Sarmatians


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Sarmatians

 

the general name for Iranian-speaking tribes that lived from the third century B.C. to the fourth century A.D. in the steppes from the Tobol River in the east to the Danube River in the west.

The early history of the Sarmatians is linked with the Sauro-matians, in whose midst the Sarmatians formed great tribal unions, led by the Roxolani, Alani, and other tribes. Nomadic cattle raising was the Sarmatians’ chief economic activity. Land cultivation was practiced by those Sarmatians who settled in regions where land cultivation had been practiced by the former inhabitants. Sarmatian society experienced the breakdown of the clan structure and the formation of classes, with special status conferred on the rich clan-tribal elite, military leaders, and soldiers. The broad dispersal of the Sarmatians and the movement westward were motivated by the need to acquire new pastures and the desire to be closer to cities and areas of land cultivation for purposes of trade and plunder.

Beginning in the third and second centuries B.C., some Sarmatians (the Siraki and Aorsi) established themselves in the Ciscaucasian valleys, and other Sarmatians (the Iazyges and Roxolani) conquered the steppes of the Northern Black Sea shore. In the lower course of the Don and in the Kuban’ region, the Sarmatians were assimilated into the Maeotae tribes. In the late second century B.C., the Sarmatians joined with the Scythians against Pontus. They participated in the internecine wars of the Bosporan state and gradually settled in Bosporan cities.

In the first century B.C., the Sarmatians were the allies of the Pontic king Mithridates VI Eupator in his struggle against Rome. The eastern group of Sarmatians was linked economically and politically with the states of Middle Asia, especially Khwarazm. In the first century A.D., the Sarmatians undertook military campaigns in Transcaucasia; they made their way to the Danube River and settled near the frontier of the Roman Empire. In the first centuries A.D., the Alani became especially powerful among the Sarmatians. In the third century A.D., the Goths wrested power from the Sarmatians of the Northern Black Sea Shore, and in the fourth century the Sarmatians were overrun by the Huns. Some Sarmatians, together with the Goths and the Huns, took part in the Great Migration of Peoples. Individual groupings of the Sarmatians, particularly the Alani, reached Spain and penetrated North Africa. In the early Middle Ages, those Sarmatians who remained in the southern part of what is now the USSR mixed with other peoples, including Slavs, Northern Caucasians, and Turkic-speaking tribes, especially the last-named people. As part of the Ossetic people, the Sarmatians retained their own language.

The Sarmatian culture of the early period, from the seventh to third centuries B.C., is characterized by a variant of the animal style: clothing, weapons, vessels, and other objects of daily life were decorated with stylized images of animals. The animal images were surface designs or engraved, relief, or three-dimensional representations, made of gold, bronze, bone, horn, or stone. They were usually very expressive, as can be seen from the artifacts from the Blumenfel’d kurgan in the Volga Region. Later, the Sarmatian tribes proper achieved great mastery in to-reutics and jewelry-making, as evidenced by artifacts from kur-gans in the steppe between the Don and Dnieper rivers and in the Kuban’ Region.

Together with decorations in the animal style—mainly sinuous bodies of predators and dragons joined in intense struggle—there are also frequent depictions of winged spirits and anthropomorphic deities, as well as plant motifs. The Sarmatians’ characteristic polychromatic style, which first appeared in the third century B.C., flourished in the second to fourth centuries A.D.: clothing, footwear, and metal articles were ornamented with semiprecious stones, beads, and colored enamel. Filigree and gold-wire granulations were applied to polychromatic jewelry. Zoomorphic motifs gradually gave way to geometric designs. Toward the end of the Sarmatian period, in the third and fourth centuries, the polychromatic style became especially rich, but the objects grew less refined in workmanship.

REFERENCES

Voprosy skifo-sarmatskoi arkheologii: Sb. st. [Moscow, 1954.]
Abramova, M. P. “Sarmatskie pogrebeniia Dona i Ukrainy II v. do n. e.-I v. n. e.” Sovetskaia arkheologiia, 1961, no. 1.
Kuznetsov, V. A., and V. K. Pudovin. “Alany ν Zapadnoi Evrope ν epokhu ‘velikogo pereseleniia narodov.’” Sovetskaia arkheologiia, 1961, no. 2.
Smirnov, K. F. Savromaty: Ranniaia istoriia i kul’tura sarmatov. Moscow, 1964.
Malovitskaia, L. Ia. “Sarmatskoe iskusstvo.” In Istoriia iskusstva naro-dov SSSR, vol. 1. Moscow, 1971.

K. F. SMIRNOV

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