the Aspasioi, Aspisi, & Gerrians :
the successors of the southern Russian Srubna/Timber-Grave culture,
the Scythians were semi-nomadic pastoralists who occupied much of
the northern shores of the Black Sea. They herded their precious
cattle from pasture to pasture throughout the year while travelling
in wheeled carts or mounted on horses that had been bred on the
Pontic-Caspian steppe for as much as three thousand years before
the Scythians themselves were first recorded in history. In this
they were no different to their ancestors, the Indo-Europeans whose
massive outward migrations formed the Yamnaya Horizon between about
the western branch of the Indo-European-speaking groups - the centum-speakers
- largely headed towards Central Europe and Scandinavia, the eastern
branches were much less adventurous at first, generally filling
the void on the steppe. These groups, classed as Indo-Iranians,
would eventually supply migratory peoples such as the Persians and
Medians, and the Indo-Aryans of northern India. They also supplied
the Sakas who dominated Central Asia by the middle of the first
millennium BC. The Scythians themselves were essentially the same
people as these Sakas - simply their westernmost groups spread across
what is generally now southern Russia and Ukraine. They were
more often recorded by Greeks rather than Persians (although certainly
not exclusively), but in essence both names almost certainly come
from the same original word, whether 'Saka' or 'Scythian' (which
may mean 'knife' or 'sword'). Their land became known to the
Greeks as Scythia, and that name easily outlasted the political
and cultural unity (if such a thing existed) of the Scythians themselves.
It was still being used in the fifth century AD to illustrate
the advance of hybrid Indo-Iranian/Turkic tribes into the Pontic-Caspian
Scythians would also seem to have dominated the early Slavs,
prior to their outwards expansion following the collapse of the
Hunnic empire. Slav origins have generally been pinned to
the area between the Middle Dnieper and the Bug, both well within
Scythia. By the fifth century BC when that domination is heavily
suggested by Herodotus, the Scythian and Slavic languages may still
have been mutually almost-intelligible, rather like Italian and
Spanish today. Conversations may have been heavily sprinkled with
'huh?' and 'what?' of course, but the meaning would have been grasped.
The Slavs were never turned into Scythians. Instead they were always
subjugated peoples who were ruled by an Indo-Iranian elite in the
form of the Scythians. They would seem to have been the farmers
for whichever nomad group was in command of the region, right down
to the Huns of the fourth century AD.
Aspasioi and Aspisi are the same people, recorded
by separate Greek writers with variable spelling. Otherwise obscure
they are recorded by Strabo as being the northern neighbours of
the Massagetae. As the Massagetae are most likely to be Scythian
rather than Saka (ancient writers distinguish between them), it
is most likely that their northern neighbours are also Scythian.
There was an Asioi tribe of the Greater Yuezhi - the name is very
similar, possibly the same, but there is nothing to prove a connection.
The '-oi' in Aspasioi is the Greek suffix, so it should be pronounced
'As-pas', with the ancient core name, 'As' also being linked to
Germanic origins (see feature link, right).
The Gerrians are introduced into the historical record by
Herodotus. He names them and then says that 'on the other side of
the [River] Gerros we have those parts which are called the "Royal"
lands and those Scythians who are the bravest and most numerous
and who esteem the other Scythians their slaves'. From this it would
seem that the Gerrians are themselves Scythians, but subject to
the 'royal' Scythians. This is not certain however. The Slavs
were also termed 'Scythian farmers' so the possibility exists that
the Gerrians were another group of Slavs.
When it comes to influences and interaction, the name 'Gerros' which
is used both for the river and the region is rather intriguing.
Remove the Greek suffix and 'Ger' remains. It is understood that
the Germanic groups (western Indo-Europeans but with a mysterious
influence by eastern Indo-Europeans) are supposed to be named after
their spears, but what if the spears are named after the men? This
is not unlikely. The word 'man', for example, dropped out of usage
in Latin, replaced by 'homo', a shortened form of 'humanus', meaning
'earth man'. The word 'man' had instead been transferred to refer
to a man's hands, with 'man' literally referring to a hand. Such
a shift is similar to English naval slang in the last half of the
second millennium AD, with 'hands' being taken to refer to men,
as in 'all hands on deck'. This supplies the possibility that the
mysterious eastern Indo-European influence on the Germanics in Scandinavia
was in fact Saka (Scythians) who originated from around Gerros.
