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Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)

Caucasus

Caucasus, Caucasii Montes (ho Kaukasos, ta Kaukasia ore: also, ho Kaukasis, Herod. iii. 97, Steph. B. s. v.; to Kaukasow, Arrian. Peripl.; to Kaukasion oros, Herod. i. 104, Dion. Per. 663: Eth. Kaukasios and Kaukasites: region Kaukasia, whence Adj. and Eth. KaukasiaWos, Steph. B. s. v.: Caucasus, Kawkas, Goffkas, Jalbus), the great mountain chain which extends across the isthmus between the Euxine and Caspian Seas, and now forms the boundary between Europe and Asia, but belonged entirely to Asia in the ancient division of the continents.
  This range forms the NW. margin of the great table-land of W. Asia. It commences on the W. at the base of the tongue of low land (Peninsula of Taman), which divides the E. part of the Sea of Azov (Palus Maeotis) from the Black Sea, in 45° 10? N. lat., and 36° 45? E. long.; and it runs first along the NE. shore of the Black Sea, and then across the isthmus, with a general direction from NW. to SE., terminating on the W. coast of the Caspian, in the peninsula of Apsheron in 40° 20? N. lat., and 50° 20? E. long. Its length is 750 miles, its breadth from 65 to 150 miles. Its elevation varies greatly, the central portion forming some of the loftiest mountains in the world, higher than the Alps, while its extremities sink down into mere hills. The highest summit, M. Elburz, in 43° 20? N. lat., and 42° 30? E. long., attains a height of not much less than 18,000 feet; and the next in elevation, M. Kazbek, in 42° 50? N. lat., and 44° 20? E. long. is just 16,000 feet high. The part of the chain W. of Elburz sinks very rapidly, and along the shore of the Euxine its height is only about 200 feet; but the E. part of the chain preserves a much greater elevation till it approaches very near the Caspian, where it subsides rather suddenly. Nearly all the principal summits of the central. part, from M. Elburz eastward, are above the line of perpetual snow, which is here from 10,000 to 11,000 feet above the sea. The central chain is bordered by two others, running parallel to it; that on the N., called by the inhabitants the Black Mountains, forms a sort of shoulder, by which the Caucasus sinks down to the great plain of Sarmatia and the basin of the Caspian; while that on the S., called in Armenian Sdorin Goffkas, i. e. the Lower Caucasus, branches off from the central mass in 44° E. long., and running between the rivers Rion (Phasis) and Kur (Cyrus), from WNW. to ESE., connects the main chain with the highlands of Armenia, and with the Taurus system. The mountains are chiefly of the secondary formation, with some primary rocks; and, though there are no active volcanoes, the frequent earthquakes, and the naphtha springs at the E. extremity, indicate much igneous action. The summits are flat or rounded, with an entire absence of the sharp peaks familiar to us in the Alps. The chief rivers of the Caucasus are on the N. side, the Terek (Alontas), and the Kuban (Hypanis or Vardanes), both rising in M. Elburz, and falling, the former into the Caspian, the latter into the Sea of Azov; and, on the S. side, the Rion (Phasis) falling into the Euxine, and the Kur (Cyrus) falling into the Caspian. This brief general description of the chain will render more intelligible the statements of the ancient writers respecting it, (The chief modern works on the Caucasus are, Reinegg, Histor.-topograph. Beschreibung des Kaukasus, St. Petersb. 1796, 1797, 2 vols. 8vo., aud the works of Koch, especially his splendid Atlas, Karte des Kaukasischen Isthmuss und Armeniens, Berlin, 1850, consisting of four large maps, repeated in four editions, one coloured politically, another ethnographically, the third botanically, and the fourth geologically. The Atlas to Rennell's Comparative Geography of W. Asia is also very useful.)
