Ronald Grigor Suny

      (excerpt from the book ”The Making of the Georgian Nation”/Indianopolis/1994)
      Maps: Andrew Andersen / 2003-20100,  Robert H. Hewsen / 2001,

      Friedrich W. Putzgers / 1929 and Ronald Grigor Suny / 1994






Editorial Preface


Although the book of a well-known expert on the Caucasus is called “The Making of the Georgian Nation”, the history of Georgia cannot be separated from that of Armenia. The below excerpt should undoubtedly of interest to everyone who would like to learn more about the early historical development of the two nations of the South Caucasus.


Andrew Andersen, 2010






The entire area of Transcaucasia and eastern Anatolia was, in the period beginning in the last quarter of the fourth millennium B.C., inhabited by people who were probably ethnically related and of Hurrian stock. (The Hurrians, a people spread throughout the Near East in the third millennium B.C., spoke a non-European language closely related to what later became Urartian.) The ethnic and cultural unity of these two thousand years is characterized by some scholars as Chalcolithic or Eneolithic. British scholars Charles Burney and David Marshall Lang refer to these years as the period of "Early Transcaucasian Culture," although some Soviet paleohistorians prefer the term "Kuro-Araxes Culture." Whatever the label applied, it is clear that during this era economic stability based on cattle and sheep raising was achieved, and as a result there was noticeable cultural stability as well. About 2300 B.C. this unified and flourishing culture went into a gradual decline, and after a period of stagnation it broke up into a number of regional cultures. By 2300 B.C. the peoples of the Kura-Araxes area had already made contact with the more advanced civilization of Akkadian Mesopotamia.9




Click on the map for better resolution



At the end of the third millennium, the Indo-European Hittites entered eastern Anatolia and established their rule over Asia Minor and Svria, a dominion that lasted over a thousand years. During the Hittite period Georgia entered the Bronze Age (the Middle Bronze Age in Transcaucasia is dated from 2000 B.C. to 1200 B.C.), and there is evidence of considerable economic development and increased commerce among the tribes. In west­ern Georgia and Abkhazeti, a unique culture known as Colchidic developed between 1800 and 700 B.C., and in eastern Georgia the kurgan (tumulus) culture of Trialeti reached its zenith around 1500 B.C. The earliest written records of people living in Armenia come from Hittite tablets. which tell of wars fought by two Hittite kings, Suppiluliumas (1388?-1347 B.C.) and his son Marsilis I (1347?-1320 B.C.), against tribes inhabiting the Armenian plateau. 10 No written records mention the lands of Georgia, but the national epic of Amirani may have originated in this early period.11  Late in the Hittite era, by the last centuries of the second millennium, ironworking made its appearance in Transcaucasia but, as Burney and Lang point out, "the true Iron Age only began with the introduction of tools and weapons on a large scale and of superior quality to those hitherto made of copper and bronze, a change which in most of the Near East may not have come before the tenth or ninth centuries B.C."12

The Hittite kingdom fell about the year 1190 B.C. under the attack of the mysterious "peoples of the sea" (so called in the sources) and of Indo-­Europeans—Thracians, Phrygians, and proto-Armenians—moving from the west into Asia Minor. The political vacuum left by the Hittite collapse was quickly filled by the Phrygians in the west and the Assyrians in the east. The Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser I (1115-1077 B.C.), led several expeditions into the lands of Nairi, later to be central Armenia. There the Assyrians fought and defeated the Phrygians, whom they called Mushki or Tabal, driving them to the north and west, where they came under the cultural influence of the waning Hittites. In the view of Melikishvili, the Mushki, who settled in the upper Euphrates and along the Murad-su, were Georgian speakers, one of the Kart tribes. After the fall of the Hittites, the Mushki formed their own state in east-central Anatolia, a relatively strong formation, known in the Bible as Mosoch. 13


Other tribes mentioned in the Assyrian inscriptions may also have been proto-Georgian tribes, notably the Kashkai and the Tibal (the biblical Thubal), who lived in eastern Anatolia. The Kashkai had participated in the destruction of the Hittite empire, then moved westward, where they came up against the Assyrians. The Tibal were, like the Mushki, known for their metallurgy, and the people of Tibal were vassals of the great Assyrian empire from the eleventh century. 14

The most important tribal formation of possible proto-Georgians in the post-Hittite period was that of the Diauehi (Diauhi, Daiaem), formed about the twelfth century B.C. southwest of Transcaucasia, in the region to the north of present-day Erzerum. The Diauehi coalition was powerful enough to resist attacks by Assyria, although in 1112 B. C. their king was captured by Tiglath-pileser I. In the ninth and early eighth centuries B.C., Diauehi was the nucleus around which many tribes of southern Transcaucasia gathered, and it was therefore the target not only of Assyria but also of the rulers of the emerging state of Urartu. In 845 B.C., Shalmaneser III of Assyria defeated King Arame of Urartu, and King Asia of the Diauehi became his vassal. 15 Sometime in the early eighth century, both Menua and Argishti I ofUrartu campaigned against the Diauehi, defeating their king, Utupurshini, and forcing him to pay tribute. The southernmost regions of the Diauehi wee annexed by Urartu, and by the middle of the century the blows from Urartu in the east and from the tribes of western Georgia destroyed the Diauehi. This left the tribal formation of Colchis bordering directly on Urartu, and conflict soon developed between these two political coalitions. 16 The eminent Soviet prehistorian, Igor D'iakonov, believes that Georgian‑speaking tribes were already in eastern Pontus (Colchis) in the ninth century B.C. Homer mentions the Halizones in Pontus, and it is supposed that this tribe is the same as the later Chalybes, a proto-Georgian tribe. 17

The fragility of the various "empires" of the eighth century became evident about 720 B.C. when nomadic peoples from the northern shore of the Black Sea, the Cimmerians, swept down the coast, passing through Colchis and into Urartu. About the same time, the Scythians poured through the Daryal Pass into central Georgia and down the western coast of the Caspian into Urartu. The Cimmerians destroyed the southern Colchian state, known as Kulkha in Urartian inscriptions. Whole regions were emptied of people as the Cimmerians moved south to Syria, Palestine, and the borders of Egypt. Some Mushki and Tibal, pushed aside by the Cimmerians, moved northeast into the Pontic regions, where by the fifth century they had made contact with Greek colonists. For a short time a distinct "kingdom of the Mushki" to the west, a state closely connected with the Phrygians, reigned as the strong­est state in Asia Minor. Ruled by Mitas, whom some scholars identify with the legendary Midas of the golden touch, the kingdom of the Mushki had its capital at Gordion, and its people spoke Phrygian, an Indo-European lan­guage. The brief ascendancy of the Phrygian-Mushki state came to an end at the hands of the Cimmerians, who were probably allied with Rusa II of Urartu (685-645 B.C.). 18 Some of the Mushki assimilated with local peoples, but others moved northwest out of the area known as Speri. taking With them their Hittite religion and culture.

