Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Peoples of the empire: The Sagartians

Geographical definition
The Sagartians (O.P. Aš-ša-kar-ti-ia) were nomadic herders whose range is uncertain but who are generally thought to have occupied northern Iran.  Stephanus of Byzantium (fl. sixth century AD) identifies a peninsula in the Caspian Sea as Sagartia.

Herodotus gives the Sagartians as a Persian tribe in I.125 but elsewhere treats them as a separate people.  If they lived to the north of Persia proper, then possibly they had either left Persia a long time earlier or had remained in the north when the Persians migrated to the southern Zagros.  Some scholars have connected the Sagartians with the Zi-kir-ta-a-a mentioned as residing in the northern Zagros in a late-eighth century BC inscription by Assyrian king Sargon II, but that doesn't necessarily clear things up since we don't know when the Persians arrived in the south.

In Herodotus I.125 they join Cyrus' rebellion against the Medes; thus they were a part of the Persian empire practically before it began.  A few decades later, they appear in the Behistun inscription as one of the rebellious provinces under a Tritantaechmes (Ciçantakhma), who claimed to be a descendant of Cyaxares.  In the summer of 521, Darius' Median general Takhmaspâda crushed the revolt.  Tritantaechmes was taken to the then Assyrian city of Erbil, ritually mutilated and crucified.

Although Darius calls Tritantaechmes' claim to the kingship of Sagartia a lie, he does not mention cutting out his tongue, which leads Lendering to speculate "that the Sagartian leader had indeed been a member of the Median royal house."  Due to the apparent placement of the Sagartians in northern Iran, some historians have speculated that they had political ties to the Medes as well as the Persians.

According to Lendering's analysis, the Sagartians were initially distinguished as their own satrapy.  At the time of Herodotus, they were in the 14th tax district, with the Drangians, Mycians, Thamanaeans, Utians and people banished to the islands of the Persian Gulf, who together paid six hundred silver talents yearly.  At the Persepolis apadana, the Sagartian delegation brings clothes and a bridled horse as tribute.

The Sagartians participated in Xerxes' invasion of Greece as cavalry with the Persians.  As Herodotus specifies that all cavalry were grouped with the infantry of their respective nations (with the exception of the Arabian camel-riders, who rode in the rear so as not to disturb the horses - Herodotus believed that horses were frightened of camels) it may be presumed that the Sagartians were also commanded by Otanes, Xerxes' father-in-law.  They therefore probably took part in the Battle of Plataea.

After Herodotus, no one writes of the Sagartians, though there is Stephanus' above-mentioned reference to a land called Sagartia a thousand years later.  Probably, other Greek writers did not distinguish the Sagartians from other Persian-speakers, and as our Old Persian corpus peters out in the later Achaemenid period, the evolution of distinctions made by Iranians among themselves ceases to be documented.  Most likely the Sagartians were reabsorbed by the Persians and other neighboring nations after the empire's fall.

Herodotus states that the Sagartians spoke Persian.  I know of no evidence contradicting this.

While I can't find anything specifically about Sagartian religion, their close association with both the Medes and the Persians makes it seem likely that their religious practices were similar to those practiced by these other Western Iranians.

At the Persepolis apadana (left, third from the top), the Sagartians appear dressed like Medes, except wearing tiaras with low peaks and with the earflaps either tied under the chin or above the head.  For what it's worth, Herodotus calls their clothing "somewhat between the Persian and the Pactyan" (the Pactyans probably being Pakhtuns/Pashtuns).

Herodotus asserts that the Sagartians fought only with braided leather lassoes and daggers.  Judging by ethnography and location, their daggers were almost certainly of an akinakes type.  They fought from horseback by snaring enemy men or horses and dragging them close, presumably dispatching them with the dagger.

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