Caucasian Iberians

Caucasian Iberians

The Caucasian Iberians was a Greco-Roman designation for ancient Georgians, Ibero-Caucasian people (South Caucasian or Kartvelians) who inhabited the east and southeast of the Transcaucasus region in prehistoric and historic times. [ The Cambridge Ancient History, John Anthony Crook, Elizabeth Rawson, p. 255] Ancient Iberians are identified as modern eastern Georgians who have originated from the early Georgian state of Iberia-Karli. [ The Making of the Georgian Nation, Ronald Grigor Suny, p. 13] [ Readings in the History of the Ancient World, William Coffman McDermott, Wallace Everett Caldwell, p. 404 ] Caucasian Iberians should not be confused with some of the ancient inhabitants of the Roman Hispania, the Iberians of the Iberian Peninsula, or today's Spanish and Portuguese who are also referred to as Iberians.


The area was inhabited in earliest times by several relative tribes of Tiberani, Moschi, Saspers, Daiokhi, etc collectively called Iberians (the Eastern Iberians) by ancient Greek (Herodotus, Strabo, etc) and Roman authors. Iberians called their country Kartli after a mythic chief, Kartlos. One of the Iberian tribes of Mtskheta (the future capital of the Iberian kingdom) dominated the early Kingdom. The Mtskheta tribe was later ruled by a principal locally known as "mamasakhlisi" (“the father of the household” in Georgian).

Georgian chronicle "Kartlis Tskhovreba" (“History of Kartli”) claims that a Persian general Azo of Alexander’s army massacred a local ruling family and conquered the area, until being defeated at the end of the 4th century BC by Prince Pharnavaz, who was at that time a local chief. Pharnavaz, victorious in power struggle, became the first king of Iberia (ca. 302-ca. 237 BC). Driving back an invasion, he subjugated the neighbouring areas, including significant part of the western Georgian state of Colchis (locally known as Egrisi). Now Pharnavaz focused on social projects, including the citadel of the capitol, the Armaztsikhe, and the idol of the god Armazi (derived from Persian god Ahura-Mazda). He also reformed the Georgian written language, and created a new system of administration subdividing the country in several counties called "saeristavos". His successors managed to gain control over the mountainous passes of the Caucasus with the Daryal (also known as the Iberian Gates) being the most important of them.

Roman general Pompey invaded Iberia in 65 BC, during his war with Mithradates VI of Pontus, and Armenia; but Rome did not establish her power permanently over Iberia. Nineteen years later, the Romans again marched (36 BC) on Iberia forcing King Pharnavaz II to join their campaign against Albania as their ally. While another Georgian kingdom of Colchis was administered as a Roman province, Iberia freely accepted the Roman Imperial protection and became her ally.

During the Byzantine rule, the Iberian Mirian III and the Iberian Kingdom adopted Christianity in 327 AD (the event is related with the mission of a Cappadocian woman, Saint Nino, who since 303 preached Christianity in the Georgian kingdom of Iberia (Eastern Georgia)) and allied itself with the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. The religion would become a strong tie between Georgia and Rome (later Byzantium) and have a large scale impact on the state's culture and society. However, after the emperor Julian was slain during his failed campaign in Persia in 363, Rome ceded control of Iberia to Persia, and King Varaz-Bakur I (Asphagur) (363-365) became a Persian vassal, an outcome confirmed by the Peace of Acilisene in 387.

The early reign of the Iberian king Vakhtang I dubbed "Gorgasali" (447-502) was marked by relative revival of the kingdom. Formally vassal of the Persians, he secured the northern borders by subjugating the Caucasian mountaineers, and brought the adjacent western and southern Georgian lands under his control. He established an autocephalic patriarchate at Mtskheta, and made Tbilisi his capital. In 482, he led a general uprising against Persia. A desperate war for independence lasted for twenty years, but he could not get the Byzantine support, and was defeated dying himself in battle in 502.


The origins of Caucasian Iberians are traced back to 5,000 BC. The Iberian tribes have been an indigenous people of the Caucasus region united by the common language, the Ibero-Caucasian language group. The origins of the name "Iberian" has many theories of which the most accepted for scholars is the tribe of Tiberani (from the annals of the Assyrian Kings) or Tubal-kain from which name allegedly Iberian has derived. The name itself is used by ancient Greek authors who identify these early Georgian (Kartvelian) tribes as "Iberoi" and also in the Roman annals of Plutarch. The Iberians called their kingdom Kartli and their nation Kartlians. There are many theories among the scholars which claim that there are common ethnic and linguistic origins of Caucasian Iberians with the Pre-Indo European ancient Iberians of the Iberian Peninsula or the modern Basques in Spain [Gods of Love and Ecstasy: The Traditions of Shiva and Dionysus, Alain Danielou, p. 21 ] [Chambers's Encyclopaedia, M. D. Law, p. 356]


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