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W.E.D. Allen on
The March-lands of Georgia

W.E.D. Allen's article "The March-Lands of Georgia" was published in the Royal Geographical Society's Geographical Journal in 1929.


The two historic trade-routes from the Black Sea to Persia and beyond are familiar ground to travellers and to students of travel. The first, and the more difficult, begins at Trebizond, and after traversing the Pontic Alps through the high passes of Zigana and Vavuk (both of them over 6000 feet), descends into the highland valley of the Chorokh by Baiburt. The route then ascends the formidable pass of Kop Dagh (8823 feet) and falls in a south-easterly direction into the upper valley of the Western Euphrates and the Erzerum plateau. The passage of the Deve Boyun (Camel's Back) Pass (6860 feet) brings travellers into the valley of the Araxes. From here the going is easier, though most of the way lies over 5000 feet. Below Hassan Kala, travellers leave the valley of the Araxes at Kopri Koi (bridge-village), and keeping the high peaks of the Aghri Dagh on the left hand, they follow up the course of the Murad Su to Diadin, and then go down by Bayazid and Khoi to Tabriz and the cities of Persia.

The foundation of Trebizond is attributed to the Milesians in the seventh century b.c, and from that century, at latest, this mountain route to Iran must have been in regular use. But the kingdom of Khaldi or Urartu[*] had been established round Lake Van, and its boundaries extended to the Araxes[*] many centuries before the development of the Black Sea business by the Hellenes, and it seems probable — although it is not yet provable — that the Milesians may not have been the first to build a port at Trebizond and to control the proceeds of the carrying trade over the long road to Iran.

The second trade-route from the Black Sea to Persia and Central Asia followed roughly the line of the Trans-Caucasian railway. Travellers for the East would touch at Batum (Βαθυς=the deep (anchorage)) or at Poti (Fasso of the mediaeval travellers: Strabo's "Phasis, where ships end their course"), and ascend the river Rion (Phasis) as far as its junction with the Kvirila. At this point they would change into smaller boats to reach Shorapan (Sarapana), "whence," according to Strabo, "persons proceed by land to the Cyrus (Kura) in four days along a carriage road."[*] It seems that travellers did not follow the route of the railway over the Suram mountains, but that they made their way up the valley of the Kvirila to its source, and then descended into the plain of the Kura, in Iberia, by the valley of the Lyakhva.[*]

The rest of the route to the Caspian, or to Tabriz, is doubtful, in spite of the general presumption that a through route existed to the Caspian. Mr. Casson has noted mounds, indicating prehistoric settlements, along the route of the Trans-Caucasian Railway.[*] But the question of whether and at what periods in prehistoric times this trade-route was freely used is bound up with the question — about which little is known — of the navigation of the Caspian. Certainly in classic times the wealth of the Colchian towns — Phasis (Poti), Kotatissium (Kutais), Archaeopolis (Nakalakevi) and Rhodopolis (Vardziya) depended rather on the trade with the Cimmerian' Bosporus and with Armenia. And in Strabo's time the lower Kura and the Kura-Araxes estuary was a wild country — Albania — inhabited by semi-nomad tribes, and the south-western shores of the Caspian were notorious for their marshy and unnavigable character.[*] Albania appears in Georgian and Armenian sources as the kingdom of Aghovania, and its somewhat shadowy existence came to an end in the seventh century A.D., when the Arabs conquered Eastern Trans-Caucasia.

Under the Arab caliphs and later Muhammadan dynasts in Eastern Trans-Caucasia, the through-route was certainly developed, and between the eighth and the fourteenth centuries places such as Baku, Derbent, Baylaq'an and Barda (on the site of Pertav, the Aghovanian capital) rose to considerable prosperity. In the classic period it is doubtful, however, whether the through route existed in fact, and of the prehistoric period we know nothing. The known existence of flourishing towns in the middle valley of the Kura indicates that the through-route from Phasis to Persia followed the Kura as far as the neighbourhood of Tiflis. Tiflis did not rise to importance until the fourth century A.D., and Gori is an even later foundation. There was, however, a string of flourishing towns in the valley of the Kura, second only in importance and prosperity to those of Colchis and Armenia (Araxes valley). West of modern Gori was Urbnissi (Uriat-Ubanis), "the Jews' town"; east of Gori, Uplis-tzikhe ("castle of Upli"), now a village which may be seen from the Trans-Caucasian Railway; Caspi, a great place according to the Georgian Annals, now a small village; Mtzkheta (Mestika of Ptolemy); and Kartli or Armazi of the Georgian Annals — Harmozika of the classic writers.

After Harmozika travellers might go into Armenia and Persia, not by the perilous Caspian steppes, but by descending the Kura as far as the modern Yevlakh and then by Pertav (Barda), the capital of Aghovania-Albania to the Araxes. It would seem, however, that the most likely route was to ascend the valley of the Akstafa and descend that of the Arpa-chai, when they would come into the region of the classical Armenian cities in the valley of the Araxes — Bagaran, Ervandashat, Armavir, Vagarshapat, Artaxata and Naxuana (Nakhichevan). It is noteworthy that while Strabo is exact about the Colchian section of the through-route, and fairly informative on the Iberian section, he gives little information about Albania and no information of an extensive river transport such as existed on the Rion-Phasis. Moreover, his remarks on the difficulties of travel on the confines of Iberia and Armenia rather indicate that he was referring to the Borchalu route, which Chardin, sixteen centuries later, found so hazardous.


The Georgian lands — Colchis and Iberia — in the valleys of the Rion and the Kura, and the Armenian lands along the Araxes were well known to the Romans, and have remained familiar ground to Byzantine and Arab chroniclers and European travellers down to modern times. They were traversed by the principal trade-routes leading from the Mediterranean world by way of the Black Sea to Persia and inner Asia. The Georgian and Armenian kings were the allies, the feudatories or the enemies of successive Roman emperors, and the great heroes of the Western world — Pompey, Justinian, and Heraclius — fought hard campaigns in the Georgian country. Trebizond was a considerable Roman port, and Theodosiopolis (near the site of Erzerum) was one of their most important bases during the long and recurrent Persian wars. Again, the Greeks had sailed along the sea-coast between Trebizond and Batum since several hundred years B.C., and a Greek sea-captain could probably have edited with ease the pages of the British 'Black Sea Pilot', which describe this coast.

But the country lying back from this familiar sea route, and enclosed between the two great land routes, remained almost unknown until the middle of the nineteenth century. In this respect it may be compared to the Rif and the country extending south of Cape Ghir along the south-west coast of Morocco — both of which regions lie up against great international traderoutes and have remained almost unknown until comparatively recent years. This stretch of country has neither geographical nor ethnical unity. It is a confused mass of mountains and valleys, with a mixed population of Georgian, Armenian and Kurdish stock, to which have been added, since the seventeenth century, certain immigrant Turkish elements. It can, however, be treated as a historical unit in the fact that it has always constituted a march-land between the Georgians and the Armenians, and, in the last century, between the Russians and the Turks. My excuse for treating it as a subject lies in the fact that this country is so little known, except from Georgian, Armenian, and Russian sources, and it may hold some practical interest in the fact that the present Russo-Turkish frontier runs over its bleak mountains.

