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.