Writing systems are distinguished from other possible symbolic communication systems in that the reader must usually understand something of the associated spoken language to...

. Until recent archaeological developments, most of our information about them came from the Greeks
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

. The Ziwiye hoard
Ziwiye hoard
The Ziwiye hoard is a treasure hoard containing gold, silver, and ivory objects, also including a few Luristan pieces, that was uncovered on the south shore of Lake Urmia in Ziwiyeh, Kurdistan Province, Iran, in 1947. These objects provide a link between the cultures of the Iranian plateau and the...

, a treasure of gold and silver metalwork and ivory found near the town of Sakiz south of Lake Urmia
Lake Urmia
Lake Urmia , ancient name: Lake Matiene) is a salt lake in northwestern Iran, near Iran's border with Turkey. The lake is between the Iranian provinces of East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan, west of the southern portion of the similarly shaped Caspian Sea...

 and dated to between 680 and 625 BC, includes objects with Scythian "animal style
Animal style
Animal style art is characterized by its emphasis on animal and bird motifs, and the term describes an approach to decoration which existed from China to Northern Europe in the early Iron Age, and the barbarian art of the Migration Period...

" features. One silver dish from this find bears some inscriptions, as yet undeciphered and so possibly representing a form of Scythian writing.
Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

 called the Scythians "the mare-milkers". Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 described them in detail: their costume consisted of padded and quilted leather trousers tucked into boots, and open tunics. They rode with no stirrups or saddles, just saddle-cloths. Herodotus reports that Scythians used cannabis
Cannabis (drug)
Cannabis, also known as marijuana among many other names, refers to any number of preparations of the Cannabis plant intended for use as a psychoactive drug or for medicinal purposes. The English term marijuana comes from the Mexican Spanish word marihuana...

, both to weave their clothing and to cleanse themselves in its smoke (Hist. 4.73-75); archaeology has confirmed the use of cannabis in funeral rituals. The Scythian philosopher Anacharsis
Anacharsis
Anacharsis was a Scythian philosopher who travelled from his homeland on the northern shores of the Black Sea to Athens in the early 6th century BCE and made a great impression as a forthright, outspoken "barbarian", apparently a forerunner of the Cynics, though none of his works have...

 visited Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 in the 6th century BC and became a legendary sage.

Scythians also had a reputation for the use of barbed and poisoned arrows of several types, for a nomadic life centered on horses – "fed from horse-blood" according to Herodotus – and for skill in guerrilla warfare
Guerrilla warfare
Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare and refers to conflicts in which a small group of combatants including, but not limited to, armed civilians use military tactics, such as ambushes, sabotage, raids, the element of surprise, and extraordinary mobility to harass a larger and...

.

Art

Scythian contacts with craftsmen in Greek colonies along the northern shores of the Black Sea resulted in the famous Scythian gold adornments that feature among the most glamorous artifacts of world museums. Ethnographically extremely useful as well, the gold depicts Scythian men as bearded, long-haired Caucasoids. "Greco-Scythian" works depicting Scythians within a much more Hellenic
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 style date from a later period, when Scythians had already adopted elements of Greek culture.

Scythians had a taste for elaborate personal jewelry, weapon-ornaments and horse-trappings. They executed Central-Asian animal motifs with Greek realism: winged gryphon
Griffin
The griffin, griffon, or gryphon is a legendary creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle...

s attacking horses, battling stag
STAG
STAG: A Test of Love is a reality TV show hosted by Tommy Habeeb. Each episode profiles an engaged couple a week or two before their wedding. The cameras then follow the groom on his bachelor party...

s, deer
Deer
Deer are the ruminant mammals forming the family Cervidae. Species in the Cervidae family include white-tailed deer, elk, moose, red deer, reindeer, fallow deer, roe deer and chital. Male deer of all species and female reindeer grow and shed new antlers each year...

