History and Heritage

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

(The Final Expansions)
after Cyril Babaev

650 BCE Scythian expansion into Europe

As with any other ethnogenesis, it is always hard to tell what was the exact ethnic origin of the Central Asian steppes or European peoples, but one thing sure, these people were to play a very important role in the creation of European identity thus laying down the founding stone of European civilisation. Unfortunately, the picture however defined, gets more blurry as the time periods overlap.

This because of a process of contacts and assimilation which inevitably led to a mixing of peoples to the point that it makes it difficult to trace the language of this or that ethnic group. Such groups, recorded in the European history as Huns, Sarmatians, Scythians, Cymmerians, Avars, Alans, were in fact not single nations, but groupings of several peoples, frequently with different ethnic and language origins. That is, other Nostrasic groups came under the frame work of the aryanic tripartite structuralising process.

This is why, certain linguists identify Scythians with Iranians, while some others, confuse them with the Turkish group, or even of some other group. Scythians, in fact, were Indo-Europeans with Turkish, Uralic or Slavic captives, thus synthesising, at the basic level, non-Indo-European heterogeneous cultures as it was the case with other ethnic groups.

The Scythians criss-crossed the steppes from east to west and back many times. They went north to the Black Sea, rarely venturing into the forest regions north, and penetrated the Northern Balkans. There is abundant toponymic material from modern South Russia, Ukraine, Romania showing traces of the Scythians in place names of rivers and hills. This shows an occupation of the region by Scythian tribes from up to the 3rd century CE. This was before the area was overwhelmed by Huns from Asia. The Scythian language belonged to the Iranian group although showing strong influences from Slavic and Thracian. On the other hand, Slavic borrowed heavily from Scythian. This shows that both languages belonged to the same bilingual zone. Phonetic features of modern South Russian dialects and Ukrainian language betray an Iranian substratum. The names of the rivers Don, Dnepr and Dnestr are all Iranian in origin, from dn- the stem.

600 BCE Lydians push Greeks out of Asia

The century between 650 and 550 BCE was Lydia's Golden Age. Phrygia was overran by Cymmerians. In turn, Scythians took on the Cymmerians and then left Asia Minor. There were no countries around Lydia to contain it and prevent its development. Lydia, and its capital Sardis, was the important centre of Euro-Asian trade, in which the country found its prosperity.

Lydia felt it could gain supremacy in the region after Assyria started to lose power in the Middle East. In 605 BCE king Aliatt faced the resistance of the Greek polises of Asia Minor. when he decided to increase the Lydian influence in the East Mediterranean. Miletus and Smirna, which had struggled long for independence, were the strongest Greek cities. It was only in 600 BCE that Aliatt managed to capture Smirna thus forcing the Greeks out of Asia.

However, this didn't stop the Greek colonisation of the region but just suspended it for a while. Therefore, Lydia developed independently by culture and language. History was to show that it had only five decades to enjoy the independence.

590 BCE Scythian Kingdom in Asia is occupied by Medians

According to Herodotus, half a century before Medians, Lydians and Babylonians called the Scythians from the Northern Caucasus to their aid against the Cymmerians and Assyrian Empire. The Cymmerian cavaliers' nomadic power was the most powerful striking force in the region. Ironically, after the Cymmerians were eliminated, and after Assyria slowly began its decline, Scythians became the new threat of the Middle Eastern kingdoms. Scythians then established their own kingdom in Northern Iran, raiding Median lands and pillaging neighbouring towns and lands. At that time after several wars, Media, the strongest kingdom in Iran, decisively won the victory over Scythians and made them retreat back into Central Asia. Because of the short period of the Scythian presence in Iran, made no significant impact on the languages and peoples of the country. That is, nothing that was detected by linguists and archaeologists.

550 BCE - 50 BCE Messapic and Venetic inscriptions

The history of Venetic, Illyrian, and Messapic tribes begins much earlier than the dates given here. In fact, it was around 1300 BCE that the Illyrians arrived in the Balkan peninsula. Later the Messapians crossed the Adriatic and appeared in Italy. Details about this early period of their history is gained only through archaeological material or by early Greek sources, since these peoples only started leaving inscriptions by the 6th century BCE. So, we are not sure when they started to exist and what role they played in the Indo-European scheme.

