Wednesday 10 July 2024

The Master Metalsmiths of Minusinsk

 “The nomadic people known by the broad term ‘Scythians’ roamed across the Eurasian steppe on horseback, earning a reputation as fierce warriors, from the mouth of the Danube in the west to the Altai mountains in the east from the 9th century BC to the 1st century BC. The signature of this pastoral nomadic culture has been traced across the vast steppe landscape by the structures they left behind in the form of huge burial mounds, known as kurgans, filled with grave goods of gold, including a unique stylistic animal art, weapons, and horse tack.”1,2                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

The Tagar culture  in Siberia
In the previous article [The Scythian Homeland] it was noted how an improved climate in the Tuva region of southern Siberia during the 9th century BC accelerated cultural developments and population increase. Having identified the Scythian homeland as the prime pastureland of the Minusinsk Basin, a hollow some 200km across, in the Sayan Mountains, Southern Siberia, the Tuva region of modern Russia, we now look to identify the people.

The Minusinsk Basin

The areas surrounding the Minusinsk Basin contain some 30,000 kurgans (Scythian burial mounds), accumulated over a thousand year period. Among those are the distinctive burial mounds of the Tagar culture, recognisable by straight walled sides constructed of horizontal kerbstones with large pillars at the corners, enclosing stone cists or chambers. These unusual megalithic constructions form an integral part of the surrounding landscape being found everywhere; on the steppe, along river valleys and on mountain slopes.

The largest the Great Salbyk kurgan (4th Century BC) excavated in 1954-56, was 11m high and constructed with 23 gigantic stones placed at the corners, weighing up to 30-50 tonnes each set vertically at 6m high. These huge megaliths have been sourced to an ancient quarry at Kyzyl-Khaya mountain, 16 km away. The curious appearance of these burial mounds and the vast number of bronze artefacts found in the area have long attracted attention which, sadly, has led to most of these tombs being severely damaged while being looted for their grave goods.

The Minusinsk Basin, an area of elevated steppe in the upper reaches of the Yenisei River, a depression surrounded on three sides by the Altai-Sayan Mountains and to the north by forest, was inhabited during the pre-Scythian, Scythian, and Early Xiongnu-Sarmatian periods, from the 7th - 1st century BC, by tribes named by archaeologists after an island in the Yenisei opposite Minusinsk. 

The Soviet scholar Sergey Vladimirovich Kiselev (1905-1962) introduced the term ‘Tagar’  (or ‘Tagarsk’), for the Minusinsk kurgans of the period, after Lake Tagar and the isle of the same name. Kiselev took a significant role in shaping Soviet archaeology, producing an important monograph on the archaeology and history of the peoples of Siberia in the early 1950s.3

Tagar sites

This work was an important milestone in the studies of prehistoric Siberia and addressed the questions of the time regarding the formation and cultural development of the ancient population from the archaeological materials accumulated at that time. Kiselev determined that by the 7th century BC the Scythian cultures of Southern Siberia had been through a formative stage and proposed the following chronology:

    • Stage 1: 7th - early 5th centuries BC,
    • Stage 2: 5th - 3rd centuries BC,
    • Stage 3: 3rd - 1st centuries BC.

During the 1950s and 1960s the Russian scientist and Doctor of Historical Sciences Mikhail Petrovitch Gryaznov (1902–1984) considered the Tagar Culture was genetically related to the earlier local Karasuk Culture of the Bronze Age. Gryaznov developed his own chronology from the 7th century, separating the Tagar Culture into four successive phases:

    • 1 - Bainovo, 7th century BC,
    • 2 - Podgornovo, 6th-5th centuries BC,
    • 3 - Saragash, 4th-3rd centuries BC,
    • 4 - Tes', 2nd-1st centuries BC.

The four phases of Gryaznov's chronology of the Scythian Period culture in the middle Yenisei region is still accepted by many archaeologists today.4

The natural environment of the Minusinsk Basin was relatively closed which led to some obvious cultural differences between the Tagar culture and other nomadic tribes in the Central Asian steppe. This period witnessed the emergence of a horse riding elite; the Tagar culture, with their unparalleled metalworking skills, started to dominate life and change the course of history.  It is one of the most archaeologically studied groups of the early nomads of Southern Siberia. 

Tagar weapons

A substantial amount of bronze artefacts had been collected by the local population from ploughing or pillaging the burial mounds. Outside knowledge of these finds led Peter the Great (1672-1725) to send the first archaeological expedition to Siberia in the early 18th century. The first official excavation of a Tagar burial mound occurred during this expedition near the town of Krasnoturansk on the bank of the Yenisei. Huge amounts of Tagar artefacts were amassed throughout the following century as the archaeological work continued, resulting in vast collections sent back to museums.5 

Immense amounts of archaeology were in danger of being lost when work started on the construction of the Krasnoyarsk hydroelectric powerstation on the Yenesei river in the Minusinsk Basin in the late 1950s. Consequently, a rescue plan was established, the Krasnoyarsk archaeological expedition, headed by M. P. Gryaznov. As a result a huge amount of archaeology for virtually all periods of the Minusinsk basins was recovered.

The 1990s saw the start of a new stage in the study of the archaeological artefacts of the Minusinsk Basins when many important discoveries were made that frequently altered modern perceptions of the evolution of Bronze Age cultures and provided a new understanding of absolute dates obtained from radiocarbon data.6 This process goes on as new finds and ever advancing technology continuously enlighten scholars perceptions of the cultures of the Minusinsk Basin.

The Skilled Craftsmen of Siberia
The Tagar peoples still practised a mobile pastoralism associated with the movement of animals, with the emphasis more on sheep, to winter pastures, continuing the traditions of the preceding Karasuk culture. However, the large number of bronze sickles found indicate that to the Tagar culture, unlike other nomadic tribes, agriculture, cultivating wild cereals aided by irrigation, played an increasingly important part in the economy.

Unlike other nomadic cultures horses were not buried with the deceased and are not found in Tagar burial mounds, yet items of horse harness are extremely numerous, although almost all of these are admittedly chance finds.  The high quality and expert craftsmanship of the horse gear, such as bonze bits, cheek pieces and harness mounts, indicates the great value placed on these objects by the Tagar society. However, horse riding was essential to the Tagar culture, as depicted on many petroglyphs in the area and on practically all the rocks and stones that enclose the Tagar burial mounds.7

The Tagar culture witnessed a gradual development over a long period without dramatic lifestyle change. However, rich deposits of ore led to the Minusinsk Basin becoming an important centre of ancient metalworking, evolving complex techniques of casting to produce intricate works of art. Over this long period they developed advanced methods of metal casting using the lost-wax casting process to manufacture bronze weapons, tools and cauldrons and horse gear as already mentioned.

Bridle piece with rams, cast bronze, Minusinsk Basin
(Tagar culture, 5th century BC)

Ornamental zoomorphic art was very prominent in the Tagar culture with extremely decorative plaques in engravings, cast bas-relief figures and in three-dimensional hollow sculptures, with representation of animals from their worlds, both real and mythical. Mountain goats and birds of prey were ubiquitous but representations of boars, bears, feline beasts of prey, griffins, wolves and tigers were also popular in Tagar art. Complex ‘Animal Style’ ornaments modelled in the round, usually standing and cast in metal, were used to decorate the hilts of daggers, battle-axes, daggers, tools and details of horse harnesses.  All of them are executed to a high technological standard.8

Yet perhaps surprisingly animals important to their culture such as horses, deer, fish and antelope are absent from the earliest artefacts. Ornamental art featuring the deer was a particular favourite among Scythian cultures and achieved wide spread popularity with steppe cultures and was adapted locally across the Yenisei River region. Bronze plaques showing deer with their legs tucked up and their antlers flowing down the back first appeared in the Tagar art of the 5th century BC.9

Funerary Rites
The Tagar burials are notable from the pyramidal mound enclosed by horizontal kerb stones with vertically standing stone slabs set prominently at the corner points. This tradition seems to have followed on from the Karasuk culture that preceded it. Many of the symbolic images found on objects and petroglyphs on stone slabs of tombs have been interpreted as likely evidence of shamanistic rituals, a widespread religious system of the Scythian period from the Yenisei region.10

Weapons, including quivers of arrows, were common in male graves, while knives, mirrors and ornaments were found in female graves. Pottery vessels of drink and supplied with select cuts of mutton and beef have been found in burials of both sexes, no doubt to provide sustenance in the next world.

Great Salbyk kurgan 

Over a period of time Tagar burial tradition increased in size and depth, with stone cists gradually replaced by timber frames with multi-layered floors. As the size of the burial mounds increased the number of bodies buried in each also increased. In the early period typically there was just one body per grave but from the 5th century small family graves began to emerge, and even collective tombs with a hundred or more burials appeared. The deceased were buried in a supine position with their heads oriented to the south-west, on odd occasion to the north-east. In the case of the collective graves, the orientation varied.11

Found in the same cemeteries alongside small and medium size mounds, the increasing size and complexity of burial mounds, such the Great Salbyk kurgan  (described above), the largest at 11m high and 500m in circumference, implies social changes and bear witness to the emergence of a hierarchical society based on property ownership and social status. 

The Metal Road
The metal working skills of the Tagar culture were obviously of great interest and very desirable to other tribes which allowed the Tagar to exert a strong influence on and establish trade networks with neighbouring regions, which during its height, spread to the north-west of the Minusinsk valley, along the outlying ridges of the Altai mountains as far as Krasnoyarsk, on the bank of the Yenisei River, today the second-largest city in Siberia.12

At the end of the first millennium BC the Tagar culture disappeared, as did many other Scythian-type archaeological cultures around that time, subsumed or merged with others, as events further east started a wave of movement in a westwards direction.

