Iberia (Caucasus)

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Iberia or Iberia ( Georgian იბერია ), also called the Kingdom of Kartli ( Georgian ქართლი ) in Georgian historical sources , is an ancient Georgian state in the Caucasus . The center of this state was east of the Lichi Mountains in the Kura Valley .


Creation of the Kingdom of Iberia

After the invasions of the Cimmerians and Scythians in Asia Minor in the 8th and 7th centuries BC Several small states probably arose in the area of ​​today's Georgia. In the 6th century BC The state of Iberia was established in the 4th century BC. This was in the immediate vicinity of the Persian Achaemenid Empire and was therefore even more subject to a strong Persian influence in politics and culture than the neighboring state of Colchis, which emerged at the same time . The early capital was possibly Uplistsikhe , a fortified city in the Inner Kartlien , hewn into the rock, which was laid out relatively early.

In Iberia, there was soon a great social differentiation between rich and poor, as grave finds show. Construction technology, especially fortification, was well advanced, and there were several important cities such as Chovle , Kaspi , Sarkine , Urbisi and Odsrche .

Conquest by Ason and unification by Parnawas

Iberia under Parnawas

After Alexander the Great at the end of the 4th century BC After he had conquered the Persian Empire, his empire also collapsed after his death. Iberia, which became independent through the annihilation of Persia, was then threatened by the newly created states of Armenia and Pontus . A certain Ason came from Pontos , probably a Georgian born in Pontos. The reports that he was installed by Alexander the Great cannot be confirmed, as he was never in Georgia. Ason conquered Colchis and Iberia, the territory he conquered stretched from the Black Sea to the border regions of Iberia in Heretia and on the Berdudshi River . He made Mtskheta his capital. He had the walls of the cities razed, but he expanded the castles in which his troops were stationed. His rule is said to have been cruel and bloodthirsty, so he tried to exterminate the old ruling family of Iberia and was at least able to drive them out.

The last son of the family, Parnawas , fled to Persia. Soon after, he returned and allied himself with Kudschi , the ruler of Colchis. The Ossetians and peoples of Dagestan also took part in the attack on Ason because they no longer wanted to pay tribute to him. Parts of Ason's troops also ran over to Parnawas. So Ason was driven into the fortresses of Klardschetien , and Parnawas conquered first Mtskheta, then the rest of Iberia. He managed to ally himself with the Seleucid Antiochus , so that he got support from Armenia. In the following year Ason received "Greek" reinforcements, which were probably sent by the enemies of the Seleucids (see Diadoch Wars ). So there was a battle at Nakalakewi near Artini , which the Georgians and Seleucids won. Thereupon Ason was killed and Parnawas devastated the Greek populated area from Andsiandsor to Eklezi and conquered Klarschetien. Mtskheta also became its capital.

Like the Persian Empire, the Parnawas' empire was divided into administrative districts headed by Eristawis. His state encompassed all of eastern and southern Georgia and large parts of western Georgia. Colchis was on friendly terms with him. He created the basis for the emergence of a Georgian people and a common state. Through marriage policy he consolidated the ties to the Ossetians and Durdsuken , he gave his sister to the Colchian king Kudschi as a wife. During his time, many neighboring areas were brought under Iberian control, especially in the North Caucasus and Albania . Iberia had a close friendship with the Seleucid Empire.

The culture was promoted and disseminated the Georgian language. According to some sources, the Georgian script was created by Parnawas, but probably only revised and standardized. Brisk construction activity also developed. Parnawas had Mtskheta fortified with a new city wall and all the castles destroyed by Ason rebuilt. He also began building the residence of the Iberian kings, Armaszikhe. On the heights of Mtskheta he erected a large statue of the deity Armasi. He was buried under this after 65 years of reign. At that time, Mtskheta was a cosmopolitan city; besides Georgian, Greek and Aramaic were spoken at court.

