The Theme of Iberia (Greek:
θέμα 'Ιβηρίας) was an
administrative and military unit – theme – within the Byzantine Empire curved
by the Byzantine Emperors out of several Georgian and Armenian lands in the
eleventh century. It was formed as a result of Emperor Basil II’s annexation
of a portion of the Georgian Bagratid domains (1000-1021) and later
aggrandized at the expense of several Armenian kingdoms acquired by the
Byzantines in a piecemeal fashion in the course of the eleventh century. The
population of the theme was multiethnic with the Armenian and Georgian
majority, including a sizable Armenian community of Chalcedonic rite to which
the contemporary Byzantines expanded, as a denominational name, the ethnonym
"Iberian", a Graeco-Roman designation of Georgians.
The theme ceased to exist in 1074 AD as a result of the Seljuk invasions.
Foundation of the Theme Enlargement
theme was created by the emperor Basil II (976-1025) from the lands inherited
from the Georgian prince David III of Tao. These areas – parts of the
Armeno-Georgian marchlands centered on Thither Tao/Tayk as well as several
northern districts of western Armenia including Theodosioupolis (Karin; now
Erzurum, Turkey), Basean, Hark’, Apahunik’, Mardali (Mardaghi), Khaldoyarich,
and Ch’ormayari – had been granted to David for his crucial assistance to
Basil against the rebel commander Bardas Sclerus in 979. However, David’s
rebuff of Basil in Bardas Phocas’ revolt of 987 evoked Constantinople’s
distrust of the Caucasian rulers. After the failure of the revolt, David was
forced to make Basil II the legatee of his extensive possessions.
Basil gathered his inheritance upon David’s death in 1000, forcing the
successor Georgian Bagratid ruler Bagrat III to recognize the new
rearrangement in accordance with which Tao, Theodosiopolis (aka Karin, Karnukalaki;
the present day Erzurum), Phasiane (Basiani)
and the Lake Van region (Apahunik) with the city of Manzikert
were annexed by the Byzantine Empire.
following year, the Georgian prince Gurgen, natural father of Bagrat, marched
to take David’s inheritance, but was thwarted by the Byzantine general
Nikephoros Ouranos, dux of Antioch.
Despite these setbacks, Bagrat was able to become the first king of the
unified Georgian state in 1008. He died in 1014, and his son, George I, inherited
a longstanding claim to David’s succession which was in Byzantine hands.
Georgian campaigns of Basil II and
Basil was preoccupied with his Bulgarian campaigns, George gained momentum to
invade Tao/Tayk and Basiani/Phassiane in 1014. Basil, involved in his
campaign against the Bulgarians, sent an army to expel the Georgians. This
army was decisively defeated, but a Byzantine naval force occupied the Khazar
ports in the rear, that is, to the north-west, of George's dominions. Once,
the annexation of Bulgaria
was completed in 1018, preparations for a larger-scale campaign were set in
train, beginning with the refortification of Theodosiopolis. In the autumn of
1021, Basil with a large army, reinforced by the Varangian Guards, attacked
the Georgians and their Armenian allies recovering Phasiane and pushing on
beyond the frontiers of Tao into inner Georgia. King George burned the
city of Olthisi
for not to fall in the enemy’s hands and retreated to Kola. A bloody battle
was fought near the village Shirimni at the Lake
Palakazio (now Çildir, Turkey)
on September 11. The emperor won a costly victory, and forced George I to
retreat northwards into his kingdom. Plundering the country on his way, Basil
withdrew to winter at Trapezus (Trebizond, now Trabzon, Turkey).
Several attempts to negotiate the conflict went in vain. In the meantime
George received reinforcements from the Kakhetians, and allied himself with
the Byzantine commanders Nicephorus Phocas and Nicephorus Xiphias in their
abortive insurrection in the emperor’s rear. In December, George’s ally, the
Armenian king Senekerim of Vaspurakan, being harassed by the Seljuk Turks,
surrendered his kingdom to the emperor.
spring of 1022, Basil launched a final offensive winning a crushing victory
over the Georgians at Svindax Defeated and menaced both by land and sea, King
George had to relinquish Tao, Phasiane, Kola, Artaani and Javakheti – to the Byzantine
Crown, and left his infant son Bagrat a hostage in Basil's hands.
The conquered provinces were re-organized by Basil II into the Theme of Iberia with the capital at
Theodosiopolis. As a result, the political center of the Georgian state moved
north, as did a significant part of the Georgian nobility,
while the empire gained a critical foothold for further expansion into the
territories of Armenia and
Basil next claimed the principal Armenian Bagratid kingdom of Ani,
currently straddling the division between Gagik I’s sons, John-Smbat and
Ashot I. In 1022, John-Smbat, as penalty for having supported Georgia, yielded his appanage to the Byzantine Empire. By the mid-1040s, Emperor Constantine
IX (1042-55) had broken the resistance of the survived Bagratids of Ani and
forced the catholicos Peter into surrendering Ani in 1045.
The kingdom was merged with the theme of Iberia and the capital was
transferred from Theodosioupolis to Ani. Henceforth, the theme of Iberia was administered jointly with Greater
Armenia and the enlarged theme was frequently referred to as the "theme
of Iberia and Armenia".
In 1064 the last independent Armenian kingdom, that of Wanand with its center
in Kars, was absorbed into imperial territory when Gagik II of Kars was
bullied into abdication in favor of Emperor Constantine X (1059-67) to
prevent his state from being conquered by the Seljuk Turks. The royal family
moved to Cappadocia, probably accompanied by
their nobility who were inveigled by the Byzantine administration into ceding
their estates in return for lands further west.
