|The territory of modern-day Georgia has been continuously inhabited since the early Stone Age. The classic period saw the rise of the early Georgian states of Colchis and Iberia, which laid the foundation of Georgian culture and eventual statehood. The proto-Georgian tribes first appear in written history in the 12th century BC. Archaeological finds and references in ancient sources reveal advancement of early Georgian political and state formations – their urban heritage and advanced metallurgy and goldsmith techniques that date back to the 7th century BC and beyond. In the 4th century BC a unified kingdom of Georgia – an early example of advanced state organization under one king and the hierarchy of aristocracy, was established.
Christianity came to Georgia with its first missionaries and it was declared the state religion as early as AD 337. The conversion to Christianity provided a great stimulus to literature and the arts and helped to unify the country. Early and medieval Christian scholarship, the links with the rest of the Christian world and dynamic exchange with the Islamic world, together with the development of national literature and the political consolidation of the state in the 11th century AD culminated in a true renaissance in the 12-13th centuries AD.
This early Georgian renaissance, which preceded its European analogue by several hundred years, was significant and was characterized by magnificent secular art and culture, the flourishing of a romantic- chivalric tradition, breakthroughs in philosophy, and an array of political innovations in society and state organization, including religious and ethnic tolerance. The Golden age of Georgia left a legacy of great cathedrals, romantic poetry and literature, and the epic poem “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin”. This Golden Age was interrupted at its peak by the Mongol Invasion in the 13th century AD Throughout the next six centuries, Georgia was conquered by repeated invasions by Persians and Turks, resulting in the disintegration of the Georgian state into several small kingdoms. Due to this national crisis, in 1783 Georgia signed the Treaty of Georgievsk with the Russian Empire, placing the eastern Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti under the Russian protectorate. Despite Russia’s commitment to defend Georgia, it rendered no assistance when the Turks invaded in 1785 and again in 1795. This period culminated in the 1801 Russian annexation of remaining Georgian lands and the deposing of the Bagrationi dynasty.
A few decades later, Georgian society produced a modernist nationalistic elite which united Georgian society around the dream of the restoration of their once glorious state. In 1918, this dream was fulfilled and the Democratic Republic of Georgia (1918-1921) was established. This democratic experiment was short-lived, as in 1921 Georgia was occupied by Bolshevik Russia. Georgia was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1922. Georgia gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and, after a period of civil war and severe economic crisis, Georgia was mostly stable by the late 1990s. The bloodless Rose Revolution of 2003 installed a new, pro-Western reformist government that aspired to join NATO and attempted to bring the secessionist territories back under Georgia’s control. These efforts resulted in a deterioration of relations with Russia, in part because of the continued presence of Russian troops. As of 2007, most Russian military forces have been withdrawn, with the last remaining base in Batumi handed over to Georgia in 2007.
Georgia in antiquity
Ancient Georgian Kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia
Two early Georgian kingdoms of late antiquity, known to ancient Greeks and Romans as Iberia (Georgian: იბერია) in the east of the country and Colchis (Georgian: კოლხეთი) in the west, were among the first nations in the region to adopt Christianity (in AD 337, or in AD 319 as recent research suggests.).
In Greek Mythology, Colchis was the location of the Golden Fleece sought by Jason and the Argonauts in Apollonius Rhodius’ epic tale Argonautica. The incorporation of the Golden Fleece into the myth may have derived from the local practice of using fleeces to sift gold dust from rivers. Known to its natives as Egrisi or Lazica, Colchis often saw battles between the rival powers of Persia and the Byzantine Empire, both of which managed to conquer Western Georgia from time to time.
In the last centuries of the pre-Christian era, the area, in the form of the kingdom of Kartli-Iberia, was strongly influenced by Greece to the west and Persia to the east. After the Roman Empire completed its conquest of the Caucasus region in 66 B.C., the kingdom was a Roman client state and ally for nearly 400 years. In A.D. 330, King Marian III’s acceptance of Christianity ultimately tied the kingdom to the neighboring Byzantine Empire, which exerted a strong cultural influence for several centuries.
The early kingdoms disintegrated into various feudal regions by the early Middle Ages. This made it easy for Arabs to conquer Georgia in the 7th century. The rebellious regions were liberated and united into a unified Georgian Kingdom at the beginning of the 11th century. Starting in the 12th century AD, the rule of Georgia extended over a significant part of the Southern Caucasus, including the northeastern parts and almost the entire northern coast of what is now Turkey.
