The Genesis of North Caucasian Material Culture and Chechen Ethnogeny

Several archaeological cultures[1] existed in the Kuban-Sulak interfluve in the North Caucasus, succeeding to each other for 4,000 years. Their development bore an extent of genetic continuity in everyday life, burial rites, religion and mythology. All that allows postulate ethnogenetic succession of the local population from times immemorial to the Early Middle Ages.

Detailed studies of North Caucasian archaeological cultures from the Early Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age brought Evgeny Krupnov to the conclusion that a Caucasian cultural and linguistic community[2] existed in the Caucasus, Transcaucasia and Asia Minor, sharing features common to the entire area in the 5th-3rd millennia B.C.: a) sedentism and common economic forms (land-tilling, stock breeding and developed pottery); b) small homotypic hill settlements with rotund or rectangular dwellings, movable hearths and the use of clay blocks;  c) similar types of pottery with predominantly spiral ornamental patterns. The community had started to disintegrate by the beginning of the 3rd millennium B.C., as confirmed by the appearance of local variants of the Caucasian Eneolithic culture: the Kura-Araxes in Transcaucasia and the Northeast Caucasus, and the Maikop in the Northwest and Central Caucasus. 

However, the level and character of correspondences in the contemporary languages of the Caucasian family and the dead ancient West Asian languages, mainly Hurrian-Urartian, shows that the Caucasian language community really disintegrated far earlier—no later than the beginning of the 5th millennium B.C.  As to the disintegration of the Caucasian Eneolithic culture, it reflected the disintegration of the Nakh-Hurrian language community due to migration of a part of the Nakh-Hurrian tribes to Transcaucasia and West Asia. Even several millennia after, the Urartian language (probably, the Hurrian language of the 1st millennium B.C.) reveals amazing closeness to none other than the contemporary Nakh languages.

The Caucasian language community had disintegrated into the Kartveli, Adyg, Nakh and Dagestani language groups, to all appearances, by the end of the Neolithic Period and the start of the Eneolithic.

The disintegration of the Nakh-Dagestani language community could not take place later than the end of the 5th and the start of the 4th millennium B.C., as indicated by major material cultural differences in the area populated by the Nakh and Dagestani tribes. No less probably, however, the Nakh-Dagestani language community had never existed at all, and the languages owe their common features to long coexistence in neighbouring areas and to adstratum-substratum relations.

Bearing out this assumption is the structural-typological and lexical closeness of the language of Hurrians, or Khurrites, who migrated from the North Caucasus to Transcaucasia and West Asia in the 4th millennium B.C., to none other than the Chechen language[3], while this closeness could be possible only if they migrated after the final division of the Nakh and Dagestani languages[4].

As the Caucasian language community was disintegrating, the peoples inhabiting the North Caucasus and the area southwest of it were territorially distributed just as later—Dagestani language speakers in the east of the area, Nakh in the centre, and Adyg in the west and southwest.

To all appearances, such proximity was lasting enough to be reflected in linguistic correspondences. In this sense, the Adyg languages are far closer to the Nakh than Dagestani on the lexical and structural-typological plane. Taking into consideration the level of lexical and morphological differences between the Nakh and Adyg languages, determined by their historical development, we can assume relative lexical closeness of those languages due to lasting coexistence just as to common origin.

The mutual closeness of the Nakh and Hurrian languages is indisputable[5], as borne out not only by the high level of their lexical similarities but also by their entire structural-typological identity. Even the indicators of grammar classes in the Nakh languages, which are assumed to have appeared comparatively recently, have their prototypes in the demonstrative pronouns of the Hurrian-Urartian languages.

In that, we must bear in mind that several thousand years have elapsed since those languages divided as Hurrians left their ancient habitat in the gorges and plains of the North Caucasus and Southeast Europe no later than the 4th millennium B.C.

According to archaeological testimony and historical sources, Hurrian tribes moved southward across the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range along practically all principal routes—the Caspian and Black Sea coast and the Daryal Gorge. A part of them settled on the south Caucasian slopes.

References to them under the ethnicon of Subarei appear in Akkadian sources since the second half of the 3rd millennium B.C.[6]. Dating to that time are two cuneal inscriptions made on Hurrian kings’ behalf—one in Akkadian and the other in Hurrite. The latter inscription, belonging to Tishari, or Tish-Adal, the king of Urkesh in the north of Mesopotamia, is the oldest known monument of the Hurrian language[7].

Hurrians spread almost throughout the entire West Asia in the end of the first half of the 2nd millennium B.C. from the Diyala River in the southeast to the Mediterranean coast in the west, and including Palestine and Syria south. They settled in Elam, Mesopotamia, Mari, Mitanni, Syria and Palestine. Akkadian sources initially referred to them as the Subarei, and their state as Subartu. Scholars assume that the ethnicon of “Subarei” really refers to the pre-Hurrian, possibly Sumerian, population of those areas, with which Hurrians might be ethnically connected.

Egyptian sources referred to them as Huru since the 16th century B.C., while the Bible knows the ancient non-Semitic Palestinian tribes as Khorites (from huri).

The northern border of Hurrian settlement was vague at that time because the territory of Urartians—an ethnic entity closely related to the Hurrian linguistically and genetically—lay to the north of the Hurrian lands. To all appearances, the Hurrian and Urartian were a single ethnic entity in the early 3rd millennium.

Scholars suppose the existence of another Nakh tribal group, the Etiukh[8], further north, in the Central and East Transcaucasia. The Etiukh created the so-called Trialeti archaeological culture, which existed in Transcaucasia in the 2nd millennium B.C. and had deep-going material ties with the West Asian Hurrian world.

Hurrians are assumed to be the makers of the so-called Kura-Araxes archaeological culture[9], which emerged at the end of the 4th millennium B.C. in East Transcaucasia, the Kura-Araxes interfluve and the Armenian Plateau[10], from where it spread almost throughout the entire Transcaucasia, in certain parts of West Asia up to Syria and Palestine, and in the north to Dagestan and the southeast of Chechnya and Ossetia.

The Kura-Araxes tribes settled on hills and other uplands, along rivers and on mountain slopes—most often on naturally fortified hills, e.g., the Serzhen-Yurt settlement in Chechnya’s southeast. Some settlements were surrounded by man-made moats and stone or adobe walls. The Kura-Araxes settlement of Shengavit had a defencive wall of stone blocks with towers and an underpass to the river[11].

Round or oval houses were the most widespread kind of dwellings, though rectangular buildings also occur in some settlements[12]. Stone, adobe or wattle and daub, those houses were topped by hollow timber roofbeams with clay reinforcement inside. Some houses bear traces of the trumeau. A round clay hearth was in the centre of the house. Kura-Araxes tribes often used clay hearth supports of many types—in particular, conventionalised oxe figurines[13].

The Kura-Araxes economy rested on land-tilling and stock breeding. The sedentary farming nature of this culture is testified to by solid occupation layers, up to 8 metres thick in some settlements.

Farming was the basis of Kura-Araxes life, as shown by numerous land-tilling tools and the seed of many cereals found in the occupation layers of the settlements. The mattock was the principal tool though primitive ploughs were used when the culture reached its peak[14]. Kura-Araxes tribes grew wheat of many varieties, barley, and flax for textiles.

Theirs was mixed farming, and stock breeding was developed no less than land tilling. Cattle were prominent in the economy as draught animals for agriculture and transport, as shown by archaeological finds in the North Caucasian Kura-Araxes settlements. Well developed distant-pasture cattle rearing, which prompted the tribes to open up Caucasian highlands, might testify to domestication of the horse[15].

The population vacated a majority of Kura-Araxes settlements in the second half of the 3rd millennium B.C. Scholars explain it by environmental and climatic reasons or the advance of other tribes from the south. A part of Kura-Araxes tribes moved north and northeast to the Caucasian highlands, while others south to West Asia.

The ethnicity of Kura-Araxes tribes is the subject of heated academic discussions to this day[16].

Most probably, they were Hurrians who broke away from the basic Nakh-Hurrian ethnos to go south to Transcaucasia and West Asia at the end of the 4th millennium B.C. This assumption is borne out by archaeological finds and linguistic correspondences.

