A name breakdown for the Saka and Scythians
(essentially the same name in different forms) is an interesting
one to explore.
Sakas were Indo-Europeans (IEs). Specifically
they were nomadic Indo-Iranian Central Asian tribes that inhabited
the region around the River Jaxartes and Lake Issykkul (or Issyk Kul
- located in the Tian Shan Mountains in modern eastern Kyrgyzstan).
They were part of a large group of peoples who had formerly lived
around the north shores of the Black Sea and Caspian Sea but who
gradually expanded into South Asia.
The later Scythians are generally accepted as
having a variation of the same name, but in their case home
territory remained to the north of the Caspian Sea, and then also
the Black Sea as they expanded westwards.
An IE word root which is pretty widespread is the
IE 'skei-', meaning 'to cut, separate'. It can be seen in the Latin
'scio' and 'scire', and in the Cymric 'ysgïen', meaning 'knife,
sword'. It's also available in Old Indian as 'chidira', meaning
'sword, axe', and is the origin of the tribal name, 'Saxon'.
It is applied as a verb to split or cut, and as a
noun to something which splits or cuts or to something that has
already been split or cut or which appears to have been. (Even the
English and German euphemisms (and modern vulgarities) for
'defecation' appear to derive from it, describing the 'split' in the
buttocks from which faeces emerges!).
It would seem likely that 'Saka' and 'Scythian'
were derived from the word used for the short sword that was
commonly worn by the Ossetians until very recently. Their use of
'skei' became 's[a]ka' to those around them who were able to record
them in writing for posterity. The same word, 'skei', became
Same name, different people?
Whilst that is a pretty easy origin to pin down,
what is also does is raise some interesting implications.
One is somewhat wild, unproven, and a bit of a
stab in the dark (pun intended), but is also very interesting. Are
the Saxons, whose name breaks down as 'sax' plus the plural suffix
'-on', meaning 'the knives, the cutters', a case of parallel naming,
or are they a branch of the Sakas and Scythians whose name survived
in a slightly altered form?
The Germanics already have a notable and noted
Indo-Iranian satem-speaking influence in their make-up. Could
this be part of it?
The Saxon custom of using the 'sceansax' is tantalising
here. Could this have been a continuation of the use of a short stabbing
sword by the Sakas, Scythians, and also Alans (more Indo-Iranians)? The
oldest short swords to have been used would have to be bronze, allowing
an early date for a shared origin of up to 3700 BC and the Maikop culture,
prior to the Yamnaya horizon which witnessed the mass Indo-European
migrations... That's certainly early enough for it to have been shared
amongst most IEs.
The Saxon use of the word and name may have been
based on longstanding tradition or a continuation of naming when the
Germanics settled in Scandinavia. They wouldn't have remembered
their steppe origins by the time the Saxons became known to history,
but they may still have revered the short sword/long knife as a very
important cultural distinction.
Much as did the Sakas and Scythians before them.
Saka Tikrakhauda (otherwise known as 'Scythians' who in this case
can be more precisely identified as Sakas) depicted on a frieze
at Persepolis in Achaemenid Persia, which would have been the
greatest military power in the region at this time