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In Search of Turan

Painting of a Scythian warrior found in the Altai mountains, dated to approx. 400 BC.

694 words

The term “Turan” has experienced many uses and abuses ever since it was first coined. “Turan” originally referred to the less civilized northern Iranian semi-nomadic pastoral nations that had not adopted Zoroastrianism, while “Iran” referred to the more settled Zoroastrian nations of the south. But they were both of Indo-Iranian origin.

“Turan” first became misapplied to Turco-Mongolian nations starting with Muslim scholars in the Middle Ages, then this was further abused by the Magyar-identifying nineteenth-century Jewish historian Ármin Vámbéry. The Turco-Mongolian peoples actually appeared later, and were easily confused with the original “Turanians” (even though they were different people) because they had virtually the same cavalry culture-complex as the original Iranian-speaking “Turan.” The only difference was that the newer Turco-Mongolian conquerers had gunpowder.

“Turan” first meant the barbarian steppe-forest cousins from the north, according to the ancient Zoroastrian Iranians, the first writers to use the term. The original location of “Turan” was the Pontic Steppe north of the Black Sea. This area was the cradle of all Indo-European cultures, which all descend from the first culture in human history to domesticate the horse.

These mysterious horsemen and war charioteers quickly conquered the Thracian plain. Later, they invaded the rest of Europe and much of Asia. The tawny-haired, light-eyed ancient Scythian and Thracian tribes were the oldest and purest prototypes of this enigmatic primeval “Turan.”

Thrace represents the first time in history that a new form of law was born out of the Indo-European land-appropriation of Old Europe. The Pontic Steppe’s conquest of the south began at Thrace. It was history’s first conquest by “Turan.”

From 4200 to 3900 BC, long before the Indo-Europeans reached Greece or India, over six hundred Old European (pre-Indo-European) settlements “were burned in the lower Danube valley and eastern Bulgaria.” These Old European cultures tried to escape to a settlement in Jilava, but:

Jilava was burned, apparently suddenly, leaving behind whole pots and many other artifacts. People scattered and became much more mobile, depending for their food on herds of sheep and cattle rather than fixed fields of grain. The forest did not regenerate; in fact, pollen cores show that the countryside became even more open and deforested.[1]

What was the nature of the new conquering culture? What did these hordes on horseback believe? According to Mircea Eliade:

. . . the Dacians called themselves “wolves” or “those who are like wolves,” who resemble wolves. Still according to Strabo (7. 3. 12; 11. 508, 511, 512), certain nomadic Scythians to the east of the Caspian sea were also called daoi. The Latin authors called them Dahae, and some Greek historians daai. In all probability their ethnic name derived from Iranian (Saka) dahae, “wolf.” But similar names were not unusual among the Indo-Europeans.[2]

The horses they first domesticated were in fact ponies, a tradition that survived in the Romanian principalities into the nineteenth century. The “extremely sure-footed,” if joyless, Wallachian pony described by Field Marshal Count Moltke in his memoirs was actually the original Indo-European war chariot horse.[3] Stout ponies were more suited to the ancient war chariot than large horses.

The confused association of Turco-Mongolian peoples with “Turan” has hopefully been dispelled by the above remarks, which shine a bit of light on what “Turan” originally meant. It was perhaps with the intent to restore the original meaning that Oswald Spengler named the ancient Indo-European culture-complex “Turan” in Frühzeit der Weltgeschichte, a posthumously published book written during the last years of Spengler’s life. In any case, Spengler’s concept is close to the historically correct definition. “Turan” originally described an Indo-European culture, not a Turco-Mongolian one.

Notes

[1] David W. Anthony, The Horse, The Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2010), p .227.

[2] Mircea Eliade, Zalmoxis: The Vanishing God (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972, p. 2.

[3] Erik Hildinger, Warriors of the Steppe (Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, 2001), p. 16; Radu R. Florescu & Raymond T. McNally, Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times (New York: Hachette, 2009), p. 141; Richard Brzezeinski, Polish Armies 1569-1696 (Oxford: Osprey, 1987), p. 23; and Helmuth Graf von Moltke, Moltke: His Life and Character (San Francisco: Pickle Partners), p. 130.

