Mary Stone | January 30, 2023
The Sarmatians (Greek Σαρμάται, Latin Sarmatae) are an ancient people consisting of nomadic Iranian-speaking tribes who inhabited the steppe belt of Eurasia from the Danube to the Aral Sea (territory of modern Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan) from the fourth century BC to the first centuries AD.
According to researchers, the Sarmatians under the name “Savromats” were first mentioned by Herodotus (5th century BC), who reported: “If you cross the Tanais River (modern Don), there is no longer a Scythian land, but a region of Savromats”. According to N. Lysenko, since the world map of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (I century BC) the ethnonyms “Savromats” and “Sarmatians” were used as synonyms.
The Sarmatians were considered by ancient authors to be the Aorses, Yazygs, Syraks, Alans, Roxolans, and Saks.
Diodorus Sicilianus reports the resettlement of the Scythians of the Savromats from Midia to the Tanais River. Pliny also reported that the Sarmatians were related to the Medes.
Herodotus reported that the Sarmatians descended from the Amazons, who married Scythian young men who moved with their wives “east of Tanais, three days” journey in the direction of the north wind.
However, speaking about the origin of the Scythians themselves, Herodotus reported that the “nomadic Scythians” who lived in Asia were displaced by the Massagetes and “having crossed the Arax River, went to the Cimmerian land”, counting the Massagetes themselves as the same Scythians. Also Herodotus reported that the language of the “Savromats” is Scythian, “but they speak it with errors from time immemorial. During the invasion of Scythia by Darius I, the Sarmatians supported the Scythians and were part of the army of the Scythian kings.
There is another version of the origin of the name “Sarmatians”. I. Markwart related it to the name of one of the sons of Traetona, Sairime, the hero of the Avestan story of the three brothers Sairime, Tura and Arya. Firdausi writes in “Shahnameh” that Salm (Sairime) was in possession of “the West”, Tur was in possession of Chin and Turan, and Iredj (Arya) was in possession of Iran.
The Conquest of Scythia
In the fifth and fourth centuries BC, the Sarmatians were peaceful neighbors of Scythia. Scythian merchants, traveling to eastern countries, freely passed through Sarmatian lands. In the war with the Persians the Sarmatians were reliable allies of the Scythians. During the time of Atheus allied relations were preserved, Sarmatian detachments served in the army and at the court of the Scythian king. Separate groups of Sarmatians settled on the territory of European Scythia.
At the end of the 4th century BC the situation changed. The Scythians were defeated by the Thracian ruler Lysimachus, the Thracians and the Celtic tribes of the Galatians pressed the Scythians from the west. The consequence of the unsuccessful wars was the collapse of the economy and the fall-off of the conquered Scythian lands and tribes. Following the weakening of the Scythian kingdom, its friendly relations with the Sarmatians were replaced in the III century BC by enmity and the offensive of aggressive and militant young Sarmatian unions in Scythia.
In the famous story “Toxaris, or Friendship” by Lucianus, the Scythians Dan-Damis and Amizok test their loyalty to friendship in the difficult events of the Sarmatian invasion. “The Sarmatians came to our land in the number of ten thousand horsemen, but the foot soldiers, they said, came three times as many. As they have attacked the people who were not expecting their arrival, and have turned all in flight, that usually happens in such cases; they have killed many of those capable to bear a weapon, others have led alive, except for those who have managed to swim to other coast of the river where we had half of a nomad and a part of carts … Straight away SAVRAMT have started to drive off extraction, to collect in crowd captured, to plunder tents, have seized great number of carts with all who was in them “.
Constant raids and gradual seizure of the Scythian territory by the Sarmatians culminated in the mass relocation of Sarmatian tribes to the Northern Black Sea coast.
Pomponius Mela in his description used information from a Roman naval expedition that reached Jutland in A.D. 5. Of all the Germanic tribes only the Hermions lived east of the Elbe, but Pomponius did not know about their eastern neighbors, apparently assuming that they were Sarmatians, as it was on the borders of the Roman Empire with present-day Hungary, and applied this ethnonym to all the non-Germanic tribes north of the Danube and east of the Elbe.
The Great Migration of Peoples
At the beginning of our era began the era of the Great Migration of Peoples, which, according to many researchers, was initiated by the Goths and then the Huns.
Ammianus Marcellinus (330-400 A.D.), describing the Huns, states that this tribe lived beyond the Meotian swamp (now the Sea of Azov) toward the Arctic Ocean, that they reached the land of the Alans, the ancient Massagets. Marcellinus places the Alans themselves east of the river Tanais (modern Don) in the immeasurable spaces of the Scythian deserts, and the Savromats north of the Istra (modern Danube), saying that the river, having refilled with the water of its tributaries, flows past the Savromats, whose area stretches to the Tanais. From this we see that Ammianus Marcellinus distinguishes the Savromatians from the Alans.
