i. Cultural relations with Persia.

ii. Linguistic influences.

i. Cultural Relations with Persia

The many-faceted relationship between Dāḡestān (ancient Albania), a region in the eastern Caucasus, and Persia since antiquity has yet to be studied as a whole, though there is considerable historical, linguis­tic, folkloric, literary, and art-historical evidence bear­ing on it. Cultural contacts were partly dictated by the military and economic history of the region.

Such northern Iranian peoples as the Scythians, Sarmatians, and Alans began to appear in the northern Caucasus in the 1st millennium, b.c.e. The Caspian tribes, including those inhabiting the territory of Dāḡestān, were located in the eleventh satrapy under the Achaemenid emperor Darius I (522-­486 b.c.e.; Herodotus, 3.92). There may also have been Caspians in the army of Xerxes (486-65 b.c.e.; Herodotus, 7.67; Istoriya Dagestana I, p. 103; for a differing view, see caspians). The Greek historian Arrian (Anabasis 3.8.4) noted that in the battle at Gaugamela (near Nineveh) in 331 b.c.e. Albanians fought among the troops of Darius III (336-31 b.c.e.) against the army of Alexander.

Ties between the Sasanian empire and Dāḡestān were particularly close from the late 4th to the 6th century c.e., when the geographic and strategic im­portance of the eastern Caucasus attracted the atten­tion of the Sasanian emperors. Once they had established themselves in northern Azerbaijan (Arrān) and southern Dāḡestān (in the territory of former Soviet Azerbaidzhan), they focused particularly on fortifying the pass at Darband (Istoriya narodov severnogo Kavkaza, 1988a, pp. 100-01), in order to prevent dev­astating raids by nomads from the north. The Arme­nian historian Movsês Kalankatvacʿi reported that Per­sian kings scoured the land, recruiting architects and searching for materials with which to build the monu­mental wall of Darband (p. 105). Construction of the grandiose Darband fortification complex is particu­larly linked with the name of Ḵosrow I Anūšīrwān (531-579). The Pahlavi inscriptions dating from his reign and found in the city wall (Figure 30) “establish the northernmost boundary of Sasanian cuneiform writing, being unique written relics not only of the eastern Transcaucasus but also of the entire region; theiṛ . . . presence underscores the significance of Darband not only as a military bastion but also as a local center of Sasanian culture, in which Sasanian writing, breaking the boundaries of use for state and official occasions only, begins to be used in private life as well” (Pakhomov, 1929, p. 77).

Ancient Iranian language elements were absorbed into the everyday speech of the population of Dāḡestān, and many remain current (see ii, below). In fact, a deliberate policy of “persianizing” Darband and the eastern Caucasus in general can be traced over many centuries, from Ḵosrow I to the Safavid shahs Esmāʿīl I (907-30/1501-24) and ʿAbbās I (996-1038/1588-­1629; see Āqāsī). According to the account in the later Darband-nāma (see below), after construction of the fortifications Ḵosrow “moved much folk here from Persia” (Saidov and Shikhsaidov, pp. 26-27), relocat­ing about 3,000 families from the interior of Persia in the city and neighboring villages. This account seems to be corroborated by the Spanish Arab Ḥamīd Moḥammad Ḡarnāṭī, who reported in 524/1130 that Darband was populated by many ethnic groups, in­cluding a large Persian-speaking population (Bol’­shakov and Mongaĭt, p. 26).

The process was nevertheless inconsistent and ir­regular, owing to such historical events as the defeat of the Sasanian empire in 28/650, the increasing power of the Muslim caliphate, and the “Arab-Khazar” wars of the 7th-8th centuries. Persian interest in the eastern Caucasus arose mainly from its strategic position be­tween Persia and Russia and reflected the shifting relations between the two countries. In fact, through­out its history Dāḡestān has remained a “province,” subject to more powerful neighbors.

Persian literary influence in Dāḡestān

In literature connections between Persia and Dāḡestān continued to develop through the entire medieval pe­riod. In addition to a considerable body of “imported” literature, local authors wrote original works in Per­sian, translated Persian literary classics, and composed works in Dāḡestānī languages that in both con­tent and form reflected the influence of Persian poetry in particular. Acquaintance with Persian literary tradi­tions reached Dāḡestān through direct contacts and also mediated through Arabic literature (especially Šoʿūbī writings of the 8th-9th centuries).  In the 12th century Ḡarnāṭī recounted an episode in which the amir of Darband, Abu’l-Qāsem, “read, under my guidance, the "Satisfying book" by Maḵāmelī on feqh (Islamic law); he spoke, may Allāh have mercy on him, in a variety of languages, like Lakzanī [Lezgī], Tabalanī, Filanī, Zakalanī, Haidak, Gumik, Sarir, Alanian, Assi, Zarihgarānī [Kubačī], Turkish, Arabic, and Persian. People from these ethnic groups were present at my readings, and he explained [the contents of the book] to each group in its own language” (Bol’shakov and Mongaĭt, p. 26). A 14th-­century manuscript of the Koran with an interlinear translation in Persian (ms. F. 14 no. 1970) is preserved in the collection of the Institute of history, languages, and literature (H.L.L. Institute) of the Gamzat (Ḥamza) Tsadasa center of Dāḡestān studies, a branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Manuscripts of the great works of Arabic and Persian poetry were particularly appreciated and collected in Dāḡestān. The poems of Ferdowsī, ʿOmar Ḵayyām, Saʿdī, Neẓāmī, Ḥāfeẓ, ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Jāmī, ʿAlī-Šīr Navāʾī, Fożūlī, and others were widely read. Neẓāmī’s Leylī o Majnūn, Ḵosrow o Šīrīn, and Eskandar-nāma were available in many parts of the province, and copies were made for local connois­seurs. The well-known Lezgian poet Mīrzā ʿAlī Aḵtī (1184-1276/1770-1859) owned a manuscript in Per­sian (now in the collection of G. M. Sadyky, Makhachkala) containing the dīvāns of Jalāl-al-Dīn Rūmī and Ḥāfeẓ, which he had copied personally and commented on in Turkish. A basic Arabic grammati­cal commentary, Fawāʾed al-żīyāʾīya by the Persian poet Jāmī (d. 898/1492), and the Esām (Ḥosām), a supercommentary on this work by Esām-al-Dīn Esfarāyenī, were especially popular in clerical and scholarly circles, largely because of the examples of Persian poetry included in them.

