FORMATION OF THE GEORGIAN NATION
(excerpt from the
book ”The Making of the Georgian Nation”/Indianopolis/1994)
and Ronald Grigor Suny / 1994
A favorite story of modern Georgians relates how God came upon the Georgians only after he had parceled out all the countries of the world to other nationalities. The Georgians were in a typically festive mood and invited the Creator to Join them in wine and song. The Lord so enjoyed himself that He decided to give these merry and carefree people the one spot on the earth that He had reserved for Himself—the valleys and hills that lie to the south of the great Caucasus Mountains.
The entire area of Transcaucasia and
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Other tribes mentioned in the Assyrian
inscriptions may also have been proto-Georgian tribes, notably the Kashkai
and the Tibal (the biblical Thubal), who lived in eastern
Tempting as this theoretical model of Georgian social evolution may be, it must be remembered that there is little available evidence to illuminate thesocial structure of the tribal societies of this ancient period. It is known that the proto-Georgian tribes (then centered in the Chorokhi basin north of Erzerum) and the proto-Armenian tribes (probably located to the south in th region bordering the Murad-su) were not under a central, unified political authority once the Cimmerians had swept throughout the area. 20
The second half of the seventh century B.C. marked the rise of significant political formations that can be identified with proto-Georgian tribes. Some of these tribes, living in the upper reaches of the Chorokhi River, were united under the name sasperi.21 Based in the former territory of the Diauehi, the Sasperi had much of southern Transcaucasia under their sway bythe early sixth century and participated in the destruction of the Urartian empire, only to disintegrate under the expansionist thrusts of the Medes in the east.
The Sasperi merged with the Urartians in
their lands, and, Melikishvili conjectures, borrowed Urartian words that
found their way into the Georgian language.22 At approximately the same time, a
new “kingdom” of Colchis was formed in western
Early in the sixth century, the Urartian
empire fell to the Medes, Scythians, and Sasperi, and the Median empire
replaced it as the principal political power in
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In his descriptions of the military dress of the “Asian" peoples, Herodotus mentions that the various proto-Georgian tribes were similar in uniform and weaponry:
The Moschi wore wooden helmets on their heads, and carried shields and small spears with long points. The Tibareni and Macrones and Mossynoeci in the army were equipped like the Moschi ... The Mares wore on their heads the plaited helmets of their country, carrying small shields of hide and javelins. The Colchians had wooden helmets and small shields of raw oxhide and short spears, and swords withal.29
The Persian hold over these Georgian tribes
was fairly firm until the second half of the fifth century B.C. Georgians
marched in the Persian campaigns against the Greeks, and Persian terms in Georgian
political vocabulary are eloquent testimony to the depth of Iranian influence
in government. Not included in the empire as a satrapy, the
By the time Xenophon marched through Asia
Minor to the
Without many prisoners but with great numbers of oxen, asses, and sheep, Xenophon moved on through 150 miles of the country of the Chalybes.
These were the most valiant of all the peoples they passed through, and would come to hand-to-hand encounter. They had corselets of linen, reach¬ing down to the groin, with a thick fringe of plaited cords instead of flaps. They had greaves also and helmets, and at the girdle a knife about as long as a Laconian dagger, with which they might be able to vanquish; then they would cut off their [enemies'] heads and carry them along their march, and they would sing and dance whenever they were likely to be seen by the enemy. They carried also a spear about five cubits long, with a point at only one end. These people would stay within their towns, and when the Greeks had pushed by, they would follow them, always ready to fight. Their dwellings were in strongholds, and therein they had stored away all their provisions; hence the Greeks could get nothing in this country, but they subsisted on the cattle they had taken horn the Taochians.34
After ravaging the country of the Colchians, Xenophon moved on to the west and entered the land of the Mossynoeci, where the Greeks allied themselves with one tribal alliance against another. Xenophon's report about the peculiar activities of the upper class deserves to be mentioned:
And when the Greeks, as they proceeded, were among the friendly Mossynoecians, they would exhibit to them fattened children of the wealthy inhabitants, whom they had nourished on boiled nuts and were soft and white to an extraordinary degree, and pretty nearly equal in length and breadth, with their backs adorned with many colours and their fore parts all tattooed with flower patterns. These Mossynoecians wanted also to have intercourse openly with the women who accompanied the Greeks, for that was their own fashion. And all of them were white, the men and the women alike. They were set down by the Greeks who served through the expedition, as the most uncivilized people whose country they traversed, the furthest removed from Greek customs. For they habitually did in public the things that other people would do only in private, and when they were alone they would behave just as if they were in the company of others, talking to themselves, laughing at themselves, and dancing in whatever spot they chanced to be, as though they were giving an exhibition to others.35
From Xenophon's Anabasis it is possible to piece together a picture of the western Georgian tribes at the end of the fifth century B.C. Free from IVrsian authority (except for the Mossynoeci), they lived in hostile relations with the Greek merchant ports. The various tribal alliances fought with one another, and therefore their lands were covered with fortified settlements. There were no major towns in the area and, in the words of Melikishvili, people “lived in conditions characteristic of the political fragmentation of a primitive communal society, in which separate tribal formations warred constantly with one another."36
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In the first half of the fourth century B.C., the Persians may have to reassert their suzerainty over the western Georgian tribes, for it is known that the Greek cities of Sinope and Amis came under their authority. But the Achaemenid hold over the western satraps was tenuous, and during the reign of Artaxerxes II (405—359 B.C.) several provincial subordinates, including Orontes of Armenia and Datam of Cappadocia, revolted against Persian authority.37 With the campaigns of Alexander the Great and his decisive victory over the Persians at Arbela (Gaugamela) in 331 B.C., Persian power collapsed in Asia Minor. The Greek expansion not only drove back the ftrsians but introduced a new cultural and political hegemony over eastern Anatolia. The dominance of Persian and Mesopotamian political culture was both inhibited and complemented by the Greek in a new Hellenistic syn¬thesis, though the influence of Iranian culture remained strong in Georgia and Armenia.
Through the two centuries of Achaemenid dominion over eastern Anatolia and Transcaucasia (546—331 B.C.), several proto-Georgian tribes had migrated north from Anatolia into the Pontic regions along the Black Sea coast, where Xenophon found them, and to the east into the Kura valley. The Tibal and Mushki had moved into eastern Georgia, where they merged with local tribes to form the Georgian people. To the Greeks they were known as Iberoi (Iberians), a name that Melikishvili believes came from the land from which they had migrated, Speri. D. M. Lang mentions the hypothesis that the toot Tibar in Hbareni (Hbal) gave rise to the form Iber from which the Greeks derived their name for the eastern Georgians. From the Mushki (Meskhi, Moskhi) came the name of the chief city of ancient Iberia, Mtskheta. Even more important, the Mushki brought with them from the west the pantheon of Hittite gods, headed by Armazi, the moon god, and Zaden, the god of fruitfulness.38
With the elimination of Achaemenid authority the eastern Georgian tribes might have fallen under Macedonian rule, but early in the third century B.C. the ruling dynast of Armazi-Mtskheta in eastern Georgia established his primacy over the other Iberian princes. The Georgian chronicles, Kartlis Tskhovreba, provide the tradition of the first king of Kartli-lberia, Parnavazi (Farnavazi, Pharnabazus), who, they claim, was a descendant of Kartlosi, the eponymous ancestor of the Georgians. The chronicles state that Parnavazi united Georgians of the east with those of Colchis-Fgrisi to drive the "Greeks" from Mtskheta. The overthrow of Azon, founder of the Mtskheta state, and the expulsion of the Macedonians left Parnavazi the most powerful ruler in Transcaucasia, and he soon brought western Georgia under his rule. The hegemony of Kartli-Iberia over Colchis-Egrisi meant that the