Materials for a Comprehensive History of the Caucasus, with an Emphasis on Greco-Roman sources
The Caucasus has always been a very important crossroads for trade, invasion, and cultural exchange between Europe and Asia. As Pliny the Elder stated (Naturalis historia VI.xii.30), ibi loci terrarum orbe portis discluso “there the world is divided into two parts by the [Caucasian] Gates.” The truth of this statement will be seen in the remarkable confluence of Eastern and Western influences in the Georgian astrological manuscripts that are the focus of this study.
Human habitation in the Caucasus goes back to the remotest antiquity. The hominid remains discovered in 1991 by David Lordkipanidze at Dmanisi, Kvemo Kartli (1.8 million years old) are the oldest found outside of Africa (Zatiashvili, 2008). Neanderthal remains have been found at Ortvale K’lde (1973) and elsewhere in the Caucasus (36,000-50,000 years old).
The Georgian language, along with its congeners Mingrelian, Laz, and Svan, comprises the Kartvelian (South Caucasian) linguistic phylum. The initial breakup of Proto-Kartvelian is believed to have begun around 2500-2000 B.C., with the divergence of Svan from Proto-Kartvelian (Nichols, 1998). Assyrian, Urartian, Greek, and Roman documents reveal that in early historical times (2nd-1st millennia B.C.), the numerous Kartvelian tribes were in the process of migrating into the Caucasus from the southwest. The northern coast and coastal mountains of Asia Minor were dominated by Kartvelian peoples at least as far west as Samsun. Their eastward migration may have been set in motion by the fall of Troy (dated by Eratosthenes to 1183 B.C.). It thus appears that the Kartvelians represent an intrusion into the Georgian plain from northeastern Anatolia, displacing their predecessors, the unrelated Northwest Caucasian and Vainakh peoples, into the Caucasian highlands (Tuite, 1996b; Nichols, 2004).
The Kartvelian linguistic area was formerly much more extensive. Not only did it formerly extend far to the west, but there are numerous lines of evidence (reviewed in Grove, 2011) which suggest that the Kartvelians, as well as the peoples of the North Caucasus, were involved in the late-prehistoric development of metallurgy and the associated trade-routes, traveling eastward as far as the Altai Mountains and Lake Baikal. These ancient trade routes would eventually become the Silk Road. Linguistic evidence suggests that there were formerly Kartvelian-speaking areas extending southeastwards into modern Azerbaijan, as well as in the Alborz mountains along the southern end of the Caspian Sea (Iranian provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran) (Nasidze et al., 2006; Windfuhr, 2006).
The oldest area associated with the Kartvelians was northeastern Anatolia (where they probably pre-dated the Hittites), including the culturally important region of T’ao-Klarjeti (part of Turkey since 1921). During the first millennium B.C., the numerous Kartvelian tribes coalesced to form several kingdoms: Georgian-speaking Iberia in the east; Mingrelian-speaking Colchis (Æa) in the west, along the Black Sea coast; the kingdom of Tzanica (Tzanikh/, Qiannikh/) on the coast between Trapezus and Apsarus; and two kingdoms in the mountains of the northwest: Suania (modern Svaneti; linguistically the most archaic branch of the phylum); and Scymnia (an extinct branch of Kartvelians, closely related to the Svans, who occupied the district later known as Takveri [mod. Lechkhumi]). The Lazic branch of the Kartvelians, who occupied extensive territories in Anatolia, were more savage and generally lacked central organization. This region (called Lazeti in Georgian), was divided into numerous small tribal kingdoms ruled by sceptuchi (skh=ptouxoi, “scepter-holders,” cf. Strabo, Geographica XI.ii.13), as well as a number of tribes without a king. These polities would later coalesce to form the powerful kingdom of Lazica (Lazikh/).
The Georgians call themselves kartvelebi, their language kartuli, and their country sakartvelo. This root is said to derive from the name of their eponymous ancestor Kartlos, the son of Targamos, the son of Tarshish, the son of Japheth (Georgia (nation), 2007; Tsaroieva, 2008, p. 242).
There has been considerable discussion of the etymology of the name “Georgia,” by which the land of the Kartvelians is known in western Europe. Early visitors naively assumed that it refered to St. George, a “Christianized pagan spirit” who presided over a syncretistic cult associated with possession and human sacrifice, and forming part of a syncretistic “trinity,” along with Christ (the god of the dead) and Elias (the spirit of lightning) (Charachidzé, 1993). Others sought to derive the name from the Greek Γεωργία (agriculture, farmland). However, it is sufficiently clear that the name “Georgia” derives from the Persian designation Gurjistān (Turkish Gürcistan), which may be derived from the Persian gurg (“wolf”). The pre-Christian Kartvelians had a cult of the wolf, according to Persian sources (Georgia (nation), 2007). “The wolf constitutes a class of game in itself. A creature of the supreme god, not of the demon, and thus not belonging to savagery, the wolf is not thought of as an animal. Wolves form a society with the same structure as that of human beings, subject to the same rules and practices. Like men, they are given to feuding; this is why every ‘murder’ of a wolf must be expiated exactly like that of a human. The hunter wears mourning, as do all in his clan, and the animal is wept over as passionately as if it had been a man” (Charachidzé, 1993, p. 260).
The totemic significance of the wolf among the ancient Kartvelians may be seen in the fact that the Lydian king Myrsilus (d. 718 B.C.) took the surname Candaules (“the strangler of the Dog or Wolf”), which was “conferred on him for his wars against the ‘wolf-totem’ tribes of Eastern Anatolia” (Allen, 1971, p. 36n). One version of the legend of Amirani (the Kartvelian Prometheus, mid-2nd millennium B.C.) describes the hero as “Amirani with his knee of wolf” (M. Tsiklauri, Amirani—Ancient Georgian legend, 2006, quoted in Simonia, 2011, p. 492). The Iberian king Vakht’ang I (d. 522 A.D.) was known as Gorgasali (Pers. “wolf’s head”), apparently because he wore a hat or helmet crafted from the head of a wolf (Plontke-Lüning, 2007b). The ancient Kartvelians were notable for their unusual use of dogs as shock-troops in warfare (Charachidzé, 1993). The traditional dog-breeds of the Caucasus are extremely large and violent, and continue to pose a significant danger to foot-travelers.
“Le prince Vomeki se retira chez les Soüanes, dans les lieux du mont Caucase qui sont inaccessibles à la cavalerie. . . . On dit que c’est là qu’il a amassé une bonne partie de la vaisselle d’or et d’argent dont sa maison est remplie” (Chardin, 1711, vol. 1, p. 389).
“Un grand d’Imirette nommé Kotzia le tira de peine. Il écrivit aux Soüanes, que le vice-roi de Géorgie vouloit absolument se défaire de Vomeki; qu’il leur donneroit de grandes récompenses s’ils le tuoient; mais qu’il alloit leur porter la guerre s’ils refusoient de lui donner cette satisfaction. Les Soüanes firent ce qu’on voulut. Ils tuèrent Vomeki, et envoyèrent sa tête au prince géorgien” (Chardin, 1711, vol. 1, p. 390)
“Il somma trois fois le dadian de se render; ce prince n’en fit rien. Sa forteresse étoit bien gardée par des Soüanes, que son visir y avoit envoyés, et qui en étoient plus maîtres que lui-même” (Chardin, 1711, vol. 1, p. 406).
Our best insights into prehistoric Kartvelian culture are provided by the Svans, who are the most archaic branch of the Kartvelians. Their language is believed to have split from proto-Kartvelian during the 19th century B.C. (Klimov, 1994). This was probably occasioned by their withdrawal into the valleys of Svaneti; genetic testing confirms that the Svans have long been isolated from other peoples of the Caucasus, from whom they are widely divergent (Zerjal et al., 2002). Until the 15th century, the Svans occupied the province of Rach’a to the east, and their territories formerly extended westward as far as the Black Sea. Strabo (Geographica XI.ii.19) reports that the Soanes could field an army of 200,000 men. The Svan army was led into battle by the lemi (Georgian lomi, “lion”), a famous inflatable banner in the shape of a lion (Lang, 1966, p. 23); they also made use of the doli, a large skin-covered kettledrum, which was beaten in 5/4 time to accompany their warriors into battle (Burford, 2011).
Every traditional Svan house has a stone defensive tower attached. These were associated with blood-feuds between families, which could go on for generations. In upper Svaneti, the foundations of these towers have been dated to around the beginning of the Christian era. Indeed, the Mingrelian princely house of Dadiani traces itself back to Vardan Dadiani, eristavi of Svania during the first century A.D. (Buyers, 2010).
Although geographically isolated, the Svans have always played an important role in Georgian affairs. By controlling the Inguri valley, an important route linking the North Caucasian steppe to the Black Sea emporium of Sebastopolis (mod. Sukhumi), the Svans were able to exert political pressure on the Romans and Byzantines; the Scythians were able to enter the Caucasus by way of Suania (Braund, 1994) According to Menander Protector (6th century), the Suani, “dwelling on the peaks of the Caucasus, were thieves and plunderers, who committed appalling, impious acts. . . . the Lazi sent grain to the Suani to stop them coming to take it for themselves by force. The Suani offered their own produce in exchange, not tribute. This was more a matter of accommodation than domination” (Braund, 1994, p. 313). By allying themselves with the Sassanian Persians, the Suani succeeded in creating a major crisis for the Byzantine empire in 557 A.D. Since the 15th century (at least), many Svans have descended annually into the lowland regions of Georgia in search of work as migrant laborers. This was motivated by the need to obtain the two products that Svaneti could not produce: salt, and the wine necessary to administer the Christian sacraments (Topchishvili, 2006). Many Svans held important offices under the Georgian kings; during times of trouble, books, icons, and other treasures were often transported to Svaneti for safekeeping. As a result, almost every Svan household possesses valuable old books and artifacts which are seldom shown to outsiders (even Georgians). During an academic conference in October 2009, researchers at the National Centre of Manuscripts in Tbilisi reported on an iron-bound 11th century Bible which they had been allowed to photograph in Upper Svaneti (Chkhikvadze & Karanadze, 2009).
The Two Iberias
There is much evidence to suggest that the Kartvelians are the remnant of a group of peoples that spread throughout much of the Mediterranean basin after the Last Glacial Maximum (circa 20,000 years ago). The Pelasgians (pre-Greek inhabitants of the Aegean, associated with non-Greek place-names in –nthos and –ssos), along with other pre-Greek peoples such as the Minoans, Trojans, Sicels, Ligurians, Corsicans, Sardinians, and Tartessians, may have been congeners of the Kartvelians. The Etruscans, too, are known to have migrated from Asia Minor to Italy, and there are numerous interesting parallels between Etruscan and Kartvelian cultural and religious ideas.
The existence of “two Iberias” at the two ends of the Mediterranean basin (one in the Caucasus, one on the Mediterranean coast of Spain) was generally assumed to imply an ancient kinship between these widely-separated peoples. Appian, writing in the 2nd century A.D., reports that “Some people think that the Iberians of Asia were the ancestors of the Iberians of Europe: others think they merely have the same name, as their customs and languages were not similar” (Historia Romana XII.xv.101). Strabo (1st century A.D.) offers an alternate explanation: “they call them Iberians, by the same name as the western Iberians, from the gold mines in both countries” (Geographica XI.ii.19).
A chapter entitled ’Ibhri/ai du/o (“The Two Iberias”) from the Ethnica of Stephanus of Byzantium (6th century) is preserved as chapter 23 of the De administrando imperio of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (905-959). This text is based on a similar assumption.
However, according to Braund (1994), “the reason for the existence of two Iberias is to be sought rather in their geographical locations, each at the edge of Ocean. As there were Colchians in Libya and Libystice in Colchis, to north and south, so there was an Iberia at the extreme west and another Iberia at the extreme east. . . . The encircling river of Ocean was both the beginning and the end not only geographically but also astronomically” (p. 20).
The Georgian scholar Giorgi Mtats’mindeli (d. 1065) noted the desire of the Georgian nobility in his day to visit these “Georgians of the West” (Zatiashvili, 2008).
When the Huguenot merchant Jean Chardin visited the court of Vakht’ang V of Kartli in 1673, the king made reference to this ancient belief:
Nous nous retirâmes à minuit, comme j’ai dit, après avoir pris congé du prince, avec une grande révérence. Il me demanda, avant que de me laisser aller, comment se portoit le roi d’Espagne son parent, et but à sa santé dans une tasse garnie de pierreries. Il voulut que les capucins et moi bussions la même santé dans cette riche coupe. Je ne sais s’il fit cela par faste, ou pour honorer le préfet, qu’il savoit être sujet de S. M. catholique. Le 17, faisant réflexion sur cette qualité de parent du roi d’Espagne, que le prince s’étoit donnée, et trouvant que cela ne revenoit pas mal, à ce que disent plusieurs auteurs, je demandai aux capucins, comment le prince entendoit cette parenté? Ils me répondirent que Clément VIII ayant traité Taymuras, en des lettres qu’il lui écrivoit, de
parent de Philippe II, et les Ibériens et les Espagnols de frères, Taymuras depuis, et ses successeurs après lui, s’étoient entêtés de cette imaginaire parenté. (Chardin, 1711, vol. 2, pp. 123-124)
The extant western Iberian inscriptions are not well understood, but the language may well be connected to Aquitanian (ancestral to modern Basque), and there are also numerous cultural and religious parallels between the Basques and the Kartvelians. There is evidence to suggest that some of these peoples were involved in trade and settlement further north along the Atlantic seaboard, especially in the British Isles; the ancient Picts appear to have been genetically and perhaps linguistically related (Zatiashvili, 2008). Linguistic comparisons between Etruscan and Kartvelian, and between Basque and Kartvelian, are promising though (so far) inconclusive. Nevertheless, the numerous cultural and religious parallels among the Kartvelians, the Etruscans, and the Basques are extremely suggestive and may well go back to a Neolithic ethno-linguistic spread at such a great time-depth that the linguistic affinity of its members is no longer plainly apparent. While some scholars (e.g. Hans Vogt and the Basque specialists Luis Michelena and Larry Trask) have been dismissive of this possibility, many others (e.g. René Lafon, Natela Sturua, and most recently Jan Braun) have taken it seriously (Trask, 1997). A list of several hundred putative cognates and grammatical correspondences can be readily produced. In light of the multiplicity of tenuous connections, both linguistic and non-linguistic, between the two regions, it would probably be fruitful to proceed on the hypothesis that some such relationship exists.
In any case, the idea of the Kartvelians being an older race, from which the Greeks derived many of their cultural institutions and beliefs, has not been lost on the Georgians, and formed the basis of the ultra-nationalist propaganda of Zviad Gamsakhurdia (1939-1993), the Republic’s first president (Gamsakhurdia, 1990).
One of the most interesting cultural features of the Caucasus region was the existence of female warriors. This phenomenon goes back to prehistoric times and was principally associated with the peoples of the North Caucasus and with the various Scythian and Sarmatian tribes who had settled along the north slope of the Caucasus range.
The archaic Athenians are supposed to have fought several wars with the Amazons, who dwelt in the region of Thermodon, on the north coast of Anatolia (Arrian, Periplus 15.3). Apollonius Rhodius speaks of “the three cities of the Amazons” (Argonautica II.373-74), and states elsewhere that they were divided into three tribes: the Themiscyreians (Qemisku/reiai), the Lycastians (Luka/stiai), and the Chadesians (Xadh/siai ) (II.995-1000). These stories probably preserve memories of prehistoric conflicts with the matriarchal Northwest Caucasians.
Female warriors were prominent in ancient Daghestan as well, where archaeological finds include “a seventh-century B.C. figure of a naked female charioteer, holding the reins . . . and later naked figures of a woman with crown and pronounced vagina, sitting across a horse, and another with a crown and wearing neck, waist and arm rings, holding two drinking-horns” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 40). These drinking-horns were of great cultural significance, as we shall see.
According to Strabo (Geographica XI.v.1), the Amazons “have two special months in the spring in which they go up into the neighbouring mountain which separates them and the Gargarians. The Gargarians also, in accordance with an ancient custom, go up thither to offer sacrifice with the Amazons and also to have intercourse with them for the sake of begetting children, doing this in secrecy and darkness, any Gargarian at random with any Amazon; and after making them pregnant they send them away; and the females that are born are retained by the Amazons themselves, but the males are taken to the Gargarians to be brought up.” These Gargarians (Gargarenses) are clearly to be identified with the Vainakh peoples (cf. Chechen гергара, “related”). As late as the 18th century, the Ingush were known as “Ghlighwis” (Allen, 1971, p. 204).
Concerning the Sarmatians, Hippocrates writes that “their women, so long as they are virgins, ride, shoot, throw the javelin while mounted, and fight with their enemies. They do not lay aside their virginity until they have killed three of their enemies, and they do not marry before they have performed the traditional sacred rites” (De aëre, aquis et locis, xvii). Archaeological investigation of Sarmatian burial-mounds in the Ukraine reveals that approximately 20% of the burials were of “females dressed for battle as if they were men” (Anthony, 2007, p. 329). This unusual phenomenon led some classical authors (e.g. Pseudo-Scylax, Periplus Maris Interni 70) to the mistaken belief that the Sarmatians were ruled by women. It is uncertain whether these cultural practices arose in the North Caucasus and were adopted by the Scythians, or whether they originated among the Scythians. Herodotus (Historiae IV.110.1) calls them ἀνδροκτόνοι (“killers of men”), a translation of the Scythian term OiÍo/rpata (oiÍo/r, “man” + pata/ “to slay”).
It was widely believed that the Sarmatians of the Black Sea steppe were the product of a union between the Scythians and the Amazons. Pliny identifies one tribe as “the Matriarchal Sauromatae, the husbands of the Amazons” (Sauromatae Gynaecocratumenoe, Amazonum conubia; Naturalis historia VI.vii.19). [+ other classical reference to this]
Classical writers place the Amazons in various locations. Several passages in Aeschylus (Prometheus vinctus 415, 720) appear to suggest that they dwelt in the vicinity of the palus Maeotis (Sea of Azov) before crossing the Black Sea and settling at Themiscyra on the Thermodon river. Strabo (Geographica XI.v.1) places them far to the east, “in the mountains above Albania.” Ammianus Marcellinus, writing in the 4th century A.D., places them far to the north, with territories extending “to the Caspian Sea and . . . about the Tanaïs, which rises among the crags of Caucasus, flows in a course with many windings, and after separating Europe from Asia vanishes in the standing pools of the Maeotis” (Res gestae XXII.8.27). Appian, writing of Pompey’s invasion of Iberia (65 B.C.) expresses some skepticism about the whole matter: “Among the hostages and prisoners many women were found, who had suffered wounds no less than the men. These were supposed to be Amazons, but whether the Amazons are a neighbouring nation, who were called to their aid at that time, or whether any warlike women are called Amazons by the barbarians there, is not known” (Historia Romana XII.xv.103). Plutarch also discusses this matter. In the battle which Pompey fought with the Caucasian Albanians on the river Abas, “it is said that there were also Amazons fighting on the side of the Barbarians, and that they came down from the mountains about the river Thermodon. For when the Romans were despoiling the Barbarians after the battle, they came upon Amazonian shields and buskins; but no body of a woman was seen. The Amazons inhabit the parts of the Caucasus mountains that reach down to the Hyrcanian [i.e. Caspian] Sea, and they do not border on the Albani, but Gelae and Leges dwell between. With these peoples, who meet them by the river Thermodon, they consort for two months every year; then they go away and live by themselves” (Vita Pompeii xxxv.2).
The last wife of Mithridates VI of Pontus (120-63 B.C.) was a woman from the Caucasus named Hypsicratea. Defeated by Pompey at Dasteira on the upper Euphrates (66 B.C.), Mithridates “was left with three companions. One of these was Hypsicrateia, a concubine, who always displayed a right manly spirit and extravagant daring (for which reason the king was wont to call her Hypsicrates), and at this time, mounted and accoutred like a Persian, she was neither exhausted by the long journeys, nor did she weary of caring for the king’s person and for his horse, until they came to a place called Sinora [Sinorex], which was full of the king’s money and treasures.” (Plutarch, Vita Pompeii xxxii.7-8). Hypsicratea subsequently accompanied Mithridates on his daring winter crossing of the Caucasus range. According to Valerius Maximus, “Queen Hypsicratea also loved her husband Mithridates with the greatest affection, for whose sake she considered it a pleasure to exchange her remarkable beauty for a masculine style; for she cut her hair and accustomed herself to a horse and arms, so that she might thus more easily participate in his pursuits and perils. Indeed, when he was defeated by Cn. Pompey, she followed him through the most savage peoples, indefatiguable alike in soul and body.” (Facta et dicta memorabilia IV.6.2).
The peoples of Daghestan and the North Caucasus were typically organized into small village or tribal communities, so that in emergencies every able-bodied person had to fight for the community’s survival. In the course of the 19th-century Russian subjugation of Chechnya and Daghestan, women fought to defend mountain villages alongside the men, even going so far as to wield the bodies of children killed by artillery fire as clubs, or to hurl themselves over the cliffs, dragging Russian soldiers down with them.
Xenophon (400 B.C.) describes a similar practice among the Kartvelian Taochi: “Then there came a dreadful spectacle: the women threw their little children down from the rocks and then threw themselves down after them, and the men did likewise. In the midst of this scene Aeneas of Stymphalus, a captain, catching sight of a man, who was wearing a fine robe, running to cast himself down, seized hold of him in order to stop him; but the man dragged Aeneas along after him, and both went flying down the cliffs and were killed. In this stronghold only a very few human beings were captured, but they secured cattle and asses in large numbers and sheep” (Anabasis IV.vii.13-14).
The Theatine missionary Arcangelo Lamberti, who lived in Mingrelia from 1631 to 1649, records the following fascinating incident in his Relazione della Colchide oggi detta Mengrellia, nella quale si tratta dell’Origine, Costumi, e cose naturali di quei Paesi (1652): “During the time I was staying in Mingrelia, the prince of that country received intimation that numerous bands of warriors, in full armour, and well provided with all the materiel of war, had issued from the interior of the Caucasus, and were carrying fire and sword into the territories of the Muscovites, and also into the mountainous districts of the Svanetti (Suoni), and the Karatscholi (Karatchia), bordering upon his own territories. After a long and desperate struggle with the mountaineers, these adventurers were repulsed, when the greater number of the slain were discovered to be women, in the prime of life. Specimens of the armour of these Amazons having been presented to the Dadian, were found on examination to be unusually splendid, being composed of helmets, cuirasses, cuises, and gauntlets, made of the finest polished steel, and so ingeniously contrived as to be perfectly flexible to every part of the body. The cuirass, which reached to the waist, was lined with bright scarlet woollen stuff.” (trans. Spencer, 1838, vol. 1, pp. 343-344)
During the Abkhaz-Georgian conflict of 1992-93, the Abkhaz were assisted by hundreds of fighters from other parts of the North Caucasus, including many female soldiers, several of whom can be seen in an amateur video recording the fall of Sukhumi to the Abkhaz on 27 September 1993 (Abkhaz victory clip, 1993).
Throughout the North Caucasus, social life was governed by elaborate rules, including shunning between a bride and her in-laws (Chlaidze, 2003, pp. 194-97). In Daghestan, lack of social communication between the sexes “even gave rise to secret languages for women in Koubachi village and others” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 48). There was even a “women’s language” that was formerly spoken throughout the entire North Caucasus. This language is reported to have been monosyllabic and tonal (Colarusso, 1997). This extremely curious phenomenon suggests the survival of submerged linguistic elements from the remote past.
It must be understood that the phenomenon of female warriors was characteristic of the North Caucasus but not of the Kartvelians, among whom female participation in warfare much more limited.
There can be no doubt that the Greek legends of the Amazons had a factual basis. These female warriors of the Caucasus are connected to a late-prehistoric “transition from a matriarchate to patriarchy” among the Northwest Caucasian peoples (Jaimoukha, 2001, p. 139). The Abkhaz pantheon had a higher proportion of goddesses in comparison to that of the Circassians to the north, for whom female deities had already lost much of their significance. A very interesting illustration of this is seen in the fact that the Abkhaz acaaju, a female soothsayer, was always addressed as a male, owing to her possession by a male spirit (Johansons, 1972).
This transition is probably connected to a similar phenomenon among the Kartvelians, resulting in a counterintuitive gender-reversal in the words for “father” (Georgian mama) and “mother” (Georgian deda), and in the words for “sun” (Georgian mze [feminine], Abkhaz amra [masculine]) and “moon” (Georgian mtvare [masculine], Abkhaz amza [feminine]). The Georgian word for the sun (mze) thus derives from the same root as the Abkhaz word for the moon (amza). It has been suggested that these lexical curiosities may stem from a late-prehistoric “social revolution” among the Kartvelians: “One of the features that makes the Georgian language unique in that it has the odd distinction of reversing the almost universal sounds for mother and father, so that mama is father and deda is mother, which could well indicate that the tribal peoples who inhabited the region were at one point in time matriarchal, worshiping the sun, not the moon, as the supreme female deity and that they passed on their lines of descent through the mothers’ rather than through the fathers’ side” (Berman, 2008b, p. 10). Classical sources contain a few hints of this; concerning the Kartvelian Tibareni, Apollonius Rhodius (3rd century B.C.) relates that “Here when wives bring forth children to their husbands, the men lie in bed and groan with their heads close bound; but the women tend them with food, and prepare child-birth baths for them” (Argonautica II.1011-14).
• “il faut observer que le parrain d’un enfant est tenu le parent de sa mère, au degree de frère ou de sœur, tellement qu’à toute heure ou en tout temps il peut entrer par-tout chez elle, comme dans sa propre maison” (Zampi, 1711, p. 265). = matril.
• “Il y a fort peu de Mingréliens qui sachent lire et écrire. Les femmes en savent beaucoup davantage; il y en a même quelques-unes qui se mêlent de faire les docteurs, et de parler de ce qui les passe: ce qui leur fait dire mille choses mal à propos” (Zampi, 1711, p. 290).
In pre-Christian times, the cult of the moon-god Zadeni flourished alongside that of Armazi at Mtskheta. The Georgians associated the horns of the crescent moon with the horns of a bull; for this reason, the horns of male animals are preserved and displayed as offerings in sanctuaries throughout Georgia. Giuseppe Maria Zampi, a Theatine missionary writing in the 17th century, reports that “Ils offrent aux images, qui sont pendues dans leurs églises, des bois de cerf, des mâchoires de sanglier, des plumes de faisan, des arcs et des carquois, afin qu’elles leur soient favorables à la chasse” (1711, p. 221).
Lamberti, who served as Theatine prefect of Mingrelia from 1633-1649, gives an account of the famous sacrifice of the bull at Ilori: “la plus grande partie, avec les cornes, en appartient au prince regnant; il ordonne de parer les cornes avec de l’or et des pierres précieuses et, au grandes fêtes, il boit dedans en l’honneur de St Georges. Une grande partie en appartient également au roi d’Imérethie. Bien qu’à ce moment le prince fût en hostilité et en guerre avec le roi, il lui envouya quand même sa part avec un homme special.” (trans. Takaïshvili, 1998, p. 178) Such drinking-horns are a fixture of traditional Georgian culture and clearly have ancient lunar associations.
In Gīlān, a province of Iran along the south coast of the Caspian Sea which appears to have been inhabited by Kartvelian speakers in late prehistoric times (Grove, 2011), “the trunk of an old, large ash-tree in front of this shrine [of Āqā Sayyed Ebrāhīm b. al-Mūsā al-Kāẓem, also known as Emāmzāda Tūrār, on the top of the Tūrār Mountain, at about 4 miles southeast of Kelīšem in the Rūdbār district] has a few stag horns nailed onto it, which has gradually been covered by tree barks in such a way that the horns look like natural branches of the tree. This is an indication of the esteem in which the stag, locally called ganj-e gāv, is held by the local population” (Sotoudeh, 2010, ¶11).
Similar offerings are found at cult sites throughout Daghestan and Ossetia. According to Strabo (Geographica, XI.iv.7), the god Zadeni (Selh/nh) was also cultivated by the Albanians, and took precedence over their Sun-god.
The importance of trees
The shores of the Black Sea produced timber in luxuriant abundance. “The large forests along the coast of northern Asia Minor are in fact among the few forest regions of the Greco-Roman world which have ‘survived’ (or possibly recovered) relatively intact into modern times” (Hannestad, 2007, p. 86). Mithridates of Pontus (1st century B.C.) is reported to have “offered sacrifice to Zeus Stratius on a lofty pile of wood on a high hill, according to the fashion of his country . . . The height of the flame is such that it can be seen at a distance of 1000 stades from the sea, and they say that nobody can come near it for several days on account of the heat” (Appian, Historia Romana XII.ix.66).
In classical times, the Black Sea region was an important source of timber and other ship-building materials. Arrian reports that “there is a great abundance [of timber] in the Euxine” (Periplus 5.2). According to Xenophon, “There is a great deal of timber of various sorts, but an especially large amount of fine ship timber, on the very shore of the sea” (Anabasis VI.4.4). According to Strabo, the Caucasus “is well wooded with all kinds of timber, and especially the kind suitable for ship-building,” while Colchis “not only produces quantities of timber but also brings it down on rivers. And the people make linen in quantities, and hemp, wax, and pitch” (Geographica XI.ii.15, 17). The kings of the region, such as Mithridates of Pontus and Prusias of Bithynia, were able to make splendid gifts of timber to other Hellenistic monarchs (Polybius, Historiae V.lxxxviii.2).
Classical accounts suggest that the ancient Kartvelians had an almost symbiotic relationship with the forests. When Pompey pursued Mithridates into Iberia in 65 B.C., “Oroezes, king of the Albanians, and Artoces, king of the Iberians, placed 70,000 men in ambush for him at the river Cyrtus . . . Pompey, discovering the ambush, bridged the river and drove the barbarians into a thick wood. These people are skilful forest-fighters, taking cover and attacking without shewing themselves. So Pompey surrounded the wood with his army, set it on fire, and pursued the fugitives when they ran out, until they all surrendered and brought him hostages and presents. Pompey was afterwards awarded one of his triumphs at Rome for these exploits” (Appian, Historia Romana XII.xv.103). Strabo (Geographica XII.iii.18) descibes the Mossynoeci, “who attack travelers, leaping down from the floors of their dwellings among the trees.”
Xenophon describes an encounter between the Greeks and the Macrones: “this stream was fringed with trees, not large ones, but of thick growth, and when the Greeks came up, they began felling them in their haste to get out of the place as speedily as possible” (IV.viii.3).
The Lazi, who dwelt along the Black Sea coast, are described as “clever wood-workers and boat-builders, lumbermen, fishermen and pirates” (Allen, 1971, p. 55). Vitruvius relates that “in Pontus among the nation of the Colchi, because of their rich forests, two whole trees are laid flat, right and left, on the ground, a space being left between them as wide as the lengths of the trees allow. On the furthest parts of them, two others are placed transversely, and these four trees enclose in the middle the space for the dwelling. Then, laying upon them alternate beams from the four sides, they join up the angles. And so constructing the walls with trees, they raise up towers rising perpendicular from the lowest parts. The gaps which are left by the thickness of the timber they block up with splinters and clay. Further, they raise the roofs by cutting off the cross-beams at the end and gradually narrowing them. And so, from the four sides they raise over the middle a pyramid on high. This they cover with leafage and clay, and barbarian fashion, construct the coved roofs of their towers” (De architectura II.i.4).
The northern Anatolian coast was known in Turkish as Ağaçdeniz (“sea of trees”) (Hannestad, 2007). The Turkish Book of Dede Korkut (14th century) describes the trackless forests extending eastward from Trebizond into the Caucasus: “Son, in the place where you would go, twisted and tortuous will the roads be; swamps there will be, where the horseman will sink and never emerge; forests there will be, where the red serpent can find no path; fortresses there will be, that rub shoulders with the sky” (ed. Lewis, 1974, p. 119).
During the 19th century, the forests of Chechnya presented a formidable defense against Russian encroachment. “As long as the forest stood the Tchetchens were unconquerable. The Russians made no permanent impression on them save when and where they cut the beech trees down; and it is literally the fact that they were beaten in the long run not by the sword but by the axe” (Baddeley, 1908/1969, p. xxxv).
“Perhaps the greatest symbol of Shamil’s waning power in the Caucasus was the Argoun Forest. For many years, Russians would simply avoid it. So tall and thick were its trees that it was considered impregnable. Yet, in 1858, after a two-pronged push against Chechen positions, the forest was finally taken. This forward movement was achieved not through battle and bloodshed, but by the painstaking clearing of the trees” (Griffin, 2003, p. 162).
“Veliamenov had faced trees so large and swarming with the enemy that he had compared each trunk to a fort. . . . Perhaps the most powerful image was that which greeted the Karbada [sic] regiment on the third day of the Biscuit Expedition: the barricades that stood before them, the fallen beech trees reinforced by the naked and mutilated corpses of their fellow Russian soldiers. These hybrid bulwarks of flesh and wood stand as a wretched symbol of Caucasian warfare. Shamil had long understood that the countryside provided more pragmatic assistance than Allah. Any man who felled a tree was first penalized an ox. At the second offense he would be punished with death, the same penalty as either cowardice or treachery, underlining the importance of the land. The body would hang in the centre of the man’s aoul for at least one week.” (Griffin, 2003, pp. 162-63)
Throughout the Caucasus even in modern times, one frequently sees “prayer trees” to which numerous passers-by have tied strings, ribbons, or bits of trash. Each of these offerings is associated with a “wish” addressed to the spirit dwelling in the tree. Such trees are frequently seen in the vicinity of churches and monasteries (though the Church officially discourages this practice); others appear here and there for no apparent reason.
Famous trees are revered and pointed out to visitors. For example, a tree at Tskhinvali (South Ossetia) marks the spot where Erek’le II stopped to rest on his way to Russia to sign the Treaty of Georgievsk (1783) (Plunkett & Masters, 2004, p. 77). The town of Zaqatala, Azerbaijan, is distinguished by the presence of two 700-year-old plane trees (p. 234).
Ancient Near East
The “Table of Nations” (Genesis 10) lists the seven sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. Of these, the last three appear to be proto-Kartvelian or closely-related nations. Tubal and Meshech are closely associated: Ezekiel speaks of “Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal” (38:2, 38:3, 39:1) and makes two further references to them: “Javan, Tubal, and Meshech, they were thy merchants: they traded the persons of men and vessels of brass in thy market” (Ezek. 27:13); “There is Meshech, Tubal, and all her multitude: her graves are round about him: all of them uncircumcised, slain by the sword, though they caused their terror in the land of the living” (Ezek. 32:26).
This accords well with what is known of these peoples from other Ancient Near Eastern sources. Meshech is called Mushki and Mushkaya in Assyrian documents of Tiglath-Pileser I (1117-1080 B.C.) and Assurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C.), where they are associated with eastern Anatolia. They later inhabited the region of Meskheti in southwestern Georgia, and are known as the Moschi (Mo/sxoi, Mesxh=noi) in classical sources.
Tubal is often identified with the neo-Hittite kingdom of Tabal, which was established along the Mare Issicum (mod. Gulf of Iskendrun) in south-central Anatolia (9th-8th centuries B.C.). Although the royal inscriptions of the kings of Tabal were written in the Luwian language, the nation of Tabal was understood to be of Kartvelian stock, having migrated southward from the Black Sea coast of Anatolia. This nation was known to classical writers as the Tibareni (Tibarhnoi/). Toumanoff (1963) suggests a possible etymological connection between Tubal and the “antediluvian” pre-Sumerian city of Bad-tibira (p. 57n).
Tiras, the youngest of the sons of Japheth, was associated with Asia Minor and the region extending eastward to the south shore of the Caspian Sea (Baker, 1992d). This nation appears in Egyptian records as Teresh (or Tursha), one of the Sea Peoples whose attempted invasion of Egypt was repulsed in the 8th year of Ramesses III (1178 B.C.). This nation appears in classical texts as the Tyrseni (Turshnoi/) or Tyrrheni (TurÍrÓhnoi/), the ancestors of the Etruscans. They were driven out of Asia Minor by the Indo-European Phrygians before 1100 B.C. and migrated westward, reaching Sicily and Italy by the 8th century B.C.
As to the western Iberians, Genesis 10:4 lists Tarshish among the sons of Javan (along with Elishah, Kittim, and Dodanim). Tarshish is mentioned more than 30 times in the Old Testament, where it is described as a source of precious metals, precious stones, and other exotic merchandise transported by Phoenician vessels. According to Greek sources, Tartessus (Tarthsso/v, i.e. Tarshish) was founded in 1100 B.C. by refugees from Troy. The Tartessians exploited mineral deposits in Sardinia, where they established a colony at Nora. This is confirmed by the Phoenician Nora Inscription (circa 800 B.C.). The importance of Tarshish as a source of metals is noted by Strabo (Geographica III.ii.11), by Diodorus Siculus (Bibliotheca historica v.35), and by Pliny (Naturalis historia iii.4, iii.157, xxxiii.31). The name “Tarshish” may in fact be derived from the Akkadian rashasu (“to be smelted”) (Culican, 1991, p. 519). There is some evidence to suggest that the Tartessians were involved in the exploitation of mineral deposits in the British Isles as well (Zatiashvili, 2008).
According to Strabo, the Turdetanians (Tartessians) “are ranked as the wisest of the Iberians; and they make use of an alphabet, and possess records of their ancient history, poems, and laws written in verse that are six thousand years old, as they assert” (Geographica III.i.6). This intriguing statement raises the possibility that the mysterious Voynich Manuscript (which appears to have originated in Spain) may in fact preserve an ancient Iberian text.
The Kartvelian tribes of the Anatolian coast were associated with the early development of ferrous metallurgy. The Chalybes (Xa/lubev, Xa/luboi, Xa/ldoi, Xaldai=oi) were a Kartvelian tribe living in the vicinity of the Halys river, to which their name appears to be connected. According to Ammianus Marcellinus, it was “the Chalybes, by whom iron was first mined and worked” (Res gestae XXII.8.21). The Greek word xa/luy (“tempered steel”) is derived from their name. The Chalybes were not a numerous people, but enjoyed a great reputation in antiquity for their knowledge of metallurgical secrets: “These people were few in number and subject to the Mossynoeci, and most of them gained their livelihood from working in iron” (Xenophon, Anabasis V.v.1). It is likely that the Chalybes are to be identified with the Halizones (‘Alizw=nev), described by Homer (Iliad II.856-57) as a people “from afar, from Alybe, where the birthplace of silver is” (thlo/qen eÍc ÍAlu/bhv, o¸qen aÍrgu/rou eÍsti\ gene/qlh). Earlier still, they are mentioned in Hittite sources referring to Khaly-wa (“the land of Halys”). According to Strabo, the territory of the Chalybes “has the mines, only iron-mines at the present time, though in earlier times it also had silver-mines. Upon the whole, the seaboard in this region is extremely narrow, for the mountains, full of mines and forests, are situated directly above it, and not much of it is tilled” (Geographica XII.iii.18-19). It is interesting to compare Herodotus’ description of the Argippaei, an ancient tribe associated with the Altai region, the terminus of a prehistoric trade-route frequented by the Kartvelians: “No one harms these people, for they are looked upon as sacred—they do not even possess any warlike weapons. When their neighbors fall out, they make up the quarrel; and when one flies to them for refuge, he is safe from all hurt.” (Persian Wars iv.23) The “sacred” Argippaei may have been early practitioners of metallurgy and the custodians of metallurgical secrets: “It has been suggested that the sacred immunity of the Argippaei may be compared with that enjoyed by tribes of African blacksmiths: the Argippaei may have been skilled miners, foundrymen and, above all, goldsmiths who worked for all the neighbouring peoples” (Sulimirski, 1970, p. 70).
This situation is reflected in Ezekiel 27:13, where Javan (Greeks), along with Tubal and Meshech (Kartvelians) are described as traders in slaves and brass vessels.
Another Kartvelian tribe, the Daiaeni, figures prominently in Assyrian records. Tiglath-Pilesar I twice crossed the Taurus range (circa 1114 B.C., circa 1112 B.C.) to combat the 23 kings of the Nairi, one of whom was Asia (Sieni), king of the Daiaeni. Several centuries, later, Shalmaneser III (859-824 B.C.) laid waste to the lands of the Daiaeni and sacked the Urartian royal city of Arzaškun as well (Ananias of Širak, 1992, p. 205n).
Urartian records refer to these people as Diaueḫe (Diau-ḫe), which appears to be “a patronymic or dynastic name meaning ‘son of Diau,’ the presumed founder of the dynasty that ruled the people-state” (Ananias of Širak, 1992, p. 206n). The Daiaeni had migrated further north by this time, occupying territories between the Araxes river and Lake Çildir, with their capital at Sasilu (Arsis). King Utupursi of the Daiaeni opposed the Urartian kings Menua (circa 810-circa 780 B.C.) and Argisti (circa 780-circa 756 B.C.) (Ananias of Širak, 1992).
Meanwhile (circa 1250 B.C.), the kingdom of Æa (AiÂa; later known as Colchis) was established in the basin of the Phasis river. This was the most culturally advanced branch of the Kartvelians. It was widely believed among the Greeks that the Colchi were descended from Egyptians who had colonized the region in the time of Sesostris (Herodotus, Historiae II.103-105). The Colchi practiced circumcision, a practice which was subsequently adopted by the neighboring Macrones. The kingdom of Aea was associated with the Argonautic expedition, the quest for the Golden Fleece, and the tragic marriage of Jason and Medea. These associations made Colchis the special domain of sorcery and poisons in the Greek imagination.
The kingdom of Æa collapsed (circa 700 B.C.) as a result of the Cimmerian invasion (Bredow, 2007a), and during the 7th century B.C. the hegemony of Western Georgia passed to the Kashkai. The Kashkai were a branch of the Circassians (Northwest Caucasians) who had participated in the destruction of the Hittite state (circa 1200 B.C.) and then expanded south-eastwards, where they came into conflict with the Assyrians and were repulsed. Some of the Kashkai subsequently penetrated into the western Caucasus, where they supplanted the ruling dynasty of Æa and assimilated with the Kartvelians. This successor-state became known as Qulḫa to the Urartians, and as Colchis to the Greeks (Toumanoff, 1963). Its capital city (AiÂa; mod. Kutaisi) was known as Ko/taïv from at least as early as the 6th century A.D. (Agathias, Historiae II.19).