The epigraphic heritage of Dāḡestān reveals the extent to which the Persian language had penetrated the area. The overwhelming majority of 12th- and 13th-century inscriptions are in Arabic, but beginning in the 14th century there were also a number in Persian, and the use of Persian for such purposes appears to have increased in the 15th-17th centuries, particularly in southern Dāḡestān around Darband. The earliest such inscription is dated 700/1301 and records the endowment (waqf ) of a spring at Darband. Other 14th-­century Persian inscriptions include a verse of good wishes from the village of Kubachi and a building inscription commemorating the restoration of a mosque at Darband. A distinct characteristic of Persian-lan­guage inscriptions in Dāḡestān is their “official” tone: They refer mainly to members of the feudal ruling class and the accomplishments of local and Persian rulers (see Shikhsaidov, p. 384). One important exception is a group of memorial inscriptions. For example, on tombs at Darband shaped like storage chests the inscriptions include didactic couplets or quatrains by Saʿdī or ʿOmar Ḵayyām (see Lavrov; cf. Shikhsaidov, p. 384; Neĭmatova, pp. 57-59). Versified aphorisms in Persian also appear on tombs in mountainous Khnov in the Samur river basin (Figure 31) and Kumukh in the Lak region of Dāḡestān. Surviving inscriptions in the city of Ikhrek, also near the Samur river (no later than the 14th century) and in Darband (842/1438-39) reveal traces of the legend of Alexander the Great, who was popularly supposed to have built the Naryn-qaḷʿa for­tress. An epitaph of 867/1462 in Darband contains references to the heroes Gēv, Rostam, and Gōdarz, all from the Šāh-nāma (Istoriya narodov severnogo Kavkaza, 1988b, p. 253).

The population of the Caucasus, including Dāḡestān, includes the Jewish Tats, speakers of Tatī, “one of the new Iranian languages; it is highly probable that they are united not only linguistically but through a com­mon culture and historical destiny to the Iranians, the Tats, and the Ṭāleš“ (Marr, p. 29; see ii, below). Among the Tats of Dāḡestān two tales of Rustam-­Zaleh and of Bezhon and Menezhon were written down in the 1930s. The second is very similar to the version of Bīžan o Manīža in the Šāh-nāma (Tatskiĭ fol’klor, pp. 110-32) and may have been influenced by it. It is more likely, however, that the Tat tale is one of the oldest surviving versions of the Iranian legend that became the basis for Ferdowsī’s poem (Avshalumova, 1987, pp. 137-45).

In the Safavid and Afsharid periods. The rise of the Safavid empire and the intensifying conflict between Persia and Ottoman Turkey resulted in continual political shifts in Dāḡestān, which were reflected in the cultural sphere. The status of Arabic as the language of religion ensured its dominance in the spiritual, scholarly, and business life of Dāḡestānī society. Nevertheless, the penetration of Turkish and Persian lan­guages increased, and the appearance of works in these languages and in Dāḡestānī brought an end to the monopoly of Arabic in cultural life. There was even a division along geographical lines: Literature pro­duced in Darband was largely in Persian and Azerī Turkish, that in other parts of Dāḡestān in Arabic and indigenous languages, though some Persian works were also produced there.

The original version of Moḥammad Avābī’s Darband-nāma (early 17th century) was “an abridged translation of another Darband-nāma written in Per­siaṇ . . . . The author was ordered to recount in pure Turkish the records of selected Arabic and Persian historical works, and the work itself was translated from Arabic and Persian into Turkish” (Bartol’d, 1973, p. 475). There are several known manuscripts of this work in Persian, including a translation from Turkish made in 1825-26 by ʿAlī-Yār b. Qāsem, now in the Oriental Institute (formerly the Asiatic Museum; Miklukho-Maklaĭ, pp. 396-99) of the Russian Acad­emy of Sciences in St. Petersburg; in the preface to his edition of the text Mīrzā A. Kāẓem-bek provided a detailed analysis of these manuscripts. Examination of the form and content of the Darband-nāma reveals that the author was well versed not only in the history of the city but also in the traditional canons of Persian historical narrative.

As early as the 16th century Persian rulers were conducting official correspondence with the rulers of Dāḡestān in Persian. A decree issued by Shah Ṭahmāsb (930-84/1524-76) in 966/1559 released several maḥalls (districts) in Dāḡestān from paying certain taxes. There is also extant an order from Nāder Shah (1148-60/1736-47) instructing the governor of Darband to pro­vide full stipends for the sons of several distinguished families so that they might study writing and the Persian style of business accounting. A collection of letters to Ommo Khan of Avar (1188-1216/1774-­1801), written in Persian (H.L.L. Institute, F. 1, Op. 1, D. 501), contains 162 items reflecting the epistolary style of the Safavid period (see correspondence ii). Unfortunately, the author of these letters has not yet been identified.

