|Regions with significant populations|
|Georgian and other Kartvelian languages|
|Predominantly Eastern Orthodox Christianity since 324 AD
(Georgian Orthodox Church)
Minority: Catholicism, Islam
|Part of a series on|
|Ancient Kartvelian people|
|History of Georgia|
Georgians constitute a majority of the population in Georgia. Large Georgian communities are also present throughout Turkey, Russia, Iran, the United States and to a smaller extent, the European Union.
The majority of Georgians are Eastern Orthodox Christian and most follow the national autocephalous Georgian Orthodox Church, which originated in the 4th century. There are also Georgian Catholic and Muslim communities in Tbilisi and Adjara.
A complex process of nation formation has resulted in a diverse set of geographic subgroups, each with its characteristic traditions, manners, dialects and, in the case of Svans and Mingrelians, language. The Georgian language, with its own unique writing system and extensive written tradition going back to the 5th century, is the official language of Georgia as well as the language of literacy and education of all Georgians living in the country. Georgian, Svan and Mingrelian, together with Laz spoken by the related Laz people form the Kartvelian language family.
Located in Caucasia at the border of the southeastern edge of Europe, the Georgian people have fought to protect their Christian identity in the face of immense pressure from the neighboring Muslim empires. By the early 11th century they formed a unified Kingdom of Georgia which emerged as a dominant regional power until it was weakened by the invasions of the Turco-Mongol conqueror Timur and by internal divisions following the death of George V the Brilliant, the last of the great kings of Georgia.
To ensure its survival as a Christian kingdom being threatened for centuries by their Safavid, Afsharid, and Qajar Iranian suzerains, the eastern-Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti, being the most dominant Georgian power at that time, led by Heraclius II found itself able to abjure any dependence on Persia or any other power by signing the Treaty of Georgievsk in 1783, and by this forged an alliance with the Russian Empire, which was viewed as a replacement for the fallen Byzantine Empire, Georgia's traditional ally. Eventually being annexed by Russia in 1801, which was officially ratified with Qajar Iran in 1813, the Georgians briefly regained national independence from 1918 to 1921, and finally, in 1991 from the Soviet Union.
Georgians call themselves Kartvelebi (ქართველები), their land Sakartvelo (საქართველო), and their language Kartuli (ქართული). According to The Georgian Chronicles, the ancestor of the Kartvelian people was Kartlos, the great grandson of the Biblical Japheth. Ancient Greeks (Strabo, Herodotus, Plutarch, Homer, etc.) and Romans (Titus Livius, Cornelius Tacitus, etc.) referred to western Georgians as Colchians and eastern Georgians as Iberians.
Most historians and scholars of Georgia as well as anthropologists, archaeologists and linguists tend to agree that the ancestors of modern Georgians inhabited the southern Caucasus and northern Anatolia since the Neolithic period. Scholars usually refer to them as Proto-Kartvelian (Proto-Georgians such as Colchians and Iberians) tribes. Some European historians of the 19th century (e.g., Wilhelm von Humboldt and Paul Kretschmer) as well as Georgian scholars (R. Gordeziani, S. Kaukhchishvili and Z. Gamsakhurdia) came to the conclusion that Proto-Kartvelians might be related linguistically and culturally to the indigenous (pre-Indo-European) peoples of ancient Europe including the Pelasgians, Etruscans and Proto-Basques.
The Georgian people in antiquity have been known to the ancient Greeks and Romans as Colchians and Iberians. East Georgian tribes of Tibarenians-Iberians formed their kingdom in 7th century BCE. However, western Georgian tribes (Moschians, Suanians, Mingrelians and others) established the first Georgian state of Colchis (circa 1350 BCE) before the foundation of the Iberian Kingdom in the east. According to the numerous scholars of Georgia, the formations of these two early Georgian kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia, resulted in the consolidation and uniformity of the Georgian nation.
- The ancient Jewish chronicle by Josephus mentions Georgians as Iberes who were also called Thobel (Tubal).
- Diauehi in Assyrian sources and Taochi in Greek. Lived in the northeastern part of Anatolia, a region that was part of Georgia. This ancient tribe is considered by many scholars as ancestors of the Georgians. The Georgians of today still refer to this region, which now belongs to present-day Turkey, as Tao-Klarjeti, an ancient Georgian kingdom. Some people there still speak the Georgian language.
- Colchians in the ancient western Georgian Kingdom of Colchis. First mentioned in the Assyrian annals of Tiglath-Pileser I and in the annals of Urartian king Sarduri II. Also included western Georgian tribe of the Meskhetians.
