The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
Edited by Shapour Suren-Pahlav
Nomadic and sedentary (Imperial) Iranic Peoples in 6th century BCE
The Scythians were members of a nomadic people of Iranian stock who migrated from Iranian homeland in Central Asia to southern Russia in the 8th - 7th C. BCE.
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 BCE to the 2nd century CE.
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 neighbors.
The migration 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 Iran through Syria and Judaea to the borders of Egypt.
Median dynasty, who ruled Iran, attacked them and drove them out of
western Iranian lands in Anatolia, leaving them finally in control of
lands which stretched from the Iranian border north through the Kuban and
into southern Russia.
Iranian Scyths 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 Iranian King of King Darius the
Great in about 513 BCE.
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 BCE; 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
The first sign that steppe nomads had learned to fight well from horseback was a great raid into Asia Minor launched from the Ukraine about 690 BCE by a people whom the Greeks called Cimmerians.
Some, though perhaps not all, of the raiders were mounted. Not long thereafter, tribes speaking an Iranian language, which the Greeks called Scythians, conquered the Cimmerians and in turn became lords of the Ukraine.
to Herodotus, who is the principal source of information on these events,
the Scyths (or at least some of them) claimed to have migrated from the
Altai Mountains at the eastern extreme of the Western Steppe. This may
well be so, and some modern scholars have even surmised that the foreign
invasions of China that brought the Western Chou dynasty to an end in 771 BCE
may have been connected with a Scythian raid from the Altai that had
occurred a generation or two before Scythian migration westward to the
Eastern Steppe was, however, too barren and cold for invaders to linger.
Consequently, the spread of cavalry skills and of the horse nomads' way of
life to Mongolia took several centuries. We know this from Chinese records
clearly showing that cavalry raids from the Mongolian steppe became
chronic only in the 4th century BCE. China was then divided among warring
states, and border principalities had to convert to cavalry tactics in
order to mount successful defenses. The first state to do so developed its
cavalry force only after 325 BCE.
Long before then, however, the Scythians had erected a loose confederacy that spanned all of the Western Steppe. The high king of the tribe heading this confederacy presumably had only limited control over the far reaches of the Western Steppe. But on special occasions the Scythians could assemble large numbers of horsemen for long-distance raids, such as the one that helped to bring the Assyrian Empire to an end. After sacking the Assyrian capital of Nineveh in 612 BCE, the booty-laden Iranian Scyths returned to the Ukrainian steppe, leaving Medes, Babylonians, and Egyptians to dispute the Assyrian heritage. But the threat of renewed raids from the north remained and constituted a standing problem for rulers of the Middle East thereafter.
It is to the Scythians, a semi nomadic people from the Eurasian steppes who moved out from southern Russia into the territory between the Don and the Danube and then into Mesopotamia, that we owe a type of gold production, which, on the basis of its themes, is classified today as animal-style.
During the early period (5th-4th century BCE), this style appeared on shaped, pierced plaques made of gold and silver, which showed running or fighting animals (reindeer, lions, tigers, horses) alone or in pairs facing each other, embossed with powerful plasticity and free interpretation of the forms. The animal-style had a strong influence in western Asia during the 7th century BCE. Such ornaments as necklaces, bracelets, pectorals, diadems, and earrings making up the Ziwiye treasure (discovered in Iran near the border between Kurdistan and Azerbaijan provinces) provide evidence of this Asiatic phase of Scythian gold-working art.
ornaments are characterized by highly expressive animal forms. This
Central Asian Scythian-Iranian style passed by way of Phoenician trading
in the 8th century BCE into the Mediterranean and into Western jewelry.
2. SCYTHIAN ART
Art is also called STEPPES ART, decorative objects, mainly jewelry and
trappings for horse, tent, and wagon, produced by nomadic tribes that
roamed Central Asia from slightly east of the Altai Mountains in Inner
Mongolia to European Russia. What little is known of these tribes, called
Scyths, or Sacae, in the classical sources, indicates that they
established control of the plain north of the Black Sea over a period of
several centuries, from the 7th-6th century BCE until they were gradually
supplanted by the Sarmatians during the 4th century BCE-2nd centuryCE.
Many of the most impressive pieces of Scythian art (now part of the
treasure at the Hermitage, St. Petersburg) were cast of solid gold and
were recovered in the 17th-19th century, before the development of modern
archaeological methods that might have shed more light on their origins.
Scythians worked in a wide variety of materials, including wood, leather,
bone, appliqué felts, bronze, iron, silver, gold, and electrum. The tombs
of Pazyryk in the Altai yielded many well-preserved articles of clothing
that were profusely trimmed with embroidery and appliqué designs; the
clothes of the wealthy in southern Russia were covered with tiny
gold-embossed plaques, sewn to the garments. At Pazyryk, felt appliqué
wall hangings were found, some displaying religious scenes featuring the
Great Goddess or anthropomorphic beasts, others with geometric or animal
motifs. Felt rugs were also found, as well as a vast number of beautifully
made tools and domestic utensils.
art of the period is essentially an animal art. Combat scenes between two
or more animals are numerous, as are single animal figures. Many real or
mythical beasts are represented, the majority of the types having roots in
deep antiquity, but the Scythians fashioned them in a manner that was new
and characteristically their own. As is to be expected with nomads who
were constantly on the move, the decorative objects they produced are
generally small in size, but many are made of precious materials and
practically all are of superb workmanship.
Scythian gold figures of semi recumbent stags, measuring some 12 inches
(30.5 cm) in length, are outstanding; they were probably used as the
central ornaments for the round shields carried by many Scythian fighters.
Perhaps the loveliest of the gold stags is the 6th-century-BCE example from
the burial of Kostromskaya Stanitsa in the Kuban, but versions of the 5th
century BCE from Tápiószentmárton in Hungary and of the 4th century BCE
from Kul Oba in the Crimea are scarcely less beautiful. In all three
examples the stag is shown in a recumbent position, with its legs tucked
beneath its body, but with its head raised and its muscles taut so that it
gives an impression of rapid motion.
The Scythian artistic idiom is one of great compression as well as of synthesis; contrasting positions of the body are combined with astonishing skill to depict every possible aspect of the animal when visualized during all its diverse activities. Though the art is basically representational in character, it is at the same time imaginative in spirit, often verging on the abstract in conception. Yet however complex its elements, they are fused in the finished work into a single entity of compelling force and beauty.
Saka, Shaka, Sakai, Sacae, Scyth, Scythi, Scythia, Scythae, Scythiae, Scythes, Sythia, Skityai, Skuthai, Skythai, Skythia, Scythia, Scynthia, Scynthius, Sclaveni, Scoloti, Skodiai, Scotti, Skoloti, Skoth-ai, Skuth-a, Skoth, Skuthes, Askuza, Asguzai, Askuasa, Iskuzai
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