CASPIAN GATES (ALBANIAN GATES)
A relatively narrow passage, which in ancient times used to be a caravan route for many peoples in the ancient Orient, passed between the Caucasus Mountains and the Caspian Sea. This inshore passage went mainly through Caucasian Albania, Caspiana, and Athropathena. Hostile nomadic hordes coming from Eastern Europe strove for the occupation and plunder of these fertile lands on the Absheron peninsula, the territory between the rivers Kura and Arak, and bordering countries of the Asia Minor. In several places from Derbent (Dar-band, Demir-kapy) to Kilyazi, the Caucasus Mountains were relatively close to the sea. This resulted in the construction of several protective defensive installations. The Derbent fortifications were the largest among them, they were located in a geo-graphically convenient narrow place. The narrow Caspian valley was protected by at least three fortifications, which terminated in a composite of strongholds and castles on the Absheron peninsula. Despite this fact, the majority of experts ascribe all the available names of different fortifications to the Derbent fortification. However, there were the following names: the Caspian Gates, the Albanian Gates, the Marine Gates, the Gates of Darband (Dar-i-Mir-Mitra is the God of Peace and War; band is a dyke, dam, or restriction; so Dar-band is the gates of Peace and War). The gates of Dzhor and its derivatives Chora, Choga, Chola, Pur, Sun, San (which mean dyke or obstruction in the Udehe language. There is an Arab name also, which is Bab-al-Abvan (the Gates of Gates), and a Turkish name, Damir-kapy (Iron Gates). All these names undoubtedly confirm their geo-graphical location and defensive importance. It is very likely that the Absheron penin-sula was the Marine Gates. Its quayside was used to receive pilgrims, who wanted to prostrate themselves in front of the eternal sacred fire burning in numerous temples, sanctuaries, and pagan temples. Moreover, the quays were used with both trade and strategic purposes, especially in the northern part of the Absheron peninsula. The ancient Caspian Gates, perhaps, included the south-western part of the Caspian sea, the territory of Caspiana, the ancient country of the Caspians. Herodotus wrote that under the reign of Darius Hystapses (549-485 BC) they were includ-ed in the 11"' and 15"' districts of the Achaemenid state, which reached the Caucasus ridge without going deeper into the mountains. Favourable nature promoted an impressive increase in the Caspians' pop-ulation, and time and time again the people migrated. Therefore, according to some experts, finding themselves outside Transcaucasia, the Caspians settled either in northern India (in the Gandhara city of Caspapirse or Caspatire, the country of Caspiya located between Bactria and Serika). Strabo mentioned Caspian gates located to the south of the Parthian city of the Arsacids. The name of the city Caspi, located on the Kura river between Mtskheta and Gori reveals an interesting story, as it confirms that a particular group of the Caspians settled somewhere on this land. Ancient Caucasian Albania, Alvania, was called Ariania by ancient Greek authors, and the population instead of Albanoi were called Arianoi. The Arabs called Albania Arran (ar-ran). Minorsky wrote that initially the peoples of Arran were related to the Caspians, and probably, Medes, especially to their Magian clan, magi, who lived in the territory of Mugani. However, in my opinion, all of these three narrow passages, which from ancient times had particular defensive fortifications, were called the Caspian (South-Westem) Gates. I believe that all of these passages, which blocked the access to the Caspian depression, were held by the Albanians from ancient times. During the APhaemeninan conquest, the old barriers were partially for-tified and strengthened, and a garrison was strengthened by Iranian troops. With time, the Caspian Gates came to be called Chirah-Gala, as a reminder of the last Caspiana's border. The venerable age of the Caspian route can be seen from the Arshakid drachmas found in the territory from Albania to Derbent and further in the Sher region, etc. This gives us reason to suppose that as early as the beginning of the 1"' century AD, the Caspian route was used with trade purposes. The Tarki cuneiform writing confirms possible trade relationships with Mesopotamia in even ear-lier times, when the Babylonian merchants arrived in Absheron to see the sanctuaries of Sabail, and seven-gods temples (Tower of Maiden), and other four temples in