George I of Georgia

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There was also a Giorgi I, Catholicos of Kartli who ruled in 677–678.
George I
გიორგი I
A symbolic representation of George I ("Georgios of Abasgia") fleeing on horseback from Emperor Basil II after defeat, Skylitzes Chronicle
King of Georgia
Reign7 May 1014 – 16 August 1027
PredecessorBagrat III
SuccessorBagrat IV
Born998 or 1002
Died16 August 1027
Mqinwarni or Itaroni
SpouseMariam of Vaspurakan
Alda of Alania
Among others
Bagrat IV of Georgia
Demetrius of Anacopia
FatherBagrat III of Georgia
ReligionGeorgian Orthodox Church

George I (Georgian: გიორგი I, romanized: giorgi I) (998 or 1002 – 16 August 1027), of the Bagrationi dynasty, was the 2nd king (mepe) of Georgia from 1014 until his death in 1027.

George I ascended the throne when he was still too young to equal his father Bagrat III, must first suffer a first defeat against the nobles who imposed on him the return to the independence of Kingdom of Kakheti-Hereti. But soon he managed to regain his strength and extended his power in the region, with numerous vassals in Caucasus and sphere of influence in Armenia. However, the Byzantine Empire, with which his father had already experienced the first tensions, proved strong enough to fight in a conflict started by George under the reign of Basil II, a conflict which devastated the entire south of the country to annex the former “Kingdom of the Iberians”, the Tao. Fortunately for his heritage, George, thanks to astute diplomacy (alliance with the Fatimids, etc.) preserved the independence of his country which hardly became vassalized and paid no tribute under his reign.

Early life[edit]

George was born in 998 or, according to a later version of the Georgian chronicles, 1002, to King Bagrat III,[1] who had already begun his work of unification of Georgian lands. From this, George is the adopted grandson of the great David III the Kuropalates,[2] true architect of Georgian unification, but also biologically of Gurgen of Iberia, last holder of the distinction of King of the Georgians. From these two fatherhoods, George finds himself the heir of an ancient family of the high Georgian nobility, the Bagrationi dynasty, which reigned over the majority of the Georgian states before 1010.

In 1010, when the king of Kakheti and Hereti Kvirike III was finally defeated and his domains annexed after a two-year war, Georgia found itself finally unified.[3] The father of the young prince thus found himself one of the most powerful monarchs of the Caucasus and in a few years, reduced to vassalage the Shaddadids[4] and, according to the Georgian charters, the Armenian lands,[5] of same as all the Caucasian tribes of North Caucasus. However, Bagrat III died four years later, on May 7, 1014.[6] His only son and crown prince, George, was ascended to the throne.


Loss of Kakheti-Hereti[edit]

The new King George I therefore has little experience in political affairs, unlike his father, given his young age. The monarch has not acquired enough knowledge on the complex issue of the nobility but has already reached an age where one can no longer think of a regent (or, at least, of an advisor with too much of influence), if we do not want to end up as a puppet of some lord thinking only of his noble allies. For this reason, George cannot prevent the first crisis of his reign from occurring with the nobility. The latter, representing the old Georgian upper class before unification, decided to attack the most vulnerable region of the kingdom because it had joined it last and in great difficulty: Kakheti.

The aznaurs (lords), described as “perfidious” by the Georgian Chronicles,[7] who lived in good conditions when Kakheti was an independent kingdom and were exiled to western Georgia by King Bagrat III in 1010,[3] revolt against the power of the king and the unity of the country. Returning to their country, they captured and took hostage the local governors (eristavi, also meaning "grand duke") appointed by Georgia.[7] King George I, taken by surprise, could only comply with the requests of the nobility and, in an agreement which cut off Georgia by more than a third of its territory from the first year of George's reign, recognized the independence of Kakheti and frees the former “ChorbishopKvirike III, who takes the title of “King of Kakheti-Hereti”. For his part, King George I must remove the title of the "King of Ranis and Kakhetians" from his father's old title, to retain the title of "King of the Abkhazians and Iberians".[8]