A remarkable collection of orders from Persian shahs to rulers (known as ūsmīs) of Qaydāq is in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. According to the orientalist J. T. Reinaud, A. P. Berger, a prominent Caucasian scholar and chairman of the Caucasian archival commission, turned over the copies of these orders, more than fifty of them, to the Bibliothèque Impériale in 1864 (Moniteur universel 245, 1 Septem­ber 1864; microfilm copies at H.L.L. Institute). They span the period from 1016/1607 to 1216/1801, but most are from the reigns of the Safavid shah Solṭān-Ḥosayn (1105-35/1694-1722) and Nāder Shah. They contain a great deal of information on the political and socioeconomic history of Dāḡestān (Kozlova, 1987). Another valuable source is a chronograph of events in southern Dāḡestān, originally compiled in Shiraz (Istoriya narodov severnogo Kavkaza, 1988b, p. 494).

Original poetic works written by local authors in Persian can be found in many libraries and collections in Dāḡestān. Among them are lyric verses by the Darghīn poets Ebn Yūsof (16th century) and Dāmādān of Mug (17th century), the later Lezgian poet Mīrzā ʿAlī Aḵtī and other recognized founders of the na­tional literary tradition.

The increased prestige of the Persian language and Persian culture in the intellectual life of the entire Near East in the 17th century also had an impact on the social attitudes of the eastern Caucasian peoples, par­ticularly noticeable in folk poetry and literature. For example, devs (see *daiva) are common characters in the archaic folklore of the peoples of Dāḡestān, a complex synthesis in which the dominant influence was Iranian. In the oral poetry of the Avars, Darghins, Turkish Qumuqs, Laks, Lezgians, and others the devs usually appear as anthropomorphic one-eyed giant brothers, most often with a mother and one sister; they live in a cave, invincible fortress, or palace and engage in hunting. Sometimes beneficent white devs also appear in Dāḡestānī folklore. Equally common is the dragon aždaḵa, which is, particularly among Turkish­-speaking peoples, most closely related to the dragon from the Avesta (cf. Av. Aži- Dahāka-; see AŽDAHĀ). In the most common version a dragon with three, seven, or nine heads lives in a subterranean realm, guarding a spring and demanding maidens in payment for use of the water. The hero slays the dragon and also saves the young of a magical bird (sīmorḡ, Turk. karakuš), who then helps him to find his way out of the subterranean realm. The Nart epic, containing ele­ments traceable to Ibero-Caucasian-, Turkish-, and Iranian-speaking tribes, was the common heritage of the varied peoples of the northern Caucasus. Although it is no longer current in Dāḡestān, studies of the folklore of Qumuks, Avars, Laks, and Darghins attest that tales from it were formerly common there. Similarities in features of the Dāḡestānī and Ossetic versions apparently reflect the presence of Scythians and Alans in the northern Caucasus and direct contacts between the peoples of Dāḡestān with Ossetians.

The invasion of Dāḡestān by Nāder Shah with 150,000 troops in 1154-56/1741-43, which ended in a defeat in the mountains, inspired a vast body of legends, fairy tales, and songs. The Avar epic Srazhenie s Nadir Shakhom (The battle with Nāder Shah) and theLak Pesnya o geroe Murtazaali (Epic of the hero Mortażā ʿAlī) provide a vivid and accurate picture of the tri­umph over “the scourge of the universe.” These works represent the pinnacle of the Dāḡestānī epic genre; their significance to the mountain peoples “can be compared to that of Slovo o polku Igoreve [The lay of the army of Igor] in Russian epic poetry” (Kapieva, p. 19).

The terms bāzār (market), tār (a stringed instru­ment), čerāḡ (lamp), dabīr (secretary), bārū (fortifica­tion), dārū (medicine), ḵorjīn (carrying bag), jorāb (stockings), gorz (mace), zahruman < zahr-e mār (snake venom), and many others were borrowed from Persian. The Persian titles šāh and pādešāh figure promi­nently in Dāḡestānī fairy tales, in certain rituals, and even in everyday usage; for example, among the south­ern Kumyks the toastmaster at a wedding was called a “shah,” and the Kubachi enjoyed a theatrical “shah show.”

In the Qajar period. In the late 18th and 19th centuries a number of authors in Darband were writing in both Turkish and Persian. They left a large body of valuable works, mostly dealing with the history of Darband. Primary among them is the chronicle Tārīḵ al-Bāb, devoted to the history of the city in the 9th­-11th centuries. Moḥammad-Ḥaydar b. Hājī Mīrzā Āqāsī (b. 1190/1776), in his Darband-nāma-ye jadīd (early 19th century), reported that he had drawn on books written in Persian, Turkish, and Arabic and had selected what he believed to be reliable (Akhundov, p. 246; Sovremenniki, p. 61). In addition to reports on the construction of the Naryn-qaḷʿa fortress and the inhab­itants of his native city, the book contains invaluable information on religious life; by the 1700s Jews, Chris­tians, and both Sunni and Shiʿite Muslims coexisted peacefully in Darband, each with its own sanctuaries.

Each of the main religious buildings in Darband contained a library of manuscripts on theological, philosophical, and ethical subjects; that in the congre­gational mosque was extraordinarily, rich for its time and still continues to grow through donations. Most of these books, both manuscripts and lithographed edi­tions, are in Persian; the subjects include Shiʿite dogma, logic, lives of Sufi saints, and Shiʿite polemics. Many copies of the Koran include interlinear Persian transla­tions (for other 19th-century Persian manuscripts from Dāḡestān, see Shcheglova, esp. nos. 967, 181).

