Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Epilogue Glossary


The Social and Economic Situation in Georgia n the Period
from the 11th to the beginning of the 13th Century


 I.  Main Classes and the Class-Struggle
 II. Peasant-life and Duties
 III.  Agriculture
 IV. Towns, Crafts, Trade, Finances


The high level of economic, cultural and political development attained by Georgia in the eleventh twelfth centuries was due mainly to the powerful upsurge of her feudal economy.
In the Middle East the disintegration of the Arab Caliphate began in the ninth-tenth centuries. Economic and cultural development proceeded apace in the Near Eastern states which won liberation from bondage to the caliphate.
Georgia had close political and economic links with the Moslem and Christian countries of the Middle East and was drawn into the general cultural and economic upswing. Agriculture had attained a high level of development in Georgia at the time. Crop forming, vine-growing, vegetable-growing, fruit-growing, and livestock-breeding (cattle, sheep and horses were bred in large numbers) were widespread, and there was a busy domestic and foreign trade.
Georgia's unification under a single monarch helped to foster economic relations between individual regions of the country to an extent commensurate with the existence of a feudal system. Favourable conditions were appearing for the country's further economic development. But this development was again cut short for some time first by the devastating campaigns of Basil II, Emperor of Byzantium (first quarter of the eleventh century) and then by the repeated invasions of the Seljuks (from the sixties to the eighties of the eleventh century).
A large part of Eastern Georgia fell to the Seljuks, who as they settled on Georgian territory, cut down the orchards and vineyards, turning the best land into pastures for their livestock. Tbilisi, Rustavi, Dmanisi, Samshvilde and other important Georgian towns passed to the Seljuk Turks. The large tribute demanded by the Seljuks was an unbearable burden for the population, particularly for the peasants. Moreover, the Seljuk invasion and domination led to a drastic diminution of Georgia's population. The Georgian feudal monarchy was thus compelled to struggle not only to complete the unification of all Georgian lands but also to drive out the foreign invaders. In parallel with the expulsion of the Seljuks, the central authority in Georgia took resolute steps to return the fugitive-population to their former homes and increase the population's numerical strength.
Georgia had been repeatedly devasted by invaders. The destruction of towns, fortresses and villages was a usual occurrence in the history of feudal Georgia, Despite all their efforts, their numerous and strong enemies failed to break and annihilate the Georgian people.
What saved Georgia? What kept her intact? Where lay the strength that protected the people and the country for century after century? Questions of this kind were frequently asked by leading Georgian civic personalities of the past. They saw the vitality of the Georgian people in the country's economy. Bountiful natural conditions enabled Georgia to emerge from economic ruin within a relatively short space of time; on account of the wealth of the rivers the restoration of comparatively small canals did not present any major difficulties for the peasants either, even though they had only primitive implements. The staunchness and industriousness of the producer-classes of Georgian society were the mainstream for the restoration of the dislocated economy. As soon as an enemy was expelled and peace was restored, the population would return to their demolished homes, while the central state-power would try to help them, to appreciation of the fact that the peasant-masses, who could by their labour support both themselves and the ruling classes, were the very foundation of the state-power, In that period the building of ramified irrigation-systems was of immense significance for the further development and intensification of agriculture. The irrigation-system of Samgori, built in the reign of Queen Tamar, was 20 kilometres long. The 119 kilometre Alazan irrigation-network watered 53,000 hectares of land. The Tiriponi, Mukhrani and other canals were built in the same period.


Feudal relations reached their maturity in Georgia at the beginning of the eleventh century. By that time the feudal class - the king and the secular ("aznauris") and ecclesiastical feudal lords had taken possession of all the land. Most of this land was worked by peasants, who paid a levy to their feudal lord. Some of the land was the personal property of the king and of the feudal lords and monasteries. This land was also worked by serfs on the basis of labour-rent.
In the tenth century the formation of the peasant-class was, in the main, nearing completion in Georgia; the multi-stratification of the peasantry was being overcome, but the process of attaching them to the land continued. In the Georgian language the term "glekhi" is used to designate the peasantry. In mediaeval times, this term, in its broad sense, meant all the peasants, while in its narrow sense it meant serfs attached to the land. Georgia's social development in the eleventh-twelfth centuries was highlighted by the establishment of serfdom. The peasants were divided, into two main groups. One still enjoyed the right of free movement, while the other no longer had that right. But this was not a durable situation in the tenth-twelfth centuries, and development proceeded in the direction of the peasantry's total enslavement.
The formation of the 'serf-peasantry into a class stemmed directly from the process of attaching the peasants to the land. We have noted that the formation of the peasantry as a class was being consummated in the tenth century. This was the basic factor behind the transition from early-feudal relations to mature feudalism. In this connection it is essential to point out that, in listing the social strata, eleventh-century Georgian legislation names the king, the bishops and other ecclesiastics, the "didebulis" the "aznauris" and the peasants ("glekhi"). Two strata - the "didebulis" and the "aznauris" - in addition to the king and the ecclesiastics - are named in legislative acts concerning the ruling class. Legislators saw in the peasants ("glekhi") the only direct producers. This is clear evidence that the formation of the peasants as a class was completed in the eleventh century and that free producers did not, as a rule, comprise a separate social stratum.
The creation of the single Georgian feudal monarchy at a time when feudal relations had matured invigorated the process of attaching the peasants to the land. The state-power gave this process special attention.
The political situation and the growth of the feudal economy created the prerequisites for the further social enslavement of the peasants.
The peasants were divided into three categories in accordance to whom they belonged: the Crown, the Church and the nobility. Records dating from the eleventh-twelfth centuries likewise testify that, under serfdom, there were several categories of peasants.
In this period peasants are still called by different names, this being an indication of their subdivision into different categories. However, this is apparently evidence rather of how they were reduced to serfdom than of their actual status, because, as exploitation intensified and the process of attaching peasants to the land neared completion, the privileges formerly enjoyed by them lost their meaning.
In the eleventh century there still were socially and politically dependent but economically prosperous landowners, who were called "mdabiori-molashkre". In the main, they were dependent on the king (and partially on the big landowners) and had to serve in the army, but in the period that interests us, they gradually degenerated and were reduced to the status of peasants.
