14 January 2004, 15:20

...and in the Middle Ages

The written evidences of the Vainakh tribes in the early Middle Ages (5th - 10th centuries) are scant and fragmentary. At that period the Vainakhs inhabited on the whole the same territory as in the beginning of our era, i.e., the upland of Chechnya and Ingushetia, as well as some regions adjacent to present-day Northern Ossetia and Georgia. The plain area of the Caucasus foothill up to the river Don and lower reaches of the Volga River was settled by the tribes of the Iranian-speaking Alans. The invasion of the Huns from Central Asia in the 70s of the 4th century had grave consequences in the Northern Caucasus. The Alans were crushed and partly led away with the Huns moving to the west, partly thrown back to the Caucasus mountains. According to archeaeological data large groups of Alans having occupied the fertile foothill areas, gradually streamed into the depths of several mountainous regions, to the places of habitation of the autochthonal Caucasian tribes. In the central part of the Northern Caucasus this process brought to the language assimilation of the aborigenes to the strangers, resulting in the formation of the Iranian-speaking Ossetian people.

A great deal of archaeological monuments left by the Alans on the territory of Chechnya and Ingushetia, both in the lowland and in the mountains, evidence the fact of penetration of the Iranian-speaking elements deep in the region. This however did not cause the ethnical change of the population for the Alan ethnic element, having lost the distinctive peculiarities, gradually mixed with the Vainakhs who had retained their culture and native language.

The Alans managed to establish themselves for a longer time in the lowland area of Chechnya and Ingushetia where they constituted the majority of the population. A number of large settlements have been revealed on this territory along the banks of the Terek and Sunzha rivers. Of particular significance of them is a small town of Alkhan-Kala, a stronghold located 16 km west of Grozny. The typical Alan ceramics dating back to the 5th - 12th centuries have been found in its environs. Alkhan - Kala apparently was the political and economic centre of the native Alan tribes.

In the environs of the town of Alkhan-Kala and in a number of settlements of the plain the archaeologists have revealed a good deal of catacombs - a burial-ground characteristic of the Alans. As for the tribes living in the highlands of the Caucasus, they did not build the catacombs. For centuries they steadily kept to the tradition of burying the dead in stone tombs or in the burial vaults.

At first the highlanders were hostile to the Alans who tried to press the native tribes to the south. Apparently for this reason the Georgian King Vakhtang Gorgasali received a powerful backing from the "Kings of the "Kavkasians" in his campaign in 458 in the Northern Caucasus against the Alans for their plundering raids on Georgia. However, the relations between the neighbors eventually normalized. Part of Vainakhs, quite possibly, joined the tribal confederation formed by the Alans.

"The Geography of Armenia" dating back to the 7th century of our era is another historical source of the early Middle Ages in which a mention of the Vainakh tribes is made. This outstanding written monument is notable for providing a good deal of interesting information on the tribes and peoples of the Caucasus highland. In enumerating the tribes of the Caucasus foothill and the Great Caucasus the author of "The Geography of Armenia" refers to the ethnicons that are evidently related to the Vainakhs, namely, Nakhchmatians, Kusts and Dourts. According to data of the linguistic studies the "Nakhchmatians" are referred to the Chechnyan-speaking ethnic group (nakhchi mott - "the Chechnyan language"). As to the ethnicon "Kusts", one can easily catch the term "Kists" ("Kistins" in Russian) - a collective name the Georgians call the mountaineer Vainakhs up till now, both the Chechens and the Ingushes.(1) As regards the tribe of "Dourts", it is evident that they are Durdzuks, the people who are often mentioned in Georgian historical sources of later period. In describing the Caucasian mountaineers the author of "The Geography of Armenia", apparently, to a considerable degree took advantage of the information that had come down from the Georgians, and it is small wonder, for Georgians, being direct neighbours of the Vainakhs, could tell the Armenians as well as other more distant peoples about them. As for the simultaneous mentioning of several Vainakh ethnicons in the "Geography of Armenia", it can be explained by the ethnopolitical division of the Chechens' and Ingushes' anscestors into a number of tribes who were known to the neighbours under different names.

It is to be supposed that Nakhchmatians lived in South-Eastern Chechnya (historical Ichkeria or present-day Nozhai-Yurtov and Veden districts), called "Nokhchi-mokhk", i.e.,"land of the Nokhchi (Chechens)". Later, in the process of ethnical consolidation of the Chechnyan tribes, the natives of this region extended their tribal name - "nokhchi" - to all other tribes speaking the Chechnyan language. The leading role of the inhabitants of Nokhchi-mokh in forming the Chechen ethnical group may well be explained by the fact that their land always was economically strong and far-famed as a fertile agricultural region, a granary of the native tribes and peoples.

