Kingdom of Western Georgia

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Kingdom of Western Georgia
დასავლეთ საქართველოს სამეფო
dasavlet sakartvelos samepo
Map of fragmented Kingdom of Georgia in 1311, with western realm in purple.
Map of fragmented Kingdom of Georgia in 1311, with western realm in purple.
Common languagesMiddle Georgian
Eastern Orthodox Christianity (Georgian Patriarchate)
GovernmentFeudal monarchy
• 1259–1293
David VI
• 1293–1326/1327
Constantine I
• 1327–1329
• 1329–1330
Bagrat I
• 1387–1389
Alexander I
• 1389–1392
George I
• 1396–1401
Constantine II
Historical eraLate Middle Ages
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Kingdom of Georgia
Kingdom of Georgia

The Kingdom of Western Georgia (Georgian: დასავლეთ საქართველოს სამეფო, romanized: dasavlet sakartvelos samepo) was a late medieval de facto independent fragmented part[1][2] of the Kingdom of Georgia that emerged during the Mongol invasions of the realm, led by King David VI Narin in 1259[3][4] and later followed by his successors. Over the decades, the monarchy would fall into chaos and transform into a federation of autonomous principalities unruly of the central or regional royal power and authority.

Most of the occasions, realm would be reannexed into unified fold by the eastern Georgian kings. Nevertheless, the unified Georgian realm would de jure collapse in 1490,[5] and western Georgia would secure an independent future under the name of Kingdom of Imereti, that will exist til 1810.[6]

Name of the realm[edit]

The question of the contemporaneous name of the realm between 1259 and the early 1400s remains without a concrete answer because from the end of the 15th century, Western Georgia extended from the modern-day city of Sochi in the north[7] to Trebizond in the south and the Likhi Range in the east. The chronology of the adoption of this name for this state is not clear and it is plausible that some monarchs before 1490[8] fragmentation would style themselves as "Kings of Imereti", however, it may well be an anachronism and that an actual change of the title would happen much later.[9]

Indeed, upon 1259 independence pushed by King David VI Narin, he would continue to be styled as David VI, king of united Georgia. Modern historians, such as the former head of the historical department of the Tbilisi State University, Professor Nodar Asatiani justifies the naming of the realm as the Kingdom of Western Georgia until the 15th century, demonstrating that the rulers of that fragmented state considered themselves a legitimate line of the Georgian kings who protected the Georgian nation during the Muslim invasions and were fiercely fighting for the unity.[10] French historian Marie-Félicité Brosset also attributes the creation of the distinctive kingdom of Imereti under that name to the first coronation of King Bagrat VI in 1463.[11]


Uprising against the Mongols and the beginnings[edit]

David Narin, first king of West Georgia.

Since the 1220s, the Kingdom of Georgia had to contend with the numerous Mongol invasions of Genghis Khan and his successors, the Ilkhanids.[12] In 1245, the young David VI was recognised as King of Georgia by the Mongol Empire, which offered the same title to his cousin, David VII, in 1248, effectively dividing the Georgian kingdom between the two cousins. They reigned jointly throughout the country for almost a decade under Mongol control. However, the Muslim overlords began to impose heavy taxes on the inhabitants of the Caucasus, leading to numerous popular revolts, particularly in Shirvan.[13]

In 1259, David VI, who was nicknamed Narin (meaning "cadet" in Mongolian) by the Ilkhanid authorities, rebelled against his suzerain, although he did not drag his royal colleague into the rebellion.[13] The Ilkhanate soon put an end to this revolt after a few short, bloody battles, while David VI managed to take refuge in western Georgia on a secret journey that took him through Armenia.[14] Arriving in Kutaisi, one of the largest towns in western Georgia, he declared the secession of the domains west of the Likhi mountains, and was proclaimed King of western Georgia by the local nobility.[13]

