mountain between black and caspian sea
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The name Caucasus is a Latinized form of Kaukasos, which the ancient Greek geographers and historians used; the Russian Kavkaz is of the same origin. The ultimate derivation is thought to be from Kaz-kaz, the Hittite name for a people living on the southern shore of the Black Sea. This ancient nomenclature reflects the historical importance of the region: in Greek mythology the range was the scene of the sufferings of Prometheus, and the Argonauts sought the Golden Fleece in the land of Colchis (the modern Kolkhida Lowland of Georgia), which nestles against the range on the Black Sea coast. The ranges also became a major land route to the north for cultural diffusion of the Middle Eastern Fertile Crescent civilizations. The peoples of the region have exhibited an extraordinary ethnic and cultural diversity since early times: the Colchians, for example, as described in the 5th century bce by the Greek historian Herodotus, were black-skinned Egyptians, though their true origin remains unclear. In subsequent centuries, successive waves of peoples migrating across Eurasia added to and were molded by the more established groups in the region. Not surprisingly, a greater variety of languages is spoken in Caucasia than in any other area of similar size in the world.
The Greater Caucasus range extends for approximately 750 miles (1,200 km) southeastward across the Caucasian isthmus from the Taman Peninsula, which separates the Black Sea from the Sea of Azov, to the Abşeron Peninsula, which juts into the Caspian Sea east of the oil-rich port of Baku, Azerbaijan. The vast plains and highlands of Ciscaucasia stretch from the northern foothills of the Greater Caucasus to the Kuma-Manych Depression, running from the Sea of Azov to the Caspian Sea. Western Ciscaucasia consists largely of plains, such as the extensive lowland north of the Kuban River that slopes gradually upward to the foothills of the mountains farther south. Central Ciscaucasia includes the Stavropol Upland, characterized mainly by tablelands of limestone or sandstone separated by deep valleys; the Mineralnye Vody-Pyatigorsk zone to the southeast, where Mount Beshtau rises to 4,593 feet (1,400 metres) from the surrounding plateau; and, still farther to the southeast, the Terek and the Sunzha ranges, separated by the Alkhanchurt Valley. Eastern Ciscaucasia is a lowland traversed by the lower Terek River and, to the north beyond the sands of the vast Nogay Steppe, by the Kuma River. Both rivers flow into the Caspian Sea.