In the 7th - 9th centuries the Khazars' State was the main political power in the North Caucasus. The Khazars, a semi-nomadic Iranian-speaking nation inhabiting the North-Western Caspian Region, had formed a state incorporating almost all steppe and forest-steppe provinces of Eastern Europe. In the south the Khazars dominated over the peoples of the Northern Caucasus and in the north under their political domination were the East-Slavic and Finno-Ugric tribes.

The Khazars persistenly fought against the Arabs having dominion over Transcaucasia. The peoples of the North Caucasus found themselves involved in this struggle in some way or other coming out mainly on the side of the Khazars and owing to this not infrequently were attacked by the Arab troops. Apart from other considerations in organizing the campaigns against the mountaineers the Arabs had for an object to hold the mountain passes of the Caucasus, including those ones which were located on the paths lying through the land of the Vainakhs.

In the 8th - 9th centuries the development of productive forces is to be observed in the Northern Caucasus. In the lowlands of present-day Chechnya and Ingushetia in particular most part of the population, as in former times, was engaged in farming. It is obvious that people already used the ploughs by that time. The excavations of the culture strata of settlements have revealed a good deal of household pits for grain, granaries and millstones, the remains of cultured plants.

Animal husbandry, since olden times based on the system of driving cattle away to the distant pastures, was the most important branch of farming, which included breeding of horned cattle, sheep breeding and goat breeding.

In the 1st millenium A.D. an important role in production activity of the Vainakhs was also played by handicraft production, namely, pottery and metal - working. Quite a number of earthenware crockery has been found among the household necessaries in burial places. Some potter's stoves of that period have also come down to us. By form and technology the Vainakh ceramics bears analogy with that of the Northern Caucasus and Khazaria State.

Of particular importance was metal-working. Arms, implements of production as well as articles of adornment were made of metal. The local handicraftsmen were masters of such technique of metal-working as moulding, smithing, coinage, carving, stamping, incrustation, wire-drawing.

In the period under review the Vainakhs established trade and economic as well as political relations with the near and distant neighbours. It is natural that the closest links had they with the direct neighbours, namely, the Alans (Ossets) in the west, the Georgian mountaineer tribes (Mtiuls, Pkhovs, and Tushis) in the south, the Daghestan tribes in the east and the Khazars in the north. The articles of blacksmith's work and jewelry, as well as other handicraft wares were brought to the land of Vainakhs from the centres of trade and handicraft of Daghestan and Khazaria, such as Derbent, Zirihgeran (Kubachi), and Semender, far-famed all over the Eastern world.

The excavations have revealed a great number of coins and other objects made beyond the limits of the Caucasus, evidencing the trade and economic relations with the distant countries. Thus a bronze censer in the form of an eagle casted in Bars (Iraq) in the 8th century, which was found in Ingushetia, or a buried treasure containing 200 silver Arabian Dirhams of the 8th - 9th centuries which was found in the vicinity of the stanitsa of Sunzhensk, is the evidence of the aforesaid.

The fall of the Khazars State (10th century) cleared the way to the west for a new wave of the Turkic nomadic tribes. Thus, in the 11th century numerous Kipchak tribes appeared in the East-European and North-Caucasian steppes. They, apparently, pressed the Alans ruling over the lowland regions of Chechnya and Ingushetia and seized part of their lands. It is known that in the end of the 12th century the headquarters of one of the Kipchak khans was located on the bank of the Sunzha river.

The social system of the Vainakh tribes in the end of the 1st to the beginning of the 2nd millenia can be quilified as a transitional period from the primitive communal to the class system. The archaeological monuments evidence that stratification of the Vainakh population according to property, leading to the emergence of social inequality of unequal status in society, had been accomplished. The excavations show that a certain tribal cemetery, as a rule, is a burial-ground for the very poor and, at the same time, the place where tens of luxurious and rich belogings are found. In describing the events of the year 458 the Georgian historian Juansher (8th century) mentions "the kings of the Kavkasians" and, undoubtedly, among them are implied the leaders of the Vainakh tribes. For the present instance, although the term "king" ("mepe" in Georgian) is rather polysemantic, the representative of a feudal country most likely would have called by this word the leaders of considerably higher rank than mere tribal elders or military leaders of socially free communities.

