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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



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).


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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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.
She focuses instead on customs among Massagetae, Ichthyophagi, Hephtalites, Bactrians, and Ghurids of Central Asia and easternmost Iran, plus a range of practices from Anatolia and Babylonia to India and Tibet, to explain the stereotypical allegations of women-sharing leveled by Muslim heresiographers and geographers.
The Greek historians who noted the death of Cyrus the Great in battle against the Massagetae ("Great Geats") gave conflicting reports about where--probably Uzbekistan--the fighting took place, and they seem similarly confused about the geography of Darius I's campaign against the nomadic Scythians.
This produces a peculiar study in which the opening biography, an account of Queen Tomyris of Massagetae, fails to mention so much as a single water-borne tussle.
we oppose habit to the other things, as for instance to law when we say that amongst the Persians it is the habit to indulge in intercourse with males, but amongst the Romans it is forbidden by law to do so; and that, whereas with us adultery is forbidden, amongst the Massagetae it is traditionally regarded as an indifferent custom, as Eudoxus of Cnidos relates in the first book of his Travels; and that, whereas intercourse with a mother is forbidden in our country, in Persia it is the general custom to form such marriages; and also among the Egyptians men marry their sisters, a thing forbidden by law amongst us.
Their ethnogenetic ties reach down to peoples and tribes preceding our era: to the Dakhs, the Massagetae, the Alans, the Huns, and others.
However, the Massagetae, under Queen Tomyris, were too strong in their resistance and strategy.
It is not a coincidence that Herodotus later has Croesus urge Cyrus to cross a river into the territory of the Massagetae (1.206-8), an act that results in Cyrus' death.
Historians of Greek antiquity beginning with Herodotus disdained the term "ancient Turk," referring to Turks instead as "Scythian," "Sak" or "Soghdian," and "Massagetae." For a thousand years following the Arab invasion, Arabic and Persian had ruled.