18 May 2023

What are the Scythians? – Origin, culture and life of the Scythian peoples

By Donald

The Scythians are a nomadic people dating from the 9th century BC which was found throughout the steppe of Central Asia and Europe. This community spoke an Indo-European language and shared a culture characterized by the art of war and military prowess. If you want to know more about who they are, what their culture is like, their agricultural practices, how they lived and more, here we teach you!

What does scythian mean?

The word “Scythian” is mostly used to refer to the nomads who were located in the western and central steppe of Europe and Asia, who spoke the Scytho-Sarmatian languages. This population was north of the Black Seabeing very similar to the Sarmatians who were located in the north of the Caspian.

This ancient group was of Iranian origin, a set of ethnic groups that were located in the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia and a certain part of the Indian subcontinent. They were characterized by having a culture that was directly based on the nomadic herding and horse breedingas well as in agriculture and wheat planting.

They got used to live in large areas from around the 9th century BC to the 4th century AD. C. Likewise, the internal relations within these groups were not very clear, and it is not known how coexistence occurred between them or if used a hierarchical order as in other cultures.

It should be noted that in archeology this term is used more generally, since it is used to define all starting nomads of documented history.

How is the origin of the Scythians?

He origin of the scythians is not very clear, due to the fact that they are considered one of the oldest groups in history. However, one of the earliest written records of this community dates from the early part of the 12th century BC.

What was the culture of the Scythian peoples like?

The culture of the Scythians haunts mainly in the art of war and death, as well as in agriculture, nomadic herding, horse breeding, etc. They were considered “savage” by contemporary populations, since they were quite bloodthirsty by directly swallowing and drinking the blood of the first victim of each battle.

Their love for war made them perceived as aggressive individuals, since to demonstrate their strength dressed in human scalps. Some tribes did not bury their dead, but simply left them on the surface and waited for the vultures to eat them. This custom was very similar to that of the Sumerians since the eagle was the representation of the god of the wind, so if he ate one of the deceased people of his community, it was a welfare sign for the tribe.

Some communities of the Scythians they did not conceive this definition of death, since they believed in life after death, which is why they buried the deceased in the hope that they would enjoy another opportunity. These Scythians settled in the current Ukrainian territory and began to practice agriculture to sell wheat to the Greeks.

God and religion of the Scythians

The Scythians in the religious field believed that there was life beyond death. In the same way, this community used to worship the presence of the sun and the fire, because both were their allies during warfare and functioned as tools for them.

In almost all the peoples of antiquity, the sky, the earth, the fire and the sun were considered as the main deities for the Scythians, having, thus, a high religious value. Even within the writings there is the testimony of Herodotus, who mentioned before the king of the Scythians, Idantirso, that he only knelt before Hestia and the god Zeus. In this way, thanks to Herodotus we know that the Scythians they worshiped eight deities:

  • Tabithawhich was Hestia in Greek culture, the goddess of fire.
  • Noshwhich in Greece is Zeus, the god of the sky.
  • Api or Gaiathe earth goddess o’mother Earth‘.
  • goetosirothe equivalent of Apollo, the god of music, of the sun and epitome of youth.
  • argimpasa, the goddess Aphrodite, who was the mother of beauty. The Scythians considered her as the queen of abundance and the mother goddess.
  • Hercules (Scythian name unknown), it was the personification of strength.
  • Thagimasidas or the god Poseidon, who was not the god of the sea in this culture, on the other hand he was considered the patron saint of horses.
  • Ares (Scythian name unknown), the god of war.

The Scythians, unlike the Romans, the Egyptians and the Greeks, they did not make altars to their gods. They also did not have images or temples, they only considered them as important deities when they had to go to war.

Likewise, the most important for them was Argimpasa, to which a ritual called “Enareí” was performed. This, beyond a ritual, was a belief that some individuals were born with a privileged caste, since they had been blessed by the goddess Argimpasa. These blessed people had an important role within society, since they could use pieces of bark to predict the future.

art of the scythians

The little or much that is known about the Scythian peoples is thanks to their culture, mainly due to their art and the various finds that were found north of the Black Sea, since, despite the fact that this community is recognized for its nomadic character and for being lovers of war conflicts, his art was quite realistic and remarkable.

Much of the found objects of the Scythians tell a story. A simple comb could have an event engraved on it, such as for example the golden pectoral of Tovsta Mohylawho is surrounded by fantastic animals, horses and cows, animals that were daily involved in his life, with the scene of felines attacking deer recurring in the engravings, demonstrating how the food chain worked.

For this reason, it has been deduced that any device could tell the story of the town, full of particular, dramatic and very raw instances, as well as their daily life, habits, beliefs and customs. Even from community funeral events.

Scythian art is mainly realism, including the action scenes with a unique and abstract representation of their reality. Likewise, the taste and fixation for gold could be observed, due to the fact that almost all of his works, garments, accessories and more, included this material.

Another form of expression of the art of the Scythians were their extravagant and colorful clothing, which were always colorful, full of bright and strong contrasts. The clothes that have been rescued from these towns are very striking, from the ornate shoes to the dyed leather socks and shirts. They included various designs through their seams, adding embroidery and mixing the textures of the fabrics with the leather.

Finally, one of the most prominent artistic forms of the Scythians were The tattoos. This community, despite being so old, were experts in tattooing and displayed their skills on the arms and legs of various individuals. Most of the tattoos were animals that they saw daily, such as deer, antelopes, snakes, cats, etc.

How did the Scythians live?

the scythian peoples they lived in confederated tribes, that is, a union of places where each one retains its sovereignty, governed only by some certain laws that are common to all. This community was organized in a political way in which a voluntary associationwhere some people had to regulate the pastures and others made a common defense against the rest of the neighbors.

In this way, this society had a great productivity in the field of breeding and domestication of animals, as well as in agriculture. In the same way they organized a pastoral economy that stood out from the rest of the ancient civilizations, in such a way that they could afford to go to war with towns if they wanted a certain piece of land or if they were attacked. Also, they could trade or force alliances symbolic with neighboring towns that were sedentary.

Where are the Scythian peoples from?

The Scythian community was nomadic, so they lived in numerous places. Among them we can highlight the steppes of Asia, Possibly between Lake Baikal and the Aral Sea, in the northern Black Sea and in a part of Europe. Quite a presence of the Scythians has been found in Ukraine and in Russia, where it is considered to be one of the central areas in which they were located.