Studies in the History and Language of the Sarmatians
J. Harmatta


3. Late Scythians and Sarmatians. The Amage Story

Apart from the fact that the context of Strabo's report clearly proves the simultaneity of the existence of a Western Sarmatian tribal confederacy under "Royal Sarmatian" leadership and of Mithridates' expansion, in the Pontic region, also from the historical events themselves, the outlines of a picture of this Western Sarmatian power stand out clearly from the end of the second century B. C. The appearance of Mithridates' generals and armies in the Greek cities of the northern coastal regions of the Black Sea was the last phase of a long historical process. From the second half


of the fourth century B. C. [42] the power of the Scythians was being steadily crushed by the new swarms of Iranian tribes advancing westward. Under the ever-growing pressure the Scythians were pushed more and more towards the West and South. Into this picture come undoubtedly the wars of Atheas, the Scythian king, along the lower course of the Danube against the Istrians and Triballians and lastly against Philip, King of Macedonia. That these are no longer merely predatory raids can be seen from the considerable booty looted by Philip at the defeat of Atheas; according to the report of Trogus Pompeius (Iustinus IX 2, 15): 20.000 Scythian women and children were taken prisoner and a large number of cattle captured. This shows that the Scythians had drawn the lower Danube with their families and livestock, evidently to seek new territories instead of the abandoned Donets region. The natural consequence of giving up first the Donets and eventually the Dnieper region was the split of the Scythians into, two parts.

One part retired to the Crimea while the other occupied the Dobrudja. [43] Both territories were well suited by their geographic position to offer points of vantage to smaller fractions of peoples to ward off attacks coming from the waves of the Migration of Peoples from the East. The Dobrudja known also by writers of late Antiquity as "Little Scythia", was held by the Scythians until the Roman Conquest, but also the other branch offered staunch resistance to the Sarmatians in the Crimea, which also bore for a time the name of Little Scythia. Thus the process of disintegration of the Scythian Empire is now clear, the remaining question, however, is the manner of how Mithridates' expansion in the Pontus comes into this and what the role of the above described strong Sarmatian power was.

In consequence of the advance of the Sarmatians, the good relations between the Greek cities of the Pontus and the Scythians which had existed for a long period, came to a speedy end. The Scythians, in consequence of their loss of valuable territories and economic resources, were more and more obliged to keep themselves above water by imposing levies on the Greek cities which they tried to bring under their power as bases for their struggle against the Sarmatians. [44] Glimpses into these events may be obtained from the Protogenes inscription and from one of the Polyainos narratives. According to the latter (VIII 56), the Chersonesians applied to Amage, queen of the Sarmatians for help in the face of the hostile attitude of the Crimean Scythian king and concluded an "alliance" with her. Amage first sent an order to the Scythian king requesting him to abstain from harassing Chersonese and when this proved of no avail, she appeared unexpectedly at the head of a small cavalry force, at the Scythian king's quarters, had the king put to death and set the dead king's son in his place as ruler of the Scythians ordering him to live in peace with the Greeks and the other neighbouring barbarians.

The date of this story is of great importance from the viewpoint of its value and of the interpretation of the events contained in it. Rostovtzeff endeavours to prove that the historical situation reflected in the Amage story corresponds to the third century B. C, and that the Sarmatians actually fought as the allies of Chersonese against the Scythians. [45] However, the character of Polyainos' narrative does not bear out this supposition. It is nevertheless true that the Chersonesians become "allies" of the Sarmatian queen, yet there is no mention of a joint warfare. Amage

