Научная статья на тему 'Abkhazia and the Abkhazians in the common Georgian ethno-cultural, political, and state expanse'

Abkhazia and the Abkhazians in the common Georgian ethno-cultural, political, and state expanse Текст научной статьи по специальности «История и археология»

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Аннотация научной статьи по истории и археологии, автор научной работы — Papaskiri Zurab

The author offers a scientifically generalized review of the past of Abkhazia and the Abkhazians based on his in-depth analysis of historical sources and the available historiographic heritage to present the region’s ethno-cultural and national-state makeup from ancient times to 1993. He pays special attention to those issues of Abkhazian (Georgian) history that still ignite heated debates in contemporary historiography.

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Текст научной работы на тему «Abkhazia and the Abkhazians in the common Georgian ethno-cultural, political, and state expanse»



D.Sc. (Hist.), professor at Sukhumi University

(Tbilisi, Georgia).


PART I Abstract

The author offers a scientifically generalized review of the past of Abkhazia and the Abkhazians based on his in-depth analysis of historical sources and the available historiographic heritage to present the

region’s ethno-cultural and national-state makeup from ancient times to 1993. He pays special attention to those issues of Abkhazian (Georgian) history that still ignite heated debates in contemporary historiography.

I n t r o d u c t i o n

Fifteen years ago the tragic fratricidal war between Georgia and Abkhazia temporarily deprived Georgia of Abkhazia, one of the republic’s most picturesque sites. Much has been written about the Abkhazian tragedy since, however an all-round and exhaustive analysis of the 1992-1993 events is still to come.

The prerequisites of the Abkhazian-Georgian confrontation go back at least one hundred years. In the 1860s, the Russian Empire drew up a so-called state program aimed at breaking up the centuries-old Georgian-Abkhazian historical and cultural unity. In 1907, a book came out (traditionally ascribed to N. Voronov) under the provocative title of Abkhazia—ne Gruzia (Abkhazia is not Georgia).

In the 1920s, the separatist-minded groups of the so-called Abkhazian people’s intelligentsia took up the formula to develop it into what was described as program works by S. Basaria1 and S. Ashkhatsava.2 Their deliberations about Abkhazia’s past served as historiographic justification of the “state independence” of the Abkhazian S.S.R. set up by the local Bolsheviks in March 1921. The domestic political climate of the 1950s in the U.S.S.R. revived the separatist ideology in Abkhazia: the “national” history of the Abkhazians, separate from the history of Georgia, reappeared on the agenda. Still, the two volumes of Ocherki istorii Abkhazskoy ASSR3 (Essays on the History of the Abkhazian A.S.S.R.) written by a group of Georgian and Abkhazian historians headed by outstanding

1 See: S. Basaria, Abkhazia v geograficheskom, ehnograficheskom i ekonomicheskom otnoshenii, Sukhum-Kale, 1923.

2 See: S.M. Ashkhatsava, Puti razvitia abkhazskoy istorii, Sukhum, 1925.

3 See: Ocherki istorii Abkhazskoy ASSR, Vol. I, Sukhumi, 1960; Vol. II, Sukhumi, 1964.


Abkhazian scholar, corresponding member of the Georgian Academy of Sciences Prof. G. Dzidzaria, firmly put the Abkhazian past into a common Georgian context.

The separatist sentiments persisted and even accelerated in the latter half of the 1960s when some Abkhazian and Russian historians, archeologists, and writers distorted the common past of the Georgians and Abkhazians and dwelt on mostly fictitious facts of Georgian pressure on the Abkhazians. They spoke of twelve or even twenty-five centuries of Abkhazian statehood and described the region as the homeland of only the Apsua-Abkhazians invested with the exclusive right to look after the present and future of their native land.

The Georgians were dismissed as newcomers; any attempt to describe them (along with the Abkhazians) as an autochthonous group was rejected as unscientific and pernicious. This had nothing in common with genuine scholarship. For this reason certain zealous historians and writers have failed to upturn the plain facts of history and bury the very memory of the centuries-long historical, cultural, and political unity between the Georgians and Abkhazians.

The science of history has never been and will never be free from disagreements over certain issues; the history of Abkhazia is no exception, but on the whole it has been studied in great detail (thanks to the efforts, in particular, of prominent Abkhazian historians Z. Anchabadze and G. Dzidzaria). This means that a radical revision of Abkhazia’s past is hardly possible, even though historians can and should probe deeper into the individual aspects of Abkhazian history. Such efforts are especially needed today: in the past, totalitarian ideological pressure made objective discussions of the history of Abkhazia (especially of the 19th and 20th centuries) next to impossible. Recently, Georgian historiography has been demonstrating an ever-growing interest in Abkhazian history discussed in very interesting works by T. Gamkrelidze, M. Lordkipanidze, D. Muskhelishvili,

E. Khoshtaria-Brosse, N. Lomouri, G. Tsulaia, G. Gasviani, T. Mubchuani, L. Toidze, A. Mente-shashvili, G. Lezhava, G. Zhorzholiani, J. Gamakharia, B. Gogia, Z. Papaskiri, B. Khorava, L. Akha-ladze, D. Chitaia, and others. The definitive work Studies of the History of Abkhazia/Georgia4 stands apart. It brought together between two covers the best generalizing works by prominent Georgian historians5 dealing with the major aspects of the history, archeology, and ethnography of contemporary Abkhazia.

This article uses the accumulated historiographic material to provide a general overview of the Abkhazian past and to demonstrate the true political, state, and ethno-cultural makeup of the territory now called Abkhazia from ancient times to 1993.

Ethnic Identity of the Earliest Population of Northwestern Colchis

The ethnic and tribal identity of the autochthonous population of what is now Abkhazia is one of the most complicated historiographic problems. Like all other Georgian regions, Abkhazia was

4 See: Studies of the History of Abkhazia/Georgia, Metzniereba Publishers, Tbilisi, 1999 (in Georgian).

5 The above-mentioned Ocherki istorii Abkhazskoy ASSR can be described as the first generalizing work on the history of Abkhazia from ancient times to the mid-20th century. Z. Anchabadze’s Ocherk etnicheskoy istorii abkhazko-go naroda, which appeared in 1976, and the textbook Istoria Abkhazii (Sukhumi, 1986) by Z. Anchabadze, G. Dzidzar-ia and A. Kuprava provided a general picture of the past of the Abkhazians even though the political and ideological context in which they appeared grossly distorted an objective exposition of the past (the history of the 19th and 20th centuries especially). The so-called textbooks on the history of Abkhazia published under the separatist regime cannot be described as objective either (Istoria Abkhazii. Uchebnoe pososbie, ed. by S. Lakoba, Sukhumi, 1991; Istoria Abkhazii.

S drevneyshikh vremen do nashikh deney. 10-H klassy. Uchebnik dlia obshcheobrazovatel’nykh uchebnykh uchrezh-deniy, Sukhumi, 2006).


populated during the Lower Paleolithic, that is, about half a million years ago. An analysis of the artifacts from the Early Paleolithic monuments of Abkhazia reveals their similarity to the contemporary collections from Central Colchis and the Rioni-Kvirila basin in particular. At the same time, “there is a certain similarity ... to the monuments of the Northwestern Caucasus and the Kuban area.”6

In the Late Paleolithic (about 35 thousand years ago), a unified Late Paleolithic culture took shape in Western Georgia, evidence of a certain ethno-cultural and linguistic communality.7 During the Mesolithic Age, Western Georgia (its northwestern part where Abkhazia is now situated) underwent further development. By that time the Caucasus had been divided into three territorial groups of monuments (Transcaucasian, Gubskaia, and Chokhskaia). The local features that had taken shape by that time at all the monuments of material culture are ascribed to the budding changes in the surmised Caucasian ethno-cultural unity.8

In the Neolithic Age, the material culture on the territory of contemporary Abkhazia revealed numerous common features with the Neolithic culture of Central and Southwestern Colchis.9 The distinctive features identified by archeologists are ascribed to the continued process of ethnic delimitation of the Caucasian population.10 It is thought that “the local specifics observed in the Late Neolithic culture probably indicate that the process of ethnic and linguistic delimitation was underway” and that “the main kindred groups of the Caucasian languages were being formed:” East Caucasian (so-called Pra-Nakho-Daghestani), West-Caucasian (or Pra-Adighe-Abkhazian), and South Caucasian (or Pra-Kartvelian).11

During the Early Bronze Age (approximately starting with the mid-third millennium B.C.), the so-called Dolmen Culture appeared and spread across what is now Abkhazia; it was limited to the northwestern part of Colchis and was never discovered to the south of the Azanta, near Sukhumi. It is believed that this was caused by ethnic shifts; according to some experts the Kaska tribes from the northeastern sector of Asia Minor who spoke the Proto-Hattic language moved to the territory of contemporary Abkhazia at the turn of the second millennium B.C.12 This led historians to surmise that the Kaska of Asia Minor, as well as the Abeshla tribes, mixed with the local kindred population to form the Abkhazian ethnos.13 At the same time, there is the opinion that the entire territory of historical Colchis (stretching from the western part of the Northern Caucasus to the northeastern regions of Asia Minor) was the homeland of the Abkhaz-Adighe-Hattic tribes.14

Georgian historians (O. Japaridze and others) have never denied that there was an inflow from the south, although they never accepted this as a decisive factor; by the same token they rule out significant ethnic shifts in northwestern Colchis.15 Indeed, the material culture of the dolmens was

6 O.M. Japadidze, “On the Ethno-Cultural Situation in the Northwestern Transcaucasus in the Stone and Early Metal Ages,” in: Studies of the History of Abkhazia/Georgia, p. 7.

