Kingdom of Abkhazia

Kingdom of Abkhazia
აფხაზთა სამეფო
Apkhazta samepo
Coat of arms
Kingdom of Abkhazia at the peak of its might

Anacopia (778-786)

Kutaisi (786-1008)
Common languages Georgian
Greek (religious)[upper-alpha 1]
Religion Eastern Orthodox (Georgian Orthodox Church)
 c. 510–530
Anos (first)
 c. 745–767
Leon I (last)
Leon II (first)
Bagrat III (last)
Historical era Early Middle Ages
 Declared independence from Byzantine
 Unification of the Georgian State
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Kingdom of Georgia
Today part of  Georgia

The Kingdom of Abkhazia (Georgian: აფხაზთა სამეფო, Apxazetis samepo), also known as the Egrisi-Abkhazia, was a medieval feudal state in the Caucasus which lasted from the 780s until being united, through dynastic succession, with the Kingdom of Georgia in 1008.

Historiographical conundrum

Writing the kingdom's primary history was dominated by Georgian and Byzantine sources supported by modern epigraphic and archaeological records.

The problem of the Abkhazian Kingdom, particularly the questions of the nature of its ruling family and its ethnic composition, is a major point of controversy between modern Georgian and Abkhaz scholars. This can be largely explained by the scarcity of primary sources on these issues. Most Abkhaz historians claim the kingdom was formed as a result of the consolidation of the early Abkhaz tribes that enabled them to extend their dominance over the neighboring areas. This is objected to on the side of the Georgian historians, some of them claiming that the kingdom was completely Georgian.

Most international scholars agree that it is extremely difficult to judge the ethnic identity of the various population segments[2] due primarily to the fact that the terms "Abkhazia" and "Abkhazians" were used in a broad sense during this period—and for some while later—and covered, for all practical purposes, all the population of the kingdom, comprising both the Georgian (including also Mingrelians, Laz, and Svans with their distinct languages that are sisters to Georgian) and possible modern Abkhaz (Abasgoi, Apsilae, and Zygii) peoples.[3] It seems likely that a significant (if not predominant) proportion of the Georgian-speaking population, combined with a drive of the Abkhazian kings to throw off the Byzantine political and cultural dominance, resulted in Georgian replacing Greek as the language of literacy and culture.[4]


Abkhazia, or Abasgia of classic sources, was a princedom under Byzantine authority. It lay chiefly along the Black Sea coast in what is now the northwestern part of the modern-day Georgia (disputed Republic of Abkhazia) and extended northward into the territory of today’s Krasnodar Krai of Russia. It had Anacopia as the capital. Abkhazia was ruled by a hereditary archon who effectively functioned as a Byzantine viceroy. The country was chiefly Christian and the city of Pityus was a seat of an archbishop directly subordinated to the Patriarch of Constantinople. Another Abasgian episcopal see was that of Soteropolis.[5] The Arabs, pursuing the retreating Georgian princes – brothers Mirian and Archil – surged into Abkhazia in 736. Dysentery and floods, combined with a stubborn resistance offered by the archon Leon I and his Iberian and Lazian allies, made the invaders retreat. Leon I then married Mirian’s daughter, and a successor, Leon II exploited this dynastic union to acquire Lazica in the 770s. Presumably considered as a successor state of Lazica (Egrisi, in Georgian sources), this new polity continued to be referred to as Egrisi in some contemporary Georgian (e.g., The Vitae of the Georgian Kings by Leonti Mroveli) and Armenian (e.g., The History of Armenia by Hovannes Draskhanakertsi) chronicles.

Establishment of the Kingdom

The successful defense against the Arabs, and new territorial gains, gave the Abkhazian princes enough power to claim more autonomy from the Byzantine Empire. Towards circa 778, Leon II won his full independence with the help of the Khazars; he assumed the title of "King of the Abkhazians" and transferred his capital to the western Georgian city of Kutaisi. According to Georgian annals, Leon subdivided his kingdom into eight duchies: Abkhazia proper, Tskhumi, Bedia, Guria, Racha and Takveri, Svaneti, Argveti, and Kutatisi.[6]

The most prosperous period of the Abkhazian kingdom was between 850 and 950. In the early years of the 10th century, it stretched, according to Byzantine sources, along the Black Sea coast three hundred Greek miles, from the frontiers of the thema of Chaldia to the mouth of the river Nicopsis, with the Caucasus behind it. The increasingly expansionist tendencies of the kingdom led to the enlargement of its realm to the east. In 9th century western Georgian Church broke away from Constantinople and recognized the authority of the Catholicate of Mtskheta; language of the church in Abkhazia shifted from Greek to Georgian, as Byzantine power decreased and doctrinal differences disappeared.[7] Beginning with George I (c.872/73–878/79), the Abkhazian kings controlled also Kartli (central and part of eastern Georgia), and interfered in the affairs of the Georgian and Armenian Bagratids. In about 908 King Constantine III (c.898/99–916/17) had finally annexed a significant portion of Kartli, bringing his kingdom up to the neighborhood of Arab-controlled Tfilisi (modern-day Tbilisi). Under his son, George II (c.916/17–960), the Abkhazian Kingdom reached a climax of power and prestige. For a brief period of time, Kakheti and Hereti in eastern Georgia also recognized the Abkhazian suzerainty. As a temporary ally of the Byzantines, George II patronized the missionary activities of Nicholas Mystikos in Alania.

George’s successors, however, were unable to retain the kingdom’s strength and integrity. During the reign of Leon III (c.960–969), Kakheti and Hereti emancipated themselves from the Abkhazian rule. A bitter civil war and feudal revolts which began under Demetrius III (c.969–976) led the kingdom into complete anarchy under the unfortunate king Theodosius III the Blind (c.976–978), a weak and inauspicious king.