The Tagar period was followed by a period of Hunnic influence associated with the Xiongnu, which was followed by the emergence of the Late Iron Age "Tesinsky culture" in the Minusinsk Basin, from the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD. The Tesinky was followed by the Tashtyk culture, from the 1st - 4th century AD, designated by scholars as one of the post-Scythian Iron Age cultures of the Yenisei valley in southern Siberia. 

However, the more perplexing matter is not where the Tagar culture went but where did it come from: Did it evolve out of the Karasuk culture as conventional wisdom states, or did some other process effect the changes of the 5th - 7th centuries BC?

Notes & References
1. A series of articles exploring the claim that the prototype of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, in addition to the quest for the Holy Grail, evolved in the Iranian-speaking people of the Eurasian steppe known as Sarmatians. See: C. Scott Littleton & Ann C. Thomas, The Sarmatian Connection: New Light on the Origin of the Arthurian and Holy Grail Legends, The Journal of American Folklore , Jan. - Mar., 1978, Vol. 91, No. 359 (Jan. - Mar., 1978), pp. 513-527.
2. More recently it is claimed that the descendants of the Alans [“an ancient and medieval Iranic nomadic pastoral people of the North Caucasus, related to the Sarmatians”] had a tendency "for telling stories about cups, the importance of cups in the Alanic religion, and the extent of Alanic influence in the church of Gaul" suggests that the French poet Robert de Boron may have had an Alanic source for his Grail material, with the Grail Hallows being the treasure taken from the Temple of Solomon by the Romans in 70 AD. See: C. Scott Littleton & Linda A. Malcor, From Scythia to Camelot,  Garland, (Revised Edition) 2000, The Alans and the Grail, p.233.
3. S.V. Kiselev, The Ancient History of Southern Siberia, Moscow Academy of Sciences of the USSR, 1951.
4. Nomads Of The Eurasian Steppes In The Early Iron Age, Edited By Jeannine Davis-Kimball, Vladimir A. Bashilov, Leonid T. Yablonsky, Zlnat Press, Berkeley, CA, 1995, p.257.
5. Frozen tombs : the culture and art of the ancient tribes of Siberia, British Museum,1978, p.79.
6. A.V. Poliakov, I.P. Lazaretov, Current state of the chronology for the palaeometal period of the Minusinsk basins in southern Siberia, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Volume 29, February 2020. 
7. K.V. Chugunov, Early nomads of Central Asia and southern Siberia, in Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia,  p.75.
8. M.P. Zavitukhina, Ancient Art of the Yenisei Area; The Scythian Time, Iskusstvo (Leningrad), 1983, p.35; quoted in Nomads Of The Eurasian Steppes In The Early Iron Age, Edited By Jeannine Davis-Kimball, et al.
9. Frozen Tombs, p.80.
10. Bokovenko, The Emergence of the Tagar Culture.
11. Bokovenko, Ibid.
12. K. V. Chuguno, Early nomads of Central Asia and southern Siberia, in Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia,  p.75.

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Tuesday 30 April 2024

The Scythian Homeland

 A series of articles exploring claims that the prototypes of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table as well as the quest for the Grail evolved in the Iranian-speaking people of the Eurasian steppe  known as Sarmatians.1
More recently it is claimed that the descendants of the Alans [an ancient and medieval Iranic nomadic pastoral people of the North Caucasus, related to the Sarmatians] had a tendency "for telling stories about cups, the importance of cups in the Alanic religion, and the extent of Alanic influence in the church of Gaul" suggests that the French poet Robert de Boron may have had an Alanic source for his Grail material, with the Grail Hallows being the treasure taken from the Temple of Solomon by the Romans in 70 AD.2

Man and Horse on the Eurasian steppe
To actually pinpoint the date when man first jumped on the back of horse and rode it is impossible to determine. However, at same point in time people of the Eurasian steppe suddenly became more mobile, managing larger herds, travelling longer distances in a shorter time. This sudden change was only possible with the domestication of the horse, a transformation which enabled the transition to full nomadism across the steppe. Accordingly, the horse became the most esteemed and valued of animals of the steppe people which saw the emergence of a horse cult as witnessed by mass horse burials interred in the Royal burials of the Scythian period.3

The earliest archaeological evidence for domestication of the horse, bred from the wild Przewalski’s horse (E.przewalskii), emerges around six thousand years ago in the western Eurasian steppe north of the Black Sea from Ukraine to Kazakhstan. This is somewhat later than domestication of the likes of sheep, goat and cattle.4

Przewalski’s horse, also known as the ‘takhi’ or Mongolian wild horse, is an endangered species today that became extinct in the wild but since the 1990s has been reintroduced to its native lands in Mongolia and Central Asia. Genetic analyses indicates that Przewalski's horse is not derived from modern domestic horses but a remnant wild population. Domestication does not appear to be a single event with the modern horse showing diverse ancestry from a mixture of ancient maternal lineages from different geographic areas. 

The Botai Culture
The prehistoric Copper Age Botai culture (3700–3100 BCE) of northern Central Asia was named after the settlement of Botai in modern northern Kazakhstan. The Botai culture has two other large sites: Krasnyi Yar, and Vasilkovka. The main settlement at Botai has been partly eroded by the Imanburlyq river, a tributary of the Ishim, however, around 153 pit-shouses have been identified.

The Botai culture emerged with the transition from a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle with a variety of game to a sedentary pastoralists lifestyle with a diet based mainly on horse meat.

A staggering 300,000 or more bone fragments, over 90% of which were derived from horses, have been identified at the main settlement. The horse bones displayed a multitude of cut and chop marks indicating the Botai were clearly consuming horsemeat – and in some quantity.

The heads of sacrificed horses were placed in pits around the perimeters of houses, facing north-east or south-east, toward the direction of the rising sun at spring and autumn. At Botai canine remains are often found with those of equids in sacrificial pits, suggesting perhaps a close working relationship in life. The dog skulls, or even whole bodies, were buried in paired pits just outside houses on the west or southwest side of the dwelling.  The association of paired canines guarding the west is common to many ancient Indo-European cultures.5

Evidence of damage to dentition in horses commonly linked with the use of bridle mouthpieces, or “bit wear”, taken together with the extraordinary equid assemblage has been presented in the argument for Botai as the birthplace of horse domestication in the 4th millennium BC.

However, recent archaeogenetic analyses has revealed that horse remains from Botai are the wild Przewalski’s horse (E.przewalskii), not modern domesticates (E.caballus), warranting re-evaluation of evidence for domestication. Furthermore, when compared with wild Pleistocene equids in North America a study concluded that the damage observed in Botai horse teeth (assumed bit wear) is likely generated by natural disturbances in dental development and wear, rather than through contact with bridle equipment.6

Not all agree and the debate for horse domestication at Botai is yet to be concluded.7

However, what is clear is that the Botai represent a dramatic shift in lifestyle on the steppe that sprung from the arrival of domesticated horses. Yet, it is argued that this change appears mature rather than sudden; therefore it is suggested that the horse was domesticated elsewhere, probably Ukraine or western Russia, and was then introduced into this region.8

The earliest unambiguously managed specimens of the domestic horse, E.caballus, originate from the Sintashta culture in the Black Sea steppes and the Trans-Ural region of Russia, Kazakshtan, and Ukraine, where paired horse burials and partial remains of chariots can be found dating to the early decades of the 2nd millennium BC.

The Bronze Age Sintashta culture, named after the fortified site in Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russia, stretched from the east of the southern Ural Mountains across the northern Eurasian steppe (north Kazakhstan) and is thought to represent an eastward migration of peoples from the Corded Ware culture. The area shows extensive evidence of copper mining indicating the main industry was metalworking.

Here, over three quarters (77%) of Sintashta burials had evidence of animal sacrifice, especially horses, some burials contained the remains of horse dawn chariots - the earliest recorded in the world. This seems to have been a development from the wagon burials of the earlier Yamnaya culture.9

In the Late Bronze Age the nomadic peoples of the steppe can be divided into two broad cultural complexes, the Srubnaya who occupied the Pontic-Caspian steppe and the Andronovo in Central Asia. The Srubnaya culture extended from the Ural Mountains to the Sea of Azov in the west, while the Andronovo culture occupied the region from the Ural Mountains to the Altai-Sayan Mountains at the far eastern end of the Central Asian steppe where modern Kazakhstan borders Russia, China and Mongolia.

Named from a village in the Minusinsk Basin in the Altai-Sayan Mountains where the first burial was excavated in 1914, the Andonovo culture (1750-1400 BC) seems to have grown out of the two earlier cultures, Srubnaya and Sintashta, displaying a cultural continuity with no requirement for displacement by an influx of new people. Around 1400 BC, toward the end of the Bronze Age, a new culture evolved out of the Andonovo in south Siberia; this new culture was named after a cemetery site by the Karasuk river. 

