Alania was a medieval kingdom of the Iranian Alans
(proto-Ossetians) that flourished in the
Northern Caucasus, roughly in the location of latter-day
modern North Ossetia–Alania, from its independence from the Khazars
in the late 9th century until its destruction by the Mongol invasion
in 1238-39. Its capital was Maghas, and it controlled a vital trade
route through the Darial Pass.
1.1 As vassal of Khazaria
1.2 Independence and Christianization
1.3 Later history
Further information: History of North Ossetia–Alania
Alans (Alani) originated as an Iranian-speaking subdivision of the
Sarmatians. They were split by the invasion of the
Huns into two
parts, the European and the Caucasian. The Caucasian
part of the North Caucasian plain and the foothills of the main
mountain chain from the headwaters of the
Kuban River in the west to
the Darial Gorge in the east.
As vassal of Khazaria
Alania was an important buffer state during the Byzantine-Arab Wars
Khazar-Arab Wars of the 8th century.
Theophanes the Confessor left
a detailed account of Leo the Isaurian's mission to
Alania in the
early 8th century. Leo was instructed by Emperor
Justinian II to bribe
the Alan leader Itaxes into severing his "ancient friendship" with the
Kingdom of Abkhazia
Kingdom of Abkhazia which had allied itself with Caliph Al-Walid I
He crossed the mountain passes and concluded an alliance with the
Alans, but was prevented from returning to Byzantium through Abasgia.
Although the Abkhazians spared no expense to have him imprisoned, the
Alans refused to convey the Byzantine envoy to his enemies. After
several months of adventures in the Northern Caucasus, Leo extricated
himself from the precarious situation and returned to Constantinople.
After Leo assumed the imperial title, the land of his mountaineer
allies was invaded by Umar II's forces. A
Khazar chieftain, Barjik,
hastened to their succor and, in 722, the joint Alan-
inflicted a defeat on the Arab general Tabit al-Nahrani. The Khazars
Skhimar and several other strongholds in
Alania at this
period. In 728 Maslamah ibn Abd al-Malik, having penetrated the Gate
of the Alans, devastated the country of the Alans. Eight years later,
Marwan ibn Muhammad
Marwan ibn Muhammad passed by the Gate in order to ravage the forts in
Alania. In 758, as
Ibn al-Faqih reports, the Gate was held by another
Arab general, Yazid ibn Usayd.
As a result of their united stand against the successive waves of
invaders from the south, the
Alans of the Caucasus fell under the
overlordship of the
Khazar Khaganate. They remained staunch allies of
Khazars in the 9th century, supporting them against a
Byzantine-led coalition during the reign of the
Khazar king Benjamin.
According to the anonymous author of the Schechter Letter, many Alans
were during this period adherents of Judaism.
Independence and Christianization
Surviving architectural monuments of the Alanian kingdom include three
churches in Arkhyz, the Shoana Church, and the Senty Church.
In the late 9th century,
Alania became independent from the
Khazars. In the early 10th century, the
Alans fell under the
influence of the Byzantine Empire, possibly due to the conversion of
their ruler to Christianity. The conversion is documented in the
letters of Patriarch
Nicholas Mysticus to the local archbishop, whose
name was Peter.
Ibn Rustah visited
Alania at some point between 903 and 913, its
king was by then Christian. The Persian traveller came to
Sarir, a Christian kingdom immediately to the east:
You go to the left from the kingdom of
Sarir and, after three days of
journey through mountains and meadows, arrive in the kingdom of
Al-Lan. Their king is Christian at heart, but all his people are
idolaters. Then you travel for ten days among rivers and woods before
arriving at a fortress called the "Gate of the Alans". It stands on
the top of a mountain at the foot of which there is a road; high
mountains surround it and a thousand men from among its inhabitants
guard its walls day and night.
The Byzantines, who had adopted an anti-
Khazar foreign policy,
Alans in a war against the
Khaganate during the reign of
Khazar ruler Aaron II, probably the early 920s. In this war the
Alans were defeated and their king captured. According to Muslim
sources such as al-Mas'udi (943/56), the
Alans abandoned Christianity
and expelled the Byzantine missionaries and clergy roughly
contemporaneously with these events. Aaron's son married the daughter
of the Alan king and
Alania was re-aligned with the Khazars, remaining
so until the collapse of the
Khaganate in the 960s.
Despite her name, Empress
Maria of Alania
Maria of Alania (on the right side), the
Michael VII and Nicephorus III, was only Alan on the side of
her mother. Her maternal uncle was king Dorgolel of Alania.
After the downfall of Khazaria, the Alan kings frequently allied with
the Byzantines and various Georgian rulers for protection against
encroachments by northern steppe peoples such as the
John Skylitzes reports that Alda of Alania, after the death
of her husband, "George of Abasgia" (i.e., George I of Georgia),
Anakopia as a maritime fief from Emperor Romanus III.
This happened in 1033, the year when the
Alans and the Rus sacked the
Shirvan in modern-day Azerbaijan.
Alania is not mentioned in
East Slavic chronicles, but archaeology indicates that the Alans
maintained trade contacts with the Rus' principality of Tmutarakan.
There is a stone grave cross, with a Cyrillic inscription from 1041,
standing on the bank of the Bolshoi
Yegorlyk River in present-day
Stavropol Krai, immediately north of Alania. Two Russian crosses,
datable to ca. 1200, were discovered by archaeologists in Arkhyz, the
heartland of medieval Alania.