Western Georgia then became an independent kingdom, wishing to preserve Georgian culture outside the sphere of influence of the Mongol world. The Ilkhanate was preoccupied with its military campaign in Syria against certain Crusader states and Mamluk Sultanate[15] and was content to increase the tributes imposed on eastern Georgia to rectify the difference in revenue following the loss of a large portion of the taxes from some of the richest Georgian provinces.[16]

The kingdom created by David VI included a number of powerful duchies controlling several Black Sea ports, including the duchies of Guria, Mingrelia and Abkhazia, which contained the cities of Batumi and Poti. To the north, the kingdom controlled the duchies of Svaneti and Racha, thus controlling the Caucasus mountains against the empire of the Golden Horde.[17] This situation enabled the new government of Kutaisi to maintain important trade routes with the West, notably via the Genoese merchants based in Abkhazia and the Empire of Trebizond, leading to a large-scale immigration of Georgian nobles and merchants from eastern Georgia.[16] David VI even managed to shelter and share his throne with his cousin, David VII Ulu, when the latter in turn revolted against the Mongol yoke in 1261;[18] this agreement was short-lived and the two sovereigns were unable to work together to protect western Georgia, leading to David Ulu's return to Tbilisi in 1262.[19]

While eastern Georgia was forced to contribute heavily to the Ilkhanid military campaigns,[20] the government of Kutaisi prospered temporarily. This situation enabled David VI to protect himself effectively against the mercenaries of the Mongol rebel Tekuder, who took refuge in western Georgia in 1269 after failing in his revolt against Abaqa Khan.[21] Throughout the 1270s, the kingdom had to defend itself against numerous Mongol invasions, which were brought to an end after David VI agreed to pay tribute. However, these wars enabled the central government to abolish the rebellious Duchy of Racha and annex it to the royal territories in 1278.[21]

Civil War and First Fall[edit]

Abaqa Khan crowned Vakhtang II King of Georgia in 1289 in an attempt to annex western Georgia.

The good health of western Georgia did not last long. By 1285, Kutaisi had lost control over the Empire of Trebizond, which aligned its foreign policy with Constantinople[22] despite an attempted invasion to dethrone Emperor John II.[23] In 1289, the Ilkhanid authorities decided to reunify Georgia to control the whole nation and appointed Vakhtang II, eldest son and crown prince of David VI, as King of East Georgia. Following the failure of this plan and the death of Vakhtang II in 1292,[24] David VI also died, leaving the throne of his kingdom to Constantine I in 1293.[25]

Western Georgia fell into civil war when Michael, Constantine I's younger brother, revolted and succeeded in dominating the eastern regions of the kingdom, including Argveti, Racha and Lechkhumi.[26] Despite numerous attempts at reconciliation by the Kutaisi feudalists, the two brothers never reconciled again, and Michael was even crowned king in opposition, before obtaining the crown after Constantine's death in 1327.[27]

This internal chaos enabled the great nobles of western Georgia to seize power and separate themselves from the crown. Indeed, the war enabled the dukes of Guria, Mingrelia and Svaneti to raise their own armies.[26] While King Michael tried to reunite the army, he was unsuccessful and had to leave his throne to his only son after his death in 1329, Bagrat I.[28]

Bagrat, nicknamed Mtsire (meaning "the minor"), remained a minor when he came to power, and the lack of a regent allowed him to sow chaos among the noble classes of western Georgia. In 1330, George V of Georgia, who was in the midst of a campaign to solidify Georgia after expelling the Mongols from his domains, took advantage of the disorder in West Georgia and allied himself with the powerful feudal lords of the Black Sea to lay siege to Kutaisi, capture Bagrat I and annex the kingdom.[28] The Kingdom of West Georgia ceased to exist after having been created 71 years earlier, while Bagrat Mtsire was granted a duchy in Shorapani,[29] a border region between Imereti and East Georgia.