The Scythian Homeland
The Minusinsk Basin is an area of elevated steppe surrounded by mountains, the eastern Sayan to the north, the western Sayan to the south and the Kuznetsky Alatau and Abakan ranges to the west. The basin was formed by the upper reaches of the Yenisei River but also includes the Chulym River, a tributary of the Ob. The the fifth-longest river in the world, the Yenisei the largest to drain into the Arctic Ocean. The mountain hollow known as the Minusinsk Basin was a fertile environment protected by mountains, an obvious attraction for settlement. The region has experienced continuous settlement from the Andronovo period to the succeeding Karasuk, a culture that lasted from the 14th century BC to the middle of the 9th century BC

The transition from the Andronovo to Karasuk cultures was a gradual change with many traditions continuing in to the later period. Cultural development coincided with climate change which moved toward to a more humid and cooler climate which led to much lusher vegetation in the basin. This in turn provided extended grazing areas resulting in increased flocks and herds and seasonal transhumance with sheep and goats being moved from lowland steppe to fatten on mountain pastures. This directly led to a requirement for a greater number of horses to manage these flocks and herds. Evidence for increased horsemanship is reflected in the number of three-holed bone side-pieces from the bridle which appear in the archaeological record of the Karasuk period.

The increase in the available food stock lead to a steep increase in population, with estimates suggesting a tenfold increase over a five-hundred year period. It is at this time that a more hierarchical social structure developed as witnessed by the construction of elaborate tombs. The elite were buried in stone-built cists set in large circular burial enclosures up to 100m in diameter.

Situated in relative isolation, with fertile pastures and favourable climate, the Minusinsk Basin provided a microcosm of change in and around the Altai-Sayan Mountains in the Final Bronze Age (c.1200-850 BC). Other regions of the steppe, such as the isolated mountain valleys of nearby eastern Kazakhstan, experienced similar cultural developments.

The main Scythian-related archaeological sites of south Siberia
(Warwick Ball)

While the Minusinsk Basin was experiencing a dramatic increase in population, climate change across Eurasia had varied effects in different regions. On the Pontic steppe conditions became much drier in the 11th century resulting in a fall in the level of the Black Sea and a significant shift of the northern boundary of the steppe zone. Population declined, estimated, possibly, by as much as a tenfold reduction from the 14th century BC. This resulted in some people, such as the Srubnaya culture that occupied the region east of the river Don, and the Belozerka culture between the Don and the Danube, abandoning the steppe and moving to settlements on river valleys and the coastal region. 

The Tagar Culture
The unique upland environment of the Minusinsk Basin accelerated cultural developments. Pollen samples have shown that the climate of the Tuva region, which included the Minusinsk Basin, changed around the 9th century. The region experienced a rise in temperature and an increase in humidity resulting in improved grazing land and increased population. Economic and social changes during this time saw the emergence of a very different society out of the long-established Karasuk culture; the emergence of the Tagar culture saw horse riding elites start to dominate life and change the course of history.

Most of the archaeological data we have on the Tagar culture comes from their Funerary monuments, burial mounds known as kurgans. In the preceding Karasuk period burials were usually placed in stone cists, whereas in the early Tagar period burials were placed in rectangular pits within a square enclosure bounded by stone slabs. These were soon replaced with log-lined chambers and roofed with multiple log layers. 

Over time the burial mounds became larger to accommodate a larger number of burials within the mound. By the 6th century BC the burial mounds had become ever more elaborate as demonstrated in the Salbyk Valley in the centre of the Minusink Basin where barrows of about 20m in height are located. The Bolshoi Salbykskii kurgan reached 11m in height. The enclosure wall contained massive sandstone slabs, weighing around 30-50 tonnes each, set vertically at 6m high. These huge megaliths have been sourced to an ancient quarry at Kyzyl-Khaya mountain, 16 km away, a feat similar to the transportation of the huge sarsens at Stonehenge.10

The grave goods found in the Tagar kurgans provide evidence of skilled bronze casting, a tradition rooted in the Late Bronze Age. Artefacts buried with the deceased, presumably to accompany them to the afterlife, included weapons such as bows and bronze arrow heads, bronze daggers and bronze battleaxes. Horse gear was prominent, the bone side-pieces on horse bridles of the Karasuk period, as noted above, were now made of brass demonstrating advancing metalworking skills.  When combined with the many rock carvings depicting horses, the amount of horse gear found in these burials confirms that the horse played a significant role in Tagar culture, providing milk, meat and enhanced mobility. The value of the horse continued to grow among steppe cultures reaching what can only be described as cult status as we shall see.

Along with weapons and horse gear, animal art completes the so-called 'Scythian Triad' found in kurgans across the steppe and the Tagar culture is no exception. Animals cast in bronze in stylistic form are found throughout the burial mounds of the Minusinsk Basin and include felines, argali sheep standing in distinctive pose with feet together and recurved horns, recumbent deer with raised head and antlers splayed out behind with feet tucked under the body, less often are horses, boars and birds. Often these animals are found as petroglyphs on the stone slabs retaining the burial mounds.11

The earliest form of this kind of animal art, termed ‘Scythian-Siberian animal art’, is found on the so-called deer stones, deer motifs carved on standing stones in the Sayan and Altai mountains, stretching into northern Mongolia, where they have been dated to the Final Bronze Age, c.1300-700 BC. As with the Siberian Ice Princess, a shamanistic belief system is given as an interpretation. Significantly, this confirms that the stylistic animal art also found in kurgans of the Pontic steppe originated in the Bronze Age culture of the Altai-Sayan Mountains and quickly spread westward across the steppe. 

Notes & References
1.  C. Scott Littleton & Ann C. Thomas, The Sarmatian Connection: New Light on the Origin of the Arthurian and Holy Grail Legends, The Journal of American Folklore , Jan. - Mar., 1978, Vol. 91, No. 359 (Jan. - Mar., 1978), pp. 513-527,
2. C. Scott Littleton & Linda A. Malcor, From Scythia to Camelot,  Garland, (Revised Edition) 2000, The Alans and the Grail, p.233.
3. Warwick Ball, The Eurasian Steppe, Edinburgh University Press, p.25.
4. Ibid.
5. Sandra Olsen, The Early Horse Herders of Botai, University of Kansas
6. Taylor, W.T.T., Barrón-Ortiz, C.I. Rethinking the evidence for early horse domestication at Botai. Sci Rep 11, 7440 (2021). 
7. Rebuttal of Taylor and Barrón-Ortiz 2021 Rethinking the evidence for early horse domestication at Botai Outram, A; Bendrey, R; Evershed, RP; et al. Date: 28 July 2021 (excerpt):
"Taylor and Barrón-Ortiz (2021) present a reconsideration of the evidence for early horse husbandry in the Eneolithic Botai Culture of Northern Kazakhstan. However, their critique misrepresents key methodologies applied in the original analyses, demonstrates fundamental scientific misunderstanding of the stable isotopic evidence, omits key details about recent proteomic evidence and underplays or ignores a raft of other evidential lines. This rebuttal paper addresses these points. Additionally, the only primary evidence presented in Taylor and Barrón-Ortiz (2021), relating tooth wear patterns in North American wild horses, if correctly presented, adds more empirical weight to the conclusion that Botai-type wear patterns are only seen in bitted animals."
8. Sandra Olsen, The Early Horse Herders of Botai.
9. Warwick Ball, p.56.
10. Leonid Sergeevich Marsadolov, The Great Salbyk Barrow in Siberia, Archaeoastronomy and Ancient Technologies 2014, 2(2), pp.59-65.
11. Barry Cunliffe, The Scythians, Oxford University Press, 2021, pp.78-95.

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Tuesday 12 March 2024

The First Scythian King

A series of articles exploring claims that the prototypes of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table as well as the quest for the Grail evolved in the Iranian-speaking people of the Eurasian steppe  known as Sarmatians.
More recently it is claimed that the descendants of the Alans [an ancient and medieval Iranic nomadic pastoral people of the North Caucasus, related to the Sarmatians] had a tendency "for telling stories about cups, the importance of cups in the Alanic religion, and the extent of Alanic influence in the church of Gaul" suggests that the French poet Robert de Boron may have had an Alanic source for his Grail material, with the Grail Hallows being the treasure taken from the Temple of Solomon by the Romans in 70 AD.

The Ice Princess
In 1993 a team of Russian archaeologists led by Dr. Natalya Polosmak made a fascinating discovery on the Ukok Plateau, high up at 2,500m altitude in the Altai Mountains in Siberia, close to the borders with China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. As they started excavating the burial mound they found a huge block of ice.

Tomb of the Siberian Ice Princess

This was a tumulus known as a ‘kurgan’ typical of the early Scythian culture. A kurgan is a type of barrow-like tomb with a mound constructed over a grave, sometimes containing just a single human body, sometimes more, accompanied with grave goods such as weapons, horses and distinctive animal art. 

The burial mounds of the Altai are different to the kurgans of the Steppes in containing burial chambers constructed from logs and then covered in a low mound of stone. In this case water had trickled through the stones then froze encasing the contents in a block of ice, preserved an almost perfect state.

On melting the ice the archaeologists found the mummified body of a 25-year-old woman termed the Siberian Ice Princess. This discovery provided a rare first-hand glimpse into the world of the Pazyryk culture, a nomadic people that inhabited the Steppe region of Siberia more than 2,500 years ago. 

Body Art of the Siberian Ice Princess

The Ice Princess, also known as the Altai Lady, and the grave contents had been perfectly preserved by the ice of the cold Altai Mountains. This lady was clearly of high status as she was accompanied by six sacrificed horses arranged in a radial pattern. Individual burials of this type were usually reserved for Royalty, hence her assumed designation as a princess. Her body had several tattoos including a deer-like creature with a griffon’s beak and a Capricorn’s antlers.  Her richly decorated skin had been peeled back and her organs removed, then neatly stitched back together. In addition to the tattoo of the deer-griffin-like creature, the Ice Princess's skin was preserved and embalmed with herbs, grasses, and wool to complete the mummification process. Covering her shoulders was sable fur over a silk blouse and striped woolen skirt confirming her royal lineage as silk was usually reserved for high status people of nomadic tribes. The Ice Princess wore a pointed conical felt hat which had led to the suggestion that she was possibly a shaman. 