Particularly vivid evidence of the importance of the Persian language in Dāḡestān is provided by a unique Persian-Arabic-Turkish dictionary, Jāmeʿ al-loḡatayn, compiled in the late 18th century by Moḥammad Šafīʿ, known as Dabīrqādī Avārī, of Khunzak (b. 1176/1762) at the suggestion of the Avar ruler Ommo Khan (H.L.L. Institute, ms. F. 14 no. 535; Figure 32). To prepare the dictionary, Dabīrqādī traveled to Persia and other countries to master the lexical wealth of the three languages. Mīrzā Jamāl Javānšīr (1187-1269/1773-­1853), secretary to Ebrāhīm Khan (1169-1221/1756-­1806) of Karabagh (Qarābāḡ), spent six years in Khunzak after his master’s death, studying Arabic with Dabīrqādī; he also mastered the Lezgin and Avar languages. In return he tutored his teacher in Persian, giving him a taste for its vocabulary and style, which helped him in compiling his dictionary. Dabīrqādī noted, “As a result, I achieved, with the help of the Almighty, a level sufficient for understanding and conversing in these two languages [Persian and Turk­ish] to a degree that the guests of Ommo Khan need no other translator and interpreter but myself in order to translate Persian missives and explain Turkish mis­sives . . . ” (Saidov, pp. 37-40). Dabīrqādī also wrote a manual on Persian conversation and a popular Per­sian-language textbook. His translations included a rendering of Kalīla wa Demna (the “Pañcatantra” version, probably after a Persian translation), which thus became accessible to the Avars for the first time. The plots and motifs of this work were incorporated into fables and tales by many later Dāḡestānī poets, particularly the satirist Gamzat Tsadasa (1294-1370/1877-1951). It was also Dabīrqādī who devel­oped the ʿajam system of writing, based on Arabic letters but adapted to the phonetics of Dāḡestānī languages; it consists of thirty-eight letter symbols.

Evidence of the growing interest of Dāḡestānī schol­ars in Persian literature can be found in the original manuscript of a collection entitled “Dagestantsy kotorye zanimalis’ persidskim yazykom i sozdavali trudy na svoeĭ rodine” (Dāḡestānīs who have studied the Per­sian language and created works in their homeland; H.L.L. Institute, M. S. Saidov collection, ms. no. 53). It contains Persian-language texts by such major Dāḡestānī writers as Šaʿbān ʿObūdī (d. 1078/1667), Mīrzā ʿAlī Aḵtī (d. 1275/1859), and Ḥasan Qadarī (d. 1328/1910).

A powerful factor in national literary culture was translation. The Darband-nāma, for example, was translated, complete or in abridged form, into Turkish, Arabic, Russian, English, and a number of Dāḡestānī languages, including even Sirkin (Siṛḫin) and Kubačī (now dialects of Dargva). In the early 19th century stories from the Qābūs-nāma, excerpts from Leylī o Majnūn, and other Persian works were translated into various Dāḡestānī languages. Several lyrical poems by Saʿdī were translated into Lak and Avar by ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān b. Jamāl-al-Dīn Qāżī-qūmūq in the 19th cen­tury and into Lak by Yūsof Murkeli (1270-1336/1854-­1918). The manuscript collection of Dāḡestān state university includes an original letter from Bugdan of Kumukh, written in the early 19th century to a con­noisseur of the Persian language and requesting a copy of ʿOmar Ḵayyām’s poems. Of particular interest to literary scholars is Antologiya persidskoĭ literatury (XVI-XVII vv.) (Anthology of Persian literature [16th­-17th centuries]) with an interlinear Avar translation (in the collection of M. Nurmagomedov, Makhachkala). The well-known Arabic medical treatise Toḥfat al-­moʾmenīn by Moḥammad Deylamī became available to Kumykh readers through a translation from the Persian made by the Avar Nurmagomed of Khunzak; the work was also translated into Lak (H.L.L. Institute, ms. F. 14 no. 189).

Art and architecture

The influence of contact with Persians can also be observed in the broad sphere of Dāḡestānī material culture and applied arts. As Dāḡestān lies on one of the communications routes between Europe and Asia, scholars have suggested that a tradition of active artistic exchange between Persia and Dāḡestān was initiated in the Sasanian period, thus accounting for the similarity of some regional artifacts to objects from Middle Eastern countries. The extent of Persian influence in the history of the traditional arts of Dāḡestān has been considered by many prominent scholars (e.g., Bashkirov; Orbeli; idem and Trever; Debirov). It is particularly clear in ornament reflecting the themes and motifs of Sasanian art, for example, the pearled band, the lotus with half-palmettes, and the palmette. Many scholars consider carved-stone Sasanian seals (see glyptic) as particularly revealing of the history of religion and art in Persia and countries linked to it, including Dāḡestān, in the 6th and 7th centuries (M. S. Gadzhiev, p. 139).