First War of Independence[edit]

In 1372, Alexander, son of Bagrat, inherited the Duchy of Shorapani[29] and quickly became one of the most powerful nobles in the region, a status he maintained until the tragic events of the end of the century. In 1386, Tamerlane's troops invaded northern Georgia, ravaging the country, capturing Tbilisi in November and forcing King Bagrat V to convert to Islam, while the royal court went into exile in Imereti. Tamerlane entrusted Bagrat V with a large Timurid army to subjugate the far-flung regions of the country, including the duchy of Shorapani, but had to invade the country again when the Georgian king betrayed his suzerain and massacred the army.[30]

Alexander of Shorapani took advantage of the chaos in eastern Georgia to proclaim himself king of western Georgia and seceded in 1387, crowning himself Alexander I at the Gelati monastery.[31] This proclamation became widely disputed, and the city of Kutaisi remained in the hands of Bagrat V loyalists, while the duchies of Mingrelia, Svaneti, Abkhazia and Guria refused to recognize the sovereignty of the new monarch. A civil war broke out, forcing Alexander I to take fortresses across Imereti by force, before dying in 1389.[32]

George I succeeded to his brother's claims and was in turn crowned king, continuing the civil war and conquering several fortresses. In 1390, he succeeded in appointing his protégé Arsène as Catholicos of Abkhazia, the most powerful religious figure in western Georgia, triggering the beginning of a religious schism in the Georgian Orthodox community between East and West.[32]

However, this success was short-lived: in 1392, George I was killed during a military campaign to subdue the Duke of Mingrelia, Vameq I Dadiani. With no designated successor, the crown of western Georgia once again fell into chaos, allowing King George VII of Georgia to unite with the great feudal lords of the West and invade the rebellious territories. After a short existence of five years, the Kingdom of West Georgia was once again annexed by Kingdom of Georgia, while the surviving members of the rebel family took refuge in the Caucasus Mountains.[32]

Second War of Independence[edit]

Alexander I of Georgia gave Prince Demetrius the Duchy of Samokalako after marrying his sister.

For four years, the Kingdom of Western Georgia returned to the domains of the Kingdom of Georgia crown, leading to a large-scale mobilization of Imereti in the wars of George VII of Georgia against Tamerlane.[33] With the region depopulated, the citadels having lost their military defense and the Duke of Mingrelia perishing in 1396, Constantine took advantage of the situation to organize a new revolt against the central government. Constantine was the younger brother of the pretenders Alexander I and George I, and had been exiled to Alania after the conquest of 1392.[32]

Without much resistance, the new rebel captured numerous fortresses and had himself crowned Constantine II, but failed to unite with the region's great feudal lords. After demanding the vassalization of the dukes of Svaneti, Mingrelia and Guria, he went to war against Mamia II of Mingrelia, but perished at the battle of Tchaliani in 1401. His nephew, Demetrius, became heir to the rebel crown, but his young age prevented him from defending himself against George VII of Georgia, who took advantage of a temporary ceasefire with Tamerlane to invade western Georgia and once again put an end to the separatist kingdom.[34]

In a bid to unite the eastern and western branches of the royal Bagrationi dynasty, in 1415 Alexander I of Georgia married Demetrius's sister, while Demetrius was offered large estates in western Georgia, which became the duchy of Samokalako. Demetrius, who had previously served as crown prince to the western rebels, became a close ally of the eastern Georgia and gave his daughter in marriage to the Georgian co-king Demetrius III, who reigned with his father and brothers from 1433 to 1446. When civil war broke out between George VIII and Demetrius, the latter used his father-in-law's regional power to take control of western Georgia, without seceding from Tbilisi, before dying in 1453.[35]

Georgian Civil War and final independence[edit]

In 1455, Bagrat, maternal grandson of Duke Demetrius of Imereti, inherited the duchy and became a loyal vassal to the Georgian crown.[34] However, in the early 1460s, he allied himself with the Georgian prince Qvarqvare II of Samtskhe, who continued his dynastic struggle against the central Georgian government, and the Sultan of Aq Qoyunlu Uzun Hasan against the Kingdom of Georgia. A major confrontation took place in August 1463 at the Battle of Chikhori, during which the troops loyal to King George VIII of Georgia were defeated by the Samtskhe-Saatabago and Bagrat.[36] Bagrat took advantage of his victory to capture Kutaisi and was crowned king of western Georgia, recreating the kingdom for a fourth time.

