From eighth to the second century bce, the Scythians represented the most terrifying military power in Asia, defeating large armies and dominating substantial parts of what is now Russia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and the Eurasian plains. These warring nomads were well-known throughout the continent for their fierce bravery and innovative battlefield tactics. Yet because the Scythians had no written language, most of what is known about them comes from the fifth century bce recordings of the Greek historian, Herodotus. It is only through modern-day archaeological finds that Herodotus’s seemingly unbelievable claims of Scythian war practices are finally being verified.

Though the Scythians did not domesticate the horse, they were among the first to adapt their way of life around it. As a pastoral nomadic people, this allowed them to cover greater distances more quickly. From the Russian steppes, the Scythians are believed to have wandered as far as the borders of Egypt on horseback. During their travels, they met and defeated several different peoples, and eventually extended their territory over large parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

According to common belief, the Scythians first appeared on the world map in 750 bce as a pastoral nomadic group settled between the Carpathians and the Don River. However, the first real written record of Scythian activity is seen in Assyrian texts from the early seventh century, when Scythian King Partatua married an Assyrian princess in 674 following a Scythian victory over the Assyrians. Later, in 653, the Scythians invaded the Medean Empire, where they continued to exert influence until 626, when the Medes defeated them. Yet, the Medes united with the Scythians in 612 to capture Nineveh and destroy the Assyrian empire before driving the Scythians north of the Caucasus in the late seventh century. The Scythians continued to grow stronger over time, even managing to repel the Persian army (the largest in the world at that time) under King Darius the Great when the Persians invaded in 514. Herodotus wrote about this outstanding Scythian victory when he observed them in the fifth century. Later, in 360, King Atheas united all the tribes and expanded their territory to the border with Macedonia. It was not much later, though, that Scythian power began to decline after losing a war against Philip II of Macedonia in 339. However, the Scythians managed to continue wielding enough power to defeat both a general of Alexander the Great in 330 and the Caucasians in 310 bce, before the Celts and the Sarmatians (who had long been encroaching on Scythian territory) destroyed the Scythians’ kingdom in 225 bce. During their many campaigns, the Scythians earned a reputation as brutal and ferocious warriors. Their military prowess was proved time and again through innovative weapon use and battlefield tactics.

The Scythians were primarily archers, and almost exclusively cavalrymen. They were horse archers at a time when other armies depended mostly on foot soldiers and chariots. In fact, the Scythians were often the first cavalry many soldiers had ever seen in combat. This, in combination with full body tattoos, gave the Scythians a fierce and frightening appearance that terrified the people of the lands they invaded. Even when the opposing force did not run away out of fear, the Scythians proved an intimidating force; they appeared and dis appeared too quickly for any kind of successful infantry attack. The Scythians, for their part, took full advantage of their military resources. The Scythians became masters of archery on horseback, even learning how to shoot backwards while on horseback. “Scythian tactics were to advance on an enemy shooting fusillades of arrows. They would plunge forward as if to attack, but at the last instant wheel away and launch a fresh volley of arrows over the rumps of their retreating horses, thus leaving the dust enveloped enemy in disarray.” (Kuzych) This sort of guerrilla warfare was very common with the Scythians. And as they were nomads, they had the advantage of combining scorched earth tactics with their guerrilla attacks in order to keep the enemy at a distance and sap his resources while the Scythians moved farther away. In fighting smaller armies, they could be much more directly aggressive, first disorganizing their opponents by attacking them with arrows, then launching javelins and darts before charging with a lance and hand-to-hand weapons as they enemy’s lines began to break. Due to firm discipline and great skill, “the Scythian cavalry managed to retain its cohesion after breaking through the enemy lines; regrouped in the thick of the battle; and decided the day by a second charge in another direction at a second body of the enemy. Very few armies of antiquity were capable of that manoeuvre.” (Cernenko 32)

The value of the composite bow used by the Scythians cannot be overemphasized. Its stiffness and power allowed arrows to reach a distance of up to 200 yards with remarkable accuracy. For this reason, the Scythians were able to effectively use archery in both hunting and war. Unfortunately, the materials used to make bows-wood, bone, and animal tendons-deteriorate easily, and so very few bow remains have been found. The arrows that accompanied them fared better, being made of bronze, iron, or bone, depending on the date. Warriors kept both the bow and up to 75 arrows in a treasured gorytos, or bow case, which was never far from their side.

