" On July 2, 1840, half an hour before sunset, the atmosphere clear, the inhabitants of Armenia were frightened by a thundering noise, that rolled loudest and most fearfully in the vicinity of the Great Ararat. During an undulating motion of the earth, lasting about two seconds, which rolled from the mountain east and southeast, and wrought great destruction in the districts of Sharur and Nakhichevan, a rent was formed in the end of the great chasm, about three miles above Arguri, out of which rose gas and vapor, hurling with immense force stones and earth over the slope of the mountain down into the plain. The vapor rose very quickly higher than the summit of Ararat, and seems to have been wholly of aqueous composition ; for in the same night a heavy rain fell in the vicinity of the mountain—an unusual occurrence in this country during summer. The vapor at first was of various colors, in which blue and red prevailed. Whether flames burst forth could not be ascertained; but the pillars of vaporor smoke had a red tint, which, had the eruption taken place during the night, might possibly have exhibited flame. The blue and red tint of the vapor soon became dark black, and immediately the air was filled with a very disagreeable smell of sulphur. While the mountain continued to heave, and the earth to shake, with the unremitting thunder, along with the subterranean cracking and growling, might be heard the whiz, as of bombs, caused by the force with which stones and large masses of rock, upward of fifty tons' weight, were hurled through the air! Likewise, the dash of the stones as they met in the air in their flight, could be distinguished from the thundering noise issuing from the interior of the mountain. Where these large stones fell, there in general they lay; for, in consequence of the gentle declination of the ground at the foot of the mountain, to roll far was impossible. The eruption continued a full hour. When the vapor had cleared away, and the shower of stones and mud had ceased, the rich village of Arguri, and the monastery and chapel of St. James, were not to be seen: all, along with their inmates, were buried under the mass of stones and mud that had been ejected. The earthquake, which accompanied the eruption, destroyed six thousand houses in the neighboring districts of Nakhichevan, Sharur, and Ardubad. Four days after a second catastrophe occurred, which spread still farther the work of destruction at the foot of the mountain. After the rent in the chasm, whence issued the vapor and stones, had closed, there remained in the same place a deep basin filled with water by the melting of the snow, by the rain, and by a streamlet from above, so as to form a small lake. The mass of stone and clay, which formed a dam, and surrounded the lake like the edge of a crater, was burst by the weight of water, and poured down the declivity of the mountain with irresistible force a stream of thick mud, which spread into the plain, and partly stopped up the bed and altered the course of the small river Karasu. A part of the gardens of Arguri that had escaped the eruption, were destroyed by this stream of mud, which carried trees, rocks, and the bodies of the inhabitants of the village, down into the plain, and to the bed of the Karasu. This stream of mud was three times repeated, and was accompanied by subterranean noises."
That Noah's ark rested on the top of Mount Ararat is not to be credited. The difficulty of the descent, and the low temperature of the atmosphere, which must have killed many of the animals, alike preclude the supposition ; and, moreover, the Scriptures do not say it rested on the top, but merely " on the mountains of Ararat." If this be the mountain there referred to — which is somewhat doubtful, seeing that the olive does not grow near it—the ark must have rested on one of its lower slopes. Nakhichevan, eighty miles east of Erivan, claims the honor of being the oldest city of the world; and tradition affirms that Noah fixed his residence here after descending from Ararat.
The name Ararat is said to be derived from Arai, a king who lived 1750 years B. C. He fell in battle, in an Armenian plain, which was hence called "Arai-Arat"— the fall of Aral. Before him reigned Amassis, the sixth from Japhet, who called the country Amasia; hence the name Massis, or Macis, by which alone Armenians in the present day know the mountain. By the Turks and Persians it is called Agri-dagh. The third syllable, dagh, means mountain; but philologists are not agreed on the signification of Agri.
Owing to the great elevation of the country, the climate in most parts is rather severe ; but though the winters last long, the summer heats are sufficient to bring all the fruits of the earth to perfection. Although severe, the climate is, however, considered healthy.
