A nomadic Iranian people occupying the steppe region between the Caucasus Mts. and the Don and Ural Rivers early in the Christian era. They figured occasionally in Roman affairs before falling under the domination of the Huns c. a.d. 350, with whom they moved westward into Ostrogothic territory. One group advanced into central Germany, joined the Vandals in Gaul 406–409, and crossed into Spain under their chieftain, Respendial. Decimated there by Visigothic foederati in 418, the survivors merged with the Vandals and accompanied Gaiseric into Africa. Another Alan contingent near Orleans fought with the Roman general Aetius against Attila in 451. Liberated from the Huns after 455, the main body of Alans drifted back to the steppes. Muslims and Mongols dominated them during the Middle Ages. They finally withdrew into the central Caucasus where their descendants survive as the Osset nation. The only ancient report of the Alans' religion says that they worshipped a sword fixed in the ground. Those who associated with the East Germans probably absorbed some Arianism, but their conversion as a tribe came only after Patriarch nicholas i of constantinople (901–925) sent the monk Euthymius to evangelize them. Nicholas then established the metropolitan see of Alania whose Orthodox history can be traced to 1590.
Bibliography: s. vailhÉ, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques 1:1334–38. e. a. thompson, A History of Attila and the Huns (Oxford 1948). f. dvornik, The Making of Central and Eastern Europe (London 1949). g. deeters, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 1:265.
[r. h. schmandt]