Mirian III of Iberia

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Mirian III
King Mirian III.jpg
22nd King of Iberia
PredecessorAspacures I of Iberia
SuccessorSauromaces II of Iberia
Bornc. 277
SpouseAbeshura of Iberia
Nana of Iberia
IssueRev II of Iberia
Aspacures II of Iberia
Anonymous daughter
DynastyChosroid dynasty
ReligionGeorgian Orthodox Church

Mirian III (Georgian: მირიან III) was a king of Iberia or Kartli (Georgia), contemporaneous to the Roman emperor Constantine the Great (r. 306–337). He was the founder of the royal 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. After Christianization of Iberia he is credited with establishment of Christianity as his kingdom's state religion and is regarded by the Georgian Orthodox Church as saint and is canonized as Saint Equal to the Apostles King Mirian (Georgian: წმინდა მოციქულთასწორი მეფე მირიანი).[1][2]

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.[3][4]


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.[3][4]

Dynastic origin[edit]

Mirian was an Iranian prince of the House of Mihran, one of the Seven Great Houses of Iran, who were distantly related to the Sasanian dynasty.[5][6][7] In 284, the Sasanians secured the Iberian throne for Mirian, and laid the foundation for Mihranid rule in Iberia, which would last into the sixth century.[8] Thus, the Chosroid dynasty of which Mirian III became its first head in 284, was a branch of the Mihranid princely family.[9]

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". 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.[3]

Early reign[edit]

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.[10] This association was cemented by Mirian's conversion to Christianity[11]—according to tradition—through the ministry of Nino, a Cappadocian nun.[1] Nevertheless, as Ammianus Marcellinus recounts, Constantine's successor, Constantius, had to send in 360 embassies with costly presents to Arsaces of Armenia and Meribanes of Iberia to secure their allegiance during the confrontation with Iran.[12]

Conversion to Christianity[edit]

The burials of King Mirian and Queen Nana at Samtavro church in Mtskheta

Mirian's conversion to Christianity might have occurred in 334, followed by the declaration of Christianity as Iberia's state religion in 337.[4] 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.[3][13]

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.[14] 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.[13] According to tradition, Mirian and his wife Nana were interred at the Samtavro convent in Mtskheta, where their tombs are still shown.[2]


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.[15]


  1. ^ a b Lang, David Marshall (1956), Lives and legends of the Georgian saints, pp. 13-39. London: Allen & Unwin
  2. ^ a b 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)" Archived 2012-03-06 at the Wayback Machine, in The Lives of the Georgian Saints Archived 2008-06-14 at the Wayback Machine. Pravoslavie.Ru. Retrieved on April 15, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d Rapp, Stephen H. (2003), Studies In Medieval Georgian Historiography: Early Texts And Eurasian Contexts, pp. 293-295. Peeters Publishers, ISBN 90-429-1318-5
  4. ^ a b c Toumanoff, Cyril (1967). Studies in Christian Caucasian History, pp. 83-84, 377. Georgetown University Press.
  5. ^ Rapp, Stephen H. (2003). Studies in Medieval Georgian Historiography: Early Texts and Eurasian Contexts. Peeters Publishers. p. 154. ISBN 978-9042913189. Mirian III, the first Christian king of the K'art'velians. He was a Mihranid Iranian prince who became king through his marriage to a K'art'velian princess.
  6. ^ Lenski, Noel. (2003) Failure of Empire: Valens and the Roman State in the Fourth Century A.D. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0520928534 "(...) they successfully asserted their claim by crowning a Persian dynast named Mirian III. Mirian, founder of the Mihranid dynasty, which ruled Iberia into the sixth century (...)"
  7. ^ Bowman, Alan; Peter, Garnsey; Cameron, Averill (2005). The Cambridge Ancient History: Volume 12, The Crisis of Empire, AD 193-337. Cambridge University Press. p. 489. ISBN 978-0521301992. In 284 the Iberian throne passed to Meribanes III, a member of the Iranian Mihranid family.
  8. ^ Toumanoff, Cyril (1963). Studies in Christian Caucasian history. Georgetown University Press. p. 149. (...) Sasanian diplomacy was successful in securing, at that very time, the throne of Iberia for a branch of the Iranian house of Mihran (...)
  9. ^
    • Toumanoff, Cyril. Chronology of the Early Kings of Iberia. Traditio 25 (1969), p. 22.
    • Yarshater (1983), p. 520
    • Charles Allen Burney, David Marshall Lang (1971), p. 205
    • Pourshariati (2008), p. 44
    • Hussey, Joan M. (1966), p. 597
    • Rapp, Stephen H. (2003), p. 154
    • Bardakjian & La Porta. (2014), p. 195
  10. ^ Suny, Ronald Grigor (1994), The Making of the Georgian Nation (2nd ed.), Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, p. 15, ISBN 0-253-20915-3
  11. ^ Lenski, Noel Emmanuel (2002), Failure of empire: Valens and the Roman state in the fourth century A.D., p. 157. University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-23332-8
  12. ^ Hamilton, Walter (1986), The Later Roman Empire (A.D. 354-378) By Ammianus Marcellinus, p. 215. Penguin Classics, ISBN 0-14-044406-8
  13. ^ a b Thomson, Robert W. (1996), Rewriting Caucasian History, pp. 83-90. Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-826373-2
  14. ^ Amidon, Philip R. (1997), The church history of Rufinus of Aquileia, books 10 and 11, p. 48. Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-511031-5
  15. ^ Toumanoff, Cyril (1969), Chronology of the Early Kings of Iberia. Traditio 25: pp. 21-23.


Preceded by
Aspacures I
King of Iberia
(with Rev II and Salome as co-rulers, 345–361)
Succeeded by
Sauromaces II