Georgia–Persia relations

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Persia and Georgia have had relations for thousands of years. Eastern and Southern Georgia had been under intermittent Persian suzerainty for centuries, but Georgia especially rose to importance during the time of the Persian Safavids.

Ancient period[edit]

Evidence from Achaemenid cuneiform inscriptions suggest that there was trade between the Achaemenids and Georgian tribes.[1] According to Herodotus, the proto-Georgians of Transcaucasia were included in the 18th and 19th satrapies (see: Districts of the Achaemenid Empire). Although the Achaemenids had Souther Georgia under their control, they never managed to subdue the tribes to the north. Following the collapse of the Achaemenids, the first Iberian king, Parnavaz (who's mother was a Persian woman),[2] adopted a Persian style institutions as models in organizing his realm.

During the Parthian era, the Caucasus was contested between Rome and Persia, with the monarchy of Georgia playing both sides in order to maintain its independence. From the first centuries C.E., the cult of Mithras and Zoroastrianism were commonly practiced in Iberia. Excavation of rich burials in Bori, Armazi, and Zguderi has produced silver drinking cups with the impression of a horse either standing at a fire-altar or with its right foreleg raised above the altar.[3] The cult of Mithras, distinguished by its syncretic character and thus complementary to local cults, especially the cult of the Sun, gradually came to merge with ancient Georgian beliefs. It is even thought that Mithras must have been the precursor of St. George in pagan Georgia.[4] Step by step, Iranian beliefs and ways of life penetrated deeply the practices of the Iberian court and elite: the Armazian script and “language,” which is based on Aramaic (see Tsereteli), was adopted officially (a number of inscriptions in Aramaic of the Classical/Hellenistic periods are known from Colchis as well,;[5] the court was organized on Iranian models, the elite dress was influenced by Iranian costume, the Iberian elite adopted Iranian personal names,[6] and the official cult of Armazi (q.v.) was introduced by King Pharnavaz in the 3rd century B.C.E. (connected by the medieval Georgian chronicle to Zoroastrianism)[7] This ended when the Sassanids took power. There was peace between Iberia and the Sassanids and Iberia helped the Sassanids in their campaigns against Rome. During this time, Zoroastrianism was also established in the region. However, Rome managed to taker the territory for sixty years, at which point Christianity was established, around 317. Iranian elements in ancient Georgian art and archeology gradually started to cease gradually as well since the adoptation of Christianity in the same century.[8]

Decisive for the future history of Iberia was the foundation of the Sasanian (or Sassanid) Empire in 224. By replacing the weak Parthian realm with a strong, centralized state, it changed the political orientation of Iberia away from Rome. Iberia became a tributary of the Sasanian state during the reign of Shapur I (241-272). Relations between the two countries seem to have been friendly at first, as Iberia cooperated in Persian campaigns against Rome, and the Iberian king Amazasp III (260-265) was listed as a high dignitary of the Sasanian realm, not a vassal who had been subdued by force of arms. But the aggressive tendencies of the Sasanians were evident in their propagation of Zoroastrianism, which was probably established in Iberia between the 260s and 290s.

However, in the Peace of Nisibis (298) while the Roman empire obtained control of Caucasian Iberia again as a vassal state and acknowledged the reign over all the Caucasian area, it recognized Mirian III, the first of the Chosroid dynasty, as king of Iberia.

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 However, a later ruler of Kartli, Pharsman IV (406-409), preserved his country's autonomy and ceased to pay tribute to Persia. Persia prevailed, and Sassanian kings began to appoint a viceroy (pitiaxae/bidaxae) to keep watch on their vassal. They eventually made the office hereditary in the ruling house of Lower Kartli, thus inaugurating the Kartli pitiaxate, which brought an extensive territory under its control. Although it remained a part of the kingdom of Kartli, its viceroys turned their domain into a center of Persian influence. Sasanian rulers put the Christianity of the Georgians to a severe test. They promoted the teachings of Zoroaster, and by the middle of the 5th century Zoroastrianism had become the second official religion in eastern Georgia alongside Christianity.[9]

Religious issues arose after the Sassanids retook the territory. In 580, the Sassanids abolished the monarchy and made Iberia a province. Fighting between Rome, and later the Byzantines, and the Sassanids continued over the territory for many centuries until the collapse of the Sassanids during the Islamic conquest of Persia.[10]

