Cultures > Bastarnae

Bastarnae

Background

The Bastarnae (Latin variants: Bastarni, or Basternae; Ancient Greek: Βαστάρναι or Βαστέρναι) were an ancient people who between 200 BC and 300 AD inhabited the region between the Carpathian mountains and the river Dnieper, to the north and east of ancient Dacia. The Peucini, denoted a branch of the Bastarnae by Greco-Roman writers, occupied the region north of the Danube delta.The ethno-linguistic affiliation of the Bastarnae was probably Celtic, which is supported by earliest historians.[1][2] However, later historian sources imply a Germanic or Scytho-Sarmatian origins.[3][4][5][6] Often they are associated with the Germans, or the peoples "between the Celts and the Germans".[7][8] The most likely scenario is that they were originally a Celtic tribe, originally resident in the lower Vistula river valley. In ca. 200 BC, these tribes then migrated, possibly accompanied by some Germanic elements, southeastwards into the North Pontic region. Some elements appear to have become assimilated, to some extent, by the surrounding Sarmatians by the 3rd century.Although largely sedentary, some elements may have adopted a semi-nomadic lifestyle. It has not, so far, been possible to identify archaeological sites which can be conclusively attributed to the Bastarnae. The archaeological horizons most often associated by scholars with the Bastarnae are the Zarubintsy and Poienesti-Lukashevka cultures.

The Bastarnae first appear in the historical record in 179 BC, when they crossed the Danube in massive force. They did so at the invitation of their long-time ally, king Philip V of Macedon, a direct descendant of Antigonus, one of the Diadochi, the generals of Alexander the Great who had shared out his empire after his death in 323 BC. The Macedonian king had suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Romans in the Second Macedonian War (200-197 BC), which had reduced him from a powerful Hellenistic monarch to the status of a petty client-king with a much-reduced territory and a tiny army.[Note 1] After nearly 20 years of slavish adherence to the Roman Senate's dictats, Philip had been goaded beyond endurance by the incessant and devastating raiding of the Dardani, a warlike Thraco-Illyrian[49] tribe on his northern border, which his treaty-limited army was too small to counter effectively.

Counting on the Bastarnae, with whom he had forged friendly relations in earlier times, he plotted a strategy to deal with the Dardani and then to regain his lost territories in Greece and his political independence. First, he would unleash the Bastarnae against the Dardani. After the latter had been crushed, Philip planned to settle Bastarnae families in Dardania (southern Kosovo/Skopje region), to ensure that the region was permanently subdued. In a second phase, Philip aimed to launch the Bastarnae on an invasion of Italy via the Adriatic coast. Although he was aware that the Bastarnae were hardly likely to achieve the same success as Hannibal some 40 years earlier, and would most likely end up cut to pieces by the Romans, Philip hoped that the Romans would be distracted long enough to allow him to reoccupy his former possessions in Greece.[33]

But Philip, now 60 years of age, died before the Bastarnae could arrive. The Bastarnae host was still en route through Thrace, where it became embroiled in hostilities with the locals, who were unable (or unwilling) to provide them with sufficient food at affordable prices as they marched through. Probably in the vicinity of Philippopolis (modern Plovdiv, Bulgaria), the Bastarnae broke out of their marching columns and pillaged the land far and wide. The terrified local Thracians took refuge with their families and animal herds on the slopes of Mons Donuca, the highest mountain in Thrace (Mt. Musala, Rila Mts., Bulgaria). A large force of Bastarnae chased them up the mountain, but were driven back and scattered by a massive hailstorm. Then the Thracians ambushed them, turning their descent into a panic-stricken rout. Back at their wagon-laager in the plain, around half the demoralised Bastarnae decided to return home, leaving c. 30,000 to press on to Macedonia.[34]

Philip's son and successor Perseus, while protesting his loyalty to Rome, deployed his Bastarnae guests in winter quarters in a valley in Dardania, presumably as a prelude to a campaign against the Dardani the following summer. But in the depths of winter their camp was attacked by the Dardani. The Bastarnae easily beat off the attackers, chased them back to their chief town, and besieged them. But they were surprised in the rear by a second force of Dardani, which had approached their camp stealthily by mountain paths, and proceeded to storm and ransack it. Having lost their entire baggage and supplies, the Bastarnae were obliged to withdraw from Dardania and to return home. Most perished as they crossed the frozen Danube on foot, only for the ice to give way.[50] Despite the failure of Philip's Bastarnae strategy, the suspicion aroused by these events in the Roman Senate, which had been warned by the Dardani of the Bastarnae invasion, ensured the demise of Macedonia as an independent state.[51] Rome declared war on Perseus in 171 BC and after the Macedonian army was crushed at the Battle of Pydna (168 BC), Macedonia was split up into 4 Roman puppet-cantons (167 BC).[52] 21 years later, these were in turn abolished and annexed to the Roman Republic as the province of Macedonia (146 BC).

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