The Sakas

December 29, 2018 by  

Part seven – Michael McClain

For some reason, there seems to be a sort of obsession to claim some sort of special kinship between the Iranian peoples on the one hand and the Germanic peoples on the other. There would appear to be no factual reason for this, but I am not going to bore the reader with a lot of psychobabble.

There has been a great deal of debate as to the location of the original homeland p1f the Indo – European peoples. Some theories in said connection are obviously not based on objective facts, but rather on nationalist or ethnic biases: for example, I have seen the northwestern part of the Indian Subcontinent, central Europe and even Scandinavia proclaimed as the or minimal Indo – European homeland. Yes, central Europe and what is called “Aryana Vaeja” in Avestan may have been secondary centers of dispersion (and, in so vast an area between the Atlantic and the borders of Bengal, some secondary centers of diffusion would seem to have be an almost inevitable). Christopher I. Beckwith says:

Based on word s referring to flora, fauna, and other things, as well as on archaeology and historic al sources, it has been concluded that the Proto-Indo- European homeland was in Central Eurasia, specifically in the steppe-forest zone between the southern Ural Mountains, the North Caucasus, and the Black Sea. The location given by C. I. Beckwith as the original homeland of the Indo-European peoples has the advantage of at least being near the center of the vast region occupied by Indo-European people. Also note that originally all Indo-European peoples not only the Germanic peoples, belonged to the Central Eurasian Culture complex.

For reasons now unknown, about four thousand years ago the Proto-Indo-European peoples began migrating from their original homeland. Mr. Beckwith continues: “’Their migration out of Central Eurasia proper appears to have taken place in three distinct stages. The initial movement or first wave occurred at the very end of the third millennium (BC), and the third wave late in the second millennium BC or beginning of the first millennium BC. … The second wave of migrations out of yhr steppe zone and its vicinity then began, it included the peoples who spoke Group B dialects – Indic, Greek, Italic, Germanic, and Armenian.”

The second wave period ended with Iranians dominating all of the Central Eurasuan steppe zone and with the Germanic peoples in temperate zone Central Europe.” In other words, the Germanic peoples separated from the Iranian peoples at a Very early stage of the Indo-European “diaspora”. Indeed, as we shall see, if the Goths had not migrated from southern Sweden to the northern shore s of the Black Sea around the beginning of the Christian Era, it would likely be the case that, of all Indo-European peoples, it would be the Germanic peoples who are lees influenced by and had fewest affinities withe in Iranian peoples.

In these pages, we have already spoken of the Goths and how strongly influenced they were by the Sarmatia n s and Alans. Even after migrating to the shores of the Black Sea, the goths remained in contact with their Scandinavian homeland; the proofs of this are abundant. Iranian, or, more precisely, Saka – elements are quite visible in Viking art. Says Mikhail Rostvotzeff:

“What is extremely important, that out of all these elements the Sarmatians (and Alans) created a peculiar culture and an original and characteristic style of art. I refer to the renaissance of the Scythian animal style, which combined with the use of precious stones and enamel, led to the formation in the Russian (and Ukraian) Steppes, of the polychrome style of jewelry which was adopted by the Goths and is wrongly called Gothic. The style is not Gothic at all, it is Iranian … The fibulae are more numerous, larger, more massive and more complicated: the types remain the same, but the forms are exaggerated. Lastly, in the system of decoration, the predominant process is this diversification of the surface by means of garnets cut to geometric shapes and surrounded by golden cloisonné: although the older practice is by no means abandoned, that of stones inlaid in hollows and surrounded by a wire in pseudo-granulation. It cannot be doubted that a new wave spread over the almost wholly Sarmatian culture of Panticapaeum (Kerch). This was undoubtedly the Germanic, the Gothic wave …

These new forms were deeply influenced by Sarmatian art. I would instance the (re)introduction of the animal style in the ornamentation – the use of birds’ heads, the lion, and so forth; and the constant occurrence of fibulae in the shape of animals, such as were widespread in the (Cimmerian) Bosphorus – (the strait between the Crimean Penninsula and the Taman Penninsula – from the 1st to the 3rd centuries AD. But I see no novelty in the technical processes which were employed in the (Cimmerian) Bosphorus before their (the Goths’) arrival: embossing, false filigree, cloisonné. They (the Goths) also appropriated the polychromes style of decoration with all its rules.

Their (the Goths) predilection for the garnet is nothing new. Before their (the Goths’) time, the garnet was the most popular of precious stones with the Sarmatians, no doubt because it was the cheapest and the easiest to work. Lastly, the development of the cloisonné combined with cut garnets was merely the natural outcome of principles which had been observed in the (Cimmerian) Bosphorus long before the arrival of the Goths.”

