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European Kingdoms

Barbarians

 

Roxolani (Indo-Iranians)

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 They in turn were superseded by the Scythians, and it was they who imposed a ruling elite over the early Sarmatians and Alani.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.

FeatureThe Roxolani were one such constituent sub-group, usually described as being Alani but sometimes being claimed as Sarmatians (and probably with very little difference between the two). Sometimes they are even labelled as Scytho-Sarmatians (see feature link for a breakdown of their name). In time the Sarmatians 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.

Groups of Alani-Sarmatians ventured out along the familiar paths of Indo-European migration as the Sarmatian reach expanded. They reached Central Europe in an initial phase so that they were present in Dacia, on the northern bank of the Danube, in the first centuries BC and AD.

The Roxolani (otherwise shown as Rhoxolani or Rhoxolāni with the accented letter) could be found on the Baragan steppe in modern Romania in the first century BC. They remained there, raiding across the Danube or reinforcing others in their wars against Rome. Heavy contact between Sarmatians and Germanic is reported by Roman writers who, quite frankly, seemed to have difficulty distinguishing between the two.

FeatureSince the Sarmatians were horsemen, it is not unreasonable to expect that they ranged north into contact with Germanics even prior to the second century AD move south by the Goths which saw them enter Sarmatian lands. This, combined with their subject Bastarnae population, indicates that a great deal of mixing may have occurred between the two groups (see feature link).

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 Res Gestae, Ammianus Marcellinus, from Les Alains, Cavaliers des steppes, seigneurs du Caucase Ie-XVe siècle, Vladimir Kouznetsov & Iaroslav Lebedynsky (Editions Errance, Paris 2005), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), and from External Links: Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny, and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and Genetic clues to the Ossetian past, Asya Pereltsvaig (Languages of the World), and The Alans, and Turkic History, 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).)

c.100s BC

With the collapse of the Scythian kingdom in 339 BC, the Sarmatians have taken advantage to swiftly establish their own domination over the steppe. In the second century BC they also gain control of eastern Central Europe, although the centre of their power largely remains to the north of the Caucasus.

It is this increase in power which means that the Roxolani can now be found to the west of the Borysthenes or Borysfen, meaning 'river from the north' (today's Dnieper). This is due to Siraces pressure, but the Iazyges having been forced westwards helps to make space for them.

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)

c.100 BC

Tasius

King of the Roxolani.

c.100 BC

The Scythian ruler, Palacus, continues his father's war against Mithradates the Great of Pontus. An attempted siege of Chersonesos (Crimea) is defeated by Pontic troops, so Palacus enlists the Roxolani under Tasius and launches an invasion of Chersonesus.

This too is defeated and the Scythians are forced to accept Mithradates as their overlord. The former capital of their kingdom now becomes the capital of the Cimmerian Bosporus kingdom.

90s BC

Two tribes on the banks of the Danube in southern-central Europe are generally linked to the Alani as sub-divisions of the main body (although the alternative theory is that they are entirely separate groups which may be linked more heavily to the general Sarmatian population of the steppe).

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, and a major crossing point between eastern Black Sea steppe territory and the west

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 potential sub-division is the Roxolani, who are known to arrive in the region of the Baragan steppe 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.

AD 68/69

The Roxolani have begun to incur into Roman territory on the other side of the Danube. One such raid in this year is intercepted by Legio III Gallica and Roman auxiliaries. A raiding force of about nine thousand Roxolani cavalry is destroyed while it is encumbered by baggage.

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

Tacitus describes the weight of the armour which is worn by the Roxolani princes and most distinguished persons. It makes it difficult for them to regain their feet once they have been surprised and de-horsed. The long two-handed kontos lance, the primary Sarmatian melee weapon, is unusable under such conditions.

92

A degree of revenge is gained by the Roxolani when they team up with Dacians to destroy Rome's Legio XXI Rapax. The Dacian threat to Roman control in the region is now a very serious one, while Roxolani forces also appear to be numerous and well-armed.

101 - 106

Trajan fights two Dacian Wars (the area of the Balkans up to Transylvania) in 101-102 (which involves the Roxolani) and 105-106 (which does not) 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.

Tombstone of Tacitus
The tombstone of Tacitus once marked the final resting place of one of Rome's most important authors, who not only chronicled the creation of the empire, but also listed the many barbarian tribes of Europe and the British Isles (External Link: Creative Commons Licence 4.0 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike International)

The Iazyges certainly are, assisting Rome in the first war and subjugated the Dacians in the second. The complete defeat of the Dacians results in the formation of the Roman province of Dacia, which brings the empire right up to the very door of Roxolani territory. Emperor Hadrian subsequently fortifies the border against their threat.

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.

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

166 - 169

The first invasion of Germanic peoples across Rome's Danubian frontier takes place under the leadership of the Marcomanni, which also includes elements from many other tribes including the Buri, Iazyges, Quadi, Roxolani, Sarmatians, and Suebi. It penetrates into Italy and forces Emperor Marcus Aurelius to spend the rest of his life campaigning in the Danube region to contain the problem.

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.

The Karakum burial with a valuable horse sacrifice added
The Indo-Europeans had a strong horse culture, with the animals proving to be highly valuable status objects which also carried them on their long migrations from the Pontic-Caspian steppe into Central Europe and the Near East

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. 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.

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

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.

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.

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 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 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.

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 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 Roxolani 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.

Ermanaric's death
In the face of an unstoppable and destructive Hunnic invasion, Ermanaric's final act as king of the Goths was a (probable) ritualistic death ceremony in which he ended his own life

 
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