Scythia (UK: /ˈsɪðiə/, US: /ˈsɪθiə/;[1]) or Scythica (UK: /ˈsɪðikə/, US: /ˈsɪθikə/) was the Graeco-Roman name for a region of Eastern Europe corresponding to the Pontic steppe, which in antiquity was inhabited by the Scythians, who were an ancient Eastern Iranian equestrian nomadic people.

Scythia at its maximum extent.


The names Scythia and Scythica are themselves Latinisations of the Ancient Greek names Skuthia (Σκυθια) and Skuthikē (Σκυθικη), which were themselves derived from the ancient Greek names for the Scythians, Skuthēs (Σκυθης) and Skuthoi (Σκυθοι), derived from the Scythian endonym Skuδatā.[2][3]


Scythia properEdit

The territory of the Scythian kingdom of the Pontic steppe extended from the Don river in the east to the Danube river in the west, and covered the territory of the treeless steppe immediately north of the Black Sea's coastline, which was inhabited by nomadic pastoralists, as well as the fertile black-earth forest-steppe area to the north of the treeless steppe, which was inhabited by an agricultural population,[4][5][6] and the northern border of this Scythian kingdom were the deciduous woodlands, while several rivers, including Don and Dnipro, flowed southwards across this region and emptied themselves into the Black Sea.[7]

Between the 9th and 5th centuries BC, the climate in the steppes was cool and dry, which was a catalyst for the emergence of equestrian nomadic pastoralism in the northern Pontic region. The climate became warmer and wetter during the 5th century BC, which allowed the steppe nomads to move into the steppes proper.[7]

In these favourable climatic conditions grass grew abundantly on the treeless steppe and permitted the nomadic Scythians to rear large herds of cattle and horses. The country which the Greeks named Hylaea (Ancient Greek: Υλαια, romanizedHulaia, lit.'the Woodland'), consisting of the region of the lower Dnipro river along the territory of what is modern-day Kherson and the valleys further north along the river, was covered with forests. Conditions in the southern lands near the shores of the Black Sea were propitious for agriculture.[4][6][8]

Before the arrival of the Scythians, this region of the Pontic Steppe was dominated by the Agathyrsi, who were nomadic Iranian people related to the Scythians. The Scythian migration pushed the Agathyrsi westwards, away from the steppes and from their original home around Lake Maeotis,[9][10] and into the Carpathian region.[11]

Beginning in the late 4th century BC, another related nomadic Iranian people, the Sarmatians, moved from the east into the Pontic steppe, where they replaced the Scythians as the dominant power of the Pontic steppe by the Sarmatians, due to which "Sarmatia Europea" (European Sarmatia) replaced "Scythia" as the name for the region.[12][2][12]

Greater ScythiaEdit

Beginning with the Hellenistic period, the Graeco-Romans also extended the designation "Scythia" to the southern Russian steppes in general,[13] and they also applied it to refer to the whole of the treeless steppe whose western end ranging from the Danubian plains in the west to the Chinese marches in the east.[7][14]

