Scythian archers

The Scythian archers were a hypothesized police force of 5th- and early 4th-century BC Athens that is recorded in some Greek artworks and literature. The force is said to have consisted of 300 armed Scythians (a nomadic people living in the Eurasian Steppe) who were public slaves in Athens. They acted for a group of eleven elected Athenian magistrates "who were responsible for arrests and executions and for some aspects of public order" in the city.

Scythian archers
Skythian archer plate BM E135 by Epiktetos
An Attic red-figure vase-painting of a Scythian archer by Epiktetos, 520–500 BC
Agency overview
Formed5th century BC
Dissolved4th century BC
Legal personalityGovernment agency
Jurisdictional structure
National agencyClassical Athens
Operations jurisdictionClassical Athens
General nature
HeadquartersTents or wooden barracks in the Agora and later on the Areopagus[3]

Elected officer responsible
  • Speusinos, for allegedly establishing the force


The Scythian archers were called toxotai (τοξόται, literally "[the] archers"), Skythai (Σκύθαι, literally "[the] Scythians"), and Speusinioi (Σπευσίνιοι), which was named after their alleged founder Speusinos.[5][6]


The theory regarding the "police force" role of the Scythian archers in 5th- and early 4th-century BC Athens is mainly based on some possible evidence from Attic vase paintings and the works of the playwright Aristophanes. The force is said to have consisted of 300 public slaves (demosioi) who wore Scythian dress and were equipped with bows and arrows in gorytos (the Scythian people were skilled archers). They were said to have been used to maintain order in the Assembly and the Council, though they had little authority themselves.[5][7][8][9] They acted for The Eleven, a group of eleven elected magistrates in Athens, "who were responsible for arrests and executions and for some aspects of public order".[4]


Many aspects of the theory are still open for discussion, such as whether they were actually Scythian, and if so why Greeks were not used, and why a police force active in urban Athens should consist of archers. Balbina Bäbler has discussed some overlooked archaeological evidence and its possible link to the Scythian police force, including the stele of Getes, buried Scythian arrowheads, and other Greek-style grave stelae of the 4th century BC in Athens dedicated to unknown Scythians.[7][10] It should also be noted that the Scythian archers that appear to be attending to the hoplites on the Attic vase paintings of the 6th century BC are not necessarily related to the Scythian "police force" of the 5th century BC.[2][11] The police force, the number of which is said to have swelled to 1,200 at some point, may have been involved in wartime conflicts as well.[2]

In the comedy works of Aristophanes, the dialects of various Greek people are imitated. In his Thesmophoriazusae, the Scythian archer speaks broken Greek, consistently omitting the final -s () and -n (ν), using the lenis in place of the aspirate, and once using x (ξ) in place of s (σ). These have been noted by John William Donaldson to discuss the largely unknown Scythian languages.[12]

See also


  1. ^ Wickramasinghe, Chandima S. M. (2005). Slavery from known to unknown : a comparative study of slavery in ancient Greek poleis and ancient Sri Lanka. John and Erica Hedges. p. 16. ISBN 9781841717302.
  2. ^ a b c Vos, M. F. (1963). Scythian Archers in Archaic Attic Vase-painting. J. B. Wolters. p. 68.
  3. ^ Braund, David (2005). Scythians and Greeks: Cultural Interactions in Scythia, Athens and the Early Roman Empire (sixth Century BC - First Century AD). University of Exeter Press. p. 120. ISBN 9780859897464.
  4. ^ a b Hunter, Virginia J. (2019). Policing Athens: Social Control in the Attic Lawsuits, 420-320 B.C. Princeton University Press. pp. 146, 186. ISBN 9780691194608.
  5. ^ a b Rhodes, Peter J. (Durham), “Scythians”, in: Brill’s New Pauly, Antiquity volumes edited by: Hubert Cancik and , Helmuth Schneider, English Edition by: Christine F. Salazar, Classical Tradition volumes edited by: Manfred Landfester, English Edition by: Francis G. Gentry. Consulted online on 13 January 2019 <>
  6. ^ "Demosii". Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898). Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  7. ^ a b Bäbler, Balbina (2004). "Bobbies or Boobies? The Scythian Police Force in Classical Athens". In Braund, David (ed.). Scythians and Greeks: cultural interactions in Scythia, Athens and the early Roman Empire (sixth century BC-first century AD). Exeter: University of Exeter Press. pp. 114–122. ISBN 085989746X. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  8. ^ Hornblower, Simon; Spawforth, Antony; Eidinow, Esther (2012). The Oxford Classical Dictionary. OUP Oxford. p. 1169b. ISBN 9780199545568.
  9. ^ Long, Timothy (1986). Barbarians in Greek comedy. Southern Illinois University Press. p. 105. ISBN 9780809312481.
  10. ^ Slater, William J. (1991). Dining in a Classical Context. University of Michigan Press. p. 61. ISBN 9780472101948.
  11. ^ Ivantchik, Askold (1 December 2006). "'Scythian' Archers on Archaic Attic Vases: Problems of Interpretation". Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia. 12 (3): 197–271. doi:10.1163/157005706779851408.
  12. ^ Donaldson, John William (1844). Varronianus: A Critical and Historical Introduction to the Philological Study of the Latin Language. J. and J. J. Deighton. p. 32.