Safavid period[edit]

16th century[edit]

The Iranian Safavid dynasty was in constant conflict with the Ottomans over control and influence in the Caucasus. From the 16th to the 18th centuries, Iran had to deal with several independent kingdoms and principalities, as Georgia was not a single state at the time. These entities often following divergent political courses. Iran’s sphere of influence was Eastern Georgia (the kingdoms of Kartli and Kakheti) and Southern Georgia (the kingdoms of Samtskhe-Saatabago), while Western Georgia was under Ottoman influence. These independent kingdoms came under intermittent suzerainty of Persia after Div-Sultan Rumlu’s conquests in 1518, till the early 19th century.

The Georgian kings and princes, however, sought to break loose of their vassalage. David, the king of Kartli refused to adopt Islam, did not present himself at Shah Ismail’s court, and made preparations for war. In 1521, Shah Ismail sent out a large army to suppress the rebellion. The army invaded and captured the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. After Ismail's death, the ten-year-old Tahmasp became Shah. Taking advantage of the situation, David retook Tbilisi and freed himself from vassalage. The situation did not end there, as later Georgian kings continued the fight against Safavid Iran, while many others chose the Iranian side. In 1527, Luarsab I (Lohrasp I) ascended came to power in Kartli. Iskandar Beg Munshi, an Iranian historian of the first half of the 17th century, noted that Luarsab was distinguished among Georgian kings for his courage, refusing to show obedience and pay tribute. Only Luarsab continued to fight against the Iranians as other Georgian kings had made deals and accepted Iranian sovereignty, often accepting Islam and taking Persian names and embracing Persian culture for many centuries afterwards (Such as the important Georgian kings Isa Khan, Gurgin Khan, Daud Khan, Rostam Khan, Semayun Khan and many others). In 1540-1554 Shah Tahmasp led four campaigns against Georgia, devastating the country’s eastern and southern regions and taking tens of thousands of Georgian captives to Iran. Luarsab fell in battle in 1556.

On May 29, 1555, Iranian Empire and the Ottoman Empire concluded a treaty at Amasya by which Transcaucasia was divided between the two. Western Georgia and the western part of southern Georgia fell to The Ottomans, while Eastern Georgia and the (largest) eastern part of southern Georgia fell to Iran, thus making Kartli again part of the Safavid Empire.

In 1556 Luarsab’s son, Simon (also called Somayun Khan by Iskandar Beg Munshi), ascended the thrown of Kartli and continued the struggle for independence. In 1569 Simon was taken prisoner and sent to Qazvin. Refusing to adopt Islam, he was imprisoned in the fortress of Alamut in Iran. During Simon’s captivity Kartli was governed by his Islamised brother Daud-Khan, adopted son of the shah of Iran. Shah Ismail II later freed Simon, making him an ally against the Ottomans. After this period, Iranian Georgians gained increasing influence and power in politics and the military.

17th century[edit]

In 1603, Shah Abbas attempted to solve the Georgian question by conquering eastern Georgia. The Georgian monarchy continued their struggle and Shah Abbas invaded and devastated Georgia several times, often killing members of the royal family. During these campaigns, 200,000 Georgians were deported to Iran (see Capture of Tbilisi and Gökçe war). After continued fighting and resistance, both sides agreed to compromise. The monarchies of the Georgian kingdoms were replaced by pro-Iranian monarchs of the Bagrationi line, while those who resisted would be eventually executed in Iran, such as Luarsab II of Kartli. But the kingdoms would be controlled as subjects for many centuries afterwards. In 1660 a rebellion took place in which the Georgians attacked the Turkmen settled in their regions by the Iranian Safavids, and defeating the Persian garrisons. Afterwards, the leaders of the rebellion turned themselves in and were executed, in order to prevent Safavid retaliation.

18th century[edit]

Early in the 18th century, Iran was under a serious threat of being conquered by the Afghans. the shah of Iran entrusted the command of the troops fighting against Afghanistan to the Islamized Georgian kings. There were about 2000 Georgian troops in Afghanistan. Led by Giorgi XI (known as Gurgin Khan in Iran), the Georgians succeeded temporarily in halting the raids of Afghan tribes against Iran. In 1709 Giorgi XI was treacherously murdered by instigation of Afghan leader Mirwais Khan Hotak.

