V.Stetsyuk's personal site logo
Mail to site
Print version
News (RSS)
The Scytho-Sarmatian Problems. / The Alans

The Alans


Alans considered unresevedly as Iranian-speaking people, and mainly because of that their alleged descendants Ossetians belong to the Iranian language family. Such justification can be treated with care. However, when their ancestral home is looking for somewhere in Asia, considering that the Iranian people populeted only there, then Ossetians were to come to modrern-day habitat from Asia. However, we know that their Urheimat was in the upper reaches of the Dnieper River and this fact has strong evidence in the language matches of the Ossetian language and Germanic languages. However, reputable scientists arbitrarily manipulating archaeological cultures without linguistics, as it did, for example, Tadeusz Sulimirsky (SULUMIRSKI T. 2008) readyly draw us the story of Alan. We shall try to present only its outline in general terms, using mainly linguistics, partly historical evidences, and to a lesser extent archeology.

The evidences of ancient writers do not allow conclude about ethnicity of the Alans. Here it is appropriate to recall the prejudice that the ancients had to be better informed about the times closer to them than we are. However, it is believed also that this is not so. For example, scholars at King Alfred's time knew very little about the origin of the Anglo-Saxons (COLLINGWOOD ROBIN J. 1996, 127). This remark applies directly to our topic because we consider Anglo-Saxons among other nations as a part of Alans.

Contradictory views on the Alans can be found just in the notes to Jordanes’ "Getica" made by the translator of it E. Skrzhinsky (JORDANES, 1960). It seems that most evidences about them were left by Ammianus Marcellinus. He, as well as some other historians of the time, believed that the Alans were the Massagetai of the past, however, no evidence on this did not result. Describing the appearance of the Alans, Ammianus Marcellinus, noted they had "somewhat slanting eyes" (ALEMANY AGUSTI. 2000: 36). This may indicate certain Mongoloid features, although in general the Alans on appearance were very different from the Huns, the obvious Mongoloids, and this was noted by Jordanes (JORDANES, 1960: 126). However, it should be borne in mind that Ammianus described Alans of his time, ie, the end of the 4th century. Until that time, Alans could to a large extent mingle with the Huns, because they were the first to be subdued by the Huns in Europe, and then in 375 AD Huns and Anans together defeated the tribal alliance of Ostrogoths. The date Huns’ invasion into the territory of Alans remains unclear, so it is unknown how long the Alans remained in close contact with the Huns. Ammianus wrote only that the many Alans were killed during invasion, and the survived (mostly women) were included in their staff. In this case, a one generation is enough to become by the defeated Alans weak Mongoloid features, which they could lose in the next generations.

Ammianus also found similarities between the Alans and Huns in the way of life characteristic for nomads. Thus the distinguishing feature of these judgments was rather the lack of permanent residence than similarity in the device of carts or transported dismounted cabins. According to Ammianus the Alans occupied the territory from Pontic steppes to the Vistula in the north-west and till the north-eastern shores of Caspian Sea, but they penetrated farther to the east and southeast in separate groups. Perhaps the latter gave reason to separate the Alans on European and Asiatic parts, while Europe and Asia at that time was shared by the Tanais (Don). However, it remains unclear whether all the Alans said the same language. Many other folks, collectively known also as the Scythians, inhabited throughout this vast territory. We can conclude from Ammianus’ texts that gradually some warlike tribe subjugated all these people and united them into an union under the common name Alans. Among these tribes were Neuroi, Melanchlainoi, Gelonians, Agathyrsians, and other tribes, previously mentioned by Herodotus and the several ones that appeared later (ALEMANY AGUSTI, 2000: 34).

As for the Alanian language, it is important Lucian's notion about the difference between the Alanian and Scythian languages which was made in the passage about the Scythian (Αρσακομασ) and his loyal friends Lonhates (Λογχατησ) and Makentes (Μακεντησ), which helped him kidnapping a bride. The latter, pretending to be as an Alan in an episode, was to speak their language (Ibid; 3,11). We can conclude from this that the Scythian and Alanian languages to some extent differed. Moreover, the names of these heroes have no good means of deciphering by the Iranian languages, but they are well explained by Old English. Name Λογχατησ (longchate:s) can be translated as "a long-haired" (OE lang, Eng long and OE hæd “hair”), and the name Μακεντησ (makente:s), obviously, was derived from the OE magen "force" with the formant – te:s, which could be a metathesis of the suffix of superlatives – st, and then Makentes can be translated as "the strongest".

