The ancient Sacae, or Scyths, are recognized in the Aryan population, who may be found in great numbers and in their purest form in the more inaccessible mountains and glens of the central highlands.
When about 255 B.C. Diodotus had made himself king of Bactria and tried to expand his dominions, the chieftain of a tribe of Iranian nomads (Dahan Scyths) east of the Caspian, the Parni or Aparni, who bore the Persian name Arsaces, fled before him into Parthia.
These tribes raised wheat, presumably in the river valleys, and sold it for export; in the eastern half from west to east were Georgi (perhaps the same as Aroteres) between the Ingul and the Borysthenes (Dnieper), nomad Scyths and Royal Scyths between the Borysthenes and the Tanais (Don).
From this region started an important trade route eastward by the Thyssagetae among the southern Urals, the Iyrcae on the Tobol and Irtysh to the Kirgiz steppe, where dwelt other Scyths, regarded as colonists of those in Europe: then by the Argippaei in the Altai and the Issedones in the Tarym basin, to the one-eyed Arimaspi on the borders of China, who stole their gold from the watchful griffins, and who marched with goat-footed men and Hyperboreans reaching to the sea.
- Herodotus expressly divides the Scythians into the Agriculturists, Callipidae, Alazones, Aroteres and Georgi in the western part of the country, and the Nomads with the Royal Scyths to the east.
Presumably, therefore, the Scyths also spoke an Iranian dialect.
Nevertheless, the general opinion has been that the Scyths were Iranian.
Herodotus gives three legends of the origin of the Scyths (iv.
And the name Scoloti, by which careful modern writers designate the Royal Scyths, is the true designation of the subject race.
The royal line of these is quite distinct from the true Royal Scyths, who, like most nomad conquerors, allowed their subjects, to preserve their own organizations.
According to it the Scyths dwell in Asia, and were forced by the Massagetae over the Araxes (Volga ?) into the land of the Cimmerians.
The Scyths having fallen upon them from the north-east, the Cimmerians appear to have given way in two directions, towards the southwest, where the tombs of their kings were shown on the Tyras (Dniester) and one body joined with the Treres of Thrace in invading Asia Minor by the Hellespont; and towards the south-east where another body threatened the Assyrians, who called them Gimirrai (Hebrew Gomer; Gen.
They were followed by the Scyths (Ashguzai, Heb.
Hence the references to the Scyths in the Hebrew prophets (Jer.
This, is all put in the latter half of the 7th century B.C. Herodotus says that the Scyths ruled Media for twenty-eight years, and were then massacred or expelled.
If the Scyths came out of upper Asia, the Scythian colonists beyond the Iyrcae might be a division which had remained nearer the homeland, but in dealing with nomads we can suppose such a return as that of the Calmucks (Kalmuks) in the 18th century.
The physical features of the Scyths are not described by Herodotus, but Hippocrates (Lc.) draws a picture of them which makes them very similar to the Mongols as they appeared to the Franciscan missionaries in the 13th century.
Herodotus gives a good survey of the customs of the Scyths: it seems mostly to apply to the ruling race.
The Scyths lived upon the produce of their herds of cattle and horses, their main food being the flesh of the latter, either cooked in a cauldron or made into a kind of haggis, and the milk of mares from which they made cheese and kumiss (a fermented drink resembling buttermilk).
The religion of the Scyths was nature worship. Herodotus (iv.
These are common to all the Scythians, but Thamimasadas (Poseidon) is peculiar to the Royal Scyths.'
The Scyths had a method of divination with sticks, and the Enarees, who claimed to be soothsayers by grant of the goddess who had afflicted them, used another method by splitting bast fibres.
The Royal Scyths who followed the body were accustomed to cut about their faces and arms, and each tribe that the cortege met upon its way had to join it and conform to this expression of grief.
A year later they strangled fifty youths of the dead man's servants (all Scyths born) and fifty of the best horses, stuffed them and mounted them in a circle about the tomb.
It would correspond in time with the movement of the Scyths of which Herodotus speaks, and it may be inferred that immigrants coming from those regions were rather allied to the Tatar family of nations than to the Iranian.
About the same time similar peoples harassed the northern frontier of Iran, where they were called Saka (Sacae), and in later times Saka and Scyths, whether they were originally the same or not, were regarded as synonymous.
In this march he was much harassed by the nomads, with whom he could not come to close quarters, but no mention is made of his having any difficulty with the rivers (he gets his water from wells), and no reason for his proceedings is advanced except a desire to avenge legendary attacks of Scyths upon Asia.
After losing many men the Great King comes back to the place where he crossed the Danube, finds the Ionians still guarding the bridge in spite of the attempts of the Scyths to make them desert, and safely re-enters his own dominions.
The Greeks had been trading with the Scyths ever since their coming, and at Olbia there were other tales of their history.
Herodotus adduces this to show how much the Scyths hated foreign customs, but with the things found in the graves it rather proves how strong was the attraction exercised upon the nomads by the higher culture of their neighbours.
Henceforward the Scyths appear as a declining power: by the middle of the 4th century their eastern neighbours the Sarmatae have crossed the Tanais (Don) and the pressure of the Scyths is felt on the Danube.
It is probable that the Iranian element was stronger among the Sarmatae, whose power extended as the ruling clan of the Scyths became extinct; but it is quite likely that they in their turn were officered by some new horde from upper Asia.
Like the Scyths they were pressed towards the west by yet newer swarms, and with the coming of the Huns Scythia enters upon a new cycle, though still keeping its old name in the Byzantine historians.
C. 1, p. 119) to the so-called Royal Scyths, ZKLOae (3aoLAnes, who were known to the Greek colonies upon the Euxine, and whose political superiority and commercial enterprise led to this rendering of their name.
By the 3rd century B.C. the Sarmatae appear to have supplanted the Scyths proper in the plains of south Russia, where they remained dominant until the Gothic and Hunnish invasions.