Frozen Tombs of the Pazyryk Culture
Five other tombs had been found in the Ukok Plateau; the first, Barrow 1, was excavated in 1929 while Barrows 2–5 were excavated between 1947–1949. The content of these burial mounds were also preserved in a similar manner as the tomb of the Ice Princess, water seeping into the tombs in ancient times had frozen and encased the grave contents in ice, which remained frozen in the permafrost until the time of their excavation.

It is apparent that ordinary people were not interred, or at least not in large burial sites. The large burial mounds, or kurgans, along with their belongings, horses and sometimes attendants, was strictly reserved for the elite across the Eurasian Steppe.

Ukok Plateau, Altai Mountains

Lower in the Altai is the huge Tuekta kurgan also of the Pazyryk Culture. The region of these Pazyryk kurgans is given protection as the Golden Mountains of Altai UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yet, literally thousands of these kurgans cover the Eurasian Steppe.

The Eurasian Steppe
The Eurasian Steppe is a belt of grassland extending for 5,000 miles  (8,000 km) from near the Danube delta in modern Romania to Manchuria in north-east China. Since prehistoric times the Steppe has been a super-highway between Europe and Asia, inhabited by nomadic tribal confederations, the most well-known being the Scythians, Cimmerians, Sarmatians, Huns and Mongols.

With relatively low rainfall, typically less than 20 inches, the grassland is devoid of trees and does not support grazing for more than a generation or so requiring pastoralists to regularly move on to fresh pastures. Thus, the nomadic peoples of the Steppe left little in the way of permanent settlements yet their presence can be traced through their burial customs across the Steppe.

The Eurasian Steppe

To the north the Steppe is bounded by the forests of European Russia and Asian Russia or Siberia, to the south land becomes increasingly drier. The Steppe naturally narrows at two points, making, for convenience, divisions of three major regions.

The European, western end of the Eurasian Steppe begins near the mouth of the Danube and stretches to the southern end of the Ural Mountains, this is known at the Pontic–Caspian Western Steppe. In days of old it was bounded to the north by forest steppe, but in more recent times the forest has been cleared for agricultural land. To the south and east it is bounded by the Black Sea and Caspian Sea to the Caucasus Mountains.  Further west, the Great Hungarian Plain of the Pannonian Steppe is separated from the main Steppe by the Carpathian Mountains. 

Between the southern tip of the Ural Mountains and the Caspian Sea the Steppe narrows forming a natural division between the Pontic-Caspian Steppe with the Kazakh Steppe, where Europe meets Central Asia. The Kazakh Steppe, or Central steppe, forms the bulk of the Eurasian Steppe stretching from the Urals to Dzungaria, in north-western China. To the south it becomes drier, semi-desert and desert divided by the rivers Syr Darya (Jaxartes) and Amu Darya (Oxus) flowing into the Aral Sea. 

However, the Steppe has few natural barriers, the Urals, regarded as Europe’s conventional eastern boundary, regardless of its name as a mountain range is nothing more than a range of low hills and has never been a cultural barrier. Indeed, nomadic horsemen could ride unhindered from the mouth of the Danube in the west to the Altai Mountain range in the east where modern Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan come together in East-Central Asia. 

The Altai merges with the Sayan Mountains to the north-east, beyond this is the Eastern Steppe, stretching from the Altai Mountains in the west to the Greater Khingan Range in the east. The primary region of the Eurasian Steppe in East Asia is the Mongolian-Manchurian Steppe which covers large areas of Mongolia and the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, the two divided by the high plateau of the Gobi Desert. 

The Eastern Steppe

Being of higher altitude than the Western Steppe, the Eastern Steppe is colder and more arid with greater extremes of seasonal temperatures making it one of the most severe climates on Earth. This harsh environment duly played a significant role in human migrations either southward and eastward direction toward Manchuria and northern China or westward, passing between the Altai and Tien Shan mountains through the valley of the Ili River and past Lake Balkhash and the more inviting grasslands of the Western Steppe. Migrating people would converge through the Dzungarian Gate.

The narrowing of the Steppe at Dzungarian is defined by the Tarbagatai Mountains to the west and the Mongolian Altai Mountains on the east, to the north the Tian Shan Mountains and the Tarim Basin to the south. The Dzungarian Gate is the only mountain pass in the 3,000 mile (4,800km) mountain-wall which stretches from Manchuria to Afghanistan, the most accessible pass for nomadic horsemen between the western Eurasian steppe and land to the east. The pass is associated with the modern conception of the Silk Road connecting China with the Roman Empire and Herodotus’s tale of the legendary Hyperboreans.

This natural boundary between the Eastern and Western Steppes, is where we find the ice tombs of the Pazyryk culture on the Ukok Plateau in the Altai Mountains (as noted above) which have been dated to the 5th century BC. But these are not the earliest Steppe kurgans that have been identified to date, for that we must look at the cultures that preceded the Pazyryk.

Kurgans of the Western Steppe
The Greek historian and geographer, Herodotus tells us that the core area of Scythian tribes was around the northern shore of the Black Sea, modern southern Ukraine and southern Russia. The Royal graves of the Scythians in the steppe area north of the Black Sea were the first known and the first to be investigated in modern times. 

Western Steppe, north of the Black Sea

The kurgans of the Western Steppe were typically around 12–15m high, yet at Solokha on the bank of the Dnieper in Central Ukraine the kurgan was almost 18m high. At Chertomlyk, also in Ukraine, the kurgan was 20m high and 50m in diameter. Both are dated to the 4th century BC. The construction of these two large kurgans suggests a huge communal effort, yet the kurgans never contain burials of ordinary people being reserved exclusively for Royalty and the Elite, and on occasion their attendants.

The body in the kurgan at Solokha was wearing a gold neck-ring, gold bracelets, a gold-sheathed dagger, held a sceptre shaft in the right hand, and gold platelets sewn onto the clothing. Other chambers contained cauldrons, bronze and silver tableware, and Greek drinking vessels. Clearly this individual was interred with all of the status of a Scythian king or high chieftain.

The Scythian kurgans north of the Black Sea region typically contained catacombs, or subterranean chambers, underneath the burial mound. This would be entered through a passageway which led to the catacomb 10-18m deep with side chambers containing  further grave goods, tombs of their attendants and interred horses.

Consistently across the Eurasian steppe, the designated Scythian burial mounds from north of the Black Sea to the Altai Mountains, provide evidence that the tribal chieftain received preferential treatment after death, yet burial mound construction and grave goods could follow quite different traditions, in various regions such as southern Siberia. Dr. Hermann Parzinger has determined that “the complex structure of the kurgans should be considered as rituals which became architecture.

Until relatively recently the kurgans of the Western Steppe were thought to be the oldest Scythian burial mounds, apparently evidence of a culture that spread east as was the knowledge at the time. This was primarily because ancient historians in the west, Greek and Roman, made the first written records of these nomadic peoples and knew little of life beyond the Ural Mountains. Until the 19th century the kurgans of the Central Steppe and particularly the Eastern Steppe were less known, and until recent times very few had been professionally excavated.

But in the last 20 years or so several Russian–German archaeological teams led by Dr. Parzinger have studied the kurgans of the Ural region, the northern Caucasus,  Kazakhstan, and southern Siberia. 

As Dr Barry Cunliffe writes, “It is no exaggeration to say that the frozen tombs of Siberia have revolutionized our understanding of the first millennium BC nomads of the Altai region.”

The archaeological excavations of the Altai kurgans has shown that a vibrant animal art existed in south Siberia that was so similar to the Scythian animal art of the Pontic Steppe, north of the Black Sea, that we are forced to conclude that the two must have been part of the same cultural continuum. Russian archaeologists refer to this as Scythian-Siberian animal art. 

Scythian-Siberian animal art: Deer-shaped gold plaque (7th century BC)

In addition, three common types of object, known as the so-called Scythian Triad have been found repeatedly in kurgans across the entire Eurasian Steppe, from west to east: Horse Bridal - dagger/composite Bow - animal style art.

The First Scythians
Tuva in Southern Siberia is situated on the eastern flank of the Altai massif, about 100km east of Pazyryk where the famous Scythian frozen tombs were discovered.  

Here on a high plateau traversed by the Uyuk River, a tributary of the Yenisei River, and enclosed by the Sayan Mountains to the east and the Kuznetsk Atatau Mountains to the west, which merge into the Altai, we find the Tuva basin, the site of the early kurgan burials at Arzhan and the largest concentrations of Scythian burial mounds so far found. 

The Arzhan cemetery, Uyuk Valley

The Arzhan culture was preceded by the Karasuk culture centred on the Minusinsk Basin in the Altai-Sayan region of the South Siberian Mountains, northwest of Mongolia. The animal art of the Karasuk culture has contributed to the development of the distinctive Scythian-Siberian animal art style.

The origins of the Karasuk culture are complex, however, it seems to have formed out of the Andronovo culture, from 2,000 BC to 900 BC in Western Siberia and the Central Asian Steppe. Most researchers associate the Andronovo horizon with early Indo-Iranian languages.

In northern Tuva is one of the largest and most important kurgan cemeteries in Southern Siberia. Here we find all of the features that characterise Scythian culture further west on the Pontic Steppe actually emerged first in Southern Siberia.

As this is the same region where the Karasuk and the earlier Andronovo cultures developed, we can, with some confidence, pinpoint Southern Siberia as the ‘Scythian homeland’. Therefore, the arrival of Scythian culture in this region cannot be viewed as something that migrated from somewhere else, but is endemic. 