Aurelius Victor in his work “On Caesars” writes that during the proclamation of Caesar Constantius (c. 320-350) the hordes of Goths and Sarmatians were defeated. Socrates Scholasticus reports that in the year of Valentinian”s death (321-375) the Sarmatians attacked the Roman Empire.
Between 370 and 380 the Huns defeated the Ostgoths, and before that, according to Jordanes, by crossing the Meotis, they subjugated the Alans, exhausting them by frequent raids.
Claudius Ptolemy in his treatise “Guide to Geography” and Asian Sarmatia, the border between which he believed the river Tanais.
After the conquest of European Scythia, the Sarmatians gained fame as one of the most powerful peoples of the ancient world. The entire Eastern Europe, together with the Caucasus, was called Sarmatia. Having established their domination in the European steppes, Sarmatians began to establish peaceful cooperation with agricultural peoples, patronized international trade and the Greek cities of the Black Sea. The political associations of the Sarmatian tribes forced their neighbors from China to the Roman Empire to reckon with them.
Since the second century B.C. the Sarmatians appear more and more often in the works of Greek, Roman and Oriental authors. The historian Strabo names their tribes as Pagan, Roxolan, Aorses, Syracian, Alanian; Tacitus writes about the devastating raid of the Roxolans on the Danubian province of the Roman Empire of Mesia in 68 AD, where they “chopped up two cohorts”; exiled to the city of Thomas in A.D. 8. The poet Ovid describes with longing and fear the Sarmatians under the city in his “Sorrowful Elegy” – “the enemy, strong with horse and arrow flying far away, ravages … the neighboring land”; Josephus Flavius and Arrian left reports on the wars of the Alans in the I and II centuries in Armenia and Cappadocia – “stern and eternally warlike Alans”.
Western Sarmatian tribes – Roxalans and Yazygs – occupied the steppes of the Northern Black Sea coast. Around 125 BC they created a powerful, although not very strong federation, the emergence of which is explained by the need to resist the pressure of the eastern Sarmatian tribes. Apparently, it was a typical early nomadic state headed by a tribe of royal Sarmatians. However, the Western Sarmatians did not manage to repeat the state experience of the Scythians – from the middle of the first century BC they acted as two independent unions. In the steppes between the Don and Dnieper roamed the Roxolans, to the west of them – between the Dnieper and the Danube – lived Yazygs.
In the first half of the first century AD, the Gentiles moved into the Middle Danube Lowlands, where they occupied the Danube-Tisza interfluve (part of the present territory of Hungary and Serbia). After the Gentiles, the Roxolans came to the border of the Roman Empire, most of whom settled in the lower reaches of the Danube (in the territory of modern Romania). The Western Sarmatians were restless neighbors of Rome, they were either allies or enemies, and did not miss the opportunity to intervene in the internecine struggle within the empire. As befits an era of military democracy, the Sarmatians regarded Rome as a source of rich booty. The methods of its acquisition were different: robbery, tribute and military mercenary activity.
Beginning in the second half of the first century, the Sarmatians, responding to the call of the Dacian king Decebalus, took part in the Dacian wars. In 87, the Roman army under Cornelius Fusca invaded Dacia. At the battle of Tapai the Romans are defeated. The Dacians obtained annual subsidies from Rome in exchange for participation in the defense of the Roman borders. Some of these subsidies also went to the Gentiles. The Roxolans and Gentiles were faithful allies of the Dacians and took part in all Dacian military campaigns against the Romans, including the first Dacian campaign of Trajan and the second Dacian campaign of Trajan, until the summer of 106, when the Roman armies, led by Emperor Trajan, finally captured Dacia and its capital Sarmizegetusa. Having suffered great losses, the Gentiles were never able to regain their former power. Leadership now passed to the Roxolanians, tribes that lived to the east and therefore were not under Roman occupation. After the fall of Dacia, the Romans continued to pay tribute to the Roxolans for some time, but soon gave it up. Having ceased to receive tribute, the Roxolans and the Gentiles invaded Rome”s Danubian provinces in 117. After two years of raids, the Roman Empire, wanting peace on its eastern borders, was forced to resume paying tribute to the Roxolans. The Romans signed a peace treaty with King Rasparagan, who had two titles – “king of the Roxolans” and “king of the Sarmatians. Perhaps this suggests that the Gentiles and the Roxolans formally retained a single supreme power. Most often they acted in a close alliance, although Pagan occupied the plains of the Middle Danube, and Roxolanians settled in the Lower Danube and in the northwestern Black Sea region. Having conquered the Dacians, who lived between the Gentiles and Roxolans, the Romans tried to break their ties and even prohibit communication between them. The Sarmatians responded with war.
