History Files
 

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

2023
Totals slider
2023

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

Barbarians

 

Iazyges / Jazygians (Indo-Iranians)
Incorporating the Amicenses, Argaragantes, Jasz, Limigantes, & Picenses

During the first millennium BC (and likely for much of the largely-unrecorded second millennium BC too) various Indo-Iranian tribes of the East Indo-European division dominated the Pontic-Caspian steppe. They took control from remaining West Indo-European groups, with the Agathyrsi rising early to supremacy over the other tribes. They in turn were superseded by the Scythians, and it was they who imposed a ruling elite over the early Sarmatians and Alani.

The Alani were either neighbours of the Sarmatians or (as some claim) a division of the Sarmatians themselves. The fortunes of both groups were closely intertwined, and some of their constituent sub-groups could be mistaken as Alani or Sarmatians, depending on how they were being recorded by early writers.

The Sarmatians soon migrated from Central Asia towards the Ural Mountains, at a point between the sixth and fourth centuries BC. This was just in time for them - with a division of the Alani in tow - to be mentioned by Herodotus when he described the tribes to the north of the Black Sea.

The Iazyges (or Jazygians) were one such constituent sub-group, usually described as being Sarmatians (although there was very little difference between them and the Alani). In time the general Sarmatian confederation settled much of southern European Russia and the eastern Balkans. Like the closely-related Scythians, they were highly developed horse-riding warriors.

Their administrative capability and political astuteness contributed to their gaining widespread influence, and it was through this that many of their sub-groups were able to spread far into Central Europe. In the first century BC the Sarmatian Iazyges (or Jazygians) migrated into the Dacian steppe in today's southern Hungary to settle there.

They took on a more sedentary lifestyle whilst becoming part of the complex political and tribal scope of live along the Danubian frontier. Their name was subsequently recorded in an amazing number of ways, including 'Iazyges Metanastae', Iaxamatae, or Iazuges, in corrupted form as Cizyges, Iasidae, Jazamatae, or Latiges, and in modern forms such as Iasians, Iazygians, Iazyigs, or Yazigs.

The Argaragantes and Limigantes both appear in increasingly sparse Roman records from around the mid-fourth century AD onwards. Named as 'free' and slave' groups respectively, they appear to replace entirely the Iazyges and Roxolani when they are mentioned as occupying opposite sides of the Tisza.

The second group contains two named sub-groups: the Amicenses and Picenses. Various theories exist to explain them, including tribal takeovers and mergers, as well as early Slav integration, but none are conclusive. Both names, with their 'antes' suffix, has led to suggestions that they incorporated early or related elements of the Slavic Antes tribe. Both groups were soon conquered by Ostrogoths and then the Hunnic empire.

The Jasz were an Alani division of the thirteenth century AD who were fleeing the Mongol domination of the steppe. Despite actually referring to themselves as Alani, they were called Jasz by the Hungarian locals amidst whom they settled, probably in memory of the Sarmatian Jazygians who, it was noted, had a similar language and lifestyle (both being Indo-Iranians and also being virtually indivisible from one another).

They settled in the central part of the Pannonian plain in a region which is now known as Jászság, with Jászberény its most important city. Their legacy survives in modern Hungary.

Sakas on a frieze at Persepolis

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, 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 The Pechenegs: Nomads in the Political and Cultural Landscape of Medieval Europe, Aleksander Paroń (Translated by Thomas Anessi, Brill, 2021), from Roman History, Cassius Dio, and from External Links: The United Sites of Indo-Europeans, and Studies in the History and Language of the Sarmatians, and Linguistics Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, and Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny, and Sarmatians (Encyclopaedia Britannica), and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and Constantine's military operations against the Goths and the Sarmatians in 332 and 334, Stanislav Doležal (Eirene, Studia Graeca et Latina, LV, 2019, available for download via Academia.edu).)

