A Georgian calls himself Kartveli and his country, Sakartvelo, "the place of the Georgians", the latter term used first in the eleventh century when the Georgian people were united under their first king. The country, now a sovereign nation since the dissolution of the Soviet Union of which it was a republic, is situated just south of the Caucasus mountains and borders on the Black Sea. Western Georgia was know as Colchis by the ancient Greeks. Eastern Georgia was called Iveria by the classical world and Kartli by the Georgians. Georgian culture goes back in time 4000 years and includes a unique language unconnected to any major language family, with its cursive alphabet developed in the fifth century. A major stem in Georgia's evolution was its adoption of Christianity in the year 337 when the king of Kartli, Mirian, accepted the religion from Byzantine missionaries. The Georgian Orthodox Church remains a basic factor in Georgian life today. Georgian history is full of competition between princes (eristavi) and would-be kings. This nobility emerged following the eradication of the pagan religions and their wealthy priests. Byzantium, Rome in the west and Persia in the east vied for control of Georgia and the Transcaucasus region for centuries. The Georgian nobility sought favor from these powerful empires, sometimes choosing alliances and sometimes acceeding to force.
Invasions by Arabs, Mongols, Seljuk Turks, Turcomans and others make the history more complex; one explanation is that, until the development of a sea route to the Indies, the Transcaucasus was part of the main trade route between east and west. With the strengthening of the Ottoman empire and the continuing power of successive Persian regimes, Orthodox Christian Georgia finally sought protection from Russia and was absorbed into the Tsarist empire in 1804. Georgian history closely parallels Russian history during the 19th century and up to the Russian Revolution in 1917. Serfdom in Georgia, a principle fact of Georgian society for centuries, was abolished at the same time it was in Russia. An attempt by Georgian Mensheviks to create a Georgian nation (1919 - 1921) was suppressed by Bolshevist Russia. But, fortunately for the minority peoples of the USSR, Soviet policy towards its many nationalities was one of 'nationalism in form, socialism in content.' After seventy years of Soviet rule and despite ruthless political purges, the annihilation of the kulaks and the effacement of the church, Georgian culture was able to remain strong through education, preservation of local customs and the development of an industrialized economy, all of which the Soviet regime encouraged.
Georgia, having recently declared its independence is now governed by Eduard Shevardnadze, the last foreign minister of the USSR under Mikhail Gorbachev. A new chapter in the history of Georgia is now unfolding.