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History of Georgia
 
 
 

Early History

The territory of modern-day Georgia has been continuously inhabited since the early Stone Age. The classic period saw the rise of the early Georgian states of Colchis and Iberia. The proto-Georgian tribes first appear in written history in the 12th century BC. Archaeological finds and references in ancient sources reveal elements of early political and state formations characterised by advanced metallurgy and goldsmith techniques that date back to the 7th century BC and beyond. In the 4th century BC a unified kingdom of Georgia – an early example of advanced state organisation under one king and the hierarchy of aristocracy, was established.

The two early Georgian kingdoms of late antiquity, known to ancient Greeks and Romans as Iberia (in the east of the country) and Colchis (in the west), were among the first nations in the region to adopt Christianity (in AD 337, or in AD 319 as recent research suggests). In Greek Mythology, Colchis was the location of the Golden Fleece sought by Jason and the Argonauts in Apollonius Rhodius' epic tale Argonautica. The incorporation of the Golden Fleece into the myth may have derived from the local practice of using fleeces to sift gold dust from rivers. In the last centuries of the pre-Christian era, the area, in the form of the kingdom of Kartli-Iberia, was strongly influenced by Greece to the west and Persia to the east.

After the Roman Empire completed its conquest of the Caucasus region in 66 BC, the kingdom was a Roman client state and ally for nearly 400 years. Christianity was declared the state religion by King Mirian III as early as 327 AD, which gave a great stimulus to the development of literature, arts and the unification of the country. Being at the crossroads of Christianity and Islam, Georgia experienced the dynamic exchange between these two worlds which culminated in a cultural renaissance from 11th to 13th century. In AD 330, King Mirian III's acceptance of Christianity ultimately tied the kingdom to the neighbouring Byzantine Empire, which exerted a strong cultural influence for several centuries.

Known to its natives as Egrisi or Lazica, Colchis was often the battlefield and buffer-zone between the rival powers of Persia and Byzantine Empire, with the control of the region shifting hands back and forth several times. The early kingdoms disintegrated into various feudal regions by the early Middle Ages. This made it easy for Arabs to conquer Georgia in the 7th century. The rebellious regions were liberated and united into a unified Georgian Kingdom at the beginning of the 11th century. Starting in the 12th century, the rule of Georgia extended over a significant part of the Southern Caucasus, including the northeastern parts and almost the entire northern coast of what is now Turkey.

Although Arabs captured the capital city of Tbilisi in AD 645, Kartli-Iberia retained considerable independence under local Arab rulers. In AD 813, the prince Ashot I also known as Ashot Kurapalat became the first of the Bagrationi family to rule the kingdom: Ashot's reign began a period of nearly 1,000 years during which the Bagrationi, as the house was known, ruled at least part of what is now the republic.

Western and eastern Georgia were united under Bagrat V (r. 1027-72). In the next century, David IV (called the Builder, r. 1089-1125) initiated the Georgian golden age by driving the Seljuk Turks from the country and expanding Georgian cultural and political influence southward into Armenia and eastward to the Caspian Sea. In Georgia, King David is called Agmashenebeli (the Builder).

David Agmashenebeli's successors (Kings Demeter I, David V and George III) continued the policy of Georgia's expansion by subordinating most of the mountain clans and tribes of North Caucasia and further securing Georgian positions in Shirvan. However, the most glorious sovereign of Georgia of that period was definitely Queen Tamar (David's great-granddaughter).

Medieval Age

The reign of Queen Tamar represented the peak of Georgia's might in the whole history of the nation. In 1194-1204 Tamar's armies crushed new Turkish invasions from the south-east and south and launched several successful campaigns into Turkish-controlled Southern Armenia. As a result, most of Southern Armenia, including the cities of Karin, Erzinjan, Khelat, Mush and Van, came under Georgian control. Although it was not included in the lands of the Georgian Crown, and was left under the nominal rule of local Turkish Emirs and Sultans, Southern Armenia became a protectorate of the Kingdom of Georgia.

The temporary fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1204 to the Crusaders left Georgia as the strongest Christian state in the whole East Mediterranean area. The same year Queen Tamar sent her troops to take over the former Byzantine Lazona and Paryadria with the cities of Atina, Riza, Trebizond, Kerasunt, Amysos, Cotyora, Heraclea and Sinopa. In 1205, the occupied territory was transformed into the Empire of Trebizond which was dependent on Georgia. Tamar's relative Prince Alexios Komnenos was crowned as its Emperor. In 1210 Georgian armies invaded northern Persia (modern day Iranian Azerbaijan) and took the cities of Marand, Tabriz, Ardabil, Zanjan and Qazvin, placing part of the conquered territory under a Georgian protectorate. This was the maximum territorial extent of Georgia throughout her history. Queen Tamar was addressed as "The Queen of Abkhazians, Kartvels, Rans, Kakhs and Armenians, Shirvan-Shakhine and Shakh-in-Shakhine, The Sovereign of the East and West". Georgian historians often refer to her as "Queen Tamar the Great".

The period between the early 12th and the early 13th centuries, and especially the era of Tamar the Great, can truly be considered as the golden age of Georgia. Besides the political and military achievements, it was marked by the development of Georgian culture, including architecture, literature, philosophy and sciences.

In the 1220s, the South Caucasus and Asia Minor faced the invasion of the Mongols. In spite of fierce resistance by Georgian-Armenian forces and their allies, the whole area including most of Georgia, all Armenian lands and Central Anatolia eventually fell to the Mongols.


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