The Kartvelologist

The Kartvelologist” is a bilingual (Georgian and English) peer-reviewed, academic journal, covering all spheres of Kartvelological scholarship. Along with introducing scholarly novelties in Georgian Studies, it aims at popularization of essays of Georgian researchers on the international level and diffusion of foreign Kartvelological scholarship in Georgian scholarly circles.

“The Kartvelologist” issues both in printed and electronic form. In 1993-2009 it came out only in printed form (#1-15). The publisher is the “Centre for Kartvelian Studies” (TSU), financially supported by the “Fund of the Kartvelological School”. In 2011-2013 the journal is financed by Shota Rustaveli National Science Foundation.

Tamar Melikidze 

Peter F. Skinner - Georgia: The Land below the Caucasus

(Narikala Publications, New York, London, Tbilisi, 2014)


Peter Skinner's monograph is a high quality publication and achieves very well the goal of the book which is to acquaint the US and European readers (through a well illustrated and informative book) with the history of Georgia - full of "hurricanes" - that is less known to the West [8].

The book is intended for the English-speaking readers and will apparently help non-Georgian readers to learn more about Georgia and to persuade the modern world to be more empathic towards Georgian people and the "Heroic Life of Kartli". The author modestly assumes that the book might contain errors: “Any Georgian will find errors in a foreigner’s text, any second Georgian will disagree upon corrections, and any third Georgian will state, ‘Someone should write a book...’ Ideally, contemporary Georgian historians will tap their great wealth of knowledge to write – and translate – accessible histories and commentaries that will bring deeper insights to the English-language reader than this narrative can offer” [7, p. II]

The book begins with a description of the History of Ancient Georgia and the close ties of several, ancient Kartvelian united kingdoms with those of Greece and Rome and ends in the year 1921 when Soviet Russia overran the Georgian Democratic Republic. The author aims at avoiding a detailed description of all developments or facts that took place during those centuries and gives a general review of the social and political status of the country, the stages of the nation's cultural development and the life of a community living beyond the boundaries of a state. The author focuses his attention on Georgia overcoming the difficulties during its existence - whether it was the period of Greek colonization, invasions by Arabs, Ottoman Empire, Persia or annexation of Georgia by Russia. In the preface of the monograph it is noted that in the references of the book there are a lot of English publications on the history of Georgia, but they are either more essay type works or give a detailed and tiresome description of only one specific epoch. Mr. Skinner also expresses his concern in the previously published article "A Lost Country". He notes with grief that there are few materials published in English about Georgia and the published books are not available to a wide public: "For many English-speakers their first (and often only) meeting with “Georgia” is in the schoolroom, where the tale of Jason and the Argonauts brings a vague awareness of Colchis and the Caucasus, but little else. Later, we may follow Pompey to Africa and Spain, but not to Iberia and Colchis.

Thus our first tenuous connection with “Georgia” ends. Why? Why do the overwhelming majority of us know nothing about Georgia – nothing of Georgia and its brilliant Christian culture and scholarship, of Georgia and its heroic struggles against the Arabs, Jalal-ad-Din, the Mongols, Timur, the Persians, the Turks and the Russians? Why do we know nothing of Parnavaz, Vakhtang Gorgasali, David IV, Tamar, Teimuraz I, Vakhtang VI and Erekle II? Why do so few of us know of The Knight in the Panther Skin, or recognize the names Tsereteli, Chavchavadze, Vazha Pshavela or Tabidze? Or Pirosmani, Gudiashvili or Kakabadze?” [5, p.107]

The monograph has many illustrations – royal family tree models, portraits of various kings, political maps of Georgia that vary according to the epoch, pictures of bloody battles and invasions, drawings of churches and monasteries, frescos of saints, mountain and field scenes, photos of various traditional folk clothes of Georgia’s population.

Apparently, an American historian who is interested in the political situation of the state of Georgia is very well aware of the fiction dedicated to Georgia’s national interests. We can assume that he was greatly influenced by Ilia Chavchavadzde’s Letters of the Traveller and Grigol Orbeliani’s words quoted in that novel (without mentioning their author) “Is there any other Georgia anywhere in the world!” Due to the above reason the American scholar attributes these words to the great Ilia Chavchavadze and thus concludes the preface. According to Skinner the present monograph is not an academic research or analysis containing any novelty; to make such a breakthrough the scholar needs a perfect command of the Georgian and Russian languages and gaining a deeper insight into Georgian, Turkish, Persian, Armenian and Azerbaijanian sources.