In the early Greek writers, the Caucasus appears as the object of a dim and uncertain knowledge, which embraced little more than its name, and that vague notion of its position which they had also of other places about the region of the Euxine, and which they traced mythically to the Argonautic expedition (Strab. xi. p. 505). In Aeschylus, it is the scene of the punishment of Prometheus, who is chained to a rock at the extremity of the range overhanging the sea, but at a considerable distance from the summit the Caucasus itself, highest of mountains (Aesch. Prom. Vinct. 719, comp. 422, 89, 1088; Prom. Sol. Fr. 179, ap. Cic. Quaest. Tusc. ii. 1. 0; comp. Hygin. Fab. 54; Apollon. Rhod. ii. 1246, et seq.; Val. Flacc. v. 155, where the Caucasus is called Promethei cubile: Strab. iv. p. 183, xi. p. 505, who expressly asserts that the Caucasus was the easternmost mountain known to the earlier Greeks; and adds that it was, in later myths, the scene of expeditions of Heracles and Dionysus.)
  Hecataeus mentions the Caucasus twice, in connection with the Dandarii and Coli, peoples who dwelt about it; and he adds that the lower parts of the chain were called Colici Montes (Kolika ore; Fr. 161,186, ap. Steph. B. s. vv. DaWdarioi, Koloi; comp. Plin. vi. 5.) Herodotus shows a general knowledge of the chain, which is accurate as far as it goes: he derived it from the Persians, of whose empire the Caucasus was the N. boundary; a boundary, indeed, never passed by any Asiatic conqueror till the time of Zenghis Khan. (Herod. iii. 97; Heeren, Ideen, &c. vol. i. pt. 1. p. 148). He describes it as extending along the W. side of the Caspian Sea, and as the loftiest of mountains, and the greatest in extent, containing in itself numerous peoples of all kinds (paWtoia, i. e. of all known races), respecting whom, however, the Persians do not seem to have had any exact knowledge to communicate. (Herod. i: 203, 204, followed by Aristot. Meteor. i. 13.) He knew of the great pass at the E. extremity of the chain (Pass of Derbend), by which, he tells us, the Scythians invaded W. Asia (i. 104, iv. 12). After Herodotus the knowledge of the Greeks respecting Caucasus seems to have gone backward. Impressed with vague ideas of its magnitude and remoteness, they regarded its ascent as an achievement worthy of the greatest of conquerors (Strab. xi. pp. 505, 506); and so, when Alexander passed the Paropamisus, the honour of having scaled the heights of Caucasus was assigned to him by the flattery rather than the ignorance of his followers, who transferred the ancient name to the scene of his achievements. The name is used by the geographers rather more frequently for the Indian than the W. mountain; and the former still retains the name, as the Hindoo Koosh.
  The glory of having reached, though not of actually crossing, the real Caucasus, was reserved for Pompey, when his pursuit of Mithridates led him into Iberia and Albania, B.C. 65. (Plut. Pomp. 34, et seq., Lucull. 14; Appian Mithr. 103.) The knowledge obtained in this expedition enabled Strabo to give a description of the Caucasus, to which very little was added by later writers (ii. p. 118). His chief passages are in the 11th Book. The mountain, he says, overhangs each of the two seas, the Pontic and the Caspian, and forms a wall across the isthmus which separates them. It is the boundary between Alabania and Iberia on the S. and the plains of the Sarmatians on the N. It is well wooded with all sorts of timber, including that fit for shipbuilding. It throws out branches towards the S., which surround Iberia, and join on to the mountains of Armenia and Colchis (comp. pp. 500, 527), and to those called Moschici, and moreover to the chains of Scydises and Paryadres by which it is connected with the Taurus system. The natives, according to Eratosthenes, called the Caucasus Caspius. (Strab. xi. p. 497.)
  In another passage he gives a more particular description of the inhabitants (xi. p. 506). The loftiest parts of the chain are those on its S. side, adjacent to Albania, Iberia, and the Colchi and Heniochi. The inhabitants, whom he calls by the general name of Kaukasioi, and among whom he particularly mentions the Peitheirophagi and Soanes, frequent the city of Dioscurias chiefly to obtain salt. (Comp. pp. 498, 499.) Some of them inhabit the summits of the mountains (he must mean the lower summits) and others the wooded valleys, and they live for the most part on game, wild fruits, and milk. In winter the summits are inaccessible, but in summer they mount over the snow and ice by means of broad snow-shoes furnished with spikes (one almost wonders that the alpenstock