King Arthur and the Iazyges

Superb. A new candidate has been found…via Campania, Central Asia, Ukraine, Iran, the Roman Empire, Lancashire, Hadrian’s Wall and Croatia. This new Arthur is Lucius Artorius Castor, a second-century AD Roman soldier who, for some period of his highly successful career, oversaw the migration of thousands of conquered Sarmatian warriors and their families to Northern Britain to guard the outermost defences of the Empire. This is even more fun than Holy Blood, Holy Grail and any Dan Brown book. Poor Nicolas Poussin, by the way, was in part responsible for the Holy Blood, Holy Grail industry because of this painting


For some reason I am becoming quite fond of the notion of the Iazyges.  As well as ending up in Lancashire, they reappear in history (or don’t) as the Jasz people of Hungary in the 13th century and possibly as part of the peoples of Ossetia.  What has got some people excited is that graves have been fond in ancient Sarmatia and in the Borders region of Scotland that suggest that these peoples included female warriors. Whilst the Amazons might have been a fictional enterprise, this is what Hippocrates says:

Their women, so long as they are virgins, ride, shoot, throw the javelin while mounted, and fight with their enemies. They do not lay aside their virginity until they have killed three of their enemies, and they do not marry before they have performed the traditional sacred rites. A woman who takes to herself a husband no longer rides, unless she is compelled to do so by a general expedition. They have no right breast; for while they are yet babies their mothers make red-hot a bronze instrument constructed for this very purpose and apply it to the right breast and cauterize it, so that its growth is arrested, and all its strength and bulk are diverted to the right shoulder and right arm.

And, of course, the Scots are nothing but transplanted Scythians… and, naturally, lost Israelites. Of course, given the long line of Kings of Scotland named David, that makes sense and is clearly evidence. All this, of course, gives me great joy, and in terms of the long history of the migration of peoples, is quite probably a little bit true.  Some of this nonsense, though, is not harmless at all, for the obvious reasons of history.

Apropos of nothing very much, and after a brief interchange about feudalism, or the lack of it, in mediaeval Ireland, I was reading about endogamy and exogamy as factors in social and economic development, or underdevelopment, in societies and nation-states. It is, interestingly, the Catholic Church that has laid down the strictest prohibitions against consanguinity, including the table of consanguinity set out by Saint Isidore, even if these prohibitions were in some Catholic societies more honoured in the breach than in the observance and even if ‘Protestantism’ (with fewer limits on consanguinity) is more closely linked with the development of the modern Western economy.  Someone has observed that the Visigoths flourished further after their conversion from Arianism to Catholicism. Why? Because, whilst endogamy is good for the kin-group (or extended family, clan, or tribe), it is not good for economic ‘fitness’ in a ‘modernising’, individualistic economy and society. Diversity is good for humans, in the long run. What is impolitely termed in-breeding (and the source of some very, very, very tired British jokes about Norfolk..) is, however, good for human groups in the short run.  Since I am neither a social anthropologist, nor any kind of expert, I shall now give up pseudo-historicising, especially as I am, in general, rather fond of kinship ties and fecundity. What I do observe, however, is that the human preference for tribalism still, in our most modern of all worlds, finds its way into all sorts of spheres, such as the political and the cultural. Take the Goths, for instance. Or Labour voters like me.

And there, I think it is politic to leave it… so I will sling my bow over my shoulder, spring onto my horse and ride off towards the Isles of the Blessed, Avalon, Tír na nÓg or Hy-Brasil. I might need a coracle, as well…

Happy Burns Night. And a toast to the King over the Water.

The Damsel of the Sanct-Grail –  Edward Burne-Jones

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One Response to King Arthur and the Iazyges

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