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This webpage reproduces a section of
published in Vol. II
of the Loeb Classical Library edition,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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(Vol. II) Herodotus

 p301  Book IV: chapters 99‑117

The flags in the text are links to the Greek as printed on facing pages in the Loeb edition.
In the left margin, links to Rawlinson's translation (Vol. II, with valuable notes),
and to the running commentary by How and Wells.
Cartouches are links to in‑depth articles at Livius.Org or LacusCurtius.

[link to original Greek text] 99 Rawlinson p88 H & W Thrace runs farther out into the sea than Scythia; and where a bay is formed in its coast, Scythia begins, and the mouth of the Ister, which faces to the south-east, is in that country. Now I will describe the coast of the true Scythia from the Ister, and give its measurements. At the Ister begins the ancient Scythian land, which lies facing the south and the south wind, as far as the city called Carcinitis. Beyond this place, the country fronting the same sea is hilly and projects into the Pontus; it is inhabited by the Tauric nation as far as what is called the Rough Peninsula; and this ends in the eastern sea.​1 For the sea to the south and the sea to the east are two of the four boundary lines of Scythia, even as the seas are boundaries of Attica; and  p303 the Tauri dwelling as they do in a part of Scythia which is like Attica, it is as though some other people, not Attic, were to inhabit the heights of Sunium from Thoricus to the township of Anaphlystus, did Sunium but jut farther out into the sea. I say this in so far as one may compare small things with great. Such a land is the Tauric country. But those who have not coasted along that part of Attica may understand from this other way of showing: it is as though in Iapygia some other people, not Iapygian, were to dwell on the promontory within a line drawn from the harbour of Brentesium to Taras. Of these two countries I speak, but there are many others of a like kind which Tauris resembles.2

[link to original Greek text] 100 Rawlinson p90 H & W Beyond the Tauric country the Scythians begin, dwelling north of the Tauri and beside the eastern sea, westward of the Cimmerian Bosporus and the Maeetian lake, as far as the river Tanais, which issues into the end of that lake. Now it has been seen that on its northern and inland side, which runs from the Ister, Scythia is bounded first by the Agathyrsi, next by the Neuri, next by the Man‑eaters, and last by the Black-cloaks.

[link to original Greek text] 101 Scythia, then, being a four-sided country, whereof two sides are sea‑board, the frontiers running inland and those that are by the sea make it a perfect square; for it is a ten days' journey from the  p305 Ister to the Borysthenes, and the same from the Borysthenes to the Maeetian lake; and it is a twenty days' journey from the sea inland to the country of the Black-cloaks who dwell north of Scythia. Now as I reckon a day's journey at two hundred furlongs, the cross-measurement of Scythia would be a distance of four thousand furlongs, and the line drawn straight up inland the same. Such then is the extent of this land.

[link to original Greek text] 102 The Scythians, reckoning that they were not able by themselves to repel Darius' army in open warfare, sent messengers to their neighbours, whose kings had already met and were taking counsel, as knowing that a great army was marching against them. Those that had so met were the kings of the Tauri, Agathyrsi, Neuri, Man‑eaters, Black-cloaks, Geloni, Budini, and Sauromatae.

[link to original Greek text] 103 Among these, the Tauri have the following customs; all ship-wrecked men, and any Greeks whom they take in their sea‑raiding, they sacrifice to the Virgin goddess​3 as I will show: after the first rites of sacrifice, they smite the victim on the head with a club; according to some, they then throw down the body from the cliff whereon their temple stands, and impale the head; others agree with this as to the head, but say that the body is buried, not thrown down from the cliff. This deity to whom they sacrifice is said by the Tauri themselves to be Agamemnon's daughter Iphigenia. As for the enemies whom they overcome, each man cuts off  p307 his enemy's head and carries it away to his house, where he impales it on a tall pole and sets it standing high above the dwelling, above the smoke-vent for the most part. These heads, they say, are set aloft to guard the whole house. The Tauri live by plundering and war.

