Scythians and other Pontic peoples: Herodotos on the “most ignorant peoples of all” (fifth century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Daniel Mitchell, 'Scythians and other Pontic peoples: Herodotos on the “most ignorant peoples of all” (fifth century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified September 5, 2023,

Ancient author: Herodotos of Halikarnassos, Histories, or Inquiries, portions of books 1, 2, 4, 6, abd 7 (link to Greek text and translation)

Comments (by Daniel Mitchell): Writing about 420 BCE, Herodotos (also Latinized as Herodotus) of Halikarnassos in Karia (Caria) provides our earliest material about Pontic peoples around northern portions of the Black Sea.  Ancient Greek authors debated which peoples might be included within or excluded from the Greek umbrella category of “Scythians.” Herodotos’ distinctions between the various steppe peoples (in what is now the Ukraine and Russia), including those he identifies as either Scythians or non-Scythians, are neither clear-cut nor fully convincing. Herodotos notes often that non-Scythian peoples living in their sphere of influence share similar features with Scythians, such as dress, customs, or language.

Herodotos’ account of these peoples covers a variety of topics including various sub-groups of Scythians, their customs, geography and history, especially the Scythian wars with the Medes and later Persians. In general, Herodotos’ assessment of the Scythians, like his assessment of the Libyans, is coloured by negative stereotypes associated with nomadic, semi-nomadic, and non-urban “barbarians.” In fact, Herodotos makes his bias against the Scythians quite clear when he states that he only respects their nomadic way of life because it allows them to dictate the terms of conflict, but otherwise he tends towards negative stereotypes (cf. see 4.46 below).

Source of the translation: A. D. Godley, Herodotus, 4 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1920-25), public domain, adapted and modernized by Daniel Mitchell and Harland.


Book 1

[Scythian brutality contributing to the Scythian-Median conflict]

73 (2) Now Astyages son of Cyaxares, the king of Media, was Croesus’ [legendary king of Lydia placed in the sixth century] brother-in-law, and the following is how he came to be so. (3) A band of wandering Scythians separated itself from the rest, and escaped into Median territory. This territory was a the time ruled by Cyaxares [sixth century BCE Median king] son of Phraortes and grandson of Deioces. Cyaxares at first treated the Scythians kindly, as suppliants for his mercy. As Cyaxares had a high regard for them, he entrusted to their guardianship boys who would be taught their language and the skill of archery. (4) As time went on, it happened that the Scythians, who were accustomed to going hunting and to bringing something back always, once had taken nothing. When they returned empty-handed, Cyaxares treated them very roughly and contemptuously, since he was, as appears evident from this action, prone to anger. (5) The Scythians, feeling themselves wronged by the treatment they had received from Cyaxares, planned to take one of the boys, who were their pupils, and cut him in pieces. Then, after dressing the flesh of the boy as they were accustomed to dress the animals which they killed, they planned to bring the meat and give it to Cyaxares as if it were the spoils of the hunt. After that, they planned to make their way with all speed to Alyattes son of Sadyattes at Sardis. All this they did. (6) Cyaxares and the guests who ate with him dined on the boy’s flesh, and the Scythians, having done as they planned, fled to Alyattes for protection.


[The so-called “female” sickness among the Scythians]

105 (2) So they turned back, and when they came on their way to the city of Ascalon in Syria, most of the Scythians passed by and did no harm, but a few remained behind and plundered the temple of Heavenly (Ourania) Aphrodite. (3) This temple, as I discover from making inquiry, is the oldest of all the temples of the goddess, for the temple on the island of Kypros was founded from this one, as the Kyprians themselves say, and the temple on Kythera was founded by Phoenicians from this same land of Syria. (4) But the Scythians who pillaged the temple, and all their descendants after them, were afflicted by the goddess with the “female” sickness. So the Scythians say that they are afflicted as a consequence of this action, and they say also that those who visit Scythian territory observe among them the condition of those persons, whom the Scythians call “Hermaphrodites”.

[Scythian behaviour during their twenty-eight years of rule over Asia]

106 The Scythians, then, ruled Asia for twenty-eight years, and the whole land was ruined because of their violence and their pride, for, in addition to exacting from each people the tribute which was assessed, they rode around the land carrying off everyone’s possessions. (2) Most of them [i.e. Scythians] were entertained, made drunk and then slain by Cyaxares and the Medes. So in this way the Medes took back their empire and all that they had formerly possessed, and they took Ninos (how so, I will describe in a later part of my history), and they brought all Assyria except the province of Babylon under their rule.


[Massagetians and their customs]

201 When Cyrus had conquered this people too, he wanted to subject the Massagetians (Massagetai). These are said to be a great and powerful people who live towards the east and the sunrise, beyond the Araxes river [Aras river, south of the Caucasus mountains] and opposite the Issedonians (Issedones), and some say that they are a Scythian people (ethnos). . . [material omitted].

215 These Massagetians are like the Scythians in their dress and way of life. They are both cavalry and infantry, having some of each kind, spearmen and archers, and it is their custom to carry battle-axes. They always use gold and bronze. All their spear-points, arrow-heads and battle-axes are made of bronze, and the ornamentation on their headgear, belts and girdles is made of gold. (2) They equip their horses similarly, protecting their chests with bronze breastplates and putting gold on the reins, bits, and cheekplates. But they never use iron and silver, for there is none at all in their country, but gold and bronze are ubiquitous.

[Supposed sexual customs and eating of human flesh]

216 Now regarding their customs, each man marries a wife, but the wives are shared by all. The Greeks say this is a Scythian custom. It is not a Scythian custom, but a custom of the Massagetians. At this place, when a man desires a woman, he hangs his quiver in front of her wagon and has sexual intercourse with her without fear. (2) Though they fix no certain term to life, nevertheless when a man is very old, all his family meet together and kill him alongside beasts of the flock. Then they boil the flesh and feast on it. (3) This is considered to be the happiest form of death. When a man dies of an illness, they do not eat him, but bury him in the earth and lament that he did not live to be killed.

They never plant crop-seed, their sustenance is their livestock and the fish which they take in abundance from the Araxes river. (4) Their drink of choice is milk. The sun is the only god whom they worship, and they sacrifice horses to the sun. The reasoning for this custom is that the sun is the swiftest of the gods, and therefore they give him the swiftest of mortal things.


Book 2 (on Egypt)

[Scythians honour warriors over craftsmen]

167 Now whether the Greeks have learned this [separation between the occupations of warriors and artisans] from the Egyptians as well, I cannot confidently judge. I know that in Thrace, Scythia, Persia, Lydia and nearly all foreign countries, those persons who learn trades are regarded in less esteem than the rest of the people, and those persons who have least to do with artisans’ work, especially men, who are free to practise the art of war, are highly honoured. (2) This much is certain: that this opinion, which is held by all Greeks and particularly by the Lakedaimonians [Spartans], is of foreign origin.