Under the Parnavasids

Parnawas founded the dynasty of the pharnavazid dynasty that Iberia for centuries dominated. Parnawa's son and successor Saurmag had to fend off an uprising by the Eristawis, which he only managed with the help of the Ossetians and Durdsuken. After him wars began in Iberia and the unity was in danger. Colchis became quite independent, and under King Mirwan the Durdsuken invaded Iberia and devastated the northern and eastern parts of the country. Mirwan then attacked the Durdsuken, defeated them and destroyed their capital, Chartali.

Iberia at the time of the greatest expansion of Armenia.

In the 2nd century BC Iberia lost the southern provinces of Kisiqien, Meshetia, Klardschetien and parts of Lower Cartlia to Armenia. Pontus could under Mithridates VI. Eupator to incorporate the Colchis. Building activity developed under King Parnadzhom, including the construction of Saden Castle near Mtskheta. After he had adopted the religion of the Persians, the Eristawis, who had kept the old religion, rose again and killed him with the help of the Armenians. Under his successor Arshak, Iberia leaned heavily on Armenia.

When in the third Mithridatic war in 66 BC When the Romans finally defeated Pontus, the Roman general Gnaeus Pompeius also subjugated Armenia and then moved to Iberia, which was allied with Pontus. King Artag tried to persuade the Romans to find a peaceful solution, but failed because of their will to win. The Romans came surprisingly quickly and were able to quickly take the area south of the Kura . Soon after, they conquered some areas north of the river, while Artag only avoided them. When it came to battle, the Iberians suffered a heavy defeat. After a guerrilla war that was costly for the Romans, they cleared the forests to take the protection of the Iberians away. The Roman soldiers also discovered many women among the warriors, which is why it was believed in Rome that Pompey was fighting the Amazons. Soon after, Artag gave up for good. After sending his sons to Rome as hostages, Iberia became an ally and vassal of Rome. Soon after, Pompey also conquered Colchis and Albania.

Between Rome and Persia

Iberia was only able to recover in the 1st and 2nd centuries. The renewed strength of Iberia was favored by Armenia's weakness and the struggle between Rome and the Parthian Empire . The good relations with the Alans (Ossetians) also had a positive effect. In the thirties of the 1st century AD, after an uprising by the Parthian nobility and with the consent of Rome, it was even possible to occupy large parts of Armenia, which was disputed between Rome and Parthia. Thereupon a war broke out between Iberia and Parthia for Armenia, in which Albania allied with Iberia and the Sarmatians fought on both sides. Iberia under the general Parsman, son of the king, won this war and King Mirdat installed his son Mirdat as the Armenian king. After the Parthian (counter) king Tiridates III. was overthrown, his successor Artabanos II tried again unsuccessfully to recapture Armenia. But soon afterwards Mirdat was ordered from Armenia to Rome and captured there. Emperor Claudius released him again. Mirdat's brother Parsman attacked Armenia after he became king of Iberia and overthrew Mirdat from the throne.

Parsman's son Mirdat waged war in Armenia again in the 1970s, where he reinforced his army with troops from the Alans, as is customary with the Iberians. 114 the Iberians helped the Romans in the war against the Parthians, so that Armenia and Mesopotamia could be conquered. Parsman II waged war against the Parthians and against Roman possessions in the 30s to 50s of the 2nd century . The Romans treated Iberia with extreme caution at this time, and Trajan called Iberia a friend and ally. The good relationship worsened, however, after the Georgians completely expelled the Romans from Armenia, successfully fought against the Parthian Empire and publicly ridiculed Rome. However, under Antoninus Pius Rome recognized the borders of Iberia from the southeast coast of the Black Sea to the lower reaches of the Mtkvari and from the Caucasus to the Araxes , which improved relations again. In the following years the Parthians were unable to conquer Iberia, and the Sassanids , who then took control of Persia, initially operated unsuccessfully.

Iberia around 300 AD

Under King Amasasp the influence of the Persians grew stronger, but a friendly relationship developed. However, the Ossetians attacked several times during his reign. Amasasp succeeded in defeating the Ossetians and, together with reinforcements from Armenia, devastating their country north of the Caucasus. Due to his strong alliance with the Persians against Colchis, Armenia and Rome at the end of his reign, the southern Eristawis fell away. After Amasasp's defeat and death, Iberia came back under Roman influence.

