from the ancient times to joining Russia

by I. M. Miziyev



Mingi-Tau (Elbrus), 1994, no. 1 (Jan–Feb), pp. 7–104, 206–213

Nalchik: Mingi-Tau Publishing, 1994





Translation from Russian and footnotes by P. B. Ivanov

Moscow, 1997





Geography and territory of Karachai-Balkarians

Balkarians and Karachais belong to the Turk nationalities living the most high in the mountains. They occupy the canyons and foothills of Central Caucasus along the rivers Kuban, Zelenchuk, Malka, Baksan, Chegem, Cherek and their tributaries. Nearly all “five-thousanders” (the highest peaks) of Caucasus are situated on the territory of Balkaria and Karachai, such as Mingi-tau, Dikh-tau, Koshtan-tau, Gulcha and others. The largest glaciers and névé fields can be found there too: Azau, Terskol, Itkol, Cheget and others. The territory of Balkaria and Karachai abounds in mountain-masses, woods, fertile valleys and Alpine meadows.

General description of the Karachai-Balkarian people

Balkarians and Karachais are among the most ancient nationalities of Caucasus. The roots of their history and culture are intimately intertwined with the history and culture of many Caucasian peoples, as well as numerous Turk nationalities, from Jakutia to Turkey, from Azerbaijan to Tatarstan, from the Kumik and Nogai to the Altai and Hakass. In the former Soviet Union, Turk peoples were second in number, after the Slavic nationalities; there are more than 200 million Turk-speaking people in the whole world. In the Alpine ravines of Caucasus, Karachai-Balkarians live side by side with the people speaking in other languages, such as Kartvelian, Adyg, Ossetian and others. Since XIV–XV centuries, Balkarians and Karachais gradually became territorially isolated, otherwise remaining the same people. The nearest neighbors call Balkarians “As” (Ossetians), “Balkar” (Kabardins), “Az” or “Ovs” (Swanes); for instance, Megrelians call Karachais “Alan”. The word “alan” is used by Balkarians to address each other.

Economy and culture-economic relations

Since the ancient times, Balkarians and Karachais have been engaged in Alpine, distant-pasture or “yailag” cattle rearing. In the summer, they drive their cattle to the mountain pastures called “zhailik”. The common term “yailag cattle breeding” originates from this word.

Sheep breeding generally dominates at Balkarians and Karachais; however, cattle and horse cultivation was very important too. The possession of huge amounts of cattle, several times more than the neighbors could have, provided all the life means to Balkarians and Karachais. The products of cattle breeding dressed, fed and shoed the people; also, it went to the all-Caucasus markets, getting exchanged on all the necessary goods: fabrics, crockery, salt and others.

Highly developed mining industry supplied Balkarians and Karachais with copper, lead, coal, niter and other raw materials. Since arable lands were scarce in Balkaria and Karachai, agriculture did not play as important role as cattle breeding in their economy.

Nevertheless, every spot of land was carefully cultivated, cleared of stones and watered with the use of ingeniously designed irrigation systems. The mountain slopes furrowed by the vast terrace fields of the old Karachai-Balkarian peasants can be seen in many places up to now.

Balkarians and Karachais had most friendly culture-economic relations with all the neighboring peoples. These contacts frequently resulted in numerous mixed marriages and inter-ethnic kinship.

Culture, education, science

The historic and cultural heritage of the Karachai-Balkarian people has absorbed many features of the culture of Caucasian peoples and all the Turk world. This has been reflected in mythology, epic and other folklore genres, as well as in the earliest religions, mentioning the highest mountains, the seas and boundless spaces of Eurasian steppes. The common Turk deities like Tenhri (Teiri), Umai and others occupy the central place in the religious cults. The influence of such ecumenical religions as Christianity and Islam can be seen in the deepest roots of the culture, manifesting themselves in the various customs, rites, popular games and common notions existing among Karachai-Balkarians until now. In the ancient times, the ancestors of Balkarians and Karachais had a runic writing, judging by the inscriptions left by Caucasian Bulgarians and now found in great numbers on the territory of Karachai and Balkaria in the relics of VII–XII centuries.

In the very beginning of XVIII century, Balkarians and Karachais had already adopted Arabian writing, as it is fixed in the so-called “Kholam inscription” dated by 1715 and found in aul Kholam, the inscription of 1709, and others. Now Balkarians and Karachais use Russian alphabet. Among the peoples of the former USSR, Balkarians and Karachais occupied the first place in the number of people with higher education per thousand of population.

Old sources about Balkarians and Karachais

The modern name of Balkarians ascends to the name of ancient Caucasian Bulgarians, which were placed by ancient Armenian sources “in the land of Bulgarians, in Caucasian mountains”. The Arabian author of X century Ibn-Rusteh wrote about the tribes Taulu-as, i. e. “Mountain Asses”, living in the most faraway regions of Georgia. This name corresponds to the geographical self-nomination of Karachais and Balkarians “Taulu”, i. e. “Mountaineers”.

Many eminent scientists of the past and of XX century, such as Menandres of Byzanth, G. A. Kokiyev and others, called one of the greatest trade roads along the river Kum past Elbrus through Karachai to Kolkhida (Georgia) owned by the Romans, “Khoruchon”, past the name of Karachai. An analysis of all the materials available lead Acad. P. Butkov to the conclusion that Balkarian already lived on the territory of modern Balkaria in X century.

In 1395/96, world conqueror Timur and his biographers called Balkarians and Karachais “Asses” and were in fierce struggle against them. Until now, Balkarians and Karachais are called “Asses” by their immediate neighbors, Ossetians.

In 1404, arch-bishop Iohannes Galonifontibus called Karachais “Kara-Cherkess”; under the same name they were mentioned by the traveler of 1643 Archangello Lamberti.

So, from the earliest times up to XIV century, Balkarians and Karachais were referred to in the written documents as Asses, Bulgarians, Kara-Cherkess, Taulu-Asses…

In the Georgian documents of XIV century and later, Balkarians and Balkaria were referred to as “Basians” and “Basiania” respectively. The earliest mentioning of this name was found on the gold “Tskhovati cross”. On this cross, it is said how one eristavi Risia Kvenipneveli got in captivity in Basiania and was ransomed therefrom on the means of Spass church of village Tskhovati in Ksan canyon. Basians and the life of Basians were described in detail in a treatise by the historian and geographer of Georgia Prince Vakhushti in l745. Georgian “Basiani” was derived from the name of Khazar tribe “Basa”, with the addition of the plurality indicator “-ani”.

In January and February 1629, Terek voivode I. A. Dashkov sent two letters to Moscow, informing about the silver deposits in the land where “Balkarians” live. Since then the name of Balkarian people often appears in Russian official documents. In 1639, Russian mission consisting of Pavel Zakhariev, Fedot Elchin and Fiodor Bazhenov sets off for Georgia. For 15 days, they stayed at Karachai princes Krimshaukhalov in aul El-Zhurtu near modern Tirnihauz. Balkarian “kabaks” (settlements) are mentioned in 1643, in the “otpiska” (official message) of Terek voivode M. P. Volynsky. And in 1651, Moscow envoys N. S. Tolochanov and A. I. Iyevlev, on their way to Georgia, stayed at Balkarian princes Aidabolov in Upper Balkaria for two weeks. Information about Balkarians and Karachais can be found in the documents of European and Russian scientists and travelers of 1662, 1711, 1743, 1747, 1753, l760, 1778, 1779, 1793–94, 1807–08 years. In 1828, Acad. Kupfer called Karachais “Cherkess”; under that name they had been commonly known since as early as 1636 or 1692 in the travel notes by Georgian and European authors. In such texts, Balkarians and Karachais were often called “mountain Cherkess”.




The meaning of the word “ethnogenesis”

“Ethnogenesis” is a Greek word combining notions “ethnos” (nationality), and “genesis” (development). The term “ethnogenesis” is commonly used for “the origin of the nationality”. The development of any ethnos is a long and complicated culture-historical process covering many hundred or thousand years. This process is closely related to the migration of various tribes, mixing their specific cultures and languages. Therefore, the formation of an ethnos cannot be explained by any single science. Such studies should be based on the data from many adjacent scientific disciplines: information from ancient and medieval written documents (text sources), archeological data, ethnography, material and spiritual culture, folklore, anthropology, knowledge received from the neighboring peoples about the ethnos under investigation, and its ancestors. It is only when the results of all these studies are consistent enough that it is possible to assert that the right direction is found in the description of this complicated historical process.

Of course, the principal role in ethnogenetic study is played by the national language.

The notion of language families and groups

The languages of the peoples of the world are commonly subdivided into language families: Indo-European family, Semite-Khamite family, Ural-Altai family etc. These families group languages by their grammatical structure, morphology, phonetics, vocabulary and other features. For example, Hyber-Caucasian language family includes Kartvelian, Abkhaz-Adyg, Nakh-Daghestan and other language groups. Turk group, belonging to the Ural-Altai family, is further subdivided into Kipchak, Oguz and other branches. Indo-European languages are subdivided into German, Slavic etc.

There is a misleading tendency to generally associate the origin of an ethnos with the tribe that gave the name to the corresponding language group. Thus, all the Turk peoples with the language belonging to the Kipchak branch of the Turk group are often considered as the offspring of Kipchaks. This approach ignores the fact that the names of the major part of language groups, including the Kipchak group, are merely conventional, and one should not conclude about the ethnogenetic commonality among the languages belonging to the same group.

The sources for ethnogenetic study

As noted, the basic source of information about the origin of an ethnos is its language. There is much reason in the common saying that the language of the people is their history. Forming in the deepest antiquity, language, together with its carrier, goes through a complicated process of development, being mixed with the neighbor languages, enriched, influenced by them and influencing them in its turn. History knows many examples of language mixture or assimilation of one language by another. Nevertheless, many languages preserve their peculiarities. It is these characteristic features of the language that make language one of the most important source of ethnogenetic information. The second important source in this problem is the data of ancient writers, which may describe the territory occupied by the specific tribes or peoples, the changes in their boundaries, the ways and causes of their migration in various directions, as well as report of the mixture of different peoples, and so on. However, one must always remember that the tribes or peoples are rarely mentioned in these sources under the same name in the course of several centuries. Quite often, the chronicles speak of specific parts of the same tribes which played more important historical roles in the particular historical phase and hence get mentioned in the annals.

Another important component of ethnogenetic data is the relics of material culture left by the ancient tribes, i. e. archeological sources. They include the remnants of dwellings, production tools or common-life accessories, weapons, or other articles of utility typical for the ancient tribes. Quite often, many such things are used for centuries in the traditional culture of ethnos. The specific features of these articles can be used to judge about ethnogenesis.

The sum of many archeological indicators, such as the burial rite (the leading archeological specifier), the collection of household articles, the tradition of dwelling construction, clothes fabrication, ornaments etc., constitutes the notion of archeological culture spread in a definite region in a specific period.

The description of the archeological cultures is usually called the ethnography (the description of people) of ancient tribes and peoples. Hence, the traces of antiquity and old traditions in the ethnography of modern peoples can be an invaluable source for studying their origin. Many ethnographic data, such as the ways of food preparation and eating, the design of clothes and footwear, the traditional forms of dwellings, mythological and religious rites and customs, can be as important ethnic indicator as language or archeology.

The ethnography of an ethnos, its traditional culture, always reflects a symbiosis and mutual cultural influence of the peoples living together for many centuries. The important place in the ethnogenetic study is also occupied by folklore, in which people always reflected the common understanding of their origin. Many folklore themes got mixed in the course of many centuries, incorporating new historical events and facts, often changing. Still, the historical grain can always be discovered in folk tales, legends and stories and cleared from the later features.

The state of knowledge about the ethnogenesis of Karachai-Balkarians

The origin of Karachai-Balkarians is one of the most difficult problems in Caucasus studies. For a long time, the fact that Turk-speaking people occupy the most Alpine regions of Central Caucasus, living in an environment of Caucasian and Iranian (Ossetian) languages attracted the special attention of many scientists of the past and present to their history and culture formation. The complexity of a problem lead to numerous hypotheses, often contradicting each other. Such a situation is due to that this problem has never been a subject of an integral study aggregating all the data available from the written sources, archeology, anthropology, ethnography, linguistics, topo-hydronymics (names of the territories, mountains, canyons, settlements, rivers, lakes etc.), folklore and other related scientific disciplines.

An attempt to achieve more clarity has been made in 1959, at the All-Union scientific session on the problem of the origin of Balkarians and Karachais. However, the problem had not been given a comprehensive analysis at this Session neither. Many hypotheses suggested were based on the superficial or incidental facts and coincidences, especially the theory of Kipchak origin of these peoples. The fact is, that the presence of Kipchaks, widely known in South-Russian steppes since XII century, in Northern Caucasus and especially its central regions is not supported by any written documents or archeological data, and their anthropological type is different from Karachai-Balkarian. Also, they differ in their language, which belongs to “yocking” Turk dialects, while Karachai-Balkarians speak a “jocking” dialect. There were much more evidence in support of the theory of the Bulgarian origin of Balkarians and Karachais as presented on the Session.

The positive moment of this Session, despite all the shortcomings, was the indication that Balkarians and Karachais are one of the most ancient Caucasian peoples, formed from the early Caucasian, Iranian and Turk tribes.




The origin of the traditional culture of Turk tribes

Ethnographic science widely employs the so-called retrospection method to study the roots of traditional culture. Indeed, the observation of the historical past through the specific features of modern culture may give important historical information.

Applying this method to the investigation of the possible origin traditional Turk culture, we discover, that the material and spiritual culture of many of them manifests the following characteristic features:

Searching for the chronological and geographical sources of these peculiarities, one can soon discover that Altai, which is usually considered as the motherland of Turks, does not seem to reveal any archeological or other indications for them. The summation of all scientific data available leads to the conclusion, that the ancient roots of Turk peoples and their culture must be sought for in some other places. This original territory appears to lie between Volga and Ural (Itil and Jaik, or Yaik). Here, on the boundary of IV–III millenniums BC, the so-called barrow or pit culture had formed, combining all the typical habits of Turks listed above. It should be noted, that these features do not appear in the culture of any Indo-European people, neither in antiquity nor today. This fact is of ultimate scientific importance for studying the culture-historical heritage of Turk peoples, including Karachai-Balkarians.

Original territory and contacts of pra-Turk tribes

In the beginning of III millennium BC, the pit culture, with the habit of barrow burial, originally formed between Volga and Ural gradually spread to the adjacent territories. In its movement to the North, it comes to contact with the culture of the Ugro-Finnish group, the ancestors of Mari, Mordvinians etc. In the West direction, this culture got mixed with the culture of the earliest pra-Slavic tribes on the banks of Dnieper, Dniester, Danube and their tributaries.

Powerful migration of the barrow (pit) culture occurred in the East and South-East directions to the center of Middle Asia, Kazakhstan, Altai upland and Southern Turkmenistan. In these areas, the ethnogenetically uniform Afanasiev culture was formed, taking the name from the mountain Afanasievo near Minusinsk hollow. In their movement to the East, the ancient Europeoid “pitters” gradually got mixed and acquired a Mongoloid outlook, though relatively “pure” Europeoids could be met in Altai highlands until VIII century BC The deeper in Asia, the more Mongoloid features appeared in the formerly Europeoid “pitters”. Across Aral steppes and South Turkmenistan, ancient pra-Turk “pitters” penetrated the adjacent areas of Iran and Afghanistan. There they mixed and entered ethnocultural contacts with Iranian-language tribes and peoples (Fig. 2).

In the migration process, ancient “pitters” entered, along with cultural, linguistic contacts with many tribes, speaking ancient Indian, Iranian, Ugro-Finnish, pra-Slavic and Caucasian languages. This circumstance explains the presence of many Turkisms in those languages, as well as the appearance of many words ascending to them in Turk dialects.

All the available scientific data from archeology, ethnography, ethnotoponymics and other facts tell that Altai upland was the secondary original land for a number of Turk tribes, whence they began, in the historical times, periodic aggressive and peaceful migrations back to the West, to the former regions of their origin near the Ural and in the steppes of Southern Russia.

Caucasus and ancient pra-Turks. Maikop culture

The earliest pra-Turks, representing the pit (barrow) culture, intensively migrated in the Caucasus direction too. Here, they encountered and entered ethnocultural and linguistic contacts with the ancient Caucasian tribes, which did not have the habit of mound-burials before. Barrows discovered in Caucasus and then in Fore-Asia and Asia Minor were brought there by ancient “pitters”, the ancestors of modern Turk peoples (Fig. 3).

The most old archeological indication of the presence of pra-Turk tribes in Northern Caucasus is the so-called “Nalchik tumulus” dated by the end of IV millennium BC This tumulus was located on the territory of Zatishie region, the present city of Nalchik. The findings from Nalchik tumulus reveal very close interrelations and contacts between the Caucasian tribes and the most ancient “pitters”. These contacts and relations grew stronger with time. The relics of ancient “pitters” were also found at stanitsa Mekenskaya in Checheno-Ingush republic, at villages Akbash and Kishpek in Kabarda, at village Billim in Balkaria, in many regions of Krasnodar region and Karachai-Cherkess autonomy (stanitsa Kelermesskaya, Novolabinskaya, khutor Zubovsky, near the town Ust-Jegut and other places). The number of archeological complexes attributed to ancient “pitters” amounts to more than 35 in Northern Caucasus.