The struggle of the Sarmatians with Rome in the 160s and 170s was especially persistent. We know the terms of the peace treaty that the Gentiles signed with Emperor Marcus Aurelius in 179. The war fed up both the Romans and the Sarmatians, in the camp of which two parties – supporters and opponents of the agreement with Rome – fought. At last the peaceful party won, and King Banadaspus, the leader of the supporters of the war, was taken into custody. The negotiations with Marcus Aurelius were led by King Zanthic. The treaty gave the Gentiles the right to pass through Roman lands to the Roxolans, but in return they undertook not to sail ships on the Danube and not to settle near the border. Subsequently, the Romans abolished these restrictions and established days on which the Sarmatians could cross to the Roman side of the Danube to trade. The Gentiles returned 100,000 prisoners to Rome.
An eight-thousand-strong force of Gentile cavalry was accepted into the Roman army, with some riders going to serve in Britain. According to some scholars, such as Georges Dumezil, these Sarmatians were the source of the Celtic myths of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
The Sarmatians clashed with Rome later. Peace was followed by war, which was followed by cooperation again. Sarmatian units joined the Roman army and the kings of the Germanic tribes. Groups of Western Sarmatians settled in the Roman provinces – in what is now Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, France, Italy and Britain.
The eastern Sarmatian unions of Aorses and Syraxes inhabited the area between the Sea of Azov and the Caspian Sea, in the south their lands stretched to the Caucasus Mountains. The Syracans occupied the Azov steppes and the North Caucasian plain north of the Kuban. The foothills and plains of the Central Caucasus also belonged to the Syraks, but at the turn of the new era, they were ousted by the Aorses. The Aorses wandered in the steppes from the Don to the Caspian Sea, in the Lower Volga and the Eastern Caucasus. Beyond the Volga their nomads reached the Southern Urals and the steppes of Central Asia.
According to the ancient Greek geographer and historian Strabo, the Aorses and Syracans “are part nomads, partly living in tents and engaged in agriculture.
The highest level of social development was distinguished by the Syracans, who subjugated the Meotian farmers in the northwestern Caucasus and established their own state. One of the residences of the Syracian kings was the city of Uspa, located near the eastern coast of the Sea of Azov.
The Aorses, who lived in the Caspian and Caucasian steppes, were called “upper Aorses. They dominated the western and northern shores of the Caspian Sea and controlled the trade routes across the Caucasus and Central Asia. The power and wealth of Aorses in ancient times was explained by their participation in the international trade. In China, the Aorses country was called “Yantsai” – through it went the way that connected China and Central Asia with Eastern Europe and the sea trade in the Black and Mediterranean Seas.
Little is known about the relationship between Syriacs and Aorses. In the middle of the first century BC they were allies and jointly provided military assistance to the Bosporan king Pharnaces. In the middle of the first century BC, during the struggle for the throne between the Bosporan king Mithridates VIII and his brother Kotis, the Aorses and Syraks became enemies. The Syraci supported Mithridates, while the Aorses sided with the Romans over Cotys. The combined armies of the Romans, Aorses and Bosporan opposition captured the Syracian city of Uspu. These events were described by the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus. He tells us that after the fall of Uspah, the king of Syracuse Zorsin “decided to prefer the good of his people” and laid down his arms. Deprived of his allies, Mithridates soon ceased his resistance. Not wanting to fall into Roman hands, he surrendered to Aorses king Eunon. Tacitus writes: “He entered the king”s chambers and, falling down on Eunon”s knees, said: ”This is the voluntary Mithridates who has been persecuted by the Romans for so many years.
The Alans is a union of nomadic Eastern Sarmatian Iranian-speaking tribes, which appeared in the field of view of the ancient authors in the middle of the 1st century. The term “Alans” is derived from the ancient Iranian word “Arian”, popular in the ethnonymy of the Scytho-Sarmatian population.
The Alans especially stood out by their militancy among the eastern Sarmatian unions, led by the Aorses. The sources of that time are full of references to “indomitable”, “brave” and “eternally warlike” Alans. The ancient tradition mentions them in the lower reaches of the Danube, in the Northern Black Sea region, and in the steppes of the Caucasus.
In the II century, “Alania” is mentioned as a territory inhabited by Alans. At the same time, the river Terek received the name “Alonta”. Not later than the middle of the III century, in the Chinese chronicles, the former possessions of the Aorses, localized in the Aral-Caspian steppes, were renamed “Alania”. At the same time, the names of other Sarmatian tribes disappeared from the pages of the sources. All this is the milestone of the process, the essence of which was that Alans, according to the IV century author Ammianus Marcellinus, “little by little by continuous victories exhausted the neighboring nations and spread their name on them”.
