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European Kingdoms

Barbarians

 

Sindi (Maeotians? / Scythians?) (North Caucasus)

FeatureDuring the first millennium BC (and likely for much of the largely-unrecorded second millennium BC too) various Indo-Iranian tribes of the East Indo-European division dominated the Pontic-Caspian steppe. They took control from remaining West Indo-European groups (see feature link), with the Agathyrsi rising early to supremacy over the other tribes. They in turn were superseded by the Scythians, and it was they who imposed a ruling elite over the early Sarmatians and Alani.

Immediately to the south of all this steppe migration and domination, though, was the Caucasus mountains and its very mixed collection of groups and peoples. This was and remains today a geographically complex area of mountain ranges, plateaus, foothills, plains, rivers, and lakes, complete with regions of grassland, forest, marshes, and dry steppe in that order as the mountains become increasingly distant.

The North Caucasus follows this pattern precisely, while the South Caucasus drifts into the arid plains of north-eastern Anatolia, into today's Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. This complex of regions harbours more than fifty separate peoples even today, ranging from language communities with only a few hundred speakers to large national groups which number in the millions.

This diversity goes right back to the earliest recorded inhabitants. Pliny the Elder related the fact that the Romans had to carry out their business in the region through eighty interpreters. Later Arab geographers referred to the Caucasus as Jabal al-Alsun, the 'Mountain of Languages'.

FeatureThe languages of the Caucasus belong to four families: Caucasian (or Palaeo-Caucasian), Indo-European, Semitic, and Turkic. Whereas speakers of the latter three groups are known to have migrated into the Caucasus in various historical periods and in the order listed, speakers of the Caucasian languages have occupied the area since the earliest arrival of anatomically modern humans (see feature link for the full Hominid Chronology).

The Maeotians occupied the Maeotian marshes - Lake Maeotis - the territory at the mouth of the Tanais (today's River Don) as it exits into the Sea of Azov. One of their tribes was known as the Sindi (or Sindoi in Latinised Greek). This was the best-attested of a very poorly-recorded bunch of small tribes. It may even have been the biggest, most dominant tribe of a large array of small and very small tribes in the region.

Otherwise known as Sindones or Sindianoi, they have been classified as Scythians, but are generally thought of as Maeotians. The region was under Scythian domination during the seventh to fourth centuries BC so, most likely, they received a heavy dose of Scythian influence as they migrated outwards.

Alternatively, though, the tribe was formed when a Scythian warband settled amongst a Maeotian population and received a cultural infusion from them. The fact that the Sindi elite used kurgan mound burials while the general population followed the Maeotian practice of preferring flat cemeteries would appear to support this. The Sindi were also heavily influence by the Greeks of the Bosporan kingdom.

Adyghe national dress in the Caucasus

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, from the Encyclopaedia of Indo-European Culture, J P Mallory & D Q Adams (Eds, 1997), from The Scythian Domination in Western Asia: Its Record in History, Scripture, and Archaeology, E D Phillips (World Archaeology, 1972), from The Scythian: His Rise and Fall, James William Johnson (Journal of the History of Ideas, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1959), from The Scythians: Invading Hordes from the Russian Steppes, Edwin Yamauchi (The Biblical Archaeologist, 1983), and from External Links: Studies in the History and Language of the Sarmatians, and Linguistics Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, and Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny, and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed), and Sarmatians (Encyclopaedia Britannica), and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Rites of the Scythians (Archaeology).)

12th century BC

Iron appears in Central Europe in this century, but not until the eighth century BC does it revolutionise lives and only then does it reach Northern Europe. Between the eighth and sixth centuries BC iron is still extremely rare in territory which is controlled by the Balts, and the general cultural level continues to have almost a pure Bronze Age character.

Scythian warriors
The appearance of ferocious mounted Scythian warriors in the lands to the south of the Balts must have instilled a sense of worry and fear in many groups, but the Balts always managed to remain independent of their control (although armour such as that pictured here certainly did not appear so early)

The dividing line at about the end of the eighth century BC signifies a change in culture due not so much to technological innovation as to new historical events - the appearance of the Scythians as a recognisable collective entity (any precise dating for that appearance being, of course, debatable).

They swiftly dominate the steppe, while also culturally intruding into existing groups such as the Tauri, and possibly form new ones such as the Sindi.

c.800 - 600 BC

This is the period of Scythian expansion from the Black Sea area into Central Europe. These steppe horsemen who appear in Moravia (now eastern Czechia), and what is now Romania and Hungary (and who are almost certainly but not inarguably Scythians) are the successors of the southern Russian Srubna culture of the Bronze Age which itself had constantly been pushing towards the west.

Map of Scythian Lands around 500 BC
This map attempts to show the Scythian lands at their greatest extent, failing to extend northwards thanks to the Balts (click or tap on map to view full sized)

These Scythians (which include a detachment of Sindi and probably the Sigynnae too) introduce eastern types of horse gear, oriental animal art, timber graves, and inhumation rites (gaining the name of Timber-Grave culture from this).

The outward edge of this advance, when it reaches the middle Danube, would appear to be responsible for forming the Mezőcsát culture there.

The Sindi detachment settles on the Hungarian plain, eventually losing contact with the main Scythian host, never mind the Maeotians whom they have long since left behind.

The River Danube
Lying at the extreme western end of the vast Pontic-Caspian steppe, the River Danube had provided an east-west migratory conduit since at least the Yamnaya horizon of the fourth millennium BC

They are noted by Apollonius of Rhodes as living alongside the Grauci and Sigynnae on the 'plain of Laurion'. This is thought to be the eastern Pannonian basin (otherwise known as the Carpathian basin), essentially the later Transylvania. Herodotus notes them as living to the north of Thrace. The region later falls under Celtic and Illyrian domination.

c.513 BC

The Scythians, dominant on the Pontic steppe, do not succeed in penetrating the defences of the Balts in the north. Only a few arrowheads of Scythian type have been found in East Prussia and southern Lithuania. A chain of western Baltic strongholds in northern Poland and in the southern part of East Prussia arise which very probably are built for resisting the invaders.

The Scythian high tide wanes towards the end of the fifth century BC. After that they no longer appear in the north, and possibly it is Baltic resistance which helps to end the Scythian threat. They also lose ground in terms of controlling the Maeotians.

Scythian Amazon burial remains at Devitsa
In 2019 findings were announced regarding four female Scythian burials at Devitsa in Russia (to the north-east of the border with Ukraine), all of which could be dated to the 300s BC and which contained weapons - the eldest of the four women was even buried 'in the position of a horseman', riding as one of Herodotus' warrior Amazons would have done (see reference link in the sources)

The bulk of the Sindi with their seemingly-confused heritage remain there, alongside the Maeotians, in their own region known as Sindica (today's Krasnodar), although this area is soon annexed by the Bosporan kingdom and is later wholly dominated by the Sarmatians.

 
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