The Scythians were an ancient Iranic people of horse-riding nomadic pastoralists who, throughout classical antiquity, dominated the Pontic-Caspian steppe, known at the time as Scythia.
The Scythians are thought to have originated from the Central Asian region of Persia, as a branch of the ancient Iranian peoples expanding north into the steppe regions from around 1000 BCE. The Scythians first appeared in the historical record in the 8th century BCE. The Histories of Herodotus provide the most important literary sources relating to ancient Scyths. He reported three versions as to the origins of the Scythians, but placed greatest faith in this version: "There is also another different story, now to be related, in which I am more inclined to put faith than in any other. It is that the wandering Scythians once dwelt in Asia, and there warred with the Massagetae, but with ill success; they therefore quitted their homes, crossed the Araxes, and entered the land of Cimmeria."
Around 676 BCE, the Scythians in alliance with the Mannaens attacked Assyria. The group first appears in Assyrian annals under the name Ishkuzai. According to the brief assertion of Esarhaddon's inscription, the Assyrian Empire defeated the alliance. Subsequent mention of Scythians in Babylonian and Assyrian texts occur in connection with Media. Both Old Persian and Greek sources mention them during the period of the Achaemenid empires, with Greek sources locating them in the steppe between the Dnieper and Don rivers.
In 512 BCE, when King Darius the Great of Persia attacked the Scythians, he allegedly penetrated into their land after crossing the Danube. Herodotus relates that the nomadic Scythians succeeded in frustrating the designs of the Persian army by letting it march through the entire country without an engagement. According to Herodotus, Darius in this manner came as far as the Volga River.
During the 5th to 3rd centuries BCE the Scythians evidently prospered. When Herodotus wrote his Histories in the 5th century BCE, Greeks distinguished Scythia Minor in present-day Romania and Bulgaria from a Greater Scythia that extended eastwards for a 20 day ride from the Danube River, across the steppes of today's East Ukraine to the lower Don basin. The Scythians apparently obtained their wealth from their control over the slave trade from the north to Greece through the Greek Black Sea colonial ports of Olvia, Chersonesos, Cimmerian Bosporus, and Gorgippia. They also grew grain, and shipped wheat, flocks, and cheese to Greece.
Strabo (c. 63 BCE - 24 CE) reports that King Ateas united under his power the Scythian tribes living between the Maeotian marshes and the Danube. His westward expansion brought him in conflict with Philip II of Macedon (reigned 359 to 336 BCE), who took military action against the Scythians in 339 BCE. Ateas died in battle and his empire disintegrated. In the aftermath of this defeat, the Celts seem to have displaced the Scythians from the Balkans, while in south Russia a kindred tribe, the Sarmatians, gradually overwhelmed them.
By the time of Strabo's account (the first decades of the first millennium CE), the Crimean Scythians had created a new kingdom extending from the lower Dnieper to the Crimea. The kings Skilurus and Palakus waged wars with Mithridates the Great (reigned 120–63 BCE) for control of the Crimean littoral, including Chersonesos and the Cimmerian Bosporus. Their capital city, Scythian Neapolis, stood on the outskirts of modern Simferopol. The Goths destroyed it later, in the mid-3rd century CE.
In the 2nd century BCE, a group of Scythian tribes, known as the Indo-Scythians, migrated into Bactria, Sogdiana and Arachosia. Led by their king, Maues, they ultimately settled in modern-day Punjab and Kashmir from around 85 BCE, where they replaced the kingdom of the Indo-Greeks by the time of Azes II (reigned circa 35 - 12 BCE).
In late antiquity the notion of a Scythian ethnicity grew more vague, and outsiders might dub any people inhabiting the Pontic-Caspian steppe as "Scythians", regardless of their language.
King Darius the Great; King Darius Maketh War Upon the Scythians and Other Nations: Stories from Herodotus - Alfred J. Church
King darius, being lord of all Asia, wherein were great multitudes of men and much wealth, purposed to make war against the Scythians, desiring also to punish them for their wrong-doing in time past. Now their wrong-doing had been this. They had invaded Asia in the days of the Medes, and had ruled it for twenty and eight years, and when the years were ended had gone back to their own land. About which going back there is this to be told. When they were come to the border of the land, they found an army drawn out in battle array against them; and this army was of their own slaves. But when they had fought with the slaves many times and could not prevail, one of them said to his fellows, "Men of Scythia, we do ill, fighting against these slaves. Come, let us cast aside our spears and take each one of us his whip. For so long as they see us with arms in our hands they count themselves to be our equals, but when they shall see the whips they will remember that we are their masters." Thus the Scythians did, and it was so with the slaves, that when they saw the whips they fled.
King Darius therefore prepared to make war against the Scythians, requiring soldiers from some nations, and from some ships, and commanding others that they should make a bridge over the Thracian Bosphorus. But in the meantime Artabanus, that was brother to the King, would have persuaded him not to go against the Scythians, as being men that had no possessions; but he could not prevail. And when the King was now about to depart from Susa, which is the chief city of Persia, there came to him one Œobazus, entreating of him that he would suffer one of his sons to tarry at home, for he had three sons and all were in the army. Then the King said that because Œobazus was his friend and asked but a small thing, all his sons should tarry at home. Whereat the man was greatly rejoiced; but the King sent his executioners and slew them all. In this fashion did they tarry at home.
