« PreviousContinue »
separate the waters of the Phasis from those of the Kour, (the ancient Cyrus) and on the north to the Caucasus, is the district of Imerithia. This is the finest tract of country that borders on these celebrated mountains. In the centre, along the Tskeniskal, the Phasis, the Quirila, and other tributary streams, it includes a large portion of the fertile valley of the Phasis, while on the ascending slopes of the amphitheatre of mountains which encircle it, every variety of hill and dale and mountain scenery, and the productions and health of mountainous districts are profusely distributed.
To the south of the Phasis below Imerithia, is the province of Gouriel, extending along the Euxine into the Turkish empire, between which and the Russian, the district is now divided.
These provinces, which together compose a magnificent valley, surrounded on every side by mountains or the Euxine, make up the district to which, in this article, our attention will be particularly directed. It formed the ancient kingdom of Aetes. It was afterwards subdued by Cyrus, and warriors from the Phasis are enumerated among the tributary forces of Xerxes. It constituted among the dominions of Mithridates, the kingdom of Colchos. Subdued by the Romans, this territory was not reduced to the condition of a province, but was made a tributary kingdom, and a few fortresses were erected along the coast, to preserve an intercourse and apparent authority. During the long wars of Justinian and Chosroes, Colchos became for a time the theatre of war, was successively occupied by each nation, but finally remained with the Romans. On the decline of their power, the Lazi, a tribe whose origin is obscure, occupied this kingdom, and are said, by securing the pass of Gagra, and encouraging some of the mountain clans to defend the gates of Dariel, to have turned aside many of the Scythian hordes, and to have compelled them to pass along the northern shores of the Euxine on their approach to the Roman provinces-certain it is, that few of these barbarians burst upon the Armenian provinces through the chain of the Caucasus. When, however, the Turkmans descending from the Altai, occupied the centre of Asia, Alp Arslan and his sons, passing to the south of the Caspian, overran the provinces of Armenia, Georgia, and probably, Mingrelia, obliged the
*That some did enter the Roman provinces by this route, is attested by Claudian:
"Alii per Caspia claustra Armeniasque nives, inopino tramite ducti
Invadunt orientis opes."-Claud. in Ruff. lib. ii. v. 28-30.
In this case, however, the Huns entered by the Caspian gate, and not by either of the two portals which the Lazi are said to have closed against them.
mountain tribes to profess the faith of Mahomet, and considered them as a portion of the Seljukian empire.
The great Tartar conquerors visited this region. Octai, the son of Zingis, sent a division of his army into the ranges of the Caucasus, which is said, in the oriental style of his panegyrists, to have penetrated into its inmost recesses. The march of Octai, however, was by Astrachan, into the centre of Russia, his attention was directed to other objects, and this excursion to the Caucasus was only a transient visit. Timour, in his pursuit of Toctamish, sent one half of his army along the western shores of the Caspian, but these troops, although they laid waste Georgia, and destroyed its ancient capital, passed through the Caspian gates, the very road by which Toctamish advanced when he invaded Persia and Bucharia, and obliged Timour to arm for the protection of Samarcand. As soon as Toctamish was entirely defeated, and obliged to take refuge in Poland, his conqueror returned to the south to attend to more important conquests.
Since that period, no great revolution has overwhelmed the western half of Asia, and these mountaineers have found themselves the borderers between three great empires. To each of these, they have, in turn, made their submissions-from each have sought protection, and to each have given such claims, as were quite sufficient to justify war, whenever pleas were wanted for hostilities between adjoining nations.
Turkey, perhaps, has been more uniform in her claims to supremacy over these different tribes, and has possessed stronger testimonials of her authority than either of the other empires. She has, occasionally, held fortresses in the interior of the country, though her general policy has more nearly resembled that which was adopted by the Romans. She has, accordingly, been contented to establish a number of garrisons along the sea-coast, and requiring a tribute from each district, which was generally paid in slaves, has been satisfied to leave the government of the country in the hands of its native princes, interfering, perhaps, so far in their domestic disputes as to prevent any one from acquiring an extensive and exclusive dominion.
On the other hand, the native tribes of the Caucasus considered these fortresses along the sea-coasts as scarcely more than trading posts. They felt themselves, in their domestic transactions, altogether unrestrained, they made war or peace at pleasure; and although compelled by the first Turkoman conquerors to profess the faith of Mahomet, the greater part of them immediately threw off this burthen, and have continued
at least nominal Christians, conforming to the rites either of the Greek or Armenian churches.
This unsettled and undefined dominion of the Turks, and the claims of the Persians, have led to important differences, sometimes to war between Russia and these two great empires; some of these differences form no small portion of the secret heartburnings that now threaten to plunge them anew into hostilities-that, in fact, seldom permit hostilities to cease.
When Russia had gradually extended her frontiers to the Kouban and Terek, and on the shores of the Caspian, even beyond the mouth of the Kour, and stimulated by the conquest of the Crimea, began to look on the range of the Caucasus as affording her a more secure barrier in that quarter, and a greater command over the Euxine and Caspian than she already possessed, it chanced that her first military introduction into this region was not in consequence of hostilities against the Circassians, her neighbours, nor even in consequence of the submission of the tribes of the Ossetians (in 1748) but on an invitation as an ally to aid the Georgians and Imerithians of the southern side of these mountains in their struggles against the Persians and Turks. Accordingly (in 1770) her troops liberated Georgia, penetrated into Imerithia, captured the Turkish fortresses of Kotaïs and Bagdad, and confined the Turks in this country to their strong holds along the sea-shore. By the treaty of Kutschuk-khainardshi in 1774, between Russia and Turkey, the independence of Imerithia was acknowledged by Turkey, even the ports on the Euxine were not secured to her, although she has been permitted to hold them. In 1783, Irak❜li (Heraclius) king of Georgia, and Solomon of Imerithia, worn out by unintermitted wars with their Mahometan neighbours, formally placed themselves under the protection of Russia. The Russians availing themselves of this act of submission, opened in 1785 a good road through the almost untrodden gates of Dariel.