Some evidences about presence of the Anglo-Saxons in the territory of Ukraine in the Scythian-Sarmatian time have already been given in the previous sections. Epigraphy and some realities of the Scythian-Sarmatian times decrypted using the Old English have been compiled in The Alan-Anglo-Saxon Onomasticon, a small part of which is given below.


ακινακεσ (akinakes), a short, iron Scythian sword – OE ǽces "an ax" and nǽcan "to kill" suit better.

Αργαμηνοσ (argame:nos) – OE earg “cowardly”, mann “a man”.

Αριαπειθεσ (ariapeithes), the name of a Scythian king – OE ār „honor, dignity, glory” (ārian "to honor"), fǽtan „to decorate” (“adorned with glory”).

Beorgus, the Alanian king who invaded Italy in V century AD – OE beorg 1. "a mountain, hill", 2. "protection".

Βουδινοι (budinoi) Boudinoi, rather, Woudinoi, the people who lived, according to Herodotus, in the country, overgrown with various trees – OE widu, wudu “tree, wood", Eng wooden.

Γωαρ (go:ar), Alanian leader in Gaul at the beginning of the 5th century. – OE gear "protection, weapon".

Dula, Alanian Prince – OE dwola "a heretic".

Ηλμανοσ (e:lmanos), Olbia, Vasmer – OE el “strange”, mann "a man".

Eochar, Alanian king in Armorica (north-west France) – OE eoh "a horse" and ār "a messenger, herald, apostle".

Ιδανθιρσοσ (idantirsos), Scythian king – OE eadan "performed, satisfied” and đyrs "a giant, demon, wizard".

Ιεζδραδοσ (iedzdrados), Olbia – OE. đræd "thread, wire”, while the first part of the name semantic approach OE īse(r)n "iron, of iron".

Λικοσ (likos), the son of Spargapeithes – by OE līc "body" could be called a man of large stature.

Λογχατησ (longchate:s), Lucian – (OE long "long", hæd “hair”).

Μαστειρα (masteira), the Alanian, the wife of the king of the Bosporus Leukanorus – OE māst "most", āre "honor, dignity."

Respondial, the Alanian king in Gaul, 406 – OE refsan, pespan "to blame" and deall "proud, famous".

σαγαρισ (sagaris), battle axe, the Scythian weapon – OE sacu "strife, war" and earh "an arrow".

Σαδιμανοσ (sadimanos) – OE sǽd "sated, satiated" and mann "a man".

Sangibanus, according to Jordanes, Alanian king in Gallia in the 5th c. – OE sengen "to burn" and bān "a foot, bone" are better.

Σαυλιοσ (saulios), the son of Gnuros – apparently from OE sāwol "soul."

Σπαροβαισ (sparobais), Panticapaeum – OE spær "gypsum, limestone” and býan "to build" ("a mason, builder").

Τασιοσ (tasios), the Roxolanian leader at the end of the 2nd cen. BC – OE tæsan "to wound"

Φαδινομοσ (phadinomos), Tanaïs – OE fadian "to lead" and nama "name".

Φηδανακοσ (phedanakos), Tanaïs – OE fadian „to lead” and naca „a boot, ship”.

Φλιανοσ (phlianos), Olbia – OE fleon "to escape, avoid".



However, as the descendants of the Alans are rightly regarded the modern Ossetians, when by recognized diversity of the population of the Northern Black Sea region we have no other choice but to assume that a tribal alliance was hiding under the common name of Alans at that time. The Anglo-Saxons could play a major role in this alliance, and the ancestors of the Ossetians were the only members of the union. The assumption that just the Anglo-Saxons were dominating top in the alliance is based on names Alanian rulers, explained by means of the Old English language (Αρδαβουριοσ, Beorgus, Γωαρ, Eochar, Μαστειρα, Respondial, Sangibanus, Τασιοσ etc.)