When the King was come to the Bosphorus he set up two pillars of white marble, whereon he inscribed the names of all the nations as many as were in his army; and indeed of all that he ruled none were absent. The writing on the one pillar was Persian and on the other Greek. Now the number of the men was seven hundred thousand, besides those that were in the ships, and of ships there were six hundred. After this he crossed by the bridge, which Mæandrius of Samos had made over the Bosphorus, commanding the Ionians that they should sail along the shore to the river Danube and should make a bridge across the river, and so tarry till he should come. Then he went on his way through the land of Thrace till he came to the river Tearus. Of this river they say that the water thereof healeth diseases both of men and beasts beyond all others. It has thirty and eight springs flowing from one and the same rock, of which some are cold and some are hot. Here the King pitched his camp, and beside the river he set up a pillar by it, whereon was written, "To the Tearus which is the best and fairest of all rivers came Darius, son of Hystaspes, King of the Persians, being the best and fairest of all men." At this time the Getæ, that are called Immortal, submitted themselves to him. This they did without fighting, though they are counted the most valiant and righteous of all the Thracians. The cause wherefore they are called Immortal is this. They believe that they die not, but that such as seem to die go to their god Zalmoxis. And every fifth year they send a messenger to Zalmoxis with a message concerning the things which they need. They cast lots who shall be this messenger; and their manner of sending him is this. Some of them stand in order holding up three spears; and others take the messenger whom they would send to Zalmoxis by the hands and the feet, and throw him from above on to the spears. If the man die they hold that Zalmoxis is gracious to them; but if he die not, they blame the messenger, saying that he is a wicked man; and then they look for another. But the message they give him while he is yet alive. These Thracians shoot arrows into the sky when there is thunder and lightning, and threaten the Gods, holding that there is in truth no god but this Zalmoxis. As for this Zalmoxis, some say that he was a slave in Samos, and that his master was Pythagoras, and that when he had gathered much wealth he went back to his country; and that he affirmed that neither he nor they that were his disciples should die, but should come to a country full of all manner of all good things; and that while he taught these things he made for himself a dwelling under the earth; and that when this dwelling was finished he vanished out of the sight of the Thracians and dwelt therein for three years; and that afterwards he showed himself again to the Thracians, so that they believed all that he had taught them.
After this the King came to the Danube; which when he had crossed, he said to the Ionians that they should loose the bridge and follow him. But when the Ionians were now about to loose it, a certain Coës, who was captain of the men of Mitylene, spoke thus to the King, having first heard that the King would willingly hear his opinion: "This land into which thou goest, O King, hath in it neither fields nor cities; for which reason I would have thee leave this bridge, and leave also them that made it to guard it. For if we prosper in this journey and find the Scythians, then shall we have a way of return, and if we find them not, we shall also have a way. For that we shall turn our backs before the Scythians in battle, I fear not; but only, that not being able to find them, we may wander a long time, and so suffer many things. And I say not this that I may myself be left behind, only I set forth the opinion that I hold to be best for thee, O King; but as for myself I will go with thee, and will not be left behind." These words pleased Darius very much; and he said to Coës, "Man of Lesbos, if I return in peace, come to my house, that I may recompense thee for thy good counsel." After this he took a thong, and tied in it sixty knots, and calling the kings of the Ionians, said to them, "My former purpose concerning the bridge is changed. Take, therefore, this thong, and do thus with it. Loose one knot every day, from the day when I shall depart hence to fight with the Scythians. And if I come not back when all these knots shall have been loosed, then sail back to your own land; but for sixty days, according to the number of the knots, keep this bridge with all the care that ye may." And when he had said this, he went on his way searching for the Scythians.
