Cam Rea: "The War Machine of Scythia"

 The War Machine of Scythia 
 Israelites After the Assyrian Exile 
by Cam Rea

Strive not with a man without cause, if he hath done thee no harm" (Proverbs 3;30).
And the channels of the sea appeared, the foundations of the world were discovered, at the rebuking of the LORD, at the blast of the breath of his nostrils.
He sent from above, he took me; he drew me out of many waters:  (2-Samuel 22;16-17).
Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee" (Proverbs 4;24)



The War Machine of Scythia

by Cam Rea

            Scythia, a land inhabited by Scythians. But even this term is very much generic. It's like saying all American's are Buckeyes even though not all Americans are from Ohio. Scythia was a vast tract of land inhabited by many different nomadic peoples whom for the most part were kin. The historian George Rawlinson makes this statement about Scythia
"The term 'Scythic' is not... ethnical. It designates a life rather than a descent, habits rather than blood. It is applied by Greeks and Romans to Indo-European and Turanian races indifferently, provided they are nomads, dwelling in tents... living on the produce of their flocks and herds...".[i]
The one thing the Scythians held in common was their ability to unite and fight in times of difficulty.  Now what made them most unique was their use of the horse in combat, and the weapons they used on the field of battle.
            But were did they come from and what was their motivation to innovate? To find these answers we have to look to ancient Assyria. From here the Assyrian sources indicate that the Scythian/Cimmerian was not native to the land that would be called Scythia, and that their origins point to a more middle eastern neighbor that was once independent of Assyrian rule. Only to be coveted, and conquered, and removed, to places unknown to them for the most part. If you would like to no more about the origins of the Scythians/Cimmerians see my article "Sometimes They Come Back also known as the Assyrian Exile". You will find that article on Brit-Am website. Also I have an upcoming book as well that goes into further detail of their origins.
Earliest details:
            Now this Scythian/Cimmerian military is not one that is well documented. The earliest sources on them were from Assyria, and Assyria gives us a glimpse into an almost absolute abyss as to how they conducted warfare or at lest paint us a picture that is really vague. Before we go on I want to clarify as to not confuse the reader about the use of Scythian/Cimmerian. Some may say these are to different groups. Which is partially true and also false. The Scythian/Cimmerian are kin, and for the most part one and the same. The Assyrians in their inscriptions do not differentiate between the two, but at times refer to both names in the regions they could be found.[ii]
            The first inscriptions that mentions the Scythian/Cimmerian are found during the reign of Sargon II King of Assyria. These inscriptions primarily talk about the Kingdom of Urartu invading the land of Gamera which was an Assyrian province at the time. The Urartu Army that invaded was defeated by the forces of the Gimira. Gimira, in case you did not know, means Cimmerian in our language.[iii]  How the Urartu forces were defeated is not known. But what is known is that Assyrians had horses raised in the area of Gamera [i.e. of the Gimiri] for their own military use, under the watchful eye of the Musarkisus who were assigned to supply the Assyrian forces with fresh horses. This also indicates that the Gamira/Cimmerians used horses as well to supply their forces to protect Assyria's borders from foreign invasions since the Gamira/Cimmerians were a part of the Assyrian auxiliaries corps.[iv] Which tells us that the Cimmerians most likely fought from horse back and not from the Chariot due to the mountainous terrain. The inscription provided for us by the Assyrians indicates sending the Cimmerians into Urartu due to the nature of battle which was about to be conducted. This also shows that the Assyrians were not fully capable in conducting mountain warfare which points to their heavy use in depending on conquered foreigners who were well trained in arts of cavalry and not charioteering. Also in the inscription the Gamira are mentioned by name. This seems to indicate that the Gimira were aloud to retain their native dress in the Assyrian military. Groups that would be aloud to retain their native dress were referred to as "Sab Sharri" by the Assyrians. Also there is an inscription found at Nineveh that bares the name and title: "Ubru-Harran, chief of a Cimmerian detachment" which shows without a doubt that the Cimmerian/Scythians were apart of the Assyrian war machine in the beginning.[v]

