In Russian Later
Scythians - Contents
Kipchaks - Contents
Huns - Contents
Ogur and Oguz
Ethnonyms Sak and Kypsak
Alans and Ases
Ossetian Genetics

Russian Version needs a translation
Alan Dateline
Avar Dateline
Besenyo Dateline
Bulgar Dateline
Huns Dateline
Karluk Dateline
Khazar Dateline
Kimak Dateline
Kipchak Dateline
Kyrgyz Dateline
Sabir Dateline
Seyanto Dateline
Scythian-Iranian theory Abaev's Scythian Word List Scythian Word List from the Sources Abaev on Scythian language
Ladislav Zgusta
Old Ossetic Inscription from the River Zelenchuk

Verlag Der Osterreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien
ISBN 3 70010994 6 Copyright 1987
Review of the Ladislav Zgusta study of
"Ossetic school of thought"
Contents of section Zelenchuk Inscription
Scytho-Iranian hypothesis
V.I.Abaev's Zelenchuk Inscription (bi-lingual)
L.Zgusta Old Ossetic Inscription from River Zelenchuk (Review) (English)
Ya.S.Vagapov's Zelenchuk Inscription Vainakh Reading (in L.Zgusta p. 42 on)
A.Z.Kafoev's Zelenchuk Inscription Adyg Reading (in L.Zgusta p. 46 on)
M.Kudaev's Zelenchuk Inscription Balkar Reading (in Balkar)
M.Kudaev's Zelenchuk Inscription Balkar Reading (in English and Russian)
Miziev's Türkic reading (in L.Zgusta p. 58 on)
Fattakhov Türkic reading (in L.Zgusta p. 58 on)
T. Dzokaev An Ossetic view


http://polyglot.lss.wisc.edu/dsna/DSNANSpring07.pdf - about Professor L.Zgusta 1924-2007
http://alanianet.ru/abaev/list.html - who is V.I.Abaev (1900-2001)
http://www.balkaria.info/library/k/kudaev/zelenchukdzhazyu/zelenchukdzhazyu.htm - Faximile of M.Kudaev's article in Balkar
http://karachays.com/publ/61-1-0-355 - Russian translation of M.Kudaev's article


The prophetic words cited to the right were already published in the 3rd volume of the Vs.F.Miller book, "Ossetian etudes" (1881-1887), a year before the uncontestable evidence of the Vs.F.Miller assertions would have been fortuitously and totally accidentally found in the following 1888 by Mr. D.M.Strukov, to form an iron-clad  foundation of the Scytho-Iranian theory. Mr. D.M.Strukov dropped a hand sketch of the uncontestable evidence onto the Vs.F.Miller's lap, thus poring a foundation under a tower that Vs.F.Miller had already built, foresightfully and verifiably, during his previous creative decade. Is the "Zelenchuk inscription" an utter falsification? Judge for yourself.

To add a spice to the construct, the brand of the Ossetic language used in all reconstructions is a Digor language, a creole of mostly Nakh, somewhat Türkic, and slightly Ironian Ossetic languages. The Digors, aka Dügers, aka Tochars, aka Tuhsi, aka Duhs, aka Tukhars, are one of the many Türkic tribes and the descendents of the Tokharians famous for the nomadic conquest of Bactria in 130 BC. In linking "Alanian" to Iranian, the infamous founding fathers could not use the most Iranian-influenced Ironian lexicon. They had to turn to a scion of the Türkic language. The Türkic-speaking Digors still exist in our time, their language is called Karachai and Balkar.

"Ancestors of the "Ossetes" were a part of those Iranian nomadic tribes that were known many centuries before Christ under name of Sarmats and partially Scythians... Maybe, to the same Iranian tribes belonged further east the Massagetes and some other tribes, known to the ancient Persians under a name Sakas"

V.F.Miller, 1887
Vs.F.Miller, "Ossetian etudes" (III, .; 1887)

" , .. , , ".

.. , 1887
. . , " " (III, .; 1887).

The review presented in this posting allows an interested reader to have a look at a major cornerstone of Scytho-Iranian hypothesis that revolutionized the traditional ethnic affiliation of the Scythians, from the Turkic to the Iranian. A partiality of this posting should not be a concern, the facts must stand on their own, the most that is required for open-minded review is to be willing to accept tenable arguments. A fundamental problem about the inscription is that the original "location map" and associated descriptions do not allude to any distances. In the mountain terrain, however, the ridges and gorges present a topography that restrains the deliberate obscurity of putative location to fairly well defined areas. The course of the river between the Upper and Lower Arkhyzes is so short, the terrain affords so few places for settlements, the survey and satellite maps are so clear, the location of all ruins and architectural monuments is so well known, and tradition of locating cemeteries within walking distance from the settlements all limit the viable locations to those that were repeatedly and thoroughly examined, with no results.

The Scytho-Iranian theory is a linguistic theory, but in practical scientific and political spheres it is used in ethnic, biological, racial, and political aspects. This is even true when the authors openly disclaim equating languages and populations. This equating, sometimes explicit, and more frequently implied, generates an utterly simplistic picture - a caricature - of the real situation. In L.Zgusta work such an implied concept is the Alan-Alans-Alania, imagined as a monolithic monolingual homogeneous society, while from the beginning they are known as a confederation of tribes, likely a multi-ethnic even if a monolingual confederation of tribes, which in the course of one and a half millennia coexisted with an untold number of the Caucasian and N. Pontic peoples. On the other side, L.Zgusta's work accepts the Ossetic people as a likewise monolithic single-lingual homogeneous people, which they clearly are not, and accepts the equating of the two, Alans=Ossets, Alania=Ossetia. This equating is scarcely true; the Alans, known from the ancient and Middle Age writers, are hardly associated with Ossetes, and the Ossetes-Ovs in Georgian annals refer to the mountaineer people in a small mountain enclave bordering Georgia in the north, not the nomadic steppe Alans with a footprint from the Aral sea to Danube.

First suggested in the 19th century, the nascent Scytho-Iranian hypothesis needed solid evidentiary material, and the Zelenchuk Inscription was a timely and perfect artifact to advance the hypothesis to a valid theory resting on reliable foundation. The translation and reliability was provided by Iranist-philologist Count Vs.F. Miller, an ardent advocate of the new hypothesis. The 1883 publication of Vs.F. Miller's study clenched the proof, converting a new paradigm from a hypothesis to a solid theory, and with time, especially after the WWII and following publication of V.I.Abaev 1949 book, it became a favorite paradigm in the Indo-European humanitarian sciences, in spite of the notorious deportations and holocaust inflicted on the native non-IE peoples of the Caucasus and Crimea during the WWII events, not in a small measure rationalized by the premises of the Scytho-Iranian studies.

A fundamental problem is an absolute absence of any kind of independent expert examination. In a land where forgeries and fakes have a trail of a millennia-long history, starting from the very first literary works, a total absence of an  independent expertise is a red flag that should have prevented a fake to become an axiomatic genuine evidence. L.Zgusta's pedantical recital of the discovery history and provenance may have been intended to subtly attest that, in the century since the original and only publication, not a single soul could verify a single evidence, locate the stele, or the cemetery, or the adjacent kurgan burial field, vividly described by the initial discoverers. Not only the local folks, but the professional surveyors and archeologists could not locate the site. The disappearance of the site is not less miraculous than its easy finding by two separate visitors on two separate trips from the Sanct Petersburg  capital.

The first dissenting readings, in Adyg and Türkic, were published in the early 1960es. With the fall of the USSR and a temporary liberation of the intellectual freedoms in the post-Soviet space, alternative readings and attributions finally came to light. By 1986, at least three alternative readings of the same inscription were proposed, and the inscription gained five interpretations, in Iranian, Arabic, Adyg, Turkic and Nakh languages belonging to at least four different language families, a situation certainly irrational from a scientific point of view (see http://iratta.com/2007/06/19/12._kultury_i_byt._vtoraja_chast.html). L.Zgusta ventured to adjudicate the burgeoning controversy, and compiled a report that analyzed the "Ossetic school of thought" and two alternatives, in Adyg and Nakh languages, mostly from a philological angle. L.Zgusta did not address the Türkic version, relying instead on the opinion of one of the contenders, Ya.Vagapov, a proponent of a Nakh interpretation, whose methods and views L.Zgusta thoroughly discredited in his report. In the end, out of three reviewed interpretations, one of which had a hundred-year trail of avulsions and rectifications, L.Zgusta endorsed the "Ossetic school of thought", condoning numerous emendations, conspicuous addition of 8 letters, and logical leaps, all employed to create the Ossetic interpretation. Because the Nakh and Ossetic languages share a common lexicon comprising 40-50% of their vocabularies, the endorsement of Ossetic paradigm also adds credence to the Nakh interpretation.

This review canvasses some week points and biases displayed by L.Zgusta, and complements his report with the Türkic versions suggested by M.Kudaev, I.Miziev and F.Fattakhov. A special twist in the story is that the late Ismail Miziev (1940 -1997), a prominent scholar included in 1997 by the Cambridge University International Biographical Center in the Dictionary of Outstanding People of the 20th Century (Cambridge, Ed.- 1997), was ethnically a Türkic-speaking Digorian, straddling both Ossetian and Balkarian contemporary ethnicities. The M.Kudaev's and I.Miziev's readings, first suggested by a Balkarian M.Kudaev, do not appear as works of professional philologists, but rather are suggestions by educated native speakers flagging out obvious Türkic lexemes for future analysis and compilation into a coherent text by qualified philologists. During the Middle Ages, Rashid ad-Din described the Digorians as one of the Oguz-Turkmen significant tribes called Düger/Duger east of the Caspian, Ibn Ruste recorded that Duhsases (Duhs-As) reigned over four Alanian tribes, and Moisei Khorenski listed Tochar-As tribe Duhsas in the Northern Caucasus. Linguistically, 25% of the Digorian lexicon is incompatible with the Ironian dialect of the Ossetes, a factor that strongly contradicts its official classification as a dialect of the (common?) Ossetian language, and it is to the Digorian that the Zelenchuk Inscription is ascribed on philological grounds (or better, ground, since only a single word is claimed to be Ossetian).

A reader of L.Zgusta expose should note major oddities associated with the Zelenchuk Inscription saga, among them, a complete inability of two consecutive expeditions to find any trace of the slele's existence, an absence of a physical evidence for the squeeze of the inscription; and the amazing case of obvious visibility and preservation during the first 900 years of the slab history, juxtaposed against its complete disappearance within the next 50 years; inability of the first interpreters Miller and Abaev to avoid defaulting to obvious Türkic terminology such as Bagatir and Anbalan, the last one specifically denoted by Abaev as not being Ossetic; almost exclusively Türkic toponyms mentioned by L.Zgusta. There is an invisible connection between the discovery of the slab with its alleged Alanian-Ossetic inscription and Scytho-Ossetian advocacy of Count Vs.F. Miller. One of the prominent experts in epigraphy, a local scientist S.Baichorov, credited with discovery and publication of hundreds inscriptions from his native Karachaevo - Circassia, led innumerable expeditions in search of the inscriptions, and ended up declaring that until there is a real monument or its photograph, any linguistical speculation is baseless, and any interpretations in any alphabets or languages, as well as the underlying reports about the monument, should be viewed as fictitious (personal communication, 2008).

L.Zgusta's analysis includes a number of talking points used to substantiate the results, a central theme is the 19th century Iranic-Ossetian-As-Alanic-Sarmatian-Scythian-Cymmerian logical chain that ends in the Scytho-Iranian paradigm. Each link of that chain was studied over the years, and each one brought to the surface insurmountable complications that L.Zgusta thoroughly ignores, openly siding with Abaev and other proponents of the simplistic Scytho-Iranian hypothesis, without acknowledging the complexity of the issues. Among them are the classification of the Ossetian agglutinative language with 40-50% Nakh and less than 10% Iranian-derived vocabulary as an Iranian language; presence in the Alanian confederation of As-Tochar/As-Digor sub-confederation and Masgut/Massagete tribes with known Türkic affiliations; Taulas/Tulas - Mountain As - constituency among Alans extracted by Bartold from Garidzi in "Extracts from Garidzi composition Zayin al-Akhbar"; the problem of discriminating Ossetian and Nakh linguistic sources caused by the predominance of common Nakh-Ossetic lexicon in the Ossetic, as exemplified by the majority - 2 out of 3 - of the Zelenchuk Inscription "Ossetic" lexicon accepted by L.Zgusta; the speculative nature of the primarily Ossetic attribution of the Nart epos, vigorously opposed by their non-Ossetian neighbors; complete indifference to the historical processes that culminated in the term "Ossetic", which is manifested in total incongruence of the genetical make-up of the three constituents of the Ossets, the Irs, the Digors, and the Argons, and associated linguistic differences, and differences in their burial traditions; and the last, but not least, the auspicious selection of oddball linguistic terms: Vainakh (ca. "we Nakhs") instead of conventional Nakh linguistic family, super-ethnic and super-linguistic subgroup Cherkess (Türkic Khazarian cher = earth, kose - people, i.e. farmers) instead of conventional Adyg (also spelled Adyghe) linguistic family, this muddling of terminology does not help the clarity of the linguistic elucidations. The position of the stele in the context of the Alanian history and Christianization should not have been completely ignored, since it has a fundamental bearing on the results of the study.

L.Zgusta examination was caused by the challenges raised by different philologists representing differing opinions. The reading of V.F.Miller and V.I.Abaev was disputed by three Caucasian scientists. A.Z.Kafoev offered a reading in Adyg (Kabardian) (Kafoev A.J. "Adyg monuments" (" "), Nalchik, 1963, pp. 8-28), and M.Kudaev offered a reading in Balkar, i.e. on the basis of Türkic languages (Kudaev M. "Zelenchuk djazyunu Malkar tilni murdorunda okub kërüu" (" "), Newspaper "Kommunizmge Dzhol" ("Communist road"), February 14, 1965, 31 (6574), [in Balkarian language]). I.M.Miziev also offered a reading on the basis of Türkic languages (Miziev I.M., "Steps toward sources of Central Caucasus ethnic history" (" "), Nalchik, "Elbrus", 1986, p. 113-116). Ya.S.Vagapov offered one more variant of reading the Zelenchuk inscription in Nakh languages (Vagapov Ya.S. "Language of Zelenchuk inscription" (" "), in "Problems of Vainakh lexicon" (" "), Grozny, 1980, p. 100-117 [in Russian]. The reading of the Zelenchuk inscription was proposed in five languages that belong to four different language families (however, Adyg and Nakh are also classified as a single linguistic family descending from Hurrian and Urartu), certainly a surreal situation. An interested reader would be amused as to how clumsy the proponents of the predominant model advance their position.

* * *

Posting comments: For simplicity, and to ensure that the presentation would not create more misunderstanding that already is there, the font was simplified to avoid diacritics, "x" was preferentially used for Greek "χ" in presumed Greek words, and English "ch" and "sh" replaced diacritic "c" and "s". Where it appears that simplification infringes on semantic meaning, the author's transcriptions are reproduced more accurately. Clarifications and explanations, where embedded in the author's text and not denoted specifically, are shown in blue. Extra-textual comments are shown in italics blue. The reader is asked to excuse the abundance of blue comments, they are what makes this posting a review. Most of the images are thumbnails, and can be enlarged by double-clicking.

Page numbers are shown at the beginning of the page. Editor has added some subdivision headings shown in blue.

Maps and pictures

Maps from Google Planet Earth show general area and river course. Pictures show present state of the town Arkhyn called "aul"= "summer village" by natives, ruins of the "old church", and riverside environment in the vicinity of the alleged location of the stele.
Table of Contents
1 The discovery of the stone 5
1.1. Later expeditions; copies and squeezes of the inscription 6
1.2. The site and its location 9
1.3. Other similar steles 11
1.4. Description of the stele and its copies 14
2. The readings 16
2.1. Miller's commentary 16
2.2 Strukov's copy and Miller's reproduction; their comparison 17
2.3 The general character of the inscription 19
3. The interpretations 20
3.1. The main "schools of thought" 20
3.2. The Ossetic interpretations 20
3.2.1. The sacral Greek names 20
3.2.2. The foundation of the Ossetic interpretation 21
3.2.3. The third line 21
3.2.4. Lines 6-18 25
3.2.5 Lines 19-21 26 The last four letters 26 Lines 19-21 continued 29 Articulation of the sequence of names in lines 6-18 29 Abaev's interpretation of lines 6-20 31 Interpretation of the names, lines 6 ff 32
3.2.7. Bjazyrty's interpretation 35 Bielmeier's modification of Bjazyrty 36 The site of the stele and its character 37 Gippert & Gippert-Fritz' interpretation 39
3.3. The non-Ossetic interpretations 41
3.3.1. Vagapov's Vainakh (Nakh, Chechen-Ingush) interpretation 41
3.3.2. Kafoev's Circassian (Adyg, Kabarda) interpretation 46
3.3.3 Kudaev's Balkar (Türkic) interpretation 57
3.3.3 Additions to section 3.3.3. - Kudaev's Türkic reading Miziev's Türkic reading - Fattakhov Türkic reading -
4. Final readings and interpretations 59
4.1. The text of the inscription 59
4.2. Its reading 59
4.3. Its interpretation 60
References 62
Note 64
Illustrations 64
Index 65
Citations from the Ladislav Zgusta study


1. The discovery of the stone

1. The stone with the inscription that will be the object of this study 1 was found in 1888 2 by Dmitri Mikhailovich Strukov. Strukov was in his day ( 1899) a quite well-known etcher and draftsman who was interested in antiquities, particularly in the churches of the Crimea and of the Caucasus. He was not a professional archaeologist, nor epigraphist; yet he was a member of the Imperial Archaeological Society in Moscow, he traveled at the Society's behest, and his various reports and communications were officially accepted by the then Imperial Archaeological Commission, with acknowledgements of the materials he submitted appearing in the Commission's Bulletin. In the summer of the year 1888, Strukov traveled in the hilly area of the river Bolshoi Zelenchuk (Russian for Greater Zelenchuk) and found (italics added) there, on the river's right bank just below a left bank settlement called then (in Russian) Staroe Jilische or Staroe Mesto (i.e. "Old Settlement", adjoining a "new settlement", correspondently Iske Arkhyz and Jany Arkhyz in native Balkarian language) and since 1920 called Arkhyz (Архыз) 3, a stele with an inscription in Greek script, of which he made a copy. (Strukov, a professional draftsman, with plenty of previous experience, and without Ossetian-Iranian-Scythian agenda, would have the best chances for a reliable thorough drawing of the inscription, and a best chance to verify any fuzzy elements by close inspection and palpation. However, the story has missing elements, with missing potentially important enlightening information. First, Arkhyz was not a dead city, it was populated, "to find" Arkhyz is much like "finding" Moscow or Odessa today. Secondly, Strukov must have stayed in Arkhyz for some time, was shown the local cemeteries, and was led to the kurgan cemetery and to the stele. The assistance could have been provided by an unnamed Russian local administrator, or a local Kabardinian feudal, who were then used as collaborators appointed by the Russian colonial office to administer the acquired lands and people, either one would have been well familiar with the area, and directly or indirectly served as guides. Strukov must have inquired through the guide interpreter what the locals know about the cemetery and the stele, and received some responses. L.Zgusta does not address the complete omission of these important details, and likewise does not address a glaring coincidence: in 1887 Vs.F.Miller published the prophesy, and in 1888 a proof in fact came about.).

Page 48 - Map Insert 1 (image037.jpg) Page 48 - Map Insert 2 (image039.jpg)

Before we give further details about the place and the stele, we must sum up some subsequent developments. The main things that happened were the following.

1.1. (1) Strukov deposited in the Imperial Archaeological Commission a dossier containing the drawings of "various archaeological monuments seen by him in the valley of the river B. Zelenchuk in the Kuban district", as was duly noted in the Bulletin of the Archaeological Commission for the year 1890 (St. Petersburg 1893), pp. 125-126 4. One can hardly doubt that this dossier contained the copy of the inscription.

(2) At the same time, Strukov gave a copy of the same inscription to a member of the Imperial Academy, Vsevolod Fedorovich Miller, who was an important professor at the University of St. Petersburg and who can be considered the founder of modern Ossetic studies. It is impossible to say whether Miller had been given the same copy that later was received by the Commission or whether there were two copies, one held by the Commission, the other in possession of Miller; the latter assumption may, however, be considered more probable because of the following circumstances: Alborov (1956, 230, fn. 2) relates that in 1938 the son of Vsevolod Fedorovich Miller, Boris Vsevolodovic Miller, told him that the papers of his late father contained a lithographic copy of Strukov's plan of the site at Zelencuk; there was, however, no copy of the inscription. But if Strukov's plan of the site was copied by lithography, one can assume that the sketch of the inscription was as well (copied).

(3) In the summer of 1892, another antiquarian, G. I. Kulikovski, traveled in the area and saw the same stele at Zelenchuk 5. He made a squeeze of the inscription 6, and back in St. Petersburg gave it to Vs. F. Miller as well. It is necessary to stress that this was a squeeze, not a sketch. 7 (It should be noted that Kulikovski did not compare the Strukov original against the monument, to note any errors made by Strukov. Considering that Kulikovski had to travel for weeks just to reach his destination, and the ease with which Kulikovski, based on the Strukov's plan, found the same 900-years old stele, in the same remote place and in pristine condition, without being covered by insurmountable accumulated layers of leaves and not overgrown by trees at all, the least that he could have done was to double-check Strukov's drawing for any omissions. Anybody else would have done that. But not Kulikovski. In Kulikovski's take, Strukov's sketch was right from the first attempt, right on the dime, and never needed any improvements. Damn be the today's epigraphers that go after each other over and over again, and keep re-publishing the same inscriptions with new and newer observations. Another aspect of Kulikovski story is the disposition of his report. Whether traveling for Imperial Archaeological Commission, or personally for Miller, Kulikovski would procedurally leave his report dossier with the same commission, the present Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and probably like Strukov furnish Miller with an impression from the mold. His work would not disappear without a trace. If this Kulikovski story passes a smell test, it is only due to our enlightened and forgiving attitudes of the 21st century.)

