Georgian Culture of
the 11th- 12th Centuries
Georgian feudal culture reached its golden, age in the
11th-12th centuries. This conformed to the country's economic and political
potential and was the natural result of the development of culture in
Emerging on a purely national foundation, Georgian feudal culture developed
in creative contact with the culture of neighbouring countries and peoples.
In particular, it creatively assimilated the influence of Hellenic and
Arab-Persian cultures. Advanced Georgian society of those times was
acquainted with neo-Platonic philosophy, Byzantine theological literature,
Arab and Persian poetry, and works by eastern and western scholars.
Permeated with Georgian feudal humanism, it developed in a new direction,
endeavouring to portray actuality, true human feelings and aspirations, and
avoiding the abstract dogma of religious philosophy.
This striving to portray actuality is seen in all branches of art and
philosophy: scholarly literature, historiography, poetry, prose,
architecture, painting, and so on.
In the l!th-12th centuries freedom of thought and of scientific research
were championed by the Georgian writers and philosophers Eprem Mtsire, Ioane
Petritsi and Arsen Ikaltoeli.
Considerable advances were made in that epoch by Georgian historiography.
The works written in that period included A History of the Kings by Leonti
Mroveli (11th century), A History of the King of Kings David (written in the
last years of David the Builder and immediately after his death), A History
and Laudation of the Monarchs (written by historians during the reigns of
Tamar and Lasha-Giorgi), and A History of King Demetre, a History of King
Giorgi, a History of the Great Queen of Queens Tamar, a History of King
Giorgi, Son of Queen Tamar (written by an anonymous author, a contemporary
In addition to informing us about the lives and deeds of monarchs, these
works contain information about the country's social and cultural life. The
versatility of presentation and subtle style of writing have justifiably
earned them fame as major works of history.
Historians chronicled important events, showing the class-and
inter-class-struggle. They represented a definite political group, and each
tried to justify the group's ideology.
In the 11th-12th centuries the major political issues were the countries
liberation from foreign invaders and the centralization of state-power.
These were pressing tasks. The historians of that epoch concentrated on
precisely these problems, and this explains their laudation of statesmen who
headed the struggle against external enemies and worked to centralize
state-power. They wrote openly of their hatred for external enemies and for
the feudal lords who opposed the central state-power, the united monarchy.
Their works are permeated with profound feelings of patriotism.
These historians were erudite philosophers, and their works are written on
what, in their day, was a high ideological level. They endeavoured to see
the cause and effect of events, substantiate various phenomena and prove the
authenticity of the events described by them. They made use of the works of
their predecessors, monuments of material culture, documents and foreign
chronicles. In some cases they criticize source-material.
At the same time, they were typical representatives of their epoch. They
could not avoid slipping into the providentialism and dualism that are a
characteristic of mediaeval historical thought, according to which any
action against the prevailing system was proclaimed godlessness, the "work
of the devil". To quote Queen Tamar's historian, the devil entered the soul
of prince Demna and led him astray when he decided to act against the king.
The same historian attributes the rising of the highland-tribes at the close
of Queen Tamar's reign to the circumstance that these highland-people were
not true Christians, that they only called themselves Christians. He does
not see, or to he more exact, he refuses to see or show the
class-mainsprings of that rising.
This leads us to the second characteristic of mediaeval historiography,
which attempts to portray the historical process as ordained by divine will.
The historian of King David the Builder writes that the calamities which
befell Georgia in the 1080s were caused by divine wrath, which the people
had called down upon themselves by their "innumerable sins", but then this
wrath gave way to grace, and God gave King David to the Georgian people.
Historians endeavoured to conceal the tense class-struggle and give picture
of a class-idyll.
Thus, despite their profound learning, the Georgian historians of the
11th-12th centuries were influenced by the prevailing mediaeval ideology in
their understanding and assessment of many historical events.
Eloquent testimony of the high level reached by historical thought was the
appearance of "Kartlis tskhovreba" (A History of Georgia).
The heightened cultural requirements of Georgian society made it necessary
to write a book on the history of Georgia, a book on the heroic past of the
Georgian people. To meet this. demand, the historical assays of various
authors we're put together and edited so as to produce a coherent historical
narrative. The volume was then enlarged and resulted in "Kartlis skhovreba",
which narrates Georgia's history from ancient times to the 14th century.
The appearance of this volume was of great cultural importance. For many
centuries this book served young people as a textbook and reader on the
history of their country.
The first volume of "Kartlis tskhovreba" included works by Leonti Mroveli -
(A History of the Kings from ancient times to the 5th century) and the
Martyrdom of Saint Archill (end of the 8th century ) and Juansheri (A
History of King Vakhtang Gorgasali 5th - 8th centuries ). Both these
historians lived in the 11th century. In the latter half of the 12th century
"Kartlis tskhovreba" was enlarged with the inclusion of "Matiane Kartlisa"
(Chronicle of Kartli), a work written by an anonymous author in the 11th
century. A History of the King of Kings David was then added to the volume.
Included in it somewhat later were A History of the Royal House of
Bagrationi by Sumbat Davidisdze (an 11th-century historian) ami historical
essays giving an account of events that took place in the 12th-14th
centuries (these works are by the historian of Queen Tamar, the historian of
King Lasha Giorgi, and an anonymous 14th-century author, who writes of
events that took place in the 13th - 14th centuries. The first cycle of "Kartlis
tskhovreba" was thus gradually created.