The ancestors of the Vainakh people were pagans. They believed that all around was settled by the gods and spirits. Dela - the supreme god of the sky was considered to be the main deity. Their pagan gods also were: Sela - god of Thunder and Lightning, Furki - goddess of Wind, Aza - goddess of the Sun, Elta - god of Hunting and Cereals, Khagaerda - god of Rocks, Molyiz-Erdyi - god of War, Khinana - "Mother of Water" and other deites and spirits. The Vainakhs especially worshiped Tusholi - goddess of Fertility, with the cult of which many of the rites and superstitions were related. Although the points (sanctuaries, monuments, sacred places) related to the name of Tusholi are scattered about the whole mountainous part of the land of Vainakhs, the centre of its cult apparently was the Assa Hollow in Ingushetia where a wooden image of the goddess in an iron mask, figuring a woman with a severe look, was kept. (Tusholi is the only Vainakh deity having an anthropomorphous image). When in spring the priest (tsyeni stag, i.e., "a pure man") carried the idol out of the sanctuary, the horrified people kissed the ground not daring to look at the Goddess. It is said that according to a popular belief even childless women could find posperity if they touched this figure.

The pagan sanctuaries built of stone on the crests of the mountains, were also dedicated to the gods and spirits. Those, as a rule, were either pillared columns with niches turned to the south or small houses with one or two entries.

In the 12th to the early 13th centuries the Vainakh tribes were under the political influence of the feudal Georgian Kingdom which had reached the peak of its power by that period. The main instrument of this influence was Christian religion arduously propagated by the Georgian missionaries in the mountains of the North Caucasus. From the Kuban basin to Daghestan inclusively one cannot fail to see the remains of the churches and sanctuaries built by them, at one time the centres of spreading of the Orthodox Church, the Georgian written language and culture.

It was the vital interest of the Georgian rulers to gain the fidelity and inter - alliance of the mountaineer tribes who stood guard over the Caucasus passes and provided the Georgian army with auxiliary detachments. To all appearance, at the period under review all principal mountain passes of the Great Caucasus were under the control of the Georgian Kingdom, but it would have been difficult to retain the dominating position without loyalty of the leaders of local tribes. As centuries before, the Daryali Canyon as well as other adjacent roads connecting the Northern Caucasus with Central Transcaucasia, roused particular interest of the Georgian Court. Owing to the fact that the territory of present-day Ingushetia is exactly in this area, it must have been the object of particular consideration. This seems to account for the concentration of quite a number of Christian antiquities in Ingushetia, especially in the hollow of the Assa river which is considered the hearth of medieval Christianity of the Vainakh tribes. The temple of the 12th century Tkhaba-Erdyi is noteworthy for illustration of the above-said. According to the size (16,20 m x 7,60 m) and artistic finish the temple is the most significant Christian monument in Chechnya and Ingushetia. Especially graceful is the bas-relief frieze on the western facade of the temple, above the main entrance, where, in the centre of the three-cornered composition framed by a convex cylinder, there is a figure of the founder of the temple in sitting posture. Above his head there is a model of the church. On both sides there are two standing figures. One of them is in the garments of a priest and has two brunches of grapes on his shoulders. The other figure holds a cross and a sword. In the upper part next to the model of the church is carved a hand with a construction angle bar and inscriptions in Georgian. Above the frieze there also were three bas-reliefs with the angels. Regrettably, only part of the stones with carving has come down to our time.

The parishioners of the Christian temple were the local highlanders - Vainakhs. Even later, when feudal Georgia fell into decay and was unable to uphold the influence in the mountains of the Northern Caucasus, the natives of the region took care of the temple, cherished the church utensils, Georgian books, etc.

The Christian monument Tkhaba-Erdyi is not the only one in the land of Vainakhs. Albyi-Erdyi, Targhim and some others are the temples of the same period constructed in Ingushetia and on the territory adjacent to Chechnya. Yet the religion brought from Georgia had not taken roots among the highlanders as it fell short of the level of their social and economic development. Morever, being Christians formally, the Vainakhs still held sacred their ancient pagan gods.

Thus, with the help of Christianity the ruling cliques of Georgia sought to draw the highlanders of the North Caucasus within the orbit of their influence and make them their vassals. The feudal-tribal clique of the North-Caucasian peoples seemingly made no resistance to the rapprochement with Georgia. The participation in trumphant campaigns of the Georgian troops against the wealthy cities of the Near East brought them the spoils and glory.

The rulers of Georgia recruited their armies from the detachments of the North-Caucasian peoples even when they fought defence wars. For example, it is mentioned in "Kartlis Tskhovreba" ("The Georgian Chronicles") that the Durdzuks took part in the struggle waged against the troops of Jalal-ad-Din of Khoresm when he assaulted Tbilisi in 1226. The Vainakhs as well as some other peoples of the Northern Caucasus apparently participated in most of large-scale wars of feudal Georgia in the 11th - 15th centuries, but the annals of that period, known for conciseness of the statements, not always fix the attention on the fact that was in the usual run of things at that time. Sometimes the auxiliary detachments of the northerners are referred to as "all the mountaineers" in Georgian annals.

