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Sarmatians

From Academic Kids

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Sarmatians_horseman.jpg
Sarmatian Cataphract from Tanais: compare Pausanias' description of armor (text below)

Sarmatians, Sarmatae or Sauromatae (the second form is mostly used by the earlier Greek writers, the other by the later Greeks and the Romans) were a people whom Herodotus (4.21-117) in the 5th century BC put on the eastern boundary of Scythia beyond the Tanais (Don). They were Iranian people akin to the Scythians (Saka).

Contents

History

One writer averred that they were not pure Scythians, but, being descended from young Scythian men and Amazons, spoke an impure dialect and allowed their women to take part in war and to enjoy much freedom. Later writers call some of them the "woman-ruled Sarmatae". Hippocrates (De Aere, etc., 24) classes them as Scythian. From this we may infer that they spoke an Iranian language cognate with Scythian.

Tacitus disparaged the Sarmatians (Germania, ch. 46) whom he placed in woodlands, not steppes, and thought had a "degraded aspect"; his picture of Sarmatians as "living on horseback and in wagons" sounds more likely.

Later, Pausanias, viewing votive offerings near the Athenian Acropolis in the 2nd century AD (Description of Greece 1.21.5-6), found among them

a Sauromatic breastplate. On seeing this a man will say that no less than Greeks are foreigners skilled in the arts: for the Sauromatae have no iron, neither mined by themselves nor yet imported. They have, in fact, no dealings at all with the foreigners around them. To meet this deficiency they have contrived inventions. In place of iron they use bone for their spear-blades, and cornel-wood for their bows and arrows, with bone points for the arrows. They throw a lasso round any enemy they meet, and then turning round their horses upset the enemy caught in the lasso.
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Sarmgold.jpg
The best collection of Sarmatian gold is preserved in the Hermitage Museum.
Their breastplates they make in the following fashion. Each man keeps many mares, since the land is not divided into private allotments, nor does it bear any thing except wild trees, as the people are nomads. These mares they not only use for war, but also sacrifice them to the local gods and eat them for food. Their hoofs they collect, clean, split, and make from them as it were python scales. Whoever has never seen a python must at least have seen a pine-cone still green. He will not be mistaken if he liken the product from the hoof to the segments that are seen on the pine-cone. These pieces they bore and stitch together with the sinews of horses and oxen, and then use them as breastplates that are as handsome and strong as those of the Greeks. For they can withstand blows of missiles and those struck in close combat.

Pausanias' description is well borne out in a relief from Tanais, illustation top right.

The greater part of the barbarian names occurring in the inscriptions of Olbia, Tanais and Panticapaeum are supposed to be Sarmatian, and as they have been well explained from the Iranian language now spoken by the Ossetians of the Caucasus (the Ossetic language), these are supposed to be the modern representatives of the Sarmatae and can be shown to have a direct connection with the Alans, one of their tribes.

By the 3rd century BC the Sarmatae appear to have supplanted the Scyths proper in the plains of what is now south Ukraine, where they remained dominant until the Gothic and Hunnish invasions. Their chief divisions were the Rhoxolani; the Iazyges, with whom the Romans had to deal on the Danube and Theiss; the Taiphali; and the Alani. Among others, Sarmatian tribes also included Serbs and Croats, which latter moved to the west and mixed with Slavs. See also Sarmat tribes of Ural (http://www.lost-civilizations.net/sarmat-tribes-ural.html).

Sarmatians were still a force the Romans had to reckon with in the late 4th century AD. Ammianus Marcellinus (29.6.13-14) describes a severe defeat which Sarmatian raiders inflicted upon Roman forces in the province of Valeria in Pannonia in late 374, when they almost annihilated both a legion recruited from Moesia and one from Pannonia, which had been sent to intercept a party of Sarmatians who had been pursuing a senior Roman officer named Aequitius deep into Roman territory; the two legions failed to coordinate, and their quarrelling allowed the Sarmatians to catch them unprepared and deal a stunning blow.
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Sarmsilver.jpg
Sarmatian silver earrings from Novocherkassk.

The term Sarmatia is applied by later writers to as much as was known of what is Central and Eastern Europe, including all that which the older authorities call Scythia, the latter name being transferred to regions farther east. Ptolemy's Geography gave maps of European and Asiatic Sarmatia.

The Polish idea of "Sarmatians"

Main article: Sarmatism.

In the 16th century Polish szlachta (gentry) were wearing long coats trimmed with fur, sables if they could get them, and thigh-high boots, the "Sarmatian" costume they liked to be painted in, proclaiming the cultural ideology that sustained their connections with a nobility on horseback, equals among themselves and invincible to foreigners (according to Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory 1995, p. 38).

Recent research

In a recent excavation of Sarmatian sites by Dr. Jeannine Davis-Kimball, a tomb was found wherein female warriors were buried, thus lending some credence to the myths about the Amazons. Following the excavation in 2003 by Dr. Davis-Kimball, she and Dr. Joachim Burger compared the genetic evidence from the site with the nomadic Kazakhs in Mongolia, and have found a striking genetic link. This finding was verified later by the University of Cambridge. [1] (http://www.thirteen.org/pressroom/release.php?get=1272). However, this does not show in what way the two groups are related. It may only show that the Kazakhs have assimilated groups related to the Sarmatians.

A recent paper on the study of glass beads found in Sarmatian graves suggests wide cultural and trade links.[2] (http://www.nbz.or.jp/eng/pdffiles/hallandyablonsky1998.pdf)

Trivia

"Sarmatian Knights" were prominently featured in the 2004 film King Arthur

References

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  • Brzezinski, R., et al, The Sarmatians 600 BC-AD 450 (in series Men-At-Arms 373) ISBN 184176485X
  • Davis-Kimball, Jeannine. 2002. Warrior Women: An Archaeologist's Search for History's Hidden Heroines. Warner Books, New York. 1st Trade printing, 2003. ISBN 0-446-67983-6 (pbk).
  • Tadeusz Sulimirski, The Sarmatians (vol. 73 in series "Ancient People and Places") Praeger Publishers, 1970de:Sarmaten

es:Srmatas fr:Sarmates pl:Sarmaci ru:Сарматы uk:Сармати nl: Sarmaten

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