The Scythians (/ˈsɪθiən/ or /ˈsɪðiən/) or Scyths (/ˈsɪθ/, but note Scytho- (/ˈsθʊ/) in composition) and sometimes also referred to as the Pontic Scythians,[3][4] were an ancient Eastern[5] Iranic[6] equestrian nomadic people who had migrated during the 9th to 8th centuries BC from Central Asia to the Pontic Steppe in modern-day Ukraine and Southern Russia, where they remained established from the 7th century BC until the 3rd century BC.

Skuδatā (earlier)[1][2]
Skulatā (later)[1][2]
c. 9th-8th century BCc. 3rd century BC
The maximum extent of the Scythian kingdom in West Asia
The maximum extent of the Scythian kingdom in West Asia
The maximum extent of the Scythian kingdom in the Pontic steppe
The maximum extent of the Scythian kingdom in the Pontic steppe
LocationCentral Asia (9th-7th centuries BC)

West Asia (7th–6th centuries BC)

Pontic Steppe (6th–3rd centuries BC)
CapitalKamianka (from c. 6th century BC - c. 200 BC
Common languagesScythian

Akkadian (in West Asia)
Median (in West Asia)
Phrygian (in West Asia)
Urartian (in West Asia)

Thracian (in Pontic Steppe)
Ancient Greek (in Pontic Steppe)
Proto-Slavic language (in Pontic Steppe)

Maeotian (in Pontic Steppe)
Scythian religion

Ancient Mesopotamian religion (in West Asia)
Urartian religion (in West Asia)
Phrygian religion (in West Asia)
Ancient Iranic religion (in West Asia)

Thracian religion (in Pontic Steppe)

Ancient Greek religion (in Pontic Steppe)
• unknown-679 BC
• 679-c. 658/9 BC
• c. 658/9-625 BC
• c. 513 BC
• c. 430 BC
• c. 420 BC
• c. 360s-339 BC
• c. 310 BC
Dependency of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (from c. 672 to c. 625 BC)
Historical eraIron Age:
Srubnaya culture (earlier)
Scythian culture (later)
• Scythian migration from Central Asia to Caucasian Steppe
c. 9th-8th century BC
• Scythian alliance with the Neo-Assyrian Empire
c. 672 BC
• Scythian conquest of Media
c. 652 BC
• Scythian defeat of Cimmerians
c. 630s BC
• Median revolt against Scythians
c. 625 BC
• Scythian raid in Levant till Egypt
c. 620 BC
c. 614-612 BC
• Expulsion of Scythians from West Asia by Medes
c. 600 BC
513 BC
• War with Macedonia
340-339 BC
• Celtic, Getic, and Germanic invasion of Scythia
c. 4th century BC
• Sarmatian invasion of Scythia
c. 3rd century BC
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Median Empire
Lydian Empire
Scythian kingdom in Crimea
Scythian kingdom on the lower Danube
Kingdom of Pontus
Today part ofUkraine, Russia, Moldova, Romania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Iran

Skilled in mounted warfare,[7] the Scythians replaced the Agathyrsi and the Cimmerians as the dominant power on the western Eurasian Steppe in the 8th century BC.[8] In the 7th century BC, the Scythians crossed the Caucasus Mountains and frequently raided West Asia along with the Cimmerians.[8][9]

After being expelled from West Asia by the Medes, the Scythians retreated back into the Pontic Steppe and were gradually conquered by the Sarmatians.[10] In the late 2nd century BC, the capital of the largely Hellenized Scythians at Scythian Neapolis in the Crimea was captured by Mithridates VI and their territories incorporated into the Bosporan Kingdom.[11]

By the 3rd century AD, the Sarmatians and last remnants of the Scythians were overwhelmed by the Goths, and by the early Middle Ages, the Scythians and the Sarmatians had been largely assimilated and absorbed by early Slavs.[12][13] The Scythians were instrumental in the ethnogenesis of the Ossetians, who are believed to be descended from the Alans.[14]

After the Scythians' disappearance, authors of the ancient, mediaeval, and early modern periods used the name "Scythian" to refer to various populations of the steppes unrelated to them.[15]

The Scythians played an important part in the Silk Road, a vast trade network connecting Greece, Persia, India and China, perhaps contributing to the prosperity of those civilisations.[16] Settled metalworkers made portable decorative objects for the Scythians, forming a history of Scythian metalworking. These objects survive mainly in metal, forming a distinctive Scythian art.[17]



The English name Scythians or Scyths is derived from the Ancient Greek name Skuthēs (Σκυθης) and Skuthoi (Σκυθοι), derived from the Scythian endonym Skuδatā, meaning "archers."[1][18][2][19] Due to a sound change from /δ/ to /l/ in the Scythian language, evolved into the form *Skulatā.[1][2] This designation was recorded in Greek as Skōlotoi (Σκωλοτοι), which, according to Herodotus of Halicarnassus, was the self-designation of the tribe of the Royal Scythians.[19]

The Assyrians rendered the name of the Scythians as Iškuzaya (𒅖𒆪𒍝𒀀𒀀), māt Iškuzaya (𒆳𒅖𒆪𒍝𒀀𒀀), and awīlū Iškuzaya (𒇽𒅖𒆪𒍝𒀀𒀀),[20][21] or ālu Asguzaya (𒌷𒊍𒄖𒍝𒀀𒀀), māt Askuzaya (𒆳𒊍𒆪𒍝𒀀𒀀), and māt Ašguzaya (𒆳𒀾𒄖𒍝𒀀𒀀).[20][22]

The ancient Persians meanwhile called the Scythians "Sakā who live beyond the (Black) Sea" (𐎿𐎣𐎠 𐏐 𐎫𐎹𐎡𐎹 𐏐 𐎱𐎼𐎭𐎼𐎹, romanized: Sakā tayaiy paradraya) in Old Persian and simply Sakā (Ancient Egyptian: 𓋴𓎝𓎡𓈉, romanizedsk; 𓐠𓎼𓈉, romanized: sꜣg) in Ancient Egyptian, from which was derived the Graeco-Roman name Sacae (Ancient Greek: Σακαι; Latin: Sacae).[23][24]

Modern terminology

The Scythians were part of the wider Scytho-Siberian world, stretching across the Eurasian Steppes[19][25] of Kazakhstan, the Russian steppes of the Siberian, Ural, Volga and Southern regions, and eastern Ukraine.[26] In a broader sense, Scythians has also been used to designate all early Eurasian nomads,[25] although the validity of such terminology is controversial,[19] and other terms such as "Early nomadic" have been deemed preferable.[27]

Although the Scythians, Saka and Cimmerians were closely related nomadic Iranic peoples, and the ancient Babylonians, ancient Persians and ancient Greeks respectively used the names "Cimmerian," "Saka," and "Scythian" for all the steppe nomads, and early modern historians such as Edward Gibbon used the term Scythian to refer to a variety of nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples across the Eurasian Steppe,[28] the name "Scythian" in contemporary modern scholarship generally refers to the nomadic Iranic people who dominated the Pontic Steppe from the 7th century BC to the 3rd century BC,[24] while the name "Saka" is used specifically for their eastern members who inhabited the northern and eastern Eurasian Steppe and the Tarim Basin;[24][29][better source needed][30][31] and while the Cimmerians were often described by contemporaries as culturally Scythian, they formed a different tribe from the Scythians proper, to whom the Cimmerians were related, and who also displaced and replaced the Cimmerians in the Pontic Steppe.[32]

The Scythians share several cultural similarities with other populations living to their east, in particular similar weapons, horse gear and Scythian art, which has been referred to as the Scythian triad.[19][27] Cultures sharing these characteristics have often been referred to as Scythian cultures, and its peoples called Scythians.[25][33] Peoples associated with Scythian cultures include not only the Scythians themselves, who were a distinct ethnic group,[34] but also Cimmerians, Massagetae, Saka, Sarmatians and various obscure peoples of the East European Forest Steppe,[19][25] such as early Slavs, Balts and Finnic peoples.[35][36]

Within this broad definition of the term Scythian, the actual Scythians have often been distinguished from other groups through the terms Classical Scythians, Western Scythians, European Scythians or Pontic Scythians.[25] Nevertheless, the archaeologist Maurits Nanning van Loon in 1966 instead used the term Western Scythians to designate the Cimmerians and referred to the Scythians proper as the Eastern Scythians.[37]

Scythologist Askold Ivantchik notes with dismay that the term "Scythian" has been used within both a broad and a narrow context, leading to a good deal of confusion. He reserves the term "Scythian" for the Iranic people dominating the Pontic Steppe from the 7th century BC to the 3rd century BC.[19] Nicola Di Cosmo writes that the broad concept of "Scythian" to describe the early nomadic populations of the Eurasian Steppe is "too broad to be viable," and that the term "early nomadic" is preferable.[27]


Early phase in the western steppes

After migrating out of Central Asia and into the western steppes, the Scythians first settled and established their kingdom in the area between the Araxes, the Caucasus Mountains and the Lake Maeotis.[38][39][40][41][42]

In West Asia

In West Asia, the Scythians initially settled in the area between the Araxes and Kura rivers before further expanding into the region to the south of the Kuros river in what is present-day Azerbaijan, where they settled around what is today Mingəçevir, Gəncə and the Muğan plain, and Transcaucasia remained their centre of operations in West Asia until the early 6th century BC,[43][44][45][42][46][47][48] although this presence in West Asia remained an extension of the Scythian kingdom of the steppes,[19] and the Scythian kings' headquarters were instead located in the Ciscaucasian steppes.[40][41]

During the peak of the Scythians' power in West Asia after they had conquered Media, Mannai and Urartu and defeated the Cimmerians, the Scythian kingdom's possessions in the region consisted of a large area extending from the Halys river in Anatolia in the west to the Caspian Sea and the eastern borders of Media in the east, and from Transcaucasia in the north to the northern borders of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the south.[47][49][50]

In the Pontic steppe

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,[51][42][52] and the northern border of this Scythian kingdom were the dedicuous woodlands, while several rivers, including the Volga, Don, and Dnipro, flowed southwards across this region and emptied themselves into the Black Sea.[53]

In these favourable climatic conditions, the ranges of beavers and elk extended further south than presently, with beavers then being present in the lower Dnipro and lower Southern Buh river valleys, and elk living until the environs of Olbia, and the bones both these animals have been found in kitchen refuse dating from the Scythian period. Thanks to this propitious climate, grass also grew abundantly on the treeless steppe, which 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.[51][52][54]

Little Scythia

After the 3rd century BC, Scythian territory because restricted to two small states, each called "Little Scythia," respectively located in Dobruja and Crimea:

  • in Dobruja, the Scythian kingdom's territory stretched from Tyras or even Pontic Olbia in the north to Odessus in the south;[55]
  • in Crimea, the Scythian kingdom covered a limited a territory which included the steppes and foothills of Crimea until Taurida, the lower Dnieper, and the lower Southern Bug rivers.[42]



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

The Scythians originated in the region of the Volga-Ural steppes of Central Asia, possibly around the 9th century BC,[55] as a section of the population of the Srubnaya culture[42] containing a significant element originating from the Siberian Andronovo culture.[56] The population of the Srubnaya culture was among the first truly nomadic pastoralist groups, who themselves emerged in the Central Asian and Siberian steppes during the 9th century BC as a result of the cold and dry climate then prevailing in these regions.[53]

Continuity between the Scythians and the Srubnaya culture is suggested by archaeological, genetic and anthropological evidence.[57][58][59]

Early history

During the 9th to 8th centuries BC, a significant movement of the nomadic peoples of the Eurasian Steppe started when another nomadic Iranic tribe closely related to the Scythians from eastern Central Asia, either the Massagetae[40] or the Issedones,[60] migrated westwards, forcing the early Scythians to the west across the Araxes river,[61] following which some Scythian tribes had migrated westwards into the steppe adjacent to the shores of the Black Sea, which they occupied along with the Cimmerians, who were also a nomadic Iranic people closely related to the Scythians.[42]

Over the course of the 8th and 7th centuries BC, the Scythians migrated into the Caucasian and Caspian Steppes in several waves, becoming the dominant population of the region,[40] where they assimilated most of the Cimmerians and conquered their territory,[42] with this absorption of the Cimmerians by the Scythians being facilitated by their similar ethnic backgrounds and lifestyles,[62] after which the Scythians settled in the area between the Araxes, the Caucasus and the Lake Maeotis.[61][39][42][40][41]

Archaeologically, the westwards migration of the Early Scythians from Central Asia into the Caspian Steppe constituted the latest of the two to three waves of expansion of the Srubnaya culture to the west of the Volga. The last and third wave corresponding to the Scythian migration has been dated to the 9th century BC.[63]