Herodotus wrote that “Royal Scythians” were among all Scythian tribes. Strabo also singled out “Royal Sarmatians” among the tribes of the Iazyges, Urgs, Roxolani, Aorsi, the Siraces. Obviously the definition of "royal" in line with the dominant tribe, which could be ethnic Alans. J. Harmatta believes that the peak power of the Sarmatians occurred for the last quarter of the 2nd and the first half of the 1st cent BC . Under conditions of stability, the development of trade, ways, and means of communication had resulted that different ethnic groups began to appear in the Black Sea steppes at the beginning of the 1st mill AD. They were included in the tribal alliance of the Alans. Historians come to the conclusion about the possibility of rule power of a warlike tribe, ethnically alien to the masses of population:


Ethnische Vielfalt und Flexibilität, kultureller Austausch, oft über große Distanzen, weiträumige Politik und regionale Differenzierung treten bei der Erforschung der Steppenreiche immer deutlicher hervor. Die Einsicht der modernen Ethnosoziologie, dass die frühmittelalterlichen Völker aus unterschiedlichen Gruppen bestehen, die sich um einen relativ kleinen Kern sammeln und ihm bald zugehörig fühlen, bestätigt sich. (Translation: Ethnic diversity and flexibility, cultural exchange, often over long distances, long-range policy and regional differences occur in the study of steppe empires ever more apparent. The understanding of modern social anthropology, that the early medieval folks consist of different groups that gather around a relatively small core, and soon feel to being attached to it, is confirmed) (POHL WALTER, 2002: 3).


The fact that Alans had a different ethnic composition is confirmed by the ethnonym Roxolani, which can be explained as "White Alans" by means of Ossetian ie, there were still common Alans and there was some significant difference between them, obviously, language one. The Iazyges (Asses) could be some Turkic tribe. It is noteworthy that Ossetian own name (Digor and Iron) does not contain any similarity on ethnonyms of Alans or Asses. Just they call the Balkars by the Asses, and Chuvash, especially older ones say "Epir Assem" (we are the Asses). At the same time ethnonyms of the Bulgar and Balkar are connected together etymologically.

Apart the names of the Alanian leaders, the Germanic origin of Alans is confirmed also by friendly relations of the Alans with the Germanic tribes of Goths, Vandals and Suevi (Suebe). These relations supposed to have some more serious explanation than a situational alliance of the tribes of different languages without a purpose and reason. In 378, the Alans, in alliance with the Ostrogoths defeated the Roman army at Adrianople. Later, a large part of the Alans together with the Goths and Huns moved into a long trek through Europe. In alliance with the Vandals and Suevi, the Alans reached Spain, where they founded their kingdom, and after the destruction of the kingdom by the Visigoths, they, along with the Vandals crossed into North Africa. If the Alans were Iranian-lingual, as is commonly believed, then why are they so tied to the German tribes with whom they shared the complicated fate? It should be said that the idea of German ethnicity, of Alans is not new. Norman Davies is referred to the East German tribes, except the Swabians, the Lombards, Burugundes, Vandals, Gepids and Goths, and also Alans (DAVIES NORMAN. 2000: 241).

Some evidence of friendly relations between the Alans and Goths provides also archaeology. While the Slavic tribes of the Zarubintsy culture were displaced by the Sarmatians from the Forest-steppe Dnieper Land between the rivers Tyasmyn and Stugna, "the relation the Sarmatians and the bearer of the Cherniakhivska culture in the 2nd-4th centuries was totally different than the situation between the Sarmatians and Zarubintsy people. The Sarmatians were involved in the creation of the south-western region of the Cherniakhiv culture, and their funerary rites are like Chernyakhiv ones. (BARAN V.D., Otv. Red., 1985: 9-10). The Chernyakhiv culture was largely created by the Goths who came to the Black Sea, so we can assume that cultural interaction of the Goths and some part of the Sarmatians was due to the similarity of their languages.

