• K. Pipia -“Abkhazian Statehood”– Myth or Historical Reality?
Doctor of History, Professor of Sokhumi State University
“Abkhazian Statehood”– Myth or Historical Reality?
From the beginning of 20thcentury Russian imperialistic forces and Abkhazian separatistically disposed circles started planned, purposeful ideological battle against Georgian-Abkhazian cultural-historical unity. The separateist researchers as much as possible are trying to “prove” as if Abkhazia never had been the part of Georgia and it had been developing independently. They were claiming unilaterally as if in antique period there had been already existed “Abkhazian national state” and these researchers are carrying out propaganda of the century-old, 2000-2500-year history of “Abkhazian statehood” which of course, is a total absurd. In this situation, study of separate issues in the history of Abkhazia becomes especially topical. Presenting important issues of the history of Abkhazia from objective historical perspective will help Georgian and Abkhazian people in cultural reintegration, that is the basis for political unity.
In recent period very important works have been developed on the studies of issues of Abkhazian history, although separate issues require special study. In current situation, from the point of science and state strategy, we find it highly significant study issue of status of Apsils’ and Abazgs’ Unions. In the presented work, there is studied the issue of political status of Apsils’ and Abazgs’ ,,kingdoms” on the base of an analysis of antique sources; It is shown that modern Abkhazian territory was an organic part of Georgian cultural-political world in antique period and the “theory” about the existence of “Abkhazian state” has no real proof.
According to archeological findings, the territory of Abkhazia from the oldest time was included at Western-Georgian,Colchian cultural area. During the whole era of early, middle and late Bronze age, the same picture is fixed in the territory of Abkhazia as in other regions of western Georgia, by material culture point of view, with some local peculiarities. So Abkhazian population by ethno-cultural point of view, in III-I millenniums B.C. did not differ from the rest part of the population of Colchis and it represented an organic part of Old Georgian, Colchian world.
In the 6th century B.C. it was formed the state of Colchis on the Eastern shores of the Black sea. Its borders, according to antique sources, was spread from the sector of modern Gagra-Bichvinta to the region of Chorokhi issues [24, 5; 10, 236-245]. So modern Abkhazian territory was completely included in the frame of Colchis Kingdom and it was not differing from other parts of the Western Georgia with political sign. Also in the sources of VI-I centuries B.C. there is no hint that in Abkhazia did live ethnically different population. On the contrary, Ancient authors, Hecataeus of Miletus (6th century B.C.) and Pseudo-Scylax of Carianda (4th century B.C.) definitely pointed that only Colchian tribes –Colchis itself, Koles and Koraxes inhabited on the modern territory of Abkhazia [5, 61-62]. So Abkhazia represented an organic part of the united state-political and ethno-cultural space of an ancient Colchis.
The kingdom of Colchis from the period of creating was multitribal country. In the period of existence of united Colchis kingdom, these various tribes were united into administrative-territorial entities – “Skeptukhia” and were obeying to the central authorities [21, 73-74]. in II century B.C. the united kingdom of Colchis was divided into various “Skeptukhias”. Some tribes who were included in Colchis kingdom reached a significant independence. Though, Apsils and Abazgs who are believed unilaterally by Abkhazian researchers as immediate ancestors of modern Abkhazians, for this period are not seen yet on the field of history. Despite of complete political failure, Abkhazian territory was not torn away from the common-Colchian cultural-political area. From the beginning I century B.C. even during ongoing political cataclysms, at first during Mitridates Eupator (120-63 B.C.) time and then after the conquest by Romans, Colchis was maintaining its territorial integrity.