The immense valley of the Uyuk River encloses a huge cemetery of a thousand large earthen or stone-built mounds dated to the 1st millennium BC, the Bronze and Iron eras. The largest reach more than a 100m in diameter and up to 6m high and often in a straight line, suggesting a relationship between the deceased. Especially numerous are cemeteries in the valley near Arzhan, which the local people have termed the ‘Valley of the Kings’. The importance of the site has been recognised by its inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Warwick Ball, The Eurasian Steppe, Edinburgh University Press, 2021.
Barry Cunliffe, The Scythians: Nomad Warriors of the Steppe, Oxford University Press, 2021.
Richard Foltz, The Ossetes, IB Tauris, 2023.
Ravi K. Mishra1,  The ‘Silk Road’: Historical Perspectives and Modern Constructions, Indian Historical Review, 47-1 (2020), pp.21–39.
Dr. Hermann Parzinger, Kurgans: Ancient Burial Mounds of Scythian Elites in the Eurasian Steppe, Journal of the British Academy 5 (2017), pp.331-335.

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Sunday 28 January 2024

The Grail and the Alans

“In the summer of 376, a large force of Goths came to the river Danube, the north-eastern boundary of the Roman Empire, and asked for asylum. Two Gothic kings had just died, and another been deposed, as they tried — and failed — to hold in check the expansion of Hunnic tribes into their territories on the northern shores of the Black Sea. Within two years, the Goths had precipitated, in turn, a crisis for the Roman state. On 9 August 378, just outside the city of Hadrianople (modern Edirne in European Turkey), they defeated and killed the Emperor Valens, ruler of the eastern half of the Roman Empire, along with two-thirds of his army.”1

The victory of Fritigern’s Goths at Hadrianopolis (Adrianople), on 9th August AD 378, resulting in the death of the emperor of the east and annihilation of two thirds of his army, unleashed a chain of events which changed the course of European history that many see as the beginning of the end of the Roman empire in the west; just one hundred years following the Goths’ crossing of the Danube saw the fall of the last western Emperor in 476.

Several reasons have been put forward for the failure of the Romans at Adrianople, described as their worst defeat since Cannae in 216 BC, among them that Valens engaged the enemy without waiting for co-emperor Gratian’s forces from the west owing to his jealousy of his young nephew’s recent success against the Alemanni and wanted the victory for himself; Roman intelligence massively misjudged the numbers of the Gothic army; ill-discipline in the Roman ranks led to an outbreak of fighting before the command was given.

All of these may have played a part in the devastation of the Roman war machine at Adrianople; however, a decisive factor seems to be the role of the Gothic cavalry that hit the Roman army in a lightning blitz attack. The Gothic cavalry contained a large contingent of Alans which had not been spotted by Valens scouts, or had been deliberately hidden by Fritigern, and came from nowhere to hit the Roman flank.

Who Were the Alans?
The Alans who fought alongside the Goths at the battle of Adrianople never limited their allegiance to one particular people; they were first recorded as fighting with the Huns against the Goths, on other occasions against the Huns, and throughout their travels into western Europe often employed by the Romans, sometimes fighting for the Empire, sometimes against. Alanic horsemen were highly valued by the emperor Gratian and were part of his entourage.2 Resentment of Gratian’s favouritism shown to his Alan auxiliaries seems to have contributed to his downfall in 383.

Around eighty years after being driven from their Black Sea homelands by the Huns, the Alans fought alongside Romans and Goths in the major defeat of the Huns at the The Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in Gaul (AD 451), the last great Imperial victory in the west. 

The history of the Alans is a complex story; they are the only non-Germanic tribe to permanently settle in Western Europe during the migration period.3

The Asiatic Alans (Latin: Alani or Halani) were Iranian nomadic pastoral people of the North Caucasus, between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, their warriors were mainly cavalry units of mounted archers who disliked fighting on foot.4 As nomads the Alans resided in wooden wagons that were the hub of family life. The wagons had canopies constructed from bark and were drawn by cattle. As they travelled from place to place they drove herds of horses and cattle and flocks of sheep with them.

The Alans, like other tribes of the Asiatic steppe, bound the heads of some of their infants, creating deformation of the skull. These distinctive, elongated skulls have been found at a number of sites claimed to have been settled by Alans that have been excavated in modern-day France.5 

However, it would be wrong to assume all elongated skulls found at places with ‘Alan’ place names in Gaul were all Alanic as this practice was typical of many tribes from the central Asiatic steppe. Binding the heads of infants before the skull bones fused to form the characteristic elongated shape was a common practice of the Huns and some of their European neighbours adopted this practice for a brief period at the height of Hunnic power in the mid-5th  century.6

In the 370s the Alans living on the plains between the Don and Volga Rivers, the area north of the Black Sea, were attacked by another Asiatic tribe known as the Huns. Some Alans submitted and joined the Huns, while others fled to the west across the river Don. After being devastated by the Huns the Alans never again managed to come together as one cohesive group, but splintered into several tribal groups that seem to have had no common interests. Of all barbarian peoples the Alans were the most fragmented; as Wolfram says, they appeared ‘everywhere and nowhere’.7

After first storming and subduing the Alans the Huns then displaced the Gothic tribe known as the Greuthungi who inhabited the lands between the Don and Dnieper Rivers, and then the Tervengi Goths who lived between the Dnieper and the Danube Rivers. The pressure from the Huns resulted in displaced Goths, Alans and Taifali massing on the north bank of the Danube. Valens permitted Fritigern’s Tervengi to cross the Danube and enter the Empire, but the emperor refused to allow the Greuthungi across.

By 377 some Alans and Greuthungi had joined the Tervengi south of the Danube. After being poorly treated by the Romans the Gothic federation rebelled, culminating in the Battle of Adrianople the following year, where as we have seen, the Alanic cavalry played a significant role in the Emperor’s downfall. The number of Alans at Adrianople was probably no more than 3,000, it is likely that a number of these Alans remained with Fritigern’s Goths.

A group of Alans was later settled in the province of Valeria, in Pannonia, attaching themselves to the Hasding Vandals. Despite very different ethnic origins the Alans found much in common with these Vandals. These barbarian groups would move westward and eventually settle within the western Empire. The Alans entered Gaul through two main groups; the main group, in alliance with Vandals and Suevi, crossed the Rhine in 406–407 and spent the next three years journeying through Gaul.

Other units of Alans broke away from this main group and took service with the Romans, first in the Rhineland and then in central Gaul. Alans are recorded as besieging Bazas around 414 and another Alan group is mentioned thirty years later as settled near Valence. The main group stayed with the Vandals and eventually settled in Spain. The Vandals crossed to Africa in 429 and captured Carthage ten years later.

Another contingent of Alans, some remnants of Radagasius’s army that attacked Italy in 405-6, some descendants from the Alans who fought at Adrianople that had remained with the Goths, entered southern Gaul in the Gothic federation of Athaulf following the sack of Rome in AD 410 by Alaric. Some of these Alans were settled with this group, now known as Visigoths, in southern Gaul, the region traditionally associated with the Grail legends

The Sarmatian-Alanic Connection
In 'From Scythia to Camelot' the authors, C Scott Littleton and Linda Malcor argue that the core of the Arthurian and Holy Grail traditions derived not from Celtic mythology, but rather from the folklore of the peoples of ancient Scythia (what are now the South Russian and Ukrainian steppes).8

It is argued by the authors that this fusion of folklore came about through a detachment of Sarmatians posted to Britain in the 2nd century AD, coming into contact with a Roman officer named Artorius, the Latin origin of the name Arthur, and thus the Arthurian legend was born. 

However, THIS Artorius, serving as the camp prefect for Legio VI Victrix at York, made such an insignificant impact during his time in Britain that he was totally forgotten, until modern scholars told us he was the origin of the Arthurian legend. [see: Artorius: A Nation with Amnesia ]

Later, so the story goes, in the 12th century when the Arthurian legend was taken to the Continent it collided with the folklore of the Alans, the Iranian nomadic people and neighbours of the Sarmatians on the Black Sea in antiquity, and the Arthurian Cycle and the Story of the Grail was created. 

Is it possible that the folklore of the Alans could have survived the 9,000 km journey, and several generations later, from their Black Sea homelands to their settlements in the western Empire in the 5th century to re-emerge as the stories of the Grail in the 12th -13th centuries?

Notes & References
1. Peter Heather, The Goths, Blackwell, 1996, p.1.
2. Herwig Wolfram, History of the Goths, University of California Press, 1988, p.239.
3. Torsten Jacobsen, A History of the Vandals, Westholme Publishing, 2012, p.49.
4. Bernard Bachrach – A History of the Alans in the West, 1973, p.89.
5. Bachrach, p.68.
6. Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire, Oxford University Press, 2007, p.586.
7. Wolfram, p.238
8.  C Scott Littleton and Linda Malcor, From Scythia to Camelot, Garland, 2000.

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Friday 22 December 2023

First Sarmatian found in Britain

"In 175 CE, following their defeat in the Marcomannic Wars, emperor Marcus Aurelius drafted Sarmatian cavalry into Roman legions and deployed 5,500 Sarmatian soldiers to Britain, as recorded by contemporary historian Cassius Dio. Little is known about where the Sarmatian cavalry were stationed, and no individuals connected with this historically attested event have been identified to date, leaving its impact on Britain largely unknown."

