by Sharon Turner
[Book II, Chapter I "The Origin Of The Saxons" Pages 98-102. Published 1836. We thought that reprinting this famous extract from his book would be of great interest to readers]
It will be unnecessary to employ our time, in enumerating the many fallacious theories which have been framed, on the origin of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors. It will be more useful to select those few facts which may be gleaned from the writers of antiquity on this subject, and to state to the reader, rather what he may believe, than what he must reject.
The early occupation of Europe, by the Kimmerian and Keltic races, has been already displayed. The next stream of barbaric tribes, whose progress formed the second great influx of population into Europe, were the Scythian, German, and Gothic tribes. They also entered it out of Asia. It is of importance to recollect the fact of their primeval locality, because it corresponds with this circumstance, that Herodotus, besides the main Scythia, which he places in Europe, mentions also an Eastern or Asiatic Scythia, beyond the Caspian and Jaxartes. As these new comers pressed on the Kimmerians and Kelts, their predecessors, those nations retired towards the eastern and southern extremities of Europe, pursued still by the Scythian invaders. This new wave of population gradually spread over the mountains, and into the vast forests and marshes of Europe, until, under the name of Germans, an appellation which Tacitus calls a recent name, they had not only reached the Rhine, but had also crossed it into France. Here Caesar found one great body firmly settled, descended from them, whom he calls Belgae; though its component states had their peculiar denominations, besides a very large force of recent German invaders under the command of Ariovistus.
This second stock of the European population is peculiarly interesting to us, because from its branches not only our own immediate ancestors, but also those of the most celebrated nations of modern Europe, have unquestionably descended. The Anglo-Saxons, Lowland Scotch, Normans, Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, Germans, Dutch, Belgians, Lombards, and Franks, have all sprung from that great fountain of the human race, which we have distinguished by the terms Scythian, German, or Gothic.
The ancient languages of these nations prove their ancient affinity, the contiguous chronology of their first origin, and their common derivation; and afford evidences of these truths, from which every one may satisfy his doubts or his curiosity. We have works still existing in the ancient Gothic, and Saxon, as well as in the Frankish and Icelandic, in which the philologist will easily perceive their mutual relationship. The comparison of these with the modern German, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, and Flemish, will equally demonstrate the kinship between the ancient parents and their existing descendants.
The first appearance of the Scythian tribes in Europe may be placed, according to Strabo and Homer, about the eighth, or according to Herodotus, in the seventh century before the Christian era. Herodotus likewise states, that the Scythians declared their nation to be more recent than any other, and that they reckoned only one thousand years between Targitaos, their first king, and the aggression of Darius. The first scenes of their civil existence, and of their progressive power, were in Asia, to the east of the Araxes. Here they multiplied and extended their territorial limits, for some centuries, unknown to Europe. Their general appellation among themselves was Scoloti, but the Greeks called them Scythians, Scuthoi or Nomads.
To this judicious and probable account of Herodotus, we add the information collected by Diodorus. He says, that the Scythians, formerly inconsiderable and few, possessed a narrow region on the Araxes; but, by degrees, they became more powerful in numbers and in courage. They extended their boundaries on all sides; till at last they raised their nation to great empire and glory.
One of their kings becoming valiant and skillful in the art of war, they added to their territory the mountainous regions about Caucasus, and also the plains towards the ocean, and the Palus Maeotis, with the other regions near the Tanais. In the course of time they subdued many nations, between the Caspian and the Maeotis, and beyond the Tanais. Thus, according to Diodorus, the nation increased, and had kings worthy of remembrance. The Sakai, the Massagetai, and the Arimaspoi, drew their origin from them.
The Massagetai seem to have been the most eastern branch of the Scythian nation. Wars arising between them and the other Scythic tribes, an emigration from the later took place according to the account which Herodotus selects, as in his opinion the most authentic, which occasioned their entrance into Europe. Such feuds and wars have contributed, more than any other cause, to disperse through the world its uncivilized inhabitants.
The emigrating Scythians crossed the Araxes, passed out of Asia, and invading the Kimmerians, suddenly appeared in Europe, in the seventh century before the Christian era. Part of the Kimmerians flying into Asia Minor, some of the Scythian hordes pursued them; but, turning in a direction different from that which the Kimmerians traversed, they missed their intended prey, and fell unintentionally upon the Medes. They defeated the Medes, pressed on towards Egypt, and governed those parts of Asia for twenty-eight years, till Cyaxares, the king of Media, at last expelled them.
