Alans (or Alani) were an Iranian nomadic pastoral people of
The name Alan is an Iranian dialectical form of Aryan, a common
self-designation of the Indo-Iranians. Possibly related to the
Alans have been connected by modern historians with
Aorsi of Chinese and Roman sources,
respectively. Having migrated westwards and become dominant among
Sarmatians on the Pontic Steppe, they are mentioned by Roman
sources in the 1st century AD. At the time, they had settled the
region north of the
Black Sea and frequently raided the Parthian
Empire and the Caucasian provinces of the Roman Empire. In
215–250 AD, their power on the
Pontic Steppe was broken by the
Upon the Hunnic defeat of the
Goths on the
Pontic Steppe around
375 AD, many of the
Alans migrated westwards along with various
Germanic tribes. They crossed the
Rhine in 406 AD along with the
Vandals and Suebi, settling in
Orléans and Valence. Around 409 AD,
they joined the
Suebi in the crossing of the
the Iberian Peninsula, settling in
Lusitania and Carthaginensis.
Alans were soundly defeated by the
Visigoths 418 AD and
subsequently surrendered their authority to the
In 428 AD, the
Alans crossed the Strait of Gibraltar
into North Africa, where they founded a powerful kingdom which lasted
until its conquest by the Byzantine Emperor
Justinian I in the 6th
Alans who remained under Hunnic rule founded a powerful kingdom in
North Caucasus in the Middle Ages, which ended with the Mongol
invasions in the 13th century AD. These
Alans are said to be the
ancestors of the modern Ossetians.
Alans spoke an
Eastern Iranian language which derived from
Scytho-Sarmatian and which in turn evolved into modern
2.2 Early Alans
2.3 Link to Yancai/Alanliao
2.4 Migration to Gaul
Hispania and Africa
2.6 Medieval Alania
2.7 Later history
3 Physical appearance
8 See also
10 External links
The various forms of Alan – Greek: Ἀλανοί Alanoi;
Chinese: 阿蘭聊 Alanliao (Pinyin) in the 2nd century, 阿蘭
Alan in the 3rd century and later Alanguo
(阿蘭國) – are derived from Iranian dialectal
forms of Aryan. This word was preserved in modern Ossetian
language in form of Allon. These and other variants of Aryan
(such as Iran) were common self-designations of the Indo-Iranians, the
common ancestors of the
Iranian peoples to whom the
Scarcer spellings include Alauni or Halani. The
Alans were also known
over the course of their history by another group of related names
including the variations Asi, As, and Os (Romanian Iasi or Olani,
Bulgarian Uzi, Hungarian Jász, Russian Jasy, Georgian Osi). It is
this name that is the root of the modern Ossetian.
Europe, AD 117-138. The Alani at the time were concentrated north of
Caucasus Mountains (centre right).
The first mentions of names that historians link with the Alani appear
at almost the same time in texts from the Mediterranean, Middle East
In the 1st century AD, the
Alans migrated westwards from Central Asia,
achieving a dominant position among the
Sarmatians living between the
Don River and the Caspian Sea. The
Alans are mentioned in the
Vologeses inscription which reads that Vologeses I, the Parthian king
c. 51–78 AD, in the 11th year of his reign, battled Kuluk, king
of the Alani. The contemporary Jewish historian, Josephus
(37–100) supplements this inscription.
Josephus reports in the
Jewish Wars (book 7, ch. 7.4) how
Alans (whom he calls a
"Scythian" tribe) living near the
Sea of Azov
Sea of Azov crossed the Iron Gates
for plunder (72 AD) and defeated the armies of Pacorus, king of
Media, and Tiridates, King of Armenia, two brothers of Vologeses I
(for whom the above-mentioned inscription was made):
4. Now there was a nation of the Alans, which we have formerly
mentioned somewhere as being Scythians, and living around
Lake Maeotis. This nation about this time laid a design of falling
upon Media, and the parts beyond it, in order to plunder them; with
which intention they treated with the king of Hyrcania; for he was
master of that passage which king Alexander shut up with iron gates.
