The successors of the pit culture

Archeological science has long ago established that the successor of the pit culture in South-Russian steppes was the so-called frame culture, which has got its name from the wooden frame under the mould-burial. In the steppes of Middle Asia and Minusinsk hollow, the Afanasiev variety of pit culture was replaced by the so-called Andronov culture, ethnically close to it. Thus, already in pit-Afanasiev and frame-Andronov times, the ancient Turk cultural community became divided into the Eastern and Western groups.

The pit and frame cultures were followed by Scythian-Sarmats, while Massagets were the probable successors of Afanasiev culture, which is considered to be the origin of modern Turkmen.

A brief description of Scythia

Nearly five centuries of the history of Eastern Europe, Fore-Asia, Caucasus, Southern Siberia and other regions were associated with by the name Scythians. This period coincides with the formation of the states of Ancient Greece which played a great role in the formation of European civilization. Scythians were in close communication with Greece and the world around it. Scythian power, including not only the steppes of Northern coast of the Black Sea and Crimea, Northern Caucasus and Ural region but also the tribes inhabiting the forest-steppe areas, was a link in the chain of cultural and trade contacts between Fore-Asia, Middle Asia and Europe. There were strong links between Scythia and the Greek cities on the Black Sea and the early Roman provinces. Scythian state, involving neighboring tribes in culture-economic relations, helped both the development of social organization and the cultural growth in these tribes. Scythian military campaigns induced the formation of military democracy and the consolidation of patriarchal tribe aristocracy (Fig. 4,5).

Ancient authors about Scythians and Sarmats

Ancient Greek and Roman authors are the main source of written evidence about Scythians and Sarmats. Among them, one could especially note Herodotos, Hyppocrates, Strabo, Ptolomaios and others. Scythians are one of the first peoples mentioned in the texts of Ancient Greek authors. All of them, starting from Hesiodos and Eschiles, call Scythians and Sarmats “mare-milkers”, “koumiss-drinkers” , “horse-flesh eaters” and so on. They told that these peoples lead a nomadic life, living in felt tents (yurts) on the carriages, with their children and household articles.

There were Scythian ploughmen in the fertile deltas and along the rivers, but the leading role belonged to the nomadic Scythians, or the so-called “King Scythians”, representing a special social layer among various tribes meant under the common name “Scythians”.

Describing the territory of Scythia, its boundaries and rivers, its neighbors, military campaigns etc., the ancient authors said nothing about the Scythian language. So, we can judge about the language of Scythians only by just a few mentioned personal names, the names of some things, or the names of places and rivers.

Scythian legends and tales about their origin

By the words of Herodotos (484–425 BC), Scythians thought that they were born in a deserted land from the first man called Targitaios, whose parents were a daughter of the river Dnieper (Borisphenes) and Scythian god of thunder corresponding to Greek Zeus. Targitaios had three sons: Lipoxaios, Arpaxaios and Kolaxaios. The first of them gave birth to Scythians Auchates, the second to Katiares, and the third to Parallates. Their common name was Scolotes. We can immediately see that all these names are definitely of the Turk origin and can easily be explained on the basis of Karachai-Balkarian and other Turk languages and dialects. The very word “Scolotes”, evidently distorted by Ellines, sounded as “Skhilti” in the original language of Scythians, which refers to the upper strata of the society in Karachai-Balkarian. The common origin of these three tribes from the fore-farther of all the Scythians Targitaios was indicated in this way.

Herodotos heard another legend, or tale, about Scythians born from the marriage of Heracles with a half-woman, half-snake, whose upper part was of a woman and the lower part of a snake.
Then, Herodotos continues his narration about the origin of Scythians: “There is, however, one more story, which I trust the most. By this tale, nomadic Scythians living in Asia, being pressed by the military actions of Massagets, had crossed the river Arax and gone to the Kimmerian lands. Indeed, the country occupied by Scythians now (i. e. the steppes near the Black Sea—aut.) originally belonged to Kimmerians, as it is told”. It should be noted here that Ancient authors applied the name “Arax” nor only to the modern Arax, and not so much to this river, but rather to Sir-Daria. Therefore, Scythians could be pressed by Massagets from the near-Aral steppes, where the earliest pra-Turk culture once originated.

