Introducing Ossetia

Ossetia is a region of the central Caucasus that is divided between two political entities: North Ossetia-Alania, which is a republic within the Russian Federation, and the Republic of South Ossetia-State of Alania, which is a de facto independent state that declared its independence from Georgia in 1991 and — due to geopolitical factors which will no doubt be discussed during the course of this blogging exercise — is currently recognized by only five UN member states. North Ossetia has an area of 8,000km2 and a population of about 700,000, some 65 per cent of whom are ethnic Ossetes. South Ossetia covers around 3,900km2, with a population of about 53,000, 90 per cent of whom are Ossetes.

The Ossetes are the direct linguistic and cultural descendants of the medieval Alans, who settled throughout Europe during the first millennium CE and contributed much to European culture (most notably in the equestrian realm), and through them the ancient Sarmatians who were a branch of Scythians. The Ossetian language belongs to the northeastern Iranian linguistic family and is distantly related to Persian. The Ossetes were relatively isolated following the destruction of their vast kingdom by the Mongols during the 13th century up until the colonization of the Caucasus by imperial Russia beginning at the end of the 18th, and as a result they have been able to preserve much of their ancient mythology and cultural traditions, some of which can be traced as far back as the Scythians, right up to the present day. While about 80 per cent of Ossetes are nominally Orthodox Christian and the remaining 20 per cent nominally Sunni Muslim, in fact these religions sit lightly on most Ossetes, who see no conflict in maintaining many ancient beliefs and practices. This of course, is considered problematic by some of the religious authorities…

I first travelled to Ossetia two years ago, in February 2018, at the invitation of my Ossetian colleague Tamir Salbiev, an expert on the Nart epic and many other aspects of Ossetian culture. I instantly fell in love with the place and returned for a more extended stay in June 2019. Still that was not enough, and this past November I took a leave of absence from my university to come and live in Ossetia for a year. The past two months have been an adventure, and I expect there is much more to come. I hope that my reports and observations about life in this extraordinary part of the world will be a start towards filling in the gaps of information that exist regarding what has become one of my all-time favourite places.


Published by Richard Foltz

Professor in the Department of Religions and Cultures, Concordia University, Montréal, Canada

One thought on “Introducing Ossetia

  1. Dear Richard, dæ bon khorz!
    Welcome to Ossetia and Thank you for expressing an interest in our culture and region. Hope you are having an enjoyable stay so far. Look forward to your future posts!
    With kind regards,

    Liked by 2 people

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