Scythians the Ancient Warriors

Scythians were magnificent warriors. They were embodiment of horror. Nobody dared to fight against them. They were quite barbaric in their treatment of the enemy. They used to behead their enemy and often skinned them alive. Even this was not enough to quench their blood thirst. Scythians indulged in the most brutal tactics of cleaning their enemy's skull by sawing through below the eyes and dipping it into a richly appointed drinking vessel. The royal funerals were drenched in blood. However, Scythians were not only barbaric. They were remarkable military strategists and created innumerable dazzling golden objects. Combs, breastplates, chalices, scabbards, helmets, rings, all made of gold, have been found amidst the carnage of royals graves. 
Battle between the Scythians and the Slavs (Viktor Vasnetsov, 1881)
Scythians were an odd mixture of gold and blood, beauty and bestiality, fact and myth. These are some of the inexplicable paradoxes of the Scythians. Besides these, we do not have much details about them. Scholars are unsatisfied with these facts. They ask who were they, where did they come from and what was their life like, 2,500 years ago? As they have left no written record or coin, there is no evidence to prove their odd mixture of beauty and bestiality.

Fortunately, Father of History, Herodotus, and Peter the Great have mentioned about them in their accounts. Herodotus has written about them in his book 'Persian Wars'. He took great pains in accumulating facts about Scythians. He travelled to the Don river, to the west of the Carthanian mountains, to the Danube river and to the Pontic steppes.

Herodotus wrote that Scythians made coats, caps and cushions out of the human skins. The skull was cleaned and used as a drinking cup. The guests, Herodotus wrote, were often served drinks in these cups and the host proudly narrated the incident where and how they committed the'glorious' act. With all this, Scythians themselves were blood-thirsty. They drank the blood of the first enemy they killed. It was considered to be a disgrace for a Scythian not to have killed anyone since the last festival. They used the scalp of their enemy as a napkin. The more the number of the napkins, the more chivalrous he was considered to be. However, all prisoners were not scalped. They left some to be offered as a sacrifice to God of war. Even the sacrifice was offered in the most peculiar way. The prisoner was first killed then his right hand and limb were severed. The severed arm and limbwere tossed into the air.

Besides these interesting incidents which Herodotus has described at length, he has also provided.a grim picture of Scythian society. He tells that Scythians were wild people with cavernous eyes, long and untidy hair and hardly ever took a bath. Herodotus tells that men were cruel and hard and had many wives.

Herodotus has also described the Scythians victory over Darius' powerful armies. The Persian force of 700,000 was very neatly finished by the Scythians who fought brilliantly and used to take the enemy by surprise. Finally Darius had to leave because of the sudden paucity of food. The Scythians were left complete masters of the steppes.

Scythians were not agriculturists. They depended on cattle for their living. They had no houses and lived on wagons. Hippocrates, the Father of medicine described the wagon having four wheels, constructed in the manner of houses and being pulled by oxen.

Despite the vivid portrayal of Scythians' nature, their origin remains unknown. Herodotus himself told three conflicting stories about their origin. According to one story it is suggested that they came from Asia. Second theory suggested that they descended from Targitaus and the third story suggests that they descended from the union of Heracles and a half woman, half snake creature who lived in the Scythian woodlands.

Such bizarre tales were not believed and Herodotus's version about Scythians' origin was dismissed as craftwork of the 'Legend monger'. Although his accounts of Scythian raiding activities contemporary to his writings have been deemed more reliable. Moreover, the term Scythian, like Cimmerian, was used to refer to a variety of groups from the Black Sea to southern Siberia and central Asia. "They were not a specific people", but rather variety of peoples "referred to at variety of times in history, and in several places, none of which was their original homeland" The Bible includes a single reference to Scythians in Colossians 3:11, immediately after mentioning barbarian, possibly as an extreme example of a barbarian.

It was in 1715, that the truth about Scythians came to limelight. A Siberian mine owner gave a gift of gold to Tsar, Peter the Great of Russia which sparked the excavations. The graves of Scythians were excavated. And with each opening of the grave and the gold treasure unearthed from them, scholars came closer to Herodotus' view about Scythians' funerals. Scythians used to slit open the dead body of the king. They used to clean the corpse and used to fill it with various aromatic substances, such as crushed galingale, parsley seed and anise. Their body was then sewn up and was coated over with wax. With the king his concubine, butler, cook, groom, steward and chamberlain were also strangled to death and buried with him. Horses and gold cups were also buried with king. After the burial ceremony, the tribesmen used to raise the mound of earth as high as possible.

In 1898, N.I. Veselovsky excavated Kurgans at Ueski Aul in the Krasnodor district, north east of the Black Sea. After digging 49 ft. high grave he discovered 360 skeletons of horses. In 1971, a Russian archaeologist discovered a similar grave near Ordzhonikidze, on the Dnieper. These discoveries once again proved Herodotus to be correct. Herodotus had earlier written that on every death anniversary 50 of the dead king's attendants along with 50 horses were strangled and buried.

The Scythians believed in shaman - a unique mixtiire of partly medicine man, partly magician, soothsayer and an animal. The shaman it is assumed, might have served as a kind of artistic touchstone and the vital source for the animal themes which so dominated Scythian art. Perhaps, Scythians like so many other ancient people viewed their world in animistic terms.

These are not enough factors to explain the myth surrounding Scythians. One cannot comprehend their barbarity and love for gold. Perhaps, there exist some more secret evidence. Or it could be that Scythians purposely exerted in barbarous acts so as to frighten the other enemies. For, they had enemies all round as they occupied the most primary route of invasion between East and West.

The riddle of Scythians remains unsolved. We have no indepth knowledge about their society and origin. However, facts exist about their decline. They were driven out by Souromatae. Some Scythians crossed to Romania, while some remained in Russia and mixed with the invaders. Their final annihilation came in 106 B-C. when they were completely defeated and killed by Mithradates the Great, King of Pontus. But with their destruction, the history of Scythians did not end. Even today, historians are busy solving the riddle of a race which was an odd amalgamation of good and bad qualities.

World Famous Unsolved Mysteries by Abhay Kumar Dubey;

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