19th Century Encyclopedias on Circassia

Brockhaus 1809-1811, Pierer 1857-1865 : Circassia, Pierer 1857-1865 : The Circassians

Historic Encyclopedias on Circassia

Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811, Article : Circassien
Circassia, a large landscape located between the Black and the Caspian Sea. It is ruled by several princes, many of whom are subject to Russia. The inhabitants are partially Muslims, partially Greek Christians. They are regarded the most beautiful people in the world. A feature of their womanfolk is that their eyebrows lie on their foreheads like black silk yarn.
source in German, posted by Zeno

Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 1857-1865, Article : Tscherkessien
(1) Part of the Caucasus lands in Russian Asia, bordering on the land of the Black Sea Cossacks, on Caucasia, Lesghia and Daghestan, Georgia, Imerethi, Mingrelia and the eastern shore of the Black Sea. It is named after the Circassians, the inhabitants of the western part; forms a parallelogram of about 45 mils length, 30 miles width and about 1500 square miles area. Circassia consists of Circassia proper, the small and great Abasa, the land of the Nogay Tatars, the large and small Kabarda and Ossetia or Ironistan. Circassia is a mountain country, which includes the larger western half of the Caucasus and is higher peaks (Elbrus, 16,900 feet; Mainewari, 14,400 feet, Khochi etc.) at its southern border. In southwestern direction it declines sharply, with the crest only being 2-3 miles from the coast, steep and almost unclimbable, toward the Black Sea, but the rift, from the highest peak westward, continues in lower and lower black mountains with round tips declining between Black Sea and Kuban, while in the higher elevations the ridge forms a sharp grate of glaciers, eternal snow and ice. The snow line is found at 11,000 feet. Primeval forests, often impenetrable, cover the medium altitude between snow and valley. Toward the north and northeast the Caucasus declines lss steeply, but innumerable rivers and rivulets formed valleys and gorges, especially in the direction of the main and border rivers toward the north, the Kuban and its tributaries (the White River and the Laba being the most important) which feed into the Black Sea, and the Terek and its tributaries, which feed into the Caspian Sea. Shorter, but as deep and numerous, are rivulets and forest creeks feeding into the Black Sea, but their mouths are suitable for trade, especially smuggling trade. In order to prevent such, many Russian forts (except for the fortress Anapa on the left wing and the fortress Suchum Kaleh on the right wing (from northwest to southeast the forts Noworossisk, Gelendshik, Dob [Alexandersky], Pschat, Tschapsin, Schapsucho, Toapse, Michailowsk, Waia, Schake (Subaschi), Pseka [Mamai], Weljaminowsk, Lazarewsk, Sotsche, Ardler, Gagry, Pizunda [Lesgha], Bambori)have been established. Also the Kuban and Terek are the site of lines of forts (especially Olgadorf), which connect the fortresses Jekaterinodar, Ust Labinskaya, Pjatigorsk, Georgiewsk, Mosdok. The forts Abun, Nikolajewsk, Iwan, Nagiageh and Diannawo-Ljesa on the lower Kuban have been erected deep in the land of the Circassians, and here control the surrounding tribes. Far in Circassian territory is located the fortress Wladi-Kawkas (ruler of the Caucasus), on the eastrnmost limit of Circassia proper, actually in the land of the Ossetians. Only a few roads lead across the mouintains, so the passes Dariel and the Caucasian Gate, all others are mountain goat paths, only passable by individual wanderers and riders, not by columns of men marching in formation. Similarly on the edges of valleys, villages are located which often can only reach the next valley via mountain goat paths. See articles on the Circassian War.
Climate : various, in the northern lower altitudes on the Kuban and Terek hot, as the rivers there stagnate, and often flow over their banks, inundating areas, often throughout the year. Therefore a lot of fever and other diseases; in the high altitudes in the South colder, overall mild and friendly. Population about 1 million, only in the West and South pure Circassians, further east Nogays, Ossetians and all kind of Lesghian and Tatar tribes, toward the south Awghasians etc.; see under Circassians.
(2) Circassia proper, he land inhabited by the Circassians, the western part of the former, just over 500,000 inhabitants.

