Homo erectus has been living in modern-day Georgia since the Paleolithic Era. The proto-Georgian tribes emerge in recorded history for the first time in the 12th century BC.
The oldest evidence of wine has been discovered in Georgia, where 8000-year-old wine jars were discovered. Archaeological discoveries and allusions in ancient texts show aspects of early political and governmental structures defined by sophisticated metallurgy and goldsmith skills dating back to the 7th century BC and beyond. Indeed, early metallurgy began in Georgia around the sixth millennium BC, as part of the Shulaveri-Shomu civilization.
During the classical era, a number of early Georgian republics arose, the most important of which were Colchis in the west and Iberia in the east. A united kingdom of Georgia — an early example of sophisticated state structure under one monarch and an aristocratic hierarchy – was founded in the 4th century BC.
In Apollonius Rhodius’ epic story Argonautica, Colchis was the site of the Golden Fleece sought by Jason and the Argonauts. The inclusion of the Golden Fleece into the story may have stemmed from the local habit of sifting gold dust from rivers using fleeces. Colchis, known to its inhabitants as Egrisi or Lazica, was also the site of the Lazic War, fought between the Byzantine Empire and Sassanid Persia.
Following the Roman Republic’s short conquest of what is now Georgia in 66 BC, what is now Georgia became a major goal of what would ultimately turn out to be almost 700 years of prolonged Irano-Roman geopolitical competition and conflict.
The worship of Mithras, pagan beliefs, and Zoroastrianism were widely practiced in Georgia from the first century A.D. In 337 AD, King Mirian III proclaimed Christianity to be the official religion, spurring the growth of literature and the arts and eventually playing a major part in the creation of the united Georgian country. Acceptance resulted in the gradual but steady fall of Zoroastrianism, which seemed to have become something like to a second established religion in Iberia (eastern Georgia) and was extensively practiced there until the 5th century AD. What is now Georgia was controlled by the Romans and Sasanians throughout the rest of the era, until the 7th century.
Middle Ages up to Early Modern Period
The early Georgian kingdoms dissolved into different feudal areas by the early Middle Ages, owing to their location at the crossroads of prolonged Roman-Persian Wars. This made it simple for the remaining Georgian kingdoms to be conquered by early Muslim invasions in the 7th century. Despite the conquest of Tbilisi by Muslims in 645 AD, Kartli-Iberia maintained significant independence under local kings.
The Kingdom of Georgia was at its peak during the 12th to the early 13th century. The reigns of David IV (also known as David the Builder, r. 1089–1125) and his granddaughter Tamar (r. 1184–1213) have been generally referred to as Georgia’s Golden Age or the Georgian Renaissance. This early Georgian renaissance, which before its Western European counterpart, was marked by spectacular military triumphs, territorial expansion, and a cultural revival in architecture, literature, philosophy, and the sciences. Georgia’s Golden Age left a legacy of magnificent cathedrals, romantic poetry and literature, and the epic poem “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin,” which is regarded as a national epic.
To successfully cope with external challenges, David repressed feudal lord opposition and consolidated authority in his hands. During the Battle of Didgori in 1121, he decisively fought considerably bigger Turkish forces and freed Tbilisi. At its zenith, the Kingdom’s power stretched from the south of modern-day Ukraine to the northern regions of Persia, with religious holdings in the Holy Land and Greece.
Tamar’s 29-year reign as Georgia’s first female monarch is regarded as the most successful in Georgian history. Tamar was crowned “King of Kings” (mepe mepeta). She was successful in suppressing resistance and started on an aggressive foreign policy, helped by the demise of rival powers the Seljuks and Byzantium. Tamar was able to build on the successes of her predecessors to consolidate an empire that dominated the Caucasus and extended over large parts of modern-day Azerbaijan, Armenia, and eastern Turkey, as well as parts of northern Iran, until it was destroyed by Mongol attacks two decades after Tamar’s death in 1213.
Tbilisi was conquered and devastated by the Khwarezmian commander Jalal ad-Din in 1226, delaying the Kingdom of Georgia’s rebirth. The Mongols were driven out by George V of Georgia, son of Demetrius II of Georgia, who was dubbed “Brilliant” for his part in restoring Georgia’s former power and Christian culture. George V was the united Georgian state’s final great monarch. Following his death, many provincial rulers battled for their independence from central Georgian authority until the Kingdom’s complete collapse in the 15th century. Tamerlane’s many catastrophic invasions severely devastated Georgia. Invasions persisted, leaving the kingdom with little time to rebuild, with both Black and Whitesheep Turkomans attacking its southern regions on a regular basis. As a consequence, by 1466, the Kingdom of Georgia had devolved into anarchy and had been divided into three separate kingdoms and five semi-autonomous principalities. Neighboring major empires took advantage of the weaker country’s internal divisions, and from the 16th century until the late 18th century, Safavid Iran (and succeeding Iranian Afsharid and Qajar dynasties) and Ottoman Turkey conquered the eastern and western parts of Georgia, respectively.