All available historical, archeological and ethnocultural data tell that the earliest ancestors of Turk peoples already lived in Northern Caucasus more than 5000 years ago. Later, in the middle of III millennium BC, there formed the so-called Maikop culture, called so after a barrow excavated in present Maikop. It should be stressed that Maikop culture definitely belongs to the barrow type, which was not inherent in Caucasus, but was the ethnocultural characteristic of steppes, where the barrow culture came from. On the early stages of development, Maikop culture retained the steppe forms and the burial in large pits in the ground, with wooden walls and the bedding of bark, organic substances, or just yellow clay; no stone constructions have been found in such barrows and pit burials. It is only later, in the end of III millennium BC, specifically in its last third, that Maikop culture began to clearly manifest the local peculiarities of the burial rite, such as various stone insertions in the foundations of barrows, stone bedding in the burial chambers, little stone barrows immediately above the grave, inside the earth mound and so on. Still, the very barrow form and the burial rite were always preserved. The influence of “barrowers” was so strong, that even such typically Caucasian burial elements like stone boxes and even of huge sizes stone dolmens built of heavy boulders were put under the mound, which is especially demonstrative in the monuments found near stanitsa Novoslobodnenskaya.

Barrow culture, with its specific ethnocultural features, began to penetrate the territory of present Turkey (in Anatolia) in the end of IV millennium BC Unknown in these lands before, the newly appearing manifestations of this culture have been found in valleys along the river Amuk in the North-West of Syria, at the foothills of Amanus mountains, in the Turkish province Khatai, in the regions Norsun-töpe, Töpesik, Koruku-töpe and other areas of Turkey and Syria. The carriers of this culture brought here their own traditions, cattle-breeding way of life, skills horse rearing etc.

Pra-Turk migration to Transcaucasus and Fore-Asia

In the last third of III millennium BC, barrows began to penetrate Southern Caucasus from Northern Caucasus through Derbent passage (Daghestan) and the territory of the present Krasnodar region. These migration ways can be easily traced by the barrows near stanitsa Novotitarevskaya and village Utamish in Daghestan. Transcaucasian archeologists are unanimous in that the barrow culture appeared here in a sudden manner, being absolutely alien for the local tribes. The traces of barrow culture are known in many regions of Transcaucasus, the earliest ones being those located near village Bedeni in Georgia, as well as the barrows of Uch-töpe in Azerbaijan and others.

From there, the barrow culture moved on to the South, reaching the shores of lake Urmia in Fore-Asia.

In Transcaucasus, Fore-Asia and Asia Minor, the ancient sheep-breeding “pitters” encounter settled agricultural tribes for the first time. The symbiosis of the two cultures was a natural result, with different ethnocultural lines getting mixed. Finally, this symbiosis gave life to a settled agricultural and cattle-breeding ethnic community, combining the both kinds of economic structure.

This symbiosis gave a strong impulse to the formation of the civilization world-wide known as Shumer (Somar, Suvar) on the territory of ancient Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). The carriers of Maikop culture from Northern Caucasus and ancient Shumerians established most firm culture-economic links, which can be said by the discoveries of similar characteristic elements of arms, ornaments etc. both in the cities of Shumer and Maikop barrows. It must be noted that such similar articles can be found in the relics of Shumer and North-Caucasian Maikop barrows, but almost never in the antiquities of the intermediate territories, neither in Transcaucasus not in the other regions of Northern Caucasus. The contacts between “Maikopers” and Shumerians had the character of relations between a long isolated part of the ancient pra-Turk tribes with their original motherland in Northern Caucasus and adjacent Eurasian steppes. There may be the impression of the transitory character of these relations, which could probably be explained by the similarity of their traditions and culture.

There are numerous indications that ancient Shumerians were a part of pra-Turk tribes separated from the rest of them since long ago. This could explain the presence of that many Turk words in their language, stressed by many scientists of the previous century and today.

Shumer-Karachai-Balkarian lexical parallels

The analysis of ancient Shumerian cuneiform texts carried out by many scientists shows that the major part of Shumerian words exactly repeat common Turk (and Karachai-Balkarian) words, and occasionally whole phrases. For instance, in the Song of Hilgamesh (Bilgamesh), there is Balkarian phrase “Soün Eteiik”, that is, “Let us make an immolation (sacrifice)”. Another example is an inscription addressed to the deity Hudei (which surprisingly resembles Kazakh “Kudai”, god) on a monument of XXIV century devoted to it. One can discern a Karachai-Balkarian word “zanimdaginnan”, i. e. “From him, who is near”. There are many such remarkable coincidences. Let us look at just a few lexical parallels:


Shumerian words

Karachai—Balkarian words

Az few

Az few

Abame elder

Appa grandfather, aba grandmother

Baba ancestor

Baba ancestor

Gaba breast

Gabara jacket, brassiere

Daim constantly

Daiim constantly

Me I

Men I

Mu he

Bu that, he

Ne what

Ne what

Ru slaughter

Ur slaughter

Er warrior

Er man

Tu give birth

Tuu give birth

Tud was born

Tuudu was born

Ed get out

Öt move on

Char circle

Charh wheel

Guruvash servant

Karauash maid, bondwoman

Gag to thrust

Kak to thrust

Sig a blow

Sok to beat

Ush three

Üch three

Ud fire

Ot fire

Uzuk long

Uzun long

Tush sit down

Tüsh sit down

Yeshik door

Eshik door

Ahur weight

Ahuur weight

Zhau enemy

Zhau enemy

Zher place, ground

Zher place, ground

Yegech sister

Egech sister

Or reap

Or reap

Kal stay

Kal stay

Kiz girl

Kiz girl

Kush bird

Kish bird

Uat break

Uat break

Zharik it’s light

Zharik it’s light

Zhaz write

Zhaz write

Zhün wool

Zhün wool

Zhol road

Zhol road

Zhir song

Zhir song

Zharim half

Zharim half

Cholpan star

Cholpan star (Venus)

Chibin a fly

Chibin a fly

Irik valukh

Irik valukh

Kur create

Kur construct

Küre to row

Küre to row

Koru to guard

Koru to guard

Kadau lock

Kadau lock

Kan blood

Kan blood

San number

San number; sana to count

Ikki two

Eki two

Buz break

Buz break

Üz to tear

Üz to tear

Süz to filter

Süz to filter

Yez himself

Öz himself

Alti six

Alti six

Yel death

Öl die

Ul kin

Ul son, offspring

Sen you

Sen you

There are great many such coincidences, more than four hundred. This is quite enough, to conclude about the kinship of Shumerian and Karachai-Balkarian languages.

The available scientific data tell that the migration of ancient pra-Turk “pitters” was a manifestation of the decay of an early Turk community originally represented by Afanasiev pit-culture group. This decay chronologically coincided with the decay of the ancient Indo-European community. Mutual collisions resulting from these processes were the cause of intensive lexical assimilation of Turk and Indo-European languages, as detected today. We are inclined to consider this historical phase as the first stage of the history of the formation of the Karachai-Balkarian people, which took place on territory of Northern Caucasus more than 5000 years ago.




The successors of the pit culture

Archeological science has long ago established that the successor of the pit culture in South-Russian steppes was the so-called frame culture, which has got its name from the wooden frame under the mould-burial. In the steppes of Middle Asia and Minusinsk hollow, the Afanasiev variety of pit culture was replaced by the so-called Andronov culture, ethnically close to it. Thus, already in pit-Afanasiev and frame-Andronov times, the ancient Turk cultural community became divided into the Eastern and Western groups.

The pit and frame cultures were followed by Scythian-Sarmats, while Massagets were the probable successors of Afanasiev culture, which is considered to be the origin of modern Turkmen.

A brief description of Scythia

Nearly five centuries of the history of Eastern Europe, Fore-Asia, Caucasus, Southern Siberia and other regions were associated with by the name Scythians. This period coincides with the formation of the states of Ancient Greece which played a great role in the formation of European civilization. Scythians were in close communication with Greece and the world around it. Scythian power, including not only the steppes of Northern coast of the Black Sea and Crimea, Northern Caucasus and Ural region but also the tribes inhabiting the forest-steppe areas, was a link in the chain of cultural and trade contacts between Fore-Asia, Middle Asia and Europe. There were strong links between Scythia and the Greek cities on the Black Sea and the early Roman provinces. Scythian state, involving neighboring tribes in culture-economic relations, helped both the development of social organization and the cultural growth in these tribes. Scythian military campaigns induced the formation of military democracy and the consolidation of patriarchal tribe aristocracy (Fig. 4,5).

Ancient authors about Scythians and Sarmats

Ancient Greek and Roman authors are the main source of written evidence about Scythians and Sarmats. Among them, one could especially note Herodotos, Hyppocrates, Strabo, Ptolomaios and others. Scythians are one of the first peoples mentioned in the texts of Ancient Greek authors. All of them, starting from Hesiodos and Eschiles, call Scythians and Sarmats “mare-milkers”, “koumiss-drinkers” , “horse-flesh eaters” and so on. They told that these peoples lead a nomadic life, living in felt tents (yurts) on the carriages, with their children and household articles.

There were Scythian ploughmen in the fertile deltas and along the rivers, but the leading role belonged to the nomadic Scythians, or the so-called “King Scythians”, representing a special social layer among various tribes meant under the common name “Scythians”.

Describing the territory of Scythia, its boundaries and rivers, its neighbors, military campaigns etc., the ancient authors said nothing about the Scythian language. So, we can judge about the language of Scythians only by just a few mentioned personal names, the names of some things, or the names of places and rivers.

Scythian legends and tales about their origin

By the words of Herodotos (484–425 BC), Scythians thought that they were born in a deserted land from the first man called Targitaios, whose parents were a daughter of the river Dnieper (Borisphenes) and Scythian god of thunder corresponding to Greek Zeus. Targitaios had three sons: Lipoxaios, Arpaxaios and Kolaxaios. The first of them gave birth to Scythians Auchates, the second to Katiares, and the third to Parallates. Their common name was Scolotes. We can immediately see that all these names are definitely of the Turk origin and can easily be explained on the basis of Karachai-Balkarian and other Turk languages and dialects. The very word “Scolotes”, evidently distorted by Ellines, sounded as “Skhilti” in the original language of Scythians, which refers to the upper strata of the society in Karachai-Balkarian. The common origin of these three tribes from the fore-farther of all the Scythians Targitaios was indicated in this way.

Herodotos heard another legend, or tale, about Scythians born from the marriage of Heracles with a half-woman, half-snake, whose upper part was of a woman and the lower part of a snake.

Then, Herodotos continues his narration about the origin of Scythians: “There is, however, one more story, which I trust the most. By this tale, nomadic Scythians living in Asia, being pressed by the military actions of Massagets, had crossed the river Arax and gone to the Kimmerian lands. Indeed, the country occupied by Scythians now (i. e. the steppes near the Black Sea—aut.) originally belonged to Kimmerians, as it is told”. It should be noted here that Ancient authors applied the name “Arax” nor only to the modern Arax, and not so much to this river, but rather to Sir-Daria. Therefore, Scythians could be pressed by Massagets from the near-Aral steppes, where the earliest pra-Turk culture once originated.

Who were Kimmerians

Ancient authors (Homeros, Hesiodos and others) called Kimmerians “mare-milkers” and “horse-flesh eaters” too, evidently meaning their non-Indo-European appearance and way of life. The history of this ethnos is yet poorly studies, though it is quite firmly established now that Kimmerians are cognate to Scythians. In Northern Caucasus, archeologists have found many typically Kimmerian household articles, tools and weapons. Such findings are exclusively numerous on the territory of Karachai, near aul Kart-Jurt, Uchkulan, Teberdi, Indish, Sari-Tüz and many others. Such an accumulation of Kimmerian antiquities on Karachai territory bears an exceptional value for the understanding of the origin of Karachais and Balkarians.

Archeological materials are strongly substantiated by the language data, and the etymology if the ethnonymic word “kimmer” first of all. The fact is, that, according to one of the meanings of the word “kara”, this word could be interpreted as “big”, “great”, “powerful”. The word “chai” (“sai”) means “river”, “river-bed” in common Turk.

Hence, the word “Karachai” may mean “Wide, Great, Mighty river”, and the name of the nationality could originate from the name of a river, as it often occurred in the Turk world, meaning just “the river people”. But a river could as often be referred to by the word “kam”, “kem” in common Turk (as, for example, Yenisei was called Khem and its tributary Khemchik). From the same word comes Karachai-Balkarian word “airikam”, that is, “island” or, more exactly, “separated by the water”. A river with the same name exists in Danubean Bulgaria, Kamchia, and so on. Hence it is easy to see that the word “Kam-er”, or “Kim-er” is of typically Turk origin, meaning “river man”, just like the recent “Suv-ar”, “Bulak-ar” (“Bolkar”), or earlier “Sub-ar”, “Suv-ar” (which is the same as “Shum-er”). The alternation of the phonemes “sh” and “s” in many languages should not surprise anybody.

On the language of Scythians and Sarmats

In the Bible, the name of Scythians sounds as “Ashkuzi”, which is a slight Semite distortion of the name of a Turk tribe “As-kishi”. Not without reason, the Arabian authors of IX century (for example, Khvaresmi) called Scythia the country of Turks, the country of As-Kishi or Togusogus. So, the Bible fixed the ancient Turk tribe of Scythians, as “Ashkuzi”. Appearing in this ethnonym word “as” is also from Turk and means “to stray”, “wander”, i. e. the carry a nomadic life. It is important to remember that Ancient Greeks originally produced the geographical term “Asia” from this very word, originally meaning specifically the Kuban steppes in the upper Caucasus. This may have been because Ancient Greek authors were informed about the migration of ancient nomadic tribes (Asses) to these regions.

The Turk type of the Scythian-Sarmat language is testified by many names of Sarmat leaders mentioned by Roman historians Tacitus, Ammianus Marcellinus and others. The language of Scythians is known almost exclusively by the personal names, among which both Turk and Iranian words are met. One cannot speak about Scythian language without an analysis of common nouns and special terms found in written sources, while the ancient authors keep complete silence on that. Nevertheless, the above-mentioned Turk words, such as Targitaios, Kolaxaios, Lipoxaios, Arpaxaios, Skhilti and other speak that Scythians and Sarmats were Turk tribes. The following connon Turk examples could be added:


the supreme god of Scythians, whose name means “elder” in Turk languages


Papai’s wife; means “mother” in Turk languages.


Scythian king, whose name is a common Turk word meaning “father”.


Scythian noun “man”. This word has the same meaning in Turk: “eir”, “er”.


Scythian word “thread”; coincides with the same Turk word.


in Scythian and Turk means “wool”.

Üshü, Ish

Scythian verb “feel cold”. The word with the same meaning exists in Karachai-Balkarian and other Turk languages: Üshü.

Even this short list of common words, ignored by many scythianologists before, the Turk nature of Scythian language can be clearly seen.

Culture and life of Scythians and Sarmats

Scythians and Sarmats were age-old nomads. The Turk elements in Sarmat culture and life is perfectly illustrated by the findings on Southern Bug, in the burials of I century. One of them was a little sculpture of a Sarmat sitting in the Asian manner, with crossed legs, in a quilted gown, with slanting eyes and flat nose.

The Scythian and Sarmat way of living and their culture manifests numerous Turk elements. Thus, for example, Scythian wise man Anacharsis answered the question about what Scythians eat saying that every Scythian’s breakfast and dinner were sour milk and cheese. These words coincide with the Karachai-Balkarian expression “Airan bla bishlak”, describing their daily food. By the words of the I century author Plinius, Sarmats eat “raw flour mixed with mare milk”.

It is quite obvious, that the Roman historian could not distinguish raw flour from the flour of fried grain, khuuut, which is a delicacy for Balkarians and Karachais. As a rule, they add airan or butter to khuuut, and could well add koumiss too.

The same sources report that Sarmats eat a thick white pulp, which perfectly coincides with a Karachai-Balkarian dish of sour and small grains, “kak”.

Among the elements of Scythian and Sarmat clothes, there such similar to Karachai-Balkarian clothes as short, above the knees, caftans, wadded or made of skins, as well as leather jackboots and shoes with the laces tied below the knee. Such boots could be made of felt. Scythians and Sarmats wore pointed hats, much resembling bashliks. The pictures of such hats can be found on stone sculptures and other decorations. Scythians and Sarmats also wore felt cloaks, “zhamichi”. Many elements of Scythian and Sarmat clothes were made of various felts, which were used everywhere in the life of these tribes, and now felt elements are very important in the traditional Karachai-Balkarian clothes and household.

