The Georgians or Kartvelians (; Georgian: ქართველები, translit.: kartvelebi, pronounced [kʰɑrtʰvɛlɛbi]) are a nation and indigenous Caucasian ethnic group native to Georgia and the South Caucasus. Large Georgian communities are also present throughout Russia, Turkey, Greece, Iran, Ukraine, United States, and throughout the European Union.
Georgians arose from Colchian and Iberian civilizations of the classical antiquity and are one of the most ancient nations still living today. After Christianization of Iberia by Saint Nino they became one of the first who embraced the faith of Jesus in the early 4th century and now the majority of Georgians are Eastern Orthodox Christians and most follow their national autocephalous Georgian Orthodox Church. There are also small Georgian Catholic and Muslim communities in Tbilisi and Adjara, as well as a significant number of irreligious Georgians.
A complex process of nation formation has resulted in a diverse set of geographic subgroups of Georgians, each with its characteristic traditions, manners, dialects and, in the case of Svans and Mingrelians, own regional languages. The Georgian language, with its own unique writing system and extensive written tradition, which goes back to the 5th century, is the official language of Georgia as well as the language of education of all Georgians living in the country.
Located in the Caucasus, on the crossroads of predominantly Christian Europe and Muslim Western Asia, Georgian people formed a unified Kingdom of Georgia in 1008 AD and later inaugurated the Georgian Golden Age, a height of political and cultural power of the nation. This lasted until being weakened by Mongol invasions of Georgia, as well as internal divisions following the death of George V the Brilliant, the last of the great kings of Georgia. Thereafter and throughout the early modern period, Georgians became politically fractured and were dominated by the Ottoman Empire and successive dynasties of Iran. To ensure the survival of his polity, in 1783, Heraclius II of the eastern Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti forged an alliance with the Russian Empire. The Russo-Georgian alliance, however, backfired as Russia was unwilling to fulfill the terms of the treaty, proceeding to annex the troubled kingdom in 1801, as well as the western Georgian kingdom of Imereti in 1810. Russian rule over Georgia was eventually acknowledged in various peace treaties with Iran and the Ottomans, and the remaining Georgian territories were absorbed by the Russian Empire in a piecemeal fashion in the course of the 19th century. Georgians briefly reasserted their independence from Russia under the First Georgian Republic from 1918 to 1921, and finally, in 1991 from the Soviet Union.
Georgians call themselves Kartvelebi (ქართველები), their land Sakartvelo (საქართველო), and their language Kartuli (ქართული). According to The Georgian Chronicles, the ancestor of the Kartvelian people was Kartlos, the great-grandson of the Biblical Japheth. However, scholars agree that the word is derived from the Karts, the latter being one of the proto-Georgian tribes that emerged as a dominant group in ancient times. Kart probably is cognate with Indo-European gard and denotes to people who live in "fortified citadel". Ancient Greeks (Homer, Herodotus, Strabo, Plutarch etc.) and Romans (Titus Livius, Cornelius Tacitus, etc.) referred to western Georgians as Colchians and eastern Georgians as Iberians.
The term "Georgians" is derived from the country of Georgia. In the past, lore based theories were given by the traveller Jacques de Vitry, who explained the name's origin by the popularity of St. George amongst Georgians, while traveller Jean Chardin thought that "Georgia" came from Greek γεωργός ("tiller of the land"), as when the Greeks came into the region (in Colchis) they encountered a developed agricultural society.
However, as Prof. Alexander Mikaberidze adds, these explanations for the word Georgians/Georgia are rejected by the scholarly community, who point to the Persian word gurğ/gurğān ("wolf") as the root of the word. Starting with the Persian word gurğ/gurğān, the word was later adopted in numerous other languages, including Slavic and West European languages. This term itself might have been established through the ancient Iranian appellation of the near-Caspian region, which was referred to as Gorgan ("land of the wolves").
The eighteenth century German professor of medicine and member of the British Royal Society Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, widely regarded one of the founders of the discipline of anthropology, regarded Georgians the most beautiful race of people.