First, “Kura-Araxes pottery is not connected with Transcaucasian pottery of the 5th and 4th millennia B.C. either in terms of techniques or shape or, again, décor. That is to say, all known multistratum settlements with Kura-Araxes strata underlain by earlier ones visibly demonstrate the absence of genetic ties between the kinds of pottery, which are the basic materials of those strata and an essential cultural attribute”[17]. Accordingly, the Kura-Araxes culture might be tracked down to tribes that appeared in Transcaucasia at the end of the 4th millennium B.C. from north, crossing the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range, because the culture does not reveal genetic links with West Asian cultures, more developed at the time, even at its early stage. At the same time, the Kura-Araxes culture has much in common with the Maikop archaeological culture of the North Caucasus, manifest in the funeral rites, pottery and elsewhere—possibly, another testimony to their common origin.

Bearing out this point is the character and direction of Hurrian tribal migrations, as reflected in historical sources of the 3rd millennium B.C.[18].

Prominent scholar Krupnov wrote in his time: “The likeness of Maikop cultural monuments to Kura-Araxes Eneolithic ones (as curvilinear ornamental reliefs on the pottery, arrowhead shapes, etc) and the combination of those cultures in Chechen-Ingush settlements allow to treat the Maikop culture as a northwestern variety of the archaeological culture of the Caucasian Isthmus—a culture that was one in times immemorial. The growing stock of data about the links between those ancient cultures moves the theme into the foreground as an essential problem of the original Caucasian cultural unity and its relation to a major and also well-knit ethnic community <…> Doubtless, the Caucasian language family took shape as early as the Neolithic Period—possibly, even before the Semitic, Indo-European and Finno-Ugric, let alone Turkic-speaking peoples appeared in the historical arena of the Old World”[19].

Hurrian tribes belonged to the Nakh-Hurrian ethnic massif, whose habitat stretched from the Kuban to Dagestan in the southeastern part of the area that included the southeast and south of Chechnya and the west of Dagestan, as borne out by the level of linguistic correspondences between Hurrian and other Caucasian languages. Hurrian is the closest to Nakh, Dagestani languages coming next, while the Abkhaz-Adyg and Kartvelian languages are fairly remote from it, revealing that the Nakh-Dagestani language community had disintegrated by the start of the 4th millennium B.C., if it existed at all[20]. Otherwise, Hurrian would be equally close to the Nakh and Dagestani languages. On the other hand, the character of linguistic correspondences shows that Hurrian tribes were the eastern part of the Nakh-Hurrian ethnic massif and neighbours of Dagestani language speakers.

As we can assume from the above, Hurrian tribes were migrating south toward the end of the 4th millennium B.C.—to Transcaucasia and later West Asia, to create a new culture there. They spread throughout Transcaucasia, including uplands, when the Kura-Araxes culture reached its peak. A part of Hurrians went back to the North Caucasus to clash with Nakh tribes, the bearers of the Maikop culture. Settlements in the areas where the two cultures met possess syncretic material cultural properties of both—which was possible only if their bearers were ethnically related, to an extent.

The 3rd millennium B.C. saw Hurrian tribes leave their Transcaucasian settlements to migrate south for reasons unknown to us. Historical sources of the 3rd millennium B.C. refer to their migration and settlement along the route.

Aukh, Ichkeria and Cheberloi were populated by Hurrians’ North Caucasian offspring[21], assimilated after the 15th century by Chechens, the offspring of Alanians, who had migrated there from West Caucasus—from Nashkh, as tradition has it[22].

Hurrians played a prominent part in West Asia for many centuries. In the 16th century B.C., they established the state of Mitanni in North Mesopotamia, with the capital in Vassukanni. Hittite documents refer to it as Khurri and Mitanni[23].

Mitanni dominated West Asia for several centuries and influenced many adjacent areas—in particular, Arrapha, Kizzuvatna, Assur and Alalah.

It was a fairly loose state. Its rulers failed to make it a monolith centralized kingdom, however hard they try. Long wars with the Hittites and their Assyrian allies, and internecine strife eventually sent Mitanni into decline. The end of the 14th century B.C. found it in Assyrian dependence, and it ceased to be by 1300 B.C. Possibly, some Hurrians fled north to the Armenian Plateau with the advance of Semitic tribes.

The earliest Assyrian references to the Uruatri tribes of the Armenian Plateau date to that time. Assyrian scribes mentioned their rulers’ military expeditions to Nairi, or Nahiri[24].

The Hurrian-Urartian tribes of the Armenian Plateau established the mighty state of Urartu in the early 1st millennium B.C. The annals of Assyrian king Shalmaneser III for 856 B.C. mention the realm of Urartu, or Biyanili.

It had developed into a mighty militarised power by the start of the 8th century B.C. Urartian kings campaigned repeatedly against the neighbouring countries and were formidable rivals of Hittites and Assyrians. Urartian prosperity reached its peak in the 8th century, during the reign of Menias and his son Argistis I. Urartu spread its influence to Transcaucasia. The country had many stone fortresses with impregnable citadels. Crafts and farming flourished. Indicatively, royal scribes shifted to Urartian from the Assyrian language used initially.

Land tilling and stock breeding were the Urartian economic pillars. Local land farming ascended to the Neolithic. The Urartian period finally differentiated between wheat and barley farming[25]. Millet crops were also prominent. Sesame and flax were the most widespread of oil-yielding crops. Urartians built sophisticated irrigation networks not only in their own country but also in the neighbouring dependent lands. There were vast water reservoirs and irrigation canals of tremendous length. Urartian farming techniques were no less sophisticated, with iron ploughs, mattocks and sickles. Archaeological finds include a plenty of stone mortars, pestles, bowls and grain grinders.

Horticulture and viniculture thrived in Urartu as in the entire West Asia. Excavations of Karmir-Blur revealed numerous remnants and stones of plums, apples, quinces, cherries, pomegranates, peaches and other fruit[26]. Archaeological finds show the high level of Urartian viniculture and wine-making, with numerous grape varieties. Though contemporaneous sources offer scanty information about Urartian wine-making, wine cellars and storerooms were preserved in many settlements.

Stock breeding was no less developed. As archaeological finds and ancient written sources show, sheep and goats were much more numerous than cattle. Distant pastures were mostly used due to the geography of the region. Urartians excelled in butter and cheese making, and made excellent leather and worsted fabrics.

Stud farming was prominent, and Urartian sources mention cavalry and war chariots.

Architecture was developed the greatest in fortification. Fortresses were built in places hard of access—on high hills and rocks close to mountain streams or springs[27]. Walls based on solid rock did not require substructures, though the rock was reinforced. Urartians built their fortresses of stone or adobe on stone foundations. It is hard to make assumptions concerning palatial and templar architecture because all temples and palaces have come down to our day as ruins—for the most part, under a thick earth layer.

Urartu possessed material culture of a perfection unique for its time. Doubtless, the European culture of our time still bears its traces inherited through indirect contacts.

As Urartu fell in the beginning of the 6th century B.C., a part of its tribes fled to the parts of the North Caucasus inhabited by genetically related Nakh tribes, as testified by the legends of many Chechen clans and the teptar family chronicles.  Many also migrated to East Transcaucasia.

Caucasian Albania emerged a bit later. Tribes of Hurrian-Urartian ancestry, known as Gargareans, were its most active ethnic entity. There is small reason to identify them with the Lezghin or Udian because Greek authors mention them side by side with the Utian, or Udi, and the Leghian—no doubt, the ancestors of the present-day Udians and Lezghins.

Most probably, a part of Gargareans later migrated to the North Caucasus, where the Nakh tribes of their kin lived. Perhaps, hence come morphological and lexical correspondences between the Nakh and certain Dagestani languages—mainly Lezghian. They might be considered adstrata.

The Nakh tribes of Dval, who lived in Dvaleti of the olden times (present-day South Ossetia) up to the end of the 17th century, are also the offspring of ancient migrants who settled there on the route southward[28]. According to Vakhushti Bagrationi, the earliest population of Dvaleti descends from the legendary Kavkas and is closely related to the Durdzuk, i.e., Nakh highlanders[29]. Authors of the Antiquity refer to Dvals as Caucasians—no doubt, meaning the Nakh. That is another proof of the Dval belonging to Nakh tribes.

