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Scythia-Parthia 100 BC.png
Approximate extent of East Iranian languages the 1st century BCE is shown in orange.
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Central Asia
Northern India

Scythian language Sakan language



Related ethnic groups

ancient Iranian peoples

The Saka (Old Iranian Sakā; Latinized Sacae) were a Scythian tribe, rendered in Greek as Σάκαι, in Chinese as (pinyin sāi; from Old Chinese *sək), and in Sanskrit as शक, referring to those Scythians who founded the Indo-Scythian kingdom in the 2nd century BC.

Saka (Scythian) horseman from Pazyryk in Central Asia, c. 300 BC.
Gold artifacts of the Saka in Bactria, at the site of Tillia tepe.


Classical accounts

Modern historical accounts of the Indo-Scythian wars often assume that the Scythian protagonists were a single tribe called the Saka (Sakai or Sakas). But earlier Greek and Latin texts suggest that the term Scythians referred to a much more widespread grouping of Central Asian peoples.

To Herodotus (484-425 BC), the Sakai were the 'Amurgioi Skuthai' (i.e. Scythians from Ammyurgia).[1] Strabo (Gaius Julius Caesar Strabo, 63 BC-AD 24 circa) suggests that the term Skuthais (Scythians) referred to the Sakai and several other tribes.[2] Arrian (Lucius Flavius Arrianus 'Xenophon' , c AD 92-175), refers to the Sakai as Skuthon (a Scythian people) or the Skuthai (the Scythians) who inhabit Asia.[3]

It is clear that the Greek and Latin scholars cited here believed, all Sakai were Scythians, but not all Scythians were Sakai.[4] It seems likely that modern confusion about the identity of the Scythians is partly due to the Persians. According to Herodotus, the Persians called all Scythians by the name Sakas.[5] Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus, AD 23–79) provides a more detailed explanation, stating that the Persians gave the name Sakai to the Scythian tribes: "nearest to them".[6] This likely explains why all the Scythians began to be called Sakai. The Behistun inscription mentions four divisions of the Scythians,

Of these, the Saka tigraxauda were the Saka proper. The other three were different "Scythian" tribes.

It is suggested Scythia was a generic term that was loosely applied to a vast area of Central Asia spanning numerous groups and diverse ethnicities. Ptolemy writes that Skuthia was not only "within the Imaos" (the Himalayas) and "beyond the Imaos" (north of the Himalayas), but also speaks of a separate "land of the Sakais" within Scythia.[7]

The Romans recognized both Saceans (Sacae) and Scyths (Scythae). Stephanus of Byzantium referred to the Sakas in Ethnica as Saka sena, or Sakaraucae. Isidorus of Charax used the term "Saka" in his work "Parthian stations". They were known to the Chinese as the Sai (Chinese: , Old Sinitic *sək).

Chinese Imperial reports by General Ban Chao and the Greek history by Stephanus Byzantinus record how the Sakasena, originally Scythians, were pushed west and displaced by the Asii who themselves became known as Scythians as they conquered Sakastan. On the west the Saka were among the first Iranians to enter the Middle East. The Assyrians of the time of Esarhaddon record campaigning against a people they called in the Akkadian the Ashkuza or Ishhuza.[8] Hugo Winckler was the first to associate them with the Scyths and the identification remains without serious question. They were closely associated with the Gimirrai,[8] who were the Cimmerians known to the ancient Greeks. Confusion arose because they were known to the Persians as Saka, however they were known to the Babylonians as Gimirrai, and both expressions are used synonymously on the trilingual Behistun inscription, carved in 515 BCE on the order of Darius the Great.[9] These Scythians were mainly interested in settling in the kingdom of Urartu, which later became Armenia. The district of Shacusen, Uti Province, reflects their name.[10] In ancient Hebrew texts, the Ashkuz (Ashkenaz) are even considered to be a direct offshoot from the Gimirri (Gomer).[11]


A cataphract-style parade armour of a Saka royal from the Issyk kurgan, Kazakhstan.

