Lost silk road city located by Ghent University researcher

Il’Ichevsk

Il’Ichevsk

A researcher at Ghent University has identified a lost Silk Road city larger than medieval Ghent, London or Venice.

Historians and archaeologists have been searching for nearly 200 years for the city of Magas, capital of the ninth to twelfth century kingdom of Alania. This Kingdom, located in the North Caucasus mountains of modern Russia, controlled a critical section of the Silk Roads: a trade route which connected East Asia and the Mediterranean centuries before the era of European expansion.

John Latham-Sprinkle, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of History at Ghent University, claims in a new article that the city of Magas was located at Il’ichevsk, a fortress in the Krasnodar Krai region of Russia. This fortress covers an area of 600 hectares, with walls 15km long: an area larger than any city in Western Europe at this time. Previous excavations suggest that architects and masons from as far away as the Byzantine Empire worked on the city’s walls and churches, which are among the oldest in all of modern Russia.

"Although the North Caucasus is often considered a backwater today, this discovery demonstrates that this region has been historically vital for global connections. Geographers and historians from as far away as China wrote about Magas’s size, strong defences, and strategic importance. In the winter of 1239-40, it took two Mongol armies three months to capture it, an event which was celebrated by writers across Eurasia. By comparing these accounts with archaeological work conducted by the local schoolteacher during the Soviet Union, we can now finally identify this world-famous city." (John Latham-Sprinkle)

The Kingdom of Alania, of which Magas was the capital, was the most powerful kingdom in the medieval North Caucasus. This region contains Europe’s highest mountain range and is famous for its diversity, with hundreds of languages being spoken in a region half the size of France. The identification of Magas shows that despite this diversity and difficult geography, it was possible for its people to come together and build a huge city, despite not having written records, money, or a government as we usually understand it. This suggests that none of these were absolutely necessary for civilisations to emerge.
Dr. Latham-Sprinkle’s research will be published in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies in June.

  • In June, the study of John Latham Sprinkle wil be published in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies.

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