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Ossetian mosaic.jpg
(left to right): Kosta, Abaev,
Tokaty, Gergiev
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Russia 515,000 [1]
 South Ossetia:
(an independent state with limited de jure recognition)
45,000 [2]
(excluding South Ossetia)
38,028 [3]
 Syria 59,200 [4]
 Turkey 36,900 [4]
 Uzbekistan 8,170 [4]
 Tajikistan 5,300 [4]
 Ukraine 4,830 [5]
 Azerbaijan 2,340 [4]
 Turkmenistan 2,170 [4]
 Kazakhstan 2,090 [4]
 Kyrgyzstan 937 [4]
 Belarus 784 [4]
 Latvia 419 [4]
 Armenia 392 [4]
 Moldova 353 [4]
 Estonia 116 [6]

Ossetic, Russian, Georgian


Mostly Eastern Orthodox with a small minority professing Islam

Related ethnic groups

Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans
Eastern Iranians: Yaghnobi, Pashtuns, Pamiri people and other Iranian peoples along with the Jassic people of Hungary

The Ossetians (Ossetic: ирæттæ, irættæ) are an Iranic[7][8][9] ethnic group indigenous to Ossetia, a region that spans the Caucasus Mountains. The Ossetians mostly populate North Ossetia-Alania in Russia, and South Ossetia which is now de facto independent from Georgia. They speak Ossetic, an Indo-European language of the Iranian branch, although nearly all also speak Russian as a second language. The Ossetians are mostly Christian, with a Muslim minority (see: Digor).



The Russian geographic name "Ossetia" and the corresponding ethnic designation "Ossetians" comes from a Georgian root.

The Russians originally called the Ossetians Yas (ясы), possibly related to their contact with Jazones.

In Late Antiquity, records became much more diffuse and the Iazyges generally ceased to be mentioned as a tribe. In the Middle Ages an Iranian people appeared in Eastern-Europe, the Jazones. The Jazones, or Jász, an Ossetic people who migrated to Hungary, are first mentioned in Hungarian records in the year 1318, and their name, spelled in Greek means "Jasons" (Ιάσωνες). The Jász in Hungary maintained their language until the 18th century. While they have become linguistically Hungarian, descendants in the Jász area of Hungary still maintain some original culture and have folk consciousness of their origins.

In the late 14th century, the Russians adopted the Georgian name of the Ossetians and their nation. In the Georgian language, Alania and the Alans are known as Oseti (ოსეთი) and Osebi (ოსები) respectively. From the Russian language the names Ossetia and Ossetians came to other languages.

Nowadays the Ossetians themselves refer to their nation as irættæ (pl.) or Iron (singular) (< Irān, related to Indo-European آریا ārya 'noble').


Charnel vaults at a necropolis near the village of Dargavs, North Ossetia

The Ossetians descend from the AlansSarmatians, a Scythian tribe.[10][11] About A.D. 200, the Alans were the only branch of the Sarmatians to keep their culture in the face of a Gothic invasion, and the Alans remaining built up a great kingdom between the Don and the Volga, according to Coon, The Races of Europe. Between A.D. 350 and 374, the Huns destroyed the Alan kingdom, and a few survive to this day in the Caucasus as the Ossetes. They became Christians under Byzantine[12] and Georgian influence. A small number adopted Islam, and most of these are Sunni Muslims.

In the 8th century a consolidated Alan kingdom, referred to in sources of the period as Alania, emerged in the northern Caucasus Mountains, roughly in the location of the latter-day Circassia and the modern North Ossetia-Alania. At its height, Alania was a centralized monarchy with a strong military force and benefited from the Silk Road.

Ossetian mideval castle in Hanaz-village, North Ossetia

Forced out of their medieval homeland (south of the River Don in present-day Russia) during Mongol rule, Alans migrated towards and over the Caucasus mountains, where they formed three ethnic groups:

In recent history, the Ossetians participated in Ossetian-Ingush conflict (1991–1992) and Georgian–Ossetian conflicts (1918–1920, early 1990s) and in the 2008 South Ossetia war between Georgia and South Ossetia.


