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Ancient Scythians

Greek writers, especially Herodotus, provided the primary accounts of the Scythians. As warriors they were unmatched, these chroniclers said.

The Scythians originated in cenral Asia and migrated westward in search of better pastures and peoples to conquer. The Scythian era dawned upon the Stavropol Region in the European Ukrainian Steppe in the first half of the seventh century BC. [North of the Caucasus Mountains, hence the Cis-Caucasus]

As they moved through southwest Asia they pillaged Nineveh, Babylon and other cities and raided even into Palestine. Some historians think that the prophet Jeremiah had the Scythians in mind when he warned the Israelites that warriors would come who are cruel and have no mercy, their voice roareth like the sea and they ride upon horses, every one put in array, as men for war against thee.

In about 513 BC the nomads attracted the attention of Darius I, King of Persia, who journeyed more than a thousand miles to chastise them. Darius may have been trying to shore the borders of his empire against plunderers or to shut off the supply of grain to his enemies, the Greeks of Athens and other city-states and their allies in the Aegean Islands. The Scythians were not farmers, but they may have controlled the grain trade around the Black Sea, where many Greek colonies were located.

As the legions of Darius advanced, the Scythian horde fell back, screened by a rear guard that set the steppe ablaze. Darius, Herodoyus wrote, sent an imperious message to the Scythian ruler Idanthyrsus: "Stop running and fight!" ...

Idanthyrsus replied that while the Scythians had no cities or croplands to defend, We have the graves of our fathers; come, find these and essay to destroy them; then shall you know whether we will fight you.

At last, says Herodotus, Darius beheld his prey drawn up as if for battle. He deployed his thousands of soldiers to attack. But the Scythians showed only contempt for this threatening display: While awaiting Darius's charge, some broke ranks and began chasing a hare. Darius gave up and turned for home ...

The World of the Scythians - Renate Rolle
Translated From The German By F. G. Walls 1980
Library of Congress # DK 34 S4 R5713 1989

Beginning as early as the 9th century and with increasing impact in the late 8th and early 7th centuries, groups of nomadic warriors entered western Iran, probably from across the Caucasus. Dominant among these groups were the Scythians and their entrance into the affairs of the western plateau during the 7th century may perhaps mark one of the important turning points in Iron Age history. Herodotus speaks in some detail of a period of Scythian domination, the so called Scythian interregnum in Median Dynasty history. His dating of this event remains uncertain but traditionally it is seen as falling between the reigns of Phraortes and Cyaxares and as covering the years 653 to 625 BC. Whether such an interregnum ever actually occurred and, if it did, whether it should not be dated later than this are open questions. What is clear is that, by the mid 7th century BC, there were a great many Scythians in western Iran, that they, along with the Medes and other groups, posed a serious threat to Assyria and that their appearance threw previous power alignments quite out of balance ...

The chief thrust of their expansion was directed against the south rather than the west, where no major power existed and which thus offered little chance for valuable booty. In the late 8th century BC Cimmerian and Scythian troops fought against the Assyrian king Sargon II, and at the end of the 6th century BC conflict arose between the Scythians and the Achaemenian King Darius I.

Darius' expedition (516-513 BC) against the Scythians in the Ukrainian steppes was described in great detail by the Greek historian Herodotus, who provided the first and perhaps the most penetrating description of a great nomad empire ...

Although the Scythians had no script it has been established, nevertheless, that they spoke an Iranian language ...

In the eyes of an Achaemenid Persian the Scythians (or Sakas) were the people in the north who were constantly restless, exotically colourful and posed a perpetual threat. King Darius had succeeded in vanquishing the Asiatic Scythians in 520/519 BC and their King Skuka was bound and led before him ...

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