, and eagle
Eagle
Eagles are members of the bird family Accipitridae, and belong to several genera which are not necessarily closely related to each other. Most of the more than 60 species occur in Eurasia and Africa. Outside this area, just two species can be found in the United States and Canada, nine more in...

s, combined with everyday motifs like milking ewes.

In 2000, the touring exhibition 'Scythian Gold' introduced the North American public to the objects made for Scythian nomads by Greek craftsmen north of the Black Sea
Black Sea
The Black Sea is bounded by Europe, Anatolia and the Caucasus and is ultimately connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas and various straits. The Bosphorus strait connects it to the Sea of Marmara, and the strait of the Dardanelles connects that sea to the Aegean...

, and buried with their Scythian owners under burial mounds on the flat plains of present-day Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

, most of them unearthed after 1980.

In 2001, the discovery of an undisturbed royal Scythian burial-barrow illustrated for the first time Scythian animal-style gold that lacks the direct influence of Greek styles. Forty-four pounds of gold weighed down the royal couple in this burial, discovered near Kyzyl
Kyzyl
-External links:*** in Kyzyl, Russia*...

, capital of the Siberia
Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

n republic of Tuva
Tuva
The Tyva Republic , or Tuva , is a federal subject of Russia . It lies in the geographical center of Asia, in southern Siberia. The republic borders with the Altai Republic, the Republic of Khakassia, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Irkutsk Oblast, and the Republic of Buryatia in Russia and with Mongolia to the...

.

Religion

The religious beliefs of the Scythians was a type of Pre-Zoroastrian Iranian religion and differed from the post-Zoroastrian Iranian thoughts. Foremost in the Scythian pantheon stood Tabiti, who was later replaced by Atar
Atar
Atar is the Zoroastrian concept of holy fire, sometimes described in abstract terms as "burning and unburning fire" or "visible and invisible fire" ....

, the fire-pantheon of Iranian tribes, and Agni
Agni
Agni is a Hindu deity, one of the most important of the Vedic gods. He is the god of fire and the acceptor of sacrifices. The sacrifices made to Agni go to the deities because Agni is a messenger from and to the other gods...

, the fire deity of Indo-Aryans. The Scythian belief was a more archaic stage than the Zoroastrian
Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of prophet Zoroaster and was formerly among the world's largest religions. It was probably founded some time before the 6th century BCE in Greater Iran.In Zoroastrianism, the Creator Ahura Mazda is all good, and no evil...

 and Hindu
Hinduism
Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as , amongst many other expressions...

 systems. The use of cannabis
Cannabis (drug)
Cannabis, also known as marijuana among many other names, refers to any number of preparations of the Cannabis plant intended for use as a psychoactive drug or for medicinal purposes. The English term marijuana comes from the Mexican Spanish word marihuana...

 to induce trance and divination by soothsayers was a characteristic of the Scythian belief system.

Clothing

Men and women dressed differently. Herodotus mentioned that Sakas had "high caps and …wore trousers." Clothing was sewn from plain-weave wool, hemp cloth, silk fabrics, felt, leather and hides.
Pazyryk findings give the most number of almost fully preserved garments and clothing worn by the Scythian/Saka peoples. Ancient Persian bas-relief – Apadana or Behistun inscription, ancient Greek pottery, archaeological findings from Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, China et al. give visual representations of these garments.

Headgear

Herodotus says Sakas had "high caps tapering to a point and stiffly upright." Asian Saka headgear is clearly visible on the Persepolis Apadana staircase bas-relief – high pointed hat with flaps over ears and the nape of the neck. From China to the Danube delta 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.
Women wore a variety of different headdresses, some conical in shape others more like flattened cylinders, also adorned with metal (golden) plaques.
Based on the Pazyryk findings (can be seen also in the south Siberian, Uralic and Kazakhstan rock drawings) some caps were topped with zoomorphic wooden sculptures firmly attached to a cap and forming an integral part of the headgear, similar to the surviving nomad helmets from northern China.

