Two Ancient Iranian-Scythian Priest Warriors
As late as the closing decades of the 4th century B.C., the Iranian peoples were still the largest and the most widespread group within the great Indo-European family; this position must have been held for thousands of years by their nomadic ancestors, and was not relinquished until well into the Roman period; during those distant millennia, they roamed the vast, limitless Eurasian steppes as pastoralist riders and charioteers; towards the end of the second millennium B.C., some of them, lured by the great civilisations of the Indus vally, Elam, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor, moved southwards and made permanent settlements; it didn't take very long for one group of these settled people, the Medes, to form the first of the four Iranian empires, and less than 500 years for the Persians, to become the absolute masters of the known world; their nomadic ancestors, however, continued to roam the steppes, unopposed, for a very long time; it was not until the 5th century A.D. that the invading Turkic tribes pushed them out of their homelands into central Europe and further west; by then, of course, vast numbers of them had merged with eastern Europeans to form the core of the modern Slavs
We owe a great deal to these pre-historical Iranians, one of whom, i.e, Zoroaster, is generally regarded as the first of the great prophets, and the earliest of the great thinkers; his people, in the holy texts, are referred to as Airyas, and their homeland, believed to have been somewhere in Eastern Iran, as Airyana vaejah; the word Ariya, noble, is also attested in the Inscriptions of Darius the Great and his son, Xerxes; it is used both as a linguistic and a racial designation. Darius refers to his Behistun inscription (DBiv.89) as (written) in Ariyan; he and Xerxes state in their surviving texts in Naqsh-i Rustam (DNa.14), Susa (DSe.13), and Persepolis (XPh.13): (adam) P~rsa, P~rsahy~ puça; Ariya, Ariya ciça; meaning: I am Persian, son of a Persian; an Aryan, belonging to the Aryan race.
We meet this word again in Pahlavi literature, and in many Sasanian inscriptions, coins, seals and other documents; it is attested in Pahlavi as _r, meaning noble or hero; as Īrān, Iran; as Īrān-Shahr, meaning the Iranian Empire; as Īrān-vez, meaning the mythical original land of the Aryans; as an‘r, meaning non-Aryan, barbarian; and as anīrān, i.e., barbarity and ignobility.
The earliest reference to this word in an Iranian context, however, predates Zoroaster and is attested in non-Gathic Avesta; it appears as airya, meaning noble; as airya dainhava (Yt.8.36, 52) meaning the land of the Aryans; and as airyana vaejah, the original land of the Aryans; this term, it seems, was adopted in remote antiquity by Iranians as their national identity
The fact that Iranians, Indians, and probably some Europeans also called themselves by this name, suggests that the word Airya may have been an old native designation for the racial group now called Indo-European, Indo-Germanic, European, Caucasian, or simply, White; it was indeed adopted in the middle of the 19th century as a collective designation for the above racial group and their languages.
It seems that both nomadic and sedentary Iranians referred to themselves as Airyas; gradually, however, this word became a self-imposed designation for the settled Iranians only, who began to refer to their nomadic cousins in the East, i.e., Zoroaster's people, as the Saka, and some of those further west as SKUDRA
Many Saka tribes left the northern steppes intermittently to settle permanently in Central Asia, modern Afghanistan, and Persia; these tribes are the direct forebears of the imperial Western Iranians, the Medes, Persians and lastly, the Parthians;
Once converted to Zoroastrianism, however, such became their religious significance, that by the middle of the 1st millennium B.C., the centre of the faith was neither in the homeland of its founder, nor in any of the adjoining Eastern Iranian regions; it was firmly established on the western side of the great salt desert, amongst the people now called Western Iranians; from then onwards, Eastern Iran fades into the background; we now deal almost exclusively with Western Iran, and until very recently, were not even aware of the fact that Eastern Iran had played such a vital part in the genesis of the Iranian empires, and their great national faith; most scientific facts, such as, the recorded history and Near Eastern archaeological data, especially a large volume of deciphered inscriptions, relate to the four great Western Iranian empires of the Medes, Persians, Parthians & Sasanians; there is only a small volume of classical sources, and more recent archaeological data, which also deal with the nomadic Iranians of the northeast, i.e., those Saka warriors who remained in the steppes, and were never completely subdued by the settled Iranians of the imperial period; these warriors remained, nonetheless, a very formidable enemy of their settled cousins; not only did they conquer and rule the Median Empire for 28 years in the 7th century B.C., but they also defeated and killed Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenian Empire, in the following century; a generation later, they were still engaging Darius the Great in many hard-fought battles; two hundred and fifty years later, however, they became the saviours of the Iranian culture and religion, and political integrity; they gradually pushed the Macedonians out of the Iranian homeland, and formed the Parthian Empire, which lasted for another 500 years.
