from the 1180s to the Beginning of the 13th Century
history through the 12th and 13th centuries is retold below in as much
detail as can be found in a fine
lace tapestry or other
fine art piece. Read on to learn more about the different aspects of
Georgia's political system during this
In the 11 th-12th centuries, Georgia was a country with developed feudal
relations. She was ruled by a monarch, who administered the country through
a large apparatus of court-officials and local governors.
The foundations of the united Georgian feudal state were laid at the close
of the 10th century, when Georgia was a relatively small country
administered by the king and his small court. But, as the state - boundaries
were gradually extended and the problems facing the country grew
increasingly more difficult, the former system of administration could no
longer meet the new requirements. It became imperative to modify and improve
the state-system. These changes were introduced both on the initiative of
the court and on the insistence of the feudal nobility.
The monarch enjoying juridically autocratic powers headed the state but the
extent to which these powers were exercised depended entirely on the king's
personal qualities in a given situation.
At the royal court there was a representative body, the "darbazi", which had
evidently existed in Georgia since early-feudal times.
The king administered the land through high officials, courtiers and
governors - eristavis.
According to the prevaling state-law, the whole of Georgia was devided into
two parts: possessions of the Crown and those of the "eristavis".
By tradition, the Bagrationi were regarded as being of divine-descent and
the power invested in them was also of divine origin. This theory provided
the ideological substantiation of the Bagrationi-family's royal powers. The
"eristavis" likewise sought to link their origin with legendary heroes and
to assert the idea that they wielded power by divine right.
"Eristavis" were appointed by royal decree, following which the ritual of
benediction was performed by the bishop, who proclaimed that the powers of
the "eristavi" were granted by divine will.
The royal court was the central state-apparatus.
The number of court-officials was increased, and their rights and duties
were extended with feudal Georgia's unification.
The importance of the royal court was particularly enhanced in the 12th
century, in the reign of David the Builder.
Court-officials with the title of "vaziri" appeared in the Georgian
state-apparatus in the 12th century.
"Vaziri", a term of Persian-Arab origin, entered the Georgian language from
the Middle East.
The institution of "ukhutsesi" (elder) had existed in the Georgian court
since ancient times. In the 12th century, there were many "ukhutsesis" who
headed different branches of administration: "mtsignobartukhutsesi" chief
scribe, i. e. chief of the royal chancellory; "amirspasalari" - chief
spasalari, i. e. general in-chief; "mandaturtukhutsesi" - chief of police, i.
e. chief of the "mandaturs"; "mechurchletukhutsesi" - chief treasurer; "msakhurtukhutsesi"
- chief attendant; "meghvinetukhutsesi" - chief wine-maker; "mkhatvartukhutsesi"
- chief artist and others.
With the growth of the importance and role of the central state-apparatus in
the 12th century, some of the "ukhutsesis" (elders) were raised to the rank
The "mtsignobartukhutsesi" - chief of the royal chancellory and the king's
right hand - was the first to be given the rank of "vaziri" (in the reign of
David the Builder). This was an indication of his primacy among the other "ukhutsesi".
Soon other "ukhutsesis" were raised to the rank of "vaziri". In the reign of
Queen Tamar the rank of "vaziri" was granted to the "amirspasalari" (chief
of the war department), the "mandaturtukhutsesi" (chief of the department
for the interior, post and so on) and the "mechurchletukhutsesi" (chief of
the treasury). The "msakhurtukhutsesi" (chief of the Crown-economy received
the rank of "vaziri" in the reign of Rusudan (1222 - 1245).
The institution of "ukhutsesis" is purely Georgian, and although in some
situation a number of the "ukhutsesis" received the title of "vaziri" the
content of this institution remained Georgian.
The "savaziro" (council of "vaziris") was created when some "ukhutsesis"
were raised to the rank of "vaziri".
Each "vaziri" had a well-defined set of duties.
The royal chancellory ("samtsignobro") was headed by the "mtsignobartukhutsesi";
who simultaneously was Bishop of the Chkondidi-Cathedral. He was regarded as
the. king's senior counsellor on questions of state-administration. He ran
the judiciary, and, in peace-time, he had charge of the army and military
affairs. The management of the Church-organizations and concern for churches
and monasteries were within his jurisdiction.
Tinder him he had 26 "mtsignobaris" (scribes). Of these, the "satsolis
mtsignobari"- (chamberiain) was his direct deputy in the administration of
justice, and another, the "mtsignobari zardkhani" (chief of the repository)
had charge of documents. Writing materials (satsereli) formed the official
regalia of the "mtsignobaris".
