THE ALLENS, OR ALANS, OR ALANI, first enter Western written history through the reports of Roman military commanders and through Roman plays and literature. The “Alani”, as the Romans referred to them collectively, were a tribe of nomadic people living near the Aral Sea in what is today the southern Ukraine. Like their neighbours, their life revolved around their flocks and herds, which grazed the rich native grasses of the region. The men and boys spent almost every waking hour on horseback, training to defend their camp from predators of the two-legged or the four-legged variety.
Women and small children stayed close to the tribal camp, which consisted of a collection of two-wheeled ox-carts which carried each family’s possessions, and in which the family slept during stormy weather. Most of the neighbouring tribes lived in tents of skins, and migrated as a group on horseback, and thus could migrate faster, but were limited in what they could carry; the Alani moved slower, keeping pace with their flocks of sheep and cattle.
While most of their neighbours were short, with dark hair and olive complexions, the Alani stood out as being tall, blond, fair-skinned, and in the eyes of the Roman officers looking for new recruits, a handsome and likely group. The Alani also had a unique fighting style; rather than the short bow and short sword of the typical Steppe fighter, the Alani favoured the long wooded lance for frontal attack, and the very heavy two-handed “Barbarian” sword strapped across his back for “close work”