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European Kingdoms

Eastern Europe

 

Alani of the Caucasus (Northern Caucasus)

MapIn the Caucasus, those Alani who had not followed the Huns into Western Europe in the fourth century remained settled and relatively poorly documented by western sources. They occupied an area of the northern Caucasus plain around the source of the River Kuban and Darial Gorge, and along the north-western coastline of the Caspian Sea. These Alani occasionally appeared as mercenaries of the Eastern Roman empire or the Sassanids, but received few other mentions of note.

During the late sixth century and early seventh they were dominated by, and probably paid homage to, the vast Western Göktürk empire, but seemingly offered little in the way of threat or concern to the empire. As it faded (rather swiftly), the Alani became semi-independent again by the mid-seventh century, although they would have held some level of vassal status to the powerful Khazar empire which took up the reigns of regional domination. During the same period, some Alani at least were noted alongside the proto-Bulgars on the Pontic-Caspian steppe, possibly even being counted as part of their collective number. The Alani seem to have been a wide-ranging people. Some groups could easily have joined the proto-Bulgars on the steppe, very close to their ancestral homeland.

In the case of these particular Alani in the northern Caucasus, there is evidence of heavy contact between them and non-Indo-European languages, particularly from other nomads, after they had settled the region. They appear to have been influenced by the proto-Bulgars following the collapse of the Hunnic empire and the many other semi-Turkic nomad groups which were part of the formation of a new Alani identity during the fourth to seventh centuries AD. For instance, the ruler of the Alani in this period bore the proto-Bulgarian title of 'khan'.

DNA analysis of modern Ossetians, the main inheritors of Alani history and culture, has confirmed external influences, although not especially those of the proto-Bulgars. Today's North Ossetians have a heritage which includes external incomers from the northern Caucasus (mostly males), while South Ossetians experienced a far greater connection - also with incoming males - from the southern Caucasus. Unusually for incoming males, it was they who ended up speaking the Indo-Iranian language of their wives rather than imposing their own alien languages.

An ancient account appears to back this up entirely by recording the fact that the Alani men rode off to adventure, leaving their women behind with their ethnic Caucasus Georgian slaves. The men return perhaps twenty years later to find that their wives had married their slaves and had had children by them. Since it was the Alani women who were ostensibly in command, their language and culture prevailed, and survived to inform today's Ossetian language and culture, albeit with a healthy dose of male DNA from the Caucasus.

The Central Asian steppe

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, from Res Gestae, Ammianus Marcellinus, from Les Alains, Cavaliers des steppes, seigneurs du Caucase Ie-XVe siècle, Vladimir Kouznetsov & Iaroslav Lebedynsky (Editions Errance, Paris 2005), from Etnicheskaja istorija Severnogo Kavkaza, A V Gadlo, from Eucharisticos (Thanksgiving), Paulinus of Pella, from the Life of St Germanus of Auxerre, Constantius of Lyon, from The Pechenegs: Nomads in the Political and Cultural Landscape of Medieval Europe, Aleksander Paroń (Translated by Thomas Anessi, Brill, 2021), and from External Links: Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny, and Proto-Bulgarian Runic Inscriptions, and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and Genetic clues to the Ossetian past, Asya Pereltsvaig (Languages of the World), and The Alans (Marres Education), and Turkic History, and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and Türkleronline (although dates are unreliable).)

372 - 406

The Huns burst into Scythia and defeat the Alani, splintering their tribes. Probably with little choice in the matter, the Alani ally themselves with the Huns, following them as they head west. Some Alani tribes manage to remain, migrating into the valleys of the northern Caucasus where they maintain their identity. In 406 the majority of 'western' Alani leave the Huns behind and cross the Rhine at Mainz, entering into the Roman empire. If they had been able to retain any links back to the Caucasus, those links are now definitely cut.

Medieval towers in Ingushetia
These medieval towers which stand in what is now the territory of Ingushetia would have been part of the kingdom of Alania in the northern Caucasus

fl late 300s

Boz-Uruz

King of the Alani who remained in the Caucasus.

fl 370s

Balambar

Hun vassal.