The Scythian tribes however continued to flock into Europe; and, in the reign of Darius, their European colonies were sufficiently numerous and celebrated to excite the ambition of the Persian monarch, after his capture of Babylon; but all his efforts against them failed. In the time of Herodotus, they had gained an important footing in Europe. They seem to have spread into it, from the Tanais to the Danube, and to have then taken a westerly direction; but their kindred colonies, in Thrace, had extended also to the south. Their most northward ramification in Europe was the tribe of the Roxolani, who dwelt above the Borysthenes, the modern Dnieper.
It would be impertinent to the great subject of this history, to engage in a minuter discussion of the Scythian tribes. They have become better known to us, in recent periods, under the name of Getae and Goths, the most celebrated of their branches.
As they spread over Europe, the Kimmerian and Keltic population retired towards the west and south. In the days of Caesar, the most advanced tribes of the Scythian, or Gothic race, were known to the Romans under the name of Germans. They occupied all the continent but the Cimbric peninsula, and had reached and even passed the Rhine. One of their divisions, the Belgae, had for some time established themselves in Flanders and part of France; and another body, under Ariovistus, were attempting a similar settlement near the center of Gaul, which Caesar prevented. It is most probable that the Belgae in Britain were descendants of colonists or invaders from the Belgae in Flanders and Gaul.
The names Scythians and Scoloti were, like Galli and Kimmerians, not so much local as generic appellations. The different tribes of the Scythians, like those of the Kimmerians and Gauls, had their peculiar distinctive denominations.
The Saxons were a German or Teutonic, that is, a Gothic or Scythian tribe; and of the various Scythian nations which have been recorded, the Sakai, or Sacae are the people from whom the descent of the Saxons may be inferred, with the least violation of probability. Sakai-suna, or the sons of the Sakai, abbreviated into Saksun, which is the same sound as Saxon, seems a reasonable etymology of the word Saxon. The Sakai, who in Latin are called Sacae, were an important branch of the Scythian nation. They were so celebrated, that the Persians called all the Scythians by the name of Sacae; and Pliny, who mentions this, remarks them among the most distinguished people of Scythia. Strabo places them eastward of the Caspian, and states them to have made many incursions on the Kimmerians and Treres, both far and near. They seized Bactriana, and the most fertile part of Armenia, which, from them, derived the name Sakasina; they defeated Cyrus; and they reached the Cappadoces on the Euxine. This important fact of a part of Armenia having been named Sakasina, is mentioned by Strabo in another place, and seems to give a geographical locality to our primeval ancestors, and to account for the Persian words that occur in the Saxon language, as they must have come into Armenia from the northern regions of Persia.
That some of the divisions of this people were really called Saka-suna, is obvious from Pliny; for he says, that the Sakai, who settled in Armenia, were named Sacassani, which is but Saka-suna, spelt by a person unacquainted with the meaning of the combined words. And the name Sacasena, which they gave to the part of Armenia they occupied, is nearly the same sound as Saxonia. It is also important to remark, that Ptolemy mentions a Scythian people, sprung from the Sakai, by the name of Saxones. If the Sakai, who reached Armenia, were called Sacassani, they may have traversed Europe with the same appellation; which being pronounced by the Romans from them, and then reduced to writing from their pronunciation, may have been spelt with the x instead of the k's, and thus Saxones would not be a greater variation from Sacassani or Saksuna, than we find between French, Francois, Franci, and their Greek name, or between Spain, Espagne, and Hispania.
It is not at all improbable, but that some of these marauding Sakai, or Sacassani, were gradually propelled to the western coasts of Europe, on which they were found by Ptolemy, and from which they molested the Roman Empire, in the third century of our era. There was a people called Saxoi, on the Euxine, according to Stephanus.
We may consider these also, as a nation of the same parentage; who, in the wanderings of the Sakai, from Asia to the German Ocean, were left on the Euxine, as others had chosen to occupy Armenia. We may here recollect the traditional descent of Odin preserved by Snorre in the Edda and his history. This great ancestor of the Saxon and Scandinavian chieftains is represented to have migrated from a city, on the east of the Tanais, called Asgard, and a country called Asaland, which imply the city and land of the Asae or Asians. The cause of this movement was the progress of the Romans. Odin is stated to have moved first into Russia, and thence into Saxony. This is not improbable. The wars between the Romans and Mithridates involved, and shook most of the barbaric nations in these parts, and may have excited the desire, and imposed the necessity of a westerly or European emigration.