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Eth. ISSE´DONES (Ἰσσηδόνες, Steph. B. sub voce in the Roman writers the usual form is “Essedones” ), a people living to the E. of the Argippaei, and the most remote of the tribes of Central Asia with whom the Hellenic colonies on the Euxine had any communication. The name is found as early as the Spartan Alcman, B.C. 671--631, who calls them “Assedones” (Fr. 94, ed. Welcker), and Hecataeus (Fr.168, ed. Klausen). A great movement among the nomad tribes of the N. had taken place in very remote times, following a direction from NE. to SW.; the Arimaspi had driven out the Issedones from the steppes over which they wandered, and they in turn drove out the Scythians, and the Scythians the Cimmerians. Traces of these migrations were indicated in the poem of Aristeas of Proconnesus, a semimythical personage, whose pilgrimage to the land of the Issedones was strangely disfigured after his death by the fables of the Milesian colonists. (Hdt. 4.13.) The Issedones, according to Herodotus (4.26), have a custom, when any one loses his father, for the kinsfolk to kill a certain number of sheep, whose flesh they hash up together with that of the dead man, and make merry over it. This done, they peel and clean out his skull, which after it has been gilded becomes a kind of idol to which yearly sacrifices are offered. In all other respects they are a righteous people, submitting to the rule of women equally with that of men ; in other words, a civilised people.

Heeren (Asiat. Nat. vol. ii. p. 15, trans.), upon Dr. Leyden's authority (Asiat. Res. vol. ix. p. 202), illustrates this way of carrying out the duties of [p. 2.69]filial piety by the practice of the Battas of Sumatra. It may be remarked that a similar story is told of the Indian Padaei. (Hdt. 3.99.) Pomponius Mela (2.1.13) simply copies the statement of Herodotus, though he alters it so far as to assert that the Issedones used the skull as a drinking cup. The name occurs more than once in Pliny (4.26, 6.7, 19); and Ptolemy, who has a town ISSEDON in Serica (Ἰσσηδών, 6.16.7, 8.24.5), mentions in another place (8.24.3) the Scythian Issedon. (Comp. Steph. B. sub voce Amm. Marc. 23.6 § 66.

Von Humboldt (Asie Centrale, vol. i. pp. 390--412) has shown that, if the relief of the countries between the Don and the Irtysh be compared with the itinerary traced by Herodotus from the Thyssagetae to the Issedones, it will be seen that the Father of History was acquainted with the existence of vast plains separating the Ural and Altaï, chains which modern geographers have been in the habit of uniting by an imaginary range passing through the steppe of the Kirghiz. This route (Hdt. 4.23, 24) recognises the passage of the Ural from W. to E., and indicates another chain more to the E. and more elevated--that of the Altaï. These chains, it is true, are not designated by any special names, but Herodotus was not acquainted even in Europe with the names of the Alps and Rhipaean mountains; and a comparison of the order in which the peoples are arranged, as well as the relief and description of the country, shows that much definite information had been already attained. Advancing from the Palus Maeotis) which was supposed to be of far larger dimensions than it really is, in a central direction towards the NE., the first people found occupying the plains are the “Black-clothed” MELANCHLAENI then the BUDINI, THYSSAGETAE, the IURCAE (who have been falsely identified with the Turks), and finally, towards the E., a colony of Scythians, who had separated themselves from the “Royal Scythians” (perhaps to barter gold and skins). Here the plains end, and the ground becomes broken (λιγώδης καὶ τρηχέη), rising into mountains, at the foot of which are the ARGIPPAEI who have been identified from their long chins and flat noses with the Kalmucks or Mongolians by Niebuhr, Böckh, and others, to whom reference is made by Mr. Grote. (Hist. of Greece, vol. iii. p. 320.) This identification has been disputed by Humboldt (comp. Cosmos, vol. i. p. 353 note, 440, vol. ii. p. 141 note, 202, trans.), who refers these tribes to the Finnish stock, assuming as a certain fact, on evidence which it is difficult to make out, that the Mongolians who lived around Lake Baikal did not move into Central Asia till the thirteenth century. Where the data are so few, for the language (the principle upon which the families of the human race are marked off) may be said to be unknown, ethnographic analogies become very hazardous, and the more so in the case of nomad tribes, the same under such wide differences of time and climate. But if there be considerable difficulty in making out the analogy of race, the local bearings of these tribes may be laid down with tolerable certainty. The country up to the Argippaei was well known to the traders; a barrier of impassable mountains blocked up the way beyond. [HYPERBOREI] The position of the Issedones, according to the indications of the route, must be assigned to the E. of Ichim in the steppe of the central horde of the Kirghiz, and that of the Arimaspi on the N. declivity of the Altaï. The communication between the two peoples for the purpose of carrying on the gold trade was probably made through the plains at the NW. extremity of the Altaï, where the range juts out in the form of a huge promontory.


hide References (9 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (9):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.99
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.13
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.23
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.24
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.26
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 4.26
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 6.7
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 6.19
    • Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum, 23.6
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