In 65_35/33 B.C. Colchis as a separate, whole administrative-political entity was subdued to Rome. In 35/33 B.C. Marcus Antonius took Colchis in the kingdom of Polemonic Pontus, which was a vassal of Rome. In the era of Augustus (27 B.C._14 A.D.) Colchis, for a short period, was the part of Pontus-Bosporan kingdom (14-8 B.C.), then in 3/2 B.C. _ 17 A.D. is the part of united kingdom of Pontus-Cappadocia. During an Emperor Tiberius ruling (14-37 A.D.) Colchis was the tutorial country with Pontus and it was under the protectorate of Rome itself; Caligula (37-41 A.D.) delivered the kingdom of Pontus with Colchis to Polemonids again; during Nero (54-68) Colchis was occupied by Romans and it became the part of the province of Galatia; During the rule of Vespasian (69-79) Colchis was the part of united Cappadocia-Galatia, so called “Cappadocian complex”; From Domitian (81-96) it was part of the province of Cappadocia [26, 28-57].
Therefore, during all period of I century B.C. – to I century A.D. Rome carried out inconsistent and changeable eastern policy and consequently, all those changing’s of the political status of Colchis and all fulfilled activities in Eastern Black sea region was being spread on the whole territory of Colchis, including its utmost Northern-Western part. So During carried out frequent administrative-territorial reorganizations in the East by named Emperors, the territorial integrity of Colchis was not broken and modern Abkhazian territory was again the part of Colchis.
In the beginning of II century A.D. political situation was sharply changed in the Eastern Black sea area. On the territory of united kingdom of Colchis, appeared separate political unions –“kingdoms” of Macron-Heniokhes’, Lazs’, Absils’, Abazgs’ and Sanigs’, which after the immediate leaving of provincial rule of Rome, were setting some political relations with Empire and were getting formal independence.
Flavius Arrian (nearly 95-175) gave us very important information about mentioned political entities. Arrian calls the rulers of these new unions “Basileuses” (Arr., PPE, 11), which in Greek means at first “king”. Correspondingly, the part of the researchers consider them as kings, though they often put this term in quotes. The real political power of these rulers is better expressed in Russian term with diminutive form –“царьки”.
Naming as “Basileuses” the rulers of Apsils’ andAbazgs’ by Arrian is the only factual proof by which Abkhazian separatist researchers and ideologists, for whom is not strange in the base of sources and especially in antique sources by manipulating of poor, often unclear data, to get maximum political profit, they claim that from the beginning of II century it already existed “Abkhazian state” and they consider this point as the period of creation of the Apsils’ and Abazgs’ “kingdoms”, and are carrying out the propaganda of multi centurial history of ”Abkhazian statehood” [1,7-8; 3, 21-22; 16, 32-53; 17, 12-15; 30, 4-5].
Fixating of fact of Apsil-Abazgs’ “Basileuses” by Arrian, in the hands of Abkhaz separatist-ideologists, who are trying by all means to create “national history” of Abkhazs and historiographycal justification of an “independent Abkhazian state”, at first it seems as a quite strong argument. But it is at first, the facts and historical realities are showing an obviously opposite of it.
First of all, it is not defined yet areApsils and Abazgs an immediate ancestors of modern Abkhazs and it is not excluded that these tribes might have Georgian origin. But even if it would be proved, the identity of Abkhazs and Apsil-Abazgs, the existence of tribal unions of Apsils’ and Abazgs’ in the beginning of II century is not strong proof to suppose the existence of “Abkhazian state”.
Besides this, we must take into account that the term “Basileus” by mostly spread etymology, means “head of people” and besides king, it may mean the principal, “Arqont”, sometimes tyrant, prince, leader, foreman, the first or the prominent in his circle. As T. Khaukhchishvili showed exactly in period which is interesting for us, this term was used with different meaning [23, 31-48].
So this term had various meaning among old authors and they often did not fixate sharp difference between “king” and “ruler”. For example, by Strabo’s (64/63 B.C. – 24 A.D.) information, in I century A.D. Heniokhs had four Basileuses (Strabo, XI, 2, 13), and Svans were ruled by Basileus and by the council with 300 men (Strabo, XI, 2, 19). Of course, these “Basileuses” were the leaders of the tribe’s unions. It is interesting that analogous situation is seen with Roman authors. For example, Tacitus (55-120 A.D.) in his “History” calls the leader of “Sedokhezs” as “king” (Sedochezorumregis), who inhabited in the southern-eastern part of the Black sea region and this tribe was not known to other sources at all and there had a shelter rebelled Aniket (Tac., Hist, III, 48).
