THE CONVERSION OF GEORGIA (KARTLI)

 

Summary

 

1. The eminent Georgian historian and public figure Ekvtime S. Taqaishvili was born in 1863 in a village of Western Georgia. On graduating from the historico-philological faculty of Petersburg University in 1887 he returned to Georgia and embarked on educational and later scholarly activity.

In 1907 the ,,Georgian Society of History and Ethnography“ was founded en Taqaishvili's initiative. The Society gathered, described, researched and published monuments of Georgian antiquity, thereby paving the way for a scientific study of Georgian history.

Under the conditions of tsarism's colonial policy of Russification it was naturally difficult to help awaken the national consciousness. However, together with other Georgian figures, Taqaishvili began to tackle — with vigour and zeal—matters on wich the future of the Georgian people depended: the question was being decided whether the people could stand up to the tsarist colonial policy or-—though surviving physically—it would perish spiritually, i. e. degenerate as a nation. Tasks of this magnitude demanded from the scholar not only high professionalism but also iron will, social prestige, and personal charm, none of which were lacking in Taqaishvili.

In 1921, having suffered a political fiasco, the Menshevist government of Georgia fled abroad, taking along priceless — not only from the viewpoint of Georgian culture — items of gold and silver,, unique manuscripts, etc., i. e. treasures formed of the collections-of Georgian museums, as well as the possessions of churches and monasteries. Taqaishvili was charged with the safety of the treasure. For many years, under extremely difficult conditions, he battled for the preservation of the Georgian national heritage. It was only in 1945 — with the help of the Soviet government — that he succeeded in returning the treasure to his native country. He, too, returned to Georgia from a long forced emigration — already an old, spiritually tormented man. Nevertheless, till his death in 1953, Taqaishvili continued his scholarly research, sharing with his colleagues his reminiscences, interspersed with witticisms and jokes, so characteristic of his frank nature.

In the second half of the 19th century, when Taqaishvili started scholarly work, Georgian historical science was undergoing major changes. The complex process of interpretation of the past heritage set in. New problems were posed which could not be solved on the basis of the available sources.

Correctly grasping the specificities of the period, Taqaishvili devoted most of his time to augmenting the source base: he brought to light and published various documents of past history. He was the first to publish many works of Old Georgian literature, ,,The Conversion of Georgia“ being one such monument.

The monument in question was discovered in 1888. In 1890 — 1891, Taqaishvili published its Georgian text in two parts, with notes and a study. In 1900, his own Russian translation of the text came out.

The present publication is a new edition of that translation. It has been edited, supplied with new commentaries, maps, index of proper names and a study.

II. The work in question deals with a definite historical fact: the conversion of the Georgians to Christianity in the first half of "the 4th century by Nino the Illuminatrix. An analysis of the content and style of the document permits to identify three parts in it: an historical chronicle representing a brief history of Georgia from the 4th cent. B. C. to the 9th cent. A. D., and two redactions of the ,,Life of St. Nino“: the short and the extended versions.

The extended ,,Life of St. Nino“ constitutes a collection of reminiscences. Separate points of Nino's biography are recalled by the author of redaction — Salome Ujarmeli daughter-in-law of the first Christian king of Georgia Mirian, by Nino herself, her pupils and closest  associates.

The short redaction of the ,,Life of St. Nino“ is a very condensed narration in the third person, without accenting the author's presence. Study of the text has shown that at its inclusion in the Chronicle it had been abridged from a complete archetype of a lost redaction of the ,,Life of St. Nino“ which was more amenable to abr idgement than the  extent long version of complex  composition.

The compiler of the ,,Conversion of Georgia had worked towards an organic fusion of these genetically differing parts; as the result, the monument represents a unified system rather than a mechanical conglomerate of works. The purpose of the system is to present the fact of conversion of the Georgians to Christianity in relationship to other developments in Georgian history. This historiographic task is attained in the ,,Conversion of Georgia“ through a combination of two different-sized redactions of an hagiographic monument with the Chronicle. The short redaction of the Life of St. Nino“ — included in the Chronicle — shows the conversion of the Georgians in the course of historical events, where — as the extended redaction — given at the end of the Chronicle — allows to see the same fact separately — as a close up. As a result, the ev idence on the conversion of the Georgians is perceived in a broad historical context, with due account of the details.

The central idea of the ,,Conversion of Georgia“ is to show the fact of the conversion to the Georgians in the historical perspective, which is not characteristic of its component parts taken separately. Therefore, in relation to these parts the ,,Conversion“ is a qualitatively new development, and its compiler is not a mere editor of a collection but author of an important historical work.

The origin of the ,,Conversion of Georgia“ is linked to the activities of a major political figure — King Vakhtang Gorgasal, in particular to his reorganization of the Georgian church in the second half of the 5th century.

As a work of major significance for Christian Georgia, the ,,Conversion“ was repeatedly redacted over the centuries. Traces of these later alterations are visible in the historical Chronicle which was gradually updated to the 9th century.