In the following time Iberia orientated itself more towards Rome again, since Persia threatened its borders directly. In 337, King Mirian declared Christianity the official religion of Iberia. Legends link the adoption of Christianity to the deeds of the Cappadocian Nino. However, there was sometimes strong resistance to Christianization in the mountain regions, so that military means were also used. The Persians intensified their attacks on Iberia at this time and were able to drive out the Iberian king Saurmag in 368 and set Aspagur as king. When Saurmag returned with Roman help, the country was divided for a short time. Saurmag ruled the southwestern part with Mtskheta, Aspagur the northeastern part, which bordered on Albania. In the seventies, the Persians managed to regain control of all of Iberia. They sent a Pitiachschi to collect the tribute payments. At the beginning of the 5th century, the Persians also took action against the Georgian Church and spread Mazdaism . From 540 onwards the Sassanids tried increasingly to assimilate the Georgians and finally to incorporate Iberia, but also Armenia and Albania. It also took action against the Georgian language and culture and exploited the desire of the feudal nobility for more power.

King Wachtang Gorgasal then tried to organize resistance against the Persians in the second half of the 5th century, but he did not have unreserved support among the princes. So he initially proceeded against feudal lords and church princes who did not recognize his sovereignty, such as Archbishop Mikael, whom he replaced with a loyal bishop. He defeated the Khazars and Alans north of the Caucasus, who had overrun and controlled the Caucasus passes during the Persian rule, and reoccupied the passes with his own troops. After an alliance with the Huns, he dared to openly revolt against Persia. Armenia soon joined him. However, since the Huns did not come to the rescue, Wachtang lost the war. Since the Persians also fought in other border areas of their empire, Armenia and Iberia were nevertheless able to expand their independence. But when Wachtang later refused to march with Persia against Rome, war broke out again. In the Battle of the Iori , Wachtang was seriously injured and died soon after. Since then he has been the symbol of the resistance against Persia. The founding of Tbilisi is said to go back to him.

At the beginning of the 6th century, after an uprising, the kingdom of Iberia was liquidated by the Persians and Iberia became part of the Sassanid Empire.

Regaining independence

In 571 revolts against the Persians broke out in Armenia and Iberia. The insurgents sent messengers to Constantinople to ask the Byzantine emperor for assistance. For now, the Iberians and Armenians were able to defeat the Persian troops and kill their commanders. But soon the Persians were able to stabilize the situation again and in the peace treaty of 577 between Byzantium and the Sassanid Empire , Iberia and Armenia became Persian again.

Towards the end of the reign of Hormizd IV. Persia was shaken by power struggles. Hormizd was overthrown and his son Chosrau II fled to Byzantium. After he had regained the Persian crown with Byzantine help, he ceded a large part of Armenia and also Iberia to Tbilisi to Byzantium. Soon all of Iberia could be taken from the Persians. Then ruler of Iberia was Gwaram (Gurgen) from the Parnasavid family who ruled as the Kuropalat of the Byzantine emperor. In practice he ruled as king, Iberia was largely independent. When the Iberians did not join a Byzantine campaign against Persia, they turned to the Khazars for help. The Khazars invaded Iberia on their own initiative and, together with the Byzantines, besieged Tbilisi, where Georgian and Persian troops were entrenched. But they couldn't take the city. After the defeat of the Persians in the battle of Nineveh in 627, however, Tbilisi was defenseless and the Khazars took it. According to Armenian chroniclers, they looted and murdered until no one was alive. After that Iberia was significantly more dependent on Byzantium than before.

Arab conquest

After the conquest of Armenia, the Arabs plundered through Iberia in 642 and 643 AD, which at that time was also called Kartlien, but were repulsed. After a defeat in Armenia, the Byzantine general Mauianos fled to Iberia. The Arabs followed him and, knowing the power of the Arab Empire, the Erismtawari of Iberia sent them rich gifts. Iberia was then guaranteed protection. So Iberia became a vassal of the Arabs; scattered Arab soldiers had to be supplied by the Iberians and Islam had to be respected. Georgians who embraced Islam became equal to the Arabs.

