Andrew Andersen





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 East-Kartvelian ones.


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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 dialects).


By that time Svans were dominant in modern Svanetia and Abkhazia, Zans inhabited modern Georgian province of Samegrelo, 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 and Erzurum 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.


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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 coastal areas.


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 of Lazicum ruled by Roman legati.


The King of dramatically shrinked Iberia 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.


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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 and Iberia 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 Georgia.


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.