Georgian tribes consolidated around eastern Georgia. Although an older state than Kartli, Egrisi's independence did not prove as durable, and it was successively ruled by Achaemenid Persia, Hellenistic Pontus, Rome, and Byzantium. Parnavazi's new state, on the other hand, soon demonstrated an enviable independence and energy. Kartli not only expanded into western Georgia (with the exception of its northern mountainous regions), but held Zemo Kartli (Mtskheta), Kvemo Kartli, Shida Kartli, and Kakheti.40 Parnavazi maintained friendly relations with the heirs of Alexander the Great, and his successors continued this policy and paid tribute to the rulers of the Seleucid empire. Toumanoff suggests that once Seleucid overlordship had been established in Armenia it may have been necessary for the Seleucids to set up a vassal state in Kartli-Iberia to provide pressure on Armenia from the north. In his view, Parnavazi, whose reign he estimates at 299 to 234 B.C., probably operated as such a Seleucid vassal.41
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Parnavazi is credited by the Georgian chronicles with introducing a military-administrative organization into his kingdom that both Soviet scholars and W. E. D. Allen see as the beginnings of a feudal system.42 The king appointed a military governor (eristavi) to each of the seven major provinces (Argveti, Kakheti, Gardabani, Tashir-Abotsi, Javakheti-Kolas-Artani, Samtskhe-Ajara, and Kvarjeti) while keeping the central district of Shida Kartli under the administration of his highest official, the spaspeti. Western Georgia was not made into a saeristavo (province) but was a vassal state ruled by Kuji, the man who had aided Parnavazi against the so-called Greeks. The political patterns adopted by the Iberian state were those of its powerful neighbor, Persia, and the term used for a local administrator, pitiaskhshi, was borrowed directly from Persian.43 Toumanoff sees the new administration as an attempt to impose royal power over the still quite independent tribal leaders. "To ensure its control of the dynastic aristocracy of the sep'ecul-s or mt'avar-s ('royal children,' 'princes'), the youthful Crown instituted the feudal order of the erist'av-s ('dukes') . . . This was not so much a supersedure of the princes, who remained too powerful for that, as the conversion of the more important among them into officers of the State entrusted with the control of others. In this way, the Crown, which was to claim the fulness of sovereignty for itself alone, was able gradually to deprive of it the lesser princes, sharing it, under the guise of delegation, with only a few among them."44
Georgia's economy was based on free peasant agriculturalists, though there was apparently some slaveholding. At the top of society stood the royal family, the military nobility, and the pagan priesthood. But the formation of the cast Georgian state not only laid the foundation of Georgian social hierarchy but also in its initial stages encouraged the consolidation of separate tribes into a larger ethnic conglomerate. Barriers between tribes writ- eliminated as a consequence of the political organization established by the Kartveli. "Standing at the head of a powerful state formation, the Kartveli bewail to assimilate the other tribes who entered into the makeup of the state of Kartli."45
With the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great, a "new epoch of lively commercial and industrial activity" began in Asia Minor. Whereas in the exclusively agricultural economy of Achaemenid times the peoples of Transcaucasia had not been familiar with monetary transactions, at least not until the end of the age, in the Seleucid period money was widely introduced into commercial dealings. Alexandrine drachmas and tetradrachmas were used in western Georgia and Armenia, though not in eastern Georgia, and gold staters of Alexander were used in all three regions. The economic advance of the Hellenistic period was especially keenly felt by the Greek cities of the Black Sea coast. The world trade route from India ran through Media and the Ararat plain to Colchis.46 This western Georgian state was federated to Kartli-Iberia, and its kings ruled through skeptukhi (royal governors) who received a staff from the king. But Iberian power over western Georgia had waned by the late second century B.C., and Colchis-Egrisi proved an easy target for the vigorous ruler of Pontus, Mithradates VI Eupator (111—63 B.C.). Western Georgia thus passed out of the Persian and Iberian spheres of influence into the Greco-Roman culture of the classical cities of the Black Sea littoral.
