Scythians

The Scythians (/ˈsɪθiənz, ˈsɪð-/; from Greek Σκύθης, Σκύθοι), also known as Scyths,[1] Saka, Sakae, Iskuzai, or Askuzai, were an ancient nomadic people of Eurasia, inhabiting the region Scythia. Classical Scythians dominated the Pontic steppe from approximately the 7th century BC until the 3rd century BC.[2] They can also be referred to as Pontic Scythians, European Scythians or Western Scythians.[3][4] They were part of the wider Scythian cultures, stretching across the Eurasian Steppe.[5][6] In a broader sense, Scythians has also been used to designate all early Eurasian nomads,[6] although the validity of such terminology is controversial.[5] According to Di Cosmo, other terms such as "Early nomadic" would be preferable.[7] Eastern members of the Scythian cultures are often specifically designated as Sakas.[8]

Scythian comb from Solokha, early 4th century BC
The approximate extent of Eastern Iranian languages circa 170 BC.

The Scythians are generally believed to have been of Iranian (or Iranic; an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group) origin;[9] they spoke a language of the Scythian branch of the Iranian languages,[10] and practiced a variant of ancient Iranian religion.[11] Among the earliest peoples to master mounted warfare,[12] the Scythians replaced the Cimmerians as the dominant power on the Pontic steppe in the 8th century BC.[13] During this time they and related peoples came to dominate the entire Eurasian Steppe from the Carpathian Mountains in the west to Ordos Plateau in the east,[14][15] creating what has been called the first Central Asian nomadic empire.[13][16] Based in what is modern-day Ukraine and southern Russia, they called themselves Scoloti and were led by a nomadic warrior aristocracy known as the Royal Scythians.

In the 7th century BC, the Scythians crossed the Caucasus and frequently raided the Middle East along with the Cimmerians, playing an important role in the political developments of the region.[13][16] Around 650–630 BC, Scythians briefly dominated the Medes of the western Iranian Plateau,[17][18] stretching their power to the borders of Egypt.[12] After losing control over Media, they continued intervening in Middle Eastern affairs, playing a leading role in the destruction of the Assyrian Empire in the Sack of Nineveh in 612 BC. The Scythians subsequently engaged in frequent conflicts with the Achaemenid Empire, and suffered a major defeat against Macedonia in the 4th century BC[12] and were subsequently gradually conquered by the Sarmatians, a related Iranian people living to their east.[19] In the late 2nd century BC, their capital at Scythian Neapolis in the Crimea was captured by Mithridates VI and their territories incorporated into the Bosporan Kingdom.[11] By this time they had been largely Hellenized. By the 3rd century AD, the Sarmatians and last remnants of the Scythians were dominated by the Alans, and were being overwhelmed by the Goths. By the early Middle Ages, the Scythians and the Sarmatians had been largely assimilated and absorbed by early Slavs.[20][21] The Scythians were instrumental in the ethnogenesis of the Ossetians, who are believed to be descended from the Alans.[22]

The Scythians played an important part in the Silk Road, a vast trade network connecting Greece, Persia, India and China, perhaps contributing to the prosperity of those civilisations.[23] Settled metalworkers made portable decorative objects for the Scythians, forming a history of Scythian metalworking. These objects survive mainly in metal, forming a distinctive Scythian art.[24]

The name of the Scythians survived in the region of Scythia. Early authors continued to use the term "Scythian", applying it to many groups unrelated to the original Scythians, such as Huns, Goths, Turkic peoples, Avars, Khazars, and other unnamed nomads.[11][25] The scientific study of the Scythians is called Scythology.