source in German, posted by Zeno

Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 1857-1865, Article : Tscherkessen
Circassians (Tscherkessen, Circassier, by the Turks called Tscharkassen, in the language of the land called Adhige, Adighe), (1) a people of Caucasian race, but it is unclear to which branch of the latter it belongs, living on and at the Caucasus mountain range, on the eastern shore of the Black Sea, living between Cape Iskale and the Elbrus. The bodily shape of the Circassians is beautiful, men and women are regarded models, they are slim, have a head of oval shape, brown hair (..), large brown eyes, a straight nose, not protruding jawbones, a straight neck, relatively small feet, especially the women. The men wear a linen or red silk shirt (Jona), blue tight hoses with silver threads on the seams, often also, for the purpose of riding, a second pair of hoses made of cloth or leather, a skirt made of white, red or blue silk, on the occasion of a celebration a blue or violet, otherwise nature-coloured Litewka without collar (on the breast two pockets for cartridges sewn on it, containing each 8-10 metal or wooden cartridges) and a belt made of black leather (bishiruck); shoes are without soles, among ordinary people made of raw leather, those of the nobles yellow, of the prince red; headwear is a padded cap adorned with brown fur ..; only the mollahs wear turbans. When the weather is poor, a felt overcoat (burka), a tipped rain cap covering the neck and buttoned at the front, and overshoes are worn. The Circassians bear arms almost at all occasions; these are the dagger (kindshal), a half-moon shaped short sabre (chashka), a long Turkish rifle (fekh or skonti) which is loaded with bullets by the means of a hammer, short pistols, at times also bow and arrows in a quiver made of leather. On top of the Litewka the Circassian wears a protective shirt. The women's attire consists of a shirt, wide hoses, a long caftan and an overcoat with decollete, ornated with fur .., made of cotton or silk. The cap is round, mostly red .., often also a tiara, from which hangs a long Musselin veil. Their food is mainly based on plants, especially a thick millet porridge (Gonne); bread is only baked in thiose parts where barley, wheat or maize is grown, unleavened in round 3 inch thick cakes in hot ash; they prepare pilaw, roast (schischlik) of lamb, with a sauce containing pepper and onions, meat balls or ragout. Drinks : water and milk, of fermented drinks, to honour guests, a kind of mead (shuat), further a kind of beer and thickened grape juice are prepared, and before consumption mixed with water. Men smoke tobacco always in Turkish or small pipes. The houses of the Circassians are made of unworked treetrunks which are combined, at the height of 10 feet combined with sticks. The openings are filled with wickerwork and clay. On such a flat roof the family often spends the evening. Door and chimney often are the only opening; rarely a window, to be closed by shutters, is found. The floor is made of clay, in houses of rich families covered with a carpet; divans and carpets cover he walls. The fireplace is in the back of the house, to the right the rooms of the family and the master, to the left of the servants. 40 to 50 houses arranged in a circle and connected by fences of wickerwork covered with clay, for protection, form a village (aul); in its center, at night, the livestock is kept. Occupation : little agriculture, mostly in the valleys (millet), also a little barley, wheat and maize, a little fruit cultivation, more vegetables, especially beans, less peas and lentals; intense livestock keeping, mostly cattle, buffalo, goats, horses (only a few of noble race), especially sheep and bees; jackals, wolves, bears, deer, hares, foxes, pheasants and other game are hunted, there is a lot of forest. Men are only skilled in making weaponry, working leather, iron tools, horse harnesses, working gold and silver; the women make clothing from hemp, flax and wool. Since the beginning of the century, trade with the Turks and Russians was intense; the Circassians provided wool, wax, skins of oxen, deer and game, but mostly slaves male and female, in part taken elsewhere, in part those born in the country. In return they received salt, powder, weapons, supplies for war and hunt. By character the Circassians are polite, busy, moderate, daring and persistent, but also selfish, cunning and predatory. The religion of the Circassians is Islam, but only the princes and nobility live according to its rules; the populace does honour Muhammad and sticks to some Muslim customs, but otherwise practises animist religion, combining the belief in one god with pagan and christian teachings and customs. For instance they celebrate easter and sunday, hold processions with candles etc.; they still believe in natural spirits whom they call apostles, which rule under that one god, so in Iele, spirit of thunder (Ilia, i.e. Elias), in the fire spirit Tleps, the water- and wind spirit Serseres, which simultaneously protects cattle, the forest and bee spirit Misikhta (Mosite or Meste), the mother goddess Mariam (Meriam, virgin Mary); they do not have images of any of these, but give sacrifices to them. They respect old crosses and churches from the time when the land was christian, and use the cross in their rituals, as well as amulet. They do know neither mosques nor temples, but instead holy groves, holy