Caucasian Iberia

Caucasian Iberia

:"This article is about the people of ancient Georgia. For the Iberians of ancient Iberian Peninsula, see Iberians".Iberia (Georgian — იბერია, Latin: "Iberia" and Greek: polytonic|Ἰβηρία), also known as Iveria ( _ka. ივერია), was a name given by the ancient Greeks and Romans to the ancient Georgian kingdom of Kartli [Course of Ancient Geography, Henry Immanuel Smith, p. 279 ] (4th century BC-5th century AD) corresponding roughly to the eastern and southern parts of the present day Georgia. [The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars, Geoffrey Greatrex, Samuel N. C. Lieu, p. 82 ] [ The Emperor Domitian, Brian W. Jones, p. 156 ]

The term Caucasian Iberia (or Eastern Iberia) is used to distinguish it from the Iberian Peninsula, where the present day states of Spain and Portugal are located. The Caucasian Iberians provided a basis for later Georgian statehood and along with Colchis (early western Georgian state) formed a core of the present day Georgian people (or Kartvelians). [ The Making of the Georgian Nation, Ronald Grigor Suny, p. 13] [ Readings in the History of the Ancient World, William Coffman McDermott, Wallace Everett Caldwell, p. 404 ]


Earliest history

The area was inhabited in earliest times by several related tribes, collectively called Iberians (the Eastern Iberians) by ancient authors. Locals called their country Kartli after a mythic chief, Kartlos.

The Moschi, mentioned by various classic historians, and their possible descendants, the Saspers (who were mentioned by Herodotus), may have played a crucial role in the consolidation of the tribes inhabiting the area. The Moschi had moved slowly to the northeast forming settlements as they traveled. The chief of these was Mtskheta, the future capital of the Iberian kingdom. The Mtskheta tribe was later ruled by a principal locally known as "mamasakhlisi" (“the father of the household” in Georgian).

The medieval Georgian source "Moktsevai Kartlisai" (“Conversion of Kartli”) also speaks about Azo and his people, who came from Arian-Kartli - the initial home of the proto-Iberians, which had been under Achaemenid rule until the fall of the Persian Empire - to settle on the site where Mtskheta was to be founded. Another Georgian chronicle "Kartlis Tskhovreba" (“History of Kartli”) claims Azo to be an officer of Alexander’s, who massacred a local ruling family and conquered the area, until being defeated at the end of the 4th century BC by Prince Pharnavaz, who was at that time a local chief.

The story of Alexander’s invasion of Kartli, although entirely fictional, nevertheless reflects the establishment of Georgian monarchy in the Hellenistic period and the desire of later Georgian literati to connect this event to the celebrated conqueror.Rapp, Stephen H. (2003), "Studies In Medieval Georgian Historiography: Early Texts And Eurasian Contexts", pp. 141-142. Peeters Publishers, ISBN 90-429-1318-5.]

Pharnavaz I and his descendants

Pharnavaz, victorious in a power struggle, became the first king of Iberia (ca. 302-ca. 237 BC). Driving back an invasion, he subjugated the neighbouring areas, including a significant part of the western Georgian state of Colchis (locally known as Egrisi), and seems to have secured recognition of the newly founded state by the Seleucids of Syria. Then Pharnavaz focused on social projects, including the citadel of the capitol, the Armaztsikhe, and the idol of the god Armazi. He also reformed the Georgian written language, and created a new system of administration, subdividing the country into several counties called "saeristavos". His successors managed to gain control over the mountainous passes of the Caucasus with the Daryal (also known as the Iberian Gates) being the most important of them. main|Pharnabazid Dynasty

The period following this time of prosperity was one of incessant warfare as Iberia was forced to defend against numerous invasions into its territories. Iberia lost some of its southern provinces to Armenia, and the Colchian lands seceded to form separate princedoms ("sceptuchoi"). At the end of the 2nd century BC, the Pharnavazid king Farnadjom was dethroned by his own subjects and the crown given to the Armenian prince Arshak who ascended the Iberian throne in 93 BC, establishing the Arshakids dynasty.

