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Approximate extent of Scythia and the Scythian languages (orange) in the 1st century BC

In Classical Antiquity, Scythia (Greek Σκυθία Skythia, Engl. /'sɪθɪə/ or /'sɪðɪə/) was the area in Eurasia inhabited by the Scythians, from the 8th century BC to the 2nd century AD. Its location and extent varied over time but usually extended farther to the west than is indicated on the map opposite.[1] The area known to classical authors as Scythia included:

The Sakas (Indo-Scythians) expanded to Sistan (which was also known as Sakestan) and the Indus valley from the 1st century BC, but these regions are not usually included in the term "Scythia."

Contents

First Scythian kingdom

The first Scythian state[citation needed] arose among Turkic Scythians who penetrated in the 7th century BC from the territories north of the Black Sea into the Near East. It was dominated by interethnic forms of dependency based on subjugation of agricultural populations in eastern South Caucasia, plunder and taxes (occasionally, as far as Syria), regular tribute (Media), tribute disguised as gifts (Egypt), and possibly also payments for military support (Assyria). The Scythian social structure was much decentralized. The main features of the Scythian social organization developed before the 7th century BC.[3]

It is likely that the same dynasty ruled in Scythia during most of its history. The name of Koloksai, a legendary founder of a royal dynasty, is mentioned by Alcman in the 7th century BC. Prototi and Madis, Scythian kings in the Near Eastern period of their history, and their successors in the north Pontic steppes belonged to the same dynasty. Herodotus lists five generations of a royal clan that probably reigned at the end of the 7th to 6th centuries BC: prince Anacharsis, Saulius, Idanthyrsus, Gnurus, Lycus, and Spargapithes.[4]

After being defeated and driven from the Near East, in the first half of the 6th century BC, Scythians had to re-conquer lands north of the Black Sea. In the second half of that century, Scythians succeeded in dominating the agricultural tribes of the forest-steppe and placed them under tribute. As a result their state was reconstructed with the appearance of the Second Scythian Kingdom which reached its zenith in the 4th century BC.

Second Scythian kingdom

Scythia's social development at the end of the 5th century BC and in the 4th century BC involved its privileged stratum in trade with Greeks, efforts to control this trade, and consequences partly stemming from these two: aggressive external policy, intensified exploitation of dependent population, progressing stratification among the nomadic rulers. Trading with Greeks also stimulated sedenterization processes. The proximity of the Greek city-states on the Black Sea coast (Pontic Olbia, Cimmerian Bosporus, Chersonesos, Sindica, Tanais) was a powerful incentive for slavery in the Scythian society, but only in one direction: the sale of slaves to Greeks, instead of use in their economy. Accordingly, the trade become a stimulus for capture of slaves as war spoils in numerous wars.

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Scythia at the end of the fifth to third centuries BC

Scythia et Serica, ancient map

The Scythian state reached its greatest extent in the 4th century BC during the reign of Ateas. Isocrates[5] believed that Scythians, and also Thracians and Persians, are "the most able to power, and are the peoples with the greatest might." In the fourth century BC, under king Ateas, the tribune structure of the state was eliminated, and the ruling power became more centralized. The later sources do not mention three basileuses any more. Strabo tells[6] that Ateus ruled over majority of the North Pontic barbarians.

Written sources tell that expansion of the Scythian state before the fourth century BC was mainly in the western direction. In this respect Ateas continued the policy of his predecessors in the fifth century BC. During western expansion, Ateus fought the Triballi.[7] A part of Thracians was subjugated and levied with severe duties. During the 90-year life of Ateas, the Scythians firmly settled in Thrace and became an important factor of political games in the Balkans. At the same time, both the nomadic and agricultural Scythian populations increased along the Dniester. A war with the Bosporian Kingdom increased Scythian pressure on the Greek cities along the North Pontic littoral.

Materials from the site near Kamianka-Dniprovska, purportedly the capital of the Ateas’ state, show that metallurgists were free members of the society, even if burdened with imposed obligations. The metallurgy was the most advanced and the only distinct craft speciality among the Scythians. From the story of Polyaenus and Frontin, it follows that in the fourth century BC Scythia had a layer of dependent population, which consisted of impoverished Scythian nomads and local indigenous agricultural tribes, socially deprived, dependent and exploited, who did not participate in the wars, but were engaged in servile agriculture and cattle husbandry.