The Caucasus many times was subjected to the invasions of the foreign conquerors, but one of the most devastating was the invasion of the Mongols. For the first time the reconnaissance detachments of the Mongols appeared in the Caucasus in 1220-1222, though they occupied the steppes and foothill regions of the Northern Caucasus as a result of multiple large-scale campaigns in 1237-1240. With fire and sword marched the Mongol hordes all over the front Caucasus region and routed the Kipchaks, Adygeis and Alans. The Alan settlements in the plains of Chechnya and Ingushetia were razed to the ground.

The Mongols made an attempt to penetrate into the mountains settled by the Vainakh tribes, but the invaders were met with stubborn resistance which they were unable to break down. Tactical characteristics of the wooded country turned to be advantageous for the mountaineers to hold against the enemy attacks and offered insuperable obstacles to the Mongol warriors who had been grown up in the spacious steppes. Owing to this the highlanders of Daghestan, as well as quite a number of the Alans and Adygeis who had moved back to the mountains, managed to maintain their independence of the Mongols.

The Mongols however were long in abandoning their' attempt to subjugate the inhabitants of the mountainous gorges. According to historical chronicles in the 50s - 70s of the 18th century the passages of arms between the native Caucasian mountaineers and the Mongol invaders still took place in the Northern Caucasus. However, the easily accessible steppes and foothills were solidly incorporated in a world empire of the descendants of Jenghiz Khan. After its division into several Mongol states (uluses) the North-Caucasian plains were attributed to the Ulus of Djuchi, i.e., the Golden Horde. The Khans of Djuchi Ulus dominating over the vast territory from Hungary and the Gulf of Finland to the great Siberian River Ob, and from the northern taiga up to the mountains of the Caucasus and the Central Asian steppes, time and again set up their camps of nomads on the banks of the Terek and Sunzha rivers.

People's memory of the Vainakhs has brought down to our time quite a number of legends about the struggle waged by the ancestors of the Chechens and Ingushes against the numerous regiments of the foreign invaders living in the yurtas (portable dwellings of the Turkic-Mongol nomads), containing a good deal of episodes of the heroic battles fought against the insidious enemy. Of particular interest is the legend about a twelve-year defence of the mountain Tebulosmta, on the slopes of which the inhabitants of the Arghun Gorge took shelter. The names of historically well-known Mongol khans and military leaders are sometimes mentioned in such legends.

In the second half of the 14th century the weakening of powerful Golden Horde begins. In the end of the century ruthless conqueror Tamerlane, the ruler of Central Asian Jenghizides stroke such a crushing blow at the Horde that it could never recover from the defeat. In 1395 - 1396 Tamerlane with his regiments was in the Northern Caucasus sowing everywhere death and destruction. Part of the population of the Front Caucasus was annihilated. The hordes of Tamerlane invaded the land of Vainakhs too, the invasion being accompanied by extermination of large number of the population and destruction of fortresses, churches and pagan sanctuaries.

Constantly being under the threat of inevitable invasions of the conquerors from steppes, the Vainakhs, blocked up in the mountains, fortified their settlements and dwelling buildings. It was in the 13th - 14th centuries when the first defence towers came into existance in the mountains of the North Caucasus. Such towers eventually have become an usual attribute of the Vainakh settlements, lending them a distinctive and unique appearance.

In ancient times the dwellings of the Vainakhs were small wattle houses coated with clay and covered with flat clay roofs. The strongholds built long before the Christian Era were somewhat of so-called "Cyclopean" buildings, i.e., rough structures of big stones. The fortresses of Cyclopean type were built in many regions of the Caucasus in the Bronze Age. According to supposition of certain scientists this kind of towers were used in the land of the Vainakhs sometimes right up to the middle of the Christian Era. It is also believed that exactly Cyclopean structures laid the foundation of tower buildings of the later period.

The first watch towers erected at the entries of the main gorge, as well as those scattered about the foothill area, apparently came into being in the 13th - 14th centuries, i.e., during the epoch of struggle against the Mongols. It was the duty of the highlanders' garrisons to keep a watch over the movement of the nomadic hordes and military detachments of the Tatar - Mongols and notify the population about the threat of war.

However, in the struggle with such a numerous and well - organized enemy as the Mongols were in the period under review, that kind of tower structures could have been used only for limited purposes. In the period of mass construction of the battle towers, that took place already in the 15th-17th centuries, they were built for the urgent purpose of defending the population from the armed attacks, as well as from the raids of not numerous detachments of the hostile communities. The analogous towers built with the same purpose are also met with in other mountainous regions of the Caucasus (from Western Georgia up to Daghestan), as well as beyond its limits. However, one cannot fail to notice the peculiarity of the tower villages of the Vainakhs in comparison with the fortified settlements of other peoples.