Alanians made campaigns across the Caucasus, using both the Daryal (“Alanian Gate”) and the Derbent Passage, ravaging Caucasian Albania and Atropatene, and reaching Cappadocia, as in 134. Having established contact with some of the North Caucasian mountain tribes, they became the true scourge of Transcaucasia. Echoes of these events have survived, besides antique ones, in Georgian chronicles. Flavius Arrian, ruler of Cappadocia, found it important to create a work called “Alanian History”.
The Alans took an active part in the affairs of the Bosporan kingdom. There was a group of Alan interpreters in Phanagoria. The military authority of Alans was so significant that the Roman Empire created a special military manual – a manual to fight against them, and the Roman cavalry borrowed a number of tactical methods from the Alanian cavalry.
In the first and second century, the Syracans suffered considerable loss of life in wars with the Aorses, Romans and Bosporans. According to the conclusions of P. U. Outlev and N.V. Anfimov, most of the surviving Syraks underwent Hellenization in the Bosporan kingdom, and then they participated in the formation of the Alanian ethnos, and a smaller part of the Syraks was assimilated by the Meotians. It was such historical events, according to P. U. Outleu, became the reason for the appearance in the Ossetian Nart epic of such a hero as Sausyryk Nart (which he understood as “swarthy Syracian”).
An early Sarmatian from Pokrovka (V-II cc. BC) in the southwestern Urals had the Y-chromosomal haplogroup R1b1a2a2-CTS1078.
In two samples of the II-III centuries from the North Caucasus belonging to the Sarmatian culture, the Y-chromosomal haplogroup J1 (M267+) and mitochondrial haplogroups H1c21 and K1a3 were determined. Analysis of anthropological material associated with the Sarmato-Alanian ethnic subdivisions of the II-IX centuries established the presence of Y-chromosomal haplogroups: G2a (P15+), R1a1a1b2a (Z94+, Z95+), J1 (M267+), and J2a (M410+). The female lineage is characterized by mitochondrial haplogroups: I4a, D4m2, H1c21, K1a3, W1c, and X2i. The study of autosomal markers showed that, despite the presence of admixtures of different directions, in general we can say that these results revealed typical European genotypes.
A Y-chromosomal haplogroup I2 was found in the North Kazakhstan Sarmat. In two Middle Sarmatians Y-chromosomal haplogroups R1a1a1b2a2b2-Y57>Y52 and Q-YP771 were found, genetically the Middle Sarmatians had nothing in common with the Late Sarmatians (Alans). Another study also showed that the Sarmatians, like many nomadic peoples of the Iron Age, were of mixed descent. Most of the Sarmatians studied in this study carried the Y-chromosome haplogroup R1b (R1b1b2-PH200 in sample DA136).
Anthropologically, the Sarmatians were Europoid with a slight Mongoloid admixture. Often the Europoid, sharply profiled structure of the nose and bridge of the nose was combined with a flattened face. The appearance of the Sarmatians was mentioned in passing by Tacitus in his work “Germany”, where he described the tribes of the Fennians, Vendians and Bastarians. He writes that because of mixed marriages their appearance becomes “uglier and uglier” and they acquire “the features of the Sarmatians. From the context we can assume that for him the appearance of the Sarmatians was considered repulsive.
The anthropological type of the Sarmatians changed over time, which is associated with the influx of population from the East. In the II-I centuries BC the share of long-headed Caucasoids, who brought Central Asian cultural elements, increased. An even more massive influx of population at the turn of the eras is characterized by South Siberian Mongoloid-European traits. Finally, in the first centuries of our era the migration flow was predominantly male dolichocephalic Europoid population, which finally assimilated the substrate brachycephals. The Sarmatians of the Lower Volga region, being dolichocranial, were characterized by a flattened face at the middle stage and sharply profiled at the late stage, which is associated with the migration of nomads from Central Asia or Southern Siberia.
The custom of artificially deforming the head was extremely widespread.
The Sarmatian archaeological culture, mainly represented by burial mounds, is associated with the Sarmatians. There are three separate (chronologically consecutive) cultures: Early Sarmatian (“Prokhorovka”), Middle Sarmatian (“Suslovka”) and Late Sarmatian.
Early Sarmatian (“Prokhorovka”) culture in the series of Sarmatian cultures is dated to IV-II centuries BC. It received its name in connection with the mounds located near the village Prokhorovka (Sharlyksky district of Orenburg region), excavated by peasants in 1911. These barrows were re-examined by S.I. Rudenko in 1916. M.I.Rostovtsev who published excavations at Prokhorovka village, for the first time identified these monuments with the historical Sarmatians, dating them to the 3rd-2nd centuries BC. The classical term “Prokhorovka culture” was introduced by B.N.Grakov for similar monuments in the Volga and Urals region. At present, the most recent monuments attributed to the “Prokhorovka culture” are dated to the turn of the era.