From the 18th century the religious factor did not seem to determine state relations, yet the Shah’s court ascribed serious meaning to the valee of Kartli professing Islam. By such policy towards Eastern Georgia, Iran clearly confronted Russian and Ottoman operations in the country. To keep Eastern Georgia loyal and its king a Muslim, the shah made many concessions to the valee of “Gurjistan” – adding to his titles, raising his “salary”, and granting him villages in Iran.

In 1703, Vakhtang VI became the ruler of the kingdom of Kartli. In 1716, he adopted Islam and the shah confirmed him as King of Kartli. However, the shah retained Vakhtang in Iran, appointing him as spasalar (“commander”) of the Iranian region of Azerbaijan. Vakhtang VI carried out successful campaigns against the Dagestani people. However, at a decisive moment he was ordered to discontinue the campaign, leading Vakhtang to adopt a pro-Russian orientation, though the Russian failed to tender him the promised military aid. During the war with the Afghans, the Ottomans occupied Kartli. In July of the same year Vakhtang was forced to go into exile to Russia, with a 1200 strong retinue.

The Safavid dynasty collapsed in 1736, being succeeded by the Afsharids who would control all of Georgia again, followed by the Qajars, who would also reestablish Persian suzerainty over Georgia.

Art and archeology[edit]

Georgian literary contacts with Persia and Persian literature[edit]

Georgian literary works such as Tamariani, the poem Abdulmesiani, Rustaveli's Vepkhistqaosani and chronicles contain the names of Iranian heroes borrowed from the Shahnama. These include Rustam, KhayKhusraw, Zal, Tur amongst others. The story of Zahak and Fereydun were known in Georgian literature and mention of this story is made in the Kartlis tskhovreba. Other important books of Persian literature like Jami's Yusuf and Zuleikha, Nizami's Lili o Majnoon, Onsori's Vameq and 'Azraa, the story of Salaman and Absal, and the famous Vis o Ramin were known in the literary circles of Georgia. An early Georgian translation of Vis o Ramin predates an extant Persian manuscript and has been used by scholars to produce a critical edition of Vis o Ramin.

The familiarity of Georgian authors with the Persian classics also played a significant role in the development of Georgian literature. Monumental works such as the epic romance Amiran-Darejaniani ascribed to Mose Khoneli, Tamariani by Grigol Chakhrukhadze (12th century), Abdulmesiani by Iovane Shavteli and, finally, the masterpiece of Georgian poetry Vepkhistqaosani (The man in the panther skin) by Shota Rustaveli were written during this era of cultural synthesis.


A trade and caravan route crossed the territory of Georgia by which raw silk, wine, fruits, Furs, Kakhetian walnuts (annually 4000 camel-loads of Kakhetian walnuts were exported to Safavid Iran), Kakhetian horses (known as "gurji"), various vegetables, and madder were imported by Iran from Georgia.

Georgian documentary sources supply abundant evidence that Georgian imported extensively from Iran. Georgian “Dowry Books” very often refer to clothes make from fabrics manufactured in Iran, such as daraia of Yazd, wool of Kerman, daraya of Gilan, wool of Rizaiyh, sheidish of Yezd, and of Khar. Frequently mentioned among valuable fabrics are zarbab, darayabavt and diba. In the 17th and 18th centuries, precious stones were also imported from Iran. “Dowry Books” make frequent mention of Nishapur turquoise, Badakhshan ruby, jacinth, pearls, emerald.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Iranian-Georgian Relations in the 16th- 19th Centuries"
  2. ^ Georgian royal annals, page of edition 20, line of edition 18
  3. ^ Machabeli, pls. 37, 51-54, 65-66
  4. ^ Makalatia, pp. 184-93
  5. ^ Braund, pp. 126-27)
  6. ^ Braund, pp. 212-15
  7. ^ Apakidze, pp. 397-401
  8. ^ "GEORGIA iii. Iranian elements in Georgian art and archeology". Retrieved 1 January 2015. 
  9. ^ "The Making of the Georgian Nation". Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  10. ^ Hitchins, Keith. "History of Iranian-Georgian Relations". Encyclopaedia Iranica. June 11, 2007