7 See: Ibid., p. 8.

8 Ibid., p. 9.

9 See: K. Kalandadze, The Neolithic Culture of Western Georgia in the Light of Recent Archeological Discoveries, Tbilisi, 1986, pp. 15-49 (in Georgian); O.M. Japaridze, op. cit., p. 10.

10 See: G. Pkhakadze, “Eneolithic Remains of the Okum Cave,” in: Materials for the Archeology of Georgia and

the Caucasus, VII, Tbilisi, 1979, pp. 68-76 (in Georgian); O.M. Japaridze, op. cit., p. 11.

11 See: O.M. Japaridze, op. cit., p. 13.

12 See: L.N. Soloviev, “Novy pamiatnik kul’turnykh sviazey Kavkazskogo Prichernomor’ia v epokhu neolita i

bronzy—stoianki Vorontsovskikh peshcher,” in: Trudy ABNIIIALI AN Gruzinskoi SSR (Proceedings of the Abkhazian Scientific-Research Institute of Language, Literature and History of the Academy of Sciences of the Georgian S.S.R.), Sukhumi, 1958, pp. 135-164; Z.V. Anchabadze, Istoria i kul’tura drevney Abkhazii, Moscow, 1964, pp. 124-125.

13 See: Z.V. Anchabadze, Istoria i kul’tura drevney Abkhazii, pp. 120-126; Sh.D. Inal-ipa, Voprosy etno-kul’turnoy istorii abkhazov, Sukhumi, 1976, p. 120.

14 See: Sh.D. Inal-ipa, op. cit., p. 145; V.G. Ardzinba, V.F. Chirikba, “Proiskhozhdenie abkhazskogo naroda,” in: Istoria Abkhazii. Uchebnoe posobie, p. 11.

15 See: O.M. Japaridze, On Ethnic History of the Kartvelian Tribes, Tbilisi, 1976, pp. 299-301 (see also: G.A. Me-likishvili, On the Ancient Population of Georgia, the Caucasus and the Middle East, Tbilisi, 1965, p. 42) (both in Georgian).


obviously local—a direct indication that no serious ethnic changes took place in what is now Abkhazia.16 Georgian archeologists, however, do not exclude certain local specifics to the north of the Gumista River and explain them by the arrival of the first wave of Abkhaz-Adighe tribes. The main population was of Kartvelian origin (the Megrelo-Chans, Svans, and others). Academician S. Ja-nashia, whose scholarly authority was never questioned among the Abkhazians, wrote at one time that the Kartvelian (Megrelo-Chan) population predated the Abkhaz-Adighes on the territory of contemporary Abkhazia.17

Archeological finds to the north of the Gumista dated to the so-called Colchian Culture (about the 14th-7th centuries B.C.) reveal certain specific features which identified that area as a local region of the common Colchian Culture of the Late Bronze and Early Iron ages.18 At the same time, the area to the north of the Gumista largely remained part of the common West Georgian culture.19 This means that at the turn of the first millennium B.C. no serious ethnic shifts could occur in what is now Abkhazia (to say nothing of historical Colchis as a whole, something that Yu. Voronov suggested in his book).20 This is confirmed by anthropological data.21

It is much harder to decide which language the Bronze population of Abkhazia used. For a long time the academic community (P. Uslar, I. Javakhishvili, S. Janashia, A. Chikobava, K. Lom-tatidze, E. Bokarev, and others) remained convinced that the Caucasian languages were “genetically” related. Recently, however, this conviction was shattered: academics, some of them highly respected (G. Machavariani, T. Gamkrelidze, S. Nikolaev and S. Starostin, Kh. Fenrich, and others), reject the “genetic” kinship of the Kartvelian tongues with the North Caucasian languages. The idea of kinship of the North Caucasian languages with the ancient tongues of Asia Minor is gaining recognition among academics; until quite recently it was generally accepted that the Abkhaz-Adighe and Hattic tongues were close relatives (A. Militarev, S. Starostin, and Viach. Vs. Ivanov).

Purely linguistic data were studied, as well as the obvious similarity of the ethnonym “Kashki” with the medieval names of the Adighe-Circassians: Kasakhia—Kasakhi of Byzantine authors; Kashak—Kashakia of Arabian sources; Kosogi of the Old Russian chronicles; Kashagni of the Georgian chronicles, etc.22 On the strength of this it was usually surmised that the Kashkis of the Hittite cuneiform texts were related to the Abkhazian-Adighe tribes. This was seemingly in line with the fact that Assyrian cuneiform inscriptions of the 12th-11th centuries B.C. mention the Abeshla tribe, which, on the one hand, was interpreted as a variant (synonym) of Kashki and, on the other, was identified with the Apsil ethnonym (Apshil—Apsua).23

Recently, however, the idea about the kinship between the Kashki and Abeshla tribes and the Proto-Hittite (Hattic) population of Asia Minor was radically revised. According to one of the best experts in the Hattic-Anatolian world, academician G. Giorgadze, the Kashkis and Abeshla were not necessarily related to the Hattians. More likely than not they belonged to the Colchian (Kartvelian)

16 See: O.M. Japaridze, “On the Ethno-Cultural Situation.,” p. 14.

17 See: S.N. Janashia, “Tabal-tubal, Tibareni, Iberi,” in: Trudy., Vol. III, Tbilisi, 1959, p. 15 (in Georgian).

18 A specific burial rite in urns (clay vessels), so-called secondary burial, in particular (see: B.A. Kuftin, “Materialy k arkheologii Kolkhidy,” in: Tri etapa istorii kul’turnogo i etnicheskogoformirovaniafeodal’noyAbkhazii, Vol. I, Tbilisi, 1949, pp. 178-192; M.V. Baramidze, “Certain Problems of Archeology of the Western Transcaucasus in the Third-First Millennia B.C.,” in: Studies of the History of Abkhazia/Georgia, p. 31).

19 See: M.V. Baramidze, op. cit., p. 32.

20 See: Yu.N. Voronov, Abkhazy—kto oni? Gagra, 1993, p. 8.

21 See: M.G. Abdushelishvili, Antropologia drevnego i sovremennogo naselenia Gruzii, Tbilisi, 1964, p. 90 (for more detail, see: M.G. Abdushelishvili, “Antropologicheskiy analiz aborigennogo naselenia Kavkaza,” in: Trudy Moskovskogo obshchestva ispytateley prirody, Vol. XLIII, Moscow, 1972, p. 231; O.M. Japaridze, On Ethnic History..., p. 305).

22 See: G.G. Giorgadze, “Non-Indo-European Ethnic Groups (Hattians and the Kaska) in Ancient Anatolia According to Hittite Cuneiform Texts,” in: Studies of the History of Abkhazia/Georgia, p. 52 (see also: N.G. Volkova, Etnonimy i plemennye nazvania Severnogo Kavkaza, Tbilisi, 1973, p. 19).

23 See: Ibid., pp. 52-53.


ethnic world.24 He rejected a possible kinship between the Kashkis and Abeshla and the ancestors of the Adighe-Abkhazians25 on the strength that the “original place of the Hattians should not be sought in Asia Minor” but in the Northwestern Caucasus, from which “they probably moved to the northern part of Central Anatolia.”26

The above suggests that in the primitive age, starting with the Upper Paleolithic, the territory of contemporary Abkhazia was part of the area of a uniform material culture created, in all probability, by ethnically kindred tribes with common Caucasian roots. In the Bronze Age (or even earlier), a certain paleo-Caucasian ethnic communality was differentiated, which gave rise to local specifics inside the uniform material culture. This makes it possible to identify a local region on the territory of contemporary Abkhazia to the north of the Gumista created by the ethnically specific population of the region that differed from the rest of the regions of historical Colchis. The ancestors of the contemporary Abkhazians probably formed part of its ancient population. There are no doubts about the rest of Colchis, including part of Abkhazia to the south of the Gumista: these parts were populated by those who created the Colchian Culture (Megrelo-Chans, Svans, and other Kartvelian tribes). At the same time, Kartvelian tribes probably settled in the northern part of contemporary Abkhazia.