Although Arabs captured the capital city of Tbilisi in A.D. 645, Kartli-Iberia retained considerable independence under local Arab rulers. In A.D. 813, the prince Ashot I also known as Ashot Kurapalat became the first of the Bagrationi family to rule the kingdom: Ashot’s reign began a period of nearly 1,000 years during which the Bagrationi, as the house was known, ruled at least part of what is now the republic.
Western and eastern Georgia were united under Bagrat V (r. 1027-72). In the next century, David IV (called the Builder, r. 1099-1125) initiated the Georgian golden age by driving the Turks from the country and expanding Georgian cultural and political influence southward into Armenia and eastward to the Caspian Sea.
Kingdom of Georgia at peak of its military dominance, 1184-1225
The Georgian Kingdom reached its zenith in the 12th to early 13th centuries. This period has been widely termed as Georgia’s Golden Age or Georgian Renaissance. The revival of the Georgian Kingdom was short-lived however, and the Kingdom was eventually subjugated by the Mongols in 1236. Thereafter, different local rulers fought for their independence from central Georgian rule, until the total disintegration of the Kingdom in the 15th century. Neighbouring kingdoms exploited the situation and from the 16th century, the Persian Empire and the Ottoman Empire subjugated the eastern and western regions of Georgia, respectively.
The rulers of regions which remained partly autonomous organized rebellions on various occasions. Subsequent Persian and Osman invasions further weakened local kingdoms and regions. As a result of wars against neighbouring countries, the population of Georgia was reduced to 250,000 inhabitants at one point.
Within the Russian Empire
In 1783, Russia and the eastern Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti signed the Treaty of Georgievsk, according to which Kartli-Kakheti received protection by Russia. This, however, did not prevent Tbilisi from being sacked by the Persians in 1795.
On December 22, 1800, Tsar Paul I of Russia, at the alleged request of the Georgian King George XII, signed the proclamation on the incorporation of Georgia (Kartli-Kakheti) within the Russian Empire, which was finalized by a decree on January 8, 1801, which was confirmed by Tsar Alexander I on September 12, 1801. The Georgian envoy in Saint Petersburg reacted with a note of protest that was presented to the Russian vice-chancellor Prince Kurakin. In May 1801, Russian General Carl Heinrich Knorring dethroned the Georgian heir to the throne David Batonishvili and instituted a government headed by General Ivan Petrovich Lasarev.
The Georgian nobility did not accept the decree until April 1802 when General Knorring compassed the nobility in Tbilisi’s Sioni Cathedral and forced them to take an oath on the Imperial Crown of Russia. Those who disagreed were arrested temporarily.
In the summer of 1805, Russian troops on the Askerani River near Zagam defeated the Persian army and saved Tbilisi from conquest.
Democratic Republic of Georgia, 1918-1921
In 1810, after a brief war, the western Georgian kingdom of Imereti was annexed by Tsar Alexander I of Russia. The last Imeretian king and the last Georgian Bagrationi ruler Solomon II died in exile in 1815. From 1803 to 1878, as a result of numerous Russian wars against Turkey and Iran, several territories were annexed to Georgia. These areas (Batumi, Akhaltsikhe, Poti, and Abkhazia) now represent a large part of the territory of Georgia. The principality of Guria was abolished in 1828, and that of Samegrelo (Mingrelia) in 1857. The region of Svaneti was gradually annexed in 1857–59.
Brief independence period and Soviet era
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Georgia declared independence on May 26, 1918 in the midst of the Russian Civil War. The parliamentary election was won by the Georgian Social-Democratic Party, considered to be a party of Mensheviks, and its leader, Noe Zhordania, became the prime minister. In 1918 a Georgian–Armenian war erupted over parts of Georgian provinces populated mostly by Armenians which ended due to British intervention. In 1918–19 Georgian general Giorgi Mazniashvili led a Georgian attack against the White Army led by Moiseev and Denikin in order to claim the Black Sea coastline from Tuapse to Sochi and Adler for independent Georgia. The country’s independence did not last long, however. Georgia was under British protection from 1918-1920.
