Prof. George Hewitt

Western travellers to the Caucasus

Western travellers to the Caucasus, in J. Speake (ed.) The Literature of Travel and Exploration, 1, 199-202. 2003. Fitzroy Dearbon.

Mongols held suzerainty and Genoese Black Sea trading-posts were established when Dominican Johannes de Galonifontibus, Bishop of Nakhichevan from 1377 (Archbishop of Sultanieh from 1398), completed in 1404 an account of his oriental experiences. Enumerating the Caucasian peoples and languages, he perspicaciously demarcated Circassia (Zyquia sive Tarquasia), Abkhazia, Mingrelia and Georgia (J/Ioriania – the form Georgiania is known from the mid-13th century) as countries with separate languages. Constantinople's fall (1453) subsequently hampered communion with the West.

Travel restarted with 17th-century missionaries, whose medical and pedagogical expertise helped counterbalance Orthodox (or pagan) reservations. Dominican Prefects Dortelli D'Ascoli and Giovanni da Lucca (1630s) extended Giorgio Interiano's description of Circassia (and Abkhazia). Theatine proselytisers targeted Mingrelia/western Georgia (Capuchins the eastern provinces) – the Vatican's Fide Press further contributed by printing the first Georgian books (Chikobava/Vateishvili). Many, including mission-head Don Pietro Avitabile (1626-1638), recounted their experiences. Prefect to Mingrelia, Arcangelo Lamberti (resident 1633-1649), penned valuable observations on every aspect of Mingrelian life. Simultaneously, Don Christoforo de Castelli (living locally 1627/8-1654), composed not only De Iberia Orientalis Regni Eiusque Recentulis Bellis but two albums of sketches (over 500 survive) vividly depicting inter alia architecture and the dress of different Abkhazian, Mingrelian, Imeretian, and east Georgian social classes. Another Prefect to Mingrelia, Joseph Marie Zampi, a 23-year denizen from approximately 1645, contributed a third significant source in his description of Mingrelian religious practice. This he handed to Jean Chardin (1643-1713) in 1672. A French traveller who became English(!) ambassador in Holland, Chardin translated and incorporated it as a substantial part of his own description of a sometimes perilous journey through Transcaucasia (1672-3), which reflects Ottoman and Persian influence in western and eastern parts, respectively – a Turkish organized slave-trade flourished from various Mingrelian ports. Linguistically, Zampi revealingly observed that the ecclesiastical language, Georgian, was as difficult for even the Mingrelian priesthood to understand as Latin was for Italian peasants!

First to provide concrete language-examples was the illustrious (half-Abkhazian-half-)Turkish traveller, Evliya Çelebi (1611-82/3), who transcribed (1640s) precious words and phrases for Circassian, Abkhaz, their now extinct sister-tongue, Ubykh, Mingrelian and Georgian (Gippert). Latvian-born German, Johannes Anton Güldenstädt (1745-81), included more extensive materials from most of the Caucasian languages as part of his comprehensive survey of the entire Caucasus, undertaken between 1770 and 1773 at the behest of the Russian Academy. Another German, Jacob Reineggs (1744-93), while serving (from 1779) east Georgian monarch Erek’le II, having attracted Potemkin's attention became Russian Resident in Tiflis (Tbilisi), leaving historico-geographical and ethnographic writings for posthumous publication. Captain de Grailly de Foix, a French officer in the Russian military, wrote an eye-witness account of Count Todtleben's expedition to Georgia (1769-71), which allows glimpses of Russian attitudes shortly before Russo-(east) Georgian relations were formalized in the Treaty of Georgievsk (1783). Marie Félicité Brosset (1802-80), a mid-century French traveller to Transcaucasia again on behalf of the Russian Academy, published vast quantities of mainly philological work on Georgian (and Armenian).

Chardin had drawn the first panorama of Tiflis; the second appeared in the work of Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1656-1708), French traveller/botanist, who stayed with missionaries in Tbilisi in 1701 on his scholarly tour of the Near East. Swiss antiquarian/geologist François Dubois de Montpéreux (1798-1850) and Polish-born German naturalist/ethnographer Gustav Radde (1831-1903), who helped Tbilisi's Caucasian Museum reopen (1867), also published volumes of scientific and general interest after travels (1831-4) or residence (1863-1903), respectively.