Materially, the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk culture with which the Cimmerians are associated showed strong influences originating from the east in Central Asia and Siberia (more specifically from the Karasuk, Arzhan, and Altai cultures), as well as from the Kuban culture of the Caucasus which contributed to its development,[40] thus making it difficult to distinguish from the Late Srubnaya culture of the early Scythians who became dominant in the Pontic steppe and replaced the Cimmerians in the Caucasian steppe, with both the Cimmerians and the Scythians being part of the larger Chernagorovsk-Arzhan cultural complex,[64] and both Scythians and the Cimmerians used Novocherkassk objects when the Scythians initially arrived into the Caucasian and Pontic steppes.[62] The transition from the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk culture to the Scythian culture appears to have itself been a continuous process,[64] and the Cimmerians cannot be distinguished from the Scythians during the period of transition from the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk culture to the Scythian culture.[65]

During this early migratory period, some groups of Scythians settled in Ciscaucasia and the Caucasus Mountains' foothills to the east of the Kuban river, where they settled among the native populations of this region, and did not migrate to the south into West Asia.[46]

Arrival into West Asia

Under Scythian pressure, the displaced Cimmerians migrated to the south along the coast of the Black Sea and reached Anatolia, and the Scythians in turn later expanded to the south, following the coast of the Caspian Sea and arrived in the Ciscaucasian steppes, from where they settled in the area between the Araxes and Kura rivers before further expanding into the region to the south of the Kuros river in what is present-day Azerbaijan, where they settled around what is today Mingəçevir, Gəncə and the Muğan plain, and turned eastern Transcaucasia into their centre of operations in West Asia until the early 6th century BC,[43][44][45][42][46][47][48] with this presence in West Asia being an extension of the Scythian kingdom of the steppes.[19]

The earliest Scythians had belonged to the Srubnaya culture, and, archaeologically, the Scythian movement into Transcaucasia is attested in the form of a migration of a section of the Srubnaya culture, called the Srubnaya-Khvalynsk culture, to the south till the northern foothills of the Caucasus Moutains, and then further south along the western coast of the Caspian Sea into Transcaucasia and Iran.[56][42][66]

During this period, the Scythian kings' headquarters were located in the Ciscaucasian steppes, and this presence in Transcaucasia influenced Scythian culture: the akīnakēs sword and socketed bronze arrowheads with three edges, which, although they are considered as typically "Scythian weapons," were in fact of Transcaucasian origin and had been adopted by the Scythians during their stay in the Caucasus.[67][46] Although the Early Scythians initially belonged to a pre-Scythian archaeological culture,[68] their original Srubnaya culture which contained significant admixture from the Andronovo culture evolved into the Scythian culture from coming in contact with the peoples of Transcaucasia and the Urartians,[56] and further contacts with the civilisation of West Asia, and especially with that of Mesopotamia, would also have an important influence on the formation of Scythian culture.[40][41]

Eurasia around 600 BC, showing location of the Scythians and other steppe nations
The Assyrian king Esarhaddon.

Arrival in the Pontic steppe

From their base in the Caucasian Steppe, during the period of the 8th to 7th centuries BC itself, the Scythians conquered the Pontic and Crimean Steppes to the north of the Black Sea up to the Danube river, which formed the western boundary of Scythian territory onwards,[55][40][55][69][70] with this process of Scythian takeover of the Pontic Steppe becoming fully complete by the 7th century BC.[71]

Archaeologically, the expansion of the Scythians into the Pontic Steppe is attested through the westward movement of the Srubnaya-Khvalynsk culture into Ukraine contemporaneous with its movement to the south along the coast of the Caspian Sea. The Srubnaya-Khvalynsk culture in Ukraine is referred to in scholarship as the "Late Srubnaya" culture.[66]

The westward migration of the Scythians was accompanied by the introduction into the north Pontic region of articles originating in the Siberian Karasuk culture, such as distinctive swords and daggers, and which were characteristic of Early Scythian archaeological culture, consisting of cast bronze cauldrons, daggers, swords, and horse harnesses.[41][72]

The Scythian migration into the Pontic Steppe destroyed earlier cultures, with the settlements of the Sabatynivka culture [uk] in the Dnipro valley being largely destroyed around c. 800 BC, and the centre of Cimmerian bronze production stopping existing at the time while the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk culture was disturbed during the 8th to 7th centuries BC. The migration of the Scythians affected the steppe and forest steppe areas of south-east Europe and forced several other populations of the region, especially many smaller groups, to migrate towards more remote regions,[55] including some North Caucasian groups who retreated to the west and settled in Transylvania and the Hungarian Plain where they introduced Novocherkassk culture type swords, daggers, horse harnesses, and other objects:[73] among these displaced smaller populations from the Caucasus were the Sigynnae, who were displaced westward into the eastern part of the Pannonian Basin.[74][75][40]

Among the many peoples displaced by the Scythian expansion were also the Gelonians and the Agathyrsi, the latter of whom were another nomadic Iranic people related to the Scythians as well as one of the oldest Iranic population[76] to have dominated the Pontic Steppe. The Agathyrsi were pushed westwards by the Scythians, away from the steppes and from their original home around Lake Maeotis,[40][76] after which the relations between the two populations remained hostile.[40] Within the Pontic steppe, some of the Scythian tribes intermarried with the already present native sedentary Thracian populations to form new tribes such as the Nomadic Scythians and the Alazones.[63]

In many parts of the north Pontic region under their rule, the Scythians established themselves as a ruling class over already present sedentary populations, including Thracians in the western regions, Maeotians on the eastern shore of Lake Maeotis, and later the Greeks on the north coast of the Black Sea.[19][77]

Between 650 and 625 BC, the Pontic Scythians came into contact with the Greeks, who were starting to create colonies in the areas under Scythian rule, including on the island of Borysthenes, near Taganrog on Lake Maeotis, as well as more places, including Panticapaeum, Pontic Olbia, and Phanagoria and Hermonassa on the Taman peninsula; the Greeks carried out thriving commercial ties with the sedentary peoples of the forest steppe who lived to the north of the Scythians, with the large rivers of eastern Europe which flowed into the Black Sea forming the main access routes to these northern markets. This process put the Scythians into permanent contact with the Greeks, and the relations between the latter and the Greek colonies remained peaceful, although the Scythians might have destroyed Panticapaeum at some point in the middle of the 6th century BC.[19][78] The territory around Pontic Olbia was under the direct rule of that city and was inhabited only by Greeks.[54]

Using the Pontic steppe as their base, the Scythians over the course of the 7th to 6th centuries BC often raided into the adjacent regions, with Central Europe being a frequent target of their raids, and Scythian incursions reaching Podolia, Transylvania, and the Hungarian Plain, due to which, beginning in this period, and from the end of the 7th century onwards, new objects, including weapons and horse-equipment, originating from the steppes and remains associated with the early Scythians started appearing within Central Europe, especially in the Thracian and Hungarian plains, and in the regions corresponding to present-day Bessarabia, Transylvania, Hungary, and Slovakia. Multiple fortified settlements of the Lusatian culture were destroyed by Scythian attacks during this period, with the Scythian onslaught causing the destruction of the Lusatian culture itself. Attacks by the Scythians were directed at southern Germania, and, from there, until as far as Gaul, and possibly even the Iberian Peninsula; these activities of the Scythians were not unlike those of the Huns and the Avars during the Migration Period and of the Mongols in the mediaeval era, and they were recorded in Etruscan bronze figurines depicting mounted Scythian archers as well as in Scythian influences in Celtic art.[40][55][79]

As part of the Scythians' expansion into Europe, one section of the Scythian Sindi tribe migrated during the 7th to 6th centuries BC from the region of the Lake Maeotis towards the west, through Transylvania into the eastern Pannonian basin, where they settled alongside the Sigynnae and soon lost contact with the Scythians of the Pontic steppe.[40][79] Another section of the Sindi established themselves on the Taman peninsula, where they formed a ruling class over the indigenous Maeotians, the latter of whom were of native Caucasian origin.[41][78]

Presence in West Asia

Gold Scythian belt title, Mingəçevir (ancient Scythian kingdom), Azerbaijan, 7th-4th century BC.[80][81]

During the earliest phase of their presence in West Asia, the Scythians under their king Išpakaia were allied with the Cimmerians,[42] and the two groups, in alliance with the Medes, who were an Iranic people of West Asia to whom the Scythians and Cimmerians were distantly related, as well as the Mannaeans, were threatening the eastern frontier of the kingdom of Urartu during the reign of its king Argishti II, who reigned from 714 to 680 BC.[82] due to which Argishti II's successor, Rusa II, built several fortresses in the east of Urartu's territory, including that of Teishebaini, to monitor and repel attacks by the Cimmerians, the Mannaeans, the Medes, and the Scythians.[83]

The first mention of the Scythians in the records of the then superpower of West Asia, the Neo-Assyrian Empire, is from between 680/679 and 678/677 BC,[19] when their king Išpakaia joined an alliance with the Mannaeans[84] and the Cimmerians in an attack on the Neo-Assyrian Empire. During this time, the Scythians under Išpakaia, allied to Rusa II of Urartu, were raiding far in the south till the Assyrian province of Zamua. These allied forces were defeated by the Assyrian king Esarhaddon.[85][45]

The Mannaeans, in alliance with an eastern group of the Cimmerians who had migrated into the Iranic plateau and with the Scythians (the latter of whom attacked the borderlands of Assyria from across the territory of the kingdom of Ḫubuškia), were able to expand their territories at the expense of Assyria and capture the fortresses of Šarru-iqbi and Dūr-Ellil. Negotiations between the Assyrians and the Cimmerians appeared to have followed, according to which the Cimmerians promised not to interfere in the relations between Assyria and Mannai, although a Babylonian diviner in Assyrian service warned Esarhaddon not to trust either the Mannaeans or the Cimmerians and advised him to spy on both of them.[45] In 676 BC, Esarhaddon responded by carrying out a military campaign against Mannai during which he killed Išpakaia.[45] Išpakaia was succeeded by Bartatua, who might have been his son.[85]

In the later mid-670s BC, in alliance with the eastern Cimmerians, the Scythians were menacing the Assyrian provinces of Parsumaš and Bīt Ḫamban, and these joint Cimmerian-Scythian forces together were threatening communication between the Assyrian Empire and its vassal of Ḫubuškia.[86] The Mannaeans, eastern Cimmerians and Medes soon joined a grand coalition headed by the Median chieftain Kashtariti.[87]

Bartatua and the alliance with Assyria

Išpakaia was succeeded by Bartatua, who might have been his son,[85] and with whom they had already started negotiations immediately after Išpakaia's death[45] and they had been able to defeat Kashtariti in the meantime in 674 BC, after which his coalition disintegrated.[85]

In 672 BC[19] Bartatua himself sought a rapprochement with the Assyrians and asked for the hand of Esarhaddon's daughter Šērūʾa-ēṭirat in marriage, which is attested in Esarhaddon's questions to the oracle of the Sun-god Šamaš. Whether this marriage did happen is not recorded in the Assyrian texts, but the close alliance between the Scythians and Assyria under the reigns of Bartatua and his son and successor Madyes suggests that the Assyrian priests did approve of this marriage between a daughter of an Assyrian king and a nomadic lord, which had never happened before in Assyrian history; thus, the Scythians were separated from the Medes and were brought into a marital alliance with Assyria, and Šērūʾa-ēṭirat was likely the mother of Bartatua's son Madyes.[42][85][83][45][88][89]

Bartatua's marriage to Šērūʾa-ēṭirat required that he would pledge allegiance to Assyria as a vassal, and in accordance to Assyrian law, the territories ruled by him would be his fief granted by the Assyrian king, which made the Scythian presence in West Asia a nominal extension of the Neo-Assyrian Empire and Bartatua himself an Assyrian viceroy. Under this arrangement, the power of the Scythians in West Asia heavily depended on their cooperation with the Assyrian Empire; henceforth, the Scythians remained allies of the Assyrian Empire,[41] with Bartatua helping the Assyrians by defeating the state of Mannai and imposing Scythian hegemony over it.[90] Around this time, the Urartian king Rusa II might also have enlisted Scythian troops to guard his western borderlands.[83]

The marital alliance between the Scythian king and the Assyrian ruling dynasty, as well as the proximity of the Scythians with the Assyrian-influenced Mannai and Urartu, thus placed the Scythians under the strong influence of Assyrian culture,[41] and contact with the civilisation of West Asia would have an important influence on the formation of Scythian culture.[40] Among the concepts initially foreign to the Scythians which they had adopted from the Mesopotamian and Transcaucasian peoples was that of the divine origin of royal power, as well as the practice of performing human sacrifices during royal funerals, and the Scythian kings henceforth imitated the style of rulership of the West Asian kings.[91][42]

West Asian influence on Scythians

The Scythians adopted many elements of the cultures of the populations of Urartu and Transcaucasia, especially of more effective weapons: the akīnakēs sword and socketed bronze arrowheads with three edges, which, although they are considered as typically "Scythian weapons," were in fact of Transcaucasian origin and had been adopted by the Scythians during their stay in the Caucasus.[67][46]

The art typical of the Scythians proper originated between 650 and 600 BC for the needs of the Royal Scythians at the time when they ruled over large swathes of West Asia, with the objects of the Ziwiye hoard being the first example of this art. Later examples of this West Asian-influenced art from the 6th century BC were found in western Ciscaucasia, as well as in the Melhuniv kurhan [uk] in what is presently Ukraine and in the Witaszkowo kurgan [pl] in what is modern-day Poland. This art style was initially restricted to the Scythian upper classes, and the Scythian lower classes in both West Asia and the Pontic steppe had not yet adopted it, with the latter group's bone cheek-pieces and bronze buckles being plain and without decorations, while the Pontic groups were still using Srubnaya- and Andronovo-type geometric patterns.[92]

Within the Scythian religion, the goddess Artimpasa and the Snake-Legged Goddess were significantly influenced by the Mesopotamian and Syro-Canaanite religions, and respectively absorbed elements from Astarte-Ishtar-Aphrodite for Artimpasa and from Atargatis-Derceto for the Snake-Legged Goddess.[93]

Conquest of Mannai
The Assyrian king Ashurbanipal.