By the Late Bronze Age, a period that in Caucasia included  the end of the second millennium and the first centuries of the first millennium B.C.., differentiations in wealth within the tribes are evident in the burial sites. Soviet scholars, including Melikishvili, argue that this “was the period  of the disintegration of primitive communal relations among the population of Georgia" and the transition to "class society”. Following the linear scheme set out by Friedrich Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, Melikishvili proposes that the primitive communal society was replaced by "military democracy" and firm alliances of tribes , which in turn may be seen as the beginning of the formation of a Georgian nationality. 19


Tempting as this theoretical model of Georgian social evolution may be, it must be remembered that there is little available evidence to illuminate thesocial structure of the tribal societies of this ancient period. It is known that the proto-Georgian tribes (then centered in the Chorokhi basin north of Erzerum) and the proto-Armenian tribes (probably located to the south in th region bordering the Murad-su) were not under a central, unified political authority once the Cimmerians had swept throughout the area. 20


The second half of the seventh century B.C. marked the rise of significant political formations that can be identified with proto-Georgian tribes. Some of these tribes, living in the upper reaches of the Chorokhi River, were united under the name sasperi.21 Based in the former territory of the Diauehi, the Sasperi had much of southern Transcaucasia under their sway bythe early sixth century and participated in the destruction of the Urartian empire, only to disintegrate under the expansionist thrusts of the Medes in the east. 


The Sasperi merged with the Urartians in their lands, and, Melikishvili conjectures, borrowed Urartian words that found their way into the Georgian language.22  At approximately the same time, a new “kingdom” of Colchis was formed in western Georgia, extending from the mouth of the Chorokhi northward but not reaching as far as the Caucasus Mountains. The political center of the kingdom of Egrisi, as it was known to eastern Georgians, was on the Rioni River. Greek migrants from Miletus settled in coastal towns at Trebizond, Kerasunt, Phasis, Dioskuri, and Pitiunt and traded with the native population.23


Early in the sixth century, the Urartian empire fell to the Medes, Scythians, and  Sasperi, and the Median empire replaced it as the principal political power in Asia Minor. 24  The destruction of Assyria, Urartu and, not long afterward, of Media created a fluid situation in which tribes of language groups migrated and settled in nevw areas that proved to be relatively permanent homes. Armenian tribes moved eastward and occupied Hurrian lands west of Lake Van and to the south of what is today the city of Mush. These lands had been called Arme or Armeni by Urartians, and this may be the source of the name by which Armenians are known to the world.25  Sometime in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. some Georgian-speaking tribes, probably the Mushki and Tibal, made their way  northeast and settled in the Kura valley, where they formed the nucleus of the  Iberian or east Georgian nation.26 Burney and Lang note the violence that accompanied this  migration: "To judge by the abundance of warrior graves of the period the supremacy of the Iberians over the Scythians, Cimmerians and other Indo-European invaders of  the Kura Valley was not won without a struggle. Living in troglodytic towns like Uplistsikhe (near Gori), the Iberians moved later to Mtskheta on the Kura. This capital was defended by the fortresses of Armazi on Mount Bagineti and Sevsamora on the Aragvi River.





Click on the maps for better resolution



This transitional phase of Georgian and Armenian national formation is not well illuminated by local historical evidence, and scholars are forced to rely on later classical sources to produce the barest  outlines. Herodotus provides us with much of what we know about Caucasia in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. The first great "world empire," that of the Persians under Achaemenid dynasty, covered most of Asia Minor and Transcaucasia. The Armenians made up the thirteenth satrapy of the empire; the Sasperi, Matieni, and Alarodi (Urartian and other Hurrian remnants) formed the eighteenth satrapy; and the proto-Georgian Mushki (Moschi), Tibal (Tibareni), Macrones,IMossynoeci, and Mares were included in the nineteenth.28 


In his descriptions of the military dress of the “Asian" peoples, Herodotus mentions that the various proto-Georgian tribes were similar in uni­form and weaponry:


The Moschi wore wooden helmets on their heads, and carried shields and small spears with long points. The Tibareni and Macrones and Mossynoeci in the army were equipped like the Moschi ... The Mares wore on their heads the plaited helmets of their country, carrying small shields of hide and javelins. The Colchians had wooden helmets and small shields of raw oxhide and short spears, and swords withal.29


The Persian hold over these Georgian tribes was fairly firm until the second half of the fifth century B.C. Georgians marched in the Persian campaigns against the Greeks, and Persian terms in Georgian political vocabulary are eloquent testimony to the depth of Iranian influence in government. Not included in the empire as a satrapy, the kingdom of Colchis was an autonomous vassal state of the Achaemenids. Herodotus tells us:

Gifts were also required from the Colchians and their neighbors far as far as the Caucasian mountains (which is as far as the Persian rule reaches, the country north of the Caucasus paying no regard to the Persians : these were rendered every five years and are still so rendered, namely, one hundred boys and as many maidens.30


Colchis in Achaemenid times thus was a tributary state, largerly agricultural, with some ironworks, slaves, and commerce in its Greek ports. s. As a semi-independent kingdom, Colchis-Egrisi existed until the third century B.C. Melikishvili characterizes it as an "early slaveowning society,… a relatively underdeveloped class society in which there still were strong remnants of primitive communal society and where the quantity of slaves and the area in which they were used were insignificant”. 31 


By the time Xenophon marched through Asia Minor to the Black Sea (401-400 B.C.), the Colchians and other Georgian tribes had freed themselves from Achaemenid rule. As Xenophon and his thousands moved closer the sea, they came to a mountain pass leading down into the coastal plain. Their path was blocked there by peoples whom Xenophon called the Chalybes, Taochi, and Phasians.32  The Greeks attacked the defenders of the pass from above, strove them off, and then "descended into the plain on the father army and reached villages full of many good things."  Xenophon’s army proceeded deeper into the country of the Taochi, who lived in strong fortifications. The Greeks, in need of provisions, attacked one of the fortresses were held off for a time by defenders hurling stones and boulders. Once the fortress was taken, "then came a dreadful spectacle: the women threw their little children down from the rocks and then threw themselves down after, and the men did likewise.” 33


Without many prisoners but with great numbers of oxen, asses, and sheep, Xenophon moved on through 150 miles of the country of the Chalybes.


