Alani


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Alani

 

(native name, Ironi; in Byzantine sources, Alans; in Georgian, Osy; and in Russian, Iasy), numerous Iranian-language tribes which separated in the first century B.C. from the seminomadic Sarmatians inhabiting the Northern Caspian, the Don, and Ciscaucasia areas and settled in the first century A.D., according to Roman and Byzantine writers, in the Azov and Ciscaucasia regions. From there they made devastating raids on the Crimea, Transcaucasia, Asia Minor, and Midian. At that time, the Alani economy was based on stock raising. In 372 the Alani were conquered by the Huns. With the Huns one group of Alani took part in the great people’s migration and through Gaul and Spain reached North Africa. Another group migrated to the foothills of the Caucasus. In central Ciscaucasia a union headed by the Alani, and called Alania in written sources, was formed between the Alani and local Caucasian tribes.

The nomadic Alani gradually became a settled people and transferred to an agricultural stock-raising economy. During the eighth and ninth centuries feudal relations arose among the Alani, who temporarily became part of the Khazar Kaganate. At the turn of the tenth century, an early-feudal Alani state arose, and in the tenth century it played a significant role in the Khazar foreign relations with Byzantium. Christianity penetrated into Alania from Byzantium. The development of productive forces and trade led to the formation of feudal cities, the remains of which are the sites Nizhne-Arkhyzskoe on the Bol’shoi Zelenchuk River, Verkhne- and Nizhne-Dzhulatskie on the Terek River, Akhalkalinskoe on the Sunzha River, and others. Famous catacombs and settlement sites on the Northern Donets River (Saltovo-Maiatskaia culture) and in the northern Caucasus bear witness to the wealth of Alani culture. Many above-ground tombs, dolmen-like crypts (along the upper reaches of the Kuban’), above-ground stone crypts with false arches, and catacombs, usually consisting of a dromos and an elliptical chamber, have been found. Some Alani settlements were surrounded by walls which were built dry from thin stone slabs and marked with carved geometric patterns and sometimes schematic depictions of animals and people.

The Alani applied arts of the fourth and fifth centuries are represented chiefly by gold and silver jewelry with semiprecious, primarily red, stones or glass (the so-called polychromatic style); pendants and other ornaments decorated with birds’ heads appear later. During the seventh through ninth centuries cast anthropomorphic images, figurines of horsemen, stamped bronze plaques with plant and geometric designs, and decorated clothing and horse gear were popularized. From the Zmeiskii tomb in Northern Ossetia such objects as decorated gilded plaques, amulets, toilet articles, clothing, scabbards, a unique gilded horse bit in the form of a feminine half-figure, fragments of a leather horsecloth with embroidered peacocks, and braiding bear witness to the highest flowering of Alani arts in the tenth through 12th centuries. At this time, the Alani developed a written language and created the heroic Narty Epic.

The Alani were dealt a heavy blow by the Mongolian Tatars, who completely overran the plains of Ciscaucasia in 1238–39. The survivors migrated to the hills of Central Caucasus and to Transcaucasia (South Ossetia), where they were assimilated by the local Caucasian population. Islam began to spread among them in the 14th century. The contemporary Iranian-language Ossetians are the direct descendants of the Alani, who also played a definite role in the ethnogeny and culture of other peoples of the Northern Caucasus.

REFERENCES

Vaneev, Z. N. Srednevekovaia Alaniia. Staliniri, 1959.
Kuznetsov, V. A.. Alanskie plemena Severnogo Kavkaza. Moscow, 1962.
Pletneva, S. A. Ot kochevii k gorodam. Moscow, 1967.
Proiskhozhdenie osetinskogo naroda. Material from the scholarly session devoted to the problem of the ethnogenesis of the Ossetians. Ordzhonikidze, 1967.

V. A. KUZNETSOV

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