Over the course of 660 to 659 BC, Esarhaddon's son and successor to the Assyrian throne, Ashurbanipal, sent his general Nabû-šar-uṣur to carry out a military campaign against Mannai. After trying in vain to stop the Assyrian advance, the Mannaean king Aḫsēri was overthrown by a popular rebellion and was killed along with most of his dynasty by the revolting populace, after which his surviving son Ualli requested help from Assyria, which was provided through the intermediary of Ashurbanipal's relative, the Scythian king Bartatua, after which the Scythians extended their hegemony to Mannai itself.[90][85]

Around this same time, Bartatua's Scythians were also able to take over a significant section of the south-eastern territories of the state of Urartu.[85]


Bartatua was succeeded by his son with Šērūʾa-ēṭirat, Madyes, who soon expanded the Scythian hegemony to the state of Urartu.[94][42][41]

Conquest of Media

When, following a period of Assyrian decline over the course of the 650s BC, Esarhaddon's other son, Šamaš-šuma-ukin, who had succeeded him as the king of Babylon, revolted against his brother Ashurbanipal in 652 BC, the Medes supported him, and Madyes helped Ashurbanipal suppress the revolt externally by invading the Medes. The Median king Phraortes was killed in battle, either against the Assyrians or against Madyes himself, who then imposed Scythian hegemony over the Medes for twenty-eight years on behalf of the Assyrians, thus starting a period which Greek authors called called the “Scythian rule over Asia,”[94][47][42][41] with Media, Mannai and Urartu all continuing to exist as kingdoms under Scythian suzerainty.[94]

During this period, the Medes adopted Scythian archery techniques and equipment due to their superiority over those of the West Asian peoples,[45] and the trade of silk to western Eurasia might have started at this time through the intermediary of the Scythians during their stay in West Asia, with the earliest presence of silk in this part of the world having been found in an Urartian fortress, presumably imported from China through the intermediary of the Scythians.[83]

An Assyrian relief depicting Cimmerian mounted warriors.
Lycian charioteer warriors.
A Thracian mounted warrior followed by a warrior on foot.
Defeat of the Cimmerians

During the 7th century BC, the bulk of Cimmerians were operating in Anatolia, where they constituted a threat against the Scythians’ Assyrian allies, who since 669 BC were ruled by Madyes’s uncle, that is Esarhaddon’s son and Šērūʾa-ēṭirat’s brother, Ashurbanipal. Assyrian records in 657 BC might have referred to a threat against or a conquest of the western possessions of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in Syria,[95][96] and these Cimmerian aggressions worried Ashurbanipal about the security of his empire’s north-west border.[97]

By 657 BC the Assyrian divinatory records were calling the Cimmerian king Tugdammi by the title of šar-kiššati ("King of the Universe"), which could normally belong only to the Neo-Assyrian King: thus, Tugdammi’s successes against Assyria meant that he had become recognised in ancient West Asia as equally powerful as Ashurbanipal, and the kingship over the Universe, which rightfully belonged to the Assyrian king, had been usurped by the Cimmerians and had to be won back by Assyria. This situation continued throughout the rest of the 650s BC and the early 640s BC.[95]

A relief depicting mounted Lydian warriors on slab of marble from a tomb.

In 644 BC, the Cimmerians, led by Tugdammi, attacked the kingdom of Lydia, defeated the Lydians and captured the Lydian capital, Sardis; the Lydian king Gyges died during this attack.[98][97][99] After sacking Sardis, Tugdammi led the Cimmerians into invading the Greek city-states of Ionia and Aeolis on the western coast of Anatolia.[95]

After this attack on Lydia and the Asian Greek cities, around 640 BC the Cimmerians moved to Cilicia on the north-west border of the Neo-Assyrian empire, where, after Tugdammi faced a revolt against himself, he allied with Assyria and acknowledged Assyrian overlordship, and sent tribute to Ashurbanipal, to whom he swore an oath. Tugdammi soon broke this oath and attacked the Neo-Assyrian Empire again, but he fell ill and died in 640 BC, and was succeeded by his son Sandakšatru.[98][97]

In 637 BC, the Thracian Treres tribe who had migrated across the Thracian Bosporus and invaded Anatolia,[100] under their king Kōbos and in alliance with Sandakšatru’s Cimmerians and the Lycians, attacked Lydia during the seventh year of the reign of Gyges’s son Ardys.[98] They defeated the Lydians and captured their capital of Sardis except for its citadel, and Ardys might have been killed in this attack.[101] Ardys's son and successor, Sadyattes, might possibly also have been killed in another Cimmerian attack on Lydia in 635 BC.[101]

Soon after 635 BC, with Assyrian approval[102] and in alliance with the Lydians,[103] the Scythians under Madyes entered Anatolia, expelled the Treres from Asia Minor, and defeated the Cimmerians so that they no longer constituted a threat again, following which the Scythians extended their domination to Central Anatolia.[47][98]

This final defeat of the Cimmerians was carried out by the joint forces of Madyes, whom Strabo credits with expelling the Treres and Cimmerians from Asia Minor, and of the son of Sadyattes and the great-grandson of Gyges, the Lydian king Alyattes, whom Herodotus of Halicarnassus and Polyaenus claim finally defeated the Cimmerians.[95][104] In Polyaenus' account of the defeat of the Cimmerians, he claimed that Alyattes used "war dogs" to expel them from Asia Minor, with the term "war dogs" being a Greek folkloric reinterpretation of young Scythian warriors who, following the Indo-European passage rite of the kóryos, would ritually take on the role of wolf- or dog-warriors.[105]

Scythian power in West Asia thus reached its peak under Madyes, with the territories ruled by the Scythians extending from the Halys river in Anatolia in the west to the Caspian Sea and the eastern borders of Media in the east, and from Transcaucasia in the north to the northern borders of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the south.[49][47][50]

The Median king Cyaxares.

A Scythian group might have left Media and migrated into the region between the Don and Volga rivers, near the Sea of Azov in the North Caucasus, during this period in the 7th century BC, after which they merged with Maeotians who had a matriarchal culture and formed the Sauromatian tribe.[40]


Revolt of Media

By the 620s BC, the Neo-Assyrian Empire began unravelling after the death of Ashurbanipal in 631 BC: in addition to internal instability within Assyria itself, Babylon revolted against the Assyrians in 626 BC under the leadership of Nabopolassar;[90] and the next year, in 625 BC, Cyaxares, the son of Phraortes and his successor to the Median kingship, overthrew the Scythian yoke over the Medes by inviting the Scythian rulers to a banquet and then murdering them all, including Madyes, after getting them drunk.[106][107][108][42][85]

The pharaoh Psamtik I.
Raid till Egypt

Shortly after Madyes’s assassination, some time between 623 and 616 BC, the Scythians took advantage of the power vacuum created by the crumbling of the power of their former Assyrian allies and overran the Levant.[19][109]

This Scythian raid into the Levant reached as far south as Palestine, and was foretold by the Judahite prophets Jeremiah and Zephaniah as a pending "disaster from the north," which they believed would result in the destruction of Jerusalem,[85] but Jeremiah was discredited and in consequence temporarily stopped prophetising and lost favour with the Judahite king Josiah when the Scythian raid did not affect Jerusalem and or Judah.[85][110]

The Scythian expedition instead reached up to the borders of Egypt, where their advance was stopped by the marshes of the Nile Delta,[19][109] after which the pharaoh Psamtik I met them and convinced them to turn back by offering them gifts.[47][111]

The Scythians retreated by passing through the Philistine city of Ascalon largely without any incident, although some stragglers looted the temple of ʿAštart in the city,[112] which was considered to be the most ancient of all temples to that goddess, as a result of which the perpetrators of this sacrilege and their descendants were allegedly cursed by ʿAštart with a “female disease,” due to which they became a class of transvestite diviners called the Anarya (meaning “unmanly” in Scythian[19]).[47]

War against Assyria

According to Babylonian records, around 615 BC the Scythians were operating as allies of Cyaxares and the Medes in their war against Assyria, with the Scythians' abandonment of their alliance with Assyria to instead side with the Babylonians and the Medes being a critical factor in worsening the position of the Neo-Assyrian Empire,[113] and the Scythians participated in the Medo-Babylonian conquests of Aššur in 614 BC, Nineveh in 612 BC, and Ḫarran in 610 BC, which permanently destroyed the Neo-Assyrian Empire.[114][49][107]

Expulsion from West Asia

The rise of the Medes and their empire allowed them to finally expel the Scythians from West Asia in the c. 600s BC,[115] after which, beginning in the later 7th and lasting throughout much of the 6th century BC, the majority of the Scythians migrated from Ciscaucasia into the Pontic Steppe, which became the centre of Scythian power.[91][85][40]

The inroads of the Cimmerians and the Scythians into West Asia over the course of the 8th to 6th centuries BC had destabilised the political balance which had prevailed in the region between the states of Assyria, Urartu, Mannaea and Elam on one side and the mountaineer and tribal peoples on the other, resulting in the destruction of these former kingdoms and their replacement by new powers, including the kingdoms of the Medes and of the Lydians.[45]

Some splinter Scythian groups nevertheless remained in West Asia, in the southeast Caucasus, and settled in Transcaucasia, especially the area corresponding to modern-day Azerbaijan[40] in eastern Transcaucasia,[41] due to which the area where they lived, and which corresponded to the core regions of the former West Asian Scythian realm, was called Sakašayana, meaning "land inhabited by the Saka (i.e. Scythians)," by the Medes after they had annexed this region to their empire.[116] The Median name for this territory was later recorded by Titus Livius under the form of Sacassani, and as Sakasēnē by Ptolemy, while the country was called the “Land of the Skythēnoi” by Xenophon.[46]

One such splinter group joined the Medes and participated in the Median conquest of Urartu, with Scythian arrowheads having been found in the destruction layers of the Urartian fortresses of Argištiḫinili and Teišebani, which were conquered by the Medes around c. 600 BC.[117][85] One group formed a kingdom in what is now Azerbaijan under Median overlordship, but eventually hostilities broke out between some of them and Cyaxares, due to which they left Transcaucasia and fled to Lydia.[118]

By the middle of the 6th century BC, the Scythians who had remained in West Asia had completely assimilated culturally and politically into Median society and no longer existed as a distinct group.[119]

Meanwhile, other Transcaucasian Scythian splinter groups later retreated northwards to join the West Asian Scythians who had already previously moved into the Kuban Steppe.[46]

Pontic Scythian kingdom

Early phase

Red-figured amphora with a Scythian warrior, 480-470 BC, from Athens

After their expulsion from West Asia, and beginning in the later 7th and lasting throughout much of the 6th century BC, the majority of the Scythians, including the Royal Scythians, migrated into the Kuban Steppe in Ciscaucasia around 600 BC,[78] and from Ciscaucasia into the Pontic Steppe, which became the centre of Scythian power,[40] Although Herodotus of Halicarnassus claimed that the Scythians retreated into the northern Pontic region through Crimea, archaeological evidence instead suggests that the Royal Scythians migrated northwards into western Ciscaucasia,[120] and from there into the country of those Scythians who had previously established themselves in the Pontic steppe.[78][42]

Some of the Scythian groups who had settled in the eastern Pontic steppe to the east of the Dnipro river were displaced by the arrival of the Royal Scythians from West Asia, and they moved north into the region of the forest-steppe zone,[121] outside of the Pontic Scythian kingdom itself. These groups formed the tribes of the Androphagi, Budini, and Melanchlaeni.[120]

