At the beginning of the 1st century AD, Pliny the Elder, in his work “The natural history” described the Balkan region of Pannonia in chapter 28. (25.). When describing the region called Noricum, he claims:
“The river Draus runs through the Serretes, the Serrapilli, the Iasi, and the Andizetes…”
Serapilli and the Andizetes – Illyrian tribes?
The name Serrapilli tribe sounds similar to the Turkish designation for Serbs. I wanted to learn more about them but unfortunately, it seems that Pliny the Elder was the only person who knew about them. All of the other sources lead back to this same quote. The Wikipedia article “List of ancient tribes in Illyria” lists them under Celtic tribes, even though this conclusion comes from the very same quote that we have just mentioned.
Not being able to find more references, I decided to learn more about their neighbors – the Iasi and the Andizetes. The search for the Andizetes was almost as fruitful. Most of the sources seem to agree that this was an Illyrian tribe, native to the region. The name could be a corruption of anti-Zetes or those who live before the river Zeta. In that case, this is certainly not a native name.
Iasi / Iaziges / Sarmatians
Now when it comes to Iasi, things get much more interesting. Wikipedia lists them under Illyrian tribes. The brief explanation states: “Jasi was an Illyrian tribe, a subtribe of Pannonians.”
Looking for more information, I found the Romanian city of Iasi (also referred to as Jassy or Iassy). It is the second-largest city in Romania. Its name comes from people who migrated from the Caucasus and the Azov sea. They arrived in Balkans passing through Romania. Scholars are not unanimous if their origin was 1. Sarmatian 2. Alanic 3. Turkic (Cumans).
A Roman milestone from Croatia, mentions the “Jassiorum municipium” (Municipium Dacorum-Iassiorum). Most scholars relate the name “Iași” to the Sarmatian Iaziges (or Yazyges). These were the tribes who came from Central Asia to Ukraine around 200 BC. Around 44 BC, they moved into Hungary and Serbia. They settled near Dacia, in the steppe between the Danube and Tisza rivers. Originally they were nomads, but in this region they became semi-sedentary. Their territory became a buffer state between the Romans and the Dacians.
Iasi / Alans of Ossetia
Jassi was also the name of an Alanic tribe. And indeed, the Romanian city of Iasi stands on the Prut river, whose name was “Alanus fluvius” in antiquity. The old name of the city of Iasi was Forum Philistinorum.
Finally, Jasz people are a minority of modern Hungary. Their original language is extinct, but scholars believe that it was close to Ossetian. Even the words Ossetian and Jasz are probably cognates. One theory identifies them with Sarmatians and who settled in Hungary around the 13th century. The other relates them to Iazyges, who were of the same origin, but as we saw, present in the Balkans much earlier.
So let us quickly summarize all of the facts stated so far:
- The city of Iasi was probably founded by Iaziges
- Iazyges were Sarmatians, who came from the North Caucasus, people close to the modern-day Ossetians
- They settled in Serbia and Hungary around 44 BC
- Pushed by the Romans, they had moved up and down through the Balkan region, between Pannonia, Romania, and Hungary.
- Another wave of the same people arrived in the 13th century, pushed from the Caucasus by Mongolians
Iasi – the true “Asians”
In short, the Iasi people of Pliny the Elder were the Sarmatian Iazyges. It seems that they simply followed the silk road, which started in the Balkans and went through Caucasus. As such, they can also identify with the Yuezhi of Asian sources. A branch of Alani also went to Asia. And finally, even the word “Asia” comes from Iasi / Ossetians. They were the first “Asian” people that the trade caravans would encounter. And it also seems that they were everywhere.
Serrapili – Serbs
As we see, the Iasi of Pliny the Elder was probably not a native, Illyrian tribe, as Wikipedia states. Let us now go back to their neighbors, the Serrapilli. Could they be a Sarmatian tribe as well?
There is a book “Atlas geographus: or, a complete system of geography, ancient and modern” published in 1711 England. Just as its title suggests, it had a goal to describe much of the known world. Description of Serbia begins with the following words:
Here is an excerpt from this text:
"The Turks call it Serpilati. (Serbia/Serbs) It was formerly part of Mesia, and called Mesia Superior, as Bulgaria was inferior. It was subdued by the Romans. Upon declension of the empire, it was possessed by the Servians, a people from Sarmatia Asiatica..."
According to the author, Serbs were people from Sarmatia Asiatica – or in other words, North Caucasus? I guess that he was only relying on ancient sources available at the time, including Ptolemy’s map from the second century. Here is how Ptolemy described the Caucasus:
Another interesting thing is the Turkish name Serpilati – obviously a palatized form of Serb. Did the same happen with the Pliny’s Serrapili? And could it be that the Sarmatian Sirbi and the Sarmatian Yazige came together to Pannonia? Perhaps yes, because the same map of Ptolemy also mentions the Roman city of Serbinum in Pannonia.
Ptolemy’s map of the Balkans, 2nd century
Let us now go back to the region of Noricum, which Pliny describes in our opening quote. On Ptolemy’s map of that region, we see something very interesting. He mentions the tribe of Alauni. The location of Iazyges is far to the right, in the Carpathian mountains of modern-day Romania. And Vindelicia could be the Germanic name for what is now Slovenia. The country of Slovenia is on the same territory. And as you can see, Germania is just above the Vindelicia. Moreover, the Germanic name for Slavs is Wends.
At the lower part of the map, we see Albanus Mons, mirroring that of the Caucasus.
Ptolemy, Tabula Europae V, 2nd century AD
Arivates – Croats, Osseriates – People near the lake
In the continuation of the same paragraph, Pliny mentions the tribe of Arivates. Is this a corrupted form of Croats? Next, he mentions the Osseriates. Their name could come from both Illyrian and Slavic word “ezero”, meaning lake. (probably the Balaton lake). Certain scholars have already proposed such a theory.
Briefly, these are the facts: There was an Alanic tribe from the Caucasus, on the Balkans, at least from 44 BC. There, in the same region of Caucasus, there was a Sarmatian tribe Serbi (as well as Albania). These toponyms mirror in modern-day Serbia and Albania. In the first century AD, Pliny mentions Serapilli, Arivates, and Osseriates, while Ptolemy mentions the city of Serbinum, in the 2nd century AD.
Could all of this just be a coincidence, or were Pliny and Ptolemy already describing Slavic tribes of the Balkans?