It was a saying of medieval Islamic scholars that the Caucasus was a jabal al-alsun, a ‘mountain of tongues’. It is difficult to think of anywhere else in the world with such a diversity of peoples, languages and religious traditions. Throughout history, it has been a route of conquest, a fiercely contested buffer zone and also, in the words of the historian Richard Nelson Frye, a ‘refuge area par excellence’ in whose high, winding valleys an extraordinary array of cultural groups have managed to maintain their distinct identities from time almost immemorial.
In this ambitious work, which will eventually run to two volumes, Christoph Baumer sets out to unfold the full history of this region in all its glorious complexity. The first volume deals with the Caucasus from the dawn of time to around the 12th century AD. The second volume will cover the 12th century to the present.
Baumer is an old-school polymath and the breadth of his knowledge makes him admirably suited to deal with the endless intricacies of this subject. He is both an explorer with several decades of experience in the field and a historian and scholar with a remarkable capacity to master other disciplines relevant to the subject and expound them with perfect lucidity.
His account begins long before the start of recorded history with a rigorous discussion of the region’s geology and the earliest traces of human habitation. From the start, it is full of engaging detail. The earliest hominid remains outside Africa, around 1.8 million years old, were recently found near