The bulk of. the artisans were also a socially dependent stratum. By virtue of this social bondage, they had to serve their lord directly on the latter's estate or, if permitted to work in towns, paid their lord a tax in cash and in kind.
The small and middle merchants were likewise a stratum of bonded toilers. Bonded merchants handled the trade-transactions of their lords, while from their own trade transactions they gave part of their profits to their lords.
The population of Georgia's upland-regions were in a special position. In these regions the rate of penetration of feudal relations was relatively slow, and the Georgian Highlanders retained their social and economic privileges for a long time. But, on the whole, by the eleventh-twelfth centuries, the population of the highlands had been drawn into feudal dependence. Most of the mountainous regions belonged to the crown and were governed by "aznauris" appointed by the king.
In the eleventh-twelfth centuries social development had reached a fairly high level in the mountainous regions, but it was, needless to say somewhat below the level of social development in the lowland-areas.
The class of feudal lords, generally called "aznauris", took shape in parallel with the formation of the peasant-class. By the tenth century the multi-stratification of the ruling class had been in the main, overcome, and all its representatives had united into a single class, the class of feudal lords. But already then there were signs of inner division among the "aznauris". According to records dating from the ninth-tenth centuries, a higher substratum began to be distinguished in the "aznauri" class. Although they were still called "aznauris", they used the title "didebuli" (nobleman). These "didebuli aznauris" held high office ("dideba") in the government. At this stage of its development the didebuli-substratum was still not an estate. In the course of the eleventh-twelfth centuries, high government posts were gradually secured to definite "aznauri"-families ("didebuleba"), who displayed clear-cut tendencies towards the formation of an independent estate. Subsequently, this was precisely how the "tavadi"-estate was formed and the Georgian feudal class was divided into two estates "tavadis" and "aznauris" of whom the "tavadis" were the higher strata,, and the "aznauris" formed a lower feudal estate dependent upon the former. But in the eleventh-twelfth centuries the "didebulis" were an elite that was still part of an undivided feudal class.
In this period Georgia was administered through court-officials ("vaziris") and regional governors ("eristavt-eristavis" and "eristavis"). Throughout the ninth-twelfth centuries there was, in the leading feudal families, a distinct tendency towards regarding the post of "eristavt-eristavi" as hereditary. Moreover, they sought to seize high posts at court and turn them into hereditary titles.
From the eleventh century onwards the post of "eristavt-eristavi" of Kartli was hereditary in the Surameli feudal family. In the reign of Queen Tamar this post was held by Rati Surameli who was succeeded by his son Sula; in the mid-thirteenth century Sula was succeeded by his son Grigol, and so on. At the commencement of the eleventh century, the post of "eristavt-eristavi" of Racha, Argveti and Takveri became hereditary in the Kakhaberisdze family, while the post of "eristavi" and "spasalari" of Samtskhe was held by the Jakeli family. The allotment of the post of "eristavt-eristavi" to definite feudal families became the general practice in the twelfth century, following Georgia's final unification and the strengthening of the Georgian feudal monarchy.
At the same time, as we have already noted, there was the incipient tendency among the "eristavt-eristavis" to add the highest court titles to their inheritance; for instance, in the reign of Queen Tamar the "eristavi" of Svaneti held the title of "mechurchletukhutsesi", while Botso Jakeli, the "eristavi" of Samtskhe, held the title of "amirspasalari". In the twelfth-thirteenth centuries, the handing-down of titles from father to son became an established fact, and the royal "blessing" was nothing more than a formal act. This inheritance of important government-posts helped to elevate these families above the general mass of "aznauris" and gradually to separate them into an estate of their own. The fact that "eristavis" strove to gain possession of court-titles is evidence of the priority of courtiers, in other words, of the strengthening of the central state-power in Georgia in the twelfth century.
The division of the "aznaur-class" into a higher ("didebulis") and a lower ("aznauris" proper) stratum gradually resulted in the subordination of the "aznauris" to the "didebulis" and the Church-elite. This is borne out by events of the ninth-tenth centuries, while in the eleventh and subsequent centuries this became a usual occurrence: the "aznauris" were the "property" of the kings, the Church and the "didebulis".
The "aznauris" differed from each other also by their economic status, some of them owned fortresses, others did not. The status of an "aznauri" was determined by his property land and subjects. The richer the "aznauri", the better he served his suzerain. His duty lay in military service and in accompanying his lord. In time of war, the "aznauri", as a vassal, had to report to his lord in full readiness for combat, with the appropriate number of armed horse-men and foot-soldiers provided with food and attendants. The vassals accompanied their lord in hunts, and also when he toured his possessions. As a rule, an "aznauri" was exempted from military duty only if he was physically unfit or insolvent. It must be noted that as early as in the third generation insolvency brought the "aznauri" deprivation of social privileges and demotion by one rung on the hierarchal ladder.
The social structure of Georgia's ruling class gave rise to the institution of "suzerain-vassal". This institution existed throughout the Middle Ages, flourishing particularly in the epoch of mature feudalism.
As we can see, the institution of chivalry existed in Georgia in the period ve are examining. Knights were called "mokme" whilst, to designate chivalry as an institution, use was evidently made of the terms "lashkarni" and "spa". It was considered a great honour to be a knight, but if a person committed an offence and was punished by the civil or Church-authorities, he. was deprived of the right to join the armed forces.
The ruling class was headed by the king and his family. The feudal class, as we have said, was divided into "didebulis" and "aznauris". All the highest government-posts were distributed among the-elite of the ruling class, and the hereditary possession of these posts became an established fact. At court the officials were usually "aznauris"; Together with these posts, they inherited the right to possess land, which gradually merged with patrimonies.
The possessions of the feudal lords consisted of patrimonies and estates. A fortress and a palace were important components of the possessions of feudal lords. Most of the big feudal lords had several palaces (summer and winter-residences in various parts of their estates, hunting-lodges in forests, and so on), and also palaces and houses in the towns. At the palace of the feudal lord there was a church, and in the absence of one; t a special room was allocated in which icons and crosses were kept and rites were performed. The feudal lords had their own ; family-tombs. The house of a feudal lord included service and auxiliary-premises (stables, granaries, a cattle-shed and so forth), houses for servants and menials, a mill and other structures. Part of the "aznauris" land was reserved as his own ploughland, and most of the estate was turned over to peasants under the corvee and quitrent systems. The lord's ploughland was, of course, likewise tilled by the peasants.