Through a war within the caliphate that lasted until 661, Iberia regained more independence. After violent attempts by the new caliph to bring the Caucasus countries back completely under his rule, they finally fell away from him. Byzantium also demanded tribute from the Caucasus. In 686, Byzantium and the Caliphate agreed to split the payments from Iberia and Armenia. The Georgians did not want to tolerate this and, led by the Nerses, moved to Armenia, where they defeated an Arab army. A Byzantine army then invaded Iberia and restored the former Byzantine supremacy. The Khazars took advantage of this uncertain situation and plundered through the Caucasus.

By the end of the 7th century, however, the Arabs were able to bring Iberia back completely under their control. In the following period there were frequent uprisings by the Georgians, but they were always kept down by the Arabs. When a revolt broke out in the 730s, after the Khazars had defeated the Arabs, the Arabs sent Mervan , whom the Georgians called "the dove". He was supposed to punish the Iberians and wreaked havoc in Georgia. In 737 the Arabs made a final advance north of the Caucasus to take revenge on the Khazars. The Arabs put an emir at the head of the country in Iberia , but the Erismtawari remained in office, but steadily lost power. Over time there was an extensive Islamization of society and the Christians in particular were persecuted. In 764 the Khazars broke into the Caucasus again and inflicted heavy defeats on the Arabs. They even conquered Tbilisi, but did not stay in this region, only plundered and then withdrew.

At the end of the 8th century the resistance against the Arabs increased, which was supported by many feudal lords. With the erismtawari von Kartli's loss of power, their influence grew and now they too wanted to get rid of the supremacy of the Arabs. In 807 the Arabs finally abolished the function of Erismtawari, whereupon the deposed Prince Ashot I founded the state of Tao-Klardschetien . The state of Iberia ceased to exist and was succeeded by the Emirate of Tbilisi , which, like the other states, gradually broke away from the caliphate.


Since Parnawa's government, the state has been divided into districts headed by Eristawis . In Roman times were appointed by the king Pitiachschi, who ruled in the districts and held the rank of Eristawis. Clergymen were employed at the king's court, each with their own areas of activity. On a stele of the Pitiachschi Sharagas, names of dignitaries of his time are mentioned in Aramaic script. There was also the office of builder and painter.


The culture of Iberia was strongly influenced by the neighboring great powers. After the Roman conquest, many Roman goods came to Iberia. During excavations in the Armasi Gorge, large amounts of gold and silver jewelry were found in the graves. The clothes found are partly of Roman origin. In society there was a great gap between rich and poor, so in the graves of the poorer classes only roof tiles were found as grave goods. Little is known about the pantheon of ancient Georgia. It is certain that several deities were worshiped, the gods Armasi, Saden, Gazi, Ga, Ainina and Danina are known by name, but not their meaning. The gods were imagined to be anthropomorphic, as St. Nino, convertor of Georgia, reports. Statues of gods are said to have been erected at prominent places.

The people were mostly buried in pits or graves lined with stones. Vessel burials are for the 4th to 1st centuries BC. Detectable, whereby a connection to the emerging viticulture is assumed. Deceased winegrowers were probably buried in used wine jugs. Thereafter, tiled roof graves, stone sarcophagi and graves made of bricks and clay slabs also appeared. Over time, the stones used for the graves were more carefully worked. The grave goods were very different, in the graves of rich dead people found gold cover disks for eyes and mouth, rings, bracelets, buckles, harness and silver vessels. The gifts were decorated with depictions of animals, and imported goods such as glass and precious stones were also used for jewelry. Inscriptions that gave information about the deceased were often affixed to the graves or the grave goods. According to Georgian chronicles, the Iberian kings were buried in mausoleums. In Christian times the graves were laid more and more with stone slabs, the deceased were washed and anointed with oil.