On many instances, the rulers of areas that retained some autonomy staged rebellions. However, later Iranian and Ottoman conquests undermined local kingdoms and areas even more. Georgia’s population had shrunk to 250,000 people by the end of the 18th century as a consequence of constant wars and deportations. Eastern Georgia (the greater portion of Georgia), consisting of the provinces of Kartli and Kakheti, had been subject to Iranian suzerainty since 1555, after the signing of the Peace of Amasya with neighboring competitor Ottoman Turkey. With the death of Nader Shah in 1747, both kingdoms were liberated from Iranian rule and reunified in 1762 via a personal union led by the energetic monarch Heraclius (Erekle) II. In 1744, Erekle, who had risen through the Iranian ranks, was given the crown of Kartli by Nader himself for his devoted devotion to him. Nonetheless, Erekle was able to consolidate Eastern Georgia to some extent in the subsequent era and ensure its autonomy during the Iranian Zand dynasty.
In 1783, Russia and the eastern Georgian Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti signed the Treaty of Georgievsk, which declared Georgia independent of Persia and made the kingdom a protectorate of Russia, ensuring Georgia’s territorial integrity and the continuation of the reigning Bagrationi dynasty in exchange for prerogatives in Georgian foreign affairs.
Despite this pledge to protect Georgia, Russia provided no help when the Iranians attacked in 1795, seizing and destroying Tbilisi and massacring its people as the new heir to the throne attempted to reestablish Iranian control over Georgia. Despite a later punitive war against Qajar Iran in 1796, this era ended in 1801 with Russia’s breach of the Treaty of Georgievsk and annexation of eastern Georgia, followed by the destruction of the regal Bagrationi dynasty and the autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Pyotr Bagration, a scion of the defunct Bagrationi family, would eventually join the Russian army and grow to become a famous commander in the Napoleonic Wars.
Georgia in the Russian Empire
Tsar Paul I of Russia signed the proclamation on the incorporation of Georgia (Kartli-Kakheti) within the Russian Empire on 22 December 1800, allegedly at the request of Georgian King George XII, which was finalized by a decree on 8 January 1801, and confirmed by Tsar Alexander I on 12 September 1801. The Georgian ambassador in Saint Petersburg responded with a letter of complaint, which he sent to Russian Vice-Chancellor Prince Kurakin. In May 1801, Imperial Russia handed over control of eastern Georgia to a government led by General Ivan Petrovich Lazarev, under the supervision of General Carl Heinrich von Knorring. The Georgian aristocracy did not recognize the order until Knorring summoned them to the Sioni Cathedral on April 12, 1802, and compelled them to swear an oath on the Imperial Crown of Russia. Those who objected were arrested for a short time.
During the Russo-Persian War (1804-1813), Russian soldiers on the Askerani River near Zagam beat the Iranian army in the summer of 1805, saving Tbilisi from reconquest now that it was formally part of the Imperial domains. Following the Treaty of Gulistan, Russian suzerainty over eastern Georgia was formally confirmed with Iran in 1813. Tsar Alexander I conquered the western Georgian kingdom of Imereti after annexing eastern Georgia. Solomon II, the last Imeretian monarch and the last Georgian Bagrationi ruler, died in exile in 1815, following futile efforts to mobilize people against Russia and recruit international assistance against the latter. From 1803 until 1878, many of Georgia’s previously lost regions – such as Adjara – were regained and integrated into the empire as a consequence of several Russian wars now against Ottoman Turkey. Guria was dissolved and absorbed into the Empire in 1829, while Svaneti was progressively annexed in 1858. Despite being a Russian protectorate since 1803, Mingrelia was not annexed until 1867.
Georgia in the Soviet Union
Georgia was invaded by the Red Army in February 1921. Georgia’s army was defeated, and the country’s Social-Democratic administration fled. The Red Army invaded Tbilisi on February 25, 1921, and established a communist administration loyal to Moscow, headed by Georgian Bolshevik Filipp Makharadze.
Nonetheless, considerable resistance to the Bolsheviks persisted, culminating in the August Uprising of 1924. Only after the suppression of this insurrection was Soviet authority fully entrenched. Georgia became a constituent republic of the Transcaucasian Soviet Socialist Republic, which included Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Later, in 1936, the TSFSR was divided into its constituent parts, and Georgia became the Georgian SSR.
Joseph Stalin, an ethnic Georgian born Ioseb Besarionis Dze Jugashvili ( ) in Gori, was a senior member of the Bolsheviks. Stalin rose to the highest position in the Soviet Union, ruling it from 3 April 1922 until his death on 5 March 1953.
Georgia after restoration of independence
The Supreme Council of Georgia proclaimed independence on 9 April 1991, soon before the fall of the Soviet Union, after a referendum conducted on 31 March 1991. Gamsakhurdia was chosen as Georgia’s first president on May 26, 1991. Gamsakhurdia instilled Georgian nationalism and promised to reestablish Tbilisi’s control over areas such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which had been designated as autonomous oblasts under the Soviet Union.
From 22 December 1991 until 6 January 1992, he was ousted in a violent coup. Part of the National Guards and a paramilitary group known as “Mkhedrioni” were behind the coup (“horsemen”). The nation was engulfed in a bloody civil war that lasted until almost 1995. Eduard Shevardnadze (Soviet Foreign Minister from 1985 to 1991) came to Georgia in 1992 and joined the coup leaders — Tengiz Kitovani and Jaba Ioseliani — to form a triumvirate known as “The State Council.”