The Maikop culture, which owes its name to a burial mound discovered near Maikop in the late 19th century, is the oldest archaeological culture whose bearers might be directly identified with the ancestors of Chechens.

The mound was more than ten metres high, with two tombs under it—one, the principal, in a pit under the mound, and the other within the mound. The principal grave was a rectangular earth pit oriented from northeast to southwest, and enclosed in a cromlech of limestone slabs. The walls of the tomb were reinforced by timber and the bottom paved with small river boulders. Wooden partitions divided the tomb into the south and north chambers, the latter precisely divided in two. A man was interred in the south chamber, lying on his side in the embryo position, head southeast, densely powdered with red dye. There were two graves in each of the two parts of the north chamber.

The grave preserved an opulent treasure, a greater part of it in the south chamber—gold badges shaped as lions and bulls, gold beads and rings, gold and silver vessels, flint arrowheads, a polished stone axe, copper tools, and pottery of diverse shapes and functions[30].

A cluster of mounds had been discovered before the Maikop in the vicinity of the Cossack village of Novosvobodnaya, or Tsarskaya. Their funeral rites, with crouching dyed skeletons, and equipment had much in common with the Maikop mound, though the men were buried not in earth pits but in dolmens, with rich treasures of gold and silver jewellery, bronze tools and weapons, bronze cauldrons[31] and bowls, and patterned engobe and polished pottery.

Despite the many similarities, which allow trace the Maikop and Novosvobodnaya mounds to one archaeological culture, they reveal certain differences in the burial (pits and dolmens), and in armourers’ and potters’ techniques. To all appearances, these are chronological differences[32], while the discovery of Maikop cultural monuments of the interim developmental stage allows assume three stages of the development of the Maikop culture (A.A. Formozov and R.M. Munchayev).

Several decades of the 20th century brought the discoveries of Maikop tombs and monuments of everyday life in the Stavropol Territory, Kabarda-Balkaria and Chechnya (near the villages of Mekenskaya on the Terek River, Bamut on the Fortanga, Bachi-Yurt on the Gonsol, Serzhen-Yurt and Zandak)[33].

In its heyday, the Maikop culture spread throughout the North Caucasian plains and foothills from the Taman Peninsula in the west to the Dagestani border in the southeast[34]. The tribes of the Maikop culture were in contact with tribes of the longer-established Kura-Araxes culture in the south and southeast of Chechnya-Ingushetia, mainly along the Georgian and Dagestani borders.  Possessions found in dwellings and tombs bear salient and lasting features of both cultures. However, the combination of the later Maikop and early Kura-Araxes features revealed by archaeological complexes has not received a rational scholarly explanation to this day, with consideration for the chronological borders of those two cultures (the Kura-Araxes existed from the middle of the 4th millennium B.C. to the end of the 3rd, and the Maikop from the end of the 4th through the end of the 2nd)[35].

An alliance of closely interrelated tribes began to emerge in the North Caucasus—the area from the Kuban to the Argun rivers—when the Maikop culture reached its peak and, to all appearances, the tribes had taken shape. This alliance incorporated and assimilated groups of the plainland population, and survived till the Mongol-Tartar invasion. Cultural succession existed in the same area, and within closer boundaries later, for close on 5,000 years from the Maikop culture to the Alanian[36], and on to the later mediaeval Chechen culture.

No one doubts the local origin of the Maikop culture at its earlier stages, manifest in the Northwest and Central Caucasian monuments of everyday life and tombs. The local nature of the basic part of tools and household utensils is borne out by archaeological finds made in practically all excavated settlements of the Maikop culture dated to its various stages.

Monuments of its earliest stage were discovered in the Chechen east to refute the assumption of its progress west to east. Studies by Rauf Munchayev and other leading contemporary Russian archaeologists prove that the Maikop culture contacted with the West Asian world via Dagestan.

Born locally, the Maikop culture was created by the indigenous population, distant ancestors of the contemporary Nakh population of the Caucasus. The impact of ancient West Asian civilisations on cultural development of the North Caucasus, observed by scholars since as early as the local Neolithic Period, was strong enough to be taken into consideration, however[37].

Mesopotamian cultural influence on the region became stronger, for reasons unknown, in the Early Bronze Age of the North Caucasus. The increase might be ascribed to enhancing trade and economic contacts, migrations by certain groups of the Mesopotamian population to the North Caucasus, and the demand of West Asian craft centres for raw materials.[38] Be that as it may, the ethnic and linguistic kinship of those regions’ populations was most probably the main reason for their contacts[39].

Migrations of closely related Nakh tribes across the mountain range from south to north and in the opposite direction up to the end of the 1st millennium A.D. figure in historical sources and folk traditions.

Scholars date the Maikop culture approximately to the end of the 4th-beginning of the 2nd millennium B.C. It bordered on the dolmen archaeological culture to the west, the Kura-Araxes, with which it was linked genetically, to the south and east, and the pit, catacomb and later timber-grave cultures to the north.

The tribes of the Maikop culture populated mainly North Caucasian plains and foothills though, to all appearances, they had close contacts with highlanders.[40]

Their settlements were located in places hard of access—river promontories,[41] terraces and along high and steep river banks that served as natural fortifications. On the unprotected side, these settlements had stone defence walls of a size impressive for their time.

Rauf Munchayev, prominent archaeologist and researcher of the Bronze Age in the Caucasus and West Asia, distinguishes two stages of the Maikop archaeological culture: 1) early, the time of the Maikop burial mound and the Meshoko settlement; and 2) late, the time of the Novosvobodnaya and Bamut burial mounds[42].

The Bamut mound is the most interesting monument of the Maikop culture in present-day Chechnya. Ample and diverse finds were made in its tombs—red ochre pottery, bronze daggers, axes and spearheads, bone and flint arrowheads and tools, bronze cauldrons with pearl patterns analogous to Novosvobodnaya finds, and bronze and stone jewellery.

The Maikop archaeological culture lasted longer than a thousand years. It spread over a vast area from the Kuban to Dagestan at the time of its prosperity. Dynamic cultural and economic contacts with West Asia and Transcaucasia, which largely determined its development, were its most salient feature.

Intensive economic development, with an emphasis on stock breeding, metalworking and pottery, led to early social stratification as clan and tribal leaders horded vast treasures of livestock, precious metals and bronze artefacts. The richest patriarchal families acquired a separated position, and tribal chiefs came of their midst[43]. Armourers’ pioneer technologies promoted the appearance of slavery.

The most salient features of the Maikop culture had gradually obliterated by the start of the 2nd millennium B.C. due to many factors—mainly the end of contacts with West Asia, replaced by ever closer links with the Black Sea region and the Volga basin, whose population was more backward socially and culturally. Later on, groups of steppe tribesmen penetrated the Maikop population.

Imports from the south stopped at that time, and amply furnished tombs are no longer met. The Maikop material culture degraded, to an extent, though unevenly in different parts of the North Caucasus.

The Maikop culture gradually transformed into the North Caucasian archaeological culture, though its household utensils, weapons and burial rites retained certain specific features for a long time within that culture.

The archaeological culture researchers term North Caucasian[44] gradually replaced the Maikop in the beginning of the 2nd millennium B.C. It was not a material culture of the new population but based on, and was genetically linked to the Maikop as shown by the similarity of burial rites and the construction of stone cromlechs, which testify to the succession of religion, interrelation of samples of pottery, and almost complete coincidence of the territory.

Extant burial monuments belonged to other rites, though retaining certain Maikop features, and their implements represented the new culture.

The burial mound near the village of Ul in the Kuban country[45] is the most interesting monument of the transition time. Vladimir Markovin dates it to the early stage of the North Caucasian archaeological culture. The buried man lay prostrate on his back head north, slightly reclining east. The tomb contained clay and alabaster figurines, a miniature jug, curved perforated pins similar to the pins found in the Maikop mounds of Novosvobodnaya, fragments of pottery, and a miniature clay cart model. Characterising the Ul mound is a combination of implements close to the Maikop and new burial rites[46] specific to the North Caucasian culture.

Monuments of the transition stage and the early stage of the North Caucasian archaeological culture have been found from the Kuban River to Dagestan. The mound with a dolmen-like coffin at the village of Zakan Yurt is the earliest burial monument of that culture in present-day Chechnya.

