Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 47

The Sarmatians

600 Be - AD 450
Fnt p.AIliI/>Id Il'I Gr1Illt 8fltIoIn Il'I 2002 by ()opNy PubIohIl'Ig Acknowledgement.
Elms Ccut. CI>ac* Wfrf, Bodey, Oxlotd 0)(2 1ll.P, UniI.cl ~
The authors would like to thank Nick Sekunda tor his unlalllng
&$Si$tance throughout this ptOjecl; John Ronde tor tIls lnslghUUI
commenta on the lexI; and Martin WIndrow and Anita Hrtchings at
Osprey tor their saintly patience while lhls book was taking shape.
,., rlgI'Ib ...-...I. Aporl ""'" - t t.Ir dwIIncllot tt.- ~ ql prt4t.ItuCJy. AI images are from the authors· eollectlon8 lJI'lIeas otheIwIse
~ a1bclIm or -w.•
~Ac!.l-'no,.,qllHl~""'I'tIII~_Il'I •
'*""'*'...- tt.- ~ o.v-.-.d specificalty credited.

........ ~ or ~1Id 1l'I-t Iotm or by-t"......,-.etronic.

~dwncIL~~~ -*'l!orOlhlfwiM,
wiIhouI tt.- prior"""'*
~ ql tt.- ""I¥W'I- ~ ~ till Author'. Note
'CkhIMd rott.- ~
Ooter • mIleniI.rn "'P"'3tN the s..rom.tM of the 7th eentu'y Be
ISBN 1 1MI1l14tl!i X from the AIans of the 5th cenlJ,ry AD. [),mg ... period they went •
key elemenl in the nom8d horON which swept in from Asia and
Edccr._~ oornbined wilt! GenNric bibelto de8ttoy the FlonwI «npio'e in the
~-"IWT¥> West Yet the s-matianl1eft no wrin~ ~ory of thl* own. and
. . . . byNM~ whal exists Ie 0fllHlded, bl*lg ~ of Grwk and RorNn origin.
,..by ....... ~ PicIorilIl material showing s.ms., warricn .. aBo moelty
I"IOI\'SarmiltiIn, and'*"'- n.
CIRIful interpnlt8tlon. It'108lIt1iab'e
nIormatioI'I c:ones from excevat«l auAcU. but ~ _ oftetI
from alSUlClatlC burilIIs, which _ not ~ ~ of
the wamor c:llls8; as I Whole; In It*!)' cas-.u. .~ ..
8'iidEneeealtld:1:s tlewriltenand pIc;tQrW~o-oty.
I8CCIf18trUCtIn tie ~ ..... of ~ -nor.".
pliealeCl 8ll8ICIM, and ' - _ _ ~ beIrl Ittempled on the
no. o.p.,-~UIt SCIle of this book.
PO 8oll1~ WoA

.. _-
"..".,.,.., ,.... "'A, fJnI-.d ~
&nII:.... • ..., $ C1 CO •• Artist'. Note
no. ......... --.-. o.p.,- ~ USA ReedeIs ITI8Y care to nollll lhIt trw orignIl pWr\IrlgIlIOm which 1M
oc:*:Jur plItes in'" book __ ~ _ ~ b priYnllll
721 " ' - " o.c.olI, WI 61020, USA sale. AI reproduction CIOPYriltIt ~ .. I'IIlained by 1M
EmoiI: 10"""'4 ., ;._ _

- ........ '.,....- ~ AI enqurieIt IhouId be IddI


rme Mact*leSA, l.I a-- 15,


CH 2515 ~ SwiIziIlII1Ind

The Putllisher1I ~ lhIt lIMy cwo tnt.. Into no c:orrespondenos

upon this lTlItter.


HE SARAIATL\NS were IlOt a unified people, bUl ralher a number of

T groups of nomad peoples of similar stock, who \\~dndered generally

westwards over the Eurasian steppe - the vast corridor of
grasslands, hundreds of miles wide and some 5,000 miles long,
extending from China LO the Hungarian Plain. They spoke an Iranian
language similar to that of the Scythians, and closely related to Persian.
TIle Sallnatians emerged in the 7th century BC in a region of the
stcppe to the east of the DOll River and south of the Ural Mountains. For
celllUlies they [h'ed in relatively peaceful co-existence with their western
neighboUl'S, the Scythians'. Then, in the 3rd century BC or slightly
earlier, they spilled over the Don to attack U1C Scythians on the Pontic
steppes to the norul of the Black Sea (Pontus Elixinus), and 'turned the
greater part of the coulllry into a desert' (Diodorus 2.43). The sunriving
Scythians fled westwards and sought refuge in the Crimea and
Bessarabia, lea,~ng their pasturelands to the incomer!>. The Sarmatians
were to dominate these ten-itories over the next five cemuries.
TIle best known of the Sannatian peoples were the Sauromatae, Aorsi,
Siraces, lazyges and Roxolani. The AJans were essentially of the same
Iranian stock as the Sannatians, but are often considered a distinct
people. These groupings were tribal confederations rather than
TOP Obverse of • bronze coin of indi'idual ethnic tribes; indeed, AmmianliS Marcellinus (31.2.13--17) and
the Bosporlln king Rheacupone II medieval Arab sotll"ces state specifically that ule Alans were a coalition of
(AD 89-93), .ha.... ing him
different peoples.
trampling on 8 defeated I>IIr-
berte", perhaps. SannllUlln, Most Samlatians were nomads whose grazing herds pro\~ded much of
whU. llnother long-haired the food and clothing they required. TIley wintered on the southern
trlbeeman kneels to the left. A fringes of the Russian steppe, close to the Black and Caspian Seas and
tI'ofWly 01 enn. 1m:ll.Idlng long Russia's great rivers, heading north for pasture in the spring.
tl'ou_ and helmet with cheek·
piece_ llt.nde .t tn. right.
Accompanying them were uleir covered ....'agons which doubled as
ABOVE Th. goddess Hike on th_ homes - Ammianlls Marcellinus notes (31.2.18): 'In them husbands
rev..... llugg••b minting to sleep WiUl uleir ....~ves - in them their children are born and brought lip'.
commemorate. military victory, The early Sarmatians are now generally regarded as the reality
while the I.tt.... 'MH' Indlellte • behind the myth of the Amazons. According to Herodotus (4.116),
...,IUll of 48 units or ..,tere••.
women of the Sallromatae hUllled, shot bows and threw javelins from
(MIa.um Archeologlezne I
Etrlograflcme, Lodz, Polllndj horseback, and went to war dressed in the same clothing as men. This
has been confirmed by archaeology: early Sarmatian female graves
often contain bronze arrowheads, and occasionally swords, daggers
and spearheads; while skeletons of girls aged 13 and 14 have bowed legs
- evidence that, like boys, they were often in the saddle before they
could walk. The status of women was so unusual that some writers

1 see w.A 137. The Sqtn/IwI:I roo-.:JOO6C. E.V.c.rn.nI<Q & M.V.Go<tilik (Osprey. 1983)
(Pseudo-Scylax, 70) believed that
women mled SarmaLian societ)'.
During the 1st century AD
the Sannatians and Alans truly
began to enter recorded bisLOry
when they conducted a series of
spectacular raids on their civilised
neighbours. Pouring into Asia
Minor, they spread devast.'\tion
among the Parthians, Medians
and Annenians. At the same Lime
other Sannatian groups r.avaged
Rome's Danubian provinces of
Pannonia and Moesia, before
pushing their way along the lower
Danube and into the Hungarian
Only two of the 400 "en" Plain to establish a more permanent presence. Some took up
on Trajan" Column deplet military service with the Romans, but for centuries SaI111atians remained
Sannatlan cavalry (top rlght).
Ttle ri<kt,. and hOnMlll are
unpredictable neighbours, starting .....a rs at the slightest provocation. The

armour, even the h_.'

eovered head·to·tOll In aeale
being armoured _ elearty an
pressure w-as so great that the Romans eventually allowed many to settle
within the empire. It ....' aS largely as a result of the Sannatian wars that the
Roman anny began to abandon its reliance on the legionary infantry and
eX&ggel1ltlon, but equally elearty de\'elop an effective cavalry arm - for which the lance-anlled Salmatian
the Roman pereeptlon of the
cavdlry were to provide one important model.
Roxolanl was that their hol'll8ll
W8f'e pt'Oteeted by some sort of During tllis time the Sallllatians maintained close cont.'\cts with t.he
bani. Lanee. we.. origln.ally Greek centres on the northelll Black Sea coast, in particular the
fixed to the Column but have kingdom of the Cimmerian Bospoms t • At its peak the Bosporan
long slnee vanished. Note also Kingdom covered the eastelll part of the Crimean Peninsula, the
the 'dl'lleo' standard earried (top
left) by a Daelan warrlor. (After westem part of the Taman Peninsula (then an archipelago), and the
C.CIc:horius,O.. Relief des mOlllh of the Don. In the mid-1st century AD a dynasty of SannaLian
TnJlandu/e, Berlin 1a06j OIigin came to power in the Bosporan Kingdom and botll st.'\te and amly
were 'Sannatised' -to such a degree thai &sporan heavy cavalry cannOt
be distinguished from their Sannatian coumerparts. Indeed, Bosporan
art is one of the histotian's best sources for Sarmatian weaponry.
The emergence of the Goths was to destroy the Sarmatians'
relationship with the Bosporans. The solllhward migration of the GatilS
from Scandinavia via modem Poland to the River Dnieper was under WdY
by about AD 200; by about AD 250 the Gorns had laken Olbia and moved
east to the Crimea, replacing the Sannatians and Alans as tile dominant
power of the region.
A century or so later, tile anival of the Huns from Central Asia was no
less traumatic. As waves of Huns and Goths set about tearing the Roman
empire apart, the Alans could do little but follow obediently in theirwake.
TIle cUIl'ents drew them as far afield as Gaul, Spain and NOrtJl Africa.
Sannatian and Alan contingents, ever smaller and less significant, also
fought with tile Romans. Br the mid-5th century the Sarmatians were no
longer in control of their own destiny, and by the 6th century little trace
of them remained in western Europe. They had not disappeared, but
rather had been woven seamlessly into the colourful l<tpesO)' that ....'<15 to
emerge as Medieval Europe.
2 TN. northam Bosf>orus . - II-. II now ~ 8j)eIl w!thoul .... '~'. to disl~ M~ II-. Bcephorus
. - modem 1sIat'bul. aI II-. """"" cl II-. ~ SM.
CHRONOLOGY Media and defeat Annenian king Tiridates.
AD 92 lazyges, QuacH and Marcomanni invade
Sal1llatian history is di\ided by archaeologists into Pannonia, defeating Legio XXI Rapax.
the following periods: AD 101/02 Roxolani support Dacians during
7lh-4th centuries Be - Sauromatian Trajan's first Dacian campaign.
4t.h-2nd centuries BC - Early Sannatian AD 105/06 Trajan's second Dacian campaign:
2nd C BC-2nd C AD - Middle Sarmatian Dacian kingdom destroyed, Roman province of
2nd-4th centuries AD - Late Sannatian Dacia created.
AD 135 Alans raid Media and Armenia, but are
c.507 BC Sauromatians help Scythians repel an rcpulsed from Cappadoda by the Roman
invasion of the Pontic steppe by ){jng Darius I of governor Arrian.
Persia. AD 167-80 Marcomanian wars: lazyges suppOrt
310/09 BC Aripharnes, king of the Siraces, Gennanic tribes against Rome.
commands Sarmatians at battle ofThates River in AD 173/74 lazyges invade Pannonia, but are
support of Bosporan pretender Eumelos. dcfeated at 'battle on tile frozcn Danube' by
179 BC Galalos, king of Sannatians in Europe, Marcus Aurelius.
mentioned in peace treaty betwecl1nations ofAsia AD 175 lazyges make peace with Rome and supply
Minor. 8,000 warrior-hostages, of which 5,500 are sent to
107 BC Roxolani SUppOrL Scythians againSl SCPie in Britannia.
Crimean city of Chersonesos, but are defeated by AD 236-38 After campaigns against lazyges,
Diophantes, general of Mithridates VI Eupatol" of Maximinus Thrax is titled 'Sannaticus Maximus'.
Pantuso AD 282 lazyges defeated in Pannonia by empcror
16 BC First Sannatian incursions over lower Carus.
Danube beaten off by Romans. AD 297 Sannatian auxiliaries fight in Galcl'ius'
AD 34--35 Sarmatian mercenarics right undcr war in Persia.
Pharasmanes of Iberia during Parthian civil war. c.AD 334 Slaves ofthe Danubian Sarmatians revolt
AD 49 Siraces and Aorsi supply troops to rival and rename themselves 'Limigantes'.
factions in Bospomn succession war; Siraces' town AD 358-59 Afler revolting against Rome tile 'Free
of Uspe sacked by Roman faction. Sarmatians' submit, but the Limigames are
AD 50 lazyges supply cavdlry to Vannius, Roman slaughtered en masse by Constantius.
client-king of the Germanic Quadi, in his war AD 375 HUllS smash Gothic power north of the
ag-.linst rival tribes. Black Sea: the 'migt-ation pcriod' of European
AD 69 Some 9,000 Roxolani rd.iders are defeated history begins.
in Moesia during spring thaw by Legio III Gallica. AD 378 Alan cavalry play key role in tile crushing
c.AD 73 Alans r.lid Parthia. dcvdStatc Gothic defeat of the Romans at Adrianople,
AD 409 Invasion of Spain by Vandals, assisted by
Alans and SuevL
AD 429 Alans accompany Vandals into North
Africa and set up kingdom (to AD 533).
AD 451 Alans under King Sangiban fight al baltle
of Catalaunian Fields in Gaul.
AD 453 Alans fight for Attila the Hun at baule of
Nedao River in Pannonia.
AD 453 Death of Auila: Hunnic 'empire'

