The Scythian Family

As the Milesian or Scotic Irish Nation is descended from the Scythian family, it may not be out of place here to give a brief sketch of Scythia.

Japhet, son of Noah, was the ancestor of the Scythians. The name "Scythian" was applied to those nations who displayed skill in hunting and the use of the bow. In his Dictionary, Dr. O'Brien states that the word "Scythian" is derived from the Celtic word sciot, which, in the Irish language signifies a dart or arrow; and this derivation seems probable, as the Scythian nations, particularly the Parthians, were all famous archers. The Greek colonists on the north of the Euxine or Black Sea, hearing their Scythian neighbours frequently call archers, shooters, and hunters (who were very numerous among them), by the names of "Scuti," "Scythi," "Shuten," or "Schuten"—each of which signifies Scythians, applied that name to the whole nation. This word, or rather its ancient primary signification, is still preserved in the English, German, Lithuanian, Finnish, Livonian, Courlandish, Lapponian, Esthonian, and Prussian tongues: a fact which goes to prove that all these nations are of Scythian origin.

The Scythians were among the most warlike and valiant people of antiquity, and fought chiefly in war-chariots. They worshipped the sun, moon, and winds, and their chief deity was their god of war, called by the Greeks 'Ares; and Odin or Wodin, by the Goths, Germans, and Scandinavians. The Sacae, ancestors of the Saxons; the Sarmatae, progenitors of the Sarmatians; the Basternae, the Goths, the Vandals; the Daci or Dacians; the Scandinavians, the Germans; the Franks, who conquered France; the Suevi, Alans, Alemanni; the Longobards or Lombards; and many other tribes, were all powerful nations of the Scythian family. The Huns of Asia, who, under Attila in the fifth century, overran the Roman empire, are stated by some writers to have been Scythians; but that opinion is incorrect, for the Huns were of the Mongol or Tartar, while the Scythians were of the great Caucasian race. The name "Tartar,"—the modern appellation of the pastoral tribes of Europe and Asia—was unknown to the ancients; and the opinion that "Tartarus," the name of the infernal regions, was borrowed from the word "Tartar," on account of the gloomy aspect of the country about the Cimmerian Bosphorus, has no just foundation, as that word is a modern corruption: the genuine names being "Tatars" and "Tatary," not Tartars and Tartary.

Scythia was divided into two large portions—European and Asiatic: the former extending along the north of the Danube and the Euxine; the latter, beyond the Caspian Sea and the river Jaxartes (now Siboon). Scythia in Asia was divided by the chain of the Imaus mountains or Beloor Tag—a branch projecting north from the Indian Caucasus, now the Hindoo Cush or western part of the Himalayas. These divisions were distinguished by the names of Scythia intra, and Scythia extra, Imaum (or Scythia inside, and Scythia beyond, Imaus). Ancient Scythia included all the country to the north of the Ister (or Lower Danube), and east of the Carpathian mountains; extending north to the Hyperborean or Frozen Ocean, and eastwards as far as the Seres, on the west of China: an immense region, but still not commensurate with the whole of what is now called "Tartary," which extends to the north and west of China as far as the mouth of the Amoor.

Moving to the west, the Scythians settled in Scythia in Europe—that vast tract of country north of the Danube and Black Sea, and embracing what is now known as "European Russia." At a later period it was called Getae or Gothi; and, in a more advanced stage of geographical knowledge, "Sarmatia Europaea."

The term "Getae" is evidently a generic designation given to various tribes of Scythians, such as the Massa-Getae, the Thyssa-Getae, the Tyri-Getae, etc.; as, in later times, we read of the Meso-Gothi, the Visi-Gothi, the Ostro-Gothi: hence, as in the latter case, "Gothi" or "Goths" was the primary appellation, so in the former case was the term "Getae."

The "Getae" of the Gaels dwelt in Getulia or Lybia, in the north of Africa, where afterwards stood the city of Carthage: these Getae and the Carthaginians were identical in origin; but the "Getae" of Herodotus dwelt to the south of the Danube, and were by him classed as Thracians, while he extended Thrace to the Danube: thus making it include what in subsequent times was called Moesia, now known as Bulgaria. In the expedition of Alexander the Great, however, to the Danube, the Getae inhabited the north side of the stream. The Thyssa-Getae were located on the Volga;[1] the Tyri-Getae, on the Tyras or Dniester; and the Massa-Getae, on the Jaxartes, etc. The Scythia invaded by Darius, and described by Herodotus, extended in length from Hungary, Transylvania, and Western Wallachia, on the west, to the Don, on the east; and included the countries now known as Eastern Wallachia, the whole of Moldavia, and the Buckowina, Bessarabia, Boudjack, Little Tartary, Podolia, Wolhynia, Ukraine Proper, the province of Belgorod, and part of the country of the Don Cossacks. But, besides these countries, the ancient Scythia in Europe included the whole of European Russia, Poland, Scandinavia, Wallachia, stretching east from the Norwegian and Kiolin mountains, to the Uralian range. In the account of European Scythia given by Herodotus the peninsula of the "Tauri"—or Taurica Chersonesus (Crim. Tartary), as it was called—is not included. The Tauri were a savage, cruel, and inhospitable people; from this savage tribe and others of similar dispositions along its coast, it is not improbable that the Euxine acquired among the ancients the epithet of the "Inhospitable Sea."

Historians, in the accounts they have left us of the manners and character of the Scythians, relate things of them that are entirely opposite and contradictory. At one time they represent them as the justest and most moderate people in the world; at another, they describe them as a fierce and barbarous nation, which carried its cruelties to such excesses as are shocking to human nature. This contrariety is a manifest proof that those different characters are to be applied to different nations in that vast family; and that, although they were all comprehended under one and the same general denomination of "Scythians," we ought not to confound them or their characters together. According to Justin, they lived in great simplicity and innocence. They did not give the name of goods or riches to anything but what, humanly speaking, truly deserved that title: as health, strength, courage, the love of labour and liberty, innocence of life, sincerity, an abhorrence of all fraud and dissimulation, and, in a word, all such qualities as render man more virtuous and more valuable. If to these happy dispostions we could add the knowledge of the true God, without which the most exalted virtues are of little value, they would have been a perfect people.

"When," says Rollin, "we compare the manners of the Scythians with those of the present age, we are tempted to believe that the pencils which drew so beautiful a picture of them were not free from partiality; and that Justin and Horace have decked them with virtues that did not belong to them. But all antiquity agrees in giving the same testimony of them; and Homer, in particular, whose opinion ought to be of great weight, calls them the most just and upright of men."


[1] Volga: The ancestors of these Thyssa-Getae of Herodotus were, no doubt, the "Firbolgs" or "Firvolgians" (the men from the banks of the Volga), who, according to the Four Masters, invaded Ireland before the Tuatha-de-Danans.