The Scythians were part of the wider Scythian cultures, stretching across the Eurasian Steppe, which included peoples such as the Cimmerians, Massagetae, Saka, Sarmatians. Because of this, a broad concept referring to all early Eurasian nomads as "Scythians" has often been used. Within this concept, the actual Scythians are variously referred to as Classical Scythians, European Scythians, Pontic Scythians or Western Scythians. Use of the term "Scythians" for the broad concept has however led to much confusion in literature, and its validity has been questioned. Other names for that concept are therefore preferable.
The Scythians are generally believed to have been of Iranian origin. They spoke a language of the Scythian branch of the Iranian languages. They were among the earliest peoples to master mounted warfare. In the 8th century the Scythians replaced the Cimmerians as the dominant power on the Pontic Steppe. During this time the Scythians and related peoples, all speakers of Scythian languages, came to dominate the entire Eurasian steppe steppe, stretching from the Carpathian Mountains in the west to central China (Ordos culture) and the south Siberia (Tagar culture) in the east, creating what has been called the first Central Asian nomadic empire.
Based in what is modern-day Ukraine, Southern European Russia and Crimea, the Scythians were ruled by a wealthy class known as the Royal Scyths. The Scythians were part of the Silk Road, a vast trade network connecting Greece, Persia, India and China, perhaps contributing to the contemporary flourishing of those civilisations. Settled metalworkers made portable decorative objects for the Scythians. These objects survive mainly in metal, forming a distinctive Scythian art.
In the 7th century BC, the Scythians crossed the Caucasus and frequently raided the Middle East along with the Cimmerians, playing an important role in the political developments of the region. Around 650–630 BC, Scythians briefly dominated the Medes of the western Iranian Plateau, stretching their power to the borders of Egypt. After losing control over Media, the Scythians continued intervening in Middle Eastern affairs, playing a leading role in the destruction of the Assyrian Empire in the Sack of Nineveh in 612 BC. The Scythians subsequently engaged in frequent conflicts with the Achaemenid Empire. The Scythians suffered a major defeat against Macedonia in the 4th century BC and were subsequently gradually conquered by the Sarmatians, a related Iranian people from Central Asia. In the 3nd century AD, the Sarmatians and last remnants of the Scythians were overwhelmed by the Goths. By the early Medieval Ages, the Scythians and the Sarmatians had been largely assimilated and absorbed (e.g. Slavicisation) by the Proto-Slavic population of the region.
The name of the Scythians surivved in the region of Scythia. By early authors, the term "Scythian" continued to be in use, and was applied to a wide range of peoples "who had no relation whatever to the original Scythians", such as Huns, Goths, Türks, Avars, Khazars and other unnamed nomads. The scientific study of the Scythians is called Scythology.
Oswald Szemerényi studied the various words for Scythian and gave the following: Skuthes Σκύθης, Skudra, Sug(u)da, and Saka.
The first three descend from the Indo-European root **(s)kewd-*, meaning "propel, shoot" (cognate with English shoot). *skud- is the zero-grade form of the same root. Szemerényi restores the Scythians' self-name as *skuda (roughly "archer"). This yields the Ancient Greek Skuthēs Σκύθης (plural Skuthai Σκύθαι) and Assyrian Aškuz; Old Armenian: սկիւթ skiwtʰ is from itacistic Greek. A late Scythian sound change from /d/ to /l/ gives the Greek word Skolotoi (Σκώλοτοι, Herodotus 4.6), from Scythian *skula which, according to Herodotus, was the self-designation of the Royal Scythians. Other sound changes gave Sogdia.
The Scythians share several cultural similarities with other populations living to their east, in particular similar weapons, horse gear and Scythian art, which has been referred to as the Scythian triad.  Cultures sharing these characteristics have often been referred to as Scythian cultures, and its peoples called Scythians. Peoples associated with Scythian cultures include not only the Scythians themselves, who were a distinct ethnic group, but also Cimmerians, Massagetae, Saka, Sarmatians and various obscure peoples of the forest steppe, such as early Slavs, Balts and Finno-Ugric peoples. Within this broad definition of the term Scythian, the actual Scythians have often been distinguished from other groups through the terms Classical Scythians, Western Scythians, European Scythians or Pontic Scythians.
Scythologist Askold Ivanchik notes with dismay that the term "Scythian" has been used within both a broad and a narrow context, leading to a good deal of confusion. He reserves the term "Scythian" for the Iranian people dominating the Pontic steppe from the 7th century BC to the 3rd century BC. Nicola Di Cosmo writes that the broad concept of "Scythian" is "too broad to be viable", and that the term "early nomadic" is preferable.