Therefore naming the rulers of Apsils and Abazgs and the rest of unions of Colchis as “Basileuses” is notsignifycant proof to consider these rulers as kings as well as political entities under their rule to be called as kingdoms, the subjects of independent statehood.
In addition, political situation which was in Eastern Black sea region, from the beginning of II century, analyzed in context of Roman diplomacy, does not give an opportunity to consider named unions as states.
Roman Empire during hundreds of years could widen its borders not only by military strength but with exquisite diplomacy as well [19, 30]. For Roman policy it was not strange to create an illusion of independence for conquered nations to be able to rule them better. Roman Empire which was created by foreign expansion had a complicated administrative-political structure. Almost all eastern provinces were created on the basis of previously independent kingdoms. There were side by side Hellenistic cities, city centre’s with local old-eastern traditions, Roman colonies and municipiums. Besides this, all provinces included autonomous temple territories – satrapies and little even ephemeral kingdoms. Romans respected local traditions, habits in conquered countries, relied on local laws and ruling organization, they more or less were taking into account the level of development of concrete country and were carrying out a very careful policy towards local population. According to Roman practice, conquered population was under the control of military units of Empire and obeyed to the heads of occupying military units – prefects. Though the military authority of Empire was not due to carry out direct administrative duties for local, indigenous people. These functions were carried out by the prominent representatives of tribes’ or communities’ unions. Their duty was to have direct contact with their tribe members, to collect taxes and organize calling up of compatriots in Roman army units. The representatives of local aristocracy and the leaders of tribal organizations were accountable to the prefects of Roman military unit. Briefly, the local noblemen, backed by the heads of Roman military units, were the direct representatives of Roman authorities [7, 233; 13, 71; 4, 46; 8, 61; 20, 298]. The administrative-political structure of Roman province was this kind.
The similar situation was in Colchis too. In 63 A.D. after engagement of Nero in provincial system of Colchis, Romans maintained division of country into historically established administrative-political entities – “Skeptukhias”. In Eastern Black sea region the supreme authority of inhabited tribes and its territorial organization, was considered the heads of dislocated Roman garrisons, providers of Roman policy there. For example, the head of the garrison Apsarus (modern Gonio) was responsible for supervision of Zydrits (influence of Iberia was nor spread on it yet) and Macron-Heniokhs, Phasis Roman garrison was controlingLazs, and Sebastopoliscastelum had to controll“Skeptukhias” of Sanigs’, Abazgs’ and Apsils’. Though, as we pointed out military representatives of Rome were not due to fulfill a direct administrative functions towards local population. Immediate contact with indigenous population of Colchis, collecting taxes, organizing call up of contingent at Roman assistance army units and other issues of local self-governance was in the competence of “Skeptukhs” [27, 195-197].
Now about Apsil-Abazgs and created “kingdoms” and its Basileuses in Colchis at the beginning of II century. The main aim of these “kings” were to establish order on places,in case of need to assist Rome with military service. They did not inherit authorities but as Arrian often repeats, they got it from Roman Emperors –from Trajan and Hadrian (Arr., PPE, 11), their territory is included in eastern united defense system of Romans and by military point of view, it obeys to the Commander-in-chief of Cappadocia, and local population of Colchis is under control of dislocated Roman garrisons in their seaside cities [2, 47-48; 11, 365; 24, 36-37].
Therefore, the real rights and obligations of Colchis unions who were Rome’s “friend and ally”, in fact did not vary from the functions of officials of Roman provinces and its preceding “Skeptukhias”; these “Basileuses” essentially were administrators of Roman Empire [9, 27], who had to provide in connection with Roman garrisons submission of inhabited tribes of Black sea region to Rome; Their real rights were quite restricted and they were carrying out concrete interests of Roman administration of Cappadocia province there. Moreover, even the founding of these “kingdoms” in some extent, was conditioned by political interest of Rome.