This king gave them leave to come through them; so they came in great
multitudes, and fell upon the
Medes unexpectedly, and plundered their
country, which they found full of people, and replenished with
abundance of cattle, while nobody dared make any resistance against
them; for Pacorus, the king of the country, had fled away for fear
into places where they could not easily come at him, and had yielded
up everything he had to them, and had only saved his wife and his
concubines from them, and that with difficulty also, after they had
been made captives, by giving a hundred talents for their ransom.
Alans therefore plundered the country without opposition, and
with great ease, and proceeded as far as Armenia, laying waste all
before them. Now, Tiridates was king of that country, who met them and
fought them but was lucky not to have been taken alive in the battle;
for a certain man threw a noose over him and would soon have drawn him
in, had he not immediately cut the cord with his sword and escaped. So
the Alans, being still more provoked by this sight, laid waste the
country, and drove a great multitude of the men, and a great quantity
of the other booty from both kingdoms, along with them, and then
retreated back to their own country.
The fact that the
Alans invaded Parthia through
Hyrcania shows that at
the time many
Alans were still based north-east of the Caspian Sea.
By the early 2nd century AD the
Alans were in firm control of the
Lower Volga and Kuban. These lands had earlier been occupied by the
Aorsi and the Siraces, whom the
Alans apparently absorbed, dispersed
and/or destroyed, since they were no longer mentioned in
contemporaneous accounts. It is likely that the Alans' influence
stretched further westwards, encompassing most of the Sarmatian world,
which by then possessed a relatively homogenous culture.
In 135 AD, the
Alans made a huge raid into
Asia Minor via the
Caucasus, ravaging Media and Armenia. They were eventually driven
back by Arrian, the governor of Cappadocia, who wrote a detailed
report (Ektaxis kata Alanoon or 'War Against the Alans') that is a
major source for studying Roman military tactics.
In 215–250 AD, the Germanic
Goths expanded south-eastwards and broke
the Alan dominance on the Pontic Steppe. The
Alans however seem to
have had a significant influence on Gothic culture, who became
excellent horsemen and adopted the Alanic animal style art. (The
Roman Empire, during the chaos of the 3rd century civil wars, suffered
damaging raids by the Gothic armies with their heavy cavalry before
Illyrian Emperors adapted to the Gothic tactics, reorganized and
expanded the Roman heavy cavalry, and defeated the
Claudius II and Aurelian).
After the Gothic entry to the steppe, many of the
Alans seem to have
retreated eastwards towards the Don, where they seem to have
established contacts with the Huns. Ammianus writes that the Alans
were "somewhat like the Huns, but in their manner of life and their
habits they are less savage."
Jordanes contrasted them with the
Huns, noting that the
Alans "were their equals in battle, but unlike
them in their civilisation, manners and appearance". In the late
4th century, Vegetius conflates
Huns in his military
treatise – Hunnorum Alannorumque natio, the "nation of
Huns and Alans" – and collocates Goths,
Huns and Alans,
exemplo Gothorum et Alannorum Hunnorumque.
The 4th century Roman historian
Ammianus Marcellinus considered the
Alans were "formerly called Massagetae," while
Dio Cassius wrote
that "they are Massagetae." It is likely that the
Alans were an
amalgamation of various Iranian peoples, including Sarmatians,
Massagetae and Sakas. Scholars have connected the
Alans to the
nomadic state of
Yancai mentioned in Chinese sources.
first mentioned in connection with late 2nd century BC diplomat Zhang
Qian's travels in Chapter 123 of
Shiji (whose author, Sima Qian, died
c. 90 BC).
Yancai of Chinese records has again been equated
with the Aorsi, a powerful Sarmatian tribe living between the Don
River and the Aral Sea, mentioned in Roman records, in particular
Link to Yancai/Alanliao
Han Dynasty Chinese chronicle, the Hou Hanshu, 88 (covering
the period 25–220 and completed in the 5th century), mentioned a
report that the steppe land
Yancai had become vassals of the Kangju
and was now known as Alanliao (阿蘭聊)
Y. A. Zadneprovskiy suggests that the
Kangju subjugation of Yancai
occurred in the 1st century BC, and that this subjugation caused
various Sarmatian tribes, including the Aorsi, to migrate westwards,
which played a major role in starting the Migration Period. The
Weilüe also notes that
Yancai was then known as being
Alan, although they were no longer vassals of the Kangju.
