History of Georgia
History of Georgia ©HistoryMaps

6000 BCE - 2024

History of Georgia

Georgia, located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, has a rich history marked by a strategic geographic position that has influenced its past. Its recorded history dates back to the 12th century BCE when it was part of the kingdom of Colchis, later merging with the kingdom of Iberia. By the 4th century CE, Georgia became one of the first countries to adopt Christianity.

Throughout the medieval period, Georgia experienced periods of expansion and prosperity, as well as invasions by Mongols, Persians, and Ottomans, leading to a decline in its autonomy and influence. In the late 18th century, to secure protection against these invasions, Georgia became a protectorate of Russia, and by 1801, it was annexed by the Russian Empire. Georgia regained brief independence in 1918 following the Russian Revolution, establishing the Democratic Republic of Georgia. However, this was short-lived as it was invaded by Bolshevik Russian forces in 1921, becoming part of the Soviet Union.

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia once again gained independence. The early years were marked by political instability, economic troubles, and conflicts in the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Despite these challenges, Georgia has pursued reforms aimed at boosting the economy, reducing corruption, and strengthening ties with the West, including aspirations to join NATO and the European Union. The country continues to deal with internal and external political challenges, including relations with Russia.

Shulaveri–Shomu culture
Shulaveri–Shomu culture ©HistoryMaps
6000 BCE Jan 1 - 5000 BCE

Shulaveri–Shomu culture

Shulaveri, Georgia

The Shulaveri-Shomu culture, which flourished from the late 7th millennium BCE to the early 5th millennium BCE,[1] was an early Neolithic/Eneolithic[2] civilization centered in the region now encompassing modern Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and parts of northern Iran. This culture is noted for its significant advancements in agriculture and animal domestication,[3] making it one of the earliest examples of settled farming societies in the Caucasus.

Archaeological findings from Shulaveri-Shomu sites reveal a society primarily dependent on agriculture, characterized by the cultivation of cereals and the breeding of domesticated animals such as goats, sheep, cows, pigs, and dogs from its earliest phases.[4] These domesticated species suggest a shift from hunting-gathering to farming and animal husbandry as the mainstay of their economy. Additionally, the Shulaveri-Shomu people developed some of the region's earliest water management systems, including irrigation canals, to support their agricultural activities. Despite these advances, hunting and fishing continued to play a role in their subsistence strategy, albeit a lesser one compared to farming and livestock rearing.

The Shulaveri-Shomu settlements are concentrated across the middle Kura River, Ararat Valley, and Nakhchivan plain. These communities were typically on artificial mounds, known as tells, formed from the layers of continuous settlement debris. Most settlements comprised three to five villages, each generally under 1 hectare in size and supporting dozens to hundreds of people. Notable exceptions like Khramis Didi Gora covered up to 4 or 5 hectares, possibly housing several thousand inhabitants. Some Shulaveri-Shomu settlements were fortified with trenches, which may have served defensive or ritualistic purposes.

The architecture within these settlements consisted of mud-brick buildings with various shapes—circular, oval, or semi-oval—and domed roofs. These structures were primarily single-storey and single-room, with the larger buildings (2 to 5 meters in diameter) used for living spaces and smaller ones (1 to 2 meters in diameter) utilized for storage. Entrances were typically narrow doorways, and some floors were painted with red ochre. Roof flues provided light and ventilation, and small, semi-subterranean clay bins were common for storing grain or tools.

Initially, Shulaveri-Shomu communities had few ceramic vessels, which were imported from Mesopotamia until local production began around 5800 BCE. The culture's artifacts include handmade pottery with engraved decorations, obsidian blades, burins, scrapers, and tools made from bone and antler. Archaeological excavations have also unearthed metal items and remains of plants like wheat, barley, and grapes, along with animal bones from pigs, goats, dogs, and bovids, illustrating a diverse subsistence strategy supplemented by emerging agricultural practices.

Early Winemaking

In the Shulaveri region of southeastern Republic of Georgia, particularly near Gadachrili Gora close to Imiri village, archaeologists have unearthed the earliest evidence of domesticated grapes dating to around 6000 BCE.[5] Further evidence supporting early winemaking practices comes from the chemical analysis of organic residues found in high-capacity pottery jars at various Shulaveri-Shomu sites. These jars, which date back to the early sixth millennium BCE, are believed to have been used for the fermentation, maturation, and serving of wine. This discovery not only highlights the advanced level of ceramic production within the culture but also establishes the region as one of the earliest known centers for wine production in the Near East.[6]

Trialeti–Vanadzor culture
A bejeweled gold cup from Trialeti. National Museum of Georgia, Tbilisi. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
4000 BCE Jan 1 - 2200 BCE

Trialeti–Vanadzor culture

Vanadzor, Armenia

The Trialeti-Vanadzor culture flourished in the late 3rd and early 2nd millennium BCE,[7] centered in the Trialeti region of Georgia and around Vanadzor, Armenia. Scholars have suggested that this culture might have been Indo-European in its linguistic and cultural affiliations.[8]

This culture is noted for several significant developments and cultural practices. Cremation emerged as a common burial practice, indicative of evolving rituals associated with death and the afterlife. The introduction of painted pottery during this period suggests advancements in artistic expressions and craft techniques. Additionally, there was a shift in metallurgy with tin-based bronze becoming predominant, marking a technological advancement in tool and weapon manufacturing.

The Trialeti-Vanadzor culture also showed a remarkable degree of interconnectedness with other regions of the Near East, evidenced by similarities in material culture. For instance, a cauldron found in Trialeti bears a striking resemblance to one discovered in Shaft Grave 4 at Mycenae in Greece, suggesting some level of contact or shared influences between these distant regions. Furthermore, this culture is believed to have developed into the Lchashen-Metsamor culture and possibly contributed to the formation of the Hayasa-Azzi confederation, as mentioned in Hittite texts, and the Mushki, referred to by the Assyrians.

Colchian culture
The Colchian culture is known for advanced bronze production and craftsmanship. ©HistoryMaps
2700 BCE Jan 1 - 700 BCE

Colchian culture


The Colchian culture, spanning from the Neolithic to the Iron Age, was concentrated in western Georgia, particularly in the historical region of Colchis. This culture is divided into Proto-Colchian (2700–1600 BCE) and Ancient Colchian (1600–700 BCE) periods. Known for advanced bronze production and craftsmanship, numerous copper and bronze artifacts have been discovered in graves across regions such as Abkhazia, the Sukhumi mountain complexes, the Racha highlands, and the Colchian plains. During the last stages of the Colchian culture, roughly the 8th to 6th centuries BCE, collective graves became common, containing bronze items indicative of foreign trade. This era also saw an increase in weapon and agricultural tool production, alongside evidence of copper mining in Racha, Abkhazia, Svaneti, and Adjara. The Colchians are considered ancestors of the modern western Georgians, including groups like the Megrelians, Laz, and Svans.

2700 BCE
Ancient Period in Georgia
Kingdom of Colchis
Local mountain tribes maintained autonomous kingdoms and continued their raids on the lowlands. ©HistoryMaps
1200 BCE Jan 1 - 50

Kingdom of Colchis

Kutaisi, Georgia

The Colchian culture, a prominent Bronze Age civilization, was situated in the eastern Black Sea region and emerged by the Middle Bronze Age. It was closely related to the neighboring Koban culture. By the end of the second millennium BCE, some areas within Colchis had undergone significant urban development. During the Late Bronze Age, spanning the fifteenth to eighth centuries BCE, Colchis excelled in metal smelting and casting,[10] evident in their sophisticated farming tools. The region's fertile lowlands and mild climate fostered advanced agricultural practices.

The name "Colchis" appears in historical records as early as the 8th century BCE, referred to as "Κολχίδα"[11] by the Greek poet Eumelus of Corinth, and even earlier in Urartian records as "Qulḫa." The Urartian kings mentioned their conquest of Colchis around 744 or 743 BCE, shortly before their own territories fell to the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

Colchis was a diverse region inhabited by numerous tribes along the Black Sea coast. These included the Machelones, Heniochi, Zydretae, Lazi, Chalybes, Tibareni/Tubal, Mossynoeci, Macrones, Moschi, Marres, Apsilae, Abasci, Sanigae, Coraxi, Coli, Melanchlaeni, Geloni, and Soani (Suani). Ancient sources provide various accounts of the origins of these tribes, reflecting a complex ethnic tapestry.

Persian Rule

The tribes in southern Colchis, namely the Macrones, Moschi, and Marres, were incorporated into the Achaemenid Empire as the 19th satrapy.[12] The northern tribes submitted to Persia, sending 100 girls and 100 boys to the Persian court every five years.[13] In 400 BCE, after the Ten Thousand reached Trapezus, they defeated the Colchians in battle. The Achaemenid Empire's extensive commerce and economic ties significantly influenced Colchis, accelerating its socio-economic development during the period of Persian dominance. Despite this, Colchis later overthrew Persian rule, forming an independent state federated with Kartli-Iberia, ruled through royal governors called skeptoukhi. Recent evidence suggests that both Colchis and neighboring Iberia were part of the Achaemenid Empire, possibly under the Armenian satrapy.[14]

Under Pontic Rule

In 83 BCE, Mithridates VI of Pontus quelled an uprising in Colchis and subsequently granted the region to his son, Mithridates Chrestus, who was later executed due to suspicions of plotting against his father. During the Third Mithridatic War, another son, Machares, was made king of both the Bosporus and Colchis, though his rule was brief.

Following the defeat of Mithridates VI by Roman forces in 65 BCE, the Roman general Pompey took control of Colchis. Pompey captured the local chief Olthaces and installed Aristarchus as the dynast of the region from 63 to 47 BCE. However, after Pompey’s fall, Pharnaces II, another son of Mithridates VI, exploited Julius Caesar's preoccupation in Egypt to reclaim Colchis, Armenia, and parts of Cappadocia. Although he initially defeated Caesar's legate Gnaeus Domitius Calvinus, Pharnaces’ success was short-lived.

Colchis was later governed by Polemon I, son of Zenon, as part of the combined territories of Pontus and the Bosporan Kingdom. After Polemon’s death in 8 BCE, his second wife, Pythodorida of Pontus, maintained control over Colchis and Pontus, although she lost the Bosporan Kingdom. Their son, Polemon II of Pontus, was compelled by Emperor Nero to abdicate in 63 CE, leading to the incorporation of Pontus and Colchis into the Roman Province of Galatia, and later into Cappadocia in 81 CE.

Post these wars, between 60 and 40 BCE, the Greek settlements along the coast such as Phasis and Dioscurias struggled to recover, and Trebizond emerged as the new economic and political center of the region.

Under Roman Rule

During the Roman occupation of coastal regions, control was not tightly enforced, evidenced by the failed uprising led by Anicetus in Pontus and Colchis in 69 CE. Local mountain tribes such as the Svaneti and Heniochi, while acknowledging Roman supremacy, effectively maintained autonomous kingdoms and continued their raids on the lowlands.

The Roman approach to governance evolved under Emperor Hadrian, who sought to better understand and manage the diverse tribal dynamics through the exploratory missions of his advisor Arrian around 130-131 CE. Arrian’s accounts in the "Periplus of the Euxine Sea" detail the fluctuating power among tribes like the Laz, Sanni, and Apsilae, the latter of whom began to consolidate power under a king with a Roman-influenced name, Julianus.

Christianity started making inroads in the region around the 1st century, introduced by figures such as Andrew the Apostle and others, with noticeable shifts in cultural practices like burial customs emerging by the 3rd century. Despite this, local paganism and other religious practices like the Mithraic Mysteries continued to dominate until the 4th century.

Lazica, known earlier as the Kingdom of Egrisi since 66 BC, exemplifies the region's complex relationship with Rome, starting as a vassal state following Rome's Caucasian campaigns under Pompey. The Kingdom faced challenges such as Gothic raids in 253 CE, which were repelled with Roman military support, indicating a continued, though complex, reliance on Roman protection and influence in the region.

Diauehi tribes ©Angus McBride
1118 BCE Jan 1 - 760 BCE


Pasinler, Erzurum, Türkiye

Diauehi, a tribal union located in northeastern Anatolia, features prominently in Iron Age Assyrian and Urartian historical sources.[9] It is often identified with the earlier Daiaeni, which appears in the Yonjalu inscription from the third year of Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser I (1118 BCE) and is mentioned again in records by Shalmaneser III (845 BCE). In the early 8th century BCE, Diauehi attracted the attention of the rising regional power of Urartu. Under the reign of Menua (810–785 BCE), Urartu expanded its influence by conquering significant portions of Diauehi, including key cities such as Zua, Utu, and Shashilu. The Urartian conquest forced Diauehi's king, Utupursi, into a tributary status, requiring him to pay tribute in gold and silver. Menua's successor, Argishti I (785–763 BCE), launched a campaign against Diauehi in 783 BCE and successfully defeated King Utupursi, annexing his territories. In exchange for his life, Utupursi was compelled to pay a substantial tribute, including various metals and livestock.

Kingdom of Iberia
Kingdom of Iberia. ©HistoryMaps
302 BCE Jan 1 - 580

Kingdom of Iberia


The ancient kingdom of Iberia was located in what is now modern Eastern Georgia. Prominent from Classical Antiquity through the Early Middle Ages, Iberia played a significant role in the Caucasus region, fluctuating between periods of independence and subordination to larger empires such as the Sassanid and Roman empires. It was geographically positioned between Colchis to the west, Caucasian Albania to the east, and Armenia to the south.

The Iberians, ancestors to the contemporary Georgians, constituted the main ethnic group of this kingdom and were instrumental in the cultural and political development of the area. Over the centuries, Iberia was governed by various royal dynasties including the Pharnavazid, Artaxiad, Arsacid, and Chosroid. These dynasties later played a pivotal role in forming the unified medieval Kingdom of Georgia under the leadership of the Bagrationi dynasty.

The conversion of Iberia to Christianity, established as the state religion in the 4th century following the evangelistic efforts of Saint Nino and the subsequent endorsement by King Mirian III, marked a significant religious and cultural milestone. By the 6th century, Iberia's political landscape transformed as it became a province directly administered by the Sassanid Empire. This change culminated in 580 CE when the Persian king Hormizd IV abolished the Iberian monarchy after King Bakur III's death, appointing a marzpan to govern the region. The term "Caucasian Iberia" distinguishes this area from the Iberian Peninsula in Southwestern Europe.

Early History

The early inhabitants of Caucasian Iberia came from the Kura-Araxes culture. Among these were the Saspers, noted by Herodotus, who may have helped unify the local tribes. The Moschoi tribe migrated northeast, establishing the settlement of Mtskheta, which later became the capital of the Kingdom of Iberia. The leader in Mtskheta was known as mamasakhlisi.