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The eldest son of Valentinian I, Gratian accompanied, during his youth, his father on several campaigns along the Rhine and Danube frontiers. Upon the death of Valentinian in 375, Gratian's brother Valentinian II was declared emperor by his father's soldiers. In 378, Gratian's generals won a decisive victory over the Lentienses, a branch of the Alamanni, at the Battle of Argentovaria. Gratian subsequently led a campaign across the Rhine, the last emperor to do so, and attacked the Lentienses, forcing the tribe to surrender. That same year, his uncle Valens was killed in the Battle of Adrianople against the Goths. He favoured Christianity over traditional Roman religion, refusing the office of Pontifex maximus and removing the Altar of Victory from the Roman Senate.

Greece in the Roman era

Greece in the Roman era describes the period of Greek history when Ancient Greece was dominated by the Roman Republic (509 – 27 BC), the Roman Empire (27 BC – AD 395), and the Byzantine Empire (AD 395 – 1453). The Roman era of Greek history began with the Corinthian defeat in the Battle of Corinth in 146 BC. However, before the Achaean War, the Roman Republic had been steadily gaining control of mainland Greece by defeating the Kingdom of Macedon in a series of conflicts known as the Macedonian Wars. The Fourth Macedonian War ended at the Battle of Pydna in 148 BC and defeat of the Macedonian royal pretender Andriscus.

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Greek Dark Ages

The Greek Dark Ages, Homeric Age (named for the fabled poet, Homer) or Geometric period (so called after the characteristic Geometric art of the time),

is the period of Greek history from the end of the Mycenaean palatial civilization around 1100 BC to the first signs of the Greek poleis (city states) in the 9th century BC.

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Grotta-Pelos culture

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Hellenistic Greece

In the context of ancient Greek art, architecture, and culture, Hellenistic Greece corresponds to the period between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the annexation of the classical Greek Achaean League heartlands by the Roman Republic. This culminated at the Battle of Corinth in 146 BC, a crushing Roman victory in the Peloponnese that led to the destruction of Corinth and ushered in the period of Roman Greece. Hellenistic Greece's definitive end was with the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, when the future emperor Augustus defeated Greek Ptolemaic queen Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony, the next year taking over Alexandria, the last great center of Hellenistic Greece.The Hellenistic period began with the wars of the Diadochi, armed contests among the former generals of Alexander the Great to carve up his empire in Europe, Asia, and North Africa. The wars lasted until 275 BC, witnessing the fall of both the Argead and Antipatrid dynasties of Macedonia in favor of the Antigonid dynasty. The era was also marked by successive wars between the Kingdom of Macedonia and its allies against the Aetolian League, Achaean League, and the city-state of Sparta.