Ethnic Map and State-Political Makeup of Northwestern Colchis between the First Millennium B.C. and the 8th Century A.D.

The earliest written information about the tribes of the Northwestern Caucasus was supplied by Hecataeus of Miletus (in the 6th century B.C.) in his Periegesis (Tour Around the World), where he mentioned the “Kolas living on the lower slopes of the Caucasian Range and the Korakses living to the west of them.” In his Ethnica dictionary, Stephanus of Byzantium (the 6th century B.C.), who preserved bits and pieces of Hecataeus’ work, called them the Colchian tribes.27 Periplus of Pseudo-Scylax of Carianda (4th century B.C.) directly indicated that the territory “to the south of the Korakses and Kols between Dioscuria (now Sukhumi) and the Apsarosa River (the Chorokhi River) was populated by ... the Colchis in early antiquity.”28

It has been long established that the Colchis were a West Georgian (Megrelo-Chan) tribe even though some academics still insist that the Colchis were Abkhazians.29 It should be said that the term could be described as a blanket one for several (including some of the non-Kartvelian) tribes, yet the original ethnic content of the ethnonym “Colchis” presupposed the West Georgian Megrelo-Chan population and other Kartvelian tribes living within historical Colchis.

The above leaves no doubts about the fact that in the first millennium B.C. the territory of contemporary Abkhazia—its foothills and the coastal area—were populated by Western Kartvelian

24 See: Ibid., pp. 45-55.

25 See: Ibid., p. 55.

26 Ibid., pp. 48-49.

27 See: M.P. Inadze, “Problems of the Ethno-Political History of Ancient Abkhazia,” in: Studies of the History of Abkhazia/Georgia, p. 61.

28 Ibidem.

29 See: G.F. Turchaninov, Pamiatniki pisma i iazyki narodov Kavkaza i Vostochnoy Evropy, Leningrad, 1971; Ia.A. Fedorov, Istoricheskaia etnografia Severnogo Kavkaza, Moscow, 1983.


tribes3G: Kols, Korakses, Colchis, and probably Moskhs (Meskhs).31 Ancient Greek authors (Hellan-icos of Mytilene, 5th century B.C.) registered that at the same time the tribes of Geniokhs lived in northwestern Colchis. According to contemporary historians, they lived in the area stretching from the vicinity of Pitiunt (contemporary Bichvinta—Pitsunda) to the Akheunta River (the Shakhe, at what is now Tuapse).32 Most people believe that the Geniokhs were a Kartvelian (either Megrelo-Chan or Svan) tribe,33 however the ethnonym could serve as a blanket term for “tribes of various origins.”34 It seems that those Abkhazian academics who speak of a genetic kinship between the Geniokhs and ancient Abkhazians are wrong.35

In the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., the ethnic map of northeastern Colchis changed under the pressure of new tribes: the Sanigs (who used to live between Sukhumi-Sebastopolis and what is now Gantiadi).3fS Most of the academic community speaks of them as belonging to the Kartvelian ethnic world,37 even though it is thought that they may be of Abkaz-Adighe origin.38 The former offer the following argument: (1) The ethnonym “Sanigi” contains the easily identified root “sani” of the Meg-relo-Chan origin—the Greek form of the ethnonym “Chani” (“Wani”)39; (2) the oldest Georgian name of Dioscuria—Sebastopolis (contemporary Sukhumi)—Tskhumi means “hornbeam” in the Svan language.4G A Svan toponym could have appeared in the vicinity of Sukhumi-Dioscuria only if the place was populated by Svans. Since after the 8th century (the earliest mention of the “city of Apshileti-Tskhumi” in a Georgian chronicle) Tskhumi was no longer a Svan city (it was a city of the Apshileti-Apsilia) and it is hard to detect traces of Svan tribes in the vicinity of Sukhumi, we can surmise that the Svan toponym of Sukhumi should be dated to the period before the 8th century. There is every reason to say that the Svan name of Sukhumi can be related to the period prior to the 1st century B.C. when, according to ancient Greek geographer Strabo (б4 B.C.-A.D. 2G), “Svans dominated” the mountain peaks around Sukhumi-Dioscuria41; according to the practically documentary evidence of Flavius Arrianus, another Greek author of the 2nd century A.D., “Sebastopolis was situated” on the

30 See: M.P. Inadze, op. cit., p. 61; D.L. Muskhelishvili, “Historical Status of Abkhazia in Georgian Statehood,” in: Studies of the History of Abkhazia/Georgia, p. 115.

31 See: M.P. Inadze, op. cit., p. 67. It should be said that some Georgian historians (N. Lomouri is one of them) do not accept the fact that the Moskhs-Meskhs lived in northwestern Colchis (see: N.Yu. Lomouri, From the Ethno-Cultural History of Ancient Abkhazia, Tbilisi, 1998, pp. 20-30, in Georgian).

32 See: N. Lomouri alone disagrees with those who believe that the Geniokhs lived on the territory of contemporary Abkhazia (see: N.Yu. Lomouri, op. cit., pp. 10-20).

33 See: I.A. Orbeli, “Gorod bliznetsov ‘Dioscuria’ i plemia voznits ‘Geniokhov’,” Zhurnal Ministerstva narodnogo prosveshchenia, April 1911, pp. 200, 2008; N.Ia. Marr, “K istorii termina ‘abkhaz’,” in: Izvestia Akademii nauk, St. Petersburg, 1913, p. 327; P.I. Ingorokva, Georgi Merchule—Georgian Writer of the 10th Century, Tbilisi, 1954, p. 135 (in Georgian); G.A. Melikishvili, op. cit., pp. 63-68; idem, “K voprosu ob etnicheskoy prinadlezhnosti naselenia drevney Gruzii. Osnovnye etapy etno-sotsial’nogo razvitia gruzinskogo naroda,” in: Ocherki istorii Gruzii, Vol. I, Tbilisi, 1989, p. 183; B. Gigineishvili, “On the Origins of the Geniokh Ethnonym,” Matsne, History Series, No. 1, 1975, pp. 115-124 (in Georgian); M.P. Inadze, op. cit., pp. 67-69; D.L. Muskhelishvili, op cit., pp. 117, and others.

34 M.P. Inadze, op. cit., p. 68.

35 See: Z.V. Anchabadze, Istoria i kul’tura drevney Abkhazii, pp. 136-137, 173-176; Sh.D. Inal-ipa, op. cit., p. 188.

36 See: N.Yu. Lomouri, op. cit., p. 31.

37 See: I.A. Orbeli, op. cit., pp. 200-208; N.Ia. Marr, op. cit., p. 327; S.N. Janashia, “Tabal-tubal.,” pp. 11-15; P.I. Ingorokva, op. cit., p. 135; G.A. Melikishvili, op. cit., p. 67; M.P. Inadze, op. cit., pp. 69-70; N.Yu. Lomouri, op. cit., pp. 30-34.

38 See: Z.V. Anchabadze, Istoria i kul’tura drevney Abkhazii, p. 132; Z.V. Anchabadze, Iz istorii srednevekovoy Abkhazii (VI-XVII vv.), Sukhumi, 1959, pp. 15-16; Sh.D. Inal-ipa, op. cit., p. 35; Yu. Voronov, “Drevneabkhazskie ple-mena v rimsko-vizantiyskuiu epokhu,” in: Istoria Abkhazii, pp. 52-53.

39 See: N.Yu. Lomouri, op. cit., p. 33.

40 One cannot exclude another interpretation of the Tskhumi toponym through the Megrelo-Zan language (“tskhimuri” and “tkhumu” in Megrelian also mean tree species).

41 See: T.S. Kaukhchishvili, Strabo’s “Geography” about Georgia, Tbilisi, 1957, p. 126 (in Georgian).


lands of the Svans (that is, the Sanigs).42 Well-known information supplied by Claudius Ptolemy (2nd century A.D.) can serve as almost documentary confirmation that “Svano-Colchians,”43 a mixed Svano-Megrelian tribe of sorts,44 lived on the northern border of Colchis, to the northwest of Dioscuria, along the Korax River (the Bzyb in contemporary academic writings).