First King of Iberia

Pharnavaz emerged as the first king of Iberia around 302 BCE, establishing the Pharnavazid dynasty after a significant power struggle. His reign marked the beginning of organized statecraft in the region. After repelling an invasion, Pharnavaz extended his control over much of western Georgia, including parts of Colchis (also known as Egrisi), and secured recognition from the Seleucid Empire in Syria. His administrative reforms included building the fortress of Armaztsikhe and a temple dedicated to the god Armazi, and introducing a new administrative division of the country into several counties called saeristavos. His successors maintained control over crucial mountain passes such as the Daryal Pass.

The era following Pharnavaz's reign was characterized by continuous warfare, with Iberia defending its territories from multiple invasions. By the 2nd century BCE, territories in southern Iberia that had been annexed from the Kingdom of Armenia were returned, and Colchian territories broke away to form independent princedoms. At the close of the 2nd century BCE, the Pharnavazid king Pharnajom was overthrown by his subjects after his conversion to Zoroastrianism. The crown was then passed to the Armenian prince Artaxias, who established the Artaxiad dynasty in Iberia in 93 BCE.

Under Roman rule

The strategic proximity of Iberia to Armenia and Pontus led to an invasion in 65 BCE by Roman General Pompey, who was at war with Mithradates VI of Pontus and Armenia. Despite this incursion, Rome did not establish permanent control over Iberia. In 36 BCE, the Romans returned, compelling King Pharnavaz II of Iberia to assist in their military campaign against Albania.

While the neighboring Georgian kingdom of Colchis was governed as a Roman province, Iberia chose to accept Roman imperial protection voluntarily. A notable stone inscription from Mtskheta indicates that Mihdrat I, ruling from 58 to 106 CE, was acknowledged as "the friend of the Caesars" and "the king of the Roman-loving Iberians." In 75 CE, Emperor Vespasian fortified the ancient site of Arzami in Mtskheta for the Iberian kings, illustrating continued Roman support.

During the reign of King Pharsman II from 116 to 132 CE, Iberia began to regain some of its earlier autonomy, despite strained relations with Emperor Hadrian, who attempted conciliation. It was under Hadrian's successor, Antoninus Pius, that relations significantly improved, leading to Pharsman's visit to Rome, where he was honored with a statue and given sacrificial rights. This era marked a shift in Iberia's political status, recognizing it as an ally of Rome, rather than a subject state, a status maintained even during Roman conflicts with the Parthians.

Religious practices in Iberia during the first centuries CE included the worship of Mithras and Zoroastrianism. Archaeological finds in places like Bori, Armazi, and Zguderi revealed silver drinking cups depicting horses at fire-altars, reflecting the syncretic nature of the Mithras cult, which integrated with local Georgian beliefs and possibly preceded the veneration of St. George in pagan Georgia. Over time, Iranian cultural influences deeply permeated Iberian society, as seen in the adoption of the Armazian script and language (based on Aramaic), Iranian-style court and elite dress, Iranian personal names, and the official cult of Armazi, established by King Pharnavaz in the 3rd century BCE.

Between Rome/Byzantium and Persia

The establishment of the Sasanian Empire in 224 CE by Ardashir I significantly altered the geopolitical landscape for Iberia, shifting its political orientation away from Rome towards the new, centralized Sasanian state. This transition occurred as the Sasanians replaced the less centralized Parthian Empire, bringing Iberia into their sphere of influence as a tributary state during the reign of Shapur I (241–272 CE).

Initially, relations between Iberia and the Sasanian Empire were cordial, with Iberia participating in Persian military campaigns against Rome. This cooperation is highlighted by the position of Iberian King Amazasp III (260–265 CE), who held a high rank within the Sasanian realm, indicating a partnership rather than subjugation by force. However, the Sasanians also demonstrated aggressive expansionist policies, notably through the promotion of Zoroastrianism in Iberia, likely established between the 260s and 290s CE. The religious shift marked a deeper Sasanian influence in Iberian cultural and spiritual life.

The situation evolved with the Peace of Nisibis in 298 CE, when the Roman Empire regained control over Caucasian Iberia, reestablishing it as a vassal state. This agreement also acknowledged Mirian III, marking the beginning of the Chosroid dynasty, as the king of Iberia, thereby reasserting Roman influence in the region while maintaining local dynastic continuity.

Sassanid Rule

The religious landscape of Iberia was profoundly reshaped around 317 CE when King Mirian III, influenced by the missionary work of Saint Nino, a Cappadocian woman who had been preaching in Iberia since 303, converted to Eastern Orthodoxy along with his nobles. This conversion led to the declaration of Orthodoxy as the state religion, strengthening cultural and religious ties between Georgia and Rome (later Byzantium). This shift had a substantial impact on the state's culture and society, leading to the decline of Iranian artistic influences in Georgian art by the fourth century.

Despite these changes, the political situation remained tumultuous. After the death of Emperor Julian in 363 during his campaign in Persia, Rome ceded control of Iberia to Persia. Subsequently, King Varaz-Bakur I (Asphagur) (363–365) became a Persian vassal, a status formalized by the Peace of Acilisene in 387. However, Pharsman IV (406–409), a later ruler, managed to preserve a degree of autonomy for Kartli (Iberia), ceasing tribute payments to Persia.

The Sassanian rulers responded by appointing viceroys, or pitiaxae/bidaxae, to oversee Iberia, eventually making this position hereditary within the ruling house of Lower Kartli, thus creating the Kartli pitiaxate. This development strengthened Persian influence in the region, turning it into a hub for Persian cultural and political interests. During this period, the Sasanians challenged the Christian faith of the Georgians, promoting Zoroastrianism, which by the mid-5th century had become a second official religion alongside Eastern Orthodoxy in eastern Georgia.

The reign of King Vakhtang I, known as Gorgasali (447–502), marked a relative revival of the kingdom. Though formally a Persian vassal, he managed to secure the northern borders by subjugating local mountaineers and expanded his influence over western and southern Georgian territories. He established an autocephalic patriarchate at Mtskheta and moved his capital to Tbilisi. In 482, he initiated an uprising against Persian control, embarking on a prolonged and ultimately unsuccessful war for independence, which lacked Byzantine support and led to his death in battle in 502.

Fall of the kingdom

The rivalry between Byzantium and Sasanian Persia for dominance in the Caucasus led to significant political changes in Iberia. After an unsuccessful Georgian insurrection in 523 led by Gurgen, the region saw a reduction in the power of its kings, with Persian authority becoming more pronounced. This culminated in 580 when Hormizd IV, ruling from 578 to 590, abolished the Iberian monarchy following the death of King Bacurius III, transforming Iberia into a Persian province governed by a marzpan.

In response to these changes, Georgian nobles appealed to Byzantine Emperor Maurice in 582 to restore the Iberian kingdom. However, in 591, a compromise between Byzantium and Persia resulted in the division of Iberia, with Tbilisi falling under Persian control and Mtskheta under Byzantine oversight.

The fragile peace between Byzantium and Persia disintegrated at the start of the 7th century. Around 607, Iberian Prince Stephan I allied with Persia in a bid to reunite all Iberian territories, a goal he reportedly achieved. However, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius launched a successful offensive against the Georgians and Persians in 627 and 628, reasserting Byzantine influence over both western and eastern Georgia. This dominance persisted until the Arab invasions of the Caucasus later in the century.

Under Arab Rule

The Arab conquest reached Iberia around 645 CE, significantly altering its political landscape. The local prince, Stephanoz II (ruling from 637 to around 650), was compelled to sever ties with Byzantium and acknowledge the Caliph as his overlord, transforming Iberia into a tributary state of the Arab Caliphate. By 653, an Arab emir had been installed in Tbilisi, further cementing Arab influence in the region.

As Arab control began to wane in the early 9th century, Ashot I (813–830) of the newly established Bagrationi dynasty, based in southwestern Georgia, capitalized on the weakening Arab rule. He consolidated his power, establishing himself as the hereditary prince of Iberia. His efforts laid the groundwork for the resurgence of local rule, leading to Adarnase IV of Iberia, who was still formally a vassal of Byzantium, being crowned as "king of Iberia" in 888. This revival of local sovereignty continued to progress, culminating with Bagrat III (ruling from 975–1014). Bagrat III successfully unified the various Georgian principalities, heralding the formation of a united Georgian monarchy that marked a new chapter in the region’s history.

Georgia in the Roman era
Imperial Roman soldiers in Caucus Mountains.. ©Angus McBride
65 BCE Jan 1 - 600

Georgia in the Roman era


Rome's expansion into the Caucasus region began in the late 2nd century BCE, targeting areas such as Anatolia and the Black Sea. By 65 BCE, the Roman Republic had destroyed the Kingdom of Pontus, which included Colchis (modern western Georgia), incorporating it into the Roman Empire. This area later became the Roman province of Lazicum. Simultaneously, further east, the Kingdom of Iberia became a vassal state to Rome, enjoying significant independence due to its strategic importance and the ongoing threat from local mountain tribes.

Despite Roman occupation of major fortresses along the coast, their control over the region was somewhat relaxed. In 69 CE, a significant uprising led by Anicetus in Pontus and Colchis challenged Roman authority but ultimately failed. Over the next few centuries, the South Caucasus became a battleground for Roman, and later Byzantine, influence against Persian powers, primarily the Parthians and then the Sassanids, as part of the prolonged Roman-Persian Wars.

Christianity began spreading in the region in the early 1st century, significantly influenced by figures such as Saint Andrew and Saint Simon the Zealot. Despite this, local pagan and Mithraic beliefs remained prevalent until the 4th century. During the 1st century, Iberian rulers like Mihdrat I (58-106 CE) demonstrated a favorable stance towards Rome, with Emperor Vespasian fortifying Mtskheta in 75 CE as a sign of support.

The 2nd century saw Iberia under King Pharsman II Kveli strengthen its position, achieving full independence from Rome and reclaiming territories from a declining Armenia. The kingdom enjoyed a strong alliance with Rome during this period. However, in the 3rd century, the dominance shifted to the Lazi tribe, leading to the establishment of the Kingdom of Lazica, also known as Egrisi, which later experienced significant Byzantine and Sassanian rivalry, culminating in the Lazic War (542-562 CE).

By the late 3rd century, Rome had to acknowledge Sassanian sovereignty over regions like Caucasian Albania and Armenia, but by 300 CE, Emperors Aurelian and Diocletian regained control over what is now Georgia. Lazica gained autonomy, eventually forming the independent Kingdom of Lazica-Egrisi.

In 591 CE, Byzantium and Persia divided Iberia, with Tbilisi falling under Persian control and Mtskheta under Byzantine. The truce collapsed in the early 7th century, leading Iberian Prince Stephanoz I (circa 590-627) to ally with Persia in 607 CE to reunite Iberian territories. However, Emperor Heraclius's campaigns in 628 CE reasserted Roman dominance until the Arab conquest in the latter half of the 7th century. Following the Battle of Sebastopolis in 692 CE and the sack of Sebastopolis (modern Sukhumi) by Arab conqueror Marwan II in 736 CE, Roman/Byzantine presence significantly diminished in the region, marking the end of Roman influence in Georgia.

Kingdom of Lazica
Imperial Roman auxiliaries, 230 CE. ©Angus McBride
250 Jan 1 - 697

Kingdom of Lazica

Nokalakevi, Jikha, Georgia

Lazica, originally part of the ancient kingdom of Colchis, emerged as a distinct kingdom around the 1st century BCE following the disintegration of Colchis and the rise of autonomous tribal-territorial units. Officially, Lazica gained a form of independence in 131 CE when it was granted partial autonomy within the Roman Empire, evolving into a more structured kingdom by the mid-3rd century. Throughout its history, Lazica primarily functioned as a strategic vassal kingdom to Byzantium, though it briefly fell under Sasanian Persian control during the Lazic War, a significant conflict stemming partly from economic disputes over Roman monopolies in the region. These monopolies disrupted the free trade that was crucial to Lazica's economy, which thrived on maritime trade through its principal port, Phasis. The kingdom engaged in active trade with Pontus and Bosporus (in Crimea), exporting leather, fur, other raw materials, and slaves. In return, Lazica imported salt, bread, wine, luxurious fabrics, and weapons.

The Lazic War highlighted the strategic and economic importance of Lazica, situated at the crossroads of significant trade routes and contested by major empires. By the 7th century, the kingdom was eventually subsumed by the Muslim conquests but managed to repel Arab forces successfully in the 8th century. Subsequently, Lazica became part of the emerging Kingdom of Abkhazia around 780, which later contributed to the formation of the unified Kingdom of Georgia in the 11th century.

Development of the Georgian Alphabet
Development of the Georgian Alphabet ©HistoryMaps

The origins of the Georgian script are enigmatic and widely debated among scholars, both from Georgia and abroad. The earliest confirmed script, Asomtavruli, dates back to the 5th century CE, with other scripts developing in subsequent centuries. Most scholars connect the script's inception to the Christianization of Iberia, the ancient Georgian kingdom of Kartli,[15] speculating that it was created sometime between King Mirian III's conversion in 326 or 337 CE and the Bir el Qutt inscriptions of 430 CE. Initially, the script was used by monks in Georgia and Palestine for translating the Bible and other Christian texts into Georgian.

A long-standing Georgian tradition suggests a pre-Christian origin for the alphabet, crediting King Pharnavaz I from the 3rd century BCE with its creation.[16] However, this narrative is considered mythical and unsupported by archaeological evidence, viewed by many as a nationalistic response to claims of the alphabet's foreign origins. The debate extends to the involvement of Armenian clerics, particularly Mesrop Mashtots, traditionally recognized as the creator of the Armenian alphabet. Some medieval Armenian sources assert that Mashtots also developed the Georgian and Caucasian Albanian alphabets, though this is contested by most Georgian scholars and some Western academics, who question the reliability of these accounts.

The main influences on the Georgian script are also a subject of scholarly dispute. While some suggest that the script was inspired by Greek or Semitic alphabets like Aramaic,[17] recent studies emphasize its greater similarity to the Greek alphabet, particularly in the order and numeric value of the letters. Additionally, some researchers propose that pre-Christian Georgian cultural symbols or clan markers may have influenced certain letters of the alphabet.

Christianization of Iberia
Christianization of Iberia ©HistoryMaps

The Christianization of Iberia, the ancient Georgian kingdom known as Kartli, began in the early 4th century due to the efforts of Saint Nino. King Mirian III of Iberia declared Christianity the state religion, leading to a significant cultural and religious shift away from the traditional polytheistic and anthropomorphic idols known as the "Gods of Kartli." This move marked one of the earliest national adoptions of Christianity, placing Iberia alongside Armenia as one of the first regions to officially embrace the faith.

The conversion had profound social and cultural implications, influencing the kingdom's connections with the broader Christian world, particularly the Holy Land. This was evidenced by increased Georgian presence in Palestine, highlighted by figures such as Peter the Iberian and the discovery of Georgian inscriptions in the Judaean Desert and other historic sites.