Tunics

Men and warrior women wore tunics, often embroidered, adorned with felt applique work, or metal (golden) plaques.
Persepolis Apadana again serves a good starting point to observe tunics of the Sakas. They appear to be a sewn, long sleeve garment that extended to the knees and belted with a belt while owner's weapons were fastened to the belt (sword or dagger, gorytos
Gorytos
A gorytos designated in Antiquity a bow-case for a short recurve, or Scythian, bow. Usually, the gorytos would allow to store the full quiver, with bow and arrows. Many gorytos were highly decorated. Some have been found in Macedonian tombs, such as the so-called "Tomb of Philip" in Vergina of the...

, battleax, whetstone etc.). Based on numerous archeological findings in Ukraine, southern Russian and Kazakhstan men and warrior women wore long sleeve tunics that were always belted, often with richly ornamented belts. The Kazakhstan Saka (e.g. Issyk Golden Man/Maiden) wore shorter tunics and more close fitting tunics than the Pontic steppe Scythians. Some Pazyryk culture Saka wore short belted tunic with a lapel on a right side, upright collar, 'puffed' sleeves narrowing at a wrist and bound in narrow cuffs of a color different from the rest of the tunic.

Coats and cloaks

Men and women wore coats, e.g. Pazyryk Saka had many varieties, from fur to felt. They could have worn a riding coat that later was known as a Median robe or Kantus. Long sleeved, and open, it seems that on the Persepolis Apadana Skudrian delegation is perhaps shown wearing such coat.
Pazyryk felt tapestry shows a rider wearing a billowing cloak.

Trousers

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.

Footwear

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.

Belts

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.

Herodotus

Herodotus wrote about an enormous city, Gelonus
Gelonus
Gelonus, was according to Herodotus, the capital of the Scythian tribe Budini.- Search for Gelonus :In his account of Scythia , Herodotus writes that the Gelonii were formerly Greeks, having settled away from the coastal emporia among the Budini, where they "use a tongue partly Scythian and partly...

, in the northern part of Scythia
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
Agathyrsi
Agathyrsi were a people of Scythian, Thracian, or mixed Thraco-Scythic origin, who in the time of Herodotus occupied the plain of the Maris , in the mountainous part of ancient Dacia now known as Transylvania, Romania...

, Geloni, Budini
Budini
The Budini were an ancient people who lived in Scythia, in what is today Ukraine.Herodotus wrote in his Histories :...

, and Neuri
Neuri
According to Herodotus the Neuri were a tribe living beyond the Scythian cultivators, one of the nations along the course of the river Ὕπανις Hypanis , West of the Βορυσθένης Borysthenes , roughly the area of modern Belarus and Eastern Poland.-Herodotus's Account:In Herodotus's account, he states...

.

Herodotus presented four different versions of Scythian origins:
  1. Firstly (4.7), the Scythians' legend about themselves, which portrays the first Scythian king, Targitaus, as the child of the sky-god and of a daughter of the Dnieper. Targitaus allegedly lived a thousand years before the failed Persian invasion of Scythia, or around 1500 BC. He had three sons, before whom fell from the sky a set of four golden implements – a plough, a yoke, a cup and a battle-axe. Only the youngest son succeeded in touching the golden implements without them bursting with fire, and this son's descendants, called by Herodotus the "Royal Scythians", continued to guard them.
  2. Secondly (4.8), a legend told by the Pontic Greeks
    Pontic Greeks
    The Pontians are an ethnic group traditionally living in the Pontus region, the shores of Turkey's Black Sea...

     featuring Scythes, the first king of the Scythians, as a child of Hercules
    Hercules
    Hercules is the Roman name for Greek demigod Heracles, son of Zeus , and the mortal Alcmene...

     and Echidna
    Echidna (mythology)
    In Greek mythology, Echidna was half woman half snake, known as the "Mother of All Monsters" because most of the monsters in Greek myth were mothered by her...

