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European Kingdoms



Melanchlaeni (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 Melanchlaeni (or Melanchlainoi) were one such Finno-Ugric tribe, perhaps only barely outside the Scythian area of control but perhaps sometimes classed as an ally of theirs. More recently they have been assumed to be the Volga-Finnic Cheremiss people (today's Mari) based on their location and general disposition, with them living in the sixth century BC somewhat to the east of the Androphagi. Herodotus stated that beyond them was marshy land which was inhabited by no one, as far as he knew.

In the centuries before Slav migration would have compressed their territory, Herodotus seemed unsure of how to categorise them precisely, describing them briefly as wearing black cloaks. Their presumed proximity to the Androphagi would suggest a connection there. Their Uralic-based language would have been largely incomprehensible even to their proto-Balt and proto-Slav neighbours, but Herodotus claimed that they shared Scythian customs, which suggests a degree of cultural absorption. Additionally, Ugric-speakers had traded with Indo-Europeans since before either group began its migrations, so some communication must have been possible anyway.

The name by which Herodotus knew them is simplicity itself to break down. Even the modern version, Mari, comes from their autonym which is thought to have been borrowed from the Indo-Iranian term *maryá-, meaning 'man' or, more literally, 'mortal, one who is bound to die' (from the proto-Indo-European *mer-, meaning 'to die'). This borrowing strongly suggests close contact with Indo-Europeans, and probably the satem-speaking Slavs.

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: 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), and What is the Scythian translation for the Melanchlaeni (Reddit).)

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.

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 and offer no resistance to them. 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.

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.

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 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.

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 Melanchlaeni disappear from the historical record. They have probably either been dispersed by events - and possibly never even managed to reintegrate after the Persian invasion - or have been absorbed into another tribe.

Milograd culture pot
The Milograd culture predominated across southern Belarus and adjoining areas of northern Ukraine during the seventh century BC to the first century AD

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