A system of immunity ("sheuvaloba") began to spread in Georgia in the eleventh-twelfth centuries. Formerly all immunity rights were received by Church-possessions. Early in the eleventh century immunity was acquired by the possession of the Patriarch, of Mtskheta, and at the beginning of the twelfth century (.1123), King David the Builder renewed the immunity-rights of the Shiomghvime Monastery.
In the above examples immunity meant exemption from taxes. As a rule, in those years the state-power in Georgia did not permit the spread of judicial immunity, although there were some exceptions; for instance, judicial immunity was enjoyed by the Father Superior of the Shiomghvime Monastery, while the Father Superior of the Nikortsminda Monastery had jurisdiction also over the administration of justice, but these were evidently exceptional cases. As regards the immunity-rights of secular lords, in the twelfth century some of them were likewise exempted from state-duties, but cases of judicial immunity were very rare. The limited practice of administrative and judicial immunity is testimony of the centralisation of the state-power. In evident appreciation of the significance of this right, the kings of Georgia were reluctant to grant immunity-rights.
.. In feudal Georgia the "msakhuris" (retainers) were a special social group. In Georgian historiography the question of the social position of the "msakhuri " - stratum is debatable. The differences of opinion are due mainly to the fact that, according to the sources, many "msakhuris" performed the duties of "aznauris", i. e. they were subject to military duty, attended their lord, held small official posts at the palace of the "didebuli" or "aznauri", but were not called "aznauris". At the same time, they tilled the land, in other words, performed the duties of peasants.
in the eleventh-twelfth centuries a salient feature of feudal Georgia's social development was the final establishment of serfdom. Naturally, this aggravated the class-struggle. The resistance of the peasants was in most cases passive: flight from their landowners. But because serfdom was universal, it was difficult for a runaway-peasant to find asylum, for the state protected the interests of the ruling class. Nevertheless, the flight of peasants evidently assumed such large proportions that, in order to prevent this a law was passed giving landowners the right to look for futigive peasants up to a period of 30 years. This 30-year limit to the right of search is clear evidence of the scale of attempted escapes and the efforts of the feudal lords to prevent them.
Alongside the passive struggle there are recorded facts of an active class-struggle on the part of the peasants against serfdom in Georgia in the twelfth century.
We have noted that in the eleventh-twelfth centuries serfdom spread in depth and breadth. Serfdom penetrated also into the relatively backward highland-regions of Georgia, but the highlanders defended their rights with arms in hand; Early in the thirteenth century, in the reign of Queen Tamar, the highland Pkhovi and Didoi tribes refused to perform their duties to the state. The queen summoned troops from the Dvali, Mokhevi, Chartali and other highland - tribes and under the command of the "atabagi-amirspasalari" Ivane Mkhargrdzeli sent them against their fellow-high-landers. Learning of Mkhargrdzeli's arrival, the kings of the Durdzuki (ancestors of the Veinakhi, dwellers on the northern foothills of the Caucasian Mountains), vassals of the Georgian queen, appeared before him with gifts and, after declaring their loyalty, brought their auxiliary-troops. The struggle with the insurgent highlanders grew in intensity, and the "amirspasalari" Ivane Mkhargrdzeli managed to suppress the rising after a huge effort.
In connection with the aggravation of the class-struggle as a result of growing exploitation, interest is attracted by the protests of the parish of the Ani Cathedral {the Georgians and Khalkidonite (Chalcedon - comment by Besiki Sisauri) Armenians in the town of Ani). The Ani-clergy had evidently increased the Church-taxes and the indignant parish ceased to "revere" the priests and to pay taxes. The situation became so explosive that Epifan, the Patriarch of Georgia had to intervene personally. In 1218 he went to Ani and had to reduce the Church-taxes by half. Such an outcome is clear evidence of the strength of the protest. This event took place in Ani, but since Bagratid Armenia was part of Georgia at the time, there apparently were occurrences of this kind throughout the state. These facts present lucid evidence of a tense class-struggle, in which, with its legislation and armed forces, the state-power defended the ruling class.


The peasant-"pudze" - a plot of land owned and cultivated by the peasant on condition he performed feudal duties - was the basic agricultural unit in feudal Georgia. The peasant-"pudze" usually consisted of ploughland, a vineyard and an ancillary plot of land; further, the "pudze" entailed the right to use the fields, water-meadows and forest owned by the community.
In the eleventh-twelfth centuries the peasant-"pudze" measured approximately six hectares of land. Most of the cultivated land was divided into ploughland and a vineyard. The correlation between these two leading branches of agriculture depended on the geographical-climatic zone and on natural conditions.
In practice, there had to be one peasant-household to a "pudze", but, in the time we are considering, this was only a theoretical norm. In fact, this condition had been violated long before. One household owned a full "pudze" only in the epoch of early feudalism. With the further development of feudal relations and the intensification of feudal exploitation, the "pudze" was fragmented among households: in actuality in the Georgia of the eleventh-twelfth centuries, there frequently were several peasant-households in one "pudze".
As we have already seen, the house of the peasants was one of the main components of the "pudze". The house with its ancillary structures and the implements of labour were the private property of the peasant. The peasant-houses of that period were mainly one-storey stone or wooden structures with a flat earth-roof. There were several rooms. The common, large room ("darbazi") connected with the kitchen and the pantry: this was the family living-room. In its centre, it had a fireplace. There were premises in the house for livestock. Also, the house contained a bakery and a cellar. As a rule, there was an open balcony in front of the house. In some regions the houses were healed by ceramic stoves.
Implements of labour and articles of everyday-use (clothes, footwear, furniture, pottery and so on) were made by the peasant-family itself, although some articles were purchased in the market.
Food consisted of vegetables, meat, milk-products, fruit and other items. The everyday-ration included wine. However, the quantity and quality of the food of each peasant-family depended, of course, on its material condition.