Commercial potential was investigated by Frenchmen Jacques François Gamba (1763-1833), Consul in Tbilisi 1821-4, who was well-acquainted with Georgian-speaking regions and travelled to Circassia, Abkhazia and Mingrelia, and aristocrat Jacques Victor Edouard Taitbout de Marigny (1793-1853), who, firstly in Russian service, familiarized himself with especially coastal Circassia (1813-18), becoming Holland's (Vice-)Consul for the Black Sea from 1821.

Focus shifted to political/humanitarian issues with the first Briton to step foot in Circassia, Scotsman David Urquhart (1805-77), social activist/sometime-diplomat, who designed Circassia's national flag. His brief sojourn in 1834 had profound, if atypical, consequences. Vehemently pro-Turkish, he championed Circassian opposition to Russia's dubious claims to their country and was indirectly responsible for two of the most important travel-books to emerge from 19th-century peregrinations in the Caucasus. James Stanislaus Bell, having arranged (1836) for The Vixen to run Russia's blockade of Circassia with a cargo of salt, saw the vessel illegally impounded – Lord Palmerston declined to demand restitution, setting a precedent for the insouciance towards unwarranted aggression against North Caucasians that the West has manifested ever since. With strengthened determination, Bell took up residence in Circassia (1837-9), accompanied for a year by Times correspondent, J. A. Longworth. Both published poignant journals relating the Circassian, Ubykh and Abkhazian mountaineers' heroic struggle to defend their independence against often wanton brutality, while giving sympathetic insights into a lifestyle that within 25 years was to vanish forever. The moral of Bell's and Longworth's intimate memoirs is summed up in Urquhart's stinging rebuke: "When she [England] proclaims herself the friend of the powerful and the ally of the aggressor, she ceases to have a situation among mankind, not because her fleets are disarmed, but because her character has sunk." Captain Edmund Spencer authored parallel accounts, and all these British travellers were branded "spies" by Russian/Soviet tradition. By contrast, Caucasia's first American guest, George Leighton Ditson, severely disappoints, questioning Spencer's (indeed all Englishmen's!) veracity and dedicating his book to Russia's Caucasian Viceroy, Prince Vorontsov.

French governess, Anna Drancy, became an unwilling visitor to the Daghestan of Shamil, guerrilla-leader in north-east Caucasia, where she observed village-life. After her release, she described her captivity (1854-5), which followed a raid that seized aristocratic Georgian hostages to be bargained for Shamil's eldest son. More conventional travel to these remote parts was undertaken afterRussia's final conquest (1864) and the flight to Ottoman lands of most North West (plus some North East) autochthons by Hon. John Abercromby, Sir Arthur Augustus Thurlow Cunynghame, and John Frederick Baddeley (1854-1940), whose trek encountered Ingush-Chechens.

Sport is represented by Douglas William Freshfield, conqueror of Elbrus, Europe's highest peak, and other Caucasian challenges in the 1860-80s, who produced wonderful evocations of the mountains and a peregrination from Europe's highest inhabited village (Ushguli in Svanetia) through Abkhazia; Freshfield, Mrs. Harvey and Britain's (thus far) sole consular representative to Abkhazia, William Gifford Palgrave, all allude to Abkhazia's desolation after the mass-exodus of its indigenous population. Sir Clive Phillipps-Wolley's journal of usually unsuccessful attempts to slaughter Svanetia's wildlife pales in comparison.

[Sir] John Oliver Wardrop's (1864-1948) post-university jaunt through Georgia (1887) led to not only a charmingly illustrated travel-book but a life-long love-affair with the country and its language, shared subsequently by his sister, Marjory Scott (1869-1909). Both translated important literary works, laying the foundation for UK Georgian studies. Sir John became HMG's representative (1918-21) to Independent Georgia (cf. Bechhofer), establishing the Wardrop Collection (Bodleian Library) and the Wardrop Scholarship in Marjory's memory.

