History Files
Donate add-in


European Kingdoms





Alans (Alani / Geloni)
Incorporating the Alauni, Roxolani, & Spali

Small Nav - Indo-Europeans - Indo-Iranians

The Alans were an Indo-European people of Indo-Iranian stock, just like their regional neighbours, the Mannaeans, Medians, Persians, Scythians, and others. In the fourth century BC they effected a reverse of the Indo-European migration pattern to settle in Scythia, displacing various Scythian groups in the process (their now-distant cousins who had not taken part in the proto-Indo-European migration). Scythia consisted of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, those plains which stretch from the north coast of the Black Sea over to the Caspian Sea but, given the locations of some Alan elements in later centuries, it seems likely that their main group splintered along the way.

The name 'Alan' or 'Alani' is an altered form of the Indo-European 'Arya', meaning the 'civilised' or 'respectable. Their East Indo-European cousins were documented as calling themselves Aryans when they entered India from around 1500 BC (although the rather tainted 'Aryan' term has been replaced by modern scholars with the more accurate 'Indo-Aryan'). This rather elitist naming was presumably in reaction to the apparently barbarous people they encountered (although this adoption occurred well before any of them entered India). However, in this case there is evidence of heavy contact with non-Indo-European languages, particularly from other nomads. There appears to have been heavy contact between Alans and proto-Bulgarians. For instance, the ruler of the Alans bore the proto-Bulgarian (originally Mongol language) title of 'khan'.

The Alani are first mentioned in the west by the Roman historian, Josephus, in the first century AD. He calls them a Scythian tribe living near the Don (Tanais) and the Sea of Azov. They seem to be indivisible from the Samartians and the Geloni of the same region. Herodotus mentions the Geloni (Gilans), so they were either closely related, or more likely the same group of people. The fourth century Roman writer Ammianus Marcellinus considered them to be the direct descendants of the Massagetae. There were also (probable) elements of the Alans in the form of the Alauni and Roxolani along the Danube in the first century BC, showing how far their various divisions had migrated.

Another name is used by sixth century Byzantine historian, Jordanes. He refers to the Spali being defeated by the Goths in the region to the south of Kiev in modern Ukraine as the latter migrate into the Pontic steppe in the second and third centuries AD. These have been linked to the Roxolani and also the Sarmatians, but it is entirely possible that all three groups are indivisible in this respect. The name Spali (shown as Spalaei or Palaei in Latin texts) shows a connection to Indo-Iranian royal names such as Spalirises of the Sakas (around 60 BC).

MapConquered by the Huns, the main group in Scythia became allies (willing or otherwise), and most travelled west with the Huns. Split by the Hunnic attacks, some Alani tribes remained behind, dispersed across the steppes. They were forced by further waves of invaders - Turks (see map link, right, for more details - to migrate into the Caucuses where they eventually founded the regionally-powerful kingdom of Alania, only to be conquered by the Mongols in the thirteenth century. They re-emerged as the Ossetians, based in modern Georgia and southern Russia.

(Additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Salway, from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, from Res Gestae, Ammianus Marcellinus, and from External Links: Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny, and Proto-Bulgarian Runic Inscriptions, and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition).)

90s BC

The nomadic Yancai are recorded by Sima Qian of China, centred on the northern shore of the Aral Sea. Their territory lays to the north-west of the Kangju nomadic federation, to whom they hold some similarities in terms of customs.

Alans fighting Romans
The Alans formed part of a major incursion into Roman territory in the fifth century AD, but there had already existed sizable pockets of them in southern-central Europe in the first century BC, in the form of the Alauni and Roxolani

MapAround the same time, two tribes on the banks of the Danube in southern-central Europe are generally linked to the Alans as sub-divisions of the main body. The first of these is the Alauni, located on the south bank of the river, between that and the town of Iuvavum (modern Salzburg in Austria). They are neighboured to the north by the Celtic Sevarces, to the east and south by the powerful Taurisci and the Ambisontes, and to the west by the Vindelici.

