Territory of modern-day Georgia has been inhabited by Homo erectus since the Paleolithic. The proto-Georgian tribes first appear in written history in the 12th century BC. Archaeological finds and references in ancient sources reveal elements of early political and state formations characterized by advanced metallurgy and goldsmith techniques that date back to the 7th century BC and beyond.
The classic period saw the rise of the early Georgian states Diaokhi (XIII BC) of Colchis (VIII BC), of Sper (VII BC) and of Iberia (VI BC). In the 4th century BC a unified kingdom of Georgia—an early example of advanced state organization under one king and an aristocratic hierarchy—was established.
The two early Georgian kingdoms of late antiquity, known to Greco-Roman historiography as Iberia (Georgian: იბერია) (in the east of the country) and Colchis (Georgian: კოლხეთი) (in the west), were among the first nations in the region to adopt Christianity (in AD 337, or in AD 319 as recent research suggests). In Greek Mythology, Colchis was the location of the Golden Fleece sought by Jason and the Argonauts in Apollonius Rhodius' epic tale Argonautica. The incorporation of the Golden Fleece into the myth may have derived from the local practice of using fleeces to sift gold dust from rivers. Known to its natives as Egrisi or Lazica, Colchis was also the battlefield of the Lazic War fought between Byzantine
Empire and Persia.
"Pompey's Bridge", built by the Roman legionaries of Pompey during their conquests of Georgia in c.65 BC
After the Roman Empire completed its conquest of the Caucasus region in 66 BC, the Georgian kingdoms were Roman client states and allies for nearly 400 years. In 337 AD King Mirian III declared Christianity as the state religion, giving a great stimulus to the development of literature, arts, and ultimately playing a key role in the formation of the unified Georgian nation. King Mirian III's acceptance of Christianity effectively tied the kingdom to the neighboring Eastern Roman Empire which exerted a strong influence on Georgia for nearly a millennium, determining much of its present cultural identity.
The early kingdoms disintegrated into various feudal regions by the early Middle Ages. This made it easy for Arabs to conquer parts of southeastern Georgia in the 7th century. The rebellious regions were liberated and united into a unified Georgian Kingdom at the beginning of the 11th century. Starting in the 12th century, the rule of Georgia extended over a significant part of the Southern Caucasus, including the northeastern parts and almost the entire northern coast of present-day Turkey.
Although Arabs captured the capital city of Tbilisi in AD 645, Kartli-Iberia retained considerable independence under local Arab rulers. In AD 813 the prince Ashot I - also known as Ashot Kurapalat - became the first of the Bagrationi family to rule the kingdom. Ashot's reign began a period of nearly 1,000 years during which the Bagrationi, as the house was known, ruled at least part of what is now the republic.
Bagrat III (r. 1027-72) united western and eastern Georgia. In the next century, David IV (called the Builder, r. 1089-1125) initiated the Georgian golden age by driving the Seljuk Turks from the country and expanding Georgian cultural and political influence southward into Armenia and eastward to the Caspian Sea.
The Georgian Kingdom reached its zenith in the 12th to early 13th centuries. This period has been widely termed as Georgia's Golden Age or Georgian Renaissance during the reigns of David the Builder and Queen Tamar. This early Georgian renaissance, which preceded its West European analogue, was characterized by the flourishing of romantic-chivalric tradition, breakthroughs in philosophy, and an array of political innovations in society and state organization, including religious and ethnic tolerance.
The Golden age of Georgia left a legacy of great cathedrals, romantic poetry and literature, and the epic poem "The Knight in the Panther's Skin".David the Builder is popularly considered to be the greatest and most successful Georgian ruler in history. He succeeded in driving the Seljuks out of the country, winning the major Battle of Didgori in 1121. His reforms of the army and administration enabled him to reunite the country and bring most lands of the Caucasus under Georgia's control.
King George V the Brilliant restored Georgia as a vibrant Christian culture after the expulsion of Mongols
David the Builder's granddaughter Tamar succeeded in neutralizing opposition and embarked on an energetic foreign policy aided by the downfall of the rival powers of the Seljuks and Byzantium. Supported by a powerful military élite, Tamar was able to build on the successes of her predecessors to consolidate an empire which dominated the Caucasus until its collapse under the Mongol attacks within two decades after Tamar's death.