A new political force entered Asia Minor late in the second century B.C. and changed the balance of forces in eastern Anatolia. In 190 B.C. Roman legions defeated Antiochus III (222-186 B.C.), the Seleucid king of Persia, at the Battle of Magnesia. The weakened Persians were unable to offer opposition when the Armenian kings, Artashes (Artaxias; 189-161 B.C.) of Greater Armenia and Zareh (Zariadres) of Sophene, declared their autonomy from the Seleucid empire. Artashes, founder of an Armenian empire, pushed his border out in a vain attempt to take Sophene. He did succeed in incorporating the southern Georgian regions of Gogarene, Chorzene, and Paryadres. His empire reached the Kura in the north and the Caspian Sea in the east. The Iberian king, Parnajom, fought the Armenians but was killed in battle. His throne was taken by Arshak, son of Artashes, and the Armenian hegemony over eastern Georgia and the trade routes to Colchis lasted well into the first century B.C.47
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In commercial and cultural contact with Colchis and Pontus, Greater Armenia benefited from the Hellenistic currents from the west. Armenia achieved her greatest expanse in the mid-first century B.C. under the warrior-king Tigran II, "the Great" (95-55 B.C.). In alliance with his father-in-law, Mithradates Eupator of Pontus, Tigran fought the Romans and Persians and conquered Sophene. Disaster befell Armenia when Rome sent Pompey to bring Transcaucasia into submission. In 66 B.C. Tigran was forced to make peace, and Pompey turned north to deal with the Georgians, who had allied themselves with the Armenians. Pompey marched first into Colchis, where he was attacked in the rear by Iberians and Caucasian Albanians. In the spring of 65 B.C., he entered Iberia to fight King Artog (Arloces). Plutarch reports that Pompey subdued the Iberians "in a great battle, in which nine thousand of them were slain and more than ten thousand taken prisoner."48 As a result of Pompey's expedition, Kartli-lberia, Armenia, and Caucasian Albania became dependent states of Koine, and Colchis-Egrisi) was integrated directly into the empire as part of the province of Pontus.49 As Toumanoff puts it, "In the years 66-64 B.C., the whole of Caucasia entered the orbit of the nascent pax romana."50
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Roman power was never very firm in eastern Georgia, and by the second half of the first century B.C. the growing strength of the Parthian successors to the Persian Seleucids was being felt throughout Transcaucasia. For three centuries Romans and Parthians fought over the Armenian and Georgian lands that stood between their rival empires, and the Transcaucasian peoples alternatively sided with one or the other power to maintain their autonomy or to benefit from association with a powerful neighbor. A pattern of Anatolian and Caucasian political maneuvering developed by which the lesser local rulers shifted allegiances, not on the basis of ethnicity or religion, but in desperate attempts to maintain local power in the face of constant threats from larger states. Security could be achieved only temporarily and only in alliance with one of the dominant powers. Rather than an undiluted and consistent struggle for national independence or religious integrity, as is often proposed by modern historians, the struggles of the Armenian, Georgian, and Albanian kings and princes should be seen as a series of constantly changing political orientations. In a treacherous and precarious situation, their lodestar was survival. Often this meant that princes gravitated toward one great power while their monarchs moved toward another.
Roman legionnaire (left) and Parthian warrior (right)
Gradually, in the second half of the first century B.C., Kartli-Iberia and Albania detached themselves from Roman dominion. When Marc Antony campaigned against Parthia in 36 B.C., neither Iberians nor Albanians joined him. Indeed, in the years 37 and 36 B.C., revolts against Roman authority broke out, first in Albania, then in Kartli-Iberia. The Roman legions under Publius Canidius Crassus entered Georgia to put down the revolt, but Crassus's campaign proved to be the last Roman effort to subdue Georgia. By the last decade of the first century B.C., Kartli-Iberia and Albania were completely free from Rome. The Emperor Augustus recognized Iberia as an ally and lifted Roman taxes from the region. In contrast, Armenia remained a bone of contention between Parthia and Rome into the first century A.D., and as a result Kartli-Iberia emerged as a more powerful state and partook of the spoils to be had in divided and conquered Armenia. In A.D. 35 Parsman I (Farsman, Pharasmanes) of Iberia, an ally of the Romans, defeated the Parthian king of Armenia and placed his brother Mithradates (A.D. 35-51) on the throne. In A.D. 51 Parsman's son, Rhadamistes, defeated his uncle Mithridates at Garni and briefly became king of Armenia, only to be executed by his father. Armenia was taken by the Parthians, who gave the crown to Trdat, the founder of the Parthian Arsacid dynasty in Armenia. Iberia and Rome fought Parthia and Armenia until the Peace of Rhandeia (A.D. 63), when Roman suzerainty over Armenia was recognized by the Parthians in exchange for Roman acceptance of the Arsacid king, Trdat (Tiridates). The terms of the peace destroyed Iberia’s chances for aggrandizement at the expense of Armenia, at least in alliance with Rome, and probably influenced Mihrdat (Mithradates) of Iberia, Parsman's son, to ally himself with the fierce Alans, nomads from the north, with whom he campaigned several times into Armenia.51