Roman period

This close association with Armenia brought upon the country an invasion (65 BC) by the Roman general Pompey, who was then at war with Mithradates VI of Pontus, and Armenia; but Rome did not establish her power permanently over Iberia. Nineteen years later, the Romans again marched (36 BC) on Iberia forcing King Pharnavaz II to join their campaign against Albania.

While another Georgian kingdom of Colchis was administered as a Roman province, Iberia freely accepted the Roman Imperial protection. A stone inscription discovered at Mtskheta speaks of the first-century ruler Mihdrat I (AD 58-106) as "the friend of the Caesars" and the king "of the Roman-loving Iberians." Emperor Vespasian fortified the ancient Mtskheta site of Arzami for the Iberian kings in 75 AD.

The next two centuries saw a continuation of Roman influence over the area, but by the reign of King Pharsman II (116132) Iberia had regained some of its former power. Relations between the Roman Emperor Hadrian and Pharsman II were strained, though Hadrian is said to have sought to appease Pharsman. However, it was only under Hadrian's successor Antoninus Pius that relations improved to the extent that Pharsman is said to have even visited Rome, where Dio Cassius reports that a statue was erected in his honor and that rights to sacrifice were given. The period brought a major change to the political status of Iberia with Rome recognizing them as an ally, rather than their former status as a subject state, a political situation which remained the same, even during the Empire's hostilities with the Parthians.

Between Rome/Byzantium and Persia

Decisive for the future history of Iberia was the foundation of the Sassanian Empire in 224. By replacing the weak Parthian realm with a strong, centralized state, it changed the political orientation of Iberia away from Rome. Iberia became a tributary of the Sassanian state during the reign of Shapur I (241-272). Relations between the two countries seem to have been friendly at first, as Iberia cooperated in Persian campaigns against Rome, and the Iberian king Amazasp III (260-265) was listed as a high dignitary of the Sassanian realm, not a vassal who had been subdued by force of arms. But the aggressive tendencies of the Sasanians were evident in their propagation of Zoroastrianism, which was probably established in Iberia between the 260s and 290s. However, in the Peace of Nisibis (298) while Rome acknowledged their reign over the area, it recognized Mirian III, the first of the Chosroid dynasty, as King of Iberia. Byzantine predominance proved crucial, since King Mirian II and leading nobles converted to Christianity around 317. The event is related with the mission of a Cappadocian woman, Saint Nino, who since 303 had preached Christianity in the Georgian kingdom of Iberia (Eastern Georgia). The religion would become a strong tie between Georgia and Rome (later Byzantium) and have a large scale impact on the state's culture and society. However, after the emperor Julian was slain during his failed campaign in Persia in 363, Rome ceded control of Iberia to Persia, and King Varaz-Bakur I (Asphagur) (363-365) became a Persian vassal, an outcome confirmed by the Peace of Acilisene in 387. Although a later ruler of Kartli, Pharsman IV (406-409), preserved his country's autonomy and ceased to pay tribute to Persia. Persia prevailed, and Sassanian kings began to appoint a viceroy ("pitiaxae"/"bidaxae") to keep watch on their vassal. They eventually made the office hereditary in the ruling house of Lower Kartli, thus inaugurating the Kartli "pitiaxate", which brought an extensive territory under its control. Although it remained a part of the kingdom of Kartli, its viceroys turned their domain into a center of Persian influence. Sassanian rulers put the Christianity of the Georgians to a severe test. They promoted the teachings of Zoroaster, and by the middle of the 5th century Zoroastrianism had become a second official religion in eastern Georgia alongside Christianity. However, efforts to convert the common Georgian people were generally unsuccessful.