The art of Scythians and Sarmats

The art of Scythian tribes forms a unique layer of the world culture. In their art, Scythians developed the highest skills and an original manner of reflecting the encompassing world, common life, world outlook and religious ideas... For that, they skillfully used both materials at hand (bone, wood, wool, leather) and precious metals, stones etc. Gold casting and stamping the gold foil or plate were widespread. Gold was used to decorated or finish bone, wooden articles etc.

Scythian art represented their common life, warfare and popular games, sports and so on. The burials of tribes leaders in richest barrows near Kuban and the Black Sea coast were especially brilliant. Any leading museum of the world would be proud of or envy such exhibits as the world-wide known golden grivna from Solokha barrow, gold vase from Chertomlik barrow, as well as the consummate grivnas of Kul-Oba and Solokha barrows, a mirror from the barrow near stanitsa Kelermesskaya and many other things found in Crimea and Kuban region.

As a rule, weapons, rhitons and quivers decorated by golden laps are found in men’s burials, while the unique things of gem and precious metal (ear-rings, rings, bracelets, grivnas, diadem-like hats) are more frequent in women’s burials.

A significant place in Scythian art was occupied by the images of wild animals (lions, snow leopards, panthers, indomitable horses) and birds (eagles and griphons). Most rich decorated were Scythians’ felt carpets, kihizes, being sometime made from of many colored pieces of wool put in a definite order reproducing the variegated outlook of Scythian traditional ornament. Scythian art of making kihizes decorated with various felt appliqué work was as popular. All the ornaments, as well as the manufacturing technique and the typical usage of felt kihizes, the carpets of the Scythian type, is common in the traditional culture of Balkarians and Karachais until now, being its specifically distinctive feature.

According to the scientists of XVII–XVIII centuries, Balkarians and Karachais were already well known throughout Caucasus by their skilled feltwork in that time.

The way of life and social organization of Scythians

Life and economy of Scythian tribes was described by the Ancient Greek writers in much detail. Herodotos listed about 15 Scythian tribes, with Scythian ploughmen, i. e. peasants, nomadic Scythians, “King Scythians” and others. The scientists are unanimous in the opinion that Hellenistic Greeks referred to all the tribes of the area around the Black Sea controlled by nomadic Scythians and “King Scythians” as Scythian ploughmen, applying the name “Scythians” in a purely conventional way. As for actual ethnic Scythians, it was only nomadic Scythians, “King Scythians”, who considering the others as their slaves.

Real Scythians spent almost all their life in felt carriages with tents, their children being born here, and then growing up and living on. Boys were trained to ride from the early childhood, and all their life was to be lived in the saddle, in raids and wars. In the art of riding and horse breeding, Scythians were the best all over the Ancient World.

The main economic activity of Scythians was cultivation of cattle, mainly horses and sheep. A significant part of their income was supplied by frequent forays and ravaging the neighboring tribes, as well as military campaigns against the states adjacent to the Black-Sea region and Greek colonies on the coast of the Black Sea. Various crafts, industries, hunting and trade were well developed.

Scythian society was the historically first mobile, highly organized military patriarchal society governed by the chiefs, tribe aristocracy, military leaders and the heads of separate armed groups. The norms of behavior and the order of subordination and coordination were strictly observed in this society, with the lower chiefs controlled by those higher in the hierarchy of military aristocracy. Scythian society was the first in the history of the Northern Coast of the Black Sea and adjacent areas of Crimea, Ural, Middle Asia, Altai, Northern Caucasus and Transcaucasus consolidated state, with its specific social structure and common law.

An important place in the Scythian society was occupied by the caste of priests, including various foretellers and fortune tellers, which mastered the skill to foresee the future by the sun, the stars, natural phenomena and so on.

Scythian society was based on slavery. The dead tribe chiefs or great military leaders were buried with their slaves, concubines, captives etc.

Scythians were the first tribe to develop the tactics of short military actions and long warfare, the raids on the fortified cities and fortresses of the settled peoples.

The military history of Scythians, the ancestors of Karachai-Balkarians

Practically all the history of Scythians in the European steppes, from their first appearing there until the very end of the Scythian epoch, was related to the military and political events in these region. In the Scythian epoch, the boundless spaces of Eurasian steppes was dominated by three cognate tribes, Kimmerians, Massagets and Scythians. As Herodotos notes, Scythians were forced to migrate to the Black Sea area being pressed by their Asian kinsmen, Massagets; as a result, they encountered their other kinsmen, Kimmerians, living in the steppes near the Black Sea and Kuban, including the territory of modern Karachai. Also, Scythians always had to fight with the ancient inhabitants of the Black Sea steppes, the settled tribes native to these lands. Many of them were subordinate to Scythians, feeling the deep influence of Scythian culture, life and customs. That is why Ancient Greek authors called them Scythian too, adding various specifiers like “ploughmen”, “nomads” etc. (Figs. 4–8).

The kinship of Kimmerians and Scythians is also reflected in the Bible, where the ancestor of Kimmerians Gomer and the ancestor of Scythians Ashkuz are called brothers, the sons of Tagarm, the latter name being just the distorted name of the common Turk deity Tanhri (Teiri). We must note here that Tagarm was respected as an ancestor of the medieval Turk tribes of Khazars. Thus, the available texts indicate the kinship of Kimmerians, Scythians and Khazars. This is most important for the understanding of the ethnic history of various Turk tribes and peoples.

Scythian campaigns in Fore-Asia

The destiny of ancient civilizations in the countries of Near East and Fore-Asia was intertwined with that of Scythians. These processes had certainly been reflected in the development of the European civilization too. With time, they had been actively joined by the other countries of the Mediterranean, the steppes of Danube and Ukraine, Northern Caucasus and Transcaucasus.

Scythian leaders and the military groups greedily looked at the richest countries and great cultural centers of Fore-Asia. To reach their purpose, Scythians went to the South through Northern Caucasus and along the coast of the Black Sea. In their movement, they possibly let many North-Caucasian tribes join them. Herodotos describes the Scythian road to Fore-Asia in a rather definite way: “…with Caucasus on the right hand”. However, there is an opposite opinion that Scythians actually moved along the Western coast of Caucasus. Archeological discoveries in the tumuli of Northern Caucasus (near stanitsa Nesterovskaya, villages Nartan, Kamennomostskoye, Lower Chegem etc.) and Transcaucasus dated by I millennium BC confirm Herodotos’ words, as these tumuli were shown to contain things belonging to Scythians, such as weapons, harness elements, decorations etc., and the burials following the Scythian rite. In Transcaucasus, such relics were found in the tumulus near village Kudanurkha near Gudauta. During this campaign, Scythians ruined Teishebaini, the principal fortress of Urartu, Karkemish in Northern Syria, fortresses near lake Urmia and others. In Transcaucasus, Scythians united in a powerful political formation playing an important role in the political life of the area on the edge of VII century BC In the Prophet Jeremy’s Book, which is more apt to use historical data than other parts of the Bible, Scythians are characterized as “people severe and relentless, coming from the North”. Jeremy paid much attention to Scythian invasion in Israel. He wrote: “And I shall bring on you, the house of Israel, people from far away, people strong, people old, people whose language you do not know and will not understand what they say. Their quivers are like an open coffin, all of them are brave. And they will eat your harvest and your bread, and their sons and daughters, and your sheep and oxen, and your grapes and figs, and they will ruin the fortified cities of yours which you trust with their sword”. All these prophecies have been accomplished by Scythians in full, having ravaged and ruined many cities of Fore-Asia. In the 70’s of VII century BC, Scythians led by king Ishpak assaulted Assiria. Assarhadon, the king of Assiria, managed to make peace with Scythians. He even agreed to give his daughter in marriage to Partatua (Partutai), the king of Scythians. To appreciate this historical fact in full, one should recall that Assiria was the largest and strongest power of that time. Soon after that, Scythians went on to the South and reached Palestine Syria. They intended to go to Egypt from there, but pharaoh Psametich I (663–616 BC) went to meet them and “to dissuade them from going on” with his gifts. Scythians, by the words of Herodotos, stayed in Asia for 28 years and devastated it all by their violence and excess. For, besides levying “the tribute they imposed to all the peoples from every one of them, they also used to foray and plunder, taking away everything that every people might have”. Comparing the terms of Scythian’s staying in Asia as reported by Herodotos with the data from Oriental documents and the political history as conveyed by the Ancient tradition, some scientists conclude that that Scythians could stay in Asia much longer than for 28 years. Most probably, the part of Scythians could settle in Fore-Asia. The peoples of Fore-Asia knew that they came from the North, from the Northern Coast of the Black Sea through the steppes of Northern Caucasus and along the Western coast of Caucasus. Scythian’s staying in Fore-Asia could not fail to get reflected in the culture and language of both Scythians and the peoples they encountered.

Dareios’ campaigns against Scythians

After having plundered and by destroyed many cities and states of Fore-Asia, Scythians returned to their lands in Fore-Caucasus and near the Black Sea coast. But their return was not too joyful. A great state-scale internecine war flared up in Scythia, as the wives of Scythian warriors got engaged in sexual intercourse with their slaves in the absence of their husbands. Scythian youth born from the slaves and Scythian wives decided to fight against Scythians returning from Media. They cut off their land with a wide fosse. On any attempt of Scythians to intrude, they went out and fought against them. Many Scythians assaults failed to succeed, but eventually Scythians managed to win their slaves and their offspring, adopting a different tactics.

Scythia of that time was a wide political association consisting of a few almost independent parts, severe wars often occurring between them.

In the end of VI century BC, Scythia got drawn into the orbit of global politics once again. The most powerful state of that time, united under the dominance of Persia and extending from Fore-Asia and Asia Minor to India, raised war on Scythians. In the head of the huge Persian army stood Dareios, who had made a long preparatory work to organize and mobilize the forces for the invasion to Scythia, as though in revenge for ravaging Fore-Asia during the 28-year-long staying there after their invasion there 150 years before.

Around 513 BC, big Dareios’ army began the campaign against Scythians. By the Herodotos’ words, the army of Dareios consisted of 700 thousand people and 600 ships. Crossing Danube (Istros) via a bridge built by the Greeks of Asia-Minor for that purpose, Dareios entered the limits of Scythia. Realizing that they can not win such a huge army in open fight, Scythians resorted to their old “partisan” methods of waging war. Having made a lightning raid on an isolated Persian detachment, they disappeared in unbounded steppes, avoiding open fight.

Persians could win no battle and have lost much of their army and loot. Angry Dareios sent a messengers to Scythian king Idantirs, to carry the words: “…If you think you are strong enough to resist my force, why do you run from me all the time? Stop your wandering and fight with me…” The Scythian king answered on that: “If Persians want to get in the battle, let them dare to find and ruin the graves of our fathers, and then Persians would see what can Scythian warriors do in the battle. And you will yet pay for that you called yourself my master”.

Soon after that, Persian and Scythian armies stood against each other for a resolute fight. At that moment, Herodotos says, a hare ran between the Scythian ranks. Scythians, abandoning their weapons and paying no attention to Persians ready to fight, ran after that hare trying to catch it. Being informed about that, Dareios said: “These people treat with much neglect, and now it is clear, that we cannot win Scythians in the battle”. With the approaching of the night, Dareios had to run away from Scythia, leaving the camp of his weakened warriors. Thus Dareios’ attempt to subdue Scythians failed (Fig. 5).

Concerning the culture-historical heritage of Scythians in the culture of Karachai-Balkarians, it might be mentioned, that an eminent sociology scientist M. M. Kowalewski, world-wide known as an expert in the laws and customs of Caucasian peoples of XIX century, excavated ancient burials near settlement Billim in Balkaria in 1885. During the work, the Balkarian workers saw a hare running and, abandoning their instruments, rushed to catch this hare and, after having caught it, played with it and then let it go. This scene produced such a strong impression on the famous scientist, that he could not find any analogy to this fact in the Caucasian medium and was naturally lead to a comparison with the hare game from Scythian history.

The episode with hare described, and the Scythian-Karachai-Balkarian parallels indicated above, are complemented with other facts. Thus, for example, it could be noted that many Turk peoples, including Karachais and Balkarians, know a very popular game of alchiks (austragals). As it is well known, archeologists often find such dices in many ancient pit burials of shepherds. In later burials of II millennium BC, archeologists found alchiks in children’s graves, for example, in the barrow near village Kishpek and other places of Kabardino-Balkaria. Similar alchiks are often found in the Bronze-Age relics in Middle Asia too. It is interesting, that alchiks made of rock crystal have also been found in Shumerian town Ur in the relics of III millennium BC Considering these facts, it should be noted that archeologists found bronze alchiks in Scythian barrows of Kabardino-Balkaria dated by VI century BC Such parallels are of importance in the description of the history and culture of Balkarians and Karachais.

The struggle of Scythian king Atheios with Philip of Macedonia

One of the most famous events from the history of Scythia on its Western boundaries is the deeds of the outstanding Scythian king Atheios, who is considered to be the founder of Scythian slave-owning state. Yet in a middle of IV century BC, Atheios occupied the right side of Danube in a quite solid way. This territory was known among Ancient authors under the name of Scythia Minor, in contrast to the main Scythia on the banks of Dnieper and in the steppes of the Northern coast of the Black Sea. Atheios lead an active policy in this region. Written sources have kept the story about Atheios addressing the citizens of the Greek city Byzanth and threatening to water his horses under the walls of the city. His remarkable victory over the tribes of this region is well known as well. The important place in the military and political history of Scythians belongs to the war between Atheios and Philip II of Macedonia, the father of famous Alexander of Macedonia.

In the end of one of the episodes of Scythian war with the nearby tribes, when the situation was not favorable to Scythians, Atheios asked Philip for help. Philip agreed to help Atheios, but put forward the condition: Atheios would have to make Philip his heir, so that Philip would get Scythia after Atheios’ death. Atheios was already almost 90 at that time. However Atheios refused to accept such a condition saying that he already had a successor. After that, the relations between them got aggravated, and Philip began war with Scythians. Atheios himself directed his army in the principal battle of this war, but Scythians lost the battle and Atheios died on the battle-field.

The Atheios’ struggle surprisingly reminds the Karachai-Balkarian Nart epic telling of the struggle of epic hero prince Achei with the tribes hostile to Narts. The names Atheios and Achei are definitely identical.

The time of Atheios’ rule was the apex of Scythian power, the time of its maximum strength. The death of Atheios and his defeat in the war with Philip were the beginning of the decline of Scythia as one of the most powerful states of I millennium BC The battle in which Atheios perished, took place in 339 BC Eight years later, Macedonia gave Scythia one more shattering blow. The domination of Scythians on the coasts of the Black Sea moved to decline and eventually finished in ruin. In II century BC, the successors of Scythians enter the scene of history. Among these successors, Hun-Bulgarians and Sarmats should be mentioned first of all. With the decay of Scythian power, the second stage of the ethnogenesis of Balkarians and Karachais has come to the end.




Hun-Bulgarian tribes were the successors of Scythians by all the culture and consanguinity indications. The basic ethnic reference, the burial rite of Scythians and Huns, was strikingly uniform: the same barrows, burial frames of logs and thick timbers, burial blocks, sacrificial horses etc. The relics of Hun burials are well known on the whole space of the former Scythian territory: on the coast of the Black Sea, along Danube (so called Scythia Minor), in Northern Caucasus and other areas. Rather typical Hun monuments have been excavated on the territory of Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachai-Cherkessia too. Very interesting findings have been made by archeologists near village Kishpek in the valley of river Baksan, in the settlement Baital-Chapkan in Karachai etc.

Huns of Northern Caucasus

According to the early medieval authors, a powerful political union of Turk tribes headed by Huns existed in Northern Caucasus, especially in Seaside Daghestan. The reign of Huns strongly influenced all the aspects of historical, military and political development in Caucasus, Transcaucasus and Near East.

There is a commonly shared opinion in science that Huns were the Asian tribes known in III century BC by Chinese sources under the name “shiung-nu”. But there are no traces of forming an ethnocultural type of Huns in neither II not III millennium BC in Central-Asian steppes, where Huns suddenly appear in III century BC, already as a highly organized state ruled by a king and military leaders, with the well-formed administrative and military structures. And as long as no ethnic roots can be discovered, the assertion that Huns formed and developed as ethnos (nationality) in Central-Asian spaces does not sound quite plausible.

Most likely, Huns originated from the ancient pit-Afanasiev tribes, penetrating to the depths of Central Asia from between Volga and Ural. That is why they, later on, so often directed their military campaigns to these regions, i. e. to their ancient land of origin.

Otherwise, it would be difficult to scientifically justify that lightning leap of Huns in III century BC through all the Eurasian zone with its variegated population, so that, already in I century BC, they could dominate over all the Caspian lands, as Dionisios Periegetos says; even less justifiable would be their forming a state in Seaside Daghestan, spreading down to Danube, organizing there Attila’s power, crashing the Roman empire. All such questions provoke many doubts which do not allow to consider the abovementioned hypothesis of Central Asian origin of Huns justified. The history of early Huns and their origin requires further study.

