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While there have been many different tribes and kingdoms within the current borders of Georgia, it was not united under a single ruler until the 1008 reign of Bagrat IV. While we could spend time looking over the various empires that came through before then, there simply isn’t enough time or room to go through them all. You can check the previous two articles on Georgia’s Prehistory and Medieval Era to get a sense of what came before. For this article, unified Georgia will be our starting point. From 1008 to the beginning of the 1200s the Kingdom of Georgia became a large and powerful nation. It saw its height of power and influence under Queen Tamar (or “King” as Georgians would call her). Georgian dominance would be short-lived though, as in just a few decades after her death the Mongols rode in and not even the strongest of the world’s major kingdoms could hold back their advance forever.
In the 1220s the Mongols started to invade the outermost areas of Georgia’s holdings invading their territories in what are now known as Azerbaijan and Armenia. Georgi IV (sometimes called Lasha) went to his kingdom’s defence in the Battle of Khunan along with forces from his Azari governors. The battle was a disaster for King Lasha as his forces were decimated by the Mongol’s famous “feigned retreat”. A large force of Mongols would avance, fight for a while, then fallback in between two hidden flanks. The opposing force would follow them in, unaware that that a trap had been set. As they gave chase, the hidden flanks would move from the left and the right causing the advancing army to be completely swallowed up. King Lasha was shot in the chest and barely survived the battle. He became an invalid for the next two years until his death in 1223.
Queen Tamar’s daughter and sister to King Lasha took the throne. Her reign marked the beginning of the end for the Kingdom of Georgia. From 1223 on, Georgia continually felt her borders becoming more and more constricting as the Mongols and later the Kipchaks continued to harass their Armenian and Azari lands. Soon an opportunistic Persian ruler, Jelal ad-Din Mingburnu, was on the run from Genghis Khan to escape death in India. His forces came into the inner lands of Georgia and and besieged Tbilisi. Queen Rusudan was forced to abandon the capital and reinstate it in ancient Kutaisi. The city fell a year later and Mingburnu went through the city, demanding its population to convert to Islam or face immediate death. One hundred thousand martyrs are said to have died by his army’s sword and at Metekhi Bridge in what is now known as Tbilisi’s Old Town. In an oft-cited quotation from the 14th Century Georgian history The Chronicle of 100 Years:
“Words are powerless to convey the destruction that the enemy wrought: tearing infants from their mothers’ breasts, they beat their heads against the bridge, watching as their eyes dropped from their skulls.…”
Several attempts were made over the next few years to retake Tbilisi. Many were successful but only for a short time. When the Mongols showed up in the Georgian homeland in 1235 there were very few resources left from Georgia’s struggles with Mingburnu. They easily took Tbilisi and by 1240 the rest of the kingdom was overrun. Queen Rusudan gave up her sovereignty to the Mongols in 1242 along with agreeing to an annual tribute of 50,000 gold pieces and contingents of Georgian fighting men. With the death of Queen Rusudan came the deathmarch of the kingdom itself. Without a strong, independant central government the various warlords and nobles were left to rule themselves. As with many times in its history, Georgia’s unification fractured once again. Sometimes it was because of petty rivals, but often it was due to Mongol agitation and meddling. Kings like Dimitri II and David VIII attempted to push back against these intrigues for nearly 50 years but ultimately failed in their mission. Strife and uncertainty were everywhere and it seemed like Saqartvelo was doomed forever.
Her second wind came in 1314 in the form of Georgi V “The Brilliant”. As his name suggests, he was a magnificent tataction and regient. During his 34 year reign lead to a short reprieve from the Mongol oppressions and saw a restoration to most of the lands initially controlled under Tamar. His success can mostly be attributed to the internal problems that were plaguing the Iranian Khanate and the pressures of the Golden Horde. He also changed his kingdom’s flag and based it off of the Jerusalem Cross which became the inspiration for Georgia’s present one. The nation’s resurgence didn’t last long as Death and Emperor Tamerlane were waiting for them at the door.