However, most experts perceive the name of Alans only as ethnonym and assume a priori their Iranian origins. Tracing the history of the Alans until the 13th, they actually talk about the history of the Ossets, when only their name could remain on the North Caucasus. The fundamental work of A. Alemany (ALEMANY AGUSTI. 2000), largely based on Abaev’ works, is indicative in this respect.

On the other hand, a part of the Alans remained in the North Caucasus, what has historical evidence, and some of then, though few, Alanian names can not be explained by means of the Old-English language, while others of them appear clearly Turkic (Ιτιλησ, Αραβατησ, Thogay). In addition, the presence of the Alans in Central Asia was evidenced too.

Taking this all into account, we must assume that only part of the Alans could be the Germanic-speaking, which during the Great Migration had gone to Central Europe and then in Spain and Africa, and perhaps even the British Isles. In other words, the name Alans could hide as German-speaking, Iranian-speaking, and even Turkic-speaking tribes of the Northern Black Sea region, causing by the transfer of the name of a dominant tribe to the other participants of the union of different tribes, created for fighting against the Scythians.

One can find statements in popular literature, that certain place names in England sound exactly like Ossetian (London, Dover, etc.), although experts believe that their etymology is Celtic. This topic could be ignored if it were not revealed correspondences of the cycle of legends about King Arthur, Knights of the Round Table and the Holy Grail with Scythian-Sarmatian world and with the Ossetian cultural heritage of this world. In 2000 a book was published which in authors try to explain these relationships (LITTLETON C. SCOTT, MALCOR LINDA A. 2000). The book was controversial in the scientific world, as evidence of the authors are based on analogies which maybe look not convincing. The reasons for these connections in influencing a small number of the Yazyges served in the Roman legions in Britain in the 2nd cent on the culture of the indigenous Celtic population look unconvincing too. Hostile to the Romans, the Celts could not have close cultural contacts with them, the more doubtful is that they were cultural influenced by the Yazyges. Such effect could make many new migrants of Alans-Anglo-Saxons, of course, having common cultural elements with the Iranian-speaking population of the Northern Black Sea. However trusty historical data of the migration of the Alans to the Britain are absent. Although Linda Malcor explains the name of Lancelot, one of the knights of King Arthur as “(A)lan(u)s à Lot” (Alan of Lot, the area in Southern Gaul, where at one time massed Alans). One would assume that other Alans came to Britain with Lancelot, but Celtic mythology has no hint of this (BOTHEROYD SYLVIA und PAUL F. 1999: 241-242).

If the Alans arrived in Britain from Southern Gaul, the more they could do it from Northern Gaul. It is known that Flavius Aetius, the honored leader, the actual governor of Gaul, known for his victory over the Huns on the Catalaunian Plains in 451, gave Armorica area (north-west France) into the possession to Alanian King Eochar (otherwise Foar). It is not superfluous in the case recall that the name of King Eochar could be understood by maens of the Old English language – OE eoh "horse" and ār "a messenger, herald, apostle". He was succeeded by Sanginanus whose name could be translated by Old English – sengen “to burn” and bān „leg, bone”. Later some rulers of Armorica had the name Alan. Thus, the peninsula of Brittany and the surrounding areas were inhabited by a large horde of Alans. The future of these Alan is unknown, therefore the possibility that they eventually settled in Britain can not be excluded. It is believed that the common English name Alan was brought from Brittany by soldiers of William the Conqueror. Brittany Normans, who formed his army, use the French language and the rapid disappearance of the Scandinavian language here is explained as follows:


Norman place names show that the Scandinavian colonization of this area was predominantly aristocratic (SAWYER PETER, 2002: 240-241).


Thus, we can assume that the Alans settled next to the Franks in the 5th cent. , during a few centuries they have lost native language and switched to French, and William the Conqueror scored his army in the amount of five thousand soldiers mostly from them. However, it was already 500 years after King Arthur.