trees under which they pray to god; priests (mollahs) are elderly respected persons who lead rite and education. Some Circassian tribes are still completelt pagan. Customs simple and spoiled. Boys are not raised at home, but already three days after birth entrusted to an older noble living at the father's farm, who is skilled in war, the Atalik; he will train him in the arts of riding and the usage of arms. Atalik and his protege will retain a lifelong close relationship. Once the boy has grown into a man, 7 witnesses recognize him as the one entrusted to the Atalik, released by the latter, and initiated by religious ceremonies and the sacrifice of an animal. The education of girls is more focussed on house and economy. Until marriage the girls are unveiled and live together with the young men they know. Marriages are conducted according to the status of the bride; the bridegroom pays a price (Kalim) in goods (often 200 items) and 2-4 female slaves for his bride, which has a voice in the choice of her bridegroom, and not rarely chooses a young man without experience in war or a raid. At the betrothal the bride does not appear, and in general, vis-a-vis her bridegroom, she acts reserved, avoids him. Until marriage 14 days pass, when again a ceremonial get together is held, upon the occasion of which the bride keeps in hiding, until finally the bridegroom, assisted by his friends, abducts the bride. Even now, at daytime, she always flees the presence of her husband, while, as earlier, she accepts the visits of other young men; this may continue until the birth of the first child and beyond, until she finally has fully taken on the role of a housewife. As such she wears a cotton rectangular cloth on her head, keps out of sight, does the household chores; in her marriage she has the role of slave of her husband. He may neither sell nor kill her, except for her having conducted adultery; otherwise a case for blood revenge is given. The Circassians live in monogamy. The man livelong enjoys the right to sell or kill his sons and daughters. The sale of female Circassians is often conducted by poorer men and those of lower status, who cannot hope for their daughters to find husbands, sometimes also as a consequence of greed of the Works (see below), to sell them into the Turkish harems in Constantinople. Lately he Russians have forbidden the sale of female Circassians, but secretly it is continued, in scale. The price for such a girl ranges from 500 to 10,000 Thalers, depending on the age, beauty and status.
Other customs and practices of the Circassians. Greetings consist of grasping and kissing of the hands which they then lay on the forehead. The women lay one arm around the other person, while with the other hand they touch the other hand of the person they greet. Men and young women ride from one place to another; older women ride in a cart; along the coast small slim rowboats are used as transportation. Games include horse races the Dschigittiran, i.e. flanking on hoseback with sabre and rifle, and mock fight; stone throwing. Gagmen attempt to spice any game and any get together bu jokes. The Circassians love music, he most common instruments being the panflute, the bagpipe and a two-stringed fiddle with a round box and a curved string. Every inn has a wandering singer, every chieftain his bard (Kikooka) who sings about the deeds of his master's ancestors, and about tribal tradition. The dance of the Circassians is the gratest expression of joy. Young men form a circle; one of them takes the position in the center and conducts the wildest jumps and body gestures while the others fire him on by clapping their hands; then someone else takes the position in the center. When the dance of the young men is over, the dance of the girls follows, which is reserved.
On the language see under Circassian Language. There is no written communication; almost no Circassian is capable of writing; is this absolutely necessary, they employ the aid of others, who write in Arab, Turkish, Russian or Tatar script. The Circassians hold hospitality high. If one ever enjoyed the hospitality of another, his life and property forever will be protected by his one-time host. If the wife of the house, as a token of honour, offers him her breast, he is treated as a son of the house. Ill persons are treated by the women, in case of diseases, amulets and gourged slips of paper are regarded having healing power. The plague occurs rarely, but then the more devastating, the smallpox also apears from time to time, against which a crude vaccination is conducted. If a person dies, his relatives tare out their hairs, scratch their faces and beat themselves bloody. The one killed by the enemy is treated as a martyr and not mourned, as he is believed, like the man killed by lightning, to immediately have entered paradise. The colour of mourning is black. For burial the corpse is washed; the corpse of a noble displayed for three days, while his daughters sit at his feet and his wife stares at him; then he is carried out and buried, with his head pointing uin the direction toward Mekka. Rifles and pistols are fired above the grave, the funeral repast is held much later. Over the grave of a person of status a Kurgan (high grave hill) made of stone plates or earth is formed, and some time later a feast is hosted which often lasts several days, when games with weapons, cock fights are held and praises of the deceased are sung.