I. A. Orbeli and K. V. Trever, and later P. M. Debirov and D. M. Atayev, demonstrated the participation of the peoples of Dāḡestān in the development of the “Sasanian” style and analyzed the survival of Persian artistic traditions in medieval Dāḡestān. Many medieval manuscripts in Persian, usually copies of the Koran or works related to theology, were abundantly decorated with colorful floral ornament. The monuments of Kara-Kureh in the Aḵtī district (9th and 10th centuries; Figure 33) and Kala-Koreish in the Dakhadaevskiĭ district (11th and 12th centuries) are decorated with carvings of a type that continued to characterize Dāḡestānī art until the 18th century; along with floral ornament, various animals and birds like the snow leopard, the peacock, the eagle, and the serin are depicted (Figure 34). Floral and animals motifs borrowed from Persian traditions underwent reinterpretation in Dāḡestān, however, as original and autonomous styles gradually evolved. Geometric stylizations became common, particularly in weaving (see carpets xv) and epigraphy. In addition, Persian ornamental painting was common on household objects and everyday utensils in Dāḡestān for centuries. A vivid example is the so-callled “Kubachi collections”, individual “home museums,” a unique phenomenon in the history of folk art. Dāḡestān craftsman, particularly in Kubachi and Kazikumukh, repeatedly participated, as early as the second half of the 19th century, in international exhibitions in Tehran and Tabrīz; many won prizes.


Persian influence was equally important in the musical culture of Dāḡestān, especially among the Tats, direct “carriers” of Persian culture. The links are clearest in conservative household ritual music. The funeral chants of Dāḡestānī Tats are closely related in intonation and structure to Shiʿite funeral chants. More often, however, Persian musical influences reached Dāḡestān through intermediaries, especially among the ethnic groups of southern Dāḡestān, the Lezgians, Tabasaranians, Rutuls, Agulus, and Tsakhur, who received them from Azerbaijan. This connection is particularly noticeable in the most ancient stratum of folk music: rituals of nature worship, chants for circle dances, and spells directed at natural elements and cataclysms. For example, the traditional “flower celebration” remains popular among the Lezgians to this day, as do the magic rituals connected with pagan worship of the moon and sun. The importance of this material can be linked with pre-Islamic Persian beliefs, including cults of fire, light, darkness, and other natural forces. Common cultural traits are also reflected in the stringed instruments: the tār, the sāz, and the kamāṇča.

In the author’s opinion, the culture of the Dāḡestānīs in former Soviet Azerbaidzhan, a culture distinct from that of predominantly Sunni Dāḡestān itself but having much in common with that of Persia, the ritual and ceremonial traditions of folk music have been particularly shaped by Shiʿite beliefs.



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Idem, Istoriko-ètimologicheskiĭ slovar’ osetinskogo yazyka, 4 vols., Leningrad, 1958-59.

M.-F. Akhundov, Istoriya narodov severnogo Kavkaza. Konets XVIII v.-1917 (History of the peoples of the northern Caucasus. Late 18th century-1917), Moscow, 1988.

Moḥammad-Ḥaydar b. Hājī Mīrzā Āqāsī, Derband-nāma-ye jadīd (The new Book of Darband), Akademiya Nauk, Institut Vostokovedeniya, St. Petersburg, ms. no. V4547.

D. M. Atayev, “Arkheologicheskie issledovaniya v gornom Dagestane osen’yu 1962” (Archeological research in the mountains of Dāḡestān in autumn 1962), in Materialy po arkheologii Dagestana (Materials on the archeology of Dāḡestān) 3, Makhachkala, 1973.

Moḥammad Avābī Aqtāšī, Darband-nāma, tr. M. A. Kazem-beg as Derbend­-nameh or the History of Derbend, St. Petersburg, 1851.

N. Kh. Avshalumova, “Narodnaya tatskaya skazka "Bezhon i Menezhon" i romanticheskaya poema Firdousi "Bizhan i Manizha"” (The Tat folk tale "Bezhon and Menezhon" and Ferdowsī’s roman­tic poem Bīžan o Manīža), in Zhanr skazki v folklore narodov Dagestana (The folk-tale genre in the folk­lore of the peoples of Dāḡestān), Makhachkala, 1987.

W. Barthold-[A. Bennigsen], “Dāghistān,” EI2II, pp. 84-89.

Idem (V. V. Bartol’d), “Dagestan,” in V. V. Bartol’d, Sochineniya (Collected works) III, Mos­cow, 1965, pp. 408-18.

Idem, “K voprosu o proiskhozhdenii "Derbend-nameh"” (On the ques­tion of the origins of the Darband-nāma), in V. V. Bartol’d, Sochineniya (Collected works) VIII, Mos­cow, 1973, pp. 469-80.

A. S. Bashkirov, Iskusstvo Dagestana. Reznye kamni (The art of Dāḡestān. Carved gemstones), Moscow, 1931.

O. G. Bol’shakov and A. L. Mongaĭt, eds., Puteshestvie Abu-Khamida al-Garnati v vostochnuyu Evropu (The journey of Abū-Ḥamīd Ḡarnāṭī to eastern Europe), Moscow, 1971.

P. M. Debirov, Arkhitekturnaya rez’ba Dagestana (Architectural carvings in Dāḡestān), Moscow, 1966.

Derbentu 5000 let (Darband is 5000 years old), Moscow, 1984.

M. G. Gadzhiev, “Novie dannye o yuzhnykh svyazyakh Dagestana v IV—III tys. do n. e.” (New data on the southern contacts of Dāḡestān in the 4th and 3rd millennia B.C.E.), in Kratkie soobshcheniya Instituta arkheologii AN SSSR (Brief communications from the Archeo­logical institute of the A.N. of the U.S.S.R.) 108, 1966, pp. 55-61.

M. S. Gadzhiev, “Pamyatniki sasanidskoĭ gliptiki iz Dagestana” (Monuments of Sasanian glyptics from Dāḡestān), in Khudo­zhestvennaya kul’tura srednevekovogo Dagestana (The artistic culture of medieval Dāḡestān), Makhachkala, 1987, pp. 139-55.

