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Summary.

Definition.

Origins of the Scythian Archers in Athens.

Identity of the Scythian Archers.

→ The Function of the Scythian Archers.

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Scythian Archers 

Elizabeth Baughman, edition of January 30, 2003

page 5 of 6

· The Function of the Scythian Archers ·

Read about the evidence
Aristophanes (Aristoph. Eccl.).
Aristophanes (Aristoph. Kn.).
Aristophanes (Aristoph. Thes.).
Suda.
 
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Athens.

The literary accounts of the Scythian archers come primarily from the 5th century comedy of Aristophanes, and his treatment may be exaggerated or otherwise altered for comic effect. However, certain conclusions can be drawn from his plays. The Scythian Archers’ major role in Athenian society was to act as policemen for Athens. In Aristophanes’s plays we see them performing crowd control. In Ecclesiazusae a character mentions “the archers dragging more than one uproarious drunkard out of the market-place” ( ἀγορά ) (Aristoph. Eccl. 143). In Aristophanes’s Knights the Prytaneis (often called “magistrates” in translations) and the Scythians usher a man out of the Council (Aristoph. Kn. 665). We also find scenes of Scythian archers beating disorderly people, sometimes with whips. In Thesmophoriazusae, the Magistrate (“Prytanis”) says to a Scythian archer, “A sound lash with your whip for him who attempts to break the order” (Aristoph. Thes. 923). The Suda includes a quotation from Athenian literature that describes an “archer” beating a man: “I was distraught and had to wipe away tears when I saw a old man being beaten by another man, an archer” (Suda omega,243). This last passage comes to us without context, and so we do not know of the victim was being “disorderly” or not. Although the title “Scythian Archer” suggests that they carried bows and arrows, there is no literary evidence showing these public slaves using such weapons. The only weapons mentioned in the passages above are (non-lethal) whips.

Read about the evidence
Aristophanes (Aristoph. Ach.).
Scholia (Schol. In Aristoph.).

Aristophanes also presents several scenes in which Scythian archers arrest people. In the Acharnians, the Magistrates (or “Prytaneis”) are attempting to have the character Amphitheus (the name is translated “Godson” in some translations) arrested by the Scythian Archers, (called “Officers” in this translation) (Aristoph. Ach. 54; see also Schol. In Aristoph. Ach. 54).

Herald: Officers!
Godson: Triptolemus and Celeus, see my plight!
Dicaeopolis: Oh Magistrates, gentlemen, this is out of line, arresting the man who wanted to help us get a treaty of peace, a chance for armistice!

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Aristophanes (Aristoph. Lys.).
Aristophanes (Aristoph. Thes.).

In Lysistrata a Scythian archer confronts the title character, saying, “Arrest this woman! Whoever’s on this outing I’ll arrest” (Aristoph. Lys. 445). We also see the Scythian archers handcuffing or tying up offenders. In Lysistrata line 434, the Prytanis calls for the Scythian archers, saying, “I’m calling a policeman. Arrest this woman, put the handcuffs on. ...Go on and grab her. And you there, help him out. Hog-tie this woman!” In the Thesmophoriazusae, the Prytanis says, “Officer [in Greek, ‘Archer’ ( τοξότε )— LB], arrest him, fasten him to the post, then take up your position there and keep guard over him” (Aristoph. Thes. 923).

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Plato (Plat. Crito).
 
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Athens.

Although there is evidence for a jail ( δεσμωτήριον ) and a jail-warden ( τοῦ δεσμωτηρίου φύλαξ ) in classical Athens, we do not have any evidence connecting the Scythian Archers with it (see, for example, Plat. Crito 43a).

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