Many of the Kartvelian tribes, including the Moschi, Tibareni, Macrones, Mosynoeci, and Mares, eventually came under Persian suzerainty, and Zoroastrianism became the dominant religion of the South Caucasus. The Phasis river marked the northwestern border of the Persian empire (Bredow, 2007b).
Xenophon’s Anabasis includes an interesting account of the Kartvelians, since the Greeks had to fight their way through them in order to reach the Black Sea. Here is Xenophon’s account of the Mosynoeci, one of the Kartvelian tribes he encountered in 400 B.C.:
“The greater part of these places were of the following description: The towns were eighty stadia distant from one another, some more, and some less; but the inhabitants could hear one another shouting from one town to the next, such heights and valleys there were in the country. And when the Greeks, as they proceeded, were among the friendly Mossynoecians, they would exhibit to them fattened children of the wealthy inhabitants, who had been nourished on boiled nuts and were soft and white to an extraordinary degree, and pretty nearly equal in length and breadth, with their backs adorned with many colours and their fore parts all tattooed with flower patterns. These Mossynoecians wanted also to have intercourse openly with the women who accompanied the Greeks, for that was their own fashion. And all of them were white, the men and the women alike. They were set down by the Greeks who served through the expedition, as the most uncivilized people whose country they traversed, the furthest removed from Greek customs. For they habitually did in public the things that other people would do only in private, and when they were alone they would behave just as if they were in the company of others, talking to themselves, laughing at themselves, and dancing in whatever spot they chanced to be, as though they were giving an exhibition to others.” (Anabasis V.iv.31-34)
With the collapse of the Persian empire, the kingdom of Iberia developed great political influence under king Pharnabazes (P’arnavaz, 299-234 B.C.), but came under strong Hellenistic cultural influence, as reflected in the grave-goods recovered from numerous aristocratic burials dated to this period (Javakhishvili & Abramishvili, 1986). “Excavations attest to a developed metropolitan culture in the Hellenistic, and above all in the Roman period; during the latter a distinctive Romanization of the until then Iranian-influenced upper class can be determined” (Plontke-Lüning, 2007b, p. 695). Meanwhile, after the death of Alexander the Great, a local ruler named Kuji established a new kingdom of Colchis, which he ruled as a vassal of P’arnavaz of Iberia. “This western Georgian state was federated to Kartli-Iberia, and its kings ruled through skeptukhi (royal governors) who received a staff from the king” (Suny, 1994, p. 13).
Classical antiquity: Æëtes and the Greeks
Though isolated at the extreme eastward edge of the Mediterranean basin, the Kartvelians (especially the Colchians) exercised a profound and lasting influence on the culture and imagination of the Greeks.
A number of important Greek myths are set in the region of the Black Sea and the Caucasus:
1. The Titan Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and gave it to mortals, was punished by being chained to a rock in the heights of the Caucasus, where he was tormented by an eagle which returned each day to eat his liver. This story closely parallels the Georgian myth of Amirani, the son of Dali (goddess of the hunt). Amirani stole the secrets of metallurgy from the gods and like Prometheus, was punished by being chained to a mountain, where an eagle attacked him each day and devoured his liver. This gave rise to the Kartvelian cultic practice of finding and destroying eagles’ nests in honor of Amirani. The Amirani myth is associated with the origins of iron metallurgy and can be dated to the 3rd millennium B.C. The Greek myth of Prometheus is almost certainly derived from the Kartvelian myth of Amirani: “And lo, as they sped on, a deep gulf of the sea was opened, and lo, the steep crags of the Caucasian mountains rose up, where, with his limbs bound upon the hard rocks by galling fetters of bronze, Prometheus fed with his liver an eagle that ever rushed back to its prey” (Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica II.1246-50).
2. The eleventh labor of Hercules was to steal the golden apples of the Hesperides, which were hidden in the far North. In order to accomplish this, Hercules journeyed to the Caucasus, where he slew the eagle with an arrow and released Prometheus from his torment, which had lasted 30,000 years. Out of gratitude, Prometheus revealed the location of the golden apples and showed him how he could obtain them by deceiving Atlas, another Titan. This story gave rise to two of the Greek constellations: Aquila (the Eagle) and Sagitta (the arrow).
3. The twins Phrixus and Helle, selected as victims for a fertility sacrifice by the Bœotians, were carried off by a ram with golden fleece. During the crossing from Europe to Asia, Helle fell off the ram and drowned, giving her name to the Hellespont. Phrixus was carried to Colchis, where he married Chalcipoe, the daughter of king Æëtes. In gratitude for his deliverance, Phrixus sacrificed the ram to Zeus and hung its golden fleece in the sacred grove of Ares, where it was guarded by a dragon that never slept. This set the stage for Jason’s quest of the golden fleece.
4. The Argonautic expedition (mentioned in the Odyssey, XII.69-72, in Hesiod’s Theogony 992-1002; and the subject of two extant epic poems: the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius [3rd century B.C.] and the Argonautica of Valerius Flaccus [1st century A.D.]). The voyage of Jason and the Argonauts to Colchis, the theft of the Golden Fleece, and Jason’s disastrous marriage to Medea, the sorceress, poisoner, and daughter of king Æëtes of Colchis, is one of the best-known of all the Greek myths. In keeping with the astrological theme of the present study, it is very interesting to note that Jason’s ship, the Argo, became one of the ancient Greek constellations. Arrian (early 2nd century A.D.) reports seeing the original anchor of the Argo displayed at the mouth of the Phasis (Periplus 9.2). In order to reach Colchis, the Argo had to pass through the Symplegades (Sumplhga/dev), a pair of treacherous moving rocks that guarded the entrance to the Black Sea. This testifies to the Greek conception of Colchis as an exotic and dangerous destination. Strabo reports the existence of numerous shrines to Jason (’Iaso/nia, i.e. “Jasonia”), which supposedly functioned as cult sites throughout the Caucasus (Geographica XI.iv.8, XI.xiii.10, XI.xiv.12).
5. Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Zeus by Leda, known as the Dioscuri (“sons of Zeus”), accompanied Jason and the Argonauts to Colchis. They were served by the Laconian charioteers Rhecas and Amphistratus (Strabo, Geographica XI.ii.12; cf. Charax Pergamensis [2nd century A.D.], apud Scholia ad Dionysium Periegeten 687, where their names are given as Telchis and Amphitus). They are supposed to have led a group of Greek settlers to Colchis who subsequently became known as the Heniochi (‘Hni/oxoi, “charioteers”), one of the principal Colchian tribes. The Dioscuri, meanwhile, gave their name to Dioscurias (Dioskouria/v; mod. Sukhumi), an important Milesian mercantile colony established circa 550 B.C.
6. Thetis, the mother of Achilles, was said to have deposited his ashes in a tumulus on the island of Leuce in the Black Sea, near the mouths of the Danube. This island remained uninhabited and was still an important cult site in Roman times, with a temple, an oracle, and numerous votive offerings and inscriptions (Arrian, Periplus 23). According to Dionysius Periegetes (2nd century A.D.), the island was called Leuce (“white”) because all the wild animals born there were white. The souls of Achilles and other heroes were said to wander through the uninhabited valleys of the island (De situ habitabilis orbis 543-546). Achilles is also associated with a narrow spit of land east of the Crimea, in the vicinity of Kherson and Odessa, now divided into two islands (Тендровская коса and Джарилгацька коса), where he is supposed to have organized chariot races. Ammianus Marcellinus (4th century A.D.) describes this as “a narrow strip of shore which the natives call ’Axille/wv dro/mov, memorable in times past for the exercises of the Thessalian leader” (Res gestae XXII.8.41).
According to Appian, Pompey “advanced to Colchis in order to gain knowledge of the country visited by the Argonauts, the Dioscuri, and Hercules, and he especially desired to see the place where they say that Prometheus was fastened to Mount Caucasus. Many streams issue from Caucasus bearing gold-dust so fine as to be invisible. The inhabitants put sheepskins with shaggy fleece into the stream and thus collect the floating particles; and perhaps the golden fleece of Æëtes was of this kind. All the neighbouring tribes accompanied Pompey on his exploring expedition.” (Historia Romana XII.xv.103).
Æëtes was the son of the sun-god Helios, and it is clear that an important solar cult existed in the Caucasus from prehistoric times. The solar orb or disc is the most important motif associated with prehistoric Kartvelian monuments and burials, and numerous folk religious practices, survivals of this solar cult, persist in Svaneti to the present day. It appears that the kings of Colchis and Iberia identified themselves with the rising sun in a way comparable to the later characterization of Japan as “the land of the rising sun.” This was presumably because the Caucasus was understood to mark the eastern edge of the known world. It may also have some relation to the ancient Kartvelian trade in metals from the Altai mountains (5000 km distant) (Grove, 2010).
The Phasis river was conceived in Greco-Roman times as the gateway to an unknown and terrifying region, associated with witchcraft, poisons, medicinal herbs, and female warriors. “The name of Colchis evoked magic and especially witchcraft, particularly as practiced in the family of Aeetes, not only by Circe and Medea but also by Hecate herself. This was the homeland of the ‘root-cutters’: magic was something else that Colchis had in common with Egypt” (Braund, 1994, p. 21). The tribes of the Phasis were notorious for their extreme savagery. “In the beginning the Heniochi inhabited Phasis. They were cannibals and stripped the skin off men. Then the Milesians, and they are hospitable, so that they furnish victims of shipwreck with supplies, give them three minas and send them on their way” (Heraclides Ponticus, De rebus publicis xviii, trans. Braund, p. 96). The Periegesis ad Nicomedem regem of Pseudo-Scymnus (915) describes the Heniochi as “a people that hates outsiders” (eÂqnov miso/xenon). Even Aristotle refers to the barbarous practices current in the region, making mention of “certain savage tribes on the coasts of the Black Sea, who are alleged to delight in raw meat or in human flesh, and others among whom each in turn provides a child for the common banquet” (Ethica Nicomachea VII.v.2); “There are many peoples inclined to murder and anthropophagy, for example among those around the Pontus the Achaeans and the Heniochi, and others of the mainland peoples, some in the same degree as those mentioned and some more, which although piratical, they have got no share in andreia” (Politica 1338B, 17-28).
Æëtes of Colchis was said to have been the brother of Perses, king of Taurica in the Crimea, another place notorious for human sacrifice. Diodorus Siculus offers an explanation of the hostility of the Colchians toward outsiders: “While Æëtes was king of Colchis, an oracle became known, to the effect that he was to come to the end of his life whenever strangers should land there and carry off the Golden Fleece. For this reason and because of his own cruelty as well, Æëtes ordained that strangers should be offered up in sacrifice, in order that the report of the cruelty of the Colchi having been spread abroad to every part of the world, no stranger should have the courage to set foot on the land (Bibliotheca historica IV.xlvii.2). The victim “was sacrificed to the gods, and when his body had been flayed the skin was nailed up on the temple, in keeping with a certain custom” (IV.xlvii.5).
Despite these formidable obstacles, the Milesians succeeded in establishing Greek mercantile colonies at Dioscurias (Dioskouria/v; a.k.a. Sebastopolis; modern Sukhumi) and at the mouth of the Phasis; a silver bowl dated to the 5th century B.C. has been found bearing the inscription, “I belong to Apollo the Supreme of Phasis” (Arrian, 2003, ed. Liddle, p. 102).
Aelius Aristides (Ad Romam 82) describes the Phasis, along with the Euphrates, Ethiopia, and Britain, as one of the four cornerstones of the Roman Empire, “whose boundaries extend from the setting of the sun and the Western ocean to Mount Caucasus and the river Euphrates” (Appian, Historia Romana, prooemium 9). “The Phasis was a principal landmark of the world, akin to the Nile” (Braund, 1994, p. 26), cf. Apollonius Rhodius: “And at night, by the skill of Argus, they reached broad-flowing Phasis, and the utmoste bourne of the sea” (Argonautica II.1260-61).
The mouth of the Phasis was extremely wide and surrounded by marshes, which were reported to be infested with crocodiles. Arrian writes that the Phasis “supplies the lightest and the strangest-coloured water of any of the rivers I know” (Periplus 8.1) . . . “the colour of the Phasis is that of water that has been tainted with lead or tin; but, being left to stand, it becomes extremely clear. Furthermore, those who sail in are traditionally forbidden from importing water into the Phasis, and as soon as they enter its stream they are ordered to pour out all water from outside that is on the ships. Those neglecting to do so, it is said, will not otherwise sail on favourably. And the water of the Phasis does not stagnate, but remains unchanged for upwards of ten years – if anything, it becomes fresher” (8.5). He adds that “some say Tanaïs divides Europe from Asia, others say the Phasis (19.1-2).
There were a great many interesting legends associated with the geography of the Black Sea and the Caucasus. For example, it was believed that the Caspian Sea drained into the Black Sea by way of a great subterranean channel: “there is the lake beneath the Caucasus, which the inhabitants call a sea: for this is fed by many great rives, and having no obvious outlet runs out beneath the earth in the district of the Coraxi and comes up somewhere about the so-called deeps of Pontus. (This is a part of the sea whose depth is unfathomable: at any rate no sounding has yet succeeded in finding the bottom.) Here at about three hundred stades’ distance from shore fresh water comes up over a large area” (Aristotle, Meteorologica I.xiii). There were supposed to be other subterranean passages as well: “The men there seize the transgressor, sew him up in a leather sack, and cast him down a hole known as the Mouth of the Impious, which is round like the mouth of a well. Cast down this hole, the sack emerges 30 days later in the Maeotis, seething with worms; where of a sudden the body is seized and torn to pieces by several vultures unseen before, nor is it known from whence they come;—as Ctesippus relates in his Second Book of Scythian Relations” (Pseudo-Plutarch, De fluviis 5.2).
It was generally assumed in Antiquity that both the Caspian Sea and the Maeotis (Sea of Azov) were gulfs of the outer Ocean, and there was much lore about a supposed “isthmus” separating the Black and Caspian Seas, which were thought to lie very close together somewhere in the vicinity of Dioscurias (mod. Sukhumi): “Towards the other promontory [of Asia], passing through a long narrow strait and then broadening out again, it makes the Hyrcanian or Caspian sea; beyond this, it occupies a deep hollow beyond Lake Maeotis” (Pseudo-Aristotle, De mundo 3).
The Caucasus was believed to be the highest mountain range on earth: “A proof of its height is the fact that it is visible both from the so-called Deeps and also as you sail into Lake Maeotis; and also that its peaks are sunlit for a third part of the night, both before sunrise and again after sunset” (Aristotle, Meteorologica I.xiii).
Other errors of geography included the belief that the Caucasus range was somehow connected to the Himalayas, or “Indian Caucasus” (a notion perpetuated by Percey Bysshe Shelley as late as 1820 (Prometheus Unbound); and the associated belief that the Sindi of the Taman peninsula were of Indian origin (Hesychius Alexandrinus, Lexicon, s.v. Si/ndoi).
Greek writers also tell of monstrous snow-worms infesting the passes of the Caucasus: “It is said . . . that living creatures breed in the snow (Apollonides calls these creatures ‘scoleces’ [skw/lhkav] and Theophanes ‘thripes’ [qri=pav])” (Strabo, Geographica XI.xiv.4).
The Phasis was famous in Roman times as a source of culinary delicacies. “Agatharchides of Cnidus, discussing the Phasis river in the thirty-fourth book of his European History, writes this also: ‘Innumerable birds, of the sort called pheasants, resort for food to the mouths of the river’” (Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae IX.387). Columella speaks disparagingly of “those who clear of all their birds the river Phasis in Pontus and the pools of Lake Maeotis in Scythia” (De re rustica VII.viii.10). Pheasants from the Caucasus were greatly sought-after for the tables of Roman gourmands; indeed, the word “pheasant” is derived from “Phasis.” Athenaeus complains of those who “deliver claptrap orations wherever crowds collect, wasting the livelong day in jugglers’ tricks, and among the adventurers who come from the Phasis or the Borysthenes” (Deipnosophistae I.6). In another passage (V.201), Athenaeus describes a gourmandistic procession organized by king Ptolemy: “Then were brought, in cages, parrots, peacocks, guinea-fowls, and birds from the Phasis [fasianoi\ oÂrniqev, i.e. pheasants] and others from Aethiopia, in great quantities.” In the 9th book of the Deipnosiphistae, Athenaeus discusses various terms for the pheasant, including fasiano/v, fasianiko/v, fasiano/v oÂrniv, tatu/rav, and te/tarov (IX.387).
While the Greeks were very interested in obtaining exotic goods from the Phasis region, the Kartvelians did not have a westward orientation. With the exception of pirates and fishermen, they did not frequent the coast, which they regarded as a place of ill omen. A brood of evil spirits known as the bat’onebi (“lords”) were thought to live opposite to them, on the western shore of the Black Sea, and were associated with pestilence-bearing winds (Berman, 2008b). As a result, the coastline was generally deserted, apart from a few trading settlements at the mouths of rivers, with dense forests extending down to the shore.
Ascending the Phasis, one came to the Colchian capital of Aia (mod. Kutaisi). Proceeding further, one crossed the Likhi (a.k.a. Surami) range, the watershed between Europe and Asia, beyond which lay the kingdom of Iberia. This region was drained by another great river-system, the Kura (Mtkvari), which drained into the Caspian Sea. “Strabo notes a harder, rougher way of life, as he goes eastward, from the busy ports of Colchis over the mountains into the agricultural plain of Iberia, and further towards the Caspian into the parts of the half-nomadic Albanians” (Allen, 1971, p. 47).
Classical antiquity: Mithridates and the Romans
Iberian influence over western Georgia had waned by the late 2nd century B.C. (Suny, 1994), with the result that Colchis became tributary to the short-lived empire of Mithridates VI of Pontus (120-63 B.C.). “Western Georgia thus passed out of the Persian and Iberian sphere of influence into the Greco-Roman culture of the classical cities of the Black Sea littoral” (Suny, 1994, p. 13); “a small, but eloquent illustration of that division is provided by the engraved gems produced on each side of the Surami Ridge. From the archaic through the Hellenistic periods the engraved gems of Iberia show the marked influence of Mesopotamia and Achaemenid Persia, while the principal influences upon their counterparts in Colchis came from Ionia and the west” (Braund, 1994, p. 42).
The Pontic state had originated as a satrapy of the Persian Empire, whose ruling dynasty managed to survive into the Hellenistic period. The kingdom of Pontus occupied the southeastern coast of the Black Sea, extending from the Halys river (east of Sinope) to the Acampsis (a.k.a. Apsarus) river in the east, which separated it from Colchis. Thus, the majority of its population was comprised of various Kartvelian tribes.
During the first century B.C., Mithridates created a powerful empire in the Black Sea, posing the greatest threat to Roman power in the Mediterranean since Hannibal’s passage of the Alps. Mithridates gained control of nearly the entire Black Sea littoral, including Colchis, the Greek coastal settlements, and numerous tribes of the interior (Appian, Historia Romana XII.iii.15). In this way he was able to deny the Romans access to the vital supplies of Black Sea timber.
Mithridates’ allies included “Chalybes, Armenians, Scythians, Taurians, Achaeans, Heniochi, Leucosyrians, and those who occupy the territory about the river Thermodon, called the country of the Amazons,” as well as various Sarmatian tribes (Appian, Historia Romana XII.x.69; XII.iii.19). In 108 B.C., he succeeded in conquering the Cimmerian Bosporus (Regnum Bosporanum) as well, an important supplier of corn to the Mediterranean.
Mithridates waged three wars against the Romans (First Mithridatic War, 88-84 B.C.; Second Mithridatic War, 83-81 B.C.; Third Mithridatic War, 75-63 B.C.).
In 88 B.C., on the advice of the philosopher Metrodorus of Scepsis, Mithridates sent out secret letters to the civic authorities throughout his domains, ordering the massacre of all Romans on Pontic territory. The massacres began simultaneously exactly one month after the date of Mithridates’ letter, resulting in the deaths of 80,000 Romans and the outbreak of the First Mithridatic War (Appian, Historia Romana XII.iv.22-23). The appearance of Halley’s Comet the following year (87 B.C.) was extremely demoralizing to the Romans (Mayor, 2010). However, the war ended with the expulsion of Mithridates’ armies from Greece, though his control of the Black Sea remained unchallenged.
The Third Mithridatic War (75-63 B.C.) was undertaken in alliance with Sertorius, the rebellious Roman governor of Spain. After a series of military reverses, Mithridates was forced to take refuge with king Tigranes of Armenia (69 B.C.). Defeated by Pompey in 66 B.C., Mithridates withdrew into the Caucasus. He wintered at Dioscorias (mod. Sukhumi), and from there he “pushed on through strange and warlike Scythian tribes, partly by permission, partly by force, so respected and feared was he still, although a fugitive and in misfortune. He passed through the country of the Heniochi, who received him willingly. The Achaeans, who resisted him, he put to flight. . . . Mithridates finally reached the Maeotis, of which there were many princes, all of whom received him, escorted him, and exchanged numerous presents with him, on account of the fame of his deeds, his empire, and his power, which was still not to be despised” (Appian, Historia Romana XII.xv.102).
To accomplish this remarkable feat of arms, Mithridates passed through the Caucasus by way of “the so-called Scythian Gates, which had never been passed by any one before” (Appian, Historia Romana XII.xv.102). Mithridates planned to make a complete circuit of the Black Sea and seize the Bosporus, thus reappearing behind Pompey and threatening his lines of communication and supply to Italy.
Pompey, meanwhile, “pursued Mithridates in his flight as far as Colchis, but he thought that his foe would never get round to Pontus or to the Maeotis, or undertake anything great now that he had been driven out of his kingdom” (Appian, Historia Romana XII.xv.103). After frustrating the attempt by the Iberians and Albanians to ambush him in the vicinity of Mtskheta, Pompey turned southward, conquering the Nabataeans and occupying Jerusalem (65 B.C.).
“While Pompey was about this business Mithridates had completed his circuit of the Euxine and occupied Panticapaeum” (Appian, Historia Romana XII.xvi.107). At the same time, a revolt broke out in Mithridates’ army, demanding that he abdicate in favor of his son Pharnaces. Unable to salvage the situation, Mithridates withdrew to the citadel of Panticapaeum and committed suicide (63 B.C.).
Pompey’s triumph at Rome included a procession of captives “from Pontus, Armenia, Cappadocia, Cilicia and all Syria, besides Albanians, Heniochi, Achaeans of Scythia, and Eastern Iberians [ÍIbhri/av th=v eÓw÷av] . . .Olthaces, chief of the Colchians, was also led in the procession, and Aristobulus, king of the Jews, the tyrants of the Cilicians, and the female rulers of the Scythians, three chiefs of the Iberians, two of the Albanians, and Menander the Laodicean, who had been chief of cavalry to Mithridates” (Appian, Historia Romana XII.xvii.116-117). Iberia became a Roman client-state, while Colchis was reduced to a Roman province.
Upon the outbreak of civil war between Caesar and Pompey (49 B.C.), Pharnaces (Mithridates’ son and successor) seized Colchis and Lesser Armenia and drove the Romans out of Pontus. However, he was decisively defeated by Julius Caesar at Zela (2 August 47 B.C.) and fled to the Cimmerian Bosporus, where he was slain in battle against his son-in-law Asander.
When Polemo I of Pontus was captured and put to death by the Aspurgiani (8 B.C.), his widow Pythodoris, a granddaughter of Mark Anthony, succeeded him as ruler of Pontus, Cilicia, and Colchis: “At last Polemon got Colchis; and since his death his wife Pythodoris has been in power, being queen, not only of the Colchians, but also of Trapezus and Pharnacia and of the barbarians who live above these places” (Strabo, Geographica XI.ii.18).
In 64 A.D., Nero annexed Pontus, deposing its last king, Julius Polemo II, “under whose auspices Colchis was ruled” (Liddle, 2003, p. 6). Thus, Colchis remained within the Greco-Roman sphere of influence, while Iberia and Albania were within the Persian sphere of influence. In 68 A.D., Nero dispatched Legio I Italia to the Caspian Gates (Derbent) in anticipation of a war with the Caucasian Albanians; this project was aborted, however, upon the emperor’s death later that same year (Liddle, 2003). The ensuing civil war spilled into the Caucasus, where in A.D. 69 “a certain Anicetus had intervened for Vitellius against Vespasian, hijacking the fleet, stirring up local tribes, and sacking Trapezous” (Liddle, 2003, p. 8). Vespasian (reigned 69-79 A.D.), who emerged victorious from this “Year of the Four Emperors” constructed a fortress at Harmozica near Tbilisi (75 A.D.), “ostensibly for the benefit of king Mithridates” (Liddle, Arrian, 2003, p. 10). This fortress controlled access to the Dariel Pass.
During the first and second centuries A.D., the Romans established a series of military bases along the Black Sea coast: Trapezus, Hyssus, Apsarus, Phasis, Sebastopolis and Pityus (Kakhidze, 2008, p. 311). Apsarus was an especially imposing fortress with 22 towers, equipped with war engines and garrisoned by five cohorts (about 2500 men) (Arrian, Periplus 6.2). The presence of war engines in such an isolated locality is quite unusual. Liddle (Arrian, 2003) attributes this circumstance to the presence further up the coast of the Zydritae, vassals of the king of Iberia, which he identifies as “a destabilizing element among the client-kings” (p. 101). Arrian records the presence of “400 select troops” in the Roman fort at Phasis (Periplus 9.3) and mentions another Roman garrison at Dioscurias, “the camp which is the limit of Roman control” (Periplus 17.2).
Under Roman rule, Colchis enjoyed all the benefits of civilization: “I certainly know of no other subject race with such ample resources of manpower at its command or which is blessed with such a superfluity of wealth, with such an ideal geographical position, with such an abundance of all the necessaries of life, and with such a high standard of civilization and refinement. The ancient inhabitants of the place were indeed completely unaware of the benefits of navigation and had not even heard of ships until the arrival of the famous Argo. Nowadays they put out to sea whenever practicable and carry on a thriving commerce. Nor are they barbarians in any other respect, long association with the Romans having led them to adopt a civilized and law-abiding style of life.” (Agathias, Historiae III.v.2-4, trans. J.D. Fendo, quoted by Braund, 1994, pp. 49-50). This remarkable transition is summarized by Pomponius Mela: olim ex colentium saevo admodum ingenio Axenus, post commercio aliarum gentium mollitis aliquantum moribus dictus Euxinus (De chorographia I.102).
There was considerable tension between the Romans and the kingdom of Iberia, which had traditionally fallen within the Persian sphere of influence. When the emperor Hadrian visited Colchis in 129 A.D. and invited Pharasmenes of Iberia to an audience, the king sent him an arrogant refusal (Liddle, Arrian, 2003). The situation improved somewhat later in the century: “The visit to Rome of king Pharasmanes of Iberia at the time of Antoninus Pius is considered the high point in Ibero-Roman relations” (Plontke- Lüning, 2007b, p. 695). The Iberian frontier remained tense, however.
Tribes of the Ancient Caucasus:
Greek and Roman writers were fascinated by the alien cultures and linguistic complexity of the Caucasus, and recorded much fascinating information about them. Roman agents and expeditions penetrated into isolated parts of the Caucasus. The Qobistan inscription, a graffito found near Baku, was left by one Livius Maximus, a Roman officer who had penetrated all the way to the Caspian (ed. Merlin, 1952, No 263).
Strabo (1st century A.D.) describes Dioscurias as “the common emporium of the tribes who are situated above it and in its vicinity; at any rate seventy tribes come together in it, though others, who care nothing for the facts, actually say three hundred. All speak different languages because of the fact that, by reason of their obstinacy and ferocity, they live in scattered groups and without intercourse with one another” (Geographica XI.ii.16). Concerning Dioscurias, Pliny the Elder states that “according to Timosthenes 300 tribes speaking different languages used to resort to it; and subsequently business was carried on there by Roman traders with the help of a staff of 130 interpreters” (Naturalis historia VI.iv.15).
According to Pliny the Elder, Mithridates of Pontus (120-63 B.C.) “who was a king of twenty-two races gave judgements in as many languages, in an assembly addressing each race in turn without an interpreter.” (Historia naturalis VII.xxiv.88). Because of its remarkable linguistic diversity, the Caucasus was later known to the Arabs as jabal al-alsina (“mountain of tongues”).
Information about the tribes and kingdoms of the Caucasus in Greco-Roman times is preserved in a couple of dozen extant texts. Many of these are periploi (“circumnavigations”), a special genre of geographical literature presenting lists of tribes, towns, rivers, and other coastal features of a given body of water.
Extant classical works which provide such information include Pseudo-Scylax (Periplus Maris Interni; 4th century B.C.), Apollonius Rhodius (Argonautica; 3rd century B.C.), Pseudo-Scymnus (Periegesis ad Nicomedem regem; 2nd century B.C.), Strabo (Geographica; 1st century A.D.), Pliny the Elder (Naturalis historia; 1st century A.D.), Pomponius Mela (De chorographia; 1st century A.D.), Valerius Flaccus (Argonautica; 1st century A.D.), Menippus Pergamenus (Periplus; 1st century A.D.), Arrian (Periplus Euxini Ponti; 133 A.D.), Dionysius Periegetes (De situ habitabilis orbis; 2nd century A.D.), Ptolemy (Geographia; 2nd century A.D.), Pseudo-Arrian (Periplus Maeotidis paludis; 3rd century A.D.), Ammianus Marcellinus (Res gestae; 4th century A.D.), Avienus (Descriptio orbis terrae; 4th century A.D.), the anonymous Periplus Ponti Euxini (5th century A.D.), Priscian (Periegesis e Dionysio; 6th century A.D.), Stephanus Byzantinus (Ethnica; 6th century A.D., partially preserved in the 10th century De administrando imperio of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus), the Armenian Geography of Ananias of Širak (7th century), Eustathius of Thessalonica (Commentarii in Dionysium Periegetam; 12th century), and Nicephorus Blemmydes (Paraphrasis in Dionysium Periegetam; 13th century).
Useful secondary sources include de Boer (2007), Braund (1994), Diakonoff (1984), Hewsen (1992), Ilyushechkin (2009), Jaimoukha (2011), Kavtaradze (1997 and 2002), Liddle (2003), Toumanoff (1963), and the Barrington Atlas (2000).
The coastal plains were densely populated, as noted by many classical writers, e.g. Apollonius Rhodius: “and all round dwell countless tribes of Colchians” (Argonautica II.1204-05); Ammianus Marcellinus refers to “populous districts” along the coast between Apsarus and the Phasis (Res gestae XXII.8.24). The region was divided into dozens of small kingdoms and tribal states. Many of these (e.g. the Macrones, Colchi, Lazi, Zydritae, Taochi, Zygii) were known by their own ethnic designations. Others were known by Greek nicknames of various sorts, in a way analogous to the American designations for various Native American nations (e.g. the Blackfoot, Flathead, Fox, Crow, or Nez Percé). Such designations include the Camaritae (“skiff-farers”), Heptacometae (“those with seven locks”), Macrocephali (“long-heads”), Mosynoeci (“tower-dwellers”), Phthirophagi (“flea-eaters”), Macropogones (“long-beards”), and Melanchlaeni (“black-cloaks”). Still others (Heniochi, Philyres, Achaei) took their names from Greek mythic associations.
Classical accounts of the region reveal a fluid political situation, as the relative locations of the various tribes shifted over time. To give one of the more striking examples, both Dionysius Periegetes (2nd century A.D.; De situ habitabilis orbis 765) and Ammianus Marcellinus (4th century A.D.; Res gestae XXII.8.21) mention the Byzeres as one of the tribes inhabiting the Anatolian coastal plain. If both lists reflect relative geographical positions, it appears that the Byzeres migrated westward between the 2nd century (when they inhabited the southeast corner of the Black Sea) and the 4th century (when they are associated with the Chalybes in the vicinity of Amisus). The Periplus Ponti Euxini (5th century) appears to offer confirmation of this, for it states (9v4) that in the tract between the Apsarus and Archabis rivers (just southwest of the Roman fortress of Apsarus) “there formerly dwelt the people known as Buseres (Bou/shrev), but now the Zydritae (Zudri/tai) live there.” This is a bit surprising because most of the Kartvelian tribes were apparently migrating eastward at the time. Liddle (2003) notes that “Arrian has [the Achaious river] as the southern boundary of the territory of the Zilchoi, a people well attested in various locations in the north east corner of the Black Sea (see Strabo XI.2.12, 14, calling them Zygoi; Pliny, NH VI.19, as the Zigae; Procopius, Bell. VIII.4.1-2, as the Zechoi) and whose movement throughout the six hundred years represented by these citations is symptomatic of the fluidity of population movements on the frontiers of the Empire” (p. 121). The coastal towns designated by Arrian as “Old Lazica” (Palaia\ Lazikh/) and “Old Achaea” (Palaia\ Axaii+/a) “again highlight the extent of tribal movements in the region” (p. 123), since the Lazi resided much further south in Arrian’s day; the Achaei, by contrast, had migrated further to the north but had given their name not only to Old Achaea but also to the river Achaious (mod. Sochi river) far to the south, “which river separates the Zilchoi and the Sanigai” (Arrian, Periplus 18.3).
It may prove useful and interesting at this point to provide a summary of this information, along with some of the more colorful details.
Let us start our periplus at the Cimmerian Bosporus (modern Strait of Kerch), which was controlled by the Regnum Bosporanum. This kingdom, established around 480 B.C., was centered around a number of Greek mercantile colonies in the Crimea (Panticapaeum, Cercinitis, Theodosia, Phanagoria, Nymphaeum, Hermonassa, Cimmericum, Chersonesus). For most of its history, this kingdom was ruled by a Thracian dynasty, the Artocids. It eventually became a Roman client kingdom and a very important commercial center, controlling access to the northern branch of the Silk Road: “All the people who are subject to the potentates of the Bosporus are called Bosporians; and Panticapaeum is the metropolis of the European Bosporians, while Phangoreium . . . is the metropolis of the Asiatic Bosporians. Phanagoreia is reputed to be the emporium for the commodities that are brought down from the Maeotis and the barbarian country that lies above it, and Panticapaeum for those which are carried up thither from the sea” (Strabo, Geographica XI.ii.10).
The southern coast of the Crimea (Taurica) was occupied by the Tauri (Tau=roi), a Northwest Caucasian people connected to the Circassians. In earlier times, the Tauri had been notorious for sacrificing and displaying the heads of shipwrecked travelers (cf. Euripides, Iphigenia in Tauride).
The Cimmerian Bosporus gave access to the Palus Maeotis (modern Sea of Azov), a shallow sea teeming with birds and fish. Strabo (Geographica XI.ii.8) speaks of “the Maeotis being so frozen at the time of frosts that it can be crossed on foot.” The shores of the Maeotis were inhabited by numerous tribes. Those tribes known collectively as the Maeotae (Maiw=tai) were connected to the Circassians and appear to have been the original inhabitants of the region. These included the Dandarii, Agri, Arrechi, Tarpetes, Obidiaceni, Sittaceni, Dosci, and Aspurgiani, among others. Concerning the Aspurgiani, Strabo writes that “these were attacked by King Polemon under a pretence of friendship, but they discovered his pretence, outgeneraled him, and taking him alive killed him” (Geographica XI.ii.11). The numerous Scythian and Sarmatian tribes of the Maeotis had migrated into the region during the first millennium B.C. and were in the process of replacing the Maeotae. By the 4th or 5th century, a number of Gothic tribes such as the Eudusiani had settled in the Crimea and the Maeotis as well. According to an obscure tradition current among the Greeks, the Tyndari (Tundari/dev), one of the tribes of the Maeotis, were (like the Heniochi) descendants of the Argonauts (Eustathius, Commentarii in Dionysium Periegetam 687; Pliny, Naturalis historia VI.vii.19). The presence of an inscribed silver bowl dedicated to “Apollo the Supreme of Phasis” (dated to 420/400 B.C.) in a burial mound of the first century B.C. near the River Kuban may be the consequence of a raid by Northwest Caucasian peoples into Colchis; alternatively, it may testify to the development of trade between Colchis and other Black Sea ports. The ruling élite of Olbia, at the mouth of the Bug, appear to have been of Colchian origin; while the city of Panticapaeum in the Crimea is supposed to have been founded by a son of King Æëtes of Colchis (Braund, 1994, p. 68).
Crossing to the other side of the Strait of Kerch, we find that the Bosporan kingdom controlled the towns of Phanagoria and Hermonassa at the end of the Taman peninsula. This district bordered on Sindica to the east.
The Sindi (Sindones, Sindoi/) were considered a branch of the Maeotae and were apparently speakers of a Northwest Caucasian language. This very interesting ethnic group occupied most of the Taman peninsula, known as the “Sindic territory” (Sindikh/). According to Hesychius Alexandrinus (5th century A.D.), the Sindi were of Indian origin (Lexicon, s.v. Si/ndoi). Ammianus Marcellinus describes the Sindi as “people of low birth, who after the disaster to their masters in Asia got possession of their wives and property” (Res gestae XXII.8.41). A fuller account of this is found in Justin: “The Scythians had been away from their wives and children for eight years on their third expedition into Asia, and they now faced a war with their slaves at home. The wives had tired of the long wait for their husbands and, thinking that they had been wiped out in battle rather than merely detained by the war, married the slaves who had been left in charge of the cattle. When their masters returned victorious, the slaves armed themselves and drove them back from the borders as though they were foreigners” (Historiarum Philippicarum epitome II.v.1-3). Athenaeus (Deipnosophistae XII.530) preserves some iambic verses by Phoenix of Colophon which mention the “long-haired Sindian from the northern marshes” (aÍpo\ tw=n aÂnw limnw=n / Sindo\v komh/tev). The Sindic royal residence was at Gorgippia (originally a Greek colony). Archaeology reveals that the Sindi were thoroughly Hellenized and enjoyed a high level of material culture. Several classical authors repeat the mistaken assumption that the Sindi were of Indian origin.
The next stretch of coastline was occupied by two Northwest Caucasian tribes: the Cercetae (Kerketai/) and the Toreatae (Torea=tai, Toretai/). Both of these were seagoing peoples and practiced piracy. The name of the Cercetae is clearly connected to “Cherkess” (Tk. Çerkes), “Circassia,” and the earlier “Kashkai” ethnonym. Hesychius Alexandrinus, however, claims that the Cercetae, like the Sindi, were of Indian origin (Lexicon, s.v. Kerke/tai).
Continuing southward, we come next to the domains of the Achaei (’Axaioi/, “Achaeans”), an extinct people who formerly dominated part of the Northwest Caucasus in the vicinity of Mt. Elbrus (Stro/bilov), where they lived in proximity to several Northwest Caucasian tribes (Zygii, Cercetae, Toreatae). According to Ammianus Marcellinus, they were the descendants of Greeks who became stranded there at some point during the second millennium B.C.: “After the end of an earlier war at Troy (not the one which was fought about Helen, as some writers have asserted), being carried out of their course by contrary winds to Pontus, and meeting enemies everywhere, [they] were unable to find a place for a permanent home, and so they settled on the tops of mountains covered with perpetual snow, where, compelled by the rigorous climate, they became accustomed to make a dangerous living by robbery, and hence became later beyond all measure savage” (Res Gestae XXII.8.25). Appian tells us that they “underwent great sufferings there at the hands of the barbarians because they were Greeks; and when they sent to their home for ships and their request was disregarded, they conceived such a hatred for the Grecian race that whenever they captured any Greeks they immolated them in Scythian fashion. At first in their anger they served all in this way, afterwards only the handsomest ones, and finally a few chosen by lot” (Historia Romana XII.xv.102). The Achaeans repeatedly defied Mithridates of Pontus, who fought them on two occasions (80 B.C. and 65 B.C.) (Historia Romana XII.x.67; XII.xv.102); on the former occasion, the Achaeans destroyed two divisions of his army. By the 5th century A.D., the Achaeans had disappeared, their territories being occupied by the Circassian Zygii.
Next in order came the Zygii (Zigae; Zugoi/, Zilxoi/, Zh=xoi), the main body of the Circassians, occupying a large tract of the Black Sea coast and the adjacent mountains. The word “Zigius” is obviously cognate to “djiget,” a later word used to designate a Circassian and a Circassian warrior in particular. The Zigii appear to have had some degree of central organization even at this early time, for Arrian reports that they were ruled in his day by a king Stachemphax, a client of Hadrian (Periplus 18.3). Until early modern times, a fictive “kingdom of Jigeti” continued to exist under the titular sovereignty of the prince of Abkhazia.
Strabo writes that “after the Sindic territory and Gorgipia, on the sea, one comes to the coast of the Achaei and the Zygi and the Heniochi, which for the most part is harbourless and mountainous, being a part of the Caucasus. These peoples live by robberies at sea. Their boats are slender, narrow, and light, holding only about twenty-five people, though in rare cases they can hold thirty in all; the Greeks call them ‘camarae.’ . . . At any rate, by equipping fleets of ‘camarae’ and sailing sometimes against merchant-vessels and sometimes against a country or even a city, they hold the mastery of the sea. And they are sometimes assisted even by those who hold the Bosporus, the latter supplying them with mooring-places, with market-place, and with means of disposing of their booty. And since, when they return to their own land, they have no anchorage, they put the ‘camarae’ on their shoulders and carry them to the forests where they live and where they till a poor soil. And they bring the ‘camarae’ down to the shore again when the time for navigation comes.” (Strabo, Geographica XI.ii.12).