(4) Using both Strukov's sketch and Kulikovski's squeeze, Miller published the inscription in 1893 8. This editio princeps contains a sketch of the inscription which was until recently (italics added, and what facts surfaced recently that L.Zgusta alludes to?) the basis of all the study of the inscription. In Miller's words (p. 114) the sketch, or drawing, published by him (p. 111) "exactly renders the copy submitted by D.M. Strukov." He also tells us that Kulikovski's squeeze brings some changes which will be mentioned in his commentary (so Kulikovski did not notice any inaccuracies made by Strukov, thus he validated the accuracy of the Strukov work, and he did not note specifically any inaccuracies as a result of his visual observations, but the inaccuracies were recorded in the squeeze which Kulikovski produced with some detectable negligence (see 3.2.5), noted later by L.Zgusta, who himself never saw the monument, or the squeeze. To ease the burden of future scholars, the "antiquarian" Kulikovski should not have kept diaries, and no trace should have been left of his travel to the stele, of the efforts to locate the stele, of locals who could have helped him, of a state he found the stele in, and other innumerable details routinely recorded in the travel diaries by pedantic researchers. Most astounding is that in the period from 1892 to 1964 a virginal deciduous forest, not noted by either Strukov or Kulikovsky, promptly grew up, filling the surface with a thick layer of moss, brushwood, and fallen leaves, completely covering the area, and dead-stopping the prospective archeologist Kuznetsov with company. L.Zgusta does not appraise the trustworthiness of Kulikovski and his reportages, leaving ample room for later doubts. For us, unfortunately, the sole evidence of Osseto-Alanian-Sarmatian-Scythian-Iranian link is buried under a non-penetrable layer of moss, brushwood, and fallen leaves covering the stele, leaving the Miller's report and interpretation as a sole remaining evidence. In the matters of faith, Christ's resurrection and Smith's golden tablets were certified by a more substantial crowd of witnesses.)

(5) An expedition led by E. G. Plechina that traveled through the area in 1946 was unable to discover the stele again. Two contradictory possibilities as to the fate of the stele were admitted: either that it was destroyed around 1940 when a tuberculosis sanatorium was built in the area; or that it may still be on the original place but hidden under a deep layer of fallen leaves and sod 9. The second possibility is more probable, because Plechina did not know Strukov's plan of the area (see below) so her search was of a more general scope, not focused on the spot. Kuznetsov (1968) does not mention any construction or new building in the narrower area of his search (this is another miracle in the puzzle. After 900 years of being exposed and clearly visible to a stray visitor, down river from the visible remains of a village, visible remains of a church, visible remains of a kurgan cemetery, the site metamorphosed to become invisible to the expedition that traveled specifically to inspect the stele. The whole tract is only a couple of kilometers long, and could have been thoroughly reconnoitered in a matter of hours, see the site photographs above. L.Zgusta does not dwell on the contents of the report of the E.G.Plechina expedition that also metamorphosed from a thorough investigator to a incredibly loose operator. The sanatorium explanation "admitted" by E.G.Plechina is particularly peculiar, why in the world the builders would cut through an impenetrable dense forest to drag a small chunk of a gravestone, are there not enough rocks in the Arkhyn mountains? One question that L.Zgusta should have pried from the report would be to confirm that the area that Strukov and Kulikovski saw in plain view, and recorded in their reports, in the next 50 years vanished under a virginal deciduous forest and a heavy layer of gooey debris impenetrable to archeologists. L.Zgusta delicately does not mention a third possibility that the whole stele story may well be a complete fabrication.)

(6) In April 1964, the well-known archaeologist V. A. Kuznetsov studied the papers of the former Imperial Archaeological Commission kept in the archives of the Leningrad Section of the Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. In the dossier of Strukov's various sketches, Kuznetsov found:

(a) a rough plan of the Zelenchuk area in which the stele was found - undoubtedly the plan whose copy was seen by Boris Vs. Miller in the papers of his father, Vsevolod F. Miller;
(b) a sketch of the burial area on which the stele was found lying; and
(c) Strukov's copy of the inscription itself.


(7) In May 1964, Kuznetsov with two colleagues went to the area himself. He had known, from his previous journeys, some geographical points mentioned by Kulikovski (as quoted in Miller 1893) and in Strukov's plan, so that there never arose any doubt as to the concreteness and precision of Strukov's data. Both Kulikovski's description and Strukov's plan lead to the identification of a tract of forest on the right bank of Zelenchuk between a brook called Vtoroi Revunok (in Russian translation, "Second Bellow") and a creek called Ropachai as the place of Strukov's discovery; but in spite of the fact that the area (centered ca. 4334'00'' N, 4120'00'' E, see the site photographs above) is only 2.5 km long and between 0.5 and 1 km broad (between the river and the foot of the range of the Morg-Syrty) and in spite of the expedition having assiduously combed the woods, the stele was not found. Kuznetsov's opinion is that the stele is still there, covered by a thick layer of moss, brushwood, and fallen leaves in the virginal deciduous forest 10 (Compring with the L.Zgusta's own photographs taken in 1956, one can't fail to observe that all pictures of graves, cenotaphs, and a dzuar show an open rocky terrain, unsuitable for trees, wide open and readily accessible. The same can be concluded from the Strukov's drawing. The appearance of the dense deciduous forest covering the memorial clearly conflicts with the stories of the first Russian explorers. The same must be stated about the kurgan graves, in the European part of the Eurasia kurgans remain open and visible after one, two, three, and four millennia. It is well known that the steppe cemeteries were traditionally located to be landmarks and travel markers. Neither Strukov, nor Kilikobski left any, even a most approximate, estimate of the distance from any landmark, like 2, or 5 units from town, church, estuary, that would allow others to unambiguously locate the site, and that ambiguity is inexplicably contrasted with the minute detail, down to the pebbles, of the grave and slab drawings and measurements. A century of suspense and a complete absence of corroborating evidence does not move L.Zgusta from the position of benevolent condonation.) Kuznetsov does not mention any new, recent construction or building in this limited area (The prime suspected area should be much smaller, as can be concluded from the Strukov's sketch and aerial photographs. It is remarkable that L.Zgusta does not draw any conclusions after listing seven milestone events. It would seem that L.Zgusta trusts that the readers are brainy enough to draw their own conclusions, but the following analysis of L.Zgusta demonstrates that he retained a full confidence in the trustworthiness of the Miller's account, otherwise his meticulous analysis of strokes and grammatical forms would appear a case of pure scholastic sophistry.)

(8) In 1968, Kuznetsov published Strukov's copy of the inscription (together with the other sketches) as found by himself in the dossier 11. This copy differs in some points from the copy published by Miller in 1893. The differences are not great, but perceptible. An attempt to clarify these differences will be one of the tasks of this study 12 (Having two drawings of a chronometer, or two drawings of an inscription, how can one tell which one is true? Any study starts with definition of the task at hand, suggested methods of research, areas that can't be resolved without additional data, and criteria to judge the results. L.Zgusta's work does not have any of that. On methodological grounds, L.Zgusta's work fails to meet fundamental criteria of a scientific examination.). These eight steps sum up the discovery of the inscription and the main sources for its study. We shall now proceed to a more detailed discussion of the single points.

Fig. 2. Strukov's plan of the valley of Psyt' (= today Pshish, Psysh). (Reproduced from Kuznetsov 1968) (image007.jpg)
Legend (translation)

- ruins of ancient buildings

- ruins of church

- grave kurgans

- Zelenchuk slab with 10th century inscription

No scale

The arrow in the upper left-hand corner of Strukov's drawing gives the orientation towards the North, Strukov call the main river Psyt'; the right-bank tributaries are (from West to East) Ierny and Kyzgich, the left-bank tributaries are Sofia and Irkiz {=Arkhiz). (The recent map has the river Sofia as a right-bank tributary (naturally, it descends from the Sofia mountain on the right bank of the river); but the position of the two really relevant tributaries" Irkiz and Kyzgich, coincides with the indications of the modern map.) Strukov's legend in the lower right-hand corner has the following four items:

(1) [short lines, straight and angular; oblongs] ruins of "old" (or "ancient") buildings;
(2) [cross] ruins of a church;
(3) [circles] "kurgans" (i.e., = tumuli, usually grave-mounds);
(4) [oblong with inside cross] the Zelenchuk stele with the inscription (located to the right of point 48, between the last and next-to-last right-bank tributary, probably = Vtoroi Revunok and Ropachai).
Strukov remarks that the drawing is made without a scale.

Fig. 2 Revised. Strukov's plan, oriented geographically, translated, and supplied with coordinates (image007R1.jpg)


Fig. 3. Strukov's plan of the burial site with the stele. (Reproduced from Kuznetsov 1968) (image006.jpg)

The scale in Strukov's drawing is based of arshins. 1 arshin = approx. 71 cm. Notice the adjacent burial site with four stelae marked by the sign of the cross.

1.2. There can be no doubt as to the area in which the stele was found. The river Bolshoi Zelenchuk (formerly (i.e. in native language) also known as Zelendjik or Indjik13) originates in the Western Caucasus in a valley between the mountains of Urup (3,220 m) and Psis (3,789 m). Apparently, the uppermost part of the river is called Psis as well. It flows first eastwards, but turns northwards beyond (Old, or Upper) Arkhyz. This town itself, located at 43 35' North and 41 20' East, has a strategic location roughly close to the narrowest point of the long glen; some 10 km to the North of Arkhyz, the river Zelenchuk leaves the high mountains and flows northwards disemboguing into the Kuban River at Nevinnomyssk. The area of Arkhyz, then, obviously was one of those strategic places protecting the only entrance into the glen ensconced in high mountains. (And the small triangle interfluve between Zelenchuk, Urup, and Kuban rivers, see aerial photographs above,  contains nearly all monuments related to the Middle Age Christianity in the presumed territory of the Middle Age Alania.)

Figures 2 and 3 show Strukov's sketches of the burial place where the stele was found. There were several tombs there, of which the one with the was the biggest. There are also other steles shown in Strukov's sketch Nr. 3, but there were no inscriptions on them, only the sign of the cross. These steles were much rougher, less well-made than the inscribed one. The stele with the inscription was found in the center of a quadrangular area delimited by stones. The sides of the quadrangle were 6.40 m wide and 5.80 m long, respectively. Kuznetsov (1968, 198) concludes from this that this was a "part of the burial field that belonged to a local feudal family." That the burial was an outstanding one is clear from the largeness of the fenced area and from the fine workmanship with which the stele was made; and while one cannot be absolutely sure whether really a single family was the owner of it, this still is probable, judging by Caucasian customs. Fig. 4 (taken from Materialy po arkheologii Kavkaza 7, 140) shows Kulikovski's drawing of a stele he found on one of the banks of the river Zelenchuk (no exact location is indicated). Kulikovski says that this stele is similar to that with the inscription. This stele shows a huge sign of the cross but no inscription. Fig. 5 shows some well made steles which I photographed in 1956 in Digoria; they, however, are from the 19th century. (This little paragraph is so loaded with controversies that L.Zgusta must have made a deliberate effort to keep mum. The "fenced quadrangle delimited by stones" around the "famous stele", preserved in known, accessible, and visible condition for 900 years, after the visit of first Russian explorers in 1890es, by the 1940es became unknown, inaccessible, and invisible, in a puny 50 years. On top of that, the "fine workmanship with which the stele was made" turned out to be a collection of a carver's sloppy omissions, distortions, and errors. The carver's clients took elaborate steps to organize an "outstanding biggest burial place", procure a "finely made stele", and composed a text of the epitaph filled with detailed genealogy that L.Zgusta parallels to the biblical examples. But it turned out that they were a bunch of illiterates that could not read their own text addressed to their neighbors, they were irresponsible and left behind a the monument filled with deeply and clearly carved boo-boos, and they disgraced themselves by leaving their callousness exposed to their neighbors to snicker at for generations. Even worse, they were surrounded by Greek clergy who could not proofread Greek, by Ossetian laymen and clergy who could not proofread Ossetian, their carver was competent enough to use specialized Greek ligatures not found anywhere in the neighborhood, but he also was wholly ignorant about the elementary shape and orientation of the Greek letters. Worse, he could not even make a deep etching of the same letter twice without distorting it beyond recognition. Two philological luminaries, Miller and Abaev, followed by other disciples, struggled to recognize the clearly engraved letters, and it took a visiting Czech professor to recognize them almost a century later. There was even a hypothesis that identified the ethnicity of the carver who did the cross and inscription, he was a Jew who habitually mirrored a letter, carving a deep and unclear instead of deep and clear . For a gravestone, this lapse upon a lapse monument is definitely unique, the Scytho-Iranian story has a monument on a par, and L.Zgusta provides an apathetic scholastic condonation unbecoming even to a post-graduate student.)

1.3. The crosses on the stelae at Zelenchuk do not allow any other interpretation but that they are the usual symbols of Christianity. Vagapov (1980, 102) is undoubtedly right when he rejects the idea of A. Z. Kafoev (1963, 8if.) that the Zelenchuk inscription is a pagan one. We shall see that the interpretation of the inscription makes such an assumption impossible, in spite of the possible syncretism of some heathen elements in Caucasian Christianity in general and vice versa, the submersion of Christian elements in paganism; see on this 3.3.2. Other Christian inscriptions were found in the area as well. Kuznetsov (1968, 198f.) reports two of them. They were found in 1940 by an expedition of the Karachai Pedagogical Institute lead by K.M. Petrolevich at the river Psis above Arkhyz. Both show the sign of the cross and an inscription in a type of Greek script which by my judgment is much later than the script of the Zelenchuk inscription. On one of them one can more guess than read την ψυχήν του δούλου σου "the soul of Thy servant" (as already guessed by V. I. Abaev 14) and perhaps Κυριε Βόηθι "Lord, help!" at the beginning. Both are well-known Christian formulae. Naturally, there is no linguistic connection between these two steles with the Greek inscriptions and the one found by Strukov; however, taken together, all these monuments show that steles with Christian symbols and inscriptions were common in the area 15.

Detour into history of Christianity in Alania
No scholarly examination of the Zelenchuk Inscription can be produced without reviewing the history of Christianity in Alania. The first references about the 5th-7th centuries Masguts and Alans indicate their belonging to the Hunnish religious circle. The ancient religion survived into the 20th century, sometimes in an original, and sometimes in a syncretic form, discussed by L.Zgusta. Prior to the to 10th century Alans almost exclusively kept on to their traditional religion, but staring from the 5th c. exposure to Christianity was coming from the neighboring Iberia-Georgia in the south, Abkhazia-Zikhia in the west, and Huns in the east. Masguts, united with Huns, may have been "converted" with Huns at the time of Alp Ilitver. Khazaria on the north-east was initially organized with Tengrian ideology, but in the 7th c. a fast expansion of territories under her rule made her a multi-confessional state from the start. During Arabo-Khazarian wars Alans were firmly allied with Khazaria, suffered cruel defeats with her, and in the eastern area a few people were forcibly converted to Islam. A much greater conversion to Islam was imposed on the Alans' neighbors and allies Bulgarians, who occupied steppe lands north of the Alans. In the 780es Khazaria adopted Judaism, which brought additional ingredient to the vinaigrette of the Caucasian religions. Alans - and not Ossetes - are known to be Khazarian allies, vassals, and conjugal partners until about their break-up from the Khazaria at ca. 925, under influence of Byzantine and her missionaries.

Beginning from about 910 Byzantine was aggressively courting disunited Alans, she even established an Alanian eparchy, and some Alanian leaders converted to Christianity. That, however, was stopped decisively by Khazaria, who fought with Alans and in 932 brought them back into compliance. Masudi reported that in 932 Alans renounced Christianity and expelled bishops and priests sent to them by the Byzantian emperor. The high religious tolerance of the Khazars would imply that the local Christian community was left intact. A a small western enclave, interspersed with Zikh (Adyg tribe) population, was more influenced by Christianity because of proximity and cross-influences with the neighboring Abkhazia, which at the time was independent, more politically centralized and completely Christianized. Abkhazia served as a channel for Byzantine missions and influence in the western areas. A largest Alanian Christian center rose in the Lower Arkhys, and it probably was a seat of the Alanian archbishop cathedra. In 920 the Constantinople patriarch Nikolai appointed Peter as a first Alanian archbishop. In a century, the Byzantine connection was restored. In 1022 Byzantine appointed a new metropolitan of Alania, Nikolai, a contemporary with the Byzantine emperor Vasilios the II "Bulgar Slayer" (reigned 9761025). Could the Zelenchuk stele mark the grave of an Alanian archbishop who died sometime after 1022? The Khazarian comeback was short lived, and soon Alans had to face new masters, religiously Tengrian Pechenegs, and then the Tengrian Kipchaks. The influence of the Byzantine empire faded, and the Northern Caucasian Christianity withered, though its traces were left as late as in the 15th century. The largest concentration of the Christian remains were found around Nalchik and Lower Arkhyz, in the present Karachaevo - Circassia and Kabardino-Balkaria next to Abkhazia, in the land that starting as early as the 6th century witnessed admixture of the Alanian Epagerrites with the Adyg Zikhs, Abkhazian Abazges, and Iberian Svanets. Local Bulgars, called "Ases" by Ossetes, are known to live in the steppes along the Kuban river, northeast from the Alanian Christian triangle and be strongly Islamized. A symbiotic peace between different groups was maintained by allocation and sharing the alpine pastures.

Among the unknowns about the Alanian Christianity is the location of its archbishop cathedra, only a few names of its archbishops are known from the Byzantine church records, and the ethnic affiliation of its clergy, though it is known that the first archbishops and the first monks were exclusively Greek subjects, who possibly included various Caucasian extractions, a norm in the Byzantine missionary efforts.

If the Zelenchuk stele marked the grave of the Alanian archbishop Nikolai, it is unlikely that it would only recount his pre-Christian genealogy, but could have possibly had a more appropriate phrase in one of the local languages, including Zikh, Abkhazian, Bulgar, or Adyg language.


1.4. According to Strukov's sketch of the burial site, the inscribed stele was lying in the center of the quadrangular fenced area. The stele was cut out of white limestone. On its measurements, Miller (1893, 110) reports as follows: "According to D.M. Strukov, the height of the stele was 2 arshins and 2 vershoks, its "tolshcina" 2-1/2 vershoks." These indications are not easy to understand. In the old Russian measurement system, an arshin is about 71 cm, a vershok about 4.4 cm. Consequently, the height of the stele was about 1.5 m, which gives some 6 cm to a line of the inscription. Russian 'tolshcina' means 'thickness', so the stele was some 11 cm thick; again, a reasonable measure. One is surprised that Strukov did not measure the stele's breadth, but for whatever reason, that is the case. Judging by the proportions of the drawing, the average breadth of the stele was some 25 cm (one also may be surprised by the timidness demonstrated by both site visitors, neither one bothered to turn the stele upside down to have a look at the other side, an easy task with a 90 kg slab. What if it had a Greek inscription on the back side, or a date, was bi-lingual. For people that at the end of the 19th century traveled that far and that hard, such uninquisitive behavior is stunning, and needed to be explained somehow. What would Strukov do if the stele was laying with its carvings down? Just pass it by, like he and Kulikovski did not soil their fingernails with checking the surrounding slabs for inscriptions? Is that scenario real? The Scythians became oddball Iranians just because the stele happened to fall to the right side instead of the left, and that accident changed the flow of the European historiography and the thinking of best European minds, verdad?)

We hear from Vs. F. Miller (1893, 110) that the letters were quite deeply cut [this he must have learned from Kulikovski's squeeze] and that they were quite clear ( ): the second statement pertains, as we shall see, to most of the letters but certainly (italics added) not to all of them (L.Zgusta needs this imaginative exception to advance his own and Miller's deciphering laid out further down. Naturally, these further "damage emendations" are purely speculative, there is no evidence to claim damages except that corrections lead L.Zgusta to inspired interpretations . The discourse may be ponderable, but the preponderance is nil.) There is no indication of the measurement of the letters; judging, however, from the proportions, we can assume them to have been some 5-6 cm tall and 3-3.5 cm wide.

Fig. 6 gives reproductions of the two copies of the inscription: the left column (a) contains the original copy made by Strukov as published by Kuznetsov (1968, 194). The right column (b) contains Miller's reproduction of Strukov's copy as published by himself (1893, 110f.; see also footnote 12).

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Fig. 4. G.I.Kulikovski's drawing of a stele he found "on the banks of the river Bolshoi Zelenchuk"

he says that this stele is similar (italics added) to the stele with the inscription. (Reproduced from Materialy po arkheologii Kavkaza, No VII (edited by Countess Uvarova), Moskva 1898, p. 140, fig. 34; cf. also p. 142, point 25.) (image010.jpg)pg)

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Fig. 5. Recent (probably 19th century) stelae photographed by the author in 1956 in Digoria (image012.jpg)

One can see that these 19th c. stelae are also "similar",
 and similarly located on an open rocky terrain


Fig. 6 Fig. 8
(a) Strukov's original copy (image017.jpg) (b) Miller's reproduction
of Strukov's copy
Fig. 8 Kafoev's re-drawing of Miller's reproduction. (Reproduced from Kafoev 1963) (image033.jpg)


2. The readings

2.1. The next task is to compare the two copies. In the first place, we shall survey all the information Miller gives us in his commentary on various points; of particular importance are the readings gained from Kulikovski's squeeze. We proceed by the lines.