Anotn.r lICerte from Trljan" CoI...mn, ahowlng SlIIrm.tlan

IK>Demen fleeing from the ROll'llln on.I....ght. One armoured
rider (top right) .hoots • 'P.rthl.n .lK>t' back .t hI.
p"'DueD, The ho.....' eye-gu.rd••Ill c:opl<td from Roman
equestri.n .ports equipment: nothIng similar has been
found in SlIIrm.t1.n gr8ve., IAfter C.Clc:horlll'S, Das Rell.r
de_ n-.lan~Je, Beriln UKI6)
B} 1000 Be the Eurasian steppe, from the Black Sea in !.he west to !.he
Ahai Mountains in the east, "..as occupied by nomad peoples of similar
culture and Iranian language. An archaeologic.allv distinct series of
Sannatian groups began to appear south of the Urals in around the 7th
century Be. To their east in Central Asia emelxed the Dahae, Massagelae
and Sakas. l1lCse 'Asiatic Sc}1.hians' werc genetically rclated to the
Sannatians and had a strong inOuence on lheil' development.
Classical authors dh'ided 'Sannatia' inlO European and Asian pans,
the boundary being lite Don (Tanais) Rh'er - !.he ancient frontier
between Europe and Asia. How far 'Sarnmtia' extended eastwards into
Asia is still lite subject of debate. Until recently large parts of ",'estern
iberia were regarded by Western scholars as culturally Sarn\atian, but as
'Cenu-al Asian' by Russian archaeologists. Either way, 'Asiatic Scythian'
and Sannatian cultures were \'Cry similar.
Cl8y moOel of • Sq1tl1.... w8ftOno The meaning of the tenn Sallnatian has been variously explained by
dwelling, 4th-3n1 century BC, modem historians. Perhaps the most entertaining derivation is from the
Joul'd In the Crimea .t Kerch Greek word Siwms, suggesting ']jl.., rd people' - supposedly inspired by
l.nclent P.ntlC8paeuml. Stnlbo
their dragon st:.lIldards and reptile-like scale annour. This is, of course,
m.ntlon. the ...son.1 mlgnltlon
of the SIIrmati8n. In euch
nonsense. Most historians now agree that 'Sauromatae' is a variant
wevon-nome.. In ...rch of spelling of'Sannatae', first seen in texts of the 2nd centlll1' BC (Polybius
pntwe. Spoked wheeM: tI8'te' 25.2); indeed, Pliny lite Elder (4.80) SL.lles that one was the Greek
~ the aoHd wm-le_ spelling, the other the Latin: 'SannaL.le, Graecis Sauromatae' (though to
on Nrilet" wev-. Tholl w8(tOfl
complicate matters funher, Greek authors often ~ lite Latin spelling.)
body _ pn>b-.bty .-de of
wlck«, ~ the ~ at
But we do have a better idea of what lite Sannatians called themseh'es:
the ,..., _td nonnelly hne Greek amhors of tl\C 4th century Be (Pseudo·Sqlax and Eudoxus of
auPfl'CH'led • thlcll tltt, ueUII11y of Cnidus) mention neighbours of tlle Scythians lidng near lite Don called
felt (Stnlbo 7.3.17), m.-de from 'Synnatac'. Meanwhile lhe A\'esla, me holy book of ancient Persia
ttl8 co.....at grade. of wool
wrillen down in c.500 BC in an early dialect of Iranian, mentions a
.nd .nlm.1 h.lr, or of t .....bIIril
(Amm. 22.8.42). Foul'- or elx_ region 'to tlle west' caJled 'Sairima'.
~ W8(tOfI8 were pullH by In the following paragraphs we list the nmin $armatian groups and
two or th,... )'Ole of ' - ".... attempt to gi\'e an outline of lItcir histories, However, the WAnderings of
oxen (H!PPOO;rwt... Pwf Aef'on, these peoples over the centuries are complex and def}' companmentali-
18}. AcconIlng to Strebo (7.3.18),
sation, Most nomad peoples contained a fusion of different tribes rallter
the home of s.r-u.... oxen
..,. w-n off, belng ~ lItan persons of a single elhnic stock, B,· their nature the Sannatian
to the coMt of the lIte9Pe. peoples were highly mobile; lItev mingled freel}' ",ith neighbouring
(An::hHologlcal Muaeum, tribes, fomled alliances, coalesced and lIten broke up again.
ecs...., UkJ1IIIM'
The Sauromatae
The Sauromatae (Greek 'Sauromatai') are lhe earliest of the Sannatian
peoples recorded in written history, In tlle 5t1l century BC Herodotus
(4,21) wrote that they lived lO lite east of !.he Don River, in lite treeless
lands that extended for 15 da)'S' joumey north of Lake Maeotis (the
Sea of Azov). Ilerodotus' Sauromatae seem to match an
archaeological CUltUl'C that !.hri\·ed in lite 7th-4!.h centuries
Be berween the Don and Volga ri\'crs, reaching to westem
Kal.akhstan, and stretching north from the Caspian Sea to
the solllhem UT:itls.
Most of what is known about lhe Sauronmlae is semi-
mythical. j-lerodoLUs (4.110-116) states that they were the
children ofa union between Scythians and AJmlzons (whose home seveml
anciem authors place north
of the Caucasus), Their
language was a cormpt
form of Scythian, 'since
their Amazon mOlhers had
never learnt it properly',
The recorded hisLOry of
the Sauromatae begins and
ends with a single evem:
in c.507 BC (the date is
uncertain) they fought
as allies of the Scythians
in a war to prevent the
Persian King Darius I
from invading the Pomic
steppe. The Sauromatae
contingent even marched
as far west as the Danube
in an auempt to hinder the
The m.ln Sllrm.tl.n tribe. a. Persian army's operations,
described by Sb'ebo (c.68 In the archaeological sense 'Sauromatian' is a cotlvenientlabcl for the
BC-c.AD 26). The IllZYge. and earliest period of Sarmatian history (7I..h-4th centuries BG). The
ROKol.nll1ved on the northem
Black sea lor Pontic) .teppes Sallromatae were a key sub-set of the Sarmatian peoples, and they
before mlgrtltlng toward' the influenced other Sarmatian groups as these gradually moved .....estwards
Danube. The Slrac•• remained In and entered the historical record,
the Kuban; while the Aonl, .fter
MVerel centuries spent between The Slrac•• and the Aor.1
the Volg. and the Se. of Azov,
_re pvahed we.tw.rd, by tn. In the late 5th century BC the Siraces (Creek 'Sirakoi', Latin Siraces or
AleM entvl"il hom the ...t. Siraci) migrated from Ka7.akhstan to the Black Sea region, and by the
Pantlcepeeum we' the capital of late 4th century occupied lands between the Caucasus Mountains and
the Bosporan KIngdom, which the Don, gradually becoming masters of the Kuban region. They were
Included m.ny Oreek centre. on the first Sannatian group to have contacts with the Greek settlements on
the T.man .rtd Crime.n
penln.ul.... the Black Sea coast. In 310/309 BC King Aripharnes of the Siraces
intervened in a succession war in the Bosporan Kingdom, only to see his
troops defeated in a pitched battle on the Thates, a uibutary of the
Kuban River.
The Siraces were a relatively small nation, butStrabo (11.5.8) says that
their king Abeaclls was able to raise 20,000 horsemen during the reign
of the Bosporan ruler Phamakes (63-47 BG). The Siraces aristocracy
preserved a semi-nomadic lifestyle. but much of the population had
become settled. They were the most Hellenised of lhe Sannatians, and
maintained close contacts with the Bosporans.
On the open plains lO the norlh and east of the Siraces lived
the Aorsi (Greek 'Aorsoi'), one of the more powerful Sarmatian
confederacies, who had likewise migraled from further east. Strabo
(11.5.8) distinguished two branches of the Aorsi, one living closer to
the Black Sea and able to field an army of 200,000 horsemen, and the
still more powerful 'Upper Aorsi' who 'ruled over most of the Caspian
coast'. Current thinking suggests that Aorsi lands extended east as far
as the Aral Sea.
Some scholars identity lhe Aorsi with a people known in Chinese
chronicles as the Yen-ts'ai (or An-ts'ai), The Chronicle ofthe Earlier Han
:=:: 1~Jbn..lw~:~ ",Tinen down in aoom AD 90, states thal 'lheir
........ bowwen number 100,00<)"; and lhal they lived 2,000 Ii (I ,200km)
..,nIl....'" of K"ang-chu (Sogdiana), a state lhal dominated lhe fertile
~ region (Transoxania) somh-east of the Aral Sea. Laler
~ 'OUrces comment that the dress and customs of the Yen-LS'aj
"'-.e-re $lmilar to those of K"a.ng-ehu (Hulsewe, p.I29).
During the Bosporan War of AD 49 the Aorsi supported the
pro-Roman faction, while the Siraces aided their opponents. During this
war the Romans besieged the Siraces' fonified centre of Uspe, but its
",;cker..a.nd-mud walls were so ",·eal:. that according to Tacitus (Ann.
12.16-17); 'Had night not stopped the conflict, the siege would ha\'e
been begun and finished within one day'. U pe quickly fell by stann and
its population were slaughlered, scaring the Siraces inlO submitting lO
Rome. 111e war of AD 49 greally weakened lhe Siraces, and Iiule more is
heard of them until another &sporan conflict in AD 193, after which all
trace of lhem vanishes.
In the meantime the Aorsi seem to have been conquered or absorbed
by a powerful new $amlalian confederation, the Alans, who were
emerging from llle Central Asian steppcs. Some of the Aorsi wcre pushed
further wesl, nonh of the Crimea where, for a time, lhey maintained a
semi-independent existence. Ptolemy refers lO the 'Alanorsi', suggesling
lhat a fusion of some fonn had occulTed, though the two groups were
probably closely relaled. Somewhat laler, the Chinese chronicles state
that the Yen-LS'ai (Aorsi?) had now changed their name to 'A1an-liao'.

lazyg •• and Rozolanl

Of the many poslulated meanings of the name Roxolani (Greek
Nom.cJ ~her hunting wl6d 'Rhoxolanon, the most convincing deriVe! from Iranian rooAJuh1l6 -
boar, depkt<td on Wi -'Iecl 'light' or 'white'; in the language of the nomads 'white' often means
goMI ben ftltlntJ. ... tIM • pony- westem - gh;ng 'Westem Alan '. The meaning of lazyges (Greek &
t8ll ~ , 8ftd • 1iCIlbb8nt. Latin) is uncertain, but the tenn usuall)' appears as lazyges Sannatae•
..Ide '- lINd to "Ing thoI swwd.
'The obtect _ _ fnIm thoI sugg ting that lhey were part of the original Sannatian horde.
'$ibwi8n Collection' of Pfler The Roxolani and 1a2)'ges "'ere among the vanguard of the Sannatians
th8 0fMt, .... mblld In 17t11 who e!tablished l.hemselve! west of the Don. While the 1a2)"gcs hugged
8nd now In thoI Hennltllge, St the coasl near the Crimea, the Roxolani roamed further north across
Petenbur9" TlMo collection '- NkI what is loday sout.hem Ukraine. In 107 BC t.he Roxolani, led by Tasius,
to " - otiell\8ted InS1~, but
mIIny ~ g prob8bly c._ inlervened in a connict in the Crimea, during which they faced the anny
fnIm Ioot8d '1'I"~1 In e.t1tn1l
of King Milllridales VI Eupator of Pontus. According lO Straoo (7.3.17),
Alii .nd th8 \IoIvII .nd BI8clc s.. the mixed Roxolanian-5cythian force '50,000 strong. could nOl hold out
reglonl. against lhe 6,000 men anayed willl Milhradales' general Diophantes,
and mOSl of lhem were dcso·o)'ed'. After lhis defeat many &iTI11atians
.....elll over to Mithridates and campaigned in lhe
Bosporan Kingdom; llley also foughl in his wars
againsl lhe Romans (Appian, Mithr: 15, 19.
69;Justin 38.3, cf. 38.7).
In 16 BC the Sannatians (probably
1aZ)'ge!) had their first recorded brush
with Rome, when the Proconsul of
Macedonia drove t.hem back across the
Danube. For t.he next three centuries
Sannatian incursions became a regular
occurrence on Rome's eastem frontier.
The poet Ovid saw sever,,1 such incursions dming .:"""llO!!'I ""',..---...,
the )'ears AD 8-17 when he was in exile at the
Black Sea port of Tomi (modem Constantsa,
Romania): he described the Sarmatian
horst:men and their wagons crossing O\'er the
froz.en Danube during the winter,
The 1:lZ)'ges headed north-west from the lower
Danube. and by the middle oCthe Ist century AD
had arrived on the Hungarian Plain between the
Danube and Tisza rivers, In AD 50 they came to
the aid of Vanni us. tlle Roman-appointed king of
the Suevi, who had been driven from his
kingdom by Germanic neighbours, The lazyges
provided Vannius witll his only cavalry, but when
he shut himself up in a fortress the lazyges, 'who
could not endure a siege, dispersed themselves
thoughout the surrounding country', and
Vannius was quickly defeated (Tacitus, Ann. 12.29-31). Lancer of the 3m century AD,
By this time the Roxolani were !i\;ng to the nonh of the lower Danube anned In sann.tlan ~ ,
(Pliny the Elder, Hist. Nal. 4.80-1). From AD 62 they made repeated st'"
'""" the II'I..-ble of ~
found In the Nlns of the
raids on Roman Moesia, the largest of them in the winter of AD 69 (with ~ centN of T..... 0I'l
the participation of 9.000 men) and in AD 85-86. During one of these the Don, which _ ttlotn
raids they destroyed a Roman legion (Suetonius, Dom. 6. I). During 60mlnlltM by the AIans
Rome's Dacian wars of AD 85-88 and AD 101-05, the Roxolani sided (Amm......' 'T_ltae'l- TM
with the Dacians.
For the greater part of this period the lazyges were friendly with
"!Un·W",,, Iong-hIIlntd
rid.,. rounded ".p
tMtlln8t, without "h. .kpl_
Rome, and cven served as allies in l.he hope of obL.'lining lands within tllC or nec:kgu8rd. HI' _ I . c:o....l_t
boundaries of the empire. But the creation of the province of Dacia by I, Mc:untd by _ bto8d 1Hott, .nd
Tmjan in AD 106 pushed a wedge between the lazyges and the Roxolani, _m o..r _ 1ong-slM¥ed unct.r-
p",*,t.nd tnKn4lra. TM ~
antagonising both peoples. Calm was restored when Hadrian allowed '-I' _ to _,.,. UncMr the
them to maintain contact through Dacia, began pa)ing subsidies to the '*1)0 of hi, ~ _ I I ho..-..
Roxolani, and made their king Rasparagnus a Roman citizen. ... holds .... long ~ with bottl
Major disturbances resumed during the Marcomanian Wars (AD "-ds. !After Rostovttot.!
167-80), when thc la2)'ges combined with 5e\'eral Gennanic peoples to
attack Pannonia and Dacia. The 1:lZ)'ges lost a substantial force after a
battle againSl the Romans on the frozen Danube in AD 173/74. T\'o"D
years later tlley made peace; Marcus Aurelius took the title 'Sannaticus·.
and the l:tZ)'glan king Zanticus agreed to hand over 8,000 horsemen as
hostages. The greater number of lhese troops ended up in we province
of Britannia (Dio Cass. 72). For a time thcre were plans l.0 incorporatc
lazyges lands witllin Ule empire as the new province ofSammtia.
Peace reigned for nearly half a century, umil the eruption of the
Goths into the Ukraine set ofT another chain-reaction of disturbances_
Mter a CAmpaign against the lazyges in AD 236-38 the emperor
Maximinus I (a Thracian. with a Sannatian mother) assumed the title
'Sannaticus Maximus·. The 1:lZ)'ges invaded Dacia in 248-50 and
Pannonia in 254. but were defeated in Pannonia in 282 by the emperor
Carns (AD 282-83). Battles against the lazyges continued throughout
the reign of Diocletian (AD 284-3(5).
During the 3rd and 4th centuries AD the Romans allowed several
mass resettlements of Sannatian peoples within the boundaries of the
empire. mainly as a foil against tlle Gows and a source of manpowcr for
the army. The Notitia Digllilalum lists 18 centres of Sarmatian settlement
across Gaul and Italy. T....dces of military settlements sUlvive in place-
names like Sennais and Senniers, near Rheims, which itself hosted a
Sannatian base. Many Sarmatian nobles obtained Roman citizenship,
and some rose to positions of power - most famously, Victor, Master of
Horse under me emperorJovian (c.363 AD).
The Hungarian Plain was now regarded as the ancestral homeland of
me Danubian Sannatians, though fresh Sannalo-Alan blood continued
to arrive from the easl. The Roman authors now speak only of the
Sarmatians or 'Free Sannatians' and their former slaves, the Limigantes.
Mter the Huns arrived in the Danube region and on the Hungarian
Plain in me 370s AD it is no longer possible to trace the Roxolani and
lazyges as distinct peoples.

The Alana
In the mid-1st century AD, soon after Rome's first cOlllacts with the TIIl~ mlllrtls from the northem

lazyges and Roxolani, a new wave of immigrants from Central Asia BllIck Sea 11I1'8•• They IIIppelllr In
this region from the 1st century
pushed into lands north of tlle Caspian Sea and Caucasus Mountains.
AD .s horsebnmds, on w.apons,
The Alans (Greek 'Alanoi', Latin Alani) had coalesced from a disparate IIInd as grattltl on monumllflU:.
group oflrihes, notall ofSannatian origin. Ammianus (31.2.12) says that Some of them _111 used illS th.
me Alans 3 were formerly called Massagetae, while Dio Cassius (69.15) is person.1 ITIIIr1o.s of high status
even more direct: 'they are Massagetae'. IndMduels .nd d.v.loped Into IIIn
elllrly fonn of h.raldry. Th.y m.y
The once powerful Massage....'l.e had gone into decline in the 2nd
orlgln.lly, Ilk. RlMIII, hlllv. hllld III
century Be, and alongside them in the Alan ranks were a goulash of seml·mq\<:fll purpos•• (After V.S
'Asiatic Scythians', including descendants of several Saka peoples of the D...ehult, Sistemy zmIlrOIf'
Oxus-Jaxartes region and other Central Asians. Ammianus (31.2.13) Severnogo PrlcIHtmomor'ylll,
states that the Alans borrowed their name from a mountain range, but IOe¥ '8751

today the term is thought to derive from tlle ethnic designation 'Aryan'
and its cognate 'Iran' (Encyclopaedia l'.inica, I, 1985, p.803). Not all
historians accept this etymology, however. At first, Roman authors
confused the Alani ....;th tlle Albani, a powerful people of the Caucasus.
One of Nero's grandiose schemes shortly before his abrupt death in AD
68 was a campaign to conquer the 'Albani', who some scholars consider
as a mistake for the Alans.
The first major Alan incursion came in c.AD 73 and, if Josephus
(&ll.jud. 7.7.4) is correct, it entered Parthia from the east side of me
Caspian Sea, progressing via Hyrcania and Media into Annenia, where
lhe Alans defeated the local king Tiridatcs in battle. This rOUle suggests
lhat many Alans were still living to the north-east of the Caspian. In
AD 135 the Alans made another huge raid into Asia Minor, this time
via lhe Caucasus, and again ravaged Media and Armenia; they were
eventually turned back by the Roman governor of Cappadoda, Arnan,
whose short essay 'Battle order against the Alans' explains the tactics
OPPOSITE A been:led Sannllltlllln
employed to defeal them. (Arrian's much larger work, me Alanica, is
w.ntor IIInned with • spear. H.
sadly 10Sl.) w cloM-tlttlng jack.t .,ld
By the early 2nd century AD the Alans were well established on the bou , both with deco... ted
lower Volga and Kuban, in the fonner lands of the Siraces and the Aorsi . .ams, .nd III clo8k fest8n&Cl lilt
(whom they had pushed west or absorbed). Alan power seems to have the neck by a cireullllr brooch.
Detail from • metal rython
extended further west, encompassing much of Lhe Sannatian world,
(drinking hom) found In the
which for the firsl time had a relatively homogenous cuhure. Kubllln, 1st c.ntury Be 0' let....
(Ii.nnltlog., St P.t....burgj .ft••
The arriv,t1 of the Goths in c.AD 215--50 broke Alan dominance of Lhe
Ponlic steppe. The Alans retreated, mainly to Lhe Don, though enough
of them remained to teach the Goths horsemanship. and to give them
the taste for Sannalian fashions and 'animal style' ornaments.
By this lime the influence of Huns on the Alans was already becoming
apparent. The Alans had maintained contacts with them since the 2nd
century AD. Ammianus (31.2.21) wrote that the Alans were 'somewhat
like the Huns. but in their manner of life and their habits they are less
savage'.Jordanes (126-7) contrASted them with the Huns, noting that
the Alans 'were their equals in battle. but unlike them in civilisation,
manners and appearance'. These peaceful relations were sundered
when the Huns suddenly aHacked the 'Tanaitae' or Don Alans, killing
many of them and entering a pact with the sunivors (Amm. 31.3.1).
With these Alans in their ranks the Huns defeated the Goths in AD 375
before pushing on lO the Hungarian Plain, where they set up a more
pennanelll presence.
Other Alan groups and neighbouring Sannatians escaped west with
the Goths, and it ....' 35 one such group who helped the Goths defeat the
Romans at Adlianople in AD 378, where the Emperor Valens ......dS killed.
N; the Roman empire beg-<lIl to fall apart, the Alans also broke up into
several g"oups, each of which wended its complicated path across
Em·ope. Some foughl in Roman service, otllers joined the I-hillS, tlle
n.~ ...llIn on .n openWOf1o: Ostrogoths or the Visigoths. On the last day of AD 406 one of thc Alan
SlIrm8t111n bnlnz. beft buckle. groups, together with the Vandals and Sucvi, crossed the frozen Rhine
2nd ".n'ury AD. 1Are~1ogk81 into Caul, which they devastated. Three years later they reached Spain
Mu",,",. 0cleM8)
and gave it the same treaUllenl. Though the Vandals massacred many of
their Alan allies in c.AD 416, when he invaded orth Africa thc Vandal
king continued to style himself RLx \-andalorum tt. Alanonun..
When Attila died in AD 453 the Hunnic 'state'
died witll him. The Hunnic anny. alwa)'S a hotch-
potch of conquered nations, dissolved into pans
which spread out in different directions, sending
Europe into lhe Dark Ages. Though pockets of
Alan settlement remained, notably in northern
France and Catalonia ('Goth-Alania'), where there
are dozens of placenames like Allaill\ille and
Allaincourt, tlle Alans had effectively disappeared
from history by the 6tll century AD. Only one Alan
group sllrvived as a coherent nation. Whcn lhe
Huns had firsl made their devastating appearance
on the Pontic steppe this grOLIP had quietly
slipped ofT southwards into tlle sheltcred \'alleys of
the Caucasus. Here they flourished into the
Middle Ages; and here their descendants, tlle
Osselians, live on to tllis day - still teaching their
children of tl\eir Alan legacy.

