Mongol Invasions Of Georgia

Unraveling The Impact Of The 13th-Century Mongol Onslaught On Medieval Georgia

The Early Mongol Invasions Of Georgia (1220-1236)

Initial Encounters And Early Raids

The Mongol invasions of Georgia, a region that then encompassed modern Georgia, Armenia, and much of the Caucasus, began in the early 13th century. This period marked a tumultuous chapter in Georgian history, profoundly impacting its political, cultural, and social fabric. The first Mongol appearance in the Caucasus was in 1220, under the leadership of generals Subutai and Jebe, as part of their pursuit of Muhammad II of Khwarezm during the destruction of the Khwarezmian Empire. Their initial foray into Georgian territory was not an outright invasion but a series of raids and reconnaissance missions, signaling the beginning of a long and arduous era for Georgia.

In the fall of 1220, approximately 20,000 Mongols, led by Subutai and Jebe, entered Georgian lands, pursuing the ousted Shah Muhammad II of the Khwarezmian dynasty to the Caspian Sea. With Genghis Khan's consent, these generals ventured west on a reconnaissance mission, thrusting into Armenia, then under Georgian authority. This resulted in the Battle of Khunan on the Kotman River, where the Mongol forces defeated around 10,000 Georgians and Armenians commanded by King George IV "Lasha" of Georgia and his atabeg Ivane Mkhargrdzeli. King George IV sustained severe chest wounds in this battle.

Confusion And Initial Reactions

These surprise attacks left the Georgians confused about the identity of their attackers. Contemporary records suggest a lack of clarity regarding the Mongols' identity, with some even presuming them to be Christians due to their engagement against Muslims. This misunderstanding was clarified when Queen Rusudan, King George IV's sister and successor, communicated with Pope Honorius III in 1223, revealing that the Mongols were, in fact, pagans.

The Mongols temporarily deferred their plans regarding Georgia, allowing a brief respite. However, this did not last long as they returned in force in January 1221. Despite his previous defeat and reluctance, King George IV was compelled to confront the Mongols as they ravaged the countryside and inflicted heavy casualties on the Georgian populace. The subsequent battle at Bardav (modern-day Barda, Azerbaijan) was another decisive Mongol victory, virtually obliterating Georgia's field army. Yet, as the Mongols were on a reconnaissance and plundering expedition rather than an outright conquest, they did not pursue further into Georgian territory at this time, instead moving north, plundering northeastern Armenia and Shirvan.

The Use Of Advanced Warfare Techniques

A notable aspect of these early invasions was the Mongols' use of advanced warfare techniques, including Chinese catapult units. These units, first utilized in the invasion of Transoxania in 1219, played a significant role in the Mongols' military success. The Chinese may have also used catapults to hurl gunpowder bombs, showcasing the technological prowess the Mongols employed in their conquests.

Prelude To Full-Scale Invasion

The real turning point came with the full-scale Mongol conquest of the Caucasus and eastern Anatolia, which began in 1236. This offensive marked the beginning of the end for the Kingdom of Georgia as a significant regional power. The Mongol onslaught was preceded by a devastating conflict with Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, a refugee shah of Khwarezmia, who demanded Georgian support in his war against the Mongols. When Georgia failed to provide this support, Mingburnu captured Tbilisi in 1226, significantly weakening Georgia's defenses and leaving it vulnerable to the Mongol invasion.

In 1236, the Mongol commander Chormaqan led a large army against Georgia and its vassal Armenian princedoms. Most of the Georgian and Armenian nobles submitted to the Mongols without serious resistance, either confining their opposition to their castles or fleeing to safer areas. Queen Rusudan evacuated Tbilisi for Kutaisi, and many Georgians retreated to the mountainous regions, leaving eastern Georgia (non-mountain part) under the control of atabek Avag Mkhargrdzeli and Egarslan Bakurtsikheli, who made peace with the Mongols and agreed to pay tribute. Iwane Jakeli-Tsikhisjvreli, prince of Samtskhe, was the only notable noble to resist, eventually submitting to the invaders in 1238 after extensive devastation of his territories.