The author regretfully notes that materials in English about Georgia are scanty; they are available only in the biggest libraries and are not accessible to everyone. Simultaneously, the author does not forget the merits of the first foreign scholars that made Georgian culture available to Europe and the USA. He makes a special mention of those researchers who were interested in the history of Georgia, authors of various studies: William Edward David Allen - “A history of the Georgian people (1932)”, David Marshall Lang - “The Last Years of the Georgian Monarchy, 1658-1832” (New York: Columbia University Press, 1957); “A Modern History of Georgia” (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1962); “The Georgians” (New York: Praeger, 1966); Roland Grigor Suny - “The Making of the Georgian Nation” (Indiana University Press, 1988, 1994; Stephen Jones and Donald Rayfield. The latter author is known to Georgian society as the author of the Comprehensive Georgian-English Dictionary [4]. (Mention should be made here of the fact that in the journal of Kartvelology there are published brief reviews of studies of modern foreign scholars, Rayfield’s new monograph on the history of Georgia being among them - Edge of Empires: a history of Georgia [3, p. 114; 1, p. 207; 2, p. 342; 6].

Skinner’s monograph consists of 6 chapters and 21 subchapters. Before analysing several important parts of the book, we’d like to provide a list of chapters and subchapters of the monograph in order to give comprehensive information to the reader:

1. Ancient Georgia: Greeks, Romans and the Advent of Christianity
a) Georgia: Nature’s Gift; Nature’s Challenge
b) Colchis and the Greeks: Myths and Realities
c) Iberia: Rome’s Ally in Caucasia, 100BC - AD200
d) Christian Georgia: New Challenges, New Hopes, AD200 to 600

2. From the Arab Conquests to Georgia’s Golden Age
a) The Arab Invasions and Georgian Resistance: AD 650 to 950
b) Georgia Reborn: Bagrat III (978-1014) to the Seljuk Invasions, 1060s-1080s
c) Georgia Ascendant and the Golden Age: 1090s-1220s

3. Invaders and Occupiers: Jalal Ad-Din, The Mongols, and Timur-Lang, 1220s - Early 1400s
a) Jalal Ad-Din (1220s) and the Mongols (1230s-1290s): Georgia’s Survival
b) Georgia’s Rebirth and the Mongol Decline
c) Georgia After the II-Khanate: Timur’s Invasions and the National Recovery

4. Georgia Divided and the Turkish and Persian Invasions
a) The Later 15th Century: Unity Becomes Fragmentation
b) Georgia in the 16th Century: Surviving Turkish and Persian Invasions
c) Georgia in 17th Century: The Persian Ascendancy
d) 1700-1747: Turmoil – Tsar Peter’s Incursion, the Osmaloba and Kizilbashoba
e) Teimuraz II (1732-62) and Erekle II (1744-98): Triumph and Tragedy

5. Independence Lost: The Russian Annexation of Georgia
a) The Iron Fist: The Russian Annexation of Georgia -1801-1845
b) The Velvet Glove: “Russian” Georgia, 1845-1880s
c) Russian Repression: Georgian Resistance and Rebellion -1880s-1907

6. Independent Georgia – 1918-1921: The Soviet Invasion of 1921
a) World War I. The Russian Revolution and the Birth of Independent Georgia
b) The Independent Democratic Republic of Georgia, 1918-1921
c) Georgia in the Aftermath of the Soviet Invasion of 1921: A Summary

A vast amount of material is used in the monograph. In the very first chapter of the book the author emphasizes the fact that Georgia i.e. “the land below the Caucasus” was known even in ancient Greece. Prometheus and Jason, Argonauts in Greek mythology are a clear example of the above. In the historical sources of that period, Colchis and Colchis tribes are mentioned quite often. In the 5th century B.C. Eschylus in his tragedy “Prometheus Bound” notes that Zeus bound Prometheus, the hero, to the Caucasian mountain range for being disobedient; in one hundred years time, approximately in the 3rd century B.C. Apollonius from Rhodes describes in his Argonautica the journey of Greek Jason and his accomplices to the Colchis Kingdom in their quest for the Golden Fleece. There is quoted Plutarch’s views about myths, namely: “stories and legends are conveyed to us by poets and playwrights, and very often the plot has nothing in common with the reality”. In Skinner’s opinion these myths and legends took their toll, Colchis remained in Greek consciousness and later, the myth was combined with the reality – in the 7th century BC, Greeks from Miletus began to migrate on a mass scale to the Colchis coast. It’s logical that the new settlers communicated some information about the local Colchis and the level of the region’s development to the Greeks residing in Miletus though no historical evidence is available at present. Afterwards Skinner reviews Diodorus of Sicily (1st century B.C.) and Strabon’s data on Colchis and other parts of Georgia and notes that these data are not the information based on myths and legends. Diodorus of Sicily and Strabon’s descriptions, especially Romans’ invasions in the Caucasus, were the reason for the Georgian kingdom being mentioned in Western historical sources.