Other S.rm.tl.n people.

Many lesser $annatian peoples are mentioned by
Classical geographers. Most are recorded just once
and little more than their name is given; for the
follo....i ng there is slightly more information. The
Saii wcrc onc of thc dominant uibcs of the south-westcm Ukraine soon
after the eviction of the Scythians. According to the Protegenes
inscription of the carly 2nd century Be, !.heir king Saitaphames received
uibute from !.he once mighty trading centre of albia. Saii probably
means 'multicoloured', which in nomad usage refers to horse
colours (Hannatta, 1970, p.ll). The Basileans or Royal Sarmatians are
mentioned by Strabo and Ptolemy, living between Bessarabia and !.he
lower Danube; they were probably the successors to thc Royal Scythians.
The laxamatae or Ixibitai are mentioned by several ancient au!.hors,
living close to !.he Sea of Azov. Pomponius Me1a (c.AD 43) writes !.hat !.he
laxamatae women 'perfonn just like the men in war'. They are often
assumed to be predecessors of or identical to the lazyges, but !.his has
recentJy been questioned.


The Roman poet Ovid, exiled (AD 8-18) to !.he Black Sea portofTomis,
left a suiking picture of tJle lazyges crossing !.he frozen Danube in winter
{Tris/ia, 3.10):
Bospor1ln or Samlati.n lancer,
on • 19th-eentury copy of • lo.t
'They keep the cold at bay with skins and breeches'; Of the whole body
2nd-century AD tomb paint1nsl just the face is left, witJl icicles the hair will often tinkle/ And beards are
from ancient p.nticllpaeum - white with frost below their lips.'
modem Kerch, In tha Crime•. Hi. Despite such rare glimpses of the Sannatians, they remain a shadowy
helmet appe.,. to be of banded people; far fewer images slllvi\'e of them in art than of their Scythian
con.tnletlon, .kin to Parthian
examplea, which appe.r
cousins. Like the Scythians, Sannatians were of a white or Caucasoid
narrower when Hen from the appearance, and before tJle arrival of the Huns it is thought that few had
front. Benellth hla large cloek he Asiatic or Turco-Mongol features. Yet Sannatian physiognomy was
well,. lin armour oorselet, which sufficientJy alien to the Romans that Tacitus (Ceml(Jnia 46), writing in
COlJId be either IlCIlle or mall, and c.AD 98. called them 'repulsive in appearance'. This should not be taken
I. apllt .t the .ide re",ealing an
unamlcxmld thl1lh. The lance I.
literally: barbarians rarely matched Mediterranean ideals of beauty.
wielded two-handed I'tIther than Sarmatiall noblemen often reached 1.70-1.80m (5ft 7ins-5ft lOins)
C01.fChed. (After Roatovtae"'l as measured from the skeletons, and they had sturdy bones - evidence of
the nomad meat-and-milk
diet. Like the Scythians,
they wore long hair and
beards. The Sal'matian
rulers of the Bosporan
Kingdom are usually por-
trayed on coins with long
hair, the younger men
dean-shaven 01' with mous-
taches, and mature men
with dense beards (!.hough
coin portraits of this time
do not always reflect
reality). According to !.he
2nd-centUl)' AD Greek
author Lucian (Toxaris 51),
the Alans wore their hair
much shorter than the
Scythians. Images of the
Bare-headed Sarmatlan wamOt'S
on a belt-fittIng from en unknown
flMelte, pemaps 4th or 3rd
eentury Be. Both ridera erat
epear-aMned, aM _ (right) hes
a gorytoa eomblnecl bow,,*se and
quiver alu"ll from a waletbelt on
hie left alde. Both wear quilted
IutftaM, the 'eollera' of whleh
appear to be tOf'quetJ. IHlatorlcal
Museum, Moscow, aft...
M.I.Roatovtaev, AntJchnaya
dekonJtlvneya z1Il11opi, lie Yl'll'e
Roo/I, St Peterabulll, 1913)

• When dIscoYerod. !he Puyryl< lombs __ detld to !he 5th century Be, but ..-..I (1996-98) C&'bon-1. rod
cI."o;looetlio"oloOY stucSlae have """"'-l INa 10 350-2ol.O Be.
Herodotus (4.24) in the 5th century Be referred to a trade route from
the Black Sea cenU"e of Olbia, at the mouth of the Bug and Dnieper
livers, which penetrated eastwards deep into Saurom:uae territory. The
frequent appearance in burials of Chinese Han dynasty bronze mirrors
indicates that goods - including silks - were filtering through from the
Far Easl. The Greek centres on the Black Sea had for cellluries produced
goods for the Scythian market. \Vith the arrival of the Sannatians
much of this trade switched to the Bosporan capital Panticapaeum
(modem Kerch) and to Tanais at the mouth of the Don. n,is was a
Greek 'emporium', where nomad goods and slaves were bartered for all
the refinements of the Greek world, including finished clothing (Strabo
The Aorsi, and later the Alans, cOlllrolled the main camel routes from
the Black Sea to Mesopotamia and India, bringing lhem great riches,
and according to Strabo (11.5.8) thcy 'wore gold' in their dress in
consequence. Oricntal objccts tum up in l.he gravcs of richer individuals,
often making it possible to distinguish Aorsi and Alan remains from those
of other Sannalian peoples.


According to the Classical writers, Sarmalian annies ranged in size from
One of the 'Kosib v_I,'
thousands to hundreds of thousands, but it is unlikcly that thcse figures
sttowing SamUttl8n w.nio,.. of
the 1,t or 2nd century AD. '"'- are accurate. Throughout history nomad cultures have habitually exag-
origIn0' these vessels, found In gerated their sU"ength to inspire fear. Archaeological finds suggest that
8 SlInn8tl8n cemetery 8t Koslb, such huge numbers could only havc been fielded by tuming out all men
1101un north of Aatrekrn.n, capable of bearing arms.
rem81ns controvertial. The upper
Each Sannatian people had its own 'king', who led the anned forces
register of the 21cm·hlgh silver
_ I shoWl 8 hunting scene of his nation or Sallnalian contingents in Roman, Bosporan, Gothic and
with an un8rmoured rlder Hunnic annies. It would seem lhal. each Sannatian people had only one
sk_erlng 8 wild 8nlmal wl1h his king, but literary references are too few to establish even rudimental)'
lance. A mounted 8rcher wIth 8 king lists. The royal names are usually Iranian in form, such as
sm81t composl1e bow, 8nd 8
Ariphames, king of the Siraces (c.310 Be), Rasparagnus, king of the
wounded riderless horN, 8ppelr
In the lower register. tAtter Roxolani (cAD 180), and Sangiban, king ofa branch of the Alans (cAD
M.Yu.Treister, In V.,tnl" Dre_1 450). During the disturbances on the Danube in the 350s AD the 'Free
I,tori', 1994, 1) Sannalians' had a number of tribal chiefs or sub-kings: Rumo, Zinafer
and Fragiledus, who accompanied a prince and later
IF; Roman client-king, Zizais (Amm. 17.12.11).
~ Aristocrats such as these commanded their
~ own troops, presumably raised from among
thcir dependents, as Tacitus (Hisi. 3.5) says of the
lazyges. Each such group of followers may have
laken the field as a scparatc tactical unit. In early
limes every male able to bear anns scrved as a
warrior when required. From the 4th century BC
, .......... - . thcre is archaeological evidence for a 'warrior casLC' in
some Sannatian tribes, cenU"ed on tlibal leaders and
.. aristocrats. The sinews of this warrior society were the
~l ':)~ personal bond and oaths of fliendship and loyalty, sworn
"r"-...... .q,~U;:~_ , 'fP~~·' on the sword and sealed by drinking drops of each other's
~~ blood mixed with wine.
An interesting insight illlo how Sarmatian forces were raised is given
by the 2nd century AD Greek author Lucian. Although his description
refers to a small band raised for a punitive expedition, he indicates lhat
larger forces could be raised in the same way: 'When a man who has
been wronged by another wishes to avenge himself but sees that by
himself he is not strong enough, he sacrifices a bull, cuts up and cooks
lhe meat, spreads the hide out on the ground, and sits on it, with his
hands held behind his back like a man bound by the elbows ... The meat
of the bull is sen-ed up, and as the man's kinsmen and all else who wish
appl'Oach, each takes a portion of it, and then, setting his right foot upon
lhe hide, makes a pledge according to his ability - one lhat he will
furnish five horsemen 10 selve without [expecting to be given] rations or
pay, another ten, another still more, another foot-soldiers, heavy-armed
or light-anned, as many as he can, and anolher simply himself, if he is
very pOOl: So a very large force is sometimes raised on lhe hide, and such
an anny is especially dependable as regards holding together and very
hard for the enemy to conquer. .. ' (Tox. 48).
Lucian indicates that each leader brought wilh him a number of
horsemen or foot soldiers and was expected to supply and equip them
'Duelling scene' from enother of
himself. He later adds that forces of many thousands could be raised in
the Koalkll "Mel' _ see Plate a. lhis way 'on the hide'. Such a military structure is not dissimilar from
The sc.l.armoured rider II early medieval practice or, indeed, from contemporary Gennanic and
• bout to deliver the 6Nthbl_ Celtic systems.
wlth hla contua, which hal • By cOlllmst, most Roman writers give the impression that the
huge head. Hla opponent, .Iready
atruek by .nvwa, la un.rmoured
Sannatians were a disorderly rdbble, out only for plunder: 'These tribes
eKcept for hla thick J.cket, .nd are more suited for predatory incursions lhan for regular warfare' (Amm.
c.m. . only a a""thed bow. Hla 17.12.1); The Sannatians, a tribe most accomplished in brigandage'
..ddle Is cle.rly of 'homed' type, (Amm. 16.10.20). Strabo (7.4.6) is somewhat kinder when he states that
with characterlatk: triple ,trapl lhe Roxolani .....ere 'warriors rather lhan brigands', but often provoked
hlInglng from the rear. The
war a~ a way of exacting tribUl.e.
cheekplec. . of both horsemen"
bridles .... of '1HOP&Iler' form, The thirst for plunder led many Sarmatians to enroll with foreign
a variety common aeroas the powers - in effect, as mercenaries. Sannatian contingents are often
westem steppes until the 2nd mentioned in the employ of the &sporan and Pontic kingdoms. Tacitus
century AD. H.van asll, StHtMI (Ann. 6.32-35) notes that dUling a succession ........ 1' in Parlhia in AD 34-35
poed/nb Vlltdn/leov n• ..reb-
the Sannatian chiefs, 'as is the national CUSLQm, accepled gifts from and
IYsnol Vl-lll /z K04IlkI ('The
ho....men.. duel on • sliver enlisted on both sides'. When it came to blows and the Sannatians faced
veaael from Koslh'l, V..tn/le a richly equipped Parthian anny, their employer urged them lo battle by
Dretfn.,I.torll, U197, 2, p.174-98 pointing out lhat while they faced many enemies, this only increased the
The Roman stereotyping
of Sarmatians as undisci-
plined raiders continues
.....ell into the 4th century
AD, even though by this
time they were militarily
well organised and capable
of tactical subtlety. In
particular the rise of lhe
armoured lancer had
brought changes. The long
lance or contus required
specialised skill in both
men and horses, and led to a degree of 'professionalisation', especially
in detachments gathered around the arist.ocracy. The days of the mass
tribal le\)' were over. There is a noticeable decline in the number of
Sannatian burials wit.h weapons from the 2nd celllury AD onwards,
suggesting I.hat not. all men were now wan;or'S.

