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Caucasian Albanian and the Question of Language and Ethnicity

Caucasian Albanian
and the Question of Language and Ethnicity
Wolfgang Schulze (2017)
How do we excavate ethnicity?
(Gocha Tsetskhladze 2014)
Language cannot be used as an objective definition of ethnic identity.
(Jonathan M. Hall 1997)
1. Introduction
In book VI of his Historia naturalis (77 AD), Plinius the Elder addresses (among
others) ethnographical topics of the regions of Western Asia. In Chapter 15, he talks
about peoples living at the banks of the „Caspian and Hyrcanian Sea“, which roughly
corresponds to the region of eastern Transcaucasia. Here, he states (38-39):
[38] (...) ab introitu dextra mucronem ipsum faucium tenent Vdini, Scytharum
populus, dein per oram Albani, ut ferunt, ab Iasone orti, unde quod mare ibi est
Albanum nominatur.
[39] haec gens superfusa montibus Caucasis ad Cyrum amnem, Armeniae
confinium atque Hiberiae, descendit, ut dictum est. supra maritima eius
Vdinorumque gentem Sarmatae, Vti, Aorsi, Aroteres praetenduntur, quorum a
tergo indicatae iam Amazones Sauromatides. 1
In this section, Plinius mentions several groups of people (Udini, Sarmatæ, Uti, Aorsi,
Aroteres, and Albani), one of them (the Udini) being explicitly described as a
of the Scythians. However, Plinius does not mention any defining parameters he
would have applied in order to delimit these groups from each other (or from others).
In other words: What had been those social or ethnic features that marked off the
concepts underlying terms like
and so on? And: Did Plinius’ terms reflect
patterns of ethnicity (in which sense so ever) from the internal view of the given
people or just from an external view?
All we can safely state for many such terms (e.g. Aorsi, Aroteres, just to
mention two of them) is that they are seemingly grounded in the construction of
ethnicity on the basis of some real or fictitious features unknown to us. We cannot
even be sure that the corresponding term actually represents an entity related to
modern concepts of ethnicity. Starting from many of the Classical sources we might
1 “At the entrance, on the right hand side, dwell the Udini, a Scythian tribe, at the very angle of the
mouth. Then along the coast there are the Albani, the descendants of Jason, as people say; that part
of the sea which lies in front of them, bears the name ‘Albanian.’ This nation, which lies along the
think of a very simple pattern: A group X is defined by those people who live in region
Y. However, in case more than just one group is named in the context of a particular
region (e.g.
supra maritima eius Vdinorumque gentem Sarmatae, Vti, Aorsi, Aroteres
quoted above) no further direct clues are given to identify the relevant
features. Still, in case an ethnonym given in ancient sources (E1) is continued by a
contemporary ethnonym (E2), one might tentatively argue that the people subsumed
under E1 would constitute an ethnic group just as those included in E2. This might be
the case, for instance with the ethnonym Μόσχοι mentioned e.g. by Herodotus (III, 94
and VII, 78-79). It is said to refer to a part of the “[p]opulations of the coast of Pontus
between the Thermodon (Sagmatas) and the Phasis in Colchis (…)” (Asheri et al.
2007, 492), cf.: Μόσχοισι δὲ καὶ Τιβαρηνοῖσι καὶ Μάκρωσι καὶ Μοσσυνοίκοισι καὶ
Μαρσὶ τριηκόσια τάλαντα προείρητο (III,94).2 Admittedly, Herodotus also mentions
some further details: Μόσχοι δὲ περ μὲν τῇσι κεφαλῇσι κυνέας ξυλίνας εἶχον,
σπίδας δὲ καὶ αἰχμὰς σμικράς (VII, 78)3, but we can hardly refer to this information in
terms of the ascription of an ethnic feature. Nevertheless, the term Μόσχοι is usually
said to be continued by the modern “Meskhetian” (Georgian
) referring to
different layers of the population of the Mzkheta region in Central Eastern Georgia
(see Wimbush & Wixman 1975 for details). The problem, however, is that the
meaning of the term ‘Meskhetians’ does not have a clear profile: It may denote
Turkish speaking communities of Muslim faith just as Georgian speaking groups of
Christian faith, or a mixture of both. Hence, while it may be intriguing to relate the
modern term ‘Meskhetian’ etymologically to the term Μόσχοι, this does not
necessarily mean that the Meskhetians represent remnants of the Μόσχοι of
Herodotus’ times in terms of ‘ethnicity’.
The question of which kind of ethnicity is implied with an ethnonym of Classical
times at all can be answered tentatively only, if the relevant sources add information
that can be regarded as mirroring typical features of ethnicity. One example is the
following passage from Herodotus, referring to the “Budinoi” (IV, 108), said to have
lived north of Black Sea and north of the Scythians at the river Tanais (Don). The
passage is worth being quoted in details, because it nicely illustrates some of the
parameters used by Herodotus to characterize an ethnic group:4
2 “To the Moschoi and Tibarenians and Macronians and Mossynoicoi and Mares three hundred talents
were ordered (...).“ (English translation: G. C. Macaulay (1890). The History of Herodotus. London &
New York. Macmillan).
3 “The Moschoi had wooden caps upon their heads, and shields and small spears, on which long
points were set (...)“.
4 See Thomas (2000) for the contextualization of Herodotus Histories in contemporary intellectual
[1] Βουδνοι δὲ ἔθνος ἐὸν μέγα κα πολλν γλαυκόν τε πν σχυρς στι κα
πυρρόν· πόλις δν ατοσι πεπόλισται ξυλίνη, ονομα δτῇ πόλι στ Γελωνός.
τοδὲ τείχεος μέγαθος κλον καστον τριήκοντα σταδίων στί, ψηλν δκαὶ πᾶν
ξύλινον, καὶ αἱ οἰκίαι αὐτῶν ξύλιναι κα τὰ ἱρά. [2] στι γρ δαὐτόθι λληνικν
θεν ἱρὰ Ἑλληνικς κατεσκευασμένα ἀγάλμασί τε καβωμοσι κανηοσι ξυλίνοισι,
καὶ τῷ Διονύσῳ τριετηρίδας ἀνάγουσι κα βακχεύουσι. εἰσὶ γρ οΓελωνοὶ τ
ρχαον λληνες, κ τν δ μπορίων ξαναστάντες οκησαν ν τοσι Βουδίνοισι·
καγλώσσῃ τὰ μὲν Σκυθικ, τὰ δὲ Ἑλληνικχρέωνται. 5
Here, Herodotus refers to bodily appearance (“very blue-eyed and fair of skin”), to
architecture (“city of wood”, “each side of the wall is thirty furlongs in length and lofty
at the same time, all being of wood”, “the houses are of wood also and the temples”),
multicultural patterns (a certain kind of religious liberalism with respect to the
immigrated Greeks, cf. “for there are in it temples of Hellenic gods furnished after
Hellenic fashion with sacred images and altars and cells” (…), “they keep festivals
every other year to Dionysos and celebrate the rites of Bacchus”), and to language
(“[The Greeks] use partly the Scythian language and partly the Hellenic. The Budinoi
however do not use the same language as the Gelonians”). Finally Herodotus makes
a general distinction between the Gelonian Greeks and the Budinoi by saying: “Nor is
their manner of living the same (...).“
Such as description - as vague as it may be - illustrates that Herodotus tries to
follow a certain canon of general features of ethnicity. This canon is best represented
by his well-known delimitation of the “Greeks”, cf. (VIII, 144):
(…) ατις δ τὸ Ἑλληνικν ἐὸν μαιμόν τε κα ὁμόγλωσσον κα θεν δρύματά τε
κοινκαθυσίαι θεά τε ὁμότροπα (…)6
Hence, Herodotus speaks of four relevant domains: (1) common genealogy, (2)
common language, (3) common religious belief, (4) common habits (also cf. Munson
2014). However, it remains unclear to which extent Herodotus restricted the
application of these features of ethnicity to the ascription of ‘Greekness’ (see Hall
5 “The Budinoi are a very great and numerous race, and are all very blue-eyed and fair of skin: and in
their land is built a city of wood, the name of which is Gelonos, and each side of the wall is thirty
furlongs in length and lofty at the same time, all being of wood; and the houses are of wood also and
the temples; for there are in it temples of Hellenic gods furnished after Hellenic fashion with sacred
images and altars and cells, all of wood; and they keep festivals every other year to Dionysos and
celebrate the rites of Bacchus: for the Gelonians are originally Hellenes, and they removed from the
trading stations on the coast and settled among the Budinoi; and they use partly the Scythian
language and partly the Hellenic. The Budinoi however do not use the same language as the
Gelonians, nor is their manner of living the same (...).
6 “(...) there is the bond of Hellenic race, by which we are of one blood and of one speech, the
common temples of the gods and the common sacrifices, the manners of life which are the same for
all (…)”.
1997 for details) or whether he regarded them as a tool for determining patterns of
ethnicity in general.7 The problem becomes more complicated out of two reasons: (a)
Herodotus’ characterization of patterns of - as we would call it today - the
sociocultural representation of ethnicity is a mixture between an etic view reproducing
such patterns and an emic view referring to information that may
have originated from ‘insiders’. (b) The mentioning of certain features by Herodotus in
order to characterize a given ‘ethnic unit’ may be related to the narrative function of
the Histories that would aim at serving the audience’s expectations, namely to satisfy
its demand of thrilling and exotic stories. In fact, many ethnic groups described by
Herodotus and other historiographers of Classical times remained mere ‘objects’
without having the means and power to state features of their ethnicity in their own
terms. Still, in some cases, it seems possible to retrieve relevant information from
vestiges of social, economic, and cultural practices, such as cultural artifacts,
settlement patterns embodied in corresponding archeological sites, or remnants of
tools and clothing (see among others Knapp 2014). Nevertheless, such information
may tell something about the corresponding practices of a socially and economically
defined group of people. Whether or not the given patterns reflect elements of
ethnicity with respect to those people who were engaged in these practices is difficult
to decide. However, even if we are able to relate such findings to a particular group of
people in terms of cultural representation (cf. Shennan 1989), we are faced with the
problem whether the given group can be related to a documented ethnonym that
would label the corresponding ethnic patterns. Furthermore, it is difficult to say
whether certain cultural or economic patterns actually were part of a given ethnic
identity from an emic point of view.
