Scythia

Scythia (sĭthˈēə) [key], 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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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