The Massagetae, or Massageteans, were an ancient Eastern Iranian
nomadic confederation, who inhabited the steppes of
Central Asia, north-east of the
Caspian Sea in modern Turkmenistan,
western Uzbekistan, and southern Kazakhstan.
Massagetae are known primarily from the writings of
Massagetae as living on a sizeable portion of the great
plain east of the Caspian Sea. He several times refers to them as
living "beyond the River Araxes", which flows through the Caucasus and
into the west Caspian. Scholars have offered various explanations
for this anomaly. For example,
Herodotus may have confused two or more
rivers, as he had limited and frequently indirect knowledge of
According to Greek and Roman scholars, the
Massagetae were neighboured
Aspasioi (possibly the Aśvaka) to the north, the
Dahae to the west, and the
Issedones (possibly the Wusun) to the
Sogdia (Khorasan) lay to the south.
1 Possible connections to other ancient peoples
4 See also
6 External links
Possible connections to other ancient peoples
Many scholars have suggested that the
Massagetae were related to the
Getae of ancient Eastern Europe. A 9th century work by Rabanus
Maurus, De Universo, states: "The
Massagetae are in origin from the
tribe of the Scythians, and are called Massagetae, as if heavy, that
is, strong Getae." In Central Asian languages such as Middle
Persian and Avestan, the prefix massa means "great", "heavy", or
Some authors, such as Alexander Cunningham, James P. Mallory, Victor
H. Mair, and
Edgar Knobloch have proposed relating the
Gutians of 2000 BC Mesopotamia, and/or a people known in ancient
China as the "Da Yuezhi" or "Great Yuezhi" (who founded the Kushan
Empire in South Asia). Mallory and Mair suggest that Da
Yuezhi may at
one time have been pronounced d'ad-ngiwat-tieg, connecting them to the
Massagetae. These theories are not widely accepted,
The original language of the
Massagetae is little-known. While it
appears to have had similarities to the Eastern Iranian languages,
these may have resulted from interactions with neighbouring peoples,
such as language contact or sprachbund-type assimilation.
According to Herodotus:
[1.215] In their dress and mode of living the
Massagetae resemble the
Scythians. They fight both on horseback and on foot, neither method is
strange to them: they use bows and lances, but their favourite weapon
is the battle-axe. Their arms are all either of gold or brass. For
their spear-points, and arrow-heads, and for their battle-axes, they
make use of brass; for head-gear, belts, and girdles, of gold. So too
with the caparison of their horses, they give them breastplates of
brass, but employ gold about the reins, the bit, and the cheek-plates.
They use neither iron nor silver, having none in their country; but
they have brass and gold in abundance.
[1.216] The following are some of their customs; – Each man has
but one wife, yet all the wives are held in common; for this is a
custom of the
Massagetae and not of the Scythians, as the Greeks
wrongly say. Human life does not come to its natural close with this
people; but when a man grows very old, all his kinsfolk collect
together and offer him up in sacrifice; offering at the same time some
cattle also. After the sacrifice they boil the flesh and feast on it;
and those who thus end their days are reckoned the happiest. If a man
dies of disease they do not eat him, but bury him in the ground,
bewailing his ill-fortune that he did not come to be sacrificed. They
sow no grain, but live on their herds, and on fish, of which there is
great plenty in the
Araxes River. Milk is what they chiefly drink. The
only god they worship is the sun, and to him they offer the horse in
sacrifice; under the notion of giving to the swiftest of the gods the
swiftest of all mortal creatures.
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Concerning the death of
Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great of Persia,
[1.201] When Cyrus had achieved the conquest of the Babylonians, he
conceived the desire of bringing the
Massagetae under his dominion.
Massagetae are said to be a great and warlike nation, dwelling
eastward, toward the rising of the sun, beyond the river Araxes, and
opposite the Issedones. By many they are regarded as a Scythian race.
[1.211] Cyrus advanced a day's journey into Massagetan territory from
the Araxes... Many of the
Massagetae were killed, but even more taken
prisoner, including Queen Tomyris's son, who was commander of the army
and whose name was Spargapises.
Tomyris mustered all her forces and engaged Cyrus in battle. I
consider this to have been the fiercest battle between non-Greeks that
there has ever been.... They fought at close quarters for a long time,
and neither side would give way, until eventually the Massagetae
gained the upper hand. Most of the Persian army was wiped out there,
and Cyrus himself died too.