In 2017, during excavations preceding the A14 road improvement scheme between Cambridge and Huntingdon, archaeologists discovered a complete well-preserved skeleton of a young man, around 18–25 years old at the time of death between 126 and 228 AD. The man has been named Offord Cluny 203645 after the Cambridgeshire village he was found near. 

Further analysis of extracted DNA by the Ancient Genomics Laboratory at the Francis Crick Institute in London has shown that the remains, found buried in a ditch on a farmstead site that later developed into a villa complex during the Roman occupation of Britain, belong to a man from a nomadic group known as Sarmatians, an Iranian-speaking people from around the Black Sea at the far end of the Roman Empire, the area today of southern Russia, Armenia, and Ukraine. 

(Francis Crick Institute)

Analysis of his teeth by the archaeology department of Durham University has shown that until the age of six he ate C4 crops such as millets and sorghum grains, which are plentiful in the plains where the Sarmatians lived. As he grew his diet changed, decreasing his consumption of these grains and eating more wheat, found in western Europe. Scientists conclude that Offord Cluny 203645, and not his ancestors, made the journey to Britain indicating that he could have been a cavalry man's son, or possibly his slave. 

Dio Cassius's Roman Histories describe how toward the end of the Marcomannic Wars (AD 166-180) 8,000 heavy cavalry from a Sarmatian tribe known as the Iazyges were taken into the Roman army by Marcus Aurelius; 5,500 of which Dio says were sent to Britain. 

It is claimed that these Sarmatian auxiliaries were posted in groups of five hundred to the garrisons along Hadrian's Wall. Additionally, when their period of service was over, the veterans were settled at the Roman fort of Bremetennacum Veteranorum (Ribchester, Lanchashire).

The Notitia Dignatum, a record of Roman units of the late Roman Empire, does confirm a Sarmatian presence at Bremetennacum listed as Cuneus Sarmatarum. The Notitia Dignatum is considered to be fairly accurate for early 5th century Roman Britain but is of little value for 2nd century Roman Britain when the 5,500 Sarmatians are said to have arrived. However, Roman altars found at the site do confirm the presence of Sarmatian cavalry, however the size of the fort was not large enough to accommodate all 5,500. The fort, built around 70 AD and active for around 300 years, initially accommodated an Ala (wing) of 500 Asturians from Spain who were replaced by a similar number of Sarmatians. It is likely that the Cuneus Sarmatarum, as recorded in the Notitia Dignatum, was enlisted from later generations of the first Sarmatian cavalry settled in the area.

There is a surprising lack of archaeological evidence to verify their presence along the forts of Hadrian’s Wall; one would expect the arrival of 5,500 Sarmatians (possibly a much larger number if their families came with them) to have left a significant archaeological signature. But as it stands, the vast majority of the 5,500 Iazyges posted to Britain simply disappeared without trace. 

Offord Cluny 203645 was found along way from the north of Britain where it is claimed the 5,500 Sarmatians were posted. It is indicative of his status that he was not recovered from one of the small formal Romano-British cemeteries found along the modern A14 road, but in an isolated burial placed within a former trackway ditch toward the fringes of the farmstead. Furthermore there is a complete absence of grave goods indicating Offord Cluny 203645 was not a military man. Being found in a ditch in a rural location suggests he was associated with the farmstead.

During the early-mid Roman isolated burials outside of formal cemeteries in peripheral unfurnished graves were not an uncommon feature of farmsteads and villas. However it is usually unclear who was placed in these isolated burials, but the very act of interment itself distinguishes them from the majority of the rural population from this time who were subjected to funerary rites which left little archaeological trace.

DNA sleuths solve mystery of the 2,000-year old corpse - BBC News 20-12-2023

Read the report in full:

An individual with Sarmatian-related ancestry in Roman Britain - Marina Silva, Thomas Booth, Joanna Moore, David Bowsher, Janet Montgomery, Pontus Skoglund, et al.
Current Biology, Cell Press, 19-12-2023 (Open Access)

Science Direct (Open Access)

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Monday 4 December 2023

Artorius: A Nation with Amnesia

In this series of articles we have considered the relationship of the Three Welsh Romances, Historia Peredur ab Efrawg, Owain (Chwedl Iarlles Y Fynawn) and Geraint ab Erbin to their French counterparts the Arthurian romances written by Chretien de Troyes, Perceval, or Le Conte du Graal, Yvain, Le Chevalier du Lion; Erec et Enide. The relationship between these parallel stories immediately calls into question the origin, history, and influences of the tales – the so called mabinogionfrage. In particular the debate regarding the provenance of Chretien's story of the Grail has focused on the anonymous tale Peredur which has been locked in a ‘Welsh v French’ argument. It is clear that as the Grail stories evolved they were subject to influence from various sources from the Continent and even the Orient, creating a complex hybrid of themes in the later tales. However, one theory argues for the origins of the Arthurian Cycle and the story of the Grail in the ancient folklore of the Caucasus Mountains, the land between the Black and Caspian seas.


“Attempts have been made to find a prototype for the Arthur of the Britons by identifying him with historical figures whose names have come down in early and independent records. It is commonly accepted that the most likely derivation of his name is from the Latin Artorius, and there is evidence that this name was known in Britain in the second century, for an inscription records that in this century a certain Lucius Artorius Castus, praefectus castrorum of the Sixth Legion stationed at York, was sent at the head of two legions to Armorica to suppress a rebellion.”1

A Biography in Stone
Two epitaphs found on a pair of Roman tombstones discovered on the Adriatic coast of modern- day Croatia, once Roman Dalmatia, commemorating the career of a Roman officer, are claimed to closely correspond to the military career of the legendary historical Arthur.2 

The longer inscription:

Drawing of the Lucius Artorius Castus inscription from Podstrana,
as read (with minor errors) by professor Frane Bulić in the late 1880s


“To the spirits of the departed: L. Artorius Castus,
Centurion of the III Legion Gallica; also centurion of the
VI Legion Ferrata, also centurion of the II Legion II Adiutrix;
also centurion of the V legion Macedonica; also primus pilus
of the same legion; praepositus of the classis Misenatium;
Praefectus of the VI Legion Victrix; dux of the cohorts
of cavalry from Britain against the Armoricans; procurator
Centenarius of the province of Liburnia with the power to issue
sentences of death. In his lifetime, for himself and his family,
he made this.”

The long inscription on the larger of the two tombstones, found in the wall of St Martin’s Church, Podstrana, details the career of Castus from centurion of the Legion III Gallica through to prefect of the Legion VI Victrix, then appointed commander of a detachment of British troops on a campaign in ‘Armoricos’ (?) before finishing his career as procurator in the province Liburnia (part of Dalmatia). This led the American linguist, Kemp Malone, to see the military career of Lucius Artorius Castus as the starting point of the Arthurian legend.5

In support of Malone’s conjectured genesis was the fact that a few years earlier in the late-19th century it had been shown that the Welsh name Arthur most probably derived from the Roman name Artorius. It must be conceded that the name Arthur could certainly be derived from Artorius, rather than a Latinisation of a Celtic name.

A Career Reconstructed
There is much debate, and little agreement,6 over this inscription; unfortunately it has split in two right through the word ‘ARM’…. which was interpreted by Malone,7 and many others since, to identify Castus campaign as the inspiration behind Arthur’s Gallic invasion as first recorded by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), c.1138. 

But failing to identify a suitable military campaign in the desired timeframe in ‘Armoricos’8 this interpretation has now changed after many years. Early inspections of the long inscription claimed there was a ligature connecting the M to E, therefore ARM[ENIOS] seemed to be the most likely interpretation. This is the preferred interpretation of modern historians who see ARM[ENIOS] as referring to Castus in temporary command of troops drawn from legions stationed in Britain, in transit to Armenia and argue that Castus’s service as dux best fits the war triggered in AD 161 by a Parthian invasion of Armenia. Or even the later Parthian campaign of Caracalla of AD 216-17.

Others now argue that there is no ligature on the inscription and there never was (meaning no 'E'), initial readings were simply wrong, and it should now be interpreted as ARM[ATOS], as in ‘fighting armed’ men (adversus armatos) which unshackles Castus from fighting Armoricans or Armenians in AD 161 or AD 216 and makes other campaigns possible.9 Thus, the dating of the inscription is critical, but again, few agree on whether it is late 2nd century or early 3rd century. 

From the long inscription the complete military career of Castus has been reconstructed, determining where he would have served in each Legion, such as the first post recorded on the inscription was as centurion in Legio III Gallica which has been determined as in Syria c. AD 158 until around 162 when he transferred to IV Ferrata in Judea. After spending about 4 years in Judea Castus joined Legio II Adiutrix on the Danube, at the age of around 22, where it is claimed he first came into contact with the Sarmatians.10

Castus then moved to Legio V Macedonia where he was promoted to primus pilus (the highest ranking centurion).  According to the inscription Castus was then promoted to praepositus (a naval rank) of the classis Misenatium, (the fleet based at Misentia). He then moved to Britain as praefectus of Legio VI Victrix, who were based at Eboracum (York). From here he was appointed dux (a temporary command) to lead detachments of cavalry from Britain against the Armoricans(?), before finishing his career as procurator Centenarius of the province of Liburnia.11

There are no other sources known to us to verify the military career of Castus, and the shorter inscription merely confirms his posts as primus pilus of Legio V Macedonica and prefect of Legio VI Victrix.

