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Subject: Re: Skythians and Arthur, was RE: Celtic-L and Arthurnet
From: Christopher Gwinn <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:CELTIC-L - The Celtic Culture List.
Date:Sat, 20 Jul 2002 12:28:53 -0400

text/plain (94 lines)

> >  You can see Malcor's bio of LAC here:
> >
> I`m sorry, but this biography seems to me quite constructed. In fact, most
> of it seems to be based on postulated connections and quite questionable
> readings of incomplete inscriptions.

LOL - I am glad _someone_ agrees with me! For a long time on Arthurnet, I
was the badguy for daring to challenge Malcor and Littleton's theory (which
is quite popular in certain circles, and accepted as fact by many) - only
recently have the tides changed a bit on the list, with more and more people
saying "hey, wait a minute....something doesn't seem quite right here...."

> > The Alans/Alani, cousins of the Sarmatae, were an Iranian-speaking
> > people, closely related to the Scythians, with a primitive
> > Indo-Iranian religion that featured a war god, depicted as a
> > sword stuck in the ground, or in a pile of wood, to whom they
> > sacrificed captives of war.
> Sez who? I don`t want to question this too much, but I see little reason
> assume such an ethnic identity+language consistency in any dark age
> population. As I said, when I accidentially woke up in a dark age class in
> grad school, much seems to have pointed towards that those Alans who
> actually settled in western Europe in the wake of the 4th-6th century
> migrations actually seem to have been east Germans, very much like the
> Goths and others that were part of the "hunnic empire" of Attila.
> That any of those many "peoples" could be thrown into one big "Skythian
> is hardly serious scholarly work. That we could in any way reconstruct
> mythology" is completely new to me.

Well, in all fairness, I do believe that it is pretty standard these days to
regard the Alans as being culturally and linguistically Iranian - now that
doesn't prevent the 4th-6th century Alans from being heavily Germanized (the
Alans were fond of assimilating conquered peoples), but we can still detect
in their personal names Iranian elements (such as personal names containing
the element asp-, related to Avestan aspa "horse"), and some descriptions of
them from late antiquity (such as Ammianus), show similarities with
Herodotus' descriptions of the Scythians (Ammianus' Alans worshipping a
sword stuck in the ground as a war god, matched by Herodotus' Scythians
worshipping a sword stuck in a pile of wood as a war god).

In certain ancient accounts the Alani were considered to be related to the
Scythians - for example, Josephus (Jewish Wars) is one of the first to
suggest that the Alans were a Scythian people, and he is followed by Pliny
(Natural History) and Ptolemy (Geography).

As an interesting side note, in the '50's a short list of words with Latin
glosses dating back to the 15th century was discovered in former Iazygian
territory in Hungary - the language of the word list is most closely matched
by modern Ossetic (for example, "daban horz", which is very close to Ossetic
dae ban xorz "good day").

> > The Alani and the Sarmatae spread pretty far and wide across
> > Europe, North Africa (via Spain), Eastern Europe (as a side note,
> > there were still people claiming Iazygian [Sarmatian] descent and
> > speaking an Iranian dialect in Hungry well into the early modern
> > period), and Central Asia.
> That is, as Roman auxiliaries?

Well, in the Sarmatians' case, yes - after being defeated by the Romans in
the east, many were conscripted and served in the Roman army in Britain and
elsewhere. The Alans were part of the barbarian horde that laid waste to
part of the Roman empire, though Alans eventually served as Roman foederati,
especially in Gaul.

> > Their culture died out everywhere,
> > absorbed by the dominant cultures of the countries that they
> > settled in, except for a small contingent of Alani from South-Eastern
> > Russia that migrated to the Caucasus in the Middle Ages, where they
> > still live today, and are known as the Ossets.
> Again, sez who?

There are many sources for the Alanic origins of the Ossets - I am sure a
web search will turn up quite a few of varying quality. On my own bookshelf,
this connection is confirmed in J. P. Mallory and V. Mair's "Encyclopedia of
Indo European Culture" and J. P. Mallory's "In Search of the indo
Europeans". For the Alanic origin of the Ossets, and descriptions of their
Iranian language, Malcor and Littleton suggest B. Bachrach (A History of the
Alans in the West), B. Comrie (Languages of the Soviet Union), E. Benveniste
(Etudes sur la langue ossete), V. Kouznetsov & I. Lebedynsky (Les Alains)
and V. I. Abaev (A Grammatical Sketch of Ossetic). I know that there is now
a large and expensive compendium of every known source mentioning the Alans
called  "Sources on the Alans" (by Agusti Alemany), but I have not had a
chance to examine it yet.

Chris Gwinn

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