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History of Iranian-Georgian Reations

part 2

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In seeking to weaken Christianity, Persian rulers involved themselves in the internal affairs of the Christian churches in the Caucasus. They tried to take advantage of disputes among Christians by offering protection to the Monophysites, who were opposed to the Chalcedonian doctrines patronized by the Byzantine emperors, and they promoted unity among the Armenian, Albanian, and Georgian churches in order to extend their control more easily over them. Under Persian pressure the three churches adopted the Monophysite doctrines at Dvin in 506 (Berdzenishvili et al., I, p. 136), but when Persian vigilance slackened, the Chalcedonians rose again, and by the end of the 6th century Monophysitism in Georgia had all but disappeared.

Religious controversy was intertwined with political struggle in the 5th century. The leading champion of Georgian independence was King Vakhtang I (447-522; Toumanoff, 1990, p. 378), who was called Gorgasar ”wolf-headed”‌ (Gorgasa in Georgian) by the Persians, because of the shape of the helmet he wore. Married to a Persian princess, he guarded the northern passes through Kartli and participated in Persian campaigns against Byzantium between 455 and 458 and in India, probably in Pؤ“rإچz’s wars against the Hephthalites in 474-76 (Dzhuansheriani, pp. 84-89). But loyalty had its limits. Vakhtang resented Persian encroachments on his independence and reinforced his position by supporting autocephalous status for the Georgian Church and by uniting western Georgia with Kartli (Muskhelishvili, p. 211). In 482 he led a general uprising against his suzerain and declared war on ”Persian Christianity,”‌ that is, Monophysitism. But he was defeated, and his country was ravaged by Persian punitive expeditions in 483 and 484 (Toumanoff, 1963, p. 365). After a short exile he made peace with the great king Balash (q.v.) in 485 and returned to Kartli, but when Kavad I (488-96, 498-531) summoned him as a vassal to join in a new campaign against Byzantium, he refused. Their dispute may be related in part to Kavad’s efforts to force Mazdaism upon the Georgians. When Kavad attacked Kartli in 517-18, Vakhtang appealed to Justin I for help, but the Byzantines provided none, and he fled to Lazika, where he probably died in 522 (Frye, p. 152).

Byzantium and Persia continued their contest for supremacy in the Caucasus. War broke out in 526 and ended with the cession of Iberia to Persia in 532. But ل¸´osrow I Anإچshiravan (532-79) was eager to reach the Black Sea and in 542 moved through Iberia at the head of a large army toward Lazika and Colchis (Berdzenishvili et al., I, p. 120). The Byzantines countered by invading Persia and forcing ل¸´osrow to make peace in 546. Once again it was merely a truce.

The Byzantine-Persian rivalry had baleful consequences for Iberia. In 580 Hormozd IV (579-90) abolished the monarchy after the death of King Bakur (Dzhuansheriani, p. 97), and Iberia became a Persian province. Hormozd at first had the support of the great nobles, but rather than receiving the enhanced privileges promised them, they were subjected to heavy taxation and a restrictive administration headed by a Persian-appointed governor (marzban). When, therefore, the Byzantine emperor Maurice attacked Persia in 582 many Georgian nobles urged him to revive the kingdom of Iberia, but in 591 Maurice and Khusrau II Parvؤ“z (590, 591-628) agreed to divide Iberia between them, with Tbilisi to be in Persian hands and Mtskheta, the old capital, to be under Byzantine control (Dzhuansheriani, pp. 98-99).

At the beginning of the 7th century the truce between Byzantium and Persia collapsed. Stepanoz I, Prince of Iberia (ca. 590-627), decided in 607 to join forces with Persia in order to reunite all the territories of Iberia, a goal he seems to have accomplished. But Emperor Heraclius’s offensive between 622 and 628 brought victory over the Georgians and Persians and ensured Byzantine predominance in western and eastern Georgia until the invasion of the Caucasus by the Arabs.