Iberia's strategic position between the Roman and Sasanian Empires made it a significant player in their proxy wars, affecting its diplomatic and cultural maneuvers. Despite adopting a religion associated with the Roman Empire, Iberia maintained strong cultural ties to the Iranian world, reflective of its longstanding connections through trade, warfare, and intermarriage since the Achaemenid period.

The Christianization process was not merely a religious conversion but also a multi-century transformation that contributed to the emergence of a distinct Georgian identity. This transition saw the gradual Georgianization of key figures, including the monarchy, and the replacement of foreign church leaders with native Georgians by the mid-6th century. However, Greeks, Iranians, Armenians, and Syrians continued to influence the administration and development of the Georgian church well into this period.

Sasanian Iberia
Sassanian Iberia ©Angus McBride
363 Jan 1 - 580

Sasanian Iberia


The geopolitical struggle for control over the Georgian kingdoms, notably the kingdom of Iberia, was a central aspect of the rivalry between the Byzantine Empire and Sasanian Persia, dating back to the 3rd century. Early in the Sasanian era, during the reign of King Shapur I (240-270), the Sasanians first established their governance in Iberia, placing an Iranian prince from the House of Mihran, known as Mirian III, on the throne around 284. This began the Chosroid dynasty, which continued to rule Iberia into the sixth century.

Sasanian influence was reinforced in 363 when King Shapur II invaded Iberia, installing Aspacures II as his vassal. This period marked a pattern where Iberian kings often held only nominal power, with the real control frequently shifting between the Byzantines and the Sasanians. In 523, an unsuccessful insurrection by the Georgians under Gurgen highlighted this turbulent governance, leading to a situation where Persian control was more direct and the local monarchy was largely symbolic.

The nominal status of Iberian kingship became more pronounced by the 520s and was officially ended in 580 after the death of King Bakur III, under the rule of Hormizd IV (578-590) of Persia. Iberia was then converted into a direct Persian province managed by appointed marzbans, effectively formalizing Persian control.

The direct Persian rule imposed heavy taxation and promoted Zoroastrianism, causing significant discontent among the predominantly Christian Iberian nobility. In 582, these nobles sought assistance from the Eastern Roman Emperor Maurice, who intervened militarily. In 588, Maurice installed Guaram I of the Guaramids as the ruler of Iberia, not as king but with the title of curopalates, reflecting a Byzantine influence.

The Byzantine-Sassanid treaty of 591 reconfigured Iberian governance, officially dividing the kingdom at Tbilisi into Roman and Sasanian spheres of influence, with Mtskheta coming under Byzantine control. This arrangement shifted again under the leadership of Stephen I (Stephanoz I), who aligned more closely with Persia in an effort to reunite Iberia. However, this reorientation led to his death during an attack by Byzantine Emperor Heraclius in 626, amid the broader Byzantine-Sasanian War of 602-628. By 627-628, Byzantine forces had established predominance in most of Georgia, a status that remained until the Muslim conquests altered the region's political landscape.

Principality of Iberia
Principality of Iberia ©HistoryMaps
588 Jan 1 - 888 Jan

Principality of Iberia

Tbilisi, Georgia

In 580 CE, the death of King Bakur III of Iberia, a unified kingdom in the Caucasus, led to significant political changes. The Sassanid Empire, under Emperor Hormizd IV, took advantage of the situation to abolish the Iberian monarchy, transforming Iberia into a Persian province governed by a marzpan. This transition was accepted by Iberian nobility without notable resistance, and the royal family retreated to their highland strongholds.

The Persian rule imposed heavy taxes and promoted Zoroastrianism, which was resented in the predominantly Christian region. In response, in 582 CE, Iberian nobles sought aid from the Eastern Roman Emperor Maurice, who launched a military campaign against Persia. By 588 CE, Maurice supported the installment of Guaram I of the Guaramids as the new leader of Iberia, not as a king but as a presiding prince with the title of curopalates, a Byzantine honor.

The Byzantine-Sassanid treaty of 591 CE officially recognized this arrangement but left Iberia split into zones influenced by both empires, centered around the town of Tbilisi. This period marked the rise of the dynastic aristocracy in Iberia, under the nominal oversight of Constantinople. The presiding princes, though influential, were limited in their powers by the entrenched local dukes, who held charters from both the Sassanid and Byzantine rulers.

The Byzantine protection aimed to limit Sassanid and later Islamic influences in the Caucasus. However, the loyalties of Iberian princes fluctuated, sometimes recognizing the dominance of regional powers as a political strategy. Stephen I, Guaram's successor, shifted allegiance towards Persia in an attempt to unify Iberia, a move that cost him his life in 626 CE during an attack by Byzantine Emperor Heraclius.

Subsequent to Byzantine and Persian tug-of-war, the Arab conquests in the 640s further complicated Iberian politics. Although the pro-Byzantine Chosroid house was initially reinstated, they soon had to acknowledge the Umayyad Caliphate's suzerainty. By the 680s, unsuccessful revolts against Arab rule led to the Chosroids' diminished rule, confined to Kakheti.

By the 730s, Arab control was consolidated with the establishment of a Muslim emir in Tbilisi, displacing the Guaramids, who struggled to maintain any significant authority. The Guaramids were eventually replaced by the Nersianids between circa 748 and 780, and disappeared from the political scene by 786 following a severe suppression of Georgian nobility by Arab forces.

The decline of the Guaramids and Chosroids set the stage for the rise of the Bagratid family. Ashot I, beginning his rule around 786/813, capitalized on this vacuum. By 888, Adarnase I of the Bagratids asserted control over the region, heralding a period of cultural revival and expansion by declaring himself the King of the Georgians, thereby restoring the Georgian royal authority.

Arab Conquest and Rule in Georgia
Arab Conquests ©HistoryMaps
645 Jan 1 - 1022

Arab Conquest and Rule in Georgia


The period of Arab rule in Georgia, known locally as "Araboba", extended from the first Arab incursions around the mid-7th century until the final defeat of the Emirate of Tbilisi by King David IV in 1122. Unlike other regions affected by Muslim conquests, Georgia's cultural and political structures remained relatively intact. The Georgian populace largely retained their Christian faith, and nobility kept control of their fiefdoms, while Arab rulers focused mainly on extracting tribute, which they often struggled to enforce. However, the region did experience significant devastation due to repeated military campaigns, and the Caliphs maintained influence over Georgia's internal dynamics for much of this era.

The history of Arab rule in Georgia is typically divided into three main periods:

1. Early Arab Conquest (645-736): This period began with the first appearance of Arab armies around 645, under the Umayyad Caliphate, and ended with the establishment of the Emirate of Tbilisi in 736. It was marked by the progressive assertion of political control over Georgian lands.

2. Emirate of Tbilisi (736-853): During this time, the Emirate of Tbilisi exerted control over all Eastern Georgia. This phase ended when the Abbasid Caliphate destroyed Tbilisi in 853 to suppress a rebellion by the local emir, marking the end of widespread Arab domination in the region.

3. Decline of Arab Rule (853-1122): Following the destruction of Tbilisi, the power of the Emirate began to wane, gradually losing ground to emerging independent Georgian states. The Great Seljuq Empire eventually replaced the Arabs as the dominant force in the Middle East in the second half of the 11th century. Despite this, Tbilisi remained under Arab rule until its liberation by King David IV in 1122.

Early Arab conquests (645–736)

In the early 7th century, the Principate of Iberia, covering most of present-day Georgia, adeptly navigated the complex political landscape dominated by the Byzantine and Sassanid Empires. By switching allegiances as necessary, Iberia managed to maintain a degree of independence. This delicate balance shifted in 626 when Byzantine Emperor Heraclius attacked Tbilisi and installed Adarnase I of the pro-Byzantine Chosroid Dynasty, marking a period of significant Byzantine influence.

However, the rise of the Muslim Caliphate and its subsequent conquests across the Middle East soon disrupted this status quo. The first Arab incursions into what is now Georgia occurred between 642 and 645, during their Arab conquest of Persia, with Tbilisi falling to the Arabs in 645. Although the region was integrated into the new province of Armīniya, local rulers initially retained a level of autonomy similar to what they had under Byzantine and Sassanid oversight.

The early years of Arab rule were marked by political instability within the Caliphate, which struggled to maintain control over its vast territories. The primary tool of Arab authority in the region was the imposition of the jizya, a tax levied on non-Muslims that symbolized submission to Islamic rule and provided protection against further invasions or punitive actions. In Iberia, as in neighboring Armenia, revolts against this tribute were frequent, particularly when the Caliphate showed signs of internal weakness. A significant uprising occurred in 681–682, led by Adarnase II. This revolt, part of broader unrest across the Caucasus, was eventually crushed; Adarnase was killed, and the Arabs installed Guaram II from the rival Guaramid Dynasty.

During this period, the Arabs also had to contend with other regional powers, notably the Byzantine Empire and the Khazars—a confederation of Turkic semi-nomadic tribes. While the Khazars had initially allied with Byzantium against Persia, they later played a dual role by also assisting the Arabs in suppressing the Georgian revolt in 682. The strategic importance of Georgian lands, caught between these powerful neighbors, led to repeated and destructive incursions, particularly by the Khazars from the north.

The Byzantine Empire, aiming to reassert its influence over Iberia, focused on strengthening its control over the Black Sea coastal regions such as Abkhazia and Lazica, areas not yet reached by the Arabs. In 685, Emperor Justinian II negotiated a truce with the Caliph, agreeing on a joint possession of Iberia and Armenia. However, this arrangement was short-lived, as the Arab victory at the Battle of Sebastopolis in 692 significantly altered the regional dynamics, leading to a new wave of Arab conquests. By around 697, the Arabs had subdued the Kingdom of Lazica and extended their reach to the Black Sea, establishing a new status quo that favored the Caliphate and solidified its presence in the region.

Emirate of Tbilisi (736-853)

In the 730s, the Umayyad Caliphate intensified its control over Georgia due to threats from the Khazars and ongoing contacts between local Christian rulers and Byzantium. Under Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik and Governor Marwan ibn Muhammad, aggressive campaigns were launched against the Georgians and the Khazars, significantly impacting Georgia. The Arabs established an emirate in Tbilisi, which continued to face resistance from local nobility and fluctuating control due to political instability within the Caliphate.

By the mid-8th century, the Abbasid Caliphate replaced the Umayyads, bringing more structured governance and harsher measures to secure tribute and enforce Islamic rule, particularly under the leadership of the wali Khuzayma ibn Khazim. However, the Abbasids faced revolts, notably from the Georgian princes, which they suppressed bloodily.

During this period, the Bagrationi family, likely of Armenian origin, rose to prominence in western Georgia, establishing a power base in Tao-Klarjeti. Despite Arab rule, they managed to gain significant autonomy, benefiting from the ongoing Arab-Byzantine conflicts and internal dissensions among the Arabs. By the early 9th century, the emirate of Tbilisi declared independence from the Abbasid Caliphate, leading to further conflicts involving the Bagrationi, who played a pivotal role in these power struggles.

By 813, Ashot I of the Bagrationi dynasty had restored the Principate of Iberia with recognition from both the caliphate and the Byzantines. The region saw a complex interplay of power, with the caliphate occasionally supporting the Bagrationi to maintain a balance of power. This era ended with significant Arab defeats and decreased influence in the region, paving the way for the Bagrationi to emerge as the dominant force in Georgia, setting the stage for the eventual unification of the country under their leadership.

Decline of Arab rule

By the mid-9th century, Arab influence in Georgia was waning, marked by the weakening of the Emirate of Tbilisi and the rise of strong Christian feudal states in the region, notably the Bagratids of Armenia and Georgia. The restoration of the monarchy in Armenia in 886, under the Bagratid Ashot I, paralleled the crowning of his cousin Adarnase IV as the king of Iberia, signaling a resurgence of Christian power and autonomy.

During this period, both the Byzantine Empire and the Caliphate sought the allegiance or neutrality of these burgeoning Christian states to counterbalance each other's influence. The Byzantine Empire, under Basil I the Macedonian (r. 867–886), experienced a cultural and political renaissance that made it an attractive ally to the Christian Caucasians, drawing them away from the Caliphate.

In 914, Yusuf Ibn Abi'l-Saj, the emir of Azerbaijan and a vassal of the Caliphate, led the last significant Arab campaign to reassert dominance over the Caucasus. This invasion, known as the Sajid invasion of Georgia, failed and further devastated the Georgian lands but reinforced the alliance between the Bagratids and the Byzantine Empire. This alliance enabled a period of economic and artistic flourishing in Georgia, free from Arab interference.

The influence of the Arabs continued to diminish throughout the 11th century. Tbilisi remained under the nominal rule of an emir, but the city's governance was increasingly in the hands of a council of elders known as the "birebi." Their influence helped maintain the emirate as a buffer against taxation from the Georgian kings. Despite attempts by King Bagrat IV to seize Tbilisi in 1046, 1049, and 1062, he was unable to maintain control. By the 1060s, the Arabs were supplanted by the Great Seljuk Empire as the primary Muslim threat to Georgia.

The decisive shift came in 1121 when David IV of Georgia, known as "the Builder," defeated the Seljuks at the Battle of Didgori, allowing him to capture Tbilisi the following year. This victory ended nearly five centuries of Arab presence in Georgia, integrating Tbilisi as the royal capital, although its population remained predominantly Muslim for some time. This marked the beginning of a new era of Georgian consolidation and expansion under native rule.

Kingdom of Abkhazia
King Bagrat II of Abkhazia was also King Bagrat III of Georgia from the Bagrationi dynasty. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
778 Jan 1 - 1008

Kingdom of Abkhazia

Anacopia Fortress, Sokhumi

Abkhazia, historically under Byzantine influence and located along the Black Sea coast of what is now northwestern Georgia and part of Russia's Krasnodar Krai, was governed by a hereditary archon functioning essentially as a Byzantine viceroy. It remained chiefly Christian with cities like Pityus hosting archbishoprics directly under the Patriarch of Constantinople.

In 735 CE, the region faced a severe Arab invasion led by Marwan which extended into 736. The invasion was repelled by the archon Leon I, with the help of allies from Iberia and Lazica. This victory bolstered Abkhazia's defense capabilities and Leon I's subsequent marriage into the Georgian royal family solidified this alliance. By the 770s, Leon II had expanded his territory to include Lazica, incorporating it into what was then referred to as Egrisi in Georgian sources.

By the late 8th century, under Leon II, Abkhazia gained full independence from Byzantine control, declaring itself a kingdom and shifting the capital to Kutaisi. This period marked the beginning of significant state-building efforts, including the establishment of local church independence from Constantinople, transitioning liturgical language from Greek to Georgian.

The kingdom experienced its most prosperous period between 850 and 950 CE, expanding its territories eastward under kings like George I and Constantine III, the latter of whom brought significant portions of central and eastern Georgia under Abkhazian control and exerted influence over the neighboring regions of Alania and Armenia.

