The Scythians: Nomad Warriors of the Steppe
By Barry Cunliffe
Published in December 2019
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
The next period of history that I plan to study in depth is Central Asia from the time of Atilla the Hun (406 AD) until Timur (1405 AD) - a 1000 year period that roughly encapsulates the Middle Ages.
In order to better contextualize the era, I decided to pick this book up to learn more about the semi-mythical scythians.
At first, I worried that this book would be highly speculative and contain wild theories about the steppe nomad - many books about antiquity suffer from this problem. However, to my pleasant surprise, I discovered that Barry Cunliffe is careful not to speculate too much and has pretty good historiography.
The scythians were the earliest known steppe nomads. Like the better understood Huns, Turks, or Mongols, the scythians used horse archery to dominate the steppes.
“Scythian” is a Greek term used to describe the steppe peoples which has been passed down as the term to describe an archeological culture that existed from roughly 1000 BC until the early centuries AD.
The written record of scythians is sparse. They left us no written record, although the sedentary peoples of Greece, Persia, India, and China have left written records about their civilization. These records consist mostly of sparse references.
The scythians seem very primitive.
Most groups don’t have agriculture. The groups that do mostly live in the forests. They do have some trade with sedentary cultures, with Greek and Chinese influence slowly spreading far throughout the steppes of Central Asia.
Over time, the scythians become more centralized and militarized. By the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, they come to be dominated by powerful subgroups that can militarily challenge the sedentarized peoples of Europe.
A fascinating start to my deep dive into the history of the peoples of Central Asia.
I recommend this book to anyone with a general interest in learning more about the history of the steppe peoples.
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