Alans and Georgians probably collaborated in the Christianization
Dvals in the 12th and 13th centuries, Georgian
missionaries were active in Alania and the Alan contingents were
frequently employed by the Georgian monarchs against their Muslim
neighbors. The Alanian-Georgian alliance was cemented in the 1060s,
Alans struck across
Muslim Arran and sacked Ganja. In the
David the Builder
David the Builder of Georgia visited the Darial to
Alans with the Kipchaks, who thereupon were allowed to
Alania to the Georgian soil. David's son, Demetre I, also
journeyed, c. 1153, to
Alania accompanied by the Arab historian Ibn
al-Azraq. The alliance culminated in 1187, when the Alanian prince
David Soslan married Queen Tamar of Georgia, a half-Alanian herself,
with their descendants ruling Georgia until the 19th century. The
medieval Alanian princesses also married Byzantine and Russian Rurikid
rulers more than once. For instance, Maria the Ossetian, who founded
the Convent of Princesses in Vladimir, was the wife of Vsevolod the
Big Nest and grandmother of Alexander Nevsky.
Political map of the Caucasus region in 1245
In the late 1230s all three Christian powers - Alania, Georgia, and
Vladimir-Suzdal - fell before the Mongol invaders. Bishop Theodore of
Alania described the plight of his metropolis in a lengthy epistolary
sermon written during the tenure of
Patriarch Germanus II (1222–40).
The wars of
Timur in the 14th century inflicted the final blow on
Alania and decimated its population. Those who survived being killed
or enslaved by the Mongols and Timur's armies, broke up into three
groups. One retreated into the foothills and valleys of the central
Caucasus and produced the two principal Ossetian groups, Digor and
Iron. Another group of
Alans migrated with the
Kipchaks into Eastern
Europe and preserved their language and ethnic identity as the Jassic
people until the 15th century. The third group joined the Mongol horde
and soon disappeared from history.
In the last years of the Soviet Union, as nationalist movements swept
throughout the Caucasus, many intellectuals in the North Ossetian ASSR
called for the revival of the name "Alania". A leading Ossetian
philologist, T.A. Guriev, was the main advocate of this idea,
insisting that the
Ossetians should accept the name of the
their self-designation and rename North Ossetia into Alania. The term
"Alania" quickly became popular in Ossetian daily life through the
names of various enterprises, a TV channel, political and civic
organizations, a publishing house, a soccer team, an airline company
etc. In November 1994, the name of "Alania" was officially added to
the republican title (Republic of North Ossetia–Alania).
^ a b Kouznetsov & Lebedynsky 2005, p. 260.
^ "ALANS". Encyclopædia Iranica. Bibliotheca Persica Press. Retrieved
16 May 2015.
^ "Ossetic Language". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia
Britannica. Retrieved 16 May 2015. Ossetic is the modern descendant of
the language of the ancient Alani, a Sarmatian people, and the
^ "Caucasian Peoples". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia
Britannica. Retrieved 16 May 2015. A second ancient Indo-European
group is the Ossetes, or Ossetians, in the central Greater Caucasus;
they are a remnant of the eastern Iranian nomads who roamed the south
Western Steppe from the 7th century bc until the 4th century ad (when
they were dispelled by the Huns) and who were successively known as
Scythians, Sarmatians, and Alans.
^ "Alani". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica.
Retrieved 16 May 2015. The Alani who remained under the rule of the
Huns are said to be ancestors of the modern Ossetes of the Caucasus.
^ "North Ossetia-Alania". Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 16 May 2015. Ossetes are of mixed
Iranian-Caucasian origin; their language belongs to the Iranian group
of the Indo-European family of languages. From the 7th century bce to
the 1st century ce Ossetia came under Scythian-Sarmatian influence,
which was succeeded by that of the warlike Alani, who are believed to
be the direct ancestors of the present-day Ossetes.
^ Waldman & Mason 2006, pp. 12–14
^ "OSSETIC LANGUAGE i. History and description". Encyclopædia
Iranica. Bibliotheca Persica Press. Retrieved 16 May 2015.
^ Waldman & Mason 2006, pp. 572–573
^ West 2009, pp. 619–621
^ a b c Bailey, Harold Walter. Alans. Archived 2012-01-21 at the
Encyclopædia Iranica Online Edition. Accessed on
August 20, 2007.
^ Alemany 2000, pp. 200-204.
^ Al-Mas'udi notes that the Alanian king married a sister of the king
^ Quoted from: Alemany, page 260.
^ Alemany 2000, p. 7.
^ Kuznetsov, X-II.
^ Kuznetsov, X-I.
^ Shnirelman, Victor (2006). The Politics of a Name: Between
Consolidation and Separation in the Northern Caucasus. Acta Slavica
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Alemany, Agusti (2000). Sources on the Alans: a critical compilation.
Brill. ISBN 9789004114425.
Kuznetsov V. A. Ocherki istorii alan. Vladikazvkaz, 1992.
Kouznetsov, Vladimir; Lebedynsky, Iaroslav (2005). Les Alains.
Cavaliers des steppes, seigneurs du Caucase. I-XV siecles apr. J.-C.
Pletneva, Svetlana. Ot kochevii k gorodam. Moscow, 1967.
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