In the ancient historians, other than the Milesians, it is from Hesiod the Greek poet in the 7th century BCE that we first hear of the possible connection between Magog and a people known as the Scythians.
Herodotus gives detailed accounts of the origins of the Scythians. The first is a fable regarding their kings’ descent from Hercules. They themselves at the time of Herodotus stated that they and their kingdom were no more than a thousand years old from the time of their origin to the time of Darius Hystaspes. Thus their kingdom in Asia was founded ca. 1500 BCE after they took it from the sons of Gomer or the Cimmerians.
[4.11] There is also another different story, now to be related, in which I am more inclined to put faith than in any other. It is that the wandering Scythians once dwelt in Asia, and there warred with the Massagetae, but with ill success; they therefore quitted their homes, crossed the Araxes, and entered the land of Cimmeria. For the land which is now inhabited by the Scyths was formerly the country of the Cimmerians. On their coming, the natives, who heard how numerous the invading army was, held a council. At this meeting opinion was divided, and both parties stiffly maintained their own view; but the counsel of the Royal tribe was the braver. For the others urged that the best thing to be done was to leave the country, and avoid a contest with so vast a host; but the Royal tribe advised remaining and fighting for the soil to the last. As neither party chose to give way, the one determined to retire without a blow and yield their lands to the invaders; but the other, remembering the good things which they had enjoyed in their homes, and picturing to themselves the evils which they had to expect if they gave them up, resolved not to flee, but rather to die and at least be buried in their fatherland. Having thus decided, they drew apart in two bodies, the one as numerous as the other, and fought together. All of the Royal tribe were slain, and the people buried them near the river Tyras, where their grave is still to be seen. Then the rest of the Cimmerians departed, and the Scythians, on their coming, took possession of a deserted land.
[4.12] Scythia still retains traces of the Cimmerians; there are Cimmerian castles, and a Cimmerian ferry, also a tract called Cimmeria, and a Cimmerian Bosphorus. It appears likewise that the Cimmerians, when they fled into Asia to escape the Scyths, made a settlement in the peninsula where the Greek city of Sinope was afterwards built. The Scyths, it is plain, pursued them, and missing their road, poured into Media. For the Cimmerians kept the line which led along the sea-shore, but the Scyths in their pursuit held the Caucasus upon their right, thus proceeding inland, and falling upon Media. This account is one which is common both to Greeks and barbarians.
Philo, the 1st century BCE writer, identified Magog with the region we know today as southern Russia/Ukraine. In the 1st century CE, Josephus wrote in his Antiquities: “Magog founded those that from him were named Magogites, but who are by the Greeks called Scythians” (I, vi, 1).
The Scythians or Scyths were among the most famous and feared of all ancient peoples. It is a source of confusion, however, that the name Scythian was often applied to many nomadic peoples, irrespective of tribal affiliations and whether or not they were actually descendants of Magog. The Elamites and the Persians called the Scyths closest to them, Sakâ or Sakka; and to the Greeks they were the Skythai of Skythia.The Assyrians referred to them as the Ashguzai or Ishguzai, although this name appears to be derived from Ashkenaz, son of Gomer, who was a brother of Magog (see the paper Sons of Japheth Part II: Gomer (No. 46B)). The Gomerites and the Magogites were often found in close proximity, hence the understandable confusion with respective identities. The confusion was compounded as the Parthian Empire and the Scythians waxed and waned, and tribes of each formed sections of the one and then the other dependent upon alliances and fortunes of war.
We see from Herodotus that the Scyths were pushed out of the north in Asia by the Massagetae or Greater Goths. They crossed the Araxes river, now called the Aras, which also happens to be the region to which the ‘Lost’ Ten Tribes of Israel went after their release from Assyrian captivity (i.e. “beyond the Araxes”).
The sons of Gomer were finally forced into Western Europe after this invasion of the Scythians. We will deal with these movements of the Celts in the text Sons of Japheth Part II: Gomer (No. 46B).
After this event the Assyrians were sometime allies of the Scythians, and perhaps as a guide to the importance and power of the latter, it is recorded that one of the Scythian kings, Bartatua/Protothyes, married the daughter of the famous Assyrian king, Asarhaddon, in ca. 674 BCE.
The Scythians were at the height of their power in Hesiod’s time, around the mid-seventh century BCE (hence the poet’s more immediate and accurate knowledge of them), although some modern authors speak of the fourth century BCE as being a Scythian ‘golden age’.
