Tattooed Scythian Warriors, Descendants of the Amazons? Part One
Herodotus describes the Scythians living in the area north of the Black Sea about three thousand years ago. According to him they traced their ancestry directly from Zeus and the river nymph Borysthenis, daughter of the river god Borysthenes, the union of which produced a son named Tagitaos and he in turn had three sons with a human woman, demigods, who were the progenitors of the three Scythian tribes. It is said that in the time of the sons of Tagitaos there came down from heaven four items made of gold. These items were a plow, a yoke, a cup and a battle axe. Each brother attempted to use the items but they were met with a blazing fire or great heat but when the youngest approached the items the fire was gone and they worked only for him and from him the tribe of the Royal Scythians was formed. If one looks at such a tale with modern eyes we could imagine that the items were technology coded to only function for one individual and possibly dangerous as it was also said that anyone who slept while guarding these items in the open would die within a year
Now while Herodotus, the historian and teller of this tale doubted that the Scythians were indeed the descendants of Zeus, he nonetheless recorded their accounts. He also tells a different account where they are the descendants of another of Zeus’ sons, Heracles and the half serpent half goddess Echidna, but that story seems like a more fanciful telling of the first story and involves many of the same events. He goes on to say that he favours a third version of their origin which tells of wandering Asiatic tribes that migrated into the lands of the Cimmerians.
The longer you look, the origin of the Scythians becomes more and more cloudy and some scholars contend that the Scythians referred to by Herodotus are really only the remnants of a much earlier people who were once widespread and very advanced with great cities, ships, farming and herding. If we remember the story of the golden plow, yoke, cup and battle axe we would infer that farming must have been important to the early Scythians if their gods saw fit to gift them with a magical plow and yoke, not a very practical gift for nomadic horsemen. This possibility seems very likely since the Scythians of Herodotus’ time were known to be nomadic and the earlier Scythians are credited with developing the smelting of iron and bronze, the invention of the battle axe (actually credited to the Amazons among the Scythians), the pottery wheel, the bellows, the anchor and the science of horse breeding. One has to wonder why nomads would invent the anchor.
Fred Hamori wrote that Justinius II referred to the Scythians as one of the oldest civilizations in the world; even older than the Egyptians and that they were most likely a northern Mesopotamian culture, not the later immigrant tribes who adapted many of their customs. The Scythians described by the Greeks were apparently an amalgamation of many peoples overlaying a very ancient culture that existed in the area around the Black Sea.
Whatever their origins, the Scythians were a remarkable people with a very ancient origin that remains a mystery. However, two more tales of the Scythians are even stranger. One is the story of the bald people who were once part of the royal Scythians but separated themselves and went to live isolated at the foot of a mountain. Herodotus described them thus; Passing over a great extent of this rough country, you come to a people dwelling at the foot of lofty mountains, who are said to be all- both men and women- bald from their birth, to have flat noses, and very long chins. These people speak a language of their own; the dress which they wear is the same as the Scythian. They live on the fruit of a certain tree, the name of which is Ponticum; in size it is about equal to our fig-tree, and it bears a fruit like a bean, with a stone inside. … No one harms these people, for they are looked upon as sacred- they do not even possess any warlike weapons. When their neighbours fall out, they make up the quarrel; and when one flies to them for refuge, he is safe from all hurt. They are called the Argippaeans.
Now we have a race of people who believe they were descended from the three sons of a god, they are so early that even in the time of Herodotus their origins were ancient history, they believed they had received technology directly from their gods and a small number of them, described as not normal humans lived apart and served as judges and protectors and the strange story gets even stranger…now we bring in the Amazons.
It seems that in all the histories of the Scythians one point is either marginalized or simply mentioned as if it is not important, but I contend that it is of upmost importance if we are to truly understand the psyche of the Scythians, the existence of the Amazons and in fact the history of all humanity.
In part two I discuss how the Amazons joined with the Scythians.
J. A. Salmonson, The Encyclopedia of Amazons (1991), ISBN 0385423667
F. G. Bergmann, Les Amazones dans l'histoire et dans la fable (1853)
The Real Scythians of Messopotamia, Fred Hamori, based on a work by Gyula Mszros
The History of Herodotus, George Rawlinson, ed. and tr., vol. 3, Book 4, Chapters 2-36, 46-82. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1885]