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Caucasus mountain range.
Political map of the Caucasus region (2008)

The Caucasus or Caucasia is a region at the border of Europe and Asia, situated between the Black and the Caspian seas. It is home to the Caucasus Mountains, which contain Europe's highest mountain, Mount Elbrus. Politically, the Caucasus region is separated between northern and southern parts. The southern parts consist of independent sovereign states. The northern parts are under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation.


  • Name 1
    • Modern endonyms 1.1
  • Geography and ecology 2
    • Political geography 2.1
  • History 3
  • Demographics 4
  • Mythology 5
  • Energy and mineral resources 6
  • Sport 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Notes 10
  • Further reading 11
  • External links 12


Pliny the Elder's Natural History (AD 77-79) derives the name of the Caucasus from the Scythian kroy-khasis (“ice-shining, white with snow”).[1]

View of the Caucasus Mountains in Svaneti

Modern endonyms

  • Abkhaz: Кавказ Kawkáz
  • Adyghe: Къавкъаз\Хэку Qawqaz
  • Arabic: القوقازal-Qawqāz
  • Avar: Кавказ - كافكاز Kawkaz
  • Chechen: Кавказ Kawkáz
  • K'avk'asia კავკასია
  • Greek: Καύκασος Kávkasos
  • Hebrew: קווקזKavkaz
  • Ingush: Кавказ Kawkaz
  • Kabardian: Къавкъаз Qawqaz
  • Karachay-Balkar: Кавказ Kawkaz
  • Lezgian: Къавкъаз K'awk'az
  • Lak: Ккавкказ Kkawkkaz
  • Ossetian: Кавказ Kavkaz
  • Persian: قفقازQafqaz
  • Russian: Кавказ Kavkaz
  • Turkish: Kafkas\Kafkasya

Geography and ecology

Armenia's capital Yerevan
Azerbaijan's capital Baku
Dagestan's capital Makhachkala
Chechnya's capital Grozny

The northern portion of the Caucasus is known as the Ciscaucasus and the southern portion as the Transcaucasus.

The Ciscaucasus contains the larger majority of the Greater Caucasus Mountain range, also known as the Major Caucasus mountains. It includes Southwestern Azerbaijan.

The Transcaucasus is bordered on the north by Russia, on the west by the Black Sea and Turkey, on the east by the Caspian Sea, and on the south by Iran. It includes the Caucasus Mountains and surrounding lowlands. All of Armenia, Azerbaijan (excluding the northern parts) and Georgia (excluding the northern parts) are in South Caucasus.

The main Greater Caucasus range is generally perceived to be the dividing line between Asia and Europe. The highest peak in the Caucasus is Mount Elbrus (5,642 m) in the western Ciscaucasus in Russia, and is generally considered as the highest point in Europe.

The Caucasus is one of the most Krasnodar Krai, Stavropol Krai, and the autonomous republics of Adygea, Karachay–Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya, and Dagestan. Three territories in the region claim independence but are recognized as such by only a handful or by no independent states: Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia.

The Caucasus is an area of great ecological importance. The region is included in the list of 34 world biodiversity hotspots.[2][3] It harbors some 6400 species of higher plants, 1600 of which are endemic to the region.[4] Its wildlife includes leopards, brown bears, wolves, bison, marals, golden eagles and hooded crows. Among invertebrates, some 1000 spider species are recorded in the Caucasus.[5] The region has a high level of endemism and a number of relict animals and plants, the fact reflecting presence of refugial forests, which survived the Ice Age in the Caucasus Mountains. The Caucasus forest refugium is the largest throughout the Western Asian (near Eastern) region.[6][7] The area has multiple representatives of disjunct relict groups of plants with the closest relatives in Eastern Asia, southern Europe, and even North America.[8][9][10] Over 70 species of forest snails of the region are endemic.[11] Some relict species of vertebrates are Caucasian parsley frog, Caucasian salamander, Robert's snow vole, and Caucasian grouse, and there are almost entirely endemic groups of animals such as lizards of genus Darevskia. In general, species composition of this refugium is quite distinct and differs from that of the other Western Eurasian refugia.[7] The natural landscape is one of mixed forest, with substantial areas of rocky ground above the treeline. The Caucasus Mountains are also noted for a dog breed, the Caucasian Shepherd Dog (Rus. Kavkazskaya Ovcharka, Geo. Nagazi).

Political geography

North Caucasus South Caucasus

* States in italics are Nagorno-Karabakh is recognised as part of Azerbaijan.