the ancient city Ateshi Baguan, Bagvan-Baku, and then continued through the Caspian pas-sage to Derbent and further on. Gradually, the Caspians became absorbed into the ethnic mass of the Caucasian Albanians. The first appearance of the Albanians in the historic arena (4"' century BC) was accompanied by a descrip-tion of their battle-craft. Both the honorary status of Albanians recruited in the Darius troops for the Gavgamel battle against Alexander the Great and the fact that the Greeks could identify them among the mul-tilingual Persian army indicated their repu-tation long before the above-mentioned war, and confirms that the Albanians took part in the most important international events. Caucasian Albania, perhaps, was a powerful state, able to build multi-kilometre restric-tive constructions ending in large fortresses, i.e. Derbent, Chirak-Gali, and Beshbarmak, in the mountains. The walls of the Derbent defensive sys-tem are 2 million cubic metres of stone-work, and the Chirak-Gali system 1,5 mil-lion cubic metres of stone-work. If the Beshbarmak fortifications are added, we get a great volume of stone-work, and only a powerful state during many decades could have built them. Based on the above-men- tioned I believe that these three passages were fortified firstly by the Caspians and later completed by the Caucasian Albanians. The Absheron peninsula, with its strong fortresses of Ateshi-Baguan (Baku), the second Baku fortress, and Sabail, completed the above-mentioned fortified system of three narrow passages. In addition, numer-ous castles and citadels with high defensive-and-watchtowers were built all around the Absheron peninsula. All this confirms once more that a system of restrictive fortifica-tions on the Caspian sea was named the Albanian Gates, or, earlier, the Caspian Gates. In summer, due to the high level of the Caspian sea during the time described, the coastal area was flooded and therefore impossible for passage. We are sure that the Caspian Gates located close to the passage next to Derbent (those Nero wanted to conquer) already had some restrictive walls, a defensive wall, and the fortress Chirak-Gali, which protected the borders of former Caspiana. This fortress towered up beautifully from upon a great rock, and its tower, despite several restora-tions, preserved the horizontal decor of its facades, made as regular burnt brick lines interchanging with stone-work. A similar technique is used in the Beshbarmak fortifi-cations. Such an approach to facade decora-tion makes it similar to the architecture of the ancient Baku temple of seven-planet gods (7th century), which is currently known as the Tower of Maiden. Midian reached the Caspian Gates, which were for the first time mentioned by Hecatei from Miletus (6'1' century BC). We think that he meant the Chirak-Gali fortifications. The earliest data about the use of the passage by nomads from the Eastern Europe, who over-ran the Transcaucasia and Asia Minor, we find in Herodotus. He wrote that chasing the crushed Cimmerians, the Scythians broke into Midian in the 7"' century BC. They came through the Caspian Depression known to nomads making raids on the Transcaucasia and Asia Minor countries in more distant times. The rulers' struggle to protect these passages was quite reasonable. It can be sup-posed that ancient Caspians made certain restrictions in the form of earth banks, pits, traps, and, sometimes, protective walls, and then later fortifications and stronghold were built at these places, which were still named the Caspian Gates. In time, when the Caspians became absorbed into the ethnic group of the Caucasian Albanians, these fortifications were gradually given a new name, the Caucasian Gates. Certainly, the penetration of the Sassanids into the Caucasus represented a new stage in the history of the Caspian pas-sage. They tried to break into the fortified areas during the reign of Shapur I (241-274). It is mentioned in an inscription found in Naksh-i Rustam ancient city located near the Albanian Gates. It is written in another inscription from Naksh-i Rustam of Magupat Kartir that horses and the people of Shapur, the King of Kings approached the Albanian Gates. They only approached, but they did not pass through them. This is. per-haps, about the Beshbarmak fortifications, where they could not encroach. In this present article I have tried to con-sider some names for the Caspian passage, which are ascribed to the Derbent fortifica-tion by some experts, but which actually have their own place in geography and history.
Back To History