The global parameters set up by Herodotus in order to define “Greekness”
(see above) include one point that is crucial to the topic of this paper, namely
‘language’. However, while this factor seems to be important for Herodotus with
respect to the question of the Pelasgians8, he occasionally only refers to ‘language’
as a parameter of ‘ethnicity’ elsewhere in the Histories. For instance, he says about
7 Cf. Cohen (2000, 25): ““Tribal states”, “federal states,” “ethnic states,“ genealogical groupings,
kingdoms, Attika - all fall within this rubric (of ethnos), not because of any quality abstractly inherent in
these entities, but because in the context of communal or political groupings larger than a village, the
sole encompassing alternatives in a binary universe were polis and ethnos.”
8 I, 57: (...) ετούτοισι τεκμαιρόμενον δεῖ λέγειν, σαν ο Πελασγο βάρβαρον γλσσαν ἱέντες. [3] ε
τοίνυν ν καπᾶν τοιοτο τΠελασγικόν, τ ττικν θνος ἐὸν Πελασγικν μα τῇ μεταβολ τῇ ἐς
λληνας κατὴν γλσσαν μετέμαθε (...) “(…) if one must pronounce judging by these, the Pelasgians
used to speak a Barbarian language. If therefore all the Pelasgian race was such as these, then the
Attic race, being Pelasgian, at the same time when it changed and became Hellenic, unlearnt also its
the “Indians”: ἔστι δὲ πολλὰ ἔθνεα Ἰνδῶν καὶ οὐκ ὁμόφωνα σφίσι (III, 98)9. The
“Androphagoi” are said to have “a language of their own” (γλῶσσαν δὲ ἰδίην, IV,106),
and the “cave-dwelling Ethiopians” (τρωγλοδύται Αἰθίοπες) “use a language which
resembles no other, for in it they squeak just like bats” (γλῶσσαν δὲ οὐδεμιἄλλῃ
παρομοίην νενομίκασι, ἀλλὰ τετρίγασι κατά περ αἱ νυκτερίδες (IV, 183)). On the other
hand, when coming to the Colchians and the Egyptians, Herodotus observes: “The
two nations are like one another in their whole manner of living and also in their
language” (καὶ κατὰ ταὐτά, καὶ ἡ ζόη πᾶσα καὶ γλῶσσα μφερής στι ἀλλήλοισι (II,
109)). Obviously, ‘language’ is seen here as an irrelevant factor with respect to the
constitution of a “nation”. This also holds for the characterization of some smaller
units such as the “Sagartians”, an Iranian group (cf. Eilers 1987), said to be “Persian
in race and in language and having a dress which is midway between that of the
Persians and that of the Pactyans” (ἔθνος μὲν Περσικὸν καὶ φωνῇ, σκευὴν δὲ μεταξ
ἔχουσι πεποιημένην τῆς τε Περσικῆς καὶ τῆς Πακτυϊκῆς (VII, 85)).
In these short introductory remarks, I have mainly referred to Herodotus in
order to illustrate some points relevant for the tentative ascription of features of
“ethnicity” to social units represented by a common ethnonym. Nevertheless, much of
what has been said here can be tentatively related to other ethnographers of
Classical times, too. This holds especially for the feature of ‘language’. In Plinius’
Naturalis historia
, for instance, this feature is rarely referred to in order to stress the
ethnicity of a given group. Rather, Plinius follows the overall dictum ‘other peoples,
other languages’. Thus, when talking about the city of Dioscurias in Colchis, he
states, “that according to Timosthenes, 300 nations with different languages had
settled” (“ut Timosthenes in eam CCC nationes dissimilibus linguis descendere
prodiderit” (VI, 15)). Likewise, he refers to language in order to judge upon the origin
of a group, as in the following passage: “Celticos a Celtiberis ex Lusitania advenisse
manifestum est sacris, lingua, oppidorum vocabulis, quae cognominibus in Baetica
distinguntur” (III, 10)10.
In sum, it seems that the dimension of ‘language’ generally played a minor role
when attributing ‘ethnic’ features to a group of people (also cf. Haarmann 2014).
Hence, it would be wise to respect Jonathan Hall’s statement, according to which
“[l]anguage cannot be used as an objective definition of ethnic identity” (Hall 1997,
22). Obviously, ancient ethnographers already were somehow aware of this fact. In
the following section, I want to pursue the underlying question with respect to one
9 “Now there are many tribes of Indians, and they do not agree with one another in language.“
10 “[The fact] that the Celts origin from the Celtiberians in Lusitania becomes apparent from (their)
religion, language, (and) names of cities that are distinguished with the help of bynames in Baetica.”
ethnonym, namely “(Caucasian) Albanians”11 mentioned for instance in Arrian’s
Anabasis, namely in his report on the battle of Gaugamela (331 B.C.): Μήδων δὲ
ἡγεῖτο Ἀτροπάτης ξυνετάττοντο δὲ Μήδοις Καδούσιοί τε καὶ Ἀλβανοὶ καὶ Σακεσῖναι
(“Atropates commanded the Medes, with whom were arrayed the Cadusians,
Albanians, and Sacesinians” (3.8.4, also cf. 3,11,4)). Given the fact that Arrian wrote
his Anabasis in the second century AD, we cannot exclude the possibility that the
mention of the “Albanians” is an anachronism. Nevertheless, if we include data from
Plinius and others (also cf. e.g. Tacitus Histories 1.6, Tacitus Annals 6.35, Plutarch,
Pompeius 35; Cassius Dio, Historia Romana 37.3-4), we can assume that in terms of
ante quem
the ethnonym “(Caucasian) Albanians” had become known to the
Classical world in the first century AD. However, who were these “(Caucasian)
Albanians” in the sense of ethnicity?
2. Albanians, Udis, and Gargarians
The name “Albania” (Latin
, Greek Ἀλβανία, Old Armenian
, Parthian
, Middle Persian
, Georgian
, Arabic
) alludes to a region of
Eastern Transcaucasia, the core of which can roughly be associated with the
Northern Azerbaijan regions left of the river Kura (see Trever 1959, Bais 2001,
Gippert et al. 2009), cf. map 1:
Map 1:
Caucasian Albania until 387 AD (Hewsen 2001: 73)
The map refers to “(Caucasian) Albania” in terms of a political unit (“kingdom”). In
fact, representatives of the region had become relevant political players and rulers
11 The term „Caucasian Albanian“ is generally used to distinguish the region at issue from that of
Albania on the Balkans, which may have caused confusion in late Classical and early medieval times
already (cf. Ptolemeius’ mention (III 3.13.23) of the λβανοί and of a town λβανόπολις, probably
located in the southern of Illyria).
since the end of the 2nd century BC, probably in the context of the wars between the
Arsacid Mithridates II and the Armenian king Artavazd I (Marquart 1901, Trever 1959,
149). Strabo (Geography 11,4,6) describes the emergence of the Albanian ‘state’ as
follows: διαφέρουσι δὲ καὶ οἱ βασιλεῖς: νυνὶ μὲν οὖν εἷς ἁπάντων ἄρχει, πρότερον δὲ
καὶ καθ᾽ ἑκάστην γλῶτταν ἰδίᾳ ἐβασιλεύοντο ἕκαστοι.12 Else, nothing precise is known
about this process that ended up in a more or less stable political unit being around
70 BC. Nevertheless, after Pompeius had defeated the Albanian king Oroezes (or:
Orodes) in 65 BC, Albania became a vassal or protectorate of the Roman Empire,
still under obvious cultural impact from Parthia. This vassalage lasted roughly 300
years, interrupted by periods of closer ties to the Parthian empire. The consolidation
as a more or less independent political unit ended under the rule of the Arsacids.
What has been described by Toumanoff (1986, 544) for Armenia
grosso modo
for Caucasian Albania, too:
It brought about an intensification of the political and cultural influence of Iran in
Armenia. Whatever the sporadic suzerainty of Rome, the country was now a part
together with Iberia (East Georgia) and (Caucasian) Albania, where other Arsacid
branched reignedof a pan-Arsacid family federation. Culturally, the
predominance of Hellenism, as under the Artaxiads, was now followed by a
predominance of “Iranianism,” and, symptomatically, instead of Greek, as before,
Parthian became the language of the educated.
With respect to Caucasian Albania, this process became even more pronounced
after the region was subdued by the Sassanid regime (252-253 AD). Nevertheless,
although Albania became a Sassanid satrapy, it still kept its local Arsacid dynasty for
nearly 150 years. One of the rulers, namely King Uṙnayr of Albania was baptized by
Gregory the Illuminator at about 314 AD, and he subsequently declared Christianity
as the official religion in Albania (lasting until the 8th century). From that time on, the
history of the region of Albania was dominated by two factors: (a) by the political
relations to Armenia and the Sassanid empire, (b) by the local Church history. It is
beyond the scope of this paper to recapitulate the milestones of this history the
description of which mainly dwells upon Old Armenian sources (cf. Trever 1959, Bais
2001, Gippert et al. 2009 for details). The major sources are
Patmowtciwn Ałowanicc
(„History of the World of the Albanians“ attributed to Movsēs Kałankatowacci
(or Movsēs Dasxowrancci, 7th-11th century, cf. Kałankatowacci 1983, Dowsett 1961),
Varkc Maštocci
“The Life of Mashtots” (5th century, cf. Koryun 1964), Anania
Ašxar haccoycc
(7th century, cf. Abrahamyan 1944), and Movsēs
12 “Their kings, also, are excellent. At the present time, indeed, one king rules all the tribes, but
formerly the several tribes were ruled separately by kings of their own according to their several
languages.” (Translation according to H. L. Jones (1924).
