History of Georgia - Chapter IV
Renaissance of Georgian Monarchy
1. Reforms under David the Builder
2. Repulsion of the Seljuk Turks from Georgia
3. Didgori Battle
4. Georgia – Supreme Power in the Caucasus
5. Reign of Demetre I and Giorgi III
6. Queen Tamar
8. Battles of Shamkori and Basiani
9. Georgia’s Role in Foundation of Trebizond Empire
10. Military Campaign in Iran
11. Court and Administration in Georgia in the Late XII Early XIII Centuries
12. Social and Economic Development of Georgia in the XII Early XIII Centuries
13. Georgian Culture in the XII-XIII centuries
14. Shota Rustavel
The just united Georgia was about to collapse after the Seljuk invasions. The country desperately needed a kingly hand, needed a leader who would head resistant struggle against the invaders. Apparently, Georgi II was devoid of such abilities. In 1089, after a coup d’etat, nobles concerned about the future of their country forced Giorgi II to abdicate from the throne in favor of his 6-year-old son David. David’s was a heavy legacy: a country devastated by the Seljuks; a hungry population that had fled to the mountains; and ravaged towns, villages and fortresses. Decisive measures were imperative to resuscitate the country. David spared no effort to strengthen the country, and his constructive activity was crowned with success. Georgia gained strength and eventually turned into a mighty state. The grateful posterity named him Aghmashenebeli – the Builder.
The king and his advisers made a comprehensive analysis of the situation in Georgia and took into account the factors that impeded the unification of the country. David began by gathering all those who were loyal to him and committed to the well-being of Georgia (Mtsignobartukhutsesi Giorgi of Chkondidi and Monk Arsen, an influential figure at the King’s court, to name a few), so they could pursue this cause together. In his will addressed to Shiomghvimi Monastery, the king calls Monk Arsen his “ardent hope”. Monk Arsen authored David Aghmashenebeli’s “Praise,” which was the eulogy attached to Dzeglistsera of Ruis-Urbnisi in 1104. Another influential character must have been monk Ioanne.
According to an anonymous annalist who picturesquely describes the disastrous situation in Georgia before David assumed his throne, (the author of one of the writings – “The Life of the King of the Kings,” which is in the “History of Kartli”), “Kartli was devastated.” Kartli was almost desolated and depopulated, and only a few had found sanctuary in the fortresses. He tells about Liparit Baghvashi, who had wrested control of Trialeti and Kldekari fortresses, Niania Kakhaberisdze (feudal lord of Racha) and other noblemen feigning devotion to the King. However, by routing the Seljuks, David allowed the peasants who had fled to the mountains to return to their land. According to the chronicler, only western Georgia was populated, which was why the King’s reign did not go beyond Likhi Mountain.
Suppressing the willfulness of the powerful feudal lords and ousting the Turkish invaders were the issues of paramount importance. In the first place, the king rallied the army as the existing troops were disorganized and demoralized after many bitter defeats. David set up not numerous but well-trained detachments consisting of minor and middle feudal lords. He had these devoted detachments invade the Turks dwelling in Kartli and eject them from there. Thus, he enabled the run-away people to return to their dwelling places; the country returned to intensive agriculture.
David divided the Georgian army into three parts. The first part was the King’s personal Guards of 5000 men known as “Mona Spa,” who were to guard the King, accompany him, and ensure timely and efficient fulfillment of all urgent military operations. The second part was “The Guards,” whose duty was fortification of the strongholds. The third part was the standing army of 20,000 men always ready to fight. After all these measures, the country’s military forces were fully mobilized and the feudal army was restored.
In 1118, after successful completion of his military reform, David eventually introduced from the North Caucasus 40,000 Kipchak families and settled them in the depopulated districts of Georgia. He gave them plot and pastures for their horses in return for which they were to give an armed equestrian per family. Thus, the King set up a standing Mounted Army of 40,000 men, which was a substantial force for the country.
The reason why David decided on the Kipchaks was that they were renowned as efficient warriors in Georgia. In addition, David’s connection with the Kipchaks was close, for his wife was a Kipchak princess –the daughter of their ruler, Atragha Sharaghan. Thus, David deliberately consolidated this connection, which led to better agreement and understanding between the Georgian king and his father-in-law. This union was beneficial for the Kipchaks too as they had been oppressed by the Principality of Kiev. In addition to 40,000 Kipchaks David had a Georgian standing army of 0,000. Furthermore, in emergencies, David would recruit a mercenary army from among the Ossetians, the Lazghis, the Kurds and others.
After a successful completion of the military reform, the Georgian army included 5,000 Guards (”Mona-Spa”), a standing army of 60,000 warriors, feudal troops and a mercenary army of “Roki Spa.”
The first measure to be taken before embarking on a decisive attack against the Turks was stabilization of the situation inside the country and subjugation of the nobles and feudal lords. In 1093, David imprisoned one of the most resistant lords, Lord of Kldekari Liparit Baghvashi (a grandson of the Liparit contemporary to Bagrat IV), but set him free after the latter had repented of his wickedness. In 1095, David recaptured Liparit and exiled him to Byzantium after 2years of imprisonment. He deprived him of his domain and declared it national property. David mounted an attack on another rebellious Lord Dzagan Abuletisdze of Kakheti. The two set good examples for other lords as it became painfully clear for all of them that David was unlikely to repeat his father’s mistakes and richly endow rebellious lords with new estates. On the contrary, he would be ruthless and cruel to them.
Crucial for the country’s centralization was the position of the church. The issue was that the Church was in opposition to the Crown, and it was of paramount importance to take decisive measures in the religious sphere. In the X-XI, centuries according to the well-established inheritance law, only nobles could take high religious positions; thus, high church offices began to fall into the hands of unworthy men, who were the kings opponents. The church supported independently-minded feudal lords in their craving to be kings in their domain. Therefore, in 1105, after a long deliberation, David convened the Ruis-Urbnisi (the districts of inner Kartli) Church Council, where the position of King David and his supporters prevailed and decisions were reached, which radically changed the activities of the Church. The Council ruled all the King’s opponents be ousted from the church and be replaced by the King’s adherents. By the Ruis-Urbnisi Religious Council, David the Builder’s political goal had been achieved: he successfully removed moral and moneyed assistance from the noble reactionary forces. Since then Georgian church became an enthusiastic supporter of the Sovereign in his fight against foreign invaders or domestic opponents. All the resolutions adopted by Ruis-Urbnisi Council (Synod) are gathered in “The Decree of Ruis-Urbnisi Religious Council.”
David the Builder had subordinated the church to the Crown; however, the success needed reinforcement. Therefore, an important merger occurred between the clerical office of Chkondideli (“Archbishop of Chkondidi”) and that of the Mtsignobartukhutsesi (royal chancellor), the chief adviser to the King on all problems of state (literally: “the chief of the scribes”). The former was the most powerful one next to the Catholicos, while the latter was the supreme official and first next to the King. This merger enabled David to interfere in the affairs of the church through Mtsignobartukhutses-Chkondideli and dictate his will.
With the view of centralizing his power, David separated the main authoritative institutions -internal, military and finances and put them under direct supervision of Royal councilor, Mtsignobartukhutses-Chkondideli; in addition, he granted a privilege to the heads (Mandaturtukhutsesi, Amirspasalari, Mechurchletukhutsesi) of these institutions over other “Ukhutsesis” (Masters) like – Msakhurtukhutsesi (Master of Servants), Monadiretukhutsesi (Master of Hunters) , Meghvinetukhutsesi (Master of wine-makers) and so on.