Alatey

Hun vassal.

Safrak

Hun vassal.

fl 400s

Saros / Sarosius

Hun vassal.

fl c.450s

Kandak / Candac

Alani leader in Scythia Minor & Lower Moesia (lower Danube).

c.457?

In their fight for independence from the Huns, the Ostrogoths under Valamir defeat and rout the sons of Attila. They inherit control of Pannonia as a result, and absorb elements from other, smaller tribes, such as the Scirii. During the subsequent thirty years, the Ostrogoths edge slowly southwards into the Balkans, and then head westwards towards Illyria and the borders of Italy. Other Scirii join the Visigoths, while others still become foederati in the Roman empire.

Candac is mentioned by the Gothic writer Jordanes, a bureaucrat in the Eastern Roman capital of Constantinople. He states that the Scirii, Sadagarii (entirely obscure), and certain Alani with their leader, Candac, receive Scythia Minor and Lower Moesia along the western shore of the Black Sea, close to the lower Danube. Presumably this is following the Ostrogoth defeat of the Huns and with Candac being one of those Alani who have become Roman foederati. Jordanes' own grandfather is secretary to Candac for the latter's lifetime as an Alani leader.

560s

A people, country, and town with the name in later Arab sources of Belendzher or Balandzhar is mentioned for the first time by the Arab historian at-Tabari in connection with events from the 560s. Sassanid-controlled Armenia is invaded by four peoples - 'abkhaz', 'b-ndzh-r' (Bandzhar), 'b-l-ndzh-r' (Balandzhar), and the Alani.

Map of Eastern Europe AD 450-500
Soon after the middle of the fifth century AD the Hunnic empire crashed into extinction, starting with the death of Attila in 453. His son and successor, Ellac, was killed in battle in 454, and the Huns were defeated by the Ostrogoths in 456, ending Hunnic unity (click or tap on map to view full sized)

566 - 571

Between these two dates, İstemi, the khagan of the western Göktürks, defeats the peoples who are noted in later Arab sources as 'b-ndzh-r' (Bandzhar), 'b-l-n-dzh-r' (Balandzhar), and Khazars, who then agree to serve him. The scholar, A V Gadlo, concludes that the name 'bandzhar' refers to the Ogurs, and 'balandzhar' is a Perso-Arabic form of the Onogur/Utigur name.

580s - 590s

The twelfth century chronicle of the Jacobite patriarch of Antioch, Michael of Syria, uses earlier sources to describe the arrival of at least one group of proto-Bulgars on the Pontic-Caspian steppe (although certainly not the first). The story is a conglomeration of facts pertaining to several events from different periods in time, all of them united around the story of the expansion of Khazar political power in the second half of the seventh century.

According to the story, Bulgar groups arrive at the River Tanais (the modern Don) near the northern Caspian Sea. One group goes further to settle in Upper and Lower Moesia and Dacia and act as a buffer between the Eastern Romans and the Avars. The other groups 'enter the country of the Alani, which is called Barsalia' (the land of the Barsils). Their towns are built with assistance from the Eastern Romans to serve as a buffer against the steppe nomads, principally along the western shore of the Caspian Sea.

fl c.600

Alanui K'an

Literally 'Leader of the Alani', a title rather than a name.

610s - 620s

FeatureThe growing power and influence of a tribal leader named Koubrat, nephew of Organa, presages the creation of a short-lived but powerful tribal empire in the Pontic steppe which supersedes the more informal 'Patria Onoguria'. However, it is stated (certainly by Professor Milcho Lalkov - see his feature via the link) that Koubrat's tribe is the Unogonduri, which throws off 'Turkic oppression' and succeeds in uniting the Bulgar tribes.

Map of Eastern Europe AD 632-665
Qaghan Koubrat of Great Bulgaria and his warrior sons
In AD 632, Qaghan Koubrat came to power as the head of an Onogur-Bulgar confederation and three years later he was able to throw off Avar domination and found Great Bulgaria (click or tap on map to view full sized), while below that is a modern illustration of Qaghan Koubrat and his warrior sons at the height of their power

c.632 - 668

By this time the proto-Bulgars have long since settled the Taman peninsula as part of the Unogonduri migration. They have gradually been becoming dominant, absorbing various small local groups to increase their numbers, including the Altyn Ola horde, and the Kutrigurs and Utigurs. Now that conditions are favourable and the right leader has emerged, Avar control is thrown off (in 635) and a tribal state quickly blossoms into a great tribal empire by the name of Great Bulgaria.