These were the most valiant of all the peoples they passed through, and would come to hand-to-hand encounter. They had corselets of linen, reach¬ing down to the groin, with a thick fringe of plaited cords instead of flaps. They had greaves also and helmets, and at the girdle a knife about as long as a Laconian dagger, with which they might be able to vanquish; then they would cut off their [enemies'] heads and carry them along their march, and they would sing and dance whenever they were likely to be seen by the enemy. They carried also a spear about five cubits long, with a point at only one end. These people would stay within their towns, and when the Greeks had pushed by, they would follow them, always ready to fight. Their dwellings were in strongholds, and therein they had stored away all their provisions; hence the Greeks could get nothing in this country, but they subsisted on the cattle they had taken horn the Taochians.34


After ravaging the country of the Colchians, Xenophon moved on to the west and entered the land of the Mossynoeci, where the Greeks allied themselves with one tribal alliance against another. Xenophon's report about the peculiar activities of the upper class deserves to be mentioned:


And when the Greeks, as they proceeded, were among the friendly Mossynoecians, they would exhibit to them fattened children of the wealthy inhabitants, whom they had nourished on boiled nuts and were soft and white to an extraordinary degree, and pretty nearly equal in length and breadth, with their backs adorned with many colours and their fore parts all tattooed with flower patterns. These Mossynoecians wanted also to have intercourse openly with the women who accompanied the Greeks, for that was their own fashion. And all of them were white, the men and the women alike. They were set down by the Greeks who served through the expedition, as the most uncivilized people whose country they traversed, the furthest removed from Greek customs. For they habitually did in public the things that other people would do only in private, and when they were alone they would behave just as if they were in the company of others, talking to themselves, laughing at themselves, and dancing in whatever spot they chanced to be, as though they were giving an exhibition to others.35


From Xenophon's Anabasis it is possible to piece together a picture of the western Georgian tribes at the end of the fifth century B.C. Free from IVrsian authority (except for the Mossynoeci), they lived in hostile relations with the Greek merchant ports. The various tribal alliances fought with one another, and therefore their lands were covered with fortified settlements. There were no major towns in the area and, in the words of Melikishvili, people “lived in conditions characteristic of the political fragmentation of a primitive communal society, in which separate tribal formations warred constantly with one another."36








In the first half of the fourth century B.C., the Persians may have to reassert their suzerainty over the western Georgian tribes, for it is known that the Greek cities of Sinope and Amis came under their authority. But the Achaemenid hold over the western satraps was tenuous, and during the reign of Artaxerxes II (405—359 B.C.) several provincial subordinates, including Orontes of Armenia and Datam of Cappadocia, revolted against Persian authority.37 With the campaigns of Alexander the Great and his decisive victory over the Persians at Arbela (Gaugamela) in 331 B.C., Persian power collapsed in Asia Minor. The Greek expansion not only drove back the ftrsians but introduced a new cultural and political hegemony over eastern Anatolia. The dominance of Persian and Mesopotamian political culture was both inhibited and complemented by the Greek in a new Hellenistic syn¬thesis, though the influence of Iranian culture remained strong in Georgia and Armenia.


Through the two centuries of Achaemenid dominion over eastern Anatolia and Transcaucasia (546—331 B.C.), several proto-Georgian tribes had migrated north from Anatolia into the Pontic regions along the Black Sea coast, where Xenophon found them, and to the east into the Kura valley. The Tibal and Mushki had moved into eastern Georgia, where they merged with local tribes to form the Georgian people. To the Greeks they were known as Iberoi (Iberians), a name that Melikishvili believes came from the land from which they had migrated, Speri. D. M. Lang mentions the hypothesis that the toot Tibar in Hbareni (Hbal) gave rise to the form Iber from which the Greeks derived their name for the eastern Georgians. From the Mushki (Meskhi, Moskhi) came the name of the chief city of ancient Iberia, Mtskheta. Even more important, the Mushki brought with them from the west the pantheon of Hittite gods, headed by Armazi, the moon god, and Zaden, the god of fruitfulness.38


With the elimination of Achaemenid authority the eastern Georgian tribes might have fallen under Macedonian rule, but early in the third century B.C. the ruling dynast of Armazi-Mtskheta in eastern Georgia established his primacy over the other Iberian princes. The Georgian chronicles, Kartlis Tskhovreba, provide the tradition of the first king of Kartli-lberia, Parnavazi (Farnavazi, Pharnabazus), who, they claim, was a descendant of Kartlosi, the eponymous ancestor of the Georgians. The chronicles state that Parnavazi united Georgians of the east with those of Colchis-Fgrisi to drive the "Greeks" from Mtskheta. The overthrow of Azon, founder of the Mtskheta state, and the expulsion of the Macedonians left Parnavazi the most powerful ruler in Transcaucasia, and he soon brought western Georgia under his rule. The hegemony of Kartli-Iberia over Colchis-Egrisi meant that the Georgian tribes consolidated around eastern Georgia. Although an older state than Kartli, Egrisi's independence did not prove as durable, and it was successively ruled by Achaemenid Persia, Hellenistic Pontus, Rome, and Byzantium. Parnavazi's new state, on the other hand, soon demonstrated an enviable independence and energy. Kartli not only expanded into western Georgia (with the exception of its northern mountainous regions), but held Zemo Kartli (Mtskheta), Kvemo Kartli, Shida Kartli, and Kakheti.40 Parnavazi maintained friendly relations with the heirs of Alexander the Great, and his successors continued this policy and paid tribute to the rulers of the Seleucid empire. Toumanoff suggests that once Seleucid overlordship had been established in Armenia it may have been necessary for the Seleucids to set up a vassal state in Kartli-Iberia to provide pressure on Armenia from the north. In his view, Parnavazi, whose reign he estimates at 299 to 234 B.C., probably operated as such a Seleucid vassal.41






