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European Kingdoms



Tauri (Tauro-Scythians)
Incorporating the Arichi, Napaei, & Sinchi

FeatureAs the successors of the Srubna/Timber-Grave culture of southern Russia, Scythians were semi-nomadic pastoralists who occupied much of the Pontic-Caspian steppe. In this they were no different to their ancestors, Indo-Europeans whose massive outward migrations formed the Yamnaya horizon between about 3500-2500 BC (see feature link).

While the western branch of the Indo-European-speaking groups - the centum-speakers - largely headed towards Central Europe and Scandinavia, the eastern branches were much less adventurous at first, generally filling the void on the steppe. These groups, classed as Indo-Iranians, would eventually supply migratory peoples such as the Persians, Medians, and Indo-Aryans.

FeatureThey also supplied the Sakas and Scythians, generally one and the same people, albeit differentiated by some ancient authors. In effect they can be divided into eastern and western steppe Indo-Iranians respectively. Both names almost certainly come from the same original word, which may mean 'knife' or 'sword' (see feature link, right). Their land became known to the Greeks as Scythia, and that name easily outlasted the political and cultural unity (if such a thing existed) of the Scythians themselves.

The Tauri were well known by ancient Greek writers as having a mixed heritage which was part Scythian, then the dominant force on the steppe. They had long been settled along the southern coast of what is now Crimea and in the mountains which separate the southern Crimean coast from the rest of the peninsula. They first entered the historical record in the fifth century BC thanks to Herodotus. In his words they occupied the mountains between ancient 'Kerkinitis and Rocky Chersonesos' or, in modern terms, the city of Yevpatoriya and the Kerch peninsula.

FeatureIn fact they were known for existing only in Crimea, never anywhere else, and never migrating away from there. That long-lasting presence suggests that they were Indo-Iranians as it was this group which had the steppe to itself from no later than 2000 BC and the very end of the Yamnaya horizon. Scythians were also Indo-Iranians, but from farther east originally, so some minor variations may have emerged in terms of customs and language. Alternatively the Tauri could largely have been West Indo-Europeans who had failed to join the Yamnaya migrations and who were subsequently dominated by Indo-Iranian hegemony (see feature link).

Known alternatively as Tauri or Taurians, they were also frequently referred to by ancient writers as Scythotauri, Tauri Scythae, or even Tauroscythaehe, revealing the common conception that their original Tauri heritage had become mixed with that of the Scythians.

Various theories exist to explain the origin of the name Tauri, none of which can be classed as being definitive. Mikhail Rostovtsev's long-popular hypothesis saw 'Tauri' as being Graecised form of an indigenous name which had a similar pronunciation. The Greek 'tauroi' means 'bulls'. According to Pokorny, the proto-Indo-European root 'teu' gave rise to a word which was used used for the words 'cattle' or 'bull' (in Armenian this was possibly 'ts'ul', meaning 'bull'). Perhaps the name was extended to mean 'cattlemen' (in effect, 'cowboys').

Less popularly, Ella Solomonik claimed the tribe's name had originated in the Greek name for the Crimean mountains, 'Tauros', making the tribe 'the mountaineers'. Unfortunately, almost nothing is known about the language spoken by the Tauri. Little other than a few Tauri names survived, but scholarship does seem to generally accept that the Tauri were Indo-Iranian descendants of the Srubna/Timber-Grave culture.

While the Greeks had founded colonies along almost the entire Black Sea coastline, they found the Tauri to be especially hostile. Herodotus noted that they sacrificed to their virgin goddess any Greek survivors from shipwrecks or vessels which they captured on the open sea. In the sanctuary of their chief goddess, the Tauri nailed the heads of their victims to poles and threw the bodies from a cliff or, according to another account, buried them. Cist graves litter Tauri territory across southern Crimea, possibly (but not certainly) part of the Kizil-Koba culture, although pretty much all of them have been plundered. Multiple burials took place in each grave, probably from the same families or groups.