The Georgians call the whole region Samtzkhe or Saatabego,[*] and Prince Wakhusht,[*] the Georgian geographer of the early eighteenth century, in his 'Description of Samtzkhe,' ascribes to it traditional borders which define almost exactly the political march-land between the Georgians, the Armenians, the Greeks of Trebizond and the Osmanli Turks.

Samtzkhe — all the march-country — may be roughly divided into two areas: (1) the valley of the Chorokh, with its tributaries, the Tortom-su, the Olti-chai, the Ardanuch-su, the Imer-Khevi, and the Acharis-tsqali; (2) the upland plateau, the axis of which is the great massif of Chaldir Dagh. In the lake-country round Chaldir two considerable rivers find their sources: the Kura, which runs north and then east, and breaks through the surrounding mountain rim into the Trans-Caucasian Trough; and the Arpa-chai, which, with numerous tributaries, flows south into the Araxes valley.


The Chorokh valley is bounded along its northern line by mountains, which in different parts are known by different local names, but which are conveniently called the Pontic Alps.

Lazistan is, in the strict ethnic meaning of the word, that part of the Pontic Alps which ranges from the hinterland of Riza to the mouth of the Chorokh. The Alps run eastward from the region of Kerasund to the ravine of the Chorokh, and their general tendency is to increase in height from west to east, until 50 miles inland behind Atina they reach their highest summit in Pershambek Dagh (Khachkhar) (12,000 feet), whose sharp peak Palgrave has compared to the Matterhorn.* Pershambek has never been climbed, owing rather to political difficulties than to the difficulties of the ascent. Palgrave, in the course of his journey from Atina to Ispir, passed within 4000 feet of the summit. The mountain can be reached by a track from Atina to Ispir, and the journey — ascent and return — should not occupy more than ten days.

Immediately east of Pershambek rise the jagged heights of Parkhal (W.O. Map, Sh. K. 37, 3500 metres). Kazbeg visited these mountains in 1876, and found at the village of Parkhal that the inhabitants spoke a language unknown to him — a curious fact, since he was familiar with the languages of the region. It may be suggested that the language of Parkhal was the unstudied argot current among the "Khalt" villagers who are scattered about the country between Gumushkhana and Baiburt.

The spinal watershed of the Pontic Alps runs at a distance of 40 to 60 miles from the sea. The heights are steep and bare, but to the north the range throws off lower lateral arms towards the sea. The lateral ranges are covered with a rich forest vegetation, and the various intervening valleys are hot, moist and fertile. On the south, the descent to the Chorokh is less gradual, and the country, deprived by the intervening mountains of the influence of the sea, is bleak and bare, and very sparsely inhabited.

The Georgians call Lazistan Chaneti, and the people Chan, plural Chan-ni. The Swanetian form of Chaneti (from which the Turkish Lazistan seems to derive) is Lazan (i.e. La—territorial prefix+Zan<—>Chan). The root form Chan<—>Son is widespread throughout the Caucasus, particularly as applied to tribal and place-names in the western part.[*] The Laz by their language are closely related to the Mingrelians (who are themselves called Chan-ar by the neighbouring people of Swaneti), and it seems probable that the Channi, the Chanar (Mingrelians) and the Swanni (Anglicé: Swanetians) represent the surviving elements of a racial group which was once widespread round the coasts of the Black Sea. The Channi have a definite national type which clearly resembles that of the Mingrelians, and is quite distinct from that of the Kartlians (eastern Georgians), the Armenians and the Turks. They are, at the same time, not easily distinguishable in physical type from the Pontine Greeks.

The Channi are of slight stature, wiry and light-boned, with dark hair and eyes. Their complexions are swarthy, but rather from sunburn, for the women, who go veiled, and the smaller children have delicate white skins and often rosy complexions. The manner of the Laz is alert and quick, and although shy and suspicious with strangers, they prove on friendlier acquaintance to be gay, intelligent and witty.

As a people they have never been even superficially studied, except by one or two Georgian and Russian philologists, and a careful study of their language, customs and traditions, and more particularly of the archaeology of their coast, might throw a new light on several historical problems.

Archaeological excavations carried out in the Northern Caucasus and in Trans-Caucasia during the last century have confirmed the legend preserved in the Argonautica as to the wealth and civilization which existed round the eastern shores of the Black Sea during the so-called Bronze Age, and the results of these excavations have indicated also connections between the Caucasus and the successive cultures of the Eastern Mediterranean and South-Western Asia. Whether this Caucasian civilization was the result of foreign colonization from the Eastern Mediterranean, as was that of the later Greek city kingdoms round the northern shores of the Euxine, or whether it was native and original, is again a matter for future research. But in this connection, the work of Professor Zakharov, recently summarized and developed by Professor Hall,[*] is most suggestive. It indicates that some at least of the human elements who as the "Peoples of the Sea" appeared in the Eastern Mediterranean at the close of the thirteenth century B.C. may have come from the Caucasus. Professor Rostovtseff in his introductory chapter to 'Iranians and Greeks' has already developed some archaeological and mythological evidence indicating that the Bronze Age civilization of the Caucasus was native and original, and that the navigation of the Black Sea was developed by the Caucasians themselves. A careful study of the seafaring habits and particularly of the boat-building of the maritime villages along the Black Sea coast between Batum and Samsun would, I think, confirm these theories, which can be based at present only on slender archaeological evidence.

The villages along this coast are of mixed population. As far east as Riza, Turkish is spoken, although the physical types along the littoral are in general different from those seen in the purely Turkish country of the interior. In many parts the Turkish language has only recently replaced Greek. This is principally due to the massacre, deportation and emigration of the Greek population, but it must partly be explained by the forcible conversions to Islam during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and subsequent adoption of the Turkish language, for the physical type in many Turkish-speaking villages is certainly not Turkish. The Greek language spoken in many districts along the Black Sea coast was archaic, and indicative of the strongly Hellenic character of long stretches of the coast from classic times. But as the Turks in recent times have absorbed or driven out the earlier Greek-speaking elements, so by a similar process must have disappeared the population that was there before the Greeks. The descendants of the survivors of the original pre-Hellenic population are the Laz.

These folk are to be found as sailors and porters in all the Turkish ports along the Black Sea, as far west, indeed, as Galata. But as a people they are confined to the fishing villages and the narrow lateral villages which fall to the sea between Riza and the mouth of the Chorokh. Here they do not number in all more than 8000. But Laz place-names may be traced westward by Trebizond and Kerasund, at least as far as Samsun, and inland to Jevizlik (Machkha); and a scientific study of Pontic place-names on the basis of the Laz language would no doubt produce interesting results.[*] Laz family names, with Graecized terminations, are noticeable in the records of the mediaeval empire of Trebizond, and it is perhaps not too venturesome to suggest that the antagonism, which existed in the politics of "the Empire," between the "town-party" and the "country-party" was in fact a national antagonism of Laz against Greek.

Even a casual study of the life of these Laz can throw an interesting light on the problems of the pre-Hellenic history of the Black Sea. Like the Venetians, who recognized the fact with yearly ceremonial, the Laz are, first and essentially, "wedded to the sea." A formidable range of mountains overhangs their narrow, fertile coastland, and cuts them off from all communication with the hinterland, except on the west, by the mountain road going inland from Trebizond, and on the east, by the precipitous valley of the Chorokh.

