The Fortress of Archaeopolis
Roman strong point in the endless Persian Wars
The Eastern Roman fortress of Archaeopolis (Greek Αρχαιόπολις, literally meaning "ancient town") and Tsikhegoji ("Fortress of Kuji"), is a village and archaeological site in the Senaki municipality, Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region, Georgia. It is also known as Nokalakevi in Georgian.
Its population, known as the Caucasian Iberians, formed the nucleus of the Georgian people (Kartvelians), and the state, together with Colchis to its west, would form the nucleus of the medieval Kingdom of Georgia.
The term Caucasian Iberia is used to distinguish it from the Iberian Peninsula in Western Europe.
This close association with Armenia and Pontus brought upon the country an invasion (65 BC) by the Roman general Pompey, who was then at war with Mithradates VI of Pontus, and Armenia; but Rome did not establish her power permanently over Iberia. Nineteen years later, the Romans again marched (36 BC) on Iberia forcing King Pharnavaz II to join their campaign against Albania.
While another Georgian kingdom of Colchis was administered as a Roman province, Iberia freely accepted the Roman Imperial protection. A stone inscription discovered at Mtskheta speaks of the 1st-century ruler Mihdrat I (AD 58-106) as "the friend of the Caesars" and the king "of the Roman-loving Iberians." Emperor Vespasian fortified the ancient Mtskheta site of Arzami for the Iberian kings in 75 AD.
The next two centuries saw a continuation of Roman influence over the area, but by the reign of King Pharsman II (116 – 132) Iberia had regained some of its former power. Relations between the Roman Emperor Hadrian and Pharsman II were strained, though Hadrian is said to have sought to appease Pharsman. However, it was only under Hadrian's successor Antoninus Pius that relations improved to the extent that Pharsman is said to have even visited Rome, where Dio Cassius reports that a statue was erected in his honor and that rights to sacrifice were given.
The period brought a major change to the political status of Iberia with Rome recognizing them as an ally, rather than their former status as a subject state, a political situation which remained the same, even during the Empire's hostilities with the Parthians.
|In 65BC an invasion by General Pompey first extended the influence
of the Roman Republic into the Caucasus Mountains.
Between Rome-Byzantium and Persia
Decisive for the future history of Iberia was the foundation of the Sasanian (or Sassanid) Empire in 224. By replacing the weak Parthian realm with a strong, centralized state, it changed the political orientation of Iberia away from Rome. Iberia became a tributary of the Sasanian state during the reign of Shapur I (241-272).
Relations between the two countries seem to have been friendly at first, as Iberia cooperated in Persian campaigns against Rome, and the Iberian king Amazasp III (260-265) was listed as a high dignitary of the Sasanian realm, not a vassal who had been subdued by force of arms. But the aggressive tendencies of the Sasanians were evident in their propagation of Zoroastrianism, which was probably established in Iberia between the 260s and 290s.
However, in the Peace of Nisibis (298) while the Roman empire obtained control of Caucasian Iberia again as a vassal state and acknowledged the reign over all the Caucasian area, it recognized Mirian III, the first of the Chosroid dynasty, as king of Iberia.
Roman predominance proved crucial in religious matters, since King Mirian III and leading nobles converted to Christianity around 317 and declared Christianity as state religion. The event is related with the mission of a Cappadocian woman, Saint Nino, who since 303 had preached Christianity in the Georgian kingdom of Iberia (Eastern Georgia).
The religion would become a strong tie between Georgia and Rome (later Byzantium) and have a large scale impact on the state's culture and society.
However, after the Emperor Julian was slain during his failed campaign in Persia in 363, Rome ceded control of Iberia to Persia.
The rivalry continued for centuries between both Rome and Byzantium against Sasanian Persia for supremacy in the Caucasus.
|The Eastern Roman Empire extended into the Caucasus Mountains.
The Nokalakevi-Archaeopolis Fortress played a pivotal part in the major wars fought between the Byzantines and Sasanians in the South Caucasus during the sixth century AD. It was one of the key fortresses guarding Lazika from Sasanian, Persian and Iberian attack.
The Persian Sassanids recognized Lazica (Egrisi) as part of the Byzantine sphere of influence by the "Eternal Peace" Treaty of 532.
During the Byzantine–Sasanian Lazic War of 540 - 562 AD, the Persians' failure to take the Nokalakevi-Archaeopolis Fortress from the Byzantines and the Laz eventually cost them control of Lazika.
|Sasanian Empire Cavalry
For over 700 years Rome faced
endless wars with Persia.
The early Byzantine defensive fortifications of Nokalakevi-Archaeopolis take advantage of the site's position within a loop of the river Tekhuri, which has carved a gorge through the local limestone to the west of the fortress. Furthermore, the steep and rugged terrain to the north of the site made the citadel established there almost unassailable.
A wall connected this 'upper town' to the 'lower town' below, where excavations have revealed substantial stone buildings of the fourth to sixth century AD. Beneath these late Roman period layers there is evidence of several earlier phases of occupation and abandonment, from the eighth to second centuries BC.
Archaeological work at the site
Modern study of the site began in the decades before the formal Russian annexation of Samegrelo, with a visit by the Swiss philologist Frédéric Dubois de Montpéreux in 1833-4. He identified the ruins as the Archaeopolis of Byzantine historians and argued that the site was Aia, the ancient Colchian capital of the Greek Argonaut myth.
This, unsurprisingly, stimulated much scholarly interest, which culminated in the 1920s with proposals for an archaeological excavation. In the winter of 1930-31, a joint German-Georgian team, led by Dr Alfonse-Maria Schneider of Freiburg University, traced the line of the walls and excavated about 40 survey trenches and one of the towers, as well as what they erroneously believed to be the agora in the 'lower' town.
Their findings — including an impressive hoard of gold solidi of the Emperor Maurice (AD 584-602) — confirmed Dubois de Montpéreux's identification of the site with Archaeopolis, without settling the question of Aia.
|Fortress of Archaeopolis
|The Forty Martyrs Church
The early Byzantine defensive fortifications of Archaeopolis take advantage of the site's position within a loop of the river Tekhuri, which has carved a gorge through the local limestone to the west of the fortress. Furthermore, the steep and rugged terrain to the north of the site made the citadel almost unassailable.
|The Byzantine Fortress of Archaeopolis in the center of Lazica.
(Lazic War) (Caucasian Iberia) (georgiaabout.com - Nokalakevi-fortress)