Their territory was known as Sarmatia to Greco-Roman ethnographers, corresponding to the western part of greater Scythia (modern Southern Russia, Ukraine, and the eastern Balkans). At their greatest reported extent, around 100 BC, these tribes ranged from the Vistula River to the mouth of the Danube and eastward to the Volga, bordering the shores of the Black and Caspian seas as well as the Caucasus to the south.
The Sarmatians declined in the fourth century with the incursions connected to the Migration period (Huns, Goths, Turks). The descendents of the Sarmatians became known as the Alans during the Early Middle Ages, and ultimately gave rise to the modern Ossetic ethnic group.
The names of several Sarmatian tribes, such as Thisomatae, Loxomatae and others, are characterized by the final -matae, from ancient Greek ommation (ομμάτιον=small eye, from omma (όμμα=eye)) not necessarily relating these people to Mongolic origins, although in fact modern Greeks still use these very same terms (Savromatae, Loxomatae) to describe Mongolic peoples (because of their eyes) even today. Hippocrates, Tacitus and the bulk of the ancient authors confirm this. Later comparisons by Malte-Brun (1829) to "Mādai", the name of the Medes (taken as meaning tribe, people men contradict the fact that there is no clear Indo-European etymology for the name of Medes, Mâdai, as proved by Diakonoff, I. M. "Media" in The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. 2.) while the relation to the first element of the name to Avestan zar-, "old" by Alexander Lubotsky is also contradictory to ancient sources.
Sarmatae is in origin probably just one of several tribal names of the Sarmatians which came to be applied to the entire group as an exonym in Greco-Roman ethnography. Strabo in the 1st century names as the main tribes of the Sarmatians the Iazyges, the Roxolani, the Aorsi and the Siraces.
The Greek name Sarmatai derives from the shortening of Sauromatai apparently by association with lizards (sauros). Suggestions for the reason the Sarmatians were associated with lizards include their reptile-like scale armour, their dragon standards, or their "small and lively eyes, compared [by the Greeks] to those of lizards" (Malte-Brun 1829, c.f. Herodotus 4.110-117).
Greek authors of the 4th century (Pseudo-Scylax, Eudoxus of Cnidus) mention Syrmatae as the name of a people living at the Don, perhaps reflecting the endonym as it was pronouned in the final phase of Sarmatian culture. The Avesta mentions Sairima as a region "in the west".
Soviet archaeologist Boris Grakov in 1947 defined a culture flourishing from the 6th century BC to the 4th century AD, apparent in late Kurgan graves, sometimes reusing part of much older Kurgans. It is a nomadic steppe culture ranging from the Black Sea to beyond the Volga, and is especially evident at two of the major sites at Kardaielova and Chernaya in the trans-Uralic steppe. Grekov defined four phases:
It is important to note that while "Sarmatian" and "Sauromatian" are synonymous as ethnonyms, they are given different meanings purely by convention as archaeological technical terms.
In Hungary, a great Late Sarmatian pottery center was reportedly unearthed between 2001–2006 near Budapest, in Üllő5 archaeological site. Typical gray, granular Üllő5 ceramics forms a distinct group of Sarmatian pottery found everywhere in the northcentral part of the Great Hungarian Plain region, indicating a lively trading activity. A 1998 paper on the study of glass beads found in Sarmatian graves suggests wide cultural and trade links.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Scythian-Sarmatian cultures may have given rise to the myth of Amazons. Graves of armed females have been found in southern Ukraine and Russia. David Anthony notes, "About 20% of Scythian-Sarmatian "warrior graves" on the lower Don and lower Volga contained females dressed for battle as if they were men, a phenomenon that probably inspired the Greek tales about the Amazons."
Herodotus (Histories 4.21) in the fifth century BC placed the land of the Sarmatians east of the Tanais, beginning at the corner of the Maeotian Lake, stretching northwards for fifteen days' journey, adjacent to the forested land of the Budinoi. Herodotus describes the Sarmatians' physical appearance as blond, stout and tanned, in short, pretty much as the Scythians and Thracians were seen by the other classical authors.