The "pudze" was a taxable unit.
In the eleventh-twelfth centuries, the peasants in Georgia discharged two basic duties - to the state (a tax) and to their lord fa feudal rent). The state (Crown-) duty consisted of an income-tax, labour-duty and a tax in favour of state-officials. The taxes were paid in kind and in cash.
One of the duties was, as we have already mentioned, labour-rent. In the eleventh-twelfth centuries, this duty was called "samushao" (labour). But this purely Georgian word is rarely found in the records: as a rule, labour-rent was called by the Persian term "begara" (or the Arab "sukhra").
Further, labour-rent included the mandatory participation of peasants in the lord's hunt.
The labour-rent of the peasants to their lord and to the Crown' (state) was extremely diversified. In addition to field-work, the peasants were drawn into construction and served their lords as servants and artisans. It is, of course, impossible to determine the dimension and forms of these duties accurately, but the records of the eleventh-twelfth centuries clearly show the growth of labour-rent.
The second basic form of feudal rent was duty paid in kind, the main part of which consisted of land-tax: grain ("gala") and vine or wine ("kulukhi"). Regrettably, the records do not allow us to determine the size of the land-tax even approximately. However, the share of duty paid in kind gradually grew in Georgia in the tenth-eleventh centuries and this, naturally, indicates the growth of feudal exploitation. Duty paid in kind had to be paid by the peasant-"pudze", which in feudal Georgia was also a fiscal unit, but on account of the primitiveness of agricultural implements, the size of the harvest had to be taken into account, although the size of the tax depended on the "good will" of the landowner. According to a document dating from the close of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth century, the land-tax amounted to one-fourth of the harvest. The peasant had to bring his feudal lord gifts on the occasion of marriage, the birth of an heir, in the event of death, and on important Christian holidays (Easter, Christmas and so forth). The quitrent included the duty of the peasant to provide the king, the feudal lord or the higher clergy and their suite, with food and lodging and render other services when they stopped at their village.
In addition to the main quitrent paid to the feudal lord, the peasant paid, as we have already noted, a number of government-taxes. For example, a tax was levied for the use of pastures. For the right of trade the peasant paid a special tax, and he had to pay even for the use of scales.
The peasants also paid a judiciary tax. Our data on this tax in the twelfth-thirteenth centuries relates to cases when feudal lords, who were granted immunity-rights, collected this tax for themselves. It may be assumed that originally this tax was levied in favour of the Crown. In the possessions of the Nikortsminda Bishopric the judicial tax was collected by the bishop. The powerful Kartli feudal lord, Grigol Surameli, collected this tax himself for the administration of justice. In the two above-mentioned cases we deal with feudal possessions enjoying the right of immunity, and, for that reason, the feudal lords there collected the judicial tax themselves. When land was donated to the Church, the judicial tax was collected by the Church, but there were cases when the donator reserved this right to himself.
Crown-and feudal peasants had, in addition, to pay special Church tasks and also innumerable taxes to the officials of the royal and feudal court. .
For instance, in the period we are examining, the Georgian peasants paid a large number of diverse taxes. The largest of these were labour-rent and duty paid in kind. All these taxes were paid by the peasants to the Crown, their own feudal lords and the Church. The feudal peasants were in the most difficult position. Crown-and Church-peasants were somewhat better off. As a rule, no peasant was exempted from Church-taxes, although, compared with the Church-peasants, the other categories of peasants paid considerably smaller taxes to the Church.
After feudal immunity became widespread in Georgia, private possessions receiving the right of immunity began to be exempted from Crown-taxes. The right of immunity was received first by the Church-elite, but in the twelfth-thirteenth centuries immunity was received also by secular feudal lords. Nevertheless, in some cases the kings of Georgia continued to levy some Crown-taxes on the peasants of these possessions. For instance, although the possessions of the Shiomghvime Monastery enjoyed immunity, the peasants of some villages of this monastery had to provide the king, his retinue and officials with lodgings, food and services when this was demanded, and also serve the Crown-huntsmen, tend the Crown-droves, and so on.
We have shown that in the eleventh-twelfth centuries there was in Georgia a huge variety of labour rent and duty paid in kind. A single peasant (or a single household occupying a "pudze"), naturally, could not pay all the duties we have listed. It must be assumed that taxes over and above the labour-rent and duty paid in kind was not imposed on all the peasants simultaneously. For instance, if a peasant had served his lord as an artisan or had discharged some other duty, he was exempted from other duties. The records tell us of cases where a peasant - household had paid a certain duty (for instance, it delivered wax), it was exempted from all other duties. Cases were recorded in the eleventh-thirteenth centuries where part of the tax in kind was substituted by a tax in cash. For instance, in the mid-thirteenth century Kakha Toreli, a great feudal lord, substituted half of the wine-tax from his peasants by a cash-tax.
The epoch we are examining witnesses a further intensification of the exploitation of peasants.
The first sing of this was the fragmentation of the "pudze". In the early-feudal epoch, the general rule was one peasant-household to a "pudze". At the close of that period, this rule was violated: in the eleventh-twelfth centuries, it was common for two or more households to occupy one and the same "pudze". This was, of course, a concealed form of heightening the exploitation of the peasants, for, whilst the feudal lord did not increase the size of the taxes, the intensification in exploitation is in evidence since the increase in the number of households per "pudze" diminished the income of each individual peasant-family and correspondingly led to a deterioration in its economic condition.
Thus, the uninterrupted growth of the peasant-duties, on the one hand, and the fragmentation of the peasant-"pudze", on the other, were clear indications of the increasing exploitation of the peasants in the twelfth-thirteenth centuries.
An indirect indication of this and of its consequences was the above-mentioned unrest in the Armenian town of Ani in 1218. This unrest, it will be recalled, was caused by the growth of Church-taxes. Although here it was a case of taxes from the population of an Armenian, not a Georgian, town within the boundaries of the Georgian state, the measures taken by the Ani-clergy obviously point to a general trend towards a growth of exploitation.