The surrounding forests place the best boat-building material to hand. Their living is now only fishing, smuggling and seafaring; in other days they could undertake the more lucrative enterprises of piracy and slave-raiding. From classic times they have been known as excellent boat-builders and daring pirates. The very nature of their country compels them to live on the sea as the nomad Arab and Mongol live on horseback. Communication along the Black Sea coast is at once dangerous and easy; dangerous because of the sudden storms, and easy because a small sailing-boat may hug the coast at a few hundred yards' distance from the shore and run into one of innumerable coves at any sign of danger from man or weather.

During the summer of the present year I made three journeys along the Pontic coast in small sailing-boats with auxiliary engines, from Riza to Khopa, and from Trebizond to Kerasund and return.[*] In Zephyr Bay we were met by a nasty head-on squall, which promised to be worse the other side of the cape. The three Laz boatmen therefore put in at a small anchorage under the village of Zephyr, and after waiting a couple of hours we resumed the journey, rounded Cape Zephyr, and made Kerasund as another bad squall was breaking. On the return journey the weather was sufficiently rough to delay the steamer from Kerasund to Trebizond, but the Laz boat nevertheless made good going, cutting across the bays from cape to cape whenever the wind slackened and, when it was bad, following the line of the shore at a distance away of about 200 yards. We had of course the advantage of a motor-engine, but even on this comparatively bad day we passed several small craft either under sail or being rowed by gangs of six or eight men. We noticed at one point, 500 yards or more to the seaward of us, a small boat, almost egg-shaped, like a coracle, under a primitive lateen sail and carrying only a man and two women.

The seafaring activities of the Laz in small boats were famous during the period of the Kemalist War in Turkey, when, in spite of an intermittent blockade, large quantities of arms and munitions were brought along the coast from Batum to Samsun.

Apart, then, from conclusions which may be drawn from the sparse archaeological evidence, and from classical legends and from the comparison of tribal names in the Caucasus with those of the "People of the Sea." the natural conditions along this coast tend to presuppose that there developed here one of the earliest of the cultures based on navigation. The place-names, as yet unstudied in serious detail, indicate the former extension of the Laz language along the Pontine coast, and the character of the earliest settled sites seems to have invited naturally the enterprise of a native seafaring folk, small in numbers and acting as carriers and traders for the peoples of the interior.[*]

The sites of Samsun, Kerasund, Trebizond and Riza — and particularly of the three last — are all similar in character, that is, rectangular table-topped bluffs, dominating an anchorage and a river-valley. Most interesting of all is the bluff called Eski-Tirabazon (old Trebizond) near the little village of Vitza, which is a site similar to those of Riza and Trebizond, but now entirely deserted, except for an old tower, and covered with rhododendron and azalea bushes. So far this coast remains archaeologically unexplored, although the existence of remains of the classical period at Samsun and other places, and of mediaeval Byzantine and Latin remains at Trebizond and Riza are well known. A schoolmaster at Trebizond told me that, some years ago, peasants, working their gardens at the village of Kovata, east of Trebizond, had dug up bronze and gold ornaments; and Fevzi Effendi, a mining engineer of Atina, remembered, some ten years ago, a stone axe-head being found in the disused working of a copper-mine, the original workers of which were, as usual along this coast, described as "Genoese."


The Chorokh finds its source about 10 miles to the south-east of Ispir, runs in a loop westward to Baiburt, and then below Baiburt turns due east, almost doubling on its track, and flows past Ispir to the neighbourhood of Artvin, receiving on its way the combined streams of the Tortum-su and the Olti-chai, and lower down the smaller stream of Ardanuch-chai. Above Artvin the Chorokh turns north-north-east; then, below the town, cuts through a ravine, which rises in sheer rock on either side to a height of about 1500 feet; and then travels through a narrow precipitous valley towards the sea, which it enters 10 miles south-west of Batum. The water of the river is of thick yellowish colour, and it is famous for the rapidity of its current. A rough estimate would put its fall at 4500 feet in a distance of 150 miles.

East of the Chorokh rises the mountainous massive of Karchkhal, the highest peak of which attains over 11,000 feet. The general lie of Karchkhal is south-west to north-east. Its northern shoulder throws off the short range of Shavsheti running west to east and giving its name to the whole region. Karchkhal-Shavsheti forms the watershed of streams falling west to the Chorokh-Acharis-tsqali and Imer-Khevi.[*] The easterly flanks of Karchkhal and Shavsheti drop slightly to the upland basin of the Imer-Khevi and then rise to form the Arsiani Mta and the Yalanuz-cham Dagh,[*] which run from north to south and overlook to the east the high plateau country where the Kura takes its source.

The Pontic Alps make their continuation in the low hills of Guria, which form the triangle of country between the sea, the Chorokh and the Acharistsqali. They run inland west to east, and soon rise in height to peaks of 7000 and 8000 feet, until west of Gotimeris-mta they join shoulders with the Arsiani Mta, going north to south, and are themselves continued in the Suram or Meskhian mountains, which form the bridge between the Pontic Alps and the main chain of the Caucasus.

The triangular block of country, contained between the Chorokh, the Gurian border-range and the rim of the Arsiani-Yalanuz-cham mountains, remained almost unvisited by European travellers until the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Chardin, in the seventeenth century, is the only traveller who has left an account of it. Fearing to take the ordinary route from Fasso to Tiflis, owing to war in Mingrelia, he landed at Gonia, and (so far as can be gathered from his text) travelled up the valley of the Acharis-tsqali and along that of the Kobloian-chai to Akhal-tzikhe. But he travelled in a state of panic, and says nothing of interest. In the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-9, General Osten-Sacken made an unsuccessful attempt to penetrate to Batum by the valley of the Acharis-tsqali, but he only reached Khulo. During the following two decades, the Ottoman Government established their authority — which had hitherto only been nominal in this region — and overthrew the power of the local family of Georgian Mussulman begs, the Khimshiashvili.

Finally, in 1876, a thorough reconnaissance of the country was made by a Georgian colonel in the Russian service, Dmitri Kazbeg,[*] a competent linguist, geologist, and archaeologist, who has left the only good general account which exists to this day. The territory passed to Russia by the Treaty of Berlin, but little development followed, with the exception of the construction of a road from Batum to Akhal-tzikhe, and owing to it being a frontier zone it has since been little visited except by privileged Russian subjects — the Georgian archaeologist Dmitri Bakradze, Countess Uvarov and Professor Marr. By the Treaty of Kars (1921) the southern part of the triangle again passed to the Turks, and the present frontier between the Soviet Union and Turkey runs along the watershed of the Shavsheti mountains.

This triangular territory covers an area of approximately 2500 square miles, and it is divided by Kazbeg into two parts — Achara and Shavsheti — the boundary of the two being, for practical purposes, the watershed of the Shavsheti range. Achara now constitutes the Autonomous Ajaristan S.S.R. (a part of Georgia S.S.R.), and Shavsheti forms a part of the Turkish vilayet of Artvin.