Who were Kimmerians

Ancient authors (Homeros, Hesiodos and others) called Kimmerians “mare-milkers” and “horse-flesh eaters” too, evidently meaning their non-Indo-European appearance and way of life. The history of this ethnos is yet poorly studies, though it is quite firmly established now that Kimmerians are cognate to Scythians. In Northern Caucasus, archeologists have found many typically Kimmerian household articles, tools and weapons. Such findings are exclusively numerous on the territory of Karachai, near aul Kart-Jurt, Uchkulan, Teberdi, Indish, Sari-Tьz and many others. Such an accumulation of Kimmerian antiquities on Karachai territory bears an exceptional value for the understanding of the origin of Karachais and Balkarians.

Archeological materials are strongly substantiated by the language data, and the etymology if the ethnonymic word “kimmer” first of all. The fact is, that, according to one of the meanings of the word “kara”, this word could be interpreted as “big”, “great”, “powerful”. The word “chai” (“sai”) means “river”, “river-bed” in common Turk.

Hence, the word “Karachai” may mean “Wide, Great, Mighty river”, and the name of the nationality could originate from the name of a river, as it often occurred in the Turk world, meaning just “the river people”. But a river could as often be referred to by the word “kam”, “kem” in common Turk (as, for example, Yenisei was called Khem and its tributary Khemchik). From the same word comes Karachai-Balkarian word “airikam”, that is, “island” or, more exactly, “separated by the water”. A river with the same name exists in Danubean Bulgaria, Kamchia, and so on. Hence it is easy to see that the word “Kam-er”, or “Kim-er” is of typically Turk origin, meaning “river man”, just like the recent “Suv-ar”, “Bulak-ar” (“Bolkar”), or earlier “Sub-ar”, “Suv-ar” (which is the same as “Shum-er”). The alternation of the phonemes “sh” and “s” in many languages should not surprise anybody.

On the language of Scythians and Sarmats

In the Bible, the name of Scythians sounds as “Ashkuzi”, which is a slight Semite distortion of the name of a Turk tribe “As-kishi”. Not without reason, the Arabian authors of IX century (for example, Khvaresmi) called Scythia the country of Turks, the country of As-Kishi or Togusogus. So, the Bible fixed the ancient Turk tribe of Scythians, as “Ashkuzi”. Appearing in this ethnonym word “as” is also from Turk and means “to stray”, “wander”, i. e. the carry a nomadic life. It is important to remember that Ancient Greeks originally produced the geographical term “Asia” from this very word, originally meaning specifically the Kuban steppes in the upper Caucasus. This may have been because Ancient Greek authors were informed about the migration of ancient nomadic tribes (Asses) to these regions.

The Turk type of the Scythian-Sarmat language is testified by many names of Sarmat leaders mentioned by Roman historians Tacitus, Ammianus Marcellinus and others. The language of Scythians is known almost exclusively by the personal names, among which both Turk and Iranian words are met. One cannot speak about Scythian language without an analysis of common nouns and special terms found in written sources, while the ancient authors keep complete silence on that. Nevertheless, the above-mentioned Turk words, such as Targitaios, Kolaxaios, Lipoxaios, Arpaxaios, Skhilti and other speak that Scythians and Sarmats were Turk tribes. The following connon Turk examples could be added:


the supreme god of Scythians, whose name means “elder” in Turk languages


Papai’s wife; means “mother” in Turk languages.


Scythian king, whose name is a common Turk word meaning “father”.


Scythian noun “man”. This word has the same meaning in Turk: “eir”, “er”.


Scythian word “thread”; coincides with the same Turk word.


in Scythian and Turk means “wool”.

Ьshь, Ish

Scythian verb “feel cold”. The word with the same meaning exists in Karachai-Balkarian and other Turk languages: Ьshь.

Ьshь, Ish Scythian verb “feel cold”. The word with the same meaning exists in Karachai-Balkarian and other Turk languages: Ьshь.

Even this short list of common words, ignored by many scythianologists before, the Turk nature of Scythian language can be clearly seen.

Culture and life of Scythians and Sarmats

Scythians and Sarmats were age-old nomads. The Turk elements in Sarmat culture and life is perfectly illustrated by the findings on Southern Bug, in the burials of I century. One of them was a little sculpture of a Sarmat sitting in the Asian manner, with crossed legs, in a quilted gown, with slanting eyes and flat nose.