Line 1: the last letter is marred by a later defect in the stone ( ) (Are the contours of incomprehensible alleged sigma Σ just the contours of the indentation? No details on the size, location, or impact of the dent are given, not even the shape of the unreconstructed portion of the letter. Later, L.Zgusta informs that all consecutive scholars accepted Miller's suggestion, thus making the preponderance of opinions to stand for the preponderance of reasons. Nome of the later scholars had enough information to draw a conclusion one way or another).

Line 7: at the end of the line, there is a perpendicular but slightly left-slanted bar in Strukov's copy, and a fully vertical one in Miller's reproduction. In his commentary, Miller writes ΦΟΥρτ (FOYrt), but says that Kulikovski's squeeze clearly shows the two letters ΡΤ (rt)written above the letters ΟΥρτ, but much smaller than the latter. We can easily understand this: the stone-cutter probably first forgot the letters (italics added) and corrected his mistake by this addition; this is a well-known procedure in epigraphy. The last hasta, or bar, in the drawing must be (italics added) the rest of the Υ, which might have had (italics added) the form V as in line 14 (Strukov's copy) (Miller converts the "slightly left-slanted bar" to "Y", and adds "rt" to it, to get, or construct, his first Ossetian "fourt". Even without invisible for us Kulikovski's squeeze, converting deeply cut and visible bar to invisible "Y" is a fabrication). Therefore, we can write φουρτ (fort, furt) in the minuscular text: by today's standard procedures, no brackets are necessary since the letters ρτ really are present in the squeeze. The letters being smaller and in an anomalous position, they were not noticed by (the absent-minded and sloppy) Strukov (can you believe Miller's maligning of his informer and belittling his trustworthiness!). Most regrettably, Miller's commentary about the letters ρτ in Kulikovski's squeeze passed unnoticed by most of the later students of the inscription; Alborov (1956) and Bjazyrty (1968) are the exceptions ("Regrettably" yes, "unnoticed" no. The "later students", with agenda in their minds, just dropped an inconvenient detail, in every case passing on the virtual emendation for a firm fact, obstructing a justice but achieving their target. It is a case of forgery by silence, not a sloppiness on the part of the scholars that published to be heard of their cause loud and clear. Mind you, had they have elaborated on the emendation, they would risk pulling a rug from one of the "fourts", potentially killing the whole interpretation by making the nonsense level intolerable. Alborov and Bjazyrty were not less negligent, they were more honest. L.Zgusta's "regrets" do not seem to be genuine).

At the end of line 7, Strukov's copy shows a dot, absent in Miller; this could only be a scratch in the stone. The other possibility would be to see in it the rest of the upsilon, if this letter had the same shape as the third letter in line 14; but such a possibility is only a remote one, because the dot is more distant to the right of the perpendicular bar than we would expect it if the letter were the same as that in line 14 (This line is bold and mind boggling, can't one tell the difference between a scratch and a deeply cut sign?. Miller does not need the dot, it interferes with his expectations, and may discredit the whole interpretation. Miller does not have the dot. Dot as part of upsilon? What's wrong with the dot as it is, except that it does not fit in the shoe of the concept? This liberty smacks of Loch-Ness and UFO business, what you see is not what think you see).

Lines 8, 9: Miller notes (114): "The letters of the two lines are equally unclear in Mr. Kulikovski's squeeze as in Mr. Strukov's drawing." (A clear case of deeply cut clear unclear letters. Or deeply cut clear unsuitable letters. They must be unclear as promulgated Greek letters, but could be sufficiently clear in a different alphabet. This is another case of not fitting in the shoe of the concept)

Line 21: the last letter is not clear in Strukov's copy and is absent in Kulikovski's squeeze. Over the last but one letter, there is a horizontal line, seen in Kulikovski's squeeze but absent in Strukov's copy. Miller (116) describes it as something like a vinculum (в роде титла) (joining, joiner). (1. We can see that the last letter in Strukov's drawing is lambda Λ. An excuse taken by L.Zgusta later, that Kulikovski's squeeze was faulty because of the inconvenience of making an impression in the bottom section of the slab must have come from another fairy tale, the Zelenchuk slab is shown to be resting horizontally with the inscription on the top, so there is no bottom corner, and no room for excuses. No comment can be made about the ephemeral  Kulikovski's squeeze, so without inventing convenient emendations, the Strukov's lambda Λ should stand unchallenged. 2. Miller does not copy the vinculum, consequently, he does not need it; Strukov does not show it, consequently, it was not a deeply chiseled sign. As long as there are no attempts to manipulate the contents, the subject of joiner is irrelevant)

2.2. The other differences obtaining between Strukov's copy and Miller's reproduction of it are minor and easily understandable, with one exception, namely that of line 3 (L.Zgusta benevolence pertains only to the Miller's "Ossetic school of thought", in the eyes of the contending researchers they may be reversed. With the mass of "emendations" Miller had made, Miller at least should have called for additional examination of the stele, to resolve outstanding questions and confirm his emendations. Another striking detail of the  Miller's conduct was that Miller kept Strukov's and Kulikovski's information close to his chest, did not share it with his peers, and did not solicit their input, keeping his work from outside interference. For an artifacts of such groundbreaking magnitude, we do not know of any instructions for the fate of the stele given to the local Russian emissaries, or local museums and universities for retrieval or preservation of the stele.)

Line 3: Miller's copy has a semicircular stroke at its end, whereas Strukov's has in addition a small circle to the right of the semicircle. There is no way to explain this difference. It may be that Kulikovski's squeeze did not give the last symbol; but then, the squeeze does not have the last letter of line 21, either, and Miller took it into his reproduction from Strukov's copy. Most regrettably, Miller's commentary tells us nothing about his reasons; Miller only tells us that the line seems to contain five letters which do not yield a satisfactory reading. However, Strukov's copy seems to contain six letters; the last of them obviously has the same shape as the first letter of the line, so it cannot be a mere scratch in the stone, omitted by Miller (later, L.Zgusta provides an extensive elaboration on the line 3, silently limiting his inquiry to the Greek alphabet, and then arguing on a probability level that  out of five suggested, the Miller's suggestion is most probable, 3.2.3. Miller's suggestion does not need the final "o", moreover, the final "o" would invalidate his suggestion, so he just forges it out of existence, obscures his "emendation" by not reproducing the Strukov's drawing in his publication, and focusing later researchers on his sketch of the inscription in the "editio princeps" as a sole source of studies, falsely claiming that it "exactly renders the copy submitted by D.M. Strukov". By taking Miller's side, L.Zgusta silently condones Miller's conduct, acting as accomplice in distortion of the only source at hand, in order to buttress a desired paradigm. Blaming Kulikovski again for a sloppy work does not help, because it again brings attention to the Miller's "rt" enhencement, where the same "sloppy" work served to introduce a "productive emendation". Here again it seems that L.Zgusta trusts that his readers are brainy enough to draw their own conclusions about motivations of the perpetrator and significance of the forgery).

In line 7, the transversal bar of the second letter is much less diagonal in Strukov's copy than in Miller's reproduction; in Strukov, the second letter has exactly the same shape as the last letter of line 13 (Miller's correction allows him to read both and H as H eta, providing more wiggle room for interpretations, and impacting both the transcription of the inscription, and vowel/consonant ratio used to discriminate between syllabic and phonetic alphabets, and for evaluating a type of the language under investigation. In particular, it allowed to create a word SAXIRI preceding the word ΦOI > ΦOYRT > ΦOURT)

In line 8, the first letter X has a loop on the upper right-hand hasta; this loop surely (italics added) does not represent another letter written in ligature with the X, but is an ornamental element of the script like a serif: the lower ends of both the bars of the X in line 2 can be compared. Apparently, Strukov drew these serifs, or loops, more elaborately (italics added). (But if he did not, would not be prudent for an open-mined scholar to follow up the lead instead of brushing it off? Without a hindsight of predestined reading, such argumentation could not have happened).

In line 9, the first part of what we shall see to be a ligature is complete in Miller: the semicircular stroke on the horizontal bar of the first symbol forms a full half-circle in Miller's copy, but only part of a half-circle in Strukov: Miller probably saw more in Kulikovski's squeeze. It must be stressed that Miller was not able to read any part of the first symbol, so that the half circle in his copy is not inspired by an interpretation (italics and underline added): since Miller did not understand the reading, it is to be concluded that the copy gives what he saw, not what he assumed (This is a best pearl, the implication is that we can't trust Miller where he was inspired by an interpretation, which blows off all four ΦOURT reincarnations out of the window, with them goes the "Ossetian version", and with that goes the Alano-Iranian link. By absolving Miller from a suspicion of wrongdoing in the line 9 first letter example, L.Zgusta circumspectly confers on Miller a suspicion of wrongdoing in all his other emendations, and that includes and defiles those that L.Zgusta openly supports or accepts implicitly).

Line 9, second letter and last letter: the difference between the two copies is negligible, only the form of the letters having been slightly changed (Other then a test of the reader's attention, this is another cover-up glide by L.Zgusta, later on the second letter is read as P, implying that the Strukov's image is a reverted form of the character, a gross mistake and illiteracy on the part of the cutter, and, in the eyes of Alborov, a Semitic origin of the engraver. Distorting the form of the letter first allowed Miller to make it more palatable as a Greek P, and secondly depicted it as analogous to the alleged "ρ" shown by Strukov on line 10. For an impartial observer this distortion would present a case of intentional fabrication. Anyone who relied on Miller for accuracy relied on forged information, and would be willfully led to a false reading.)

Line 11, third letter: the difference is negligible; in both copies the letter undoubtedly (italics added) is a K (Undoubtedly within the confines of the Greek alphabet, otherwise doubts not only can, but should be raised).

Line 14, third letter: the difference is simply a negligible one of form. In both copies, the letter undoubtedly (italics added) is an upsilon; in Strukov's copy it has a more specifically Byzantine form (Undoubtedly only within the confines of the Greek alphabet, but it is clearly visible that even within the limits of the Greek alphabet, upsilon Y is only a Muller's interpretation, other possibilities do exist).

Line 14: between the last and the next-to-last letters, Strukov's copy shows a diagonal stroke which is absent in Miller's reproduction. There is no letter of which this stroke could be a part, nor could it lead to any reading. It must be a scratch in the surface of the stone; probably an old one that already existed when the stone mason was cutting the inscription: at least so it seems because the distance between the last and last-but-one letter is larger than between the other letters in Miller's copy as well (Like in line 9 above, if Miller here was not inspired by an interpretation, its OK, but in any case here Miller was inspired by an interpretation, and maybe he suspected that the stroke was a separator mark or another impediment in obtaining his desired ΦOURT reading. In any case, this is an unstated emendation, whether the stroke and a distance between P and T indicates their belonging to two different words, a phrase separator, or a deeply chiseled scratch. This emendation also puts another, this time unstated, blame on Strukov, who could not tell a difference between a scratch and a chiseled sign. Anyone who relied on Miller for accuracy was misled.)

Line 16, last letter: in both cases, the letter represents a Byzantine, more cursive alpha. Kulikovski's squeeze must have shown Miller the extension of the diagonal bar in the lower right corner (This is another case of substitution for convenience. One example of the harm of such substitutions would be a Cyrillic alphabet and its derivatives Serbian, Bolgarian, Ukrainian, Russian, etc. Any local modification of the Greek base in Vs.F.Miller approach would be eliminated, and letters like would be distorted to fit the preordained limits of the Greek alphabet, seriously impacting chances of correct reading. The last letter in line 16 could be a terribly disfigured "a", but it also could be a letter from a local  Greek-based alphabet, invisible under the shroud of Miller's emendations).

Line 17, fourth letter: the non-perpendicular hasta between the two vertical ones is more horizontal in Miller's, more diagonal in Strukov's copy. In either case, the letter is an H, eta.

Line 18, last letter: Miller's reproduction shows a vertical hasta absent in the copy of Strukov. Miller's reading is certainly right: it must be based on Kulikovski's squeeze (Another convenient invention of T to get to desired  ΦOURT reading).


Line 20, last letter: only the shape of the letter is slightly different, in both cases it is a P, rho.

Line 21: there is a dot between the second and third letter in Miller's copy, absent in that of Strukov; its source must have been Kulikovski's squeeze again (This is a another case when emendation is not inspired by an interpretation, to Miller's credit).

All these observations lead to the conclusion that Miller's statement (quoted above) about the accuracy of his rendering of Strukov's copy must be properly understood. There can be no doubt whatsoever that his reproduction does not represent a mere copy of Strukov's sketch: Miller undoubtedly re-drew it and while doing so could not avoid slightly changing the shape of some letters and the slants of some hastae; very occasionally, he added to Strukov's letters a bar (T, line 18); he omitted what he considered unnecessary, such as some of the serifs and loops as drawn by Strukov (italics added). Miller, however, stuck to Strukov to the extent that he did not add to Strukov's text letters seen in Kulikovski's squeeze only (final ρτ, line 7). On the whole, there is only one real difficulty, to wit the inexplicable (italics added) omission of Strukov's final circle in line 3 (L.Zgusta summary strongly contradict with his line-by-line review and comments).

2.3. This survey of the various readings shows also that while the inscription as a whole is quite well preserved, most of the infrequent cases of damage occur on the right edge of the stone.

There can be no doubt that the inscription is written in Greek script, mostly of late uncial but occasionally of cursive character. The technique of the incision and the whole ductus are not of the highest precision, but are not careless, either; as we shall see, there is at least one undoubtedly mistaken spelling with a letter omitted. There occur several abbreviations of the usual Byzantine type, and contrary to the opinion of B. A. Alborov (1956, 237), at least one ligature (line 9; see below, 3.2.4). Judging from the script, the inscription might have been written in the 11th or 12th century (this one most important conclusion is noted without any references or reasoning whatsoever. The only other inference to the timing of the monument is, and also casually, the allusion in "as has already been observed by Alborov (1956, 240)".

3. The interpretations

3.1. Before we start discussing the interpretation of the inscription itself, we shall give a summary of the main "schools of thought" on the subject. Most scholars who studied the inscription find that it is written in the Ossetic language. That was the opinion of the first editor Vs. F. Miller (1893) and of his successors, who added to his interpretations or changed some parts of them. They were mainly; V. I. Abaev (1944; 1949); B.A. Alborov (1956); O.K. Turchaninov (1958; 1971); A. Bjazyrty (1981); and myself (Zgusta, Festschrift Hoenigswald, 1987).

There are, however, also interpretations which read the inscription assuming that it is written in a language other than Ossetic, namely either Circassian (Kafoev 1963), Balkar (Kudaev 1965), or one of the Vainakh, i.e. Chechen or Ingush, languages (Vagapov 1980). L.I. Lavrov (1966) does not offer an opinion concerning the inscription as a whole but reads one passage in it as Arabic and brings it into connection with other Arabic, Persian, and Turkish monuments found on the northern slopes of the Caucasus (see on this Kuznetsov 1963 and Lavrov 1966).

3.2. We shall now examine the single interpretations. We shall first discuss the "Ossetic school of thought", that is, the interpretations of Miller (1893) and the scholars who followed him. We shall begin with the easiest readings and interpretations.

3.2.1. There never has been any doubt (barring one exception (italics added)) that the first two lines contain the abbreviated form of the name "Ι(ησου)ς Χ(ριστό)ς; that would be absolutely clear even without the horizontal stroke that signalizes abbreviations, usually of a hagiographic or sacral character, in Byzantine writing. Such a beginning is well in harmony with the sign of the cross and occurs frequently on Christian inscriptions.

(any other examples in texts of similar type and with the same meaning?)
that "the last letter in Line 1 is marred by a later defect in the stone" means that letter "ς" is affected by a chipping that should have shown up on Kulikovski's squeeze, but was ignored or doctored in the Miller's rendition that followed the Strukov's sketch

Leaving aside for the moment line 3, we turn to lines 4 and 5. Again, within the Greek script, there can be no doubt that the first letter of line 4 is a damaged N and that the stone-cutter omitted (italics added) an I between the N and the K. Thus, these two lines contain the name Ν(ι)κόλαος. Doubt can, however, arise as to whether this should be understood as a personal name or as the name of St. Nicolas. About this, see below.

"the first latter must have had been damaged" (how? who said that?) ) and "stone-cutter must have had omitted a letter that we would never have had to imagine to effect the desired Grecisized reading without any human errors committed by anticipatory interpretation - and build the whole Scytho-Iranian theory on it. Had the stone-cutter dropped the Greek "ος" and used a straight-forward Ossetian "Nikkola" Νικόλα with better-damaged "N" and missing "ι", the whole Scytho-Iranian theory would not have found a literary support to come to life. Only in the 19th c. Indo-Europeistics a tail that small wagged a dog that large.


3.2.2. Since Miller (1893), there never has been a doubt that what follows at least up to line 18 is a series of personal names (not exactly true statement, since this work covers two (2) readings without a series of personal names, and L.Zgusta was aware of at least one more reading, also mentioned in this work. "Never a doubt" pertains only to the devotees of the Ossetian version). Miller assumed this on the strength of the word φουρτ that clearly occurs in lines 14 and 18 (it occuers "clearly" only with Miller's "emendation", the Strukov original does not show the "T" at all); in lines 9/10, the Υ (γ)is damaged, but the reading φουρτ is quite sure. Since we know from Miller's commentary that line 7 ended with the small letters ρτ written above the line as shown by Kulikovski's squeeze, we can therefore easily assume that the Υ (γ) was damaged and thus gain the reading φουρτ in line 7 as well.

φουρτ with ρτ extracted from squeeze, I corrected to γ again based on the squeeze, and spelled ΦOγPT to depict ΦOURT

φουρτ with γ extrtacted from the "damaged" 2nd letter in line 10, and the ρ extracted from "distorted" 3rd letter, but spelled ΦOIPT

φουρτ with 3rd letter "emended", 5th sign ignored, and spelled ΦOγPT. This is the only case where φουρτ can be truly read, if the deep carving of the 5th sign is ignored

φουρτ with 4th letter "emended", and spelled ΦOγPT.
In reality, none of the lines can be surely read φουρτ without straining imagination beyond the limits of credulity.

Note that this reading from Kulikovski's squeeze eliminates the assumption of Vagapov (1980, 110) that the last letter of line 7 is an iota Ι and that the reading of the stone ΦΟΙ (see Vagapov 1980, 103) should be understood as φ(ουρτ)οι; about that below.

Miller identified this word φουρτ with the Ossetic word fyrt, Digor furt, which means "son". This was one of Miller's main reasons for assuming that the language of the inscription is Ossetic.

The other reason Miller had for this assumption was that he recognized several of the names as Ossetic, particularly Ανπαλ (lines 14, 15), Oss. Ambal (Türkic name meaning "castrated ox", and a popular nickname for a strong, heavy man, and sometimes a derisive epithet. Also Eastern Turkestan Khan Ambal Mountains, ca 39N, 93E, east of lake Gezkul in the Chinese province of Chinghai. Itil Bulgar's Khan in 1135-1164 was Anbal. The modern Turkish port-workers are called "ambals". In Russian the Türkic word transitioned to a big, strong and usually not too bright guy, often a bit intimidating. Among the Caucasian languages, in Ossetic it transitioned to "hero", "comrade", etc. A typical Ossetian name? Only in the eyes of Count Miller and his devoted followers).

Thirdly, Miller perceived that one half of the (presumed) names ends in -η. Since the letter H, eta, was pronounced as [i] in late and Byzantine Greek, Miller assumed this value for this letter here as well and recognized in it the Ossetic ending of the genitive (possessive) case, today spelled -ы in Cyrillics and transcribed -y. The logical assumption is, then, that the names without the -η are in the nominative case. The next logical assumption is that the names in the genitive are those of the fathers and the names in the nominative are those of the sons.

3.2.3. We must now return to line three. Miller offered here two alternatives. He considered it possible to take the curved line following the α either as being the sequence γι in a strongly cursive script, followed by the final C. This assumption led him to the reading ό άγι(ο)ς "Saint", which goes well with the following Ν(ι)κόλαος. The weak point of this interpretation consists in the fact that it necessitates either the assumption that the о was omitted by mistake when the inscription was being cut, or that this is the Byzantine spelling, -ις for -ιος (just as there is -ιν for -ιον) l6.