There is also another different story, now to be related, in which I am more inclined to put faith than in any other. It is that the wandering Scythians once dwelt in Asia, and there warred with the Massagetae, but with ill success; they therefore quitted their homes, crossed the Araxes, and entered the land of Cimmeria.
Herodotus presented four different versions of Scythian origins:
Firstly (4.7), the Scythians' legend about themselves, which portrays the first Scythian king, Targitaus, as the child of the sky-god and of a daughter of the Dnieper. Targitaus allegedly lived a thousand years before the failed Persian invasion of Scythia, or around 1500 BC. He had three sons, before whom fell from the sky a set of four golden implements – a plough, a yoke, a cup and a battle-axe. Only the youngest son succeeded in touching the golden implements without them bursting with fire, and this son's descendants, called by Herodotus the "Royal Scythians", continued to guard them.
Secondly (4.8), a legend told by the Pontic Greeks featuring Scythes, the first king of the Scythians, as a child of Hercules and Echidna.
Thirdly (4.11), in the version which Herodotus said he believed most, the Scythians came from a more southern part of Central Asia, until a war with the Massagetae (a powerful tribe of steppe nomads who lived just northeast of Persia) forced them westward.
Finally (4.13), a legend which Herodotus attributed to the Greek bard Aristeas, who claimed to have got himself into such a Bachanalian fury that he ran all the way northeast across Scythia and further. According to this, the Scythians originally lived south of the Rhipaean mountains, until they got into a conflict with a tribe called the Issedones, pressed in their turn by the "one-eyed Arimaspians"; and so the Scythians decided to migrate westwards.
Accounts by Herodotus of Scythian origins has been discounted recently; although his accounts of Scythian raiding activities contemporary to his writings have been deemed more reliable. Moreover, the term Scythian, like Cimmerian, was used to refer to a variety of groups from the Black Sea to southern Siberia and central Asia. "They were not a specific people", but rather a variety of peoples "referred to at variety of times in history, and in several places, none of which was their original homeland." The New Testament includes a single reference to Scythians in Colossians 3:11.
Modern interpretation of historical, archaeological and anthropological evidence has proposed two broad hypotheses. The first, formerly more espoused by Soviet and then Russian researchers, roughly followed Herodotus' (third) account, holding that the Scythians were an Eastern Iranian-speaking group who arrived from Inner Asia, i.e. from the area of Turkestan and western Siberia. 
The second hypothesis, according to Roman Ghirshman and others, proposes that the Scythian cultural complex emerged from local groups of the Srubna culture at the Black Sea coast, although this is also associated with the Cimmerians. According to Dolukhanov this proposal is supported by anthropological evidence which has found that Scythian skulls are similar to preceding findings from the Srubna culture, and distinct from those of the Central Asian Sacae. Yet, according to J. P. Mallory, the archaeological evidence is poor, and the Andronovo culture and "at least the eastern outliers of the Timber-grave culture" may be identified as Indo-Iranian.
Others have further stressed that "Scythian" was a very broad term used by both ancient and modern scholars to describe a whole host of otherwise unrelated peoples sharing only certain similarities in lifestyle (nomadism), cultural practices and language. The 1st millennium BC ushered a period of unprecedented cultural and economic connectivity amongst disparate and wide-ranging communities. A mobile, broadly similar lifestyle would have facilitated contacts amongst disparate ethnic groupings along the expansive Eurasian steppe from the Danube to Manchuria, leading to many cultural similarities. From the viewpoint of Greek and Persian ancient observers, they were all lumped together under the etic category "Scythians".
In 2017, a genetic study of the Scythians suggested that the Scythians were ultimately descended from the Yamna culture, and emerged on the Pontic steppe independently of peoples belonging to Scythian cultures further east. Based on the analysis of mithocondrial lineages, another later 2017 study suggested that the Scythians were directly descended from the Srubnaya culture. A later analysis of paternal lineages, published in 2018, found significant genetic differences between the Srubnaya and the Scythians, suggesting that the Srubnaya and the Scythians instead traced a common origin in the Yamnaya culture, with the Scythians and related peoples such as the Sarmatians perhaps tracing their origin to the eastern Pontic-Caspian steppes and the southern Urals.
Herodotus provides the first detailed description of the Scythians. He classes the Cimmerians as a distinct autochthonous tribe, expelled by the Scythians from the northern Black Sea coast (Hist. 4.11–12). Herodotus also states (4.6) that the Scythians consisted of the Auchatae, Catiaroi, Traspians, and Paralatae or "Royal Scythians".
