Cultural History: Azerbaijan: Antique Period
Several of the sites along the pipeline route in Azerbaijan date from what archaeologists call the Early Antique Period. During this period, Azerbaijan had close economic-trading and cultural-political relations with the Near East and Greco-Roman world. The archaeological excavations conducted inform us of the high level of these relations. During this period, the kingdoms of Caucasian Albania and Iberia (Kartli) occupied the territories of present-day Azerbaijan and Georgia, respectively. To the west and north lived the Scythians, Sarmatians, and inhabitants of the Kingdom of Colchis. The Medes, Assyrian, and neo-Babylonian empires located to the south and southwest were eventually replaced by the Persian Empire.
Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, defeated the Medes in 553 BC. The Persian Achaemenid Empire, which began with Cyrus, encompassed a vast area from Afghanistan to Thrace (in what is today Bulgaria and northern Greece). This Empire established the critical role the Persians played in the historical development of southwest Asia and influenced all the countries of the South Caucasus and Anatolia.
Following his victory over Darius Achaemenid of Persia at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC, Macedonian King Alexander the Great occupied Media, an event that contributed to the spread of Greek culture in the South Caucasus. After Alexander’s death in 323 BC, his empire was divided among several successors. Eastern Anatolia and portions of the South Caucasus (southern portions of Caucasian Albania and Caucasian Iberia) went to Seleucus (Salavki), a Macedonian general who established the Seleucid dynasty, which continued the Hellenization of the region and strengthened connections with the Mediterranean world.
The expansion of Roman power into the region during the last century BC, and the incorporation of much of it into the Roman Empire during the first three centuries AD, reinforced the Mediterranean influences in the region. To establish its authority, Rome initially dispatched some of its most famous generals, such as Lucullus, Pompey, to counter the burgeoning power of the Parthians from south and east of the Caspian, and later kept legions stationed in the area to consolidate its control. The stability provided by Roman authority helped strengthen economic and social connections in the region.
The state of Caucasian Albania was established in the 4th century BC. Caucasian Albania covered the territory of the present day Azerbaijan Republic and the territories up to Goyja (Sevan) lake and South Dagestan. Its capital was Gabala and starting from the 5th century, the city of Barda. Derbend, Shamakhi, Shabran, Baylagan were other big cities of this state. Strabo, Ptolemy, Pliny, Cassius, Plutarch and other antique period authors have provided information about Caucasian Albania. Diverse religious traditions, including Zoroastrianism and Christianity, were practiced from the first years of AD. At the beginning of the 4th century, a certain segment of the Alban society (including political elites), accepted Christianity. The existence of different religions in Albania is shown at burial sites, including pots, wooden boxes, catacombs and Christian graves. All of these graves were encountered in the pipelines corridor. The aforementioned graves of the Caucasian Albany were discovered and excavated at 200, 204, 241, 316, 335,.336, 406, 408.8, 409.1 kms of the pipeline route. Rich domestic items, trinkets and weapons were found in these graves; they proved that different types of craftsmanship were highly developed in Caucasian Albania. Jewelry brought from the Near East provides information on Albania’s vast economic and cultural relations. Remains of one residential area dating from the 5th-3rd centuries BC and several burial sites were discovered during archaeological excavations conducted near the Girag Kasaman village in the Agstafa region. In spite of the rural nature of this settlement, the remains of a metal-working kiln and numerous spindle whorls indicate the presence of local metal-working and weaving industries.
The later Antique Period is identified with the Roman Empire and the first centuries of the Byzantine Empire. The end of this Period is generally dated, by archaeologists in Azerbaijan, to coincide with the rise of Islam. This period saw Rome’s expansion into southwest Asia, as well as the subjugation of the unified Caucasian Albanian Kingdom of the South Caucasus by the Persian Sassanid Empire. The Sassanians strove to subjegate the South Caucasian states, while simultaneously attempting to limit incursions from northern tribes originating from the south Russian steppes. In pursuit of the latter, they built a series of walls near Derbent, Azerbaijan. Imposing remains still stand, forming one of the region’s largest extant fortresses. In 5th century Albanian alphabet, consisting of 52 letters was created.
Inscriptions at Gobustan and near Derbent document the Roman presence in the Caucasus. Rome’s 12th legion, which was based at different times in Cappadocia and the highlands east of Anatolia, may have exercised Roman dominion over the greater Kura Valley and placed forces at the Derbent Gates. From this strategic location, the Romans could have controlled movement between the North Caucasus Mountains and the Caspian Sea, thus restricting the migration of Goths and Huns from the Russian steppes. Azerbaijani archaeologists and historians believe that the community of Ramany on the Absheron Peninsula north of Baku may have begun as a Roman encampment.
The AGT Pipelines Archaeological Program found a few examples of Antique period and later Medieval sites. The Seyidlar II residential area in the Samukh district (316 km) and the settlement and graveyard near the Chaparli village in the Shamkir district (335/336 km) are two such examples. The Chaparli site in particular is noteworthy because it contains Early Medieval graves and architectural remains. The carved limestone decorations in the area, one of which appears to depict a cross, led the excavators to interpret the structure as an early Christian chapel, belonging to a local Albanian community.
This section on “Azerbaijan” is authored solely by candidate of history science Najaf Museyibli.
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