Scythians
750-50 BC

By Ian Armistead

The Scythians first make their mark in the Assyrian annals around 770 B.C. sweeping off the steppes into the middle-east.  Saka appears to have been the ancient Persian name for the eastern tribes of the same people. The Parthians who conquered Persia in the second century B.C were a further off-shoot of these Saka.  Scythians had a nomadic pastoral culture centred upon the Eurasian Steppes, lording it over subject agricultural tribes.

The Scythians were probably responsible for the introduction of cavalry to the middle-east and were certainly the first culture to use horse archers as their main arm.  The composite bow was their principle weapon and it was usually carried in a combined bow and quiver case called a ‘Gorytos’.  From the descriptions of their foes, grave goods finds and surviving examples of artwork a picture emerges of an army of mounted archers backed by  heavily armed noble cavalry.  Infantry were often absent and clearly a secondary force usually supplied by subject agricultural tribes or mercenaries

The Scythians were highly successful for almost six centuries campaigning as far west as Thrace were they were only stopped by Phillip II of Macedon father of Alexander the Great. In the East they penetrated into India where they formed the Indo-Saka Kingdoms.  Over this period they fought Assyrians, Achaemenid Persians,  Macedonians and their Bactrian Successors before they were eventually subsumed by other nomadic tribes such as the Sarmatians and Parthians during the third and second centuries B.C.

Several graves have been found of Scythian women fully equipped for war indicating that they sometimes fought alongside the men; which is probably the origin of the Greek tales of Amazon warriors!   Scythian men did not cut there hair and often scalped their fallen enemies—however, we do not recommend the latter practice on the war games table!

TACTICS

This army depends on the close co-operation of the horse archers and nobles, the former to weaken and wear down the enemy with missile fire and skirmishing whilst the latter delivers the final blow.   Although the light cavalry can fight in melee they are few in number and the horse archers should avoid contact unless the enemy are very vulnerable.  The feigned retreat option for the general provides an extra opportunity to lure the enemy out to their deaths.

The subject infantry were very much the subordinate arm and are best placed well out of harms way!  The other infantry are to few in numbers to be decisive but can be used to contest difficult terrain where others may take shelter from the power of your bows.