The Middle Sarmatian (“Suslovian”) culture was singled out by P.D. Rau in 1927. In his periodization such monuments constituted Stage A (“Stuffe A”) and belonged to the Early Sarmatian time. He dated these monuments (most of which came from Suslovsky burial mound, located in the Soviet district of Saratov region) to the end of II – end of I century BC. N. Grakov, similar complexes were called Sarmatian or “Suslov” culture. And further on, in the works of K. F. Smirnov, the modern name “Middle Sarmatian culture” was confirmed for them.
Cemetery mounds are mounds in which several burials are arranged according to a certain rule: either in a ring or in a row. The buried lie in rectangular pits, stretched out on their backs, head to the south. Of the material finds, there are usually swords and daggers with sickle-shaped tip, bronze and iron arrowheads, thimbles and buckles from a portcullis set, moulded pottery, bronze mirrors, bone punches, spoons and bone spoons.
In the spring of 2022, a farmer from the village of Nikolskoye in the Astrakhan region came across a bronze pot during excavations. Archeologists, who arrived to carry out excavations, found the grave of a Sarmatian leader more than 2000 thousand years old. In addition to unique Sarmatian gold and silver jewelry, a collection of daggers, elements of harness and household items were found in the mound.
The main clothes of the Sarmatians were long spacious pants, leather jackets, soft leather boots, and peaked felt hats (bashlyk).
According to ancient historians, the Sarmatians “were a warlike, free, rebellious and so cruel and fierce that even women participated in the war on a par with men” (Roman geographer Pomponius Mela, I century AD).
The Sarmatians, according to ancient authors, were nomads. They lived in tents and tents. “The Sarmatians do not live in cities and do not even have permanent residences. They are forever encamped, transporting their possessions and wealth to wherever the best pastures attract them or are forced by retreating or persecuting enemies” (Pomponius Mela).
The Sarmatians transported their children, elders, women, and possessions in kibbits during their migrations. As the Greek geographer Strabo of the late first century B.C. – early first century A.D. says: “Nomads” (nomads”) tents are made of felt and are attached to the wagons on which they live, around the tents cattle graze, whose meat, cheese and milk they feed on”.
Apparently, the Sarmatian form of government was a military democracy, but there is no direct evidence about the structure of the supreme power in the Sarmatian tribes of the early era. The term “skeptukh” is most often used to describe the supreme power, and its meaning is not entirely clear, as it was applied to the tribal leaders, kings, military leaders and court dignitaries (in particular at the Achaemenian court).
The situation of women
A feature of the Savromats was the high position of women, their active participation in public life and military actions. Ancient writers often refer to the Savromats as a woman- ruled people. Herodotus recounted the legend of their descent from the marriages of Scythian young men to the Amazons, a legendary tribe of female warriors. Savromatian women could lead tribes and perform priestly functions. Scientists believe that the Savromatian bloodline was maternal, and the count of kinship at the stage of disintegration of the tribal system was still in the female line. Later, when new Sarmatian unions emerged on the basis of Savromatian tribes, the signs of “matriarchy” disappeared. Sarmatian society became “patriarchal”.
The noble women often performed honorary priestly functions. It is indicative that the grave of a deceased woman, even a girl, often contained not only ornaments but also items of arms. The clan cemetery, as a rule, was formed around the earlier burial of a noble woman, a leader or priestess, who was revered as the foremother by her relatives.
Sarmatian women-warriors were reported by ancient authors who lived at that time. For example, the Greek historian Herodotus noted that their women “ride hunting with or without their husbands, go out to war and wear the same clothes as men… No girl gets married until she has killed an enemy. Pseudo-Hippocrates also reported that Sarmatian women rode horses, shot bows and darted. He also gives such a surprising detail: girls often had their right breast removed so that all the strength and vital juices would go to the right shoulder and arm and would make a woman strong like a man. Sarmatian female warriors probably served as the basis for ancient Greek legends of the mysterious Amazons.
The image of animals, especially the ram, occupied a prominent place in the religious and cultural representations of the Sarmatians. Often the ram was depicted on the handles of vessels and swords. The ram was a symbol of “heavenly grace” (farn) among the ancient peoples. The Sarmatians also had a widespread cult of ancestors.
The Greco-Iranian religious syncretism was reflected in the cult of the Greco-Sarmatian goddess Aphrodite-Aputara (deceiver). Whether her sanctuary was in Panticapeum is unknown, but in Taman it was in a place called Aphrodite-Aputara. The cult of Aphrodite-Aputara is akin to the Asian cult of Astarte.
The only monuments of Sarmatian millennia are the numerous burial mounds, sometimes reaching 5-7 meters in height. Savromatian and Sarmatian burial mounds are most often located in groups on high places, on the tops of hills, syrtes, which offer a wide panorama of immense steppes. They are very visible, and therefore in ancient times, these mounds began to attract the attention of robbers and treasure hunters.