There is very important for the history of Karachai-Balkarian people information about so-called “Caucasian Huns” of the Caspian lands. Yet in 60’s of III century, Caucasian Huns served in the Persian army, and in 90’s of the same century, Armenian sources write about Hun wars in Fore-Caucasus. Moreover, one of the Sasanid (Persian) inscriptions dated by 293 mentions the name of one of Turk khakans from Caucasus. In 363, Armenian, Roman and Persian authors write about the necessity of fortifying Caucasian passages, especially Derbent passage, against Hun hordes, making repeated raids and campaigns against Persians , Armenians and the peoples of Middle East. These events made Sasanid Iran to build Derbent fortifications, which Turks called “Temir-Kapu”, iron gates.

Thus, yet before the epoch preceding Huns’ invasion in Europe, they appear as mercenaries or hostile groups and stay in Northern Caucasus, creating their own state. Arabian and Persian authors mention town Varachan, or Belenjer, as the capital of this state, in the valley of river Sulak near village Upper Chir-Ürt in Daghestan. Some later authors refer to this town, or country, Balanjar as the native land of Khazars. Indeed, there were the ancestors Khazars among the Hun tribes, calling themselves Basils (“Bas”, head; “il” or “el”, people—that is, the ruling people).

The written sources describe Huns as riders “merged with their horses”. By the words of Ancient writers and historians, they “gallop in all directions, without any order, with unexpected back raids…” and “fight with spears with sharp bone heads, and fight headlong with their swords in the hand-to-hand combat and, evading the blows, catch their enemies with the strong woven arkans”. In written sources, Huns get identified with Scythians and Kimmerians, and specifically compared the so-called “King Scythians”. Such an identification is supported by the fact that the ethnonym of Scythians “As-kishi”, or its stem “as” is retained in written sources, especially the old Georgian documents, in the Huns’ name as “ovs”, “os”. Huns were called so in V century, during their raids in Georgia in the time of king Vakhtang. The word “ovs” of the Georgian sources is actually a slightly deformed name of a Turk tribe “As”.

Huns in Europe. Attila’s reign

The invasion of Huns in South-Russian steppes and the spaces of Europe shook the whole world of numerous ancient ethnic formations of that region. In history, these events have been given a quite justified name of “the great migration of peoples”. Hun invasion was one of the factors of the disintegration of formerly powerful Roman empire, dominating over the whole world. In the descriptions of Hun campaigns of the end of IV century (375), history is often influenced by the views of an average Roman, who saw only “savage barbarians” in Huns. It should be noted, that the Roman empire of that time was already being torn in pieces by internal struggle.

The pre-European phase of Huns’ history is poorly studied, though it attracted attention of scientists during XVII–XIX centuries. Without doubt, Huns came to Europe from the East, from across the Don and Asov Sea, and their language was of the Turk group.

In the Danube steppes, on the territory of the former Scythia Minor, Huns created a new state headed by the legendary chief Attila, whose name is derived by scientists from the Turk word “ata”, father. In V century, Attila pursued a most active policy in Europe, subduing many European tribes and peoples to his power, so that nobody could contradict him in the solution of the complicated international problems of the time.

In the old age, Attila married a beautiful girl and died on the nuptial night. His sons did not follow the rules established by their father, and every one of them, supported by the peoples subject to him, claimed for supreme authority. This lead them to intestine wars and eventually to the decay of the great power built by their father, which made all the Europe shudder.

Hun descendants in Northern Caucasus

One of the authoritative representatives of Byzantine historical science Prokopios of Caesarea (V century) wrote that the shores of Asov Sea and Don were inhabited by tribes, which “were called Kimmerians in the old times, and now are called Utihurs”. Concerning the latter tribes, it should be said that one of Hun kings had two sons, Utihur and Kuturhur. After the death of their father, the tribes subject to them consolidated into two separate tribes, Authors and Kuturhurs, which became the two ethnic components of ancient Bulgarians. Many scientists share this opinion and consider Bulgarians as representatives of one of the branches of Huns, who, after the decay of Attila’s power, settled in Scythia Minor between Danube and Dniester under the rule of the favorite son of Attila, Irnik, mentioned in the Nominalia of Bulgarian Princes, in IX century.

Bulgarians were known not only in the steppes of the Western coast of the Black Sea, but also in Fore-Caucasus and near Volga. The earliest information about Caucasian Bulgarians (Bulkars) was met in the old Armenian texts. They say that Armenian king Vaharshak (reigned between 149 and 127 years BC) invited the tribes, “living on the northern slope at the foot of the Great Caucasian Mountain, in valleys, in deep long canyons, extending from the Southern Mountain up to the mouth of the Great Plain, and ordered them not to be engaged in robbery and stealing cattle and people…”

Under Arshak I (between 127–114 BC), the son of Vaharshak, continues the source, “great discord rose in the range of the great Caucasian mountain in the land of Bulgarians, so that many of them fell apart and came to our land and settled on the South from Koh, in the fertile and grain-producing places for a long time”. Where those Bulgarians lived, there is still a river called “Bulgar-chaie”, Bulgarian river.

Thus, Armenian sources, well informed about the neighbors of Armenia and ethnopolitical and geographical situation, assert that early Caucasian Bulgarians already lived in the mountains, canyons and foothills in II century BC And the highlands of Caucasus were referred to as “the land of Bulgarians”.

These data are supported by that, as noted above, Huns were organized in a strong political formation in Northern Caucasus already in III century, and, by the words of Procopios of Caesarea, Huns led by Bazuk (“Bazik”—stout, powerful) and Ambazuk (“Embazyk”—the most stout, powerful) held the Darial passage in Transcaucasus in V century. Also, by the words of the Syrian author of VI century Zacharius the Rhethor, Bulgarians lived the territory of the former Hun state to the north of Derbent, being actually the descendants of Huns.

Great Bulgaria, the reign of Kubrat

Bulgarian tribes lived in Northern Caucasus from II century BC This follows from the written documents, but, taking into account that various tribes get fixed in the written sources not in the very moment they appear on that territory but much later, when they take a significant part in some historical events, it should be suggested that Bulgarians lived in Caucasus much earlier.

From III to VI century, there existed a Hun state in North-Eastern Caucasus, in Seaside Daghestan, from which Khazar Kahanat originated, later including almost all the Turk tribes of Northern Caucasus and the South of Russia. In V–VI centuries, an old Bulgarian state called in the Byzantine texts the “Great Bulgaria” formed in North-Western Caucasus, and first of all along Kuban (Fig. 11). Thus, Northern Caucasus of III–VI centuries was controlled by two Turk state conglomerates: that of Huns in the North-East, and the Bulgarian state in the North-West of Fore-Caucasus.

In V–VI centuries, the whole steppe Eurasia was engaged in permanent wars between the two largest associations of Turk tribes, the Eastern Kahanat in the depths of Central and Middle Asia and the Western Kahanat on the West of Sir-Daria and Ural, up to Danube and Northern Caucasus.

But internecine wars for superiority were also waged between the major kins within each of Kahanat. In the West-Turk Kahanat, it were the Ashina and Dulo kins. Their fighting in 630–631 significantly weakened this power and enabled some tribes to get free from the dominance of the Kahanat. Bulgarians were among the first to seize this opportunity, and they behaved as an independent tribe union already in 582–584.

Their leader was a rather far-sighted prince Kubrat. He was baptized and educated in Byzanth, where he lived for many years and had close connections with the court of Konstantinopolis and, as a Bulgarian governor, pursued his own policy protecting Bulgarians against the increasing Khazar power. Konstantinopolis also needed a reliable buffer separating it from the Khazars on the Eastern boundaries.

In 635, Kubrat united all the Asov and Fore-Caucasian Bulgarian tribes in an integral Great Bulgaria. Overall government of Kubrat is dated by 584–642. The written sources, coming from Byzanth, where Kubrat was always received with warmth and hospitality, tell that he ruled for almost 60 years.

In the very beginning of VII century, powerful Khazar conglomerate overrode Bulgarians. After the death of Kubrat, his sons Batbai, Kotrag and Asparukh separated, each settling in his own land with the subject tribes: Asparukh lived on Danube, on the territory of the former Scythia Minor, where Attila once dominated; Kotrag went up-river along Don and then to Volga, to the territory where the ancient nomadic culture of pra-Turk tribes formed somewhere deep in millennia. The eldest son of Kubrat, Batbai (Batian, Basian) remained in the native fatherland and soon surrendered to Khazars (Fig. 12).

According to Khazars themselves, as well as the scientists, experts in Khazar history, and Byzantine and Oriental authors, Khazars and Bulgarians were practically the same people and spoke one language. Medieval texts say that there were four kins of Caucasian or Kuban Bulgarians: Kupi-Bulgarians, Duchi-Bulgarians, Oghondor-Bulgarians, Chdar-Bulgarians. Noting that ancient Turk tribes often called themselves by the names of the rivers, scientists see the reflection of this tradition in these names too. But the guesses do not usually go beyond that one should mean Kuban Bulgarians under Kupi-Bulgarians, and there is no convincing explanation for the remaining terms. We suppose that Oghondor-Bulgarians were some Turk tribes living on the river Orkhon and later assimilated by Bulgarians. Duchi-Bulgarians are read by some authors as Kuchi-Bulgarians. In this case their name means the Turk tribes living on rivers Ku (Swan) and Chu. It might be the tribes Ku-kishi and Chu-kishi, i. e. “people from Ku and Chu”.

Some authors relate the name of Bulgarian tribe “Utigor” to the ethnonym of Digorians, who, by the words of Oriental scientists Rashid ad-Din and Makhmud of Kashgar, were a branch of Oguz Turks. In the “tsocking” dialect of Karachai-Balkarians and Digor languages, the word Chdar would sound as Tsdar (or Star, Stur). But this word means “big” (as in the name of a Digor settlement “Stur-Digora”—Big Digora). So, the name Chdar-Bulgaria must means “Bulgaria Major”, which is equivalent to “Ullu Malkar”, i. e. Great Malkar (Great Balkaria).

Ethnotoponymic heritage of Hun-Bulgarians and Khazars

The name of one of the Hun branches and Bulgarian tribe Kuturgu has left its trace in Balkaria, in the name of one of the most old settlements of Chegem canyon, Güdürgü. The name of Huns Masaha has remained as the name of Misak, a legendary hero and the ancestor of some Balkarian patronymic divisions.

The name of Khazars has remained in Balkaria in the name of a medieval town discovered near village Billim and studied in the 1930s. The settlement, or town, was called “Khazar-kala” (the excavators spelled it as “Gatsar-kala”). Khazar king Joseph wrote in IX century, that, in the South of Khazaria near Georgia, in high mountains, lived Khazar tribes called “Basi” or “Bas”. The name of this tribe is reflected in the name of another legendary hero of Balkarians, Basiat, which later became the designation of the aristocratic social elite in Balkaria, basiat. Probably, the Georgian name of Balkarians, Basiani, originates from the same tribe of Bas. The very name of modern Bulgarians is a self-reference of Balkarians even now. The name “Balkar” is known to all the neighboring peoples, coming to the Russian documents of the beginning of XVII century from them. The word “Malkar” equivalent to the name “Balkar” refers to inhabitants of Cherek canyon only, for the inhabitants of other canyons. Besides, some linguists assert that the language of Bulgarians is of the “tsocking” type, like the Balkarian dialect of Cherek canyon.

The names of some branches and tribal groups of Bulgarians remain in the names of Karachai-Balkarian settlements: Chilmas, Bulungu, Hurzuk, Uchkulan, Bitturgu, Billim and many others.

The name of Bulgarian king Asparukh means in Karachai-Balkarian “Proud”, “Majestic” (derived from “ospar”). In Danubean Bulgaria, there are, for example, such hydronyms as Kam-chai (Kamchia), which means “river Kam”. A similar river name exists in Upper Chegem. In Bulgaria, there is a settlement called Karnovat, which corresponds to the name of an old Balkarian settlement in upper reaches of Cherek, Kurnaiat. The name of Karachai settlement Mara coincides with the name of a Bulgarian country. Also, the name of Bulgarian country “Karachala obasi” means “Karachai graves”. There are quite a lot of such facts.

Archeological indications to Bulgarians in Balkaria and Karachai

The main population of Khazar Kahanat in the South-Russian and Fore-Caucasian steppes was the Turk-speaking tribes of Bulgarians and Alans. Somewhere in the end of 30s of VIII century, Khazars moved their capital from Seaside Daghestan to Volga. Probably, they were driven to the ancient land of origin of pra-Turk tribes between Volga and Ural, beside the external pressure of Khazar-Arabian wars, by the “voice of blood”.

The largest archeological monument of Khazar Kahanat in Northern Caucasus is the well-known Bulgarian town of Humara on the right bank of Kuban near settlement Humara. This fortified town was surrounded by a strong stone wall, which was from 3.5 to 6 meters thick. The life was active on this site during VIII–X centuries, though some traces of settlements ascend there to the deep antiquity.

In Humara, archeologists have excavated many kinds of dwellings, from stone buildings to nomadic yurts and half-dugouts. Numerous types of old burials have been described, such as stone vaults, rock burials, ground-dug graves and others. It should be noted that many graves had the bottom covered with felt, which reminds the same burial tradition of nomads in Northern Caucasus in III millennium BC

Near Humara, many runic inscriptions left by Turks have been found, which are phonetically close to “tsocking” dialect of Karachai-Balkarian.

All the findings known, as well as the data of written sources, speak that Humara was a largest military-political and culture-economic center of Caucasian Bulgarians and the Khazar Kahanat in general.

Numerous archeological traces of Bulgarians are known all around Humara. More than 10 Bulgarian settlements near Kislovodsk should be mentioned, as well as in the country Tagamtsik, in the head of Indish (in the area of Indish-bashi, Jashirin-kala etc.), on the river Ullu-kam (the source of Kuban) in Karachai.

As numerous Bulgarian antiquities are known in Balkaria, such as the settlements near villages Lower Chegem and Lashkuta, the burials near village Kashkha-tau, a settlement and graves near village Upper Chegem and others. Similar findings have been made near the so-called Elkhot gate, near village Arhudan on the territory of present Northern Ossetia, and near Maisky city on the territory of modern Kabarda.

The traces of Bulgarians in the traditional culture of Balkarians and Karachais

Judging by the constructions on the site of old town near Humara and other archeological sites, ancient Bulgarians were prominent masters of stone architecture. They skillfully cut stone, making huge stone blocks tightly fit to each other in the foundations of their buildings. This skill of ancient Bulgarians, reflected in the monuments of Balkaria and adjacent regions, has been in a quite full measure preserved at modern Balkarians, and especially in Cherek canyon. Maybe this is why other Balkarians call them “hunachi malkarlila”, that is, Balkarian masons.

Another specific feature of the material culture of Bulgarians was constructing frame dwellings of whole-tree logs. This peculiarity is exactly reproduced in Karachai, being just a distinctive feature of Karachais in modern ethnography of Caucasus, though frame buildings are occasionally met in Baksan and, less often, Chegem canyons adjacent to Karachai. Such dwellings are unknown in Eastern Caucasus.

A very important Bulgarian-Karachai parallel is that Asparukh Bulgarians called the place of their first settlement on Danube “Eski-Jurt”, i. e. old native land. This is exactly the name of the settlement founded by the legendary Karachai ancestor Karchi in the upper reaches of river Archiz.

The traditional culture of Karachais and Balkarians is replete with many such Bulgarian parallels. For instance, this refers to felt articles, the elements of the clothes (fur edging of caftans, wide dresses resembling kimono, shirts, rug shawls called just like in Karachai-Balkarian, “jauluk”), as well as women’s decorations (such as the earrings in the form of the question mark), and so on.

There is also much in common in the traditional food, like sour milk, airan etc.

Hun-Bulgarians and Khazars in the genealogical legends of Balkarians and Karachais

The legend about the origin of Balkarians tells how a hunter called Malkar, while hunting a deer, encountered an Alpine settlement of mountaineers “Taulu” situated in a beautiful mountain valley. Malkar lived in peace with them. Soon, some Miasma came to them from the Daghestan plains (the Huns’ ethnonym “Massaha” can be easily read in that name). Having perfidiously seized the sister of Malkar brothers, he brought all his tribe there. Then two brothers, Basiat and Badinat came to them from North-Caucasian steppes. Basiat stayed in Balkaria and became the ancestor of Balkarian princes, while Badinat went to the neighboring Digoria. This was how the “malkar el”, i. e. Balkarian society, finally formed.

This legend reflects quite scientifically explainable process of the formation of Balkarian people as a mixture of local tribes and Bulgarians, Huns and Khazars. The latter are reminded by the name of the legendary Basiat (“Basi” is Khazar for “tribe”, “at” is the Turk plural indicator).

Badinat, having gone to Digoria, married a Karachai princess of the Krimshaukhalov family, and seven sons were born from this marriage: Kubat, Tugan, Abisal, Kaban, Chegem, Karajai, Betui. They became the ancestors of the seven prince families of Digoria. So Balkarian, Karachai and Digorian princes appear to be relatives.

