Ataelus the Scyth is the reader’s introduction to one of the most fascinating cultures of the ancient world. The Scythians, a Horse Nomad culture that spanned the Asian plains from Mongolia to Ukraine and beyond, were one of the world’s most successful non-literate cultures, and their descendants are still with us today.
Thanks to the remarkable preservation of all kinds of materials in the Altai Mountains, we have better understanding of the Scythians than of most ancient peoples, from textiles to horse breeds. We have examples of Scythian bows and arrows, of their superb metalwork, of their armour and of their day-to-day implements for farming, eating, and even cosmetics.
It is fair to say that the Scythians are what drew me to this period and the cultures at the center of the novels. The interactions between the Scythians and the Greeks were, for the most part, peaceful; and while neither culture assimilated the other, they shared arts and crafts, traded, and lived side by side for hundreds of years — surely an example to all of us.
My character of Ataelus is based on the decayed Scythians that Ovid encountered in Olbia and those mentioned in the Corpus Hippocraticum. Ataelus is a Massagetae warrior who has drifted west, initially exiled for killing the wrong man in a fight somewhere east of the Aral Sea. Like many tribal people cut loose from his roots, he drifts into an alien culture and does jobs a slave would reject for enough money to drink — all the while wearing gold ornaments on his clothes.
When Kineas gives him a “tribe,” though, Ataelus blossoms — eventually becoming a powerful tribal leader himself. In my experience, it is the sense of isolation that devastates tribal exiles, whether in Africa or in the streets of Toronto — and when such people end that isolation, they thrive.
Ataelus is a fine archer and a good rider, but his skills are not magical, nor does he perform any feat that isn’t described in contemporary sources. Allegedly, Scythians disliked dismounting even to relieve themselves.