With the vital issues of security and legitimacy in the balance, the struggle for control of the Iberian and Armenian territories led to almost constant warfare in the first three centuries A.D. between Rome and Parthia, Armenia and Kartli. Toumanoff illuminates the causes of the Roman-Iranian rivalry over Caucasia:
Juridically, there was the fact that Caucasia had been part of the Achaemenid empire and that, on the other hand, it had subsequently accepted the suzerainty of Rome. Practically, there was the fact that it was necessary to both. Caucasia formed a great natural fortress between the two empires from which each of the rivals could control the delicate frontier-line that lay between them in the south. From it each could strike at the other's sensitive points, Ctesiphon, the "Roman Lake," later, Constantinople.52
While Colchis was administered as a Roman province, eastern Georgia generally accepted imperial protection. A stone inscription discovered at Mtskheta speaks of the first-century ruler, Mihrdat I (A.D. 58—106), as "the friend of the Caesars" and the king "of the Roman-loving Iberians."53 Moreover, Emperor Vespasian fortified Armazi for the Iberian king in the year 75. Rome seemed content for the most part to recognize Kartli-Iberia and Armenia as client states.54
Once the Arsacids had firmly established their hold on the Armenian throne in the second century A.D., they extended their rule to Kartli-Iberia. Rev I (martali, "the Just"; 189-216), overthrew his wife's brother, Amazaspus II, last of the Pharnabazids. But even as Arsacids triumphed in l lie Caucasian kingdoms, that dynasty fell from power in its original homeland, Persia, when the dynamic Ardashir overthrew the Parthian dynasty and founded the four-hundred-year empire of the Sassanids (224—651). Led by their warrior-kings, the Sassanids forced Armenia to succumb to their authority, drove back the Romans, captured Emperor Valerian, and invaded pro-Roman Kartli-Iberia and Albania.55 Shapur I (242—272) placed a vassal, Amasaspus III (260-265), on the throne of Kartli-Iberia, possibly a rival or antiking of Mihrdat II.
The Romans regained Caucasia briefly under Emperor Aurelian (270-275) and again when Carus defeated Iran in 283. The Arsacid line in Kartli-Iberia ended the next year, and the Iranians took advantage of internal strife In the Roman empire to establish their candidate, Mirian III (Meribanes, 284-361), son of the Great King of Iran, on the throne of eastern Georgia.56 In l^H, after a great Roman victory, Iran and Rome signed the Peace of Nisibis, and Mirian was recognized as king, though suzerain rights over Hiiiih-lhcria and Armenia passed to the Romans. Albania came under Iranian control. With King Mirian the classical period of Georgian history came to an end, for this monarch was the first of his line to adopt Christianity.
The Greek geographer, Strabo, writing in the first century A.D., permits us to penetrate the military-political veneer of ancient Caucasian history to examine the structure of Colchian and Iberian society. Of the lands around Phasis in Colchis, Strabo writes:
The country is excellent both in respect to its produce—except its honey, which is generally bitter—and in respect to everything that pertains to ship-building; for it not only produces quantities of timber but also brings it down on rivers. And the people make linen in quantities, and hemp, wax, and pitch. Their linen industry has been famed far and wide; for they used to export linen to outside places.57
It is clear that by Strabo's time the period of greatness and prosperity associated with Mithradates Eupator had passed. Some of the tribes near the Hellenistic ports were living in squalor and filth—one received the name phtheirophagi ("lice-eaters")—but others reportedly used fleecy skins to pan .for gold in the mountain streams (perhaps, as Strabo suggests, the origin of the myth of the golden fleece).58
Turning to Iberia, Strabo is full of praise for the country ("fruitful," "exceedingly good pasture"), its towns ("their roofs are tiled, and their houses as well as their market-places and other public buildings are constructed with architectural skill"), and the people. "The plain of the Iberians is inhabited by people who are rather inclined to farming and to peace, and they dress after both the Armenian and the Median fashion; but the major, or warlike, portion occupy the mountainous territory, living like the Scythians and the Sarmatians, of whom they are both neighbors and kinsmen; however, they engage also in farming." Most revealing of all in Strabo's account of eastern Georgian society is his brief description of its four strata:
There are . . . four castes among the inhabitants of Iberia. One, and the first of all, is that from which they appoint their kings, the appointee being both the nearest of kin to his predecessor and the eldest, whereas the second in line administers justice and commands the army. The second caste is that of the priests, who among other things attend to all matters of controversy with the neighboring peoples. The third is that of the soldiers and the farmers. And the fourth is that of the common people, who arc slaves of the king and perform all the services that pertain to human livelihood. Their possessions are held in common by them according to families, although the eldest is ruler and steward of each estate.59