The Scythian and Sarmat way of living and their culture manifests numerous Turk elements. Thus, for example, Scythian wise man Anacharsis answered the question about what Scythians eat saying that every Scythian’s breakfast and dinner were sour milk and cheese. These words coincide with the Karachai-Balkarian expression “Airan bla bishlak”, describing their daily food. By the words of the I century author Plinius, Sarmats eat “raw flour mixed with mare milk”.

It is quite obvious, that the Roman historian could not distinguish raw flour from the flour of fried grain, khuuut, which is a delicacy for Balkarians and Karachais. As a rule, they add airan or butter to khuuut, and could well add koumiss too.

The same sources report that Sarmats eat a thick white pulp, which perfectly coincides with a Karachai-Balkarian dish of sour and small grains, “kak”.
Among the elements of Scythian and Sarmat clothes, there such similar to Karachai-Balkarian clothes as short, above the knees, caftans, wadded or made of skins, as well as leather jackboots and shoes with the laces tied below the knee. Such boots could be made of felt. Scythians and Sarmats wore pointed hats, much resembling bashliks. The pictures of such hats can be found on stone sculptures and other decorations. Scythians and Sarmats also wore felt cloaks, “zhamichi”. Many elements of Scythian and Sarmat clothes were made of various felts, which were used everywhere in the life of these tribes, and now felt elements are very important in the traditional Karachai-Balkarian clothes and household.

The art of Scythians and Sarmats

The art of Scythian tribes forms a unique layer of the world culture. In their art, Scythians developed the highest skills and an original manner of reflecting the encompassing world, common life, world outlook and religious ideas... For that, they skillfully used both materials at hand (bone, wood, wool, leather) and precious metals, stones etc. Gold casting and stamping the gold foil or plate were widespread. Gold was used to decorated or finish bone, wooden articles etc.

Scythian art represented their common life, warfare and popular games, sports and so on. The burials of tribes leaders in richest barrows near Kuban and the Black Sea coast were especially brilliant. Any leading museum of the world would be proud of or envy such exhibits as the world-wide known golden grivna from Solokha barrow, gold vase from Chertomlik barrow, as well as the consummate grivnas of Kul-Oba and Solokha barrows, a mirror from the barrow near stanitsa Kelermesskaya and many other things found in Crimea and Kuban region.

As a rule, weapons, rhitons and quivers decorated by golden laps are found in men’s burials, while the unique things of gem and precious metal (ear-rings, rings, bracelets, grivnas, diadem-like hats) are more frequent in women’s burials.

A significant place in Scythian art was occupied by the images of wild animals (lions, snow leopards, panthers, indomitable horses) and birds (eagles and griphons). Most rich decorated were Scythians’ felt carpets, kihizes, being sometime made from of many colored pieces of wool put in a definite order reproducing the variegated outlook of Scythian traditional ornament. Scythian art of making kihizes decorated with various felt appliquй work was as popular. All the ornaments, as well as the manufacturing technique and the typical usage of felt kihizes, the carpets of the Scythian type, is common in the traditional culture of Balkarians and Karachais until now, being its specifically distinctive feature.

According to the scientists of XVII–XVIII centuries, Balkarians and Karachais were already well known throughout Caucasus by their skilled feltwork in that time.

The way of life and social organization of Scythians

Life and economy of Scythian tribes was described by the Ancient Greek writers in much detail. Herodotos listed about 15 Scythian tribes, with Scythian ploughmen, i. e. peasants, nomadic Scythians, “King Scythians” and others. The scientists are unanimous in the opinion that Hellenistic Greeks referred to all the tribes of the area around the Black Sea controlled by nomadic Scythians and “King Scythians” as Scythian ploughmen, applying the name “Scythians” in a purely conventional way. As for actual ethnic Scythians, it was only nomadic Scythians, “King Scythians”, who considering the others as their slaves.

