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Asia in 323 BC, showing the Massagetae located in Central Asia.

The Massagetae, or Massageteans (Greek: Μασσαγέται, lat. Massagetai),[1] were an ancient Eastern Iranian nomadic confederation,[2][3][4][5][6] who inhabited the steppes of Central Asia, north-east of the Caspian Sea (in modern Turkmenistan, western Uzbekistan, and southern Kazakhstan).

The Massagetae are known primarily from the writings of Herodotus who described the Massagetae as living on a sizeable portion of the great plain east of the Caspian Sea.[7] He several times refers to them as living "beyond the River Araxes", which flows through the Caucasus and into the west Caspian.[8] Scholars have offered various explanations for this anomaly. For example, Herodotus may have confused two or more rivers, as he had limited and frequently indirect knowledge of geography.[9]

According to Greek and Roman scholars, the Massagetae were neighboured by the Aspasioi (possibly the Aśvaka) to the north, the Scythians and the Dahae to the west, and the Issedones (possibly the Wusun) to the east. Sogdia (Khorasan) lay to the south.[10]

In the 4th century B.C. Alexander the Great conquered the Persian empire and campaigned in the east. Massagetae adopted new military tactics of armoured cavalry from Macedonians and in the 4th-3rd centuries BC were able to subdue nearly all the nomad tribes north-east of Macedonian frontier including the Xiongnu who roamed the steppes further east up to the Chinese border. Xiongnu had to acknowledge the Massagetan suzerainty for about a century. But eventually Xiongnu defeated Massagetae and in 165 BC drove them westwards out of their lands.[11]

Possible connections to other ancient peoples[edit]

Many scholars have suggested that the Massagetae were related to the Getae of ancient Eastern Europe and/or the Jats of modern South Asia.[12] A 9th century work by Rabanus Maurus, De Universo, states: "The Massagetae are in origin from the tribe of the Scythians, and are called Massagetae, as if heavy, that is, strong Getae."[13][14] In Central Asian languages such as Middle Persian and Avestan, the prefix massa means "great", "heavy", or "strong".[15]

Some authors, such as Alexander Cunningham, James P. Mallory, Victor H. Mair B.S. Dahiya and Edgar Knobloch have proposed relating the Massagetae to the Gutians of 2000 BC Mesopotamia, and/or a people known in ancient China as the "Da Yuezhi" or "Great Yuezhi" (who founded the Kushan Empire in South Asia). Mallory and Mair suggest that Da Yuezhi may at one time have been pronounced d'ad-ngiwat-tieg, connecting them to the Massagetae.[16][17][18] Dahiya claimed that the Massagetae and Thyssagetae corresponded to the Da Yuezhi and Xiao Yuezhi ("Lesser Yuezhi").[19] These theories are not widely accepted, however.


The original language of the Massagetae is little-known. While it appears to have had similarities to the Eastern Iranian languages, these may have resulted from interactions with neighbouring peoples, such as language contact or sprachbund-type assimilation.

According to Herodotus:


Concerning the death of Cyrus the Great of Persia, Herodotus writes:

Ammianus Marcellinus considered the Alans to be the former Massagetae.[20] At the close of the 4th century CE, Claudian (the court poet of Emperor Honorius and Stilicho) wrote of Alans and Massagetae in the same breath: "the Massagetes who cruelly wound their horses that they may drink their blood, the Alans who break the ice and drink the waters of Maeotis' lake" (In Rufinem).

Procopius writes in History of the Wars Book III: The Vandalic War:[21] "the Massagetae whom they now call Huns" (XI. 37.), "there was a certain man among the Massagetae, well gifted with courage and strength of body, the leader of a few men; this man had the privilege handed down from his fathers and ancestors to be the first in all the Hunnic armies to attack the enemy" (XVIII. 54.).