In the early 7th century BC, the Scythians and Cimmerians are recorded in Assyrian texts as having conquered Urartu. In the 670s, the Scythians under their king Bartatua raided the territories of the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrian king Esarhaddon managed to make peace with the Scythians by marrying of his daughter to Bartatua and by paying a large amount of tribute. Bartatua was succeeded by his son Madius ca. 645 BC, after which they launched a great raid on Palestine and Egypt. Madius subsequently subjugated the Median Empire. During this time, Herodotus notes that the Scythians raided and exacted tribute from "the whole of Asia". In the 620s, Cyaxares, leader of the Medes, treacherously killed a large number of Scythian chieftains had a feast, the Scythians subsequently driven back to the steppe. In 612 BC, the Medes and Scythians participated in the destruction of the Assyrian Empire with the Battle of Nineveh. During this period of influence in the Middle East, the Scythians became heavily influence by the local civilizations.
In the 6th century BC, the Greeks had began establishing settlements along the coasts and rivers of th Pontic steppe, coming in contact with the Scythians. Relations between the Greeks and the Scythians appear to have been peaceful, with the Scythians being substantially influence by the Greeks, although the city of the Panticapaeum might have been destroyed by the Scythians in the mid century BC. During this time, the Scythian philospher Anacharsis traveled to Athens, where he made a great impression on the local people with his "barbarian wisdom".
War with Persia
By the late 6th century BC, the Archaemenid king Darius the Great had built Persia into becoming the most powerful empire in the world, stretching from Egypt to India. Planning an invasion of Greece, Darius first sought to secure his northern flank against Scythian introads. Thus, Darius declared war on the Scythians. At first, Darius sent his Cappadocian satrap Ariamnes with a vast fleet (estimated at 600 ships by Herodotus) into Scythian territory, where several Scythian nobles were captured. He then built a bridge across the Bosporus and easily defeated the Thracians, crossing the Danube into Scythian territory with a large army (700,000 men if one is to believe Herodotus) in 512 BC. At this time Scythians were separated into three major kingdoms, with the leader of the largest tribe, King Idanthyrsus, being the supreme ruler, and his subordinate kings being Scopasis and Taxacis.
Unable to receive support from neighbooring nomadic peoples against the Persians, the Scythians evacuated their civilians and livestock to the north and adopted a scorched earth strategy, while simultaenously harassing the extensive Persian supply lines. Suffering heavy losses, the Persians reached as far as the Sea of Azov, until Darius was compelled to enter into negotiations with Idanthyrsus, which however broke down. Darius and his army eventually reatreated across the Danube back into Persia, and the Scythians thereafter earned a reputation of invincibility among neighbooring peoples.
In the aftermath of the their defeat of the Persian invasion, Scythian power grew considerably, and they launched campaigns against their Thracian neighboors in the west. In 496 BC, the Scythians launched an great expedition into Thrace, reaching as far as Chersonesos. During this time they negotiated an alliance with the Achaemenid Empire against the Spartan king Cleomenes I. A prominent king of the Scythians in the 5th century was Scyles.
The Scythian offensive against the Thracians was checked by the Odrysian kingdom. The border between the Scythians and the Odrysian kingdom was thereafter set at the Danube, and relations between the two dynasties were good, with dynastic marriages frequently occurring. The Scythians also expanded towards the north-west, where they destroyed numerous fortified settlements and probably subjucated numerous settled populations. A similar fate was suffered by the Greek cities of the northwestern Black Sea coast and parts of the Crimea, over which the Scythians established political control. Greek settlements along the Don River also came under the control of the Scythians.
A division of responsibility developed, with the Scythians holding the political and military power, the urban population carrying out trade, and the local sedentary population carrying out manual labor. Their territories grew grain, and shipped wheat, flocks, and cheese to Greece. The Scythians apparently obtained much of their wealth from their control over the slave trade from the north to Greece through the Greek Black Sea colonial ports of Olbia, Chersonesos, Cimmerian Bosporus, and Gorgippia.
When Herodotus wrote his Histories in the 5th century BC, Greeks distinguished Scythia Minor, in present-day Romania and Bulgaria, from a Greater Scythia that extended eastwards for a 20-day ride from the Danube River, across the steppes of today's East Ukraine to the lower Don basin.
Scythian offensives against the Greek colonies of the northeastern Black Sea coast were largely unsuccessful, as the Greeks united under the leadership of the city of Panticapaeum and put up a vigorous defence. These Greek cities developed into the Bosporan Kingdom. Meanwhile, several Greek colonies formerly under Scythian control began to reassert their independence. It is possible that the Scythians were suffering from internal troubles during this time. By the mid 4th century BC, the Sarmatians, a related Iranian people living to the east of the Scythians, began expanding into Scythian territory.