The revival of the Georgian Kingdom was set back after Tblisi was captured and destoyed by the Khwarezmian leader Mingburnu in 1236. The Mongols were expelled by George V of Georgia, son of Demetrius II of Georgia, who was named "Brilliant" for his role in restoring the country's previous strength and Christian culture. George V was the last great king of the unified Georgian state. After his death, different local rulers fought for their independence from central Georgian rule, until the total disintegration of the Kingdom in the 15th century. Georgia was further weakened by several disastrous invasions by Tamerlane. Neighbouring kingdoms exploited the internal division of the weakened country, and beginning in the 16th century, the Persian Empire and the Ottoman Empire subjugated the eastern and western regions of Georgia, respectively.
The rulers of regions which remained partly autonomous organized rebellions on various occasions. However, subsequent Persian and Ottoman invasions further weakened local kingdoms and regions. As a result of wars the population of Georgia dwindled to 250,000 inhabitants at one point. Eastern Georgia, composed of the regions of Kartli and Kakheti, had been under Persian suzerainty since 1555. With the death of Nader Shahin 1747, both kingdoms broke free of Persian control and were reunified through a personal union under the energetic king Heraclius II in 1762.
Georgia in the Russian Empire
In 1783, Russia and the eastern Georgian Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti signed the Treaty of Georgievsk, which recognized the bond of Orthodox Christianity between Russian and Georgian people and promised eastern Georgia protection. However, despite this commitment to defend Georgia Russia rendered no assistance when the Turks and Persians invaded in 1785 and in 1795, completely devastating Tbilisi and massacring its inhabitants. This period culminated in the 1801 Russian violation of the Treaty of Georgievsk and annexation of entire Georgian lands, followed the deposing of the Bagrationi dynasty and suppression of the Georgian church.
On December 22, 1800, Tsar Paul I of Russia, at the alleged request of the Georgian King George XII, signed the proclamation on the incorporation of Georgia (Kartli-Kakheti) within the Russian Empire, which was finalized by a decree on January 8, 1801, and confirmed by Tsar Alexander I on September 12, 1801.The Georgian envoy in Saint Petersburg reacted with a note of protest that was presented to the Russian vice-chancellor Prince Kurakin. In May 1801, Russian General Carl Heinrich Knorring dethroned the Georgian heir to the throne David Batonishvili and instituted a government headed by General Ivan Petrovich Lasarev. Pyotr Bagration, a man of minor Georgian nobility, joined the Russian army aged 17 as a sergeant and rose to be a general by the Napoleonic wars.
The Georgian nobility did not accept the decree until April 1802 when General Knorring compassed the nobility in Tbilisi's Sioni Cathedral and forced them to take an oath on the Imperial Crown of Russia. Those who disagreed were arrested temporarily.
In the summer of 1805, Russian troops on the Askerani River near Zagam defeated the Persian army and saved Tbilisi from conquest now that it was officially part of the Imperial territories.
Western Georgian principalities of Mingrelia and Guria assumed the Russian protection in 19th century. Finally in 1810, after a brief war, the western Georgian kingdom of Imereti was annexed by Tsar Alexander I of Russia. The last Imeretian king and the last Georgian Bagrationi ruler Solomon II died in exile in 1815. From 1803 to 1878, as a result of numerous Russian wars against the Ottoman Empire, several of Georgia's previously lost territories - such as Adjara - were recovered. The principality of Guria was abolished in 1828, and that of Samegrelo (Mingrelia) in 1857. The region of Svaneti was gradually annexed in 1857–59.
Declaration of independence
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Georgia declared independence on May 26, 1918 in the midst of the Russian Civil War. The parliamentary election was won by the Georgian Social-Democratic Party, considered to be pro-Mensheviks, and its leader, Noe Zhordania, became prime minister.
In 1918 a Georgian–Armenian war erupted over parts of Georgian provinces populated mostly by Armenians which ended because of British intervention. In 1918–19 Georgian general Giorgi Mazniashvili led a Georgian attack against the White Army led by Moiseev and Denikin in order to claim the Black Sea coastline from Tuapse to Sochi and Adler for independent Georgia. The country's independence did not last long. Georgia was under British protection from 1918-1920.