The king subordinated the supreme judicial branch, “Saajo Kari,” (Plea Court) to the Chkondidel-Mtsignobartukhutsesi. The function of the “Saajo Kari” was to deliberate on the suit of those seeking justice in the lower courts,. The King personally supervised the activities of the Supreme Court as it served to reinforcement of his authority.
David set up a rigid police force, “Mstovaris” (spies). According to his annalist, David was always well informed about all the ongoing events in his country--in the army, churches and monasteries as well as in the families of feudal lords. This surveillance system substantially reduced any possibility of insurrections against the Crown and the country, for it enabled the king to undertake timely measures for prevention of any such attempt. The system was operating outside the country as well and kept David informed about the conditions and exploits of his neighbors and enemies. The surveillance system was a part of a larger body – department of internal affairs – and was headed by the Mandaturtukhutsesi (Chief of Police).
The reforms by David the Builder aimed at strengthening the country, reinforcing his autocracy, ousting all the invaders from the country and suppressing any internal class struggles.
In the 1190s, the situation in the Near East became favorable for Georgia as the state of the Seljuk Turks had begun declining. In addition, in 1095, in Clermont, France, Pope Urban II declared the Crusade war against the Muslim Turks. Georgia was well informed about all the ongoing international events; King David duly appreciated the favorable situation and stopped paying the tribute to the Sultan, which in fact meant declaring a war. However, the Sultan took no notice of David’s challenge. Thus, the country was finally liberated from the heavy burden of the shameful tribute, deemed imperative by David’s father, Giorgi II.
The military reforms undertaken by David the Builder disabled the Turks from spending winter in Inner Kartli. David undertook a long and continuous series of operations to incorporate all the Georgian territories outside his kingdom, including Lower Kartli, Tbilisi, southwest Georgia, and Kakhet-Hereti, into the now united Georgia.
The first on David’s agenda was Kakhet-Hereti. In 1101, he pressed an attack on Kwirike of Kakheti and took an important stronghold of Zedazeni. In 02, noble Kwirike was succeeded by his nephew Aghsartan. The nobles who were dissatisfied by Aghsartan’s reign captured him and delivered to the King. Now, it was no longer difficult to seize Kakhet-Hereti; however, the fight for Kakhet-Hereti was not over. In 05, numerous Turkish troops under the commands of the Atabag of Ganja invaded Georgia. The fully armed king met the enemy. The battle took place near Ertsukhi (modern Saingilo), where the Georgians were victorious and King David displayed great courage. According to chroniclers, the King was on the front directing his troops and slaughtering his enemies. After the combat, David took off his armor, blood poured on the ground; his army thought the king was wounded, but it was the enemy’s blood. David had three horses killed and was riding his fourth at the time the combat was over.
Having incorporated Kakhet-Hereti into the now unified Georgia, the Crown set itself the task of recovering Lower Kartli. It was a custom of the Turks each year to overrun Lower Kartli. Some of them settled here, others returned home with tremendous plunder and numerous captives. It was the place where the most of the important Turkish forces were located. David knew Tbilisi was vital for the Turks, but it was not a secret that Tbilisi was fortified and protected best of all. Therefore, according to the plan, the army took a route from the south, and after taking many important localities, laid siege to the city.
In 1110, one of the major fortresses in Lower Kartli, Samshvilde, the bastion of the Turks in Georgia, was taken. In order to distract the Turks’ attention, David moved to Likht-Imereti and had Giorgi Mtsignobartukhutses-Chkondideli take Samshvilde. After the surprise invasion, the Georgian army seized the fortress of vital strategic significance. Having lost Samshvilde, the petrified Turks abandoned all the nearby fortresses and villages and fled at night.
In 1115, Georgian army captured and liberated Rustavi.
David’s interests were not limited to Lower Kartli only; at the same time, he was fighting to liberate the southwest and southeast regions of Georgia. In February 6, David’s troops cleared the Turks out of Tao. David played a trick on the Turks because in winter and heavy snow they did not expect any invasions. Besides, David had moved to western Georgia, so the Turks were not adequately vigilant. The Turks were utterly routed by David, and all their property and riches were left to the Georgians. After this glorious victory, Georgian borders extended to Basiani (in modern Turkey).
Incorporation of Hereti was accomplished a year later, in 1117, when David seized the fortress of Gisha. In 8, the fortress of Lori and stronghold of Agaran, on the outer fringes of Lower Kartli on the border of Georgia and Armenia were taken. Thus, David annexed Lower Kartli and almost fully cleared Georgian territories of Seljuk Turks. Only Tbilisi and Dmanisi remained in the hands of the enemy.
Not only did enthusiastic, consistent and successive actions of David the Builder create a real menace for the Seljuk Turks’ dominance over Georgia but also over the Transcaucasia. At that time, representatives of Tbilisian, Dmanisian and Ganjian merchants, who faced a real danger of being torn from the Muslim trading world and losing their properties there, approached the Sultan for help. In response, he had the Muslim army rally under the commands of Il-Ghaz, a notorious general who had gained his fame against Crusaders. In early August, 300,000 troops of the enemy encamped at Manglisi and Didgori. Georgians had a mere 56,000 warriors. According to an Armenian annalist, Mathew Urhaetz, David had 40,000 Georgian warriors, 15,000 Kipchaks, a mercenary detachment of 500 Ossetians, and 00 French Crusaders. Obviously, David was mainly counting on the Georgian army. Not only did the Crusaders’ participation in the battle have military significance (they were experienced in combats against the Seljuks), but it also had symbolic political importance, for the fact indicated the unity of Georgia and Europe in their struggle for Christianity.
The Georgian army encamped in Nichbisi defile. David blocked the passage of the gorge to prevent his soldiers’ retreat. The main forces were headed by the king himself; the rest, who were to attack the enemy by surprise, was headed by Prince Demetre; they ambushed the area behind Didgori mount. Before the battle, David called his troops to fight for their country and reminded them about the impossibility of withdrawal. David concocted a subterfuge; before the battle, 200 Kipchaks headed for the enemy’s camp shouting friendly greetings in Turkish. Surmising they were renegades, the Turks let them into their ranks. Suddenly the “renegades” embarked on slaughtering them, which in due course led to alarm and commotion among the enemy. The Georgian army took advantage of the situation and attacked the enemy flanks; after a three-hour fierce battle, the enemy fled the battlefield. The Georgians pursued them and ousted them from Georgia’s soil. Wounded Il-Ghaz had a narrow escape. Myriad Seljuks were annihilated and many of the survivors were enslaved. The Georgian army seized enormous plunder, including the most important of all, a necklace adorned with precious gems, “Golden Chain,” (Pectoral) the symbol of power of the ruler of the city of Hila (on the river Euphrates), Durbez Sadaka’s son. David donated the necklace to Gelati monastery in commemoration of this glorious victory.
Thus, on August 12, 1121, the Georgian army, headed by David the Builder, won its most brilliant victory with relatively few casualties. The battle attests to David the Builder’s greatest military talent.
