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History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empir

The proper district of Mingrelia


or the navigation, of the ancient Colchians: few Greeks desired or dared to pursue the footsteps of the Argonauts; and even the marks of an Egyptian colony are lost on a nearer approach. The rite of circumcision is practised only by the Mahometans of the Euxine; and the curled hair and swarthy complexion of Africa no longer disfigure the most perfect of the human race. It is in the adjacent climates of Georgia, Mingrelia, and Circassia, that nature has placed, at least to our eyes, the model of beauty in the shape of the limbs, the color of the skin, the symmetry of the features, and the expression of the countenance. [73] According to the destination of the two sexes, the men seemed formed for action, the women for love; and the perpetual supply of females from Mount Caucasus has purified the blood, and improved the breed, of the southern nations of Asia. The proper district of Mingrelia, a portion only of the ancient Colchos, has long sustained an exportation of twelve thousand slaves. The number of prisoners or criminals would be inadequate to the annual demand; but the common people are in a state of servitude to their lords; the exercise of fraud or rapine is unpunished in a lawless community; and the market is continually replenished by the abuse of civil and paternal authority. Such a trade, [74] which reduces the human species to the level of cattle, may tend to encourage marriage and population, since the multitude of children enriches their sordid and inhuman parent. But this source of impure wealth must inevitably poison the national manners, obliterate the sense of honor and virtue, and almost extinguish the instincts of nature: the Christians of Georgia and Mingrelia are the most dissolute of mankind; and their children, who, in a tender age, are sold into foreign slavery, have already learned to imitate the rapine of the father and the prostitution of the mother. Yet, amidst the rudest ignorance, the untaught natives discover a singular dexterity both of mind and hand; and although the want of union and discipline exposes them to their more powerful neighbors, a bold and intrepid spirit has animated the Colchians of every age. In the host of Xerxes, they served on foot; and their arms were a dagger or a javelin, a wooden casque, and a buckler of raw hides. But in their own country the use of cavalry has more generally prevailed: the meanest of the peasants disdained to walk; the martial nobles are possessed, perhaps, of two hundred horses; and above five thousand are numbered in the train of the prince of Mingrelia. The Colchian government has been always a pure and hereditary kingdom; and the authority of the sovereign is only restrained by the turbulence of his subjects. Whenever they were obedient, he could lead a numerous army into the field; but some faith is requisite to believe, that the single tribe of the Suanians as composed of two hundred thousand soldiers, or that the population of Mingrelia now amounts to four millions of inhabitants. [75]

[Footnote 72: A Greek historian, Timosthenes, had affirmed, in eam ccc. nationes dissimilibus linguis descendere; and the modest Pliny is content to add, et postea a nostris cxxx. interpretibus negotia ibi gesta, (vi. 5) But the words nunc deserta cover a multitude of past fictions.]

[Footnote 73: Buffon (Hist. Nat. tom. iii. p. 433--437) collects the unanimous suffrage of naturalists and travellers. If, in the time of Herodotus, they were, (and he had observed them with care,) this precious fact is an example of the influence of climate on a foreign colony.]

[Footnote 74: The Mingrelian ambassador arrived at Constantinople with two hundred persons; but he ate (sold) them day by day, till his retinue was diminished to a secretary and two valets, (Tavernier, tom. i. p. 365.) To purchase his mistress, a Mingrelian gentleman sold twelve priests and his wife to the Turks, (Chardin, tom. i. p. 66.)]


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