Kingdom of Abkhazia
|History of Georgia|
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|History of Abkhazia|
|8th to 19th century AD|
|19th century to 1921|
The Kingdom of Abkhazia (Georgian: აფხაზეთის სამეფო; Aphkhazetis Samepo), also known as the Kingdom of the Abkhazes (აფხაზთა სამეფო) refers to an early medieval feudal state in the Caucasus which lasted from the 780s until being united, through dynastic succession, with the Kingdom of Georgia (see Tao-Klarjeti) in 1008.
The problem of the Abkhazian Kingdom, particularly the questions of the nature of its ruling family and its ethnic composition, is a major point of controversy between modern Georgian and Abkhaz scholars. This can be largely explained by the scarcity of primary sources on these issues. Most Abkhaz historians claim the kingdom was formed as a result of the consolidation of the early Abkhaz tribes that enabled them to extend their dominance over the neighboring areas. This is objected to on the side of the Georgian historians, some of them claiming that the kingdom was completely Georgian.
Most international scholars agree that it is extremely difficult to judge the ethnic identity of the various population segments due primarily to the fact that the terms "Abkhazia" and "Abkhazians" were used in a broad sense during this period—and for some while later—and covered, for all practical purposes, all the population of the kingdom, comprising both the Georgian (including also Mingrelians, Laz, and Svans with their distinct languages that are sisters to Georgian) and possible modern Abkhaz (Abasgoi, Apsilae, and Zygii) peoples. It seems likely that a significant (if not predominant) proportion of the Georgian-speaking population, combined with a drive of the Abkhazian kings to throw off the Byzantine political and cultural dominance, resulted in Georgian replacing Greek as the language of literacy and culture.
Abkhazia, or Abasgia of classic sources, was a princedom under Byzantine authority. It lay chiefly along the Black Sea coast in what is now northwestern part of modern-day disputed Republic of Abkhazia and extended northward into the territory of today’s Krasnodar Krai of Russia. It had Anacopia as the capital. Abkhazia was ruled by a hereditary archon who effectively functioned as a Byzantine viceroy. The country was chiefly Christian and the city of Pityus was a seat of an archbishop directly subordinated to the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Arabs, pursuing the retreating Georgian princes – brothers Mir of Egrisi and Archil of Kartli – surged into Abkhazia in 736. Dysentery and floods, combined with a stubborn resistance offered by the archon Leon I and his Kartlian and Egrisian allies, made the invaders retreat. Leon I then married Mir’s daughter, and a successor, Leon II exploited this dynastic union to acquire Egrisi (Lazica) in the 770s. Presumably considered as a successor state of Lazica, this new polity continued to be referred to as Egrisi in some contemporary Georgian (e.g., The Vitae of the Georgian Kings by Leonti Mroveli) and Armenian (e.g., The History of Armenia by Hovannes Draskhanakertsi) chronicles.
The successful defense against the Arabs, and new territorial gains, gave the Abkhazian princes enough power to claim more autonomy from the Byzantine Empire. Towards circa 786, Leon won his full independence with the help of the Khazars; he assumed the title of King of the Abkhazians and transferred his capital to the western Georgian city of Kutatisi (modern-day Kutaisi). According to Georgian annals, Leon subdivided his kingdom into eight duchies : Abkhazia proper, Tskhumi, Bedia, Guria, Racha and Takveri, Svaneti, Argveti, and Kutatisi.
The most prosperous period of the Abkhazian kingdom was between 850 and 950. In the early years of the 10th century, it stretched, according to Byzantine sources, along the Black Sea coast three hundred Greek miles, from the frontiers of the thema of Chaldia to the mouth of the river Nicopsis, with the Caucasus behind it. The increasingly expansionist tendencies of the kingdom led to the enlargement of its realm to the east. Beginning with George I (872/73–878/79), the Abkhazian kings controlled also Kartli (central and part of eastern Georgia), and interfered in the affairs of the Georgian and Armenian Bagratids. In about 908 King Constantine III (898/99–916/17) had finally annexed a significant portion of Kartli, bringing his kingdom up to the neighborhood of Arab-controlled Tfilisi (modern-day Tbilisi). Under his son, George II (916/17–960), the Abkhazian Kingdom reached a climax of power and prestige. For a brief period of time, Kakheti in eastern Georgia and Hereti in the Georgian-Albanian marches also recognized the Abkhazian suzerainty. As a temporary ally of the Byzantines, George II patronized the missionary activities of Nicholas Mystikos in Alania.
George’s successors, however, were unable to retain the kingdom’s strength and integrity. During the reign of Leon III (960–969), Kakheti and Hereti emancipated themselves from the Abkhazian rule. A bitter civil war and feudal revolts which began under Demetrius III (969–976) led the kingdom into complete anarchy under the unfortunate king Theodosius III the Blind (976–978). By that time the hegemony in Transcaucasia had finally passed to the Georgian Bagratids of Tao-Klarjeti. In 978, the Bagratid prince Bagrat, nephew (sister’s son) of the sonless Theodosius, occupied the Abkhazian throne with the help of his adoptive father David III of Tao. In 1008, Bagrat succeeded on the death of his natural father Gurgen as the King of Kings of the Georgians. Thus, these two kingdoms unified through dynastic succession, in practice laying the foundation to the unified Georgian monarchy, officially styled then as the Kingdom of Georgians.