The principal valleys of upland Achara are six: those of Gorjomi, Khulo and Begleti, which fall to the Acharis-tsqali from the north-east, and Skhalta, Murieti and Chvani which fall from the south-east. All the valleys, except the last, are dependencies of the Arsiani mountains, and have one common character. The Arsiani mountains, where they break south from the Gurian- Meskhian chain, at first take a short loop to the east, and then run due north to south until they merge in the Yalanuz-cham range. Along the broad ridge of the Arsiani mountains stretches a flat strip of Alpine meadow-land, which rises here and there to the peaks of Kirkhat, Chviukh, Kencheuri and Arsiani. Of these, the last two are clearly of volcanic origin, Arsiani itself being an extinct volcano. The ridge of Alpine meadow-land has a mean average of 8000 feet above the level of the Black Sea; it consists of one vast pasturage over which, from spring to the beginning of autumn, wander innumerable flocks driven up, not only from the neighbouring valleys of the Acharistsquali and the tributaries of the Kura, but also from as far as Batum.

At a height of 6200 feet the pine forests appear, and from here the slopes of Arsiani towards Achara fall to the west, forming a number of bluffs and a few terraces, which the farther they run from the high ridge of the chain, the more steeply they drop to the valleys of Achara. This character of the orographic structure of the chain governs the character of the different valleys; and all the valleys and rivers of Achara are of one and the same type. In their upper parts the rivers are fed by sources and streams which come down from the surrounding heights with a comparatively moderate fall. The valleys here are only beginning; they consist of hollows with comparatively roomy bottoms, which form rich meadow-lands suitable for corn-growing and, of course, for cattle-raising. Over the meadow-lands the inhabitants are settled in isolated groups, which may be called communities rather than villages.

A typical settlement, such as that of Gorjomi, occupies an area stretching about 4 miles along each side of the river and about a mile outwards on either side. This area is dotted with groups of timber-built houses, which are separated from each other by distances of about one-third of a mile. Each group has its own name, after the family name of those composing it. Each group is bound together into a loose community by common interests which centre round the "jami" (mosque). Each group has its own corn-lands, hayfields, pasture-ground and woods. Such an upland valley is well watered. Dozens of small burns flow down from all sides into the common bed, until, farther along, the river as a thundering torrent breaks through the westerly rim of the hollow. Here is the beginning of the middle course of the river, which is marked, in general, by a strong fall to the west, and a sharp transition into a narrow valley, along the bottom of which, foaming and whirling, the waters pour from rock to rock at a terrific speed.

With the beginning of the middle course of the river the vegetation of the country suddenly changes. On the flat ridge of the Arsiani there are no woods: it is a strip of Alpine meadow-land with the characteristic vegetation. The pine begins at a height of 6200 feet; but in upland Achara it only occurs along the upper courses of the rivers, and even here the woods are not exclusively coniferous; typical trees of the middle zone quickly appear — beech, birch, alder and oak, and the pear and apple; at a height of 5500 feet nuts and chestnuts are met with, and a little lower down, the vine. Upland Achara is thus rich in natural resources, but the peculiar topographical conditions make human settlement difficult, except in certain favoured spots. The steep sides of the mountains are covered with thick forest, in which arable clearings hardly exist. Here and there, where it seems impossible to penetrate on foot, may be seen, perched in a small clearing, the wooden chalet of a lumberman or hunter.

The character of the Arsiani range and the valleys of upland Achara governs the nature of the means of communications as well as the routes themselves. While it is easy to travel along or across the strip of Alpine meadowland along the ridge of Arsiani, communications, in the lower country, exist only along the actual course of the rivers. Except along the valley of the Acharis-tsqali, the tracks are only suitable for foot-passengers and packponies, and in places, neither for one nor the other.

Sleighs are in great use in the Alpine meadow-lands, both in winter and in summer. In these parts they have a special kind of small sleigh called "tziga" (ციგა). The "tziga" is used in winter for the transport of hay; a large quantity can be loaded on to one, and they go about the "kishlyars" (winter settlements) under the control of a rudder, without the need of draught animals. In winter-time the roads and passes over the Arsiani mountains become impassable, and at this time of year the inhabitants use snow-shoes called "tkhilamuri" (თხილამური); this primitive kind of ski, noted both by Strabo[*] and by Chardin[*], consists of a hoop of nut-wood, a foot in diameter, bound to the foot with cord.

The main road from Batum to Akhal-tzikhe, and most of the lesser tracks, lead over the Arsiani mountains into the upper valley of the Kura, and with Guria there are no proper communications at all. Nevertheless, in summer the inhabitants of Gorjomi and Chvani cross the mountains under the flank of Mount Taginauri to market their cattle and cheeses in Ozurgeti. On the cheeses of Achara, Wakhusht comments that "they make cheeses there, of which a single one may weigh ten, fifteen or twenty litras, and never spoil or become rancid, and which can be eaten boiled if you like it."[*] These cheeses, "qveli" (ყველი), taste very salt, which possibly explains why they keep so long. Cheese and "gomi" (გომი), or maize porridge, are the chief food of the people, except during the fruit season. Large quantities of the splendid cherries, apples and pears produced in Achara find their way to Akhal-tzikhe and even to Alexandropol; and there is also a considerable trade, as in Lazistan and all along the Pontic coast, in hazel-nuts.

Under the name of Shavsheti is comprised the stretch of country enclosed between the mountain buttresses of Karchkhal (north-west), Shavsheti (north), Arsiani (north-east) and Yalanuz-cham (east). This consists of one large basin, which may be divided into two parts: (1) the mountainous part comprising the ravine of the Imer-Khevi, with its principal tributary the Kvirila (Georgian "bawler"); and (2) the plain which composes the valley of the river Satlelis-tsqali, itself a tributary of the Imer-Khevi. The mountainous part is of very much the same character as upland Achara, from which it differs only in its sharper contours, while the forest vegetation is poorer and the soil changes from clay to lime. The small streams entering the ravine of the Imer-Khevi flow through steep banks, and the inhabitants are grouped only along the ravines, which form also the sole means of communication.

The flat, or southern, part of Shavsheti forming the basin of the Satlelistsqali is of a different character: here the mountain shelves slope down in broad oblongs, and the inhabitants of the district have been able, in the course of time, to spread out from the banks of the streams and to scatter over the broad meadow-lands which offer them both good arable and pasture.

The Imer-Khevi ravine is remarkable as possibly the wildest valley even in the wild regions of the Caucasus. The river flows in a south-westerly direction to the Chorokh, and receives on its left bank the not inconsiderable streams of the Kvirila and the Satlelis-tsqali. Several small streams drop to the right bank from the snow-capped massif of Karchkhal. The principal Imer-Khevi ravine consists of a cleft through gigantic mountain masses, and it is overhung by naked limestone cliffs with very sharp contours. Below, to use the not over-imaginative phraseology of Kazbeg, "there rushes, as it were, a white mass of seething foam with a monotonous thunderous booming: the area of vision is narrow, a cliff rises before you wherever you look, and all round higher and steeper cliffs frown down upon it; all about is elemental force alone, oppressing and suppressing every kind of life. There is little vegetation; only here and there gleams the green of a small meadow where life struggles to maintain itself, and somewhere below on a strip of low ground, or high up under the clouds, cling two or three houses — the villages of Imer-Khevi; near the houses, among the rocks, grow a few trees, and round these are tiny sheltered fields. But if you look at these solitary trees, you will see the vegetation of a warm climate — mulberry trees, Greek nuts, cherries and occasionally even the grape-vine, clinging to pomegranate trees or simply to the bare rocks.''