The year 339 BC was a culminating year for the Second Scythian Kingdom, and the beginning of its decline. The war with Philip II of Macedon ended in a victory by the father of Alexander the Great, the Scythian king Ateus fell in battle well into his nineties.[8] Many royal kurgans (Chertomlyk, Kul-Oba, Aleksandropol, Krasnokut) are dated from after Ateas’ time and previous traditions were continued, and life in the settlements of Western Scythia show that the state survived until the 250s B.C. When in 331 BC Zopyrion, Alexander's viceroy in Thrace, "not wishing to sit idle", invaded Scythia and besieged Pontic Olbia, he suffered a crushing defeat from the Scythians and lost his life.[9]

The fall of the Second Scythian Kingdom came about in the second half of the third century BC under the onslaught of Celts and Thracians from the west and Sarmatians from the east. With their increased forces, the Sarmatians devastated significant parts of Scythia and, "annihilating the defeated, transformed a larger part of the country into a desert".[10]

The dependent forest-steppe tribes, subjected to exaction burdens, freed themselves at the first opportunity. The Dnieper and Buh populace ruled by the Scythians did not become Scythians. They continued to live their original life which was alien to Scythian ways. From the third century BC for many centuries the histories of the steppe and forest-steppe zones of North Pontic diverged. The material culture of the populations quickly lost their common features. And in the steppe, reflecting the end of nomad hegemony in Scythian society, the royal kurgans were no longer built. Archeologically, late Scythia appears first of all as a conglomerate of fortified and non-fortified settlements with abutting agricultural zones.

The development of the Scythian society is marked by the following trends:

  1. An intensified settlement process, evidenced by the appearance of numerous kurgan burials in the steppe zone of North Pontic, some of them dated to the end of the fifth century BC, but the majority belonging to the fourth or third centuries BC, reflecting the establishment of permanent pastoral coaching routes and a tendency to semi-nomadic pasturing. The Lower Dnieper area contained mostly unfortified settlements, while in Crimea and Western Scythia the agricultural population grew. The Dnieper settlements developed in what were previously nomadic winter villages, and in uninhabited lands.
  2. Tendency for proprietary and social inequality, ideological ascend of the nobility, further stratification among free Scythian nomads. The majority of royal kurgans are dated from the fourth century BC.
  3. Increase in subjection of the forest-steppe population, archeologically traced. In the fourth century BC in the Dnieper forest-steppe zone, steppe-type burials appear. In addition to the nomadic advance in the north in search of the new pastures, they show an increase of pressure on the farmers of the forest-steppe belt. The Borispol kurgans belong almost entirely to soldiers and sometimes even women warriors. The bloom of steppe Scythia coincides with decline of forest-steppe. From the second half of the fifth century BC, importing of antique goods to the Middle Dnieper decreased because of pauperization of the dependent farmers. In the forest-steppe, kurgans of the fourth century BC are poorer than during previous times. At the same time, the cultural influence of the steppe nomads grew. The Senkov kurgans in the Kyiv area, left by the local agricultural population, are low and contain poor female and no-inventory male burials, in a striking contrast with the nearby Borispol kurgans of the same era left by the Scythian conquerors.
  4. Beginning of city life in Scythia.
  5. Growth of trade with Northern Black Sea Greek cities, and increase in Hellenization of the Scythian aristocracy. After the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian war, Attican agriculture was ruined. Demosthenes wrote that about 400,000 medimns (63,000 t) of grain was exported annually from the Bosporus to Athens. The Scythian nomadic aristocracy not only served a middleman role, but also actively participated in the trade of grain produced by dependent farmers as well as slaves, skins and other goods.

Scythia's later history is mainly dominated by sedentary agrarian and city elements. As a result of the defeats suffered by Scythians two separate states were formed, two Lesser Scythias, one in Thrace (Dobrudja), and the other in the Crimea and the Lower Dnieper area.[11]

Third Scythian kingdoms

Having settled this Scythia Minor in Thrace, the former Scythian nomads (or rather their nobility) abandoned their nomadic way of life, retaining their power over the agrarian population. This little polity should be distinguished from the Third Scythian Kingdom in Crimea and Lower Dnieper area, whose inhabitants likewise underwent a massive sedentarization. The interethnic dependence was replaced by developing forms of dependence within the society. The enmity of the Third Scythian Kingdom, centred on Scythian Neapolis, towards the Greek settlements of the northern Black Sea steadily increased. The Scythian king apparently regarded the Greek colonies as unnecessary intermediaries in the wheat trade with mainland Greece. Besides, the settling cattlemen were attracted by the Greek agricultural belt in Southern Crimea. The later Scythia was both culturally and socio-economically far less advanced than its Greek neighbors such as Olvia or Chersonesos.

The continuity of the royal line is less clear in the Lesser Scythias of Crimea and Thrace than it had been previously. In the second century BC, Olvia became a Scythian dependency. That event was marked in the city by minting of coins bearing the name of the Scythian king Skilurus. He was a son of a king and a father of a king, but the relation of his dynasty with the former dynasty is not known. Either Skilurus or his son and successor Palakus were buried in the mausoleum of Scythian Neapol that was used from ca. 100 B.C. to ca. 100 AD. However, the last burials are so poor that they do not seem to be royal, indicating a change in the dynasty or royal burials in another place.

Later, at the end of the second century BC, Olvia was freed from the Scythian domination, but became a subject to Mithradates the Great. By the end of the first century BC, Olbia, rebuilt after its sack by the Getae, became a dependency of the Dacian barbarian kings, who minted their own coins in the city. Later from the second century AD Olbia belonged to the Roman Empire. Scythia was the first state north of the Black Sea to collapse with the invasion of the Goths in the 2nd century AD (see Oium).

