Sunday, November 8, 2020

The ancient horsemen from Asia: The Scythians

The steppes of central Asia in ancient times provided a vast belt of grazing land for tribes of nomadic herdsmen. They were highly mobile people who lived according to the rhythm of the season, following the wandering of their sheep, goats, horses, cattle or yaks. Theirs was a cold and forbidding landscape of mountains and bare plains. They had no writing and they made no stone-built cities. Moreover, as wanderers they had no use for cumbersome furnishings, using only lightweight household items, chiefly of wood hides and cloth.

Scythians were one of numerous eastern nomadic groups that swept over Europe between the first millennium B.C. and the middle of the second millennium A.D. The east-to-west movement of these nomadic military societies changed the character of the population in Europe and Asia both by displacing indigenous peoples and by transmitting a new culture.

What is known of the nomads survives in a scattering of graves, and in texts written by observes from the settled civilizations to the east and west. The first time that the Greeks came into contact with the Scythians can be traced to the 7th century BC, when the first Greek settlements were established on the northern Black Sea shores. Since that time, the Scythians were constantly present in Greek tradition and many ideas were developed regarding these people.

Scythians were Indoeuropean people, inhabiting the steppes to the north of the Black Sea, between the rivers Dniester and Don, on the territories of today’s Ukraine, Russia and Moldova. They spoke a language from the Iranian family.

The Scythian women were rarely seen, but kept confined to their wagons and circular tents; these tents made of felt stretched over a wood framework and known as yurts, can still be seen in central Asia today. The men wore kaftans, distinctive pointed headgear and trousers – a major invention of Asian horsemen and one that made riding more comfortable. They also carried swords, shields and a bow and arrow case.

Scythians were pastoralists and warriors, among the earliest people to master the art of horseback riding. After a series of wars in 4th BC they gained a dominant position in Eurasia.

Herodotus says of the Scythians dominance of Asia: The Scythians ravaged the whole of Asia. They not only took tribute from each people, but also made raids and pillaged everything these peoples had. once Kiaksar and the Medians invited the Scythians to a feast and killed them.

Notorious among ancient peoples for their cruelty, the Scythians were said to blind their slaves to make them easier to manage, and to drink from cups made from enemies’ skulls.

The Greek historians Herodotus described many of the Scythians’ outlandish customs, especially their burial rites which included the ceremonial slaughter of wives, servants and animals.

Archaeological data show that Scythian society was marked by high social stratification. The burial of kings, according to Herodotus, took place in a great square pit. The royal corps was embalmed, its belly slit open, cleaned out, and filled with chopped frankincense, parsley and anise before sewn up again. With the bodies of slaughtered attendants and horses were piled mounds of golden vessels.

Herodotus also described that the Persian great Kings, decided to invade Scythia. With Persian King himself in command, the Persian army of 700,000 soldiers marched across the Danube to the Russian steppes. The Scythians steadily retreated while the Persians pursuit. It was indeed very strange war to Persian. There was nothing to be captured and held - no citied, no buildings, no plunder, nothing but the rimless steppe. He was fighting air.
The ancient horsemen from Asia: The Scythians

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