    .
  3. Thirdly (4.11), in the version which Herodotus said he believed most, the Scythians came from a more southern part of Central Asia, until a war with the Massagetae
    Massagetae
    The Massageteans or Massagetaeans were an Iranian nomadic confederation in antiquity known primarily from the writings of Herodotus. Their name was probably akin to Thyssagetae.-Name:...

     (a powerful tribe of steppe nomads who lived just northeast of Persia) forced them westward.
  4. Finally (4.13), a legend which Herodotus attributed to the Greek bard Aristeas
    Aristeas
    Aristeas was a semi-legendary Greek poet and miracle-worker, a native of Proconnesus in Asia Minor, active ca. 7th century BCE. In book IV of The Histories, Herodotus reports...

    , who claimed to have got himself into such a Bachanalian fury that he ran all the way northeast across Scythia and further. According to this, the Scythians originally lived south of the Rhipaean mountains, until they got into a conflict with a tribe called the Issedones
    Issedones
    The Issedones were an ancient people of Central Asia at the end of the trade route leading north-east from Scythia, described in the lost Arimaspeia of Aristeas, by Herodotus in his History and by Ptolemy in his Geography...

    , pressed in their turn by the Cyclopes
    Cyclops
    A cyclops , in Greek mythology and later Roman mythology, was a member of a primordial race of giants, each with a single eye in the middle of his forehead...

    ; and so the Scythians decided to migrate westwards.


Persians
Persian people
The Persian people are part of the Iranian peoples who speak the modern Persian language and closely akin Iranian dialects and languages. The origin of the ethnic Iranian/Persian peoples are traced to the Ancient Iranian peoples, who were part of the ancient Indo-Iranians and themselves part of...

 and other peoples in Asia referred to the Scythians living in Asia as Saka
Saka
The Saka were a Scythian tribe or group of tribes....

s. Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 (IV.64) describes them as Scythians, although they figure under a different name:

Strabo

In the 1st century BC, the Greek-Roman geographer Strabo
Strabo
Strabo, also written Strabon was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.-Life:Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus , a city which he said was situated the approximate equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea...

 gave an extensive description of the eastern Scythians, whom he located in north-eastern Asia beyond Bactria
Bactria
Bactria and also appears in the Zend Avesta as Bukhdi. It is the ancient name of a historical region located between south of the Amu Darya and west of the Indus River...

 and Sogdiana
Sogdiana
Sogdiana or Sogdia was the ancient civilization of an Iranian people and a province of the Achaemenid Empire, eighteenth in the list on the Behistun Inscription of Darius the Great . Sogdiana is "listed" as the second of the "good lands and countries" that Ahura Mazda created...

:
Strabo went on to list the names of the various tribes among the Scythians, probably making an amalgam with some of the tribes of eastern Central Asia (such as the Tocharians
Tocharians
The Tocharians were the Tocharian-speaking inhabitants of the Tarim Basin, making them the easternmost speakers of Indo-European languages in antiquity. They were known as, or at least closely related to, the Yuezhi of Chinese sources...

):

Indian sources

Saka
Saka
The Saka were a Scythian tribe or group of tribes....

s receive numerous mentions in Indian texts, including the Puranas
Puranas
The Puranas are a genre of important Hindu, Jain and Buddhist religious texts, notably consisting of narratives of the history of the universe from creation to destruction, genealogies of kings, heroes, sages, and demigods, and descriptions of Hindu cosmology, philosophy, and geography.Puranas...

, the Manusmriti, the Ramayana
Ramayana
The Ramayana is an ancient Sanskrit epic. It is ascribed to the Hindu sage Valmiki and forms an important part of the Hindu canon , considered to be itihāsa. The Ramayana is one of the two great epics of India and Nepal, the other being the Mahabharata...

, the Mahabharata
Mahabharata
The Mahabharata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India and Nepal, the other being the Ramayana. The epic is part of itihasa....

