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For other uses, see Alania (disambiguation).
Kingdom of Alania
8th-9th century–1238-1239
Map of medieval Alania (10th-12th century), according to Ossetian historian Ruslan Suleymanovich Bzarov.
Capital Maghas
Languages Ossetian, and other Scythian languages
Religion Paganism and different Zoroastrian beliefs, later Christianity in the 10th century[1]
Government Monarchy
Historical era Middle Ages
 -  Established 8th-9th century
 -  Mongol conquest of Alania 1238-1239
Map showing the location of Alania, c. 650 CE.

Alania was a medieval kingdom of the Alans (proto-Ossetians)[2] that flourished in the Northern Caucasus, roughly in the location of latter-day Circassia and modern North Ossetia–Alania, from the 8th or 9th century until its destruction by the Mongol invasion in 1238-39. Its capital was Maghas, and it controlled a vital trade route through the Darial Pass.


The Alans (Alani) originated as an Iranian-speaking[2] subdivision of the Sarmatians. They were split by the invasion of the Huns into two parts, the European and the Caucasian. The Caucasian Alans occupied part of the North Caucasian plain and the foothills of the main mountain chain from the headwaters of the Kuban River in the west to the Darial Gorge in the east.[3]

Invasions by the Caliphate[edit]

Alania was an important buffer state during the Byzantine-Arab Wars and Khazar-Arab Wars of the 8th century. Theophanes the Confessor left a detailed account of Leo the Isaurian's mission to Alania in the early 8th century. Leo was instructed by Emperor Justinian II to bribe the Alan leader Itaxes into severing his "ancient friendship" with the Kingdom of Abkhazia which had allied itself with Caliph Al-Walid I.[4] He crossed the mountain passes and concluded an alliance with the Alans, but was prevented from returning to Byzantium through Abasgia. Although the Abkhazians spared no expense to have him imprisoned, the Alans refused to convey the Byzantine envoy to his enemies. After several months of adventures in the Northern Caucasus, Leo extricated himself from the precarious situation and returned to Constantinople.

After Leo assumed the imperial title, the land of his mountaineer allies was invaded by Umar II's forces. A Khazar chieftain, Barjik, hastened to their succor and, in 722, the joint Alan-Khazar army inflicted a defeat on the Arab general Tabit al-Nahrani. The Khazars erected Skhimar and several other strongholds in Alania at this period. In 728 Maslamah ibn Abd al-Malik, having penetrated the Gate of the Alans, devastated the country of the Alans. Eight years later, Marwan ibn Muhammad passed by the Gate in order to ravage the forts in Alania. In 758, as Ibn al-Faqih reports, the Gate was held by another Arab general, Yazid ibn Usayd.

Alliance with Khazaria[edit]

Surviving architectural monuments of the Alanian kingdom include three churches in Arkhyz, the Shoana Church, and the Senty Church.

As a result of their united stand against the successive waves of invaders from the south, the Alans of the Caucasus fell under the overlordship of the Khazar Khaganate. They remained staunch allies of the Khazars in the 9th century, supporting them against a Byzantine-led coalition during the reign of the Khazar king Benjamin. According to the anonymous author of the Schechter Letter, many Alans were during this period adherents of Judaism. However, in the early 10th century, the Alans fell under the influence of the Byzantine Empire, possibly due to the conversion of their ruler to Christianity. The conversion is documented in the letters of Patriarch Nicholas Mysticus to the local archbishop, whose name was Peter.

When Ibn Rustah visited Alania at some point between 903 and 913, its king was by then Christian. The Persian traveller came to Alania from Sarir, a Christian kingdom immediately to the east:[5]

You go to the left from the kingdom of Sarir and, after three days of journey through mountains and meadows, arrive in the kingdom of Al-Lan. Their king is Christian at heart, but all his people are idolaters. Then you travel for ten days among rivers and woods before arriving at a fortress called the "Gate of the Alans". It stands on the top of a mountain at the foot of which there is a road; high mountains surround it and a thousand men from among its inhabitants guard its walls day and night.


The Byzantines, who had adopted an anti-Khazar foreign policy, involved the Alans in a war against the Khaganate during the reign of the Khazar ruler Aaron II, probably the early 920s. In this war the Alans were defeated and their king captured. According to Muslim sources such as al-Mas'udi (943/56), the Alans abandoned Christianity and expelled the Byzantine missionaries and clergy roughly contemporaneously with these events. Aaron's son married the daughter of the Alan king and Alania was re-aligned with the Khazars, remaining so until the collapse of the Khaganate in the 960s.