According to the scholar of the Caucasian studies Cyril Toumanoff:
Colchis appears as the first Caucasian State to have achieved the coalescence of the newcomer, Colchis can be justly regarded as not a proto-Georgian, but a Georgian (West Georgian) kingdom ... It would seem natural to seek the beginnings of Georgian social history in Colchis, the earliest Georgian formation.
Caucasian variety - I have taken the name of this variety from Mount Caucasus, both because its neighborhood, and especially its southern slope, produces the most beautiful race of men, I mean the Georgian; and because all physiological reasons converge to this, that in that region, if anywhere, it seems we ought with the greatest probability to place the autochthones (birth place) of mankind.
Georgians who have historically lived in alpine areas of less sunny western Georgia, especially Svans, Gurians, and Mingrelians tend to have lighter features, with higher frequency of blond hair and light blue or green eyes.
A study of human genetics by Battaglia, Fornarino, al-Zahery, et al. (2009) suggests that Georgians have the highest percentage of Haplogroup G (30.3%) among the general population recorded in any country. Georgians' Y-DNA also belongs to Haplogroup J2 (31.8%), Haplogroup R1a (10.6%), and Haplogroup R1b (9.1%).
Language and linguistic subdivisions
Georgian is the primary language for Georgians of all provenance, including those who speak other Kartvelian languages: Svans, Mingrelians and the Laz. The language known today as Georgian is a traditional language of the eastern part of the country which has spread to most of the present-day Georgia after the post-Christianization centralization in the first millennium AD, today Georgians regardless of their ancestral region use Georgian as their official language. The regional languages Svan and Mingrelian are languages of the west that were traditionally spoken in the pre-Christian Kingdom of Colchis, but later lost importance as the unified Kingdom of Georgia emerged. Their decline is largely due to the capital of the unified kingdom, Tbilisi, being in the eastern part of the country known as Kingdom of Iberia effectively making the language of the east an official language of the Georgian monarch.
Georgian dialects include Imeretian, Racha-Lechkhumian, Gurian, Adjarian, Imerkhevian (in Turkey), Kartlian, Kakhetian, Ingilo (in Azerbaijan), Tush, Khevsur, Mokhevian, Pshavian, Fereydan dialect in Iran in Fereydunshahr and Fereydan, Mtiuletian, Meskhetian and Javakhetian dialect.
According to Orthodox tradition, Christianity was first preached in Georgia by the Apostles Simon and Andrew in the 1st century. It became the state religion of Kartli (Iberia) in 337. At the same time, in the first centuries C.E., the cult of Mithras, pagan beliefs, and Zoroastrianism were commonly practiced in Georgia. The conversion of Kartli to Christianity is credited to St. Nino of Cappadocia. Christianity gradually replaced all the former religions except Zoroastrianism, which become a second established religion in Iberia after the Peace of Acilisene in 378. The conversion to Christianity eventually placed the Georgians permanently on the front line of conflict between the Islamic and Christian world, while allying themselves permanently with the Eastern Roman Empire. Georgians remained mostly Christian despite repeated invasions by Muslim powers, and long episodes of foreign domination.
As was true elsewhere, the Christian church in Georgia was crucial to the development of a written language, and most of the earliest written works were religious texts. Medieval Georgian culture was greatly influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy and the Georgian Orthodox Church, which promoted and often sponsored the creation of many works of religious devotion. These included churches and monasteries, works of art such as icons, and hagiographies of Georgian saints.
Today, 83.9% of the Georgian population, most of whom are ethnic Georgian, follow Eastern Orthodox Christianity. However, many Georgians nominally identify themselves with Orthodox Christianity for traditional, cultural and historical reasons, with an estimated quarter of the population stating that religion does not necessarily play an important role in their day-to-day life. Additionally, as of 2010, only 32% of the country's population attended religious services, suggesting strong secular influences.
A sizable Georgian Muslim population exists in Adjara. This autonomous Republic borders Turkey, and was part of the Ottoman Empire for a longer amount of time than other parts of the country. Those Georgian Muslims practice the Sunni Hanafi form of Islam. Islam has however declined in Adjara during the 20th century, due to Soviet anti-religious policies, cultural integration with the national Orthodox majority, and strong missionary efforts by the Georgian Orthodox Church. Islam remains a dominant identity only in the eastern, rural parts of the Republic. In the early modern period, converted Georgian recruits were often used by the Persian and Ottoman Empires for elite military units such as the Mameluks, Kizilbash, and ghulams. The Georgians in Iran are all reportedly Shia Muslims today, while the Georgian minority in Turkey are mostly Sunni Muslim.
