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


7. The Fall of the Sarmatians in Hungary

The Romans left Dacia for good under Aurelianus after which the way was open to the Roxolani. The effect of their arrival must have been felt soon. According


to our sources the Sarmatians soon became a standing danger already under Carus, and they threatened not only the Illyricum, but even Thracia and Italy [212]. Historical investigation has not appreciated this fact at its full merit, because the historical connections behind it were not seen. We cannot even accuse our source of rhetorical exaggeration since the threat of the Sarmatians increased in the following years. Two punitive expeditions were led by Diocletian himself against the Sarmatians in 286 and 293. At the same time a number of fortifications were being built along the Danube under the personal supervision of Diocletian. He took a special interest in the setting up of a bridgehead at Dunaszekcső, and he also caused the rebuilding of the extensive fortifications on the two wings of the Sarmatian front at Bononia and Transaquincum. After these preparations the great attack was launched against the Sarmatians led by Maximianus in person. [213]

We have excellent documents on the great importance attached to these Sarmatian wars. It was at this time that the Tetrarchy began to mint new silver coins, and this was used to commemorate the victory won over the Sarmatians. [214] These coins bore witness to the great importance the Romans paid to the defeat of the Sarmatians, implying even that it was the outstanding event of the times because no other victory had ever been celebrated in this way, neither the ones won over the Goths, Bastarnae, Carpi nor those over the Quads or the Marcomanni. This proves that the Sarmatians had been a much greater danger than any of the other peoples. [215] It seems, therefore, rather likely that the bridgehead at Dunaszekcső was set up more against the Sarmatians than against the Goths.

The wars led by the Emperors themselves against the Iazyges continued during the Tetrarchy. Small wonder that historians in the past found it "surprising" that during Diocletian's reign seven military expeditions had to be led against the Sarmatians and yet no reason could be given why this should have happened. The unparalleled exertions of the Romans against the Sarmatians were rather remarkable in an age when no similar strenuous efforts were needed against any nation, not even against the Goths. It seems as if the pressure on the Roman Empire put on by the Sarmatians, was greater than that by any other nation during those decades. This circumstance may be accounted for by assuming that the entire people of the Roxolani had been settled in Hungary by then.

Historical evidence shows that after his victory. Diocletian settled great masses of the Sarmatians on Roman territory. These Sarmatian masses, at least a part of them, were probably Iazyges since it was at about this time that the second of the Sarmatian archaeological periods ended. Future archaeological investigations will have to decide on this question, but in the meantime we want to call attention to one interesting archaeological find which is by all probability in connection with the departure of the Iazyges. In the vicinity of Szil (County of Somogy) that is to say, in the former province of Pannonia, a sword with a ringed hilt was discovered, and we know that this was a characteristic piece of the archaeological goods from the second Sarniatian period. [216] It is probably no mistake on our part to bring this archaeological evidence into relation with the settlement of the Iazyges on Roman territory during the reign of Diocletian. This evidence proves, too, that the Sarmatians, admitted to Roman territory, that is to say, Iazyges were the bearers of the 2nd Sarmatian period.

Additional Notes

To p. 56. I now reckon the Sarmatian sword found at Szil (County Somogy) to the archaeological remains of the Sarmatian auxiliary troops recruited by Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Cf. also the remarks by M. Párducz: Acta Arch. Hung. 7 (1956) 158, 174.

To p. 56. In my paper "Iranier, Germanen und Römer im Mittleren Donaubecken" I elucidated the problem of the Ardaragantes (this is the correct form of the name!) and Limigantes (including the interpretation of the names) in a detailed manner.

To p. 56. F. Altheim proposed to interpret the name Sadagarii as Turk *sadaqar 'quiver-men' in F. Altheim — H.-W. Haussig: Die Hunnen in Osteuropa. Ein Forschungsbericht. Baden-Baden 1958. 24, note 68. This interpretation neglects the fact that the Sadagarii (or Sadagares) are never denoted as Huns (the passage of Pseudo-Julian definitely speaks against such a presumption). Later Altheim abandoned this explanation and [in] Geschichte der Hunnen. V. Berlin 1962. 27 he compared the name Sadagarii with Avestan satō.kara-, in which, however, the interpretation of the second element is entirely uncertain. L. Zgusta (Die Personennamen griechischer Städte der nördlichen Schwarzmeerküste. Praha 1955. 263) rejected the etymology *sata-gari- proposed by M. Vasmer for two reason: 1. the interpretation neglects the form Sadagi-, 2. -arii is the well-known Late Latin suffix. Unfortunately he did not know my paper Das volk der Sadagaren (Analecta Orientalia Memoriae Alexandri Csoma De Kőrös Dicata. Budapestini 1942—1947. 17 foll.), in which I drew attention to the first evidence for the name in a letter by Pseudo-Julian giving the form Sadagares in Greek. Besides, I also referred to the fact that the identification of the Sadagarii with the Sadagis encounters serious dificulties.

To p. 56. From the view-point of the history of the Late Sarmatians the importance of two results of the archaeological research is still to be stressed here: 1. During the last decades Soviet and Roumanian archaeologists succeeded to discover the archaeological remains of the Late Sarmatians settled on the territory between the Dniester and the Danube. Their results (cf. E. A. Rikman: SE 1966/I. 68 foll.) permit now to establish the ties between the Sarmatian tribes of the Great Hungarian Plain and those living east of the Carpathians with more certainty than before. 2. The other important result is that recognition that the population of the Chernyakhovo culture can be identified with the Goths (M. I. Artamonov:  1967. 48 foll.). At long last on the basis of this recognition the relations between the Late Sarmatians and the Goths can now be studied by the help of the archaeological finds.