However, as mentioned previously, bows and arrows were not the only weapons used by the Scythians. They employed spears, long two-edged swords, short swords known as akinakes, narrow-bladed battle-axes, war picks, daggers, maces, and heavy darts. Most of these could either be thrown or used in close combat with the enemy.

Scythian armor usually consisted of leather corselets covered with overlapping bronze or iron “fish-scales” which shielded the chest and shoulders. Scythians are also credited with the development of chain mail, but its use was not common among the warriors, being expensive and difficult to produce. Scythian helmets evolved from pointed leather caps to scale-covered leather caps to tightly fitting bronze helmets. As for leg coverings, the Scythians are credited with the invention of trousers as they are known today. For avid horse riders, tight fitting trousers offered protection for the legs, since only the most rudimentary kind of saddles existed at the time. Metal-plated leg armor was also usually included, though it varied in style. The shields they carried were unique in style and decoration. Although ordinary warriors preferred light shields, the classic example of Scythian shields is seen in those carried by higher-ranking cavalrymen: a wooden base covered in iron scales. The iron scales could sometimes be replaced by a single circular iron plate. On top of the iron, it is common, mostly among noblemen, to see gold ornamentation.

The Scythians had access to gold through their kinfolk in the Altas Mountains. They used this gold as ornamentation for their clothes, horses, and weapons. It was often seen glittering as a cover for their gorytos, a hilt for their sword, and a handle for their battle-axe. Intricate carvings were etched in the gold plates that covered their most precious objects. Since the Scythians were nomads, their prized possessions- clothes, horses, and weapons-were transportable and elaborately decorated. The Scythians carved animal figures, but they also mixed fantasy with reality to create the “Scythian animal style” of artwork. Sometimes, the Scythians would even commission Greeks to do gold work for them. This usually resulted in the incredibly detailed recreation of whole battle scenes done entirely in gleaming gold.

Also, if the sight of fully tattooed warriors shining with gold as they rapidly advanced on horseback wasn’t enough to send the enemy screaming in the opposite direction, there was always the Scythian reputation. Their war practice was well- known to all, and is best recorded in Herodotus’s Histories. Herodotus first writes about his dislike for the Scythians’ assured victory in war. He particularly questions “the contrivance whereby they make it impossible for the enemy who invades them to escape destruction, while they themselves are entirely out of his reach. . . how can they fail of being unconquerable, and unassailable even?” As for their customs in battle, Herodotus describes the Scythians as savage and bloodthirsty warriors. He writes that Scythian soldiers drank the blood of the first man they killed in battle. They then cut off all the heads of those they slew, and took them to the king. Next, they scalped the heads and cut the scalps clean of flesh, in order to use it as a napkin. A warrior would either hang the scalps from his horse’s bridle or fashion a cloak out of them. Some would skin the arm of their enemy’s corpse and make a covering for their quivers. Others would go so far as to skin the entire body of the corpse and take it with them wherever they rode. With regard to the corpses of their most detested foes (or kin with whom they have been feuding), the Scythians would often fashion their skulls into drinking cups and use them socially.

It is clear, then, that the Scythians were brutal warriors who represented a significant threat to the peoples of their time. Their creative use of weapons and nontraditional battlefield tactics earned them both victories and reputations that would outlast time.

References: Cernenko, E. V., The Scythians: 700-300 BC. (New York: Osprey Publishing, 2005); Dwyer. Bede, “Scythian-Style Bows Dis- covered in Xinjiang.” Asian Traditional Archery Research Network, 19 March 2004, http://www.atarn. org/chinese/scythian_bows, 1 March 2006; Godolphin, Francis R. B., “From the Lands of the Scythians: Ancient Treasures from the Museums of the U. S. S. R. 3000 B. C.-100 B. C.,” The Metro- politan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, Vol. 32, No. 5, (1973-1974), pp. 129-149. http://links. jstor. org/sici? sici=0026-1521%281973% 2F1974%292%3A32%3A5%3C129% 3AHOTS%3E2.0. CO%3B2-A; Herodotus, The Histories, trans. by Aubery de Sleincourt (New York: Penguin Classics reprint, 2003); Kuzych, Ingert. “Scythian legacies,” The Ukrainian Weekly, 7 November 1999, No. 45, Vol. LXVII, http://www. ukrweekly. com/Archive/1999/ 459930. shtml, 2 March 2006; “The Legacy of the Horse.” International Museum of the Horse, 2000,, 1 March 2006.

