Bagrat III of Georgia

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Bagrat III
ბაგრატ III
King of Georgia
King Bagrat III, fresco from Bedia Cathedral
King of Georgia
SuccessorGeorge I
King of Abkhazia
PredecessorTheodosius III
Duke of Kartli
Bornc. 960
Died7 May 1014(1014-05-07) (aged 53–54)
Panaskerti Castle, Tao
IssueGeorge I
FatherGurgen of Iberia
MotherGurandukht of Abkhazia
ReligionGeorgian Orthodox Church

Bagrat III (Georgian: ბაგრატ III) (c. 960 – 7 May 1014), of the Georgian Bagrationi dynasty, was a king (mepe) of Abkhazia from 978 on (as Bagrat II) and King of Georgia from 1008 on. He united these two titles by dynastic inheritance and, through conquest and diplomacy, added more lands to his realm, effectively becoming the first king of the Kingdom of Georgia. Before Bagrat was crowned as king, he had also reigned in Kartli as co-ruler with his father Gurgen from 976 to 978.

Early life and rule in Kartli[edit]


Bagrat was born in the 960s, probably in Kartli. He is the only known son of Gurgen of Iberia, titular king of Iberia, and Gurandukht, daughter of King George II of Abkhazia. Still young, the crown prince of Iberia was designated as heir by his father's cousin, David III of Tao, the most powerful ruler in the Caucasus[1] who reigns over the Duchy of Upper Tao and has been the Kouropalates of Iberia since 966,[2] and who educated the young prince at his court.[3]

At that time, Kartli was under the domination of the Kingdom of Abkhazia, located west of present-day Georgia. Indeed, in 780, Abkhazia, which escaped the invasions of the Arabs, emancipated itself from Byzantine suzerainty and established itself as a powerful kingdom and master of this region; in 916, the Abkhazian state reached its peak by invading Kartli and threatening Armenia.[4] But in 975, King Theodosius III, known as the Blind (who is also Bagrat's maternal uncle), accedes to the throne and enters into conflict with his nobility. A civil war begins in Abkhazia and chaos spreads across the country. Exploiting the situation, Kvirike II of Kakheti (929-976), who reigns in eastern Georgia, organizes raids against Kartli and thus challenges the power of the Abkhazian monarch. In a short time, he completely invaded eastern Georgia.[5] However, the Duke of Kartli Ioane Marushis-dze rebelled against Kvirike II and seeks help from the adoptive father of young Bagrat, David III of Tao. In 976, he arrived in Kartli and defeated the Kakhetians who had to leave the country.[6] David, the new liberator of Kartli, offers a kingdom freed from all its previous overlords to Bagrat who, still young, is placed under the regency of his father.[6]

Between throne and exile[edit]

The first part of Bagrat III's reign in Kartli is short and poorly known. It is known that soon after his arrival on the throne, the nobles, who took advantage of the bad situation in Georgia to recover their former power, began to rebel.

In 978, the Nakurdevelians (feudals of Kurdis-Khevi) and the Baratians united and allied themselves with the new prince of Kakheti, David. He soon captured the fortress of Uplistsikhe and took young Bagrat III and his parents hostage. Having learned the news, David III of Tao launched an expedition against the Kakhetians who, after negotiations, returned Kartli to the royal family,[2] but nevertheless retained the fortresses of Grouvi and Tsirkvali. From this moment on, the regency of the kingdom was exercised by Queen Gurandukht, mother of Bagrat III.[2]

King of Abkhazia[edit]

Meanwhile, in Abkhazia, the weakness of King Theodosius III against the nobles ultimately weakened the country. Taking advantage of the situation, Ioane Marushis-dze, who had already placed Bagrat on the Kartlian throne, tried to place his protégé at the head of the Abkhazian kingdom. The Eristavi then allied himself with the nobility of Kartli and Abkhazia and all agreed on the fact that a powerful new king was needed who would unify the two countries. Bagrat III is invested with royal attributes and, having reached his maturity, sees all the nobility stooping at his feet.[2] This event is said to take place in 978,[2] but others place it two years later. Bagrat, now master of western and central Georgia, sends the deposed king Theodosius III the Blind as a gift to his adoptive father David III of Tao.[2]