Book 4 (Scythian account)


[Scythian treatment of slaves and customs surrounding milk]

1 After the taking of Babylon, Darius [I, king of Persia reigning ca. 522-486 BCE] himself marched against the Scythians [ca. 413 BCE]. For seeing that Asia’s population was large and that he gathered from it a great revenue, he wanted to punish the Scythians for the unprovoked wrong they had done him when they invaded Asia and defeated those who encountered them.  (2) For the Scythians, as I have said before, ruled upper Asia for twenty-eight years [supposedly in the late seventh century BCE]. They invaded Asia in their pursuit of the Kimmerians, and they ended the power of the Medes, who were the rulers of Asia before the Scythians came. (3) But when the Scythians had been away from their homes for twenty-eight years and returned to their lands after so long an absence, the same degree of trouble awaited them there as it did in their Median war. They found themselves opposed by a great host, for the Scythian women, when their husbands were away for so long, had been having sex with their slaves.

2 So then, the Scythians blind all of their slaves on account of the milk they drink, and the following is how they get the milk: taking tubes of bone very much like flutes, they insert these into the genitalia of the mares and blow into them – some blow, while others milk. According to them, their reason for doing this is that blowing makes the mare’s veins swell and her udder drop. (2) When they are done milking, they pour the milk into deep wooden buckets and make their blind slaves stand around the buckets and shake the milk. They skim off that which stands on the surface of the bucket and value this the most, whereas that which lies at the bottom of bucket is less valued. This is why the Scythians blind all prisoners whom they take [i.e. they blind their slaves to prevent them from stealing the best parts of the milk], for they do not cultivate the soil, but are nomads.

[Origin stories, according to Scythians]

5 The Scythians say that their land is the youngest in the world, and that it came into being in this way. A man whose name was Targitaos appeared in this country [supposedly around 1413 BCE], which was then desolate. They say that his parents were Zeus and a daughter of the Borysthenes [Dnieper] river. I do not believe the story, but it is told. (2) Such was Targitaos’ lineage, and he had three sons: Lipoxais, Arpoxais, and Colaxais, youngest of the three. (3) In the time of their rule, so the story goes, certain implements—namely, a plough, yoke, sword, and flask, all made of gold—fell down from the sky into Scythia. The eldest of them [i.e. Targitaos’ eldest son], seeing these things, approached them meaning to take them, but the gold began to burn as he approached, and he stopped. (4) Then the second brother approached and the gold did the same as before. When these two had been driven back by the burning gold, the youngest brother approached and the burning stopped, and he took the gold to his own house. In view of this, the elder brothers agreed to give all the royal power to the youngest.

6 Lipoxais, it is said, was the father of the Scythian descent group (genos) called Auchatians (Auchatai). Arpoxais, the second brother, was the father of those called Katiarians (Katiaroi) and Traspians. The youngest brother, who was king, was father of those called Paralatians (Paralatai). (2) All these peoples together bear the name of Skolotians (Skolotoi), after their king. The name of “Scythians” is given to them by Greeks. This, then, is the Scythians’ account of their origin, 7 and they say that neither more nor less than a thousand years in all passed from the time of their first king Targitaos [i.e. imagined to be reigning 1413 BCE] to the entry of Darius into their country.

The kings guard this sacred gold [that fell down from the sky, as described above] very closely, and every year they offer solemn sacrifices in appeasement to it. (2) If anyone who is in possession of the gold falls asleep at this festival in the open air, he is said by the Scythians not to live out the year. For this reason, they say, he is given as much land as he can ride around in one day. Because of the great size of the land, the dominions that Colaxais established for his sons numbered three. The dominion where they kept the gold was the most important. (3) They say that above and to the north of the neighbours of their land, nobody can see or travel further, because of showers of feathers [i.e. snow], for earth and sky are full of feathers and these hinder sight.

[Scythian origin stories, according to Greeks and others]

8 This is what the Scythians say about themselves and the land north of them. But the story told by the Greeks, who live in Pontos [i.e. the Black Sea area], is as follows. Herakles, driving the cattle of Geryones, came to this land which was then desolate, but is now inhabited by the Scythians. (2) Geryones lived west of the Pontos and settled on the island called Erythea by the Greeks near Gadira [modern Cadiz, Spain], which is outside the pillars of Herakles on the shore of Ocean [Atlantic Ocean]. As for Ocean, the Greeks say that it flows around the whole world from where the sun rises, but they cannot prove that this is so. (3) Herakles came from there to the land now called Scythia. When encountering wintry and frosty weather, he drew his lion’s skin over him and fell asleep. While he slept, his mares, which were grazing yoked to the chariot, were spirited away by divine fortune.

9 When Herakles awoke, he searched for them, visiting every part of the country, until at last he came to the land called the “Woodland,” and there he found in a cave a creature of double form that was half maiden and half serpent. Above the buttocks she was a woman and below them a snake. (2) When he saw her, he was astonished and asked her if she had seen his mares straying. She said that she had them and would not return them to him before he had sex with her. Herakles acted accordingly in hope of this reward. (3) But though he was anxious to take the horses and go, she delayed returning them, so that she might have Herakles with her for as long as possible. At last she gave them back, telling him: “These mares came, and I kept them safe here for you, and you have paid me for keeping them, for I have three sons by you. (4) Now tell me what I am to do when they are grown up. Will I keep them here, since I am queen of this country, or will I send them away to you?” She inquired in this way and then, it is said, Herakles answered: (5) “When you see the boys are grown up, do as follows and you will do rightly: Whichever of them you see bending this bow and wearing this belt like this, make him an inhabitant of this land, but whoever falls short of these accomplishments that I require, send him away out of the land. Do so and you will yourself have comfort, and my will will be done.”

10 So he drew one of his bows (for until then Herakles always carried two), showed her the belt, and gave her the bow and the belt that had a golden vessel on the end of its clasp. After he had given them, he departed. But when the sons born to her were grown men, she gave them names, calling one of them Agathyrsos, the next Gelonos, and the youngest Scythes. Furthermore, remembering the instructions, she did as she was told. (2) Two of her sons, Agathyrsos and Gelonos, were cast out by their mother and left the country, unable to fulfill the requirements set [by Herakles]. But Scythes, the youngest, fulfilled them and so stayed in the land. (3) From Scythes son of Herakles comes the whole line of the kings of Scythia, and it is because of the vessel [on the clasp of Herakles’ gifted bow] that the Scythians carry vessels on their belts to this day. This alone his mother did for Scythes. This is what the Greeks who live in Pontos say.

