Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Because of the harsh climate, the primary crops have been hardy grains such as summer and winter wheat, rye, barley, and oats. Seeds have traditionally been sown twice a year: in March and April, after the snow has melted, and again in September to October, before the onset of the long Svanetian winter. The Svans also keep domestic farm animals (cows, pigs, goats, and sheep), which are exploited for meat, cheese, and wool. Beekeeping has been practiced since ancient times, and Svanetian honey has an exceptionally fine taste. Although the Svans have long employed sophisticated farming techniques to utilize the land to its full potential, the Svanetian farm has not been sufficient to feed the family. In earlier days, the Svans hunted ibex, stags, and bears to supplement their diet. (Hunting is still a popular avocation of Svans today.) In the nineteenth century, large numbers of Svan men earned additional income as migrant farm workers in the lowland regions of Georgia and the northern Caucasus during the months in which Svaneti is blanketed with snow.
Industrial Arts. The Svans have traditionally produced their own agricultural implements, utensils, furniture, and weaponry. Wooden artifacts are usually adorned with elaborate geometrical designs, using symbols related to Svanetian religion (solar disks, representations of people, animals, and ritual dances).
Trade. The Svans are not noted as a trading people. In traditional times they did serve as a commercial link between western Georgia and the northwest Caucasian provinces and have also provided wolf, fox, and bear pelts for the bazaars of lowland Georgia.
Division of Labor. Food preparation (baking, etc.), caring for children, needlework, and the like were considered to be women's work. Tasks delegated to men included hunting, wood- and metalworking, heavy farm labor, and fighting.
Land Tenure. Regular farm land belonged to individual households, with each possessing up to ten ktseva (a ktseva is equivalent to the amount of land one can plow in one day). Pastures, hay fields, and some forests were common property of the clan, village, or commune. If an individual desired to sell land, he had to first offer it to the members of his own clan. Only if they declined to buy it could it be sold to another party.