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Far East Kingdoms

Central Asia


Tapuri (Indo-Iranians? /  South Caucasians?)
Incorporating the Mazanderani

The Sakas were formed of a seemingly vast range of Central Asian nomadic tribes and groups which inhabited the region around the River Jaxartes and Lake Issykkul (or Issyk Kul - located in the Tian Shan Mountains in eastern Kyrgyzstan). Indo-European in terms of their ancestry, they were part of a broad range of Indo-Iranians and the closely-related Indo-Aryans who formed the eastern division of Indo-Europeans, having expanded outwards from their original home on the north shores of the Black Sea and Caspian Sea.

Migration between the fourth and second millennia BC had sent western groups of Indo-Europeans far and wide, mostly into Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, while the eastern groups took longer to migrate, later reaching early Iran and India, and even Han dynasty China. The closely-related Scythians may not have migrated at all.

The ancestors of the Sakas eventually found themselves situated to the north and east of the Oxus Civilisation of late-third millennium BC Transoxiana. Possibly (but not definitely) related to the Massagetae who occupied very similar territory, the subsequent development of the Sakas between around 1700-550 BC would have involved a widespread diffusion of these nomad tribes across the entire region. Some of those to the north of the Caspian Sea, such as the Scythians and Sarmatians, later became very powerful. Others, along the eastern and southern shores of the Caspian Sea, remained relatively minor but were sometimes noted as being regionally important.

The Tapuri were one such group. Otherwise recorded as Tapurians, Tabari, Tapyri, or even Mazanderani (largely a modern term for today's descendants of the Tapuri), they usually seemed to be recorded as being something more than a single tribe, perhaps a confederation or a diffused 'nation' of groups. They seemingly occupied the southern coastal region of the Caspian Sea around the modern city of Sari, but in various mentions by ancient writers they may at one time have been prominent as far as the borders of Armenia. They are not to be confused with the Tapurei of Scythia.

When Media was at its height the Tapuri formed part of its conquests, with their core population seemingly situated as it was in Tabiristan (Tabaristan) in today's Mazandaran province of northern Iran. When the Persians became dominant they were incorporated into its empire, lying to the east of the Indo-Iranian Mardoi. During the Greek period they seemingly had their own minor satrapy of Tapouria which was overseen by Margiana, but they were sometimes claimed as not being Indo-Iranians.

Following DNA sampling of the modern Tabari population, their origins would instead seem to be as a South Caucasian people who have incorporated Iranian women into their numbers over several centuries. This has gradually caused them to be converted to Iranian speakers. This process may well have been close to complete even by the time they were recorded by Strabo, leading to some confusion over how to catalogue them, as Indo-Iranians or not.

However, perhaps that confusion is only recent. The Tapuri and many other borderland tribes - such as the Cadusii, Gelae (Geloni or Alani), and Utians of northern Media and the shores of the Caspian - were classed as Anariaci. The word can be broken down as 'an', meaning 'not', plus 'aria', meaning 'Aryan, Indo-Iranian', and the plural suffix '-ci'. They were the 'not-Indo-Iranians', although the Gelae were indeed Indo-Iranians, if not quite of the same general group as the Persians and Medians. Eventually, though, they were absorbed into the dominant Persian population.

Adyghe national dress in the Caucuses

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Marshals of Alexander's Empire, Waldemar Heckel, from Alexander the Great and Hernán Cortés: Ambiguous Legacies of Leadership, Justin D Lyons, from Central Asia: A Historical Overview, Edward A Allworth (Duke University Press, 1994), from The Paths of History, I M Diakonoff (Cambridge University Press, 1999), from Farāmarz, the Sistāni Hero: Texts and Traditions of the Farāmarznāme and the Persian Epic Cycle, Marjolijn van Zutphen, from The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia, René Grousset (1970), from Persica, Ctesias of Cnidus (original work lost but a section is repeated by Photius in ninth century AD Constantinople), 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), and from External Links: Encyclopædia Britannica, and Livius, and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and Iranians & Turanians in the Avesta, and Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny, and The Ethnic [Background] of [the] Sakas (Scythians), I P'iankov, presented by the Iran Chamber Society, and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition).)

c.546 - 540 BC

The defeat of the Medes opens the floodgates for Cyrus the Great with a wave of conquests, beginning in the west from 549 BC but focussing towards the east of the Persians from about 546 BC. Eastern Iran falls during a more drawn-out campaign between about 546-540 BC, which may be when Maka is taken (presumed to be the southern coastal strip of the Arabian Sea).

Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great freed the Indo-Iranian Parsua people from Median domination to establish a nation which is recognisable to this day, and an empire which provided the basis for the vast territories which were later ruled by Alexander the Great

Further eastern regions now fall, namely Arachosia, Aria, Bactria, Carmania, Chorasmia, Drangiana, Gandhara, Gedrosia, Hyrcania, Margiana, Parthia, Saka (at least part of the broad tribal lands of the Sakas), Sogdiana (with Ferghana), and Thatagush - all added to the empire, although records for these campaigns are characteristically sparse.

479 - 465 BC

Xerxes apparently adds two new regions to the Persian empire during his reign, neither of which are very descriptive or clear in their location. The first is Daha, from 'daai' or 'daae', meaning 'men', perhaps in the sense of brigands.

Daha or Dahae would appear to be the region on the eastern flank of the Caspian Sea, bordered by the Saka Tigraxauda to the north, and the satrapies of Mergu, Uwarazmiy, and Verkâna to the north-east, south-east, and south respectively. It contains a confederation of three tribes, the Parni, the Pissuri, and the Xanthii.

Sakas on a frieze at Persepolis
Saka Tikrakhauda (otherwise known as 'Scythians' but, in this case, more precisely identified as Sakas) depicted on a frieze at Persepolis in Achaemenid Persia, which would have been the greatest military power in the region at this time

334 - 331 BC

Alexander of Macedon launches his campaign into the Persian empire by crossing the Dardanelles. Alexander proceeds into Syria during 333-332 BC to receive the submission of Ebir-nāri. By 331 BC he is ready for the expected confrontation with Darius III in the heartland of Persian territory, which he also wins. Greek forces sweep eastwards across the empire.

330 - 328 BC

Mergu becomes part of the Greek empire in 330 BC with the fall of Persis. Bessus, self-styled 'king of Asia', withdraws eastwards to make a stand there. However, Persia has already been lost and his loose collection of eastern allies provides nothing more than a sideshow to the main event - the fall of Achaemenid Persia.

General Craterus is sent by Alexander to subdue the 'Tapurians'. As the Tapuri, they clearly remain important as they gain their own satrapy under Alexander, that of Tapouria. Only one satrap is known, a Greek by the name of Autophradates who is appointed to the position once Alexander has secured the heartland of Persia.

Map of Central Asia & Eastern Mediterranean 334-323 BC
The route of Alexander's ongoing campaigns are shown in this map, with them leading him from Europe to Egypt, into Persia, and across the vastness of eastern Iran as far as the Pamir mountain range (click or tap on map to view full sized)

AD 24

Shortly before his death in this year, Strabo completes ongoing work on his Geography. It contains a description of the peoples and places known to this Greek writer who latterly lives in Rome. He describes the Tapuri and gives their territory as lying around the Caspian Gates and Rhagae, in the former satrapy of Parthia and bordered to the east by the Hyrcani and Derbices.

After that the region and the people drift into obscurity. The Tapuri gradually blend into Persian culture and society as one of the constituent parts of the Parthian empire. Today, known more usually as the Mazanderani, they form a sizeable proportion of the population of the Mazandaran province of northern Iran.

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