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22 Comments

  1. Leon
    Posted August 9, 2018 at 4:56 am | Permalink

    At first I was afraid that this article would be a defense of Turanism, but it turned out good. Modern Hungarians, based as they are on most questions, need to reconcile themselves with the fact that they are NOT Asians. I understand that the desire to identify more with the conquerors than the conquered, but the reality is that genetically, the Hungarian people are Central Europeans, whose ancestors of various Aryan tribes were forcefully assimilated into the Magyar identity by a relatively small but cohesive invading tribe. The irony is that this what actually makes them great, with the ability to maintain and appreciate European high culture and civilization, not Asiatic barbarism. Especially egregious is the desire to identify with the Huns, who never did anything but murder, rape, and destroy, and produced nothing of value whatsoever. It’s time to stop this foolishness, Hungary. We love you, but it’s because you’re our brothers, not savages from the steppe.

    • E
      Posted August 9, 2018 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      genetically, the Hungarian people are Central Europeans

      According to the latest research the average Hungarian is about 8% Asian.

      whose ancestors of various Aryan tribes were forcefully assimilated into the Magyar identity by a relatively small but cohesive invading tribe

      Actually the old Hungarian chronicles claim that the “conquered” people in the Carpathian basin spoke the same language that the Eastern “invaders”. This is supported by an interpretation of 6-8th century archeological findings.

      this what actually makes them great, with the ability to maintain and appreciate European high culture and civilization, not Asiatic barbarism

      Those Asiatic barbarians were very impressive. For example, they had a talent for state-building. The basic structure of the old constitution, which was in effect until 1946, contains many elements that go back to old Hungarian steppe law.

      Especially egregious is the desire to identify with the Huns… It’s time to stop this foolishness

      The founders of Hungary claimed that they were descendents of the Huns. Also the Transylvanian Hungarians claim that they descend from the group of Hun warriors who were lead by Attila’s son Csaba. This has been a cornerstone of Hungarian identity for 1000+ years, I don’t see how abandoning it would be possible or desirable.

      • Leon
        Posted August 9, 2018 at 10:09 am | Permalink

        “According to the latest research the average Hungarian is about 8% Asian.”

        You’ll have to show me where you got that, because the studies I’ve seen placed Asian admixture among Hungarians at closer 0.1% (which is similar to most Eastern Europeans).

        “Actually the old Hungarian chronicles claim that the “conquered” people in the Carpathian basin spoke the same language that the Eastern “invaders”.”

        This is nonesense. We know who were the tribes living the Carpathian basin at the time (and they weren’t all Magyarized by the way). They were Slavs, Gepids, Goths, Daci, Thracians, Sarmatians, Romans, and even some Celts, as well as at most a few Turkic and Hunnic invaders left over. Definately predominantly Aryan.

        “Those Asiatic barbarians were very impressive. For example, they had a talent for state-building. The basic structure of the old constitution, which was in effect until 1946, contains many elements that go back to old Hungarian steppe law.”

        The Mongols, Turko-Tatars, and other Asiatic steppe nomads were not great state-builders, but state-burners. “old Hungarian steppe law” is a myth.

        Attila and his Huns were some of the greatest murderers of Europeans in ancient history. Only the false ideology of Turanism makes identification with them seem desirable.

        • E
          Posted August 9, 2018 at 10:28 am | Permalink

          You’ll have to show me where you got that, because the studies I’ve seen placed Asian admixture among Hungarians at closer 0.1%

          It’s a typo, the actual number is 4%. And the founders were 30-40% Asiatic. Research by Szeged University.

          I don’t like your tone and won’t answer your further comments.

          • Leon
            Posted August 9, 2018 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

            Well that’s your choice, although I didn’t mean to offend you.

  2. jon slavik
    Posted August 7, 2018 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    Relevant:
    https://www.geopolitica.ru/en/article/tibor-imre-baranyi-who-enemy-hungarian-identity

    I would be interested in hearing Mr. Morgan’s thoughts on this.

