History of Georgia

Article Index


The wide diffusion and development of numerous cratts in Georgia in the period under discussion is attested not only by written historical sources, but also by material culture and works of art. In the 11th-12th centuries Georgia was noted for her rich gold-, silver- and copperware. Vessels were also made of crystal, cut glass and ordinary glass. Knitting and needlework were known in Georgia from time immemorial. Craftsmen of the period did not constitute a definite class, some being serfs and others free men. Trade developed hand in hand with crafts. A large part of the wealth created (handicrafts, building materials, ingots of silver and gold and ornaments, made of these metals, precious stones, etc.) constituted commodity. According to Acad. I.Javakhishvili "there was no article, that could not be bought in the market or in the countryside", viz. agricultural implements, foodstuffs, etc. Georgia's situation on a trade route, linking the West with the East - known already in Classical times, - contributed to the development of foreign trade. This route facilitated expansion of commercial ties with other countries. Georgia's broad trade links with other countries in the 11th-12th centuries are attested not only by historical literature, but by numismatic and archaeological material as well. The Crown gave all-out support to the development of trade. Good trade routes enabled this country to communicate with the outer world. Caravans brought textiles, perfumes, harness, sugar, etc. to Georgia from Muslim countries and Byzantium. In the 12th century wool was imported from Egypt. Tbilisi was the hub of Georgia's home and foreign trade. Other towns were also fairly active in commercial transactions. Merchants formed an important social stratum. The king and the Church had their own serf-merchants. They traded within the country and paid their masters a tribute in money and kind (wax, salt, etc.).
In Tbilisi rich merchants formed a privileged circle of the population. Possessing wealth, they exercised considerable influence all over the country. The Crown duly appreciated the importance of big merchants for the country, surrounding them with special care. They established close relations with the feudal aristocracy, some of them joining the ranks of aristocracy through the purchase of estates. The merchants had their own guilds headed by an elder whose duties included management of commercial affairs as well as according a fitting reception to foreign merchants. The guild controlled caravan trade. The activities of merchants were given support and encouragement. It is noteworthy that along with business big merchants also maintained economic and, at times, even diplomatic contacts with other countries. The promotion of the merchant class into social life is attested by the fact that a wealthy merchant, Zankan Zorababel, took part in the organization of Queen Tamar's marriage, and it was he who fetched Prince Yuri Bogolyubsky to Georgia.
In the 11th-12th centuries Georgia had a regulated monetary system. The state minted money, determined the metal to be used and the monetary unit, the scale of prices, and set the rules of issue and withdrawal of money from circulation. From early 12th century the country experienced an economic boom, facilitated by a financial reform carried out by David the Builder. Legal tender at that period was gold, silver and copper currency, the former two being used in international trade and the latter at home.
Georgia's agriculture at that period was on the upgrade, agricultural implements being gradually perfected. Of great importance was the widespread use of the plough; the so-called large plough was popular mostly in the lowlands of Kakheti whose natural conditions allowed its wide use. In his everyday work the peasant used tools, that had stood the test of time: spade, shovel, hoe, sickle, ax, pruning knife, etc.
Like in ancient times, Georgia's economy in the 11th-12th centuries made use of various types of transport matched to the natural conditions of this or that area. Georgian ethnographic material allows us to trace back various vehicles whose design was determined by concrete local conditions. In mountain areas of Georgia sledges and sleds were used, while in the plain we mostly come across a two-wheel cart; in the transition areas mixed types of vehicles were used.
In the period under discussion water mills acquired particular importance in agricultural technology. The high level of agriculture was attained due to major irrigation canals and aqueducts, constructed - through the effort of the government - in the Tiriponi valley, in the environs of Ruisi, Urbnisi, Samgori, in Kakheti and other places. Besides these structures, pipelines and aqueducts in Vardzia, Dmanisi, Geguti and Tbilisi also attest to the high level of water supply systems in the 11th-12th centuries.