According to the Greek chronicler Strabo,[12] Bactria was taken by nomads like "the Asioi and the Pasianoi, and the Tacharoi and the Sakaraukai, who originally came from the other side of the Iaxartou river (Syr Darya) that adjoins that of the Sakai and the Sogdoanou and was occupied by the Saki."

The Prologus XLI of Historiae Philippicae also refers to the Scythian invasion of the Greek kingdom of Bactria and Sogdia. The invaders are described as "Sarauceans" (Saraucae) and "Asians" (Asiani). Aseni and Asoi clans are also referenced by Pliny [13] and he locates them all in southern side of the Hindukush. Bucephala was the capital of the Aseni which stood on Hydaspes (the Jhelum River) [14]. The Sarauceans are Sacarauls and the "Aseni" are the Asioi of Strabo.[15]

After being turned out from Issyk-Kul lake under pressure from the Yuezhi, and moving to Bactria via Sogdiana and Fergana, the Issyk-kul Sakas (Sakaraulois) had been joined on their way by sections of other Scythian tribes. The term Asio (or Asii) obviously refers to horse People[16] and undoubtedly refers to the Kambojas of the Parama Kamboja domain whose Aswas or horses have been glorified in the Mahabharata[17] as being of excellent quality. In fact, Asio, Asi/Asii, Asva/Aswa, Ari-aspi, Aspasios, Aspasii (or Hippasii) are variant names the Classical writers have given to the horse-clans of the Scythian Kambojas.[18] These terms are most likely derived from the Old-Persian words for horse, "asa" and "aspa."[19]

Some scholars tend to link the Rishikas with the Tukharas and with the Yuezhi themselves. The Rishikas were closely affiliated with the Parama-Kambojas as per Mahabharata evidence.[20] Similarly, the Pasianois were another Scythian tribe from Central Asia. Saraucae or Sakarauloi obviously refers to the Saka proper from Issyk-kul Lake. If one accepts this connection, then the Tukharas (= Rishikas = Yuezhi) controlled the eastern parts of Bactria (Ta-hia) while the combined forces of the Sakarauloi, 'Asio' (horse people = Parama Kambojas) and the 'Pasinoi' of Strabo occupied its western parts after being displaced from their original home in the Fergana valley by the Yuezhi. As stated earlier, Ta-hia is taken to mean Tukhara/Tushara which also included Badakshan, Chitral, Kafirstan and Wakhan which are said to have formed eastern parts of Bactria[21] According to other scholars, it were the Saka hordes alone who had put an end to the Greek kingdom of Bactria.[22]

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The Sakan speakers were gradually conquered and acculturated by the Turkic expansion to Central Asia beginning in the 4th century. The only known remnants of the Sakan language come from Xinjiang, China, but the language there is widely divergent from the rest of Iranian and accordingly is called eastern or northeastern Iranian. It also is divided into two divergent dialects.[24]

Kingdom of Khotan

In the 3rd century AD the Saka had their own kingdom in Khotan.

See also

Books and Articles

  • Bailey, H. W. 1958. "Languages of the Saka." Handbuch der Orientalistik, I. Abt., 4. Bd., I. Absch., Leiden-Köln. 1958.
  • Davis-Kimball, Jeannine. 2002. Warrior Women: An Archaeologist's Search for History's Hidden Heroines. Warner Books, New York. 1st Trade printing, 2003. ISBN 0-446-67983-6 (pbk).
  • Bulletin of the Asia Institute: The Archaeology and Art of Central Asia. Studies From the Former Soviet Union. New Series. Edited by B. A. Litvinskii and Carol Altman Bromberg. Translation directed by Mary Fleming Zirin. Vol. 8, (1994), pp. 37–46.
  • Hill, John E. 2004. The Western Regions according to the Hou Hanshu. Draft annotated English translation.[25]
  • Hill, John E. 2004. The Peoples of the West from the Weilue 魏略 by Yu Huan 魚豢: A Third Century Chinese Account Composed between 239 and 265 CE. Draft annotated English translation.[26]
  • Lebedynsky, Iaroslav. (2006). Les Saces: Les <<Scythes>> d'Asie, VIIIe av. J.-C.-IVe siècle apr. J.-C. Editions Errance, Paris. ISBN 2-87772-337-2 (in French).
  • Pulleyblank, Edwin G. 1970. "The Wu-sun and Sakas and the Yüeh-chih Migration." Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 33 (1970), pp. 154–160.
  • Puri, B. N. 1994. "The Sakas and Indo-Parthians." In: History of civilizations of Central Asia, Volume II. The development of sedentary and nomadic civilizations: 700 B.C. to A.D. 250. Harmatta, János, ed., 1994. Paris: UNESCO Publishing, pp. 191–207.
  • Thomas, F. W. 1906. "Sakastana." Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1906), pp. 181–216.
  • Yu, Taishan. 1998. A Study of Saka History. Sino-Platonic Papers No. 80. July, 1998. Dept. of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Pennsylvania.
  • Yu, Taishan. 2000. A Hypothesis about the Source of the Sai Tribes. Sino-Platonic Papers No. 106. September, 2000. Dept. of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Pennsylvania.


