Tuesday, July 7, 2020
Mercenaries in the Roman Legions
Although often mention is made about clashes between Romans and Alans this were only interruptions of long periods of quieter times with mutual trade and military co-operation. Sarmatians, especially Iazyges, once called Argaragantes (23), and Alans both those from the Danube region as Alans from the Crimea fought from the 2th to the 6th century in various ranks in the Roman legions of both the West as the East Roman Empire.
They fought as Gentiles in small foreign military colonies, as foederati, allies, and as Comitatenses, imperial troops that escorted and accompanied the emperor on his campaigns. Some reached the highest ranks as praefectus, general, and one Alan reached under Valens, emperor from 369 to 374, the rank of magister equitum, commander in chief of the cavalry of a legion. That was Victor, a cautious and prudent man. (24)
The Alans and also the Sarmatians wore in the legions their own weapons and banners. The Roman Emperors were recognizable by the droco standards beard by their escorting Sarmatian elite corps, heavy armed cavalry with their body covered with thin metal discs that complied their corpses with so great coherence that their armour remained perfectly fitting with every movement, the classic Sarmatian outfit. Emperor Julianus adopted as Caesar the purper draco banner that blowed on the top of his lance with a tail of a shed snake skin. (25)
The last mentioned Alanian regiment in the Western Roman Empire was in Ravenna in 487 nine years after the deposition of the last Western Roman Emperor. Like the Sarmatians the Alans had also small colonies in the Po Valley. They took part in the election of the Ostrogoth Odoacer to Roman Emperor and later they served in his army. See more about Alans and Sarmatians as mercenaries in the Roman empire at: Sarmatians as gentiles.
About the stationing of Alans in the Empire is a document the Notitia Dignitatum preserved, composed under emperor Honorius (395-423). It mentions twenty four prefecturae of Sarmatians, of whom seventeen in Italy and six in Gallia. In Velay was een prefectura of Sarmatians and Alans and near Poitiers of Sarmatians ans Taifali. In Engeland was a prefectura near Ribchester (Lancashire). De list is incomplete surrendered. The prefecturae in Germania secunda are lacking.
On the left the emblem of the Taifali. This figure is seen for more than 1500 years on pottery of the Tocharians from the Tarim Valley in former East Turkestan, modern Chinese province Sinkiang, witness the drawning of prof. Mei Jianjun from Beijing, the possible forebbears of the Alans. On the right that of the Alans.
The war cry or battle cry of the Sarmatians was Marha Marha. Under the proclamation of this cry threw a Sarmanian soldier once his boot in the face of Emperor Constantius, while he in 335was giving a speech in Pannonia to unsatisfied Sarmatian warriors (to less paid). The emperor then no longer knew whether he was commander of an ordinary foot soldier, and thought his last hour had beaten. He fled and no guard could prevent that the imperial seat with cushions embroidered with gold was captured by the mutineers. Afterwards there was only a small punitive expedition because the emperor had to return urgently to Sirmium. (26)
The first large contingent Sarmatians in the Roman Army is the cavalry stationed in Britain from the end of the 2nd century. Among them is a large number that Marcus Aurelius had agreed in a treaty in 175 AD with the Iazyges. Of the 8000 horsemen was a contingent of 5500 sent to England, divided into Alae of 500. It is not known whether this was intended as a temporary secondment but part of them settled there with women and children. The Sarmatian old myths and legends, the Narts, life on to date in England and also in northern France.
Distinguishing signs of the foreign cavalry.
Sarmatians wore in the Roman army,their own weapons. They were good in forging. In the Caucasus the oldest armories are found. Here lived the Alanic tribe Calyburs. who were known for their ironwork. It is possible that they have introduced the metalwork in Europe or at least have contributed to it.
In 401 Alans participated in the battle of Stilicho against Quaden, Vandals and Marcomanni from the other side of the Danube. In 402 the Alan Saul fought with the Romans against the Goth Alaric in Pollentia. He was killed in that battle.
Groups Sarmato-Alans were installed as foederati round 455 south of the Danube in Scithia Minor under their leader Candac.
The emperor Maiorinus, 457-461, used Alanian and Sarmatian troops in battles against the Vandals in Africa and after the defeat they were disembarked in Gaul, where they will have been recruited. They began to plunder presumably for non-payment and invaded in 462 northern Italy under their king Beorgor.
After the time of the Huns remained Sarmatians in the Hungarian plain. In 470was the last known raid of the Huns under their leader Babai. Hij crossed the Danube and invaded Pannonia Secunda and conquered Singidinum (Belgrade). The East Roman Emperor Leo I sent Theodoric, the later Western Roman Emperor, who killed Babai.
The last mentioned Alans corps in the Western Roman Empire was in Ravenna in 487, nine years after the deposition of the last Western Roman Emperor. Like the Sarmatians the Alans had colonies in the Po Valley. They took part in the election of the Ostrogoth Odoacer to Emperor and served in his army.
In 568 some Sarmatians of the Danube followed the Lombards and participated in the conquest of Italy and settled in small colonies in the Po Valley.
Deformed skull by bandage in youth, 4th century,
In graves in Valais (Zw.) 5th century, and Valence (Fr.) 4th century, skulls are found, the same as found in the Ukraine, with the characteristic skull deformation, caused by tight bandage of the growing skull of new born babies as seen at the steppe peoples as Sarmatians. (29)
The necropolis of Obernai (Alsace, Bas Rhin, France) is one of the few important groups discovered in France and it demonstrates for the first time the treatment of an Eastern community in Alsace at the end of the Roman Empire.
These Merovingian necropolis consists of eighteen burials oriented west/east. Three contained silver earrings. One contained two small gold pins on the chest of the deceased, which may have fastened a garment such as a veil.
A chatelaine was connected to a belt with various objects attached including a silver mirror, similar to those used by the Alano-Sarmatian populations of the Caucasus, a tweezer set and several large coloured glass beads and amber. This female also had a triangular antler comb, decorated with geometric motifs and horse heads at either end.
Distorted skull, necropolis in Obernai, Bas-Rhin. (29b)
Besides the grave goods, the eastern origin of the individuals is attested by the presence of an intentionally deformed skull. Burials such as this have been discovered in isolation in northern Gaul, Germany and Eastern Europe and often include rich furnishings. They would appear to represent the graves of dignitaries and their families who were incorporated in to the Roman army at the time of the great migration. (29a)
After their military service mercenaries got land and were usually settled where they had served. It is possible that they introduced the metalwork in Europe or at least there have contributed. They were probably permanently admitted at the invitation of local rulers. Many Alans immigrated into Italy and were placed together. (30)