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Sarmatians, Sarmatae or Sauromatae (the second form is mostly used by the earlier Greek writers, the other by the later Greeks and the Romans) were a people whom Herodotus (iv. 21. 117) puts on the eastern boundary of Scythia beyond the Tanais (Don).

He says expressly that they were not pure Scythians, but, being descended from young Scythian men and Amazons, spoke an impure dialect and allowed their women to take part in war and to enjoy much freedom. Later writers call some of them the "woman-ruled Sarmatae." Hippocrates (De Aere, etc., 24) classes them as Scythian. From this we may infer that they spoke a language cognate with the Scythic. The greater part of the barbarian names occurring in the inscriptions of Olbia, Tanais and Panticapaeum are supposed to be Sarmatian, and as they have been well explained from the Iranian language now spoken by the Ossetians of the Caucasus, these are supposed to be the representatives of the Sarmatae and can be shown to have a direct connexion with the Alans, one of their tribes.

By the 3rd century BC the Sarmatae appear to have supplanted the Scyths proper in the plains of south Russia, where they remained dominant until the Gothic and Hunnish invasions. Their chief divisions were the Rhoxolani, the Iazyges, with whom the Romans had to deal on the Danube and Theiss; and the Alani.

The term Sarmatia is applied by later writers to as much as was known of what is now Russia, including all that which the older authorities call Scythia, the latter name being transferred to regions farther east. Ptolemy gives maps of European and Asiatic Sarmatia.

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.