The Nart sagas (Abkhaz: Нарҭаа ражәабжьқәа; Nartaa raƶuabƶkua; Adyghe: Нартхымэ акъыбарыхэ; Nartxıme aqıbarıxe; Karachay-Balkar: Нарт таурухла; Nart tawruxla; Ossetian: Нарты кадджытæ; Narty kaddžytæ; Nartı kadjıtæ) are a series of tales originating from the North Caucasus. They form much of the basic mythology of the tribes in the area, including Abazin, Abkhaz, Circassian, Ossetian, Karachay-Balkar, and to some extent Chechen-Ingush folklore.
The term nart comes from the Ossetian Nartæ, which is plurale tantum of nar. The origin of the root nar is of Iranian origin, from Proto-Iranian nar for 'hero, man', descended from Proto-Indo-European *h₂nḗr. In Chechen, the word nart means 'giant'.
Some of the characters who feature prominently in the sagas are:
- Sosruko (Ubykh, Abkhaz and Adyghe : sawsərəqʷa (Саусырыкъо); Ossetian : Soslan (Сослан)) - a hero who sometimes also appears as a trickster
- Batraz (Ossetian: Батырадз) was the leader and greatest warrior of the Narts
- Satanaya (Ubykh: satanaja; Adyghe: setenej (Сэтэнай); Ossetian: Satana (Сатана)) - the mother of the Narts, a fertility figure and matriarch
- Tlepsh (Adyghe and Abaza: [ɬapʃʷ]; Ossetian: Kwyrdalægon (Куырдалæгон)) - a blacksmith deity
- Syrdon (Ossetian: Syrdon (Сырдон)) - a trickster figure compared by Georges Dumezil to the Norse Loki. (see ru:Сырдон)
- Pkharmat (Chechen: Pẋarmat (Пхьармат)) - in the Nakh peoples' Vainakh epos, a blacksmith figure who steals fire from the gods for the mortals.
- Dzerassae (Ossetian: Дзерассæ), daughter of the sea-god Donbettyr, and mother of many Nart heroes
Study and significance
The first written account of the material is due to the Kabardian author Shora Begmurzin Nogma, who wrote in Russian 1835–1843, published posthumously in 1861. A German translation by Adolf Berge was published in 1866 (Berge 1866). The stories exist in the form of prose tales as well as epic songs.
It is generally known that all the Nart corpora have an ancient Iranian core, inherited from the Scythians, Sarmatians, and Alans (the Alans being the ancestors of the Ossetians). However, they also contain abundant local North Caucasian accretions of great antiquity, which sometimes reflect an even more archaic past.
Based especially on the Ossetian versions, the sagas have long been valued as a window towards the world of the Iranian-speaking cultures of antiquity. For example, the philologist Georges Dumézil used the Ossetian division of the Narts into three clans to support his Trifunctional Hypothesis that the Proto-Indo-Europeans were similarly divided into three castes—warriors, priests, and commoners.
The Northwest Caucasian (Circassian, Abkhaz-Abasin and Ubykh) versions are also highly valuable because they contain more archaic accretions and preserve "all the odd details constituting the detritus of earlier traditions and beliefs", as opposed to the Ossetian ones, which have been "reworked to form a smooth narrative".
Connections to other mythology
Some motifs in the Nart sagas are shared by Greek mythology. The story of Prometheus chained to Mount Kazbek or to Mount Elbrus in particular is similar to an element in the Nart sagas. These shared motifs are seen by some as indicative of an earlier proximity of the Caucasian peoples to the ancient Greeks, also shown in the myth of the Golden Fleece, in which Colchis is generally accepted to have been part of modern-day Georgia.
In the book From Scythia to Camelot, authors C. Scott Littleton and Linda A. Malcor speculate that many aspects of the Arthurian legends are derived from the Nart sagas. The proposed vector of transmission is the Alans, some of whom migrated into northern France at around the time the Arthurian legends were forming. As expected, these parallels are most evident in the Ossetian versions, according to researcher John Colarusso. See Historical basis for King Arthur – Sarmatian hypothesis ( in subsection Lucius Artorius Castus ) for more details.
Differences between Nart legends
There are some differences between the various versions of the Nart legends. For example, the Ossetian versions depict the Nartic tribe as composed of three distinct clans who sometimes rival one another: the brave Æxsærtægkatæ (to whom the most prominent Narts belong), the rich Borætæ, and the wise Alægatæ; The Circassian versions do not depict such a division. The Abkhaz versions are unique in describing the Narts as a single nuclear family composed of Satanaya's one hundred sons. Yet all of these versions describe the Narts as a single coherent group of (mostly) ‘good’ heroes.
Some Nakh (Chechen-Ingush) legends include a group called the Nart-Orxustxoi, which includes the most prominent Narts known from the other versions (e.g. Seska-Solsa corresponding to Sosruko/Soslan, Khamtsha-Patarish corresponding to Batraz/Batradz etc.). In contrast to the Ossetian and Abkhaz versions, the Nakh legends depict the Narts as warlike bandits, who fight against local good heroes such as Koloi-Kant and Qinda-Shoa (with Qinda-Shoa corresponding to Sawway/Shawey).