It is possible that in this act the sovereigns of Georgia and Imerithia intended no more than to use the name and power of Russia as a shield against their enemies, and to call in her armies when their services should be actually necessary; but Russia viewed the measure differently, she determined that her protection should be effectual, and when in 1795, Agha Mohammed Chan, one of the many usurpers who, in latter days, have laid claim to the throne of Persia, invaded Georgia, captured and destroyed Tifflis, war was declared against Persia, and Georgia occupied by the Russian troops. The subsequent history of these districts is very brief. On the death of Irak'li of Georgia, and Solomon and his son Georgi in Imerithia, both
countries became involved in civil war-many claimants appeared as candidates for the vacant thrones-and Russia finally, in 1800, declared them provinces of her empire. It took five years, however, to quiet these disturbances, for not only the Georgians and Imerithians, but the Lesghi, and the adjacent tribes, and the borderers of Persia and Turkey were all in arms, but, since 1805, these provinces have been tranquil, excepting during a short period in 1812, in Georgia, and in 1820, when there occurred an extensive but ineffectual insurrection in Imerithia-and tribes who had been for ages in a state of total insubordination, knowing no right but power, no umpire but the sword, are gradually becoming subject to the dominion of laws, and accustomed to the restraints and improvements of civilized and social man.
We have noticed a few of the leading incidents in the annals of these people to explain, in some measure, their present condition. But nothing can be more confused, we may add more unworthy of attention, than the history of the feuds of the inhabitants of the vallies of the Caucasus for the last three or four hundred, perhaps we may say thousand years. Divided commonly into eight or ten great tribes, and subdivided into many hundred small ones, each petty clan would have its private feud as well as its public enemy; and not unfrequently these different clans would be found fighting at the same time, not only among themselves, but with every surrounding neighbour. Placed, latterly, on the borders of three great empires, they were constantly claiming the protection of each, and proffering in turn submission and obedience. Even as far back as 1555, the Circassians, and in 1589, the Georgians placed themselves under the dominion of Russia-perhaps in the same year made the same acknowledgements to Persia or to Turkey, and these overtures were renewed perpetually as the events of each year invited to new alliances, or threatened new dangers.
The Russians may be said to have entered Georgia from the summits of the Caucasus. Their descent on each side was comparatively easy. The Persian provinces along the Caspian, as far as the mouth of the Kour, had been previously conquered, and the occupation of Imerithia and Mingrelia in 1803, brought them to the shores of the Euxine, and the fortresses still held by the Turks. It cannot be supposed that to the Turks this unceasing advance of the Russian frontier, this successive acquisition of cities, and provinces, and kingdoms, once dependent on their power could be at all pleasant-while to the Russians, in VOL. II.-No. 3. * 16
their new position, the Turkish fortresses along the north-eastern shore of the Euxine were, in turn, sources of dissatisfaction.
After the submission of the country to Russia, these fortresses could answer only two purposes, either to furnish opportunities to excite the disaffected or unsubdued tribes to hostile enterprises, or to carry on with them a clandestine trade, principally in slaves. This commerce is one in which Turkey feels much interest. The females supply the harems in her dominions, with their most valuable inmates, and the males are supposed to have formed the best troops in the Ottoman armies. Neither of these objects could be satisfactory to the Russians; by the one the fierce tribes of the mountains excited to continual, even if petty insurrections, had been prevented from acquiring habits of order and obedience; by the other, the country was constantly drained of the finest portion of its population, to add to the resources of a rival and hostile nation. When war then commenced between these two nations, in 1806 or "7, Russia immediately invested these stations, and having the command of the sea, soon compelled them to surrender. But in 1812, when pressed herself by the mighty power of Napoleon, and obliged to struggle for existence, in order to disengage the army of Moldavia, she concluded a hasty peace with Turkey, by which all of her conquests, including these fortresses along the Euxine, were to be restored. The most important, Anapa, which opened the communication with Circassia, Poty, which actually commands the entrance of the Phasis, and a few others were surrendered; but Russia retained Redoute-kalè and one or two small ports, which appeared to be necessary to keep up, by water, a communication with her troops in Mingrelia, and in the adjoining districts. These posts, whether retained or surrendered, are among the elements of discord which have been fermenting for some years past, and have caused the present disputes in Europe to assume the appearance of direct crimination between these two great empires. It is not improbable that some of the earliest hostile movements will take place on this frontier.
The Chevalier Gamba, whose travels we propose to notice in this article, made three journies in the country around the Caucasus. The first in 1817-19, and the second in 1820, along the Terek and Kouban into Georgia, to examine the advantages which it might offer for renewing the ancient commerce with Persia and India. He afterwards, in 1823, passed through Colchos, on his way to Tifflis, to reside as Consul of France. He has, in his journal, placed this latter journey first, and we shall