translated by Shlomo Felberbaum

Text and photographs Copyright © 1999—2003 Lost Trails
all rights reserved

Installment 22

That then has been found out by them, their land being suitable and its rivers being their allies; for that land, being level, is grassy and well-watered and rivers flow through it not a great deal fewer in number than the trenches in Egypt. So, all those of them that are named and navigable from the sea I will mention by name. There’s the five-mouthed Ister and afterwards the Tyres, the Hypanis, the Borysthenes, the Panticapes, the Hypacyris, the Gerros and the Tanais and those flow in this fashion: the Ister, being the largest of all the rivers that we know, itself on each and every occasion flows equal to itself in both summer and winter and, being the first of those in the Scythian land to flow over what’s to the west, has become the largest in a fashion like this, that other rivers in fact discharge into it. And these are those that make it large: indeed through the Scythian country the five that flow on one hand, the one that the Scythians call the Porata and the Greeks the Pyretos, and another, the Tiarantos as well as the Araros, the Naparis and the Ordessos—the first of the rivers spoken of, large and flowing to the east, communicates its water to the Ister, while the second spoken of, the Tiarantos, is more to the west and smaller, whereas indeed the Araros, the Naparis and the Ordessos flow through the middle of those and pour into the Ister—those on one hand are the Scythian rivers original to the place that join in filling it; on the other from the Agathyrsians the Maris river flows and is mixed with the Ister and from Haemos’ peaks three other large ones flow to the north wind and pour out into it, the Atlas, the Auras and the Tibisis, while through Thrace and the Crobuzian Thracians flow the Athrys, the Noes and the Aptanes and they discharge into the Ister, from the Paeonians and a mountain, Rhodope, the Scios river splits the Haemos in its middle and discharges into it, from the Illyrians flows to the north wind the Angros river and pours into the Triballician plain and into the river Brongos and the Brongos into the Ister (thus the Ister receives both that are large) and from the country further inland of the Ombricians the Carpis river and another, the Alpis, even those, to the North wind flow and discharge into it. For indeed the Ister flows through all Europe by beginning from the Celts, who farthest toward the sun’s sinkings after the Cynetes are settled of those in Europe, and in flowing through all Europe pours into the sides of the Scythian land.

Therefore, those described and many other bodies contributing their water, the Ister proves the largest of rivers, since, at least to compare one water to one, the Nile in volume is surpassing; for indeed into that neither a river nor any spring by discharging contributes to its volume. Moreover, the Ister flows equal on each and every occasion in summer and winter in accordance with something like this, as it seems to me: in the winter it is just as large as it is and becomes a little larger than its nature, because that land is rained on in the winter altogether little and makes use of snowfall in all its parts, while in the summer the snow that fell in the winter, being abundant, is melted on all sides and discharges into the Ister. That snow indeed in discharging into it joins in its filling and many violent showers with it; for indeed it rains during the summer. The more water then the sun draws to itself in the summer than in the winter, the many times larger what is mixed with the Ister is within the summer than within the winter and that by being put in opposition becomes a weight in opposition so as for it to manifestly be equal on each and every occasion.

Indeed one of the rivers of the Scythians is the Ister and after that is theTyres, which sets off from the north wind and begins flowing from the large lake that borders the Scythian and the Neurian land, and by its mouth have settled down the Greeks, who are called Tyresians.

Then a third, the Hypanis river, sets off from the Scythian land and flows from the large lake, around which graze wild white horses, and that lake is correctly called the mother of the Hypanis. From that therefore rises up the Hypanis river and flows over five days’ sailing’s extent still shallow and sweet and from then on toward the sea four days’ sailing it’s awfully bitter. For a bitter spring discharges into it and is somewhat quite so bitter that, although it is small in size, it mixes with the Hypanis, although it is large like few, and that spring is in the borders of the country of the ploughing Scythians and Alizonians and the spring’s name and the place’s whence it flows in Scythian is Exampaeus and according to the Greeks’s tongue Sacred Roads. So the Tyres and the Hypanis draw together their limits at the Alizonians and from there on in turning away each one flows and broadens the space between.

Then there’s a fourth, the Borysthenes river, which is the greatest after the Ister of those and the most sufficient for much according to our judgements not only in some respect of the Scythian rivers, but also of all the others together, except the Egyptian Nile; for to that it is not possible to compare another river, but of the remaining the Borysthenes is the most sufficient for much, which furnishes itself the most beautiful and most well cared for pasturages for cattle and the pre-eminently best and most fish, is the most pleasant to be drunk and flows pure beside turbid bodies, while by it the best sown produce is produced and the deepest grass, where the country is not sown. Moreover, salt-deposits on its mouth on their own are made solid abundantly and large sea beings without spines, which they call ‘antacaeans’, it furnishes itself for pickling and many other things worth marvelling at. Now, up to a place, Gerrus, to which is forty days’ sailing, it is known in its flowing from the north wind, while regarding what’s farther inland the human beings, through whom it flows, no one can point out, but it manifestly flows through a desert to the farming Scythians’ country; for those Scythians alongside it over ten days’ sailing’s extent are inhabitants. Further, of that river alone and the Nile I cannot point out the springs and not, I think, anyone of the Greeks. Near the sea indeed the Borysthenes in its flowing comes to be and the Hypanis is mixed with it by discharging into the same marsh. Finally, what’s between those rivers, being the country’s tongue, is called Hippolaus’ promontory, on it a shrine for Demeter is set up and opposite to the shrine by the Hypanis the Borysthenians have settled down.

