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History of Kartli

Kartli is the Georgian name for the eastern Georgian kingdom known to the classical world as Iberia. The name is derived from the powerful Georgian tribe, the Karts, who emerged in the eastern part of the country in the eighth or seventh century ВС. The Georgian name of the Georgian nation is Sakartvelo (land of the Kartvel-ebi). The names of both the country and the people are derived from the principal province and the tribe that first settled there.

The Iberian or Kartlian Kingdom with its capital at Mtskhela-Armazi came into existence in approximately the sixth century ВС. Iberia-Kartli maintained contact with the Greeks, Achaemenid Persia, the Seleucids, Arsacid Iran, the Pontics, and many others. In the third century ВС the first king of Iberia-Kartli, Parnavazi, rose to power in Mtskheta-Armazi, establishing his dynasty over rival Iberian princes. As a result of the political organization created by Parnavazi, the differences between Georgian tribes were reduced and the tribes were gradually assimilated into the dominant Kartveli group.

In the first century ВС, because of Pompey's punitive expedition into the South Caucasus, Kartli-lberia fell under Roman domination. However, by the last decade of the first century AD Kartli-lberia was recognized as an ally of Rome, not a vassal state required to pay taxes. In 298 the Romans and Iranians signed the Peace of Nisibis, making Kartli-lberia a dependent stale of Rome but putting an Iranian candidate, Mirian, on the throne. The orientation of Kartli-lberia to Rome allowed for the subsequent advent of Christianity, when St. Nino arrived preaching the gospel in 328. King Mirian converted in 334, and Christianity became the state religion of Kartli-lberia. In 588 the Byzantine emperor Maurice restored Kartli-Iberia's autonomy after having defeated the Iranians, but instead of re-establishing the monarchy he appointed a ruling prince named Guaram (588-602). Byzantium and Iran reached an agreement in 591 that split Kartli-lberia between them: one region with the capital in Mtskheta ruled by a Byzantine appointee and the other ruled by Iran in Tbilisi. Guaram's son Stepanoz I (602-627) deserted the Byzantine camp and gave his allegiance to the Iranians, thus reuniting Kartli-lberia. Emperor Heraclius 1 (610-641) sent a punitive expedition to Kartli-lberia, captured Stepanoz I, and flayed him alive. Adarnase I of Kakheti was appointed ruler of Kartli-lberia, and Byzantium continued to wield authority over this region until the Arab invasions twenty years later.

The Arabs captured the Kartli-Iberian capital of Tbilisi in 645. Byzantium had no intention of giving up its interests in the Caucasus, and for the next two centuries Kartli-Iberia was the prize for which the Byzantine and Arab armies constantly contended. By the end of the eighth century, local Georgian lords had wrested a degree of autonomy and ruled their individual regions as they saw fit, while the Arabs controlled the cities, including Tbilisi.

The tenth century saw the rise, in Tao, of the powerful new Bagratid prince David. Favored by the Byzantine emperor Basil II (975-1025), David was ultimately instrumental in helping Bagrat III become the first king of a united Abkhazeti and Kartli- Iberia. In 1068, however, the Seljuk Turks from Iran began incursions into Kartli, Tbilisi was captured and given to a Moslem emir. It remained in Moslem hands until the greatest of all Georgian kings, David the Builder (1089-1125), ascended the throne and recaptured the city in 1122. He made Tbilisi the capital of an expanding empire, which came to encompass all the land from the Black Sea to the Caspian and from the Caucasus south through greater Armenia. He established seats of learning and was especially generous to the monastery of Shiomgvime in Kartli.

King David's great-granddaughter, Queen Tamara (1184-1212), ruled at the height of the Georgian empire's power and was instrumental in expanding her kingdom's borders and enriching its culture. When her son Giorgi IV Lasha took over in 1212, he inherited a kingdom that was respected throughout Christendom and the Middle East.

The success was short-lived, however, with the coming of the Mongol invasions. By the end of the 15th century, Georgia was divided into three kingdoms: Kartli, Imereti, and Kakheti. The country was not to be reunited until the beginning of the 19th century when it was annexed by Russia.