, the Mahabhashya of Patanjali
Patañjali
Patañjali is the compiler of the Yoga Sūtras, an important collection of aphorisms on Yoga practice. According to tradition, the same Patañjali was also the author of the Mahābhāṣya, a commentary on Kātyāyana's vārttikas on Pāṇini's Aṣṭādhyāyī as well as an unspecified work of medicine .In...

.

Migration period

Although the classical Scythians may have largely disappeared by the 1st century BC, Eastern Romans continued to speak conventionally of "Scythians" to designate Germanic tribes and confederations or mounted Eurasia
Eurasia
Eurasia is a continent or supercontinent comprising the traditional continents of Europe and Asia ; covering about 52,990,000 km2 or about 10.6% of the Earth's surface located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres...

n nomadic barbarians in general: in 448 AD two mounted "Scythians" led the emissary Priscus
Priscus
Priscus of Panium was a late Roman diplomat, sophist and historian from Rumelifeneri living in the Roman Empire during the 5th century. He accompanied Maximinus, the ambassador of Theodosius II, to the court of Attila in 448...

 to Attila's encampment in Pannonia
Pannonia
Pannonia was an ancient province of the Roman Empire bounded north and east by the Danube, coterminous westward with Noricum and upper Italy, and southward with Dalmatia and upper Moesia....

. The Byzantines in this case carefully distinguished the Scythians from the Goths and Huns who also followed Attila.

The Sarmatians
Sarmatians
The Iron Age Sarmatians were an Iranian people in Classical Antiquity, flourishing from about the 5th century BC to the 4th century AD....

 (including the Alans
Alans
The Alans, or the Alani, occasionally termed Alauni or Halani, were a group of Sarmatian tribes, nomadic pastoralists of the 1st millennium AD who spoke an Eastern Iranian language which derived from Scytho-Sarmatian and which in turn evolved into modern Ossetian.-Name:The various forms of Alan —...

 and finally the Ossetians
Ossetians
The Ossetians are an Iranic ethnic group of the Caucasus Mountains, eponymous of the region known as Ossetia.They speak Ossetic, an Iranian language of the Eastern branch, with most also fluent in Russian as a second language....

) counted as Scythians in the broadest sense of the word – as speakers of Northeast Iranian languages, and are considered mostly of Indo-Iranian
Indo-Iranians
Indo-Iranian peoples are a linguistic group consisting of the Indo-Aryan, Iranian, Dardic and Nuristani peoples; that is, speakers of Indo-Iranian languages, a major branch of the Indo-European language family....

 descent.

Byzantine sources also refer to the Rus
Rus' (people)
The Rus' were a group of Varangians . According to the Primary Chronicle of Rus, compiled in about 1113 AD, the Rus had relocated from the Baltic region , first to Northeastern Europe, creating an early polity which finally came under the leadership of Rurik...

 raiders who attacked Constantinople around 860 AD
Rus'-Byzantine War (860)
The Rus'–Byzantine War of 860 was the only major military expedition of the Rus' Khaganate recorded in Byzantine and Western European sources. Accounts vary regarding the events that took place, with discrepancies between contemporary and later sources, and the exact outcome is unknown...

 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 (860).

Early Modern usage

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

In the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

, Paul uses "Scythian" as an example of people whom some label pejoratively, but who are, in Christ, acceptable to God:
Shakespeare, for instance, alluded to the legend that Scythians ate their children in his play King Lear
King Lear
King Lear is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. The title character descends into madness after foolishly disposing of his estate between two of his three daughters based on their flattery, bringing tragic consequences for all. The play is based on the legend of Leir of Britain, a mythological...

:
Characteristically, early modern English discourse on Ireland 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. Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser was an English poet best known for The Faerie Queene, an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth I. He is recognised as one of the premier craftsmen of Modern English verse in its infancy, and one of the greatest poets in the English...

 wrote that

As proofs for this origin Spenser cites the alleged Irish customs of blood-drinking, nomadic lifestyle, the wearing of mantles and certain haircuts and
William Camden
William Camden
William Camden was an English antiquarian, historian, topographer, and officer of arms. He wrote the first chorographical survey of the islands of Great Britain and Ireland and the first detailed historical account of the reign of Elizabeth I of England.- Early years :Camden was born in London...