Information about the Apsils45 and Abazgas,4fS who probably lived on the territory between the rivers Galidzga and Kelasuri, first appeared in the written sources of the 1st-2nd centuries A.D.47 Later they moved to the northwest and in the 5Ш-бШ centuries A.D. were living somewhere in the Kodori (or the Kelasuri) and Bzyb interfluve.48 In the 8th century, the city of Tskhumi acquired the new name of Apshileti (Apsilia). Historians ascribe the northward shift of the Abazgas and Apsils by the pressure of the Lazian tribes.49

It was long believed that the Apsils and Abazgas were ancestors of the contemporary Abkhazians until a prominent Georgian philologist Pavel Ingorokva revised the earlier ideas in the 195Gs and argued that the Abazg-Abkhazes and Apsils of the Early Middle Ages were Kartvelian tribes.5G Official Georgian historiography, however, and particularly its leader of that time, Academician N. Ber-dzenishvili, treated Pavel Ingorokva’s hypothesis with a lot of caution and preferred the old interpretation.51 This is amply confirmed by all the definitive works on the history of Georgia-Abkhazia published in the 195Gs-198Gs starting with Ocherki istorii Abkhazskoy ASSR and ending with textbooks and other teaching aids on the history of Georgia (including History of Georgia, a textbook for students, ed. by Academician N. Berdzenishvili, Vol. I, Tbilisi, 1958, in Georgian) and the main work: eight volumes of a fundamental publication called Essays on the History of Georgia (ed. Academician G. Melikishvili) which never contested the idea that the Abazg-Apsils belonged to the Abkhazian-Adighe ethnic world. Pavel Ingorokva was severely criticized by Abkhazian academics.52 Recently some Georgian historians have been carried away by the idea of reviving Pavel Ingorokva’s hypothesis at all costs; so far they have not succeeded.

The problem of the ethnic identity of the Abazg-Apsils requires clarification of the terms “Abazg,” “Abkhaz,” “Abaza,” and “Apsil,” on the one hand, and “Apsar” and “Apsua,” on the other.

42 See: Flavius Arrianus, Travels around the Black Sea. Georgian translation, studies, commentaries and maps by N. Kechakmadze, Tbilisi, 19б1, p. 43.

43 N.Yu. Lomouri, “Claudius Ptolemy’s ‘Geography.’ Information about Georgia,” in: Materials on the History of Georgia and the Caucasus, Issue 32, Tbilisi, 1955, pp. 43-44 (in Georgian).

44 See: N.Yu. Lomouri, “Claudius Ptolemy’s ‘Geography’,” pp. 43-44; idem, From Ethno-Cultural History...,

p. 33.

45 See: Gaius Plynius Secundus, Estestvennaia istoria (Naturalis Historia), VI, p. 12; V.V. Latyshev, “Izvestia drevnikh pisateley o Skifii i Kavkaze,” Vestnik drevney istorii, No. 2, 1949, pp. 29G-291; Flavius Arrianus, op. cit., pp. 42-45.

46 See: Flavius Arrianus, op. cit., pp. 42-45.

47 See: N.Yu. Lomouri, From the Ethno-Cultural History..., p. 33. Recently Academician D.L. Muskhelishvili offered a different localization (see: D.L. Muskhelishvili, op. cit., p. 118).

48 See: G.A. Melikishvili, “Georgia in the 1st-3rd Centuries A.D.,” in: Essays on the History of Georgia, Vol. I, Tbilisi, 197G, pp. 545-54б (in Georgian); N.Yu. Lomouri, From the Ethno-Cultural History..., p. 33. N. Lomouri believes that some of the Apsils could also have “stayed behind” on the territory to the east of the Kodori (see: N.Yu. Lomouri, “Abkhazia in the Late Antique and Early Medieval Epochs,” in: Studies of the History of Abkhazia/Georgia, p. 95.)

49 See: G.A. Melikishvili, “Georgia in the 1st-3rd Centuries A.D..,” pp. 545-54б; N.Yu. Lomouri, From the Ethno-Cultural History..., p. 33.

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5G See: P.I. Ingorokva, op. cit., pp. 118-189.

51 See: N.A. Berdzenishvili, “About the Book by Pavel Ingorokva ‘Giorgi Merchule’,” Mnatobi, No. 12, 195б, pp. 125-131 (in Georgian).

52 See: Z.V. Anchabadze, “Voprosy istorii Abkhazii,” in: P. Ingorokva, “Georgi Merchule—gruzinskiy pisatel’ X veka,” in: Trudy Abkhazskogo instituta iazyka, literatury i istorii (Proceedings of the Abkhazian Institute of Language, Literature and History), Vol. XXVII, 195б, pp. 2б1-278; Kh.S. Bgazhba, “Nekotorye voprosy etnonimiki i toponimiki Abkhazii (V sviazi s rabotoi P. Ingorokva ‘Georgi Merchule’),” pp. 279-3G3; Sh.D. Inal-ipa, op. cit., pp. 5G-51, 4G6.


It was believed for a long time that the ethnonyms “Abazg,” “Abkhaz,” and “Abaza” were identical.53 The latter was associated with the “Apsua” ethnonym, which is believed to be derived from the phonetically kindred “Abaza.”54 Recently Academician T. Gamkrelidze voiced his serious doubts about the identity of the terms “Abazg” and “Abaza,” which he believes to be two independent terms. The Greek form “Abazg” is derived from the Georgian “Abkhaz,” by which he means not the ancestors of “Abaza”-“Apsua,” but a Western Kartvelian tribe.55 Today, the identical nature of the ethnonyms “Apsil,” “Ap-sar,” and “Apsua” is doubted. According to Academician D. Muskhelishvili, “Apsil” cannot be regarded as an equivalent of “Apsua;” he applies the term “Apsils” to a West Georgian tribe.56

The early medieval written sources mention the Misimian tribes living on the territory of contemporary Abkhazia (in the Kodori Gorge, beyond the Tsebelda). They obviously belonged to the Kartvelian (Svan) ethnic world since the Misimian ethnonym goes back to “Mushvan,” the Svans’ self-name. The efforts of certain Abkhazian historians to detach the Misimians, together with the Sanig-Geniokhs, from the Kartvelian ethnic world have nothing to do with strict academic logic. In the early Middle Ages, the Lazians also inhabited the territory of Abkhazia. They probably lived mainly in its southern areas, but we cannot exclude that some of them lived in the north (this is confirmed by the Staraia Lazika toponym that specialists localize at the mouth of the Negopsukho River, to the northwest of Tuapse).57

This means that starting around mid-first millennium B.C. (we have specific written Ancient Greek information about the ethnic situation in northwestern Colchis of those times), the territory of contemporary Abkhazia was inhabited only by Kartvelian (Colchian) tribes (Kols, Korakses, Colchi-ans proper, Geniokhs, and probably Moskhis-Meskhis. At the same time, the ethnonym “Colchians” could have been a blanket term extended to other Kartvelian and non-Kartvelian (the Abkhazo-Adighe tribes included) tribes. Starting in the 1st-2nd centuries, the Apsils and Abazgas (most believe that they were the ancestors of the contemporary Abkhazians) were registered on the territory of contemporary Abkhazia. It should be said that both occupied a limited area (at the first stage—in the 1st-2nd A.D.—somewhere between the rivers of Galidzga and Kelasuri). Later, by the 5th-6th centuries, they moved up north and settled between the rivers of Kodori (or Kelasuri) and Bzyb in the territory of contemporary Abkhazia. The Georgian tribes of Sanigs, Misimians, and Lazians comprised the bulk of the population living both in the south and in the north. It should be pointed out that it is unimportant whether or not the Apsils and Abazgas were ancestors of the contemporary Abkhazians, or whether contemporary Abkhazia was their original homeland. What is important is the fact that the Abkhaz-Adighe and Kartvelian (mainly Megrelo-Chan) tribes contributed to the emergence of the Abkhazian ethnos formed in the territory of contemporary Abkhazia.

It is equally obvious that from early antiquity to the 8th century (with short intervals) northwestern Colchis, or the territory of contemporary Abkhazian, remained part of the West Georgian (first the Colchian and then Lazian-Egrisi) political and state structures and that Abkhazians’ political and state activities proceeded within this expanse.

It is thought that the earliest states appeared on Georgian territory in at least the late second millennium B.C. It was at that time that Assyrian cuneiform texts first mentioned the “countries” of

53 See: K.S. Lomtatidze, “On the Origin of the Ethnonym ‘Abazg’,” in: Theses of the XLIX Scientific Conference of the Institute of Linguistics, Tbilisi, 1990, pp. 19-20 (in Georgian); O. Kakhadze, “Po povodu kornia Apkhaz/Apkhaza,” in: Inostrannaia i gruzinskaia terminologia, oboznachaiushchaia poniatiia “Gruzia” i “gruziny,” Tbilisi, 1993, pp. 551-564; E. Osidze, “K proiskhozhdeniiu etnonima Abask/abas,” in: Inostrannaia i gruzinskaia terminologia, pp. 565-570; T. Gvantseladze, “Eshche raz ob etnonime Abkhaz i sviazannykh s nim korniakh,” in: Inostrannaia i gruzinskaia terminologia, pp. 571-580.

54 See: T.V. Gamkrelidze, “Iz istorii plemennykh nazvanii drevnei Kolkhidy,” Matsne, History Series, No. 2, 1992, pp. 7-16.