The annalist of David the Builder gives a detailed description of the Didgori battle. According to him, the Turkish Sultan made an appeal to the King of Arabia, Durbez Sadaka’s son; The Turkish Sultan gave the King of Arabia one of his sons, Maliq, along with all his army, appointed Elzak Arduk’s son the commander-in-chief of the army, and urged all the Turks from Damascus to Aleppo as well as Atabag of Ganja and the Emirs of Armenia to invade Georgia. On August , , countless invaders reached Trialeti and Didgori of Manglisi. Intrepid David, the wise military man, utterly routed the invaders in the very first battle. Corpses of the Turks were scattered everywhere - on the valleys, the defiles and the little streams.
The crushing victory at Didgori had the greatest political significance, for the Georgians recovered Tbilisi, and incorporated it into Georgia again; it became the capital, replacing the former capital at Kutaisi. Thus, the unification of the country was accomplished. The victory realized the dream of the Transcaucasian Christian population of becoming free from the Seljuk Turks. The battle made it clear that no force in the Near East could challenge Georgia. That was why the victory was internationally acknowledged; Europe recognized Georgia as the bulwark of Christianity in the east. The inspirator and organizer of the greatest of all the victories, David the Builder, was acclaimed a hero in the East and the West; they told legends about him.
Following Didgori battle, David moved on Tbilisi. Actually, the town had been liberated from the Seljuks but the town population put up some resistance to defend their independence. Despite much resistance from the city’s military garrison and Muslim population, in 1122, David took Tbilisi on the first attempt and finally liberated it from a 400-year hegemony of the Muslims. David declared Tbilisi’s self-government invalid, gave rule of the city to his officials and shifted the capital of Georgia from Kutaisi to Tbilisi.
The King promised that the Muslims, Jews, and Armenians living in Tbilisi would have favorable conditions for their peaceful life in the capital. He gave them freedom of religion as well as other privileges that would enable them to pursue their trade in the future.
A year later, in 1123, David easily took the town of Dmanisi, the last pier of the Muslims in Georgia.
It was the end of a long and costly struggle for unification of Georgian lands. The final liberation of Georgia from the Seljuk Turks called for the expulsion of the latter from their footholds in the Transcaucasia. Now, it was possible to extend military operations beyond the borders of Georgia.
After David the Builder had taken Tbilisi, the Seljuks embarked on a new invasion. In , the Sultan invaded Shirvan and sent David an insulting letter. David invaded Shirvan and defeated the Seljuk army camping there, the Sultan sneaked through a cloaca. However, David was unable to either pursue the Sultan or fully subjugate the country due to the strife between the Kipchaks and the Georgians in the Georgian army. A month later, he invaded Shirvan again and made it a vassal state of Georgia. The population of Shirvan was not unanimous as the Christians adhered to the Georgians and the Muslim part of the population supported the Seljuks. David did not hold with such an unfavorable situation, therefore in 1124 he continued his battles for Shirvan; eventually, he put his guards in Shirvan’s fortresses, and appointed his own governor in the person of Svimeon Mtsignobartukhutsesi. Shirvan was eventually annexed to Georgia.
David fought for both Shirvan and Armenia. In 4, after David had seized Armenian fortresses in succession, rulers of Ani appealed to David to liberate Ani from the Turks. In the same year, in 1124, after a three day fight, David took Ani, captured its Muslim Emir and granted its reign to his official. He annexed Ani and its surrounding territories to Georgia.
Having taken Ani, David turned to Vanand and Ararat provinces, liberated them and annexed them to Georgia, along with a major part of Armenia that had previously been under the Seljuk influence.
The Georgian army was not alone in their fight against the Turks but was supported by Armenian people who were bravely fighting for liberation of their land. His contemporary Armenian annalists greatly praised David for liberating Armenia from the Seljuks. An annalist of the XII century, Mathew Uarhetz, lavishes praise upon David and calls him the redeemer of hegemony of Armenian people. According to him, David was an intrepid, selfless battler, who liberated Tbilisi, Dmanisi, Shirvan, Shaq, Shamqor and others from the Persians (meant the Seljuk Turks). He characterizes David as a gracious, gentle, kind and just person who was a great supporter of the Armenians. He gives special mention to David’s role in liberating Ani that had been under the invaders’ dominance for 60 years. David solemnly consecrated Ani Monastery that had been turned into a mosque by the Muslims. According to the same annalist, David had the town of Gori built, churches built, and monasteries fortified.
One of the paramount issues on David’s political agenda was the northern passes of Georgia. The first kings of united Georgia had been fighting for the northern routes, especially for Daryali, but it was not until David the Builder’s reign when the fight was successfully accomplished. He eventually made the tribes of Northern Caucasus (the Ossetians and the Lazghis) his vassals, unlike in Armenia and Shirvan.
David the Builder became the king of a vast and powerful country, with its pastures stretched from Nikopsia (modern Tuapse) to Derbend (Derbent) and from Ossetia (Northern Ossetia) to Aragatsi (in Armenia).
The revival of Georgian self-consciousness is closely linked with the name of David the Builder. He rejected Byzantine titles, which all the Georgian kings, David’s predecessors, were proud to have. David repudiated them as being insulting for Georgia. It was not until David’s reign when the titles of Georgian kings took its final version: “the King of Abkhazians (i.e. western Georgia), Kartvelians (Kartl-Meskhs), Ranians (Hereti) and Kakhians, Armenians, Shirvansha (Suzerain of Shirvan) and Shahansha (the Governor of Ani).”
As a well-educated person, David took special care of culture and education. He sent 40 young men to be educated in Byzantium; landmark in his long and successful career is setting up Gelati Academy; he invited famous scholars in Byzantium, Arsen of Iqalto (Iqaltoeli) and Ioanne Petritsi (the former was actively involved in founding the monastery while the latter was appointed its first Rector).
As a poet, David the Builder wrote a brilliant piece of literature “Galobani Sinanulisani” (“Psalms of Regret”) in which he pleads the Lord God to forgive him his life of sin. His annalist highlights the special attention David was paying to history, for he deemed history vital for considering the merits and accomplishments as well as mistakes of his predecessors and ancestors.
David’s flag and throne became the symbol of independence and strength of Feudal Georgia.
David IV departed the earthly kingdom for the heavenly on January 4, 1125, unable to fulfill all his plans. The Church canonized him for his achievements and accomplishments and adopted his name day on January 5 (February 8, modern calendar); the grateful nation surnamed him Aghmashenebeli, the Builder.
David IV was succeeded by his son Demetre I (5-1155), who had been actively involved in the national affairs in his father’s lifetime, for David had associated him in the government. Demetre was one of the inspirators of Didgori and Shirvani battles and the victories gained there.
The country’s internal as well as external enemies took advantage of David’s death. While David would annex the conquered territories to Georgia, his successors failed to do so because of strong resistance from the Muslim rulers. In the last years of his reign, King David IV took Dmanisi, Ani and Shirvan from the Seljuk Turks. However, they managed to recover it, which was why Demetre had to invade it twice in the very first years of his reign until it finally became a part of Georgia.
Upon David’s death, the Turks fought for Ani again. Eventually, in 1126 Demetre was compelled to make concessions and sign a treaty with the Turks, according to which Ani was ceded to the Muslim ruler on terms of vassalage. Demetre stipulated that the rights of the Christian population were to be observed. Monastery of Ani was to be controlled by the Armenians and no Muslim was to enter it.
