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... Gveleti Fort on the other hand, while not easy to access from the north, would have proved equally difficult to approach from the south, where there is a vertical cliff ( Figure 6). According to Mas'udi, it was impossible to pass 'the Alans' Castle' (Dariali Fort) without the permission of its garrison, yet several Khazar invasions in the eighth and ninth centuries succeeded (Dunlop 1954;Bosworth 1978;Czeglédy 1960;Golden 1980;Golden et al. 2007, with sources). The risks of a raid into Transcaucasia would have further decreased if hostile forces knew that the garrison in the Dariali Gorge was not only able to inflict heavy losses on anybody attempting to break through from north to south, but also had the capability to cut off their return and escape route, thus leaving them stranded in a hostile environment. ...
The strategic significance of the Dariali Gorge, the main pass across the central Caucasus, has long been recognised. It forms a border today as it has done for much of the past 2000 years. But how was an effective military force sustained in an isolated Alpine environment? Excavations, osteoarchaeology and landscape survey have revealed that the Early Middle Ages saw as much investment in controlling this key route as there was in Antiquity. Guarded by the same Muslim-led garrison for at least a quarter of a millennium, its survival in a harsh environment was made possible through military effort and long-distance food supplies.
The Khazar Khaganate, or Qaganate (mid-7th century to c.969), a successor state of the Western Türk Khaganate, constituted one of the largest polities of medieval Eurasia, extending from the Middle Volga region to the North Caucasus and Crimea and from the Don–Dnieper zone to the borders of Khwarazm. In a series of wars in the 8th century, it halted the Arab advance beyond the North Caucasus and subsequently became one of the major links in trans-Eurasian trade and in the commerce of the forest zone with Byzantium and the Arab Caliphate. Rulers of a polyethnic and multi-religious empire, the Khazar elite and core tribes converted to Judaism in the first half of the 9th century. By the 10th century, weakened by declining revenues and threats from the Pechenegs and Rus’, Khazaria fell to combined Rus’ and Oghuz attacks in 965 and 968/969.