Capitals: Armazi, Mtskheta, Tbilisi
Official Languages: Old Georgian
Established: 302 BC/BCE
Disestablished: 580 AD/CE
In earliest times, the area of Caucasian Iberia was inhabited by several related tribes stemming from the Kura-Araxes culture, collectively called Iberians (or Eastern Iberians) in Greco-Roman ethnography.
The Moschi, mentioned by various classic historians, and their possible descendants, the Saspers (who were mentioned by Herodotus), may have played a crucial role in the consolidation of the tribes inhabiting the area. The Moschi had moved slowly to the northeast forming settlements as they traveled. One of these was Mtskheta, the future capital of the Kingdom of Iberia. The Mtskheta tribe was later ruled by a prince locally known as mamasakhlisi (“father of the household” in Georgian).
The written sources for the early periods of Iberia's history are mostly medieval Georgian chronicles, that modern scholarship interpret as a semi-legendary narrative. One such chronicle, Moktsevay Kartlisay (“Conversion of Kartli”) mentions that a ruler named Azo and his people came from Arian-Kartli – the initial home of the proto-Iberians, which had been under Achaemenid rule until the fall of the Persian Empire – and settled on the site where Mtskheta was to be founded. Another Georgian chronicle, Kartlis Tskhovreba (“History of Kartli”) claims Azo to be an officer of Alexander’s, who massacred a local ruling family and conquered the area, until being defeated at the end of the 4th century BC/BCE by Prince Pharnavaz, at that time a local chief.
The story of Alexander's invasion of Kartli, although legendary, nevertheless reflects the establishment of Georgian monarchy in the Hellenistic period and the desire of later Georgian literati to connect this event to the celebrated conqueror.
This close association with Armenia and Pontus brought upon the country an invasion (65 BC/BCE) by the Roman general Pompey, who was then at war with Mithradates VI of Pontus, and Armenia; but Rome did not establish her power permanently over Iberia. Nineteen years later, the Romans again marched (36 BC) on Iberia forcing King Pharnavaz II to join their campaign against Albania.
While another Georgian kingdom of Colchis was administered as a Roman province, Iberia freely accepted the Roman Imperial protection. A stone inscription discovered at Mtskheta speaks of the 1st-century ruler Mihdrat I (58 - 106 AD/CE) as "the friend of the Caesars" and the king "of the Roman-loving Iberians." Emperor Vespasian fortified the ancient Mtskheta site of Arzami for the Iberian kings in 75 AD/CE.
The next two centuries saw a continuation of Roman influence over the area, but by the reign of King Pharsman II (116 – 132) Iberia had regained some of its former power. Relations between the Roman Emperor Hadrian and Pharsman II were strained, though Hadrian is said to have sought to appease Pharsman. However, it was only under Hadrian's successor Antoninus Pius that relations improved to the extent that Pharsman is said to have even visited Rome, where Dio Cassius reports that a statue was erected in his honor and that rights to sacrifice were given. The period brought a major change to the political status of Iberia with Rome recognizing them as an ally, rather than their former status as a subject state, a political situation which remained the same, even during the Empire's hostilities with the Parthians.
The continuing rivalry between Byzantium and Sasanian Persia for supremacy in the Caucasus, and the next unsuccessful insurrection (523) of the Georgians under Gurgen had severe consequences for the country. Thereafter, the king of Iberia had only nominal power, while the country was effectively ruled by the Persians. In 580, Hormizd IV (578-590) abolished the monarchy after the death of King Bakur III, and Iberia became a Persian province ruled by a marzpan (governor). Georgian nobles urged the Byzantine emperor Maurice to revive the kingdom of Iberia in 582, but in 591 Byzantium and Persia agreed to divide Iberia between them, with Tbilisi to be in Persian hands and Mtskheta to be under Byzantine control.
At the beginning of the 7th century the truce between Byzantium and Persia collapsed. The Iberian Prince Stephanoz I (c. 590-627), decided in 607 to join forces with Persia in order to reunite all the territories of Iberia, a goal he seems to have accomplished. But Emperor Heraclius's offensive in 627 and 628 brought victory over the Georgians and Persians and ensured Byzantine predominance in western and eastern Georgia until the invasion of the Caucasus by the Arabs.