Now the Scythians, knowing that they could not stand against the Persians in battle, sent messengers to the nations round about that they should help them, for that the Persians had it in their mind to conquer the whole country. And when the Kings of these nations had met in council together, eight Kings in all, the assembly soon divided, for three were willing to help the Scythians, but five were not willing, saying that the Scythians had invaded the land of Asia and were now suffering punishment for their misdeeds. When this was told to the Scythians they considered what they might best do; and it seemed best that they should not join battle with the Persians, but should flee before them, filling the springs and the wells, and destroying the pasture. For this end they divided themselves into two armies; whereof one, being one third part of the whole, having with them also the Sauromatæ, should go towards the river Tanais, if the Persians should pursue them, but if the Persians turned back, should pursue in their turn; and the remainder, having with them the Geloni and the Budini, should go towards the country of the five nations that would not help them, that the Persians might lay waste the country of these nations. But their waggons, wherein their wives and their children are wont to live, and their flocks and herds, save such only as they needed for food, they sent away, bidding them go northwards. After this, the swiftest of their horsemen went forth to meet the Persians, and found them encamped at a place that is three days' journey from the Danube. And when the Persians saw the Scythian horsemen they followed on their track, and pursued them a very long way till they came to the desert. Here Darius halted and made his camp by the river Oarus, and began to build eight great forts. But as the Scythians could nowhere be seen he left the forts unfinished, and marched towards the west. And as he marched he came upon the greater army of the Scythians, and these also gave way before him, having always a day's journey between them and the Persians; and they led them to the towns of those nations that were not willing to help them. All these countries the Persians wasted, save only the country of the Agathyrsi; for these came down armed to their borders, and were ready to fight with the Scythians. And when this had been done many days, Darius, being now weary, sent a horseman to Idanthyrsus, King of the Scythians, saying, "Why flyest thou ever in this fashion? If thou thinkest thyself able to meet me in battle, stay from thy wanderings and fight with me; but if thou confessest thyself to be not worthy, cease from this running, and send gifts as to thy master, even earth and water, and let us talk together." To this Idanthyrsus, King of the Scythians, made answer: "I never feared any man that I should flee before him; and I fear not thee, nor indeed do I now any other thing than that which I am wont to do in peace. But if thou wilt know why we do not fight with thee, hearken: we have neither city nor field for which we should fear, lest they should be taken or plundered, and so join battle with thee. Yet, if thou art minded by all means to fight with us, we have the tombs of our fathers. Find ye these, and seek to destroy them, and ye shall know right soon whether we will fight for the tombs of our fathers or no. But till thou do this we will not fight with thee till we be so minded. And as to what thou sayest of a master, know that our masters are Zeus only, whose son I am, and Vesta, that is Queen of the Scythians. As to these gifts of earth and water, I will not send them; but I will send such as is meet for thee to receive."
This answer the herald brought back to Darius; but when the Kings of the Scythians heard this talk of masters and slaves they were very wroth, and they sent the smaller part of their army to treat with the Ionians at the bridge; but with the larger part they determined not to give way any more before the Persians, but to attack them while they were gathering food. This the Scythians did; and the horsemen of the Persians always fled before their horsemen; but when the foot-soldiers came to the help of the horsemen, then the Scythians gave place. Also they made many attacks on the Persians by night. One thing indeed there was that hindered them. There is neither ass nor mule in the whole land of Scythia; and it often fell out that when the horsemen of the Scythians were pursuing the Persians, the asses in their camp would bray; and when the horses heard it they would be astonished and stand still, pricking up their ears, for they had not heard such sound before nor seen the shape of an ass.
Now the Persians were troubled at what befell them; and when the Scythians saw this, they sought to keep them in their country that they might come utterly to want. For this end they left some of their flocks with the shepherds behind them when they themselves departed to some other place. And the Persians coming upon the flocks and laying hold of them, were much encouraged, and so were the more willing to tarry in the country. But when this had been done many times at last King Darius was in sore straits and knew not what he should do. Then the King of the Scythians knowing this sent a herald with gifts to Darius, and the gifts were these: a bird, and a mouse, and a frog, and five arrows. And the Persians enquired of the herald that brought the gifts what they might signify; but the man made answer that of this he knew nothing, but that it had been commanded him to give the gifts to the King and then depart straightway, but that the Persians might themselves discover if only they were wise, what the gifts signified. And King Darius judged that the purpose of the Scythians was this, to give themselves up to him (which is commonly done by the giving of earth and water), for he considered that the mouse liveth in the earth, and eateth the fruits thereof even as doth a man, and that the frog liveth in the water, and that the bird is most like to the horse, and that as to the arrows these signified their arms which they gave up to him. This indeed was the opinion of King Darius; but the judgment of Gobryas about the matter was widely different. (This Gobryas was one of the seven who slew the Magian.) He indeed interpreted the gift after this fashion: Unless ye become as birds and fly up into the air, or as mice and burrow in the earth, or as frogs and leap into the water, ye shall not go back, but shall be smitten with these arrows that ye die. Thus Gobryas judged about the gifts. But in the meanwhile one of the armies of the Scythians, that which had gone eastward to the Tanais, having returned by the way by which they went, came to the Danube and had speech with the Ionians that guarded the bridge, saying, "Men of Ionia, we come to you offering freedom if only ye will hearken unto us. We hear that Darius when he departed bade you guard the bridge for sixty days only, and that if he came not back within these sixty days, ye should loose the bridge and so depart to your own country. Now if ye do after these words ye shall have no blame either from him or from us. Tarry therefore for the appointed days and