Most typical of the implements, with all their local variants, are curved bone pins, twined wire pendants, drilled stone axes of simple shape, bronze axes with a slightly slanting butt, flat adze-like axes, and vessels with herringbone and low relief patterns[47].

Proceeding from the Maikop features of the burial rites, archaic implements, and analogies offered by ancient Transcaucasian and West Asian complexes, Markovin postulated the temporal limits of the North Caucasian archaeological culture as the beginning of the 2nd millennium B.C. and 1700 B.C.[48]. Maikop cultural features had vanished fully by the end of the period, and the characteristics of the new archaeological culture had achieved an extent of stability.

The features of the new funeral rite[49] and the types of burial implements characteristic of the North Caucasian archaeological culture had taken final shape by the middle of the 2nd millennium B.C., when its second stage—1700 B.C.-1500 A.D.—finished.

Almost all tombs of that time throughout the area of the North Caucasian archaeological culture from the Kuban to the left bank of the Sulak contain perforated bronze axes, bronze weaponry and tools, cast patterned jewellery, stone axes and maces, and ornamented vessels. Bronze articles are lavishly patterned in lacing, spirals and small stuck-on circles, and vessels in impressions of string and spiral low relief.

The material culture of North Caucasian tribes reached an extent of flowering at that time, while the earlier stage of the North Caucasian culture spectacularly revealed its degradation compared to the previous, Maikop, as manifest in the variety of funeral implements and higher production technologies.

Thus, the burial mound at Andryukovskaya village contained a ribbed copper dagger, a circular pendant ornamented in string and spiral, copper pendants, an oval temple ring, and a hammer-shaped pin[50].

The Gatyn-Kale burial ground in the Argun Gorge, in present-day Chechnya, is typical of the second stage of the North Caucasian culture. Bronze spiral bracelets, pins with scrolled top, bronze and paste beads, pendants shaped at spoons and rings, temple rings and pottery were unearthed there.

The bearers of the North Caucasian archaeological culture had come into contact with representatives of the steppe cultures to the north—mainly the catacomb and timber-grave—in various parts of the North Caucasus by the end of the 2nd millennium B.C. These contacts were the closest and the most versatile in the west—the Kuban country. The tombs of the region acquired new features not only in implements but also in the funeral rite. Material culture gradually acquired a mixed character. Such processes were slower in the Central Caucasus, with smaller influence of the steppe cultures on the funeral rite and articles of material culture. The North Caucasian culture also lost its specifics in Dagestan, along the east border of the area, where the influence of the local Eneolithic cultures became stronger. That time is attributed to the third stage of the North Caucasian culture, between the middle and the end of the 2nd millennium B.C.—a period when local differences between material cultures and funeral rites of tribes representing that culture became more pronounced in various parts of the North Caucasus. Features of new archaeological cultures, mainly the Kuban and Koban, appeared within the old culture and on its basis. For instance, a bronze axe unearthed neat Zakan Yurt village in Chechnya prototypes Koban axes[51].

The economy of the North Caucasian culture was based on stock breeding and land tilling. The latter was better developed than in the preceding era. Wheat, barley and other cereals were grown. Mattocks of hard stone were used to till the land. Harvesting was made by sickles with flint insertions at the earlier stage of the North Caucasian culture, and bronze sickles became widespread later on. Stone grain grinders often occur in tombs of the North Caucasian culture.

Sheep, goats and cattle preponderated in stock breeding. Sheep grazed on distant pastures, as shown by archaeological finds in the highlands, where flocks were taken for summer, and in the Caspian plains where they wintered. To all appearances, embryonic agistment was characteristic of the Maikop tribes, as well—largely thanks to horse breeding. The Maikop culture used horses only for riding, while the North Caucasian knew wheeled vehicles, as shown by a clay model of a two-wheel cart unearthed in the Ul burial mound.

Tombs of various types allow assume the shape of contemporaneous dwellings as ancient graves often imitated houses and even used the same construction materials, depending on their accessibility. Stone vaults and coffins were widespread in the mountains, where stone houses were built even in the previous era, while forest dwellers, with their log houses, made timber graves due to the scarcity of stone. Dwellings were rectangular in the area, just as in the previous era.

Despite scanty material concerning the character of the settlements and dwellings of the North Caucasian culture, the various types of tombs reveal sophisticated house building and, possibly, fortification techniques. Archaeologists ascribe a dwelling unearthed near Gatyn Kale in the Chechen highland to the North Caucasian culture. A rectangular wattle and daub with slab floor, it was divided in two chambers with a stone partition.

The North Caucasian burial culture knew mounds, stone coffins, vaults and earth pits. The Nakh of the North Caucasus preserved this versatility of interment customs up to the Late Middle Ages.

Weaponry, jewellery and pottery found in tombs show that North Caucasians regarded the afterlife as continuation of earthly life—views characteristic of the Nakh through the Middle Ages, as well.

The Koban archaeological culture had replaced the North Caucasian by the middle of the 2nd and the start of the 1st millennium B.C. Both cultures were genetically interlinked and belonged to one and the same ethnic entity. The principal area of the Koban culture coincides with the preceding North Caucasian, shifting south to the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range and outside it. The north boundary of the Koban culture approached the present-day Stavropol Upland, reflecting Nakh settlement as, due to the aggressive advance of numerous Iranian-, Ugric- and Turkic-speaking savage nomads, Nakh tribes fled south and west to oust and partly assimilate the peoples that had created the Kura-Araxes culture. The oldest monuments of the Koban culture, of the 16th century B.C., were unearthed in Dvaleti—present-day South Ossetia. The earliest monuments of the Koban culture found in the North Caucasus go down to the 12th century B.C., and the latest to the 4th century B.C.

Stock breeding and land tilling were the pillars of the Koban economy[52], with an emphasis on stock breeding—cattle, sheep and goats. Sheep were agisted. Horse raising played a tremendous part in the Koban economy and everyday life, as shown by numerous parts of harness in Koban settlements and tombs.  To all appearances, horses were becoming the main transportation means at that time[53]. Numerous clay figurines of horses, and their representations on bronze axes and pottery testify to a widespread horse cult[54].

Archaeological materials from the foothills and plains show the development of Koban land tilling.

Koban farmers grew wheat, barley, rye and millet, using wooden ploughs, bronze mattocks, stone sickles with flint insertions, and bronze sickles. Wooden ploughs had acquired iron shares and iron sickles appeared by the 7th century B.C. Grain was stored in vessels and pits. Grain was threshed on special boards, and ground with stone grinders, or with pestle and mortar.

Despite well developed stock breeding, hunting was also prominent in the Koban economy, as shown by numerous wild animal bones in occupation layers, and a deer hunting scene represented on a bronze sheet belt[55]. To all appearances, Kobans hunted with dogs[56].

Koban settlements were situated on uplands and plateaus, and in river valleys. Dwellings, household outbuildings and sanctuaries were arranged in blocks. Narrow streets were cobbled. Houses were mostly rectangular, though oval ones also occurred—possibly, due to influences from the outside. Mountain dwellings were made of stone cemented with a solution of clay, and plainland were wattle and daub.

The Serzhen Yurt settlement in East Chechnya was typical of the Koban culture at its early stage (10th-7th cent. B.C.). Situated in the foothills, it had two shelter hills with steep slopes, one of them fortified with a man-made moat. The streets were cobbled, and houses wattle and daub on stone or clay block foundations[57]. The buildings were divided into living quarters and craftsmen’s workshop. The living quarters possessed hearths of various shape and design. Workshops belonged to potters and bronze founders. The settlement had many household pits.

The Koban tribes knew several forms of interment—earth pits, rectangular stone coffins, stone vaults and interment under a mound. Characteristic of the earlier Koban culture was the embryonic position of the buried man, on the right or left side. The later tombs reveal steppe cultures’ influence. Food donations and an ample choice of weaponry, tools and jewellery are found in the tombs—often complete with horses and harness. Koban tribes erected cenotaphs[58] in honour of men who died away from their motherland[59].

