Scythia

By Bradylama

The Scythians were an Indo-Aryan people that migrated to the Russian Steppes from Central Asia sometime between 800-600 B.C. They were conquerors believed to have been one of the first peoples to domesticate the horse, and use it effectively in warfare. The Scythians also spread out from Central Asia into India, and are known there as the Indo-Scythians. To the Chinese, they were known as the Sai.

Indo-Aryan is a subgroup of the Indo-Iranian language, and the three words that comprise Scythia are believed to originate from Eastern Iranian.

Scythian society comprised of networked tribes ruled by local elites. The Scythians interacted with each other as a people, but they were never united under the leadership of any one group or person. They were famous for their archers and horsemanship, and are known to have used barbed arrows. Their value as warriors was significant, and they were often contracted as mercenaries to more "civilized" peoples. Scythian elite were buried in Kurgans, and women are seen to have been given equal rights in Scythian society. It is believed that the Scythian warrior-women are the origins of the Greek tales of Amazons, though the Sarmatians are regarded by Greek writers as being dominated by their women, and are probably the larger influence on Greek myth. Though, being an Iranian people of the Steppes, the Sarmatians were commonly referred to as Scythians for simplicity.

The Scythians had no written language, and therefore most of what we know of them is derived from Greek writers and excavations of burial sites. To the Greeks, they were the epitome of barbarism and savagery. Primary contact between the Greeks and the Scythians came through Greek colonies along the northern shores of the Black Sea, where they were effective trade partners, dealing in slaves and other valuable commodities.

They first became entangled with the civilized world when they invaded the Median Empire in the 650's B.C. on behalf of Assyria. Their campaigns were so effective that the Scythian, Madius became the Median ruler for some twenty-eight years. In 625 B.C., however, they left the Medes, and whether they did so voluntary or were forced out is unknown. When the Median Empire sacked Assur in 614 B.C., however, the Scythians sided with the Medes and comprised part of the force that sacked Nineveh in 612 B.C. They then returned to the steppes.

From the 5th-3rd centuries B.C. the Scythians prospered. Herodotus in his Histories claims that Scythian lands stretched from the Danube River to the lower Don basin. The Scythians acquired their wealth by controlling the northern slave trade.

The Scythians seem to disappear from history in the first century B.C. and the Sarmatians, Alans, and Ossetians are believed to have descended from them. Eastern Romans still used Scythia as a term for Eurasian barbarians in general. Descendants of the Scythians united with the Huns during their western migration, and some comprised the forces of Attila the Hun. The Crimean Scythians had a kingdom extending from the lower Dnieper river to the Crimea, but their capital city of Scythian Neapol was destroyed by the Goths in the fifth century A.D.

Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scythia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-Aryan_languages
http://www.xenophongi.org/crimea/cities/scythia/scythenc.htm
http://www.wildwinds.com/coins/greece/scythia/i.html

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