An early history of the Scythians is provided by Diodorus (I, 55; II, 43).
Land and Peoples of Scythia
The Steppe occupied by the descendants of Magog is an enormous grass belt, mostly treeless, that stretches for 4350 miles (~7000 km) from the foot of the Carpathian Mountains to Mongolia.
Their mummified bodies have been found in graves in the Uygur Autonomous Region of NW China and are dated to the first half of the second millennium BCE. Their garments closely resemble the ancient hunting tartans and plaids of the Scots.
The most easterly tribes were classed merely as the Eastern Scythians, for want of a better title. In the mid-region of the Steppe, between the Aral Sea and Lake Balkhash, were the Sakas/Sacae and Massagetae. A third major group was located in the Pontic steppes to the north of the Black Sea, and it appears that these were the ones known properly to the early historians as the Scythians. From Herodotus’ record, they apparently displaced the Cimmerians (sons of Gomer) from the South-western areas beginning as early as 1500-300 BCE and then were pushed over the Araxes by the Massagetae.
In his Geography, Strabo says that in Homeric times the Black Sea was called the Axenos Pontos, meaning inhospitable sea, “because of its wintry storms and the ferocity of the tribes that lived around it, and particularly the Scythians in that they sacrificed strangers … but later it was called Euxeinos [friendly to strangers] when the Ionians [Greeks] founded cities on the seaboard” (Bk. VII, iii, 6). Ovid called it the Scythian Sea.
Herodotus gives the location of the Scyths and the physical size of ‘Scythia’.
[W]e find the Scythians again in possession of the country above the Tauri and the parts bordering on the eastern sea, as also of the whole district lying west of the Cimmerian Bosphorus and the Palus Maeotis, as far as the river Tanais, which empties itself into that lake at its upper end. As for the inland boundaries of Scythia, if we start from the Ister, we find it enclosed by the following tribes, first the Agathyrsi, next the Neuri, then the Androphagi, and last of all, the Melanchaeni.
Scythia then, which is square in shape, and has two of its sides reaching down to the sea, extends inland to the same distance that it stretches along the coast, and is equal every way. For it is a ten days' journey from the Ister to the Borysthenes, and ten more from the Borysthenes to the Palus Maeotis, while the distance from the coast inland to the country of the Melanchaeni, who dwell above Scythia, is a journey of twenty days. I reckon the day's journey at two hundred furlongs. Thus the two sides which run straight inland are four thousand furlongs each, and the transverse sides at right angles to these are also of the same length, which gives the full size of Scythia (Bk. IV, 100-101).
In Histories IV, 17ff., Herodotus appears to separate the Scyths into at least four distinct groups in his time. The Callipidae and Alazonians were the agricultural Graeco-Scyths who lived in the lower Bug and Dnieper river regions; north of them were the ‘Scythian cultivators’, who grew corn as a commercial venture; east of them were the so-called Dnieper nomads, who “neither plough nor sow”; while farther east still were the Royal Scyths, whom Herodotus calls “the largest and bravest of the Scythian tribes, which look upon all the other tribes in the light of slaves” (IV, 20).
Asgard/Kiev became the capital of the central Scythians. The identification of the Aesar or Asens will prove to be important to this issue and will be examined with that of the sons of Tiras. Kiev is now the capital of the Ukraine.
Also in the Histories,Herodotus makes a clear distinction between the Scythians and the Sauromatae by saying they are neighbours of the Scyths, along with their allies the Tauri, Budini, Geloni et al; and that their northern neighbours were the Androphagi, Melanchlaeni and Arimaspians (IV, 102).
Polyhistor (62) said that the tribe of Assaei was “among the most distinguished of Scythia”.
The Scythian territory adjoined that of the Thracians, descendants of another son of Japheth (see the paper Sons of Japheth Part VIII: Tiras (No. 46H)), with whom they intermarried, as noted below.
The late Prof. Vasile Pârvan, a Romanian historian and archaeologist, stated that the Scyths needed at least three centuries to cover the distance from the Volga and the Caspian Sea area to the Dniester-Carpathian zone.
