"Alani" redirects here. For the Hawaiian plants, see Melicope
Map showing the migrations of the Alans
The ethnonym Alān
is a dialectal variant of the Old Iranian
, itself derived from the root arya
-, meaning 'Aryan
', the common self-designation of Indo-Iranian peoples
It probably came in use in the early history of the Alans for the purpose of uniting a heterogeneous group of tribes through the invocation of a common, ancestral 'Aryan' origin.
Like the name of Iran
), the adjective *aryāna
appears to be related to Airyanəm Waēǰō
('stretch of the Aryas'), the mythical homeland of the early Iranians mentioned in the Avesta
Some other ethnonyms also bear the name of the Alans: the Rhoxolāni
('Bright Alans'), an offshoot of the Alans whose name may be linked to religious practices, and the Alanorsoi
('White Alans'), perhaps a conglomerate of Alans and Aorsi
The personal names Alan
(from Latin Alanus
) may have been introduced by Alan settlers to Western Europe during the first millennium CE.
Europe, AD 117–138, when the Alani were concentrated north of the Caucasus Mountains
The first mentions of names that historians link with the Alani
appear at almost the same time in texts from the Mediterranean, Middle East and China.
In the 1st century CE, 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 Vologases inscription which reads that Vologases I
, the Parthian king between around 51 and 78 CE, in the 11th year of his reign (62 CE), battled Kuluk
, king of the Alani.
The 1st century CE Jewish historian Josephus
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
crossed the Iron Gates
for plunder (72 CE) 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 Tanais
and 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. These 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
shows that at the time many Alans were still based north-east of the Caspian Sea.
By the early 2nd century CE the Alans were in firm control of the Lower Volga
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 CE, 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
, who wrote a detailed report (Ektaxis kata Alanoon
or 'War Against the Alans') that is a major source for studying Roman military tactics
From 215 to 250 CE, 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 the Illyrian Emperors
adapted to the Gothic tactics, reorganized and expanded the Roman heavy cavalry, and defeated the Goths under Gallienus
, Claudius II
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 Alans and 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
Link to Yancai
The Later Han dynasty
Chinese chronicle, the Hou Hanshu
, 88 (covering the period 25–220 and completed in the 5th century), mentioned a report that the Yancai
nation (奄蔡 lit "Vast Steppes" or "Extensive Grasslands" < LHC
, compare Latin Abzoae
identified with the Aorsi
(Ancient Greek Αορσιοι
) had become a vassal state of the Kangju
and was now known as Alanliao
Y. A. Zadneprovskiy suggests that the Kangju subjugation of Yancai occurred in the 1st century BCE, 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 3rd century Weilüe
also notes that Yancai was then known to be Alans, although they were no longer vassals of the Kangju.
Chavannes (1905), p. 558, note 5, approves of the identification of Yen-ts’ai with the ‘Αορσοι mentioned by Strabo, as proposed by Hirth (1885), p. 139, note 1 ; he believes this identification to be strengthened by the later name Alan, which explains Ptolemy’s “Alanorsi”. Marquart (1905), pp. 240-241, did not accept this identification, but Pulleyblank (1963), pp. 99 and 220, does, referring for additional support to HSPC 70.6b where the name Ho-su 闔蘇, reconstructed in ‘Old Chinese’ as ĥa̱p-sa̱ĥ, can be compared with Abzoae found in Pliny VI, 38 (see also Pulleyblank (1968), p. 252). Also Humbach (1969), pp. 39-40, accepts the identification, though with some reserve.
Migration to Gaul
The migrations of the Alans during the 4th–5th centuries CE, from their homeland in the North Caucasus
Around 370, according to Ammianus, the peaceful relations between the Alans and Huns were broken, after the Huns attacked the Don Alans, killing many of them and establishing an alliance with the survivors.
These Alans successfully invaded the Goths in 375 together with the Huns.
They subsequently accompanied the Huns in 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
in 378 CE, in which emperor Valens
As the Roman Empire continued to decline
, the Alans split into various groups; some fought for the Romans while others joined the Huns, Visigoths
A portion of the western Alans joined the Vandals
and the Suebi
in their invasion of Roman Gaul
. Gregory of Tours
mentions in his Liber historiae Francorum
("Book of Frankish
History") that the Alan king Respendial
saved the day for the Vandals
in an armed encounter
with the Franks
at the crossing of the Rhine
on 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 moved throughout Gaul, till the reign of Petronius Maximus
, when they crossed the Alps
in the winter of 464, into Liguria
, but were there defeated
, and Beorgor slain, by Ricimer
, commander of the Emperor's forces.
