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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]


The Scythians were a barbarous nomadic tribe of Indo-Germanic origin living in the region between the Caucasus Mountains and the Caspian Sea. The Greek colonists who settled on the northern shores of the Black Sea in the 7th cent. b.c. found the South Russian steppe in their possession. Their name ‘Scythians’ is first found in Hesiod (Strabo, VII. iii. 7, 8), while Herodotus (iv. 1-82, 97-142) gives a great deal of information regarding the people, although the fact that the Greeks soon came to extend the name ‘Scythian’ to all the nations to the north and north-east of the Black Sea makes some of the statements of Greek writers regarding them questionable.

The Scythians proper were a purely nomadic race living on the South Russian steppe the usual life of nomads, moving from place to place as the needs of their flocks demanded. Herodotus (iv. 46, 114, 121) tells us that the men rode on horseback while the women were conveyed in wagons drawn by oxen. They lived on boiled flesh, mares’ milk, and cheese. Like most barbarians, they existed in a condition of filth, never washing themselves, and the women daubed themselves with paste containing the dust of fragrant woods and removing it the second day (iv. 75). Hippocrates (ed. Littré, ii. 72) informs us that they were not a very hardy race, suffering greatly from dysentery and rheumatism, and being soft and flabby in body.

The cruelty of the whole race and the despotism of their kings were notorious in the ancient world. When the king put a man to death all the male relations of the unfortunate victim were slain as well, for fear of blood revenge. When engaged in battle, the Scythian warrior drank the blood of the first of the foe he slew, using the skull as a drinking cup. No one was allowed to share in the booty who did not bring the head of a foeman to the king. The scalps of those slain in battle were tanned and hung on the bridle of the warrior (Herod. iv. 64 f.). The eyes of those taken captive and held as slaves were put out. The kings were invested with absolute despotic powers. On their death a vast multitude of slaves and even free-born servants were slain and buried in great funeral mounds along with horses and vessels of gold and silver.

The Scythians first come into history in connexion with their invasion of Asia and particularly of Media in the 7th cent. b.c. At this time there took place one of those great movements among the uncivilized peoples of the north which the Germans call a Völkerwanderung. Pressed on by Asiatic tribes, the Scythians seem to have driven the Cimmerians into Asia Minor and invaded Media. Herodotus speaks (i. 103-105) of a great victory of the Scythians over Cyaxares and the Medes which compelled the latter to raise the siege of Nineveh. Thereafter the victorious hordes overran all Asia, plundering at will for thirty years, from 634-604 b.c., till the Medes again under Cyaxares destroyed most of them after making them drunk at a banquet (i. 106). He also tells (i. 105) of king Psammetichus, who died 611 b.c., buying off these northern invaders who had come as far south as Philistia. The panic of these invading hordes reached Palestine, and several times the land seems to have been threatened and actually overrun with marauding bands. The reports of warriors fighting on horseback with bow and arrows, and drinking the blood of the slain, were fitted to appeal to the imagination of the Hebrew prophets, who thought of the messengers of God’s wrath on a sinful nation. Jeremiah’s description of ‘the evil coming from the north’ (1:13, 4:6, 5:15ff., 6:1) and of the mighty nation of riders and bowmen, as well as Zephaniah’s picture of the Day of the Lord, was probably suggested by the Scythian invasion and the terror it inspired. The memory of this invasion was perpetuated in the name Scythopolis, which was given to the old town Beth-shean (Σκύθων πόλις,  Judith 3:10; cf. Σκυθωπολεῖται,  2 Maccabees 12:30), which was probably taken, and, as Pliny (Historia Naturalis (Pliny)v. 16) and G. Syncellus (Chronographia, ed. P. J. Goar, Venice, 1729, p. 171) state, rebuilt by the remnant of the Scythians who remained after the main body was bought off by the king of Egypt.

To the Jews the name ‘Scythian’ became synonymous with ‘barbarian.’ Just as terrors which are only partially known assume gigantic proportions, so these Scythians, by their rapid descent on Palestine, their unwonted appearance, their savage cruelty, and their short sojourn, impressed the imagination. They became the symbol of savagery, inhumanity, barbarity, treachery, cruelty, and perhaps under the names Gog and Magog (q.v.[Note: .v. quod vide, which see.]) became types of the evil world-powers opposed to the Kingdom of God. Thus Josephus (Ant. I. vi. 1) identifies Gog and Magog of Ezekiel 38, 39 with the Scythians. When the apostle Paul is speaking of the absolute way in which the gospel of Christ abolishes all racial distinctions, he mentions in the list ‘Greek and Jew … barbarian, Scythian’ ( Colossians 3:11), where undoubtedly ‘Scythian’ is referred to as being universally regarded as the lowest in the scale of humanity, the most savage of barbarians-‘Scythae barbaris barbariores’ (Bengal) (cf. J. B. Lightfoot, Colossians2, 1879, p. 216). Even Scythians, the Apostle maintains, can be renewed unto the knowledge of Jesus Christ and become one in Him along with members of other races. Justin Martyr, the apologist (Dial. 28), in extolling Christianity, refers to its having room for Scythians and Persians, the ferocity of the former and the licentiousness of the latter being notorious, while the pseudo-Lucian (Philopatris, 17) satirizes Christianity for suggesting that Scythians should have any place in heaven. The opponents of Christianity, such as Celsus and the pseudo-Lucian, could not understand a religion which had a place for those so low in the scale of humanity as the Scythians. The Apostle, on the other hand, gloried in a religion which could redeem and elevate the most degraded.