In exchange for their political support, King Bagrat recognised the sovereigns of Mingrelia, Abkhazia, Svaneti and Guria as princes, raising their status within the Georgian political class.[37] Thanks to this alliance, the new king built up a large army that invaded the eastern province of Kartli and captured Tbilisi in 1465, using his new territory to have himself crowned once again, this time as King of United Georgia under the name of Bagrat VI, by the Catholicos of Georgia, in exchange for certain bribes. The situation descended into chaos when Bagrat's predecessor, George VIII, managed to escape from his prison in Kutaisi and took control of the eastern region of Kakheti, declaring the province's independence, while Constantine, Bagrat's half-brother, rebelled and seized northern Georgia.[38] This triumvirate of Georgian kings caused a civil war that lasted until the end of the century.

A semblance of peace was established in 1468, when Bagrat VI reached an agreement with Constantine in Kartli. But this peace only led to a more serious division: from the early 1470s, the king recognised Constantine as his successor in Kartli, while he designated his eldest son, Alexander, as crown prince of Imereti.[38] Bagrat also shattered religious unity by appointing a new patriarch for western Georgia, dividing the Catholicossate of Georgia, a fact immediately recognised by the Patriarchate of Antioch.

Imereti suffered numerous Turcoman invasions during the 1470s, but the Turkomans chose to ravage Kartli even more, pillaging Tbilisi on several occasions.[39] Against this backdrop of internal chaos and external isolation, Bagrat VI died in 1478, leaving his western throne to his son, who became Alexander II.[40] However, Alexander II failed to gain recognition as the legitimate ruler of western Georgia and had to contend with the unifying ambitions of his uncle, Constantine II of Georgia. The latter invaded Imereti and captured Kutaisi, forcing Alexander to take refuge in the Letchkhoumi mountains.[41]

In 1483, Alexander II took advantage of a war between Constantine and the Principality of Samtskhe to regain possession of Imereti.[42] It was then that he was crowned once again, at the Gelati Monastery, beginning a new royal calendar and abandoning all claims to the united crown of Georgia.[34] Alexander thus became the first king of Imereti, a kingdom that took the place of western Georgia and was finally recognised by Constantine in 1490.[43]

External relations[edit]

Relations with the Muslims[edit]

Despite the long-standing hostility between the Muslim states of the Near East and Georgia, David VI Narin maintained relations with some of his Anatolian neighbours, particularly in order to forge alliances against the Ilkhanate. Western Georgia thus allied itself with the Sultanate of Rum, one of the last Seljuk states in the 13th century. King David, himself the son of a Seljuk prince, offered his sister in marriage to Sultan Kaykhusraw II and then to the regent Mu'in al-Din Parwana after the latter's death. However, the end of the sultanate in 1307 and the resulting chaos in the Seljuk principalities prevented any strong collaboration between the two countries.[citation needed]

In 1264, West Georgia sent an embassy to Baybars, the Mamluk sultan of Egypt, who devoted his reign to fighting the Mongols. In 1268, a second embassy was sent to Cairo, but no results of these embassies are known to this day.[23]

Relations with the Byzantine Empire[edit]

Coin representing Theodora Palaeologus, Queen of Western Georgia.