Real Scythians spent almost all their life in felt carriages with tents, their children being born here, and then growing up and living on. Boys were trained to ride from the early childhood, and all their life was to be lived in the saddle, in raids and wars. In the art of riding and horse breeding, Scythians were the best all over the Ancient World.
The main economic activity of Scythians was cultivation of cattle, mainly horses and sheep. A significant part of their income was supplied by frequent forays and ravaging the neighboring tribes, as well as military campaigns against the states adjacent to the Black-Sea region and Greek colonies on the coast of the Black Sea. Various crafts, industries, hunting and trade were well developed.

Scythian society was the historically first mobile, highly organized military patriarchal society governed by the chiefs, tribe aristocracy, military leaders and the heads of separate armed groups. The norms of behavior and the order of subordination and coordination were strictly observed in this society, with the lower chiefs controlled by those higher in the hierarchy of military aristocracy. Scythian society was the first in the history of the Northern Coast of the Black Sea and adjacent areas of Crimea, Ural, Middle Asia, Altai, Northern Caucasus and Transcaucasus consolidated state, with its specific social structure and common law.

An important place in the Scythian society was occupied by the caste of priests, including various foretellers and fortune tellers, which mastered the skill to foresee the future by the sun, the stars, natural phenomena and so on.

Scythian society was based on slavery. The dead tribe chiefs or great military leaders were buried with their slaves, concubines, captives etc.
Scythians were the first tribe to develop the tactics of short military actions and long warfare, the raids on the fortified cities and fortresses of the settled peoples.

The military history of Scythians, the ancestors of Karachai-Balkarians

Practically all the history of Scythians in the European steppes, from their first appearing there until the very end of the Scythian epoch, was related to the military and political events in these region. In the Scythian epoch, the boundless spaces of Eurasian steppes was dominated by three cognate tribes, Kimmerians, Massagets and Scythians. As Herodotos notes, Scythians were forced to migrate to the Black Sea area being pressed by their Asian kinsmen, Massagets; as a result, they encountered their other kinsmen, Kimmerians, living in the steppes near the Black Sea and Kuban, including the territory of modern Karachai. Also, Scythians always had to fight with the ancient inhabitants of the Black Sea steppes, the settled tribes native to these lands. Many of them were subordinate to Scythians, feeling the deep influence of Scythian culture, life and customs. That is why Ancient Greek authors called them Scythian too, adding various specifiers like “ploughmen”, “nomads” etc. (Figs. 4–8).

The kinship of Kimmerians and Scythians is also reflected in the Bible, where the ancestor of Kimmerians Gomer and the ancestor of Scythians Ashkuz are called brothers, the sons of Tagarm, the latter name being just the distorted name of the common Turk deity Tanhri (Teiri). We must note here that Tagarm was respected as an ancestor of the medieval Turk tribes of Khazars. Thus, the available texts indicate the kinship of Kimmerians, Scythians and Khazars. This is most important for the understanding of the ethnic history of various Turk tribes and peoples.

Scythian campaigns in Fore-Asia

The destiny of ancient civilizations in the countries of Near East and Fore-Asia was intertwined with that of Scythians. These processes had certainly been reflected in the development of the European civilization too. With time, they had been actively joined by the other countries of the Mediterranean, the steppes of Danube and Ukraine, Northern Caucasus and Transcaucasus.