South of the Zigii, and separated from them by the Achaious river (mod. Sochi river) were the Abkhazians. Several unrelated peoples occupied enclaves within their territories: the Bruchi (Brou=xoi), another Northwest Caucasian people ancestral to the Ubykh, occupied the valley of the Borgys river (modern Psou river). South of this, the territory surrounding the town of Nitice (Stennitice; in the vicinity of modern Gagra) was occupied by a Scythian tribe known as the “pine-cone eaters.” The Greek designation for this tribe appears to have been “Phthirophagi” (Fqeirofa/goi), a term which was generally understood to mean “flea-eaters” and which was mistakenly applied in later times to a Kartvelian mountain tribe, the Saltiae (Pliny, Naturalis historia VI.iv.14). The Scythian Phthirophagi were apparently extinct by the 2nd century A.D. (Arrian, Periplus 18.1-2; Periplus Ponti Euxini 9v44). Still further south, the Greek mercantile colony of Pityus (Pituou=v; modern Pitsunda) was founded in the 5th century B.C. The town was sacked by the Heniochi at some point between 7 B.C. (Strabo, Geographica XI.ii.14) and 77 A.D. (Pliny, Naturalis historia VI.v.16); it received a Roman garrison late in the 2nd century A.D. (Liddle, 2003). By the 1st century A.D., the mountain district behind Pityus was occupied by the Epagerritae, a Sarmatian tribe (Pliny, Naturalis historia VI.v.16).
As for the Abkhazians, they were divided into three main tribal kingdoms in Greco-Roman times. The northernmost of these were the Abasci (Abasgi, ’Abaskoi/, ’Abasgoi/), who occupied the coast in the vicinity of Pityus. Arrian (2nd century A.D.) reports that they were ruled in his day by a king, Rhesmagas (Periplus XI.3). In the 6th and 7th centuries, the Abasgi were ruled by two kings, “possibly representing two lines of the dynasty” (Toumanoff, 1963, p. 256). The kings of the Abasgi were notorious for selling off their subjects as eunuchs for service throughout the Greco-Roman world, a practice which ended with the conversion of the Abasgi to Christianity during the 6th century (Procopius, De bellis VIII.iii.15-21). Next were the Sanigae, in whose territories the Milesian colony of Dioscurias was founded circa 550 B.C. According to Arrian (Periplus XI.3), the Sanigae were ruled in his day by Spadagas, a client of Hadrian. The third Abkhaz tribe was the Apsilae (’Ayi/lai, ’Ayi/lioi), a name that is clearly cognate to the Abkhaz self-designations Аҧсуа (“Abkhaz”) and Аҧсны (“Abkhazia”). The Apsilae dwelt south of the Sanigae, around the Hippus estuary (mod. Kodori river) and were ruled by a king Julianus in Arrian’s day (Periplus XI.3).
The Abkhaz came under strong pressure from the Kartvelian tribes to the south. Strabo reports that by the time of Mithridates (early 1st century B.C.), the Heniochi had gained possession of the coast north of Pityus, bordering on the territories of the Achaei and Zygii, where they likewise devoted themselves to piracy (Geographica XI.ii.12, 14). The Heniochi were also associated with the region around Dioscurias (a town established, according to legend, by their own founders, the Dioscuri) (Ammianus Marcellinus, Res gestae XXII.8.24; Barrington Atlas, map 87). Procopius, however (6th century A.D.), reports that “the Abasgi have been from ancient times subjects of the Lazi” (De bellis VIII.iii.12).
Apart from these incursions by tribes living to the south, the northernmost Kartvelian tribes appear to have been the Coraxi (Koracoi/), the Melanchlaeni (Mela/gxlainoi), and the Lonchi (Lo/gxoi), who occupied part of the valley of the Corax (mod. Bzyb river) (Pliny, Naturalis historia VI.v.15; Periplus Ponti Euxini 9v11).
The upper reaches of the Hippus valley (mod. Kodori river) were occupied by the Misimiani (Misimianoi/, Missimianoi/), an extinct branch of the Svan ethnicity. This ethnonym is clearly derived from Mushüan, the Svan self-designation. Between the 1st and 6th centuries A.D., the Svans controlled the “road of the Misimians,” an important trade-route connecting Sebastopolis (Dioscurias) to the Silk Road by way of the Kodori gorge and the Klukhori pass (Bagaturia, 2003). According to Strabo (Geographica XI.ii.16), this route was already in use in the 1st century A.D.: “Dioscurias is . . . the common emporium of the tribes who are situated above it and in its vicinity.” Since the Kodori valley is now inhabited by Abkhaz speakers, this provides further evidence of the former westward extent of Svan territories. St. Andrew the First-Called is believed to have traveled this route from Dioscurias into the North Caucasus (Khalvashi, 2009).
During the 6th century A.D., “a Persian general campaigning in Colchis reported to his king that the Scythians could pass from the north through Suania. The route seems to have followed the River Enguri, the ancient Chobus, from its headwaters down to the Black Sea. Through Misimia there was a route dominated by the fort at Buchlous. Of particular importance was the Tsebel’da valley in the mountains above Sukhumi, through which three routes from the northern steppe converged on their way to the sea. The Tsebel’da valley was heavily fortified by the sixth century AD at the latest, with its principal stronghold at Tzibile. Earlier the Roman fortification established at Sebastopolis under the Principate seems to have owed much of its importance to its location at the southern end of these routes through the Tsebel’da valley” (Braund, 1994, pp. 46-47). Classical writers use the designation Soanes (Suani, Souanoi/, Soua/noi) in reference to the closely-related Svans of the Inguri valley (where they still dwell today). Upper Svaneti is the highest inhabited region in the Caucasus. The Svans are linguistically and culturally the most conservative Kartvelian ethnic group. According to Toumanoff (1963, p. 57), the Svans “appear to have been related to the Tabalians.” (1963, p. 57). Though geographically isolated, the Svans have always been formidable warriors and have exercised significant cultural and political influence on the lowland Mingrelians and Georgians. Strabo’s description of the Soanes is extremely interesting: “Near them [the Phtheirophagi] are the Soanes, who are no less filthy, but superior to them in power, —indeed, one might almost say that they are foremost in courage and power. At any rate, they are masters of the peoples around them, and hold possession of the heights of the Caucasus above Dioscurias. They have a king and a council of three hundred men; and they assemble, according to report, an army of two hundred thousand; for the whole of the people are a fighting force, though unorganised. It is said that in their country gold is carried down by the mountain-torrents, and that the barbarians obtain it by means of perforated troughs and fleecy skins, and that this is the origin of the myth of the golden fleece. . . . The Soanes use remarkable poisons for the points of their missiles; and even people who are not wounded by the poisoned missiles suffer from their odor” (Geographica XI.ii.19).
A third Svanic polity, the kingdom of Scymnia, occupied the district of Takveri (mod. Lechkhumi), southeast of Suania. The Scymni (Skumnoi/), an ethnic group closely related to the Svans, are now extinct.
The valley of the river Charieis (mod. Khobi river) was occupied by the Saltiae, another Kartvelian tribe. Pliny (Naturalis historia VI.iv.14) notes that “the Saltiae tribe were formerly called Phthirophagi” (gens Saltiae antiquis Phthirophagi dicti). Writing somewhat earlier, Strabo states that “Among the tribes which come together at Dioscurias are the Phthirophagi [i.e. “flea-eaters”], who have received their name from their squalor and their filthiness” (Geographica XI.ii.19). By the first century A.D., some of the Sanni had also settled along the Charieis river (Pliny, Naturalis historia VI.iv.14).
The plain of the Chobus (mod. Inguri) and Phasis (mod. Rioni) rivers comprised Colchis proper. This heavily-populated region was inhabited by a multitude of Kartvelian tribes. It must be understood that the peoples designated as Colchi, Sanni, Heniochi, and Lazi each comprised a multiplicity of tribes whose specific names have been lost in most cases. As we have noted, the Heniochi had extended their influence far to the north, though their principal settlements lay along the Anatolian coast. According to Heraclides Ponticus (De rebus publicis xviii), the Phasis was originally inhabited by the cannibalistic Heniochi, who were later replaced by the more hospitable Colchi. Pliny refers to “the tribes of the Heniochi with a variety of names” (Naturalis historia VI.iv.14). The Lazi, too, had penetrated far to the north, where they exercised hegemony over the Abasgi and gave their name to the town of Palaea Lazica (in the vicinity of modern Tuapse). The Sanni had also penetrated northward into Colchis by Greco-Roman times. Pliny (Naturalis historia VI.iv.14) notes the presence of “another tribe, the Sanni” dwelling next to the Saltiae along the Charieis river (mod. Khobi river). The Colchi (Ko/lxoi) themselves were divided into “countless tribes” (Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica II.1204-05). One of these, the Phasiani (Fasianoi/) occupied the marshy district outside the Milesian colony of Phasis (Fa/siv; mod. Poti), founded circa 600 B.C. The Colchi inhabited the basin of the Phasis river, with territories extending inland as far as the Likhi range, which separated them from the Iberians. Though technically subject to the kingdom of Iberia, the kingdom of Colchis was eventually detached from Pontus and reduced to a Roman province (63 A.D.). Appian (Historia Romana XII.iii.15) describes the Colchians as “a very warlike people.”
Though centrally organized, the kingdom of Iberia to the east was also subdivided among numerous kinglets (skh=ptouxoi) and tribal units. In contrast to Colchis, Iberia fell within the Persian sphere of influence both politically and culturally.
The Colchian plain terminated in the Moschian mountains to the south. The mountainous region around the southeast corner of the Black Sea was also inhabited by numerous Kartvelian tribes. Like the Circassian coast, this region was notorious for piracy.
The Camaritae (Kamari=tai) were a sea-going people who inhabited “populous districts” along the coast between Apsarus and the Phasis (Ammianus Marcellinus, Res gestae XXII.8.24). They took their name from the small vessels (camarae) which they used in their piratical expeditions. “Since there were no good anchorages, they carried the boats up on the shores into the forests where they lived and tilled the poor soil” (Hannestad, 2007, p. 88). Appian tells an interesting story which has some relevance in this connection: “His [Mithridates’] own ship sprang a leak and he went aboard a small pirate craft although his friends tried to dissuade him. The pirates landed him safely at Sinope” (Historia Romana XII.xi.78). The great Roman fortress of Apsarus (mod. Gonio, just south of Batumi), with its 22 towers, was established in this region during the first century A.D., apparently with a view to suppressing piracy and bringing the area under Roman control. According to Braund (1994), “low-intensity piracy” was endemic to the Black Sea, but increased during the period of Roman rule, until “the first serious onslaughts were to come in the middle of the third century AD” (p. 5).
Arrian (Periplus 7.1) states that the Ophis river (modern Istala Dere) formed the border between “Thiannike” (Qiannikh/; Tzannica) and Colchis. Like the Colchi, Heniochi, and Lazi, the Sanni (Sa/nnoi, Sa/noi, Tza/noi) were divided into numerous tribes, some of which had migrated northward into Colchis. We have already noted the presence of Sanni along the Charieis river, along with Arrian’s claim that the Drilae were the same as the Sanni. Strabo (Geographica XII.iii.18) similarly claims that the Macrones were known is his day as “Sanni.” The situation is further complicated by Pliny’s reference to the “Charioteer Sanni” (gens Sannorum Heniochorum) dwelling east of Trapezus (Naturalis historia VI.iv.12); suggesting some degree of assimilation among the major Kartvelian tribes. According to Braund (1994), the terms “Colchi,” “Lazi,” and “Heniochi” “were often applied with no great precision” (p. 14).
The Lazi (La/zoi, La=zai) were closely related to the Sanni, and (as we have already noted) had ancient connections to the Circassian coast. The Lazi emerged in large numbers from the mountains of northeast Anatolia (circa 100/75 B.C.), and spread northward, where they initially settled along the Phasis but later spread throughout much of Colchis (Bredow & Savvidis, 2007). Arrian (2nd century) mentions that the king of the Lazi in his day was Malassas, a client of Trajan (Periplus 11.2). The Lazi were also given to piracy (Allen, 1971).
The Zydritae (Zudri/tai), another Kartvelian people, dwelt along the coast just south of the Roman fortress of Apsarus. Unique among the peoples of this district, the Zydritae did not recognize Roman hegemony but were clients of the king of Iberia, far to the east (Arrian, Periplus XI.2). This phenomenon lends support to the idea that the Iberian kings enjoyed titular sovereignty over the other Kartvelians. The Ampreutae mentioned by Pliny (Naturalis historia VI.iv.12) may be the same people as the Zydritae.
Strabo (1st century A.D.) claims that the people known in his day as the Appaïtae (’Appai=tai) had formerly been called Cercetae (Kerki=tai) (Geographica XII.iii.18). This statement provides further evidence of a pre-Kartvelian migration of Northwest Caucasian peoples through the region.
Further inland, the Taochi (Ta/oxoi) were a mountain people inhabiting the Glaucus valley of northern Armenia, where they had several fortified places. These were the descendants of the ancient Daiaeni (Diaueḫe) mentioned in Assyrian and Urartian records. Though independent of the Persian empire, the Taochi had occasionally served in the Persian army as mercenaries (Xenophon, Anabasis IV.vi.18) (Brentjes, 2007).
In classical times, the Moschi (Mo/sxoi, Me/sxoi) inhabited the “Moschic mountains” (Mosxika/ oÂrh; the Meskheti range, part of the Lesser Caucasus). This was another ancient Kartvelian tribe, the Meshech of the Old Testament and the Mushki of Assyrian sources. Unlike the Taochi, the Moschi were subject to the Persian empire, and were included in the 19th satrapy. According to Strabo (Geographica XI.ii.17), the Moschian region was the locus of an important Kartvelian cultic site: “In the Moschian country lies the temple of Leucothea, founded by Phrixus, and the oracle of Phrixus, where a ram is never sacrificed; it was once rich, but it was robbed in our time by Pharnaces, and a little later by Mithridates of Pergamum.” This term apparently referred primarily to a geographical district and only secondarily to its inhabitants, for Strabo also states that “the Moschian country, in which is situated the temple, is divided into three parts: one part is held by the Colchians, another by the Iberians, and another by the Armenians” (Strabo, Geographica XI.ii.18).
Greco-Roman sources reveal that in classical times, Kartvelian tribes inhabited the entire Anatolian coast as far west as Amisus (mod. Samsun), along with the adjoining Pontic mountains. This was a mountainous and heavily forested region, inhabited by numerous Kartvelian tribes known for their extreme savagery. This was the Kartvelian cultural heartland, as the Kartvelians were still in the process of migrating from Anatolia into the Caucasus in Greco-Roman times.
Traveling southeastward from Apsarus and the domains of the Zydritae, one entered the historical territories of the Byzeres (Byzares, Buxeri; Bu/zhrev, Bou/shrev), who appear to have migrated far westward during Greco-Roman times. It is interesting to note that Valerius Flaccus (Argonautica V.152) alludes to the “nomad Byzeres” (Byzeresque vagi). The mountains behind them were occupied by the Saspires (Sapires; Sa/peirev). A comparison of Apollonius Rhodius (3rd century B.C.) with Ammianus Marcellinus (4th century A.D.) suggests that this tribe also migrated westward, perhaps in association with the Byzeres. Toumanoff (1963) suggests a possible connection between this ethnonym and the Subarians of pre-Sumerian Mesopotamia (p. 61n). The Saspires were originally associated with the Iberians and appear to have emerged from the Lesser Caucasus to the east (Diakonoff, 1984).
Next along the coast were the “vast tribes” of the Bechires (Bechiri; Be/xeirev, Be/xeiroi) (Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica II.394). According to the anonymous Periplus Ponti Euxini (9r35; 5th century), their territories were occupied in later times by the Colchi—another instance of westward migration.
The Heniochi (‘Hni/oxoi) were the most famous of the tribes of Colchis, and were reputed to be the most ancient of them. The name simply means “charioteers,” and arises from the myth that this nation was “founded by Amphitus and Cercius of Sparta, the charioteers of Castor and Pollux” (Ammianus Marcellinus, Res gestae XXII.8.24). We have already noted their ancient connection to the Phasis region, as well as their association with the district around the Greek city of Dioscurias. Their principal area of residence, however, was in the vicinity of the Greek city of Rhizaeum on the Anatolian coast (modern Rize, about halfway between Trapezus and Apsarus). According to Strabo (Geographica XI.2.13), the Heniochi were ruled by four kings at the time of Mithridates’ expedition through their territories (1st century B.C.). In Arrian’s time, however (2nd century A.D.), both the Heniochi and the neighboring Machelones were ruled by a single king, Anchialus (Periplus 7.3). According to the fifth-century Periplus Ponti Euxini (9v3), this federated state was known as Ekcheirieis (’Ekxeiriei=v), and its territories extended from the Ophis river (just east of Trapezus, recognized as the border between Tzanica and Colchis) to the Archabis river (just west of Apsarus). Arrian states that the palace of Anchialus was located on the Prytanis river (modern Büyük Dere), which flows into the Black Sea southwest of Apsarus. According to Dio Cassius (Historia Romana LVIII.19.2), king Anchialus paid a state visit to Trajan at Satala, on the eve of the Roman emperor’s campaign against the Parthians (115 A.D.).
The Machelones (Maxelw=nev, Maxe/lonev, Maxelw=noi, Maxu=lai), also subject to Anchialus, were another Sannic tribe, closely related to the neighboring Macrones. They are probably the same as the “Machorones” mentioned by Pliny as living between the Ophis and Prytanis rivers (Naturalis Historia VI.4.11). Ptolemy (2nd century A.D.) mentions a town of Mechlessus (Mexlesso/v) in the interior, near the border of Colchis (Geographia V.10.6). The so-called Res Gestae Divi Saporis, an inscription on the Ka‘ba-ye Zartosht near Persepolis which commemorates the achievements of the Sassanian emperor Shapur I (reigned 241-272), uses the term Machelonia as a designation for Colchis as a whole.
The mountains behind the Heniochi were inhabited by a number of savage tribes, including the Cissii, the Mares (who had formed part of the 19th satrapy of the Persian empire), and the Heptacometae (‘Eptakwmh=tai). The name of this tribe (meaning “seven locks”) implies that they had the custom of dressing their hair in seven braids. This custom probably had astrological associations.
Along the coast to the west of the Ophis river, in the vicinity of the Greek city (and Roman fortress) of Hyssus, were the Macrones, described by Valerius Flaccus as inhabiting “lofty lairs” (Argonautica V.151). According to Herodotus (Historiae III.94), they were included in the 19th satrapy of the Persian Empire, along with the Moschi, Mossynoeci, Tibareni, and Mares. Herodotus also claims that they had adopted the practice of circumcision from the Colchi. Both Strabo (Geographica XII.iii.18) and Stephanus of Byzantium (6th century A.D.) claim that the name “Macrones” had been replaced by “Sanni” (Sa/nnoi) in their day. Pliny the Elder (1st century A.D.), however, speaks of the Sanni and the Macrones as two distinct peoples. It is possible that the Macrones are the ancestors of the modern Mingrelians (Geo. megreli, Ming. margali; the same root is seen in Egrisi, the Georgian designation for Colchis in late antiquity). [Procopius re. conversion by Justinian in 520s]
East of Hyssus was situated the important Greek city of Trapezus (Trapezou=v; Trebizond, Tk. Trabzon, Geo. T’amt’ra), a Milesian colony founded in 756 B.C. In the hinterland of Trapezus dwelt the Drilae (Dri/lai, Dri/llai), a savage Kartvelian tribe which was chronically at war with the Trapezuntians. The country of the Drilae was “mountainous and difficult to traverse and its inhabitants the most warlike of all that dwell upon the Euxine” (Xenophon, Anabasis, V.ii.2-27). Arrian (2nd century A.D.) claims that Xenophon’s Drilae still existed in his day but were known as “Sanni.” He states that “these too are very warlike, even to this day, and are hostile to the Trapezuntines, live in fortified places, and are a tribe without a king. They were also formerly liable for tribute to the Romans, although, being pirates, they are not anxious to pay their tribute” (Periplus 11.1-2). Other Kartvelian tribes in the hinterland of Trapezus included a branch of the Colchi (Xenophon, Anabasis IV.viii.8-9, 22-23) and the Scytheni (Skuqinoi/), whose territories were separated from the Macrones by a river (Xenophon, Anabasis IV.viii.1).
The Macrocephali (Makroke/faloi, lit. “long-heads”) were a mysterious people associated with the Kartvelians. They occupied an extensive mountainous tract behind the Greek cities of Philocalia, Tripolis, and Cerasus. Their name arises from their unusual practice of cranial deformation. Hippocrates (circa 400 B.C.) gives a fascinating account of this, which is worth quoting in extenso: “I will begin with the Macrocephali. There is no other race at all with heads like theirs. Originally custom was chiefly responsible for the length of the head, but now custom is reinforced by nature. Those that have the longest heads they consider the noblest, and the custom is as follows. As soon as a child is born, they remodel its head with their hands, while it is still soft and the body tender, and force it to increase in length by applying bandages and suitable appliances, which spoil the roundness of the head and increase its length. . . . At the present time long-headedness is less common than it was, for owing to intercourse with other men the custom is less prevalent.” (De aëre, aquis et locis, xiv) Minchin (1858) notes that skulls with deformities matching Hippocrates’ description have been recovered from ancient burials in the vicinity of Kerch (eastern Crimea), and hypothesizes that these ancient people had come to associate elongation of the cranium with superior intelligence, so that this custom represented an attempt to obtain this result by artificial means.
All of this data suggests an unusual situation indeed. One possibility is that the Macrocephali were the remnant of a non-Kartvelian people, who were in the process of assimilation to the Kartvelians in classical times and subsequently disappeared from history. Minchin’s reference to the discovery of similarly deformed skulls in the Crimea would support such an hypothesis. Another possibility is that the Macrocephali were a special “sacred tribe” among the Kartvelians, as suggested by Hippocrates’ comment that “those that have the longest heads they consider the noblest,” and by Pomponius Mela’s observation (De chorographia I.107) that they were “less savage” (minus feri) than other tribes in their vicinity.
The Mosynoeci (Mosu/noikoi, Mossu/noikoi; “dwellers in wooden towers”) were an important Kartvelian tribe mentioned by many classical authors, dwelling in the hinterland of the Milesian colony of Cerasus, in the vicinity of the “sacred mount” (Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica II.1015). Pomponius Mela (De Chorographia I.106) relates that the Mosynoeci kept their kings confined in fetters, punishing them with a full day of starvation each time they erred in their decrees. Avienus (4th century, Descriptio orbis terrae 946) refers to the Mosynoeci as the “agile Wooden tribe” (pernix Durateum gens; cf. Crastonus Placentinus, 1481/1861, p. 14).
The Philyres (Fi/lurev) inhabited an island and parts of the adjoining mainland in the vicinity of Zephyrios point, between Cerasus and Tripolis (Braund & Sinclair, 2000). Their territory were thus entirely surrounded by the domains of the Mosynoeci. This island was supposed to have been the place where Cronos, in the form of a stallion, seduced Philyra, the daughter of Oceanus, begetting the Centaur Chiron (Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica II.1231-61; Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica V.140-153). The Philyres received their name from their association with that myth. Their island also had ancient associations with the Amazons: “In it the Queens of the Amazons, Otrere and Antiope, built a stone temple of Ares what time they went forth to war. And beyond the island and opposite mainland dwell the Philyres” (II.360-406).
West of the Mosynoeci dwelt the Tibareni (Tibarhnoi/), whom we have already had occasion to mention in connection with the biblical Tubal. The Greek city of Cotyora was founded (5th century B.C.) in the territory of the Tibareni (Xenophon, Anabasis V.v.3), as were the Hellenistic cities of Phasidane and Polemonium. He notes that in comparison to the Mosynoeci, their country “was much more level and had fortresses upon the seacoast that were less strong” (V.v.2). Apollonius Rhodius refers to “the Tibareni, rich in sheep” (Argonautica II.360-406), while Valerius Flaccus mentions “the green lakes of the Tibarenes” (Argonautica V.140-153).
We have already had occasion to mention the Chalybes (Xa/lubev, Xa/luboi, Xa/ldoi, Xaldai=oi), who dwelt west of the Tibareni, with territories extending as far as the Halys river. There was also an outlying group of them settled to the east of the Tibareni (Anabasis V.v.2). As we previously noted, the Chalybes were subject to the Mosynoeci and were credited in antiquity with the invention of ferrous metallurgy; since their land was unsuitable for agriculture or pasturage, they devoted themselves to mining and ironworking (e.g. Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica II.374-76: “the Chalybes, most wretched of men, possess a soil rugged and unyielding—sons of toil, they busy themselves with working iron”; II.1001-08; Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica V.140-43: “At the dead of night they hear from the closed caverns of the earth the unresting labour of the Chalybes. . . . they ply their weary tools; loud rings the travail of those hands that first created war, the scourge of all the earth”). The Milesian colony of Amisus (mod. Samsun) was founded in their territory (circa 750 B.C.). East of Amisus (and also in the territory of the Chalybes) was the valley of the Thermodon river, famous in antiquity for its association with the Amazons.
The Chalybes were the westernmost of the Kartvelian tribes. West of the Halys river lay the region of Paphlagonia, which extended westward to the Parthenius river (mod. Bartın Çayı). The Paphlagonians were an ancient people of uncertain ethnic affinities. They are mentioned in Greek sources as early as Homer, who lists them among the allies of Troy: “And the Paphlagonians did Pylaemenes of vigorous heart lead from the land of the Eneti” (Iliad II.851-52). The Eneti appear to have been a subdivision of the Paphlagonians, and were believed to have migrated from Asia Minor to the head of the Adriatic at the conclusion of the Trojan War, where they became known as the Veneti (Strabo, Geographica XII.iii.25). Although Venetic was one of the Italic dialects (and hence related to Latin), the original Venetic language is believed to have been non-Indo-European.
There are three main views as to the linguistic and cultural affiliation of the Paphlagonians. Cramer (1832) regards them “as being of the same race with the Bithyni, Mysi, and Phryges, that is, they were a Thracian people. Theopompus, indeed, as we learn from Strabo, classed them with the Mariandyni and Bithyni. (XII. P. 541.) Another circumstance which seems further to confirm this opinion is the name of Cotys, which is given by Xenophon to one of their chiefs, (Hell. IV. 1.) and which is so frequently found to occur in the nomenclature of Thracian sovereigns” (p. 217). If this is correct, then the Paphlagonians migrated from Europe to Asia Minor at the time of the Trojan War and their language, like Armenian, was part of the Thraco-Phrygian branch of Indo-European. A second possibility is that the Paphlagonians were the descendants of the Kashkai, who (as we have already noted) were a Northwest Caucasian people. A number of facts tend to support this hypothesis: first, Hittite sources confirm that the entire district between the Halys and Parthenius rivers was inhabited by the Kashkai during the second millennium B.C.; second, the region immediately to the south of Paphlagonia was originally occupied by the Hattians, another pre-Indo-European people whose language is believed to be connected to Northwest Caucasian. A third possibility is that the Paphlagonians were the descendants of an Anatolian people, since the region was known to the Hittites as Pala and was inhabited by speakers of Palaic, an Anatolian language related to Hittite (Diakonoff, 1984). This appears to be the least likely of the three hypotheses, however, since Pala was overrun during the 15th century B.C. by the Kashkai, who apparently migrated into the region from further west.
The important Milesian colony of Sinope was founded in Paphlagonian territory (631/630 B.C.), on the site of the old Hittite port of Sinuwa. The city was named for the Amazon Sinope, the mythical ancestor of the Leucosyri (Elderkin, 1935), and became an important entrepôt for goods from the upper Euphrates. Prior to Greek settlement, the promontory of Sinope was inhabited by Cimmerians (Kimme//rioi) (Herodotus, Historiae IV.12). Pseudo-Scymnus (Periegesis ad Nicomedem regem 992-993), in fact, reports that Abron ( ÂAbrwn), the leader of the Milesian colonists, was slain by the Cimmerians (Summerer, 2007). The Cimmerians are to be identified with the biblical Gomer, the eldest son of Japheth (Genesis 10), and were initially associated with the region north of the Black Sea, between the Tyras (Don) and Tanaïs (Dniester) rivers. They gave their name to the Cimmerian Bosporus (eastern Crimea / Strait of Kerch).
The Cimmerians are mentioned as early as Homer: “She came to deep-flowing Oceanus, that bounds the Earth, where is the land and city of the Cimmerians, wrapped in mist and cloud. Never does the bright sun look down on them with his rays either when he mounts the starry heaven or when he turns again to earth from heaven, but baneful night is spread over wretched mortals.” (Odyssey XI.13-19) This passage implies that the Cimmerian homeland lay far to the north, perhaps along the Baltic or the White Sea. The Cimmerians may or may not have been an (Iranian? Thracian?) Indo-European speaking people, but in any case (like the Hurrian Mitanni) appear to have had an Indo-European ruling class.
The “Cimmerian invasion” (7th century B.C.) greatly disrupted the Ancient Near East. By the time the Cimmerians (Gimirri) first appear in Assyrian records (714 B.C.), they had migrated far to the southeast and inhabited the land of Gamir, in the vicinity of Lake Van. As they passed through the Caucasus, they appear to have brought about the collapse of the kingdom of Æa at around that same time. The Cimmerians repeatedly fought the Assyrians and also contributed to the collapse of the kingdom of Urartu. They defeated King Midas of Phrygia (695 B.C.) and King Gyges of Lydia (654 or 652 B.C.), destroying both kingdoms. They appear to have settled mainly in Paphlagonia and Cappadocia. After their defeat by Alyattes II of Lydia (626 B.C.), the Cimmerians are seldom mentioned in historical sources. They are, however, mentioned by the astrologer Dorotheus in a hexameter verse preserved by Hephaestio (Apotelesmatica I.1.180):
Tw|= d u¸po Kimmeri/h te/tatai xqw\n hÓ pane/rhmov.
Here, the Cimmerians, along with several other nations, are said to be ruled by the sign of Capricorn.
South of Paphlagonia lay the region of Cappadocia. In classical times,
Cappadocia was inhabited by the Leucosyri (“White Syrians”). According to classical sources (Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica iv.72; Schol. ad Apollonium Rhodium II.46), Syros, the progenitor of the Syrians (i.e. Leucosyri), was the child of Apollo by the Amazon Sinope (Elderkin, 1935). Since Cappadocia corresponds more or less to the heartland of the old Hittite empire, it appears likely that the Leucosyri were Indo-European descendants of the Hittites and other Anatolian peoples. However, the region appears to have had ancient associations with the Kartvelians (Meshech / Mushki) as well: According to Philostorgius (Historia ecclesiastica IX.12), “Caesarea [the residence of the kings of Cappadocia] was originally called Mazaca [Ma/zaka], a name derived from Mosoch, the ancestor of the Cappadocians.” Josephus makes a similar statement: “the Meschenians, founded by Meschos, are to-day called Cappadocians, but a clear trace of their ancient designation survives; for they still have a city of the name of Mazaca” (Antiquitates Judaicae I.vi.125).
West of Paphlagonia, extending as far as the Hellespont, lay the region of Bithynia (Biquni/a). The Bithynians, like the Phryians and Mysians, were a branch of the Thracians who migrated across the Hellespont subsequent to the fall of Troy (1183 B.C.), settling the region north of the Troad and eastward to the Parthenius river and displacing the previous inhabitants, the Mariandyni (Mariandunoi/), to the northeast. The Bithynians originally comprised two related peoples: the Thyni (Qunoi/) and the Bithyni (Biqunoi/). These two nations eventually amalgamated and were subsequently known as Bithyni.
This completes our periplus of much of the Black Sea littoral. It is clear from this that the Kartvelian territories were formerly much more extensive, and that the Kartvelian tribes had a profound cultural influence on much of Anatolia. The picture that emerges from this suggests a great migration from west to east, perhaps connected to a period of political instability following the fall of Troy (1183 B.C.). Both the collapse of the Hittite Empire (circa 1180 B.C.) and the invasion of Egypt by the “Sea Peoples” (1178 B.C.) appear to have resulted from this same disturbance, known to historians as the “Bronze Age Collapse.” The initial Kartvelian expansion appears to have penetrated at least far as the Circassian coast, perhaps even to the Crimea; they were subsequently displaced from these territories by the Northwest Caucasians (Circassians and others).
Zoroastrianism remained the dominant religion of the upper classes until the arrival of Christianity. According to legend, the Apostles drew lots to determine which nations each of them was to evangelize, and the lot of Colchis fell to the Virgin Mary. Unable to fulfill this mission herself, she delegated it to St. Andrew the First-Called, who made four missionary journeys to the region, even passing through Svaneti and penetrating the North Caucasus (Khalvashi, 2009). Andrew’s preaching appears to have had little effect, though it is reported that on one occasion while he was preaching, a Mingrelian in the audience bit off his finger (Movsēs Dasxuranc‘i, 1961, p. 29n). “It is from Andrew’s founding of the Christian Church in west Georgia that the Georgian Patriarch claims autocephalous descent directly from the Apostles of Christ” (Mangum, 2011, ¶7). According to Zampi (1711), “On tient par tradition que le glorieux apôtre saint André prêcha la foi aux Abcas; qu’il fut en Scythie, qu’il passa en Grèce et en Epire, puis chez les Sodianes et chez les Suictiens, et que pour certain il s’arrêta enfin chez les Abcas, qui font une partie de la Colchide” (p. 196).
Another of the Apostles, St. Simon the Zealot, is supposed to have accompanied St. Andrew on one of these journeys (A.D. 55), but remained behind to preach the gospel in Abkhazia, where he was martyred by the Romans (Abkhazia – Republic of Abkhazia, 2011).
St. Matthias, “the thirteenth apostle,” also went to Colchis, where he was crucified by the Romans. According to the Synopsis of Dorotheus of Tyre (d. circa 362 A.D.), Matthias in interiore Æthiopia [sic], ubi Hyssus maris portus et Phasis fluvius est, hominibus barbaris et carnivoris praedicavit Evangelium. Mortuus est autem in Sebastopoli, ibique prope templum Solis sepultus. (Saint Matthias, 2011). The grave of St. Matthias can still be seen inside the extremely well-preserved Roman fortress of Apsarus (modern Gonio, just south of Batumi). It is shaded by a huge pear tree (the pear tree was venerated throughout the Caucasus during pre-Christian times and remains an important religious symbol).
In addition, there is a tradition that the Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus visited Iberia and preached there. Among the Christian relics that supposedly found their way to Georgia are the Mantle of the Prophet Elijah (brought there by Jews who settled at Mtskheta during the 6th century B.C.); the Seamless Coat of Christ (brought to Mtskheta by a Jewish visitor to Jerusalem who obtained it by lot; now buried beneath the floor of Svet’icxoveli Cathedral); and the robe of the Virgin Mary (now in the museum of the Dadiani Palace at Zugdidi) (Mangum, 2011).
Giuseppe Maria Zampi gives an interesting account of this relic: “quand les Turcs prirent Constantinople, il y eut plusieurs saints prelats, qui, pour se soustraire à la tyrannie mahométane, s’enfuirent en Mingrélie, et se dispersèrent dans les pays voisins. On raconte qu’alors il vint dans la Colchide un archevêque qui emportoit avec lui un morceau de la vraie croix de la grandeur d’une palme . . . et une chemise qu’on dit être de la Sainte-Vierge; nos pères l’ont vue. La toile en est de couleur tirant sur le jaune, parsemée de fleurs çà et là, brodées à l’aiguille. . . . Je l’ai vue aussi dans l’église de Copis, où elle est gardée . . . La chemise dont j’ai parlé, est dans une casse d’ébène, ornée d’ouvrages à fleurs d’argent, dans laquelle il y a de plus un petit cadre, contenant quelques poils de la barbe du Sauveur, et des cordes dont il fut fouetté. La cassette est scélée du sceau du prince” (1711, pp. 233-34).
In 298 A.D., after a period of paying tribute to the Sassanids, Iberia was “brought back under Roman sovereignty” (Plontke-Lüning, 2007b, p. 695).
At the beginning of the Christian era, the princes of the Lazi ruled the southwestern corner of the Black Sea (modern Č’aneti). Around 300 A.D., the various Laz principalities coalesced to form the new kingdom of Lazica. Around this same time, a Christian bishopric was established at Pityus (Pitsunda, Geo. Bič’vinta), in Laz territory. Stratophilus (a.k.a. Patrophilus), the bishop of Pityus, participated in the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325.
The Iberians, meanwhile, were converted to Christianity in the year 319 A.D. by St. Nino, a Christian slave-girl from Cappadocia. Her preaching was attended by numerous miraculous events, including the miracle of the “floating pillar” (svet’icxoveli), a huge tree-trunk which stood up of its own accord to become the central pillar of the new church at Mtskheta (this probably represents a Christianization of the tree-cult, which is widespread in the Caucasus). Georgia thus became the second nation to officially adopt Christianity, following the conversion of Armenia in A.D. 301.
Zampi (1711) offers an interesting account of this event: “Ce prince exécuta tout exactement. Il abjura ses idoles, il exhorta tous ses sujets à en faire de même, et il se mit à construire un temple magnifique sur plusieurs colonnes. Mais comme on en eut élevé deux, et qu’on vouloit en élever une troisième, il ne fut jamais possible de la dresser; et tous ceux qui y travailloient, et ceux qui étoient présens, se retirèrent tout-à-fait étonnés et confus. L’esclave resta seule la nuit dans l’église, et obtint de Dieu, par ses prières, que la colonne se dresseroit et placeroit d’elle-même au lieu où elle étoit destinée. Les ouvriers étant tous revenus le matin, ils furent extrêmement surpris de voir la colonne en place. Cela servit au peuple à le confirmer davantage dans la foi chrétienne” (Zampi, 1711, p. 200).
The first Christian king of Iberia, St. Mirian III, founded the Chosroid dynasty (a branch of the Iranian house of Mihrān). He reigned from 284 to 361 and was thus a contemporary of Constantine (Toumanoff, 1963). In 370 A.D., Iberia (a Roman client-state at that time) was temporarily divided into two kingdoms, with Sauromaces (a Roman client) ruling the part west of the Kura and Aspacures (a Persian vassal) the part east of the Kura (Ammianus Marcellinus, Res gestae XVII.12.17; Plontke-Lüning, 2007b).
With the rise of the Sassanian empire, a new dynamic arose in the region, as both the Byzantines and the Persians sought to dominate the South Caucasus, establishing the client states of Lazica in the West (tributary to the Byzantines) and Iberia in the East (tributary to Persia). The so-called “Armazi script” was a version of the Aramaic alphabet used in Iberian inscriptions (often bilingual Greek-Aramaic) of the 2nd-3rd centuries A.D.
Later, in the middle of the 5th century, the Lazi succeeded in conquering the entire Roman province of Colchis, which was subsequently known as Lazica (Lazikh/; Georgian Egrisi). Lazica was clearly a multi-ethnic state. Agathias (Historiae II.18.4) states that the Lazi were formerly known as Colchi and that they were in fact the same people; this suggests that the rise of Lazica represents a dynastic shift rather than an ethnic displacement.
The Lazi established their capital at Archaeopolis on the Techuri river, and established their hegemony over the the Kartvelian Suani, Misimiani, and Scymni, as well as the Abkhazian Abasci and Apsilae. The first Christian king of Lazica was Gubazes I (mid-5th century) (Toumanoff, 1963; von Bredow & Savvidis, 2007; Plontke-Lüning, 2007c). “The constituent peoples of the Lazian empire occupied a broad band of territory to the north of Lazica, particularly well-placed to control the passes through the Caucasus” (Braund, 1994, p. 279).
In the first half of the 5th century, even “the rulers of the Suani began to receive their royal regalia from the Lazian king, acting for the Byzantine emperor” (Braund 1994, p. 278-79). “The land of the Suani, broadly modern Svaneti, constituted a problem in Persian-Byzantine relations in the sixth century that was out of proportion to its size. Its significance lay primarily in its strategic position in the mountains of northern Transcaucasia, commanding routes by which raiders from the North Caucasian Foreland crossed into Transcaucasia and beyond. Moreover, Suania offered a base from which the Persians could launch an attack against Lazica. It seems also to have had gold-mines” (p. 311).
Throughout most of its history, Lazica was a Byzantine client-state. In 523, king Tsate of Lazica “installed a Byzantine garrison in the mighty fortress of Petra (Tsikhisdziri), overlooking the Black Sea between Batumi and Kobuleti” (Lang, 1966, p. 99). During the reign of Justinian, Persian attempts to gain control of the region resulted in the great Lazic War (541-562). “This dynasty is last heard of with Tzathus II, installed in 555; and after the Romano-Iranian treaty of 561, Lazica tends to disappear from the sources” Toumanoff, 1963, p. 255. Lazica remained a Byzantine satellite, however, until circa 775, when Leo II of Abkhazia inherited Egrisi.
In 555/56 A.D., at the height of the Byzantine-Persian conflict, the emperor Justinian installed Tzathes (Tzathus II) as king of Lazica. An imperial officer, Soterichus, accompanied Tzathes on his return to the Caucasus. Soterichus brought with him a large sum of money from the imperial treasury, the object being “to reinforce the allegiance of the peoples to the north of Lazica by sending them money” (Braund, 1994, p. 309). With a small entourage, Soterichus “proceeded northwards to distribute money among the peoples of the Lazian empire in that region. The first recipients were to be the Misimiani, who guarded a principal route through the Caucasus on the north-eastern border of Lazica; to the east of the Apsilii. On that border, near the fort at Buchlous, Soterichus was killed by the Misimiani, apparently because of their suspicion of his intentions and their displeasure at his arrogant behavior. Perhaps they had already considered a change of allegiance to the Persians: the murder of Soterichus left no other option” (pp. 309-10).
When the promised imperial subsidy failed to materialize, “the Suani, ruled by one Tzathius, invited the Persians into Suania” (p. 312). This unexpected turn of events created an emergency for the Byzantines. Thus, in 557, ““the focus of conflict shifted to Misimia, where the Persians opposed a Byzantine force bent on avenging Soterichus. The Byzantines used as their bases the fortresses of Apsilia. For their part, the Misimians centred their resistance upon their strong fort at Tzacher, whose Greek name was Siderun, ‘Fort Iron’” (p. 310). However, the withdrawal fo the Persian force to Iberia enabled the Byzantines to reestablish control over Misimia. The Lazic War ended in 561/62, when the Persians agreed to cede Lazica to the Byzantines. The Suani, however, remained unconquered, maintained their alliance with Persia, and remained “an ever-present threat to Byzantine Lazica (p. 314) until the incursion of the Arabs in the 8th century.