55 See: Ibidem.

56 See: D.L. Muskhelishvili, op. cit., pp. 122-123.

57 See: Ibid., p. 118.


Daiaeni (later Diaukhi in the Urartu sources) and Kilkhi identified as Kolkha (Colchis) of the Argonauts period. About the 7th-6th centuries B.C. another state appeared in Western Georgia on the ruins of the Colchian alliance headed, according to Ancient Greek authors, by descendants of the legendary king Ayeta; it is surmised that its northwestern border should be sought in the vicinity of contemporary Tuapse, where Staraia Lazika was situated in the past. This clearly suggests that the territory of contemporary Abkhazia was part of the Colchian kingdom as an “organic ethnical and territorial sector” of the Colchian state.58 It seems that the opposite opinion (about an independent Abkhazian national state unit)59 is unfounded.

By the early 1st century B.C. there was no longer a united state in Colchis; it is commonly believed that the tribes united under the Colchian king had regained their independence by that time.60 It was at that time that Mithridates VI of Pontus had gained control over the territory of historical Colchis; in 65 B.C. Rome arrived in these places to establish its hegemony. In the 1st-2nd centuries A.D. new ethnopolitical units appeared in the territory of historical Colchis—the so-called kingdoms of Makrons and Geniokhs, Lazians, Apsils, Abazgas, and Sanigs. The territory of contemporary Abkhazia was divided among Lazika (approximately up to the River Galidzga), Apsilia and Abazgia (approximately between the rivers of Galidzga and Kelasuri), and Sanigia with the city of Sebastop-olis (contemporary Sukhumi), which stretched to Sochi or even to Tuapse.61 This means that the larger part of contemporary Abkhazia was occupied by the states of the Sanigs and Lazians (the tribes the Kartvelian origin of which is no longer contested). The kingdoms of the Apsils and Abazgas alone can be described as Abkhazian ethno-political units.

These were early class state units headed by dynasts appointed or endorsed by Rome. Around the 3rd century, the Kingdom of Lazika supported by the Roman authorities started its headlong movement into Western Georgia; by the late 4th century it had already spread throughout the entire territory (including contemporary Abkhazia) and become a fairly strong Lazian (Egrisi) Kingdom described by contemporary Byzantine authors as a legal heir to the ancient Colchian Kingdom. At that time (6th century A.D.) the territory of what is now Abkhazia remained an organic part of the Lazika-Egrisi state even though the rulers of Abazgia (found at that time within new borders—probably between the Gumista and Bzyb rivers) enjoyed a great share of sovereignty and merely formally accepted the Lazian kings as their sovereigns. Apsilia, in turn, remained an administrative part of Lazika and was ruled by officials appointed from the center.

In the 5th-6th centuries, the Byzantine Empire, which was seeking greater loyalty from the Las kings, encouraged the Abazgian rulers’ desire to shift their subordination from Lazika to the empire. It was probably at that time (first half of the 6th century) that the Byzantine authorities separated Abazgia and Egrisi religiously by setting up a diocese in Abazgia independent of the Las metropolitan. This and the political tension in Western Georgia caused by the Iranian-Byzantine war that had been going on for twenty years interfered with the political consolidation of the Egrisi state. A period of gradual decline set in. Throughout the second half of the 6th and first half of the 7th centuries, the Byzantine Empire was increasing its pressure on the central power of Lasika-Egrisi in an attempt to cut down its influence in the provinces. In the mid-7th century, however, Apsilia and Misiminia still remained under the direct control of the Lazika rulers; one of their residences was found at Mokva (now the Ochamchiri area).62

58 See: D.L. Muskhelishvili, op. cit., p. 119.

59 See: Yu.N. Voronov, Abkhazy—kto oni?, p. 21.

6G See: D.L. Muskhelishvili, op. cit.

61 See: G.A. Melikishvili, “Georgia in the 1st-3rd Centuries A.D.,” p. 545; M.P. Inadze, op. cit., p. б1; N.Yu. Lomouri, From the Ethno-Cultural History..., p. 33.

62 From the memoirs of Theodosius of Gangr in: Georgika. Information Supplied by Byzantine Authors about Georgia. The Georgian text was published and commented on by S. Kaukhchishvili, Vol. IV, Part 1, Tbilisi, 1941, p. 5G; T.G. Papuashvili, “Vzaimootnoshenia gruzin i abkhazov na fone politicheskoi obstanovki v Egrisi i Abkhazii v VII-VIII vv.,” in: G.A. Amichba, T.G. Papuashvili, Iz istorii sovmestnoi borby gruzin i abkhazov protiv inozemnykh zavoevatelei (VI-VIII vv.), Tbilisi, 1985, p. 58.


Such was the political and state makeup of Western Georgia-Abkhazia between the first millennium B.C. and about the early 8th century A.D. The quoted data testify beyond doubt that throughout this long period the territory of contemporary Abkhazia (politically and administratively) was part of the Georgian political and state entity. In the 6th-1st centuries B.C. it was part of the Colchian Kingdom. In the 4th century A.D., after a short interval of independence, small ethno-political units of Sanigs, Abazgas, and Apsils and later of Misimians that had sprung into existence at the turn of the 2nd century A.D. found themselves once more within a united Western Georgian state, the Lazian (Egrisi) Kingdom, where they remained almost until the early 8th century. Abaz-gia, which the Byzantine Empire had earlier (in the 6th century) removed from Lazika jurisdiction, was the only exception.

The Abkhazian Kingdom was a Georgian State

While the Lazian-Egrisi Kingdom was gradually losing its former influence after the twenty-year long (542-562) Iranian-Byzantine confrontation, Abazgia-Abkhazia was gaining strength in Western Georgia with the help of the Byzantine Empire. By the mid-730s, when famous Arabian warlord Mervan ibn-Muhammad burst into Western Georgia with a punitive expedition, there was no local dynast there. Lazika-Egrisi was considered part of the Kartli erismtavar. The borders of the state (which the sources for the first time called saqarTvelo (Georgia)63 ran along the Kelasuri River, beyond which lay Abkhazia, a Byzantine possession ruled by the emperor-appointed eristav.

The old Georgian historical tradition associates the Murvan Kru expedition to Western Georgia and its results with the changes in the country’s political and state structures. The Byzantine Empire, in particular, officially recognized Mihr and Archil, members of the ruling House of Kartli, as leaders of Georgia and kings of Kartli-Egrisi and made Leon, eristav of Abkhazia, a hereditary ruler of Abkhazia.64 It was at the same time that Caesar’s Eristav Leon married one of Mihr’s daughters, thus bringing the two ruling houses closer65; he also became an equal member of the ruling House of Kartli-Egrisi. The Abkhazian ruler went even further: he declined Archil’s offer of territorial possessions, who became the only official ruler of Kartli-Egrisi upon the death of Mihr, the elder of the two brothers, and announced himself a vassal of the Kartli erismtavar and his possessions, part of the state of King Archil. He was lavishly recompensed in the political respect with a royal crown the Byzantine emperor sent to his father-in-law Mihr.66 This pushed the Abkhazian ruler to the forefront of Georgian politics and made him de facto the second important person in the state after King Archil. His political career received a fresh impetus.

In this way, in the 730s Georgia received a new political and state context. Eastern and Western Georgia, including the territory to the north of the Kelasuri (that is, Abkhazia of that time), was legally united into one state headed by erismtavar Archil of the House of Kartli.67

63 See: Juansher Juansheriani, “Life of Vakhtang Gorgasal,” in: Kartlis Tskhovreba. Georgian text based on the main manuscripts prepared by Prof. S.G. Kaukhchishvili, Vol. I, Tbilisi, 1955, p. 235; idem, Life of Vakhtang Gorgasal, Translation, introduction, and comments by G.V. Tsulaia, Tbilisi, 1986, pp. 102-103.

64 See: Kartlis Tskhovreba, Vol. I, pp. 239-240; Juansher Juansheriani, Life of Vakhtang Gorgasal, pp. 104-105.

65 See: Kartlis Tskhovreba, Vol. I, pp. 242-243; Juansher Juansheriani, Life of Vakhtang Gorgasal, p. 106.

66 See: Kartlis Tskhovreba, Vol. I, p. 243; Juansher Juansheriani, Life of Vakhtang Gorgasal, p. 106.

67 For more detail, see: Z. Papaskiri, “Byzantine Diplomacy and Political Changes in Western Georgia in the First Half of the 8th Century,” in: Georgian Diplomacy. An Annual, Vol. IV. Tbilisi, 1997, pp. 300-308 (in Georgian); idem, “From Political History of Western Georgia-Abkhazia,” in: Z.V. Papaskiri, Abkhazia is Georgia, Tbilisi, 1998, pp. 114120 (in Georgian).