afterwards depart." And when the Ionians said that they would do so the Scythians went their way. Then this army of the Scythians departed; and the other army set themselves in battle array against Darius, having both horse and foot, and purposing to fight against him. And it so fell out when the two armies were drawn up the one over against the other, that a hare ran through the midst of the army of the Scythians, and when the Scythians saw it they left care of the battle and pursued after the hare. And Darius seeing that the Scythians were in much confusion and shouted aloud, enquired what this might mean that the enemy were so disturbed. And when he knew that they were busy pursuing the hare he turned to them to whom he was wont to speak at other times also, and said to them, "Surely these men have a great scorn for us; and surely also Gobryas interpreted the gifts and their signification aright. Seeing then that these things are so, we need good counsel that we may return in safety." And Gobryas said, "O King, I knew before that these men were hard to deal with; and now I know it the more certainly when I see how they scoff at us. My judgment therefore is this: so soon as it shall be night, let us light the fires in the camp, as we are wont to do at other times, and let us tie up the asses in their place, and let us so depart, leaving behind us such as be least able to endure hardship. And let us do this before that the Scythians go to the Danube and loose the bridge, or that the Ionians themselves consider that they may do us this hurt." This was the counsel of Gobryas; and so soon as it was night Darius followed it. He left such of the soldiers as were sick, and such as were of least account, if they should perish, and he caused them to tie up the asses in their places in the camp, and so departed. And the cause why he left the asses and the sick men behind was this: the asses he left that they might make a noise, and the men because they could not make haste in marching. But to these he said that his purpose was to attack the Scythians with the better part of his army, and that they in the meanwhile should guard the camp. This Darius said to them that were left, and having caused the camp fires to be lighted he so departed, and made with all the speed that he could for the Danube. And the asses, missing the noise of the multitude about them, made themselves the more noise, which when the Scythians heard they made no doubt but that the Persians were yet in their camp. But when the day was come they that had been left behind of the Persians, judging that they had been betrayed by King Darius, surrendered themselves to the Scythians, and told what had been done. And the Scythians, so soon as they heard it, pursued after the Persians with both their armies, and with the nations also that had come to their help; and they pursued, going straight to the Danube. But the Persians and the Scythians fell not in with each other for this cause, namely, that the army of the Persians was for the most part of foot soldiers, and they knew not the way, for indeed in the land of Scythia there are not roads duly made; but the Scythians were horsemen, and they knew the shortest ways. For this cause they fell not in with each other; but the Scythians came to the bridge of the Danube by a long time the first. And when they found that the Persians were not yet come to the bridge, they spoke to the Ionians that were in the ships, saying, "Men of Ionia, the days that were numbered to you are now passed, and ye do wrong still tarrying here by the bridge. And if ye have done this heretofore in fear, fear ye no longer; but leave the bridge with all speed, and go on your way rejoicing, and be free, thanking the Gods and the Scythians for these benefits. And as for the man that was your master, we will so order things with him that he shall not make war against any man hereafter for ever." When they heard this the Ionians took counsel together. Then Miltiades the Athenian, who was King of the Chersonese that is near the Hellespont, advised that they should do according to the saying of the Scythians, and so set the Ionians free. But the advice of Histiæus of Miletus was contrary to this, for he said, "Each one of us is king in his own city by reason of the power of Darius; and if this power be overthrown, then shall we be overthrown also, and neither he nor any man will be King in Miletus, or indeed in any of the cities, seeing that they would all of them wish to be governed by the people rather than be governed by a king." When the other Kings heard this they turned straightway to the opinion of Histiæus, though before they had followed the opinion of Miltiades. And as they judged it most expedient for themselves, so they did forthwith. For they loosed that part of the bridge which was towards the Scythians, and they loosed it for the length of a bow shot. And this they did in order that, though they did nothing, they might yet seem to be doing something, and that the Scythians might not take the bridge by force, and so cross the Danube. And while they were loosing the bridge on the side of the Scythians they affirmed that they were about to do as the Scythians had counseled them. For Histiæus came forward in the name of all, and spoke, saying, "Ye men of Scythia, ye have come to us with counsel that is right welcome, and are zealous on our behalf to good purpose. And as ye have advised us well, so will we serve you faithfully. For we will loose this bridge, even as ye now see us do, and we will work with all our might that we may have the freedom which we desire. Do ye, therefore, while we are loosing the bridge, go and seek for these oppressors, and when ye have found them, avenge yourselves and us also upon them in such manner as they deserve." When the Scythians heard these words they believed a second time that the Ionians spoke the truth, and so departed, seeking the Persians. Yet did they miss them altogether, and for this cause, for which indeed they were themselves to blame, namely, that they had destroyed the pastures and filled up the wells. For if they had not done this thing they could easily have found the Persians. But now the counsel that seemed to have been most excellently devised turned out ill for them. For the Scythians indeed went through their country seeking the Persians where there was food for their horses and wells of water, for they thought that of a surety the enemy would return by this way. But the Persians did not so, but kept to their own trail which they had made marching from the Danube; and so at last, after many things suffered, they came to the river and the bridge. But as they came in the night-time, and the one end of the bridge had been loosed, they were for a while in great fear lest the Ionians should have left them. Now there was with Darius a certain Egyptian, whose voice was louder than the voice of all other men; and Darius commanded this man that he should go down to the edge of the river, and call to Histiæus of Miletus. This he did, and Histiæus heard him call the first time, and straightway brought the ships and joined the bridge, so that the army of the Persians passed over and escaped.