8 thoughts on “Scythians

  1. Pingback: Armour in the Middle Ages – Xenia's Medieval Miscellany

  2. The depictions of Scythians displayed on this page are racially inaccurate, as well as culturally inaccurate.

    In artworks, the Scythians are portrayed exhibiting European traits.[116] In Histories, the 5th-century Greek historian Herodotus describes the Budini of Scythia as red-haired and grey-eyed.[116] In the 5th century BC, Greek physician Hippocrates argued that the Scythians have purron (ruddy) skin.[116][117] In the 3rd century BC, the Greek poet Callimachus described the Arismapes (Arimaspi) of Scythia as fair-haired.[116][118] The 2nd century BC Han Chinese envoy Zhang Qian described the Sai (Scythians) as having yellow (probably meaning hazel or green), and blue eyes.[116] In Natural History, the 1st century AD Roman author Pliny the Elder characterises the Seres, sometimes identified as Iranians (Scythians) or Tocharians, as red-haired and blue-eyed.[116][119] In the late 2nd century AD, the Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria says that the Scythians were fair-haired.[116][120] The 2nd century Greek philosopher Polemon includes the Scythians among the northern peoples characterised by red hair and blue-grey eyes.[116] In the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD, the Greek physician Galen declares that Sarmatians, Scythians and other northern peoples have reddish hair.[116][121] The fourth-century Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus wrote that the Alans, a people closely related to the Scythians, were tall, blond and light-eyed.[122] The 4th century bishop of Nyssa Gregory of Nyssa wrote that the Scythians were fair skinned and blond haired.[123]

    The erasure of the true racial identity of ancient people by politically correct artists, byb) darkening their features and making them look non-white, must be stopped.


    • Kit Number: Z428380, Scythian Pazyryk
      Kit Number: Z786855, Scythian Aldy
      those two scythian samples are high on eastern eurasian components. so your racial identity idea of scythians is not correct. you should educate yourself a bit.


  3. Indo- Europeanist ideology at the beginning of the late century made them as gay looking blondies WHO came from North with their light eyes and pig pink skins with their North iranian language which never was. Today we know that they were not looking europoid completely. They were Eurasian looking with slightly mongoloid features. DNA samples revealed the facts. Their language was not even Indo-Iranian. Skinning the scalp , weaponry and warfare all indictes that they were an Altaic culture. Try to Show them as fair haired gay Aryans is an insult to genetic science and history. Their culture was mostly related to ancient Turkic tribes. They never spoke an Indo- Iranian language. They were not gay Nordics from far North gay lands. They were horse-nomadic Eurasian warrior culture. They have nothing to do with Indo- Aryan migrations. As they were not an Indo- Iranian tribe.


  4. Thank God we have Genetic studies today. Check the samples of these steppe warrios they have nothing to do with so called ancient Iranians. It has been proved that Scythian dna is mostly Eurasian with mongoloid elements. They have nothing to do with that nordic aryan looking bullshit


  5. So this is very interesting to me. I do not think that there is a point to regressing to swearing at one another and calling artwork “gay”. Come on, guys! Rather than attacking each other, let’s focus on uncovering what is *true*!

    My impression is that Scythians is a term for a number of similar (e.g. nomadic, horseriding) but distinct tribes that inhabited a MASSIVE area that spanned from the area of Mongolia/China to the Black Sea. It would not surprise me if there was some degree of diversity within that expansive geographical range.

    The Scythians encountered far to the west by the Greeks and Romans were likely an extremely small subset of the larger civilization – if they were even the same civilization at all. One cannot compare the findings from the Altai Mountains of Mongolia to the tribes in the regions that Herodotus would have encountered around the Black Sea.

    Another thing to consider is terminology – are we talking about the same people? It does not seem to be so! From Wikipedia: “Use of the term “Scythians” for all early Eurasian nomads has however led to much confusion in literature,[2] and the validity of such terminology is controversial. Other names for that concept are therefore preferable.[5]”

    It would be somewhat odd that the Greeks and Romans would specifically mention things like hair color and eye color, but not comment on an appearance that was more Asian in nature. In fact, Herodotus later does:


    “Herodotus becomes vaguer, but remains useful, as he tries to describe the people far to the east of the Black Sea. In Book IV, chapter 23, we find the following description: (There are) “people who dwell at the foot of lofty mountains, who are said to be all—both men and women—bald from their birth, to have flat noses and very long chins…. Each of them dwells under a tree, and they cover the tree in winter with a cloth of thick white felt. They are called Agrippaeans.””