Both the type and the character of the inhabitants of Achara and Shavsheti are different from that of the Laz on their western, and of the Mingrelians on their northern borders. The physical type, with its innumerable variations in the individual, corresponds to the standard "Alpine" type of the anthropologists — broad skull and coarse black hair, large eye-sockets, sallow skin, heavy-boned broad physique and much body hair — the human product, in fact, of a hard extreme climate and a diet largely cereal. This "Alpine" type, with its variations in sub-types, is common to the mass of the population of the Anatolian and Armenian plateaux and of the Caucasian uplands. The coastal peoples — the Abkhaz, the Mingrelians and the Laz — are quite distinct from this predominant type. The Alpine type varies considerably: the eastern Georgians — Kartlians and Kakhians, and also the Ossetians of the Daryal region — have a greater height and slimmer build, and, particularly among the Georgians, the men are remarkable for their thin chin and nose bones in contrast to the heavy jowls and thick noses seen among the Armenians and Turks.

The population of Achara, Shavsheti and the Chorokh Valley is, generally speaking, of the Alpine type, and they have the heavy jowls, thick necks and broad noses of the Armenian-Anatolian regions, rather than the finer-boned characteristics of the folk of Kartli.

The language of Achara and Shavsheti was Georgian, although during the last century the Georgian tongue has given place steadily to Turkish. The remarkable vitality of the Turkish language is not difficult to understand. Its beauty, clarity and force are combined with a simplicity and regularity which makes it the best medium for the exchange of ideas among a primitive population speaking a variety of alien languages. Max Müller, the philologist, said that the Turkish language is so simple and logical that it would seem that all the wise men of the world must have come together to compose its structure. It is a fact that political conditions, trade, proselytization, conscription and administrative usage have aided the Turkish language to oust Greek, Armenian, Georgian and Kurdish in all the march-lands of the old Ottoman Empire. But, apart from this, Turkish rivals Russian as the "lingua franca" for all the country between the Black Sea and the Caspian, and it survives as a useful language not only over the Iranian plateau, but as far as the banks of the Danube.

Kazbeg noted with regret that in Achara the Georgian language was being displaced by Turkish fifty years ago. The Russian conquest in 1878 did not serve greatly to check this progress of Turkish, and at the beginning of the present century Marr observed that many villages in Shavsheti were entirely ignorant of Georgian.[*] The villagers had taken Turkish names, but if asked their Georgian family name they would give it although they had dropped it out of use.

In the border country between Batum and Akhal-tzikhe Russian is spoken by educated people, but in many villages inside the Soviet frontier where Russian is not spoken it will be found that the peasants have both Georgian and Turkish. A curious phenomenon in the Chorokh Valley is a kind of mixed lingo, like the Sabir of the Mediterranean ports; its basis is Turkish, but it has Georgian and Russian phrases, and many drovers, tinkers, itinerant beggars and the sort who move around are proud of a bad Russian argot of the barracks which they can speak.

Like the Laz along the Black Sea coast, the Achars have a bad name in the civilized centres round, such as Batum and Artvin. Smugglers and poachers they undoubtedly are, but their bad characteristics of banditry and easy rebellion are rather those of the disinherited all the world over. They are, in fact, a passive folk, simple, stolid and faithful, pursuing their immemorial life between the "Kishlyars" or winter settlements and the "Yailas" or summer camps among the Alpine pastures; the few more adventurous among them, fur-hunters, lumbermen and drovers. Unlike the Laz and Mingrelians, they are morose and low-spirited, mirroring in their minds the bleak uplands of their habitat. Dances and songs, the spirit of the life of neighbouring Georgia, are seldom heard among them; their only spiritual enthusiasm has been in the past an occasional forlorn revolt. The men of Achara are more warlike than those of Shavsheti, who lie open to the control and influence of the relatively civilized towns of the Chorokh valley, and the men of Shavsheti have a name for cowardice in Achara.


The upland country where the Kura takes its source is a high plateau of a general average of 6000-8000 feet above the level of the sea, and represents in all an area of about 7000 square miles. To the north are the Gurian or Meskhian mountains, which farther along to the north-east take the name of Suram, but which are called by the old Georgian Annalists, variously, Ghado or Persati. To the west are the Arsiani with their long level ridge and their commanding peaks; and these merge southward into the Yalanuz-cham Dagh — "the lone pine mountains" of the Turks, but called by the Georgians Qwa-Qrili, "stone-strewn." These mountains, which send down westwards to the sea the fast torrents of Achara and Shavsheti, fall to the east in steep valley-beds to the Kura: the Kobloian-chai flowing east, and the Poskhovchai north-east unite their waters a dozen miles above Akhal-tzikhe, to fall into the Kura. South-eastward from the Arsiani bluffs the not inconsiderable Kani-chai (Erushetis-tsqali) flows down to the Kura; and finally the southern buttresses of the Yalanuz-cham Dagh, and their southerly continuation the Sughanli Dagh — the "Onion Mountains" of the Turks, Mount Qalnu of the Georgians, give birth to the numerous streams which are the first waters of the Kura.[*]

The Kura, in its upper course, flows eastward until after the junction with it of the Kani-chai, and then turns north-eastward through a precipitous and rock-strewn ravine which forms a cleft between the "massif" of Dokus Punar (Erushetis-Mta) to the north, and the northern spurs of the Chaldir Dagh "massif" to the south. It loops north-west in a wide half-circle above Akhal-tzikhe, and then below the town turns north-north-east through the long defile past the Meskhian mountains. This defile is called Borjom from a small town situated in it, but its old name is Tashis-Kari, a curious Turko- Georgian compound which may be rendered "rock-gate."

Above Akhal-tzikhe, at Khertvis (=Khevi, valley+ertvis, joins i.e. "where valleys meet"), the Kura is joined by a considerable stream coming from the south-east which goes by the name of Akhalkalakis-tsqali, "the river of Akhalkalaki," or "new-town water." This valley of Akhalkalaki, with the southernflowing Arpa-chai (Turkish "barley water"), which finds its numerous sources in the Chaldir Massif, constitutes the natural line of communication between the valleys of the Kura and the Araxes, between Georgia and Armenia. A long mutton-leg of mountainous country separates the upper valley of the Kura from its middle course in the Kartlian plain. The northern shoulder of this mountain stretch faces the Meskhian mountains and slopes down to form the southern side of the Borjom defile. Southward these mountains run to merge in the precipitous range of Shakh Dagh, overlooking Lake Sevan (Gok-chai =Turkish "blue water"), the largest stretch of inland water in the region of the Caucasus. The north-western shoulders of these mountains go by the name Trialeti, the southerly continuation are called Somkheti, and the Georgians call the Armenians who live beyond them to the south "Somekhni." The easterly ridge of the Somkhetian mountains, overlooking the upland valleys of the Akhalkalakis-tsqali and the Arpa-chai, is called by the Russians "Gori Mokriya," or "The Wet Mountains." Northwards the steep ravines of Somkheti send down tributaries to the middle course of the Kura, and two of these form secondary lines of invasion and communication between the Araxes and middle Kura valleys: from the upper valley of the Arpa-chai by the Borchalu, and from the shores of Lake Sevan by the Akstafa, men and armies may come and go from the valley of the Araxes into the Karayaz Steppe — ancient Cambysene, "the plain of buffaloes" — which leads up to Tiflis.