But when the Scythians came again to the river, having missed the Persians a second time, they had great wrath against the Ionians. And from that day they are wont to say of the Ionians, that if they be called freemen then be they the most cowardly and vile of all the nations upon earth, and if they be counted slaves then there are no slaves more mean and worthless. Concerning the Scythians and other nations that dwell in these parts there are some things worthy to be told.
All this country is in winter cold beyond measure. For eight months, indeed, the frost is such that a man can scarce bear it; and during this time if you pour water on the ground you cannot make mud; but if you light a fire you can make it. The sea is frozen, and the Scythians march across the ice and drive their waggons on it to that part of Asia which lieth over against them. The sea which they cross is the Cimmerian Bosphorus, being at the extremity of the Black Sea eastward. So is it for eight months of the year; and in the four that remain there is ofttimes frost. Nor is the winter such as is wont to be in other countries; for it raineth scarcely ever, but in summer it raineth continually. Also there is never heard thunder at this time, but in summer it is very grievous. The horses endure the cold, but the asses and the mules perish; but elsewhere asses and mules endure it, but horses if they stand still are mortified by frost. Perchance the cold is the cause why the oxen have not horns. To this agreeth what Homer saith in the "Wanderings of Ulysses"—
For in lands where there is much heat horns ever grow quickly. As to the mules, in Elis also, though it is not over cold, mules are never born. But the people of Elis say that this is by reason of a curse.
As to the feathers, whereof the Scythians affirm the air in the regions beyond them to be full, so that no man may pass through them, or even see them, the truth seems to be this. In the upper country snow falleth continually, but in summer less than in winter. Now, whosoever hath seen snow close at hand when it is falling quickly knoweth it to be like to feathers. And it is easily to be believed that by reason of the cold the northern part of this land cannot be inhabited.
Of the customs of the Scythians the greater part are not to be praised; but one thing they order in a fashion more admirable than do any other men; and this thing is of all human affairs the most important. If an enemy invade their country he shall never escape from it, nor shall he ever be able to come up with them unless they will. For they have neither cities nor forts, but they carry about their houses with them, and they are all archers, shooting from horseback, and they live not by tillage, but by cattle, and their dwellings are on waggons. Hence it has come to pass that no man can conquer them, or even so much as come near to them. For this manner of life the land wherein they dwell is suitable, and their rivers also are a help; for the land is plain and grassy and well watered, and the rivers that flow through it are well-nigh equal in number to the canals that are in Egypt.
They worship five Gods; first Vesta, honouring her beyond all others, and next Zeus and Earth (and Earth they call the wife of Zeus), and in the third place Apollo, and the Heavenly Aphrodite, and Heracles, and Ares. These all the Scythians worship, and the Royal Scythians worship Poseidon. Images and altars and temples they make for Ares only.
They have but one manner of sacrificing. The beast is made to stand with its forefeet bound together. Then he that sacrificeth, standing behind the beast, pulleth the end of the rope wherewith it is bound, causing it to fall; and as it falleth, he calleth aloud the name of the god to whom he offereth the beast. Afterwards he putteth a noose round its neck, and in the noose a small stick, the which he twisteth, and so strangleth the beast. But he lighteth no fire, nor useth consecration, nor poureth out libation; but so soon as it is strangled busies himself with the boiling of it. Now there is no wood in the land of Scythia, for which cause they use this method for the boiling of the flesh. First they flay the beast, and after strip off the flesh from the bones. This flesh they put into caldrons of the country, if they chance to have such; and these caldrons are like to the mixing bowls of the Arabs, but are larger by much; and under they burn the bones of the beast. But if they have no caldron, they put all the flesh of the beast into the paunch, and mixing with it water, burn the bones as before. The bones burn excellently well, and the paunch easily holds all the flesh when it has been stripped off. And when the flesh is boiled, the sacrificer takes of the entrails and of the flesh and casts them on the earth before him; and this is their manner of offering.
But to Ares they offer sacrifice after another manner. In each district of the land, at the chief place of it, there is a temple of Ares; and the temple is of this fashion. Faggots of brushwood are piled together in a heap, whereof the breadth is three furlongs, and the length three furlongs, but the height not so much. On this there is made a platform that is foursquare, and steep on every side save one only; but by this one a man may climb on the top. And on this they pile year by year one hundred and fifty waggon loads of brushwood, for the rains cause it to sink. In the midst of this platform is a sword of iron, made after an ancient fashion; and this sword is the image of Ares. And year by year they offer to this sword sheep and horses; and of the men whom they take captive in battle they choose one out of every hundred and sacrifice them, but after a different manner to the sacrificing of the beasts. "They pour wine on the heads of the men, and slay them over a great vessel, and then taking the blood on to the platform, pour it over the sword that serveth for an image. This they do with the blood, but as to the dead bodies they cut from them the right shoulders down to the hand and throw them into the air. Afterwards they slay the other victims, and so depart.
Swine they use never in sacrifice; nay, they will not so much as keep this beast in their country.