Ammianus Marcellinus considered the
Alans to be the former
Massagetae. At the close of the 4th century CE,
court poet of Emperor Honorius and Stilicho) wrote of
Massagetae in the same breath: "the Massagetes who cruelly wound their
horses that they may drink their blood, the
Alans who break the ice
and drink the waters of Maeotis' lake" (In Rufinem).
Procopius writes in History of the Wars Book III: The Vandalic
Massagetae whom they now call Huns" (XI. 37.), "there
was a certain man among the Massagetae, well gifted with courage and
strength of body, the leader of a few men; this man had the privilege
handed down from his fathers and ancestors to be the first in all the
Hunnic armies to attack the enemy" (XVIII. 54.).
Evagrius Scholasticus (Ecclesiastical History. Book 3. Ch. II.): "and
in Thrace, by the inroads of the Huns, formerly known by the name of
Massagetae, who crossed the Ister without opposition".
Tadeusz Sulimirski notes that the
Sacae also invaded parts of Northern
India. Weer Rajendra Rishi, an Indian linguist has identified
linguistic affinities between Indian and Central Asian languages,
which further lends credence to the possibility of historical Sacae
influence in Northern India.
According to Guive Mirfendereski at the Circle of Ancient Iranian
Studies (CAIS), the
Massagetae are synonymous with the Sakā
haumavargā of South Asian historiography.
^ Engels, Donald W. (1978). Alexander the Great and the Logistics of
the Macedonian Army. California: University of California Press.
^ Karasulas, Antony. Mounted Archers Of The
Steppe 600 BC-AD 1300
(Elite). Osprey Publishing, 2004, ISBN 184176809X, p. 7.
^ Wilcox, Peter. Rome's Enemies: Parthians and Sassanids. Osprey
Publishing, 1986, ISBN 0-85045-688-6, p. 9.
^ Gershevitch, Ilya. The Cambridge History of Iran (Volume II).
Cambridge University Press, 1985, ISBN 0-521-20091-1, p. 48.
^ Grousset, René. The Empire of the Steppes. Rutgers University
Press, 1989, ISBN 0-8135-1304-9, p. 547.
^ The Cambridge History of Iran: The Median and Achaemenian periods By
^ Herodotus, The Histories, 1.204.
^ Herodotus, The Histories, 1.202.
^ Herodotus, The Histories, translation by Robin Waterfield, with
notes by Carolyn Deward (1998), p. 613, notes on 1.201-16.
^ Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus: Books 11-12,
Volume 1, Marcus Junianus Justinus, John Yardley, & Waldemar
^ Leake, Jane Acomb (1967). The Geats of Beowulf: a study in the
geographical mythology of the Middle Ages (illustrated ed.).
University of Wisconsin Press. p. 68.
^ Maurus, Rabanus (1864). Migne, Jacques Paul, ed. De universo. Paris.
Massagetae are in origin from the tribe of the Scythians, and are
called Massagetae, as if heavy, that is, strong Getae.
^ Dhillon, Balbir Singh (1994). History and study of the Jats: with
reference to Sikhs, Scythians, Alans, Sarmatians, Goths, and Jutes
(illustrated ed.). Canada: Beta Publishers. p. 8.
^ a b Rishi, Weer Rajendra (1982). India & Russia: linguistic
& cultural affinity. Roma. p. 95.
^ Mallory, J. P.; Mair, Victor H. (2000), The Tarim Mummies: Ancient
China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West, London:
Thames & Hudson. pages 98-99
^ John F. Haskins (2016). Pazyrik - The Valley of the Frozen Tombs.
Read Books. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-4733-5279-7.
^ THE STRONGEST TRIBE, Yu. A. Zuev, page 33: "Massagets of the
earliest ancient authors... are the Yuezhis of the Chinese sources"
^ Ammianus Marcellinus: "iuxtaque
Massagetae Halani et Sargetae"; "per
Albanos et Massagetas, quos Alanos nunc appellamus"; "Halanos
pervenit, veteres Massagetas".
^ Procopius: History of the Wars.
^ Ecclesiastical History. Book 3.
^ a b Sulimirski, Tadeusz (1970). The Sarmatians. Volume 73 of Ancient
peoples and places. New York: Praeger. pp. 113–114. The
evidence of both the ancient authors and the archaeological remains
point to a massive migration of Sacian (Sakas)/Massagetan tribes from
the Syr Daria Delta (Central Asia) by the middle of the second century
B.C. Some of the Syr Darian tribes; they also invaded North
^ Indian Institute of Romani Studies Archived 2013-01-08 at Archive.is