Scythians

SCYTHIANS sĭth’ ĭ ənz (אַשְׁכְּנָ֑ז, prob. corruption of earlier Ashkuzzay as found in Akkad. inscrs.). A nomadic people which immigrated into the Near E through the Caucasus in the beginning of the 8th cent. b.c. They were one of several Indo-Iranian groups which appeared in the Near E at this time, including the Cimmerians. First came the Cimmerians. When the Scythians then appeared, they were opposed both by the Cimmerians and by the Assyrian King Esarhaddon. The Cimmerians eventually moved further to the W into Asia Minor. Eventually the Scythians allied themselves with the Assyrians, and the Medes sided with Babylonia. It is not clear whether or not the Scythians attempted to help the Assyrians in their hour of final collapse (fall of Nineveh in 612 b.c.). It is clear, however, that a large group of them launched an expedition down the coast of Phoenicia and Pal. and were responsible for the destruction of Ashkelon and Ashdod before Pharaoh Psammetichus (663-609) bought them off with a bribe. Eventually they were defeated and destroyed by the Medes, who expelled the remnants of them to the N. Under the name Ashkenaz the Scythians are said to be one of the sons of Gomer (Cimmerians) along with Riphath and Togarmah (Hitt. Tegarama, Assyr. Til-garimmu). Gomer in turn was one of the sons of Japheth. In Jeremiah 51:27 in a prophecy against Babylon God threatened to raise up against her the kingdoms of Ararat (Urarṭu), Minni (Maneans), and Ashkenaz (Scythians). The Biblical writers viewed the Scythians as a savage and cruel people. The memory of them persisted in the Holy Land in the popular Gr. name of the city of Beth-Shan, Skythōn polis (Scythopolis).

Bibliography

T. T. Rice, The Scythians (1957); Herdotus, Bk. IV, 1-144.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The word does not occur in the Hebrew of the Old Testament, but Septuagint of Jud 1:27 inserts (Skuthon polis (Scythopolis), in explanation, as being the same as Beth-shean. The same occurs in Apocrypha (Judith 3:10; 1 Macc 12:29), and the Scythians as a people in 2 Macc 4:47, and the adjective in 3 Macc 7:5. The people are also mentioned in the New Testament (Col 3:11), where, as in Maccabees, the fact that they were barbarians is implied. This is clearly set forth in classical writers, and the description of them given by Herodotus in book iv of his history represents a race of savages, inhabiting a region of rather indefinite boundaries, north of the Black and Caspian seas and the Caucasus Mountains. They were nomads who neither plowed nor sowed (iv.19), moving about in wagons and carrying their dwellings with them (ibid. 46); they had the most filthy habits and never washed in water (ibid. 75); they drank the blood of the first enemy killed in battle, and made napkins of the scalps and drinking bowls of the skulls of the slain (ibid. 64-65). Their deities were many of them identified with those of the Greeks, but the most characteristic rite was the worship of the naked sword (ibid. 62), and they sacrificed every hundredth man taken in war to this deity. War was their chief business, and they were a terrible scourge to the nations of Western Asia. They broke through the barrier of the Caucasus in 632 BC and swept down like a swarm of locusts upon Media and Assyria, turning the fruitful fields into a desert; pushing across Mesopotamia, they ravaged Syria and were about to invade Egypt when Psammitichus I, who was besieging Ashdod, bought them off by rich gifts, but they remained in Western Asia for 28 years, according to Herodotus. It is supposed that a company of them settled in Beth-shean, and from this circumstance it received the name Scythopolis. Various branches of the race appeared at different times, among the most noted of which were the PARTHIANS (which see).