By the late 8th century, another member of the House of Leon, Leon II, nephew of Leon, skillfully used the growing weakness of the Byzantine Empire to detach his state from it with the help of the Khazars; he usurped power in the Egrisi-Abkhazeti state unified by his predecessor and announced himself the king of the Abkhazes.68 This was how the so-called Abkhazian kingdom came into being. It should be said that the early Georgian historical tradition unequivocally associated this act with a dynastic crisis in the royal House of Archil. According to the anonymous author of Matiane Kartlisa (an 11th-century chronicle), Leon II succeeded merely because “Iovan was dead, and Juan-sher had grown old. (Soon) after that he also died.”69 Since Leon II, the eristav of Abkhazia, called himself king of the Abkhazes (mepe apkhazta) both inside and outside Georgia, the new state became known as the country of the king of the “Abkhazes,” that is, the Kingdom of the “Abkhazes,” or simply Abkhazia. The changed name did not mean that the country also changed it national-political makeup or that an absolutely new Abkhazian national state proper appeared within the limits of Western Georgia, claimed by the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia of our days as its legal predecessor. In fact it is the contemporary Georgian state that is the legal heir to it.

There are any number of countries whose names do not correspond to their content: Bulgaria, for example, got its name from its founder Bulgarian Khan Asparukh who moved from Volga Bulgaria to the Balkans.70 Kievan Rus is another example: it has been recognized that the country’s name is of Scandinavian origin, which it acquired from founders Oleg, Riurik, and others, who were Normans.71 Even the most zealous supporters of the so-called Norman theory would agree that from the very beginning Kievan Rus was a purely Slavic not a Norman-Scandinavian state. The same can be said about the Spanish precedent: when in 1700 Duke of Anjou, grandson of King of the French Louis XIV, was put on the Spanish throne as Philip V,72 the Spanish state did not become France.73

For the same reason separatist historiography is wrong when it insists that the Kingdom of Abkhazes, the national state of the Apsua-Abkhazians, appeared as a result of the military victories of the ruler of Abkhazia in Western Georgia.74 If the “Abkhazian” dynasty came to power in the former Lazian-Egrisi Kingdom as a foreign force that occupied the neighboring territory and imposed an alien Abkhazian statehood on the local Georgian population, one would be left wondering why the medieval Georgian public and political mentality accepted the act of aggression peacefully and painlessly. Even a superficial reader of the monuments of Old Georgian historical literature cannot fail to note that all medieval Georgian authors and chroniclers described the kings of the “Abkhazes” and their activities in the most favorable terms. Indeed, could the patriotically minded author of the

68 See: “Matiane Kartlisa,” in: Kartlis Tskhovreba, Vol. I, p. 251; Chronicle of Kartli. Translation, introduction, and comments by G.V. Tsulaia, Tbilisi, 1982, p. 48 (in Georgian).

69 “Matiane Kartlisa,” p. 251; Chronicle of Kartli, p. 48; Z.V. Anchabadze, Iz istorii srednevekovoy Abkhazii...,

p. 98.

70 See: S. Nikitin, “Asparukh. Obrazovanie bolgarskogo naroda i vozniknovenie bolgarskogo gosudarstva,” Vestnik MGU, No. 1, 1952.

71 Recently, the idea that the tribe of Rus was of Slavic origin was called, quite rightly, a “historiographic myth” that “is no longer a ‘historical fact’” (V.A. Petrukhin, “Slaviane, variagi i khazary na yuge Rusi. K probleme formirovania territorii drevnerusskogo gosudarstva,” in: Drevneyshie gosudarstva Vostochnoy Evropy. 1992-1993, Moscow, 1995, available at [http://norse.ulver.com/articles/petruhin/slavs.html]).

72 See: Ispanskie koroli, ed. by V.L. Berneker, Rostov-on-Don, 1998, available at [http:/www.world—history.ru/ persons_about/46.html].

73 The fact that the origins of the ruling dynasty are unimportant for the country’s national and state image is confirmed by Georgia’s political practice. For example, in about 1039, Ereti Kvirike III, the first king of Kakheti, was replaced on the throne after his death by his nephew (son of his sister) Gagik, member of the Tashir-Dzoraket Armenian dynasty (see: “Matiane Kartlisa,” p. 297; Chronicle of Kartli, p. 67; Vakhushti, “History of Georgia,” in: Kartlis Tskhovreba, Vol. IV, Tbilisi, 1973, p. 562), but this did not make the Kakheti kingdom an Armenian state.

74 See: M.M. Gunba, “Abkhazia v pervom tysiacheletii n.e.,” in: Sotsial’no-ekonomicheskie i politicheskie otnoshe-nia, Sukhumi, 1989, pp. 234-244.


Chronicle of Kartli, the only more or less exhaustive source on the history of the Kingdom of the “Abkhazes” that fully reflects the Georgian (let me repeat—Georgian) rather than the imaginary Abkhazo-Apsu national-state reality, flatter and praise the frightening “Abkhazian” kings who had allegedly conquered Georgia?

An explanation suggests itself: the Georgian public looked at the king of the “Abkhazes” not as aliens or conquerors, but as their own leaders like, for example, members of the Bagration dynasty. This was one common Georgian cultural, political, and state expanse ruled for a while by a new “Abkhazian” dynasty. No matter who Leon II and his descendants were in the ethnic and tribal respect (they might even have been ethnic Abkhazians), this means nothing since in the political and state respect the dynasty of the Leonids represented a common Georgian state, cultural, and political world.

Leon II and his descendants were building up a Georgian not an Abkhazian-Apsu state; this is confirmed by their policy in the religious sphere. After gaining state independence, the Leonids spared no effort to leave the ideological and confessional sphere of Byzantium and set up a national state ideology, a task that could not be accomplished without severing church ties with the empire. They finally gained independence from Byzantium in the religious sphere and set up a so-called Abkhazian Catholicosate.75 After acquiring Church independence, the kings of the “Abkhazes” plunged into hectic activities: they founded new church centers and encouraged Georgian written culture and Georgian Christian literacy across Western Georgia, and on the territory of contemporary Abkhazia, among other things.76 Simultaneously they replaced the old Greek dioceses with newly established Georgian episcopal sees.

It was thanks to this obviously Georgian national policy of the kings of the “Abkhazes” in the religious sphere that by the 10th century (not the 11th or 12th centuries) Western Georgia as a whole (complete with the territory of contemporary Abkhazia) became a country of Georgian written culture and literacy. If the “Abkhazian” kings intended to build an Abkhazian-Apsu national state they would have looked after the Abkhazian-Apsu national ideology, which would have required Abkhazian written tradition and literature. They never posed themselves this task; for some reason, they opposed the Greco-Byzantine ideology to the Georgian national ideology represented by the Georgian Church.

This suggests the only explanation: Leon II and his ancestors, to say nothing of his descendants (despite their possible Abkhazian-Apsu ethnic origins), considered themselves to be part of the common Georgian state, cultural, and political world even before Leon II came to power.77 They treated the Georgian language used by the Eastern Kart-Georgians that formed the foundation of the Georgian literary tongue as well as Georgian Christian culture as their own in the same way as they were treated by the rest of the Kartvelian population of Western Georgia, including the Megrelo-Chans and Svans who spoke (and are still using now) their own dialects.

75 For more detail, see: Z.V. Papaskiri, “About the Chronology of Setting up the ‘Abkhazian’ Catholicosate,” in:

Shota Meskhia—90. Jubilee Collection Dedicated to Shota Meskhia's 90th Birth Anniversary, Tbilisi, 2006, pp. 201-213 (in Georgian).

76 It should be pointed out that the earliest Georgian inscription was found not in the eastern areas of Western Georgia (somewhere in Imeretia), but on the territory of what is now Abkhazia. I have in mind the inscription in Asomta-vruli in a church in Msigkhua (the Gudauta District) found by Abkhazian academic A. Katsia (see: A.K. Katsia, “Pamiat-niki arkhitektury v doline Tskuara,” in: Materaily po arkheologii Abkhazii, Sukhumi, 1967), dated to the 9th-10th centuries (Corpus of Georgian Inscriptions, Vol. II, compiled by V. Silogava, Tbilisi, 1980, pp. 31-32; V. Silogava, Georgian Epigraphy of Megrelia-Abkhazia, Tbilisi, 2004, pp. 258-259; L.V. Akhaladze, “Epigraphic Monuments of Abkhazia,” in: Studies of the History of Abkhazia/Georgia, p. 364; idem, Epigraphy of Abkhazia as a Historical Source. I. Carved in Stone and Fresco Inscriptions, Tbilisi, 2005, pp. 140-146 (in Georgian).

77 The fact that the territory of contemporary Abkhazia and its population lived together, in one state, with the rest of Western Georgia for at least one and a half millennium was probably also important. At first this was the Colchian kingdom (the 6th-2nd centuries B.C.), followed in the 1st-2nd centuries A.D. by new ethnic units in the territory of contemporary Abkhazia—the kingdoms of Apsils, Abazgs and Sanigs. Around the 4th century they were reunited into the Lazian kingdom, where they remained until the 730s.


