Face Music - History: Horsemen – Nomads
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P & C December 1998
- Face Music / Albi

- last update 03-2016

  • Sarmats – Sauromats
    - 6th century before Christ to 4th century after Christ
    • Sauromatian: 6th- 5th centuries BC
    • Early Sarmatian: 4th - 2nd centuries BC
    • Middle Sarmatian: late 2nd century BC
    • Late Sarmatian: 2nd - 4th centuries AD

- map sketch: Sarmats "Skythians"
Sarmats Immigration
Herodotus Worldmap
Sarmats Immigration2

The Sarmatians were a tribal confederation of Iranian equestrian people who had initially migrated towards the East (Central Asia) and were, for the very first time, mentioned in ancient written sources for the year 513 BC. In alliance with the Scythians, they fought against the king Darius I of Persia.

The Sauromatian culture did change in the course of the 4th century. It might have been that the grazing lands for the steppe nomads became to scarce, when new groups from the Ural area and the Taiga joined the Sarmatians; these also included the Massagetae who were allied with the Saka (Scythians), too. The Sarmatians established a new structure, on the basis of social changes as well as tribal exodus. There have been found in the Kurgan hills rich and wealthy endowed burial sites at the river Ilek, which were obviously intended for the members of the elite. It has been assumed that the centre of the Sarmatians was situated in this region. The earlier tribes, which were called Sauromatians or Sarmatians, settled between the 6th century BC and the 4th century AD in the south Russian and Ukrainian steppe areas. From the 3rd century BC on, they there expelled the Scythes, which can be demonstrated by example of numerous burial site findings. The language of the Sarmatians belongs to the north-eastern Iranian and Central Iranian, respectively, group of the Indo-European language family still existent with the Osetians in the Caucasus area.

In the 1st century BC, the empire comprised the area of the Barents Sea, the Baltic Sea, the territories alongside the Vistula (Poland), the Carpathian Mountains, the origin of the river Danube, the northern shores of the Black Sea, the areas upstream the Volga and the northern Caucasus area as far as the Caspian Sea. From 370 AD on, this loose union of the Sarmatian tribes collapsed upon the invasion of the Huns, in this way initiating a bigger migration towards the West.

The Sarmatians also merged with the Scythians and the Amazonas, the reason therefore probably being the high status and warrior equipment of the women in the earlier Sarmatian society, as findings of female Kurgan burial sites with weapons and valuable equipment show. The Macedonian writer Polyainos told about 165 AD how the Sarmatian queen Amage herself was victorious against the leader of the Crimean Scythes in the 3rd century BC.

The Sarmatians frequently attacked the neighbouring Roman Empire, and they were then recruited as auxiliaries, fighting in various Roman legions, after the tribe of the Jazyges (Iazyges) had been defeated in 175 AD in the First Marcomannic War (*) at the northern origin of the river Danube at the Black Sea. On the condition of the following peace treaty, emperor Aurel demanded equestrian troops as hostages of the Jazygean king Zanticus; some of these prisoners were then immediately taken to the Roman province of Britannia.

(*) Wars between the Roman Empire and the Germanic and Sarmatian tribes, mainly in the area of the Central Danube (Moravia), Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.

From the 3rd century AD on, the Sarmatians settled in the entire Roman Empire, they fought in Roman armies and frequently were granted Roman citizenship. There were developed Sarmatian settlements in Gaul (former area of settlement of the Celtic people) and in Italy. There were also established settlements in Thuringia. Sarmatian troops were also stationed at the Lower Rhine (today’s Krefeld). Their armoured lancet riders were feared and dreaded all over the countries, as they used push lancet with a length of up to 4 metres with both of their hands. But also the riding bowmen and archers were feared; they were able to shoot also backwards with reflex arcs of great range and high penetrating power. They were rather efficient in luring their enemies into a trap by staging apparent withdrawals. They also exerted important influence on the later Roman army. Also Gothic and Slaw tribes were verifiably influenced by the Sarmatians.

Sarmatian Tribes

The Sarmatians as a whole were no uniform people but rather a composition of numerous people and tribes, united by a common cultural basis.

The Aorsi constituted the biggest tribe. After their secession from the tribal confederation, they settled in the north of the Bosporan Kingdom at the Sea of Azov and conquered nearly the entire Ukraine, Belarus and the territories of the principality Novgorod. In the 3rd century AD, they were finally defeated by the Goths.

The Jazyges initially came from the area in the west of the river Don at the Black Sea shores. Their settling between Danube and Theiss in the 1st century was also supported by Rome, as the Roman empire wanted to separate the Germanic and the Dacian territories. The Hungarian king Béla IV even in the 13th century supported the settlement of Jazyges in the sparsely populated steppe in the east of Budapest; in this way he wanted to protect the capital against attacks by the Mongols.

The Dacians were a Thracian people settling at the western Black Sea area since the 5th century BC. About 50 BC under King Burebista, there was developed a big Dacian Empire, especially concentrated in today’s Transylvania. In the west, the empire stretched as far as Moravia, where the Dracian conquered even some Celtic tribes, in the east the empire stretched as far as the shores of the Black Sea and the Bug, in the south the Balkan mountains were the natural frontier. The Dacians are closely related with the neighbouring Getae (predecessors of the Romanians), probably sharing the same language.

The Alans settled from the 2nd century BC on in northern Kazakhstan and in the northeast of the Caspian Sea; from the middle of the 1st century AD on, they moved into the southern Russian steppes between Volga and Don. They survived as an individual tribal federation longer than the Sarmatians, and over time they adapted also other cultural elements. In the 9th century, in the Kuban area and in the northern Caucasus, there was established the state of Alania, which was then Christianized by Byzantine missionaries several decades later. With the invading Mongols in the 13th century the Alanian kingdom was finally destroyed, and some thousand Alans were then expelled to Hungary – for more information:
please see under Alans.

The Roxolani initially were inhabitants of the areas in the west of the river Don in the steppes of today’s Ukraine. From the 1st century AD on, they settled in the north of the Danube, frequently attacking the Roman province of Moesia.

The Siraces were one of the smallest tribes and initially settled in Kazakhstan. In the 5th century BC they migrated to the areas north of the Black Sea, and in the late 4th century BC they settled between Don and Caucasus, finally establishing dominance over the Kuban area. The Siraces used to have rather intensive relations with the Bosporan Empire, and may got rid of their semi-nomadic lifestyle, settling down and assuming Greek culture and language.

The Majoae, in contrast to the nomadized Sarmatian tribes, were settled farmers, among others on the Russian peninsula Taman and the area of the Caucasus Mountains; they were also influenced by the Greek culture.

In addition to the already mentioned folk groups, there were also existent the Massagetae and the Sakh. The Osetians in the northern Caucasus Mountains are direct linguistic, ethnic and cultural descendents of the Sarmatian tribe of the Alans – for more information:
please see under Osetians – Osetia.

The Legend of King Arthur – The US-American scientist Scott Littleton has proven in different publications that there are historic connections between the Arthur legends and the presence of Sarmatian riders in Britannia. He assumes that the legends about the Knights of the Round Table also go back to stories about the Sarmatian lancet riders. He furthermore shows numerous parallels between elements of the legends of King Arthur and the older Sarmatian Nart myths. At the end of the 2nd century, riders of the Sarmatian tribe of the Alans were present in Gaul as Roman auxiliaries (Celtic), where there later on was developed the legend about the Knight Lancelot and the Round Table.

September 2010 – Albi – translated by Hermelinde Steiner - January 2011