Kingdom of Alania
Late 9th century[1]–1240
Common languagesAlanic
Scythian religion
Christianity (10th century)[2]
Historical eraMiddle Ages
• Independence
from the Khazars
Late 9th century[1]
• Fall of Maghas during the Mongol conquests
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Khazar Khaganate
Mongol Empire

Alania was a medieval kingdom of the Iranian Alans (Proto-Ossetians)[3][4][5][6] that flourished between the 9th–13th centuries in the Northern Caucasus, roughly in the location of latter-day Circassia, Chechnya, Ingushetia, and modern North Ossetia–Alania. With its capital at Maghas, the location of which is still disputed, it became independent from the Khazars in the late 9th century. It was Christianized by a Byzantine missionary soon after, in the early 10th century.

According to 10th century historian al-Mas'udi, indicates that the Alan kingdom stretched from Daghestan to Abkhazia.[7] Reaching its peak in the 11th century, under the rule of king Durgulel,[8] it profited from controlling a vital trade route through the Darial Pass. It maintained close relations not only with the Byzantine Empire but also the Kingdom of Georgia as well as the small Dagestani kingdom of Sarir, the first two also employing Alan mercenaries, who were infamous horsemen. It was responsible for spreading Orthodox Christianity among neighbouring pagan peoples such as the Circassians and Vainakhs. The kingdom eventually declined from the 12th century and had largely ceased to function as a political entity by the early 13th century. In 1239/1240 the Mongols invaded, stormed and destroyed the capital Maghas in the process.


The name Alania derives from the Old Iranian stem *Aryāna-, a derivative form of the Indo-Iranian stem *arya- ('Aryan'). It is cognate with the name of Iran (Ērān), which stems from the Old Persian *Aryānām ('of the Aryans').[9][10]

In other sources, they're mentioned as “Ās”. In Russian chronicles and Hungarian sources they're called “Yas”.[11]


Further information: History of North Ossetia–Alania

The Alans (Alani) originated as an Iranian-speaking 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.[12]

As vassal of Khazaria

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.[13] 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.[14]

The Darial Gorge on a 19th-century photo by Alexander Roinashvili. On the hill behind the modern Russian fortress are the remains of the medieval border castle (sometimes called "Tamara's castle") separating Alania from Georgia.

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 succour 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.[citation needed]

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.[15]

Independence and Christianization (late 9th–10th centuries)

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

In the late 9th century, Alania became independent from the Khazars.[1] In the early 10th century, the Alans fell under the influence of the Byzantine Empire due to King Constantine III of Abkhazia's activities in north Caucasus. He sent an army into Alan territory and, with the Byzantine patriarch Nicholas Mystikos, converted the Alans to Christianity.[16] The conversion is documented in the letters of Patriarch Nicholas Mysticus to the local archbishop, Peter, who was appointed here through King George II of Abkhazia's efforts.[16] Richard Foltz has suggested that only certain elite Alan families were Christianized, the bulk of the population continuing to follow their original pagan traditions.[17]

According to Islamic sources, it describes Alania as a vast country with 1,000 settlements. And the population consisted of both Christians and Pagans, mountaineers and nomads. in the north, the Alans bordered on the Hungarians and the Bulgars. In the east they gave their name to the Daryal gorge, called “Gate of the Alans”.[7]

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:[18]

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.[19]

Later history (11th–13th centuries)

Political map of the Caucasus region in 1060

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.[20] This happened in 1033, the year when the Alans and the Rus sacked the coast of Shirvan in modern-day Azerbaijan.

The raids were possibly orchestrated by the Byzantine Empire and its Rus vassal in Tmutarakan, prince Mstislav, and might have been meant to intimidate the various Muslim emirates in the Caucasus in face of the planned Byzantine expansion in Armenia.[21] The Rus raiders might have been arrivals from Scandinavia who entered Byzantium in 1030.[22] The Alan king at that time seems to have been called Gabriel, known from a contemporary Greek seal where he styled himself by the Byzantine title exousiokrator.[23]

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.[24] Two Russian crosses, datable to ca. 1200, were discovered by archaeologists in Arkhyz, the heartland of medieval Alania.[25]

Greek seal of Gabriel, exousiokrator and king of Alania, c. 1030–1045
Possible depiction of an 11th-century Alan king, perhaps Durgulel, in the Senty church[26]

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[12] 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, a half-Alanian herself, 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.[citation needed]

Mongol conquest and aftermath (13th–14th centuries)

By the early 13th century the kingdom of Alania had factually disintegrated into a large number of autonomous clans and villages ruled by infighting chiefs leading several dozen to several hundred retainers.[27][28] This state of anarchy was described by the Hungarian monk Julian, who in 1236 observed that "there are as many princes as villages, none of whom owes allegiance to another. The war there is incessant, leader against leader, village against village."[29] The Mongols, led by the generals Jebe and Subutai, met the Alans for the first time in 1222 after passing through Shirvan and Daghestan. They were confronted by a Kipchak-Alan alliance, which they defeated by scheming with the Kipchaks. Afterwards, they pushed further west, crushing a Rus alliance at the Kalka river in 1223.[30]