The 4th century BC was a flowering of Scythian culture. Strabo (c. 63 BC – AD 24) reports that King Ateas, in the mid 4th century BC, united under his power the Scythian tribes living between the Maeotian marshes and the Danube, while simultaneously enroaching upon the Thracians. His westward expansion brought him into conflict with Philip II of Macedon (reigned 359 to 336 BC), with whom he had previously been allied, who took military action against the Scythians in 339 BC. Ateas died in battle, and his empire disintegrated. Philip's son, Alexander the Great, continued the conflict with the Scythians. In 331 BC, his general Zopyrion invaded Scythian territory with a force of 30,000 men, but was routed and killed by the Scythians near Olbia.
In the aftermath of conflict between Macedon and the Scythians, the Celts seem to have displaced the Scythians from the Balkans; while in south Russia, a kindred tribe, the Sarmatians, gradually overwhelmed them. In 310-309 BC, as noted by Diodorus Siculus, the Scythians, in alliance with the Bosporan Kingdom, defeated the Siraces in a great battle at the river Thatis.
By the early 3rd century BC, the Scythian culture of the Pontic steppe suddenly disappears. The reasons for this are controversial, but the expansion of the Sarmatians certainly played a role. The Scythians in turn shifted their focus towards the Greek cities of the Crimea.
By ca. 200 BC, the Scythians had largely withdrawn into the Crimea. By the time of Strabo's account (the first decades AD), the Crimean Scythians had created a new kingdom extending from the lower Dniepr to the Crimea, centered at Scythian Neapolis near modern Simferopol. They had become more settled and were intermingling with the local populations, in particular the Tauri, and were also subjected to Hellenization. They maintained close relations with the Bosporan Kingdom, with whose dynasty they were linked by marriage. A separate Scythian territory, known as Scythia Minor, existed in modern-day Dobruja, but was of little significance.
The kings Skilurus and Palakus waged wars with Mithridates the Great (reigned 120–63 BC) for control of the Crimean littoral, including Chersonesos Taurica and the Cimmerian Bosporus. Out of this conflict, Mithradates emerged victorious. After this time, the Scythians practically disappeared from history. Scythia Minor was also defeated by Mithradates.
In the years after the death of Mithradates, the Scythians had transitioned to a settled way of life and were assimilating into neighboring populations. They made a resurgence in the 1st century AD and laid siege to Chersonesos, who were obliged to seek help from the Roman Empire. The Scythians were in turn defeated by Roman commander Tiberius Plautius Silvanus Aelianus. By the 2nd century AD, archaeological evidence show that the Scythians had been largely assimilated by the Sarmatians. Their capital city, Scythian Neapolis, was destroyed by the invading Goths in the mid-3rd century AD.
Archaeological remains of the Scythians include kurgan tombs (ranging from simple exemplars to elaborate "Royal kurgans" containing the "Scythian triad" of weapons, horse-harness, and Scythian-style wild-animal art), gold, silk, and animal sacrifices, in places also with suspected human sacrifices. Mummification techniques and permafrost have aided in the relative preservation of some remains. Scythian archaeology also examines the remains of North Pontic Scythian cities and fortifications.
One grave find on the lower Volga gave a similar date, and one of the Steblev graves from the East European end of the Scythian area was dated to the late 8th century BC.
Archaeologists can distinguish three periods of ancient Scythian archaeological remains:
1st period – pre-Scythian and initial Scythian epoch: from the 9th to the middle of the 7th century BC
2nd period – early Scythian epoch: from the 7th to the 6th centuries BC
3rd period – classical Scythian epoch: from the 5th to the 4th centuries BC
From the 8th to the 2nd centuries BC, archaeology records a split into two distinct settlement areas: the older in the Sayan-Altai area in Central Asia, and the younger in the North Pontic area in Eastern Europe.
An alternative scheme, relating to the "narrow" definition at the Western end of the steppe and into Europe, has:
Early Scythian – from the mid-8th or the late 7th century BC to about 500 BC
Classical Scythian or Mid-Scythian – from about 500 BC to about 300 BC
Late Scythian – from about 200 BC to the early 2nd century CE, in the Crimea and the Lower Dnieper, by which time the population was settled.
These large burial mounds (some over 20 metres high) provide the most valuable archaeological remains associated with the Scythians. They dot the Eurasian steppe belt, from Mongolia to Balkans, through Ukrainian and south Russian steppes, extending in great chains for many kilometers along ridges and watersheds. From them archaeologists have learned much about Scythian life and art. Some Scythian tombs reveal traces of Greek, Chinese, and Indian craftsmanship, suggesting a process of Hellenisation, Sinification, and other local influences among the Scythians.