Invasions by foreign conquerors had disastrous effects on the condition of the peasants. These invasions ruined the peasant-economy, while tribute to the foreigners fell squarely on the shoulders of the peasants, who had to pay it in addition to their usual duties to their lord and to the Crown. For example the Seljuk invasion and the tribute that was paid to the Turks radically worsened the economic condition of the working masses.


One of the basic features of feudalism was the routine state of agricultural techniques. In that epoch the implements of labour did not undergo any great modifications, but, at the beginning of the period of mature feudalism the principal Georgian ploughing implement, the "erkvani", underwent considerable improvement - the large Georgian ploug, the "gtani", appeared. The "gutani" enabled the peasant to plough the land deeper than the "erkvani" and to work relatively hard soil. As a result, there was a substantial growth of labour-productivity. The Georgian plough was an efficient implement. Apparently this explains the circumstance that the "gutani" was in use in Georgia until the mid-19th century and also the fact that this implement spread from Georgia to many neighbouring peoples (Armenians, Ossetians, Chechens, Ingushes and others).
The large Georgian plough was used mainly in the lowland-regions of Kartli, where it was well adapted to the prevailing natural conditions. From eight to ten pairs of oxen were harnessed to it. In every large village in lowland-Kartli there were between eight and ten heavy ploughs, each of which was the common property of several families. In addition to the large plough, various types of light ploughs, for instance, the "achacha", were in use in individual regions of Georgia.
In that period water-mills were an important element of agriculture. It is believed that these mills we're in existence in Georgia as early as in the second millennium B. C, but in written records the first mention of them dates from the seventh century, when the Arab conquerors imposed, a tax on mills, along with other taxes, Arab geographers and historians of the tenth century wrote of the existence of a mill on the Mtkvari river. These mills were at first apparently owned in common by a village, or a commune, but with the establishment of feudal relations they gradually passed into the hands of the feudal lords.
Throughout the whole of Georgia almost every peasant-household had a hand-thresher and a hand-mill.
Besides the implements we have mentioned, more primitive implements that had been in existence since remote times were used by the Georgian peasants. These implements were their private property.
Means of transportation were an important factor in agriculture. Various two-wheeled vehicles called "uremi" were in use in Georgia from ancient times. Sledges were used in the mountainous regions; "uremi" and sledges were widespread in the foothills, and the "uremi", to which chiefly oxen were harnessed, was used in the lowlands. Evidently not every family owned oxen and an "uremi", which explains the fact that they borrowed these vehicles from each other. In Georgian agriculture, irrigation played a vital role. Although, as we have noted, in Georgia, irrigation was not such a decisive economic factor as in some other countries on account of its natural geographical conditions, the character of agriculture depended in many ways on irrigation, which contributed to the development of the multi-branch economy and created the conditions for raising agriculture to a higher level. However, it must be noted that in some of Georgia's eastern and south-western regions agriculture depended entirely on irrigation. As a rule, large-scale irrigation was organised by the state-power. But in Georgia, alongside large irrigation-systems, small local irrigation-canals (within the ambit of one village or even one peasant-house-hold) were of great importance. The digging of such canals was a long-established tradition in Georgia and every peasant provided his plot of land with irrigation. Irrigation was widespread not only in lowland-and foothill-regions but also in highland-localities.
In addition to irrigation, use was made of fertilisers; land was artificially bogged; where necessary, land was allowed to lie fallow, and so forth.
An ancient occupation in Georgia, agriculture consisted chiefly of field-crop cultivation and the growing of vine, fruit and vegetables.
The second most important branch of land-cultivation was vine-growing, which was highly developed in all regions with the exception of highland-ears. A family's wealth was judged by its vineyard. Wine, as we have mentioned, was part of the, daily food ration. In peasant-houses and in the palaces of feudals there were small cellars for storing wine for everyday use. Wine generally was stored in special cellars in yards or in the vineyard. The large number of winepresses and other objects found in Georgia is evidence of the high level of development reached by wine-making.
Although in Georgia vine-growing and vine-making had been widespread since ancient times, vine-growing acquired particularly great importance in the ninth-thirteenth centuries on account of the improvement of agricultural techniques and the expansion of the irrigation-network: Part of the peasant-"pudze" and the manor-land was planted with vines. Some of the grapes were consumed, but most of the harvest was processed into wine, a certain quantity of which was consumed in the family and the rest went to the market, both domestic and foreign. The highland-areas purchased wine, and it was stored in household-cellars.
Fruit-growing and sheep-breeding were also crucial to Georgia's economy in the period we are considering. Among others, Arab geographers write of orchards and vegetable-gardens around Tbilisi.
There are records of the cultivation of rice and utilitarian crops (for instance, flax) in some regions of Georgia. Linseed-oil was used in food and for illumination. This oil was produced with the help of stone-presses, many of which have survived to our day.
Since time immemorial a major place in Georgian agriculture had been occupied by livestock-breeding. In a household there were horses, cows, buffaloes, sheep, goats and pigs.
The wealth of a feudal lord was computed according to the size of his land and the number of serfs and head of cattle and sheep. Horses, oxen and buffaloes were used as draught-animals.
Beef, mutton and pork were part of the food-ration. Milk-products, leather, yarn and other items were produced in large quantities.
Georgia had always been rich in fish, and fishing occupied an important place in the economy of the Georgian peasant.
Hunting was also important in the economic life of the Georgians. Whereas for the feudals it was a pastime and a means of military training, for the working people it was a source of income.
On account of the abundance of wild bees in forests and steppeland, bee-keeping was an old occupation, and it was widespread in feudal Georgia. The tax on wax is an indication of the prevalence of this occupation in the epoch interesting us. Most of the wax went to the churches and the monasteries.
Sericulture was a time-honoured industry in feudal Georgia. Silk-worms were bred in many regions. The peasants worked the raw silk, which they also used for the payment of taxes to their masters. Large quantities of raw silk were exported at the time from the town of Dmanisi.
In view of the closed subsistence-economy, the peasant-family made its own implements of labour, items of household and everyday-use, pottery, yarn and so on. Leather was usually processed by the peasants themselves, evidence of this being the finding of bone-awls in peasant-houses. The peasants forged simple metal implements of labour and made simple clay-vessels.