, one of Spenser's main sources, comments on this legend of origin that
The 15th-century Polish chronicler Jan Długosz was the first to connect the prehistory of Poland with Sarmatians, and the connection was taken up by other historians and chroniclers, such as Marcin Bielski
Marcin Bielski
Marcin Bielski was a Polish chronicler and satirical poet. He was born of noble parentage on the patrimonial estate of Biała, Pajęczno County , in the Polish province of Sieradz. The name Wolski is derived from his estate at Wola...

, Marcin Kromer
Marcin Kromer
Marcin Kromer or Martin Cromer was Prince-Bishop of Warmia , a cartographer, diplomat and historian in Poland and later in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth...

 and Maciej Miechowita
Maciej Miechowita
Maciej Miechowita was a Polish renaissance scholar, professor of Jagiellonian University, historian, chronicler, geographer, medical doctor , alchemist, astrologist and canon in Cracow.He studied at the...

. Other Europeans depended for their view of Polish Sarmatism
Sarmatism
"Sarmatism" is a term designating the dominant lifestyle, culture and ideology of the szlachta of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Together with "Golden Liberty," it formed a central aspect of the Commonwealth's culture...

 on Miechowita's Tractatus de Duabus Sarmatiis, a work which provided a substantial source of information about the territories and peoples of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was the largest and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th‑century Europe with some and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million at its peak in the early 17th century...

 in a language of international currency.
Tradition specified that the Sarmatians themselves were descended from Japheth
Japheth
Japheth is one of the sons of Noah in the Abrahamic tradition...

, son of Noah
Noah
Noah was, according to the Hebrew Bible, the tenth and last of the antediluvian Patriarchs. The biblical story of Noah is contained in chapters 6–9 of the book of Genesis, where he saves his family and representatives of all animals from the flood by constructing an ark...

.

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
Alexander Blok
Alexander Alexandrovich Blok was a Russian lyrical poet.-Life and career:Blok was born in Saint Petersburg, into a sophisticated and intellectual family. Some of his relatives were literary men, his father being a law professor in Warsaw, and his maternal grandfather the rector of Saint Petersburg...

 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
Barbarian
Barbarian and savage are terms used to refer to a person who is perceived to be uncivilized. The word is often used either in a general reference to a member of a nation or ethnos, typically a tribal society as seen by an urban civilization either viewed as inferior, or admired as a noble savage...

" Scyths of literature into the wild and free, hardy and democratic ancestors of all blond Indo-Europeans
Proto-Indo-Europeans
The Proto-Indo-Europeans were the speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language , a reconstructed prehistoric language of Eurasia.Knowledge of them comes chiefly from the linguistic reconstruction, along with material evidence from archaeology and archaeogenetics...

.

Descent claims

A number of groups have claimed possible descent from the Scythians, including the Ossetians
Ossetians
The Ossetians are an Iranic ethnic group of the Caucasus Mountains, eponymous of the region known as Ossetia.They speak Ossetic, an Iranian language of the Eastern branch, with most also fluent in Russian as a second language....

, Jats, Pashtuns, the Turkic Kazakhs
Kazakhs
The Kazakhs are a Turkic people of the northern parts of Central Asia ....

 and Yakuts
Yakuts
Yakuts , are a Turkic people associated with the Sakha Republic.The Yakut or Sakha language belongs to the Northern branch of the Turkic family of languages....