does not appear), and they glide down again with their burthens on a hide as a sledge. As you descend the N. slopes, the climate, in spite of the nearer approach to the N., becomes milder, from its proximity to the plains of the Siracae. But there are some Troglodytes, who dwell in caves on account of the cold; and after them are the Chaeonoetae and Polyphagi, and the villages of the Eisadicae, who are able to till the soil, on account of not being too far N.: and thus you descend to the great plain of Sarmatia. Elsewhere he enumerates the peoples on the N. of the Caucasus, between the Euxine and Caspian, namely, the Sauromatae, Scythians (Aorsi and Siraci), Achaei, Zygi, and Heniochi, the last three peoples being within the Caucasus itself (ii. p. 129, xi. pp. 492, 495, 498, 499). In his account of certain extraordinary customs of the Caucasians and other mountaineers (xi. 519, 520), his language is so general, that it may apply to the tribes either of Caucasus Proper or of the Indian Caucasus.
  The E. part of the chain, near the Caspian, and forming part of the N. boundary of Albania, he calls the Ceraunii Mtns. (ta KerauWia ore), and in them he places the Amazons (xi. pp. 501, 504; Plut. Pomp. 35; comp. Ceraunii M.).
  Mela merely makes a passing mention of the Caucasus as one of many names applied to the mountains of the Caucasian isthmus (i. 19); and Pliny scarcely notices them more particularly (v. 27, vi. 4, 5, 10. s. 11, &c.): he tells us that the Scythians called the mountains Graucasis, i. e. white with snow (vi. 17. s. 19). Seneca calls it nivosus (Herc. Oct. 1451). Its great height is often noticed (Aristot. Meteor. i. 13; Procop. B. G. iv. 3); and it is compared, in this respect, by Agathemerus (ii. 9) to the Rhipaean mountains, and by Arrian (Peripl. p. 12) to the Alps. To the notices in Ptolemy and Dionysius Periegetes a mere reference is sufficient. (Ptol. v. 9. § § 14,15, 22, 10. § 4, 12. § 4; Dionys. Per. 663, comp. Eustath. ad loc.: see also Ovid. Met. ii. 224, vii. 798: comp. Ceraunii M.)
  In ancient times, as is still the case, the Caucasus was inhabited by a great variety of tribes, speaking different languages (Strabo says, at least 70), but all belonging to that family of the human race, which has peopled Europe and W. Asia, and which has obtained the name of Caucasian from the fact that in no other part of the world are such perfect examples of it found, as among the mountaineers of the Caucasus.
  Passes of the Caucasus: There are two chief passes over the chain, both of which were known to the ancients: the one, between the E. extremity of its chief NE. spur and the Caspian, near Derbend, was called Albaniae and sometimes Caspiae Pylae: the other, nearly in the centre of the range, was called Caucasiae, or Sarmaticae Pylae (Pass of Dariel). But there is so much confusion in the names used by the ancient writers, that it is often difficult to make out which of the two passes they mean.

This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited June 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks


Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities

Caucasus

   The modern Caucasus; a great chain of mountains in Asia, extending from the east shore of the Pontus Euxinus (Black Sea) to the west shore of the Caspian. There are two chief passes over the chain, both of which were known to the ancients: one, near Derbent, was called Albaniae, and sometimes Caspiae Pylae; the other, nearly in the centre of the range, was called Caucasiae Pylae. That the Greeks had some vague knowledge of the Caucasus in very early times is proved by the myths respecting Prometheus and the Argonauts, from which it seems that the Caucasus was regarded as at the extremity of the earth, on the border of the river Oceanus. When the soldiers of Alexander advanced to that great range of mountains which formed the northern boundary of Ariana, the Paropamisus, they applied to it the name of Caucasus; afterwards, for the sake of distinction, it was called Caucasus Indicus.

This text is cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks


Perseus Project index

Caucasus

Total results on 26/3/2001: 221 for Caucasus, 1 for Kaukasos.


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