Having become king of Abkhazia, Bagrat III must urgently return to Kartli, where his mother, the regent Gurandukht, reigns and wants to become independent. The nobles of Kartli, who appreciated their situation under the reign of the regent, refused to recognize Bagrat III as king of Kartli and placed a certain Kavtar Tbeli at their head.[7] The nobles stationed themselves in defensive positions throughout central Georgia but the king defeated them in a battle at Moghrisi. Bagrat advances into his own kingdom and takes back Uplistsikhe from his mother. After thus putting down the noble rebellion, he returned to Abkhazia, where he assigned his mother. Bagrat III at this time began to put Abkhazian affairs in order. He calms the nobles and places himself as a loyal and honest monarch.[7]

Family War[edit]

A few years later, before 994, an Kartlian nobleman, named Rati, son of Liparit, Duke of Kldekari,[7] presented himself as a powerful nobleman in the eastern part of the kingdom of Bagrat III. Soon, he came into possession of the lordship of “Athens", the southern part of Kartli (south of Mtkvari), the region of Trialeti, the valley of Manglisi, then refused to surrender to Bagrat III.[7] He then marched with a powerful army, reinforced by a militia from his father Gurgen, against the rebellious nobleman. However, for fear of seeing Bagrat more powerful than him, the king's adoptive father allied with Bagrat Regueni,[7] Gurgen's own father, and with the Armenian monarchs Smbat II of Armenia and Abas of Kars in order to stop the intervention of Bagrat.[3]

A first battle took place in the plains of Gardatkhinlni, at the entrance to Shavsheti. The armies of Gourgen are defeated and the prince must take refuge in the fortress of Tsep’ti.[7] King Bagrat III, who suspended his campaign against Rati, learned to his great regret that he did not have enough strength to face the armies of David III Kuropalates and Bagrat Regueni and then began negotiations with the opposing camp. Finally, peace is granted and the so-called “family” war is over.

Bagrat III returns to Abkhazia and reigns there peacefully, leaving Rati, the rebellious nobleman, to return to his domains. But the king's strategy is to let Rati return to Kartli to make him believe that the conflict is over. Thus, during the following winter, Bagrat gathered his troops and besieged Kldekari, before defeating the insolent duke. Rati is pardoned and made Duke of Argveti, in western Georgia.[8]

The unification[edit]

Silver dirham of Bagrat III, minted in Tiflis (Tbilisi). Struck between 1008 and 1014 (left = obverse; right = reverse)

On 31 March 1000,[9] Bagrat III's adoptive father, David III Kuropalates, died, probably assassinated.[10] The Georgian Chronicle of Vakhushti of Kartli states that when the ruler of Tao died, the region was left desolate. The Byzantine emperor Basil II, to whom David had bequeathed the Tao as a result of his role in the Bardas Phokas revolt, decided to force his way back.[11] However, the emperor, who had just returned from a campaign in Syria against the Fatimid Caliphate and was expecting a difficult campaign, found himself faced with understanding nobles who recognised themselves as vassals of a powerful monarch, thus denying the authority of Bagrat III.[12] In just a few months, he completed the conquest of Tao-Klarjeti, before granting the title of "Magistros" to Gurgen, Bagrat's father, and that of "Kouropalates" to the king himself. He thus tried to set the son against his father, but no conflict arose, as Gurgen was considered an honest and upright man and father. As a result, Bagrat III, in addition to his title of King of Abkhazia, became Kuropalates of Iberia, unifying western Georgia in the process, but losing a large part of his family heritage.

