Several finds of early individuals of the genus Homohas been made in Georgia. The Paleolithic (older Stone Age) is well known through numerous surveys of cave settlements and open settlements. The Late Paleolithic (c. 40,000-9000 BC) is particularly well represented in the western part of the country. Mesolithic settlement can also be occupied in caves as well as in open places. The Neolithic apparently began early, perhaps in the 7th century BC; finds of stone implements indicate that the local population played a significant role in the growth of an agricultural economy. As in Armenia, metal objects existed before 4000 BC. During the late copper age and the beginning of the Bronze Age (c. 3500-2000 BC), the Caucasian Kura-Arax culture predominated in Georgia. During its final phase, monumental burial mounds were built with rich trenches (among others in Trialeti and Samtavro); influence from the Middle East is evident in the finds.
Fortified settlements became a typical feature of Georgia from the middle of the second millennium BC. In Abkhazia, the so-called Colchian culture, which bears great resemblance to the Coban culture, arose during the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age (c. 1200-800 BC). At the same time, eastern Caucasus dominated the Central Caucasian culture. During the 500s BC Greek colonial cities were built on the eastern Black Sea coast. At about the same time, an independent kingdom, Kolchis, was established in western Georgia. Shortly thereafter, Georgia may for a time have come under the dominion of the Akemenid Persian Empire, but it came to an end in the last 300 BC.
For further developments in Georgia during antiquity, see Iberians and Kolchis. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Georgia.
Georgian identity was confirmed by Christianity in the 300s. However, the final unification did not take place until the 12th century, when strong Georgian rulers, such as David the Builder and Queen Tamar, succeeded in subduing the surrounding Muslim rulers. In the 15th century, the empire split and fell under Turkish and Persian supremacy. In the 18th century, Georgians approached the Christian Russian Empire with the intention of escaping increased repression in the Ottoman Empire, but when the eastern of the two Georgian kingdoms in 1801 was incorporated in Russia, this was done without Georgian consent. During the period 1803-64, Russia also gradually occupied the western kingdom and its four fairly independent vassals, including Abkhazia, which was partially controlled by Turkey.
The new political affiliation transformed Georgian society. The church was subordinated to the Russian Orthodox, and a rigorous refreshment policy was implemented. The Georgian royal family Bagrationi was expelled, and the previously ruling aristocracy became an independent seat of office. An Armenian trader class took over Georgia’s political and economic life, while many lifelong peasants, in the course of increasing industrialization, turned into a poor Tbilisi working class. In the latter part of the 19th century, when the crackdown began again, Georgian dissatisfaction increased, leading to both nationalism and socialism winning ground. The Social Democratic Mensheviks in particular achieved success.
Part of the Soviet Union
Between May 1918 and February 1921, Georgia was an independent republic, ruled by the Menshevik Party. The political situation was difficult, due to conflicts both with neighboring republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan and with the Bolsheviks in Russia and within Georgia. The constitution gave some autonomy to Abkhazia, Adzjaria (part of the Georgian-speaking area where many converted to Islam under Turkish supremacy from the 1600s to the 1800s) and an Azerbaijani-dominated area to the east. The Menshevik government became increasingly nationalistic, which weakened relations with minority groups in the Georgian territory.
After the Bolsheviks occupied Turkey with Turkish aid and the Mensheviks fled, the area was transformed in 1921 into part of a Transcaucasian Soviet republic. The following refreshment campaign included purges of Georgians with alleged nationalist sympathies. Ironically, the campaign was staged by Georgians Josef Stalin, Lavrentij Berija and Grigorij Ordzjonikidze. In 1936, the same year that Georgia gained the status of the Soviet Republic, the same troika initiated new and more extensive purging operations, which resulted in the disappearance of large parts of the Georgian party elite. At the same time, the Georgian social structure was reshaped through Stalin’s agricultural collectivization and accelerated industrialization, which certainly gave rise to a relatively high standard of living, but also to social and ecological problems. Even within the Soviet Republic of Georgia, Abkhazia and Adzharia gained a special position called autonomous republics.
Since the 1970s, nationalism has again grown strong. Attempts to curtail the role of the Georgian language led to widespread protests. During Gorbachev’s reign, non-communist groups ran a fierce campaign for exile from the Soviet state.
In April 1991, Georgia declared its independence from the Soviet Union, and a month later, nationalist Zviad Gamsachurdia was elected president. The nationalists’ strong mobilization in Georgia led to military clashes with ethnic minorities such as Abkhaz and South Ossetia. As early as January 1991, a declaration of sovereignty from the region of South Ossetia had resulted in armed conflict with Georgian volunteer forces that resulted in 2,000 deaths and that 3/4 of the region’s 100,000 residents fled to other parts of Georgia or to the Russian Federation.
Gamsachurdia’s government soon provoked an open political conflict with the opposition, which in December 1991 turned into open revolt. Gamsachurdia fled to Armenia in January 1992 and then Chechnya. In 1993, he died under unclear circumstances in his hometown of western Georgia.
A newly-appointed military council took over power and invited former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze to become formal head of state in his capacity as President of Parliament. Without Shevardnadze’s approval, the military council launched an invasion of Abkhazia, which, after initial successes, was fought back with the help of volunteers from the Russian Federation. 13,000 people were killed and about half of Abkhazia’s 500,000 residents who were ethnic Georgians or megelars became internal refugees in Georgia. When the presidential post was re-established in 1995, Shevardnadze was elected by an overwhelming majority.
Georgia initially chose to stand outside the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). During Eduard Shevardnadze’s presidential term, the country approached the Russian Federation despite contradictions and also joined the CIS. Under Shevardnadze’s successor Micheil Saakashvili (2004-13), Georgia left the organization again after South Ossetia and Abkhazia, with Russian support, declared themselves independent.
Relations with the Russian Federation have since been Georgia’s biggest foreign policy problems and Russian support for the two outbreak regions has been perceived by Tbilisi as a threat to Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. President Saakashvili’s main priority was to restore the central power’s control over the outbreak regions, which in 2008 resulted in a brief war with the Russian Federation, which intervened militarily in support of the outbreak.
Saakashvili’s successor Giorgi Margvelajsvili (born 1969; President 2013-18) and the governments that have ruled the country since 2012 have pursued a less activist policy in relation to South Ossetia and Abkhazia and have also chosen a more pragmatic line in relation to the Russian Federation focused on economy, trade and other common interests. Georgia has developed good relations with all its neighbors in the Caucasus region.
Domestic politics is dominated by the Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia (DG) party, founded in 2011 on the initiative of the wealthy businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili (born 1956). Salome Zurabishvili, who in 2018 became the country’s first female president, admittedly stood as an independent candidate but was supported by DG.