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Massagetae

Massagetae

The Massageteans (Massagetai; ) or Massagetaeans were an Iranian people of antiquity known primarily from the writings of Herodotus. Their name was probably akin to Getae and Thyssagetae. According to old historical texts they were related to Scythians and to Huns.

Customs

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 Jaxartes. 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.

They were similar to the Scythians in their dress and mode of living. Each man had one woman, yet their wives were held in common, this custom differentiating the Massagetae from the Scythians. Queen Tomyris succeeded her dead husband, the former king of the Massagetae. The Massagetae worshipped only one god, the sun, and sacrificed a horse in its honour.

History

A number of different versions have been transmitted concering the death of Cyrus the Great. One version reported:

[1.201] When Cyrus had achieved the conquest of the Babylonians, he conceived the desire of bringing the Massagetae under his dominion. Now the 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 Issedonians. By many they are regarded as a Scythian race.

According to Herodotus, Cyrus the Great of Persia met his death in a battle with the Massagetae living beyond Araxes river. They were a people from the southern deserts of Khwarezm in today's Bukhara, Uzbekistan. The queen of the Massagetae, Tomyris, prevailed, although Cyrus had defeated Tomyris's son Spargapises. Herodotus mentions: Of all the combats in which the barbarians have engaged among themselves, I reckon this to have been the fiercest.

Note on the geography of Herodotus

The name Araxes probably means "rapid stream. In the context of the Massagetae "Araxes" refers to Jaxartes.

Continuity

Ammianus Marcellinus considered the Alans to be the former Massagetae. At the close of the 4th century CE, Claudian (the court poet of Emperor Honorius and Stilicho) wrote of Alans and 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).

Others contact them with the Huns:

Procopius' writes in History of the Wars Book III: The Vandalic War: "the 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.

See also

References

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