Political map of the Caucasus region in 1245

The second Mongol invasion of Alania began in 1239 under Möngke and Güyük.[29] While some Alanian fortresses, in particular Maghas, resisted the Mongols it seems that many local noblemen actually collaborated with the invaders to gain an advantage over their rivals.[31] Those who resisted formed a confederation led by a certain Ajis. The climax of the invasion was the siege of Maghas, which began in November or December 1239 and lasted until February 1240. Aided by Alan auxiliaries, the fortress eventually fell and the population got massacred. Ajis himself was captured.[32] Many Alans fled westwards until reaching Hungary probably still in 1239, where they became known as the Jassic people (jászsok) who preserved their language until the 16th century.[33]

After the invasion the Mongols installed two local vassal princes, called, according to the Yuan chronicle, Arslan and Hanghusi, to rule on their behalf.[31] Both joined the Mongol army, but were killed in combat soon afterwards.[34] With the departure of the army in 1240 Mongol influence quickly weakened, especially in the highlands.[35] Appreciating their skill as horsemen,[36] the Mongols deported thousands of Alans to Mongolia in their need of fresh warriors for the conquest of the Southern Song and Dali.[37] They became known as asud in Mongolian or asu in Mandarin[36] and were part of the privileged semu class, foreigners from western and central Asia who were employed in the administration and the higher echelons of the military.[38] When Kubilai Khan, who had a daughter with an Alan woman himself,[39] founded the Yuan Dynasty in 1271 he also established an influential Alan guard unit of 3.000 men that until 1309 was said to number 30.000 men. Converted to Catholicism by a Franciscan missionary in 1299, they stayed loyal to the Yuan until the fall of the dynasty in 1368, when they escorted Toghon Temür to Mongolia. They continued to play a significant factor[a] in Mongolian politics until a failed rebellion in 1510, although remaining, while now completely Mongolized, distinct clans to this day.[41]

The Nuzal chapel, which was probably built in the second half of the 13th century and still contains various Christian frescoes.[42]

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 French-Flemish monk and traveller William of Rubruck mentions Alans numerous times in the account of his 1253–1255 journey through Eurasia to the Great Khan, e.g. Alans living as Mongol subjects in Crimea, Old Astrakhan, the Khan's capital Karakoram, and also still as freemen in their Caucasian homeland ("the Alans or Aas, who are Christians and still fight the Tartars").[43]

Figurine of folk heroine "Zadaleski Nana" ("the mother of Zadalesk"), also known as "mother of the Ossetes", who is said to have hid orphaned children in a cave during Tamerlane's invasion.[44]

Classic Alania finally came to an end in the late 14th century, when the Turco-Mongol warlord Tamerlane invaded. Crushing the Golden Horde at the Battle of the Terek River in 1395, he subsequently attacked several Alan chiefs, resulting in months of massacres and enslavement that are still remembered in a popular Ossetian folk song called "the mother of Zadalesk". The invasion of Tamerlane resulted in the flight of the Alans deep into the Caucasian mountains and the end of the Alans' presence in the steppes north of the Caucasus. The few who remained were eventually absorbed into the Circassian Kabardians and the Turkic Karachays and Balkars.[45] The retreat into the mountains resulted in the ethnogenesis of a new people: the Ossetes,[46] represented by the Digor in the west and the Iron in the east.[47] The Ossetes remained in a state of near-total isolation until 1774, when they requested protection from the Russian Empire, resulting in the foundation of Vladikavkaz in 1784 and the beginning of the Russian conquest of the Caucasus.[48]

Known rulers

The nomenclature used by the rulers of Alania is unknown. Where they are mentioned by historical records, they are variously called "lord", "prince", "king", "tsar", and by the Byzantines, exousiokrator. Notably, the Byzantines never referred to other foreign rulers by this title, using arkhon or exousiastes instead.[49]

Non-dynastic/dynasty unknown

Tsarazon/Tsærasantæ dynasty

Bagrationi dynasty

Non-dynastic/dynasty unknown


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).[53]



  1. ^ A prominent asud figure was Arughtai, who from 1400 to 1434 acted as a kingmaker in the Northern Yuan dynasty.[40]