Click on the maps for better resolution


zwischen persen und makedonier 001


Click on the maps for better resolution


zwischen persen und makedonier 002




Parnavazi is credited by the Georgian chronicles with introducing a military-administrative organization into his kingdom that both Soviet scholars and W. E. D. Allen see as the beginnings of a feudal system.42 The king appointed a military governor (eristavi) to each of the seven major provinces (Argveti, Kakheti, Gardabani, Tashir-Abotsi, Javakheti-Kolas-Artani, Samtskhe-Ajara, and Kvarjeti) while keeping the central district of Shida Kartli under the administration of his highest official, the spaspeti. Western Georgia was not made into a saeristavo (province) but was a vassal state ruled by Kuji, the man who had aided Parnavazi against the so-called Greeks. The political patterns adopted by the Iberian state were those of its powerful neighbor, Persia, and the term used for a local administrator, pitiaskhshi, was borrowed directly from Persian.43 Toumanoff sees the new administration as an attempt to impose royal power over the still quite independent tribal leaders. "To ensure its control of the dynastic aristocracy of the sep'ecul-s or mt'avar-s ('royal children,' 'princes'), the youthful Crown instituted the feudal order of the erist'av-s ('dukes') . . . This was not so much a supersedure of the princes, who remained too powerful for that, as the conversion of the more important among them into officers of the State entrusted with the control of others. In this way, the Crown, which was to claim the fulness of sovereignty for itself alone, was able gradually to deprive of it the lesser princes, sharing it, under the guise of delegation, with only a few among them."44


Georgia's economy was based on free peasant agriculturalists, though there was apparently some slaveholding. At the top of society stood the royal family, the military nobility, and the pagan priesthood. But the formation of the cast Georgian state not only laid the foundation of Georgian social hierarchy but also in its initial stages encouraged the consolidation of separate tribes into a larger ethnic conglomerate. Barriers between tribes writ- eliminated as a consequence of the political organization established by the Kartveli. "Standing at the head of a powerful state formation, the Kartveli bewail to assimilate the other tribes who entered into the makeup of the state of Kartli."45


With the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great, a "new epoch of lively commercial and industrial activity" began in Asia Minor. Whereas in the exclusively agricultural economy of Achaemenid times the peoples of Transcaucasia had not been familiar with monetary transactions, at least not until the end of the age, in the Seleucid period money was widely introduced into commercial dealings. Alexandrine drachmas and tetradrachmas were used in western Georgia and Armenia, though not in eastern Georgia, and gold staters of Alexander were used in all three regions. The economic advance of the Hellenistic period was especially keenly felt by the Greek cities of the Black Sea coast. The world trade route from India ran through Media and the Ararat plain to Colchis.46 This western Georgian state was federated to Kartli-Iberia, and its kings ruled through skeptukhi (royal governors) who received a staff from the king. But Iberian power over western Georgia had waned by the late second century B.C., and Colchis-Egrisi proved an easy target for the vigorous ruler of Pontus, Mithradates VI Eupator (111—63 B.C.). Western Georgia thus passed out of the Persian and Iberian spheres of influence into the Greco-Roman culture of the classical cities of the Black Sea littoral.


A new political force entered Asia Minor late in the second century B.C. and changed the balance of forces in eastern Anatolia. In 190 B.C. Roman legions defeated Antiochus III (222-186 B.C.), the Seleucid king of Persia, at the Battle of Magnesia. The weakened Persians were unable to offer opposition when the Armenian kings, Artashes (Artaxias; 189-161 B.C.) of Greater Armenia and Zareh (Zariadres) of Sophene, declared their autonomy from the Seleucid empire. Artashes, founder of an Armenian empire, pushed his border out in a vain attempt to take Sophene. He did succeed in incorporating the southern Georgian regions of Gogarene, Chorzene, and Paryadres. His empire reached the Kura in the north and the Caspian Sea in the east. The Iberian king, Parnajom, fought the Armenians but was killed in battle. His throne was taken by Arshak, son of Artashes, and the Armenian hegemony over eastern Georgia and the trade routes to Colchis lasted well into the first century B.C.47




Click on the map for better resolution



In commercial and cultural contact with Colchis and Pontus, Greater Armenia benefited from the Hellenistic currents from the west. Armenia achieved her greatest expanse in the mid-first century B.C. under the warrior-king Tigran II, "the Great" (95-55 B.C.). In alliance with his father-in-law, Mithradates Eupator of Pontus, Tigran fought the Romans and Persians and conquered Sophene. Disaster befell Armenia when Rome sent Pompey to bring Transcaucasia into submission. In 66 B.C. Tigran was forced to make peace, and Pompey turned north to deal with the Georgians, who had allied themselves with the Armenians. Pompey marched first into Colchis, where he was attacked in the rear by Iberians and Caucasian Albanians. In the spring of 65 B.C., he entered Iberia to fight King Artog (Arloces). Plutarch reports that Pompey subdued the Iberians "in a great battle, in which nine thousand of them were slain and more than ten thousand taken prisoner."48 As a result of Pompey's expedition, Kartli-lberia, Armenia, and Caucasian Albania became dependent states of Koine, and Colchis-Egrisi) was integrated directly into the empire as part of the province of Pontus.49 As Toumanoff puts it, "In the years 66-64 B.C., the whole of Caucasia entered the orbit of the nascent pax romana."50





Click on the map for better resolution



Roman power was never very firm in eastern Georgia, and by the second half of the first century B.C. the growing strength of the Parthian successors to the Persian Seleucids was being felt throughout Transcaucasia. For three centuries Romans and Parthians fought over the Armenian and Georgian lands that stood between their rival empires, and the Transcaucasian peoples alternatively sided with one or the other power to maintain their autonomy or to benefit from association with a powerful neighbor. A pattern of Anatolian and Caucasian political maneuvering developed by which the lesser local rulers shifted allegiances, not on the basis of ethnicity or religion, but in desperate attempts to maintain local power in the face of constant threats from larger states. Security could be achieved only temporarily and only in alliance with one of the dominant powers. Rather than an undiluted and consistent struggle for national independence or religious integrity, as is often proposed by modern historians, the struggles of the Armenian, Georgian, and Albanian kings and princes should be seen as a series of constantly changing political orientations. In a treacherous and precarious situation, their lodestar was survival. Often this meant that princes gravitated toward one great power while their monarchs moved toward another.