Scythian leaders and the military groups greedily looked at the richest countries and great cultural centers of Fore-Asia. To reach their purpose, Scythians went to the South through Northern Caucasus and along the coast of the Black Sea. In their movement, they possibly let many North-Caucasian tribes join them. Herodotos describes the Scythian road to Fore-Asia in a rather definite way: “…with Caucasus on the right hand”. However, there is an opposite opinion that Scythians actually moved along the Western coast of Caucasus. Archeological discoveries in the tumuli of Northern Caucasus (near stanitsa Nesterovskaya, villages Nartan, Kamennomostskoye, Lower Chegem etc.) and Transcaucasus dated by I millennium BC confirm Herodotos’ words, as these tumuli were shown to contain things belonging to Scythians, such as weapons, harness elements, decorations etc., and the burials following the Scythian rite. In Transcaucasus, such relics were found in the tumulus near village Kudanurkha near Gudauta. During this campaign, Scythians ruined Teishebaini, the principal fortress of Urartu, Karkemish in Northern Syria, fortresses near lake Urmia and others. In Transcaucasus, Scythians united in a powerful political formation playing an important role in the political life of the area on the edge of VII century BC In the Prophet Jeremy’s Book, which is more apt to use historical data than other parts of the Bible, Scythians are characterized as “people severe and relentless, coming from the North”. Jeremy paid much attention to Scythian invasion in Israel. He wrote: “And I shall bring on you, the house of Israel, people from far away, people strong, people old, people whose language you do not know and will not understand what they say. Their quivers are like an open coffin, all of them are brave. And they will eat your harvest and your bread, and their sons and daughters, and your sheep and oxen, and your grapes and figs, and they will ruin the fortified cities of yours which you trust with their sword”. All these prophecies have been accomplished by Scythians in full, having ravaged and ruined many cities of Fore-Asia. In the 70’s of VII century BC, Scythians led by king Ishpak assaulted Assiria. Assarhadon, the king of Assiria, managed to make peace with Scythians. He even agreed to give his daughter in marriage to Partatua (Partutai), the king of Scythians. To appreciate this historical fact in full, one should recall that Assiria was the largest and strongest power of that time. Soon after that, Scythians went on to the South and reached Palestine Syria. They intended to go to Egypt from there, but pharaoh Psametich I (663–616 BC) went to meet them and “to dissuade them from going on” with his gifts. Scythians, by the words of Herodotos, stayed in Asia for 28 years and devastated it all by their violence and excess. For, besides levying “the tribute they imposed to all the peoples from every one of them, they also used to foray and plunder, taking away everything that every people might have”. Comparing the terms of Scythian’s staying in Asia as reported by Herodotos with the data from Oriental documents and the political history as conveyed by the Ancient tradition, some scientists conclude that that Scythians could stay in Asia much longer than for 28 years. Most probably, the part of Scythians could settle in Fore-Asia. The peoples of Fore-Asia knew that they came from the North, from the Northern Coast of the Black Sea through the steppes of Northern Caucasus and along the Western coast of Caucasus. Scythian’s staying in Fore-Asia could not fail to get reflected in the culture and language of both Scythians and the peoples they encountered.

Dareios’ campaigns against Scythians

After having plundered and by destroyed many cities and states of Fore-Asia, Scythians returned to their lands in Fore-Caucasus and near the Black Sea coast. But their return was not too joyful. A great state-scale internecine war flared up in Scythia, as the wives of Scythian warriors got engaged in sexual intercourse with their slaves in the absence of their husbands. Scythian youth born from the slaves and Scythian wives decided to fight against Scythians returning from Media. They cut off their land with a wide fosse. On any attempt of Scythians to intrude, they went out and fought against them. Many Scythians assaults failed to succeed, but eventually Scythians managed to win their slaves and their offspring, adopting a different tactics.
Scythia of that time was a wide political association consisting of a few almost independent parts, severe wars often occurring between them.

In the end of VI century BC, Scythia got drawn into the orbit of global politics once again. The most powerful state of that time, united under the dominance of Persia and extending from Fore-Asia and Asia Minor to India, raised war on Scythians. In the head of the huge Persian army stood Dareios, who had made a long preparatory work to organize and mobilize the forces for the invasion to Scythia, as though in revenge for ravaging Fore-Asia during the 28-year-long staying there after their invasion there 150 years before.

Around 513 BC, big Dareios’ army began the campaign against Scythians. By the Herodotos’ words, the army of Dareios consisted of 700 thousand people and 600 ships. Crossing Danube (Istros) via a bridge built by the Greeks of Asia-Minor for that purpose, Dareios entered the limits of Scythia. Realizing that they can not win such a huge army in open fight, Scythians resorted to their old “partisan” methods of waging war. Having made a lightning raid on an isolated Persian detachment, they disappeared in unbounded steppes, avoiding open fight.

Persians could win no battle and have lost much of their army and loot. Angry Dareios sent a messengers to Scythian king Idantirs, to carry the words: “…If you think you are strong enough to resist my force, why do you run from me all the time? Stop your wandering and fight with me…” The Scythian king answered on that: “If Persians want to get in the battle, let them dare to find and ruin the graves of our fathers, and then Persians would see what can Scythian warriors do in the battle. And you will yet pay for that you called yourself my master”.