All the facts presented in this section, as well as other materials, leave no doubt that Hun-Bulgarian and Khazar tribes have contributed into the formation of Karachai-Balkarian people. One more, and very important, (third) stage of the genesis of Balkarians and Karachais is associated with that.




Like Hun-Bulgarians, Alan-Asses were the ethnic offspring of Scythian-Sarmat tribes. Alans, calling themselves “Asses” and called so in some written sources too, were known in Northern Caucasus from the first centuries AD But their significant spreading there began only in IV century. Still, they did not play any important political role in that region in IV–VII centuries, when the tribes of Hun-Bulgarians and Khazars dominated.

Only after the complete decay of the Khazar Kahanat in the middle of IX century, the conditions became more favorable for Alans, and they entered the scene of history as a leading force in Northern Caucasus, beginning to play an active role in the international relations between Byzanth, Caucasus and the South of Russia (Fig. 9).

Alan population of Northern Caucasus

As we have already said, Alans were known in Northern Caucasus yet since the first centuries AD Their presence there has been indicated by Roman writers, poets and scientists. But the large-scale spreading of Alans on the territories of Northern Caucasus occurred in IV century, under the pressure of Hun tribes. Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus, living in that time, wrote about the events of 353–378 that many tribes speaking different languages lived around the Asov Sea (Meotian Morass), including Yaksamats, Meotians, Yazigs, Roxalans, Alans, Melanhlens, Helons, Ahaphirs. Huns, gradually subduing all the tribes known in the European steppes in that time, finally reached the lands of “Alans, former Massagets ”, as he specifically noted. It is well established in science that Massagets were the ancestors of Turkmen. This is one of the indications that Alans originally were Turk-speaking.

The mass findings of Alan archeological monuments in Northern Caucasus refers to the period from VII to XII centuries, especially on the territory of Central Fore-Caucasus, though the Alan burials of earlier times are known in this region too. Ousting Alans from Kuban lands, the territory of modern Karachai, was caused by the increasing strength of Bulgarian and then Khazar tribes there. Alans were forced to concentrate in the upper reaches of Terek, and specifically at the Darial passage and in Digoria. From VII to IX centuries, the name of Alans almost disappeared from the pages of the old written sources, since the most active military and political events mainly concerned Arabs, Khazars and Byzantines. Some other tribes, originally inhabiting Northern Caucasus, got involved in these events too, including the descendants of Scythians, Bulgarians, Huns and others.

Archeological monuments of Alans are known on the territory of Karachai in the settlement Baital-Chapkan, near Kislovodsk, on the banks of Baksan, Chegem, near Nalchik, at the Elkhot gate, in the head of Terek, at the Darial passage, in Digoria, on the lower Terek, near Maisky and in other places.

Culture and life of Alan tribes

As the offspring of nomads (Scythians), Alans retained in their traditionally way of life and culture all the main elements of life and world outlook of their ancient ancestors, “pitters” and Sarmats. By the words of a contemporary to them ancient authors, Alans, as the true nomads, roamed over the huge spaces with all their belongings, families and so on. As Ammianus Marcellinus wrote, they had no shelter, no care for raising corn, they fed on meat and milk, lived in carriages with “bent covers of bark attached, drawing them in the boundless steppes”. “Almost all Alans are tall”, he continued, “and beautiful, with slightly fair hair. They are frightening by their well-composed and menacing look, being very mobile due to the lightness of their arms (bows, arrows, spears, etc.—aut.), and they are like Huns in every respect, save an easier and more cultural way of life… By the barbaric (i. e. Hun—aut.) custom, they stick a sword in the ground and worship it as Mars, the protector of the lands where they rove… They predict the future by the withes collected in a definite time. They do not know slavery, being all of equally noble birth, and, up to now, they elect the people, long distinguished in battles for their judges, chiefs and rulers”, Ammianus Marcellinus, one of the Roman experts in the history and culture of nomadic tribes, concludes.

This was the nomadic phase of Alan history. With their gradual “getting to the ground”, with the transition to settled life, their culture and household significantly changed. First, they began to dig earth fosses and ramparts around their permanent settlements, then they passed to stone architecture, beginning to build lodgings on the stone basement, make stone burials (crypts, graves etc.). Gradually, they got involved in cultivating grain, agriculture, gardening, cultivating cattle, processing the products of agriculture and cattle-breeding.

With the fall of the Khazar Kahanat under the blows from Arabs and Russes, the role of Alans in the international politics increased. Christianity began to penetrate to them from Byzanth. At Alans, this ecumenical religion got tightly interlaced with the relics of pagan notions. Thus, their culture knew a direct continuation of pagan rites and ideas, such as the Scythian worship of the godly sword and Huns’ sword worshipping as god’s gift to Attila, the Scythian-Hun habit of predicting the future by the withes, etc. Thus, Alans borrowed their way of life, household and cultural traditions from their ancient nomad ancestors.

With the decay of the Khazar Kahanat, the Alan tribes got consolidated in a powerful early medieval state, actively influencing the whole history of Caucasus, Crimea, Danube and Transcaucasus. In the 20s of X century, Alans adopted Christianity, and Christian culture began to flourish in Alania, with the construction of the oldest (older than in Novgorod) temples on river Arkhiz, on Zelenchuk, on the town site of Eski-Jurt (Upper Arkhiz) and other regions of Karachai and Balkaria and adjacent territories (Fig. 16).

Christianity spread and grew in Northern Caucasus up to the Golden Horde gain foot there. In XIV century, early Moslem mosques were built on the place of the former Christian churches, at the Elkhot gate, in the Tatar-tup area, on the town site of Lower Julat, near Maisky in Kabardino-Balkaria and other places. Christian churches functioned in Balkaria and Karachai up to the end of XVII century.

It should be held in mind, that in Alania, as well as in Balkaria and Karachai, Christianity was rather mixed with the relics of paganism.

In Alania, applied art was highly developed, depicting the contents of various myths and legends. Archeological findings speak that there was an unmatched flourish of stone-cutting, bone-cutting, tannery, woodworking and wool industry, mining, as well as making various things of precious stones and metals, manufacturing weapon (bows, arrows, spears, knifes, daggers and sabers).

Trade was highly developed in Alania too. They had business with Byzanth, Arabian countries, Georgia, Armenia, the countries of Eastern Europe, Middle and Central Asia.

Alans as the ancestors of Balkarians and Karachais

According to Roman authors, Alans were “the former Massagets”; modern science has established complete identity of Massagets and Turkmen. Hence, Alans were a Turk tribe. This fact can also corroborated by that there is a separate tribal group called Alans has remained among the modern Turkmen up to now. The names of these Alan kins are interesting to recall: Mirshi-kar, Boluk-aul , Eshek, Aiak-Char, Kara-mogul, Tokuz, Ker, Belke etc. Alan tribal groups live also in Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan and Altai. Among the Altai tribes, there is a tribal group called “Alandan kelgen ”, i. e. “those who came from the plain”.

Moreover, the word “alan” conveys the idea of “plain” or “valley” in many Turk languages.

The nearest neighbors of Karachais, Megrelians, refer to Karachais as Alans up to now. No Caucasian nationality uses this ethnonym, except Balkarians and Karachais. The word “alan” is used by Balkarians and Karachais to address each other, in the sense of “kinsman”, “tribesman”. In addition to these facts, the identity of Alans and Karachai-Balkarians is asserted by the Byzantine written sources, which refer to the territory of Karachai as Alania. The tradition to call exactly this region Alania remained in the geographical maps of Caucasus up to XVIII–XIX centuries, even in the period of the construction of the Strategic Georgian Road through Vladikavkaz.

An irrefutable arguments for the hypothesis of Turk-speaking Alans and their leading role in the formation of Karachai-Balkarian people are provided by the so-called “Zelenchuk inscription”, dated by XII century, found in the Karachai settlement “Eski-Jurt” (Upper Arkhiz), and the “Alan salutation” quoted by Byzantine poet of XII century Iohannes Ceces. In the Zelenchuk inscription, there are quite discernible common Turk words and terms: “ata jurt”—native land, “belünüb”—separating, “zil”—year; “de”—tell, “Teiri”—the supreme Turk deity Tenhri, “Tsakhirif”—calling, “alan ürtlaga”—to the valley settlements, “bahatar”—hero and so on. In a few words, the inscription tells how a few tribes once gathered and, having called to the god, decided to move to the plain. The inscription points to the disintegration of the tribe union.

In “Alan salutation” as quoted by Iohannes Ceces, there are also easily read Karachai-Balkarian phrases not met at any other people (idiomatic expressions), such as “Oi üiünge!”, and such words as “kün”—day, “hosh”—kind, “kaitif”—returning, “katin”—mistress and others. All the other attempts to read these documents, inserting letters absent in them, rearranging words and letters and forcing the text in other ways, did not give anything comforting, except senseless conglomerations of separate words or personal names. The available historical and ethnographic materials as well as linguistic data definitely tell that Alans were a Turk-speaking tribe, being one of the main components in the formation of Balkarians and Karachais.

Who were Asses

Word “as” means in Turk languages “to stray”, “to lose the road”, “to wander”, which is almost identical to the notion “nomadic way of life”. It is due to this meaning that Ancient Greeks used the name “Asia” for the Kuban steppes, where they first encountered ancient nomadic sheep breeders, the representatives of the pit (barrow) culture; later, with the migration of these nomads to various regions, the name “Asia” began to refer to Middle Asia, Fore-Asia and Asia Minor.

Word “as/az” was reflected in an ethnonym of the descendants of ancient barrowers, Scythians, as “As-kishi” (“Ashkuzi”). The name As-kishi was retained in some later names of Turk tribes in Crimea, Middle and Central Asia. Moreover, there are rather direct written indications that “Asses” were identical to Scythians and Sarmats (Ptolomaios, II century AD; Stephanos of Byzanth, VI century AD).

As one of the leading subdivisions, Asses were represented among the descendants of Scythians, early Bulgarians. One of the women of As-Bulgarians was married to Russian prince Andrey Bogolyubsky. The son of Andrey Bogolyubsky and “yasinya” (Bulgarian woman in old Russian), Yuri, married Georgian queen Tamar.

One of the leading and respectable Alan tribes were Asses called “Dagsas”, that is, “Mountain Asses”.

In XIV century the Turk tribes of Asses were known in the Darial canyon and in Crimea. Conqueror Timur fought with the As people in the mountains of Central Caucasus, on territory Balkaria and Karachai, in the end XIV century.

Balkarians are called Asses by their geographical and historical neighbors, Iranian-speaking Ossetians. Moreover, they call Balkaria by the word term “Assiag”, while Karachai is called “Stur-Assiag”, that is, Great Asia. Knowing these facts, it is difficult to believe that Asses were the ancestors of Ossetians. There were no people in the history that would call other people by their own name.

The facts described above are related to that Turks Asses are often mentioned in the old Turk inscriptions already in VIII century. Their name is often mentioned to refer to the tribes of Turgesh, Kirgiz and other Turks in the valley of river Chu. Also, Makhmud of Kashgar, the author of XI century, named Asses among the Turk peoples. An old Russian chronicler, well informed about Turk peoples of XII century, clearly wrote that Asses are akin to Pechenegs by their language. Some kinds of Asses are known among Nogai, Altai, Kirgiz, Kazakh and other Turk peoples up to now. All this indicates that the most ancient ethnonym associated with to the earliest nomadic sheep breeders more than 5000 years ago, through Scythians, Bulgarians and Alans came to our days in the name of Balkarians and Karachais. Asses were the direct ancestors of Karachai-Balkarians.

Military and political history of Alan-Asses, the ancestors of Karachai-Balkarians

Yet in the I century, Alans were known in Northern Caucasus, near Asov Sea and even in the Danubean steppes in Europe, and in Lower Pannonia, where once was situated Scythia Minor. In 378, Alans subordinate to Huns invaded, as a part of Hun hordes, the lands of the Roman empire. On 9 August, 378, under Andrianopolis, the joined army of Alans and Huns shattered the Roman army and thus put the end to the world domination of Romans. From this historical moment, Huns and Alans had complete dominion in the whole European politics, before the force of the Khazar Kahanat grew enough. Such names of Alan kahans (khans) as Goar, Buürgur, Saros, Kandak and others are known. In the 50s of V century, Alan khan Kandak subdued Scythia Minor (Dobrugia). It is very important circumstance that the contemporary to these events historian Jordan used the name “Kerti Alan”, i. e. “True Alans”, for Kandak’s Alans. Historians studying Alans could not explain this term without resorting to Karachai-Balkarian. Alan leaders often helped Byzanth in its struggle with Iran and other barbaric tribes: Vandals, Goths etc. We have already said that Byzantines cunningly used Alans as a covering detachment against Asian nomads: Avars, Khazars, Polovets and others (Fig. 18).

The Caucasus region had always been a vast field of contest between Byzanth and Iran. Alans’ campaigns in Transcaucasus and on Near East started yet in I century and repeated with success up to X–XI centuries. Alans often helped Armenia and Georgia in their struggle with foreign aggressors: Arabs, Persians and others. It is remarkable, that Armenian written sources called these defenders Alans, and Georgians called them Ovs or Os. Thus, the two ethnonyms were put in one row and identified.

However one should not think that Alans and Asses did not pursue their own purposes in these campaigns. Like any other nomadic people, they, protecting settled farmers of Transcaucasus from the raids of Persian and Arabs, used to enrich themselves sponging those very peoples. The history of their interrelations is complete of bloody collisions and peaceful culture-economic contacts. The mutual relations of Alan-Asses with the peoples of Transcaucasus and Near East often assumed the character of kinship, enriched by cross-national dynastic marriages. Relations between Alan-Asses and Transcaucasus became especially active at the kings Durgul-el and Huddan. The daughter of Huddan, Burduhan, was a mother of Georgian queen Tamar. Burduhan’s sister Rusudan, the aunt of Tamar, was her governess. So, it can be definitely stated that there was close kinship between the ruling layers of Alan-Asses, the ancestors of Karachai-Balkarians, and Georgia.

The power of the Alan state significantly decreased with the heyday of Khazars, regaining its strength in the middle of X century, with the fall of Khazar Kahanat in 965, after the defeat from Russian troops.

Mongol-Tatar invasion to Alan-Asses

In the 20s of XIII century, the powerful Alan-As state underwent a terrible defeat from Mongol -Tatar hordes. Their army, subduing the countries of Fore-Asia and Transcaucasus, had, to realize the plans of seizing Eastern Europe, to finish first with the Alan-As kingdom spreading from the banks of Laba to Sunja, from Caucasian highlands to the lower reaches of Terek and its tributaries. Mongol-Tatars, having subdued the peoples of Daghestan, passed the Derbent gate in 1222 and encountered Alans, who allied with Kipchak (Polovets) living in the South-Russian steppes, adjacent to the Five Mountains and Kuban lands (Figs. 19,20).

The 30-thousand army of Mongol military leaders Jebe and Subudei entered the battle with the Alan-Kipchak troops. But no side could win in the severe fight. Then Mongols, using their well-tried method of breaking the alliances of their enemies by deceit, sent ambassadors to Kipchaks, saying: “We and you of the same kin, and those Alans of a different kin, and your faith is not like the faith of Alans. Leave Alan to us, and we shall give you as much goods as you want for that...” having been caught to this trick, Kipchaks went away to their lands, leaving Alans one to one against the terrible enemy. But, smashing Alans, Mongols not only forgot all their promises, but also overtook Kipchaks and took away twice as much as they gave them from them, routing them in their turn. Those of Kipchaks who escaped from this slaughter ran to Crimea, settling in its mountains or moving on to other countries by sea.

Northern Caucasus was assimilated into the Golden Horde, fertile valleys of Fore-Caucasus being turned into the rovings of the Golden-Horde khan. The Golden Horde strictly watched for the safety of these lands and their cattle. According to Gillom Rubruk (1254), every fifth of the Golden-Horde warriors had to guard the mouths of the canyons from Alan, in order that the mountaineers could not burn pastures and steal cattle. With the same purpose, Horde khans built fortresses in the foothills of Caucasus. On of such cities existed just before the Elkhot gate, Tatar-tup, near modern Maisky in Kabardino-Balkaria; similar posts were built near stanitsa Liachinskaya, on river Podkumok (Majari) etc. Nevertheless, Alan mountaineers fiercely fought against the separated groups of the conquerors, attacking them, stealing their cattle, burning crops and pastures. But the forces were unequal, and Northern Caucasus for a long time remained under the power of the Golden Horde, which, to bring the peoples subdued to obeisance, spread a new religion, Islam, among them, building Moslem mosques.

Timur’s campaigns and his conquering Asses

In the wars conducted by the Golden Horde, its khan Tokhtamish received support from Timur the Conqueror. But, getting stronger Tokhtamish repeatedly organized raids on the possessions of Timur, when the latter was busy with the wars in Asia and India. Timur’s patience finally came to an end and he undertook campaign against Tokhtamish, to give him a lesson for ingratitude.

