The Trade Empire of the Kabardians

kabardiaGlobalization is the macro-trend of the 21st century. We live in an age where a product can be designed in the United States, sourced through Europe, manufactured in China and sold in Africa—all in a matter of weeks. Indeed, globalization is the process by which ideas, technologies and trends flow seamlessly from one culture to the next, and humankind is able to take the best of the best from across the world.

And while globalization may be the emerging trend of the latest century, it was a way of life as long as five centuries ago for the Kabardians.

The Kabardians are one of the oldest surviving civilizations on earth, and a member of the Circassian nation. By way of analogy, the Kabardians are to the Circassians nation as the Bavarians are to the German nation—a geographically focused member of a larger ethnic group known for its unique characteristics and achievements.

At the time Marco Polo was beginning his global travels, the Kabardians were solidifying their global trade routes.

Though the Kabardians have been noted as fierce warriors, they can best be described as skilled tradesman and diplomats with strong defense networks. As early as the 1300s, and continuing until today, the Kabardians are noted for their ability to speak multiple language and engage in the culture, norms and trade of other nations.

The State of Kabardia formally existed until 1763, when it was merged into Imperial Russia. Though no longer a political entity of its own, Kabardia is located in the heart of the Caucasus—a region that stands at the cross roads between Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Although Kabardia is largely forgotten today, the trade empire built by the Kabardians was impressive if not for its size, but for its success.

To put things in perspective, Genghis Khan founded what went on to become the largest empire in the history of human civilization. Even after his death, the Golden Horde stretched from large parts of present-day China to the steps of Eastern Europe. Whether by luck or fate, the Mongols decided it was wiser to engage the Kabardians in trade than in fight.

By the late 1300s, the Kabardians gained control of key routes of the Silk Road, and were able to control trade across great swaths of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Soon after, they were engaged by merchants from Genoa and Venice who found the Kabardians’ blend of diplomacy and mastery of language helpful in establishing trade links outside of Europe. This profitable partnership allowed the Kabardians to extend their reach beyond the land routes of the Silk Road and gain access to valuable sea trade, providing increased speed to greater markets.

By the late 1400s, Kabardian trade with the Italians began to wane as the Ottoman Empire asserted its control over the Black Sea. For the next three hundred years, the Kabardians were able to continue their prosperity, establishing a trade empire that was geographically situated between the imperial growth of the Turks and the Russians. This time of prosperity was owed largely to the Kabardians’ talents at mediating between the two larger states.

By the 1800s, the Kabardians were exporting a range of raw and finished goods into the Ottoman and Russian empires. These included agricultural products, textiles and even weaponry. In 1822, upon the Kabardians’ entry into the Russian Empire, many of its armaments were adopted by the Imperial Russian Army, and even today, the Russian Shashka sword is based on the Kabardian Seshxwuh – the Kabardian equivalent to the Japanese Katana used by the Samurai.

Between the 1800s and the 1900s, a mass exodus of Kabardians left Kabardia. This was a time of great turmoil for Russia as the Russian Empire gave way to what would become the Soviet Union. By the time the Soviet Union collapsed, Kabardians counted nearly 1M of their countrymen in the present-day Russian Federation and another 1M in over 40 countries around the world.

Today, notable communities of Kabardians can be found in many of the largest and emerging economies—ranging from the United States to Europe to the Middle East and Russia. Just as was the case with their forefathers, it is taken for granted that any given Kabardian is able to speak several languages fluently. United by a common culture, language and history, the Kabardians continue today as their ancestors did nearly 1,000 years ago—to leverage their skills in language and diplomacy to continue building bridges through trade and commerce.

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