That’s what’s from those rivers and after those there’s another river, a fifth, whose name’s Panticapes and that too flows from the North and out of a lake and what’s between that and the Borysthenes the farming Scythians inhabit; then it discharges into Hylaea and, after it has passed that by, is mixed with the Borysthenes.

Then sixth is the Hypacyris river, which sets off from a lake and flows through the middle of the pastoral Scythians and discharges by the city of Carcine by skirting to the right Hylaea and what is called Achilles’s course.

Then the seventh river, the Gerrus, is split away from the Borysthenes at that point in the country, to which the Borysthenes is known. Now, it is split from that place and has the very name that the place itself does, Gerrus, while it flows to the sea and borders the country of the pastoral ones and that of of the royal Scythians; then it discharges into the Hypacyris.

Then indeed there’s the eighth river, the Tanais, which flows in its origin by setting off from a large lake and discharges into a still larger lake called Maeetian that borders the royal Scythians and the Sauromatians. And into the Tanais there another river pours, whose name is the Hyrgis.

Indeed with those named rivers quite thus somehow the Scythians are furnished and for the cattle the grass that grows in the Scythian land is most productive of bile of all grasses that we know and, when the cattle are opened, it is possible to judge that that is so.

The most important things thus are easily gotten by them and the remaining customs are established for them in accordance with the following: they propitiate these gods alone, Istia, in addition Zeus and Ge, as they believe Ge is Zeus’ wife, and after those Apollo, heavenly Aphrodite, Heracles and Ares. All those the Scythians have had customarily, while the royal Scythians sacrifice to Poseidon too. These are named in Scythian: Istia Tabiti, Zeus (called most correctly at least according to my opinion) Papaeus, Ge Api, Apollo Goetosyrus, heavenly Aphrodite Argimpasa and Poseidon Thagimasadas. Further, images, altars and temples they are not accustomed to make except for Ares; so for that one they are accustomed.

And the same way of sacrificing is established concerning all the sacred animals alike, since it is performed this way: the sacred victim itself, bound at its feet, its front feet, is in a standing position and the sacrificer, in a standing position behind the animal, draws the beginning of the cord and throws it down; then, as the sacred victim falls, he calls on whichever god he is sacrificing to and thereafter with a noose he then encircles its neck; then, after he has inserted a stick, he gives a twist around and causes strangulation, as he neither kindles fire nor performs an initiatory rite nor pours libations. Finally, having caused strangulation and completed flaying, he turns to boiling.

So, since the Scythian land is awfully woodless, this way for the boiling of the pieces of meat a finding has been made: whenever they flay the sacred victims, they strip the bones of their pieces of meat and thereafter they throw them into native cauldrons, if in fact they have them, approximately like Lesbian bowls, except that they’re far larger. Having thrown them into those, they boil them by burning the bones of the pieces of meat underneath. So if no cauldron is by them, they then, after they have thrown into the bellies of the sacred victims all the pieces of meat and admixed water, burn the bones underneath, and they blaze most beautifully, while the bellies contain easily the pieces of meat made bare of their bones. And thus a bull boils itself thoroughly and all the other sacred victims, each itself. Then, whenever the pieces of meat are boiled, the sacrificer takes the first-fruits of the pieces of meat and the inwards and casts them into the place before him. And they sacrifice both all the other cattle and horses most.

Indeed to all the rest of the gods they sacrifice thus and those of the cattle, but to Ares this way: district by district for each of the places of rule had been set up by them a shrine for Ares like this: bundles of firewood are piled together approximately over three stades’ extent in length and breadth, but the height’s less. And above that a square plane has been made and three of its sides are precipitous, but at one it’s accessible. So each year they pile on a hundred and fifty wagons of firewood; for indeed it subsides on each and every occasion through the agency of the storms. On that pile indeed an iron sword has been set up anciently for each group and that is Ares’ image. Then to that sword they bring yearly sacrifices of cattle and horses and, what’s more, to these objects right here they sacrifice still more than to all the other gods. Of all of their enemies whichever they take alive, from a hundred one man they sacrifice not in the same manner as the cattle, but in another: for, whenever they pour a libation of wine down on their heads, they cut the throat of the human beings into a vessel and thereafter they bring up, up on the pile of the pieces of firewood, and pour down on the sword the blood. Up indeed they carry that and down by the shrine they do this: all the right shoulders of the men cut on their throats they cut away together with their arms and throw into the lower air and thereafter they finish off all the other sacred victims too and depart; so the arm, wherever it falls, lies and apart is the corpse.