The soil of Armenia is reckoned, on the whole, productive, though in many places it would be quite barren were it not for the great care taken to irrigate it; to such an extent, indeed, is the system of irrigation carried on, that in summer many considerable streams are wholly absorbed for this purpose. Wheat, barley, tobacco, hemp, grapes, and cotton, are raised ; and, in some of the valleys, apricots, peaches, mulberries, and walnuts, are grown. From the nature of the country, the rearing of stock is carried on to a greater extent than agriculture. The horses are spirited, fleet, and fiery. Pines, birches, poplars, and beeches flourish, but there are no thick forests except in the northern parts of the country. The flora is not so varied as might be expected in such an Alpine region; in several respects it resembles the vegetation of the Alps of Tyrol and Switzerland.
The inhabitants are chiefly of the genuine Armenian stock; but besides them, in consequence of the repeated subjagation of the country, various other races have obtained a footing. Of these the principal are the Turkomans, who still maintain their nomadic habits, and from whom the country has received the name of Turkomania. Of the Armenians, but about one half are in Armenia. The remainder, like the Jews, are scattered over various countries; and, being strongly addicted to commerce, play an important part as merchants. They are found all over western Asia; about two hundred thousand are in Constantinople and its vicinity; numbers are in various parts of the Russia empire, Hungary, and Italy; some in Africa and America; and a large number in India, chiefly in the great marts of Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta. Everywhere they are engaged in banking and trading. In physical structure, they belong to the Caucasian race, and, in general, are well made. Their eyes and hair are black, their look lively, noses aquiline, and their complexion somewhat swarthy. The women are remarkable for the delicacy and regularity of their features. Like the Jews, whom in many respects they resemble, their ruling passion appears to be an inordinate love of gain, but they are generally esteemed honest. Their mental capacity is good, and those who are educated are distinguished by superior cultivation and refined manners; but the mass of the people inhabiting their native country, in consequence of centuries of neglect, are grossly ignorant and superstitious.
The Armenians embraced Christianity in the fourth century; and, in A. D. 536, separated from the Greek church, being dissatisfied with the decisions of the council of Chalcedon. In doctrine, they hold that there is only one nature in Christ, and that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father alone. They have seven sacraments, but, in the mode of using them, differ in several respects from the Roman catholics. They adore saints and images, but do not believe in purgatory. Their hierarchy differs little from that of the Greeks. The catholicus, patriarch, or head of the church, has his seat at Echmiadzin, a monastery near Erivan. A minority of the Armenians, chiefly those residing in European countries, acknowledge the pope, and conform, in doctrine and church-government, to the Roman catholic church. They are called United Armenians.
The monastery of Echmiadzin, the seat of the catholicus, or head of the Armenian church, lies in the valley of the Arras, thirteen miles east of Erivan, near the village of Vagarhabad, which is also frequently though improperly called Echmiadzin. The monastery is surrounded by a wall thirty feet high, entered by four gates, and flanked by towers, which, as well as the walls, are built of brick, excepting the base, and furnished with loopholes, giving to the whole structure the appearance of a large quadrangular fortress. The monastery was founded in A. D. 524; but the church it contains dates from the time of St. Gregory " the Enlightener," who introduced Christianity into Armenia, though various additions have been made to it in later times. The monks have here a printing-press and a seminary ; but little good is to be expected from their labors, as they are unlearned, ignorant, and superstitious.
The Armenian language belongs to the most distant offshoots of the Indo-Germanic root; but still, in its form and structure, has much that it is peculiar, and to the ear it is harsh and dissonant. The old Armenian language, also called Haican, which is that of literature, may now be considered a dead language. In the new Armenian language, which is divided into four dialects not differing greatly from each other, there are many Turkish words, and the construction of sentences is regulated by the rules of Turkish syntax. With the exception of some songs collected by Archbishop Moses Choronensis, no specimens of the earlier Armenian literature have been preserved. After the introduction of Christianity, a great taste for the Greek language and literature arose, and a number of works in Greek and Syriac were translated into Armenian. Before A. D. 406, the Armenians had no alphabet of their own, but used indifferently Greek, Syriac, or Persian characters. In that year, however, Mesrop Masdoty invented the Haican alphabet,, consisting of thirty-eight letters (thirty consonants and eight vowels), called, from its inventor, Mesropian, and which still continues to be employed along with the modern alphabet.