In 1138, Demetre took Ganja. To commemorate the victory, he brought the fortress gate to Georgia and donated it to Gelati Monastery, (the gate is still kept in the Monastery). However, Demetre I failed to retain Ganja, which soon became the bastion of the Muslim attacks on Georgia.
It was neither unexpected nor odd that during Demetre’s reign feudal lords sought an extension of their limited rights. They managed to incite Demetre’s brother – first Vakhtang and later his son, David, against him. In 1155, David had his father take a monk’s cowl and usurped the throne. Before long, he succeeded his father but reigned only six months and actually died before him. Eventually, Demetre I regained the throne and crowned his younger son Giorgi the king.
In 1161, Giorgi III invaded Ani, took it and appointed its governor his Amir-spasalari Ivane Orbeli. However, Giorgi’s possession of Ani proved only a temporary advantage as it was recovered by the Muslims again. The fights for Ani were lasting and changing. Ani and its nearby district were fully annexed to Georgia only in 99, during Tamar’s reign.
Giorgi III fought energetically for reinforcement and centralization of the power of the Crown in the country. In 1177, an insolent and quarrelsome nobility, who were resentful at the king’s rigid policy, rose in revolt against Giorgi III. They pretended they were striving to establish the rights of Prince Demna (Demetre), the son of David V, to the throne, but in fact they were seeking to limit Royal power and extend their own rights. The revolt was headed by Demna’s father-in-law, Amir-Spasalari Ivane Orbeli. The insurgents had 0,000 troops; they crowned Demna in the fortress of Agara. Their goal was to capture Giorgi and enthrone Demna, but they failed as Giorgi had managed to mobilize his army in Tbilisi. Thus, the insurgents wavered; some of them even took Giorgi’s side. Initially, the king sought negotiation with the mutineers, but Ivanne Orbeli refused. Once the situation had changed, Orbeli demanded the kingdom be divided between Demna and Giorgi. The king seized the fortresses and cornered them in the citadel of Lori. The insurgents tried to invite external forces to support them. The siege of the citadel of Lori endured a few months; they did not get any external aid. The revolt was defeated. Prince Demna escaped from the citadel (climbed by the rope) to surrender himself to his uncle, the king. Giorgi tried the insurgents and punished them with great ferocity. Giorgi had Demna mutilated with a blinding iron and knife; eventually he died. He had Ivane Orbeli, his brother Qavtar, and his son, Sumbat, blinded and put to death. Some of the insurgents were exiled. High posts previously taken by these noblemen were given to the king’s loyal people of relatively lowly origin – medium and minor nobles. Aphridon, an ex-serf of a simple aznauri, became Chief of the Msakhuris; he was given the title of Eristavt Eristavi, while Qubazar, an ex-Kipchak was given the magnificent post of Amir-Spasalari.
After the king quelled the rebellion in 1178, he ceded the throne to his only daughter and heiress, Tamar. However, Giorgi remained co-regnant until his death in 84.
Georgia had never had a female king before, but since Giorgi III had no male successor, his daughter, Tamar, was to ascend the throne. Therefore, in 78, Giorgi crowned her himself; she, in due course, became the individual ruler of the whole country after her father’s death in 84.
No sooner had Tamar ascended the throne than the nobility rose in revolt. The situation seemed to be favorable as King Giorgi III had died and the country was ruled by an inexperienced, young woman. Therefore, the nobility, pretending to be devoted to Giorgi III and now seeking the lost privileges, took advantage of the situation and embarked on a fight. In 1184, in compliance with their demand Tamar was enthroned for a second time. This ceremony was arranged in such a way as to emphasize the role of noble houses in installing an heir to the throne with royal power. During the coronation, they constantly emphasized their rights.
Thus, the emboldened nobility began to “revise” the policy of the royal court. The opposition was unanimous against those Viziers originating from among the commoners who had been granted high posts during King Giorgi’s reign. The political situation was so strained that Tamar was compelled to make concessions: she removed from office Mtsignobartukhutsesi of Chkondidi Anton, Quabazar the Amirspasalari and the Msakhurtukhutsesii (master of the royal household) Aphridon.
The Rudiments of the Theory of Power Division
After the first successful insurrection of the nobility, the Mechrchletukhutsesi (minister of finance) and his political supporters raised their voices, demanding that along with the king’s darbazi (council of representatives of the higher secular and religious aristocracy), a karavi (Parliament) also be instituted, and that this karavi be vested with legislative power. This demand was not satisfied, but the king was obliged to reckon with the upper strata, granting them greater rights.
According to Tamar’s first annalist (the author of ‘The History’), Qutlu-Arslan demanded the “Karavi” be set up in a district of Isani Soghdebil (in the regions of modern Metekhi); the members of the “Karavi” were to be “masters of giving and taking, pardon and punishment” (what was apparently meant here was endowing them with different posts and prosecuting high officials, i.e. the right of supreme justice). Tamar would not be entitled to interfere in the operations of the “Karavi” but was to implement the decision reached by it. According to the same annalist, Tamar evaluated the situation wisely and realized that the “Karavi” meant the end of her power. Therefore, after long deliberation with her loyal people, she imprisoned Qutlu-Arslan.
Qutlu-Arslan’s supporters insisted on the release of their leader from prison and threatened with storming the palace unless their demands were met. Taking into account Qutlu-Arslan and his supporters’ might Tamar decided on peaceful negotiations. With this mission, she sent two noble, honored women – Khvashaq Tsoqali (mother of Rati Surameli) and Kravai Jakeli (mother of feudal lords the Samdzivaris) to the insurgents. The negotiations proved to be fruitful; the king retained the right of making legislation; however, the rights of Darbazi - were widened. Thus, the nobility was incorporated in the ruling of the country.
This important change in the government was a direct result of the country’s progressive development. It was a predecessor (and very similar) to the change taking place in England in the early XIII century, when the power of the Sovereign of England was restricted by the “Magna Charta.”
After Tamar had successfully coped with Qutlu-Arslan, she energetically and orderly continued her fight against those who were opposing the centralized government. Anton was re-appointed to the position of Mtsignobartukhutses-Chqondideli and other devoted people were given high posts.
Nevertheless, the group opposing centralized government persevered with their resistance, for they were hopeful to find an ally in the person of a future prince consort (Tamar’s future husband). In 1185, Tamar, on the insistence of the nobles was married, with reluctance, to Iuri Bogolyubskoi, a son of the Great Prince Andrew of Suzdal, who at that time was a fugitive in the Kipchak country after his father’s death. He, who was now exiled by his uncle, had been the Great Prince of Suzdal at an early age. Giorgi the Russian, as he was called in Georgia, was a truculent and overbearing adventurer and had many personal faults. After two years of marriage, when Tamar’s positions on the throne were strengthened, Tamar divorced him and had him exiled.
Shortly afterwards, Tamar was married once more, to David Soslani, an Osetian prince, who descended in from the female line of the Bagrationis. David had been brought up at Georgian Royal Court by Tamar’s aunt Rusudan. Tamar’s second marriage was blessed by the birth of an heir, Giorgi-Lasha and of a daughter, Rusudan.
The noble lords, bitterly resentful at the King’s policy, rose in revolt in 1191and brought Tamar’s ex-husband Giorgi the Russian to Georgia to crown him the King of Georgia. After fruitless negotiations, Tamar sent her troops and defeated the insurgents. Giorgi the Russian fled to Byzantium again.
