Scythia, in ancient geography, a vast area, of indeterminate boundaries, in eastern Europe and western Asia. Its native population, according to Herodotus, called themselves Sco-loti. The name Scythians is found in a verse of Hesiod, as given by Strabo, but it appears from internal evidence that it is an interpolation, or a correction of some copyist. Homer speaks of races who were "milkers of mares and cheese-eaters," which description agrees with what Hesiod says of the people he mentions. Herodotus describes Scythia as a square area, extending 4,000 stadia (nearly 500 m.) on every side, the southern boundary being the coast from the mouth of the Danube (not including the Tauric Chersonesus) to the sea of Azov (Niebuhr), or to the mouth of the Don (Rawlinson). Scythia, as described by him, probably comprehended the whole territory from the E. Carpathians to the lower Don. On the north were the nations called Aga-thyrsi, Neuri, Androphagi (cannibals), and Me-lanchlaeni (black-coats). The Sarmatians, a Scythic tribe, subsequently gained the ascendancy, and their name was thereupon given to the territory comprised in the Scythia of Herodotus. (See Sarmatia.) Afterward the Greeks applied the name to the Asiatic region N. of the Oxus and Jaxartes, from the Caspian to the confines of China, and divided it by the northern Imaus range (the Thian-shan) into Scythia intra Imaum and Scythia extra Imaum. - Herodotus visited the Greek settlements on the northern shores of the Euxine, and describes the Scythians as nomadic tribes, living on animal food, keeping large troops of horses, and excelling in horsemanship and archery.
Hippocrates describes them as gross and fleshy, with loose and yielding joints, and little hair. It was customary for a Scythian to drink the blood of the first man he slew in battle, and to preserve as trophies the scalps and skins of the enemies he overthrew. They entombed their kings amid sacrifices of men and beasts, and put great faith in soothsaying and magic arts. They were the successors of the Cimmerians in the order of migration westward, and invaded the Median empire near the close of the 7th century B. C. (See Media.) Cyrus is said to have fallen in a battle against the Scythian Massagetae in Asia, and Darius I., who led a vast expedition against the Scyths in Europe through Thrace, was compelled to retreat with severe loss. The Parthians too are believed to have been of Scythic descent. The hordes which about 200 B. C. came from the western confines of China and overran parts of Turkistan and modern Persia, were also Scyths; they turned toward India, and a portion of them founded a settlement known as Indo-Scythia. The names of the principal tribes engaged in the Scythian incursions, as far as they have come down to us, are Sacae (often used in a wide sense, and sometimes applied to the Scyths in general), Massagetae, Dahae, Tochari, Asii or Asiani, and Sacarauli. - Some scholars maintain that the Scyths were Turanians, others that they were Indo-Euro-peans; Rawlinson thinks that the Greeks and Romans applied the name to any nomad race, whether Indo-Europeans or Turanians. - For the family of languages to which many philologists apply the term Scythic, see Tura-nian Races and Languages.