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Kastri culture

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Kul-Oba was the first Scythian royal barrow to be excavated in modern times. Uncovered in 1830, the stone tomb yielded a wealth of precious artifacts which drew considerable public interest to Scythian world. Of particular interest is an intricately granulated earring with two Nike figurines, now in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.[1]

The tomb was built around 400 to 350 BC, likely by a team of Greek masons from Panticapaeum. Its plan is almost square, measuring 4.6 by 4.2 meters (15 by 14 ft). The stepped vault stands 5.3 meters (17 ft) high. The timber ceiling seems to have been designed to imitate a Scythian wooden tent; it is decorated by a canopy with gold plaques.

The body of the king lay by the east wall on a sumptuous wooden couch. His social position was highlighted by a diadem encircling his head, surmounted by a pointed felt headgear with gold pendants. His neck was decorated by a large gold disk weighing 461 grams. Each wrist was adorned with one to three bracelets. A separate section of the couch contained other grave goods, including a phial, a whip, a knife, and a quiver - all inlaid with gold or precious stones.

To the left of the couch stood a sarcophagus made of cypress wood and ivory. A woman, probably the king's wife or concubine, lay there. Apart from the brocaded dress, her body was decorated with an electrum diadem with large gold pendants, a pair of open-work earrings, a gold disk, a gold necklace, and two gold bracelets. At her side was placed a bronze hand-held mirror with the gilded handle. An electrum cup, placed between her feet, depicts scenes from Scythian mythology (illustrated, to the right).

The remains of a slave (probably a charioteer) were discovered by the south wall. A special niche in the wall contained horse bones, a helmet, a bronze sheath, and two spearheads. Several silver bowls and bronze cauldrons containing lamb bones were placed along the walls of the tomb. Inside the amphorae were residual traces of dried wine. A number of bronze arrow-heads were scattered around the floor.

The archaeologists in charge of the dig did not suspect there was a secret room underneath the tomb. Though it was discovered and plundered by treasure hunters, some of the missing valuables were subsequently retrieved by the Russian government.


In the culture of ancient Greece, the term paideia (also spelled paedeia) (; Greek: παιδεία, paideía) referred to the rearing and education of the ideal member of the polis. It incorporated both practical, subject-based schooling and a focus upon the socialization of individuals within the aristocratic order of the polis. The practical aspects of this education included subjects subsumed under the modern designation of the liberal arts (rhetoric, grammar, and philosophy are examples), as well as scientific disciplines like arithmetic and medicine. An ideal and successful member of the polis would possess intellectual, moral and physical refinement, so training in gymnastics and wrestling was valued for its effect on the body alongside the moral education which the Greeks believed was imparted by the study of music, poetry, and philosophy. This approach to the rearing of a well-rounded Greek male was common to the Greek-speaking world, with the exception of Sparta where a rigid and militaristic form of education known as the agoge was practiced.

Phrygian cap

The Phrygian cap or liberty cap is a soft conical cap with the apex bent over, associated in antiquity with several peoples in Eastern Europe and Anatolia, including Phrygia, Dacia, and the Balkans. In early modern Europe it came to signify freedom and the pursuit of liberty through a confusion with the pileus, the felt cap of manumitted (emancipated) slaves of ancient Rome. In artistic representations it signifies freedom and the pursuit of liberty.

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Phylakopi I culture

The Phylakopi I culture (Greek: Φυλακωπή) refers to a "cultural" dating system used for the Cycladic culture that flourished during the early Bronze Age in Greece. It spans the period ca. 2300-2000 BC and was named by Colin Renfrew, after the settlement of Phylakopi on the Cycladic island of Milos. Other archaeologists describe this period as the Early Cycladic III (ECIII).

Recurve bow

A recurve bow is a bow with limbs that curve away from the archer when unstrung. A recurve bow stores more energy and delivers energy more efficiently than the equivalent straight-limbed bow, giving a greater amount of energy and speed to the arrow. A recurve will permit a shorter bow than the simple straight limb bow for a given arrow energy and this form was often preferred by archers in environments where long weapons could be cumbersome, such as in brush and forest terrain, or while on horseback.

Recurved limbs also put greater stress on the materials used to make the bow, and they may make more noise with the shot. Extreme recurves make the bow unstable when being strung. An unstrung recurve bow can have a confusing shape and many Native American weapons, when separated from their original owners and cultures, were incorrectly strung backwards and destroyed when attempts were made to shoot them.

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