Iberia, meanwhile, had remained a Persian client-state. Vakht’ang I Gorgasali, the founder of Tbilisi, led a successful uprising (482-85) but died of wounds sustained in a later battle with the Persians (circa 502). In the year 579/80, at the request of the Iberian aristocracy, the Persians abolished the Iberian monarchy. Thereafter, the elder line of the royal house continued as Princes of Kakhetia, its old demesne . . .” (Toumanoff, p. 253). Governors appointed by the Sassanids subjected Christians to intense persecution, as documented in the Old Georgian “Passion of St. Shushanik” (martyred 466 A.D.) and “Passion of St. Eustace of Mtskheta” (martyred 544/45) (Lang, 1976).
The 6th century was notable for the activities of the “Thirteen Assyrian Fathers” (atcammet’i asureli mamani), a group of missionaries from Mesopotamia. Led by St. Davit Garejeli, they established a number of monasteries throughout Iberia. The Assyrian Fathers were apparently Monophysites, forced to flee Syria in the face of Byzantine religious persecution. Monophysitism appears to have flourished among the Georgians until 608, when the schism between the Armenian (Monophysite) Church and the Georgian (Diophysite) Church was formalized at the Council of Dvini. This led to a renewed persecution of Georgian Christians in the year 614, when the Persian emperor Khosrow (Chosroës) II decreed that only Christians of the Monophysite persuasion would be tolerated within his domains (Silogava & Shengelia, 2007).
In the year 626, a combined Byzantine and Khazar army besieged Tbilisi, commanded by Jibghu, the Khazar khagan: “They fetched a huge pumpkin upon which they drew the image of the king of the Huns, a cubit broad and a cubit long. In place of his eyelashes which no one could see, they drew a thin line; the region of his beard they left ignominiously naked, and they made the nostrils a span wide with a number of hairs under them in the form of a moustache so that all might recognize him. This they brought and placed upon the wall opposite them, and showing it to the armies, they called out: ‘Behold the Emperor, your King! Turn and worship him, for it is Jibghu Khaqan!’ And seizing a spear, they stuck it into the pumpkin which caricatured him before them, and they mocked and jeered and reviled the other king . . . , and called him a foul sodomite” (Lang, 1966, p. 102).
In the following year (627), however, Jibghu returned and captured the city. “Jibghu celebrated the event by flaying alive the Persian and Georgian commanders of Tbilisi fortress, and sending their skins, stuffed with straw, to Emperor Heraclius as a trophy of his warlike excursion” (p. 102).
With the rise of Islam and the collapse of the Sassanian empire, a new political dynamic arose, as the South Caucasus became a bitterly-contested region between the Byzantines and the Muslims, suffering numerous invasions (the city of Tbilisi is said to have been destroyed 29 times in its history).
The first Arab irruption into the Caucasus occurred in the year 643, when an Arab army under Ḥabīb ibn Maslama menaced Tbilisi. During 736-38, the Arab general Murwan the Deaf (Geo. Murvan q’ru) invaded the West Caucasus, sacking the city of Sukhumi (a.k.a. Dioscurias, Sebastopolis). Two years later, in 645, Tbilisi fell to the Arabs, who established the “Emirate of Tbilisi” (imārat Tiblīsī; Geo. Tbilisis saamiro). The city was sacked for a second time by the Khazars in 764. The Old Georgian “Passion of St. Abo of Tiflis” (martyred 786) dates from this period.
Meanwhile, in the 790s, Leo II of Abkhazia conquered Lazica, putting an end to such vestiges of imperial control as remained after the dissolution of the Lazic state and establishing the new west Georgian state of Abasgia. Theodosius III, the last sovereign of this dynasty, was deposed in 978 (Toumanoff, 1963, p. 256). The throne then passed to Theodosius’ nephew, Bagrat III, a son of the king of Iberia. “Under the Bagratids, Iberia and Tayk‘ merged in 1000, and in 1008 Abkhazia (including all of West Georgia, the earlier Kolkhis/Lazika), was inherited as well” (Hewsen, 1992, p. 129n). Thus for the first time in their history, Colchis and Iberia were united under the same monarch.
In the year 853, an Arab force under Bugha al-Turkī (“Bugha the Turk”) captured Tbilisi. The Christian population was assembled on the banks of the Mtkvari and forced to choose between martyrdom and conversion to Islam. Some 50,000 chose martyrdom, and the waters of the Mtkvari are said to have run red with blood all the way from Tbilisi to the Caspian Sea (Aronson, 1990, p. 137).
The Arabs maintained control of Tbilisi for nearly 400 years, despite the invasion of the Seljuq Turks under Alp Arslan, who sacked the city in 1068.
The great victory of David IV Aghmashenebeli (“David the Builder”), assisted by several hundred Frankish Crusaders, over the Seljuqs at Didgori (1121) signaled the beginning of Georgia’s “Golden Age” (1122-1236), comprising the reigns of David IV (1089-1125), Demetre I (1125-1156), Giorgi III (1156-1184), Queen Tamar (1184-1213), Giorgi IV Lasha (1213-1223), and Queen Rusudan (1223-1245).
“Under the dynamic Queen T‘amar the Great (1187-1213), Georgia became a major power controlling both north and south Caucasia from the Black Sea to the Caspian and from central Armenia to Darband” (Hewsen, 1992, p. 129n). Jacques de Vitry (d. 1240), the Latin bishop of Acre, has left a description of the Georgian knights who used to visit the Holy City in his day “with banners displayed, without paying tribute to anyone. . . . These men . . . especially revere and worship Saint George, whom they make their patron and standard-bearer in their fight with the infidels” (Lang, 1962, p. 13). The Georgian rulers adopted a number of titles associated with the Crusades, including “Slave of the Messiah” (King David the Builder), “Sword of the Messiah” (Kings Giorgi III and IV) and “Champion of the Messiah” (Queens Tamar and Rusudan) (Lang, 1962, p. 13).
The Mongol invasion (1236) marked the end of this brilliant period, and the invasion of Tamerlane (who ravaged the country eight times between 1386 and 1403) depopulated entire districts. “Tamerlane’s six genocidal attacks between 1384 and 1403 made the first Mongol invasions seem benevolent by comparison. The number of Georgian-speakers was reduced from perhaps 5,000,000 of the 1200s to perhaps 2,000,000” (Rayfield, 1994, p. 98).
This tragedy was succeeded by a dark period during which Georgia was divided into the three kingdoms of Imereti, Kartli, and K’akheti, along with numerous smaller principalities in the west (nominal vassals of the king of Imereti), including Guria, Mingrelia (Samegrelo), Svaneti, and Samtskhe. These polities fragmented even further in the course of the following centuries.
Russian involvement in the Caucasus was greatly accelerated in the year 1579, when the Cossack outlaw Andrei Shadrin built the forts of Terki and Andreyevo on the Terek river (Allen, 1971).
During this period, a new east-west dynamic arose, with the (Sunni) Ottomans establishing their sphere of influence in western Georgia (Samtzkhe, Imereti and the principalities), and the (Shi’ite) Persians in the east (Kartli and K’akheti). This arrangement was formalized by the Turko-Persian Treaty of 1636 (Allen, 1971). The Caucasus had always been an important source of slaves, and the trade in Christian slaves reached egregious levels during this period of fragmentation and Islamic domination.
Nevertheless, the Georgians managed to maintain their Christian faith despite vigorous attempts (especially by the Persians) to stamp it out. Between 1614 and 1617, for example, Shāh ‘Abbās ravaged K’akheti and deported 200,000 Georgians to the distant province of Mazandaran; ironically, their descendants in Iran are still Christians and still speak Georgian; while the Persian population sent to replace them eventually converted from Islam to Christianity and, like the Kipchaks, have since been completely assimilated into the Georgian population.
In 1614, Queen Ketevan, the mother of Teimuraz I of K’akheti, was sent to Shiraz to conduct negotiations with Shāh ‘Abbās and remained there as a hostage. In 1624, the Shah ordered the queen to choose between death and entering his harem as a convert to Islam. She chose death, and was tortured to death with red-hot pincers (22 September 1624). A group of Portuguese Augustinians was present, and transmitted a clandestine account of this event (Lang, 1976, pp. 169-72). A portion of the martyred queen’s remains were smuggled back to K’akheti, where they were interred in Alaverdi cathedral. The Augustinians transported the rest of her relics to Goa, where they were buried in the Church of St. Augustine.
The Ottoman Turks, meanwhile, had seized the Genoese colony of Mapa (Anapa) in 1475. From their new base at Anapa, the Ottomans initiated an extremely aggressive campaign against the pagan Circassians (1479), seizing thousands of slaves and depopulating entire districts. In the course of the 16th century, the Ottomans gained control of the entire northeast littoral of the Black Sea, including Sochi (DATE), Sukhumi (1570s), and Poti (1578). At the same time, the Turks dispatched the missionary Isḥāq Efendi into the North Caucasus. The North Caucasian peoples, superficially Christianized under Georgian influence during the Middle Ages, had long since reverted to paganism. This must have been a remarkable person, for he succeeded single-handedly in converting large parts of the North Caucasus to Islam, passing through Circassia and Kabarda and penetrating as far east as Ingushetia and Chechnya. This event set the stage for the great resistance of the Islamized peoples of the North Caucasus to Russian encroachment which was to dominate the history of the region throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.
17th-18th centuries (Silver Age)
Western Georgia collapsed into anarchy upon the death of Alexander III of Imereti (1660). When his heir Bagrat refused to marry Alexander’s widow (and his own step-mother), Queen Darejan, she had him blinded and seized power for herself, marrying the nobleman Vakht’ang Ch’uch’unashvili. In 1668, however, “certain of the nobles of Imereti persuaded Darejan’s favorite to kill her. The favorite . . . murdered her with a spear as she was doing her hair, while other conspirators dispatched her husband Wakhtang in the square outside” (Lang, 1957, p. 88). “In the fifty years 1661-1711, no less than sixteen claimants seized, for short periods, the throne of Imereti” (Allen, 1971, p. 178n). In contrast, between 1656 and 1722, the eastern part of the country (Kartli and K’akheti) enjoyed some degree of peace and prosperity; those members of the ruling Mukhranian family who were willing to convert to Islam “appear to have established something like an hereditary claim to preferment to the governorships of Isfahan and Kandahar. . . . The Georgian princes were in high favour with the Shi’ah faction at Isfahan, of which they were virtually the leaders. The Sunni faction, headed by the Afghan, Mir-Wais, and later by his son Mahmud, were their inveterate enemies” (Allen, 1971, p. 351). Giorgi XI of Kartli served as governor of Qandahar and was treacherously murdered at a banquet by Mir-Vays (1709). His brother Alexander (Skander Mirza) was appointed governor of Isfahan in 1699. The Georgian troops were regarded as the best at the Shah’s disposal. According to the English traveler Jonas Hanway, they were “better disciplined and more inured to war than his Afghans” . . . their courage was invincible” (p. 351).
Vakht’ang VI, remarkable for his many cultural and military achievements, served as jānishīn (regent) of Kartli from 1703 to 1714, and as walī (viceroy) from 1716 to 1724. Secretly converted to Roman Catholicism under the influence of Capuchin missionaries, he sent his uncle, Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani (also a convert to Catholicism) to western Europe (1703-16), where he unsuccessfully sought the assistance of Louis XIV and Pope Clement XI against the Persians. Vakht’ang VI waged unremitting war against the Lezgians; owing to a population explosion in the mountains of Daghestan, these tribesmen took to support themselves by working as day-laborers in Baku and by making annual incursions into K’akheti and Kartli in search of slaves and plunder. In 1720, Vakht’ang’s army “killed enough Lezghian tribesmen to send 400 heads as a trophy to the shah” (Lang, 1957, p. 110).
In 1722, Peter the Great assembled an army at Astrakhan, comprising 82,000 infantry, 9,000 dragoons, and about 70,000 Cossacks, Kalmucks and Tatars. He seized the Shamkhal’s capital of Tarku without a fight, defeated 16,000 Lezgians at Utemish, and then entered Derbent (23 August).
In anticipation of the Tsar’s arrival, Vakht’ang VI assembled an army of 40,000 Georgians, Armenians, and mercenary contingents at Ganja. However, Peter’s abrupt decision to abandon the campaign (late left the king in desperate circumstances. The Shah responded to Vakht’ang’s treachery by awarding his kingdom to Constantine II of K’akheti, who captured Tbilisi with the aid of Persian and Lezgian troops (4 May 1723). The Ottomans, meanwhile, had invaded Kartli from the west. The Turks refused to accept the submission of Vakht’ang VI, who had withdrawn to the province of Shida Kartli, and elevated his brother Iese in his place. Accompanied by 1200 retainers, Vakht’ang crossed the Caucasus into Russia (July 1724), where he died as an exile at Astrakhan in 1737.
After the reestablishment of Ottoman control over the Mingrelian coast (1723), the ports of Poti and Anaklia became great slave-trading entrepôts. The disturbances of the 1720s are believed to have reduced the Georgian population by three-quarters.
In 1735, Nāder Shāh liberated Tbilisi from Turkish control. Thus “the osmanloba [Ottoman rule] was replaced by the kizilbashoba (rule by the kizilbash, or ‘redheads,’ as the Safavids were known” (Suny, 1994, p. 55).
Erek’le II, a nephew of Constantine II, acceded to the throne of K’akheti in 1732.
In 1738, he accompanied Nāder Shāh in his invasion of India, where he participated in the battle of Karnal (13 February 1739) and witnessed the sack of Delhi (22 March), in the course of which the Persians slaughtered 30,000 people. The Shah’s armies returned to Isfahan laden with plunder, including the famous Peacock Throne and the Koh-i Noor and Darya-ye Noor diamonds (Allen, 1971).
The destruction of Nāder Shāh’s army by the Daghestanians on the plain of Andalal (1741) entirely changed the political situation in the Caucasus. The final years of Nāder Shāh’s reign were a period of great instability: “The onderous taxes and requisitions which he was imposing on the whole of his dominions to finance his military undertakings, produced among the Georgians a state of savage desperation. Corn had become so dear that the peasants were living on boiled nuts and giving their children into slavery in default of finding the corn tax; and slaves were so cheap that men were sold for four shillings each. In order to escape the taxes on vines and fruit-trees, the people destroyed them wholesale, and great numbers emigrated so that ‘Turkey was full of Kartlians.’ In Tiflis, thousands of wild Indian and Afghan troops terrified the population, and the revolt of the Eristavi Shanshé was suppressed in the bloody desolation of the valleys of the Liakhvi, the Ksani and the Aragvi” (Allen, 1971, p. 192).
The signal victory of the Daghestanians over the armies of the Shah created a new dynamic in the Caucasus. The Shamkhal of Kazi-Kumuq enjoyed tremendous prestige in the region as a result of this victory, and as a result, he and his allies (including Omar Khan of Avaria and the Lezgians, who were not centrally organized) were able to undertake annual raids into K’akheti and Kartli. In K’akheti, particularly, this resulted in significant social upheavals as many Georgians became “Lezghinified” and took to assisting the invaders in their raids (Kacharava, 2008b). The Lezgians “made incessant incursions into Georgia, plundering and laying waste the country, which at the same time was afflicted by so severe a famine that the people were obliged to subsist on grass like the cattle, or on anything else they could find; and at last the inhabitants were reduced to such extremity, that parents, stifling the emotions of natural affection, cast from them their own offspring” (Artemi of Wagarichapat, 1755, quoted by Lang, 1957, p. 154).
The Lezgians burned Alaverdi cathedral on more than one occasion; the great defensive wall around the town of Sighnaghi with its 28 massive towers, built by command of Erek’le II, also witnesses to this turbulent period. The king’s residence at Telavi (Bat’onistsikhe) is notable for its defensive features: “the single-naved royal chapel built by Erekle II in 1758 . . . is unusual in that it has holes for firearms in the walls” (Plunkett & Masters, 2004, p. 86).
This period was also marked by a series of rebellions among the Georgian nobility, most notably the long duel between the rebel dukes of Ksani and the kings of Kartli, continuing even after the death of Shanshe of Ksani (1753), who had remained capable of causing trouble even after being blinded by the Persians. In 1739, Shanshe had burned the fortress of Ananuri and slaughtered the entire family of the eristavi of Aragvi. A subsequent uprising by the peasants of Ananuri (1743) was suppressed by Erek’le II of K’akheti (1746) (Plunkett & Masters, 2004, p. 79). Shanshe and his successors “brought in hordes of Lazghis to pillage the country” (Allen, 1971, p. 191) and remained a significant threat until the saeristavo of Ksani was finally subdued in 1777 (Lang, 1957, p. 159).
Erek’le II, known as p’at’ara k’akhi (“the little Kakhetian”), finally succeeded (1762) in uniting K’akheti and Kartli, and fought successfully against a wide array of domestic and foreign enemies. “His name was spoken in the West, and to Frederick the Great is attributed the remark: “Moi en Europe, et en Asie l’invincible Hercule” (Allen, 1971, p. 201). During the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-1774, Russian forces invaded Imereti (1769), while Erek’le II inflicted a decisive defeat on the Turks at Aspindza (20 April 1770).
Beset by enemies on all sides, Erek’le II eventually concluded the Treaty of Georgievsk (24 July 1783), by which he accepted Russian suzerainty and renounced all allegiance to Turkey and Persia. In the following year (1784), Russian engineers (supported by the slave-labor of local peasants) opened the “Georgian Military Highway” through the Dariel Pass.
A new era in the history of the Caucasus was signaled in 1785, when Shaykh Mansur began to preach газават (ghazawāt, jihād) in the North Caucasus. Shaykh Mansur was in fact “an Italian adventurer, one Giovanni Battista Boetti, born at Monferrat, where his father practised as a notary” (Baddeley, 1908/1969, p. 48). Mansur was able to travel at will throughout the North Caucasus, mobilizing the tribesmen against the Russians. In 1785, he narrowly escaped capture at Aldee in Chechnya but then succeeded in ambushing the retreating Russians, massacring 600 of them. From there he fled to the Circassians, who under his leadership annihilated three Cossack regiments on the Yaik river (2 November 1786). Defeated by Gen. Tekelli, Shaykh Mansur took refuge with the Ottomans at Anapa. Two Russian attempts to take the fortress (1787, 1788) ended in disaster; however, on 22 June 1790, Gen. Potemkin stormed the city and slaughtered its garrison of 15,000. Shaykh Mansur was one of the few prisoners taken that day, and ended his days in captivity in the Solovietsk Monastery on an island in the White Sea, from which he addressed a series of letters to his father in Monferrat (Baddeley, 1908/1969).
The Treaty of Georgievsk had had the unfortunate effect of enraging Āgā Muḥammad Khān, the “Eunuch Shah,” who appeared on Erek’le’s borders in 1795 to demand his submission. When Erek’le refused to appear, the Shah invaded his territories and advanced on Tbilisi. Promised Russian aid failed to materialize, and despite a heroic resistance (most notably the sacrifice of the “300 of the Aragvi” who volunteered to block the Persian advance in order to buy time for the evacuation of the city and fought to the last man), Tbilisi was sacked by the Persians (10 September 1795).
Āgā Muḥammad returned to Tehran, from where he addressed a series of letters to Erek’le II, demanding his submission and threatening to “‘make a flowing river of the blood of the Russian and Georgian and peoples. . . . If you do not carry out our commands,’ he added, ‘you know yourself what will ensue’” (Lang, 1957, p. 223).
The Shah proceeded to invade Armenia and Qarabagh, “with the intention of deporting the population wholesale as Shāh ‘Abbās I had done two centuries before. Contemporary observers record that he was now in a state of morbid blood-lust verging on insanity, and would torture to death even the grandees of the realm on any trivial pretext” (p. 223).
In June 1797, Āgā Muḥammad occupied Shusha, with the intention of ravaging Georgia for a second time. On the evening of June 16, 1797, he dined on part of a melon and had the rest put away for the morrow, warning his attendants not to touch it. During the night, forgetting the Shah’s warning, one of them consumed part of the leftover melon. Realizing their mistake and its probable consequences, two of his slaves (one of them a Georgian) strangled him with a scarf and fled the camp. The ensuing chaos resulted in the withdrawal of the Persian army from the Caucasus.
Erek’le II, meanwhile, fell ill and died at Telavi at the age of 77 (11 January 1798). He was succeeded by his son Giorgi XII, “a notorious gourmand” (Lang, 1957, p. 226), corpulent and severely afflicted with dropsy.
Just prior to his death on 28 December 1800, Giorgi XII bequeathed his kingdom to the Russian crown. However, this fact was not made public until February of 1801, and when Gen. Knorring arrived in Tbilisi (22 May 1801), he found the king’s eldest son, the Prince-Regent David, “wielding virtually despotic power” and “at once removed him from all authority and set up a provisional government” (Allen, 1957, p. 247). The Queen Dowager Darejan (widow of Erek’le II) sought to persuade the Russians to cancel the annexation of the country and revert to the “simple protectorate” envisioned by the 1783 Treaty of Georgievsk, but to no avail. The Russian administration sought to arrest all surviving members of the Georgian royal family and deport them to Russia. However, when Gen. Lazarev entered the bedroom of Queen Mariam (the widow of Giorgi XII) and attempted to take her into custody (22 April 1803), she drew a dagger from under a cushion and stabbed him to death. For this, she was confined for seven years to a convent in Voronezh. David (the Prince-Regent), his mother Darejan, and other members of the family were transported to Russia as well. Two of David’s uncles (Yulon and Parnavaz, brothers of Giorgi XII) escaped and sought to instigate a revolt against the Russians, but were captured in 1804 and deported. David’s brother Teimuraz escaped to Persia, where he sought assistance against the Russians but surrendered in 1810 and was deported. Prince Alexander (1770-1844, another son of Erek’le II) also escaped to Persia, where he became a military officer, invaded the country repeatedly in support of a series of anti-Russian revolts, and remained the focus of Georgian nationalistic aspirations until his death in 1844.
The Georgian royal family was well treated in Russia, where there was already a sizeable Georgian émigré community dating from the 1720s. They were enrolled in the Russian nobility, and many of them became senators and military officers.
A successful war with Turkey led to the annexation of the western Georgian states as well (Mingrelia in 1803, Imereti and Guria in 1810, Dadiani (Gelovani) Svaneti and Dadeshkeliani Svaneti in 1833, and Tavisupali Svaneti in 1840). However, the Svans continued to manage their own affairs and did not allow Russian officials or church missions into the area until the late 1840s (Principality of Svaneti, 2011). In 1857, the Russians deposed the last prince of Svaneti, Constantine Dadeshkaliani, who was to be exiled to Yerevan. However, at a farewell interview in Kutaisi, he murdered the Russian Governor-General (along with three members of his staff) and fled. Upon his capture, the prince was summarily court-martialed and shot.
While Georgian Orthodoxy did not differ from Russian Orthodoxy, the two cultures proved incompatible and there were numerous revolts against Russian rule. The first of these broke out in 1804, when Georgian and Ossetian peasants impressed into slave-labor on the Georgian Military Highway killed the Russian commandant at Ananuri and briefly menaced Gori. “Brutal reprisals ensued, a number of families imprisoned in the fortress of Gori being left to die of hunger and cold” (Lang, 1957, p. 258). A much more serious revolt broke out in K’akheti (January 1812). The rebels slaughtered the Russian garrison at Sighnaghi and blockaded Telavi, and the rebellion spread to the Ananuri district as well. The rebels were eventually defeated in a series of hard-fought engagements, but the uprising continued until October, when Prince Alexander Bat’onishvili, who had invaded K’akheti in support of the rebels with an army of Lezgians, was defeated at Sighnaghi and forced to withdraw. In 1820, the murder of Archbishop Dositheus of Kutaisi by Cossacks led to a spontaneous revolt against Russian rule in Imereti, Rach’a, Mingrelia, Guria, and Abkhazia. The rebels again summoned Alexander Bat’onishvili from Persia, but the uprising was eventually crushed in 1822.
The period of Russian rule (1801-1991) is remembered as a dark period in Georgian history, but was perhaps “the lesser of two evils.” The manuscripts studied in this paper are products of this period—the closing years of Georgian independence and the early years of Russian rule.
Excursus on the Georgian Language
The Georgian language is unrelated to any of the Indo-European, Turkic, Semitic, or North Caucasian languages in its vicinity. There are five vowels and 28 consonants, including contrastive aspirated, voiced, and ejective series (ph, p’, b; th, t’, d; kh, k’, g). Several letters (y, w, q, ē, ō) are found in Old Georgian but are no longer used. The Kartvelian languages are famous for their large consonant inventories and consonant clusters (e.g. mghvdlis, mze, mtvare, tkventvis, msxlis, ğvtis, cmnatoba, zğva, mtkvari, c’q’lis, cxveni, bavšvs, varsk’vlavi). In a letter to the emperor Marcus Aurelius (161 A.D.), M. Cornelius Fronto comments on the outlandish sound of the Iberian (Old Georgian) language, which he had heard on a previous occasion when Iberian and Parthian delegations offered congratulatory speeches to the emperor: “you would listen even to the Parthians and Iberians in their own tongue, so they but praised your father, as if they were most consummate orators” (Fronto, 1955, p. 303). This is a feature shared with the (unrelated) North Caucasian languages, and may have been acquired through long contact with them (the Etruscan, Iberian, Aquitanian, and Basque languages, to which Kartvelian may have a distant genetic relationship, have very limited consonant inventories). Most roots are monosyllabic, with frequent use of reduplication in word formation. Nouns are declined (seven cases: Nominative, Ergative, Dative/Accusative, Genitive, Instrumental, Adverbial, Vocative). Verbal morphology is exceedingly complex (eleven slots: Preverb + Prefixal Nominal Marker + Version Marker + ROOT + Passive Marker + Thematic Suffix + Causative Marker + Imperfective Marker + Suffixal Nominal Marker + Verbal Auxiliary + Plural Marker). There are eleven verb tenses, along with a wide array of Verbal Nouns (masdar). Georgian is a split-ergative language (unlike the languages of the North Caucasus, which are pure ergative languages); the ergative case is employed for transitive agents in the aorist system only—outside the aorist system, the nominative is used.
There has been much speculation as to possible distant relationships of Kartvelian to other linguistic phyla. During the 19th century, Russian linguists proposed the Ibero-Caucasian hypothesis, which assumed a distant genetic relationship linking Kartvelian to the other two Caucasian phyla (Northwest Caucasian and Northeast Caucasian). This hypothesis has been almost entirely abandoned: although the North Caucasian languages share many lexical and phonological features with the Kartvelian languages, it is now clear that no genetic relationship exists between them. There have also been various attempts to connect Kartvelian to Sumerian, to Etruscan, and (more plausibly) to the languages of the western Iberians (Ligurian, Iberian, Aquitanian, Basque). Many linguists have contributed to this discussion, especially regarding the Basque-Caucasian (Vasconic-Kartvelian) hypothesis. Although dismissed by the Basque specialist R.L. Trask, this hypothesis probably merits further attention. The present study will proceed on the assumption that the Vasconic-Kartvelian hypothesis may have some validity, noting parallels to Basque materials as appropriate. Etruscan parallels will also be noted.
Long-range comparative linguists have placed Kartvelian within Nostratic, with Indo-European and Kartvelian (and sometimes Etruscan) forming a genetic node. Such a connection is strongly suggested by such shared features as the six-way conjugation of the verb (3 persons, singular and plural), the genitive in –is, and the similarity of pronoun forms (Kartvelian 1st person singular me[n], 2nd person singular shen). In particular, Kartvelian has been proposed as the origin of the Germanic substratum (a large body of vocabulary in Germanic which is not of Indo-European origin). For example, the German See [“sea”] may be connected to the Georgian zğva [“sea”].
There has been much scholarly debate on the origin of the Georgian alphabet. While Old Georgian sources attribute the invention of this unique alphabet to king P’arnavaz (3rd century B.C.), no undisputed pre-Christian text has so far been found. The oldest extant Georgian texts date from the early 5th century A.D., leading most scholars to associate the creation of the Georgian writing system with the nation’s conversion to Christianity (circa 330 A.D.). The inclusion of the letters ē and ō (essential to Greek, corresponding to the letters eta and omega, but quite irrelevant to Georgian phonology) lends some support to this argument (Jost Gippert, personal communication, 22 October 2009). On the other hand, Allen (1971) accepts the account of the invention of the Georgian alphabet by king P’arnavaz, arguing that “a comparison of the Zend alphabet with the Georgian mkhedruli script makes it possible to recognize the equivalents among Georgian letters of no less than twenty-five of thirty-five of the letters in the Zend alphabet” (p. 309). In any case, early Georgian sources preserve a great deal of pre-Christian material, demonstrating the existence of a vigorous oral literature (at least) in pre-Christian times. For example, Miriani III of Iberia (d. 361), before converting to Christianity, researched the matter and discovered that “the evidence of the Old and New Testaments was confirmed by the Book of Nimrod” (Lang, 1976, p. 29).
Excursus on Georgian Literature
The earliest extant text in Georgian is an inscription from Jerusalem dating from the 5th century A.D. The Old Georgian version of the Bible is known to have been translated during the 5th century as well. Georgian literature developed rapidly thereafter, comprising at first mainly translations of Greek patristic texts. At the same time, a characteristic Georgian Christian literature arose, including numerous saints’ lives and Christian hymns of high literary quality.
As in other regions, the composition and copying of Christian texts was associated with monasteries, especially the numerous Georgian monasteries in the isolated region of T’ao-Klarjeti and the expatriate Georgian monastic communities at Mt. Athos, Jerusalem, and Mt. Sinai. This gave rise to a flourishing literary culture which compares favorably to its Armenian, Byzantine, and Western European counterparts. Georgian literature was highly developed and came to diverge significantly from the spoken language. The Georgian monastic scriptoria developed elaborate scribal conventions, including a profusion of ligatures and abbreviations.
A wide array of verse-forms was developed, suitable to the complex syllabification of the Georgian language. The Georgian literary lexicon was enriched with numerous borrowings from Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Aramaic, and Armenian, and Georgian writers made brilliant use of puns and acrostics. The poetry of Vakht’ang VI (ed. Baramidze, 1975) includes several virtuosic examples of palindromic verse, and may be presented as examples of this literary culture at the most refined stage of its development.
The Vepxis T’q’aosani of Shota Rustaveli (1172-1216), however, is universally recognized as the masterpiece of Georgian literature, and extensive passages from this poem are committed to memory by al Georgian schoolchildren. Rustaveli’s poem embodies the culture and ideals of Georgia’s “Golden Age” (1122-1236). This same period saw a fluorescence of Georgian intellectual life, profoundly influenced by the Neoplatonism taught at the academies of Gelati (West Georgia) and Iq’alto (East Georgia).
Georgian literature, therefore, may be roughly divided into three phases: 1) the early period, characterized by religious texts compiled using foreign models; 2) the Golden Age, which generated a great secular literature exemplified by Rustaveli and his many imitators, including Grigol Chakhrukhadze and Ioane Shavteli; 3) the Silver Age (17th-18th centuries), a period dominated by the “royal poets” Teimuraz I of K’akheti, Archil of Imereti, Vakht’ang VI of Kartli, and Teimuraz II of K’akheti, along with such luminaries as Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani, Mamuka Baratashvili, Davit Guramishvili, Sayat-Nova, Besiki, Catholicos Anton I, and Vakhushti Bagrationi, and characterized by elaborate literary artifice. Many astrological texts, including the many versions of the “Star Book,” date to this period.
All three periods are marked by great achievements in the realm of historiography; the Georgian chronicles are arguably Georgia’s greatest literary achievement, and preserve large amounts of pre-Christian material.
Eventually, Russian annexation brought Georgian literature under the influence of Russian and West European models, so that this late phase of Georgian literature came to exemplify the same tendencies (Neo-classicism, Romanticism, Regionalism, Realism, Symbolism) typical of 19th century European literature (Rayfield, 1994).
The first Georgian-language printing house was established in the 1620s in Italy and the first one in Georgia itself was founded in 1709 in Tbilisi. (New World Encyclopedia)] + book including Italian glossary + W6 1709-1722/24 + Bakar’s Bible (Russia).
B. Indigenous astrological traditions of the Caucasus
As we have already noted, the Caucasus has served as a refugium for remnants of various ethnic groups. Each of these groups has preserved an array of cultural practices and folkloric concepts with roots in the deep past. In many cases, the ethnography of the Caucasus provides our only window into the cultural institutions of the distant past, a snapshot of human life in Neolithic times. On one hand, as emphasized by Reidla et al. (2003, ¶11), the Caucasus functioned as a “major geographical barrier between the two regions” of the North Caucasus and the South Caucasus; the languages of the North Caucasus are entirely unrelated to the Kartvelian languages of the South Caucasus, and their cultures are built upon an entirely different basis. At the same time, all of these ethnic groups have lived in close proximity to each other for centuries, resulting in an extremely complex web of cultural transmission and borrowing.
Each of the numerous tribes and ethnic groups of the Caucasus has a set of cosmological and astrological beliefs and practices. In most cases, these are deeply-rooted in the remote past and form part of a complex of ideas involving sympathetic magic and divinatory practices. In a few cases (notably among the Georgians and the Chechens), fully-articulated astrological systems have developed, incorporating astrological concepts from various advanced civilizations in the vicinity of the Caucasus.
The sections that follow will present what I have been able to learn about the indigenous astrological traditions of nine important ethnic groups of the Caucasus: the Vainakh (Chechen & Ingush), the Abkhaz, the Abazins, the Ubykh, the Circassians, the peoples of Daghestan, the Ossetians, the Armenians, and the Kalmyks. This will give us some conception of the traditional cosmological and astrological ideas current in the Caucasus, and will also enable us to identify specific parallels and influences within the Georgian astrological manuscripts that are the focus of this study.
In addition, we will examine the cosmological tradition of the Western Iberians (Iberians, Aquitanians, Basques), which demonstrates some remarkable parallels to those of the Caucasus.
1. Vainakh Tradition:
The Vainakh peoples (including the Chechens), along with the peoples of Daghestan, are thought to be the descendants of the ancient Subarians, Hurrians, and Urartians.
Er / Hereti / Erebuni + Malkh + Nakhichevan [see Wikipedia NAKH PEOPLES article]
Hurrians = Horites; Lezgian, Vainakh (retreat of Hurrians)
“The Georgian chronicles of Leonti Mroveli state that the Urartians “returned” to their homeland (i.e. Kakheti) in the Trans-Caucasus, which had become by then “Kartlian domain”, after they were defeated” (Wikipedia)
“There is evidence that at one point of their civilizational development the proto-Nakh had a ‘hearth-city’ as the centre of their universe, which may well have been Tushpa, the capital of Urartu. In Chechen, tush = hearth cavity, p-ha = settlement, pkha = artery. Tushpa is also interpreted as the land of the storm-god Teshup of the Hurrians and Urartians.” (Jaimoukha, p. 267n).
• “The Ingush and Chechens were still hunting birds early this century, using bows which fired stones, which were carried in a shoulder-bag” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 32).
Metzamor fortress (Armenia), astronomical reliefs from 3rd millennium B.C. (Eynatyan, 2007). TSAROIEVA, Anciennes Croyances: p. 369 (days of 7 days succeeding, cf. xval, zeg, mazeg)
Julius von Klaproth writes concerning the Ingush that “for persons killed by lightning, they erect poles to which they attach the head and extended skin of a goat” (1814, p. 349).
кхокогседа = Triangulum (Mul-Apin) [кхоког = trivet (culturally important)
жоьра-баба = witch, sorceress [both from Nichols & Vagapov, 2004)
The Vainakh peoples (Chechen and Ingush) had an extremely interesting astrological tradition, and actually produced astrological manuscripts. Aside from the Georgians, theirs was the most fully elaborated native astrological system in the Caucasus. Unfortunately, several important collections of Chechen manuscripts and folklore were deliberately destroyed by the Russians in 1944 (when the Chechens were deported to Central Asia, accused of collaboration with the Nazis) and again during the 1994-96 war. As a result, I have so far been unable to locate any surviving example of a Chechen astrological manuscript. However, I have been able to collect quite a bit of interesting information about the Chechen astrological tradition from a variety of sources.
According to Jaimoukha (2005), “Fortune-telling (pal) was a developed ‘craft’ among the Vainakh [i.e. Chechens], who had special classes of people with vatic powers and a number of oracular devices, including a book of divinations (seeda-zhaina: literally “star book”), at their disposal. Diviners would spend the night in a sanctuary, lying face down and keeping their ears pressed to the floor to hear the deity’s revelations and convey them to an eager audience the next morning. Scapulomancers divined the future by scapulae, holding the ram shoulder-blades to the light and interpreting the marks, the spots predicting the harvest, weather and even familial events. In addition, women soothsayers sized pieces of cloth, wrapped spoons with cotton and used lithomancy, hyalomancy, akin to crystal-gazing, and catoptromancy to foretell the future. Auspices and augury had religious and practical applications, for example using the arrival of the hoopoe to predict the advent of spring” (p. 150). It is not clear from this whether Седа-Жайна (“Star Book”) was the name of a specific manuscript treatise or whether the term refers to a literary genre. Tsaroieva (2005, p. 389) traces this information to A. P. Ippolitov but gives no specific reference.
It appears that the Chechens, like the Georgians, understood the Sun to be a feminine being, as evidenced by the phrase “малх нана ю сан” (“the sun is my mother”) (Gould, p. 43).
Le Soleil et la Lune ont des mères: la mère du Soleil s’appelle
Aza, et la mère de la lune s’appelle Kintsha. Le matin, le Soleil sort
de la mer; et, le soir, y plonge de nouveau. Quand il se lève à
l’horizon, quelque chose de noir se dégage de lui; on dit que c’est
l’écume de mer qui coule du Soleil. On peut le regarder à ce
moment, parce que, baigné dans la mer froide, il ne parvient pas
encore à être chauffé…En été et en hiver, le Soleil est en visite
chez sa mère; en hiver il y reste trois jours, et en été, trois semaines.
Sorti de la maison, le Soleil voyage six mois, puis revient à la
maison, et il part de nouveau en voyage six mois. Le Soleil et la
Lune sont parfois considérés comme frères. Ils ont une sœur
méchante, Moj, qui a dévoré tous ses proches dans le ciel et laquelle
poursuit constamment le Soleil et la Lune. Quand elle les rejoint et
les recouvre, a lieu une eclipse. Si la pucelle première-née le
demande, cette sœur maléfique relâche les frères. Pendant l’éclipse,
on voit sur la Lune une sorte de fil noir; on dit que c’est le fusil du
gardien qui garde la Lune de l’attaque de la sœur. Une tache noire
au milieu de la Lune est le cheval que la Lune porte sur elle. Si la
gueule de ce cheval s’élargit, alors l’été sera court, et l’hiver long;
si la gueule rapetisse, et que le cheval, lui-même, devienne noir,
alors l’été sera long et pluvieux, et l’hiver court. (Tsaroieva, 2005, p. 119)
The account of the Sun visiting its mother is obviously a reference to the summer and winter solstices; his three-day winter visit and three-week summer visit is explained by the fact that the sun’s apparent path through the sky is shortest at the winter solstice, and longest at the summer solstice. Although diametrically opposite, these two solar “stations” (the summer and winter ingresses / first points of Cancer and Capricorn) were apparently regarded as being the same place in some sense. [0º declination / ± 23º27’ declination / antiscia distant from Cancer/Capricorn axis = parallel of declination] The wicked sister Moj represents the lunar nodes, the points at which the Moon’s orbit crosses the ecliptic, associated with eclipses of the Sun and Moon. In the astrological tradition, these points were envisioned as the head and tail of a snake or dragon. Thus, the Vainakh appear to have organized their model of the heavens around four (invisible, retrograde) points—the two solstitial points and the two lunar nodes. The final point, pertaining to divination by the appearance of “the horse’s mouth” is highly interesting. This probably refers to one of the dark areas near the western limb of the lunar disk (Mare Foecunditatis, Mare Crisium, or perhaps the entire Mare Tranquilitatis). The western astrological tradition has produced numerous texts (keratologia) pertaining to weather-prediction by the appearance of the “horns” (cornua; ke/rata) of the New Moon, going back to Babylonian times (Thompson, 1900; see Güterbock, 1988, for a Hittite example). However, divination by the appearance of the lunar maria is highly unusual. I have never come across it except in this Chechen example.
“Les Kistes pratiquaient des divinations d’après le soleil et d’après la lune. Si le soleil semblait s’être éloigné dans le ciel, on disait que cette anneé serait riche en récoltes. Si le soleil était bas, il ne fallait pas espérer à une bonne récolte” (Tsaroieva, 2005, p. 389). This apparently describes a form of calendologion (weather-prediction based on meteorological phenomena obsevered on a particular day; Groundhog Day is a modern survival of this). Tsaroieva does not indicate the day associated with this divination, however, and I am unable to explain it further. If the observation was made on the first day of spring (for example), the Sun’s declination would be the same every year; the Sun’s “height” or “distance” might be based on the diviner’s subjective impression, however, rather than on its actual declination.
“Les anciens Vaïnakhs auraient eu des connaissances dans l’astrologie, car leur dieu de la magie et de la sagesse avait une étoile octaèdre qui influençait les vents et le changement du temps et par conséquent la vie de tout le people” (Tsaroieva, 2005, p. 389). This passage is extremely fascinating, since it clearly refers to the Stella Ophiomimeta (“serpent-imitating star”), an astrological concept from East Turkestan which is also found in N-503, the main Georgian text under investigation here. We shall discuss this more extensively below.
Berman (2009b) notes the existence in the Chechen region of “petroglyphs in underground caverns high in the mountains, dating from at least 4,000 BC,” including “solar signs” and “concentric circles in a variety of manners,” and similar motifs found in the ruins of underground dwelling houses, dating from 1,200 B.C. to 1000 A.D. (p. 51). Chechen astrological ideas clearly have their roots deep in antiquity, long before the arrival of either Christianity or Islam.
“Deeli-Malkhi, the Subterranean Kingdom to which souls transmigrated upon death, was ruled by Ishtar-Deela. It was larger than the abode of humans, requiring seven years to build. When the sun set in the west, its light and warmth were transferred to the underworld, so the worldly day corresponded to subterranean night, and vice verse. Death was only an intervital stage, life in the netherworld being conceived of as an extension of earthly existence, with similar social structures” (Jaimoukha, p. 110).