During this early phase of the Pontic Scythian kingdom, the hold of the Royal Scythians on the western part of the steppe located to the west of the Dnipro was light, and they were largely satisfied with the tribute they levied on the sedentary agriculturist population of the region. Meanwhile, the tribe of the Aroteres, which consisted of a settled Thracian population over which ruled an Iranic Scythian ruling class, imported Greek pottery, jewellery and weapons in exchange of agricultural products, and in turn offered them in tribute to their Scythian overlords.[122][54] However, the country of the Alazones tribe appears to have become poorer during this time, in the early 6th century BC, when many of the rebuilt pre-Scythian settlements in their territory were destroyed by the Royal Scythians arriving from West Asia.[52]

In Crimea, the Royal Scythians took over most of the territory up to the Cimmerian Bosporus in the east.[123] In western Ciscaucasia, where the Scythians were not large in number enough to spread throughout the region, they instead took over the steppe to the south of the Kuban river's middle course, where they reared large herds of horses.[78]

During this period, the tribe of the Royal Scythians would primarily bury their dead at the edges of the territories they occupied, especially in the western Cisaucasian region, instead of within the steppe region that was the centre of their kingdom; due to this, several Scythian kurgan nekropoleis were located in Ciscaucasia, with some of them being significantly wealthy and belonging to aristocrats or royalty, and the Royal Scythians' burials in the Kuban Steppe were the most lavish of all Scythian funerary monuments during the Early Scythian period.[124][19] [78] During the early 6th century BC, the some groups of Transcaucasian Scythians migrating northwards would arrive into the Pontic Steppe to reinforce the Royal Scythians who had already arrived there.[78]

Meanwhile, the Median, Lydian, Egyptian, and Neo-Babylonian empires that the Scythians had interacted with during their stay in West Asia were replaced at this time by the Persian Achaemenid Empire founded by the Persian Cyrus II. The Persians were an Iranic people just like the Scythians and the Medes, and, during the early phase of the Achaemenid empire, their society still preserved many archaic Iranic aspects which they had in common with the Scythians.[125] The formation of the Achaemenid empire appears to have pressured the Scythians into remaining to the north of the Black Sea.[115]

Soon after, during the Early Scythian period itself, the centre of power of the Royal Scythians shifted from the eastern Pontic steppe to the north-west, in the country of the Aroteres tribe, where was located the main industrial centre of Scythia:[122] and which corresponded to the country of Gerrhos, which was located in the eastern part of the country of the Aroteres, on the boundary of the steppe and the forest-steppe. During this period, the Royal Scythians buried their dead in the country of Gerrhos.[126]

At this time, there were close links between the new political centre of Scythia in Gerrhos and the Greek colony of Pontic Olbia, and members of the royal family often visited this city.[127]

During this period, the Scythians were ruled by a succession of kings whose names were recorded by Herodotus of Halicarnassus:[19]

At the time of Idanthyrsus, and possibly later, the Scythians were ruled by a triple monarchy, with Skōpasis and Taxakis ruling alongside Idanthyrsus.[19]

Scopasis was himself the king of the Sauromatians, who maintained peaceful relations with the Scythians, with a long road starting in Scythia and continuing towards the eastern regions of Asia existing thanks to these friendly relations.[128]

The Persian invasion

Persian soldiers (left) fighting against Scythians. Cylinder seal impression.[129]

In 513 BC, the king Darius I of the Persian Achaemenid Empire carried out a campaign against the Pontic Scythians. In, the Scythian king Idanthyrsus summoned the kings of the peoples surrounding his kingdom to a meeting to decide how to deal with the Persian invasion. The kings of the Budini, Gelonians and Sarmatians accepted to help the Scythians against the Persian attack, while the kings of the Agathyrsi, Androphagi, Melanchlaeni, Neuri, and Tauri refused to support the Scythians.[130]

When the armies of the Scythians fled to the territories of their neighbours in front of the advancing Persian army, the Agathyrsi refused to provide refuge to the Scythians, which forced them to retreat back into their own territory.[131]

Darius's invasion was resisted by Idanthyrsus, Skōpasis and Taxakis, with the Scythians refusing to fight an open battle against the well-organised Achaemenid army, and instead resorting to partisan warfare and goading the Persian army deep into Scythian territory. The Persian army might have crossed the Don river and reached the territory of the Sauromatians, where Darius built fortifications, but resumed their pursuit when the Scythian forces returned. The results of this campaign were also unclear, with the Persian inscriptions themselves referring to the Sakā tayaiy paradraya (the "Saka who dwell beyond the (Black) Sea"), that is to the Scythians, as having been conquered by Darius, while Greek authors instead claimed that Darius's campaign failed and from then onwards developed a tradition of idealising the Scythians as being invincible thanks to their nomadic lifestyle.[132][42][19]

Although the Scythians and the Persians were both Iranic peoples related to each other, the Greeks tended to perceive the Scythians as being "savage" nomads whom they associated with the Thracians, while they saw the Persians as a "civilised" sedentary people whom they associated with the Assyrians and Babylonians. Therefore, the ancient Greeks saw the Persian invasion of Scythia as a clash between "savagery" represented by the Scythians and "civilisation" represented by the Persians.[125]

Early decline

Over the course of the late 6th century BC, the Scythians had progressively lost their territories in the Kuban region to another nomadic Iranic people, the Sauromatians, beginning with the territory to the east of the Laba river, and then the whole Kuban territory. By the end of the 6th century BC, the Scythians had lost their territories in the Kuban Steppe and had been forced to retreat into the Pontic Steppe, except for its westernmost part which included the Taman peninsula, where the Scythian Sindi tribe formed a ruling class over the native Maeotians, due to which this country was named Sindica. By the 5th century BC, Sindica was the only place in the Caucasus where the Scythian culture survived.[78][133]


Arzhan kurgan (8-7th century BC)
Some of the earliest Scythian artefacts in Animal style, Arzhan kurgan, Southern Siberia, dated to 8-7th century BC.

After losing their territories in the Kuban Steppe in the late 6th century BC, the Scythians had being forced to fully retreat into the Pontic Steppe, and the Royal Scythians' centre of power within Scythia shifted to the south, in the region of the bend of the Dnipro, where the site of Kamianka became the principal industrial centre of Scythia, with the sedentary population of the city being largely metal-workers who smelted bog iron ores into iron that was made into tools, simple ornaments and weapons for the agricultural population of the Dnipro valley and of other regions of Scythia, and the city itself was the most prominent supplier of iron and bronze products to the nomadic Scythians; the city of Kamianka also became the capital of the Scythian kings, whose headquarters were located in the further fortified acropolis of the city. At the same time, a wave of Sauromatian nomads from the lower Volga steppe in the east immigrated into Scythia over the course of 550 and 500 BC and were absorbed by the Pontic Scythians with whom they mingled. A large number of settlements in the valleys of the steppe rivers were destroyed as a result of these various migratory movements.[134][135][136][42][41][19]

The retreat of the Scythians from the Kuban Steppe and the arrival of the Sauromatian immigrants into the Pontic steppe over the course of the late 6th to early 5th centuries BC caused significant material changes in the Scythian culture soon after the Persian campaign which are not attributable to a normal evolution of it. Some of the changes were derived from the Sauromatian culture of the Volga steppe, while others originated among the Kuban Scythians, thus resulting in the sudden appearance within the lower Dnipro region of a fully formed Scythian culture with no local forerunners, and which included a notable increase in the number of Scythian funerary monuments.[78][19]

The Scythians underwent tribal unification and political consolidation in reaction to the Persian invasion, and[19] the names of kings who ruled over the Scythians the 5th century BC are known, although it is unknown whether these kings were ruling only the western regions of Scythia located between the Danube and Pontic Olbia or over all the Scythians:[19]

  • Ariapeithes
  • Scyles, the son of Ariapeithes by a Greek woman from Histria
  • Octamasadas, the son of Ariapeithes by the daughter of the Thracian Odrysian king Teres I. Octamasadas deposed Scyles and replaced him on the throne

The Scythians also became more active and aggressive around this time, possibly as a result of the arrival of the new Sauromatian nomadic elements from the east, or out of necessity to resist Persian expansionism. This change manifested itself through the consolidation of the dominant position of the Royal Scythians over the other tribes within Scythia and through the Royal Scythians' hold on the western part of their realm to the west of the Dnipro, where lived the agriculturist populations, becoming heavier and more oppressive, and the Scythians may also have gained access to the Wallachian and Moldavian plains at this time, although Oltenia and parts of Moldavia were instead occupied by the Agathyrsi. Another result of the changes within Scythia during this period was increased Scythian expansionism:[19][55][137] one of the target areas of Scythian expansionism was Thrace, where the Scythians seem to have established a permanent presence to the south of the Danube at an early point, with the Greek cities of Kallatis and Dionysupolis in the area corresponding to the present-day Dobruja both being surrounded by Scythian territory; and, in 496 or 495 BC, the Scythians raided the Thracian territories far to the south of the Danube till the Thracian Chersonese on the Hellespont, as an attempt to secure themselves from Persian encroachment.[42][55][19]

The emergence of the Thracian Odrysian kingdom during the 5th century BC soon blocked the Scythian advances in Thrace, and the Scythians established friendly contacts with the Odrysians, with the Danube river being set as the common border between the two kingdoms, and a daughter of the Odrysian founder king Tērēs I marrying the Scythian king Ariapeithes; these friendly relations also saw the Scythians and Thracians adopting aspects of each other's art and lifestyles.[42][55][19]

However, at some point in the 5th century BC, the Agathyrsian king Spargapeithes treacherously killed the Scythian king Ariapeithes.[130][138]

Scythian comb from Solokha, early 4th century BC

In the north and north-west, Scythian expansionism manifested itself through the destruction of the fortified settlements of the forest steppe and the subjugation of its population.[19]

In the south, the Scythians tried to impose their rule over the Greek colonies on the northern shores of the Black Sea: the Greek settlement of Kremnoi [uk] at Taganrog on the lower reaches of the Don river river, which was the only Greek colony in that area, had already been destroyed by the Scythians between 550 and 525 BC, and, owing to the Scythians' necessity to continue commerce with the Greeks, was replaced by a Scythian settlement at Yelizavetovskaya [ru] which became the principal trade station between the Greeks and the Scythians in this region.[19]

Although the relations between the Scythians and the Greek cities of the northern Pontic region had until then been largely peaceful and the cities previously had no defensive walls and possessed unfortified rural settlements in the area, new hostile relations developed between these two parties, and during the 490s BC fortifications were built in many Pontic Greek cities, whose khōrai were abandoned or destroyed, while burials of men killed by Scythian-type arrowheads appeared in their nekropoleis.[19] Between 450 and 400 BC, Kerkinitis was paying tribute to the Scythians.[19] The Scythians were eventually able to successfully impose their rule over the Greek colonies in the north-western Pontic shores and in western Crimea, including Niconium, Tyras, Pontic Olbia, and Kerkinitis,[55][19][54] and the close relations between Pontic Olbia and the Scythian political centre ended at this time.[127]

The hold of the Scythians over the western part of the Pontic region thus became firmer during the 5th century BC, with the Scythian king Scyles having a residence in the Greek city of Pontic Olbia which he would visit each year, while the city itself experienced a significant influx of Scythian inhabitants during this period, and the presence of coins of Scyles issued at Niconium in the Dnister valley attesting of his control over this latter city. This, in turn, allowed the Scythians to participate in indirect relations with the city of Athens in Greece proper, which had established contacts in Crimea.[55][19] The destruction of the Greek cities' khōrai and rural settlements however also meant that they lost their grain-producing hinterlands, with the result being that the Scythians instituted an economic policy under their control whereby the sedentary peoples of the forest steppe to their north became the primary producers of grain, which was then transported through the Southern Buh and Dnipro rivers to the Greek cities to their south such as Tyras, Niconium and Pontic Olbia, from where the cities exported it to mainland Greece at a profit for themselves.[19]

The Scythians were less successful at conquering the Greek cities in the region of the Cimmerian Bosporus, where, although they were initially able to take over Nymphaeum, the other cities built or strengthened city walls, banded together into an alliance under the leadership of Panticapaeum, and successfully defended themselves, after which they united into the Bosporan Kingdom.[19]

After Scyles, coins minted in Pontic Olbia were minted in the name of Eminakos, who was either a governor of the city for Scyles's brother and successor, Octamasadas, or a successor of Octamasadas. Around the same time, there were inner conflicts within the Scythian kingdom, and a new wave of Sauromatian immigrants arrived into Scythia around c. 400 BC, which destabilised it and ended Scythian military activity against the Greek cities of the Pontic shore. Scythian control of the Greek cities ended sometime between 425 and 400 BC, and the cities started reconstituting their khōrai, and Pontic Olbia regained control over the territory it occupied during the Archaic period and expanded it, while Tyras and Niconium also restored their hinterlands. The Scythians lost control of Nymphaeum, which became part of the Bosporan Kingdom which itself had been expanding its territories in the Asian side of the Cimmerian Bosporus. With the arrival of a new wave of Sauromatian immigrants, the Royal Scythians and their allied tribes moved to the western parts of Scythia and expanded into the areas to the south of the Danube corresponding to modern Bessarabia and Bulgaria, and they established themselves in the Dobruja region. One of the Scythian kings who ruled during the later 5th century BC was buried in a sumptuously furnished kurgan located at Agighiol during the early 4th century BC.[19][139]

