Ossetian mosaic.jpg
(left to right): Kosta, Gazdanov,
Tokaty, Gergiev
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Russia 515,000 [1]
especially in: Flag of North Ossetia.svg North Ossetia 445,310 [1]
 South Ossetia:
(a state with a limited de jure recognition of its independence)
45,000 [2]
(excluding South Ossetia)
38,028 [3]
 Syria 59,200 [4]
 Turkey 36,900 [4]
 Uzbekistan 8,170 [4]
 Tajikistan 5,300 [4]
 Ukraine 4,830 [5]
 Azerbaijan 2,340 [4]
 Turkmenistan 2,170 [4]
 Kazakhstan 2,090 [4]
 Kyrgyzstan 937 [4]
 Belarus 784 [4]
 Armenia 392 [4]
 Moldova 353 [4]
 Latvia 332 [6]
 Estonia 116 [7]

Ossetic, Russian, Georgian


Predominantly † Orthodox Christianity
with a minority professing Islam

Related ethnic groups

Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans
Eastern Iranians (including Pashtuns, Pamiris, Yaghnobi) and other Iranian peoples (like Tajiks) along with the Jassic people of Hungary, Terek Cossacks.

The Ossetians (Ossetic: ирæттæ, irættæ) are an Iranic ethnic group of the Caucasus Mountains, eponymous of the region known as Ossetia.[8][9][10] They speak Ossetic, an Iranian language of the Eastern branch, with most also fluent in Russian as a second language. The Ossetians are mostly Orthodox Christian, with a Muslim minority.

The Ossetians mostly populate Ossetia, which is politically divided between North Ossetia-Alania in Russia, and South Ossetia, which since the 2008 South Ossetia war has been de-facto independent from Georgia.



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

The Russians originally called the Ossetians Yas (ясы, connected with Iazyges).

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

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

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

It is believed that Joseph Stalin was at least half Ossetian.


  • Iron and Digor in the north became what is now North Ossetia-Alania, under Russian rule from 1767. Iron dialect is the literary and written language of the Ossetian language.
  • Digor in the west came under the influence of the neighbouring Kabarday people who introduced Islam. Today the two main Digor districts in North Ossetia are Digora district or Digorskiy rayon (with Digora as its centre) and Irafskiy rayon or Iraf district (with Chikola as its centre). Digora district is Christian while some parts of Iraf district are Muslim. The dialect spoken in Digor part of North Osetia is Digor, the most archaic form of Ossetian language.
  • Kudar (sometimes misspelled Tual, after the indigenous Dvals people), the southern Ossetic tribe. Initially they lived in the upper course of the Ardon River and the Darial Pass.[11] Subsequently, around the 17th century, part of them started to migrate over the Caucasus and into Georgia.[12] After the Russian annexation of Georgia in 1801, an Ossetian okrug was formed within the Tiflis governorate from 1846 to 1859. In 1922 the surrounding region received an autonomy within the Georgian SSR as South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast. In 1991 Republic of South Ossetia declared independence from Georgia in aftermath of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict.[13]



The folk beliefs of the Ossetian people are rooted in their Sarmatian and Christian origin, with the pagan gods transcending into Christian saints. The Nart saga serves the basic pagan mythology of the region.[14]



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

Prehistory (Early Alans)

The Ossetians descend from the Alans, a Sarmatian tribe (Scythian subgroup of the Iranic ethnolinguistic group).[15] About A.D. 200, the Alans were the only branch of the Sarmatians to keep their culture in the face of a Gothic invasion, and the Alans remaining built up a great kingdom between the Don and the Volga, according to Coon, The Races of Europe. Between A.D. 350 and 374, the Huns destroyed the Alan kingdom, and a few survive to this day in the Caucasus as the Ossetes. They became Christians under Byzantine[16] and Georgian influence. A small number adopted Sunni Islam.

