Etymology of Caspian, and Kassite

Azerbaijan is a birthplace of many ancient cultures and civilizations, such as Shulaveri-Shomu and Kura–Araxes cultures, Mannea, Urartu, Media, Atropaterna, Caucasian Albania, etc. Through the history there have been many speculations about the origin of Azerbaijanis: Persians who adopted the Turkic language; Seljuk Turks who came from Central Asia and settled in Transcaucasia. None of these hypothesis came true. Recent DNA analysis show that Azerbaijanis are the aboriginal people who live in their ancestral land for many years. So who are the Azerbaijanis, their national identity, and their place in the history?

The original name of Greater Azerbaijan (both Iranian Azerbaijan and Republic of Azerbaijan) was Caspiane according to Strabo (Book 11, Chapter 2, Section 15), who lived 63 BC – c. AD 24, the name its also used to refer to Caspian Mountains (Caucasian Mountains) and Caspian Sea: "According to Eratosthenes, the Caucasus is called "Caspius" by the natives, the name being derived perhaps from the 'Caspii'". Herodotus (Book 3, 89-95), who lived around 484 - 425 BC, provided the same evidence by listing South Caspiane (Iranian Azerbaijan) as XI-th and North Caspiane (Republic of Azerbaijan) as XV-th tax districts (satrapy) of the Achaemenid Empire. Subsequent invasions both from north and south, split Caspiane into two separate entities – Atropatene in south, and Caucasian Albania in north. Original Caspiane became a little province along the Caspian shores, which later was incorporated into Caucasian Albania, also known as Arran in some sources.

Figure 1. Kassite king Meli-Shipak II on a kudurru-Land presenting his daughter to the goddess Ḫunnubat-Nanaya

Hence, Azerbaijanis are the direct decedents of the Caspians, who migrated to Mesopotamia from Kaspiana and founded the New Babylonian Kingdom – Karaduniash. Karaduniash was the first trade empire in the human history, the same model was eventually employed by the Phoenicians, Greeks and the British Empire. Caspians are also known in history as Kaspi, Kasi, Kassi, Kaššu or Kassites, according to the famous German archaeologist and Iranologist Ernst Emil Herzfeld (23 July 1879 – 20 January 1948), first appeared in the annals of history in the 18th century BC (short chronology 16th century BC) when they entered in Babylonia after it was sacked by the Hittites. Kassites (Caspians) founded the Dynasty of the Land of Sea in the ancient Sumer, the longest ruling dynasty in the history of Mesopotamia (1531-1155BC). Some historians believe that the endonym of the Kassites or Kaspi was Kasli or Gazlu.

Figure 2. The Babylonian Kingdom of Kassites - Karaduniash

It should be noted that according to Herodotus, Caspians did not share a border with Armenia, which was part of XIII tax district. The XVIII tax district, which included Matienians, Saspires and Alordians (it is a territory from the west coast of Lake Urmia through Lake Van and all the way to Ispir in Turkey, also known as Eastern Anatolia), separated Caspiane from Armenia, hence, placing Armenians somewhere around present Diyarbakir rather in east as it is claimed by the Armenian historians.

The name Caspian (Kaspi) refers to the color "argent" through various contexts such as noble, precious and silver (currency), according to the ancient Assyrian records (Assyrian Grammar, A.H.Sayce, 1875, p.34). There is a Hebrew personal name Caspi or Kaspi meaning "made of silver" or "of silver", and it has roots in the Assyrian KASP(I)U loaned from the ancient Sumerian and Babylonian to define a) noble, precious; b) silver (currency). Neither Hebrews (keseph) nor Arabs (fida) have the exact word similar to Kaspi in their languages, Assyrians themselves used a word (KU)BABBAR to define the regular raw silver. The name came into used through the ruling Kassites (Kass/Kassi/Kasp/Kaspi) dynasty (1531-1155BC) in the same manner as the term "sterling silver" (Easterlings, referring to the East Baltic merchants), which was introduced by the Hanseatic League in 1260 to distinguish their high quality silver for the purpose of currency exchange. The ancient Assyrian cuneiform for the word kaspi, as it is given in various trade contract tablets to define the standardized "silver-currency", is shown below.