Such is the country of the sources of the Kura and its highland parts — a country more easily accessible than the mountains of Lazistan and Achara, and more familiar, for in the last hundred years the din and clamour of four Russo-Turkish wars has swept across its misty pastures and sounded down its bleak ravines.

Wakhusht, the geographer of Georgia, has described the land of Samtzkhe in the loving words of an exile: "This country is entirely covered by rocks, comparatively high mountains, rough plains and forests; it produces reeds and lilies; it contains rivers, springs and lakes, but few plains; cold in winter in certain parts, and with abundant snow; in other places the summer is temperate, because the fields are near to the mountains. Elsewhere the heat is unbearable except in the fields. The climate is good and healthful except by the sea. The country produces all kinds of grains, but not everywhere; in certain places they work a little silk; the fruits, of which we have spoken, are good and abounding. There are vineyards, gardens and roseries; but most of the flowers grow wild in the woods and on the mountains, and in certain places the scent of lilies pervades both the mountains and the plains.... Birds are innumerable. The rivers are many and great and of rapid current; the springs are beautiful, delicious and health-giving; the lakes are good and full of fish; big and little trout are, above all, found therein. There are no sturgeon nor shell-fish; along the rivers and in the lakes certain spots breed insects and reptiles; elsewhere there are less; bees are numerous and their honey is good and abundant."[*]

The line of the Gurian-Meskhian mountains with their southerly arm in the Arsiani and the Yalanuz-cham, forms the watershed of streams flowing westward to the Black Sea and eastward to the Kura and the Caspian. It divides also the Western Georgians or Mingrelians and the Eastern Georgians or Kartlians. The Acharians and Shavshetians belong to the western side of the watershed, and, as we have seen, their idiom is closely related to the Mingrelian. The inhabitants of the Kura uplands, the eastern side of the divide, belong, both linguistically and historically, rather to the Kartlian stock. In the words of Wakhusht "the men and women are like to them of Kartli, but they have a softer and more harmonious tongue."[*] But, as in Achara and Shavsheti, the influence of Islam and the Turkish language has in great part succeeded in altering the superficial character of the nationality of the people. With the decline of the Georgian kingdom at the end of the fifteenth century, the Georgian districts south-west of the Borjom defile became isolated from the rest of Georgia, and the establishment of an important Turkish military base at Akhal-tzikhe had the effect of making the upper Kura valley a stronghold of the mullahs and janissaries. The feudal and ecclesiastical hierarchy of mediaeval Georgia gave place to the rule of Ottoman officials and a few apostate Georgian déré-begs. Wakhusht, writing in the eighteenth century, gives a long list of the razed churches and monasteries of Samtzkhe, and the traveller to-day may see many a village mosque or guardhouse built out of the carved stones of old churches. In the first half of the eighteenth century Wakhusht noted that the peasants had become "Muhammadans for the most part, and those that are Christians are without pastors, since they do not any longer recognize the Katholikos of Kartli, and the Greeks do not concern themselves with them. They are, then, without bishops and priests, except for a few consecrated in Kartli. Their native language is Georgian, but at banquets and meetings the great men speak Turkish, using Georgian among themselves and with their friends. The great men and Mussulmans dress like the Osmanli." [*]

The Russian conquest, in the early part of the nineteenth century, failed to modify the situation, although both after 1829 and 1877 there was a substantial migration of Mussulmans into Turkish, and of Armenians into Russian, territory. Akhal-tzikhe and Akhalkalaki are to-day virtually Armenian towns, but in the villages in the immediate neighbourhood it is usual to find only Georgian or Turkish — and generally both — spoken. Similarly, during the period 1877 to 1917, the population of Artvin, Ardahan and Ardanuch — where there had always been a substantial Armenian trading element even in the Middle Ages — became almost exclusively Armenian. However, the periods of anarchy between 1917 and 1921 resulted in the disappearance of the Armenian element from the towns ceded to Turkey by the Treaty of Kars (1921), and they have been replaced to a limited extent by Georgian and Tartar Mussulmans who have crossed the border from Soviet territory.

The life of the people on both sides of the Arsiani-Yalanuz-cham Divide remains very similar, although natural conditions modify certain aspects of it. The tawdry rags of the industrial civilization which has enveloped the life of the towns on both the Russian and Turkish sides of the frontier, scarcely extend beyond. The peasant still lives the life of his stock, and in the Upper Kura valley the annual seasons of "kishlyar" and "yaila" — winter in the village, and summer in the camp — still bring many of the folk up from the narrow river valleys on to the highland pastures. Dwellings alone are entirely different from those of the Achars and Laz. Instead of the pretty wooden chalets which nestle among the woods of the coast, the villages in the Kura uplands consist of stone and mud hovels, which are often half subterranean, and from a distance it is often difficult to distinguish these yellowish clay dwellings against the yellowish clay hillside. The Turk is a hater of trees, and he and the Mongol before him have ravaged the forests as they ravaged the inhabitants of this part. It is a curious fact that at Atskhur, in the Borjom defile, the high-water mark of Turkish military settlement, the bare hills end and the forests of Georgia begin.


In the history of the Caucasian region, and to a lesser extent of the Armenian plateau, there have been three constant factors.

First, a tendency has always existed, from earliest historic times, for settled communities to develop a prosperous life in the great river valleys (Rion, Kura, Araxes) and in the wide upland lake basins (Van and Sevan). Here kingdoms, based on a feudal order, have risen and declined, from the kingdom of Urartu round Lake Van, in the first millennium B.C. to the mediaeval kingdoms of Armenia and Georgia. Secondly, the mineral resources and the rumour of their wealth have always attracted foreign sea-power. From the fabled time of the Argonauts, through the historical periods of the Hellenes, the Venetians and the Genoese, miners, traders, pirates and colonists have come by sea to give to the local cultures the influences and impetus of the outer world. Down through the ages men have sought the gold of Colchis, the iron of the Chalybes, and more recently the manganese of Chiaturi and the petroleum of Baku. This foreign influence, based on the desire for commercial profit, has largely enriched local culture, but there have been simultaneously land-incursions, either of uncontrollable nomadic invasion or the more persistent aggression of neighbouring empires, which have tended to destroy or to modify, rather than to give an impetus to local cultures.

Lastly, overlooking and surrounding the sea-ways of the traders and the valleys of the kings, there have survived primitive populations, almost as unchanging and as little influenced by the procession of historical causes and effects as the mountains which they inhabited. Thus the tribes of Daghestan have looked down upon the age-old cultures of the Kura valley; the Kurds have moved from "kishlyar" to "yaila" and from "yaila" to "kishlyar," through the long centuries that saw Urartu and the kingdoms of the Armenians; and the Laz have watched ships come and go over the Euxine, and seen civilization rise and wane in the valley of the Chorokh. A hundred years ago, General Osten Sacken found the Chorokh mountains as difficult and as dangerous as had Xenophon more than two thousand years before; and it is only in the last century that the repeating rifle has brought the mountaineers into the uncomprehended light of a modern and antipathetic world, as the road-makers' dynamite and the gelignite of the mining engineer have reduced their mountains to the common denominator of the raw materials of modern industry.