However, it cannot be claimed that Kvirike III really considered himself anything other than a Georgian monarch. Indeed, his people, like himself, still depend on the Georgian Orthodox Church, with only an independent de facto bishop sitting in Alaverdi. Against all contrary sources, the Georgian language is still used by the Kakhetians and politically, he later finds himself allied with Georgia against two common enemies: the Alans, living on the other flank of the Greater Caucasus, and the Shaddadids, and this from the reign of the successor of George I, Bagrat IV.

Georgian influence in the Caucasus[edit]

The Kingdom of Georgia before the loss of Kakheti (1010-1014).

When in 1014 Bagrat III died, Georgia can be called "the first power of the Caucasus". Indeed, there are few contenders for this title. In the north, all the nomadic tribes and peoples thinking of forming “countries” have already fallen under the suzerainty of the first sovereign of unified Georgia, even if some (such as the Alans) de facto escape the jurisdiction of Georgia.[9] In the east, as was said above, neither the Kingdom of Kakheti-Hereti nor the Shaddadids (which then continued to pay tribute) faced Georgia and, while one was considered ally, the other is truly a vassal. Ultimately, only the kingdom of Armenia, to the south, had the same military power as Georgia.

Gagik I reigned over the Armenian kingdom since 989. Armenian and foreign chronicles qualify him as a strong and powerful king in the region, then in the same way as David III Kuropalates. However, he died almost thirty years later, in 1020, believing to leave definitively powerful domains to his descendants. However, his eldest son and designated successor, Hovhannes-Smbat III, hardly lived up to his father, which aroused the anger of his younger brother Ashot, nicknamed the Valiant. He revolted and, without using too many weapons, managed to carve out a truly small independent kingdom in the north-east of Armenia in 1021. The king of Vaspurakan, Senekerim-Hovhannes, ingeniously decided to pose as a arbitrator of the two brothers to avoid a civil conflict in the region which could subsequently prompt Byzantine Empire to intervene. But again, nothing new is proposed and he now remains the first person in Armenia.

It was then that George I intervened. The king of Georgia replaces Senekerim-Hovhannes and proposes a real solution to the problem. As arbiter, he divided the Armenia of Gagik I and gave the region of Ani to Hovhannes-Smbat III, while Ashot received the lands located between Georgia and the Abbasid Caliphate. However, a simple incident breaks the deal. Aristakes Lastivertsi relates that Ashot was seized with anger when he learned that his brother, to rest on the way to Ani, stopped one night in Chatik, in the domains of the younger brother. Ashot sent a delegation to George I, who decided to come “to his aid”. Immediately, the Georgian monarch went to Ani and, without encountering defense, took the city, plundered and destroyed it. Subsequently, nobles loyal to the legitimate successor of Gagik I changed sides and delivered Hovhannes-Smbat to George, who freed him in exchange for several fortresses and vassalage to Ani. Georgia now finds itself in first position in the Caucasus. However, this is not enough for George. He not only wants a title, but also land. Apparently he has recovered from the loss of East Georgia and is ready to take on a bigger enemy.

War with the Byzantine Empire[edit]

George I, still young and proud of his few exploits, decided to rekindle the old tensions between his nation and the Byzantine Empire, which had been experiencing imperialist pressures in this region of the Caucasus since at least the reign of Justinian I (527-565). Moreover, he truly considered himself the successor of the one who tried to unify the Georgian lands, and the loss of Kakheti and Hereti led him to seek new domains in the south-west.[10] This is how he came to think of Tao, the ancient Kingdom of the Iberians and hereditary domain of the first Bagrations, which had been bequeathed by will to Emperor Basil II by David III Kuropalates, as punishment for the latter's support for the rebel Bardas Phokas, and part of which was offered by Byzantine Empire to Bagrat III.

