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The Dahae (Latin: Dahae; Ancient Greek: Δάοι, Δάαι, Δαι, Δάσαι Dáoi, Dáai, Dai, Dasai; Sanskrit: Dasa), Daae, Dahas or Dahaeans were a people in ancient Central Asia, a confederation of three tribes: the Parni, Xanthii and Pissuri. They lived in a region on the south-eastern shores of the Caspian Sea (in modern Turkmenistan). The area has consequently been known as Dahestan, Dahistan and Dihistan. Relatively little is known about their way of life. For example, according to A. D. H. Bivar, the capital of "the ancient Dahae (if indeed they possessed one) is quite unknown."
According to most sources, the Dahae polity dissolved before the beginning of the 1st millennium, when some its constituents emigrated to Persia, 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 [or Yomut] 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."
The Dahae are generally regarded as an Indo-European people, although not necessarily Indo-Iranian (i. e. Aryan) in origin. 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. 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 a Persian word for "servant", dāh and the Sogdian dʾyh or dʾy, meaning "slave woman".
Some scholars also 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". (Likewise the Massagetae, the northern neighbors of the Dahae, have often been linked to the Getae, a people related to the Dacians.) 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".
The country neighbouring the Dahae to the south, Verkāna – often known by its Greek name, Hyrcania (Ὑρκανία) – has sometimes been conflated with Dahistan. Verkâna also appears to have a root in an Indo-European word for "wolf", the Proto-Iranian: *vrka. The name of Sadrakarta (later Zadracarta), the capital of Verkâna, apparently has the same etymological roots, and may be synonymous with one of two modern cities in Iran: [Sari, Iran|Sari]] or Gorgan. (The latter name is also derived ultimately from the Proto-Iranian *vrka for "wolf" and is cognate with the New Persian gorgān (i.e. v > g).
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). 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.
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.
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.
In the 1st century BCE, Strabo (Geographika 11.8.1) also refers to the Dahae as a "Scythian" people, who were located in the vicinity of present-day Turkmenistan. However, while the terms Scythians and Saka are usually regarded as synonymous, that is not always the case with Strabo.
- Francisco Rodríguez Adrados (1994). basileutos – daimōn, Vol 4, p. 859: "Δαι"
- Bivar 1993, p. 27.
- Percy Sykes, History of Persia, 1915, p. 307.
- 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.
- The Old Iranian/Old Persian verka "wolf" was recorded in Darius the Great's Behistun Inscription of 522 BCE), as well as other Old Persian cuneiform inscriptions. There is evidence for an etymological link between Verkāna and an Indo-European root meaning "wolf", in related languages including: Avestan vəhrka, Gilaki and Mazandarani Verk, Modern Persian gorg, and Sanskrit Vŗka (वृक) and Old Norse Warg.
- The 'v > g shift is also seen also seen, for example, in two words for "boar": Avestan varāza and New Persian gorāz.)
- M. A. Dandamaev, A political history of the Achaemenid empire, Leiden, Brill, 1989, p. 67
- 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