Concerning war they have these customs. The first man that a Scythian slays in battle he drinks of his blood; and he takes the heads of all he slays and carries them to the King. If he carry the head, then hath he a share of all the booty whatsoever may be taken, but if he carry it not, he hath no share. He flays the head in this manner. He makes a cut round about it above the ears, and shakes the skull out of the scalp. The scalp he cleanses with the bone of an ox, and when he has softened it with his hand, useth it for a napkin. The Scythians hang these scalps upon their bridles and make much account of them; for he that hath most napkins of this sort is reckoned to be the bravest of his company. Some sew the scalps together for cloaks, and others make covers of them for their quivers. Now the skin of a man is very white and of a beautiful lustre beyond all other skins. With the skulls they deal in this fashion, but not with all, but with the skulls of these only whom being alive they have most abhorred. The upper part, having been cut off above the eyebrows, they cover with a covering of leather, and use it for a drinking cup. And if a man be poor, this sufficeth him; but if he be rich, he addeth within a lining of gold. If a man have a quarrel with a kinsman, and overcome in a trial before the King, he dealeth with his skull in this fashion. And if he entertain strangers that are men of note, he will hand to them these cups, and tell how they were skulls of kinsmen that had a feud with him and were vanquished before the King.
Once in every year the chief man in each district mixeth a great bowl of wine; and all the Scythians that have slain an enemy in battle drink of it; but they who have not done this taste not of the wine, but sit apart as men that are disgraced. Such as have slain very many enemies have two cups instead of one, and drink from both.
Among the Scythians are many soothsayers, who use divination by bundles of rods which they loose, putting each wand by itself, and so prophesying. If the King of the Scythians fall sick, he sendeth for three soothsayers that are of the best repute. These use divination after the manner aforesaid; and for the most part they say that such and such a man hath sworn falsely by the King's hearth, naming this or that citizen. (It is the custom of the Scythians to swear by the King's hearth when they would take a very great oath.) Then certain men lay hold on the man who is accused of having sworn falsely, and the soothsayers affirm that he has sworn falsely by the King's hearth. But the man is very vehement in denying that he hath done any such thing. Whereupon the King sendeth for other soothsayers, twice as many in number as the former. If these, when they have used divination, find the man guilty of having sworn falsely, then they cut off his head forthwith, and the former soothsayers divide his possessions among themselves; but if the second company of soothsayers acquit him, then the King sendeth for others, and for others again. And if the greater part acquit him, then the former soothsayers must die. The manner of slaying them is this. They fill a waggon with brushwood, and yoke oxen to it; and they bind the soothsayers hand and foot, and put gags in their mouths, and so cast them into the midst of the brushwood. Then they set fire under the wood, and cause the oxen to run, frightening them. Ofttimes the oxen are consumed with the soothsayers, but sometimes, if the pole chance to be burnt through, they are singed only, and so escape. If the King cause a man to be put to death, he slayeth all his male children also, but the female he suffereth to live.
The Scythians make oaths in this manner. They pour wine into a great bowl of earthenware, and after mingle with the wine the blood of them that swear the oath, making a scratch on their bodies with an awl or cutting them with a knife. Then they dip into the bowl a scimitar and arrows and a battle-axe and a javelin, and they say many prayers over it; and after this they that make the covenant drink of the bowls, and their chief followers also.
The tombs of the Kings are in the land of the Gerrhi. So soon as the King dies, they dig a grave, which is very great, and in shape foursquare. Then they embalm the dead body after their fashion, and covering it with wax, lay it in a waggon, and send it to the nation that is next to them. And this again sendeth it on to the next. And every man both of the royal tribe (from whom it cometh at the first) and of the other tribes to whom it is sent, doeth after this fashion. He cuts off a part of an ear, and crops his hair close, and cuts round about his arm, and wounds his forehead and his nose, and runs an arrow through his left hand. So they carry the dead body through the country, coming at last to the Gerrhi, where are the tombs of the Kings. Here they lay it on a mattress in the grave, fixing spears round about it, and putting beams over it for a roof, which they thatch with twigs of osier. In the space round about the tomb (and this is very great), they bury one of the King's concubines, having first strangled her: also they bury his cup-bearer, and his cook, and his groom, and his body-servant, and his messenger, and certain of his horses, and first-fruits of all his other possessions, and also cups of gold—for cups of silver and bronze they use not at all. After this they make over the grave a very great mound, striving with all their might to build it as high as may be.
When a year is passed they do after this fashion. They take the best of the King's servants, all of them being Scythians, and chosen for this office by the King, for they have no servants bought with money, and strangle fifty of them, and fifty also of the best of his horses, and fill their bodies with chaff. Then they fix stakes in the ground, setting pairs of them, and on each pair half a wheel put archwise. On these arches they fasten the horses, and on the backs of the horses they set the young men; and for each horse and its rider there are bit and bridle. Then they range the fifty riders in a circle round about the tomb and so leave them.