However, the kingdom's power waned by the late 10th century due to internal strife and civil war under kings like Demetrius III and Theodosius III the Blind, culminating in a decline that led to its integration into the emerging Georgian state. In 978, Bagrat (later King Bagrat III of Georgia), a prince of both Bagratid and Abkhazian descent, ascended the Abkhazian throne with assistance from his adoptive father David III of Tao. By 1008, following the death of his father Gurgen, Bagrat also became "King of the Iberians," effectively uniting the Abkhazian and Georgian kingdoms under a single rule, marking the foundation of the unified Kingdom of Georgia.

Kingdom of the Iberians
Kingdom of the Iberians ©HistoryMaps
888 Jan 1 - 1008

Kingdom of the Iberians

Ardanuç, Merkez, Ardanuç/Artvi

The Kingdom of the Iberians, established around 888 CE under the Bagrationi dynasty, emerged in the historical region of Tao-Klarjeti, which spans parts of modern southwestern Georgia and northeastern Turkey. This kingdom succeeded the Principality of Iberia, reflecting a shift from a principality to a more centralized monarchy within the region.

The area of Tao-Klarjeti was strategically significant, nestled between the great empires of the East and the West and traversed by a branch of the Silk Road. This location subjected it to diverse cultural and political influences. The landscape, characterized by the rugged terrain of the Arsiani Mountains and river systems like the Çoruh and the Kura, played a crucial role in the defense and development of the kingdom.

In 813, Ashot I of the Bagrationi dynasty solidified his power in Klarjeti, restoring the historic fortress of Artanuji and receiving recognition and protection from the Byzantine Empire. As the presiding prince and curopalates of Iberia, Ashot I actively combated Arab influence, reclaiming territories and promoting the resettlement of Georgians. His efforts helped transform Tao-Klarjeti into a cultural and religious center, shifting the political and spiritual focus of Iberia from its central regions to the southwest.

The death of Ashot I led to the division of his territories among his sons, setting the stage for both internal strife and further territorial expansion. This period saw the Bagrationi princes navigating complex alliances and conflicts with neighboring Arab emirs and Byzantine authorities, as well as managing dynastic disputes that influenced the political landscape of the region.

By the late 10th century, the kingdom had expanded significantly under the leadership of various Bagrationi rulers. The unification of Georgian lands was largely realized by 1008 under Bagrat III, who effectively centralized governance and reduced the autonomy of local dynastic princes. This unification marked the culmination of a series of strategic expansions and political consolidations that enhanced the power and stability of the Georgian state, setting a precedent for future developments in the region's history.

1008 - 1490
Golden Age of Georgia
Unification of the Georgian realm
Unification of the Georgian realm ©HistoryMaps

The unification of the Georgian realm in the 10th century marked a significant moment in the region's history, culminating in the establishment of the Kingdom of Georgia in 1008. This movement, driven by the influential local aristocracy known as the eristavs, arose from enduring power struggles and succession wars among Georgian monarchs, whose independent ruling traditions dated back to classical antiquity and the Hellenistic-era monarchies of Colchis and Iberia.

Key to this unification was David III the Great of the Bagrationi dynasty, the preeminent ruler in the Caucasus at the time. David placed his kin and foster-son, prince royal Bagrat, on the Iberian throne. Bagrat's eventual coronation as King of all Georgia set the stage for the Bagrationi dynasty's role as champions of national unification, akin to the Rurikids in Russia or the Capetians in France. Despite their efforts, not all Georgian polities joined the unification willingly; resistance persisted, with some regions seeking support from the Byzantine Empire and the Abbasid Caliphate.

By 1008, the unification had mostly consolidated western and central Georgian lands. The process extended eastward under King David IV the Builder, achieving total completion and leading to the Georgian Golden Age. This era saw Georgia emerge as a medieval pan-Caucasian empire, achieving its greatest territorial extent and dominance over the Caucasus during the 11th to 13th centuries.

However, the centralizing power of the Georgian crown began to wane in the 14th century. Although King George V the Brilliant briefly reversed this decline, the unified Georgian realm ultimately disintegrated following invasions by the Mongols and Timur, leading to its total collapse in the 15th century. This period of unification and subsequent fragmentation significantly shaped the historical trajectory of the Georgian state, influencing its cultural and political development.

Kingdom of Georgia
Kingdom of Georgia ©HistoryMaps
1008 Jan 1 - 1490

Kingdom of Georgia


The Kingdom of Georgia, also historically referred to as the Georgian Empire, was a prominent medieval Eurasian monarchy established around 1008 CE. It heralded its golden age during the reigns of King David IV and Queen Tamar the Great between the 11th and 13th centuries, marking a period of significant political and economic strength. During this era, Georgia emerged as a dominant power in the Christian East, extending its influence and territorial reach across a vast region that included Eastern Europe, Anatolia, and the northern borders of Iran. The kingdom also maintained religious possessions abroad, notably the Monastery of the Cross in Jerusalem and the Monastery of Iviron in Greece.

Georgia's influence and prosperity, however, faced severe challenges starting in the 13th century with the Mongol invasions. Although the kingdom managed to reassert its sovereignty by the 1340s, the subsequent periods were plagued by the Black Death and repeated devastations wrought by the invasions of Timur. These calamities severely impacted Georgia’s economy, population, and urban centers.

The geopolitical landscape for Georgia grew even more precarious following the conquest of the Byzantine Empire and the Empire of Trebizond by the Ottoman Turks. By the end of the 15th century, these adversities contributed to the fragmentation of Georgia into a series of smaller, independent entities. This disintegration culminated in the collapse of centralized authority by 1466, leading to the recognition of independent kingdoms such as Kartli, Kakheti, and Imereti, each ruled by different branches of the Bagrationi dynasty. Additionally, the region was divided into several semi-independent principalities including Odishi, Guria, Abkhazia, Svaneti, and Samtskhe, marking the end of the unified Georgian state and setting the stage for a new period in the region’s history.

Great Turkish Invasion
Great Turkish Invasion ©HistoryMaps
1080 Jan 1

Great Turkish Invasion


The Great Turkish Invasion, or Great Turkish Troubles, describes the Seljuq-led Turkic tribes' attacks and settlement in Georgian lands during the 1080s, under King George II. Originating from a 12th-century Georgian chronicle, this term is widely recognized in modern Georgian scholarship. These invasions significantly weakened the Kingdom of Georgia, leading to depopulation in several provinces and diminishing royal authority. The situation began to improve with King David IV’s ascent in 1089, who reversed the Seljuq advances through military victories, stabilizing the kingdom.


The Seljuks first invaded Georgia in the 1060s, led by Sultan Alp Arslan, who devastated the southwestern provinces and impacted Kakheti. This invasion was part of a broader Turkish movement that also defeated the Byzantine army at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071. Despite the initial setbacks, Georgia managed to recuperate from Alp Arslan’s raids. However, the Byzantine Empire's withdrawal from Anatolia following their defeat at Manzikert left Georgia more exposed to Seljuk threats. Throughout the 1070s, Georgia faced further invasions under Sultan Malik Shah I. Despite these challenges, King George II of Georgia was occasionally successful in mounting defenses and counter-attacks against the Seljuks.


In 1080, George II of Georgia faced a severe military setback when surprised by a large Turkish force near Queli. This force was led by Aḥmad of the Mamlān dynasty, described in the Georgian chronicle as "a powerful emir and strong archer." The battle forced George II to flee through Adjara to Abkhazia, while the Turks seized Kars and pillaged the region, returning to their bases enriched.

This encounter was the beginning of a series of devastating invasions. On June 24, 1080, a large number of nomadic Turks entered Georgia's southern provinces, swiftly advancing and wreaking havoc throughout Asispori, Klarjeti, Shavsheti, Adjara, Samtskhe, Kartli, Argueti, Samokalako, and Chqondidi. Significant sites such as Kutaisi and Artanuji, as well as Christian hermitages in Klarjeti, were destroyed. Many Georgians who escaped the initial onslaught perished from cold and starvation in the mountains.

In response to his crumbling kingdom, George II sought refuge and assistance in Isfahan with Malik Shah, the Seljuq ruler, who granted him security from further nomadic incursions in exchange for tribute. However, this arrangement did not stabilize Georgia. Turkish forces continued to infiltrate Georgian territories seasonally to utilize the Kura valley's pastures, and Seljuq garrisons occupied strategic fortresses throughout the southern regions of Georgia.

These invasions and settlements drastically disrupted Georgia's economic and political structures. Agricultural lands were converted into grazing fields, forcing peasant farmers to flee to the mountains for safety. The chronic instability led to severe societal and environmental degradation, with a Georgian chronicler recording that the land had been so ravaged it became overgrown and deserted, exacerbating the suffering of the people.

This period of turmoil was compounded by a severe earthquake on April 16, 1088, which struck the southern provinces, further devastating Tmogvi and surrounding areas. Amidst this chaos, the Georgian nobility took advantage of the weakened royal authority to push for greater autonomy.

Attempting to restore some semblance of control, George II sought to leverage his relationship with Malik Shah to subdue Aghsartan I, the defiant king of Kakheti in eastern Georgia. However, his efforts were undermined by his own inconsistent policies, and Aghsartan managed to secure his position by offering submission to Malik Shah and converting to Islam, thus buying peace and security for his realm.


In 1089, amid significant turmoil and external threats from the Seljuq Turks, George II of Georgia, either by choice or under pressure from his nobles, crowned his 16-year-old son, David IV, as king. David IV, known for his vigor and strategic acumen, took advantage of the chaos following the death of Seljuq Sultan Malik Shah in 1092 and the geopolitical shifts triggered by the First Crusade in 1096.

David IV embarked on an ambitious reform and military campaign aimed at consolidating his authority, curbing the power of the aristocracy, and expelling Seljuq forces from Georgian territories. By 1099, the same year Jerusalem was captured by the Crusaders, David had strengthened his kingdom sufficiently to cease the annual tribute payments to the Seljuqs, signaling Georgia's rising independence and military capability.

David's efforts culminated in a decisive victory at the Battle of Didgori in 1121, where his forces overwhelmingly defeated the Muslim armies. This victory not only secured Georgia's borders but also established the kingdom as a major power in the Caucasus and Eastern Anatolia, setting the stage for a period of expansion and cultural flourishing that would define the Georgian Golden Age.

David IV of Georgia
David IV of Georgia ©HistoryMaps
1089 Jan 1 - 1125

David IV of Georgia


David IV of Georgia, known as David the Builder, was a pivotal figure in Georgian history, reigning from 1089 to 1125. At the young age of 16, he ascended to a kingdom weakened by Seljuk invasions and internal strife. David initiated significant military and administrative reforms that revitalized Georgia, enabling him to expel the Seljuk Turks and commence the Georgian Golden Age.

His reign marked a turning point with the victory at the Battle of Didgori in 1121, which drastically reduced Seljuk influence in the region and expanded Georgian control across the Caucasus. David's reforms strengthened the military and centralized administration, fostering a period of cultural and economic prosperity.

David also nurtured close ties with the Georgian Orthodox Church, enhancing its cultural and spiritual influence. His efforts in rebuilding the nation and his devout faith led to his canonization as a saint by the Georgian Orthodox Church.

Despite challenges from the declining Byzantine Empire and ongoing threats from neighboring Muslim territories, David IV managed to maintain and expand his kingdom's sovereignty, leaving a legacy that positioned Georgia as a dominant regional power in the Caucasus.

Tamar of Georgia
Tamar the Great ©HistoryMaps
1184 Jan 1 - 1213

Tamar of Georgia


Tamar the Great, reigning from 1184 to 1213, was a significant monarch of Georgia, marking the peak of the Georgian Golden Age. As the first woman to rule the nation independently, she was notably referred to by the title "mepe" or "king," emphasizing her authority. Tamar ascended to the throne as a co-ruler with her father, George III, in 1178, facing initial resistance from the aristocracy upon her sole ascension after her father's death.

Throughout her reign, Tamar successfully quelled opposition and implemented an aggressive foreign policy, benefiting from the weakening of the Seljuk Turks. Her strategic marriages first to the Rus' prince Yuri, and after their divorce, to the Alan prince David Soslan, were pivotal, bolstering her rule through alliances that expanded her dynasty. Her marriage to David Soslan produced two children, George and Rusudan, who succeeded her, continuing the Bagrationi dynasty.

In 1204, under Queen Tamar of Georgia's rule, the Empire of Trebizond was established on the Black Sea coast. This strategic move was supported by Georgian troops and initiated by Tamar's relatives, Alexios I Megas Komnenos and his brother David, who were Byzantine princes and refugees at the Georgian court. The founding of Trebizond came during a period of Byzantine instability, exacerbated by the Fourth Crusade. Tamar's support for Trebizond aligned with her geopolitical goals of extending Georgian influence and creating a buffer state near Georgia, while also asserting her role in protecting Christian interests in the region.

Under Tamar's leadership, Georgia flourished, achieving significant military and cultural triumphs which expanded Georgian influence across the Caucasus. However, despite these achievements, her empire began to decline under the Mongol invasions shortly after her death. Tamar's legacy persists in Georgian cultural memory as a symbol of national pride and success, celebrated in arts and popular culture as an exemplary ruler and a symbol of Georgian national identity.

Mongol Invasions and Vassalage of Georgia
Mongol Invasion of Georgia. ©HistoryMaps
1236 Jan 1

Mongol Invasions and Vassalage of Georgia

Caucasus Mountains

The Mongol invasions of Georgia, which occurred throughout the 13th century, marked a significant period of turmoil for the region, then comprising Georgia proper, Armenia, and much of the Caucasus. The initial contact with the Mongol forces came in 1220 when generals Subutai and Jebe, pursuing Muhammad II of Khwarezm amid the destruction of the Khwarezmian Empire, conducted a series of devastating raids. These early encounters saw the defeat of combined Georgian and Armenian forces, showcasing the formidable military prowess of the Mongols.

The major phase of Mongol expansion into the Caucasus and eastern Anatolia commenced in 1236. This campaign led to the subjugation of the Kingdom of Georgia, the Sultanate of Rum, and the Empire of Trebizond. Additionally, the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia and other Crusader states opted to accept Mongol vassalage voluntarily. The Mongols also eradicated the Assassins during this period.

Mongol dominance in the Caucasus persisted until the late 1330s, albeit punctuated by the brief restoration of Georgian independence under King George V the Brilliant. However, the continued stability of the region was undermined by subsequent invasions led by Timur, ultimately leading to the fragmentation of Georgia. This period of Mongol rule deeply impacted the political landscape of the Caucasus and shaped the historical trajectory of the region.

