Sunday, July 5, 2015

Herodotus' References to the Saka

Conflation of Saka with Scythes
Herodotus in his Histories and Strabo in his Geography conflate the Saka with the Scythians. In our research, we have found the two to be different peoples [we invite the reader to read our webpage on the Saka & Scythians for an expanded discussion on the subject]. Perhaps a reason for the conflation was that the Saka lay at the frontiers of western consciousness and at times shared traits such as their mastery of horsemanship and a nomadic lifestyle. However, we have not found any evidence that the western Scythians and the eastern Saka made community together or promoted being a single national or ethnic group. Nor were all the Saka nomadic. The conflation of the two by Herodotus and Strabo is compounded by the bias of modern authors such as those who are Eurocentric and racists or those who wished to provide justification for the Soviet era consolidation of the Russian Empire in the eastern 'stans' that were earlier part of Iranian domains ('stan' means 'place or 'land' in Persian and is used as a suffix cf. Eng-land or Ire-land). It is in the eastern 'stans' such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan that the Saka had their original home).

Herodotus on the Eastern Border of Scythia
Herodotus defines the extent of Scythia quite well in his Histories at 4.21: Travelling west to east, "Across the Tanais (commonly today's Don River in the Ukraine) it is no longer Scythia; the first of the districts belongs to the Sauromatae, whose country begins at the inner end of the Maeetian lake (commonly taken to mean the Sea of Azov at the north of the Black Sea) and stretches fifteen days' journey north, and is quite bare of both wild and cultivated trees. Above these in the second district, the Budini inhabit a country thickly overgrown with trees of all kinds." In other words, we can approximate ancient Scythia around present-day Ukraine. Having said this, Herodotus at 1.201 begins the conflation of the Scythians with the Saka by noting that "some say" the Massagetae (in Central Asia) are Scythians.

Herodotus Introduces the Saka
At 7.64 of his Histories, Herodotus makes a revealing statement, "Σάκαι δὲ οἱ Σκύθαι...", i.e., "Sákai dé oi Skýthai", which translates as, "The Sakai (Sakas) who are Skythai (Scyths)...." A sentence later, "τούτους δὲ ἐόντας Σκύθας Ἀμυργίους Σάκας ἐκάλεον: οἱ γὰρ Πέρσαι πάντας τοὺς Σκύθας καλέουσι Σάκας" i.e., "toútous dé eóntas Skýthas Amyrgíous Sákas ekáleon:̱ oi gár Pérsai pántas toús Skýthas kaléousi Sákas.", which translates as, "But these (people) are in reality called Amyrgyian* Sakas. For the Persians call all those Scythians, Sakas." Most translators do not translate τοὺς/toús (epic form of , 'the following' and here 'those', a demonstrative pronoun), leaving the phrase to incorrectly read "...the Persians call all Scythians, Sakas." The exclusion of τοὺς/toús changes the meaning of the phrase substantially. [*5th cent. BCE Greek historian Ctesias in his Persica at § 3 has Amorges as king of the Sacae in the time of Cyrus. Polyaenus (2nd. cent. CE) in his Stratagems at vii. 12 has Amorges as king at the time of Darius. 'Amorg' is likely derived from the Old Iranin/Avestan 'amer' meaning 'immortal'.]

Pliny on the Saka & Location
Compare our translation to the statement by Pliny in his Natural Geography at 6.19: "Ultra sunt Scytharum populi. Persae illos Sacas universos appellavere a proxima gente, antiqui Aramios, Scythae ipsi Persas Chorsaros et Caucasum montem Croucasim, hoc est nive candidum". For the primary translation of this passage, we get, "Beyond* (the Jaxartes River/Syr Darya mentioned previously in 6.18) are the Scythian people. The Persians call all as Saka after the nearest people, the ancient Arami, Scythians themselves Persians Chorsares (Chorasmian?*) and/also the Caucasian Mountain Croucasis, that is snow white/whitened (cf. Safeed Kuh/Paropamisus)." We get a secondary translation by inserting 'call': "Beyond (the Jaxartes River/Syr Darya) are the Scythian people. The Persians call all as Saka after the nearest people, the ancient Arami, Scythians themselves (call) Persians Chorsares (Chorasmian?**) and/also (call) the Caucasian Mountain Croucasis, that is snow white." [*"Beyond" the Jaxartes means east of the Jaxartes. **Khor in Old Iranian = Sun; as in Khorasan and Khorasmia/Chorasmia.]

Pliny continues, "Multitudo populorum innumera et quae cum Parthis ex aequo degat." Out translation reads, "The multitude of the (Saka) populace is innumerable and they live on equal terms with the Parthians."

Significantly, Pliny places his description of the 'Scythians' after his chapter on the Caspian Sea and before his chapter on the Seres (eastern most lands). His passage states (as does Herodotus) that the Persians call all those 'Scythians" descended from the Arami as Saka. 'Aram' is an Irano-N. Indian word. It could also be a corruption of Herodotus' 'Amyrgi'. Pliny lived during the Parthian reign of Aryana and we also know of Parthava as Khorasan. This might explain Pliny's statement regarding the "Persians Chorsares". Paradoxically, even though the West knew the Parthians under the general appellation of 'Persians', the Parthians were originally a Saka group.

Darius' Behistun Inscription & the Saka
A note by Maj. Gen. Sir A. Cunningham in his article (at p. 223) published in the Royal Numismatic Society's Numismatic Chronicle (Great Britain, 1888) states, "In the Babylonian version of the inscriptions of Darius (likely at Behistun), Namiri (N'amiri?) is substituted for Saka. Perhaps Aramii should be Amarii." King Darius' inscription at Behistun that chronicles a secession by the Saka Tigra-Khauda is on column five. Gen. Cunningham's note indicates a possible relationship between 'Arami', 'Amyrgi' via 'Amiri' and the Saka Tigra-Khauda.

Darius in responding to the secession of the Saka Tigra-Khauda, states in his inscription that went he marched with his army to the Saka lands, he crossed a 'draya', a river, likely today's Syr Darya before encountering the Saka. Modern translators inevitably translate 'draya' as 'sea' and therefore translate 'para draya' incorrectly as 'across the sea'.

For a further discussion on the Aryan Saka see our pages Pahlavans & Sakastan.

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