  1. ^ a b Kouznetsov & Lebedynsky 2005, p. 260.
  2. ^ "ALANS". Encyclopædia Iranica. Bibliotheca Persica Press. Retrieved 16 May 2015.
  3. ^ Waldman & Mason 2006, pp. 12–14, 572–573
  4. ^ West 2009, pp. 619–621
  5. ^ "Alani". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 16 May 2015. The Alani who remained under the rule of the Huns are said to be ancestors of the modern Ossetes of the Caucasus. .
  6. ^ "OSSETIC LANGUAGE i. History and description". Encyclopædia Iranica. Bibliotheca Persica Press. Retrieved 16 May 2015.
  7. ^ a b "ALANS". Encyclopædia Iranica. Bibliotheca Persica Press. Retrieved 16 May 2015
  8. ^ Kouznetsov & Lebedynsky 2005, pp. 186, 260.
  9. ^ Benveniste 1973, p. 300.
  10. ^ Mallory & Adams 1997, p. 213.
  11. ^ "ALANS". Encyclopædia Iranica. Bibliotheca Persica Press. Retrieved 16 May 2015
  12. ^ a b Bailey, Harold Walter. Alans. Archived 2012-01-21 at the Wayback Machine Encyclopædia Iranica Online Edition. Accessed on August 20, 2007.
  13. ^ Alemany 2000, pp. 200–204.
  14. ^ Theophanes the Confessor (1982). The Chronicle of Theophanes: Anni Mundi 6095–6305 (A.D. 602–813). Stanford: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 85. ISBN 0812211286.
  15. ^ Golb, Norman; Pritsak, Omeljan (1982). Khazarian Hebrew Documents of the Tenth Century. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. pp. 113, 115. ISBN 0801412218.
  16. ^ a b Rayfield, Donald (2012). Edge of Empires: A History of Georgia. London: Reaktion Books. pp. 63–64. ISBN 978-1780230306.
  17. ^ Richard Foltz The Ossetes: Modern-Day Scythians of the Caucasus, London: Bloomsbury, 2021, pp. 44-50.
  18. ^ Al-Mas'udi notes that the Alanian king married a sister of the king of Sarir.
  19. ^ Quoted in Alemany, p. 260.
  20. ^ Alemany 2000, p. 7.
  21. ^ Shepard 2006, pp. 35–36.
  22. ^ Shepard 2006, p. 36.
  23. ^ Shepard 2006, pp. 36–37.
  24. ^ Kuznetsov, X-II.
  25. ^ Kuznetsov, X-I.
  26. ^ Beletsky & Vinogradov 2011, pp. 51–52.
  27. ^ Latham-Sparkle 2022a, p. 214.
  28. ^ Latham-Sparkle 2022b, p. 58, 59.
  29. ^ a b Latham-Sparkle 2022a, p. 220.
  30. ^ Latham-Sparkle 2022a, p. 216.
  31. ^ a b Latham-Sparkle 2022b, pp. 58–59.
  32. ^ Latham-Sparkle 2022a, p. 221.
  33. ^ Kouznetsov & Lebedynsky 2005, pp. 198–200.
  34. ^ Alemany 2000, pp. 408–410.
  35. ^ Latham-Sparkle 2022a, pp. 221–222.
  36. ^ a b Foltz 2022, p. 51.
  37. ^ Latham-Sparkle 2022a, p. 222.
  38. ^ Baumer 2016, p. 223.
  39. ^ Toepel 2012, p. 311.
  40. ^ Tsai 2017, p. 27.
  41. ^ Foltz 2022, pp. 51–52.
  42. ^ Kouznetsov & Lebedynsky 2005, p. 196.
  43. ^ W. W. Rockhill: The journey of William of Rubruck to the eastern parts of the world, 1253-55, as narrated by himself, with two accounts of the earlier journey of John of Pian de Carpine. tr. from the Latin and ed., with an introductory notice, by William Woodville Rockhill (London: Hakluyt Society, 1900). Acc. to: Chaps. IX and XXII.
  44. ^ Foltz 2022, p. 163.
  45. ^ Kouznetsov & Lebedynsky 2005, pp. 237–240.
  46. ^ Kouznetsov & Lebedynsky 2005, p. 237.
  47. ^ Kouznetsov & Lebedynsky 2005, p. 243.
  48. ^ Foltz 2022, p. 83.
  49. ^ Toynbee, Arnold Joseph (1973). Constantine Porphyrogenitus and his world. Oxford University Press. p. 409. ISBN 9780192152534.
  50. ^ Kvachantiradze, Eka (2012). "Urdure" (PDF). Caucasus in Georgian Sources: Foreign States, Tribes, Historical Figures. Encyclopedical Dictionary. Tbilisi: Favorite. p. 376. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-10-20.
  51. ^ Кузнецов В.А.: Алания в X-XIII вв., page 30
  52. ^ a b Кузнецов В.А.: Алания в X-XIII вв., page 33
  53. ^ Shnirelman, Victor (2006). The Politics of a Name: Between Consolidation and Separation in the Northern Caucasus. Acta Slavica Iaponica 23, pp. 37-49.


Further reading