Later history[edit]

After the downfall of Khazaria, the Alan kings frequently allied with the Byzantines and various Georgian rulers for protection against encroachments by northern steppe peoples such as the Pechenegs and Kipchaks. John Skylitzes reports that Alda of Alania, after the death of her husband, "George of Abasgia" (i.e., George I of Georgia), received Anakopia as a maritime fief from Emperor Romanus III.[7] This happened in 1033, the year when the Alans and the Rus sacked the coast of Shirvan in modern-day Azerbaijan. Alania is not mentioned in East Slavic chronicles, but archaeology indicates that the Alans maintained trade contacts with the Rus' principality of Tmutarakan. There is a stone grave cross, with a Cyrillic inscription from 1041, standing on the bank of the Bolshoi Yegorlyk River in present-day Stavropol Krai, immediately north of Alania.[8] Two Russian crosses, datable to ca. 1200, were discovered by archaeologists in Arkhyz, the heartland of medieval Alania.[9]

Despite her name, Empress Maria of Alania (on the right side), the wife of Michael VII and Nicephorus III, was only Alan on the side of her mother. Her maternal uncle was king Dorgolel of Alania.

The Alans and Georgians probably collaborated in the Christianization of the Vainakhs and Dvals in the 12th and 13th centuries, Georgian missionaries were active in Alania[3] and the Alan contingents were frequently employed by the Georgian monarchs against their Muslim neighbors. The Alanian-Georgian alliance was cemented in the 1060s, when the Alans struck across Muslim Arran and sacked Ganja. In the 1120s King David the Builder of Georgia visited the Darial to reconcile the Alans with the Kipchaks, who thereupon were allowed to pass through Alania to the Georgian soil. David's son, Demetre I, also journeyed, c. 1153, to Alania accompanied by the Arab historian Ibn al-Azraq. The alliance culminated in 1187, when the Alanian prince David Soslan married Queen Tamar of Georgia, with their descendants ruling Georgia until the 19th century. The medieval Alanian princesses also married Byzantine and Russian Rurikid rulers more than once. For instance, Maria the Ossetian, who founded the Convent of Princesses in Vladimir, was the wife of Vsevolod the Big Nest and grandmother of Alexander Nevsky.

In the late 1230s all three Christian powers - Alania, Georgia, and Vladimir-Suzdal - fell before the Mongol invaders. Bishop Theodore of Alania described the plight of his metropolis in a lengthy epistolary sermon written during the tenure of Patriarch Germanus II (1222–40). The wars of Timur in the 14th century inflicted the final blow on Alania and decimated its population. Those who survived being killed or enslaved by the Mongols and Timur's armies, broke up into three groups. One retreated into the foothills and valleys of the central Caucasus and produced the two principal Ossetian groups, Digor and Iron. Another group of Alans migrated with the Kipchaks into Eastern Europe and preserved their language and ethnic identity as the Jassic people until the 15th century. The third group joined the Mongol horde and soon disappeared from history.[3]


In the last years of the Soviet Union, as nationalist movements swept throughout the Caucasus, many intellectuals in the North Ossetian ASSR called for the revival of the name "Alania". A leading Ossetian philologist, T.A. Guriev, was the main advocate of this idea, insisting that the Ossetians should accept the name of the Alans as their self-designation and rename North Ossetia into Alania. The term "Alania" quickly became popular in Ossetian daily life through the names of various enterprises, a TV channel, political and civic organizations, a publishing house, a soccer team, an airline company etc. In November 1994, the name of "Alania" was officially added to the republican title (Republic of North Ossetia–Alania).[10]


  • Kuznetsov V. A. Ocherki istorii alan. Vladikazvkaz, 1992.
  • Pletneva, Svetlana. Ot kochevii k gorodam. Moscow, 1967.


  1. ^ http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/alans-an-ancient-iranian-tribe-of-the-northern-scythian-saka-sarmatian-massagete-group-known-to-classical-writers-from
  2. ^ a b Great Soviet Encyclopedia
  3. ^ a b c Bailey, Harold Walter. Alans. Encyclopædia Iranica Online Edition. Accessed on August 20, 2007.
  4. ^ Alemany, Agusti. Sources of the Alans: A Critical Compilation. Brill Publishers, 2000. ISBN 90-04-11442-4. Pages 200-204.
  5. ^ Al-Mas'udi notes that the Alanian king married a sister of the king of Sarir.
  6. ^ Quoted from: Alemany, page 260.
  7. ^ Alemany, page 7.
  8. ^ Kuznetsov, X-II.
  9. ^ Kuznetsov, X-I.
  10. ^ Shnirelman, Victor (2006). The Politics of a Name: Between Consolidation and Separation in the Northern Caucasus. Acta Slavica Iaponica 23, pp. 37-49.

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