Middle Ages

Caucasus region in 1213 AD

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

Forced out of their medieval homeland (south of the River Don in present-day Russia) during Mongol rule, Alans migrated towards and over the Caucasus mountains, where they subsequently would form three ethnographical groups; the Iron, Digor, and Kudar. The Jassic people were a group that migrated in the 13th century to Hungary.

Modern history

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

Key events:

  • 1774 — North Ossetia becomes part of the Russian Empire[17]
  • 1801 — The modern-day South Ossetia territory becomes part of the Russian Empire, along with Georgia[18]
  • 1922 — Ossetia is divided[19][20] into two parts: North Ossetia remains a part of Russian SFSR, South Ossetia remains a part of Georgian SSR.
  • 20 September 1990 independent Republic of South Ossetia. The republic remained unrecognized, yet it detached itself from Georgia de facto. In the last years of the Soviet Union, ethnic tensions between Ossetians and Georgians in Georgia's former Autonomous Oblast of South Ossetia (abolished in 1990) and between Ossetians and the Ingush in North Ossetia evolved into violent clashes that left several hundreds dead and wounded and created a large tide of refugees on both sides of the border.[21][22]


The Ossetic language belongs to the Northeastern Iranian branch of Indo-European language family.

Ossetic is divided into two main dialect groups: Ironian (os. - Ирон) in North and South Ossetia and Digorian (os. - Дыгурон) of western North Ossetia. There are some subdialects in those two: like Tualian, Alagirian, Ksanian, etc. Ironian dialect is the most widely spoken.

Ossetic is among the remnants of the Scytho-Sarmatian dialect group which was once spoken across Central Asia. Other surviving languages closely related to Ossetic are Yaghnobi,[23] Pashto[23] and Pamiri languages,[23] all spoken more than 2,000 km to the east in Afghanistan and some parts of Tajikistan and northwestern Pakistan.


Most of the Ossetians became Christians by 916 under Byzantine influence.

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

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

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

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


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

Second-largest population of Ossetians is in South Ossetia.

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


The Ossetians are a unique ethnic group of the Caucasus, being the only people found on both the north and south slopes of the mountain, also speaking an Indo-European language surrounded by Caucasian ethnolinguistic groups. The mtDNA indicate common origin with more similarity with Iranian groups, while the Y-haplogroup data indicate that the two geographical groups are more similar to their neighbours, respectively i.e. North Ossetians - North Caucasian group, South Ossetians - South Caucasian group.[24]


See also


  1. ^ a b 2002 Russian census
  2. ^ (2007) PCGN Report "Georgia: a toponymic note concerning South Ossetia" (page 3)[1].
  3. ^ (2002 census)
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Joshua Project
  5. ^ 2001 Ukrainian census
  6. ^ [2]
  7. ^ 2000 Estonian census
  8. ^ Bell, Imogen. Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia, p. 200.
  9. ^ Mirsky, Georgiy I. On Ruins of Empire: Ethnicity and Nationalism in the Former Soviet Union, p. 28.
  10. ^ Mastyugina, Tatiana. An Ethnic History of Russia: Pre-revolutionary Times to the Present, p. 80.
  11. ^ Agustí Alemany, Sources on the Alans: A Critical Compilation. Brill Academic Publishers, 2000 ISBN 90-04-11442-4
  12. ^ Georgian-Ossetian ethno-historical review, Prof. Roland Topchishvili
  13. ^ The Foreign Policy of Russia: Changing Systems, Enduring Interests. Robert H. Donaldson, Joseph L. Nogee. M.E. Sharpe. 2005. pp. 199. ISBN 0765615681, 9780765615688. 
  14. ^ Lora Arys-Djanaïéva "Parlons ossète" (Harmattan, 2004)
  15. ^ James Minahan, "One Europe, Many Nations", Published by Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000. pg 518: "The Ossetians, calling themselves Iristi and their homeland Iryston are the most northerly Iranian people. ... They are descended from a division of Sarmatians, the Alans who were pushed out of the Terek River lowlands and in the Caucasus foothills by invading Huns in the fourth century A.D.
  16. ^ Alania and Byzantine
  17. ^ [3]
  18. ^ [4]
  19. ^ Svante E. Cornell, Small nations and great powers: a study of ethnopolitical conflict in the Caucasus. Routledge, 2001 ISBN 0700711627
  20. ^ "South Ossetia - MSN Encarta". Archived from the original on 2009-11-01. http://www.webcitation.org/query?id=1257052680914376. 
  21. ^ http://www.gcsp.ch/e/publications/Issues_Institutions/Int_Organisations/Academic_Articles/Ghebali-Helsinki-3-04.pdf
  22. ^ http://www.obiv.org.tr/2005/avrasya/ehatipoglu.pdf
  23. ^ a b c Nicholas Sims-Williams, Eastern Iranian languages, in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition, 2010. "The Modern Eastern Iranian languages are even more numerous and varied. Most of them are classified as North-Eastern: Ossetic; Yaghnobi (which derives from a dialect closely related to Sogdian); the Shughni group (Shughni, Roshani, Khufi, Bartangi, Roshorvi, Sarikoli), with which Yaz-1ghulami (Sokolova 1967) and the now extinct Wanji (J. Payne in Schmitt, p. 420) are closely linked; Ishkashmi, Sanglichi, and Zebaki; Wakhi; Munji and Yidgha; and Pashto."
  24. ^ Genetic evidence concerning the origins of South and North Ossetians. by Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Department of Evolutionary Genetics. Ann Hum Genet. 2004 Nov;68(Pt 6):588-99.