There are two types of towers in Chechnya and Ingushetia - the dwelling (gala) and military (vou) ones. Not infrequently are found in this region such structures which combine the peculiarities of both types. The dwelling towers are considered to be more archaic. By outward appearance those are squat right-angled buildings, slightly narrowed in the upper part for more firmness. They are met with in many mountainous settlements and sometimes were used as dwelling buildings yet in the first half of the 20th century. The galas, as it was customary, were two- or three-storey houses of approximately 12 m height. Most commonly they stand on convenient places, not far from a river, melting into the surrounding landscape. The walls are of well adjusted stones strengthened with clay-lime mortar. In the centre of a dwelling tower, as a rule, was arranged a pillar, the foundation of which was massive enough to bear the floor beams. The floor was made of wooden girders boarded with the slate and brushwood plates covered with felt. The dwelling towers had flat roofs laid of log and brushwood layers covered with earth and rammed by means of special rollers. The walls of a tower raised above the roofing forming a parapet which made the roof more convenient for watching around.

Each floor of the dwelling tower had a separate door. One could not get to the second or third floor from the outside without a ladder. The first floor served as a cattle-shed. The upper storeys were residential and at the same time people kept the supplies there. Between the storeys of the tower special hatchways were arranged for inner communication.

There are also found loop-holes and other defensive devices in a dwelling tower, allowing us on the whole to characterize it as a house-fortress.

The interior of a dwelling tower was rather spacious. The walls most likely were decorated with carpets and arms. There were numerous niches in the walls for keeping of kitchen utensils. Part of the dwelling was occupied by wide plank-beds where people slept and piled the bedding.

Watch towers, built for purely defensive purposes, are considered to be the peak of Vainakh architecture. The height of the towers reach 25 - 20 m, the walls are 6 metres wide at the foot of the building. The towers, as a rule, have square foundations, though there are some with the rectangular beds.

The upper part of the tower is noticeably narrow (at the height of the last storey the walls are twice as narrow than at the foot of the building) and is completed with a pyramidal-stepped roofing crowned with a light-coloured conoid stone - Tsiogal. Without this stone a tower could not be considered to be completed and the householder granted the builder a horse or a bull in addition to the extra pay.

Rather seldom are also met the towers of another kind, which have flat roofs either with projections at the corners or ringed with the entire parapet.

Vou, as a rule, is a tower of four or five storeys. The doorway is arranged on the second floor, rather seldom - on the third floor as well, making the tower a defensive installment. In case of danger people could quickly take away the ladder - a girder with notches - and shelter themselves in the tower. The loop-holes on the upper floors, narrow on the outside and widened in the inside, are convenient for shooting with a gun or even from a bow and arbalest. At the same time such loop-holes made a good cover for the shots from the enemy laying siege to the tower. At the very top of the tower on its four sides overhang a special equipment (Mashikuli) out of which stones and boiling water was brought down upon the enemies approaching the foot of the tower. In the same place on top of the tower there are four rather wide window openings through which one can view the environs at a great distance away from the tower. It was often done that dwelling and defensive towers with auxiliary outbuildings were built in immediate proximity, enclosed with a stone wall, thus forming castle complexes.

The dwelling as well as military towers in particular were decorated with intricate petroglyphic drawings of crosses, snakes, stylized figures of people and animals. Here one can also see a stone-carved picture of a man's hand. It is a palm of the master who has carved it as if guaranteeing the firmness of the building.

In constructing the towers not infrequently were engaged the whole families and the art of stonemason was passed on from one generation to another. The Vainakh masters were far-famed beyond the limits of their country. This is evidenced by the fact that many towers in Ossetia and neighbouring regions of Georgia have been built by the Vainakh masters.

The weakening and fall of Golden Horde allowed the Kabardians (the eastern branch of the Adygeis) to settle broadly in the flat zone of the Front Caucasus. In the northern part of the present-day territories of Chechnya and Ingushetia the lands up to the Black Mountains turned to be under their control. On the banks of the Terek, Sunzha and other rivers the archaeologists have revealed not great burial mounds of the Kabardians. It is interesting to note that the deceased are buried lying on the back with their heads directed to the west. In such burials often are found small arms (sabres, daggers, arrows), adornments, flints for striking fire, dice and other household things.

Besides the Kabardians the flat country of the Middle Terek was also inhabited by the descendants of horde nomads (Nogais and others). Of all the monuments left by them the Borga-Kash mausoleum, located on one of the spurs of the Sunzha Range in Ingushetia, is worthy of note. The mausoleum is a graceful structure built according to the traditions of Moslem sepulchral architecture, and at the same time it is the only historical monument of that kind in the Front Caucasus which has come down to our time.