Armenian literature flourished from the fourth to the fourteenth century. Of this period, many writers have obtained a name chiefly as historians and chroniclers. Their works, which might throw considerable light on the history of the East during the middle ages, have hitherto been little consulted. Armenian literature began to sink in the fourteenth century, and since that period scarcely any original work of importance has appeared; but, in all their wanderings, the Armenians have preserved a taste for native literature, and have set up printing-presses wherever they have settled : so that we find Armenian works printed in Amsterdam, Venice, Leghorn, Lemberg, Moscow, Astrakhan, Constantinople, Smyrna, Echmiadzin, Ispahan, Madras, Calcutta, Batavia, &c. The most interesting colony is that on the island of San Lazaro at Venice, founded by the abbot Mechitar Pedrosian in 1717, who there established a monastery, acadenry, and printing-press, whence important Armenian works have continued to be issued down to the present time.
According to the native historians, the name Armenia is derived from Aram, the seventh king of the first dynasty, who about B. C. 1800, gave a settled character to the kingdom. The Armenians call themselves Sales, or Haicans, and trace their origin, in their traditions, to Haic or Haico, the father and patriarch of the people, a contemporary of the Assyrian king Belus. Armenia subsequently fell into the hands of different rulers, and was exposed to many attacks. The Romans and Parthians had many fierce conflicts for its possession, in one of which the consul Crassus was defeated; but at last, under the emperor Trajan, Armenia Major became a Roman province. It afterward recovered its independence, and was under the rule of its own kings. Sapor, king of Persia, attempted its subjugation in vain, and it remained free until 650, when it was conquered by the Arabians. After this, it several times changed its masters. In the thirteenth century, it was overrun by the Moguls under Zinghis Khan. In 1552, the Turkish sultan Selim II. conquered it from the Persians.
In 1604, Shah Abbas, emperor of Persia, in order to protect his dominions on the side of Armenia against the Turks, resolved to carry off the inhabitants, and to lay waste a large portion of the country, so that it might no longer be able to support an army! This monstrous resolution was executed with the most revolting barbarity. The inhabitants, driven off like cattle, perished by thousands, while their houses were burnt down, and every vestige of civilization obliterated. A part of the survivors were settled in the suburbs of Ispahan, the old Persian capital, where they were kindly treated; but the greater number, being located in an unhealthy part of the province of Mazunderan, were soon swept off by disease.
Until recently, Armenia was divided between Turkey and Persia; but the former ceded to Russia, by the treaty of Adrianople, in 1829, a considerable portion of her Armenian territories; and Russia had previously (in 1827) acquired the entire province of Erivan from Persia. These acquisitions have been consolidated into the government of Armenia.
Erivan, or Irwan, the capital of Russian Armenia, is situated on the left bank of the Zengue, or Sanga, a considerable river that flows from the lake Gukcha, or Sivan, to the Arras, thirty-three miles north-northeast from the foot of Mount Ararat, on the border of the great plain of the Arras, and one hundred and six miles southwest of Teflis. The site of the town is three thousand three hundred feet above the sea-level. It stands partly on a hill, and partly on the margin of the stream, which is here crossed by a handsome stone bridge of several arches, and is very unhealthy during the summer heats. It contains about two thousand houses, interspersed with numerous gardens, and ruins of various dates, the whole fortified and protected by a citadel placed on a steep rock, more than six hundred feet in height, overhanging the river. This fortress, which is about two thousand yards in circumference, is encompassed by a double rampart of earth, flanked with towers: it contains the ancient palace of the khans, called Sardar, now the residence of the governor; a fine mosque, a cannon-foundry, barracks, &c. The town is irregularly built, with narrow and dirty streets; and the houses, which are built of boulders, and mortar made of clay and straw, give it a mean appearance. It has, however, a handsome bazar, with nearly eight hundred shops, besides several caravansaries, five Armenian churches, one Russo-Greek church, an Armenian convent, five mosques, some aqueducts of a curious construction, &c. An old tower, described by Ohardin, has since been pulled down, and its materials used for building. The town has some manufactures of cotton-stuffs, leather, and earthenware; and, being on the caravan route between Persia and Russia, it has a considerable transit-trade. Its population is about twelve thousand, who are principally Armenians.