[link to original Greek text] 104 Rawlinson p92 The Agathyrsi live more delicately than all other men, and are greatly given to wearing gold. Their intercourse with women is promiscuous, that so they may be brothers and kinsfolk to each other and thus neither envy nor hate their fellows. In the rest of their customs they are like to the Thracians.

[link to original Greek text] 105 The Neuri follow Scythian usages; but one generation before the coming of Darius' army it fell out that they were driven from their country by snakes; for their land brought forth great numbers of these, and yet more came down upon them out of the desert, till at last the Neuri were so hard pressed that they left their own country and dwelt among the Budini. It may be that they are wizards; for the Scythians, and the Greeks settled in Scythia, say that once a year every one of the Neuri is turned into a wolf, and after remaining so for a few days returns again to his former shape. For myself, I cannot believe this tale; but they tell it nevertheless, yea, and swear to its truth.

[link to original Greek text] 106 Rawlinson p94 H & W The Man‑eaters are of all men the most savage in their manner of life; they know no justice and obey no law. They are nomads, wearing a dress like the Scythian, but speaking a language of their own; they are the only people of all these that eat men.

 p309  [link to original Greek text] 107 The Black-cloaks all wear black raiment, whence they take their name; their usages are Scythian.

[link to original Greek text] 108 The Budini are a great and numerous nation; the eyes of all of them are very bright, and they are ruddy. They have a city built of wood, called Gelonus. The wall of it is thirty furlongs in length on each side of the city; this wall is high and all of wood; and their houses are wooden, and their temples; for there are among them temples of Greek gods, furnished in Greek fashion with images and altars and shrines; and they honour Dionysus every three years with festivals and revels. For the Geloni are by their origin Greeks, who left their trading ports to settle among the Budini; and they speak a language half Greek and half Scythian. But the Budini speak not the same language as the Geloni, nor is their manner of life the same.

[link to original Greek text] 109 The Budini are native to the soil; they are nomads, and the only people in these parts that eat fir‑cones; the Geloni are tillers of the soil, eating grain and possessing gardens; they are wholly unlike the Budini in form and in complexion. Yet the Greeks call the Budini too Geloni; but this is wrong. All their country is thickly wooded with every kind of tree; in the depth of the forests there is a great and wide lake and marsh surrounded by reeds; otters are caught in it, and beavers, besides certain square-faced creatures whose skins serve for the trimming of mantles, and their testicles are used by the people to heal hysteric sicknesses.

[link to original Greek text] 110 Rawlinson p96 The history of the Sauromatae is as I will  p311 now show. When the Greeks warred with the Amazons (whom the Scythians call Oiorpata, a name signifying in our tongue killers of men, for in Scythian a man is oior, and to kill is pata) after their victory on the Thermodon they sailed away carrying in three ships as many Amazons as they had been able to take alive; and out at sea the Amazons set upon the crews and threw them overboard. But they knew nothing of ships, nor how to use rudder or sail or oar; and the men being thrown overboard they were borne at the mercy of waves and winds, till they came to the Cliffs by the Maeetian lake; this place is in the country of the free Scythians. There the Amazons landed, and set forth on their journey to the inhabited country. But at the beginning of their journey they found a place where horses were reared; and carrying these horses away they raided the Scythian lands on horseback.

[image ALT: missingALT. It is a zzz.]

Sarmatian roundel, gilt silver repoussé, with turquoise or possibly paste inlays; probably a horse trapping. Diameter 131 mm. Said to be from Iran, but provenance unknown. It figures prominently in "Sarmatian Roundels and Sarmatian Art" (Metropolitan Museum Journal, vol. 8, 1973).

Metropolitan Museum, New York.
Photo © Livius.Org | Marco Prins, by kind permission.

[link to original Greek text] 111 The Scythians could not understand the matter; for they knew not the women's speech nor their dress nor their nation, but wondered whence they had come, and supposed them to be men all of the same age; and they met the Amazons in battle. The end of the fight was, that the Scythians got possession of the dead, and so came to know that their foes were women. Wherefore taking counsel they resolved by no means to slay them as heretofore, but to send to them their youngest men, of a number answering (as they guessed) to the number of the women. They bade these youths encamp near to the Amazons and to imitate all that they did; if the women pursued them, then not to fight, but to flee; and when the pursuit ceased, to  p313 come and encamp near them. This was the plan of the Scythians, for they desired that children should be born of the women. The young men, being sent, did as they were charged.