Sarmatlan tactics and the armoured lancer

The archaeological evidence suggests lhal for mOSl of S<umalian
history the greater pan of any Sannatian force was composed of
horse-archers. HO\\'ever, the mOSl imponam and effective componem
was undoubtedly the annoured lancer, and il is upon this e1emelll. that
Qassical authors COnCenlr'dte almosl exclusively.
The tenn cataphmct (Greek for 'covered with annour') is oflen used
to describe this new cavalry lype. Historians have developed the habil of
using il for nearly all heavy cavalrymen of antiquity, bul. not always
correctly: we do nOl know the lerm lhe 5.'1mlatians themselves used. (A
more appropriale lenn, as we shall see, mighl be I.he Greek konwplwros,
'rontll.fobcarer', or its Latin equiV'dlelll con/miltS.)
But where and when was ule annOllred lancer 'invented'? The mOSl
likel)' answer is on the plains thal eXlend from nOJ'l.h-eastern Iran imo
Transoxania and Central Asia. A heavy cavalry lrddition existed in this Bronze bnIastpla1e of a O...k
region back lO the 5th celllury Be and earlier, notably among lhe 'muacle' cuirass. late 4th cen1ury
BaClJ;ans, Chorasmians, Massagetae and other Saka nomads. The firsl BC, ..id to have been 'pulled
convincing evidence for armoured lancers appears in the 2nd century fTom 1he Volga' on Sarma1ian
Be in Parthia, both in piclures and written accounts, bUl lance-anned territory In the 19th century.
Another cuirass. of Iron, waa
heavy horsemen had probably appeared alleasl a century earlier. II. has found in the Volg. regJoon at
been suggesled lhat the addition of t.he lance lO the traditional Iranian Proc:horovlul near Oranburg, but
heavy amlOur panoply was a response to the sarissa pikes of Alexander clVmbled to pieces whan clumsy
the Creat's infantry when he conquered Transoxania (330-327 BC). eltcav.to", attempted to put It
However, since the addition of the crmtus would still nOl allow ca\'ah)' to on. Th••• culra.... may have
reached Sarmatlan hand. vie the
charge pikemen, it seems more likely lhat it shows the influence of the Bosporan Kingdom or as war
xyston lances of lhe Macedonian cavalry. It is quile likely, lhen, lhal booty, but baing uncomfortabl.
armoured lancers were preselll in Transoxania by lhe 3rd cenlUl)' BC. on t\or$eback th.y _re probably
The first lraces of the Sannatian annoured lancer appear in the Volga not used v.ry widely by 1he
region in lhe 3rd and 2nd centlll;es Be, as evidenced by finds of lhe Sarmallana. (Poli.h Army
Museum, Waraawl
lancer's weapon-set: scale armour, large spearhead and long sword. The
lroop-lype might easily ha\'e reached lhis region through contacLS or
forgouen wars with the neighbouring Massagetae or Sak.\S (as we have
seen, lhe descendants oflhe Massagetae would evenmally become pan of
I.he Alan confederation). But the firsl. wriuen records of Sannatian
annoured lancers do not appear until some time laler.
The earliest record ofSannatian cavalry in action appears in Diadoms'
account (20.22-26) of lhe baltle of Thates River (310/319 BC) in the
Kuban, when King Aripharnes of the Siraces came to the aid
of t.he Bosporan pret.ender Eumelos. Ariphamcs fOlmed up his ca\aIl)',
probably Sannatians (Diadoms fails lO specify lheir nationality) in the
centre of Eumelos' baltle-line of 22,000 fooL and 20,000 horse. Facing RIGHT SUit of acal••rmour on
lhem was a mixed force including Greek mercenary and Scythian fooL and the ped•• tal of Trelan" Column.
Th. belt also appeal"l to b<t ma<Se
Thracian peltasts, logether with a large body of choice Scythian horse,
of acal.. sewn onto a l.atner
which Diodorus states had been deployed 'according to Scythian custom' backing. Th.re i. no obvlous
in the centre of the line. When lhese Scylhians charged, Ariphames' method for unfastening the
cavah)' were immedialely swepl away, and the batl.1e quickly ended. The co....l.t garm.nt.
deployment of the Sannatian cavalry in the cenu'e
of the line argues against them being purely horse-
archers; but since they were unable to 'withstand
the Scythian horse, it is unlikely mat they were
Over the following two or three cenluries the
Sannatians were able to overrun the Scythian
territOl;es north of the Black Sea. It is often said
that it was the Sannatian annoured lancer that
gave them the edge over the Scythians, but written
records are sparse, and it is unclear whether
success was due to superior military technology or
to oUler factors. If anything, the texts suggest that
the Sannatians who moved into the Pontic steppe
did not yet have the armoured lancer. Strabo's
brief account (7.3.17) of the Chersonesos war of
107 BC suggests that the Roxolani, who were
A mysterlous bsnded s""our already well established ncar the Crimea, had not yet adopted the canim.
c:o~let, poulbly Sal'lTllltlan, In this war the Pontic king's generdl Diophantcs, with just 6,000 troops,
from the pedestal of Trejan's
was able to defeat and destroy a combined force of 50,000 Roxolani and
Column. It.-.ms to be made
of thlek leather Nnds bvtted Scyulians. StI-abo describes the equipmenl of Ule Roxolani: 'They use
together on s tertlle or leather helmets and corselets made of raw ox-hides, carry wicker shields, and
backl"il whleh eontlnue. a•• have for weapons spears [Greek: kmgthas], bow and sword'. He adds that
skirt. The banded section would most other barbarians (i.e. nomads) were also anned in ulis way; and
entirely eover the _are.... hlp..
comments, 'all barbarian races and Iight-anned peoples are weak when
The row of buekl" down the
front.re not dlulmlter to those matched against a well-ordered and well-anned phalanx',
used on the upper plate! of s The AOl"'Sian cavalry who served in the Bosporan War of AD 49
Roms" /orl~ • ..,mllnfetll. appear to have fought in a lighl-Cavalry role. The Aorsi were instnleted
to fight the army's cavalry actions, allowing the Roman and BospOl-an
infantry to concentrate on siege operations. On ule march the Aoni
led Ule van and brought up the rear (Tacitus, Ann. 12.15). This does
not mean that the Aorsi had no lance-armed trOOps, but Ian eel'S are yet
not \'isible in the sources.
Only in the 1st century AD do clear ....' ;tlen
descriptions of lance-armed Sannatian cavah1'
appear. The first is Tacitus' aCCOUnl (Ann. 6.33-5)
of a batl..1e fought in AD 35 in Armenia by
Samlatian mercenaries hired by King Pharamenes
of Iberia in his war against the Parthians. The
batl..1e beg-.iIl when the Parthian horse-archel'S, who
were 'expert at withdrawals as well as punuits',
opened ranks to allow themselves room to shoot:
'But the Sannatian horsemen on ule other side,
instead of shooting back - their bows being
inferior in range - charged with lance [CQlJ.tlls) and
sword. At one momenl it was like an orthodox
cavalry battle, with successive advances and
retreats. Next the lidel'S, interlocked, shoved and
hewed at one another.' With ule dangerous enemy
cav-<l.lry force eng-<l.ged by the Sarmatians,
Pharasmenes then charged his fierce mounk'lin
infantry into the cavalry melee, and so decided the
battle. Here, tllen, was the Sannatian shock attack with the CQntus - not of
a single disorderly mass of cavalry, but apparently of several squadrons,
manoeuvring with skill and continuing at close quaners with the sword.
The next description of Sallnatian lancers comes during a raid on
Roman Moesia in the early spring of AD 69. On this occasion, 9,000
Roxolanian horsemen were caught during the spring thaw by a Roman
legion with auxiliaries. Overburdened .....ith booty and slipping in the soft
snow and mud, they were unable to put up much of stand, and the
greater part were massacred. Tacitus (Hist. 1.79) notes that the weight of
the annour WOOl by the Sannatian 'leaders and most distinguished
persons' meant that riders who were toppled from their mounts 'had
difficulty regaining their feet'. Similarly, 'they could make no use of their
lances or their swords [gladi'1, which being of an excessive length
[praelongnt] they wield with both hands'. (Modem commentators suggest
that Tacitus was careless in his wording and that the two-handed weapon
of excessive length refers to the lance rather than the sword. This may
well be so, and gladius suggests a short sword - though P.Comelius Tacitus
was the mOSt meticulous of Latin stylists.)
Tacitus admitted the exceptional nature of this Sannatian defeat, for
in nonnal conditions 'when they charge in squadrons (tumure], hardly
any battle--line [tu:'Us] can stand against them'. In summary, then, Tacitus
describes the complete Sannatian lancer panoply of scale armour, CQ1ltus
and sword, employed by horsemen who charge in ordered squadrons.
The next useful description comes later in tlle 1st century AD from
the poetic pen of Valerius Flaccus in his A~naltlica (6, 233+): 'A fierce
Reworked Oreek bronze helmet band of Sarmatians came thronging with savage yells; stiff are their
of the lite lith cenblry Be, found corselets [lorica] with pliant mail [molli catena - 'supple chains'], and
In a $Iuromatlln banvw near the such too the armour [tegimen- 'covering'] of their steeds; but, stretching
villaa- of Nlkol'skoe on the lower
out over the horse's head and shoulders the fir-wood shaft [i.e. lance]'
Volga. The skUll hal been cut
down In Scythian .tyle, 10 that finnly resting on their knees, casts a long shadow upon the enemy's field,
only the top 14cm remllnl. The and forces its way with all the might of both warrior and steed.'
h~_t WI. found with I number Particularly interesting are Flaccus' references to armoured horses,
of sc.le., pn>b.bly from I and the great length of the lance. He continues by describing how the
neckguerd ttlltt WI. fttted to the
lumbering Sannatians were outwheeled by their lighter opponents. It
hoi. . Ilong the helmet.. lower
edge. (Aner I.P.z...tskIya, In should be said that Flaccus was not a military man, and it is unlikely that
SkJfy I Silrmely - 'Scythlln. Ind he ever saw Sannatians in the flesh. For what it is worth, his mention of
$Irmltlln.', Kiev, 197n 'savage yells' is cOIToborated by other authors who comment that the
Sannatians and A1ans howled loudly as they attacked.
Several snippets of infonnation survive concerning the Alan raid into
Parthian terri LOry in AD 135. In his 'Battle order against the A1ans'
the Roman provincial governor Arrian describes the Roman battle
fonnation he ordered to be used against them. From the text it is dear
that Arrian expected the Alan cavalry to launch a frontal charge, which
he hoped to hah by arming his legionaries with long spears. He also
expected an outflanking attack and feigned retreat aimed at disordering
his fonnation, and gave orders to counter these threats. In his 'Tactical
Manual' (An: TlUtica) written perhaps in AD 137, Arri3.l1 makes dear that
the Sarmatian and Alan cavalry were armed with lances - and he calls
them kQ1ltojJhoroi, 'conturbearers' rather than cataphracts. He also
comments about their armour in the final (damaged) line of his 'Battle
order': 'The Scythians [an anachronism for A1ans), being lightly armed
and having unprotected horses.. .'.
A characteristic 'barbmian manoeuvre' of the Sarmatians noted by
Anian (100.44) was the feigned retreat: 'The turns and feigned retreats
of the Sarmatian and Celtic lancers', sa)'S Arnan, as weU as malting an
impressive sports display, could be 'useful in battle'. Whether feigned
retreats were adopted by the Roman horse is unknown, but the
kontophoros, known by the Latin term contariw, entered Roman
employment at about this time.
TIle standard Sannatian offensi\'e repertoire "45 repealed by the
lazyges during the battle against Romans on the frozen Danube in AD
173, a battlefield chosen, says Dio Cassius (72.7), since Sannatian horses
were able to mO\'e all ice. Pan of the l.lZrges force engaged the Romans
frontally, while another pan made a wide arc and altempted to att.'lck
from tile rear. Roman discipline combined with clever use of shields to
grip the ice foiled tile att..lck, which was defeated with heavy loss.
Intriguingly, Cassius writes that Sannatian horsemen who fell from
their mounts were easily defeated by Romans on foot.. since their light
armour gave inadequate protection. TIl is, and Arrian's comment about
the lightnCM of Alan armour, have led to a theory that the powerful
Hunnish bow, which first appeared at about this time, negated the
battlefield value ofhea"y annour. In the 4th century Ammianus (31.2.21)
",Tote that the A1ans owed their mobility to the lightness of their armour,
whereas elsewhere (17.22.2) he states that the Sannatians wore amlour
made from hom scales. Some historians interpret this to mean that most
Alans wore no armour, as seems to ha\'C been true of the Huns. Another
suggestion is that this 'lightened' armour was in Fact mail, which was
gaining popularity across Europe and Asia at tllis time.
It is surprising that a recent survey of archaeological finds
(Simonenko 2001, p.305) suggests that the A1ans were more heavily
annoured than most Sannalian groups except the Siraces. All along the
Sannatian cavalry had never been particularly well armoured: they were
not, by definition, cataJrtu:t~ 'covered with armour'. We have seen that ~, top .nd front views of •
Tacitus stated that it was only the 'leaders and most distinguished btonH helmet of e.ttk 'jock.,.-
C8P' type, found In • SIInMltl8n
persons' who wore annour. The expense of such armour clearly b8rr0w_~.,

restricted it to a social elite -a small but imponant and highly\isible pan ~ r .-.,glon, A-u.; It Is
of any Samlatian force. The bulk of Sannatian lancers probably nC'o'Cr 2O..2cl'I'I t811, wlth .... InterMil
wore much annour, C'o'en before the appearance of the Hunnish bow. ~ of 2OcIn. TM.,..' Is

There is e\idence, howC'oer, that as the Roman empire collapsed and 8etwolty • neekgu8rd; 8Ild four
ItoIn at .-tl -'eM of ttM 11m
more troops took to fighting mounted, Alan annour got heavier. The
Indleet8 th8t c ~ - .
Goth historian Jordanes (Cd. 261), writing of the battle on the Nedao onee ~n.d. Helmeb of this
River in I>annonia in AD 453, characterises the Alan contingent as 'heavy- type a.. found from ttM lower
armed'. Writing somewhat earlier, in the 390s, Vegetius (EPiLotna, 1.20) Danube to the Volea - rtideM:e
complained that while late Roman infantry were now going unallnoured of extenahre sannllUan contaeb
with ttM c.lb and Galatlan..
(a statemelll questioned by modem historians), the Huns, Goths and
A.lans 'had contributed to progress in Roman cavalry anus.' In summary,
hrno.·C"er, it was nC"er particularly the weight of Sannatian and Alan
ca\41ry armour that impressed the Romans, but rather the speed and
force of their attacks. Vegetius (1lI.26) singled out above all the superb
horsemanship of the Alans and Huns - whom he considered one nation
- as an ideal to be imitated by the Romans.

Infentry end .Iev••

Most Samlatian actions described by ancient authors seem to ha\'e been
fought with cavalry alone. Indeed, the Alans regarded it 'beneath their
dignity to go on foot' (Amm. 31.2.20). The Sannadans did, however,
employ foot troops. In a semi-historical text Lucian ('lox. 39) indicates
that 10,000 horse and three limes as many foot took part in a Sarmatian
raid over the Don illlo Scylhian territory. Although Lucian wrote in the
2nd celllury AD, this raid is evidently set several celHuries earlier. These
foot troops were probably dependent peoples rather than full-blooded
Sannatians. We have seen iliat Lucian described warriors raising troops
'on the hide' as conuibuting cavalry or 'foot soldiers, heavy-armed or
light-anned', depending on their means.
The Sannatians, like all steppe nomads, maintained a parasitic
relationship with tlleir subject populations. The indigenous tribes of the
Black Sea coast- often called geargi ('fanners') or 'ag'licultural Scythians'
- were allowed to tend tlleir lands in relllm for regular uibllle. Among
them were Maeots and the neighbouring Sindi, 'driven by whips' (Val.
Flacc., A"8U' 6). In AD 49 the Siraces offered to hand over to the Romans
10,000 'slaves', probably native serfs, in retum for sparing me town of
Uspe (Tacitus, Atm. 12.17).
These subject nations were often sufficiently organised to raise troops,
build fortifications and revolt against the nomads (Strabo 7.4.6). Many
such revolts must have occurred, though few were recorded. In the 330s
AD the slaves of the Danubian Sarmatians revolted; after renaming
E.rty ."angenhelm helmata: themselves as the 'Limigantes' they followed an independent existence
TOP ROllol.nl I.nce,. from until 359, when, after treacherously attacking the emperor Constantius
lrIIj.n'll Column
for a second time, they were massacred by the Romans. Limigantes
CENTRE 5ann.Uan1 gu.rd.men
fnlm the Areh Of O.lerlu.
forces were made up of infantry who advanced in close order, but also
BOTTOM Helmat found In Egypt, included 'nimble squadrons of cavalry' (Amm. 17.13.9).
now In the Rljkamuaeum, Lelden
(the neckgu.rd I. mlulng).
Sannatian weaponry was influenced by their neighbours, from Genual
Asians to Persians and Celts. The Scythians and Thracians ooth employed
annoured cavalry and doubtless played a role in the evolution of the
Sannatian mounted ann. Contacts with the Bosporans must also ha\'e
been twl>....'ay, with Greek and e\'entually Roman inOuences percolating
into Sannatian weaponry. Less well known is the inOuence of the
Sarrnatians' long-tellll neighbours, the Maeots (from tile shores of the
Sea of Azov) and other nations of the nonhem Caucasus; these were
militarily advanced, but bulk less large in the popuJar imagination.
The ancients, however, saw the greatest similarities with the Parthians.
Pomponius Mela (3.3) wrote that the Sarmatians 'in both habits and
arms are closest LO the Parthians'. Direct contacts with the Parthians .....ere
not lacking, but this inOuence was largely the result of a shared lranian*
nomad origin and tlle links both peoples maimained with Genual Asia.

Body armour
In the early period the Sannarians' most popular fonn of annour seems
to have been made of leather. Strabo (7.3.17) writes that the Roxolani in
c.107 Be were equipped with 'hehneLS and corselets made of raw ox-
hides'. Speaking of the Roxolani in AD 69, Tacitus (Hisl. 1.79) mentions
that their annour was 'made of iran plates (ferreis lamminis] or very tough
hides [praeduro corio]'. Some hiSLOrians have auempted to identify this
leather armour wilh a mysterious suit shown on t.he pedestal ofTrajan's
Column, made apparently ofleat.her bands (see page 17, tOp). Another
possible interpretation is hardened leather armour of the type used for
Creek cuirasses. It is more likely that t.he leather armour was either a
thickened variety of standard nomad lealher clothing, or scale annour
made from hardened leather scales.
Certainly, t.he characteristic mmour gaJ1l1ent of Sarmatian cavalry was
the scale cuirass. Archaeological finds suggest that by the 6th century BC
higher-ranking Sauromatian v,'arriors were already wearing cuirasses
covered with iron and bronze scales, much like their SCYlhian
neighbours. Less wealthy warriors appear to have sewn individual metal
plates to their leat.her nomad garments, especially on tile upper chest.
There are no pictures that can be identified wit.h confidence as
represcllling Sarmatians wearing scale armour until the 1st centUl1' AD.
These images show a short-sleeved gannent. reaching usually to the
mid-migh, with a slit. at each side ext.ending up t.o the belt to facilitate
riding. The neck and edges of sleeves and skin are often shown in
'fh.e scabbard·,llde was a poplJlar red-brown or mid-brown colour, representing the leather base of the
method for ,nngl"'ll the sword In corselet or an arming gannent. A leather belt. secures the cuirass high
Central AsI., Irtln .nd northem
around t.he waist., taking much of its weight ofT the shoulders. Nowhere
Imll., .mI spread to Sarmatlan
terTftoriea by the end of the 1.t
do we see how the suit unfastened in order to be put on.
century AD. Tho1.lgh Iat.r made of The remains of over 60 metal scale corselets have been excavated, but
m.tal, the tlneat .x.amplea of t.hey have so far defied convincing reconstruction. Excavated scales are
Chine.. manutac1ure uaed usually of iron, more rarely of bronze. They vary greatly in size from 2cm
atonea such .. Jad.lt. and chal- x I.Scm to 6-&:m x 2cm and are usually rectangular, with rounded lower
cedonVi thl' one, tound at an
unknown Itt. In the Kuban, I'
comers. There are varying numbers of holes bored through the top
mad. from II"""' nephrlt. (kidney edge, allowing the scale to be threaded wim copper or iron wire or
,ton.) cov.red In Chln tyI. leather thongs t.o a leather 01' linen base. Scales were laid much like roof
scrollWork, and mea.u II x 1 x tiles, in horizontal rows, wim each successive row partly covering the
O.6cm. The ,lid. wa, secured to
layer below. Bronze and iron scales in alt.emate rows were found in the
the scabbard sllihtly aboY. Ita
centre of grtlvttv, and allowed the
4t.h or early 3rd century Be Hutor Kashcheevka kwgan (burial mound).
sc:abblllrd to slide treaty on • aub- By the 3rd century AD a few larger rectangular plates appear, hinting at
ak!lary belt attached below the the use among the Alans of some Asiatic laminar armour.
waist belt. The earliest Sannatian mail armour comes from the Kuban and has
been dated t.o the 1st century Be (tlle neighbouring MaeoLS had llsed mail
a century or two earlier). A Celtic or Galatian invention, mail annour was
comfortable t.o wear and provided good ventilation, although it offered
inferior protection against. close-rAnge archery. The Sannatians firsl wore
mail in mixed suits, the torso being covered by me less technologically
demanding scale, while the limbs ,md skirt were of mail. Complet.e mail
corselets began to replace scale annour by the 2nd centul)' AD.
It is also from about the 2nd centlll1' AD that the first references
appear to a 'low-tech' variant of Sarmatian scale annour made from
horse-hooves or hom. This is mentioned for the first time by lhe t.ravel
writer Pausanias (1.21.8), who states tllat such materials were employed
because of the Sarmatians' lack of access to iron. Pausanias goes on to
describe a Sarmatian cuirass made of horse hooves, tllen presen'ed at
lhe temple of Aesculapius in Amens:
'They collect hooves and clean mem out and split them down to make
them like snake-scales - you will not go far wrong if you think of this
hoof-work like lhe not.ches of a pine-cone. They bore holes in tllese
scales and sew them with horse- and cattle-hair to make breastplates no
less good-looking than Greek ones, and no weaker; they stand up to
striking and shooting from close range.'
Similar scale armour made of horn is mentioned by Ammianus
(17.12.2) worn by Sannatians who were raiding Pannonia and Moesia in
AD 358: 'TIlese people, better fitted for brigandage than for open
warfare. have very 10llg spears [hastlU?] and cuirasses made from smooth.
polished pieces of hom, fastened like scales to linen shirts.' Virtually no
trace of armour made from scales of horn, hoof or hardened leather has
so far been found in Sannatian burials.

Finds of metal helmets, like body armour, are relatively rare and usually
belonged to noblemen. The earliest Sannatian
helmets are similar to those employed by the
Scythians. The Sannatians, like the Scythians,
imported helmets from the Greek Black Sea
colonies. Corinthian helmets were especially
popular, as seen on the famous Solokha gold
comb (see MAA 137, The Sc>,thians, p.I4-15). Such
helmets restricted vision, so the Scythians often
cut away the lower parts. A reworked Corinthian
helmet was found in a late 5th century BC
Sauromatian kurgan near the Volga - no doubt an
import via Scythian territory.
Besides such early headgear, barely 40 helmets
(whole or fragmentary) of 2nd century BC - 4lh
century AD date have been found in Sannatian
sites north of tile Black Sea. Most of them are of
Greek piws, Celtic and Etrusco-halic varieties. The
Celtic helmets are mainly of Jockey<ap' style
(H.Russell Robinson's Montefonino AlB l)'pC).
Crude workmanship suggests that many were made
locally. The remaining Celtic and Etrusco-ltalic
helmets may be imports from the neighbouring
Ceho-Ccnnanic Bastamae tribe; or are linked with
the Galatians (Celts from Asia Minor) who, as
recent discoveries show, maintained close relations
with the Sannatians and Bosporans.
Towards the end of the lst century BC a new
l)'pC of hehnet gained popularity. It was made of
curved iron plates altached beneath an iron
skeleton of three or four vertical bands (Gennan,
Spangrn) riveted to one or two horizontal hoops.
Helmets of this type are worn on Trajan's Column
and on Bosporan funerary reliefs and tomb
paintings, but notl1ing similar has so far been
excavated. Some of the Bosporan images show a
helmet of 'Parthian' shape - rounded when seen
from the side, but narrow from the front (see MAA
175. 1?i»M's t.nemies (3): Parthians and Sassanid
Persitlns). Most surviving Parthian helmets are,
however, of later date. This SarmaLian 'skeleton' helmet is often said
to have been the prototype for the spangenhelm widely adopted across
Europe during the Migration period, especially among the Gennanic
peoples. Spallgellhelmeofan early foml with a short nasal are shown worn
by the emperor's bodyguard on the Arch of Galerius of cAD 300 - a
guard which is believed to have been made up of Sannatians. But il is far
from proven that these guardsmen are indeed Sannatians. and until this
key piece of evidence is better attested or further finds are made, the idea
thalthe Sannatians invented the $pallgtnhelm must remain in question.