Rome                    sasanide


Roman legionnaire (left) and Parthian warrior (right)



Gradually, in the second half of the first century B.C., Kartli-Iberia and Albania detached themselves from Roman dominion. When Marc Antony campaigned against Parthia in 36 B.C., neither Iberians nor Albanians joined him. Indeed, in the years 37 and 36 B.C., revolts against Roman authority broke out, first in Albania, then in Kartli-Iberia. The Roman legions under Publius Canidius Crassus entered Georgia to put down the revolt, but Crassus's campaign proved to be the last Roman effort to subdue Georgia. By the last decade of the first century B.C., Kartli-Iberia and Albania were completely free from Rome. The Emperor Augustus recognized Iberia as an ally and lifted Roman taxes from the region. In contrast, Armenia remained a bone of contention between Parthia and Rome into the first century A.D., and as a result Kartli-Iberia emerged as a more powerful state and partook of the spoils to be had in divided and conquered Armenia. In A.D. 35 Parsman I (Farsman, Pharasmanes) of Iberia, an ally of the Romans, defeated the Parthian king of Armenia and placed his brother Mithradates (A.D. 35-51) on the throne. In A.D. 51 Parsman's son, Rhadamistes, defeated his uncle Mithridates at Garni and briefly became king of Armenia, only to be executed by his father. Armenia was taken by the Parthians, who gave the crown to Trdat, the founder of the Parthian Arsacid dynasty in Armenia. Iberia and Rome fought Parthia and Armenia until the Peace of Rhandeia (A.D. 63), when Roman suzerainty over Armenia was recognized by the Parthians in exchange for Roman acceptance of the Arsacid king, Trdat (Tiridates). The terms of the peace destroyed Iberia’s chances for aggrandizement at the expense of Armenia, at least in alliance with Rome, and probably influenced Mihrdat (Mithradates) of Iberia, Parsman's son, to ally himself with the fierce Alans, nomads from the north, with whom he campaigned several times into Armenia.51




Click on the map for the full image




With the vital issues of security and legitimacy in the balance, the struggle for control of the Iberian and Armenian territories led to almost constant warfare in the first three centuries A.D. between Rome and Parthia, Armenia and Kartli. Toumanoff illuminates the causes of the Roman-Iranian rivalry over Caucasia:


Juridically, there was the fact that Caucasia had been part of the Achaemenid empire and that, on the other hand, it had subsequently accepted the suzerainty of Rome. Practically, there was the fact that it was necessary to both. Caucasia formed a great natural fortress between the two empires from which each of the rivals could control the delicate frontier-line that lay between them in the south. From it each could strike at the other's sensitive points, Ctesiphon, the "Roman Lake," later, Constantinople.52


While Colchis was administered as a Roman province, eastern Georgia generally accepted imperial protection. A stone inscription discovered at Mtskheta speaks of the first-century ruler, Mihrdat I (A.D. 58—106), as "the friend of the Caesars" and the king "of the Roman-loving Iberians."53 Moreover, Emperor Vespasian fortified Armazi for the Iberian king in the year 75. Rome seemed content for the most part to recognize Kartli-Iberia and Armenia as client states.54


Once the Arsacids had firmly established their hold on the Armenian throne in the second century A.D., they extended their rule to Kartli-Iberia. Rev I (martali, "the Just"; 189-216), overthrew his wife's brother, Amazaspus II, last of the Pharnabazids. But even as Arsacids triumphed in l lie Caucasian kingdoms, that dynasty fell from power in its original homeland, Persia, when the dynamic Ardashir overthrew the Parthian dynasty and founded the four-hundred-year empire of the Sassanids (224—651). Led by their warrior-kings, the Sassanids forced Armenia to succumb to their authority, drove back the Romans, captured Emperor Valerian, and invaded pro-Roman Kartli-Iberia and Albania.55 Shapur I (242—272) placed a vassal, Amasaspus III (260-265), on the throne of Kartli-Iberia, possibly a rival or antiking of Mihrdat II.


The Romans regained Caucasia briefly under Emperor Aurelian (270-275) and again when Carus defeated Iran in 283. The Arsacid line in Kartli-Iberia ended the next year, and the Iranians took advantage of internal strife In the Roman empire to establish their candidate, Mirian III (Meribanes, 284-361), son of the Great King of Iran, on the throne of eastern Georgia.56 In l^H, after a great Roman victory, Iran and Rome signed the Peace of Nisibis, and Mirian was recognized as king, though suzerain rights over Hiiiih-lhcria and Armenia passed to the Romans. Albania came under Iranian control. With King Mirian the classical period of Georgian history came to an end, for this monarch was the first of his line to adopt Christianity.


The Greek geographer, Strabo, writing in the first century A.D., permits us to penetrate the military-political veneer of ancient Caucasian history to examine the structure of Colchian and Iberian society. Of the lands around Phasis in Colchis, Strabo writes:


The country is excellent both in respect to its produce—except its honey, which is generally bitter—and in respect to everything that pertains to ship-building; for it not only produces quantities of timber but also brings it down on rivers. And the people make linen in quantities, and hemp, wax, and pitch. Their linen industry has been famed far and wide; for they used to export linen to outside places.57


It is clear that by Strabo's time the period of greatness and prosperity associated with Mithradates Eupator had passed. Some of the tribes near the Hellenistic ports were living in squalor and filth—one received the name phtheirophagi ("lice-eaters")—but others reportedly used fleecy skins to pan .for gold in the mountain streams (perhaps, as Strabo suggests, the origin of the myth of the golden fleece).58