Now, those are the sacrificings established for them and those use boars customarily not at all and are entirely not willing to rear them in their country.

What relates to war is disposed for them this way: whenever a Scythian man overthrows his first man, he takes a drink of his blood, and all the heads of those whomever he kills in the battle he brings away to the king; for, if he brings away a head, he takes a share of whatever booty they take a hold of and, if he does not bring one away, he does not. Then he flays it in a manner like this: having cut in a circle round the ears and taken hold of the head for himself, he shakes it out, afterward, when he has removed the flesh with a bull’s rib, he kneads it with his hands and, when he has worked it, he possesses it as if a cloth for wiping hands and to the bridles of the horse that he himself rides, to that, he ties it and glories; for, whoever has the most clothes for wiping the hands, that one is judged the best man. And many of them from the scalps make cloaks to put on themselves too by sewing them together just according as coats of skin, many flay the right hands of hostile men, when they are corpses, with nails and all and make themselves covers for their quivers (a human being’s skin is after all, as it turned out, both thick and brilliant, almost the most brilliant of all skins in whiteness) and many, after they have flayed even whole men completely and stretched them on pieces of wood, on horses bring them round.

Those usages indeed thus has been practiced customarily by them, whereas to the heads themselves in no way of all, but of the most hostile, they do this: one saws off all below the brows and performs a cleaning out and, if one is a pauper, one stretches round outside rawhide only and uses it thus, and if one is rich, one stretches round the rawhide and, having inside gilded it utterly, thus uses it as a drinking cup. And they make that also out of those of their house, if they come to be hostile to them and if one prevails over another with the king. Then, when foreigners have come to one whomever one considers of account, one brings by those heads and says in explanation that they, being those of his house, imposed war and over them he himself prevailed, since they speak of that as manly goodness.

Then once each year each district ruler in his own district mixes a bowl of wine, from which those of the Scythians drink by whomever enemy men have been taken off, whereas they by whomever that has not been worked out taste not of the wine, but rather dishonored sit down apart and that is the greatest disgrace for them, while all those of them whoever have taken off quite very many men, then have and drink two cups together at once.

Now, there are many prophets among the Scythians, who prophesy with many wands of willow this way: whenever they bring themselves large bundles of wands, they place on the ground and completely unroll them and, as they place each wand one by one, they prophesy; finally, at the same time as they make those statements, they wrap the wands back together and again one by one put them together. That is their fathers’ way of prophesying and the Enarees, the men-women, say Aphrodite gave prophecy to them; hence, they prophesy with a lime tree’s bark; whenever one splits the lime tree in three, as he entwines it thoroughly in his fingers and unlooses it thoroughly, he proclaims an oracle.

Further, whenever the king of the Scythians falls ill, he sends for the three most well esteemed men among the prophets, who prophesy in the said manner, and those say generally approximately this, that by the royal hearths has sworn falsely such and such—and they say among their townspeople precisely whomever they say. (By the royal hearths a law for Scythians especially is to swear then whenever they are willing to swear the greatest oath.) So forthwith that one is taken a hold of and brought precisely whoever they assert swore falsely and, on his having come, the prophets make an accusation against him, that he swore falsely manifestly in their prophecy by the royal hearths and on account of that the king is sick. Then he makes a denial with the assertion for himself that he did not swear falsely and complains indignantly. So, that one making denial, the king sends for twice as many other prophets and if those too look to their prophecy and convict of swearing falsely, then they straightway cut off his head and the first of the prophets divide by lot his things, but if the prophets who come after make an acquittal, other prophets are present and again others. If therefore the greater number acquit the human being, it is thought good for the first of the prophets themselves to be destroyed.

So they destroy them in a manner like this: whenever they fill a wagon with sticks and yoke bulls underneath, after they have fettered the prophets, bound hands back and gagged mouths, they shut them up in the middle of the sticks and, when they have set them on fire, they release the bulls off by frightening them. Indeed many bulls are burned up with the prophets and many burnt round flee away, whenever their pole is burnt up. They also burn up in the said manner on account of other reasons too the prophets and call them false prophets. And of those whomever the king kills he leaves not even the sons; rather he kills all the males, but does no injustice to the females.

Now, the Scythians make oaths this way with whomever they make them: into a large earthen cup they pour wine and mix in blood of those who are swearing the oath; they strike with an awl or cut superficially with a knife a little of the body and thereafter dip away into the cup a sword, arrows, a battle-axe and a javelin. Then whenever they do that, they make many prayers and thereafter drink up, those who are making the oath themselves and among their followers those worth most.

(to be continued)

Text and photographs Copyright © 1999—2003 Lost Trails
all rights reserved