The Sarmatians did not pass without a trace for the south of Ukraine and Russia. Remnants of a living language have survived from them, and, according to Academician Sobolevsky, they even transmitted the names of large rivers to Proto-Slavs, viz: Dnestr, formerly Dnestr – Sarmatian Danastr or Danaistr; Dnepr – Danaper; Don (water
In Bashkortostan there is the river Ashkadar (compare: Persian ashka – “white, clean”, darya – “river”), in the Orenburg and Chelyabinsk regions – rivers Sanga (toponym is compared with the Tajik sang – “stone, stony”).
Some historians have suggested that the Sarmatians are the main ancestors of the Eastern and Southern Slavs, but this theory has been rejected by most scholars, who have pointed to clear differences between the Sarmatian culture and that of the ancient Slavs.
The Sarmatians were considered excellent warriors; it is widely believed that it was they who created the heavy cavalry, their weapons were swords and spears. Appearing first in the Lower Volga region, the Sarmatian sword, with a length of 70 to 110 cm, soon spread throughout the steppes. It proved indispensable in mounted combat.
The Sarmatians were serious adversaries for their neighbors. “…with the Sarmatians not only the voice of the leader matters: they all incite each other not to allow arrows to be thrown in battle, but to warn the enemy with a bold attack and engage in hand-to-hand combat” (Cornelius Tacitus). However, the Sarmatians rarely appeared in front of their enemies on foot. They were always on horseback. “It is remarkable that all the valor of the Sarmatians lies as if outside themselves. They are extremely cowardly on foot; but when they appear in mounted detachments, hardly any formation can oppose them.”
The Sarmatians were very skillful warriors. The Sarmatian warriors were armed with long pikes and wore armor made of sliced and smoothed pieces of horn sewn like feathers on linen robes. They rode great distances as they pursued the enemy or as they retreated themselves, riding fast and docile horses, and each leading another horse or two with them. They moved from horse to horse to give them rest.
Since the II century BC the Sarmatians have recorded units of cataphractarii – cavalry, armed with long spears and protected, time together with horses, with heavy protective equipment.
Military affairs of the Sarmatians in the works of ancient authors
The Sarmatian military art was at a high level of development for its time. The Sarmatian strategy and tactics and the latest weapons were adopted by the Scythians, Bosporans and even Romans. In the process of eastern expansion, first Greek and then Roman colonists encountered nomadic tribes. Greek authors paid more attention to the customs and history of the barbarians. They were less interested in military affairs because their relations with the local population were most likely peaceful.
The art of Sarmatian warfare was for the most part illuminated by Roman historians. There are many traditional and legendary moments in the descriptions of Sarmatia. For example, the majority of authors of the I-II centuries A.D. traditionally call Sarmatians Scythians or Savromats. Before the first century BC there is no direct information about the military affairs of the Sarmatians, but since the time of the first active appearance of nomads in the historical arena falls in the IV-III centuries BC, we should consider the documents indirectly narrating about various spheres of military affairs of the Sarmatians.
The military epithets and brief mentions of the Sarmatians as ferocious warriors appear in the works of poets and philosophers since the first century AD. The Roman poet Ovid, who was exiled to the Black Sea coast in 8 A.D. to the city of Thomas, was one of the first to mention the Sarmatians as fierce warriors and to compare them with Mars (Lamentations, V, 7).
Some of the customs of the “Scythians and their like tribes” were described by Lucius Annas Cornutus, a philosopher of the Stoic school who lived in the time of Nero. The author focused on the indomitable justice and military exercises of the nomadic tribes. The writer also referred to the veneration of Ares, the god of war.
The kinship of the nomads with the god of war was also mentioned by Dionysius Periegetes. The Latin author describes the nomads living near the Meotis, and among them “the tribes of the Savromats, the glorious race of the warlike Ares” (Description of the inhabited land, 652-710).
The poet Gaius Valerius Flaccus Setinus Balb left information concerning the “fierce Sarmatian youth” and their “animal roar” (VI, 231-233).
Rufus Festus Avienus, wrote of a “fierce Sarmatian” dwelling around the Taurus (Description of the Earthly Circle, 852-891). Claudius Claudianus mentioned Sarmatian horse units (Pangericus on the Third Consulate, VV, 145-150).
Eutropius, mentioned the legion exterminated in Sarmatia. In addition he wrote about Diocletian”s wars with the Sarmatians (IX, 25).
Aristotle left one of the earliest accounts relating to the “nobility and decency” of the nomadic cavalry: “It is said that a Scythian king once had a noble mare from whom all the foals were very good. The king wanted her to give birth to the best offspring, and he led the foal to its mother for mating, but the stallion did not want to. When, after the mating, they opened the mare”s head, the stallion, seeing her, ran away and rushed off the cliffs” (Histories of the Animals, IX, 47).