by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information
from The Origin and Deeds of the Goths, Jordanes, from Comments
on Indo-Iranians and Tokharians: a response to R Heine-Geldern,
Marija Gimbutas (American Anthropologist, 1964.66:893-898),
from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), from The
Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian
Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, and from External
Links: The Balts, Marija Gimbutas (1963, previously available
online thanks to Gabriella at Vaidilute, but still available as
a PDF - click or tap on link to download or access it), and Scientists
may have unearthed 'permafrost tomb' of ancient Siberian prince
(MNN), and Experts Unearth 2,400-Year-Old Solid Gold Bongs In Southern
Russia (Tech Times), and Encyclopaedia of Ukrainian History (in
Ukrainian), and Tomb Containing Three Generations of Warrior Women
Unearthed in Russia (Smithsonian Magazine).)
an early date, quite probably before their existence is recorded
(and the 1200s BC has been mentioned as a likely period), a large
proportion of the early Slavs in the Middle Dnieper basin fall under
the rule of the Scythians. The Finno-Ugric tribes and the eastern
Balts living in the forested areas to the north remain outside the
orbit of strong Scythian influence.
appearance of ferocious mounted Scythian warriors in the lands to
the south of the Balts must have instilled a sense of worry and
fear in many groups, but the Balts always managed to remain independent
of their control (although armour such as that pictured here certainly
did not appear so early), while above is a map showing the early
Scythian lands before they came to the notice of Classical authors
century BC :
appears in Central Europe in this century, but not until the eighth
century does it revolutionise lives and only then does it reach
Northern Europe. Between the eighth and sixth centuries iron is
still extremely rare in territory that is controlled by the Balts,
and the general cultural level continues to have almost a pure Bronze
Age character. The dividing line at about the end of the eighth
century BC signifies a change in culture due not so much to technological
innovation as to new historical events - the appearance of the Scythians
(any precise dating for that appearance being, of course, debatable).
century BC :
2018 it is reported that a 'permafrost tomb' of an ancient Siberian
prince has been unearthed. The previously undisturbed tomb is located
in southern Siberia (in the Russian republic of Tuva), with its
contents additionally being entombed in ice. It lies underneath
a typical Indo-European kurgan burial mound. These circular structures,
consisting of a stone packing with a circular arrangement of chambers,
are royal tombs that belong in this period and region to the Scythians.
The impressive find is declared the largest and oldest of its kind
ever discovered in what is increasingly becoming known as the 'Siberian
Valley of the Kings'.
- 600 BC :
is the period of Scythian expansion from the Black Sea area into
Central Europe. These steppe horsemen who appear in Moravia
(now eastern Czechia), and what is now Romania and Hungary (and
who are almost certainly but not inarguably Scythians) are the successors
of the southern Russian Srubna culture of the Bronze Age which itself
had constantly been pushing towards the west. These Scythians introduce
eastern types of horse gear, oriental animal art, timber graves,
and inhumation rites (gaining the name of Timber-Grave culture from
this). Before entering Central Europe, they conquer the Cimmerians
on the northern shores of the Black Sea and in the northern Caucasus,
driving them out and dominating the northern Black Sea region.
map attempts to show the Scythian lands at their greatest extent,
failing to extend northwards thanks to the Balts
also dominating eastern Anatolia and the Zagros Mountains they acquire
much of the Caucasian and Cimmerian cultural legacy and mix this
with their own Pontic-Caspian steppe cultural elements. These
oriental influences appreciably change the material culture of Central
Europe. The Baltic and Germanic cultures in Northern Europe remain
untouched by the Scythian incursions, but the new cultural elements
reached them through continuous commercial relations with Central
c.700s? BC :
: Legendary dynasty founder mentioned by Alcman of Sparta.
- c.675 BC :
/ Ishkapai / Ishpakai : Scythian king. Killed in battle.
Median ruler, Xshatrita II, becomes an ally of Ishpaka's around
678 BC, but the Scythian king is killed in battle against Esarhaddon
of Assyria around 675 BC. Apparently his followers are confined
(by the terms of their surrender?) to the land to the south of Lake
Van. Clearly this particular group of Scythians is operating and
presumably living far south of Scythia itself.
- 645 BC :
/ Par-ta-tu-a : Scythian king around Lake Van.