Migration to Gaul
Around 370, according to Ammianus, the peaceful relations between the
Huns were broken, after the
Huns attacked the Don Alans,
killing many of them and establishing an alliance with the
Alans successfully invaded the
Goths in 375
together with the Huns. They subsequently accompanied the
their westward expansion.
Following the Hunnic invasion in 370, other Alans, along with other
Sarmatians, migrated westward. One of these Alan groups fought
together with the
Goths in the decisive
Battle of Adrianople
Battle of Adrianople in
378 AD, in which emperor
Valens was killed. As the Roman
Empire continued to decline, the
Alans split into various groups; some
fought for the Romans while other joined the Huns,
Ostrogoths. A portion of the western
Alans joined the
Suebi in their invasion of Roman Gaul.
Gregory of Tours
Gregory of Tours mentions
Liber historiae Francorum ("Book of Frankish History") that the
Respendial saved the day for the
Vandals in an armed
encounter with the
Franks at the crossing of the
December 31, 406). According to Gregory, another group of Alans,
led by Goar, crossed the
Rhine at the same time, but immediately
joined the Romans and settled in Gaul.
Under Beorgor (Beorgor rex Alanorum), they infested Gallia round
about, till the reign of
Petronius Maximus and then they passed the
Alps in winter, and came into Liguria, but were there beaten, and
Biorgor slain, by
Ricimer commander of the Emperor's forces (year
In 442, after it became clear to Aetius that he could no longer rely
Huns for support, he turned to
Goar and convinced him to move
some of his people to settlements in the Orleanais in order to control
the bacaudae of
Armorica and to keep the
Visigoths from expanding
their territories northward across the Loire.
Goar settled a
substantial number of his followers in the Orleanais and the area to
the north and personally moved his own capital to the city of Orleans.
Under Goar, they allied with the
Burgundians led by Gundaharius, with
whom they installed the usurping Emperor Jovinus. Under Goar's
successor Sangiban, the
Orléans played a critical role in
repelling the invasion of
Attila the Hun
Attila the Hun at the Battle of Châlons. In
Alans defeated the
Goths at the battle of Orléans, and they
later defeated the
Franks led by Childeric in 466. Around 502-503
Armorica and but he was defeated by the Alans, however
the Alans, who, like Clovis, were Christians, desired cordial
relations with him to counterbalance the hostile Arian
coveted the land north of the Loire. Therefore, an accord was arranged
by which Clovis came to rule the various peoples of
Armorica and the
military strength of the area was integrated into the Merovingian
Alans left numerous toponymical evidences in
Gaul such as: Alains
(Eure), Alaincourt (Eure), Les Allains (Eure), Allainville- en-Drouais
(Eure-et-Loir), Allainville aux Bois (Seine et-Oise),
Allainville-en-Beuce (Loiret), Courtalain (Eure-et- Loir), and
Allaines (Eure-et-Loir). The major areas of settlement were
Valence[disambiguation needed] and their capital Orleans. It seems
that the personal name Alan, which originated in Armorica, derives
from these people.
Coat of arms of Alenquer, Portugal. According to a folk etymology, the
name was previously Alan-kerk, meaning "Alans' stronghold" or "Alans'
church" in Germanic languages (such as those of the Visigoths, Suebi
and Vandals). The design includes an Alaunt, a breed of dog associated
with the Alans.
Hispania and Africa
Kingdom of the
Hispania (409–426 AD).
Following the fortunes of the
Suebi into the Iberian
peninsula (Hispania, comprising modern Portugal and Spain) in 409,
Alans led by
Respendial settled in the provinces of
Carthaginiensis. The Kingdom of the
Alans was among the first
Barbarian kingdoms to be founded. The Siling
Vandals settled in
Suebi in coastal Gallaecia, and the Asding
Vandals in the
rest of Gallaecia. Although the newcomers controlled
were still a tiny minority among a larger Hispano-Roman population,
approximately 200,000 out of 6,000,000.