Even if we admit, for the sake of argument, that the kings of the “Abkhazes” did have a narrow Abkhazian national and state mentality, at least at the early stages of the history of their state, their obvious political ambitions would have forced them to take into account the national and state interests of the population’s absolute majority and to steer toward a Georgian (not an Abkhazian-Apsu) state. No reasonable-minded person would contest the fact that the Kartvelian tribes were in the majority in the “Abkhazian” state. Indeed, of the eight eristavs of the “Abkhazian” kingdom set up (according to the old historical tradition created by Prince Vakhushti)78 by Leon II, only the lands to the north of the Gumista were populated by ethnic Abkhazians. Their area stretched to Nikopsia (to the north of the city of Tuapse of our times); small numbers of them might have lived in the Tskhumi eristav. All the other ersitavs, the Tskhumi eristav included, were the home of the Kartvelian tribes (the Meglero-Chans, Svans, and Karts).

According to Z. Anchabadze, one of the best specialists on Abkhazian history,79 the Kartve-lian ethnic element, especially the Karts (the numerical strength of whom had considerably increased in Western Georgia by the 8th century), turned out to be more advanced in the socioeconomic and especially cultural respect. This made the language of the Karts (that is, the Georgian literary language) with a writing tradition of its own used for a long time as the state tongue and the language of church services in Eastern and Southern Georgia the state language of the Kingdom of the “Abkhazes.”

More than that, the kings of the “Abkhazes” made Kutaisi, not Tsikhe-Goji, the residence of the Lazian-Egrisi kings, the capital of their state. This testifies to the outstanding role of the Kart (East Georgian) element in Western Georgia. In the general Georgian context this fact was associated by the Old Georgian tradition with the emergence of the Kartli erismtavars in the 730s. The Leonids obviously regarded themselves as the legal heirs to the royal House of Stepanos-Archil; by moving the capital from Anakopia (the residence of the eristavs of Abkhazia) to Kutaisi, Leon II obviously intended to confirm his legal position as a member of the House of Archil.

This means that the Kingdom of the “Abkhazes” was a new West Georgian state80 that appeared on the ruins of the Lasika-Egrisi state. Moreover, the appearance of the “Abkhazian” kingdom opened a qualitatively new stage in the history of Georgian statehood. As distinct from its immediate predecessor (to say nothing of ancient Colchis), the national-state development of which stopped halfway (the Greek language was used for official papers and church services), the “Abkhazian” Kingdom can be described as the first genuinely Georgian national state in Western Georgia complete with a Georgian Christian ideology and Georgian state language. Its political course was likewise Georgian: the state was firm when it came to common Georgian political and state interests. The consistent efforts of the Kutaisi rulers who painstakingly extended and strengthened their kingdom finally led, in the early 11th century, to a united Georgian state under the aegis of the kings of the “Abkhazians.”

The Territory of Contemporary Abkhazia as Part of the United Georgian Monarchy in the 11th-15th Centuries

The long process of unification of the Georgian lands was finally completed at the turn of the 11th century when a single state headed by King of the “Abkhazes” and “Kartvelians” Bagrat III

78 See: Vakhushti, “History of Georgia,” p. 79б.

79 See: Z.V. Anchabadze, Iz istorii., pp. 1G6-1G8.

8G See: Z.V. Anchabadze, “Abkhazskaia Avtonomnaia Sotsialisticheskaia Sovetskaia Respublika. Istoricheskii ocherk,” in: Gruzinskaia sovetskaia entsiklopedia, Special Volume: Gruzinskaia SSR, Tbilisi, 1981, p. 324.


Bagrationi was formed. This means that the two states—the “Abkhazian” (Western Georgian) and Kartvelian (Tao-Klarjeti, a South Georgian state going back to the early 9th century)—were united. The title of the king of the unified Georgian state started with “King of the Abkhazes” to emphasize the leading role of the West Georgian state—the Kingdom of the “Abkhazes”—in the unification process. It was the Kutaisi throne that gathered all the Georgian lands and created a common Georgian statehood; this had nothing to do with the change of dynasties, since Prince Bagrat ascended the West Georgian throne not as a Bagrationi, but as a legitimate member (on his mother’s side) of the Leonid dynasty. He was grandson (son of a daughter) of Giorgi II (922-957), the most outstanding among the kings of the “Abkhazes.”

Under Bagrat III the Kingdom of the “Abkhazes” remained practically the same in the ethnop-olitical and state-legal respect; it merely expanded to the rest of the Georgian territory (with the exception of the Tbilisi Emirate and the southern part of Tao that belonged to David Curoplate) and became a Georgian state. In the 11th and 12th centuries, all the Georgian chroniclers called their country (Georgia) Abkhazia, mostly without offering comments. The same can be said of foreign sources, which when dealing with the events of the 11th-12th centuries used the term “Abkhazia” (Abazgia, Obezi, etc.) to describe Georgia and the united Georgian state.81

No matter how hard certain researchers are looking for elements of national Abkhazian statehood and a sort of autonomy inside the common Georgian state of the 11th-12th century,82 the territory of contemporary Abkhazia was not a single national unit. Since the time of Leon II, founder of the “Abkhazian” kingdom, it was divided into eristavs: Abkhazian (the northern part approximately from the River Gumista or Anakopia (Novy Afon) to Nikopsia (to the north of Tuapse), Tskhumi (part of what is now the Gudauta District up to Anakopia (the Sukhumi and Gulripsh districts and part of the Ochamchiri District), and Bedia (part of the Ochamchiri and Gali districts).83 Throughout the 11th-12th centuries, the Abkhazians proper were involved in the military-political acts of the Georgian state; they fought all the battles and were not different from the rest of the population of the single Georgian state.

According to prominent Abkhazian historian and ethnographer Sh. Inal-ipa, the territory of contemporary Abkhazia within the single Georgian state “was anything but a forgotten province.”84 In the 11th-12th centuries, the Georgian kings could always rely on the eristavs on the territory of what is now Abkhazia in their struggle against the feudal opposition. It stands to reason that the first king of united Georgia Bagrat III selected Bedia (in the Ochamchiri District) as one (or even the main) of his residences where he built a sumptuous temple to serve as his tomb. There are no facts to support the allegations of certain historians85 about the anti-governmental or even separatist-minded Abkhazian feudal lords who resented the liquidation of the “Abkhazian” kingdom. The opposite looks more plausible: they were the most loyal subjects of the kings of united Georgia, who called themselves kings of the “Abkhazes.” At all times the Abkhazian nobility played an important role at the royal court in Kutaisi and Tbilisi (where David IV the Builder moved his capital). The eristavs in the Abkhazian territory (the Tskhumi Eristav in particular) became even more important. The city of Tskhu-mi-Sukhumi became the summer residence of the Georgian kings. According to well-known Russian academic V. Sizov, it became an important “cultural and administrative center of the Georgian state.”86

81 For more detail, see: Z.V. Papaskiri, “Territory of Abkhazia in the 11th-15th Centuries,” in: Studies of the History of Abkhazia/Georgia, pp. 182-184.

82 See: Yu.N. Voronov, Abkhazy—kto oni?, p. 8.

83 See: Z.V. Anchabadze, Iz istorii., pp. 1G6-1G8.

84 Sh.D. Inal-ipa, op. cit., p. 411.

85 See: Z.V. Anchabadze, Iz istorii., p. 178; Sh.D. Inal-ipa, Voprosy..., p. 412; G.V. Tsulaia, Abkhazia i abkhazy v kontekste istorii Gruzii. Domongol’skiy period, Moscow, 1995, p. 122.

86 V. Sizov, “Vostochnoe poberezh’e Chernogo moria,” in: Materilay arkheologii Kavkaza, Issue II, Moscow, 1889, p. 49.


In the 11th-12th centuries, the territory of contemporary Abkhazia was an area of Georgian Christian culture. By that time numerous Christian churches had been built. The Bedia Cathedral erected by King Bagrat III, who united Georgia, and the temple of Bagrat in Kutaisi were symbols of the united Georgian state.87 The Lykhna (built at the turn of the 11th century) and the Pitsunda (12th century) cathedrals are outstanding monuments of Georgian Christian architecture. The Christian churches in the territory of contemporary Abkhazia were centers of Georgian literacy and enlightenment. At that time, the region’s written culture was exclusively Georgian; nearly all surviving inscriptions dated to the 11th and 12th centuries carved in stone are in Georgian88 which means that in the 11th-12th centuries Abkhazia was still a country of the Georgian medieval Christian culture.

In the 13 th century, Georgia’s military-political might was undermined first by the devastating inroads of Kwarizmid Shah Jalal ad-Din and then by the Mongolian conquerors who disrupted the unified Georgian state. In the 1240s, Mongols divided Georgia into eight military-administrative sectors (dumans), two of them were found in Western Georgia. The territory of contemporary Abkhazia formed part of the duman administered by Tsotna Dadiani, while the local population (including the ethnic Abkhazes) was still actively involved in the common Georgian processes. It was with their support that “David, son of Rusudan, was proclaimed the king of the Abkhazes up to the Likh Ranges.”89 From that time on (the latter half of the 13th century), the united Georgian state continued de facto as two kingdoms: Eastern Georgia was ruled by David Ulu, son of Georgi Lasha, while David Narin set up an independent state in Western Georgia (Likht Imeretia) that survived until the late 1320s. The territory of contemporary Abkhazia belonged to the latter.