Using Strabo and later Georgian and Armenian sources, scholars have developed a picture of Georgian society in classical time*. Al the top, according to Toumanoff, stood "the dynastic aristocracy of Iberia," which included the royal family (sepe) as well as the supreme judge of the land and the commander in chief of the army. Immediately below the aristocracy was the pagan priesthood, which played a diplomatic and probably a judicial role but disappeared with the conversion of Kartli-Iberia to Christianity in the early fourth century. The third class was made up of free agriculturalists and soldiers, the class that in time became the Georgian nobility or aznaureba.60 Akin to the Armenian azat class, these small landholders and warriors survived, along with the dynastic aristocracy, well into the twelfth century. The freemen, who lived in territorial communes and held their land as individuals, provided military service and were later known in Georgian as eri. For a long time this term meant both "people" and "armed force."61
The lowest stratum of society was, in Strabo's terms, laoi, semidependent agriculturalists who lived in tribal communes and held their land in common. Both Toumanoff and Melikishvili contend that these people were not slaves in the full juridical sense of that word. They were not the chattel or property of their overlords but were obliged to pay dues in cash and kind and to provide the muscle required by the primitive agrarian economy. They were the glekhni, the peasants. Toumanoff asserts that "the rural peasantry, obviously the largest group in Iberian society, had, exactly as in Armenia, come by this time to depend on great landed proprietors, as tenants or coloni, and had started on the way towards serfdom." Strabo does not mention artisans, merchants, or real slaves, and it may be that these groups, particularly the latter two, were largely comprised of foreigners.62
Although there was some trade between Kartli-Iberia and neighboring countries, the major transit route of Roman times "ran from Southern Russia it long the eastern shore of the Black Sea through Colchis and Artaxata-Artasat to Media and thence to the East."63 The Soviet economic historian, Manandian, does not consider Kartli-Iberia to have been very significant in the transit trade of the first centuries A.D., but Melikishvili takes issue with (his view, contending that Manandian underestimates the importance of kartli in classical trade. Since this was a period of difficulty for Armenia, which was caught between Rome and Parthia, Kartli-Iberia found itself freer to take advantage of transit commerce and developed an interest in trade that probably motivated efforts to control the routes to the south, across Armenia. In Kartli the major trading artery was the Kura, and it is noteworthy that the military-administrative center of eastern Georgia, Mtskheta, was situated at t he confluence of the Kura and the Aragvi. Other towns—Kaspi, Uplistsikhe, Irbnisi, Odzrakhe, and Nekresi—were also foci for artisans and merchants (vachari), as well as governmental officials and the military.64
The first centuries A.D. were the period in which the distinctive features of Caucasian society were molded. Caught between the Roman and Persian worlds, Armenia and Kartli-Iberia were clearly influenced culturally by both, hut in the formation of their societies Persian norms played the dominant role.65 Nicholas Adontz points out the differences from the development of the West, where the state rose from urban settlements to city-states to empires (which in many ways were city-states writ large). In the East, "family relations remained the basic generative principle of political life."66 Originally a tribal confederation, the Persian empire had evolved by Parthian times into a class society, though one that remained characterized by tribal underpinnings. The Arsacids were kings of kings, rulers of other semiautonomous rulers who paid tribute and gave military service to their overlords.
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While Adontz refers to the Arsacid period in Armenia as "feudal," Toumanoff makes an important distinction between "feudalism" and what he calls "dynasticism." Disagreeing with Adontz that the Caucasian social structure was essentially the same as that of Western feudalism, Toumanoff argues that in the Armenian nakharar system the princes held their lands absolutely and had much greater local power than did West European nobles, whose tenure was conditional and based on service. Caucasian society was at first dynastic and only later did it approach feudal forms. Toumanoff's dynasticism is marked by princely independence, allodial land tenure, and the primacy of the tribe rather than the state. In Armenia under the Artaxiad dynasty, feudal forms were introduced into a basically dynastic sociopolitical structure. Local princes, whose landholdings existed before their loyalty to the king, became bound to the monarch by ties of political subordination.
