ScythiaScythia is the land of the Scythians; its location and extent varied over time from Mongoli/China to the Danube river. The Scythians were a network of nomadic tribes of horse-riding conquerors. They invaded many areas in the steppes of Eurasia and southern Europe, riding across the Caucasus into Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. Ruled by small, closely-allied elites, Scythians were famous for their archers, and many were hired as mercenaries.
It is believed that they spoke an Indo-European language. The reason for this hypothesis is based on the words that Herodotus has described them as some sample of their language and also the names of tribes and leaders that Herodotus has mentioned in his book; But it must be noted that the names of their gods is not Indo-European and it seems that they may be of Ugric origin.
Up to now no certain hypothesis exits to describe their origin and how they migrated to cacausus and Ukriane;but majority of schollars belived that they migrated westward from cental asia between 800 B.C. to 600 B.C..
Scythians never had a written language, so until recent archaeology, much of what was known about them was known from the Greeks. Homer called them "the mare-milkers"; Herodotus described them in detail. Their costume consisted of padded and quilted leather trousers tucked into boots, and open tunics. They rode with no stirrups or saddles, just saddlecloths. It is believed that Herodotus's histories report that Saka Scythians used marijuana. The Scythian Anacharsis visited Athens in the 6th century BCE and became a legendary sage.
During 5th to 3rd centuries, Scythians prospered. When Herodotus wrote his Histories in 5th century BC, Greeks distinguished a 'Greater Scythia' that extended a 20-day ride from the Danube River in the west, across the steppes of today's Ukraine, to the lower Don basin from Scythia Minor. The Don was then known as Tanaļs, and has been a major trading route since. What made the Scythians rich was apparently their control over slave trade from the north to Greece through the Greek Black Sea colonial ports. They also grew grain, and shipped wheat, flocks and cheese to Greece -- a patronage due to their control of slave trade.
Recent digs in Belsk, Ukraine uncovered a vast city believed to be the Scythian capital, and to be the Scythian city Gelonus described by Herodotus. The city's commanding ramparts and vast 40 square kilometers, were even larger than the outlandish size reported by Herodotus. Its location at the northern edge of Ukranie's steppe was strategic for control of north-south trade. Judging by the finds dated 5th and 4th centuries BCE, Craft workshops and Greek pottery abounded, and perhaps so did slaves destined for the Greece.
Other archaeological remains of the Scythians are elaborate tombs containing gold, silk, horses and human sacrifices. Some remains were somewhat preserved by mummification techniques and by the presence of permafrost.
Scythian contacts with craftsmen in Greek colonies along the northern shores of the Black Sea resulted in the famous Scythian gold adornments in which Scythian men are depicted as bearded, long-haired Eurpoeans though such images may simply have been the projections of the Greek artisans onto the works they were commissioned for. Works depicting Scythians are also from a much later period when Scythians were already much mixed with Greeks clouding the issue of their origins. Scythians had a taste for elaborate personal jewelry, weapon ornaments and horse trappings. Central Asian animal motifs were carried out with Greek realism: winged griffins attacking horses, battling stags, deer and eagles, combined with everyday motifs like milking ewes. In 2001 a discovery of an undisturbed royal Scythian burial barrow illustrated for the first time Scythian animal-style gold that was not directly influenced by Greek styles. Forty-four pounds of gold weighed down the royal couple in this burial. It was discovered near Kyzyl, capital of the Siberian republic of Tuva.
But the rich Scythian-settled farmlands tempted new waves of nomads from the Central Asian steppes. In the 3rd c. BCE, the wilder Iranian Sarmatians forced the Scythians into 'Scythia Minor' ('Little Scythia'), the Crimea, and Dobrudja south of the Danube delta.
Although it is said that the Scythians disappeared in the 1st century BC, some scholars believe that the Sarmatians, Alans and subsequent Ossets (Ossetians) are their descendants and the only Iranians who still live in Europe. Ossets call their country Iron, and are mostly Christians. They speak the an Eastern Iranian language Ossetic, which they call Ironig or Ironski (Iranian). It maintains some remarkable features of Gathic Avestan language. At the same time, it has a number of words remarkably similar to their modern German equivalents, such as THAU (tauen to thaw, as in snow) and GAU (district, region). Celtic legends also include mention of Scythian origins and a few celtic nations still call themselves Cimmeri.
External links and notes
In 2000, the travelling exhibition 'Scythian Gold' introduced North Americans to the objects made for Scythian nomads by Greek craftsmen north of the Black Sea, which were buried with their Scythian owners under burial mounds on the flat plains of what is now Ukraine, most of which were unearthed after 1980.