Since the year 1000, Basil II had been at war with the Bulgarians and therefore had little time to deal with Georgia. For this reason, George I invaded the disputed patrimony for the first time in 1015/1016, without receiving a direct military response from the emperor. However, Aristakes Lastivertsi reports an exchange of letters between Basil and the Georgian monarch:

“— Abandon the portion of the inheritance of the curopalate that I had given to your father, and be content to reign in your patrimony.
— Of what the prince my father possessed, I will not give a single house to anyone.[11] »

A miniature depicting the defeat of King George I at the Battle of Shirimni. The Skylitzes Chronicle. George is shown as fleeing on horseback on the right and Basil II holding a shield and lance on the left.

Following this refusal, Basil II intervened directly, despite his difficulties in Bulgaria, but the renewal of the alliance between Georgia and Byzantium's main enemy, the Fatimid Caliphate (against whom the Byzantine emperor had waged war between 992 and 995), repulsed the Greek troops for the first time.[12] However, by 1018, Bulgaria was completely under Byzantine control. The Bulgarian tsar was dethroned and Bulgaria became a province of the Byzantine Empire. A little later, the Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah died and was succeeded by his son Al-Zahir li-I'zaz Din Allah, who was too inexperienced to think about Georgia. George I once again found himself alone in the international arena and Basil II sent all his troops against him.[12] The two armies met on the plains of Basiani, in Tao, but George I retreated, burning the town of Oltisi to throw the Greeks off course, before being caught again at Cola.[10] Not far from there, at the village of Shirimni, the Georgian rearguard was attacked by the Byzantine vanguard, leading to a fierce battle on 11 September 1021, which was won with difficulty by the troops of Basil II, who was himself present at the heart of the battlefield, after the death of the greatest Georgian generals of the time. The Georgian troops left the region in a hurry to take refuge in Samtskhe, but the Byzantines still pursued them and ravaged Javakheti, before setting fire to the town of Artaani.[13]

A game of chase ensued. From Samtskhe, at the sight of the approaching enemy armies, George I retreated to the Trialeti. Once there, he gave the soldiers of Byzantine Empire no time to arrive; in the meantime, his camp was reinforced by soldiers from Kakheti-Hereti and the mountains of the Great Caucasus.[14] Basil II then routed and camped at Artaani for the winter, taking advantage of the period to devastate the region in retaliation. Later, he set up camp on the territory of the empire itself, near Trebizond, where he received the submission of Hovhannes-Smbat III of Armenia, although he was a vassal of Georgia, and where the first attempts at negotiations with Georgia took place. At the same time, Vaspurakan was ceded to Byzantium by King Senekerim-Hovhannes Artsruni, who was threatened by the Seljuks. Georgia found itself surrounded and, as a last resort, intervened in the enemy's internal affairs.

In 1022, the Anatolian strategist Nikephoros Xiphias (a Byzantine general of the time who had distinguished himself in the war against the Bulgars) and his namesake Nikephoros Phokas (nicknamed "Au Col Tors"), son of the former rebel Bardas Phokas, revolted against Emperor Basil II. Officially, the reason for the revolt was that the two Nikephoroses had not been called by Constantinople to lead the Transcaucasian campaign; but in reality, the real instigator of the rebellion was George I of Georgia, who had taken advantage of the jealousy of the Byzantine generals.[15] However, on 11 September 1022, one year to the day after the defeat at Shirmni, the rebels were finally defeated by Basil, who dragged them off to Constantinople. Basil II had understood who was behind the revolt and once again turned against the Georgian monarch, who had to accept a forced peace.