In his work Scythians and Greeks, Ellis Minns states: “The greater part of the information as to manners and customs given by Herodotus and the physical details in Hippocrates evidently refer to the Royal Scyths” (CUP, Cambridge, 1913, p. 36). Herodotus includes the Moesi amongst the Royal Scyths. Minns confirms that the Scythians were allied to the Assyrians against the Cimmerians, and they once attempted to lift the siege of Nineveh set by the Medes. However, to highlight the temporary nature of alliances in those days, it is also known that in 612 BCE ‘Scythian nomads’ materially assisted with the destruction of Nineveh. The Scyths are also said to have overrun Media, homeland of the sons of Madai, another son of Japheth. Thus there appeared to be no love lost between the various cousins. Minns writes:
We find the Cimmerians, Gimirrai, first North of Urartu (Ararat). Hence they are driven out by As-gu-za-ai (Asarhaddon) or Is-ku-za-ai (Sun Oracle). … The Cimmerians driven south from Urartu attacked Man a kingdom under Assyrian suzerainty. The Assyrians supported their vassals and found allies in the Scythians who were already enemies of the Cimmerians.
… Scyths also made their appearance further to the SW., apparently being sent by Assyria against Egypt, but bought off by Psammetichus. Thus they are referred to by the Hebrew Prophets and engaged in the sack of Ascalon where some contracted a disease ascribed by Herodotus (I. 105) to the hostility of Aphrodite. A colony of them is said to have settled at Beth-shean hence called Scythopolis [Jos. Ant. Jud. XII. viii. 5]. (ibid., p. 42)
The Cimmerians mentioned here were descendants of another son of Japheth, Gomer, with the obvious link being the name Gimmirrai. They were referred to as Gamirk in the older Armenian writings. In the Welsh, the word Cymro means a Cymry, expressed as “un sy’n perthyn i Gymru” meaning “a Welshman”. The Welsh language is Y Gymraeg, meaning in effect the Gomerite (cf.Christopher Davies, Y Geiriadur Mawr, A Gwasg Gomer, 1989). Montgomerie of the French Norman invasion means of the Mountain of Gomer. We will deal with these aspects in the Sons of Japheth Part II: Gomer (No. 46B).
A German archaeologist, Renate Rolle, also relates certain Scyths to the modern-day Ossetes of Ossetia, while Klaproth and others state that the Ossetes are descended from Caucasian Alans. If both are correct, then the Alans may also be a Scythian tribe (see below under the heading ‘The Sarmatians’).
In European Scythia, including the Caucasus regions, we are dealing with Europids [Caucasians] in Scythian times who betray no Mongol characteristics but who do divide into long- and round-skulled types. The physical characteristics of the Scythians correspond to their cultural affiliation: their origins place them within the group of Iranian peoples. … The language of the Scythians is closely related to that of the ancient Ossetes (the remainder of the Ossetes tribe today live in the Terek region of the northern Caucasus).
Further east, the Mongol characteristics of the skulls of the indigenous Sauromatian peoples become more apparent. Nevertheless we must remember that we are dealing with a period in which huge areas of Siberia far into Mongolia were still inhabited by ancient Europids. It was only gradually -- in the first millennium BC -- that Mongol characteristics became apparent in this area, characteristics which are today almost universal in that region; at the same time the fifth or fourth century must have represented a certain turning point (The World of the Scythians, Renate Rolle: orig. publ. in German, 1980: trans. G. Walls, Batsford, London, 1989, p. 56).
Herodotus claimed that the headquarters of the ruling Scythians – the Royal Scyths – was in the vicinity of Tanais and Maetis (Hist., IV, 20).
By the time Herodotus wrote, in the middle of the fifth century B.C., the Scythians of the Black Sea area were grouped into a large confederation of separate tribes. In its most precise form, the term “Scythians” refers to some tribes who lived on the northern shores of the Black Sea, but the “Scythian culture” was shared by various tribes spread over a large territory, with similar ways of life and close interrelations, promoted by nomadic cattle-breeding (From the Lands of the Scythians, ibid., p. 21).
To add to the confusion of nomenclature, the Romans (cf. Pliny and Strabo) called the Scythians Sarmatae and Germani (from germanus, Lat. genuine). Interestingly, the Anglo-Saxons were also known as Germani. Strabo further refers to a people known as the Keltoskythai or Celtic-Scythians (XI, 6, 2), again suggesting intermarriage between the different tribes as they were brought into contact through invasion or migration.
There were also the Sakai, who Herodotus said were the Amurgioi Skuthai – the Scythians from Ammyurgia, while Arrian referred to the Sakai as Skuthon, “a Scythian people” (Amb. Alex., III, 8, 3). In her book The Scythians, Tamara Talbot Rice gives one explanation as to how these people became the Sacae or Saka.