In April 1395, the army of Timur passed Derbent and camped on the bank of Terek near modern Maisky, at the Golden-Horde city Julat, before the decisive battle. The neighborhood of Julat was the richest province of the Golden Horde in that time. Here, the huge army of Timur refilled its provisions and stored the forage for the cavalry.

A strongest battle occurred on Terek, and Tokhtamish, having been defeated, began to retreat into deep steppes, along river Kura and then along Volga. Sending special groups to run after Tokhtamish, Timur stayed near Beshtau. From this camp, he made a few raids against Russians and Cherkess on Kuban. Timur’s biographers told about what followed: “When Timur’s thoughts could be diverted from the Russian and Cherkess affairs, he, with all his haven-like army turned to the mountain Elburs… To subdue the unfaithful, the world-winning banner was directed against Buriberdi and Burikhan, who was the ruler of the As people. There were thick woods on this way. Cutting down the trees and building a road, Timur left emir Hadji Seif-ad-Din in the train and climb for jikhad the Elburs mountain. In the fortified and guarded mountain canyons, he had many encounters with the enemies of faith, but his victorious army won in all the battles, subjecting many of those unfaithful by the sword of jikhad, destroying their fortresses and seizing immeasurable wealth and uncountable loot…” When Timur returned to Beshtau, Hadji Seif-ad-Din gave a magnificent feast in honor of his victory. However, Timur had to once again fight against Asses, who rose on a new struggle with the invader: “Timur, leaving the train once again, went to the fortress of Kul and Taus, who also belonged to tribe of the inhabitants of Elburs. The inhabitants of those territories had fortresses and fortifications on the tops of the mountains, and it was most difficult to get there because of the height of the place, which was so high, that eye got dimmed at mere looking at them and the hat falls from the head; thus, fortress of Taus stood on the third terrace of a mountain, like the nest of a predatory bird, on such a height that an arrow could not reach there…” With extreme difficulties and much losses in the troops, Timur seized the fortress of Taus, took in captivity and killed Kul and Taus. “Therefrom Timur went to the fortress of Pulad, where Uturku found a refuge, one of higher emirs of Juchi Ulus. Timur wrote a letter to Pulad: “Give me Uturku whom you hide, or else I shall come with an uncountable army, which all consists of lions, defeating the enemies”. But Pulad answered, self-assured: “I have a fortress well fortified, and the means of defense are all ready. Uturku found a refuge at me, and while my soul is in my body I shall not give him away and shall guard and care for him…” The fortress stood in a place very difficult to reach, and its people stood in the mouth of the canyon and, sacrificing their lives, began to desperately fight. After many attempts, the victorious army won and seized the fortress. But Uturku managed to escape in a canyon on the Elburs mountain. Timur’s army ruined and burned the homes of Asses, taking uncountable loot. At that time, someone brought a message that three escaped groups of unfaithful, climbed on the slope of the mountain and stayed there. Timur went against them, won them, took many of them in captivity and burned those doomed for hell! From the right wing, mirza Miran-shah sent a message: “We are running after Uturku, and we have entered the Elburs country called Ayasa (Abasa?)”. So biographers describe the campaigns of Timur in the country of the As people.

In the Abasa (Ayasa) land, Timur caught Uturku and took him in captivity. Then he stayed near Beshtau for a few days.

Timur’s campaigns have completely locked Asses (Balkarians and Karachais) in the stone trap, significantly reducing their ethnic territory, which once spread over a major part of Northern Caucasus. To the time of Timur’s campaigns, Balkarians and Karachais were already quite formed people, retaining the name of their ancestors: Asses, Alans, Bulgarians.

Since toponyms and hydronyms are accepted for an “ethnic passport” of the ancient tribes in science, such Karachai-Balkarian names, as Koban (Kuban), Balik (Malka), Baksan, Chegem, Cherek, Terek (Terk), Azau, Kashkhatau, Mingi-tau, Kara-agach, Kizburun, Akbash, Kishpek (Kishi-beck), Julat (Jolty), or the place of confluence of five rivers near stanitsa Ekaterinodarskaya, “Besh-tamak” (five river mouths), Beshtau, Kizliar, Elkhot and many others confirm what has been said above about the ancient ethnic territory of Balkarians and Karachais. The events described in this chapter were the final stages of the process of the formation of Karachais and Balkarians in the course of many centuries.




Despite massacres and genocide from Mongols and Timur’s troops in XIII–XIV centuries, Balkaria and Karachai appear on the historical scene in XV century as well-formed, original and independent ethnocultural area of Caucasus on the edge of state-formation stage, with a wide-spread possessions of national aristocracy, with military units subordinated to the supreme ruler, Oli (Vali), with the national court Töre subject to him realizing control over all aspects of everyday life and military matters, establishing and institutionalizing national customs and traditions, specifying and realizing the ways of punishment and encouragement and so on.

The first written indication of that was the inscription on the golden Tskhovati cross dated by XIV–XV century, which tells how one of Georgian eristavis (princes) was taken in captivity in Basiani (the Georgian name of Balkaria) and was ransomed on the money of Tskhovati church.

The Southern frontiers of Balkaria and Karachai were protected by a natural barrier of Caucasian ridge. Much less strong were the northern boundaries facing the valleys and steppes of Fore-Caucasus.

The Kabardin population of Fore-Caucasus

The campaigns of Mongols and Timur made the northern boundaries of the ethnic territory of Balkarians and Karachais even weaker. Seizing the opportunity after the tragic events in Central Caucasus in XV–XVI centuries, the greatest and most mobile part of Adyg tribes, Kabardins, began rapidly spread over all the Central For-Caucasus, up to river Sunja. But soon, as a result of the return of Vainakh tribes, the ancestors of Ingush and Chechens, from the mountains to the plain, to their former lands, the possibilities of Kabardin population on the banks of Sunja were considerably reduced, and their Eastern boundaries were pushed to the Mozdok steppes.

Here is what Kabardin scientists of XIX century wrote: “According to the traditional tales, Kabardins met Tatar (Balkarian — aut.) settlements in the new country, moved them to the steppes or locked in the mountain canyons, occupying their place… Only one conclusion can be derived with certainty from all the diverse tales: Kabardins were not the original inhabitants of Kabarda, moving there from elsewhere… To all appearances, Kabardins did not come to this territory until XV century, or the beginning of XVI century.” (V. N. Kudashev “Historical data about Kabardin people”, Kiev, 1913, pp. 6–10).

The relations between Balkaria and Kabarda

The history of mutual relations between Kabarda and Balkaria does not know a single anything serious ethnic collision or war. There never were any boundaries between them, in the present sense of the word. The boundaries were determined by peaceful communications and were completely transparent. Kabardins and Balkarians could moved through both Kabarda and Balkaria without obstacle. People’s relations were peaceful and friendly, which lead to numerous cases of consanguinity, interethnic marriages. Such marriages occurred not only between aristocratic families, but also among simple people. As a result of these contacts, many Balkarian names appeared in Kabarda, such as Kushhov, Balkarov, Kelemetov etc., as well as such names in Balkaria as Cherkessov, Kabardokov and others.

Any contradictions between Balkaria and Kabarda, or between individuals and families, were resolved, by mutual consent, by the council of the elders within the common right of Balkarians and Kabardins. Often people found shelter at the neighboring country, Balkaria or Kabarda, when there were personal or communal dissension inside Kabarda or Balkaria respectively. Sometimes, there were conflicts between particular families of Balkaria and Kabarda, but it never came to wars.

Numerous peaceful and friendly relations grew between separate families and kins. Thus, such tight contacts established between Abayevs and Kaitukins, Atajukins and Balkarukovs, Urusbiyevs and others. There was a Caucasian habit among the peacefully coexisting peoples to give their children in education (atalik) to their closest friends. Thus, for example, it is known, that, in 1747, Balkarian prince Azamat Abayev was “emchek” (foster-brother) of a prince from Great Kabarda Kasai Atajukin. The documents show that, in 1768, Balkarian prince Muhammat Biyev similarly was a foster-brother of Kabardin prince Kazy Kaisanov. The century-old peaceful relations also influenced the development of the economy in Balkaria and Kabarda. Kabardins were free to graze their herds in Balkaria, to get the products of mining from there, as well as wood and stone for construction, fur and skins of wild animals. During too cold years, Balkarians used to rent winter pastures and camps in Kabarda. Some scientists try to present these rent relations as political and economic dependence of Balkaria on Kabarda. Such attempts have no ground under them, being based on the superficial sights of the travelers of XIX century, who could not and did not want to consider the actual nature of rent relations between Kabardins and Balkarians. If Balkarians paid certain price for using the winter pastures, can it really be called a tribute or dependence? Such things must be well discriminated, when it comes to the relations between two peoples.

Mutual relations between Balkaria and Kabarda significantly promoted the development of the economy of the both countries. Buying bread and salt in Kabarda, Balkaria made up its natural deficiencies; Kabarda served as an intermediary between Balkaria and Russian market, where various fabrics, household articles, decorations, industrial products and other things were purchased.

The relations between Karachai-Balkaria and Georgia

Established already in medieval time, the relations with Georgia strengthened and extended with every century. In the same time, consanguinity became deeper, starting from the old marriage of queen Tamar with the son of an As princess and Kiev prince, Andrey Bogolyubsky. However, it should be indicated that that these relations were not always that easy, as a vivid example of the abovementioned Tskhovati cross shows.

Balkarians and Karachais had the most close contacts with the Georgian Kingdom of Imereti, with Mingrelia and Svanetia. Several patronymic branches of Karachai-Balkarians take their origin from Svanetia: Otarovs, Rakhayevs, Ebseyevs and others. Balkarians and Karachais gathered on the weekly markets in the cities Rachi and Oni, selling there various things made of wool and leather, the products of cattle breeding (oil, cheese, meat etc.).

Balkarians and Karachais served as a link in the relations of Georgia and Russia in XVII century.

Balkaria and Karachai in the system of Russian-Caucasian relations. The development of contacts with Georgia

In XVI–XVII centuries and later, Russia conducted its policy in respect to Caucasian peoples and states through Kabarda, which, at that time, occupied the most important, strategic, central part of Northern Caucasus. Kabardin princes well knew how to use this situation and got any encouragement from Russia, receiving honors, ranks and money for their support of Russian policy in Caucasus.

However, for successful promoting its contacts with Transcaucasus, and with Georgia first of all, Russia had to establish relations with Balkaria, which was then a quite consolidated political force called “Besh tau el”, i. e. “Five mountain peoples”, each of them having its own supreme authority in the form of a national assembly, Töre. Every one of these minor Töre was subordinated to the common uniform supreme Balkarian Töre headed by the supreme ruler, Oli.

The name Balkarian was for the first time mentioned in Russian documents in 1629 year. In January of that year, Terek voivode I. A. Dashkov informed Moscow that there are the deposits of silver ore in the land of “Balkars”, and that this land belonged to the sons of the sister of Kabardin prince Pshimakho Kambulatovich Cherkassky. This document confirms the old kinship relations of Balkarians, Karachais and Kabardins: Pshimakho’s sister was married to a Balkarian leader. The land of “Balkars” belonged to her sons Apshi and Abdullah (their family name Tazrekov was sometimes mentioned, but it is difficult to judge whether this information is right—aut.).

In 1636, King of Imereti Levan II sent an embassy to the Russian court, and the ambassadors of Moscow Pavel Zakhariev and Fedot Bazhenov went to Imereti in 1639, in return. Such embassies usually had the official letters from the Russian Tsar to the Balkarian leaders, whose lands the ambassadors had to pass. Such letters were also given to Kabardin and other princes, which speaks about the independence of Balkarian rulers in the international relations in Caucasus and with Russia.

Having produced their official letters, Elchin, Zakhariev and Bazhenov spent 15 days in the hospitable family of Karachai princes from the Krimshaukhalov family, the young brothers of Kamgut, Elbuzduk and Giliaksan, who lived near modern city Tirnihauz in the Baksan canyon in aul El-Jurt. The mausoleum of Kamgut and the tower of his wife Goshayah-biyche have been found there. From here, Russian ambassadors went to Svanetia and further to the King of Imereti. The next embassy of Russian Tsar went to Georgia in 1651, through Upper Balkaria, by river Sukan-su and further. Ambassadors N. S. Tolochanov and A. I. Iyevlev were hospitably met and supplied with food, pack animals and guides by Balkarian prince Artutai Aidabolov, whose ancestors were mentioned in the document of 1629.

In one more document dated by 1653, it is told how the King of Imereti Alexander invited Russian ambassadors Zhidovinov and Poroshin to see “how he will christen Zhenbulat, the son of Balkarian ruler Aidarbolov” (Aidabolov—aut.). By the way, Christianity penetrated Balkaria from Georgia yet in XII century, which is illustrated by the ruins of a church near village Hulam, where Christian frescos have been found on the walls.

In 1658, an embassy headed by Georgian king Taimuraz went to Moscow for establishing Russian-Georgian relations. Taimuraz’ way ran through Balkaria, where a Balkarian delegation headed by abovementioned prince Artutai Aidabolov joined them. He was hospitably received in Moscow and given a gift of 40 sables, like Taimuraz. Artutai stayed in Moscow for about a year.

35 years later, Imeretian king in disgrace Archil made his way to Moscow. Just having left Balkaria and entered the plains, he was attacked by the detachments of Tark shamkhal Budai and the prince of Kabarda Minor Kulchuk Kelembetov on the road to fortress Terki. In the complicated international situation of that time, Budai preferred the Persians, while Kulchuk stuck to the Crimean orientation. They both wanted to give Archil away to their own patron. Archil was in Kulchuk’s captivity from September to November 1693. But, as the documents tell, “the beauty of Archil and his courage made such an impression on the wife of Kulchuk, that she supplied him the means of escape one night, and he ran to Basian, and his people went to Digoria”. On November 28, 1693, Russian administration in Astrakhan was informed that Archil had been in captivity and then found a refuge in “the country of Balkars near the source of Malka”. In his letter of April 15, 1694, Archil wrote to Terki voivode “that he was in Balkar, and that he needed to be taken from there”. In the letter of May 20, 1696, Archil described in detail to the Great Heirs of Russian Autocracy Iohannes Alexeyevich and Peter Alexeyevich all what he went through. Archil was taken from Balkaria in September.

Since the second half of XVII century, information about Balkarians and Karachais get into written sources more often. Among the authors who wrote about them, one should mention Archangello Lamberti (1654), Nicolai Witsen (1692), Engelbert Kempfer (1651–1716), Henri de La Motrais (1674–1743) and many others. Even more information about Karachais and Balkarians is provided by the documents of XVIII–XIX centuries.




Balkarians and Karachais as described by the travelers and scientists of XVIII century

A 1711 year, going from Taman through Cherkess lands, French traveler Henri de La Motrais reached a wide river “Kara Kuban”, also called by the guides “Great River”, i. e. “Ullu-kam”, which coincides with the Karachai name of Kuban at its source. By the words of the traveler, the local inhabitants in Tatar language, baked bread in ashes, ate horse-flesh, drank koumiss and airan. It is quite clear, that Karachais tare meant in this description. In 1736 and 1743, Kizliar noble man Alexey Tuzov visited Upper Chegem. Near to settlement, in one of the caves to which a rock ladder “Bitikle” lead, he saw “8 books kept in the chests, written on parchment, in Greek language”. One of them appeared a Gospel of XV century. Their remainders were later mentioned by Yu. Klaprot. The communities of “Chegem”, “Karachai”, “Malkar” and others were also mentioned in the documents of 1747, 1753, 1757, 1760.

In 1779–1783, Jacob Reineggs, who identified Digors with Bulgarians-Utigors, traveled in Caucasus and found the “Orubiy” community in the Baksan canyon. In 1793–1794, Balkarians were mentioned in the notes of academician P. S. Pallas and Yan Pototsky.

In 1773, academician I. Güldenstedt left a detailed description of settlements, customs, customs, economy and household of Balkaria. In 1802, academician Yu. Klaprot described them too. The works of these academicians have not lost their value as original sources of information on the history, culture and economy of Balkaria and Karachai until now.

The interesting information about Balkarians and Karachais was left by Hungarian traveler Janos Karoi Besse. In 1829, he was invited by the general Emanuel to accompany him in his expedition on Elbrus. From his observations, Besse concluded about a close kinship of Digors, Balkarians, Karachais and Hungarians. He wrote, that “no other nation is so resembling Hungarians as Karachais and Digors”. In this respect, his observations completely coincide with the genealogical legends of Balkarians, Karachais and Digors about their originating from the same kin, from brothers and cousins Basiat, Badinat and Karachai princess Krimshaukhalov.

