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The Dahae (Persian: داها; Sanskrit: Dasa; Latin: Dahae; Greek: Δάοι (Daoi), Δάαι, Δᾶαι (Daai), Δάσαι (Dasai)), Dahas or Dahaeans were a confederation of three tribes in the region to the immediate east of the Caspian Sea. The area and places nearby have consequently been known as Dahestan, Dahistan and Dihistan. According to Bivar, the capital of "the ancient Dahae (if indeed they possessed one) is quite unknown." By the time of the first historical records, the Dahae spoke an Eastern Iranian language.
While the Dahae may have been an Indo-European people, they are not generally regarded as being Indo-Iranian (Aryan). In this respect they may be connected to the Dasa mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts like the Rigveda as enemies of the Ārya. The proper noun Dasa appears to share the same root as the Sanskrit dasyu, meaning "hostile people" or "demons”, as well as the Avestan dax́iiu and Old Persian dahyu or dahạyu, meaning “province” or “mass of people”. Because of these pejorative references, the Dāhī tribe mentioned in Avestan sources (Yašt 13.144) as adhering to Zoroastrianism, are not generally identified with the Dahae. Conversely the Khotanese word daha- meaning "man" or "male" was linked to the Dahae by the Indologist Sten Konow (1912). This appears to be cognate with nouns in other Eastern Iranian languages, such as New Persian dāh “servant,” and Sogdian dʾyh or dʾy, meaning "slave woman".
Some scholars maintain that there were etymological links between the Dahae and Dacians (Dacii), a people of ancient Eastern Europe. Both were nomadic Indo-European peoples who shared variant names such as Daoi. The historian David Gordon White has, moreover, stated that the "Dacians ... appear to be related to the Dahae". White also reiterated a point made by previous scholars – that the names of both peoples resemble the Proto-Indo-European root: *dhau meaning "strangle" and/or a euphemism for "wolf". (Likewise the Massagetae, the northern neighbors of the Dahae, have often been linked to the Getae, a people related to the Dacians.)
The first dateable mention of the Dahae appears in the Daeva inscription by Xerxes the Great (who reigned in 486–465 BCE). In this list of the peoples and provinces of the Achaemenid Empire, the Dahae are identified in Old Persian as Dāha and are immediately followed by their neighbors, the Saka. In the 1st century BCE, Strabo (Geographika 11.8.1) also refers to the Dahae explicitly as a "Scythian" people, located in the approximate vicinity of present-day Turkmenistan. While the name Scythians has often been regarded as synonymous with the Saka, that was not necessarily the case with Strabo.
It is unclear whether the Dahae are also the *Dāha or *Dåŋha (only attested in the feminine Dahi) mentioned by the Avestani Yasht (13.144). Moreover, any etymological relationship would not be proof that both names refer to exactly the same people.
The Dahae, together with the Saka tribes, are known to have fought in the Achaemenid armies at the Battle of Gaugamela. Following the fall of the Achaemenid Empire, they joined Alexander the Great in the Greek invasion of India. Saka coins from the Seleucid era are sometimes specifically attributed to the Dahae.
In the third century, a branch of Dahae called the Parni would rise to prominence under their chief Arsaces. They invaded Parthia, which had just previously declared independence from the Seleucids, deposed the reigning monarch, and Arsaces crowned himself king. His successors, who all named themselves Arsaces and are thus referred to as the Arsacids, would eventually assert military control over the entire Iranian plateau. By then, they would be indistinguishable from the Parthians, and would also be called by that name.
- Francisco Rodríguez Adrados (1994). basileutos - daimōn, Vol 4, p. 859: "Δᾶαι"
- Bivar 1993, p. 27.
- [http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/dahae François de Blois & Willem Vogelsang, 2011, "Dahae", Encyclopedia Iranica (23 May 2015).
- David Gordon White, 1991, Myths of the Dog-Man, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, pp. 27, 239.
- de Blois 1993, p. 581.
- Bivar, A.D.H. (1993), "The Political History of Iran under the Arsacids", in Fischer, W.B.; Gershevitch, Ilya, Cambridge History of Iran 3.1, London: Cambridge UP, pp. 21–99
- de Blois, François (1993), "Dahae I: Etymology", Encyclopaedia Iranica 6, Costa Mesa: Mazda, p. 581