Mongol Invasions

The initial Mongol incursion into the territories of the Georgian Kingdom occurred in the fall of 1220, led by generals Subutai and Jebe. This first contact was part of a reconnaissance mission authorized by Genghis Khan during their pursuit of the Shah of Khwarezm. The Mongols ventured into Armenia, under Georgian control at the time, and decisively defeated a Georgian-Armenian force at the Battle of Khunan, wounding King George IV of Georgia. However, their progression into the Caucasus was temporary as they returned to focus on the Khwarezmian campaign.

The Mongol forces resumed their aggressive push into Georgian territories in 1221, exploiting the lack of Georgian resistance to ravage the countryside, culminating in another significant victory at the Battle of Bardav. Despite their successes, this expedition was not one of conquest but rather reconnaissance and plunder, and they retreated from the region after their campaign.

Ivane I Zakarian, as the Atabeg and Amirspasalar of Georgia, played a crucial role in resisting the Mongols from 1220 to 1227, although the exact details of his resistance are not well-documented. Despite the lack of clarity on the attackers' identity from contemporary Georgian chronicles, it became apparent that the Mongols were pagans despite earlier assumptions of their Christian identity due to their initial opposition to Muslim forces.

This misidentification even impacted international relations, as Georgia failed to support the Fifth Crusade as initially planned due to the devastating effects of the Mongol raids on its military capabilities. Interestingly, the Mongols employed advanced siege technologies, possibly including gunpowder weapons, indicating their strategic use of Chinese military tactics and equipment during their invasions.

The situation in Georgia worsened with the attack by Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, the fugitive Khwarezmian Shah, which led to the capture of Tbilisi in 1226, severely weakening Georgia before the third Mongol invasion in 1236. This final invasion effectively shattered the Georgian kingdom's resistance. Most of the Georgian and Armenian nobility either submitted to the Mongols or sought refuge, leaving the region vulnerable to further devastation and conquest. Significant figures like Ivane I Jaqeli eventually submitted after extensive resistance.

By 1238, Georgia had largely fallen under Mongol control, with formal acknowledgment of the Great Khan's overlordship coming by 1243. This acknowledgment included a heavy tribute and military support obligations, marking the beginning of a period of Mongol dominance in the region, which significantly altered the course of Georgian history.

Mongol Rule

During the Mongol rule in the Caucasus, which began in the early 13th century, the region experienced significant political and administrative changes. The Mongols established the Vilayet of Gurjistan, encompassing Georgia and the entire South Caucasus, governing indirectly through the local Georgian monarch. This monarch needed confirmation from the Great Khan to ascend to the throne, integrating the region more tightly into the Mongol Empire.

Following Queen Rusudan's death in 1245, Georgia entered a period of interregnum. The Mongols exploited the succession dispute, supporting rival factions that backed different candidates for the Georgian crown. These candidates were David VII "Ulu", an illegitimate son of George IV, and David VI "Narin", son of Rusudan. After a failed Georgian revolt against Mongol domination in 1245, Güyük Khan, in 1247, decided to make both Davids co-kings, ruling eastern and western Georgia respectively.

The Mongols abolished their initial system of military-administrative districts (tumens) but maintained strict oversight to ensure a steady flow of taxes and tributes. Georgians were heavily utilized in the Mongol military campaigns across the Middle East, including in significant battles such as those at Alamut (1256), Baghdad (1258), and Ain Jalut (1260). This extensive military service severely depleted Georgia’s defenses, leaving it vulnerable to internal revolts and external threats.

Notably, Georgian contingents also participated in the Mongol victory at Köse Dag in 1243, which defeated the Seljuks of Rüm. This illustrated the complex and sometimes contradictory roles Georgians played in Mongol military ventures, as they also fought alongside their traditional rivals or enemies in these battles.

In 1256, the Mongol Ilkhanate, based in Persia, took direct control over Georgia. A significant Georgian rebellion occurred in 1259-1260 under David Narin, who successfully established independence for Imereti in western Georgia. However, the Mongol response was swift and severe, with David Ulu, who joined the rebellion, being defeated and subjugated once more.

The continuous conflicts, heavy taxation, and compulsory military service led to widespread dissatisfaction and weakened the Mongol grip on Georgia. By the late 13th century, with the Ilkhanate’s power waning, Georgia saw opportunities to restore some aspects of its autonomy. Nevertheless, the political fragmentation induced by the Mongols had long-lasting effects on Georgian statehood. The nobles' increased power and regional autonomy further complicated national unity and governance, leading to periods of near anarchy and enabling the Mongols to manipulate local rulers to maintain control.

Ultimately, the Mongol influence in Georgia diminished as the Ilkhanate disintegrated in Persia, but the legacy of their rule continued to impact the region's political landscape, contributing to ongoing instability and fragmentation.

George V of Georgia
George V the Brilliant ©Anonymous
1299 Jan 1 - 1344

George V of Georgia


George V, known as "the Brilliant," was a pivotal figure in Georgian history, reigning during a time when the Kingdom of Georgia was recovering from Mongol domination and internal strife. Born to King Demetrius II and Natela Jaqeli, George V spent his early years at the court of his maternal grandfather in Samtskhe, a region then under heavy Mongol influence. His father was executed by the Mongols in 1289, profoundly influencing George's view of foreign domination.

In 1299, during a period of political instability, the Ilkhanid khan Ghazan appointed George as a rival king to his brother David VIII, though his rule was confined to the capital, Tbilisi, earning him the nickname "The Shadow King of Tbilisi." His rule was brief, and by 1302, he was replaced by his brother Vakhtang III. George only returned to significant power after the deaths of his brothers, ultimately becoming the regent for his nephew, and later ascending to the throne again in 1313.

Under George V's rule, Georgia saw a concerted effort to restore its territorial integrity and central authority. He skillfully exploited the weakening of the Mongol Ilkhanate, ceasing the tribute payments to the Mongols and militarily driving them out of Georgia by 1334. His reign marked the beginning of the end of Mongol influence in the region.

George V also implemented significant internal reforms. He revised the legal and administrative systems, enhancing royal authority and centralizing governance. He reissued Georgian coinage and patronized cultural and economic ties, notably with the Byzantine Empire and the maritime republics of Genoa and Venice. This period saw the revival of Georgian monastic life and the arts, partly due to the restored stability and the re-establishment of national pride and identity.

In foreign policy, George V successfully reasserted Georgian influence over the historically contentious region of Samtskhe and the Armenian territories, incorporating them more firmly into the Georgian realm. He also engaged diplomatically with neighboring powers and even extended relations to the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt, securing rights for Georgian monasteries in Palestine.

Timurid Invasions of Georgia
Timurid Invasions of Georgia ©HistoryMaps
1386 Jan 1 - 1403

Timurid Invasions of Georgia


Timur, also known as Tamerlane, led a series of brutal invasions into Georgia across the late 14th and early 15th centuries, which had a devastating impact on the kingdom. Despite multiple invasions and attempts to convert the region to Islam, Timur never succeeded in fully subjugating Georgia or altering its Christian identity.

The conflict began in 1386 when Timur captured the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and King Bagrat V, marking the start of eight invasions into Georgia. Timur's military campaigns were characterized by their extreme brutality, including the massacre of civilians, burning of cities, and widespread destruction which left Georgia in a state of ruin. Each campaign typically ended with the Georgians having to accept harsh peace terms, including the payment of tribute.

One notable episode during these invasions was the temporary capture and forced conversion to Islam of King Bagrat V, who feigned conversion to secure his release and later orchestrated a successful uprising against the Timurid troops in Georgia, reasserting his Christian faith and Georgia’s sovereignty.

Despite repeated invasions, Timur faced stubborn resistance from the Georgians, led by kings like George VII, who spent most of his reign defending his kingdom from Timur’s forces. The invasions culminated in significant battles, such as the fierce resistance at the fortress of Birtvisi and the Georgian attempts to recapture lost territories.

In the end, although Timur recognized Georgia as a Christian state and allowed it to retain some form of autonomy, the repeated invasions left the kingdom weakened. Timur's death in 1405 ended the immediate threat to Georgia, but the damage inflicted during his campaigns had long-lasting effects on the region's stability and development.

Turkoman Invasions of Georgia
Turkoman Invasions of Georgia ©HistoryMaps
1407 Jan 1 - 1502

Turkoman Invasions of Georgia

Caucasus Mountains

After the devastating invasions by Timur, Georgia faced new challenges with the rise of the Qara Qoyunlu and later Aq Qoyunlu Turkoman confederations in the Caucasus and Western Persia. The power vacuum left by Timur's empire led to increased instability and frequent conflicts in the region, affecting Georgia significantly.

Qara Qoyunlu Invasions

The Qara Qoyunlu, under the leadership of Qara Yusuf, took advantage of Georgia's weakened state post-Timur invasions. In 1407, during one of their first attacks, Qara Yusuf captured and killed George VII of Georgia, took many prisoners, and wreaked havoc across the Georgian territories. Subsequent invasions followed, with Constantine I of Georgia being defeated and executed after being captured at the Battle of Chalagan, further destabilizing the region.

Alexander I’s Reconquests

Alexander I of Georgia, aiming to restore and defend his kingdom, managed to recover territories such as Lori from the Turkomans by 1431. His efforts helped to stabilize the borders temporarily and allowed for some recovery from the continuous assaults.

Jahan Shah’s Invasions

During the mid-15th century, Jahan Shah of Qara Qoyunlu launched multiple invasions into Georgia. The most notable was in 1440, which resulted in the sacking of Samshvilde and the capital, Tbilisi. These invasions continued intermittently, each significantly straining Georgia’s resources and weakening its political structure.

Uzun Hasan’s Campaigns

Later in the century, Uzun Hasan of Aq Qoyunlu led further invasions into Georgia, continuing the pattern of assault established by his predecessors. His campaigns in 1466, 1472, and possibly 1476-77 focused on enforcing dominance over Georgia, which had by then become fragmented and politically unstable.

Yaqub’s Invasions

In the late 15th century, Yaqub of Aq Qoyunlu also targeted Georgia. His campaigns in 1486 and 1488 included assaults on key Georgian cities like Dmanisi and Kveshi, further demonstrating the ongoing challenge faced by Georgia in maintaining its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

End of the Turkoman Threat

The Turkoman threat to Georgia diminished significantly after the rise of the Safavid dynasty under Ismail I, who defeated the Aq Qoyunlu in 1502. This victory marked the end of major Turkoman invasions into Georgian territory and shifted the regional power dynamics, paving the way for relative stability in the region.

Throughout this period, Georgia struggled with the impact of continuous military campaigns and the broader geopolitical changes that reshaped the Caucasus and Western Asia. These conflicts drained Georgian resources, led to significant loss of life, and hampered the kingdom’s economic and social development, contributing to its eventual fragmentation into smaller political entities.

Collapse of the Georgian realm
Decision of King Alexander I (left on a fresco) to divide the administration of the kingdom among his three sons is seen as the end of Georgian unity and the beginning of its collapse and establishment of triarchy. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).

The fragmentation and eventual collapse of the unified Kingdom of Georgia during the late 15th century marked a significant shift in the region's historical and political landscape. Initiated by the Mongol invasions in the 13th century, this fragmentation resulted in the emergence of a de facto independent Kingdom of Western Georgia under King David VI Narin and his successors. Despite several attempts at reunification, persistent divisions and internal conflicts led to further disintegration.

By the time of King George VIII's reign in the 1460s, the fragmentation had evolved into a full-blown dynastic triarchy, involving intense rivalry and conflict among various branches of the Bagrationi royal family. This period was characterized by the separatist movements of the Principality of Samtskhe and ongoing strife between the central government in Kartli and the regional powers in Imereti and Kakheti. These conflicts were exacerbated by external pressures, such as the rise of the Ottoman Empire and the continued threats from Timurid and Turkoman forces, which exploited and deepened the internal divisions within Georgia.

The situation reached a critical point in 1490 when a formal peace accord concluded the dynastic wars by officially dividing the former unified kingdom into three separate kingdoms: Kartli, Kakheti, and Imereti. This division was formalized in a royal council that recognized the irreversible nature of the fragmentation. The once powerful Kingdom of Georgia, established in 1008, thus ceased to exist as a unified state, leading to centuries of regional fragmentation and foreign domination.

This period of Georgian history illustrates the profound impact of continuous external invasions and internal rivalries on a medieval kingdom, highlighting the challenges of maintaining sovereign unity in the face of both external aggression and internal fragmentation. The eventual disintegration of the kingdom significantly altered the political landscape of the Caucasus, setting the stage for further geopolitical changes with the expansion of neighboring empires.

Kingdom of Imereti
Kingdom of Imereti ©HistoryMaps
1455 Jan 1 - 1810

Kingdom of Imereti

Kutaisi, Georgia

The Kingdom of Imereti, located in western Georgia, emerged as an independent monarchy in 1455 following the fragmentation of the unified Kingdom of Georgia into several rival kingdoms. This division was primarily due to ongoing internal dynastic disputes and external pressures, notably from the Ottomans. Imereti, which had been a distinct region even during the larger Georgian kingdom, was ruled by a cadet branch of the Bagrationi royal family.

Initially, Imereti experienced periods of both autonomy and unification under the rule of George V the Brilliant, who temporarily restored unity in the region. However, after 1455, Imereti became a recurrent battlefield influenced by both Georgian internal strife and persistent Ottoman incursions. This continuous conflict led to significant political instability and gradual decline.

The kingdom's strategic position made it vulnerable but also significant in regional politics, prompting Imereti's rulers to seek foreign alliances. In 1649, seeking protection and stability, Imereti sent ambassadors to the Tsardom of Russia, establishing initial contacts that were reciprocated in 1651 with a Russian mission to Imereti. During this mission, Alexander III of Imereti pledged an oath of allegiance to Tsar Alexis of Russia, reflecting the kingdom's shifting geopolitical alignment towards Russian influence.

Despite these efforts, Imereti remained politically fragmented and unstable. Alexander III's attempts to consolidate control over Western Georgia were ephemeral, and his death in 1660 left the region fraught with ongoing feudal discord. Archil of Imereti, who reigned intermittently, also sought assistance from Russia and even approached Pope Innocent XII, but his efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, leading to his exile.

The 19th century marked a significant turning point when Solomon II of Imereti accepted Russian Imperial suzerainty in 1804 under pressure from Pavel Tsitsianov. However, his rule ended in 1810 when he was deposed by the Russian Empire, leading to the formal annexation of Imereti. During this period, local principalities such as Mingrelia, Abkhazia, and Guria took the opportunity to assert their independence from Imereti, further fragmenting the Georgian territories.

Kingdom of Kakheti
Kingdom of Kakheti ©HistoryMaps
1465 Jan 1 - 1762

Kingdom of Kakheti

Gremi, Georgia

The Kingdom of Kakheti was a historical monarchy in eastern Georgia, emerging from the fragmentation of the unified Kingdom of Georgia in 1465. Initially established with its capital at Gremi and later Telavi, Kakheti endured as a semi-independent state influenced significantly by larger regional powers, notably Iran and occasionally the Ottoman Empire.

