Page:EB1911 - Volume 24.djvu/557

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

is all put in the latter half of the 7th century B.C. Herodotus says that the Scyths ruled Media for twenty-eight years, and were then massacred or expelled. The Assyrian evidence is in the main a confirmation of Herodotus, though most writers think that the Scythians who troubled Asia were Sacae from the east of the Caspian (H. Winckler, Altorientalische Forschungen, p. 484 sqq.). If the Scyths came out of upper Asia, the Scythian colonists beyond the Iyrcae might be a division which had remained nearer the homeland, but in dealing with nomads we can suppose such a return as that of the Calmucks (Kalmuks) in the 18th century.

The physical features of the Scyths are not described by Herodotus, but Hippocrates (l.c.) draws a picture of them which makes them very similar to the Mongols as they appeared to the Franciscan missionaries in the 13th century. He says they are quite unlike any other race of men, and very like each other. The main point seems to be a tendency to slackness, fatness and excess of humours. The men are said to be in appearance very like eunuchs, and both sexes have a tendency to sexual indifference amounting in the men to impotence. When a man finds himself in this condition he assumes the women's dress and habits. Herodotus mentions the existence of this class, called Enarees, and says that they suffer from a sacred disease owing to the wrath of the goddess of Ascalon whose shrine they had plundered. Reinegg describes a similar state of things in the Nogai in the 18th century. The whole account suggests a Tatar clan in the last stage of degeneracy. Hippocrates says that this only applies to the ruling class, not to the slaves, but gives as the reason the want of exercise among the former. The skulls dug up in Scythic graves throw no light on the question, some being round and some long. The representations of nomads on objects of Greek art show people with full beards and shaggy hair, such as cannot be reconciled with Hippocrates; but the only reliefs which seem to be accurate belong to a late date when the ruling clan was Sarmatian rather than Scythic.

Customs.—Herodotus gives a good survey of the customs of the Scyths: it seems mostly to apply to the ruling race. Again the closest analogy is the state of the Mongols in the 13th century, but too much weight must not be put on this, as the natural conditions of steppe-ranging nomads dictated the greater part of them. Still the correspondence of religion and of funeral rites is very close. The Scyths lived upon the produce of their herds of cattle and horses, their main food being the flesh of the latter, either cooked in a cauldron or made into a kind of haggis, and the milk of mares from which they made cheese and kumiss (a fermented drink resembling buttermilk). This necessitated their constantly moving in search of fresh pasture, spending the spring and autumn upon the open steppe, the winter and summer by the rivers for the sake of moisture and shelter. The men journeyed on horseback, the women in wagons with felt tilts. These were drawn by their cattle, and were the homes of each family. Hence the Greek names, Abii, Hippemolgi, Hamaxobii. The women were kept in subjection, and were far from enjoying the liberty granted them among the Sarmatae, among whom they rode on horseback and engaged in war. Polygamy was practised, the son inheriting his father's wives. Both men and women avoided washing, but there was something of the nature of a vapour bath, with which Herodotus has confused a custom of using the smoke of hemp as a narcotic. The women daubed themselves with a kind of ccsmetic paste. The dress of the men is well shown upon the Kul Oba and Chertomlyk vases, and upon other Greek works of art made for Scythic use. It must not be confused with the fanciful barbarian costumes that are so common upon the Attic pots. They wore coats confined by belts, trousers tucked into soft boots, and hoods or tall pointed caps. The women had flowing robes, tall pointed caps, and veils descending over most of the figure. Both sexes wore many stamped gold plates sewn upon their clothes in lines or semés. Their horses had severe bits, and were adorned with nose pieces, cheek pieces and saddle cloths. True stirrups were unknown. In war the nation was divided into three sub-kingdoms, and these into companies, each with its commander. The companies had yearly feasts, at which the commander honoured warriors who had slain one or more of the enemy. As evidence of such prowess, and as a token of his right to a share of any spoil, the warrior was accustomed to scalp his enemy and adorn his bridle with the trophy. In the case of a special enemy or an adversary overcome in a private dispute before the king, he would make a cup of the skull, mounting it in bull's hide or in gold. The tactics in war were the traditional nomad tactics of harassing the enemy on the march, constantly retreating before him and avoiding a general engagement. Their weapons consisted of bow and arrows, short swords, spears and axes. The government was a despotism, but a king who aroused the extreme dissatisfaction of his subjects was liable to be murdered.