Some Scythian-Sarmatian cultures may have given rise to Greek stories of Amazons. Graves of armed females have been found in southern Ukraine and Russia. David Anthony notes, "About 20% of Scythian-Sarmatian 'warrior graves' on the lower Don and lower Volga contained females dressed for battle as if they were men, a style that may have inspired the Greek tales about the Amazons."
Excavation at kurgan Sengileevskoe-2 found gold bowls with coatings indicating a strong opium beverage was used while cannabis was burning nearby. The gold bowls depicted scenes showing clothing and weapons.
Recent digs (see:Gelonus) in a village Bilsk near Poltava (Ukraine) have uncovered a "vast city", with the largest area of any city in the world at that time (Bilsk settlement). It has been tentatively identified by a team of archaeologists led by Boris Shramko as the site of Gelonus, the purported capital of Scythia. The city's commanding ramparts and vast area of 40 square kilometers exceed even the outlandish size reported by Herodotus. Its location at the northern edge of the Ukrainian steppe would have allowed strategic control of the north-south trade-route. Judging by the finds dated to the 5th and 4th centuries BC, craft workshops and Greek pottery abounded.
Eastern Scythian burials documented by modern archaeologists include the kurgans at Pazyryk in the Ulagan (Red) district of the Altai Republic, south of Novosibirsk in the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia (near Mongolia). Archaeologists have extrapolated the Pazyryk culture from these finds: five large burial mounds and several smaller ones between 1925 and 1949, one opened in 1947 by Russian archaeologist Sergei Rudenko. The burial mounds concealed chambers of larch-logs covered over with large cairns of boulders and stones.
The Pazyryk culture flourished between the 7th and 3rd century BC in the area associated with the Saka.
Ordinary Pazyryk graves contain only common utensils, but in one, among other treasures, archaeologists found the famous Pazyryk Carpet, the oldest surviving wool-pile oriental rug. Another striking find, a 3-metre-high four-wheel funerary chariot, survived well-preserved from the 5th to 4th century BC.
Culture and society
Scythians lived in confederated tribes, a political form of voluntary association which regulated pastures and organised a common defence against encroaching neighbours for the pastoral tribes of mostly equestrian herdsmen. While the productivity of domesticated animal-breeding greatly exceeded that of the settled agricultural societies, the pastoral economy also needed supplemental agricultural produce, and stable nomadic confederations developed either symbiotic or forced alliances with sedentary peoples – in exchange for animal produce and military protection.
Herodotus relates that three main tribes of the Scythians descended from three brothers, Lipoxais, Arpoxais, and Colaxais:
In their reign a plough, a yoke, an axe, and a bowl, all made of gold, fell from heaven upon the Scythian territory. The oldest of the brothers wished to take them away, but as he drew near the gold began to burn. The second brother approached them, but with the like result. The third and youngest then approached, upon which the fire went out, and he was enabled to carry away the golden gifts. The two eldest then made the youngest king, and henceforth the golden gifts were watched by the king with the greatest care, and annually approached with magnificent sacrifices.
Herodotus also mentions a royal tribe or clan, an elite which dominated the other Scythians:
Then on the other side of the Gerros we have those parts which are called the "Royal" lands and those Scythians who are the bravest and most numerous and who esteem the other Scythians their slaves.
The elder brothers then, acknowledging the significance of this thing, delivered the whole of the kingly power to the youngest. From Lixopais, they say, are descended those Scythians who are called the race of the Auchatai; from the middle brother Arpoxais those who are called Catiaroi and Traspians, and from the youngest of them the "Royal" tribe, who are called Paralatai: and the whole together are called, they say, Scolotoi, after the name of their king; but the Hellenes gave them the name of Scythians. Thus the Scythians say they were produced; and from the time of their origin, that is to say from the first king Targitaos, to the passing over of Dareios [the Persian Emperor Darius I] against them [512 BC], they say that there is a period of a thousand years and no more.
The rich burials of Scythian kings in tumuli (often known by the Turkic name kurgan) is evidence for the existence of a powerful elite. While an elite clan is named in some classical sources as the "Royal Dahae", the Dahae proper are generally regarded as an extinct Indo-European people, who occupied what is now Turkmenistan, and were distinct from the Scythians.
Although scholars have traditionally treated the three tribes as geographically distinct, Georges Dumézil interpreted the divine gifts as the symbols of social occupations, illustrating his trifunctional vision of early Indo-European societies: the plough and yoke symbolised the farmers, the axe – the warriors, the bowl – the priests. According to Dumézil, "the fruitless attempts of Arpoxais and Lipoxais, in contrast to the success of Colaxais, may explain why the highest strata was not that of farmers or magicians, but rather that of warriors."
