History Files

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

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



Spali / Spalaei (Indo-Iranians)
Incorporating the Auchetae, Euchatae, Palaei & Pali

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 They in turn were superseded by the Scythians, and it was they who imposed a ruling elite over the early Sarmatians and Alani.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 Spali are usually counted as a sub-group of the Alani (although there was very little difference between them and the Sarmatians). Some claims have them as Scythians, based at least partially on legends. 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.

This tribe is shown in Latin in various ways, including the Spalaei, Palaei, and Pali (simply with the 's' being dropped'). According to Pliny it occupied territory which is now in southern Russia, close to the banks of the ancient Tanais (the River Don) which flows into the Sea of Azov.

Diodorus stated that the Spalaei or Palaei or Pali were descendants of the legendary Scythian king, Palus, son of Scythes (it is unlikely to be a coincidence that the Palus Maotis marshes drain into the Sea of Azov - the tribe's location in the first century AD). The name 'Spali' also shows a connection to Indo-Iranian royal names such as Spalirises of the Sakas (around 60 BC).

The Ural-Altaic Yearbook suggests that 'Spalaei' was a 'collective designation of the eastern branch of "Royal Scythians"'. This refers to the core, ruling body of Scythians on the central Pontic steppe rather than the various subject groups of Scythians or any other linked groups. From these sources it can also be seen that the Auchetae (Pliny's Euchatae) were part of the same tribe, probably a clan, although Herodotus gave them a noble heritage as descendants of the legendary Lipoxais of the Scoloti.

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 Bibliotheca Historica, Diodorus Siculus, from Ural-Altaic Yearbook (Vol 45-46, Harrassowitz, 1973), 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), 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 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 The Scythians, Jona Lendering (Livius), and The 'spali' of Jordan and the 'pali' of Pliny the Elder, Oleg Sharov (Journals RAS).)

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.

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.AD 50

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). The Spalaei or Palaei 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).

c.225 - 250

During this period the Goths continue to migrate south-eastwards from the southern Baltic coast, entering early Moldavia and western Ukraine. In the region to the south of Kyiv in modern Ukraine they defeat the Spali (sometimes claimed in this respect as a possible division of the Alani, but usually connected to the Spalaei of Pliny). There, the Goths form a loose hegemony over the tribes of the region, almost certainly including the Bastarnae.

The Bastarnae exhibit early Celtic influences, seemingly overlaid by Germanic cultural and language elements, but once they had relocated to the Balkans they were often mistaken by contemporary writers as Scythians

The sixth century Eastern Roman historian, Jordanes, calls this new realm Oium, or Aujum. Archaeology supports the migration if not the name of its leader, showing a southwards drift for the people of the Willenberg culture until they merge with the indigenous Zarubintsy culture in Ukraine to form the Chernyakhiv culture.

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