Agathyrsi (Greek: "Αγάθυρσοι") were a people of Scythian, Thracian, or mixed Thraco-Scythic origin, who in the time of Herodotus occupied the plain of the Maris (Mures), in the region now known as Transylvania.
Their existence is archaeologically attested by the Ciumbrud inhumation type, in the upper Mureş area of the Transylvanian plateau. In contrast with the surrounding peoples who practiced incineration, the Ciumbrud people buried their dead. These tombs, containing Scythian artistic and armament metallurgy (e.g. acinaces), have moreover been dated to 550-450 BC — roughly the timeframe of Herodotus' writing. Archaeologists use the term "Thraco-Agathyrsian" to designate these characteristics, owing to the evident Thracian elements. After that time period, they were completely absorbed into the Thracians.
Herodotus provided a description of the great nomadic Scythian empire of the sixth century and the Agathyrsi Scythians, and elaborately recounted the expedition (516 - 513 BC) of Darius I of Persia (522-486 BC) against the Scythians in the N. Pontic (See Herodotus 4.10, 4.48, 4.49, 4.78, 4.100, 4.102, 4.104, 4.119, 4.125).
Herodotus mentioned the Agathyrsi together with another tribe, the Geloni. The Agathyrsi refused to join in a fight against the Persians unless directly provoked — highlighting the autonomy and voluntary association of the members of the Scythian confederation.
Herodotus records the name of Spargapeithes, a king of the Agathyrsi. He also reported that Greeks viewed the Agathyrsi, Gelons, and Scythians as brothers. They are described by Herodotus as of luxurious habits, wearing many gold ornaments (the district is still auriferous) and having many wives (Herod. 4. 104). Herodotus recorded the Pontic Greek myth that the Agathyrsi were named after a legendary ancestor Agathyrsus, an oldest son of Hercules and the monster Echidna (Herod. 4. 8-10).
They tattooed their bodies, degrees of rank being indicated by the manner in which this was done, and colored their hair dark blue. Like the Gallic Druids, they recited their laws in a kind of sing-song to prevent their being forgotten, a practice in existence in the days of Aristotle.
In later times, the Agathyrsi were driven farther north. The 2nd century geographer Claudius Ptolemy lists the Agathyrsi among the tribes in 'European Sarmatia', between the Vistula and the Black Sea
Around 380 AD, Ammianus Marcellinus in Res Gestae Ch. 22, 8 writes that beyond the Palus Maeotis together with Geloni live Agathyrsi, among whom there is an abundance of adamantine stones. Further, he writes that over the border from Geloni are Agathyrsi, who tattoo their bodies and dye their hair blue, the common people with a few small, but the nobles with many large marks (Amm. 31, 2, 1-11) Ammianus also describes the Alanian empire that the Alans cobbled together before the end of the 2nd century, and that by repeated victories the Alans incorporated under their own national name the Geloni, Agathyrsi, Melanchlaeni, Anthropophagi, Amazons, and Seres.
Servius on Aenid 4.v.146 relates that probably closer to 300 AD the Agathyrsi sent across a contingent over the sea to Scotland, where it became identified with the Picts, formidable warriors who seriously fatigued all who stood against them. The sixteenth century British chronicler Raphael Holinshed also mentioned the Agathyrsi origin of the Picts, and their tradition of painting their bodies blue.
An old theory of 19th century writers (Latham, V. St. Martin, Rambaud, Newman) which, according to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, is based on 'less convincing proof', suggested an identification of the Agathyrsi with the later Agatziri or Akatziroi first mentioned by Priscus in Vol XI, 823, Byzantine History, who described them leading a nomadic life on the Lower Volga, and reported them as having been Hunnic subjects before the time of Attila. This older theory is not mentioned at all by modern scholars Helfen or Golden. According to E.A. Thompson, the conjecture that connects the Agathyrsi with Akatziri should be rejected outright.
Jordanes, who quotes Priscus in Getica, located the Acatziri to the south of the Aesti (Balts) — roughly the same region as the Agathyrsi of Transylvania — and he described them as "a very brave tribe ignorant of agriculture, who subsist on their flocks and by hunting."
The Encyclopædia Britannica 1897 and 1911 editions consider the Acatziri to be precursors of the Khazars of later antiquity, although modern scholars like Professor Peter Golden, E.A. Thompson and Maenchen-Helfen consider this theory to be nothing more than conjecture and Thompson has rejected it outright. There does not seem to be any modern reputable scholar that holds such a theory as factual.
- ^ The Thracians 700 BC-AD 46 The Thracians 700 BC-AD 46 by Christopher Webber and Angus Mcbride,2001,ISBN 1841763292,page 16: "... back, which could be to accommodate a top-knot. Among the Agathyrsi (a Skythian tribe living near the Thracians, and practising some Thracian customs) the nobles also dyed their ..."
- ^ The Fourth Booke of Plinies Naturall History
- ^ LacusCurtius • Ptolemy's Geography — Book III, Chapter 5.
- ^ http://www.gmu.edu/departments/fld/CLASSICS/ammianus22.html
- ^ http://www.gmu.edu/departments/fld/CLASSICS/ammianus31.html.
- ^ Maurus Servius Honoratus, Commentary on the Aeneid of Vergil.
- ^ a b E.A. Thompson, The Huns (Peoples of Europe) Blackwell Publishing, Incorporated (March 1, 1999), pg 105
- ^ The Origin And Deeds Of The Goths
- ^ "Khazars" in Encyclopedia Britannica, 1897.
- ^ An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1992, pg 87
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