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The Iazyges were an ancient Sarmatian nomadic tribe who had swept westward from Central Asia onto the steppes of what is now Ukraine in ca. 200 BC, and then, in the 1st century BC further into Hungary and Serbia, settling in Dacia. They were constantly at war with the Romans until their assimilation in the 4th century.
1st century BC
The Iazyges first make their appearance along the Sea of Azov, known to the Ancient Greeks and Romans as the Maeotis Lake. They are referred to by the geographer Ptolemy as the Iazyges Metanastae (wandering or migrant Iazyges). From there, the Iazyges moved west along the shores of the Black Sea to what is now Moldova and the southwestern Ukraine.
They served as allies of Mithradates VI Eupator, king of Pontus (in what is now north-western Turkey), in his wars against the Romans (c. 88–84 BC). In 78–76 BC, the Romans sent a punitive expedition over the Danube in an attempt to overawe the Iazyges.
The prime enemy of Rome along the lower Danube at this time were the Dacians. In 7 BC, when the Dacian kingdom built up by Burebista began to collapse, the Romans took advantage and encouraged the Iazyges to settle in the Pannonian plain, between the Danube and the Tisa Rivers.
1st century AD
They were divided into freemen and serfs (Sarmatae Limigantes). These serfs had a different manner of life and were probably an older settled population, enslaved by nomadic masters. They rose against them in 34 AD, but were repressed with Roman assistance.
The Romans wanted to finish off Dacia, but the Iazyges refused to cooperate. The Iazyges remained nomads, herding their cattle across what is now southern Romania every summer to water them along the Black Sea; a Roman conquest of Dacia would cut that route. The Roman emperor Domitian became so concerned with the Iazyges that he interrupted a campaign against Dacia to harass them and the Suebi, a Germanic tribe also dwelling along the Danube.
In early 92, the Iazyges, in alliance with the Sarmatians proper and the Germanic Quadi, crossed the Danube into the Roman province of Pannonia (mod. Croatia, northern Serbia, and western Hungary). In May, the Iazyges shattered the Roman Legio XXI Rapax, soon afterwards disbanded in disgrace. The fighting continued until Domitian's death in 96.
In 101–105, the warlike Emperor Trajan finally conquered the Dacians, reducing their lands to a Roman province. In 107, Trajan sent his general, Hadrian, to force the Iazyges to submit. In 117, Trajan died, and was succeeded as emperor by Hadrian, who moved to consolidate and protect his predecessor's gains. While the Romans kept Dacia, the Iazyges stayed independent, accepting a client relationship with Rome.
As long as Rome remained powerful, the situation could be maintained, but in the late second century, the Empire was becoming increasingly overstretched. In the summer of 166, while the Romans were tied down in a war with Parthia, the peoples north of the Danube, the Marcomanni, the Naristi, the Vandals, the Hermanduri, the Lombards and the Quadi, all swept south over the Danube to invade and plunder the exposed Roman provinces. The Iazyges joined in and killed Calpurnius Proculus, the Roman governor of Dacia. To counter them, Legio V Macedonica, a veteran of the Parthian campaign, was moved from Moesia Inferior to Dacia Superior, closer to the enemy. The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius spent the rest of his life trying to restore the situation (see the Marcomannic Wars). In the autumn of 169, Marcus set out from Rome, together with his son-in-law and closest aide Claudius Pompeianus. The Romans had gathered their forces and intended to subdue the independent tribes (especially the Iazyges), who lived between the Danube and the Roman province of Dacia. In 170, the Iazyges defeated and killed Claudius Fronto, Roman governor of Lower Moesia. Operating from Sirmium (today Sremska Mitrovica, Vojvodina, Serbia) on the Sava river, Marcus Aurelius focused attention on the Iazyges living in the plain of the river Tisza (expeditio sarmatica). After hard fighting, and few victories, the Iazyges were pressed to their limits.
The Iazyges came to an agreement after experiencing downfall, and all foremost men came in the company of King Zanticus before Aurelius to accept peace. The Iazyges had earlier imprisoned their second king Banadaspus for making proposals to Aurelius. At the same time, Aurelius' former friend Avidius Cassius had led a revolt in the East, which greatly upset Aurelius and forced him to come to terms with the Iazyges, contrary to his wishes. The treaty yielded the Romans some 100,000 Roman captives, which showed the strength that the Iazyges still had and what great harm they were capable of. The treaty was the same as those of the Quadi and Marcomanni, except that the Iazyges were required to live twice as far from the Danube than those two tribes (Aurelius wanted to uproot them). At once, the Iazyges provided the Romans with 8,000 cavalry to serve in the Roman army as auxiliaries, 5,500 of these were shipped off to serve in the Roman army in Britain; Marcus' victory was decisive in that the Iazyges did not again appear as a major threat to Rome.
Around 230, the Asding Vandals pushed in to the north of the Iazyges. The Vandals, and new Germanic tribal coalitions like the Alamanni and the Franks now became the Romans' primary security concerns. But as late as 371, the Romans saw fit to build a fortified trading center, Commercium, to control the trade with the Iazyges.
Aftermath and legacy
In Late Antiquity, records become much more diffuse, and the Iazyges generally cease to be mentioned as a tribe. In the 4th century, two Sarmatian peoples were mentioned, the Argaragantes and the Limigantes, who lived on opposite sides of the Tisza river.
It has been theorized that the Iazyges gave their name to the Jazones in Hungary.
- Their name was also spelled "Jaxamatae", while in English historiography the orthographic variant "Jazyges" is also used.
- Dio, p. 126
- Dio, p. 127
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