Flax and woolen yarn was spun by the peasants, the women weaving rough fabric from this yarn.
Milk-products were part of the output of the peasant-house-1 holds. This is shown by the large number of milk-strainers, hand-churns and other milk-processing implements found by archaeologists in excavations in villages.
It may be assumed that part of the agricultural output was sold in the market. Some of the output of home-craft likewise went to the market. Regrettably, we have no direct information on peasants selling foodstuffs and the products of their home-industry. It is quite obvious that they could take only their surplus to the market, but part of their home-craft output was evidently made specially for sale. This is shown by the fact that part of the taxes to the state and to the feudal lords was paid in cash by the peasants in the early-feudal epoch and also in the epoch of developed feudalism. In order to obtain this cash, the peasant had to sell part of his harvest or items made by him at home.
Thus, Georgia's diversity of terrain, natural wealth, longstanding productiveness of agriculture, large irrigation-network, improved methods of artificially watering land, progress in agricultural techniques and peaceful conditions helped to intensify agriculture and substantially enlarge the country's economic potentialities.


Towns and urban life flourished in feudal Georgia in the eleventh-twelfth centuries, which saw the appearance of new and the further growth of old towns.
In the struggle for Georgia's unification and liberation from foreign oppression, the Georgian towns supported the royal power, in other words, the towns were interested in putting an end to feudal dismemberment and liberating the country from foreign invaders. The Georgian kings were well aware of the significance and role played by towns in unifying and strengthening the country, and for that reason they strove to deliver them from foreign rule, take them into their own hands and foster the further development of urban life. With the establish-men! of a strong central power it was possible to build new roads, improve old bridges, erect new ones and build caravan-serais and inns. At this stage the fact that the towns and the monarchy had common interests encouraged the development of the alliance between them. Striking confirmation of this community of interest is the history of the struggle waged by King Bagrat IV for the town of Tbilisi and the stand adopted by the town-elders in this struggle, and also the desire of the elders of Ani to turn their town over to the Georgian kings. True, Tbilisi subsequently resisted King David the Builder, but this was due to the large Moslem population in it and also to David's policy towards towns. The gravitation of the towns towards the Crown Was vividly demonstrated also by the struggle of the Georgians for the town of Kars, when its defenders demanded that Queen Tamar should personally take over the town and include it among her domains instead of leaving it in the hands of feudal lords. The town's inhabitants agreed to surrender on these terms.
A strong central power not only protected the towns against external enemies and facilitated the building of amenities but also ensured internal peace, guaranteed the inviolability of the person and property of merchants, and thereby helped to promote domestic and foreign trade. This was primarily in the interests of the towns themselves. Indicative in this respect is the comment of a Georgian historian that, in the reign of Queen Tamar, nobody in Georgia dared to rob a caravan.
The principal towns and major trade-and artisan-centres of Georgia in this period were Tbilisi, Rustavi, Gori, Zhinvali, Dmanisi, Akhalkalaki, Akhaltsikhe, Tmogvi, Samshvilde, Odzrkhe, Khunani, Telavi, Kutaisi, Tskhumi, Anakopiya.
Georgian historiography calls the ninth-eleventh centuries the "epoch of new towns" in Georgia. Favourable conditions for the growth of old towns, the building of new towns and the further development of urban life took shape in the period witnessing the consummation of Georgia's unification and the creation of a single feudal monarchy Akhalkalaki, Ateni, Zhinvali, Baraleti, Surami, Ali, Zovreti and other towns sprang up in the eleventh century. The town of Gori was founded, to be more exact, the old fortress was completed and enlarged and urban-conditions were created for the new population, consisting mainly of Armenians, in the reign of David the Builder (twelfth century).
While the ninth-eleventh centuries were the epoch of the appearance of new feudal towns, the twelfth century was a period when existing towns were enlarged and urban life flourished. In order to strengthen their power, the first kings of united Georgia encouraged the building of new towns. For instance, in the sixties of the eleventh century, Bagrat IV ordered the building of the town of Ateni. Ateni had been a population-centre in the past: a large church was built there in the seventh century. It was densely populated, and the king ordered the building of new houses, shops and a royal palace. For this purpose the king donated his own vineyard, granted plots of land to people wishing to build houses and shops, and gave the inhabitants certain privileges. The town of Akhalkalaki was also built in the reign of Bagrat IV.
In the eleventh-twelfth centuries the towns were ruled by the king and the "didebulis". Although the kings of united Georgia endeavoured to build new towns and completely to subordinate the old towns to themselves, the feudal nobility likewise strove to gain control of towns. David the Builder usually subordinated to his own power the towns liberated from Seljuk rule, but some of the towns gradually passed into the hands of the big feudal nobility, particularly in the reign of Queen Tamar. The Crown put towns into the complete or partial possession of feudal lords, who sought to make this a hereditary right. The struggle for towns between the crown and the "dide-bulis" grew in intensity. The Crown managed to maintain its hold on Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Gori, Rustavi, Samshvilde, Ani and other large towns. But Artaani, Uplistsikhe, Khornabuji, Artanuji, Tmogvi, Zhinvali, Akhaltsikhe, Akhalkalaki, Telavi and other towns came under the rule 01 big feudal families.
In this period the Church and monasteries did not have their own towns, but the Mtskheta Cathedral, the Shio Mghvime Monastery and other large church-organisations had their serf-merchanis and artisans, owned shops and stalls, and so on. Most of this was donated to the churches and monasteries by the king and the big feudal lords, and a relatively smaller part was acquired by purchase or other means.
In this period, the towns thus belonged to the kings and the big feudal lords. A "didebuli" owning a town frequently, ruled the district around the town. This was an economic and political power.