Notable Scythians include Eihidia, Istia, Lipoxais, Arpoxais, Colaxai - Koloksai, Fenius Farsa, Anacharsis, Saulius, Idanthyrsus, Gnurus, Lycus, Spargapithes, Ateus, Scopasis, Idanthyrsus, Taxakis, Skunkha, Skilurus, and Palakus.

Scythian kings

Scythian king Skilurus, relief from Scythian Neapolis, Crimea, 2nd century BC

Scythia was a loose state that originated as early as 8th century BC. Little is known of them and their rulers. Most detailed description came down to us from Herodotus.

  • Scylas (ca. 500 BC) – Herodotus describes him as a Scythian whose mother was Greek, he was expelled by his people
  • Octamasadas (ca. 450 BC) – was put on the throne after Scylas
  • Ateas (ca. 429 BC – 339 BC) – defeated by the Macedonians; his empire fell apart
  • Skilurus (ca. 125-110 BC) - died during a war against Mithridates VI of Pontus
  • Palacus (ca. 100 BC) – the last Scythian ruler, defeated by Mithridates

See also

Art & literature

  • In his later years, Ovid wrote the poems Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto about his exile in Tomis.
  • Alekseev, A. Yu. et al., "Chronology of Eurasian Scythian Antiquities Born by New Archaeological and 14C Data". Radiocarbon, Vol. 43, No 2B, 2001, pp. 1085–1107.
  • Khazanov, A.M., Social history of Scythians, Moscow, 1975 (in Russian).
  • Morgan Llewelyn's novel "The Horse Goddess" is a story of Celts & Scythians.
  • Wolfgang Jaedtke's German novel "Steppenkind", Piper Verlag, Munich 2008. ISBN 978-3-492-25146-4, describes the life of nomadic Scythians around 700 BC.
  • Max Overton's novels "Lion of Scythia" and "The Golden King" follow the life of a Macedonian officer captured by a Scythian tribe in about 323 BC.
  • Andrew Bird's song, Scythian Empire, references Scythians.

References

  1. ^ Giovanni Boccaccio’s Famous Women translated by Virginia Brown 2001, p. 25; Cambridge and London, Harvard University Press; ISBN 0-674-01130-9 ".....extending from the Black Sea in a northerly direction towards Ocean." In Boccaccio's time the Baltic Sea was known also as Oceanus Sarmaticus.
  2. ^ Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898) Oceanus Sarmaticus
  3. ^ Khazanov 1975
  4. ^ Herodotus IV, 76
  5. ^ Isocrates 436–338 BC, Panegyricus 67
  6. ^ Strabo VII, 3, 18
  7. ^ Polyaenus, Stratagems VII, 44, 1
  8. ^ Trogus, Prologue, IX
  9. ^ Justin, XII, 1, 4
  10. ^ Diodorus, 11, 43, 7
  11. ^ Strabo VII, 4, 5

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

Additions, corrections and discussions on this subject by users of the Classic Encyclopedia can be found on the discussion page

SCYTHIA (Gr. /Kvela), originally (e.g in Herodotus iv. 1 -142), the country of the Scythae or the country over which the nomad Scythae were lords, that is, the steppe from the Carpathians to the Don. With the disappearance of the Scythae as an ethnic and political entity, the name of Scythia gives place in its original seat to that of Sarmatia, and is artificially applied by geographers, on the one hand, to the Dobrudzha, the lesser Scythia of Strabo, where it remained in official use until Byzantine times; on the other, to the unknown regions of northern Asia, the Eastern Scythia of Strabo, the "Scythia intra et extra Imaum" of Ptolemy; but throughout classical literature Scythia generally meant all regions to the north and north-east of the Black Sea, and a Scythian (Scythes) any barbarian coming from those parts. Herodotus (l.c.), to whom with Hippocrates (De acre', &c. 24, sqq.) we owe our earliest knowledge (Homer, Il. xiii. 5, speaks of "mare-milkers," and Hesiod, ap. Strabo vii. 3 (7) mentions Scythae) of the land and its inhabitants, tries to restrict this merely geographical usage and to confine the word Scyth to a certain race or at any rate to that race and its subjects, but even he seems to slip back into the wider use. Hence there is much doubt as to his exact meaning.

