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Author Topic: Did the Scythians even have a religion?  (Read 2345 times)

Vovk

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Did the Scythians even have a religion?
« on: December 08, 2013, 09:59:10 am »
Okay, okay, I know. It's a complete 'noob' thing to ask, but seriously...

Any time I try to study the Scythians and their belief system, it's always about spirit animals, Mars the god of war, war, tattoos, dying in battle, war, taking scalps, war, et cetera. My Ukrainian and Russian are definitely not past the conversational point, so looking up Eastern European sources is a headache.

Does anyone know anything about these people besides their obvious infatuation with violence? Let's talk.

Materialist

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Re: Did the Scythians even have a religion?
« Reply #1 on: December 08, 2013, 12:33:28 pm »
Quote from: Vovk;131699
Okay, okay, I know. It's a complete 'noob' thing to ask, but seriously...

Any time I try to study the Scythians and their belief system, it's always about spirit animals, Mars the god of war, war, tattoos, dying in battle, war, taking scalps, war, et cetera.


Addressing  your question-title: how are all the things you listed the Scythians as doing not religious?

Vovk

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Re: Did the Scythians even have a religion?
« Reply #2 on: December 08, 2013, 12:47:41 pm »
Quote from: Materialist;131724
Addressing  your question-title: how are all the things you listed the Scythians as doing not religious?

 
I need to not post when tired.

Addressing this, the tile wasn't that clearly thought out. What I mean to ask is, "What're some religious facts about the Scythians besides their strong connection to war?"... Something along those lines.

Materialist

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Re: Did the Scythians even have a religion?
« Reply #3 on: December 08, 2013, 12:54:37 pm »
Quote from: Vovk;131730

 What I mean to ask is, "What're some religious facts about the Scythians besides their strong connection to war?"... Something along those lines.


The Scythians spoke and Indo-Iranian language, perhaps you can find more useful information by studying Indo-Iranian mythology.

DavidMcCann

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Re: Did the Scythians even have a religion?
« Reply #4 on: December 09, 2013, 07:37:55 pm »
Quote from: Vovk;131699
Does anyone know anything about these people besides their obvious infatuation with violence? Let's talk.

 I'm not sure they were all that violent: Livy said that the Roman republic had only been at peace in 235 and 31 BC!

Since they left no texts, it's difficult to say much about them. On the other hand, they wouldn't have been much different to other Iranians or to the Indians. The Wikipedia articles on Scythian Religion and on the Kushan Empire are a starting point. The Unesco History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Volume 2 may have something, if you can get access: I can't remember. There's also some stuff here:
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Re: Did the Scythians even have a religion?
« Reply #5 on: December 09, 2013, 07:40:36 pm »
Quote from: Vovk;131730
I need to not post when tired.

Addressing this, the tile wasn't that clearly thought out. What I mean to ask is, "What're some religious facts about the Scythians besides their strong connection to war?"... Something along those lines.

 
Shockingly, when the only written record you have of a people is from people who were at war with them, you get kind of an incomplete picture of what they were like.
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Atehequa

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Re: Did the Scythians even have a religion?
« Reply #6 on: December 09, 2013, 08:15:35 pm »
Quote from: Vovk;131699
Okay, okay, I know. It's a complete 'noob' thing to ask, but seriously...

Any time I try to study the Scythians and their belief system, it's always about spirit animals, Mars the god of war, war, tattoos, dying in battle, war, taking scalps, war, et cetera. My Ukrainian and Russian are definitely not past the conversational point, so looking up Eastern European sources is a headache.

Does anyone know anything about these people besides their obvious infatuation with violence? Let's talk.


One would think these ancient people of the steppe to be animistic. One thing is for certain, these Scythians indulged in the use of cannabis which played heavily into their cult of the dead which seems to be a form of ancestor worship.From the accounts of ancient Greek historian Herodotus who spent some time with these people, they would close themselves up within small felt or carpet tents and toss cannabis into burning cauldrons. Inside they would inhale the smoke. Herodotus states that when the Scythians emerged, they were rather joyous. I often wonder why these ancient potheads were so warlike?    