    • Posted August 7, 2018 at 5:24 am | Permalink

      Hello, which aspect specifically? If you mean Turanism, then Dr. Baranyi doesn’t say much about it, although what he says is accurate. Some Hungarians accept the theory, some don’t. Turanism has figured into the political rhetoric of Fidesz, Jobbik, and the Arrow Cross, so it’s not just some fringe idea here. But as Dr. Baranyi says no one questions that the Magyars originally came from Asia, the only question is from where in Asia.

      • Leon
        Posted August 9, 2018 at 5:06 am | Permalink

        Mr Morgan,

        The question is not where the original Magyar invaders came from, the question is whether the modern (as in ethnic) Hungarian people are for the most part descended from them, and the answers so far from genetics and archaeology have been a resounding NO.

        • Posted August 9, 2018 at 5:34 am | Permalink

          That’s a rather meaningless way of looking at it. Nearly all peoples in Central Europe, Hungarians included, are mixed. Only once during all my time in Hungary have I ever spoken to a Hungarian who claimed 100% Magyar ancestry. Nearly everyone here is part German, part Italian, part Greek, part Croatian, part Slovak, part Czech, part Russian – whatever. Nobody argues about that; in fact it’s celebrated by many. So to say that “modern Hungarians” (of which there is no archetype) are not mostly of Asian origin is a pointless thing to say. The question for Hungarians is whether the Magyars who originally settled in the Carpathian Basin in the ninth century, and who founded their country, were originally from Asia, and there is unanimity that yes, they were, even though no one knows with certainty exactly where in Asia. But to say that Hungarians thus misunderstand their identity is rather like telling an American who is of one-quarter Irish ancestry and three-quarters Italian ancestry that he’s Italian, and should thus ignore his Irish heritage, because he has more of that ancestry than of Irish, even though he has an Irish name and grew up honoring Irish customs as well as Italian ones.

          I’m never understood why outsiders such as yourself are so keen to try to “correct” Hungarians on their own sense of identity.

          • Leon
            Posted August 9, 2018 at 7:49 am | Permalink

            “But to say that Hungarians thus misunderstand their identity is rather like telling an American who is of one-quarter Irish ancestry and three-quarters Italian ancestry that he’s Italian, and should thus ignore his Irish heritage, because he has more of that ancestry than of Irish, even though he has an Irish name and grew up honoring Irish customs as well as Italian ones.”

            No it would be more like giving the person you described a reality check, if he went around claiming to be an Irishman.

            “I’m never understood why outsiders such as yourself are so keen to try to “correct” Hungarians on their own sense of identity.”

            Because races exist in the real world. They are natural kinds. One is either European or not. Asian or not. Eurasian (as in mixed-race) or not. Hungarians are not Asians, they are not Eurasians, they are European, in both their phenotype and their way of life. Thus imagining yourself as a group of Eurasiatic steppe nomads stranded in the middle of Central Europe is objectively a false identity, and has lent it self to all sorts of bad, petty, and revanchist ideas of nationalism. To say that “nearly all peoples are mixed” is frankly a cop-out. A person of one quarter Asian and three-quarters European ancestry is mixed. A person of one-eighth Asian ancestry can be said to be so as well. Hungarians are over 99% Central European in their DNA. They aren’t mixed. They’re Europeans.

          • Leon
            Posted August 9, 2018 at 7:53 am | Permalink

            The article jon slavik linked moreover provides an example of where false narratives such as Turanism lead:

            “If a Hungarian goes to Turkey and talks about Attila, every Turk understands what he means, and says, “We are brothers.””

            Don’t you see why I might have a problem with that?

          • Posted August 9, 2018 at 8:01 am | Permalink

            Unless you’re Hungarian yourself, it’s pretentious and condescending to try to explain to them what their identity is. You don’t get a say in that.