US war-correspondent, Negley Farson, was perhaps the last (1929) to enjoy the freedom to travel across the range before Stalin sealed his native region to foreign eyes. His sensitive account cautions: "[The mountains] 'possess' you. Once you have felt the spell of the Caucasus you will never get over it."


Travel Writing

Abercromby, Hon. John, A Trip through the Eastern Caucasus, with a chapter on the languages of the country, 1889 Avitabile, Don Pietro, Relazione di Georgia, anni 1624-1638, 1650.

Baddeley, John Frederick, The Rugged Flanks of Caucasus, 2 vols, 1940 An engrossing and informative portrayal, with detailed maps and the author's own illustrations, of the north-central and north-eastern areas with their tribes. Baddeley also wrote the acclaimed Russian Conquest of the Caucasus (1908; reprinted 1999). A one-time correspondent in St. Petersburg, his opportunity to visit the Caucasus came as part of the late 19th-century quest to exploit Baku's and Grozny's oil.

Barbaro, Giosafat, Travels to Tana and Persia by Josafa (Giosafat) Barbaro and Ambrogio Contarini, translated from the Italian by William Thomas and S [i.e. E]. A. Roy, with an introduction by Lord Stanley of Alderley, 1873; reprinted 1963

Giosafat Barbaro (1413-1494) and Ambrogio Cantarini (?-1499) were two Venetian diplomats who recorded impressions of XVth-century Caucasia Bechhofer[-Roberts], Carl Eric, In Denikin's Russia and the Caucasus, 1919-1920, 1921

Bell, James Stanislaus, Journal of a Residence in Circassia During the Years 1837, 1838 and 1839, 2 vols, 1840 Bernoville, Raphael, La Souanétie libre, 1875

Bodenstedt, Friedrich Martin von, Die Völker des Kaukasus und ihre Freiheitskämpfe gegen die Russen, 2nd edition, 1849; reworked in 2 vols 1855

Borromeo, Andrea, Relazione di Georgia [Letter of 8 June 1658]

Borromeo, Andrea, Relazione della Georgia, Mingrelia, e Missione de Padri Teatini in quelle parti, 1704

Bryce, Viscount James, Transcaucasia and Ararat, being notes of a vacation tour in the autumn of 1876, 1878

Cameron, George Poulet, Personal Adventures and Excursions in Georgia, Circassia and Russia, 2 vols, 1845

Chardin, Chevalier Jean, Journal de Voyage de Chevalier Jean Chardin en Perse, 1686

Chardin, Chevalier Jean, Voyages de Monsieur le Chevalier Chardin en Perse, et autres lieux de l’Orient, 3 vols, 1711; as A New and Accurate Description of Persia and other Eastern Nations, translated by Edmond Lloyd, 1724; abridged as The Travels of Sir John Chardin through Mingrelia and Georgia into Persia, 1777

Contarini, Ambrogio -- see under G. Barbaro Cunynghame, Sir Arthur Augustus Thurlow, Travels in the Eastern Caucasus on the Caspian and Black Seas, especially in Daghestan, and on the frontiers of Persia and Turkey during the summer of 1871, 1872 da Lucca, Giovanni, 17th Century Description of Circassia and Western Caucasia (continuing D'Ascoli) included in Recueil des Voyages au Nord, contenant divers mémoires très utiles au commerce et à la navigation, 10 vols, 1715 Dapper, Olfert, Asia, of Naukeurige beschryving van het rijk des Grooten Mogols...Beneffens een volkome beschryving van geheel Persie, Schirwan, Adirbeitzan, Karabach, Sagistan, Dagestan, Georgie, Mengrelie, Imereti, Kacheti, Karduel, Guriel, Avagasie, Circassie, Kurdistan en andere Gebuur-gewesten, 1672 D'Ascoli, Dortelli, Descritione del Mar Negro e della Tartaria, 1634 de Castelli, Don Christoforo, Relazione e Album dei Schizzi sulla Georgia del Secolo XVII (Text & drawings prepared for publication with Georgian translation and commentary by Bezhan Giorgadze), 1976 de Galonifontibus, Johannes, Libellus de notitia orbis, 1404 Ditson, George Leighton, Circassia or a Tour to the Caucasus, 1850 Drancy, Anna -- see under E. Merlieux Dubois de Montpéreux, François, Voyage autour du Caucase, chez les Tcherkesses et les Abkhases, en Colchide, en Géorgie, en Arménie et en Crimée, 6 vols, 1839-43 Dumas, Alexandre (Père), Impressions de voyage: le Caucase, 3 vols, 1884; as Adventures in the Caucasus , translated in one volume by A. E. Murch, 1962 A highly entertaining account of Dumas' adventures in various parts of the Caucasus, undertaken in 1858 as Russia's 30-year campaign of attrition and destruction in Daghestan and Chechenia was approaching its climax.