The Departure of the Scythians

From that citadel, one could hear
Those tortured souls sadly weeping
Horrible nightmares, fitful sleeping
Within their cold stone walls of fear
Bright lanterns casting a golden glow
Ever so tempting to the horde below

Those who are holding out in there
Surrounded, besieged and living in fear
Long watching for their rescue to appear
Hope waning from their eyes, they stare
Facing starvation they wait and worry
As the horde below seemed in no hurry

Hindsight is useless, how the truth stings
“They will never attack this mountain stronghold”
In this assumption, the Assyrian lord was overly bold
Much to the dismay of the Scythian kings
Hoping to catch these Assyrians on an open plain
Circling fast, letting their deadly arrows rain

The Medes reminded all how Nineveh fell
So would this outpost on the Assyrian border
Another such terrible siege would be in order
For how long and hard no one could tell
On this night another full moon has come
Rising to the blasting horn and pounding drum

Scourging what remained of the Assyrian Empire
Now in deadly progress and long overdue
From great Babylon to the high steppes of Urartu
Lowland valleys the Median kings desired
Singing war songs and whetting their swords
Administrating ill wishes of the Chaldean lords

Scythian nobles and warriors crowd the tent
A cannabis cauldron has filled it with smoke
Mirthful fighting men, how they laugh and joke
Quite fearless in their glassy eyed contentment
Little desire they had for continuing another siege
And less love they held for the Chaldean liege

At Nineveh their shares of the spoils were slight
Now there was much talk of being cheated
These Assyrians were broke and all but defeated
The Scythians decided to pull out later that night
Enjoying a good smoke bath, their minds at rest
Soon to be on the open steppes, they loved the best
Muckhswe kee sishet tepe?

RandallS

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Re: Did the Scythians even have a religion?
« Reply #7 on: December 10, 2013, 07:55:00 am »
Quote from: Valentine;131965
Shockingly, when the only written record you have of a people is from people who were at war with them, you get kind of an incomplete picture of what they were like.

And likely very biased as well. If the only records of the Japanese were stuff written about them by people who fought them in the WWII era, you'd get a very incomplete and extremely biased view.
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Re: Did the Scythians even have a religion?
« Reply #8 on: December 11, 2013, 02:26:48 am »
Quote from: Vovk;131699
Okay, okay, I know. It's a complete 'noob' thing to ask, but seriously...

Any time I try to study the Scythians and their belief system, it's always about spirit animals, Mars the god of war, war, tattoos, dying in battle, war, taking scalps, war, et cetera. My Ukrainian and Russian are definitely not past the conversational point, so looking up Eastern European sources is a headache.

Does anyone know anything about these people besides their obvious infatuation with violence? Let's talk.

 
Some of your problem here is that 'the Scythians' doesn't refer to a clearly-defined homogenous single culture.

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Valentine

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Re: Did the Scythians even have a religion?
« Reply #9 on: December 11, 2013, 04:47:29 pm »
Quote from: SunflowerP;132209
Some of your problem here is that 'the Scythians' doesn't refer to a clearly-defined homogenous single culture.

Sunflower

 
Right?  Here we get back to the original "define your terms" issue.  If the question is "Did the (people the Greeks called) Scythians have (what the Greeks recognized as) religion?" the answer is "maybe not, sort of," but if we're asking about the actual people, from their own perspective, it's muddy.  You have to decide who counts as Scythians and what counts as religion.  And when what you're going on is the Greek impression of a mostly-nomadic people who they more or less only come into contact with when they're fighting each other, without much knowledge of the interior of their territory, their home lives, what they look like when they're not fighting, what prayers they pray for all the other things they do...you're going to get a lot of distortion.

I see Herodotus cited above, and Herodotus is great, but it's important to remember that a lot of his information wasn't actually firsthand, it was from interviews of travelers.  (It's part of why in that popular passage about probably-cannabis, he calls it a tree and refers to it having fruits.)  Alongside wonderfully accurate descriptions of a lot of things, he also uncritically reports that India has giant man-eating ants that mine for gold, that the Nile sometimes runs backwards, that occasionally human women give birth to lion cubs, and so on.  And his accounts are distorted, understandably, by his own cultural standpoint--his sum-up of Zoroastrianism is roughly "they have a religion with just Zeus, it's pretty weird."  He's an entertaining and fascinating read, but we can't read him without a grain or seventy of salt.