George then sent Prince Zviad Liparitisdze with numerous troops to meet the Byzantine emperor and took the opportunity to capture Tao again, during the winter of 1022-1023. Following the advice of treacherous Georgian lords, George I ordered the Byzantine troops to be attacked. The king joined his army in person in the plain of Basiani and a fierce battle began.[16] The Byzantine part of the enemy army is defeated but the battalions coming from Kievan Rus' continue the fight hard, until they completely defeat the Georgians, several of whose lords and fighters perish.[17] Peace talks resumed and a treaty was finally concluded between Basil II and George I. According to the terms of this treaty, the young prince Bagrat, the king's eldest son and aged 3 year old, was sent to Constantinople as a hostage of the emperor for three years.[15] Georgia must also renounce fourteen fortresses and all claims to the domains of David III Kuropalates.[17] Georgia now finds himself deprived of Tao, Javakheti, Shavsheti, the plains of Basiani and the towns of Artaani and Kola.[18] This first Byzantine-Georgian war thus ended with a Byzantine victory.

End of the reign and death[edit]

Two years after the end of the war, Basil II died on December 15, 1025. His brother Constantine VIII succeeded him on the imperial throne, just as the three-year period during which Crown Prince Bagrat was to remain in Constantinople had come to an end. Constantine didn't see it that way, however, and asked the catapan of Iberia, Nikita,[12] to take back the six-year-old Bagrat, who was still on Georgian territory. The catapan Nikita tried to recover the prince by force, but it was already too late: an innumerable Georgian army, ready for battle to defend the future king, stood in front of him.[7]

Later, the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Melchizedek I (c. 1010 - 1033) traveled in Constantinople for what can be considered the first discussions between Byzantium and Georgia since the end of the war.[7] There, as his country's ambassador to the empire, he bought the Tao villages of Zadvareki, Orota and another whose name is unknown. In Shavsheti, Naghvarevi was also taken, as were Tontio in Javakheti, Orotan in the Kola region, Makharovani in Phanavari and Nakalakevi and Berdadzoni in Sacoeti. All these lands were later assigned to the Georgian Orthodox Church.[7]

Two more years later, on August 16, 1027, King George I died while traveling in the Trialeti region, in the village of Mkinvarni (also known as Itsroni or Vironi). He was buried in the Bagrati Cathedral in his capital Kutaisi. A recently discovered grave, presumably robbed in the 19th century, is proposed to have belonged to George I. According to the Georgian Chronicles, the whole country mourned him, for during his reign he had surpassed all his ancestors in every possible quality. His son, then aged seven, was recognized and proclaimed King of Georgia, under the name of Bagrat IV.


The construction of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was initiated in the 1020s by George I.

When King George I died, he left a dubious legacy. On the one hand, he let a third of his territories fall into the hands of the nobles, but diplomatically, he truly outdid his father, turning the man who was supposed to be his closest enemy (Kvirike III of Kakheti) into a loyal ally who helped him in his future campaigns. Diplomatically, he also succeeded in taking control of the internal affairs of his Armenian neighbor, but also made alliances that enabled him to avoid a first invasion by Byzantium. However, the same enemy defied all these dangers to invade southwestern Georgia in 1021-1023. But this did not prevent his distant eighteenth-century descendant Vakhushti Bagrationi from venerating him to the point of praising him in the Georgian Chronicles:

" King George I died, still young and full of all sorts of qualities. No one among his ancestors had been his equal in energy, heroism, generosity, perfections of body and face, and ability to govern. He died leaving all the peoples of his royal domains in affliction, each one regretting his goodness, his heroism, his bravery."

Traces of George I's reign are few and far between. The main one is the construction of the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral on the site of the former wooden church built under the protection of the Iberian rulers Mirian III and his wife Nana, in the 4th century. From the time of George I onwards, almost all future Georgian kings were crowned in the town of Mtskheta, the former administrative and now religious capital of Georgia. Indeed, Svetistskhoveli was the official seat of the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia until 2004, when it was transferred to Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi.