Dunsheath, Joyce, Guest of the Soviets, 1959 An account of mountaineering and exploration in the Caucasus Eichwald, Ed., Reise auf dem Kaspischen Meer und in den Caucasus unternomen in den Jahren 1825-1826, 1837

Ellis, George, Memoir of a Map of the Countries Comprehended between the Black Sea and the Caspian; with an account of the Caucasian nations, and vocabularies of their languages, 1788 Farson, Negley, Caucasian Journey, 1951; as The Lost World of the Caucasus, 1988 Ferrand, N., Voyage de Crimée en Circassie: lettres édifiantes et curieuses des missions étrangères, 1820 Freshfield, Douglas William, Travels in the Central Caucasus and Bashan, including visits to Ararat and Tabreez and ascents of Kazbek and Elbruz, 1869 Freshfield, Douglas William, The Exploration of the Caucasus, 2 vols, 1896; 2nd edition, 1902

Gamba, Jacques François, Voyage dans la Russie méridionale, et particulièrement dans les provinces situées au-delà du Caucase, fait depuis 1820 jusqu’en 1824, 3 vols, 1826

Graham, Stephen, A Vagabond in the Caucasus, 1911

Grove, Florence Craufurd, The Frosty Caucasus, 1874

Güldenstädt, Johannes Anton, Reisen durch Russland und im Caucasischen Gebürge: auf Befehl der Russisch-Kayserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften herausgegeben von P. S. Pallas, 2 vols, 1787

Güldenstädt, Johannes Anton, Dr. J. A. Güldenstädts Reisen nach Georgien und Imerethi, aus seinen Papieren gänzlich umgearbeitet und verbessert, herausgegeben, und mit erklärenden Anmerkungen begleitet von J. von Klaproth, 1815

Güldenstädt, Johannes Anton, Dr. J. A. Güldenstädts Beschreibung der kaukasischen Länder, aus seinen Papieren gänzlich umgearbeitet, verbessert, herausgegeben und mit erklärenden Anmerkungen begleitet von J. Klaproth, 1834

[Klaproth's own later publications on the Caucasus are viewed as plagiaristic and not wholly reliable]

Harvey, Annie Jane Tennant (of Ickwell Bury), Turkish Harems and Circassian Homes, 1871

Herbert, Agnes, Casuals in the Caucasus, 1912

Hommaire de Hell, Adèle and Xavier, Travels in the Steppes of the Caspian Sea, the Crimea, the Caucasus, etc, 1847

Interiano, Giorgio, La Vita et Sito de Zychi, Chiamati Ciarcassi, 1502 Italian geographer/ethnographer of the 15th century whose mention of Adiga: is perhaps the first attestation of the Circassians' self-designation Ad´Ve Keun, Odette, In the Land of the Golden Fleece: through independent Menchevist Georgia, 1924 Koch, Karl Heinrich E., Reise durch Russland nach dem Kaukasus, 2 vols, 1842-3 Koch, Karl Heinrich E., Die kaukasischen Länder und Armenien, in Reiseschilderungen von Curzon, K. Koch, Macintosh, Spencer und Wilbraham, 1855

Observations by the author and other visitors, whose writings Koch translated into German.

