5000 years of migrations from the Eurasian steppes to Europe


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The Pontic-Caspian steppe, extending from the Danube estuary to the Ural mountains, has played a crucial part in European and Asian history. This is where the horse was domesticated, chariots invented, and one of the earliest place where the Bronze Age flourished and from which it expanded. From approximately 4000 BCE steppe people moved westwards to establish themselves around the Danube valley and the Carpathian basin, then little by little deeper into Europe. Here is a summary of this long series of migrations that is thought to have brought Indo-European languages an culture to Europe and contributed significantly to the modern European gene pool. You can visualize here the Bronze Age migrations .

- 4200-3900 BCE : Late Copper Age horse riders invade the old Balkanese tell settlements of eastern Romania and Bulgaria. Most of the towns and villages of the Gumelnita, Varna and Karanovo VI cultures are abandoned. A new hybrid culture emerge, the Suvorovo-Cernavoda culture (4000-3200 BCE), which will expand further south to the Aegean during the Ezero period (3300-2700 BCE).

- 3500 BCE : Other advances from the steppe into the Cucuteni-Tripolye culture lead to the formation of the hybrid Cotsofeni culture, also known as Usatovo culture, in north-eastern Romania.

- 3200-2800 BCE : First north-west expansion of the Yamna culture from the western steppe to modern Poland, Germany, Scandinavia and Baltic countries. Creation of the Corded-Ware (or Single Grave, or Battle-Axe) culture (3200-1800 BCE).

- 2800-2500 BCE : Hybrid people from the Cotsofeni and Ezero cultures start moving up the Danube and settle in mass in the Hungarian plain. The southward expansion of the Abashevo, Poltakva and Catacomb cultures from the Volga-Ural to the Black Sea shores pushed more pastoralists of the late Yamna culture to Europe.

- 2500-2300 BCE : Indo-Europeans expand from the Hungarian plain to Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, southern Poland and southern Germany and start the most important Central European Bronze Age culture : Unetice (or Aunjetitz).

- 2300-2000 BCE : The Indo-Europeans continue their advance to Western and Northern Europe, spreading the Bronze Age and the single grave tradition with them.

- 2000-1100 BCE : The Sea Peoples invade the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean from the north (probably from the Black Sea). This is one of the most controversial part of ancient history due to the lack of clear evidence about the origin of the Sea Peoples. The Indo-Europeans from the steppe or from Europe itself were the only warriors with sufficiently advanced weapons and knowledge of seafaring to have destroyed the powerful palace-states of Greece, Anatolia, the Levant and Egypt. It also fits the 1000-year interval otherwise lacking any major migration from the steppes, at the time when the eastern Indo-Europeans were conquering Pakistan and India from Central Asia.

- 800-550 BCE : the Cimmerians are ousted from the Pontic steppe by their cousins the Scythians coming from the Volga-Ural region and Central Asia. The Cimmerians settle in Anatolia and around modern Romania around 800 BCE. The Cimmerian culture commenced circa 1200 BCE. Some archaeologists place their origins in the North Caucasus. Some accounts have it that the Cimmerians moved to northern Germany and the Netherlands and became the ancestors of some Germanic tribes, like the Sicambri (ancestors of the Franks). The Scythians followed between 650 and 550 BCE in Transylvania, Hungary and southern Slovakia. They kept trade routes with the steppes until the Roman conquest of Pannonia and Dacia.

- 100-500 CE : the Huns from southern Siberia invade Eastern Europe, pushing the Alans (a Samartian-descended tribe) westward. The Goths, Vandals, Franks, Angles, Saxons, Jutes and others cross into the Roman Empire under pressure from the new steppe migrants.

- 550-1000 CE : the next invaders from the steppe were the Avars, who entered the lower Danube region in 562. The Avars established their dominion over the Danube basin, from central Romania to eastern Austria, from the late 6th to early 9th century.

In the 4th century, some Bulgars had crossed the Caucasus into Armenia while others had already followed the Huns, then the Avars to Central Europe. The Pontic steppe and North Caucasus was ruled by the Bulgars during the Old Great Bulgaria period in the 7th century. Under pressure from the Khazars, the Bulgars split in two groups; one migrating north to Volga Bulgaria, and the other to the Carpathians founding the First Bulgarian Empire (680–1018 CE) around modern Romania and Bulgaria.

The Magyars and Khazars migrated from the Ural-Volga region to modern Ukraine around 830, raided their way across the Carpathians as far as Bavaria, where they were stopped in 956, then established themselves permanently in Hungary in the 10th century and founding the Kingdom of Hungary in 1001.