“Though considered a sibling of the sun, the moon had a lesser status (Jaimoukha, p. 110). “Celestial bodies had their distinctive names, such as Milky Way: Mottig Taacha Tinkada (Ingush name; literally: ‘place strewn with straw’), Triangulum: Kkhokogseeda (‘Trivet-Star’), Ursa Major: Vorkh’ Veshin Vorkh’ Seeda (‘Seven Stars of the Seven Brothers’, aka ‘Children of the Blizzard’, i.e. Dartsa Naana), Ursa Minor: Chukhchaber, and the North Star: Qilbseeda (‘South-Star’). Sueireenan Seeda and Sakhuelu Seeda were the Vainakh equivalents of the Greek Eosphorus, the Morning Star, or Venus. A comet was called ‘Ts’ogadolu Seeda’ (‘Tail Star’), and it presaged contagion, war or the birth of a great man” (Jaimoukha, p. 110).
The names of stars and constellations were also connected to myths. So Vainakhs call:
- ▪ Milky Way the route of scattered straw (Chechen: Ča Taqina Tača)
- ▪ Great Bear the seven brothers’ seven stars (Chechen: Vorx Vešin Vorx Seda) meets 7 sons of the god of the universe Tq'a. In the Ingush version of the legend Pkharmat, seven sons Tq'a were punished by his wife Khimekhninen for help Magal, stealing fire from Tq'a. She lifted them up into the air, far from land that they have become the seven stars.
- ▪ Gemini (constellation) as (Chechen: Kovreģina Seda)
- ▪ Sirius, Betelgeuse and Procyon Nakhs named as Tripodstar (Chechen: Qokogseda)
- ▪ Orion as Evening star (Chechen: Märkaj Seda)
- ▪ Capricornus as Roofing towers (Chechen: Neģara Bjovnaš)
Venus depending on daytime as sunset star and sunrise star. (Chechen: Sadov Seda) and (Chechen: Saxül Seda) The name of the star (planet) is (Chechen: Dilbat)
+15c most Chechnya converted to Islam, Ingush in 19th century (remarkable stuff re. Ingush priests) + Efendi 1782, his failure to convert them (Spencer) + Chechen reflux from the steppe (theory researched 2008?, never found source again) + days of week (Anciennes croyances p. 367) + other astrology stuff (p. 363 and preceding sections)
The Northwest Caucasian Peoples
The Northwest Caucasian linguistic phylum appears to have split into its Abkhaz and Circassian branches around the beginning of the Christian era (with Ubykh occupying a position intermediate between the two) (Nichols, 1998). Nichols (2007) suggests the possibility that the Northeast Caucasian phylum “could . . . have originated in a Minoan or Trojan trade colony” (p. 783). However, if we take into account the numerous extinct languages connected to this phylum (Hattic, Maeotic, Sindic), the initial split would have to be placed much earlier (2000 B.C. or before), making this phylum comparable in age to the Northeast Caucasian phylum, which began to break up around 6000 B.C. (Nichols, 2007).
“the tree-cult . . . is aboriginal among the natives of the Caucasus, especially among the Circassians and the Abkhazians” (Allen, 1971, p. 36). [Kashkai, Abeshla, Appaetae, Maeotae, Sindi, Toreatae, Cercetae, Taurica]—Black Sea Flood. When the evidence is assembled, a very interesting picture emerges: it appears that during the third millennium B.C., Northwest Caucasian peoples inhabited the shores of the entire Black Sea—the entire northern coast of Anatolia from the Hellespont to [Batumi], as well as the eastern coast and the basin of the Phasis, the entire Circassian coast to the strait of Kerch, the regions surrounding the Sea of Azov, and the Crimea. [Archaeological evidence suggests that their region of settlement extended westward from the Crimea as well, beyond the Bug and Dniester estuaries and at least as far as the Danube.]
“Le 12, je devois m’embarquer; mais j’en fus empêché par une nouvelle qu’on eut, que des barques de Circassiens et d’Abcas croisoient sur les côtes de Mingrélie” (Chardin, 1711, vol. 1, pp. 410-11).
“Le 27, je partis d’Anarghie. Ma felouque étoit grande. Il y avoit près de vingt personnes, la moitié esclaves, et le reste Turcs. Je n’y avois laissé embarquer tant de gens, qu’afin de me pouvoir défendre des corsaires qui couroient la côte” (Chardin, 1711, vol. 1, p. 412).
2. Abkhazian Tradition
“Carzia, son visir, s’enfuit à Lexicom (Letchkom), qui est une principauté dans les montagnes habitués des Soüanes, et manda de-là aux Abcas de venir au secours du dadian. Ils vinrent en Mingrélie; mais au lieu de secours, ils pillèrent les lieux où ils passèrent, et se retirèrent après” (Chardin, 1711, vol. 1, p. 402).
The Abkhaz are linguistically and culturally unrelated to the Georgians. The Abkhaz language is agglutinative and has about 60 consonants (depending on the dialect). Though often described as having two vocalic phonemes [/a/ and /ə/], the language can be analyzed as having no phonemic vowels, with all vowel-segments arising predictably from their consonantal environment (Allen, 1965). There is also a special secret “woodsman language,” apparently unrelated to Abkhaz, which is still in use (Colarusso, 1997; Klimov, 1969, pp. 31-32).
+ (NWC, Katal Hoyuk, Black Sea Flood) + Justin Ep. 28 + De administrando imperio 42
The earliest reference to the Abkhaz is found in an inscription of Tiglath-Pileser I (1114-1076 B.C.), who mentions the “Abesla” as inhabiting eastern Asia Minor (Berman, 2009b). Classical writers (including Hecataeus of Miletus, Strabo, and Arrian) enumerate several Abkhazian tribes, including the Apsilae, Abasgi, and Sanigi (Berman, 2009b). The Apsilae dwelt south of the Abasgi, around the Coraxes estuary (modern Kodori river) (Plontke-Lüning, 2007a). [+ Pliny 6.14, Procop 4.3, Agath 2.15, 4.15] According to Procopius of Caesarea (6th century A.D.), “Beyond the Apsilii and the other end of the crescent the Abasgi dwell along the coast, and their country extends as far as the mountains of the Caucasus. Now the Abasgi have been from ancient times subjects of the Lazi, but they have always had two rulers of their own blood. One of these resided in the western part of their country, the other in the eastern part” (De bellis VIII.iii.12-13).
St. Andrew preached the Gospel in Abkhazia in the course of his four missionary journeys into the Black Sea (Khalvashi, 2009). According to one account, another of the apostles, Simon the Zealot, accompanied him on one of these journeys (A.D. 55), but remained behind to preach the gospel in Abkhazia, where he was martyred by the Romans at Weriosphora on the Psyrtskha river (modern Novy Afon, between Sukhumi and Gudauta) (Abkhazia – Republic of Abkhazia, 2011). According to Irma Berdzenishvili (2008), “The spread of Christianity in this area was partly due to the fact that this region served as an asylum to first Christians persecuted by the Roman Empire. ”Patrophilus (Stratophilus), bishop of Pityus (modern Pitsunda) was a participant in the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D.
During the reign of Theodosius I (379-395 A.D.), the Ala I Abasgorum was stationed at the Great Oasis in Egypt (Simon, 2007).
The Abazgian rulers supplied eunuchs for service throughout the Roman empire. Procopius discusses this in some detail:
“They have suffered most cruelly at the hands of their rulers owing to the excessive avarice displayed by them. For both their kings used to take such boys of this nation as they noted having comely features and fine bodies, and dragging them away from their parents without the least hesitation they would make them eunuchs and then sell them at high prices to any persons in Roman territory who wished to buy them. They also killed the fathers of these boys immediately, in order to prevent any of them from attempting at some time to exact vengeance from the king for the wrong done their boys, and also that there might be in the country no subjects suspected by the kings. And thus the physical beauty of their sons was resulting in their destruction; for the poor wretches were being destroyed through the misfortune of fatal comeliness in their children. And it was in consequence of this that the most of the eunuchs among the Romans, and particularly at the emperor’s court, happened to be Abasgi by birth. (De bellis VIII.iii.15-17)
This grievous situation created great social instability and led directly to the expansion of Christianity among the Abkhaz:
“During the reign of the present Emperor Justinian the Abasgi have changed everything and adopted a more civilized standard of life. For not only have they espoused the Christian doctrine, but the Emperor Justinian also sent them one of the eunuchs from the palace, an Abasgus by birth named Euphratas, and through him commanded their kings in explicit terms to mutilate no male thereafter in this nation by doing violence to nature with the knife. This the Abasgi heard gladly, and taking courage now because of the decree of the Roman emperor they began to strive with all their might to put an end to this practice. For each one of them had to dread that at some time he would become the father of a comely child. It was at that same time that the Emperor Justinian also built a sanctuary of the Virgin in their land, and appointed priests for them, and thus brought it about that they learned thoroughly all the observances of the Christians; and the Abasgi immediately dethroned both their kings and seemed to be living in a state of freedom. Thus then did these things take place.” (Procopius, De bellis VIII.iii.18-21)
The Christianized Abkhaz kings gained hegemony over both Egrisi (Lazica) and Iberia in 786, and ruled most of Georgia until 1008, when power passed to the Bagratids. The Abkhaz were regarded as senior to the Georgians in nobility, and the royal style of the Georgian kings always began with “king of Abkhazhia.” In Mingrelia, the ability to speak Abkhaz was regarded among the nobility as a mark of superior status (Chirikba, 2006). Technically, the Shervashidze (Chachba) princes of Abkhazia were recognized as suzerain over the kingdom of Jiketi (Circassia) and thus took precedence over all the Circassian tribes as well. The archbishop of Pitsunda (the oldest episcopal see in the Caucasus) had seniority over all other bishops of Colchis and Iberia until the middle of the 17th century, when Turkish Islamisation of the Black Sea littoral forced the withdrawal of the Catholicos from Pitsunda to Gelati (Clogg, 1998).
During the 13th century, the Genoese established numerous trading colonies in the Black Sea, including several in the Crimea and others at Samsun, Trebizond, Lo Vati (Batumi). Early in the 14th century, several of these colonies were established in Abkhazia, including Sevastopolis (Sukhumi), Kakari (Gagra), Santa Sofia (Alahadzy), Petsonda (Pitsunda), Cavo di Buxo (Gudauta), Nikofia (Anakopia), and Tamansa/Tomasso (T’amsh). These colonies remained in Genoese hands for 200 years until they were seized by the Ottomans during the 15th century. The Genoese established a large Roman Catholic community at Sukhumi, which became the seat of a Catholic bishopric. Genoese trade brought great material prosperity to the Abkhazian coast during that period (Bgazhba, 1998).
Beginning in the 16th century, the Turks established control over several fortified places along the Black Sea coast (Sochi, Anapa, Sukhumi, X). This resulted in the gradual Islamization of the pagan Abkhaz. In 1733, the Turks destroyed the Abkhaz sacred site of Elyr and forced the prince of Abkhazia to convert to Islam (Clogg, 1998).
Later centuries were characterized by an ongoing duel between the princes of Abkhazia and the Mingrelia. In 1635, the prince of Mingrelia, Levan II Dadiani, had married Thanuria, the daughter of the prince of Abkhazia. She bore him two sons, but meanwhile he had begun an incestuous affair with Darejan, the wife of his uncle and tutor. After two years, the prince married Darejan and, according to Jean Chardin, “huit jours après il renvoya sa femme honteusement et sans suite au prince des Abcas, son père, après lui avoir fait couper le nez, les oreilles et les mains. Le sujet qu’il prit pour excuser une cruauté si étrange, fut de l’accuser d’adultère avec le visir, qui se nommoit Papona; et pour le mieux persuader, il fit mettre ce visir à la bouche d’un canon, au même temps qu’il mutiloit sa femme” (Chardin, 1711, vol. 1, pp. 379-80).
This outrage resulted in a “Thirty Year War” to which Chardin was a witness. This war was prosecuted with extraordinary ferocity by both sides, and expanded to involve the Ubykh, Adyge, Abazinins, and Kabardins (on the Abkhazian side), the Svans and Imeretians (in support of the Mingrelians), and also prompted several Ottoman interventions. This war resulted in an eastward expansion of Abkhaz speakers, moving the Abkhazian/Kartvelian ethnic frontier to the Inguri river (Bgazhba, 1998).
The prince of Abkhazia accepted Russian suzerainty in 1810, and the last Shervashidze prince of Abkhazia was deposed in November 1864. The Ahchipsy and Aibga clans of the Sadz tribe were the last peoples of the Caucasus to fall under Russian control (May 1864). With the end of Abkhazian independence, thousands of Muslim Abkhazians (perhaps 40% of the population) emigrated to Turkey, where their descendants dwell to this day.
While nominally Muslim or Christian, the Abkhaz have always been associated with a variety of unusual pagan practices, many of which persist to the present day. According to Procopius (6th century A.D.), “these barbarians even down to my time have worshipped groves and forests; for with a sort of barbarian simplicity they supposed the trees were gods” (De bellis VIII.iii.14). In later times it became customary to tie prayer-ribbons to sacred trees. This practice, still current throughout Turkey and the Caucasus, may have its origin in the Asherah-worship described in the Old Testament. On the occasion of a recent visit (October 2010) to the cave-monastery at Vardzia in southwestern Georgia, I noted a pile of tree-branches with ribbons still attached, which the monks had gathered up for destruction by burning. However, these prayer-ribbons continue to appear faster than the monks can remove them!
The Abkhaz had an almost symbiotic relationship with trees. Traditional Abkhaz dwellings were built of wicker and widely separated, “such that a foreign traveller might even not consider himself to be in the centre of a village at all rather than in some uninhabited territory” (Anchabadze, 1998, pp. 241-242). A passage from an Abkhaz folktale illustrates this phenomenon: “But the youngest brother walked and walked and reached such wild forests as he had never before seen. In its very depths he suddenly saw that he was in the yard of the witch Arupap. She was sitting under a plane tree and was resting” (Berman, 2009b, p. 143). This custom enabled them to find immediate refuge in the surrounding forest in times of emergency. Aelian (early 3rd century A.D.) writes that “the Colchians [sic] put the dead in leather skins; they sew them up and hang them from trees” (Varia historia 4.1). While Aelian is mistaken in attributing this practice to the Colchians, it is well attested among the Abkhaz. The dead were wrapped in skins, rugs, or placed in wooden boxes, which were then suspended from trees (Clogg, 1998). The seven sacred groves of Abkhazia (Lykhny, Elyr, Dydrypsh, Pitsunda, Ach’andara, Psou, T’qw’archal) functioned (and continue to function) as cemeteries, places of ancestor-worship, and as the loci of pagan religious cults (Clogg, 1998). Each lineage had its own sacred place (anycha), which might be a mountain, a grove or sacred tree, a spring, a river, or a cliff. Abkhazian paganism was totemic and animistic, each family being linked by its surname to some plant, animal, or natural phenomenon.
The Abkhaz gods required sacrifices, which were placed on the a-š⁰әmk’ʲat (“a wicker table on four legs on which they put the sacrificial meat during pagan rituals”) (Kaslandziya, 2005, quoted by Chirikba, 2006, p. 41).
Jacob Reineggs, who travelled through the region during the 1770s, provides an interesting description of Abkhaz pagan observances: “In the first days of May the Abkhaz gathered in a dense and dark sacred forest, the trees of which were considered inviolable for fear of offending some supreme being. In this grove, beside a large iron cross, there lived hermits who had gathered from the people significant remunerations for prayers for their health and success. Everyone who had come to the grove brought with them wooden crosses which they then placed anywhere they could find grass, and acquaintances meeting in the forest would exchange these crosses as a sign of friendship” (Clogg, 1998, p. 212).
Paganism has remained vigorous among the Abkhazians even into modern times: gatherings around the sacred oak tree at Lykhny sometimes attract thousands of worshippers. In at least one instance, Soviet authorities found it necessary to burn down a local “prayer tree,” and during the crisis of the first Georgian-Abkhazian conflict (1992-93), thousands of Abkhazians participated in a collective act of worship at the sacred mountain of Dydrypsh (Clogg, 1998).
The supreme god of the Abkhaz pantheon is Antʂwa, “the creator, in whom all the other gods are contained” (Clogg, 1998, p. 213). This name appears to derive from the Abkhaz plural form anatʂwa (“mothers”). This is one of many indications that the Abkhaz were a matriarchal society until relatively recent times. It should also be noted that the Abkhaz pantheon comprises more deities than that of the Circassians, and includes a higher proportion of goddesses. These phenomena may reflect a transition from matriarchy to patriarchy, which has progressed further among the Circassians than among their Abkhaz congeners. Other important Abkhaz deities include Afy (the god of thunder & lightning), Shaʃwy (the smithy-god), Dzyzlan (the goddess of water), Dziwaw (the rain-goddess), and Anana-Gwnda (goddess of the hunt, bees, and fertility) (Clogg, 1998). Aytar, the god of horned cattle, “regarded by Abkhazians as one in seven fractions,” was “especially revered.” A cycle of prayers to Aytar began on the first Monday of Lent, accompanied by offerings of ritual dumplings (a-xºažº) filled with ritually clean cheese known as ackjašº (“sacred cheese”) (Chirikba, 2006, p. 58). His name appears to be a corruption of the Greek ¸Agiov Qeo/dwrov (St. Theodore). This refers to St. Theodore Tyro, a Roman soldier stationed in Pontus who converted to Christianity and was martyred early in the 4th century. The church at Anakopia was consecrated to him (p. 55). The god Anapra (Napər-nəxa) is another example of this kind of syncretism. Anapra was the Abkhaz god of internal diseases and “the patron saint of the sick” (the nəxa element means “shrine”); however, his name is corrupted from the Greek ÂOnou/friov (St. Onuphrius, an Egyptian hermit of the late 4th century) (p. 56).
As with other peoples of the Northwest Caucasus, hunting was the major focus of Abkhaz culture, and was a highly ritualized activity. For example, the a-psә-mk’ʲat was “a special place where the hunters put the bones of wild animals killed and eaten by them.” This word was derived from a-psә “soul” (Chirikba, 2006, p. 41).
+ Prince of the Dead + Zoschan = Dzyzlan (?) [PAPER]
The majority of the Muslim Abkhaz emigrated to Turkey in consequence of the Russian annexation of Abkhazia (1864). However, Abkhaz Muslims habitually consumed wine and pork, fasted during both Ramadan and Lent, and many had never seen a Qur’an. Abkhaz funerals were often conducted with both Islamic and Christian ceremonies (Clogg, 1998). “In reality, the Abkhaz have never related seriously to either Christianity or Islam” (Paula Garb, quoted in Clogg, 1998, p. 206). They have been described as “simultaneously pagan, Christian, Muslim and atheist (G. Smyr, quoted in Clogg, 1998, p. 216). The 19th-century Georgian linguist Nikolai Marr commented that the Orthodox clergy “could be more proud of their building of architectural monuments than of their building of religion in the souls of the Abkhaz” (Clogg, 1998, p. 210). The traditional Abkhaz code of ethics, known as apswara (“what it is to be an Abkhazian), “plays a far more significant role than religion as the conscience of the people” (Clogg, 1998, p. 217). It emphasizes such values as goodness, fairness, honor, shunning between a daughter-in-law and her in-laws (Anchabadze, 1998; Chlaidze, 2003, cf. “Согласие,” pp. 194-196), and the unquestioned authority of the elderly (smoking, laughing, and sloppiness being forbidden in their presence) (Anchabadze, 1998).
“Mutual economic assistance and support facilitated an atmosphere of prosperity and provided the necessary income. Amongst the Abkhazians there was not a single beggar, which speaks of the relative justice of their social system” (Lak’oba, 1998, p. 77).
Among the Abkhaz, “the most honourable occupations were military activity and hunting. A community was reminiscent of a military camp, and it lived in a distinctive ‘military readiness.’ The main reason for the close unity of all the members of the community was the threat from outside (such as raids of neighbouring peoples, the selling of prisoners-of-war, hostile relations between communities and privileged families, cattle-rustling), which bonded yet more strongly the highest estates with the lowest within the union of society” (Lak’oba, 1998, p. 77).
Singing was of the greatest importance in Abkhazian culture and was believed to have supernatural power. Hunters sang a special song before setting out to assure success in the hunt. There were songs for the gathering of a lineage and for the performance of a dancing bear. Songs were sung by those gathered around a sickbed and functioned like medicine, with special songs to cure measles and St. Vitus dance (Clogg, 1998).
Abkhaz society was essentially matriarchal. Many religious rituals required the participation of a “blameless old woman” and a “prayer woman” (Johansons, 1972). The Abkhaz acaaju (“questioner”) was a female prophet and oracle. “The social position of the acaaju was very strong, and her opinion was counted on in all public affairs, for example, even in the hearing of witnesses in criminal procedures. There were some among them who had succeeded to fame among all the Abkhazians and to whom people from distant regions came in order to get advice. In light of their effectual patronage, many families made efforts to establish kinship with them, which was achieved most commonly through their adoption.” (Johansons, 1972, ¶12)
Since her vatic powers resulted from being possessed by a god, the acaaju was always addressed as a male. Since some of them were subject to Afy and others to Zoschan, “they were given to living in mutual enmity” (Johansons, 1972, ¶3).
The main task of the acaaju was to ascertain who had caused a specific illness, in order to find out the necessary remedies. The cause was most often a neglected sacrifice or a false oath. The acaaju, therefore, worked in close collaboration with the smith, since oaths were traditionally sworn in the smithy (Johansons, 1972).
The Abkhaz acaaju had at her disposal three methods of divination: vaticinatio (first in order of importance), favomancy (divination by beans), and astrology. She would first perform an animal sacrifice, inviting the god to possess her and give her prophetic utterance. If her vatic powers proved inadequate to the task, the acaaju would use favomancy to find out the name of the transgressor.
Favomancy appears to have come originally from Persia or Arabia. The usual method (as still practiced in Kazakhstan, where it is known as qumalaq), requires that 41 broad beans be divided into three piles. From these piles beans are removed four at a time until each pile is reduced to a remainder of one, two, three, or four beans. The resulting numbers are entered as the top row of a three-by-three grid. Then the process is repeated to fill up the middle row, and again to fill up the bottom row. The three rows are associated with the past, the present, and the future, and the resulting patterns are interpreted according to established rules. Some of these rules had an astrological dimension; for example, one bean in each position in the center row was known as “the three stars,” while in Eastern Europe the pattern 3-1-1 in the top row was known as “the comet” (Powers, 2011).
If neither vaticinatio nor favomancy provided a satisfactory answer, the acaaju had recourse to astrology (Johansons, 1972, ¶5). This was clearly some form of Interrogatory Astrology, though I have been unable to learn any details about it. However, a few details about Abkhaz astrological beliefs have emerged from my reading. The Abkhazians had deities associated with the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth (Clogg, 1998). The Abkhaz astrological system appears to have been organized around the seven days of the week. Each lineage had its own unique customs and rituals, including the custom of amʂʃara, by which certain types of work and other activities (e.g. weddings, funerals, washing) could not be performed on one or more specific days of the week (Clogg, 1998). Such a system is clearly parallel to the Hellenistic dies Aegyptiaci. [+ Ryan re. Russian system] Abkhazian folktales reveal that the Abkhaz were aware of small increments of time and of subtle changes in the angular relationships among the heavenly bodies. For example, [Prince of the Dead]. Another / a similar example is found in the tale X“The Maiden who stopped the Sun” [Chlaidze], where . . .
The rainbow was believed to cause certain illnesses, including jaundice, general weakness, and vacillation of character, which were thought to result form entering the water at the moment the Rainbow drank from it. In such cases, the Abkhaz “prayer woman” and her female assistants performed a special ceremony. They led the patient to the bank of a stream, placed offerings on both banks, and threw a yarn bridge across from one bank to the other. The women recited prayers to the Water Mother, the Water Father, and the Rainbow, casting food-offerings into the water. A previously-prepared doll was carried around the patient several times, then placed in a gourd with a lighted candle and released into the river as a substitute for the sick person, who was sent home and warned not to look back. + RAIN DOLL ʒə-ywow “ritual prayer for rain, in which figures a specially made doll” (Chirikba, 2006, p. 56). + MIRRORS (obsidian mirrors, Katal Huyuk; Prince of the Dead, gold/silver mirror) + MY SHORT PAPER re. Prince of the Dead
FOSTERING “But the youngest brother walked and walked and reached such wild forests as he had never before seen. In its very depths he suddenly saw that he was in the yard of the witch Arupap. She was sitting under a plane tree and was resting. The young man at once guessed who was before him. He rushed towards the witch and, quickly pronouncing the words: “Whether you eat me, whether you cook me, yet I am your son”, he kissed her breast” (143) Berman, Caucasus
“This gesture symbolizes an adoption. Often a man in desperate straits and fleeing from his enemies would accost a woman in this way and thus gain the protection of her family as an adopted son. Even someone who was subject to blood vengeance because he had killed a member of a clan could find sanctuary within that clan by forcing himself on one of its women in this way, thus becoming a member of the clan that had originally sworn vengeance on him” (Colarusso, 2002, pp. 33-34).
3. Abazin Tradition
The Abazins are a branch of the Abkhaz who migrated northward through the Klukhori Pass into the region of Abazinia during the 13th-15th centuries (Tapanta tribe), with a further wave of migration (Shkarua tribe) during the 18th and 19th centuries (Abazins, 2011; Chirikba, 2006). Their language and culture show little divergence from those of the Abkhaz.
One of the tales in the Abazin Nart-corpus (“Qaydukh Fortress,” Colarusso, 2002, pp. 257-259) features the well-known Abkhazian practice of favomancy (divination by beans). In this case, a wife tosses the beans twice to divine her absent husband’s activities. Colarusso (p. 259n) provides the following note: “Scattering beans and then divining the future from their pattern was a favored means of fortune telling in the Caucasus.”
In the course of the amhadʒrra (emigration of Islamic peoples form the Caucasus to Turkey in consequence of the Russian annexation), the precise method used in Abkhazian favomancy was forgotten. If these references to “tossing” and “scattering” are accurate, it suggests that the Abkhazians employed a different method from the one current in Eastern Europe (as described above). The implication of this terminology is that, rather than counting them off by fours to obtain a remainder, the beans were scattered to form random patterns which were then analyzed or interpreted somehow (perhaps in a way analogous to the Turkish practice of reading tea-leaves).
My reading has revealed only a few scattered references to Abazin beliefs about celestial phenomena. A meteorite was regarded as an object of supernatural power and was known as an abra stone (Colarusso, 2002, p. 290; I am unable to explain the derivation of this term, which does not appear to have any counterpart in Abkhaz). In another passage, the Nart Sosruquo does battle with the mysterious Tutarash, who is described as an inchoate black form whose “eyes shone like two stars, eyes in size like the morning star” (p. 237). This may be a reference to Venus (in its two manifestations as morning star and evening star), or it could refer to the relatively rare appearance of the two morning stars Venus and Mercury together before sunrise. Colarusso (pp. 241-42) provides a very interesting etymology of the name Tutarash. He identifies it as a very early Indo-European form tw-astr, meaning “two stars.” He assigns this form to “Twastrian,” his designation for a “first-wave” Indo-European language from Central Asia, connected to Tocharian. If this etymology is correct, it points to very early contacts between Northwest Caucasian and Indo-European peoples. The name Tutarash is thus connected to a much older linguistic stratum than the Nart epos with which it became associated. These contacts must have occurred many centuries before the irruption of the Alans into the Caucasus.
4. Ubykh Tradition
The Ubykh, whose territories lay just north of the Abkhaz, were a Northwest Caucasian people of great antiquity. They were known in classical times as the Bruchi (Brou=xoi), a Greek distortion of tʷaχ, the Ubykh self-designation. According to Procopius (6th century), “beyond the confines of the Abasgi along the Caucasus range dwell the Bruchi, who are between the Abasgi and the Alani, while along the coast of the Euxine Sea the Zechi have their habitation” (De bellis VIII.iv.1). This implies that the Bruchi lived in the interior at that time, with no access to the coast. In later times they occupied the valley of the Borgys river (modern Psou, which forms the border between Abkhazia and the Russian Federation). The Ubykh emigrated en masse to Turkey in 1864; their language, which had the largest known consonant inventory (84 consonants), has been extinct since 1992 (Ubykh people, 2011). The Ubykh are known to have practiced favomancy as well as scapulomancy. I have so far found no reference to their astrological practice.
5. Circassian Tradition
“Ces peoples sont tout-à-fait sauvages; ils ont été autrefois chrétiens, à présent ils n’ont aucune religion, non pas même la naturelle: car je compte pour rien quelques usages superstitieux qui semblent venir des chrétiens et des mahométans leurs voisins. Ils habitent en des cabanes de bois, et vont presque nuds. Chaque homme est ennemi juré de ceux d’alentour. Les habitans se prennent esclaves et se vendent les uns les autres aux Turcs et aux Tartares. Les femmes labourent la terre” (Chardin, 1711, vol. 1, p. 147).
The Circassians were the most numerous and important of the peoples of the Northwest Caucasus. In ancient times, this linguistic phylum appears to have been much more extensive, occupying the entire coast of the Black Sea from the mouth of the Danube through the Crimea and the Sea of Azov, as well as the entire eastern littoral and the southern littoral as far west as Samsun (Jaimoukha, 2001 [this assumes identification of the Maikop culture with NWC]). There were still Circassian settlements in the Crimea as late as 1400 (Allen, 1971). There is good reason to associate this culture with the pre-Hittite Hattians of Asia Minor and (ultimately) with the prehistoric site of Çatalhöyük (circa 7500 B.C.). Indeed, if the “Black Sea Deluge Hypothesis” is correct, this was the people group displaced by the catastrophic flood which ensued when the Mediterranean broke through into the Black Sea (previously a freshwater lake) circa 5,500 B.C. (Ballard, 2001).
Circassians (or proto-Circassians) are mentioned in in Hittite and Egyptian sources (15th-13th centuries B.C.), where they are designated as “Kaskians” (Kaska, Kashkai, Kasku). They occupied northern Asia Minor as far west as the Propontis (Sea of Marmara), and appear to have been migrating eastward throughout this period (Toumanoff, 1963, p. 55). The twelve tribes of the Kaska were united to form a kingdom under Piyapili, and sacked the Hittite capital (circa 1330 B.C.) and, in alliance with the proto-Kartvelian Mushki, they played a role in the final collapse of the Hittite empire (circa 1200 B.C.). These peoples now occupied the former Hattian lands of north-central Anatolia (Kaskians, 2011). After their defeat by Tiglath-Pileser I (1112 B.C.), the Kashkai withdrew northwards into western Georgia, where they mixed with the proto-Kartvelian Mushki and overthrew the ancient Kartvelian kingdom of Æa. They were subsequently known to the Urartians as Qulẖa, from which the Greek designation Ko/lxiv (Colchis) is derived (Toumanoff, 1963). Another branch of the Kaskians retreated to the south, where they established themselves in Cappadocia (Kaskians, 2011).
Structural and lexical similarities between Circassian and the pre-Hittite Hattic language of north-central Anatolia have led many linguists to posit a genetic relationship (Chirikba, 1998). The name “Hatto-Kaskian” has been proposed for the resulting linguistic phylum (Kaskian language, 2011). It is extremely interesting to note that Kašku was the name of the Hattic moon god (Kaskians, 2011), a fact which correlates well with what is known about the matriarchal tendencies of the ancient Northwest Caucasian peoples. The Amazons of Greek myth appear to take their name from a root meaning “moon” (the Abkhaz word for the moon is amza).
At the time when the Greeks first ventured into the region, the shores of the palus Maeotis (sea of Azov) were inhabited by the Maeotae (Maiw=tai), a group of Circassian tribes. Owing to pressure from numerous Scythian tribes migrating into the region during the late 1st millennium B.C., these Circassian tribes eventually withdrew from the coast into the mountain valleys of Circassia. They were known to classical writers as the Zugoi/ (Zygi, Zygii, also Zilxoi/, Zixoi/) and the Cercetae. According to Arrian (Periplus 18.3), the Achaious (Sochi) river formed the boundary between the Zilchoi and the Sanigai, an Abkhazian tribe dwelling to the south of them. Arrian notes that Stachemphax, the king of the Zilchoi in his day (132 A.D.), was a Roman client-king.
During the Middle Ages, largely as a result of the destruction of the kingdom of Alania by the Mongols, the Circassians and Kabardians spread northward from the Caucasus and came to dominate the north Caucasus plain (Nichols, 2007).
The principal occupations of the Circassians were piracy and slave-raiding. Although loosely organized, the various Circassian principalities were regarded as components of the kingdom of Jiketi (Zikia), which was formally subject to the prince of Abkhazia.
The western Circassians comprised the Adyge proper, while the eastern Circassians who inhabited the northern slopes of the central Caucasus were known as Kabardins. The Kabardin language is the most archaic branch of the Northwest Caucasian phylum, suggesting that these people withdrew into the mountains at a very early time. Between 1739 and 1774, Kabarda was recognized by the European powers as a sovereign state by the terms of the Treaty of Belgrade (1739); by the terms of the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca (1774), the Turks relinquished Kabarda to the Russian sphere of influence. The Kabardin princes remained independent, however, until the Russians invaded the region in 1822. Two other branches of the Circassians, the Papaghis and the Kasogs, inhabited the Taman peninsula (mentioned in mediaeval sources from the 8th to 11th centuries); the Kasogs may have been ancestral to the Kabardins (Jaimoukha, 2001, p. 47).
Julius von Klaproth writes of the Circassians that “a commodity of which they are more particularly in want is salt: this they need not only for themselves but also for their cattle, especially the sheep, which die in great numbers unless they are supplied with it. They therefore purchase it at a very high price, as contraband, of the Tsehernomorzians and of our Nogays, in whose country it is found in ponds, . . . In the whole tract beyond the Ckuban there is no salt, except in the rivulet Kasma, which falls into the Ckuban eight wrests below Protschnoi Okop, and to which therefore they frequently drive their flocks.” (1814, p. 266)
When they sat in council, the Circassian princes used a special language called chakobza. This language was unrelated to Circassian, and the common people were not allowed to speak it. They held “six-week secret sessions in isolated huts, after the harvest. All participants had to wear masks, so that existing inter-family blood-feud vendettas would not interfere with their training” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 29). This phenomenon is comparable to the secret “men’s houses” and “men’s unions” of Daghestan, and may suggest that the Circassian princes and nobility were an intrusive element (Allen, 1971, pp. 29-30). There was also a “women’s language” that was formerly spoken throughout the entire North Caucasus. This language is reported to have been monosyllabic and tonal (Colarusso, 1997). This extremely curious phenomenon suggests the survival of submerged linguistic elements from the remote past.
The Circassians developed a strict caste-system, probably due to “the necessity of regulating the social status of the large number of slaves whom they captured in their raids against the peoples both of the Colchian plain and of the Crimea” (Allen, 1971, p. 29).
The Circassians were regarded as the purest representatives of the Caucasian race. Circassian slaves were highly prized and were present in large numbers among the Ottoman Turks. The Circassian mamlūks (“slaves”) became so numerous in Egypt that they succeeded in gaining political control of the country, where the Circassian Burji dynasty ruled from 1382 to 1517. Even after the installation of an Ottoman pasha in 1517, real power remained with the mamlūks. By the 18th century, they included large numbers of Georgians as well as Circassians. Murad Bey (circa 1750-1801) and Ibrahim Bey (1735-1817), both Georgian mamlūks (the latter the son of an Orthodox priest from K’akheti), opposed the French invasion of Egypt (1798-1801). Although they were superb horsemen and fearless warriors, the mamlūks were unable to face a disciplined European army.
As a result of Russian incursions into Kabarda, five Circassian princes (Kassim Kambulatowicz, Gawrila Kambulatowicz, Onyszko Kudadek, Solgien Szymkowicz, and Temruk Szymkowicz) emigrated with 300 warriors to Poland in 1562, where they were enrolled among the Polish nobility with the surname “Czerkaski” (Kruszynski, 2005). Other Circassian families emigrated to Russia during the 16th century, several of whom adopted the surname “Cherkasskii.” (Bushkovitch, 2006). One of these Circassian nobles, Prince Alexander Bekovich-Cherkasskii, led the disastrous Russian expedition against Khiva (1717-18). Of his force of 7000, only ten men were spared and sent back alive to inform the Tsar of the disaster.
TURKS—RUSSIAN CONQUEST—EXILE (beginning with Crimea)
Circassian culture was regulated by the Adyge xabze (“Circassian code of conduct”), a set of social values and expectations comparable to the Abkhazian apswara. The Circassians cultivated a pantheon of about 60 deities presided over by the supreme god Theshxwe, corresponding to the Abkhazian Antʂwa, “the creator, in whom all the other gods are contained” (Jaimoukha, 2001, p. 146). [However, the Abkhazian pantheon was larger (about 100 deities), and included a higher proportion of goddesses. This appears to reflect a late-prehistoric “transition from a matriarchate to patriarchy,” by which female deities lost much of their original significance (Jaimoukha, 2001, p. 139). This transition is probably connected to a similar phenomenon among the Kartvelians, resulting in a counterintuitive gender-reversal in the words for “father” (Georgian mama) and “mother” (Georgian deda), and in the words for “sun” (Georgian mze [feminine], Abkhaz amra [masculine]) and “moon” (Georgian mtvare [masculine], Abkhaz amza [feminine]).] (MOVE?)
Important deities in the Circassian pantheon included Llepsch (the god of the smithy), Schible (the god of thunder and lightning), Zchithe (the god of the wind), Mezgwasche (“forest-lady”), Mezithe (“forest-god”), and Sozeresh (one of the Narts, borrowed from the Ossetian religious tradition. These gods were thought to inhabit certain trees and sacred groves. “For Sozeresh, a pear sapling was cut down in the forest and disbranched. Almost all households had such an image. On the day of his festival, the effigy was brought inside the house in a grand ceremony with accompanying music and to cheers form all the members of the family, who complimented him on his arrival. The idol was covered with little candles and a piece of cheese was attached to the top. … Afterwards, the idol was taken to the yard where it stayed without any mark of reverence until the next holiday.” (Jaimoukha, 2001, p. 142) Other sacred places included the sacred mountain Julat (Tatartup), as well as certain rivers (Jaimoukha, 2001). Arxºan-arxºanəź, a chthonic being described as a giant serpent or lizard-man, ruled the realm of the dead (Colarusso, 2002, p. 33).
The Circassians formerly practiced human sacrifice, as revealed by the presence of both human and animal bones in ancient burial mounds. This was apparently done to assure a good harvest. Other ceremonies included processions around sacred trees by worshippers singing and bearing torches. There was also a special circular dance called wij (or x’wrey) (Jaimoukha 2001).
Like the Abkhaz, the Circassians also used songs as medicine. Those afflicted with smallpox were rocked in a swing to the accompaniment of a special chant. A related practice was the sch’apsche’e, a vigil round the sick-bed whose main purpose was to keep the patient awake: “evil spirits were believed to be waiting for the patient to fall asleep to take possession of his body” (Jaimoukha 2001, p. 140). Several instances of this are described in the Abkhaz tale, Аҧсцәаҳа дызнықәуаз ахаҵа (“The man who used to swear by the Prince of the Dead,” Hewitt, 2005, pp. 142-150; analysis in Grove, 2008a).
“The world of the ancient Circassians was filled with monsters, dragons, behemoths with several heads and eyes, one-eyed colossi, giant-killers, wood elves, creatures with canine heads and bodies of oxen, weird crews of witches and warlocks, old women with iron teeth and breasts thrown over their shoulders” (Jaimoukha, 2001, p. 144). Among these was the wid, a shape-shifting witch who was believed to have killed her own children, and the almesti (“wild woman”), described as “a naked female with vertical eyes and flowing hair” (Jaimoukha, 2001, p. 145). One witch who appears in Circassian folklore bears the colorful name Kºəxarayna-ḥaabzəwədə (“Bitch-witch of the flying wagon”) (Colarusso, 2002, p. 33). Circassian witches were believed to bring calamity by casting the Evil Eye, “though there were more elaborate methods” (Jaimoukha, 2001, p. 144).
Like the Abkhaz, the Circassians were characterized by their stubborn adherance to paganism and by a tendency toward religious syncretism. Christianity was introduced to Circassia during the reign of the emperor Justinian (6th century), who dispatched many priests to the region. The first bishopric of Circassia was established near Nalchik. Numerous churches were built, but when Georgian rule came to an end in the 15th century, Christian churches were destroyed and the people reverted to paganism (Jaimoukha, 2001). The Circassian cult of fire-worship may be an even older remnant of Zoroastrian influence. Later Persian influence resulted in the Circassian observance of the Shi’ite holiday of ‘Āshūrā’ (commemorating the death of Imam Husayn at the battle of Karbala) (Jaimoukha, 2001). Beginning in the 16th century, the Turkish presence along the Circassian coast resulted in the conversion of many Circassians to Islam. This process was greatly escalated following the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca (1774): The Turks in the meantime were busily engaged along the Cherkess coast. With the help of French engineers they built the strong fortress of Anapa to offset the loss of Azov; and while they fortified Anakalia, Sukhum-Kalé and Poti, their agents among the mountain tribes were active in carrying on fierce religious propaganda against the Russians. Julius von Klaproth observes that “so lately as forty years since the Tscherkessians lived almost without religion, though they called themselves Mosslemin [sic], according to their pronunciation Busserman. They were not circumcised, and had neither messdsheds nor priests, with the exception of a few simple mullas, who came to them from Axai and Endery. They proved themselves Mohammedans by little else than their abstinence from swine’s flesh and wine. They buried their dead indeed after the Mohammedan fashion, and their marriage were performed in the same manner. Polygamy, though allowed, was rare; and the princes and chief usdens, at stated times of the day, repeated their Arabic prayers, of which they understood not one word. The common people, on the other hand, lived without any religious observances, and all days were alike to them. Of Greek Christianity, which was propagated in the Kabardah in the time of Zar Iwan Wassiliewitsch, no traces are left, at least among the people, though ruins of ancient churches and grave-stones with crosses yet exist in the country. Ever since the peace of Kütschük Kanardshi in 1774 the Porte has endeavoured to spread the religion of Mohammed, by means of ecclesiastical emissaries, in the Caucasus, and especially among the Tscherkessians; and in regard to the latter at least it has attained its aim; to the accomplishment of which the celebrated Isaak Effendi, who was in the pay of the Turks, principally contributed” (1814, pp. 316-317). Circassian and Kabardian Islamic clergy were trained in Daghestan, far to the east. The degree to which the Circassians embraced Islamic orthodoxy may be seen in the fact that at the time of the great Circassian [X] (exile to Turkey), many of the emigrants took their pigs with them to Turkey. Indeed, “the co-existence in the same [Kabardian] family of Orthodox Christians and Muslims was practically a unique phenomenon in the history of Islam” (C. Lemercier-Quelquejay, 1992, p. 27).
