Dan, The Pioneer of Israel

By Colonel J.C. Gawler, Keeper of the Crown Jewels


Chapter IV

Dan among the Scythians


Question of circumcision – Scuthi, or Scythian, is Hebrew for wanderer, or those living in temporary dwellings – Were considered Heraclidae by the Greeks – Scythian account, and date of their first appearance as a nation – Place and date of their appearance, according to historians – Their character – The Saka, or Sakai, and Gimiri, or Beth-Kumri of Media – Scythian nation on the north of the Black Sea – King Saulios – Gruph and Ch’ruv – Language – Scythian gods are Syro-Phoenician – Goths, Roman name for Scythians – Arsareth – Sacasuni and Saxons.


Although the subject is still, like the previous chapter, ”The Danai, or Dan in the Black Sea,” let us now more especially examine their connection with the Scythians, or Sakai, for at the close of the previous chapter, we had heard, through the Bombay inscriptions, of Dan, who had been living among the ”people of Saka” (evidently in Media and Armenia), ”unloosing” to cross over to Gothland (the north coast of the Black Sea), when Cyrus came against them. And to the ”towns of Jason,” in Media and Armenia, we had traced step by step as the Danai of Greece, and Heraclidae or traders, the Colchians, who observed circumcision, the relatives of the Lacedaemonians, who showed the cognizance of Dan, the acknowledged literal ”brethren” of the Jews. We have also seen that Armenia and Media were the countries to which the Tribes of Israel were deported by the kings of Assyria, and it is north of the Black Sea that in Herodotus’ time we find the greater part of the Scythian nation located. It is there also that we find many of the rivers impressed with the name of Dan, the Don or Tanais, the Dan-apris, Dan-astris, and Dan-ube.

Who, then, were the Scythians, these new friends and companions, whom the enterprising Dan have met with in Asia? It would occupy a separate pamphlet of considerable dimensions to adduce all that might be said of the Scythians, as including, if not mainly composed of, the exiled and ”escaped” of Israel. Some years ago I printed a small paper, ”Our Scythian Ancestors Identified with Israel,” but the sixteen pages which composed it might be expanded to sixty with evidence of the first importance which has subsequently cropped up. I will therefore only touch upon a few of the leading points.

First, I think the question may be repeated by some readers, ”If the Scythians were Israel, why is there no record of circumcision being observed among them, as stated of the Colchians”? To this I reply, the Colchians were free emigrants at a comparatively early date, when everything was fresh among the Israelites; whereas Israel’s deportation took place between five and six centuries later as a punishment, not for keeping the law and the covenant, but for breaking them, and for going after other gods and copying the rites of other nations.

The wonder is not that the Israelites should have relinquished circumcision, but that any portion of them, as the Colchians, should have retained it. For St. Peter speaks of it as ”a yoke which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear” (Acts 15:10), and during the forty years in the wilderness, under Moses, it was wholly neglected. (Josh. 5:2-9)

Mr. H. P. Smith (Ancient History of the East, p. 472) and Professor Rawlinson (Herodotus, note on the Scythians) concur in stating that Scyth is not a real ethnic name, but a title given to all nomads, or wandering pastoral tribes.

Now in Hebrew alone does this word mean wanderers, and it is connected with one of their most important feasts, the only one apparently which is to be retained after the restoration of all things – viz., the Feast of Tabernacles, or ת ו סכ, Scotch or Scot (booths), which was instituted to commemorate Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness. (see Lev. 23:40-43; Zech. 14:16; Gen. 33:17) In Hebrew, the dwellers in booths are ת ו סכ, Scuthi or Scoti, or as we should say, Succothites.

Now the Greeks adopted the word, possibly imported by the Danites, and spoke of the  Σκυθαι, Skuthai, which, through the Latin, we call “Scythian.” But the Greeks can assign no meaning to the word, but say that these Skuthai were descended from a certain Skuthees, who was a mythical son of Heracles and a half serpent mother. (Herod. iv. 8) Here, then, Greek legend assign a connection between the Scythians and the Heraclidae, or Danai, and traces of the serpent are again apparent. There seems somewhat also of a correspondence in the legends of the Scythians and the Lacedaemonians. The Scythians say that their ancestor was Targetaus, a son of Jupiter by the daughter of a river, (Herod. iv. 5) while the Lacedaemonians say that Lacedaemo was the son of Jupiter and Mount Taygetus, or Taygeta.[i]

The legendary date of their first appearance under a king in the wilderness (Herod. iv. 5-7), 1,000 years before Darius’ expedition (500 B.C.), corresponds with the date of Israel under Moses in the wilderness.