Simmering conflicts between local separatists and the majority Georgian populations in two areas of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, exploded into widespread inter-ethnic violence and warfare. Abkhazia and South Ossetia gained de facto independence from Georgia, with Georgia maintaining authority over just a tiny portion of the disputed regions. Shevardnadze was formally elected President of Georgia in 1995.
In 1992–1993, about 230,000–250,000 Georgians were murdered or driven from Abkhazia by Abkhaz rebels and North Caucasian volunteers (including Chechens). Around 23,000 Georgians left South Ossetia as well, while many Ossetian families were forced to flee to Russia from their homes in the Borjomiregion.
The Rose Revolution ousted Shevardnadze (who had been re-elected in 2000) in 2003, when the Georgian opposition and foreign observers claimed that the 2 November parliamentary elections were tainted with fraud. Former members and leaders of Shevardnadze’s governing party, Mikheil Saakashvili, Zurab Zhvania, and Nino Burjanadze, spearheaded the revolution. In 2004, Mikheil Saakashvili was elected President of Georgia.
Following the Rose Revolution, the country’s military and economic capabilities were strengthened via a series of reforms. Early in 2004, the new government’s attempts to reestablish Georgian control in the southern autonomous republic of Ajaria triggered a serious conflict. Success in Ajaria prompted Saakashvili to step up his efforts in separatist South Ossetia, but he was unsuccessful.
These events, along with allegations of Georgian participation in the Second Chechen War, led to a significant deterioration in ties with Russia, which was exacerbated by Russia’s open aid and support for the two separatist regions. Despite these deteriorating ties, Georgia and Russia struck a bilateral deal in May 2005 to remove Russian military outposts (dating from the Soviet period) in Batumi and Akhalkalaki. Russia removed all troops and equipment from these locations by December 2007, but failed to do so from the Gudauta base in Abkhazia, which it was obliged to leave after the ratification of the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty at the 1999 Istanbul summit.
Russo-Georgian War and since
Georgian-Russian political tensions started to rise in April 2008. South Ossetian rebels blew up a Georgian military truck on August 1, 2008, wounding five Georgian soldiers, and Georgian snipers retaliated by murdering six South Ossetian gunmen. Low-level clashes ensued, with South Ossetian troops firing towns under Georgian control, prompting reactions from Georgian soldiers.
Georgian forces began shelling the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, on August 7, 2008; this was followed on August 8, 2008, by an advance of Georgian Army infantry, tanks, and police commandos into South Ossetia; the action was supported by artillery and air support, resulting in the capture of a number of key South Ossetian towns and the retreat of Russian peacekeepers and South Ossetian forces. However, when a Russian peacekeeping post was attacked and troops were murdered, elements of the Russian 58th Army, aided by irregular forces, invaded South Ossetia through the Roki Tunnel, sparking a three-day fight that left Tskhinvali in ruins. Georgian troops were forced to withdraw as a result, and the Russian Air Force started conducting airstrikes against Georgian soldiers in South Ossetia, as well as numerous targets inside Georgia proper. Georgian Air Force resisted and subsequently proceeded to launch air attacks on Russian forces. A second front was established when the separatist Republic of Abkhazia began an assault against Georgian soldiers in the Kodori Valley with Russian assistance. Georgian soldiers gave no opposition and quickly retreated. Russian paratroopers conducted assaults from Abkhazia on military facilities in Senaki, Georgia, while the Russian Navy stationed a task force near Abkhazia’s coast and destroyed a Georgian Coast Guard cutter.
Russian troops quickly captured Gori, where Georgian soldiers had previously reassembled before withdrawing to Tbilisi, after entering into Georgia proper. Irregulars like as Ossetians, Chechens, and Cossacks then arrived, causing looting, murdering, and burning. Russian forces retrieved military equipment abandoned by fleeing Georgian troops at Gori and Poti, where many navy and coast guard vessels anchored in the harbor were destroyed.
President Medvedev declared a stop to future Russian military activities in Georgia on August 12, 2008, and ordered a phased retreat from Gori, Poti, and other created checkpoints. Despite this, Russian troops stayed in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, recognizing their independence.
Because of the intense fighting in South Ossetia, there were numerous disputed reports regarding the number of casualties on both sides, which targets had been hit by aerial attacks, the status of troop movements, and the most recent location of the front line between Georgian and Russian-Ossetian units. Since the conflict, South Ossetian and Russian authorities have made a variety of allegations, including that the Georgian Army killed 1,400–2,000 South Ossetian civilians. Human Rights Watch and European Union investigators in South Ossetia later accused Russia of inflating the number of fatalities. All sides suffered losses, with Georgia suffering the most military casualties, with 170 reported killed or missing.
Georgia has claimed since the conflict that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are under Russian control and therefore remain legally part of Georgia. Georgia has received widespread international backing for its stance, although efforts to restrict foreign access to and impose an economic embargo on the two breakaway regions had mixed effects.