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Georgian History

The Roman Republic - a Super-State and Iberia (Georgia) on the Verge of BC & AD

Historian Simon Maskharashvili (SM) tells us about the strange twists in Georgian chronicles.
Madonna Siharulidze (MS)

The annals have it that Pharsman the Second, King of Iberia in the first part of the second century AD and his wife were received with special honors in Rome. The Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius ordered the monument of the mounted King of Georgians be erected in the Field of Mars.

MS - Throughout its long history, Georgia had many celebrated monarchs, among them, only after Pharnavaz, was Pharsman the Second. What was happening in Georgia at that time?
SM - Probably, the life of any prominent politician should be scrutinized against the background of big politics. In this particular case, we have to look into the events that developed at the junction of BC and AD. That was the time when Rome, a Super-State was enjoying an unconditional hegemony in the political system of the world. It used to control the entire West Europe, most of Western Asia and North Africa. In the East, the hegemony was in the hands of the Parthian Kingdom.

MS - Is this the erstwhile Persian state?
SM - Yes, it is. It embraced Persian, Iraqi, Syrian, and Mid-Asian and Pakistani territories. When the Empire of Alexander the Great disintegrated, the states that emerged on its ruins, like Armenia and Pontus, made attempts to take over the hegemony in the area. King Mithridates of Pontus tried to control the Black Sea waters which gave him a great advantage over Rome. King Tigranes of Armenia wanted to rule the mid-ways of the Silk-Road - Mesopotamia and the vicinities of the Lake Van, thus acquiring the upper hand over the trade with Eastern nations. Given the kinship between Tigranes and Mithridates, they were more partners than competitors, and at some point their alliance proved to be productive, but by about 63 BC Rome defeated them and got hold of control in the region.

MS - As I understand, those two states, Rome and the Parthian Kingdom were at the helm of the world politics of that time. What is notable in Georgia at that time in terms of relations with these powerful states?
SM - Iberia (Georgia) of that era used to be a completely independent state. It merely was an active participant in the historical process. In the years of 63-65 BC, when Pompey defeated Mithridates in the decisive battle, Tigranes of Armenia, having lost the ally, implored the Roman Emperor for the audience, dismounted and covered the distance of one kilometer on his knees to approach the Sovereign and beg for mercy as a vassal.

MS - Well, how did Georgia of that period look politically?
SM - A tiny state of Iberia headed by King Artague declared war against a Super-State. A Greek historian and biographer Plutarch has given us an extremely interesting explanation of the motives of that war: the world history knows wars like preventive, conquering and looting, but never a war motivated by a desire to defend the dignity of a neighboring friendly state. We know that most of the population of the Pontus Kingdom was made up of Lazs, the ancient Georgian tribe. Let's quote Plutarch. The State of Rome had never faced an adversary like Iberians. As Plutarch chose to put it, even the Alexander the Great had failed to subjugate them. Certainly, the Georgians lost the battle, the trace of which is still observable - there is a remnant of the Pompey Bridge in the vicinity of Mtskheta near Tbilisi. Notably, Rome had not conquered Georgia in the direct meaning of the word. Rome declared Georgia its ally and friend. And they did this for good reason. They had great politicians and thinkers who consciously recognized that Iberia had a capability of creating trade problems on the Silk Road provided they opened the access to barbarians through the Daryal Gorge. In a certain while after this, there took place a serious clash between Rome and the Parthian Kingdom with the aim of capturing Armenia. Eventually, Iberia got involved in the conflict in 34 AD. The Iberian troops crushed the Parthian forces as a result of which Armenia became part of Iberia, but after 30 years Georgia surrendered the Armenian throne due to the conspiracy within the Royal circles. Let's not forget that 99 % of the Armenian aristocracy was of Parthian origin. Actually, the old Armenian language is derived from one of the Persian dialects.

MS - How did the relationship between Rome and Georgia develop further?
SM - Well, Iberia would confront the Roman Empire later. It even succeeded to eliminate the Roman garrison. Incidentally, Iberia enjoyed the whole series of victories in the wars of the region. Certain foreign historical sources as well as the inscription in the stone found in Mtskheta confirm that in 75 BC, Emperor Vespasian had built a wall in Mtskheta absolutely free of charge to help his long-wished for ally Iberia. Let me remind you that this was the Vespasian who had destroyed the Jerusalem wall.

MS - What happened after?
SM - The second century was accompanied with the Roman military and political supremacy. Pharsman the Second of Georgia would often find himself in confrontation with Rome, inviting certain nomadic tribes to assault the Silk Road, thus forcing Rome into certain compromises, but he would act not in the capacity of an ally of Parthian rulers, but as an independent state. Most of the neighboring states paid tribute to the Roman emperor as vassals. It was only Pharsman the Second who did not succumb, although the resistance of the Georgian King would not always end up happily. For example, once the Roman Emperor decided to clad the gladiators in the attire and gear presented to him by Pharsman. This was a huge offense perpetrated against the Georgian King. But Rome never dared invade Georgia. Time passed and Antoninus Pius, the tutor to Marcus Aurelius, invited King Pharsman and his wife to Rome with great honors. This became one of the most celebrated events in Rome that particular year. And consequently, something unprecedented happened. Not one person until that time (not even a Roman celebrity!) except Pharsman had ever been honored to do a sacrifice in the Capitol. Rome, the city of numerous vicissitudes of life, having been utterly charmed by the Georgian King's valor and fortitude, erected the monument of the mounted King Pharsman in the Field of Mars.

MS - What value did the Field of Mars represent for the Romans?
SM - This was the place where people's assembly used to meet. Imagine how important a foreign politician has to be to America to let his/her monument be erected right in front of the United States Congress. Rome surrendered several provinces to Georgia, and the territories conquered by Pharsman were recognized as belonging to Georgia. As for the Parthian Kingdom, Pharsman won great many battles over them. He enjoyed an undisputed hegemony in Caucasus. According to Georgian sources, Pharsman was assassinated by treachery.

Published in the “Georgian Journal” on May 3 - 9, 2007


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