 (whose endoethnonym is "Sakha"), and the Parthians, (whose homeland
Homeland
A homeland is the concept of the place to which an ethnic group holds a long history and a deep cultural association with —the country in which a particular national identity began. As a common noun, it simply connotes the country of one's origin...

s lay to the east of the Caspian Sea
Caspian Sea
The Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed body of water on Earth by area, variously classed as the world's largest lake or a full-fledged sea. The sea has a surface area of and a volume of...

 and who were thought to have come there from north of the Caspian). Some legends of the Picts
Picts
The Picts were a group of Late Iron Age and Early Mediaeval people living in what is now eastern and northern Scotland. There is an association with the distribution of brochs, place names beginning 'Pit-', for instance Pitlochry, and Pictish stones. They are recorded from before the Roman conquest...

, the Gaels
Gaels
The Gaels or Goidels are speakers of one of the Goidelic Celtic languages: Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx. Goidelic speech originated in Ireland and subsequently spread to western and northern Scotland and the Isle of Man....

, the Hungarians, the Serbs
Serbs
The Serbs are a South Slavic ethnic group of the Balkans and southern Central Europe. Serbs are located mainly in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and form a sizable minority in Croatia, the Republic of Macedonia and Slovenia. Likewise, Serbs are an officially recognized minority in...

 and the Croats
Croats
Croats are a South Slavic ethnic group mostly living in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and nearby countries. There are around 4 million Croats living inside Croatia and up to 4.5 million throughout the rest of the world. Responding to political, social and economic pressure, many Croats have...

 (among others) also include mention of Scythian origins. In the second paragraph of the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath
Declaration of Arbroath
The Declaration of Arbroath is a declaration of Scottish independence, made in 1320. It is in the form of a letter submitted to Pope John XXII, dated 6 April 1320, intended to confirm Scotland's status as an independent, sovereign state and defending Scotland's right to use military action when...

 the élite of Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 claim Scythia as a former homeland of the Scots. Some writers claim that Scythians figured in the formation of the empire of the Medes
Medes
The MedesThe Medes...

 and likewise of Caucasian Albania
Caucasian Albania
Albania is a name for the historical region of the eastern Caucasus, that existed on the territory of present-day republic of...

.

The Carolingian
Carolingian
The Carolingian dynasty was a Frankish noble family with origins in the Arnulfing and Pippinid clans of the 7th century AD. The name "Carolingian", Medieval Latin karolingi, an altered form of an unattested Old High German *karling, kerling The Carolingian dynasty (known variously as the...

 kings of the Franks
Franks
The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes first attested in the third century AD as living north and east of the Lower Rhine River. From the third to fifth centuries some Franks raided Roman territory while other Franks joined the Roman troops in Gaul. Only the Salian Franks formed a...

 traced Merovingian ancestry to the Germanic
Germanic peoples
The Germanic peoples are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group of Northern European origin, identified by their use of the Indo-European Germanic languages which diversified out of Proto-Germanic during the Pre-Roman Iron Age.Originating about 1800 BCE from the Corded Ware Culture on the North...

 tribe of the Sicambri
Sicambri
The Sicambri were a Germanic people living on the right bank of the Rhine river, near where it passes out of Germany and enters what is now called the Netherlands at the turn of the first millennium....

. Gregory of Tours
Gregory of Tours
Saint Gregory of Tours was a Gallo-Roman historian and Bishop of Tours, which made him a leading prelate of Gaul. He was born Georgius Florentius, later adding the name Gregorius in honour of his maternal great-grandfather...

 documents in his History of the Franks that when Clovis
Clovis I
Clovis Leuthwig was the first King of the Franks to unite all the Frankish tribes under one ruler, changing the leadership from a group of royal chieftains, to rule by kings, ensuring that the kingship was held by his heirs. He was also the first Catholic King to rule over Gaul . He was the son...

 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
Chronicle of Fredegar
The Chronicle of Fredegar is a chronicle that is a primary source of events in Frankish Gaul from 584 to around 641. Later authors continued the history to the coronation of Charlemagne and his brother Carloman on 9 October 768....