Scythian Warriors as Depicted by their Own Craftsmen
Scythian Warriors

Horse and Rider:
            What we have examined so far is that the Cimmerian/Scythian fought from horseback and were allowed to retain their native dress. But what about their weapons of choice? For starters their primary weapon was not the bow but the horse. The bow was just the initial weapon and the rider was like a turret on a tank. The horse was just the vehicle that could deliver the payload upon the impending target chosen. But this was of great importance. For in the 7th century BCE cavalry was not as prestigious or so well taken to as were charioteers. This would have to change if Assyria was to survive. Assyria would over time begin to adopt the ideal of cavalry as a proven weapon, but still relied very much on the chariot. By the time of Ashurbanipal, the last great king of Assyria, the primary role of the cavalry was to assist or support the chariots in battle. Once the enemy line was broken they would have a role in mopping up the confused forces. Assyria did not use cavalry so much when compared to its neighbors. Assyria never invested a huge amount in developing better cavalry units whereas their enemies (such as the Cimmerians/Scythians) would continue to evolve into much better fighting forces adapted to natural condition and the conduct of their enemies meaning mainly Assyria. But also we should not forget that Assyria relied on cavalry units not native to Assyria. It is also said that Assyria began to adopt the cavalry style of the Iranians to better compete in combat against them. This is true for the most part, but over all it seems that the Scythians/Cimmerians did the most in changing and adapting to their enemies weakness. [vi]
            Scythian cavalry men wore a vast array of armor, and when one looks at Scythian art work you can notice the difference with armor over a period of time. But it seems for the most part that the Scythian cavalry man wore scale armor. Small pieces of armor mostly iron but sometimes mixed in with bronze, would overlap but not hide each piece of metal. This scale armor would be sewn into the leather shirt with animal tendons. The scale armor would cover from neck to hips. But over time the Scythians would make wide use of this scale technology and cover their legs and arms but not to the point to constrict movement. Their helmets would become scaled to over time, and new pieces would be added to the helmets as well like cheek coverings and neck protection leaving the nose exposed. As the centuries marched Scythian noblemen have been known to wear Greek style helmets which have been found in numerous graves in the Northern Caucasus region. But one thing I did come across which may be of interest is that archeologist's found graves in Valsgarde Sweden that bare the same style of Scythian armor, which dates to 450 A.D. and could have been brought by the Cimmerians.[vii] Also I wonder if the Greeks ever considered the Scythians as Sarmatians in the term of armor. The Greeks called the Sarmatians "Lizard People" which could have been applied to the Scythians as well for the dragon scale armor look they fashioned just like Sarmatians.[viii]

