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Medea, the adventures of the Argonauts, and the yet undetermined problem of the Golden Fleece. This rugged but beautiful country appears, at times, on the pages of history, as the cause or seat of war between surrounding empires, but like all the dependencies of Mount Caucasus, it has been inhabited by fierce, ignorant, and inhospitable tribes, whose annals are consequently obscure, and whose fortunes were rarely intermingled with those of surrounding empires. It is celebrated as that fortunate clime where the human race is most distinguished for perfection in its stature, its form and its proportion. The fairest variety of our species is now designated by naturalists, as the Caucasian race. It has also become remarkable for a traffic which has rarely been paralleled. On the coast of Africa, we have long been familiar with tribes, who sold their domestic slaves or captives into foreign bondage; but in the districts around Mount Caucasus, has been exhibited for several centuries, the spectacle of a race, professedly Christian, selling their sisters or daughters, to supply the harems of Turkey and Persia, and their sons, to fill up the ranks of the Mamelukes of Egypt, or the Janisaries of Constantinople.
Within the last forty years, the empire of Russia, which has been enlarging its boundaries in so many directions, has extended over these mountain tribes its claims and its jurisdiction-is reducing to subordination a people hitherto lawless and independent-and is making known to the world, a country, heretofore wrapt in fiction and in fable.
It may be proper to sketch a brief outline of the geographical and political divisions of this country, even now so little known, before we enter into any details from the volume before us.
The central chain of Mount Caucasus, rising from the margin of the Euxine near the Straits of Taman or Enicale, runs south-east, at a distance of sixty or seventy miles from the shores of that sea until it reaches its eastern limit, then bending to the east, and again to the south-east, passes over to the Caspian. This chain is one of the loftiest and most unbroken on the surface of the globe-many of its peaks, particularly along the Euxine, are covered with perpetual snow, and Elbourous or Elbrus, has been ascertained to be more lofty than the highest of the Alps. In elevation, perhaps the Andes and the Himalaya mountains alone exceed it.
In its course of nearly 600 miles, it offers but one known road sufficient for the passage of an army.
This is near its centre, so narrow, so enclosed, so commanded, that it is emphatically called the Gates of Dariel, gates that have been but rarely opened by a hostile power. At its eastern extremity, the moun
tains sink just before they reach the Caspian, near the city of Derbent, leaving there another narrow passage, which has always formed a military position of great importance, and has frequently been designated as the Caspian Gates. To the west, it can more easily be turned, but about one hundred and sixty miles from its termination, a lofty and precipitous ridge, shooting from the central chain, approaches so near the Euxine, as to form a strait which can easily be commanded by a small fortress, and is known as the pass of Gagra or Kotoche.
Between the inhabitants of the opposite declivities of this mountain chain, there could be but little intercourse, and although, perhaps, originally connected, and resembling each other in habits, yet, long before the time of Strabo, they were divided into petty hordes differing in language, and only presenting the common and natural features of savage, mountain tribes.
To the north of the Caucasus, the mountainous district was bounded by the Terek and Kouban, rivers which rise amidst the icebergs of this great chain, turn after they have descended into the plains in contrary directions, fall into the Euxine at almost opposite points, and serve as a line of separation between the mountaineers and the Nomade tribes of Calmucs and Cossacs, who form the southern borderers of the Russian Empire.
To the south, the natural boundary of this region is, perhaps, the Armenian chain of Taurus or Mount Ararat. Turkey and Persia have both extended their limits over this latter chain, and in the late struggle with Persia, and the present disputes with Turkey, one object with Russia has been, and, probably, will be, to regain these ancient provinces of Georgia.
If we were to suppose this tract of country divided into four not very unequal divisions, the south-eastern slope would be chiefly occupied by the kingdom of Georgia, the largest, and, perhaps, the most civilized portion of the whole. This
kingdom, however, did not extend to the Caspian. It was bounded to the east by the warlike and independent tribes of the Lesghi, and the once Persian provinces of Chirvan and Dagbestan.
The north-eastern section is principally inhabited by Ossetian tribes, by Ingushes, Tschetchestsies, and some Circassians on the plain of little Kabarda ; along the Caspian, it was bordered by Northern Daghestan.
The north-western quarter is the home of the Circassians, or Tscherkessians, as they are called by the consonant loving people of Sarmatia, an unquiet race, and plunderers almost from necessity. Confined on the south by the impassable barriers of the Caucasus, to the east by portions of the same chain,
or by tribes as warlike and as poor as themselves, they generally followed the course of their streams in their rapid descent to the Kouban, and sought on the Russian frontiers, the great articles of their wealth, cattle and slaves. They were often excited to these inroads by the Turks, who still exercise some influence over them, and they were encouraged by the local advantages of their country, for if resisted, or beaten in the field, retreat was easy, and their asylum secure. It is only within twenty or thirty years, that these disorders have been repressed by the increasing power of Russia on this frontier. The Circassians own the coasts of the Euxine for about one hundred miles from the mouth of the Kouban, and through the port of Anapa, now held by the Turks, continue their intercourse with that nation. One or two other ports were formerly places of some trade, but as the Turks who held them, withdrew their garrisons, they have been gradually abandoned by the natives.
Adjoining the Circassians, and extending between the chain of the Caucasus and the Euxine, for nearly two hundred miles to the river Cador, is the country of Abassa or Abazie. Its inhabitants are as wild and unsettled as any of the tribes on this isthmus. The same local circumstances which led the Circassians to the Kouban, exhibited the Abasses as pirates on the ocean—the only outlet to their circumscribed and imprisoned vallies. Like their neighbours, the Circassians, many of their tribes are Mahometans. They are beginning to acknowledge their dependence on Russia, but still maintain some intercourse with Turkey. The pass of Gagra is nearly in the centre of their territory.
