Georgians are an indigenous Caucasian nation and ethnic group. Georgians call themselves Kartvelebi, their land Sakartvelo, and their language Kartuli. According to The Georgian Chronicles, the ancestor of the Kartvelian people was Kartlos, the great grandson of the Biblical Japheth. Ancient Greeks (Strabo, Herodotus, Plutarch, Homer, etc.) and Romans (Titus Livius, Cornelius Tacitus, etc.) referred to western Georgians as Colchians and eastern Georgians as Iberians.
Middle Paleolithic cave sites along the Black Sea Coast of Georgia prove the presence of an indigenous people sometime between 100,000 – 50,000 B.C. A great deal of archeological evidence attests to a flourishing Neolithic culture in Georgia in the fifth and fourth millennia B.C. Pottery and metallurgy of the Early Bronze Age was renown.
This period is marked by a highly developed culture. At the end of the 2nd and the beginning of the 1st millennium B.C., two major tribal unions arose: those of the Diakhi (Taokhi, Tao) and the Qolha (Colchis). The wealth and power of Colchis were reflected in the ancient Greek myth of the Argonauts. Their union disintegrated in the mid-8th century B.C.
In the 8th-7th centuries B.C., the Karts, Mengrels, Chans and Svans came to the fore among the Georgian tribes, and as a result of their consolidation, a two-state confederation took shape in the 6th-4th centuries. In the west, the Kingdom of Colchis was formed (now referred to as the Kingdom of Egrisi). This kingdom minted its own silver coins as “white Colchians coins”.
A complex process of nation formation has resulted in a diverse set of geographic subgroups, each with its characteristic traditions, manners, dialects and, in the case of Svans and Mingrelians, language.
The Georgian language, with its own unique writing system and extensive written tradition going back to the 5th century, is the official language of Georgia as well as the language of literacy and education of all Georgians living in the country. Georgian, Svan and Mingrelian, together with Laz spoken by the related Laz people form the Kartvelian language family.
Most historians and scholars of Georgia as well as anthropologists, archaeologists and linguists tend to agree that the ancestors of modern Georgians inhabited the southern Caucasus and northern Anatolia since the Neolithic period.
Scholars usually refer to them as Proto-Kartvelian (Proto-Georgians such as Colchians and Iberians) tribes. Some European historians of the 19th century (e.g., Wilhelm von Humboldt and Paul Kretschmer) as well as Georgian scholars (R. Gordeziani, S. Kaukhchishvili and Z. Gamsakhurdia) came to the conclusion that Proto-Kartvelians might be related linguistically and culturally to the indigenous (pre-Indo-European) peoples of ancient Europe including the Pelasgians, Etruscans and Proto-Basques.
The Georgian people in antiquity have been known to the ancient Greeks and Romans as Colchians and Iberians. East Georgian tribes of Tibarenians-Iberians formed their kingdom in 7th century BCE. However, western Georgian tribes (Moschians, Suanians, Mingrelians and others) established the first Georgian state of Colchis (circa 1350 BCE) before the foundation of the Iberian Kingdom in the east.
According to the numerous scholars of Georgia, the formations of these two early Georgian kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia, resulted in the consolidation and uniformity of the Georgian nation.
The ancient Jewish chronicle by Josephus mentions Georgians as Iberes who were also called Thobel (Tubal). Iberians, also known as Tiberians or Tiberanians, lived in the eastern Georgian Kingdom of Iberia.
Diauehi in Assyrian sources and Taochi in Greek lived in the northeastern part of Anatolia, a region that was part of Georgia. This ancient tribe is considered by many scholars as ancestors of the Georgians. The Georgians of today still refer to this region, which now belongs to present-day Turkey, as Tao-Klarjeti, an ancient Georgian kingdom. Some people there still speak the Georgian language.
Colchians lived in the ancient western Georgian Kingdom of Colchis. They are first mentioned in the Assyrian annals of Tiglath-Pileser I and in the annals of Urartian king Sarduri II. Also included is the western Georgian tribe of the Meskhetians.
Both Colchians and Iberians played an important role in the ethnic and cultural formation of the modern Georgian nation.
