History Files

European Kingdoms



Maeotians (North Caucasus)
Incorporating the Agri, Arrechi, Aspurgiani, Dandarii, Dosci, Ixomates, Obidiaceni, Sittaceni, Tarpetes, & Toreatae

FeatureDuring 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 (see feature link), 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 They in turn were superseded by the Scythians, and it was they who imposed a ruling elite over the early Sarmatians and Alani.

Immediately to the south of all this steppe migration and domination, though, was the Caucasus mountains and its very mixed collection of groups and peoples. This was and remains today a geographically complex area of mountain ranges, plateaus, foothills, plains, rivers, and lakes, complete with regions of grassland, forest, marshes, and dry steppe in that order as the mountains become increasingly distant.

The North Caucasus follows this pattern precisely, while the South Caucasus drifts into the arid plains of north-eastern Anatolia, into today's Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. This complex of regions harbours more than fifty separate peoples even today, ranging from language communities with only a few hundred speakers to large national groups which number in the millions.

This diversity goes right back to the earliest recorded inhabitants. Pliny the Elder related the fact that the Romans had to carry out their business in the region through eighty interpreters. Later Arab geographers referred to the Caucasus as Jabal al-Alsun, the 'Mountain of Languages'.

FeatureThe languages of the Caucasus belong to four families: Caucasian (or Palaeo-Caucasian), Indo-European, Semitic, and Turkic. Whereas speakers of the latter three groups are known to have migrated into the Caucasus in various historical periods and in the order listed, speakers of the Caucasian languages have occupied the area since the earliest arrival of anatomically modern humans (see feature link for the full Hominid Chronology).

The Maeotians (Maeotae in Latin, or Maiotai to the Greeks), occupied the Maeotian marshes - Lake Maeotis. Both of these terms were used by various ancient authors to describe the territory at the mouth of the Tanais (today's River Don) as it exits into the Sea of Azov. It remains unclear whether the group of peoples who lived around this region were named after the lake or vice versa, but they are often considered to be the ancestors of the Abazins, Abkhazians, and Circassians.

The latter group is especially beloved within this context by Russian historians and writers. The Cambridge Ancient History offers Cimmerians as potential originators of the Maeotians, but Cimmerians were Indo-Europeans, not Caucasians.

The tribes of the Maeotians, or those groups which were lumped together under this banner, included the Agri, Arrechi, Aspurgiani, Dandarii (or Dandaridae), Dosci (or Doschi), Ixomates, Obidiaceni, Sindi (perhaps, and not entirely with confidence), Sittaceni, Tarpetes, and Toreatae (or Toretae). There were apparently many other groups, undoubtedly smaller ones.

Although they were part fisher-folk and part farmers, they could be as warlike as their steppe nomad neighbours. They were spread out across the eastern and south-eastern coasts of the Sea of Azov and along the middle course of the River Kuban. The Aspurgiani may have been the followers or warband of an early Bosporan king known as Aspurgi.

The Maeotians are thought to have spoken Adyghe, otherwise known as West Circassian, although this is uncertain. It is a North-West Caucasian language which today is spoken by western groups of Circassians. However, although the Maeotian language or language family remains uncertain, one princess of the Ixomates was called Tirgatao. This has been compared to Tirgutawiya, a name on a tablet which was discovered in the pre-Hittite Hurrian city of Alalakh.

This raises the suggestion that the Hurrians were generally related to the Caucasus groups, and the reverse suggestion has also been made when talking specifically about Hurrians.

Adyghe national dress in the Caucasus

(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 Scythian Domination in Western Asia: Its Record in History, Scripture, and Archaeology, E D Phillips (World Archaeology, 1972), from The Scythian: His Rise and Fall, James William Johnson (Journal of the History of Ideas, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1959), from The Scythians: Invading Hordes from the Russian Steppes, Edwin Yamauchi (The Biblical Archaeologist, 1983), from The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol 3 Pt 2, John Boardman & M P Charleworth (Eds, Second Edition, University of Oxford, 1992), and from External Links: 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 The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed), and Sarmatians (Encyclopaedia Britannica), and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and Caucasian Peoples (Encyclopaedia Britannica).)

4th - 3rd century BC

The Bosporan kingdom gradually expands its power, reach, influence, and territory. As the Maeotians (and Sindi) are directly in the path of advance, their tribes are gradually drawn under Bosporan dominance, and receive extensive Greek influences. However, they remain wild and sometimes resistant to being mastered.

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)

2nd century BC

The Pali migrate into the steppe area of Crimea in this century, later to be mentioned by Diodorus, Strabo, Pliny the Elder, and Stephanus of Byzantium. The royal fortress of Palakion and the name of the Scythian King Palacus of about 100 BC have been used to provide confirmation for this migration.

13 or 12 BC

The marriage between King Polemon of Bosporan and his queen, Dynamis, is relatively brief. Either in 13 or 12 BC he replaces her with Pythodoria of Pontus by whom he has two sons and a daughter.

During this period he is also able to expand the borders of the Bosporan kingdom to the River Tanais (otherwise known as the Jaxartes/Iaxartes or Syr Darya, which traditionally forms the boundary between Sogdiana and Scythia).

Upon the death of Polemon in 8 BC at the hands of the Aspurgiani, Dynamis resumes command of her Bosporan kingdom while the second wife of Polemon retains Pontus and its holdings.

AD 36? - 49

Zorsines of the Siraces has a fortification at Uspe when he takes part in the war against the Dandarii which is being fought by the Armenian king, Mithridates. Mithridates later has his throne taken from him by Roman Emperor Claudius but is defeated when he and Zorsines offer battle against his replacement.

Tetradrachm of Pontus
A tetradrachm issued by Mithradates VI of Pontus and Bithynia around 86-85 BC, towards the end of his dominance in Anatolia and the beginning of true Roman dominance

The pro-Roman Aorsi under Eunones pursue Mithridates and clash with Zorsines at Uspe. The town offers ten thousand slaves to end the siege but this is declined. Zorsines eventually has to abandon Mithridates, providing hostages to Rome and acknowledging Roman authority. The Siraces are weakened by this outcome while the Aorsi are strengthened.


Pliny the Elder, writing his Natural History in the mid-first century AD, mentions the tribes which live along the River Tanais (today's Don, which empties into the Sea of Azov around the territories of the Maeotians).

The Spalaei are mentioned as the conquerors of the Napaei. However, later in the same work Pliny contradicts himself by stating that the conquest is handled by three Scythian tribes (the Asampatae, Athernei, and Auchetae).

As for the Maeotians themselves, their fate is to be dominated by the Sarmatians, then the Goths, and then the Hunnic empire. The eventual collapse of that empire and the integration of the Maeotian-dominating Utigurs into the Bulgar empire permits the rise of the Khazars, who control the region for several centuries. Today the region is part of the Russian federation.

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

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