Media's alliance of Cimmerians, Mannaeans, and Scythians having
crumbled, Bartatua seals an alliance with the Assyrians around this
date, presumably by marrying a daughter of the Assyrian king. It
is possible that these Scythians become dominated by the powerful
Tugdamme of the Cimmerians. He begins to threaten the borders of
the powerful Assyrian empire during the reign of Ashurbanipal and
is recorded as being 'King of the Saka and Qutium' - Sakas and
Scythians are one and the same people.
Zagros Mountain range provided the Medes with their home, but it
was also the Assyrian gateway into Iran, one that was used in later
attacks on the Indo-European Persians and Medes
II of Media leads the league that endangers Assyrian control of
the Zagros Mountains and is himself killed in battle against Assyria.
He is succeeded by his young son, but the Medians are quickly subjugated
by a Scythian invasion of the steppes. One of their number - Madys
- rules the Medes and associated Iranian tribes, and it takes the
Medians under Huwaxshatra almost thirty years to restore their independence.
- 625 BC :
/ Madius / Madyes / Madya : Son. Scythian king of the Medians
(653-625 BC). Killed.
says that Huwaxshatra of Media reigns for forty years including
the time of the domination of the Scythians, but virtually all historians
agree that what is meant is forty years excluding the time of the
domination of the Scythians. At the beginning of his reign, Huwaxshatra
is considered a vassal of the Scythians until he throws off their
yoke in 625 BC and takes sovereign control of his country.
and his fellow leaders are massacred by the Medians while his defeated
people flee back into Scythia, abandoning their former territory
to the south of the Caucuses Mountains. Once there they begin the
reconquest and renewed domination of the 'lesser' Scythian tribes.
Presumably included amongst this number are the Slavs.
- 500 BC :
The Lusatian culture still persists in the first centuries of the
Early Iron Age. The amber trade is not cut off and the Lusatians
continue to be mediators between the Baltic and Germanic amber gatherers
and the Hallstatt culture in the eastern Alpine area and, beginning
in the seventh century, the Etruscans in Italy. Under great pressure
due to Scythian raids, the Lusatian eventually gives way to the
Pomeranian Face-Urn culture.
Scythians reach the southern borders of the western Baltic lands,
seemingly due to their becoming involved in wars against the Persians
who are invading Scythia from the south. Herodotus describes
these wars in Book IV of his history, these being the earliest surviving
written records concerning the history of Eastern Europe at the
end of the sixth century BC. Apparently, though, the Scythians
do not succeed in penetrating farther north. Only a few arrowheads
of Scythian type have been found in East Prussia and southern Lithuania.
A chain of western Baltic strongholds in northern Poland and in
the southern part of East Prussia arise which very probably are
built for resisting the southern invaders. The Scythian high
tide lasts only until the end of the fifth century BC. After that
they no longer appear in the north, and possibly it is Baltic resistance
which helps to end the Scythian threat.
to some tribal names may be regarded as references to the Baltic
and Finno-Ugric tribes. Herodotus describes an expedition undertaken
by the Persian King Darius against the Scythians in 515 BC.
He mentions and approximately locates the seats of the 'Neuri',
'Androphagi', 'Melanchlaeni', 'Budini', and other tribes living
to the north of Scythia. Marija Gimbutas especially uses Herodotus
to locate the Neuri by establishing the Pripet marshes to be the
natural border between Scythia and the Neuri, while the 'Scythian
farmers' of the lower and middle Dnieper basin are almost certainly
century BC :
Harii probably belong to the Hallstatt culture of Celts. They are
to be found around the central Germanic lands, and in Bohemia, Moravia,
Slovakia, and the edges of Poland and Ukraine. Around this time
a large-scale expansion begins that sees many Hallstatt Celts migrate
outwards, but generally towards the west without disturbing the
Between about 500 to 400 BC large numbers of Iron Age La Tène Celtic
peoples migrate to the east to locations in Poland, the modern Czech
Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, the Balkans, and east to Ukraine. Also
from this period comes the 'Siberian Ice Maiden' (alternatively
referred to as the Princess of Ukok or the Altai Mummy), a tattooed
Scytho-Siberian mummy discovered by archaeologists in 1993. She
lives at this time on the Eurasian steppe as a member of the Pazyryk
culture which is current at this time. Aged between twenty and thirty
at the time of her death, her remains are entombed in a subterranean
chamber beneath a kurgan mound.
research has shown that the 'Siberian Ice Maiden' died of breast
cancer and that she also suffered from several other ailments, with
the pain and discomfort possibly being helped by using cannabis
which was kept in a small pouch that lay beside her body in the
c.450s? BC :
: Scythian king. m daughter of Teres I of the Odrysae.
name is highly typical of Indo-Iranians. The first part, 'Aria',
is a variation of 'Arya', usually shown as Aria (Latin), Areia (close
to the Greek spelling), Haraiva (Persian), or Haraeuua (Avestan).
