Literature Study GuidesHistoriesBook 4 The Country And Customs Of The Scythians Summary

Histories | Study Guide


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Histories | Book 4, The Country and Customs of the Scythians | Summary



Darius, fresh from ending the Babylonian revolt, invades Scythia. As with Egypt, Herodotus gives his narrative over to a description of the Scythian lands and people. He considers multiple accounts of the origins of the Scythians and concludes they must be descended from the Greek hero Heracles (Hercules). Herodotus pauses to discuss the folly of map makers who draw the continents of Europe and Asia at equal size, surrounded by a circular expanse of water. He proceeds to set forth his own understanding of the size of the continents and where oceans may be found. He believes Europe to be by far the largest of the continents. He resumes describing the region of the Black Sea, which is where Darius's campaign against the Scythians will take place. He considers the inhabitants, except the Scythians, to be the most "unlearned" inhabitants of the world. He is in awe at the Scythians' skill in warfare and describes their warlike customs, including the drinking of human blood, usually from a warrior's first victim. Oaths, too, are sealed by drinking the blood, mixed with wine, of the parties the oath will bind. Herodotus describes the rivers of the land, which he considers the only notable geographical features of Scythia.


Herodotus once again describes the country of a people attacked by the Persians. As with Egypt, his account is probably based on personal experience and the interviewing of witnesses. The Scythians are nomadic horse people who live in what is now Ukraine, north of the Black Sea. The Persians themselves had once been nomads. The tales Herodotus tells of the Scythian customs may be accurate, but they also betray the fear and awe of settled people for horse nomads, with their rough manners and blood sacrifices. The description of the Scythian customs serves as background for why the Scythians will shortly defeat Darius—they are tough, warlike, and have highly mobile armies. Herodotus is not nearly so taken with the Scythian lands or culture as he is with Egypt, and thus spends much less time on it.

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