Viking Art also contains Celtic elements. As the Goths were strongly influenced by the Celts a s well as the Iranians or Sakas, said Celtic elements may also have been brought to Scandinavia by the Goths. However, the Vikings were in ear l y contact with the Celts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands; it is possible that said Celtic elements in Viking art reached Scandinavia from both sources mentioned above.

Though ultimately derived from non-Scandinavian, non-Viking sources, Viking art is unique and cannot be confused with either Saka or Celtic art. Unmistakable Iranian elements also appear in the Viking sagas. As Martin Whittock and Hannah Whittock note in Tales of Valhalla, “This is the story of a magic sword. Different manuscripts and traditions render its name as “Tyrfing”, “Tirfing” or “Tyrving”. The names are obscure and may be related to that of the Tervingi: these were a part of the Goth tribe. Roman sources of the fourth century record thus tribal name in the form “Tervingi”) note that in my book I note that “Tervingi” is an early name used to refer to the Visigoths). By the fourth century AD this group was living on the Danubian pla in west of the Dniester river, which today rises in Ukraine and then flows through Moldova, before finally returning to Ukrainian territory and flowing into the Black Sea. The accounts of this magic sword are preserved in stories known as “the Tyrfing Cycl”.

These are collections of Norse legends found in the Poetic Edda (which includes a poem called “Hervararkvida”) and in the “Hervarar Saga”, which contains other traditions about this sword. The name of the sword is also used in this saga to indicate the tribal group of the Goths. This may indicate a Norse tradition that these eastern lands of “Kiev- Rus’” (through which Norse adventures had travelled and some had married into the ruling dynasties) were places of mystery. The dwarfs too have names attested in several traditions. That of Dvalin (who together with another dwarf named Durinis one of those who forged Tyrfing) is found in both the poem “Grimnismal” in the Poetic Edda and in the story called “Gylfaginning” in the Prose Edda. With regards to Princess Eyfura, the twelfth century book entitled Gesta Danorum (Deeds of the Danes), compiled by Saxo Grammaicus, identified her as the daughter of a king whose name was Frodi. This may indicate that the character had a tradition apart from the sword legend and may have been incorporated into that account to enhance its local Scandinavian) as opposed to Black Sea Gothic) color.

These features of theses traditions are very much in keeping with the ‘legendary’ material found in these stories, where some material that would be at home in the Norse ‘myths’ is intermingled with the dealings of real (or probably rea l) tribes and peoples.

In these legendary accoints, we also hear garbled echoes of real conflicts that occurred between the Gothic tribes (of Norse origin), living north west of the Black Sea, and invading Hun tribes in the fourth century. These conflicts, occurred in the period of migrations, that accompanied the end of the Roman Empire. Because of the Scandinavian origins of the Goths and because of later Scandinavian exploration of the eastern lands as they travelled towards the Byzantine Empire and the Caspian Sea, these conflicts became woven into later Norse legends. In this way, magic swords and migration period tribes are brought. together in a curious blend of fiction and history.

“Myrkvithr” (Milkwood) was later to make an appearance in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.” In the Volsung Saga Say Maryn whittock and Hannah Whittock in Tales of Valhalla: “While the feasting was underway a stranger entered the hall.” He was tall and wore a hooded cape that overshadowed his features. But it could be seen that he had only one eye and that his hair was grey with age; he entered the hall barefoot.

In his hand he carried a sword, which he plunged into the great tree that stood in the center of the hall. Then to the astonished assembly he declared that whosoever could draw the sword from the trunk would have it as a gift and could own no better sword. Then, as all eyes were fixed on him, he left. All tried and failed – starting with the noblest there – to pull out the blade. Then, at last, Sigmund, the son of king Volsung, came forward. He clutched the hilt and easily drew out the sword where others had failed. At the sight of this, King Siggeir of Gotland offered him three times the sword’s e weight in gold if Sigmund would give it to him. To which Sigmund replied that if Siggeir had been meant to have the sword then he would have been able to pull it from the tree.”

The above story forcefully reminds one of “the sword in the stone” or “the sword in the anvil” from the Arthurian Cycle of the Welsh-Breton pic tradition. Now, it is generally recognized that much of the Welsh-Breton epic tradition – possibly including “Tristan and Isolt,-though this may be of purely Celtic origin – is in large part inspired by Alanic mercenary cavalry seht to Great Britain and Brittany by the Romansand that the “sword in the stone” or “sword in the anvil” motif is ultimately derived from the sword worship practiced by the Saka peoples Scythians, Sarmatians an Alans. This sword-worship was adopted by the Goths from the Sarmatians and Arabs after they had arrived on the shores of the Black Sea.