Petroglyphs in Gobustan, Azerbaijan, dating back to 10,000 BC indicating a thriving culture. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Located on the peripheries of Turkey, Iran, and Russia, the region has been an arena for political, military, religious, and cultural rivalries and expansionism for centuries. Throughout its history, the Caucasus was usually incorporated into the Iranian world. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Russian Empire conquered the territory from the Qajars.[12]

George IV of Georgia (1184-1223).

Under Ashurbanipal (669-627 BC) the boundaries of the Assyrian Empire reached as far as the Caucasus Mountains. Other ancient kingdoms of the region included Armenia, Albania, Colchis and Iberia, among others. These kingdoms were later incorporated into various Iranian empires, including Media, Achaemenid Empire, Parthia, and Sassanid Empire. In 95-55 BC under the reign of Armenian king of kings Tigranes the Great, the Kingdom of Armenia became an empire, growing to include: Kingdom of Armenia, vassals Iberia, Albania, Parthia, Atropatene, Mesopotamia, Cappadocia, Cilicia, Syria, Nabataean kingdom, and Judea. The empire stretched from the Caucasian Mountains to Egypt and from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea, including a territory of 3,000,000 km2 (1,158,000 sq mi), and becoming the last strong Hellenist king, and the strongest in the region by 67 BC. By this time, Zoroastrianism had become the dominant religion of the region (except for in the Kingdom of Armenia); however, the region would go through two other religious transformations. Owing to the rivalry between Persia and Rome, and later Byzantium, the latter would invade the region several times, although it was never able to hold the region.

Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Armenia, (original building) completed in 303 AD, a religious centre of Armenia. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

However, because the Kingdom of Near East area. The region would later be conquered by the Ottomans, Mongols, local kingdoms and khanates, as well as, once again, Persia, until its subsequent conquest by Russia.

In modern times, the Caucasus became a region of war among the Ottoman Empire, Iran and Russia, and was eventually conquered by the latter (see Caucasian Wars).

The region was unified as a single political entity twice – during the Russian Civil War (Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic) from 9 April 1918 to 26 May 1918, and under the Soviet rule (Transcaucasian SFSR) from 12 March 1922 to 5 December 1936.

In the 1940s, around 480,000 Chechens and Ingush, 120,000 Balkars, Karachays, and Meskhetian Turks, and 200,000 Kurds and Caucasus Germans were deported en masse to Central Asia and Siberia. About a quarter of them died.[13]

Following the Azerbaijan and Armenia became independent in 1991. The Caucasus region has been subject to various territorial disputes since the collapse of the Soviet Union, leading to the Nagorno-Karabakh War (1988–1994), the Ossetian-Ingush conflict (1989–1991), the War in Abkhazia (1992–93), the First Chechen War (1994–1996), the Second Chechen War (1999–2009), and the 2008 South Ossetia War.


Ethno-linguistic groups in the Caucasus region 1887.
Ethno-linguistic groups in the Caucasus region[14]

The region has many different languages and language families. There are more than 50 ethnic groups living in the region.[15] No less than three language families are unique to the area, but also Indo-European languages, such as Armenian and Ossetic, and the Turkic language Azerbaijani are local and used in the area. Russian is used as a common language.

Today the peoples of the Northern and Southern Caucasus tend to be either Eastern Orthodox Christians, Oriental Orthodox Christians, or Sunni Muslims. Shia Islam has had many adherents historically in Azerbaijan, located in the eastern part of the region.


In Zeus, to have his liver eaten daily by an eagle as punishment for defying Zeus' wish of not giving the "secret of fire" to humans.

The Roman poet Ovid placed Caucasus in Scythia and depicted it as a cold and stony mountain which was the abode of personified hunger. The Greek hero Jason sailed to the west coast of the Caucasus in pursuit of the Golden Fleece, and there met Medea, a daughter of King Aeëtes of Colchis.

In Persian mythology the Caucasus is sometimes identified with the mythic Cafcuh or Mount Qaf which is believed to surround the known world. It is the battlefield of Saoshyant and the nest of the Simurgh.

Energy and mineral resources

Caucasus has many economically important minerals and energy resources, such as: alunite, gold, chromium, copper, iron ore, mercury, manganese, molybdenum, lead, tungsten, uranium, zinc, oil, natural gas, and coal (both hard and brown).


2014 Winter Olympics venue.
Krasnaya Polyana — a popular center of mountain skiing and a snowboard, reputed most "respectable" in Russia.
2015 European Games venue. The first in the history European Games to be held in Azerbaijan.