We, of course, don’t exclude that local processes played some role in creating these political entities, an activation of “Skeptukhias” and its strive for independence, but despite local basics, it is evident that without the sanction, support or perhaps, initiative of Rome, these “kingdoms” would not be established.
The real power of the rulers of “kingdoms” on the territory of Colchis did not spread out from the frames of some self-governance and creation of these “kingdoms” was an initiative of Rome and to prove this we may bring this circumstance that delivery of “king’s power“ happened during the ruling of Trajan, in conditions of Roman forces’ concentration when Trajan not only abolished the kingdoms of Judea and Nabataeans which were depended on Rome but he overthrew the states of Armenia and Parthia and announced these territories as provinces. In this situation, of course, it would be illogical for Trajan to give an independence to Apsil-Abazgs and other tiny political entities of Colchis. For Trajan it was no difficulty to obey Colchis which at the beginning of his reign, really was already out of influence of Rome. But because of concrete political situation in East, far-seeing Emperor thought that it would be more profitable to solve Colchis problem with diplomaticway [28, 34-39; 29, 35-60].
As we have already pointed out, “Skeptukhias“, created on the basis of tribal organizations, had been always expressing the trend to be transformed from administrative entities into separate principalities. At the end of I century A.D.in consequence of military-political weakening of Empire in east, “Skeptukhias“ got factual independence and during the ruling of Domitian (81-96) the influence of Rome on Colchis had only formal character [6, 13-14]. In such situation, Emperor Trajan in 106-114, during the period of preparation of grand march against Parthia and Armenia, for keeping an influence of Rome in Colchis again and maintaining factual superiority on existed “Skeptukhias”, gave the rulers formal independence, in fact it was some self-governance in domestic issues. By this way, the “king” of Apsils Julian and the “king” of AbazgsResmaga went on stage who as other “kings”, as it seems, were local “Skeptukhs”.
Solving the issue of Colchis by this way was conditioned with the following circumstances: as it seems, Rome in this time did not have an essential material interest in Colchis. For Rome the main thing was geopolitical location. Eastern Black sea region had great military-strategic importance as for Armenia and as for North Caucasus. It represented safe back and profitable bridge-head against Parthia in the battle for Armenia. The geopolitical importance of Colchis was grown dramatically at the beginning of II century when Trajan started preparation for grand eastern march which was aimed to overthrow the kingdoms of Parthia and Armenia. Trajan was preparing for this unprecedented campaign with great eagerness. He personally analyzed the military-technical side and studied in details the situation around the borders of Parthia and Armenia. Romans during working out the tactics of military activities, paid an important attention to the factor of Alans. In this situation, Trajan did not avail from vision the weakness of Roman’s positions in Eastern Black sea region, from where by so called main line of “Meotian-Colchis”, Northern-Caucasian nomads could freely penetrate into Roman principalities of Asia. If we take into account that the provision of food and additional forces of Roman army in Armenia, was carried out from Black sea, mainly from Trapezunt, it will be clear that in case of invasion in Transcaucasia, Alans could easily penetrate in back of Romans and cut the main communications going from Trapezunt to Armenia, and Trajan, of course, was not able to admit this. In this situation, in 106-114, during wide-scale activities for strengthening the flanks of future military battle, Trajan gave formal independence to existed “Skeptukhias” on the territory of Colchis, and their rulers “royal authority” by which he provided their ally in contradiction with Parthia and Armenia and reduced the threat of invasion of Northcaucasian nomads through Colchis. Local “kings” with connection to Roman garrisons could establish order better, protection of navigation and trade, bringing the new contingent for filling the Roman allied-assistance forces and what is the most important controlling main line of “Meotian-Colchis” and North Caucasian crosses. So, totally controlled “kings” by Rome, in comparison with previous “Skeptukhs”, could protect the geopolitical interests of Rome more effectively in region [26, 29-39, 103-110].