    “Clearly these “bald” people were Mongoloids, who would have looked relatively hair­less to the Greeks. The felt covering the tree would have been their tents, such as were copied in the interior of Pazyryk burial cham­bers, which were lined with felt hangings. Some of the people buried at Pazyryk were Mongoloid; perhaps this passage refers to a people who lived in the Altai Mountains.”

    So, Herodotus does NOT classify that the people we call Scythian today as “Scythian”. He refers to them as “Agrippaeans” (which I believe sounds like a Greek term).

    Here are who Herodotus considers to be “Scythian”:

    – “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”.”

    – Herodotus specifically names “Kings” of these tribes assembling against Darius’ army: “Tauri, Agathyrsi, Neuri, Maneaters, Black-cloaks, Geloni, Budini, and Sauromatae.”

    – Where are these people: “Beyond the Tauric country the Scythians begin, living north of the Tauri and beside the eastern sea, west of the Cimmerian Bosporus and the Maeetian lake, as far as the Tanaïs river, which empties into the end of that lake. [2] Now it has been seen that on its northern and inland side, running from the Ister, Scythia is bounded first by the Agathyrsi, next by the Neuri, next by the Man-eaters, and last by the Black-cloaks.”

    Here you can navigate back and forth with the arrows to descriptions of each tribe:

    – “Beyond the Tauric country the Scythians begin, living north of the Tauri and beside the eastern sea [“The ‘Eastern sea’ is the part of the Black Sea at the south-east corner of Scythia with the Cimmerian Bosporus, not the Pontic Maeotis”], west of the Cimmerian Bosporus and the Maeetian lake [modern Sea of Azov, directly north of Black Sea], as far as the Tanaïs river [Don River, flows into the Seas of Azov], which empties into the end of that lake. [2]…

    – “Scythia, then, is a four-sided country, two of whose sides are coastline, the frontiers running inland and those that are by the sea making it a perfect square; [2] for it is a ten days’ journey from the Ister to the Borysthenes [modern Dnieper River], and the same from the Borysthenes to the Maeetian lake [modern Sea of Azov, directly north of Black Sea]; and it is a twenty days’ journey from the sea inland to the country of the Black-cloaks who live north of Scythia. [3] Now, as I reckon a day’s journey at two hundred stades, the cross-measurement of Scythia would be a distance of five hundred miles, and the line drawn straight up inland the same. Such then is the extent of this land.”

    Important things to note:

    – The details in the “[” and “]” above I added.

    – If I roughly map the distance between the Black Sea and the Altai Mountains, we get about 3,346 miles. That is not at all equivalent to the 500-mile area described by Herodotus (7 times smaller!). It is clear here that we are not talking about even a fraction of the same area!

    – To the best that I can determine, it looks like the “Scythians” that the Greeks and Romans knew were restricted to modern-day Ukraine. Given that, it is likely that they were related to Eastern Balts or Slavs. That actually would be a white complexion – but that does NOT mean that the people we now know of as Scythians were white – clearly they are not; but that the people the Greeks called “Scythians” may have been.

    Again from From

    “In summary, we can see that Hero­dotus gives relatively accurate descriptions of the way of life of the nomads who were in fairly close contact with the Greeks, as, for example, in his description of the burial process. But he is considerably more vague about details of tribes far away, where the evidence he had was hearsay and passed through many hands, as in his discussion of the Agrippaeans. He does, however, have a tendency to exaggerate, or to generalize from specific or unique observations. Nevertheless, from a comparison with currently available archaeological evidence, it is clear that Hero­dotus as an ethnographer was more often right than wrong.”

    What I think is interesting here, though, is that there IS some recognition by Herodotus of Asia:

    On their origins: “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.”

    Substantiated by:
    “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.[3] Based on the analysis of mithocondrial lineages, another later 2017 study suggested that the Scythians were directly descended from the Srubnaya culture.[35] 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.[36] Another 2019 study also concluded that migrations must have played a part in the emergence of the Scythians as the dominant power of the Pontic steppe.[37]”

    More detail: “The people of the Yamnaya culture were likely the result of a genetic admixture between the descendants of Eastern European Hunter-Gatherers[a] and people related to hunter-gatherers from the Caucasus.[4] People with this ancestral component are known as Western Steppe Herders.[5] Their material culture was very similar to the Afanasevo culture. They lived primarily as nomads, with a chiefdom system and wheeled carts that allowed them to manage large herds.”