The other sub-division is the Roxolani, who are know to arrive in the region of the Baragan Steppes in modern Romania in the first century BC. They quickly find themselves neighboured to the north by the Daci, and to the east, south and west by smaller Dacian tribes.

mid-1st cent BC


King of the Aorsi.

Spadines is mentioned in Strabo's Geography as the leader of a fugitive group of Aorsi, which is divided from the 'Upper Aorsi'. The latter group is much more powerful, apparently dominating the coastal area around the Caspian Sea. They trade with India and the Babylonians via the Armenians and Medes.

fl AD 70

Külük / Kuluk

Defeated the Medians and Armenians in a raid south.

1st century AD

Elements of the Alans are now occupying territory to the north of the Sea of Azov, much further west than previously. Within a century whatever distinction there might be between this branch and the Yancai of Chinese records has disappeared, and the united peoples extend their influence to cover the trade routes from the Black Sea to the northern shores of the Caspian Sea and Aral Sea. They are also more warlike in the first century AD, with Külük leading a successful raid south to defeat an Armenian force.


By now, Chinese records confirm the unification of the Yancai peoples as the Alanliao (or the 'old Yancai'), who have expanded towards the Caspian Sea (or perhaps reclaimed territory there). They appear to remain dependent upon the Kangju, at least for a time, before becoming dominant in Sarmatia. They cause concern for the Roman empire thanks to southwards incursions into the Danubian province and the Caucuses during this and the next century.

134 - 136

The Alani are again showing their warlike demeanour by attacking Albania, Media, and Armenia. They penetrate as far as Cappadocia. The only way Vologeses III of Parthia is able to persuade them to withdraw is probably by paying them.


The Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, defeats the Iazyges tribe of Alans (otherwise known as Sarmatians). He takes them into Roman service and settles them in Northern Britain, at Ribchester, south of Lancaster. The Alans are assigned to the VI Legion Victrix, commanded by the Alani warlord who is renamed Lucius Artorius Castus.

c.225 - 250

During this period the Goths continue to migrate south-eastwards, entering Moldavia and western Ukraine. Defeating the Spali (a possible division of Alani), they form a loose hegemony over the tribes of the region, almost certainly including the Bastarnae. The sixth century Byzantine historian, Jordanes, calls this new realm Oium, or Aujum. Archaeology supports the migration if not the name of its leader, showing a southwards drift for the Willenberg until it merges with the indigenous Zarubintsy culture in Ukraine to form the Chernyakhiv culture.

c.240s - 250s

The Alans are no longer dependent upon the Kangju, as recorded by the Weilüe history of the Chinese Wei dynasty.

fl c.280s



The Huns burst into Scythia and defeat the Alans, splintering their tribes. Probably with little choice in the matter, the Alans ally themselves with the Huns, following them as they head west. Some Alan tribes manage to remain, migrating into the valleys of the northern Caucuses where they maintain their identity.

372 - 407

The Huns and Alans arrive in the territory north of the Danube. The Huns eventually unify into a single cohesive force and begin to threaten the Western Roman empire. They start by clashing with the Ostrogoths, overrunning them, and in 376 they also defeat the Visigoths.

Subsequently, there appear to be various rulers of the Alans, perhaps of individual tribes alone. They are part of the Hunnic confederation and are subsequently allied to the Vandali.

fl late 300s?


fl 407


406 - 409

Following the dream of most barbarians, in 406 the majority of Alans leave the Huns behind and cross the Rhine at Mainz, entering into the Roman empire. They move in association with the Suevi and Vandali. Refused permission to settle by the Franks at the crossing of the Rhine, the Vandali are instead attacked by them, but the Alans come to their rescue and save the day. Subsequently, the Alans and Vandali settle initially in southern Gaul (around Orleans and Valence), where they cause chaos in Gaul. All three tribes migrate to Spain by 409, disrupting the Gallic empire of Constantine III.