In 418 (or 426 according to some authors), the Alan king, Attaces,
was killed in battle against the Visigoths, and this branch of the
Alans subsequently appealed to the Asding Vandal king
accept the Alan crown. The separate ethnic identity of Respendial's
Alans dissolved. Although some of these
Alans are thought to have
remained in Iberia, most went to
North Africa with the
Vandals in 429.
Later the rulers of the
Vandal Kingdom in
North Africa styled
themselves Rex Wandalorum et Alanorum ("King of the
Kingdom of the
North Africa (526 AD).
There are some vestiges of the
Alans in Portugal, namely in
Alenquer (whose name may be Germanic for the Temple of the Alans, from
"Alan Kerk", and whose castle may have been established by them;
Alaunt is still represented in that city's coat of arms), in the
construction of the castles of Torres Vedras and Almourol, and in the
city walls of Lisbon, where vestiges of their presence may be found
under the foundations of the Church of Santa Luzia.
Iberian peninsula the
Alans settled in
Lusitania (Alentejo) and
the Cartaginense provinces. They became known in retrospect for their
massive hunting and fighting dog of
Molosser type, the Alaunt, which
they apparently introduced to Europe. The breed is extinct, but its
name is carried by a Spanish breed of dog still called Alano,
traditionally used in boar hunting and cattle herding. The Alano name,
however, has historically been used for a number of dog breeds in a
few European countries thought to descend from the original dog of the
Alans, such as the German mastiff (Great Dane) and the French Dogue de
Bordeaux, among others.
Main article: Alania
Alans who remained in their original area of settlement north of
Caucasus (and for a time east of the
Caspian Sea as well), came
into contact and conflict with the Bulgars, the Gökturks, and the
Khazars, who drove most of them from the plains and into the
Alans converted to Byzantine Orthodoxy in the first quarter of the
10th century, during the patriarchate of Nicholas I Mystikos.
Al-Mas'udi reports that they apostasized in 932, but this seems to
have been short-lived. The
Alans are collectively mentioned as
Byzantine-rite Christians in the 13th century. The Caucasian Alans
were the ancestors of the modern Ossetians, whose ethnonym derives
from the name Ās (very probably the ancient Aorsi; al-Ma'sudi
mentions al-Arsiyya as guards among the Khazars, and the Rus' called
Alans Yasi), a sister tribe of the Alans. The Armenian Geography
uses the name Ashtigor for the most westerly located Alans, a name
which survives as Digor and still refers to the western division of
the Ossetians. Furthermore, in Ossetian, Asi refers to the region
around Mount Elbrus, where they probably formerly lived.
Some of the other
Alans remained under the rule of the Huns. Those of
the eastern division, though dispersed about the steppes until late
medieval times, were forced by the
Mongols into the Caucasus, where
they remain as the Ossetians. Between the 9th and 12th centuries, they
formed a network of tribal alliances that gradually evolved into the
Christian kingdom of Alania. Most
Alans submitted to the
in 1239–1277. They participated in
Mongol invasions of Europe and
the Song Dynasty in Southern China, and the
Battle of Kulikovo
Battle of Kulikovo under
Mamai of the Golden Horde.[better source needed]
In 1253, the Franciscan monk
William of Rubruck
William of Rubruck reported numerous
Europeans in Central Asia. It is also known that 30,000
the royal guard (Asud) of the Yuan court in Dadu (Beijing). Marco Polo
later reported their role in the
Yuan Dynasty in his book Il Milione.
It's said that those
Alans contributed to a modern
Mongol clan, Asud.
John of Montecorvino, archbishop of Dadu (Khanbaliq), reportedly
Alans to Roman Catholic Christianity in addition to
Armenians in China. In Poland and Lithuania,
Alans were also
part of the powerful Clan of Ostoja.
Alans and the Cumans (Kipchaks), the
Mongols used divide
and conquer tactics by first telling the Cumans to stop allying with
Alans and after the Cumans followed their suggestion the Mongols
then attacked the Cumans after defeating the Alans.
recruited into the
Mongol forces with one unit called "Right Alan
Guard" which was combined with "recently surrendered" soldiers,
Mongols, and Chinese soldiers stationed in the area of the former
Kingdom of Qocho
Kingdom of Qocho and in Besh Balikh the
Mongols established a Chinese
military colony led by Chinese general Qi Kongzhi (Ch'i
Kung-chih). Alan and Kipchak guards were used by Kublai Khan.