- 1350-1550 CE : the last people from Central Asia to come to Europe were the Turks, who conquered the Balkans from 1359 to 1481, then the Carpathians and Hungary from 1520 to 1566. They were not technically from the Pontic-Caspian steppe, but from areas of Central Asia settled over 4000 years ago by the Indo-Europeans from the Volga-Ural steppe. Like other Turkic peoples (Huns, Avars, Bulgars, Khazars, Tatars) the Turks supposedly brought a lot of R1a lineages with them (+ a little R1b).

Genetic impact

The continuous flow of steppe people had a cumulative effect on the European gene pool. The Copper and Bronze Age migrations are thought to have brought chiefly Y-haplogroup R1b1b2 (except the Corded-Ware expansion which originated in the forest-steppe and brought R1a1a) and mt-haplogroups U2, U3, U4, I, W to Europe, as well as other haplogroups that were there before like H, K, T, U5, V and X2.

The last presumably R1b people were the Cimmerians, who could have been R-U106/S21 based on the age and distribution of this subclade compared to the Cimmerian migration path. All subsequent migrations from the Scythians onwards would have brought Y-DNA R1a (as wel as some G1, G2a, N1c1 and Q).

South-East Europe now has the highest R1a diversity due to the numerous Eurasian tribes who settled there between 800 BCE and 1000 CE. Ancient DNA from the Scythians and more recent steppe people have confirmed that they belonged overwhelming to haplogroup R1a.
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Thanks for the chronological compilation. Very interesting.
It is not always easy to distinguish the various Iranian-speaking steppe tribes encompassed under the umbrella appellations 'Scythians' and 'Sarmatians'. Both groups were closely related.

The Sarmatians, also known as Sauromatæ (in Greek), are named after the Old Iranian Sarumatah meaning 'archer'. They were mounted archers. Women also went to war, which in the Greek imagination engendered the myth of the Amazons. Their tribes include the :

- Alans (a.k.a. Alani, Halani, Alauni, or Aorsi)
- Iazyges (a.k.a. Jaxamatae, Ixibatai, Iazygite, Jászok, or Ászi)
- Siraces (a.k.a. Serboi ; possibly the ancestors of the Serbs, Sorbs and/or Sarbans)
- Roxolani (or Ruxsalans, meaning 'bright' or 'red-haired' Alans).

The Scythians, or Saca in Greek, are also named after the word for archer, but from the ancient Indo-European skuza (from which the English 'shoot' derives). According to Indo-Europeanist Oswald Szemerényi there are four old Iranian ethnic names derived from skuza : Scythian, Skudra (in Thrace), Sogdian (in Bactria), Saka, all basically the same people but at different locations and periods of history. They are descended from the Bronze-Age Sintashta-Petrovka and Andronovo cultures, like the Persians, Medes, Vedic Indians, and in great part also the later Slavs.

In the Pontic steppe, the Scythians were ruled by the Royal Scyths. Among the other tribes, we find the :

- Agathyrsians (or Agathyrsi, living in Transylvania and Thrace)
- Ashguzai (or Ishguzai ; invaded kingdom of Urartu in Armenia)
- Auchatae
- Budinians (or Budini, described by Herodotus as blue-eyed and red-haired)
- Catiarians (or Catiaroi)
- Gelonians (a.k.a. Geloni or Heloni)
- Paralatians (or Paralatae)
- Taurians (or Scythotauri, Tauri Scythae, Tauroscythae)
- Traspians

The Central Asian branch of the Scyths, known as the Indo-Scythians conquered and founded a kingdom around modern Pakistan and north-west India in 200 BCE, that lasted until 400 CE (so roughly contemporaneous with the heydays of Rome rise of Roman hegemony at the time of the Punic wars until the crumbling days of the Empire).

Other Scytho-related Central Asian tribes include :

- Avars (who later migrated to Europe)
- Bahlikas
- Getae
- Issedones
- Massagetae
- Medes (who had previously conquered the Middle East)
- Paradas
- Parama Kambojas
- Rishikas
- Xanthii
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Nice dig Maciamo, all fresh news to me, thanks.
16th century Polish nobility class were bragging about ancestry in Sarmatia. Off course it was more in shape of legends than real facts. But looking at vicinity of Sarmatia and were Poland is right not, there was a contact, most likely few wars, and some tribes ruling others.
Polish nobles can came from Sarmatians. Slavic Peoples came from Kievan archeo-culture. Neighbors of Kievan culture are Sarmatians. Most known pagan Slavic gods have post-Iranian names, many Slavic tribes have Iranian names (Serbs, Croatians, Ants, Chorutans). Polish nobles coat of arms have a lot of sarmatian tamghas.
Cool stuff, Maciamo, but I need to read it with a fresh mind, too much information... Where do you get sources about this topic?
Cool stuff, Maciamo, but I need to read it with a fresh mind, too much information... Where do you get sources about this topic?