However, so frequent and so formal or sacred words as άγιος do not show this reduction in spelling as frequently as other words. On the other hand, if the stone-cutter omitted (italics added) the iota in the following line, where we read Ν(ι)κόλαος, he might have made a mistake here as well. The other alternative considered by Miller was to take the curved line as a badly written, highly cursive T. This assumption led him to the reading οατς, which he interpreted as the Ossetic word for 'saint', wac. This interpretation was based on the fact that some Christian saints, such as St. Ilia ('Ηλίας), St. Nicolas, and St. George were absorbed into the Ossetic pantheon (italics added, a questionable presumption here is the "Ossetic pantheon", the Digorians lived in the west, and were exposed to the Christianity, while the eastern Ironians escaped that influence, and could not include Christian saints in their pantheon, at least not until half a millennia later. The terminology that follows must be specifically Digorian, but Miller termed in a generalized way "Ossetic") as Wac-Illa or Wacitta; Wac-Nikkola or Wacnikkola; Was-Kergi or Waskergi in Digor, Wastyrdzi in Iron. Therefore, Miller (114) tentatively identified the reading οατς with this wac. The fact that Wac-Nikkola had a strong cult in Western Digoria, that is in the part of Ossetia closest to the Zelenchuk area, was an additional argument in favor of this interpretation. However, even if we base our judgement on Miller's copy, the reading οατς is extremely improbable (italics added) because it is impossible (italics added) to read the third letter of the line as T. Another reading was suggested for the third line by B. A. Alborov (1956, 233). He reads the curved line as two cursive sigmas and the semicircular stroke at the end as a cursive iota. In this way he gets the reading οασσι, which he interprets as Οασσι, pronounced Wasi or Wasi, and takes it as the name of the Ossetes. There are many arguments for the rejection of this interpretation. First, the reading is palaeographically impossible (italics added). There is no way to get the two sigmas in this form, and on the contrary the half-circle at the end cannot be but a sigma. There is no way of getting around the fact that the old name of the Ossetes was Asi (this is a likely false presumption invented by first investigators - in Russian service - based on superficial phonetical similarity that took hold and fossilized in the IE studies, but still until now lacking a scholarly validation, and strenuously refuted by many scholars from different angles and with differing arguments. In particular, until recently Ossetes did not have an endoethnonym As or Ovs or Os, their endoethnonyms are Digor and Ir, and Ossetes call Balkarians "Ases", and so do the Balkarians as an endoethnonym. Another variable in this equation is a habitual equating of Ases with Alans, still lacking a scholarly validation, this presumption was induced by Ases belonging to the Alanian confederation, and the equating is also strenuously refuted by scholars), not Wasi. Nor is there an easy way to explain the initial O. Alborov takes О as the graphic representation of w- and argues that a prothetic w- before an initial a- is a frequent phenomenon in the Southern Ossetic dialect. However, particularities of this contemporary dialect are nor of a great relevance to this inscription whose language was closer to Digor, if it can be compared with any contemporary Ossetic dialect. That the Ossetes are called Awaps (sing.) in Abkhaz and Ovsi in older, Osi in newer Georgian (hence our Ossetes, Russian Osetiny) (and incidentally, in Russian Ossetes are called "Osetiny", and Ases are called "Yas, Yasyn (sing)"), cannot explain the initial omicron in the reading, either.

Alborov tries (1956, 245 f.) to develop yet another argument for the explanation of the initial w- by trying to show that the first morpheme in Ossetic mythological names such as Wastyrdji, Digor Waskergi, Wacilla, etc. is identical with this ethnic name of the old Ossetes, so that the names in the Ossetic pantheon originally meant "Ossetic Georgios", "Ossetic Ilia", Wacnikkola "Ossetic Nicolas", Wastutyr "Ossetic Theodor". He compares this with the tendency to discern special saints and divinities differentiated by the place of the cult. This tendency is general indeed, beginning with the ancient Near East and ending with the Roman Catholic Church. Alborov's examples are K"oby Wastyrdji "the Wastyrdji of K"ob", Nary Wastyrdzi "the Wastyrdzi of Nar", etc. (where K"ob, Nar are names of places in Ossetia). There is, however, a difference: a name like "Ossetic George" or "Ossetic Nicolas" would be given by a member of a non-Ossetic nation, the purpose being to differentiate the Ossetic cult or the Ossetic saint (or semi-god or whatever) from another, non-Ossetic, one. If the Ossetes absorbed and gradually transformed St. Nicolas into Wacnikkola, at which point and why would they call him "Ossetic Nicolas"? (Because the multi-ethnic Alanian - not Ossetic - Christian commune was so tiny, concentrated in such a small area primarily in the extremely narrow belt of the contact zone between the rivers Great Zelenchuk and Urup, any jingoistic constructions that try to apply an imaginary local peculiarity to a people at large, and project it a millennium back, are grotesque mainly in that concept, and lastly in the scholastic hair-splitting, tainted from the beginning by the use of silent implication of artificial links of the text lexicon with the contemporary Iranian lexicon confused with ancient Iranian vocabulary.)

On all counts, Miller's explanation of Was-, Wac- as equivalent to "sanctus, άγιος" is much better, particularly as it is accompanied by Abaev's etymology which joins it with Ir. vach- "word".

As an alternative to this reading and interpretation, Alborov (1956, 234) suggests the reading ό όσιος "holy", which is quite impossible: there is no way that the second letter of line 3 could be read as an O, omikron.

All the readings and interpretations mentioned up to now are based on Miller's copy of the inscription. However, Strukov's copy is different: there is a small circle, an omikron, at the end of the line, so that the reading is OАГIСO. The easiest way to understand this is to assume that the stone-cutter made a mistake (italics added) and wrote the last letters in reverted order (italics added): in this way, we get ό άγι(ος). The resulting reading ό άγι(ος) Ν(ιόλαος fits perfectly with the preceding Ί(ησοΰ)ς Χ(ριστό)ς.

Yet another reading of line 3, also based on Strukov's copy, was suggested by Ya. S. Vagapov (1980, 105). By his judgment, the reading άγιος is possible but doubtful; his idea is to take the final σο as the Nakh word so "year". He then reads the preceding letters as omikron, alpha, upsilon, and what he calls a reverted sigma (in its final form). To these letters he assigns the numerical values usual in Greek script, namely 70, 1, 400, 6000 17. In combination with the following assumed Nakh so, Vagapov deems thus to gain the date of the inscription, to wit 6471 A. M. (= a creations mundi), which is 963 A.D.18.

No need to say that this is an impossible interpretation: (1) when we consider the two curves between OA and CO, even if we accept that the first downward curve is a cursive upsilon, there is no way to find in the second stroke a reversed final sigma (or a reversed βαΰ, for that); (2) letters with numeric values would never be written in a most cursive, ligated form, and with a negligent reversal of one of them at that. (The reader should realize that Greek letters do have various numeric values: a' = 1, but ,α = 1000; σ' (in final form ς') = 200, but (in final form ,ς) = 200,000; ς'(βαυ) = 6, but, ς = 6000: a system such as this makes ligatures extremely dangerous and exceptional.) In addition to this, one cannot accept a sequence of numerals in which tens are followed by ones, then by hundreds and then by thousands. 's idea is that the sequence 70, 1 for 71 could be assumed to be a reflex of a language with a vicesimal system in which 71 was analyzed not into 70+1 but into 60 +11: the vacillation produced by this system may have (we are told) influenced the author of the inscription to make the mistake (italics added) and write 70, 1 etc. instead of 1, 70 etc. Obviously a rather far-fetched idea.

There is yet one argument against taking line 3 as a date. Irrespective of how we read line 3, the name Ν(ι)κόλαος in line 4/5 must be the name of the saint. The independent reason for this is that only the names Ί(ησοΰ)ς Χ(ριστό)ς and Νικόλαος show the Greek ending of the nominative, whereas the indigenous names of persons that follow do not have it, just as modern Ossetic Nikkola does not, either. Therefore, Ν(ι)κόλαος belongs to the sphere of the sacral Greek language and is a sacral name. If this is so, then it is perfectly logical if the divine name Ί(ησου)ς Χ(ριστό)ς is followed by the name of the saint preceded by his usual title ο αγι(ος) Ν(ι)κόλαος, and all this on the background of the sacral sign of the cross. The assumption (of Vagapov) that we have a sequence: (1) the divine name, (2) the date, (3) the name of the saint, is quite impossible (italics added).

3.2.4. Let us now go through the reading of the following lines.

There is general agreement that line 6/7 should be read Σαχηρη. The only dissenting voice is that of L. I. Lavrov (1968, 220): he wishes to read here а В instead of the P. He then interprets this reading as containing the Arabic word sahib "master". This interpretation, however, is built on the assumption that the following lines cannot be read and understood and that they, therefore, may contain an Arabic introductory formula of which sahib would be the first word. But the following lines can be read without yielding an Arabic context, so Lavrov's interpretation is without any substance (italics added. From the L.Zgusta circumspect phrasing. it follows that L.I. did not buy into Miller/Abaev conversion of ΦOI. in line 7 to ΦOYRT to be read as ΦOURT, because "assumptions" were on the Miller/Abaev side, and Lavrov either accepts their assumptions, or had rejected them.)

Line 7 then contains the word φουρτ, whose reading we discussed above.

Lines 8 and 9 caused much trouble. Both Miller (1893) and Abaev (1944; 1949) left them mostly unread. Alborov (1956, 237) reads Xo Βσητερη; Turchaninov (1958, 49) reads Οβς ηστορη; Vagapov (1980, 103ff.) reads Χοβ(α) Σηστερη. We shall go into the details of the single interpretations later. As far as the reading is concerned, the first letter of the line undoubtedly is X, the third B. As to the remaining letters, one can hardly doubt (italics added) that the second letter is a damaged O, omikron (i.e. Strukov and Miller with Kulikovski's squeeze who saw the text carving were both blind to the damage, and L.Zgusta discoverd it without ever seeing the carving or its squeeze. Can a scholar jump to conclusions without abusing his reputation?). The fourth letter of the same line obviously is a small round sigma of the same form as in line 3. The last letter is a somewhat distorted but clearly recognizable H, eta (italics added, this is one more assumed conclusion, the "H" is not obvious with the Millers's correction, and far from obvious in the Strukov's depiction). The first character of line 9 is, against Alborov's judgement (1956, 237), a ligature, as already recognized by Turchaninov (a presumption). The ligature has the value of στο, as listed in Gardthausen, Griechische Palaeographies 2nd ed., table 7, column for the year 1059; however, the value στε is also admissible. The last but one letter of line 9 is a slightly distorted H, eta (and to add insult to injury, the poor carver must work hard to carve deep these thoroughly distorted letters, distorting them beyond recognition, under L.Zgusta scenario) Thus, we get, as far as palaeography goes, two possible readings, namely Χοβς Ηστορη or Χοβ Σηστορη; or less probably, Χοβς Ηστερη or Χοβ Σηστερη (to recap, L.Zgusta in lines 8/9 makes three (3) "emendations" and one (1) presumption. And that is only a staring point. Next, they still have to be massaged to get either Greek, or "Ossetian" reading.)

The last letter of line 9 and all of line 10 contain the word φουρτ again, with the Τ damaged.

Line 11/12 contains the name ΙΙακαθαρ, line 12/13 the name ΙΊακαθαη. This last name stands in the genitive. There is only one problem here, namely whether we should not emend, as Abaev (1949) did, ΙΊακαθα(ρ)η, thereby getting a name identical with the preceding one. About this later.

The letters of lines 15, 16, 17, and 18 are clear: ΑΝΠΑΛΑΝΑΙΙΑ-ΛΑΝΗΦΟΥΡΤ. The word φουρτ at the end is beyond doubt; the preceding names (italics added) can be divided in several ways. Either we read Ανπαλ Λναπαλανη or we divide Ανπαλαν Απαλανη; and in either case we can emend in order to get more similar pairs of names; Ανπαλ Αν(α)παλανη or Ανπαλαν Α(ν)παλανη.


3.2.5. Before we go on with the interpretation of these lines, it will be necessary to discuss lines 19-21.

As far as palaeography is concerned, they offer no particular difficulty, because the Greek letters are clear and not damaged. Some difficulty is caused by the third character of line 20, which is an uncommon ligature of either a T and a reverted round E, or, more probably from the palaeographic point of view, of Τ and Z, which yields τζ.

The following Η, Ρ and (21) Θ, Ε offer no problem. A real difficulty was caused only by the last four letters of line 21, preceded by a dot in Miller's copy, undoubtedly correctly. These four letters caused much speculation. Miller noted that the last letter is absent on Kulikovski 's squeeze (1893, 116). He also noted a horizontal stroke over the sigma, which suggested to him an abbreviation for Greek Θ(εό)ς 'God'; but he remarked that that leads nowhere. He also tried to get a date out of the letters, because the horizontal stroke could be taken as the sign that the letters should be taken in their numerical value. However, even with various emendations (italics added) he tentatively reached the number 6200 A.M., which would correspond to 692 A.D. (1893, 116). Such a date, however, does not fit the palaeographic character of the script (as has already been observed by Alborov (1956, 240). Finally, Miller decided to consider the letters unintelligible. Abaev (1944 and 1949) also leaves them unread.

The next attempt at the interpretation of the four letters was made by G. F. Turchaninov (1948, 80ff.; also 1971, 105). For him, the letter О stands for a circular symbol with a dot in its center, . This is to be understood as the symbol of the sun, which tells the reader that the date is given in the solar era. The solar era is best known from a text (called by the modern editors the "Chronological text") written in the 12th century by a monk of the St. Anthony monastery in Novgorod, named Kink. 19

We learn here that a solar circle, or cycle, comprises 28 years. In one passage, Kirik says that at the time of his writing ishlo ot adama s'l'z' a posledneg kruga idet osmoe leto, that is, "it has passed since Adam" (= a creatione mundi) "s'l'z' " [scil. cycles] "and of the last cycle the eighth year is going" (Kirik's line 117). s'l'z' is (with the numerical values of Greek and Old Cyrillic letters) 237. Thus, 237 x 28 = 6,636, and with the eight years in the last cycle, = 6,644. This coincides with another passage of the Chronological text in which Kirik tells us (using normal counting) that he is writing in the year 6,644 "after Adam", i.e. after the creation of the world (Since Kirik is definitely not a Slavic name, he may well have been a Türkic Bulgarian, he may have been referring not to the date of the creation of the world, but to the date of the creation of a man, because in the Türkic Bulgarian "adam" means just a "man", and his audience then would likely be as bi-lingual as Kirik himself, with "adam" for "man" an ordinary lexicon. The Türkic Bulgarian cycle is 60 years, not the oddball 28 years. Turchaninov's idea to resolve an enigmatic inscription with enigmatic solution is not too helpful). This strange dating system is deemed by Turchaninov to be used in our inscription. The numerical value of the Greek letters Θ, Σ, Λ is 9, 200, 30. To get a reasonable date, Turchaninov supposes that the last two numbers, 230, represent the number of the already absolved solar cycles, whereas 9 is the year in the running cycle. In this way, he gets 230 x 28 = 6440 and with the 9 further years 6449 A.M., which corresponds to 941 A.D.

It is easy to find reasons on the strength of which to reject this interpretation (italics added): (1) the strange use of О instead of and this as the symbol of the sun, or of the solar era; (2) the solar era is occasionally, quite infrequently, used, but not in this strange form as described by Kirik; (3) last not least, why should the first of a group of numerals be taken as the number of years within the cycle, but the two following ones be added and taken as the number of the cycles? (And more substantial reason would be to bring to the surface to what nonsense the targeted search can lead, and to what length these efforts would go, take the improvised idea of a solar cult and related solar cycle, and bringing into the study an obscure Middle Age northern monk with his peculiar chronology, all to make a dubious link with the Avestan ethnicity.)

Alborov (1956, 241) proposes yet another interpretation. According to him, the last letter of line 21 is not Λ, lambda but A, alpha. (Obviously, of the same form as at the end of line 12, etc., with the horizontal bar missing.) This alpha is taken to stand for the Ossetic word anz (Digor), az (Iron) "year" and to be a translation of the usual Greek formulaic expression ... ε(τους) "in the year ...". The other possibility considered by Alborov is that the alpha has the usual Greek numeric value, i.e. 1. Alborov then assumes that the three preceding letters are to be understood in their numeric value; however, the three letters must be read from right to left. As reason for this unusual assumption (italics added) Alborov offers the possibility that either the stone-cutter was a Jew (italics added) who inadvertently transferred the orientation (italics added) of the Hebrew (or another Semitic) script into this inscription, or that the date is written as a cryptogram (italics added).

To determine which of the two assumptions is less probable is inutile, because what follows is wrong in any case: reading from right to left, Alborov deems to get the numeric values 6000, 500, 70, which give the date 6570 (or, if the following A = 1, 6571) a creatione mundi, which would be 1062 or 1063 A.D. However, while σ = 6000 and ο' = 70, θ' = 9 and not 500; 500 is expressed by φ'. So in order to save the calculation, one would have to add to all the improbabilities (italics added) yet the necessary assumption that the stone-cutter wrote Θ instead of Φ (italics added). Palpably, the interpretation is impossible (italics added).

There is yet another (Nakh) interpretation of the last four letters. Vagapov (1980, 114) also considers them a cryptogram (italics added). He refers to examples in Byzantine texts (however, only books and seals; in epigraphical texts, cryptography is unusual) and decides that the last four letters have the cryptogrammatic value of ΛΑΔΟ. Since the name of the stone-cutter is sometimes found at the end of an inscription, he considers this such a name, Λαδο, and identifies it with the contemporary Vainakh name Lada or Lat'a (, Ia in Cyrillics, Lat'a in transcription). Again, the interpretation is too strongly inspired (italics added) by the author's desire to obtain here a Vainakh name. When the name of the cutter is mentioned in an inscription (which is quite exceptional), it stands alone, outside of the context of the inscription itself. Also, one would have to go more deeply into the problems of cryptography before one would accept the reading; and that quite apart from the question of why the stone-cutter should use a cryptogram at all (italics added. Juxtaposed against L.Zgusta malleability in accepting Ossetian presumptions and emendations, this negative appraisal of Nakh version displays a not so scholarly bias).

The real reading and interpretation of the four letters is simple. We remember that the last letter is so weak that Kulikovski's squeeze does not contain it (let us recall that it is the last letter in the lowest corner: exactly the place where one would expect the pressure of the brush to be weaker than elsewhere, which would easily result in the non-appearance of the letter in the squeeze (implying a presumption that Kulikovski was blinded or negligently sloppy, and can't be trusted), and that the right-hand edge of the stone seems to be rather damaged. Therefore, we can assume that the last letter lost a right perpendicular stroke by damage or that Strukov did not see it (another implied presumption this time faulting Strukov). In this assumption, Strukov has here a Λ instead of a N - an extremely frequent error (and we need an extremely frequent error in our presumptions) in epigraphy. If we assume the sequence ΟΘΣ[Ν] and remember that there is a horizontal stroke (like in the first line) over the Σ, we get the reading ο' Θ(εό)ς [ν](ικα) 'God wins', which is a very frequent Byzantine formula. θ(εό)ς is a quite normal abbreviation (already Miller perceived the possibility of this reading) and so is ν(ικα). The whole formula fits into the context: the inscription opens with the invocation of Jesus Christ and St. Nicolas, then enumerates the names of the dead, and finishes with a Christian formula that expresses the faith in victory over death 19a (this is a good punch line, and it brings a savior to the Miller's excruciating concept, but with such torment that totally conforms to the wisdom "if you torture numbers long enough, they will confess to anything". Just note the language in the passage: "one would expect", "would easily result", "seems to be", "we can assume", "extremely frequent error", "assume the sequence").
29 For the remaining letters of lines 19-21, Miller suggested two possible readings, depending on whether the Τ in the center of line 20 is thought to be in ligature with a Z or a reverted (rounded) E.

The first possibility leads to a reading λακανη τζηρθε, which could represent something like Ossetic lakany cirta, either to be derived from Oss. lag "man, hero" or from Oss. lax"wan (laqwan) "young man, boy" (< lag-qwa "man-child" (see Abaev [1973] vol. 2, p. 20 and 32) and cyrt "monument". This interpretation has, among other things, the disadvantage that the first form would have to be in the genitive singular and a meaning like "the young man's monument" does not go well with the several preceding names. However, Alborov (1956, 239) shows, not without some justification, that the singular form could have a plural, collective value: see below,

The second possibility is to read λακανητε ηρθε, which could represent something like Ossetic laqwan(i)ta irta "young men, Ossetes". The difficulty of this reading consists in the superfluous η which would have to be athetized in λακαν(η)τε; in the Ossetic plural ending -ta being once spelled -τε, once -θε; and, as is well recognized by Alborov (1956, 239), in the fact that at least in today's language, *Irta is not used; Ir "Ossetes" is a collective plural, Iron "Ossete" the singular, and from this adjectival form another plural is formed, Ironta or Iratta "Ossetes" (from this passage one would get an impression that at one time Ossetes were using Greek script: -τε, -θε, cited by Alborov, but all Russian and Ossetian literature on the subject of Ossetian literacy state that before Russian advent the Ossetes were illiterate, and the Russian educators had to invent Ossetic script in the 18th century).

Neither (of the Miller's readings) reading satisfied Miller himself (and what about Alborov reading?) .
30 However, the real difficulty of Miller's interpretation is elsewhere.

The central part of the inscription (from line 6 onwards) (under Miller's paradigm) consists of a series of names. Leaving aside some minor problems connected with the exact readings of these names (see below,, we get the following approximative translation:

Of Saxir son Xovs
of Istor son Pakathar
of Pakatha(r) son Anpal
of Anapalan son
Of the young men the monument
(or: Young men, Ossetes)

Whatever the details of the reading of the names in lines 6-17, the fact remains that no son of Anapalan is named after the φουρτ of line 17/18, if line 19 contains a general noun, such as λακ = "(young) man" or similar.

Several attempts have been made to cope with this difficulty.

Alborov (1956), who as we remember understands the third line as containing the putative name of the Ossetes, Οασσι, takes Nikolaos as the name of one of the dead men. Thus he gets the interpretation: "Nikolaos Saxir's son; Xo Bsiter's [about this later] son; Pakathar Pakatha's son; Anpal Anapalan's son; the young men's monument." However, this interpretation is not possible (italics added): we know that Nikolaos must be the name of the saint, because of the Greek ending.

Another attempt at solving this difficulty was made by Vagapov (1980, 105f.) who, as we shall see in 3.3.1, reads φ(ουρτ)οι in line 7 and interprets this as a Vainakh plural. He thus gets the interpretation: "Saxir's sons: Xov(a) Siter's son; Pakathar Pakatha's son; Anpalan(a) Apalan's son." In this interpretation, the plural "sons" would have to be taken in a broader sense (something like "progeny", "descendants") and Saxir is the ancestor of a, say, clan or kin, and not just the father of a family. This could be seen as conforming well with the Ossetic names of persons which have a structure and interpretation of their own. What seems (particularly in the Russified form) to be the family name is in reality a reference to such an ancestral clan. For instance, the name of the well known scholar Vasili Ivanovich Abaev makes the impression that it means 'Vasili son of Ivan Abaev'. However, in Ossetic the name has the form (in one of the possible sequences) Abaity Ivany fyrt Vasso. Here, Ivany is the gen. sing., whereas Abaity is the gen. plural from Abaita, the progeny of the ancestor Aba, Abaetids: thus, "Vasso, son of Ivan, of the "gens Abaetidarum" ".