His account of the geography falls into two irreconcilable parts; one (iv. 99 sqq.), in connexion with the tale of the invasion of Darius, makes of Scythia a kind of chessboard 4000 stades square on which the combatants can make their moves quite unhindered by the great rivers: the other (16-20), founded on what he learned from Greeks of Olbia and supplemented by the tales of the 7th century traveller Aristeas of Proconnesus, is not very far removed from first-hand information and can be made more or less to tally with the lie of the land. In accordance with this we can give the relative positions of the various tribes, and an excursus on the rivers (47-57) lets us define their actual seats. In western Scythia, starting from Olbia and going northwards, we have Callippidae on the lower Hypanis (Bug), Alazones where the Tyras (Dniester) and Hypanis come near each other in their middle courses, and Aroteres ("Ploughmen") above them. These tribes raised wheat, presumably in the river valleys, and sold it for export; in the eastern half from west to east were Georgi (perhaps the same as Aroteres) between the Ingul and the Borysthenes (Dnieper), nomad Scyths and Royal Scyths between the Borysthenes and the Tanais (Don). Above all these stretched a row of non-Scythian tribes from west to east: on the Marls (Maros) in Transylvania the Agathyrsi; Neuri in Podolia and Kiev, Androphagi and Melanchlaeni in Poltava, (Ryazan) and Tambov. On the lower Don and Volga we have the Sauromatae, and on the middle course of the Volga the Budini with the great wooden town of Gelonus and its semi-Greek inhabitants. From this region started an important trade route eastward by the Thyssagetae among the southern Urals, the Iyrcae on the Tobol and Irtysh to the Kirgiz steppe, where dwelt other Scyths, regarded as colonists of those in Europe: then by the Argippaei in the Altai and the Issedones in the Tarym basin, to the one-eyed Arimaspi on the borders of China, who stole their gold from the watchful griffins, and who marched with goat-footed men and Hyperboreans reaching to the sea. To the south of Scythia the Crimean mountains were inhabited by a non-Sythic race, the Tauri. (See also articles on these tribes.) Ethnology. - Herodotus expressly divides the Scythians into the Agriculturists, Callipidae, Alazones, Aroteres and Georgi in the western part of the country, and the Nomads with the Royal Scyths to the east. The latter claimed dominion over all the rest. The question arises whether we have to do with the various tribes of one race in different stages of civilization, or with a mixed population called by foreigners after the ruling tribe. The latter seems by far the more probable. The affinities of this tribe have been sought in various directions, and the evidence suggests that it was itself of mixed blood. We know that in the 2nd century A.D., when the steppes were dominated by the Sarmatae, the majority of the barbarian names in the inscriptions of Olbia, Tanais, and Panticapaeum were Iranian, and can infer that the Sarmatae spoke an Iranian language. Pliny speaks of their descent from the Medes. Now the Sarmatae are represented as half-caste Scyths speaking a corrupt variety of Scythian. Presumably, therefore, the Scyths also spoke an Iranian dialect. But of the Scythic words preserved by Herodotus some are Iranian, others, especially the names of deities, have found no satisfactory explanation in any Indo-European language. Indeed they rather suggest a Ugrian origin. Nevertheless, the general opinion has been that the Scyths were Iranian. The present writer believes that they were a horde which came down from upper Asia, conquered an Iranian-speaking people, and in time adopted the speech of its subjects. The settled Scythians would be the remains of this Iranian population, or the different tribes of them may have been connected with their neighbours beyond Scythian dominion - Thracian Getae and Arimaspi, Slavonic Neuri, Finnish Androphagi and such like. The Cimmerians who preceded the Scythians used Iranian proper names, and probably represented this Iranian element in greater purity. Herodotus gives three legends of the origin of the Scyths (iv. 5-12); these, though they contradict each other, can be reconciled with the view stated above. Two of them seem to be the same story; one is very strongly Hellenized, the other, in more or less native shape, is shortly this. The tribe is autochthonous, claiming descent from a son of the river Borysthenes Targitaos, who lived a thousand years before. Of his three sons the youngest Colaxais is preferred by an ordeal of picking up certain objects which fell from heaven, - a plough, a yoke, an axe and a cup, - and becomes the ancestor of the ruling clan of Paralatae; from the other sons, Lipoxais and Harpoxais, are descended minor clans, and the name of the whole people is Scoloti, not Scythae, which is used by the Greeks alone. In this story the names make sense in Iranian, the tribes are not again mentioned except when this passage is copied, the objects are hardly such as would be held sacred by nomads, the form of ordeal is to be paralleled in Iranian legends, and the people say themselves that they are not really Scythae. Surely this is the national legend of the agricultural Scythians about Olbia,. and the name Scoloti, by which careful modern writers designate the Royal Scyths, is the true designation of the subject race. The royal line of these is quite distinct from the true Royal Scyths, who, like most nomad conquerors, allowed their subjects, to preserve their own organizations.

The third account fails chiefly in being too plausible, but there seems no reason to reject it as an artificial combination of unconnected facts. According to it the Scyths dwell in Asia, and were forced by the Massagetae over the Araxes (Volga ?) into the land of the Cimmerians. Aristeas says that the first impulse came from the Arimaspi, who displaced the Issedones, who in turn fell upon the Scyths. This comes to much the same thing, as the Massagetae seem to have contained an element which had come in from the land of the Issedones. The Scyths having fallen upon them from the north-east, the Cimmerians appear to have given way in two directions, towards the southwest, where the tombs of their kings were shown on the Tyras (Dniester) and one body joined with the Treres of Thrace in invading Asia Minor by the Hellespont; and towards the south-east where another body threatened the Assyrians, who called them Gimirrai (Hebrew Gomer; Gen. xi.). They were followed by the Scyths (Ashguzai, Heb. Ashkenaz) whom the Assyrians welcomed as allies and used against the Cimmerians, against the Medes and even against Egypt. Hence the references to the Scyths in the Hebrew prophets (Jer. iv. 3, vi. 7). This, is all put in the latter half of the 7th century B.C. Herodotus says that the Scyths ruled Media for twenty-eight years, and were then massacred or expelled. The Assyrian evidence is in the main a confirmation of Herodotus, though most writers think that the Scythians who troubled Asia were Sacae from the east of the Caspian (H. Winckler, Altorientalische Forschungen, p. 484 sqq.). If the Scyths came out of upper Asia, the Scythian colonists beyond the Iyrcae might be a division which had remained nearer the homeland, but in dealing with nomads we can suppose such a return as that of the Calmucks (Kalmuks) in the 18th century.