Ancient shields were generally made of perishable materials such as
wood, reed and lealher, so little Udce of them survives. One of the only
Sannatian shields so far excavated is an example from the HUlor
Kascheevka kU'Kan (4th-early 3rd cent. BC) faced with metal scales.
similar to Scythian shields shown, for example, on the Solokha comb.
The long iron scales were joined with iron rivets, while a few rounded
scales, probably from edges, had traces of a leather lining.
Othenvise evidence for Sannatian shields is mainly literary. Su-abo
(7.3.17) mentions tllat the Roxolani horsemen of 107 Be were gmvplwroi,
;caniers of wicker shields·. Their shields may have resembled lhe
leather-faced examples shown in Scythian art; more likely they resembled
the gerrMn of the Achaemenid Persians. These ha\'e been found in the
Pazyryk tombs, and were made of whittled sticks lhnlst through an ornate
leather framework, 2&m x 36cm; since they were found attached to
saddles, they were clearly cavalry shields.
In a passage about Sannatian lancers, Tacitus (Hist. 1.79) states that il
was not the Sannatian custom to use shields; it would seem they were
kept busy enough handling their lances.
The foUowing two excerpts, al first glance, contradict this infonnation.
In a much mis-translated passage from Arrian's 'Battle order againsl tlle
OPPOSITE Halmat. fnlm tha A1ani' (17), he states that the second to fourth ranks of his eight-deep
peelest.1 of ~an" Column, Roman legionary fonnations were 10 throw tlleirjavelins (evidently piia) to
otten consldared as Sarmatlan by
comparison with the ROl.olanl
rransfix the corselets and shields of the charging Alan cavalry. If il did nOl
flgu,.... In two _nee of ttMt killlhem, says Arrian, thejavelins' soft meL,'ll shanks would bend, rendering
Column" maIn sequence, the horseman useless. This may, of course, be simply a fonnulaic
although nothing ,Imltar has description of the effect of the pilum. A second reference to SalmaLian
been el.cavated or fa daplcted shields occurs in Dio Cassius' account of tlle 'battle on the frozen Danube'
al..where. All wtth Sarmatlan
helmeu. they are built around an
in AD 173, where the Romans attempted to dismount tlleir lazygcs
a.tamal framewor't of vertical opponents by pulling at 'their reins and shields'. Neither reference gives
and horizontal band'; but here details of these shields; but they do suggest that al least part of the
the ,kull plat., are SannaLian cavalry - perhaps tlle light cavalry - was equipped with them.
decorated with acrollwon:,
diamond and wing motifs. and
the tMtlmeta are surmounted by
proml.,..."t spikes. The rteek. WEAPONS
guard, are mada of acales tll.ed
to a laather backing (top Spears and lances - the comus unna1icus
....mple). and of mall (lowar TIle terminology of spears,javelins and lances is rarely applied consistently
.umple). Both sculptura, ara
by Roman and Greek writers, who were trained 10 avoid repeating words.
damqed at the brow. and
originally hMl chaakplec. . - the Modem translators often cloud the issue further. Even so, the Sarmatian
Inalda of one Nam, to be vlslbla lance (Latin conlus, Greek !wnw) was such an exceptionally long weapon
at low lett of the Iow.r halmat. tllal il stands out above tlle confusion. The \','Ord had been used in Homer
(ad. 9.287) for a long pole
used by Creek sailor~ for
punting. Much later lhe
Romans applied it [Q the
huge $annatian lance or
comus S(lI7naiicllS (W.Smi!h, A
Didiq,wry oj Greek (lnd RoI1l(m
AIIIUf/litiRs, 1875, p.357). Il
even appears in Roman
poetry in non-8armat.ian
CQnlexts (Statius, Achilleid
2.132-4; Silus ltalicus, PuniJ;a
Before the appearance
of the conlllS the Sannat.ians
used shorter spears. Ref-
erring to !he Roxolani in
107 BC, Stmbo (7.3.17)
describes their main
weapon as a {IJIlgche, used
The enormous length of the in combinat.ion with a bow and wicker shield. This Greek teml,
S.nTI'tlln I.nee Is pem,p, eug- pronounced 'Iong-kha' and originally meaning barb or point, is a
g....ted In this 18th-century copy
of • 2nd-century AD tomb
generic term for a spear or javelin. Ovid (writ.ing AD 8-18) uses the
pllntlng from Ken:h. However, In Latin hasla for the weapon of the lazyges (Ibis, 135), again suggesting a
his experimenb reconstructing spear rather than a lance. From the 1st century AD onwards, authors like
Roman horaem.nshlp, Mlreul Tacitus (Hist. 1.79), AITian (A11 Tat;/. 44.1) and AmmiUllUS (17.12.2)
Junkelmlnn tole Reiter Roml, Ill, speak of the Sannatian and Alan weapon as the conlus, and call its user
p.145+1 demon,nted th.t lIn-.
a kontophoros or .contus-bearer'.
of up to 4.5m length wIre 'tlll
manegelble on ho....-b.ck. The Spearheads are found in graves from the earliest Sauromat.ian period,
llnee'" ermour appears to be of but it is impossible to distinguish them from lanceheads since the wooden
mIll blJt could be; ecale, .nd Is shafts have long since deca)'ed away and there are usually no butts.
worn _ tlghtly fttting trousers
Plutarch (CTau. 27.2) mentions Parthian cavalry lances 'heavy with iron',
and .hlrt. No Mlmeb have 10 fIr
been found thet match thl,
and so it has been supposed that lanceheads were panicularly large. In
severe conlc:el ,h.pe. The realilY very large heads are rarely fOllnd. Archaeologists have in the
horae.. malNt Is 'creneU.ted' In past used accompanying amlOur finds to decide if a head belongs to a
stappe nomad feshlon. In euch con/us or a spear, but since Sarmatian graves are usually too small to
wlil-pelntlng, ttl.- c:ontus Is never accommodale the full-length shaft !his is somewhat suspect. One of the
seen In c:omblnetlon With I
few examples where a length for an excavated lance has been published
'hleld, though IOmetlme, wIth e
bow. One Sosporan wsll pelntlng was a Saurolllatian gr""dve at Oktyabrskaya on the lower Don, containing a
shows s brown loop h.nglng from lance allegedly 304m long (Maenchen-Helfen, 1973, p.238). In fact the
• c:ontus. Thl, might be; I leether excavators merely repeated the 'well-established facl' Ihal Sarmat.ian
wrist strap, which silO Iet'Ved es lances were of about this length, and made no such measurement
e means 01 slinging the clumsy
IInee over one shoulder In leter
Co_k feshlon. However, the For evidence of the length of the contus we must tum to pictorial
poet Velerl~ Fltte<:uI (8.1&4-5) sources. Bosporan wall-paintings of the 2nd century AD all show a shaft
mentions 'the SanTIltien who of at least 3m in length, and sometimes as much as 4.5m (9ft 9ins 10 14ft
pub. reln upon his huge llnee 9 inches). The pict01;al sources show that the contus was not couched
(lngenUs frenltor Sa~te
ullderann like the medieval lance, but rather was held two-handed - the
COfItJ]'. This problbly refers to
the Characteristic: m.nlNtr In left ann aiming and supporting the weapon's weight while the right arm
which the rider held both reins thrusts from the hip. This two-handed method is required by the
Ind I,nee In hI, len hind. IAn&/' weapon's length.
Rostovtsev) (amlinutd on page JJ)
1: Scythian Ii9hl horseman, 4th C Be
2; Earty SMmalian warrior, 4th C BC
3: s.nn.llan female warrior, 5th C BC

... ~ .

'" .~
.• .-
. . ..., ...-
~ ~ ~~

" • ";_ "f
l:""'''',hMvr''' 4111CBC
2: AcnlIn t! , . " 111 C AD
1:""" 1 III t1 .. _ 1.. C/IlJ
2: ......... ,orAlJn 1~C AD
3: Gala: DI111J1 .......... ClAD 100
1: Al.n nobIemllfl
2; YOUI"lg SlIrmetllin w.mor
1; ROllol'"len amlOl.lred !aile«
2: ROllolalllen hof'w.arener

)""'"",.....-;;;-~-----p-------------- ...-
1: eo.pew.i toot:.oder.... 2rldf...,till C IIIC
2; omc.r of 8osporwo light horN, 2nd C AD
3; 8osporIon Intantrym8n, 2nd ~ AD

, 3
1: S8nnat1an llrTnOUNd IlIne.r
2: s.nn.tI!ln horM·archet'
2: s.nn.u.n ~. cAD 300
The earliest Sauromatian swords were similar to Scythian examples.
Typically these were short altinaUs, similar to those used by the Persians
and other Iranian peoples, though less ornate than the examples found
in Scythian noble graves.
As with the Sq'thians, longer Sarmatian swords begin to appear from
the 6th century BC, and become common from the 4th century, though
they do not displace the aki,mkes. Many of these longer swords have an
antennae-shaped pommel (especially in the Volga and Kuban regions,
until the 3rd century BC). From the 4th century BC the antenna
pommel is replaced by one shaped like the arc of a circle (see Plate A).
The mOSt common type of Sannatian sword had a ring-shaped
pommel as part of a one--piece iron hilt, which probably ewh-ed by the
closing of the circle on the arc-shaped and antennae--pommel swords.
These began to appear in tJle 3rd century BC, becoming the dominant
type from the 2nd CentlllY BC until the 2nd celllUlY AD. They were Swordt with "r'llt-t.htped
pom~lt WeN poptlltr III'IOnSI
popular throughout the Samlatian world, from the Danube to the Volga.
tne Sarm.ttl_t fnKn the 2nd
Ring-pommel swords had a short, straight metal guard and occurred century Be to tIM 2nd century
in both short- and long-bladed versions. The 'short' variety was 50-60cm AD, Mel . . fo\md In . - '
in length, though some were shaner. The far rarer 'long' swords q~lntIM8~.~

~ .net Hunprian PI.aln. Most

measured 70cm upwards, exceptionally reaching 13Ocm.
Characteristic thigh scabbards for 'short' ring-pommel swords
_ _ 5O-eOcnl1n ~ A.-.
pNdout t t _ Wit _~11y
appear from the 2nd century Be. These were secured via twO pairs of Ht In tIM ring of tIM pommel.
'wings' by leather straps which passed around the right thigh.
Sometimes the top pair of straps, or an additional pair of straps, lead to
a belt hidden under the skirts of the jacket, allowing the height of the
(Archleologicil MUlfilm,

scabbard on the thigh to bc= adjusted. The oldest such scabbards were
found in the Altai in nomad gra\·es of the 3rd-2nd centuries BC,
though these were carved wooden models, perhaps for ritual usc. The
'long' ring-pommel sword was worn on the warrior's left side in a
scabbard of more conventional style.
Daggers appear in Sarmatian burials throughout tJIe period. Most
had hilts of the same fonn as shon swords of the time; indeed, the dis-
tinction is simply a matter of convention - weapons under 3Q-35cm
(I2-14ins) in length are defined as 'daggers' on that ground alone.
A unique Sarmatian adornment to ring-pommel swords was a shan
loop of coloured beads, t>pically of agate, chalcedony or glass paste. The
suing (usually missing in gra\-es) was probably lhreaded through the
ring of the pommel. Such 'sword-beads' were later llsed by the Huns.
The ring-pommel sword was displaced during tJle 2nd century AD by
a new variety of long sword, which had appeared a few centuries earlier
but now became the dominant type until the 5th century. These had
separate pommels, typically of disc or nauened-sphere shape and made
of '<l.rious materials such as chalcedony or glass. Most are about 1000m
(40ins) in length and had guards (quillons) of ....-ood or bone, which
rarely sun;ve in the ground. M.any such swords are found in lhe Volga
and southern Urals regions. This l)'pe of long sword was worn on the
warrior's left: excavated examples are often found in cOI'Uunction ....ith a
dagger worn on the right, attached to the .......tist bell. They were slung
loosely by means of a 'scabbard-slidc', a system of Oriental oligin.
Long swords were ob\;ously ideal for fighting from horseback. When
the lance was broken or discarded (as must often ha\'e happened in the
early stages of any melee), the reach of the longsword allowed the
conlinued dealing of blows from horseback. The Samlatian horsemen
who charged impetuously at the Parthians in AD 35 were equipped with
sword as well as lance (Tacitus, Ann. 6.35), as were the Roxolani who
raided Moesia in AD 69 (Tacitus, /-fist 1.79).