Venetic speakers are often confused with Italics, or Illyrians, but even though closely related to these groups, they evidently formed a family of their own. Venetic has closer ties with the Celtic, Germanic languages, and possibly, with Slavic. This is inferred because of the similarity of one tribal name. The Este (Ateste) culture, which was flourishing in northern Italy and Slovenia, left much epigraphic evidence (about 250 texts, mainly dedications and epitaph inscriptions). The texts were written in a local script, possibly a variety mixture of Etruscan and Greek writing, or in a modified Latin script. The Venetics were assimilated in the 1st century BCE by the Romans and took up Latin. On the Atlantic coast, Venetics were also assimilated to Celtic, to the point that when Caesar fought their navy in 56 BCE, they had totally merged with the Gauls.

The Illyrians left little written records of their existence, although Roman writers left many glosses.There is data of onomastics and toponymy as well.

As for Messapic, nearly 350 short inscriptions were found in south-eastern Italy. Being too short, they don't tell much about the grammar or syntax of the language. But then again, they are stated proof of the existence of Messapic and Illyrian.

450 BCE Celtic tribes move into Italy

The period covered by La Tène culture follows that of the Hallstatt culture and extends from about 450 BCE to the subjugation of Gaul by Julius Caesar in 58 BCE. This was at the peak of the Celtic civilisation.

La Tène culture was initially influenced by the Etruscan and Greek civilisations but developed regional variations through the centuries as the Celts spread through most of central and western Europe, over to Britain, north to Jutland, and elsewhere.

Some common features may be noted throughout, however, such as curvilinear ornamentation (S shapes and spirals) and animal art forms. Burials were by inhumation or by covering with cairns of stones. This was the period of the beginning of urbanisation, of new industries, and of new artistic traditions.

By this time, the Celts had crossed the Alps and passed into Northern Italy, where they soon spread over the Padus (Po) valley. In the Po, they met different nations with whom they mingled and dominated. These were the Ligurians, who are believed to have been Indo-Europeanised aborigines, Etruscans, Venetic and Italic peoples. True that the Italic and Celtic languages were still close enough to be understood by one another. From then on, the Italic languages (and namely Latin) were acquiring many Celtic words and terms. The Celts themselves borrowed many features from the neighbouring languages. Gradually the Celtic of the Southern Alps region, originally a primitive Gaulish, became different from that of contemporary Gaulish Celtic into a language now called Lepontic.

In 390 BCE the Celts resume their expansion over Europe by invading Central Italy, where in 387 BCE, allied with Etruscans, they destroy the Roman army, capture and plunder Rome. Surprisingly, this incursion had very little influence on the politics and culture of Italy. Satisfied with receiving a huge tribute from Rome, the Celts retreat back to the north.

350 BCE - 70 BCE Scythian Steppes Kingdom

In 512, the Persian king Darius was defeated by the Scythian army, after having crossed the Danube and venturing too far into the steppes. After this, the Scythians consolidated their state to the point that in 350 BCE, Scythia, next to Greek Black Sea colonies, became a true kingdom. It therefore could be said that the "King Scythians", developed one of Europe's first monarchies. The kingdom, under the rule of Ateus, began to expand in the region. King Ateus managed to unify the Scythian tribes into a powerful state. Ateus also vassalised many other nations in the Black Sea region, including Crimea's Cymmerians.

Under Ateus, the Scythians invaded and occupied part of Thrace. He then conquered the shores of modern Bulgaria, and the Greek city states on the coast were also forced into accepting Scythian protection. After Ateus' death, Philip of Macedonia, by the Danube, defeated the Scythian army, thus putting an end to the Scythian expansion.During the following two centuries, the Scythians took Crimea and assimilated Taurian tribes.The Scythians had also close contacts with Slavs and Baltic peoples who inhabited territories north of Scythia. To a point that today's Russian, Belorussian and Ukrainian languages bear the Scythic Indo-Iranian imprint, both in vocabulary and pronunciation.