Says Herwig Wolfram in History of the Goths: “The Gothic 1and is here (in Viking saga “Hervarasaga) Tyrfinger, the same name that is given to the mythical hereditary sword of the Goths. This presupposes that the Scythian Ares-Mars, who was the incarnation of the incarnation of the people and the land and who also manifested himself in the shape of a sword, had been accepted as a Gothic god.”  In the middle of the 4th century AD, there was a king of the royal clan of the Ostrogoths known -as “Amal” or- “Amalung” who ruled a kingdom or empire which extended from the Danube to the Don or Volga which was called “the Kingdom of Germans and Scythians”. The name of this Ostrogothic king was “Airmnareiks” in the original Gothic, “Hermanric” or “Ermanric in Old High German, and “Jormunrekkr” in old Norse. The “Rosomoni” were probably a clan of the Ostrogoths”.

An unnamed member of the Rosomoni somehow betrayed Airmnareiks but escaped to the Huns. Furious, Airmnareiks had Sunilda or Swanheld, the wife of the traitor, drawn and quartered. Infuriated by this, Ammius and Sarus, the brothers of Sunilda, attempted to avenge their sister, wounding Airmnareiks. In the Prose Edda, Say Martyn Whittock and Hannah: “In Denmark, Gudrun had with her the beautiful Swanhild, child of Sigurd. She was chosen to be the bride of King Jormunrekkr (or “Airmnareiks” in the original Gothic) the Great of the Ostrogoths.

But when he sent his son to fetch her, he and Swanhild decided to marry each other instead of Swanhild marrying old King Jormunrekkr) or “Airmnareiks”. When King Jormunrekkr heard of this, he had his son executed and Swanhild trampled to death under the hooves of his horses and those of his nobles. When Gudrun heard that her daughter had been killed, she sent her three sons to Kill King Jormunrekkr, but they fell out among themselves and two of them murdered the third because he was the favorite of their mother. When they reached King Jormunrekkr, they cut off his kea~ arms and legs, but without their brother to assist them, they did not cut off his head and so his head alerted his men who stoned the two brothers to death, and so died the sons of Gudrun.”

It is generally if not universall y – agreed that that the Iranian fravashies are the originals of the Viking valkyries. Unfortunately, the common concept of the valkyries is derived from the operas of Richard Magber, Says M. Schwartz concerning the Fravasis: “Fravashis are both 1.) the spirits of the depard righteous, such as we find in cults of heroes and vancestors: & 2.) the pre-existent doubles of all living things (which modern theosophists call

astral bodies), including even Ahura Mazda/ The Fravashies support and sustain the entire world/ Very much like the Valkyries, they are described as armed females flying on their mounts, destroying demonic forces. The annual festival festival of the Fravashis was known as Hamaspathmaedava: houses were carefully cleaned and otherwise made ready for the coming of the spirits, who were received with ritual offerings of food and clothing.”

Says Ehsan Yarshater of the Fravashis: “Like the Indian Pitaras, the Fravashis were the souls of the departed and their cult may have had its origin in a form of ancestor worship. Bailey, he suggested an etymology” which would indicate that they were originally the d e parted spirits of heroes and that later the concept was enlarged to include all mortals – dead, born and unborn.

The Fravashis were conceived as invisible powerful beings who could assist their kinsmen and ward off harm from them if properly commemorated wiyj offerings and prayers. In the Farvardin Yasht which is dedicated to them, only the Fravashis of the righteous are invoked. Say Martyn Whittock and Hannah Whittock concerning the Valkyries:

“The Valkyries are a particularly interesting female dimension of the Norse mythokogical world. They are the choosers of the slain who live in Valhalla but are sent to earth to collect those warriors chosen by Odin. However, as an intermediart is used to convey Odin’s wishes, there is a possibility of these wishes being subverted. Valkyries are often depicyed as semi-divine beings, but they can also be royal princesses who decide to take on this role. Valkyries can fall in love and can protect and bring good luck to their chosen hero in battle. The warriors, no matter how brave or strong, they are, do not have the ultimate control; this control over victory, glory, life and death is left to the hands of women who belong to both the mythological and human world.

