In 1927, 1928 and again in 1930, Professor Wolfgang Aly of Freiburg University (my hometown in Germany) went to Rome to decipher the folios of a palimpsest containing fragments of Strabōn’s Geography — today our oldest Strabōn codex, originally written in the fifth (!) century AD.
Before this trip abroad, Aly, at the Benedictine Abbey of Beuron, had made himself familiar with the latest photographic methods to make erased texts of rewritten manuscripts, or palimpsests, visible again. He then saw to it that Beuron sent Father A. Dold with it’s technical equipment to Rome to do the necessary photographic shots on the folios of the Strabōn codex which had been reused (by erasing the old and writing a new text on them) twice in the long time of their existence.
Since 1844 the Vatican Library at Rome had brought together a total of 69 folios of this overwritten Strabon codex from a number of places. The find had been made public in 1875, and first tentative readings of parts of the palimpsest were published by the Basilian Father G. Cozza-Luzi 1884–1898.
It took Aly 25 years to publish the sum of his own deciphering efforts, Città del Vaticano 1956, done fittingly in the Latin language. The book opened a new page in the history of Strabōn studies.
Very fortunate for us, the fragments contained Strabōn 11.8.2 — in a perfectly readable state of preservation. Two corruptions in the four names in Strabōn’s list of conquering nomad peoples were finally corrected:
— Tacharoi in place of Tocharoi and
— Sakaraukai in place of Sakarauloi.
The mistaken reading “Tocharoi” in our Strabōn editions/translations is due to a rather new “emendation” by K. H. Tzschucke, 1806. But it has become so entrenched in modern literature that this corruption will be hard to correct again.
By contrast, the corrupt reading “Sakarauloi” can be found in the very first printed edition of Strabōn’s Geography, a translation into Latin by Guarinus/Gregorius, Venice 1472. We will have to search the various Strabōn mss to find out when this mistake crept into the text: in any case sometime between the 5th and the 15th century. In modern times, scholars like E. Herzfeld (1932: 26) suggested that the “Sakarauloikai…” of the text should be read Sakarau(loi)kai, i.e. as the effort of an enlightened copyist to correct his predecessor’s mistaken Sakarauloi back to Sakaraukai — but Ch. G. Groskurd in his famous early German translation (1831: 397) did not understand and deleted, not the “-loi”, but the (seemingly redundant) “kai” …
Here I insert the box text of my New Year’s card for 2012 once more for easier reading, followed by a few further remarks on the topic.
Strabōn Palimpsest, folio 281 recto, column 1, lines 12–20 (= 11.8.2) :
notorious of all No-
mads became those
who from the
Greeks took away
the Baktriane :
The Asioi (also [called] both Asianoi
and Tacharoi) and the Sa-
karaukai [“Royal Saka”] …
W. Aly: De Strabonis Codice Rescripto (Studi e Testi 188), Città del Vaticano 1956:
Habemus igitur 69 folia, id est, ut conspectus noster docet, septimam fere partem codicis Straboniani … Folia etiamnunc altitudinem 281 mm, latitudinem 260 mm habent … latitudo columnarum 55 ad 58 mm, distancia columnarum 20 mm, intervalla versuum 5,5 ad 6,5 mm, altitudo litterarum 2,5 mm … Scriptura [uncialis continua inclinata] aequalis et elegantissima … Signum vetustatis scriptura est tribus columnis disposita eo more, quo vetustissimi Sacrae Scripturae codices exarati sunt velut Vaticanus et Sinaiticus … Hic fuit scribendi mos, qui usque ad sextum saeculum valuit … (pp.VII–XII)
Variae lectiones … [fol.] 281 r I 19/20 = [11.]8.2 CAKAPAUKAI : L [codices omnes praeter palimpsestum, i.e. codicem rescriptum] σακάραυλοι καί; καί del. Grosk[urd]. TAXAPOI L quoque exhibent. (p.196)
Nam inter viros doctos constat in scriptura unciali litteras quidem Н et П, i.e. 8 et 80 saepissime confundi … in margine adscriptam esse H, quae falso pro П lecta est … (pp.242–243)
Manuscriptum nondum editum additamenta marginalia exhibuisse iam negari non potest. Post mortem auctoris editum est. Tempore procedente exemplaria scripta sunt, quibus marginalia omittebantur. Huius generis codex Stephani fuit, ex quo codices Byzantini profluxerunt. In aliis scriba eruditior notas exquisitiores in contextum recepit. Hinc origo codicis rescripti fuit … (pp.260–261)
KAIHACIANOIKAITAXAPOI had been one such note Strabōn, after reading Trogus’ Historiae Philippicae very late in his life, wrote into the margin next to …ACIOI… in book 11, chapter 8, of his manuscript — which he never published in his lifetime. Long after his death, a scriba eruditior placed the gloss into the text.