[Scythians in relation to Massagetians and Kimmerians]

11 There is yet another [Greek] story, to which account I myself especially incline. It is to this effect: When the nomadic Scythians inhabiting Asia were involved in a difficult war with the Massagetians, the Scythians fled across the Araxes river to the Kimmerian country [modern Crimea], for the country which the Scythians now inhabit is said to have belonged to the Kimmerians before.

(2) The Kimmerians, at the advance of the Scythians, deliberated as men threatened by a great force should. Opinions were divided and both were strongly held, but the opinion of the princes was the more honourable. For the people’s opinion was that their part was to withdraw and that there was no need to risk their lives for the dust of the earth, while the princes were for fighting to defend their country against the attackers. (3) Neither side could persuade the other. The people could not persuade the princes, nor the princes persuade the people. The one party planned to depart without fighting and leave the country to their enemies, while the princes were determined to lie dead in their own country and not to flee with the people. For they considered how fortunate their situation had been and what negative consequences were likely to come upon them if they fled from their native land. (4) Having made up their minds, the princes separated into two equal bands and fought with each other until they were all killed by each other’s hands. Then the Kimmerian people buried them [the princes] by the Tyras [Dniester] river, where their tombs are still to be seen. After they buried them, they departed from the land and the Scythians came in and took possession of the barren land.

12 And to this day there are Kimmerian walls in Scythia, and a Kimmerian ferry, and there is a country Kimmeria and a strait named Kimmerian. (2) Furthermore, it is evident that the Kimmerians in their flight from the Scythians into Asia also made a colony on the peninsula where the Greek city of Sinope [Sinop, Turkey] has since been founded, and it is clear that the Scythians pursued them [i.e. the Kimmerians] and, losing their way, invaded Media. (3) For the Kimmerians always fled along the coast, and the Scythians pursued with the Caucasus on their right until they came into the Median land, turning inland on their way. That is the other story current among Greeks and foreigners alike.

[Issedonians, Arimaspians, and Hyperboreans (largely mythical)]

13 There is also a story related by Aristeas son of Caystrobios, a man of Proconnesos [now Marmara Island, Turkey] and a poet. This Aristeas, being then possessed by Phoibos [i.e. Apollo], visited the Issedonians (Issedonoi). The one‑eyed Arimaspians live beyond the Issedonians, he said, beyond whom are the griffins that guard gold and beyond these again the Hyperboreans, whose territory reaches to the sea. Except the Hyperboreans, all of these (beginning with the Arimaspians) always engage in war with their neighbours. The Issedonians were pushed from their lands by the Arimaspians, and the Scythians by the Issedonians. The Kimmerians living by the southern sea, were hard pressed by the Scythians and left their country. So Aristeas’ story about this country does not agree with the Scythian account.​ . . [details of legends about Aristeas omitted].

[Kallippidians, Alazonians, and Neurians]

17 North of the trading-centre of the Borysthenians [i.e. the Milesian colony of Olbia/Miletopolis, near modern Parutyne, Ukraine], which lies midway along the coast of Scythia, the first inhabitants are the Kallippidians (Kallippidai), who are Scythian Greeks. Beyond them another people (ethnos) called Alazonians. These Alazonians and the Kallippidians plant and eat grain, onions, garlic, lentils, and millet [i.e. they engage in settled farming rather than being nomads], though they live like the Scythians in other ways. (2) Above the Alazonians live Scythian farmers who plant grain not to eat but to sell. North of these Scythian farmers are the Neurians (Neuroi), and north of the Nuerians the land is uninhabited so far as we know.

[Borystheneitians and Man-eating people]

18 These are the peoples (ethnē) by the Hypanis [Bug] river, west of the Borysthenes [Dnieper] river. But on the other side of the Borysthenes, nearest to the sea, is the “Woodlands” (Hulaiē). North of this live Scythian farmers, whom the Greek colonists on the Hypanis river, who call themselves Olbiopolitans (Olbiopolitai), named the Borystheneitians (Borystheneitai). (2) These farming Scythians inhabit a land stretching east a three days’ journey to a river called Pantikapes and north as far as eleven days voyage up the Borysthenes river. Then, directly north of these territories, the land is desolate for a long way. (3) After the desolate area is the land of the “Man-eaters” (Androphagoi), who are a people apart and by no means Scythian. The land beyond them is truly desolate, where no nation of men lives, as far as we know.

[Nomadic Scythians]

19 But to the east of these farming Scythians, across the Pantikapes river, you are in the land of nomadic Scythians, who plant nothing, nor plough. All these lands except the Woodlands’ are bare of trees. These nomads inhabit a land that stretches to the Gerros [Molochna] river [flowing into the Sea of Azov], a distance of fourteen days’ journey to the east.

[Royal Scythians and the “Black-cloaks”]

20 Across the Gerros are those lands called “Royal”, where the best and most numerous of the Scythians live, who consider all other Scythians their slaves. Their territory stretches south to the Tauric land, and east to the trench that was dug by the sons of the blind men and to the trading-centre called the “Cliffs” on the Maiotian lake [west coast of the Sea of Azov], and part of it stretches to the Tanais [Don] river. (2) North of the Royal Scythians live the “Black-cloaks” (Melagchlainoi), who are descendants of another people and not of Scythian ancestry. Beyond the “Black-cloaks” the land is all marshes and uninhabited by men, so far as we know.

[Non-Scythian peoples in the Pontic region, according to Herodotos]

[Sauromatians, Budinians, Thyssagetians, and Irykians]

21 Across the Tanais river the land is no longer Scythia. The first of the districts belongs to the Sauromatians (Sauromatai), whose country begins at the inner end of the Maiotian lake and stretches fifteen days’ journey north, and is quite bare of both wild and cultivated trees. Above these in the second district, the Budinians (Budinoi) inhabit a country thickly overgrown with trees of all kinds.

22 North of the Budinians the land is uninhabited for seven days’ journey. After this desolate territory and somewhat more toward the east wind, live the Thyssagetians (Thyssagetai), a numerous and a separate people, who live by hunting.

(2) Adjoining these and in the same land live the people called Irykians (Iyrkai). These people also live by hunting, in the way that I will describe. The hunter climbs a tree and sits there concealed, because trees grow thickly all over the land. Each man has at hand his horse, which is trained to lie flat on its belly for the sake of lowness, and his dog. When the man sees the prey from the tree, he shoots it with the bow, mounts his horse and pursues it, and the dog follows close behind. (3) Beyond these and somewhat to the east live Scythians again, who revolted from the Royal Scythians and came to this land.