The Geography of Strabo.
Mass.: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann).
Patmowtciwn Hayocc
(“History of the Armenians”, 5th century, cf. Abełean
and Yarutcyunean (1991 [1913]). Hence, we are somehow informed about the
ecclesiastic and political structure of the statehood of Albania from the 4th century
AD onwards. Still, the question remains whether we can relate this statehood to a
particular ethnic unit termed “Caucasian Albanians”. This question has become of
special importance since the discovery of the so-called “Caucasian Albanian
Palimpsests” (Gippert et al. 2009). These in parts heavily damaged palimpsests had
been found in the Catherine Monastery on Mt. Sinai the year 1975. Zaza Aleksidze
identified their lower layer as “Caucasian Albanian” in the years 1996-2001. The two
relevant manuscripts (Sin.Geo. N 13 and N 55) could be identified as a part of an
early Christian lectionary and as a fragment (nearly one half) of the Gospel of John,
see Gippert and Schulze 2007, Gippert et al. 2009 for details). These texts (in sum
roughly 13.000 readable tokens) were written in the so-called Caucasian Albanian
alphabet, akin to the world of Georgian and Armenian scripts, but different in shape,
phonetic value, and ordering of the individual signs. The fact that this script was
termed “Caucasian Albanian” is mainly grounded in the fact that it in parts
corresponds to an alphabet documented in the Yerevan manuscript Mat. 7117. In this
manuscript from the 15th century, the presentation of the alphabet is preceded by the
words Աղուանից գիրն է : (“The script of the Albanians is :“, cf. Abuladze 1938, Gippert
et al. 2009). The identification is further corroborated by a report (1307) of the
Kilikean historian Haython (Hethum), a nephew of the Kilikean king Hethum I (1226-
1269), according to whom “literas habent Armenicas, et alias etiam, quae dicuntur
Haloën”13. According to Koryun’s report of the Life of Mesrop Maštocc, it was Mesrop
Mesrop Maštocc who had created this alphabet in the early years of the 5th century,
cf. (XVI (288)):
(...) Then there came and visited them an elderly man, an Albanian named
Beniamēn. And he [Mesrop] inquired and examined the barbaric diction of the
Albanian language, and then through his usual god-given keenness of mind
invented an alphabet, which he, through the grace of Christ, successfully organized
and put in order. (...) And when this order was actually fulfilled and bore results,
Bishop Eremia soon began the translation of the divine books, whereby at once in
one instant, the barbaric, slothful, and brutal men became well acquainted with the
prophets and the apostles, becoming heirs to the gospels, and in no way ignorant
of the divine traditions.14
13 “The Armenians have an alphabet, and also those who are called Haloën” (
Haythoni Armenii historia
orientalis, quae eadem et De Tartaris inscribitur
, Coloniae Brand. 1671, 9).
14 (…) Յայնմ ժամանակի եկեալ դիպէր նմա այր մի երէց աղուան ազգաւ, Բենիամէն անուն· եւ նորա հարցեալ եւ քննեալ
զբարբարոս զբանս աղուաներէն կեզուին, առնէր ապա նշանագիրս ըստ վերնապարդեւ կորովի սովորութեան իւրում եւ
յաջողութեամբ Քրիստոսի շնորհացն կարգեալ եւ հաստատեալ կշռէր։ (...) Իսկ իբրեւ հրամանն այն արդեամբք եւ գործովք
յանկ ելանէր, ապա այնուհետեւ երանելոյն Երեմիայի եպիսկոպոսի ի ձեռն առեալ՝ վաղվաղակի զաստուածային գրոց
թարգմանութիւնս ի գործ արկանէր, որով անդէն յական թօթափել վայրենամիտ եւ դատարկասուն եւ անասնաբարոյ աշխարհն
In the somewhat later account by Movsēs Xorenacci (
Patmowtciwn Hayocc
III, 54) and
in the
Patmowtciwn Ałowanicc ašxarhi
(II, 3), however, the name of the people has
changed from “Albanians” to “Gargarians”, cf.
And he called a certain Beniamin, a gifted translator whom Vasak the lord of
Siwnikʿ had delivered as a child into the hands of Anania, his bishop, (and) who
created the letters of that guttural, harsh, ugly and barbarous language of the
Gargarians. (Xorenacci)15
And he called Beniamin the translator from Siwnikʿ , whom Vasak had delivered as
a child into the hands of Ananē the Bishop. And he came to Mesrop and created
with them letters for the guttural, harsh, ugly (and) barbarous language of the
Gargarians. (Patmowtciwn Ałowanicc ašxarhi).16
Obviously, the two ethnonyms are correlated with the same event, namely the fact
that Mesrop Maštocc developed a proper script for the “barbaric” resp. “guttural,
harsh, and barbarous” language of those whose were subsumed under the
corresponding ethnonym. From this, the question arises, which role is played by the
“Gargarians” in the context of Caucasian Albania. The term itself goes back at least
to Strabo (XI, 5,1) who links them to the question of the Amazones, cf.:
The Amazons are also said to live among the mountains above Albania.
Theophanes, who accompanied Pompey in his wars and was in the country of the
Albanians, says that Gelæ and Legæ, Scythian tribes, live between the Amazons
and the Albanians, and that the river Mermadalis takes its course in the country
lying in the middle between these people and the Amazons. (…) They pass two
months of the spring on a neighbouring mountain, which is the boundary between
them and the Gargarenses. The latter also ascend the mountain according to some
ancient custom for the purpose of performing common sacrifices, and of having
intercourse with the women with a view to offspring, in secret and in darkness, the
man with the first woman he meets.17
Աղուանից մարգարէագէտք եւ առաքելածանօթք եւ աւետարանաժառանգք լինէին, եւ ամենայն աւանդելոցն Աստուծոյ ոչ իւիք
15 Եւ կոչեալ զԲենիամին ոմն շնորհաւոր թարգման, զոր անդանդաղ արձակեաց մանուկն Վասակ Սիւնեաց տէր, ի ձեռն
Անանիայի եպիսկոպոսի իւրոյ. որովք ստեղծ զնշանագիրս կոկորդախօս աղխազուր խժական խեցբեկագունին այնորիկ
Գարգարացւոց լեզուին:
16 եւ զԲենիամին թարգման կոչեալ ‘ի Սիւնեաց, զոր Վասակ մանուկ ‘ի ձեռնԱնանէի եպիսկոպոսին արձակեաց։ Եւ նորա
եկեալ առ Մեսրոպ, նոքօք ստեղծ զնշանագիրս կոկորդախօս, աղխալուր, խժական, խեցբեկագունի լեզուին Գարգարացւոց։
17 ν δ τος ὑπὲρ τς λβανίας ρεσι κα τὰς μαζόνας οκεν φασι. Θεοφάνης μν ον
συστρατεύσας τΠομπηί κα γενόμενος ν τος λβανος, μεταξ τῶν μαζόνων κατῶν λβανν
φησι Γήλας οκεν καΛήγας Σκύθας, κα εῖν νταθα τν Μερμάδαλιν ποταμν τούτων τε κατῶν
μαζόνων ἀνὰ μέσον. (...) δύο δὲ μῆνας ξαιρέτους χειν τοῦ ἔαρος, καθ ος ναβαίνουσιν ες τ
πλησίον ρος τδιορίζον ατάς τε κατος Γαργαρέας. ναβαίνουσι δὲ κἀκενοι κατὰ ἔθος τι παλαιόν,
συνθύσοντές τε κασυνεσόμενοι τας γυναιξ τεκνοποιίας χάριν φανς τε κα ν σκότει, τυχν τ
τυχούσ, γκύμονας δποιήσαντες ποπέμπουσιν:
Else, the “Gargarians” do not seem to be mentioned in the context of “Albania”. One
possible exception is the name of a city Gaggara (Γάγγαρα ( Γαίταρα) πόλις) in
Ptolemy’s account of Albania (V, 12), who says: μεθ’ ν αἱ το Κύρου ποταμοῦ
ἐκβολαί (“after which the estuary of the river Kura”). Nevertheless, it is tempting to
relate this ethnonym to the Armenian toponym
daštn Gargaraccwocc
southeast of the central part of the Kura river. In addition there is today the name of a
tributary to the Araxes named Gargar). As for its etymology, one might think of
Caucasian Albanian
‘tribe’18 or
‘varied, manifold, diverse’, lit. ‘stock-(for-
)stock’ (Gippert et al. 2009, s.v.). Still, at least the second option seems less likely
because obviously, the reduplication copies an Armenian model (Arm.
azgs azgs
) and has probably emerged during the translation process.
A third ethnonym/toponym attributed to the world of Caucasian Albania is
documented by the set
, Οτιοι,
resp. τηνή, and Ուտի (
) resp.
Ուտի առանձնակ (
Owti aanjnak
“Uti proper”). The terms denote either a ‘people’ (Udini,
Uti, Οὔτιοι) or a region/province (
resp. τηνή, Ուտի (
). The fact that these
terms have to be under consideration in the context of the ‘Albanians’ is grounded
among others in the following observations:
(a) As has been said in the first section of this paper, Plinius the Elder
mentions the
as well as the
as tribes located near the Albanian Sea” or in
“Albania”, cf. again Plinius Nat.hist. VI,15 [38-39]):
At the entrance, on the right hand side, dwell the Udini, a Scythian tribe, at the very
angle of the mouth. Then along the coast there are the Albani, the descendants of
Jason, as people say; that part of the sea which lies in front of them, bears the
name ‘Albanian.’ This nation, which lies along the Caucasian mountains, comes
down, as we have previously stated, as far as the river Cyrus, which forms the
boundary of Armenia and Iberia. Above the maritime coast of this (nation) and the
(nation of the) Udini, the Sarmatæ, the Uti, the Aorsi (and) the Aroteres stretch
along (its shores), and in their rear the Sauromatian Amazons (which we have)
already spoken of.