When the Kingdom of West Georgia was founded, the Byzantine Empire was emerging from half a century of chaos following the conquest of Constantinople by Crusader forces in 1204. However, having restored Orthodox power to the territories of the Near East, the Byzantine Empire tried to find an ally in the Georgians. When David VI took power, he married a Byzantine princess, a descendant of the House of Palaiologos.[44]

But friendly relations between the two states ended there. No matrimonial alliance between western Georgia and Byzantine Empire took place after the death of David VI, while the princes of eastern Georgia continued to ally themselves with Byzantium. It was to the empire of Trebizond that the western Georgia turned. In the 1280s, Emperor John II took advantage of the Georgian division to withdraw from the suzerainty of his northern neighbour and sought direct alliance wire-Byzantine Empire, which he visited in 1282.[22] To re-establish his domination, David VI invaded the empire in April 1282 and captured many provinces before laying siege to the capital itself. The Georgian troops were defeated, but the Georgians succeeded in annexing the eastern part of the empire.[23]

In 1284, western Georgia financed and supported a coup d'état by a certain Theodora, daughter of Manuel I of Trebizond and possible niece of David VI.[45] She became empress for a few months, before losing the civil war and going into exile in Georgia.[46] According to historian Michael Kuršankis, the coup was organised to install a pro-Georgian, anti-Mongol government, a movement supported by a certain section of the local nobility. Relations between the two states ended shortly afterwards and Trebizond continued to ally itself with the eastern Georgian kingdom.


  1. ^ Rayfield, p. 131
  2. ^ Brosset (1856) p. 2
  3. ^ Rayfield, p. 129
  4. ^ Brosset (1849) p. 546
  5. ^ Rayfield, p. 162
  6. ^ Rayfield, p. 271
  7. ^ Dubois de Montpéreux, pp. 93-165
  8. ^ Rayfield, p. 164
  9. ^ Rayfield, p. 273
  10. ^ Brosset (1849) p. 545
  11. ^ Brosset (1856) p. 210
  12. ^ Rayfield 2012, pp. 122–134.
  13. ^ a b c Rayfield 2012, p. 131.
  14. ^ Brosset 1849, p. 545.
  15. ^ Salia 1980, p. 230.
  16. ^ a b Rayfield 2012, p. 132.
  17. ^ Brosset 1849, p. 546.
  18. ^ Salia 1980, p. 231.
  19. ^ Salia 1980, p. 232.
  20. ^ Rayfield 2012, p. 135.
  21. ^ a b Rayfield 2012, p. 134.
  22. ^ a b Finlay 1851, p. 401.
  23. ^ a b c Salia 1980, p. 235.
  24. ^ Salia 1980, p. 239.
  25. ^ Rayfield 2012, p. 138.
  26. ^ a b Brosset 1856, p. 245.
  27. ^ Rayfield 2012, p. 141.
  28. ^ a b Brosset 1856, p. 246.
  29. ^ a b Brosset 1856, p. 247.
  30. ^ Rayfield 2012, pp. 149–150.
  31. ^ Rayfield 2012, p. 150.
  32. ^ a b c d Brosset 1856, p. 248.
  33. ^ Salia 1980, pp. 256–257.
  34. ^ a b c Brosset 1856, p. 249.
  35. ^ Brosset 1849, p. 684.
  36. ^ Salia 1980, pp. 265–266.
  37. ^ Brosset 1856, p. 250.
  38. ^ a b Rayfield 2012, p. 161.
  39. ^ Salia 1980, pp. 267–268.
  40. ^ Salia 1980, p. 268.
  41. ^ Brosset 1856, pp. 251–252.
  42. ^ Brosset 1856, p. 252.
  43. ^ Rayfield 2012, p. 164.
  44. ^ Rayfield 2012, pp. 132–133.
  45. ^ William Miller, Trebizond: The last Greek Empire of the Byzantine Era: 1204-1461, 1926 (Chicago: Argonaut, 1969), p.  30
  46. ^ Jackson Williams, Kelsey (2007). "A Genealogy of the Grand Komnenoi of Trebizond". Foundations: The Journal of the Foundation for Mediaeval Genealogy. 2 (3): 175. hdl:10023/8570. ISSN 1479-5078.