Establishment And Impact Of Mongol Rule In Georgia (1236-1327)

Subjugation And Administrative Changes

Following the decisive invasion of 1236, Georgia officially acknowledged the Great Khan as its overlord in 1243. This submission marked the beginning of a new era under Mongol rule. The Mongols established the Vilayet of Gurjistan, encompassing Georgia and the entire South Caucasus. They governed indirectly through the Georgian monarch, who required confirmation from the Great Khan upon ascension. The death of Queen Rusudan in 1245 led to an interregnum during which the Mongols divided the Caucasus into eight tumens (provinces). This division, coupled with the Mongols' strategy of manipulating Georgian nobility into rival factions, weakened the internal unity and political stability of Georgia.

Military Exploitation And Rebellion

Georgia's submission to Mongol rule entailed significant military obligations. Large Georgian contingents fought under Mongol banners in various campaigns, notably at Alamut (1256), Baghdad (1258), and Ain Jalut (1260). This widespread involvement left Georgia and the Caucasus generally devoid of native defenders, making the region vulnerable to internal revolts against Mongol-imposed heavy taxation and military burdens.

In 1256, Georgia was incorporated into the Mongol Ilkhanate, centered in Persia (Iran). This period saw the rise of resistance against Mongol rule. In 1259-1260, led by David Narin, Georgian nobles successfully separated Imereti (western Georgia) from Mongol-controlled eastern Georgia. However, subsequent attempts to rebel against the Mongols, including efforts by David Ulu, were met with defeat and submission.

Fragmentation And Decline Of Mongol Influence

The Mongol rule, while initially strong, eventually began to falter. Prince Sargis Jakeli of Samtskhe gained virtual independence from the Georgian crown in 1266 with the support of the khan Abaqa. Eastern Georgia's king Demetre II "the Devoted" (1259-1289) attempted to revive the kingdom but was ultimately forced to surrender and executed, suspected of plotting against Arghun Khan. This period saw the kingdom fall into near anarchy, with eastern Georgia burdened by heavy tribute and political instability, while western Georgia maintained a precarious independence.

The Mongols generally tolerated religious practices, even though many churches and monasteries were taxed. However, an uprising led by David VIII (1292-1310) failed to liberate Georgia, leading to punitive expeditions by the Mongols. As the power of the Il-khanate in Persia disintegrated, their influence over Georgia weakened.

Restoration Under George V "The Brilliant"

The late 1320s marked the end of Mongol domination in Georgia, led by the skillful diplomacy and military success of King George V "the Brilliant" (1299-1302, 1314-1346). Initially cooperative with the Mongols, George V ceased tribute payments and expelled Mongol forces in the 1320s, reconquering much of the lost territories and effectively ending Mongol rule in Georgia and the Caucasus. Despite the century-long Mongol domination, the Georgian monarchy managed to survive, continuing until its incorporation into the Russian Empire in 1801​​.

The End Of Mongol Rule And The Restoration Of Georgian Sovereignty (1327-1801)

The Rise Of George V "The Brilliant"

The final phase of the Mongol domination in Georgia is marked by the rise of George V "the Brilliant" (1299-1302, 1314-1346). Known for his flexibility and far-sightedness, George V initially cooperated with his Mongol overlords. However, with the onset of internal strife within the Il-khanate in 1327, he saw an opportunity to regain Georgian independence. George V ceased the payment of tributes to the Mongols, a bold move that set the stage for the liberation of Georgia.

Expulsion Of The Mongols And Reconquest

George V's strategic and military acumen enabled him to drive the Mongols out of Georgia. He reconquered much of the territory lost under his predecessors, effectively exterminating Mongol rule in Georgia and the Caucasus. This period marked a significant turnaround in the fortunes of the Georgian kingdom, from a vassal state under Mongol dominion to an independent and resurgent monarchy.

Legacy And Continuity Of The Georgian Monarchy

Despite the prolonged period of Mongol domination and the associated hardships, the Georgian monarchy managed to survive and even thrive post-Mongol rule. George V's reign was instrumental in restoring much of Georgia's former strength and prosperity. The Georgian monarchy continued its existence until the early 19th century, culminating in the Proclamation on the Incorporation of Georgia (Kartl-Kakheti) into the Russian Empire on January 18, 1801. This event marked the end of Georgia's sovereignty for a time, as it became part of the expanding Russian Empire.

George V's leadership in the late 13th and early 14th centuries played a crucial role in ending the Mongol domination of Georgia. His success in expelling the Mongols and reasserting Georgian sovereignty stands out as a pivotal moment in Georgian history, setting the stage for a period of revival and independence that lasted until the country's incorporation into the Russian Empire in the early 19th century​​.

More on Medieval Georgia

Continue Exploring

Planning a Trip to Georgia? Inquire Now