In general, the Greek perspective on the Scythians has a lot of the exaggeration, contempt, and awe that any people has for an perennial opponent.  They talk a lot about Scythian battle prowess, and also characterize the Scythians as drunken, barbaric savages.  It's all pretty standard stuff.  (The drunken part is kind of funny; there's a good chance ancient Greek booze was adulterated with wood alcohol, as they talk about how drinking wine undiluted will make you go blind and crazy.  They diluted their wine heavily, but write about how the Scythians drank their wine straight-up--it may have been safer--leading to referring to drinking undiluted as "Scythian fashion/style" and the state of being totally trashed as Scythian.  They figured if they were seeing Scythians drinking such powerful stuff as undiluted wine, they must be drunk all the time.  That's the kind of thing that happens in cultural meetings like this.)
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Riothamus12

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Re: Did the Scythians even have a religion?
« Reply #10 on: December 12, 2013, 01:22:34 am »
Quote from: Vovk;131699
Okay, okay, I know. It's a complete 'noob' thing to ask, but seriously...

Any time I try to study the Scythians and their belief system, it's always about spirit animals, Mars the god of war, war, tattoos, dying in battle, war, taking scalps, war, et cetera. My Ukrainian and Russian are definitely not past the conversational point, so looking up Eastern European sources is a headache.

Does anyone know anything about these people besides their obvious infatuation with violence? Let's talk.

 Yes in fact they did. One can find a very short wiki page on the subject.
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stephyjh

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Did the Scythians even have a religion?
« Reply #11 on: December 12, 2013, 01:44:09 pm »
Quote from: Riothamus12;132346
Yes in fact they did. One can find a very short wiki page on the subject.

...and Wiki stubs are sources now?
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Riothamus12

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Re: Did the Scythians even have a religion?
« Reply #12 on: December 13, 2013, 06:01:42 pm »
Quote from: stephyjh;132395
...and Wiki stubs are sources now?

 Well those articles are cited now and it's a place to start. Scythians have not been the most popular ancient ethnic group to study.
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Rayne

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Re: Did the Scythians even have a religion?
« Reply #13 on: December 13, 2013, 11:34:30 pm »
Quote from: Riothamus12;132489
Well those articles are cited now and it's a place to start. Scythians have not been the most popular ancient ethnic group to study.

 
Have you (Riothamus) ever looked into any of the sources Wikipedia cites for that page?

Has anyone else here read any of them? I'm just curious.
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Re: Did the Scythians even have a religion?
« Reply #14 on: December 14, 2013, 01:45:24 am »
Quote from: Rayne;132503
Have you (Riothamus) ever looked into any of the sources Wikipedia cites for that page?

Has anyone else here read any of them? I'm just curious.

 
The thing that immediately strikes me about them is that they are all extremely short. Looking at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scythian_religion, I see:

1 page from a massive encyclopedia. (Blackwell Publishing is, in this case, an arm of Wiley, who are well known for library reference works, though I'm not as familiar with the Blackwell imprint.) However, any time you have a single page in a 498 page volume talking about a given topic, you can tell that there's not much detail there.

The 1827 book is - well, from 1827. Which is a little problematic. (Also, only two pages are cited, so there's clearly not much detailed information.)

Herodotus has already been discussed earlier, but again, all the problems of Herodotus. (And more to the point, this is a translation from 1904, which means that - well, a century of "how do we translate this better" has happened since. (Which can be particularly relevant if you're talking about social customs: another century means that there are more texts from other sources that have since been translated that might have parallel words, phrasing, or implication.)

The Rolle book again just cites 2 pages, and is 30+ years old now. (Though the Univ. of California Press suggests it's a good source as far as it goes.)

The Cambridge History of Iran - good publisher, likely high quality work, but the same two pages thing.

What I'd be *really* curious about, if I had these sources at hand, would be looking to see which of them cite each other.
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