Addendum to p. 56. On the date of the settlement of the Sadagarii in Roman territory cf. G. Fehér: UJb 15 (1935) 413 (466 A. D.) and F. Altheim: Attila und die Hunnen. Baden-Baden 1951. 211, note 50 (he rejects the theory of Fehér and supports a dating of the settlement after the battle at the river Nedao in 455 A, D.).

On the problem of the Sadagarii and Sadagis cf. T. Nagy: Budapest műemlékei (The Public Monuments of Budapest). Budapest 1962. II. 68 and note 113, L. Várady: Das Letzte Jahrhundert Pannoniens 376—476. Budapest 1969. 335 and note 833. T. Nagy hesitates to identify the Sadagis with the Sadagarii, but in any case he considers remarkable that both the Sadagarii and the Sadagis were living in the neighbourhood of the Skiri. Against this view it is to be noted that the Sadagis never made a common action together with the Skiri and the immediate neighbourhood of the two tribes is improvable on the one hand, and we have no evidence for the earlier neighbourhood of the Sadagarii and the Skiri before their joint settlement in Roman territory on the other hand. L. Várady says: "Freilich handelt es sich dabei um Varianten desselben Namens." Here we have to do with an obvious vicious cercle. Since K. Zeuss: Die Deutschen und die Nuchbarstämme. München 1837. 709 historical research usually supposes that Sadagis and Sadagarii are one and the same people and on this basis one often regards Sadagis and Sadagarii as variants of the same name. But as a matter of fact neither can from historical viewpoint the identity of the two peoples be proved nor can from linguistic view-point the two names be regarded as variants. Thus the whole theory is only based on the similarity of the names Sadagis and Sadagarii. I would still add that I never said that according to the report of Iordanes the Sadagarii were transplanted in Roman territory before 455 as Várady asserts, but I supposed that some fractions of peoples, and among others the Sadagarii too, already immigrated into the Roman Empire earlier than it was reported by Iordanes.

212. Script. Hist. Aug. Car. Num. et Carin. 9.

213. See Budapest története (The History of Budapest), I. 673.

214. See Budapest története (The History of Budapest), I. 674.

215. See Budapest története (The History of Budapest), loc. cit.

216. On the sword of Szil see M. Párducz, Denkmäler der Sarmatenzeit Ungarns. II. 79.


The departure of such great masses of the Iazyges eased the internal strain with the remaining Sarmatians considerably. The Iazyges remaining in their former seats, intermixed freely with the Roxolani. It is likely that the cemeteries of the third period with their flat graves belonged to their descendants whose grave finds are not different from those found in the tumuli. The fact that from this time on the flat graves and tumuli appear side by side, [217] points to the assumption that an end had been put to the independent power of the Iazyges.

In view of the above interpretation we will find it only too natural that in the following years the pressure of the Saimatians on the Roman Limes, was considerably lessened. [218] But great disturbances break out again among them when the Goths attacked the country. Though Constantine hurried to their aid and defeated the Goths, nevertheless great masses of Sarmatians, according to one information a population of 300,000, were forced to leave the Hungarian Plain and settled on Roman territory. This great disturbance, according to our informations, was caused by a Sarmatian civil war. When the Goths attacked the Sarmatians, the latter armed their servants, who thereupon revolted and drove their masters away. [219] Information being very scanty we do not know whether this civil war was waged along social lines or was prompted by tribal hatred. Nor can we ascertain what part the differences in the social position between the Iazyges and the Roxolani, played in this outbreak. Nevertheless, it is most likely that the internal strife was a tribal war waged between tribes, and if it was that, then this event also suggests that the tribal organization of the Roxolani, unable to withstand the strain, got broken up.

It is likely that the Sarmatians, settling on Roman territory at that period, were mostly or even entirely Roxolani. We have an interesting information on this point. During the reign of Julianus, hardly thirty-one years after Constantine had such masses of Sarmatians transferred, there appeared a small Iranian people along the lower Danube under the name of Sadagarii. [220] Later on Jordanes mentioned this small tribe, too, and from him we get the information that they were living in Little Scythia. Now the best possibility for an Iranian tribe to get settled in this place during the 4th century was the great re-settlement of the Sarmatians by Constantine. And our sources do, in fact, tell us that a part of the Sarmatians were settled in Scythia. Therefore, it is surely possible that the people of the Sadagarii was transferred from Hungary to Little Scythia in the course of the Constantine re-settlements. Now the name of Sadagarii means: "(the people) of the hundred hills". It seems obvious for us to assume a connection with the custom of the burial in tumuli since such a grave-yard looks very much like a hilly country with hundreds and hundreds of hills. If such a connection had really existed, and we have no reason to doubt it, then in the Sadagarii we can see the bearers of the barrow grave culture by way of historical evidence, too. We might, therefore, regard as possible that the Sarmatians, resettled by Constantine, must have mostly or entirely been Roxolani.

The Sarmatians, left behind in Hungary, were scattered during the great turmoil caused by the appearance of the Huns. We can follow the fate of some of these surviving fragments even through the following centuries. Yet a new chapter begins here in the history of the migration that was spreading for over two thousand years.

217. See on this subject M. Párducz, Denkmäler der Sarmatenzeit Ungarns, III. [Add. note: p. 215 foll.]

218. See, Budapest története (The History of Budapest), I., 676.

219. Euscbius, Vila Const. 4. 6: Ammianus XVII 12, 18.

220. On the following see J. Harmatta, Das Volk der Sadagaren, pp. 17 ff.

[Previous] [Next]
[Back to Index]