The Scythians were a nomadic* people from the dry, treeless region of central Asia. They settled in present-day southern Russia and the Ukraine in the late 700s B.C. From around 600 B.C., the Scythians traded wheat and furs for the pottery and jewelry of the Greek colonies along the north coast of the Black Sea. About 400 B.C., the Scythians established a fortified city near the Dnieper River. This city, called Kamenskoye Gorodishche, became the center of the kingdom of Scythia.

The Scythians reached the peak of their power during the 300s B.C. In 331 B.C. they were strong enough to defeat a Macedonian army. A lack of unity weakened the kingdom, and the Scythians were eventually defeated by the Sarmatians, a neighboring people. The Scythians retreated to the Crimea, a peninsula in southern Russia that juts into the Black Sea. They disappeared from recorded history during the A.D. 200s, when they abandoned their city of Neapolis to the marauding Goths.

* nomadic referring to people who wander from place to place to find food and pasture

The Scythians were expert horsemen and were the first people to send mounted archers into battle. They were also expert metalworkers who produced exquisite gold objects. Russian archaeologists* have recovered many such items from Scythian burial mounds called kurgans.

The Greek poet Hesiod was the earliest writer to refer to the Scythians. The Greek historian Herodotus also wrote about them in the 400s B.C. In his Histories, Herodotus described the Scythian nomadic way of life, folklore, religious beliefs, military organization, and customs. (See also Peoples of Ancient Greece and Rome; Trade, Greek.)

* archaeologist scientist who studies past human cultures, usually by excavating ruins

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