The Areioi tribe of Indo-Iranians bear another variation of the
same word. The name Arya appears to be the oldest one known for
Indo-Europeans. Ariapeithes himself marries the unnamed daughter
of Teres I of the Odrysae but is murdered by Spargapeithes of the
c.430s BC :
/ Skyles / Scylas : Son. Promoted Greek culture. Executed
by his brother.
- 425 BC :
half Thracian Scyles is chased out of the Scythian kingdom by his
own people due to his continuing promotion of Greek culture and
traditions. He takes shelter with his relatives in the Odrysian
kingdom but is followed by Octamasadas, his Scythian successor and
full brother. After a certain amount of warfare between Odrysians
and Scythians, Scyles is handed over as part of a prisoner exchange.
He is subsequently executed.
c.420s BC :
c.420s BC :
The Celts of the La Tène culture arrive in Bohemia and southern
Poland, the northern limit of Celtic expansion, although there remains
the question of where the Belgae and Venedi are located. This La
Tène expansion is led by the Boii tribe which makes Bohemia its
home for the next three centuries, but the same expansion also stops
the Pomeranian Face-Urn culture from expanding any further south.
Western and southern Poland have also been disrupted by Scythian
raids, but these suddenly drop off around 400 BC, leaving the Face-Urn
culture free to expand instead across the entire Vistula basin and
to reach the upper Dniester in Ukraine, thereby bypassing the La
2019 findings were announced regarding four female Scythian burials
at Devitsa in Russia (to the north-east of the border with Ukraine),
all of which could be dated to the 300s BC and which contained weapons
- the eldest of the four women was even buried 'in the position
of a horseman', riding as one of Herodotus' warrior Amazons would
In 2013 archaeologists discover opium and cannabis equipment and
other gold items in a Scythian kurgan named Sengileevskoe-2. Located
in southern Russia, the finds are dated to around 400 BC. It
is generally understood that the Scythians smoke and brew a concoction
that contains cannabis and opium, with warriors doing so to place
them in a certain state of mind before they head into battle.
- 339 BC :
/ Atheas / Ateia / Ataias : 'Most powerful' Scythian king.
Killed in battle.
339 BC :
Ateas is a Scythian ruler of the fortified settlement of Kamenka.
He seems to be viewed as a usurper, someone who has defeated and
subjugated the traditional ruling establishment and its three cooperating
rulers to unify and command a greater number of Scythians than usual.
He may not even be of the traditional ruling class. By the 340s
BC he rules the territory between the River Danube and the Maeotian
marshes (close to the Sea of Azov near the Crimea) - essentially
much of Scythia.
increasing contact with the Macedonian kingdom to the south of Scythia,
Ateas enlists Macedonian troops to help him in a battle against
the city of Histria on the coastal shores of Thrace. Histria's king
dies suddenly and the Macedonian troops are summarily dismissed
upon their arrival. Further petty insults are traded between Ateas
and Phillip II of Macedon until the two sides go to war in 339 BC.
The battle takes place on the plains of what is now Dobruja, with
Ateas being killed in action, his army routed, and his kingdom collapsing.
settlements have spread only a little farther south-westwards along
the North Sea coastline, and eastwards into the heart of modern
Poland and northern Germany. One exception to this is the tribe
of the Bastarnae. They have already reached the Balkans by this
time thanks to which they are often mistaken for being Scythians
by Greek and then Roman writers.
Bastarnae exhibit early Celtic influences, seemingly overlaid by
Germanic cultural and language elements, but once they had relocated
to the Balkans they were often mistaken by contemporary writers
c.130s? BC :
: Unnamed father and Scythian king.