When a man of the people dies his kinsfolk lay him in a waggon, and take him about to the houses of all his friends. These all entertain the company at a banquet, wherein they serve the dead man with meat even as they serve the others. For forty days they carry about the dead body and afterwards bury it. And when the burial is finished, then they that have carried about the dead man, purify themselves after this fashion. They set three sticks in the earth inclined together; and on these they put cloth of wool as close together as may be, so making a tent. And in the tent they set a dish, and in the dish stones made red-hot, and they cast hempseed upon the stones. (Hemp groweth abundantly in this land of Scythia, and the people make garments of it that are very like to garments made of flax, so that a man must be skilful in such matters to distinguish them.) Then the Scythians creep under the tent; and the hempseed smoketh upon the stones, so that no bath could smoke more. The Scythians are delighted beyond measure, and shout for joy. This smoking serves them for a bath, for they never wash their bodies with water.
It is an abomination to the Scythians to use strange customs. This may be seen from what befell Anacharsis; for this man, having travelled over many lands, and shown great wisdom whithersoever he went, came to Cyzicus, that is by the Hellespont, as he sailed homewards. Here he saw the people keeping a feast to the Great Mother very splendidly; and he vowed to the goddess that he also would keep a feast to her if he came safely to his home. And having come, he performed his vow, but a certain Scythian saw him, and told the matter to King Saulius, who, when he saw how Anacharsis was behaving himself, shot him with an arrow, and slew him.
So soon as King Darius, having but barely escaped from the Scythians, was come to Sardis, he sent for the two men who had done him good service, to wit, Histiæus of Miletus and Coës of Mitylene. And when they stood before him, he bade them ask a boon of him, each of them the thing that he most wished to possess. Then Histiæus asked of the King that he would give him Myrcinus that belongeth to the Edonians, that he might build for himself a city; for he was King of Miletus. But Coës, being but a citizen, asked that he might be made King of Mitylene. And Darius granted them each his request.
About this time there came to Sardis two Pæonians, who sought to have the pre-eminence among their countrymen. They brought with them their sister, who was a very fair woman and of great stature. And it came to pass one day when the King sat on his throne before the city, that having arrayed their sister in the richest garments that they had, they sent her to draw water for them. So she went, bearing a pitcher on her head, and leading a horse on one arm, and spinning flax as she walked. And the King took note of her as she passed by his throne, for it was not the custom of the Persians, nor of the Lydians, nor of any of the dwellers in Asia, to do after this fashion. And he bade certain of his guards follow her, and see what she would do with the horse. So the guards followed her, and when the woman came to the river, first she gave water to the horse, and afterwards filled the pitcher, and so came back by the way that she had gone, bearing the pitcher upon her head, and leading the horse on her arm, and all the while she span the flax. And King Darius marvelled much at the things that were told to him, and at what he himself had seen. Therefore he commanded the woman to be brought before him; and when the woman came, her brothers came also, for they had been watching the matter near at hand. Then the King asked them, "Of what nation is this woman?" And the young men answered, "We are men of Pæonia, and she is our sister." Whereupon the King said, "Where is the land of Pæonia? and on what errand are you come to Sardis?" The young man answered, "Pæonia is by the river of Strymon, not far from the Hellespont, and our beginning was from the city of Troy, and now we are come to yield ourselves to thee." And Darius asked them, saying, "Do all the women work as this your sister whom I saw?" And the young men answered with all eagerness that it was so; for indeed the whole thing had been done for this end.
Now King Darius had left behind him, when he returned to Asia, a great army of men, eighty thousand in all, with Megabazus for their captain. It was this Megabazus to whom Darius gave great honour by a certain thing which he said of him. For when the King was about to eat pomegranates, and had opened the first, his brother Artabanus said to him, "What is it, O King, that thou wouldst have in such plenty as there are seeds in this pomegranate?" And Darius said, "I had sooner have as many men like unto Megabazus as there are seeds in this pomegranate than be lord of the land of Greece." This man himself said a thing which will never be forgotten by the people of the Hellespont. Being in Byzantium, he was told by the men of the city that the building of Chalcedon was by seventeen years earlier than the building of Byzantium. Which when he heard, he said, "Surely they that built Chalcedon were blind men; for had they not been blind. they had not chosen the worse place for their building, when they might have chosen the better."
When therefore Darius had heard these things concerning the men of Pæonia, he wrote letters to Megabazus, bidding him remove the Pæonians from their own land, and bring them all before him, men and women and children. Straightway a horseman rode with all speed to the Hellespont, and having crossed it, gave the letter to Megabazus, who, having got guides from the Thracians, prepared to make war against the Pæonians.
Now, so soon as the Pæonians heard that the Persians were marching against them, they gathered their host together, and went down to the sea coast, thinking that the Persians would seek to enter their country by that way, and stood ready to meet their enemies. But when this came to the knowledge of the Persians, they took guides, and marching through the upper country before the Pæonians were aware, came down upon their cities, of which, seeing that they found them empty, they easily got possession. And when the Pæonians heard that their cities were taken they were scattered, every man going to his own home, and so gave themselves up to the Persians. Thus were these men with their wives and children taken by force from their native country and led away into Asia.