In contemporary modern scholarship, the name "Scythian" generally refers to the nomadic Iranian people who dominated the Pontic steppe from the 7th century BC to the 3rd century BC, and the name "Scythia" is used to describe this region of the Pontic steppe inhabited by the Scythians.[15]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Definition of 'Scythia' | Collins English Dictionary". Archived from the original on 2017-12-01. Retrieved 2017-12-01.
  2. ^ a b Ivantchik 2018.
  3. ^ Novák 2013.
  4. ^ a b Sulimirski 1985, pp. 149–150.
  5. ^ Melyukova 1990, pp. 97–110.
  6. ^ a b Sulimirski & Taylor 1991, p. 577-580.
  7. ^ a b c Sulimirski & Taylor 1991, p. 552.
  8. ^ Sulimirski & Taylor 1991, p. 580-586.
  9. ^ Olbrycht 2000.
  10. ^ Batty 2007, p. 202-203.
  11. ^ Sulimirski & Taylor 1991, p. 554.
  12. ^ a b Batty 2007, p. 204-214.
  13. ^ Sulimirski & Taylor 1991, p. 555.
  14. ^ Melyukova 1990, pp. 98.
  15. ^
    • Dandamayev 1994, p. 37: "In modern scholarship the name 'Sakas' is reserved for the ancient tribes of northern and eastern Central Asia and Eastern Turkestan to distinguish them from the related Massagetae of the Aral region and the Scythians of the Pontic steppes. These tribes spoke Iranian languages, and their chief occupation was nomadic pastoralism."
    • Cernenko 2012, p. 3: "The Scythians lived in the Early Iron Age, and inhabited the northern areas of the Black Sea (Pontic) steppes. Though the 'Scythian period' in the history of Eastern Europe lasted little more than 400 years, from the 7th to the 3rd centuries BC, the impression these horsemen made upon the history of their times was such that a thousand years after they had ceased to exist as a sovereign people, their heartland and the territories which they dominated far beyond it continued to be known as 'greater Scythia'."
    • Melyukova 1990, pp. 97–98: "From the end of the 7th century B.C. to the 4th century B.C. the Central- Eurasian steppes were inhabited by two large groups of kin Iranian-speaking tribes – the Scythians and Sarmatians [...] "[I]t may be confidently stated that from the end of the 7th century to the 3rd century B.C. the Scythians occupied the steppe expanses of the north Black Sea area, from the Don in the east to the Danube in the West."
    • Ivantchik 2018: "Scythians, a nomadic people of Iranian origin who flourished in the steppe lands north of the Black Sea during the 7th–4th centuries BC (Figure 1). For related groups in Central Asia and India, see [...]"
    • Sulimirski 1985, pp. 149–153: "During the first half of the first millennium B.C., c. 3,000 to 2,500 years ago, the southern part of Eastern Europe was occupied mainly by peoples of Iranian stock [...] The main Iranian-speaking peoples of the region at that period were the Scyths and the Sarmatians [...] [T]he population of ancient Scythia was far from being homogeneous, nor were the Scyths themselves a homogeneous people. The country called after them was ruled by their principal tribe, the "Royal Scyths" (Her. iv. 20), who were of Iranian stock and called themselves "Skolotoi" (iv. 6); they were nomads who lived in the steppe east of the Dnieper up to the Don, and in the Crimean steppe [...] The eastern neighbours of the "Royal Scyths," the Sauromatians, were also Iranian; their country extended over the steppe east of the Don and the Volga."
    • Sulimirski & Taylor 1991, p. 547: "The name 'Scythian' is met in the classical authors and has been taken to refer to an ethnic group or people, also mentioned in Near Eastern texts, who inhabited the northern Black Sea region."
    • West 2002, pp. 437–440: "Ordinary Greek (and later Latin) usage could designate as Scythian any northern barbarian from the general area of the Eurasian steppe, the virtually treeless corridor of drought-resistant perennial grassland extending from the Danube to Manchuria. Herodotus seeks greater precision, and this essay is focussed on his Scythians, who belong to the North Pontic steppe [...] These true Scyths seems to be those whom he calls Royal Scyths, that is, the group who claimed hegemony [...] apparently warrior-pastoralists. It is generally agreed, from what we know of their names, that these were people of Iranian stock [...]"
    • Jacobson 1995, pp. 36–37: "When we speak of Scythians, we refer to those Scytho-Siberians who inhabited the Kuban Valley, the Taman and Kerch peninsulas, Crimea, the northern and northeastern littoral of the Black Sea, and the steppe and lower forest steppe regions now shared between Ukraine and Russia, from the seventh century down to the first century B.C [...] They almost certainly spoke an Iranian language [...]"
    • Di Cosmo 1999, p. 924: "The first historical steppe nomads, the Scythians, inhabited the steppe north of the Black Sea from about the eight century B.C."
    • Rice, Tamara Talbot. "Central Asian arts: Nomadic cultures". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 4 October 2019. [Saka] gold belt buckles, jewelry, and harness decorations display sheep, griffins, and other animal designs that are similar in style to those used by the Scythians, a nomadic people living in the Kuban basin of the Caucasus region and the western section of the Eurasian plain during the greater part of the 1st millennium bc.


Further readingEdit

External linksEdit