The thoroughgoing paganism of the Circassians is illustrated in the following anecdote transmitted by the Turkish traveler Evliya Çelebi, a contemporary of Jean Chardin who visited the region during the 1660s: “God is my witness that this took place. One day we were guests in a certain village and the Circassian who was our host wished to do a good deed. He went outside where he tarried a while. When he returned he brought a dinner-spread of elk skin, also a wooden trough—like a small vault or portico—full of honey and other troughs with cheese and pasta (millet gurel). ‘Eat, O guests, may it be permitted, for health of my father soul,’ he said (in ungrammatical Tatar). We were starving, as though we had been released from Ma‘noghlu’s prison, and we laid into the honey so fast that our eyes could not keep up with our hands. But the honey was full of strange hairs that we kept pulling out of our mouths and placing on the spread. ‘Eat,’ said the Circassian. ‘This my father honey.’ Our hunger being abated, we continued to eat the honey at a slower pace, separating out the hairs. Meanwhile, Ali Can Bey, a native of Taman in Crimea, came in. ‘What are you eating, Evliya Efendi?’ ‘Join us,’ I replied. ‘It’s a kind of hairy honey. I wonder if it was stored in a goatskin or a sheepskin.’ Ali Can, who knew Circassian, asked our host where the honey came from. The Circassian broke out weeping. ‘I took from my father grave,’ he said. I understood the words, but didn’t quite grasp the import. Ali Can explained, ‘Last month his father died and he placed the corpse in a box on a branch of a big tree in the courtyard outside. Honeybees colonized the area around the groin and penis. Now, as a special favour, he has offered you honey with his father’s pubic hairs. These are the hairs you have been separating while eating the honey. Rather than excrement of bee, eat excrement of old man!’ Ali Can said this and went out. I followed him, with my gorge rising and my liver fairly bursting. ‘What kind of trick has this pimp of an infidel played on us?’ I cried. Then what should I see? Our Circassian host also came out, climbed up the tree where his father was and refastened the lid of the coffin-box, all the while weeping and eating the horrible honey. When he descended form the tree, he said, ‘Hajji! When want honey, I bring you much father soul honey. Just say prayer.’ This was certainly a strange and disturbing event.” (Evliya Çelebi, 2010b, pp. 253-54).
The Circassian soothsayers and fortune-tellers (thegwrimaghwe) employed a wide variety of magical and divinatory practices. These included scapulomancy (mamisch) and favomancy: “Haricot beans were thrown to tell somebody’s fortune, mainly by old women. In later times, divination by coffee-grounds, apparently a Turkish influence, became fashionable” (Jaimoukha, 2001, p. 146). They also practiced oneiromancy: “Seeing eggs in sleep predicted snowfall. Seeing oneself in sleep standing on a height presaged well” (Jaimoukha, 2001, p. 145). Like the Abkhaz, the Circassians had numerous superstitions concerning mirrors: “Lovers who looked simultaneously in the same mirror separated soon after. . . . Other presages of evil included keeping the dead at home at night, rocking an empty cradle, breaking a mirror, antagonizing one’s neighbours, and talking about the dead while travelling at night” (Jaimoukha, 2001, p. 145).
The Circassians also had a rich body of meteorological, calendrical, and astrological lore, which has much relevance to the present study.
Like the Kartvelians, the Circassians attributed evil powers to the wind. To avert this evil, they made supplications to the wind-god Zchithe. They also had a rain-making ceremony comparable to those practiced among the Abkhaz and by the peoples of Daghestan far to the east: “In times of droughts, a procession carrying an effigy of the goddess of rain, Hentsiygwasche, marched through the stricken village with supplications for rain. The households along the route poured water on the idol, which in one form of the rite resembled the shape of a cross, apparently a Christian import to the ancient ceremony” (Jaimoukha, 2001, p. 142).
The god Schible presided over thunder and lightning. As in other parts of the Caucasus, any spot struck by lightning was regarded as sacred. The Circassians commemorated lightning strikes by singing a special song. Persons struck by lightning were regarded as having been selected by a god or angel for special favor and were honored in a special ceremony in which the victim’s parents celebrated his new status. During this ceremony, the celebrants listened carefully for peels of thunder, and prayed for its return (Jaimoukha, 2001).
While each deity in the Circassian pantheon had one or more consecrated days, the days sacred to Schible could not be predicted even by means of augury or astrology. The first three days of spring were consecrated to Sozerash, and the spring equinox was the most sacred day in the Circassian calendar. It marked the beginning of the New Year, and it was believed that the souls of the dead returned to visit their ancestral homes on this day, but would only do so if the hearth-fire had remained lit throughout the entire preceding year. “It was believed that the soul returned first to air, then to water and finally to earth, with an interval of one week in between. … The festivities were initiated with a rite of sacrifice called Maf’aschhe Jed (Sacrificial Hen), in which a black hen was immolated on the altar of the hearth. After the offering had been made, the members of the household whose smoke kept issuing for a whole year assembled in front of the hearth. The elder then said the prayers” (Jaimoukha, 2001, p. 148).
Though staunchly pagan, many Circassians observed Easter by abstaining from eggs during the 15 days (one-half lunar cycle) preceding Easter. Shorter intervals of time were also observed. For example, “fingernails had to be clipped in the morning, toe-nails in the evening” (Jaimoukha, 2001, p. 145). This practice finds a parallel in Hesiod’s Opera & dies: “At a cheerful festival of the gods do not cut the withered from the quick upon that which has five branches with bright steel” (ll. 742-743); as well as in the Georgian lunaria found in N-503, which discourage trimming one’s hair and beard on the 13th, 14th, and 25th days of the lunar month.
The Moon figured prominently in Circassian thought. The shape of the crescent Moon was believed to have provided the prototype for the sickle. Lunar eclipses were thought to presage epidemics and the spread of contagion (Jaimoukha, 2001).
The starry heavens were of great significance to the Circassians. According to one myth, Peqwe, the god of the fields, “took refuge in a spider web which he wove deep in the heavens” (Jaimoukha, 2001, p. 139). The Circassians practiced astrology, which they called vaghwaplhe (“star gazing”). “There is some evidence that the cromlechs found in Circassian and Abkhazia served as observation posts of celestial bodies, and were used to predict natural phenomena, including the weather” (Jaimoukha, 2001, p. 146). The Circassians recognized various constellations, including Ursa Major (Vaghwezeshiybl; also called Zºaɣºabәna, “star family”) and the Pleiades, which were associated with seven women just as in Greek mythology (Jaimoukha, 2001, p. 146; Colarusso, 2002, pp. 78, 101, 103). The Milky Way was called Shixw Lhaghwe (“milky footpath”) (Jaimoukha, 2001, p. 146; Colarusso, 2002, p. 103). The planet Mars was known as Ax’shem Vaghwe (“evening star”). A comet was called vaghwe abrej (“star horseman”) (Jaimoukha, 2001, p. 146). I have so far been unable to discover any specific details about the Circassian practice of astrology, apart from a number of superstitious beliefs about the stars reported by the Circassian scholar Askerbi T. Shortanov (Shorten): “Every person had his own star—it was considered as a reflection of his/her soul. . . . It was prohibited to recount stars, for it was said that doing so would cause a rash, or warts to erupt all over the body, with number of warts equal to number of stars counted. The Circassians believed that if an ill person rubbed his eyes with his fingers and saw stars, he was destined to live, otherwise he would meet his doom within 24 hours” (Jaimoukha, 2001, p. 146). Great importance was also attached to shooting stars: “Coming home from the Circassian Cultural Institute's lecture on state building in Kabardino-Balkaria, I saw a shooting star. I got happy. I felt blessed. Naturally, I made a wish, that my soul has said so many times waiting to be sealed by an event that is rare, beautiful and awe-inspiring. I do not know when, or if, I will ever witness something like that moment again” (Wojokh, 2011, ¶1).
• “North Caucasian [Kabardian] mounted masked hunting society . . The horned mask is found on both sides of the Great Caucasian Mountains—one more example of the common Mountain (as opposed to Plains) culture” (183) + sitting on vanquished foe’s chest to cut off his head (Colarusso)
“The population of Daghestan was reckoned by the Russians, at the time of the Murid War at about two millions, of Circassia at a million, even after the plague of the late ‘twenties.” (Allen, 1971, p. 285n)
“They give to the child the name of the first stranger who enters the house after its birth; and let the name be Greek, or Latin, or of whatever foreign country it may, they always add to it the termination uk: thus Peter is transformed into Petruk, Paul into Pauluk, &c” (Klaproth, 1814, p. 333). “When they send a letter to any person, which they very rarely do, they have it written in general by Jews, in Hebrew characters; but it is much more usual to send verbal messages to one another” (p. 333).
“They have very long mustaches, and never stir without fire-arms by their side in a case of smooth leather, which is made and worked by their wives. They carry about them razors and a stone to sharpen them upon, and with these they shave one another’s heads, leaving only a long plaited lock of hair upon the crown. Some assert that this is done in order to allow a firm hold to be taken of the head if it should be cut off, that the face may not be soiled and stained by the dirty and bloody hands of the murderer. They also shave the hair from the breast when they go to battle, as they consider it a disgrace for hair to be seen upon that part when they are dead. They set fire with lighted matches to the houses of their enemies, which are all of straw.” (p. 334)
“Husband and wife lie in bed with their heads to each other’s feet; and their beds are of leather, filled with calmus flowers or rushes” (p. 334).
“Their country is for the greatest part swampy, covered with reeds and rushes, from the roots of which is obtained the calmus. These morasses are occasioned by the great rivers Tanais, which yet bears that name, the Rhombite, likewise called Copro, and several other large and small streams, that have several mouths, and, as has just been observed, form almost boundless swamps, through which many fords and passages have been made. By these secret ways they clandestinely proceed to attack the poor peasants, whom they carry off with their cattle and children from one country to another, and sell or barter them away” (p. 333).
6. Daghestani Traditions
Daghestan is the most linguistically complex region of the Caucasus, with 26 distinct languages, most of them represented by several dialects. These are all part of the Northeast Caucasian phylum, which combines the Daghestan languages and the distantly related North Caucasian sub-phylum (a.k.a. Nakh or Vainakh, comprising Chechen, Ingush, and Bats). The Daghestan languages are subdivided into the Avar-Andi-Dido (a.k.a. Avar-Andi-Tsezic) family (14 languages: Avar, Andi, Akhvakh, Karata, Botlikh, Godoberi, Chamalal, Bagvalal, Tindi, Dido, Hinukh, Bezhta, Hunzib, Khwarshi), the Lezghic family (9 languages: Archi, Tabasaran, Lezgian, Aghul, Udi, Kryts, Budukh, Rutul, Tsakhur), and the isolates Lak, Dargwa, and Khinalugh. The initial binary split between Nakh and Daghestanian occurred around 6000 B.C.; “at about 8000 years (an estimate of a calculated glottochronological age), East Caucasian is the oldest datable language stock” (Nichols, 2007). It is probable that many of these peoples have continuously inhabited Daghestan since that time. If we accept the Alarodian hypothesis (which unites Northeast Caucasian and Hurro-Urartian to form a larger phylum), that would place the initial breakup considerably earlier. If, as most scholars believe, there is an ancient genetic relationship between the Northeast Caucasian and Northwest Caucasian phyla, Johanna Nichols estimates that these languages first began to diverge about 15,000 years ago (REF).
The Northeast Caucasian phylum has deep connections to the ancient Near East. According to Nichols (2007), “Proto-East Caucasian appears to have diversified and taken root in the eastern Caucasus foothills and highlands as an early consequence of the initial spread of agriculture from Mesopotamia” (p. 781). “Since agriculture spread to the Caucasus from Mesopotamia very early, . . . it is at least possible that part of the Mesopotamian stock cluster and even the catalyst stock survive in the Caucasus enclave” (p. 787).The ancient Subarian language is associated with the late-prehistoric Halaf culture (circa 6100-5400 B.C.) and was associated with the development and spread of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent. This language is known from place-names and from various scattered references in Sumerian documents. With the arrival of the Sumerians (from India or from Oman, according to various theories), the Subarians withdrew into the mountains to the north and northeast. The Kura-Araxes culture (circa 3400-2300 B.C.), known for its precocious development of metallurgy, appears to have been associated with this same linguistic phylum.
The language of the Hurrians who irrupted into Mesopotamia from the Khabur valley (circa 2500 B.C.) is well attested and is demonstrably related to Subarian (indeed, Mesopotamian texts use the two designations interchangeably). The Hurrians established the famous Mitanni state, which dominated the Near East from circa 1450 to 1350 B.C. Like the Kartvelians, the Hurrians had extensive connections to Central Asia by way of the Alborz mountains (northern Iran, along the south coast of the Caspian Sea). The rulers of Mittani had Indo-Aryan names, suggesting that the Hurrians had an Indo-Aryan aristocracy. The Soviet archaeologist Sergei Pavlovich Tolstov (1907-1976) connected the ethnonym Ḫu-ur-ri (Hurrian) to Khwarezm (1948). Soviet archaeologists eventually unearthed the remains of an important Bronze Age civilization known as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC, Oxus Civilization), which flourished in the region circa 2200-1700 B.C. The Hurrians were skilled horsemen (and may have introduced horses into the Near East circa 2000 B.C.). A famous Hittite text on horsemanship was written by one Kikkuli, a Hurrian. These facts lend further support to Tolstov’s theory.
Numerous Hurrian states survived the downfall of Mitanni, including the biblical Horites and various principalities in Syria, Anatolia, and Cyprus.
Around 850 B.C., various remnants of the Hurrians coalesced to form the powerful state of Urartu, which successfully challenged Assyrian domination of northern Mesopotamia. Greatly weakened by the inroads of Cimmerians and Scythians from the north, the Urartian state finally collapsed early in the 6th century B.C., when it was replaced by the Armenian dynasty of the Orontids.
It has been persuasively demonstrated that the ancient Hurrian (Subarian) and Urartian languages were genetically related to the Northeast Caucasian phylum, where their closest connections appear to be to Lezghian and to the Vainakh sub-phylum (REF). This expanded phylum is sometimes designated “Alarodian” (from “Alarodii,” Herodotus’ designation for the Urartians).
During the 2nd or 1st century B.C., the kingdom of Albania arose in the eastern Caucasus. This powerful state extended from Hereti (eastern Georgia) to the Caspian Sea. The Caucasian Albanians were a semi-nomadic pastoral society and are frequently mentioned in Greco-Roman sources. According to Strabo, “they have twenty-six languages, because of the fact that they have no easy means of intercourse with one another” (Geographica XI.iv.6). The Caucasian Albanians were clearly ancestral to many of the peoples of Daghestan, as Strabo’s statement suggests. It is extremely remarkable that the number of languages mentioned by Strabo (twenty-six) corresponds precisely to the number of languages currently spoken in Daghestan!
+ Zoroastrianism (Baku)]
The Albanians were converted to Christianity during the 4th century, and their language was reduced to writing by Mesrob Mashtots (d. 440, who had done the same for Armenian). The Christian Albanians produced a significant literature, most of which is lost; however, in 2003 an Albanian lectionary (circa 400 A.D.) was discovered by Zaza Aleksidze on a palimpsest at St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai. This is the only known Albanian document (ed. Gippert, Schulze, Alexsidze, & Mahé, 2009). The Caucasian Albanian language is clearly connected to the Lezghic family. It is most closely connected to the Udi language, which is still spoken in a few villages in Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Late in the 5th century, the reigning Arsacid dynasty died out and was replaced by the Mihrids, a branch of the Sassanians which remained in place even after the Arab conquest (644) and was finally extinguished in 821/22.
The Khazars were a Turkic (or Hunnic) people who became an extremely important factor in the history of Daghestan and the Caucasus. Their arrival on the steppe north of the Caspian Sea appears to be connected to the collapse of the 6th-century
Göktürk empire. By the middle of the 6th century, the Khazars had begun to launch attacks on the Caucasian Albanians to the south. They soon established control of Derbent, seizing the Caspian Gates. Ziebel, prince of the Khazars, assisted the Byzantine emperor Heraclius in his campaign against the Persians (627-28), overrunning Georgia and Albania in the process. Ziebel declared himself “lord of Albania” in 628.
With the rise of Islam, the Khazar empire became an important buffer state, preventing the northward spread of Islam into Eastern Europe. The Khazars established their capital at Atil (Itil) on the lower Volga. They defeated the armies of the Umayyad Caliphate in a major war (650-669), halting Arab expansion beyond the Caucasus.
By 670, the Khazars had also defeated and dispersed the Bulgar confederation, driving the Bulgars east to the Volga and west to the Danube (this dispersal may also have given rise to the Balkar people of the North Caucasus). During the late 7th century, the Khazars also overran the Crimea and the northeast littoral of the Black Sea.
The 8th century was a period of rapid expansion, which brought the Khazars into close association with the Byzantine Empire. In 704/05, the emperor Justinian II married Theodora, a sister of the Khazar khagan Busir. Shortly thereafter (711), the Khazars helped to elevate the usurper Philippicus to the Byzantine throne. In 720, Constantine V Copronymus married Tzitzak (baptized as Irene), the daughter of the Khazar khagan Bihar. Their son Leo IV (reigned 775-780) was known as “Leo the Khazar.” Around 715, a major war broke out between the Khazars and the Umayyad Caliphate. The Khazar armies, led by the female general Parsbit (a.k.a. Barsbek) gained a major victory over the Arabs at Arbadil (730) and beheaded the Arab general Jarrah al-Hakami. In 731, however, the Khazars were decisively defeated by the Arabs at Mosul (as the Khazar prince presided over the battle from a throne mounted with the severed head of Jarrah al-Hakami). This defeat resulted in the temporary Arab occupation of the Khazar capital of Atil. During the mid-8th century, the Khazars put down an uprising of the Goths in the Crimea. In 758, caliph al-Mansur ordered the governor of Armenia to make peace with the Khazars and take a Khazar bride. Her subsequent death under suspicious circumstances resulted in an invasion of Armenia and Azerbaijan by the Khazar general Ras Tarkhan.
By 800, the Khazar territories extended from the Dnieper river to the Aral Sea and even further to the east. The Khazars are best known for their famous conversion to Judaism. Some historians place this conversion as early as circa 740, while it is most commonly dated to around 800. Numismatic evidence, however, favors a later date: a cache of Khazar coins (widely used in international trade) unearthed on the Spillings farm on the island of Gotland (Sweden) are dated 837 and bear the inscription “Moses is the Prophet of God.” These coins may have been minted to commemorate the conversion fo the Khazars to Judaism. Jewish sources associate this conversion with the preaching of a certain Yitzhaq ha-Sangari, who supposedly emerged victorious from a debate against Christian and Muslim clergy which was held in the presence of the Khazar khagan. The Khazar kings of the 9th century adopted Jewish names: Obadiah, Benjamin, Aaron, and Zachariah. The Khazars established a portable Tabernacle based on Old Testament descriptions. Russian archaeologists have unearthed the remains of this at Khumar near Rostov-na-Donu (REF).
In 833, in exchange for the cession of the Chersonesus to the Byzantine Empire, the Khazar fortress of Sarcel (Sa/rkel) was built on the lower Don by Byzantine engineers under the direction of the architect Petronas Kamateros, who was subsequently installed as governor of Cherson (Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De administrando imperio 42). This was apparently a response to the threat posed by the Magyars to the “Khazarian Way,” the Don-Volga portage linking the Black and Caspian Seas.
The 9th century is known as the Pax Khazarica, a period of flourishing trade. From their headquarters on the lower Volga, the Khazars controlled a priome nexus of trade, the confluence of the Silk Road (linking China to Europe and the Mulim world) and an important north-south route linking the Near East to Northern Europe by way of the Volga river. The Khazar kings did not tax their subjects, levying instead a 10% duty on all trade-goods that passed through their realm. The Khazar heartland was the lower Volga and the coast of the Caspian as far south as Derbent. The king of the Khazars had his palace on an island in the Volga delta. His 25 wives were the daughters of client rulers. His domains extended far to the east and west, and also southward into the Caucasus, where his tributaries included the Lezgians, the Caucasian Huns, and the Caucasian Avars of Daghestan, as well as the Kartvelian state of Lazica (the former Colchis) on the Black Sea. The Caspian Sea is known as the “Sea of the Khazars” to this day (Arabic Baḥr al-Khazar; Persian Darya-ye Khazar; Turkish Hazar Denisi).
It is unclear whether the Khazar conversion to Judaism involved the entire nation or only their ruling class. In any case, the Khazar kings saw themselves as protectors and benefactors of international Jewry. Around 920, the Khazar king retaliated for the destruction of a synagogue in Persia by breaking off the minaret of the mosque in Atil and executing the muezzin; stating that he would have razed the mosque entirely but forebore lest this result in further persecution of the Persian Jews. Similarly, the Khazars responded to Byzantine persecution of Jews by attacking Byzantine commercial interests in the Crimea. There were many Jews in the Crimea: Tmutarakan had a majority Jewish populationa s early as the 670s. The Radhanites, a guild of Jewish merchants, played an important role in the flourishing Khazar trade network. Jewish sources reveal that at least two Spanish Jews established themselves among the Khazars during this period. The persecution of Jews in Persia led to a great influx of Jews from Persia into Khazaria. The “Mountain Jews” of Daghestan and Azerbaijan probably have some connection to the mediaeval Khazars as well. The Turkic-speaking Kumyk of Daghestan, as well as the closely-related Karachay of the North Caucasus, may also be remanants of the Khazars.
The Khazar state began to decline early in the 10th century, owing to the disruption of Khazar trade routes by the Varangians (Swedish Vikings) in the Volga basin and by Turkic tribes to the east. The Arab traveler Ibn Faḍlān (circa 921) reports witnessing hostility between the Oghuz Turks and the Khazars. Some sources claim that Seljuq, the founder of the Seljuq Turks, began his career as a mercenary soldier in the service of the Khazars, rising to high rank before he fell out with the Khazar rulers and departed for Khwarazm (mid-10th century).
The last Khazar military success was the defeat of the Alans (early 10th century). After that their fortunes rapidly declined. Pressur from the Kievan Rus culminated in the capture of Sarcel by Sviataslov I in 965, followed by the Russian conquest of Atil, the Khazar capital, in 968 or 969. A visitor to Atil wrote soon after the sacking of the city: “The Rus attacked, and no grape or raisin remained, not a leaf on a branch” (no ref. given).
Khazar successor states managed to hold out in the Crimea for many decades. According to Jewish sources, a Khazar prince, David, was the ruler of Taman during 985/86. In 1016, a combined Russian and Byzantine army captured the Khazar state of Kerch and deposed its ruler, Georgius Tzul. Finally, in 1083, the Crimean principality of Tmutarakan fell to Oleg of Chernigov, who took the Byzantine title of “archon of Tmutarakan.”
This appears to have signaled the end of Khazar political power, but there are scattered references to the Jewish Khazars from succeeding centuries. During the 12th century, for example, there are references to Khazar students pursuing rabbinic studies in Toledo. Late in the 12th century, there are references to the presence of Jewish Khazars in Derbent. The conversion of the Khazars continued to resonate in Jewish thought. Pethahiah of Ratisbon (13th century) writes that “To the seven kings of Meshech an angel appeared in a dream, bidding them to give up the laws and statutes, and to embrace the laws of Moses, son of Amram. If not, he threatened to lay waste their country.”
+ Samandar (city on Volga) + Tamara Rice + “Mountains of Darkness” = Caucasus + Tarki sacked by Stenka Razin, 1668
great Arab invasion (Bugha the Turk, 853, 50,000 died in Tbilisi alone), bookmarked as “History of Georgia chapter II” = Silogava & Shengelia; + AVARS / HUNS + Kumyks / Nogais / Balkars / Karachays; Kalmyks; Azeris = non-Caucasian peoples] + Shamkhalate of Tarki article
“World of the Khazars” (2007)—Bookmarked.
According to al-Mas’udi (10th century), the king of Alania was married to the sister of the king of Sarir, a Christian state in neighboring Daghestan.
The subsequent history of Daghestan is dominated by the shifting fortunes of a number of small territorial states which arose at the expense of the region’s patchwork of free village and tribal communities. The senior and most prestigious of these states was the Shamkhalate of Kazi-Kumukh, founded in 733. The Shamkhal functioned as the titular ruler of much of Daghestan and was sometimes able to exercise control over large parts of it.
In 1594, the Shamkhal succeeded in destroying a Russian expedition of 7,000 men; a second Russian expedition was destroyed in 1599 (Allen, 1971).
[AVARIA, others; population explosion—raids into Christian Georgia (complex situation cf. Alaverdi articles, sack of Alaverdi), day-labor in Baku; dynastic connections to K’akheti, Georgian collaborators; fortifications of Sighnaghi (23 towers) and Telavi (loopholed church)]
In 1711, prince Alexander Bekovich-Cherkassky was in Daghestan, seeking support for the Tsar against the Shah of Persia, who was technically sovereign over the entire western littoral of the Caspian Sea as far north as Derbent.
The defining event in the history of this period, however, was the invasion of Daghestan by Nāder Shāh (1741). The Shah, flush with his victory over the Mughals at Karnal and the sack of Delhi (1739), marched into Daghestan with 100,000 men. After a series of blunders and hampered by the difficult terrain, the Persian army was trapped at Andalal (12-28 September 1741) by the armies of the Avar Khan, Murtazali. The battle went on for four days and nights, as mountaineers poured in from all parts of Daghestan in support of the Khan. In the end, the bulk of Nāder Shāh’s army was destroyed, including most of his India veterans. [40,000 perished in one location]
This victory greatly enhanced the prestige of the khan of Kazi-Kumukh, who remained the dominant political force in the region until the Russian conquest. Although linguistically divided, the tribes of Daghestan often succeeded in coordinating their forces, as they did in 1741. This was made possible through the use of the Avar language as a lingua franca, known throughout Daghestan as болмацӀ (“army language”).
(1747: the 23 khanates of Azerbaijan established, which dominated the region until the Russian conquest in the early 19th century)] The Qarabagh khanate was one of the first and largest of them. The Sheki, Quba, Baku, Ganja, Talysh (Lankaran), Derbent, Shemakha, Nakhichevan and Erevan khanates. + Qutqashen, Shirvan, Sarab khanates
During the 18th century, many of the free peasant communities of Daghestan were brought into feudal submission to these khanates. For example, “Lezgians became part of the Quba khanate in the southeast, of the Derbent khanate in the northeast, and of the Kazikumux khanate in the northwest. . . . The southeastern areas (along the valley of the middle Samur river) did not belong to a feudal territory, but consisted of associations of independent peasant communities . . . such as Axty-para, Alty-para, Doquz-para, and Rutul” (Haspelmath, 1993, pp. 17-19).
+ death of Aga Muhammad at Shusha in 1797.
• Derbent oldest city in USSR (potsherds from 3000 BC), Sassanian settlement, original “Caspian Gates” a double wall 25m high, 7m long dating to 5th century AD. [Khosroes] The third longest in the world after the Great Wall of China & Hadrian’s Wall in Britain. (139)
• Sassanians ruled Daghestan until 7th century Arab invasion
• Shaykh MANSUR: Suvarov’s massacre of the Nogai Tartars (1782), then annexation of Crimea (1783) and mass exodus; then the Jihad. “the first jihad led by the Naqshbandi Sufi Sheikh Mansur against the Russian advance in the North Caucasus” (210)
“The population of Daghestan was reckoned by the Russians, at the time of the Murid War at about two millions, of Circassia at a million, even after the plague of the late ‘twenties.” (Allen, 1971, p. 285n)
The cultures of Daghestan are the most archaic in the Caucasus. They preserve an array of bizarre beliefs and practices which are found nowhere else on earth, providing a fascinating glimpse into the world of our Neolithic ancestors. It is very likely that many of the cultural features of Daghestan were characteristic of the Subarian (Tell Halaf) cultural complex which dominated pre-Sumerian Mesopotamia, still preserved in the inaccessible mountain valleys into which it retreated 5000 years ago.
The peoples of Daghestan were involved in the early development of agriculture in the Near East. Domesticated grains of rye and wheat have been found in Daghestan dating to the sixth millennium B.C. (Chenciner, 1997). Owing to the arid climate and lack of arable land, however, there was a perennial danger of drought and starvation. As a result, nettles are commonly eaten. Since the land was unable to support a large population, both abortion and geronticide have a long tradition in Daghestan. “Three hundred years ago in the villages of Hushtada, Kvanada and Tlondada, there was a Bagulaal Avar tradition to kill off old men over sixty, because there was insufficient food. They put them in a basket and threw them off a special rock on the mountain” (Chenciner, 1997, pp. 37-38). “Traditional methods of birth control include jumping off three-metre-high rocks or walls, washing internally with soap and water, putting a propane cooking gas cylinder on your belly, sitting in scalding water to burn the baby out, or using poisonous herbs as an emetic to expel the foetus” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 60). [USED IN RELIGION SECTION]
Female circumcision was widespread in Daghestan until the 1970s. While the standard of female beauty was to have dark hair and blue eyes, Daghestani women traditionally sought to make themselves as unattractive as possible. Since prehistoric times, the women of Daghestan have traditionally been tattooed with various ancient cosmological symbols, which serve as amulets and identify them with specific villages Chenciner, 2006). In contrast to the Georgians, the peoples of Daghestan practiced endogamy. This is especially true among the Lezgians, who are classless and formerly practiced brother-sister marriage (Islam still permits first-cousin marriage, which is widespread). Since people usually marry someone from the same village, “the same dowry gifts move round and round, from generation to generation. Most houses have a few 16th and 17th century blue-and-white Persian bowls and 18th century ‘Koubachi’ wares” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 152). Marriage is traditionally by abduction, as practiced throughout the North Caucasus. Interactions between the sexes were dictated by elaborate rules. The resulting lack of social communication “even gave rise to secret languages for women in Koubachi village and others” (p. 48). The North Caucasian custom of fostering was also practiced in Daghestan: “In the last century, when a son was born to the ruler of the Karakaitags, he was sent from village to village to be suckled by all the women who could, in order to make him foster-brother of his entire generation” (p. 81). 122-3, 221, 240-42 Godekan
Daghestan was dominated by the pre-Islamic institution of Men’s Houses and Men’s Unions. These were male secret societies whose functions included the initiation of adolescent males and the defense of the community. Boys were initiated through games that were “warlike, cruel or tormenting, reflecting their tough life. For example, a boy was sent out late at night to leave his cap somewhere in the cemetery and another, selected by lot, was sent to find it, not knowing that others were hidden there to frighten him” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 32). During Nāder Shāh’s first invasion of Daghestan (1735), the Chabkouni (members of the men’s union) of Koubachi fought to the last man to defend the town, even though their relatives begged them to surrender and finally set fire to the towers from which they were making their resistance (Chenciner, 1997).
These men’s unions were closely related to the Circassian institution of the djigits, masked societies who met with their princes for six weeks after the harvest, during which they used a secret language (Chakobza) to plan and carry out raids into settled areas. The word “djigit” simply means a Circassian, but was used throughout the North Caucasus to denote the participants in these male secret societies.
Like the Circassian djigits, the djigits of Daghestan concealed their identities behind masks. “Warriors wore masks to protect their faces and scare the enemy” (p. 184). These masks were formerly made of iron. The oldest extant iron mask from Daghestan dates to the 10th century. The Daghestani djigit wore a black felt bourka, a very ancient sort of garment which served as a coat, a uniform, and (in case he was killed) a shroud. The bourka could also be placed on the gorund to delineate the bounds of a dueling-ground at close quarters, and, conversely, was sometimes interposed between two men to stop a duel. “When the Daghestan highlander went looking for loot or to war, he wore his djigit dress. The distant glimpse of a black cape on horseback must have induced the same terror as the fluttering pennant of a Japanese samurai. . . . The more important the man, the richer his accoutrements. Under his weapons, his black wool-cloth cherkess coat with a woollen cloth bashlik hood, worn in cold weather, were standard dress” (p. 175).
These customs are extremely ancient. Chenciner publishes a plate (p. 167) with the caption, “Detail of masked horsemen on an 18th-century Kaitag embroidery.” Movsēs Xorenac’i (Moses of Khoren), an Armenian writer of the 7th century, describes how “the giant leader of a savage group of Caucasian mountain-men, invading Armenia from the north-east [i.e. Daghestan], was covered in spear-proof felt armour” (p. 180). The Daghestani versions of the Nart sagas preserve a wealth of ancient cultural information, including a description of the “grisly furry coat” of Soslan Kartsa, “made of the beard-skins of the men whom he had slain” (p. 180).
The tribes of Daghestan were ferocious warriors and were widely feared, especially after their destruction of the army of Nāder Shāh. “While their secondary occupations were lumbering, gardening and herding . . . [they] were first of all fierce rievers, incendiaries and thieves, who descended each year northwards across the Terek, and southwards and eastwards into the Mtkvari valley” (Allen, 1971, p. 35). Throughout the 18th century, the Lezgians, especially, made frequent incursions into K’akheti and beyond. Traveling in small, mobile bands, they raided the Georgian countryside at will, seizing slaves, hostages, and plunder and penetrating even to the outskirts of Mtskheta on occasion. At the same time, the Georgian kings often hired them as mercenary soldiers, and they served the Georgian feudal aznauris as well in their chronic internecine wars. The khan of Avaria enjoyed tremendous prestige after his rout of the Shah’s armies in 1741, and Avaria was the most powerful state in the Caucasus during the second half of the 18th century, with a standing army of 30,000 men.
During the 4th century A.D., king Khosrov of Armenia (son and successor of Tiridates III, the first Christian Armenian king) faced an invasion of peoples from the North Caucasus. Moses of Khoren describes one of their commanders as “a fearsome armed giant completely enveloped in felt” (Patmut’iwn Hayoc’ III.9, trans. Thomson).
The peoples of Daghestan are notable for preserving a wide array of ancient beliefs and practices which may be described as Sympathetic Magic. Most of these ideas were involved with the Contagious Principle: “That is, things that were once in contact with someone can be used in rites and spells to make things happen to that person. By performing the correct rites and spells on such objects as hair clippings, bodily excretions, nail parings, infant umbilical cords, or jewelry and clothing, harm can be done to one’s enemies” (Bailey & Peoples, 2002, p. 213). For example, “three charms from the village of Archi were typical of sympathetic magic, connected with animals: if you kill a frog, your cow will die; if you eat cats, you get the ‘trembling illness’; and if a child is agitated or afraid, feed it snake meat” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 87).
Numerous magical practices were associated with agriculture, including the use of terrifying scarecrows to attract rain or sunshine, and various feasts whose purpose was to ensure the fertility of the land. These feasts typically featured the preparation of soup in huge communal pots. These pots were stirred with huge, gaily-decorated spoons. “The longest culinary spoon in the world may well be the 5’5” one in Akhti museum, made in Kuyada, Gunibskii rayon” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 73).
Most of the ethnic groups of Daghestan practiced First Furrow rituals of various sorts. Among the Tabassarans, for instance, “all the men met at a holy grave and presented each othe with sadaka, small gifts. In the evening, the ploughman performed a cleansing ritual, before making love with his wife. In the morning, he kept apart from his family and neighbours and, dressed in clean clothes, he went ploughing barefoot and for three days only he was entitled to sow seeds” (Chenciner, 1997, pp. 109-10). On the Lezgin Day of the Gardener, a “queen” was selected to preside over the ceremonies, wearing “a gross Diana-of-the-Ephesians-style many-appled necklace” (p. 110). The principal use of masks was in association with fertility rites; for this reason, even scarecrows were sometimes dressed in masks.
Magical practices were associated with human fertility as well. “By the hearth of many houses, there is a bronze oil lamp, in the form of an erect phallus” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 57). The Turkic-speaking Kumyk people of Daghestan (possibly a remnant of the mediaeval Khazars), had a superstition that “if at a marriage party somebody shuts a flick-knife or sheathes a kinjal or closes scissors or makes knots, then the bride will be infertile” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 56). Masked dances were performed at weddings to ensure fertility. “Everywhere a pair of horns is displayed at the symbolic entrance to the home” (p. 191), and an “elixir of life made from ground deer horn” was sold for high prices as an aphrodisiac (p. 191). “Snake-shaped bracelets were worn by sick or barren women and the reptile also decorated talismanic ceramic jugs and dishes” (p. 86).
Other charms included salt, dog’s excrement, grain, and splinters of wood. “Animal skulls were kept in the corner of a room or outdoors, and cattle horns were nailed to a fence or verandah. Metal charms included knives, sickles, scissors, pins, needles and horseshoes. A piece of metal was placed under the head of a new-born babe, and when a child started to walk, a small piece of metal was sewn to his clothing, to prevent a fall” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 86). Uzelik (paganum harmala) was dried and hung in bunches to protect houses from evil spirits; it was also used to fumigate sickrooms. “If
the master of a household fell ill after giving dinner to a stranger, it was necessary to get a scrap of his clothing to burn with uzelik, to purify the house by cremating the miserable spirit which he had left behind. If this was impossible, a twig broom was used to sweep all the places where the guest’s feet had trodden, and the dust collected, mixed with salt and incinerated with uzelik.” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 86). Talismans were hung in vacant or newly-built houses to prevent evil spirits from taking up residence there.
“In older houses the roof logs and the roof were held up by a great wooden column with a capital, up to four metres long. Sixteenth and seventeenth century capitals were often shaped like great coiled horns” (p. 148). Chenciner notes that “the curse ‘May your column fall!’ is still a grave offense (p. 150).
Special rituals were associated with bread. Bread of many different kinds and shapes for various occasions, including weddings, funerals, and religious observances. When a child “stepped over the bread . . . to get at some other food . . . his father made him kiss the bread as an apology, and promise never to do it again. The first bread from new flour had always to be tasted by the head of house, and then by the youngest boy to ensure he grew up strong” (p. 118).
During the era of Persian ascendancy, Zoroastrianism spread northward along the west coast of the Caspian Sea. The famous “Maiden Tower” [Qız Qalası] at Baku is thought to have been a Zoroastrian sacred site, and an ancient Zoroastrian temple, the Atəşgah (“fire temple”) at Surakhani on the outskirts of Baku, continues to function on the outskirts of the city. Zoroastrianism spread into the interior of Daghestan as well, where it became associated with Sun worship (Chenciner, 1997). Rituals associated with the Zoroastrian New Year are still widespread throughout the Caucasus. In Daghestan, people celebrate the “Burning of Winter” by bringing anything old out of their houses and burning it in bonfires which are set in yards, streets, or on the outskirts of the village. It is customary for young men to leap over these bonfires as a rite of purification. In some parts of Daghestan, whole mountainsides used to be set on fire (Chenciner, 1997).
Islam was first brought to Daghestan during the 8th century. The Laks claim pride of place as the first converts to Islam. Eventually, Islam in Daghestan and Chechnya came to be dominated by two Sufi sects, the Naqshbandis and the Qadiris. [differences: N. “prestigious, ” “The Naqshbandis practiced the silent zikr usually on their own, which was obviously safer than the loud group zikr during times of persecution” Q. “They practice the loud zikr chant . . . The loud zikr was normally chanted in a group, but could also be said individually. It took about an hour, but some Sufis continued all their waking time.” “The Qadiri leadership was always kept in one family. In contrast, the leaders of the Naqshbandis were selected on merit and so the order was more intellectual” (212). Both sects were associated with violent resistance to Russian rule [imamate]
As might be expected, the Daghestani practice of Islam is highly syncretistic. “Strict Muslim hosts drink water but still make toasts” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 127). “The Daghestani interpretation of Islam prohibits eating pork, wild boar, the foal of an ass, cat, dog, wolf and fox. Eating horseflesh was rare, but only permitted if a horse was useless for riding, except for a complete taboo in western Daghestan among the Akhvakh, Karata, Dido, Bezhta” (p. 129). A 14th-century mosque at Tsofkra Pervoy is described as being “decorated with powerful archaic pagan horn-shapes” (p. 145). “At New Year, youngsters would make the rounds with songs of praise to Allah and Spring, carrying a small tree (or large branch) on which to hang presents decorated with ribbons. The tree was sometimes topped . . . with a carved wooden bird whose head could be nodded by a string in sarcastic disapproval of mean gifts” (p. 179). 125-6 Izrael; 237 Shayt’an
There are numerous Islamized pagan shrines throughout the region. “In the villages of Daghestan women do not go to the mosque, even though there are women’s areas set aside there. In contrast it is chiefly women who visit the holy shrines, which are found throughout Daghestan, and were so hated by the Soviet authorities. Today, every shrine is covered with hundreds of new ribbons, fluttering in the wind (Chenciner, 1997, p. 43). “In Derbent there is a sacred place – a tenth-century walled shrine, with the Tombs of the Forty Arab Martyrs, killed fighting the Khazars, where people go to cure barrenness. Inside, a sacred tree is covered with tied-on cloth offerings . . . There is one particular tomb, with an arched niche in the headstone, where the woman supplicant bends forward, to touch her forehead, in order to ensure children” (p. 58). “The Avar national shrine in Zakatal . . . was by tradition a plain wooden hut. . . . The walls would have been covered with the horns of sacrificed turs and buck-deer” (p. 195). The “magic earth” from the tombs of Sufi saints is thought to have supernatural power. The associated shrine may preserve the personal effects of the deceased, such as his coat or walking stick. These objects, as well as the shrine itself and sacred trees in the vicinity, are typically decorated with colorful ribbons and cloth streamers (Chenciner, 1997). 207 cadi, interpreter of writing; stories of Malla Nasradin (trickster, wise fool) “The imam of a (nameless) village had died, so the Council of Elders gathered to choose his successor. A very old man, known to be a joker, interrupted the speeches, suggesting that the new imam should be a man who had not had sexual intercourse with a donkey, so would all those in that condition step forward. But no one moved” (192). [clergy as scoundrels]
Daghestani beliefs about ritual purity combine Islamic and pagan ideas: “Food was also banned if it had come by ill-gotten gains from stealing or cheating, or been prepared by women who had not completed ablutions after sex or were menstruating. It was unclean to eat walking in the streets, or in a crowded place, or if one was on horseback, lying down, standing up, next to a sickbed, in a hayloft or stable” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 129). “News of disgrace spread beyond the village and groups of people with bad reputations had to settle together, like Kadar, the Dargin Village of Thieves” (p. 129). “It was thought humiliating to eat at the same table with an intruder who violated the rules of honour and shame. So if a stranger passing through, took advantage of shelter and food as a guest, but got drunk, the host would refuse to sit with him” (p. 129). 125 stolen objects found in other world; 170 beehive, theft of bees [references to theft passim]
THEFT of livestock, housebreaking, even of bees from a hive; 118 blacksmith (migratory, 128), migrated from village to village (seasonal); 244-5 gravediggers
Religious syncretism is especially noticeable in Daghestani burial practices. Men were traditionally buried in white shrouds, women in green shrouds. The bodies were washed on a tin tray which was kept in the mosque, and water was sprinkled into the eyes of the corpse. There was a taboo against women attending funerals. After the funeral, an old man was stationed in a hut inside the cemetery to read the Qur’an over the grave for seven days. Religious ceremonies were signaled by the lighting of fires: one fire for a funeral, two for a wedding. Logs were traditionally left on the doorstep of a bereaved family (wood being a precious commodity in much of Daghestan) (Chenciner, 1997; Berg, 2001). “The 12th-century traveler Abu Hamed of Grenada wrote about the extraordinary burial rites of Sirihkeran, the village of the armouers, the Arab name for Koubachi. When a man died, his corpse was presented to some people who lived in wattle and earth huts – not the villagers in their fine stone houses – who chopped up the body, separating the bones from the flesh. The flesh was put out for the eagles, buzzards or other birds to eat (and take to heaven) . . . Rich people had bags of gold embroidery, ‘Greek’ silk, or more simply bleached linen, which were then labeled and hung up in the houses” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 97). Chenciner also describes a “talismanic cover” dating to the 18th century, “which was probably used to conceal the face of a dead person, showing a symbolic route to the next world in the mirror image of the microcosmic design with ‘axis mundi’ separating the primal mound from an umbrella-like heaven, also linked with a snake-like lightning bolt” (p. 159). Similar motifs are seen on old tombstones, which feature animist and Islamic iconography side by side, along with Arabic inscriptions.