Herodotus (4.110-117) gives a story of the Sauromatians' origin from an unfortunate marriage of a band of young Scythian men and a group of Amazons. In the story, some Amazons were captured in battle by Greeks in Pontus (northern Turkey) near the river Thermodon, and the captives were loaded into three boats. They overcame their captors while at sea, but were not able sailors. Their ships were blown north to the Maeotian Lake (the Sea of Azov) onto the shore of Scythia near the cliff region (today's southeastern Crimea). After encountering the Scythians and learning the Scythian language, they agreed to marry Scythian men, but only on the condition that they move away and not be required to follow the customs of Scythian women. According to Herodotus, the descendants of this band settled toward the northeast beyond the Tanais (Don) river and became the Sauromatians. Herodotus' account explains the origins of the Sarmatians' language as an "impure" form of Scythian and credits the unusual freedoms of Sauromatae women, including participation in warfare, as an inheritance from their supposed Amazon ancestors. Later writers refer to the "woman-ruled Sarmatae" (γυναικοκρατούμενοι). However, Herodotus' belief that the Sarmatians were descendants of mythological Amazons is very likely a fictional invention designed to explain certain idiosyncrasies of Sarmatian culture.
Hippocrates (De Aere, etc., 24) explicitly classes them as Scythian and describes them as "swarthy, short and fat, of a phlegmatic and relaxed temperament".
Strabo mentions the Sarmatians in a number of places, never saying very much about them. He uses both Sarmatai and Sauromatai, but never together, and never suggesting that they are different peoples. He often pairs Sarmatians and Scythians in reference to a series of ethnic names, never stating which is which, as though Sarmatian or Scythian could apply equally to them all.
In Strabo, the Sarmatians extend from above the Danube eastward to the Volga, and from north of the Dnepr into the Caucasus, where, he says, they are called Caucasii like everyone else there. This statement indicates that the Alans already had a home in the Caucasus, without waiting for the Huns to push them there.
Even more significantly, he points to a Celtic admixture in the region of the Basternae, who, he says, are of Germanic origin. The Celtic Boii, Scordisci and Taurisci are there. A fourth ethnic element being melted in are the Thracians (7.3.2). Moreover, the peoples toward the north are Keltoskythai, "Celtic Scythians" (11.6.2).
Strabo also portrays the peoples of the region as being nomadic, or Hamaksoikoi, "wagon-dwellers" and Galaktophagoi, "milk-eaters" referring, no doubt, to the universal koumiss eaten in historical times. The wagons were used for porting tents made of felt, which must have been the yurts used universally by Asian nomads.
Pliny the Elder writes (4.12.79-81):
From this point (the mouth of the Danube) all the races in general are Scythian, though various sections have occupied the lands adjacent to the coast, in one place the Getae … at another the Sarmatae … Agrippa describes the whole of this area from the Danube to the sea … as far as the river Vistula in the direction of the Sarmatian desert … The name of the Scythians has spread in every direction, as far as the Sarmatae and the Germans, but this old designation has not continued for any except the most outlying sections ....
According to Pliny, Scythian rule once extended as far as Germany. Jordanes supports this hypothesis by telling us on the one hand that he was familiar with the Geography of Ptolemy, which includes the entire Balto-Slavic territory in Sarmatia, and on the other that this same region was Scythia. By "Sarmatia", Jordanes means only the Aryan territory. The Sarmatians therefore did come from the Scythians.
All Germania is divided from Gaul, Raetia, and Pannonia by the Rhine and Danube rivers; from the Sarmatians and the Dacians by shared fear and mountains. The Ocean laps the rest, embracing wide bays and enormous stretches of islands. Just recently, we learned about certain tribes and kings, whom war brought to light.
According to Tacitus, like the Persians, the Sarmatians wore long, flowing robes (ch 17). Moreover, the Sarmatians exacted tribute from the Cotini and Osi, and iron from the Cotini (ch. 43), “to their shame” (presumably because they could have used the iron to arm themselves and resist).
By the third century BC, the Sarmatian name appears to have supplanted the Scythian in the plains of what is now south Ukraine. The geographer, Ptolemy, reports them at what must be their maximum extent, divided into adjoining European and central Asian sections. Considering the overlap of tribal names between the Scythians and the Sarmatians, no new displacements probably took place. The people were the same Indo-Europeans they used to be, but now under yet another name.
On seeing this a man will say that no less than Greeks are foreigners skilled in the arts: for the Sauromatae have no iron, neither mined by themselves nor yet imported. They have, in fact, no dealings at all with the foreigners around them. To meet this deficiency they have contrived inventions. In place of iron they use bone for their spear-blades, and corneal-wood for their bows and arrows, with bone points for the arrows. They throw a lasso round any enemy they meet, and then turning round their horses upset the enemy caught in the lasso. Their breastplates they make in the following fashion. Each man keeps many mares, since the land is not divided into private allotments, nor does it bear any thing except wild trees, as the people are nomads. These mares they not only use for war, but also sacrifice them to the local gods and eat them for food. Their hoofs they collect, clean, split, and make from them as it were python scales. Whoever has never seen a python must at least have seen a pine-cone still green. He will not be mistaken if he liken the product from the hoof to the segments that are seen on the pine-cone. These pieces they bore and stitch together with the sinews of horses and oxen, and then use them as breastplates that are as handsome and strong as those of the Greeks. For they can withstand blows of missiles and those struck in close combat.