"As in Artaxiad Armenia, no doubt under the same imperial influences and probably simultaneously with it, Iberia now evolved that symbiosis of the feudalistic and the dynastic regime which characterizes Caucasian so-ciety. The king of Iberia stood at the summit of the two orders, dynasticist and feudal, both as the superdynast and as the theoretical sole source of sovereignty." Toumanoff goes on to explain that "the feudal aspect of the princely class stemmed, in Armenia as in Iberia, from the attempt of the High Kings to involve the dynasts in the service mechanism of the monarchy."67 A mixture of dynasticism and feudalism emerged in eastern Georgia. Whereas in Armenia the dynastic aspects proved indestructible and prevented the kings from ever fully subordinating the nakharars (princes), in Kartli-Iberia monarchical power was exercised more completely and feudal ties were more secure. The Iberian kings were more fortunate than those in Armenia in welding their nobility into a system of service to the monarch, and Iberian monarchs were able at times to unite with their petty nobles against the power of the great princes, something the Armenian kings were unable to do.
Map by R.G. Suny
The king (mepe) of Kartli-Iberia appointed the spaspeti (erismtavari), or high constable, to whom all provincial and local officials were subordinated. This office, in contrast to its Armenian counterpart, was not hereditary in one family, though it was usually occupied by a member of the first class, the dynastic aristocracy. The king also recruited some nobles to serve as his royal officer* at court (ezoismodzqvari) or in the province* to keep the other nobles in line. In each province an eristavi or pitiaskhshi governed (the two terms were interchangeable).68 Most of them came from the highest class. Below the provincial governors were the spasalarni (generals) and the khliarkhni (atasistavni), who collected taxes and gathered troops. A few eristavni came from the aznaureba or nobility, a class that evolved in time from the third class, the free agriculturalists. As warfare increasingly became a matter for mounted warriors (tskhentartsani) rather than common foot soldiers (mkvirtskhlebi), military estates were required to support these cavalrymen. The aznaumi thus became distinguished from the tsvrilieri or "petty people." Already by the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., the aznaumi of Kartli-Iberia were becoming a separate social group and were clearly superior to the tadzdreulni, the free agriculturists who held allotments on royal lands and served in the king's army.69
In its most permanent sociopolitical forms, Georgia was a reflection of Iranian organization rather than Roman. The king of Kartli-Iberia was a hereditary monarch, like the Iranian Great King, not an elected or appointed ruler as in the Roman tradition. Kartli early developed a privileged and hereditary nobility based on the land, just as her neighbor to the east, Iran, had done. In Rome-Byzantium the "ruling class" was an imperial officialdom, nonhereditary and largely the creature of the emperor. As Toumanoff sums up: "Socially the Caucasian polities were similar to the Iranian and utterly unlike the Romano-Byzantine. Armenia and Iberia were even more aristocratic in character than Iran, being, in fact, federations of dynastic princes—each the overlord of a body of lesser nobility—presided over by kings."70 Yet at the end of the classical period the conversion of Georgia and Armenia to Christianity committed these states to an orientation toward the Romans. Socially akin to the East, Christian Caucasia filtered the medieval period with a new cultural and religious allegiance to the West.
1. Cyril Toumanoff, "The Bagratids of Iberia from the VIII to the XI century," Le Museon 74 (1961): 234-38, and Studies in Christian Caucasian History (hereafter, Studies) (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1963), pp. 437-40.
Today standard Georgian serves as a lingua
franca for the mountaineers, who in each major valley have their own dialect.
23. Burney and Lang, Peoples of the Hills, pp. 193-94.
46. Ia. A. Manandian, O torgovle i gorodakh Armenii v sviazi s mirovoi torgovlei drevnikh vremen (Erevan, 1945). References are to the English translation by Nina Garsoian: H. A. Manandian, The Trade and Cities of Armenia in Relation to Ancient World Trade (Lisbon, 1965), pp. 29, 38-39.