Like most feudal towns, the Georgian towns in the eleventh-twelfth centuries consisted of two main sections: the town itself and the citadel. The citadel was a town's principal fortification. In it was the palace of the town's ruler. In the capital and in Crown-towns it contained the royal palace, while the feudal lords had their residence there in the towns controlled by them. Moreover, the churches, houses and ancillary structures of the nobility, premises for the garrison and servants, and other buildings were in the citadel. Most of the inhabitants lived outside the walls of the citadel. In turn, the town had a wall with watchtowers. In the town-wall there were gates, whose number depended of the size of the town and also on the number of locally and internationally important roads leading to it. Tbilisi, for instance, had five gates. With the growth of towns the population had to settle outside their walls and this made it necessary to build new defensive walls. Such walls were built at different times in many large towns of that period, for instance, Tbilisi and Rustavi. In addition to the royal palace and the palaces of big secular and ecclesiastical feudal lords, the towns (particularly the capitals) had cathedrals, churches and also buildings for the court, the treasure-house, the treasury, the armoury and so on. Large towns had mints.
The most important part of a town was occupied by squares, markets and trade-and artisan-rows with shops. Since in that period Georgian towns were, above all, trade and artisan-centres, they had a customs-house, inns for visiting merchants, and warehouses. They had buildings for the townscales, where scales and weights were checked and goods brought into the town were weighed. Since large numbers of beggars collected in mediaeval towns, the town-authorities had to build hostels for them.
In the Georgian towns of this period there were mills, pumps supplying the population with water from the river, and public baths; some Eastern travellers reported that, in the twelfth century, Tbilisi had several score of public baths provided with natural warm sulphur-water, and that the inhabitants used these baths free of charge.
Paved roads led to the towns, in which some of the roads were also paved. Care for the streets devolved upon the ruler. Although the towns were mainly centres of trade and crafts, agriculture played an important part in their life because the inhabitants grew most of their food. They had orchards, vineyards and vegetable-gardens; around the towns there were the summer-residences of kings and the nobility, and also plots of land on which the town-dwellers had orchards, vegetable-gardens and vineyards. These plots ("agara", "agarakni") played a significant role in the urban economy, although the territory of the towns expanded at their expense.
The town-elite consisted of the feudal aristocracy, who had their palaces inside it, and also Sand-possessions with summer-residences outside it.
The bulk of the urban population consisted of merchants and artisans, among whom there were both freedmen and serfs. To distinguish them from the rest of the population, the free merchants wore clothes of a special design and had their own organisations. The elite among them consisted of wealthy merchants called "didvacharni". The merchant-organisation was headed by an elder ("vachartukhutsesi"). The wealthy merchants controlled the caravan-trade in the country, conducted trade-transactions and directed the merchant-organisations.
As they accumulated wealth, the merchant-elite gradually-acquired influence. The Crown reckoned with their views, included them in the court-retinue and used the services of the merchant-nobility in diplomatic affairs.
For its part, the feudal aristocracy strove to increase its wealth through participation in trade. Some of the big feudal lords who held high office at court, for instance, the Kartli "eristavi" Abulasani (twelfth century) and the mechurchletukhutsesi Kakha Toreli (thirteenth century), were leading merchants at the same time. Among the free merchants there were medium and small-traders.
The second stratum of merchants consisted of serfs. They belonged to secular and ecclesiastical feudal lords. Although in this period the church-organisations in Georgia had no towns of their own, in almost all the large towns the churches and monasteries had their shops and sometimes rows of shops served by their serf-merchants. The serf-merchants of the secular and ecclesiastical feudal lords conducted their own small trade and paid taxes to their masters with goods or in cash. A large segment of the urban population consisted of artisans: serfs with a sparkling of freedmen among them. They had their own professional organisations with their own elders. The serf-artisans, like the serf-merchants, paid their masters a tax in kind or in cash, or, by agreement, in both.
In the eleventh-twelfth centuries Georgia's economic development reached a level where artisans produced goods chiefly for sale, frequently selling their goods directly to merchants. However, the artisan-workshops in the towns were, at the same time, shops where the inhabitants and visiting merchants bought what they needed. There were large numbers of these workshops in all the big Georgian towns of that period.
The large concentration of vagrants and beggars in the towns compelled the state to show some concern for them; and one-tenth of the state-income was used for the upkeep of poor people in order to appease somewhat that restless element. Although all the towns belonged either to the Crown or to big feudal lords (there were no independent towns), some of them had organs of self administration. But King David the Builder abolished all these organs and subordinated the towns to the Crown. The Crown-towns were administered by officials appointed personally by the king, while the towns of the "didebu-lis" were administered by officials appointed by the latter.
The urban population paid for the upkeep of the town-administration.
Almost all branches of the artisan-industry known in the Middle Ages were highly developed in Georgia in the eleventh-twelfth centuries. There were brick-layers, stone-masons, carpenters, cabinet-makers, casters, potters, glass-blowers, goldsmiths, jewellers, embroiderers, tailors, blacksmiths, book-copyists, parchment-and paper-makers, bookbinders, artists, bakers, cooks, plumbers, millers, boatmen, barbers and so on.
Artisans concentrated mainly in the towns, where they had workshops and manufactured goods to order or for the market. To protect their rights they united in guilds. Moreover, there were artisans at the royal court, in the estates of the feudal lords and in the villages. There were frequent instances of artisans moving from one place to another in search of earnings, with builders changing their place of work most frequently.
In the period we are considering Tbilisi was the largest trade-and artisan-centre in Georgia. Although it was ruled by foreign invaders for a long time, it was not isolated from the country's economic life. Throughout this period the town was on an internationally important trade-route and was active in trade with Middle Eastern countries in transit-goods and in items manufactured or grown locally. The town had a large ceramics-industry in the eleventh-twelfth centuries. It produced large quantities of simple clay-pottery and highly artistic glazed vessels, and also glazed tiles, decorative details for the facing of houses, and so on. There were two major centres of the ceramics industry in Tbilisi: one at the town's south-eastern wall (near the present Garden of the Three Hundred Aragvians), and the second in the vicinity of the Anchiskhati Church. Tbilisi, Dmanisi, Rustavi and other towns had large industries producing glazed vessels, of various shape and for different purposes. Glazed vessels, covered and decorated with multicoloured glazing, were made in large quantities for the local market and for export. The manufactured glass-vessels was also a large industry in Tbilisi. The town produced silk and woolen fabrics and jewelry.
