Saka

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For the land of the Saka under the Sassanid dynasty, see Sakastan. Not to be confused with the Sakha, the endonym of the Yakut people of Siberia. For other uses, see Saka (disambiguation).
Scythia and Parthia in about 170 BCE (before the Yuezhi invaded Bactria).

The Saka or Saca (Persian: old Sakā, mod. ساکا; Sanskrit: Śaka; Greek: Σάκαι, Sákai; Latin: Sacae; Chinese: , old *Sək, mod. Sāi)[a] was the term used in Persian and Sanskrit sources for the Scythians, a large group of Eastern Iranian nomadic tribes on the Eurasian Steppe.[2][3][4] Modern scholars usually use the term Saka to refer to Iranians of the Eastern Steppe and the Tarim Basin.[5] René Grousset wrote that they formed a particular branch of the "Scytho-Sarmatian family" originating from nomadic Iranian peoples of the northwestern steppe in Eurasia.[6] In the Tarim Basin and Taklamakan desert region of Northwest China, they founded the settlements of Khotan and Kashgar, as well as the Kingdom of Khotan that was at various times a vassal to greater powers, such as the Han and Tang dynasties of Imperial China.

Usage of name[edit]

Gold artifacts of the Saka in Bactria, at the site of Tillia tepe, northern Afghanistan.

Modern debate about the identity of the "Saka" is partly from ambiguous usage of the word by ancient, non-Saka authorities. According to Herodotus, the Persians gave the name "Saka" to all Scythians.[7] However, Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus, AD 23–79) claims that the Persians gave the name Sakai only to the Scythian tribes "nearest to them".[8] The Scythians to the far north of Assyria were also called the Saka suni (Saka or Scythian sons) by the Persians.[citation needed] The Assyrians, of the time of Esarhaddon, record campaigning against a people they called in the Akkadian the Ashkuza or Ishhuza.[9] However, modern scholarly consensus is that the Saka language, ancestor to the Pamir languages in northern India and Khotanese in Xinjiang, China belongs to the Scythian languages.[10]

Another people, the Gimirrai,[9] who were known to the ancient Greeks as the Cimmerians, were closely associated with the Sakas. In ancient Hebrew texts, the Ashkuz (Ashkenaz) are considered to be a direct offshoot from the Gimirri (Gomer).[11]

A cataphract-style parade armour of a Saka royal, also known as "The Golden Warrior", from the Issyk kurgan, an historic burial near ex-capital city of Almaty, Kazakhstan

The Saka were regarded by the Babylonians as synonymous with the Gimirrai; both names are used on the trilingual Behistun inscription, carved in 515 BC on the order of Darius the Great.[12] (These people were reported to be mainly interested in settling in the kingdom of Urartu, later part of Armenia, and Shacusen in Uti Province derives its name from them.[13]) The Behistun inscription initially only gave one entry for saka, they were however further differentiated later into three groups:[14][15][16]

  • the Sakā tigraxaudā – "Saka with pointy hats/caps",
  • the Sakā haumavargā – interpreted as "haoma-drinking saka" but there are other suggestions,[14][17][18]
  • the Sakā paradraya – "Saka beyond the sea", a name added later, after Darius' campaign into Western Scythia north of the Danube.[14]
  • the Sakā para Sugdam – "Saka beyond Sugda (Sogdiana)", an additional term found in two inscriptions elsewhere.[19] The term was used by Darius for the people who formed the limits of his empire at the opposite end to Kush (the Ethiopians), therefore should be located at the eastern edge of his empire.[14][20]

The Sakā paradraya were the western Scythians (European Scythians) or Sarmatians. Both the Sakā tigraxaudā and Sakā haumavargā are thought to be located in Central Asia east of the Caspian Sea.[14] Sakā haumavargā is considered to be the same as Amyrgians, the Saka tribe in closest proximity to Bactria and Sogdiana. It has been suggested that the Sakā haumavargā may be the Sakā para Sugdam, therefore Sakā haumavargā is argued by some to be located further east than the Sakā tigraxaudā, perhaps at the Pamirs or Xinjiang, although Jaxartes is considered to be their more likely location given that the name says "beyond Sogdiana" rather than Bactria.[14]