[Bald-headed people and Argippians immigrants]

23 As for the countryside of these Scythians, all the land mentioned up to this point is level and its soil deep, but after this it is stony and rough. (2) After a long journey through this rough land, there are people inhabiting the foothills of high mountains, who are said to be bald from birth (both men and women) and snub-nosed with men having long beards. They speak their own language and wear Scythian clothing, and their food comes from trees. (3) The tree by which they live is called “Pontic,” it is about the size of a fig-tree and bears a fruit as big as a bean with a pit [i.e. hackberry tree]. When this fruit is ripe, they strain it through cloth and a thick black liquid comes from it, which they call “aschu.” They lick this up or drink it mixed with milk, and from the thickest dregs of it they make cakes and eat them.

(4) They have few cattle, for the pasture in their land is not good. They each live under a tree covering it in winter with a white felt cloth but using no felt in summer. (5) These people are wronged by no man, for they are said to be sacred, and they do not have any weapon of war. They judge the quarrels between their neighbours. Furthermore, anyone who has fled [from elsewhere] and sought refuge with them is harmed by no one, and the name given to them is “Argippians.”

24 Now as far as the land of these bald-headed people, we have full knowledge of the land and the peoples on the near side of them: for not only do certain groups of the Scythians make their way to them, from whom information is readily given, but certain groups of the Greeks as well from the Borysthenes trading-centre and the other ports of Pontos. Those of the Scythians who visit them transact their business with seven interpreters and in seven languages.

25 This land is known as far as these people, but what lies north of the bald-headed people no one can say with exact knowledge, because high and impassable mountains block the way and no one crosses them. These bald-headed people say – although I am not convinced – that the mountains are inhabited by people with goats’ feet, and that beyond these people are another people, who sleep for six out of the twelve months. This I cannot accept as true at all. (2) But the land east of the bald-headed people is known for certain to be inhabited by the Issedonians. We have no knowledge, however, of the lands located to the north of either the bald-headed people or the Issedonians, except that knowledge which comes from the reports of these peoples mentioned above.

[Burial customs of the Issedonians involving supposed cannibalism]

26 It is said to be the custom of the Issedonians that whenever a man’s father dies, all the nearest of kin bring beasts of the flock. After killing these animals and butchering the flesh, they also butcher their host’s deceased father, and set out all the flesh mixed together for a feast. (2) As for his head, they strip it bare, clean it, wrap it in gold leaf, and keep it for a sacred object, to which they offer sacrifice annually. Every son does this for his father, just like the Greeks do in their festivals in honour of the dead. In other respects, these are said to be a law-abiding people as well, and the women to have equal power with the men.

27 Now then we have knowledge of these people as well, but as for what is north of them, it is from the Issedonians that the tale comes of the one-eyed men and the griffins that guard gold. This tale is told by the Scythians, who heard it from the Issedonians. In coming back from contact with the Scythians, other peoples have adopted the usage and call these people by the Scythian name, Arimaspians (Armaspoi), because in the Scythian language arima means “one” and spou means “eye”.

[Scythian environment and climate]

28 All the land mentioned above is exceedingly cold: for there is unbearable frost eight months of every year, and during these months you do not make mud by pouring out water but by lighting a fire. The sea freezes, as does all the Kimmerian Bosporos. The Scythians who live on this side of the trench lead armies over the ice and drive their wagons across to the land of the Sindians (Sindoi). (2) So it is winter for eight months, yet the cold in that land persists for the remaining four months. Here, there is a different sort of winter than the winters in other lands: for in the rainy season scarcely any falls, but it rains unceasingly all summer. (3) When there are thunderstorms in other lands, there are none here, but there are plenty of thunderstorms in summer. If there is a thunderstorm in winter, they are accustomed to look on it with amazement as a sign from the divine. Furthermore, if there is an earthquake in summer or winter, it is considered a portent in Scythia. (4) While horses have the endurance to bear the Scythian winter, mules and asses cannot bear it at all. Yet in other lands, while asses and mules can endure frost, horses, who stand motionless in it, experience frostbite and gangrene.

31 Now concerning the “feathers”, of which the Scythians say the air is full and that in consequence of them no one can see or traverse the land beyond, I have this opinion: North of that land snow falls continually, though less in summer than in winter, as is to be expected. (2) Whoever has seen snow falling thick near him understands my meaning, because snow is like feathers and, due to the winter season which happens as I have described, the regions to the north of this continent are uninhabited. I think therefore that in this story of feathers, the Scythians and their neighbours only speak of snow figuratively. So, then, I have spoken of those parts that are said to be most distant.

[The Scythians are advantaged by their nomadic way of life]

46 The region of the Pontos Euxinos [Black Sea region], to which Darius was leading his army is, with the exception of the Scythian people, inhabited by the most ignorant peoples of all. For we cannot show the wisdom of any people there, except the Scythian people. Nor do we know about any notable man born there, except Anacharsis. (2) But the Scythian people have made the cleverest discovery that we know of in what is the most important of all human affairs. I do not praise the Scythians in all respects, but I do in this one most important regard: they have contrived that no one who attacks them can escape and no one can capture them if they do not want to be found. (3) For when men have no established cities or forts, but are all nomads and mounted archers, not living by tilling the soil but by raising cattle and carrying their dwellings on wagons, how can they not be invincible and unapproachable?

47 This invention they have made in a land which suits their purpose and has rivers which are their allies, because their country is level and grassy and well watered and rivers run through it that approach the number of the canals of Egypt. As many of them as are famous and can be entered from the sea, these rivers I will name. . . [extensive discussion of the Ister, Tyras, Hypanis, Borysthenes, Pantikapes, Hypakouris, Gerrhos, and Tanais rivers omitted]. . . 58 These are the rivers of name with which the Scythians are provided. For the rearing of cattle the grass growing in Scythia is the most bile-making of all pastures known to us; it can be judged by the opening of the bodies of the cattle that this is so.

[Scythian customs]

[Customs regarding the gods and sacrifice]

59 The most important things are provided to them in this way. It remains now to show the customs which are established among them. The only gods whom they propitiate are these: Hestia in particular, and secondly Zeus and Earth (; Lat. Gaia), whom they believe to be the wife of Zeus. After these, Apollo, the Heavenly (Ourania) Aphrodite, Herakles, and Ares. All the Scythians worship these as gods. The Scythians called “Royal” sacrifice to Poseidon also. (2) In the Scythian language, Hestia is called Tabiti; Zeus, who is most properly named in my opinion, is called Papaios; Earth is called Apia; Apollo is called Goitosyros; the Heavenly Aphrodite is called Argimpasa; and, Poseidon is called Thagimasadas. It is not their custom to make images, altars and shrines for any of the gods except Ares. It is their custom to do these things for Ares.

60 In all their sacred rites they follow the same method of sacrifice and this is how it is offered. The sacrificial victim stands with its forefeet shackled together, while the sacrificer stands behind the beast and throws it down by pulling the end of the rope. (2) As the sacrificial victim falls, the priest invokes whatever god it is to whom he sacrifices. Then, throwing a noose around the beast’s neck, he thrusts in a stick, twists it, and so strangles the victim. They do not light a fire or offering the first-fruits, or pour any libation. When he has strangled and skinned the beast, he starts cooking it.

