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An extract from Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars
by Duncan Head, illustrated by Ian Heath

The Scythians wore their hair very long. They are usually shown with long beards, and with high cheekbones and broad flat noses. They may have worn tattoos on the arms and hands, as men of the similar Altai culture did. This figure is the basic Scythian light cavalryman in the costume best depicted by Greek precious metalwork made for the Scythian market in the 4th-3rd centuries. He wears a crossover-fronted coat cut short in the back but coming to a long point in the front, baggy trousers usually tucked into soft, low boots, and a pointed cap though Scythians are quite often shown bareheaded. Clothes were of silk, leather, felt, wool or linen. Coats could be lined with ermine, sable or other furs, and were trimmed at the edges with fur, patterned felt applique, or rectangular gold plaques decorated in relief. There might also be decoration around the upper arm and down the centre of the back. Trousers too were highly decorated. As for colours, one coat dyed red and green has been found, while the Altai tombs at Pazyryk have produced a shirt and a cap in white edged with red, and other textiles in various reds, crimson, sand, brown, yellow, cream, blue, purple, black and white. These bright colours would usually be dulled by dirt as the Scythians did not wash (probably for religious reasons).

Main weapon is a short recurved composite bow of horn, wood and sinew, with a sinew string. It shoots very light arrows, which in the Altai had their shafts painted black and red, with small socketed heads, typically cast bronze though bone and iron could also be used. Bow and arrows were carried together in a case called a gorytos, hung from the belt on the left, although as the Scythians are shown shooting in the conventional right-handed manner they must have used the right hand to draw the arrows. The case could hold 200 or more arrows. Rich men would have the gorytos faced with a thin sheet of gilded silver, highly decorated with Greek designs in relief; poorer archers would make do with leather no doubt decorated with dyed felt or leather appliques. Herodotos says human skin, from enemy hands, was favoured for covering the bowcase because of its whiteness. As well as hands, the Scythians used enemy skulls for drinking cups and scalps to decorate their bridles.

Secondary weaponry would be dagger or axe, and occasionally a javelin. Daggers or short swords were of the Persian akinakes type, usually worn on the right in Persian style though one illustration shows the scabbard on the left. Again hilt and scabbard could be decorated with gold sheet.

By the 2nd century Celtic weapons were occasionally used, under the influence of the Bastarnai then dominating the Dniester valley. One grave from the Crimean Scythian capital contained the helmet shown in figure 124i, Celtic swords and a Scythian bowcase.
[Based on Illustrations of Scythian Costume and Soldiers]
[For plumes on a gorytos see Scythian warriors on an urn, Haimanova Mohyla, 4th century BC]

Next: 77. SCYTHIAN NOBLE in Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars by Duncan Head and Ian Heath

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