Origin of the Bagratid dynasties
The Bagratid dynasties – Bagratuni (Բագրատունյաց) in Armenia and Bagrationi (ბაგრატიონი) in Georgia – count among the longest-reigning royal families in the Caucasus (and in Europe), starting as princely houses and attaining to the royal status in both countries in the 9th century. The origins of the Bagratids are disputed though more widely accepted version has it that the both dynasties had common roots, beginning in Armenia and branching later into Georgia. The main Armenian house went extinct by the 12th century, while the Georgian line, in its minor branch, continues to this day as the nominal Royal House of Georgia. The root of the names Bagrationi and Bagratuni, Bagrat-, derives from the Old Persian Bagadāta, "God-Given". In Armenia and Georgia, the respective names for the Bagratid dynasties literally translate to "The children of/house established by Bagrat" (Bagrat + Classical Greek: - id, "the children").
Rival tales have been developed in Georgia and Armenia regarding the origins of the dynasties. The Bagratids of Armenia are speculated to have been an offshoot of the Orontid Dynasty, Achaemenid satraps and, later, kings of Armenia (c 400 – c 200 BC). They had their original appanage in Bagrevand in historic north-central Armenia and claimed their descent from a solar deity Angl-Thork, the tutelary god of the Orontids, until their conversion to Christianity. Thereafter, this claim was abandoned in favor of the mythical ancestor of the Armenians, Hayk. Later, under biblical influences, they entertained another claim, of Hebrew ancestry, first articulated by Moses of Khorene, and developed by the Georgians into a claim of their descent from the biblical king-prophet David Once the Georgian branch, who had quickly acculturated in the new environment, assumed royal power, the myth of their biblical origin helped to assert their legitimacy and emerged as a main ideological pillar of the millennium-long Bagrationi rule in Georgia from 575 AD to 1810 AD. The claim is given no credence by modern scholarship. The harp on their Coat of Arms is a reference that ancestry.
The traditional Georgian narrative regarding the origin of the Bagrationi can be traced back to the 11th century. According to the Georgian chronicler of that time Sumbat Davitis-Dze, as published by Prince Vakhushti Bagrationi (1696–1757), who added chronological interpretations, the ancestors of the dynasty traced their descent to the biblical King David, and came from Palestine around 530 AD. Tradition has it that of seven refugee brothers of the Davidic line, three of them settled in Armenia and the other four in Kartli (also known as Iberia by Classical authors), where they intermarried with the local ruling houses and acquired some lands in hereditary possession. One of the four brothers, Guaram (died in 532), allegedly gave an origin to a line subsequently called Bagrationi after his son Bagrat. A successor, Guaram, was installed as a presiding prince of Kartli under the Byzantine protectorate and bestowed, on this occasion, with the Byzantine court title of Kouropalates in 575. Thus, according to this version, began the dynasty of the Georgian Bagratids, who ruled until 1801. This tradition had been given a general acceptance until the early 20th century. While the Jewish origin, let alone the biblical descent of the Bagratids, has been largely discounted by modern scholarship, the issue of their origin still remains controversial. Several Soviet-era historians of Georgia developed a view summarized by N. Berdzenishvili and et al. in their standard reference book on the history of Georgia:
|“||The illustrious dynasty of the Bagratids originated in the most ancient Georgian kingdom of Tao-Klarjeti. This ancient Georgian kingdom is in Turkey and called Speri (today İspir). Through their farsighted, flexible policies, the Bagratid achieved great influence from the sixth through eighth centuries. One of their branches moved out to Armenia, the other to Iberia, and both won for themselves the dominant position among the other rulers of Transcaucasia.||”|
Certain, generation by generation, history of the family begins only in the 8th century, when the downfall of the rival clan of the Mamikonians helped the Bagratids to emerge as a major force in the ongoing struggle against the Arab rule.
Modern scholarship outside of Georgia, notably Cyril Toumanoff, gives little credit to the medieval narratives, regarding both claimed biblical descent and descent from Guaram. Toumanoff traces the origins of the family to ancient Ispir, but according to him, the Georgian branch of the family appeared only in the 8th century, during an anti-Arab rebellion in 772, when one of the sons of Ashot III the Blind, called Vasak fled into Iberia (Georgia). His son, Adarnase, was granted hereditary possessions in Klarjeti and Samtskhe by the Georgian dynast Archil. Adarnase’s son Ashot gained the principate of Iberia and founded the last royal dynasty of Georgia.
- Toumanoff, C., Iberia on the Eve of Bagratid Rule, p. 22, cited in: Suny (1994), p. 349
- Rapp, Stephen H. (2003), Studies in Medieval Georgian Historiography: Early Texts and Eurasian Contexts, p. 337
- Toumanoff, C. Iberia on the Eve of Bagratid Rule, p. 22, cited in: Suny (1994), p. 349
- Rapp (2003), p. 169
- Rapp (2003), p. 234
- Sumbat Davitis-Dze, The Life and Tale of the Bagratids (ცხოვრებაჲ და უწყებაჲ ბაგრატონიანთა ჩუენ ქართველთა მეფეთასა), see Suny (1994), p. 349; Rapp (2003), p. 337
- The earliest Georgian forms of the dynastic name are Bagratoniani, Bagratuniani and Bagratovani, changed subsequently into Bagrationi. These names as well as the Armenian Bagratuni and the modern designation Bagratid mean "the children of Bagrat" or "the house of/established by Bagrat".
- From the time of Justinian I, the dignity of Kouropalates (Greek: κουροπαλάτης, i.e., chancellor) was one of the highest in the Byzantine Empire, reserved usually for members of the Imperial family. Its frequent conferment upon various Georgian and Armenian dynasts emphasizes their importance in the politics of those times. Suny (1994), p. 348
- Vakhushti Bagrationi (c. 1745), History of the Kingdom of Georgia; a Russian translation available at ArmenianHouse.org. URL accessed on May 22. 2006.
- "Georgia-". 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1910–1911.
- Suny (1994), 349
- Centered on the modern-day district of İspir, northeastern Turkey, this province is sometimes thought to have been the cradle of the Georgian people (Suny , p. 11). It lay in what is frequently referred to as the Georgian marchlands where the two communities coexisted and intermingled for several centuries, but the Georgian Speri and the Armenian Sper may not always be absolutely identical (cf. Tao and Tayk, Rapp , p. 14.).
- Berdzenishvili et al., Istoriia Gruzii, p. 129, cited in: Suny (1994), p. 349
- Toumanoff, Cyril, "Armenia and Georgia", in The Cambridge Medieval History, Cambridge, 1966, vol. IV, p. 609. Accessible online at 
- C. Toumanoff, Studies in Christian Caucasian History.
- R.G. Suny, The Making of the Georgian Nation.
- S. Rapp, Studies In Medieval Georgian Historiography: Early Texts And Eurasian Contexts .