61 Now, as the Scythian land is quite barren of wood, this is how they manage to cook the meat. When they have skinned the sacrificial victims, they strip the meat from the bones and throw it into the cauldrons of the land, if they have them. These cauldrons are most like bowls from the island of Lesbos, except that they are much bigger. So then they throw the meat into these cauldrons and cook it by lighting a fire underneath with the bones of the victims. But if they have no cauldron, then they put all the meat into the victims’ stomachs, adding water, and make a fire of the bones underneath, (2) which burn nicely. The stomachs easily hold the meat, when it is stripped from the bones, and in this way a steer serves to cook itself, and every other sacrificial victim cooks itself like this. When the flesh is cooked, the sacrificer takes the first-fruits of the flesh and the entrails and casts them in front of himself. They use all grazing animals for sacrifice, but mainly horses.

62 This is their way of sacrificing to other gods and these are the beasts offered, but their sacrifices to Ares are of the following sort: Every district in each of the governments has a structure sacred to Ares: namely, a pile of stick bundles measuring three-eighths of a mile wide and long, but of a lesser height. On top of this there is a flattened square platform. Three of the squares’ sides are flat, but the fourth can be climbed. (2) Every year a hundred and fifty wagon-loads of sticks are heaped upon this because the storms of winter always make the structure sink down. In fact, an ancient short sword (scimitar) made of iron has been set down for each Scythian people on this sacred pile, and this is their image of Ares [i.e. the sword]. They bring yearly sacrifice of sheep, goats and horses to this sword, offering to these symbols even more than they do to the other gods.

[Human sacrifice]

(3) Of enemies that they take alive, they sacrifice one man in every hundred, not as they sacrifice sheep and goats, but differently. They pour wine on the men’s heads and cut their throats over a bowl. Then they carry the blood up on to the pile of sticks and pour it on the short sword. (4) They carry the blood on top of the structure. Down below by the sacred pile they cut off all the slain men’s right arms and hands, throw these into the air, and then depart, after they have sacrificed the rest of the victims. The arm lies where it has fallen and the body apart from it.

63 These then are their established rites of sacrifice. But these Scythians make no offerings of pigs, nor are they willing for the most part to raise them in their country.

[Customs in war, including scalping enemies and drinking blood from human skulls]

64 As to war, these are their customs. A Scythian drinks the blood of the first man whom he has taken down. He carries the heads of everyone that he has slain in the battle to his king. For if he brings a head, he receives a share of the booty taken, but not otherwise. (2) He scalps the head by making a cut around it by the ears, then grasping the scalp and shaking the head off. Then he scrapes out the flesh with the rib of a steer and kneads the skin with his hands. After he has made it soft and pliable, he keeps it for a hand towel, fastening it to the bridle of the horse, which he himself rides, and taking pride in it. For he who has most scalps for hand towels is considered the best man. (3) Many Scythians even make garments to wear out of these scalps, sewing them together like coats of skin. Many also take off the skin, nails and all, from their dead enemies’ right hands, and they make coverings for their quivers: the human skin, as it turned out, was thick and shining, the brightest and whitest skin of all, one might say. (4) Many flay the skin from the whole body as well and carry it around on horseback stretched on a wooden frame.

65 The heads themselves, not all of them but those of their bitterest enemies, they treat in the following manner. Each man saws off the entire part of the head beneath the eyebrows and cleans the rest. If he is a poor man, then he covers the outside of the head with a piece of raw hide and makes use of it like that. If he is a rich man, he covers the head with the raw hide, lines the inside with gold, and uses it for a drinking-cup. (2) The Scythians also make these skull-cups if any of their relatives stand at odds with them, and if one of them has prevailed in single combat in the presence of the king. If guests whom the victor honours visit him, he will serve them with these heads and show how the dead were his kinsfolk, who fought him and were beaten by him. They call this “manly valour” (andragathia).

66 Furthermore, once a year each leader of a district brews a bowl of wine in his own district, which those Scythians who have slain enemies drink. Those who have not achieved this do not taste this wine but sit apart dishonoured and this they consider a very great disgrace. But those of the Scythians who have slain countless enemies, being however great in number, hold two cups each and drink out of both.

[Customs of divination, healing, and justice]

67 There are many diviners (manteis) among the Scythians, who divine by means of many willow wands, as I will demonstrate. They bring great bundles of wands, which they lay on the ground and unfasten, and they utter their divinations as they grab the rods one by one and, while still speaking, they gather up the rods once more and place them together again. (2) This manner of divination is hereditary among them. The Enarees, who are androgynous, say that Aphrodite gave them the skill of divination, which they practise by means of lime-tree bark. They cut this bark into three portions and prophesy, while they braid and unbraid bark in their fingers.

68 Whenever the king of the Scythians falls ill, he sends for the three very reputable diviners, who prophesy in the method mentioned above, and they generally tell him that such and such a man (naming whoever it is) has sworn falsely by the king’s hearth. (2) For when the Scythians swear their most serious oath, it is by the king’s hearth that they are accustomed to swearing it. Immediately, the man, whom the diviners allege to have sworn falsely, is seized and brought in, and when he comes the diviners accuse him, saying that their divination shows him to have sworn falsely by the king’s hearth, and that this is the cause of the king’s sickness. The man vehemently denies that he has sworn falsely. (3) When he denies it, the king sends for twice as many diviners, and if they too prove him guilty of perjury in consulting their craft, then he is instantly beheaded and his goods are divided among the first diviners. (4) But if the later diviners acquit him, then other diviners come and yet again others. If the greater number of them acquit the man, it is decreed that the first diviners themselves be put to death. 69 This is how they die. Men yoke oxen to a wagon laden with sticks and tie the diviners up in these, fettering their legs and binding their hands behind them and gagging them. Then they set fire to the sticks and drive the oxen away, stampeding them. (2) Often the oxen are burned to death with the diviners, and often the yoke-pole of their wagon is burned through and the oxen escape with a scorching. They also burn their diviners for other reasons in the described manner, calling them false prophets. (3) When the king puts them to death, he does not leave the sons alive either but kills all the males of the family; the females he does not harm.

[Customs relating to pledges]

70 As for giving sworn pledges to those who are to receive them, this is the Scythian way: they take blood from the parties to the agreement by making a little cut in the body with an awl or a knife, and pour it mixed with wine into a big earthenware bowl. Then they dip a scimitar, arrows, an axe and a javelin into it. When this is done, those swearing the agreement and the most honourable of their followers drink the blood, after they invoke solemn curses upon it.

