History Files

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 84

Target: 400

Totals slider

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.

European Kingdoms



Androphagi (Finno-Ugric)

At the beginning of the third millennium BC, Ugric-speaking people migrated across northern Russia and into the Early Baltics from the east, descendants of Uralic-speakers around the Ural Mountains which divide Europe from Asia. They quickly came to dominate a swathe of territory between modern Finland and the eastern side of the Urals.

Those who settled between Lake Peipsi (modern Estonia's eastern border) and the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland provided the ancestors of the Finno-Ugric Estonians, but in between them and the Urals were a swathe of other Finno-Ugric tribes.

Between about 2500-2000 BC, another wave of migrant tribes arrived in the region from the south. These were the Indo-European proto-Balts, ancestors of the Balt tribes. They brought with them cattle breeding and rudimentary tillage skills (field cultivation only flourished from the sixth or fifth century BC thanks to the advent of the Iron Age). They occupied a broad swathe of territory between today's cities of Riga and Moscow, which would have had the effect of compressing Finno-Ugric habitation towards the north.

MapPerhaps not long after the arrival of the Balts, the Vistula Venedi began dominating the entire course of that river to add a further note of regional compression (see map link for the general location of first century tribes). The early Slavs remained located largely in the great forest zone to the north of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, missing out on the Yamnaya horizon event which saw the widespread outwards migration of their fellow Indo-Europeans.

It took the arrival of the Avars in the mid-sixth century AD to force the Slavs into the historical record, and to initiate the first Slavic outwards movement. After that Slavs began to head west, south-west, and north for the most part.

The north saw far less Slavic intrusion in the early years though, perhaps with the Volga Bulgars providing too solid a frontier for them to cross. However, even in the fifth century BC there were recognisable proto-Slavic tribes to the north of the Scythian lands where they would generally remain until the arrival of the Huns and then the aforementioned Avars. Edging them to the north and east could still be seen glimpses of Finno-Ugric peoples.

The Androphagi were one such Finno-Ugric tribe, perhaps only barely outside the Scythian area of control but perhaps sometimes classed as an ally of theirs. In the centuries before Slav migration would have obliterated them, ancient writers were certain that they were not Scythians, but it is Herodotus who labels them as Finno-Ugric.

Their Uralic-based language would have been largely incomprehensible even to their proto-Balt and proto-Slav neighbours, but Ugric-speakers had traded with Indo-Europeans since before either group began its migrations, so some communication must have been possible.

The name which Herodotus gave them is simplicity itself to break down: it comes from the Greek 'andros', meaning 'man', and 'phagos', meaning 'eater'. They were the 'man eaters', at least to outsiders! It has to be wondered whether that was meant literally. Greek infiltration to the north of the Black Sea is somewhat uncertain, but there are clear traces of it in tribal influences there, especially amongst the Budini. Early members of the Alani are themselves also claimed as half-Greek.

Ancient writers generally seem to have a low opinion of Finno-Ugric peoples, with the Finns often being given derogatory labels or descriptions. Both Herodotus and Pliny the Elder seem to think the Androphagi were cannibalistic in nature. However, 'Androphagi' is a Greek translation of the Persian name for the Finno-Ugric Mordvins of central Russia: 'mardxvār', with 'mard' meaning 'man', and 'xvār' meaning 'devour'. They were still man-eaters, but to the Persians who perhaps reached them before the Greeks.

Seto People of Estonia

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, from the Encyclopaedia of Indo-European Culture, J P Mallory & D Q Adams (Eds, 1997), from Mes Baltai (We, the Balts), A Sabaliauskas (Lithuania, 1995), from Encyclopedia Lituanica, Sužiedėlis Simas (Ed, Boston, 1970-1978), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), and from External Links: The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed), and Massive migration from the steppe was a source for Indo-European languages in Europe (Nature), and Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny, and The Balts, Marija Gimbutas (1963, previously available online thanks to Gabriella at Vaidilute, but still available as a PDF - click or tap on link to download or access it).)

513 - 512 BC

As the centuries have gone by, the Scythians have become involved in wars against the invading Persians. Thanks to this the northern tribes along Scythian borders are also disturbed. Herodotus describes these wars in Book IV of his history, these being the earliest surviving written records concerning the history of Eastern Europe, at the end of the sixth century BC.

River Dnieper (Ukraine section)
The River Dnieper - the Borysfen to Herodotus, the Danapris to the Romans - long provided a conduit between the Black Sea and the Baltic lands to the north with the Neuri living around its headwaters in modern Belarus

Herodotus mentions and approximately locates the seats of the Neuri, Androphagi, Melanchlaeni, Budini, and other tribes living to the north of Scythia. With the Pripet marshes seemingly the natural border between Scythia and the Neuri, the latter dwell beyond the Scythian farmers (Slavs) at the headwaters of the Dnieper (which Herodotus calls the Borysfen, meaning 'river from the north'), in what is now Belarus and probably northern Ukraine too.

Their neighbours are the Androphagi, who can be identified with the Mordvins of central Russia, being located to the east of the lower Oka.

The Scythians seek help from the northern nations to counter the Persian attack, but the chieftains of the Neuri, Androphagi, Melanchlaeni, Agathyrsi, and Tauri do not agree to be Scythian allies. The Budini, though, do ally themselves with the Scythians, and they suffer the burning-down of one of their large fortified cities at the hands of Darius I as a result of the alliance.

Map of Scythian Lands around 500 BC
This map attempts to show the Scythian lands at their greatest extent, failing to extend northwards thanks to the Balts (click or tap on map to view full sized)

The others also suffer when the Scythians purposely retreat before the Persians and into their lands. The Melanchlaeni are first, followed by the Androphagi and Neuri. All flee into the north as both armies enter their lands. The Agathyrsi stand firm though, threatening to attack either army should it come near. The threat works and the war recedes.

2nd century BC

The changeless life of the eastern Baltic tribes in the Dnieper basin is disturbed by the appearance of the Zarubintsy culture, assumed to be Slavs. The Zarubintsy people progress into the lands of the Milograd people along the River Pripet and up the Dnieper and its tributaries, and the southern territories which are inhabited by the people of the Plain Pottery culture.

Szybowcowa Hill in Lower Silesia
Slavs migrated outwards to occupy areas of Europe which had previously been home to the Germanic Vandali and the Celtic Naharvali before them, including the rolling hills of Silesia

A peasant folk on a cultural level which is similar to that of the eastern Balts, Zarubintsy archaeological remains tend to contrast in every detail with those of the older population. Their intrusion must be interpreted as the first Slavic expansion northwards from the lands lying in the immediate neighbourhood.

The Androphagi themselves do not reappear in the historical record under that name, but as the highly populous Mordvins they certainly do.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.