In 1745, leading historian and geographer of Georgia prince Vakhushti described the boundaries of Basiani (Balkaria) as follows: in the East, it was bounded by a mountain separating it from Digoria; in the South, it bordered on Svanetia; in the North, it adjoined Cherkessia; in the West, it was bounded by a mountain laying between Svanetia and Caucasus (he said “Caucasus” referring to almost all the mountains of Central Caucasus). Basiani, he wrote, was a country well regulated, with settlements and “population more noble than other ovs; there are landlords and serfs”. The main river of Basiani, he continues, flows down to Cherkessia, and then into river Terek. Thus, along with describing the boundaries of Balkaria, Vakhushti fixed the fact that river Terek and its tributaries, leaving the mountains, merge on the territory of Kabarda. The same circumstance was mentioned in 1837–1839, by Adyg scientist Khan-Girey, who stressed that river Terek passed the land of Adyg-Kabardins “on its leaving the mountains…”

(These boundaries are also confirmed by Kabardin archeological monuments, found exclusively in the plain and foothills. A. P. Ermolov built the Caucasian line of defense exactly along this line: Kamennomost, Baksan, Nalchik, Urukh and further).

By the data available, Russian-Balkarian relations established since the 50s of XVI century. Thus, in the documents of 1558, 1586, 1587 and 1588, Kabardin and Georgian embassies in Moscow are repeatedly mentioned to include interpreters, tolmachs (“tilmanch” means interpreter in Karachai-Balkarian), like “Kabardin Cherkess”, “Georgian Cherkess”, “Mountain Cherkess”, which could be identified, according to the sources, with the representatives of the “Five mountain peoples”, i. e. the inhabitants of Balkaria and Karachai. In the literature on Caucasus science, it has been established since long ago that by the names “Mountain Cherkess”, “Mountain Tatars” refers to Balkarians and Karachais.

Our conclusion that Russian-Karachai-Balkarian relations have their roots yet in XVI century is also confirmed by the fact that, already in 1590, the full title of Russian Tsar included the words: “…the sovereign of Iverian lands of Kartalin and Georgian kings and Kabardin lands of Cherkess and Mountain princes…”

In 1558, the staff of the embassy of Temrük Idarovs’s children Saltan and Mamctrük included some Bulgaryi-murza, who is not known neither among the children of Temrük, nor in the genealogical books of Kabardin princes. Moreover, he was received in Moscow in a rather peculiar way. While Saltan was baptized and awarded an estate and other honors, Bulgaryi-murza was told that the same honors would be given to him too if he behaved as Tsar expected. Such attitude to this murza suggests the thought that it was not a representative of Kabardin princes, but rather one of Balkarian princes, of the Balkarukov family.

Russia, Balkaria and Karachai begin to intensively seek for mutually advantageous contacts in the period of energetic activity of Crimean khan in Caucasus. An invaluable testimony of such activity is provided by an inscription on a boundary stone plate dated by 1709. It says: “A territorial controversy occurred between Kabardins, Crimeans and Five mountain peoples. The Five mountain peoples are: Balkar, Bezengi, Kholam, Chegem, Baksan. Mountain peoples elected Aslanbek Katukov, Kabardins elected Zhabagi Kazaniyev, Crimeans elected Bayan Sarsanov, and they have made a Töre (council—aut.) and decided: from the Tatar-tup country to Terek, therefrom to the Koban plain, therefrom to the pass of Lesken ridge, therefrom to the Narechie hill, therefrom to Zhambash and to Malka. The upper part belongs to the Five mountain communities. From Tash-Kalasi (stanitsa Vorontsovskaya—aut.) to Tatar-tup are the Crimean possessions. From Tash-Kalasi downwards are the possessions of Russians…”

The further development of Russian-Balkarian relations resulted in that Balkarians, the neighbors of Digorians, together with the representatives of 47 Digorian settlements, adopted the citizenship of Russia in 1781. It is interesting to note that Digorians did not adopt Russian citizenship together with the rest of Ossetians in 1774, but rather with their close relatives Balkarians. Probably, the consanguinity of Digorians and Karachai-Balkarians has played its role; Digorians often asked Balkarian Töre for the solution of their important problems.

However, not all the Balkarians became Russian citizens then. That is why some Balkarian canyon, as the free areas, provided refuge for many Kabardin and other groups not agreeing with the policy of Tsarist Russia in Northern Caucasus, during the massacres of A. P. Ermolov, the commander of the Caucasian line. General Ermolov strictly forbade the disobedient rebels to escape and to settle in Balkaria and Karachai, which were not controlled by Russia. In order to subdue these countries and defeat the groups escaping from Ermolov, many settlements in Balkaria and Karachai were burned to ashes, after having been ruthlessly ransacked. Ermolov noted that he had many times to climb on his fours to make his way through the rocks in the upper reaches of rivers Chegem, Baksan and Kuban. All this did not allow Russia to conduct an active colonial policy, since Crimean khan could strengthen his influence in free Balkaria and Karachai. Finally, the intensive propaganda of Russian force and power produced its effect: on January 11, 1827, a Balkarian-Digorian delegation arrived to Stavropol, one representative from every prince family. This mission asked to give them the citizenship of Russia. In January 1827, the commander-in-chief of Tsar troops in Northern Caucasus general Emanuel year accepted the oath of Balkarian and Digorian taubis, reporting about it to Tsar Nicolas I.

By that time, Karachais, assured in the inaccessibility of their canyons and the support if Crimean khans, were a serious danger for the Russian troops on Kuban, being a mass of rebellious tribes. Therefore, the main attention of Emanuel was directed there. On October 20, 1828, he undertook a special military campaign against Karachai. The 12-hour desperate battle of Karachais (from 7 AM till 7 PM) finished with the victory of Russian army. General Emanuel made an urgent report to Nicolas I, saying: “the Phermopiles of Northern Caucasus have been seized by our troops, and the Karachai stronghold for all the rebellious tribes at the soles of Elbrus has been destroyed”.

By the data of Emanuel, Russian army has lost in this battle 1 senior officer, 3 corporals and 32 privates killed, and colonel Verzilin, 3 senior officers, 30 corporals and 103 men wounded.

On October 21, in the central aul of Karachai Kart-Jurt, the Supreme Ruler of Karachai Oli (vali) Islam Krimshaukhalov and the representatives of three leading Karachai kins have signed the oath of fidelity to Russia. Thus the process of the assimilation of Balkaria and Karachai by Russia has completed.

From the history of the social structure of Karachai-Balkarian society

An important place in the history of economic and cultural development, as well as the relations with the neighboring peoples and countries, is occupied by the social organization of the people studied. In some cases, as in the case of Karachais and Balkarians, the lack of written sources about that important aspect of life makes mainly the judgment by the data of archeology, ethnography, folklore and other adjacent scientific disciplines possible.

The archeological and ethnographic study of Karachai-Balkarian settlements allows to conclude that monogenic (one-family) settlements existing in the antiquity and in the Middle Ages gradually extended and transformed into polygenic (many-family) settlements, so that the transition from the kinship principle of settlement to the communal settlement of the neighborhood type was observed.

Simultaneously, there was the transition from small one-hearth dwellings to large many-hearth dwellings, and the inverse transition from large many-room houses to smaller dwellings could be observed later, indicating the process of setting apart small individual families.

The remainders of burials also tell about the transition from the individual to collective burials, with the inverse transition to separate burials observed later.

The emergence of on-surface burial constructions (mausoleums) named after particular princes and ancestors, indicates the formation of feudal relations and pronounced social stratification. The significant development of feudal relations is also indicated by Karachai-Balkarian towers, fortresses and castles named after their owners: Abayev, Balkarukov, Shakmanov, Shchiakhanov and others. The early fortifications of the communal phase gradually descended to the settlements in the plain. Like in the other regions of Caucasus, this indicates that feudal relations strongly penetrated the common life of the society.

Karachai-Balkarian society had a rather strict hierarchical structure: the princes (taubi) stood on the topmost level, free peasants (uzden) occupied a lower level, independent peasants (kara-kishi) were just below them, followed by bond peasants (chagar) and the people deprived of any property at all (kukla, karauash). Those born from a marriage with a peasant woman were called “chanka”.

Töre, the national institute of self-government

We have mentioned the Töre institute many times already. It was an original people’s forum, or court, regulating all the life and activity in Balkaria and Karachai. It consisted of democratically elected representatives of all the estates. In the head of Töre, there was an elected most authoritative prince. Similar Töres were and in every individual Balkarian community, and the Supreme Töre supervised the whole Balkaria. Subordinated to the head of this Töre, the Supreme Ruler, Oli (Vali), there were messengers informing the whole Balkaria about decisions made. Also, there was a military detachment, consisting of separate groups of warriors, brought in by each princes. Warriors assembled in the places called Basiat kosh. There they were had military training, trick riding and so on. Special detachments guarded the boundaries of Balkaria and went to fight for the native land by the order of Oli.

Töre considered all the criminal and civil issues, pronounced the punishment, legalized new customs and rites. Thus, Töre was a state institution, as well as an organ of law and self-government in Balkaria. The representatives of Karachai and Digoria used to come to Balkarian Töre for discussing their most important problems.

The name of the Töre institute came from the ancient Turk word “tör” meaning “law”, “custom”. The word “tör” also means “honor” in Karachai-Balkarian.

On the sessions of Töre, the sentences for various wrongdoing were pronounced. Those convicted were quite often subject to one of the most shameful punishments, when the guilty person was tied to the “stone of shame”, “Nalat tash”, which was usually mounted in the most crowded place of aul, and each passer-by expressed his contempt to the condemned. Such stones were known in Upper Balkaria, in aul Mukhol, in Upper Chegem, in medieval settlement Kris-kam in the Baksan canyon. The photo of one of the “stones of shame” of Upper Chegem is exhibited in the exposition of Nalchik museum of local lore.

The social institutes of the common law

Various social institutes occupied an important place in the general system of common law at Balkarians and Karachais. Kinship relations were of special value among them. Foster-brotherhood was quite usual between the people not tied by actual consanguinity. Such people gave their children to their adopted brothers from the early age, so that they were brought up in their houses.

In the house of adopted brother, such children were treated as foster-brothers drinking the milk of the same mother. The mother was called “Emchek ana” (“milk mother”), and the son was called “Emchek ulan” (“milk son”). The whole institute was called by the common Turk word “Atalik”, i. e. “Fatherhood”. Ibn-Fadlan, scientist and traveler of the 20s of X century, noted the existence of such institute at Volga Bulgarians. The name of this institute became widely known in the languages of many peoples. Many Kabardin and Balkarian princes and peasants gave their children to the families of their friends in Balkaria or Kabarda, thus strengthening the friendship and mutual respect of the two peoples.

One more as beautiful institute of social relations was the habit of “kunakship”, taking its name from the common Turk word “konak”, “guest”. Kunakship, or hospitality, has been an integral part of the spiritual wealth of the peoples of Caucasus since long ago. The guest was considered as a person almost sacred, he was given all the best the owner of the house had. This feature of Caucasians was noted by many European scientists and travelers of XIII–XIX centuries. One could recall the example of Balkarian prince Pulad (Bolat), who dared to refuse to Timur himself demanding to give away the guest, Golden-Horde emir Uturku. The literature on Caucasus is replete with such examples.

Such social terms, widely known in the ethnography of Caucasian peoples, as “atalik”, “kunakship”, “uzden”, as well as the names of clothes, weapons and many others, illustrate the significant influence of Karachai-Balkarian ethnosocial culture on the neighboring peoples.



The lack of written documents on the economic development of Balkaria and Karachai of that time puts archeological and ethnographic data on the first place in this problem.

The basis of the economy of Balkarians and Karachais was constituted of agriculture, cattle breeding, arts and crafts, trade and exchange, hunting and so on.

The tradition of agriculture was characteristic of the ancestors of Balkarians and Karachais from the most ancient times. This is confirmed by the archeological findings of copper-bronze sickles of the Kimmerian epoch in Karachai, the remainders of iron ploughshares in the Bulgarian-Alan settlements, and also massively terraced mountain slopes in the upper reaches of Cherek, Chegem, Baksan, Kuban and Zelenchuk, serving as the terrace fields of medieval agriculture.

However, agriculture could not play the leading role in the economy of Balkarians and Karachais because of the extremely meager soil. Though every spot of fertile land was intensively cultivated in Karachai and Balkaria, with tremendous efforts spent on it, and irrigation channels built, their own yield of grain was almost never enough. Bread had to be bought from the neighboring peoples, or exchanged on the abundant products of cattle-breeding, such as oil, milk, meat, cheeses, skin, leather, fur and others.

The deep reflection of agriculture in the culture of Balkarians and Karachais is indicated by the ritual agricultural games and fiests, such as Saban-toi, Erirei, as well as such toponyms as Saban-kosh and many others. On the Saban-toi fiests, Balkarians cooked a thick porridge “gezhe” of seven kinds of grain, played water games like “Su oün” and so on.

Farming and gardening appeared in Balkaria and Karachai in the end of XVII – beginning of XVIII century.

Cattle breeding

The leading branch of Balkarian and Karachai economy was cattle breeding, which was their main occupation from the most ancient times. Judging by the bones found by archeologists, their herds originally included sheep, rams, pigs, goats, bulls, cows, horses etc. This collection has been kept almost without change up to the adoption of Islam, when pigs get excluded.

An important finding of archeologists near medieval settlements in Balkaria and Karachai was large “kosharas” (sheep-folds), where up to 1500 sheep could be held. The findings of shearing scissors, parts of kihizes, leather boots etc. indicate a significant role of cattle breeding in the economy and life of Karachai-Balkarians, in the development of their crafts, and traditional kitchen consisting mainly of meat and milk products.

The cattle-breeding orientation of Karachai-Balkarian economy found reflection in the spiritual culture and folklore of these peoples. Siyrigin was the protector of big cattle, while Aimush was the deity protecting small cattle. The first lamb of a new issue was always sacrificed to the gods, to make the increase high. Thus sacrificial lamb was called “Tölü bash”, i. e. “increase head”. Balkarians and Karachais used a ram blade to tell fortunes and predict the future of the community, approaching changes and so on. It should be noted that this way of fortune-telling was characteristic of Balkarians and Karachais yet in XIV century BC, i. e. since the time of the so-called “Koban archeological culture”, which left a deep trace in the culture of Karachai-Balkarians.

Many scientists and travelers of XVII–XVIII centuries noted: “sheep-breeding is the main occupation of Balkarians and Karachais”. Academician Yu. Klaprot wrote: “In the winter, Balkarians drive their herds to Kabardin pastures; they have many sheep, donkeys, mules and horses, which are rather low but strong and quick in riding in the mountains”. By the words of academicians Güldenstedt, Pallas and others, Balkarians annually paid Kabardins one sheep from every family for using their winter pastures. Klaprot makes the following specification: “However, when the crop is abundant, and pastures rich, they hold their cattle at themselves all the winter of that year and not only do not go to Kabardins, but forbid these latter to come to them, which leads to frequent controversy…”

The storage of hay and other forage for the cattle for winter was always considered as one of the main jobs in the economy of Balkarians and Karachais. According to the ethnographic data, as well as the information from historical and folklore materials, haymaking was one of the most important works and its beginning was always marked with particular solemnity: fiests, games, sacrifices etc. were made.

With the appearance of the first nomadic sheep-breeders of III millennium BC in Caucasus, a new economic form was adopted, yailag cattle breeding, when the cattle was driven to special summer pastures, “yailag”, or “zhailik”, for the summer, while being driven to the winter pastures “kishlik” in the winter, whence the word “kishlak” has come.

Poultry breeding was also a significant help. The findings of hen eggshells in the medieval settlements in Balkaria and Karachai indicate that.

Cattle breeding was the main source of wealth in Karachai and Balkaria, cattle dressed and fed Balkarians and Karachais. According to the statistical data of 1886–1887, these regions were the richest in Northern Caucasus, and the well-being of all the other peoples was defined in relation to them. For example, in 1866, in Balkaria there were: 3289 horses, 1424 donkeys, 15747 head of cattle, 118273 sheep. By the beginning of XX century, these figures have sharply increased. Thus, in the Baksan canyon, there were 10775 heads of big cattle, 62012 sheep (in the average, 25 heads of cattle and 144 sheep per family); the figures were 14780 and 65432 respectively (27,7 and 100,3 per family) in Chegem, 6919 and 23407 (23,9 and 80,7 per family) in Kholam, 4150 and 15648 (20,5 and 77,5 per family) in Bezengi; 9941 and 57286 (14 and 82 per family) in the Balkarian community.

By the end of that period, the total for Balkaria was 46558 heads of big cattle and 223788 sheep. The Chegem community was the richest. Comparing the livestock of Balkaria and other parts of Terek region, the authors of the so-called “Abramov committee” for agricultural problems of the Mountain band of Northern Caucasus wrote that Balkarian had 1.7 times more cattle than Grozny region, 3.4 times more than in Vladikavkaz region, 1.9 times more than Khasavürt region, 1.3 times more than Kabarda. As for sheep, the figures respectively were: 8.3 times, 6.6 times, 3.3 times and 3.5 times. By 1913, there were 130 heads of cattle per every person of its population in Karachai, the total of more than 700 thousand heads of cattle by the end of XIX century.