The date assigned by historians to their first appearance on the Araxes in Media as a despicable people (Diod. ii. 3) accords with the date of Israel’s deportation to those regions by the kings of Assyria.

For their rapid growth and expansion, their excellent laws, their learning, and abhorrence of swine, see Dodorus, Herodotus, Strabo, Aeschylus, Epiphanius, &c.

“The Persians,” says Herodotus, (vii. 64), “call all the Scythians Sakai.” Strabo, (xi., vii. 4), mentions “the Sakai got possession of the most fertile tract of Armenia, which was called after their own name Saccasena.” Pliny, (vi. 16), mentions that the Sakai were the most distinguished Scythians, and that those who settled in Armenia were called Saccasani. Ephorus quotes Choerilus, who calls the Sakai of Asia “a colony of nomads, a righteous race.”

In a short chapter, iv., of a small pamphlet, “Are We Israelites?” by the Rev Bourchier Wrey Savile, M.A., these Sakai are traced by the aid of Sir H. Rawlinson’s own interpretations of the Assyrian inscription, to the Ten Tribes of Israel, including the people of Samaria, Beth Kumri, who were carried away by Tiglath-Pileser and Sargon, circ. 721 B.C.

Sir H. Rawlinson, in his brother’s edition of Herodotus, seems to consider Scyth and Sacan identical in meaning as Nomads. Scyth, we have seen, does in the Hebrew mean “wanderers;” but in the Achoemenian inscriptions, Saka, which Sir Henry calls Aryan, and which he says is replaced by “Gimiri in the Babylonian transcripts of the Persian and Scythic columns,”[ii] refers, I would suggest, either to the worship of God under the title, still extant among the Jews, of Saka, the most pure, or else it is one of their own names, Tsaki, Isaacites or Beth-Isaac, House of Isaac. (See Amos 7:9, 16)

Further, as regards the history of the Scythians on the Black Sea, Herodotus, (iv. 76), mentions a king Saulios, living on the Danapris (Dnieper). He was father to Idan-Thyrsus, the king who made the irruption against the Medes, and held Asis and the Holy Land for twenty-nine years, penetrating into Egypt. This took place about 630 B.C. – i.e., some eighty or ninety years after the captivity, but nearly 600 years later than Dan’s first settlement on the Black Sea: and it reads uncommonly like a wild dash of some of the Tribes – an Israelitish crusade to recover their inheritance.

Herodotus also records (iv. 76) that the Scythians “studiously avoid the use of foreign customs.” Now Israel’s sin in the Holy Land was too great a fondness of foreign customs, but we may reasonably suppose that the sufferings they had endured and their banishment had brought them somewhat to a sense of their sin, even though they might have been unable to recover the truth. Ezekiel’s vision was by the river of Chebar, about 590 B.C., and II Esdras 13:40-42, ascribes as a reason for the Ten Tribes moving away from Media,[iii] that they desired to serve God in their own way.

Now it is somewhat remarkable that Herodotus should thus record the jealousy of the Scythians in religious matters (iv. 79, 80). One of their kings named Scylas had in the city of Borysthenes, which was outside his dominions, a large and magnificent mansion; round it were placed sphinxes and gryphons of white marble. (Note that the Greek γρνψ, γρνψες, grups, gruphes, is the Hebrew ב ו ר כ, chr’uv, or as we say cherub.) Scylas was very desirous of being initiated into the mysteries of Bacchus, but he was afraid of any of his people seeing him. He used, therefore, to go there in private and assume the Greek dress. On the occasion of his initiation, “just as he was about to commence the sacred rites, a very great prodigy occurred… the god hurled a bolt and his palace was entirely burnt down.”[iv]

