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625 BC - 607 BC - Scythians

In 625 the king of the Medes was suddenly attacked by a numerous army of Scythians, under Madyas their king. These Scythians were not auxiliaries hastening to the assistance of the king of Assyria; they were a barbarous race, who were migrating with no specially defined purpose. A war had broken out between them and their neighbors, the Cimmerians, in the plains north of the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus. Having conquered the Cimmerians, the Scythians, in pursuit of them, had crossed the defiles of the Caucasus, and marching straight on, not knowing whither they went, rushed like a torrent into Media. Cyaxares attempted to stop them, but lost a battle ; and in one day fell from the position of the master of great part of Asia to that of a subject of these barbarians.

The Scythians ruled all Western Asia for eighteen years. From Media, where they established their head quarters, they threw themselves into Assyria, Osrhoene, Syria, and Palestine, where they plundered the famous temple of Derceto at Ascalon, and stopped only at the frontier of Egypt, where Psammetik I. purchased their retreat with bribes. This was a terrible invasion of barbarians, whose cruelties and ravages were as dreadful as those of their descendants in the Middle Ages, the Tartars of Genghis and Timour. They ruined all the countries they occupied by their violence and robbery. Beyond the ordinary tribute, as Herodotus tells us,* they exacted from each person an arbitrary impost as ransom for his life and goods; and besides these exactions, they scoured the whole country, and pillaged all they could lay hands on.

The prophet Jeremiah, seeing them approach the frontiers of Judah, spoke of them in these terms (Jer. vi. 22, 23; viii. 16; ix. 10): "Behold, a people cometh from the north country, and a great nation shall be raised up from the sides of the earth. They shall lay hold on bow and spear; they are cruel, and have no mercy; their voice roareth like the sea; and they ride upon horses, set in array as men for war against thee, O daughter of Zion The snorting of his horses was heard from Dan: the whole land trembled at the sound of the neighing of his strong ones; for they are come, and have devoured the land, and all that is in it; the city, and those that dwell therein. . . For the mountains will I take up a weeping and wailing, and for the habitations of the wilderness a lamentation, because they are burned up, so that none can pass through them; neither can men hear the voice of the cattle; both the fowl of the heavens and the beast are fled; they are gone." And again (Jer. v. 15):-"Lo, I will bring a nation upon you from far, O house of Israel, saith the Lord; it is a mighty nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language thou knowest not, neither understandest what they say. Their quiver is as an open sepulchre, they are all mighty men. And they shall eat up thine harvest, and thy bread, which thy sons and thy daughters should eat: they shall eat up thy flocks and thine herds: they shall eat up thy vines and thy fig trees : they shall impoverish thy fenced cities, wherein thou trustedst, with the sword."

The Medes suffered more than any others from these invaders, who established themselves in their country as though they never intended to leave it, and they were only enabled to achieve their deliverance by treachery. Cyaxares and the Median nobles invited the king and chiefs of the Scythians to a feast; there they intoxicated them and murdered them in their drunkenness. Then the whole population of Media, agriculturists and shepherds as well as warriors, Turanians as well as Iranians, rose in a body and put to death all the Scythians they could find, an easy prey when deprived of their chiefs; part of them took to flight, and by way of the Caucasus regained their native plains; some others escaped with life, but were reduced to slavery and allowed to live in some districts of Media. Thus it was that the Medes regained both their liberty and their supremacy over the countries they had formerly ruled.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:45:41 ZULU