As in other parts of the North Caucasus, funerals were celebrated with horse races. In Daghestan, male mourners shaved their heads except for one lock. The horsemen carried forked sticks festooned with apples and nuts, and the winner’s prize was the clothing of the deceased. There is also evidence of horses being sacrificed and buried along with their owners. Mourners were required to make barefoot visits to the grave of the deceased, even during the winter (Chenciner, 1997). In the North Caucasus, a rag-doll served as “a burial offering for a dead girl child,” and these were kept as symbolic playthings (p. 97). 95 giving alms would absolve the sins of one’s late relatives
99 custom of bringing alms to the grave
Many Daghestani beliefs and practices are clearly of pre-Islamic pagan origin: the Kumyk (possibly descendants of the mediaeval Khazars) maintained the cult of Suv Anasy, “the sterile ‘Mother of Water’ who inhabited the earth. She was huge in size, like a Nart, with enormous strength and lived beside a river, guarding the water. She could deafen her victim with one blow, and even drown him, if he disrespectfully approached the river at night” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 106).
Many pagan beliefs pertain to animals. “Legends and folktales of the origin of ethnic groups speak of progeny from the union of animals and women. The earliest known example of a pregnant woman with a goat as father is portrayed in a Mesolithic rock drawing at Cinna-Khitta” (p. 191). Stories of human cohabitation with bears are especially frequent, including stories of female bear-sirens who consorted with hunters. A masked man dressed as a “dancing bear” traditionally performs at Dargin weddings, apparently as a fertility ritual (p. 194, with illustration). “Daghestan and North Caucasian dog fights are a ritual activity, where giant dogs fight according to complex rules” (p. 200). Cockfighting is also widely practiced. 228 set dogs on someone
The peoples of Daghestan employed a wide array of herbal remedies: “Daghestan is reputed to have almost as many medicinal herbs as Tibet – several hundred at least, depending on the method of classification” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 265). “Dried grass snake, crushed with honey, was eaten to get rid of skin rashes and yolk of egg with honey were spread on a wound so that it healed without a scar . . . Rich bear meat was eaten when you felt unwell and had no appetite, and cooked badger leg, which was very fatty, or St. John’s wort tea restored energy after an illness” (p. 123). The mentally ill were treated with superstitious reverence, and their graves were visited in times of illness, “when their supernatural connections enabled them to chase away the spirits of sickness” (p. 87). At the same time, Berg (2001) makes reference to the practice of restraining a madman in a bag, who is “calmed” by beating him with sticks (pp. 157-58). “For magical healing, the Lezgin resorted to a witch doctor, who performed various rites. He collected earth from holy places of shrines, such [as] the Pyre of Suleiman on Mount Shalbuzdag, which was mixed with water and drunk as medicine. He also used human-like Mary’s hair, a fibrous plant which hangs from branches. If a prayer was said while a strand was tied around the wrist or ankle, magic powers of healing were activated” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 87). In the event of an epidemic, a bull was sacrificed and its meat consumed by the entire village, after which its bones were buried. “Before filling the pit with earth, they threw in oak branches and herbs. . . . Finally, they set light to a tuft of the bull’s eyebrows on the mound” (p. 195). 185-86 fraudulent mouse-powder (ground-up pottery fragments, cf. famine)
Like other peoples of the Caucasus and the Near East, the peoples of Daghestan believed used various amulets for protection against the Evil Eye. “Even today, beads to keep the evil eye at bay are sewn on children’s clothing from birth, or worn around their wrists or necks. Small glass beads, resembling eyes, were favoured by the Dargins, as were bones or teeth of boar, fox, wolf or goat, sea shells, bears’ claws, and egg shells. The Lezgins protected themselves with amulets in red cloth bags or leather pouches, adapted in Muslim times to hold a few lines from the Koran, sewn into their clothing. Richer folk would keep an amulet box, containing barley, apricot kernels, quince or cornelian cherry, as fruit-bearing plants were thought to have healing properties (Chenciner, 1997, p. 86). The Evil Eye could be “accidentally attracted by praising someone, celebrating recovery from illness, or even picking up a child in admiration” (p. 87). Sorcerers would sometimes seek to pass on an illness by embracing a child after visiting a dying person. “The Lezgins in particular had discovered a most effective way to kill: by burying some of the victim’s hairs, knotted with a woollen string and a fatty sheep’s tail in a sunny place. As the fat melted, so the victim would sicken and die in torment” (p. 87).
It was believed that a sorcerer could harm a person, as in the case just noted, by obtaining their hair or other bodily detritus, and many superstitions were concerned with preventing this. When circumcision was performed, “the foreskin was placed in a clean place in the eaves by the circumciser” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 79). “Before cutting a baby’s nails, its fingers were pressed on flour to stop it becoming a thief. When a baby’s hair was cut, it had to be put in a hole in the wall of the house – what was locally described as a clean place, protected from malevolent beings or forces – as did the baby’s nails. The baby’s bath water had to be thrown out in the morning, so that no part of the infant fell into malevolent hands” (Chenciner, 1997, pp. 78-79). Men “never addressed their wives by name, especially in front of strangers. . . . if a wife’s name was mentioned, it would attract the attention of the evil eye and harm would befall her. . . . In Daghestan a wife, in turn, addressed her husband as “he,” and spoke to him only when it was convenient to him, in a soft calm voice” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 40). Coal and soot were kept by Lezgins to ward off evil forces and youngsters were smeared with soot and dressed in torn clothes to make them unattractive to spirits” (p. 86). 228 coal of burned house; 178 “Take the corpse tonight and throw it at the place where three roads divide”
Daghestani sorcerers used terrifying “devil-masks” to identify themselves with resurrected ancestors.
The peoples of Daghestan practiced several interesting forms of divination, including dream-divination and palm-reading (both of which were mainly practiced by women) (Chenciner, 1997, p. 43). Dreams were believed to reveal secrets: “One night he had a dream in which a big tree came out of his head and instead of the leaves the stolen pieces of material were hanging” (Berg, 2001, p. 150). If a child fell ill, ceromancy was used to divine the proper remedy: “A sick child’s ear wax was dropped into a dish of cold water and the shape divined by the witch-docor, usually as a snake or a frog, which was then caught and its skin rubbed over the child. Presumably, that was the more pleasant function of a bronze frog from Koubachi, now on show in a museum in Makhachkala” (p. 87). The old bronze frog-idols found in Daghestan presumably had some relation either to rain-making or to the practice of folk medicine.
Like other peoples of the Caucasus, the peoples of Daghestan venerated the Sun. Ancient tombstones and carpets are decorated with sun-bursts, sun-signs, sun-birds, octagons, and cosmic columns. Sun-signs were also branded onto the skulls of sacrificed animals, which were carefully preserved. The valuch-tush was a one-eyed demon whose “cyclopean eye, big, round and brilliant, stood for the sun . . . The Avars called this giant ‘plate-eyed,’ and to the Laks, he was ‘bread-eyed’ and ‘cup-eyed’” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 23). The legendary Narts “bowed in the direction of the setting sun and the sun answered to their bidding by pausing to allow them to complete their day’s work” (p. 23). The traditional religion of Daghestan was characterized by invocations and supplications to the Sun. On the occasion of the winter solstice, “a mid-winter procession wound around the cemetery, following a raised totem of a white cloth torso on a pole” (p. 106).
The peoples of Daghestan developed a calendrical system of great complexity, though it is no longer understood today: “Engraved on the outside wall [of the mosque at Ghazi-Ghumuq] were mysterious indents and notches believed to be part of an elaborate solar calendar system, used in the mountains in the pre-Islamic era” (Karny, 2000, p. 162). The Aghul people of southern Daghestan bake special bread for funerals in the shape of a sunburst, with 13 rays (Chenciner, 1997, p. 90). The 13 rays are probably a lunar motif, representing the 13 lunar months that correspond (more or less) to one solar year. Another instance of soli-lunar synchronism is seen in Daghestani agricultural practices: “Vineyard districts had special rules. By law and common conviction, it was forbidden to pck or even eat grapes till the 15th day of autumn [i.e., one-half lunation counted from the autumnal equinox]. In some districts, if someone violated this rule he was driven through the village on a mule, his face smeared with soot” (p. 103).
Both Sun and Moon figured prominently in Daghestani folk medicine. “Spring waters, herbs and spells form an integral part of this medicine. . . . The curing spring beside the waterfall at Inkhokvari, near Aguali village is one such mysterious example. When the moon waxes, there is more gas in the pungent waters, when moon wanes, less, and the flavour changes . . . Earlier this century, on the night of the equinox, even ordinary spring water was considered to have medicinal properties by the Kumyks, who either bathed in the river or brought home ewers filled with its water to pour over themselves and their elderly relatives. They used special brass owls, with central raised bosses and magical inscriptions, for drinking remedial waters” (p. 85). The two luminaries were also featured in incantations against illness, such as “May the sun and mon show the way, may the wind drive the illness away” (p. 195). Apparently the sky of clouds and weather was equated to the starry heavens; both were understood to be relatively near at hand: “I saw how a crow took your boy yesterday and led him to the stars” (Berg, 2001, p. 130).
Meteorites were regarded as objects of great supernatural power, and were installed in mosques and tombstones (Chenciner, 1997).
The arid climate of Daghestan was characterized by frequent periods of drought. The peoples of Daghestan practiced a wide variety of rain-making rituals. Many of the ceremonies used to invoke rain, such as throwing stones into the river, appear to be symbolic of human sacrifice, recalling a time in the distant past when a human victim was drowned in the river to summon rain (Chenciner, 1997, p. 104). Many rain-making rituals involved the parading of a votive object, such as a spade, puppet, or doll, often decorated with images of snakes and frogs, or a living child dressed as a scarecrow or “rain donkey.” In all cases, water was poured over the object or human participant as it passed through the village. These practices are clearly parallel to the rain-making dolls used by the Abkhaz, far to the west.
There were many other techniques, some of them quite bizarre: “In Tabassaran, the villagers gathered beside springs, holy graves and on mountain peaks, to sacrifice a horned animal, which they had jointly acquired. In the village of Dabek, they gatered at their sacred tree to kill a sheep or ox. . . . After feasting on its meat, they broke a branch off the holy tree and with a stone tied to its crown, let it down into the spring, simulating the rain, which they believed would fall for as long as it remained under water. In Mezhgiul, they destroyed a raven’s nest, so that the bird which was a scapegoat for the drought, would go away. In other village, they opened up a saint’s grave and put his remains in water for a few hours or moved the tombstone. Imitating rain, they would clean a sprig of silt or tie rags – usually red for riches – on the branches of a sacred tree or beat the water or ground with branches, chanting “Ubg markh! Ubg markh!” (“Pour, rain! Pour, rain!”)” (pp. 106-7). The Islamic clergy were also involved in these rituals. In times of drought, “the mullah presented his village with a sheep’s shoulder bone with Arabic instriptions to encourage rain” (p. 105).
Occasionally, the problem was too much rain. In such cases, frogs and snakes were caught and buried alive to stop the rain—yet another instance of Sympathetic Magic (p. 195). The mountaineers of Daghestan are notoriously afraid of water and have an aversion to eating fish, in contrast to the Georgians, for whom fish had a totemic significance.
Hail was another serious threat to the survival of the community. “To put a stop to hail, which damaged crops, metal implements such as axes, knives or daggers were thrown into the yard” (p. 107). “In Bezhta, tiny broken ceramics had been carefully placed all over the low mound of a child’s grave by other children, supposedly to protect it from hail (p. 97). These rituals recall some of the hail-prevention techniques found in the Geoponica and the Nabataean Agriculture, and are clearly of great antiquity.
Lightning was highly revered, and the splinters from a tree struck by lightning were carefully preserved and used as amulets and charms against sickness (p. 86).
“Not so long ago, a Russian lecturer was explaining to a group of Daghestan mountain villagers all about the Soviet conquest of space. He warmed to his subject as his audience politely listened, gazing at the stars in the mild summer night. After three hours, the address had finished, everyone clapped, and the lecturer asked if there were any questions. The respectful silence was eventually broken by a village elder. He thanked the speaker and confirmed that indeed they now knew everything about the cosmos, but as they were in the presence of a scientist, perhaps he could ask him about a problem which had for long puzzled him. “How did they get the soft jam into the centre of the hard sugar sweets?” (Chenciner, 1997, p. 12). This story more or less sums up what I have learned about the Daghestani understanding of astrology. While the peoples of Daghestan took celestial phenomena very seriously and interpreted them as omens (in common with most other natural events), they do not appear to have had an astrological tradition worthy of the name. Their thinking about such matters still falls within the category of “Primal Astrology,” as described above. Presumably the Islamic clergy had some access to astrological treatises, but I have found no specific references to the practice of astrology in Daghestan.
170 fate, calamity;
259 knowledge of time of death
162 picture of NOTCHES—“The mosque building provides some evidence of the Laks’ antiquity. Engraved on the outside wall, by the entrance, are mysterious indentations and notches that are believed to be part of an elaborate solar calendar system, used in the mountains in the pre-Islamic era. The mosque’s site could have once been occupied by a pagan temple, probably for fire worshippers. Gods and governors may have changed in the Caucasus, but the highlanders have never lost the urge to worship. To this day, they still celebrate the dawn of spring as their ancestors did a thousand years ago. In what they call Intnil-khu (“spring night”), the Laks spend a whole night on the peaks of their mountains, setting fires and eating bartu, a special bread shaped in a zodiac form. Similarly, they spend the first night of the summer on the peak of a sacred mountain called Vets’ilu, just outside of Ghazi-Ghumuq. When Aliyev was a child, people used to gather on the mountain and await the rise of the first summer sun, at which time they performed an ancient dance called sappa. (p. 163)
7. Ossetian Tradition
The Ossetians (Alans) are the only surviving remnant of the Sarmatians, a confederation of Scythians (East Iranians) whose territories formerly extended from the steppes to the northeast of the Caspian Sea through the North Caucasus, and the steppe lands north of the Black Sea as far as the mouth of the Danube. They were an extremely warlike people whose religious cult involved the worship of a sword thrust in the ground. According to Herodotus (REF), “their women, so long as they are virgins, ride, shoot, throw the javelin while mounted, and fight with their enemies. They do not lay aside their virginity until they have killed three of their enemies, and they do not marry before they have performed the traditional sacred rites.” Archaeological investigation of Sarmatian burial-mounds in the Ukraine reveals that approximately 20% of the burials were of females dressed for battle. This unusual phenomenon led some classical authors (e.g. Pseudo-Scylax, Periplus Maris Interni 70) to the mistaken belief that the Sarmatians were ruled by women. The Ossetian language of the Caucasus and the Yaghnobi language of Uzbekistan are the only survivals of the Scythian (East Iranian) languages once current throughout Central Asia.
In 135 A.D., king Pharasmenes of Iberia opened the Caucasian Gates (Dariel Pass) to the Alans, who proceeded to ravage Albania and Media before turning westward to menace Roman territory. Arrian, operating from the fortress of Apsarus (modern Gonio) on the Black Sea coast, succeeded in deterring them from Colchis and Cappadocia. The Roman army which Arrian led against the Alans included auxiliaries from Colchis and Armenia. Afterwards he compiled a short treatise, Acies contra Alanos (ed. Hercher, Arriani Nicomedensis scripta minora, 1885), in which he recommends tactical procedures for dealing with the Alans. In this text, Arrian uses the terms ’Ala/noi (Alans), and Sku/qai (Scythians) interchangeably, and notes that they wore heavy body-armor. According to Pausanias (Graeciae descriptio I.21.5-6), this armor was crafted from segments of horses’ hooves, cleaned, polished, and stitched together. He also notes their use of lassos to unseat enemy horsemen. The Romans dealt with this by hurling special javelins pointed with thin steel shanks, which would lodge in the Alans’ plate-armor and thus encumber their movement (Acies 17).
In another work, the Ars tactica (ed. Hercher, 1885), Arrian offers further comments on the Alans. Here, he uses the three designations ’Ala/noi (Alans), Sauroma/tai (Sarmatians), and Sku/qai (Scythians) interchangeably. Arrian notes that the Alan horsemen fought in close order (16.6), and comments on the dragon-standards they carried into battle to terrify the enemy (35.2). He also notes their practice of hurling javelins (4.7) and advises the use of the same tactic against them (11.2, 44.1). The Sarmatian horsemen were also armed with six-foot swords, capable of cutting a man in half (Sulimirski, 1970). According to Ammianus Marcellinus, “Nearly all the Alani are men of great stature and beauty; their hair is somewhat yellow, their eyes are frighteningly fierce” (xxxi.2.21).
The most important cultural contribution of the Sarmatians was the great oral epic cycle concerning the Nartæ (Narts), an extinct race of 99 giants and heroes. Versions of these stories were adopted by most of the peoples of the North Caucasus, and are a rich repository of ancient folklore and cultural information. The Ossetian Nart-cycle has been published by Georges Dumézil (Le livre des héros: Légendes sur les Nartes, 1965, in French translation). John Colarusso has published a representative selection of materials from the North Caucasus versions of the Nart epos (Nart sagas from the Caucasus: Myths and legends from the Circassians, Abazas, Abkhaz, and Ubykhs, in a bilingual edition).
Around 370 A.D., the Alans of the eastern steppe were overwhelmed by the Huns. A portion of them (ancestors of the modern Ossetians) were driven southward into the Caucasus, while another portion fled westward into Europe, settling in Rumania, Hungary, Gaul, and Brittany. The western Alans became associated with the Vandals and Suebi, and established kingdoms in the southern part of the Iberian peninsula and (with the Vandals) in North Africa. The Alans (Sarmatians) exercised an enduring influence on the various European peoples with whom they came in contact. The Romans had used Sarmatian mercenaries to garrison Britain, and it is believed that parts of the Sarmatian Nart epos were incorporated into the Arthurian cycle. The kingdom of Poland continued to style itself “Sarmatic” until the abolition of the Polish monarchy in 1795 (Sulimirski, 1970).
Meanwhile, the Ossetian Alans gained firm control of the Dariel Pass and established themselves on both sides of the “Caucasian Gates,” occupying the territories now known as North and South Ossetia. The Alans were partially converted to Christianity by Byzantine missionaries, and early in the 8th century established the powerful kingdom of Alania, which dominated the entire North Caucasus, including the territories of the Circassians extending far to the west. From their capital at Maghas (Maas), the Alans controlled the important trade-route through the Dariel Pass, which gave access to the Silk Road. During the 8th century, the Alans, in alliance with the Georgians and the Khazars, opposed the advancing armies of the Arab Caliphate, defeating the Arab general Tabit al-Nahrani in 722; however, the Arabs succeeded in ravaging Alania and occupying the Caucasian Gates on three occasions (in 728, 736, and 756).
During the 9th century, the allied Alans and Khazars opposed the Byzantine Empire. During this time, Khazar influence resulted in the conversion of many Alans to Judaism. However, early in the 10th century, the king of Alania was converted to Christianity. Ibn Rustah (circa 910 A.D.) states that “Their king is Christian at heart, but all his people are idolaters.” He goes on to describe the fortress known as the “Gate of the Alans”: "It stands on the top of a mountain at the foot of which there is a road; high mountains surround it and a thousand men from among its inhabitants guard its walls day and night.” (Alemany, p. 260). The king’s conversion resulted in a political realignment. In alliance with the Byzantines, the Alans turned against their Khazar allies. However, they were decisively defeated and their king was captured by the Khazars. This disaster led to a violent reaction against Christianity among the Alans, with the expulsion of Byzantine missionaries and clergy and a return to the Khazar alliance, which lasted until the fall of Khazaria in the 960s.
During the 11th century, the Alans again aligned themselves with the Christian states in their vicinity. Queen Alda of Alania was married to George I of Abkhazia-Georgia. Alania also developed commercial ties with the Rus principality of Tmutarakan in the Crimea, and in 1033 the Alans joined the Rus in sacking Shirvan. The Alans were a major contingent in the armies of the Georgian kings, and Georgian and Alan missionaries succeeded in converting many of the Vainakh and Dvals to Christianity during this period. Maria of Alania, the daughter of the Georgian king Bagrat IV and niece of king Dorgolel of Alania, was married to two Byzantine emperors: Michael VII Doukas (reigned 1071-78) and Nicephorus III Botaniates (reigned 1078-81).
In 1118/19, David IV Aghmashenebeli travelled to Alania to secure permission for the Kipchaks to pass through the Dariel Pass into Georgia, widening the highway through the mountains for this purpose. These Kipchaks, a Turkic people, provided “40,000 elite soldiers ready for battle,” the backbone of the Georgian army during the so-called “Golden Age” (1089-1225) (Metreveli, 2010). They were ultimately assimilated into the Georgian population.
In 1189, the Alan prince David Soslan became the second husband of Queen Tamar of Georgia. The kingdom of Alania fell to the Mongols in 1238/39, and Alan auxiliaries participated in the Mongol invasion of Europe. Many of these subsequently accompanied the Mongols back to China. “The Catholic missionary John de Marignolli, who spent five years in China [1342-47], states that there were up to 30,000 Ās [Alans] there. In the course of time they perished in warfare or were absorbed into the local population” (Abaev & Bailey, 1985, ¶7). Another group of Alans migrated westward with a portion of the Kipchaks, settling in Hungary, where they established the principality of Jászság and preserved their language and ethnic identity until the 15th century. The Mongol invasion also resulted in an expansion of the Ossetians in the Caucasus toward the southwest, where they assimilated the Dvalians (usually described as a Vainakh people, now extinct) (Dvals, 2011). “Les Dwals sont les moins nobles des Osses. Quand un Osse ou un Dwal devient riche et puissant, il prend deux ou trois femmes et se construit une tour. S’il vient à commetre un meurtre, et qu’il ait le dessous envers la partie intéresée, il entre dans sa tour et ne sort plus jusqu’à la mort” (Wakhousht, 1842, p. 437).
+ The main point being that the Ossetians long ruled extensive territories in the Caucasus and beyond!
+ Amazon connection (Sarmatians hybrid) + Ossetian rebel woman, 2008
+ During Soviet times, Ossetians were recruited to police Tbilisi. It is interesting to note that the police force of ancient Athens, likewise, “was mainly composed of Scythian slaves” (Liddell, p. 1616, s.v. Sku/qhv).
The Ossetian god Art’awyz has interesting lunar associations. According to legend, God created four good things: Art’awyz (the greatest of them), mankind, sheep, and wheat. But at the devil’s instigation He created womankind for man, goats for sheep, and bitter-tasting weeds for wheat. Art’awyz was created for our good, but he undertook to teach people wickedness. So God appointed Wacilla (the god of thunder and lightning) to take charge of Art’awyz. Wacilla nailed Art’awyz inside the Moon with iron nails. If he breaks free, he devours people, so every blacksmith strikes his anvil an extra time (Abaev, 1958-89). This story is clearly connected to the Greek myth of Prometheus and to the Georgian myth of Amirani, from which both are probably derived. The name Art’awyz is cognate to the Armenian Art’avazd (Abaev, 1958-89). It is especially interesting that while this myth appears to explain the origin of the “man in the moon,” it offers no explanation of lunar eclipses. [2 Georgian versions of Art’awyz; ARV (sky); upper sky; arv-naesyn (thunder); arv-yrttuvd (lightning); arv-yrdyn (sky-bow, i.e. rainbow); The sky struck us. The horse bore him between sky and earth. Smarter than I there is none under the sky. Arvy ron (sky-belt, i.e. rainbow); ZAEXX, MIIGH, WARYNB, WAD (check these also)]
The most archaic and most interesting and really Iranian part are the tales around the heroine Satana (she has great magic powers and is the owner of a mirror where she can see what happens on earth and in heaven), about whose (historical) personality and whose name Jost and I have published several articles (please cf. our resp. bibliographies).
Passages on "Oinon calx" (a celestial wheel which can develop a rather destructive power), and also some remarks on the morning and evening stars.
In Ossetia astrology has no tradition of whatsoever. Even my teacher, Vasilij Abaev, didn't know the date of his birth. I could tell you the same about many other people. [Sonja Gippert-Fritz, personal communication, 3 July 2011]
• Rekom, N. Ossetia “where the sacrificed ram skulls were stacked on shelves against the log cabin walls. The same many-headed motif also appeared on tapestry carpets” (Chenciner, 1997, pp. 145-46).
Volume I: 48, 70, 142, 156, 170, 175 re. Ærfæn (man in clouds), 182 [4-6-0], 199, 220, 287-8 re. calx, 323 re. month cyppurs, (Sun, Venus), 519 (giorguba), 582-3 re. kærdæghy st’aly (evening star)
Volume 2: 83 re. mæj (Moon), 225-26 re. Ojnon calx
Volume 4:246-8 re. xur (Sun)
Mæj = Moon
p. 561: izær = evening
p. 576: kæfqºyndar = dragon
p. 577: kælkæl = gromkii smex
• cuppurs = Christian winter holiday (end November + ½ December = Digor ‘cuppor’ = ‘40’), replaced by ‘2 20s’ but preserved in shepherd’s counting system (follows a 40-day fast).
• Ojnon (wheel) = sun; associated with John the Baptist, his daughter insulted); Ioanne = Ojnon (A=O before nasals); okol colntsy (“the eye of the Sun”—state for them to sparkle/twinkle), “for the frog, its offspring are like for us the light of the sun,” “from where, for you, does the Sun come up?”, “Satana washed his pants and spread them out in the sun”, “lay out the / make your road to the sun”, Sun = happiness (in many idioms), “The great heavenly light of the Ossetians (as with other peoples) was considered to be a god. His daughter Asuruxs important in Nart epos, in cycle of Soslan, his meeting of Wasiruxs with hero Soslan is parallel to Mahabharata. Dumezil: dedication of horse to deceased = hero Maxamat. Nart hero = child of Sun. One day/at one time the Sun had children, the Nart heros. “Nartay” means children of the sun. In one text, ‘huru kuz,’ Sun = female; the Moon is found in its half-moon phase (full circle) [p. 288]
• gºymīry (gumeri, gaemeri) = giant, cudgel, idol; cf. Geo. gmiri (hero); Os. “barbarian other”; Akk. Gimirri; Hb. Gomer; Ru. Кумир [p. 530]
• Farn = “sky-sun”, heavenly blessing, good fortune, peace, prosperity, more or less = an angel or power for good. Farn reigns! (best man calls out at wedding as he leads bride into groom’s house). [pp. 421-22]
Bonværnan [Bonfarnon, Bonværnæ, Bobyrnon, Bobron] [Bonværn = bony farn (“path of day”)] = Venus (morning star) = the one bringing news of the day’s farn: Farn = Sun in hunting language (!!). In that time snow did not fall, since Venus was found in confinement; Venus twinkles with her eye; our Venus emited white lights with her own fire [p. 267]
• Donbettyr (water being[s]) = Peter (“water-Peter”) = hydronomy (Don, Dniestr, Dniepr, Donau); St. Peter = Wastyržy; St. Ilya = Wacilla [pp. 367-68]
• Xur = sun, happiness. Last light of setting sun; sun of the dead; cf. Georgian expression “to leave something in the sun” = to bring to light something negative = make an orphan; sun-golden = cult name of sun, “my sun” = my dear, “the sun over us has set and the moon/month will no longer be lit”. “The Sun was going along on the surface of the earth,” “by what sun, by what inclement weather were you carried here?” “The fell into the abyss without water and sun began to sparkle for them.” Volume 4:246-8
[A: 48-9, 70-71, 72-73; AE: 142-43, 156-57, 170-71, 174-75, 182-83, 198-99, 220-21; B: 234-35, 266-67; C: 286-89, 314-17, 322-23; D: 366-69; F: 420-23; G: 518-19, 530-31; I: 542-43, 560-61; K: 576-77, 582-83; M: 82-83; O: 224-225; X: 246-47]
• arv = nebo; arvnæryn = thunder; arvyrttyvd = thunderbolt, flash of lightning.
• Ærfæn = horse of the Nart Uruzmag; Ærfæny fæd = Milky Way (path of A.); alternately, the name of a person living in the sky, the Milky Way being the straw he scattered while fleeing from Batraz.
• ærtxūron / ærtxoron = special pie in honor of the sun (new year); art-xūron = solar fire / fire, child of the sun
• ævdiiw / ævdew = evil spirit, demon; “then seven demons from seven pits began to blow into their bellows, and the land was embraced with fire”; tying a cross to the hoop/handle of a cradle to protect the baby from evil spirits; Indo-Iranian daiva = don + æv (water-spirit).
• don = river; water (cf. Don, Donau, Dniester, Dnieper, Tanais) = -dan in composition; Kuban = OuÍar-dan-hv (Ptol 1.162 ?); Tanais = DON; Dan-apr = Днепр; Dan-Astr = Днестр; Scyth. Danda/rioi (Dandarii) = dar+dan; владеющие рекой [pp. 366-367]
• īlci, elci . . . (mentions Georgian Military Hwy) [p. 530 ?543]
• Balsæg [Malsæg, Marsæg, Marsug, Barsag, Barsæg] = miraculous wheel, killed Soslan (Balsæg’y calx); cut him off at the knees, Batradz broke out Balsæg’s wheel and put it in the cemetery and dedicated it to Soslan; the god went to Barsagy; he had a moving, spinning wheel; the wheel of Balsæg undoubtedly represented the Sun; Balsæg, Malsæg are derived from INGUSH (Malx-sæg “sun-man/person”, cf. Ojnon) [p. 234]
• kærdæg’y st’aly [lit. “star of grains”] = (Evening Star) [s.v. Bonværnon, p. 267]
• coppaj = ceremonial dance and song around a place struck by thunder = refrain repeating/ed or accomplishment of this ceremony = ceremonial walking around villages in time of drought [Cherkes čoppa; Abazin; Abkhaz čaupar / čopa; Balkar, Karachay čoppa]; among the Ossetians, belonging to traveler of the end of the 18th century, boy killed by lightning, “O Elia Elia aeldari coppaj” (Stöder, Tagebuch einer Reise, die im Jahr 1781 von der Greuzfestung Mosdok nach dem inneren Caucasus unternomen worden); Abkhaz & Cherkess concepts are exactly analogous to the Ossetian [pp. 314-16]
Lightning was of especial importance to the Ossetians, descended as they were from the Scythians of the open steppes. Lightning was the special province of the god Wasilla, who in Christian times came to be identified with the prophet Elijah. Like other peoples of the Caucasus, they regarded persons struck by lightning as selected by the gods for special honor. The victim’s neighbors and relatives gathered around the body where it lay. Mourning was prohibited; rather, the event was celebrated with dancing and singing. Persons who had been struck by lightning and survived acted as priests on such occasions, their inspired utterances dictating the spot where the body was to be interred.
8. Armenian Tradition
The Armenians are connected to the ancient Phrygians, who crossed from the Balkans into Asia Minor during the 12th century B.C. [Yamauchi] Together with the Thracians of the Balkans, they formed a separate (“Thraco-Phrygian”) branch of Indo-European, of which the Armenian language is the only modern survivor.
The Armeno-Phrygians are an Indo-European people who separated from the Thracians in the Balkans, crossing the Hellespont into Asia Minor during the 12th century B.C. (Yamauchi, 1982). The well-known Greek story of King Midas of Phrygia attaches to the historical personage known to Assyrian records as Mita of Mushki (fl. 709 B.C.). Thus, Greek sources refer to the Phrygian ethnonym, while Assyrian sources reference the district he ruled. Herodotus (REF) says that the Moschi formed part of the 19th satrapy of the Persian Empire, while the Armenians comprised the 13th satrapy, and the Phrygians were included in the 3rd satrapy. Thus, it appears that the “Mushki” mentioned in Assyrian sources of the 12th-9th centuries B.C. were Kartvelians, while the “Mushki” who were allied with Sargon II in the 8th century B.C. were Phrygians.
Ps.-Meshech: In Cappadocia (Josephus); Herodotus: Moschoi in eastern Asia Minor = Phrygians (Herodotus): FROM EUROPE INTO ASIA DURING 12c BC (Yamauchi 82:27) + Mita of Mushki (his tomb) “The houses here were underground, with a mouth like that of a well, but spacious below; and while entrances were tunneled down for the beasts of burden, the human inhabitants descended by a ladder. In the houses were goats, sheep, cattle, fowls, and their youyng; and all the animals were reared and took their fodder there in the houses” (Xenophon, Anabasis IV.v.25-26).
Some further east, along Black Sea. Until their expulsion from Turkey early in the 20th century, the eastern Armenian territories extended as far as the Mediterranean. “the first Kartvelian-Armenian contacts in the 7th-6th centuries B.C.” (Klimov, 1998, p. 227).
KINGDOM + Mithridates takes refuge with Tigranes [69 BC] (Appian, Historia Romana XII.xi.82) Tigranes the Great (“Great King,” 4 kings attended him at all times)Conversion of Armenia in 301 AD (first Christian state) + MONOPHYSITES + lance, fire-temple; medieval greatness / decline; meliks (1723) + Emin + Griboyedov + Russian conquest (battle of Echmiadzin). + integrate sources from 11-11 (Mayflower, CAH, Yamauchi, Xenophon, Tigranes) + bookmarked stuff from Wikipedia (temples to sun/moon/stars, horse-sacrifices to the Sun; somebody or other A…. priest of the moon)
The important Neolithic site of Carahunge, near Sisian in southern Armenia, apparently served as an astronomical observatory, comprising about 200 standing stones. Built during the 3rd millennium B.C. (long before the appearance of the Armenians in the region), “the site broadly resembles many better-known megalithic monuments on the Atlantic seaboard of Europe, and particularly in Britain, Ireland, and Brittany” (Ruggles, 2005, p. 65). This site is especially remarkable because about 50 of the stones have holes bored through them with “carefully smoothed edges,” facilitating observation of specific points above the horizon. “These facts raise the serious possibility that the holes were used for astronomical observations, whether contemporary with the construction of the original monument or later” (Ruggles, 2005, pp. 66-67).
Hayk, the eponymous ancestor of the Armenians, was associated with the planet Mercury and was described as having “very curly hair and sparkling eyes.” Another Armenian deity, Vahagn (a sun-god, identified by Christian Armenians with the Canaanite Baal), “had hair of fire...and his eyes were two suns." (Hayk—the national god of Armenians, 2004, ¶2). Xenophon (Anabasis IV.v.35) mentions the Armenian practice of sacrificing horses to the Sun.
A carved gemstone (reproduced in Peck, 1962, p. 1579) portrays the “royal tiara of an Armenian king.” This tiara is decorated with three stars in the crown and three stars on the rim. A coin of Tigranes II (“the Great,” reigned 95-55 B.C.) portrays the king wearing a tiara decorated with an object that is clearly identifiable as a comet with a curved tail. Armenian scholars have suggested that this image commemorates the appearance of Halley’s Comet in 87 B.C. However, Halley’s Comet always has a straight tail. For this reason, Mayor (2010) proposes that the comet which appears on Tigranes’ coins was in fact one of the “war banner” comets which appeared in 135 and 119 B.C. (p. 32).
According to Movses Khorenatsi (Moses of Khoren), king Artashes (2nd century B.C.) “paid special attention to several sciences development and, among them, the calendar theory. The tradition connects the beginning of Armenian era with the victory of patriarch Hayk against Bel, and the name sof Armenian months with names of his sons and daughters, which were Navasardi, Hori, Sahmi, Tre, Kaghots, Arats, Meheki, Areg, Ahki, Mareri, Margats, Hrortits. It must be mentioned that all these 12 months had 30 days and the supplementary month Avelats of 5 days was added to them” (Eynatyan, 2007, p. 5).
Movses Khorenatsi writes concerning the pre-Christian Armenian king Eruand (Arbandes; 2nd century A.D.) that “through magic he had the evil eye. So the royal servants who attended him at daybreak had the habit of placing hard stones opposite Eruand. And they say that these hard stones split from the malevolence of his glance. But this is either false and a fable or else he had some demonic power in himself so that he could harm those he wished in this fashion by the mere repute of his gaze” (Patmut’iwn Hayoc’ I.42, trans. Thomson).
The Christian Armenians were deeply interested in certain aspects of astronomy and astrology. There are numerous sundials from the early Christian period, inscribed with the letters of Armenian alphabet used as numerals. These were always placed on the south wall of churches and monasteries. The sundial at Zvartnots Cathedral dates to the 7th century (Eynatyan, 2007). Christina Maranci of Tufts University is currently compiling a large database of Armenian sundials, to be expanded to include sundials from all parts of the Caucasus.
The Armenians “marked their break with Byzantium and the Greek Orthodox Church by introducing a national era which begins in AD 552 and runs continuously thereafter” (Lang, 1966, p. 106). The Armenian era began on 11 July, 552 (Eynatyan, 2007). For this reason, the Armenians were understandably interested in calendrical theory. Armenian manuscripts are extremely rich in treatises dedicated to the theory of the calendar. Monastic schools offered courses in calendar theory.
During the 7th century, the mathematician and philosopher Anania Shirakatsi was commissioned by the Catholicos to reform the Armenian calendar. He sought to coordinate the Armenian calendar with the Julian, Hebrew, Assyrian, and Greek calendars. “He rejected superstitions and astrology, and though his astronomical system was a geocentric one, he knew that the Earth has the form of a globe and does not lie on anything. He believed that antipodes exist, that the Milky Way consists of a multitude of weakly shining stars and that the Moon has not its own light” (Eynatyan, 2007, p. 6). Anania Shirakatski composed a very important work entitled “Chapters of the Calendar Theory,” including chapters on the Armenian, Roman, Greek, Assyrian, Hebrew, old Arabic, Ethiopian, Egyptian, Athenian, Cappadocian, Buthanian, Caucasian Albanian, Georgian, and Persian calendars. Short and long versions of this work are found in more than 90 MSS at the Matenadaran, dating from the 13th to the 19th centuries. The 13th/14th through 18th/19th centuries). Cf. “Star Book”. The broad dissemination and currency of this work is comparable to that of the “Star Book” among the Georgians.
During the 11th century, the philosopher Hohannes Yerzynkatsi introduced the Minor Era, beginning 11 August 1085, and “changing the Theophany and vernal equinox days each fourth year” (p. 6)
There are also numerous Armenian manuscripts which describe the construction and use of the astrolabe. Two Arab astrolabes bearing Armenian inscriptions are preserved at the Oxford History Museum. These date to the 9th or 10th century. There is also an Armenian-made astolabe at Echmiadzin dating to the 10th century (note that the astrolabe was unknown in Western Europe until the late 10th century). The Armenians were interested in the astrolabe not only for astronomical observations, but also as an aid to solving practical problems such as determining the height and distance of mountains and the width of rivers.
One Armenian manuscript describes the supernova of 1006 A.D. This is the only reference to this event apart from Chinese and Japanese sources.
During the 1720s, Yeghia Karnetsi composed a manuscript “On Geography” which “describes the heliocentric system and mentions that there is no reason to deny this theory” (Eynatyan, 2007, p. 2). “The first Armenian printed book openly speaking about the heliocentric system is the “Little Book called Principle of Natural Sciences” by S. Abkarian published in 1796 in Rome.” (p. 2).
Hovhannes Sarkavag Imastaser (John the Deacon, circa 1047-1129) revised some parts of the “Chapters” of Anania Shirakatsi, and Hacob Ghrimetsi (15th century) corrected and expanded it to include “other subjects.” “We can mention a text, which occurs in “Zigs” and “Chapters”, as well as in the “Almagest”. It speaks of connections existing between celestial bodies, parts of human body and nations. Here the Zodiac constellation of Aries corresponds to Persia and the human head; the Cancer constellation corresponds to Armenia and human chest; the Pisces constellation corresponds to India and human feet, and so on. In some manuscripts one can also find pictures devoted to this” (p. 7).