Also delivering the power to local ‘kings” did not create the threat of losing the region because these “kings” were under constant supervision of Roman garrisons dislocated in centre’s of Colchis shore. Besides this, by natural-geographic location Colchis essentially belonged to Roman, Pontic world. From the north and south it is comprised between Caucasus’ and little Caucasus’ mountain ranges and from east with Likhni ridge. So Colchis almost from all sides except west –sea direction, was difficult to be reached which subserved to be organically linked with Roman world [2, 37]. Colchis had tight political-economical connection and geographic closeness with Empire and there was no danger that local rulers, after getting some independence, would break connection with Rome and would carry out totally own policy. From these new created unions the most powerful were – the “kingdoms” of Makron-Heniokhs and Lazica and even they were completely under political influence of Rome during the whole II century and they could not carry out any independent activities without the will of Empire.
Therefore, an independence of political unions’ of Colchis was a complete fiction. They were under total control of Rome, represented part of defence zone of Empire and they were obliged with the same geostrategic and military-communicative functions as in provincial system of Rome itself or being in kingdom of Polemonic Pontus.
The “kingdoms” of Apsils and Abazgs itself were very unimportant with territories too. The territory of both “kingdoms” comprised only 50-60 km narrow seashore stripe from the river modern Ghalidzga to Sebastopolis. In this situation, it is clear that one cannot speak about any statehood of these political unions. “Royal authorities” of Apsils’ and Abazgs’ really did not spread out from the functions of Roman officials and the “kingdoms” which were under their rule, did not differ greatly from the countries included in the provincial system of Rome. Besides this, Romans did not consider Apsils’ and Abazgs’ unions, as it seems, as serious power. If on the land of Makron-Heniokhs, Lazs and Sanigs who were a little bit stronger “kingdoms” (correspondingly in Apsarus, Phasis and Sebastopolis) were dislocated Roman garrisons which were controlling local rulers, the unions of Apsils and Abazgs on the neighboring territory of Sanigia was controlled by the garrison being in Sebastopolis. Apsils’ and Abazgs’ “kingdoms” were so weak that Roman authority did not need to have immediate military forces on the territory of these unions as the guarantee of their obedience. It was enough that Apsils’ and Abazgs’ tiny unions were surrounded by strong neighbors –Lazs and Sanigs. So the rulers of Apsils and Abazgs had to be totally oriented on Rome because without support of Empire, strong neighbors would destroy them easily. Therefore, because of weakness of Apsils’ and Abazgs’ “kingdoms” and minimal probability of carrying out an independent policy, Roman garrisons did not stand on these territories [26, 144-145].
Direct dependence of Apsils’ and Abazgs’ political unions on Rome, did not continue for a long time. As it seems, they could not maintain formal status and lost an “independence” soon. It is worth to note that after ArrianApsil-Abazgs’ “kingdoms” and its “Basileuses” were not mentioned in any sources. It is not excluded that they at the second half of II century were included in the kingdom of Lazica which was on the way of raising.
Therefore, Apsil-Abazgs’ “kingdoms” were created on the territory of old Colchis, they represented heirs of “Skeptukhias”, existed administrative-territorial entities and in some moment of history, in conditions of united political organ on the territory of Western Georgia, because of created concrete political conjuncture, they directly obeyed to Roman Emperors and benefited with some self-governance which they could not maintain. Though, their ephemeral independence was generally Colchis event because Rome delivered “royal authority” not only to Apsil-Abazgs” “Skeptukhs” but to all rulers of tribe unions existed on the territory of Colchis. So even in II century in the period of existence of Apsil-Abazgs’ “kingdoms”, modern Abkhazia was an organic part of common-Colchian, Georgian political world.
After all foresaid, talking about the existence of “Abkhazian statehood” is meaningless and Apsil-Abazgs’ “kingdoms” must be considered as unions with some kind of self-governances. Apsil-Abazgs’ “Basileuses” during Arrian were losing even this formal title, only Lazica (Egrisi) got the signs of statehood and was formed as united Western-Georgian Kingdom.
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N. Berdzenishvili had an interesting idea about the real rights and obligations of noted “kings”. According to researcher, Rome was interested in “trading of colonies” (mostly obtaining slaves) and these “kings” had to be trade agents. Roman garrisons were the guarantee of protection of worked out status.” [18, 503].