- c.100 BC :
/ Skilurus / Skylurus : Son and Scythian king of the Tauri.
is both the father of a Scythian king and the son of one, while
himself also serving as king during part of his own lifetime. His
capital is Scythian Neapolis (or 'new town'), founded in the third
century BC and surviving until the third century AD when it is destroyed
by Goths. It is located on the Tauric Chersonesus (the land of the
Tauri, now the Crimea), although the surviving ruins are surrounded
by the town of Simferopol.
domains include Crimea itself over to the Dnieper which exits into
the very northern tip of the Black Sea - clearly a much smaller
territory than that controlled by Ateas two centuries before. However,
like before there is strong competition in the region for domination.
Although initially an ally of Mithradates VI 'the Great' of Pontus,
this resourceful and powerful regional authority soon becomes an
enemy who is responsible for the death of Scilurus around 100 BC.
/ Palakus : Son and Scythian king - the last to be named
continues to fight Mithradates the Great of Pontus. An attempted
siege of Chersonesos (Crimea) is defeated by Pontic troops, so Palacus
enlists the Roxolani under Tasius and launches an invasion of Chersonesus.
This too is defeated and the Scythians are forced to accept Mithradates
as their overlord. The former capital of their kingdom now becomes
the capital of the Cimmerian Bosporus kingdom.
century BC :
By the late first century BC the Germanic Bastarnae are to be found
in the northern Balkans, in territory which later forms parts of
Moldavia, including a large part of modern Moldova, and areas of
Transylvania and southern Ukraine. They must have occupied this
area for some time prior to 29 BC as they show some characteristics
of steppe-dwelling Indo-Iranians such as Scythians and Sarmatians
and are sometimes mistaken for the former.
River Tisia (the modern Tisza) rises in western Ukraine and meanders
south-westwards to meet the Danube, providing fertile river valley
land for migrating Celts in the second and first centuries BC, depite
the threat from sometimes hostile Dacians
the later part of the first century BC, the Venedi of the Vistula
are neighboured even farther east by a collection of Finno-Ugric
tribes and to the north-east by the Aesti and eastern Balts. Noted
by Tacitus, a host of Germanic tribes have occupied territory on
the southern coast of the Baltic Sea in the past century or so.
Farther south, in modern southern Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary,
and western Ukraine, the situation is even less clear, with elements
of former Celtic tribes existing alongside encroaching Germanic
tribes, including the Boii and Lugii for the former, and the Buri,
Marcomanni, and Quadi for the latter.
does not use the Vistula as a boundary, or even describe a boundary
between Germania and the lands to its east. He does describe the
Venedi as living along the eastern fringe of Germania, inferring
some kind of borderland, but is uncertain of their ethnic identity.
He refers to them as having borrowed from Sarmatians in their habit
of plundering the mountainous and wooded country that lies between
the Balkans and the north.
- 200 :
Far from remaining settled where they are in Poland, the Goths gradually
renew their migration, now shifting slowly southwards from the Oder
and Vistula, heading on a path that will eventually take them into
Ukraine and the northern Black Sea coastline - Scythia.
states that they first migrate to Lake Maeotis (the modern Sea of
Azov, at the north-eastern corner of the Black Sea). Then a second
migration takes them westwards along the northern Black Sea coast
into Moesia (on the southern bank of the Danube), Thrace (to the
south of Moesia), and Dacia (north of the Danube). A third migration
takes them back into Scythia where hybrid Indo-Iranian-Turkic tribes
are beginning to settle from farther east, such as the proto-Bulgars,
to subsume the Scythians. Even so, the Goths are culturally
influenced by their new subjects (see feature link).
- 250 :
During this period the Goths continue to migrate south-eastwards,
entering what is now Moldavia and western Ukraine, while the Gepids
enter the mountains of northern Transylvania. Defeating the Spali,
the Goths form a loose hegemony over the tribes of the region, almost
certainly including the Bastarnae. Archaeology supports the migration
if not the name of its leader, showing a southwards drift for the
Willenberg until it merges with the indigenous Zarubintsy culture
in Ukraine to form the Chernyakhiv culture.
to the open steppeland of Ukraine (Scythia to the ancients, this
photo being of Askania-Nova, immediately to the north of the Crimea)
also marked a return by the Goths to their Indo-European homeland
of at least two thousand years previously, although they wouldn't
have known anything about that
remnant of the Scythians as a distinctive cultural or ethnic group
is almost certainly erased by this migration and dominance by Germanic
groups. The Germans are replaced at the top of the tree by the Huns,
and then by Indo-Iranian-Turkic tribes. The region remains best
known as Scythia however, for several more centuries.