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
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
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
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