The Agathyrsi were a people belonging to the Scythian cultures[1] who lived in the Transylvanian Plateau, in the region that later became Dacia.

The Agathyrsi lived in Transylvania when they first appeared in historical records
Regions with significant populations
Pontic Steppe (9th–8th century BC)
Moldavia, Transylvania, Oltenia (7th–3rd century BC)
Scythian religion
Thracian religion
Related ethnic groups
Cimmerians, Dacians, Getae, Massagetae, Saka, Sarmatians, Scythians, Thracians

Name Edit

The name Agathyrsi is the Latinisation of the Ancient Greek name Agathursoi (Αγαθυρσοι), which was itself the Hellenized form of a Scythian name whose original form is not attested.[2][3]

The linguist Alexis Manaster Ramer has reconstructed the original Scythian form of this name as *Haxāϑrauša, meaning "prospering the friend/socius", with the final part modified into -θυρσος, referring to the composite vegetal wand of Bacchus, in Greek because the ancient Greeks associated Scythian peoples with Bacchic rites.[4]

Identification Edit

The Agathyrsi were a people of mixed Iranic Scythic and Geto-Thracian origin[5] whose bulk were Thracian while their aristocracy was closely related to the Scythians.[6]

Location Edit

From the 9th to the late 8th or early 7th centuries BC, the Agathyrsi occupied the Pontic steppe up to the Lake Maeotis in the east,[5] and their neighours to the east of the Don river, in the Caucasian and Caspian steppes up till the Araxes, were a closely related nomadic Iranic people, the Cimmerians.[7][8][9]

At the time when the Greek historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus described them, in the 5th century BC, the Agathyrsi occupied the region around the source of the Maris river, in the mountainous part of ancient Dacia now known as Transylvania in what in the present-day is the state of Romania, as well as in the region of the Carpathian Mountains[10] and the areas corresponding to modern Moldavia and possibly Oltenia, although the Moldavian Plain and the rest of the Wallachian Plain might have instead been occupied by the Scythians.[11][5]

The eastern neighbours of the Agathyrsi were the Scythians,[12] while their northern neighbours were the Neuri, who are a Baltic population.[13]

History Edit

The Agathyrsi initially inhabited the Pontic steppe.

The Agathyrsi were the oldest Scythian-related Iranic population[11] to have dominated the Pontic Steppe.[5] This origin was reflected in the genealogical myth of the Scythian peoples, according to which Agathyrsus was the eldest of the three ancestors of the Scythian peoples born of the union of the god Targitaos and the Snake-Legged Goddess.[5] Because both the 1st century AD Roman geographer Pomponius Mela and the 4th century AD Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus, basing themselves on earlier ancient Greek sources, located the Agathyrsi near the Lake Maeotis, it is therefore likely that the original homeland of the Agathyrsi was in the region of the Sea of Azov.[5] In the 8th to 7th centuries BC, the migration of the Scythians proper from the east into the Pontic Steppe pushed the Agathyrsi westwards, away from the steppes.[11]

After being expelled westwards from the steppe, the Agathyrsi settled in the territories of present-day Moldavia, Transylvania, and possibly Oltenia, where they mingled with the indigenous population who were largely Thracians.[5][11] In the 5th century BC, Herodotus of Halicarnassus mentioned the presence of the Agathyrsi in the area of present-day Moldavia, to the north of the Danube and the east of the Carpathian Mountains, by which time they had become acculturated to the local Getic populations[11] and practised the same customs as the Thracians, although the names of their kings, such as Agathyrsus and Spargapeithes, were Iranic.[5][6]

As a result of these changes, the relations between the Agathyrsi and the Scythians remained hostile,[5] and the Agathyrsi remained permanently independent of the Scythians and outside of the territory of Scythia.[14]