  • Nasidze et al., Mitochondrial DNA and Y-Chromosome Variation in the Caucasus, Annals of Human Genetics, Volume 68 Page 205 - May 2004
  • Nasidze et al., Genetic Evidence Concerning the Origins of South and North Ossetians (2004) [5]

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

См. также в других словарях:

  • Ossetians —    Ethnic group. An Indo Iranian group of the Caucasus Mountains, the Ossetians are divided between Russia’s North OssetiyaAlaniya and the Georgian breakaway republic of South Ossetia. Ossetians, or Ossetes, self declare as Iristi or Irættæ, and… …   Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation

  • Ossetians in Turkey — Ossetians and other Caucasian diaspora members protesting against Georgian assault on South Ossetia (August 13, 2008, Istanbul) Ossetians in Turkey are a national minority. They emigrated from North Ossetia since the second half of the 19th… …   Wikipedia

  • Ossetians in Trialeti — Trialeti Ossetians are shown as the extreme southern area of the Ossetian population …   Wikipedia

  • South Ossetia — Republic of South Ossetia Республикæ Хуссар Ирыстон / Respublikæ Xussar Iryston (Ossetic) სამხრეთი ოსეთი / Samkhret Oseti (Georgian) Республика Южная Осетия / Respublika Yuzhnaya Osetiya (Russian) …   Wikipedia

  • 2008 South Ossetia war — Part of Georgian–Ossetian conflict and Georgian–Abkhazian conflict Locat …   Wikipedia

  • Georgian–Ossetian conflict (1918–1920) — Georgian Ossetian conflict (1918–1920) Date 1918–1920 Location South Ossetia, northeast Georgia Result Georgian military victory Area was later Sovietized …   Wikipedia

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  • Georgian–Ossetian conflict — Location of South Ossetia within Georgia. Date 1989–present Location …   Wikipedia

  • Timeline of the 2008 South Ossetia war — The 2008 South Ossetia war started on August 7, 2008 and involves Georgia, Russian Federation, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.Military conflict TimelineThe tensions have been escalating through the year of 2008, but the countdown to the open… …   Wikipedia

  • Iranian peoples — The Iranian people [local names Old Iranian: Arya , Middle Iranian: Eran , Modern Iranian languages: Persian: Iraniyan or Irani ha , Kurdish: Êraniyekan or gelên Êranî , Ossetian: Irynoau Adem , Mazandarani: Iranijş Benevarün or Heranaysi Adəmün …   Wikipedia

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