Lamberti, Arcangelo, Relatione della Colchide, hoggi detta Mengrellia, nella quale si tratta dell’ origine, costumi e cose naturali di quei paesi, 1654 Lamberti, Arcangelo, Colchide Sacra, 1657 Longworth, J. A., A Year among the Circassians, 2 vols, 1840

Lyall, Robert, Travels in Russia, the Crimea, the Caucasus and Georgia, 2 vols, 1825; reprinted 1970

Marlinsky, Alexander, Esquisses Circassiennes -- Esquisses sur le Caucase, 1854 Marnier, X., Du Danube au Caucase. Voyages et Littérature, 1854 Merlieux, Edouard, Souvenirs d’une Française captive de Shamyl, 1857 Milaneli, Don Dzhuzep’e Dzhudiche [Don Giuseppe Giudice Milanese], c’erilebi sakartveloze. XVII sauk’une [Letters about Georgia. XVIIth Century], 1964 Mounsey, Augustus Henry, A Journey through the Caucasus and the Interior of Persia, 1872.

Mourier, Jules, La Mingrélie, Ancienne Colchide, 1883 Mummery, A. F., My Climbs in the Alps and Caucasus, 1936 Oliphant, Laurence, The Russian Shores of the Black Sea in the Autumn of 1852, with a voyage down the Volga, and a tour through the country of the Don Cossacks, 2nd revised & enlarged edition, 1853 Palgrave, William Gifford, Essays on Eastern Questions, 1872 Phillipps-Wolley, Sir Clive, Savage Svanetia, 2 vols, 1883 Pitton de Tournefort, Joseph, Relation d'un Voyage du Levant, contenant l'histoire ancienne et moderne de...l'Arménie, de la Géorgie, 2 vols, 1717 Radde, Gustav, Reisen und Forschungen im Kaukasus in 1865, 1867 Radde, Gustav, Die Chewsuren und ihr Land, 1878 Radde, Gustav, Ornis Caucasica, 1884

Reineggs, Jacob, [Christian-Rudolf Elich] Allgemeine historisch-topographische Beschreibung des Kaukasus, 2 Theile, 1796; as A General, Historical, and Topographical Description of Mount Caucasus, translated by C. Taylor, 2 vols, 1807 Serena, Carla, Excursion au Samourzakan et en Abkhasie, 1881, 1885 Some sources date the journey to 1882

Spencer, Capt. Edmund, Travels in the Western Caucasus, 2 vols, 1838

Spencer, Capt. Edmund, Travels in Circassia, Krim-Tartary etc, 2 vols, 3rd edition, 1839

Taitbout de Marigny, Jacques Victor Edouard, Three Voyages in the Black Sea to the Coast of Circassia, 1837 Urquhart, David, Progress and Present Position of Russia in the East, 1836 Usher, John, A Journey from London to Persepolis; including Wanderings in...

Georgia, 1865 von Thielman, Baron Max, Streifzüge im Kaukasus, in Persien, und in der asiatischen Türkei, 2 vols, as Journey in the Caucasus, Persia, and Turkey in Asia, translated by Charles Heneage, 1875 Wagner, Moritz, Reise nach Kolchis und nach den deutschen Colonien jenseits des Kaukasus, 1850 Wagner, Moritz, Travels in Persia, Georgia and Koordistan with Sketches of the Cossacks and the Caucasus, 3 vols, 1856 Wanderer [Elim Henry d'Avigdor], Notes on the Caucasus, 1883 Wardrop, (Sir) John Oliver, The Kingdom of Georgia: notes of travel in a land of women, wine and song, 1888, reprinted 1977

Wilbraham, Capt. Richard, Travels in Trans-Caucasian Provinces of Russia, 1837 A soldier with an interest in Russian military matters. He moved in exalted circles, meeting Nicholas II during the latter's Caucasian tour.

Wilford, Francis, On Mount Caucasus, 1799 Zampi, Giuseppe Maria, Relatione della Colchida, 17th century [vid. Chardin] Further Reading (including Soviet and post-Soviet visitors)

Belof, Nora, No Travel Like Russian Travel, London: George Allen and Unwin, 1979

Brook, Stephen, Claws of the Crab: Georgia and Armenia in Crisis, London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1992

Brosset, Laurent, Bibliographie Analytique des Ouvrages de Monsieur Marie-Félicité Brosset...1824-1879, Saint-Pétersbourg, 1887

Chenciner, Robert, Daghestan. Tradition & Survival, Richmond: Curzon, 1997

Chikobava, Arnold, and Vateishvili, Jumber (editors), First Printed Books in Georgian, Tbilisi: Xelovneba, 1983