The event was preceded by the Seljuk capture of Ani and the theme’s center
was shifted back to Theodosioupolis.
on the map for better resolution
The Byzantine Empire and the Civil
wars in Georgia
On the death of
his father, Bagrat returned home to become King Bagrat IV of Georgia
in 1025. However, a powerful party of Georgian nobles refused to recognize
his suzerainty, and invited a Byzantine army in 1028. The Byzantines overran
the Georgian borderlands and invested Kldekari, a key fortress in Trialeti
province, but failed to take it and marched back on the region Shavsheti. The
local bishop Saba of Tbeti organized a successful defense of the area forcing
the Byzantines to change their tactics. The emperor Constantine VIII then
sent Demetrius, an exiled Georgian prince, who was considered by many as a
legitimate pretender to the throne, to take a Georgian crown by force. This
incited a new tide of the rebellion against Bagrat and his regent, queen
dowager Mariam of Vaspurakan. In the end of 1028, Constantine
died, and the new emperor Romanus III recalled his army from Georgia.
Queen Mariam visited Constantinople in
1029/30 and negotiated a peace treaty between the two countries.
Early in the 1040s, a feudal opposition staged another revolt against Bagrat
IV of Georgia.
The rebels led this time by Liparit IV, Duke of Kldekari, requested a
Byzantine aid and attempted to put Prince Demetrius on the throne. Yet,
despite their efforts to take a key fortress Ateni went in vain, Liparit and
the Byzantines won a major victory at the Battle of Sasireti in 1042 forcing
Bagrat to take refuge in the western Georgian highlands. Soon Bagrat headed
for Constantinople and, after the three
years of negotiations achieved his recognition by the Byzantine court. Back
in 1051, he was able to force Liparit into exile. Actually, this was the end
of the Byzantine-Georgian conflicts
Government of the Theme of Iberia
exact chronology of the theme of Iberia and of its governors is not
completely clear. Unfortunately, the few Greek seals from the theme or from
the ambiguous "Interior Iberia" can seldom be dated precisely.
Although many scholars maintain that the theme was probably created
immediately after the annexation of David of Tao’s princedom, it is difficult
to ascertain whether Byzantine rule extended into Tao/Tayk permanently in
1000 or only after Georgia’s
defeat in 1022. It is also impossible to identify any commander in Iberia before the appointment, in 1025/6, of the
eunuch Niketas of Pisidia as the Doux
or Catapan of Iberia. Some
scholars believe, however, that the first doux of Iberia was either Romanos
Dalassenos or his brother Theophylactos appointed between 1022 and 1027 in
the aftermath of Basil’s Georgian campaigns.
The Iberian governor was aided by tax officials, judges, and by co
administrators who shared in the exercise of the military and civil duties.
Among these officials were the domesticos of the East, the administrators of
the districts of which the theme was composed, and the occasional
extraordinary legates sent there by the emperor. Apart from the regular
Byzantine garrisons, an indigenous army of peasant soldiers guarded the area
and received in turn an allotment of tax-free government land. This changed,
however, when Constantine IX (1042-1055) dismantled the army of the theme of Iberia,
perhaps 5,000 men, converting its obligations from military service to the
payment of tax. Constantine
dispatched a certain Serblias to conduct an inventory and to exact taxes that
had never been demanded previously.
End of the Theme
Constantine’s reforms caused great discontent in the theme and
exposed it to hostile attack aided by the removal of regular troops from the
region, first to crush the Macedonian revolt of Leo Tornicius, himself the
former catapan of Iberia
and later to halt the Pecheneg advance.
In 1048-9, the Seljuk Turks under Ibrahim Inal made their first incursion in
this region and destroyed a combined Byzantine-Armenian and Georgian army of
50,000 at the Battle of Kapetrou on September 10, 1048. Tens of thousands of
Christians are said to have been massacred and several areas were reduced to
piles of ashes. In 1051/52, Eustathius Boilas, a Byzantine magnate who moved
from Cappadocia to the theme of Iberia, found the land "foul
and unmanageable... inhabited by snakes, scorpions, and wild beasts."
The theme of Iberia did
not long survive the Byzantine disaster at the hands of the Seljuk sultan Alp
Arslan at Manzikert, north of Lake Van, on
August 26, 1071. Still, it may have lasted as late as 1074 when Gregory
Pakourianos, a Byzantine governor of Armeno-Georgian background, formally
ceded a portion of the theme including Tao/Tayk and Kars
to King George II of Georgia.
This did not help, however, to stem the Turkish advance and the area became a
battleground of the Georgian-Seljuk wars.
territorial losses to Basil II and the Seljuk Turks, the Georgian kings
succeeded in retaining their independence and in uniting most of the Georgian
lands into a single state. Many of the ceded territories were then re-taken
after the 1080s by the Georgian King David IV.
Relations between the two Christian monarchies were then generally peaceful
except for the episode of 1204, when Queen Tamar of Georgia took advantage of the Fourth Crusade
against Constantinople, and invaded the Black Sea
provinces of the empire to help the Comnenus Princes to found the Empire of Trebizond.
Cyril, Studies in Christian Caucasian History (Washington, 1967)
Arutyunova-Fidanyan, Viada A., Some Aspects of the Military-Administrative
Districts and Byzantine Administration in Armenia During the 11th
Century, (Moscow, 1986-87), pp. 309-20.
Kalistrat, Salia, History of the Georgian Nation, (Paris, 1983)
Garsoian, Nina, The Byzantine Annexation of the Armenian Kingdoms in the
Eleventh Century, In: The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times,
vol. 1, edited by Richard G. Hovannisian, (New York, 1977).
Hewsen, Robert., Armenia. A Historical Atlas. (Chicago, 2001)