The Vainakhs, inhabiting the foothill zones of the Caucasus in ancient times but forced to move back to the mountains as a result of repeated invasions of the nomads, have never broken off with the flat country completely, retaining the economic, political and military relations with the inhabitants of the steppes. For example, traditional driving away of cattle, widespread in the Caucasus implies the driving of cattle to the pastures of the flat country in winter and, usually, once the state of war faded, the highlanders made arrangements with the masters of the steppes about apportioning of part of the winter pasturable lands for them.

During the period of peaceful co-existence the mountaineers and inhabitants of the steppes exchanged the products of their labour, the leaders of the tribes entered into the alliances and agreements with each other. Besides that people living in the mountains, as well as in the plain, were also bound up with each other by trade and handicraft centres of the Front Caucasus that always had mutual close economic relations with the upland regions.

Owing to this the Vainakhs, even when they found themselves practically forced out of the low places, never lost live contacts with the lowland. It can be said especially in connection with the part of flat area from the Black Mountains, to the river Terek. It is no coincidence that the Chechens call this territory a "visible plain" and with that they mark not only the possibility of visual observation of the territory from the slopes of the mountains, but also a good acquaintance with it.

Thus, the plain had always been familiar to the Vainakhs and, when at last relatively favourable conditions for migration to the lowland zone were created as a result of the collapse of Golden Horde, first the Chechen and then the Ingush tribes came down to the foothills and occupied the lands which their ancestors had abandoned under pressure of the steppe nomads in olden times. A great number of the Vainakh settlements came into existence on the banks of the rivers Terek and Sunzha and their tributaries (up to the Aktash River in Northern Daghestan) as a result of the migration of Vainakhs to the lowland zone, which started in the 15th century and lasted over a long period of time (16th - 18th centuries), it being known that in certain places the Vainakhs lived alternately with the Kabardians, Kumyiks and Nogais.When settling in the North-Caucasian Lowland the Vainakhs clashed with the Kabardian and Kumyik feudal lords who sought to rule over the plain. In the result the feudal lords subjected several Vainakh communities to their rule and the latter were forced to pay them duty in kind, i.e., by sheep or other kind of live-stock. In other respects the Chechen-Ingush tribes enjoyed the complete independence. The feudal lords did not interfere in their domestic affairs.

The struggle of the Vainakh tribes is glorified in folk songs of the Chechens and Ingushes. They sing of the heroes of this long fight resulting in liberation of the Vainakhs from being subject to the rule of lords of the neighbouring nations.

During the period under review the feudal lords appeared among the Vainakhs too. The development of feudalization of the tribal leaders of the Vainakh people's ancestors was in progress for a long time, though the process was slow because of the living conditions in the mountains - the lack of limited economic base contributed to preservation of the institute of tribal system over a long period of time. Migration of the mountaineer tribes to the plain speeded up the formation of feudal relations, and the Vainakhs inhabiting in the lowland zone outstripped in social development their kinsmen remaining in the mountains. Parallel with the elders (tkhamada - head of a territorial-tribal community, whose position gradually became hereditary) the military leaders (byachi) began to rise socially. The byachi, at the head of the armed detachments (gheri), made plundering raids on the neighbours, captured cattle and other property, took people in captivity and turned them into their slaves (layi).

The Chechen and Ingush legends give a vivid description of the nobility of olden times. According to the legends the "noblemen" or "glorious" people were famed for their wealth. They possessed the towers and castles, they were surrounded with body guards, entered into friendly alliances with the Georgian, Kabardian, Daghestan, Ossete, Nogai and Kalmyik feudal lords. The weak social elements were forced to subject themselves to the patronage of the noblemen and in return for protection and security to pay them feudal homage.

In the first half of the 17th centuy the Chechen Plain was settled by the Turlovs, feudal lords who had moved from Avaria (the Daghestan Upland). Being in the forefront of the struggle waged by the Chechens against the Kabardian and Kulmyik feudal lords, they united part of Chechen communities. In several historical documents the Turlovs are referred as the owners of the "land of the Chachan". The feudal relations of the Vainakhs however did not have a subsequent development. Thus, having made themselves free from the rule of the Kabardian and Kumyik lords, the Chechens banished their own feudal lords as well and began to live again united in free communities (societies). The Vainakhs have a saying:"When one is voted a prince (ela) the others become their slaves", which apparently dates back to that time.

Thus, as a result of the struggle against the feudalistic nobility the Vainakh tribal and territorial communities managed to a great extent to uphold the liberty and their social order. As distinct from most of the regions of the North Caucasus Chechnya and Ingushetia failed to create basis for formation of the legally official aristocracy. "We all are free" - proudly declared the Chechens. Yet, it goes without saying that we cannot speak about the complete equality of rights among the Vainakhs. The elders and military leaders stored up the riches as before, they held power and had great influence, they owned slaves and had dependent people. The society consisted of rich and poor, as well as of mighty and powerless families. For example, if we glance at the relations of the Russians and Ingushes in the 18th and early 19th centuries, it is noticeable that usually the "best" and "honorable" families spoke in the name of the nation and made agreements on behalf of all the Ingushes.

