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


5. The Immigration into Hungary of the Roxolani

The two problems helped to solve each other. As the Roxolani had vanished at a time when the new Iranian element appeared in Hungary, we must necessarily conclude that these two events were in some way connected with each other. The Roxolani under the pressure of the Goths, arrived through Oltenia and Dacia into Hungary at a time when the great Gothic attack was beginning against the Roman Limes on the lower Danube.

This assumption solves the whole string of the problems mentioned above. We get an explanation for the disappearance of the Roxolani and we understand as well why the sources of the following ages keep silent about them. Contrary to the other peoples who were driven by the Goths before them, the Roxolani did not settle on Roman territory but came to that part of Hungary which had been occupied by the Iazyges. We must not forget either that during the 1st and 2nd centuries A. D. the strongest desire of the Iazyges and the Roxolani seemed to have been to contact each other. In this — as we have seen — they have succeeded under Marcus Aurelius


and the essential changes in the Iazygian archaeological material witness to the intensity of the Iazyges—Roxolani relations. It must have been obvious to the Roxolani, when they were driven on by the Goths, to seek shelter in the seats of the related Iazyges and not on Roman territory in Moesia. This accounts for the fact why contemporary historical sources never mention the Roxolani any more. The sources dealt with contemporary events only from the Roman point of view, and thus they mention only those peoples who, fleeing from the Goths, took their way towards Roman territory, or such as were to be settled on Roman territory, as was the case with the Bastarnae. The Roxolani joined the Iazyges and from that time on they went together by the name Sarmatae.

This makes it clear why the Iazyges got so suddenly strong in arms as well as in number, and why they displayed such remarkable activity from the last quarter of the 3rd century on. Very likely these Roxolani settlers, coming in great numbers, pushed the Iazyges out of their seats, and since by all probability they were a stronger and a more numerous tribe, they took the power into their own hands and changed the material culture of the Iazyges.

This will solve the problem of the archaeological remains as well. The custom of barrow burial was brought in by the Roxolani, and the flat graves were those of the Iazyges, the two tribes living side by side. But the Iazyges soon took over the material culture of the Roxolani, and from them on the grave finds found in the flat graves do not materially differ from those found in the barrows. If we assume that the Roxolani, who had had contacts with Eastern Germanic peoples and had been intermixing with them, settled in Hungary, then we can understand why we find names of Germanic origin among the Sarmatian names mentioned by Ammianus, and further on why we find such a strong Germanic influence in their archaeological remains. It becomes clear as well why Ammianus, writing of the armour of the Sarmatians in Hungary, really gave a description of the Roxolani when he wrote of scale-armoured warriors.

We need not be surprised that Ammianus did not know about the Roxolani in Hungary and simply used the name Sarmatae when referring to them. It is true, though, that Roman history in the 1st and 2nd century A. D. applied the name of Sarmatae generally to the Iazyges and never to the Roxolani. But by the 4th century A. D., in the age of Ammianus, the name Roxolani had completely ceased to be used in the current language of the day. Nor was the name of Iazyges any more in use. The conglomerate of Iranian peoples living in a turmoil in Hungary, was simply referred to as Sarmatae to tell them apart from the Alani who by this time had also arrived there.

That Ammianus was mistaken as far as the names Iazyges and Roxolani were concerned, is clearly shown when he took these peoples as still being settled along the northern shores of the Black Sea following therein his earlier sources. [191] This is more than a deliberate attempt at being archaic. Similar misstatements can be found in other periods of classical geography. When the Sarmatians had destroyed the Scythian kingdom, many centuries after the event our sources keep on mentioning the Scythians and other peoples as still being settled in the Pontic regions as they used to do in the days of Hecataeus and Herodotus. [192] The chief cause of this misstatement was that for a long time no information had been available to throw light on the new situation with its confused ethnic developments. Something similar got again

191. Cf. Ammianus XXII. 8, 31.

192. See J. Harmatta, Quellenstudien zu den Skythika des Herodot, pp. 6 f.


repeated in the 3rd and 4th centuries A. D. when this time the Sarmatians were driven away from around the Black Sea. Ptolemy was the last to undertake a great geographical synopsis in classical literature; no similar attempt was made after him in order to present a geographical picture on a large scale that would have given a clear picture of the new state of things. So Ammianus had to avail himself of what there had been ready at hand, and there was nothing else to rely on but Ptolemy. [193] That he should pick out of Ptolemy's work just the Iazyges as a Sarmatian people as being still settled in the Pontic regions, shows in itself how completely forgotten the name Iazyges had been by then though formerly, in the 1st and 2nd centuries, it was used as a synonym for Sarmatian. In the days of Ammianus new barbarian names were known in connection with the Sarmatians such as the Limigantes and Ardaragantes. [194]

193. See as to relation of Ptolemy and Ammianus Th. Mommsen, Hermes 16 (1881); O. Cuntz, Die Geographie des Ptolemaios, Berlin, 1923. 39.

194. Hieronymus, Chron. a. 2350.

[Previous] [Next]
[Back to Index]