Researchers distinguish three local variants of the Koban culture: west in the vicinity of present-day Pyatigorsk and Kabarda-Balkaria, central in North and South Ossetia, and east, Chechnya and Ingushetia, alongside three chronological layers of its development: 12th-11th centuries B.C., 9th-7th centuries B.C., and 7th-4th centuries B.C. Local variants reflect only dialectal differences in the Koban ethnic environment, which was certainly heterogeneous and genetically linked with the older North Caucasian cultural community.

Thus, according to Valentina Kozenkova, comparison of monuments of the east variant of the Koban culture with the central allows to assume, with an extent of probability, that, for instance, the population that left the complex of articles from Sharoi in East Chechnya was genetically related to the population of the Koban burial grounds in North Ossetia, as shown by semi-oval buckles, toe rings and spatular pins[60]. The formation of an independent Kuban culture in the western area of the North Caucasian archaeological culture and, consequently, ancient Nakh tribes during the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages show the advance of Abkhaz-Adyg tribes from Transcaucasia and the Black Sea coast. Ancient sources that might throw more light on the history of contemporaneous Nakh tribes in the Koban cultural area are very scanty. In particular, references to Gargarians are found in Strabo. They populated the area in the 1st century B.C. and, to all appearances, were one of the Nakh tribes (cf: Chech. гаьргар, “related”, “akin”)[61].

The Koban were one of the most influential Caucasian ethnic massifs. Ancient Georgian chronicles refer to them as “Caucasioni” and “Durdzuk”. At that time, the sedentary population of the North Caucasus was facing military threat from numerous savage nomadic hordes of the steppes to its north. That was why the construction of fortified settlements surrounded by a rampart and moat or a stone wall started in the area.

The ruins of huge stone block structures known as Cyclopean date, most probably, to an even earlier era. According to ancient traditions, they were built by the Vampal—one-eyed giants the Greeks knew as Cyclopes. Other traditions ascribe them to the Nart—legendary giant ancestors of the Vainakh, famous for fabulous strength. It is really hard to believe that ordinary mortals could move huge monoliths, each weighing several tonnes, in the mountains.

As things really are, the cyclopean structures of Chechnya and Ingushetia are a developmental stage of local architecture in the tideway of the later North Caucasian and early Koban culture. Nakh tribes began to build cyclopean-type stone towers in the 1st millennium B.C., at the latest. Ruins of such towers are to be found in present-day Chechnya in the vicinity of the villages Orsoi, Bauloi, Nikaroi, Tsecha-Akhk, Doshkhakle and Kharkaroi.

Cyclopean structures are also extant in Transcaucasia. In Armenia, they were built on hilltops. Dwellings were clustered in the centre, on the highest point. Concentric circles of huge unhewn boulders surrounded them. The defenders hid behind those boulders during enemy attacks. Indicatively, folk tradition ascribes those settlements to the Achkatar—one-eyed giants, i.e., Cyclopes, just as in Chechnya-Ingushetia.

Numerous ruins of cyclopean settlements and fortresses are in Georgia. Researchers divide them in several groups according to the time of construction, location, shape, size and character. The earliest go down to the Eneolithic and the latest to the early mediaevality.

The vastness of Koban dwellings can be regarded as testifying to the social structure of Koban tribes of the time. Beyond doubt, the population grouped in large communities of kinsmen, which evolution gradually made smaller. Small annexes were added to the cyclopean structures.

A major political alliance of ancient Nakh tribes existed at that time in a vast area stretching from the Kuban River to the Andian Range. This formidable military-political force controlled the Daryal Gorge—the principal route across the Caucasus—and other mountain passes to face Transcaucasian countries, mainly Kartli and Armenia, with permanent danger of aggression, and was a strong political influence on the neighbouring lands.

Perhaps, that was why that time did not need special fortifications. The local relief and the huge size of dwellings sufficed for defence.

Major military setbacks had made the Nakh military-political alliance disintegrate into smaller entities by the 3rd-2nd centuries B.C. as the danger of frequent nomad raids from the north was growing. The defence of separate settlements becomes the crucial goal in such periods as that. Certainly, it impacts architecture.

The last developmental stage of the Koban culture saw its area shrinking, and differences between the material culture of highlands and plains increasing. As archaeological finds testify, steppe tribes were enhancing their influence on the population of plainlands and foothills since as early as the 7th century B.C. In the final analysis, this influence led to the formation of a new archaeological culture in the area. However, the Nakh tribes preserved relics of the Koban culture in its various manifestations up to the later mediaevality.

Scythian tribes appeared in the Nakh-populated area approximately in the 7th century B.C.[62]. The origin and ethnic and linguistic identity of Scythians remains open for discussion to this day. At a certain period, the so-called Scythian archaeological culture stretched from the Black Sea coast and North Caucasian plains in the west to the Altai and East Siberia in the east. It stays unclear, however, whether it was a well-knit ethnic entity or a group of genetically related tribes or, again, unrelated entities united by shared material culture. Though certain linguists assume that Scythian was an Iranian language (if a common language could exist in such a vast territory at all)[63], not a single work has appeared to this day to prove the point with substantial arguments.

Personal names depended on religion not ethnicity even in older times, while place names change depending on the language of the local population—which means that toponymy and onomatology do not provide sufficient data to ascribe the population of a region to a particular ethnos.

Archaeologists come upon traces of the interaction of the Koban archaeological culture with the Scythian material culture in the North Caucasian area of the Koban culture approximately starting with the 7th century B.C. in burial rites, weapons, horse harness, pottery and necessaries. Researchers think contemporaneous Koban material culture was under certain influence of the Scythian animal style, though zoomorphosity was characteristic of even earlier Koban articles[64].

Scholars are uncertain to this day whether so-called North Caucasian Scythians were indigenous tribes under certain cultural influence of steppe tribes or they were nomads that had come from east. The former version is more probable due to close Koban-Scythian coexistence, an extent of cultural symbiosis and joint expeditions to Transcaucasia and West Asia.

As for Caucasian Sarmatians, their indigenous origin can be assumed with greater certainty, and is borne out by authors of the Antiquity and by onomatological, archaeological and anthropological data.

The earliest Greek references to Alanians in the Koban cultural area date to the 1st century A.D.

Till quite recently, Alanians had been considered part of a vast massif of Sarmatian tribes advancing to North Caucasian plains and foothills from the lower reaches of the Volga and the vicinity of the Urals.

Alanian was considered an Iranian language proceeding not from archaeological, linguistic and historical data but from the fact that Osset was an Iranian language, though there were no sufficient historical arguments to assume that the Osset were Alanians’ only scions.

However, the boundaries of Alanian settlement, and toponymic, archaeological and anthropological data show that an overwhelming Alanian majority were offspring of the bearers of the Koban culture. They became a well-knit multiethnic massif of Nakh, Iranian and even Turkic tribes as late as the Middle Ages.

Material cultural differences between plainland and highland tribes were due mainly to an extent of conservatism in the highland economy, scanty contacts with the world outside, and certain isolation from it.

The Koban culture began to disintegrate into plainland and highland cultures in the Nakh-populated area at the turn of the Christian era. Highland Koban culture retained its identity and archaic traces for a long time, while the Alanian culture was emerging in the North Caucasian plains, influenced to an extent by nomads of the steppes.

Greek authors and other historical sources do not provide whatever grounds to assume that Alanians and North Caucasian Sarmatians belonged to Iranian-speaking tribes.

Strabo not only considered the population of the North Caucasian plains and mountains genetically interrelated but also ascribed the same kinship to North Georgian tribes. As he describes the population of ancient Iberia, he says that “the mountain part is populated by a majority of Iberians, who follow the customs of Scythians and Sarmatians, to whom they are supposedly related”. He writes about people coming to Pontic poleis for trade that “a majority of them belongs to the Sarmatian tribe, and they are all called Caucasians”[65].

Anania Shirakatsi’s Geography Guide (7th Century), which is, in fact, a compilation of Ptolemy, includes references to the Nakhchamat—an ethnicon he substitutes for the ancient author’s “Yaksamat”. Anania assumes that they lived in the mouth of the Don. No doubt, he knew the geography of Caucasian peoples excellently, as his book shows, and it was a deliberate substitute[66].

