Studies in the History and Language of the Sarmatians

J. Harmatta


4. Conclusions

If we sum up the results of our observations we get the following picture
Old Iranian
Iranian of South Russia
*ar-y ar-(y)- al- ir- il- īr- īr-
*au au ō     ō u
*sp sp sf fs   fs fs
*p- p- f-     f- f-
*fri- fli- li-     li- lə-
*ri- r l     l l
*n -n *n     -on -on
*m -m *m     -om -om
*gr gr rg     rγ, lγ rγ, lγ
*vi- vi- i-     i-
*ha- ha- (χa-) a-     χa-, a- χa-, a-
*χš χš- š-     χs- χs


Thus the examination of the Pontic Greek inscriptions and the Iranian names preserved in classical sources on South Russia clearly shows that, as early as the first centuries A. D., the language of the Iranian tribes inhabiting the steppes of Eastern Europe was by no means homogeneous. The phonemic differences appearing in the names amply prove that these tribes spoke several dialects, obviously corresponding to the nature of their tribal division. This fact is important for several reason. First of all, the picture which we derive, after examining these names, about the linguistic condition of the Iranian tribes in South Russia is in entire harmony with the observations made by us above concerning the language of the Median and Persian tribes. Secondly, this result enables us to approach the examination of the realationship between the Finno-Ugrian and the Iranian languages from a new angle: the realization that there existed several Iranian languages or dialectes in South Russia will make it possible to interpret several phonemic features, hitherto unexplained, in the Iranian loan-words of the Finno-Ugrian languages.

Naturally, it would be extremely important, both for clearing up the dialectology of the Iranian languages and the historical background of Finno-Ugrian and Iranian linguistic connections if we could give a precise ethnical delimitation to the various Iranian dialects. But this is a very difficult task. At present most of the names cannot be assigned to any definite tribes nor do we know how the various phonemic differences crystallize into structural features which separate the dialects from one another. But the problem is not insoluble. First of all, we can gather some indications from  the names themselves. Thus e. g. those dialects which give us the names  and , in spite of the difference in the development of Old Iranian initial *p- are nevertheless united by certain common features since they show a similar development of the Old Iranian group of phonemes -ϑr-. The same development of the Old Iranian group of phonemes -ϑr- is seen, however, also in the name , so that we may assume its close connection with the former dialects. Moreover, since in the people's name  we see the same development of the Old Iranian initial group of phonemes *ary- as in the name , this word, too, must be included in this group. Thus we are beginning to see the outlines of a group of dialects which, on the strength of certain phonemic criteria, is connected with Ossetian though it is clearly distinguishable from the latter by other phonemic phenomena. At the same time, there are some Sarmatian dialects which are fairly distant from either group (cp. e. g. Iazygian  and Thatean ). Besides these phonemic connections arising from the names themselves, a careful comparison of the geographical distribution of the names with the historical sources, as well as the examination of the historical and ethnical conditions in the various Greek settlements, a task recently attempted by Knipovich in his book on Tanais ( 1949) — all this will make possible the ethnical and historical evaluation of the linguistic differences established in this essay. This much we may safely say, in any case, that on the ground of phonemic criteria alone one may distinguish at least four languages or dialects: through the various concatenations of phonemic peculiarities this number will be doubled.

The fact that the Iranian tribes of South Russia spoke several languages or dialects, clearly distinguishable from one another, as early as the first centuries A. D., has important consequences in clearing up the linguistic relations between Sarmatians, Alans, and Ossetes. Although this question may be solved only by a close examination of Alanic linguistic remains and the history of Ossetian phonemes, we may confidently state that the simple, generalizing historical identification of the language of


the Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans, and present-day Ossetes is not a probable proposition. Since the names hailing from the territory of the Alans as well as of the other Sarmatian tribes point to the existence of several dialects, it is obvious that the language of the Sarmatians or that of the Alans as a whole cannot be simply regarded as being Old Ossetian. Moreover, some of the Sarmatian dialects show certain phonemic peculiarities (e. g. -ān > -ōn) which are quite recent developments in Ossetian. The same situation prevails also in Alanic. Thus e. g. the name  (Tanais 225 A. D.,  No. 327) shows already the change from Old Iranian, syāva- to the form sau which is characteristic of Ossetian. At the same time, however, we see in this word also the change -ān > -ōn which is a much later development in Ossetian. Thus this Alanic name from Tanais (: sāuanōn < Old Iranian *syāva-nāna-), together with other names pointing in the same direction, is a clear proof that Ossetian only represents the outcome of a single Alanic dialect group, the historical development of which was different from that of the Sarmatian dialects attested by the Iranian names occurring in the inscriptions of the North Pontic Greek cities.

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