Before adoption of Christianity, the cult of Mithras and Zoroastrianism were commonly practiced in Iberia from the first centuries AD. The cult of Mithras, distinguished by its syncretic character and thus complementary to local cults, especially the cult of the Sun, gradually came to merge with ancient Georgian beliefs. The western Georgian Kingdom of Iberia became one of the first states in the world to convert to Christianity in 327 AD, when the King of Iberia Mirian II established it as the official state religion. However, the date varies based on numerous accounts and historical documents, which indicate Iberia adopting Christianity as a state religion in AD 317, 324, etc. According to Georgian chronicles, St. Nino of Cappadocia converted Georgia to Christianity in AD 330 during the time of Constantine the Great. By the middle of the 4th century though, both Lazica (formerly the Kingdom of Colchis) and Iberia adopted Christianity as their official religion. During the 4th and most of the 5th centuries, Iberia (known also as the Kingdom of Kartli) was under Persian control. The Kingdom was abolished and the country was ruled by the governors appointed by the Shahs. At the end of the 5th century though, Prince Vakhtang I Gorgasali orchestrated an anti-Persian uprising and restored Iberian statehood, proclaiming himself the King. After this, the armies of Vakhtang launched several campaigns against both Persia and the Byzantine Empire. However, his struggle for the independence and unity of the Georgian state did not have lasting success. After Vakhtang’s death in 502, and the short reign of his son Dachi (502-514), Iberia was reincorporated into Persia as a province once again. However this time the Iberian nobility were granted the privilege of electing the governors, who in Georgian were called erismtavari. By the late 7th century, the Byzantine-Persian rivalry for the Middle East had given way to Arab conquest of the region.

This close association with Armenia brought upon the country an invasion (65 BC) by the Roman general Pompey, who was then at war with Mithradates VI of Pontus, and Armenia; but Rome did not establish her power permanently over Iberia. Nineteen years later, the Romans again marched (36 BC) on Iberia forcing King Pharnavaz II to join their campaign against Albania.

During this time Armenia and Pontus were actively expanding at the expense of Rome, taking over its Eastern Mediterranean possessions. However, the success of the anti-Roman alliance did not last long. As a result of the brilliant Roman campaigns of Pompey and Lucullus from the west, and the Parthian invasion from the south, Armenia lost a significant part of its conquests by 65 BC, devolving into a Roman-Parthian dependency. At the same time, the Kingdom of Pontus was completely destroyed by the Romans and all its territory including Colchis were incorporated into the Roman Empire as her provinces. The former Kingdom of Colchis was reorganized by the Romans into the province of Lazicum ruled by Roman legati. The following 600 years of Georgian history were marked by struggle between Rome and Persia(Iran) including Parthians and Sassanids who were fighting long wars against each other for the domination in the Middle East including Syria, Mesopotamia, Armenia, Albania, and Iberia. In the 2nd century AD, Iberia strengthened her position in the area, especially during the reign of King Pharsman II who achieved full independence from Rome and reconquered some of the previously lost territories from declining Armenia. In the early 3rd century, Rome had to give up Albania and most of Armenia to Sassanid Iran. The province of Lazicum was given a degree of autonomy that by the end of the century developed into full independence with the formation of a new Kingdom of Lazica-Egrisi on the territories of smaller principalities of the Zans, Svans, Apsyls, and Sanyghs. This new Western Georgian state survived more than 250 years until in 562 when it was absorbed by the Byzantine Empire.

A second Georgian tribal union emerged in the 13 th century BC on the Black Sea coast under the Kingdom of Colchis in western Georgia. The ancient Greeks knew of Colchis, and it featured in the Greek legend of Jason and the Argonauts, who travelled there in search of the Golden Fleece. Starting around 2000 BC, northwestern Colchis was inhabited by the Svan and Zan peoples of the Kartvelian tribes. Another important ethnic element of ancient Colchis were Greeks who between 1000 and 550 BC established many trading colonies in the coastal area, among them Naessus, Pitiys, Dioscurias, Guenos, Phasis (modern Poti), Apsaros, and Rhizos (modern Rize in Turkey). In the eastern part of Georgia there was a struggle for the leadership among the various Georgian confederations during the 6th – 4th centuries BC which was finally won by the Kartlian tribes from the region of Mtskheta. According to the Georgian tradition, the Kingdom of Kartli (known as Iberia in the Greek-Roman literature) was founded around 300 BC by Parnavaz I, the first ruler of the Parnavazid dynasty.

 

 

Between 653 and 333 BC, both Colchis and Iberia survived successive invasions by the Median Empire, and later the Persian Empire. At the end of the 3d century B.C southern Iberia witnessed the invading armies of Alexander the Great, who established a vast Greco-Macedonian empire to the south of the Caucasus. Neither Iberia nor Colchis were incorporated into the empire of Alexander or any of the successor Hellenistic states of the Middle East. However, the culture of ancient Greece still had a considerable influence on the region, and Greek was widely spoken in the cities of Colchis. In Iberia Greek influence was less noticeable and Aramaic was widely spoken.

 

                  Colchian coins, 4th c BC

Georgian Kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia 600-150 BC, Andrew Andersen    

 

Between the early 2nd century BC and the late 2nd century A.D. both Colchis and Iberia, together with the neighboring countries, become an arena of long and devastating conflicts between major and local powers such as Rome, Armenia and the short-lived Kingdom of Pontus. In 189 BC the rapidly growing Kingdom of Armenia took over more than half of Iberia, conquering the southern and southeastern provinces of Gogharena, Taokhia and Genyokhiaas, as well as some other territories. Between 120 and 63 BC, Armenia’s ally Mithridate VI Eupator of Pontus, conquered all of Colchis and incorporated it into his kingdom, embracing almost all of Asia Minor as well as the eastern and northern Black Sea coastal areas.