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.The Roots of Medieval Chivalry.
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Alle Radici Della Cavalleria Medievale.  


By Franco Cardini  

(In Italian. Can be found at www.alibris.com)  


The West is obliged for the appearance of medieval knighthood not only to Parthians but first of all to Iranian peoples located to the North of Caucasus - Scyths-Sarmats. Due to their all-permeating influence, spreading through all levels, which they rendered on Eastern Germans especially on Goths, the Medieval Military structure embedded in itself its unique original image. 


Originating from Iranian roots Scythians exerted strong influence on Thracians who took over from them (Scythians - R.K.) quite a few military techniques. They learned, for instance, the art of archery without getting off a horse. Thracians inherited partly religious rites from Scythians as well: as, for instance, they brought themselves to the state of ecstasy inhaling the smoke of burning cannabis. Scythians also passed over their beliefs to Get-Dacians, These beliefs foundation was Iranian and the idea of immortality occupied a special place in them. From Scythians, Get-Dacians learned about iron weapons. However, Gets maintained contacts with Sarmat tribes as well Yazigs and Roksolans. From them they probably learned to use detachments of heavy cavalry, whose attack was being prepared and supported by archers.  


So Scythians at a definite stage turned out to be the engine of progress in the troubled Pontus and Trans-Caucasian world. The first millennium B.C. was marked by the appearance of Scythian tribes in the steppes (prairies) between the Danube and the Urals. They came from the territory situated somewhere at the border of Europe with Asia. Having become related to Cimmerians the Scythians soon forced them out from the habitation region. Living in Asian countries Scythians mastered two main arts: horse riding and metal processing.  


Up to present huge burial mounds of Scythian chiefs testify to their wealth, the significant part of which constituted skilfully processed metal items. Scythians had gorgeous horses, gross herds. A Scythian costume corresponded fully to the mode of life of the people which most of the time spent on horseback: long-skirted tight-fitting caftan, wide trousers fastened near the ankle, comfortable boots. This suit was adopted by Parthian and Chinese people as soon as in their army there appeared cavalry. Scythian civilization reached its peak in VI III centuries B.C. in the region of lower current of the Danube, the Bug and in the Crimea. 


However, the influence of Scythians was much wider and spread to the neighbouring peoples up to the Danube, Trans-Caucasia and Siberia. On such a vast territory horses, harness, weapons, ornaments were Scythian. Via the Danube basin Lower and Transylvania Scythians established contacts with Celts, Illyrians and Macedonians. Unfortunately up to our days we continue to look at temples, peoples and countries through a distorting glass of Hellenic Classics, for which Scythians are nothing else but inhuman barbarians, their country is a gloomy and misty birth place of mysterious legends.  


Cimmerians guarded the entrance to the realm of shadows. Colchis is the land of sorcerers and sorcery of potion. In one word, Meothian swamp. 

However, we will pay tribute to the rich and proud Scythian civilization, the country of brave equestrian warriors, great jewelers and shamans the escorts to the realm of the dead. As for the history of material culture, it must be clear we owe our art of horse riding to Scythians . 


We only want to emphasize: the mastery of Scythians-cattle-breeders and equestrian warriors this is irrefutable historical fact 

However, the Sarmat people appeared on the horizon, the brother and enemy of Scythians. They are also nomads of Iranian origin also speaking in the Iranian dialect, relatives of Cimmerians and Scythians, partially mixed with meothian tribes, which is testified by matriarchy (power of women), though being problematic. 


Strabo, repeating traditional opinions, identifies two branches of one tribe, which appeared in the prairies to the North of the Caucasus, Western and Eastern ones. The first branch lead by Roksolans followed the trace of yazigs and settled between the Don and the Dnepr. The second one, consisting mainly of aorses and siraks, settled between the Don, the Azov Sea and the Caspian seashore of the Caucasus. Finally, starting from the first century of our era Roman observers who were watching with growing anxiety the recurrence of Barbarian peoples, note the appearance of the most famous people among the so-called Sarmats Alans.  


From Chinese sources it is known that they come from the region adjoining the Aral Sea, and, consequently, they were playing the master on the Silky Way. In their movement Alans wiped off other tribes, among which were .  

Starting from Mark Avreliy many Roman emperors included into their titles the name Sarmatian 


From all Sarmats Roman historians pointed out Alans, speaking about their bellicosity, stressing their cruelty (this assessment, as is known, quite subjective), extraordinary effectiveness of their heavy cavalry. It was an equestrian warrior, katafracts, also called kontariy or klibanariy during the period of late antiquity and early Middle Ages influenced the military history of Rome, Byzantine Empire and West Asia  


Sarmats really influenced the military history of Rome, sasanide Persia (pp.42-48) 

By the end of the IV century Sarmats also coming from the East came to replace Scythians. Waves of tribes overlap each other. Sarmats took the rich heritage of Scythians. Goths absorbed the skill of battling on horseback. Elements of shamanism, mystery, chronic cults intrinsic to ancient German culture and grouped into mythic-cultural complex of God Botan, as we can see, have not only runic source, but Pontian-German, OR Alan-Gothian, as other historians prefer to say, origin. 


Mythic-religious ideas referring to death and reminding Scythian ones having been preserved by other Iranian peoples, Sarmats for instance, exist even today in the Caucasian folklore, especially among Ossetians, - direst descendants of Alans 

In the Ossetian legend about Soslans journey to the country of the Dead all the elements already familiar to us are defined very clearly wise, able to speak horse, races on a horse dummy (likeness to the horses corpse in the Scythian funeral ritual is obvious) (p.69). 


Holiness of the sword came from the world of prairies and German people played the role of mediators here. Its creators are Iranian peoples. Ammian Martsellin said about Alans that they have neither temples nor sanctuaries, nor even a hut covered with a straw roof. They have just one naked sword which has been driven into the ground, which they worship as the symbol of their God of War, the lord of lands, their camps. Herodotus mentioned a similar case with Scythians who sacrificed their horses and herds to an old iron sword symbolizing, may be God of War Ares. Scythian Ares is God Batradz with the body from iron coated steel, grown into its sword so deeply that it is identified with this sword.  


He deals shortly with the enemies by one stab of the sword and throws them under the hoofs of his war horse. Its steel body was forged by heavenly blacksmith Kurdalagon. Pay attention to the fact that how much this God - steel rider resembles katafractariy. The fact that religious-soldierly rituals of Scythians and Alans (Sarmats in the broader sense) are similar to one another also deserves attention, as for instance tying up the scalp taken off from the enemy to the harness of their own horse. Another Scythian custom a bowl from the skull of a killed horse got transferred directly to Germans. 


Martsellin says about a happy feeling which grips Alans every time they hear about forthcoming war. And those are the same Alans to whom Goths and all Germans in general are obliged for so many things. (p. 127-128) 



Translated by Tahir Ahmadov 



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