Soon after that, Persian and Scythian armies stood against each other for a resolute fight. At that moment, Herodotos says, a hare ran between the Scythian ranks. Scythians, abandoning their weapons and paying no attention to Persians ready to fight, ran after that hare trying to catch it. Being informed about that, Dareios said: “These people treat with much neglect, and now it is clear, that we cannot win Scythians in the battle”. With the approaching of the night, Dareios had to run away from Scythia, leaving the camp of his weakened warriors. Thus Dareios’ attempt to subdue Scythians failed (Fig. 5).

Concerning the culture-historical heritage of Scythians in the culture of Karachai-Balkarians, it might be mentioned, that an eminent sociology scientist M. M. Kowalewski, world-wide known as an expert in the laws and customs of Caucasian peoples of XIX century, excavated ancient burials near settlement Billim in Balkaria in 1885. During the work, the Balkarian workers saw a hare running and, abandoning their instruments, rushed to catch this hare and, after having caught it, played with it and then let it go. This scene produced such a strong impression on the famous scientist, that he could not find any analogy to this fact in the Caucasian medium and was naturally lead to a comparison with the hare game from Scythian history.

The episode with hare described, and the Scythian-Karachai-Balkarian parallels indicated above, are complemented with other facts. Thus, for example, it could be noted that many Turk peoples, including Karachais and Balkarians, know a very popular game of alchiks (austragals). As it is well known, archeologists often find such dices in many ancient pit burials of shepherds. In later burials of II millennium BC, archeologists found alchiks in children’s graves, for example, in the barrow near village Kishpek and other places of Kabardino-Balkaria. Similar alchiks are often found in the Bronze-Age relics in Middle Asia too. It is interesting, that alchiks made of rock crystal have also been found in Shumerian town Ur in the relics of III millennium BC Considering these facts, it should be noted that archeologists found bronze alchiks in Scythian barrows of Kabardino-Balkaria dated by VI century BC Such parallels are of importance in the description of the history and culture of Balkarians and Karachais.

The struggle of Scythian king Atheios with Philip of Macedonia

One of the most famous events from the history of Scythia on its Western boundaries is the deeds of the outstanding Scythian king Atheios, who is considered to be the founder of Scythian slave-owning state. Yet in a middle of IV century BC, Atheios occupied the right side of Danube in a quite solid way. This territory was known among Ancient authors under the name of Scythia Minor, in contrast to the main Scythia on the banks of Dnieper and in the steppes of the Northern coast of the Black Sea. Atheios lead an active policy in this region. Written sources have kept the story about Atheios addressing the citizens of the Greek city Byzanth and threatening to water his horses under the walls of the city. His remarkable victory over the tribes of this region is well known as well. The important place in the military and political history of Scythians belongs to the war between Atheios and Philip II of Macedonia, the father of famous Alexander of Macedonia.

In the end of one of the episodes of Scythian war with the nearby tribes, when the situation was not favorable to Scythians, Atheios asked Philip for help. Philip agreed to help Atheios, but put forward the condition: Atheios would have to make Philip his heir, so that Philip would get Scythia after Atheios’ death. Atheios was already almost 90 at that time. However Atheios refused to accept such a condition saying that he already had a successor. After that, the relations between them got aggravated, and Philip began war with Scythians. Atheios himself directed his army in the principal battle of this war, but Scythians lost the battle and Atheios died on the battle-field.

The Atheios’ struggle surprisingly reminds the Karachai-Balkarian Nart epic telling of the struggle of epic hero prince Achei with the tribes hostile to Narts. The names Atheios and Achei are definitely identical.

The time of Atheios’ rule was the apex of Scythian power, the time of its maximum strength. The death of Atheios and his defeat in the war with Philip were the beginning of the decline of Scythia as one of the most powerful states of I millennium BC The battle in which Atheios perished, took place in 339 BC Eight years later, Macedonia gave Scythia one more shattering blow. The domination of Scythians on the coasts of the Black Sea moved to decline and eventually finished in ruin. In II century BC, the successors of Scythians enter the scene of history. Among these successors, Hun-Bulgarians and Sarmats should be mentioned first of all. With the decay of Scythian power, the second stage of the ethnogenesis of Balkarians and Karachais has come to the end.



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