By that time the hegemony in Transcaucasia had finally passed to the Georgian Bagratids of Tao-Klarjeti. In 978, the Bagratid prince Bagrat, nephew (sister’s son) of the sonless Theodosius, occupied the Abkhazian throne with the help of his adoptive father David III of Tao. Bagrat’s descent from both Bagratid and Abkhazian dynasties made him an acceptable choice for the nobles of the realm who were growing weary of internecine quarrels. In 1008, Bagrat succeeded on the death of his natural father Gurgen as the "King of Kings of the Iberians". Thus, these two kingdoms unified through dynastic succession, in practice laying the foundation for the unified Georgian monarchy, officially styled then as the Kingdom of Georgia.


Most Abkhazian kings, with the exception of John and Adarnase of the Shavliani (presumably of Svan origin), came from the dynasty which is sometimes known in modern history writing as the Leonids after the first king Leon, or Anosids, after the prince Anos from whom the royal family claimed their origin. Prince Cyril Toumanoff relates the name of Anos to the later Abkhaz noble family of Achba or Anchabadze.[8] By convention, the regnal numbers of the Abkhazian kings continue from those of the archons of Abasgia. There is also some lack of consistency about the dates of their reigns. The chronology below is given as per Toumanoff.

King Reign dynasty
1. Leon II 767/68–811/12 Anosids
2. Theodosius II 811/12–837/38 Anosids
3. Demetrius II 837/38–872/73 Anosids
4. George I 872/73–878/79 Anosids
5. John 878/79–c. 880 Shavliani
6. Adarnase 880–887/88 Shavliani
8. Bagrat I 887/88–898/99 Anosids
9. Constantine III 898/99–916/17 Anosids
10. George II 916/17–960 Anosids
11. Leon III 960–969 Anosids
12. Demetrius III 969–976 Anosids
13. Theodosius III 976–978 Anosids
14. Bagrat II 978–1014 Bagrationi

See also


  1. "It was also during the tenth century that the language of the church in Abkhazia shifted from Greek to Georgian (Inal-Ipa, 1965, p570)."[1]


  1. Hewitt 2013, p. 63.
  2. Graham Smith, Edward A Allworth, Vivien A Law et al., pages 56-58.
  3. Graham Smith, Edward A Allworth, Vivien A Law et al., pages 56-58; Abkhaz by W. Barthold V. Minorsky in the Encyclopaedia of Islam.
  4. Alexei Zverev, Ethnic Conflicts in the Caucasus; Graham Smith, Edward A Allworth, Vivien A Law et al., pages 56-58; Abkhaz by W. Barthold [V. Minorsky] in the Encyclopaedia of Islam; The Georgian-Abkhaz State (summary), by George Anchabadze, in: Paul Garb, Arda Inal-Ipa, Paata Zakareishvili, editors, Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict: Cultural Continuity in the Context of Statebuilding, Volume 5, August 26–28, 2000.
  5. Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2013, ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), p. 975
  6. Vakhushti Bagrationi, The History of Egrisi, Abkhazeti or Imereti, part 1.
  7. Rapp 2007, p. 145
  8. Rapp, pages 481-484.

Sources and further reading

  1. (in English) Alexei Zverev, Ethnic Conflicts in the Caucasus 1988-1994, in B. Coppieters (ed.), Contested Borders in the Caucasus, Brussels: VUBPress, 1996
  2. Graham Smith, Edward A Allworth, Vivien A Law, Annette Bohr, Andrew Wilson, Nation-Building in the Post-Soviet Borderlands: The Politics of National Identities, Cambridge University Press (September 10, 1998), ISBN 0-521-59968-7
  3. Encyclopaedia of Islam
  4. (in English) Center for Citizen Peacebuilding, Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhazian Conflict
  5. (in Russian) Вахушти Багратиони. История царства грузинского. Жизнь Эгриси, Абхазети или Имерети. Ч.1
  6. S. H. Rapp, Studies In Medieval Georgian Historiography: Early Texts And Eurasian Contexts, Peeters Bvba (September 25, 2003) ISBN 90-429-1318-5
  7. (in English) Conflicting Narratives in Abkhazia and Georgia. Different Visions of the Same History and the Quest for Objectivity, an article by Levan Gigineishvili, 2003
  8. (in English) The Role of Historiography in the Abkhazo-Georgian Conflict, an article by Seiichi Kitagawa, 1996
  9. (in English) History of Abkhazia. Medieval Abkhazia: 620-1221 by Andrew Andersen
  10. Hewitt, George, ed. (2013). The Abkhazians: A Handbook. Routledge. ISBN 978-1136802058. 
  11. Georgiy I Mirsky, G I Mirskii, On Ruins of Empire: Ethnicity and Nationalism in the Former Soviet Union (Contributions in Political Science), Greenwood Press (January 30, 1997) ISBN 0-313-30044-5
  12. Ronald Grigor Suny, The Making of the Georgian Nation: 2nd edition (December 1994), Indiana University Press, ISBN 0-253-20915-3, page 45
  13. Robert W. Thomson (translator), Rewriting Caucasian History: The Medieval Armenian Adaptation of the Georgian Chronicles: The Original Georgian Texts and Armenian Adaptation (Oxford Oriental Monographs), Oxford University Press, USA (June 27, 1996), ISBN 0-19-826373-2
  14. Toumanoff C., Chronology of the Kings of Abasgia and other Problems // Le Museon, 69 (1956), S. 73-90.
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