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The Iranian Peoples: Sarmatians

The Women Warriors - the Sarmatians


"They have no right breasts...for while they are yet babies their mothers make red-hot a bronze instrument constructed for this very purpose and apply it to the right breast and cauterize it, so that its growth is arrested, and all its strength and bulk are diverted to the right shoulder and right arm."



Ancient Iranian Women Warriors

Watercolour By Shapour Suren-Pahlav


Sarmatian Matriarchy and Amazon Women
The most fascinating feature of Iranian-Sarmatian culture is their women warriors. Herodotus reported that the Sarmatians were said to be the offspring of Scythians who had mated with Amazons and that their female descendants "have continued from that day to the present to observe their ancient [Amazon] customs, frequently hunting on horseback with their husbands; in war taking the field; and wearing the very same dress as the men" Moreover, said Herodotus, "No girl shall wed till she has killed a man in battle."

Both Herodotus and Hippocrates accounts inform us the Sarmatians took interest in turning their women into strong-armed huntresses and fighters. Archaeological materials seem to confirm Sarmatian women's active role in military operation and social life. Burial of armed Sarmatian women comprise large percent of the military burial in the group occupy the central position and appear the be the richest.



Sauromatian - Blyumenfeld culture, 6th - 4th century B.C.
The Sauromatians were the eastern neighbors of the Scythians and both were kindred tribes of Iranian people. The relations between the Sauromatians and the Scythians were peaceful between the 6th to 4th centuries B.C. According to Herodotus, the Sauromatians fought with the Scythians against Darius the Great in the 5th century B.C.



Early Sauro-Sarmatian - Prokhorovskaya culture, 4th - 2th century B.C.
The term "Sarmatian" or "Sirmatian" was first mentioned by Greek authors such as Eudox, Pseudo-Skilak, Heraklidus of Pont, and Theophrastus in the 4th-2nd century B.C. According to the researchers, the Early Sarmatian culture most probably developed as a result of the influx of populations from the forest-steppe trans-Urals, northwestern modern Kazakhstan, and the Aral Sea region. In the 4th century B.C. individual Sarmatian groups penetrated into the lower Volga River region, where Sauromatian dominated the area. From the 4th to 2nd centuries B.C., massive nomadic migrations westward from the southern Ural steppes reached the lower Don River and Kuban River regions and absorbed the local Sauromatiansa. During the 3rd century B.C. new powerful Sarmatian tribes were formed - the Aorsi, the Roxolani, the Alans, and the Iazyges advanced westwards. The massive Sarmatian western expansion ultimately brought down Scythian rule in the North Black Sea area between the end of the 3rd century and early 2nd century B.C.


From Strabo's Geography we know that in the 2nd century B.C., the Iazyges settled between the Don and the Dnieper while the Roxolani occupied the Black Sea steppes and conducted raids on Taurida (The Crimea). In the middle of the 1st century, the Roxolani reached further west around Danube and threatening the eastern provinces of Rome.


Some of the new burial traits during this time include side niches (podbois), catacombs, grave pits with ledges, and the southern orientation of the deceased. Animal style ornamentation began to die out. New types of swords, bronze mirrors, and decorations started to appear and the earlier Sauromatian style pottery underwent significant changes. The tribes from the trans-Ural steppes brought new techniques for pottery manufacturing, including the mixing of talc into the paste. New forms such as round-bottom pots and uniquely rich ornamental motifs were incorporated into the Sarmatian pottery style.



Middle Sarmatian - Suslovo cultures, late 2nd century B.C. - 2nd century A.D.
The Middle Sarmatian culture covered the steppes of Eurasia from the Danube River to the southern Ural Steppes. During this time a sharp decrease in the population occurred in the region because of deteriorating climatic conditions in the southern Ural area and the tribal migration to the west and southeast.



Late Sarmatian - the Alan or Shipovskaya cultures, 2nd - 4th century A.D.
Late Sarmatian sites were first identified by P.D. Rau, who also associated the Late Sarmatian sites with the historical Alans. At the beginning of the 1st century A.D., the Alans another Iranian group of nomads had occupied lands in the northeast Azov Sea area, along the Don. Based on the archaeological material they were one of the Iranian-speaking nomadic tribes began to enter the Sarmatian area between the middle of the 1st and the 2nd century A.D. The written sources suggest that from the second half of the 1st to 4th century A.D. the Alans had supremacy over the tribal union and created a powerful confederation of tribes. They continued to rule in the North Black Sea steppes until they were invaded by the Huns in the late 4th century A.D. Most of the Alans were absorbed by the Huns while a small number of them fled to the North Caucasus or went west and reached the shores of Gibraltar.


One of the most characteristic traits of the Late Sarmatian culture was the artificial deformation of skulls. This was probably accomplished by tying a soft cloth around the infant's head forcing an elongation of the cranium. This cultural trait was specific to the populations living east of the Don River and included the Southern Ural population. In contrast to the Middle Sarmatian culture, the predominant orientation of the deceased was to the north.



Religion and Social Class
The religious practices were consistent among the Sauro-Sarmatian nomads. They were typical of the Iranian-clan-tribal cults of pre-Zoroastrian. Their gods were personified. Those gods of nature were the sky, the earth, and fire. Gods pertaining to social concepts were the domestic hearth and war. The evidence of fire cult practices is exemplified by charcoal and ashes found in the burials.

The high amount of offensive weapons found in Sarmatian graves indicates a military-oriented nomadic life. Some of the rich burial sites of the Sarmatian aristocrats excavated in the Ural region indicates a defined social stratification had developed for the nomadic society. Class formation processes were accelerated greatly as the nomads from the southern Ural steeps and Volga region advanced westward and came into contact with Greek and Roman agriculture, industry, and trade centres.



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Extracted From/Source: The Silk Road Foundation


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