The physical features of the Scyths are not described by Herodotus, but Hippocrates (Lc.) draws a picture of them which makes them very similar to the Mongols as they appeared to the Franciscan missionaries in the 13th century. He says they are quite unlike any other race of men, and very like each other. The main point seems to be a tendency to slackness, fatness and excess of humours. The men are said to be in appearance very like eunuchs, and both sexes have a tendency to sexual indifference amounting in the men to impotence. When a man finds himself in this condition he assumes the women's dress and habits. Herodotus mentions the existence of this class, called Enarees, and says that they suffer from a sacred disease owing to the wrath of the goddess of Ascalon whose shrine they had plundered. Reinegg describes a similar state of things in the Nogai in the 18th century. The whole account suggests a Tatar clan in the last stage of degeneracy. Hippocrates says that this only applies to the ruling class, not to the slaves, but gives as the reason the want of exercise among the former. The skulls dug up in Scythic graves throw no light on the question, some being round and some long. The representations of nomads on objects of Greek art show people with full beards and shaggy hair, such as cannot be reconciled with Hippocrates; but the only reliefs which seem to be accurate belong to a late date when the ruling clan was Sarmatian rather than Scythic.

Table of contents

Customs

Herodotus gives a good survey of the customs of the Scyths: it seems mostly to apply to the ruling race. Again the closest analogy is the state of the Mongols in the 13th century, but too much weight must not be put on this, as the natural conditions of steppe-ranging nomads dictated the greater part of them. Still the correspondence of religion and of funeral rites is very close. The Scyths lived upon the produce of their herds of cattle and horses, their main food being the flesh of the latter, either cooked in a cauldron or made into a kind of haggis, and the milk of mares from which they made cheese and kumiss (a fermented drink resembling buttermilk). This necessitated their constantly moving in search of fresh pasture, spending the spring and autumn upon the open steppe, the winter and summer by the rivers for the sake of moisture and shelter. The men journeyed on horseback, the women in wagons with felt tilts. These were drawn by their cattle, and were the homes of each fam11lly. Hence the Greek names, Abii, Hippemolgi, Hamaxobii. The women were kept in subjection, and were far from enjoying the liberty granted them among the Sarmatae, among whom they rode on horseback and engaged in war. Polygamy was practised, the son inheriting his father's wives. Both men and women avoided washing, but there was something of the nature of a vapour bath, with which Herodotus has confused a custom of using the smoke of hemp as a narcotic. The women daubed themselves with a kind of cosmetic paste. The dress of the men is well shown upon the Kul Oba and Chertomlyk vases, and upon other Greek works of art made for Scythic use. It must not be confused with the fanciful barbarian costumes that are so common upon the Attic pots. They wore coats confined by belts, trousers tucked into soft boots, and hoods or tall pointed caps. The women had flowing robes, tall pointed caps, and veils descending over most of the figure. Both sexes wore many stamped gold plates sewn upon their clothes in lines or series. Their horses had severe bits, and were adorned with nose pieces, cheek pieces and saddle cloths. True stirrups were unknown. In war the nation was divided into three subkingdoms, and these into companies, each with its commander. The companies had yearly feasts, at which the commander honoured warriors who had slain one or more of the enemy. As evidence of such prowess, and as a token of his right to a share of any spoil, the warrior was accustomed to scalp his enemy and adorn his bridle with the trophy. In the case of a special enemy or an adversary overcome in a private dispute before the king, he would make a cup of the skull, mounting it in bull's hide or in gold. The tactics in war were the traditional nomad tactics of harassing the enemy on the march, constantly retreating before him and avoiding a general engagement. Their weapons consisted of bow and arrows, short swords, spears and axes. The government was a despotism, but a king who aroused the extreme dissatisfaction of his subjects was liable to be murdered.

