In mythology the Caucasus was the prison of Prometheus. He and his family had defied the edicts of Jupiter who then ordered Vulcan to create from clay the woman Pandora - the first female that ever lived - and sent her under the protection of Mercury to Prometheus as a temptation to become his wife and bearing a beautiful box full of presents. But Prometheus Sensed the deceit; his brother Epimetheus married her and when he opened the box a multitude of evils issued from it all over the world. Now extremely irritated, Jupiter dispatched VuIcan to carry off Prometheus to the Caucasus, where he was tied to a rock so that a vulture could feed upon his liver, which was never diminished, though Continually devoured. He was delivered from this confinement afterwards by Hercules who killed the bird of prey.
Other fables abound from the Greeks. It was into the valley of the Rion in Imeritia (Colchis) on the S side of the range that Jason and the Argonauts journeyed to fetch the golden fleece. Medea, the famous sorceress daughter of Aeetes, king of Coichis, gathered herbs in the fields at Ushgul near the Sources of the Ingur and below the great hulk of Shkhara to concoct a potion with which she seduced Jason and afterwards married him. At 2060m Ushgul with 8 notable collection of fortified church towers is said to be the highest site Inhabited all year round in the Caucasus. On a nearby hill stands the castle of Tamara, the only woman ruler of Georgia, under whom the country attained its greatest Prosperity in the 12th century. In her book Guest of the Soviets (Constable, 1959) Joyce Dunsheath relates:
The Queen’s beauty was legendary and we are told that many lovers visited her in her castle and were allowed to remain one night on the condition that in the morning they would be cast to death from the battlements. Apparently the enjoyment was well worth the price, for many so perished.
The Caucasus is identified as Mount Kaf in Burton’s translation of the Arabian Nights, where marvels and miracles were Stored. Herodotus counted it as a boundary of the Persian Empire.
Though it formed a boundary (Armenia) of the Roman Empire, only one memorable observation emerges from these times; a report to the Emperor Hadrian about the Black Sea coast notes views of the Caucasus and a summit called Strobilus where Prometheus was said to have been suspended. Strobilus is clearly Elbrus. whose blunt top resembles in shape a pine cone - a long established botanical reference to a pine cone derived from the classical Greek.* In the middle ages the Caucasus became a mountain retreat of the borderland between Europe and Asia, and a refuge or resting place for successive waves of migration. Prominence and exposure to civilisation only happens with the expansionists aims of the Tsars. The north side of the range had long been under their control, then the kingdom of Georgia was annexed by Russia in 1801. The resistance which the Caucasian peoples for more than half a century offered to the arms of Imperial Russia attracted them to the attention of the world. But with the capture in 1859 of Shamyl, the prophet chief of the Muslim Lesghian tribe, the power of the Caucasians was shattered. By 1870 it was completely broken; half a million among the tribes, including Circassians and Abkhasians, refusing to submit to Christian Russia, migrated to territories in Asia Minor or Europe.
The ancient divisions of the country - Georgia, Imeritia, Svanetia, Mingrelia, etc. — based on tribal distinctions disappeared and the land was depopulated following imposition of the Russian administrative system. Illogically, peoples on the southern or Asian flank of the range are Christian (mostly Georgian) and those on the northern or European flank, generically Tatars (incorrectly Tartars), are Muslim. After the 2 revolutions in the early part of the 20th century, only Georgia persisted in projecting strong national characteristics — at times to its cost in brutality under the Bolshevik yoke. Through the dictatorship of its most famous son, Stalin, Georgia acquired the status of a Union republic but nevertheless was treated by him with unremitting harshness. A more recent eminent Georgian politician, Shevardnadze a ‘bully-boy’ aide to Brezhnev and later foreign minister under Gorbachev is also regarded poorly in his homeland.
Now at the end of the century liberal fever has come to the fore in agitation for independence from the Russian Federation. An elected state president has already been accused of power corruption. Moreover the situation in Georgia is further complicated by disaffected ethnic minorities; in turn Soviet troops attempt to put down Georgian militia, while the latter are also engaged in fighting the tribal Muslim Ossetians in their enclave of the republic; and also among each other as to the tactics to adopt. This unstable situation has not manifested itself so far on the north side of the range, in Russia proper.
The term Caucasian was at one time used for all the finer types of the fair-skinned division of mankind, and many American police departments today still categorise people by this distinction. But the ‘Caucasian race’ of the German anthropologist Blumenbach has long been divided into the 2 groups, Aryan or Indo-European and Semitic; moreover it is very doubtful if most of the Caucasian peoples belong to either of these stocks. The Ossetes, a minority, are Aryan; the southern or Karthlia group of Caucasian tribes (including the Georgians), the eastern group (including the Chechens and Lesghians), and the western group (including Circassians and Abkhasians) speak languages mutually unintelligible and of doubtful affinities. The official universal language has of course become Russian. Notes about language, the Cyrillic alphabet, transliteration into English and other tongues, and the probable reversion to native names in the future appear elsewhere in this work.