The Caucasus is a geopolitical region at the border of Europe and Asia and is situated between the Black and Caspian Sea. It includes regions from Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. It is home to the Caucasus Mountain Range which contains Europe’s highest mountain, Mount Elbarus.

Mount Elbarus, the highest peak in the Caucasus Chain.
Elbarus gets its name from Proto-Iranian ‘Hara Bṛzati’.
where ‘bṛzant’ means ‘high.
Probably from Sanskrit ‘brihant’ ( बृहन्त ) which means ‘high’

It is generally believed that the name ‘Caucasus’ derives from Latin ‘Caucasus’ and Greek ‘Kaukasis’.

Francis Wilford, (1761-1822), an Indologist, Orientalist, fellow member of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, and a constant collaborator of its journal ‘Asiatic Researches’, had decoded a number of ancient names of places in Central Asia wiith the aid of Sanskrit.

Francis Wilford was of the opinion that the Greeks received the name ‘Kaukasis’ through their interaction with the Persians who in his supposition, would have called the mountain Casus-Coh or Cas-Coh. ‘Coh’ or ‘Koh’ in Persian signifies a mountain. He then translated the name ‘Coh-Cas’ or ‘Cas-Coh’ from Persian into Sanskrit and arrived at ‘Cas-giri‘ or ‘Cas-gair’. [‘giri’ (गिरि) means ‘mountain’, and ‘gaira’ (गैर) ‘of the mountain’].

The Calmet’s Dictionary of the Holy Bible says that, “As the Greek word Caucasus was probably derived from India, and the tracing of it to its source is connected with some geographical views, it may not be uninteresting to refer to Francis Wilford’s extract from Asiatic Researches.” Quoting from Francis Wilford’s writings, Calmet’s Bible Dictionary of the Holy Bible  says, “The true Sanskrit name of the Caucasus mountain is C’hasa-giri or the mountain of the C’hasa, a most ancient and powerful tribe who inhabited this immense range, from the eastern limits of India, to the confluence of Persia and most probably as far as the Euxine and the Mediterranean seas…. They are often mentioned in the sacred books of the Hindus. Their descendants still inhabit the same regions and are known to this day as C’hsas, and in some places as C’hsyas and Cosias….. They are certainly a very ancient tribe for they are mentioned in the institutes of Menu (Manu); and their great ancestor C’hasa or C’hasya is mentioned by Sanchuniathon* under the name of Cassius. He is supposed to have lived before the great floods and to have given his name to the mountains he seized upon.” [*Sanchunaithon is an ancient Phoenician author to whom the work ‘Ammouneis’ (or the Priests of ‘Ammon’) is attributed.] 

Francis Wilford himself then quotes Pliny the Elder (25 AD – 79 AD), Roman author, Naturalist and Philosopher who had written in his ‘Naturalis Historia, “The inhabitants of the mountains between the Indus and the Jamuna were called C’esi, a name obviously derived from C’hasa or C’hesia as they are called in the vulgar dialects. The appellation of Caucasus or Coh-Cas extended from India to the shores of the Mediterranean and Euxine seas most probably, because this extensive range was inhabited by C’hasas.”

Further, quoting Pliny’s view, Wilford writes, “Mount Caucasus was also called ‘Graucasus’, an appellation obviously Sanskrit, for ‘grava’ which in conversation as well as spoken dialects is invariably pronounced ‘grau’ signifies a mountain”. In Sanskrit the word ‘grava’ (ग्रावा) means ‘hard’, ‘rock’, ‘stone’ or ‘granite’, and is used in the context of a ‘mountain’ in the name ‘Graucasus’.

Francis Wilford had more to add. He dwelt upon the Scythian meaning of the word Caucasus. Pliny the Elder had also contended that word Caucasus may have been of Scythian origin because it is similar to ‘kroy-khasis’, literally ‘ice-shining, white with snow’. 

Wilford clarifies, “In the language of the Calmuck Tartars ‘Jasu’ and ‘C’hasu’ signifies snow, and in some dialects of the same tongue, they say ‘Jusha’ and ‘Chusha’, ‘Tusha’, ‘Tucha’ or ‘Tuca’. These words in the opinion of my learned friends here are derived from the Sanskrit ‘Tushar’ by dropping the final ‘Ra’.” In Sanskrit ‘Tushara’ (तुषार) means ‘snow’ and thus also explains the Scythian ‘ice-shining, white with snow’ meaning of the word Caucasus.

In their ignorance, and worse, in their bias, Francis Wilfords works were rejected and ridiculed as were the works of other Indologists such as Edward Pococke, author of the famous ‘India in Greece – Truth in Mythology’, Edward Moor (1814-1902), author of ‘Oriental Fragments’ and Lt. Col. James Todd, an official of East India Company who had traced the history of the Rajputs to the Yadhu tribe of Sri Krishna in his ‘Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan’. They were Orientalists who did not cave in under the pressures of the East India Company and presented to the world their findings that they had arrived at with the aid of Sanskrit. But their research was not accepted by the East India Company, the British Empire and the European scholars, contrary as it was to their bid to present Asian and African to the world as savages and thus White Man’s Burden.

Mt. Shakhar, is the highest peak in Georgian
Caucasus Range. In Sanskrit ,
( शिखर)  means ‘peak’ or ‘summit’.

The ‘Ushaba’ Peak in the 

Greater Caucasus Range, Georgia.

In Sanskrit ‘Usha’ (उषा) mean ‘dawn’.
Ushapa (उषप) is another word for ‘sun’

German anthropologist Friedrich Blumenbach who coined the term Caucasian, in his work in the late 1700s and early 1800s, divided Homo sapiens into five distinct races based on their physical characteristics. There was the Mongolian (yellow) race, the American (red) race, the Malayan (brown) race, the Ethiopian (black) race, and the white Caucasian race. In his definition, to the Caucasian category belonged the European (except the Lapps and Finns), inhabitants of Eastern Asia – as far as the river Obi, the Caspian Sea and the Ganges; and lastly, the inhabitants  of Northern Africa.

So why did Friedrich Blumebach choose the name ‘Caucasian’. In a paper presented at the Fifth Annual Gilder Lehrman Center International Conference at Yale University in August 2003, Nell Irvin Painter said, “Beneath this history of classification and measurement, however, lies another, hidden history of beauty and hierarchy. Blumenbach’s embrace of beauty links his classification, which serves large geographical races and American racial binaries, with the nineteenth-century division of white people into better and lesser breeds….. Blumenbach borrowed the name ‘Caucasian’ from a reactionary colleague who was interested in setting Germans and Aryans at the top of the white heap“. 

Today the term ‘Caucasian’ is erroneously used to describe the ‘white race’ in general while the more scientific and logical origins of the word ‘Caucasus’ are rejected.

Suggested Links:

1.Calmet’s Dictionary of the Holy Bible
2. India in Greece by Edward Pococke
3. On ount Caucasus – Asiatic Researches
4. About Caucasus -Francis Wilford (Abridged)
5. Full Text of Asiatic Researches Index
6. Collective Degradation – Slavery and the Construction of the Race” – Nell Irvin Painter


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