Thus, despite Anania Shirakatsi’s rejection of “superstitions and astrology,” astrology survived and flourished among the Armenians. In Armenia just as in Western Europe, the church’s concerns about the Christian calendar led to the production of a vast calendrical literature (the “Computus” in Western Europe), to which astrological texts attached themselves parasitically. By the 18th century (at least), Armenian treatises devoted entirely to astrology were being produced. An 18th-century astrological manuscript which I saw on display at the Matenadaran (July 2009) invites comparison to the roughly contemporary Georgian “Star Book” manuscript Q-867. (get the number from my notebook).
9. Kalmyk Tradition
The Oirats, the western branch of the Mongols, were traditionally divided into four tribes (Dörben Oirat, Дөрвөн Ойрад): the Khoshut, the Choros, the Torghut, and the Dörbet. In 1618, conflicts over grazing lands resulted in the westward migration of the entire Torghut tribe under their tayishi (prince; Chi. Tai-tze), Kho-Urlük. By 1630 they had reached the steppes of the Lower Volga, where they settled on lands previously ruled by the Khanate of Astrakhan, which had fallen to the Russians in 1556. Their initial settlement was to the left of the Volga, between the Yaik and Volga rivers. The Torghuts ravaged the dominions of the Nogai Horde, driving most of the Nogais to the west, where they placed themselves under the protection of the Crimean Khan, and reducing those who remained to vassalage (Khodarkovsky, 1992).
The new Torghut state eventually became known as the Kalmyk Khanate (Kalmykia), and the Torghuts became known as Kalmyks. They controlled the steppe-lands along the northern edge of the Caspian Sea. This became an important buffer-zone between the Russians and the Muslim peoples to the south.
The Kalmyks had embraced Buddhism early in the 17th century and were adherents of the Gelugpa (“Yellow Hat”) sect, subject to the Dalai Lama. The Iki Tsaadzhin Bichig (“Great Code of the Nomads”), promulgated in 1640 by the leaders of the Oirats together with some of the Eastern Mongols, formalized this conversion and established a legal code binding on all Western Mongols (Khodarkovsky, 1992).
The Kalmyks had developed trading relationships with the Russians prior to their migration, since the Kazakhs to the west of them would not permit them to trade with the Islamic Khanates of Central Asia. After an initial period of military conflict, the Russians came to see the Kalmyks as a useful counter to their Muslim enemies, and Kalmyk cavalry frequently fought in support of the Russians during their wars with the the Crimean Tatars, the Turks, the Nogais, the Kumyks, the Persians, and the Uzbek Khanates of Khiva and Bukhara. For example, during the 1650s the Crimean Khan “demanded that Moscow forbid the Kalmyks to roam along the Volga near Astrakhan and threatened to attack the Muscovite lands unless the tsar severed ties with the Kalmyks” (Khodarkovsky, 1992, p. 89). In 1657, the Kalmyks were required to swear an oath which prohibited them from allying themselves with either the Ottoman sultan or the Crimean khan. In 1697, the Tsar granted Ayuki Khan two light cannon, three mortars, a corps of artillerists, and an annual supply of gunpowder and bullets (Khodarkovsky, 1992). The oaths that governed Russo-Kalmyk relations required the Kalmyks to present themselves at short notice in case of war with the Crimean Tatars. In addition, “the Kalmyks remained the principal suppliers of horses for the Russian cavalry until the 1740s. Then the situation changed, as the Kalmyk herds diminished substantially because of the unfavorable weather conditions, internal wars, and Russia’s ceaseless demands for large-scale Kalmyk participation in military campaigns” (Khodarkovsky, 1992, p. 28).
The Kalmyks were superb horsemen and formidable warriors. Since gunpowder was in short supply (traditionally obtained through raids on the Bukharans), their principal weapons were the composite bow, the spear, the saber, and the whip. “Often witnesses were astonished by the Kalmyks’ skillful use of the whip. There were several different strike techniques, and with one blow of a whip a Kalmyk could kill a wolf or dismount and mortally wound a horseman” (Khodarkovsky, 1992, p. 49).
Having shifted their area of settlement to the right of the Volga, the Kalmyks also came into frequent conflict with the peoples of Daghestan and the North Caucasus. In 1644, the Kalmyk tayishi Kho-Urlük perished (along with his son, two grandsons, and most of his army) in a confrontation with 10,000 Kabardinians under Prince Alayuk (Alaguk), supported by a detachment of Nogai Tatars. The Kabardins, armed with muskets, held a mountain pass against the Kalmyks for an entire day; the arrival of Nogai cavalry towards nightfall proved decisive (Khodarkovsky, 1992).
The Russians feared the possibility that the Kalmyks might ally themselves with other Islamized Mongolic peoples such as the Crimean Tatars and the Nogais, and attempted to restrict their communication and trade to the west. According to Khodarkovsky (1992), any Kalmyk found trading with the Tatars was to be punished by hanging and his goods confiscated (p. 123).
These restrictions were unacceptable to the Kalmyks, especially after 1724 when (upon the death of Ayuki Khan) the khanate was reduced to Russian vassalage. Conflicts with the Russian administration led to the departure of most of the Kalmyks from the Russian empire in 1770. The Kalmyk tayishi Ubashi Khan wrote to the Dalai Lama requesting an astrologically favorable date for their departure. The date of 5 January 1770 was selected, and on that day as many as 400,000 people set out for Dzungaria (northern Sinkhiang), accompanied by 6 million animals (Khodarkovsky, 1992). Only 85,000 Kalmyks survived the journey to Dzungaria, however, where they arrived in July 1771. The Ch’ing (Manchu) government had recently conquered and annexed the Dzungar Khanate (1755), acquiring hegemony over the whole of Sinkhiang. This was followed by what Mark Levene describes as "arguably the eighteenth century genocide par excellence" (REF). In some districts, the Chinese government ordered the extermination of all males. Out of an initial population of about 600,000, 40% fell victim to smallpox, 30% were exterminated by the Chinese military, and 20% took refuge among the Kazakhs and the Russians (SOURCEPerdue 2005; Clarke 2004). The Kalmyks were allowed to cross the border and settle in these depopulated districts under the close supervision of the Manchu government. “An interesting legend has been preserved about how a Chinese emperor of the Ming dynasty, Yun-Li, in 1410 conferred a jade signet ring with his personal initials on the Oirat khan Mergeni Erketu. This ring was passed on as an heirloom among the Kalmyk khans, the last of whom, Ubushi khan in 1772 entrusted it to the Manchu emperor in the town of Dzhekhay” (Guchinova, 2006, p. 145).
It so happens that on the day chosen for departure, 70,000 Kalmyks became stranded on the right bank of the Volga by a breakup of ice in the river, and these remained in the Russian empire (Guchinova, 2006). Their participation in Pugachev’s Revolt (Пугачёвское восстание; 1773-75) resulted in further restrictions. The Kalmyks remain to this day as the only Buddhist ethnic group native to Europe.
The Kalmyks were notorious for cannibalism, as described by the 17th-century Turkish traveler Evliya Çelebi: “The fact that human flesh is tasty is something I witnessed among the Kalmyk cannibals in the Kipchak Steppe. They eat the corpses of their dead, and they also strangle and eat some of their poor Nogay captives—they do not cut their throats, so as not to lose their blood, but just strangle them, cook them and eat them. The Kalmyks claim that there is nothing tastier than human flesh, snake meat, and pork; and the tastiest part is the pig’s tail and the ‘tail’ or coccyx of humans. There are in fact many men of the Kalmyk persuasion in Turkey who know of this taste.” (2010b, p. 385) “Some of the Kalmyks live to be 200 or 300 years old. When a man’s vigour is spent and he can no longer mount and dismount, his kinfolk tire of dragging him around. They cook him a fat sheep’s tail and stuff it into his mouth, forcing him to consume it entire. In this fashion they put him to death, saying that he died a martyr. They also eat one another’s flesh, but this is done according to lot as follows:
“They have a man known as Karpa, next in authority after their Tai-shi or king. This Karpa has a four-sided wooden lot that has been passed down from his ancestors over several thousands of years. Each side is painted a different colour. When one of their leading men dies, they cast the lot to determine his fate. If the red side comes up, they interpret the oracle to mean ‘Burn him in fire,’ and they burn his body. If the black side comes up it means ‘Bury him in the black earth,’ and they bury his body. If the blue side comes up it means ‘Throw him into the water,’ and they throw him in the Volga River or in whatever body of water they happen to have camped near. If the green side comes up they cook his body and eat it. They only act according to the instruction of the oracle lot.
“One day it happened that one of the Moyinçak Shah’s sons had died. They roasted his body, poured out the fat and blood, and were eating the flesh, accompanied by great merriment and festivity. When I passed by they invited me to the feast, saying: ‘Come, you too can partake of our emperor’s son.’ ‘Can one eat human flesh?’ I asked. ‘Indeed,’ they replied. ‘We eat his flesh so that his soul will enter one of us. Thus he does not die, but goes on together with us. . . . If you eat human flesh you will derive eternal life from its sweetness and will live long, like us.’
“In that meal, the body of one man was enough to feed forty or fifty Kalmyks. As for the fat, they smeared it over their faces and eyes and bodies; and they buried the bones.” (Evliya Çelebi, 2010b, pp. 254-55)
When the Russians entered Bucharest (December 1806), their Kalmyk auxiliaries were allowed to terrorize the city’s Jewish population. “They passed daily through the streets . . ., spitted children on their lances, and, in the presence of their parents, roasted them alive and devoured them” (Hermalin, 1905, p. 514).
Erek’le II of K’akheti-Kartli relied upon mercenaries to wage his unceasing wars. “In 1749, a large proportion of the troops which Irakli was raising to fight Sharji-Panah were Cherkesses and also Ossetians, Pshavs, Khevsurs and Tushes. Two years later Irakli was sending agents all over Cherkezeti to recruit further contingents, and in 1752 he secured also the support of a Lazghi contingent under the Shamkhal’s son for the campaign against Hajji-Chelebi. After the defeat of the Georgians by Hajji-Chelebi, Irakli himself went up to the Khevi and was anxiously concerned to attract bands from Cherkezeti and Osseti, and when Agha Kish retired the Cherkess leaders were treated to five days feasting at Dighomi. Papouna Orbeliani has left a curious description of the impression created by these alpine mercenaries on the minds of the urbane Georgians. ‘The auxiliary troops required by the kings arrived at Ananuri. There were Cherkez, Kalmuks, Jiks, Kists, Ghlighwis, Nogais and Ossetians; each nation commanded by its chiefs and professing a particular religion, Islam or more generally idolatry; some uncouth men feeding on foul and unclean food, some of a superb appearance, others of a hideous ugliness, hairless and beardless, with excessively coarse noses; all, in battle, fine horsemen and intrepid archers.” (Allen, 1971, pp. 203-204) The description of some of these men as “hairless and beardless, with excessively coarse noses” almost certainly refers to the Kalmyks, who had Oriental features.
Many Kalmyk traditional practices suggest a belief in Sympathetic Magic. For example, “the umbilical cord was cut with a knife specially prepared for this purpose. Three days later the afterbirth and the bedding of the woman who had given birth were buried inside the tent not far from the hearth. The knife, umbilical cord and a silver coin were wrapped up in a white shawl and kept in a trunk” (Guchinova, 2006, p. 119). Later on, a similar bundle containing hair from the child’s first haircut would also be deposited in the trunk. Fingernail and toenail clippings were always buried underneath the tent.
Jewelry was of the greatest cultural importance. “It was thought that silver had the greatest power against unclean spirits, who are incapable of lifting even the lightest silver coin. . . . it was thought that women and men were obliged to wear rings and earrings as otherwise, instead of these ornaments, snakes would be hung on their ears and fingers in the kingdom of Erlik Nomin-khan, ruler of the underworld. Married women wore earrings in both ears, unmarried ladies only on the right and men only on the left. In this appears thinking in the form of binary oppositions, which are traditional in the Mongolian world, according to which a woman’s soul is located in the right half of the body whereas a man’s soul is on his left. Therefore a man wore on his left everything of silver: an earring, a ring on his finger and a knife. . . . A married woman wore rings on all fingers of her left hand” (Guchinova, 2006, pp. 146-47).
Buddhist temples and monasteries were constructed throughout the Kalmyk domains. Most families devoted one of their sons to the monastic life. “Especially popular among the Kalmyks were the eleven-faced Avolokiteshvara and the White and Green Taras (Tsagan Därke and Nogan Därke), who were female deities. . . . Catherine the Great was declared in her day to be one of the incarnations of the White Tara as a gracious protectress of the Kalmyk clergy” (Guchinova, 2006, pp. 171-72).
Alongside the Buddhist clergy there functioned various shamans (bö), including those known as zadychi, “people to whom were attributed the power to summon rain, lightning or thunder” (Guchinova, 2006, p. 127). Evliya Çelebi gives an interesting account of a Kalmyk shaman who presented himself to Ak Mehmed Pasha on the banks of the Kuban (1667) after a devastating windstorm had disrupted the advance of the Ottoman army:
“At this juncture an ancient Kalmyk Tatar with a scanty beard approached the Pasha and said: ‘Pasha, swear that you won’t harm me.’
“The pasha put his hand on a Koran and swore: ‘Neither I nor my servants will harm you.’
“‘My lord,’ said the Kalmyk, ‘it was I who just now raised this calamitous wind upon your heads and had it sweep away so many carts and so many tents. I did it to demonstrate a small part of the science that is in my possession. If you wish to cross this river, give me one horse and one bow-and-arrow case and one fur garment and 100 guruş. I will summon up calamity again and make the river freeze up. Then you will easily cross to the other side and to safety, and will be delivered from hunger on this side.’
“Poor Mehmed Pasha, helpless, agreed and gave the Kalmyk even more than he had asked for. The Kalmyk took the items, tied them down a little ways off, then went into a wooded glade. He was still visible where he was standing in the woods. No one else knew what was transpiring, only this humble one and the Pasha and his secretary.
“The sun by this time was shining brightly. I followed the Kalmyk and stayed hidden some distance away amidst some trees so I could observe. The first thing he did was to loose a shower of piss at the foot of a tall tree. Then he bared his buttocks—excuse the expression—and turned to face the open air. Standing up he took some excrement from his anus, put it in his mouth, then did three somersaults on the snow. Returning to the pile of his excrement he put both hands on the ground, raised his feet into the air and braced them against the aforementioned tree. He stirred up his excrement with his left hand and rubbed some on his forehead with his finger. For quite a while the Kalmyk remained upside-down perched over his shit.
“What should I see next? The sky began to darken in the eastern and western and northern directions. The sun faded above us. The sky turned deep blue and then black. There was thunder and lightning. A horrible wind blew up. The bluish cloud seemed to break into pieces and descend to earth.
“Now the Kalmyk brought his feet down from where they were braced against the tree. He turned around three or four times near his excrement. Occasionally he scooped up some of it in his hand and threw it into the air, at which lightning struck and all hell broke loose.
“At this point our soldiers began to swarm around the shore of the Kuban. Everyone looked for some means to cross the river. The Kalmyk wiped off the excrement from his forehead with snow and started walking toward the soldiers. I ran behind him and, when I caught up, greeted him in the Kalmyk language, ‘Mandu tav.’
“‘Tav mandu,’ he said, returning the greeting. He took a stone out of his mouth the size of a walnut, rubbed it on his eyes and put it back in his bosom. He wiped some more excrement off his forehead with snow. Twirling about, he approached the Pasha whom we found standing at the shore of the river.
“‘Don’t cross yet,’ said the Kalmyk. He himself crossed over the ice first with a hopping gait, then recrossed to our side. Now all the soldiers on foot began to cross back and forth. The ice was still paper thin but, as God is my witness, when the men crossed, the ice crackled beneath their feet and cracked into segments the size of a dinner-spread.” (2010b, pp. 270-72)
I reproduce this passage in extenso because it appears to offer an authentic account of Kalmyk shamanic practices (as well as a fascinating early modern example of anthropological fieldwork!).
“According to Kalmyk traditional concepts, two spirits accompany each person in his or her life: a zayachy from among the white tengri and an elchy from among the evil tengri. Apart from this, there existed belief in the evil eye, in the power of a cursing ‘black tongue’ and in the predestination of a child’s fate according to the time and place of birth, or by the choice of name and many other factors” (Guchinova, 2006, p. 118).
Astrology was an important part of Kalmyk traditional beliefs, which retained strong traces of a pre-Buddhist solar cult: “Movement in the same direction as the sun is one of the mandatory rules of folk etiquette: to come up to the nomad tent, to depart or to pass on something in a circle could only be done according to the movement of the sun, in a direction from left to right. A breach of the solar order, movement contrary to the sun’s direction, was tolerable only on breaking the usual pattern of life—for example, if a divorce was at the woman’s initiative she was compelled to circle a temple three times in the opposite direction to that of the sun” (Guchinova, 2006, p. 161).
Traditionally, the cult of the hearth had solar associations: “The hearth was the most sacred place in the house: semantically, it was somewhat akin to having a little sun in each home. Therefore an especially respectful attitude was required towards the hearth and the fire within the hearth. It was forbidden to splash water into the hearth, to throw rubbish into it, to touch the fire with a knife or any other sharp implement or to sleep with one’s legs stretched out in a direction towards the hearth. Ritual food in the form of the sun and solar ornamentation in embroidery are enduring motifs in Kalmyk culture. All that is most excellent is compared with the sun” (Guchinova, 2006, p. 161).
The Kalmyk astrological system was of Mongolian origin. The Mongolian system, along with other astrological systems of the Far East, is entirely unrelated to the western systems. It is characterized by the dodecaeteris—familiar twelve-year animal cycle of Chinese astrology (actually based on the twelve-year cycle of Jupiter). “Often a person’s character is thought to be determined by the year in which that person was born. Thus a man born in the year of the hen should be like a cock—that is, be amorous, love finery and try to be the centre of attention—whereas somebody born in the year of the dragon guards his home and family from bolts of lightning. According to an old superstition, the year in which a person is born would always carry for that person the most danger, misfortune and illness. Since Kalmyks thought that a person was born already a year old, taking into consideration pre-natal development, they reckoned the ages of thirteen and twenty-five to be dangerous, but especially dangerous the ages of thirty-seven and forty-nine, if one counted it in the Kalmyk way. In order to survive the ‘dangerous’ years successfully, it was vital to perform a rite for the prolongation of years (nasan uttullgn) (Guchinova, 2006, p. 173). “So that the husband and wife are better suited to one another, it is considered that they ought both to have been born in either a ‘soft’ or a ‘hard’ year of the twelve-year animal cycle. Right up to the present time a superstition has been preserved that misfortunes (harsh) lie in wait for a family if the difference in age between the spouses is either three or six years. Therefore people try to avoid that kind of conjunction of ages” (Guchinova, 2006, p. 120). “The astrologer (zurhachi) played a major role in the wedding rituals. He divined the time of each visit and even the colour of the horse on which they were to take away the bride. Without fail he had to be present at the wedding and he, together with the gelüng, was the first to enter the house. The wedding festivities included a battle between members of the bride’s and groom’s families for possession of the bride’s pillow, a custom which Guchinova characterizes as “an ‘echo’ of a transitional period from matrilocal to patrilocal marriage” (2006, p. 124).
“It is well known that Kalmyk children are born with a ‘Mongolian spot’ on the sacrum. A folk explanation of this is that God gave the baby a smack and sent him into the world with the word ‘Go.’ Immediately after the birth of a child in a tent a Buddhist cleric was invited and he performed the ritual of consecrating the cradle (hursel’ arshalh) and named the infant, selecting a name in accordance with the timing of the birth—by the year, month, day and hour and by the position in the sky of twenty-five constellations. The impartation of a name as a magical blessing ensured the bearer happiness and prosperity. The chosen name was supposed to be shouted three times into the ear of the child so that he or she ‘would remember it better’” (Guchinova, 2006, p. 119).
Astrology also had an important role in Kalmyk funerary practices. When a cremation was performed, it “was conducted on the fourth day after the person’s death, the time of the ceremony being determined by an astrologer” (Guchinova, 2006, p. 127). Those to be buried “were taken out from the yurt and buried in the ground at a place indicated by an astrologer. Small prayer flags were left in the earth on the four sides of the grave. The dead person was never carried out through the door but taken through an opening formed by dismantling trellises of the yurt. This was done so as to deceive evil spirits that might search for the way back” (p. 127). “There existed time-honoured methods for guarding against tachal. One of the methods consisted of the following: out of pastry was modeled a small figurine of a person, in which it was necessary to have hidden finger and toe nails and hair cut from that person. This figurine was then passed over the body of the person who needed to be protected from the effects of the tachal. After this the miniature of the person had to be thrown away at midnight at the junction of three roads” (Guchinova, 2006, p. 162).
One of our Georgian astrological texts (the second lunarium included in MS N-503) incorporates the obscure astrological doctrine of the Stella ophiomimeta (“serpent-imitating star”), which appears to be of Mongolian origin. Since Kalmyk mercenaries served in the armies of Georgian rulers and since the Stella ophiomimeta is particularly associated with military astrology, it is possible that Georgian astrologers learned of this concept from the Kalmyks. We shall have more to say about this below.
10. Western Iberian Tradition [draw attention to all parallels]
The Basques, with their strange non-Indo-European language, appear to be the last surviving remnant of a cultural complex which spread over much of Europe from refugia in the Iberian peninsula at the end of the Last Glacial Maximum (circa 14,000 – 12,000 B.C.). These peoples are associated with the Upper Paleolithic Solutrean and Magdalenian cultures and with the later Megalithic culture associated with Stonehenge and other prehistoric monuments.
While it is currently impossible to determine the precise linguistic and cultural affinities of these cultures, the Bay of Biscay appears to have functioned as a glacial refugium from which people and cultural practices spread into other parts of Europe. The Basque language is descended from the ancient Aquitanian language. The ancient Iberian language spoken along the Mediterranean coast of Spain and Provence appears to have been related, along with the neighboring Ligurian language.
There has been much speculation as to the possible distant connections of Basque to other languages. The Basque language is agglutinative, ergative-absolute, and marked for allocution, features which are entirely alien to Indo-European but are found in the Caucasus. The Vasconic-Kartvelian hypothesis is based on a large number of purported cognates (Basque gau / Georgian ğame, “night”; Basque gizona / Georgian k’aci, “man”; Basque mendi / Georgian mta, “mountain”; Basque urre (urhe) / Georgian okro, “gold”; and the culturally important Basque madari / Georgian msxali, “pear”, to name just a few). At the same time, proponents of the Vasco-Dene hypothesis have associated Basque with the languages of the North Caucasus. This project has resulted in Nikolayev & Starostin’s North Caucasian Etymological Dictionary (1994), which offers dozens of Basque-Caucasian cognates, mostly to the archaic languages of Daghestan.
Cultural parallels, however, would tend to suggest a closer connection to the Kartvelians than to the peoples of the North Caucasus.
“It is beyond Iaccetania towards the north that the tribe of the Vasconians is situated, where there is a city Pompelo or, as one might say, Pompeiopolis” (Strabo, Geographica III.vi.10). “As for the Pyrenees themselves, the Iberian side is well wooded with trees of every kind and with evergreens, whereas the Celtic side is bare, although the central portions of it encompass glens that are capable of affording a good livelihood. These glens are occupied mostly by Carretanians of the Iberian stock; and among these people excellent hams are cured, rivaling those of Cantabria, and affording the people no small revenue” (Geographica III.iv.11). There were numerous Iberian tribes, including the Lusitani, “the greatest of the Iberian nations and . . . the nation against which the Romans waged war for the longest time” (Geographica III.iii.3),
[?]: the Artabrians (a.k.a. Arotrebians), the Callaicans.
[Celtiberians]: the Astures, the Cantabri, the Carpetanians, the Oretanians, the Vaccaeans,
[Iberians]: the Iaccetanians,
[pre-Celtic]: the Vettones,
“It is the custom of the Cantabrians for the husbands to give dowries to their wives, for the daughters to be left as heirs, and the brothers to be married off by their sisters. The custom involves, in fact, a sort of woman-rule” (III.vi.18). “It is also an Iberian custom habitually to keep at hand a poison which is made by them out of an herb that is nearly like parsley and painless, so as to have it in readiness for any untoward eventuality; and it is an Iberian custom, too, to devote their lives to whomever they attach themselves, even to the point of dying for them. The Celtiberians deemed it an unholy act for a ‘devoted’ person to survive his master” (Valerius Maximus 2.6.11).
“The Turdetanians are ranked as the wisest of the Iberians; and they make use of an alphabet, and possess records of their ancient history, poems and laws written in verse that are six thousand years old, as they assert. And also the other Iberians use an alphabet, though not letters of one and the same character, for their speech is not one and the same, either” (Geographica III.i.6).
[Iberians]: Bastetanians (a.k.a. Bastulians), Edetanians,
[?]:Bardyetans, Exitanians, Indicetans, Plentuisans, Veronians,
[Celtiberians]: Allotrigans, Arvac(i)ans, Belli, Coniacans, Coniscans, Lusones Pelendones, Plentaurans, Titti, Turdalians, [Celts entered 800/500 B.C.]
Athenaeus (Deipnosophistae VIII.330) mentions the agricultural wealth of Lusitania, where “the fruits of the country never fail.”
“Their sick they expose upon the streets, in the same way as the Egyptians did in ancient times, for the sake of getting suggestions from those who have experienced the disease” (III.iii.7).
AQUITANIANS: Aquitani, Arenosii, Andosini, Autrigones, Bergistani, Caristii, Ceretani, Iacetani, Ilergetes/ae, Varduli(i), Vascones
CELTIBERIANS: Albiones, Allotriges, Arevaci, Astures, Aurini, Belli, Beroni/es, Bletonesii, Bracari, Cantabri/es, Carpetani, Celtiberi, Celtici, Cempsi, Coelerni, Concani, Consici, Cratistii, Equaesi, Gallaeci, Germani, Grovii, Interamici, Leuni, Limici, Luanqui, Lobetani, Lusones, Mantesani, Morecani, Narbasi, Nemetati, Olcades, Orcenomesci, Oretani, Paesici, Paesuri, Pelendones, Plentauri, Quaquerni, Sefes, Seurbi, Selini, Tamagani, Tamarici, Tapoli, Titti, Turboletae, Turmodigi, Turduli (a.k.a. Bardili), Turduli Veteres, Turodi, Turmodigi, Uraci, Vaccaei, Zoelae
IBERIANS: Ausetani, Bastetani, Bastuli, Ce/assetani, Contestani, Deitanni, Edetani, Ilercavones, (Ilergetes), Indigetes, Lacetani, Laietani, (Oretani), Sedetani, Sordones
TARTESSIANS: Cilbiceni, Co/unii/etes (a.k.a. Cynetes), Tartessii, Turdetani
(PRE-CELTIC): Lusitani, Vettones [Italic?]
• Traditionally, a candle is twisted and burned in order to harm someone. (Goni, n.d.)
• Coins generally carry the likeness of any given person. Twisting coins and throwing them into the alms box in a church (or into the fire at home) caused harm to anyone to whom one wanted to cause harm. (Goni, n.d.)
• Skin disease cured by rubbing it with grains of salt . . . and afterwards throw them into the fire. (Goni, n.d.)
• In order to cure hernias, an oak tree must be chopped in half on the eve of St. John’s Day. (Goni, n.d.)
• Headaches can be prevented by drinking water from certain skulls. Children’s teeth can be encouraged to grow by putting the teeth of hedgehogs, wild cats or horses around their necks. (Goni, n.d.)
• In order to bring on the rain in a time of drought, one sprinkles a picture with water, or puts it in a well. (Goni, n.d.)
• In order to prevent lightning striking a house, an axe with its blade pointing downwards is placed next to the door. (Goni, n.d.)
• Baths and showers on the morning of the solstice prevents illness during the rest of the year. Branches of white hawthorn, ash tree, bracken in flower, etc picked on that day and hung in doorways and windows protect the house against lightning. Small fires are lit at crossroads and in front of houses. Jumping over them helps to avoid skin diseases. Throwing a bunch of coins into such fires helps to avoid plagues and diseases in crops. If someone has a hernia, they should walk through an oak which has been split. (Goni, n.d.)
• Storm clouds and hurricane winds come from inside the earth; In the sky, the stars move around, and when they disappear in the West they enter the reddish sea and continue their journey through the underground world. (Goni, n.d.)
• The sun and the moon are goddesses, daughters of the Earth to whose bosom they return every day after their journey through the skies. (Goni, n.d.)
• The day is for men who live on the earthly surface, but during the night it belongs to the spirits and the souls of the dead, for whom the moon gives its light. (Goni, n.d.)
• Home = sacred place, protected by the fire of the home (symbolizing Mari); it is inhabited by the spirits of ancestors, and visited by them; hence the tradition of continually lighting the home (for the dead) and of leaving offerings. Houses face the sun. They are the family cemetery. Jarleku (altar, now in parish church, formerly in houses); new spouse offers lights and bread to the ancestors on the jarleku. Before Christianity the dead were buried in the house; “until recently children who died without having been christened were buried in the basement of the house. . . . There is a belief that one cannot walk around the house three times in a row (as with a church or a cemetery). The outline of a house is like a cemetery. Equally, the path which links the house with the church and the cemetery is sacred. Along this path, in some crossroads, the mattresses of those who die are burned. (Goni, n.d.)
• Souls of ancestors manifest as lights or gusts of wind. Souls return to the surface at night, especially to their homes. Certain mountain tops and caves are considered to be channels through which souls travel. These channels lead to homes and to kitchens in older houses. (Goni, n.d.)
• Wild thistles = symbols of the sun (Goni, n.d.)
• The etxekoandre was in charge of offering of lights and food and of blessing family members once a year. They represent the household in the jarleku. She was the primary heiress before her brothers. (matriarchal) (Goni, n.d.)
• Gaveko (spirit of night)
Inguma (evil spirit who strangles people at night); similar to Aideko (responsible for all illnesses of unknown cause) and Gaizkine (makes roosters’ heads out of the feathers in pillows, causing serious illness to those who sleep on them).
Mamarro (tiny spirits which help their human owners with their tasks. They live in needle cases—entering them on St. John’s night if they are left open next to a blackberry bush)
Maide (male night spirit, responsible or building of dolmens)
Lamia (female spirit with duck’s feet; a mermaid in landlocked seas)
Basajaun (a spirit who lives in the deepest forest, of which he is the lord. He is tall, has a human form, has long hair on his head and is covered with bodily hair; according to some, one of his feet is rounded. He is the protecting spirit of flocks. The sheep proclaim his presence by simultaneously shaking their bells. The shepherd can then sleep easy, as the wolf will not be attacking them that night.
Ta/rtalo (evil spirit with only one eye in the centre of his forehead. He lives in caves. Also known as Anxo. He is the cruelest and most terrifying of them all. He tears apart his prisoners, then roasts and eats them.
Lur (mother of the sun and moon)
Mari (head of the other spirits, lives inside the earth, comes to surface through caves & chasms. Roman coins have been found in caves and chasms, which points to the practice of throwing them there to obtain the protection of the cave spirits (especially Mari); later the ram was the best gift. Responsible for hail & lightning.
Akerbelitz (male black goat, protector of livestock and head of sorcerers [azti]. The custom is to keep one male black goat in the stable, to ensure the good health of all the animals he protects).
Equzki / Ekhi (sun; drives away the night spirits; that is why the eguzkilore is placed by the front door to the house, and why houses face east, as do tombs and dolmens)
Ilargi / Ilazki (moon, the light of the dead; Fridays dedicated to her [ostziral]; in order to free someone form a spell, the belongings of a person who has been bewitched must be burned on a Friday, by moonlight, at a crossroads.
Ortzi (the skies, deified; Thursday = ortzeguna; oinaztarri / tzimista /txiamstarn = hail, refers to the belief that lightning was a flint stone [txiamstarn] thrown from the skies. It is because axes used to be made of flint that they were placed, blade down to prevent lightning bolts. An axe from the bronze age was ound in the cave of Zabalitz, on the ground, with its balde pointing towards the skies).
Erio (separates souls from bodies upon death). (Goni, n.d.)
There are a number of striking parallels between the religious, folkloric, and cosmological traditions of the Kartvelians and those of the Basques (“Western Iberians”). The principal gods in the Basque pantheon were Mari and her consoft Sugaar (a.k.a. Sugoi, Maju). [MATR] Mari was a powerful goddess associated with the weather. She is often portrayed as a woman dressed in red, with a full moon behind her head. She may also appear as a woman of fire, as a tree-woman, or as a thunderbolt, and is identified with red animals and with the black he-goat. “Mari is served by a court of sorginak (witches), and is said to feed on the negation and affirmation (that is on falsehood)” (WIKIPEDIA). Mari is said to have had seven brothers and to have been transformed into a witch for her disobedience. [the # 8, matriarchy]
Mari’s consort Sugaar, by contrast, is a shadowy figure associated with storms and thunder. “He is normally imagined as a dragon or serpent. Unlike his female consort, Mari, there are very few remaining legends about Sugaar. The basic purpose of his existence is to periodically join with Mari in the mountains to generate the storms. . . . The name Suga(a)r is derived from suge (serpent) and –ar (male), thus “male serpent.” (WIKIPEDIA). Sugaar is sometimes seen “crossing the sky in the form of [a] fire-sickle, what is considered presage of storms” (WIKIPEDIA). He is also said to punish children who disobey their parents.
Mari was believed to dwell in a cave on the mountain of Anboto, while Sugaar inhabited the caves of Amunda and Atarreta. The two were said to meet on Fridays (the day of the the Basque akelarre, or witches’ sabbat), when Mari conceived the storms of the week to come. It was believed that when Mari and Sugaar travelled together there would be hail, but that “if she stays in her cave and if on the day of the Holy Cross appropriate spells are cast, hail can be prevented” (WIKIPEDIA). Mari’s departures from her cave were accompanied by storms or droughts; “which cave she lived in at different times would determine dry or wet weather: wet when she was in Anboto, dry when she was elsewhere” (WIKIPEDIA; Georgian counterpart).
The ancient Aquitanians are noted for establishing sacred precincts known as saroeak. These are octagonal arrangements of eight stones, accurately aligned with the cardinal and intercardinal directions and always delineating an area of similar size (about 320 meters in diameter). The earliest saroeak have been dated to circa 200 A.D., and appear to have been used as meeting-places and centers for religious rituals. Their precise celestial orientation and the fact that “the earliest saroeak respected even earlier megalithic tombs and dolmens, in that they never enclosed them, although such monuments are sometimes found just outside a saroe boundary” (Ruggles, 2005, p. 374) may well suggest that they were part of an unbroken tradition going back to Neolithic times. [Roncesvalles, cf. Andalal]
The ancient Basque cemetery of Argineta in Elorrio, Vizcaya has been dated to 883 A.D., and features “discoidal tombstones (sun-signs?) with no trace of a cross, and is thought to represent pre-Christian burial practices” (Trask, 1997, p. 13). Even subsequent to their conversion to Christianity, the essentially pagan mentality of the Basques may be seen in the fact that “the inhabitants of Vizcaya would not accept a priest amongst them unless he had a concumbine, since they considered that no male is free of carnal desires and feared that if the priests lived alone they would direct their attentions to the womenfolk of the parish” (Baroja, 1970, p. 221).
The Basque region was notorious for the practice of witchcraft, apparently a survival of their pre-Christian religious system. Supposedly a witch could be identified by a “sign” in her left eye resembling a frog’s foot. Basque witches were accused of such grotesque practices as making ointments out of toads’ blood and babies’ hearts. Unlike other parts of Europe, where accusations of witchcraft were usually without any basis in fact, witchcraft actually flourished in the Basque country. The cult was highly organized, with five grades of initiation. A witch was traditionally initiated by her grandmother on her deathbed, often by the transmission of an accursed pincushion. Basque witches participated in necrophagy, drug-use, vampirism, the murder of their relatives, and the deliberate inversion of Christian sacraments. The stress induced by these activities commonly resulted in mental disintegration (Baroja, 1970). There are credible reports of gatherings of more than 1000 witches on some occasions, and according to Pierre de Lancre, who conducted a massive witch-hunt in 1609, resulting in dozens of executions, “the priests and curés of Labourd and the neighbouring districts of Navarre are for the most part sorcerers” (Baroja, 1970, p. 222). In the course of the 17th century, more than 7,000 cases of Basque witchcraft were tried by the Inquisition.
The ancient Aquitanians (ancestors of the Basques) were well known in classical antiquity for their practice of divination from the flights of birds (augury), and for their pagan cult dedicated to the worship of the dead. One possible etymology of the Basque word for the moon (ilargi) is “light of the dead” (Knörr, 2000).
The Sun and Moon were of the greatest importance in traditional Basque culture. The Basque name for the Sun is eguzki or eki, literally “day-thing.” This root is seen in numerous cosmological terms: the Basque word for the month of June is ekain (“sun up high”), an apparent reference to the summer solstice. The word for Christmas is eguberri (“new day,” probably a reference to the winter solstice and the beginning of a new year). The east is known as ekialde (“sun-part”). One of the Basque words for a star is eguzki-begi (lit. “sun’s eye”). “Some verses have also been found in which people address the sun as a female object, by calling it ‘grandmother.’ . . . Basque has traditionally considered the sun a feminine object” (Knörr, 2000, p. 410).
“The moon is also feminine and just like the sun is greeted by people” (p. 410). The Moon is called ilargi (“month-light”), and in some districts goiko (“the one above”); this and and the others may represent word taboos, avoiding the specific names of the luminaries. Associated terms include hil / il (“month” or “moon,” possibly connected with herio, “death”), ilberri (“new moon”); ilgora (“first quarter,” lit. “moon above”), ilbete (“full moon,” also called ilzar, “old moon”), and ilbe(he)ra (“last quarter,” lit. “moon below”). Sunday is igande (“moon rising”) and Monday is ilen (“moon-day”).
Strabo notes that “the Celtiberians and their neighbours on the north [i.e. the Aquitanians] offer sacrifice to a nameless god at the seasons of the full moon, by night, in front of the doors of their houses, and whole households dance in chorus and keep it up all night” (Geographica III.iv.16).
The Basques originally had a greatly simplified concept of time. There were just two seasons, uda (“summer”) and negu (“winter,” cf. egu, “day”), comparable to day and night; and a three-day week: astelehen (“first”), astearte (“middle”), and asteazken (“last”).
The Basque word for a star is izar. A shooting star is izar ozar (lit. “daring star”). A planet is izarbel (lit. “black star”), in contrast to the planet Venus, which is Artizarra (lit. “light star”). There are many names for constellations and fixed stars: Ursa Major has many names: bost izarrak (“five stars”), sei izarrak (“six stars”), zazpi ohoinak (“seven thieves”), oilo txitoak (“the hen and her chicks”), artzain (“the shepherd”), artzain makoarekin (“the shepherd with his crook”), itzain (“the ox-herd”), and itohoin (“the ox-thief”). Orion is called soldadua (“the soldier”) and hiru lapurrak (“the three thieves”). Cassiopeia is Mariaren baratzea (“Mary’s garden”). Antares is izar gorria (“red star”) or izar odoltsua (“bloody star”). Sirius is begi distira (“the shining eye”). The Pleiades are known as oiloa koloka txitekin (“the broody hen with her chicks”), oiloa txitoekin (“the hen with her chicks”), and izar molkoak (“groups of stars”). The Milky Way has several names: Esnebidea (“milky path”), Erromako bidea (“the path to Rome”), Erromesen bidea (“pilgrim’s path”), Jakobeko bidea or Santiago bidea (“the path of St. James”), and Josafaten bidea (“the path of Josafat”). The Basques are highly unusual in attaching importance to the constellation of Ursa Minor, which marks the celestial north pole but was ignored by most cultures. Basque terms for Ursa Minor include zazpi izarrak (“seven stars”), zazpi ohoinak (“seven thieves”), and zazpi ahuntzak (“seven goats”). Note how these terms all incorporate the number seven, while the designations for Ursa Major vary from five to seven.
As we have just noted in our discussion of Mari and Sugaar, the Basques attached much importance to meteorological phenomena: thunder is called ortzantz (“heavenly thunder”) and oztots / ostots (“sky’s noise”). Lightning is orzpin (“tongue from the sky”) as well as the inexplicable ozminarri (“stone of the tongue from the sky”). Rainbows are especially significant, and have many names: ortzadar / ostadar (“sky horn / arch”), euriadar (“rain horn”), Jainkoaren gerrikoa (“sash of God”), Santiagora bide (“road to Santiago”), Santiago zubi (“bridge of Santiago”), Erromako zubia (“bridge to Rome”), zeruko zubi (“bridge to heaven”), San Migelen zubia (“St. Michael’s bridge”), San Nikolasen zubi (“St Nicholas’ bridge”), Frantziako zubi (“bridge of France”), and itsas adar (“sea horn,” probably arising from the belief that rainbows drink sea-water). There is even a special (and inexplicable) term for a double rainbow: azerien boda (“wedding of foxes”). (Knörr, 2000). “There is also a popular belief amongst Basque people that if you walk underneath a rainbow you will change sex” (Knörr, 2000, pp. 411-412).
Mama / deda discussion (as summarized by Berman 2009, “Caucasus”) + mze / mtvare, horns of bull = Moon
Amza / mze; mtvare / mtovare + mzistvali / avi tvali; according to Klimov, the Proto-Kartvelian terms were MZE and TUTE (from which comes tve); he also notes that PK distinguished only two seasons (summer & winter, p. 122); in both instances there are Basque parallels: Knorr 410: “It is interesting to see how in many villages there is a difference between eguzki “sunlight” and eguzki-begi “star” or quite literally “sun’s eye”.”Knorr 408: “We cannot avoid the impression, also mentioned by other researchers, that in the traditional Basque way of thinking there were only two seasons: uda “summer” and negu “winter”.”
+ Knorr 410: “Another [word for the moon], from the Roncal area, is goiko, which quite literally means “the one above”.” Knorr 411: “Uhlenbeck put forward the idea that there was a certain “word taboo” attached to the word for “moon” and the one for “sun”, meaning that both had their own specific names, which should be avoided. Caro Baroja supported this idea. This may even explain the case of the word from Roncal, goiko (meaning “the one above”) that we mentioned previously.”