G. G. Gamzatov, M. S. Saidov, and A. R. Shikhsaidov, “Sokro­vishchnitsa pamyatnikov pis’mennosti (o Dagestanskom fonde vostochnykh rukopiseĭ)” (Treasury of literature [about the Dāḡestān collection of oriental manuscripts]), in Ezhegodnik iberiĭsko-­kavkazskogo yazykoznaniya (Annual of Ibero-Caucasian linguistics), Tbilisi, 1982, pp. 203-23.

Istoriya Dagestana (History of Dāḡestān) I-II, Mos­cow, 1967-68.

Istoriya narodov severnogo Kavkaza. Konets XVIII v.-1917 gg. (History of the peoples of the northern Caucasus. The end of the 18th century-1917), Mos­cow, 1988a.

Istoriya narodov severnogo Kavkaza s drevneĭskikh vremen do kontsa XVIII v. (History of the peoples of the northern Caucasus from ancient times to the end of the 18th century), Moscow, 1988b.

Movsês Kalankatvacʿi, Istoriya Alban (History of the Albanians), ed. K. Patkanov, St. Peters­burg, 1861.

N. V. Kapieva, Pesni narodov Dagestana (Songs of the peoples of Dāḡestān), Leningrad, 1970.

Khudozhestvennaya kul’tura srednevekovogo Dagestana (Artistic culture of medieval Dāḡestān), Makhachkala, 1987.

A. N. Kozlova, “Kollektsiya dokumentov na imya praviteleĭ Kaĭtaga v Natsional’noĭ biblioteke Parizha” (The collection of docu­ments addressed to the rulers of Qaydāq in the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris), in Bartol’dovskie chteniya, 1987. Tezisi dokladov i soobshcheniĭ (Barthold readings, 1987.

Summaries of papers and short reports), Moscow, 1987.

Idem, “Persidskiĭ yazyk v Dagestane” (Persian language in Dāḡestān), in Vzaimodeĭstvie i vzaimovliyanie tsivilizatsiĭ i kul’tur na Vostoke. Tezisu dokladov i soobshcheniĭ, III Vsesoyuznaya konferentsiya vostokovedeov (Interaction and mutual influences of civilizations and cultures of the East. Summaries of papers and short reports, Third All-Union conference of orientalists), Moscow, 1988.

A. A. Kudryavtsev, Drevniĭ Derbent (Ancient Darband), Moscow, 1982.

L. I. Lavrov, ed., Epigraficheskie pamyatniki severnogo Kavkaza (Epigraphic heritage of the northern Caucasus) I, Moscow, 1966; III, Moscow, 1980.

L. Lockhart, Nader Shah, London, 1938.

N. Ya. Marr, Plemennoĭ sostav naseleniya Kavkaza (The tribal composition of the population of the Caucasus), St. Petersburg, 1920.

N. D. Miklukho-Maklaĭ, “Opisanie tadzhik­skikh i persidskikh rukopiseĭ Instituta narodov Azii AN SSSR” (Description of the Tajik and Persian manuscripts of the Institute of Asian peoples of the A.N. of the U.S.S.R.), in Istoricheskie sochineniya (Historical works), 3rd ed., Moscow, 1973, pp. 396-­99.

M. Kh. Neĭmatova, Epigraficheskie pamyatniki i ikh znachenie v izuchenii sotsial’no-ekonomicheskoĭ istorii Azerbaĭdzhana XIV-XIX vv. (Epigraphic monu­ments and their importance in the study of the socio­economic history of Azerbaijan, 14th-19th centu­ries), Ph.D. diss., University of Baku, 1968.

G. S. Nyuberg (H. S. Nyberg), Materialy po istolkovaniyu pekhleviĭskikh nadpiseĭ Derbenta (Materials for the interpretation of the Pahlavi inscriptions from Darband), Baku, 1929.

I. M. Oranskiĭ, Iranskie yazyki v istoricheskom osveshchenii (Iranian lan­guages in historical perspective), Moscow, 1979.

I. A. Orbeli, Albanskie rel’efy i bronzovye kotly (Alba­nian reliefs and bronze cauldrons), Yerevan, 1963.

Idem and K. V. Trever, Sasanidskiĭ metall. Khudozhestvennye predmety iz zolota, serebra i bronzy (Sasanian metalwork. Art objects of gold, silver, and bronze), Moscow and Leningrad, 1935.

E. A. Pakhomov, “O nakhodke sasanidskikh nadpiseĭ v Derbente” (On the discovery of Sasanian inscrip­tions in Darband), in Kul’tura i pis’mennost Vostoka (The culture and writing of the East) IV, Baku, 1929.

Idem, K tolkovaniyu pekhleviĭskikh nadpiseĭ v Derbente (On the interpretation of the Pahlavi in­scriptions in Darband), Baku, 1930.

I. P. Petrushevskiĭ, Islam v Irane v VII-XV vv. (Islam in Iran in the 7th-15th centuries), Leningrad, 1966.

M. S. Saidov, ed., Katalog arabskikh rukopiseĭ Instituta IYaL Dagestanskogo filiala AN SSSR (Catalogue of Arabic manuscripts in the H.L.L. Institute of the Dāḡestān branch of the A.N. of the U.S.S.R.) I, Moscow, 1977.

Idem and A. R. Shikhsaidov, “Derbend-name (k istorii izucheniya)” (Darband­-nāma. On the history of research),” in Vostochnye istochniki po istorii Dagestana (Eastern sources on the history of Dāḡestān), Makhachkala, 1980, pp. 5­64.

O. G. Shcheglova, Katalog litografirovannykh knig na persidskom yazyke v sobranii Leningradskogo otdeleniya Instituta vostokovedeniya AN SSSR (Cata­logue of lithographed books in the Persian language in the collection of the Leningrad section of the Oriental institute of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R.), 2 vols., Moscow, 1975.