Three constituent tribes were noted by the fourth century AD historian, Ammianus Marcellinus, in the form of the Arichi, Napaei, and Sinchi. These tribes were extraordinarily severe, apparently, suggesting that they were the leading instigators when it came to seizing and killing Roman and Greek seafarers. Their appearance has been conjectured as being late, however, part of a gradual fracturing of a once-united Tauri grouping.

Sakas on a frieze at Persepolis

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, from The Scyths, T Sulimirski (The Cambridge History of Iran: Volume 2: The Median and Achaemenian Periods, I Gershevitch (Ed), Cambridge University Press, 1985), from Rome and the Nomads: The Pontic-Danubian Realm in Antiquity, Roger Batty (Oxford University Press, 2007), from The Origin and Deeds of the Goths, Jordanes, and from External Links: Encyclopaedia of Ukrainian History (in Ukrainian), and Rites of the Scythians (Archaeology), and The Taurians, I N Khrapunov (About Chersonesos, 1995), and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed), and Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny.)

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.

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)

These Scythians introduce eastern types of horse gear, oriental animal art, timber graves, and inhumation rites (gaining the name of Timber-Grave culture from this). Before entering Central Europe, they conquer the Cimmerians on the northern shores of the Black Sea and in the northern Caucasus, driving them out.

FeatureOnce dominant on the steppe, it would have been the Agathyrsi which commanded the remaining population of West Indo-Europeans who had remained on the steppe (see feature link). But now the Scythians drive out the Agathyrsi to dominate the northern Black Sea region. This would seem to be the point at which the Tauri also become dominated by them, and the process begins of intermixing between the two groups.

6th century BC

Some Tauri tribes migrate to Crimea's mountains and southern coast, perhaps to escape recent Scythian domination. There they form an economic-cultural group which is connected with transhumance and possibly with piracy. Differences in economy and a degree of territorial separation result in these southern Tauri creating specific features in their material and spiritual culture which differentiates them from other Tauri to their north. It is the southern Tauri who retain their identity.

Crimea's southern coast
Crimea's southern coast largely consists of mountains and sharp descents towards the sea line, all of which was inhabited by the Tauri and then the Tauric Ostrogoths

513 - 512 BC

As the centuries have gone by, the Scythians have become involved in wars against the invading Persians. Thanks to this the northern tribes along Scythian borders are also disturbed. Herodotus describes these wars in Book IV of his history, these being the earliest surviving written records concerning the history of Eastern Europe, at the end of the sixth century BC.

Herodotus mentions and approximately locates the seats of the Neuri, Androphagi, Melanchlaeni, Budini, and other tribes living to the north of Scythia. With the Pripet marshes seemingly the natural border between Scythia and the Neuri, the latter dwell beyond the Scythian farmers (Slavs) at the headwaters of the Dnieper (which Herodotus calls the Borysfen, meaning 'river from the north'), in what is now Belarus and probably northern Ukraine too. Their neighbours are the Androphagi, identified with the Mordvins of central Russia, to the east of the lower Oka.

River Dnieper (Ukraine section)
The River Dnieper - the Borysfen to Herodotus, the Danapris to the Romans - long provided a conduit between the Black Sea and the Baltic lands to the north with the Neuri living around its headwaters in modern Belarus

fl 513 BC


Unnamed Agathyrsi king during the Persian expedition.

The Scythians under Idanthyrsus seek help from the northern nations, along with the Agathyrsi and Tauri, to counter the Persian attack. He summons the kings of neighbouring tribes and so that they can discuss the situation. The Budini, Gerrians, and Sarmatians agree to help the Scythians, while the Agathyrsi, Androphagi, Melanchlaeni, Neuri, and Tauri all refuse.

The Budini suffer the burning-down of one of their large fortified cities at the hands of Darius I as a result of the alliance. The others also suffer when the Scythians purposely retreat before the Persians and into their lands.

The Melanchlaeni are first, followed by the Androphagi and Neuri. All flee into the north as both armies enter their lands. The Agathyrsi stand firm though, threatening to attack either army should it come near. The threat works and the war recedes.