This enables the hero to initially escape death, but he is not able to escape it forever and his involment with the Valkyries invariably leads him onto a collision course with previous lovers or family members. This is a common theme in the Eddie heroic poems, with those of Helgi Hundingsbane built around the love and battled of the hero and his Valkyrie lover, leading to his ultimate demise. …

“Oyhers among the goddess of the Asyniur are those called Balkyries. They serve in Valhalla and serve drinks to those warriors chosen to live there. They include those named Hrist, Mist. Skeggiold, Skogul, Hlokk and Reginleif.) In some sagas Brynhilde is a Valkyry. The Valkyries are sent by Odin to attend every battle that occurs. There they decide who shall live and who shall die; who shall be defeated and who shall be victorious. Those Valkyries called Gunn, Rora, and Skulf (who is a Norn) are those who decide among the warriors who will die.”

There are indeed Iranian or Saka and even mythology. All evidenc indicates that said elements were brought to the ancestors of the Vikings by the Goths, who maintained contact with their ancient Scandinavian homeland even after they had migrated to the shores of Black Sea where they became so strongly Iranized or Sakaized. One proof of the above is that in Viking literature are found Gothic names and words – Gothic and old Norse are both Germanic languages, but not identical compare the original Gothic “Airmnareiks” with the old Norse “Jormunrekkr”.

On the other hand, ther are no Iranian nor sa ka names nor words found in Viking literature· We now return to Christopher I. Beckwith: “Finally, the third wave, or Group C (of Indo-European peoples) migrated. It consisted of the Celtic, Baltic (since Lithuanian is the living language which is closest to the original Indo-European language, it is surprising that Mr. Beckwith devotes so little space to the Baltic peoples), Slavic, Albanian and Iranian peoples who remained in the homeland in Central Eurasia proper outside the region inhabited by the Group B peoples (including the Germanic peoples). The Celtic, Albanian, Slavian, and Baltic peoples moved westward, northwestward, and northward away from the Iranians, who nevertheless continued to expand and to dominate them, most strongly the Celts and Slavs.”

Note that the Celts, and to a lesser extent the Slavs, remained united with the Iranians and were strongly dominated by them long after the Germanic peoples had separated from the Iranians and moved to the northwest. One is reminded of the Kievan Rus’ chanson de geste, The Tale of Igor’s Campaign, which contains Slavic, Celtic and Iranian elements, but no Germanic elements except for a few Viking personal names, including “Igor”, derived from the old Norse “Ingvar”.

No full, comprehensive account has been written concerning the many relations and affinities between the Celts on the one hand and the Iranian peoples on the other. Such a work would fill several tones and would require the work of numerous specialists in many fields. The connection between the Celts and Iranians may well have continued until the coming of the Huns. Even later, the Iranian or Saka elements within the Welsh-Breton branch of the Celtic epic tradition, brought to Celtic Britain and Brittany by Sarmatian and Alanic mercenaries brought to those regions by the Romans are well known. This last may or may not include the romance of “Tristan and Isolt”, which became part of the Arthurian Cycle, though its origin may be purely Celtic. Also, the personal name “Alan” may be derived from the Alans. The name “Alan” itself may be derived from “Aryan”, as the confusion between “L” and “R” is common and well known.

Some Iranian-Celtic affinities are perfectly obvious. “Parisi” is the is the name of a Celtic tribe ib Gaul (from which name is derived the name of the city of Paris), Celtic Britain and western Andalusia (the Romans were surprised to find “Persians” in the Iberian Penninsula). Yes, the territory of the Parisi of what today western Andalusia is included the area of Donana and the shrine of “Nuestra Senora del Rocio” (Our Lady of the Mist), mentioned earlier in these pages. “Scotia” was a named used by the Romans to refer to homeland. The name “Scotia” is derived from “Scotta”, a Celtic queen in Spain, whose name, like Scythian”, is derived from the North Iranian *Skuda, which is in turn derived from the Indo-European *skudo, from *skeud-o, meaning “archer”.

Scotta, of course was considered to have been of Scythian origin. A migration from Ireland in the 4th century AD, brought the gaelic language to the Scottish Highlands, and gave the name “Scotland” to the land which the Romans had called “Caledonia”.

The name “Ireland” is really a Viking word, the ancient Celtic name being “Erinn”, or “Erin” in more modern Gaelic. The name “Erin” is known in the feminine personal name “Erin”, as well as the expression “Erin go Bragh” and in a number of songs, such as “Come Back to “Erin”.

The kinship between “Aryan”, “Iran” and “Erinn” is clear enough. There is no space here to even begin a treatment of the Celtic-Iranian affinities. In my book I give some space to this topic, but only touch the surface. I recommend that the reader investigate this vast and most fascinating field.



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