Pausanias' description is well borne out in a relief from Tanais. These facts are not necessarily incompatible with Tacitus, as the western Sarmatians might have kept their iron to themselves, it having been a scarce commodity on the plains.
In the late fourth century AD, Ammianus Marcellinus describes a severe defeat which Sarmatian raiders inflicted upon Roman forces in the province of Valeria in Pannonia in late 374 AD. The Sarmatians almost destroyed 2 legions: one recruited from Moesia and one legion from Pannonia. The last had been sent to intercept a party of Sarmatians which had been in pursuit of a senior Roman officer named Aequitius. The two legions failed to coordinate, allowing the Sarmatians to catch them unprepared.
The Sarmatians remained dominant until the Gothic ascendancy in the Black Sea area and then disappeared from historical record following the Hunnish destruction of the Gothic empire and subsequent invasion of central Europe. From bases in Hungary, the Huns ruled the entire former Sarmatian territory. Their various constituents enjoyed a floruit under Hunnish rule, fought for the Huns against a combination of Roman and Germanic troops, and went their own ways after the Battle of Chalons (a stand-off), the death of Attila and the disappearance of the Chuvash ruling elements west of the Volga.
Goths attacked Sarmatian tribes on the north of the Danube in what is today Romania. The Roman Emperor Constantine called Constantine II up from Galia to run the campaign. In very cold weather, the Romans were overwhelmingly victorious, destroying 100,000 Goths and capturing Ariaricus the son of the Goth king.
In their efforts to halt the Gothic expansion on the north of Lower Danube (present-day Romania), the Sarmatians armed their slaves. After the Roman victory, however, the local population revolted against their Sarmatian masters, pushing them beyond the Roman border. Constantine, on whom the Sarmatians had called for help, defeated Limigantes, the leader of the revolt, and moved the Sarmatian population back in. In the Roman provinces, Sarmatian combatants were enlisted in the Roman army, whilst the rest of the population was distributed throughout Thracia, Macedonia and Italy. Origo Constantini mentions 300,000 refugees resulting from this conflict. The emperor Constantine was subsequently attributed the title of SARMATICUS MAXIMUS.
Ancient DNA of 13 Sarmatian remains from Pokrovka and Meirmagul kurgans was extracted for comparative analysis. Most of the genetic traits determined were of western Eurasian origin, while only a few were of central/east Asian origin. 
These two peoples of ancient times both spoke languages in the Iranian language family and lived in the area north of the Black Sea. The languages and cultures of the Scythians and Sarmatians were related but distinct. In particular their styles of warfare were different. The Scythians were noted as mounted archers. They may have been the inventors or one of the inventors of the stirrup. The stirrup enabled mounted archers to fire (shoot) arrows reasonably accurately while riding. The Scythians attacked in a mass firing of arrows. If their adversaries were not overwhelmed by the hail of arrows then the Scythians turned and rode to a safe distance for regrouping to mount another mass attack.
Most adversaries were overwhelmed by the Scythian battle tactics. It was only the Sarmatians who found a successful counter-strategy to withstand the Scythians. The Sarmatian warriors and their mounts were protected with armor. Usually the armor consisted of metal plates of bronze or iron sewn onto leather garments. This armor enabled the Sarmatians to withstand a Scythian attack. After a Scythian onslaught the Sarmatians would attack the Scythians with fifteen-foot-long lances. The Sarmatians were probably the originator of the armored knights of medieval Europe.
Both Herodotus and Hippocrates accounts inform us the Sarmatians took interest in turning their women into strong-armed huntresses and fighters. Archaeological materials seem to confirm Sarmatian women's active role in military operation and social life. Burial of armed Sarmatian women comprise large percent of the military burial in the group occupy the central position and appear the be the richest.
Sauromatian - Blyumenfeld culture, 6th - 4th century B.C.