According to Bede tribes of Angles, Saxons and Jutes moved to Britain in the 5th century AD, when it was left by Roman legions, and when the other part of the Alan kept constant military clashes in southern Gaul and Spain. Bede tells the two names of Alanian commanders Hengist and Horsa (BEDE, XV), which in Old English can be translated as "stallion" and "horse". These names are suitable for men of the people of horsemen, which were the Alans, but Germans of Central Europe were not riders.

There is in the English county of Oxfordshire on a hillside near the town of Uffington strange figure by length of 110 m and by form resembling a horse. Mysterious figure is made by filling ditches with broken chalk, but its origin is unclear. Among other things, it is believed that the image was made in the Anglo-Saxon period in the reign of King Alfred the Great but it is possible more former dating. We can assume that the figure was made by the rider Alans for whom the horse was a symbol of worship borrowed from these Iranians which were in Sarmatian international alliance.


Uffington White Horse. Photo from Wikipedia.


In principle, the similarity between the ethnonyms of Angles and Alans can indicate their common origin, the more the name of the tribe of the Ρευκαναλοι (Reukanaloi) ie the "Light" or "Wild" Alans says of a possible metathesis in word Alan. If n in this ethnonym sounded like ng (ŋ), then the transformation of "Angl" in "Alan" would be quite possible (angloiaŋloialŋoialanoi). This explanation assumes the German origin of the word.

The German tribe of Anglii has been known since the Roman historian Tacitus (ca. 56 – ca. 117 AD) The preferred etymological theory deduce this name from *angula “hook," supposedly because the country inhabited by them had a curved shape. Other, namely Turkic origin of ethnonym is more suitable in terms of semantics. Old Turkic oğlan (ohlan) "a son, boy, young man" had another meaning, namely, "a rider " (Chuv. dial. yulan "a horseman"). The name of the light cavalry (Pol. ułani, Eng. Uhlans) is arisen from this Turkic word. This plausible explanation encounters phonetic difficulties which overcoming is tentative. The root is represented in Turkic languages by only a few derivative words, but by itself has no sense. We can assume that it is a variant of the root (oŋğ) having several meanings – "a pat", "right", "light, convenient", "to improve ", ie oğlan originally could exist in the form oŋğlan and it gave angl- and alan-.

The presence of Anglo-Saxons on the territory of Ukraine is evidences by place names explaining by means of the Old English language (see Ancient Anglo-Saxon Place Names). The following are some examples of the general list.


The village of (v.) Avratyn – OE ǽfre "after, constant", tūn "village";

v. Boriatyn – OE bora "son", tūn "village";

v. Burtyn – OE būr "a peasant", tūn "village";

the town of (t.) Delatyn – dǽl, dell "valley", tūn "village";

the city of Homel – OE humele „bryonia”, hymele "hop, hops”;

v. Kyrdany – OE cyrten, "beautiful”;

v. Myrutyn – OE mūr "wall", tūn "village";

v. Obertyn – OE ofer "over", "high"; tūn "village";

r. Rikhta, – OE riht, ryht, “right, direct”;

t. Senkiv – OE sencan “to dip, sink”;

r. Seym – OE seam "side, seam";

v. Skoviatyn – OE scuwa "shade", "protection", tūn "village".;

r. Sozh – OE socian “to boil”;

t. Sugia – OE sugga "sparrow";

r. Tal – OE dǽl “valley”;

r. Ul – OE ule “owl”.

r. Volfa – OE wulf “wolf”.

t. Yagotyn, the town in Kiev Region – OE iegođ „a little island”.

According to location of place names on the Google Map (see below), the Anglo-Saxons settled from their Urheimat in several directions. Apparently they settled also in steppe zone of Ukraine, but the traces of their presence in the place names disappeared together with the disappearance of permanent settlements during the Great Migrations. The presence of Anglo-Saxons in Eastern Europe Particularly is compellingly evidenced by the interpretation of some hydronyms clearly associated with the features of corresponding objects. For example the name of the river Vytebet means "wide riverbed", the river Ressetta – "spouting spring"? the rivers Ivot and Ivotka – "violent river", the river Irpen – "swampland", etc.

