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Albanians, Caucasian


Albanians are an ancient people of southeastern Caucasia who originally inhabited the area of the modern republic of Azerbaijan north of the River Kur. In the late fourth century they acquired from Armenia the territory that now comprises the southern half of the republic. According to the Greek geographer Strabo (died c. 20 c.e.), the Albanians were a federation of twenty-six tribes, each originally having its own king, but by his time united under a single ruler. The people's name for themselves is unknown, but the Greeks and Romans called their country Albania. The original capital of Albania was the city of Cabala or Cabalaca, north of the River Kur. In the fifth century, however, the capital was transferred to Partaw (now Barda), located south of the river.

According to tradition, the Albanians converted to Christianity early in the fourth century. It is more likely, however, that this occurred in the early fifth century, when St. Mesrob Mashtots, inventor of the Armenian alphabet, devised one for the Albanians. Evidence of this alphabet was lost until 1938, when it was identified in an Armenian manuscript. All surviving Albanian literature was written in, not translated into, Armenian.

The Persians terminated the Albanian monarchy in about 510, after which the country was ruled by an oligarchy of local princes that was headed by the Mihranid prince of Gardman. In 624, the Byzantine emperor Heraclius appointed the head of the Mihrani family as presiding prince of Albania. When the country was conquered by the Arabs in the seventh century and the last of the Mihranid presiding princes was assassinated in 822, the Albanian polity began to break up. Thereafter, the title "king of Albania" was claimed by one or another dynasty in Armenia or Georgia until well into the Mongol period. The city of Partaw was destroyed by Rus pirates in 944.

The Albanians had their own church and its own catholicos, or supreme patriarch, who was subordinate to the patriarch of Armenia. The Albanian church endured until 1830, when it was suppressed after the Russian conquest. The Albanian ethnic group appears to survive as the Udins, a people living in northwestern Azerbaijan. Their Northeast Caucasian language (laced with Armenian) is classified as a member of the Lesguian group. Some Udins are Muslim; the rest belong to the Armenian Church.

See also: armenia and armenians; azerbaijan and azeris; caucasus


Bais, Marco. (2001). Albania Caucasica. Milan: Mimesis.

Daskhurantsi, Moses. (1961). History of the Caucasian Albanians. London: Oxford University Press.

Moses of Khoren. (1978). History of the Armenians, tr. Robert W. Thomson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Toumanoff, Cyrille. (1963). Studies in Christian Caucasian History. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Robert H. Hewsen

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