In 1368 at the end of the Yuan dynasty in
China Toghan Temür was
accompanied by his faithful Alan guards. Mangu enlisted in his
bodyguard half the troops of the Alan prince, Arslan, whose younger
son Nicholas took a part in the expedition of the
Karajang (Yunnan). This Alan imperial guard was still in existence in
1272, 1286 and 1309, and it was divided into two corps with
headquarters in the Ling pei province (Karakorúm). In 1254
Rubruquis found a Russian deacon amongst the other Christians at
Karakoram. The reason why the earlier Persian word tersa was gradually
abandoned by the
Mongols in favour of the Syro - Greek word arkon,
when speaking of Christians, manifestly is that no specifically Greek
Church was ever heard of in
China until the Russians had been
conquered; besides, there were large bodies of Russian and Alan guards
at Peking throughout the last half of the thirteenth and first half of
the fourteenth century, and the Catholics there would not be likely to
encourage the use of a Persian word which was most probably applicable
in the first instance to the Nestorians they found so degenerated.
The Alan guards converted to Catholicism as reported by Odorico.
They were a "Russian guard".
It is believed that some
Alans resettled to the North (Barsils),
merging with Volga
Bulgars and Burtas, eventually transforming to
Volga Tatars.[not specific enough to verify] It is supposed that
Iasi, a group of
Alans have founded a town in north east of Romania
(about 1200–1300), near Prut river, called Iași. The latter became
the capital of ancient
Moldavia in Middle Ages.
Alan mercenaries were involved in the affair with the Catalan
Descendants of the Alans, who live in the autonomous republics of
Russia and Georgia, speak the
Ossetian language which belongs to the
Northeastern Iranian language group and is the only remnant of the
Scytho-Sarmatian dialect continuum, which once stretched over much of
Pontic steppe and Central Asia. Modern Ossetian has two major
dialects: Digor, spoken in the western part of North Ossetia; and
Iron, spoken in the rest of Ossetia. A third branch of Ossetian,
Jassic (Jász), was formerly spoken in Hungary. The literary language,
based on the Iron dialect, was fixed by the national poet, Kosta
The fourth-century Roman historian
Ammianus Marcellinus wrote that the
Alans were tall, and blond:
Nearly all the Alani are men of great stature and beauty; their hair
is somewhat yellow, their eyes are terribly fierce.
In a study conducted in 2014 by V.V. Ilyinskyon on bone fragments
from 10 Alanic burials on the Don River, DNA could be abstracted from
a total of 7. 4 of them turned out as belonging to yDNA Haplogroup G2
and 6 of them had mtDNA I. The fact that many of the samples
share the same y- and mtDNA raises the possibility that the tested
individuals belonged to the same tribe or even were close relatives.
Nevertheless, this is a strong argument for direct Alan ancestry of
Ossetians and against the hypothesis that
Ossetians are alanized
Caucasic Speakers, since the major Haplogroup among
Ossetians is G2
In 2015 the Institute of Archaeology in Moscow conducted researches on
various Sarmato-Alan and Saltovo-Mayaki culture Kurgan burials. In
this analyses, the two Alan samples from 4th to 6th century AD turned
out with yDNAs G2a-P15 and R1a-z94, while from the three Sarmatian
samples from 2nd to 3rd century AD two turned out both with yDNA
J1-M267 and one with R1a. And the three Saltovo-Mayaki samples
from 8th to 9th century AD turned out with yDNAs G, J2a-M410 and
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Archaeological finds support the written sources. P. D. Rau (1927)
first identified late Sarmatian sites with the historical Alans. Based
on the archaeological material, they were one of the Iranian-speaking
nomadic tribes that began to enter the Sarmatian area between the
middle of the 1st and the 2nd centuries.
