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Scythia is a region in Central Eurasia inhabited by the Eastern Iranian Scythians between the 9th and 4th centuries BCE. King Ateas unified the Scythian tribes inhabiting a vast territory between the Danube and the Maeotian marshes while simultaneously conquering the Thracians, which resulted in the expansion of Scythian territories.
See the fact file below for more information on the Scythia or alternatively, you can download our 24-page Scythia worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
ORIGIN OF SCYTHIA
- The Ancient Greeks gave the name Scythia to all the land in the north-east of Europe and the Black Sea’s northern coast. Scythia was modern-day Iran and other areas in eastern Europe.
- The nomadic group of people who lived in these areas were called Scythians. They originally came from Siberia.
- There is no written record of Scythians. Most of what we know about them came from the account of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus.
- Recent archaeological excavations proved most of Herodotus’ accounts. Artifacts continued to resurface, which revealed more insights into the Scythian way of life.
- Archeological remains suggested that Scythians have a high level of social and political organizations.
- Scythians’ government was a combination of tribal confederation and hereditary monarchy. They have a King, and beneath them, the powerful aristocracy called the Royal Scyths.
- Professional warriors, wealthy horse breeders, and Royal Scyths whose wealth can be attributed to their burial’s extravagance, were part of the upper class in the Scythian society.
- These people are essential in the individual tribes’ leadership, but it is unclear how they are related to the king. However, some evidence pointed out that they are informal advisers, and some are in a war council.
- Some historians believe that the Scythian government’s structure is flexible and streamlined with lines of command coming directly to the king.
- However, there are kings like King Ateas, who was more forceful in his royal prerogatives.
- Scythians were very skilled in casting metal. Siberia was rich in metal ores like gold, bronze, and iron, which Scythians cast and forged, inlaying with other materials.
- They made artistic artifacts with zoomorphic symbology. They used highly stylized animals to depict their beliefs, religion, and way of life.
- Their art showed Western influences on their art combined with eastern elements, giving their work a unique and elegant quality.
- The artifacts discovered with buried bodies consist of daily necessities made of metals decorated with the animal style, most in combat scenes.
SCYTHIANS’ WAY OF LIVING
- This nomadic confederation of tribes relied on breeding and herding sheep, cattle, and horses both for sustenance and obtaining leather, wool, and hair.
- They were very skilled horsemen who adored their horses. They were highly dependent on their horses for traveling. They developed more functional gear like saddles, bridles, and bits, which were durable and light.
- There was one horse for every Scythian except for the wealthy who owned large herds of horses.
- Scythians also participated in trading with the Greeks. They traded grains, gold, and wine.
- They also participated in the slave trade from around the Black Sea, making most of the Royal Scyths wealthy.
- Scythians mummified their dead. They had an elaborate process of mummification where they removed brain matter through holes and removed as much tissue as possible before replacing them with dry grass and sewing up the skin.
- They also equipped their corpses with essentials and prized possessions. They dug a deep hole to create a tomb chamber, called kurgans, where they put the wooden coffin. They also placed slaughtered horses facing east within the tomb chamber, and called for the sacrifice of members of a dead man’s household.
- They did funeral ceremonies by having big feasts, which also served as a bonding opportunity between tribes and individuals. Scythian tribes only got together for funerals and other important events.
- Historians also suggest that Scythians were heavy wine drinkers and produced “vapor-bath” steams, making them intoxicated and high.
- Scythians loved tattoos. They covered their arms, legs, and torso. Animals in combat, rows of birds, and lined dots that resembled modern acupuncture were just some designs printed on their bodies.
- Scythians’ common soldiers were armed with Greek-style bronze helmets and chainmail jerkins. Their primary weapons were bows and arrows and Persian-style swords.
- These soldiers were freemen who received food and clothing only as their wages. They could share bounty if they presented a slain enemy’s head.
- Some Scythians also relied on grain farming to trade with the Greeks.
- Recent artifacts claimed that Scythian women could join the army and were fierce warriors.
- Archaeologists discovered graves and skeletons which suggested that female Amazon warriors in Greek stories were Scythian.
- Scythian mythology was primarily composed of seven gods. Scythians left no written record about their religion.
- The functions of Scythian gods and goddesses were determined by comparing them to Greek gods and correspond to the Indo-Iranian tradition.
- However, there were clear pieces of evidence which suggested that Scythians gods were divided into three ranks.
- The first one was “Tabiti”, a Greek Hestia. According to the Indo-Iranian tradition, being the first in rank corresponds to the concept of fire as the primeval substance and basis of the universe.
- Second in rank was the conjugal couple, Papaeus and Api (Zeus and Gaia), who embodied the concept of the cosmogonical act through the marriage of heaven and earth or water.
- Third were Oetosyrus, the Greeks’ Apollo, and Artimpasa, the Greeks’ Aphrodite. Although the function of Oetosyrus was still highly debatable, Artimpasa corresponds with the Iranian Arti, a goddess connected with the idea of material abundance.
- The other two unnamed gods were identified with their Greek counterparts Ares and Heracles.
- Herodotus used a sword as a symbol to identify the first unnamed god. This symbol depicted him as the god of war, corresponding to the Iranian Verethragna.
- The second unnamed God associated with Heracles closely resembled Targitaus, the Scythian race’s father.
- In Herodotus’ story, Herakles was responsible for procreating the Scythian race through a half-damsel and half-serpent Scythian creature. It had three sons and made one of them the first king of Scythia.
- Targitaus’ association with Heracles was due to him also being the father of three sons who rule Scythia and giving the power to the youngest son.
DECLINE OF SCYTHIA
- Scythia started to disintegrate after the death of King Ateas, the king responsible for the Scythians’ golden age. His campaign towards the west brought him into conflict with his previous ally, Philip II of Macedon. He died during the latter’s attack on Scythia in 339 BCE.
- In 200 BCE, Scythians settled in Greek cities of the Crimea. They created a small territory called Scythian Minor and maintained close relations with the Bosporan Kingdom through marriage.
- Scythian Kings Skilurus and Palakus sought to expand their territory up to Greek cities of the north of the Black Sea. They failed after General Diophantus defeated them. Their territory was removed, and they practically disappeared in history.
- They made a resurgence in 1st century CE and laid siege into Chersonesos but were defeated by a Roman commander.
- They assimilated themselves in the Sarmatian population by the 2nd century CE.
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the Scythia across 24 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Scythia worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the Scythia which is a region in Central Eurasia inhabited by the Eastern Iranian Scythians between the 9th and 4th centuries BCE. King Ateas unified the Scythian tribes inhabiting a vast territory between the Danube and the Maeotian marshes while simultaneously conquering the Thracians, which resulted in the expansion of Scythian territories.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Scythia Facts
- In Four Words
- Scythian Art
- Scythian Deities
- Discovering Scythia
- The Scythian Inquiry
- Scythian Society
- The Tribe’s Life
- Decline of Scythians
- Tradition for the Dead
- Scythian Tattoo
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Use With Any Curriculum
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