In his commentaries to Anania Shirakatsi’s Geography Guide, Kerope Patkanov singled out a number of ethnicons occurring in the treatise (Sarmat, Savromat, Yaksamat, Khechmat-ak, etc.) finishing with the suffix -mat, among them Nakhchemat, or Nakhchimateank, in the Armenian version. He thinks the ethnicon consists of two Chechen words—Nakhche, Chechen’s self-designation, and matt (“country” or “language”) plus –eank, the Armenian plural ending. Thus, he assumes that ethnicons with the root part -mat- come from the Nakh language[67].

Prominent Georgian historian Ivan Javakhishvili not only supported Patkanov’s idea but also added new arguments to substantiate it.

As he saw it, the tribes of the North Caucasian plains were designated by the ethnicon “Sharmat”, not “Sarmat”, but neither Greek nor Latin had a way to transcribe the sound sh, which was out of their phonetic system. That was why Greek and Roman authors transformed it into “Sarmatian”. Javakhishvili divided the ethnicon “Sharmat” into shar and mat, regarding the former as an ethnic designation occurring in many parts of the Caucasus previously, and mentioned in historical treatises by mediaeval Georgian authors. In particular, Giorgi Merchuli, 10th century Georgian historian, mentions the landed possessions of the potentate of Sharoi—i.e., Sharo—in the north of Abkhazia. The name was extant, as he held, in Chechen mountain place names, e.g. the Sharo-Argun River and the historical area of Sharoi, and in East Transcaucasia as Sharwan and Sharo[68].

In his noteworthy book Sarmatians and the Vainakh, Chechen scholar Yakub Vagapov convincingly substantiates the Nakh origin of a majority of Sarmatian and Alanian ethnicons and personal names occurring in the many historical sources[69].

Vagapov writes, in particular: “The ethnicon Savromat is the oldest of all we are regarding. Its initial part corresponds to Vainakh sovra, which means soft leather with a characteristic natural pattern on the grain (surface)—so the ethnicon meant ‘leather people’ as leather preponderated in the Sarmatian costume, with its leather cloaks, helmets and boots <…> The Adyg knew Sarmatians as Sharma, from which researchers derive the surnames Sheremet and Sheremetev. The Vainakh shera mettig (with the suffix -ig) and its older form shara mat, which means ‘plain’, show that the words Sarmatian and Sharmat are identical, i.e., the word Sarmat-Sharmat initially designated a plain, whose population eventually received the name of Sharmatai or Sharmatoi, which meant ‘plainland people’.

“The ethnicon Harimat also divides in two—the above-mentioned -mat and hari-, ‘guard’, from ha, ‘sentry’, with the adjectival suffix -ri. To all appearances, the tribe received its name due to its specific functions. The name of the Chechen mountain village Khoi has the same meaning, ‘watchmen’ or ‘sentries’. Similarly, other Sarmatian ethnicons with the root -mat- also receive an explanation proceeding from the Vainakh language. Vainakh languages also have compounds which include the root -mat- and designate locations and communities.”

Many Caucasian historians insisted that Vainakh tribes living in the area from the Andian Range to the Daryal Gorge in the beginning of the Christian era and the early mediaevality were known as Durdzuk. As things really were, “Durdzuk” was the Georgian name for a small number of the Vainakh, who lived high in the mountains in the upper reaches of the Argun, Assa and Armkhi rivers. This is especially clear in Vakhushti Bagrationi’s Geography of Georgia. The regions of Durdzuketi and Kisteti were geographically far closer to Georgia than to the basic Nakh-populated territory, and were always within the orbit of Georgian foreign and domestic policies.

The Ovs, mentioned in mediaeval Georgian sources, had no direct bearing on the present-day ethnicon “Osset”. It is merely the Georgian for Alanians, which later passed (by sheer coincidence, which is often the case in history) to the ethnic community formed as the indigenous Nakh population merged with the Iranian. The Iranian and Turkic languages were ousting the Nakh in the Central Caucasus for a long time. Persian rulers had to place garrisons in the Daryal and other Caucasian gorges since the 4th century A.D. to guard mountain passes and protect the northern border of Persia from bellicose mountain tribes and their allies. That was when Iranian speakers began to infiltrate the Caucasian milieu in a process that finished after the invasion of Tamerlane[70].

The Cuman, or Polovtsi, also moved to the mountain gorges of the Northwest Caucasus from Caucasian foothills, fleeing from the advancing Mongols and later Tamerlane, to merge with Alanians, who might, at that time, include the Turkic-speaking Savir, ousted by Huns from the plains. The Karachai and Balkar appeared as the result. These ethnic entities preserved material and cultural unity with the Nakh and retained the Caucasioni anthropological look, though accepting the Turkic language.

Catacomb tombs were considered the basic and, in fact, the only ethnic determinant of the Alanian as a nomadic Iranian-speaking tribe that migrated to the Caucasian foothills at the start of the Christian era from the Volga country and the South Urals.

However, catacombs accounted for only a small portion of the tombs of Sarmatian tribes in the Volga-Don interfluve and the South Urals. More than that, their catacombs did not chronologically precede North Caucasian catacombs but appeared later, as funeral utensils testify. Most probably, Sarmatians of the Volga-Don interfluve accepted the custom of catacomb burial in the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. under the impact of the North Caucasian custom. All archaeological materials from the area of the original settlement of Iranian-speaking Sarmatians indicate that it is impossible to reconcile two dominant research premises—the attribution of Alanians to Iranian-speaking Sarmatian and Massagete tribes, and catacomb burials as brought to the North Caucasus by Sarmatians at the turn of the Christian era[71].

Archaeological finds give no grounds to assume that North Caucasian catacombs belonged to alien Iranian-speaking tribes because, since the 4th century A.D., “a common, rather specific material culture was spreading in the North Caucasus. It was characterised by specific pottery—mainly grey-clay glazed, specific buckles, toiletry and belts”[72]. Material traces of that culture are found in tombs of many types—earth pits, stone coffins, vaults and catacombs, so catacomb burials cannot provide an objective criterion to determine the ethnicity of the Alanian culture, let alone attribute it to Iranian-speaking Sarmatians.

For instance, “materials of the Lower Julat burial grounds in the northern part of the central Caucasian foothills, which bordered on Sarmatian lands, do not allow assume whatever mass invasions of Sarmatian tribes at the turn of the Christian era and its first centuries. Burial rites and material cultural data reveal unbroken development of the given culture, and so a common, on the whole, ethnic basis of the local population from the concluding centuries B.C. up to the Hun invasion”[73].

Krupnov had previously come to the conclusion that Alanians, who “occupied a vast area from the vicinity of Dagestan up to the Kuban country, were the ancestors not only of Ossets but also of other North Caucasian ethnic entities—in particular, the Chechen and Ingush”[74]. The author proceeded in this assumption from anthropological studies, according to which the population of the North Caucasian plains and highlands belonged to one and the same anthropological type in the early Christian era.

Anthropological, linguistic and archaeological data and historical sources allow assume that at the early stage (1st-9th centuries A.D.) Alanians were one of the Nakh tribes and occupied the plains and foothills of the Sulak-Kuban interfluve, while at the later stage (11th -13th centuries) they were a multiethnic massif that included not only the Nakh but also Iranian- and Turkic-speaking tribes—ancestors of the Osset, Karachai and Balkar.

Burial vaults repeat the shape of Alanian dwellings. Unlike nomads’, Alanians’ houses were rectangular or square—either above ground or semi-underground. The territory retained the culture of rectangular dwellings, fortifications and sanctuaries for several millennia. Above-ground dwellings were wattle and daub, with roof beams resting on pillars, and semi-underground ones had the shape of a square, with gable roofs. Alanians built similar stone structures in the mountains. To all appearances, Alanian dwellings largely determined the architecture of mediaeval Nakh tombs and possibly towers.

Archaeological materials do not provide information about large-scale wars at that time and about the ousting or extermination of the indigenous population. Thus, the assumption of a well-knit ethnic entity appearing suddenly in a vast territory to become its dominant force at once is very dubitable—just as the assumption that this entity promptly shifted from the life of nomadic stock-breeders to sedentary farming.

Alania was considered one territory as early as the 2nd century A.D, and Alanians were reputed as one of the strongest North Caucasian peoples, who straddled strategic routes connecting Transcaucasia with Europe.