Crossing the Rhine
The main bodies of the Vandali, Alans, and Suevi tribes crossed the Rhine at the end of 406, resulting in panic and chaos within the Roman empire

c.411 - c.413


411 - 413

Gundahar of the Burgundians and Goar set up Jovinus as their puppet Roman usurper. He is defeated by the Visigoths, and as they subsequently move southwards, an important group of Alans joins them.

c.413 - 415


415? - 426


Killed in battle against the Visigoths.


The Suevi settle in north-western Iberia. With the Visigoths becoming more powerful in southern Gaul and northern Spain, the weakened Alans merge with the Asding Vandali, and migrate further south, leaving at least some of their people behind in Gaul.

fl c.430s - 450s

Goar / Gokhar

Same person as c.411?


Two groups of Alans had been settled by Rome in Gaul, sharing the land with the Gallo-Roman inhabitants. The presence of one of these groups of uncouth barbarians, possibly on the Loire, leads to a major clash between them and the Gallo-Roman owners of the region, with the Alans ejecting the Romanised Celts. While the deal proves good for Rome in that this group of Alans remains available for military service, it is not so favourable for provincial landowners.

fl c.453


? - 464


The Alans of Western Europe appear to merge into the general population during the fifth century, becoming totally submerged by the Frankish conquest of Gaul later in the same century. Those Alans who had followed the Vandali into Africa disappear into the local population. The Alans of the Caucuses survive as an identifiable people.

Alans of the Caucuses

MapIn the Caucuses, those Alans who had not followed the Huns in the fourth century remained settled and relatively undocumented. They occupied an area of the Northern Caucuses plain around the source of the River Kuban and Darial Gorge, and along the north-western coastline of the Caspian Sea. The Alans occasionally appeared as mercenaries of the Byzantine empire or the Persians, but received few other mentions of note.

During the late sixth century and early seventh they were dominated by, and probably paid homage to, the vast Western Göktürk empire, but seemingly offered little in the way of threat or concern to the empire. As it faded (rather swiftly), the Alans became independent again by the mid-seventh century. During the same period, some Alans at least were noted alongside the proto-Bulgars on the Pontic-Caspian steppe, possibly even being counted as part of their collective number. The Alans were a wide-ranging people and some groups could easily have joined the proto-Bulgars on the steppe, very close to their ancestral homeland.

(Additional information from Etnicheskaja istorija Severnogo Kavkaza, A V Gadlo, and from External Link: Turkic History.)

fl late 300s


fl 370s




fl 400s


fl c.450



A people, country, and town with the name in later Arab sources of Belendzher or Balandzhar is mentioned for the first time by the Arab historian at-Tabari in connection with events from the 560s. Sassanid-controlled Armenia is invaded by four peoples - 'abkhaz', 'b-ndzh-r' (Bandzhar), 'b-l-ndzh-r' (Balandzhar), and the Alans.

Map of Eastern Europe AD 450-500
Soon after the middle of the fifth century AD the Hunnic empire crashed into extinction, starting with the death of Attila in 453. His son and successor, Ellac, was killed in battle in 454, and the Huns were defeated by the Ostrogoths in 456, ending Hunnic unity (click on map to view full sized)

566 - 571

Between these two dates, İstemi, the khagan of the western Göktürks, defeats the peoples who are noted in later Arab sources as 'b-ndzh-r' (Bandzhar), 'b-l-n-dzh-r' (Balandzhar), and Khazars, who then agree to serve him. The scholar, A V Gadlo, concludes that the name 'bandzhar' refers to the Ogurs, and 'balandzhar' is a Perso-Arabic form of the Onogur/Utigur name.

580s - 590s

The twelfth century chronicle of the Jacobite patriarch of Antioch, Michael of Syria, uses earlier sources to describe the arrival of at least one group of proto-Bulgars on the Pontic-Caspian steppe (although certainly not the first). The story is a conglomeration of facts pertaining to several events from different periods in time, all of them united around the story of the expansion of Khazar political power in the second half of the seventh century.