Caucasian variety – I have taken the name of this variety from Mount Caucasus, both because its neighborhood, and especially its southern slope, produces the most beautiful race of men, I mean the Georgian; and because all physiological reasons converge to this, that in that region, if anywhere, it seems we ought with the greatest probability to place the autochthones (original members) of mankind.
Most historians and scholars of Georgia as well as anthropologists, archaeologists and linguists tend to agree that the ancestors of modern Georgians inhabited the southern Caucasus and northern Anatolia since the Neolithic period. Scholars usually refer to them as Proto-Kartvelian (Proto-Georgians such as Colchians and Iberians) tribes.
The Georgian people in antiquity have been known to the ancient Greeks and Romans as Colchians and Iberians. East Georgian tribes of Tibarenians-Iberians formed their kingdom in 7th century BCE. However, western Georgian tribes (Colchian tribes) established the first Georgian state of Colchis (circa 1350 BCE) before the foundation of the Iberian Kingdom in the east. According to the numerous scholars of Georgia, the formations of these two early Georgian kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia, resulted in the consolidation and uniformity of the Georgian nation.
According to the renowned scholar of the Caucasian studies Cyril Toumanoff, the Moschians also were one the early proto-Georgian tribes which were integrated into the first early Georgian state of Iberia. The ancient Jewish chronicle by Josephus mentions Georgians as Iberes who were also called Thobel (Tubal). David Marshall Lang argued that the root Tibar gave rise to the form Iber that made the Greeks pick up the name Iberian in the end for the designation of the eastern Georgians.
Diauehi in Assyrian sources and Taochi in Greek lived in the northeastern part of Anatolia, a region that was part of Georgia. This ancient tribe is considered by many scholars as ancestors of the Georgians. Modern Georgians still refer to this region, which now belongs to present-day Turkey, as Tao-Klarjeti, an ancient Georgian kingdom. Some people there still speak the Georgian language.
Colchians in the ancient western Georgian Kingdom of Colchis were another proto-Georgian tribe. They are first mentioned in the Assyrian annals of Tiglath-Pileser I and in the annals of Urartian king Sarduri II, and are also included western Georgian tribe of the Meskhetians.
Colchis appears as the first Caucasian State to have achieved the coalescence of the newcomer, Colchis can be justly regarded as not a proto-Georgian, but a Georgian (West Georgian) kingdom ... It would seem natural to seek the beginnings of Georgian social history in Colchis, the earliest Georgian formation.
A study of human genetics by Battaglia, Fornarino, al-Zahery, et al. (2009) suggests that Georgians have the highest percentage of Haplogroup G (30.3%) among the general population recorded in any country. Georgians' Y-DNA also belongs to Haplogroup J2 (31.8%), Haplogroup R1a (10.6%), and Haplogroup R1b (9.1%).
Georgian is the primary language for Georgians of all provenance, including those who speak other Kartvelian languages: Svans, Mingrelians and the Laz. The language known today as Georgian is a traditional language of the eastern part of the country which has spread to most of the present-day Georgia after the post-Christianization centralization in the first millennium CE. Today, Georgians regardless of their ancestral region use Georgian as their official language. The regional languages Svan and Mingrelian are languages of the west that were traditionally spoken in the pre-Christian Kingdom of Colchis, but later lost importance as the unified Kingdom of Georgia emerged. Their decline is largely due to the capital of the unified kingdom, Tbilisi, being in the eastern part of the country known as Kingdom of Iberia effectively making the language of the east an official language of the Georgian monarch.
Georgian dialects include Imeretian, Racha-Lechkhumian, Gurian, Adjarian, Imerkhevian (in Turkey), Kartlian, Kakhetian, Ingilo (in Azerbaijan), Tush, Khevsur, Mokhevian, Pshavian, Fereydan dialect in Iran in Fereydunshahr and Fereydan, Mtiuletian, Meskhetian and Javakhetian dialect.