We thus find throughout the Caucasian lands two distinct forms of human society existing in regions adjacent to each other: the primitive clan system of the mountains, and the more ordered feudal system of the agricultural valleys and the trading towns. Both these systems subsisted side by side, in almost unaltered form until the middle of the nineteenth century. Georgian feudalism then collapsed before the impact of Russian civilization with its accompanying influences of European capitalism and Armenian commercialism. At the same time the clan chiefs of the march-lands — the "déré-begs" ("the lords of the valleys") went down before the "westernizing" reforms of Sultan Mahmud II. The great family of Khimshiashvili, who ruled all the country from the Gurian hills to the Olti-chai, and who in 1828-9 were more formidable to the Russians than Mahmud's "new model" army, gave place to incompetent Ottoman officials — the familiar butt of European travel books of the last century. The dere-begs of Lazistan did not long survive them, although they were a source of trouble to the Porte up to the period of the Crimean War.

It is a remarkable fact that the less developed the social structure of a given region, the stronger was the resistance to the military conquest and the introduction of bureaucratic administration by Russia and Turkey. The Georgian princes and the Tartar khans of Trans-Caucasia fell easily to the Russians; and the Georgian feudality of the Kura uplands passed under the direct control of the Sultan as early as the sixteenth century. But the Russians were occupied for sixty years' continuous fighting in the conquest of Circassia and Daghestan, and even after the fall of Shamyl the life of the Daghestan clans was little affected, nor for that matter was their spirit of independence, for in 1921-2 a revolt broke out, the suppression of which cost the Red Army at least 5000 killed.[*] Similarly the Achars, the Laz and the Kurds have always maintained their clan systems, almost unaffected by the periodic "westernizing" reform movements which have so profoundly affected the life of Turkey, and as late as 1925 the Kurdish chieftains put into the field a force the final defeat of which strained the resources of the Turkish Government.

These two different social systems of the Caucasus region were, of course, in many respects interdependent, although they may be considered as distinct phenomena. Elements of the clan system survived in lowland Georgia into the nineteenth century, and at different times the power of the feudal kings of Georgia was extended into the mountain districts, into Osseti and Daghestan on the north and east, and into Achara on the south-west. The remains of Christian churches in Osseti and other mountain districts confirm the statements of the Georgian Annalists, about the rule of Georgian kings in the mountains between the tenth and thirteenth centuries. The ruins of churches at Khulo and Skhalta in Achara, dating from the same period, indicate the early extension of feudalism to those districts, and the position, in later days, of the Khimshiashvili family in Achara, and the survival until the last generation of "aznauri" or "nobles" among the villagers of Shavsheti, illustrates a curious survival of a combination of the clan system and the feudal system.

The origin of the feudal system in Georgia dates back to a very early period. Conquering tribes were moving into the valley of the Kura from west and south between the fifth and seventh centuries B.C. This troubled period seems to have begun with the Cimmerian and Scythian invasions, which so disturbed the civilized states of all Western Asia; and the movement into the Kura Valley was probably connected with the contemporary migrations which saw the settlement of the Armenian plateau by Aryan-speaking tribes. Two principal migrant tribes who settled in Trans-Caucasia have been identified with the Mushkai and Tabal of the Assyrians, Moshkoi and Tibarenoi of the classic writers, Mtzkhetos and Uplos of the Georgian Annals.[*] The migrant folk were clearly of mixed stock compounded of the autochthonous folk of these parts, uprooted by the Cimmerian and Scythian invasions, and possibly some small Aryan elements. The names of some of the migrant tribes are still preserved in place-names in the Caucasus.[*]

At the time of the Roman conquest of Trans-Caucasia, a feudal civilization was already developing in Iberia — that is, Kartli or Georgia proper — the middle valley of the Kura. Albania or Eastern Trans-Caucasia, and the marcher-lands of the upper Kura, seem still to have had a purely tribal basis of life. The influence of Achaemenid Persia, according to the half-apocryphal Georgian Annals, appears to have given impetus to the development of feudalism. The early Iberian kings, clients of Persia, are reproached with having favoured and ennobled Persian and Macedonian mercenaries.

During the first six centuries A.D., the influence of the Iberian kings extended southward and westward to the Kura uplands, while, at the same time, the rather more powerful Armenian dynasts of the kingdom on the Araxes were pushing northward to the Chorokh valley and eastward along the valleys of the Arpa-chai and the Akstafa. It is an obscure period in which the turmoil of Armenian and Georgian forays are lost in the greater warrings of the Romans and the Persians.

In the seventh century the Arab conquest of Persia, Armenia and Eastern Trans-Caucasia put an end to the centuries-old current political feuds, which were only, however, soon to be renewed under other forms.

Armenia and Kartli for some long generations became provinces of the Caliphate, and the western plains of Imereti lay open to Arab "razzias." At this period then developed the remarkable civilization of the Chorokh valley, about which there is so little known. It was a civilization of refugees — half- Armenian and half-Georgian — and, through Trebizond, it was under the cultural influence of Byzantium and of East Christian art. Under the Arsakid kings the influence of Armenia had extended to the Parkhal mountains, but it is doubtful whether the population of the Chorokh valley was, at that period, purely Armenian in character.[*] For that matter the distinction between Georgian and Armenian in the marcher-lands is never very clear. The mixture of Georgian and Armenian topographical names, and the ambiguous names given by classic writers (Mossynoekhoi)[*] and early Byzantine historians (Armenochalybes) to the people of the Chorokh valley, indicate that the population of the region was always mixed in character. In the ninth century a purely Chorokh principality was formed. The house of Bagratiani, feudal lords of the small hold of Ispir on the upper Chorokh, with the Byzantine title of Kuropalates, extended their power over Klarjeti (middle valley of the Chorokh), Tao (valleys of the Tortum and Olti rivers), and Basiani (sources of the rivers Olti and Araxes). They set their capital on the precipitous table-shaped rock of Ardanuch, surrounded by impregnable cliffs and gorges, and placed at a height of nearly 2000 feet above the sea. From here they controlled the rich mineral-bearing valleys of the lower Chorokh and the Olti, and they commanded the ways which led from the seats of Moslem power to the Black Sea and the Byzantine world. Undoubtedly they secured much of the trade of the old Phasis-Kura route, the length of which was then divided between the contending Arabs and Byzantines, and they drew most of their importance from the fact that they constituted a buffer and intermediary between the rival empires.

The Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, writing of Ardanuch, in the tenth century, states that "the citadel of Ardanutzion is very strong, and has ramparts suitable to the capital of a district; it is the centre of all the business of Trebizond, of Iberia, of Abkhazia, of all Armenia and Syria (i.e. of the Moslem lands) and it does an immense commerce with all these countries. The country or 'arzen' of Ardanutzion is large and fertile: it is the key to Iberia, Abkhazia and Meskhia."[*] Later the decline of the Caliphate saw the rise of the remarkable Bagratiani family to the thrones of the short-lived Armenian kingdoms of Ani and Kars, and of Georgia, which their descendants retained, through many vicissitudes, until the Russian conquest at the beginning of the nineteenth century. And between the tenth and the thirteenth centuries there developed in the valleys of the Chorokh and the Upper Kura the rich feudal and ecclesiastical civilization, the centre of which was the capital of the Georgian kingdom at Tiflis. Walled towns and fortresses, monasteries and churches were built along the valleys and on the hillsides of the two great rivers and their tributaries.