Scythians were particularly known for their equestrian skills, and their early use of composite bows shot from horseback. With great mobility, the Scythians could absorb the attacks of more cumbersome footsoldiers and cavalry, just retreating into the steppes. Such tactics wore down their enemies, making them easier to defeat. The Scythians were notoriously aggressive warriors. They "fought to live and lived to fight" and "drank the blood of their enemies and used the scalps as napkins." Ruled by small numbers of closely allied elites, Scythians had a reputation for their archers, and many gained employment as mercenaries. Scythian elites had kurgan tombs: high barrows heaped over chamber-tombs of larch wood, a deciduous conifer that may have had special significance as a tree of life-renewal, for it stands bare in winter.
The Ziwiye hoard, a treasure of gold and silver metalwork and ivory found near the town of Sakiz south of Lake Urmia and dated to between 680 and 625 BC, includes objects with Scythian "animal style" features. One silver dish from this find bears some inscriptions, as yet undeciphered and so possibly representing a form of Scythian writing.
Scythians also had a reputation for the use of barbed and poisoned arrows of several types, for a nomadic life centred on horses – "fed from horse-blood" according to Herodotus – and for skill in guerrilla warfare.
According to Herodotus, Scythian costume consisted of padded and quilted leather trousers tucked into boots, and open tunics. They rode without stirrups or saddles, using only saddle-cloths. Herodotus reports that Scythians used cannabis, both to weave their clothing and to cleanse themselves in its smoke (Hist. 4.73–75); archaeology has confirmed the use of cannabis in funerary rituals.
Herodotus says Sakas had "high caps tapering to a point and stiffly upright." Asian Saka headgear is clearly visible on the Persepolis Apadana staircase bas-relief – high pointed hat with flaps over ears and the nape of the neck. From China to the Danube delta, men seemed to have worn a variety of soft headgear – either conical like the one described by Herodotus, or rounder, more like a Phrygian cap.
Women wore a variety of different headdresses, some conical in shape others more like flattened cylinders, also adorned with metal (golden) plaques.
Scythian women wore long, loose robes, ornamented with metal plaques (gold). Women wore shawls, often richly decorated with metal (golden) plaques.
Based on numerous archeological findings in Ukraine, southern Russian and Kazakhstan men and warrior women wore long sleeve tunics that were always belted, often with richly ornamented belts.
Men and women wore long trousers, often adorned with metal plaques and often embroidered or adorned with felt appliqués; trousers could have been wider or tight fitting depending on the area. Materials used depended on the wealth, climate and necessity.
Men and women warriors wore variations of long and shorter boots, wool-leather-felt gaiter-boots and moccasin-like shoes. They were either of a laced or simple slip on type. Women wore also soft shoes with metal (gold) plaques.
Men and women wore belts. Warrior belts were made of leather, often with gold or other metal adornments and had many attached leather thongs for fastening of the owner's gorytos, sword, whet stone, whip etc. Belts were fastened with metal or horn belt-hooks, leather thongs and metal (often golden) or horn belt-plates.
Scythian contacts with craftsmen in Greek colonies along the northern shores of the Black Sea resulted in the famous Scythian gold adornments that feature among the most glamorous artifacts of world museums. Ethnographically extremely useful as well, the gold depicts Scythian men as bearded, long-haired Caucasoids. "Greco-Scythian" works depicting Scythians within a much more Hellenic style date from a later period, when Scythians had already adopted elements of Greek culture, and the most elaborate royal pieces are assumed to have been made by Greek goldsmiths for this lucrative market. Other metalwork pieces from across the whole Eurasian steppe use an animal style, showing animals, often in combat and often with their legs folded beneath them. The origins of this style remain debated, but it probably both received and gave influences in the art of the neighbouring settled peoples, and acted as a fast route for transmission of motifs across the width of Eurasia.
Surviving Scythian objects are mostly small portable pieces of metalwork: elaborate personal jewelry, weapon-ornaments and horse-trappings. But finds from sites with permafrost show rich and brightly coloured textiles, leatherwork and woodwork, not to mention tattooing. The western royal pieces executed Central-Asian animal motifs with Greek realism: winged gryphons attacking horses, battling stags, deer, and eagles, combined with everyday motifs like milking ewes.
The religious beliefs of the Scythians was a type of Pre-Zoroastrian Iranian religion and differed from the post-Zoroastrian Iranian thoughts. Foremost in the Scythian pantheon stood Tabiti, who was later replaced by Atar, the fire-pantheon of Iranian tribes, and Agni, the fire deity of Indo-Aryans. The Scythian belief was a more archaic stage than the Zoroastrian and Hindu systems. The use of cannabis to induce trance and divination by soothsayers was a characteristic of the Scythian belief system. A class of priests, the Enarei, worshipped the goddess Argimpasa and assumed feminine identities.