Mountain-skiing complexes:

See also


  1. ^ "Natural History," book six, chap. XVII
  2. ^ Zazanashvili N, Sanadiradze G, Bukhnikashvili A, Kandaurov A, Tarkhnishvili D. 2004. Caucasus. In: Mittermaier RA, Gil PG, Hoffmann M, Pilgrim J, Brooks T, Mittermaier CG, Lamoreux J, da Fonseca GAB, eds. Hotspots revisited, Earth's biologically richest and most endangered terrestrial ecoregions. Sierra Madre: CEMEX/Agrupacion Sierra Madre, 148–153
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Endemic Species of the Caucasus". 
  5. ^ "A faunistic database on the spiders of the Caucasus". Caucasian Spiders. Retrieved 17 September 2010. 
  6. ^ van Zeist W, Bottema S. 1991. Late Quaternary vegetation of the Near East. Wiesbaden: Reichert.
  7. ^ a b Tarkhnishvili, D.; Gavashelishvili, A.; Mumladze, L. (2012). "Palaeoclimatic models help to understand current distribution of Caucasian forest species". Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 105: 231.  
  8. ^ Milne RI. 2004. "Phylogeny and biogeography of Rhododendron subsection Pontica, a group with a Tertiary relict distribution". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 33: 389–401.
  9. ^ Kikvidze Z, Ohsawa M. 1999. "Adjara, East Mediterranean refuge of Tertiary vegetation". In: Ohsawa M, Wildpret W, Arco MD, eds. Anaga Cloud Forest, a comparative study on evergreen broad-leaved forests and trees of the Canary Islands and Japan. Chiba: Chiba University Publications, 297–315.
  10. ^ Denk T, Frotzler N, Davitashvili N. 2001. "Vegetational patterns and distribution of relict taxa in humid temperate forests and wetlands of Georgia Transcaucasia". Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 72: 287–332.
  11. ^ Pokryszko B, Cameron R, Mumladze L, Tarkhnishvili D. 2011. "Forest snail faunas from Georgian Transcaucasia: patterns of diversity in a Pleistocene refugium". Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 102: 239-250
  12. ^ Multiple Authors. "Caucasus Afghanistan and iran". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  13. ^ Weitz, Eric D. (2003). A century of genocide: utopias of race and nation.  
  14. ^
  15. ^ "Caucasian peoples".  


  • Caucasus: A Journey to the Land Between Christianity and Islam, by Nicholas Griffin
  • Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus, by Svante E. Cornell
  • The Caucasus, by Ivan Golovin
  • Coene, Frederick (2009). The Caucasus: An Introduction. Routledge.  

Further reading

  • Nikolai F. Dubrovin. The history of wars and Russian domination in the Caucasus (История войны и владычества русских на Кавказе). Sankt-Petersburg, 1871–1888, at in DjVu and PDF formats.
  • Gagarin, G. G. Costumes Caucasus (Костюмы Кавказа). Paris, 1840, at in DjVu and PDF formats.
  • Gasimov, Zaur: The Caucasus, European History Online, Mainz: Institute of European History, 2011, retrieved: November 18, 2011.
  • Rostislav A. Fadeev. Sixty years of the Caucasian War (Шестьдесят лет Кавказской войны). Tiflis, 1860, at in DjVu format.
  • Kaziev Shapi. Caucasian highlanders (Повседневная жизнь горцев Cеверного Кавказа в XIX в.). Everyday life of the Caucasian Highlanders. The 19th Century (In the co-authorship with I. Karpeev). "Molodaya Gvardiy" publishers. Moscow, 2003. ISBN 5-235-02585-7

External links

  • Ethnographic map of Caucasus
  • Articles and Photography on Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) from UK Photojournalist Russell Pollard
  • Information for travellers and others about Caucasus and Georgia
  • Caucasian Review of International Affairs—an academic journal on the South Caucasus
  • BBC News: North Caucasus at a glance, 8 September 2005
  • United Nations Environment Programme map: Landcover of the Caucasus
  • United Nations Environment Programme map: Population density of the Caucasus
  • Food Security in Caucasus (FAO)
  • Caucasus and Iran entry in Encyclopædia Iranica
  • University of Turin-Observatory on Caucasus
  • Circassians Caucasus Web (Turkish)
  • Georgian Biodiversity Database (checklists for ca. 11,000 plant and animal species)
  • Caucasus news

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