Archery and Arrows:
            Now besides the Horse being the main function of the Scythian/Cimmerian war machine, we need to examine the instrumental weapons used in combating the enemy. For starters the bow was the primary weapon of the rider. The bow the Scythians and Cimmerians used is a close match to the composite bow used by many steppe worriers. The problem with the Scythian/Cimmerian bow is that no fully intact example has yet been discovered. Every bow found has been eaten away with time and thus a mystery still remains. But their art work does give us an example of how it looked. What we do know from past histories is that it's small, and could deliver an arrow 521.6 metres or 1711.282 feet which is a little more then 567 yards according to the inscription found in a Greek grave which says "Anaxagoras son of Dimagoras" shot such a bow in the city of Olbia on the Dniepr-Bug estuary. This area where the inscription was found was an area inhabited by Scythians/Cimmerians for the most part, but there were Greek coastal cities in the area that most likely were in day to day contact and trade with them. By being in such contact one would gain such knowledge and use of the Scythian bow. When in war the Scythian is said to carry anywhere from 30 to 150 arrows into battle, and use them up in a range of 3 to 15 minutes depending I would suggest on the nature of the battle.[ix] Now the arrow heads that were developed and designed by the Scythian, and Cimmerians, were far more superior than arrows used by their Middle East neighbors. This may indicate that the rest of their archery equipment may have had the same superiority over their Middle Eastern counterparts and seems to even rival those of Europe as well. The arrows used by the Scythians have been also found in Babylonia. This suggests that the Babylonians themselves adopted the style and use of Scythian archery equipment in the 6th century BCE. From the Babylonian finds one could speculate as to whether or not the Babylonians employed Scythians amongst their ranks or at least brought in a type of military advisor to train Babylonian archery units, whether they be cavalry or on foot in the Scythian style of archery and mechanics. Because of this we have to ask why were their weapons so superior? For starters we know very little of the type of bow they used but have ideas to compare it to. Second the arrow head used by the Scythians is far more greater and better then the traditional leaf shaped arrow heads used in Mesopotamia. The Scythian arrow head is known as the "Scythian point". This arrow head had more of a bullet shape with three sides and each of those three sides had very small wings. The reason for this innovation was to penetrate armor better. Many of these arrow heads have been found in Scythian graves dating from the 7th to 4th centuries BCE. This was a Scythian design totally of its own. Now one thing I want to point out is the date. Notice that it says from the 7th to 4th centuries. It's the 7th I'm focusing on. The 7th century means 699 to 600 BCE. In that time period the wars between the Assyrians and Scythians were sporadic. Now if no arrow head of this design has been found later then the century given it suggest one thing. That for the Scythians to be competitive in the art of war against the Assyrians, they had to find a better way to pierce their iron armor. This arrow head design would penetrate iron. This most likely made the Assyrians think twice when having to fight a force that could halt, put a dent into, and even defeat them. Even though the track record shows Assyria with the most victories it came with a heavy loss of Assyrian life, and in turn made the Assyrians to think twice about their superiority in Mesopotamia in the 7th century BCE. This may have been the reason for the Babylonians to adopt armor piercing arrow heads in the 6th century BCE among other possible Scythian style weapons. [x]