The death of David Narin in 1293 triggered squabbles in Western Georgia that allowed Eristav of Odishi (Megrelia) Giorgi Dadiani to “gain control over the Tskhomi Eristavstvo and take possession of the entire territory of Odishi up to Anakopia, while Sharvashidze established himself in Abkhazia.”90 This is especially interesting because it confirms beyond doubt that the entire territory of the Tskhumi Eristavstvo up to Anakopia (now called Novy Afon) belonged to Odishi-Megrelia.

The West Georgian eristavs obviously wanted to tighten their grip on the eristav possessions,91 the Likht kings being an obvious obstacle. This explains the relative enthusiasm with which the West Georgian eristavs hailed Giorgi V the Illustrious (1314-1346) in Kutaisi where he removed Bagrat, grandson of David Narin, from power. The enthusiasm of the eristavs of Odishi, Guria, Svanetia, and Abkhazia was probably not quite sincere—they were merely too weak to stand opposed to the Georgian king and had to meet him “with great gifts and welcome his rule in Imeretia and the whole of Georgia.”92 In this way they probably preserved their status as hereditary rulers.93 This allowed Gior-gi V to proceed further without many problems to finally gain control over the whole of Western Georgia. Prince Vakhushti wrote that the king “entered Odishi and moved from it to Abkhazia, where he dealt with the local problems and established his control over the fortresses.”94 The fact that for

87 For more detail, see: Z.V. Papaskiri, “The Bedia Temple as a Symbol of United Georgian Statehood,” in:

Historical Studies. An Annual of Scholarly Writings of the Abkhazian Organization of the Ekvtime Takaishvili All-Georgia Historical Society, Vol. III, Tbilisi, 2GGG, pp. 3-9 (in Georgian), available at [http://saistoriodziebani. googlepages.com/].

88 See: Z.V. Anchabadze, Iz istorii., p. 8.

89 “Zhamtaagmtsereli,” in: Kartlis Tskhovreba, Vol. II, Tbilisi, 1959, p. 22; Abkhazia i abkhazy srendnevekovykh gruzinskikh povestvovatel’nykh istochnikov, Translated from Georgian into Russian, introduced and commented by G.A. Amichba), Tbilisi, 1988, p. 1G7.

9G Vakhushti, “History of Georgia,” p. 8G1.

91 See: Z.V. Anchabadze, Iz istorii., p. 295.

92 Vakhushti, “History of Georgia,” p. 258; Abkhazia i abkhazy., pp. 137-138.

93 See: Z.V. Anchabadze, Iz istorii., p. 23б.

94 Vakhushti, “History of Georgia,” p. 258; Abkhazia i abkhazy., pp. 137-138.


some reason Giorgi V reserved the Abkhazian fortresses for himself deserves mention; he returned the Tskhumi Eristavstvo to the eristav of Odishi (“Bedieli”).95

Throughout the 14th century the West Georgian eristavs, including the eristavs of Abkhazia, Sharvashidze, remained loyal to the central authorities, that is, to the Tbilisi throne, thus contributing to the continued unity of the common Georgian state. At the same time, the Dadiani, the rulers of Odishi (Megrelia) supported by the central authorities, were gradually gaining might to spite the Imereti Bagrationis and became the actual leaders of Western Georgia. Throughout the 14th century they owned the Tskhumi Eristavstvo and extended their influence to the eristavs of Abkhazia—Sharvashidze. According to Arabic (al-Muhibbi and al-Kalkashandi)96 and West European (Iosaphat Barbaro)97 sources, in the 14th-15th centuries Megrelia “stretched to Circassia,” which means that Abkhazia as far as Circassia was within Odishi,98 while “Dadimani (Dadiani) ruled Sukhumi and Abkhaz.” Tskhumi-Sukhumi was the capital of the Odishi-Megrelian rulers, it was in this city that Vamek I (1384-1396), the most influential of the Dadianis, minted his coins.99

Early in the 15th century, Georgian King Giorgi VII (1393-1407) confirmed the rights of Ma-mia, who ruled after Vamek I Dadiani, to the Tskhumi possessions. According to foreign authors, in the mid-15th century Dadiani, the rulers of Odishi were recognized as the “kings of Megrelia and Abkhazia.”100 The fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the much more noticeable presence of the Ottoman Turks in the northern and eastern Black Sea areas largely changed the geopolitical configuration in the region and worsened the situation in contemporary Abkhazian territory. In 1454, the Turks landed the first of their armed groups in Sukhumi and plundered the city and the Abkhazian coast.101 Georgian King Giorgi VIII (1446-1466) immediately entered Abkhazia and “returned the local people to their homes, restored the fortifications and, after coping with the task, went back to Geguti”102 (one of the royal residences close to contemporary Kutaisi).

In the 1460s, the Abkhazian Eristavstvo remained part of Georgian politics. Prince Sharvashidze supported Bagrat Bagrationi who “proclaimed himself king of Likht-Imeretia” (Western Georgia) and received “power over the Abkhazians and Jiquen”103 from the Kutaisi king. In the latter half

’ See: Vakhushti, “History of Georgia,” p. 258; Abkhazia i abkhazy... p. 138.


96 See: Arabian Historians of the 14th-15th Century about Georgia, Translation from the Arabic, foreword, notes and indices by D. Gocholeishvili, Tbilisi, 1988, p. 53; V.G. Tizengauzen, “Zametka El-Kalkashandi o gruzinakh. Perevod na russkiy iazyk i izdanie V.G. Tizengauzena,” in: Zapiski Vostochnogo Otdelenia Russkogo Arkheologicheskogo Obsh-chestva, Vol. 1, Issue 3, St. Petersburg, 1886, p. 214.

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97 See: Information about Georgia Supplied by the Italian Travelers of the 15th century, Translation from the Italian, foreword, notes and indices by E. Mamistvalishvili, Tbilisi, 1981, p. 55.

98 See: E. Mamistvalishvili, “Iz istorii Odishi,” in: Trudy TGU (Proceedings of Tbilisi State University), Vol. 310, Tbilisi, 1992, p. 50.

99 See: D. Kapanadze, Gruzinskaia numizmatika, Moscow, 1955, p. 97; Z.V. Anchabadze, Iz istorii., p. 238; On Distortions of the Georgian-Abkhazian Relationships. An Answer to the Authors of the “Abkhazian Letter,” Tbilisi, 1991, pp. 12, 76.

100 M. Tamarashvili, History of Catholicism among the Georgians, Tiflis, 1902, p. 596 (in Georgian); Z.V. Anchabadze, Iz istorii., p. 239.

101 See: Z.V. Anchabadze, Iz istorii., p. 252; E. Mamistvalishvili, “Iz istorii Odishi,” p. 54; M.Kh. Svanidze, “Iz khronologii Vakhushti Bagrationi (Pervoe vtorzhenie turok na chernomorskom poberezhie Gruzii),” in: Istochnikovedche-skie izyskania, Tbilisi, 1985, p. 110.

102 Vakhushti, “History of Georgia,” p. 284.

103 Ibid., p. 806. It is probably not by chance that the quote taken from the work by Prince Vakhushti says that unlike the other West Georgian rulers (Dadiani, Gurieli and Gelovani) who ruled specific regions (Odishi, Guria and Svaneti), the Sharvashidzes received power over the Abkhazes and Jiquen rather than power over Abkhazia as a region. This looks like another confirmation that the territory of contemporary Abkhazia was not united administratively at that time and that the Sharvashidzes were at best the owners of part of the Abkhazian Eristavstvo. In any case one thing is clear: Vakhushti, who lived in the 18th century when the Sharvashidze princes were considered the rulers of Abkhazia (within its contemporary borders), had no reason to apply the realia of his time to the 15th century and call


of the 15th century, the Abkhazian Eristavstvo recognized the ruler of Odishi-Megrelia as its suzerain. “Upper Abkhazia” was part of the Odishi Principality, while “the Sharvashidzes ruled Abkhazia up to Jiqeti” and “did not always obey Dadiani.”104

(To be concluded in the next issue)

the members of the princely family of Sharvashidze the rulers of Abkhazia (for more detail, see: Z.V. Papaskiri, “Va-khushti Bagrationi, the Giant of Medieval Georgian Historiography,” in: Historical Studies. An Annual of Scholarly Writing s of the Abkhazian Organization of the Ekvtime Takaishvili All-Georgia Historical Society, Vol. I, Tbilisi, 1998, pp. 249-250, in Georgian).

104 Kartlis Tskhovreba, Vol. II, p. 349; Abkhazia i abkhazy., pp. 112-113.

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