George I married Mariam of Vaspurakan, the youngest daughter of King Senekerim-Hovhannes Artsruni, who had allied himself with the Georgian monarch during the Armenian affair. According to sources, the marriage took place before 1018, when the couple's first child was born. Together, therefore, the couple had four children:

Subsequently, a second marriage was proposed with Alda, the daughter of an Alanian king[34]. The thesis of this marriage is not certain, as the repudiation of Queen Mariam has never been recorded in Georgian sources, and some Byzantine and Georgian authors refer to Alda as George I's "wife". But the Georgian Chronicles record that Mariam and George were still together in 1026, when their son Bagrat returned from Constantinople. It is therefore more likely that Alda was little more than a concubine of the Georgian king, which is understandable considering the vassalage of the Alans to Georgia. In any case, it is certain that at least one son was born of this marriage:

In literature[edit]

The most important representation of Giorgi I in historical fiction is probably in Konstantine Gamsakhurdia's magnum opus, The Hand of the Great Master. The author has often noted that he has been deeply interested in George's character and historical figure for a long time, as well as his reign full of turmoil and turbulence. In the story, the king is portrayed as a philanderer who enjoys feasting in low-class taverns with his comrades disguised as random peasants. The author seems to be emphasizing on the king's human, fleshly wishes and desires, despite his position on the social ladder, such as lust, love, loathing and compassion.


  1. ^ Mikaberidze 2015, p. 330.
  2. ^ Grousset 1995, p. 516.
  3. ^ a b Brosset 1849, p. 299.
  4. ^ Grousset 1995, p. 537.
  5. ^ Brosset 1849, p. 301.
  6. ^ Brosset 1849, p. 302.
  7. ^ a b c d e Brosset 1849, p. 310.
  8. ^ Asatiani & Janelidze 2009, p. 176.
  9. ^ Muskhelishvili 2003, p. 20.
  10. ^ a b Javakhishvili 1949, p. 10.
  11. ^ Salia 1980, p. 158.
  12. ^ a b c Salia 1980, p. 159.
  13. ^ Grousset 1949, p. 153.
  14. ^ Brosset 1849, p. 307.
  15. ^ a b Javakhishvili 1949, p. 11.
  16. ^ Brosset 1849, p. 308.
  17. ^ a b Brosset 1849, p. 309.
  18. ^ Asatiani & Bendianashvili 1997, p. 112.


  • Asatiani, Nodar; Bendianashvili, Alexandre (1997). Histoire de la Géorgie. Paris: L'Harmattan. ISBN 2-7384-6186-7.
  • Asatiani, Nodar; Janelidze, Otar (2009). History of Georgia. Tbilisi: Publishing House Petite. ISBN 978-9941-9063-6-7.
  • Brosset, Marie-Félicité (1849). Histoire de la Géorgie depuis l'Antiquité jusqu'au XIXe siècle. Volume I [History of Georgia from Ancient Times to the 19th Century, Volume 1] (in French). Saint-Petersburg: Imperial Academy of Sciences.
  • Grousset, René (1995) [1947]. Histoire de l'Arménie des origines à 1071 (in French). Payot. ISBN 2-228-88912-1.
  • Grousset, René (1949). L'Empire du Levant : Histoire de la Question d'Orient. Bibliothèque historique (in French). Paris: Payot. p. 153. ISBN 2-228-12530-X.
  • Javakhishvili, Ivane (1949). Histoire de la Géorgie. XIe – XVe siècles (in Georgian). Tbilisi: Publication d'État de la RSS de Géorgie..
  • Mikaberidze, Alexander (2015). Historical Dictionary of Georgia. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBN 9781442241466.
  • Muskhelishvili, David L. (2003). A Historical Atlas of Georgia. Tbilisi: I. Javakhishvili Institute of History and Ethnology of the Academy of Sciences of Georgia.
  • Salia, Kalistrat (1980). Histoire de la nation géorgienne [History of the Georgian nation] (in French). Paris: Nino Salia.
Preceded by King of Georgia
Succeeded by