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Georgians and Iberia (Iveria): Claims without understanding the concept of identity

May 29, 2014

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Sometimes people  misunderstand the concept of identity, the concept of ethnicity. An ethnic group cannot exist without a name or with a different name. An ethnic group is defined by various factors. One of which is an ethnonym. If Georgians existed but they were not called Georgians nor Kartvelians , then how were they different from Abkhazians who also existed in the area? And don’t tell me because of the language, because there are plenty of ethnic groups who speak a similar language or a language derived from the same mother tongue that consider each other ethnically different. I can name many examples among the Slavic people, the Germanic people and so on. The Dutch speaks a dialect of German, but don’t tell the Dutch they are Germans. So, the argument about Georgians existence, but not having a proper ethnonym does not apply. An ethnic group is formed through the language, genetics, common history, common culture, common ethnonym and often (but not always) common religion. All these are important factors. Without an ethnonym there is no way of making a distinction between various mountain dwelling tribes of similar linguistic and cultural affinity. One good example is seen from ancient texts where classical writers ALWAYS make a distinction between Colkhians and Iberians.

Ancient Colchians were Egyptians who were in detail described by Herodotus.

“For the people of Colchis are evidently Egyptian, and this I perceived for myself before I heard it from others. So when I had come to consider the matter I asked them both; and the Colchians had remembrance of the Egyptians more than the Egyptians of the Colchians; but the Egyptians said they believed that the Colchians were a portion of the army of Sesostris. That this was so I conjectured myself not only because they are dark-skinned and have curly hair (this of itself amounts to nothing, for there are other races which are so), but also still more because the Colchians, Egyptians, and Ethiopians alone of all the races of men have practised circumcision from the first. The Phenicians and the Syrians who dwell in Palestine confess themselves that they have learnt it from the Egyptians, and the Syrians about the river Thermodon and the river Parthenios, and the Macronians, who are their neighbours, say that they have learnt it lately from the Colchians. These are the only races of men who practise circumcision, and these evidently practise it in the same manner as the Egyptians. Of the Egyptians themselves however and the Ethiopians, I am not able to say which learnt from the other, for undoubtedly it is a most ancient custom; but that the other nations learnt it by intercourse with the Egyptians, this among others is to me a strong proof, namely that those of the Phenicians who have intercourse with Hellas cease to follow the example of the Egyptians in this matter, and do not circumcise their children.”

(Herodotus, The Histories, Book 2: 104)

Yet Georgians somehow claim heritage to both. Even though it is clear from records that these two kingdoms have not been of a single ethnos, in fact they fought each other on numerous occasions. Georgians lay claim to just about any ancient tribe from Laz, Araratian  (Urartu), Muskhi, Saspires to Colkhians and Iberians, simply because they have no clue and no one recorded Georgians nor  Kartvelians. Our classical writers referred to them as barbarous tribes living above us. That is why they were made up of so many tribes like Svans, Mengrelians, Kakhetins and so on, most of whom consider to be distinct from Kartvelians. Their ethnic formation is in fact not that old. Of course, they have old genetics. All living humans are just as old. We all by definition of existence have an unbroken chain of genetic material from the very beginning of life itself passed down from generation to generation until it reached us. So in that sense yes all Georgians have ancient roots, they did not spring forward out of nothingness. But we are talking about formation of an ethnos here. And it is clear that Georgian ethnic formation did not take place until AT LEAST the 5th century when Armenian nobles united various tribes of the north into a somewhat single unit. That’s the fact most people forget about.

According to Giorgi Melikishvili, Iberia was derived from the Armenian designation for the place ( later to become Georgia), Virk’ (Armenian: Վիրք, and Ivirk’ [Իվիրք] and Iverk’ [Իվերք]).

Georgian Chronicles CHAPTER 2

In the same period there came to the country of Iberia some fugitives from the Greeks, Syrians, and Khazars who were harassed by their enemies. The Iberians accepted them to aid themselves against the Iranians. Also at that time came Jews who had escaped from Nebuchadnezzar (Nabugodonosor), who had captured Jerusalem. And they requested a place for worship from the tanuter of Mts’xet’a; and he gave them [an area by] a stream on the Arag river called Zanaw, now called Xerk. Up to this point the language of Iberia was Armenian. But then the Iberians started to be changed by the peoples dwelling among them, and there occurred a mixing up of everything, leading to that which is presently called Georgian. Subsequently, they elected a religion and a conduct more immodest and indecent than all people’s. For in marriage they made no differentiation among the same and related lines, they ate every creeping reptile, insect, and carrion, and had no graves.”

At that time six languages were spoken in Iberia: Armenian, Khazar, Syriac, Hebrew, Greek, and the result of their commingling is Georgian.

According to Georgian medieval Chronicles “The Conversion of Kartli” (მოქცევაჲ ქართლისაჲ) Georgians themselves come from another place (Iran presumably). On another account The 11th-century Georgian monk Arsen, the author of metaphrastical reduction of “The life of St. Nino” and tutor of King David IV of Georgia, states: “We, Georgians, are descendants of the newcomers from Arian-Kartli, we speak their language and all the kings of Kartli are descendants of their kings”. In contrast to Georgians the Armenians never described ourselves as newcomers.

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3 Comments
  1. Out of curiosity, who do you think the ancient Colchians were? Is there any truth to the idea that they are somehow connected to Egypt?

    • The Colchians invaded the land of the people of Aya , partly destroyed it and moved to the Black sea… They came with hydrofoils, from this word they got their name – the Colchians… Actually, they were invaders

    • They came from the Northern Africa, not Egypt

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