A. R. Shikhsaidov, Epigraficheskie pamyatniki Dagestana X-XVII vv, kak istoricheskiĭ istochnik (Epigraphic monuments of Dāḡestān, 10th-17th centuries, as a historical source), Moscow, 1984.

Sovremenniki o A. Bakikhanove (Contemporaries on A. Bakikhanov), Baku, 1959. Tatskiĭ fol’klor (Tat folklore), Makhachkala, 1940.

K. V. Trever, Ocherki po istorii Kavkazskoĭ Albanii (Notes on the history of Cauca­sian Albania), Moscow and Leningrad, 1959.

G. Tsadasa, Sobranie sochineniĭ (Collected works; in Avar), 6 vols., Makhachkala, 1989.

(Gadzhi Gamzatovich Gamzatov)


ii. Linguistic Influences

The linguistic map of Dāḡestān is one of the most varied in the world. Apart from the Dāḡestānī lan­guages proper (i.e., the Northeast Caucasian languages), both Turkic (Kumyk in the north, Azerī in the south) and Iranian (Tatī in the east) languages are spoken. In addition, since the early 19th century Russian has become important as the language of administration and education, as well as the lingua franca for com­munication among ethnic groups.

The Northeast Caucasian languages fall into three groups: the Avar-Andi-Dido group in the northwest; the Lak-Dargva group in the central zone; and the Lezgian (Samurian) group in the south and southeast. Lezgian languages are also spoken in scattered settlements in former Soviet Azerbaidzhan. In all there are about twenty-six languages in these three groups. Although they are all clearly related, the precise nature of the genetic relationship is still a matter of debate. In addition, a remote link between the Dāḡestānī and Nakh (North Central Caucasian) languages is likely. On the other hand, there is no evidence for assuming a genetic affiliation with the other languages of the Caucasus (South Caucasian [Kartvelian], Northwest Caucasian), and suggested associations with languages outside the Caucasus reflect pure guesswork.

Five of the Dāḡestānī languages have the status of literary languages: Avarian from the first group, Lak and Dargva from the second, and Lezgian and Tabasaran from the third. There is some evidence that Udi, also from the third group and now spoken mainly in Azerbaidzhan and in one small settlement in eastern Georgia, represents the last offshoot of ancient Alba­nian. Albanian was spoken over a much wider area in southeastern Transcaucasia and was the language of some Christian literature from the 5th-8th centuries (for bibliography, see Schulze). Arabic, which was introduced after the Islamic conquest, was for a long time the official language in the many petty states of the area. Arabic script was also used for recording texts in various languages (Avarian, Dargva, Lak, Lezgian). In the 19th century alphabets were created for several languages on the basis of the Russian script. After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 the Arabic script was used for some languages, but later the Latin alphabet was adopted; since 1938 the Cyrillic alphabet has been used, with numerous modifications.

Iranian languages, particularly from the south, have exerted a considerable influence on the languages of Transcaucasia since prehistoric times. It can therefore be assumed that linguistic contacts between Dāḡestān and the Iranian peoples extended back into remote antiquity. Specialized studies of whatever mutual borrowings and structural influences may have oc­curred are lacking. Furthermore, investigations of the chronology of the Iranian loanwords in the Dāḡestānī languages and their immediate dialectal sources are still to be carried out.

The majority of Iranian loanwords are Persian names for agricultural tools, plants, animals (especially those of the southern regions), and articles of clothing, as well as words relating to social and religious phenom­ena, folklore, and the like. Examples include Avarian nukar, Dargva and Lezgian nuker “servant, body­guard” (Mong.-Pers. nowkar); Dargva, Lezgian dušman “enemy” (Pers. došman); Avarian, Dargva žan, Lezgian čan “soul” (Pers. jān); Avarian and Dargva pal, Lezgian fal “prophecy” (Pers. fāl); Dargva and Lezgian rang “color” (Pers. rang); Avarian čiraqˊ, Dargva and Lezgian čirağ “lamp” (Pers. čerāḡ); Avarian and Dargva pardav, Lezgian perde “curtain” (Pers. parda); Avarian gamuš, Dargva gamut, Lezgian gamiš “buffalo” (Pers. gā(v)mēš); Dargva and Lezgian tut “mulberry” (Pers. tūd, tūt); Avarian and Dargva nar, Lezgian (a)nar “pomegranate” (Pers. anār); Avarian and Dargva kamal “belt” (Pers. kamar); Dargva and Lezgian tavxana “(living) room” (Pers. tāvḵāna); Avarian azdağo, Dargva aždağa, Lezgian aždağan “dragon” (Pers. aždahā). To a large extent Persian loanwords in those languages were transmitted through Azerī Turkish, which was formerly a common language of communi­cation among different ethnic groups over wide areas in the northern and eastern Caucasus. Most of these loanwords belong to their common lexical stock, so that the sources may be difficult to determine in each separate instance.

Direct language contacts between the ancient Ira­nian-speaking peoples of the northern Caucasus and southern Russia (the Scythians, Sarmatians, and Alans) and the peoples of northern Dāḡestān cannot be excluded but are difficult to prove. So far as currently available evidence permits conclusions, lexical bor­rowings in either direction were usually mediated through the Nakh languages (Chechen, Ingush) or Turkic (formerly Kumyk, as well as Avarian, a language of communication among ethnic groups in north­ern Dāḡestān). Turkic lexical items may also have been transmitted to the Dāḡestānī languages through Nakh and Ossetic.