339 BC

The Scythians are defeated by the Macedonian king, Phillip II, and the Scythian king, Ateas, is killed. His kingdom collapses, heralding the end for Scythian domination. The Sarmatians take advantage to swiftly establish their own domination over the steppe when they establish themselves the Belgorod Oblast area of modern Russia (on the north-eastern Ukrainian border).

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 Siraces and the Aorsi both migrate in this approximate period across the Volga to establish themselves in the northern foothills of the Caucasus mountains. The Siraces at least come into contact with Greek coastal colonies there and absorb a degree of Greek influence.

The Aorsi may straddle the Volga, given the later depth of their domain. The Iazyges follow, perhaps a century later, and they initially remain settled between the Don and the Dnieper while the closely-related Roxolani cross the latter river.

c.100 BC

Sarmatians are becoming increasingly numerous in territory to the west of the Vistula. The Siraces and the Aorsi are both already applying increasing pressure on established core Sarmatian territories, forcing elements westwards.

The power-base of the Iazyges is similarly disrupted and then destroyed, forcing them westwards too. The Aorsi establish control over territory between the Caucasus and the Aral Sea far to the east where they dominate or push out previously dominant Saka groups.

Sarmatian warrior
Sarmatians followed the Agathyrsi and Scythians onto the Pontic steppe, and were followed by the Alani and, unfortunately for all of them, the Huns

74 BC

Nicomedes IV of Bithynia dies in 74 BC, having bequeathed his kingdom to Rome. This will give Rome a permanent foothold in the region so, at the same time as Sertorius launches his own revolt in Hispania, Mithradates VI of Pontus attacks the Roman forces which are moving on Bithynia (passing through newly-acquired Iazyges territory as they cross the Danube), and the Third Mithridatic War is under way.

c.44 BC

The Iazyges arrive on the edge of the Dacian steppe, having continued their westwards migration. The precise time at which they arrive and whether it is with the approval of Rome are both hotly-contested questions in today's scholarly circles.To an extent this depends upon whether they arrive en masse or gradually over the course of some decades.

Rome initially deals with them on the basis of their providing a useful buffer state, but eventual longevity on the part of the Iazyges has the effect of adapting this relationship into one of overlord and client state. This does not prevent them from raiding and from being subjected to punitive retaliatory actions.

Map of Barbarian Europe 52 BC
This vast map covers just about all possible tribes which were documented in the first centuries BC and AD, mostly by the Romans and Greeks, and with an especial focus on 52 BC (click or tap on map to view at an intermediate size)

AD 20

The Iazyges complete their migration by settling territory between the Tiszia and the Danube, in today's southern Hungary and northern Serbia. Their nomadic ways are largely left on the steppe as they embrace farming and local trade, but their warrior instinct still leads them into regular raids for profit.

They are poor in their early years here, as can be seen in their few grave goods, while they absorb a degree of La Tène culture Celtic influence via the Dacians while also absorbing remaining populations of Celts, Dacians, and Germanics.

50

With Iazyges support, Vannius of the Quadi shows an inclination to rebuild the Marcomanni confederation, so Rome instigates an insurrection to solve what it sees as a problem on its borders. The regnum Vannianum breaks up following the insurrection and Vannius is deposed.

Western Slovakia
The landscape of western Slovakia into which the Quadi migrated offers a dramatic contrast in landscape, making the region protectable, but also very verdant and productive

c.81 - 96

The Lugii are mentioned by Cassius Dio in his Roman History. During the reign of Roman Emperor Domitian the 'Lygians' in Moesia, having become involved in war with some of the Suevi, send envoys asking Domitian for aid.

He grants them a force of a hundred warriors, 'a force that was strong, not in numbers, but in dignity'. The Suevi, indignant at this help, attach members of the Iazyges to their number make preparations to cross the Ister with them. What happens next remains unrecorded, but Domitian's efforts in Dacia are generally less than successful.

101 - 106

Emperor Trajan fights two Dacian Wars (the area of the Balkans up to Transylvania) in 101-102 and 105-106 as the Dacians are proving to be an obstacle to Roman expansion in that area.