Herodotus has also left us two or three specimens of the Scythian language – viz., iv. 27. He says spou means the eye, which may be from the Hebrew root ה צפ, tspeh, to watch, to look around: English spy. But the most remarkable one is the following: In iv. 52, he describes “a bitter fountain,” which discharges itself into the Hypanis and taints the water. “The name of the fountain is,” he says, “in the Scythian language ‘Exampoeus,’ but in the language of the Greeks, ιεροι οδος, ‘the sacred ways.’ From this, many writers have inferred that Exampoeus is Scythian word for sacred ways, but Herodotus does not say so. Now I find in Hebrew י פ ם ס ה ha-sam-pe, would mean the bitter or medical outlet: from ם ס sam, meaning as a verb ‘to smell,’ and, as a noun, ‘drugs,’ ‘poison,’ ‘bitter,’ and י פ or ה פ, pi or per, ‘a well’s mouth,’ ‘outlet,’ or ‘opening.’”

Again, iv. 59, Herodotus gives a list of the deities of the Scythians. These have surprised many writers, but the following is the note of the Rev. J.W. Blakesley, B.D., in the Cambridge Bibliotheca classica edition of Herodotus:

Παπαιοσ - Απια, These two reputed Scythian words seem to be unquestionably of the Indio-Germanic family of languages. Απια is the name by which a portion of the Peloponnesus was anciently called (Aeschylus Sup. 260-269), and it is probably identical in etymology with the word ηπια, and originally an epiphet of the earth considered as an object of worship ιλεομαι μεν Απιαν βονιν, (Suppl. 117-127). Artimpasa, if genuine, seems to be merely another form of Artemis with an affix. Etosyrus is most suspiciously like οιτοσ Συρος, the Syrian dirge, or chant, of which the proper name was Linus. Thamimasadas, too, suggests the Tammuz of Ezek. 8:14 in a Hellenic dress. So that all these names, with the exception of Tabiti – and perhaps that, too, may be the Topheth of II Kings 23:10 – seem to belong to an Achaean or Syro-Phoenician language, and to all appearance are not genuine Scythian.

If it had occurred to Mr. Blakesley that the Scythians were Israelites who had come via Media, and that, Danites preceded them many centuries via Greece, he would have understood how these names would naturally bear an Indo-Germanic and Syro-Phoenician stamp, and a Greek dress, and still be Scythian.[v]

The Scythians were later known as Goths, or Gothi, possibly because the Getae, and important branch of the Scythian nation, were most in contact with the Romans, with whom, therefore, all Scythians were Gothi. Sailman, a Jewish writer in 1818, in Researches in the East quotes Ortellius, who “notes the kingdom of Arsareth (see II Esdras 8:45), where the Ten Tribes, retiring, took the name of Gauthei.” John Wilson has pointed out that the country of the Getae was on the borders of the Danubian principalities, on the river Sereth, where is a town of the same name, which, in the Hebrew tongue, would be Ar-sereth. It is necessary to point out this identity of the Scythians and Goths, and their connection with Danai, for we have Gothland and the Danai in the Black Sea, and again we have Gotha and Gothland in the Baltic, and the Annans, or Danes, again.

As apropos to the general subject, it may be observed in concluding this chapter that Ptolemy mentions a Scythian people sprung from the Sakai, names Saxones. (Sharon Turner, Anglo-Sax., vol. i, p. 100) Also Moore in Pillar Stones of Scotland observes:

“That the Sacasuni of Armenia were of the same stock as the Saxons of England is deemed sufficiently evident by those who have most deeply studied the subject. (See Origin and Progress of the Scythians or Goths, by John Pinkerton, 1788; Sharon Turner’s History of the Anglo-Saxons; and Les Scythes, by F.G. Bergmann.)”


