History of Georgia

Article Index

By Academician R. Metreveli, Tbilisi State University

Georgia occupies the center and the west of the Transcaucasus, bordering in the north on Russia, in the east - on the republic of Azerbaijan, in the south - on the republic of Armenia and in the south-west - on Turkey. The nature of Georgia is quite varied; the country is characterized by rough terrain, almost two thirds of it being mountains (Mt. Shkhara rising to 5068.8 m above the sea level). Western Georgia has a humid subtropical climate, while in Eastern Georgia it is dry or moderately humid. The country's natural resources include coal, oil, manganese, non-ferrous metals and some non-metallic ores. Georgia's rivers are extensively used for generating electricity and for irrigation.

The area of Georgia totals 69.5 thousand sq. km with a population of 5.2 million inhabitants.
The Georgians are one of the most ancient peoples of the world. They have traversed a difficult path of historical development, which will be retraced below.
Primitive man can be traced in Transcaucasia, particularly in Georgia, back to the most ancient period of the Paleolithic, viz. the Chellean epoch. The most age-old traces, about 2,5 million years, are found in Eastern part of Georgia, near Dmanisi. In the Acheulian period man settled here more frequently. Of the stations of that time most noteworthy is that at Yashtkhva, near present-day Sukhumi. Numerous implements from that period have been discovered in the basin of the river Qvirila. The Mousterian epoch (100 to 35 thousand years ago) saw vigorous population of the territory of Georgia, especially its Black Sea littoral and the Rioni-Qvirila basin (where Jruchi, Sagvarjile and Chakhati caves have been discovered). Settlement of this area was particularly intensive in the Late Paleolithic period, of which the most notable stations are at Deviskhvreli, Sakazhia, Sagvarjile, Samertskhle Kide, Gvarjilas Kldé, and elsewhere (35 to 10 thousand years ago). Quite numerous on the territory of Georgia are primitive man's cave stations of the Neolithic period: Odishi, Kistriki, Anaseuli, Zemo Alvani, etc.
The development of agriculture and cattle breeding, smelting of copper and bronze, general technical progress led, in the middle of the 4th millennium B.C., to a breakthrough in the sphere of the economic and social life of society. The beginning of the 3rd millennium B.C. laid the foundation of a new stage - the Bronze Age. This period in Georgia is marked by a high indigenous culture. Noteworthy, that Georgians were considered as an forerunners of metallurgic - a Georgian tribe "Khalibs" were first, who have discovered metal and mastered in producing it. Also, "Khalibs" are mentioned in a Holy Bible. Especially noteworthy in this context is the structure of the big barrows (kurgans) in Trialeti (Lower Kartli (Iberia)), attesting to a definite progress of social life at the time: precious goblets, silverware, four-wheeled wooden chariots.
The Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages saw vigorous development of economy all over the territory of Georgia, along with a high level of various crafts, expansion of trade relations, accompanied by an increase of social inequality. By the end of the latter half of the 2nd millennium B.C. the prerequisites appeared for the emergence of an early class society. It is noteworthy that Georgian tribes began to consolidate during the Late Bronze Age, as is demonstrated vividly by the emergence of a material culture on a vast territory inhabited by kindred tribes, as well as by the formation of large tribal confederations. At the end of the 2nd-beginning of the 1st millennium B.C. in the south-eastern region of historical Georgia two major tribal unions arose; that of the Diaochi (Taochi, Tao) and the Kolkha, both continuing to the 8th cent.B.C. In written documents of the Urartian kings Argishti and Sardur II the Diaochi and Kolkha are referred to as large tribal unions with which these kings clashed frequently. The wealth and power of the Kolkha were reflected in the ancient Greek myth of the Argonauts.In mid-8th cent. B.C. the Diaochi were destroyed as a result of Urartian invasions. The ascendancy of the Kolkha and their opposition to the Diaochi also contributed to this. Part of the lands of the Diaochi passed to the Kolkha. Shortly afterwards the struggle started between Urartu and the Kolkha. In the 720s B.C. the KolKha fell under Cimmerian incursions from the north. The Kolkha and the Diaochi were essentially early class confederations that disintegrated in mid-8th cent. B.C.
Ancient Georgian tribes and tribal unions had cultural relations with various peoples of the East: the Hittites, Mitanni, Urartians, etc. They maintained good neighborly relations with the Armenians and North Caucasian tribes. In the 8th-7th cent. B.C. the Karts, Megrels, Chans and Svans came to the fore among the Georgian tribes, each tribe having a language, territory and customs of its own. Later on these tribes united and, as a result of their consolidation in the 6th-4th cent. B.C., two state confederations took shape in Eastern and Western Georgia.
In the 6th cent. B.C., in the Valley of Egrisi in Western Georgia a state emerged, which ancient Greeks referred to as "the land of the Kolkhi" and about which a wealth of interesting information has survived.