Nevertheless, Megabazus subdued not all the Pæonians, for, not to speak of others, those that dwelt in the lake Prasias were not conquered by him. He sought indeed to conquer them, but he could not accomplish it. The manner in which they live in the lake is this. In the middle of the water there stand tall piles, and upon these are built platforms, to which there is a narrow access from the land by one bridge only. Now the piles that are under the platforms were planted in the beginning by the whole commonwealth; but afterwards they plant them for themselves according to their law. A man driveth in three stakes (which they bring down from Mount Orbelus) for every wife that he taketh in marriage; and they take all of them many wives. Their manner of living is this. Every man hath a hut of his own upon one of the platforms, and a trap-door into the lake below. Their young children they tie by the foot with a string, fearing lest they should roll into the water. To their horses and their beasts of burden they give fish for food. Of fishes indeed the multitude is so great that a man may open the trap-door and let down a basket into the lake by a rope, and leaving it there for no long time, take it up again filled with fishes. Of fishes there are two kinds, which they call the praprax and the tilo.
Megabazus also subdued the Thracians, concerning whom there are certain things worthy to be told. The Trausi have also this custom. When a child is born, its kinsfolk sit round about it, and lament for all the evils that it must endure now that it is born into the world, recounting all the troubles of human life. But a dead man they bury with much laughter and joy, for they say that he hath been delivered from all manner of unhappiness and is now in great joy and felicity.
Other Thracians have this custom. Each man hath many wives. And when a man dies there is a great contest among these wives, their friends also taking one side or the other, as to who it was that was most loved of her husband. And she to whom this honour is adjudged, receiving great praise both from men and women, is slain upon the tomb by her nearest kinsman.
Some Thracians sell their children, and buy their wives for great sums of money. To be marked on the body showeth that a man is of honourable station, but not to be marked that he is of the meaner sort. To do nothing is the most honourable thing, but to till the ground the most dishonourable; nor is there anything more glorious than to live by war and plunder.
The Macedonians also submitted themselves to King Darius, giving earth and water.
In those days Aryandes, who was governor of Egypt under Darius, sent an army and a fleet against certain Greek cities which lie to the westward of Egypt, to wit, Cyrene and Barca. (This Aryandes afterwards was put to death by the King, as seeking to get the dominion for himself; for he had coined money, and this money was silver of such purity that there is no other silver like unto it.) Now Cyrene was built by certain men that went out from the country of the Lacedæmonians, one Battus being its founder; and in the fourth generation from Battus there was strife in the royal house; and certain princes going forth from Cyrene built the city of Barca, the Libyans who dwelt in those parts helping them. After this there was trouble again in the cities, Arcesilaüs, King of Cyrene, was driven out for his tyranny by the citizens; and coming back by the help of the Samians executed vengeance upon his enemies with great cruelty. This Arcesilaüs afterwards dwelt in Barca, for he had married the daughter of the King; and the people of Barca, being stirred up by certain exiles from Cyrene, slew him. Now while he dwelt at Barca, Pheretime, his mother, was regent at Cyrene; and when she knew that her son was dead, she fled to Egypt, to Aryandes the governor, and entreated him that he would help her to get vengeance for her son; and she said that the man had been slain because he favoured the Persians. And Aryandes hearkened to her words, and sent, as hath been said, an army and a fleet against the cities. Cyrene indeed suffered no harm, but Barca fared otherwise.
When the Persians were come to the city, they sent a herald demanding that there should be given up to them all that were guilty in the matter of the death of Arcesilaüs. But the people would not hearken to him, for indeed they were all guilty. Whereupon the Persians laid siege to the city; and this they did for nine months, digging mines under the earth, and making attacks upon the city with great violence. As for the mines, indeed, these a certain worker in brass discovered by help of a brazen shield. This he carried about through the city, smiting it upon the ground; and for the most part it was dumb; but where the Persians were digging their mines there it rang, Then the people of Barca dug a mine of their own, and slew the Persians. But when much time had been spent, and many had been slain on both sides, Amasis, who was captain of the host, devised this device, thinking to take the people of Barca by craft, for force availed nothing. He caused his men to dig by night a broad trench, whereon he laid light planks, and on the planks he put a covering of earth, making it even with the ground on either side. And when it was day he called the men of Barca to a parley; and they gladly hearkening to him, a covenant was made between them. "The men of Barca shall pay a fitting sum as tribute to the King, and the Persians shall not harm the men of Barca." This covenant they confirmed by an oath, which they swore standing upon the planks; and the oath was this, "So long as this earth whereon we stand shall abide, so long shall our covenant endure." Then the men of Barca set open their gates and suffered any of the Persians that would to enter their city. But the Persians brake down the planks that had been laid over the trench, and so held themselves free, for the earth whereon they stood when they swore the oath did not abide.
Then Pheretime executed vengeance on all that had been most guilty in the matter of her son. Nor did she herself come to a good end; for, having returned to Egypt, she died miserably, being eaten of worms; for indeed the Gods have sore displeasure against men when they execute vengeance cruelly.
As for the Persians they came not back to Egypt unharmed, for the Libyans beset them, and cut off all stragglers and such as dropped behind in the march.
So King Darius extended his borders on all sides. But how he made war upon the land of Greece shall be told hereafter. ------ ...