          • Manfred Arcane
            Posted August 9, 2018 at 8:17 am | Permalink

            This seems to be true of Turks and their one-time subjects in general: they are certainly eager to claim kinship, at least that of culture and mentality, with their one time subjects, be they Hungarians, Bulgarians, Serbs, Montenegrans, Greeks… Needless to say, such is not the case from the other side.
            And, given the their reemergence as an independent power and their ongoing return to Balcan, it is easy to see this in context of Neo-Ottoman imperialism.

            So yeah, this entire narrative smells fishy from the outset… or kebaby, if you will.

          • Posted August 9, 2018 at 8:27 am | Permalink

            It has nothing to do with Turkish imperialism. The theory of Turanism was not developed by Turks, but by a European – in fact, a German: Max Müller, who was also one of the pioneers of the Aryan Invasion Theory of India that all Rightists love. While Turanism is not universally accepted by Hungarians, it is accepted by many of them, as I can attest, and as I’ve already written elsewhere, it’s not some fringe idea in Hungary: not only Jobbik but also the Arrow Cross and Viktor Orbán himself have invoked Turanism.

  3. Reluctant Turanian
    Posted August 7, 2018 at 1:37 am | Permalink

    I am not certain why an article on the real Turanians is posted here, as we are Asians originally from North, but it is welcome reading. I am reluctant to share too much for fear that it might be misconstrued, but Turan has been changed from its original meaning. The author is 100% correct. Many of us were Turkified, though ironically, we were the first to Turanize them. Most of us are no longer in the original urheimat. Many of us are in the subcontinent. But strangely, certain of our genes always show up, despite centuries of admixture, even among the darker folk. These are grey, green, or blue eyes, flaxen hair, aggression, and natural horsemanship. It is sad to think we are beholden to our genes. Also, here is the saddest part, most Turanians don’t even know they are Turanians as they have been assimilated in cultures they conquered or migrated to.

  4. Grays
    Posted August 6, 2018 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    This feels like Jorjani.

    • jon slavik
      Posted August 7, 2018 at 2:08 am | Permalink

      Indeed it does… and that is a good thing. 😉

  5. E
    Posted August 6, 2018 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    further abused by the Magyar-identifying nineteenth-century Jewish historian Ármin Vámbéry

    He used the word as a geographical term, simply meaning the area north of Iran. Actually, I’m not aware of any serious claim that the Turks or the Mongolians were identical with the old Turanians from the Shahnameh.

    The claim is that the steppe ruling elites descended from ancient warrior aristocracy, and their lineage went through the Huns and the Scythians back to the Turanians.

    Which is obviously true, otherwise we would have a hard time explaining how the Turks, emerging from some isolated pocket of Central Asia, could come up with “virtually the same cavalry culture-complex as the original Iranian-speaking Turan”. Or how the writers of 12th century Hungarian chronicles got the idea about their Scythian origins from a 19th century Jew.

    The steppe stretches from Central Asia to the Carpathian basin, and until about 1000 A.D. it was a single region, with many ethnic groups and languages swirling about, often moving thousands of miles in a couple of years. All of these groups lived the same semi-nomadic lifestyle under warrior elites that were interconnected by dynastic marriages and separated by non-stop low-intensity warfare for pasture and cattle and women.

    less civilized

    barbarian

    From the point of view of the “civilized”. But the nomads called themselves Lords of the Horizons, and they looked down on settled life as bondage and servitude.

    • Leon
      Posted August 9, 2018 at 5:04 am | Permalink

      Huns were not related to the Scythians. These confusions stem from the fact that medieval writers tended to lump all the peoples of the steppe together. Obviously there are going to be some similarities in lifestyle if you live in the same type of environment, but the peoples of different parts of the vast reaches of Eurasia were neither identical in language, ethnicity, or race. Huns were described by ancient writers as having Asiatic (Mongoloid) features, whereas the Scythians were explicitly described as White (light hair and eye colours, handsome as opposed to the “demon-like” Huns). Conflating these various groups is a mistake, and underlies much “Turanist” thinking.

      • E
        Posted August 9, 2018 at 8:43 am | Permalink

        Huns were not related to the Scythians.