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)

5th century BC

A gravestone which is later uncovered in Pantikapaion is dated to this century. It preserves an inscription in verse for one Tychon, 'Taurian by birth'. Panticapaeum is a Greek colony at the very eastern end of Taurica (today's Crimea).

c.310 - 304 BC

Diodoros of Sicily uses what is probably a source from one of the Black Sea Greek colonies when he writes that the Bosporan king, Eumelos, successfully struggles against pirates in Pontos (the Black Sea), amongst which Diodoros lists the Tauri.

c.200 BC

Kizil-Koba culture ceases to exist in the fourth century or, at the very latest, in the third century BC. If the southern Tauri are indeed part of this culture then they subsequently leave the archaeological record, although they certainly continue as a specific ethnic group.

Kizil-Koba culture pots
Kizil-Koba culture pottery which was located across a wide southern band of Crimea includes this (probable) cheese curd strainer (on the right)

c.113 - 88 BC

Over the course of the first thirty years of his reign, Mithradates VI Eupator of Pontus methodically captures and adds neighbouring kingdoms and territories to his own realm, including Taurica of the Tauri which is formed into the Cimmerian Bosporus kingdom), Paphlagonia, and also Cappadocia, and makes Armenia an ally.

Though opposed by the Romans in theory, little is done due mainly to Roman wars in Africa (Jugurtha), continuing social disorder, and the crisis of the semi-Germanic Cimbri and Teutones invasions. Pontic Greek culture seems not to penetrate far beyond the colony cities, however, given the fact that the Tauri remain fierce and hostile.

100s BC

Scilurus is both the father of a Scythian king and the son of one, while himself also serving as king during part of his own lifetime. His capital is Scythian Neapolis (or 'new town'), founded in the third century BC and surviving until the third century AD when it is destroyed by Goths. It is located on the Tauric Chersonesus (the land of the Tauri, today's Crimea), although the surviving ruins are surrounded by the town of Simferopol.

49 BC

When Roman ships are returning home from the region between the joint kingdoms of Pontus and the Bosporus, some are cast onto the Tauric (Crimean) coastline. To a man the shipwrecked Romans are wiped out by the hostile Tauri there. Clearly the subjugated Tauri have lost none of their ferocity.

Map of the Caucuses
During the first two centuries AD the kingdom of Armenia was used as a buffer state and battlefield by the Romans and Parthians, while Pontus remained a close ally of Armenia until it was conquered by Rome in AD 63 (click or tap on map to view full sized)

AD 10 - 23

Two dedicatory inscriptions are known for Aspurgus of the Bosporan kingdom which state that he makes the Scythians and Tauri his subjects. One of these inscriptions is dated precisely to AD 23, showing that this claimed subjugation takes place between AD 10-23. Pliny also mentions the Napaei as being conquered at some point by the Spali.

c.150 - 200

Far from remaining settled where they are in Willenberg Poland, the Goths gradually renew a migration which sees them shifting slowly southwards from the Oder and Vistula, heading on a path which will eventually take them into Ukraine and the northern Black Sea coastline - Scythia.

Jordanes states that they first migrate to Lake Maeotis (the modern Sea of Azov, at the north-eastern corner of the Black Sea). Then a second migration takes them westwards along the northern Black Sea coast into Moesia (on the southern bank of the Danube), Thrace (to the south of Moesia), and Dacia (north of the Danube).

FeatureA third migration takes them back into Scythia where hybrid Indo-Iranian-Turkic tribes are beginning to settle from farther east, such as the proto-Bulgars, to subsume the Scythians. Even so, the Goths are culturally influenced by their new subjects (see feature link).

Ukrainian steppe
Migrating to the open steppeland of Ukraine (Scythia to the ancients, this photo being of Askania-Nova, immediately to the north of Crimea) also marked a return by the Goths to their Indo-European homeland of at least two thousand years previously, although they wouldn't have known anything about that

A contingent of Goths settles in Crimea where it integrates into the existing Tauri population and essentially overrides its identity when it becomes known as the Tauric Ostrogoths. When the Hunnic invasion across the Volga in AD 372 forces both main groups of Goths to head westwards, the Tauric Goths remain behind in Crimea.

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