Most historians of Georgia as well as anthropologists,
archeologists and linguists tend to agree that the ancestors of modern
Georgians inhabited southern Caucasus and northern Asia
Minor since neolith. Experts usually refer to them as Proto-Kartvelian
tribes (from the word Kartveli
which is the Georgians’ own name for themselves) whose origins are quite
unclear. Some of European historians of the 19th century (eg, Humboldt, Krettschmer) came
to the conclusion that Proto-Kartvelians were closely related linguistically and
culturally to Pre-Aryan (in thus context “Aryan” means Indo-European)
aboriginal peoples of ancient Europe among them Etruscans and Proto-Basques.
Proto-Kartvelians were bordered
by Zykh tribes to the north-west (those were Proto-Adygh ancestors of modern Adygh
and Apsua ), Proto-Nakhs (ancestors of modern
Chechens and some Daghestani peoples) to the
north-east, Proto-Armenians to the south-east and Aramaeic-speaking
tribes to the south and south-west.
Between 2100 and 750 B.C., the area survived the invasions
by the Hittites, Celts, Medes, Proto-Persians and Cimmerians. At the
same period, the ethnic unity of
Proto-Kartvelians broke up into several branches,
among them Svan, Zan and
Click on the map
or the full-screen image
That finally led to the formation of modern Kartvelian languages: Georgian (originating from East Kartvelian vernaculars),
Svan, Megrelian and Laz (the latter two originating from Zan
By that time Svans were dominant
in modern Svanetia and Abkhazia, Zans inhabited modern Georgian province
north-eastern coast of Turkey
between the rivers of Coruh and Kizil-Irmak, and
partially Georgian provinces of Imereti and Guria, while East-Kartvelians
formed the majority in modern eastern Georgia,
partially northern Armenia
and north-eastern Turkey
between the rivers of Coruh and Arax.
As a result of cultural and geographic delimitation, two
core areas of future Georgian culture and statehood formed in western and
eastern Georgia by the end of the 8th century B.C. The first Georgian state was the Kingdom of
Colchis that covered modern western Georgia (including Abkhazia) and modern
Turkish provinces of Coruh & Rize. The Kingdom
of Colchis has been
mentioned in ancient chronicles at least since the middle of the 6th
century B.C. Less than 300 years
later, the Kingdom of Iberia (or Kartlia)
emerged in modern eastern Georgia
and south-eastern Turkey.
Kartvelian tribes inhabiting northern
Anatolia to the west of modern Turkish provinces of Rize
in the 6th-7th centuries, failed to form anything that
could be defined as Georgian states. Instead, they were absorbed by Aramaeic and ancient Greek cultures and were incorporated
into non-Georgian states of the area.
There is little or no exact information about the ethnic
composition of Colchis and Iberia.
Since 2 000 B.C., north-western Colchis (modern Abkhazia and part of Krasnodar territory
of Russia) was
inhabited not only by the Svan and Zan but partially also by the Apsyl
people whose origins are unclear. It is assumed but not proven that the Apsyls could be the ancestors of today’s Apsua (one of
the ethnic groups of modern Abkhazia speaking distinct language belonging to Adygh group). Another important ethnic element of ancient
Colchis were Greeks who between 1000 and 550 B.C., established quite a few
trade colonies in the coastal area among them Naessus,
Pitiys (modern resort town of Pitsunda), Dioscurias, Guenos, Phasis (modern Poti), Apsaros and Rhizos (modern Rize in Turkey).
It is also impossible to define the exact linguistic
border that separated Kartvelians and Armenians in
southern and south-eastern Iberia
between 600 and 150 B.C.
Between 653 and 333 B.C., both Colchis and Iberia were
successfully surviving in fight against Median and later Persian empires. At
the end of the 3d century, southern Iberia
saw the armies of Alexander the Great who established a vast Greco-Macedonian
empire to the south of the Caucasus dominating both west- and central Asia as
well as Greece, Egypt and partially India. Neither Iberia, nor Colchis were incorporated into the
empire of Alexander or any of the successor Ellinistic
states of the Middle East. However, both
ancient Georgian kingdoms were greatly influenced by ancient Greek culture.
Greek was widely spoken in the cities especially in Colchis.
In Iberia, Greek influence
was less noticeable than in Colchis and the
Greek language was less important in favor of widely used Aramaeic.
the maps for the full-screen image
Between the early 2nd century, B.C.and the late 2nd century A.D., both
Colchis and Iberia together with the neighbor countries, become an arena of
long and devastating conflicts between major local powers Rome, Armenia and
short-lived Kingdom of Pontus.
In 189, B.C., rapidly growing Ancient Armenian kingdom
took over more than half of Iberia
conquering her southern and south-eastern provinces of Gogharena,
Taokhia and Genyokhiaas
well as some other territories. Between 120 and 63 BC, Armenia’s ally Mithridate VI Eupator of
Pontus, conquered all the Colchis and incorporated it into his kingdom
embracing almost all Asia Minor as well as eastern and northern Black Sea
From 187 to 70 B.C., the coalition of greater
Armenia and Pontus
was actively expanding at the expense of Rome
taking over its East Mediterranean
possessions. However, the success of anti-Roman alliance did not last long.
As a result of brilliant Roman campaigns of Pompeus and Lucullus from the west and Parthian invasion
from the south, Armenia
lost significant part of her conquests by 65 B.C. and in fact became
Roman-Parthian dependency. At the same time, the Kingdom
of Pontus was completely destroyed
by the Romans and all its territory including Colchis were incorporated into Roman Empire as her provinces.
The former Kingdom
of Colchis was re-organized by the
Romans into the province
ruled by Roman legati.
The King of dramatically shrinked
had to accept Roman protectorate.
The following 600 years of Georgian history were marked with
manipulation between Rome and Parthia (Iran) who were fighting long wars
against each other for the domination in the Middle East including Syria,
Mesopotamia, Armenia, Albania (territory of modern Azerbaijan) and Iberia.
Click on the map for the full
In the 2nd centuriy
A.D., Iberia strengthened
her position in the area especially during the reign of King Farsman II who achieved full independence from Rome and re-conquered some of the previously lost
territories from declining Armenia.
In the early 3d century, Rome
had to give up Albania and
most of Armenia
to Sassanid Iran. The province of Lazicum was given certain
degree of autonomy that by the end of the century developed into full
independence and formation of a new Kingdom of Lazica-Egrisi
on the basis of smaller principalities of Zans, Svans, Apsyls and Sanyghs. That new West-Georgian state survived more than
250 years until in 562 it was absorbed by East Roman (Byzantine) Empire.
In the middle of the 4h century, both Lazica
adopted Christianity as their official religion.
During the 4th and mst
of the 5th centuries, Iberia (Kartlia)
was under total Iranian control. The Kingdom was abolished and the country
was ruled by the governors appointed by the Shahs. At the end of the 5th
century, Prince Vakhtang Gorghasali
orchestrated an anti-Iranian uprising and restored Iberian statehood
proclaiming himself the King. The armies of Vakhtang
launched several campaigns against both Iran
and Byzantine Empire. However his strife for
independence ended up in fiasco. After Vakhtang’s
death in 502 and short reign of his son Dachi
(502-514), Iberia was
re-incorporated into Iran
as its province. However this time Iberian nobility was granted the privilege
to elect the governors who in Georgian were called Erismtavari.
Since 575, Iberian nobility started electing governors (Erismtavari)
from the princely family of Bagrationi that later established the new Royal dynasty of
In the early 7th century, the Byzantine-Iranian
rivalry for the dominant role in the Middle East
was over due to the beginning of the Arab conquest of the region.