Evagrius Scholasticus (Ecclesiastical History. Book 3. Ch. II.): "and in Thrace, by the inroads of the Huns, formerly known by the name of Massagetae, who crossed the Ister without opposition".[22]

Tadeusz Sulimirski notes that the Sacae also invaded parts of Northern India.[23] Weer Rajendra Rishi, an Indian linguist[24] has identified linguistic affinities between Indian and Central Asian languages, which further lends credence to the possibility of historical Sacae influence in Northern India.[15][23]

According to Guive Mirfendereski at the Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (CAIS), the Massagetae are synonymous with the Sakā haumavargā of South Asian historiography.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Engels, Donald W. (1978). Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army. California: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-04272-7. 
  2. ^ Karasulas, Antony. Mounted Archers Of The Steppe 600 BC-AD 1300 (Elite). Osprey Publishing, 2004, ISBN 184176809X, p. 7.
  3. ^ Wilcox, Peter. Rome's Enemies: Parthians and Sassanids. Osprey Publishing, 1986, ISBN 0-85045-688-6, p. 9.
  4. ^ Gershevitch, Ilya. The Cambridge History of Iran (Volume II). Cambridge University Press, 1985, ISBN 0-521-20091-1, p. 48.
  5. ^ Grousset, René. The Empire of the Steppes. Rutgers University Press, 1989, ISBN 0-8135-1304-9, p. 547.
  6. ^ The Cambridge History of Iran: The Median and Achaemenian periods By Ilya Gershevitch
  7. ^ Herodotus, The Histories, 1.204.
  8. ^ Herodotus, The Histories, 1.202.
  9. ^ Herodotus, The Histories, translation by Robin Waterfield, with notes by Carolyn Deward (1998), p. 613, notes on 1.201-16.
  10. ^ Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus: Books 11-12, Volume 1, Marcus Junianus Justinus, John Yardley, & Waldemar Heckel
  11. ^ Tadeusz Sulimirski - The Sarmatians, p.80-81,
  12. ^ Leake, Jane Acomb (1967). The Geats of Beowulf: a study in the geographical mythology of the Middle Ages (illustrated ed.). University of Wisconsin Press. p. 68. 
  13. ^ Maurus, Rabanus (1864). Migne, Jacques Paul, ed. De universo. Paris. The Massagetae are in origin from the tribe of the Scythians, and are called Massagetae, as if heavy, that is, strong Getae. 
  14. ^ Dhillon, Balbir Singh (1994). History and study of the Jats: with reference to Sikhs, Scythians, Alans, Sarmatians, Goths, and Jutes (illustrated ed.). Canada: Beta Publishers. p. 8. ISBN 1-895603-02-1. 
  15. ^ a b Rishi, Weer Rajendra (1982). India & Russia: linguistic & cultural affinity. Roma. p. 95. 
  16. ^ Mallory, J. P.; Mair, Victor H. (2000), The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West, London: Thames & Hudson. pages 98-99
  17. ^ Pazyrik - The Valley of the Frozen Tombs, John F. Haskins,
  18. ^ THE STRONGEST TRIBE, Yu. A. Zuev, page 33: "Massagets of the earliest ancient authors... are the Yuezhis of the Chinese sources"
  19. ^ Dahiya 1980, 23, quoted in SINO-PLATONIC PAPERS, Number 127 October, 2003, page 22-24,
  20. ^ Ammianus Marcellinus: "iuxtaque Massagetae Halani et Sargetae"; "per Albanos et Massagetas, quos Alanos nunc appellamus"; "Halanos pervenit, veteres Massagetas".
  21. ^ Procopius: History of the Wars.
  22. ^ Ecclesiastical History. Book 3.
  23. ^ a b Sulimirski, Tadeusz (1970). The Sarmatians. Volume 73 of Ancient peoples and places. New York: Praeger. pp. 113–114. The evidence of both the ancient authors and the archaeological remains point to a massive migration of Sacian (Sakas)/Massagetan tribes from the Syr Daria Delta (Central Asia) by the middle of the second century B.C. Some of the Syr Darian tribes; they also invaded North India. 
  24. ^ Indian Institute of Romani Studies

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