Asian Albanians, Iberians, Mardians and others: Demodamas and Pliny the Elder on peoples in the Caucasus region and further east (third century BCE / first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Asian Albanians, Iberians, Mardians and others: Demodamas and Pliny the Elder on peoples in the Caucasus region and further east (third century BCE / first century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified June 21, 2023,

Ancient authors: Demodamas, FGrHist 428 F2 (link), and others as discussed by Pliny the Elder, Natural History 6.28-52 (link).

Comments: After dealing with Sarmatians at the northeastern shore of the Black Sea, Pliny the Elder continues his geographical progress heading south into the Caucasus mountain region (between the Caspian and Black Seas) and then further east through Parthia as far as Sogdiana. Pliny begins with Asian Albanians, Asian Iberians, and Heniochians just south of the Caucasus range. Numerous other peoples are mentioned. In some cases here, Pliny does characterize peoples, particularly those who were “savage” (ferae) or “fierce” (immanitas), such as the Mardians.

Pliny does once mention that his principal source for peoples approaching Sogdiana is a work attributed to Demodamas, a general and satrap of Baktria and Sogdiana under the Seleukid regime (in the 290s-280s BCE). Pliny seems to be our only witness to this work (FGrHist 428 F1-2).

Source of the translation: H. Rackham, W.H.S. Jones, and D.E. Eichholz, Pliny: Natural History, 10 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1938-1962), public domain (Rackham passed away in 1944, Jones passed away in 1963, copyright not renewed as well), adapted by Harland.


[Asian Albanians, Iberians and others in the Caucasus area between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea]

(6.28-29) We will now mention the peoples residing along the border of Armenia. All the plain from the Cyrus [Kur] river onward is occupied by the race of the Albanians (Albani) [not to be confused with Albanians in the area of what is now west of Macedonia] and then that of the Iberians (Hiberes) [again, Asian Iberians, not Spanish ones], separated from the Albanians by the river Alazon [likely the Alizani river south of the Caucasus mountains in Georgia and Azerbaijan], which flows down from mount Kaukasos [modern Caucasus] into the Cyrus river. Important towns are Kabalaia in Albania and Hermastos on the river and Neoris in Iberia. The districts of Thasie and Thriare reach to the Parihedri [Parhar] mountains, and beyond them is the Kolebian desert, on the side of which towards the Keraunians live the Armenochalybians, and the country of the Moschians reaching to the river Iberos, a tributary of the Cyrus. Below them are the Sakasanians and then the Makeronians reaching to the river Absarros. This leads to the population of the plains or mountain slopes. Then, after the frontier of Albania, the whole face of the mountains is occupied by the wild (ferae) peoples (gentes) of the Silvians. Below them are the peoples of the Lupenians, and afterwards the Didurians and Sodians.

[Asian Achaians and Heniochians]

(6.30) On leaving these one comes to the Gates of the Caucasus, which many very erroneously call the Caspian Gates. This is an enormous work of Nature, who has here suddenly ripped the mountains apart. Here gates have been placed, with iron-covered beams, under the centre of which flows a river emitting a horrible odour. On this side of the river on a rock stands the fortress called Koumania, erected for the purpose of barring the passage of the countless peoples. So at this spot the world is divided by gates into two portions. This is just opposite the Iberian town of Hermastus [i.e. Harmozike; modern Armazi, Georgia]. Beyond the Gates of the Caucasus among the Gurdinian mountains are the Vallians and the Suanians, peoples that have never yet been defeated, who nevertheless work goldmines. After these, right on to the Black Sea, are a large number of peoples of Heniochians and then of Achaians [not to be confused with Greek Achaians]. Such is the present state of one of the most famous regions in the world. . . . [omitted geographical details and measurements and islands of the Black Sea and a return to Scythians again].