Nevertheless, Vagapov's interpretation is impossible, because the real reading of line 7 is φουρτ (with the ρτ read in Kulikovski's squeeze), the normal singular form.

The way out of this impasse was found by V.I.Abaev (1944; 1949). He perceived that one of the possible sequences of names in the Ossetic names of persons is first the father's name in the genitive, followed by fyrt "son", then the son's personal name, e.g. Acaty fyrt Acamaz. Alborov (1956, 243) tries to show that the Ossetic name of a person can have many different forms: one possibility is Acaty Acamaz, Boraty Xamyc or Acaty fyrt Acamaz. But just as one can say Kodzyry Taimuraz (gen. + nom.), one can also say Kodzyron Taimuraz (adjective from the father's name). Taimuraz Kodzyry fyrt is, however, also frequent. And Xadyqaty Temyr Aslanbedjy fyrt "Temyr son of Aslanbeg from the progeny (or gens) of Xadyq" is possible as well. All this is quite correct, but the fact remains that the sequence exemplified by Ivany fyrt Vasso is very frequent. More than that, as Alborov himself says, this sequence is attested in the Epos of the Narts, which testifies to its antiquity: Xizy fyrt Chelaxsartag, Xamycy fyrt Batyradz, etc (there must be a message hidden in this Abaev's argument, as in other pages of his publications, in this case the preponderance of the known Türkic names and a title listed in the supposedly exclusively Ossetian study: Temyr = iron, Kodzyry = hodja, Aslan - lion, Beg = prince, Hadyk = god's, Sartak = Muslim convert. Here the Abaev's selections are presented as native Ossetic).

Vagapov (1980, 105) argues that names in the Greek inscriptions from the towns of the north coast of the Black Sea have the normal Greek structure with the father's name in the genitive in the second place, Φαρνάκης Φαρνάκου. This is true, but it is not necessarily an argument bearing on the problem at hand. Once the main part of the Zelenchuk inscription is not written in Greek (italics added), there is no need to assume (italics added) that the Greek tradition was otherwise strong enough to keep or enforce Greek word order. The necessary name of the son after the last φουρτ in line 18 resulted in Abaev's dividing lines 19-20 into three words: Λακ. ανη τζηρθε.

Λακ is understood by Abaev as the name of the son. By his interpretation, it belongs to the Oss. lag "(young) man". Abaev explains the voiceless κ being written instead of the expected voiced consonant g by the Ossetic final devoicing rule: the writer of the inscription would loosely follow pronunciation. For the same reason Abaev rejects a segmentation of the text into some Λακαν which would suppose an Ossetic form Lagan: there would be no devoicing here, so the writer would be expected to write the Greek gamma, γ. The first idea is more probable than the second: the Greek gamma was at that point of time pronounced either as a palatal glide or as a velar fricative, depending on the phonological environment: so for the representation of an Ossetic voiced stop, the corresponding voiceless stop of the Greek script might have been the closest choice.

By the same interpretation, ανη is the genitive plural of the personal pronoun, Oss. ani 'their'. The τζηρθε is interpreted as Oss. cirt "monument" (i.e. TZERTHE = CIRT). There is one weakness in this interpretation, namely the fact that this contemporary Ossetic word is not used with the final -a. In Chechen and Ingush, the word also has the form churt (Vagapov 1980, 112), which shows that even when borrowed, the word had no -a (irrespective of whether the borrowing went from Ossetic to Vainakh, or the other way round, or whether both Ossetic and Vainakh have borrowed it from a third, unidentified source). Since there are, however, several centuries between the inscription and the contemporary language, and since the final -a is a frequent element in many words in the Digor dialect, one can assume that the dialect in which the inscription was written had the word in this form (this formalistic generality and generosity toward Ossetic version may be highly commendable, but unfortunately it fails L.Zgusta as soon as he leaves Ossetic territory and then raises the plank of formality to a maximum height). I do not think it would be necessary to athetize (i.e. condemn as spurious, italics added) the last letter and write τζηρθ(ε) (and although L.Zgusta scirts the issue, in other words L.Zgusta accepts the Nakh/Ossetic reading TZERTHE = CIRTA as a valid surmisal. By accepting this version, L.Zgusta triples the number of presumed Ossetic words in the inscription from one to three: = furt, = ani, =tzerthe, greatly enhancing the plausibility of the Ossetic version, but at the same time raising the plausibility of the Nakh version by using lexicon from the Ossetic/Nakh common vocabulary).

There may be yet another way how to understand the final -ε. Roland Bielmeier (private communication, January 13, 1986) tentatively considers the possibility of seeing in it the Digor copula ai 'is'. This assumption is very good inasfar (insofar) as syntax and semantics go: ανη τζηρθε = ani cirt ai 'their stele [this] is'. The difficulty consists in the assumption that ε = ai. It is true that the Greek diphthong [ay], originally spelled αι, developed into a monophthong [e] in late Greek. This [e] < [ay] has continued being spelled αι (and is thus spelled today in Modern Greek), but phonetic 'misspellings' with ε (e.g., φέρετε = φέρεται) are quite frequent in inscriptions, papyri etc. However, in our case we would have to assume that the writer of the inscription was familiar with the vacillation of αι and ε in Greek texts and that he therefore produced in our inscription an "inverse" form, with the spelling ε instead of αι for [ai]. Such an assumption is possible, but not easy (italics added. Easy or not easy, L.Zgusta ends up accepting all assumptions and presumptions for ANI TZERTHE = ANI CIRTA in his Final Reading, see 4.3). Leaving now for the moment a further discussion of Abaev's interpretation, let us discuss the names in lines 6ff. greater detail.

Line 6, Σαχηρη, i.e. the patronymic saxir-i in the genitive. Roland Bielmeyer (private communication) finds two possible explanations for the name: either it is a compound of Oss. (Digor) sax "strong, intensive, plentiful" and Ir"Ossete", or it can be compared with the Old Georgian family name Saγiri (Sagiri) (which may belong to Georgian γir (gir) "precious"). Both possibilities are easily acceptable.

Lines 8-9, left more or less unread by Miller and Abaev, were read Xo Βσητερη by Alborov (1956, 237) who, however, assumed that the phonetic value of this spelling was Ко Bziteri. The reason for Ко is the existence of the Ossetic name Ко as in Ко Mirzoity; but the existence of an Ossetic name Xo is also admitted. By assuming the phonetic value Bziter the name is moved toward a formal similarity with Ossetic bzi, budzi, bydzy, bdzy 'honor'. However, the late Greek value of the letter В is that of a fricative; and for the voiced [z] there was the letter Z: in any case, it is imprudent to accept anomalous values for letters because of a preconceived etymology (italics added), and a weak one at that. (And after all, names of various origins have spread so widely in the Caucasus that no name gives valid proof as to the ethnicity of its bearer or to the language of the text in which it occurs.)

In reality, the first symbol in line 9 is a Byzantine ligature of the letters στο (sto) (a ligature for "sto" is a suggestion, not a reality, and therefore the following speculations are inspired conjectures); the other possible reading, στε, is less probable. Thus, we have here a sequence of letters ΧΟΒΣΗΣΤΟΡΗ, or -EPH which allows at least four different readings, either Χοβ Σηστορη or ; or Χοβ Σηστερη or Χοβς Ηστερη. There is yet another possible segmentation: Xo Βσηστο/ερη; however, while Xo is a really existing name, the initial cluster Βσ- would be somewhat difficult. While all these readings are possible, I prefer the second of them (Χοβς Ηστορη), because it results in a well-intelligible name: Ηστορ, i.e. [istor] could be explained as Oss. (Dig.) stur "big, large", with the normal prothetic vowel 20; Iranian stma- "grofi" (Vedic sthura-) is attested as an element of Iranian anthroponymy: Av. Pairi-shtura- et al. (see M. Mayrhofer, Zum Namengut des Avesta [Sitzungsberichte der Osterreichischen Akademie der Wiss. 308, 5. Abhandlung] Wien 1977, 28 [with further references]). Therefore, while the name of Saχir's son could be either Xov or Xovs, I prefer Xovs; and while the name of Pakathar's (line 12/13) father could be either Sistor or Istor, I prefer Istor, on the strength of Iranian anthroponymy. Thus, Χοβς Ηστορη emerges as the most probable reading (and to call this solution a far-fetched would be a gross understatement).

This understanding of the passage is more probable than the interpretation of the η = [i] as the Digor article (so Roland Bielmeier, private communication), because prothesis is a regular phenomenon in Ossetic, whereas the assumption of that we have to deal with the article does not foster the syntactic understanding of the passage.

Turchaninov (1958, 49) came close to the understanding of this passage when he recognized the ligature at the beginning of line 9. He, however, takes Χοβς as standing for 'Ovs: a rather violent attempt to get the putative name of Ovs, assumed to be the name of the ancestor of the Ossetes, because of the Old Georgian form Ovsi "Ossetes".21 He, however, understands istori as an adjective and translates the passage: "Saxir's son, of the great Ovs son [that is, "descendant"], Pakathar." The unwarranted dropping of the X because of an uncertain etymology is not acceptable (italics added); even less so (italics added) the interpretation of the Greek chi (X) as the symbol for the glottal stop, if that be the understanding. (Not to mention the fact that the glottal stop is not attested in any Ossetic or Sarmatian monument or text of any age.)

The son of Istor has the name Πακαθαρ (line 11/12), undoubtedly of Turk origin (cf. Turkish bahadir "hero") (Zgusta should be clear about the pre-eminence of the title "Bahadir" dated from half-a millennia before the appearance of the "Turk" and "Turkish" on the historical scene. In addition to the Ossets, Ases and Alans, this title was used by literally every Caucasian tribe). In modern Ossetic, the name has the form Baqatar and similar phonetic variants. But it occurs in the area, including Chechen and Ingush, in many different variants, so it is hard to form a final opinion on what exact phonetic reality might have been represented by the Greek letters. Strangely enough, simplest and easiest to interpret is the initial Π: since the Greek letter В had the value of a voiced labial fricative and Φ that of a voiceless labial fricative, only II remained as the possible spelling for either the voiceless or the voiced labial stop (in addition, because the title "Bahadir" was initially introduced by Bulgarians who reputedly spoke a palatalized Chuvash-like version of Türkic, Π for would be a suitable rendition in all languages).

The next name, line 12/13, has the genitival form Πακαθαη. Both Miller and Abaev emend here (italics added) Πακαθα(ρ)η (Pakatha(r)i), so that they get the same name as the preceding one. There is nothing difficult with the emendation (except that the reading would pertain to emendation, not the inscription): on the contrary, Alborov is wrong when he says (1956, 238) that the stone-cutter made no similar mistake in the inscription: if nothing else, at least ΝΚΟΛΑΟΣ in line 4/5 is such a mistake. However, notice that Πακαθαρ in line 11/12 is son of Istor line 8/9, so there is no family connection (which would make identity of names more probable) between this Pakathar and our Pakatha or Pakatha(r) of line 12/13, who is the father of Ανπαλ or Ανπαλαν, line 15/16. Alborov (1956, 238) postulates on the basis of the unemended genitive Πακαθαη an Ossetic name of Tartar (Mongolian) origin Bag"ataj ( in Cyrillic; g" represents the fricative = [baγatai] (bagatai)). This is possible but hardly more probable than Miller's emendation, particularly because of the -K-: since the Greek Г had the value of a voiced fricative before [a, o, u], it is hard to understand why the stone-cutter would write K, not Г (on philological grounds, as Zgusta admitted, the word "Bahadir" has various, and mostly unknown in their 10th century form, phonetic variations, so K vs. would be a mute point. The real problem is to bring the Mongolian form on the Caucasus soil centuries before the first arrival of Mongols in the area, and even longer before the Mongol dialect of the familiar Türkic word would be picked up by locals and adopted as their own. Zgusta appear to walk silently by this obvious and screaming fact pretending not to be aware of it).

The following group of letters (lines 15-17), ΑΝΠΑΛΑΝΑΠΑΛΑΝΗ can be segmented and read in four different, if only slightly diverging ways. Before we enumerate them, it may be useful to say that whatever the segmentation and interpretation, the two names do not refer to a son and his father, so there is no reason for them to be identical; the more so that sons usually were not named after their fathers, anyhow. In any case, within the framework of Abaev's interpretation of the sequence of names, the first name is that of the son of Πακαθα(ρ), the second that of the father of Λακ. Miller and Alborov read the two names Ανπαλ Αναπαλανη; Abaev athetizes (italics added) Ανπαλ Αν(α)παλανη; Vagapov (110f.) segments the names into Ανπαλαν Απαλανη; Bjazyrty (1968; see below, 3.2.7) segments and emends (italics added) them into Ανπαλαν Α(ν)παλανη.

The reading Ανπαλ has an advantage in that it has the support of a really existing Ossetic noun and name, to wit ambal fellow, comrade" and Ambal; the consonant cluster -νπ- was already voiced in Late and Byzantine Greek, as it is in Modern Greek, so there is no difficulty in this identification, in spite of Vagapov's doubts (1980, 111). When compared with the preceding, the segmentation into Ανπαλαν appears as certainly possible, but happens to have no support in an existing word or name; and by the same token, the emendation Α(ν)παλανη must be more uncertain: but it must be admitted that both putative names (italics added) would be derived by what we know to be productive processes in Ossetic (even where the inscription is read clearly, one needs to make athetizes, emendments, and use of a grammatical "productive processes" just to obtain some "putative names" for a reading that on the overall ends up not making any epitaphic sense).

There is no way to decide between the readings Αναπαλανη and Αν(α)παλανη. Both are possible names; Anapalan (as the nominative) has the advantage that it really occurs on the stone, whereas Anpalan (as the nominative) has the support of Ανπαλ, of which it would be a derivative; and Α(ν)παλανη (gen.) has the support of Ανπαλαν if we accept Vagapov's segmentation. It is not possible, either, to determine whether the intervocalic -π- in the possible reading Αναπαλανη represents a voiceless or a voiced stop, because as we already know, В has had the value of a voiced fricative.

3.2.7. Within the framework of the "Ossetic school of thought", i.e., the assumption (italics added) that the main body of the inscription is written in Ossetic, Abaev's interpretation (with Λακ = personal name, ανη "their") was opposed by Al. Bjazyrty 22 (mainly 1968; partly repeated in 1981).

Bjazyrty collects three old contexts (dating from 1550, 1688, and 1752, respectively) in which the sequence of the names is of the type Acaty fyrt Acamaz. However, he sticks to the idea that the name of the buried man is Laqan; Λακανη τζηρθε = Laqany cirt is "Laqan's stele". However, while in the preceding interpretations there were several persons to whom the stele was dedicated (namely all the sons, whose names are in the nominative), in this interpretation there is only one beneficiary, namely Laqan himself; consequently the preceding names must be those of his ancestors. When writing his essay, Bjazyrty knew only the readings of Miller and Abaev, who left lines 8-9 unread. Therefore, Bjazyrty could posit the following genealogy:

Σαχηρη (gen.) φουρτ.. .
... φουρτ Πακαθαρnom,
Πακαθα(ρ)η gen. φουρτ Ανπαλαν nom.
Α(ν)παλανη gen. φουρτ Λακαν

The assumption (italics added) is that each name is repeated, once in the nominative as the name of the son, then in the genitive as the name of the father of the next generation 23. The genealogy ends with Laqan, whose name, however, is in the genitive as that of the possessor of the stele, so that the last genealogical indication has the form Α(ν)παλανη gen. φουρτ Λακανη gen. τζηρθε.

However, the new readings of lines 8 and 9 take away the foundation of Bjazyrty's interpretation, because the name in the nominative, (Σαχηρη φουρτ) Χοβς and that in the genitive, Ηστορη (φουρτ Πακαθαρ) are not identical, so the genealogical chain is broken (the nominative/genitive discrepancy is a last straw that breaks the back of the camel. All the preceding assumptions, emendations, and preconceptions must have had been fine and scholarly, but the observed grammatical discrepancy in the architecture of a hoodoo exceeds the tolerance of that scholar). Roland Bielmeier (in private communication of January 19, 1984) ponders the following possibility for rendering Bjazyrty's interpretation viable, given the new readings. The idea is to understand the recently read words as an apposition that specifies, or adds a title to Saxir, and that only indirectly belongs to the genealogical series:

Σαχηρη φουρτ - χοβση
στορη φουρτ - Πακαθαρ,
ΙΠακαθα(ρ)η φουρτ Ανπαλαν etc.


This is an interpretation similar to that proposed by Turcaninov (see; the main difference consists in the fact that Bielmeier pays more attention to the syntactic structure of the sentence. The basic difficulty, however, is the same, namely the word Χοβση. Either, it is a name: but in that case, Saxir would carry two names; a difficult assumption (italics added). Or, Xovs means with Turchaninov "Ossete": but then the initial χ is inexplicable (italics added). Or χοβς is an unknown general noun of a meaning which cannot be exactly specified, however such that it can stand as laudatory apposition to the name of an esteemed ancestor, and capable of being qualified by στορ "big": a possible if somewhat ad hoc (italics by author) solution 24. In addition to these deliberations, I find the repetition of φουρτ in the assumed apposition (italics added) too hard (italics added): I would rather expect, e.g., Σαχηρη χοβση στορη φουρτ Πακαθαρ, or Χοβση στορη Σαχηρη φουρτ Πακαθαρ. One even could think that if this ancestor, Saxir, was so exceptionally outstanding, he would be treated as the founder of a "gens", in which case one would expect rather some formulation with this name in the genitive plural (*Saxirty ...): but this is not a necessarily valid objection, because the "gentilicia" (origin) may have been inexistent at that point of time; or, if already incipient, severely restricted in number. The idea that we should understand the η, [i] in χοβς η στορη φουρτ as the definite article (see above, does not help, either: the two parallel nouns, or the noun + adjective, or whatever, would be in different cases (and grammatically different cases, like the nominative/genitive discrepancy, is a last straw that breaks the back of the camel in deciphering a document written in uncertain alphabet in presumed language by unknown peoples, the ethnicity of which needs to be unequivocally proved to establish the Ossetian-Alanian-Sarmatian-Scythian Iranism in the previous two millennia extending from Gansu to Apennines). Naturally, it would be decisive if (italics added) we could learn from the tomb itself whether only one or more men are buried there; unfortunately, that is not possible (italics added) (barring the possibility, however remote, of some future successful excavation of the site). Most regrettably, we are forced to limit ourselves (italics added) to general deliberations.

We know from Strukov's plan of the site (see 1.2) that the burial plot on which the stele was found was a particularly large one; the experienced archaeologist Kuznetsov formed the impression that it belonged to an outstanding family. Naturally, this does not exclude the possibility of only one important man being buried there: still, large tombs and graves usually suggest the presence of more than one burial, in any culture. Collective family graves have always been common in Ossetia; for instance, fig. 7a, b, and c give pictures of the "town of the dead" in the vicinity of Darghavs in Digoria with family tombs in the form of small houses into which bodies of family members were put without discrimination.

Fig. 7a. Digorian crypt cemetery

"Village of the Dead" family tombs at Dargavs in Northem Ossetia (Digoria) photographed by the author in 1956. The single tombs belong to single families; skeletons (many of them still at least partly visible) were located indiscriminately in the chamber, without interment. There are no inscriptions. This type of burial (discontinued now) was reportedly particularly frequent in times of pestilence, when people stricken by the plague frequently went into the tomb while still alive and awaited death there in order to be thus buried.

Fig. 7b. Digorian crypt

Another group of collective family tombs close to the first location This picture shows the open entrance to the chamber (there are no traces of doors or grilles in any of the tombs). The scale is given by the sheep in front of t lie picture (white spot in the bottom center with its shepherd next to the right a few steps up).


Fig. 7c. Digorian crypt cemetery

General view of the "Town of the Dead".

One could raise the objection that the inscription does not mention any family ties among the single fathers of the deceased; however, they could all have been members of one "Grossfamilie", or "clan", or an incipient "gens". Nor should it be considered strange that several men should have one stele, not several separate ones: this could suggest simultaneous death, one of the frequent reasons for which (and for collective graves) was pestilence, in the Caucasus as elsewhere. And let us not disregard other possibilities: the men may have been unrelated genealogically, at least with respect to their immediate families; they may have been killed when participating in a bale, a loot-collecting foray (until the 19th century considered an honorable undertaking in the Caucasus), and the stele may even be a cenotaph. In short, there are so many possibilities, if only of a speculative character, that they do not prove either interpretation (italics added). (See also, at the end.) Yet another interpretation was proposed by Jost Gippert and Sonia Gippert-Fritz (private communication of March 3, 1986). They develop two basic ideas: First, they assume that the series of names pertains to members of a single family, with the son of one generation being referred to once more as the father of the next generation. Therefore, they accept the emendations Πακαθα(ρ)η in line 13 and Α(ν)παλανη in line 16.

In addition to this, they take Χοβσηστορη as one name, in this case in the genitive. The name of Saxir's son must, then, be identical with that of Pakathar's father, i.e. Xovsistor. In this way, they get the following reading:

Saxir's son (Xovsistor) (and)
Xovsistor's son Pakathar (and)
Pakatha(r)'s son Anpalan (and)
A(n)palan's son Lakan's stele.