47. Ibid., pp. 50—52; on Artaxias's origins in Media, and Iranian influences on Armenia, see Anahit Perikhanian, "Une inscription arameenne du roi Artases trouvee a Zangezour (Siwnik)," Revue des etudes armeniennes, n.s., 3 (1966): 17—29, and "Les Inscriptions arameennes du roi Artaches (A propos d'une recente trouvaille epigraphique en Armenie)," ibid., n.s., 8 (1971): 169-74.
48. Bernadotte Perrin, trans., Plutarch's Lives, vol. 5, Loeb Classical Library (New York, 1917), p. 207.
49. Some Western scholars, like D. Magie, argue that the Romans aimed at con¬trolling the northern Transcaucasian transit trade route (Kura-Phasis), but Manan¬dian and other Soviet scholars believe that the northern route was much less important than the southern, which ran through Artaxata in Armenia (Manandian, Trade and Cities, pp. 48-49).
50. Toumanoff, Studies, p. 83.
51. Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, pp. 337, 344—45; and Berdzenishvili et al., Istoriia Gruzii, p. 61.
52. Cyril Toumanoffj "Caucasia and Byzantium," Traditio 27 (1971): 114. Con¬trol over the Caucasus meant control over the northern passes through which raiders from the steppe could move down into Iran or the eastern Roman holdings.
53. Allen, History of the Georgian People, p. 75.
54. The ambivalence of Roman-Iberian relations is well illustrated in what we know of the reign of the most celebrated of the east Georgian monarchs of the second century A.D., Parsman II (called kveli, the "good" or "valiant"), who ruled from 116 to 132. Parsman was a friend of the Emperor Hadrian, who honored him with the gift of an elephant. The Georgian monarch sent gold-embroidered cloaks in return. In 129, however, Parsman refused to pay homage to Hadrian on the occasion of the emperor's visit to the East. Tensions with Rome prompted Kartli-Iberia to ally with the Alans and campaign against the great empires to the south (Toumanoffj "Chronology of the Kings of Iberia," p. 16; Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, pp. 353- 62). Half a century later, Parsman III (135-185) was the guest of Emperor Antonius Pius and was honored by being permitted to make offerings in the Capitol. His equestrian statue was erected in the Temple of Bellona, and the territory of Iberia was increased (Toumanoff, "Chronology of the Kings of Iberia," p. 17).
55. Ibid., p. 18. On the Sassanids, see A. Christensen, Iran sous les Sassanides (Copenhagen, 1944).
56. Toumanoffj "Chronology of the Kings of Iberia," pp. 21-22.
57. Jones, Geography of Strabo, p. 211.
58. Ibid., p. 215.
59. Ibid., pp. 217-21.
60. Toumanoff, "Introduction to Christian Caucasian History: The Formative Centuries," pp. 43, 45, and Studies, pp. 91, 93-94.
61. Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, p. 315; and Berdzenishvili et al., Istoriia Gruzii, p. 68. The coincidence of identical terms far "people" and "armed force" was widespread in the early societies; c£ the Indo-European languages: the German Volk and the Slavic polk.
62. Toumanoff, Studies, pp. 94—95; and Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, pp. 312-13.
63. Manandian, Trade and Cities, p. 73.
64. Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, 439-40, 443-44. Vajari is an Iranian loanword from the Persian vazar (bazaar).
65. For a penetrating study of the Iranian influence in ancient Armenia, see Nina Garsoian, "Prolegomena to a Study of the Iranian Aspects in Arsacid Armenia," Handes Amsorya 90 (1976): 177-234.
66. N. Adontz, Armenia in the Period of Justinian: The Political Conditions Based on the Naxarar System (Louvain-Lisbon, 1970), p. 291. This is a translation by Nina Garsoian of Adontz's classic Armeniia v epokhu lustiniana: Politicheskoe sostoianie na osnove nakhararskogo stroia (St. Petersburg, 1908).
67. Toumanoff, "Introduction to Christian Caucasian History: The Formative Centuries," pp. 50, 62.
68. Georges Charachidze, Introduction a I'etude de la fiodalite georgienne (Le Code de Georges le Brillant) (Paris, 1971), p. 97.
69. Toumanoff, Studies, pp. 96-98; and Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii, pp. 67-68, 474-75.
70. Toumanoff, "Christian Caucasia Between Byzantium and Iran: New Light from Old Sources," Traditio 10 (1954): 123-24.