When the Persian Achaemenid king Darius I attacked the Scythians in 513 BC, the Scythian king Idanthyrsus summoned the kings of the peoples surrounding his kingdom to a meeting to decide how to deal with the Persian invasion. The kings of the Budini, Gelonians and Sarmatians accepted to help the Scythians against the Persian attack, while the kings of the Agathyrsi, Androphagi, Melanchlaeni, Neuri, and Tauri refused to support the Scythians.[15] During the campaign, the Scythians and the Persian army pursuing them passed through the territories of the Melanchlaeni, Androphagi, and Neuri, before they reached the borders of the Agathyrsi, who refused to let the Scythian divisions to pass into their territories and find refuge there, thus forcing the Scythians to return to Scythia with the Persians pursuing them.[16][15]

During the 8th to 7th centuries BC, the Scythians pushed the Agathyrsi westwards into the Balkans.

Later, at some point in the 5th century BC, the Agathyrsian king Spargapeithes treacherously killed the Scythian king Ariapeithes.[15][17]

The Agathyrsi were barely ever mentioned again by ancient writers after Herodotus of Halicarnassus and were last mentioned as a still existing people by Aristotle in the 4th century BC,[18] after which they disappeared from history[5] due to having later become completely assimilated by the Geto-Thracian populations;[5][11] thus, the fortified settlements of the Agathyrsi became the centres of the Getic groups who would later transform into the Dacian culture, and an important part of the later Dacian people was descended from the Agathyrsi.[5]

A section of the Agathyrsi might also have migrated more southwards into Thrace proper, where a group of this people was located on the Haemus Mons by Stephanus of Byzantium.[5]

Trausi Edit

Stephanus of Byzantium also suggested that a section of the Agathyrsi were present on the Rhodope Mountains by his mention that the Greeks referred to the Trausi (Ancient Greek: Τραυσοι, romanizedTrausoi; Latin: Trausi, Thrausi) tribe who lived there as being Agathyrsi.[19]

On the Rhodopes, the Trausi initially lived to the north-east of the Thracian tribe of the Bistones.[20] By the early 2nd century BC, the Trausi had migrated to the east of the Hebrus river in the hinterland of Maroneia and Aenus, and they soon disappeared from history after being conquered by the kingdom of the Sapaei.[20]

Culture Edit

The acculturation of the Agathyrsi into the Geto-Dacian culture of the area they settled in is evidenced by how they practised the same customs as the Thracians, although the names of their kings, such as Agathyrsus and Spargapeithes, were Iranic.[5][6] Thracian customs of the Agathyrsi included their practice of tattooing themselves and their nobles' dyeing their hair dark blue to distinguish themselves from the common people,[21][19][22] as well as their memorisation of their laws in song form.[23][24]

The tattoos of the Agathyrsi, which followed checkered designs and were done using blue-black ink,[25] were located on their faces and their limbs, and their intensity, intricacy and vibrancy was proportional to their bearers' social status and the prestige of their lineage,[22][26] with tattooing being especially practised among Agathyrsi women.[25]

Other aspects of the culture of the Agathyrsi recorded by Herodotus of Halicarnassus include the fact that they were used to living in luxury and wore golden jewellery, and their custom of having wives in common so that all the Agathyrsi would be each other's brothers and members of a single family living together without jealousy or hatred.[5][27]

According to Herodotus of Halicarnassus, the Agathyrsian tribe of the Trausi, who lived in southern Thrace, practised a custom that was unique among the peoples of all of Thrace, according to which the relatives of newborns would sit around them and mourn all the misfortunes they would have to go through in life, while they would celebrate with joy during funerals since they believed that death had freed the deceased from the miseries of life and instead brought happiness to them.[28][29]

Archaeology Edit

Archaeologically, the Agathyrsi belonged to the Scythian culture, and Scythian-type archaeological remains found to the west of Scythia proper, such as in western Podolia, central Transylvania, and in areas corresponding to modern-day Hungary and Slovakia as well as in parts of Romania and Bessarabia, might have corresponded to the Agathyrsi.[6] These remains had specific characteristics which reflected the absorption of local Thracian elements by the Scythic incomers.[6]