According to Orthodox tradition, Christianity was first preached in Georgia by the Apostles Simon and Andrew in the 1st century. It became the state religion of Kartli (Iberia) in 337. At the same time, in the first centuries C.E., the cult of Mithras, pagan beliefs, and Zoroastrianism were commonly practiced in Georgia. The conversion of Kartli to Christianity is credited to St. Nino of Cappadocia. Christianity gradually replaced all the former religions except Zoroastrianism, which become a second established religion in Iberia after the Peace of Acilisene in 378. The conversion to Christianity eventually placed the Georgians permanently on the front line of conflict between the Islamic and Christian world. Georgians remained mostly Christian despite repeated invasions by Muslim powers, and long episodes of foreign domination.
As was true elsewhere, the Christian church in Georgia was crucial to the development of a written language, and most of the earliest written works were religious texts. Medieval Georgian culture was greatly influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy and the Georgian Orthodox Church, which promoted and often sponsored the creation of many works of religious devotion. These included churches and monasteries, works of art such as icons, and hagiographies of Georgian saints.
Today, 83.9% of the Georgian population, most of whom are ethnic Georgian, follow Eastern Orthodox Christianity. A sizable Georgian Muslim population exists in Adjara. This autonomous Republic borders Turkey, and was part of the Ottoman Empire for a longer amount of time than other parts of the country. Those Georgian Muslims practice the Sunni Hanafi form of Islam. Islam has however declined in Adjara during the 20th century, due to Soviet anti-religious policies, cultural integration with the national Orthodox majority, and strong missionary efforts by the Georgian Orthodox Church. Islam remains a dominant identity only in the eastern, rural parts of the Republic. In the early modern period, converted Georgian recruits were often used by the Persian and Ottoman Empires for elite military units such as the Mameluks, Qizilbash, and ghulams. The Georgians in Iran are all reportedly Shia Muslims today, while the Georgian minority in Turkey are mostly Sunni Muslim.
In addition to traditional religious confessions, Georgia retains irreligious segments of society, as well as a significant portion of nominally religious individuals who do not actively practice their faith.
The Georgian cuisine is specific to the country, but also contains some influences from other European culinary traditions, as well as those from the surrounding Western Asia. Each historical province of Georgia has its own distinct culinary tradition, such as Megrelian, Kakhetian, and Imeretian cuisines. In addition to various meat dishes, Georgian cuisine also offers a variety of vegetarian meals.
The importance of both food and drink to Georgian culture is best observed during a Caucasian feast, or supra, when a huge assortment of dishes is prepared, always accompanied by large amounts of wine, and dinner can last for hours. In a Georgian feast, the role of the tamada (toastmaster) is an important and honoured position.
In countries of the former Soviet Union, Georgian food is popular due to the immigration of Georgians to other Soviet republics, in particular Russia. In Russia all major cities have many Georgian restaurants and Russian restaurants often feature Georgian food items on their menu.
The Georgians have historically been classified into various subgroups based on the geographic region which their ancestors traditionally inhabited.
Even if a member of any of these subgroups moves to a different region, they will still be known by the name of their ancestral region. For example, if a Gurian moves to Tbilisi (part of the Kartli region) he will not automatically identify himself as Kartlian despite actually living in Kartli. This may, however, change if substantial amount of time passes. For example, there are some Mingrelians who have lived in the Imereti region for centuries and are now identified as Imeretian or Imeretian-Mingrelians.
Last names from mountainous eastern Georgian provinces (such as Kakheti, etc.) can be distinguished by the suffix –uri (ური), or –uli (ული). Most Svan last names typically end in –ani (ანი), Mingrelian in –ia (ია), -ua (უა), or -ava (ავა), and Laz in –shi (ში).
The 1897 Russian census (which accounted people by language), had Imeretian, Svan and Mingrelian languages separate from Georgian. During the 1926 Soviet census, Svans and Mingrelians were accounted separately from Georgian. Svan and Mingrelian languages are both Kartvelian languages and are closely related to the national Georgian language.
Laz people also may be considered Georgian based on their geographic location and religion. According to the London School of Economics' anthropologist Mathijs Pelkmans, Lazs residing in Georgia frequently identify themselves as "first-class Georgians" to show pride, while considering their Muslim counterparts in Turkey as "Turkified Lazs".