Literature.-Herodotus, iv. 1-82, 97-142; Hippocrates, de Aëre, aquis et locis, xvii.-xxii., ed. P. M. E. Littré, 10 vols., Paris, 1839-61, ii. 66-82; J. C. Zeuss, Die Deutschen und die Nachbarstämme, 1837; K. Neumann, Die Hellenen im Skythenlande, 1855; G. Grote, History of Greece, 10 vols., new ed., 1888; H. Ewald, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, iii.3 [1866] 742-748; J. B. Lightfoot, Colossians2, 1879, p. 216; articles ‘Scythian’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols)and Encyclopaedia Biblica, and article‘Scythia’ in Encyclopaedia Britannica9.

W. F. Boyd.

Webster's Dictionary [2]

(1): ( n.) A native or inhabitant of Scythia; specifically (Ethnol.), one of a Slavonic race which in early times occupied Eastern Europe.

(2): ( n.) The language of the Scythians.

(3): ( a.) Of or pertaining to Scythia (a name given to the northern part of Asia, and Europe adjoining to Asia), or its language or inhabitants.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [3]

Scyth'ian. Occurs in  Colossians 3:11 as a generalized term for Rude, Ignorant, Degraded. The name often included all the nomadic tribes, who dwelt mostly on the north of the Black and the Caspian Sea, stretching, thence, indefinitely into inner Asia, and were regarded, by the ancients, as standing extremely low, in point of intelligence and civilization.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [4]

This word, being associated with the term 'barbarian,' signifies a most uncultivated person.  Colossians 3:11 . Happily such a one has the same reception as the most cultivated: such is the grace of God. 'In Christ Jesus' all distinctions are lost. As a race, the Scythians were located north of the Caspian and Black Seas. They were esteemed by the ancients as very low in intelligence and culture.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [5]

 Colossians 3:11. More barbarian heretofore than the barbarians. The unity of the divine life shared in by all believers counterbalances differences as great as that between the polished "Greek" and the rude "Scythian." Christianity is the true spring of sound culture, social and moral.

People's Dictionary of the Bible [6]

Scythian ( Sĭth'I-An ). Wandering tribe or tribes north of the Black and Caspian Seas.  Colossians 3:11.

King James Dictionary [7]

SCYTH'IAN, a. Pretaining to Scythia, a name given to the northern part of Asia, and Europe adjoining to Asia.

SCYTH'IAN, n. See Scot. A native of Scythia.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [8]

 Genesis 9:27 Colossians 3:11

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [9]

( Σκύθης ) occurs in  Colossians 3:11 as a generalized term for a rude, ignorant, degraded person. In the Gospel, says Paul, "there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free; but Christ is all and in all." It was anciently applied sometimes to a particular people, and sometimes to all the nomad tribes which had their seat to the north of the Black and Caspian seas, stretching indefinitely eastward into the unknown regions of Asia. It had thus much the same latitude as "Tartars," and was in like manner synonymous with Barbarian ( Βάρβαρος ) . The same view of Scythian barbarism appears in  2 Maccabees 4:47 and  3 Maccabees 7:5, also in Josephus (Cont. Apion. ii, 37) and Parmenio (ap. Athen. v, 221). For other similar testimonies, see Wettstein, Nov. Test. ii, 292.

The Scythians were, in fact, the ancient representatives of the modern Tartars, and, like them, moved from place to place in carts drawn by oxen. It is from this circumstance that they, or a tribe nearly allied to them, may be recognised on the monuments of Egypt. In the latter part of the 7th century B.C., they had become well known as a formidable power through the whole of Western Asia. Forced from their original quarters north of the Caucasian range by the inroads of the Massagetee, they descended into Asia Minor, where they took Sardis (B.C. 629), and maintained a long war with the Lydian monarchs; thence they spread into Media (B.C. 624), where they defeated Cyaxares. They then directed their course to Egypt, and were bribed off by Psammetichus; on their return they attacked the Temple of Venus Urania at Ascalon. They were finally ejected B.C. 596, after having made their name a terror to the whole Eastern world (Herod. i, 103 sq.). The name of Seythopolis, by which Beth-shean was known in our Saviour's time, was regarded as a trace of the Scythian occupation (Pliny, v, 16). This, however, is

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [10]

Fig. 313—1. A Scythian. 2. A Scythian General

Scyth´ian, a name which occurs only in . It was anciently applied sometimes to a particular people, and sometimes to all the nomad tribes which had their seat to the north of the Black and Caspian seas, stretching indefinitely eastward into the unknown regions of Asia. It had thus much the same latitude as 'Tartars,' and was in like manner synonymous with Barbarian.

The Scythians were, in fact, the ancient representatives of the modern Tartars, and like them moved from place to place in carts drawn by oxen.