K.F. Smirnov suggests that Sauromatian culture was originated from two kindred cultures - the Timber Grace culture in the Volga River region and Andronovo culture located in the southern Ural steppes. The Sauromatians were the eastern neighbors of the Scythians and both were kindred tribes. The relations between the Sauromatians and the Scythians were peaceful between the 6th to 4th centuries B.C. According to Herodotus, the Sauromatians fought with the Scythians against Darius in the 5th century B.C.
Early Sauro-Sarmatian - Prokhorovskaya culture, 4th - 2th century B.C.
The term "Sarmatian" or "Sirmatian" was first mentioned by Greek authors such as Eudox, Pseudo-Skilak, Heraklidus of Pont, and Theophrastus in the 4th-2nd century B.C. According to the researchers, the Early Sarmatian culture most probably developed as a result of the influx of populations from the forest-steppe trans-Urals, northwestern Kazakhstan, and the Aral Sea region. In the 4th century B.C. individual Sarmatian groups penetrated into the lower Volga River region, where Sauromatian dominated the area. From the 4th to 2nd centuries B.C., massive nomadic migrations westward from the southern Ural steppes reached the lower Don River and Kuban River regions and absorbed the local Sauromatiansa. During the 3rd century B.C. new powerful Sarmatian tribes were formed - the Aorsi, the Roxolani, the Alans, and the Iazyges advanced westwards. The massive Sarmatian western expansion ultimately brought down Scythian rule in the North Black Sea area between the end of the 3rd century and early 2nd century B.C.
From Strabo's Geography we know that in the 2nd century B.C., the Iazyges settled between the Don and the Dnieper while the Roxolani occupied the Black Sea steppes and conducted raids on Taurida (The Crimea). In the middle of the 1st century, the Roxolani reached further west around Danube and threatening the eastern provinces of Rome.
Some of the new burial traits during this time include side niches (podbois), catacombs, grave pits with ledges, and the southern orientation of the deceased. Animal style ornamentation began to die out. New types of swords, bronze mirrors, and decorations started to appear and the earlier Sauromatian style pottery underwent significant changes. The tribes from the trans-Ural steppes brought new techniques for pottery manufacturing, including the mixing of talc into the paste. New forms such as round-bottom pots and uniquely rich ornamental motifs were incorporated into the Sarmatian potteyr style.
Middle Sarmatian - Suslovo cultures, late 2nd century B.C. - 2nd century A.D.
The Middle Sarmatian culture covered the steppes of Eurasia from the Danube River to the southern Ural Steppes. During this time a sharp decrease in the population occured in the region because of deteriorating climatic conditions in the southern Ural area and the tribal migration to the west and southeast.
Late Sarmatian - the Alan or Shipovskaya cultures, 2nd - 4th century A.D.
Late Sarmatian sites were first identified by P.D. Rau, who also associated the Late Sarmatian sites with the historical Alans. At the beginning of the 1st century A.D., the Alans had occupied lands in the northeast Azov Sea area, along the Don. Based on the archaeological material they were one of the Iranian-speaking nomadic tribes began to enter the Sarmatian area between the middle of the 1st and the 2nd century A.D. The written sources suggest that from the second half of the 1st to 4th century A.D. the Alans had supremacy over the tribal union and created a powerful confederation of tribes. They continued to rule in the North Black Sea steppes until they were invaded by the Huns in the late 4th century A.D. Most of the Alans were absorbed by the Huns while a small number of them fled to the North Caucasus or went west and reached the shores of Gilbraltar.
One of the most characteristic traits of the Late Sarmatian culture was the artificial deformation of skulls. This was probably accomplished by tying a soft cloth around the infant's head forcing an elongation of the cranium. This cultural trait was specific to the populations living east of the Don River and included the Southern Ural population. In contrast to the Middle Sarmatian culture, the predominant orientation of the deceased was to the north.
Religion and Social Class
The religious practices were consistant among the Sauro-Sarmatian nomads. They were typical of the clan-tribal cults of pre-Zoroastrian Iran. The gods were personified. Those gods of nature were the sky, the earth, and fire. Gods pertaining to social concepts were the domestic hearth and war. The evidence of fire cult practices is exemplified by charcoal and ashes found in the burials.
The high amount of offensive weapons found in Sarmatian graves indicates a military-oriented nomaidc life. Some of the rich burial sites of the Sarmatian aristocrats excavated in the Ural region indicates a defined social stratification had developed for the nomadic society. Class formation processes were accelerated greatly as the nomads from the southern Ural steepes and Volga region advanced westward and came into contact with Greek and Romand agriculture, industry, and trade centers.