As evidence for early language contact between the Alans, or the later Ossetians, and the Dāḡestānīs there is Ossetic läg “man(ly),” which is certainly related to Nakh (Chechen, Ingush) laj (Bats lag, proto-Nakh *lag) “slave,” Avarian lag “idem”; from Avarian the word passed into various other Dāḡestānī languages (Casanova et al., p. 133). The name Lak also belongs to this complex, as does Old Georgian Lek’i (pl. Lek’ni), designating the inhabitants of Dāḡestān (now only the Lezgians). It seems natural to connect this word with the Greek Lēgai, Lēges, the name for the inhabitants of the northeastern Caucasus (Strabo, 11.5; Plutarch, Pompeius 36). The word has no convincing Iranian etymology and must be ascribed to the Cauca­sian substratum of Ossetic (Abaev, II, pp. 19-21). It appears that Ossetic läg occurred as a proper name in the 11th- or 12th-century Alanic Zelenchuk inscrip­tion, written in Greek letters lak (Zgusta), which would provide a terminus ante quem for the Ossetic adapta­tion of the word.

Words relating to animal husbandry seem to connect Ossetic with languages of Dāḡestān. For example, fos (Oss. I.), fons (Oss. D.) “cattle, property” must be related to Avarian panz “horned cattle” and Dido poso “cattle, wealth.” Chechen hons and Ingush fos “booty” have been borrowed from Ossetic. The Digor form (with n) suggests that the word is unlikely to have been derived from an Iranian *pasu- “livestock” (Oss. fiİƎs, fus “sheep”). Ossetic gal “bull” has been connected with Dargva q’äl, Lezgian kal, and Udi käl “cow” and may ultimately be connected with Persian kal “buf­falo, a male animal,” Kurdish kel “calf, buffalo, ox,” Ṭāleš kəl “ox,” kələ “steer.” The word seems not to occur in Nakh. The initial g- of the Ossetic word shows that it is not an Old Iranian inheritance (Abaev, I, p. 506; Khaĭdakov, pp. 21ff.),

It should be stressed that lexical interference from the Iranian languages, mostly those of the south, ap­pears to have been generally limited to technical vocabulary; that is, the words have been borrowed with their referents. Quite a number of these loanwords belong to the vocabulary common to Persian and Arabic; in most instances, however, they have been adopted from Persian into the local languages of Dāḡestān.

For further discussion and bibliography, see CAUCASUS ii.



V. I. Abaev, Istoriko-etimo­logicheskiĭ slovar’ osetinskogo yazyka (Historical-­etymological dictionary of the Ossetic language), 4 vols., Leningrad, 1958-89.

N. S. Dzhidalaev, Tyurkizmy v dagestanskikh yazykakh (Turkisms in the Dāḡestānī languages), Moscow, 1990, pp. 11-54.

S. M. Gasanova et al., Sravnitel’no-istoricheskaya leksika dagestanskikh yazykov (Comparative historical vocabulary of the Dāḡestānī languages), Mos­cow, 1971.

B. Geiger et al., Peoples and Languages of the Caucasus, Janua Linguarum 6, the Hague, 1959.

S. M. Khaĭdakov, Sravnitel’no-sopostavitel’nyĭ slovar’ dagestanskikh yazykov (Comparative dictio­nary of the Dāḡestānī languages), Moscow, 1973.

G. A. Klimov, Kavkazskie yazyki (Caucasian languages), Moscow, 1965; tr. W. Boeder as Die kaukasischen Sprachen, Hamburg, 1969.

M.-S. M. Musaev, Leksika darginskogo yazyka (Lexicon of the Dargin lan­guage), Makhachkala, 1978, pp. 25-28.

W. Schulze, Die Sprache der Uden in Nord-Azerbajdžan, Wiesbaden, 1982.

N. Trubetzkoy, “Remarques sur quelques mots iraniens empruntés par les langues du Caucase septentrionale,” MSL 22, 1922, pp. 247-52.

Idem, “Zur Vorgeschichte der ostkaukasischen Sprachen,” in Mélanges de linguistique et de philologie offerts à Jacq. van Ginnekeṇ . . . , Paris, 1937, pp. 171-78.

Yazyki narodov SSSR IV. Iberiĭsko-kavkazskie yazyki (The languages of the peoples of the U.S.S.R. IV. Ibero-Caucasian languages), Mos­cow, 1967, pp. 247-704.

L. Zgusta, The Old Ossetic Inscription from the River Zeleṇčuk, Vienna, 1987.

(Fridrik Thordarson)

Figure 30. Pahlavi building inscriptions, Darband, 6th century. After Pakhomov, nos. 1-3.

Figure 31. Detail of a tombstone inscription, with Persian verses, Khnov, 14th century. After Shikh­saidov, 1984, p. 210 no. 91a.

Figure 32. Page from a manuscript of Jāmeʿ al-loḡatayn by Dabīrqādī of Khunzak, early 19th century. Gamzat Tsadasa Institute of History, Languages, and Litera­ture, Dāḡestān Scientific Center, Makhachkala, ms. F. 14 no. 535.

Figure 33. Drawing, ornamental stucco panel from the base of one of the supports in the mosque of Kara-Kureh, 10th century. After Shikhsaidov, 1984, p. 103 no. 37b.

Figure 34. Drawing, wooden doors from the mosque of Kala-Koreish, 12th-13th century. After Khudo­zhestvennaya kul’tura srednevekovogo Dagestana.

(Gadzhi Gamzatovich Gamzatov, Fridrik Thordarson)

Originally Published: December 15, 1993

Last Updated: November 11, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VI, Fasc. 6, pp. 568-576