Distribution of the Svan language in relation to other Kartvelian (South Caucasian) languages.
Svan with dagger and long smoking pipe. Mestia (~1888–1900)
The Svans are usually identified with the Sanni mentioned by GreekgeographerStrabo, who placed them more or less in the area still occupied by the modern-day Svans.
In the Russian Empire and early Soviet Union Mingrelians and Svans had their own census grouping, but were classified under the broader category of Georgian thereafter in the 1930s. They are Georgian Orthodox Christians, and were Christianized in the 4th–6th centuries. However, some remnants of pre-Christian beliefs have been maintained. Saint George (known as Jgëræg to the locals), a patron saint of Georgia, is the most respected saint. The Svans have retained many of their old traditions, including blood revenge (although this tradition has been declining over time, as law enforcement takes hold). Their families are small, and the husband is the head of his family. The Svan strongly respect the older women in families.
Svan culture survives most wonderfully in its songs and round dances. Svaneti boasts archaic three part polyphony, known as chordal unit polyphony, with strong dissonant harmonies. Traditional Svan poetry is still not separated from song and has no rhymed poetry. Svans are skillful artists and as Svaneti was widely regarded as the most inaccessible region of Georgia, many items of medieval Georgian state treasury (including the rare manuscripts of the bible) are still stored in Svaneti.
^Stephen F. Jones. Svans. World Culture Encyclopedia. Retrieved on March 13, 2011: «The Svans are one of the dozen or so traditionally recognized ethnic subgroups within the Georgian (Kartvelian) nation.»
^The Svans Kevin Tuite Université de Montréal 1992: «The Svans are one of the dozen or so traditionally recognized ethnic subgroups within the Georgian (Kartvelian) nation.»
^Britannica. Caucasian peoples: «The Caucasian peoples ... The southerners, comprising the Georgians, the closely related Mingrelians and Laz, and the Svan, make up the Republic of Georgia and live in western Transcaucasia (the Laz live in Turkish territory).»