The diversity of the goods exported from Tbilisi is shown in an interesting account written by an anonymous thirteenth-century Persian geographer, who listed the following under "Tbilisi-goods": saddles, bridles, quivers, bow-case encrusted with ivory, sweetmeats, garnets, beaver-and otter-skins, glass, drinking-bowls, excellent cut-glass, and also slaves. In addition to well-known artisan-goods (ceramics, glass, weapons), the anonymous Persian geographer names jewelry, furs, cut-glass and some other costly wares.
Mining and iron-smelting were large industries. Iron-ore was mined and processed in a number of centres in Eastern and Western Georgia (Kvemo Kartli, Svaneti and Ajara).
Georgia exported wine, nuts, ceramics, goods made of silk, cotton and wool, various fabrics, clothes, carpets, fur, horses, weapons, and other products of agriculture and artisan-industry.
The circulation of Georgian coins of that period outside the country and the finding of innumerable foreign coins in Georgia show that there was intensive trade with countries near and far. Particularly large numbers of Georgian twelfth-century coins have been found on the territory of the former kingdom of Armenia. The foreign money in circulation in Georgia at the time included Byzantine, Eubid, Ildegisid, Ortukid, Seljuk of Azerbaijanian, Atabagi Mosul and Aleppo and Rumi coins. This is clear evidence of Georgia's busy trade with these countries. This trade, which was heavy by the standards of those days, made it imperative to mint local coins -hence the mints in almost all the large Georgian towns of that epoch (Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Dmanisi and Akhaltsikhe, to name but a few). Busy trade with Eastern countries and the extension of the circulation of money generally necessitated certain modifications in this matter. For that reason David the Builder enforced a money-reform that included the introduction of a new coin. The face bore the portrayal of a crowned horsemen with King David's initials, and on the reverse there was an Arab inscription in three lines: "King of kings David, son of Giorgi, Sword of the Messiah". I. Javakhishvili justifiably regarded the Arab inscription on Georgian coins as a measure "allowing Georgian coins to circulate freely and be accepted by foreign merchant-classes both in and outside Georgia".
Trade inside the country and with the outside-world was facilitated by the ramified network of roads in Georgia. Kartli (the central province) and its towns (notably Tbilisi) had roads leading to all parts of Georgia.
Georgia was linked with other countries by goods caravan-roads. The Georgian monarchs, particularly David the Builder and Tamar, did much to keep the roads in good repair, build caravanserais, inns and bridges, and ensure the safety of routes.
Georgia had caravan-routes to Byzantium, Iran, Egypt, Russia and other countries, near and far. With the Western world Georgia had communication mainly along the Artanuji route across Trapezund. Contacts with Iran were maintained mainly along two routes: Tbilisi-Zenjan and Tbilisi-Dvin-Maragha. With northern countries there was communication across the Caucasian passes and via Derbendi.
The growth of Georgia's political strength and the maintenance of peace for a relatively long period enabled the country's' feudal economy to flourish, this being expressed in the develop-meat of agriculture, artisan-industry and trade, which in their turn created the conditions for further enhancing the power of the Georgian feudal state.
In the eleventh-twelfth centuries Georgia minted large quantities of silver- and copper-coins. These coins circulated in Georgia herself and in foreign lands. There are grounds for assuming that in those years Georgia minted gold-coins as well, for gold-bars were used as money.
Taxes levied on the population were the main source of the states income. These taxes consisted of "kharaja" (tribute), which was the main land-rent levied in cash and in kind, and some other payments in cash and in kind (tax for the use of pastures, tax on trade, a scales tax and others). The treasury received a large income from the towns. Since most of the artisans and merchants were Crown-serfs, they gave the Crown part of their output and goods or, as we have mentioned, paid money for the right to trade or engage in a craft. A large sum came from taxes on local and foreign merchants.
Much of the Crown's income comprised tribute from conquered lands. This source of income appeared mainly after the conquests of David the Builder. The countries that paid tribute to Georgia were called "kharaja"-states. They were Ran, Nakh-chevani, the sultanate of Erza, the emirate of Erzerum and the sultanate of Khlati.
Many valuables were received by the Crown-treasury in the shape of military booty. After Georgia became a strong kingdom, attacks on neighbouring countries with the objective of seizing booty became usual. One-fifth of the booty went to the treasury, the rest was distributed among the participants in the raids. A campaign against neighbouring countries with this express purpose was undertaken on the demand of the "didebulis" in the reign of Giorgi III. On the recommendation of the Mkhargrdzeli-brothers, a similar campaign was undertaken against Iran fin 1208- 1210).
Gifts from neighbouring rulers likewise went to the Crown-treasury. Gifts were the material confirmation of dependence on another state, but, unlike tributes, they were made irregularly, expressing, as it were, the judicial independence of a country, because the recipient-state had to give a definite reward.
The Crown-treasury was usually in the capital, but there were treasuries also in other towns. For instance, Giorgi III built a treasury in Ujarma.
The state annually calculated its income and expenditure. Regrettably, no documents on the size of Georgia's income in that period have been left to us, but, according to the accounts written by the fourteenth-century Persian geographer Hamdallah Kazvini, it has been computed that in the twelfth century Georgia's income amounted to 3,475,000 roubles in gold. Vassal-and dependent countries paid her a tribute or sent gifts, but we know nothing of the taxes levied on lands incorporated in the kingdom of Georgia or administered by Crown-officials. However, the fact that Armenia and those parts of Shirvan that were incorporated into Georgia are not mentioned in the records as tributaries or as countries obliged to send gifts is evidence that the laws of the Georgian state were in operation in these regions. Regrettably, we have no direct information about the numerical strength of Georgia's population in that period, but according to written records of the mid-thirteenth century it may be assumed that in the twelfth century Georgia (together with the incorporated Christian lands) had a population of some five millions. As regards the population of the large towns, it is believed that Tbilisi, for instance, had 100,000 inhabitants and Rustavi 20,000. There were large populations in Kutaisi, Samshvilde, Gori and also in other towns. CONTINUE ...




The book of Mariam Lordkiphanidze - "Georgia in the XI-XII centuries"
Published in 1967 by Ganatleba Publishers, Georgia. Editor George B. Hewitt
The web site brought to you by
Besiki Sisauri and Maka Gelashvili and it's part of