It is possible that some neighbouring tribes, such as the Bastarnae, are also involved, despite having been at peace with Rome for some time. The Iazyges certainly are, assisting Rome in the first war and subjugated the Dacians in the second.

Lugus
The three-headed representation of the Celtic god Lugus, discovered in Paris - Lugus was widely followed, by the Lugii tribe, and by Gauls in Scotland, Ireland, Iberia

107 - 108

The Iazyges had largely sided with Rome in the hope of regaining the Oltenia region after it had been seized by Decebalus of the Dacians. The victorious Romans, however, are determined to incorporate it into their new province of Dacia (created in AD 113).

The Iazyges launch a war of their own as a result, but they are defeated by the governor of Pannonia, one Hadrian (the future emperor). The do not gain Oltenia but they do take possession of Banat, possibly under treaty terms. Access problems across the region for the Iazyges and also the Roxolani - caused by Rome - spark several further flare-ups in the subsequent decade.

166 - 169

A new Marcomanni confederation is formed which also includes elements from many other tribes including the Buri, Iazyges, Quadi, Sarmatians, Suebi, and Victohali. Together they cross the Danube and invade Dacia, penetrating as far as Italy.

This forces the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, to spend the rest of his life campaigning in the Danube region to contain the problem. The resistance which is put up by the Romans surprises the tribes, so some seek individual peace treaties with Rome.

River Tisia in Hungary
The Rivia Tiszia or Tisia flows through today's Hungary, but in the first four centuries AD it played an important role in terms of the territory of the Iazyges

As recorded by Cassius Dio, both the Iazyges and the Buri seek peace, and some concessions are granted to them, but neither are willing to join the Roman side until they receive pledges that the emperor will 'without fail prosecute the war to the uttermost; for they were afraid he might make a treaty with the Quadi, as before, and leave enemies dwelling at their doors'.

173 - 174

As part of the ongoing fall-out from the Marcomanni war of 166-169, the Iazyges attack Roman interests when they cross the frozen Danube in late 173 and early 174. Their initial attack is repulsed and they are chased back to the icy river. A battle on it turns into a slip-sliding brawl which the Romans win, but Banadaspus is deposed by his own people for attempting to agree peace terms.

? - 174

Banadaspus

Led the Iazyges across the frozen Danube. Deposed.

174 - ?

Zanticus

Agreed peace terms with Rome.

175

FeatureThe Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, defeats the Iazyges (they are classified as Alani, otherwise known as Sarmatians). He takes defeated units into Roman service and settles them in northern Britain, at Ribchester, south of Lancaster.

These 'Alani' are assigned to the VI Legion Victrix, commanded by the Alani warlord who is renamed Lucius Artorius Castus (an unlikely candidate for the battle leader, Arthur, of the fifth century - see feature link).

Roman defensive tower
Emperors Hadrian and Antoninus Pius had concentrated on defining the Roman empire's borders, defending the territory they had. That would have included building watch towers along the limes in the Danube region which the Marcomanni managed to break through

177 - 179

At the end of a renewed campaign by Marcus Aurelius against the Marcomanni (and with Rome supported by the Iazyges and Roxolani), the emperor has forty thousand Romans posted on Marcomannic and Quadian territory in various garrisons, and has the Cotini and Osi resettled from Slovakia to southern Pannonia.

260

Crisis strikes the weakened Roman empire, with two major splinter states forming in the same year. The Rhine frontier collapses completely at around the same time. This allows the Iazyges and Roxolani to raid into Pannonia while shortly afterwards supplying auxiliaries to the empire. Unfortunately the Goth seizure in the same year of Olbia and Tyras cuts the Pontic trade route for both Roxolani and their Iazyges trading partners.

c.330s

Continued Gothic settlement outside Roman borders and across the entire Pontic steppe is also increasing Visigoth dominance of the northern Balkans. The Iazyges and Roxolani are becoming increasingly boxed in, which would seem to push them closer to Rome.