Additional Notes

To p. 16. On Atheas and the Western Scythians cf. T. V. Blavatskaya: VDI 1948/1. 206 foll., B. N., Grakov:  Moscow 1954. 9 foll., D. M. Pippidi: Epigraphische Beiträge 61—64, D. B. Shelov: NS 2 (1965) 16 foll., D. P. Kallistov: VDI 1969/1. 124 foll. With his well-known aversion against Scythians Pippidi denies the occupation by Atheas of the Dobrudja, while Kallistov restricts the rule of this Scythian king exactly to this territory. By the way it should be mentioned that neither I myself said (cf. Das Volk der Sadagaren. 25 foll.) nor M. Rostovtzeff (whose argumentation in Iranians and Greeks in South Russia, 86 foll., 105 foll, was summarized by me loc. cit.) asserted anywhere that Poroina lies in the Dobrudja as Pippidi ascribed to me (Epigraphische Beiträge 62, note 10). Rostovtzeff supposed in my opinion correctly that the territory of the Scythian state in the Dobrudja also included the land north of the Danube. Therefore, he also reckoned (p. 86) the rhyton from Poroina to the archaeological remains of the Scythian state the centre of which was lying in the Dobrudja. Otherwise, it is to be regretted that my remarks putting the rhyton from Poroina in another historical context (cf. Studies on the History of the Sarmatians. 23 and here p. 29 above) escaped the attention of Pippidi.

42. See J. Harmatta, Quellenstudien zu den Skythika des Herodot. Budapest, 1941. p. 52.

43. J. Harmatta, Das Volk der Sadagaren: Analecta or. mem. A. Csoma de Kőrös dicata, Budapest, 1942. pp. 24.

44. See Rostovtzeff, CAH VIII, 514.

45. Skythien und der Bosporus I, pp. 123.


simply instructs the Crimean Scythian king to cease hostilities against the Chersonesians and when he does not comply with the order, she does not wage war against him as might be expected in the case of a hostile power, but instead she chastises the refractory ruler at the head of a small cavalry unit and bids his successor to abstain from every hostile interference with the neighbouring Greeks and Barbarians. These details show the Sarmatians in such absolutely superior forces over the Greeks and Scythians, that the latter can hardly be thought to have been independent political factors of equal strength to the Sarmatians. Amage's attitude towards the Scythian king clearly proves that he had been her vassal. It is comprehensible only so that she should have tried to put a stop to hostilities by a simple order and only in this case was it possible to settle the matter by enforcing reprisals against the Scythian king and his entourage and only so could she place another ruler at the head of the Scythians. Amage, in consequence, did not wish to annihilate the Scythians, she merely wanted to see her interests with regard to Chersonese safeguarded.

Thus there can be no question of the Crimean Scythians having been the common enemy of both the Sarmatians and the Chersonesians, from which it follows that there is little likelihood of the Chersonesians being the equals of the Sarmatians in an alliance. On the strength of the character of the Polyainos narrative these "allied" relations should rather be given an interpretation according to which the Chersonesians, seeking protection against the Crimean Scythian king, the vassal of the Sarmatian queen, appealed to her and so became themselves vassals of the Sarmatians () [46]. It is thus comprehensible that there was no question of any largescale campaign since the Sarmatian queen only wished for peace between her two vassals and this she attained easily by compelling the Scythian king to obedience, or rather by having him put to death for his disobedience.

Now the only remaining question is at what date the political situation unfolding from the narrative of Polyainos, may be put. There can hardly be any question of the third century B. C., which Rostovtzeff suggested. It is difficult to imagine that the Scythians or the Chersonesians should have been Sarmatian vassals at so early a date. What serious force the Scythians still represented even after the defeat at the hand of Philip at the end of the fourth century B. C., is clearly shown by the fact that they could inflict a shattering defeat at the Battle of Olbia upon the army of 30,000 of Zopyrion, a general of Alexander the Great. [47] That the Scythians at that time had fought in defence of Olbia is a proof of their having then been the protectors of the Greek cities in the Western part of the Pontic region. Though the power of the Scythians may have dwindled considerably in the course of the third century, nevertheless they still meant a menace to Olbia, according to the testimony of the Protogenes inscription from the beginning of the second century. [48] Olbia at that time already paid a heavy tribute to the Saii, a Sarmatian tribe. At the same time also Chersonese had been an independent power, as is seen from the pact (of 179 B. C.) between the

46. It is worth observing that also according to Polyainos' own text it was the Chersonesians who had "asked for leave" to be the "allies" of the Sarmatian queen owing to the hostilities of the Scythians, thus the conclusion of this alliance was but an appeal for help. That  namely "alliance, allies", after all merely conceal the fact of vassaldom, in itself is nothing remarkable, in view of the linguistic usage of those times. We find also in the official language of inscriptions in connection with the Greek vassals of Rome the words , see e. g. Dittenberger, Syll. No. 67418, 41, No 7648, etc.