In 442, after it became clear to Aetius
that he could no longer rely upon the 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
and to keep the Visigoths
from expanding their territories northward across the Loire
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 Emperor Jovinus
as usurper. Under Goar's successor Sangiban
, the Alans of Orléans
played a critical role in repelling the invasion of Attila the Hun
at the Battle of Châlons
. In 463 the Alans defeated the Goths
at the battle of Orléans
, and they later defeated the Franks
led by Childeric
Around 502–503 Clovis
but was defeated by the Alans. However, the Alans, who were Chalcedonian
Christians like Clovis, desired cordial relations with him to counterbalance the hostile ArianVisigoths
who 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 military.
Hispania and Africa
Kingdom of the Alans in Hispania (409–426 CE).
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 Gunderic
to 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 Vandals and Alans").
Kingdom of the Vandals and Alans in North Africa (526 CE).
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; the Alaunt
is still represented in that city's coat of arms), in the construction of the castles of Torres Vedras
, and in the city walls of Lisbon
, where vestiges of their presence may be found under the foundations of the Church of Santa Luzia
In the Iberian peninsula the Alans settled in Lusitania
) and the Cartaginense provinces. They became known in retrospect for their massive hunting and fighting running mastiff
-type dogs, 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.
The Alans who remained in their original area of settlement north of the 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 mountains.
The Alans converted to Byzantine Orthodoxy
in the first quarter of the 10th century, during the patriarchate of Nicholas I Mystikos
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 the 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.
Against the Alans and the Cumans (Kipchaks), the Mongols used divide-and-conquer tactics by first telling the Cumans to stop allying with the Alans and, after the Cumans followed their suggestion, the Mongols then attacked the Cumans
after defeating the Alans.
Alans were 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
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 Mongols against 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).
The French-Flemish monk and traveler William of Rubruck
mentions Alans numerous times in the account of his 1253–1255 journey through Eurasia
to the Great Khan
, e.g. Alans living as Mongol subjects in Crimea
, Old Astrakhan
, the Khan's capital Karakoram
, and also still as freemen in their Caucasian homeland ("the Alans or Aas, who are Christians and still fight the Tartars").
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".
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 the 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
), was formerly spoken in Hungary. The literary language, based on the Iron dialect
, was fixed by the national poet
, Kosta Khetagurov
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 seven. Four of them turned out to belong to yDNA Haplogroup G2 and six 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
, competing with the hypothesis that Ossetians are alanized Caucasic speakers, since the major Haplogroup among Ossetians is G2 also.
In 2015 the Institute of Archaeology in Moscow conducted research on various Sarmato-Alan and Saltovo-Mayaki culture Kurgan burials. In this analysis, the two Alan samples from the 4th to 6th century CE had yDNAs G2a-P15 and R1a-z94, while from the three Sarmatian samples from 2nd to 3rd century CE two had yDNA J1-M267 and one possessed R1a.
Also, the three Saltovo-Mayaki samples from 8th to 9th century CE turned out to have yDNAs G, J2a-M410 and R1a-z94 respectively.
A genetic study published in Nature
in May 2018 examined the remains of six Alans buried in the Caucasus
from ca. 100 CE to 1400 CE. The sample of Y-DNA extracted belonged to haplogroup R1
and haplogroup Q-M242
. One of the Q-M242
samples found in Beslan, North Ossetia from 200 CE found 4 relatives among Chechens
from the Shoanoy Teip.
The samples of mtDNA extracted belonged to HV2a1
, and W1
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 an Eastern Iranian dialect
either identical, or at least closely related, to ancient Eastern Iranian languages.
This is confirmed by comparison of the word for horse in various Indo-Iranian languages and the reconstructed Alanic word for horse:
Prior to their Christianisation, the Alans were Indo-Iranian polytheists, subscribing either to the poorly understood Scythian pantheon
or to a polytheistic form of Zoroastrianism
. Some traditions were directly inherited from the Scythians, like embodying their dominant god in elaborate rituals.
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 Alans further 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 the Northern Caucasus
and massacred much of the Alanian population.
As time went by, Digor
in the west came under Kabard
influence. It was through the Kabardians
(an East Circassian
tribe) that 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.
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