According to the story, Bulgar groups arrive at the River Tanais (the modern Don) near the northern Caspian Sea. One group goes further to settle in Upper and Lower Moesia and Dacia and act as a buffer between the Eastern Roman and the Avars. The other groups 'enter the country of the Alans, which is called Barsalia' (the land of the Barsils). Their towns are built with assistance from the Eastern Romans to serve as a buffer against the steppe nomads, principally along the western shore of the Caspian Sea.

fl c.600

Alanui K'an

Literally 'Leader of the Alans', more likely a title than a name.

8th century

The Alans coalesce to form a minor but fairly powerful kingdom known as Alania.

Kingdom of Alania
c.8-9th Centuries AD - 1239

The Alans flourished in the Northern Caucuses, even when subjugated by the Khazars. The capital was at Maghas (also known as Maas), although its exact location is unknown. There is a modern Magas in Ingushetia which was founded in 1995 and named after the ancient capital. This is no proof that the location is the same, however.


Prior to his accession as Leo III of Byzantium, Leo the Isaurian is sent on a diplomatic mission to bribe the Alans into severing links with the pro-Islamic kingdom of Abasgia. The mission proves successful.

fl c.715


Khazar vassal.

c.720 - 722

Alania is invaded by the troops of the Umayyad Caliph Umar II. In 722, the Khazars come to their aid under a chieftain called Barjik. Together, the two peoples push out the Muslims, and the Khazars subsequently erect several strongholds in the region.

North Ossetia
The countryside which traditionally formed the territory of Alania in the North Caucuses, now the Russian republic of North Ossetia-Alania, is mostly mountainous scrub


Another Umayyad general penetrates the fortress known as the Gate of the Alans and devastates the region of the North Caucuses.


Again, the Islamic empire sends a force into the land of the Alans which manages to devastate the forts there.


The last-known serious attack by the Islamic empire on Alania takes place. An Arab general captures and holds the Gate of the Alans, although for how long is unknown. Not permanently, it seems. As a result of the alliance between the Alans and the Khazars, the latter become overlords of the Alans. The situation serves the Alans equally, as the two peoples are able to work together to defend the territory.


The Alans and the Khazars join together to defeat a Byzantine-led coalition which is aimed against the Khazar king, Benjamin.

fl c.910


Unnamed Christian king of a pagan people.



Unnamed rebel.

c.920 - 960s

Following a rebellion by the Alans, their king is captured and they are defeated. They abandon Christianity at the same time, expelling Byzantine missionaries. Khazar domination over them is renewed until the collapse of the latter kingdom. Afterwards, Alania begins a fruitful relationship with Georgia, frequently providing the larger kingdom with troops to serve in the region's defence. The alliance culminates with a royal marriage between the king of Alania and the queen of Georgia around 1193.

fl c.1000

Durgulel the Great


Kipchaks begin to enter the North Caucasus region during the height of their power and before the rise of the Mongols. Groups of them begin to settle to the north and east of Alania (mainly in Dagestan). A later offshoot, the Karachays, migrates to the westward side of Alania. They locate themselves in what is now the Karachay-Cherkess republic in southern Russia, on the northern border of Georgia's Abkhazia region.

fl c.1100


fl c.1125

Aton Bagratuni

Surname suggests a familial link to the Bagratids of Georgia.

fl c.1150s


fl c.1170s


c.1189 - 1207

David Soslan

m Queen Thamar of Georgia.

c.1193 - 1223

David Soslan marries Queen Tamar of Georgia and becomes her co-ruler. The rule of the Alans is subsequently passed to Vladislav. In 1223, Georgia is subordinated by the Mongols, but the descendants of Thamar and David survive and continue to supply Georgia with kings until the nineteenth century.

fl c.1200?


