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


4. The Western Sarmatian Tribal Confederacy and the North Pontic Greek Cities

This picture gained mainly from the history of the Greek cities in the Crimean peninsula is corroborated by the data on Olbia. Olbia, as seen above, had been compelled to pay tribute to the Saii in the first half of the second century B. C., while about the middle of the same century she came entirely under the domination of Skiluros, the Crimean Scythian ruler. Towards the end of the second century probably Olbia too was freed from the rule of the Crimean Scythians. Two Olbian inscriptions date from this time, they to a certain extent allow a glimpse into the historical position of this city. One was erected in honour of Epikrates, an architect [57] who was on contract from Byzantium to conduct the building operations of the city and also to restore its fortifications and who stood his ground splendidly, both when the Olates, probably a Thracian tribe, threatened to wage war and also later in his capacity of technical inspector of fortifications. Hence Olbia at that time was obviously again independent and endeavoured to keep her fortifications in good shape so as to be able to resist the attacks threatening on the part of various barbarian tribes. The other inscription honoured Nikeratos (Dittenberger, Syll.3 No. 730). He was — as can be inferred from the inscription — the military commander of Olbia and not only held at bay the "enemy continually menacing the city" but also smoothed the internal strife of Chersonese, "steeped in continual wars". This brave soldier, however, fell a prey to the snare of the barbarians in the end. On one occasion he accompanied an Olbian group under strong military escort to the forest region beyond the Borysthenes-Dnieper, to the Hylaia, and he succeeded in getting the civilians back to the city because the enemy prepared a surprise attack, which he wanted to parry outside the walls. The enemy dared not attack him openly but set him a trap in the dead of night and so could kill him.

Thus both inscriptions prove that Olbia was under severe enemy pressure of the neighbouring barbarians and that she strove to defend herself single-handed, of her own strength. There are also certain formal clues as to the determination of the date of the inscriptions. The orthography of the Nikeratos inscription links it closely to the Aristagoras inscription (Dittenberger. Syll.3 No. 708) which in view of the shape of its

Additional Notes

To p. 20. The Epikrates inscription was again discussed by D. M. Pippidi: Epigraphische Beiträge 51 foll. He tried to prove that it originates from Histria. Unfortunately, the Apollonios inscription from Olbia offering an exact parallel to the Epikrates inscription (published by Y. I. Levi: VDI 1953/1. 177 foll, and again in  1917—1965. No. 28) escaped his attention. Surely we have to reckon the Epikrates inscription to the epigraphic materials of Olbia in the future too. Otherwise Pippidi correctly recognized that the Epikrates inscription is to be dated to the 3rd century B. C. It may reflect the same critical epoch (middle of the 3rd century B. C.) as the Apollonios inscription mentioned above.

To p. 20. D. M. Pippidi, Epigraphische Beiträge 89 foll, tried to prove with a detailed argumentation that the Aristagoras inscription originates from the second half of the 1st century B. C. He is, of course, right in stating that the inscription is written in the new alphabet appearing on the epigraphic monuments of Histria during the 1st century B. C. The point is, however, that for the scarcity of epigraphic materials originating from the end of the 2nd and the beginnings of the 1st centuries B. C. we cannot exactly determine the date of the introduction of the new alphabet. Surely it was introduced before 80 B. C., but one can think of an even earlier date. Accordingly, the Aristagoras inscription can be dated to the first half or even to the beginnings of the 1st century B. C. (i. e. to that very epoch I supposed) with the same right as to the second half of the 1st century B. C.

57. Dittenberger, Syll.3 No. 707. The name of the city is missing from the inscription, yet there are ponderous proofs that it was Olbia, see Dittenberger, Syll.3 II, 339, n. 1.


characters and its spelling may not be placed at a date earlier than the end of the second century B. C., and not later than this period, according to the evidence of the coins with the Arista(goras) legend put at the second half of the second century. [58] Thus the Nikeratos inscription dates probably from 120—100 B. C., while the Epikrates inscription on which no itacistic flaws can be found yet, may have a somewhat earlier date. This is the only possible date determination also if we try in the history of Olbia to locate the events fixed in the inscription. It is obvious that the activity of both Epikrates and Nikeratos is unimaginable in Olbia under the rule of Skiluros, that is before about 130 B. C., but neither is it possible after 106 B. C. when the armies of Mithridates had taken over the defence of the Greek cities in the Pontic region.

From an inscription in honour of a ship-captain from Amisos, we know that Olbia too had placed herself under Mithridates' protection and that formations of the forces of the King of Pontus had also been stationed in this city. [58] Even if the conditions recorded in this inscription correspond to a later date (about 70—64 B. C.), the  at the Dnieper estuary mentioned by Strabo (VII 4, 16) clearly proves that Olbia and her environs, had belonged to the Pontic Empire, since the military operations against the Scythians and Sarmatians, [60] led by the generals of Mithridates, Diophantos and Neoptolemos (110—106 B. C.). This is borne out by the testimony of another context (Strabo VII 4, beginning of 3), according to which Mithridates had planned the extension of his operations as far as the Dnieper and even farther west from the outset. Thus, since Olbia belonged to the Pontic Empire until Mithridates' death and since she was entirely devastated in the subsequent decade by the Getae, [61] the events forming the background of the Epikrates and Nikeratos inscriptions can be put only into the period between 130—107 B. C. This result is supported by the part played by Nikeratos in Chersonese, which can also be imagined only before the appearance of Mithridates' generals. The question now is only which barbaric power meant at that time a constant threat to Olbia.