Constitution. The Circassians form several tribes, which live separately and which only the war against the Russians has created a degree of uniy among the tribes. In most cases a tribe is (a) headed by a prince (pscheh or Pschih), but their number has much decreased. His person may not be injured, and he may not be targeted for blood revenge, while he may be asked to pay blood money (see below). (b) The Elders or nobles (Work, Russian Usden), which emerged as those accompanying the nobles, from whom they made themselves independent; there are old Usdens who derive from nobility, and young Usdens who derive from common people and who have been elevated by the prince. Every Work has his own property, is not subventioned by the prince; he can decide as he pleases. (c) The people or the free men (Tschochotl) have land property or voluntarily serve a prince or nobleman; they pay tribute in kind and pay a certain tithe, accompany him on travels etc. Freemen can be sold as serfs only after a decision by popular assembly, because of a crime. (d) The slaves (Pschit, Pschelich), mostly prisoners-of-war or persons taken on a raid, or their descendants, or aliens which came to Circassia without a host and which were taken as a slave by the first free man they encountered, if they fail to reach a house where, even if it is the house of the person hunting them, are treated as guests of the owner. Slaves, if hey do not attempt to flee, are treated well, and after long and faithful service (mostly 10 years) or for the payment of the value of 40-50 oxen, their freedom. Often they marry, the lord purchases a female slave, to bind them for longer. The children of such parents again are slaves. The slaves work on the fields, are servants and herd the flocks of animals, chop down trees, fetch water. Any crime conducted by a slave the owner has to answer for. So he can beat or kill him at will, but he can sell him only with his consent. If the slave feels like it, he can try find a new master, who has to pay for him. No slave can be forced to serve in war. As every one of the first three estates is free to do as he pleases, several families ally to increase their influence, every one under an Elder, to form a brotherhood (Tleusch), the Elder (Tatamas) of which is elected by majority of votes. The brotherhood consists of 20 members; if it is deemed to weak, it dissolves and becomes part of another. The brotherhood is close; brothers help out a member pay a fine which the popular assembly imposed against the member in the first or second instance (in the third instance a penalty is decided upon, often the death penalty); the brotherhood takes care of widow and children of a deceased brother. Anyone of the brothers may marry the widow, cares for the proper burial of members, makes sure that fellow brothers do not marry below their status. The slaves, s members of the family, belong to the brotherhood. Often brotherhoods combine in order to execute a specific undertaking. They swear not to relent until the goal is achieved. In case a war is unsuccessful, it is often the last act of that brotherhood. Above the brotherhoods are the popular assemblies, where all brotherhoods of a tribe, or at least their elders, assemble; in recent times often several, or even all tribes, in order to counsel common undertakings. Such a popular assembly convenes mostly under a holy tree, in the evening or under moonshine. Princes, nobles and freemen have equal votes. Votes are taken in the order of age. Three presidents preside over the assembly, surrounded by the elders of the brotherhoods, each brotherhood standing in a circle behind their elder. Jurisdiction is conducted within family, brotherhood or popular assembly. Conflicts within brotherhoods the Hajji or High Judge tries to settle; if this fails, he calls on jurors (Tarkochases) who elect a president and decide the case. Theft, especialy of livestock or horses, is only punished if the thief was caught in the act. Undetected theft from other brotherhoods is regarded as honorable. Complete security of property is given within he brotherhood, as here theft is fined with nine times the value of the stolen goods, in the third case with 300 oxen or punished by death. Befriended brotherhoods do not tolerate theft from the other. At court witnesses are heard, and the accused is presented, and lead away, by an official of the court. There are no written laws; cases are decided by the assessment of the jurors and by tradition. Blood revenge is still practised, but manslaughter can be atoned for by payment. In case both of the person threatened by or entitled to blood revenge, son inherits from the father. If a Circassian is killed by the enemy, his relatives will try to kill an enemy of the same nation; otherwise the death of the former is not atoned for. False oath is punished severely. Every Circassian loves the art of war and regards war raids as the climax of his life. Regarding their military, see Circassian War. There are 15 Circassian tribes, all of which dwell on the Caucasus or Black Sea; the