Early Foundations

The earlier form of the Kingdom of Kakheti can be traced back to the 8th century when local tribes in Tzanaria rebelled against Arab control, establishing a significant early medieval Georgian kingdom.

Reestablishment and Division

In the mid-15th century, Georgia faced intense internal conflicts that led to its division. In 1465, following the capture and dethronement of King George VIII of Georgia by his rebellious vassal, Qvarqvare III, Duke of Samtskhe, Kakheti reemerged as a separate entity under George VIII. He ruled as a sort of anti-king until his death in 1476. By 1490, the division was formalized when Constantine II recognized Alexander I, the son of George VIII, as the king of Kakheti.

Periods of Independence and Subjugation

Throughout the 16th century, Kakheti experienced periods of relative independence and prosperity under King Levan. The kingdom benefited from its location along the vital Ghilan-Shemakha-Astrakhan silk route, fostering trade and economic growth. However, Kakheti’s strategic importance also meant that it was a target for the expanding Ottoman and Safavid empires. In 1555, the Amasya Peace Treaty placed Kakheti within the sphere of Safavid Iranian influence, yet local rulers maintained a degree of autonomy by balancing relations between the major powers.

Safavid Control and Resistance

The early 17th century brought renewed efforts by Shah Abbas I of Iran to integrate Kakheti more tightly into the Safavid Empire. These efforts culminated in severe invasions during 1614-1616, which devastated Kakheti, leading to significant depopulation and economic decline. Despite this, resistance continued, and in 1659, Kakhetians staged an uprising against plans to settle Turkomans in the region.

Iranian and Ottoman Influences

Throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries, Kakheti was repeatedly caught between Iranian and Ottoman ambitions. The Safavid government attempted to solidify control by repopulating the area with nomadic Turkic tribes and placing it under direct Iranian governors.

Unification under Erekle II

By the mid-18th century, the political landscape began to shift as Nader Shah of Iran rewarded the loyalty of the Kakhetian prince Teimuraz II and his son Erekle II by granting them the kingships of Kakheti and Kartli respectively in 1744. Following Nader Shah’s death in 1747, Erekle II exploited the ensuing chaos to assert greater independence, and by 1762, he succeeded in uniting eastern Georgia, forming the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti, marking the end of Kakheti as a separate kingdom.

Kingdom of Kartli
Kingdom of Kartli ©HistoryMaps
1478 Jan 1 - 1762

Kingdom of Kartli

Tbilisi, Georgia

The Kingdom of Kartli, centered in eastern Georgia with its capital at Tbilisi, emerged from the fragmentation of the united Kingdom of Georgia in 1478 and existed until 1762 when it merged with the neighboring Kingdom of Kakheti. This merger, facilitated by dynastic succession, brought both regions under the rule of the Kakhetian branch of the Bagrationi dynasty. Throughout its history, Kartli frequently found itself as a vassal to the dominant regional powers of Iran and, to a lesser extent, the Ottoman Empire, although it experienced periods of greater autonomy, particularly after 1747.

Background and Disintegration

Kartli's story is deeply intertwined with the broader disintegration of the Kingdom of Georgia starting around 1450. The kingdom was plagued by internal strife within the royal house and nobility, leading to its eventual division. The pivotal moment came after 1463 when George VIII was defeated at the Battle of Chikhori, leading to his capture in 1465 by Qvarqvare II, Prince of Samtskhe. This event catalyzed the division of Georgia into separate kingdoms, with Kartli being one of them.

Era of Fragmentation and Conflict

Bagrat VI declared himself King of all Georgia in 1466, overshadowing Kartli's own ambitions. Constantine, a rival claimant and George VIII's nephew, established his rule over part of Kartli by 1469. This era was marked by continuous feudal disputes and conflicts, not only within Georgia but also with emerging external threats like the Ottomans and the Turkomans.

Efforts at Reunification and Continued Strife

In the late 15th century, attempts were made to reunify Georgian territories. For instance, Constantine managed to exert control over Kartli and briefly reunited it with Western Georgia. However, these efforts were often short-lived due to ongoing internal conflicts and new external challenges.

Subjugation and Semi-independence

By the mid-16th century, Kartli, like many other parts of Georgia, came under the suzerainty of Iran, with the Peace of Amasya in 1555 confirming this status. Although formally recognized as part of the Safavid Persian Empire, Kartli retained a degree of autonomy, managing its internal affairs to some extent and engaging in regional politics.

Rise of the House of Kartli-Kakheti

In the 18th century, especially following the assassination of Nader Shah in 1747, the kings of Kartli and Kakheti, Teimuraz II and Heraclius II, capitalized on the ensuing chaos in Persia to assert de facto independence. This period saw a significant revival in the kingdom's fortunes and a reaffirmation of Georgian cultural and political identity.

Unification and Russian Overlordship

The unification of Kartli and Kakheti under Irakli II in 1762 marked the establishment of the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti. This unified kingdom strove to maintain its sovereignty against increasing pressures from neighboring empires, particularly Russia and Persia. The Treaty of Georgievsk in 1783 symbolized a strategic alignment with Russia, which eventually led to the formal annexation of the kingdom by the Russian Empire in 1800.

Ottoman and Persian Domination in the Georgian Kingdom
Ottoman and Persian Domination in the Georgian Kingdom ©HistoryMaps

By the mid-15th century, significant geopolitical shifts and internal divisions had precipitated the decline of the Kingdom of Georgia. The fall of Constantinople in 1453, captured by the Ottoman Turks, was a crucial event that isolated Georgia from Europe and the broader Christian world, further exacerbating its vulnerability. This isolation was partially mitigated through continued trade and diplomatic contacts with the Genoese colonies in Crimea, which served as Georgia's remaining link to Western Europe.

The fragmentation of the once-unified Georgian kingdom into multiple smaller entities marked a significant turning point in its history. By the 1460s, the kingdom was divided into:[18]

  • 3 Kingdoms of Kartli, Kakheti and Imereti.
  • 5 Principalities of Guria, Svaneti, Meskheti, Abkhazeti and Samegrelo.

During the 16th century, the regional powers of the Ottoman Empire and Safavid Persia exploited Georgia's internal divisions to establish control over its territories. The Peace of Amasya in 1555, which followed the prolonged Ottoman–Safavid War, delineated spheres of influence in Georgia between these two empires, allocating Imereti to the Ottomans and Kartli-Kakheti to the Persians. However, the balance of power shifted frequently with subsequent conflicts, leading to alternating periods of Turkish and Persian dominance.

The Persian reassertion of control over Georgia was particularly brutal. In 1616, following a Georgian revolt, Shah Abbas I of Persia ordered a devastating punitive campaign against Tbilisi, the capital. This campaign was marked by a horrific massacre that resulted in the death of up to 200,000 people[19] and the deportation of thousands from Kakheti to Persia. The period also witnessed the tragic fate of Queen Ketevan, who was tortured and killed[20] for refusing to renounce her Christian faith, symbolizing the severe oppression faced by Georgians under Persian rule.

The constant warfare, heavy taxation, and political manipulation by external powers left Georgia impoverished and its population demoralized. Observations by European travelers such as Jean Chardin in the 17th century highlighted the dire conditions of the peasants, the corruption of the nobility, and the incompetence of the clergy.

In response to these challenges, Georgian rulers sought to strengthen ties with external allies, including the Tsardom of Russia. In 1649, the Kingdom of Imereti reached out to Russia, leading to reciprocal embassies and a formal oath of allegiance by Alexander III of Imereti to Tsar Alexis of Russia. Despite these efforts, internal strife continued to plague Georgia, and the hoped-for stabilization under Russian protection was not fully realized during this period. Thus, by the end of the 17th century, Georgia remained a fragmented and beleaguered region, struggling under the yoke of foreign domination and internal division, setting the stage for further trials in the centuries to follow.

1801 - 1918
Russian Empire
Georgia within the Russian Empire
A painting of Tbilisi by Nikanor Chernetsov, 1832 ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1801 Jan 1 - 1918

Georgia within the Russian Empire


In the early modern period, Georgia was a battleground for control between the Muslim Ottoman and Safavid Persian empires. Fragmented into various kingdoms and principalities, Georgia sought stability and protection. By the 18th century, the Russian Empire, sharing the Orthodox Christian faith with Georgia, emerged as a powerful ally. In 1783, the eastern Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti, under King Heraclius II, signed a treaty making it a Russian protectorate, formally renouncing ties with Persia.

Despite the alliance, Russia did not fully uphold the treaty's terms, leading to the annexation of Kartli-Kakheti in 1801 and transforming it into the Georgia Governorate. The western Georgian kingdom of Imereti followed, annexed by Russia in 1810. Throughout the 19th century, Russia gradually incorporated the rest of Georgian territories, with their rule legitimized in various peace treaties with Persia and the Ottoman Empire.

Under Russian rule until 1918, Georgia experienced significant social and economic transformations, including the emergence of new social classes. The emancipation of serfs in 1861 and the advent of capitalism spurred the growth of an urban working class. However, these changes also led to widespread discontent and unrest, culminating in the 1905 Revolution. The socialist Mensheviks, gaining traction among the populace, led the push against Russian dominance.

Georgia's independence in 1918 was less a triumph of nationalist and socialist movements and more a consequence of the Russian Empire's collapse during World War I. While Russian rule provided protection against external threats, it was often marked by oppressive governance, leaving a legacy of mixed impacts on Georgian society.


By the 15th century, the once-unified Christian Kingdom of Georgia had fragmented into several smaller entities, becoming a focus of contention between the Ottoman and Safavid Persian empires. The 1555 Peace of Amasya officially divided Georgia between these two powers: the western parts, including the Kingdom of Imereti and the Principality of Samtskhe, fell under Ottoman influence, while the eastern regions, such as the kingdoms of Kartli and Kakheti, came under Persian control.

Amidst these external pressures, Georgia began to seek support from a new emerging power to the north—Muscovy (Russia), which shared Georgia's Orthodox Christian faith. Initial contacts in 1558 eventually led to an offer of protection by Tsar Fyodor I in 1589, although substantial aid from Russia was slow to materialize due to its geographical distance and political circumstances.

Russia's strategic interest in the Caucasus intensified in the early 18th century. In 1722, during the chaos in the Safavid Persian Empire, Peter the Great launched an expedition into the region, aligning with Vakhtang VI of Kartli. However, this effort faltered, and Vakhtang eventually ended his life in exile in Russia.

The latter half of the century saw renewed Russian efforts under Catherine the Great, who aimed to solidify Russian influence through military and infrastructural advancements, including the construction of forts and the relocation of Cossacks to act as border guards. The outbreak of war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire in 1768 further escalated military activities in the region. Russian General Tottleben's campaigns during this period laid the groundwork for the Georgian Military Highway.

The strategic dynamics took a significant turn in 1783 when Heraclius II of Kartli-Kakheti signed the Treaty of Georgievsk with Russia, ensuring protection against Ottoman and Persian threats in exchange for exclusive allegiance to Russia. However, during the 1787 Russo-Turkish War, Russian troops were withdrawn, leaving Heraclius's kingdom vulnerable. In 1795, after refusing a Persian ultimatum to sever ties with Russia, Tbilisi was sacked by Agha Mohammad Khan of Persia, highlighting the region's ongoing struggle and the unreliable nature of Russian support during this critical period.

Russian Annexations

Despite the Russian failure to honor the Treaty of Georgievsk and the devastating Persian sack of Tbilisi in 1795, Georgia remained strategically dependent on Russia. After the assassination of Persian ruler Agha Mohammad Khan in 1797, which temporarily weakened Persian control, King Heraclius II of Georgia saw continued hope in Russian support. However, following his death in 1798, internal succession disputes and weak leadership under his son, Giorgi XII, led to further instability.

By the end of 1800, Russia moved decisively to assert control over Georgia. Tsar Paul I decided against crowning either of the rival Georgian heirs and, by early 1801, officially incorporated the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti into the Russian Empire—a decision confirmed by Tsar Alexander I later that year. Russian forces solidified their authority by forcibly integrating the Georgian nobility and removing potential Georgian claimants to the throne.

This incorporation significantly enhanced Russia's strategic position in the Caucasus, prompting military conflicts with both Persia and the Ottoman Empire. The ensuing Russo-Persian War (1804-1813) and Russo-Turkish War (1806-1812) further solidified Russian dominance in the region, culminating in treaties that recognized Russian sovereignty over Georgian territories.

In Western Georgia, resistance to Russian annexation was led by Solomon II of Imereti. Despite attempts to negotiate autonomy within the Russian Empire, his refusal led to the 1804 Russian invasion of Imereti. Solomon's subsequent attempts at resistance and negotiation with the Ottomans ultimately failed, leading to his deposition and exile by 1810. The continuing Russian military successes during this period eventually subdued local resistance and brought further territories, such as Adjara and Svaneti, under Russian control by the late 19th century.

Early Russian Rule

In the early 19th century, Georgia underwent significant transformations under Russian rule, marked initially by a military governance that placed the region as a frontier in the Russo-Turkish and Russo-Persian wars. The integration efforts were profound, with the Russian Empire seeking to assimilate Georgia both administratively and culturally. Despite shared Orthodox Christian beliefs and a similar feudal hierarchy, the imposition of Russian authority often clashed with local customs and governance, particularly when the autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church was abolished in 1811.

The alienation of the Georgian nobility led to significant resistance, including a failed aristocratic conspiracy in 1832 inspired by wider revolts within the Russian Empire. Such resistance underscored the discontent among Georgians under Russian rule. However, the appointment of Mikhail Vorontsov as Viceroy in 1845 marked a shift in policy. Vorontsov's more accommodating approach helped to reconcile some of the Georgian nobility, leading to greater cultural assimilation and cooperation.

Beneath the nobility, the Georgian peasants lived in harsh conditions, exacerbated by previous periods of foreign domination and economic depression. Frequent famines and harsh serfdom prompted periodic revolts, such as the major revolt in Kakheti in 1812. The issue of serfdom was a critical one, and it was addressed significantly later than in Russia proper. Tsar Alexander II's emancipation edict of 1861 extended to Georgia by 1865, initiating a gradual process whereby serfs were transformed into free peasants. This reform allowed them more personal freedoms and the eventual opportunity to own land, though it placed economic strains on both the peasants, who struggled with new financial burdens, and the nobility, who saw their traditional powers wane.

During this period, Georgia also saw an influx of various ethnic and religious groups, encouraged by the Russian government. This was part of a broader strategy to consolidate control over the Caucasus and dilute local resistance by altering the demographic makeup. Groups like the Molokans, Doukhobors, and other Christian minorities from the Russian heartland, along with Armenians and Caucasus Greeks, were settled in strategic areas, strengthening the Russian military and cultural presence in the region.