Archery equipment
The bow was an essential pan of the Sannatian weapon-set, and though
its imporL."lnce declined over time it never vanished frOIll use. The
earliest Sarmatian bows were similar to Scythian examples: short,
re£1exed models no more than aOcm (32ins) in length and consul.1cted
of several vdrietics of wood glued together. From the 4th century BC
bone laths were added at the grip and 'ears' (ends), giving additional ,, ,
power. AlTOwS were usually 4Q-50cm (16-20ins) long blll could reach
60cm (24ins); they were made of birch, or sometimes of maple or poplar. ,,,
The short Scythian bow was usually kept in a gory'lOS - a combined
0, ,
bow-case and quiver, made mostly ofleather and oft.en strengthened and
adomed with metal plaques. The grJT)'los usually hung from a belt on the
lider's left hip until the long sword came into general use, after which it
was often slung on the right. Separate birch-bark quivers were also @-
employed. Exca\~dted quivers and gory'los contain as many as 300 arrows,
and some graves havc two quivers.
Each arrow had tllree feather flights attached by a line leather thong,
as seen on excavated examples. Arrowshafts were oflen painted; some
gory'los contained all-red arrowshafts, while a quiver found in a 4th
century BC Sholokhovskii kurgan (Rostov-on-Don) contained 128
anowheads with shafts painted witll black, red and white bands.
Presumably this 'colour-coding' indicated ownership, or allowed identi-
ficalion of the mTowhead type when sheathed.
During thc 1st century AD a powerful new type of bow gained popu-
larity; this is known today as the 'Hunnish' bow, though evidence of its
Hun origins is inconclusive. Measuring 120<:111 (48ins) or more in length,
il was much larger than the Scythian bo\\', and also of composite con-
struction with prominent bone laths at the ears. It was usually
as)'l1lmeuical in shape, with tlte top half above the grip being longer.
Significantly more powerful than its predecessors, the Hunnish bow
could draw a!TOws of 80Cln (32ins), with heavier heads than any seen
previously. Fewer arrows are found in graves of this period: most contain
tens, very few have more than 100, and indeed, late Sarmatian burials
seldom contain more than 15 arrows. The Hunnish bow was too large for
tlle gory'los, and was instead can·ied in a soft bowc.'1se alongside one or two
75-80cm tall cylindrical quivers, which were made of deerskin leatller,
and traditionally painted or dyed red (sec iIluSlJ'at.ion page 44).
Pausanias (1.21.6) writes in the 2nd century AD of the bone points of
Sannatian weapons, in an attempt to underline the nomads' lack of
access lO metals. Bone arrowheads are found sporadically throughout the
Sannatian period, but not in large numbers (though bone can
disintegrate when blllied). In a 4th or early 3rd century BC kurgall nem'
!-Iutor Kascheevka (Rostov-Qn-Don) t\\'O groups of arrowheads were
found, conesponding to two quivcrs. In all there were 228 iron heads,
four of bronze and nine of bone, tlle last of triangular section \\~th
polished surfaces. From the earliest times vast numbers of bronze
OPPOSITE ute Sarmatlan long ScyLhian-style arrowheads tum up in Sannatian graves. By the early
sword. are typlcally 100cm In
length and hne pommel. of Sannatian period these have been almost entirely replaced by simple
seml·pre<:lou••ton., gl... or tanged heads in iron.
amber. Excavated ....mpl•• During his exile to the Black Sea area the poet Ovid often refers LO the
uSlJal1y leek guard. (qulllon.l, 'venomous an'ows' of the Sannatians: 'Among them there is not one who
wtl1eh w.re probably made of a
does not bear quiver and bow, and darts yellow with viper's bile' (Tristia,
pariahabl. mat.rial .uch a.
wood or bone. The d.tan. (topl
5.7) -though Ovid's words may be artistic licence, reflecting his own bile
show a .ton. pomm.1 wtth glided at being marooned among 'barbalians'. He also mentions a collar of
metal bfInd from a Sarmatl.n thoms attached round the base of the arrowhead, presumably pointing
gre". at arad••hevtul on the backwards to act as barbs.
Low.r Danube. (ArchaeologlCllI
Museum, Ode..., eourt••y of
a.Redlna) Lassos
Like most nomads in contact with cauJc and wild horses, the Sannalians
employed Lhe lasso, and Sannatian women were said to have been
especially adept in its use. Pomponius Mcla (1.21.5) states that
Sannatians tossed the lasso O\'er an enemy's neck to pull him from his
BelOW P• .-onal "mge marit. of horse. Pausanias (1.21.7) describes another tcchnique: 'They lhrow ropes
Sannetlan nllers and ao.poran around any enemies Lhey meet, and then wheel their horses lO lJip Lhem
king. of Sarmatian deac:ent: in lhe tanglc of rope.' The most famous use of lhe lasso OCCUlTed during
(1) Pharzolu., la.. 1.t
thc Alan incursion inlo Parthia in cAD 73, when thc Armenian king
eentury AD;
(2) Sauromat.. 1/ Tiridalcs was caught by a lasso, but managed lO CUl it with his sword
(AD 174-210); before it tightened around his neck Uosephus. BelL Ju.d. 7.7.4).
(AD 234-238);
141 Thothorses
(AD 278-3(8).
BOTTOM Sarmatlan horN bit, Like all nomad breeds, Sarmatian horses were hardy animals which
3rd c.ntury AD, fTom the could sUr'·:ive on thin pasture inadequate for \Vestern 1ll0unLS. Their
Chemore<:hennll cemetery, endurance was legendary. The Romans were impressed by a horse taken
Ukraine. The movth·pleee I. Iron,
the other compon.nts bronZe. It
from lhe Alans during the reign of lhc emperor Probus (AD 276--82);
Is ttIo\>ght that _ r e blU like lhough nOl particularly atl..Jdctive or large, it was said that this mount
these were needed to control the could cover 100 miles a day, over eight lO len successive days (Histo~
more powerNl horse. of the Augu..stae, Probus 8.3). Sannatian raiding parties covered vast distances at
Sarmatlan heavy ClI"alry- speeds undreaml of by their 'civilised' adversaries, mainly thanks to the
ahhough Strabo tell. u. that
Sarmatlan mounts were g.lded.
use of eXlra horses that were riddcn in turn - one, or sometimes even
(An.r V.M.Zuber & A.V.Slm_nko two spares per rider, according lO AmmiantlS (17.12.3).
In Ioborozhenle Slc1fov I Sermetov, Most Sannalian mounts were geldings, as Strabo (7.4.8) records: 'IL is
1Oev,1984) a peculiarity of the whole Scythian and Salmalian race that they casu-ale
their horses to make them easy lO manage; for
although lhe horses are small, they are
excecdingly quick and difficult to control.' One
Russian sludy based on bOne evidence from
Scythian burials (quoled by MJankovich, They
Rod£ into l!."1l~. 1971, p.94) indicates that mOSt
horses were small Asiatic lypes. 13 lO 14 hands to
lhe wiLhers (shoulder). But lhe Scythians also used
a 'quality' breed averaging 15 hands (150cm) and
similar lO the modem Russian Akhal Teke -
though l.his WdS confined mainly lO noble burials.
Unfortunately, the Sarmatians did not have the
same custom of burying horses with their owners,
- so there is little direct skeletal evidence. It is often
assumed that Sarmatian lance~ employed larger
breeds and, indeed, that such mounts were a
pre-requisite of me lancer's dC\'elopmenL The
Sarmatian must have had access to the most
famous heavy breeds of amiquil}' - me Nesean,
from me Nesean Plains in Media, and the related
Median and Panhian breeds. Such mounlS might
ha\'e been acquired along the Oriental trade
routes or on raids into Parthian territory. But there
is liule C\;dence for the presence of such large
horses among the Sannatians; and horses do not
necess<u;ly need to be big to be strong. Sl.Ocky
build and well·formed legs are sufficient to take
extra weight and, as we have seen, Sannatian armour was not necessarily Compo,lto bow, a/TOw.nd
very healY. Roman authors tend to stress the speed of Sarmatian horses cylindrical qulvor from the
pedestal of n.Jan" Column.
rather than their size. The fully barded Roxolani mounts on Trajan's
StrBbo commented that the
Column are not depicted as being any larger on average than the Roman Scythian bow NMmbMd In
cavalry ponies shown in the same scenes. Mapoe the Jagged outilM of the
One anciem breed, the Turanian, comes close to matching the northem llIBdt s.e coni; tnls
requirement of a 'quality' lancer mount, and is also a likely anc tor of bow, which Is .no-. unstrung, It
of the .... e:drenMl form wtlk:h
the Akhal Teke. It ....as small and of Oriental appearance, but a lrUe horse
rather than a pony. Turanian horses originated in the Transoxania
.u typIcet .f later and slightly
iBrgor Scythian tto- NoUI .IN
region, close to the home of the 'celestial horses' of the Ferghana valley the . .onl - of a ,..,...s.ermlltl.n
sought after by the Chinese. Some of the superb golden ba)'S found typo - .t bottom right, the
preserved in the ice of the Pazyryk tombs exceeded 15 hands, and .....ere _bb.rcl of Which ls "ung by
mo.ne of a verl.nt of the
probably of a related breed. TIlrough their cOlll.acts with ule Sogdians it
is entirely feasible that the Ao~i (and later the Alans) had access to these
OrielHal breeds.
The fast, elegant Sannatian and Alan mounts were highly valued by
ule Romans. Hadrian had a favourite Alan hunter called Borysthenes
(ule ancient name for the Dnieper River), and an ode to this horse was
inscribed on ilS tomb at Apt near imes in France. h recounlS how
Hadrian rode it 'over the mounds of Tuscany... like the wind, after the
boars of Hungary'.
OPPOSITE Dotalt from s..p ~....,
The 'crenellated' mane funerary etolo of A ~ ton
In the Scythian period horse tails were allowed to grow freely. By the 3rd of Monoo, , Itt ,*,tury AD. Tho
century BC, presumably under Persian influence, they were often left bock8"",nd hor'tom8n (.n
knoned with short lengths of fabric or leather. From about the 1st
century AD, judging mainly from Bosporan art, tails were allowed to
grow unusually long and thin, and sometimes filled \\;th a braided
ho,... .rmour. The bard _1_
.nc..tor1') II the only known
Imag. of • Boaporan I.ne..,. wltn

the he,..... ~ut and appoa,..

sleeve, probably of leather. The purpose of such CUIS and atmchments is
to be of '.mlnar conltructlon.
poorly understood, but mil-knotting was later emplo)'ed b)' the Mongols, The rider nu • conical lIeflnot
and • wltn • iBlV' "'-d.
among whom it denoted age, sex and perhaps training status.
Athonaloa him"" ls unannouM,
In the early period manes .....ere generally hogged short, litue differelll and alb on • '8oaporwI' ~

from Scythian or indeed Roman fashions. From about the 1st century AD uddle. Hls bow 11 of the ~
(roughl)' when the A1ans arrived near the Black Sea) the 'crenellated' Hunnbh typo, atUoched ~

mane appears. This style - resembling the baulemenlS ofa castle - had a
qufvtlt"'a, ct.....trdon pago 44-
\'aliety of fonns. Often there .....ere just t.....o 'crenellations', triangular
(Kercn M_, after
rather than rectangular. These may have been purel)' decorAtive. The Yu.M.o-y.tchlk...., 'KiltafrakWrtl
crenellated mane also appeared in Iran, India and China, but always as a na Mdgrobll Afonlya', Sotoetsll-r'
foreign fashion imported from Central Asia. TIle one factor in common Arff~., U172, 4, p.58-77)
was an 'ranian-ipeaking people known as the
Yl.eh-ehih or Tocharians (Maenchen-Helfcn,
1957). It is likely that a section of this people
joined the Alan confederacy.

Tamga brandmarks
A chard.Cleristically Sarmatian form of brand
marking is altested from about the 1st century AD
- roughly simultancous with the appearance of the
Alans and of the crenellated manc. These took thc
form of a tamga - a proto-heraldic sign, akin to a
property mark or monogram, which also appear
on personal equipment. $cveral Bosponm funeral
Stylised Impre$Slo of .... stelae show horses branded with a tamga, either on shoulder or haunch-
• rmoured l.... cer 0 Boapor.... see also pages 10, 35 & 46.
graffito, from .... e.rly 3nl
century AD Rom....o-Boeporan
,lte .t lIureton ne.r Kerch. HI, Horse armour
.rmour re.c:hes down to mid· The depiction of scale-armoured horses on Trajan's Column indicates
celt, lengtlf' tha... u.l>lllly depicted that some, at. least, of the Sannatians' horses wore barding. The amlOur
In Iknporan art. The w.y the leg on the Column, which covers the horses from head to hoof, is uncon-
emeJ9&" from the .rmCMlr vincing, and must be the result either of ignorance or of intentional
"'llgeabl th.t the .rmour ,klrt
had .1'1opening down the aide. stylisation. Only one other 'Sannatian' image sho\.\"S a horse bard - the
Note the three 'spike,' of the Bosporan funeral stele of Athenaios (illusu-ated below).
ho...... 'cre...ell.ted' mane. (Atter Although se\'eral supposed horse annours have been found, none of
I.O.Shurgaya 1... 1<ratkl. the finds are reliable (Simonenko, p.298). A large expanse of mail
Sootnhclten/ya In.tltum thought LO be a horse bard ....' as found in a SarmaLian grave on the Kuban
Arlrheologll, 174, 1983)
in 1896 along with two mailshin.s (VD.BlavaLSkii, Ocherhi wennogv dekl,
1954, p.1l8, no illustration). BUI. as well as being no longer t.raceable,
this find is difficult to date and begs more questions than il answers.
Literary references lO Sannatian horse armour are also sparse. The
most detailed is by the 1st century AD poet Valerius Flaccus (A~naltlica,
6,233-234) in his description of Sarmatian lanccrs quoted earlier. Fo.'
lighUless most hOl"Se barding was probably of leather: thc Sassanian
cavalry certainly used leather housings (Amm. 24.6), while Ute neck
covering of the Dura Europos bard was made from leather scales. The
lise of horse armour varied bet\\'een Sa.matian groups and over time.
The last (incompletc) line of Arnall'S 'Battle
order against the Alans' of AD 135 reads: 'The
Scythians [i.e. Alans], being lightly armed and
having unprotected horses .. .'. Yet later authors
such as Contantius and Isidore of Seville seem to
mention horse armour \\'orn by the Alans
(Bachrach, 1993, 'The origin of Armorican
chivalry', p.167+). Clearly the Salmatians did
employ horse armOll.~ tllOugh not 011 the same
scale as the Parthians and Sassanians.

Stirrups and the 'horned' saddle

It has long been assumed Lhat stinups were a
pre-requisite of lance-anned cavalry, and that the
Sarmatians used them very cady. Even historians
like Sulimirski (p.127) look Lhe &umatian use of
OPPOSITE DracomJrlu. (atandard.
stirrups for granted. In fact, there is no good evidence for stirntps among
bearer) on a late 2nd Of" 3nl
any of lhe Sarmatian peoples. The earliest reliably dated slirntps are century AD funeral Itele from the
found in the 4th century AD in Korea; they reach the Central Asian Roman c.mp lit Che.t." England.
steppe at the tum of the 5th--6th centuries, and arrive in Europe .." ith the The head of thl. horMman"
Avars in the 6th century. drsco .tandard I. damaged .nd
there la no Inscription, but the
The absence of stirrups does not remove the need for a stable 'seat'
equipment .Ullgem that the
from which to wield the lance: the obvious place to look is the saddlery. rider I. a Sarmatlan. Hla
Peter Connolly has demonstrated that the lance (and long sword) could he/tdgHr I. often Int"fllreted ••
be wielded effectively from a Roman four-homed saddle; stirrups, he .apangenheJm·type helmet, but
discovered, were an aid to mounting, but did not give much additional might be • flow....pot·.h.ped felt
c.p. Hla aword .ppea,.. to be
stability. (They also make riding less tiring on the legs, and improve blood
faatened In Sann.tI.n .tyt<t .Iong
flow to the feet.) the right thigh. Some allthora ...
Something very similar to a homed saddle appears in Samlatian art. texturing that aUlKlesta horM
Bosporan tombstones of the 1st and 2nd centuries AD show a saddle witJ\ armour, bYt this I. dltfk:ult to
horns that partly enclose the thigh. TIl is 'ergonomic' shape appears on conflrm on photograph•.
more than one sculpture, so is not simply an artist's el,·or. Sannatian IGrollYenor Museum, Chelter,
cavalry on the Kosika vessels (also 1st/2nd century AD) ride on flatter-
horned saddles, more similar to the Roman version. Characteristic of
these saddles were three broad leather straps hanging from the rear -
BELOW Drsco atandard on the
probably lIscd for secUling baggage, as were similar straps in later peliods.
pedestal of ""Ian" Column.
TIle Parthians and Sassanians also llscd saddles akin to the homed Note the hoopa to maintain the
type (Ghirshman, p.IOI-3; &Junkelmann, III, p.61); there is evidence for shape of the tubullr fabric 'tall',
a saddle with a rear support divided (or 'crenellated') into two sections. with au-amera attal;:hed. The
It has been claimed that horned saddles were a Celtic invention. but the .taft attachea under the metal
head, whIch resemble. a Oog or
evidence poims strongly to a Central Asian oligin, with the Sarmatians as
wott II'\Ont than I dragon. Nota
one of the main agents of u-ansmission to Western Europe. There were, also the cylindrical quiver (recon-
however, several varieties of homed saddle, each with its own history. .tructed on Plate E); the.e were
Metal discs covering junctions ill the horse harness - Latin, J)oolerlU'- beginning to replace the gwyto•.
appear from the end of the 3rd century Be, and
are popular in rich wanior graves during the 2nd
and 1st centuries Be. They are usually of silver
or silvered copper witJ\ decorated sUl"faces, the
largest (for the breast) being l5-24cm in
diameter. Smaller examples appear in pairs, and
were no doubt worn on the horse's flanks.

The draco standard

Arnall (Ar:r Toct. 35) believed the windsock-like
dragon standard to be a Sannatian invention, and
such standards were being adopted by the Roman
cavalryjust as he was writing (c.AD 137). Their geo-
graphical oligins are lost among the horse-archer
societies of Cenu-al Asia, but their Q1iginaJ purpose
was probably to provide wind-direction for archery.
Arnan describes lhe standard as a long sleeve
;made by sewing pieces of dyed ma.terialtogether'.
which bung limp when the rider was at rest, but on
the move flew like a serpent and whistled in the
breeze. Arrian suggests t1la.l standards should be
colourful, adding to lhe spectacle of cavalry
parades. and that one should be given to each unit,
helping maintain order, both in displays and battle.
The dragon-like gilded head of a late Roman standard was found at
Niederbieber in Gemlany •, 8m not all such standards had dragon heads:
some had just the fabric tube and no head, others had heads that
resembled wolves or fishes, and Trajan's Column depicts Dacian warriors
carrying standards ",tith dog-like heads, As a group, howC\'er, such
v.tind-sock standards are now generall)' termed 'drru:o'standards.
The dragon of the Sannatians seems to ha\'e differed from that
known to the Romans, which C\'ol\'ed into its present form only in the
Middle Ages, The Sannatian images were more Oriental, with mol't~
prominent ears, dog-like teeth and C\'en fins; they did not usually have
scales or the distincti\'e crest of the Niederbieber draco. Some
Sa.nnatian standard heads may have represented the Icgend;u)'
Iranian .senmuro- half-wolf, half-bird (Coulston, 1991). It is hal'd to
say wheu\cr the dog-like dmco heads on T,,~an's Column reflect reality
or are a Roman sculptor's interpretation of such an Oliental dragon,
Such standards wel'e also employed by the Parthians and
Sassanians; Parthian standards v.'cre said to glisten v.ith gold and silk
(florus 1.46), In AD 357 the Roman emperors Julian and ConStantius
both had personal draco standards sewn from a purple material (Anull,
16.10.7; 16.12.39). Writing in the 3905 AD, Vegetius (2.13) notes lhat the
BB..OW Among the mlItary gNr Roman infanuy now also emplO)'ed dr(J£() standards. They continued in
*- the ~
Column .. ~
use much later in the Caucasus and medieval Georgia. In Western
. . hMd of. mud! _ Europe they wcre adopted 1»' the Franks under Charlemagne, On the
...,.otll.. fonn ~ the other Ba)'eux I3pesuy. held by King I-Iarold Godwinsson's standard-bearer. is
-.npIe 1lllMtr-.t-.d; It Me: ~ perhaps the most famous of all tlrru:o standards - the Dragon of Wessex,
Md 8CIll1oped t1nglIlIttKhed ~
. . 'tIIlI" BesIde the lItandlIrd 11ft
• r'ftllll . .1ft vwtth dagged
~ bV. nanvw w.... tMoIt
t.t.en.d bV tylng mbw ~
budtJIng. n.. m-'I '- - . . _ • For centuries it was beliC\'ed that the Sarmatians were the ancestors of

.-...et ~ of ciotti

... neo::k.~. . . . .
00" tt*' lhe Sla\'s: they lived on much the same lands; and as one people
disappear in the 5th century AD, the other appears, Throughout the
Middle Ages and untillhe 18th century the Slav world often appeared on
...... ......".. .......:..m
maps as 'European Sarmatia',
'IftIietI _ tied dll Irp!oom
Linguists and archaeologists ha\'e long dismissed utis idea: but al the
same time have turned up C\idence of the seminal
inOuence of the Sarmatians on Slav language. an
and religion, Indeed. it is now accepted that the
Sa.llnatians merged in with pr~lavic populalions,
Both Serb and Croat seem to be Slavicised Alan
u'ibal names. The myth of Sannatian oJigins took
a strong hold in Poland, where the Alans had
a minor presence, Polish heraldry has many
tamga-Iike details which are often claimed to be
Sannatian, During the 17u1 century Polish nobles
became so obsessed \\;th the m)'th that they
adopted nomad-influenced costume and Tatar
hairstyles, and called utemselves 'Sarmatians' (.see
illustration page 41),
Sarmatlan Influence. on Roman cavalry
The Sannatians were one of Rome's toughest and most persistent
opponents. Their high-speed nomad tactics and aggressive use of Romwl ,uanbmen .undll'lg
mounted lancers came as an unpleasant surprise, and for a time the eIth..- . . . of ttte ~ on ttte
Ateh of ~ s at ThM-danid,
Romans had no means of combating them except by hiding behind the
Q....-.:::., eteeted before AD 311
Danube. As early as AD 69 several princes of the 1a1)'ges had been taken to commemonte a.lerfvt;' _r
into Roman pay in the hope of stabilising the frontier in Mocsia, though agaInst ttte PemSM In ttle 2llOs.
the Romans dcclined the services of their mounted retinucs, as being Their equIpment - .-ntI8",,-'m
too bribable to be tnLStwonhy (Tacitus, Hist. 3.5). Within a few decades, helmets, d,..,;o su.ndercts end
scsI.- ermour - I\ss led hlstorlans
however, Ia1)"ges horsemen were fighting as allies of the Romans.
SYCh es QembM to suggeet tNt
Before long the Romans began to copy the Sannatian st)rle of lancer they .... the s.nn.u- who_
C3\<llry. and by Hadrian '5 reign one of the main varieties of Roman m.oticMtoed ngndng for Galertus
horsemen were ·those who carry the contus and attack in the manner of by RomMI ~ (0f0sM
the Nans or Sannatians (Arnan, TML 4). T....,o new sl)'les of Roman 7.25.12). The . . . round shle'ds
end .,../llum Nnchonls lndlc.ate
cavalry appear from this time - cowjrru/ii and conlani. The first Roman
Intenbymen, though these troops
calaphract unils undoubtedly owed as much to Ihe Pan.hial1s as to lhe 1'nII)/ on occeslon hs". ~ht
Sannatians, but the Roman conlani can be more closely tied to the mounted. See PI.te H for •
Sannatians. Onc of the first such uniLS was Ala I Ulpia amlan'C/rum rnilinria. reconstrvctlon.
formed "cry soon after
Trajan's Dacian wan in
Pannonia - close to the
stamping ground of the
Roxolani and lazyges. A
Roman tombstone of AD
14.5-48 from North Africa
depicts a cmllarius from Ala
I CannnuJatium., a unit
which is known from
inscription t\idencc to have
dra....l l many of its recruits
from Pannonia. This lancer
is shown (in accordance
with Roman sculptural con-
vention) without annour or
helmet, but wields a con/us
in the distinctive ~X>handed
manner Uunkelmann. IN
IUiler Roms, Von Zabem,
Mainz, 1990-92, HI, p.l44).
As we have seen, other inno\'ations thought to
have been adopted by lhe Romans from the
Sannatians include the draco standard, and -
perhaps - the spangmMIm. It is quite possible that
the 'homed' saddle had some Sannatian input.
The other relics of the Sannatians are less
tangible, but equally important, and some consider
them to be at the vel)' roots of Medie\-aI chh-alry.