Turning to Iberia, Strabo is full of praise for the country ("fruitful," "exceedingly good pasture"), its towns ("their roofs are tiled, and their houses as well as their market-places and other public buildings are constructed with architectural skill"), and the people. "The plain of the Iberians is inhabited by people who are rather inclined to farming and to peace, and they dress after both the Armenian and the Median fashion; but the major, or warlike, portion occupy the mountainous territory, living like the Scythians and the Sarmatians, of whom they are both neighbors and kinsmen; however, they engage also in farming." Most revealing of all in Strabo's account of eastern Georgian society is his brief description of its four strata:


There are . . . four castes among the inhabitants of Iberia. One, and the first of all, is that from which they appoint their kings, the appointee being both the nearest of kin to his predecessor and the eldest, whereas the second in line administers justice and commands the army. The second caste is that of the priests, who among other things attend to all matters of controversy with the neighboring peoples. The third is that of the soldiers and the farmers. And the fourth is that of the common people, who arc slaves of the king and perform all the services that pertain to human livelihood. Their possessions are held in common by them according to families, although the eldest is ruler and steward of each estate.59


Using Strabo and later Georgian and Armenian sources, scholars have developed a picture of Georgian society in classical time*. Al the top, according to Toumanoff, stood "the dynastic aristocracy of Iberia," which included the royal family (sepe) as well as the supreme judge of the land and the commander in chief of the army. Immediately below the aristocracy was the pagan priesthood, which played a diplomatic and probably a judicial role but disappeared with the conversion of Kartli-Iberia to Christianity in the early fourth century. The third class was made up of free agriculturalists and soldiers, the class that in time became the Georgian nobility or aznaureba.60 Akin to the Armenian azat class, these small landholders and warriors survived, along with the dynastic aristocracy, well into the twelfth century. The freemen, who lived in territorial communes and held their land as individuals, provided military service and were later known in Georgian as eri. For a long time this term meant both "people" and "armed force."61


The lowest stratum of society was, in Strabo's terms, laoi, semidependent agriculturalists who lived in tribal communes and held their land in common. Both Toumanoff and Melikishvili contend that these people were not slaves in the full juridical sense of that word. They were not the chattel or property of their overlords but were obliged to pay dues in cash and kind and to provide the muscle required by the primitive agrarian economy. They were the glekhni, the peasants. Toumanoff asserts that "the rural peasantry, obviously the largest group in Iberian society, had, exactly as in Armenia, come by this time to depend on great landed proprietors, as tenants or coloni, and had started on the way towards serfdom." Strabo does not mention artisans, merchants, or real slaves, and it may be that these groups, particularly the latter two, were largely comprised of foreigners.62


Although there was some trade between Kartli-Iberia and neighboring countries, the major transit route of Roman times "ran from Southern Russia it long the eastern shore of the Black Sea through Colchis and Artaxata-Artasat to Media and thence to the East."63 The Soviet economic historian, Manandian, does not consider Kartli-Iberia to have been very significant in the transit trade of the first centuries A.D., but Melikishvili takes issue with (his view, contending that Manandian underestimates the importance of kartli in classical trade. Since this was a period of difficulty for Armenia, which was caught between Rome and Parthia, Kartli-Iberia found itself freer to take advantage of transit commerce and developed an interest in trade that probably motivated efforts to control the routes to the south, across Armenia. In Kartli the major trading artery was the Kura, and it is noteworthy that the military-administrative center of eastern Georgia, Mtskheta, was situated at t he confluence of the Kura and the Aragvi. Other towns—Kaspi, Uplistsikhe, Irbnisi, Odzrakhe, and Nekresi—were also foci for artisans and merchants (vachari), as well as governmental officials and the military.64


The first centuries A.D. were the period in which the distinctive features of Caucasian society were molded. Caught between the Roman and Persian worlds, Armenia and Kartli-Iberia were clearly influenced culturally by both, hut in the formation of their societies Persian norms played the dominant role.65 Nicholas Adontz points out the differences from the development of the West, where the state rose from urban settlements to city-states to empires (which in many ways were city-states writ large). In the East, "family relations remained the basic generative principle of political life."66 Originally a tribal confederation, the Persian empire had evolved by Parthian times into a class society, though one that remained characterized by tribal underpinnings. The Arsacids were kings of kings, rulers of other semiautonomous rulers who paid tribute and gave military service to their overlords.







While Adontz refers to the Arsacid period in Armenia as "feudal," Toumanoff makes an important distinction between "feudalism" and what he calls "dynasticism." Disagreeing with Adontz that the Caucasian social structure was essentially the same as that of Western feudalism, Toumanoff argues that in the Armenian nakharar system the princes held their lands absolutely and had much greater local power than did West European nobles, whose tenure was conditional and based on service. Caucasian society was at first dynastic and only later did it approach feudal forms. Toumanoff's dynasticism is marked by princely independence, allodial land tenure, and the primacy of the tribe rather than the state. In Armenia under the Artaxiad dynasty, feudal forms were introduced into a basically dynastic sociopolitical structure. Local princes, whose landholdings existed before their loyalty to the king, became bound to the monarch by ties of political subordination.


"As in Artaxiad Armenia, no doubt under the same imperial influences and probably simultaneously with it, Iberia now evolved that symbiosis of the feudalistic and the dynastic regime which characterizes Caucasian so-ciety. The king of Iberia stood at the summit of the two orders, dynasticist and feudal, both as the superdynast and as the theoretical sole source of sovereignty." Toumanoff goes on to explain that "the feudal aspect of the princely class stemmed, in Armenia as in Iberia, from the attempt of the High Kings to involve the dynasts in the service mechanism of the monarchy."67 A mixture of dynasticism and feudalism emerged in eastern Georgia. Whereas in Armenia the dynastic aspects proved indestructible and prevented the kings from ever fully subordinating the nakharars (princes), in Kartli-Iberia monarchical power was exercised more completely and feudal ties were more secure. The Iberian kings were more fortunate than those in Armenia in welding their nobility into a system of service to the monarch, and Iberian monarchs were able at times to unite with their petty nobles against the power of the great princes, something the Armenian kings were unable to do.