  1. ^ History, VII, 64
  2. ^ Strabo, XI, 8, 2
  3. ^ Ambaseos Alexandrou, III, 8, 3
  4. ^ B. N. Mukerjee, Political History of Ancient India, 1996, p 690-91.
  5. ^ Herodotus Book VII, 64
  6. ^ Naturalis Historia, VI, 19, 50
  7. ^ Geography VI, 12, 1f; VI, 13; 1f, VI, 15, 1f
  8. ^ a b Westermann, Claus; John J. Scullion, Translator (1984). : A Continental Commentary. pp. 506.  
  9. ^ George Rawlinson, noted in his translation of History of Herodotus, Book VII, p. 378
  10. ^ Kurkjian, Vahan M. (1964). A History of Armenia. Armenian General Benevolent Union of America. pp. 23.  
  11. ^ . "The sons of Gomer were Ashkenaz, Riphath,[a] and Togarmah." See also the entry for Ashkenaz in Young, Robert. Analytical Concordance to the Bible. Mac Donald Publishing Company. ISBN 0917006291.  
  12. ^ XI.8.2.
  13. ^ Pliny: Hist Nat., VI.21.8-23.11, List of Indian races
  14. ^ Alexander the Great, Sources and Studies, p 236, W. W. Tarn; Political History of Indian People, 1996, p 232, H. C. Raychaudhury, B. N. Mukerjee
  15. ^ History and Culture of Indian People, Age of Imperial Unity, p 111; Political History of Ancient India, 1996, p 692.
  16. ^ For Asii = Aswa = Horse-people, see: Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, reprint (2002), pp 53-54, 64 fn 1 etc
  17. ^ MBH 8.38.13-14, 10.13.1-2; 7.23.42-43 etc.
  18. ^ For Asii/Aswa/Assaceni/Aspasio connection with horse, refer to Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, Reprint (2002), James Tod. E.g: "In Aswa, we have ancient race peopled on both sides of Indus and probable etymon of Asia. The Assaceni, the Ari-aspii, the Aspasians and (the Asii) whom Strabo describes as Scythic race have same origin. Hence Asi-gurh (Hasi/Hansi) and Asii-gard, the first settlements of Scythic Asii in Scandinavia" (See: Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, Reprint (2002), Vol I, p 64 fn 1. Also see: pp 51-54, 87, 95; Vol-2, P 2, James Tod. For nomenclature Aspasii, Hipasii, see: Olaf Caroe, The Pathans, 1958, pp 37, 55-56. Pliny also refers to horse clans like Aseni, Asoi living in north-west of India (which were none-else than the Ashvayana and Ashvakayana Kambojas of Indian texts). See: Hist. Nat. VI 21.8-23.11; See Ancient India as Described by Megasthenes and Arrian, Trans. and edited by J. W. McCrindle, Calcutta and Bombay,: Thacker, Spink, 1877, 30-174.
  19. ^ Encyclopedia Iranica Article on Asb
  20. ^ Lohan. ParamaKambojan.Rishikan.uttaranapi:MBH 2.27.25; Kambojarishika ye cha MBH 5.5.15 etc.
  21. ^ Political History of Ancient India, 19996, Commentary, p 719, B. N. Mukerjee. Cf: "It appears likely that like the Yue-chis, the Scythians had also occupied a part of Transoxiana before conquering Bactria. If the Tokhario, who were the same as or affiliated with Yue-chihs, and who were mistaken as Scythian people, particiapated in the same series of invasions of Bactria of the Greeks, then it may be inferred that eastern Bactria was conquered by Yue-chis and the western by other nomadic people