Religion

The religion of the Scyths was nature worship. Herodotus (iv. 59) gives a list of their gods, with the Greek deities corresponding, but we cannot tell what aspect of the Greek deity is in question. He says they chiefly reverence Tahiti (Hestia), next Papaeus and his wife Apia (Zeus and Ge), then Oitosyros (Apollo) and Argimpasa (Aphrodite Urania). These are common to all the Scythians, but Thamimasadas (Poseidon) is peculiar to the Royal Scyths.' They set up no images or altars or temples save to Ares only. To Ares they make a heap of faggots three stades square, with three sides steep and one inclined, and bring to it a hundred and fifty fresh loads of faggots every year. Upon the top is set up a sword which is the image of Ares; to this they sacrifice captives, pouring their blood over it. The account of the cult of Ares, for whom no Scythian name is given, appears to be an addition, and the mention of such masses of faggots suggests the wooded district of the agricultural Scythians, not the treeless steppe of the Royal tribe. The Scythian pantheon is not distinctive, and can be paralleled among the Tatars and among the Iranians. The Scyths had a method of divination with sticks, and the Enarees, who claimed to be soothsayers by grant of the goddess who had afflicted them, used another method by splitting bast fibres. They intervened in case of the king's falling sick, when it was assumed that some man had sworn by the king's hearth and broken his oath. If a man accused of this denies it, other diviners are called, and if these concur, he is beheaded and his sons slain and his goods given to the diviners. But if a majority of diviners decide against the accusers, the latter are set upon a wagon-load of brushwood and burned to death. The burial rites are the most fully described. Private persons were merely carried about among their friends, who held wakes in their honour, and then buried forty days after death. But the funerals of the kings were much more elaborate. They exhibit the extreme development of the principle of surrounding the dead man with everything in which he found pleasure during his life. The tombs of the kings were in the land of Gerrhus near the great bend of the Dnieper where the chief tumuli have been excavated. The body was embalmed and filled with aromatic herbs, and then brought to this region, passing through the lands of various tribes. The Royal Scyths who followed the body were accustomed to cut about their faces and arms, and each tribe that the cortege met upon its way had to join it and conform to this expression of grief. Arrived at the place of burial, the body was set in a square pit with spears marking out its sides and a roof of matting. Then one of the king's concubines and his cup-bearer, cook, groom, messenger and horses were strangled and laid by him, and round about offerings of all his goods and cups of gold - no silver or bronze. After this they raised a great mound, striving to make it as high as possible. A year later they strangled fifty youths of the dead man's servants (all Scyths born) and fifty of the best horses, stuffed them and mounted them in a circle about the tomb.

Tombs

The description is generally borne out by the evidence of the tombs opened in the Scythic area. None agrees in every point, but almost every detail finds a close parallel in some tomb or other. The chief divergence is in the presence of silver and copper objects, but the great quantity of gold is the most striking fact, and to say that there was nothing but gold seems merely an exaggeration. Tombs to which the name Scythic is generally applied form a welldefined class. They are preceded over the whole area by a much simpler form of burial marked by the practice of staining the bones with red ochre, and the presence of one or two rude pots and nothing more: yet that some were tombs of great chiefs is shown by the great size of the barrows heaped over them. They have been referred to the Cimmerians, but for this there is no clear evidence. The Scythic tombs can be roughly dated by the objects of Greek art that they contain. They seem to begin about the 6th century B.C., and to continue till the 2nd century A.D.; that is, they cover the period of the Scythic domination according to the account accepted above, and that of the Sarmatian, and so suggest that, as far as the archaeological evidence goes, there was little more than a change of name and perhaps the substitution of one ruling clan for another - not a real change of population. The finest of the class were opened about the bend of the Dnieper, where we should put the land Gerrhus. Others are found to the south-west of the central area, and in the governments of Kiev and Poltava we have many tombs with Scythic characteristics, but a difference (e.g. the fewness of the horses) which makes us think of the settled tribes under Scythic domination. Others occur in the flat northern half of the Crimea, and even close to Kerch, where the famous Kul Oba seems to have held a Scythic chieftain who had adopted a veneer of Greek tastes, but remained a barbarian at heart. East of the Maeotis, especially along the river Kuban, are many groups of barrows showing the same culture as those of Gerrhus but in a purer form. Farther to the north and east the series seems to extend into Siberia, but in this region excavations have been few. Unfortunately very few of these harrows have come down to us unplundered, and we cannot find one complete example and take it as a type. Soon after 1 The names are read in various ways; it is impossible to establish the correct forms.

they were heaped up, before the beams supporting the central chamber had rotted, thieves made a practice of driving a mine into the mound straight to where the valuables were deposited, and it is only by the collapse of this mine and the crushing of the robber after he had thrown everything into confusion that the treasures of the Chertomlyk barrow, on the whole the most typical, were preserved to us. This was 60 ft. high and 110o ft. round; about it was a stone plinth, and it was approached by a kind of stone alley. A central shaft descended 35 ft. 6 in. below the surface of the earth, and from each corner of it at the bottom opened out side chambers. The north-west chamber communicated with a large irregular chamber into which the plunderer's mine opened. In the central pit all was in confusion, but here the king seems to have lain on a bier. His belongings, found piled up near the mine, seem to have included a combined bow-case and quiver and a sword sheath, each covered with plates of gold of Greek work, three swords with gold hafts, a hone with gold mounting, a whip, many other gold plates and a heap of arrow-heads. In the north-west chamber was a woman's skeleton, and she had her jewels, mostly of Greek work. She was attended by a man, and three other men were buried in the other chambers. They were supplied with simpler weapons and adornments, but even so their clothes had hundreds of stamped gold plates and strips of various shapes sewn on to them. By every skeleton were drinking vessels. Store of wine was contained in six amphorae, and in two bronze cauldrons were mutton-bones. The most wonderful object of all was a great two-handled vase standing 3 ft. high and made to hold kumiss. The greater part of its body is covered by a pattern of acanthus leaves, but on the shoulder is a frieze showing nomads breaking in wild mares, our chief authority for Scythian costume. To the west of the main shaft were three square pits with horses and their harness, and by them two pits with men's skeletons. In the heap itself was found an immense quantity of pieces of harness and what may be remains of a funeral car. The Greek work would seem to date the burial as of the 3rd century B.C.