(b) In his Ašxarhaccoycc (see above), Anania Širakacci mentions a province
said to be controlled by the Albanians, cf. (II, 23-27):
The thirteenth (province), Uti, in the west of the Arax (river) between Arccax and the
river Kura, has seven cantons, which are held by the Albanians: Aranovt, Ti,
otptak, Aławe, Tučc katak, Gardmun, Šakašēn, (and) Uti proper, where the city of
Partaw (is). And it has olive oil and cucumber, and Jasmine, and there is also the
translates Arm.
, Georg.
Gk. ϕυλή, γενεά, ϑνος, πατριά, γένος, cf. Mt.
24,34-A15va:5; Lk. 7,5-A42rb:2, Act. 13,26-B27va:7, Mt. 19,28-B2vb:15*, Jac. 1,1-A3ra:20, Act. 13,36-
A73ra:11, 2.Cor. 9,10-A56va:2, Lk. 2,4-A36ra:15, 1.Cor. 12,28-B31vb:13 (Gippert et al. 2009).
katak of the birds.19
(c) Movsēs Kałankatowacci (I, 4, see Dowsett 1961, 4) also relates the tribe of
the Utis (ագզ Ուտեացւոց) to the country of Alowankc, cf.:
On the establishment of his rule over the northerners, he (sc. Vałaršak, king of
Armenia) summoned to him the wild, foreign tribes in the northern plain and round
the foot of the Caucasus and in the valleys and ravines south thereof down to the
entrance to the plain, and commanded them to cease their plundering and
murdering and to pay tribute to the king. He appointed over them governors and
prefects of whom the chief, by order of Vałaršak, was a certain Aan of the Sisakan
family, descended from Japheth, who received the plains and mountains of Albania
from the river Araxes to the fortress of Hnarakert. And they called the country
Aluankc on account of the sweetness of his ways, for they called him
on account of his agreeable disposition. And from among his descendants, they
say, famous and valiant men, many governors were appointed by Vałaršak the
Parthian; and from his son, they say, descended the inhabitants of the principalities
of Uti, Gardman, (Covdkc, and Gargarkc).20
(d) On March 20, 1724 a group of ‘Udi’ people from Sheki/Nukha (NW-
Azerbaijan) sent a petition written in Armenian to Tsar Peter I asking for support and
protection against the “unlawful ones and unbelievers”. Here, they identify
themselves as follows: “(...) Մեք Աղուվանք եմք և ազգով Ուտիք։ Եղիշէի առաքելուն
քարոզութեամբն մեր նաԽնիքն աստուած հաւատացեալք են (…).” (‘(...) We are Albanians
) and, by parentage, Udis (
). By the preaching of the apostle Ełišē our
forefathers became believers of God (...)’, cf. Ioanisjan 1967, 60)). Taking these
wordings literally, the term
“Udis” would denote the genealogical identity of the
(‘Albanians’). Referring to the second sentence,
would then simply
mean ‘local Christians’ in the tradition of the apostle Ełišē21.
In sum, there are three terms that are associated with the present problem,
namely the question of the ethnic identification of the ‘Albanians’:
19 Երեքտասաներորդ՝ Ուտի է՝ մտից կայ Երասխայ, ի մէջ Արցախայ եւ Կուր գետոյ։ Եւ ունի գաւառս, զոր Աղուանք ունին,
եւթն· Արանռովտ, Տռի, Ռոտպտակ, Աղաւե, Տուչկատակ, Գարդմուն, Շակաշէն, Ուտի առանձնակ, յորում Պարտաւ քաղաք։
Եւ լինի նմա ձիթենի,վարանդենի եւ յասմիկ եւ հաւոց կատակ։
20 որ ՛ի կարգել իւրում զհիւսիսայինսն՝ կոչեաց զվայրենի եկամուտ ազզս որ ՛ի դաշտէն հիւսիսոյ կամ որ զստորոտովն
Կովկասու, կամ որ ՛ի հովիտս եւ ՛ի խորաձորս զհարաւով մինչեւ ցմուտս դաշտին։ Պատուէր առնէր՝ զաւզակութիւն եւ
զմարդադաւութիւն թողուլ եւ հարկաց արքունի հնազանդ կալ։ Ապա կարգեաց նոցա առաջնորդս եւ վերակացուս, յորոց
գլխաւոր ոմն ՛ի Սիսական տոհմէ յաբեթական ծննդոց կարգի հրամանաւ Վաղարշակայ՝ Առան անուն, որ ժառանգեաց զդաշտս
եւ զլերինս Աղուանից ՛ի գետէն Երասխայ մինչեւ ցամուրն Հնարակերտ։ Եւ աշխարհն յաղագս քաղցրութեան բարուց նորա
անուանեցաւ Աղուանք, վասն զի աղու ձայնէին զնա վասն քաղցրութեան բարուցն. ՛Ի սորա ծննդոց Առան՝ ասեն, անուանի եւ
քաջ, կարգեցաւ կողմնակալ բիւրաւոր ՛ի Պարթեւէն Վաղարշակայ. եւ ՛ի սորա զաւակէն ասեն սերեալ զագզս Ուտեացւոց եւ
Գարդմանացւոց իշխանութեանց։
21 According to local traditions and in reference to cf. Kałankatowacci (I, 6), Ełišē (Elisæus of Albania)
was the first patriarch of the Church of Caucasian Albania. He was said to have been a disciple of St.
Thaddeus (or, of Thaddeus of Edessa), again one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus.
. Whereas
are explicitly used as toponyms, too,
seems to be restricted to its semantics as an ethnonym (in its broadest sense).
However, the question remains whether these terms used as ethnonyms refer to the
same group or people at all.
Looking at the supposed etymology of the three relevant terms does not help
very much in this respect. As for ‘Albania’ and its correspondences (Greek Ἀλβανία,
Old Armenian
, Parthian
, Middle Persian
, Georgian
) the most likely source is an Old Iranian form *
or *
Gippert et al. 2009 for a fuller discussion; Parthian
should then be regarded as
a loan from another Middle Iranian language (substituting earlier *
ar/l ban-
?) that has
not undergone the ‘Parthian’ shift
).22 As far as data go, this underlying form
or *
) cannot be linked convincingly to other etyma.23 When looking at
Greek Ἀλβανία, we have to consider the suffix -ία that derives (among others)
toponyms from ethnonyms or the like. This would in fact suggest that Ἀλβαν- had
been an ethnonym (cf. Ἀλβανοί). The Armenian term աղուանք
is ambiguous
in this respect. It is used to denote both the collective of ‘Albanian people’ and the
region. Taking -
as the Armenian plural morpheme, we may conclude that
itself meant an ethnonym. Given the clear Iranian background of this term, its
derivation from Armenian աղու (
‘soft, sweet, agreeable, affable’ as suggested
by Movsēs Kałankatowacci (I, 4) seems to be a folk etymology. Nevertheless, one
might think of an analogous process in Parthian or Middle Persian. Parthian
and Middle Persian
would then contain the plural marker -
, added to a stem
or *
. It is tempting to relate this element to e.g.
in the Old Iranian
proper name
(cf. Tavernier 2004, 12), perhaps meaning ‘upright minded’.
The underlying form *
may be related to “the PIE *
‘high, lofty’ that
otherwise appears in Latin
‘steep, towering, lofty’, Old Irisch
‘high, great’,
‘a high’ (…)” (Adams 1994, 12). In the sense,
would then
22 This etymology has been first been proposed by Jost Gippert (Frankfort).
23 Terms like
, designating a group of Dom people in Syria (Meyer 2004, 74) or
, the name
of a small and municipality in the Quba Rayon of Azerbaijan have to regarded as false friends. In
Azerbaijan, it is nevertheless very current to relate the toponym
first suggested by the
Azerbaijani writer Abbas-Kuli-aga Bakixanov (1794-1847) (cf. Bakixanov 1991, ch. 1,60: “In the
province of Quba, there is a village Alpan, the name of which is probably derived from Alban(i)a”, tr.
W.S.), even claiming a Turkic origin of the term, also cf. Zardabli (2014, 55): “Although some
researchers consider that, the name of “Albans“ is not understandable, this word and calling of
“Alban“, “Alpan“ is referred to Turkish background. Basing on the ancient Turkish word of “alp//alb“
(brace, courageous, daring, plucky, manly), we can say that, the name of Albania means“ the country
of braves, the state of men”” (typ. errors etc. in the original). Zardabli’s statement actually reflects the
official doctrine of the Azerbaijani State, as the book was published “by order (…) of the Ministry of
Education of the Azerbaijan Republic”. - Perhaps, the Middle Persian
variant has survived in
Sorani Kurdish
‘fertile land’.
have denoted something like ‘heights’ or ‘high regions’ (referring to regions from the
left bank of the river Kura to the Great Caucasus).
