Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Sarmatian timeline

Below is a general timeline of Sarmatian activities. Much of it is taken from the New Penguin atlases, and sometimes the only information given is their spot on the map. Other times, they're discussed in more detail in the text. I've supplemented in a few additional notes from elsewhere and will continue to update this post as needed.
Note that overall, there is a general trend among western steppe nomads to eventually be pushed westward by tribes moving in from the east.
  • By 415 BC, the Sarmatians are inhabiting the Russian steppes north of the Caspian Sea.
  • By 192 BC, the Sarmatians are pushing the Scythians westward.
  • By 145 BC, Sarmatians can be divided into three sub-groups (Jazyges, Roxolani, and Alan), each group's area is delineated east-west by major rivers. 
  • By 79 AD, the Sarmatians are being pushed westward to the point that the Roxolani cause the Jazyges to be displaced to the Hungarian steppes.
  • By 230, the Jazyges have been further restricted by Vandals moving in from the north, while the Roxolani are actually pushed back toward the Alans by the Goths moving in from the west.
  • By 305, the Roxolani and Jazyges are no longer on the map. Their areas have been taken over by Asding Vandals and Ostrogoths.
  • By 362, the Alans are feeling the heat from three sides- the Ostrogothic Empire to the West, the Finns to the north, and the Huns to the east. They live in a small area between the Black and Caspian seas north of the Caucasus Mountains. They then expand south into  the mountains.
  • Throughout all this, approximately 250,000 people live on the steppes between those two seas at a given time.
  • By 406, the Huns have taken over the steppes, pushing Germanic tribes west- along with a clan of Alans. The Vandals, Suevi, and the Alan clan invade Gaul at the end of the year.
  • By 420, the aforementioned barbarian pillagers have moved into the Iberian peninsula. As part of a bargain with Rome, the Visigoths pushed most of them into the northwest corner before returning to Gaul.
  • In 429, the Asding Vandals leave their corner of the Iberian peninsula, pick up the Siling Vandals and Alans left in the south, and 80,000 men, women, and children cross the Straight of Gibraltar into Africa. Rome has to cede the western provinces (the northernmost parts of modern Morocco and Algeria) to them in 435. In 442, they trade them for modern Tunisia. The Alan king had died in battle before this and the clan was absorbed by the Vandals they traveled with.
  • By 476, the Alans who stayed behind during the Huns' rule have regained ground in and around the east Caucasus.
  • By 600, the Khazar Turks have pushed the Alans out of their northern reaches. The Alans are able to push the Huns back slightly to the west.
  • By 661, the Khazars have expanded and now rule the Alans.
  • By 1030, the Alans are back on the map in the east Caucasus. (It's a long stretch of time, but stuff happened in between which was not intimated in the book.)
  • By 1071, the Alans now hold almost all of the steppes between the Black and Caspian seas and north of the Caucasus. The Kingdom of Georgia is to their southwest.
  • By 1092, the Alans have lost some of their northern lands and gained some in the eastern Caucasus.
  • From 1221-1222, a group of Mongols originally sent to pursuethe Shah out of his empire to the south fights their way through several groups' lands, including the Alans, and deep into Russia. The Mongol attacks are damaging, but Genghis Khan dies before he can take advantage of them.
  • In 1236, the Mongols return to the Russian steppes. No one has bolstered their defenses and the Alans fall under Mongol subjugation along with other groups. 
That is the last they are mentioned in the New Penguin books, but the Encyclopaedia Iranica gives more information on their eventual fate from other references. After devastating wars in the 14th centuries, the Alans split into three groups- one moved into the foothills of the central Caucasus and became the Iron and Digor Ossetians still around today. Another migrated to Hungary and became the Jasz (It seems I was wrong before about them being descended from the Jazyges. Though I'm still puzzled by the name parallel.) The third took up with the Mongols and were sent to China as guards (the Mongols and Chinese called them "Asu" or "As"), where they were eventually absorbed or killed in battle.

McEvedy, C., 2002, The New Penguin Atlas of Ancient History, 2nd ed., Penguin Books.
McEvedy, C., 1992, The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History, Penguin Books.
Yule, H., 1913, Cathay and the way thither: being a collection of medieval notices of China, Vol. III, Hakluyt Society, London.
The History of Yuan (pīnyīn: Yuán Shǐ), 1370, ed. Song Lian, Ming Dynasty Bureau of History, China.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Literature Review: The New Penguin Atlas of---

   This review is actually for two books in a series which both contain information on the Sarmatians and later Alans- The New Penguin Atlas of Ancient History and The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History by Colin McEvedy. The sheer amount of work that must have gone into compiling all of the information contained therein is staggering. And the concise way in which it's presented is brilliant. The commentary is pretty hilarious at times, too. If you're a map or history buff, no matter what culture you care about, if it was in Europe or the parts of Asia and Africa near it at some point in history (and even pre-history) before the end of 1483, you'll enjoy this book. Best of all, the author is candid about the instances where he makes assumptions that are not well-established. I cannot recommend it enough.

  Each book consists of a collection of maps showing the large-scale evolution of such cultural features as language, writing forms, migration, borders, and population size with a running commentary on the side. Most history books will pick a time and place and talk about it in detail (such as the Italian Renaissance or Tudor England) and they're great for diving into narrow subjects. The purpose of this book is to see the big picture, so it doesn't provide the fine level of detail you can get elsewhere, but is equally as valuable for a different reason. It puts things into perspective. Instead of jumping from Greece to Rome in your history book, you actually get a vague idea of whats going on with the "barbaric" Germanic tribes at the same time (using that word in its original sense). You see the kingdoms of France and Armenia showing up at about the same time on opposite ends of the map. It really helps to remind one that things do not exist in isolation.

  There was enough information about the Sarmato-Alans in the two books that it warrants an entire other post. Be expecting a Christmas present from me. :)

McEvedy, C., 2002, The New Penguin Atlas of Ancient History, 2nd ed., Penguin Books.
McEvedy, C., 1992, The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History, Penguin Books.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Happy Christmahannukwanzuleid!

  It's the holiday season again! Cultures around the world celebrate this time of year in some form or another, and with good reason. Winter was a lot rougher before we had the ability to produce various foods well into the winter. The winter solstice marks the time when the days stop shortening and begin their slow climb back into the longer days of summer. If you were worried about surviving the winter, that's a good spot to put your thumb and say "things will get better now". ...In spite of the fact that the worst of winter weather comes in January, but anywho.

  So now that spring is approaching, think about what that would mean to your persona. Did his/her culture observe a winter solstice celebration? What did they call it? What sort of festivities did they have? Are any of their traditions still around today? If the holiday itself is still observed, in what ways was it different back then?

  One of these days I'll ask you guys a persona question I can actually answer for my own. Curse their lack of a written language!