The assumption is that the first reference to Xovsistor (in the nominative case) was lost by haplography, i.e. that it was erroneously omitted by the writer of the inscription (because of the immediately following genitive of the same name). Naturally, a haplographic omission of nine letters is not an easily accepted assumption, particularly when we know from line 7 that our lapidarian writer reread his text and added the originally omitted two letters ρτ where they belonged. That, however, is a minor matter, one could argue that he did not correct the omissions in Πακαθα(ρ)η (line 13) and in Α(ν)παλανη (line 16) - that is, if omissions they are. In any case, he certainly did not correct Ν(ι)κόλαος (line 4). Be all this as it may, a haplography deleting a whole name is difficult assumption (no other text seems to have so many omissions and errors attributed to the poor stone-cutter and needed to transform the Bajanak-Chorasmian speaking Alans, described by Biruni, into Ossetian-speaking Ossetes. And no parent would accept and pay for installation of the stele bearing so many conspicuous mistakes, especially for a son of a prominent feudal lord responsible for the wellbeing of his subjects, who lived in a literate Christian country, was a high-positioned member of the native civil society, and possessed the most prominent spot in the cemetery. The worst is that there are no analogies: no corroborating inscriptions, no contemporary Greek-lingual stelae with like stone-cutter omissions, absolutely no examples. The philological experts who do not address these points need olfactory remediation).

The interpretation of Jost Gippert and Sonia Gippert-Fritz has the advantage that laqwan "young man, boy" is also attested as an Ossetic personal name, whereas in the case of lag "man" such a usage as personal name is not attested.

As to the syntax, the two scholars develop their second basic idea, which is similar to that of Alborov (see above, "singular form with a plural, collective value"). But whereas Alborov took λακανη as genitive sing. with the value of genitive plural of the general noun ("young man's" >) "young men's", G. & G.-F. assume Λακανη to be a name of one of the deceased persons and "Gruppenflexion" to be the construction of the passage. That is, the stele, τζηρθε, belongs to the four men who are mentioned as sons, i.e. Χοβσηστορ (omitted by haplography), Πακαθαρ, Ανπαλαν, and Λακαν-η but only the last of these names has the form of the genitive, whose syntactic function, however, pertains to all four of them.

This interpretation is quite possible: coordinated, symmetrical colligations (or syntactically bound groups of words) can show gruppenflexion. However, I find the resulting construction too hard: there would be five genitives and three nominatives in the text (one nominative being, however, omitted); out of these five genitives, one would have to be understood as parallel not with the other genitives, but with the nominatives. I find the construction too difficult; admittedly, it is a possible one, nevertheless.

There is yet another objection to the assumption that the names refer to four generations of the same family. Given the normal speed of the generation change, there should be something like a century between the death of Xovsistor and that of Lakan. We would have to assume either that when Xovsistor, Pakathar, and Anpalan died, their respective burials were also adorned by an inscription, presumably on a stele, just as the burial of Lakan, and one would have to assume that these three earlier steles had not survived to Strukov's day. However, if the older generations had their own steles, why is their sequence recapitulated in the inscription on Lakan's stele? The logical need to mention the collective burial of four generations arises only if the former three of them had had no inscriptions of their own and only the opportunity offered by the fourth burial was used for the recapitulation of the generations. But why should this be the case in such an apparently rich family, the more so that such generational recapitulations are not common (an oblique way of stating "non-existing") in the Caucasian epitaphs? However, once we start considering such subtleties, we are leaving the sphere of what it is possible to know.

In sum: the fact that Laqwan is an attested personal name is a positive, favorable argument; the assumption of the gruppenflexion is possible, but the resulting construction seems to be too hard; the assumption of a haplographic omission of a whole name is not easy; and the idea that the tomb belongs to four generations of the same family has some difficulties as well.

On the whole, I think that the difficulty inherent in Abaev's interpretation, namely that (λακ =) lag "man" is not attested as a personal name, is richly compensated by the syntactic easiness of the resulting construction and by the fewer difficulties in understanding the burials.

3.3. There were several attempts to interpret the inscription in a language other than Ossetic: these will be discussed in the following section.

Vainakh Reading

3.3.1. We shall start with the Vainakh (i.e., Chechen + Ingush) interpretation of the inscription which was suggested by Ya. S. Vagapov (1980). We must start with lines 19-21, which Vagapov segments into the following words: λα κανητε 25 ηρθε; the phonetic value of these letters is (quite correctly) assumed to be la kanite irthe. According to Vagapov (113), these words should be understood as Vainakh la k'anitie irte ( ла кIанитие ирте in Cyrillics).

The form la is said to be the verb 'to die' in past tense: "they died". Vagapov admits that this verbal stem is always used with an obligatory classificatory prefix in contemporary language, but he points to some standing expressions such as ηαχ la "people die" and assumes on their basis that the bare verbal stem could have been used in the older language.

There is a Vainakh word k'anat- ( кIанат~) "son", of which the form k'anitie is assumed to be the plural (formed by an irregular ending) (i.e. a machination like fruiten instead of fruits); the first - i-, itself irregular as well, is explained as the product of assimilatory raising k'anatie > k'anitie; and since φουρτ is understood by Vagapov as a Vainakh word with the meaning of "son", the meaning of k'anitie is assumed to be "heroes" < "brave young men" (a sense present, for "son", in contemporary Chechen and Ingush). Thus, the semantic interpretation of this form is possible, but there seem to be present difficult problems in its morphology and phonology; also, the second -i- would have to be supplied, or somehow assumed, since it has no graphic representation.

The last word is explained as consisting of ar "plains, flatland" and of the postposition -te "on"; the first vowel of arte is supposed to have been raised again by assimilation into irte. However, postpositions such as -t'ye (which is the contemporary form) are appended to nouns, whereas a: r- is a root. Also, there are difficulties with the assumption of raising (or umlaut) operating across a word boundary, since -t'ye is a clitic (attached independent word, like "s" in cat's paw) and not a suffix. (Private communication by J. Nichols, January 6, 1986.) ("if you torture it hard enough, it will read your way")

The meaning of the whole final sentence is assumed to be: "they died, the heroes, on the plains"; and since 'on the plains' frequently means 'abroad, in a foreign land' in the Vainakh languages, which are spoken by inhabitants of high mountains, those men, or heroes, are supposed to have died during an expedition.

The preceding text is understood in the following way. After the introductory invocation of Jesus Christ and St. Nicolas (about this above, 3.2.1 and 3.2.3), there follows an enumeration of the dead men. Their names are (in the Vainakh form in which Vagapov gives them):

Xov(a) Sitheri furt
Bagatar Bagatai furt
Anbalan(a) Abalani furt

(note that
1. Vagapov accepts the rest of the inscription with the Miller/Abaev's incongruent interpretation of senseless name listing
2. The Vainakh language shares with Ossetic the Iranian "fourt" = son, which makes all three of them Iranian
3. The Vainakh language is sharing with Ossetic and Turkic the other two Turkic words, Bagatar and Anbalan, which makes all three of them Turkic
4. In spite of belonging to different linguistic families, it does not take much to convert Iranian Ossetic into Nakh Checheno- Ingush
5. You can trust historians and philologists to bring you a desired result)


These three men have a common ancestor, Saxir. The group of letters that follows this name is taken by Vagapov from Strukov's copy as ΦΟΙ; this he emends (same type of free-wheeling emendation that follows Miller, Abaev, and Zgusta, italics added) into φο(υρτο)ι (under the assumption that the stone-cutter left out the four letters (italics added)); the form thus gained is then interpreted as the Vainakh plural "sons" which is, however, here endowed with the meaning "descendants" or similar (in Abaev's - Miller's postulate, "furt" = son is one of four cardinal words that make Ossetic an Iranian language. Can the word "son" be borrowed from an IE language into Nakh language? If so, can it be borrowed into two neighboring languages, a Nakh and Ossetic? Per Abaev, the majority of the Ossetic lexicon is local (i.e. Nakh) Caucasian).

There is a number of arguments which make this interpretation impossible:

(1) Two irregular cases of raising must be assumed in order to derive the forms of the two nouns (an objection on formal grounds, after all previous free-wheeling assumptions and emendations, appears to be way too legalistic to be reasonable).

(2) The derivation of the form *arte (= *a: r + t'ye) is anomalous (another objection on strict formal grounds).

(3) One must assume that the word furt would have two meanings as used in the inscription, "son" and "descendant". Cases of such polysemous application do occur, but very unfrequently in short texts of any language (is not the inscription itself unparalleled and infinitely unfrequent to re-write the whole history and challenge the ethnic classification testified by the contemporaries?).

(4) The change of meaning "on the plains" > "in a foreign territory, abroad" could have taken place only in more recent times when the North Caucasian nations have been mostly ousted from the plains and prevalently live in the valleys of the Caucasus. (That is, until the most recent transfers of our century, but that does not have any connection with our problem.) Not only that, the whole pointed way in which many speakers of various Northern Caucasian languages, even if they are talking Russian, use expressions such as s na ploskosti "in the plains, in the flatlands" could come into existence only in the last centuries when the Caucasian nations have lived mostly in the mountains: only in that situation could the expression "in the plains" (and even more so its semantic extension "abroad") obtain the pointed meaning, opposed to the normal habitat in the mountains. But our inscription must have been written in the time when most of the ancestors of today's North Caucasian nations (or at least of many of them) lived, on the contrary, largely in the plains: the whole toponymy and hydronymy of the area to the north or the main range of the Caucasus shows that. The earlier habitat of the Ossetes (and their ancestors, Alans and Sarmatians) in the plains to the North of the Western Caucasus is everybody's knowledge today (see Abaev, Osetinskiy yazyk i fol'klor I, Moskva-Leningrad 1949, 147ff. and passim; Zgusta 1955; and Festschrift Hoenigswald, 1987, 409-415). As to the Chechen and Ingush tribes, J.Nichols was able to show (1985, 525) that their pre-historical habitat was to the North of the Caucasus and that their arrival in the mountains took place at a relatively later date than that of the Ossetes (exclusively to the North of the Caucasus, or maybe mostly there, leaving a possibility of a Nakh colony in the vicinity of the cemetery? Criticizing the semantics of the 10th-12th centuries from the positions of the 20th century is a very long shot, especially without any contemporary written analogies in the Nakh language).

(5) The territory of the Vainakh languages extends to the east of the Ossetes; Arkhyz, however, is located to the West of today's Ossetia. If some Ingush or Chechen fighters had been killed during an expedition abroad, who would bury them in a foreign territory, at a rich burial site? Or, if we have to do with a cenotaph, why build it not at home? And who would allow the building of a cenotaph of foreign members of a foraging expedition in their own cemetery? (this objection holds only if the territory of the Vainakh languages in the 10th-12th centuries can be ascertained, and if it is ascertained that its territory was contiguous, a rarity in the Caucasus at any time)

(6) There is no plural form φο(υρτο)ι in line 7, but φουρτ (as shown by the squeeze), so the interpretation "descendants" (with their names following) is impossible. The name of the son would have to precede the genitive Sαχίri, but that is not possible because of the ending of Ν(ι)κόλαος (see 3.2.1) (another objection on strict formal grounds).

(7) The question arises as to how Vagapov can attempt a Nakh interpretation of the inscription when it contains four times the Ossetic word fyrt, Digor furt "son". The answer to this is that Vagapov tries to explain this word as an originally Vainakh one which has been borrowed into Ossetic. He reasons as follows: to a Chechen hu- corresponds Ingush fu-; e.g., Chechen hun (I), Ing. fu () "what"; Ch. hu (I), Ing. fu (), "seed", "family"; Ch. husam (xIyca), Ing. fusam () "dwelling". The form hurt (xIy) occurs in a Chechen folklore song; therefore, according to normal sound correspondence this allows us to suppose an Ingush form furt (): and this form is the one borrowed into Ossetic, according to Vagapov. The idea of the Vainakh origin of the word is strengthened by an etymology: Chechen hurt, Ingush (supposed) furt can be analyzed into hu-, which in Chechen means "seed, germ, embryo, generation", and into the formal elements -r- and -d which occur frequently, e.g. in ba "lip", bord "lip", bart "mouth"; kuo "circle, elevation", kuoria "round head".

No need to belabor the point: the Vainakh etymology of furt is not certain, far from that. When we compare with this the Iranian etymology, we see that the word puθra- "son" is well known in Avestan; it is attested in the Iranian names from the North Coast of the Black Sea (about which no one doubts that they belong to the ancestors of the Ossetes) both in the older, Scythian form πουρθα and in the younger, Sarmatian form φουρτα 26. Why should anyone doubt, then, that the word belongs among those the Ossetic language inherited from its Iranian ancestry? Why seek a difficult etymology when there is an easy one?

The Ossetic word was, then, borrowed (as many other lexical items) into Ingush; thence it was borrowed into Chechen, with the phonological adaptation of the initial phoneme to the normal correspondence Ing. f- :: Chech. h-, as in a number of other, indubitable borrowings from Ossetic. E.g., fysyn, Dig. fusun "host" < "master of the household" (cf. Av. fshumant-, Skr. pasumant- "owner of cattle, rich in cattle"), borrowed into Ingush as fusam, into Chechen as husam "refuge" (Abaev [1958] vol. I, 502); Oss. (Iron) furd, Dig. ford "big river", Ing. ford, Ch. hord "sea" (ibid. 486) (to balance a potentially partial argument based on the analysis of ethnically Ossetian Iranist Abaev, a similar analysis should be applied to the Nakh word, and its possible descendancy from the Hurrian and Urartu languages of the times closer to the Avesta time, and also demonstrate the direction of the borrowing. Because Ossetic lexicon contains 80% Caucasian and non-IE vocabulary, and combined 20% of Iranian and undifferentiated IE vocabulary, statistical chances that a random Ossetic word is Iranian is about 1 to 9 in accordance with Abaev's analysis, while Ossetic "borrowed" 50% of its lexicon from Caucasian languages. Hakh linguists stipulate that the Digorians belonged to the Nakh family of peoples as recently as the 18th c. Without a proper analysis, the subject is obscure).

(8) Vagapov (1980, 107) also argues that the -i, which is the marker of the genitive case in the names and which since Miller has been held for another proof of the character of the inscription, can be an element that belongs to the Vainakh languages. He finds that some names of folklore heroes contain it, so e.g., , Adi(n) Surkho, Madi(n) Zammirza (() , () ), "(of) Ad[aj (son) Surkho", "(of) Mad[a] (son) Zammirza". However, this is a difficult argument, because it is not yet even clear whether the -i in these names really is a separate morpheme, a formal element of language. Folklore names travel and are borrowed (no one will say that, e.g., Zammirza is an indigenous Caucasian name) (Zgusta must have had known that a "mirza" is a Türkic prince or feudal). While this attempt at an analysis of these names is quite unconvincing, the fact remains that the ending of the genitive, (-) is a regular, normal element of Ossetic grammar (the presumption of a genitive Ossetic case -i, like the Vainakh -i, which are also shared with other languages with -i ending, unless demonstrated as being uniquely Ossetic attribute, should be discarded as a linguistic argument).

(9) This is probably the place to mention that Vagapov tries to interpret several of the names as of Vainakh origin. So for instance, Saxir (Σαχηρ) is identified (p. 109f.) with the Vainakh name Saγari (I in Cyrillics). This name is said to be derived from the word sa "gain, profit" with the suffixes -χα- and -ri-. The -i- in the second syllable is to be the product of raising again. However, while the -ri is said to be the suffix, in the epigraphic name the -i (in Σαχηρ-η) is the ending of the genitive in Vagapov's interpretation as well, so it cannot belong to any derivational suffix.


And quite apart from such single observations, it must be said in general that etymologies of names are of practically no import on the decision as to which language is written. In any of the existing interpretations, the names are of diverse origin, as is only natural: as in any close-knit and at the same time complex area, personal names are used across linguistic boundaries: whether a name like Ανπαλ or Λνπαλαν goes to Oss. ambal (see 3.2.2) or whether it is of Nakh origin as Vagapov (111) argues is not very important, at least not for our deliberations, because it could have traveled in either direction (which is obviously true to a degree only, forms of the same name may vary very considerably when adopted in even close languages: Ibrahim-Abraham, Ivan-Ivengo-Ivanco, Iskander-Alexander-Alexandr, etc. As a minimum, a proof that generally Ossetic and Nakh forms are exactly identical should have been presented to make a convincing argument)

For all these reasons, it is not possible to find the Vainakh interpretation convincing (and for the same type of reasons the Ossetic interpretation is not convincing).

3.3.2. Another interpretation of the inscription was proposed by A. Z. Kafoev (1963, 8-23), who supposes that the text was written in Circassian. [The geographical location of Arkhyz would rather suggest one of the Eastern Circassian languages, or dialects, - to wit Kabardian - as the putative language of the inscription, but the title of Kafoev's volume in which the study of the inscription is included mentions Adyghe - i.e., West Circassian, or, closer to the way how this term is frequently used in Russian, generically Circassian -monuments; and Kafoev's assumed forms not allowing any closer interpretation, it is safer to use the general term 'Circassian'.] (this is another mute point, since Circassian, Adyg, Kabardian, Abkhaz, and Nakh's Ingush and Vainakh languages are descendents of one proto-language with unclear stages of linguistic branching/admixing, and possibly related to the 10th-12th century language of inscription similar to the relation between the modern English and German and the languages of the Goths or Vandals, or the present Russian and Western Ukrainian and Eastern Ukrainian and the Old Church Slavonic. Thus, here Circassian is close both to the Nakh, and to Ossetic, which shares 50% of its lexicon with these Caucasian languages)

Kafoev publishes a modified version of Miller's copy of the inscription 27; what follows is a reproduction of the drawing from Kafoev.

Fig. 6 Fig. 8
(a) Strukov's original copy (image017.jpg)
(unsupported claim by Miller)
(b) Miller's "reproduction"
of "Strukov's copy"
Fig. 8 Kafoev's re-drawing of Miller's reproduction. (Reproduced from Kafoev 1963) (image033.jpg)
A comparison of this drawing with Miller's copy shows several important changes in the shapes of letters.

Line 5, second letter: the sigma is now round.

Line 8, second letter: the omicron is now complete.

Line 10, second letter: the stroke does now get an upper rightward turn and a lower leftward turn, thus becoming similar to a Roman S, or perhaps a final sigma.

Line 21, last but one letter: a similar modification as in line 10; the similarity to a final sigma is even more explicit.

On the basis of these (arbitrarily modified) readings, Kafoev (p. 17) segments the words of the inscription as shown in Fig. 8. (He omits the first three lines of the inscription; however, his Circassian translation of the inscription contains them).

The next figure (nr. 9) gives a reproduction of Kafoev's (p. 20) text of the inscription, still written in Greek (though strongly "doctored") letters but segmented into the putative Circassian forms.

Fig. 9. Kafoev's segmentation of the text. (Reproduced from Kafoev 1963) (image035.jpg)


As the next step, Kafoev (p. 21) gives two variants of the assumed Circassian text written in Circassian orthography, i.e. in Russian Cyrillics (fig. 10a and b).

Fig. 10. First variant of Kafoev's interpretation.
(Reproduced from Kafoev 1963)
Fig. 10b. Second variant of Kafoev's interpretation.
(Reproduced from Kafoev 1963)

. . -
. .
. II
I .

. I
, .
II I -

There follows the transliteration of the Circassian text into Roman script 28(transliterated and simplified in this posting to conventional English, "j" = Jealosy, "y" = York, "x" = Kh = χ).

Version 1: Ishx'esh uadjesh yak"ue lhe ues. Saxyr ifu. X"ubs iusri feusyrt. Pak"e tx'er. Pak"e tx'e ifu uerat nel" Ihenyfhu uerat lha k"antazyr xeyue shyl".

Version 2: Ishx'es uadjesh. Yak"ue lha ues saxyr ifu. X"ubs ... etc., same text as in Version 1.

The translation (converted into English from the Russian of Kafoev) 29 goes as follows.

Variant 1: "Head of the bed .. . of their son dead, bright. Sculpture for him as monument. Khubs, having composed (the verse), sang (bemoaning) [about] Pako the god. Pako, god you were, you died, kantazyr, in a glorious (dignified) way, not having disgraced the honor of your wet-nurse [the woman who breast-fed you]. Lie, you are not guilty."

Variant 2: "Head of the bed ... To their son, who died, snow-white sculpture as trace. Khubs, ..." etc., same text as in Variant 1.

29 The Russian version of Kafoev's translation goes as follows.
Variant 1: " ... c c. . c, c (c), c () . , , , c (c), c . , ."
Variant 2: "... , c c (). c...etc., same text as in Variant 1.

Naturally, the double translation of idiomatic language expected in the epitaph would considerably distort its meaning, especially if the translations are literal. A less formal version would be more readable, and probably better adhere to the semantical contents. A direct Chechen-English translation may read something like this:

Late illustrious son [lie in peace on death-]berth] - [this is] his carved memorial - [from] Khubs are [these] sorrows [about] celestial Pako. You were [our] heavenly Pako, left [us our] kantazyr, in glory, [never] brought dishonor to your mother - lie [in peace] without a sin

We shall now take the letters of the inscription in their sequence and see which values Kafoev assumes that they have.