The term
is likewise obscure. The two variants may reflect a phonetic
unit perceived as
in the different sources. Most likely, we have to deal with a
tense voiceless dental stop (-
), which allows reconstructing a form *
Nevertheless, one has to admit that Plinius’ mention of the
and the
distinct groups (relating the first to the Scythians) speaks against an identification of
both. It is quite remarkable that the terms Otene (τηνή)24 and
) denote
regions rather than an ethnic group. It is not evident, however, that
(< *
has been derived from
. The nasal segment in Plinius’
might likewise reflect
the Latin derivational element
forming (among others) ethnonyms. If this were
correct, we would have to separate the name of the province (Otene) from the term
. This would also mean that the two toponyms
refer to two
different regions. Accordingly, the safest claim concerning the pair
is that it
represents an old toponym (lowlands west of the river Kura extending to the eastern
slopes of the Artsakh / Karabagh mountains in the west and to the river Araxes in the
south (see Gippert et al. 2009 for this localization), cf. map 2:
Map 2:
Possible location of Albania, Uti, and Gargar in the regions of Azerbaijan
The question remains why today, the off-springs of the overall ‘Albanian’ tradition,
namely the Udis in the villages of Nij and Vartashen/Oguz in northern Azerbaijan
name themselves
(plural). Today, the Udis, Christians by belief, mainly
settle in the village of Nij (Azerbaijani
, Udi
), located in Northwestern
Azerbaijan and inhabited by some 6.000 people. In 2009, some 65% of the
inhabitants of Nij declared to be ethnic Udis, the rest being chiefly Azerbaijanis. Nij is
divided into sixteen ‘family-based’ quarters (
), two of which are
mainly inhabited by Azerbaijanis (Yalgaşlı, Abdallı). Until 1989, a more or less
compact group of ethnic Udis was present in the village of Vartashen (now Oğuz),
24 In addition, it should be noted that in Ptolemaeus' map (
liber geographiae
5,12; tertia Asii tabula),
the core of the Utikc region is labeled
(but not
too, located some 20 km northwest of Nij. Before 1989, Vartashen had been
inhabited by some 5.000 people (roughly 40% Armenians, 15% Jewish Tats, and
30% Udis). Together with the local Armenians, most of the Udis from Vartashen were
forced to leave the village in 1990 due to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and thus
moved to various places of the former USSR. The village of Zinobiani (1938-2000
‘Okt’omberi’) in Eastern Georgia had been founded by emigrants from Vartashen in
1922 in the context of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict 1918-1920.
As has been said above, the first reference to the existence of ‘Udis’ north of
the river Kura dates back to 1724 (see the quote from a letter of the people in Sheki
given above). Prior to this date, the regions north of the river Kura were generally
known as Albania. Still, there is some evidence that the Udis once maintained
stronger ties with the northern regions of historical Uti (Tawush). Still in the 18th
century, the orientation of Udis towards Tawush (and Qarabagh) seems to have
played a crucial role in every-day life in Nij and Vartashen, as illustrated by the
following passage from Schiefner's report on the Udis (compiled at about 1855):
“Dabei wuchsen die Bedrückungen von Seiten der Chane, besonders stark verfolgte
Mahmed Hassan Chan (1783-1804) die christlichen Uden, welche zum Theil aus
Wartaschen und Nidsch nach Qarabagh flüchteten (…)." (Schiefner 1863, 5).25 The
fact that today the Udis name themselves
is perhaps related to the adaptation of
the ethnonymic tradition in the former Uti region. Unfortunately, there is no
information about what the endonym of the Udis north of the Kura (that is in historical
Albania) had been in medieval times. The only indirect evidence is given by some
Arabic sources: According to Arabic geographers such as al-Muqaddasī (~ 985)
people spoke (by that time) “Albanian” (
) in the city of Bardaca (Partav),
also labeled the ‘Mother of Rān’ (
ummu ’r-rāni
). Ibn awqal (~ 977) notes: “As for the
language of the people of Azerbaijan and of the majority of the people in Armenia, it
is Persian and Arabic; but only few speak Arabic, and who speaks Persian does not
understand Arabic (...). For many people in Armenia and the surrounding countries,
there are other languages, such as Armenian for the inhabitants of Dabili and its
environment. But the people in Bardaca speak Albanian”. The Christian layer in
Bardaca is reflected by the fact that according to al-Muqaddasī “Sunday was the
market day in Bardaca, called ‘Kuriku’ (Kürikü)” (i.e., Greek Κυριακή; see Karaulov
1909, 12,14,100). Still, it is a matter of dispute whether this language was ‘Albanian’
at all. Instead, one might assume that we have to deal with a local Northwest Iranian
25 This orientation seems to be vivid still today. After the exile of most Udis from Vartashen/Oghuz
(1989/90) in the context of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, some refugee families took shelter in the
Armenian Tawush region (Bagratashen, Ptghavan, Debetavan, and Haghtanak), see Schulze and
Schulze 2016, 513-535.
Nevertheless, the use of Armenian
to denote the Udi language seems
to have been current until the 19th century, as illustrated by the title of the manscript
Nachal’nye osnovanija grammatiki na Agvanskom jazyke, pisannoj armjanskimi
. (ms., St. Peterburg Oriental Institute, no. C-7 (Armenica) “composed by an
Udi from Dashbulaq, in the province of Sheki”26 . In 1893, the Vardapet Makar
Barxowtarean published a description of the
Ałowanicc erkir
(‘Albanian region’)
together with an Armenian-Vartashen Udi word list that comprises 209 words and
one phrase (see Schulze 2011).
Prior to the official recognition of the Udis as descendants of the Albanians,
systematically propagated among the Udis, local traditions that would relate the Udis
to the Albanians in terms of ancestry were not widely known. Nevertheless, Schiefner
(1893, 57-58) documents a passage “on the Udis” probably told by a certain Stephan
Bezhanov (a local teacher in Vartashen):
The people from Vartashen and my father say that once there was an Udi kingdom
and that the city of the throne was Vardan (i.e Bardaca) (…). How it came, who it
went, who the Udi kingdom was destroyed - the Udi do not know. In Chamchean
the Armenian’s history27 it is written how the Udi kings led war against the kings of
the Armenians, (how they) were defeated, (how they) paid taxes, how they rose
again, (how they) defeated the Armenians (and how they) became tranquil (i.e.
independent) for some times. 28
Summing up what has been said so far, it seems reasonable to assume that the
three terms at issue are ultimately derived from older (perhaps descriptive)
toponyms, which somehow matches the construction of many ethnonyms in ancient
times. The terms thus denoted three different regions in the same area before the
term ‘Albanians’ acquired a broader reading because of the growing regional
supremacy of Albanian rulers. Nevertheless, in case the denominations ‘Albanians’,
‘Utis/Udis’, and ‘Gargarians’ firstly refer to the people living in these regions, it is not
self-evident that these people would have shared corresponding patterns of ethnicity
or that they would even have shared a common ethnic identity. In order to pursue this
26 Cf. Bernard Outtier (2014). The Albanian language: from the palimpsests (VII-IXth c.) to the
grammar (c. 1841) (manuscript).
27 The speaker refers to Mikcayêl Čcamčcean (1738-1823), an Armenian Mekhitarist monk and
historian, who wrote the first modern history of Armenia (cf. Čcamčcean, Mikcayêl (1784) and the
English edition: [Father] Michael Chamich (1827).
History of Armenia
. Translated from the original
Armenian by Johannes Avdall, in two volumes. Calcutta: Townsend). Note that Čcamčcean never used
the term ‘Albanian’ or ‘Albanians’. Instead, he referred to the province of Uti and its people.
28 Translation W.S. (Vartašlun amdarġon next’un, bez bawanal nexe te udiġoy padšaxluġ bakene,
t’axtey sähäral Vardanney (...). Hetära hario, hetära tacio, hetära pučbakio udi padšaxluġ, šet’ġox
udiġon tet’un ava. Arminġoy Čamčiin ist’oriin boš came, hetärt’un udiġoy padšaxġon arminġoy
padšaxġoxon davabio, čaxecio, xarj tadio, hetärt’un p’urum ini haizerio arminġoy čaxnio, ičġoy vaxt’in
dinjaliś bakio).
question, it is relevant to single out relevant sociocultural features, traditions, and
norms shared by the individual groups.
3. Ethnicity, language, and the peoples of Albania
3.1 Ethnicity
As has been alluded to in the introductory section, there seems to exist a certain
automatism in correlating ethnonyms of Classical times with features of ‘ethnicity’. In
certain cases, there is sufficient evidence that would corroborate corresponding
assumptions (see McInerney 2014 for illuminating examples). With respect to the
topic of the present paper, a major problem is given by the fact that we have mostly
to deal with external views that report rumors and sayings rather than being
grounded in more or less objective observations. The following table lists the key
information of the most prominent sources (leaving aside geographical information as
well as Strabo’s account (XI, 4,1-8, see below)):
Time of Source
490-480 BC
2nd half of 5th c. BC
Herodot III, 93,
VII, 68
Part of troops of Xerxes
ca. 10 AD
ca. 10 AD
Res gestae divi
Augusti 31
Kings of Albania having sent
ambassadors to Augustus
Early years of 1st c.
Geography XI,
Detailed ethnographic account
Early years of 1st c.
Geography XI,
Neighbors of the Amazones
2nd half of 1st c. AD
Plinius major,
Nat. hist. 7,2
People with green eyes,
already grey-haired since
youth, can better see by night
than by day (Isigonus of
330 BC (?)
2nd half of 1st c. AD
Plinius major,
Nat. hist. 8,61
King of Albania makes
Alexander a gift (dog)
2nd half of 1st c. AD
Plinius major,
Nat. hist. 6,11
Albanians living in the plains
of the River Kura; mentioning
of City of „Cabalaca“
2nd half of 1st c. AD
Plinius major,
Nat. hist. 6,15
Udini are a Scythian tribe
2nd half of 1st c. AD
Plinius major,
Nat. hist. 6,15
Descendants of Jason
2nd half of 1st c. AD
Plinius major,
Table 1:
Summary of information on Albanians, Utis/Udis, and Gargarians in Classical sources
The table illustrates that we can hardly associate the information of the
corresponding author to parameters of ethnicity as listed e.g. by Haarmann (2014,
21-22). Here, the author names the following six macro-categories:
(a) Descent
(b) Constituents of human ecology (7 features)
(c) Sociocultural markers (5 features)
(d) Communication systems (5 features)
Nat. hist. 6,15
65 BC
End of 1st c. AD
Pompeius 35
Campaign of Pompeius:
Clashes with Albanians (King
331 BC
2nd c. AD
Arrian, Anabasis
3,8,4; 3,11,4
Contingent of troops under the
command of Atropates
2nd half of 2nd c.
Ptolemaeus, liber
Geographical data, names of
ca. 245 A.D.