[image ALT: missingALT. It is an ancient Greek bottle of the type known as a lecythus.]

Lecythus depicting an Amazon wielding an axe and a shield.

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
Photo © Livius.Org | Jona Lendering, by kind permission.

[link to original Greek text] 112 Rawlinson p98 When the Amazons perceived that the youths meant them no harm, they let them be; but every day the two camps drew nearer to each other. Now the young men, like the Amazons, had nothing but their arms and their horses, and lived as did the women, by hunting and plunder.

[link to original Greek text] 113 H & W At midday the Amazons would scatter and go singly or in pairs away from each other, roaming thus apart for greater comfort. The Scythians marked this and did likewise; and as the women wandered alone, a young man laid hold of one of them, and the woman made no resistance but suffered him to do his will; and since they understood not each other's speech and she could not speak to him, she signed with the hand that he should come on the next day to the same place bringing another youth with him (showing by signs that there should be two), and she would bring another woman with her. The youth went away and told his comrades; and the next day he came himself with another to the place, where he found the Amazon and another with her awaiting him. When the rest of the young men learnt of this, they had intercourse with the rest of the Amazons.

[link to original Greek text] 114 Presently they joined their camps and dwelt together, each man having for his wife the woman with whom he had had intercourse at first. Now the men could not learn the women's language, but the  p315 women mastered the speech of the men;​a and when they understood each other, the men said to the Amazons, "We have parents and possessions; now therefore let us no longer live as we do, but return to the multitude of our people and consort with them; and we will still have you, and no others, for our wives." To this the women replied, "Nay, we could not dwell with your women; for we and they have not the same customs. We shoot with the bow and throw the javelin and ride, but the crafts of women we have never learned; and your women do none of the things whereof we speak, but abide in their waggons working at women's crafts, and never go abroad a‑hunting or for aught else. We and they therefore could never agree. Nay, if you desire to keep us for wives and to have the name of just men, go to your parents and let them give you the allotted share of their possessions, and after that let us go and dwell by ourselves. The young men agreed and did this.

[link to original Greek text] 115 So when they had been given the allotted share of possessions which fell to them, and returned to the Amazons, the women said to them: "We are in fear and dread, to think how we should dwell in this country; seeing that not only have we bereaved you of your parents, but we have done much hurt to your land. Nay, since you think right to have us for wives, let us all together, we and you, remove out of this country and dwell across the river Tanais."

[link to original Greek text] 116 To this too the youths consented; and crossing  p317 the Tanais they went a three days' journey from the river eastwards, and a three days' journey from the Maeetian lake northwards; and when they came to the region in which they now dwell, they made their abode there. Ever since then the women of the Sauromatae have followed their ancient usage; they ride a‑hunting with their men or without them; they go to war, and wear the same dress as the men.

[link to original Greek text] 117 Rawlinson p100 The language of the Sauromatae is Scythian, but not spoken in its ancient purity, seeing that the Amazons never rightly learnt it. In regard to marriage, it is the custom that no virgin weds till she has slain a man of the enemy; and some of them grow old and die unmarried, because they cannot fulfil the law.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Here = the Sea of Azov.

2 All this is no more than to say that the Tauri live on a promontory (the Tauric Chersonese), which is like the south-eastern promontory of Attica (Sunium) or the "heel" of Italy, i.e. the country east of a line drawn between the modern Brindisi and Taranto. The only difference is, says Herodotus, that the Tauri inhabit a part of Scythia yet are not Scythians, while the inhabitants of the Attic and Italian promontories are of the same stock as their neighbours.

3 A deity locally worshipped, identified by the Greeks with Artemis.

Thayer's Note:

a Comment #1: This is a good example of bad money driving out good.

Comment #2: My Dog understands about 80 words of English (and five or six words of Italian). I don't understand more than about three words of Dog. So tell me who's more intelligent? Yet whose language do we communicate in?

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Page updated: 11 Dec 18