On Tirgatao and Scythian Ethnicity

I posted about Tirgatao on Reddit (link), and I got this reply:


So let’s talk about this.

Yes, a number of accounts describe the Scythians as pale, with red or blonde hair, and light colored eyes. Wikipedia covers this at length:


Now, the subtext to this long list of Wikipedia citations is that their ethnicity is contested – hence the article listing all the evidence to them being what we’d today consider white. And if you look in the “talk” section of the article, you’ll find no shortage of evidence of people contesting it:

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As I talk about in the footnotes for the Tirgatao entry, “Scythian” was a catch-all Greek term for a wide range of people, who have variously been linked to Circassian, Arab, Persian, Mongolian, and a long list of other ethnic groups. Moreover, the Greeks were pretty inconsistent with who they considered a Scythian, and it changed a lot over the centuries.

Now, Tirgatao’s legend is most closely tied to the Circassians, who have an oral history that matches Polyaenus’s tale. This is what modern-day Circassians look like:

NOTE: as pointed out by a commenter, these are actually Georgian people, although it was labeled as “Circassian” to the high heavens by the referring site. Literally, the alt-text was “circassian-people-kabardino-traditional-costume-balkaria-karachay-cherkessia-north-caucasus-circassian-men-women.”

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You can see some red-haired folk there, and you can see a range of skin tones. And granted, this is 2500 years after Tirgatao’s day, after a mass diaspora (mostly to Jordan, from my understanding), and presumably a lot of genetic intermingling.

So given all that, here’s the bottom line as to how I portrayed Tirgatao (and Tomyris, also described as a Scythian):

  • I don’t know what she looked like.
  • I don’t know who to trust regarding Ixomatae ethnicity. There’s a large number of loud contradictory voices on the subject.
  • At a certain point, I decided it wasn’t worth any more effort trying to untangle that knot.
  • I tried to fudge her ethnicity to be a bit of a question mark – unclear as to whether she was darker-skinned from being outside all the time, or because of her ethnicity, or both. Her hair outlines have a dark reddish tint to them, but it’s mostly lost in the final version.
  • Ultimately, it’s on me. It’s my art, my call, and all I can be is transparent about that and hope y’all like what I come up with.
  • If and when I do another Scythian princess, I’ll likely mix it up and portray them differently.

And this was another episode of, “how the sausage is made”!

(still figuring out who the next entry will be, hope to have the hint up later today. I want it to be another comic style entry, but figuring out good candidates for this format requires more prior research than the old format.)