Inscription of
Šāhbuhr I (Naqš-i
Rustam, Kaʽba-i
Albania as a territory ruled by
Šāhbuhr I
65 BC
1st half of 3rd c. AD
Cassius Dio,
Hist. rom. 37,1-5
Campaign of Pompeius:
Clashes with Albanians (King
114 AD
2nd half of 4th c. AD
Breviarium ab
urbe condita III,
Trajan appoints a king tot he
114 AD
2nd half of 4th c. AD
Breviarium rerum
gestarum populi
Romani XX, 2.
Trajan appoints a king to the
After 400 AD
5th c. AD
Koryun, Varkc
Maštocci XVI
Albanians have a barbarous
language, have received script
from Mesrop Maštocc
After 400 AD
5th c. AD
Hayocc III, 54
Gargarians have a barbarous
language, have received script
from Mesrop Maštocc
After 400 AD
7th c. AD (?)
Ałowanicc ašxarhi
II, 3
Gargarians have a barbarous
language, have received script
from Mesrop Maštocc
(e) Interaction and social behavior (2 features)
(f) Phenomenological markers (7 features)
It is not the intent of the present paper to discuss and evaluate these categories
together with their corresponding features in details. Nevertheless, it should be
stressed that we have to deal - as Haarmann (2014, 22) puts it - “with a theoretical
construct. Each of the features may be of significance for shaping a group’s identity,
but not all the features (…) will have equal significance in each instance”. In fact, an
ethnic unit is basically a social unit that construes and maintains a collective identity
based on a bundle of distinctive features present in the traditional and
conventionalized sociocultural knowledge patterns of the community. Each group
defines the relevance of the corresponding features differently. The way people do
this is again part of the cultural knowledge of the community. Nevertheless, we have
to bear in mind that cultural knowledge usually is tacit and part of the individual’s
“conjunctive knowledge” in terms of Mannheim (1980 [1922]), that is as “implicit,
experiential, non-reflective, praxeological knowledge grounded in everyday practices”
(Schulze 2016, 190). It would be of importance to have available a larger corpus of
artifacts, products and so on that would document these practices. The presence of
long-standing patterns observable with these artifacts would then hint at a possible
relevance for the group at issue, which again would be relatable to the internal
perception of the group’s ‘ethnicity’. As for Caucasian Albania, such data are hardly
available (except for some few every-day objects the provenience of which, however,
is not also ascertained, see Aslanov, Vaidov, Ione 1959, Trever 1959, Rzaev 1976).
Religious buildings and their architecture do not necessarily express ‘ethnocultural’
peculiarities. Rather, they may document a given religious profile the symbols of
which were introduced and controlled by institutional organs. Only in case we have
clear evidence that a group relates its own religious practices to these buildings, we
might assume that their form part of the group’s ethnic identity. This aspect leads to
the assumption that the ‘ethnicity’ of a group becomes more apparent in case its
administration has become institutionalized: In this case, people might refer to the
given institutions as the embodiment of their own ethnicity (in which way colored so
ever). Still, it would be problematic to turn the evidence around by saying that if there
is information about a person that ruled over a regionally defined population, the
ethnic affiliation of the ruler must have been that of the whole population under
control. The same does not only for ‘rulers’ as such, but also for the relevant ruling
From an external view, only few data are available that relate to sociocultural
patterns of the peoples at issue. The main source is Strabo (Geography 11, 4,1-8).
This passage relates to reports on the ‘Albanians’ stemming from the first century
BC. Accordingly, the economic patterns of the ‘Albanians’ were dominated by sheep-
breeding, horticulture, and agriculture (using wooden ploughs), and viniculture. They
had no money and no measures (Strabo mentions that they do not use numbers over
‘100’ (οὐδὲ ριθμὸν ἴσασι μείζω τῶν ἑκατόν (11, 4,4)). Referring to demographic
issues, Strabo says that the Albanians were able to supply an infantry of 60.000 men
together with 22.000 horsemen. Taking these data serious, we would have to infer
that the whole population of ‘Albanians’ by that time was around 400.000 people,
which seems rather exaggerated. According to Strabo, men were tall and beautiful,
having a straight attitude, but were not very martial. In sum, they led a “Cycoplean
mode of life” (Κυκλώπειόν τινα διηγούμενοι βίον (11, 4,4)). In these pre-Christian
times, the ‘Albanians’ were said to worship three main gods, namely the Sun, Jupiter
(Zeus), and the Moon. According to Strabo, the Moon was their most important god
(θεοὺς δτιμῶσιν λιον καὶ δία καὶ σελήνην, διαφερόντως δὲ τὴν σελήνην (11, 4,7)).
The priests played a central role in the ‘Albanian’ society and came next to the king in
authority. The ‘Albanians’ knew human sacrifices and forecasting related to the way a
person killed by a sacred lance fell down. With respect their social structure, the
‘Albanians’ seemed to be organized in different units headed by chieftains and
marked for different languages. In the first century BC, these different units came
under control of a single ‘king’ (11 4,6). If we take Strabo’s observation literally,
according to which “[t]hey speak six and twenty languages from the want of mutual
intercourse and communication with one another” (γλῶτται δ’ εἰσὶν ξ καὶ εἴκοσιν
αὐτος διτὸ μὴ εὐεπίμικτον πρὸς ἀλλήλους, 11, 4.6), we may assume that the early
statehood of Albania was populated by people from twenty-six groups defined in
terms of their linguistic affiliation.29 Starting from Strabo’s information, we would then
have to conclude that the term ‘Albanian’ is not related to a single language. Rather,
the term would characterize a group of people that shared the above-mentioned
traditions and that dwelt in the regions of ‘Albania’, later on controlled by a single
chieftain or ‘king’.
3.2 Language
The aspect mentioned in the last paragraph of the preceding section is of special
importance, when it comes to the role of language in the ascription of ‘ethnic features’
29 Candidates are perhaps the Bałasičkc, the Čiłbkc, the Lpinkc (lat. Lupeni), the Głowarkc, the
Maskcowtckc, the Pcoxkc, the Gargarkc, the Kaspkc, the Vatkc, and the Hepctcalkc mentioned in
Armenian sources (see Bais 2001).
to the ‘Albanians’ (resp. Utis and Gargarians). Here, two major points have to be
(a) The role of
language in the context of communicative traditions: Starting
from Strabo’s description of the linguistic landscape in Albania, ‘language’ seems to
have played a certain role in the constitution of the individual social groups in Albania
(prior to Christianization). This would argue in favor of the assumption that the people
of Early Albania defined their social affiliation (among others) by reference to ‘their’
language as opposed to the languages of the surrounding groups. In this respect it is
irrelevant whether we have to deal with dialects or individual languages from a
system-linguistic point of view. It makes more sense to refer to the famous dictum
reported by Max Weinreich: “a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot“ (“a language
is a dialect with an army and a navy”) (Weinreich 1945, 13). Accordingly, a
‘language’ can be described as some kind of ‘armed dialect’, controlled and
administered by corresponding official institutions. Strabo’s observation according to
which there had been a correlation ‘group <> language <> king’ in earlier times of
Albania suggests that the individual languages were indeed languages rather than
dialects from a sociolinguistic point of view. Still, there is no information about which
languages were included in the linguistic landscape of Early Albania. At least one of
these languages must have been the language referred to by the above-mentioned
Armenian sources when talking about the introduction of a script to the ‘Albanian
people’. The authors characterize the corresponding language as the “guttural, harsh,
ugly (and) barbarous language of the Gargarians” (Movsēs Xorenacci,
III, 54,
Patmowtciwn Ałowanicc ašxarhi
II, 3) or talk about “the barbaric diction
of the Albanian language” (Koryun,
Varkc Maštocci
XVI (288)). It is generally
acknowledged that these famous passages refer to languages of the East Caucasian
(more precisely, Lezgian) language family (mainly because of the mention of
“guttural” sounds). Still, it remains unclear whether Mesrop Maštocc worked on just
one language. The
Patmutciwn Ałuanicc
reports (I, 27) that
He (…) spread the teaching of the gospel to the land of the Utiaccikc, the Albanians,
the Lpcinkc, the Kaspkc, up to the Čcołay Pass, and to other foreign tribes whom
Alexander of Macedon had captured and settled around the great Mount
Caucasus, namely, the Gargarkc and the Kamicik Hepctcalkc (Hephthalites); he
reconverted them to the Christian faith and taught them the form of worship which
they had learned long ago and had now forgotten. A perfect preacher and apostle
to the barbarous mountain tribes, he taught them to write in their own language.30
30 եւ ձգէր զքարոզութիւն աւետարանին յաշխարհն Ուտիացւոց, եւ յԱղուանս եւ ՛ի Լփինս եւ ՛ի Կասպս եւ ՛ի Դուռն Չորայ եւ
յայլ ազգի ազգիսն, զորս գերութեամբն էր ածեալ Աղեքսանդրի Մակեդոնացւոյ եւ նստուցեալ զմեծ լերամբն Կովկասու.
The question is whether “their own language” is meant in the sense of “language of
each people”, or whether it indicates that the Utiaccikc, Albanians, Lpcinkc, Kaspkc,
Gargarkc, and Kamicik Hepctcalkc all spoke the same language. Taking Strabo’s
account literally, we would have to assume that these groups had been marked for
different languages. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that peoples like the Lpcinkc
), Hepctcalkc, or Kaspkc (Caspians) ever used a script (also see fn. 29).
The matter is further complicated because the source given above mentions the
‘Albanians’ as a unit opposed to those of the Utiaccikc, the Lpcinkc, or the Kaspkc.
Obviously, ‘Albanian’ did not serve as a cover term in the sense of Strabo, but rather
as a separate ethnonym. It hence remains an open question, whether there had been
a group of ‘Albanians’ that differed from the other peoples in the region by language.