In the Chorokh valley were the walled towns of Baiburt, Ispir and Artvin, with neighbouring Ardanuch, a dozen miles above the junction of the Imer-Khevi; the smaller town of Tortum at the head of the valley of its name; Idi, Nariman and Olti in the valley of the Olti river. The strong fortresses of Berta, Tzepta and Tukharisi commanded the Imer-Khevi ravine; and Ishkhani, Kalmakhi and Panasketi the valleys of Olti and Bardus. The wealth of churches and monasteries bore witness to the prosperity of the country and to the comparative security which invited the founders to build for posterity. The oldest and most celebrated monuments of ecclesiastical architecture were in the neighbourhood of the Bagratid seat at Ardanuch: such were the monasteries of Opisi, Shatberd, Khandzti, Ancha, and the cathedral church of Tbeti in the now desert valley of the Satlelis-tsqali — a monument which in grandeur and artistic conception has been compared to the Georgian metropolitan cathedral of Mtzkheta near Tiflis. Hardly less celebrated than Tbeti was the cathedral church of Tortum, and the neighbouring shrine of Khakhuli, the famous icon of which was a large gold triptych decorated with some seventy enamels, many of them of the eleventh century.

In the upper valley of the Kura were the walled towns of Ardahan and Akhal-tzikhe, and the smaller fortified place of Atskur (Atsqweri), in the Borjom defile — the latter place also the shrine of another celebrated icon, the costly adornment of which is indicative of the great wealth of its patrons, who endowed it, maybe, with the loot of the successful wars conducted in the twelfth century against the Persians and the Seljuq Sultans of Rum. In the valley of the Akhalkalaki river were the newer walled towns of Akhalkalaki and Khertvis. The upper valley of the Kura was a land of famous strongholds, the most notable of which was Vardziya (Vardis-tzikhe=the rose castle), a place containing a palace, baths and a church carved out of the living rock of a remote hillside to the west of the Kura, 10 miles above Khertvis. In this region also were two of the most famous monasteries of Georgia: Zarzma, in the valley of the Kobloian, and Safar, 10 miles to the south of Akhal-tzikhe.[*]

The Chorokh country and the Kura uplands, Samtzkhe, the marchcountry, played an important part in the history of the mediaeval Georgian kingdom. Its position as the borderland of every war caused the Georgian kings to harness on it a particular attention, and the loyalty of its lords and bishops — always doubtful in a day of strong local independencies and weak national allegiances — was purchased with favours, gifts and power. Again the proximity of the country to foreign contacts — Byzantine at Trebizond and in early days at Kars, Persian at Tabriz and later at Erivan, Seljuq-Turkish at Erzerum and later at Kars — resulted in the birth there of foreign influences which were quick to spread through the men of Samtzkhe to the rest of Georgia. Contrary to the old Georgian saying, "Lords from Kartli, squires from Imereti, merchants from Kakheti, courtesans from Samtzkhe,"[*] the Meskhians seem to have constituted the most virile element in the mediaeval kingdom: the levies of Akhal-tzikhe had the hereditary right to form the vanguard of the Georgian army,[*] and many of the intellectual leaders of mediaeval Georgia came from Samtzkhe: Gregory of Khandzti, the great churchman of the ninth century; Sargis of Tmogvi, the philosopher; and Shota of Rusthavi, the most loved poet of Georgia. Tornic, a celebrated Byzantine commander of the ninth century, who founded the Georgian monastery of Iveron on Mount Athos, was also a Meskhian.

The mountainous nature of both Georgia and Armenia always afforded opportunities to great feudal lords to break away from their allegiance, and, in fact, the unlicensed power of the feudatories in the Trans-Caucasian lands was, eventually, among the primary causes of the extinction of political independence in both Georgia and Armenia. In Samtzkhe, the family of Jaqeli had been raised by the Crown to the position of hereditary governors, under the Persian title of "atabeg" in the thirteenth century. And of all the turbulent "mtavads"[*] who troubled the Georgian kings, the Jaqelis, a family of peculiar energy and brilliance, were the most arrogant and the most disloyal. When in the middle of the fifteenth century the Georgian kingdom finally dissolved into a number of weak and contending principalities, the Jaqelis were, among the contending factions, not without responsibility for the failure to maintain the political unity of the nation.

During the first half of the sixteenth century Samtzkhe, as has been seen, passed under the control of the Ottoman Sultans, and the Jaqelis, after a courageous resistance, conveniently became apostates, and were made hereditary pashas of Akhal-tzikhe, a position which they retained within the family throughout the unceasing wars between the Turks, the Persians and the Georgian princes, which swept over Sa-atabego — "the atabeg's country" — during the subsequent three centuries. The depopulation and economic decay which are reflected in Wakhusht's laconic references to ruined monasteries and castles and deserted villages came about during these long Turko- Persian border wars; but the country had already fallen upon evil times before the rise of the Ottoman power, and Samtzkhe, with the whole of Georgia, never really recovered from the Mongol wars of the thirteenth century, and from the Black Death which ravaged the Georgian lands during the third quarter of the fourteenth century.

A further cause of depopulation — which indeed affected other parts of Georgia more seriously than Samtzkhe — was the custom of the invading armies of Turks and Persians to carry off into slavery the people of a whole countryside. And the evil was accentuated by the habit of raiding parties of the rival Georgian factions to kidnap the inhabitants and to sell them afterwards into slavery among their Muhammadan neighbours. Many of the feudal lords also took advantage of their seignorial rights over the property and bodies of their serfs to pursue this nefarious practice. So grave did the evil become that, from the sixteenth century onwards, the records of the Georgian Church are full of fulminations against those who traded in their fellows, and of offers to remit the sins of those penitents who should redeem a Christian soul from slavery among the Muslims. The iniquitous commerce was particularly brisk in Mingrelia and Guria, on the borders of Samtzkhe, and the reaction on the economic position of Eastern Samtzkhe was actually favourable, to the extent that Akhal-tzikhe[*], after Trebizond, became the principal Turkish entrepdt for the traffic. By contrast with the decline of the surrounding countryside, Akhal-tzikhe became a place of importance and prosperity under the Turkish hegemony. It was an artificial prosperity based on the importance of the slave trade, and on the fact that the town and fortress were a military depot for the eastern frontier of Turkey.

Akhal-tzikhe stood at the head of the principal Turkish entry into Georgia and through it passed a part of the meagre trade with the Kura valley, although the bulk of the commerce between Turkey and Trans-Caucasia went by the sea route, by Trebizond to Gonia and Fasso (Poti). At the time of the Russian occupation in 1828 the population, mostly Mussulman, was estimated at 40,000[*], and in Wakhusht's day, the commercial section, organized in influential trade guilds[*], in continuous contact with corresponding corporations in Tiflis and Trebizond, Erivan, Erzerum and Tabriz, cannot have been altogether unimportant.[*]