According to Dittenberger's view the barbarians menacing Olbia at the time were the Getae of Boirebistas, [62] yet this view is undoubtedly erroneous. It would, in itself, seem probable enough that the Getae meant a danger to Olbia, it is highly improbable, however, that they should also have subdued the wooded region east of the Borysthenes, and it is precisely from this area that Nikeratos and Olbia were attacked. Besides it would be a mistake to attribute such a historical importance to Boirebistas and the Getae as early as between 130 and 107 B. C. The more recent investigations have clearly proved that Boirebistas could only have ascended the throne round about 60 B. C., thus the great increase of Dacian power began only after that. [63] We may therefore hardly have in mind others than the Sarmatians to have been the enemy threatening Olbia. This solution is all the more plausible since, as was stated above, the report of Strabo about the Sarmatian tribal confederacy occupying the territory between the Danube and the Don, refers to the last decade of the second century B. C., and so it is beyond doubt that the environs of Olbia also had been under the sway of the Sarmatian tribal confederacy. It would seem probable, even if no data were at our disposal, that the policy and attitude of the Sarma-

Additional Notes

To p. 21. On Dacian influence in the territory between Dnieper and Dniester cf. M. I. Vyaz'mitina:  Studien zur Geschichte und Philosophie des Altertums. Budapest 1968. 247 foll.

58. See Dittenberger, Syll.3 II. pp. 340.

59. See Ebert, Südrußland im Altertum 225, furthermore Rostovtzeff, CAH IX, 232.

60. See Strabo VII 4, 18; Fr. Geyer, RE XV, 2168, XVI, 2465.

61. Dion Chrys. or 36, 4.

62. See Dittenberger. Syll.3 II, 393.

63. A. Alföldi, Budapest története [The History of Budapest]. Budapest, 1943. I, 139.


tians was not different towards Olbia than towards the Crimean Greek cities. Their chief aim was to bring the Greek cities completely under their power, or at least under the power of one of their vassals. The inscriptions in honour of Epikrates and Nikeratos afford a good opportunity for looking into one phase of this process, the fight against Olbia.

Thus with its pressure upon the Greek cities the new Sarmatian tribal confederacy formed in the last decades of the second century B. C. makes its influence felt from the Crimean peninsula to the Dnieper region. There are, however, traces too which show the consequences of Sarmatian power politics to have been fully felt by Greek cities much farther west, also in the Dobrudja. Thus from inscriptions from the end of the second century B. C. which the inhabitants of Istros erected to their prominent countryman Aristagoras (Dittenberger, Syll.3 No. 708), it becomes clear that the barbarians occupied and devastated Istros also at that time. The citizens, however, in part returned later to the abandoned city, yet the danger being constant, the city had to be fortified and further clashes with the barbarians could not be avoided. Of somewhat later origin is an inscription from Tomi (Dittenberger, Syll.3 No. 731) which also testifies to the endangered position of this city too. Dittenberger assumed also with regard to these two inscriptions that the barbarians menacing Istros and Tomi may have been the Getae of Boirebistas. This is most improbable, as this territory came under Boirebistas's power only after 60 B. C.

This is clearly proved by the fact that Antonius Cicero's partner in consulship was defeated in 61 B. C. near Istros by the Scythians and their allies the Bastarnae [64], which shows that at that time Dobrudja was still in their hands. It would be much more probable to think just of these two barbarian peoples. Of the Scythians we know also that pressed westward by the Sarmatians, they had occupied Dobrudja previously. Just because of this, however, it is probable that they had more settled relations with the Greek cities. To this points the fact that their kings had money coined — obviously in the Greek cities — from which it can safely be concluded together with Rostovtzeff, [65] that both Istros and Tomi politically had belonged under the Dobrudjan Scythian kings' power. Coins of four Scythian kings, Tanusas, Kanites. Akrosas and Charaspes, are known to us, all date largely from the years 230 B. C. and 150 B. C. [66] It is not very likely however, that Tomi and Istros should have been in so hard pressed a situation as is revealed in the two inscriptions mentioned above. It is, however, surely no coincidence that the coinage of the Scythian kings — as far as can be concluded from the material so far extant — came to an end in the last decades of the second century. The cause, evidently, was the collapse of Dobrudjan Scythian power and it was obviously in connection with the disintegration of Crimean Scythian power which occurred at about the same time. No doubt the new Sarmatian Empire formed in the last decades of the second century B. C. was the cause and it is near at hand to see the effects of this also in the Dobrudjan events.

It is highly probable that the Sarmatians, made also the Dobrudjan Scythians their vassals like the Crimeans, because the Dobrudja, just like the Crimea, was of supreme importance to them as the economic sphere of interest of a number of Greek cities. Along with this, it is also possible that they had partially occupied this territory because Strabo's above mentioned report (VII 3, 17) expressedly emphasizes that the Sarmatians on the whole live their nomadic lives on both banks of the

64. Cassius Dio XXXVIII 10,2.

65. Iranians and Creeks in South Russia 86; CAH IX. 228.

66. Regung, RE II, R. VIII 2230.


Danube. It is easy to imagine how much the advance of the Sarmatians into the Dobrudja transformed the position of the Greek cities: they came into a position as menaced as Olbia or the Crimean Greek cities in the same period.

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