Table Pages 49,50, 51, 52

No. of letter Greek form Circassian Cyrillies Roman (Englicized) value
1(1.1) I i
2 sh
3 X x'e
4 = 2 sh
5 (1. 3)) O u
6 A a a
7 dje
8 зо -- -- --
9 = 2 sh
10 (1.4) N ya
11 k"
12 O ue
13 Λ I lh
14 A () e(a) 31
15 = 12 ue
16 s
17 (1.6) = 16 c s
18 = 6 a a
19 X x x
20 H y
21 (1.7) p r
22 i
23 f
24 = 5 u
25 I considered a sign dividing the lines (p. 18, #8)
26 (1.8) X x"
27 = 5 u
28 B 6 b
29 = 16 c s
30 = 22 i
31 (1.9) = 5 u
32 omitted
33 = 16 c s
34 = 21 p r
35 = 22 i
36 Φ фэ fe
37 (1.10) = 5 u
38 Υ sy 32
39 = 21 p r
40 t
41 (1.11)
42 = 6 a a
43 = 11 k"
44 A e
45 (1.12) Θ tx'
46 = 44 e
47 = 21 p r
48 = 41
49 = 6 a a
50 (1. 13) = 11 k"
51 = 44 e
52 = 45 tx'
53 = 44 e
54 = 22 i
55 (1.14) = 23 f
56 = 5 u
57 Y уэ ue
58 P pa ra
59 = 40 t
60 (1.15) = 6 a a
61 Ν нэ ne
62 = 41
63 = 6 a a
64 (1.16) Λ лъ l"
65 = 44 e
66 N n
67 = 6 a a
68 = 41
69 = 44 e
70 (1.17) = 13 I lh
71 = 44 e
72 = 66
73 = 20 y
74 Φ I fh
75 (1.18) = 5 u
76 = 57 ue
77 = 58 pa ra
78 = 40 t
79 (1. 19) = 13 I lh
80 = 6 a a
81 = 11 k"
82 = 6 a a
83 (1. 20) = 66 n
84 omitted
85 Τ та ta
86 Z z
87 = 20 y
88 = 21 p r
89 (1.21) Θ x x
90 E ey
91 = 5 u
92 Θ omitted
93 Σ ы(?) y(?)
94 = 13 I lh


This table clearly shows the inconsistency of the readings. It is not so important that, e.g., the same letter С is sometimes supposed to represent s, sometimes sh; X can represent χ, χ', and χ": these and similar cases could be made more acceptable by the consideration that the Greek alphabet did not have a sufficient inventory of letters.

The really damaging points are the following ones: letter 3, X is interpreted as x'e, but in 19 and 26 X is taken as x and x" without a vowel; letters 12 and 15, О = ue, but in 5, 31, 37, 56 О = и; however, ue is the value supposed for Y (letters 57 and 76); letter 36, Φ = fe, but in 23 and 55 Φ = f; letter 58 and 77, Ρ = га but in 21 Ρ = r; letter 85, Τ = ta, but in 40 and 59 Τ = t. Thus, the presence and the absence of the vowel seem to be arbitrary, and it also seems to be arbitrary whether the vowel is supposed to be e or a; but y is also assumed, it seems, in 93 Σ = shy and perhaps in 38 Y = sy (if the Greek letter is understood as a broken sigma; if it is taken as a broken upsilon, there is no basis for the s whatsoever).

Further discrepancies: letter 45 Θ = tx', but 89 Θ = χ and 92 Θ is omitted; letter 6, 18, 42, 49, 60, 63, 67, 80, and 82 A = a, but 44, 46, 69, and 71 A = e, and 14 A = e in Variant 1 but = a in Variant 2.

Arbitrary decisions seem to be: letter 10 N (lacking the lower part of the right bar) = ya; there is no support for such a letter in the Greek alphabet. (I suspect that this interpretation is inspired by the Russian Cyrillic letter Я = ya, which, however, came into existence only later and never has been used in any Greek alphabet). Letter 32 Τ is omitted in the ligature. Letter 84 Η is omitted though otherwise it is taken as i or y. Letter 90 Ε is assumed to have the value of ey: there is no support for such an assumption in the Greek alphabet; nor in other assumptions within this Circassian interpretation, for that. There are several other objections, e.g., the vinculum, the horizontal partly rounded bar over line 1, which cannot be anything else but the indication of an abbreviation, is completely disregarded. The assumption that the I at the end of line 7 (letter 25) is the sign of division is impossible.

Considering all these inconsistencies, one cannot but admit that these are arbitrary readings, motivated only by a desire to get a suitable Circassian interpretation. That the phonetic values were assigned to letters with this purpose is clearly proved by the following. The third line is read uadjesh; the word is said to have an unknown meaning (as indicated by the lacuna in the translation) but to contain the negative suffix dj (p. 18, point #2). However, the Byzantine Greek letter Γ had the value of a voiced velar spirant or a palatal glide (depending of the following vowel), so the phonetic value is assigned only in order to get an element similar to Circassian. Thus, the method in which the interpretation was reached, and the single comparisons and identifications are not satisfactory (Zgusta seem to be too hard on the 10th c. Adyg/Greek transliteration rules, with justified arbitrary substitutions. That argument also implies that the Miller/Abaev/Zgusta transliteration is correct, a highly suspicious assumption. In his transliteration, Zgusta does the same in converting the Circassian/Russian Cyrillic as E for a lack of suitable English letter, or using a diphthong JA/YA to express a Circassian/Russian . Possibly, there were no hard transliteration rules formalized in a manual accessible to the engraver, and this comment does not even address the weird shapes of many presumed Greek letters). However, the interpretation itself is not satisfactory as a whole, either.

We have mentioned above (see 1.3) that Vagapov objects to Kafoev's giving the inscription a pagan content. This objection is undoubtedly correct (italics added, what shall we do with doubters? Hang them, despise them, dismiss them?), in spite (italics added, what is that, "in spite", a politician speech or an analysis of a scholar?) of the fact that Christianity later became syncretistically coalesced with paganism. The Caucasus always has been an area of strong syncretism and has remained so. Fig. 11 shows a contemporary (mid 20th century) Ossetic monument which still preserves, or at least suggests the form of the old steles, although it does not consist of large stone slabs; this cenotaph of local men fallen in World War II is adorned by the symbol that combines the heathen solar symbol with the communist star (the contents of this statement would indicate that L.Zgusta agrees with Kafoev, consenting to the Kafoev syncretistic interpretation and rejecting the Vagapov hardline views. But taking this statement with a good faith would bring you in conflict with L.Zgusta final resolutions).

Fig. 12 shows a sanctuary in Digoria, which I photographed in 1956. The sanctuary consists of a pole with an unlocked box attached to it, surrounded by empty bottles. It is the sanctuary of the local divinity or at least numinous presence (dzuar) 33: bottles were emptied of their inebrious contents in honor of the dzuar and left there as tokens of the rite well performed; the box is full of money which will be used for a banquet to be held to please both the divinity and the devotees. (The box is not locked, only the lid is kept semi-closed by a stone that keeps the multitude of banknotes from "overflowing".)

Naturally, nobody will see in all this any symptoms of some particular heathen piousness; we have to deal with strong survivals of (semi-)religious folklore: nevertheless all this points to the possibility of having a cross and a deceased called a god in the same monument (this is quite a marvelous line of rationalization from empty bottle ritual to personal deification). The syncretism of Christianity and paganism was so strong that the Ossetic word for the heathen divinity, dzuar, is itself a borrowing from Georgian dzvari, which, however, means "cross" (Abaev [1958] vol.1, 401). Still, such syncretistic processes do take time. The early Christian monuments are orthodox, without traces of syncretism (see above, 1.3), and therefore, the probability of such syncretistic phenomena being present already in our inscription is rather low (italics added. Note the falsity of the scholastics, where the 20th century observable syncretism is much stronger than the 10th century implied syncretism from which it descended. Can a philologist be relied on in logical reasoning?)

In any case, another quite insurmountable objection against Kafoev's interpretation consists in the absolutely anomalous content and structure of the supposed text of the inscription. It would be difficult to find a similar epitaph anywhere in the Near East and Europe (it would be more reasonable to seek analogies closer to home, finding a similar epitaph in the neighborhood of the Zelenchuk stele. Why bring up the Near East and Europe as zones of cultural similarity with Zelenchuk canyon unless we already have proofs of a substantial epitaphial congruence between Zelenchuk and Near East and Europe? Applying this litmus test to the Ossetic version would require that the epitaphs consisting of senseless listing of presumed names be typical in the Near East and Europe, a sour proposition. This negative argumentation seems to be biased and self-injurious). Already the general composition of the text is highly infelicitous. The first word is supposed to compare the burial site to the place where one puts one's head in bed; this is said to belong to "their dead son": however, how could a complete epitaph open with an anaphoric pronoun without the antecedent, i.e., saying "their" without telling the reader who "they" are, that is, the name of the parents? This one passage would suffice for the rejection of the whole interpretation (unless, of course, real people used a language that the overseas static chair philologists could not readily comprehend). In what follows, the stele is once more dedicated to the dead son, and then comes the crucial passage: a woman called Xubs is said to have composed a dirge to bemoan Pako, who is characterized as "kantazyr." (Notice that this word is gained by a particularly violent tour de force of arbitrary readings and omissions) (the philologist scholar evidently has no basic knowledge of specific, frequently idiomatic expressions associated with epitaphs, like "Sleep in peace", "Rest in peace", which could be idiomatically expressed with semantically equivalent to "lay [your] head on the pillow", "rest in you berth", etc.)

This is an archaic Caucasian institution: even in Ossetic, qan ( ) (is this word a Türkic "khan" applied to a child like in a proverbial "Jewish princess" or in expression "little prince", from among Türkic loanwords into Adyg?) is a child, usually a boy, reared by foster parents; qantazyr pertains to the situation obtaining when somebody is killed and in order to avoid blood vengeance, the family of the killer steals a boy, rears him, and then immediately when he reaches manhood gives him, with great ceremony, to the family of the killed man as if in his stead. Again, the interpretation yields no good results: if Pako really had done such heroic deeds to be called a divine being (and he really does not have to do heroic deeds any more than a mother calling her diseased daughter "my angel" meaning that her daughter is a reincarnation of the archangel Gavriil), he would be an adult and would be living with his new family; if, however, Pako still was a child living with his foster parents when death reached him, he would hardly have gotten the best burial site in the whole cemetery (but in a less literal translation, the same original message could have been quite musical, poetic, and sensible, and consistent with the societal traditions of the Adyg language of the time. Also, the idea that the stele is a grave monument is an improvised presumption grown out of inability to read designated Ossetic text in Ossetic, see unrefuted Kudaev's interpretation 3.3.3. ).

The derivations of single words and their interpretations are not less arbitrary. A few examples will suffice. Line 5: OC, phonetic value ues, derivation ue "nature" + s, a root meaning "falling (snow)"; ues "snowy time, snowed landscape"; interpretation either c "bright", attribute of the dead person, or c "snowy-white", attribute of the stele (this philological pedantry may make formalistic sense, but not when at the same time the author extends his sincere support and understanding for the Miller's interpretation of the body of the inscription as a laundry list of personal names. Go figure.)

Lines 6, 7: ΣΑΧΗΡΗΦΟ (Kulikovski's ρτ ignored, the vertical bar disregarded), phonetic value sexyr; derivation sex + -r (nominative ending) "monument"; ifu, derivation i "his", fe, a dialectal form, ", , " + affix "his memory"; translation of the whole: "sculpture for him as monument" (that punchline strongly resembles the punchline of the Türkic runiform inscriptions ca. 6th c. AD, "his monument", but why not compare this interpretation with the "TZERTHE = CIRT", which is also reads "his monument"? Which one of these twins is too far fetched? Is it reasonable to anticipate that the same "expected" result would pop up in both competing vernaculars, in totally different spelling and different framing? Could it be that the result has more to do with vested interests then with the inscription itself? In both cases the inscription must be distorted to bring the desired results).

There is no need to go further; the interpretation cannot be accepted 34 (italics added. Ha-ha-ha. A job well done. We discredited them totally. No more that Nakh nonsense. This is a good point to stop any discussions. No more that scholarly nonsense. Ossets are Ossets are Alans, everybody knows it, no need for discussion, thank you. Bye-bye. You were deported once, you don't want to be deported again, with all your nonsense, right?).

3.3.3. (For complete text of M. Kudaev article click here) On February 14, 1965, M. Kudaev published in the Balkar daily Kommunizmge Djol ( ) (No. 31 [6571] (should be [6574]) ) in Nal'chik an interpretation of our inscription which is based on the assumption that its text is in (the Malkar dialect of) Balkar, a Turk language spoken around Nalchik. I have not succeeded in obtaining a copy of the article; nor have I seen any detailed report about it, or analysis or criticism of it, only an occasional reference to it. The most extensive and concrete passage on it has been written by Vagapov (1980, 102). This is the English translation of the passage: "... what concerns the palaeographic side of M. Kudaev's readings, they immediately cause most decisive objections. E.g., his reading of line 3 takes into consideration only three letters out of six; the letter Η in line 7 he interprets as N; the letters ТЕРΗΦ of line 9 he reads as orsi, the letter Φ in lines 13 and 21 as o." All this does not inspire much confidence; and what little I know about Balkar makes me wonder by what means an interpretation in that language could be obtained. Should this not be a fully justified conclusion, one can only ask the author to publish the results of his research in a way that will make it accessible to other students of the matter (that is a very unfortunate excuse, most likely the staff at the Balkar newspaper would have obliged the late Ladislav Zgusta not any less than the scholarly congeniality treatment he received at the Helsinki University Library, especially during the heyday of Glasnost and implosion of state xenophobia. The fact that the stone was found in an area where the native land, native village, and native home is called "yurt", and that it clearly bore the word "yurt" in lines 14 and 18, should have ignited inquisitiveness in any researchers, independently of their cultural predispositions).

Additions to section 3.3.3
These additions complement the portion missing in L.Zgusta work, where he cut short his analysis citing inaccessible sources
Türkic Reading Citation from M. Kudaev,  "Reading of Zelenchuk Inscription in Malkar (Balkar) language" (" " "), Kommunizmge Djol ( ) (No. 31 [6574], Cherkessk, 1965, p.3

Reading of late PhD in Mathematics M. Kudaev (dates of birth and death unknown).




٬٬Iisus Christos. güs Ykolaos. Chak" rib üy k"oyubsa. Urushub Osrt bag"atyr bla. K"atayyb djurtdan Bal Ana ballanyb. Jurtlag"a ne ter Teyri? 79 djyl٫٫ Citation from K.T.Laipanov, I.M.Miziev, "Origin of Türkic peoples"(" "), Cherkessk, PUL, 1993

The following text from Doctor of Historical Sciences K.T.Laipanov (KChGTA, ethnically Kumyk) and I.M.Miziev (1940 - 1997, ethnically Digorian, i.e. Türk ) 1993 publication is apparently built on observations of late PhD in Mathematics M. Kudaev, who was not a philologist, but whose native Türkic Karachay-Balkarian language made parts of the Zelenchuk inscription fairly transparent for a native-speaking and reasonably educated person, and who was the first to proclaim that "the king is naked" in 1965, barely seven years after Karachay-Balkarians were still reeling after the post-Stalinist regime allowed their people to return from deportation. The observations of M. Kudaev were seconded by I.M.Miziev, who later in his 1986 publication suggested a general reading. In parenthesis below are also added expressions enumerated in 1994 publication, Miziev I.M., Djurtubaev M.C., 1994, History and spiritual culture of the Karachay-Balkarian people from the most ancient times to the annexation to Russia, Mingi Tau, January - February (" - "). This posting neither endorses a particular version of the reading, nor attempts to discredit it, deferring analysis to unbiased experts with professional repute. Since one of the mentioned scholars, K.T.Laipanov, is still professionally active (as of 2008), a best and prudent course for L.Zgusta would have been a personal contact and cooperation with the proponents of the Türkic version(s), as well as collaboration with the proponents of all alternate versions.

٬٬In Türkic languages, in particular, in Karachay-Balkarian, it reads completely and sufficiently precise without any "emendations". Recital of some Türkic terms found in the Zelenchuk inscription would suffice.

"yurt"/"djurt" - "land of fathers", "native land";
("ata yurt" - "fatherland" - I.Miziev, 1994)
"Yabgu" - title meaning "caretaker", "viceroy";
"yyif"/"djyyip" - "having collected", "having united" ("after uniting");
"te"/"de" - "tell", "narrate";
"zyl" - year;
"itinir" - "aspire";
"belünif"/("belünüb" - I.Miziev, 1994) - "having separated", "having seceded" ("after separating")
("Teiri" - "God", "Tengri" - I.Miziev, 1994)
("tsakhyryf" - "rallied", "summoned" - I.Miziev, 1994);
("bagatar" - title meaning "leader", "military leader", "mighty hero" - I.Miziev, 1994);
("alan" - "Alan", "steppe", "valley", "steppe-man", "field-man", "nomad")
("Alan yurtlag'a" - "valley settlements" - I.Miziev, 1994);

The Zelenchuk inscription is an instructive and informative message (following is translated from Russian-lingual translation of the inscription):

"Jesus Christ's yabgu Nikola [was] summoned, from house [of] Hobs (Dulo, Batbai; Advan, Suvan) union one advan(t) Bakatar bek from father's yurt seceded, wants [to join] yurt [of] Alan (steppe, valley), publicize [it], year of Bull"

(" (, ; , ) () (, ) ")

In our opinion, this monument is not a gravestone, as was previously presumed. This suggestion is also corroborated by the fact that no burials are located (between the two creeks that demarcate the position of the stele) next to the stele.. (The inscription describes a dissolution of a tribal union. It tells that once, summoning God's help, some groups of the tribes decided to migrate to the flatlands - I.Miziev, 1994).٫٫

(Miziev I.M., "Steps toward sources of Central Caucasus ethnic history" (" "), Nalchik, "Elbrus", 1986, pp. 110-116). Alternate Türkic reading. Citation from Fattakhov F.Sh. "Zelenchuk epitaph..." // Language of casual and poetic stiles of Tatar literature monuments. Kazan, 1990.

In 1990 F.Sh.Fattakhov made a critical analysis of the available interpretations of the Zelenchuk epitaph, and came to a conclusion that the inscription is freely read on the basis of the Türkic language. Naturally, in his 1987 publication L.Zgusta could not analyze the work published in 1990, but a follow-up effort would certainly bring more credence to his work. The F.Sh.Fattakhov's translation from the Türkic language says:

"Jesus Christ. Name Nicola. If had grown, would not be better to patronize leading yurt. From yurt of Tarbakatai-Alan the child should be made a possessing Khan. Year of Horse" [Fattakhov F.Sh., 1990, 43-55].

(Fattakhov F.Sh. "Zelenchuk epitaph..." // Language of casual and poetic stiles of Tatar literature monuments. Kazan, 1990, pp 43-55)
Fattakhov F.Sh. "What language spoke Alans?" // Results and tasks in studies of Tatar literary language. Kazan, 1992
( ... " ?" // . , 1992)

Final readings and interpretations

4. The result of all these analyses is as follows.

4.1. The inscription when seen by Strukov and by Kulikovski had this text (shown in Times New Roman font, "┌┐" depicts actual or invented ("emended") horizontal line indicating abbreviation, line numbers added, G stands for Greek language, O stands for Ossetic language) :

Fig. 6
(a) Strukov's original copy (image017.jpg) (b) Miller's reproduction
of Strukov's copy
1 I Ί(ησου)ς G
2 XC Χ(ριστό)ς G
3 I o άγι(ος) G
4 ΝΚΟΛΑ Ν(ι)κόλα G
5 ος G
6 Σαχη O
7 Y ρη φουρτ O
8 XOBCH Χοβς H O
9 στορη φ G
10 OYPT ουρτ O
11 ΓΙΑΚΑ ακα O
12 ΘΑΡΠΑ θαρ α O
13 ΚΑΘΑΗ καθα(ρ)η O
14 Y φουρτ O
15 ANΠΑ Ανπα O
16 ΛANΑΠΑ λαν Α(ν)πα O
17 ΛΑΝΗΦ λανη φ O
18 OYPT ουρτ O
19 ΛΑΚΑ Λακ. α O
20 NHTZHP νη τζηρ O
┌┐ ┌----┐
21 ΘEOΘC[N] θε. ο Θ(εό)ς [υ](ικα) O/G

4.2. The most probable reading of this is by my judgment the following (Greek portion shown in blue):

(1) Ί(ησου)ς (2) Χ(ριστό)ς, (3) o άγι(ος) (4) Ν(ι)κόλα (5) ος. (6) Σαχη (7) ρη φουρτ (8) Χοβς H (9) στορη φ (10) ουρτ (11) ακα (12)θαρ
α (13) καθα(ρ)η (14) φουρτ (15) Ανπα (16) λαν Α(ν)πα (17) λανη φ (18) ουρτ (19) Λακ. α (20) νη τζηρ (21) θε. ο Θ(εό)ς [γ](ικα).


4.3. The interpretation of this text should be quite clear after all that has been said above. To recapitulate:

The inscription opens with an invocation of Jesus Christ and St. Nicholas (on the background of the sign of the cross) and ends with a formula promising God's victory over death. This sacral part (lines 1-5 and the last four letters of line 21) is written in Greek; it is purely Christian, and there are no symptoms of syncretism with paganism that could be ascertained. The rest, or rather, the main part of the inscription is written in Ossetic; it contains the names of four men. If we take into consideration the normal phonetic values of the Greek letters in the 11th and 12th centuries (to which epoch the form of the script points), the names were: Xovs son of Saxir; Pakathar son of Istor; Ambalan son of Pakathar; Lak son of Ambalan. (The less probable possibilities, and the various attempts at interpretation of the names were discussed above.) There follows the statement that the stele is their memorial monument: "Their stele."

We can rewrite the central part of the inscription in Ossetie, using a broad transcription (not a transliteration from the Cyrillic orthography [cf. footnote 28]):

Saχiry furt Xovs,
Ystury furt Baqatar,
Baqatary furt Ambalan,
Ambalany furt Lag;
ani cyrta 35.