in about the same period. In other words, the Greek rule in Bactria was put to end in c 130/29 BC due to invasion by the Great Yue-chis and the Scythians Sakas nomads (Commentary: Political History of Ancient India, 1996, p 692-93, B.N. Mukerjee). It is notable that before its occupation by Tukhara Yue-chis, Badakashan formed a part of ancient Kamboja i.e. Parama Kamboja country. But after its occupation by the Tukharas in second century BC, it became a part of Tukharistan. Around 4th-5th century, when the fortunes of the Tukharas finally died down, the original population of Kambojas re-asserted itself and the region again started to be called by its ancient name Kamboja (See: Bhartya Itihaas ki Ruprekha, p 534, J.C. Vidyalankar; Ancient Kamboja, People and the Country, 1981, pp 129, 300 J.L. Kamboj; Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, p 159, S Kirpal Singh). There are several later-time references to this Kamboja of Pamirs/Badakshan. Raghuvamsha, a 5th c Sanskrit play by Kalidasa, attests their presence on river Vamkshu (Oxus) as neighbors to the Hunas (4.68-70). They have also been attested as Kiumito by 7th c Chinese pilgrim Hiun Tsang. Eighth century king of Kashmir, king Lalitadiya had invaded the Oxian Kambojas as is attested by Rajatarangini of Kalhana (See: Rajatarangini 4.163-65). Here they are mentioned as living in the eastern parts of the Oxus valley as neighbors to the Tukharas who were living in western parts of Oxus valley (See: The Land of the Kambojas, Purana, Vol V, No, July 1962, p 250, D. C. Sircar). These Kambojas apparently were descendants of that section of the Kambojas who, instead of leaving their ancestral land during second c BC under assault from Ta Yue-chi, had compromised with the invaders and had decided to stay put in their ancestral land instead of moving to Helmond valley or to the Kabol valley. There are other references which equate Kamboja= Tokhara. A Buddhist Sanskrit Vinaya text (N. Dutt, Gilgit Manuscripts, III, 3, 136, quoted in B.S.O.A.S XIII, 404) has the expression satam Kambojikanam kanayanam i.e a hundred maidens from Kamboja. This has been rendered in Tibetan as Tho-gar yul-gyi bu-mo brgya and in Mongolian as Togar ulus-un yagun ükin. Thus Kamboja has been rendered as Tho-gar or Togar. And Tho-gar/Togar is Tibetan/Mongolian names for Tokhar/Tukhar. See refs: Irano-Indica III, H. W. Bailey, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 13, No. 2, 1950, pp. 389-409; see also: Ancient Kamboja, Iran and Islam, 1971, p 66, H. W. Bailey.
  22. ^ Cambridge History of India, Vol I, p 510; Taxila, Vol I, p 24, Marshal, Early History of North India, p 50, S. Chattopadhyava.
  23. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica
  24. ^ Dalby, Andrew (2004). Dictionary of Languages: the definitive reference to more than 400 languages. Columbia University Press. pp. 278.  
  25. ^ "The Han Histories". Retrieved 2009-08-10.  
  26. ^ "Weilue: The Peoples of the West". 2004-05-23. Retrieved 2009-08-10.  

