Massagetae

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Massagetae

 

the collective name for a group of Transcaspian and Aral tribes, in the works of ancient Greek authors.

The vagueness of the information contained in the sources has given rise to numerous hypotheses about the identity of the Massagetae and their ethnic background. Some scholars have held that the name “Massagetae” derives from the Avestan word masyo, or “fish,” and means “fish-eaters.” Others derive the name from the Avestan masyaka (massja-ga) and the Ossetic I’d, “the great Saka (Scythian) horde.” According to a third hypothesis, the word “Massagetae” signifies Mas-Ngetsi, the Iranian for “great Goths,” and the Massagetae themselves are to be identified with the ta (large) yileh-chih of the ancient Chinese chronicles. S. P. Tolstov, who shares the last opinion, regards certain archaeological remains of the lower Syr Darya region as being of Massagetae origin. However, not one of these hypotheses is universally accepted.

It is not always clear to which tribes an ancient author is referring when he calls them Massagetae. According to Herodotus, the Massagetae were nomads, who did battle on foot and on horseback; their horses wore breastplates in battle, and the weapons and utensils of the Massagetae were of copper and gold. Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenid state, perished in battle with the Massagetae, who were led by their queen, Tomyris.

According to Strabo, the Massagetae worshipped the sun and sacrificed horses to it. Along with nomads, Strabo designates as Massagetae the inhabitants of the Aral swamplands and islands, who lived by primitive gathering and fishing, and also certain tribes that knew agriculture (such as the Khwarazmians).

REFERENCES

Tolstov, S. P. Drevnii Khorezm. Moscow, 1948.
Tolstov, S. P. Po drevnim del’tam Oksa i laksarta. Moscow, 1962.
P’iankov, I. V. “K voprosu o marshrute pokhoda Kira II na massagetov.” Vestnik drevnei istorii, 1964, no. 3.

B. IA. STAVISKII

References in classic literature ?
8-35) `(The Sons of Boreas pursued the Harpies) to the lands of the Massagetae and of the proud Half-Dog men, of the Underground-folk and of the feeble Pygmies; and to the tribes of the boundless Black-skins and the Libyans.