668

Great Bulgaria disintegrates following a massive Khazar attack during their period of expansion in the second half of the seventh century. According to tradition, Bat Bayan and his brothers part company, each leading their own followers. Bat Bayan and his followers remain in their adopted land and are soon subdued by the Khazars. The Alans are also Khazar vassals, although the details regarding how this happens have not been recorded.

8th century

After three hundred years of vassalage to the Huns, Göktürks, and Khazars, but still a strong force in their own right, the Alani of the eighth century coalesce to form a minor but fairly powerful kingdom known as Alania.

Kingdom of Alania (Northern Caucasus)
c.8-9th Centuries AD - 1239

The Alani flourished in the northern Caucasus, even when subjugated by the Khazars. By now they were in the process of abandoning their horse-riding, steppe-nomad heritage in favour of a more sedentary life as farmers and cattle herders on a more local basis. That isn't to say that they still couldn't muster 30,000 horsemen by the tenth century, as noted by the Arab historian Masudi (Mas'ūdī). Their capital was at Maghas (also known as Maas), although its precise location is unknown. There is a modern Magas in Ingushetia which was founded in 1995 and named after the ancient capital, but this is no proof that the location is correct. Generally the Alani occupied part of the Caucasian plain and the foothills of the main mountain chain from the headwaters of the River Kuban and its tributary, the Zelenchuk (in the west), to the Daryal gorge (in the east). Masudi gives a generalised territory between Dagestan to Abkhazia.

From the seventh century, besides being referred to as Alani or Alans, variations such as Asses or Osses were common, particularly in eastern sources. The population structure was feudal with a marked noble class of landowners whose leaders could reach the level of king with the title of aldar - something very similar was later used in Hungary following the arrival of the steppe-influenced Magyars (with the Alani quite possibly being one of those influencing factors). In some sources the Alani rulers are labelled khan, the title used by their many Turkic neighbours on the nearby steppe territories which were largely dominated by the Khazars and then by the Rus of Kyiv. During the Eastern Roman-Sassanid wars of the seventh century the Alani sided with the Sassanids. Across Alania, towns developed, elements of state organisation appeared, and political and cultural ties were established with Byzantium, Georgia, Abkhazia, the Khazars, and Russia. Christian missionaries appeared, first from Constantinople, and later from Georgia. Christianity was finally adopted at the national level in the tenth century, although 'idol worshippers' still existed alongside Christians.

The Central Asian steppe

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, from Res Gestae, Ammianus Marcellinus, from Les Alains, Cavaliers des steppes, seigneurs du Caucase Ie-XVe siècle, Vladimir Kouznetsov & Iaroslav Lebedynsky (Editions Errance, Paris 2005), from Etnicheskaja istorija Severnogo Kavkaza, A V Gadlo, from Eucharisticos (Thanksgiving), Paulinus of Pella, from the Life of St Germanus of Auxerre, Constantius of Lyon, from The Pechenegs: Nomads in the Political and Cultural Landscape of Medieval Europe, Aleksander Paroń (Translated by Thomas Anessi, Brill, 2021), and from External Links: Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny, and Proto-Bulgarian Runic Inscriptions, and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and Genetic clues to the Ossetian past, Asya Pereltsvaig (Languages of the World), and The Alans (Marres Education), and Turkic History, and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and Türkleronline (although dates are unreliable).)

c.710

Prior to his accession as Leo III of the Eastern Roman empire, Leo the Isaurian is sent on a diplomatic mission to bribe the Alani into severing links with the pro-Islamic kingdom of Abasgia. The mission proves successful.

fl c.715 - 736?