In the 3rd century B.C. Antigonus of Caristia also mentioned the story of the Scythian mare (Code of Incredible Tales, LIV, 59). The next who gave a small characteristic of the cavalry of the warlike Sarmatians was Ovid. He describes wild horses and “Sarmatians dangerous by horse” (Lamentations, III, 10).
Gaius Pliny Secundus the Elder writes: “The Sarmatians, preparing for a long journey, on the eve do not feed their horses, but give them only a little drink, and thus they, sitting on horseback, move continuously for a distance of 150 miles…”. (4, 162). He mentions Aristotle”s story about the “Scythian mare”, and also writes about the preference of Scythians for the use of mares in war (4, 156, 165).
Paulien, describing the military operation of the Sarmatian queen Amaga, notes that her warriors had two replacement horses and thus were able to overcome the distance of 1200 stadia (VIII, 56).
One of the last authors to write about nomadic cavalry was Claudius Aelianus. He once again repeats Aristotle”s “story of the Scythian mare” (On Animals, IV, 7).
The ancient authors, describing the Sarmatian cavalry, paid great attention to such qualities as endurance and nobility. According to writers, Sarmatian horses could travel up to 150 miles in a day, which equals 220 km. Some authors mention replaceable horses. All this allowed the nomads to travel considerable distances.Ovid reports that “enemies swoop in a predatory pack” (Lamentations, V, 10), Josephus Flavius describes the “swift raids” of the Sarmatians on Mesia and on Midia (7, 4).
Antique authors paid great attention to the arrows of nomads. Aristotle wrote about the recipe of the Scythian arrow poison prepared from echidna and human blood (On miraculous cases, 141). Almost word for word this story repeats Aristotle”s narration; in his account the Scythians use snakes instead of the echidna component (Tales of the Wonders, 845a, 141).
Theophrastus writes of “deadly plants used to grease arrows. As the ancient botanist tells us, some poisons kill at once, while others make a man die of exhaustion. (Theophrastus, On Plants, XV, 2).
Ovid attaches great importance to arrows. The poet repeatedly mentions the poisonous hooked arrows of the nomads (Letters from the Pontus, IV, 7, 10). He even sends one quiver as a gift to his friend Fabius Maximus with a letter (Letters from the Pontus, III, 8).
Pausanias tells of Sarmatian bone arrowheads (Description of Hellas, I, 21, 5). Pliny the Elder also writes about the Scythians wetting their arrows with poison (Natural History, 2, XI, 279). Claudius Aelianus writes about the same (On Animals, IX, 15).
The traditional weapons of close combat, the sword and the spear, are also described in the works of ancient authors. Ovid writes about Sarmatians armed with knives (Lamentations, V, 7). Josephus Flavius mentions the Sarmatian sword (On the War of the Jews, VII, 7, 4), Valerius Flaccus describes “the ruler of a huge Sarmatian spear” (Argonautica, VI, 20), Pausanias writes of bone spears (Description of Hellas, I, 21, 5). Claudius Claudianus also writes about Sarmatian spears (On the Consulate of Stilicho, I, 122).
Quite often ancient authors mention in their works the use of the harness by the Sarmatians. It was used either for capturing prisoners or for throwing a rider off a horse. Josephus Flavius writes about an attempt to capture the Armenian king Trinidad with a harness (On the War of the Jews, VII, 7, 4). Pausanias notes that “the Sarmatians threw harnesses over their enemies and then, having turned the horses backwards, overturned those caught in the harnesses” (Description of Hellas, I, 21, 5). The most recent mention of the use of harnesses by nomads is found in Bishop Amvrosius of Macedonia, who lived in the fifth century A.D. The bishop writes that “the Alans are skilled in the custom of throwing a noose around the neck of the enemy” (On the Destruction of Jerusalem, V).
The first reference to the protective armament of nomads belongs to Theophrastus of Eres. In his treatise “On Waters” he writes: “The tarandus is found in Scythia or Sarmatia, its muzzle looks like a deer… Its bone is covered with leather, from which the wool grows. The skin is as thick as a finger and very strong, therefore it is dried and made into shells” (About waters, 172).
An interesting description of armor was left by Pausanias: “They make armor in the following way: each of them keeps many horses…. Horses they use not only for war, but also as sacrifices to the native gods and use for food. They collect their hooves, clean them, cut them open, and make them into a kind of snake scales. Whoever has not seen a snake has probably seen a green pine cone, and so with the grooves seen in the pine cones we can perhaps unmistakably compare what is made of hooves. They drill these plates, sew them together with horse and ox veins, and use them as shells, which are not inferior to Hellenic shells in beauty or strength, they even withstand blows and wounds inflicted in the hand-to-hand fight” (Description of Hellas, I, 21, 5).