The 'Arthurlan connection'

and the medieval knight
Of the 8,000 laZ)-ges horsemen exiled from their
lands by Marcus Aurelius in AD 175, some 5,500
An 18th-eentury PoII.h .ult of
_-ere posted to Britain, where they served in the Roman anny (Dio Cass.
snnour ""'de In ths '$llrm.tlsn'
72.16). More than a century later a numerus - a tenn generally .tyle; .ee .Iao R.Bneltlnakl,
understood as a small unit identified by ethnicity - of abom 500 MAA 184, PoIIIII AmI'"
Sarmatian horsemen was still stationed at Bremetennacum, modem 1569-1696 (1). Such .rmours
Ribchester near Lancaster. A marble tombstone believed to identify a sppesred In the t1n.1 ,e.rs of
the 17th century, s PolI.h
Sannatian drm:onanus standard-bearer was found at Chester; and traces
flourl.h to the We.tem fad 'Of"
of the Sal1llatians in Britain remain until at least AD 400 (Richmond, snnour sll'snUCli. JeslO4.l' of
The Sarmatae, Bremetennacum veteranofum... ', p.I5-29). We.tem Europesn. who could
According to some historians, the presence of Sarmatians in Britain ctslm descent from the Romsn..
may have given rise to the legends of King Arthur. In the time of the the Pole. copied whit they
lmsglned w. . the .rmo...r Of their
historical Arthur, the 5th century AD, when mounted combat was not
$llrmstlan snee.tors. The gorgon
central to the British way of war, a mounted Sarmatian contingent or their plaq~ ....l9&It thst Inllf)ll1IItlon
descendants who defended Britain might easily become imbued with ClIme from armour looted from
legendary qualities. Certainly, the Sannatian worship of a naked sword Thracilln tomb. I1IIth.,. thsn
thrust into the earth has a slriking echo in the ArthUriaJl 'sword in the Sarmstilln k ...rgsn•• (Wawel
Annoury, Krtlk6wl
stone'. The great respect which swords were accorded in knightly
tradition recalls practices of the Iranian nomads; while the importance of
dragons in the Arthurian romances may reflect the draco standards. Most
inlriguingly, a funerary relief identifies the leader of part of the Salmatian
contingent in Blitain and Gaul during the final years of the 2nd century
AD as a Roman career soldier named Lucius Artorius Castus ....
It has also been claimed that the Sannatians provided the pattern for
the physical fOlm of the Western knight. Obviously the lance was a key
component of the knightly panoply; and as one wit obsen'ed, 'it is
impossible to be chivalrous without a horse'. However, the essentially
nomadic Salmatian society was not remotely 'feudal'. It had the client
or vassal relationship; but similar relationships existed among Celtic
and Germanic societies before the arrival of the Sarmatians and
other steppe nomads, and it is probably to these Gennanic societies
that we must look for the origins of knighthood.
Mter years of rubbing shoulders with the Sannatians and Alans,
the Elbe German lribes (especially the Suevi, Marcomani and
Quadil, and the East German peoples (Goths and Vandals) adopted
Sannatian 'customs and arms' (Amm. 17.12.1 - refelTing to the
Quadi). The most visible novelty was the decoration of Germanic
weapons in the Scytho-Sarmatian polychrome 'animal styles' (at least
four distinct types have been identified). Particularly spectacular
were the jewelled sword pommels, with red garnets inset in gold - a
combination which quickly spread across Dark Age Europe, notably to
the Merovingian Franks.
More importantly, the Goths learned the skills of mounted combat
from their nomad subjects. This 'nomadisation' of the Gemlanic lribes
",-as probably the key element of the emergence of the knight in Western
Europe, and W'dS perhaps the most important leg-dey of the Sarmatians.
The debate over tlle origins of chivalry remains open thanks to a theory
thai the Alans preserved their lfaditional horsemanship skills in
_\rmorica (Loire valley area) and among the neighbouring Bretons.
Ikmard Bachrach has even made tlle intriguing suggestion that the
frigned flight of tile Breton contingent al Hastings in 1066 - a
manoeuvre tllal has long confused historians - was nothing other than
the characteristic nomad tactic preserved and nurtured by the
descendants of the Alans.
BIBLIOGRAPHY D.Sinor (cd.), TheCamhridge Historyofblnn-Asin, 1990
Tadellsz Sulimirsk.i, TheSannatians, London, 1970
Primary sources
The following ancient works conlain significant For more strictly military and costume aspects:
references (0 the Sannatians. Quolauon, unless j.C.N.Coulstoll, 'The draco standard', Journal of
indicated, arc from the Loeb or Penguin editions. Romtm Military Equipment Studies, 2, 1991,
Ammianus Marcellinus (AD c.33O-c.395), Rerum p.IOI-14
Ge5larom ('Histories') O.Gamber, 'Oakische und sarrnatische Warren auf
Arrian (AD c.9~1 i5) An Taetica ("Tactical Manual'); den Reliefs der Traianssaule', Jahrbudl t:kr
Aries elmira AlanOJ" ('BauJe order against the KUlUlhisWrischnr Sammtungm in Winl, 60 (N.F.24),
Alans'), Trans!. James G.DeVOlO, o.icago; ~. 1964, p.7-34
1993 R.Ghirshman, 'La selle en Iran', lranica Antiqua, X,
Dio Cassius (AD c.155-235), Roman History written 1973, p.95-I07
AD c.225 Anne Hyland, Training the ROIIl(H1 caval')'. From
Han-5hlJ. - Chronid~ of thL £arlin (or f'orrtIn) Han Ania" S AI'1" lactim, Slroud: Alan SutLOn, 1993
J>prasty (written down cAD 90), A.F.P.Hulsewe. A.M.Khazano\', Ochtrlr.i vomnogo thtil Sarmalov
'China in ~ntral Asia - An annat.ned lr.lnslation CEssa)'s on Sannatian warfare'), Moscow, 1971
of Olaptcrs 61 & 96... · (Sinlca Lmknsia XIV) 1979 (the first s) tematic study of archaeological
Herodotw (c.485-c.425 BC), Hi.slori~ e\;dence)
Jordanes (6th cenlury AD), Cnica ('Origins and Duo Maenchen-Helfen, The World of the Huns,
Deeds of the Goths'), lrnnsl. Charles C.Microw Berkeley, 1973
Josephus (AD 37-aflcr AD 100), &llum JudaiCIJm Otto Maenchen-Helfen, 'Crenelated mane and
Lucian (AD c. I 2O-c:. I 90) , Toxaris scabbard. slide', Cmtral Asiatic Journal, 3, 1957,
Ovid (43 Be-AD 18), Tristia ('SoITO'A'S of an Exile'), p.85-I38
transl. A.O.Mehille, Oxford: Clarendon, 1992; M.Mielczarek, Cataphracti and Ctibanarii. $ludin on
pbk Oxford: OUP, 1995 the Juauy armoum! cavalry of the Ancient Ulmd, Lodz
Pausanias (AD c.ll5-after ISO), lkscription ofGrt«e 1993. (Contains fuller bibliography of Russian
Polybius (c.200-<.l18 BC), HisuJriae and Ukrainian sources)
Pomponius Mela (written c.43-44 AD), De Situ Drois M.Mielczarek. The Anny of the Bospcran Kingdom,
('Geography') lransL Paul BefT)" Edwin Mullen Lodz, Poland, 1999 (available from Oxbow Books,
Press, 1997 Oxford)
Pliny the Elder (AD c.23-i9), Ilistoria Naluratis IA.Richmond, 'The Sarrnatae, Bremetcnna,cum
Strabo (c.68 BC<.26 AD), G«wophy \,cternnOfilln and the Regio bremctennacensis',
Tacitus (c.55-c.l20 AD), Annaks; HisttYriM, ~n(Jnia Journal ofRoman Studies, 35, 1945, p. I 5-29
Valerius Flaccus (1st century AD), Argonauticn A.y'Simoncnko, '8cwaffnung und Kriegswesen der
('Voyage of the Argo') Sannaten lind spaten Skythen illl nordichen
Vegetius (wriuen c.390s AD), J:.PltOmQ &I Militoris Schwanzmeergebiet', Eurasia Arlliqlla, 7, Berlin,
(,Epitome of Military Science'), transl. 2001, p. I87-327
N.P.Milner, 1993 H.\'on CaJl, StsnIa poediMa vsadnikuv na snPbryanoi
vau i.: KosjJrj ('The horsemens' duel on a silver
\'essel from Kosika'), \~tlljJrDrrontl {5ttYrii, 1997,2,
Secondary works p. 174--98
The Western literallll'e on the Sarmatians is C.Widengren, 'Some remarks on riding costume
sparse, but the following should prO\;de a sound and articles of dress among Iranian peoples in
imroduction: antiquity', Sludia £Jhrwgraphua Ufmltimsia, II,
1956, p.228-276
Bernard S.Bachrach, A Hutory oflhe AtlUU in the Unt, SAYat.senko, 'Oothing \;i: of the Iranian uibes in
Minneapolis, 1973 the Pontic Steppes and in the Caucasus',
Bernard S.Bachrach, AnI/its ami Politics i" the Encydvpaedia tmlliea, 5 (1992), p.758-60
MtdinJal Ubt, London, 1993 (collection of essays) For tlle 'Arthurian connection':
j.Hamlatta, Sludies on lhe History and Languagr of the c.Scou Liltieton & Linda A.M.alcor, From Sg·thia to
SarmaJian.s. Szeged, 1970 Calfltlot: A RndicaI &asses.srnmt of lhe t...tgrnds of
V.KouznelSOv & I.Lebedvmky, l.n Atilins. CavatiLndn King Arthur, New York & London: Garland, 1994;
skfrPes, stignnln du Caucast', Paris, 1997 re\Ued pbk edn, 2000
THE PLATES tales of Amazons, based on the fact that sarmadan women
apparently took part In warfare. Sarmatlan girls were
Ou' reconstructions of 5armatian warriors cluster around the supposedly forbidden to marry until they had killed an enemy
period for which most information Is available: 1st century Be (Hippocrates, Peri Aaron 17) - or, perhaps more realistically,
1IO 2nd century AD. Before this peliod pictorial representations 'encountered an enemy in combat' (pomponius Mala, 3.4).
are scarce and warrior borials rarely contain more than a rusty A1: Scythian light horseman, 4th century Be
sword and speathead; after this period, 5armalian material Is SCythian costume is wall documented thanks to the copious
scattered across Europe and Intermixed with non-sarmatian art created by craftsmen in the nearby Greek Black Sea
a'tefacts. We have resisted the temptation to show objects colonies. This figure is taken from scenes of daily life on a
from too many aristocratic tombs, which might give the gold plate from the 4th century SCythian barrow-mound
mpression of a wealthier culture than was the case. The of Kul-Oba in the Crimea. Textile pattern details are from
5armatians and A1ans were certainty sophisticated peoples mid-5th century Be woollen cloth fragments found in Kurgan
wrttl their own traditions 01 craftsmanship; but the soils of 4 of the 'Seven Brothers' site. The pattern was dyed using a
southern Russia have. unfortunately, not been kind to textiles, resist technique, while the reddish colour was painted on; the
wood and leather. and without unashamed Inventioo we pattern on the side of the trouS&!' legs was embroidered. He
cannot hope 10 do Justice to the rich patterns that must have would carry a short spear and a SCythian bow, sheathed in a
appeared on clothing and horse deckings. Nevelheless, gorytos made mostly of leather, If a sword was carried
readers should beat in mind that the growing science of textile It would be a simple a/(inakes, a type frequently found.
archaeology teaches us two rules of thumb: that our ancient For further reconstructions of Scythian warriors see
forebears practised much more sophisticated handicrafts E.V.Cernenko & M.V.Gorelik, MAA 137, The Scythians
than was once believed, showing as much mastery of the 7()()-300 Be.
materials and techniques of their world as we do of ours; and A2: Early Sarmatian warrior, 4th century Be
thallhe love of colourful personal display seems to have been Ancient writers report that early 5armatian costume was
common to most cultures and periods. similar to that of the SCythlans, but the archaeological
record shows a somewhat poore!'" weapon set, with less
A: AN 'AMAZON' GETS HER MAN: THE DON differentiation between rich and poor burials. This figure is
FRONTIER, 5th-4th CENTURIES BC reconstructed from a beIt-end fitting now in the Historical
For several ceoturies the Don River marked the boundary Museum, Moscow Qllustrated on p.13). It shows a duel
between Scythian and 5armatian territories. During the 4th between two horsemen, both wearing what appear to be
ceotury BC the sarmatians began to infiltrate across the river, quilted garments which are cut like the Iranian nomad /furta.
and it Is from this period that Greek historians began spinning Weapons are a short spear and SCythian reflexed bow; and

Detall of aosporan funeral stelo

of Rhodon, An of HOUCK, oorty
ht century AD. He wee,. e
short tunic end trouaa,., cloak
rastened on the right shoulder
by e brooch, end cerTI.. e lerge
_el shield wtth e small round
boss. HIe helmet, cenied b~ his
son, hes rlIdlel blinds end c""k·
pIec... (Hennltllie Muaaum,
St Petersburg)
'Hunnl'h' bow, c:,1,t-4ttl sacrifice was more common. Our 'divine sword' is a typical
c:entury AD, fOWld In Sarmatlan ring-pommel weapon, a type which remained In
c.ntr.l AU. a1 N~ In use for over fOUf ceottxies (2nd C Be-2nd C AD). Excavated
ttM TakJlmabn o-.rt, examples sometimes have a semi-precious stone inset In
~-_P'-c.B, the pommel, Homed saddles of the characteristic form seen

..... ....--
n.. bow, whk:Il INIY
-e-, '- auymetrlc, 01
in 8osponln art are shown on the horses in the background,
Bl: SarmsUan heavy horseman, 1st century Be
To JuDge from finds In the Kuban, combination scale-and·
strvng Iengtn 132c:m, maH corselets appear In Sarmatian use at the tum of the
It '- mad_ of wood with 1st cenluries BC and AD. The rounded Iron scales are
booM p flttttd It typically 2.5 x 1.5 cm, while the mail Is made of 1mm-thlck
ttll ' ' Ind gnp, ,Ilk wire, In rings of about 9mm diameter, each attached to four
_Ipplng, _nd I 'hlng
of tendon. n.. ~ M
,, nelghbours. This horseman wears a new type of short
sword, with a ring-shaped pommel; this Is carried in a
'- of _tt ,"thiN Ind ,,., leather-faced wooden scabbard, strapped to the thigh in a
.. IttK.hMI to two
cyllndrtc.l ~
,, manner Introduced from Central Asia. The matn weapon is
already the long 5armalian lance known 10 the Romans as
q........ l _ ~
,, the cantus. Sarmatian spears and lances are seldom
whk:Il _ pUtty ~nted
,, depicted WIth butts (metal ferrules), though several wetlI
__ Sfml&..-
~ found in a Iwrpan near SholoIdlovskii village. Aostov-on-
Don region; these WElf8 25.5cm long and 3cm in diameter,
funenry ,...~ (,Aftet" and were found in association with 5Ocm·1ong socketed
L~o'u,.o...n spearheads,
KlfIfl, Chlnl Nltlonll Silk B2: Aorslsn nobleman, 1 st cantury AD
MUMum, Hlngzhou, 2000) This figure Is based on a wealthy Sarmatlan, probably of the
Aorsi or possibly an Alan, found buried near the village of
Porogi, Ukraine (reconstructed in A. V.Simonenko &
B.l.lobaJ, The 5armatians o( the NW Black sea region in the
note the short antennae-pommel sword attached via a leather 1st CAD - Noble gnMtS near the vHJage of Potogi, Kiev,
'wing' of the scabbiW to a scaIe-covered bell A$ usual in 1991 - Russian t8ld), Remains of a red leather Jaeket and
5almatian art. this rider is bareheaded. Colot.riuI Act\aemlri;f trousers WElf8 found under the skeleton, secured by a red
Persian felt saddle doths W9f9 highly sought after as far afield leather belt with gok:l-plated iron buckle. The jacket has
as Greece and Pazyf)'t( in the AltaI Mountains. and could sheepsldn trim, and is fastened with two silvered fibulae
easily have been acquired by 5armatian noblemen. (Cavalry brooches, The short sword lay at his right hip: it had a
shields of Achaemenid style are also found at PazyryIt.) wooden handgrip covered with red leather, and a scabbard
A3: Sarmatlan female warrior, 5th century Be also covered with red leather and decorated with gold
Weapons are found In many female gralles on the VOlga and applique plaques. including one bearing a tamg8 property
In the southern Urals from the 6th to 4th centuries BC, and mark. Near the body were bone laths from a large
especially during the 4th and 3rd centuries. Female graves composite bow of unstrung length c,12OCm (47 Inches), A
are usually better equipped than those of men and gilt plate thought to be part of an archery armguard was also
occasionally contain small items of jeweI1ety such as pasle recovered. We have added a pair of cylindrical deerskin
beads. The lace is reconsltucted in part from a skull of a quivers and a soft leather bowcase, partly from the
SarmatIan 'queen' from Novoct1efUSsk.. The remainder of 8osporan funeraIy stele of Atta son of Tryphon, from
this costume is somewhat speculatrve, but is based on male Theodosia In the Crimea. which shows them slung on the
costume of tile time, with tile addition of an ate-pommel right side of the horse behind the rider's leg; and partly from
short sword and a lasso - a known favourite weapon a HUMIsh bow with quivers and case found at Niya In the
of 'Amazons', Uterary evidence suggests that some Taklimakan Desert. These Items too may have been
5armatians were tattooed In childhood. coloured red.