The 3rd-8th centuries found Alania in the migration zone of the many savage nomadic tribes—mainly Huns, who gave Alanian settlements to fire and sword. Alanian influence on the region shrank drastically. That was the time of the first wave of Alanian, or plainland Nakh, migration to the Caucasian mountains.

Sedentary Nakh tribes remained in the North Caucasian valleys and foothills despite the Hun invasion, and continued land-tilling and stock agistment. Numerous earthwork settlements surrounded by deep moats, earth ramparts, towers and citadels appeared at the time.

Alanian-Hun relations were far friendlier in the 5th century through the 7th, and Alanians took part in Hun raids of Europe and Transcaucasia.

At that time, Alanians retained an essential role in the politics of the Caucasian region. They steadily extended their territory and exercised military pressure on Adyg tribes in search of an exit to the Black Sea.

Alanians’ leading role in the Caucasus is also reflected in an alliance with the Alanian king as the first diplomatic step of the emergent Khazar Khanate, “for the Alanian kingdom was stronger and more powerful than any nation around”[75].

Anania Shirakatsi’s Geography Guide says that Alanians were settled all around the plains up to the Sunzha inflow into the Terek, while the Dval, Tsanar and Durdzuk tribes, genetically related to them, lived to the south of their lands[76].

A new period of Caucasian activity of the Arab Caliphate set in with the start of the 8th century as Arabs conquered Transcaucasia and a part of Dagestan. Valiant resistance of the Tsanar and other mountain Nakh tribes, who blocked the passes to the North Caucasus, was too strong for Arab invaders to overcome as they sought to advance across Alania and take firm hold of it. Tsanars rose against Arabs again and again, and sent their warriors into flight though Arab armies were considered invincible at the time. Arab historian al-Yakubi reports a mighty rising of the Tsanar, whom the neighbouring tribes joined, in the early 9th century. The insurgents put to flight the Turk Bugu, the Caliph’s vice-gerent, who was known for especial cruelty toward the population of the conquered part of Transcaucasia.

Arabs made several campaigns against Alania and gave its towns and villages to fire and sword, but eventually were forced to give up the idea of advance northward—they had to protect themselves from the courageous Nakh with fortresses and outposts built all along the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range. Possibly, that was when the Nakh began to strengthen the network of beacons and watchtowers in the extreme south of their land—a point borne out by the dating of those towers.

Alania regained its political might in the 10th and 11th centuries to become once again a powerful state with a large and strong army and a pronounced part in the European southeast.

Contemporaneous Arab sources say that Alania had numerous fortifications.

Al-Masudi refers to Alania as a strong state whose king was “mighty, valiant, of tremendous power, and conducted unwavering policy among the kings”. According to him, Alania stretched from Serir [West Dagestan—L.I.] to the land of the Kashak [Adyg—L.I.]. The Alanian king’s army was 30,000 strong, and the Abkhazian king and certain Adyg tribes were his vassals[77].

However, internecine strife and tug-of-war for power enfeebled Alania, and the Mongol invasion found it badly disintegrated, according to the sources of that time.

Tamerlane’s devastating invasion of the Caucasus obliterated Alania from the political map of the world, and the few surviving Alanians fled to the mountains to join related Nakh tribes.

The anonymous author of the 10th century treatise The Borders of the World says that “there are highlanders and inhabitants of the steppe among Alanians”[78].

The Grand Signal System of the Nakh appeared in the Alanian era. It was a network of beacons and combat towers that brought together communities dispersed over a vast area in the hour of danger.

Stone construction reached a high degree of perfection in Alania, which was entirely covered by castles and fortresses, as mediaeval sources testify.

Strongly fortified settlements with a large occupation layer began to appear in Alania since the 5th-6th centuries A.D. Land-tilling, stock breeding, fishing and hunting were Alanians’ principal occupations. They also excelled in metalwork and pottery, and traded extensively with all neighbouring peoples.

Settlements with deep moats and formidable citadels began to appear in the 7th-9th centuries.

Unlike nomads, with their circular dwellings, Alanians followed their distant ancestors to build rectangular above-ground houses and dugouts.

Above-ground dwellings were wattle and daub, with roof beams resting on pillars. Household outbuildings surrounded the dwellings. Streets were cobbled.

Alkhankala in present-day Chechnya, one of the largest Alanian settlements of the 1st millennium A.D., was fortified with a deep, steep-sloped moat, a rampart and an impregnable stone wall. A citadel, also with a moat round it, was in the centre. Remnants of wattle and daub structures, interconnected with a cobbled road, were unearthed in the settlement. Available archaeological finds allow assume that the settlement existed from the 7th century B.C. to the 13th century A.D.[79].

Mass construction of citadels, combat towers and fortification complexes in present-day Chechnya and the entire Nakh-populated area dates to the 12th-13th centuries, i.e. the late Alanian era, though the development of Nakh architecture reached its peak in the 15th and 16th centuries, and as late as the 17th and 18th in the western territories. Chechen migration back to the plains in the 16th-17th centuries determined an early decline of tower construction in the Chechen mountains.

Mongol and later Tamerlane’s invasions wiped Alanian settlements off the face of the earth in the North Caucasian plains. A new Chechen ethnic entity emerged, however, in the depth of the Alanian culture as it finally moved upland. A mediaeval culture was taking shape that largely determined present-day Chechen culture.

[1] By archaeological culture, archeologists usually mean a sum total of material monuments of the past united by shared characteristics, or a cultural community formed historically and differing from similar cultural communities of a definite time by labour implements, household utensils, weapons, jewellery, pottery, types of dwellings and tombs and, last but not least, funeral rites intrinsic to that community alone.// Крупнов Е.И. Древняя история Северного Кавказа. – М., 1960. – с. 381. (For English translation, see Item 153 of Bibliography. Hereafter, only bracketed numbers of bibliographic items are given)

[2] Крупнов Е.И. Древнейшая культура Кавказа и кавказская этническая общность.     С.26-43 (380)

[3] Possibly, there was a reverse migration as testified by deep-going links researchers have found between the Maikop culture of theNorth Caucasus and West Asian archeological cultures of that time.

[4] Certain linguists’ attempts to bring Dagestani and Nakh languages together in one group are absolutely groundless.

[5] Дьяконов И.М. Предыстория армянского народа. – Ереван, 1968. – с. 102 (97)

[6] References to Hurrians in West Asian sources coincide chronologically with the decline of the Kura-Araxes culture inTranscaucasia.

[7] Дьяконов И.М. Предыстория армянского народа. – Ереван, 1968. – с. 42 (97)


[8] Дьяконов И.М. Предыстория армянского народа. – Ереван, 1968. – с. 104 (97)

[9] Пиотровский Б.Б. Ванское царство (Урарту). – М., 1959 (212)

[10] This area is notable for the greatest-ever amount of archaeological materials of the Kura-Araxes culture, including its early stage.

[11] Мунчаев Р.М. Кавказ на заре бронзового века. – М., 1975. – с.154 (200)

[12] Джавахищвили А.И. Строительное дело и архитектура Южного Кавказа V-III тысячелетия до н.э. –Тбилиси, 1970.- с.223-237 (343)

[13] Representations of bulls are also characteristic of the tribes belonging to the Maikop archaeological culture. The bull cult in West Asian, Mediterranean and Caucasian mythology was reflected in the mediaeval Chechen tradition on the origin ofLakeGalanchozh inWest Chechnya.

[14] История народов Северного Кавказа с древнейших времен до конца  XVIII века. – М., 1988. – с.51 (116)

[15] Мунчаев Р.М. Кавказ на заре бронзового века. – М., 1975. – с. 160 (200)

[16] Дьяконов И.М. Предыстория армянского народа. – Ереван, 1968. – с.20 (97)

[17] Мунчаев Р.М. Кавказ на заре бронзового века. – М., 1975. – с.161, 198 (200)

[18] Дьяконов И.М. Предыстория армянского народа. – Ереван, 1969. – с.40 (97)

[19]  Крупнов Е.И. Древнейшая культура Кавказа и кавказская этническая общность // Советская археология, 1964, №1,   С.26-43 (380)

[20] Nakh and Dagestani languages could have dialectal differences even within the Caucasian language community, and acquire a steady trend toward disintegration even at that time.