The epoch of the foundation of Erivan is unknown. It was taken by the Persians in 1635. The latter retook it in 1724 ; but it was again captured by the Persians, under Nadir Shah (commonly called Nadir Kouli Khan), in 1748. The Russians were repulsed in an attempt to take it in 1808; but they succeeded in 1827, and were confirmed in its possession by the ensuing treaty with Persia.
Akhalzik, Akalzik, or Akiska, is situated in a district of the same name, one hundred and ten miles west of Teflis, on the left bank of the Dalka, ten miles from its junction with the Kour. It is without walls, but defended by a strong citadel, built on a rock, which, when it belonged to Turkey, baffled all the attempts of the Russians to reduce it. Akhalzik is the seat of a Greek archbishop, and contains two churches, a synagogue, and several mosques—one of which, that of Sultan Ahmed, is built on the model of St. Sophia at Constantinople, and has a college and library attached to it. The latter was accounted one of the most curious in the East; but the Russians have removed about three hundred of the most valuable works to St. Petersburg. The neighborhood produces silk, honey, and wax, with excellent fruits, raisins, peaches, apricots, and figs. Some manufactures are carried on, and the inhabitants prosecute an active trade with various places on the Black sea. Formerly a large slave-market was held here, which the Russians suppressed when they acquired possession of the town. In the vicinity are some alkaline springs. The population, which includes Armenians, Georgians, Turks, Russians, and Jews, is about fifteen thousand. The former Turkish pachalic of Ahkalzik, or Tcheldir, as named by the Turks, forms now a political and administrative subdivision of Russian Armenia. It is a mountainous country, watered by the Kour; the climate is healthy, though the extremes of heat and cold are very great. The soil is fertile, producing maize, barley, tobacco, flax, and cotton, with excellent fruits. Game is abundant. Large numbers of cattle and sheep are raised, and much attention is paid to bees and silkworms. The population consists chiefly of Georgians, Turks, Armenians, and Turks.
Imeritia, Mingrelia, and Guria, the three most western Trans-Caucasian provinces, occupy the whole basin of the Rioni, enclosed on three sides by mountains, and open only toward the Black sea.
The province of Imeritia, or Imerethi, is bounded on the north by the Caucasus, east by Georgia, south by Armenia and Guria, and west by the Black sea and Mingrelia. Its greatest length from north to south is ninety miles, and its greatest breadth about seventy-five. It contains about four thousand eight hundred square miles.
The surface of the country has a general slope westward to the Black sea, but is mostly very uneven and rugged, being traversed by ramifications of the Caucasus. The only streams are the Rioni and its tributaries. The climate is excellent, and the soil generally fertile. All the higher mountain-slopes are covered with magnificent forests; many of the loftier valleys afford luxuriant pasture:; and in the lower grounds, notwithstanding the indolence and unskilful management of the inhabitants, heavy crops of wheat, barley, maize, tobacco, hemp, and madder, are raised. Fruit-trees grow spontaneously; and chestnuts, walnuts, apricots, cherries, &c, are found in abundance in every quarter. The vine also is said to grow spontaneously, and is often found entwining itself with the trees of the forest. Domestic animals are not numerous, but game is very abundant.
Considerable attention is paid to the rearing of bees and silkworms. There are no manufactures deserving of the name; and the trade, almost wholly in the hands of Armenians, Greeks, and Jews, consists chiefly in exports of the raw produce of the country—particularly wine, grain, silk, wax, skins, wool, and fruit; and imports of woollen, linen, and silk goods, copper and iron ware, cutlery, salt, and colonial produce. The trade In slaves—males for the army, and females for the harems of the Turks — was once the most important in all, but has been put down by the Russians since they acquired the control of the country.
Imeritia, in the fourteenth century, formed part of the kingdom of Georgia. It afterward became independent, and was governed by its own princes ; one of whom, in 1804, voluntarily made it over to Russia.
The province of Mingrelia (the ancient Colchis, and the scene of the fable of the Golden Fleece and the Argonautic expedition) is bounded on the north by the Caucasus, on the east by Imeritia, on the south by Guria, on the southwest by the Black sea, and on the northwest by Abassia. Its area is about seven thousand two hundred square miles.