State-credentials, royal decrees, letters-patent, charters of
donation, charters of immunity and other documents of special
importance were written by the "mtsignobaris" (from the word
"tsigni"- charter, document). '
, The war-department was headed by the "amirspasalari". Military training,
the distribution of troops, the raising of cavalry and other matters came
under his jurisdiction.
The "amirspasalari" was the commander-in-chief in the absence of the king
during a military campaign.
He wore a sword as the symbol of his office in war-time and during the
sitting of the state-council. His opinion was taken into account when
anybody was appointed to or relieved of a high office and received or was
divested of the possessions that went with that office. The officials
directly subordinate to the "amirspasalari" were called "amirakhori" and "meabjret-ukhutsesi".
The "amirakhori" and his subordinates had charge of the royal stables, while
the "meabjretukhutsesi" had charge of the repositories of military insignia.
The function of the "mandaturtukhutsesi" was to administer the internal
affairs of the state, to maintain the accepted order at the royal court and
to perform other related duties. The "mandaturtukhutsesi" was aided by an "amirejibi"
and a "mandatur" and as a symbol of his office, he carried an "arghani" (sceptre)
presented by the king.
State-finances were supervised by the "mechurchletukhutsesi". His direct
assistant (deputy) was called the "natsvali" He headed the "mechurchles" and
had charge of the "sachurchle" (treasury). The merchants and their
organisations were subordinate to him, and he was in charge of trade,
trade-duties, and so on. As a symbol of his office he wore a signet-ring.
The Crown-economy was supervised by the "msakhurtukhut-sesi". The fact that
this office existed indicated the high level reached by Georgian
state-administration in those times. There was a clear distinction between
state-property and the private property of the king. The treasury did not
belong to the king, and state-revenues could not be used for his private
requirements. The king's own revenues came from his personal possessions,
and the "msakhurtukhutsesi', saw to it that these revenues-were used in the
interests of the royal house.
In the Georgian vasirate, a unique position was occupied by the "atabagi".
That institution had been borrowed from the Seljuks. The "atabagi" was
counsellor to the king and tutor of the heir to the throne.
Towards the end of her reign, Queen Tamar granted the title of "atabagi" to
Ivane Mkhargrdzeli, who had won her trust and respect by his loyalty to the
state and royal house. He was also the "amirspasalar". Thereafter, the
office of "atabag" was usually combined with some other office of "vaziri".
All state-institutions annually presented reports (financial and others).
These reports were field, and, together with documents' of verification,
were kept in special repositories ("saangarisho godori") that had a staff of
The organization of the army was of considerable importance in the history
of the Georgian feudal monarchy.
The army was organized along the principle of feudal volunteers. As the
greatest and most powerful feudal lord, the king had his own army, which
consisted of his subjects. In war-time, all the feudal lords had to report
with their troops for duty under the royal standard. This was their
principal duty to the state, but they did not always discharge this duty to
the king and state. There were frequent cases when they ignored the summons
of the king or even fought against the king or defected to the enemy with
their troops. Naturally, not all the kings were able to curb insubordination
with equal success and make the feudal lords serve them and the state
The reorganization of the military system by David the Builder mainly
pursued the aim of putting an end to insubordination by feudal lords.
Beginning from the end of the 11th century, the Georgians were constantly at
war with the Seljuks for century. In the course of that long and bitter
struggle Georgia's military organization was gradually improved. The army
consisted of local troops recruited throughout the country (in the regions
governed by "eristavis" and in the royal possessions) and forming its
backbone; royal volunteers drawn from among the court-"aznauris"; units
summoned from vassal-countries and maintained by the court; and mercenary
units mainly from the neighbouring North Caucasian lands. Also, there were
troops used to garrison towns and fortresses.
The organization of the army, its equipment and its timely response to the
summons of the king came under the jurisdiction of the "eristavt-eristavi"
and the war-department headed by the "amirspasalari". In view of the great
importance that was attached to Georgia's constant readiness for war, much
attention was paid to the building of roads, bridges, post stations and the
quick deliver of the king's orders.
The system of mobilization was so well organized that, when necessary, the
entire army could be mustered within ten days.
In emergencies the king, with the knowledge and approval of the
state-council, dispatched edicts ("tsvevis tsignebi", literally
"invitation-books") by messengers. The time and place for the assembly of
troops were stated in these edicts.