Religion.—The religion of the Scyths was nature worship. Herodotus (iv. 59) gives a list of their gods, with the Greek deities corresponding, but we cannot tell what aspect of the Greek deity is in question. He says they chiefly reverence Tabiti (Hestia), next Papaeus and his wife Apia (Zeus and Ge), then Oitosyros (Apollo) and Argimpasa (Aphrodite Urania). These are common to all the Scythians, but Thamimasadas (Poseidon) is peculiar to the Royal Scyths.</ref>The names are read in various ways; it is impossible to establish the correct forms. </ref> They set up no images or altars or temples save to Ares only. To Ares they make a heap of faggots three stades square, with three sides steep and one inclined, and bring to it a hundred and fifty fresh loads of faggots every year. Upon the top is set up a sword which is the image of Ares; to this they sacrifice captives, pouring their blood over it. The account of the cult of Ares, for whom no Scythian name is given, appears to be an addition, and the mention of such masses of faggots suggests the wooded district of the agricultural Scythians, not the treeless steppe of the Royal tribe. The Scythian pantheon is not distinctive, and can be paralleled among the Tatars and among the Iranians. The Scyths had a method of divination with sticks, and the Enarees, who claimed to be soothsayers by grant of the goddess who had afflicted them, used another method by splitting bast fibres. They intervened in case of the king's falling sick, when it was assumed that some man had sworn by the king's hearth and broken his oath. If a man accused of this denies it, other diviners are called, and if these concur, he is beheaded and his sons slain and his goods given to the diviners. But if a majority of diviners decide against the accusers, the latter are set upon a wagon-load of brushwood and burned to death. The burial rites are the most fully described. Private persons were merely carried about among their friends, who held wakes in their honour, and then buried forty days after death. But the funerals of the kings were much more elaborate. They exhibit the extreme development of the principle of surrounding the dead man with everything in which he found pleasure during his life. The tombs of the kings were in the land of Gerrhus near the great bend of the Dnieper where the chief tumuli have been excavated. The body was embalmed and filled with aromatic herbs, and then brought to this region, passing through the lands of various tribes. The Royal Scyths who followed the body were accustomed to cut about their faces and arms, and each tribe that the cortège met upon its way had to join it and conform to this expression of grief. Arrived at the place of burial, the body was set in a square pit with spears marking out its sides and a roof of matting. Then one of the king's concubines and his cup-bearer, cook, groom, messenger and horses were strangled and laid by him, and round about offerings of all his goods and cups of gold—no silver or bronze. After this they raised a great mound, striving to make it as high as possible. A year later they strangled fifty youths of the dead man's servants (all Scyths born) and fifty of the best horses, stuffed them and mounted them in a circle about the tomb.

Tombs.—The description is generally borne out by the evidence of the tombs opened in the Scythic area. None agrees in every point, but almost every detail finds a close parallel in some tomb or other. The chief divergence is in the presence of silver and copper objects, but the great quantity of gold is the most striking fact, and to say that there was nothing but gold seems merely an exaggeration; Tombs to which the name Scythic is generally applied form a well-defined class. They are preceded over the whole area by a much simpler form of burial marked by the practice of staining the bones with red ochre, and the presence of one or two rude pots and nothing more: yet that some were tombs of great chiefs is shown by the great size of the barrows heaped over them. They have been referred to the Cimmerians, but for this there is no clear evidence. The Scythic tombs can be roughly dated by the objects of Greek art that they contain. They seem to begin about the 6th century B.C., and to continue till the 2nd century A.D.; that is, they cover the period of the Scythic domination according to the account accepted above, and that of the Sarmatian, and so suggest that, as far as the archaeological evidence goes, there was little more than a change of name and perhaps the substitution of one ruling clan for another—not a real change of population. The finest of the class were opened about the bend of the Dnieper, where we should put the land Gerrhus. Others are found to the south-west of the central area, and in the governments of Kiev and Poltava we have many tombs with Scythic characteristics, but a difference (e.g. the fewness of the horses) which makes us think of the settled tribes under Scythic domination. Others occur in the flat northern half of the Crimea, and even close to Kerch, where the famous Kul Oba seems to have held a Scythic chieftain who had adopted a veneer of Greek tastes, but remained a barbarian at heart. East of the Maeotis, especially along the river Kuban, are many groups of barrows showing the same culture as those of Gerrhus but in a purer form. Farther to the north and east the series seems to extend into Siberia, but in this region excavations have been few. Unfortunately very few of these barrows have come down to us unplundered, and we cannot find one complete example and take it as a type. Soon after