The surface of this province is generally mountainous, but slopes gradually to the south, particularly toward the Rioni, its principal stream. The mountains are generally covered with magnificent forests; and both the lower slopes and valleys are fertile, yielding good crops of millet and abundance of excellent fruit. A good deal of silk and honey are likewise produced. Mingrelia became a vassalage of Russia in 1803, but is governed by its own prince, who takes the name of dadian.
The province of Guria, or Guriel, is bounded on the north by Imeritia and Mingrelia, on the east by the district of Akhalzik in Russian Armenia, on the south by the pachalic of Trebizond in Turkey, and on the west by the Black sea. It contains fifteen hundred square miles.
The country is chiefly forest; the soil is very fertile. The inhabitants are principally Georgians, with a few Armenians. Guria, the same as Mingrelia, is governed by a native prince, who acknowledges the czar's supremacy. Ignorance and vice are very prevalent, and even few of the nobles can understand their own language. The general condition of the people, however, is said to have been greatly improved through their connection with Russia. The noble can no longer deprive his servant of life, or sell him to a foreign master, as formerly.
Koutais, Kotais, or Khouthaissi (the ancient Cotatis), the capital of the western Trans-Caucasian provinces, is situated on the left bank of the Rioni, about one hundred and twenty miles west-northwest of Teflis. It is embosomed in fruitful gardens; has in its centre a market-place, in the form of a large amphitheatre, where the inhabitants lounge away much of their time ; and six churches, a seminary with one hundred pupils, and a public garden tastefully laid out. It is the residence of a governor and a bishop. The inhabitants, consisting, besides Imeritians, of a great number of Armenians and Jews, are chiefly employed in vine and garden culture. The population is about three thousand.
The old town of Cotatis, or Cotaisis, the capital of ancient Imeritia, is situated on the right bank of the Rioni, to the westward of the modern town, and is reached by a stone bridge over the river. It is little more than a heap of ruins, among which, however, lie broken columns, and capitals covered with inscriptions.
The province of Abassia, Abkasia, or Abchasia, is bounded north and west by the Caucasian range, which separates it from Circassia; east by Mingrelia; and south by the Black sea. It is about two hundred and sixty miles long, by less than thirty in breadth.
This country is composed wholly of the southern side of the Caucasus mountains—some of whose snow-covered peaks are here from twelve to thirteen thousand feet high—and of the low plains intervening between these mountains and the sea. The prevailing geological formations are greenstone, porphyry, black slate, and Jura limestone.
Immense forests of the finest trees (oak, alder, chestnut, &c.) clothe the mountain-sides, stretching down to the plains, whose Italian climate, ripening maize, figs, pomegranates, the fruits of central Europe, grain, and excellent grapes, invites to profitable cultivation ; but the country is a waste, its numerous ruins alone proclaiming its former flourishing condition. Nor do the Abassians excel in cattle-rearing or commerce—a little of the latter, in felt mantles, fox and polecat skins, honey, wax, and boxwood, being carried on—any more than in agriculture. On the contrary, with such indifference are these branches of. industry pursued, that by their means they do not obtain a sufficient subsistence; which, therefore, they eke out in the manner most congenial to their tastes, by plunder and robbery — occupations which, in them, have become a second nature. They were formerly well known as pirates on the Black sea, and many of them prosecuted their fortunes in Egypt, where they rose by their bravery to eminent military rank among the Mamelukes. The slave-trade with Turkey formerly constituted one of the chief employments, and tended greatly to reduce the population. Notwithstanding the watchfulness of the Russians, slaves are still secretly exported. The women are beautiful, and are much sought after in Turkey.
The Abassians belong to the Circassian race, and distinguish among themselves five tribes—Abassians (or Abkases) proper, Bsubbes, Tsche-beldies, Aschawes, and Imuozahanes. Abassia, under the Byzantine emperors, formed an independent state, separate from Georgia. In the eleventh century, by heirship, it fell to the kings of Georgia, under whom it decayed; and in 1457 it fell under the supremacy of the Turks. In 1771, the Abassians asserted their independence; and, after various fortunes, about 1823, the reigning prince, Michael Bey, called on the Russians to occupy the country, which they did, by stationing troops at Anapa, Soukgoum-Kaleh, Tambor, Pitzunda, Gagra, and other towns. Anapa, situated on the Black sea, was formerly the chief emporium of the Turkish trade with the Circassian tribes, and from it the Georgian and Circassian slave-girls were supplied. The fort was constructed by the Turks in 1784, when the Russians took possession of the Crimea and the island of Saman. In 1791, the Russians carried it by storm. It was afterward restored to the Turks, who strengthened the fortifications. By a subsequent treaty the Russians again acquired possession. Its trade is chiefly in hides, tallow, wax, honey, &c. The population is about three thousand.