The ancient language of the
Alans was a Northeastern-Iranian dialect
either identical, or at least closely related, to Proto-Ossetic, which
is confirmed by evidence left by John Tzetzes, a Byzantine poet and
grammarian who lived at Constantinople during the 12th century and who
was related to Maria of Alania. Tzetzes gave a few sentences in the
Alanic language, along with Greek translation, in his 'Theogony', and
most of the words in the sample have modern Ossetic counterparts
including the greeting "Da ban xas" ("Good day") known from the Jász
word list of 1422 as well ("Da ban horz", and comparable to the Digor
"Da bōn xwārz" and Iron "Da bōn xōrz", the most common Ossetic
greetings to this day. Most linguists regard the language of Tzetze's
sample as Proto-Ossetic.
In the 4th–5th centuries the
Alans were at least partially
Christianized by Byzantine missionaries of the Arian church. In the
13th century, invading
Mongol hordes pushed the eastern
south into the Caucasus, where they mixed with native Caucasian groups
and successively formed three territorial entities each with different
developments. Around 1395 Timur's army invaded Northern
massacred much of the Alanian population.
As the time went by, Digor in the west came under
Kabard and Islamic
influence. It was through the Kabardians (an East Circassian tribe)
Islam was introduced into the region in the 17th century. After
1767, all of
Alania came under Russian rule, which strengthened
Orthodox Christianity in that region considerably. A substantial
minority of today's
Ossetians are followers of the traditional
Ossetian religion.
List of ancient Iranian peoples
Iranian peoples in Europe
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^ Waldman & Mason 2006, pp. 12–14
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Brzezinski &
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^ a b Zadneprovskiy 1994, pp. 467–468
^ a b c d e Zadneprovskiy, pp. 465–467
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^ For ethnogenesis, see Walter Pohl, "Conceptions of Ethnicity in
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^ The Hou Hanshu
^ The Weilüe
^ Kozin, S.A., Sokrovennoe skazanie, M.-L., 1941. p.83-4
^ Alemany 2000, p. 3.
^ Abayev V. I.
Ossetian language and folklore. М.—Л., 1949. p.
^ Abaev V. I. Historical-Etymological Dictionary of Ossetian Language.
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^ Sergiu Bacalov, Medieval
Alans in Moldova / Consideraţii privind
olanii (alanii) sau iaşii din Moldova medievală. Cu accent asupra
acelor din regiunea Nistrului de Jos
^ Alemany 2000, pp. 5–7.
^ Vologeses inscription.
^ Vegetius 3.26, noted in passing by T.D. Barnes, "The Date of
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^ Ammianus Marcellinus. Roman History. Book XXXI. II. 12
^ Watson, Burton trans. 1993. Records of the Grand Historian by Sima
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^ Hill, John E. 2003. "Annotated Translation of the Chapter on the
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^ Zadneprovskiy 1994, pp. 463–464
^ For an earlier version of this translation
^ Giovanni de Marignolli, "John De' Marignolli and His Recollections
of Eastern Travel", in Cathay and the Way Thither: Being a Collection
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Henry Yule (London: The
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^ Isaac Newton, Observations on Daniel and The Apocalypse of St. John
^ Paul the Deacon, Historia Romana, XV, 1.
^ Bachrach, Bernard S. (1973). A History of the
Alans in the West. U
of Minnesota Press. p. 63. ISBN 9780816656998.
^ Bachrach, Bernard S. (1973). A History of the
Alans in the West. U
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^ Historical Atlas of the Classical World, 500 BC–AD 600. Barnes
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^ "Alani Lusitaniam et Carthaginiensem provincias, et Wandali
Silingi Baeticam sortiuntur" (Hydatius)
^ Castritius, 2007
^ For another rapid disintegration of an ethne in the Early Middle
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^ Milhazes, José. Os antepassados caucasianos dos portugueses
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^ Ivo Xavier Fernándes. Topónimos e gentílicos, Volume 1, 1941, p.
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^ Handbuch Der Orientalistik By Agustí Alemany, Denis Sinor, Bertold
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^ Christian Europe and
Mongol Asia: First Medieval Intercultural
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^ Sinor, Denis. 1999. "The
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^ Halperin, Charles J.. 2000. “The Kipchak Connection: The Ilkhans,
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