Before Russian rule

Tribes who spoke languages belonging to the Caucasian family inhabited the territory now called Georgia. Most of these tribes spoke languages similar to modern Georgian. The exception was the Abkhaz of western Georgia, whose language belonged to another branch of the Caucasian family, reflecting their kinship with the Circassian tribes of the northwestern Caucasus.

Ancient times

In ancient times, the territory that now makes up Georgia consisted of Colchis in the west and Iberia (in Latin) or Kartli (in the local language)in the east. Colchis was colonized by the Greeks, became part of the Roman Empire, and was later under the influence of Byzantium. Kartli was an independent kingdom that adopted Christianity early in the 4th century, but later fell under Persian (and for a time Arab) domination.

The two areas were unified in 1008 when Bagrat III, son of a Kartlian prince and an Abkhazian princess, ascended the throne of the new Kingdom of the Abkhazians and Kartvelians. It was at this time that there first appeared a word for Georgia as a whole (Sakartvelo).

Mongol invasions

The Mongol invasions of the 1220s and 1230s destroyed the Kingdom of the Abkhazians and Kartvelians. Devastated and partly depopulated, Georgia fragmented into small principalities. Taking advantage of the disarray, the Ossets, whose homeland was in the north-central Caucasus, started in the late 13th century to cross the main Caucasus range and settle in Kartli.

In the succeeding centuries, Georgia suffered repeated invasion by the Persians and the Ottoman Turks, as well as numerous wars among the local principalities.

Annexed by Russia

Georgian princes sought the protection of the Czars, as fellow Christians, against Turkish and Persian invaders. Kartli, together with the neighboring principality of Kakheti, was annexed to Russia in 1800, followed over the next two decades by the principalities of western Georgia. Russia preferred to rule its new dominions directly, so the Georgian princes were deposed. Even theGeorgian Orthodox Church was stripped of its autonomy, and subordinated to the Russian Orthodox Church.