Herodotus refers to a group of rebel Scyths who had broken away from the main clan and migrated to the north-west of Lake Balkash [directly east of Aral Sea], settling in an area which he called Sacae. It seems probable that pockets of other equally independently-minded Scyths existed elsewhere in the steppe, and it may even have been dissenters similar to those who penetrated to Prussia, thus accounting for burials of what appear to be single warriors such as that of Vettersfield (Thames & Hudson, London, 1961, p. 55).
The historian Pliny claimed that Armenia’s most fertile region was called Sacasina (vi, 11), with a probable link to the Sacae. There was also a Saka kingdom located in the upper Indus valleys between Afghanistan and Kashmir. Possibly even before 500 BCE, a tribe called the Sakyas inhabited the region in which Buddha was supposedly born. Guatma or the Buddha was also known as Sakyashina or Sakyamuni, meaning Sakya sage or Sakya the teacher. He was a Kshatryan knight of the warrior class and his teachings broke the stranglehold the Brahmins had on the priesthood from the Aryan invasion of India ca. 1000 BCE. The majority of Aryan YDNA Haplogroup in India is R1a and is not the dominant R1b Haplogroup of the Western-European Magogites. These YDNA divisions into R1a and R1b therefore must have occurred just prior to 1000 BCE from the original RxR1 basic found in India and Australia and North Africa. The RxR1 YDNA is found among the Dravidians and the Northern Aryans are predominantly R1a.
It is known that the Scythian Sakas also went east from the northern Caucasus and reached the borders of China in ca. 175 BCE. They were referred to by the indigenous Chinese as the Sai-wong or Sak-wong. The name Wong in Chinese is a Hakka name. Hakka means visitor or sojourner in Chinese. Hakka YDNA is a derivative of Hg O at O3. Thus it is part of the Great Hun and Han split of N and O and would not be Magogite based on our known YDNA groups. If Sak-wong means Saka princes, as has been suggested by some, then we might assume that the name refers to the ruling clan of the Saka.
Scythians and Sarmatians were later replaced by Slavs in the European section of the Eurasian plain.
The only mention of the Scythians (SGD 4658) by name in the Bible is in Colossians 3:11, where they are juxtaposed with barbarians, i.e. those who spoke neither Greek nor Latin and therefore “babbled”.
Colossians 3:11 Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all. (RSV)
In this usage Scythian is of foreign origin and means by implication a savage. The Greek Skotoo (SGD 4656) means to obscure or blind, from Skotos (SGD 4655): to be in darkness. Skotia (SGD 4653) simply means dark (from 4655).
Blinding was the principle practice of Scythians with captive slaves and they were known for that practice by the Greeks. That may explain the origin of the applications of the form of the word in Greek.
Scythian society and culture
Under the heading The Scythian Culture regarding the treasures of the Scythian burial mounds, the authors of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Museum’s lavishly illustrated publication, From the Lands of the Scythians, give details on the cultures that developed systematically in the region later known as Scythia.
In 1902 the archaeologist V.A. Gorodtzov, on the basis of his excavations, suggested that the most ancient peoples of the northern shores of the Black Sea could be divided into three cultures, according to the strikingly different ways in which they built their tombs: the pit-grave culture, the catacomb-grave culture, and the timber-grave culture. This theory has been supported and made more precise by later archaeological work. The tombs of the catacomb culture date from the beginning and middle of the second millennium B.C.; they belonged to a Bronze Age people with a developed bronze metallurgy, whose economy was based on semi-nomadic cattle-breeding and agriculture. They had already established relations with other cultures.
In the middle of the second millennium B.C., the catacomb people were replaced on the north shore of the Black Sea by the timber-grave people, whose tombs were built like log cabins. This culture had developed to the east, in the region around the Volga river and the southern Urals, and had spread over a vast territory, remaining in existence until the mid-eighth century B.C. Again, its characteristics were a highly developed bronze metallurgy and semi-nomadic cattle-breeding, but with special emphasis on horse-breeding. Recent studies have convincingly suggested that the Cimmerians represent tribes of a late stage of the timber-grave culture; they were well-armed horsemen who could move easily over long distances.