From the Cador, south to the mountains of Akhaltzikhe or Akiska, east to the ridge of mountains which divide the waters of the Phasis or Rion from those of the Kour, is the celebrated valley of the Phasis, the Colchos of antiquity. This, with Abazie, occupies the south-western slope of Caucasus, adjoining on its eastern border the district of Georgia. It is now divided into three distinct provinces, kingdoms they have sometimes been called.
From the Cador to the ancient Phasis, and ascending that river as far as the tributary stream of the Tskeniskal, (Tzcheniss-tzquali of the Russians) lies the district of Mingrelia, of which the lower part is a plain of exuberant fertility; the northeastern portion becomes broken and mountainous, as it ascends among the ridges of the great Caucasian chain.
Above the Tskeniskal, extending across the Phasis to the mountains of Akhaltzikhe, on the east to the mountains which
separate the waters of the Phasis from those of the Kour, (the ancient Cyrus) and on the north to the Caucasus, is the district of Imerithia. This is the finest tract of country that borders on these celebrated mountains. In the centre, along the Tskeniskal, the Phasis, the Quirila, and other tributary streams, it includes a large portion of the fertile valley of the Phasis, while on the ascending slopes of the amphitheatre of mountains which encircle it, every variety of hill and dale and mountain scenery, and the productions and health of mountainous districts are profusely distributed.
To the south of the Phasis below Imerithia, is the province of Gouriel, extending along the Euxine into the Turkish empire, between which and the Russian, the district is now divided.
These provinces, which together compose a magnificent valley, surrounded on every side by mountains or the Euxine, make up the district to which, in this article, our attention will be particularly directed. It formed the ancient kingdom of Aetes. It was afterwards subdued by Cyrus, and warriors from the Phasis are enumerated among the tributary forces of Xerxes. It constituted among the dominions of Mithridates, the kingdom of Colchos. Subdued by the Romans, this territory was not reduced to the condition of a province, but was made a tributary kingdom, and a few fortresses were erected along the coast, to preserve an intercourse and apparent authority. During the long wars of Justinian and Chosroes, Colchos became for a time the theatre of war, was successively occupied by each nation, but finally remained with the Romans. On the decline of their power, the Lazi, a tribe whose origin is obscure, occupied this kingdom, and are said, by securing the pass of Gagra, and encouraging some of the mountain clans to defend the gates of Dariel, to have turned aside many of the Scythian hordes, and to have compelled them to pass along the northern shores of the Euxine on their approach to the Roman provinces-certain it is, that few of these barbarians burst upon the Armenian provinces through the chain of the Caucasus.* When, however, the Turkmans descending from the Altai, occupied the centre of Asia, Alp Arslan and his sons, passing to the south of the Caspian, overran the provinces of Armenia, Georgia, and probably, Mingrelia, obliged the * That some did enter the Roman provinces by this route, is attested by Clau.
“ Alii per Caspia claustra Armeniasque nives, inopino tramite ducti
Invadunt orientis opes."-Claud. in Ruff. lib. ii. v. 28-30. In this case, however, the Huns entered by the Caspian gate, and not by either of the two portals which the Lazi are said to have closed against them.
mountain tribes to profess the faith of Mahomet, and considered them as a portion of the Seljukian empire.
The great Tartar conquerors visited this region. Octai, the son of Zingis, sent a division of his army into the ranges of the Caucasus, which is said, in the oriental style of his panegyrists, to have penetrated into its inmost recesses.
The march of Octai, however, was by Astrachan, into the centre of Russia, his attention was directed to other objects, and this excursion to the Caucasus was only a transient visit. Timour, in his pursuit of Toctamish, sent one half of his army along the western shores of the Caspian, but these troops, although they laid wasto Georgia, and destroyed its ancient capital, passed through the Caspian gates, the very road by which Toctamish advanced when he invaded Persia and Bucharia, and obliged Timour to arm for the protection of Samarcand. As soon as Toctamish was entirely defeated, and obliged to take refuge in Poland, his conqueror returned to the south to attend to more important conquests.
Since that period, no great revolution has overwhelmed the western half of Asia, and these mountaineers have found themselves the borderers between three great empires. To each of these, they have, in turn, made their submissions—from each have sought protection, and to each have given such claims, as were quite sufficient to justify war, whenever pleas were wanted for hostilities between adjoining nations.
Turkey, perhaps, has been more uniform in her claims to supremacy over these different tribes, and has possessed stronger testimonials of her authority than either of the other empires. She has, occasionally, held fortresses in the interior of the country, though her general policy has more nearly resembled that which was adopted by the Romans. She has, accordingly, been contented to establish a number of garrisons along the sea-coast, and requiring a tribute from each district, which was generally paid in slaves, has been satisfied to leave the government of the country in the hands of its native princes, interfering, perhaps, so far in their domestic disputes as to prevent any one from acquiring an extensive and exclusive dominion.
On the other hand, the native tribes of the Caucasus considered these fortresses along the sea-coasts as scarcely more than trading posts. They felt themselves, in their domestic transactions, altogether unrestrained, they made war or peace at pleasure; and although compelled by the first Turkoman conquerors to profess the faith of Mahomet, the greater part of them immediately threw off this burthen, and have continued