        No one knows anything about the origins and relations of the Huns. We have a grand total of 3 Hun words (all 3 are Indo-European) and a couple of names which may or may not be Turkish or Mongolian. What we know for sure is that they were the successors of the Scythians and for a short period of time incorporated all steppe societies west of the Urals.

        Obviously there are going to be some similarities in lifestyle if you live in the same type of environment, but the peoples of different parts of the vast reaches of Eurasia were neither identical in language, ethnicity, or race.

        As I said, the elites intermarried, and they ruled over constantly shifting tribal confederations. For example, the Hungarian ruling class that established the Hungarian state in the 10th century was 30% Asian and 70% white genetically – meanwhile the Hungarian commoners were of a different stock (white, and more gracile). The old Russian ruling class was basically a branch of the Vikings. Etc.

        Huns were described by ancient writers as having Asiatic (Mongoloid) features, whereas the Scythians were explicitly described as White (light hair and eye colours, handsome as opposed to the “demon-like” Huns).

        The only Hun of whom we have a more or less reliable description was Attila. I imagine him looking like the above mentioned Hungarian traditionalist philosopher Tibor Imre Baranyi.

        Attila might have been born into a dynastic marriage with an Asian princess. Or maybe all the Huns looked like him. We simly don’t know.

        (By the way, look at the illustration at the top of the article…)

        Conflating these various groups is a mistake, and underlies much “Turanist” thinking.

        Trying to squeeze these various groups into neatly separated boxes is a mistake, and it’s a source of a lot of confusion about the ancient history of Turan. But the good news is that Russian archeologists are digging up the steppe now, and there are astonishing new discoveries almost every other week. Genetic research on human remains also provides new leads. So we only need a few decades and we may get an answer to our questions. What we have seen so far is that new discoveries often confirm ancient “legends” that were previously dismissed by historians. So it looks like our ancestors knew what they were talking about, after all.

        • Leon
          Posted August 9, 2018 at 9:08 am | Permalink

          Jordanes, in the 6th Century:

          “They made their foes flee in horror because their swarthy aspect was fearful, and they had, if I may call it so, a sort of shapeless lump, not a head, with pin-holes rather than eyes. […] Hence they grow old beardless and their young men are without comeliness, because a face furrowed by the sword spoils by its scars the natural beauty of a beard. They are short in stature, quick in bodily movement, alert horsemen, broad shouldered, ready in the use of bow and arrow, and have firm-set necks which are ever erect in pride.” Jordanes also recounted how Priscus had described Attila the Hun, the Emperor of the Huns from 434–453, as: “Short of stature, with a broad chest and a large head; his eyes were small, his beard thin and sprinkled with grey; and he had a flat nose and tanned skin, showing evidence of his origin.”

          The people described are clearly not Caucasoid but Mongoloid. Moreover, the passage: “savage race, which dwelt at first in the swamps, a stunted, foul and puny tribe, scarcely human and having no language save one which bore but slight resemblance to human speech”, strongly suggests that any loanwords notwithstanding, the Huns were a non-Indo-European-speaking people, particularly as the Scythian language and Scythian names were well-known to the ancients by that period.

          The Scythians, on the other hand, are described as “red-haired and grey-eyed” by Herodotus (hence not swarthy with pinhole eyes), “fair-haired” by Callimachus and Clement of Alexandria, by Pliny as red-haired and blue-eyed, by Galen as having reddish hair, and Ammianus Marcellinus as being “tall, blond and light-eyed”, and so on. (“Nearly all the Alani [a Scythian tribe] are men of great stature and beauty, their hair is somewhat yellow, their eyes are frighteningly fierce”). The people being described are clearly ethnically and racially very different from the Huns.

          Now there is some evidence to suggest that at least some Turkic (not Hunnic or Magyar) tribes mixed with the Scythians, or had Scythian elites, but there is absolutely nothing that I’m aware of to connect the Scythians to the Huns.

  6. Oragon
    Posted August 6, 2018 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Polish historian of civilizations, Feliks Koneczny, wrote of turanian civilization. He was obviously critical of it. His main work is in english I believe

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