The western Podolian group of the Scythian culture, which corresponded to a section of the Agathyrsi, was closely related to the Tiasmyn group of the Scythian culture, which itself corresponded to the Scythian tribe of the "Scythian Ploughmen,"[6] who were themselves, like the Agathyrsi, a population of Thracian origin with an Iranic ruling class.[30]

Many of the settlements of the Bessarabian group of the Scythian culture located on the middle Dnister river, which also corresponded to the Agathyrsi, were destroyed in the late 6th century BC, possibly due to the Persian invasion of Scythia.[6]

To the archaeological presence of the Agathyrsi belongs a cemetery from the 8th to 7th centuries BC at Stoicani, as well as the Stincesti-Cotnari type fortified settlements which first appear in the 6th century BC.[5]

Gallery Edit

Legacy Edit

An old theory of 19th century writers (Latham, V. St. Martin, Rambaud, Newman) which, according to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, is based on 'less convincing proof', suggested an identification of the Agathyrsi with the later Hunnic Akatziri tribe first mentioned by Priscus. According to E.A. Thompson, the conjecture that connects the Agathyrsi with Akatziri should be rejected outright.[31]

See also Edit

Notes Edit

  1. ^ Batty 2007, p. 205.
  2. ^ Schmitt 2003, p. 3.
  3. ^ Schmitt 2011, p. 64.
  4. ^ Schwartz & Manaster Ramer 2019, p. 359-360.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Olbrycht 2000b.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Sulimirski 1985, p. 183-184: “Scythian” remains have been found in various regions west of Scythia, in West Podolia, central Transylvania, Hungary, Slovakia, etc.; they mostly form distinct groups of Scythian culture, but also appear scattered in parts of Romania and Bessarabia. They probably represent the various tribes of the Agathyrsi who, according to most authorities, were of Thracian stock, although their ruling class seems to have been of Scythian origin, as suggested by the Iranic name of their king, Spargapeithes, and by various remarks of Herodotus (IV. 25, 49, 78, 100); moreover, the name of the people appears in one of the legends about the origins of the Scyths. These groups, formed mostly around the mid-6th century B.C., exhibit a specific character due to the local Thracian elements absorbed by the Scythian invaders.
  7. ^ Olbrycht 2000a.
  8. ^ Diakonoff 1985, p. 89-109.
  9. ^ Barnett 1982, pp. 333–356.
  10. ^ Sulimirski & Taylor 1991, p. 554.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Batty 2007, p. 202-203.
  12. ^ Sulimirski 1985, p. 183.
  13. ^ Sulimirski 1985, p. 184.
  14. ^ Sulimirski 1985, p. 168.
  15. ^ a b c Herodotus & Godolphin 1973.
  16. ^ Fol & Hammond 1988, p. 241.
  17. ^ Sherwin-White & Kuhrt 1993, p. 145.
  18. ^ Maenchen-Helfen, Otto J. (1973). The World of the Huns: Studies in Their History and Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 451. ISBN 978-0-520-01596-8.
  19. ^ a b Hrushevsky 1997, p. 97.
  20. ^ a b Mihailov 1991, p. 603.
  21. ^ Choureshki 1995.
  22. ^ a b Ghenghea 2014, p. 81.
  23. ^ Fol & Marazov 1977, p. 59.
  24. ^ Hrushevsky 1997, p. 101.
  25. ^ a b Mayor 2014, p. 104.
  26. ^ den Boeft et al. 2018, p. 31.
  27. ^ Mayor 2014, p. 130.
  28. ^ Vignolo Munson 2001, p. 101.
  29. ^ Pigoń 2008, p. 21.
  30. ^ Sulimirski 1985, p. 181.
  31. ^ Thompson, E. A. (1948). A History of Attila and the Huns. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 95. ISBN 978-0-837-17640-6.

References Edit