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Scythians

Scythian sword hiltThe Scythians are an ancient peoples of the Black Sea and Asian steppes. While recent excavations have shed light on much of their history, early origins remain a mystery. The earliest significant writing about these mysterious nomads on horseback comes from Herodotus, in 514 B.C., when he describes a strange event as Darius, leading a Persian army of 700,000 soldiers, was forced to retreat in an unusual sequence of events. The Scythians themselves were retreating, and Darius wanted to engage them in fighting. The Scythians, replied with a sort of vieled threat that at the same time prompted a realization on Darius' part that there was nothing to conquer - no buildings, no plunder, nothing but the endless steppe.

The Scythians are traditionally associated with the area between the Danube and the Don, but modern excavations in the Altai Mountains, particularly at the site of Pazyryk, suggest that their origins were in Western Siberia before they moved eastward into the Black Sea area in the early first millennium B.C.

The Scythian civilization reigned between the 7th and 3rd centuries B.C., the height being the 4th century, under the great king Atheas, who united all Scythian tribes and expanded his territory to the right bank of the Danube. He was killed at the age of 90 in the battle with Philip of Macedon, though the Scythian kingdom survived and flourished. Only in the second half of the 3rd century B.C., when Celts and Thracians moved in from the west, and Sarmatians from the east, did instability set in. Ultimately, the Scythian kingdom was absorbed by other nomadic powers and disappeared from history.

Scythian Stag PlaqueThe Scythians are noted for the enormous amount of gold that they wore and used. Archeologists are constantly amazed by the amount of gold that is found in the burial mounds of the Scythian kings. Their art (usually depicting animals) and working of this gold is equally as impressive as the volume. An impressive exhibit of Scythian gold is on display in a special section of the Hermitage Gallery in St. Petersburg. Much of the detail of the gold work you will view under a magnifying glass, causing you to stand in wonder at how this ancient civilization could create such minute detail with simple hand tools and no magnification.

The Scythians were also known for their horsemanship. They were one of the first civilizations to wear trousers. They developed bitted bridles, but not the stirrup, and relied on grip and balance with their saddleclothes. They were formidable in battle on horseback, and as they entered Asia, their techniques were rapidly adopted.



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