Mirian III of Iberia
Mirian III. A 17th-century mural from the Svetitskhoveli cathedral
|Royal House||Chosroid dynasty|
According to the early medieval Georgian annals and hagiography, Mirian was the first Christian king of Iberia, converted through the ministry of Nino, a Cappadocian female missionary. He is credited with establishment of Christianity as his kingdom's state religion and is regarded by the Georgian Orthodox Church as saint.
Traditional chronology after Prince Vakhushti assigns to Mirian's reign—taken to have lasted for 77 years—the dates 268–345, which Professor Cyril Toumanoff corrects to 284–361. He is also known to the contemporary Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus and the medieval Armenian chronicles.
The king's name, Mirian, is a Georgian adaptation of the Iranian "Mihran". The medieval Georgian records give other versions of his name, both in its original Iranian as well as closely related Georgian forms (Mirean, Mirvan). Writing in Latin, the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus (XXI.6.8) renders the name of his contemporary Iberian king as Meribanes. The Armenian chronicles, possibly compiled in the 8th century and traditionally ascribed to Moses of Chorene, gives Mihran and speaks about his conversion to Christianity. The regnal numbers as in Mirian III are modern and were not used by the medieval Georgian authors. Since two kings preceded first Christian ruler of Iberia with that name, Mirian has been assigned the ordinal “III” in Georgian historiography.
According to the medieval Georgian chronicle Life of the Kings, Mirian was a Persian prince married to an Iberian princess Abeshura, daughter of the last Georgian Arsacid king Aspagur. Upon the death of Aspagur, Mirian was installed on the throne of Iberia by his father whom the medieval Georgian chronicles refer to as "K'asre" (Khosrau), Great King of Iran. This being during the rule of the Sassanid dynasty over Iran, the medieval author of the chronicles assumed (or invented) Mirian's descent from the Sassanids. However, the name Khosrau was not used by the Sassanids till some time later; hence, either the Georgian annals are mistaken in the name of Mirian’s father, or "Khosrau" was taken as a general term meaning "king". Toumanoff inferred that Mirian might have been a scion of the Mihranid family, one of the "seven Parthian clans". Professor Giorgi Melikishvili argues that Toumanoff's assumption is dubious and considers Mirian a representative of the local Iberian élite clan to whom the medieval tradition ascribed an exotic foreign royal ancestry to infuse him with more prestige. Another medieval Georgian account, Conversion of Kartli, is at odds with the tradition of Life of the Kings and identifies Mirian as the son of Lev, who is unattested elsewhere.
The Life of the Kings recount Mirian's reign in much details. While its information about Mirian’s participation—as an Iranian client king—in the Sasanid war against the Roman Empire, and territorial ambitions in Armenia can be true, the claims of Mirian’s being a pretender to the throne of Iran, his being in control of Colchis and Albania, and expansion of his activity as far as Syria is obviously fictional. In the 298 Peace of Nisibis with Iran, Rome was acknowledged their suzerainty over Armenia and Iberia, but Mirian III retained the crown. He quickly adapted to this change in political situation, and established close ties with Rome. This association was cemented by Mirian's conversion to Christianity—according to tradition—through the ministry of Nino, a Cappadocian nun. Nevertheless, as Ammianus Marcellinus recounts, Constantine's successor, Constantius, had to sent in 360 embassies with costly presents to Arsaces of Armenia and Meribanes of Iberia to secure their allegiance during the confrontation with Iran.
Conversion to Christianity
Mirian's conversion to Christianity might have occurred in 334, followed by the declaration of Christianity as Iberia's state religion in 337. He was, thus, among the first monarchs of the ancient world to have adopted this new religion. A legend has it that when Mirian, staunchly pagan, was hunting in the woods near his capital Mtskheta, the darkness fell upon the land and the king was totally blinded. The light did not resume until Mirian prayed to "Nino's God" for aid. Upon his arrival he requested the audience with Nino and converted to Christianity soon after. According to tradition, Mirian's second wife, Nana, preceded her husband in conversion.
His conversion fostered the growth of the central royal government, which confiscated the pagan temple properties and gave them to the nobles and the church; the medieval Georgian sources give evidence of how actively the monarchy and the nobility propagated Christianity and of the resistance they encountered from the mountain folk. The Roman historian Rufinus as well as the Georgian annals report that, after their conversion, the Iberians requested clergy from the emperor Constantine, who responded vigorously and sent priests and holy relics to Iberia. The Georgian tradition than relates a story of the construction of a cathedral in Mtskheta at Mirian's behest and the king's pilgrimage to Jerusalem shortly before his death. According to tradition, Mirian and his wife Nana were interred at the Samtavro convent in Mtskheta, where their tombs are still shown.
The Georgian sources speak of Mirian’s two marriages. His first wife was Abeshura, daughter of the last Arsacid Iberian king who also traced his ancestry to the ancient Pharnabazid dynasty of Iberia. She died without issue when Mirian was 15 years old, in 292 according to Toumanoff. With her death, "the kingship and queenship of the Pharnabazid kings came to an end in Iberia",—the chronicler continues. Mirian subsequently remarried his second queen, Nana "from Pontus, daughter of Oligotos", who bore him two sons—Rev and Varaz-Bakur—and a daughter who married Peroz, the first Mihranid dynast of Gogarene.
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- Lang, David Marshall (1956), Lives and legends of the Georgian saints, pp. 13-39. London: Allen & Unwin
- Machitadze, Archpriest Zakaria (2006), "The Feast of the Robe of our Lord, the Myrrh-streaming and Life-giving Pillar, Equals-to-the-Apostles King Mirian and Queen Nana, and Saints Sidonia and Abiatar (4th century)", in The Lives of the Georgian Saints. Pravoslavie.Ru. Retrieved on April 15, 2009.
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|King of Iberia
(with Rev II and Salome as co-rulers, 345–361)