Sunday, April 1, 2018

History of the Kingdom of Georgia - Part 1

Large empires dominated the history of the world. But stories of small countries struggling to survive between the wars of empires filled the margins. Some became spheres of influence, puppets in proxy wars of stronger empire, but others succeeded in becoming independent and even achieved their very own golden ages that made their descendants proud. Such was the story of the Kingdom of Georgia.
Kingdom of Georgia at its apex
Kingdom of Georgia at its apex

Foundation

Before the Kingdom of Georgia was founded in 1008, several kingdoms existed in the Caucasian region. In the west, the Kingdom of Abkhazia, while in the east the Kingdoms of Kakheti and Hereti. In the southwest, the principality of Tao-Klarjeti stood while in the center, Kartli and the Emirate of Tblisi existed. Finally, in southeast, Armenia.

These multiple kingdoms fought one another and became a playing ground for proxy wars of their more powerful neighbors. The Byzantines, the successors of Rome, vied for influence and wooed by the princes, nobles, and kings of the Caucasian states. On the other hand, the Sasanian Empire competed with the Byzantines for influence. Later on, however, Islamic Empires overthrew the Sasanids and became the new player in the vital Caucasian region.

The region where Georgia located – the Caucasus – laid in the coast of the Black Sea where lucrative trade flourished. Not to mention, the famous Silk Route also passes in the area. In defense aspect, the region also served as a buffer between different empires in the region. Thus, competition for influence and number of vassals mattered greatly to an empire’s defense.

The kingdoms became pawns in the battle for influence of the superpowers in the region. However, local leaders desired to end this infighting and unite the country to break free from foreign intervention and somehow bring peace in the region.

Many attempted before to unite and create a united kingdom of Georgia. Many efforts had been mostly made by one family – the Bagrationi. Several kingdoms that made up the region had kings coming from this illustrious family. This relation by blood served as a basis for unity, but rivalry between the branches remained strong. Nonetheless, some of its members did not held themselves back to realize unification.

Ashot I of Tao-Klarjeti, a Bargrationi, succeeded in expanding his domain and declaring himself King of Georgia in 813. But after his death, his relatives and his sons fragmented his kingdom. Then another Ashot I (r. 884-890) called the Great and member of the Bagrationi House expanded his dominion that covered Armenia and Georgia becoming recognized as Prince of Princes in 862 by the Byzantines and as King of Armenia. Like the former Ashot, his work also disintegrated after his death.

Finally, David III (r. 966-1001), Prince of Tao-Klarjeti, established the foundation to which the Kingdom of Georgia emerged. He expanded his realm southwards towards to Lake Van. The Byzantines recognized his achievements and gave him the title of Curopalates, a title they gave to their most powerful allies in the region for centuries. David became bold and tried to expand his territories at the expense of the Byzantines. It failed and in the end, he agreed to a treaty where upon his death Tao-Klarjeti would be annexed by the Byzantines, especially with David having no child. To prevent the annexation, he sought to give his lands to an adopted son and heir and he choose one strategically. He choose to adopt Prince Bagrat of Kartli.

Prince Bagrat, later Bagrat III, who would reign as King of Georgia from 1008 to 1014, had the blood fit for the unification of Georgia. He had for his father King Gurgen of the Kingdom of Kartli and Queen Gurandukht, daughter of the King of Abkhazia. Finally, he had for his uncle, David III of Tao-Klarjeti. Thus, he was the heir for many kingdoms in Georgia and king of them he became. In 978, he became King of Abkhazia then of Tao-Klarjeti in 1001 after David III passed away due to, according to some reports, by poisoning.

The death of David III triggered a war for rights over Tao-Klarjeti in which Bagrat staked his claim. But the might of the Byzantines proved overwhelming and the region was lose. By 1008, he became the King of Kartli too, thus becoming the King of the most lands in the regions. He hailed himself as the King of Georgia and the Kingdom of Georgia began. Bagrat expanded the Kingdom by incorporating Kakheti and Hereti kingdoms to Georgia. The conquest ended in a victory in 1010 and Bagrat III consolidated his newly unified kingdom from his capital Kutaisi. Nonetheless, the unification of Georgia remained unfinished so long as the Emirate of Tblisi existed in the center of the kingdom.

Consolidation and Survival

Georgia’s unification into a single kingdoms was fragile as nobles of the annexed kingdoms, especially Kakheti and Hereti, rebelled to reassert their independence. This posted as an opening from foreign powers to intervene in the affairs of the kingdom or to take it as an opportunity to conquer lands.

Bagrat III’s successors then worked and fought to maintain the kingdom. King Giorgi or George I crushed the rebellion in Kakheti and Hereti and went to war to retake Tao-Klarjeti while the Byzantines busied with a war with Bulgaria. The retaking of Tao, however, soured as Byzantine finished its war with the Bulgars and turned their attention to Georgia. Georgia fought the Byzantine Empire in 1021 until 1022 until George I loss Tao and his son Bagrat who was sent as a hostage to Constantinople where he stayed until 1025.

2 years after being released as political hostage, Prince Bagrat became Bagrat IV (r. 1027 – 1072). Bagrat’s reign continued to see fighting between Georgia and the Byzantine. Worst, infighting ensued as his relative Prince Demetre challenged him for the crown. Even in the midst of upheaval though, Bagrat succeeded in capturing the last piece of Georgia’s unification after Tblisi fell in 1062.

While struggling to fight off the Byzantines and rebellious nobles and princes, a new threat came to the horizon – the Seljuk Turks. In 1048, the aggressive expansionist Seljuks reached the border of Georgia. Raids in the border began and in 1064 the ambitious Seljuk Sultan Alp Arslan invaded Georgia. Georgia survived but in 1068 another invasion came with the support of rebel noble lords and Tblisi fell.

Byzantines and Georgia set aside their conflicts to counter this new aggressive threat. However, under King George II (r. 1072 – 1089) the nobility revolted and the capital Kutaisi fell along with the rest of Western Georgia. He battled the nobles and took the upper hand. However, instead of crushing the rebellious nobles, he negotiated and exposed the monarchy to weakness. The recent conflict also resulted to Georgia’s vulnerability to a Seljuk invasion that came and led by Sultan Malik Shah. The Georgians loss the Battle of Kvelistsikhe in 1074. Georgia then suffered as a consequence and became a vassal and paid tribute to the Seljuks.

Georgia’s demise led to the Great Turkish Onslaught or Didi Turkoba of the 1080’s. The Onslaught was the migration of Turks to the fertile lands of Georgia with their livestock. The Turks turned the fields into pastures causing significant loss in food production and ultimately famine that ravaged Georgia. Conditions worsened when an earthquake hit in 1083, destroying several cities and killing thousands. It appeared Georgia was on the brink of collapse.

Bibliography:
Mikaberidze, Alexander. Historical Dictionary of Georgia. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.

Howe, G. Melvyn et. al. “Georgia.” In Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed April 1, 2018. URL: https://www.britannica.com/place/Georgia/Cultural-life#ref44321

8 comments:

  1. thanks for this useful and helpful info! you've worked hard

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  3. first time i have read the History of the Kingdom of Georgia and quite found informational :)


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  7. Thank you so much for the wonderful information .This is really important for me .I am searching this kind of information from a long time and finally got it.
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