Golden Age

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

The Scythian kingdom of the Pontic steppe reached its peak in the 4th century BC, at the same time when the Greek cities of the coast were prospering, and the relations between the two were mostly peaceful; some Scythians had already started becoming sedentary farmers and building fortified and unfortified settlements around the lower reaches of the Dnipro river since the late 5th century BC, and this process intensified throughout the 4th century BC, with the nomadic Scythians settling in multiple villages in the left bank of the Dnister estuary and in small settlements on the lower banks of the Dnipro and of the small steppe rivers which were favourable for agriculture; at the same time, the Scythians sold furs, fish, and grains to the Greeks in exchange of wine, olive oil, and luxury goods,[140] while there was high demand for the Greek colonies' exports such as trade goods, grain, slaves, and fish, due to which the relations between the Pontic and Aegean regions, and most especially with Athens, were thriving; the importation of Greek products by the forest steppe peoples had instead decreased since the 5th century BC, and the Scythians captured territories from them in the area around what is presently Boryspil during this time.[42] Although the Greek cities of the coast extended their territories considerably, this did not infringe on the Scythians, who still possessed abundant pastures and whose settlements were still thriving, with archaeological evidence suggesting that the population of Crimea, most of whom were Scythians, during this time increased by 600%.[55][19]

The rule of the Spartocid dynasty in the Bosporan Kingdom was also favourable for the Scythians under the rules of Leukon I, Spartocus II and Paerisades I, with Leucon employing Scythians in his army, and the Bosporan nobility had contacts with the Scythians, which might have included matrimonial relations between Scythian and Bosporan royalty.[55][19] In the 4th century BC, the Bosporan kingdom became the main supplier of grains to Greece partly because of the Peloponnesian War which was raging in the latter region, which intensified the grains trade between the Scythians and the Greeks, with the Scythians becoming the principal middlemen in the supply of grains to the Bosporan kingdom: while most of the grains that the Scythians sold to the Greeks was produced by the agricultural populations in the northern forest steppe, the Scythians themselves were also trying to produce more grains within Scythia itself, which was a driving force behind the sedentarisation of many of the hitherto nomadic Scythians; the process of Scythian sedentarisation thus was most intense in the regions adjacent to the Bosporan cities in eastern Crimea.[42]

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

The Scythian royalty and aristocracy obtained enormous profits from this grains trade, and this period saw Scythian culture not only thriving, with most known Scythian monuments dating from then, but also rapidly undergoing significant Hellenisation. The city of the Kamianka site remained the political, industrial and commercial capital of Scythian during the 4th and early 3rd centuries BC, during which time the Scythians founded a new settlement at Yelizavetovskaya [ru] which functioned as the main administrative, commercial and industrial centre of the lower Don river and northern Lake Maeotis areas and was also the residence of local Scythian lords. The main burial centre of the Scythians during this period was located in the Nikopol and Zaporizhzhia region on the lower Dnipro, where were located the Solokha, Chortomlyk, Krasnokutsk and Oleksandropil [uk] kurgans. Rich burials, such as, for example, the Chortomlyk mohyla [uk], attest of the wealth acquired from the grains trade by the Scythian aristocracy of the 4th century BC, who were progressively buried with more, relatives, retainers, and grave goods such as gold and silver objects, including Greek-manufactured toreutics and jewellery; the Scythian commoners however did not obtain any revenue from this trade, and luxury items are absent from their burials. Despite the pressure of some smaller and isolated Sarmatian groups in the east, the period remained largely and unusually peaceful and the Scythian hegemony in the Pontic steppe remained undisturbed, with the Scythian nomads continuing to form the bulk of the northern Pontic region's population.[42][55][19]

The most famous Scythian king of the 4th century BC was Ateas, who was the successor and possibly the son of the Scythian king buried at Agighiol, and whose rule started around the 360s BC. By this period, Scythian tribes had already settled permanently on the lands to the south of the Danube, where the people of Ateas lived with their families and their livestock, and possibly in Ludogorie as well, and at this time both Crimea and the Dobruja region started being called "Little Scythia" (Ancient Greek: Μικρα Σκυθια; Latin: Scythia Minor). Although Ateas had united the Scythian tribes under his rule into a rudimentary state and he still ruled over the traditional territories of the Scythian kingdom of the Pontic steppe until at least Crimea, around 350 BC he had also permanently seized some of the lands on the right bank of the Danube from the Thracian Getae, and it appears that he was largely based in the region to the south of the Danube. Under Ateas, the Greek cities to the south of the Danube had also come under Scythian hegemony, including Kallatis, over which he held control and where he probably issued his coins; further attesting of the power that the Scythians held to the south of the Danube in his time, Ateas's main activities which were centred in Thrace and south-west Scythia, such as his wars against the Thracian Triballi and the Dacian Histriani and his threat of conquest against Byzantium, which might be another possible location for where Ateas minted his coins. Ateas initially allied with Philip II of Macedonia, but eventually this alliance fell apart and war broke out between Scythia and Macedonia over the course of 340 to 339 BC, ending with the death of Ateas, at about 90 years old, and the capture of the Scythians' camp and the 20,000 women and children and more than 2,000 pedigree horses living there.[139][42][55][19]

The Scythians appear to have lost some territories on both sides of the Danube due to Ateas's defeat and death, with the Getae moving to the north across the Danube and settling in the lands between the Dnipro and the Prut rivers, although. These changes did not affect Scythian power: the Scythians still continued to nomadise and bury their dead in rich kurgans in the areas to the north-west of the Black Sea between the Dnipro and the Prut; the Scythian capital of the Kamianka site continued to exist as prosperously and extensively as it had before the defeat of Ateas; and the Scythian aristocracy continued burying their dead in barrow tombs which were as sumptuous as those of Ateas's time. In 331 or 330 BC, the Scythians were able to defeat an invasion force of 30,000 men led against them and the Getae by Alexander III's lieutenant Zopyrion and which had managed to attain and besiege Pontic Olbia, with Zopyrion himself getting killed. [55][42][19]

Decline and end

During the end of the 4th century BC, the Scythians were militarily defeated by a king of Macedonia again, this time by Lysimachus in and 313 BC. After this, the Scythians experienced another military defeat when their king Agaros participated in the Bosporan Civil War in 309 BC on the side of Satyros II, son of Paerisades I. After Satyros II was defeated and killed, his son Paerisades fled to Agaros's realm.[40][55][19]

The aftermath of the Scythian conflict with Macedon also coincided with climatic changes and economic crises caused by overgrazed pastures, producing an unfavorable period for the Scythians, and, following their setbacks against the Macedonians, the Scythians came under pressure from the Celts, the Thracian Getae and the Germanic Bastarnae from the west; at this same time, beginning in the late 4th century BC, another related nomadic Iranic people, the Sarmatians, whose smaller, moved from the east into the Pontic steppe, where their more active groups overwhelmed the more numerous, sedentary Scythians, and took over the Scythians' pastures. This deprived the Scythins of their most important resource, causing the collapse of Scythian power and as a consequence Scythian culture suddenly disappeared from the north of the Pontic sea in the early 3rd century BC.[40][55][19]

During the 3rd century BC the Celts and Bastarnae displaced the Balkan Scythians. The Protogenes inscription, written sometime between 220 and 200 BC, records that the Scythians and the Sarmatian Thisamatae and Saudaratae tribes sought shelter from the allied forces of the Celts and the Germanic Sciri. As the result of the Sarmatian, Getic, Celtic, and Germanic encroachments, the Scythian kingdom came to an end and the Scythian kurgans disappeared from the Pontic region,[40][19] replaced as the dominant power of the Pontic steppe by the Sarmatians, while "Sarmatia Europea" (European Sarmatia) replaced "Scythia" as the name for the region.[55]

Little Scythia

Remains of Scythian Neapolis near modern-day Simferopol, Crimea. It served as the capital of the Crimean Scythian kingdom.

Around 200 BC, after their final defeat by the Sarmatian Roxolani, the remnants of the Scythians left their centre at Kamianka and fled to the Scythia Minors in Crimea and in Dobrugea, as well as in nearby regions, their population living in limited, fortified enclaves. The settlements of those Scythians remaining on the Pontic were located in the lower reaches of the Dnieper river. These Scythians were no longer nomadic, having become sedentary, Hellenised farmers, and by the second century BC, these were the only places the Scythians could still be found.[141][19][55]

By 50 to 150 AD, most of the Scythians had been assimilated by the Sarmatians.[19] The remaining Scythians of Crimea, who had mixed with the Tauri and the Sarmatians, were conquered in the 3rd century AD by the Goths and other Germanic tribes who were then migrating from the north into the Pontic steppe, and who destroyed Scythian Neapolis.[142]



The Ancient Greeks included the Scythians in their mythology, with Herodorus of Heraclea making a mythical Scythian named Teutarus being a herdsman who served Amphitryon and taught archery to Heracles. Herodorus also portrayed the Titan Prometheus as a Scythian king, and, by extension, described Prometheus's son Deucalion as a Scythian as well.[143]

The Romans confused the peoples whom they perceived as archetypical "Barbarians," namely the Scythians and the Celts, into a single grouping whom they called the "Celto-Scythians" (Latin: Celtoscythae) and supposedly living from Gaul in the west to the Pontic steppe in the east.[144]

The richness of Scythian burials was already well-known in Antiquity, and, by the time the power of the Scythians came to an end in the 3rd century BC, the robbing of Scythian graves started.[145]

In subsequent centuries, remaining Scythians and Sarmatians were largely assimilated by early Slavs.[13] The Scythians and Sarmatians played an instrumental role in the ethnogenesis of the Ossetians, who are considered direct descendants of the Alans.[14]

The ancient Israelites called the Scythians ʾAškūz (אשכוז), and this name, corrupted to ʾAškənāz (אשכנז), appears in the Hebrew Bible, where ʾAškənāz is closely linked to Gōmer (גֹּמֶר‎), that is to the Cimmerians.[45]

In Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, the name "Scythians" was used in Greco-Roman and Byzantine literature for various groups of nomadic "barbarians" living on the Pontic-Caspian Steppe who were not related to the actual Scythians, such as the Huns, Goths, Ostrogoths, Turkic peoples, Pannonian Avars, Slavs, and Khazars.[15][19] For example, Byzantine sources referred to the Rus' raiders who attacked Constantinople in 860 AD in contemporary accounts as "Tauroscythians" because of their geographical origin, and despite their lack of any ethnic relation to Scythians.[146] Scythian descent claims have been frequent throughout history.

The New Testament includes a single reference to Scythians in Colossians 3:11.[147]

Mediaeval period

The earliest recorded cases of Scythian burials being robbed date from the 15th century BC.[148]

Modern period

During the early modern era, colonial ethnographers used Herodotus's narrative to create an image of the Scythians as a notorious and "savage" people chauvinistically attached to their own customs and opposed to outside influences. Fascinated by this imagery, these ethnographers drew on it to claims populations who were completely unrelated to the Scythians, such as the Irish, Tatars, Mongols, Turks, and Indigenous peoples of the Americas, as being alleged descendants of the Scythians.[149]

In 1718 the Russian Tsar Peter I issued decrees overseeing the collection of "right old and rare" objects to Saint Petersburg in exchange for compensation, and the material thus obtained became the basis of the Saint Petersburg State Hermitage Museum's collection of Scythian gold. This resulted in significant grave robbery of Scythian burials, and, by 1764, most of the Scythian tombs of the Russian Empire had been sacked in consequence.[148]

In the 19th century, Scythian kurgans in Ukraine, Kuban, and Crimea had been looted, so that by the 20th century, more than 85% of Scythian kurgans excavated by archaeologists had already been pillaged.[148]

Culture and society

Kurgan stelae of a Scythian at Khortytsia, Ukraine

Since the Scythians did not have a written language, their non-material culture can only be pieced together through writings by non-Scythian authors, parallels found among other Iranic peoples, and archaeological evidence.[19]

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


The Scythians spoke a language belonging to the Scythian languages, most probably[150] a branch of the Eastern Iranic languages.[5] Whether all the peoples included in the "Scytho-Siberian" archaeological culture spoke languages from this family is uncertain.

