The Scythians - Born in the Steppe

Among the tribes and peoples who lived in the lands of Ukraine for thousands of years, the Scythians are the most famous.

Settled tribes lived in the forest and steppe, whom Herodotus calls Scythians-farmers (inhabitants of the left bank Dnieper) and Scythians-ploughmen (inhabitants of the right bank). The steppe was the realm of the nomadic Scythians, and the royal Scythians ruled over all of them.  These people called themselves Skōlotoi. But from the beginning, the name of the Scythians was associated with the inhabitants of the steppes.

Bowl with the image of Scythians (380 - 360 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

History

The Greek historian Herodotus left a description of the people, their way of life and their traditions.  Scythians is the general name of the population, nomads and farmers, of the Northern Black Sea region of the 1st millennium BCE. 

Plaque Fragment with a Sheep (400 - 300 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

The basis of the economy of the steppe people was sheep breeding. Sheep gave people all they needed: food, clothing, and warmth. Therefore, the Scythians believed that sheep were associated with Khvarenah, a mythical force that is the basis of life.

Bridle Ornaments (350 - 310 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

Horse riding

Horses were the most important for the Scythians.  The steppe people were skilled riders. For them, horses were helpers in life and reliable comrades in battle, accompanying their owners to the afterlife. The Scythians often decorated the horse's bridle with gold and silver.

Decoration of Bridle, Unknown, 350 - 310 BCE, From the collection of: National Museum of the History of Ukraine
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Noseband with Head of Fantastic Creature, Unknown, 350 - 310 BCE, From the collection of: National Museum of the History of Ukraine
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Bronze Pole-Top with a Stag Figurine, Unknown, 400 - 300 BCE, From the collection of: National Museum of the History of Ukraine
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Generous sacrifices were made to the gods, and the Scythians believed they helped them during their lifetime and would welcome the most worthy into their realm after death.

Garment applique with anthropomorphic plot (400 - 300 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

Gods

The Scythians honoured the great gods of the earth and sky, the parents of all living things on earth, Gaia-Api, Zeus-Papaios, the solar Apollo-Oitosyros, the protector of the home Hestia-Tabiti, the warlike Ares and the warlike Ares and the conqueror of monsters Heracles.

Crescent-Shaped Gold Pectoral of a Scythian King (400 - 300 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

The Scythian rulers came from the legendary Paralatai family

The Greeks called them basileus –  kings. History has preserved the names of some of them: Ishpakaia, Bartatua, Madyes, Idanthyrsus, Ariapeithes, Skyles, Octamasadas, and Ateas. 

All the peoples of mighty Scythia, whose lands stretched from the Don to the Danube, obeyed them. The kings wore signs of dignity and power, the most famous of which was a gold pectoral.

Reconstruction of the Scythian mound (1980 - 1990) by Pavlo KorniienkoNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

Kurgan (burial mount)

After their death, magnificent steppe pyramids were built over their tombs: barrows reaching a height of 20 meters.

Sword with Preciously Decorated Hilt and Scabbard (700 - 600 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

The Scythians were brave warriors

They protected themselves from enemies' blows with scale armor and fought with sharp iron swords, axes, and long spears. The Scythian warriors had their traditions, and most praised the god of victory and war.

Sword and Scabbard with Griffin (400 - 300 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

Herodotus calls him by the name of the Greek Ares because the Scythian name of the formidable god was secret. Only for him, the Scythians built altars with a sword on top as a symbolic image of the god.

Openwork Applique with Stylized Scene A Hero Hunting a Deer (350 - 325 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

The Scythians were considered the most famous archers,

their bows was unmatched in range, accuracy, and killing power. They was indispensable both in battle and during hunting.

Gold Scythian Ritual Cone (400 - 300 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

Many battles took place in the steppes. The Scythians defended their land from enemies. At the end of the 6th century BCE, the invincible Persian king Darius II the Great decided to conquer Scythia but failed. The Scythians first exhausted their army.

Then, before the decisive battle, they impressed the king with their contemptuous treatment of the enemies. The Persians were forced to leave the Dnieper steppes with dishonour.

While men grazed cattle, hunted or were engaged in military affairs, Scythian women were engaged in housekeeping and raising children. On holidays, women dressed in exquisite costumes decorated with gold appliques adorned themselves with jewellery.

Reconstruction of headdresses with original decorations (380 - 360 BCE) by UnknownNational Museum of the History of Ukraine

Reconstruction of a woman's headdress

But if necessary, Scythian women took up weapons and practiced with them no worse than men. This impressed the Greeks so much that they invented legends about steppe Amazons, female warriors living separately from men.

Boat Earrings with Pendants, Unknown, 400 - 300 BCE, From the collection of: National Museum of the History of Ukraine
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Spiral Bracelet, Unknown, 400 - 300 BCE, From the collection of: National Museum of the History of Ukraine
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The Scythians composed many legends about courage and friendship, valour and devotion. But times passed, and they became part of the legends...

Credits: Story

Research and text: Yuriy Polidovych
Project Сurator: Nataliia Panchenko
Technical implementation: Oleg Mitiukhin, Oksana Mitiukhina, Liudmila Klymuk
Scientific editor: Oksana Lifantiy
Text editor:  Oksana Kovalyova, Maria Prokopenko, Valentyna Yanchuk 
Translation: Oksana Lifantiy, Artem Skulbodenko
Selection of exhibits: Olena Pidvysotska
Photographer: Dmytro Klochko

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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