The best books to understand the Scythians

David Austin Beck Author Of The Greek Prince of Afghanistan
By David Austin Beck

The Books I Picked & Why

The Scythians: Nomad Warriors of the Steppe

By Barry Cunliffe

The Scythians: Nomad Warriors of the Steppe

Why this book?

Barry Cunliffe has time and again proved himself to gracefully weave serious scholarship with compelling reflection. As he does with his other books, he builds conclusions and raises questions based on the most recent archaeological evidence. The Scythians are greatly misunderstood, their legacy shaded by the often-disparaging views of their contemporaries. Barry Cunliffe’s archeological approach helps the Scythians speak through the things they left behind.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present

By Christopher I Beckwith

Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present

Why this book?

While only one chapter of Empires of the Silk Road is dedicated to the Scythians, this book is a compelling introduction to Central Eurasian peoples throughout history. Beckwith’s work stabs right at the heart of ancient and modern writings that frame the Scythians and other nomadic peoples within a pejorative “barbarian” framework. More than that, he explores how societies such as the Scythians viewed themselves, which differs greatly from other approaches, which use them only as a foil to more sedentary peoples.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Histories (Translated By Robin Waterfield)

By Robin Waterfield, Herodotus

The Histories (Translated By Robin Waterfield)

Why this book?

If one wanted to understand the study of the galaxy, they might start with Galileo. Something similar could be said about starting with the historian Herodotus to understand ancient peoples (and the study of them). Was he serious about his craft? Yes. Was he a product of his time? Yes. Should you take everything he writes as fact? Absolutely not. So why read Herodotus? Because he was the first person (as far as I know) to study the Scythians for the purpose of scholarship. Moreover, his work contains many of the stories that scholars since his time have tried to prove, disprove, or reinterpret. In short, if you want to join a conversation, it can be helpful to know how it began.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander

By Robert B. Strassler, James Romm

The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander

Why this book?

Arrian is one of the few primary sources used to illuminate the campaigns of Alexander the Great. It is also one of the few primary sources to focus directly on the Scythians – in this case, the Saka (an eastern group of Scythians). After conquering the Bactrian region, Alexander faced war with the Scythians, as well as local rebellions, which the Scythians played a role in. Arrian’s account is an important source for understanding the Scythians as it speaks directly to the clash of an army built for pitched battle against an army build for more mobile warfare.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States

By James C. Scott

Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States

Why this book?

Scythians and other nomad peoples are often studied and framed as a foil to sedentary societies, with the latter held up as further step along a path of “progress”. Against the Grain completely upends this notion, framing early states (the sedentary counterparts to nomadic people) as unnatural and authoritarian, and nomadic lifestyles as attractive alternatives. While not a study of the Scythians, specifically, this book is an important counterpoint to the sedentary-states-are-better framework that has characterized much discussion on Scythians.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Random Book Lists