The Georgian cuisine is specific to the country, but also contains some influences from other European culinary traditions, as well as those from the surrounding Western Asia. Each historical province of Georgia has its own distinct culinary tradition, such as Megrelian, Kakhetian, and Imeretian cuisines. In addition to various meat dishes, Georgian cuisine also offers a variety of vegetarian meals.
The importance of both food and drink to Georgian culture is best observed during a Caucasian feast, or supra, when a huge assortment of dishes is prepared, always accompanied by large amounts of wine, and dinner can last for hours. In a Georgian feast, the role of the tamada (toastmaster) is an important and honoured position.
In countries of the former Soviet Union, Georgian food is popular due to the immigration of Georgians to other Soviet republics, in particular Russia. In Russia all major cities have many Georgian restaurants and Russian restaurants often feature Georgian food items on their menu.
Geographic subdivisions and subethnic groups
The Georgians have historically been classified into various subgroups based on the geographic region which their ancestors traditionally inhabited.
Even if a member of any of these subgroups moves to a different region, they will still be known by the name of their ancestral region. For example, if a Gurian moves to Tbilisi (part of the Kartli region) he will not automatically identify himself as Kartlian despite actually living in Kartli. This may, however, change if substantial amount of time passes. For example, there are some Mingrelians who have lived in the Imereti region for centuries and are now identified as Imeretian or Imeretian-Mingrelians.
Last names from mountainous eastern Georgian provinces (such as Kakheti, etc.) can be distinguished by the suffix –uri (ური), or –uli (ული). Most Svan last names typically end in –ani (ანი), Mingrelian in –ia (ია), -ua (უა), or -ava (ავა), and Laz in –shi (ში).
|Name||Name in Georgian||Geographical region||Dialect or Language|
|Imeretians||იმერელი imereli||Imereti||Imeretian dialect|
|Kartlians||ქართლელი kartleli||Kartli||Kartlian dialect|
|Megrelians||მეგრელი megreli||Samegrelo||Megrelian language|
|Svans||სვანი svani||Svaneti||Svan language|
|Gurians||გურული guruli||Guria||Gurian dialect|
|Adjarians||აჭარელი achareli||Adjara||Adjarian dialect|
|Meskhetians||მესხი meskhi||Meskheti (Samtskhe)||Meskhian dialect|
|Lechkhumians||ლეჩხუმელი lechkhumeli||Lechkhumi||Lechkhumian dialect|
|Rachians||რაჭველი rachveli||Racha||Rachian dialect|
|Kakhetians||კახელი kakheli||Kakheti||Kakhetian dialect|
|Khevsurians||ხევსური khevsuri||Khevsureti||Khevsurian dialect|
|Tushs||თუში tushi||Tusheti||Tushetian dialect|
|Pshavians||ფშაველი pshaveli||Pshavi||Pshavian dialect|
|Mokhevians||მოხევე mokheve||Khevi||Mokhevian dialect|
|Javakhians||ჯავახი javakhi||Javakheti||Javakhian dialect|
The 1897 Russian census (which accounted people by language), had Imeretian, Svan and Mingrelian languages separate from Georgian. During the 1926 Soviet census, Svans and Mingrelians were accounted separately from Georgian. Svan and Mingrelian languages are both Kartvelian languages and are closely related to the national Georgian language.
Outside of modern Georgia
Laz people also may be considered Georgian based on their geographic location and religion. According to the London School of Economics' anthropologist Mathijs Pelkmans, Lazs residing in Georgia frequently identify themselves as "first-class Georgians" to show pride, while considering their Muslim counterparts in Turkey as "Turkified Lazs".
|Subethnic groups||Georgian name||Settlement area||Language
|Number||Difference(s) from mainstream Georgians
(other than location)
|Laz people||ლაზი lazi||Chaneti (Turkey)||Laz language||250,000-500,000||Religion: Muslim|
|Fereydani||ფერეიდანი Pereidani||Fereydan (Iran)||Pereidnuli dialect||100,000 + ||Religion: Muslim|
|Chveneburi||ჩვენებური chveneburi||Black Sea Region (Turkey)||Georgian language||91,000–1,000,000||Religion: Muslim|
|Ingiloy people||ინგილო ingilo||Saingilo (Azerbaijan)||Ingiloan dialect||12,000||Religion: Muslim majority, Orthodox minority|
|Shavshians||შავში shavshi||Shavsheti (Turkey)||Imerkhevian dialect|
|Klarjians||კლარჯი klarji||Klarjeti (Turkey)||Imerkhevian dialect|
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