The second half of the 11th century was marked by the disastrous invasion of the Seljuk Turks who by the end of 1040s succeeded in building a vast nomadic empire including most of Central Asia and Iran. In 1071 Seljuk armies destroyed the united Byzantine-Armenian and Georgian forces in the Battle of Manzikert, and by 1081, all of Armenia, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Syria and most of Georgia were conquered and devastated by the Seljuks.
Only Abkhazia and the mountainous areas of Svanetia, Racha and Khevi-Khevsureti did not acknowledge Seljuk suzerainty, serving as a relatively safe haven for numerous refugees. By the end of 1099 David IV of Georgia stopped paying tribute to the Seljuks and put most of Georgian lands except Tbilisi and Ereti under his effective control having Abkhazia and Svanetia as his reliable rear bases. In 1105–1124 Georgian armies under King David undertook a series of brilliant campaigns against the Seljuk Turks and liberated not only the rest of Georgia but also Christian-populated Ghishi-Kabala area in western Shirvan and a big portion of Armenia.
Most Abkhazian kings, with the exception of John and Adarnase of the Shavliani (presumably of Svan origin), came from the dynasty which is sometimes known in modern history writing as the Leonids after the first king Leon, or Anosids, after the prince Anos from whom the royal family claimed their origin. Prince Cyril Toumanoff relates the name of Anos to the later Abkhaz noble family of Achba or Anchabadze. By convention, the regnal numbers of the Abkhazian kings continue from those of the archons of Abasgia. There is also some lack of consistency about the dates of their reigns. The chronology below is given as per Toumanoff.
House of the Anosids (Achba/Anchabadze)
- Leon II, 767/68–811/12
- Theodosius II, 811/12–837/38
- Demetrius II, 837/38–872/73
- George I of Aghts’epi, 872/73–878/79
House of Shavliani
House of the Anosids (Achba/Anchabadze)
- Bagrat I, 887/88–898/99
- Constantine III, 898/99–916/17
- George II, 916/17–960
- Leon III, 960–969
- Demetrius III, 969–976
- Theodosius III, 976–978
House of Bagrationi
- Bagrat II, 978–1014
- Graham Smith, Edward A Allworth, Vivien A Law et al., pages 56-58.
- Graham Smith, Edward A Allworth, Vivien A Law et al., pages 56-58; Abkhaz by W. Barthold V. Minorsky in the Encyclopaedia of Islam.
- Alexei Zverev, Ethnic Conflicts in the Caucasus; Graham Smith, Edward A Allworth, Vivien A Law et al., pages 56-58; Abkhaz by W. Barthold [V. Minorsky] in the Encyclopaedia of Islam; The Georgian-Abkhaz State (summary), by George Anchabadze, in: Paul Garb, Arda Inal-Ipa, Paata Zakareishvili, editors, Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict: Cultural Continuity in the Context of Statebuilding, Volume 5, August 26–28, 2000.
- Vakhushti Bagrationi, The History of Egrisi, Abkhazeti or Imereti, part 1.
- Rapp, pages 481-484.
References and further reading
- (English) Alexei Zverev, Ethnic Conflicts in the Caucasus 1988-1994, in B. Coppieters (ed.), Contested Borders in the Caucasus, Brussels: VUBPress, 1996
- Graham Smith, Edward A Allworth, Vivien A Law, Annette Bohr, Andrew Wilson, Nation-Building in the Post-Soviet Borderlands: The Politics of National Identities, Cambridge University Press (September 10, 1998), ISBN 0-521-59968-7
- Encyclopaedia of Islam
- (English) Center for Citizen Peacebuilding, Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhazian Conflict
- (Russian) Вахушти Багратиони. История царства грузинского. Жизнь Эгриси, Абхазети или Имерети. Ч.1
- S. H. Rapp, Studies In Medieval Georgian Historiography: Early Texts And Eurasian Contexts, Peeters Bvba (September 25, 2003) ISBN 90-429-1318-5
- (English) Conflicting Narratives in Abkhazia and Georgia. Different Visions of the Same History and the Quest for Objectivity, an article by Levan Gigineishvili, 2003
- (English) The Role of Historiography in the Abkhazo-Georgian Conflict, an article by Seiichi Kitagawa, 1996
- (English) History of Abkhazia. Medieval Abkhazia: 620-1221 by Andrew Andersen
- Georgiy I Mirsky, G I Mirskii, On Ruins of Empire: Ethnicity and Nationalism in the Former Soviet Union (Contributions in Political Science), Greenwood Press (January 30, 1997) ISBN 0-313-30044-5
- Ronald Grigor Suny, The Making of the Georgian Nation: 2nd edition (December 1994), Indiana University Press, ISBN 0-253-20915-3, page 45
- Robert W. Thomson (translator), Rewriting Caucasian History: The Medieval Armenian Adaptation of the Georgian Chronicles: The Original Georgian Texts and Armenian Adaptation (Oxford Oriental Monographs), Oxford University Press, USA (June 27, 1996), ISBN 0-19-826373-2
- Toumanoff C., Chronology of the Kings of Abasgia and other Problems // Le Museon, 69 (1956), S. 73-90.