[Funerary customs]

71 The burial-places of the kings are in the land of the Gerrians (Gerroi), which is the last stop-off point at the end of navigating the Borysthenes river. Whenever their king has died, the Scythians dig a great four-cornered pit in the ground there. When this pit is ready, they take up the dead man’s body (after the body has been enclosed in wax and the belly cut open, cleaned and filled with cut marsh-plants, frankincense, parsley, anise seed, and sewn up again) and they transport it on a wagon to another people. (2) Then those who receive the dead man on his arrival do the same as do the Royal Scythians: that is, they cut off a part of their ears, shave their heads, make cuts around their arms, tear their foreheads and noses, and pierce their left hands with arrows. (3) From there, the ones who escort the bodies transport the king’s corpse on the wagon to another one of the peoples which they rule over. That people follows behind the people to whom those who escort the body originally came. Then when they have carried the corpse to all peoples in succession, they are at the place of burial in the land of the Gerrians, the most distant people under their rule. (4) Then, having laid the body on a couch in the tomb, they plant spears on each side of the body and lay wooden planks across them, which they then roof over with braided sprigs of willow. In the open space which is left in the tomb, they strangle and bury one of the king’s concubines, his cupbearer, his cook, his groom, his squire, and his messenger, in addition to horses, the first-fruits of everything else, and golden cups (for the Scythians do not use silver or bronze). (5) Having done this, they collectively erect a great burial mound of earth, vying eagerly with one another to make this mound as large as possible.

72 After a year has gone by, they next do as follows: They take the most trusted of the rest of the king’s servants (these are native-born Scythians, for only those whom the king commands serve him, and none of the Scythians have servants bought by money) (2) and they strangle fifty of these servants and fifty of their best horses, and they empty and clean the bellies of them all, filling them with chaff and sewing them up again. (3) Then they fasten half of a wheel to two posts, the hollow part facing upward, and the other half to another pair of posts, until many posts, which are prepared in this manner, are planted in the ground. After driving thick stakes lengthways through the horses’ bodies to their necks, they place the horses up on the wheels (4), so that the wheel in front supports the horse’s forequarters and the wheel behind takes the weight of the belly by the hindquarters, and the forelegs and hindlegs hang free. Also, putting bridles and bits in the horses’ mouths, they stretch the bridles to the front and fasten them with pegs. (5) Then they take each one of the fifty strangled young men and mount him on the horse. Their way of doing it is to drive an upright stake through each body passing up alongside the spine to the neck leaving enough of the stake projecting below to be fixed in a hole made in the other stake, which passes through the horse. So having set horsemen of this fashion around the tomb, they ride away.

73 That is the way they bury their kings. All other Scythians are laid in wagons and carried around among their friends by their nearest of kin when they die. Each person receives them and entertains the retinue hospitably, placing in front of the dead man about as much food as the host serves to the rest of the guests. Everyone except the kings is carried around like this for forty days and then buried.

(2) After the burial the Scythians cleanse themselves in the following manner: they anoint and wash their heads and, for their bodies, they set up three poles leaning together to a point and cover these over with wool mats. Then, when they have enclosed them to the best of their ability, they make a pit in the centre beneath the poles and mats, and they throw red-hot stones into it. 74 They have hemp growing in their country, very like flax, except that the hemp is much thicker and taller. This grows both of itself and also by their cultivation, and the Thracians even make garments of it which are very like linen. No one except an expert in hemp could determine whether the garments were hempen or linen. Whoever has never seen hemp before will think the garment is linen. 75 The Scythians then take the seed of this hemp and, crawling in under the mats, throw it on the red-hot stones, where it smoulders and sends up fumes that no Greek vapor-bath could surpass. (2) The Scythians howl for joy at the vapor-bath. This serves them instead of bathing, for they never wash their bodies with water. (3) But their women pound cypress, cedar and frankincense wood on a rough stone, adding water also, and with the thick stuff pounded in this way they anoint their bodies and faces, as a result of which not only does a fragrant scent come from them, but when on the second day they take off the ointment, their skin becomes clear and shining.

[Perspectives on foreign customs, including incidents involving Anacharsis and Skyles]

76 But as regards foreign customs, the Scythians vehemently reject putting them into practice. They do not accept customs of others and especially not those of the Greeks, as was proved in the case of Anacharsis and also the case of Skyles. (2) For when Anacharsis was returning to the Scythian land, after he had seen much of the world in his travels and had given many examples of his wisdom, he sailed through the Hellespont and landed at Kyzikos. [3] Upon finding the Kyzikians celebrating the feast of the Mother of the Gods with great ceremony, Anacharsis vowed to this same Mother goddess that if he returned to his own country safe and sound, he would sacrifice to her, as he saw the Kyzikians doing, and would establish a nightly rite of worship.

(4) So when he came to Scythia, he hid himself in the territory called Woodland, which is beside the Race of Achilles and is all overgrown with all kinds of trees. Hidden there, Anacharsis celebrated the goddess’ ritual with precision, carrying a small drum and hanging her images around himself. (5) Then some Scythian saw him doing this and told the king, Saulios, who came to the place himself and upon seeing Anacharsis perform these rites, shot an arrow at him and killed him.

Now the Scythians, if they are asked about Anacharsis, say they do not know who he is. This is because he left his land for Greece and followed the customs of strangers. (6) But according to what I heard from Tymnes, the deputy for Ariapithes, Anacharsis was an uncle of Idanthyrsos, king of Scythia, and he was the son of Gnouros, son of Lykos, son of Spargapithes. Now if Anacharsis was truly of this family, then let him know he was slain by his own brother, because Idanthyrsos was the son of Saulios, and it was Saulios who killed Anacharsis.

77 It is true that I have heard another story told by the Peloponnesians, namely that Anacharsis had been sent by the king of Scythia and had been a student of the ways of Greece. After his return, he told the Scythian king who sent him that all Greeks were keen for every kind of learning, except for the Spartans. Anacharsis told the king that these Spartans were the only Greeks who spoke and listened with discretion. (2) But this is a tale pointlessly invented by the Greeks themselves and, be that as it may, Anacharsiss was put to death as I have said. 78 So then, this Anacharsis experienced this on account of his foreign ways and for consorting with Greeks.

Many years later, Skyles son of Ariapithes suffered a similar fate. Skyles was one of the sons born to Ariapithes, king of Scythia. But his mother was from Istria [a Greek settlement] and not native-born. She taught him to speak and read Greek. As time passed, Ariapithes was treacherously slain by Spargapithes, king of the Agathyrsians, and Skyles inherited the kingship and his father’s wife, whose name was Opoia, a Scythian woman, and she bore to Skyles a son, Orikoss.