The remains of a system of several halls carved into the rock were found near Uplistsikhe. Presumably it is an early form of a theater building. Prokopios of Ceasarea reports of a theater and a hippodrome in the city of Apsaros. The Georgian theater was probably closely linked to dance and ritual. From Georgian chronicles and representations, chants and music from wind instruments for cult festivals of the god Armasi have come down to us. With the beginning of Christianization under King Mirian, who introduced Christianity as the state religion, the first churches were built as basilicas made of wood. The first of these was built in Mtskheta, and another, still preserved, in Bolnisi. The three-aisled building with a horseshoe-shaped apse has a gable roof supported by five pairs of columns. In the 6th century a new type of church appeared, cross-domed churches in a monumental but simple design. An example that has survived to this day is the Jvari Church in Mtskheta.

The Georgian script is first mentioned in Parnawas' time, but is probably much older. In the following period it became more and more popular, but other scripts such as Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew were also in use. The Aramaic script came in a special variant, the Armasi script, which only existed in Iberia. The first surviving writings in Georgian date from early Christian times.

The first known literary works, above all hagiographies and sacred poetry, were created in the early Christian period of Iberia. These include, among others, the martyrdom of St. Shusha Niki and The Martyrdom of Saint Exstati Mtskheta . The latter is about the conversion of a Persian to Christianity. In the 6th century, the ascetic Shio Mghwimeli worked in Mtskheta , from whom two church hymns have been preserved. Most of the works were lost again in the wars that followed. Several hagiographies have survived from the time of the Arab rule, depicting the resistance of Christians, whereby the struggle for Christianity is mixed with that for Georgia. Examples are the martyrdom of St. Habo of Tbilisi and the martyrdom of St. Gobron .


Trade connections existed with cities in the Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean. The country did not have its own coins, but minted gold coins from the time of Alexander the Great. Staters were also minted. In addition, coins from Greece, Pontus, Ptolemaic Egypt, Syria, the city of Sinope, Bactria, Sogdia and the Parthian Empire were found.

The cities were all located on trade routes, the most important of which were Mtskheta, Uplistsikhe, Urbnisi, Udsharma, Shorapani, Wani, Kutaisi and Nokalakewi. The cities were surrounded by massive walls in which observation and defense towers were set. The use of mortar is from the 3rd century BC. Since then the houses have mostly been plastered inside. The cities had baths, water pipes and sewers. The bathing establishments consisted of a changing room, one for warming up, a hot, warm and cool bath and the heating system on the ground floor. Iberia had a network of paved roads that were mainly used for trade and were regularly maintained. Overland roads were paved with wooden paving, river stones were mostly used in cities, and in some cases the stones were bound with mortar. There were constant ferry services or bridges on large rivers, Strabo reports of 120 bridges over the Phasis River above Schorapani. There were also two bridges in Mtskheta, over the Aragvi and the Mtkvari.

In addition to statues of gods, numerous animal representations have been preserved, mostly made of stone or metal. Metal processing was widespread in Iberia, it served the production of weapons, jewelry and tools. Remnants of an ancient workshop were found near Grdseli Mindori. Iron, lead, copper and gold were processed there. Glass was also produced in Iberia as early as the 6th century. This was opaque and colored. Many glass products were also imported from Phenicia, Crete, Syria and Egypt. In the 1st century, colorless, transparent glass appeared, which was mainly used to make dishes. In addition, an art of textile dyeing had developed in Iberia. Herodotus praised the Georgian textiles, the colors of which never fade but would wear off with the wool.

See also


Web links

Commons : Kingdom of Iberia  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b Fähnrich, 1993, p. 46 f.
  2. a b c d e f g h i j Fähnrich, 1993, p. 48 ff.
  3. a b c d e f g h i j k Fähnrich, 1993, p. 59 ff.
  4. Fähnrich, 1993, p. 77 ff.
  5. a b c d Fähnrich, 1993, p. 82 ff.
  6. a b Fähnrich, 1993, p. 93 ff.
  7. a b c d Fähnrich, 1993, p. 96 ff.
  8. Fähnrich, 1993, p. 100 f.
  9. Fähnrich, 1993, pp. 80 ff.
  10. a b Fähnrich, 1993, p. 90 ff.

Coordinates: 41 ° 26 '  N , 43 ° 14'  E