Ancient Georgia

Ancient Georgia (in Kartvelian called Sakartvelo, "the land of the Kartlians", and in Greek and Latin, Iberia) refers to the mountainous region in the South Caucasus that includes the heartland of the Kartvelians as well as of the related Svan, Laz, and Mingrelians.

Along with Albania to the east and Cholchis in the west, Iberia was the center of Christian political and ecclesiastical influence in the region until the Arab conquest in the seventh century c.e. The Arabic name for the region, Kurj, is the source of the English Georgia.

The ancient Kartvelian capital, Mtskheta, became the seat of the Georgian patriarch after King Vakhtang Gorgasali (c. 446–510 c.e.) united Iberia/Sakartvelo with Cholcis and Albania. The church of Georgia remained nominally dependent on the more ancient church of Antioch until the Crusades cut off contact between Antioch and Georgia in the 12th century.

This separation then allowed the Georgian Orthodox Church to develop on its own. It chooses its own patriarch, who since the sixth century has resided in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia since the Arab conquest.

There are two traditions concerning the conversion of Georgia. The virgin missionary Nino arrived perhaps from Asia Minor and according to some sources converted King Mirian, establishing the second oldest Christian kingdom after Armenia.

A second tradition relates that the apostle Andrew established the first diocese of Georgia. This second tradition is attested later than that of Nino and becomes significant in Georgian sources only around the time that the church of Georgia established itself as an independent church in the 12th century.

In the Christological controversies of the fifth century the church of Georgia, like the ancient church of Armenia, rejected the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon (451) and remained faithful to a strict interpretation of Cyril of Alexandria’s Christological formula of "one incarnate nature of the Logos". The Georgian and Armenian bishops condemned the Council of Chalcedon at the Council of Dvin in 553.

In the early seventh century, under pressure to form a military and political alliance with the Byzantines, the Georgian church, led by Patriarch Kyrion II, embraced the Chalcedonian definition, and the Armenian church excommunicated the Georgians at the Council of Dvin in 606.

Kartveli, the language of Georgian classical literature, was first committed to writing in the first half of the fifth century. The Georgian versions of the Christian Bible are important witnesses for the search for the earliest biblical texts.

Georgian monasticism exerted considerable influence on Christian monasticism, with monasteries established in Palestine by the fifth century and on Mt. Athos later on in the 10th century.

Peter the Iberian, a Georgian prince and later the anti-Chalcedonian bishop of Maiuma, Gaza, and relatives of his are among the earliest and best-documented founders and promoters of Georgian monastic and pilgrim activity in Jerusalem and the nearby desert regions. One of Peter’s establishments was a hostel near David’s Tower in Jerusalem to care for pilgrims to the holy sites.

The Monastery of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem was an important center of Georgian monasticism in the Holy Land. In Georgia monasticism is closely associated with the "Thirteen Saints", 13 Syrian monks who, according to tradition, were responsible for introducing cenobitic (communal) monasticism into the Georgian homeland.