The compilation of this volume saved a number of historical essays from
destruction, preserving informative works about the past of the Georgian
people. "Kartlis tskhovreba" is to this day the princial source for the
history of ancient and, particularly, feudal Georgia.
In addition to the history of Georgia, it contains important information on
the history of other Caucasian peoples. An indication of its great
significance is that it was translated into the Armenian language as early
as the 12th century- "Kartlis tskhovreba" was compiled on instructions from,
and under the supervision of, the highest state-authority, and this
predetermined its pronounced class-character.
This epoch left a rich heritage in many other brandies of science:
astronomy, mathematics, medicine, to name a few. It is interesting to note
that Arabic numerals were used in Georgia as early as the 10th century.
A book on medicine entitled "Ustsoro Karabadini" ("Peerless Karabadini") was
written in Georgia in the 10th - 11th centuries, and a book on medicine
based chiefly on data concerning Arabic medicine was written in 1208 - 1210.
''Ustsoro Karabadi-ni" contains data drawn from Greek medical books and also
the medical observations of the author himself with references to Georgian
medical traditions. The Medical Book is interesting in that it identifies
diseases, describes methods of treating these diseases and contains
instructions on medicines. It was an Important scientific work of its day.
The education-system reflected the general level of contemporary knowledge.
As in the rest of the Christian world, the churches and monasteries were
centres of enlightenment in Georgia. They produced works on theology and
philosophy, translated foreign works, copied manuscripts, and so forth.
: An important role in spreading education and in scientific and literary
activity was played by Georgian monasteries outside Georgia. These
monasteries, which were centres of learning rather than of religion,
included the Iberia Monastery on Athos, the Georgian Monastery on the Black
Mountain in Syria, the monastery of the Jvari in Palestine and the
Petritsoni Monastery in the territory of what is now Bulgaria.
The Gelati Academy, founded by David the Builder, |was the most prominent
centre of Georgian culture of those days. It was David's plan that Gelati
should become a "second Athens". In mediaeval Georgia there was another
academy of this kind at Ikalto.
The number of elementary and secondary schools, in which instruction was
evidently conducted under the Byzantine trivium and quadrivium-systems,
increased considerably in Georgia in the 11th-12th centuries. Seven basic
subjects were taught: grammar, rhetoric, philosophy (dialectics),
arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. It is believed that, in that age,
instruction in the teaching on the nature of man was also conducted in
Day-to-day requirements influenced also the development of the Georgian
alphabet. Over the centuries the Georgian written language had undergone
Some branches of secular literature and art contributed greatly to the
development of Georgian culture in the llth-12th centuries.
The Georgian people have long been famous for their musical! traditions.
Folk-secular" musical culture, which produced poly-phonic music and turned
composition into an independent branch,! developed side by side with Church
A high level of development was attained by various branches of art:
fresco-painting, miniature decoration of manuscripts, chasing on gold and
silver, enamelling, and so on. It must be noted that, in those days, Georgia
had three different schools of] chasing on gold. The works of the famous
Georgian goldsmiths, Beka and Beshken Opizari, are an outstanding
contribution to world art.
Many branches of 12th-century Georgian art, whose creations were known not
only in Georgia, are of historic significance.
Georgian art of that age made a great contribution to world culture. From
this standpoint, music-decoration and the art of enamelling occupy a worthy
place alongside the art of chasing.
The Icon of Our Lady of Khakhuli is regarded as belonging to the world's
finest works in enamelling.
A point that must be made is that secular motifs manifest themselves clearly
in the fine arts of the church of those times.
Immortal monuments of Georgian architecture were built in. the llth-12th
centuries. These include the Geguti-palace, the churches in Mtskheta (Svetitskhoveli,
Samtavro), the Church of Bagrat in Kutaisi, the Alaverdi-Church, and the
churches at Ikorta, Bertubani and Betania. Carved out of rock, the Vardzia
Monastery, with its many cells and exquisitely painted church, is!
incontrovertible evidence of the high level achieved by Georgian
architecture. The Gelati-monastery is famous not only for its architecture
but also for its frescoes and mosaics.
Secular "belles lettres" and lyric and epic poetry developed in Georgia in
the 12th century. The finest works of this genre are Chakhrukhadze's
Shavteli's Abdulmesiani - laudations of David the Builder and Queen
The major achievement of Georgian culture in that epoch was the great
Shota Rustaveli's "The Knight in the Panther's Skin", in which humanist
ideas are conveyed in classical verse-from. Naturally, in the epoch of
developed feudalism Georgian culture was influenced by the prevailing
world-outlook, but advanced ideas had penetrated deep into all branches of
art and left their imprint on the further development of art.
The philosophical views of Eprem Mtsire, Ioane Petritsi and Rustaveli did
not fit into the usual framework of the prevailing mediaeval world-outlook.
Despite the predominant ideology, advanced thought asserted the realisation
of the advantages of earthly life. Rustaveli extolled earthly, human
feelings, love, principles of fair play, friendship and brotherhood
nationality or religion.
In this was manifested the humanist ideas underlying Georgian culture of
that period, ensuring the immortality of "The Knight in the Panther's Skin",
making it a work of world-wide significance and giving it an honourable
place in world-mediaeval culture.
In the llth-12th centuries Georgian science and art were characterized by
many of the features that later became the hallmarks of the European
The form and content of Rustaveli's poem strongly influenced the further
development of Georgian culture generally and of Georgian literature, in