The nomadic Iranians of the north western steppes, however, especially those settled in Europe, are extensively covered by the classical writers; they are also attested in a very large number of archaeological excavations in Eastern Europe; these Iranian peoples are known in the West as Cimmerians, Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans, and finally Ossets; it must be emphasised that all these names refer to the successive migratory waves of the same people, who probably called themselves by a name derived from the word Airya, as the Alans did, and the Ossets still do.
The earliest recorded nomadic western Iranians are the Cimmerians; they make their first appearance in Assyrian annals at the beginning of the 8th century B.C., where they are referred to as Gimmiri; they came down from modern Ukraine, and conquered eastern Thrace, and most of modern Turkey, being pushed westwards by another nomadic Iranian people, the Scythians (see below); they left behind a wealth of archaeological material, including a vast number of mound-burials in western Asia Minor; they later allied themselves with the Medes against the Assyrian Empire; the word GIMMIRI is attested in the Old Testament (Genesis I.x.12), as GOMER, the name given to one of Japhet's sons (see below, Scythian/Ashkenaz
This is by far the most important, and enduring designation given by the classical sources to the nomadic Iranians of the steppes; the name refers to the entire non-sedentary Iranians, both in the West, and in the East (the Saka). Greek records place them in southern Russia in the 8th century B.C., however, recent archaeological evidence testifies that they, Cimmerians, and other Steppe Iranians may have been there far earlier. Greek geographers of the 4th century B.C. also credit the Scythians with inhabiting the largest part of the known world (map Red 16).
Like other Iranians, these nomads probably called themselves by the generic term "Airya"; this is testified inter alia by the native name of their descendants in the present day Europe (see below); it seems, however, that they, or at least some of their powerful clans, also called themselves "SAKA" in the East, and *SKU
Their first appearance in recorded history is again in the Assyrian annals, where they chase the Cimmerians, their own kinsmen, first out of Europe, then out of Asia Minor into the Median territory; in the 7th century B.C. they allied themselves with the Assyrians, and attacked the combined forces of the invading rebellious Median vassal king, Khshathrita (Phraortes in Greek, Kashtariti in Akkadian) and his Cimmerians allies; the Assyrians repelled the Medes, killing Phraortes, and routed the Cimmerians; the real victors, however, were the Scythians; for the next 28 years, now allied with their erstwhile enemy, the Cimmerians, they ravaged most of the Ancient Near East, including Media; later they allied themselves with Khshathrita's son, the Median emperor, Hvakhshathara II (Cyaxares in Greek, Uaksatar II in Akkadian), and the Babylonian king, Nabopolassar, taking Nineveh in 612 B.C. and destroying once and for all the mighty Assyrian Empire. (beginning of the Kurdish calendar)
The Scythians were called by the Assyrians Ashkuza or Ishkuza (A/I
The Scythians were known by the Achaemenians, as SAKA and SKUDRA, by the Greeks, SK
We know a great deal about their physical appearance; they were long-headed giants with blond hair and blue eyes; this well-known fact is attested by various classical sources
The Scythians, and other early steppe Iranians are believed to have been the first Indo-Europeans to use domesticated horses for riding (as opposed to eating); this theory has acquired fresh credibility after the recent discovery of horse skeletons at the Sredny Stog archaeological culture, east of the River Dniepr, a well-known pre-historical Scythian site in eastern Ukraine; these bones were identified as belonging to bitted, therefore, ridden horses dating to 4000 B.C., at least 2500 years older than the previously known examples.
More recent excavations east of the Ural Mountains credit them also with the invention of the first two-wheeled chariot
In this unique pastoralist equestrian warrior society, women fought alongside their men; not only they were held in an equal status with men, but also periodically they actually ruled them;
this so called upside-down society both fascinated and horrified the male dominated Greek culture; later, the Romans expressed the same horror, when they encountered the Celtic and Germanic female warriors. Greek writers called the fighting Iranian women they met in the Ukrainian steppes, the Amazons; later Greek sources placed them further east, in northeastern parts of Iran.