Itaz

Khazar vassal. Fought off the Umayyad Arabs.

c.720 - 722

Alania is invaded by the troops of the Umayyad Caliph Umar II. In 722, the Khazars come to their aid under a chieftain called Barjik. Together, the two peoples push out the Muslims, and the Khazars subsequently erect several strongholds in the region.

North Ossetia
The countryside which traditionally formed the territory of Alania in the North Caucasus, now the Russian republic of North Ossetia-Alania, is mostly mountainous scrub

728

Another Umayyad general penetrates the fortress known as the Gate of the Alani and devastates the region of the northern Caucasus.

736

Once again, the Islamic empire sends a force into the land of the Alani which manages to devastate the forts there. The continued raids, however, strongly suggest that the invaders are unable to establish a bridgehead inside Alania. Alani resistance, possibly with continued Khazar support, must be fierce.

758

The last-known serious attack by the Islamic empire on Alania takes place. An Arab general captures and holds the Gate of the Alani, although for how long is unknown. Not permanently, it seems. As a result of the alliance between the Alani and the Khazars, the latter become overlords of the Alani. The situation serves the Alani equally well as the two peoples are able to work together to defend the territory.

857

Boḡā, a general of the caliph of Baghdad, invades Transcaucasia and the northern Caucasus, devastating Georgia, Abasgia, the Alan country, and the Khazar lands. The Alani soon recover however, and restore their state.

c.900

The Alani and the Khazars join together to defeat a Eastern Roman-led coalition which is aimed against the Khazar king, Benjamin. By this time the Khazars are gradually losing control of their former empire, faced with uncertainty caused by the coming of the Rus at Kyiv.

Varangian Guards
The Varangian Guards of the Byzantine court in the tenth century were recruited from eastern-travelling Vikings who came to Greece through the lands of the Rus

fl c.910 - 920s

?

Unnamed Christian king of a pagan people. Captured.

c.920 - 960s

The Eastern Roman manage to involve the Alani in a rebellion against their allies and overlords, the Khazars. In the resultant war the Alani king is captured and they are defeated. As a result of this event, the Alani abandon Christianity around the same time, expelling Byzantine missionaries. Khazar domination over them is renewed until the collapse of the latter's empire in the 960s. Afterwards, Alania begins a fruitful relationship with Georgia, frequently providing the larger kingdom with troops to serve in the region's defence. The alliance culminates in a royal marriage between the king of Alania and the queen of Georgia around 1193.

988

Volodymyr the Great of Kyiv appoints his son, Mstislav, as the first Rus prince of Tmutarakhan. This is an important trading port which controls the Cimmerian Bosporus, the passage which leads from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov. This probably also gives him control (as khagan) of the Yasians and Kasogians who had been conquered around 965 and may also provide some interaction with neighbouring Alania. East Slavic chronicles do not mention the Alani but archaeology in the region would seen to support the idea of trade between the two.

fl c.1000

Durgulel / Dorguleli the Great

Brother-in-law of Bagrat IV of Georgia.

c.1000s

Kipchaks begin to enter the northern Caucasus during the height of their power and prior to the rise of the Mongols. Groups of them begin to settle to the north and east of Alania (mainly in Dagestan). A later offshoot, the Karachays, migrates to the westward side of Alania. They locate themselves in what is now the Karachay-Cherkess republic in southern Russia, on the northern border of Georgia's Abkhazia region.

Kipchak mounted warrior
An illustration of a mounted Kipchack warrior, typical of the waves of westward migrants who swept in from the Kazak steppe during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, largely pushed that way by the sudden creation of the Mongol empire

Around this same time, in the late tenth century or early eleventh, the Persian poet Ferdoûsî (941-1026) and the Arabic historian Al-Bîroûnî both mention the apparent fact that the Alani, Aorsi, or Asii in former times had lived on the lower reaches of the River Amu Darya (the River Oxus of the Greeks). This would seem to support the Chinese record of the Yancai in the first century BC (see above) and the link between them and the Alani.

1060s

The Georgians have frequently employed Alani units in their battles again the Muslims in the southern Caucasus. Now Alani-Georgian cooperation is cemented when the Alani raid across Muslim-allied Albania and attack Ganji (in modern Azerbaijan).