Map by R.G. Suny



The king (mepe) of Kartli-Iberia appointed the spaspeti (erismtavari), or high constable, to whom all provincial and local officials were subordinated. This office, in contrast to its Armenian counterpart, was not hereditary in one family, though it was usually occupied by a member of the first class, the dynastic aristocracy. The king also recruited some nobles to serve as his royal officer* at court (ezoismodzqvari) or in the province* to keep the other nobles in line. In each province an eristavi or pitiaskhshi governed (the two terms were interchangeable).68 Most of them came from the highest class. Below the provincial governors were the spasalarni (generals) and the khliarkhni (atasistavni), who collected taxes and gathered troops. A few eristavni came from the aznaureba or nobility, a class that evolved in time from the third class, the free agriculturalists. As warfare increasingly became a matter for mounted warriors (tskhentartsani) rather than common foot soldiers (mkvirtskhlebi), military estates were required to support these cavalrymen. The aznaumi thus became distinguished from the tsvrilieri or "petty people." Already by the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., the aznaumi of Kartli-Iberia were becoming a separate social group and were clearly superior to the tadzdreulni, the free agriculturists who held allotments on royal lands and served in the king's army.69


In its most permanent sociopolitical forms, Georgia was a reflection of Iranian organization rather than Roman. The king of Kartli-Iberia was a hereditary monarch, like the Iranian Great King, not an elected or appointed ruler as in the Roman tradition. Kartli early developed a privileged and hereditary nobility based on the land, just as her neighbor to the east, Iran, had done. In Rome-Byzantium the "ruling class" was an imperial officialdom, nonhereditary and largely the creature of the emperor. As Toumanoff sums up: "Socially the Caucasian polities were similar to the Iranian and utterly unlike the Romano-Byzantine. Armenia and Iberia were even more aristocratic in character than Iran, being, in fact, federations of dynastic princes—each the overlord of a body of lesser nobility—presided over by kings."70 Yet at the end of the classical period the conversion of Georgia and Armenia to Christianity committed these states to an orientation toward the Romans. Socially akin to the East, Christian Caucasia filtered the medieval period with a new cultural and religious allegiance to the West.












9.        Burney and Lang, Peoples of the Hills, pp. 43-85; and J. Mellaart, "Anatolia, c. 4000-2300 B.C.," Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 1, pt. 2, pp. 401-3.

10.     Dates for monarchs indicate reigns. For a discussion in English of this period, see David Marshall Lang, The Georgians (London: Thames and Hudson, 1966), pp. 36-53; and J. Mellaart, "Anatolia, c. 2300-1750 B.C.," Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 2, pt. 2, pp. 688-90.

11.     Melikishvili writes: "The epic of Amiriani has with time undergone many changes. The succeeding centuries left on it a number of additions, but ... the tales which lay at the basis of this epic undoubtedly were spread among the Georgian tribes already in the era of Bronze culture" (Berdzenishvili et al., Istoriia Gruzii, p. 27,,.

12.     Burney and Lang, Peoples of the Hills, p. 114.

13.     Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, p. 111; and Toumanoff, Studies, p. 56.

14.     Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, p. 175; and Toumanoff, Studies, pp. 55­56.

15.     Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, pp. 179, 203. On Urartu, see B. B. Piotrovskii, Vanskoe tsarstvo (Urartu) (Moscow, 1959), and Urartu: The Kingdom of Van and Its Art, trans. and ed. Peter S. Gelling (New York: Praeger, 1967).

16.     Berdzenishvili et al., Istoriia Gruzii, pp. 28-31; Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, pp. 204-17. In the mid-eighth century B.C. Sarduri II of Urartu reporte_ invading Colchis several times and once taking the city of Ildamusha.

17.     I. M. D'iakonov, Predistoriia armianskogo naroda: Istoriia armianskogo nagor'ia s 1500 po 500 g. do N. E. Khurrity, Luviitsy, Protoarmiane (Erevan, 196 . pp. 119-20. Recently an English translation has appeared: I. M. Diakonoff, The Pre-history of the Armenian People, trans. Loni Jennings (Delmar, N.Y.: Caravan Book,. 1984).

18.     Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, pp. 112, 225-29. Melikishvili says that this kingdom was known as Phrygia to the Greeks but as the "kingdom of the Mushki" to the Urartians (p. 255).

19.     Ibid., pp. 102, 197.

20.     G. A. Melikishvili, Nairi-Urartu (Tbilisi, 1954), pp. 418-19. The Armenian area was known as Sokhmi or Sukhmi and is the source of the Georgian words t-07 Armenian (somekhi) and Armenia (somkheti).

21.     Berdzenishvili et al., Istoriia Gruzii, pp. 33-34.

22.     Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, p. 233.


23.     Burney and Lang, Peoples of the Hills, pp. 193-94.

24.     Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, p. 231; B. B. Piotrovskii has established that Teishebaini (Karmir Blur) was destroyed by the Scythians.

25.     Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, p. 234; see also Toumanoff, Studies, pp. 61-62 n. 58.

26.     On the complex question of whether the Mushki were proto-Georgians or proto-Armenians (Melikishvili and D'iakonov disagree) see the discussion in D'iakonov, Predistoriia, pp. 214-24.

27.     Burney and Lang, Peoples of the Hills, p. 194.

28.     Toumanoff, "Introduction to Christian Caucasian History: The Formative Centuries," p. 23n; A. D. Godley, trans., Herodotus, vol. 2, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass., 1938), pp. 121, 123.

29.     Godley, Herodotus 2:387, 389.

30.     Godley, Herodotus 2:125.

31.     Berdzenishvili et al., Istoriia Gruzii, p. 41.

32.     O. J. Todd, trans., Xenophon, Anabasis, Books IV--VII, Loeb Classical Li­brary (New York, 1922), pp. 59-67. These were probably all Georgian-speaking peoples. The Chalybes may not have been a distinct ethnic group but simply people identified by the Greek used word to describe the ironworking tribes of the area (khalyps means "steel" in Greek). Melikishvili argues that the Chalybes mentioned by Xenophon as living in two different places and later by Strabo were not a separate ethnic group but were probably the Khaldi, known to the Armenians as Khaghtik, who in fact were the Chans (Sans) (Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, pp. 70-72, 258). The Taochi (Taokhoi) were the people known formerly to the Urartians as Diauehi (Diauhi, Daiaeni) and are mentioned in Sarduri 11's records as ironworkers (Lang, The Georgians, pp. 59-60).

