sak’art’velo ) is a sovereign state in the Caucasus region
of Eurasia. Situated at the juncture of Eastern Europe and Western Asia,
it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to
the south by Turkey and Armenia, and to the east by Azerbaijan. Georgia
covers a territory of 69,700 km² and its population is almost 4.5
million. Georgia's constitution is that of a representative democracy,
organized as a unitary, semi-presidential republic. It is currently a
member of the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the World Trade Organization,
the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Community of Democratic Choice,
the GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development, and the
Asian Development Bank. The country aspires to join NATO and the European
The history of Georgia can be traced back to the ancient kingdoms of
Colchis and Iberia. It was one of the first countries to adopt Christianity,
in the 4th century. Georgia reached the peak of its political and economic
strength during the reign of King David and Queen Tamar in the 11th and
12th centuries. At the beginning of the 19th century, Georgia was annexed
by the Russian Empire. After a brief period of independence following
the Russian Revolution of 1917, Georgia was annexed by the Soviet Red
Army in 1921 and in 1922 Georgia was incorporated into the Soviet Union,
which lasted until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Like many
post-communist countries, Georgia suffered from the economic crisis and
civil unrest during the 1990s. After the Rose Revolution, the new political
leadership introduced democratic reforms but the foreign investment and
economic growth which followed initially have slackened substantially
Georgia contains two de facto independent regions, Abkhazia and South
Ossetia. Georgia considers the regions to be occupied by Russia.
Etymology and people
Main article: Name of Georgia
Ethnic Georgians call themselves Kartvelebi , their land Sakartvelo (
- meaning "a place for Kartvelians"), and their language Kartuli
). According to the ancient Georgian Chronicles, the ancestor of the Kartvelian
people was Kartlos, the great grandson of the Biblical Japheth.
St George patron saint of Georgia. Georgia is sometimes thought to be
named after Saint George. 15th century cloisonné enamel on gold.
(National Art Museum of Georgia)
The name Sakartvelo consists of two parts. Its root, kartvel-i, specifies
an inhabitant of the core central-eastern Georgian region of Kartli –
Iberia of the Classical and Byzantine sources.
Ancient Greeks (Strabo, Herodotus, Plutarch, Homer, etc.) and Romans
(Titus Livius, Cornelius Tacitus, etc.) referred to early eastern Georgians
as Iberians (Iberoi in some Greek sources) and western Georgians as Colchians.
Like most native Caucasian peoples, the Georgians do not fit into any
of the main ethnic categories of Europe and Asia. The Georgian language,
the most pervasive of the South Caucasian languages, is neither Indo-European,
Turkic nor Semitic. The present day Georgian or Kartvelian nation no doubt
results from the fusion of aboriginal, autochthonous-inhabitants with
immigrants who infiltrated into Transcaucasia from the direction of Anatolia
in remote antiquity. The ancient Jewish chronicle by Josephus mentions
Georgians as Iberes who were also called Thobel Tubal.
The terms Georgia and Georgians appeared in Western Europe in numerous
early medieval annals. The French chronicler Jacques de Vitry and the
English traveler Sir John Mandeville wrote that Georgians are called Georgian
because they especially revere Saint George. Notably, in January 2004
the country adopted the five-cross flag, featuring the Saint George's
Cross; it has been argued that the flag was used in Georgia from the 5th
century throughout the Middle Ages
Early Georgian States of Colchis and Iberia
Ancient Georgian States of Colchis and Iberia
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
characterized 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 organization
under one king and an aristocratic hierarchy—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 Greco-Roman culture from the Roman Empire to
the west and byPersian culture to the east.
Iberian King Mirian III established Christianity in Georgia as the official
state religion in AD 327.
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. In AD 330, King Mirian
III's acceptance of Christianity ultimately tied the kingdom to the neighboring
Byzantine Empire, which exerted a strong cultural influence for several
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.
The Georgian Kingdom reached its zenith in the 12th to early 13th centuries.
This period has been widely termed as Georgia's Golden Age or Georgian
Renaissance during the reign of David the Builder and Queen Tamar.
This early Georgian renaissance, which preceded its European analogue,
was characterized by the flourishing of romantic- chivalric tradition,
breakthroughs in philosophy, and an array of political innovations in
society and state organization, including religious and ethnic tolerance.
King David the Builder, Shio-Mgvime monastery
The Golden age of Georgia left a legacy of great cathedrals, romantic
poetry and literature, and the epic poem "The Knight in the Panther's
Skin". David the Builder is popularly considered to be the greatest
and most successful Georgian ruler in history. He succeeded in driving
the Seljuks out of the country, winning the major Battle of Didgori in
1121. His reforms of the army and administration enabled him to reunite
the country and bring most Caucasian lands under Georgia’s control.
David the Builder's granddaughter Tamar was successful in neutralizing
this opposition and embarked on an energetic foreign policy aided by the
downfall of the rival powers of the Seljuks and Byzantium. Supported by
a powerful military élite, Tamar was able to build on the successes
of her predecessors to consolidate an empire which dominated the Caucasus
until its collapse under the Mongol attacks within two decades after Tamar's
The revival of the Georgian Kingdom was short-lived; in 1226 Tblisi was
captured by Mingburnu and the Kingdom was eventually subjugated by the
Mongols in 1236 (see Mongol invasions of Georgia). Thereafter, different
local rulers fought for their independence from central Georgian rule,
until the total disintegration of the Kingdom in the 15th century. Georgia
was subjected, between 1386 and 1404, to several disastrous invasions
by Tamerlane. Neighbouring kingdoms exploited the situation, and beginning
in the 16th century, the Persian Empire and the Ottoman Empire subjugated
the eastern and western regions of Georgia, respectively.
The rulers of regions which remained partly autonomous organized rebellions
on various occasions. However, subsequent Persian and Ottoman invasions
further weakened local kingdoms and regions. As a result of wars the population
of Georgia was reduced to 250,000 inhabitants at one point. Eastern Georgia,
composed of the kingdoms of Kartli and Kakheti, had been under Persian
suzerainty since 1555. With the death of Nader Shah "The Persian
Napoleon" in 1747, both kingdoms broke free of Persian control and
were reunified through a personal union under the energetic king Heraclius
II in 1762.