In 1193, took place the other formidable attempt of Giorgi the Russian to seize the kingdom with the support of Atabag of Rani. However, without the assistance of the Georgian nobility he fled Georgia before long.
The opposition had to yield after Tamar had beaten the disgruntled and insurgent feudal lords.
In the XII century, Georgia, the mightiest of all the countries in Lesser Asia, and actively involved in all the international affairs, pursued its course. At the end of the century, major successes in Georgia’s foreign policy took place. Thanks to a strong military organization, the Georgians undertook a massive offensive against the Turkish invaders.
No sooner had Tamar been enthroned than the Muslim rulers, taking advantage of domestic political turmoil within the country, embarked upon a policy of aggression against its neighbors. In the 90s, domestic hostilities were over after Tamar and her centralized government had gotten the upper hand. Finally, the Georgian Royal Court had time to concentrate on foreign affairs. In the early 90s, the Georgian army invaded the Muslim Emirates twice – first headed by David Soslani and later by Amir-Spasalari Zakaria Mkhargrdzeli and his brother Ivane Msakhurtukhutsesi (master of servants). Georgia was highly successful in its fight against the Turks from Shirvan and Rani to Basiani and Speri. The oppressed Turks embarked on a joint invasion.
According to Basil Ezosmodzgvari, Georgian chronicler of the XIII century and the author of “The Life of the King of the Kings, Tamar”, the Muslim states (the “Persians”) oppressed by powerful Georgia had either to vanish or rescue themselves. The Persians (i.e. Muslims) painted their faces and clothes and presented themselves to the Caliph urging him to embark on a joint invasion against Georgia. The Caliph gave away all his treasure and ordered to mobilize troops; he commanded all the Muslims to get ready for the war; the reluctant were to be raided. Thus, numerous troops were rallied.
Upon hearing the news, Tamar summoned her councilors, conferred a military conference and ordered the Chqondideli to rally the army. It took no more than ten days to mobilize the army.
The Muslim coalition army headed by Atabag Abu-Bakr gathered at Adarbadagan (Iranian Azerbaijan) and marched to Georgia. The first to withstand their attack Shirvanshah Ahsitan, a client of Georgia, appealed for help to Tamar, for he was unable to resist the invasion. In 1195, the Georgian army under David Soslani and the Muslim troops went into action at the fortress of Shamqori. Abu-Bakr and some of his troops unable to fight against the fierce Georgians, fled; the others fell dead on the battlefield. Generals Shalva and Ivane Akaltsikheli distinguished themselves as intrepid and selfless heroes; the former seized the Chaliph’s standard (that had to bring the victory to the Muslim troops), which Queen Tamar donated to the Icon of Our Lady of Khakhuli in commemoration of the victory over the Muslims. The Georgian army marched into Ganja, invaded, took it, and turned it into a tributary vassal of Georgia. The Georgians celebrated their victory in the palace of the Emir.
The two victories (Shamqori and Ganja) brought fame to Georgia and eventually turned it into a supreme military power in Lesser Asia. The main outcome of the two victories was the tribute that Shamqori and Ganja were to pay to Georgia.
The Georgians pursued their policy of aggression against the Muslims and in due course annexed a number of fortresses and citadels (for example Ani in 99).
The next issue on the political agenda of Georgia was the Southern Black Sea littoral, which since the ancient times had been settled by the tribes of Kartvelian origin (the Lazis) and had been a part of Colchis, later annexed by Byzantine Empire. Georgia had to overcome the resistance of Byzantium as well as Rumi Sultanate, a Seljuk-Turkish state within modern Turkey, which reached the apex of its power during the reign of Sultan Rukn-ed-din.
Rukn-ed-din thoroughly got ready for the war against Georgia. According to Tamar’s annalist, Basil Ezosmodzgvari, he spent tremendous gold to rally his army; in 1202, he reached Georgia with his army of 400,000; he encamped on Basiani valley and sent Tamar an insulting letter full of threats and vilification. On one hand, he called himself the most powerful, invincible and unbeatable ruler, and on the other, insulted and vilified Tamar by calling her a stupid woman, blaming her for slaughtering the Muslims and laying them under tribute. He threatened to devastate and depopulate all of Georgia and promised to keep alive only those who would apostatize (convert to Islam). He thought the letter would not be enough and sent her a message: if Tamar were to apostatize he would have mercy upon her and even marry her, otherwise she would become a concubine of the Sultan. Amirspasalari, Zakaria Mkhargrdzeli, too irate to tolerate such impudence, slapped the messenger in the face; the poor messenger passed out. After he was brought to his senses the Amirspasalari told him “the right judgment for you would have been pulling out your tongue first and then beheading you except for the fact you are a messenger.”
With the view of mounting a surprise attack on the enemy camp, the Georgians divided the army into three; the front was under the command of Zakaria Mkhargrdzeli assisted by Shalva and Ivane Akhaltsikheli. One flank was taken by the troops from Western Georgia while the other by Eastern.
After an initial confusion among the carelessly camping Seljuk army (they had not put any guards) caused by the surprise attack, Rukn-ed-din managed to deploy his troops. In the long and fierce battle, the commanders of the Georgian advanced guards had their horses killed; the ranks dismounted and fought side by side with them. The dismounted advanced detachment found itself in a terrible situation, but the battle was saved by the timely appearance of the detachment under David Soslani. The Turks, not ready for the flank attack (from two flanks), fled the battlefield leaving behind their camps, weapons and flags. A number of the prisoners were noble but Tamar exchanged one of them for a horseshoe. Georgians seized tremendous treasure including the Sultan’s standard and famous medical treatise (medical book) that immediately was translated into Georgian by order of the Mtsignobartukhutsesi.
Thus, in 1202, the Georgian army won a brilliant victory at Basiani. These two victories (at Shamkori and Basiani) had a vital importance, as they demonstrated Georgia was the supreme power in Lesser Asia, for it had beaten the two strongest coalition armies of the Eastern and the Western Turks.
The Bassiani victory and enfeebled Byzantine Empire created favorable conditions for Georgia’s becoming a supreme power on the southern Black Sea coastline. At Tamar’s command, the Georgian army took seaside Lazian towns – Trebizond, Samsun, Sinop, Cerasunt etc. and founded Trebizond Empire on the seized territory. The title of Caeser here was granted upon a Greek prince exiled from Byzantium, Alexios Comnenos, who was a descendent of King David the Builder through his mother; he was brought up at the Georgian royal court according to the Georgian customs and traditions and would fulfill Georgia’s will there. Trebizond Empire set off against two major forces: the Byzantine Empire and the Seljuk state neighboring Georgia.
In 04, the Georgian army took the town of Karsi and annexed it to Georgia, the governor here was appointed Ioanne Akhaltsikheli. By joining Karsi, Tamar acquired possession of the fortress that had always been the bastion for the Seljuk Turks and the major platform for their invasions in the Transcaucasia. At last, they were deprived of the stronghold and consequently the line of their defense was shifted to the south. From now on, Georgia had its way open southwards. Not only political but also economic significance was attached to Karsi as it was situated on the vital trade route and facilitated the development of trade and economy in Georgia.