Before marching to war, the troops were inspected by the king, who checked
their combat-readiness and armaments, blessed them and the state-standard,
and, if he did not go with the troops, he handed the standard to the "amirspasalari",
who commanded the army in such cases.
Campaigns and raids against neighbouring countries were conducted to mark
events such as the birth of an heir, the crowning of a new king, and so on.
At the height of her military might, Georgia repeatedly conducted such
attacks, which, as we have noted, pursued various objectives. One of these
objectives was to keep neighbouring Muslim rulers in a state of constant
fear. Also, they served as a warning to vassals. Further, these attacks were
a source of wealth for the state and for the participants. . The various
districts were administered by "eristavis".
In most cases, the historic-geographical principle underlay Georgia's
administrative division. The boundaries of provinces usually coincided with
the territorial settlement of individual ethnic groups of the Georgian
people. Each province was a large administrative unit ("eristavt-eristavship").
In the reign of Queen Tamar, there were several large "eristavt-eristavships":
Kartli, Kakheti, Hereti, Samtskhe, Odishi, Tskhumi, Racha-Takveri, Svaneti.
The "eristavt-eritavis" sought to make their office hereditary,
and, to all intents and purposes, they achieved this objective.
Administrative organs, the court and finances were under the jurisdiction of
the "eristavi". He recruited troops in the administrative unit governed by
him, was responsible for -their training and for prompt mobilization in
response to summons from the king. He governed the region entrusted to him
through his own court.
The institution of "eristavis" had existed in Georgia since ancient times;
even in very ancient times Georgia was administered by "eristavis".
In the feudal epoch, the "eristavis" wanted not only to ensure the transfer
of their office by inheritance but also to acquire a certain independence,
to be vassals of the Crown. This was the bone of contention in the endless
struggle between the Crown and the "eristavis'', a struggle that was
conducted with alternating success.
"Eristavt-eristavships" of a new kind, known as border ''eristavt-eristavships"
("monapireni"), were formed in the 12th century with the, extension of
Georgia's boundaries and as a result of her unremitting struggle against
In his province the border-"eristavi" differed from the usual "eristavis"
only in that one of his functions was to defend the state-boundary.
In this institution there was something that was reminiscent of the
frontier-settlements set up by the Seljuks, although, possibly, this analogy
is not quite precise. It must he borne in mind that because of Georgia's
close relations with the Seljuks, Georgian statesmen evidently borrowed
elements of the Seljuk, military organization, in particular, their system
of guarding frontiers, when they embarked on measures to increase the
country's military strength or to defend her frontiers.
It must be noted that the new type of "eristavships" was created only along
Georgia's southern boundaries. That none were instituted along the northern
boundaries is probably due to the fact that, in the north, Georgia was
invulnerable on account of the line, of buffer-vassal-states. But in the
south, she was constantly menaced by the Seljuks. Moreover, this system of
frontier-defense might have been set up in imitation of the border-military
settlements of the Seljuks.
These frontier-"eristavis" guarded the state-boundary, watched the movement
of troops in enemy-territory, kept the king informed on affairs pertaining
to military operations and the defence of the border, and notified him when
it was possible or desirable to attack the enemy.
In accordance with the messages from the frontier-"eristavis", the king
reported on She state on affairs to the higher state-council, which decided
whether the entire army would embark upon a campaign or whether the "eristavis"
themselves should conduct a raid.
In most cases the frontier- "eristavis" themselves invaded adjoining
enemy-lands, but, in all cases, this was, done with the knowledge and
sanction of the king.
At the close of the 12th century Georgia had six or seven of these
border-settlements adjoining Turkish territory.
At the height of Georgia's military might, this border-system headed by
military leaders devoted to the queen ensured the security of the
From the very outset, the extension of Georgia's boundaries and the
incorporation of non-Georgian regions posed the problem of developing an
expedient system of administering the latter.
Queen Tamar appointed "eristavis" from among the local population to
administer the territories incorporated in Georgia herself. Such was the
case, for instance, in the former Bagratid Armenia. Ani and Dvin were
administered by Zakaria and Ivane Mkhargrdzeli as officials of the Crown. In
the latter case, as Armenians professing the Gregorian faith, the
Mkhargrdzeli-brothers were the most suitable as administrators of these
regions. But in this capacity they were no more than ordinary "eristavis" of
the Crown and submitted to the Crown as did all the other "eristavis".
In addition to this manner of administering annexed territories there was
the. practice of incorporating conquered lands within the Crown-possessions.
This was the case with the town of Kars and the adjoining regions: it became
a Crown-possession at the request of the inhabitants themselves.