In 1008, he received the hereditary title of "King of the Georgians" and the unified duchy of Lower Tao-Javakheti when his father, Gurgen I of Iberia, died. Having become master of all the lands ruled by members of the Bagrationi dynasty, Bagrat III decided to intervene in Eastern Transcaucasia. He began by claiming from David, prince and Chorbishop of Kakheti[24], the lands he had annexed after his victory in the Kartli War of 978. However, the latter refused and announced his intention to go to war. Bagrat III, angered by the Kakhetian's refusal, headed for Kakheti, crossed the Kartli and devastated Hereti, an eastern province of the principality of Kakheti. He appointed a certain Aboulal as mtavari ("count") of the region, but he was overthrown by the local nobility, who took control of the country and decided to unite with Kakheti.

Having learned of the revolt in the newly annexed Hereti, Bagrat III decided to unite his troops and returned to the conquest. In a short space of time, he completed the annexation of Hereti, domesticated the local nobility in Imereti, and placed the relics of the country's first Orthodox queen near these nobles. In 1008, Bagrat III began the conquest of Kakheti. He completed it in 1010, without encountering too much opposition. He left the fortress of Bodchorma to Prince Kvirike III of Kakheti, son of Bishop David, but took it from him and annexed the country completely some time later. At the end of this war, Bagrat III found himself absolute master of the whole of Georgia. He had completed the unification of the country and was now "King of the Abkhazians, Kartvels, Rans and Kakhs".

War against the Shaddadids[edit]

As King of Georgia, Bagrat III decided to embark on campaigns against neighbouring countries. He chose to attack the neighbouring Emirate of Ganja, whose emir, Fadl ibn Muhammad, had been raiding eastern Georgia for some time. To achieve his aims, Bagrat formed an alliance with the Armenian king Gagik I. In 1012, Armenian and Georgian troops joined forces and finally set off for Ganja in Dzoraget, Armenia. Fadl, who had sworn to the death of all Christians and had never met a ruler capable of defeating him up to that point, was very surprised when he learned of the advance of the armies of two countries that worshipped the Cross, and took refuge in a fortress where he prepared for a difficult siege. Bagrat took advantage of the situation to seize the lands of Arran, which he made a Georgian province, and began the Siege of Shamkor, the fortified town in which the Shaddadid emir had taken refuge. In just a few days, he overcame the city's defences and granted peace to the vanquished. Fadl found himself a vassal of Georgia and was obliged to come to Bagrat's aid if necessary; Ganja also had to pay tribute (Kharaj) from then on. The Emir offered many sumptuous gifts to the King of Georgia, as well as to the nobles who had persuaded Bagrat to conclude the peace without annexing Ganja.

Power of Georgia[edit]

After subduing eastern Transcaucasia, Bagrat III took charge of the border with the Byzantine Empire in the south-west of the country. Since the year 1000 and the death of David III Kuropalates, who had ceded his domains to Byzantium in his will, Tao-Klarjeti had been part of the Byzantine Empire. For a while, he found himself master of Lower Tao and Javakheti, following the death of his father, but he still had no power over the lands under Byzantine administration. However, between 1011 and 1012, Bagrat chose to regain control of his hereditary lands.Sumbatd war against the princes Sumbat and Gurgen of Klarjeti, who, having submitted to Byzantium, had taken the title of "King of Klarjeti" and threatened the power of Georgia. He soon succeeded in defeating them, without any opposition from the Byzantine Empire. In 1012, he had the two brothers Sumbat and Gurgen killed while they were imprisoned in the citadel of Tmogvi, while he allowed their children to go into exile in Constantinople.

Bagrat III, having just annexed the duchy of Artanuji, found himself definitively master of all Georgian lands. But he didn't stop there. He led campaigns in the Caucasus and subdued Arran, Shirvan and, according to contemporary Georgian charters, Armenia[33]. He allied himself with the Abbasid caliph Al-Qadir and set himself up as an enemy of Basil II. Under his reign, Georgia was united and there were no noble revolts. The king, who held Georgia in his hand like an absolute monarch, was also loved by his people, and the peasants considered themselves his servants.