1071 & 1074

A unit of six hundred Alani fight in 1071 under the command of the Eastern Romans against the Seljuq Turks and a further six thousand men in 1074 fight against the Normans in Italy. This cooperation lasts only a short time because the Alani are badly paid.

fl c.1100

Yasynya

fl c.1125

Aton Bagratuni

Surname suggests a familial link to the Bagratids of Georgia.

fl c.1150s

Huddan Burduhan

Maternal grandfather of Giorgi III of Georgia.

fl c.1170s

Suarn

c.1189 - 1207

David Soslan

m Queen Thamar of Georgia. Died.

c.1193 - 1223

David Soslan marries Queen Tamar (Thamar) of Georgia and becomes her co-ruler. The rule of the Alani is subsequently passed to Vladislav. In 1223, Georgia is subordinated by the Mongols, but the descendants of David and Tamar survive and continue to supply Georgia with kings until the nineteenth century.

David Soslan of Alania and Tamar of Georgia
David Soslan, king of Alania, and his wife, Queen Tamar of Georgia who provided the latter state with kings until the nineteenth century

fl c.1207?

Vladislav

David's successor.

1204

The capture of Constantinople is the Fourth Crusade's 'success', and suitable emperors are established in the city. The Byzantines withdraw to Nicæa in Anatolia, but rival claimants also established holdings in Trebizond and Epirus so that, at one point, there are four claimants to the Byzantine throne, as well as the Bulgar and Serb states. Close allies of Constantinople through intermarriage and trade, including Alania and the Rus of Kyiv, are badly affected by this disaster.

1222 - 1239

Following the fall of the kingdom of Georgia to the south, the Alani put up a stiff resistance to the Mongol invasion which sees them driven from their valleys but otherwise undefeated. They remain encamped in mountainous strongholds, continuing to raid the territory of the subsequent Tartar rulers of the Volga and reverting in part to a nomadic lifestyle. Some Alani are, however, subjugated, and serve the Mongols in various guises. In 1227, the Golden Horde inherits control of the region. In 1236 a Hungarian monk describes the anarchy in the country with 'many leaders in many villages and the kings are powerless'.

During the same period, around the mid-thirteenth century, a tribe of nomads who speak a Sarmatian-Alanic language which resembles Ossetian and who call themselves Alani is permitted by King Bela IV Arpad to enter Hungary. They have to fight the Mongols and they do that successfully. Despite referring to themselves as Alani, they are called Jasz by the locals, probably in memory of the Sarmatian Jazygians who formerly had a similar language and lifestyle. These Alani settle in the central part of the Pannonian plain in a region which is now known as Jászság with Jászberény its most important city. Over subsequent centuries they blend into the population, their language disappearing - although a dictionary of that language has been preserved.

fl c.1250s

Khankhusy

Either a Mongol client king or a free Alani.

1395 - 1405

Despite holding out and renewing their reputation as fine warriors, the Alani are conquered by the end of this century at the latest, with the capital at Maghas being destroyed. They fall under the rule of the Tartars and fight for them under Toqtamish Khan of the Greater Golden Horde against Timur of Persia. Timur wins in 1395, gaining control of the Caucasus briefly, and massacring a great many Alani.

Map of the Timurid empire AD 1400
Timur effectively recreated the ancient Persian empire through his various conquests over the course of almost forty years, subduing many competing clans and khanates which would begin competing again after his death (click or tap on map to view full sized)

The fragmented survivors are pushed further south into the Caucasus and begin to integrate with the native Caucasians. By about 1500 they occupy the enclave which will remain theirs into the present day, and are already becoming proto-Ossetians. They form into two groups, Digor and Iron (today the two main dialects of Ossetian speech).

1767

After this date, the descendants of the Alani fall under the rule of the Russian empire as part of Catherine the Great's thrust southwards through the Caucasus to remove these territories from Ottoman influence. They are generally converted to the Russian Orthodox church and in terms of identity they are Ossetians, based in modern Georgia and the bordering Russian republics. They are the only remaining direct-line representatives of the ancient Scythians and Sarmatians.

 
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