Circassia (Tcherkessia, or Tcherkeskaia), the largest and most important country in the Caucasus, occupies nearly the whole northern slope of that range of mountains. It lies between the forty-second and forty-sixth degrees of north latitude, and the thirty-seventh and forty-fourth degrees of east longitude. At its northwest corner it reaches the Black sea, but, with this exception, it is bounded on the south and west by the main ridge of the mountains which divide it from the Trans-Caucasian provinces. The northern limit is formed by the rivers Kouban and Terek, which separate it from the government of the Caucasus. Toward the east it terminates at the junction of the little river Sunsha with the Terek, at which point a host of small streams divide it from the country of the Lesghians. In extreme length, from northwest to southeast, Circassia is about four hundred and seventy miles ; in its greatest width, about one hundred miles ; in its least, about forty miles ; and, at an average, seventy miles. It contains thirty-two thousand square miles.
The physical features of Circassia have been generally described in the notice of the Caucasian range on a previous page, and what is peculiar to Circassia is only the consequence of that country's occupying the northern slope of the mountains. With the exception of the lowlands on the banks of the Kouban and Terek, the whole territory is broken into precipitous mountains, small table-lands, and valleys of the most picturesque and romantic description. Its hydrography belongs to two systems, the waters of Kabardah (the eastern section) being all conveyed by the Terek to the Caspian, and those of western Circassia by the Kouban to the Black sea. The former river rises near the Kazbek, and, forcing its way through the pass of Dariel (the ancient " Caucasian Gate"),receives, directly or indirectly, thirty-five streams before it quits the Circassian country. Of these, the Malk, which joins it at its eastern bend, is scarcely inferior in size to the principal river. It rises near the eastern bases of the Elbrouz, and is itself the recipient of a considerable number of tributaries. The Kouban rises on the northern base of the Elbrouz, not far from the sources of the Malk, and receives the water of more than fifty rivers, thirty of which fall directly into its bed. It has every reason to be considered exclusively a Circassian river; for, though no part of its northern bank be inhabited by Circassians, it does not receive a single tributary, in its whole course, that does not rise within their territory. A similar remark will apply, in a modified sense, to the Terek, which, like the Kouban, does not receive a single stream from the north, and only one of consequence after entering the Tartar country east of Little Kabardah. The country between the sources of the Malk and Kouban is watered by various streams ; and when it is recollected that, in addition to these, innumerable torrents pour from the upper ranges of the mountains, it will be evident that no land can be better irrigated. The water is in general clear and good, but occasionally impregnated with mineral and other extraneous matters. The tributary streams become flooded in winter, and extremely shallow during the heats of summer; the currents of all are extremely rapid, as are those also of the Terek and Kouban, except where the latter forms morasses, which it does in some parts of the flat country, when its course becomes sluggish, and its water thick and muddy.
The climate, soil, and natural productions of Circassia, are also the same with those of the Caucasus generally; but the temperature is rather lower than on the southern slopes, except on the banks of the Kouban, where the greater depression more than compensates for the difference of aspect, and where the extensive marshes and the exuberant vegetation create miasma, which render it more pestilential than any other district in the whole region. There is a greater proportion of bare rock in Circassia than in Georgia and the other countries south of the main ridge; but on every shelf, and in every rift, trees, grain, vegetables, and fruit of almost every kind, are produced from most fertile soil.