(b) The function of language products (texts, etc.): As has been said above,
the Armenian sources report about the introduction of a script to the ‘Albanians’ or
‘Gargarians’ (created by Mesrop Maštocc around 422 AD). The purpose was to use
this script for translating the Bible. Koryun (Koryun,
Varkc Maštocci
XIV) tells us:
Bishop Eremia soon began the translation of the divine books, whereby at once in
one instant, the barbaric, slothful, and brutal men became well acquainted with the
prophets and the apostles, becoming heirs to the gospels, and in no way ignorant
of the divine traditions.31
This passage is of special importance because it suggests that by that time, Albania
was inhabited mainly by peoples who did not know Armenian or Georgian. The
dating, however, is problematic: Remnants of the Caucasian Albanian Bible texts
(fragments of the Gospel of John, fragments of a lectionary) as preserved in the
Caucasian Albanian palimpsests from Mt. Sinai (Gippert et al. 2009) suggest that the
text had been produced on the basis of (among others) an Armenian translation.
Given the fact that the first Armenian translation had been done between 411 AD and
434 AD, and that Bishop Eremia seems to have been a contemporary of Mesrop
Maštocc (362-440), we have to assume that the process of translating the divine texts
զԳարգառսն եւ զԿամիճիկ Հեփթաղսնդարձուցեալ ՛ի հաւատս՝ զկարգ աստուածպաշտութեան ուսուցանէր, զոր ՛ի վաղնջուց
ուսեալն էին եւ մոռացեալ. եւ բոլորովին քարոզ եւ առաքեալ խուժադուժ սարոտանեացն լինելով ըստ նոցին բարբառոյ
դպրութեան առնէր զնոսա ծանօթս։
31 սկ իբրեւ հրամանն այն արդեամբք եւ գործովք յանկ ելանէր, ապա այնուհետեւ երանելոյն Երեմիայի եպիսկոպոսի ի ձեռն
առեալ՝ վաղվաղակի զաստուածային գրոց թարգմանութիւնս ի գործ արկանէր, որով անդէն յական թօթափել վայրենամիտ եւ
դատարկասուն եւ անասնաբարոյ աշխարհն Աղուանից մարգարէագէտք եւ առաքելածանօթք եւ աւետարանաժառանգք լինէին,
եւ ամենայն աւանդելոցն Աստուծոյ ոչ իւիք անտեղեակք։
into Albanian (or Gargarian), perhaps just initiated by Eremia, stretched over a longer
period in the middle of the 5th century.32 The whole enterprise seems to have been
brought about by the Albanian king Arsuał(ēn) (or: Esualen). It is reasonable to
assume that Mesrop, Eremia, and his interpreter Benjamin referred to the language
of the court when aiming at the translation of the Bible. In this sense, we can safely
start from the hypothesis that in the 5th century, the language showing up in the
Caucasian Albanian palimpsests had been the language of the court of Albania, that
is the language of the ruling elite. However, it would be premature to infer from this
hypothesis that the whole population of Albania spoke this language. Referring to
Strabo’s account quoted above, we may assume that the political unit ‘Albania’
included a number of diverse groups marked for different languages. Although one
should bear in mind that Strabo’s account talks about a situation some 500 years
before the introduction of the ‘Albanian’ script, there is no reason to claim that within
these 500 years, Albania would have undergone full homogenization regarding its
linguistic landscape. On the other hand, we have to consider the fact that the Bible
translation had obviously been used for propagating Christian belief. This becomes
visible especially from the lectionary included in the palimpsests, cf. picture 1:
Picture 1:
Fol. A77ra (1 Cor 13,6-8) (Gippert et al. 2009, Vol. II, VII,31)
The letters of the lectionary texts are slightly larger than those of the Gospel
manuscript. This goes together with the general function of lectionaries, namely to be
read out during church services. This again means that the audience should have at
least understood the language. However, this does not necessarily mean that
32 The Caucasian Albanian texts as documented in the palimpsests seem to have been produced in
the 7th/8th century. Most likely, we have to deal with a copy of an older original.
‘Albanian’ was part of the ethnic patterns of the ‘Albanians’. First, we have to
acknowledge the fact that the eastern regions of Caucasia had since long been
marked for functional multilingualism, a pattern which is preserved in some regions till
our days). Second, the audience may have had a passive knowledge of ‘Albanian’
activated just in the context of church services. Third, it remains unclear who
attended these services. It may well have been the case that mainly (or even only)
the ‘Albanian’ elite took part in such events.
Another question related to the ‘ethnic relevance’ of Caucasian Albanian
concerns the degree to which literacy might have been given in this kingdom.33 The
fact that only 400 years later, the script seems to have fallen into oblivion suggests
that literacy was not fully anchored in the society of Albania. Some of the reasons are
probably related to the fact that after 510
(…) the confessional and ecclesiastical evolution of the country steadily furthered
the Armenian tongue and script at the expense of the Albanian. (…) These
confessional debates and religious struggles are likely to have once for all
abolished what had remained from the Biblical collections and the liturgical books
compiled in the Albanian tongue during the Vth-VIth centuries. Since the criterion
of orthodoxy had become the official doctrine of the Armenian Church, any
attachment to local peculiarities or, even worse, any use of books in a non-
Armenian tongue might have been regarded as suspect and been severely
repressed. (Gippert et al. 2009, I, xviii-ix).
Again, this probably held especially for the use of the Caucasian Albanian script by
local intellectuals and clergies. It is difficult to decide to which extent the script had
also been used in non-religious or profane contexts. An indication may be the
presence of six short inscriptions on potsherds and candleholders, cf. e.g. picture 2:
Picture 2:
A candleholder (Mingečaur) (Gippert et al. I, II-87)
However, documents of this kind are too few to allow drawing a more comprehensive
picture on the presence and relevance of the Caucasian Albanian script in a private
33 For the question of literacy in Classical times, cf. among others Harris (1989), Thomas (1992),
Bowman and Woolf (1994), Lomas, Whitehouse, and Wilkins (2007), Johnson and Parker (2009).
context. Things are somewhat different with respect to the famous inscription on the
Mingečaur pedestal (see Gippert et al. 2009, I, II-85-87 for a comprehensive
presentation), cf. picture 3:
Picture 3:
Front side of the Mingečaur pedestal (Gippert et al. 2009, I, II-85)
Most likely we have to deal with a pedestal of a cross. The text indicates that the
inscription had been prepared in the year 558 AD (reference is probably made to
Xosrow I. Anōšērwān (531-579)). A tentative transliteration and translation is (Gippert
et al. 2009, I, II-86):34
c’iyas ʒ́ē be{š}i y{s}[i] olo alahēne e i
In the name of our Lord Jesus! On the pillar (?) was
erected (?) this c/
hål yē owsena xosroow<i>
ross in the year 27 of Khosrow
.......... serb<aown>......
........... first ...............
(…)åy čoˤin isk’ap’osen bi
of the…. bishop of Choł, ma/
de (it)
This short inscription illustrates that the Caucasian Albanian script was also part of
the linguistic landscape of Albania. It hence had a presentational function, too, and
might even been seen as an expression of public communication in all its modesty.
Summing up this point, we may conclude that the Caucasian Albanian script
had been part of the religious and perhaps political culture of the Caucasian Albanian
elite. Up to now, there is no evidence that the script had been used for more than one
language. Admittedly, not all inscriptions can be safely read on the basis our
knowledge of the language of the palimpsests. However, this may be due to the fact
that the religious texts (to the extent they are readable at all) contain a lexicon that
may not or only in parts be present in the relevant inscriptions (see Gippert 2017
referred to in footnote 34 for a reconsideration of given interpretations).
34 The transliteration includes two corrections recently proposed by Jost Gippert (2017 „The Albanian
Inscriptions Revisited“,,
instead of
(first line) and …
instead of …
(4a). Gippert also convincingly
argued that the reading
‘he made’ given in Gippert et al. (2009) should be given up in favor
4. Caucasian Albanian as a marker of ‘Albanian’ ethnicity?
In this last section, I want to turn briefly to the language underlying the Caucasian
Albanian script. The linguistic affiliation of Caucasian Albanian, namely its relation to
present-day Udi, has become evident since the decipherment of the palimpsests
(2001-2009), see Gippert et al. (2009) and Schulze (2015a) for details. Already
before, this assumption gained ground on the basis on the scant data available by
those times. This concerns not only the Mingečaur pedestal (see above), but also a
list of month names which “is contained in the encyclopedic works of the authors
Anania Širakacci and Hovhannes Imastaser 35 and further appears in Georgian
manuscripts containing the lexicon of Sulxan-Saba Orbeliani36” (Gippert et al. 2009, I,
II-94). This list (analyzed in details by Gippert 1988) entails some names that can
best be interpreted in terms of Udi (e.g. *
‘(month of the) harvest’, cf. Udi
‘harvest’). This list is also of importance because it illustrates that a highly relevant
segment of everyday-life organization, namely the naming of months in the context of
the calendar system, was carried out in Caucasian Albanian (albeit we have to admit
that at least some of these names are Iranian). Still, the bulk of evidence for the
Albanian-Udi hypothesis stems from the texts of the palimpsests (see Gippert et al.
2009, I, II-75-78 for details). Accordingly, we have to assume that the language of
those people who used the language of the palimpsests was an ancestor of present-
day Udi. Most likely however, we are not dealing with an immediate ancestor of one
of the presently two varieties of Udi (Nij and Vartashen), but rather with an ‘aunt’
standing in slightly closer relation to actual Nij Udi than to Vartashen Udi (see Gippert
et al. 2009, I, II-78). The following stemma describes the possible affiliation (CA =
Caucasian Albanian):
35 Hovhannis Imastaser (c. 10471129) was an Armenian theologian, philosopher, and scientists from
Gardman (Utikc) who was involved (among others) in creating the Minor Armenian Calendar, which
included all 365 days plus one additional day.
36 Sulxan-Saba Orbeliani (1658-1725) was a Georgian monk, writer, lexicographer, and translator. He
is generally acknowledged as the ‘father’ of the Modern Georgian literary language.
Graphic 1:
The affiliation of Caucasian Albanian
Given the present location of the Udis (who once covered a much broader region
north of the river Kura), we might assume that the differentiation between ‘Caucasian
Albanian’, ‘Proto-Nij’, and ‘Proto-Vartashen’ had taken place in the first centuries AD.