- Abaev, V.I., ed. (1973), ИСТОРИКО-ЭТИМОЛОГИЧЕСКИЙ СЛОВАРЬ ОСЕТИНСКОГО ЯЗЫКА [Historical-Etymological Dictionary of Ossetian language] (in Russian), II (L-R), p.158-9 "Nartae, Nart"
- Colarusso 2002, pp. xxiv, 552.
- Tsaroieva 2005, p. 199.
- Colarusso 2002.
- Tokarev, S.A., ed. (1980), Mify narodov mira [Myths of the World] (encyclopedia) (in Russian), 2 (K-Ya), Narty
- Tsaroieva 2005, p. 215.
- Nogmov, Schora Bekmursin (1866), Bergé, Adolf (ed.), Die Sagen und Lieder des Tscherkessen-Volks [The legends and songs of the Circassian peoples] (in German)
- Colarusso, John, ed. (2002), Nart Sagas from the Caucasus: Myths and Legends from the Circassians, Abazas, Abkhaz, and Ubykhs, ISBN 9781400865284
- Tsaroïeva, Mariel (2005), Anciennes Croyances des Ingouches et des Tchetchenes [Old beliefs of the Ingush and Chechens] (in French), ISBN 2-7068-1792-5
- Circassian Nart sagas
- More Nart Tales, archived from the original on 13 Jan 2017 , English translations
- Нарты. Адыгский эпос [Narta. The Adyghe epic] (in Russian) , Russian translations
- Colarusso, John (Dec 1989), "Myths from the Forests of Circassia", The World & I, archived from the original on 11 Feb 2007
- Colarusso, John (Dec 1989), "Prometheus among the Circassians", The World & I, archived from the original on 24 May 2011
- Colarusso, John (1989), "The Woman of the Myths: the Satanaya Cycle" (PDF), The Annual of the Society for the Study of Caucasia, 2: 3–11, archived from the original (PDF) on 27 Sep 2007
- Ossetian Nart sagas
- КАТАЛОГ [Catalog] (in Ossetic), three collections of legends (Dzhanayev, Gutiev and Skodtaev/Kibirov, the latter from the Digor dialect area). The first collection (the 1946 Dzhanayev edition) is also available in the form of older and newer audio recordings
- Калоев, Б.А.; Либединский, Ю. (eds.), СКАЗАНИЯ О НАРТАХ [Tales of the Narts] (in Russian): a translation, with slight modifications, of the Dzhanayev edition at the previous link
- "Ossetic Nartic Tales", TITUS (Thesaurus Indogermanischer Text- und Sprachmaterialien) (legends collected from the Digor dialect area, edited by M. Gardanti)
- Abkhaz Nart sagas
- Инал-ипа, Ш.Д.; Шакрыл, К.С.; Шинкуба, Б.В.; Инал-ипа, Ш.Д.; Гулия, Г.; Солоухина, В. (eds.), Приключения нарта Сасрыквы и его девяноста девяти братьев [The Adventures of the Sasrykva Nart and His Ninety-nine Brothers] (in Russian), archived from the original on 28 Sep 2007
- Karachay-Balkar Nart sagas
- Tavkul, Ufuk (2000), "A Good Sample For Cultural Diffusion - A Hero Who Carries The Characteristics Of Prophet David In The Nart Epos Of Karachay-Balkar People - Nart Debet, The Smith", The International Symposium of "NART EPOS", archived from the original on 1 Mar 2012
- Чиппаевич, Джуртубаев Махти (ed.), Героический эпос о нартах [The heroic epic of Narta] (in Russian), archived from the original on 30 Sep 2007 , detailed set of tales
- Russian translations from Липкина, С., ed. (1987), Дебет златоликий и его друзья [Debet the golden haired and his friends] (in Russian)
- Нарты РАЧИКАУ, СЫН ЧУЖЕЗЕМЦА (in Russian), archived from the original on 28 Feb 2006 , (part 1)
- Наш героический эпос о нартах - КАК ЁРЮЗМЕК УБИЛ КРАСНОЛИКОГО РЫЖЕБОРОДОГО ФУКА, archived from the original on 26 Jul 2011 , (part 2)
- Chechen-Ingush Nart sagas
- Abdulayeva, Kh.R. (2002), "18. The Inception of Chechen artistic writing: ethni-historical and aesthetic prerequisites", The Culture of Chechnya: History and Modern Problems (PDF), pp. 129–147, archived from the original (PDF) on 15 Oct 2009
- Accounts of Chechen and Ingush beliefs by Ch.E.Akhriev
- ЧЕЧЕНСКИЕ СКАЗАНИЯ [Chechen Tales] (in Russian), archived from the original on 1 Mar 2012
- "[Category: Causcasus]", Wanana sculun Frankon - Linguistics, History, Mythology and More , Causcasian folklore articles