The Arabs reached Iberia about 645 and forced its prince, Stepanoz II (637-c. 650) to abandon his allegiance to Byzantium and recognize the caliph as his suzerain. Iberia thus became a tributary state, and an Arab amir was installed in Tbilisi about 653 (Balaل¸ڈori, Fotuhá, pp. 201-2; ل¹¬abari, I, p. 2674).

Between the Arabs’ consolidation of their position in eastern Georgia in the 730s and the emergence of the Safavid dynasty in Persia at the beginning of the 16th century the Georgian kingdom was revived, experienced a period of glory, and then declined in the face of powerful new enemies. At the beginning of the 9th century, Ashot I (813-30) of the new Bagratid dynasty (see BAGRATIDS), from his base in southwestern Georgia, took advantage of the weakness of the Byzantine emperor and the Arab caliph to establish himself as hereditary prince of Iberia. A successor, Bagrat III (1008-14), brought the various principalities together to form a united Georgian state, and David II ”the Builder”‌ (1089-1125), laid the foundations for Georgia’s golden age during the reign of Queen Tamara (1184-1213). Georgia’s decline began with the Mongol invasions of the 1220s, and, despite brief revivals, it proved inexorable. The rise of the Ottoman Turks and their capture of Constantinople in 1453 raised up a powerful new military threat to Georgia at a time when, at the end of the 15th century, the country had been fragmented into three kingdoms (Kartli, Kakheti, and Imereti) and the duchy of Samtskhe-Saatbago.

At the beginning of the 16th century Georgia once again lay in the precarious middle ground between two powerful enemies, the Ottoman Turks to the west and the Persian Safavids to the east. The two powers were themselves constantly at war (1514-55, 1578-90, 1602-18, 1623-39), with control of Georgia one of their objectives. Mainly under the leadership of the kings of Kartli the Georgians carried on a valiant, but unequal struggle to maintain their independence (for an overview of Georgia’s economic and political situation between Persia and the Ottoman Empire in the 16th–17th centuries, see Dumbadze, ed., pp. 85-186).

At first, the initiative lay with the Safavids. Shah Esmail I (907-30/1501-24), the founder of the dynasty, sent raiding expeditions into Georgia, notably in 1518, but he was too preoccupied with consolidating his hold on power at home to pursue more ambitious undertakings in the Caucasus (Mozل¹‌ar, ed., pp. 109, 542-45, 555, 557; ل¸¤asan Rumlu, ed. Navaت¾i, pp. 218-19, 225; Brosset, II/1, p. 446). Shah ل¹¬ahmasb I (930-84/1524-76), who launched four campaigns against Georgia between 1540 and 1554, inaugurated the systematic extension of his dynasty’s control over Georgia. All four expeditions were costly for the Georgians. In the first, 947/1540-41, Persians captured Tbilisi and plundered it and the surrounding region. They repeated these practices during subsequent expeditions in 953/1546-47, 958/1551, and 961/1553-54. Much booty was taken, especially from Georgian churches, and ل¹¬ahmasb claimed as his rightful share the wives, daughters, and sons of the nobility, instead of the usual one-fifth of the treasure (Eskandar Beg, I, pp. 84-90, tr. Savory, I, pp. 140-44, 146; ل¸¤asan Rumlu. ed. Navaت¾i, pp. 383-85; Brosset, II/1, pp. 445-53, based on Eskandar Beg’s account with notes and commentary; on the importance of Eskandar Beg’s work for the history of Georgia, see Puturidze). The death, probably in 1558, of King Luarsab I (1534-57; Lovarsab in Eskandar Beg) brought a temporary end to the hostilities.

To be continued ...


Other Links:

Eastern Iranian Languages: part 1

Eastern Iranian Languages: part 2

Eastern Iranian Languages: part 3

Eastern Iranian Languages: part 4

Jade in Iran

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