Still, we can hardly determine the region related to this process. A possible scenario
would be that the two varieties of Caucasian Albanian and Proto-Nij had resulted
from a migration to the south, even beyond the river Kura. Evidently, at least the
speakers of Caucasian Albanian came into closer contact with Iranian groups
(although we have to accept that Iranian had been a general factor of impact on all
varieties of Udi, see Schulze 2015b for details). After members of those people
speaking Caucasian Albanian gained control over the region, they seemed to face
the problem of becoming fully Iranized with respect to language. Most likely, the
process of Christianization contributed to the fact that such an Iranization did start,
however, before the end of the 5th century. The use of the ‘Albanian’ language in
religious contexts as well as its codification in terms of the Bible translation probably
served as a barrier against language shift, at least as long as Parthian resp. Middle
Iranian were concerned. In this sense, we can assume that ‘Albanian’ functioned as a
marker of religious and maybe even political identity, strongly associated with the
local autocephalous Church. This does not necessarily mean, however, that
‘Albanian’ also was a factor of ethnicity, if ever we can relate the ruling class of
Albania to an ethnic unit at all.37 After the Arsacid royal house of Albania (a branch of
the ruling dynasty of Parthia) had become extinct in 510 (death of Vačcagan III
Barepašt), it was replaced by princes of the Persian or Parthian Mihranid family
(assuming the Persian title of
‘King of Albania’) who controlled the region
until Varaz-Tiridates II (821-822). We cannot tell which language the nobles of
Albania used by that time, but it seems rather likely that they mainly spoke Middle
Persian, at least in an official context. Most likely, ‘Albanian’ became reduced to a
vernacular, also because the more the Albanian Church came under control of the
Armenian Orthodox Church, the more Albanian lost ground in favor of Armenian.
‘Albanian’ thus gradually lost its function as an element of religious identity. It is
37 It should be noted that so far, none of the proper names given for the kings, nobles, and clergies of
Albania shows any affinity with what we know about Caucasian Albanian. Mostly, we have to deal with
Armenian and/or Iranian names.
reasonable to assume that this process did not necessarily affect the ethnic patterns
of those who used to speak ‘Albanian’ before. The cultural and social traditions of the
local people probably were not largely affected by the ongoing language shift.
Summing up we can say that the ‘Albanian’ language represented mainly a
particular communicative system perhaps associated to a group of people in the
regions of Albania members of which gained power over other groups. For some
times (roughly 400-600), the language became part of the cultural capital of the ruling
class, if not of the Albanian speaking population as such (in the sense of Bourdieu
1979). During this relatively small span of time, Albanian might have functioned as a
marker of ethnicity, although it is more likely that it mainly served as a factor of social
and religious identification. In this sense, it is difficult to claim that the givenness of
‘Albanian’ suggests an ‘Albanian ethnicity’. When looking at the linguistic data
available from the palimpsests, only very few features become visible that would hint
at cultural or even ethnic peculiarities of the speakers of the language. Obviously, this
is mainly due to the nature of the texts. These texts importantly show to which degree
the translators referred to Armenian, Georgian, Greek, and Syriac sources (see
Gippert et al. 2009, I, II-79-84), but we can hardly claim that the adoption of foreign
phrasings and word (be it directly, be it in terms of loan translations) would
necessarily speak in favor of a corresponding knowledge of the audience or
readership. Only in case we are dealing with terms that reflect common concepts we
may assume that they are grounded in more general patterns of language contact, cf.
‘many, much’ (cf. the Armenian root
‘more’), the
corresponding to Armenian
‘crowd, people, synagogue’,
‘grave, sepulcher’ (Arm.
‘id.’), CA
‘worker’ (cf. Arm.
, Georg.
‘id.’), just to name a few). The following diagram classifies the
loans from Armenian, Georgian, Iranian, and Syriac according to relevant domains:
Diagram 1:
Semantic domains of loans into Caucasian Albanian (palimpsests)
As one might expect, the religious domain constitutes the main body of loans in the
language of the palimpsests. The other domains do not indicate a clear profile that
could be related to particular forms of cultural impact on the society of Albania. In
fact, such loans mainly tell about patterns of communicative interaction of the
‘Albanians’ with Armenian, Georgian, or Iranian speaking people. They can hardly be
used as indicators of particular cultural patterns associable to some kind of ‘Albanian’
52,8% of the lexical stems documented in the palimpsests (n=570) can be
safely related to Udi (40,8 %) or to other East Caucasian languages (12,8%; the
remaining 33,8% are of unclear origin). If ever cultural peculiarities were mirrored in
the language of the Caucasian Albanian palimpsests, we would have to search for
them within the set of lexical units that Albanian shares with Udi, but that do not have
matches in other East Caucasian languages. Such innovations (archaism are less
likely) might in parts reflect cultural innovations related to times when Proto-Udi had
emerged. Likewise, the 73 lexical stems that escape a secure etymology up to now
perhaps might be another clue to this point. Admittedly, etymological research on the
lexicon of Udi and Caucasian Albanian still is in its beginnings (cf. Schulze 2001 for
an etymological analysis of the lexicon entailed in the Udi translation of the Gospels).
However, even if we were able to classify the relevant data in terms of parameters of
Cultural Linguistics, we would not be allowed telling with certainty that the underlying
concepts had played the role of key concepts expressing features ethnicity by that
time. In order to trace possible correlations, one would have to refer to non-linguistic
evidence reflecting the cultural relevance of the corresponding concepts.
Unfortunately, such data are not available yet.
5. Summary
Superficially, a relatively broad array of relevant data seems to be available for
statements concerning features of ethnicity with respect to the ‘Caucasian Albanians’.
In fact, the assumption that the ‘Albanians’ represented an ethnic unit in Antiquity has
been rather current since long. However, the ‘ethnic’ identity of the Albanians has
rarely been discussed in details yet. Referring to the available data one might argue
that a closer inspection of the assumed ethnic properties of the ‘Albanians’ would be
rather promising: We have at hands a broader set of geographic information
(Herodotus, Plinius, Strabo, Ptolemaeus etc.). Strabo gives a quite extensive
ethnographic description of the Albanians. The Armenian sources supply us with
detailed information on the political and ecclesiastic history of the Albanian Kingdom,
and, last but not least, the discovery and decipherment of the Caucasian Albanian
palimpsests allows describing in much details the language of the ‘Albanians’.
Nonetheless, when trying to use all this information in order to draw a coherent
picture, it soon becomes evident that a patchwork of arguments and observations
emerges instead of the expected coherent picture. This unsatisfactory result is due to
many factors some of which I have tried to discuss in more details above. The main
problem seems to be that up to now most of what can be said about the Albanians
either stems from early sources reflecting external views (or even rumors) on the
‘Albanians’ and being doubtful to a certain extent. What is even more important: We
cannot be sure that the different sources (covering a period of some 500 to 700
years) talk about the same topic at all. For instance, the identification of Strabo’s
Ἀλβανοί with the
of the Armenian sources mainly dwells upon the ethnonym
itself. However, we cannot ascertain the two terms refer to a group of people sharing
a common history (not to speak a common ‘ethnic’ identity). Admittedly, the
localization of the ‘Albanians’ in some regions of present-day Northern and Central
Azerbaijan that is common to most relevant sources may argue in favor of this
assumption. Nevertheless, we cannot exclude that the denomination ‘Albanian’ had
been applied to different groups in that region at different times.
In this respect, we might question whether the term ‘Albanian’ represents an
ethnonym in its true sense at all. First of all, the name seems to refer to people living
in the regions of ‘Albania’ (just as it would hold for the terms ‘Udi’ and ‘Gargar’). This
seems to have been the case in Strabo’s account. In later times, after a kind of
fiefdom had been established in the region, the term might have simply denoted
those people who were put under the authority of the corresponding rulers. The first
attribution of a collective identity to this people seems to be related to
Christianization. However, albeit religion can surely serve as an important marker of
societal identity, it can hardly be related to ethnicity as such. In a sense, one might
think of relating the fact that Albanian Christianity developed into an autocephalous
structure to the notion of ‘ethnic religion’ or ‘indigenous religion’ (cf. Cox 2007), but
the period of religious independence was much too short for allowing the stabilization
of the Christian belief in Albanian in this respect. In addition, Armenian sources tell us
that Christianization in the Eastern (Trans-)Caucasus was not confined to the
‘Albanians’. Hence, we might likewise assume that Christian identity in the regions of
Albania was not confined to the group of ‘Albanians’ in early medieval times.
As has been said above, language is often seen as a typical marker of
ethnicity. In the case of the Albanians, we have to acknowledge, however, that we
cannot even tell for sure that the available written documents (the palimpsests and
the inscriptions) are ‘Albanian’ at all. Nowhere in the readable parts of the
palimpsests we find an indication that would say something like *
mowzen campêne
‘it is written in the language of the Albanians’. The only indication
that we indeed have to deal with the language of the ‘Albanians’ comes from indirect
sources, e.g. the name of the alphabet in the alphabet list and from the list of month
names referred to above (see Gippert 1988). Still, we cannot exclude the possibility
that the script called ‘Albanian’ in the alphabet list had been used for languages other
than Albanian, too. In this respect, we have to remember that Movsēs Xorenacci
Patmowtciwn Hayocc
III, 54) talks about the Gargarians for whom Mesrop Maštocc
had developed a script. Up to now, we cannot say whether the Gargarians were part
of an ‘Albanian confederation’ sharing with the Albanians the same language. All we
can say for sure is that people speaking the language of the palimpsests must have
been present in the kingdom of Albania.
It goes without saying that the language of the Caucasian Albanian
palimpsests conventionally called ‘Albanian’ played a considerable role at the times
of early Christianity in present-day Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, it is premature to
assume that it marked a particular group with respect to specific features of ethnicity.
The popular view, according to which a language necessarily reflects an ethnic unit is
likely to fail at least with respect to the question of the Caucasian Albanians.
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