Facsimiles of the first four printed books in Georgian (Georgian Alphabet with Prayers; Litany of Loreto; Georgian-Italian Dictionary in 1629, followed by Francisco-Maria Maggio's Georgian Grammar of 1643) are included, along with a detailed introduction in Georgian, English, and Russian de Peyssonel, Claude Charles, Traité sur le commerce de la Mer Noire, 2 vols, Paris, 1787

Evliya Chelebi, Evliya Effendi, Narrative of Travels in Europe, Asia and Africa in the Seventeenth Century, translated by Ritter Joseph von Hammer, 1846

Farson, Daniel, A Dry Ship to the Mountains, London: Michael Joseph, 1994 The post-Soviet retracing of the author's father's 1929 route produced a much inferior volume.

Gioffrè, Domenico, Lettere di Giovanni da Pontremoli mercante genovese, 1453-1459, 1982

Gippert, Jost, The Caucasian language-material in Evliya Çelebi's "Travel book": a revision, in Caucasian Perspectives, edited by George Hewitt, 1992 Hunt, Sir John, and Brasher, Christopher, The Red Snows. An account of the British Caucasus Expedition 1958, London: Travel Book Club, 1960 An account of mountaineering in the Svanetia region at a time when the Caucasus was still not generally open to Western visitors by the leader of the team that conquered Everest in 1953 and the British Olympic steeplechase-laureate. It includes a history of Caucasian climbs. Mineral-deposits explain the snow's pigmentation.

Lang, David Marshall, Count Todtleben's expedition to Georgia 1769-1771 according to a French eyewitness, in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, XIII.4, 878-907, 1954 Loewe, Dr. L., A Dictionary of the Circassian Language in two parts: English-Circassian-Turkish and Circassian-English-Turkish, Appendix to vol. VI of the Philological Society, 1854 A response to an invitation from the British Philological Society to fill in gaps left by Klaproth's studies. The sub-title adds: Containing All the Most Necessary Words for THE TRAVELLER, THE SOLDIER, AND THE SAILOR. The Turkish is written in Ottoman characters, and the Arabic script (with Roman phonetic transcription) is also employed to render the Circassian. Maclean, Sir Fitzroy, To Caucasus. The End of All the Earth, London: Jonathan Cape, 1976

An appealing late travelogue to Ossetia, Georgia and Daghestan from the distinguished diplomat and inveterate traveller, who authored Eastern Approaches (1949 and much reprinted).

Nasmyth, Peter, Georgia: A Rebel in the Caucasus, London: Cassell, 1992 Nasmyth, Peter, Georgia. In the Mountains of Poetry, Richmond: Curzon, 1998 Pereira, Michael, Across the Caucasus, London: Travel Book Club, 1974

An account of a journey undertaken with William Edward David Allen, author of A History of the Georgian People (1932, reprinted 1971) and (with Paul Muratoff) of Caucasian Battlefields (1953), in the company of the father of Ossetic philology, Vasilij Ivanovich Abaev (b. 1899).

Polievktov, M. A., Evropejskie puteshestvenniki XIII-XVIII vv. Po Kavkaza [European Travellers of the XIII-XVIIIth centuries to the Caucasus], Tiflis, 1935

Robinson, Gertrude, David Urquhart, Oxford: Blackwell, 1920

Rosen, Roger, The Georgian Republic, Hong Kong: Twin Age, 1991

Russell, Mary, Please Don't Call it Soviet Georgia, London: Serpent's Tail, 1991

Tamarashvili, Mikel, [Tamarati, Michel], ist’oria k’atolik’obisa kartvelta shoris [History of Catholicism among the Georgians], Tiflis, 1902 Tardy, Lajos, The Caucasian peoples and their neighbours in 1404, in Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hung. Tomus XXXII (1), pp. 83-111, 1978

Vixen, H. M. S. [Henry Headley Parish? or David Urquhart?], British Diplomacy Illustrated in the Affair of the "Vixen". Addressed to the commercial constituency of Great Britain by an old diplomatic servant, 2nd edition, Newcastle: Currie and Bowman, 1838

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