This incredible social equality, at such an early age, is irrefutably attested, not only by a host of classical writers, but also by a wealth of archaeological evidence; in many mound- burials in the former Soviet Union, it is by no means unusual to find remains of women warriors dressed in full armour, lying on a war chariot, surrounded by their weaponry, and significantly, accompanied by a host of male subordinates specially sacrificed in their honour; nonetheless, these young Iranian warriors, as evidenced by the archaeological remains of their costumes and jewellery, do not seem to have lost their femininity; they remained "feminine as well as female" as a great contemporary German scholar puts it
Archaeological excavations also testify to the amazing skill of these people in making jewellery; some of the finds are so dazzling in quality and advanced in technique that it is hard to imagine that they are produced by an unsettled, nomadic culture; we are indeed very fortunate that these early steppe Iranians practised elaborate funerary rituals and interred their treasures with their dead in huge impregnable burial mounds; hence, the vast majority of the steppe Iranians' artifacts known to the learned world is attributed to the Scythians.
SARMATIANS AND ALANS
As it has been emphasised throughout this paper these two names probably refer to the same people, who, in all likelihood, called themselves by a name similar to the word Alan.
Herodotus, who has devoted most of his Book IV to Scythians, is the earliest source on Sarmatians, whom he refers to as a branch of the Scythians; by the 3rd century B.C., the Sarmatians (Greek SARMATAI [
The earliest known reference to the Alans (Greek ALANOI, Latin ALANI), however, is not until the mid 1st century A.D
Alans, with an identical etymological origin with the word Iran, are extensively covered, especially by Ammianus Marcellinus who states inter alia, that "Almost all of the Alans are tall and good looking, their hair is generally blond" (AM, XXX,2,21); they
once ruled a vast territory stretching from the Caucasus to the Danube, but were gradually driven westwards by the invading Huns; however, unlike their predecessors the Cimmerians, Scythians and the Sarmatians, the Alans did not vanish from the history; indeed they settled in the Byzantine Empire and Western Europe, playing a vital role in the subsequent European affairs; nonetheless, one finds it very odd that they are not given the full credit they truly deserve for being an important force in medieval Europe. Rostovtzeff, the great Russian expert in Iranians of the steppes, once complained that "In most of the work on the period of migrations, the part played by the Sarmatians and especially by the Alans in conquest of Europe is almost ignored; but we must never forget that the Alans long resided in Gaul, that they invaded Italy, and that they came with the Vandals to Spain and conquered North Africa"
In 421, soon after their arrival in Constantinople, the Alan general, Ardaburius (Ardapur), fighting for the Byzantine emperor Theodosius, defeated the army of the Sasanian Emperor, Bahram V (G
In 451 Attila the Hun laid siege to Orleans the capital city of the Alans in central Gaul; their new king, with the remarkably Modern Persian name of Sangiban, successfully defended the city, and with the help of his Roman and Visigoth allies pushed Attila to Chalons in eastern France; in the famous battle of Chalons Western Europe was saved from the ravage of the Huns.
From the mid fifth century A.D. onwards, Alans, now fully Christianised, gradually lost their Iranian language, and were eventually absorbed into the population of medieval Europe; as late as 575 one still comes across Iranian names, such as Gersasp in southern France, and Aspidius (Aspapati, Asppat) in northern Spain, and of course the word Alan itself, which is still a very popular name in western Europe
Alans are credited for importing into western Europe their steppe tactics of warfare; these include never fighting on foot out of choice, having armour both for men and their mounts, and most significantly, the practice of tactical fake retreat; these Iranian steppe tactics were passed on to the Bretons, Visigoths and later, to the Normans, who used the fake retreat at many battles including the Battle of Hastings
Alans are also credited with teaching western Europeans the still popular sport of hunting on horseback with hunting dogs
a famous breed of medieval hunting dogs was called Alan (med. Latin Alanus) which, according to a 19th century authority on the history and origin of canine breeds, "derived originally from the Caucasus, whence it accompanied the fierce, fairhaired, and warlike Alani"
Fortunately for us, the Huns could not push all the Alans out of their homeland; their descendants, known as Ossets, are the only Iranians who still live in Europe; they call their country "Iron", which is a variation of Alan, Iran, as well as Eran. Eran was the name of the Iranian Transcaucasia before it was lost to the Russians in the 19th century and subsequently renamed Azarbaijan.
Ossets are mostly Christian, speaking Ossetic, or as they themselves call it "Ironig", or "Ironski", which is classified as an Eastern Iranian language. Ossetic maintains on the one hand, some remarkable features of the Gathic Avestan, and possesses on the other, a number of words, such as, thau (tauen, to thaw, as in snow) and gau (region, district) which are remarkably similar to their modern Germanic equivalents.
This modern Iranian nation, still provides a physical link between the Indo-Europeans of the East, and those of the West, that is, most people of Europe; such a romantic link, it will be remembered, had already been established thousands of years ago by their blond and blue-eyed ancestors.