So Skyles was king of Scythia, but he was in no way content with the Scythian manner of life, and was much more inclined to Greek ways from the bringing up which he had received. So this is what he did: having led the Scythian army to the city of the Borysthenites (who say that they are Milesians). After he arrived there, I say, he would leave his army in the suburb of the city, but he himself, entering within the walls and shutting the gates would take off his Scythian clothing and put on Greek clothing. Wearing this he went among the towns people unattended by spearmen or any others (the people guarding the gates, in case any Scythian should see him wearing this apparel). In every way, he followed the Greek manner of life and worshipped the gods according to Greek custom. After he spent a month or more like this, he put on Scythian clothing and left the city. He did this often. He also built a house in Borysthenes, and married and brought there a wife of the people of the country.

But when the time came for bad things to happen to him, this was the cause of it: he conceived a desire to be initiated into the rites of the Bacchic Dionysos. When he was about to begin the sacred mysteries, he saw a wondrous vision. He had in the city of the Borysthenites a spacious house, great and costly (that same house I just mentioned), all surrounded by sphinxes and griffins represented in white stone. This house was struck by a thunderbolt and completely destroyed by fire. Despite this, Skyles did finish performing the rite.

Now the Scythians make this Bacchic revelling a reproach against the Greeks, saying that it is not reasonable to set up a god who leads men on to madness. So when Skyles had been initiated into the Bacchic rite, some one of the Borysthenites scoffed at the Scythians: “Why,” he said, “you Scythians mock us for revelling and being possessed by the god. But now this deity has taken possession of your own king, so that he is revelling and is maddened by the god. If you will not believe me, follow me now and I will show him to you.” The chief men among the Scythians followed him, and the Borysthenite brought them up secretly and set them on a tower. From there, they saw Skyles passing by with his company of worshippers among the revellers. As they were greatly upset at this, they left the city and told the whole army what they had seen.

80 After this Skyles rode away to his own place. But the Scythians rebelled against him, setting up for their king his brother Oktamasades son of the daughter of Teres. Learning how they dealt with him and the reason of their doing this, Skyles fled into Thrace. When Oktamasades heard this he led his army there. But when he was beside the Ister [Danube], the Thracians barred his way. When the armies were about to join battle, Sitalkes sent this message to Oktamasades: “Why should we sap each other’s strength? You are my sister’s son, and you have my brother with you. Will you give him back to me, and I will give up your Skyles to you, and let neither of us endanger our armies.” Such was the offer sent to him by Sitalkes, for Sitalkes’ brother had fled from him and was with Oktamasades. The Scythian agreed to this, and received his brother Skyles, giving up his own uncle to Sitalkes. Sitalkes then took his brother and carried him away, but Oktamasades beheaded Skyles on the spot. So closely do the Scythians guard their practices, and such penalties do they exact on those who add foreign customs to their own.

[The size of the Scythian population]

81 How numerous the Scythians are, I was not able to learn exactly, but I heard accounts of their number: some saying that they are very numerous and others that they are few in number, so far as the number concerns genuine, native-born Scythians. (2) But this much they let me see for myself: there is a region between the Borysthenes [Dnieper] and Hypanis [Bug] rivers, whose name is Exampaios. This is the land that I mentioned previously when I said that there is a spring of salt water in it, whose water makes the Hypanis river undrinkable.

(3) In this region there is a bronze vessel, as much as six times larger than the cauldron dedicated [in 477 BCE following conquest of Byzantion] by Pausanias, son of Kleombrotos, at the entrance of the Pontos [Black Sea]. (4) For anyone who has not yet seen the latter cauldron, I will make my meaning plain: the Scythian bronze vessel easily contains five-thousand-four-hundred gallons, and it is of six fingers’ thickness. As the people of the land said, this vessel was made out of arrowheads. (5) For their king, whose name was Ariantas, in desiring to know the census of the Scythians, commanded every Scythian to bring him the point from an arrow, threatening death to all who did not. (6) So a vast number of arrow-heads was brought, and he decided to make and leave a memorial out of them. From these arrowheads then, he made this bronze vessel and set it up in this land called Exampaios. This much I heard about the number of the Scythians.


[Peoples in the vicinity of Scythians]

102 Convinced that they alone were not able to repel Darius’ army in open warfare, the Scythians sent messengers to their neighbours, whose kings had already gathered and were deliberating on the presumption that a great army was marching against them. (2) The assembled kings were those of the Taurians, Agathyrsians, Neurians, the “Man-eaters”, the “Black-cloaks”, Gelonians, Budinians, and Sauromatians.

[Taurians, including the supposed custom of human sacrifice]

103 Among these peoples, the Taurians (Tauroi) have the following customs: They sacrifice to the virgin goddess [a local deity sometimes equated with the Greek goddess Artemis] all ship-wrecked men and any Greeks they capture in their sea-raids, as I will describe. After the first rites of sacrifice, they strike the sacrificial victim on the head with a club. (2) According to some, they then place the head on a pole and throw the body off the cliff upon which their temple stands. Others agree with treatment of the head, but say that the body is buried and not thrown off the cliff.

The Taurians themselves say that this deity, to whom they sacrifice, is Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia [i.e. the eldest daughter of legendary King Agamemnon, whom he famously sacrificed to Artemis at Aulis for safe passage to Troy].

(3) As for enemies whom they defeat, each Taurian cuts off his enemy’s head and carries it away to his house, where he places it on a tall pole and stands it high above the home, usually above the smoke-vent. These heads, they say, are set up to guard the whole house. The Taurians live by plundering and war.


104 The Agathyrsians are the most refined of men and especially given to wearing gold. They are promiscuous in having sex with women so that they may be blood-relatives with one another and not harbour jealousy nor animosity toward one another, since they are all related. In the rest of their customs they are like the Thracians.


105 The Neurians follow Scythian customs, but one generation before the arrival of Darius’ army, they happened to be driven from their land by snakes. For their land produced great numbers of these snakes and still more came down on them out of the desolate regions of the north, until at last the Neurians were so afflicted that they left their own land and lived among the Budinians. It may be that these Neurian people are enchanters (goētes), (2) for the Scythians and the Greeks settled in Scythia say that once a year every one of the Neurians becomes a wolf for a few days and changes back again to his former shape. Those who tell this tale do not convince me, but they tell it nonetheless and swear to its truth.

[“Man-eaters” and “Black-cloaks”]

106 The “Man-eaters” are the most savage of all men in their way of life. They know no justice and obey no law. They are nomads, wearing Scythian clothing but speaking a language of their own. Of all these peoples, they are the only people that eat men. 107 The “Black-cloaks” all wear black clothing, from which they get their name. Their customs are Scythian.