1222 - 1239

Following the fall of the kingdom of Georgia to the south, the Alans put up a stiff resistance to the Mongol invasion which sees them driven from their valleys but otherwise undefeated. They remain encamped in mountainous strongholds and continue to raid the territory of the subsequent Tartar rulers of the Wolga. Some Alans are, however, subjugated, and serve the Mongols in various guises. In 1227, the Golden Horde inherits control of the region.

fl c.1250s


Either a client king of the Mongols or one of the free Alans.

1395 - 1405

Despite holding out and renewing their reputation as fine warriors, the Alans are conquered by the end of this century at the latest, with the capital at Maghas being destroyed. They fall under the rule of the Tartars and fight for them under Toqtamish Khan of the Greater Golden Horde against Timur of Persia. Timur wins in 1395, gaining control of the Caucuses briefly, and massacring a great many Alans.

Map of the Timurid empire AD 1400
Timur effectively recreated the ancient Persian empire through his various conquests over the course of almost forty years, subduing many competing clans and khanates that would begin competing again after his death (click on map to view full sized)

The fragmented survivors, pushed further south into the Caucuses and begin to integrate with the native Caucasians. By about 1500 they occupy the enclave that will remain theirs into the present day, and are already becoming proto-Ossetians. They form into two groups, Digor and Iron (today the two main dialects of Ossetian speech).


After this date, the former Alans fall under the rule of the Russian empire as part of Catherine the Great's thrust southwards through the Caucuses to remove these territories from Ottoman influence. They are generally converted to the Russian Orthodox church and in terms of identity they form the Ossetians, based in modern Georgia and the bordering Russian republics. They are the only remaining representatives of the ancient Scythians and Sarmatians.

Modern Ossetia (Alania)
AD 1767 - Present Day

As the Russian empire expanded into the Caucuses in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Ossetians (or Alans) did not resist as other peoples in the North Caucasus did. Instead the Ossetians remained on good relations with Russia and were regarded as loyal citizens, first of the Russian empire and later of the Soviet Union. They sided with the Kremlin when Bolshevik forces occupied Georgia in the early 1920s and, as part of the carve-up which followed, the South Ossetian Autonomous Region was created in Georgia and North Ossetia was formed in Russia.

1918 - 1919

During the Russian Civil War, the Ossetians form part of the Transcaucasian republic in 1918-1919, before forming one of several pockets of White Guard/Republican resistance against Bolshevik Moscow until 1920.

1920 - 1991

North Ossetia (still known by some as Alania) forms part of Soviet Russia, while the southern portion is carved off to form part of Georgia. In 1924 the north becomes an autonomous region, and in 1936 an autonomous republic.

1990 - 1991

South Ossetia loses its status as an autonomous region within Georgia, sparking the eighteen-month South Ossetian War.

1991 - 1996

North Ossetia gains a greater degree of self-rule during the break-up of the Soviet Union, becoming the North Ossetian Autonomous Republic within the Russian Confederation of Independent States. In South Ossetia, although the area's status as an autonomous region is reaffirmed in 1992, nationalists continue to work towards a unification of Ossetia as a whole. Agreement is reached with Georgia on the deployment of peacekeepers. Peace is agreed in 1996.

South Ossetian memorial 1991
This memorial in South Ossetia commemorates the 1991 war over Ossetia's joint future with Russia, or Georgia, or entirely independent of both of them


During the break-up of the Soviet Union, the renaming of the region to Alania had been put forward. In this year, North Ossetia is officially re-titled as North Ossetia-Alania.


President Saakashvili of Georgia offers South Ossetia autonomy but not independence or reunification, so a vote is taken which overwhelmingly supports a renewed call for independence. Georgia refuses to recognise the call.


Partially fooled by Russia into commencing an attack on South Ossetia to recover the breakaway territory, Georgia is humiliated as a pre-prepared Russian taskforce crushes its forces and occupies South Ossetia under the pretence of protecting Russian passport holders there. Russia soon recognises South Ossetia (and Abkhazia, another breakaway Georgian region) as independent states. The short conflict is later known as the Russo-Georgian War.