Later Russian Rule

The assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 marked a turning point for Georgia under Russian rule. His successor, Alexander III, adopted a more autocratic approach and sought to suppress any aspirations for national independence within the empire. This period saw increased centralization and Russification efforts, such as restrictions on the Georgian language and the suppression of local customs and identity, which culminated in significant resistance from the Georgian populace. The situation escalated with the murder of the rector of the Tbilisi seminary by a Georgian student in 1886, and the mysterious death of Dimitri Kipiani, a critic of the Russian ecclesiastical authority, which sparked major anti-Russian demonstrations.

The discontent brewing in Georgia was part of a larger pattern of unrest throughout the Russian Empire, which erupted into the Revolution of 1905 following the brutal suppression of demonstrators in Saint Petersburg. Georgia became a hotspot of revolutionary activity, heavily influenced by the Menshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Party. The Mensheviks, led by Noe Zhordania and predominantly supported by peasants and workers, orchestrated significant strikes and revolts, such as the large peasant uprising in Guria. Their tactics, however, including violent actions against the Cossacks, eventually led to a backlash and a breakdown in alliances with other ethnic groups, notably the Armenians.

The post-revolution period saw a relative calm under the governance of Count Ilarion Vorontsov-Dashkov, with the Mensheviks distancing themselves from extreme measures. The political landscape in Georgia was further shaped by the Bolsheviks' limited influence, restricted mainly to the industrial centers like Chiatura.

World War I introduced new dynamics. Georgia's strategic location meant that the impact of the war was directly felt, and while the war initially elicited little enthusiasm among Georgians, the conflict with Turkey heightened the urgency for national security and autonomy. The 1917 Russian revolutions further destabilized the region, leading to the formation of the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic by April 1918, a short-lived entity comprising Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, each driven by divergent goals and external pressures.

Ultimately, on 26 May 1918, in the face of advancing Turkish forces and the breakdown of the federative republic, Georgia declared its independence, establishing the Democratic Republic of Georgia. This independence, however, was fleeting, as geopolitical pressures continued to shape its short existence until the Bolshevik invasion in 1921. This period of Georgian history illustrates the complexities of national identity formation and the struggle for autonomy against the backdrop of broader imperial dynamics and local political upheavals.

Democratic Republic of Georgia
National Council meeting, May 26, 1918 ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1918 Jan 1 - 1921

Democratic Republic of Georgia


The Democratic Republic of Georgia (DRG), existing from May 1918 to February 1921, represents a pivotal chapter in Georgian history as the first modern establishment of a Georgian republic. Created following the Russian Revolution of 1917, which led to the dissolution of the Russian Empire, the DRG declared independence amidst the shifting allegiances and chaos of post-imperial Russia. Governed by the moderate, multi-party Georgian Social Democratic Party, predominantly the Mensheviks, it was recognized internationally by major European powers.

Initially, the DRG functioned under the protectorate of the German Empire, which provided a semblance of stability. However, this arrangement ended with Germany's defeat in World War I. Subsequently, British forces occupied parts of Georgia to prevent a Bolshevik takeover but withdrew in 1920 following the Treaty of Moscow, wherein Soviet Russia recognized Georgia's independence under specific terms to avoid hosting anti-Bolshevik activities.

Despite international recognition and support, the absence of strong foreign protection left DRG vulnerable. In February 1921, the Bolshevik Red Army invaded Georgia, leading to the collapse of the DRG by March 1921. The Georgian government, led by Prime Minister Noe Zhordania, fled to France and continued to operate in exile, recognized by countries like France, Britain, Belgium, and Poland as the legitimate government of Georgia until the early 1930s.

The DRG is remembered for its progressive policies and democratic values, particularly notable in its early adoption of women's suffrage and the inclusion of multiple ethnicities in its parliament—features that were advanced for the period and contributed to its legacy of pluralism and inclusivity. It also marked significant cultural advancements, such as the founding of the first full-fledged university in Georgia, fulfilling a long-held aspiration among Georgian intellectuals stifled under Russian rule. Despite its brief existence, the Democratic Republic of Georgia laid foundational democratic principles that continue to inspire Georgian society today.


After the February Revolution of 1917, which dismantled the Tsarist administration in the Caucasus, the region's governance was taken over by the Special Transcaucasian Committee (Ozakom), under the aegis of the Russian Provisional Government. The Georgian Social Democratic Party, which held firm control over the local soviets, supported the Provisional Government, aligning with the broader revolutionary movement led by the Petrograd Soviet.

The Bolshevik October Revolution later that year drastically altered the political landscape. The Caucasian Soviets did not recognize Vladimir Lenin’s new Bolshevik regime, reflecting the region's complex and divergent political attitudes. This refusal, coupled with the chaos brought on by deserting soldiers who had become increasingly radicalized, as well as ethnic tensions and general disorder, prompted leaders from Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to form a unified regional authority, initially as the Transcaucasian Commissariat in November 1917, and later formalized into a legislative body known as the Sejm on January 23, 1918. The Sejm, presided over by Nikolay Chkheidze, declared the independence of the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic on April 22, 1918, with Evgeni Gegechkori and subsequently Akaki Chkhenkeli leading the executive government.

The drive for Georgian independence was significantly influenced by nationalist thinkers like Ilia Chavchavadze, whose ideas resonated during this period of cultural awakening. Significant milestones such as the restoration of the autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church in March 1917 and the establishment of a national university in Tbilisi in 1918 further fueled the nationalistic fervor. However, the Georgian Mensheviks, who played a prominent role in the political scene, viewed independence from Russia as a pragmatic measure against the Bolsheviks rather than a permanent secession, regarding more radical calls for full independence as chauvinistic and separatist.

The Transcaucasian Federation was short-lived, undermined by internal tensions and external pressures from the German and Ottoman empires. It dissolved on May 26, 1918, when Georgia declared its independence, followed shortly by similar declarations from Armenia and Azerbaijan on May 28, 1918.


Initially recognized by Germany and the Ottoman Empire, the Democratic Republic of Georgia (DRG) found itself under the protective but restrictive auspices of the German Empire through the Treaty of Poti, and was compelled to cede territories to the Ottomans as per the Treaty of Batum. This arrangement allowed Georgia to fend off Bolshevik advances from Abkhazia, thanks to the military support of German forces commanded by Friedrich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein.

Following Germany's defeat in World War I, British forces replaced the Germans in Georgia. The relationship between the British forces and the local Georgian population was strained, and control over strategic areas like Batumi remained contested until 1920, reflecting the ongoing challenges in regional stability.

Internally, Georgia grappled with territorial disputes and ethnic tensions, particularly with Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as internal revolts incited by local Bolshevik activists. These disputes were occasionally mediated by British military missions aiming to consolidate anti-Bolshevik forces in the Caucasus, but geopolitical realities often undermined these efforts.

In the political realm, the Social Democratic Party of Georgia, leading the government, managed to institute significant reforms including land reforms and judicial system enhancements, reflecting the DRG's commitment to democratic principles. The DRG also granted autonomy to Abkhazia in an effort to address ethnic grievances, although tensions with ethnic minorities like the Ossetians persisted.

Decline and Fall

As 1920 progressed, the geopolitical situation for Georgia became increasingly precarious. The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (SFSR), having defeated the White movement, advanced its influence in the Caucasus. Despite offers from the Soviet leadership for an alliance against the White armies, Georgia maintained a stance of neutrality and noninterference, hoping instead for a political settlement that might secure formal recognition of its independence from Moscow.

However, the situation escalated when the 11th Red Army established a Soviet regime in Azerbaijan in April 1920, and Georgian Bolsheviks, led by Sergo Orjonikidze, intensified their efforts to destabilize Georgia. An attempted coup in May 1920 was thwarted by Georgian forces under General Giorgi Kvinitadze, leading to brief but intense military confrontations.

Subsequent peace negotiations resulted in the Moscow Peace Treaty on May 7, 1920, where Georgian independence was recognized by Soviet Russia under certain conditions, including the legalization of Bolshevik organizations within Georgia and the prohibition of foreign military presence on Georgian soil.

Despite these concessions, Georgia's position remained vulnerable, highlighted by the defeat of a motion for Georgian membership in the League of Nations and the formal recognition by Allied powers in January 1921. The lack of substantial international support, coupled with internal and external pressures, left Georgia susceptible to further Soviet advances.

In early 1921, surrounded by Sovietized neighbors and lacking external support following the British withdrawal, Georgia faced increasing provocations and alleged treaty violations, which culminated in its annexation by the Red Army, marking the end of its brief period of independence. This period underscores the challenges small nations face in maintaining sovereignty amidst larger geopolitical struggles.

Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic
11th Red Army invaded Georgia. ©HistoryMaps
1921 Jan 1 - 1991

Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic


After the October Revolution in Russia, the Transcaucasian Commissariat was established on November 28, 1917, in Tiflis, transitioning into the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic by April 22, 1918. However, this federation was short-lived, dissolving within a month into three separate states: Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. In 1919, Georgia saw the Social Democratic Party come to power amidst a challenging environment of internal revolts and external threats, which included conflicts with Armenia and remnants of the Ottoman Empire. The region was destabilized by Soviet-backed peasants' revolts, reflecting the broader spread of revolutionary socialism.

The crisis culminated in 1921 when the 11th Red Army invaded Georgia, leading to the fall of Tbilisi on February 25, and the subsequent proclamation of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. The Georgian government was forced into exile, and on March 2, 1922, the first constitution of Soviet Georgia was adopted. The Treaty of Kars, signed on October 13, 1921, redrew borders between Turkey and the Transcaucasian republics, leading to significant territorial adjustments.

Georgia was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1922 as part of the Transcaucasian SFSR, which also included Armenia and Azerbaijan, and was under the influence of notable figures such as Lavrentiy Beria. This period was marked by intense political repression, particularly during the Great Purges, which saw tens of thousands of Georgians executed or sent to Gulags.

World War II brought significant contributions from Georgia to the Soviet war effort, although the region was spared from direct Axis invasion. Post-war, Joseph Stalin, himself Georgian, enacted harsh measures including the deportation of various Caucasian peoples.

By the 1950s, under Nikita Khrushchev's leadership, Georgia experienced a degree of economic success but was also notable for high levels of corruption. Eduard Shevardnadze, rising to power in the 1970s, was recognized for his anti-corruption efforts and maintained Georgia's economic stability. In 1978, mass demonstrations in Tbilisi successfully opposed the demotion of the Georgian language, reaffirming its constitutional status.

The late 1980s saw escalating tensions and nationalist movements, notably in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The April 9, 1989, crackdown by Soviet troops on peaceful demonstrators in Tbilisi galvanized the independence movement.

Democratic elections in October 1990 led to a declaration of a transitional period, culminating in a referendum on March 31, 1991, where the majority of Georgians voted for independence based on the 1918 Act of Independence. Georgia officially declared independence on April 9, 1991, under the leadership of Zviad Gamsakhurdia. This move preceded the dissolution of the Soviet Union by several months, marking a significant transition from Soviet rule to independent governance, despite the ongoing challenges of political instability and regional conflicts.

Modern Independent Georgia
Gamsakhurdia Presidency
Leaders of Georgian independence movement in late 1980s, Zviad Gamsakhurdia (left) and Merab Kostava (right). ©George barateli
1991 Jan 1 - 1992

Gamsakhurdia Presidency


Georgia's journey toward democratic reforms and its push for independence from Soviet control culminated in its first democratic multiparty elections on October 28, 1990. The "Round Table — Free Georgia" coalition, which included Zviad Gamsakhurdia's SSIR party and the Georgian Helsinki Union among others, won a decisive victory, securing 64% of the vote against the Georgian Communist Party's 29.6%. This election marked a significant shift in Georgian politics, setting the stage for further moves towards independence.

Following this, on November 14, 1990, Zviad Gamsakhurdia was elected as chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia, effectively positioning him as the de facto leader of Georgia. The push for full independence continued, and on March 31, 1991, a referendum overwhelmingly supported restoring Georgia’s pre-Soviet independence, with 98.9% in favor. This led to the Georgian parliament declaring independence on April 9, 1991, effectively re-establishing the Georgian state that existed from 1918 to 1921.

Gamsakhurdia's presidency was characterized by a vision of pan-Caucasian unity, termed the "Caucasian House," which promoted regional cooperation and envisioned structures like a common economic zone and a "Caucasian Forum" akin to a regional United Nations. Despite these ambitious plans, Gamsakhurdia’s tenure was short-lived due to political instability and his eventual overthrow.

Domestically, Gamsakhurdia's policies included significant changes such as renaming the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic to the "Republic of Georgia," and restoring national symbols. He also initiated economic reforms aimed at transitioning from a socialist command economy to a capitalist market economy, with policies supporting privatization, social market economy, and consumer protection.

However, Gamsakhurdia's rule was also marked by ethnic tensions, particularly with Georgia’s minority populations. His nationalist rhetoric and policies exacerbated fears among minorities and fueled conflicts, particularly in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This period also saw the establishment of the National Guard of Georgia and moves towards creating an independent military, further asserting Georgia's sovereignty.

Gamsakhurdia's foreign policy was marked by a strong stance against reintegration into Soviet structures and aspirations for closer ties with the European Community and the United Nations. His government also supported Chechnya’s independence from Russia, reflecting his broader regional aspirations.

The internal political turmoil culminated in a violent coup d'état on December 22, 1991, which led to Gamsakhurdia's ousting and a period of civil conflict. Following his escape and temporary asylum in various locations, Gamsakhurdia remained a controversial figure until his death.

In March 1992, Eduard Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister and a political rival of Gamsakhurdia, was appointed as the head of the newly formed State Council, marking another significant shift in Georgian politics. Under Shevardnadze's rule, which officially began in 1995, Georgia navigated the post-Soviet landscape marked by continuing ethnic conflicts and challenges in establishing a stable and democratic governance structure.

Georgian Civil War
Pro-government forces shielding behind the Parliament building during the 1991-1992 Tbilisi War that would result in the overthrow of President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. ©Alexandre Assatiani
1991 Dec 22 - 1993 Dec 31

Georgian Civil War


The period of political transformation in Georgia during the dissolution of the Soviet Union was marked by intense domestic upheaval and ethnic conflicts. The opposition movement began organizing mass protests in 1988, leading to a declaration of sovereignty in May 1990. On April 9, 1991, Georgia declared independence, which was later recognized internationally in December of that year. Zviad Gamsakhurdia, a key figure in the nationalist movement, was elected President in May 1991.

Amidst these transformative events, separatist movements among ethnic minorities, particularly the Ossetians and the Abkhaz, intensified. In March 1989, a petition was submitted for a separate Abkhazian SSR, followed by anti-Georgian riots in July. The South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast declared independence from the Georgian SSR in July 1990, leading to severe tensions and eventual conflict. In January 1991, the National Guard of Georgia entered Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, igniting the Georgian-Ossetian Conflict, which was the first major crisis for Gamsakhurdia's government.