[Budinians and Gelonians]

108 The Budinians are a great and populous people (ethnos). Their eyes are very bright, and they have a reddish complexion. They have a city built of wood called Gelonos. The wall of the city is three-and-three-quarter miles in length on each side of the city. This wall is high and made completely of wood, and their houses and their temples are wooden. (2) For in fact there are in this city temples of the Greek gods, which are furnished in Greek style with images, altars and shrines of wood, and they honour Dionysos every two years with festivals and revelry. For the citizens of Gelonos (Golonoi) are Greeks by origin who left their trading ports to settle among the Budinians, and they speak a language half-Greek and half-Scythian. But the Budinians do not speak the same language as the citizens of Gelonos, nor is their manner of life the same. 109 The Budinians are indigenous. They are nomads and the only people in these parts that eat the cones from fir trees. The citizens of Gelonos are farmers, and they eat grain and cultivate gardens. They are altogether unlike the Budinians in form and in colouring. Yet, the Greeks call the Budinians by the name “Gelonians” as well, though this is wrong. (2) Their whole country is thickly wooded with every kind of tree. In the deep forest there is a great, wide lake and a marsh surrounded by reeds. They trap otter and beaver in this area, in addition to certain square-faced creatures, whose skins are used to trim mantles and whose testicles are used by the people to heal sicknesses of the womb.

[Sauromatians and Amazons]

110 Regarding the Sauromatians, the story is as follows: When the Greeks were at war with the Amazons (whom the Scythians call “Oiorpata,” a name signifying in our language “killers of men”, for in Scythian a “man” is oior and “to kill” is pata) the story runs that after their victory on the Thermodon [Terme] river, the Greeks sailed away holding as many Amazons as they had been able to take alive in three ships. Now out at sea the Amazons attacked the crews and killed them. (2) But the Amazons knew nothing about ships, nor how to use the rudder, sail or oar. With the men dead, they were at the mercy of waves and winds until they came to the Cliffs by the Maiotian lake [Sea of Azov]. This place is in the land of the “free Scythians.” The Amazons landed there, and set out on their journey to the inhabited country. Seizing the first troop of horses they met, they mounted them and raided the Scythian lands.

111 The Scythians could not understand the whole affair, for they did not recognize the women’s speech, their dress or their people, but they wondered where they had come from and imagined them to all be men of the same age; and so they met the Amazons in battle. The result of the fight was that the Scythians got possession of the dead and in this way came to learn that their foes were women. (2) Therefore, after deliberation they resolved by no means to slay the Amazons as before, but to send their youngest men to them, in a number corresponding (as they guessed) to the number of the women. They directed these youths to camp near the Amazons and to imitate all that they did. If the women pursued them, not to fight, but to flee, and when the pursuit stopped, to return and camp near them. This was the plan of the Scythians, for they desired that their children be born of the women. The young men who were sent out did as they were directed. 112 When the Amazons perceived that the youths meant them no harm, they let them be, and every day the two camps drew nearer to each other. Now the young men, like the Amazons, had nothing but their arms and their horses, and they lived as did the women by hunting and plunder. 113 At midday the Amazons would scatter and go apart from each other individually or in pairs, roaming apart for greater comfort. The Scythians noticed this and did the same things. Now one of the young Scythian men approached one of the women, who wandered alone, and the Amazon did not reject him but let him have his way with her. (2) Since they did not understand each other’s speech and she could not speak to him, she signed with her hand that he should come the next day to the same place and bring another youth with him, showing by signs that there should be two, and that she would bring another woman with her. (3) The youth went away and told his comrades, and the next day he came himself with another youth to the place, where he found the Amazon and second one with her waiting for them. When the rest of the young men learned of this, they had intercourse with the rest of the Amazons.

114 Presently they joined their camps and lived together, each man having for his wife the woman with whom he had had intercourse at first. Now the men could not learn the women’s language, but the women mastered the speech of the men. (2) Once they understood each other, the men said to the Amazons, “We have parents and possessions. Therefore, let us no longer live as we do, but return to our people and be with them, and we will still have you, and no others, for our wives.” To this the women replied: (3) “We could not live with your women, for we and they do not have the same customs. We shoot the bow, throw the javelin and ride, but have never learned women’s jobs. Your women do none of the things of which we speak, but stay in their wagons and do women’s work, neither going hunting nor going anywhere else. (4) So we could never agree with them. If you want to keep us for wives and be perceived as honest men, go to your parents and let them give you the allotted share of their possessions, and after that let us go and live by ourselves.” The young men agreed and did this.

115 So when they had been given the allotted share of possessions that belonged to them, and returned to the Amazons, the women said to them: (2) “We are worried and frightened about how we are to live in this territory, after depriving you of your fathers and doing a lot of harm to your land. (3) Since you propose to have us for wives, do this with us. Come, let us leave this country and live across the Tanais [Don] river.”

116 To this the youths also agreed, and crossing the Tanais, they went on a three days’ journey east from the river, and a three days’ journey north from lake Maiotis, and when they came to the region in which they now live, they settled there. (2) Ever since then the women of the Sauromatians have followed their ancient ways. That is, they ride out hunting with or without their men, and they go to war and dress the same as the men.

117 The language of the Sauromatians is Scythian, but it is not spoken in its ancient purity, since the Amazons never learned it correctly. In regard to marriage, it is the custom that no maiden weds until she has killed a man of the enemy, and some of them grow old and die unmarried, because they cannot fulfill the law.


Book 6

[Spartan king Kleomenes adopts Scythian drinking customs]

84 The Argives say this was the reason Kleomenes went mad and met an evil end. The Spartans themselves say that Kleomenes’ madness did not come from a spiritual agent, but that by socializing with Scythians he became a drinker of strong wine and the madness came from this. (2) The nomadic Scythians, after Darius had invaded their land, were eager for revenge, so they sent to Sparta and made an alliance. They agreed that the Scythians would attempt to invade Media by way of the river Phasis [Rioni], and they urged the Spartans to set out, march inland from Ephesos and meet with the Scythians [ca. 513 BCE]. (3) When the Scythians had come for this purpose, they [the Spartans] say that Kleomenes kept rather close company with the Scythians. By socializing with them more than what was appropriate, he learned from them to drink strong wine. The Spartans consider him to have gone mad from this. Ever since, as they themselves say, whenever they desire a strong drink they call for “a Scythian cup.” That is the Spartan story about Kleomenes. . .


Book 7

[Baktrians and Sakians / Scythians in king Xerxes army]

64 The Baktrians in the army wore head-gear most similar to the Median, carrying their native bows of reed and short spears. The Sakians, who are Scythians, had on their heads tall caps, erect and stiff and tapering to a point. They wore short pants, and carried their native bows, daggers, and axes, which they call “sagaris.” These were Amyrgian Scythians, but were called “Sakians.” for that [Sakians] is the Persian name for all Scythians. The commander of the Baktrians and Sakians was Hystaspes, son of Darius and Cyrus’ daughter Atossa.

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