The beginnings of Christianity in Georgia
The beginnings of the rich Georgian literary heritage are bound up with the coming of Christianity and the translation of the Bible into Georgian (kʿartʿuli), the principal representative of the Caucasian language family. Georgia (Kʿartʿli; Greek Iberia) is situated in the Caucasus Mountains between the Black and Caspian Seas. In the aftermath of the Jewish Wars (66–73, 132–5 ce) Jews migrated there in considerable numbers. Archaeological evidence from the cemeteries of the ancient capital of Mcʿxeta shows that Christianity had a presence there by the third century, perhaps carried by Jewish immigrants. However, the traditional national tale places the introduction of Christianity into Georgia in the fourth century, crediting a woman named Nino, who was taken captive and enslaved in the Georgian royal household. Although the Nino legend contains obvious embellishments, historians concur that Christianity had received official acceptance in Georgia by the fifth century.
The most primitive literary strata of the Georgian Christian heritage display the influence of Syriac roots, mediated mainly through Armenian channels. The geographical proximity of Syriac and Armenian Christian communities ensured that those churches would have great influence on early Georgian Christian literature, theology, religious practices and ecclesial politics. Yet at a very early stage the Georgians appear to have felt more direct Greek influence than the Armenians did, perhaps because of the number of Greek settlements along the coast of the Black Sea. In the seventh century the Georgian church decisively abandoned the anti-Chalcedonian posture it had shared with the Armenians and aligned itself with the Chalcedonian Byzantines. The ensuing shift in theological and political loyalties brought Greek influence to bear even more directly on Georgian literary culture, although vestiges of Syro-Armenian influence persisted.