    My point is: to the best that I can determine, this is not a question of either whitewashing or of being overly politically correct. It sounds like two distinct groups. What I would like to know, however, is how interrelated the two groups were, as well as how much overlap there may have been between their cultures! If anyone knows, please post 🙂


    • Proto Scythians were related with Ancient North Eurasians ; an ancesteral basal main population. The question you asked is the lost link most Indo Europeanist scholars do not know. Today we have geneticstudies which correlates Scythians with Proto Turkic groups more than Indo-Iranian and Slavic ones. Heredot s writings are far a way from genetic facts. Russian scientists dig almost every Kurgan and did their genetic testing. Those Kurgan burials have genetically nothing to do with Slavic race or so called Ancient Iranians. Scythian population lived from Altai mountains era to north of Black Sea. They were there before the arrival of Proto Slavs from Baltic Era. Iranians only immigrate to India and performed the upper two casts of the Indian culture. Scythian s have nothing to do with Slavs or Iranians. Infact they have nothing to do with the Indo European culture, linquistic or race. They were living in the Southern Russian Steppes from the era of the basal ANE populations before this basal population turned or mixed with several (EEHG, CHG) or WSH s or EEF of Ancient Anatolia. That s the lost link. Even before genetic science no anthropologists classify Turkic groups as Mongoloids. Infact they thought that at the dawn of the time there should be a Caucosoid ( I wont use Europoid or white as it will turn out and end with misjudgements) ancesteral Proto Turkic group which later mixed with Mongoloids. Because Proto Turkic is much much more older ( most likely thousands of years) than Modern day Mongolian. Almost all phrases derived from Turkic to Mongolian language. But not the other way. In Altaic Turkic; there is no Mongolian words or phrases. Turkic language does not come out with Asian Huns just in a blink of an eye around 2 thousand years. Linguistics think that it has almost a past around 4 thousand years. Nobody in that times calls them Turkics at that era. The name Turk or Turkic means: ”warrior”, ”horseman” , ”wolf people”, ”men”, ” wanderers”. Today by genetic science we know that Scythian kurgans and Proto Turkic kurgans were the graves of the same horse nomadic warrior graves. Means that below the Mongoloid burials there is a Caucosoid race in Altai Proto Turk s graves and this Caucosoid populations DNA s taken from Altai Kurgans matched with Ancient Scythian kurgan s individuals. Russian had that knowledge but the Indo Europeanist arrogance and ignorance never accepted it. The second data is Scythians have a relationship with Cimmerians by genetically and linquistically. If you go to Odessa Ukraine museums you will see the ”Tamga” s of Cimmerians and Scythians. Today we know that the word Tamga evolved into Damga in Balkan- Anatolia – Azeri Turkic who comes from Oghuz ( Southern Turks) whom they derived from OGUR proto Turks ( Northern Turkics).By the science of genetics ( Kurgan corpses of Scythian era and later Proto Turkic burial corpses are genetically matched which means there is perfect genetic match between Scythian groups and Turkic groups by the means of beyond 60 -75 percentage). Third data is cultural. The pointy helmet, archery skills,leather armour , horse nomadic culture, clotghing, tattoos , weaponry, specific weapons such as small double headed axes , their on horse back archery equipment and bows and arrows , short curved swords, trousers for horse riding is exactly the same with proto Turkic groups. Proto Turks took the scalps of their enemy so was Scythians and Native Americans( Native Americans today have 20-30 percentage ANE ancestry). These genetic,linquistic( Scythian s speeking Iranian language was a lie performed and used by so called Aryan theorists which is used by political reasons not for scientific facts and later these thoughts embraced by Nazi s and today as White nationalism. Even Polish youths embrace this Neo Nazi whhite nationalizm bullshit aware of the knowledge that Poland is invaded , raped and erased from map by Nazi s and Russians which is very Ironic) and cultural elements shows and proves us that Scythians were Proto Turkic which derived from ANE directly. They had nothing to do with Iranians or Slavs. The Mongoloid admixtur of today s Turkic s and Scythian happened because of the interracial marriages between this Proto Turkic group and Mongoloids. The lost link is; ANE ancestry which connects Scythians to Native Americans and to Proto Turks was this ghost population which is also found in today s European populations(ANE). This reality comes from the genetic studies not from a Greek s imagination.


  6. Pingback: 2,500-Year-Old Iron Age horse harness found by accident is oldest in CEE, say, archaeologists | ARCHAEOLOGY WORLD

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