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Friday, December 16, 2016

Massagetae

Bulgars Massagetae in central Asia
Massagetae
The Massagetae were an ancient nomadic confederation who inhabited the steppes of Central Asia betwen the rivers Amu-Daria and Syr-Daria east of the Sea of Aral. They are know primarily from the works of ancient Greek authors as Strabo and Herodotus. At least some of their tribes were East Iranian speakers. Their neighbours were the Aspisi to the north, the Wusun(Isedones) to the east, Dahae and Scythians  to the west. To the south lay Khorasan/(Sogdia). The Massagetae was one of many tribal groups in the region north and east of the river Syr Darya (otherwise known as the River Tanais).

The Massagetae were similar to the Scythians in their dress and mode of living, they lived on their herds and fishing, milk was their main drink. They fought both on horseback and on foot, neither method being strange to them: they used bows and lances, but their favorite weapon was the battle-axe. According to Strabo, the Massagetae worshipped the sun and sacrificed horses to it.

Origin of Massagetae


Numerous hypotheses exist about the identity of the Massagetae and their ethnic background. Massagetae are believed to have been related to the Getae.[1] In Central Asian languages such as Middle Persian and Avestan, the prefix massa means "great", "heavy", or "strong".[2] Some authors as James P. Mallory and Victor H. Mair relate Massagetae with the Yuezhi: "(Greater) Yuezhi or in the earlier pronunciation d'ad-ngiwat-tieg, has been seen to equate with the Massagetae who occupied the oases and steppelands of West Central Asia in the time of Herodotus; here Massa renders an Iranian word for "Great", hence "Great Getae".[3][4] This identification was made by Alexander Cunningham and is supported by B.S. Dahiya (1980, 23), Edgar Knobloch (2001, 15), Zuev, Lozinski, Tolstov and others.[5][6] Dahiya wrote about the Massagetae and Thyssagetae : "The Chinese were right in stating that the Xiongnu were a part of the Yuezhi. These Guti people had two divisions, the Ta-Yue-Che and Siao-Yue-Che, exactly corresponding to the Massagetae and Thyssagetae of Herodotus... Thyssagetae, who are known as the Lesser Getae, correspond with the Xiao Yuezhi, meaning Lesser Yuezhi."(Dahiya 1980, 23).[7][8]

Customs of Massagetae


According to Herodotus:
"In their dress and mode of living the Massagetae resemble the Scythians. They fight both on [1.215]
Herodotus world map with Bulgars Massagetae
Herodotus world map
horseback and on foot, neither method is strange to them: they use bows and lances, but their favourite weapon is the battle-axe. Their arms are all either of gold or brass. For their spear-points, and arrow-heads, and for their battle-axes, they make use of brass; for head-gear, belts, and girdles, of gold. So too with the caparison of their horses, they give them breastplates of brass, but employ gold about the reins, the bit, and the cheek-plates. They use neither iron nor silver, having none in their country; but they have brass and gold in abundance." 
" Each man has but one wife, yet all the wives are held in common; for this is a custom of the Massagetae and not of the Scythians, as the Greeks wrongly say. Human life does not come to its natural close with this people; but when a man grows very old, all his kinsfolk collect together and offer him up in sacrifice; offering at the same time some cattle also. After the sacrifice they boil the flesh and feast on it; and those who thus end their days are reckoned the happiest. If a man dies of disease they do not eat him, but bury him in the ground, bewailing his ill-fortune that he did not come to be sacrificed. They sow no grain, but live on their herds, and on fish, of which there is great plenty in the Araxes. Milk is what they chiefly drink. The only god they worship is the sun, and to him they offer the horse in sacrifice; under the notion of giving to the swiftest of the gods the swiftest of all mortal creatures." [1.216]
At the close of the 4th century CE, Claudian wrote of Massagetae that they cruelly wound their horses so that they may drink their blood.

History of Massagetae


Massagetae were known as numerous and warlike nation. According to Herodotus, Cyrus the Great of Persia met his death in a battle with the Massagetae living beyond Araxes river. In the year 530 B.C.  Cyrus the Great's army invaded the Scythian lands. Cyrus who had already beaten the Babylonians was victorious in his initial assault on the Massagetae. He captured the son of Massagetae queen Tomyris, Spargapises, who commits suicide. However the queen's forces promptly destroyed Cyrus' army and killed the Persian king.

About 515 B.C. Darius I invaded into the lands of nomadic Scythians. Generally Scythians were called Saka by Persians and the term Saka was used as a prefix to their tribal names. For example three groups of Saka/Scythians are listed on Darius' (522-486 BCE) inscriptions at Behistun (in north-western Iran) : Saka Haumavarga , Saka Tigrakhauda (translated as "pointed caps"), and Saka Paradraya. The Saka Tigrakhauda occupied open grasslands around the Aral Sea, in modern south-western Kazakhstan. The pointed caps they wear would be sized according to seniority, with the tallest being reserved for the chieftain. It is this group of Sakas that is most likely to be the Massagetae of Strabo.

In the 4th century B.C. Alexander the Great conquers the Persian empire and campaigned in the east. According to Sulimirski Massagetae adopted new military tactics of armoured cavalry from Macedonians and in the 4th-3rd centuries BC were able to subdue nearly all the nomad tribes north-east of Macedonian frontier including the Xiongnu who roamed the steppes further east up to the Chinese border. Xiongnu had to acknowledge the Massagetan suzerainty for about a century. But eventually Xiongnu defeated Massagetae and in 165 BC drove them westwards out of their lands.[9]

References:

[1] Leake, Jane Acomb (1967). The Geats of Beowulf: a study in the geographical mythology of the Middle Ages (illustrated ed.). University of Wisconsin Press. p. 68.
[2] Rishi, Weer Rajendra (1982). India & Russia: linguistic & cultural affinity. Roma. p. 95.
[3] Mallory, J. P.; Mair, Victor H. (2000), The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West, London: Thames & Hudson. pages 98-99 
[4] Pazyrik - The Valley of the Frozen Tombs, John F. Haskins
[5] THE STRONGEST TRIBE, Yu. A. Zuev, page 33: "Massagets of the earliest ancient authors... are the Yuezhis of the Chinese sources"
[6] The Huns, Rome and the Birth of Europe, Hyun Jin Kim, p. 201/note 79
[7] SINO-PLATONIC PAPERS, Number 127 October, 2003, The Getes,  page 22-24
[8] The glorious Gutians, Samar AbbasMarch 24, 2005
[9] Tadeusz Sulimirski - The Sarmatians,pages 81-82