The sword had a speclal place In Satmalian religion. Raiding In search of cattle, horses and slaves was a major
According to lucian (Toxaris), tile Scythians and Sarmatians occupalJon of Sarmatian warriors. Since the Satmatians
worshipped tile wind prteralty 'breath') and the swon:I, 'one themselves did not generlIIIy employ slaves, these WElf8
because it gave life, the other because it took it away'. sold in Greek marj(el towns such as TanaJS at the mouth
Sarmatian SWOl'd ritual has recently captur8d the popular of the Don. The nomad tent (yurt or, more oomK:tIy, get) in
imagination because of similarities to tile Arthurian 'sword- the background is taken from a IosI wall painting in the
in-the-stone' legend. According 10 Ammianus (31.2,23), the lomb of Anthesterios, at Kerch, This is one of the earliest
5anTIatians 'plunge a naked sword into the ground with known depictions of a nomad tent, though doubts aJclst
barbaric cElf8monies, and then WOfShlp it with great respect about the accuracy of the 19th century copy. One modern
as Mars, their god of war', Horses and cattle were sacrificed reconstruction pictures the yurt as of rectangular form, but
on Important occasions, but judging from burials, sheep we follow the circular shape known from later periods.
C1: Sarmatian noblewoman, mid·1st century AD D: ON THE MOYE: LOWER DON REGION,
The burial of this 45- to 50-year-old woman found at 1st CENTURY AD
$okololla Magila near Nikolaev, Ukraine, was so ornate that In the mid-1st ceotury AD a fresh Influx 01 nomads arrived
she Is otlen described as a 'queen'. G.T.Kollpananeko's near the Don and to the north of the Caucasus. They had new
AICOnstruction has been followed here, except fOf minor centra! Asian equipment with more powerful bows, and
details. Her main garments were a long purple dress and a horses with 'Cfeoellated' manes.
coat, both richly decorated with gold plaques and gold 01: Alan nobleman
embroidery. Her Short leather boots were also COllered with This aristocrat is reconstructed from a 1st ceotury AD gralle
108 gold plaques. (E.I.BespaJyi, 'A 5armatian kurgan near the town of AzOII',
C2: Sarmatlan or Alan armoured lancer, SovetskayaArldJeologiya, Moscow 1992, 1, p.175-191). The
1st-3rd centuries AD elegant dagger with a 23cm blade was carried in an
This figure, based on the Bosporan stele of Tryphon (page 9), elaborate scabbard, decorated In a manner similar to those
represents the less wealthy and so more typJcal 5armatian Of found In the AltaI. Accompanying the deceased was an
Alan lar'ICer at the height of their power. His armour Is made ornate set of "orse furniture, with cheekpieces COllered in
from large polished horn or horse-hoof scales. sewn to a gold leaf, and gilded phaJerae Inset with semi-precious
leather Of linen backing, and secured by a broad leather stones: we gille our rider silllered fittings with blue enamel
waistbell. No headgear of the type worn by Tryphon has insets. The rider wears a hemp-linen shirt and loose-fitting
beeo found: we restore It In hardened leather, though it might saravara trousers; he has laid aside his kaftan in the heat, but
be of felt or metal. His main weapon is the contus sarmaticus, a man of this wealth would presumably halle fairty richly
which the ancient authors suggest was used with a long decorated clothing. Ankle shoes (xshumaka) appear to have
sword. Only a few ring-pommel long swords halle been been the mosl common type WOfn: sulViving artefacts from
excavated, and they do not appear otlen In art, so the the Ossetlans (descendants of the A1ans) are of 'turn-shoe'
method by which they were slung is not well understood. A construction, with the soles sewn to the uppers before being
ring-pommel short swordllong dagger might also be canied, reversed. The strap under the instep is to secure the shoe -
strapped to the right thigh in the usual 5armatian manner. It Is not a stirrup-loop. Note the horse's 'crenellated' mane,
According to Ammianus (31.2.22), writing of the A1ans, 'The and the lIery long tail confined In a braided sleelle. A 6th-
most glorious spoils they esteem are the scalps they halle century 'Vandal' horse depicted on a Roman mosaic
tom fROm the heads of those whom they halle slain, which from Borj Djedid. Tunisia, and now in the British Museum has
they put as trappings and ornaments on their war·horses'. on Its hindquarter this tamga brandmark resembling a
C3: Geto-Daclan prisoner, c.AD 100 cross-f1eury (see Osprey Warrior series 17, Germanic Warrior
This Getic Of Dacian warrior, restored from the Tropaieum 236-568 AD, p.52). The AJans, of course, fonned a part of
Traiani monument at AdamkJissl, Romania, represents a Vandal strength In North Africa.
nobleman from the area immediately to the east of the steppe 02: Young Sarmatian warrior
belt. which provided a regular target for 5armatian raiding. Most 5armatian male graves of this period contain lew
Herodotus notes that the Thracians (from whom the Getae artefacts; seldom is there more than a ring-pommel short
and Dacians were descended) employed cloth made from sword Of dagger and a spearhead. and on occasion a
hemp, which looked like linen to the inexperienced eye. Felt primltillely made clay pot, with characteristic handle In the
caps Ipllef) distinguished Dadan nobles (pileatl) from the shape of an animal. We restore a leather kurta jacket
commoners (Comatl). who went bareheaded. worn oller a hemp-linen shirt, with loose-fitting trousers and

Copy of • 200 century AD Kerch

tomb mUl1l1 sMw'lng ttl/.
Sospo...n Infantrymen. Two of
them wear seal. co....l.ts
paInted grey to rep_nt Iron,
and helmete with mUltiple
horI;rontal bands, almllar to tho..
shown on Tntlan" Column. Th.
UI"IIlnnoured flgures wear red·
Drown and grey·blu. tunlca apllt
at the front Ilk. the armour
"=" Arrlan" 'Cimmerian tunics',
which were of the sam. shape as
armour co....l.te). All h.....
_ords and lUll,. of heallY-
b&eded spea,., (After RostO\/tllel/)
scale-co....ered belt. Some textite finds suggest bordering In a Bosporan funerary stele (V.P.Tolstiko...., 'A soldier's
e.g. 'rope twist' patterns of contrasting colours. gra....estone from the Akhtanizovsky estuary', Vesfnik Drevnei
Istorii, Moscow, 1976, 1, p.80-90). His shield Is a cetlic
E: TRAJAN'S 'IRST DACIAN WAR, fhureos; slmilar OIIai shields appeal" on Bosporan funerary
AD 101-02 reliefs and terracotta figurines !rom the late 3rd century BC,

The Roxo!ani played an important part in Trajan's Dacian and are popular by the earty 1st centul)' BC. The slight
wars. providing the Dacians with their best cavaky. They are thicll;ening at the centre of the shield rib dates thIS figure to
shown only in the sections of Trajan's CoIunYI dealing with the the Iale 2ndIeatI)' 1st century BC. This warrior might equal)'
first C8ITIP8'9", AD 101~, and probably kept on the sidelines be equipped with a mailshkt, and a cettic or Etrusco-Italic
<bing the dedsive campaign of AD 105-06. The ColufTvlIS a
notoriousty difficult SOUral to int.-pnlt even fOf the F2: Officer of Bosporan light horse,
appeeranoe of Roman troops. The sculpton may wei have 2nd century AD
bello ignorant of the details of 5armaIian weapcny, and Unarmoured horsemen representing the urban elite are
perhaps deliberately stytised the 5armatian figures to often the sub,ect of Bosporan !ulefary nlIiefs. and 0l.I"
undertine their non-Roman feaI\.wes. The Wilt gear on the reconstruction closely foIows one such stele. His eqlJIJ)meOt
pedestal of the coIum Is more dea1y sculpted, bulls ditficuII shows many Sannatian intIuences. Foremost is the 00w,
to attribule to the factions in the oonIIicl Only by compwing which the Bosporans adopted very early !rom their nomad
ancient descriptions and an::haeologicaI finds Is it posslbIe to neighbotn - here a compact 5cythian model kept in a
attempt realistic reconstructions of warriors fTOm Ihis tme. gorytos. A 5armatlan ring-poovneI knife or short sword is
E1: ROllolanlan armoured lancer strapped to his right thigh. Long swords, when shown, appear
The stylised head-to-hoof horse armour shown on alongside the gorytos and may have been fastened dir9ctly to
Trajan's Column must reflect some form of horse bard. Our it. No shield Is llisible on this particular stela, though on some
ltlConStNction is based on the Dura Europos bard, together other tombstones accompanying foot figures hold o.... al
with a bard shown on the Bosporan stele of Athenalos son of shields which may belong to the horseman.
Menos. A sadelle of 'horned' type Is probable. thOugh none F3: Bosporan Infantryman, 2nd century AD
are . . isible on the Column. The rider's IlaI!y spangenhelm-type During the 1st and 2nd centuries AD the Bosporan Kingdom
helmet has been copied from the main scenes on the Column, was a Roman dependency. We hear of 'native troopS of
along with its soft neckguard. apparently 01 leather. The Bosporus with Roman arms' doong the Bosporan war of AD
armour corseIeI Is taken fTOm the pedestal. On the Column 49 (Tacitus, Ann. 12.15-17), and bow-armed Bosporan
one RoIlOlanian rider has a medium-length sword slung at his inlantry are Hsted in Arrian's 'BattIe-Order against the Alans' in
right side in Roman mamer. this is probably a sculptor's error. AD 135. The appearance on Bosporan i1scriptions of the rank
We have restored a ring-pommel short sword strapped to the titles stnltegos, chiIiarchos, Iochagos and spekatr:hos indicate
right ttigh in 5armaban tastMon; a long sword night also have that G'eek miitaty cxganisation persisted. This Infa1tryman is
been worn on the left taken from a lost waIpainbng at KM:h showng five Bosporwl
E2: ROJ{olanlan horse-archer footsoldiers. Their oval shieId:s and pair of spea"S are typical
Horse-archers are nnty ITlElII'lOOned by ancient authors. of Roman aux5ary equipment. Oval shiekis are the m&If'l type
buI probably stil made up the butt of 5annatian slf8ngth. depicted in Bosporan arl; most have cin::ulaf bosses, perhaps
Sarmatian shock tactics would have worked best with horse- ref\ectJng Germanic influence - this example (diameter 25cm,
archers 'shooklg in' the charges of the lancers. pr-..nably depth 8cm) is l1ISIored from a 2nd century AD ex.npIe fotnj
using the 'Parthian shot' tecMique. Roxolanian horse- at Kerch. Sarmatian influence remains strong and indudes the
archers on Trajan's ColuI1'Vl are depicted in armour similar to scale armou'" (note the skirt ~ at front rather thaf1 sides),
that of the lancers. The helmet, corselet and archery proto-spangenhelm type helmet, and sword worn on a
equipment ani taken !rom the pedestal of the Column. The scabbard slide (restored !rom sculptures of 5armatlan-
helmet has embossed metal decoration in Iranian style, influenced Roman troopS in Hungary).
wtlich is mirrored In paint on the cylindrical leather quiver.


From the 6th century BC to the 4th century AD a powertul
kingdom existed In the Cimmerian Bosporus (eastern
Crimea), unitil19 the previously independent Greek colonies.
At the tum of the 1st centuries BC and AD a dynasty of
5atmatlan clescent seized power, and the kingdom and Its

/""'" .
fighting men were heavily 'Sarmatised'. The urban culture of
the kingdom survived, and was maintained by the strong . . ,..
walls of the main cities - the fortifications shown here are
suggested by surviving ruins and details on Bosporan COinS. i" ':'.
F1: Bosporen footsoldler, late 2nd/early '. '.
, st century Be
Bosporan and $annatian weapalY in the &arty period were
influenced by neighbouring Geltic tribes and their Galatlan T~ brwtd on tM ~ handle of • s.nn.ttan

cousins of Asia Minor. This footsoldier is reconstructed !rom drinking _ _; ct PIMeI D Mw:l O.
G: DUEL ON THE STEPPE, 2nd CENTURY AD appears on the original.we have added spurs, held In place
This cavalry combat follows closely a so-called 'duelling by V-shaped bronze plates: these are of late 2nd-3rd century
scene' on one of the Kosika vessels. The Parthian date. and judgIng from the find distribution, were popular
appearance of the combatants is striking - indeed, Roman among sarmatlans (especially lazyges) living between the
authors comment that sannatian costume was very similar to Danube and Tisza rtvers in modern Hungary.
Parthian. The draco standard is restored from the pedestal of Trajan's
G1: Sarmatian armoured lancer Column. with details added from the surviving standard head
This armoured warrior carries his contus two-handed, from NiedElfbleber, Germany. The 'tail' is made from light
steadying his aim with the left arm, willie the force of the blow material. perhaps silk: extra hoops help maintain the shape
is provided by the right arm and the horse's momenltlm. His and serve to attach the dagged rings of ma~.-- which
'seat', with extended left leg. helps balance the cumbefsome fluttered In the breeze, increasing the impression, recorded
lance and absorb the shock of impact, greatly aided by the by Arrian (Ats Tact. 35.3-4), of a flying beast.
'homed' saddle. The scale corselet has a V-shaped neck, H2: Sarmatian guardsman. cAD 300
exposing a separate shirt covered with smaller scales. This figure is taken from guards surrounding the emperor on
Lancers in Bosporan tomb paintings often wear similar scale the Arch of GaJerius. Though he Is clearly equipped as a
shirts under cloth or leathef garments. A laced sleeve appears footsoldier, the draco banners and horses on the source
on the rider's right forearm on the source: this might be part suggest that he might also have served on horseback. His
of the armour corselet, but is probably an archery armguard COfS9let is made from scales with embossed ribs. Indicating
shown on the wrong arm - ancient artists often confuse right metal rather than horn - as appropriate for a guard unit. No
and left. A goryfos is worn at the rkler's left, whefe It will not helmet 01 the pattern shown on the Arch survives: it has
interfere with fhe lance: apparently attached to It Is a ring- shaped cheekpieces. a nasal and a leather neckguard - we
pommel long sword. The tamga brand on the horse's shoulder interpret this as a proto-spangenhelm of Ortwin Gamber's
is taken from the lst-3rd cenltlry AD Bosporan funerary stela 'late sarmatian' type. Some guardsmen on the Arch appear
of Alta, from Theodosia In the Crimea. to wear studded boots, a late version of caJigae with leather
G2: Sarmatian horse-archer uppers completely covering the foot; untypical of sarmatlan
this horse-archer appears to wear a jacket with bl"oad footwear, they might be Roman military issue or local
'lapels' that extend over the shoulders, apparently providing replacemeots.
extra protection. Other figures on the Koslka vessels wear No swords are shown on the Arch, so we add a long sword
similar garments. The only weapon shown is a short renexed with disc-shaped chalcedony pommel, slung in Central Asian
bow kept In a goryfos, wom with an archery armguard, this manner, by means of a nephrite or jadeite scabbard-slide.
time only on the left forearm. The horse furniture and saddle The shield boss Is based on an ornate example with
is revealed in detail on the Koslka vessel, and although no sarmatian omament found at Herpaly In Hungary (Sulimirskl,
Eastern 'horned' saddie has been excavated. we have bitten plate 53), and repl"esenting Goth influence on ttle sarmatians
the bullet and attempted a reconstruction. during the 3rd century.

H1: lazyglan drBconBr;us, late 2nd-3rd
century AD
This standard bearer Is based on the Chester
funerary relief. The headgear on the relief may be
a felt or leather cap, but we restore a helmet
based on the Leiden spangenhelm. The texture
of the sculpting suggests a mail corselet rather
than one of scale. A 5armatlan ring-pommel
short sword has been restored. though only the
characteristic way that it clings to the thigh

Fu......ry ,tel. of a Bospof1ln nobl.man.

2nd c.ntury AD. partly reconstructed In PI,te
F. He I, uncannoured, and w.a,. a cloak and
troUH,.. the short rlne-pomm.l .word can
cl.arly be . . .n att8ctMtd In Sannatl,n styla
to the rlght thigh, and , reflelted bow can
be seen on the far ,Id. of the seddle, The
..ddle I, of a Bospof1ln 'homed' type which
P"rtly .nclo,., the thigh; hanelng at right
rear are tne triple stnlP' characteristic of
homed nddle•• The bllCkQround ho.... man
It , hoeavy cay,lryman, we'rlng a conical
tHtlmat with cheekplflCa, and a co....l.t.
prob.bly of acale.