Social mode of life of the Vainakhs was regulated by the customary (unwritten) law.

The right of a master of the house was held sacred. Any infringer bore significantly more responsibility for the insult or violence committed in the house than for the same deliquencies in the street.

Blood feud is one of the most substantial institutes of the tribal system that Vainakhs have retained up to now. According to custom any insult, mutilation or murder should have been revenged accordingly (if there had not taken place any action of reconciliation according to the intricate standards of customary law). In the case of a murder the relatives of a dead man announced themselves to be the deadly enemies to the murderer and his relatives (with the exception of children, women and old people), i.e. they sought to kill them in their turn. If it was found that a murderer had escaped from the avengers or died of some other reason, the hostility continued and the vengeance could be inflicted on his father, brother or an elderly son who had to pay for somebody else's fault with his life. Not infrequently the vengeance was passed on from one generation to another, till one of the hostile families moved to another place or was annihilated.

For a murder committed inside the family quite different standards of customary law were in force and very seldom came it to the retaliatory murders.

The custom of hospitality was also considered to be sacred. Every house was open for a guest. Any traveller, despite his nationality or faith, seeking shelter for the night or in bad weather, could ask any host to stay at his house and he would be welcomed. In Vainakh family the host did his best to please the guest and even if the latter was his enemy, the Vainakh did not have the right to take vengeance on him, quite the reverse, he was obliged to protect him even at the cost of his life. In the legends of all the Caucasian highlanders, from the Abkhazians in the west to the Daghestan peoples in the east, the custom of hospitality is superior to the law of blood feud.

To manifest the priority of hospitality over other obligations among the Vainakhs we can refer to the Ingush song about a boy by name Gazi.

"A certain Ingush by name Oldan had a son Gazi. The boy had been proposed to a young Kabardian girl as a husband since his childhood. It was Oldan who had arranged this match-making but soon somebody killed him. One day when Gazi was sitting by the door of his house and sorrowfully thinking about his father, a rider approached his house and told him that his father's friends were coming to visit him in the evening. This message was soon followed by another one and Gazi got to know that his father's murderer had been seen in their parts and he would slip away soon. So, Gazi had to intercept him that night on the bridge of a gorge. The second messenger had no sooner gone than the third visitor came to Gazi and told him that they were going to give his bride to another man that night.

Gazi went into the house, threw himself on the bed and began to cry. His mother asked him: "Why are you crying, my son?" Gazi told her about the three messages and said: "I am crying because I don't know what to do first - shall I receive the guests and play host, shall I take vengeance on my enemy or win back my bride?" And his mother answered him: "Let your enemy go, for there is time for everything and you will revenge for your father; as to your bride, she won't go from you if you are fated to be his husband. So, you must receive the guests as your father did; it is the first and most important thing to do".

Gazi followed her advice and welcomed the guests. At night when all were asleep he went to the bridge and killed his deadly enemy. Then he darted to the village of his promised wife, abducted the girl and before daybreak returned home together with his bride, and brought the cut-off head of his father's murderer. In the morning when the pursuers of the bride arrived, his father's friends went out of the house and settled the discord peacefully. That is the way Gazi was rewarded for adherence to his duty of hospitality".

It should be mentioned that the Chechens and Kumyiks as well have their own versions of this song.

The poem "A Guest and A Host", one of the best works of Vazha Pshavela, classic of Georgian literature, is also dedicated to the custom of hospitality and blood feud among the Vainakhs. According to the plot the main character of the poem Jokola, Kist by birth, was on a visit at the house of Zviadauri, who was Khevsur by birth(2). The countrymen of the host recognized their enemy who had killed many of their tribesmen; one of them was Jokola's brother too. In spite of this Jokola took up arms to protect his guest and fought a battle against his neighbours and relatives who had come to capture Zviadauri. This is the answer Jokola gave his countrymen : - "Today he is my guest/ And even if he owes me blood of my brother and my relatives/ I will not betray him/ I swear by the Creator, our Lord". His words point out, as postulated by the tradition of the highlanders, the superiority of the law of hospitality to the law of vengeance.

The Vainakhs living in the mountains were settled in groups allied by blood relationship. Each village, as a rule, was inhabited by representatives of one family (taip). Several allied families formed a tukhum, the members of which were bound by obligation to settle the intensive conflicts peacefully and help each other in the war. The tukhums also differed from each other in the peculiarities of their own vernaculars. In Chechnya, for example, several tukhums are known - Nokchmakhoy (Ichkerian), Akchyi (Akian), Chebarloy, Malkhyi, Shoutoy, etc.