In the modern era, the archaeologist Hugo Winckler (1863–1913) was the first to associate the Sakas with the Scyths. J. M. Cook, in The Cambridge History of Iran, states: "The Persians gave the single name Sakā both to the nomads whom they encountered between the Hunger steppe and the Caspian, and equally to those north of the Danube and Black Sea against whom Darius later campaigned; and the Greeks and Assyrians called all those who were known to them by the name Skuthai (Iškuzai). Sakā and Skuthai evidently constituted a generic name for the nomads on the northern frontiers."[14] Conversely, the political historian B. N. Mukerjee has claimed that ancient Greek and Roman scholars believed that while "all Sakai were Scythians", "not all Scythians were Sakai".[why?] [21] Persian sources often treat them as a single tribe called the Saka (Sakai or Sakas), but Greek and Latin texts suggest that the Scythians were composed of many sub-groups.[22][23] Modern scholars usually use the term Saka to refer to Iranian-speaking tribes who inhabited the Eastern Steppe and the Tarim Basin.[5][24]

History[edit]

Artifacts found the tombs 2 and 4 of Tillia Tepe and reconstitution of their use on the man and woman found in these tombs

The Saka people were an Iranian people who spoke a language belonging to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. They are known to the ancient Greeks as Scythians and are attested in historical and archaeological records dating to around the 8th century BC.[25] In the Achaemenid-era Old Persian inscriptions found at Persepolis, dated to the reign of Darius I (r. 522-486 BC), the Saka are said to have lived just beyond the borders of Sogdiana.[26] Likewise an inscription dated to the reign of Xerxes I (r. 486-465 BC) has them coupled with the Dahae people of Central Asia.[26] The contemporary Greek historian Herodotus noted that the Achaemenid Persians called all of the Iranian Scythian peoples as the Saka.[26]

Captured Saka king Skunkha, from Mount Behistun, Iran, Achaemenid stone relief from the reign of Darius I (r. 522-486 BC)

Greek historians wrote of the wars between the Saka and the Medes, as well as their wars against Cyrus the Great of the Persian Achaemenid Empire where Saka women were said to fight alongside their men.[27] According to Herodotus, Cyrus the Great confronted the Massagetae, a people related to the Saka,[28] while campaigning to the east of the Caspian Sea and was killed in the battle in 530 BC.[29] Darius the Great also waged wars against the eastern Sakas, who fought him with three armies led by three kings according to Polyaenus.[30] In 520–519 BC, Darius I defeated the Sakā tigraxaudā tribe and captured their king Skunkha (depicted as wearing a pointed hat in Behistun).[5] The territories of Saka were absorbed into the Achaemenid Empire as part of Chorasmia that included much of Amu Darya (Oxus) and Syr Darya (Jaxartes),[31] and the Saka then supplied the Persian army with large number of mounted bowmen in the Achaemenid wars.[16] They were also mentioned as among those who resisted Alexander the Great's incursions into Central Asia.[27]

The Saka were known as the Sai (塞, sāi, sək in Old Sinitic) in ancient Chinese records.[32][33] These records indicate that they originally inhabited the Ili and Chu River valleys of modern Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. In the Chinese Book of Han, the area was called the "land of the Sai", i.e. the Saka.[34] The exact date of the Saka's arrival in the valleys of the rivers Ili and Chu in Central Asia is unclear, perhaps it was just before the reign of Darius I.[34] Around 30 Saka tombs in the form of kurgans (burial mounds) have also been found in the Tian Shan area dated to between 550–250 BC. Indications of Saka presence have also been found in the Tarim Basin region, possibly as early as the 7th century BC.[25]

The Saka were pushed out of the Ili and Chu River valleys by the Indo-European Yuezhi, thought by some to be Tocharians. An account of the movement of these people is given in Sima Qian's Shiji. The Yuezhi, who originally lived between Tängri Tagh (Tian Shan) and Dunhuang of Gansu, China,[35] were assaulted and forced to flee from the Hexi Corridor of Gansu by the Mongolic forces of the Xiongnu ruler Modu Chanyu, who conquered the area in 177-176 BC.[36][37][38][39] In turn the Yuezhi were responsible for attacking and pushing the Sai (i.e. Saka) west into Sogdiana, where around 140 and 130 BC the latter crossed the Syr Darya into Bactria. The Saka also moved southwards towards to the Pamirs and northern India where they settled in Kashmir, and eastwards to settle in some of the oasis city-states of Tarim Basin sites like Yanqi (焉耆, Karasahr) and Qiuci (龜茲, Kucha).[40][41] The Yuezhi, themselves under attacks from another nomadic tribe the Wusun in 133-132 BC, moved again from the Ili River and Chu River valleys and occupied the country of "Daxia" (大夏) or Bactria.[34][42]