The other (nearly equally) possible forms of the fifth, sixth, and seventh name can be found in the discussion above.

Only an excavation can definitely determine whether this was a cenotaph or a real tomb; the fact, however, that the stele was found among other memorial monuments of obviously funerary character renders the latter assumption more probable: a cenotaph would probably be situated in a conspicuous place outside the cemetery. Whether cenotaph or tomb, the stele shows that the valley of Arkhyz was inhabited by Ossetes in the time of the inscription, since a foreign population would hardly have allowed the construction of either on their territory (this seems to be a poorly justified conclusion based on inadequate data: of a three word lexicon, two belong to a Nakh/Osset shared lexicon, reasonably allowing Nakhs to occupy the same territory. The third word is the only one specifically Ossetian (Digorian) word in the inscription, reputably of Iranian derivation, and only if its Nakh version is dismissed. So, the whole concept and all its conclusions rest on a single word found in a dubious context.)


This conclusion is well supported by data that show Scythians and Sarmatians (i.e., ancestors of the Ossetes) (mind you, the ancestors of the Ossetes hypothesis is based on the Ossetic reading of the Zelenchuk inscription) living on the great plains from the Caucasus around the northern shore of the Black sea in antiquity (Abaev, Osetinskij jazyk i folklor I [Moskva-Leningrad 1949] passim; Zgusta 1955 passim) and by the toponymy and the hydronymy of the same area, which points to the same situation (Abaev, loco laud.) (and mind you, the toponymy and the hydronymy arguments can only be as strong as we know the Scythian and Sarmatian languages, which only substitutes one unknown for another).

The four men named in the inscription have different fathers, so they cannot belong to the same family in the narrower sense. However, it is reasonable to assume that they belonged to the same clan, or gens: if we have to deal with a common burial, such an assumption is self-evident; but even if we should have to deal with a cenotaph of men killed in a common non-peaceful enterprise, their common origin from the same gens is highly probable, because such enterprises were usually undertaken by related men. In this way, the inscription is not only the oldest monument of the Ossetic language, if we set aside the oral traditions of mythological texts which cannot be dated; but it is also one of the oldest monuments, or at least approximately datable texts, that point to the existence of such gentes in the Northern Caucasus (in other words, all people come from families/clans, but we know that Ossetes do it based on the evidence of the Ossetic reading of the Zelenchuk inscription).

Also, the inscription shows that in the 11th or 12th century, the Ossetie language already had at least some characteristic features of its own as we know them today: the inherited Iranian elements already have their contemporary forms (e.g., ani) (same statement applies to the Nakh form, e.g., ani, also making Nakhs inheritors of the Iranian elements) which sometimes are recognizably close to the Digor dialect (furt); the names already have the typical structure of contemporary Ossetie names; and the single names themselves show by their different origin that considerable linguistic and cultural convergence must have taken place in the Caucasus area prior to the date of the inscription (in other words, going by Ossetic version, by the 10th c. Ossetes were already polygenetic people).

L. Zgusta footnotes

1 When collecting the data for this paper and drafting its conclusions, I had the advantage of being helped and advised by many colleagues and friends; in particular, by Roland Bielmeier (Bonn), Jost Gippert and Sonia Gippert-Fritz (Berlin), George Hewitt (Hull), Herbert Hunger (Vienna). Miroslav Marcovich (Urbana), Manfred Mayrhofer (Vienna), and Johanna Nichols (Berkeley); best thanks to all of them. My particular thanks go to the Slavic Department of the University Library in Helsinki, Finland, whose collections of pre-1917 Russian publications are not only truly superb, but also are easily accessible thanks to the scholarly congeniality of its librarians. Equally helpful was the Map and Geography Library of the University Library in Urbana with its unique collection of maps. Last not least, the Research Board of the University of Illinois at Urbana is to be cordially thanked for having cheerfully supported this research. - On the other hand, an apology is owed to the reader for the dubious quality of the reproductions of pictures made in the Caucasus; however, it will be understood that to make those pictures, I had to use what was at hand there and then, more than thirty years ago, and that the time elapsed did not help, either; nevertheless, I thought that the rarity of some of the objects and the infrequent opportunity to photograph them might justify the publication of the reproductions as they are.

2 Kuznetsov (1968, 193) gives 1886 as the date; 1888 is given by Miller (1893, 110) and the subsequent sources. I keep 1888 because Miller was chronologically closer and because several obvious misprints can be detected in the text of Kuznetsov (1968).

3 E.G. Plechina as quoted in Alborov (1956, 220); Kuznetsov (1968,194).

4 Kuznetsov (1968, 193, fn.4).

5 Kulikovski, Drevnosti p. 199.

6 Kulikovski, Drevnosti p. 200.

7 Miller (1893, 114) is aware of the distinction himself, because he refers to the ottisk "squeeze" of Kulikovski, but to the risunok "drawing" of Strukov. Miller's first discussion of the inscription (October 6, 1892; reported in Drevnosti 1900 [see in References: Kulikovski, Drevnosti, p. 200) also makes the distinction: the inscription is said to be snyata (taken, made) by Kulikovski having previously already been opisanna (described) by Strukov; i.e., Kulikovski made a squeeze, Strukov made a copy. As experts in epigraphy are well aware, a squeeze (also called "cast" or "impression", in French estampage, Germ. Abklatsch, Lat. ectypum - that is, a wet, thick sheet of special, unglued paper, or, in our days, a sheet of specially prepared latex pressed by a brush on the surface of the inscribed stone, and which, having hardened there, produces a negative of the surface) has a high value because it eliminates human error committed by anticipatory interpretation. The difference should be stressed the more in that it sometimes is disregarded; for instance, Bjazyety (1968) in his article written in Ossetic, refers to "Kulikovskiy kopi" or "nyv", whereas it is no copy and no drawing. The squeeze is so important that a concerted effort should be made to find it in the archives of the Archaeological Commission and to publish a photograph of it (as of the end of 2008, no reports surfaced that the "squeeze" had been "found" in any "archives", so the naïf belief that the squeeze exists at all highlights the reality that seemingly for geopolitical reasons it is important not to find it. Mind you, since 1987 thousands of golden artifacts were dug out from previously totally unknown kurgan burials, but to find in the inventoried and catalogued archive a document related to the cornerstone of the revolutionary 19th century Scytho-Iranian paradigm is impossible. You have to take it on faith, based on personal testimony, much like a New Testament or a Mormon Bible.)

8 "Drevneosetinskiy pamjatnik iz Kubanskoi oblasti." Materialy po arkheologii Kavkaza III (1893): 110-118.

9 E.G. Plechina, "Greko-slavyanskie pamyatniki na Severnom Kavkaze." Arkheologiceskiy ejegodnik AN SSSR [for the year 1959] I960: 298-300. According to Kuznetsov (1968, 193, fn. 3), a full report about this journey is kept in the archives of the North Ossetic Science and Research institute in Dzaudjyqau (= Ordjonikidze).

10 Kuznetsov (1968, 196).

11 Kuznetsov (1068, 195), Bjazyrty (1968) (in Ossetian) calls Strukov's copy "Strukovy dykkag nyv" "Strukov's second copy"; in reality, Strukov's is the first ever made of the inscription.

12 Millers copy was re-published in: V.I. Abaev, Soobshcheniya Gruzinskoi Academii Nauk 5, fasc. 2 (1944), V.I. Abaev, Osetinskiy yazyk i folklor (Moskva-Leningrad 1949): 260, V.A.Alborov. Uchenye zapiski Severo-Osetinskogo gosudarstvennogo pedagogicheskogo instituta imeni K.L.Hketagurova 21, No 2 (1956): 231, L. Zgusta Festschrift Hoenigswald 1987, 409-415, In G.F. Turchaninov, Epipigrafika Vostoka 12 (1958): 50, is published a fairly accurate new drawing of Miller's copy: the changes are only slight and pertain to the slope of strokes; in no case do they suggest an interpretative reading and drawing, Strukov s copy was re-publisbed by Ja S. Vagapov, Voprosy vainakhskoi leksiki 1980 (Groznyi): 103; A. Bjazyrty, Fidiwag 1981, no. 3: 85. - See also footnote 26 on the interpretative re-drawing of Strukov's copy by Kafoev (thus, all other depictions, including fabled "squeeze" with its emendations of the original Strukov's copy, are not "interpretative", only Kafoev re-drawing is termed "interpretative". Pretty much like the famous sparring between iconoclasts and iconolatry).

13 I. V. Pomialovski, Sbornik grecheskikh i latinskikh nadpisei Kavkaza 1881 (St. Petersburg): 6, commentary to no. 8. Cf. Alborov (1956, 235).

14 In V. A. Kuznetsov, "Arkheologicheskie razvedki v zelenchukskom raione stavropol'skogo kraya v 1953 godu." Materialy po izucheniyu stavropolskogo kraya 6 (Stavropol 1954): 35.

15 For sources testifying to or commenting upon early Christianity among the Alan tribes (who were the ethnic intermediary between the Scythians and Sarmatians on the one hand, and the Ossetes on the other (italics added)) see the references in Zgusta (1987, particularly 411). For early Christianity (emanating from the Georgian church; from the 9th century onwards) in Central Caucasus (particularly in the Ingush area): see Basir Dalgat, "Pervobytnaya religiya Chechentsev." Terskiy sbornik III: 2.2. (1893), 41-132; A. N. Genko, "Iz kulturnogo proshlogo Ingushei." Zapiski Kollegii vostokovedov pri Aziatskom muzee, vol. 5, Leningrad, Akademiya Nauk 1930, pp. 681-762 (J.Nichols) (Zelenchuk Inscription was supposed to prove that allegedly Irano-lingual Ossetes are a link between the Scythians and Sarmatians and Ossetes. The note 15 of l.Zgusta analytical work demonstrates the circular logic used in Scytho-Iranian scientific deliberations.)

16 Demetrios J.Georoacas, Classical Philologyy 43 (1948): 243-260.

17 Vagapov commits here an error which, however, is completely immaterial. Just for accuracy's sake: In the Byzantine script, the numerical value of β and 6,000 was not indicated by the final form of sigma, but by a letter called βαυ, the old digamma. However, the form of the βαυ is so similar to that of the final sigma (ζ and ς, respectively) that this error has no importance for the argument, itself; that is, Vagapov's idea cannot be rejected purely on the basis of this oversight (i.e. if the rest was kosher, a little numerical confusion that leads to a desired result is quite forgivable).

18 Since the era a creatione mundi does not start on January 1st as the Anno Domini years do, we should write 963/964 A.D. In all the chronological deliberations that are discussed in this and the following sections, this difference is disregarded for simplicity's sake.

19 An edition of the Old Church Slavic "Chronological Text" (written in old Cyrillics) can be found in S.P.Obnorsky and S.C.Barkhudarov Khresomatia po istorii russkogo yazyka, 2nd ed., Moskva, 1952, p. 262ff.

19a A similar frequent formula is Ίησοΰς Χριστός νικά "Jesus Christ wins", written in various abbreviations and ligatures; this formula occurs several times in late Greek (Byzantine) inscriptions found by J. A. Giildenstadt in Kabarda (i.e. among Adygs): see Johann Anton Güldenstadt, Reisen durch Rusland und im Caucasischen Gebirge, edited by P. S. Pallas, St. Petersburg (Kayserl. Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1787), p.502ff., p. XXIIIff., and table XIII. (Dr. Gippert.) (it is fascinating that the honorable L.Zgusta dug up an analogy published in the 18th century, on specific Greek ligatures, used among obscure Christian converts in the Agygan lands, but could not get hold of a reading published in 1965 year of the 20th century in a mass-circulation newspaper of the same general area, a reading that could potentially bring the whole puzzlement to a conclusion. Instead, the honorable L.Zgusta decided to limit his investigation by bad-mouthing of an ideological rival. The paths of this science are mysterious.)

20 Roland Bielmeier (private communication) finds a parallel for the О in Iron widyg, Dig. wedug "spoon", which appears among the glosses from the Jassi word list as odok (Roland Bielmeier, a philologist of Tibetian, has a "Jassi (Ases) word list"? Or L.Zgusta uses "Jassi word list"? Published? Then why all this fuss about Zelenchuk inscription and references to Sanskrit and Avestan if there is a real dictionary of the As-Alan language? Is it a practical joke? Or is it a reference to the Abaev's "Scythian Dictionary", thoroughly ignored by any self-respecting philologist? Anybody had noticed that L.Zgusta includes in his reasonings, casually, a "Jassi word list"?).

21 On this, see above 3.2.3 on Alborov.

22 Bjazyrov in Russian; however, both his relevant articles are in Ossetic and signed in the Ossetic fashion. After what has been said above (see, it should go without saying that Bjazyrty is one of those gentilicia in the genitive plural.

23 There is no dearth of parallels for such a structure of a genealogy in various cultures and languages; one example out of many: Matth. 1, 2ff. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was the father of Jacob, and Jacob was the father of Judah ... etc.(it is all nice and dandy "in various cultures and languages", but the Zelenchuk inscription is being viewed as epigraph, and analogies should be not with propaganda material, as in the Bible genealogies, but with the epigraphic legends, preferably of the same culture, to be somewhat convincing).

24 For postposition of the adjective and the syntactic phenomena (in the Ossetic, or at large? Does it apply to Nakh, Adyg, Karachai cases?) accompanying it see Bielmeier, Indogermanische Forschungen 87 (1082): 67.

25 We have seen (3.2.5) that the fourth letter of line 20 can be read either as a rounded Z or, less probably but still possibly, as a reverted (italics added) rounded E.

26 The Scythian and Sarmatian forms are attested with the metathesis of the ρ only: Πουρθαις, Πουρθαιος, Πουρθακης, Zgusta (1955, 185); (all names from Olbia): Φουρτας, Zgusta (1955, 249) (Tanais) (L.Zgusta happened to know not only the Scythian and Sarmatian vocabulary, but even their metathesises. Quite a feat in this linguistic legerdemain, which can only be performed on a solid scientific foundation of circular logic: using solid knowledge of the Scytho-Sarmatian language, solidly reconstruct the epigraph written in Scytho-Sarmatian-Alanian-Ossetic-Iranian language, and then scientifically project it back into Scytho-Sarmatian times and attribute Scytho-Sarmatian-Alanian-Ossetic-Iranian language without any doubt, voila.)

27 Kafoev's publication is not a reproduction of Miller but a re-drawing, as is shown in the text. This re-drawing should not be used for any further interpretation, because it is derivative and modified (Here we go again, Kafoev's "modifications" are bad, Miller/Abaev/Zgusta "emendations" are good. Kafoev's "modifications" should not be used for any further interpretation, Miller/Abaev/Zgusta "emendations" are a solid working tool. Kafoev's "corrections" of stone-cutter errata are illegal, Miller/Abaev/Zgusta "corrections" of stone-cutter errata are perfectly legal and sorely needed to reconstruct the initially intended text. Go figure).

28 The transliteration follows the same principle as my Ossetic transliterations: a one-to-one correlation of Cyrillic and Roman, is transliterated as e, as ', as ", I as h, as χ (in this posting "x" is mostly retained with a value of χ) . I am using here transliteration in order to render Kafoev's text as exactly in Roman script as possible. Since one cannot always be sure what forms and pronunciations are assumed by Kafoev, the only way to present his text exactly is to transliterate it on a letter-to-letter basis. Generally speaking, such transliterations have the disadvantage that they carry over all the inconsistencies of the original (in this case, Cyrillic) orthography. To take an Ossetic example, the letter ъ in the digraphs къ, чъ, тъ etc. signalizes that these digraphs represent glottalized ejectives, but the same letter in the digraph гъ signalizes that the digraph represents a fricative. An exact transliteration, such as k", c", i", g" is as asymmetrical as the original. Therefore, one is tempted not to transliterate but to transcribe in such a way as to indicate the phonemic or phonetic [- we shall not discuss the trap posed by this disjunction -] character of the phoneme represented. For instance, one is tempted not to transliterate Oss. гъ as g", but to transcribe it as /γ/ or [γ]. The advantage of this is obvious; however, there also are at least two disadvantages, namely that different scholars do not necessarily phonemicize in the same way, and second, that it prevents anyone who is not an immediate specialist in the respective area from checking himself for further information or at least corroboration in books of reference, because he cannot always convert the transcription into orthography. (Whereas any grammar and many dictionaries will contain advice on "pronunciation".) Admittedly, the variety of "meanings" of the same symbol in various languages and even within a single language is a nuisance. But after all, we accept the fact that the digraph ch represents a [tsh] in Spanish, a [sh] in French, a [k] in Italian, a [χ] in German, etc.; or that c represents a [dj] in Turkish, but either a [k] or a [tsh] in Italian, etc. The difference is that these languages are generally known, whereas the Caucasian languages are not; also, the fact that one graphic form (Cyrillic) is being converted into another automatically, or implicitly offers an opportunity to come closer to the acoustic form. Therefore, I ceded ground (against my usual policy) and used some transcriptions in the text above writing lat'a instead of latha (латI) or Jammirza instead of Ja'mmirza ( Жаьммирза) (see additional transliteration notes for this posting at 3.3.3); any misunderstanding is, I trust, eliminated by the Cyrillic orthographic form always being quoted as well. However, in the following passage the strictest transliteration is adhered to lest there be any misrepresentation of the original text by Kafoev.

299 The Russian version of Kafoev's translation goes as follows.
Variant 1: " ... c c. . c, c (c), c () . , , , c (c), c . , ."
Variant 2: "... , c c (). c...etc., same text as in Variant 1..

30 No transcription suggested. Kafoev perhaps does not take this stroke to be a letter.

31 Second variant in parenthesis.

32 See above on the shape of this letter, changed in Kafoev's drawing. Quite possibly Kapobv takes this to be a sigma + a vowel.

33 The area under the purview of a dzuar usually is a valley; the sanctuary will be located at the entrance to the valley, which usually is closed from all other sides.

34 In the above discussion, I tried to be as open-minded as possible. For instance, I do not dwell on the fact that "head of the bed" (изголовье) is not ish'χesh but nuesh'χeg" in Cabardian (see Abaev and Kuznetsov, Voprosy istorii 1965, no. 12: 154), because it always is possible to assume a change between the time of the inscription and ourselves. Nor did I dwell on such absurdities as Kafoev's assumption (1963, 61 ff.) that the crosses on the stelae are in reality pre-Christian three-pronged fetishes; on the contrary, I am willing to accept cultural syncretism where there really is a manifestation, or at least a symptoms of it. But it must be said that it happens to Kafoev that "Wunsch ist der Vater des Gedankens." For instance, he is able to re-interpret (1963, 26) an inscription found in a church in such a way that instead of St. Peter (Πέτρος) we get the name Batraz, one of the main heroes of the Epos of the Narts, thereby making Kabarda the homeland of this highly venerated hero.

35 This version of the Ossetic text differs slightly from the version given (several years ago) in the Festschrift for Henry Hoenigswald. It seems more reasonable to keep the form furt closer to the text of the inscription, particularly since it has the support of the Digor form, and not to write the Iron form


The so-called French system of brackets is used for epigraphic purposes in this article. In this system, the following symbols have the following values:

[] letters originally written on the stone but lost by damage.
() an emendation, i.e. a change of the reading of the stone; particularly the change of a letter or an addition of what was never written.
<> an athetesis, i.e. the deletion of a letter.
. (dot under a letter): the letter is damaged, but recognizable.

In textual criticism of literary sources, the square brackets [] traditionally signify the athetesis.

In linguistic discussions, brackets [] enclose the assumed pronunciation, solidi // the phonemic transcription.

53, 54, 55

Fig. 11a (image041.jpg) Fig. 11b (image044.jpg)

A contemporary (i.e. mid 20th century) monument photographed by the author in 1950 in the vicinity of Lesken, in the Digorian flatland; a memorial of men fallen in World War II. Some monuments are built of bricks in one piece, but present the form of stelae, with syncretistic emblems on top.

Fig. 11. General view of the cenotaphs at Lesken (image047.jpg) Fig. 12. A sanctuary (dzuar)
photographed by the author in 1956 in the vicinity of Mac"uta in Digoria



The absence of hard evidence and totally contradictory premises and results of contending philologists present a dispute where none of the sides can present a clear-cut resolution. All arguments in favor of various readings rest on a dubious premise that the monument site and the stele artifact exist, with subordinated premises that it is a true and veritable artifact, that Strukov and Kulikovski provided true and veritable documentation, that the artifact is a representative example of a general ethnic and literary phenomena, that Miller did not have a hand in the appearance of the field reports, that Miller provided only the armchair scientist's expertise in documenting and analyzing the artifact, that Miller's impartial analysis explored all possible venues in attributing and deciphering the inscription, that Miller's modifications did not aim to steer the results in a certain direction, that the results of Miller and Abaev examinations can be corroborated by an impartial scholar such as L.Zgusta, and that contending readings can sustain the same scrutiny by impartial qualified scholars. Until the day when these premises have been validated comes, the judgment about validity of the artifact, its readings, and the implications are speculative and premature. Any study that does not list and address its premises can be regarded as a delightful exercise in solving amusing and funny riddles.
Scythian-Iranian theory Abaev's Scythian Word List Scythian Word List from the Sources Abaev on Scythian language
In Russian Later
Scythians - Contents
Kipchaks - Contents
Huns - Contents
Ogur and Oguz
Ethnonyms Sak and Kypsak
Alans and Ases
Ossetian Genetics

Russian Version needs a translation
Alan Dateline
Avar Dateline
Besenyo Dateline
Bulgar Dateline
Huns Dateline
Karluk Dateline
Khazar Dateline
Kimak Dateline
Kipchak Dateline
Kyrgyz Dateline
Sabir Dateline
Seyanto Dateline