Who are the Alans ?

An omniscient Wikipedia says that Alans are the Iranian-speaking nomads with Scythian-Sarmatian origin.

They are referred in written source for the first time in I century AD – that was a time, when they appeared on the Azov Sea and Caucasus adjacent areas.

The Khazar kingdom’s horse rider from Bulgarian-Alans family.
The Khazar kingdom’s horse rider from Bulgarian-Alans family. The end of IX – beginning of X century. Based on materials of S.A.Pletneva, Demetrius archaeological complex of Saltovo-Mayacka culture, catacomb №52. Artist – Oleg Fedorov.

Concerning Alans origins, there are two main versions: Sarmatian and Central Asian versions. Both of them have tendency to converge. Alans were mentioned for the first time in Chinese sources dedicated to Han era. Those sources were fixing Yancai ownership in Aral-Caspian region, which later has changed its name to Alania.

It is supposed that first Alans have shifted from the Aral Sea adjacent area to Volga and Don interfluve, and then they united numerous tribes, mostly Sarmatian, under their name and authority. It was decided in archeology that Sarmatian culture during II-IV centuries will be called “Alan” culture.

In the broad sense of the word the term Alans represent different tribes including non-Iranians, which had become part of Alanian confederation and joined in some way Alanian culture. (Source: S.M. Perevalov. Alans // Russian Historical Encyclopedia. Edited by academician A.O. Chubaryan. V. 1: Aalto – Aristocratiya. M .: OLMA MEDIA GRUPP, 2011, pp 220-221) .

Part of the Alans took part in the Migration Period from the end of IV century, while others tribes were settling on the Caucasus foothills adjacent areas. Alanian tribal union became the base for uniting Alans and local Caucasian tribes. This union created an early feudal government, known as Alania, which was located in the middle of Caucasus adjacent area and existed before the Mongol campaign.

In Slavic chronicles Alans were called by the word “Jasz”. The Nikon Chronicle dated 1029 year has reported a victorious campaign against Jasz organized by Yaroslav the Wise.

The Armenian chronicles Alans are often called by their own name. The Chinese chronicles mentioned that Alans were known as Alania people. Several Alan tribes are described in medieval Armenian geographical atlas “Ashkharatsuyts”. Among all described tribes there are also Alan Ash-Tigor nation or in simpler way Dikor nation, which was taken as ancestor of modern nation – Digors. Another described tribe were Alans from the Eastern Alania – “Alans in the Ardoz land”. They were counted to be ancestors of Irons.

Alans were also mentioned in Georgian sources as “Ovsi” or “Osi”. Georgians has been using this term against Ossetians since now.

Historical Encyclopedia indicates that Asa have commanded everyone to be called by the same name, Alans, while conquering nations. There are mentions in the history that tells about several nations named as Alans during different time periods. Among those nations there were: Massagetae (Sarmatian ancestors of Turkmens), Issedones and Aorsi (ancestors of Ossetians) and some of the Adyghe people. After the fall of the Asa empire (375 year AD) every nation has returned to his own historical name. The only netion that decided to stay as Alans were Asa-Alans and Tanaits. Some of the Alans used to live on the territory of Crimea mountains in IX century. They adopted Christianity approximately in 860, after the Saint Cyril preaching. They were mentioned for the last time by Greek Pahimer as warriors of Nogai Khan Cossacs Druzhina in XIV century. Rich archeological remains of Northern Caucasian, Bulgarian and Saltivo-Mayaki cultures are considered to be part of Alans. Saltivo-Mayaki culture is considered to be the last one and it dates back to VIII – X centuries. This culture was discovered on the territories of Middle Donets and Don and belonged to Alans-Asas. Saltivo-Mayaki culture was counted to have continuation in the North region among cultural remains of Scandinavian Asas according to national similarities.


Charity Foundation “Kharkiv with you”, and the organizing committee of the festival “Slobozhanshchina Pearls: Verkhnii Saltiv. Alan origins” thank Oleg Fedorov for permission to use his drawings reconstructions in the information materials of the festival.