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The formation of the Georgian (Kartvelian) nation

Friday, April 9
Iberia, also rendered as Iveria, was a name given by the ancient Greeks and Romans to the ancient Georgian kingdom of Kartli (4th century BC - 5th century AD) - the eastern and southern parts of present-day Georgia. The term Caucasian Iberia (or Eastern Iberia) is used to distinguish it from the Iberian Peninsula, where the present day countries of Spain, Portugal and Andorra are located. The Caucasian Iberians provided the basis for later Georgian statehood and along with the Colchians formed the core of the present-day Georgian people (Kartvelians).

The area was inhabited in earliest times by several related tribes of the Kura-Araxes culture, collectively called Iberians by ancient authors. Locals called their country Kartli after Kartlos, the legendary establisher of Georgia and mythical ancestor of the Georgians. According to some modern scholars Kartlos seems initially to have been a contrivance of early Georgian folklore who later came to be regarded in the medieval epoch as a real historical figure and the actual founder of the Georgian nation. In the compilation of medieval Georgian chronicles called Kartlis Tskhovreba (History of Kartli), written down from oral tradition by Leonti Mroveli, the 11th-century Georgian ecclesiastical chronicler, Kartlos united his people to become their chieftain and founded the region of Kartli. His eight sons became the eponymous founders and first rulers of the cities and regions of Mtskheta, Gardabani, Kakheti, Kukheti, Gachiani, Uplistsikhe, Odzrkhe and Javakheti.

Another tribe, the Moschi, are mentioned by various classical historians, and they are their possible descendants the Saspers, who are mentioned by Herodotus, may also have played a crucial role in the consolidation of the tribes inhabiting the area. The Moschi had moved slowly to the northeast forming settlements as they travelled. The chief of these settlements was Mtskheta, the future capital of the Iberian kingdom.

The medieval Georgian source Moktsevai Kartlisai (Conversion of Kartli) also speaks about Azo and his people, who came from Arian-Kartli - the initial home of the proto-Iberians, who had been under Achaemenid rule until the fall of the Persian Empire - to settle on the site where Mtskheta was to be founded. Another Georgian chronicle, Kartlis Tskhovreba (History of Kartli), claims Azo to be an officer of Alexander the Great who massacred a local ruling family and conquered the area, until being defeated at the end of the 4th century BC by Prince Pharnavaz, who was at that time a local chief.

Pharnavaz, victorious in a power struggle, became the first king of Iberia (237 BC). Driving back an invasion, he subjugated the neighbouring areas, including a significant part of the western Georgian state of Colchis, and seems to have secured recognition of the newly-founded state from the Seleucids of Syria. Then Pharnavaz focused on social projects, including building the citadel of the capitol, the Armaztsikhe, and the idol of the god Armazi. He also reformed the Georgian written language and created a new system of administration, subdividing the country into several states called saeristavos. His successors managed to gain control over the mountainous passes of the Caucasus, with the Daryal (Iberian Gates) being the most important of these.

The period following this time of prosperity was one of incessant warfare, as Iberia was forced to defend itself against numerous invasions. Iberia lost some of its southern provinces to Armenia and the Colchian lands seceded to form separate principalities.