Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography/Iberia
IBE'RIA (ἡ Ἰβηρία), the extensive tract of country which lies between the Euxine and Caspian seas, to the S. of the great chain of the Caucasus, and which, bounded on the W. by Colchis, on the E. by Albania, and the S. by Armenia, is watered by the river Cyrus (Kûr). (Strab. xi. p. 499, comp. i. pp. 45, 69; Pomp. Mel. iii. 5. § 6; Plin. vi. 11; Ptol. v. 11.) From these limits, it will be seen that the Iberia of the ancients corresponds very nearly with modern Georgia, or Grusia, as it is called by the Russians. Strabo (p. 500) describes it as being hemmed in by mountains, over which there were only four passes known. One of these crossed the Moschichi Montes, which separated Iberia from Colchis, by the Colchian fortress Sarapana (Scharapani), and is the modern road from Mingrelia into Georgia over Suram. Another, on the N., rises from the country of the Nomades in a steep ascent of three days' journey (along the valley of the Terek or Tergl) after which the road passes through the defile of the river Aragus, a journey of four days, where the pass is closed at the lower end by an impregnable wall. This, no doubt, is the pass of the celebrated Caucasian Gates [Caucasiae Portae], described by Pliny (vi. 12) as a prodigious work of nature, formed by abrupt precipices, and having the interval closed by gates with iron bars. Beneath ran a river which emitted a strong smell ("Subter medias (fores), amne diri odoris fluente," Plin. l. c.). It is identified with the great central road leading from the W. of Georgia by the pass of Dáriyel, so named from a fortress situated on a rock washed by the river Terek, and called by the Georgians Shevis Kari, or the Gate of Shevi. The third pass was from Albania, which at its commencement was cut through the rock, but afterwards went through a marsh formed by the river which descended from the Caucasus, and is the same as the strong defile now called Derhend or "narrow pass," from the chief city of Dághestán, which is at the extremity of the great arm which branches out from the Caucasus, and, by its position on a steep and almost inaccessible ridge, overhanging the Caspian sea, at once commands the coast-road and the Albanian Gates. The fourth pass, by which Pompeius and Canidius entered Iberia, led up from Armenia, and is referred to the high road from Erzrum, through Kars, to the N. [Aragus.]
The surface of the country is greatly diversified with mountains, hills, plains, and valleys; the best portion of this rich province is the basin of the Kûr, with the valleys of the Aragavi, Alazan, and other tributary streams. Strabo (p. 499) speaks of the numerous cities of Iberia, with their houses having tiled roofs, as well as some architectural pretensions. Besides this, they had market-places and other public buildings.
The people of the Iberes or Iberi (Ἴβηρες, Steph. B. s. v.) were somewhat more civilised than their neighbours in Colchis. According to Strabo (p. 500), they were divided into four castes:—
(1.) The royal horde, from which the chiefs, both in peace and war, were taken. (2.) The priests, who acted also as arbitrators in their quarrels with the neighbouring tribes. (3.) Soldiers and husbandmen. (4.) The mass of the population, who were slaves to the king. The form of government was patriarchal. The people of the plain were peaceful, and cultivated the soil; wliile their dress was the same as that of the Armenians and Medes. The mountaineers were more warlike, and resembled the Scythians and Sarmatians. As, during the time of Herodotus (iii. 9), Culchis was the N. limit of the Persian empire, the Iberians were probably, in name, subjects of that monarchy. Along with the other tribes between the Caspian and the Euxine, they acknowledged the supremacy of Mithiidates. The Romans became acquainted with them in the campaigns of Lucullus and Pompeius. In B. C. 65, the latter general commenced his march northwards in pursuit of Mithridates, and had to fight against the Iberians, whom he compelled to sue for peace. (Plut. Pomp. 34.) A. D. 35, when Tiberius set up Tiridates as a claimant to the Parthian throne, he induced the Iberian princes, Mithridates and his brother Pharasmanes, to invade Armenia; which they did, and subdued the country. (Tac. Ann. vi. 33 —36; comp. Dict. of Biog. Pharasmanes.) In A. D. 115, when Armenia became a Roman province under Trajan, the king of the Iberians made a form of submitting himself to the emperor. (Eutrop. viii. 3; comp. Dion Cass. lxix. 15; Spartian. Hadrian. 17.)
Under the reign of Constantine the Iberians were converted by a captive woman to Christianity, which has been preserved there, though mixed with superstition, down to the present times. One of the original sources for this story, which will be found in Neander (Allgemein Gesch. der Christl. Relig. vol. iii. pp. 234—236; comp. Milman, Hist. of Christianity, vol. ii. p. 480), is Rufinus (x. 10), from whom the Greek church historians (Socrat. i. 20; Sozom. ii. 7; Theod. i. 24; Mos. Choren. ii. 83) have borrowed it. In A. D. 365—378, by the ignominious treaty of Jovian, the Romans renounced the sovereignty and alliance of Armenia and Iberia. Sapor, after subjugating Armenia, marched against Samromaces, who was king of Iberia by the permission of the emperors, and, after expelling him, reduced Iberia to the state of a Persian province. (Amm. Marc. xxvii. 12; Gibbon, c. xxv; Le Beau, Bas Empire, vol. iii. p. 357.)
During the wars between the Roman emperors and the Sassanian princes, the Iberian Gates had come into the possession of a prince of the Huns, who offered this important pass to Anastasius; but when the emperor built Darus, with the object of keeping the Persians in check, Cobades, or Kobâd, seized upon the defiles of the Caucasus, and fortified them, though less as a precaution against the Romans than against the Huns and other northern barbarians. (Procop. B. P. i. 10; Gibbon, c. xl.; Le Beau, vol. vi. pp. 269, 442, vol. vii. p. 398.) For a curious history of this pass, and its identification with the fabled wall of Gog and Magog, see Humboldt, Asie Centrale, vol. ii. pp. 93—104; Eichwald, Peripl. des Casp. Meeres, vol. i. pp. 128—132. On the decline of the Persian power, the Iberian frontier was the scene of the operations of the emperors Maurice and Heraclius. Iberia is now a province of Russia.
The Georgians, who do not belong to the Indo-European family of nations, are the same race as the ancient Iberians. By the Armenian writers they are still called Virk, a name of perhaps the same original as Ἴβηρες. They call themselves Kartli, and derive their origin, according to their national traditions, from an eponymous ancestor, Kartlos. Like the Armenians, with whom however, there is
no affinity either in language or descent, they have an old version of the Bible into their language. The structure of this language has been studied by Adelung (Mithridat. vol. i. pp. 430, foll.) and other modern philologers, among whom may be mentioned Brosset, the author of several learned memoirs on the Georgian grammar and language: Klaproth, also, has given a long vocabulary of it, in his Asia Polyglotta.
Armenian writers have supplied historical memoirs to Georgia, though it has not been entirely wanting in domestic chronicles. These curious records, which have much the style and appearance of the half-legendary monkish histories of other countries, are supposed to be founded on substantial truth. One of the most important works on Georgian history is the memorials of the celebrated Orpelian family, which have been published by St. Martin, with a translation. Some account of these, along with a short sketch of the History of the Georgians and their literature, will be found in Prichard (Physical Hist. of Mankind, vol. iv. pp. 261—276). Dubois de Montpéreux (Voyage autour du Caucase, vol. ii. pp. 8—169) has given an outline of the histoiy of Georgia, from native sources; and the maps in the magnificent Atlas that accompanies his work will be found of great service. [ E. B. J. ]