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

SAKA, or SHaKA, the name of one or more tribes which invaded India from Central Asia. The word is used loosely, especially by Hindu authors, to designate all the tribes which from time to time invaded India from the north, much as all the tribes who invaded China are indiscriminately termed Tatars. Used more accurately, it denotes the tribe which invaded India 130-140 B.C. They are the Sacae and Sakai of classical authors and the Se of the Chinese, which may represent an original Sek or Siik. The Chinese annalists state that they were a pastoral people who lived in the neighbourhood of the modern Kashgar. About 160 B.C. they were driven southward by the advance of the Yue-Chi from the east. One portion appears to have settled in western Afghanistan, hence called Sakasthana, in modern Persian Sejistan. The other section occupied the Punjab and possessed themselves of the territory which the Graeco-Bactrian kings had acquired in India, that is Sind, Gujarat and Malwa. The rulers of these provinces bore the title of Satrap (Kshatrapa or Chhatrapa) and were apparently subordinate to a king who ruled over the valley of Kabul and the Punjab. In 57 B.C. the Sakas were attacked simultaneously by Parthians from the west and by the Mala y a clans from the east and their power was destroyed. It should be added that what we know of Saka history is mostly derived from coins and inscriptions which admit of various interpretations and that scholars are by no means agreed as to" names and dates. In any. case their power, if it lasted so long, must have been swept away by the Kushan conquest of Northern India.

Nothing is known of the language or race of the Sakas. Like most of the invaders of India at this period they adopted Buddhism, at least partially. They can be traced to the neighbourhood of Kashgar, but not like the Yue-Chi to the frontiers of China. They may have been Turanians akin to that tribe, or they may have been Iranians akin to the Iranian element in Transoxiana and the districts south of the Pamirs. They cannot be the same as the Scythians of Europe, though the name and original nomadic life are points in common.

See Vincent Smith, Early History of India (1908); O. Franke, Beitrage aus chinesischen Quellen zur Kenntnis der Tiirkvolker and Skythen (1904); P. Gardner, Coins of Greek and Scythian Kings in India (1886); and various articles by Vincent Smith, Fleet, Cunningham, A Stein, Sylvain Levi and others in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Journal asiatique, Indian Antiquary, Zeitsch. der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft, &c. (C. EL.)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Wikipedia has an article on:




Saka or Sakas or Sacae

Saka (plural Saka or Sakas or Sacae)

  1. Any of various peoples formerly inhabiting steppes north of the Iranian plateau.

Simple English


Approximate extent of East Iranian languages the 1st century BCE is shown in orange.
Total population


Regions with significant populations
Eastern Europe
Central Asia
Northern India

Scythian language



Related ethnic groups
  • Sarmatians
  • Dahae
  • Sakas
  • Indo-Scythians
  • Massagetes

The Sakas[1] were a population of Iranian[2][3][4] nomadic tribesmen lived in the plains of Eurasia from Eastern Europe to China, from the Old Persian Period to the Middle Persian Period. Then Turkic language speakers took their place.

The ancient Greeks called the Sakas the Scythians.


  1. (English form of Old Iranian Sakā, nominative plural masculine case; ancient Greek Σάκαι, Sakai; Sanskrit Śaka
  2. Andrew Dalby, Dictionary of Languages: the definitive reference to more than 400 languages, Columbia University Press, 2004, pg 278
  3. Sarah Iles Johnston, Religions of the Ancient World: A Guide, Harvard University Press, 2004. pg 197
  4. Edward A Allworth,Central Asia: A Historical Overview,Duke University Press, 1994. pp 86.

Books and Articles

  • Davis-Kimball, Jeannine. 2002. Warrior Women: An Archaeologist's Search for History's Hidden Heroines. Warner Books, New York. 1st Trade printing, 2003. ISBN 0-446-67983-6 (pbk).
  • Hill, John E. 2004. The Western Regions according to the Hou Hanshu. Draft annotated English translation.[1]
  • Hill, John E. 2004. The Peoples of the West from the Weilue 魏略 by Yu Huan 魚豢: A Third Century Chinese Account Composed between 239 and 265 CE. Draft annotated English translation. [2]
  • Lebedynsky, Iaroslav. (2006). Les Saces: Les <> d'Asie, VIIIe av. J.-C.-IVe siècle apr. J.-C. Editions Errance, Paris. ISBN 2-87772-337-2 (in French).

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