The early reign of the Iberian king Vakhtang I dubbed "Gorgasali" (447-502) was marked by the relative revival of the kingdom. Formally a vassal of the Persians, he secured the northern borders by subjugating the Caucasian mountaineers, and brought the adjacent western and southern Georgian lands under his control. He established an autocephalic patriarchate at Mtskheta, and made Tbilisi his capital. In 482 he led a general uprising against Persia and started a desperate war for independence that lasted for twenty years. He could not get Byzantine support and was eventually defeated, dying in battle in 502.

Fall of the kingdom

The continuing rivalry between Byzantium and Persia for supremacy in the Caucasus, and the next unsuccessful insurrection (523) of the Georgians under Gurgen had tragic consequences for the country. Thereafter, the king of Iberia had only nominal power, while the country was effectively ruled by the Persians. In 580, Hormizd IV (578-590) abolished the monarchy after the death of King Bakur III, and Iberia became a Persian province ruled by a "marzpan" (governor). Georgian nobles urged the Byzantine emperor Maurice to revive the kingdom of Iberia in 582, but in 591 Byzantium and Persia agreed to divide Iberia between them, with Tbilisi to be in Persian hands and Mtskheta to be under Byzantine control.

At the beginning of the 7th century the truce between Byzantium and Persia collapsed. The Iberian Prince Stephanoz I (ca. 590-627), decided in 607 to join forces with Persia in order to reunite all the territories of Iberia, a goal he seems to have accomplished. But Emperor Heraclius's offensive in 627 and 628 brought victory over the Georgians and Persians and ensured Byzantine predominance in western and eastern Georgia until the invasion of the Caucasus by the Arabs.

Arab period

The Arabs reached Iberia about 645 and forced its eristavi (prince), Stephanoz II (637-ca. 650), to abandon his allegiance to Byzantium and recognize the Caliph as his suzerain. Iberia thus became a tributary state and an Arab emir was installed in Tbilisi about 653. At the beginning of the 9th century, eristavi Ashot I (813-830) of the new Bagrationi dynasty, from his base in southwestern Georgia, took advantage of the weakening of the Arab rule to establish himself as hereditary prince (titled as "kouropalates") of Iberia. A successor, Adarnase II of Tao, formally vassal of Byzantium, was crowned as the “king of Georgians” in 888. His descendant Bagrat III (975-1014), brought the various principalities together to form a united Georgian state.

Eastern and Western Iberians

The similarity of the name with the old inhabitants of the Iberian peninsula, the 'Western' Iberians, has led to an idea of ethnogenetical kinship between them and the people of Caucasian Iberia (called the 'Eastern' Iberians).

It has been advocated by various ancient and medieval authors, although they differed in approach to the problem of the initial place of their origin. The theory seems to have been popular in medieval Georgia. The prominent Georgian religious writer Giorgi Mthatzmindeli (George of Mt Athos) (1009-1065) writes about the wish of certain Georgian nobles to travel to the Iberian peninsula and visit the local “"Georgians of the West"”, as he called them.Fact|date=February 2007

ee also

* Iberia (disambiguation)
* Caucasian Albania
* Caucasian Iberians
* Iberian War
* Colchis
* History of Georgia
* Kartli (a historic province of Georgia)
* List of Kings of Iberia
* Theme of Iberia
* Armazi
* Dzalisi


External links

* [ History of Iranian-Georgian Relations - Encyclopaedia Iranica article]
* [ Iberia at (in Dutch)]
* [ Iberia at Iberiana Association web site]
* [ Iberia: history, archaeology]
* [ Strabo on Iberia]

Further reading

* Thomson, R.W. "Rewriting Caucasian History" (1996) ISBN 0-19-826373-2
* Braund, David. "Georgia in Antiquity: A History of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia, 550 BC-AD 562" (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994) ISBN 0-19-814473-3
* Lang, David Marshall. "The Georgians" (London: Thames & Hudson, 1966)

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