Friday, August 03, 2012

Who Were The Bastarnae ?

The most enigmatic 'barbarian' people to appear in southeastern Europe in the late Iron Age are undoubtedly the Bastarnae (Βαστάρναι / Βαστέρναι).
 While archaeological/numismatic evidence indicates that the Bastarnae tribes had reached the Danube Delta as early as the second half of the 4th c. BC (see 'Bastarnae Coinage' and 'Peucini' articles), they first appear in historical sources in connection with the events of 179 BC as allies of Philip V of Macedonia in his war with Rome (Livy 40:5, 57-58), and remain a constant factor in the history of southeastern Europe for over 500 years.

 Due to the fact that archaeologists have failed to associate a particular archaeological culture with the Bastarnae, the ethnic origin of this people has hitherto remained shrouded in mystery, with a lack of clarity on whether they were initially of Scythian, Germanic or Celtic origin. However, as illustrated below, a chronological analysis of the ancient sources relating to the Bastarnae in general, and archaeological, numismatic and linguistic evidence from the territory of the Bastarnae Peucini tribe in particular, enables us to finally shed some light on this question. 
The Sources
Later authors such as Dio Cassius (3rd c. AD – Dio LI.23.3, 24.2) and Zosimus (late 5th/early 6th c. AD – Zosimus I.34) define the Bastarnae as 'Scythians', and to a great extent this is true. By the late Roman period the Bastarnae tribes had been living in the region vaguely referred to as 'Scythia' for over half a millennium, and mixing with the local tribes ('mixed marriages are giving them to some extent the vile appearance of the Sarmatians' – Tac. Ger. 46). Thus, they were by this stage indeed Scythians, in the same way, for example, the Celtic Scordisci in Thrace are referred to in Roman sources as 'Thracians', having inhabited the region of Thrace for a number of centuries (see 'The Scordisci Wars' article). However, as with the latter case, geographical situation by no means indicates ethnic origin.