(Σκυθιά, and Σκυθικὴ sc. γῆ). A name variously used by the ancients at different periods of history. The Scythia of Herodotus comprises, to speak generally, the southeastern parts of Europe, between the Carpathian Mountains and the river Tanas (Don). The Greeks became acquainted with this country through their settlements on the Euxine; and Herodotus, who had himself visited the coasts of the Euxine, collected all the information he could obtain about the Scythians and their country, and embodied the results in a most interesting digression, which forms the first part of his fourth book. He describes the country as a square of 4000 stadia (400 geographical miles) each way, the western boundary being the Ister (Danube) and the mountains of the Agathyrsi; the southern the shores of the Euxine and Palus Maeotis, from the mouth of the Ister to that of the Tanas, this side being divided into two equal parts, of 2000 stadia each, by the mouth of the Borysthenes (Dnieper); the eastern boundary was the Tanas, and on the north Scythia was divided by deserts from the Melanchlaeni, Androphagi, and Budini. It corresponded to the southern part of Russia in Europe. The people who inhabited this region were called by the Greeks Σκύθαι, a word of doubtful origin, which first occurs in Hesiod; but, in their own language, Σκόλοτοι, i. e. Slavonians. They were believed by Herodotus to be of Asiatic origin; and his account of them, taken in connection with the description given by Hippocrates of their physical peculiarities, has been regarded as proof that they were a part of the great Mongol race, who wandered, from unknown antiquity, over the steppes of Central Asia; yet the general drift of opinion at the present time is toward assigning to them Aryan affinities. Herodotus says further that they were driven out of their abodes in Asia, north of the Araxes, by the Massagetae; and that, migrating into Europe, they drove out the Cimmerians. If this account be true, it can hardly but have some connection with the irruption of the Cimmerians into Asia Minor, in the reign of the Lydian king Ardys, about B.C. 640.
The Scythians were a nomadic people, that is, shepherds or herdsmen, who had no fixed habitations, but roamed over a vast tract of country at their pleasure, and according to the wants of their cattle. They lived in a kind of covered wagons, which Aeschylus describes as lofty houses of wicker-work, on well-wheeled chariots (Prom. Vinc. 710). They were filthy in their habits, never washing, fought on horseback, scalped their enemies, and drank out of their skulls when slain. They kept large troops of horses, and were most expert in cavalry exercises and archery; and hence, as the Persian king Darius found, when he invaded their country (B.C. 507), it was almost impossible for an invading army to act against them. They simply retreated, wagons and all, before the enemy, harassing him with their light cavalry, and leaving famine and exposure, in their bare steppes, to do the rest. Like all nomadic races, they were divided into several hordes, the chief of whom were called the Royal Scythians; and to these all the rest owned some degree of allegiance. Their government was a sort of patriarchal monarchy or chieftainship. An important modification of their habits had, however, taken place, to a certain extent, before Herodotus described them. The fertility of the plains on the north of the Euxine, and [p. 1433] the influence of the Greek settlements at the mouth of the Borysthenes and along the coast, had led the inhabitants of this part of Scythia to settle down as cultivators of the soil, and had brought them into commercial and other relations with the Greeks. Accordingly, Herodotus mentions two classes or hordes of Scythians who had thus abandoned their nomad life; first, on the west of the Borysthenes, two tribes of Hellenized Scythians, called Callipidae and Alazones; then, beyond these, the Scythians who are ploughers (Σκύθαι ἀροτῆρες), who do not grow their corn for food, but for sale; these dwelt about the river Hypanis (Boug), in the region now called the Ukraine, which is still, as it was to the Greeks, a great cornexporting country. Again, on the east of the Borysthenes were the Scythians who are husbandmen (Σκύθαι γεωργοί), i. e. who grew corn for their own consumption: these were called Borysthenitae by the Greeks; their country extended [figure in text: Scythian Horseman. (Sculptures at Kertch).] three days' journey east of the Borysthenes to the river Panticapes. Beyond these, to the east, dwelt the nomad Scythians (νομάδες Σκύθαι), who neither sow nor plough at all. Herodotus expressly states that the tribes east of the Borysthenes were not Scythian. Of the history of these Scythian tribes there is little to state, beyond the tradition already mentioned, that they migrated from Asia and expelled the Cimmerians; their invasion of Media, in the reign of Cyaxares, when they held the supremacy of Western Asia for twenty-eight years, and the disastrous expedition of Darius into their country. In later times they were gradually overpowered by the neighbouring people, especially the Sarmatians, who gave their name to the whole country. (See Sarmatia.) Meanwhile, the conquests of Alexander and his successors in Central Asia had made the Greeks acquainted with tribes beyond the Oxus and the Iaxartes, who resembled the Scythians, and belonged, in fact, to the same race, and to whom, accordingly, the same name was applied. Hence, in writers of the time of the Roman Empire, the name of Scythia denotes the whole of Northern Asia, from the river Rha (Volga) on the west, which divided it from Asiatic Sarmatia, to Serica on the east, extending to India on the south. It was divided by Mount Imas into two parts, called respectively Scythia intra Imam, i. e. on the northwestern side of the range, and Scythia extra Imam, on its southeastern side. The later Scythians overran Parthia (B.C. 128), and also invaded Northern India, where they maintained themselves for several centuries. The Jats and Rajputs of modern India have by some scholars been regarded as the descendants of these Scythian invaders.
See the editions of Herodotus by Rawlinson and Sayce; Neumann, Die Hellenen im Skythenland (1855); Mllenhoff and Kuno, Die Skythen (1871); Fressl, Skytho-Saken (1886); and Krause, TuiskoLand (1891).