Thanks. I have plenty of history books at home. :)
Do the Mongols count?

They came from much farther away, but they were also Eurasian Steppe people, so why not. It's just that they genetic impact in Europe doesn't seem to have been tremendous (hardly noticeable actually).
Between 1800bc and 1400 bc many Unetice guys went eastward to the Tisa and Lower Danube course.
Around 1000bc Haltsat people arrived in modern Romania.
They will form first Dacian culture(Basarabi culture) between 800bce-650bce.
So Dacians could have significant R1b-S28 as well.Of course some of it it's Celtic.
They had also R1a of northern and northeastern origin (Lusatian).
According to Ptolemey there were 15 tribes in Dacia: 3 were Celtic and 12 were Dacians.
The Dacian burial rite is cremation(Urnfeld influence).
In 7th century BC Scythians arrived.They weren't so many but heavely influenced the Dacian culture.Still this culture is different in many aspects from the Scythian one.
The Dacian name came from Scythian tribe Dahae, the Getae from Scithyan Massagetae.
Soon after the conquest Scythian ellite lost their identity;and Herodotus mention Agatharsy as a Thracian tribe.
Romanians(Constanta): 41% I2a1, 9% R1a
Romanians(Ploiesti): 39% I2a1, 5% R1a
Romanians(Piatra-Neamt) 46% I2a1, 20%R1a

Only Pitra-Neamt had significant R1a.The Dacians and other autochthonous had R1a also.
So i don't think the Scythian and Turkic people had a major impact.
They spread all over on a vast area.

P.s. Great job!
thank you for the chronological list, Maciamo

but I wonder what the 4000 BC 'horse riders' were like
what information do we have about them?
what were the functions of the horses?

2000 BC nobody could stop the horse-drawn war chariots
only after 1000 BC there are horse-mounted warriors coming from the steppes
only after that there are armies with cavalries

or did I miss something?
I lost my password

I've been busy reading. I wanted to come back to this forum, but it took awhile to find my password.
That was a wonderful summary. I especially liked the part about haplogroups. I hope to learn a lot in these forums about various haplogroups in prehistory.
The Mongols originated in Buryatia, north of Mongolia. They are not Indo-Europeans. They were a steppe people who swept across the steppes of Asia and Europe. The Kalmyks, in Russia, are descended from Mongols.
It seems like some sort of demographic boom was happening in the steppes. It just kept creating more and more people. Relatively exceeding birth rates of other places in those days.

am I the only one who finds a lot of Scythian - Sarmatian tribal names evil? I do not know how they are/were spelled, but the way I pronounce them in my head they sound Orcish.
Sarumatah, Skudra, Sogdian, Ashguzai, Iazyges, Roxolani... brrr...
It seems like some sort of demographic boom was happening in the steppes. It just kept creating more and more people. Relatively exceeding birth rates of other places in those days.

am I the only one who finds a lot of Scythian - Sarmatian tribal names evil? I do not know how they are/were spelled, but the way I pronounce them in my head they sound Orcish.
Sarumatah, Skudra, Sogdian, Ashguzai, Iazyges, Roxolani... brrr...
That's right. During better climates they multiplied fast, then colder phase was "squeezing" them out of Steppes. Mostly towards warmer and wetter Europe.
I think that, at a certain point of human development, the grasslands are the best place to make a living, provided the grassland is geting the right kind of weather so that livestock can flourish. When people have stone or copper tools, or bronze is too expensive to be common, it's difficult to clear forests and plant crops, so populations in forest areas remain thin, but populations can really take off on the steppes during a good climatic period. Then, as LeBrok says, a natural cycle of climate change can make the steppes less attractive and there's suddenly a huge population looking for somewhere else to live. A population that's usually well armed, since their only problem previously was protecting herds from predators. And they tend to be well organized because they have a herding culture, so they easily over-run any other group that gets in their way. That's what happened with the Mongols within historic times, and a lot of people believe it's also the story of the Indo-Europeans, and archeology and linguistics seem to support that idea. Populations on the steppe appear to be more cyclical and even more weather dependent (in the sense of long term weather cycles) than other populations.
Thanks for the info everyone... This was worth a revival...

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