[21] Chechen historical traditions say that a nation speaking a language different from Chechen but understood by Chechens lived in those lands before Chechens appeared there.

[22] Кобычев В.П. Расселение чеченцев и ингушей в свете этногенетических преданий и памятников материальной культуры // Этническая история и фольклор. – М., 1977, С.165 – 181 (370)

[23] Дьяконов И.М. Предыстория армянского народа. – Ереван, 1968. – с. 44 (97)

[24] Дьяконов И.М. Предыстория армянского народа. – Ереван, 1968. – с. 140 (97)

[25] Пиотровский Б.Б. Ванское царство (Урарту). – М., 1959. – с. 134 (214)

[26] Ibid, c. 145.

[27] A majority of tower settlements in the Chechen mountains are situated on a similar terrain.

[28] Вахушти Багратиони. География Грузии. – Тифлис, 1904. – с. 150 (33)

[29] Гамрекели В.Н. Двалы и Двалетия в I – XV вв. н. э. – Тбилиси, 1961. – с.16 (63)

[30] Мунчаев Р.М. Кавказ на заре бронзового века. – М., 1975. – с.212 (200)

[31] Bronze cauldrons identical to them were unearthed later in the Maikop tombs of the burial mounds in the vicinity of Bamut village inChechnya.

[32] Формозов А.А. Каменный век и энеолит Прикубанья. – М., 1965. – с.74 (257)

[33]Chechnya is, at that, the area least studied by archaeologists.

[34] Мунчаев Р.М. Кавказ на заре бронзового века. – М., 1975. – с.199 (200)

[35] The assumption of Kura-Araxes features preserved in the later material culture of theNortheast Caucasus is not sufficiently argumented.

[36] This succession is occasionally observed within one settlement. See: Нечаева Л.Г., Мизиев М.И. Поселение раннего бронзового века на р.Урух.//Археологические открытия 1968 г. – М., 1969 (L.G. Nechayeva and M.I. Miziev. The Early Bronze Age Settlement on theUrukhRiver // Archaeological Discoveries of 1968.Moscow, 1969) – с.104 – 105.

[37] Формозов А.А. Каменный век и энеолит Прикубанья. – М., 1965. – с.61(257)

[38] Мунчаев Р.М. Кавказ на заре бронзового века. – М., 1975. – с.376 (200)

[39] The Mesopotamian cultural impact at that time did not affect Transcaucasia to a similar extent, for reasons unknown, though it is geographically closer to Mesopotamia and was none inferior to theNorth Caucasus for gold and copper ore stock. It is hard in this respect to agree with S.N. Korenevsky’s hypothesis on the migration of large groups of the Mesopotamian population to the North Caucasus, who stopped inTranscaucasia en route and adapted to it, because archaeological finds along the assumed route of West Asian tribes do not provide sufficient information for such assumptions. In fact, such information is totally absent in a majority of instances. See: Кореневский С.Н. Древнейшие земледельцы и скотоводы Предкавказья. – М., 2004. – с.90-92 (149)

[40] Such contacts were probably more characteristic of the Maikop culture at its peak, when the population of plains and foothills began to demand distant pastures for its livestock.

[41] Nakh tribes preserved the tradition even in the Middle Ages: many mediaeval Chechen mountain settlements (such as Tsoi-pkheda, Vaserkel, Sharoi and Shikaroi) were situated on river promontories.

[42] Мунчаев Р.М. Кавказ на заре бронзового века. – М., 1975. – с.330-335 (200)

[43] История народов Северного Кавказа. – М., 1988. – с.48 (116)

[44] Beside this, there is the term “Terek-Kuban culture”.

[45] Марковин В.И. Культура племен Северного Кавказа в эпоху бронзы. – М., 1960. – с.30 (180)

[46] The dead man’s embryo position, head south, is characteristic of Maikop tombs.

[47] Марковин В.И. Культура племен Северного Кавказа в эпоху бронзы. – М., 1960. – с.33 (180)

[48]Марковин В.И. Культура племен Северного Кавказа в эпоху бронзы. – М., 1960. –  с.50 (180)

49 Characteristic of tombs of theKubanland is a stretched skeleton oriented west-east, and the embryo position of the central and mountain areas. Dyed skeletons, so typical of the Maikop tombs, get rarer throughout the North Caucasian cultural area.

[50] Марковин В.И. Культура племен Северного Кавказа в эпоху бронзы. – М., 1960. – с.51 (180)

[51] Марковин В.И. Культура племен Северного Кавказа в эпоху бронзы. – М., 1960. – с.84.

[52] Крупнов Е.И. Древняя история Северного Кавказа. – М., 1960. – с.301-316 (153)

[53] Марковин В.И., Мунчаев Р.М. Северный Кавказ. – М., 2003. – с.167 (181)

[54] Chechens treat horses as holy to this day. Horsemeat was banned from the diet even after Chechens embraced Islam, and the taboo survived up to the deportation of 1944.

[55] Марковин В.И., Мунчаев Р.М. Северный Кавказ. – М., 2003. – с.177 (181)

[56] The author discovered the earliest petroglyph representing a man with a dog on the wall of an early mediaeval building in Sharoi. The stone is much older than the house and, to all appearances, might date to the Koban era.

[57] Козенкова В.И. Кобанская культура. Восточный вариант. – М., 1978. – с.12 (139)

[58] The Chechen custom of erecting churt gravestones in memory of persons who died and were buried far from their native parts survives to this day.

[59] Козенкова В.И. Кобанская культура. Западный вариант. – М., 1989.- с.83 (140)

[60] Козенкова В.И. Некоторые археологические критерии в этногенетических исследованиях // Археология и вопросы этнической истории Северного Кавказа. – Грозный, 1979. – с. 53 (374)

[61] Страбон. География // Кавказ и Дон в произведениях античных авторов. – Ростов – на – Дону, 1990. – с. 190 (236)

[62] Марковин В.И., Мунчаев Р.М. Северный Кавказ. – М., 2003. -  с.187 (181)

[63] Абаев В.И. Осетинский язык и фольклор. – М., 1949 (2)

[64] Дударев С.Л. Из истории связей населения Кавказа с киммерийско-скифским миром. – Грозный, 1991. – 124 с. (89)

[65] Страбон. География // Кавказ и Дон в произведениях античных авторов. – Ростов – на – Дону, 1990. – с. 185 (236)

[66] Ширакаци Анания. Армянская география VII века до р. х. – СПб., 1877. – с. 35 (272)

[67]Ширакаци Анания. Армянская география VII века до р. х. – СПб., 1877. – с.38.

[68] Джавахишвили И. Основные историко-этнологические проблемы истории Грузии, Кавказа и Ближнего Востока// Вестник древней истории, 1939, №4. – с. 42 (341)

[69] Вагапов Я. Сарматы и вайнахи. – Грозный, 1990. – с.110 (51)

[70] Osset ethnogenetic traditions date no earlier than the 17th century.

[71] Мошкова М.Г. К вопросу о катакомбных погребальных сооружениях как специфическом определителе// История и культура сарматов. – Саратов, 1983. – с.28-29 (415)

[72] Абрамова М.П. К вопросу об аланской культуре Северного Кавказа// Советская археология, 1978, №1. -  с.72 (284)

[73] Абрамова М.П. К вопросу о связях населения Северного Кавказа сарматского времени// Советская археология, 1979, №2. – с.50 (282)

[74] Крупнов Е.И. Древняя история Северного Кавказа. – М., 1960. – с. 311 (153)

[75] Гадло А.В. Этническая история Северного Кавказа IV – X вв. – Л., 1979. – с. 177 (62)

[76] Ширакаци Анания. Армянская география VII века до р. х. – СПб., 1877. – с. 35 (272)

[77] Гадло А.В. Этническая история Северного Кавказа IV – X вв. – Л., 1979. – с. 163 (62)

[78] Гадло А.В. Этническая история Северного Кавказа IV – X вв. – Л., 1979. – с. 177 (62)

[79] Арсанукаев Р.Д. Вайнахи и аланы. – Баку, 2002. – с.143 (23)

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