Scythians, an ancient people of Asia and Europe. They were mounted nomadic herdsmen, of the Indo-European language family, who ranged from the Altai Mountains to the Hungarian plain in pre-Christian times. They appear in the writings of ancient China, Assyria, Persia, and Greece. Scythian art, which featured fanciful animals and intricate design, influenced the art styles of China during the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) and of medieval Europe, as seen especially in heraldic motifs.

In the eighth century B.C. Scythians came into the area east of the Caspian Sea. Some of them settled to the north of the Black Sea. Some crossed the Caucasus range into Media and Mesopotamia, but were driven back north about 600 B.C.

The Scythians established a kingdom in what is now the Ukraine and Romania. They traded with the Greeks, who called them the Royal Scythians, a name used also by modern scholars, partly because of the vast quantity of golden ornaments found in their burial mounds. Shortly before 300 B.C. Scythia was overrun by the Sarmatians, a related people. The Scythians in Europe lost their identity as a separate people early in the Christian Era, but their distinctive art forms survived and were carried westward by migrating Goths and by Norse and German traders.

Meanwhile, other Scythians were centered in the Altai region, where their frozen burial tombs have yielded preserved bodies, clothing, and accessories. Gradually mingling with Mongolian peoples, they, too, lost their separate identity. Scythian groups in Central Asia included the Parthians, who ruled a Persian kingdom, 248? B.C.-226 A.D., and the Sakas, who settled in Bactria about 130 B.C. and in northwest India about 70 B.C.