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


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 Georgia.
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 of Lasha-Giorgi).
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 Georgian schools.
Day-to-day requirements influenced also the development of the Georgian alphabet. Over the centuries the Georgian written language had undergone substantial modifications.
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 music.
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 Tamariani and Shavteli's Abdulmesiani - laudations of David the Builder and Queen Tamar.
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 regardless of
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 Renaissance.
The form and content of Rustaveli's poem strongly influenced the further development of Georgian culture generally and of Georgian literature, in particular. 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