In the XIII century, the Georgian army expelled the Turks from most of Armenia and joined the former Armenian kingdoms to Georgia.
The early XIII century saw the last great raid on a wide and daring scale in 1210. Large forces were concentrated and moved to Northern Iran under the orders of Zakaria and Ivane Mkhargrdzeli. Having taken the town of Marandi, the Georgian army approached Tabriz. The terrorized inhabitants of Tabriz and Miana without any resistance hastened to purchase the immunity of their cities at the cost of heavy contribution; they even provided food for the army. The Georgian cavalry then rode through Ghilan, took the town of Zinjan by storm and received the submission of Kazvin and Romgor (in central Iran) without a fight. It was the farthest and longest raid of a Georgian army ever. The Georgians set about to return, loaded with such tremendous booty that they were unable to move; therefore, the army went back to Miana and severely punished the governor of the city for having slaughtered the Georgian cavalry left there. The invasion further increased Georgia’s fame and prestige.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s political and cultural influence on the Northern Caucasian peoples was increasing. In the late X century, as clients of Georgia, the Northern Caucasian peoples were under not only political but also cultural dominance of Georgia.
Expansion of Georgian lands and its domains found reflection in the title of the king of united Georgia. Tamar was called: “The Most High Queen, by Our Lord, King and Queen of Queens of the Abkhazis, Georgians, Ranians, Kakhians and of the Armenians, the Master of all the East and West, Glory of the World and Faith.”
Georgia won glorious victory in its fight against the invading Turks. It was now enjoying peace as well as an economic and cultural prosperity together with the Christian peoples of the Caucasus.
The Crown. The Georgian Feudal Monarchy was headed by the royal house of the Bagrationis; in the ordinary course of succession, fathers were succeeded by their elder sons. According to the works by Sumbat Davit’s son (Bagrationi) “The
Life of the Bagratidis,” the Bagrationis were of divine origin. Initially Georgian kings had not only Georgian but also Byzantine titles (Kuropalates, Novelisimos, Sebastos, Caesarion) that suggested their formal relations with Byzantium. However, these Byzantine titles were rejected by David the Builder and replaced by Georgian. Until the late XV century, when Georgia fell into three kingdoms, Georgian kings had only Georgian names consisting of seven titles: “The King of the Abkhazs (i.e. Western Georgia), Georgians (i.e. Kartli and Meskheti) of the Rans and the Kakhs (i.e. Hereti and Kakheti), of the Armenians (Kingdom of Lore-Tashiri), Sharvansha (of Sharvan – Eastern Azerbaijan) and Shahansha (Armenian kingdom of Ani); therefore, the king of Georgia was considered the king of seven kingdoms.
The Royal Court. The country was ruled from the palace that was called “khelmtsipis kari” (The Royal court); it was a dwelling place of the royal family and office of different departments and officials. The supreme representative body of secular and religious persons “darbazi” (the court) that was operating here was summoned by the king at different times to consider an array of national affairs. The rights and obligations of Darbazi were significantly widened after an insurrection by Qutlu-Arslan and his faction.
The political system fell into two: 1) central departmental headed by elders and viziers; and 2) local council headed by governors of different regions, Eristavni and the Eristavt Eristavni.
The chief of the viziers, “the prime vizier” – Mtsignobartukhutsesi of Chqondidi, was an assistant to the king.
The term “Vizier” is an Arabic word meaning assistant, collaborator and minister. It entered from the Arab Caliphate into the state of the Seljuk Turks but was first introduced into Georgia by David the Builder; the first First Vizier, the most influential figure next to the king supervising the Supreme Court (“Saadjo Kari”) as well as all the other offices was appointed Giorgi Mtsignobartukhutsesi of Chqondidi.
At first, there were only four viziers (ministers) at the Georgian court 1) Amirspasalari (war minister and Commander-in-Chief); ) Mandaturtukhutsesi (minister of internal affairs); 3) Mechurcletukhutsesi (minister of finances); 4) Msakhurtukhutsesi (the manager of economy in the palace). This number was increased to five by King Tamar, who created the office of Atabag, the mentor of the prince (the tradition comes from the Seljuk Turks) who gradually took the right and responsibilities of Mtignobartukhutsesi of Chkondidi and turned it into the highest-ranking official next to the king.
Eristavates (Principalities). The country was divided into administrative-political units (of Kartli, Kakheti, Hereti, Tskhumi, Svaneti, Samtskhe and others) governed by Eristavis and Eristavt-Eristavnis. Kings appointed noblemen as Eristavis (there were instances when a vizier was Eristavi too). During Tamar’s reign Eristavi became a hereditary title (the Suramelis – Eristavis of Kartli, the Shervashidzes –Eristavis of Tskhumi, the Vardanisdzes – Eristavs of Svaneti and Grigolisdzes – Eristavs of Hereti, the Jakelis – Eristavs of Samtskhe etc.). Border Eristavates were located on the southern and eastern borders of Georgia.
Vassal States. Georgia annexed a part of certain Transcaucasian and Northern Caucasian countries where people were not of Georgian origin. Among those taken were the Armenian Kingdom of Ani, the former property of the Armenian Bagratids, the Armenian principalities of northwest Shirvan, Sivnieti, Karsi and Vaspurakan-Dvini. Other countries, such as - Shirvan, the Muslim states of Transcaucasia and a part of northern Caucasian principalities - were made Georgian feudatories.
Georgia liberated the Armenian Kingdom of Ani (Shiraki) from the Muslims and ousted the Muslim rulers of the Shedadiani house; the Mkhargrdzelis (the Kurds turned into Georgians of Armenian religion) were appointed the governors here.
Agriculture. The unification of Georgia created favorable conditions for close relationship among different regions of the country and their economic progress.
The irrigation system had to be further expanded to increase the space of cultivated lands. During Tamar’s reign, a 0 km Samgori irrigation canal was dug, Alazani canal, 119 km. in length, irrigated 53,000 hectare of land; other brooks and streams were dug by peasants themselves. Along with husbandry, viticulture and horticulture were on their highest level. They grew rice, flax, and cotton, and they produced silk. Cattle-breeding (horses, cows, oxen, goats, pigs), fishing, bee-keeping and hunting were also highly developed.
The pace of development of agricultural implements was relatively slow; however, Georgian plowing instrument the so-called “Erqvani” was further developed and turned into a “big Georgian plow,” which plows the land more deeply and was in use until the XIX century. The “big Georgian plow,” used principally on the plains, was widely utilized in Ossetia, Armenia, Chechnya and Ingushia. The so called Achacha plow (ox-cart on runners) was for the highlands.
Towns. Craft, Trade, Finances. The XI-XII centuries saw an upheaval in the city life in the towns of Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Rustavi, Gori, Dmanisi, Telavi, Tskhumi (Sokhumi), Zhinvali, Artanuji, Akhalkalaki, Akhaltsikhe, Samshvilde, Khunani and others.
Georgian kings in general, and David the Builder and Tamar in particular, paid special attention to reparation and construction of new roads with bridges across them and little inns and caravanserais along them. Special measures were taken to protect traders from robbers.
The towns at that time consisted of the main citadel and the town around it with a few gates. For example, Tbilisi had five gates. The owner of the town (king or a nobleman) together with servants and guards lived in the fortress, with a church (called Court Church). City dwellers -traders and artisans- were called citizens. A Bishop Church and a Bishop palace were common but were not to be found in all the towns.
