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Scythians

SCYTHIANS

The Scythians were a large confederation of Iranian-speaking (or headed by an Iranian-speaking military-political elite) tribal unions, known in classical sources since around the eighth century b.c.e. or about the time they migrated to the North Pontic steppe zone where they supplanted and apparently absorbed some of the Cimmerians who occupied the region. As with their predecessors, it is not clear from where the Scythians migrated, but their most likely homeland was Central Asia from where they moved under pressure of other nomadic peoples. Organized in supra-tribal confederations, the Scythians made raids and full-blown invasions from the northern Caucasus into Media and Assyria in northern Mesopotamia, reaching as far as Palestine and Egypt throughout the period of 670610 b.c.e. After suffering major defeats towards the end of the seventh century, they transferred their locus of power to the North Pontic region. By the third century b.c.e., the Scythians came under pressure of the nomadic Sarmatians who destroyed and absorbed most of them into their loosely-organized tribal structure.

Nomadic in origins, the Scythian peoples and the "Scythian" culture also included agriculturalists and hunter-gatherers who paid tribute to their nomadic lords with grain and other goods that the nomads could not produce themselves. In turn, these items were traded with the Greek colonial cities of the northern Black Sea region for wine, precious metals, and other goods.

While Scythia proper, as it was known in Greco-Roman sources, was located to the north of the Black Sea region (from the Danube to the lower Don and Volga), "Scythic" culture occupied a much greater territory of Eurasia, stretching as far east as southwestern Siberia and eastern Kazakhstan. Elements of this culture can be summarized as follows: the use of (1) iron; (2) short swords; (3) conservative artistic motifs (especially the animal style, e.g., the stag and the animal combat); (4) nomadic lifestyle organized around a patriarchal, little centralized social structure; (5) improved compound bows; (6) bronze cauldrons; (7) making of deerstones; and, (8) complex horse harness. All of these components were shared across a huge area not only by Iranian-speakers, but also by Turkic and Mongolian nomads of steppelands of Inner Eurasia.

See also: central asia; cimmerians; sarmatians

bibliography

Christian, David. (1998). A History of Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia Vol. 1: Inner Asia from Prehistory to the Mongol Empire. Oxford, UK/Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Golden, Peter B. (1990). "The Peoples of the South Russian Steppe." In The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia. ed. Denis Sinor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Talbot-Rice, Tamara (1957). The Scythians [Ancient Peoples and Places, vol. 2], ed. G. Daniel. London: Thames and Hudson.

Roman K. Kovalev

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Scythians

Scythians Nomadic people who inhabited the steppes n of the Black Sea in the 1st millennium bc. In the 7th century bc, their territory extended into Mesopotamia, the Balkans, and Greece. Powerful warriors, their elaborate tombs contain evidence of great wealth. Pressure from the Sarmatians confined them to the Crimea (c.300 bc) and their culture disappeared.

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