(6.41-45) . . . The region of Adiabene nearest to Syria is Arbilitis, where Alexander conquered Darius. The Macedonians have given to the whole of Adiabene the name of Mygdonia, from its likeness to Mygdonia in Macedon. Its towns are Alexandria and Antiochia, the native name for which is Nesebis; it is seven hundred and fifty miles from Artaxata. . . [omitted material]. (6.44-) Joining on to the Adiabenians are the people formerly called the Kardouchians and now the Korduenians, past whom flows the river Tigris, and adjoining these are the ‘Roadside’ Pratitae, as they are called, who hold the Caspian Gates. . . [omitted sentences]. Going out of the Gates one comes immediately to the Caspian people, which extends down to the coast: it is from this people that the pass and the sea obtain their name. On the left there is a mountainous district. . . . [omitted sentences].

[“Savage” Mardians and others heading towards Baktria]

(6.46-48) Lying to the east of the Caspians is the region called Apavortene [near Asgabat, Turkmenistan], in which is Dareion (Dareium), a place noted for its fertility. Then there are the peoples of the Tapyrians, Anariakians, Staurians and Hyrkanians, from whose shores the Caspian beyond the river Sideris begins to be called the Hyrkanian sea. While on this side of the Sideris are the rivers Maziris and Straor, all three streams rise in the Kaukasos. . . [omitted sentences]. From these heights across the ridges of the Kaukasos right on to the Baktrians extend the savage (ferae) people of the Mardians, an independent state. Below this region are the peoples of the Orkianians, Kommorians, Berdrigians, Harmatotropians, Kitomarians, Komanians, Murrasiarians and Mandruanians. Then there are the rivers Mandrum and Chindrum, and beyond them the Chorasmians, Gandarians, Parikanians, Zarangians, Arasmians, Marotianians, Arsians, Gaelians (called by the Greeks the Kadousians), and Matianians; the town of Heraclea, founded by Alexander and subsequently overthrown, but restored by Antiochus, who gave it the name of Achais; the Drehices, whose territory is intersected by the river Amu Darya rising in Lake Oaxus; the Syrmatae, Oxyttagae, Moci, Bateni, Saraparae; and the Bactri, whose town was called Zariasta from the river, but its name was afterwards changed to Balkh. This race occupies the opposite side of the Hindu Kush over against the sources of the Indus, and is enclosed by the river Ochus.

[Sogdians and mention of Demodamas as Pliny’s source]

(6.49) Beyond this are the Sogdians and the town of Panda, and on the farthest confines of their territory Alexandria, founded by Alexander the Great. At this place there are altars set up by Hercules [Herakles] and Father Liber [Dionysos], and also by Cyrus and Semiramis and by Alexander. All of them found their limit in this region of the world, where they were shut in by the river Syr Darya, which the Scythians call the Sills and which Alexander and his soldiers supposed to be the Tanais. But this river was crossed by Demodamas, the general of king Seleukos and king Antiochos [ca. 290s-280s BCE, active in Sogdiana and Baktria], whom we are chiefly following in this part of our narrative. He set up altars to Apollo of Didyma.

[“Countless” peoples: Sakians, Massagetians, Arimaspians and others]

(6.50-52) Beyond this are some populations (populi) of Scythians. To these the Persians have given the general name of Sakians (Sacae), from the people nearest to Persia, but old writers call them the Aranxians. The Scythians themselves call the Persians “Chorsar” and call mount Kaukasos “Kroukasis,” which means “white with snow.” There are innumerable peoples here, numerous enough to live on equal terms with the Parthians. Most notable among them are the Sakians, Massagetians, Dalians, Essedonians, Astakians, Rumnikians, Pestikians, Homodotians, Histians, Edonians, Kamians, Kamakians, Euchatians, Kotierians, Authusianians, Psakians, Arimaspians, Antakatians, Chroasians and Oitaeans. Among these, the Napaeans are said to have been destroyed by the Palaeans. Notable rivers in their country are the Mandragaios and the Kaspasos. With no other region is there so many discrepancies among authorities. This is due, I believe to the countless numbers and the nomadic habits of the peoples. . . [omitted material].

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