 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
Franks
The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes first attested in the third century AD as living north and east of the Lower Rhine River. From the third to fifth centuries some Franks raided Roman territory while other Franks joined the Roman troops in Gaul. Only the Salian Franks formed a...

 in honour of their chieftain Franco in 11 BC. The Scythians also feature in some post-Medieval national origin-legends of the Celts.

Based on such accounts of Scythian founders of certain Germanic as well as Celtic tribes, British historiography in the British Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 period such as
Sharon Turner
Sharon Turner
Sharon Turner was an English historian.-Life:Born in Pentonville, Turner was the eldest son of William and Ann Turner, Yorkshire natives who had settled in London upon marrying. He left school at fifteen to be articled to an attorney in the Temple...

 in his History of the Anglo-Saxons
History of the Anglo-Saxons
History of the Anglo-Saxons is a writing by English historian Sharon Turner written between 1799 and 1805. Under the influence of Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry he compiled the first edition of the History of the Anglo-Saxons between 1799 and 1805, and became one of the earliest...

, made them the ancestors of the Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

.
The idea was taken up in the British Israelism
British Israelism
British Israelism is the belief that people of Western European descent, particularly those in Great Britain, are the direct lineal descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. The concept often includes the belief that the British Royal Family is directly descended from the line of King David...

 of John Wilson
John Wilson (historian)
John Wilson was one of the ideological architects of British Israelism alongside Richard Brothers....

, 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."

Whatever the claims of various modern ethnic groups, the peoples once known as the Scythians of Antiquity were amalgamated into the various Slavic peoples of eastern and southeastern Europe.

Further reading

  • Alekseev, A. Yu. et al., "Chronology of Eurasian Scythian Antiquities Born by New Archaeological and 14C Data". Radiocarbon, Vol .43, No 2B, 2001, p 1085–1107.
  • Davis-Kimball, Jeannine. 2002. Warrior Women: An Archaeologist's Search for History's Hidden Heroines. Warner Books, New York. 1st Trade printing, 2003. ISBN 0-446-67983-6 (pbk).
  • Gamkrelidze and Ivanov (1984). Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans: A Reconstruction and Historical Typological Analysis of a Proto-Language and Proto-Culture (Parts I and II). Tbilisi State University
    Tbilisi State University
    Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University , better known as Tbilisi State University , is a university established on 8 February 1918 in Tbilisi, Georgia. TSU is the oldest university in the whole Caucasus region...

    .
  • Harmatta, J., "Studies in the History and Language of the Sarmatians", Acta Universitatis de Attila József Nominatae. Acta antique et archaeologica Tomus XIII. Szeged 1970, Kroraina.com Jaedtke, Wolfgang. Steppenkind, Piper Verlag, Munich 2008. ISBN 978-3-492-25146-4. This novel contains detailed descriptions of the life of nomadic Scythians around 700 BC.
  • Lebedynsky, I. (2001). "Les Scythes: la civilisation nomade des steppes VIIe–IIIe siècle av. J.-C." / Errance, Paris.
  • Lebedynsky Iaroslav (2006) "Les Saces", Editions Errance, ISBN 2877723372
  • Mallory, J.P. (1989). In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language Archeology and Myth. Thames and Hudson. Chapter 2; and pages 51–53 for a quick reference.
  • Newark, T. (1985). The Barbarians: Warriors and wars of the Dark Ages. Blandford: New York. See pages 65, 85, 87, 119-139.
  • Renfrew, C. (1988). Archeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European origins. Cambridge University Press.
  • Rolle, Renate, The world of the Scythians, London and New York (1989). Rybakov, Boris. Paganism of Ancient Rus. Nauka, Moscow, 1987
  • Torday, Laszlo (1998). Mounted Archers: The Beginnings of Central Asian History. Durham Academic Press. ISBN 1-900838-03-6. Yatsenko, S. A., "Tamgas of Iranolingual antique and Early Middle Ages people". Russian Academy of Science, Moscow Press "Eastern Literature", 2001

External links



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