47. Iustinus XII. 2, 16; Curtius X. 1, 44: Marcobius Sat. I 11, 33.

48. Dittenberger, Syll. No. 495106.


powers of the Pontic region, in which they figure as an independent signatory party. [49] We also know that Chersonese at that time was under heavy Scythian pressure and was for this reason obliged somewhat later to conclude a pact with Pharnaces I. in virtue of which the king at the request of the Chersonesians was to help the latter against the barbarians. [50] These events thus reflect a political situation vastly different from that of the Polyainos narrative, and so we cannot put the Amage story at this or any earlier date.

About half a century later, we find an entirely new situation but this also differs very distinctly from the historical background of the Polyainos narrative. By then the power of the Crimean Scythians had essentially increased, and the area in their sway extended as far as the Dnieper, in fact Olbia also had at a time been under their supremacy, as can be ascertained from the coins which their king Skiluros had minted. [51] This state of things, however, changed considerably somewhat later. Again the power of the Crimean Scythians had been completely shrunk and the generals of Mithridates finally broke the power of the Scythians and incorporated their territory into the Bosporan kingdom. [52] We have, however, a clue to the Crimean Scythian kingdom having no longer been an independent power even in the period between the collapse of the Crimean Scythian kingdom of Skiluros and the appearance of the generals of Mithridates. According to Strabo's report (VII 23, 17) it was the Roxolani who hastened to the help of Palakos, son of Skiluros, against Diophantos, Mithridates' general. Knowing about that long struggle carried on by the Sarmatians and Scythians and bearing in mind that the Roxolani only formed the Eastern wing of a big Sarmatian tribal confederacy, the conjecture that the Roxolani went to the help of the Crimean Scythians as an independent power becomes highly improbable. If earlier hostile relations between Scythians and Sarmatians had changed to the opposite, this could only have happened by the Crimean Scythians having become vassals of the powerful Pontic Sarmatian empire, which in its turn came to their help later against Mithridates. [53]

Thus it seems most probable that at the time just preceding the appearance of Mithridates in the Pontus, the Crimean Scythian kingdom had indeed been the vassal of the Sarmatians, which hypothesis is borne out by the Amage story. However, we may not place the Polyainos narrative into this epoch despite this. The Chersonesians — as we know from Strabo's report (VII 4, 3) — after their city had been ravaged by the Barbarians (that is when Theodosia for a short time came into Scythian hands) were obliged to ask for the help of Mithridates Eupator. This fact is in gross contradiction to the political situation such as is seen from the Amage story. While the Sarmatians at the time seemed willing to accept the protectorship over Chersonese and also to ward off their other vassal, the Scythians, on the other hand the Chersonesians in this case had to apply for help elsewhere. This points to the Sarmatian tribal confederacy's hostile attitude at that time towards the Greek colonies in the Pontus and its support of the Crimean Scythians' attempt to occupy some Greek

49. Polybios XXV 2.

50. Ebert, Südrußland im Altertum 239; Rostovtzeff, Iranians and Greeks in South Russia 148.

51. Ebert, Südrußland im Altertum 225; Regung, RE II. R. III pp. 526.

52. Rostovtzeff, Iranians and Creeks in South Russia 149.

53. Rostovtzeff also saw this correctly. CAH IX, 228. According to him, however, the Scythians extended their power over Olbia and the area up to the Dnieper just as the vassals of the Sarmatians. This in itself is improbable enough, because how could the Sarmatians have tolerated the Scythians spreading over their own sphere of interest, to which Olbia also belonged; apart from this, the Nikeratos inscription also, originating from not long before Mithridates' Pontic conquests, contradicts this. See about this later.


cities. Only thus is it possible to understand that after the collapse of the power of Skiluros, the dwindled Crimean Scythian empire succeeded after all in either taking possession of one part of the Greek cities, or in looting them. It is possible that this attitude of the Sarmatians hangs together with their increasing social differentiation. [54]