At Alexandropol in the same district was an even more elaborate tomb, but its contents were in even greater confusion. Another tomb in this region, Melgunov's barrow, found as long ago as 1760, contained a dagger-sheath and pommel of Assyrian work and Greek things of the 6th century. In the Kul Oba tomb mentioned above the chamber was of stone and the contents, with one or two exceptions, of purely Greek workmanship, but the ideas underlying are the same - the king has his wife, his servant and his horse, his amphorae with wine, his cauldron with mutton-bones, his drinking vessels and his weapons, the latter being almost the only objects of barbarian style. One of the cups has a frieze with reliefs of natives supplementing that on the Chertomlyk vase.

East of the Maeotis on the Kuban we have many barrows; the most interesting are the groups called the Seven Brothers, and those of Karagodeuashkh, Kostromskaya, Ul and Kelermes, the latter remarkable for objects of Assyrian style, the others for the enormous slaughter of horses; on the Ul were four hundred in one grave.

Art

Certain of the objects which occur in these Scythic graves are of special forms typical for the Scythic area. Most interesting of these is the dagger or sword, always very short, save in the latest graves, and distinguished by a heart-shaped guard marking the juncture of hilt and blade; its sheath is also characteristic, having a triangular projection on one side and usually a separate chape: these peculiar forms were necessitated by a special way of hanging the dagger from two straps that it might not interfere with a rider's movements. Just the same form of short sword was used in Persia and is shown on the sculptures at Persepolis. Another special type is the bow-case, made to take a short curved bow and to accommodate arrows'as well. Further, there is the peculiar cauldron on one conical foot, round which the fire was built, the cylindrical hone pierced for suspension, and the cup with a rounded bottom. Assyrian and afterwards Greek craftsmen working for Scythic employers were compelled to decorate these outlandish forms, which they did according to their own fashion: but there was also a native style with conventionalized beast decoration, which was almost always employed for the adornment of bits and horses' gear, and very often for weapons. This style and the types of dagger, cauldron, bit and twolooped socketed axehead run right across from Hungary to the upper Yenisei, where a special Bronze Age culture seems to have developed them. But even here it seems impossible to deny some influence coming from the Aegean area, and Scythic beasts are very like certain products of Mycenaean and early Ionic art. Again, the Scythic style is interesting as being one element in the art of the barbarians who conquered the Roman Empire and the zoomorphic decoration of the early middle ages.

The dominance from the Yenisei to the Carpathians of a distinct style of art which, whatever its original elements may have been, seems to have taken shape as far east as the Yenisei basin is an additional argument in favour of a certain movement of population from the far north-east towards the south Russian steppes. It would correspond in time with the movement of the Scyths of which Herodotus speaks, and it may be inferred that immigrants coming from those regions were rather allied to the Tatar family of nations than to the Iranian. Similar movements from the same regions appear also to have penetrated Iran itself; hence the resemblance between the dress and daggers of certain classes of warriors on the sculptures of Persepolis and those shown on the Kul Oba vase. An Iranian origin would not account for the presence of analogous types on the Yenisei.

History

To sum up the history of Scythia, the oldest inhabitants of whom we hear in Scythia were the Cimmerii; the nature of the country makes it probable that some of them were nomads, while others no doubt tilled some land in the river valleys and in the Crimea, where they left their name to ferries, earthworks and the Cimmerian Bosporus. They were probably of Iranian race: among the Persians Herodotus describes a similar mixture of nomadic and settled tribes. In the 7th century B.C. these Cimmerians were attacked and partly driven out by a horde of newcomers from upper Asia called Scythae; these imposed their name and their yoke upon all that were left in the Euxine steppes, but probably their coming did not really change the basis of the population, which remained Iranian. The newcomers adopted the language of the conquered, but brought with them new customs and a new artistic taste probably largely borrowed from the metal-working tribes of Siberia. About the same time similar peoples harassed the northern frontier of Iran, where they were called Saka (Sacae), and in later times Saka and Scyths, whether they were originally the same or not, were regarded as synonymous. It is difficult always to judge whether given information applies to the Sacae or the Scyths.

