Scythians: Klearchos of Soloi (fourth century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Scythians: Klearchos of Soloi (fourth century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 12, 2024,

Authors: Klearchos of Soloi, Lives, probably book 4, as cited by Athenaios of Naukratis, Sophists at Dinner 12.524 (link).

Comments: Athenaios (second-third centuries CE) cites Klearchos of Soloi (also transliterated  Clearchus), a peripatetic philosopher active in the fourth and early third centuries BCE, who portrays the Scythians as starting out well with common laws but declining into violent abuse of other peoples and into luxury (becomming the most degraded people). It seems that book four of Lives cited a variety of ethnic groups as negative examples of peoples who engaged in violent abuse and/or luxury.


[Scythian decline into hubris and luxury]

Klearchos next goes on to record the following about the Scythians: At first the Scythian people (ethnos) followed common laws. Later, however, they became the most degraded people through their violently disrespectful behaviour (hybris). For they lived in unrestrained luxury, as no one else ever did, since an abundance of all things, including wealth and other advantages, had gotten control over them. This is evident from the mode of dress and manner of living that still survive today among their leaders. But having become luxurious, and having rushed eagerly into luxurious living before anyone else and to the greatest degree, they proceeded so far in violently disrespectful behaviour that they cut off the noses of all men into whose lands they invaded. The descendants of these men migrated to other places and bear to this very day a name derived from that outrageous act.

Their women tattooed the bodies of Thracian women who lived near them on the west and north, injecting the design with pins. The result was that, many years later, the Thracian women who had been treated in this violently disrespectful way erased the memory of that disaster in their own way. They did so by painting the rest of their skin, so that the mark of the violently disrespectful behaviour and the shame it brought on them, by being included in a variety of other designs, might be erased with the indignity under the decoration. The Scythians led so arrogantly that their slaves could not perform a service without tears, which showed later generations what “Scythian speach” was like. So, because of the many disasters that happened to the Scythians, after they had been stripped of their happiness along with the long hair of the entire people, foreigners called the cutting of another person’s hair in a violently disrespectful way “Scythification.”


Source of the translation: C.B. Gulick, Athenaeus: The Deipnosophists, 7 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1927-41), public domain (passed away in 1962 and copyright expired), adapted by Harland.

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