320 BCE - 187 BCE Maurya Kingdom in India

In 324 BCE, not long after Alexander's death, in Greek dominated Western India, began the rebellion against the Macedonian rule. Rebels led by Chandragupta managed to gain victory over the Macedonian garrisons and drove them out of India. Chandragupta, an Indian kshatrya, first served Alexander during his struggle against the king of Magadha.

At the head of his rebel army, Chandragupta head for the Magadha capital, overthrew the king and founded his own dynasty.

Chandragupta's reign was one of a time of great expansion for India. He thus unified all of North India's states and principalities. Then, in other successful wars against the Greeks, he acquired the territories of what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Better known are his successors Bindusar and Asoka, during whose reign the kingdom's expansion was directed at South India. Thus began the assimilation process of many non-Indo-European tribes. Asoka unified India as one nation giving it Buddhism, his religion.

During this rule, the Aryans moved to the Dravidian south; where the economy flourished and great constructions were undertaken throughout the country. With Asoka's death, this great unity was lost because India was still a mosaic of conflicting tribes with different cultural levels. The country was divided in 236 between his two successors. And in 187 BCE, the last heir of the Asokan dynasty was killed by one of his commanders.

280 BCE Celts move West to the Balkans and Asia Minor

Gallo-Celtic warlords lead their tribes into the Balkan peninsula.

Great numbers of warrior bands and their people descend the Danube and cross into Illyria, Thracia and on into Macedonia. All of Macedonia's forces are engaged into the conflict against the Celts.

Macedonia falls and the country is pillaged. In 279, the Celts move on to Greece, and destroy several cities. Sparta is captured for a short period, but the Celts are defeated near Delphi and are forced to retreat out of Greece. Following another minor defeat to the hands of Antioch I, the king of the Seleucid Kingdom, the Celts in their retreat South, cross the Bosphorus into Asia Minor, where in 278, they founded the Galatian kingdom. Anatolia, once before the centre of the Phrygian kingdom, had also been the homeland of their Cymmerian cousins. The Celts remembered that it had once been an ancestral possession. Through Classical sources, we have the names of the three main tribes of Asian Celts: the Tolistoages, Tectosages, and Trokmoi.

Galatia survived for a while under difficult conditions: wedged between the Seleucid Kingdom and Pergam, the power to the north; the Celtic district was left without access to the sea and with no possibility to develop sea trade. Weakened by its isolation, Galatia became in the 2nd century BCE, the protectorate of the Pontic kingdom, and by the next century, became a province of Rome.

The Celts of Galatia spoke a Gaulish dialect. Unfortunately, little records of their language were found, so we are left ignorant of its evolution. We can infer that they had Druid priests also because of toponomy. A place name called Drunemeton, "True or Firm Sanctuary" betrays their presence.

135 BCE Iranian, Tokharic, Turkish tribes plunder Bactria

At the time the Bactrian kingdom was losing in power and the integrity of its territory and cities became more and more threatened by nomadic tribes who moved in the Asian steppes at its border. Tribal alliances formed by Massagetian tribes from north of Bactria, were the state's main menace. The Kings of Bactria called for help to the Parthians and Seleucids, but none answered the call. Most of the surrounding states longed for the fall of Bactria. A great number of Tokharians are believed to have settled there in great numbers since later, Bactria was renamed Tokharistan, for land of the Tokhars. The main body of Tokhars settled on the northern banks of the Amudarya river where the high king's residence was situated.

The Tokharians, had come from the Tarim basin from the Northeast. The Tokharian languages belonged to the Centum Indo-European language group. Although distantly related to Iranian and Indic, they were closer related to the Celtic and Italic languages with with they form a branch of their own.These languages were once united at the Proto-Celtic level, that is, before Celtic.

The Tokharian state, that was very extensive, was divided into several independent principalities. The Chinese sources mention five, and the most powerful of these was the kingdom of Kuchanes.



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