A treasury (Royal Exchequer), a mint and other national institutions were located in the capital, while a square, a bazaar, artisans’ districts with little shops (Kulbags), inns and caravanserais were to be seen in almost every town.
Mills, dams, and baths were located on the rivers (e.g. the Mtkvari). Tbilisi abounded with sulfuric baths (a few dozens).
Persian geographic source gives valuable information on Tbilisi of the early XIII century. It says Tbilisi was a large city divided by a river with a bridge across it and with ships and boats sailing under it. There were a number of bazaars along the river; a fortress with royal palaces was on its bank. There were mills and millstones, gardens and 65 baths. Women wore hats but no veils (except for the Muslims). The commodities sold in Tbilisi included saddles adorned with ivory, honey, wax, pomegranates, slaves, maidservants, glass and crystal.
The upperclass of the city dwellers was the feudal aristocracy, while the majority was merchants and artisans, both free and serfs. Didvacharni (major merchants) with their master, Vachartukhutsesi (chief of the merchants), constituted the trade elite.
Georgia traded with Byzantium, Persia, Egypt and Russia by exporting both agricultural products (wine, nuts, wax, honey) and wares (ceramics, silk, cotton and wool, carpets and armor).
Georgian currency as well as other foreign currency was in circulation. Georgian coins were minted in Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Dmanisi and Akhaltsikhe.
The sources for the national budget were – ) taxes collected from the populace bondsmen) both monetary and in kind; 2) dues from local and foreign merchants; 3) tribute from the conquered countries; 4) loot from military campaigns.
The national treasury was located in Tbilisi.
In the XII-XIII centuries, the population of Georgia was approximately 5 million, with 100,000 inhabitants in Tbilisi and 20,000 in Rustavi.
Social relations. The social relations in Georgia of the period in question were as follows:
1. Serfs– productive people attached to the land exploited by feudal lords. In discussing different categories of a serf, a distinction must be drawn between peasants belonging directly to the king, members of the royal family, or prince-magnates owing large hereditary domains, and those belonging to the church or squires (aznauris) who themselves stood in feudal relationship to the king or to some prince magnates. The taxes they paid were of three types – to the king, to the church and to their masters. The peasant’s land that was inherited from his ancestors but legally owned by his master was known as pudze (homestead) (arable land, vineyard, vegetable garden and the country-seat). The peasant was not entitled to sell the land. He paid to his master in kind - wheat, wine, meat, fruits and so on. On certain weekdays peasants worked on their masters’ lands or in their homes. Peasants paid taxes in money as well. Occasionally, masters increased the peasants’ obligations on their own initiative. There were cases when one pudze belonged to a few families.
2. Free peasants – (eri, erisaganni). The number of peasants retaining their independence declined steadily; however, a few of them managed to do so.
3. Two titles of the feudal class: Didebulis and Aznauris. They were proprietors of serfs and lands and held different positions in the national authorities. Feudal lords owned a palace (Didebulis a few of them) and a fortress; however, there were small aznauris having no fortresses and therefore known as Utsikho (having no fortress). Most feudal lords had monasteries with family churchyards.
The situation was different in the highlands, for the people still lived a tribal life; however, the pace of the development of feudal relations significantly increased in the XI-XII centuries.
According to the annals, a part of Georgian highlanders rose in revolt during Tamar’s reign, but the protest was quelled shortly by the royal troops under the command of Ivane the Atabagi.
The XII –XIII centuries is the period, when facilitated by the political stability, Georgian feudal culture reached the pinnacle of its development.
Centers of education and literacy. Like in all the previous centuries, church and monasteries remained the hearths of literacy and education.
Gelati Academy, headed by Modzgvart-Modzgvarii, (Abbot-preceptor) was founded at Gelati Monastery. Its first Rector was a celebrated scholar and scientist Ioanne Petritsi. However, besides Gelati, there also were other centers of cultural enlightenment and scholarly pursuit in Georgia at that time. There was a higher school at Iqalto, the Iqalto Academy founded at Telavi by Arsen of Iqalto.
Among all the other monasteries outside Georgia, a special role was played by the Ivirion Monastery on Mount Athos (Greece), Petritsoni Monastery in Bulgaria and so on.
Elementary schools were operated at the monasteries, while private schools in the royal palace and the palaces of feudal lords. Among the subjects taught were literacy, philosophy, rhetoric, mathematics, history, and foreign languages.
Youths of outstanding skills and abilities were sent to Byzantium to pursue their studies.
The Rector (Modzgvart-Modzgvari) of Gelati Academy and the preceptors were people greatly revered in the country.
Literature. Intensive literary, philosophical, and translational work was carried on at Georgian centers of culture and education outside Georgia. Works of foreign authors, such as the best pieces of religious, philosophical, scientific and secular literature, were translated at the Georgian monasteries abroad.
Georgian literature significantly advanced. The earliest epic poems of the twelfth century, the “Amiran-Darejaniani” of Moses Khoneli, is a collection of heroic tales glorifying and hymning courage and bravery. Other brilliant pieces of Georgian literature, “Tamariani” by Chakhrukhadze and “Abdulmesia” by Ioanne Shavteli were dedicated to Queen Tamar and her consort David Soslani to glorify them and the Monarchy.
“The Knight in the Panther’s Skin” by Shota Rustaveli, the greatest poem not only of Georgian but also of world literature, dates back to the XII century. The poem sings of and celebrates the country, love, chivalry, friendship between people, and amity between nations. The poem, which many Georgians knew by heart, had a strong influence not only on its contemporary but also on ensuing Georgian literature. “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin” remained a book of dowry for centuries.
Science. Philosophy had also made a remarkable progress. Such prominent philosophers as Ephrem Mtsire (the Little), Ioanne Petritsi, Arsen Iqaltoeli (of Iqalto) lived and worked in the period in question.
Particularly advanced was historical literature with such important pieces as - the history of David the Builder named “The Life of the King of the Kings David” by an anonymous chronicler, and works by Tamar’s two annalists - “The History and Praise of the Kings” (the author is unknown) and “The Life of the King of the Kings Tamar” thought to have been written by Basil Ezosmodzgvari. The work of Giorgi Lasha’s annalist telling the story of the events 1125-1222also dates back to this period.
The collection of Georgian chronicles known as “the Life of Kartli” consists of the works of the XI century annalists, “The Life of the Kings” by Leonti Mroveli (covering the period from the ancient times to the reign of Vakhtang Gorgasali), “The Life of Vakhtang Gorgasali (V-VII centuries) by Juansher, “Annals of Kartli” (VIII-XI) by an anonymous chronicler, and “The Life and the Reign of the Bagrationis” (VI-XI) by Sumbat Davitisdze all date to the period under discussion.
The annals principally tell about political events, struggles against foreign invaders, unification of Georgian lands, and pursuit of the kings and nobles.
Art. Georgian architecture witnessed particular growth in the XI and XII centuries. Magnificent pieces of Georgian architecture – Gelati, Ikorta (XII century, Inner Kartli), Betanya (XII century, Lower Kartli), Kintsvisi (XIII – Inner Kartli), cave-town of Vardzia (in Javakheti, begun by King Giorgi III and completed in the reign of Queen Tamar) with a church, numerous cells and receptacles- also date back to this period.