Civil unrest escalated when the Georgian National Guard mutinied against President Gamsakhurdia in August 1991, culminating in the seizure of a government broadcast station. Following the dispersion of a large opposition demonstration in Tbilisi in September, several opposition leaders were arrested, and pro-opposition newspapers were shut down. This period was marked by demonstrations, barricade-building, and clashes between pro- and anti-Gamsakhurdia forces.

The situation deteriorated into a coup d'état in December 1991. On December 20, armed opposition, led by Tengiz Kitovani, began a final assault against Gamsakhurdia. By January 6, 1992, Gamsakhurdia was forced to flee Georgia, first to Armenia and then to Chechnya, where he led a government-in-exile. This coup resulted in significant damage to Tbilisi, particularly Rustaveli Avenue, and led to numerous casualties.

Following the coup, an interim government, the Military Council, was formed, initially led by a triumvirate including Jaba Ioseliani and later chaired by Eduard Shevardnadze in March 1992. Despite Gamsakhurdia's absence, he retained substantial support, particularly in his native region of Samegrelo, leading to ongoing clashes and unrest.

The internal conflicts were further complicated by the South Ossetian and Abkhazian wars. In South Ossetia, fighting escalated in 1992, leading to a ceasefire and the establishment of a peacekeeping operation. In Abkhazia, Georgian forces entered in August 1992 to disarm separatist militias, but by September 1993, Russian-backed separatists had captured Sukhumi, leading to significant Georgian military and civilian casualties and a mass displacement of the Georgian population from Abkhazia.

The early 1990s in Georgia were marked by civil war, ethnic cleansing, and political instability, which had lasting impacts on the country's development and its relations with separatist regions. This period set the stage for further conflicts and the ongoing challenges of state-building in post-Soviet Georgia.

Shevardnadze Presidency
Conflict with the Republic of Abkhazia. ©HistoryMaps
1995 Nov 26 - 2003 Nov 23

Shevardnadze Presidency


The early 1990s in Georgia were a period of intense political turmoil and ethnic conflict, shaping the nation's post-Soviet trajectory significantly. Eduard Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister, returned to Georgia in March 1992 to head the State Council, effectively serving as the president amidst ongoing crises.

One of the most severe challenges was the separatist conflict in Abkhazia. In August 1992, Georgian government forces and paramilitaries entered the autonomous republic to suppress separatist activities. The conflict escalated, leading to a catastrophic defeat for Georgian forces in September 1993. The Abkhaz, supported by North Caucasus paramilitaries and allegedly by Russian military elements, expelled the entire ethnic Georgian population of the region, resulting in approximately 14,000 deaths and displacing around 300,000 people.

Simultaneously, ethnic violence flared in South Ossetia, resulting in several hundred casualties and creating 100,000 refugees who fled to Russian North Ossetia. Meanwhile, in the southwestern part of Georgia, the autonomous republic of Ajaria came under the authoritarian control of Aslan Abashidze, who maintained a tight grip over the region, allowing minimal influence from the central government in Tbilisi.

In a dramatic turn of events, ousted President Zviad Gamsakhurdia returned from exile in September 1993 to lead an uprising against Shevardnadze's government. Capitalizing on the disarray within the Georgian military post-Abkhazia, his forces quickly took control of much of western Georgia. This development prompted intervention by Russian military forces, which assisted the Georgian government in quelling the rebellion. Gamsakhurdia's insurrection collapsed by the end of 1993, and he died under mysterious circumstances on December 31, 1993.

In the aftermath, Shevardnadze's government agreed to join the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in exchange for military and political support, a decision that was highly controversial and indicative of the complex geopolitical dynamics in the region. During Shevardnadze's tenure, Georgia also faced accusations of corruption, which marred his administration and hampered economic progress.

The geopolitical situation was further complicated by the Chechen war, with Russia accusing Georgia of providing sanctuary to Chechen guerrillas. Shevardnadze's pro-Western orientation, including his close ties with the United States and strategic moves such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline project, exacerbated tensions with Russia. This pipeline, which aimed to transport Caspian oil to the Mediterranean, was a significant element of Georgia's foreign policy and economic strategy, aligning with Western interests and reducing dependency on Russian routes.

By 2003, public dissatisfaction with Shevardnadze's rule came to a head during the parliamentary elections, which were widely regarded as rigged. Massive demonstrations ensued, leading to Shevardnadze's resignation on November 23, 2003, in what became known as the Rose Revolution. This marked a significant turning point, paving the way for a new era in Georgian politics, characterized by a push for democratic reforms and further integration with Western institutions.

Mikheil Saakashvili
Presidents Saakashvili and George W. Bush in Tbilisi on 10 May 2005 ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
2008 Jan 20 - 2013 Nov 17

Mikheil Saakashvili


When Mikheil Saakashvili took office after the Rose Revolution, he inherited a nation fraught with challenges, including managing over 230,000 internally displaced persons from the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These regions remained volatile, overseen by Russian and UN peacekeepers under the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), highlighting the fragile state of peace.

Domestically, Saakashvili's government was expected to usher in a new era of democracy and to extend Tbilisi's control over all Georgian territories, aims that necessitated a strong executive to drive these radical changes. Early in his tenure, Saakashvili made significant strides in reducing corruption and strengthening state institutions. Transparency International noted a dramatic improvement in Georgia's corruption perceptions, marking Georgia as a standout reformer by surpassing several EU countries in its rankings.

However, these reforms came at a cost. The concentration of power in the executive branch led to criticisms about the trade-off between democratic and state-building objectives. Saakashvili's methods, though effective in curbing corruption and reforming the economy, were seen as undermining democratic processes.

The situation in Ajaria reflected the challenges of reasserting central authority. In 2004, tensions with the semi-separatist leader Aslan Abashidze escalated to the brink of military confrontation. Saakashvili's firm stance, combined with large-scale demonstrations, eventually forced Abashidze to resign and flee, bringing Ajaria back under Tbilisi's control without bloodshed.

Relations with Russia remained tense, complicated by Russia's support for the separatist regions. Clashes in South Ossetia in August 2004 and Georgia's proactive foreign policy, including moves towards NATO and the United States, further strained these ties. Georgia's involvement in Iraq and the hosting of U.S. military training programs under the Georgia Train and Equip Program (GTEP) highlighted its pivot towards the West.

The sudden death of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania in 2005 was a significant blow to Saakashvili's administration, underscoring the ongoing internal challenges and the pressure to continue reforms amidst growing public discontent over issues like unemployment and corruption.

By 2007, public dissatisfaction culminated in anti-government protests, exacerbated by a police crackdown that tarnished Saakashvili's democratic credentials. Despite economic successes attributed to libertarian reforms enacted under Kakha Bendukidze, such as a liberal labor code and low flat tax rates, political stability remained elusive.

Saakashvili's response was to call early presidential and parliamentary elections for January 2008, stepping down to re-contest the presidency, which he won, marking another term that would soon be overshadowed by the 2008 South Ossetia war with Russia.

In October 2012, a significant political shift occurred when the Georgian Dream coalition, led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, won the parliamentary elections. This marked the first democratic transition of power in Georgia’s post-Soviet history, as Saakashvili conceded defeat and acknowledged the opposition's lead.

Russo-Georgian War
Russian BMP-2 from the 58th Army in South Ossetia ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
2008 Aug 1 - Aug 16

Russo-Georgian War


The 2008 Russo-Georgian War marked a significant conflict in the South Caucasus, involving Russia and Georgia along with the Russian-backed separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The conflict erupted following escalating tensions and a diplomatic crisis between the two nations, both former Soviet republics, against the backdrop of Georgia's pro-Western shift and its aspirations to join NATO.

The war began in early August 2008, following a series of provocations and skirmishes. On August 1, South Ossetian forces, supported by Russia, intensified their shelling of Georgian villages, leading to retaliatory actions by Georgian peacekeepers. The situation escalated when Georgia launched a military offensive on August 7 to retake the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, resulting in a swift but brief control of the city. Concurrently, there were reports of Russian troops moving through the Roki Tunnel into Georgia even before the full-scale Georgian military response.

Russia responded by launching a comprehensive military invasion of Georgia on August 8, under the guise of a "peace enforcement" operation. This included attacks not only in the conflict zones but also in undisputed Georgian territories. The conflict quickly expanded as Russian and Abkhaz forces opened a second front in Abkhazia's Kodori Gorge and Russian naval forces imposed a blockade on parts of the Georgian Black Sea coast.

The intense military engagements, which also coincided with cyber attacks attributed to Russian hackers, lasted for several days until a ceasefire was brokered by Nicolas Sarkozy, then President of France, on August 12. Following the ceasefire, Russian forces continued to occupy key Georgian towns such as Zugdidi, Senaki, Poti, and Gori for several weeks, exacerbating tensions and leading to accusations of ethnic cleansing by South Ossetian forces against ethnic Georgians in the region.

The conflict resulted in significant displacement, with approximately 192,000 people affected and many ethnic Georgians unable to return to their homes. In the aftermath, Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia on August 26, leading Georgia to sever diplomatic relations with Russia. Most Russian troops withdrew from undisputed Georgian territories by October 8, but the war left deep scars and unresolved territorial disputes.

International responses to the war were mixed, with major powers largely condemning the Russian invasion but taking limited action. The European Court of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court later held Russia accountable for human rights violations and war crimes committed during the conflict, highlighting the ongoing legal and diplomatic fallout from the war. The 2008 war significantly impacted Georgian-Russian relations and demonstrated the complexities of post-Soviet geopolitics, particularly the challenges faced by smaller nations like Georgia in navigating great power influences in a volatile regional landscape.

Giorgi Margvelashvili
President Giorgi Margvelashvili meeting his Lithuanian counterpart, Dalia Grybauskaitė, in November 2013. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
2013 Nov 17 - 2018 Dec 16

Giorgi Margvelashvili


Giorgi Margvelashvili, inaugurated as the fourth President of Georgia on November 17, 2013, presided over a period marked by significant constitutional changes, political tension, and active engagement in youth and minority rights.

Constitutional and Political Dynamics

Upon taking office, Margvelashvili faced a new constitutional framework that shifted considerable powers from the presidency to the Prime Minister. This transition aimed to reduce the potential for authoritarianism seen in previous administrations but resulted in tensions between Margvelashvili and the ruling party, Georgian Dream, which was founded by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. Margvelashvili's decision to eschew the lavish presidential palace for more modest accommodations symbolized his break from the opulence associated with his predecessor, Mikheil Saakashvili, although he later used the palace for official ceremonies.

Tensions within the Government

Margvelashvili's tenure was characterized by strained relations with successive prime ministers. Initially, his interactions with Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili were particularly fraught, reflecting broader conflicts within the ruling party. His successor, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, attempted to foster a more cooperative relationship, but Margvelashvili continued to face opposition within Georgian Dream, particularly over constitutional reforms that sought to abolish direct presidential elections—a move he criticized as potentially leading to a concentration of power.

In 2017, Margvelashvili vetoed constitutional amendments concerning the election process and changes to media laws, which he saw as threats to democratic governance and media plurality. Despite these efforts, his vetoes were overridden by the Georgian Dream-dominated parliament.

Youth Engagement and Minority Rights

Margvelashvili was active in promoting civic engagement, particularly among the youth. He supported initiatives like the "Your Voice, Our Future" campaign, led by the Europe-Georgia Institute, which aimed to increase youth participation in the 2016 parliamentary elections. This initiative led to the creation of a nationwide network of active young citizens, reflecting his commitment to empowering younger generations.

Additionally, Margvelashvili was a vocal supporter of minority rights, including LGBTQ+ rights. He publicly defended the freedom of expression in the context of backlash against national football team captain Guram Kashia, who wore a pride armband. His stance highlighted his commitment to upholding human rights in the face of conservative opposition.

End of Presidency and Legacy

Margvelashvili chose not to seek re-election in 2018, marking his term as one focused on maintaining stability and pushing for democratic reforms amid significant internal and external challenges. He facilitated a peaceful transition of power to President-elect Salome Zourabichvili, emphasizing the democratic progress Georgia had made. His presidency left a mixed legacy of striving for democratic ideals and navigating the complexities of political power dynamics in Georgia.

Salome Zourabichvili
Zourabichvili with the French president Emmanuel Macron. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
2018 Dec 16

Salome Zourabichvili


After being sworn in on November 17, 2013, Zourabichvili faced a range of domestic issues, notably the handling of over 230,000 internally displaced persons resulting from ongoing conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Her presidency saw the implementation of a new constitution that shifted considerable power from the presidency to the Prime Minister, changing the political landscape and her role within it.

Zourabichvili's approach to governance included a symbolic rejection of the opulence associated with her predecessors by initially refusing to occupy the lavish presidential palace. Her administration later used the palace for official ceremonies, a move that drew public criticism from influential figures like the former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Foreign Policy and International Relations

Zourabichvili's foreign policy has been characterized by active engagement abroad, representing Georgia's interests internationally and advocating for its integration into Western institutions. Her tenure has seen continued tensions with Russia, particularly concerning the unresolved status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia's aspirations to join the European Union and NATO have been central to her administration, highlighted by the formal EU membership application in March 2021, a significant step reinforced by the geopolitical shifts following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Constitutional and Legal Challenges

The later years of Zourabichvili's presidency have been marred by growing tensions with the ruling Georgian Dream party. Disagreements over foreign policy and her travel abroad without government consent led to a constitutional crisis. The government's attempt to impeach her, citing unauthorized international engagements, underscored the deep political divisions. Although the impeachment was not successful, it highlighted the ongoing struggle between the presidency and the government regarding the direction of Georgia's foreign policy and governance.

Economic and Administrative Adjustments

Zourabichvili's presidency has also seen budgetary constraints, leading to significant cutbacks in the presidential administration funding and a reduction in staff. Decisions such as abolishing the presidential fund, which supported various educational and social projects, were controversial and indicative of broader austerity measures affecting her ability to fulfill some of her presidential functions.

Public Perception and Legacy

Throughout her presidency, Zourabichvili has navigated a complex array of challenges, from managing internal political tensions and fostering economic reforms to navigating Georgia's path on the international stage. Her leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, decisions on international diplomacy, and efforts to promote civic engagement have all contributed to her legacy, which remains mixed amid ongoing political challenges.


Giorgi Margvelashvili

Giorgi Margvelashvili

Fourth President of Georgia

Ilia Chavchavadze

Ilia Chavchavadze

Georgian Writer

Tamar the Great

Tamar the Great

King/Queen of Georgia

David IV of Georgia

David IV of Georgia

King of Georgia

Joseph  Stalin

Joseph Stalin

Leader of the Soviet Union

Mikheil Saakashvili

Mikheil Saakashvili

Third president of Georgia

Shota Rustaveli

Shota Rustaveli

Medieval Georgian poet

Zviad Gamsakhurdia

Zviad Gamsakhurdia

First President of Georgia

Eduard Shevardnadze

Eduard Shevardnadze

Second President of Georgia


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