For easing analysis, place names on the map signed by different colors. Hydronyms are marked in blue, most of the settlement names by pink. The settlement names containing a component tyn as one of the variants of the ancient Indo-European root *dūn – is marked in dark red. The words of this root mean "settlement", "fence", "yard", "field", etc. It is believed that the Slavic tyn is an ancient loan-word from Germanic (OE. tūn, Eng. town ), but it has not meaning "village" or "town" in any Slavic languages and is limited only naming fences, walls and their parts. This is a significant, though not absolute factor for determining the ethnicity of place names including the mentioned root. However the matter is so that the word might mean "a settlement" in other languages in ancient times, including Slavic, because not all place names containing this component could be interprete by means of the Old English lnguage. Some of them are either Slavic (eg Lyubotin) or Bulgar (Zhukotin). In this regard, some of the place names recognized to be the Anglo-Saxon, those really are not, but their very abundance suggests that some of them still left the Anglo-Saxons.

The place names of this type have to be considered separately in the Czech Republic. They are recorded in eleven cases, eight of which have Slavonic suffixes. In the modern Czech language root týn , well corresponded Old English tūn, was not preserved except place names. His disappearance can be explained by rare using in the language, and this contradicts its presence in so many names. Obviously most of them are left by the Anglo-Saxons, and the Czechs, finding a new space for dwelling, used them modifying sometimes and partly by setting their derivatives to their new settlements.

Another type of place-names also requires special consideration because it has as if Slavic origin. We are talking about the names of settlements, including the word Khotyn or its modifications. Total number of such names is twelve (they are marked on the map in green). Such quantity raises doubts about its popularity at place naming having its origin from the word khotity "to want" and the like. Obviously, another explanation of the name should be looked for, the more so that the component tyn is present in it. OE hof "yard" could suit for the first part of the word. The sound f could be pronounced as w which together with the adjacent o form a new long vowel. This hypothesis is confirmed by the name of the town of Howtown in the UK.

The configuration of the space of spreading names of alleged Anglo-Saxon origin gives reason to think that the part of the Alans, which we attribute to the Anglo-Saxons, emigrated from Ukraine to Western Europe on a route through southern Poland and the Czech Republic.




Talking about the Anglo-Saxon presence in Eastern Europe at the Scythian-Sarmatian times, we can not ignore the similarities of the ethnonyms "Saks" and "Saxons". The Saks were a Scythian tribe which settled in Central Asia, but their language is unknown. One can judge of it only on certain words. One of such word is the name of one of the Sakian leaders Skunha. This "Sak Skunha" was depicted on the monuments of the Achaemenid’s epoch, consisting of several rock-hewn figures and inscriptions to them in a few hundred kilometres from Hamadan. As can be seen from the inscription, Darius seized Skunha captured and mastered by his country. The search for explanations of Skunha’s name was carried out in Iranian languages and for this purpose Os sk'uänxun (Digorian dialect) and sk'uyxyn (Irons dialect) having the sense "to different" have been involved. Participle of the verb, which from origin these words, could mean "famous", "valiant" (FREIMAN A.A. 1948: 239). This explanation is convincing enough, but the scientific objectivity makes check other options. A. Freiman believed that the Ossetian word is cognate with other Iranian and also has a match in some Indo-European languages which are based on the concept of "pay attention". However, there is OE scunian “to avoid" of obscure origin and having no matches in the other Germanic languages. Semantic relation, albeit remote, exists with the Ossetian word (for example, the source sense could be "to separate, distinguish”), so it's possible their common origin. These considerations suggest that the issue of ethnicity of the Saks yet can not be resolved definitively.


See also



ANGLO-SAXONS AT SCYTHIAN TIME

GERMANIC TRIBES AMONG SARMATS





Free counter and web stats

Please this page? Help to develop this site!

© 1978 – 2014 V.Stetsyuk

Reprinting of articles from site are encouraged while
reference (hyperlink) to my site is provided

Site powered by

Load count : 6225

Modified : 15.10.2014

If you look up the type error
on this page, please select it
by mouse and press Ctrl+Enter.