'Teissier is succinct and precise, yet highly informative, expert in an impressively wide range of fields... superbly compiled.' — Times Literary Supplement

Sublime Summits and Vanishing Worlds

British Travellers, Adventurers and Agents in the Nineteenth-Century Caucasus

Beatrice Teissier

‘She is able clearly and concisely to put the authors and their writing into the context not only of Russian and indigenous history, but also of British travel writing of the era… Teissier’s work is not only a pleasure to read, but also provides much food for thought about the past and future of Russia’s frontier.’ — Asian Affairs

The Caucasus has long suffered the impact of Russian colonialism – enforced with particular brutality in the nineteenth century. This military and cultural domination provided the background to growing British interest in what had hitherto been largely terra incognita.

Beatrice Teissier explores Britain’s involvement through the eyes of visitors, consuls and other observers who travelled from the Black Sea coast to the Caucasus mountain chains, to Chechnya, Dagestan and even the Caspian. At first alarmed at Russia’s expansion in territory previously under Ottoman and Persian control, the British toyed with the idea of supporting Circassian independence, and later rebels in Dagestan, in order to gauge whether ‘tribal’ people could fight against Russia and thus serve the British Empire. This attracted agents and partisans to the cause.

But times changed. After the Crimean War and the ‘pacification’ of the mountain people, consuls were established on the Black Sea coast and the area opened up to adventure and tourism. Consuls sent back reports on issues such as the ethnic cleansing of Circassians, Abkhazians and others, the Russo-Turkish War of 1877- 78, rising authoritarianism and Russia’s appetite for war. Pragmatic as ever, they also reported on ongoing trade relations with Britain.

Other travellers included politically engaged individuals, exercised by the plight of the Armenians, the rise of nationalism and the prospect of an independent Georgia. Others had specific interests such as ethnography, antiquarianism, competitive mountaineering and hunting. All reported on life in the Caucasus, from urban Tiflis (now Tbilisi) to poor, remote villages, where feudal communities facing the incursions of Russian administration. Spectacular scenery, local customs and the plight of threatened minorities are recurring motifs in the writing of researchers and tourists alike.

Arranged by region and thematically, this book explores the vagaries of British foreign policy, ethnographic and antiquarian observation, record- breaking mountaineering and the ways in which travellers used illustrations and photography to project their view of the Caucasus and of themselves. Relevant in the context of Moscow’s current policy and continued unrest in a contested region, this is a timely and accessible account of formative British attitudes to the Caucasus and Russia’s sphere of influence.

Beatrice Teissier is an archaeologist and freelance writer-researcher. She is the author of Russian Frontiers and Into the Kazakh Steppe (Signal, 2011 and 2014) as well as specialist books on ancient Near Eastern seals and archives.

£14.99 pb

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288pp, 50 b&w illus
July 2024
ISBN: 9781909930889