The most convincing prove for the new interpretation of Strabōn’s two thousand years old phrase is no doubt the fact that our various sources on the history of Central Asia now agree on the number of nomad peoples conquering and destroying Greek Bactria in the latter half of the second century BCE.
Generations of scholars have lamented that by the Greek geographer Strabōn, the Roman historian Trogus, and the Chinese explorer Zhang Qian (in Sima Qian) we were told that the number of these conquering nomad peoples were four, two, and just one, respectively — and that it was impossible to say who was right.
Christian Lassen (1852: 360–361) wrote:
„Den umständlichsten Bericht über den Skytheneinbruch hat uns Strabon aufbewahrt … Ausser dieser Stelle finden sich nur zwei kurze Notizen aus dem Werke des Trogus Pompeius … Die Verschiedenheiten dieser Angaben betreffen theils die Zahl der Völker, theils ihre Namen. Strabon führt vier auf, Trogus Pompeius dagegen nur drei, seine Sarancae müssen die Sakarauler des ersteren seyn.
Da die Pasianer sonst nirgends vorkommen, möchte es kaum zweifelhaft seyn, dass in seinen Texte dieser Name aus einer Randglosse … durch die Abschreiber eingedrungen ist …
Wie lässt sich nun diese Darstellung mit der Chinesischen vereinigen, in welcher nur ein einziges Volk genannt und ihm der Name Sse beigelegt wird? Denn, dass dieses Volk und nicht die Juetchi in diesem Falle zu verstehen sind, wird dadurch sicher, dass jene die vordersten waren …“
( “The most detailed report on the irruption of the Scythians Strabon has preserved for us … beyond this passage there are only two short notices in the work of Trogus Pompeius … The differences in these texts concern on the one hand the number of these peoples, on the other hand their names. Strabon lists four, Trogus Pompeius by contrast only three, his Sarancae must be the Sakarauli of the former (Strabon).
Since the Pasiani are not mentioned elsewhere, there can be hardly any doubt that this name was entered into his (Strabōn’s) text from a marginal note … by the copyists …
How can this statement be made to agree with that of the Chinese in which only one single people is mentioned to which they give the name Sse (Sai)? Because that this people and not the Juetchi (Yuezhi) must be understood here becomes sure through the fact that they were the foremost …” )
In this place in 2008 (my New Year’s card of 2008, see below), I have shown that the Hanshu and later Chinese Standard Histories know in fact of TWO peoples conquering Greek Bactria :
— most prominently the Yuezhi 月氏 (old pronunciation Ar-si);
— but before them the Saiwang 塞王 (old pronunciation Sak-wang = “King Saka”).
The Yuezhi kept chasing the Saiwang before them ever since these two antagonistic nomad peoples clashed for a first time in the fertile plains of the Ili River, in or immediately after 166 BCE.
In Strabōn’s “list” of four conquering peoples the obscure Pasiani had been deleted by J. F. Vaillant (1725: 61) and L. Du Four de Longuerue (1732: 14), suggesting that πασιανοι should be amended to η ασιανoι “also (called) the Asiani”.
This left the Tachari amongst the conquering nomad peoples — causing tremendous confusion amongst prominent historians of the following three hundred years.
With the deletion of the Pasiani AND the Tachari, Strabõn’s list finally names the Asioi and the Sakaraukai only. They can be equated with Trogus’ Asiani and Sa[ka]raucae and Ban Gu’s Yuezhi/Arsi and Saiwang.
The true Tochar(ians) — whose original name was in fact Tachar, the Daxia 大夏 of the early Chinese sources — at long last become again what they had always been : the autochthonous, well-settled inhabitants of East Bactria, the original Tochar-i-stan, defined by the 10th century Persian geographer Ishtakhri as located east of Balkh, west of Badakhshan, south of the Amu Darya (Oxus), and north of the Hindukush mountains.
The so-called Tochar(ians), however, were the Yuezhi AFTER their conquest of the true Tochar(ians) in about 130 BCE. As they were unable to conquer the whole of Bactria for close to two hundred years, they became known — in the West, but soon also in their original homeland in East Asia — by the name of the local people in their part of Bactria.
It were the Yuezhi/Arsi, alias Asi(oi)/Asi(ani), who made the name Tachar(oi) famous — as Strabōn had sought to point out in his gloss.
Berlin, New Year’s Day 2012,
Chris M. Dorn’eich