However, another post is argued for between his time in Legio V Macedonia and the classis Misenatium that is missing from Castus's resume on the long inscription. Littleton and Malcor write that after serving as primus pilus Castus would have re-enlisted in the traditional "equestrian cursus,” the first rank of which ‘praefectus cohortis’ is missing from the inscription. It is then suggested that he “probably served this tour as a praefectus of numeri (an alternative rank to praefectus cohortis) by leading the Iazyges to Bremetennacum and settling them into the Roman military system.” They add that instead of serving as a simple praefectus alae (cavalry commander) in his next post as praefectus of Legio VI Victrix, Castus was placed in command of Bremetennacum (Ribchester).12 None of this is attested on either inscription or any other source and therefore must be considered pure speculation.

Neither inscription provides any dates whatsoever which has left a void, a black hole, for an imagined reconstruction of the career of Castus. According to John Matthews, as seen above, around AD 158 Castus was a centurion in Syria. Eight years later at the age of 22 he joined Legio II Adiutrix. Therefore he was a centurion in Legio III Gallica at the age of 14! Perhaps this was the inspiration behind Arthur the boy king who pulled the sword from the stone at age 15 in later Arthurian romance. In fact we have no idea when Castus was born and what age he was when he first achieved the rank of centurion, but it is hardly likely to be as a young boy. The inscription does not say he served in Syria, Judea or the Danube. These locations have been taken from known activity of the said legions to reconstruct a timeframe that revolves around the Marcomannic Wars (bellum Germanicum et Sarmaticum) from about AD 166 to 180 ensuring Castus was in the right place at the right time. Yet, the inscription provides no evidence of Castus’s contact with Sarmatians (Iazyges), we know he joined Legio II Adiutrix but we don’t know when and we have no evidence that he ever fought on the Danube.

The Commander at Ribchester
Dio Cassius's Roman Histories describes how toward the end of the Marcomannic Wars (AD 166-180) 8,000 heavy cavalry from a Sarmatian tribe known as the Iazyges were taken into the Roman army by Marcus Aurelius; 5,500 of which Dio says were sent to Britain.

The Notitia Dignatum, a record of Roman units of the late Roman Empire, does confirm a Sarmatian presence at Bremetennacum, near Ribchester, Lancashire, listed as Cuneus Sarmatarum, under the command of the Dux Britannia, the only firm evidence for their presence in Britain. The Notitia Dignatum is considered accurate for early 5th century Roman Britain but is of little value for 2nd century Roman Britain when the 5,500 Sarmatians are said to have arrived. However, Roman altars found at the site do confirm the presence of Sarmatian cavalry, however the size of the fort was not large enough to accommodate all 5,500. The fort, built around 70 AD and active for around 300 years, initially accommodated an Ala (wing) of 500 Asturians from Spain who were replaced by a similar number of Sarmatians. It is likely that the Cuneus Sarmatarum, as recorded in the Notitia Dignatum, was enlisted from later generations of the first Sarmatian cavalry settled in the area. 

The Roman bathhouse remains at  Bremetennacum (Ribchester) 

It is claimed that these Sarmatian auxiliaries were posted in groups of five hundred to the garrisons along Hadrian's Wall. Additionally, when their period of service was over, the veterans were settled at Bremetennacum Veteranorum. It is further argued, in line with the imagined additional inscription (above) that their first commander was a Roman officer named Lucius Artorius Castus, prefect of the VI Legion Victrix, whose headquarters were at York (Eboracum). Apparently, as the name is uncommon, the very same Roman Officer commemorated on the epitaphs of the two tombstones from Podstrana as we have seen above. There must have only been one Roman stationed in Britain named Artorius.

It is then claimed that these Sarmatian cavalrymen from north of the Danube brought with them a treasury of folktales which became attached to the Roman commander whose name was the origin of ‘Arthur’, who led a band of mounted knights, that evolved as the core of the Arthurian legend and the stories of the Holy Grail, and thus, the so-called ‘Sarmatian Connection’ was conceived.13

We must recognise that the two tombstones from Podstrana bear, as far as we know, the only complete career biography of Castus, as we have no other source to verify this. Anything else is imaginative  speculation and conjecture. Accepting this fact, we must also recognise that there is nothing to link Castus with Sarmatian cavalry in Britain; the inscription simply does not record any contact between them. There is also nothing to verify that they were posted in groups of 500 along the forts of Hadrian’s Wall. In fact there is very little archaeological evidence for their presence along the Wall; it is likely the majority of the 5,500 (if they ever arrived - and we only have Cassius Dio’s word for it, and I suspect the number is incorrect) were moved out of Britain soon after their arrival. But as it stands, the vast majority of the 5,500 Iazyges posted to Britain simply disappeared without trace. Furthermore, there is no evidence whatsoever that Castus had any connection with Bremetennacum.

Thus, we can now see why the interpretation of ARM […] on the long inscription is critical to the career of Castus. If ARM[ENIOS] is correct and Castus was fighting Armenians in the 160s he had left Britain before the Sarmatians arrived. And neither inscription suggests he returned to Britain after this campaign. If Castus was in Armenian at this time he could not have had contact with any Sarmatians in Britain and the ‘Sarmatian Connection’ collapses.

A Caledonian Campaign?
Taking this a mighty leap further, it is then argued that the twelve victories,  culminating in the famous victory at Badon Hill, attributed to "Arthur" in the 9th century Historia Brittonum and 10th century Annalaes Cambriae, may actually have been won by Lucius Artorius Castus between AD 183-185 in Northern Britain leading units of Sarmatian cavalry and defeating marauding Caledonians who had crossed Hadrian’s Wall and raided into Northern England.14

I struggle to see a convincing attachment of the 2nd century Roman officer to the earliest Arthur, the successful leader (dux bellorum) of the battles of the Historia Brittonum; to suggest that this is a distant memory of the northern campaign of Castus, some 650 years earlier, is incredulous to say the least.15

How do we explain the silent gap? The onus is on those people proposing this thesis to validate their claims. Reconstructions based on speculation and conjecture of what may have been are worthless as evidence. We may ask where did the author of the Historia Brittonum get his information? There is no record of any battles fought in the north of Britain by Castus; certainly not on his tombstone, so where did this come from? It is no more than a modern myth.

Are we really supposed to believe a memory of this campaign suddenly appeared after a 650 year silence? There is no qualification for any of these claims that the 2nd century military career of Castus reflects that of the 9th century Arthur of the twelve battles in the Historia Brittonum. Arthur’s battles have been located all over the country, but it is fair to say that historians favour a northern location for the whole campaign. 

We have already seen how there is no evidence that Castus was commander of a Sarmatian cavalry unit at Bremetennacum (Ribchester) and now we find in the reinterpretation of Nennius’s battle list that this fort appears as Arthur’s eleventh battle at Breguoin in the Historia Brittonum, which is often identified with the Roman fort at High Rochester (Bremenium). Malcor’s identification is unconventional to say the least but Ribchester fits her reconstructed battle sequence of Castus chasing Caledonians all over the north of England and back into Scotland.

Two Roman forts on the Wall, Camboglanna and Avallana, have been suggested as the site of Camlann, Arthur’s last battle, and Avalon, respectively, where he was taken to be healed of his wounds. Neither battle occurs in the list in the Historia Brittonum; Camlann belongs to Welsh tradition and Avalon is based on the Celtic Elysium.

Furthermore, there is no record of any post-Roman battles at either fort. All we have is a Roman officer bearing the name ‘Artorius’ which could have been taken into Celtic as the name ‘Arthur’ but not necessarily.  Oddly no Latin sources refer to him as such: only to a Latinized Welsh or Breton name ‘Arthurus’.16 It is significant that Latin writers always refer to Arthur as Arturus or Arturius, but never as Artorius,17 suggesting any link with a Roman officer was unknown to these writers.

Moving forward a thousand years from the time Castus was active in the 2nd century to Arthur’s Gallic invasion as first recorded by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th century we find the only part of Castus’s career that could possibly correspond to the military career of Arthur. Yet as we have seen this has now been rejected by the current wisdom.

Yet, as we have seen Arthur’s Gallic invasion does not appear before Geoffrey of Monmouth’s psuedo-historical account of the Kings of Britain and certainly is not part of the earliest stratum of the Arthurian legend, Arthur of the battles as recorded in the 9th century Historia Brittonum, and 10th century Annales Cambriae which records Badon and Camlann only. Geoffrey’s source for Arthur’s Gallic invasion has been the subject of much debate, he probably pulled from several sources but the usurpation of Magnus Maximus was likely his main source; Geoffrey seemed totally unaware of a Roman officer named Lucius Artorius Castus stationed in Britain – or no doubt he would have used him in his Historia.

An Armorican Campaign?
However, we find the sources do reveal an occasion in Armorica (read Gaul) in which Roman troops from Britain may have been deployed as a counter offensive. The Historia Augusta explicitly records a military disorder that immediately precedes Commodus’ accession to imperial power, (HA Comm. 16.1–2). The Historia Augusta names this as ‘bellum desertorum’ (War on Deserters) without going into any great detail. Commodus reigned as emperor from AD 177-192 which certainly puts the events in the correct timeframe for a late 2nd century Castus.

The Roman geographical area of Armorica

A certain Maternus and some fellow soldiers left the army and turned to robbery and plunder, living as outlaws. They had reasonable success and gained further supporters (deserters) from the army, criminals and prisoners. The commentary of the historian Herodian, one of the main sources of the Historia Augusta, tells us that Maternus’ mob had swelled in such numbers it ravaged the “Celtic and Iberian territories”. Herodian’s account is supported in other accounts such as the biography of Pescennius Niger (HA Pesc. Nig. 3.3–5) which also reports that deserters plagued the provinces of Gaul in countless numbers.18

Commodus took appropriate action and prepared to despatch imperial forces into the area, but before they arrived Maternus’ rabble disbanded, with some small bands going into Italy. Maternus, so the story goes, now planned to assassinate the Emperor and take the throne himself. His own men betrayed him and he was quickly caught and executed.

