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Fire and Sword

Russian & Eurasian Studies

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RES151: Fire and Sword in the Caucasus. A Family Saga

W.E.D. Allen, an Irishman and one of the great poetic historians of the early 20th century, wrote the following in his magisterial A History of the Georgian People (London, 1932):

“In the history of the Caucasus there is wide instruction and a mighty pleasure, for it is all instruction born of illustration, rather than of assumption, argument and proof. Here are no serried ranks of causes and effect, no steady march of progress, no smug train of evolution. All the nations of the world have drifted through the Caucasus; all their leavings are to find – but little has been built…”

This is an exotic view of the Caucasus, but it describes both a Western and Russian perception of the region as an untamed, irrational geographical curiosity, characterized by soaring mountains, hidden valleys, and antique peoples. The Ancient Greeks placed many of their most famous myths here in the Caucasus, on the edge of their world. Jason and the Argonauts sought the Golden Fleece here, and Prometheus, the giver of knowledge, was chained by Zeus to Mount Elbruz in the Greater Caucasus Range. The Book of Genesis tells us that Noah’s Ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat on the East Anatolian plains a few miles to the south of Armenia. Take a trip to Echmiadzin, the seat of the Armenian Catholicos, and there you can see the gnarled wood of the Ark, discovered by an expedition to the summit of Mount Ararat. The Caucasus is a place of myths, legends and fantastic folk tales; it is a region drenched by stories of the past that both permeate and dramatically impact the present.

This course is an introduction to the region. It is multidisciplinary exploring the peoples who live here from multiple angles - their history, their literature, their politics, their song. We will focus on Georgia, but that necessarily includes the region's history as a whole. We will also integrate into the course the life of one particular Georgian family over five generations, from the Russian empire to independent Georgia. This is a remindcer that history is not some abstract concept, it is concrete and about people's liives.













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