Bagrat and Christianity[edit]

Bagrati Cathedral in Kutaisi, a World Heritage Site.
The Bedia Chalice donated by Bagrat to the Bedia Monastery is an important piece of Georgian metal art. c. 999 AD

With the unification of Georgia, King Bagrat III also created the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, which still exists today. Indeed, before the 1000s, Patriarch John IV bore the title of “Catholicos of Iberia”. A very Christian king, Bagrat III had several churches built, including the Bedia Cathedral,[13] in 999, which he elevated to the rank of chief town of a bishopric and also the religious capital of Abkhazia, thus taking this title from Goudakva this title. Georgia's first monarch was also responsible for Bagrati Cathedral, in his capital of Kutaisi,[13] a remarkable religious building, the construction of which was completed in 1003. The monument was part of UNESCO'S World Heritage from the 18th session in 1994 until 2017, when it was withdrawn because it was "the subject of a major reconstruction project affecting its integrity and authenticity”.[14]

According to Vakhushti Bagrationi and Marie-Félicité Brosset, Emperor Basil II, who did not have such good relations with Georgia, offered the Caucasian Patriarchate the monastery of Kestoria (probably in Greece). At the same time, the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia acquired no less than one hundred and five villages, silver and gold, icons and crosses to decorate the churches.[15] According to Vakhushti, writing in the 18th century, it was under Bagrat III's protection that the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (Mtskheta), now the seat of the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia, was built, or rather restored, using the ornaments brought back from Kestoria.[15] However, it is now known that this did not happen until the next reign.


Bagrat III on the 2014 Georgian postage stamp

After defeating the dukes of Klarjeti, Bagrat III undertook a final journey to his homeland. He crossed the whole of his kingdom, from Abkhazia to Hereti, passing through Kartli and Kakheti before finally stopping in Tao, where he spent the winter of 1013-1014 in the fortress of Panaskerti, the former residence of the sovereigns of Tao. He died on 7 May 1014 in his royal residence, at an advanced age, with long white hair, after a reign of thirty-six years. Count Zviad Orbeliani, who reigned in a province of Abkhazia, took care of his body, transporting it to the north of the country. The first monarch of unified Georgia was buried in 1014 in the Bedia Cathedral.

He was canonized by the Georgian Orthodox Church on 22 December 2016, his feast day set for 7 May (NS 21 May).[16]


According to genealogist Cyril Toumanoff, King Bagrat III had a wife, Martha, who bore him a son: George I of Georgia. Other sources tell us of a second child, Basil, who was canonised as Basil of Khakhuli by the Georgian Orthodox Church.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Mikaberidze 2015, p. 160.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Brosset 1849, p. 295.
  3. ^ a b Grousset 1995, p. 516.
  4. ^ Brosset 1849, p. 274.
  5. ^ Brosset 1849, pp. 274–277.
  6. ^ a b Brosset 1849, p. 292.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Brosset 1849, p. 296.
  8. ^ Brosset 1849, p. 297.
  9. ^ Date de la mort de Bagrat II d'Ibérie.
  10. ^ Mathieu d'Édesse, Ire partie, chap. XXIV, p. 33, et Aristakès Lastivertsi, chap. I, p. 9, (Grousset 1995, p. 531).
  11. ^ Gérard Dédéyan (dir.), Histoire du peuple arménien, Privat, Toulouse, 2007 ISBN 978-2-7089-6874-5, p. 254.
  12. ^ Marie-Félicité Brosset, p. 297.
  13. ^ a b Brosset 1849, p. 300.
  14. ^ UNESCO World Heritage Centre (10 July 2017). "Gelati Monastery, Georgia, removed from UNESCO's List of World Heritage in Danger". unesco. Retrieved 14 July 2017.
  15. ^ a b Brosset 1849, p. 301.
  16. ^ "წმინდა სინოდმა წმინდანებად ორი მეფე - ბაგრატ მესამე და სოლომონ პირველი, ასევე, კათოლიკოს-პატრიარქი კალისტრატე ცინცაძე შერაცხა". Georgian Times. 22 December 2016. Archived from the original on 26 December 2016. Retrieved 25 December 2016.


Preceded by King of Abkhazia
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Position established
King of Georgia
Succeeded by