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From Persia and Byzantium to a new independence

Friday, July 23
The continuing rivalry between Byzantium and Persia for supremacy in the Caucasus, and the unsuccessful insurrection of the Georgians under Gurgen, had tragic consequences for the country. Thereafter the King of Iberia had only nominal power, while the country was effectively ruled by the Persians. In 580, Hormizd IV (578-590) abolished the monarchy after the death of King Bakur III and Iberia became a Persian province ruled by a marzipan (governor). Georgian nobles urged the Byzantine emperor Maurice to revive the kingdom of Iberia in 582, but in 591 Byzantium and Persia agreed to divide Iberia between them, with Tbilisi to be in Persian hands and Mtskheta to be under Byzantine control.

At the beginning of the 7th century the truce between Byzantium and Persia collapsed. The Iberian Prince Stephanoz I (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 in 627 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 in about 645 and forced its eristavi (chief) Stephanoz II (637-650) to abandon his allegiance to Byzantium and recognise the Caliph as his suzerain. Iberia thus became a tributary state and an Arab emir was installed in Tbilisi about 653. At the beginning of the 9th century Eristavi Ashot I (813-830) of the new Bagrationi dynasty, from his base in southwestern Georgia, took advantage of the weakening of Arab rule to establish himself as hereditary prince (with the Byzantine title Kouropalates) of Iberia. A successor, Adarnase II of Tao-Klarjeti, formally a vassal of Byzantium, was crowned as the “King of Georgians” in 888. His descendant Bagrat III (975-1014), brought the various principalities together to form a united Georgian state.

The similarity of their name with that of the ancient inhabitants of the Iberian peninsula, the 'Western' Iberians, has led to an idea that there is ethnogenetic kinship between them and the people of Caucasian Iberia (called the 'Eastern' Iberians). This idea has been advocated by various ancient and medieval authors, although they differed in their approach to the problem of what their initial place of origin was. This theory also seems to have been popular in medieval Georgia. The prominent Georgian religious writer Giorgi Mthatzmindeli (George of Mount Athos) (1009-1065) writes about the wish of certain Georgian nobles to travel to the Iberian peninsula and visit the local “Georgians of the West”, as he called them.