Dariali: The 'Caspian Gates' in the Caucasus from Antiquity to the Age of the Huns and the Middle Ages: The Joint Georgian-British Dariali Gorge Excavations and Surveys 2013-2016 [Hardback]

Eberhard Sauer (Author)

ISBN: 9781789251920 | Published by: Oxbow Books | Series: British Institute of Persian Studies Archaeological Monograph Series | Volume: 6 | Year of Publication: 2020 | Language: English 1088p, H297 x W210 (mm) 700 black and white & colour images

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Dariali: The 'Caspian Gates' in the Caucasus from Antiquity to the Age of the Huns and the Middle Ages


The Huns, invading through Dariali Gorge on the modern-day border between Russia and Georgia in AD 395 and 515, spread terror across the late antique world. Was this the prelude to the apocalypse? Prophecies foresaw a future Hunnic onslaught, via the same mountain pass, bringing about the end of the world. Humanity’s fate depended on a gated barrier deep in Europe’s highest and most forbidding mountain chain.

Centuries before the emergence of such apocalyptic beliefs, the gorge had reached world fame. It was the target of a planned military expedition by the Emperor Nero. Chained to the dramatic sheer cliffs, framing the narrow passage, the mythical fire-thief Prometheus suffered severe punishment, his liver devoured by an eagle. It was known under multiple names, most commonly the Caspian or Alan Gates.

Featuring in the works of literary giants, no other mountain pass in the ancient and medieval world matches Dariali’s fame. Yet little was known about the materiality of this mythical place. A team of archaeologists has now shed much new light on the major gorge-blocking fort and a barrier wall on a steep rocky ridge further north. The walls still standing today were built around the time of the first major Hunnic invasion in the late fourth century – when the Caucasus defences feature increasingly prominently in negotiations between the Great Powers of Persia and Rome. In its endeavour to strongly fortify the strategic mountain pass through the Central Caucasus, the workforce erased most traces of earlier occupation. The Persian-built bastion saw heavy occupation for 600 years. Its multi-faith medieval garrison controlled Trans-Caucasian traffic. Everyday objects and human remains reveal harsh living conditions and close connections to the Muslim South, as well as the steppe world of the north. The Caspian Gates explains how a highly strategic rock has played a pivotal role in world history from Classical Antiquity into the twentieth century.

Table of Contents

Volume 1
Section A: Preliminaries
1. Introduction
Section B: Excavations and survey
2. Late antique buildings occupied to the Late Middle Ages: life over one millennium on Dariali Fort (Trench F)
3. Towering over the northern approaches: late antique buildings, medieval food storage and modern military (Trench Q)
4. Barrier, bastion and aqueduct: sondages and surveys on and around Dariali Fort (Trenches L, X and O)
5. Extramural areas south of the fort: two-and-a-half millennia of traffic and two millennia of food production in the shadow of the rock (Trenches P and M)
6. Dariali early medieval cemetery (Trenches E, G and AB)
Eberhard W. Sauer, Anthi Tiliakou, Catherine Shupe, Annamaria Diana, Elena Kranioti and Konstantin Pitskhelauri
7. The Caspian Gates? Bakht’ari fortified ridge: first line of defence and northernmost barrier (Trench Y/Phase 3)
8. Medieval Gveleti Fort: valley-blocking cliff-top bastion and royal refuge from the Mongols (Trenches C, D, N, U, V and W)
9. Elusive migration-era burials and enigmatic stone cairns: fieldwork near Gveleti Cemetery and in the Amali Valley (Trenches A, B, H, I, J, K, R, S, T, Z and AA)
10. Landscape investigations in the Dariali Pass
Kristen Hopper, Dan Lawrence, Lisa Snape, Lana Chologauri, Seth M.N. Priestman,
Lyudmila Shumilovskikh, Konstantin Pitskhelauri and Graham Philip
Volume 2
Section C: Specialist contributions: finds, building materials, biological and environmental evidence and scientific dating
11. Provisioning and supply across an ancient frontier: the late antique and medieval ceramic sequence from the Dariali Gorge in the High Caucasus
Seth M.N. Priestman
12. Fragment of a ceramic vessel with an ancient Georgian inscription discovered at Dariali Fort
George Gagoshidze
13. Vessel glass from the Dariali Fort
Fiona Anne Mowat
14. Report of chemical compositional characterisation of glass fragments excavated from Dariali Fort (Georgia) by non-destructive X-ray fluorescence analysis
Yoshinari Abe and Ryuji Shikaku
15. The small objects and other finds
Lana Chologauri, Ana Gabunia, Fiona Anne Mowat, Seth M.N. Priestman, Eberhard W. Sauer and St John Simpson, with an appendix by Scott Stetkiewicz
16. The sword from Grave G9 in the cemetery south of Dariali Fort: analytical and technological study and assessment
Brian Gilmour
17. Ceramic building materials from Dariali Fort
Seth M.N. Priestman
18. Mortars from Dariali Fort and nearby fortifications
J. Riley Snyder and Martina Astolfi
19. Human skeletal remains
Anthi Tiliakou, Catherine Shupe, Elena Kranioti and Annamaria Diana
20. Dariali Cemetery stable isotope analysis
Catriona Pickard
21. Herding and hunting in the highlands from the Sasanian to late medieval periods
22. Plant remains
Lyudmila Shumilovskikh and Imogen Poole
23. Archaeomagnetic studies of features excavated in Dariali Gorge
Cathy M. Batt, David P. Greenwood and Tehreem Kainaat
24. Luminescence dating and micromorphological assessment
Lisa Snape and Ian Bailiff
Section D: History
25. The history of the Dariali Gorge
Section E: Appendices and Conclusion
Appendices. Landslides, the location of the gates and imperial landscapes: notes on historical geography
I A hostile environment: landslides and their effect on settlement patterns in the Gorge
II Where were the gates? A French eyewitness to the narrowness of the Gorge
III Investigations of ancient canal systems in Central and Eastern Georgia

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