The Scythian languages may have formed a dialect continuum: "Scytho-Sarmatian" in the west and "Scytho-Khotanese" or Saka in the east.[151] The Scythian languages were mostly marginalised and assimilated as a consequence of the late antiquity and early Middle Ages Slavic and Turkic expansion. The western (Sarmatian) group of ancient Scythian survived as the medieval language of the Alans and eventually gave rise to the modern Ossetian language.[152]


A gold plaque depicting a Scythian rider with a spear in his right hand, 2nd century BC

The early Scythian tribes were nomadic pastoralists, and their lifestyle and customs were inextricably linked to their nomadic way of life: the Scythians were able to raise large herds of horses, cattle and sheep thanks to the abundance of grass growing in the steppe, while hunting was primarily done for sport and entertainment; the hair from horses was used to make ropes which were used to cut animals from herds, as well as to tether, load, and bridle the Scythians' animals; the Scythians lived in portable tents similar to the yurts and ger of Turkic and Mongolic peoples, whose wall and floors were constituted of felt made from the wool of their sheep, and which were bound together with ropes made from horse hair; among the more nomadic Scythian tribes, the women and children spent their time in wagons where they lived, while the men spent their lives on horseback and were trained as fighters and in archery since an early age. But by the time the Scythians were living in the Pontic Steppe, beginning in the 7th century BC, they had become semi-nomadic and practised both nomadism and farming, although the Scythian tribes living in the steppe zone remained primarily nomadic.[55][51][137][153]

Barry Cunliffe describes the saddle as a 7th century BC Scythian invention. Preserved Scythian saddles consisted of two cushions attached to wooden saddle frames, kept in place by bands and straps. These Scythian saddles were elaborately adorned with wool and appliqué leather. Decorative wooden carvings were covered with gold foil.[154] Scythians did not use stirrups, however Mike Loades notes that the Scythian saddles had four "ingenious" bolsters, one on each corner, which may have been used to stabilize the rider, describing this development as "arguably more significant than the stirrup".[155]

The historical record and archaeological evidence suggest that Scythian women held positions of power and status in their society. Appian's Mithridatic Wars, written in the 2nd century AD, validates the warrior and sovereign status of Scythian women by mentioning "female rulers of Scythia" among the procession of captured kings and generals after Pompey's victory over Mithridates VI. This reference indicates that female rulership was a shared and co-operative tradition in Scythian society. In addition, Herodotus describes Tomyris, a Scythian warrior-queen, defeating Cyrus the Great in battle in the 6th century BC, further suggesting a tradition of female sovereignty. Archaeological excavations have also uncovered evidence of Scythian women holding positions of power. For example, in 1993, excavators found a rich burial site of a Scythian female at Ak-Alakha on the Ukok plateau in the Altai mountains, surrounded by six saddled horses and buried with objects of status. This suggests that she was likely one of the principal elites of her people. Moreover, according to Cunliffe, excavations of Sarmatian and Scythian territories have revealed that a significant number of female warrior burials dating from the 5th to 4th centuries BC have been found, indicating that Scythian women were actively involved in warfare and held high status within their society. Overall, these historical and archaeological records suggest that Scythian women were not only warriors but also held positions of power and influence in their society.[156] [157][158][159]

Recently, evidence confirmed by the full-genomic analysis of a Scythian child's remains found in a coffin made of a larch trunk, which was discovered in Saryg-Bulun in Central Tuva, revealed that the individual, previously thought to be male because it had items that were associated with the belief that Scythian society was male-dominated, was actually female. Along with the leather skirt, the burial also contained a leather headdress painted with red pigment, a coat sewn from jerboa fur, a leather belt with bronze ornaments and buckles, a leather quiver with arrows with painted ornaments on the shafts, a fully-preserved battle pick, and a bow. These items provide valuable insights into the material culture and lifestyle of the Scythians, including their hunting and warfare practices, and their use of animal hides for clothing.[160]

Little is known about Scythian ordinary society, as the archaeological finds mostly represent the Scythian elite, and ancient sources primarily detail their military prowess. However, a comparison of their social structure with recent nomadic peoples suggests an inclination towards social equality. In many societies where women are not granted equal status, they are often expected to dress plainly and unremarkable; this contrasts with Scythian society, women were often buried with elaborate clothing and adornments, suggesting that they had the freedom to express themselves through their appearance as well as suggests a shared appreciation of fashion and luxury goods, with women having equal access to them. [161]

The tribe of the Alazones, who were a population of either Scythian or mixed Thracian and Scythian origin, were sedentary farmers who cultivated wheat, onions, garlic, lentils and millet.[77]

Wine was primarily consumed by the Scythian aristocracy during the earlier phase of their kingdom in the Pontic Steppe, and its consumption became more prevalent among the wealthier members of the populace in the Late Scythian period.[137]


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

The Scythians wore clothing typical of the steppe nomads, which tended to be soft, warm, and close-fitting, made from leather and fur and felts, and decorated with appliquéd and golden ornaments:[153][137]

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

Scythian men and women both wore golden and brazen jewellery: both wore bracelets made of silver or bronze wire and neckrings and torcs made of gold and whose terminals were shaped like animal figures or animal heads; necklaces worn by the Scythians were made of gold and semi-precious stone beads; men wore only one earring. Scythian men also grew their hair long and their beards to significant sizes.[162]

Costume has been regarded as one of the main identifying criteria for Scythians. Women wore a variety of different headdresses, some conical in shape others more like flattened cylinders, also adorned with metal (golden) plaques.[163]

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.[164]

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.[165]

Scythian women used mirrors, and many Scythian women's burials contained Greek-made bronze mirrors. Bronze mirrors made in Pontic Olbia and whose handles were decorated with animal figures such as those of stags, panthers, and rams, were popular during the early Scythian periods.[162]

Social organisation

Scythian society was stratified along class lines, and was composed of a tribal aristocracy and freemen. A rudimentary form of slavery existed in Scythia, and slaves were only used domestically by the Scythians.[42] The class and social differences among the Scythians were reflected in Scythian art, which primarily represented concepts of importance for the aristocracy, but not for the commoner population.[42]

Herodotus of Halicarnassus relates that three main divisions of the Scythians descended from three sons of the Scythian ancestor-god Targitaos:[166]

  • the Auchatae (Ancient Greek: Αυχαται, romanizedAukhatai) descended from Targitaos's eldest son, Lipoxais;
  • the Catiari (Ancient Greek: Κατιαροι, romanizedKatiaroi) and Traspies (Ancient Greek: Τρασπιες, romanizedTraspies) descended from Targitaos's middle son, Arpoxais;
  • the Royal Scythians, also called the Scoloti (Σκωλοτοι) and the Paralatae (Παραλαται), descended from Targitaos's youngest son, Kolaxais.

These three divisions are never mentioned in other works of Herodotus,[167] and they represented the three social classes of Scythian society:[168]

  • the Auchatae were the priestly class;
  • the Catiari and Traspies were the farmer-and-peasant class;
  • the Paralatae were the warrior-aristocracy.

This class structure existed in a hierarchy whereby the farmer-peasant class occupied the lowest social position, the clergy occupied the middle position, and warrior-aristocracy occupied the highest social position and dominated the other two classes,[169] with the Scythian kings belonging to this dominant class.[170]

The Scythians were monarchical, and the Scythians were ruled by tribal kings who held power over their respective tribes and who in turn owed allegiance to the king of the Royal Scythians, with the subject tribes paying tribute to the Royal Scythians and provided servants to the king and the Scythian tribal aristocracy.[42] The power of the king among the Scythians was passed on hereditarily, although it was limited by an assembly of warriors. Royal power among the Scythians was considered as having been divinely ordained: this conception of royal power, which is well documented in the ritual symbols depicted on Late Scythian toreutics, was initially foreign to Scythian culture and originated in West Asia during the period of Scythian presence there in the 7th century BC.[137][171][42]

According to the Scythologist Askold Ivantchik, the Scythians had been ruled by at least three dynasties, including that of Bartatua, that of Spargapeithes, and that of Ariapeithes.[19] The historian and anthropologist Anatoly Khazanov instead suggested that the Scythians had been ruled by the same dynasty from the time of their stay in West Asia until the end of their kingdom in the Pontic Steppe.[172]

By the 4th century BC, the Scythians had become organised into a rudimentary state after the king Ateas united all the Scythian tribes. This early state was itself based on the exploitation of the freemen within its social community.[42]

The tribe of the Aroteres consisted of a large sedentary populace of Thracian origin over which ruled an Iranic Scythian ruling class. These Aroteres were a war-like people who were organised into small territorial units settled in who lived in open undefended settlements and strongholds covering between sixteen and twenty-four hectares, each possessing a large industrial centre, and which each functioned as industrial centres. The earthworks of the Aroteres contained within them kurgan cemeteries, lasting from the 6th to 3rd centuries, that each included up to 400 kurgans where their inhabitants were buried, showing that these sites had dense populations.[122][54]

The Callipidae also consisted of a large settled Thracian population with a Scythian ruling class who were considerably Hellenised. The Callipidae lived in open settlements and earthworks, and cultivated crops including wheat and millet, and also engaged in animal husbandry and fishing at sea. The Callipidae lived in rammed earth houses built on stone foundations, and they buried their dead in flat graves while their Scythian ruling class were buried in kurgans.[54]


Scythian archers using the Scythian bow, Kerch (ancient Panticapeum), Crimea, 4th century BC. The Scythians were skilled archers whose style of archery influenced that of the Persians and subsequently other nations, including the Greeks.[173]
Scythian bronze arrowheads, c700-300 BC

The Scythians were a warlike people. When engaged at war, almost the entire adult population, including a large number of women, participated in battle.[174] The Athenian historian Thucydides noted that no people in either Europe or Asia could resist the Scythians without outside aid.[174]

The main Scythian weapon was the short composite recurve bow. The earliest known "Scythian type" arrowheads were found in the kurgan burial Arzhan-1, dated to the late ninth or early eighth century BC.[175][176][177] These arrowheads typically had either two or three blades and sockets with which to affix the arrowhead to the wooden or reed shaft of the arrow.[178] The combination of the arrowheads' shape and short recurve bow used by the Scythians constituted the most powerful firing weapon of their time, which consequently led to their adoption by ancient West Asian armies during the late 7th century BC.[179] When not used, Scythian bows were carried in a combined quiver-bowcase, made of bark or leather and decorated with golden or bronze plaque, called a gorutos, of which each could contain up to 300 arrows.[67][19]

The akīnakēs sword, which was a 50 to 70 centimetres short iron dagger, which whose haft was richly decorated, and shaft-hole war axes, which are also considered to be "typically Scythian" weapons, were also adopted by the Scythians from the Transcaucasian populations, and more specifically were derived from Georgian Bronze Age weapons. The Scythians also used long swords during their earlier history, and both the akīnakai and the Scythian long swords had heart- or similarly "butterfly"- or "kidney"-shaped cross-guards and bar-shaped terminals. The sagaris battle-pickaxes, which had bronze sockets and iron blades, were among the many types of war axes used by the Scythians. Other Scythian weapons included spears which were between 1.70 and 2.20 metres in length and had a bay leaf-shaped spearhead and sometimes a ferrule at the bottom, as well as lances, darts, lassoes, and slings.[67][19]

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

The Scythians used leather or hide armour, although the aristocracy commonly used scale armour made of scales of iron, bronze, or bone sewn onto leather, which the Scythians had adopted from the West Asian peoples during the 7th century BC and made into a prevalent aspect of the Scythian culture of the northern Pontic region. Sometimes, instead of armour, the Scythians used battle-belts, which were made of scales sewn onto wide strips of either iron sheet, hide, or leather. The Scythians also small hide or wicker shields reinforced with iron strips, with the shields of Scythian aristocrats often being decorated with decorative central plaques. The Scythians sometimes also protected their horses, most especially their chests, with scale armour.[67]

Other defensive armour used by the Scythians included "Kuban"-type cast bronze helmets made by the native Caucasian peoples in the 6th and early 5th centuries BC in western Ciscaucasia, which had openings for the face. By the 5th century BC, these Caucasian helmets had been replaced by Greek-made Attic helmets, and the Scythians also imported Greek-made greaves.[67]

Scythians were particularly known for their equestrian skills, and their early use of composite bows shot from horseback. With great mobility, the Scythians could absorb the attacks of more cumbersome footsoldiers and cavalry, just retreating into the steppes. Such tactics wore down their enemies, making them easier to defeat. The Scythians were notoriously aggressive warriors. Ruled by small numbers of closely allied elites, Scythians had a reputation for their archers, and many gained employment as mercenaries. Scythian elites had kurgan tombs: high barrows heaped over chamber-tombs of larch wood, a deciduous conifer that may have had special significance as a tree of life-renewal, for it stands bare in winter.[180]

The Scythians had several war-related customs:[181]

  • every Scythian warrior would drink the blood of the first enemy they would kill
  • the Scythians would collect the severed heads of their enemies and bring them to their king;
    • the war spoils would be divided among the warriors depending on the number of heads they brought;
    • it was also on the number of severed heads that a warrior had brought to the king that depended the rank of honour given on the warriors at the annual ceremony where the district governors would pour wine into a large vessel for the warriors who had been successful in battle
    • it was considered the worst disgrace possibly by the Scythians to sit to one side due to having killed no enemies;
  • the Scythians would fashion the tops of their enemies' skulls into drinking bowls which were covered in leather, and would be gilded on the inside if they belonged to rich Scythians;
    • this custom was likely derived from the belief that this was a way of absorbing the power of an enemy;
  • the corpses of enemies would be flayed, after which the skin would be tanned, and the warriors would show them off by using them as towels;
  • the heads of enemies were scalped, and the skins were tanned and used as decorative handkerchiefs tied to the bridles of horses.
    • the ancient Greeks associated the practice of scalping so closely with the Scythians that they used the term aposkuthizein (αποσκυθιζειν), literally meaning "to Scythianise away," as name for scalping.

