The Aorsi, also known as the Adorsi and in Greek as Aoirsoi was an ancient Iranian people of the Sarmatian group who played a major role in the events of the Pontic Steppe from the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD. They are often connected to the nomadic state of Yancai of Chinese records and the later Alans.
The Aorsen by origin from Saka tribes. Some researchers indicate that the name Aorsen really mean Aorsai - i.e. a union Auar (ugric) and Sai (saka) tribes. According to another version 'aorsen' mean 'white' from Indo-European languages.
From 2 century B.C. the part of aorsen begins a migration from Ural to east and west.
The eastern part of Aorsen in 1-2 century A.D. goes from Ural to Tarbagatai and Dzungaria, and there are mentioned in Chinese annals as a tribe Abars. The most important source on the Aorsi is Geographica by the Greek geographer Strabo (64/63 BC – c. AD 24). Strabo writes that the Aorsi were one of the tribes who inhabited the area between Lake Maeotis and the Caspian Sea. They lived to the north and east of the related Siraces, who lived along the Achardeus. According to Strabo the territory of the Aorsi and Siraces stretched as far south as the Caucasus Mountains. The Aorsi and Siraces are believed to have migrated to this area from Central Asia in the late 5th century BC. The territory of the Aorsi is believed to have extended eastwards as far as the Aral Sea. Furthest to the east lived the Upper Aorsi. They held the largest territory, dominating according to Strabo the entire Caspian coast, which enabled them to become the most numerous faction. The Upper Aorsi imported Indian and Babylonian merchandise by camel through Armenia and Media, which enabled them to become wealthy. They controlled the northern part of the Silk Route, known as the Northern Route. The Aorsi became famous for their wearing of golden ornaments.
During the reign of Pharnaces II of the Bosporan Kingdom, according to Strabo, king Spadines of the Aorsi along the Tanais could muster a force of 200,000 horsemen, while the Upper Aorsi could muster even more.
In the Annals, Tacitus (c. AD 56 – after 117) writes that in the Bosporan War of 49 AD, the Aorsi (Adorsi) king Eunones supported the Pro-Roman faction of Tiberius Julius Cotys I, while the king Zorsines of the Siraces supported the anti-Roman Tiberius Julius Mithridates. Together with Roman cohorts and Roman-armed Bosporans, the Aorsi besieged the poorly fortified town of the Siraces and massacred its population, forcing their king Zorsines to yield hostages and prostrate himself before the image of Emperor Claudius. Facing inevitable defeat, Mithradates surrendered and threw himself before the feet of Eunones. Eunones was deeply moved by Mithradates' plight, and sent envoys to Claudius supporting Mithradates' request to be executed without a triumph. Claudius agreed in a letter to Eunones, and although Mithradates was eventually brought to Rome through Pontus, he was spared from execution and instead exiled. After the Bosporan War the Siraces were significantly weakened while the Aorsi rose in strength.
Many scholars have equated the Aorsi with the nomadic state of Yancai mentioned in Chinese records. Chapter 123 of the Shiji (whose author, Sima Qian, died c. 90 BC) reports from the earlier travels of 2nd century BC Chinese diplomat Zhang Qian that Yancai lay 2000 li (832 km) north-west of the Kangju, who where based in the Ferghana Valley, with whom they shared similar customs. Yancai was centered near the Northern Sea (Aral Sea), being able to muster 100,000 mounted archers. The Later Han Dynasty Chinese chronicle, the Hou Hanshu, 88 (covering the period 25–220 and completed in the 5th century), mentioned a report that the steppe land Yancai had become vassals of the Kangju, and was now known as Alanliao (Chinese: 阿蘭聊). Many scholars have connected the name Alanliao to that of the Alans. Y. A. Zadneprovskiy suggests that the Kangju subjugation of Yancai occurred in the 1st century BC. The westward expansion of the Kangju obliged many of the Aorsi and other Sarmatians to migrate westwards. This migration contributed significantly to the Migration Period in Europe, which played an important role in world history.
In the 1st century AD, the Alans achieved a dominant position among the Sarmatians living between the Don River and the Caspian Sea. The Alans were a people from the east closely related to the Aorsi, whom they either absorbed or conquered. Some of the Aorsi appear to have migrated west to the north of Crimea, where they maintained a semi-independent existence. Ptolemy speaks of the Alanorsi, suggesting that a fusion of some sorts between them had occurred.
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