The animals, also, are on the same scale of abundance and variety, whether the wild or domesticated tribes be considered—the quadrupeds, birds, fishes, insects, or reptiles. The Circassian horses are nearly as famous, and quite as good, as those of Arabia. Cattle of all kinds are abundant in the extreme; and, in addition to the herds forming the numerous stocks of the pastoral population, the aurochs and argali (wild ox and sheep) still wander among the mountains, with the ibex and another beautiful variety of the goat. Game of all kinds, winged, hoofed, or clawed, are found in equal abundance, but differing in kind, in the mountains and plains ; nor are beasts of prey, as jackals, wolves, bears, lynxes, and tiger-cats, &c., much less numerous, though they seem to be but little regarded by the natives. Wild-boars are found, especially among the swamps of the Kouban, and it is affirmed that the tiger is not wholly unknown. The reptile and insect tribes are equally numerous. In one of the campaigns of the Russians, besides the thousands who fell victims to the bad air, it is stated by Spencer that numbers died from the mortified bites of moschetoes.
Both natives and Russians believe that the mountains abound in gold and silver, but apparently on no good grounds. Iron, however, lead, and copper, are found ; and saltpetre is very abundant. Salt is nowhere found within the limits of Circassia; and since Russia has excluded the natives from the brine-pits in the Caucasian steppe, and sealed their ports against the trade of Turkey and Persia, they have been almost totally deprived of that necessary.
The Circassians are divided into five classes. 1. Pschi, or pschech (princes). 2. Uork (ancient nobles). 3. The freedmen of these princes and ancient nobles, who, by their manumission, become themselves noble, and are called uork of uork. 4. The freedmen of these new nobles, called begualia. 5. The vassals, or tcho'kotl. Between the ancient and recent nobility there is no real distinction, except that, in military service, the latter are still under the command of their former masters; nor is there any great practical difference between the begualia and the tcho'kotl or vassals. The latter are, of course, the laborers, and are subdivided into such as are engaged in agriculture and such as serve the superior classes in the capacity of menial servants. Of the former, many are wealthy, nor is the state of any, one of great degradation, since there are very few if any offices of labor which prince or noble would consider derogatory to himself. To every princely house belongs a certain number of uorkr or usden, as they are called by the Russians; and the latter are the direct proprietors of the vassals. Of these last, though all are unquestionably slaves, those engaged in agriculture can not be sold singly; and the sale of any is so rare as almost to be prohibited by custom. On the other hand, it appears the vassal may transfer his duty to another usdan; which is, of course, a great protection from ill usage. The vassals pay no money-tax, and though they are compelled to supply their lord with all he wants, yet this, from the check upon the noble's power just alluded to, extends no further, usually, than to bare necessaries; since, should the latter carry his demands too far, he runs the risk of losing his vassal altogether. The relation between prince and usdan is precisely the same as that between usdan and vassal: the noble must supply the necessities of his sovereign; but should the exactions of the latter become excessive, the former may transfer his allegiance to another prince. The usden must pay the debts of their prince, and the vassals those of their usden; and in each case the inferior must make good all losses sustained by his superior, whether from robbery or accident: by which arrangement it is evident that all losses or expenses are defrayed, ultimately, by the vassal. The head of the princely house is the leader in war; and his usden are bound to attend him with all their retainers, or as many as may be required.
There is no people, not even the Arabs, among whom pride of birth is carried to a greater height than among the Circassians, especially those of Kabardah. In this district, if an usdan were to marry or seduce a princess, he would forfeit his life without mercy; and the same result would attend the attempt of a begualia or vassal to ally himself to a noble house. An Abassian prince is, in this respect, considered equal only to a Circassian usdan, and can obtain a Circassian wife only from that class. The rigorous enforcement of this custom has preserved the different ranks very distinct, though Pallas has observed, even in the Kabardahs, some traces which indicate a descent from Tartar mothers. It must be observed, however, that there does not appear to be any restriction upon a man's taking a wife or a concubine from an inferior class; and the issue of such connections take rank from the father, but are" not accounted equal to the descendants of a pure stock from both parents. Thus, there are princes of the first, second, and third class, &c, according to the greater or less degree of inferior blood which they inherit from their maternal ancestors. This state of society, closely resembling the feudal institutions of the Gothic ages, seems to imply the division of the Circassians into two distinct people, a conquering and a conquered race; but when or how the present relations were established, is involved in impenetrable obscurity.
Sears, Robert. An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire. New York: Robert Sears, 1855