A skull from an Iron Age cemetery in South Siberia shows evidence of scalping. It lends physical evidence to the practice of scalp taking by the Scythians living there.[182]

Some Scythian-Sarmatian cultures may have given rise to Greek stories of Amazons. Graves of armed females have been found in southern Ukraine and Russia. David Anthony notes, "About 20% of Scythian-Sarmatian 'warrior graves' on the lower Don and lower Volga contained females dressed for battle as if they were men, a style that may have inspired the Greek tales about the Amazons."[183]


The religion of the Scythians was a variant of the Pre-Zoroastrian Iranic religion which differed from Zoroastrian and the post-Zoroastrian Iranic religions, and instead belonged to a more archaic stage of Indo-Iranic religious development than the Zoroastrian and Hindu systems.[11] The use of cannabis to induce trance and divination by soothsayers was a characteristic of the Scythian belief system.[11]

Tribal divisions

The Scythians were composed of a number of tribal units, including:[55][77][63][184][42]

  • the Royal Scythians, also called the Skōlotoi (Σκωλοτοι) and the Paralatai (Παραλαται), were an Iranic tribe who nomadised in the Pontic Steppe, in an area limited by the Dnipro river in the west, and the Don river and the port of Kremnoi in the east, as well in Crimea up to the Cimmerian Bosporus in its east. The Royal Scythians were the main Scythian tribe, and they were the ruling tribe of the whole of Scythia.[123] The Royal Scythians and the Nomad Scythians were the only fully nomadic tribes within Scythia.
    • the name Paralatai (Scythian: Paralāta) corresponds to the Young Avestan name Paraδāta (𐬞𐬀𐬭𐬀𐬜𐬁𐬙𐬀‎), meaning “placed at the front.”[185]
    • the name Skōlotoi is the Greek form of the Scythian endonym Skulatā, formed by the addition of the plural suffix -tā to the Scythian endonym Skula[19][2]
  • the Nomad Scythians, who lived to the west of the Royal Scythians, between the Inhul and the bend of the Dnipro, were a mixed Thracian and Iranic Scythian nomadic tribe. The Nomad Scythians and the Royal Scythians were the only fully nomadic tribes in Scythia.
  • the Free Scythians, who were a tribe of mixed Scythian-Sauromatian origin, lived in the southeastern Pontic Steppe, between the port of Kremnoi and the Don or the Donets river.
  • the Alazones (Ancient Greek: Αλαζονες) or Alizōnes (Ancient Greek: Αλιζωνες), who were the westernmost Scythian tribe, were semi-nomads who occupied the steppe between the Inhul and the Dnister around the region where the Dnister and the Southern Buh flow the closest to each other. The Alazones led semi-nomadic lives, with those of them who lived in the steppe being pastoral nomads and those who lived in the valleys of the Southern Buh and nearby rivers being farmers who cultivated wheat, onions, garlic, lentils and millet. The Alazones were the southern neighbours of the Aroteres and, like them, might have been of mixed Thracian and Iranic origins. The Alazones were themselves in turn the northern neighbours of the Callipidae.
  • the Scythian Ploughmen or Arotēres (Ancient Greek: Αροτηρες) or Gerrhoi (Ancient Greek: Γερροι),[126] who were the northern neighbours of the Alazones, were sedentary agriculturists who lived in a region with fertile black earth corresponding to the modern-day part of Ukraine which lies to the west of the Dnipro river until the region of Vinnytsia. Their neighbours to the north were the Baltic Neuri, and to the south were the Alazones.
    • The Aroteres were a Thracian or Proto-Slavic population of Scythia who descended from the Late Bronze Age Sabatynivka Culture, over whom had established themselves an Iranic ruling class during the late 2nd millennium BC, and who later came under the rule of the Scythians during the 6th century BC.
  • the Callipidae (Ancient Greek: Καλλιπιδαι, romanizedKallipidai) were a semi-nomadic population of Thracian origin who lived across a wide section of land adjacent to the shores of the Black sea ranging from the estuary of the Southern Buh river to the area of modern-day Odesa or even until the estuary of the Dnister. The western neighbours of the Callipadae across the Dnister river were Thracian tribe of the Getae in Bessarabia, while Thracian populations under Scythian rule lived on the coast. Their northern neighbours were the Alazones.
  • the Scythians Agriculturalists or Geōrgoi (Ancient Greek: Γεωργοι) were another population of Thracian origin. The Scythian Agriculturalists lived in the valley of the lower Dnipro river, in the wooded country of Hylaea, and they may have been sedendaty or semi-nomadic.
  • a tribe not named by the Greek authors lived on the north-west shore of Lake Maeotis, and corresponded to the archaeological "Obytichna 12 type" settlements.

The Royal Scythians were the dominant tribe within Scythia to whom all the other tribes were subjects, with the various tribes being each led by their own lords who were all subservient to the lord of the Royal Scythians, who was the Scythian king.[42]

There were few differences between the many Scythian tribes and tribal groupings in the early period of the Pontic Scythian kingdom, which later became more pronounced as these eventually conquered various native populations.[186]

Neighbouring populations

The neighbours of the Scythians included:[77][42]

  • the Thracian Getae, who lived to the west of Scythia, across the Danube river.
  • the Melanchlaeni and the Androphagi, who lived to the east of the middle Dnipro river, in the forest steppe bordering the territory of the Royal Scythians to the north. These populations were either of Scythic or of mixed Scythic and native origin.
  • the Sauromatians, who lived to the east of the Scythians, in the steppe between the Don and the Volga, were another Scythic people. They were the immediate neighbours of the Royal Scythians to the east, across the Don river.
  • the Neuri, who were a Baltic population of the region of the forest steppe corresponding to modern-day Belarus, lived to the north of the Aroteres. They corresponded to the Milograd culture.
  • the Agathyrsi lived to the west of the Aroteres and of the Neuri.
  • the Budini, to the east of the Neuroi and to the north of the Sauromatians, were one of the many Finno-Ugric populations living in the eastern forest steppe until the Ural Mountains.
  • the Gelonians, to the north of the Sauromatians.
  • the Maeotians lived on the eastern coast of Lake Maeotis.
  • the Tauri lived in the Crimean Mountains.

In addition to the Scythians themselves, the population of the Pontic Scythian kingdom consisted of Greeks living in colonies on the northern shore of the Black Sea, and of Thracians who had inhabited the region since the Bronze Age.[77]

Related populations

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


Though a predominantly nomadic people for much of their history, the Scythians were skilled metalworkers. Knowledge of bronze working was present when the Scythian people formed, by the 8th century BC Scythian mercenaries fighting in the Near East had begun to spread knowledge of iron working to their homeland. Archeological sites attributed to the Scythians have been found to contain the remnants of workshops, slag piles, and discarded tools, all of which imply some Scythian settlements were the site of organized industry.[187][188]

Scythian bronze-working products included large bronze semi-spheric cauldrons with truncated cones as their stands. These were decorated in cast and had either two or four animal-shaped handles on their rims. Such cauldrons were placed in burials along with deceased individuals, containing within them remains of horse and mutton bones, which were remnants of food for the deceased in the afterlife. Also manufactured by this bronze industry were socketed bronze finials which were placed at the top of poles and decorated with various animal figures.[189]

The centre of early Scythian industry was located in the region of the Tiasmyn group of the Scythian culture, which corresponded the country of the Scythian Husbandsmen where an Iranic Scythian elite ruled over a sedentary Thracian population; the Scythians also obtained simple tools and ornamentations and some weapon types from the sedentary Thracians who lived in their kingdom, and who manufactured products such as pottery, woodwork, and weaving, as well as bronze metal-working made out of raw materials imported from Transylvania. By the Late Scythian period, its principal centre was at a site corresponding to present-day Kamianka-Dniprovska, where bog iron ores were smelted to produce iron, and various tools, ornaments, and weapons were made.[189]

Apart from iron and bronze, the Scythians also used wood and bone, which were easily available as well as light and easy materials which could be effortlessly made into various tools and ornaments.[153]


Gold pectoral, or neckpiece, from an aristocratic kurgan in Tovsta Mohyla, Pokrov, Ukraine, dated to the second half of the 4th century BC, of Greek workmanship. The central lower tier shows three horses, each being torn apart by two griffins. Scythian art was especially focused on animal figures.

The art of the Scythians and related peoples of the Scythian cultures is known as Scythian art. It is particularly characterized by its use of the "animal style."[19]

The populations of the Srubnaya and Andronovo cultures from which initially originated the early Scythians used solely geometric patterns on their pottery and cheek-pieces made of bone, and the art of the Scythians proper was developed under the influence of the art of West Asian cultures during the Scythian presence in West Asia and later under the influence of the naturalistic art of the inhabitants of the forested regions of Eastern Europe, as well as of Thracian and Greek art,[117] while the animal style first appeared in the Central Asian and Siberian steppes during the 9th century BC.[53]

The art of the Scythians proper originated between 650 and 600 BC for the needs of the aristocracy of the Royal Scythians at the time when they ruled over large swathes of West Asia, with the objects of the Ziwiye hoard being the first example of this art. Later examples of this West Asian-influenced art from the 6th century BC were found in western Ciscaucasiam burials, as well as in the Melhuniv kurhan [uk] in what is presently Ukraine and in the Witaszkowo kurgan [pl] in what is modern-day Poland. This art style was initially restricted to the Scythian upper classes, and the Scythian lower classes in both West Asia and the Pontic Steppe had not yet adopted it, with the latter group's bone cheek-pieces and bronze buckles being plain and without decorations, while the Pontic groups were still using Srubnaya- and Andronovo-type geometric patterns.[92]

Scythian art continued to represent the interests of the Scythian aristocracy until the end of the Pontic Scythian kingdom, and depicted elements of prestige, the divine nature of royal power, and the cults of ancestral heroes and military valour; thus, Scythian art also reflected the class and cultural differences within Scythia which separated the aristocracy from the rest of the population.[42]

In the earlier phases of the art of the Scythians proper, West Asian motifs dominated the earlier Srubnaya-inherited Scythian elements; Greek elements were later incorporated into this artistic tradition in the regions corresponding to modern-day Ukraine and Georgia; in addition to this, the art of the Scythians was also influenced by that of the peoples of the East European Forest Steppe. This Scythian art formed out of various influences later spread to the west, in the region which corresponds to present Romania, and eventually to Western Europe too, where it brought influences from Iranic and West Asian art into Celtic art.[91]

Scythian animal style appears in an already established form Eastern Europe in the 8th century BC along with the Early Scythian archaeological culture itself. It bears little resemblance to the art of pre-Scythian cultures of the area. Some scholars suggest the art style developed under Near Eastern influence during the military campaigns of the 7th century BC, but the more common theory is that it developed on the eastern part of the Eurasian Steppe under Chinese influence. Others have sought to reconcile the two theories, suggesting that the animal style of the west and eastern parts of the steppe developed independently of each other, under Near Eastern and Chinese influences, respectively. Regardless, the animal style art of the Scythians differs considerable from that of peoples living further east.[19]

Scythian animal style works are typically divided into birds, ungulates and beasts of prey. This probably reflects the tripatriate division of the Scythian cosmos, with birds belonging to the upper level, ungulates to the middle level and beasts of prey in the lower level.[19]

Images of mythological creatures such a griffins are not uncommon in Scythian animal style, but these are probably the result of Near Eastern influences. By the late 6th century BC, as Scythian activity in the Near East was reduced, depictions of mythological creatures largely disappears from Scythian art. It, however, reappears again in the 4th century BC as a result of Greek influence.[19]

Anthropomorphic depictions in Early Scythian art is known only from kurgan stelae. These depict warriors with large almond-shaped eyes and mustaches, often including weapons and other military equipment.[19]

Since the 5th century BC, Scythian art changed considerably. This was probably a result of Greek and Persian influence, and possibly also internal developments caused by an arrival of a new nomadic people from the east. The changes are notable in the more realistic depictions of animals, who are now often depicted fighting each other rather than being depicted individually. Kurgan stelae of the time also display traces of Greek influences, with warriors being depicted with rounder eyes and full beards.[19]