Cassius Dio reports a failed uprising among the legions of Britain around this time, which seems to be linked to the War of the Deserters. Dio writes that “the lieutenants in Britain, accordingly, having been rebuked for their insubordination, — they did not become quiet, in fact, until Pertinax quelled them, — now chose out of their number fifteen hundred javelin men and sent them into Italy. These men had already drawn near to Rome without encountering any resistance, when Commodus met them.” When the Emperor asked them the purpose of their mission they replied that they had come because Perennis was plotting against him and plans to make his own son emperor.19

As Birley writes20 it hardly seems credible that the 1500 legionaries would be sent from Britain to simply denounce Perennis and ponders if they were part of a task force rounding up deserters, whose activities had reached alarming proportions in Gaul and Spain and may even have got as far as Rome. Birley adds that Lucius Artorius Castus, prefect of VI Victrix, had a special command over vexillations from two British legions and is often associated with these events.21 If the inscription does read ARM[ORICOS] then this is surely a strong candidate for the event it refers to.

Artorius Remembered?
As we have seen above, from the two inscriptions an imaginative full blown biography of this Roman officer has been developed, including Arthur’s twelve battles of the Historia Brittonum re-interpreted as Castus fighting a band of Caledonians that crossed Hadrian’s Wall in the late 2nd second century.22 

The longer inscription

We have seen that in AD 175 a group of 5,500 Sarmatian heavy cavalry, who belonged to a tribe known as Iazyges, were posted to Britain. It is argued that these Sarmatians brought with them stories from their homeland, around the Black Sea, to Britain. Their native folklore became attached to a Roman officer named Artorius, the Latin name from which the name ‘Arthur’ most probably derived. Thus, the core of the Arthurian stories that developed through the Middle Ages apparently has its origins in oral storytelling in the Caucasus, the meeting of Asia and Europe; the heavy cavalry of the Iazyges under the command of Artorius being the origin of the Arthurian knights.23 Mabinogionfrage solved! The source of the Arthurian Romance is neither Welsh or French but the Caucasian folklore of the Pontic-Caspian Steppe!

For this theory to be viable these tales of Caucasian folklore must have passed through several language barriers, to quote Nicholas Higham; “from Old Iranian into Latin and Brittonic, been taken up by both the clerical and vernacular traditions in post- Roman Britain, then been adopted into literature written predominantly in French from c.1150 onwards”.24 

It is accepted that any thesis is initially built on a level of conjecture but this is a very taxing route of transmission susceptible to all sorts of challenges, not least the many language changes, as Higham states above, that could have failed at various stages; and even more challenging to be accepted as credible. There are no proofs here, only speculation and conjecture which is argued as fact. 

Are we really expected to believe that these tales from the Caucasus arrived in Britain in the 2nd century and lay dormant, forgotten for many hundreds of years then suddenly re-emerged without any interim record? If the account of Arthur’s twelve battles in the 9th century Historia Brittonum is based on memories of Castus 2nd century campaign against the Caledonians what was the author’s (Nennius?) source? 

There is no record of any interim account; are we to believe the story of the battles survived as an oral account; one day Nennius was chatting to an old Sarmatian……. Where was this story for 650 years?

The reinterpretation of the battle list in From Scythia to Camelot (Appendix 3) shows greater similarity to the account of Arthur’s battles as told by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th century which is accepted by historians as a pseudo-historical tale, but here it is presented as a factual recall of Castus’s campaign against the Caledonians in AD 180s. Where was this story for a 1,000 years?

This, it is argued, is a typical pattern of development of a legend; a hero’s extraordinary deeds are passed on by people of his own time telling tales of this remarkable character. Then after many years in which his name is not used (?) the same hero suddenly re-emerges in further tales in which historical facts and imaginative stories merge into the hero often now possessing superhuman qualities; “he was victorious at the battle of ???? and he alone killed 900 of the enemy by his own hand”. Other bodies of folklore become attracted to the existing cycle to create a new form of the legend often with a semi-historical foundation. 

This is the formula being used to explain Castus as the genesis for the Arthurian legend. Yet, in the case of the historical events of Castus developing into a new form as the Arthurian legend there is a complete absence of evidence of transmission between stages, a silence of hundreds of years, no interim steps whatsoever. It seems Artorius’s time while stationed in Britain was so insignificant that no one even remembered him. Combined with the issues of transmission across many languages as noted above and this becomes a massive, if not impossible, call.

Eurasian steppes

During the late classical period the Alans had been neighbours of the Sarmatians, nomads of the Central Asian Steppe, at their peak extending across the plains from the borderlands of western China, westward to what is now Hungary. The Alans moved west under pressure from the Huns, some settled in Gaul by the Romans while others arrived as invading barbarians during the 5th century.

When the Arthurian Legend was taken to the Continent, so it is claimed, it collided with the folklore of the Alans, who told tales of magical swords and magical cups, including the death of the hero among other parallels that can be found today in the Nart Sagas of the Caucasus and the cultures and languages of the Ossetians and their neighbours, the ancestral lands of the Alans.

It is argued by Littleton and Malcor that the coming together of these two strands of folklore resulted in the Arthurian Cycle and the story of the Grail that emerged on the Continent from the 12th century and the introduction of a new Arthurian character, Lancelot the Alan.25

Notes and References:

1. Rachel Bromwich, A.O.H. Jarman, Brynley F. Roberts (editors), Introduction, to The Arthur of the Welsh, University of Wales Press, 1993. p.6.
2. For a detailed commentary on the inscriptions, Lucius Artorius Castus’ Career and the origin of the name “Artorius” see: Christopher Gwinn, Lucius Artorius Castus: A Sourcebook 
3. T. G. Jackson, "Dalmatia, the Quarnero and Istria", Oxford, 1887, pp. 167 (Wikimedia Commons)
4. The Monumental collection of Latin inscriptions, Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, No. 1919 (ed.) by Th. Mommsen: Berlin, Reimer, 1873.
5. Kemp Malone, Artorius, Modern Philology 23 (1924–1925): pp.367–74.
6. a. Tony Sullivan, The Roman King Arthur?: Lucius Artorius Castus, Pen & Sword, 2022,
b. Linda A. Malcor & John Matthews, Artorius: The Real King Arthur, Amberley Publishing, 2022.
7. Kemp Malone, Artorius.
8. Armorica, (from Celtic ar “on,” and mor, “sea”), the Roman name for the northwest peninsula of Gaul, now Brittany, which included the western part of what later became Normandy, part of the Gallia Lugdunensis province.
9. Linda A. Malcor & John Matthews, Artorius: The Real King Arthur, Amberley Publishing, 2022.
10. John Matthews, King Arthur Of The Romans: Lucius Artorius Castus And The Sarmatians In Britain, Hallowquest, Oxford, p.279.
11. Matthews, Ibid.
12. Littleton & Malcor, From Scythia to Camelot, p.73, fn.16.
13. a. Linda Malcor, Lucius Artorius Castus, Part 1: An Officer and an Equestrian, Heroic Age, 1, 1999.
b. Lucius Artorius Castus, Part 2: The Battles in Britain" Heroic Age 2, 1999.
c. C. Scott Littleton & Linda A. Malcor, From Scythia to Camelot: A Radical Reassessment of the Legends of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and the Holy Grail, Garland, 2000 (Revised Edition)], Appendix 3 – A Reinterpretation of Nennius’s Battle List.
13. C. Scott Littleton and Ann C. Thomas, The Sarmatian Connection: New Light on the Origin of the Arthurian and Holy Grail Legends, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 91, No. 359 (Jan. - Mar., 1978), pp. 513-527.
14. Littleton & Malcor, From Scythia to Camelot, Appendix 3, pp. 327-330.
15. John Matthews and Caitlín Matthews, The Complete King Arthur: Many Faces, One Hero, Inner Traditions, 2017. This book includes a new translation of Taliesin's poem Kadeir Teyrnon in which they present Arthur as fighting along Hadrian's Wall. This interpretation of the poem has significant differences to more recent modern translations and clearly influenced by the authors' bias toward a Northern Arthur rather than accuracy of translation in support of their case for Lucius Artorius Castus.
16. J. E. Caerwyn Williams, Brittany And The Arthurian Legend, in The Arthur of the Welsh, University of Wales Press, 1993. p.264.
17. Jean Markale, Le Roi Arthur et la societe celtique, Paris, 1981.
18. Tilman Moritz, An army in revolt? Military disorder during the reign of Commodus. Ancient World magazine.
19. Cassisus Dio, Roman History, Epitome of Book 73.9.
20. Anthony R. Birley, The Frontier Zone in Britain: Hadrian to Caracalla, pp.355-370, in The Impact of the Roman Army (200 B.C. – A.D. 476), Lukas de Blois and Elio Lo Cascio (Editors), Brill, 2007, pp363-.364.
21. Birley, Ibid. p.364, fn.46.
22. Littleton & Malcor, From Scythia to Camelot, Appendix 3.
23.  C. Scott Littleton and Ann C. Thomas, ‘The Sarmatian Connection: New Light on the Origin of the Arthurian and Holy Grail Legends.
24. Nicholas Higham, King Arthur: The Making of the Legend, Yale University Press, 2018, p.41.
25. Littleton & Malcor, From Scythia to Camelot, Chp 9: The Alans and the Grail, pp.233-254.

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