largest, the Abadsekhians, Abasekhians, Shapsukhs (Shapsiks) and Ubyks, number 10-12,000 families; 5-10,000 families strong are the Kemurchnaeans (on the Kuban), the Nogay with the Gunians, Ossetians, Kabardians, 200-1500 families strong are the Beslenis, Makhosh, Bjedukh, Hattiqua, Shanah, Shegadah (the latter on the Kuban). Others list only 10 tribes, the Notkesh, Schapsuch, Abatsech, Pseduch, Ubich, Halikeh, Kemkusch, Abasech, Lenelechich and Kubertech. Probably the inhabitants of both Kabadas and of Ossetia have not been included in the latter account. In general the number of the proper Circassians is given as 90,000 to 100,000 families, totalling c. 500,000 persons of both genders, while further 1,500 live in adjacent gouvernments. see Vgl. Reinegg, Historisch-topographische Beschreibung des Kaukasus, Petersb. 1796 f., 2 Bde.; Kupffer, Rapport sur le voyage dans les environs du mont Elbrouz dans le Caucase, ebd. 1830; Charles Belanger, Voyage aux Indes Orientales par le nord de l'Europe, les provinces du Caucase pendant les ann?es 1825?1829; I. A. Güldenstädt, Beschreibung der kaukasischen Länder, umgearbeitet etc. von I. Klaproth, Berl. 1834; Obosrjenije etc. (Übers. der transkaukasischen Provinzen in statistischer, ethnographischer, topographischer u. finanzieller Hinsicht), Petersb. 1836, 4 Bde.; Dubois de Montpereux, Voyage autour du Caucase, chez les Tscherkesses et les Abkhases, Par. 1839, 4 Bde. (deutsch von K?lb, Darmstadt 1841), St. Bell, Journal of residence in Circassia, Lond. 1840, 2 Bde.; Forton, La Russie en l'Asie mineure; K. Koch, Reise durch Russland nach dem kaukasischen Isthmus, Stuttg. 1842; Derselbe, Wanderungen im Orient, Weimar 1846 f., 3 Bde.; Danilewski, Der Kaukasus, physisch, geographisch, statistisch, ethnographisch u. strategisch, Lpz. 1847; Buturlin, Carte du th??tre de la guerre dans les Pays-Caucasiens, Warsch. 1848; Moritz Wagner, Der Kaukasus u. das Land der Kosacken, 2. Aufl. Lpz. 1850, 2 Bde.; Derselbe, Reise nach Colchis, ebd. 1850; Bodenstedt, Tausend u. ein Tag im Orient, Berl. 1850 f., 2 Bde., 3. A. 1859; Czernell, Der Kaukasus u. seine V?lkerschaften, Wien 1854; Haxthausen, Transkaukasia, Lpz. 1856; Kolenati, Die Bereisung Hocharmeniens u. Elisabethopols, der Schekinschen Provinz u. des Kasbek im Centralkaukasus, Dresd. 1858; Derselbe, Die Bereisung Circassicus, ebd. 1859, etc.
Already in antiquity the Circassians, as Sykhians, were notorious for piracy. Along the coast several Greek colonies, such as Dorikos, Phanagoia, Bata and Dioscurias, were found which later became Roman. In the 12th and 13th centuries the Georgian kings submitted them, and the population converted to Christianity. In 1424 they broke away from the Georgians and spread into the plains an Lake Azov, and came into contact with the Tatars. In 1555 Czar Ivan the Great forced a part of the Circassians into submission, married the daughter of a Circassian prince and came to their aid against the Tatars. Soon the Russians gave up their suzerainty over the Circassians, and the latter were pressed back beyond the Kuban by the Crimean Tatars. They maintained heir independence and separate constitution. A military victory over the Crimean Tatars freed them of the obligation to pay tribute. At this time Czar Peter the Great attempted to defeat them, but wihout success. The Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji 1774, and even more when the Russians in 1783 took possession of the Kuban, brought the Russians again in contact with the Circassians. Surrounded by Muslim nations, they earlier had accepted Islam; now aversion against the Russians caused more princes and tribes to convert to Islam. Especially a Muslim fanatic, Sheikh Mansur, contributed much to this effect. In 1781 the Turks built the fortress Anapa, which became the main Circassian supply of weapons, salt etc. The Russians took Anapa in 1807, but had to return it in the Treaty of Bucharest 1812. The Turks stirred the Circassians up against the Russians and the latter undertook constant raids into Russian territory. Attempts by the Russian Governor General of Souhern Russia, the Duke of Richelieu, to avert further raids by promoting trade, failed. In 1824 several tribes submitted to the Ottoman Empire. In the Treaty of Adrianople 1829 the coastal stretch along the Black Sea, in 1834 the remainder of Abkhasia, in return for a part of the province's contribution, was ceded to Russia in the Treaty of Sankt Petersburg. From this moment on that part of the population unwilling to submit to Russian rule is involved in a continuous struggle, which still goes on, despite the major struggle of the mountain people ended in 1859 with Schamyl having been taken prisoner at Gunib on Sept. 7th 1859. See Circassian War.
(2) The inhabitants of Circassia in a wider sense; see under Circassia. (3) improperly, the inhabitants of the lands between Black Sea and Caspian Sea.
source in German, posted by Zeno


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First posted on March 9th 2009

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