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The Dahae (Latin: Dahae; Ancient Greek: Δάοι, Δάαι, Δᾶαι Daai, Δάσαι Dasai; Sanskrit: Dasa),[1] Daae, Dahas or Dahaeans were a confederation of three tribes in Central Asia: the Parni, Xanthi and Pissuri – in Central Asia. While the Dahae may have originated further east, their first definite location is the region on the south-eastern shores of the Caspian Sea (modern Turkmenistan). The area and places nearby have consequently been known as Dahestan, Dahistan and Dihistan. According to A. D. H. Bivar, the capital of "the ancient Dahae (if indeed they possessed one) is quite unknown."[2]

According to most sources, the Dahae polity dissolved before the beginning 1st millennium, when some its constitents emigrated to Iran, South Asia and/or other parts of Central Asia. However, Sir Percy Sykes reported an oral tradition suggesting that elements of the Dahae had been absorbed into Turkmen society. "I was informed that the Daz tribe of the Yamut cherish a legend, according to which they are descended from kings, and among the Yamut Turkoman they are regarded as the noblest section. [...] It is at least possible that these names are derived from the Dahae, but it would be a mistake to press the point too far."[3]


The Dahae are generally regarded as an Indo-European people, although not one that was necessarily Indo-Iranian (Aryan) in origin.[4] By the time of the first historical records, the Dahae spoke an Eastern Iranian language. 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.[4] 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".[4]

Some scholars also maintain that there were etymological links between the Dahae and Dacians (Dacii), a people of ancient Eastern Europe.[5] 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".[5] 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 name of Verkâna (Greek Hyrcania Ὑρκανία), the country immediately south of the Dahae lands, also appears to have eymological links to "wolf". The Old Persian Verkâ (recorded in Darius the Great's Behistun Inscription of 522 BCE), as well as other Old Persian cuneiform inscriptions) means "wolf" in Old Iranian (c.f. Avestan vəhrkō, Gilaki and Mazandarani Verk, Modern Persian gorg, and Sanskrit Vŗka (वृक) and Old Norse Warg). Consequently, Verkâna may be translated literally as "Wolfland" (and Hyrcania is a Greek calque of that name). The same root apparently underlies the name of Zadracarta (modern Gorgan or Sari) – the capital of Verkâna.


Berossus's biography of Cyrus the Great (c. 589–530 BCE) claims that he was killed by Dahae archers near the Syr Darya (Jaxartes) river (modern Uzbekistan/Kazakhstan).[6] Some later sources (such as Strabo) claim that the Dahae themselves originated near the Jaxartes.

The first reliable mention of the Dahae is considered to be the Daeva inscription by Xerxes the Great of Persia (reigned 486–465 BCE). In a list in Old Persian of the peoples and provinces of the Achaemenid Empire, the Daeva identifies the Dāha as neighboring the Saka.

Achaemenid Provinces during the rule of Darius I.

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), which may date from the 5th century BCE. Moreover, any etymological relationship would not be proof that both names refer to exactly the same people.[7]

Dahae and Saka tribes are known to have fought in the Achaemenid armies at the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BCE). Following the fall of the Achaemenid Empire, they joined Alexander the Great in the Greek invasion of India. Some "Saka" coins from the Seleucid are sometimes attributed to the Dahae.

By the 3rd century BCE, the Parni Dahae had risen to prominence under a chief named Ashk (c. 250 – c. 211 BCE; Persian: ارشک Arshak; Greek Ἀρσάκης; Latin Arsaces). The Parni invaded Parthia, which had just previously declared independence from the Seleucids, deposed the reigning monarch, and Ashk crowned himself king (Arsaces I in classical sources). His successors are often referred to as the Arsacids; they would eventually assert military control over the entire Iranian plateau. By then, the Parni would be indistinguishable from the Parthians, and would also be called by that name.

During 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 Scythians are usually regarded as synonymous with the Saka, that was not necessarily the case with Strabo.


  1. ^ Francisco Rodríguez Adrados (1994). basileutos - daimōn, Vol 4, p. 859: "Δᾶαι"
  2. ^ Bivar 1993, p. 27.
  3. ^ Percy Sykes, History of Persia, 1915, p. 307.
  4. ^ a b c François de Blois & Willem Vogelsang, 2011, "Dahae", Encyclopedia Iranica (23 May 2015).
  5. ^ a b David Gordon White, 1991, Myths of the Dog-Man, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, pp. 27, 239.
  6. ^ M. A. Dandamaev, A political history of the Achaemenid empire, Leiden, Brill, 1989, p. 67
  7. ^ 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