member of a nomadic people originally of Iranian stock who migrated from Central Asia to southern Russia in the 8th and 7th centuries Bc . Centred on what is now the Crimea, the Scythians founded a rich, powerful empire that survived for several centuries before succumbing to the Sarmatians during the 4th century BC to the 2nd century AD.
Much of what is known of the history of the Scythians comes from the account of them by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who visited their territory. In modern times this record has been expanded chiefly by the work of Russian anthropologists.
The Scythians were feared and admired for their prowess in war and, in particular, for their horsemanship. They were among the earliest people to master the art of riding, and their mobility astonished their neighbours. The migration of the Scythians from Asia eventually brought them into the territory of the Cimmerians, who had traditionally controlled the Caucasus and the plains north of the Black Sea. In a war that lasted 30 years, the Scythians destroyed the Cimmerians and set themselves up as rulers of an empire stretching from west Persia through Syria and Judaea to the borders of Egypt. The Medes, who ruled Persia, attacked them and drove them out of Anatolia, leaving them finally in control of lands which stretched from the Persian border north through the Kuban and into southern Russia.
The Scythians were remarkable not only for their fighting ability but also for the civilization they produced. They developed a class of wealthy aristocrats who left elaborate graves filled with richly worked articles of gold and other precious materials. This class of chieftains, the Royal Scyths, finally established themselves as rulers of the southern Russian and Crimean territories. It is there that the richest and most numerous relics of Scythian civilization have been found. Their power was sufficient to repel an invasion by the Persian king Darius I in about 513 BC.
The Royal Scyths were headed by a sovereign whose authority was transmitted to his son. Eventually, around the time of Herodotus, the royal family intermarried with Greeks. In 339 the ruler Ateas was killed at the age of 90 while fighting Philip II of Macedonia. The community was eventually destroyed in the 2nd century BC, Palakus being the last sovereign whose name is preserved in history.
The Scythian army was made up of freemen who received no wage other than food and clothing, but who could share in booty on presentation of the head of a slain enemy. Many warriors wore Greek-style bronze helmets and chain-mail jerkins. Their principal weapon was a double-curved bow and trefoil-shaped arrows; their swords were of the Persian type. Every Scythian had at least one personal mount, but the wealthy owned large herds of horses, chiefly Mongolian ponies. Burial customs were elaborate and called for the sacrifice of members of the dead man's household, including wife, servants, and a number of horses.
member of an ancient people living north of the Caucasus and the Sea of Azov, driven by the Scythians out of southern Russia, over the Caucasus, and into Anatolia toward the end of the 8th century BC. Ancient writers sometimes confused them with the Scythians. Most scholars now believe that the Cimmerians assaulted Urartu (Armenia) about 714 BC, but in 705, after being repulsed by Sargon II of Assyria, they turned aside into Anatolia and in 696–695 conquered Phrygia. In 652, after taking Sardis, the capital of Lydia, they reached the summit of their power. Their decline soon began, and their final defeat may be dated from 637 or 626, when they were routed by Alyattes of Lydia. Thereafter, they were no longer mentioned in historical sources but probably settled in Cappadocia, as its Armenian name, Gamir, suggests.
The origin of the Cimmerians is obscure. Linguistically they are usually regarded as Thracian or as Iranian, or at least to have had an Iranian ruling class. They probably did live in the area north of the Black Sea, but attempts to define their original homeland more precisely by archaeological means, or even to fix the date of their expulsion from their country by the Scythians, have not so far been completely successful. One theory identifies them with what is known to archaeologists as the “Catacomb” culture. This culture was ousted from southern Russia by the “Srubna” culture advancing from beyond the Volga just as the Cimmerians were ousted by the invading Scythians, but that upheaval took place in the second half of the 2nd millennium BC, and a gap of several centuries separates it from the appearance of historic Cimmerians in Asia. Some authorities identify them with “Thraco-Cimmerian” remains of the 8th–7th century BC found in the southwestern Ukraine and in central Europe; these may perhaps be looked upon as traces of the western branch of the Cimmerians, who, under fresh Scythian pressure, eventually invaded the Hungarian plain and survived there until about 500 BC.
member of a people originally of Iranian stock who migrated from Central Asia to the Ural Mountains between the 6th and 4th century Bc and eventually settled in most of southern European Russia and the eastern Balkans.
Like the Scythians to whom they were closely related, the Sarmatians were highly developed in horsemanship and warfare. Their administrative capability and political astuteness contributed to their gaining widespread influence. By the 5th century BC the Sarmatians held control of the land between the Urals and the Don River. In the 4th century they crossed the Don and conquered the Scythians, replacing them as rulers of almost all of southern Russia by the 2nd century. The Roman province of Lower Moesia (Bulgaria) was penetrated during the time of Nero's rule, and an alliance which the Sarmatians formed with Germanic tribes posed a formidable threat to the Romans in the West as late as the lst century AD. In the final centuries of their existence the Sarmatians invaded Dacia (Romania) and the lower Danube region, only to be overwhelmed by the Goths during the 3rd century AD, though many of them joined their conquerors in the Gothic invasion of western Europe. Sarmatia perished when hordes of Huns migrated after AD 370 into southern Russia. Those surviving became assimilated or escaped to the West to fight the Huns and the last of the Goths. By the 6th century their descendants had disappeared from the historical record.
When the Sarmatians penetrated into southeastern Europe, they were already accomplished horsemen. They were nomadic, devoting themselves to hunting and to pastoral occupations. Owing to their common nomadic and Central Asian heritage, Sarmatian society paralleled, at first, that of the Scythians, but there were many differences. The Scythian gods were those of nature, while the Sarmatians venerated a god of fire to whom they offered horses in sacrifice. In contrast to the reclusive, domestic role of Scythian women, unmarried Sarmatian females, especially in the society's early years, took arms alongside men. Sarmatian female warriors may have inspired the Greek tales of the Amazons.
An early matriarchal form of society was later replaced by a system of male chieftains and eventually by a male monarchy. This transition may well have stemmed from the rapid development of horsemanship and a male cavalry corps, attributable to the invention of the metal stirrup and the spur. These innovations contributed greatly to success in military campaigns and even influenced the Roman style of combat.
burial customs offer an insight into the progress of the Sarmatian social
structure. Early graves held only the remains of the deceased. The somewhat
later inclusion of personal objects with the body followed the emergence of
class differences. As society became more complex and affluent, more treasures
were included with the corpse, until in the final period burial costumes and
even jewelry were added to the ritual. The Kuban region is the site of the most
elaborate tombs, which in general resemble those of the Scythians, although
they are less elaborate in form and decoration. Horse trappings and weapons of
the Sarmatians were also less elaborate than those of the Scythians, but
they nonetheless evidenced great skill. Sarmatian spears were longer, but
knives and daggers were just as varied in style. An outstanding specialty was
the Sarmatian long sword, which featured a hilt of wood with gold lacing,
topped with an agate or onyx knob. Sarmatian art was strongly geometric,
floral, and richly coloured. Jewelry was a major craft, expressed in rings,
bracelets, diadems, brooches, gold plaques, buckles, buttons, and mounts.
Exceptional metalwork was found in the tombs, including bronze bracelets,
spears, swords, gold-handled knives, and gold jewelry and cups.