Re: [tied] Sarmatians

From: Piotr Gasiorowski
Message: 17407
Date: 2003-01-05

"Tamga" is a word of Turkic origin, meaning 'sign, seal, property mark'. Such geometrical badges (not yet so called; the word was borrowed much later from the east) were known in Poland from the "tribal" times, though they evolved into formal heraldic symbols about the 13th and 14th centuries, when the szlachta constituted themselves as a social stratum, adopting some of the heraldic traditions of western nobility. The ultimate origin of those marks is unknown, but early steppe influences may well have been preserved among some of the Slavs.

The Sarmatian myth came into existence during the 16th century and its influence on the popular imagination increased as the golden age the "old" szlachta began to decline. It was created by Renaissance writers well versed in the Classical literature. The earliest Poles would not have heard or given a damn about the Sarmatians. Iranian influence on the language and culture of the Proto-Slavic speakers was real enough, but the ancestors of the Poles (that is various West Slavic tribes) were exposed to it just like any other Slavs, and there's no actual evidence of a Sarmatian élite or a specifically Sarmatian ethos among them. As regards the possible influx of the Sarmatians into what is _now_ Poland in the 4th and 5th centuries, that was a cetury or two before the influx of the Slavs, let alone the formation of anything that could be called Poland.


----- Original Message -----
From: <dmilt1896@...>
To: <>
Sent: Sunday, January 05, 2003 4:14 AM
Subject: [tied] Re: caleo was [calendar]

For those that want a little more than Piotr's "Whatever you
say,Regular Reg", his submission evoked the word "tamga" from the
depths of my memory. A quick Google search found what seems to me a
pretty reasonable account (if not, I'm sure Piotr would be willing
to set us straight), at

Tamga in Polish Heraldry (or, "What is that Thing on Your Shield?!")
By Leszek z Szczecin

In the 11th and 12th centuries, as the nobility (Szlachta) of Poland
came into closer contact with the heraldic traditions of western
Europe, they faced, among many others, a challenge familiar to many
SCA members -- "Unique and suitable Arms." Many of those early
Polish armigers used the tamga that their clans had carried for
centuries, doubtless causing great consternation to those long-dead
heralds. Tamga were used as property marks, cattle brands, and
badges by Polish clans (rods) in much the same way that the Celts
use those tacky tartans. Pogonowski sees a Greek (Byzantine?)
influence in these designs. Though tamga may vary greatly, most show
a strong vertical orientation, with a stable base, almost as if they
represented actual objects that might have stood like standards
or "totem poles." (Caveat - this last is a purely subjective
impression, not a scholarly interpretation !) Though most tamga are
symmetrical around a vertical axis, a large number are completely
asymmetrical. I have found no mentions of tamga being used in any
way resembling an alphabet or glyphic system. Thus, it is very
unlikely that these symbols ever had any meanings other than their
recognition as property marks.

Tamga also found their way into Polish heraldry as combinations of
more common charges that approximated the original designs. Common
component charges are horseshoes, arrows, keys, ships, towers, and
crosses. These "modified tamga" doubtless reduced duplications,
explanations, and heraldic snivelling. The devices of the cities of
Frampol, Ulanow, and Bnin are of the "modified tamga" type.

Of the two sources I've found that address the origins of tamga, one
says that they are unknown, and the other (Pogonowski) traces them
to the invasion/migration of the Sarmatians in Poland during the 4th
and 5th centuries A.D. The Sarmatians were an Indo-European people
who spread widely through Europe and the mideast from 200 B.C. to
about 500 A.D. The largest influx of the Sarmatians into Poland were
probably driven there by the Huns during the 5th century A.D. The
Sarmatian origin of tamga is supported by the use of very similar
marks in Turkey and the mideast as brands, logos, or trademarks,
however an important warning should be attached to any theory based
on the Sarmatians. In the late 17th century, the Szlachta, like most
feudal aristocracies faced an "identity crisis." The traditional
role of the landed warrior aristocrat became uncertain in the face
of mercantilism ("merchant princes") and the rising middle class.
The reaction in Poland was a Sarmatian fad amongst the nobility. The
Szlachta held that their separation from the lower classes was due
to descent from the Sarmatian conquerors of Poland in the 5th
century, and attributed most of their traditional status to the
inherent superiority of the pure noble Sarmatian blood. This fad ran
to a "retro" trend in clothes, and a complete rejection of the
current revolutions in science, philosophy, religion, economics, and
social theory. Due to the propaganda of this movement, any theory
grounded in the Sarmatian influence should be examined very
carefully. Sarmatian or not, tamga clearly date back to tribal
Poland, and appear in the oldest Polish arms.

Pogonowski, Iwo Cyprian. Poland, A Historical Atlas. Hippocrene

Zamoyski, Adam. The Polish Way

The point is that the tamgas are in no way an alphabetic or
glyphic system.
By the way, since he mentions the Celt's "tacky tartans", can
anyone confirm something I've read, that clan tartans are a 19th
Century marketing ploy, adopted when the manufacturers lost their
major market with the emancipation of the slaves in the West Indies?
Supposedly "The Royal Stewart Tartan" was earlier "Negro No. 1."
Dan Milton