Thus it can be stated that the Polyainos narrative cannot refer to a time prior to the pact between Chersonese and Pharnakes I., nor to the period following the foundation of the power of Skiluros. So, there cannot be any other solution than putting it at the time between these two dates, broadly between 165 and 140 B. C. It is easy to imagine that the Sarmatians, holding at that time the Western part of the Pontic region, whose ruling tribe the Saii are familiar to us from the Protogenes inscription, had extended their supremacy also over the Crimean Scythians and, since they did not pursue an entirely hostile policy towards the Greek cities — as can be concluded from the pact of 179 B. C. — accepted as "allies" also Chersonese which had applied to them for help, and, — obviously in exchange for adequate reciprocal assistance — protected them against the Crimean Scythians.

Hence the history of the Sarmatians can be reconstructed on broad line as follows. At the beginning of the second century the aspect of a strong Sarmatian power appears for the first time. Broadly speaking it held in its sway at that time the territory between the Don and the Dnieper. Undoubtelly the backbone of this Sarmatian power was chiefly the tribe of the Saii to which also Olbia had to pay heavy tribute. The role of Gatalos, king of the Sarmatians, in the pact concluded in 179 B. C. by the powers of the Pontic region shows clearly that this Sarmatian power had been an important political factor. It seems that the lengthy struggle between the Sarmatians and Scythians which paralysed commercial and economic life in South Russia for a long period, had at that time come to a standstill to a certain extent and Sarmatian power had consolidated to such a point that commerce could once more revive. From an inscription of about 175 B. C. in honour of an Attic merchant it is clear that commerce between Attica and the Pontus was lively again, thanks to the more peaceful conditions in the wake of the Pact of 179 B. C. The extension of Sarmatian power over the Crimea and the extension of its suzerainty over the Scythians, may have occurred immediately after these times. Also the political conception of increasing commerce and economic life fits well into this picture and tallies with the acceptance of the protectorate over Greek cities, so that the Amage story might with great probability be put at this date. Also the name  appearing later in Panticapaeum might testify to the Crimean rule of the Sail. [55]

The fact, in the face of the process of consolidation of Sarmatian power in the Pontic region, that a decade or two later the Crimean Scythians recover their strength with extraordinary speed and reconquer from the Sarmatians the territory east of the Dnieper and even bring Olbia under their power, is indeed surprising. It is evident that the strengthening of the Crimean Scythian kingdom under Skiluros was possible only owing to the large-scale weakening and eventual collapse of Sarmatian power. There is another clue to this conjecture, namely, later as seen in Strabo's reports, a few decades after the troubled times, once more a strong Sarmatian tribal union developed. However, not one of the Sarmatian tribal names occuring in the Protogenes inscription can be found among the tribal names figuring in the Strabo enumeration.. As has been shown, this symptom can have but one explanation: a new

Additional Notes

To p. 19. On the economic crisis of Olbia cf. N. V. Shafranskaya: VDI 1951/3. 9 foll. On the economic ties of the North Pontic Greek cities with the Scythians cf. N. A. Onaiko: VDI 1970/1. 112 foll. On Late Scythian culture along the Lower Dniepr cf. M. I. Vyaz'mitina: SA 1969/4. 62 foll.

54. We can hardly think of the awakening of Iranian national consciousness as Ebert, Südrußland im Altertum. 343 did.

55. See the name in Vasmer, Die Iranier in Südrußland. 50.


Iranian swarm from the East had arrived in South Russia and had completely broken up or absorbed the tribes figuring in the Protogenes inscription. [56]

This change, accompanied by great upheavals, naturally favoured greatly the restoration of the Crimean Scythian power, but the sudden growth of Scythian power came to a speedy end when under the leadership of "Royal" Sarmatians a new, strong Sarmatian tribal alliance was formed. The Scythians soon became once more the vassals of a new Sarmatian empire whose power politics were levelled at the full possession of the Greek cities. In consequence of this boosted enemy force the Greek cities in the Pontic region were obliged to apply to Mithridates Eupator for help. Thus the appearance of the troops of Mithridates in the Greek cities in the Pontic region is in close connection with the establishment of a new, strong Sarmatian tribal confederacy.

56. See J. Harmatta: Folia Ethnographica I/2 (1949) 127. foll.

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