The Scythian group of languages in the early period are essentially unattested, and their internal divergence is difficult to judge. They belonged most probably to the Eastern Iranian family of languages. Whether all the peoples included in the "Scytho-Siberian" archaeological culture spoke languages from this family is uncertain.
The Scythian languages may have formed a dialect continuum: "Scytho-Sarmatian" in the west and "Scytho-Khotanese" or Saka in the east. The Scythian languages were mostly marginalised and assimilated as a consequence of the late antiquity and early Middle Ages Slavic and Turkic expansion. The western (Sarmatian) group of ancient Scythian survived as the medieval language of the Alans and eventually gave rise to the modern Ossetian language.
In artworks, the Scythians are portrayed exhibiting Caucasoid traits. In Histories, the 5th-century Greek historian Herodotus describes the Budini of Scythia as red-haired and grey-eyed. In the 5th century BC, Greek physician Hippocrates argued that the Scythians have purron (ruddy) skin. In the 3rd century BC, the Greek poet Callimachus described the Arismapes (Arimaspi) of Scythia as fair-haired. The 2nd century BC Han Chinese envoy Zhang Qian described the Sai (Saka), an eastern people closely related to the Scythians, as having yellow (probably meaning hazel or green), and blue eyes. In Natural History, the 1st century AD Roman author Pliny the Elder characterises the Seres, sometimes identified as Saka or Tocharians, as red-haired and blue-eyed. In the late 2nd century AD, the Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria says that the Scythians were fair-haired. The 2nd century Greek philosopher Polemon includes the Scythians among the northern peoples characterised by red hair and blue-grey eyes. In the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD, the Greek physician Galen declares that Sarmatians, Scythians and other northern peoples have reddish hair. The fourth-century Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus wrote that the Alans, a people closely related to the Scythians, were tall, blond and light-eyed. The 4th century bishop of Nyssa Gregory of Nyssa wrote that the Scythians were fair skinned and blond haired. The 5th-century physician Adamantius, who often follow Polemon, describes the Scythians are fair-haired. It is possible that the later physical descriptions by Adamantius and Gregory of Scythians refer to East Germanic tribes, as the latter were frequently referred to as "Scythians" in Roman sources at that time.
In 2017, a genetic study of various Scythian cultures, including the Scythians, was published in Nature Communications. The study suggested that the Scythians arose independently of culturally similar groups further east. Though all groups studies shared a common origin in the Yamnaya culture, the presence of east Eurasian mitochondrial lineages was largely absent among Scythians, but present among other groups further east. Modern populations most closely related to the Scythians were found to be populations living in proximity to the sites studied, suggesting genetic continuity.
Another 2017 genetic study, published in Scientific Reports, found that the Scythians shared common mithocondrial lineages with the earlier Srubnaya culture. It also noted that the Scythians differed from materially similar groups further east by the absence of east Eurasian mitochondrial lineages. The authors of the study suggested that the Srubnaya culture was the source of the Scythian cultures of at least the Pontic steppe.
In 2018, a genetic study of the earlier Srubnaya culture, and later peoples of the Scythian cultures, including the Scythians, was published in Science Advances. Members of the Srubnaya culture were found to be exlusively carriers of haplogroup R1a1a1, which showed a major expansion during the Bronze Age. Six male Scythian samples from kurgans at Starosillya and Glinoe were successfully analyzed. These were found to be carriers of haplogroup R1b1a1a2. The Scythians were found to be closely related to the Afanasievo culture and the Andronovo culture. The authors of the study suggested that the Scythians were not directly descended from the Srubnaya culture, but that the Scythians and the Srubnaya shared a common origin through the earlier Yamnaya culture. Significant genetic differences were found between the Scythians and materially similar groups further east, which underpinned the notion that although materially similar, the Scythians and groups further east should be seen as separate peoples belonging to a common cultural horizon, which perhaps had its source on the eastern Pontic-Caspian steppe and the southern Urals.
In Late Antiquity, the notion of a Scythian ethnicity grew more vague and outsiders might dub any people inhabiting the Pontic-Caspian steppe as "Scythians", regardless of their language. Thus, Priscus, a Byzantine emissary to Attila, repeatedly referred to the latter's followers as "Scythians". But Eunapius, Claudius Cladianus and Olympiodorus usually mean Goths when they write "Scythians".
The Goths had displaced the Sarmatians in the 2nd century from most areas near the Roman frontier, and by early medieval times, the Early Slavs (Proto-Slavs) marginalised Eastern Iranian dialects in Eastern Europe as they assimilated and absorbed the Iranian ethnic groups in the region.