Note should be made of Skinner’s view with regard to Georgia’s social-political status. From his point of view the most important personalities of the Golden era were kings, David the Builder, Giorgi III and Queen Tamar. Due to their astute rule Georgia gained the status of the most powerful country in the Caucasus and an international recognition. David the Builder was very well aware that the role of the church was of a paramount importance in strengthening the centralized state. Hence, he reorganized that institution – dismissed unworthy priests from their posts and replaced them with the ones loyal to the state. Skinner describes David the Builder’s attempts at constructing churches in various parts of the country as at that time it was strictly established that churches and monasteries should have educational functions as well; the perfect example of the latter decision was the establishment of two major academies - Gelati and Iqalto. The author also emphasizes the high level of education provided to the students there. Along with subjects of classical quadrivium (theology, philosophy, rhetoric, astronomy) other practical disciplines were also taught there: such as medicine, pharmacology, pottery and steel making. Skinner agrees with the opinion, popular among Georgians that presumably Shota Rustaveli may have graduated from the Iqalto Academy.

Note should be made of the attitude of the American scholar towards The Man in the Panther Skin. It’s obvious that Skinner is very well aware of both the plot of the Romance and the views and literary criticism with regard to it. The Romance is mentioned in the present monograph several times; there is also presented a well-known illustration to the manuscript of The Man in the Panther Skin – the latter is written on parchment in Mkhedruli script and dates back to 1680. Skinner emphasizes Vakhtang VI’s contribution to the publication of the printed version of The Man in the Panther Skin. He believes that the Romance is notable for its especially dramatic effect; it describes every human virtue – heroic courage, true sincere love, loyalty, self-sacrifice. The action in this epic poem leaves the boundaries of Georgia and is transferred to Persia, India and Arabia. Skinner is aware of the views of prominent foreign scholars on The Man in the Panther Skin as well as the ideas of Georgian academics. Skinner writes: “In his essay collection “Inspiration and Poetry” (1955), the English humanist Maurice Bowra provides a fine introduction to The Knight, analyzing Rustaveli’s intellectual and imaginative worlds and placing the poem within the literary constellation of its era. As the Georgian scholar Elguja Khintibidze demonstrates in his essay “The Trace of Rustaveli’s The Man in the Panther Skin in Shakespeare’s Theatre (2007), the poem’s basic plot surfaced in England in the early 17th century.” [7, p. 449].

I believe that the well-illustrated monograph representing a consistent review of Georgia’s history from the ancient times to the first quarter of the XIX century (inclusive) and written for non-specialist readers – will contribute to the promotion of our country among English-speaking readers.


1. Aptsiauri, N., “A German Monograph on Ancient Georgian Inscription”, The Kartvelologist, №20, p. 212, Tbilisi 2014.
2. Aptsiauri, N., “Hainz Fähnrich “Königindes Waldes; Sagendun Mythenaus Georgien”, The Kartvelologist, №19, p. 350, Tbilisi 2013.
3. Gordeziani, L., “Donald Rayfield’s ‘A History of Georgia’ ”, The Kartvelologist, №20, p.120, Tbilisi 2014.
4. A Comprehensive Georgian-English Dictionary, Donald Rayfield – Editor-in-chief, Garnett Press, London 2006.
5. Skinner, Peter, “The “Lost” Country”, The Kartvelologist, №20, p. 107, Tbilisi 2014.
6. Rayfield, D., Edge of empires: a history of Georgia, Reaktion Books, London 2012.
7. Skinner, P., Georgia - The land Below the Caucasus, Narikala Publications, 2014, p. II.