33.     Todd, Xenophon, pp. 67, 73.

34.     Todd, Xenophon, pp. 73, 75.

35.     Todd, Xenophon, p. 131.

36.     Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, p. 264.

37.     Ibid., p. 263.

38.     Lang, The Georgians, pp. 57, 75-76; and Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, p. 45.

39.     Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, pp. 125-26. Kartlosi is described in the chronicles as mamatmtavari ("father of his people") and targamosis dze ("born of Targamosi," the great-grandson of the biblical Noah) (karths tskhovreba, ed. S. Qaukhchishvili [Tbilisi, 1955], vol. 1, pp. 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 26, 60). The name Parnavaz is Iranian (F. Justi, Iranisches Namenbuch [Marburg, 1895; Hildesheim, 1962], p. 92). I am grateful to Professor Peter Golden for these references.

40.     Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, p. 126.

41.     Cyril Toumanoff, "Chronology of the Kings of Iberia," Traditio 25 (1969): 9.

42.     W. E. D. Allen, A History of the Georgian People from the Beginning down to the Russian Conquest in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1932; New York: Barnes and Noble, 1971), p. 41.

43.     Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, pp. 131, 279, 290.

44.     Cyril Toumanoff, "Iberia on the Eve of Bagratid Rule: An Enquiry into the Political History of Eastern Georgia Between the IV and the IX Century," Le Museon 65 (1952): 28-30.

45.     Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, p. 125.


46.        Ia. A. Manandian, O torgovle i gorodakh Armenii v sviazi s mirovoi torgovlei drevnikh vremen (Erevan, 1945). References are to the English translation by Nina Garsoian: H. A. Manandian, The Trade and Cities of Armenia in Relation to Ancient World Trade (Lisbon, 1965), pp. 29, 38-39.


47.        Ibid., pp. 50—52; on Artaxias's origins in Media, and Iranian influences on Armenia, see Anahit Perikhanian, "Une inscription arameenne du roi Artases trouvee a Zangezour (Siwnik)," Revue des etudes armeniennes, n.s., 3 (1966): 17—29, and "Les Inscriptions arameennes du roi Artaches (A propos d'une recente trouvaille epigraphique en Armenie)," ibid., n.s., 8 (1971): 169-74.


48.        Bernadotte Perrin, trans., Plutarch's Lives, vol. 5, Loeb Classical Library (New York, 1917), p. 207.


49.        Some Western scholars, like D. Magie, argue that the Romans aimed at con¬trolling the northern Transcaucasian transit trade route (Kura-Phasis), but Manan¬dian and other Soviet scholars believe that the northern route was much less important than the southern, which ran through Artaxata in Armenia (Manandian, Trade and Cities, pp. 48-49).


50.        Toumanoff, Studies, p. 83.


51.        Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, pp. 337, 344—45; and Berdzenishvili et al., Istoriia Gruzii, p. 61.


52.        Cyril Toumanoffj "Caucasia and Byzantium," Traditio 27 (1971): 114. Con¬trol over the Caucasus meant control over the northern passes through which raiders from the steppe could move down into Iran or the eastern Roman holdings.


53.        Allen, History of the Georgian People, p. 75.


54.        The ambivalence of Roman-Iberian relations is well illustrated in what we know of the reign of the most celebrated of the east Georgian monarchs of the second century A.D., Parsman II (called kveli, the "good" or "valiant"), who ruled from 116 to 132. Parsman was a friend of the Emperor Hadrian, who honored him with the gift of an elephant. The Georgian monarch sent gold-embroidered cloaks in return. In 129, however, Parsman refused to pay homage to Hadrian on the occasion of the emperor's visit to the East. Tensions with Rome prompted Kartli-Iberia to ally with the Alans and campaign against the great empires to the south (Toumanoffj "Chronology of the Kings of Iberia," p. 16; Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, pp. 353- 62). Half a century later, Parsman III (135-185) was the guest of Emperor Antonius Pius and was honored by being permitted to make offerings in the Capitol. His equestrian statue was erected in the Temple of Bellona, and the territory of Iberia was increased (Toumanoff, "Chronology of the Kings of Iberia," p. 17).


55.        Ibid., p. 18. On the Sassanids, see A. Christensen, Iran sous les Sassanides (Copenhagen, 1944).


56.        Toumanoffj "Chronology of the Kings of Iberia," pp. 21-22.


57.        Jones, Geography of Strabo, p. 211.


58.        Ibid., p. 215.


59.        Ibid., pp. 217-21.


60.        Toumanoff, "Introduction to Christian Caucasian History: The Formative Centuries," pp. 43, 45, and Studies, pp. 91, 93-94.


61.        Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, p. 315; and Berdzenishvili et al., Istoriia Gruzii, p. 68. The coincidence of identical terms far "people" and "armed force" was widespread in the early societies; c£ the Indo-European languages: the German Volk and the Slavic polk.


62.        Toumanoff, Studies, pp. 94—95; and Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, pp. 312-13.


63.   Manandian, Trade and Cities, p. 73.


64.        Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, 439-40, 443-44. Vajari is an Iranian loanword from the Persian vazar (bazaar).


65.        For a penetrating study of the Iranian influence in ancient Armenia, see Nina Garsoian, "Prolegomena to a Study of the Iranian Aspects in Arsacid Armenia," Handes Amsorya 90 (1976): 177-234.


66.        N. Adontz, Armenia in the Period of Justinian: The Political Conditions Based on the Naxarar System (Louvain-Lisbon, 1970), p. 291. This is a translation by Nina Garsoian of Adontz's classic Armeniia v epokhu lustiniana: Politicheskoe sostoianie na osnove nakhararskogo stroia (St. Petersburg, 1908).


67.        Toumanoff, "Introduction to Christian Caucasian History: The Formative Centuries," pp. 50, 62.


68.        Georges Charachidze, Introduction a I'etude de la fiodalite georgienne (Le Code de Georges le Brillant) (Paris, 1971), p. 97.


69.        Toumanoff, Studies, pp. 96-98; and Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, pp. 67-68, 474-75.


70.        Toumanoff, "Christian Caucasia Between Byzantium and Iran: New Light from Old Sources," Traditio 10 (1954): 123-24.