Brilliant frescos are retained in Gelati, Betanya, Kintsvisi, Bertubani, Vardzia, etc.
The art of illumination of manuscripts and miniature painting was also well developed. Rare examples of medieval illuminated manuscript books - the Four Gospels of Gelati, Lapskalda, Vani and others - with a variety of ornamental designs and refined miniatures, have been passed down.
The XI and XII centuries witnessed a flowering of fine arts. Beka and Beshken Opizari, famous goldsmiths, flourished in the reign of Queen Tamar. They chased settings with the scenes of the Crucifixion as well as the repousse work in Gelati, The southern gate of the rampart, the tombstone of David the Builder. “This is my resting place; this is my will to repose here for ever and ever”
Anchiskhati church were done by Beka Opizari. They executed superb book covers and icons with an ornamental design around the edges (of Khakhuli Anchis Khati). The art of enameling objects of gold, silver and copper, known in Georgia since ancient times, progressed greatly.
Georgian culture of the period clearly demonstrates certain signs on which European Renaissance was based.
Sources. The annalist of David the Builder tells about foundation of Gelati Monastery and the scholars and monks living and working here. According to him, the magnificent monastery was built on a picturesque place. The King brought here scientists and scholars from both, Georgia and abroad. King David’s historian calls Gelati “a second Jerusalem of the entire east for learning of all that is of value, a second Athens, far exceeding the first in divine law.”
According to the same annalist, a hospital set up at the monastery was funded, sustained and supervised by the King himself.
Poet Ioanne Shavteli glorifies Gelati Monastery by calling it a new Rome and Greece.
The inscription on the chased setting of Tsqarostavi Gospel (1195) says it was executed by Beka Opizari. The silver consumed was worth two hundred Drahms, gold and gems worth of two Drahms and the wages of the goldsmith – 20 Drahms.
The masterpiece of world literature, the crown of Georgian literature, an epic “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin” (the last academic edition consisting of 666 stanzas was published in 1988) was written by Shota Rustaveli in the late XII early XIII centuries.
Of Shota Rustaveli very little is known for certain. There are many legends about his varied education. Some say he went to Jerusalem when he grew old and died in a Georgian monastery. What is sure is the greatness of The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, an epic of adventure, friendship, and courtly love, which helped create the Georgian literary language.
The Knight in the Panther’s Skin tells of a young prince seeking a friend’s beloved, who has been captured by devils. In describing the questing adventures of three hero-knights the poem includes rich philosophical musings that have become proverbs in Georgia. As in most epics, the characters are larger than life: brave, generous, fair-minded and constantly battling the powers of evil. The poem is not concerned with everyday events but with the romantic constants of literature. Rustaveli himself considered poetry one of the oldest branches of wisdom, and saw it as the poet’s duty to evoke strong emotions and ‘inflame the heart’. The quatrains of “Vepkhis-tqaosani” are written in a particularly difficult form, the shairi (4-line stanza with monorhyme and long lines of 6 syllables), but the poem is one of the masterpieces of medieval European literature and has been translated into many languages.
In the poem, Rustaveli sings about humanistic ideals: feelings of love, friendship, courage and fortitude.
Scientists base their assumptions about Shota Rustaveli on the epic itself and on the information given in it. The facts demonstrating the author was Shota Rustaveli are in ) the epic itself “I, Rustaveli, whose heart is pierced through by his sorrows have threaded like a necklace of pearl a tale told until now as a tale”; 2) the works of Georgian writers (Teymuraz I, Archill etc). Two frescos of Rustaveli have survived – one in Jerusalem on the southwestern column under the dome of the Georgian Monastery of Jvari between Maximus the Confessor and Ioanne of Damascus with an inscription saying - “God have mercy on Shota, who had the fresco painted, Amen. Rustaveli”. Scientists disagree on the exact date of the inscription and the fresco itself (XII-XVII centuries). In 004, the face of the fresco was wiped away by some vagrants. The other fresco is in a miniature of the oldest of all the extant manuscripts of the poem (646) by Mamuka Tavakarashvili. Only a few stanza scrawled on other manuscripts of the XV - XVI centuries are older than this one. Two inscriptions dating to XV-XVI centuries have survived on the chapel of the Monastery of Vani. The manuscript (two pages only) dating back to the late XVI century was found in Akhaltsikhe in 964 (one page is still kept at Akhaltsikhe Museum while the other is kept at the Institute of Manuscripts in Tbilisi). In general, more than 50 copies of manuscripts have come down to us, but most of them are dated to late medieval times.
The name Rustaveli derives from a geographical toponym – Rustavi – that can either mean an inhabitant of Rustavi (the one who comes from Rustavi) or its master or proprietor. Apparently, the second meaning is more important here, for according to a book of funeral records at the Jerusalem Jvari Monastery, Shota Rustaveli had been the Mechurchletukhutsesi (Royal Treasurer). In Shota’s contemporary Georgia Mechurchletukhutsesi ran and supervised seven districts, one of which was Rustavi. It suggests Shota was the master of Rustavi. According to another legend, Rustaveli was a Meskhian, (the opinion put forward by King and poet Archil II in folk legends and sequels to the poem) a native of Rustavi, a large village between Akhaltsikhe and Aspindza. In this case, his family name Rustaveli denotes the country of his origin and not his position or rank.
There is every evidence to think that Shota Rustaveli was a royal poet. In the prologue to the Knight in the Panther’s Skin, he says, “I was told to compose in her honor stately and sweet-sounding verses,” he adores and reveres Queen Tamar and lionizes her consort David Soslani. “I sing of the lion whom the use of lance, shield and sword adorns.” The author says he was inspired by Queen Tamar to write the epic, and he compares her with the sun. The facts given throughout the epic suggest it was written between 1189 and 1207 (the former is the date of Tamar’s marriage to David Soslani and the latter of his death).
The plot of “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin” is complex with two parallel stories – one taking place in India telling the adventures of Tariel and Nestani and the other in Arabia with Avtandil and Tinatini. Their stories are mingled and make up the main subject together with other episodes – the story of Farsadan, Fatman and others. The epic has numerous characters--people of different walks of life and status (Davar, Asmat, Rostevan, Ramaz etc.). This is the first piece of world literature depicting the life of merchant-class (Usen…).
“The Knight in the Panther’s Skin” portrays the life of Georgia of the late XII century. Rustaveli considers and justifies the expediency of the most controversial issue of his contemporary Georgia, which was the unprecedented enthronement of a woman by saying, “the lion’s whelp is a lion, be it male or female.” Catholicos Nickoloz Gulaberisdze wrote his work “Reading for Svetitskhoveli, Christ’s Tunic and Catholic Church”, highlighting St. Nino’s role in the convert of Kartli.
The fact that little is known about Shota Rustaveli has led scientists and scholars to disagreement on his personality. For instance, P. Ingorokva and his like-minded believe Shota had written other works, so called “Praises” that have not come down to us; others consider him the author of Tamar’s chronicles “The History and Praise of the Kings”. Some identify Rustaveli with Kutlu Arslan, a great thinker of Tamar’s epoch, after whose political failure his masterpiece did not vanish but survived under the name of anonymous author –Rustaveli. A few others think that Prince Demna, Tamar’s cousin, the initiator of the insurrection of 77, and Shota Rustaveli are the same. However, all the above are just assumptions based on little or no evidence.