Figure 3. The word Kaspi as it appears in the ancient Assyrian records.

This cuneiform can be found in the text on "Sennacherib's Invasion of Palestine" about Hezekiah's tribute of 30 talents of gold and 800 talents of silver. (First Steps in Assyrian, L.W.King, 1898, pp. 64-65). Another reference to the word Kaspi as silver-currency for the exchange in goods (slaves), can be found in "Assyrian and Babylonian contracts; with Aramaic reference notes" ( J.H.Stevenson, 1902, pp.74-75): "1 mani 30 siklu kaspi". Both mani and siklu were ancient Sumerian and Babylonian units of weight widely used across Mesopotamia and Near East, 1 mani is equivalent to 60 siklu. We know for sure that term "Mani" (translates into English as "to count") transformed into Azerbaijani "Manat", which is used as a designation term for the paper notes in the Greater Azerbaijan at least since 18 century, and the term "Siklu" (translates into English as "to weigh") transformed into Israeli "Shekel", which is used as a designation term for the paper notes since 1980. Azerbaijani language have also a similar word "sikkə" [sikke] for the gold and silver coins, and "qəpik-quruş" [gepik-gurush] for the copper coins.

Many tried to explain the origin of the name Caucasus. First one is Leonti Mroveli, a 11th-century Georgian chronicler, who employed a mythology about Noah and his sons. Second one is Pliny the Elder's Natural History (77–79 AD), who derives the name of the Caucasus, which used to be called the Caspian Mountains, from Scythian "Graucasis" meaning "white with snow" (Book VI, chap.19(17)). In antiquity Republic of Azerbaijan (Caspiane) was also known as Caucasian Albania, which probably was a direct translation from the ancient topographic name since the Latin "albus" and Ancient Greek "ἀλφός" (alphos) also means white. Ancient people of Asia Minor, Hittites, defined the cloud as "𒀠𒉺𒀸", which reads as alpas, similar to the Ancient Greek. The name Alban could also be derived from the ancient Kassites deity.

There is a certain link between the name for silver kaspi and the icy-white Caucasus Mountains. It is also a fact that the Caspians as well the ancient Colchis were skillful metallurgist, hence the reference to silver. Besides it is not a mare coincidence that ancient Greek myth about the giant Prometheus, mentioned as the first ever “metallurgist”, who was chained to the rocks of the Caucasus by the gods.

It seems that Pliny the Elder mistakenly translates "Grau-" as Greek "κρύο" (kryo) - cold, chill. Most likely Scythian "Grau-" is closely related to Russian and Ukrainian "край", read as [krai], or Azerbaijani and Turkish "qiraq", read as [grag(h)]. The Russian word "krai" means "land" also "edge", where the Azerbaijani word "qiraq" means "edge". Hence, Grau-Casis actually means "Land/Edge of Casis". In order to prove the theory that the Caucasus Mountains is the exact native reference and translation of the Caspian Mountains, we provide the evidence from The Memorial Tablet of Ramman-nirari I, King of Assyria, about 1325 BC. This tablet states: "Ramman-nirari, the illustrious prince, adorned by God, the ruler, the viceroy of the gods, the founder of cities, the destroyer of the mighty armies of the Kas(si), the Kut(i), the Lulum(i), and the Subar(i), annihilator of all foes above and below the Upper and Lower Seas (Lake Van and Urmia)". The tablet mentions the Kas(si) or Kasp(i) as the first mighty foe of Assyria, and place them in South Caucasus. It should be noted, that Assyrian cuneiform for the silver Kaspi, has the same root "Kas". So going back to the Pliny the Elder's version of the origin of name Caucasus, we can say that the Scythian Grau-Kass means "Land of Kassi/Kaspi".