The Ossetic language belongs to the Indo-European language family. It belongs to the Iranian branch of that language family. Ossetic is divided into two main dialect groups: Ironian (os. - Ирон) in North and South Ossetia and Digorian (os. - Дыгурон) of western North Ossetia. There are some subdialects in those two: like Tualian, Alagirian, Ksanian, etc. Ironian dialect is the most widely spoken.

Ossetic is classified as Northeastern Iranian, the only other surviving member of the subgroup being Yaghnobi, spoken more than 2,000 km to the east in Tajikistan. Both are remnants of the Scytho-Sarmatian dialect group which was once spoken across Central Asia.


Most of the Ossetians became Christians in the 10th century under Byzantine influence.

As the time went by, Digor in the west came under Kabard and Islamic influence. It was through the Kabardians (an East Circassian tribe) that Islam was introduced into the region in the 17th century.

Kudar in the southernmost region became part of what is now South Ossetia, and Iron, the northernmost group, came under Russian rule after 1767, which strengthened Orthodox Christianity considerably.

Today the majority of Ossetians, from both North and South Ossetia, follow Eastern Orthodoxy, although there is a sizable number of adherents to Islam.

Traces of paganism are still very widespread among Ossetians, with rich ritual traditions, sacrificing animals, holy shrines, non-Christian saints, etc.


The vast majority of Ossetians live in Russia (according to the Russian Census (2002)):

There is a significant number living in north-central Georgia (Trialeti). A large Ossetian diaspora lives in Turkey, and Ossetians have also settled in France, Sweden, Syria, the USA (New York City, Florida and California as examples), Canada (Toronto) and other countries all around the world.


See also


  1. ^ 2002 Russian census
  2. ^ (2007) PCGN Report "Georgia: a toponymic note concerning South Ossetia" (page 3)[1].
  3. ^ (2002 census)
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Joshua Project
  5. ^ 2001 Ukrainian census
  6. ^ 2000 Estonian census
  7. ^ Bell, Imogen. Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia, p. 200.
  8. ^ Mirsky, Georgiy I. On Ruins of Empire: Ethnicity and Nationalism in the Former Soviet Union, p. 28.
  9. ^ Mastyugina, Tatiana. An Ethnic History of Russia: Pre-revolutionary Times to the Present, p. 80.
  10. ^ Carlos Quiles, "A Grammar of Modern Indo-European", Published by Carlos Quiles Casas, 2007. pg 69: "Ossetian, together with Kurdish, Tati and Talyshi, is one of the main Iranian languages with sizeable community of speakers in the Caucasus. It is descended from Alanic, the language of Alans, medieval tribes emerging from the earlier Sarmatians
  11. ^ James Minahan, "One Europe, Many Nations", Published by Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000. pg 518: "The Ossetians, calling themselves Iristi and their homeland Iryston are the most northerly Iranian people. ... They are descended from a division of Sarmatians, the Alans who were pushed out of the Terek River lowlands and in the Caucasus foothills by invading Huns in the fourth century A.D.
  12. ^ Alania and Byzantine
  13. ^ Agustí Alemany, Sources on the Alans: A Critical Compilation. Brill Academic Publishers, 2000 ISBN 90-04-11442-4
  14. ^ Georgian-Ossetian ethno-historical review, Prof. Roland Topchishvili
  15. ^ The Foreign Policy of Russia: Changing Systems, Enduring Interests. Robert H. Donaldson, Joseph L. Nogee. M.E. Sharpe. 2005. pp. 199. ISBN 0765615681, 9780765615688. 


  • Nasidze et al., Mitochondrial DNA and Y-Chromosome Variation in the Caucasus, Annals of Human Genetics, Volume 68 Page 205 - May 2004
  • Nasidze et al., Genetic Evidence Concerning the Origins of South and North Ossetians (2004) [2]

External links



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