Ukrainian steppe
Migrating to the open steppeland of Ukraine (Scythia to the ancients, this photo being of Askania-Nova, immediately to the north of Crimea) also marked a return by the Goths to their Indo-European homeland of at least two thousand years previously, although they wouldn't have known anything about that

At some point in the first half of the fourth century a series of earthworks are constructed around Iazyges territory - known typically as the Devil's Dykes - possibly with Roman help.

334

Records covering the Iazyges and Roxolani have become increasingly sparse and unreliable. By the mid-fourth century mentions of them have largely ceased, being replaced by two Sarmatian peoples by the names of the Argaragantes and Limigantes who occupy opposite sides of the Tisza. The latter group are sub-divided into the Amicenses and Picenses.

Theories abound in terms of attempts to explain them, being described as 'free' and 'slave' groups respectively. They may be the result of the Roxolani conquering the Iazyges, with the Iazyges becoming the Limigantes and the Roxolani becoming the Argaragantes.

The Iazyges may gain an early population of Slavs (no doubt pushed westwards by the Hunnic invasion) who become the Limigantes. Or, having been surrounded and compressed by Goths, the Roxolani and Iazyges integrate, forming two new tribal bodies as a result.

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

In this year the Limigantes revolt against the Argaragantes following conflict with the Goths. The Argaragantes are kicked out, being forced to seek refuge with the Victohali on the south bank of the Danube and becoming vassals. According to Ammianus, Emperor Constantine confirms the protection of the Argaragantes amongst the Victohali, and sets up one of their number as their new king.

334 - ?

Zizais

Rome's chosen king of the Argaragantes.

357

The Argaragantes rebel, but are swiftly defeated and some of their lands are confiscated by Rome in punishment. Later in the same year, a large body of Limigantes launch an invasion across the Danube and into Roman territory.

They are engaged in battle, during which they suffer heavy casualties. The survivors surrender and are assigned some of the recently confiscated lands in which to settle under client status. They later raid outside this era, but seemingly not seriously (and the Taifali may be used to control them).

374 - 375

The Romans assassinate the ruler of the Quadi, which triggers a Pannonian invasion by the Marcomanni and Sarmatians. The following year, Emperor Valentinian I punishes the Quadi by staging a retaliatory invasion of their territory.

The River Danube
Lying at the extreme western end of the vast Pontic-Caspian steppe, the River Danube had provided an east-west migratory conduit since at least the Yamnaya horizon of the fourth millennium BC

The brief war ends with peace terms being agreed, and the event marks the last time the Romans enter what is now Slovakia. It also marks the last hurrah for Sarmatians and Iazyges alike.

The population in central and Eastern Europe is anyway gradually absorbed by larger bodies - especially the Ostrogoths - while their more easterly steppe elements are absorbed into the Hunnic empire. Today's Kabardians, Ossetians, and neighbours are almost the only direct descendants of core Alani and Sarmatian bodies.

1222 - 1239

Following the fall of the kingdom of Georgia to the south, the Alani put up a stiff resistance to the Mongol invasion which sees them driven from their valleys but otherwise undefeated. During the same period, around the mid-thirteenth century, a tribe of nomads who speak a Sarmatian-Alanic language which resembles Ossetian and who call themselves Alani is permitted by King Bela IV Arpad to enter Hungary.

Medieval towers in Ingushetia
These medieval towers which stand in what is now the territory of Ingushetia would have been part of the kingdom of Alania in the northern Caucasus

They have to fight the Mongols and they do that successfully. Despite referring to themselves as Alani, they are called Jasz by the locals, probably in memory of the Sarmatian Jazygians who formerly had a similar language and lifestyle.

These Alani settle in the central part of the Pannonian plain in a region which is now known as Jászság with Jászberény its most important city. Over subsequent centuries they blend into the population, their language disappearing - although a dictionary of that language has been preserved in modern Hungary.

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