The ancient Greco-Roman geographer Strabo noted that the four tribes that took down the Bactrians in the Greek and Roman account – the Asioi, Pasianoi, Tokharoi and Sakaraulai – came from land north of Syr Darya where the Ili and Chu valleys are located.[6][34] It may not be simple to identify these four tribes, but Sakaraulai may indicate an ancient Saka tribe, the Tokharoi is possibly the Yuezhi, and while the Asioi had been proposed to be groups such as the Wusun or Alans.[6][43]

Grousset wrote of the migration of the Saka: "the Saka, under pressure from the Yueh-chih [Yuezhi], overran Sogdiana and then Bactria, there taking the place of the Greeks." Then, "Thrust back in the south by the Yueh-chih," the Saka occupied "the Saka country, Sakastana, whence the modern Persian Seistan."[6] According to Harold W. Bailey, the territory of Drangiana (in modern Afghanistan and Pakistan) became known as "Land of the Sakas",[26] and was called Sakastāna in the Persian language of contemporary Iran, in Armenian as Sakastan, with similar equivalents in Pahlavi, Greek, Sogdian, Syriac, Arabic, and the Middle Persian tongue used in Turfan, Xinjiang, China.[26] This is attested in a contemporary Kharosthi inscription found on the Mathura lion capital belonging to the Saka kingdom of the Indo-Scythians (200 BC - 400 AD) in northern India,[26] roughly the same time the Chinese record that the Saka had invaded and settled the country of Jibin 罽賓 (i.e. Kashmir, of modern-day India and Pakistan).[44]

Migrations of the 2nd and 1st century BCE have left traces in Sogdia and Bactria, but they cannot firmly be attributed to the Saka, similarly with the sites of Sirkap and Taxila in ancient India. The rich graves at Tillya Tepe in Afghanistan are seen as part of a population affected by the Saka.[45]

Indo-Scythians[edit]

Main article: Indo-Scythians

Tadeusz Sulimirski notes that the Saka also migrated to North India.[46] Weer Rajendra Rishi, an Indian linguist, identified linguistic affinities between Indian and Central Asian languages, which further lends credence to the possibility of historical Sakan influence in North India.[46][47] According to historian Michael Mitchiner, the Abhira tribe were a Saka people cited in the Gunda inscription of the Western Satrap Rudrasimha I dated to 181 CE.[48]

Kingdom of Khotan[edit]

Main article: Kingdom of Khotan
Coin of Gurgamoya, king of Khotan. Khotan, 1st century CE.
Obv: Kharosthi legend, "Of the great king of kings, king of Khotan, Gurgamoya.
Rev: Chinese legend: "Twenty-four grain copper coin". British Museum

The Kingdom of Khotan was a Saka city state in on the southern edge of the Tarim Basin. As a consequence of the Han–Xiongnu War spanning from 133 BC to 89 AD, the Tarim Basin region of Xinjiang in Northwest China, including Khotan and Kashgar, fell under Han Chinese influence, beginning with the reign of Emperor Wu (r. 141-87 BC) of the Han Dynasty.[49][50] During the later Tang dynasty, the region once again came under Chinese suzerainty with the campaigns of conquest by Emperor Taizong of Tang (r. 626-649).[51] From the late 8th to 9th centuries, the region changed hands between the Chinese Tang Empire and the rival Tibetan Empire.[52][53] However, by the early 11th century the region fell to the Muslim Turkic peoples of the Kara-Khanid Khanate, which led to both the Turkification of the region as well as its conversion from Buddhism to Islam.

A document from Khotan written in Khotanese Saka, part of the Eastern Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages, listing the animals of the Chinese zodiac in the cycle of predictions for people born in that year; ink on paper, early 9th century

Archaeological evidence and documents from Khotan and other sites in the Tarim Basin provided information on the language spoken by the Saka.[26][54] The official language of Khotan was initially Gandhari Prakrit written in the Kharosthi script, and coins from Khotan dated to the 1st century bear dual inscriptions in Chinese and Gandhari Prakrit, indicating links of Khotan to both India and China.[55] Surviving documents however suggest that an Iranian language was used by the people of the kingdom for a long time Third-century AD documents in Prakrit from nearby Shanshan record the title for the king of Khotan as hinajha (i.e. "generalissimo"), a distinctively Iranian-based word equivalent to the Sanskrit title senapati, yet nearly identical to the Khotanese Saka hīnāysa attested in later Khotanese documents.[55] This, along with the fact that the king's recorded regnal periods were given as the Khotanese kṣuṇa, "implies an established connection between the Iranian inhabitants and the royal power," according to the Professor of Iranian Studies Ronald E. Emmerick.[55] He contended that Khotanese-Saka-language royal rescripts of Khotan dated to the 10th century "makes it likely that the ruler of Khotan was a speaker of Iranian."[55] Furthermore, he elaborated on the early name of Khotan:

The name of Khotan is attested in a number of spellings, of which the oldest form is hvatana, in texts of approximately the 7th to the 10th century AD written in an Iranian language itself called hvatana by the writers. The same name is attested also in two closely related Iranian dialects, Sogdian and Tumshuq...Attempts have accordingly been made to explain it as Iranian, and this is of some importance historically. My own preference is for an explanation connecting it semantically with the name Saka, for the Iranian inhabitants of Khotan spoke a language closely related to that used by the used by the Sakas in the north-west of India from the first century B.C. onwards.[55]

Later Khotanese-Saka-language documents, ranging from medical texts to Buddhist literature, have been found in Khotan and Tumshuq (northeast of Kashgar).[56] Similar documents in the Khotanese-Saka language dating mostly to the 10th century have been found in Dunhuang.[57]

Although the ancient Chinese had called Khotan Yutian (于闐), another more native Iranian name occasionally used was Jusadanna (瞿薩旦那), derived from Indo-Iranian Gostan and Gostana, the names of the town and region around it, respectively.[58]

Shule Kingdom[edit]

Main article: Shule Kingdom

Much like the neighboring people of the Kingdom of Khotan, people of Kashgar, the capital of Shule, spoke Saka, one of the Eastern Iranian languages.[59] According to the Book of Han, the Saka split and formed several states in the region. These Saka states may include two states to the northwest of Kashgar, and Tumshuq to its northeast, and Tushkurgan south in the Pamirs.[60]

In 127 AD Shule began to pay tribute to the Eastern Han.[61] It also conquered other neighbouring states such as Yarkand and Kusha towards the end of the Han dynasty. However, in its later history, it formed part of greater empires as a vassal state in its later history. In the 5th century Shule first came under the influence of the Hephthalite Empire, and then the Gokturks of the early Turkic Khaganate to whom they paid tribute.[62] In the 7th and 8th centuries, Shule was controlled by the Chinese Tang dynasty after their invasion and the formation of the Protectorate of the Western Regions and Four Garrisons of Anxi,[63][64][65][66][67] followed by the Tibetan Empire during the 7th and 8th centuries,[68][66] and finally the Kara-Khanid Khanate of the 10th century, a Muslim Turkic power that ushered in the Islamicisation and Turkicisation of Xinjiang. According to Mahmud al-Kashgari within Kashgar's vicinity, some non-Turkic languages like the Kanchaki and Sogdian were still used in some areas.[69] It is believed that the Saka language group was what Kanchaki belonged to.[60] It is believed that the Tarim Basin was linguistically Turkified before the 11th century terminated.[70]

Language[edit]

Main article: Saka language
Drawing of the Issyk inscription

Attestations of Saka show that it was an Eastern Iranian language. Both dialects contain many borrowings from the Middle Indo-Aryan Prakrit, but also share features with modern Wakhi and Pashto.[71] The Issyk inscription, a short fragment on a silver cup found in the Issyk kurgan (modern Kazakhstan) is believed to be an early example of Saka, constituting one of very few autochthonous epigraphic traces of that language.[citation needed] The inscription is in a variant of the Kharoṣṭhī script. Harmatta identifies the dialect as Khotanese Saka, tentatively translating its as: "The vessel should hold wine of grapes, added cooked food, so much, to the mortal, then added cooked fresh butter on".[72]

The linguistic heartland of the Saka language was the Kingdom of Khotan, which had two dialects, corresponding to the major settlements at Khotan (modern Hotan) and Tumshuq (Tumxuk).[73][74] The Saka heartland was gradually conquered during the Turkic expansion, beginning in the 4th century and the area was gradually "Turkified" linguistically (under the Uighurs).

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Variants include Sacha.[1]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

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  7. ^ Herodotus Book VII, 64
  8. ^ Naturalis Historia, VI, 19, 50
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External links[edit]