Although the classical Scythians may have largely disappeared by the 1st century BC, Eastern Romans continued to speak conventionally of "Scythians" to designate Germanic tribes and confederations or mounted Eurasian nomadic barbarians in general: in AD 448 two mounted "Scythians" led the emissary Priscus to Attila's encampment in Pannonia. The Byzantines in this case carefully distinguished the Scythians from the Goths and Huns who also followed Attila.
Byzantine sources also refer to the Rus raiders who attacked Constantinople circa 860 in contemporary accounts as "Tauroscythians", because of their geographical origin, and despite their lack of any ethnic relation to Scythians. Patriarch Photius may have first applied the term to them during the Siege of Constantinople (860).
Early Modern usage
Owing to their reputation as established by Greek historians, the Scythians long served as the epitome of savagery and barbarism.
Shakespeare, for instance, alluded to the legend that Scythians ate their children in his play King Lear:
The barbarous Scythian Or he that makes his generation messes To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom¨ Be as well neighbour'd, pitied, and relieved, As thou my sometime daughter.
Characteristically, early modern English discourse on Ireland frequently resorted to comparisons with Scythians in order to confirm that the indigenous population of Ireland descended from these ancient "bogeymen", and showed themselves as barbaric as their alleged ancestors. Edmund Spenser wrote that
the Chiefest [nation that settled in Ireland] I Suppose to be Scithians ... which firste inhabitinge and afterwarde stretchinge themselves forthe into the lande as theire numbers increased named it all of themselues Scuttenlande which more brieflye is Called Scuttlande or Scotlande.
As proofs for this origin Spenser cites the alleged Irish customs of blood-drinking, nomadic lifestyle, the wearing of mantles and certain haircuts and
Cryes allsoe vsed amongeste the Irishe which savor greatlye of the Scythyan Barbarisme.
William Camden, one of Spenser's main sources, comments on this legend of origin that
to derive descent from a Scythian stock, cannot be thought any waies dishonourable, seeing that the Scythians, as they are most ancient, so they have been the Conquerours of most Nations, themselves alwaies invincible, and never subject to the Empire of others.
A number of groups have claimed possible descent from the Scythians, including the Ossetians, Pashtuns (in particular, the Sakzai tribe), Jat people Some legends of the Poles, the Picts, the Gaels, the Hungarians (in particular, the Jassics), among others, also include mention of Scythian origins. Some writers claim that Scythians figured in the formation of the empire of the Medes and likewise of Caucasian Albania.
The Scythians also feature in some national origin-legends of the Celts. In the second paragraph of the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, the élite of Scotland claim Scythia as a former homeland of the Scots. According to the 11th-century Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland), the 14th-century Auraicept na n-Éces and other Irish folklore, the Irish originated in Scythia and were descendants of Fénius Farsaid, a Scythian prince who created the Ogham alphabet.
The Carolingian kings of the Franks traced Merovingian ancestry to the Germanic tribe of the Sicambri. Gregory of Tours documents in his History of the Franks that when Clovis was baptised, he was referred to as a Sicamber with the words "Mitis depone colla, Sicamber, adora quod incendisti, incendi quod adorasti." The Chronicle of Fredegar in turn reveals that the Franks believed the Sicambri to be a tribe of Scythian or Cimmerian descent, who had changed their name to Franks in honour of their chieftain Franco in 11 BC.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, foreigners regarded the Russians as descendants of Scythians. It became conventional to refer to Russians as Scythians in 18th-century poetry, and Alexander Blok drew on this tradition sarcastically in his last major poem, The Scythians (1920). In the 19th century, romantic revisionists in the West transformed the "barbarian" Scyths of literature into the wild and free, hardy and democratic ancestors of all blond Indo-Europeans.
The idea was taken up in the British Israelism of John Wilson, who adopted and promoted the idea that the "European Race, in particular the Anglo-Saxons, were descended from certain Scythian tribes, and these Scythian tribes (as many had previously stated from the Middle Ages onward) were in turn descended from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel." Tudor Parfitt, author of The Lost Tribes of Israel and Professor of Modern Jewish Studies, points out that the proof cited by adherents of British Israelism is "of a feeble composition even by the low standards of the genre."
Related ancient peoples
Herodotus and other classical historians listed quite a number of tribes who lived near the Scythians, and presumably shared the same general milieu and nomadic steppe culture, often called "Scythian culture", even though scholars may have difficulties in determining their exact relationship to the "linguistic Scythians". A partial list of these tribes includes the Agathyrsi, Geloni, Budini, and Neuri.
Pre-Achaemenid Scythian kings of Iran