The abundance and diversity of the animal world of Balkaria and Karachai promoted the development of hunting, which was a significant branch of Karachai and Balkarian economy. Archeological findings tell that they hunted bears, wolves, foxes, hares, dears, boars, mountain goats (aurochs) and many others.

A good hunter was always considered as a respectable person of great value for the society. Folk songs were composed in honor of such hunters, which indicates that hunting was deeply rooted in the system of the traditional economy of Balkarians and Karachais. Also, it is indicated by the cult of Absati, the deity of hunting and hunters.

In Absati’s honor, Balkarians and Karachais mounted various monuments (stellas) of stone or other materials. One of such monuments, a 4-meter stone block in the form of a wild animal, was found by archeologists in 1959, in the thick forests of the Chegem canyon. Now, the residuals of this rock are exhibited in the yard of the museum of local lore in Nalchik.

Before going to hunting, Balkarians and Karachais made a sacrifice to Absati, leaving him one arrow or bullet, and after successful hunting he was given a defined part of the game.

Crafts and trade

Like the already mentioned fields of activity, crafts and trade played an important role in the economic system of Karachai and Balkaria. Since they are located high in the mountains, mining has been widely developed there since long ago. The ancestors of Balkarians and Karachais, as later they too, knew how to extract and process mountain ores. Numerous archeological findings of copper, bronze, iron, leaden, silver and golden articles eloquently speak about that. This also is confirmed by numerous ancient mines for copper, iron, lead and silver near villages Kart-Jurt, Upper Chegem, Upper Balkaria, Upper Baksan etc. The traces of metal instruments (planes, saws, scrapers etc.) on the wooden things can be an additional argument in favor of the high level of metal-working industry.

“Their mountains give them saltpeter and sulfur,” wrote Klaprot, “and they do not need to leach, like Cherkess, the litter of sheep stalls and enclosures. Their gunpowder is fine and especially strong”.

Various decorations, such as earrings, finger-rings, diadems, the unique toplets of female hats, speaks about a high level of jewelry skills at Balkarians and Karachais.

Numerous towers, crypts and mausoleums show the high level of stone-cutting and construction skill. There are direct indications that the construction industry became a separate branch of industry in Balkaria and Karachai.

There is no doubt that felt industry was a separate branch as well, producing kihizes, burkas, bashliks, hats etc. By the words of academician I. Gildenstadt, Balkarians exchanged all what they needed for wool, thick cloth of home manufacturing, felts, foxes and martens etc.

In Balkaria and Karachai of XIV–XVIII centuries, there existed mostly barter, rather than trade for money, as E. Kempfer wrote. De La Motrais wrote: “money is so little known or so rare in this country that trade is done by exchange”. Also, archeological findings tell that money were not yet usual in trade. For instance, coins yet served as decoration in Balkaria in XVIII century, being worn together with necklaces by the girls from rich families.

In XIX century, Balkarians and Karachais brought to the weekly markets in Oni and Racha many home manufactured goods, such as felt carpets, cloth, bashliks, cheeses, milk and meat products. Turkish coins found near village Tashli-tala, Arabian coins near villages Upper Balkaria, Upper Chegem, Billim etc. speak of the presence of wide-scale trade there.

Many things of precious stones etc. found there also indicate an active trade. Thsu, the Great Silk Way from Khoresm to Byzanth passed the territory of Karachai, which also promoted trade. Genuese merchants held very active trade in Karachai too.

According to the estimates of the authors of XIX century, Balkarians and Karachais received huge income for the cloth sold on the markets of Caucasus and other regions. Thus, for example, the Chegem community produced 114500 arshin of cloth, with 108500 in Baksan, 100000 in the Balkarian community, 41000 in Kholam; that is, there were about 170 arshin of cloth per every house in average. The authors say that, if sold even for 50 kopecks per arshin, this cloth would bring Balkarians the total returns of more than 195000 roubles. When augmented by the profit from the other goods, this sum obtainable for cloth only would then significantly increase. One could also sum up the cost of burkas, bashliks, meat and milk and other products. For example, 16075 burkas and 3470 rolls of cloth were exported from only three Karachai auls in 1878.

The species of sheep bred by Karachais, called Karachai, was famous for the high quality of meat and wool. This breed of sheep was many times awarded gold medals and diplomas of various exhibitions of XIX century in London and Moscow, the fairs of Nizhni-Novgorod and Warsaw etc.

That was, in general, the economic basis of Balkaria and Karachai.

Settlements and dwellings of Balkarians and Karachais

Balkaria and Karachai are almost entirely situated in the mountain array of Central Caucasus, and their settlements therefore are of a mountain type. Some of them were built in Alpine regions, on the mountain slopes and plateaus, others were in the plain or in the canyons. Early settlements were of the one-family communal type, being protected by the common fortifications, towers etc.

Despite the unfavorable layout of Karachai-Balkarian settlements, archeologists find there well planned and paved streets and lanes between the rows of dwellings already in XIV–XVII centuries.

In the mountain conditions of Balkaria and Karachai, the dominant construction material of the dwellings was stone. But, along with the stone dwellings, there could also be met specific log frame houses in Karachai.

The excavations in El-Jurt and the scorched logs found, as well as the information from the travelers of XVII–XVIII centuries, allow to conclude that frame houses were a typical feature of Karachai life. The Eastern boundary of their spreading lied in the Baksan canyon, where both stone and frame houses could be met.

In all the other canyons of Balkaria, houses were built of stone, like at the neighboring peoples of Central Caucasus.

Architectural peculiarities and specific details of a Balkarian dwelling of XVI century, such as in the houses of Tamuk Kuliyev in Bulungu, Hadjimurat Kuliyev in Upper Chegem (El tübü), Bulla Zabakov in Künlüm, Musarbi Malkarov in Upper Balkaria and many others, almost reproduce the architectural details of the world-wide known monuments of Mikenes, Egypt, the Hnemkhotep burial in Beni-Hasan, constructed 3000 years before the dwellings of Balkarians. “The acquaintance with some elements of Balkarian national architecture” architects write, “enables one most clearly visualize the origin of the architectural culture and construction industry in general, which is especially easy because these rudimentary forms exist here not as archeological antiquities, but rather as the functional elements of houses yet inhabited.”

Clothes and decorations

Karachais and Balkarians made clothes of home-made cloths, curried leather, Morocco, furs and others materials. With the development of trade and exchange, either whole clothes or some e elements of it began to be made from factory fabrics. Archeological findings tell that silk was brought there from China, India, Persia and European countries. Archeology gives the most complete idea of women’s clothes, which consisted of fur and felt hats with metal toplets decorated with precious stones, silk shirts, close home-cloth or factory-fabric dresses, Morocco boots, various capes and shawls and so on. Women’s clothing could include many decorations: rings, earrings, fancy-bags etc. One of the most full collections of Balkarian women’s clothes of XIV century can be seen in Nalchik’s museum of local lore.

Man’s clothes consisted of caftans, fur coats, leggings, mountaineer chaburs and chariks made of curried leather. The attention can be attracted to the term “gen-charik”, where “gen” ascends to the ancient Turk word for curried leather, and “charik” is the common Turk for footwear.

The main decoration of a man’s costume were dagger, belt and “khazir”, known in the literature as “gazyri”. As widely spread in Caucasus was an original man’s hat, “bashlik”, i. e. “headwear”, characteristic of Karachai-Balkarians since the Scythian times. In general, many elements of women’s and man’s costume of Karachais and Balkarians show clear resemblance to the clothes of their ancestors: Scythians, Bulgarians, Alans.

In the end of this brief description of Karachai-Balkarian national clothes, it should be noted that it significantly influenced the clothes of the neighboring peoples. This is a well-known fact many names get adopted by the people together with the thing designated by this word, for example, such Russian words as “galiphe”, “furazhka”, “costyum”, “bilet” and others. Hence, word “bashlik” common at all the peoples of Caucasus could not receive such a wide spreading without the thing itself. If this element of clothes were invented by some other people, there could hardly be no word for “head” to construct the word “headwear” in its own language. The same with the word “arkalik” (“back-cloth”), or the word “gazyri” (khazir), meaning “ready”. The latter is due to the well-known ethnographic fact that originally khazir was just a collection of beforehand prepared gun charges.

Food and utensils

As it has already been noted, the food of Karachai-Balkarians was mainly meat and milk, like that of their ancestors: Scythians, Bulgarians, Alans and others. Due to the lack of grain, starchy food was much less represented in the kitchen of these peoples.

Karachai-Balkarians enriched the kitchen of their neighbors with the universally known airan and various kinds of cheese. A special place among their meat dishes belongs to “zhörme”, existing in at many Turk peoples of Altai, Middle Asia, Kazakhstan, Volga, Caucasus. A distinctive feature of Karachai-Balkarian kitchen were koumiss, horse-flesh, foal shashlik “kazi” etc. These elements essentially stress the continuous genetic connection of Karachai-Balkarians with Scythians, Sarmats, Bulgarians, Alans.

The historical, archeological and ethnographic data presented above give an idea about the economic development of Karachai-Balkarians, as well as the formation of their spiritual culture, mythology, religion and the world outlook as a whole.


Balkarians and Karachais are two of the most ancient peoples of Caucasus. Yet before the Mongol-Tatar and Timur invasions, they were a uniform ethnos, with one language and common territory. Their territorial divergence began in XIV–XV centuries, with common language, culture, psychology and traditions preserved.

Their ancient pra-Turk ancestors were the representatives of the so-called barrow (pit) archeological culture of the earliest nomadic tribes living on sheep breeding. They left such traces as the barrows and tumuli in Nalchik, near settlements Ak-bash, Kishpek, Shalushka, Billim, near stanitsas Mekenskaya in Checheno-Ingushetiya, Tiflisskaya, Kazanskaya, Novo-Nbnarevskaya in Krasnodar region, near village Ust-Jegut in Karachai etc.

The symbiosis of Caucasian and nomadic ancestors of Karachai-Balkarians is especially clear in the features of the famous Maikop culture, named after a barrow near Maikop.

In the Maikop time, the ancestors of Karachai-Balkarians had close ethnocultural and linguistic contacts with the well-known Shumer civilization in Mesopotamia.

The successors of the pit culture, Scythians, Sarmats and, later, Bulgarians and Alans, were the last links in the centuries-long chain of the formation of the Karachai-Balkarian people.

The scientific material available proves that Balkarians and Karachais have been living in Northern Caucasus for already more than 5000 years. Before the Mongol-Tatar invasion, their ethnohistorical territory was in the mountains and foothills of Northern Caucasus between rivers Laba and Terek.




Fig. 1. The picture of the world, according to Al-Idrisi (1100–1165).


Fig. 2. The territory of the pra-Turk “pit” (barrow) culture in III millennium BC


Fig. 3. The ancient Asia in III millennium BC in Northern Caucasus (according to the Ancient Greek authors).


Fig. 4. The raids of Scythians, the ancestors of Karachai-Balkarians, through Caucasus to Fore-Asia (by E. I. Krupnov).


Fig. 5. Scythian raids from Fore-Asia to Caucasus (by B. V. Terekhov).


Fig. 6. The Black-Sea world of Scythians (by A. I. Terenozhkin and V. A. Ilyinskaya).


Fig. 7. The Black-Sea world of Scythians (by B. A. Rybakov).


Fig. 8. The Fore-Asian neighbors of Sarmats, the ancestors of Karachai-Balkarians: Iran under Selevkids and Arshakids (III century BC – III century AD, by Richard Frei).


Fig. 9. Sasanid Iran and Transcaucasus during the formation of the Alan (Karachai-Balkarian) state (by Frei).


Fig. 10. Mongol campaigns against the ancestors of Karachai-Balkarians and Alan migration to the Mongol-Chinese empire, Hungary, Moldavia, Byzanth and Transcaucasus (by V. A. Kuznetsov).


Fig. 11. Bulgarians and Khazars, the ancestors of Karachai-Balkarians and the successors of Huns, in Northern Caucasus.


Fig. 12. Alan-Bulgarian-Khazar wars in VI–VII centuries (by S. A. Pletneva).


Fig. 13. Khazars, Alans and other mountain tribes in VII century (by the “Armenian geography” of VII century).


Fig. 14. The territory of Caucasian Bulgarians in VII–IX centuries (by V. F. Hening and A. Kh. Khalikov).


Fig. 15. Alania under the blows of Khazars (by S. A. Pletneva).


Fig. 16. Alan-Bulgarian and Arab-Khazar wars in VIII century and the migration of a part of Alans to the upper reaches of Don and Donets (by V. A. Kuznetsov).


Fig. 17. Eurasian steppes in VIII–IX centuries, with the population of which the ancestors of Karachai-Balkarians were closely connected (by S. A. Pletneva).


Fig. 18. Alania, its cities and trade ways in VI–XII centuries (by V. A. Kuznetsov).


Fig. 19. Alans in the time of the Golden Horde, the reduction of their territory.


Fig. 20. Alan-Asses, the ancestors of Karachai-Balkarians, before the Mongol-Tatar invasion.





IV–II millennium BC

Ancient pit archeological culture, the formation of pra-Turks.

XVI–IX centuries BC

Frame culture.

VIII century BC

Assirian chronicles report about Kimmerian invasion to the countries of Transcaucasus and Near East. The beginning of Scythian domination in the East-European steppes.

633 BC

Scythian invasion to Transcaucasus and Fore-Asia.

512 BC

Scythian war with the army of Persian king Dareios Hystaspos invading Scythia.

339 BC

The defeat of Scythians led by king Ateios in the battle with the army of Philip of Macedonia. Death of Atheios.

III century BC

The rise of Sarmat tribes and their seizing Scythia.

II century BC

Migration of a part of Sarmats (Bulgarians) from Northern Caucasus to Transcaucasus.

I century AD (first half)

Alans mentioned by the written sources of Ancient Rome for the first time.

35–36 AD

Alan participation in Ibero-Parphian war on the side of Iberia.

72 AD

The invasion of Alans to Transcaucasus.


Alan campaign in Transcaucasus and Media.

Mid. II century

Alans defeated by the Roman army at Olvia.

Beg. IV century

The invasion of Hun-Maskuts led by king Sanesan to Armenia.


Don Alans crushed by the Hun hordes. A part of Alans follows Huns to Europe.


Huns and Alans on the boundaries of the Roman Empire.

9 August 378

The battle at Adrianopolis. Roman army defeated by Huns and Alans.


Hun campaign in Transcaucasus.


The invasion of Alans and Vandals in Gallia (modern France).


Alans and Vandals moving from Gallia to Spain.


Vandals and Alans come to Northern Africa.

15 June 451

The participation of Alans headed by Sanhiban on the side of Romans and Westgoths in the battle on the Katalaun fields against Huns and Ostgoths.

Mid. VI century

The period of king Sarosius’ government in Alania. Establishment of tight contacts between Alania and Byzanth.


The bloom of Great Bulgaria. Khan Kubrat’s government.

Mid. VII century

The formation of Khazar Kahanat assimilating “black” Bulgarians.


The defeat of Khazar-Alan army by Arabs in the Euthrates battle.


The first campaign of Arabian troops led by Zh. Jirrah in Northern Caucasus. The beginning of the Arab wars against Alans and Khazars.


Second Jirrah’s campaign in Northern Caucasus.


The campaign of Arabian military leader Mervan Kru in Alania.

1st half VIII century

The government of Alan king Itaz.

End IX century

Alans and Bulgars freed from the Khazar power.

Beg. X century

First missions of Christian preachers from Byzanth to Alania. Establishing the Alan arch-episcopate. Peter as the first arch-bishop of Alania.


The visit of Alanian king Durguleit the Great to Georgian king Bagrat IV in Kutais.

2nd half XI century

Marriage of Maria of Alania with Byzantine emperor Michael Duca. Marriage of Georgian king George III with Alanian princess Burduhan.


Coronation of Queen Tamar on the Georgian throne, the daughter of George III and Burduhan.


Marriage of Queen Tamar with the son of the king of Ovs (Asses, Alans) David Soslan.

X–XII centuries

The formation of Karachai-Balkarian (Alan) people completed.


The defeat of Alans and Kipchaks in the first fight against Mongol-Tatars. Mongol-Tatars seizing the capital of Alania Magas (Meget).


Assimilation of Alania by the Golden Horde.


Mongol-Tatars and Russians seize Alan town Dediakov.


The invasion of the army of Tamerlan in Northern Caucasus, the mass murdering Alanian population.

1st half XVII century

Balkarians and Karachais first mentioned in Russian documents.

2nd half XVII – beg. XVIII century

Kabardins populate the plains of Alania.

9 May 1804

The battle of Kabardins, Balkarians, Karachais and Ossetians with the troops of general G. I. Glazenap on river Chegem.


The encounter of Kabardins and Balkarians with the troops of general Bulgakov.


General A. P. Ermolov’s raid in the canyons of Balkaria.

20 October 1822

The battle of Karachais with the troops of general G. A. Emanuel at Hasauk. Karachai included in Russia.

11 January 1827

Balkaria and Digoria adopted Russian citizenship.



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