Claudius Aelianus described the animal Tarand similarly to Theophrastus, but in his account the nomads covered the skin with shields rather than making shells of it (On Animals, II, 16).
Strabo describes the defeat of the 50,000 troops of “bellicose” Roxolanians, and also notes that the nomads “wear helmets and armor made of raw cowhide and shields of woven bars, and their offensive weapons are lances, bows and swords” (VIII, 3, 17). The geographer gives the number of troops of Syracuse and Aorses and writes about the domination of the latter over most of the Caspian coast (V, 8).
Publius Cornelius Tacitus recounts the unsuccessful Sarmatian raid on Mesia in 69 A.D. (History, I, 79). Mentioning that few could withstand the mounted Sarmatian hordes, Tacitus described the defeat of a nomadic army of nine thousand by the auxiliary forces of the Third Legion. In describing the armament of the Sarmatians, Tacitus mentions pikes and long swords, which the Sarmatians held with both hands, as well as the heavy armor of leaders and nobles, consisting of plates pressed together or of the toughest leather. At the same time he specifies that nomads do not use shields at all.
Of great importance are the works of the Roman historian and prominent statesman Flavius Arrian, who ruled Cappadocia from 131-137. In 135, Arrian reflects the Alanian raid. Fight of Roman legions with Sarmatians has not taken place – the army of Cappadocia has acted to east border, and nomads have decided not to risk and have receded. As a result of the “clash with the Alans”, Arrian developed an interest in his opponents and dedicated the events of 135 to the “Disposition against the Alans”. Describing the scenario of the failed battle, Arrian describes the Sarmatian armament and tactics (Disposition against the Alans, 17, 28, 30, 31). Arrian”s Sarmatians use shields and pikes, are clad in armor, and use various tactics during the battle – false retreat, encirclement.
Another work by Arrian also tells about Sarmatian warfare (Tactics, 47, 16.6, 35.3). In “Tactics”, the historian mentions horsemen armed with darts and attacking in the Alanian manner, wedge-shaped formations of nomadic cavalry, as well as military badges in the form of dragons. The banners “not only cause pleasure or horror by their appearance, but are also useful to distinguish the attack and to prevent different units from attacking one another”.
Ammianus Marcellinus described some of the military customs of the Sarmatians. From birth, nomads learn horseback riding, constantly train, and worship the sword. They consider the one who gives up his spirit in battle to be happy. The custom of scalping enemies and decorating Sarmatian horses with these scalps is also described by Marcellinus.
Since the middle of the 16th century, Polish humanists began to express the idea that the Polish nobility descended from the Sarmatians, an ancient steppe people known from Greek and Roman ethnography. In the 17th century, this thesis became the basis of the ideology of the Polish nobility – the nobility, sarmatism (a kind of social racism: the aristocracy was considered descendants of the Sarmatians, and the common people – the Slavs and Lithuanians). In art history, there is a special term “Sarmatian portrait”: during the 17th and 18th centuries, Polish aristocrats wished that artists would portray them as “Sarmatians”.
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- ^ Unterländer et al. 2017, p. 2. “During the first millennium BC, nomadic people spread over the Eurasian Steppe from the Altai Mountains over the northern Black Sea area as far as the Carpathian Basin… Greek and Persian historians of the 1st millennium BC chronicle the existence of the Massagetae and Sauromatians, and later, the Sarmatians and Sacae: cultures possessing artefacts similar to those found in classical Scythian monuments, such as weapons, horse harnesses and a distinctive ‘Animal Style” artistic tradition. Accordingly, these groups are often assigned to the Scythian culture…
- a b Czuczor és Fogarasi 1870
- Bakay 1997: 181–194.
- Bakay 2005: 286–298.
- Pais 1938
- Pekkanen 1973
- Karte auf Basis der Angaben in: „Archäologie der Ukrainischen SSR.“ Band 2, Kiew 1986. (Aber keine Urheberrechtsverletzung, das Werk beinhaltet nur schwarz-weiß-Kartenskizzen.)
- Sarmatian | people. In: Encyclopedia Britannica. (britannica.com [abgerufen am 11. Juli 2018]).
- Johann August Zeune: Warta und Weichsel, die alten Grenzflüsse zwischen Germanen und Sarmaten. In: Annalen der Erd-, Völker- und Staatenkunde, Band 4, Berlin 1831, S. 521–527 (books.google.de).
- M. P. Abramowa: Ранние аланы Северного Кавказа III-V вв. н. э = The early alans of North Caucasus 3rd-5th centuries A. D. Moskau 1997.
- zitiert bei: Paul Joseph Schaffarik: Über die Abkunft der Slawen nach Lorenz Surowiecki. Ofen 1828.