About 512 B.C. Darius, having conquered Thrace, made an invasion bf Scythia, which, according to the account of Herodotus, he crossed as far as the Oarus, a river identified with the Volga, burned the town of Gelonus and returned in sixty days. In this march he was much harassed by the nomads, with whom he could not come to close quarters, but no mention is made of his having any difficulty with the rivers (he gets his water from wells), and no reason for his proceedings is advanced except a desire to avenge legendary attacks of Scyths upon Asia. After losing many men the Great King comes back to the place where he crossed the Danube, finds the Ionians still guarding the bridge in spite of the attempts of the Scyths to make them desert, and safely re-enters his own dominions. Ctesias says that the whole campaign only took fifteen days and that Darius did not get beyond the Tyras (Dniester). This is also the view of the reasonable Strabo; but it does not account for the genesis of the other story. It seems best to believe that Darius made an incursion in order to secure the frontier of the Danube, suffered serious reverses and retired with loss, and that this offered too good a chance to be missed for a moral tale about the discomfiture of the Great King by a few poor savages. The Greeks had been trading with the Scyths ever since their coming, and at Olbia there were other tales of their history. We can make a list of Scythian kings - Spargapeithes, Lycus, Gnurus, Saulius (whose brother, the famous Anacharsis, travelled over all the world in search of wisdom, was reckoned a sage among the Greeks and was slain among his own people because they did not like his foreign ways), and Idanthyrsus, the head king at the time of Darius, probably the father of Ariapeithes. This latter had three wives, a Greek woman from Istrus, Opoea a Scythian, and a Thracian daughter to the great chief Teres. Scyles, his son by the Greek mother, affected Greek ways, had a house in Olbia, and even took part in Bacchic rites. When this came to the knowledge of his subjects he was murdered, and Octamasadas, his son by the third wife, reigned in his stead. Herodotus adduces this to show how much the Scyths hated foreign customs, but with the things found in the graves it rather proves how strong was the attraction exercised upon the nomads by the higher culture of their neighbours. Octamasadas died shortly before the time of Herodotus. We cannot place Ariantas, who made a kind of census of the nation by exacting an arrow-head from each warrior and cast a great cauldron out of the bronze, nor Taxacis and Scopasis, the under-kings in the time of Idanthyrsus. After the retreat of Darius the Scythians made a raid as far as Abydos, and even sent envoys to King Cleomenes III. of Sparta to arrange that they should attack the Persian Empire from the Phasis while the Spartans should march up from Ephesus. The chief result of the embassy was that Cleomenes took to the Scythian habit of drinking his wine neat and went mad therefrom (Herodotus vi. 84). Henceforward the Scyths appear as a declining power: by the middle of the 4th century their eastern neighbours the Sarmatae have crossed the Tanais (Don) and the pressure of the Scyths is felt on the Danube. Here Philip II. of Macedon defeated and slew their king Ateas in 339 B.C., and from this time on the representatives of the old Scythic power are petty chieftains in the western part of the country about Olbia, where they could still be dangerous, and about Tomi. Towards the second half of the 2nd century B.C. this kingdom seems to have become the nucleus of a great state under Scilurus, whose name appears on coins of Olbia, and who at the same time threatened Chersonese in the Crimea. Here, however, he was opposed by the might of Mithradates VI. of Pontus and his power was broken. Henceforward the name "Scythian" is purely geographical. Meanwhile Scythia had become the land of the Sarmatae (q.v.). These, as has been seen, spoke a cognate dialect, and the tombs which belong to their period show exactly the same culture with Greek and Siberian elements. It is probable that the Iranian element was stronger among the Sarmatae, whose power extended as the ruling clan of the Scyths became extinct; but it is quite likely that they in their turn were officered by some new horde from upper Asia. Like the Scyths they were pressed towards the west by yet newer swarms, and with the coming of the Huns Scythia enters upon a new cycle, though still keeping its old name in the Byzantine historians.

Authorities

(I) Ancient: Herodotus iv. 1-142 (editions of Blakesley, Rawlinson, Macan); Hippocrates, De Aere, &c., c. 24 sqq.; for geography alone: Strabo vii. cc. 3, 4; xi. cc. I, 2, 6; Pliny iv. 75 sqq.; Ptolemy, Sarmatia; Diodorus Sic. ii. 2, 43-47; and Justin i. cc. 1, 8; ii. 1, 4, do not seem to add anything of which we can be certain. (2) Modern: E. H. Minns, Scythians and Greeks (Cambridge, 1909), gives a summary of various opinions and a survey of the subject from all points of view. See also for ethnological questions, Mongolian hypothesis: K. Neumann, Die Hellenen im Sk thenlande (Berlin, 1855). Iranian hypothesis: K. Miillenhoff, "Viper Herkunft and Sprache der Pontischen Skythen and Sarmaten," in Monatsber. d. Berl. Ak. (1866), reprinted in Deutsche Altertumskunde, vol. iii. For the archaeology: Kondakoff, Tolstoi and Reinach, Antiqui.tes de la Russie Meridionale (Paris, 1892); more fully in Antiquites de la Russie d'Herodote and Compte rendu de la commission archeologique de St-Petersbourg, passim. (E. H. M.)

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English

Approximate extent of Scythia in the first century BCE

Pronunciation

  • IPA: /ˈsɪðiə/

Etymology

From Latin Scythia < Ancient Greek Σκυθία (Skuthia).

Proper noun

Singular
Scythia

Plural
-

Scythia

  1. A region in eastern Europe and western Asia, often associated with southern Russia. Precise boundaries vary with author.

Related terms

Translations


Latin

Alternative spellings

Etymology

From Ancient Greek Σκυθία (Skuthia).

Proper noun

Scythia

  1. Scythia

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