Thursday, August 13, 2009


"Behold, he shall come up like clouds,
And his chariots like a whirlwind.
His horses are swifter than eagles.
Woe to us, for we are plundered!"

Thus prophesized Jeremiah of Judea around 627 BCE, (Jeremiah, 4:13). In about 625 BCE the horsemen known to the Assyrians as Iskhuzai, and Greeks as Skythos or Skutai, (Scythian), invaded Syria and Judea and would press as far south as Egypt.

Scythian nobleman and his wife on the Central Asian steppes. (National Geographic).
The Scythians were a nomadic Central Asian steppe people; branches of these people migrated south into Persia and India, (where they are called Sakas), and west into the Black Sea area. Herodotus was the first to write a detailed history of them; many of his observations have been proven as reliable by recent archaeological findings. Here he describes the burial of their kings under huge mounds.
Their kings are buried in the territory of the Gerrhians, at the point where, traveling upstream, the Borysthenes ceases to be navigable. On the death of one of their kings, they dig a huge square pit in the ground there, and when this is ready they take up the wax-covered corpse (which has previously had its stomach opened up, cleaned out, filled with chopped galingale, incense, celery-seeds, and aniseed, and then sewn back up again) and carry it in a wagon to another tribe. The people to whom the corpse has been brought do what the Royal Scythians have already done: they cut one of their ears, shave their heads, slash their arms, mutilate their foreheads and noses, and pierce their left hands with arrows. Then the king’s corpse is taken on its wagon to another one of the tribes within the Scythian realm, with its retinue being made up of people from the tribe to which the corpse had previously been transported. Finally, after going around all the tribes with the corpse, they come to the Gerrhians, who are the most remote of the tribes within the Scythian realm, and to the tombs. Here, they lay the corpse in his grave on a pallet. Then they stick spears into the ground on both sides of the corpse and make a roof out of the wooden planks covered with rush matting. There is still open space left within the grave, and in it they bury, after throttling them to death, one of the king’s concubines, his wine-server, cook, groom, steward, and messenger, and some horses and a proportion of his other possessions, including some golden cups. They do not put anything of silver or bronze in the grave. Then they cover the grave with a huge mound of earth, and they all eagerly compete with one another to make the mound as big as possible. (Herodotus The Histories translated by Robin Waterfield.)
The kurgans or burial-mounds that dot the Ukrainian and south Russian steppes and the forest steppes bear testimony to Herodotus’ accuracy here. Sixth- and fifth-century royal tombs were as Herodotus describes, rectangular shafts between 10 and 15 meters deep, within a raised mound above. Some later mounds are as high as a three-story building, and the base of the mound can extend to a diameter of over 100 meters.

Buddhist texts claim that Chandragupta, the founder of the Mauryan empire and King Ashoka's grandfather, was related to the Buddha’s Sakya clan, others that he was related to the Nandas. If we believe the Buddhist claim that he was a Sakyan, or Indo-Scythian, this would explain, for example:
  1. The use of animals and most often the lion on the capital of the Ashoka columns and as the Mauryan royal emblem; the Sakas introduced animal art to India.
  2. Construction of stupas (burial mounds) all over India, derived from the steppes burial mounds.
  3. The Buddhist wheel motif is derived from the wagons and chariots of the steppes.
  4. The concept of the universal monarch, or chakravartin, is derived from the steppe peoples.
Modern scholars have also written extensively of them; according to A History of Russia, Central Asia, and Mongolia, by David Christian:

The diagonostic features of 'Scythic' culture were:

1. the adoption of iron metallurgy;

2. the use of akinakes, a short sword, of specific design and systematic development;
3. the customary conservative use of artistic motifs, particularly the stag and the animal combat, all of which are combined with,

4. the customary nomadic life and a patriarchal, little centralized social organization;
5. the use of improved compound bows;
6. the widespread use of bronze cauldrons;

7. the making of 'deer stones' (olenniye kamni); and perhaps, most important of all,
8. the appearance for the first time in the steppes, of complex horse harness, which suggests a qualitative improvement in techniques of riding.
As can be seen in the maps below, tribes of Scythians were moving slowly into Gandhara and Northwest India. By the first century CE, they controlled much of this area. So it seems entirely plausible that Buddha could have been a member of this powerful tribe. 515 BCE: Saka was the Persian name for the Scythians. In 515 BCE they occupied the western Asian steppes, (red circle), northwest of Greater Gandhara, (light blue circle). Buddha was born between the periods shown in this and the following map, [i.e. between 515-301 BCE], somewhere in or near the red or blue circles. Click to enlarge maps which are taken from Penguin Atlas of Ancient History, (copyright infringement not intended). 301 BCE: The bulk of the Sakas were still in the western Asian steppes, but of course, some tribes must have trickled into Greater Gandhara long before a Saka kingdom arose there. The Mauryan empire, (blue circle), had arisen in Gandhara and further east in India proper.
192 BCE: Sakas still in western Asian steppes but Mauryans fade from Gandhara at this time. 145 BCE: The Sakas are still on the west Asian steppes but begin to be pressured by the Yuezhi, (green circle); the Indo-Greek kingdom of Menander, (of Milindapanha fame) is established in Gandhara, (blue circle).74 BCE: The Sakas, driven southeast into Gandhara by the Yuezhi, (Kushans), finally establish their kingdom in Gandhara. The Indo-Greek kingdoms collapse. 44 BCE: The Sakas are still in Gandhara; eventually they are driven by other steppe peoples east into India proper.
By the first century CE the Indo-Scythians, or Sakas, controlled a large chunk of territory in North-West India and what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan.


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