The Kingdom of Apkhazeti, ca 770-1081

By George Nikoladze

In Lazica, various ethnic segments including Mingrelian, Zhan and Svan-speaking Georgian tribes were subordinated to the Byzantine-appointed princes (Greek: archon, Georgian: eristavi) who resided in Anacopia and were viewed as major champions of the empire’s political and cultural influence in western Georgia. Arabs penetrated the area in the 730s, but they never succeeded in conquering it.
It was when the Georgian term Apkhazeti (i.e., "the land of the Apkhazians") first appeared in the Georgian medieval annals, giving origin to the modern-day name Abkhazia, used in most foreign languages.
At the very end of the 8th century, Western Georgian prince Leon launched an anti-imperial uprising which ousted Byzantine troops from most of Lazica (including Apkhazeti), proclaimed the Kingdom of Egris-Aphkhazeti and bestowed the title of the King upon himself. With the Khazar help, Leon ousted the Byzantine authority completely from Egrisi-Apkhazeti and further expanded his kingdom, transferring his capital to the ancient Georgian city of Kutaisi. Although the questions of the nature of this kingdom's ruling family is still disputed, most scholars agree that the Abkhazian kings were Georgian in culture, language and ethnicity. In order to eliminate the Byzantine religious influence, the dynasty subordinated the local dioceses to the Georgian Orthodox catholicosate of Mtskheta.
The kingdom is frequently referred in modern history writing as the Egrisi-Apkhazeti kingdom due to the fact that medieval authors viewed the new monarchy as a successor state of Egrisi (former Kingdom of Lazica) and sometimes used the terms interchangeably.
The most prosperous period of the Kingdom of Apkhazeti was between 850 and 950, when it dominated the whole western Georgia and claimed control even of the easternmost Georgian provinces. 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, the western Georgian population of the kingdom. The kings of Abkhazia patronized learning and art. Abkhazia proper was one of the chief regions through which the Georgian cultural influences reached the mountainous peoples of the Caucasus. This is testified by the ruins of Georgian churches adorned with Georgian inscriptions and frescos found elsewhere in Russia’s North Caucasus. Several monuments of medieval Georgian architecture – churches, monasteries, fortresses and bridges – have survived in Abkhazia. Although the de facto separatist authorities of modern-day Abkhazia continue to exploit them to attract Russian tourists, these invaluable monuments are currently in extremely poor condition, and the cases of deliberate destruction of Georgian frescos and inscriptions have also been reported.

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