[i] As ”Scythian,” “Scuthi,” or ”Skuthai,” merely means “dwellers in booths”i.e., nomads – the name, through Hebrew, does not necessarily determine the ethnic affinities of those to whom it was applied, except when accomplished by other evidence. Herodotus often distinguishes between the Scythians proper, and Tribes living among them having Scythian habits, but who were not Scythian by tradition or language. He speaks of the Scythian nation as “very learned” but of certain tribes as dreadful barbarians. Strabo likewise quotes several authors who speak of the excellent laws and habits of the Sakai, a tribe of Scythians who are called “a righteous race.” The name Saka is a better guide, even though the Persians applied Sakai to all Scythians, and Gumri or Gimiri (p. 33), is still more remarkable. But however great the medley, the blood of Abraham, and the effect of the discipline in the wilderness and general training of Israel would soon show up when in contact with mere vagrant tribes. “The laws, customs, and manners of the Scythians,” says Epiphanius, “were received by the other nations as the standard of policy, civility, and polite learning.”

[ii] This Gimiri, of the Babylonian transcriptions, says Sir H. Rawlinson, “elsewhere always means the Tribes,” and is “the Semitic equivalent of the Aryan name of Saka.” ... “The Sacae (Sakai) or Scythians, first appears in the Cuneiform inscriptions about 648 B.C.” Now Cyrus’s father was “of the Royal Tribe of Pasar-gadoe,” of the family of Achoemenes, and his mother was daughter of the Median King Astyages (said to have been the Ahasuerus of the Scripture). Cyrus, collecting some of the Tribes called Persian, including his own, and aided by a portion of the Medes, overthrew Astyages, and subsequently, with Medes and Persians, advanced against Babylon, circ. 560 B.C. Now in Isaiah 12:3, 17, it is the Lord’s “sanctified ones” who, together with the Medes, advance against Babylon under Cyrus, the Lord’s “Shepherd,” (Isaiah 44:28) and “Anointed.” (Isaiah 45:1) (See inscriptions regarding the Beth Khumri captives from Samaria, Records of the Past, v, pp. 28, 41.) If this Cyrus (for Xenophon gives a different account) was afterwards killed in an expedition against the Scythians, he was probably endeavouring to coerce all the Tribes into obedience, and to consolidate a new Israelitish empire under a despotism, which would have checked their development.

[iii] These were probably the more zealously religious portion of them, and if, as conjectured, Arsareth, where they moved to, to be the city or river Sereth which flows into the Danube, this would account for the character of the people, the “Dacae called Polistoe” who were there in Josephus’ time, and whose whose strict manner of life he compares to that of the sect of the Essenes among the Jews (Antiq. xviii. i. 5): “And I do verily believe are the same with those which Strabo calleth Plistoe, and were of the stock of the Abii” (a Scythian Tribe whom Arrian calls “the justest people in the world”). – Ortellius Thesaurus, Dacia et Moesia. The Latin Daci would be Greek Dakai, but in Hebrew convertible into Z, S, D, or T. The D here used may be the Hebrew tz, and Dakai may therefore be corrupted from Tzaki, or Sakai.

[iv] Though the Scythians objected to Bacchanalian orgies in the heathen sense, they appear to have been hard drinkers of ”unmixed wine”; so that ”pour out like a Scythian” was a saying among the Spartans when they wanted something stronger. (Herod. vi. 84)

[v] The same might be said of the recent paper by Professor Bugge of Christiania (”the highest living authority”) on ”The Origin of Norse Mythology.” (See Academy, Nov. 29, 1879, p. 396) He traces Norse mythology to ”tales heard by the Vikings from Englishmen and Irishmen.” And these tales are, he says, a mixture of ”old Greek-Roman mythology,” and ”Jewish-Christian Bible legends.” Dr. Baug also read a paper on ”The Voluspa.” If it had occured to the Professor that the Danite Vikings had met the Irish Danan, Greek Danai, and English Saka in ”Gothland on the Euxine,” and perhaps before that in Media, he would have seen how they could have become possessed of Jewish-Christian and Greek-Roman tales, sharing them with, and not borrowing them from, Englishmen or Irishmen.




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This article in Danish: Dan: Israels Pioner kap. 4: Dan blandt skyterne

Dan, The Pioneer of Israel Chap. 1

Dan, The Pioneer of Israel Chap. 2: Danai of Greece are Dannites of Israel

Dan, The Pioneer of Israel Chap. 3: Dan in the Black Sea