Definitions

Scythia

Scythia

[sith-ee-uh]
Scythia, ancient region of Eurasia, extending from the Danube on the west to the borders of China on the east. The Scythians flourished from the 8th to the 4th cent. B.C. They spoke an Indo-Iranian language but had no system of writing. They were nomadic conquerors and skilled horsemen. They seem to be related to the Saka, another nomadic tribe that roamed the steppes of central Asia at about the same time. The so-called Royal Scyths established a kingdom in the E Crimea before the 9th cent. B.C. They seem to have maintained themselves as a ruling class while others (probably native inhabitants) worked the grain fields. The Scythians are traditionally associated with the area between the Danube and the Don, but modern excavations in the Altai Mts., particularly at the site of Pazyryk, suggest that their origins were in W Siberia before they moved E into S Russia in the early 1st millennium B.C. Scythian power was maintained in the 8th cent. B.C. in obscure warfare with the Cimmerians. The Scythians, considered barbarians by the Greeks, traded (7th cent. B.C.) grain and their service as mercenaries for Greek wine and luxury items. They invaded (7th cent. B.C.) upper Mesopotamia and Syria. They threatened Judah but never actually occupied Palestine. They also made incursions into the Balkan Peninsula, and a century later the mysterious campaign of Darius I against them (c.512 B.C.) may have checked their expansion, although it was no conquest. They destroyed (c.325 B.C.) an expedition sent against them by Alexander the Great. After 300 B.C. they were driven out of the Balkans by the invading Celts. In S Russia they were displaced (2d or 1st cent. B.C.) by the related Sarmatians, and part of their empire became Sarmatia.

See E. H. Minns, Scythians and Greeks (1913, repr. 1976); T. Rice, The Scythians (1957); H. W. Bailey, Indo-Scythian Studies (1985).

In Classical Antiquity, Scythia (Greek Σκυθία Skuthia) was the area in Eurasia inhabited by the Scythians, from the 8th century BC to the 2nd century AD. Its location and extent varied over time but usually extended farther to the west than is indicated on this map. The area known to classical authors as Scythia included:

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

First Scythian Kingdom

The first Scythian state arose among Scythians who penetrated in the seventh century BC from the territories north of the Black Sea into the Near East. It was dominated by interethnic forms of dependency based on subjugation of agricultural populations in eastern South Caucasia, plunder and levied contributions (occasionally, as far as Syria), regular tribute (Media), tribute disguised as gifts (Egypt), and possibly also payments for military support (Assyria). The Scythian social structure was much decentralized. The main features of the Scythian social organization developed before the seventh century B.C. (Khazanov 1975).

It is likely that the same dynasty ruled in Scythia during most of its history. The name of Koloksai, a legendary founder of a royal dynasty, is mentioned by Alcman in the seventh century B.C. Prototi and Madi, Scythian kings in the Near Eastern period of their history, and their successors in the north Pontic steppes belonged to the same dynasty. Herodotus lists five generations of a royal clan that probably reigned at the end of the seventh to sixth centuries BC: prince Anacharsis, Saulius, Idanthyrsus, Gnurus, Lycus, and Spargapithes. (Herodotus IV, 76). Ateas, reigning in the fourth century B.C., probably was an usurper, but he also tried to connect his origin with the ancient dynasty.

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

Second Scythian Kingdom

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

Scythia at the end of the fifth to third centuries BC

The Scythian state reached its greatest extent in the fourth century BC during the reign of Ateas. Isocrates (436–338 BC, Panegyricus 67) believed that Scythians, and also Thracians and Persians, are "the most able to power, and are the peoples with the greatest might." In the fourth century BC, under king Ateas, the tribune structure of the state was eliminated, and the ruling power became more centralized. The later sources do not mention three basileuses any more. Strabo tells (VII, 3, 18) that Ateus ruled over majority of the North Pontic barbarians.

Written sources tell that expansion of the Scythian state before the fourth century BC was mainly in the western direction. In this respect Ateas continued the policy of his predecessors in the fifth century BC. During western expansion, Ateus fought the Triballi (Polyaenus, Stratagems VII, 44, 1). A part of Thracians was subjugated and levied with severe duties. During the 90-year life of Ateas, the Scythians firmly settled in Thrace and became an important factor of political games in the Balkans. At the same time, both the nomadic and agricultural Scythian populations increased along the Dniester. A war with the Bosporian Kingdom increased Scythian pressure on the Greek cities along the North Pontic littoral.

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

The year 339 BC was a culminating year for the Second Scythian Kingdom, and the beginning of its decline. The war with Philip II of Macedon ended in a victory by the father of Alexander the Great, the Scythian king Ateus fell in battle well into his nineties (Trogus, Prologue, IX). Many royal kurgans (Chertomlyk, Kul-Oba, Aleksandropol, Krasnokut) are dated from after Ateas’ time and previous traditions were continued, and life in the settlements of Western Scythia show that the state survived until the 250s B.C. When in 331 BC Zopyrion, Alexander’s viceroy in Thrace, "not wishing to sit idle", invaded Scythia and besieged Pontic Olbia, he suffered a crushing defeat from the Scythians and lost his life (Justin, XII, 1, 4).

The fall of the Second Scythian Kingdom came about in the second half of the third century BC under the onslaught of Celts and Thracians from the west and Sarmatians from the east. With their increased forces, the Sarmatians devastated significant parts of Scythia and, "annihilating the defeated, transformed a larger part of the country into a desert" (Diodorus, 11,43,7).

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

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

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

Scythia's later history is mainly dominated by sedentary agrarian and city elements. As a result of the defeats suffered by Scythians two separate states were formed, two Lesser Scythias, one in Thrace (Dobrudja), and the other in the Crimea and the Lower Dnieper area (Strabo VII, 4, 5).

Third Scythian Kingdoms

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

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

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

Notable Scythians

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

Literature

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

See also

References

External links


Search another word or see Scythiaon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature