O. Bubenok
The Jases and Brodniks in the Steppes of
Eastern Europe (6th - beginning of 13th centuries)


This monograph is devoted to the Iranophone population of the Eastern European steppes (from the Danube to the Volga) in pre-Mongol times. Old Rus?ian documents called them Jases before the middle of 12th century whereas European and Oriental authors knew them as Alans as well as Jases. Old Rus?ian chroniclers did not apply the ethnonym Jas with regard to the inhabitants of Eastern Europe in the second half of the 12th — beginning of the 13th century. It was then that a new term — Brodniks — appeared in the Old Rus?ian chronicles and European documents. The Jases of the Eastern European steppes were investigated by V. N. Tatishchev, M. V. Karamzin, V. P. Butkov, V. F. Miller, Yu. A. Kulakovskiy, A. A. Spitsin, Yu. V. Gotie, M. V. Mavrodin, S. A. Pletneva, and other scholars. Many researchers of the Jas ethnos of the Eastern European steppes in the 10-12th centuries indicated its genetic connection with the later Brodniks. It should be pointed out that the Iranophone population of this region has not yet been an object of a separate monographic investigation. The present work is completely devoted to this problem. The main task of the investigation is to ascertain the co-relation between the Jases of the Eastern European steppes and the Brodniks. The book also aims to solve problems concerning the ethnogeny of the Eastern European Alans-Jases, their location, cultural attribution, the degree of influence of the medieval Alan's traditions on the culture of the Eastern European population. The data of narrative documents as well as the results of archeological, ethnographic, anthropological and linguistic research were engaged for the solution of these problems.

Chapter 1. The Descendants of Iranophone nomads in the steppes of Eastern Europe (6th-9th centuries)

Written sources did not mention the beginnings of the Alans-Jases as inhabitants of the Eastern European steppes from the 6th-10th century. However this does not mean that the Iranophone population completely disappeared from this territory after the Hunnic invasion. It is quite possible that the descendants of the Sarmatians-Alans depended politically on the Turkophone newcomers at the time and therefore narrative documents of early Middle Ages did not mention them. The data of written sources as well as the results of archeological excavations and chronological investigations of the population of that epoch support the view that the aborigines partially continned to reside in the former places of their inhabitancy. Their culture to some extent influenced the traditions of the peoples of Azov Bulgaria and the Khazar Kaganate. Some barrow burials of the 5th-8th centuries in the Lower Volga region as well as a burial ground near the town of Sterlitamak in Bashkiria are highly remarkable. Archaeological excavations carried out in the Lower Dnieper region in the valley of Kantserka show that a group of Alans could have moved from the Northern Caucasus to the Northern Black Sea steppes in the 6th century. However the catacomb burials of the Saltov type that are analogous to the Northern Caucasian ones were not characteristic of this territory during the Khazar period (7th-10th centuries). It was here that at that time pit burials of the Zlivkian type became widespread. The results of analysis of the burial ceremony and anthropological investigations on the burials of the Saltov culture beside the town of Sarkel, villages of Mayaki, Sidorovo, Zlivki, and so on are evidence in favor of the Sarmatians-Alans of the pre-Hunnic epoch, the descendants of steppe aborigines, as well as the newcomer Bulgars as being the bearers of the steppe variant of the Saltov culture. Therefore the ethnogeny of the Jases of the Eastern European steppes in the 10th-12th centuries should be associated first of all with the descendants of Sarmatians-Alans and not with the early Medieval Alans of the Northern Caucasus.

Chapter 2. Ethnogenic Aspects of the Alan-Jas Problem

There is no common opinion among the modern researchers concerning the origins of the ethnonyms "As" and "Jas". It is also not clear what the language of the Eastern European Ases in pre-Mongol times was. The traditional approach is as follows: Jases, Ases and Alans were one and the same people who spoke an Eastern-Iranic language which is very close to modern Ossetian. However I. M. Miziev and some other researchers surmise that Eastern European as well as the Northern Caucasian Jases (Ases) were a people of the Turkic origin and they could not be genetically relationed to the ancestors of the Ossetians. As a proof of this data on the presence of the particle "As" in the names of Turkic-speaking peoples is quoted. The information of V. N. Tatishchev is also mentioned. He writes that the second wife of Andrey Bogolubsky was Jasynia ("Jas-woman") whom Old Rus?ian chronicles called Bolgarka ("Bolgar-woman"). I. M. Miziev refers also to an Old Rus?ian translator of "The History of the Judaic War" by Joseph Flavius who wrote in the end of 12th century that the Jases had had descended from the Pechenegs. However a critical analysis refutes the originality of such an approach to this problem. Firstly, V. F. Miller still in 19th century on the basis of the data of narrative sources pointed out that medieval sources considered the Jases, Ases and Alans as one and the same people. In this connection the opinion of O. Pritsak roused special interest. He considers that the term "Jas" is the Huno-Bulgarian variant of the ethnonym "As". V. F. Minorsky supposed that ethnic term "As" through the intermediate form "ars" was connected with the Sarmatic ethnonym "aors". Proceeding from this we could suppose that the name "As" arose in environment of the medieval Alans independently from any Turkic influence. Secondly, the use of V. N. Tatishchev's "History" as a historical source is methodologically flawed. There is no indication of Jasynia as a wife of Andrey Bogolubsky in any of the Old Rus?ian chronicles that have reached us. Thirdly, Jases and Pechenegs naturally do not appear in the original text of "The History of Judaic War" by Joseph Flavius. Instead of this he wrote that "the Alan people were a Scythian tribe". Speaking about the language of the Eastern European Jases as an Iranian one should keep in mind that the Old Rus?ian chroniclers mention Ambal Jasin, whose name in Ossetian means "comrade", as one of the killers of Andrey Bogolubsky. However the opinion of researchers who consider the names of the Alano-Polovcian fortresses "Sharukan" and "Sugrov" as of Ossetian origin should be recognized as erroneous. The supposition of N. Aristov seems to be more preferable. He regards these names as having originated from the names of Polovcian Khans of Sharukan and Sugr who were repeatedly mentioned by Old Rus?ian chronicles.

Chapter 3. The Alans of the Don forest-steppe region and their relation to Jases of the Southern European steppes

Considering the problem of the Southern Rus? Jases' ethnogeny one should not miss the points that in the 8th-10th centuries a considerable group of Iranophone population existed in neighborhood with the steppe in the forest and steppe region of the Don and which was in direct genetic relation with the Northern Caucasian Alans. Some researchers expressed the opinion that the Alans of the Don forest-steppe region were Turkicized during the Khazar epoch by the Khazars and Bulgars. As a proof runic inscriptions on the walls of the Mayatsky castle are pointed out. They are written allegedly in a Turkic language. However these texts have no equivalent in another language and they are very fragmentary which prevents to read them in any language including Ossetian. Pit burials that are on the territory of some catacomb burials of the Saltov culture are mentioned as the second argument for the Turkification of the Alans by the Bulgars. However the analysis of pit burials of the Upper Saltov burial shows that they belonged only to children. Artifacts and the anthropologic type of those buried in catacombs and ground pits are identical, which allows to connect them with one and the same group of population. It should be mentioned that the simultaneous existence of catacomb and pit infant burials was noted in the Northern Caucasus in burials dated within the first centuries A. D., i. e., the epoch when the written sources did not attest the appearance of the Bulgars in the historic sphere. It is so far not been clear by which name the Alans of the Don region went by in the narrative sources of the Khazar period. In this connection the ethnic term "Burtas" (cf. ardis) is of considerable interest. T. Lewicki and G. E. Afanas'ev translate it from Ossetian as "the descendants of the Ases", O. Pritsak and I. G. Dobrodomov as "the river Ases" and V. A. Bushakov as "the Ases separated". The ethnographic information of Oriental authors about Burtases coincides in some cases with the information about the traditions of the Alans and Ossetians. From the beginning of the 10th century narrative sources start mentioning Burtases as the inhabitants of the Middle Volga region. It was then that the Saltov population began moving from the Don forest-steppe region to the right bank of the Middle Volga according to the archeological data. This process became more intense in the second half of the 10th century. It could very well be connected with the fact that the settlements of the Upper Saltov type ceased to exist at that time. We should not neglect the information of S. A. Pletnyova and A. Z. Vinnikov in this situation. It follows from this that a certain part of the Saltov population could advance to the North into the environment of the Slavs in the 9th-10th centuries. So there is no reason to speak about the migration of the Alans of the Don forest-steppe region to the Southern steppes of Eastern Europe (particularly the steppes between the Don and the Volga).

Chapter IV. The Alans and Pechenegs (end of the 9th — beginning of the 11th centuries)

The Pechenegs, pressed by the Uzes, started advancing from the left bank of the Volga into the Volga and Danube steppe region in the second half of the 9th century. By the beginning of the 10th century the so-called "Turkic Pechenegs" occupied predominating positions in the steppes of the Northern Black Sea region; the so-called "Khazar Pechenegs" settled in the steppes of the Volga and Don region. According to the data of Chinese chronicles, the Alans and the Pechenegs-Kangars came into contacts with each other on the territory of Central Asia even in the first centuries A. D.. According to the data of Biruni and other authors, some Central Asian Alans could migrate to Eastern Europe together with the Pechenegs. Proceeding from the data of the Cambridge anonymous document and information of Nicholas the Mystic we could suppose that the Alans and the Pechenegs formed a common military coalition in the beginning of the 10th century. This supposition also confirms the statement of the Old Rus?ian translator of "The History of the Judaic War" by Joseph Flavius. O. Pritsak is even prone to think that the ruling clans of the Pechenegs — the Kangars, went over to the Alan language by the beginning of the 11th century. Archaeological investigations conducted in the Northern Black Sea region allow one to outline the boundaries of the European Pechenegs. The possessions of the Rus? began in the forest-steppe zone north of the Pe-chenegs. According to V. A. Ivanov the eastern boundary of the "Turkic Pechnegs" passed along the Seversky Donets and the Lower Don rivers, i. e., in the territory where historians traditionally localize the Alans. This supposition differs from the opinion of Yu. V. Gotie and S. A. Pletnyova. They think that the settlements of the Alans ceased their existence as the result of the Pecheneg invasion in the end of the 9th century. The Southern and Western boundaries of the Pecheneg territory could be defined on the basis of archaeological data and information in Constantine Porphyrogenitus. Some of the Pecheneg clans even penetrated the Crimea in the South, reaching the suburbs of Chersones, i. e., the place where the Crimean Alans should be located. The lands of the Dniester and Prut watersheds were subject to the Pechenegs in the West. They are known in the Old Rus? chronicles by the name "Great Scythia". The statements of Nicholas the Mystic as well as information of Constantine Porphyrogenitus on toponyms allows us to suppose that it was in this region that an Iranophone population remained in the first half of the 10th century. The anonymous author of the "Hudud al-'Alam" reports that Caucasian Alania was situated southwards of "the Khazarian Pechenegs" in the 10th century. Pechenegs could compose the garrison of the Khazarian fortress Sarkel in the Lower Don region. The results of archaeological excavations and the information of the Old Rus?ian chronicles favors the coexistence of the Pecheneg and Alan populations in the region of Sarkel up to the 10th century. In the first half of the 11th century the Turks and the Polovcians replaced Pechenegs in the Southern Rus?ian steppes. However in this time the Alans-Ases did not disappear from the steppes of Eastern Europe but were included into the new Polovtsian political union.

Chapter V. Alans-Ases in the Polovcian Ethnopolitical Union (middle of the 11th — beginning of 13th centuries)

The Old Rus?ian chronicles report that in 1111 and 1116 Volodimer Monomakh and his son Jaropolk carried out a campaign to the Polovcian steppe. They captured the Polovcian centers of Sharukan, Sugrov and Balin that were also populated by Jases. Some other sources also contain information about Alans-Ases of the Eastern Rus? steppes. Persian historians — Rashid ad-Din, Juweyni, Yezdi, Qazwini, European authors — Theodor, G. Rubruck, I. Barbaro and others report that the Alans and Ases as well as Polovcians resided in the steppes of Eastern Europe before the Mongol invasion. The problems concerning the localization of the Alano-Polovcian towns Sharukan, Sugrov and Balin roused numerous disputes among researchers. According to P. G. Butkov, V. F. Miller and other scholars, the mentioned centers were situated in the Lower Don region. However even in the 17th century V. N. Tatishchev, proceeding from the data of the Voskresensk and Hypatian chronicles, drew the conclusion that the settlements of the Ases should be sought on the Seversky Donets and not on the Don river. Exactly because of this V. N. Sibilyov and M. K. Kudryashov supposed that Sharukan, Sugrov and Balin were situated on the middle of the Seversky Donets. However the version of N. Gorodtsov, V. V. Mavrodin, S. A. Pletnyova, O. Pritsak is more likely. According to it, Sharukan and Sugrov were situated near Khar'kov in the region of the modern town of Zmiev. It is necessary to proceed from the fact that the name of Sharukan was Cheshuev in 1116. According to O. Pritsak, this name could be the translation into Old Rus?ian of the word "Sharukan", which in Altaic languages signifies "Dragon, Snake". Narrative sources report that the Southern Rus? Jases adhered to the Eastern Orthodox creed. In this connection the burials near the village of Haydary, near Zmiev, villages Mayaky, Sydorovo, Zlyvky on the middle of the Seversky Donets, Kamenka in the Lower Dnieper and Limbar in Moldavia are of special interest. The Christian burial ceremony and the Zlyvkian anthropological type for the majority of the buried allow us to associate these necropoles with the Jases, the descendants of the bearers of Saltov culture. The Polovcians and their allies the Alans-Ases bitterly resisted the Mongol conquerors in the first half of the 13th century. However historical chronicles of that time did not report the total annihilation of the Alan-Ases population of the Southern Rus?ian steppes.

Chapter VI. Jases in Rus?

The Old Rus?ian chronicles mention the Jases in Rus? sub anno 1145, 1175, 1182 and 1205. There is no common opinion among researchers concerning the problem of the origin of these Alans. However the data of the Old Rus?ian chronicles and the results of archaeological excavations point to the conclusion that the Alans-Ases repeatedly migrated into Rus? from other territories of Eastern Europe and the Northern Caucasus. The data of archaeological excavations carried out in the Don foreststeppe region show that even in the 8th-10th centuries the separate groups of Alans, the bearers of the Saltov culture could migrate into the sphere of the Borschev culture. According to the data of the First Novgorod and the Patriarch chronicles, the Kyiv prince Svjatoslav could resettle the Jases to Kyiv in 965 after a campaign against the Khazars. According to the information of the Nikon chronicle, Jaroslav brought an insignificant part of the Jases to Rus?, possibly into the basin of the river Ros? in 1116 as a result of a successful military campaign in the Northwestern Caucasus in 1026. Jaropolk having accomplished a campaign against Polovcians in 1116 resettled his coreligionist Jases from the "Don" (the Donets) to the territory of Rus? possibly into his possession — the territory of the Pereyaslav principality. Proceeding from the appearance of this event in many chronicles we can draw the conclusion about the mass character of this migration. Jaropolk brought also the wife Helen Jaska from the same campaign. She is mentioned by chronicles sub anno 1145. Until now it is not clear where the Jases originated from. The chronicles mentioned them as inhabitants of Rus? in 1175, 1182 and 1205. Possibly they originated in the middle Volga region. They migrated to Rus? as a result of campaign of Andrey Bogolubsky against Volga Bulgaria in 1164. In this respect a Christian burial place of the 12th century near the town of Bolgary is of special interest. In many aspects it is analogous to the synchronic necropolises of Caucasian Alania. Possibly the mentioned Jases could also have originated from the environment of the Alans-Burtases of Midle Volga region — all the more so because up to the middle of the 13th century the ethnonym "Burtas" was not known in Rus?. Repeated mentions of the Jases as inhabitants of Rus? by the chronicles make it possible to suppose that they were assimilated by the Slavs in the course of time.

Chapter 7. The Burtases and Brodniks in the Volga-Danube steppes (9th — beginning of 13th centuries)

A regular question appears in this situation: by which name could Oriental authors of the 9th-12th centuries and Rus?ian chronicles refer to the Alans-Ases of the Southern Rus?ian steppes. In connection with this of special interest are the terms "Burtas" in Arabic and Persian texts of the 9th-12th centuries and "Brodniks" Old Rus?ian chronicles sub anno 1147, 1203 and 1223. The data of "Hudud al-'Alam", Ibn Haukal, Istakhri and other Oriental authors provide the localization of Burtases not only in the forest-steppe zone and on the Middle Volga but also in the steppes of the Volga-Don region in the immediate neighborhood of the Khazars. Besides this some Oriental sources provide information which allows one to consider some Burtases as inhabitants of the steppe. Cattle breeding and trade were their main occupations. In this connection a question appears: could the ethnonym "Burtas—f.rtas" itself indicate the occupation of its bearers? Proceeding from the fact that the bearers of this ethnic name could be Alans-Ases there is reason to try to explain it relying upon the data of Iranian linguistics. It is quite possible that the first part of the term "F.rt -" could be an Avesta word, peretu, transformed in the Eastern Iranian environment. It means "ford, bridge, passage". From this we have the following conclusion: the ethnonym "F.rt-as" could represent the self-designation of the Eastern European Alans — "Ases who served on river crossings". In this case it is appropriate to recall information of the Old Rus? chronicles and European documents on the Brodniks. According to their data, Brodniks inhabited the Don and Azov region as well as the Dniester-Danube watersheds in the second half of the 12th — the beginning of the 13th centuries. Information on the distribution of the settlements of the Brodniks agrees with the information of Oriental, Western European and Old Rus?ian written sources on the localization of Burtases, Alans-Ases and Jases in the Southern Rus?ian steppes. It is quite possible that the term "Brodniks" represented the translation into the Rus?ian language the self-designation of the Eastern European Alans — "F.rt-as". This name itself reminds that in the Middle Ages trade was often concentrated on the banks of rivers at crossings or fords. The Eastern Slavonic term as well as indication of some documents on the Brodniks as Eastern Orthodox and a branch of the Rus? allows one to suppose that the Slavonic element in this union became more significant by the beginning of the 13th century. Civil conflicts waged by the princes of Old Rus? and which engaged Christians — Brodniks in pre-Mongol times could also promote this. In such clashes the Brodniks served as mercenaries. Thus there is reason to speak about genetical relation of Burtases, Alans-Ases, Jases and Brodniks.

In place of a conclusion

Elements of Scythian-Sarmatian-Alan culture
in traditions of the peoples of Eastern Europe

From this research it follows that the Alans-Ases could have been in cultural and ethnical interaction with a number of peoples in Eastern Europe during the early Middle Ages. First of all this applies to the population of the Volga-Don and Northern Black Sea regions. In this connection information of ethnographic nature is of particular interest. The notes of European and Oriental travelers who visited Eastern Europe in pre-Mongol times (including Movses Kalankatuaci, Ibn Fadlan, Julian), containing such information, should be ranked among these authors. The value of such information lies in the fact that they visited peoples who were under the influence of the Alans for long periods and they recorded a number of old Iranian customs that have not survived to the present. The data of ethnologists who studied contemporary peoples of the Volga and Don basins and the Northern Black Sea region are not of less importance for the revelation of the relicts of the Sarmato-Alan culture. Archeological material is very useful for finding out the time of the appearance of a number of innovations. The least studied is the population of the Left Bank of the Middle Volga. A group of Burtases were located there from the 10th until 17th centuries. It is reasonable to see in them the descendants of the Alans-Ases. There are reasons to associate the spread of some traditions in culture and ideology of the Tatars-Mishars, Mordva-Moksha and the Chuvashes with the stay here of the Alans-Burtases and not with the influence of Scyths and Sarmatians, in spite of the fact that this region was the location of a number of tribes of Scythian and Sarmatian origin in the pre-Hunic period. There are some reasons to consider the existing parallels in ideology, material and spiritual culture of the ethnic groups of the Right Bank region of the Middle Volga and the peoples of Iranian origin in particular Ossetians as the result of these contacts. Among the similiarities are some burial traditions: self-torment, ceremony of initiation of the widow to the dead, sitting around a mannequin dressed in the clothing of the dead, ritual purifying in the bath after the funeral and so on. Common elements are present in the clothing of the Tatars-Mishars, Chuvashes as well as the Alans and Ossetians: high pointed headgear, outer clothing of the kaftan type with stand-up collar, narrow belts with metal plates with adornments hung to them and so on. The ethnological and linguistical data show that the Tatars-Mishars are the closest to the modern Ossetians and the medieval Alans in culture and language among all the peoples of the Middle Volga. Proceeding from this the Alans-Burtases should be considered as a substantial element in the ethnogeny of the Tatars-Mishars. The Eastern Slavs who were the northern neighbors of the Medieval Alans did not remain on the sideline with respect to ethnic interrelations with the Alans. Proceeding from this we should suppose that ethnic and cultural relations between the Southern branch of the East Slavs and Iranians-Jasians must have been due to more than chance contacts. Confirmation of this should be sought in peculiarities of language and culture of that group of Slavs who lived adjacent to the Iranian world for a long time, that is, the population of the steppe and forest-steppe zones of Russia and Ukraine. The long contacts between Iranian peoples and the Slavs that existed in the Middle Ages are reflected in the languages of the Ukrainians and the south Russians. This is noticeable especially in phonetics and lexical material. The Old Rus?ian chronicles have brought to us the names of Slav deities, some of whom are easily explained by the data of Iran linguistics. It is characteristic that up to recent times East Slavs and Ossetians have had many common features in their ideological views. This is especially noticeable in burial ceremonies. Possibly some topics in the Ukrainian folklore should be connected with the Alan influence. For example, the Narte epic of Ossetians and other Caucasian peoples have some analogies with Ukrainian folklore. The figure of Viy recorded by N. V. Gogol is remarkable in this respect. According to the opinion of V. I. Abayev, Viy could be connected in his origin with the Ossetian Vayug and the Indo-European God Vayu. Researchers have noted the some common features in culture of Irano-Caucasian peoples with the Ukrainians and south Russians. First of allthere is the traditional plain dwellings of Ukrainian peasants' — the khata. According to the opinion of linguists the term khata is a late Iranian borrowing. This provides the foundation for associating the appearance of this innovation with the Alanian influence. One may note some common features in furniture and decoration of the Ukrainian khata and dwellings of Northern Caucasian and Central Asian peoples. In the first place this concerns the construction of the flue, the ornamentation of carpets, peculiarities of furniture and so on. The Ukrainian low round table is very notable in this respect. It finds direct analogies in the furniture of the Alans and Ossetians. Special attention should be paid to the almost complete identity of the Ukrainian and Northern Caucasian heavy plough in the context of Alano-Slavonic economic and cultural contacts. Also some common features in the clothing of the peoples of the Caucasian region and of Ukrainians have been noticed. In particular, there are grounds for connecting the origin of the pointed khata of the East Slavs with the helmet-looking one of the Alans and other Iranophone peoples. Proceeding from the above-mentioned we can suppose that ethnic-cultural contacts of Ukrainians and southern Russians with the Alans as well as the other peoples of the Northern Caucasus and Southern Rus?ian steppes went uninterrupted even in the Middle Ages. As a result of this investigation it is established that from the 6th until the 13th centuries the Alans-Ases maintained a presence in the region of the Lower Don and Middle Volga as well as in the steppes of the Azov and the Northern Black Sea region. The main conclusion of this study in the following: in the pre-Mongol epoch the Eastern European Alans were not homogenous in their composition. They were the descendants of the autochtons of the Eastern European steppes — the Sarmatians as well as the Alans-Ases of the early Middle Ages who migrated from the Northern Caucasus and Central Asia. The data of written documents makes it possible to state that the Iranophone inhabitants of the Southern Rus? steppes in pre-Mongol times would appear as Alans in European sources, as Burtases in Oriental sources of the 9th-10th centuries, as Ases in Persian historical works, and as Jases and Brodniks in the Old Rus?ian chronicles.

The Alans-Ases of the early Middle Ages did not disappear from the territory of Eastern Europe without leaving a trace. They played a certain role in the formation of the ethnic and cultural image of the Proto-Bulgars, Pechenegs, Tatars-Mishars, East Slavs, the Mordva and other groups.

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