In February 1921 Georgia was attacked by the Red Army. Georgian troops lost the battle and the Social-Democrat government fled the country. On February 25, 1921 the Red Army entered the capital Tbilisi and installed a puppet communist government led by Georgian Bolshevik Filipp Makharadze, but the Soviet rule was firmly established only after the 1924 revolt was brutally suppressed. Georgia was incorporated into the Transcaucasian SFSR uniting Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The TFSSR was disaggregated into its component elements in 1936 and Georgia became the Georgian SSR.
The Georgian-born communist radical Ioseb Jughashvili, better known by his nom de guerre Stalin (from the Russian word for steel: сталь) was prominent among the Russian Bolsheviks, who came to power in the Russian Empire after the October Revolution in 1917. Stalin was to rise to the highest position of the Soviet state.
From 1941 to 1945, during World War II, almost 700,000 Georgians fought as Red Army soldiers against Nazi Germany. (A number also fought with the German army). About 350,000 Georgians died in the battlefields of the Eastern Front. Also during this period the Chechen, Ingush, Karachay and the Balkarian peoples from the Northern Caucasus, were deported to Siberia for alleged collaboration with the Nazis. With their respective autonomous republics abolished, the Georgian SSR was briefly granted some of their territory, until 1957.
The Dissidential movement for restoration of Georgian statehood started to gain popularity in the 1960s. Among the Georgian dissidents, two of the most prominent activists were Merab Kostava and Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Dissidents were heavily persecuted by Soviet government and their activities were harshly suppressed. Almost all Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was the Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia (the Georgian parliament).
On April 9, 1989, a peaceful demonstration in the Georgian capital Tbilisi ended in a massacre in which several people were killed by Soviet troops. This incident launched an anti-Soviet mass movement, soon shattered, however, by the in-fighting of its different political wings. Before the October 1990 elections to the national assembly, the Umaghlesi Sabcho (Supreme Council) — the first polls in the USSR held on a formal multi-party basis — the political landscape was reshaped again. While the more radical groups boycotted the elections and convened an alternative forum (National Congress), another part of the anticommunist opposition united into the Round Table—Free Georgia (RT-FG) around the former dissidents like Merab Kostava and Zviad Gamsakhurdia. The latter won the elections by a clear margin, with 155 out of 250 parliamentary seats, whereas the ruling Communist Party (CP) received only 64 seats. All other parties failed to get over the 5%-threshold and were thus allotted only some single-member constituency seats.
On April 9, 1991, shortly before the collapse of the USSR, Georgia declared independence. On May 26, 1991, Zviad Gamsakhurdia was elected as a first President of independent Georgia. However, Gamsakhurdia was soon deposed in a bloody coup d’état, from December 22, 1991 to January 6, 1992. The coup was instigated by part of the National Guards and a paramilitary organization called “Mkhedrioni”. The country became embroiled in a bitter civil war which lasted almost until 1995. Eduard Shevardnadze returned to Georgia in 1992 and joined the leaders of the coup — Kitovani and Ioseliani — to head a triumvirate called the “State Council”.
In 1995, Shevardnadze was officially elected as a president of Georgia, and reelected in 2000. At the same time, two regions of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, quickly became embroiled in disputes with local separatists that led to widespread inter-ethnic violence and wars. Supported by Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia achieved and maintained de facto independence from Georgia. More than 250,000 Georgians were ethnically cleansed from Abkhazia by Abkhaz separatists and North Caucasians volunteers, (including Chechens) in 1992-1993. More than 25,000 Georgians were expelled from Tskhinvali as well, and many Ossetian families were forced to abandon their homes in the Borjomi region and move to Russia.
In 2003, Shevardnadze was deposed by the Rose Revolution, after Georgian opposition and international monitors asserted that the November 2 parliamentary elections were marred by fraud. The revolution was led by Mikheil Saakashvili, Zurab Zhvania and Nino Burjanadze, former members and leaders of Shavarnadze’s ruling party. Mikheil Saakashvili was elected as President of Georgia in 2004.
Following the Rose Revolution, a series of reforms was launched to strengthen the country’s military and economic capabilities. The new government’s efforts to reassert the Georgian authority in the southwestern autonomous republic of Ajaria led to a major crisis early in 2004. Success in Ajaria encouraged Saakashvili to intensify his efforts, but without success, in the breakaway South Ossetia.