The Ingushes were also divided into a number of territorial-tribal groups. The Galgais in particular (according to this name, as we know, the Ingush people have determined the name of their nation) lived in the upper reaches of the Assa river, to the east of them Isorins were settled, and to the west - the Terakhs; along the rivers Assa and Sunzha lived the Galashians, the lower reaches of the rivers Terek and Sunzha were occupied by the Nazrans, etc.

Along the middle reaches of the Sunzha River and its tributaries lived the Arshtins, known in literature by the Kumyik name - Karabulaks. They bordered on the Ingush community on one side; on the other side their neighbours were the Chechens. In historical sources some refer them to the Ingush tribe, others to the Chehen one; in some cases they are referred to as an independent branch of the Vainakh root. The Arshtin dialect apparently was somewhat of an intermediate one between the dialects of the Chechnyan and Ingush languages. Today it is a matter of some difficulty to verify the above-said, as in May and July 1865 the Arshtins almost with its full complement (1366 families) migrated to the Ottoman Empire. As regards the 75 families that remained in the Caucasus, they have mixed with the other Vainakhs.

Owing to the propinquity between the Chechen and Ingush tribes displayed in language and many other elements of material and spiritual culture, in historical sources they are often presented as a single whole ethnographic community. Even the authors of the 19th century not infrequently call them by their common name "Chechens", i.e., by the name of more numerous people. (For example, "The Ingushes are the people of Chechen tribe"). Sometimes the Chechens, Ingushes and Karabulaks (or Arshtins) are referred to as independent ethnic units.

The ancient Vainakh tribes settled separately on a vast territory of the Caucasus Plain to a great extent lost their blood ties. Big villages inhabited by the representatives of different tribes and numbering nearly 200 and more farm steads began to come into existence all over the region. Each of such villages or several villages together formed a separate independent society headed by an elder (a foreman) who bore the responsibility for any decision taken concerning the domestic affairs of the community. The elders settled the quarrels and arguments arisen among the representatives of separate taipes, discussed the matters concerning the whole community.

A council of the elders - Mekh-khel, i.e., a "council of the country" was formed in order to settle the internal and external problems, regulate the prices and units of measure in trading, and co-ordinate other difficult questions. The Council, a kind of supreme legislative body of Chechnya, assembled on the sacred mountains and hills where in former times the pagan priests offered prayers to the gods. For disobedience and non-fulfilment of the decisions taken by the Council the guilty people were punished severely, - there were even cases of burning of the whole villages. However, the authority of the Mehk-khel sometimes gained strength and sometimes grew weak in accordance with certain internal and external reasons, and even those Vainakhs who recognized this body, occasionally refused to obey.

The economic life of the Vainakhs to a great extent depended on the natural environment of their habitation. For example, in the mountainous districts of Southern Chechnya, known for the lack of arable lands, the highlanders primarily were engaged in cattle-breeding. It was required to make every effort in order to develop farming in this region and the Vainakhs had to make maximum use of even the smallest patches of land on the sloping banks of the rivers or arrange the artificial terraces on the bare rocks by lifting the earth in baskets. In the vicinity of Lake Kazenoy-Am, for example, the traces of terraces have been preserved on the almost inaccessible slopes.

After migration to the fertile lands of the plain that had not been ploughed for ages the interest of the Vainakhs for farming began to grow. They sowed wheat, barley, millet, and maize, cultivated vegetable crops, and laid out orchards. Cattle breeding, as before, remained to be of great importance. The Vainakhs bred neat cattle as well as small cattle, sheep and goats. They were engaged in horse-breeding too. Some Vainakh farm steads were set aside for bee-keeping. Hunting was a general occupation of the Vainakhs everywhere.

The Vainakhs had well-developed crafts and trades. They made felt cloaks, broad cloth, earthenware, weaved rugs. In many auls lived the gunsmiths and silversmiths. The gunsmiths produced fire-arms (guns, pistols) and cold steel (sabers, daggers, knives). Particularly far-famed were the damask steel swords made in the aul of Atagi in Chechnya. The villages of Shatoy, Vedeno, Dargo, Shali and others also were the popular centres of metal-working. The silversmiths made set belts for women as well as for men, the beautiful adornments for women silver sets on the arms, breast collars, etc.

Besides the adornments and arms the Vainakhs produced agricultural implements and the articles of domestic utility.


(1)  At present, under the name "Kists" mainly go the Chechens and Ingushes inhabiting the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia. Their ancestors migrated to Georgia in the middle of the 19th century.

(2)  Khevsurs - Georgian mountaineer tribe. The Vainakhs and Khevsurs live side by side on the both slopes of the Main Caucasus Range.

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