The tribes of the Scythian culture developed on the foundation of the late timber-grave culture of the eighth century B.C. This could explain the two ancient ideas of Scythian origins, the one involving migration and the local one, since the timber-grave culture had been spread by peoples moving westward into the Black Sea region from Asia (op. cit., p. 17).
In The Scythians, Talbot Rice explains that these people, although unquestionably warlike, also had a highly-developed appreciation of the artistic.
The Scythians formed well-organized communities, responding to their chiefs with ready discipline. But they were a turbulent lot, delighting in warfare, predatory raids and the scalping of their enemies. On more than one occasion their military prowess in battle caused real concern to the infinitely more powerful kingdoms of Assyria, Media, Parthia and Greece.
In the seventh century B.C. the Scythians were feared throughout Asia Minor, but at the same time their wealth and love of finery won them the good will of the great Hellenic merchants established along the shores of the Black Sea, as well as of the Greek artists and craftsmen who had settled in the Bosphoran kingdom, and more especially at Panticapaeum. Even at this early date in their history, the Scythians already displayed an extraordinary ability to appreciate and assimilate the best in the art of their day, regardless of its origin, and they were quick to turn to the highly skilled Greek artists working in the Pontic towns which had sprung up on their southern border in the seventh century B.C., for objects of outstanding quality (op. cit., p. 22).
As with most other ancient peoples, there appeared to be a great deal of intermarriage for political and dynastic reasons among the Scyths.
Royal Scyths at times intermarried with Greeks or Thracians from neighbouring regions in the west. The union of weak and powerful tribes by marriage was often the only way of ensuring the security of the smaller clan (ibid., p. 41).
This has been borne out by relatively recent archaeological finds which suggest that the royal tombs of Brezovo, Panagyurishte (near Philippopolis), Bedniacovo and Radyuvene (all in modern-day Bulgaria) were the final resting-places of either Scythian, Thracian or mixed Thraco-Scythian princes of the 4th century BCE.
Rather surprisingly perhaps, the historian Strabo had some very positive comments to make about the Scyths.
Aeschylus, too, is clearly pleading the cause of the poet when he says about the Scythians: "But the Scythians, law-abiding, eaters of cheese made of mare's milk." And this assumption even now still persists among the Greeks; for we regard the Scythians the most straightforward of men and the least prone to mischief, as also far more frugal and independent of others than we are (Geography, VII, iii, 9).
A particularly famous Scythian was Anacharsis, a prince and philosopher of the late-sixth century BCE, who was known as one of the Seven Sages of the Greeks (see Hist., IV, 76).
Agriculture and trade
Scythia was an important grain-producing region of the ancient world, just as it is today as the Ukraine. The Scyths involved with grain growing were basically sedentary tribes, unlike the nomadic and ‘superior’ Royal Scyths.
Scythia served as one of Greece’s granaries, and in southern Russia the corn grown by the settlers was transmitted by the nomadic overlords to the Greek colonists of the Pontus, who in their turn acted as middlemen in selling it to Greece. The Scythians in the Kuban, on the other hand, traded direct with the masters of vessels coming to their ports from Ionia. In addition, the Scyths as a whole supplied the Pontic Greeks with valuable consignments of salt, sturgeon and tunny-fish, with honey, meat and milk, hides and furs, and not least important, with slaves. The latter, though described by the Greeks as ‘Scythians’, were probably conquered enemies or local agriculturalists rather than nomad freemen. In return for this merchandise the Scythians received Greek jewellery, metalwork and pottery of the finest quality (The Scythians, Tamara Talbot Rice, Thames & Hudson, London, 1961, p. 51).
When Darius the Persian came against Greece, the first thing he did was to cut off her vital supplies, in particular, timber from the Balkans and consignments of grain from Scythia.
The Royal Scyths were relatively few in number, but they were such efficient rulers and such fearless fighters that they had no difficulty in governing a large territory and controlling with ease a population consisting of their own husbandmen and the indigenous agriculturalists whom they had found established in the region, and who greatly outnumbered them. Regardless of the disparity in numbers, by the sixth century B.C., and possibly even as much as a hundred years earlier, the Royal Scyths were already firmly established in the area bounded by the Don and the Dniepr, and virtually controlled the steppe as far west as the Bug [a river south of Kiev, Ukraine] and the productive lands in the neighbourhood of Poltava (ibid. pp. 52-53).
In English, the word scythe is used for a two-handed implement for reaping grain and linguistically appears to dreive from the agricultural Scyths.