Scythian art of the 4th century BC shows additional Greek influence, and while the animal style was still in use, it appears that much Scythian art by this point was being made by Greek craftsmen on behalf of Scythians. Such objects are frequently found in aristocratic Scythian burials of the period. Depictions of human beings become more prevalent. Many objects of Scythian art made by Greeks are probably illustrations of Scythian legends. Several objects are believed to have been of religious significance.[19]

By the late 3rd century BC, original Scythian art disappears through ongoing Hellenization. The creation of anthropomorphic gravestones continued, however.[19]

Works of Scythian art are held at many museums and has been featured at many exhibitions. The largest collections of Scythian art are found at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg and the Museum of Historical Treasures of the Ukraine in Kyiv, while smaller collections are found at the Staatliche Antikensammlungen in Berlin, the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford, and the Louvre of Paris.[19]


The Pontic Scythians practised trade extensively, and beginning in the 7th and 6th centuries BC, they had been importing luxuries such as personal ornaments, gold and silver vases, carved semi-precious and gem stones, wine, oil, and offensive and defensive weapons made in the workshops of Pontic Olbia or in mainland Greece, as well as pottery made by the Greeks of the Aegean islands; during the Classical Scythian period of the 5th century BC, the Scythians were importing Corinthian and Athenian pottery; and by the Late Scythian period of the 4th to 3rd centuries BC the market for Pontic Olbia was limited to a small part of western Scythia, while the rest of the kingdom's importations came from the Bosporan kingdom, especially from Panticapaeum, from where came most of Scythia's imported pottery, as well as richly decorated fine vases, rhyta, and decorative toreutic plaques for gorutoi.[189]

An important trade route existed in Scythia during the Early Scythian period which started in Pontic Olbia and followed the course of the Inhul river and crossed the Dnipro, after which it turned east until the country of the Gelonians and, after crossing the Don and the Volga, passed through the Ural Mountains and continued into Asia until the Altai Mountains. Gold was traded from eastern Eurasia until Pontic Olbia through this route, and the Scythian tradesmen went to the distant regions on its course to carry out commerce. The conquest of the north Pontic region by the Scythians and their imposition of a "Pax Scythica" created the conditions of safety for traders which enabled the establishment of this route. This location provided to Pontic Olbia the important position of being a commercial and cultural centre in the northern Pontic region, and the city itself maintained friendly relations with the populations neighbouring it.[189][54]

As a consequence of these flourishing trade relations, which were themselves possibly only thanks to the protection and cooperation of the Scythian kings, the Greek colonies on the northern shores of the Black Sea rapidly grew during the 6th century BC, and the Scythian upper classes were also able to significantly enrich themselves.[189]

The relations between the Scythians and the Greek cities became more hostile during the 5th century BC, with the former destroying the latter's khōrai and rural settlements and therefore their grain-producing hinterlands, with the result being that the Scythians instituted an economic policy under their control whereby the sedentary peoples of the forest steppe to their north became the primary producers of grain, which was then transported through the Buh and Dnipro rivers to the Greek cities to their south such as Tyras, Niconium and Pontic Olbia, from where the cities exported it to mainland Greece at a profit for themselves. This arrangement came to an end sometime between 435 and 400 BC, with the Greek cities regaining their independence and rebuilding their khōrai.[19]

Another consequence of trade between the Greeks and the Scythians was that Greek art significantly influenced Scythian art and artistic preferences, and by the Late Scythian period most of the artwork in the Scythian tombs consisted of Scythian motifs and scenes representing Scythian life which had been done by Greek artisans.[189]

During the 4th century BC, the Scythians became the middlemen in the trade routes supplying grains produced in the forest steppe and within Scythian itself to the Bosporan Kingdom, who in turn sold these to Greece itself. The Scythian royalty and aristocracy were able to derive immense revenue and profits from their role in these commercial activities.[42]

Physical appearance

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

In Histories, the 5th-century BC Greek historian Halicarnassus describes the Budini of Scythia as red-haired and grey-eyed.[190] In the 5th century BC, Greek physician Hippocrates argued that the Scythians were light skinned[190][191] as well as having a particularly high rate of hypermobility, to a point of affecting warfare.[192] In the 3rd century BC, the Greek poet Callimachus described the Arismapes (Arimaspi) of Scythia as fair-haired.[190][193] The 2nd-century BC Han Chinese envoy Zhang Qian described the Sai (Saka), an eastern people closely related to the Scythians, as having yellow (probably meaning hazel or green) and blue eyes.[190] In the late 2nd century AD, the Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria says that the Scythians and the Celts have long auburn hair.[190][194] The 2nd-century Greek philosopher Polemon includes the Scythians among the northern peoples characterised by red hair and blue-grey eyes.[190] In the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD, the Greek physician Galen writes that Scythians, Sarmatians, Illyrians, Germanic peoples and other northern peoples have reddish hair.[190][195] The fourth-century bishop Gregory of Nyssa wrote that the Scythians were fair skinned and blond haired.[196] The 5th-century physician Adamantius, who often followed Polemon, describes the Scythians as fair-haired.[190][197]


Scythian defence line 339 BC reconstruction in Polgár, Hungary

Scythian archaeology can be divided into three stages:[19]

  • Early Scythian – from the mid-8th or the late 7th century BC to about 500 BC
  • Classical Scythian or Mid-Scythian – from about 500 BC to about 300 BC
  • Late Scythian – from about 200 BC to the mid-3rd century AD, in the Crimea and the Lower Dnipro, by which time the population was settled.

Archaeological remains of the Scythians include kurgan tombs (ranging from simple exemplars to elaborate "Royal kurgans" containing the "Scythian triad" of weapons, horse-harness, and Scythian-style wild-animal art), gold, silk, and animal sacrifices, in places also with suspected human sacrifices.[198] Mummification techniques and permafrost have aided in the relative preservation of some remains. Scythian archaeology also examines the remains of cities and fortifications.[199][200][201]

List of rulers

Kings of Early Scythians

Kings of Pontic Scythians


Kings of Crimean Scythians

Kings of Danubian Scythians


The relationships of the various Scythian kings with each other are not known for certain, although the historian and anthropologist Anatoly Khazanov suggests that the Scythians had been ruled by the same dynasty from the time of their stay in West Asia until the end of their kingdom in the Pontic steppe, and that Madyes and the later Scythian kings Spargapeithes and Ariapeithes belonged to the same dynasty,[172] and Ellis Minns suggested in 1913 that Idanthyrsus was probably the father of Ariapeithes,[205] which is a position shared by the Scythologist Mikhail Bukharin [ru].[206]

Meanwhile, the scholars Askold Ivantchik instead considers Madyes, Spargapeithes, and Ariapeithes to have each belonged to a different dynasty.[19]

Bartatua's dynasty

  Consanguineous relatives of Bartatua
Sargonid dynasty
?-c. 679 BC
681–669 BC
c. 679-c. 658/9 BC
668–648 BC
669–631 BC
c. 658/9-625 BC

Spargapeithes's dynasty

  Consanguineous relatives of Spargapeithes
c. 513 BC

Ariapeithes's dynasty

  Consanguineous relatives of Ariapeithes
Teres I
460–445 BC
c. 450-c. 431 BC
431–424 BC
c. 450 BC
Greek woman
Seuthes IOctamasadas
c. 420 BC
c. 430 BC

See also



  1. ^ a b c d Vitchak 1999, p. 52-53.
  2. ^ a b c d e Novák 2013, p. 10.
  3. ^ Jacobson 1995, p. 32.
  4. ^ Cunliffe 2019, p. 42.
  5. ^ a b *Dandamayev 1994, p. 37: "In modern scholarship the name 'Sakas' is reserved for the ancient tribes of northern and eastern Central Asia and Eastern Turkestan to distinguish them from the related Massagetae of the Aral region and the Scythians of the Pontic steppes. These tribes spoke Iranian languages, and their chief occupation was nomadic pastoralism."
    • Davis-Kimball, Bashilov & Yablonsky 1995, p. 91: "Near the end of the 19th century V.F. Miller (1886, 1887) theorized that the Scythians and their kindred, the Sauromatians, were Iranian-speaking peoples. This has been a popular point of view and continues to be accepted in linguistics and historical science [...]"
    • 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 [...]"
    • Melyukova 1990, p. 117: "All contemporary historians, archeologists and linguists are agreed that since the Scythian and Sarmatian tribes were of the Iranian linguistic group [...]"
    • Sulimirski 1985, pp. 149–153: "During the first half of the first millennium B.C., c. 3,000 to 2,500 years ago, the southern part of Eastern Europe was occupied mainly by peoples of Iranian stock [...] The main Iranian-speaking peoples of the region at that period were the Scyths and the Sarmatians [...]"
    • Jacobson 1995, pp. 36–37: "When we speak of Scythians, we refer to those Scytho-Siberians who inhabited the Kuban Valley, the Taman and Kerch peninsulas, Crimea, the northern and northeastern littoral of the Black Sea, and the steppe and lower forest steppe regions now shared between Ukraine and Russia, from the seventh century down to the first century B.C [...] They almost certainly spoke an Iranian language [...]"
  6. ^ *Ivantchik 2018: "Scythians, a nomadic people of Iranian origin [...]"
    • Harmatta 1996, p. 181: "[B]oth Cimmerians and Scythians were Iranian peoples."
    • Sulimirski 1985, pp. 149–153: "During the first half of the first millennium B.C., c. 3,000 to 2,500 years ago, the southern part of Eastern Europe was occupied mainly by peoples of Iranian stock [...] [T]he population of ancient Scythia was far from being homogeneous, nor were the Scyths themselves a homogeneous people. The country called after them was ruled by their principal tribe, the "Royal Scyths" (Her. iv. 20), who were of Iranian stock and called themselves "Skolotoi" [...]"
    • West 2002, pp. 437–440: "[T]rue Scyths seems to be those whom [Herodotus] calls Royal Scyths, that is, the group who claimed hegemony [...] apparently warrior-pastoralists. It is generally agreed, from what we know of their names, that these were people of Iranian stock [...]"
    • Rolle 1989, p. 56: "The physical characteristics of the Scythians correspond to their cultural affiliation: their origins place them within the group of Iranian peoples."
    • Rostovtzeff 1922, p. 13: "The Scythian kingdom [...] was succeeded in the Russian steppes by an ascendancy of various Sarmatian tribes — Iranians, like the Scythians themselves."
    • Minns 1913, p. 36: "The general view is that both agricultural and nomad Scythians were Iranian."
  7. ^ "Scythian". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved October 4, 2019.
  8. ^ a b Hambly, Gavin [in German]. "History of Central Asia: Early Western Peoples". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved October 4, 2019.
  9. ^ Beckwith 2009, p. 11.
  10. ^ "Sarmatian". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved October 4, 2019.
  11. ^ a b c Harmatta 1996, pp. 181–182.
  12. ^ Brzezinski & Mielczarek 2002, p. 39: "Indeed, it is now accepted that the Sarmatians merged in with pre-Slavic populations."
  13. ^ a b Mallory & Adams 1997, p. 523: "In their Ukrainian and Polish homeland the Slavs were intermixed and at times overlain by Germanic speakers (the Goths) and by Iranian speakers (Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans) in a shifting array of tribal and national configurations."
  14. ^ a b Davis-Kimball, Bashilov & Yablonsky 1995, p. 165: "Iranian-speaking nomadic tribes, specifically the Scythians and Sarmatians, are special among the North Caucasian peoples. The Scytho-Sarmatians were instrumental in the ethnogenesis of some of the modern peoples living today in the Caucasus. Of importance in this group are the Ossetians, an Iranian-speaking group of people who are believed to have descended from the North Caucasian Alans."
  15. ^ a b Dickens 2018, p. 1346: "Greek authors [...] frequently applied the name Scythians to later nomadic groups who had no relation whatever to the original Scythians"
  16. ^ Beckwith 2009, pp. 58–70
  17. ^ "Scythian art". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved October 4, 2019.
  18. ^ Bukharin 2013, p. 25-26.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl Ivantchik 2018.
  20. ^ a b Parpola, Simo (1970). Neo-Assyrian Toponyms. Kevaeler: Butzon & Bercker. p. 178.
  21. ^ "Iškuzaya [SCYTHIAN] (EN)".
  22. ^ "Asguzayu [SCYTHIAN] (EN)".
  23. ^ Although ancient Persians and ancient Greeks respectively used the names "Saka" and "Scythian" for all the steppe nomads, the name "Scythian" is used specifically for the ancient nomads of the western steppe while "Saka" is used for a related group of nomads living in the eastern steppe.
  24. ^ a b c
    • 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 October 4, 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.
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Early sources

Modern sources

Further reading