And on the sea lies the Asiatic side of the Bosporus, or the Syndic territory. After this latter, one comes to the Achaei and the Zygii and the Heniochi, and also the Cercetae and the Macropogones. And above these are situated the narrow passes of the Phtheirophagi (Phthirophagi); and after the Heniochi the Colchian country, which lies at the foot of the Caucasian, or Moschian, Mountains. (Strabo, Geographica 11.2)
William Smith observes that "they were partly nomad shepherds, partly brigands and pirates, for which latter vocation they had ships specially adapted". They inhabited the region known as Zyx, which is on the northern slopes of the Caucasus east of Elbrus. To the east were the Avars, and to the west were the Circassians. To the north was Sarmatian territory, and to the south lay the part of Colchis inhabited by the Svans (Soanes of Strabo and Pliny the Elder).
Zyx in Greek literature referred to people inhabiting the area that is now occupied by the republics of Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia-Alania and Checheno-Ingushetia. Confusingly, mediaeval Latin historians re-applied the term to those Circassians who formed a coastal federation in the sixth to eighth centuries A.D. This tribe also features in several ancient and medieval works, notably in Pliny (Zichoi), Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, medieval Georgian chroniclers (Jikebi), Marco Polo, and Johannes de Galonifontibus, who, in his Libellus de notitia orbis, speaks of "Zikia or Circassia" and their language, perhaps the earliest reference to the Northwest Caucasian languages.
Jaimoukha (History of Chechnya) states that the Zygians of Zyx were almost certainly speakers of one of the Northeast Caucasian languages, ancestral to Chechen and Ingush. Scythian, Cimmerian and Sarmatian invaders, establishing what eventually became North Ossetia-Alania, split Zyx in two. The weakened, divided Zygian state was further invaded by the Mongols and their Turkish levies, who settled in western Zyx and adopted the name of a Zygian tribe, the Malkh, now known as the Balkar. In fact many are probably Zygians who adopted Turkish speech. Kabardian Circassians also opportunistically moved into western Zyx and this area eventually became Kabardino-Balkaria. Eastern Zyx has morphed into Checheno-Ingushetia. The Mountain ASSR (1921-1924) of the early Soviet Union was a brief modern resurrection of Zyx.
- William Smith, LLD. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography. London. Walton and Maberly, Upper Gower Street and Ivy Lane, Paternoster Row; John Murray, Albemarle Street. 1854.
- Glanville Price (1998), Encyclopedia of the Languages of Europe, p. 60. Blackwell Publishing, ISBN 0-631-22039-9.