Scythian Arrowheads
Scythian Arrow Head
Scythian Arrow Head

Sword and Lance, Spear and Axe
The Scythian/Cimmerian sword was a two edged sword being anywhere on average 60-70cm long. They were highly decorated with small gold plates, and much art work seems to have been done as well to the sword handle, as well as to the blade itself. Each Scythian sword for the most part is the same as the next with the only difference being the art work that was involved in the process of making such a weapon. It is also suggested that the Scythians borrowed this type of sword from the Middle East and Asia Minor during their conquests. Even though the sword appears not to be long it was great for thrusting and slashing. Now the Scythian lance was three meters long. This type of weapon was for mounted warfare due to the nature and length of the weapon, and would have caused great damage to enemy infantry units that were in the way of a frontal assault. I would suggest that most likely the heavy Scythian cavalry men carried such a weapon, but it's also possible with the little information we have that maybe all Scythian cavalry carried the lance.  The Scythians did carry spears but they were much shorter, and seem to be used as a type of dart to throw at the enemy whether it was from the horse or on foot. A cavalry man would have to get much closer to launch such a weapon at the intended target and it seems to have been a weapon for close combat. Also the Axe was another weapon of choice among Scythian cavalry men. It could be suggested that once all items that could be used as projectiles were spent, sword and axe came into favor for close combat.[xi]
Scythian Warfare:
Here comes the tricky part. Scythian warfare is not that well documented. Almost nothing is said of their style or technique in combat when two armies face each other. But from the information given as to the use of the bow, lance, sword, spears, and a horse to deliver the payload, we might be able to piece together what could have happened. My example would be Sargon II fighting the Scythian/Cimmerians in 705 BCE. It is said that Sargon II lost his life in battle to the Scythian/Cimmerians but the Assyrians gained the victory. So how did the Scythians/Cimmerians penetrate the mighty Assyrian army? When both armies meet at the desired place there may have been some negotiating first, and some promises second. Either way the talks failed and the battle was on. I would suggest that the Scythians/Cimmerians made the first move by sending horse archers out in front. Now before we go on into further detail I would like to suggest the game Rome Total War. You can find it at this website or you can buy it at, Ebay, The reason I bring up this game is that the people who make this game base it completely on what history has provided us in terms of warfare and the technology that follows. This game engine has been used a lot on the History channel programs, to give a much better view as to how armies may have fought. Now let us get back to the battle between Sargon II's Assyrians and the Scythian/Cimmerian forces.
            The Scythian/Cimmerian horse archers may have stood together that is to say horse next to horse and shot volleys of arrows into the Assyrian ranks. The second proposal is that many of the horse archers broke off into two groups and formed circles. Each circle would follow the leader in a circle fashion at full speed firing arrows into the enemy ranks. The reason for this is that if enemy archers are firing arrows back at you, you become a much harder target to hit due to constant movement. Now after the horse archers expended their supply of arrows, the next group may have rode close enough to throw spears and darts at the enemy ranks. This is not to say that the Assyrians didn't challenge them head on with their own cavalry. The last order of business was probably the heavy cavalry charge to break the ranks of the infantry and to scatter the archers. Once lines have been broken the second and third waves came in to mop up those Assyrians left behind and to help their comrades who broke the first few ranks continue the push forward. We need a reminder however that all this is pure speculation. We don't know enough about the battle to make a real case. But there is something that comes to mind. Sargon II was killed. Now it would take a strong force, very disciplined, with a strong distaste for anything Assyrian to break their ranks. What I'm going to propose is this. It seems that in order to reach and kill the king, the Scythians/Cimmerians had gone for broke. That is to say that after all they fired, propelled, projected, the Assyrian forces would not budge and showed no sign of significant weakness, which lead to an all out surprise attack that probably shocked the Assyrian ranks and brought fear to them to bend and not break. Most likely the heavy cavalry broke through the Assyrian ranks far enough as to let the much light units carrying spears and javelins reach Sargon II and thrusting them deep into his body causing him to fall before his most trusted generals and most important his men.[xii] It was a victory for both sides.
This is what have learned about the Scythian/Cimmerian war machine. One, they were fast and could maneuver with speed. Second their weapons were light and practical: Lances, short swords, axes, javelins, spears, and bows were great for a cavalry man. Third, their armor didn't slow them down. Instead it was innovating and brilliant for their time. Not only that, it was also great against arrows and could ward off sword blows. Fourth, the Scythian/Cimmerians war machine by far was very complex yet practical. Speed and stealth was the object of their game. They would feint a retreat causing their enemies to pursue them, and then be engulfed by a vast number of arrows that the Scythians would pour down on them. Fifth, they were a society separated by clans and tribes. In times of war they got together and became a single fighting unit. This goes to show that nations like Assyria and Persia could not stand up to the raw power of blood-relationship over steel.
[i]     Rawlinson, The Sixth Oriental Monarchy, p. 20
[ii]    Yair Davidiy, Origin, p. 40-43
[iii]   Capt, Missing Links Discovered in Assyrian Tablets, p. 111
[iv]   Gabriel, The Great Armies of Antiquity, p. 133
[v]    Capt, Missing Links Discovered in Assyrian Tablets, p. 111/
Yair Davidy, Lost Israelite Identity, p. 71
[vi]   Healy, McBride, The Ancient Assyrians, p. 9, 20, 21
[vii]  Cernenko, McBride, Gorelik, The Scythians 700-300 BC, p. 7/ Oakeshott, The Archeology of Weapons, p. 67
[viii] Brzezinski, Mielczarek, The Sarmatians 600 BC-AD 450, P. 6
[ix]    Cernenko, McBride, Gorelik, The Scythians 700-300 BC, p. 11-14
[x]     Virtual Karak Resources Project and Appalachian College Association/ 2001-2007/ Gershevitch, The Cambridge History of Iran, p. 92
[xi]    Cernenko, McBride, Gorelik, The Scythians 700-300 BC, p. 14-20
[xii]   Gabriel, The Great Captins of Antiquity, p. 52/Chahin, The Kingdom of Armenia, 90, 94/

Also by Cam Rea
From Parthia to Gothica
"Sometimes They Come Back". The Assyrian Exile

See also,
Articles on this subject by Yair Davidiy:
The Completeness of the Exile
What Spake Zarathustra?
The Cimmerians, Scythians, and Israel
Pictures of Ancient Hebrews: Hebrew Types

by Steven Collins

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