The Ossetes

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Here at Language Log we know our Ossetes and have been learning much about Scythians (see "Selected readings"), so it is good to have this new (forthcoming) book by Richard Foltz: 

The Ossetes: Modern-Day Scythians of the Caucasus
New York / London: I. B. Tauris / Bloomsbury, 24 February 2022

Publisher's description:

The Ossetes, a small nation inhabiting two adjacent states in the central Caucasus, are the last remaining linguistic and cultural descendants of the ancient nomadic Scythians who dominated the Eurasian steppe from the Balkans to Mongolia for well over one thousand years. A nominally Christian nation speaking a language distantly related to Persian, the Ossetes have inherited much of the culture of the medieval Alans who brought equestrian culture to Europe. They have preserved a rich oral literature through the epic of the Narts, a body of heroic legends that shares much in common with the Persian Book of Kings and other works of Indo-European mythology. This is the first book devoted to the little-known history and culture of the Ossetes to appear in any Western language. Charting Ossetian history from Antiquity to today, it will be a vital contribution to the fields of Iranian, Caucasian, Post-Soviet and Indo-European Studies.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations



Historical Timeline

A Note on Transcriptions

Introduction: The Ossetes: Caucasians, Iranians, or Both?

1. The Scythians: Mounted Archers of the Steppes

2. From Sarmatians to Alans: An Iranian Element in the History of Europe

3. The Nart Epic: A Neglected Treasure of Indo-European Mythology

4. The Ossetes and Russia: A Special Relationship

5. Religion and National Identity: The Uatsdin

6. South Ossetia: A Fragile Independence

7. Life in Ossetia Today

Appendix: A Popular Ossetian Love Song



In the grand sweep of Eurasian history for the past four millennia, Iranian peoples have often been overlooked, and groups such as the Sogdians and Khotanese who died out after the medieval period are barely known today — though making a gradual comeback thanks to the labors of dedicated philologists, historians of religion, and other specialists.  Yet it was these same Iranian peoples who were often drivers of commerce, culture, and civilization.  They were, as I am fond of calling them, Kulturvermittlers par excellence.  Consequently, I welcome works such as Richard Foltz's The Ossetes that will enable the premodern Iranian peoples to be better known to the general public.


Selected readings


  1. Peter G. Golden said,

    July 25, 2021 @ 9:54 am

    An interesting work, which contextualizes the various polemics regarding Ossete origins, is that of Виктор Шнирельман, Быть аланами: интеллектуалы и политика на Северном Кавказе в ХХ веке (Москва: Новое литературное обозрение, 2006), a work of almost 700 pages that devotes pp.75-201 to the question of Ossetian identity – and those among the peoples of the North Caucasus claiming Alanic origins.

  2. David Marjanović said,

    July 25, 2021 @ 11:59 am

    Быть аланами: интеллектуалы и политика на Северном Кавказе в ХХ веке

    "To be Alans: intellectuals and politics in the Northern Caucasus in the 20th century"

  3. Andreas Johansson said,

    July 25, 2021 @ 12:36 pm

    There seems to be little on the medieval kingdom of Alania period in it?

    Either way, onto the (already much too long) wishlist it goes.

  4. Ian said,

    August 7, 2021 @ 5:22 am

    I'm glad he was able to write this. His last blog post (originally at, which now seems to be defunct) was a rather heartbreaking tale of getting chased out of Ossetia due to a political pressure from some angry academics on the other side of some debate.

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