According to the scholar of the Caucasian studies Cyril Toumanoff: “Colchis appears as the first Caucasian State to have achieved the coalescence of the newcomer, Colchis can be justly regarded as not a proto-Georgian, but a Georgian (West Georgian) kingdom … It would seem natural to seek the beginnings of Georgian social history in Colchis, the earliest Georgian formation.”
Georgians are of Caucasian race and often have brown hair and brown eyes. The Georgian skull the German anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach discovered in 1795, he used to hypothesize origination of Europeans from the Caucasus.
He wrote: “Caucasian variety – I have taken the name of this variety from Mount Caucasus, both because its neighborhood, and especially its southern slope, produces the most beautiful race of men, I mean the Georgian; and because all physiological reasons converge to this, that in that region, if anywhere, it seems we ought with the greatest probability to place the autochthones (birth place) of mankind.”
Georgians who have historically lived in alpine areas of less sunny western Georgia, especially Svans, Gurians, and Mingrelians tend to have lighter features, with higher frequency of blond hair and light blue or green eyes.
Studies of human genetics suggest that Georgians have the highest percentage of Haplogroup G among the general population recorded in any country. Georgians’ Y-DNA also belongs to Haplogroup J2, also found in Greece and Italy.
The Georgian language
The Georgian language is one of the oldest continuously spoken languages on earth with a rich literary tradition. It is a member of the Caucasian Language Family-which has long been renown for its position as a language family with no apparent relatives. The Georgian language boasts some 3,000,000 speakers residing in the present day Republic of Georgia as well as sizable communities of speakers in Iran, Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, France, Germany and the United States (Crystal, 305).
As a literary language, it has had an enormous impact on all of the surrounding languages of the area including Ossetic, Abkhaz, Armenian, Chechen, Dagestani, and Azerbaijani. Interestingly, The Georgian language finds itself in one of the most linguistically diverse regions of earth. It finds itself at the crossroads of the Indo-European, Altaic, and Afro-Asiatic language families. With so much diversity, there is evidence of borrowing that has occurred from all of these language groups.
This paper will discuss how this language has evolved from its earliest origins, and how contact with other languages have affected its writing system, phonology, morphology and syntax. Indeed, Georgian is a complex language with many series of borrowings from other languages.
The Georgian language
Most historians and scholars of Georgia as well as anthropologists, archaeologists and linguists tend to agree that the ancestors of modern Georgians inhabited the southern Caucasus and northern Anatolia since the Neolithic period. Scholars usually refer to them as Proto-Kartvelian (Proto-Georgians such as Colchians and Iberians) tribes.
Some European historians of the 19th century (e.g., Wilhelm von Humboldt and Paul Kretschmer) as well as Georgian scholars (R. Gordeziani, S. Kaukhchishvili and Z. Gamsakhurdia) came to the conclusion that Proto-Kartvelians might be related linguistically and culturally to the indigenous (pre-Indo-European) peoples of ancient Europe including the Pelasgians, Etruscans and Proto-Basques.
Certain grammatical similarities with Basque, especially in the case system, have often been pointed out. However, this hypothesis which also tend to link the Caucasian languages with other non-Indo-European and non-Semitic languages of the Near East of ancient times, are generally considered to lack conclusive evidence. Any similarities to other linguistic phyla may be due to areal influences.
No relationship with other languages, including the two North Caucasian language families, has been demonstrated so far. Heavy borrowing in both directions (i.e. from North Caucasian to Kartvelian and vice versa) has been observed; therefore it is likely that certain grammatical features have been influenced as well.
A few linguists have proposed that the Kartvelian family is part of a much larger Nostratic language family, but both the concept of a Nostratic family and Georgian’s relation to it are in doubt.
If the Dené–Caucasian hypothesis, which attempts to link Basque, Burushaski, the North Caucasian families and other phyla, is correct, then the similarities to Basque may also be due to these influences, however indirect. Certain Kartvelian-Indo-European lexical links are revealed at the protolanguage level, which are ascribed to the early contacts between Proto-Kartvelian and Proto-Indo-European populations.
The Proto-Kartvelian language, or Common Kartvelian, is the hypothetical common ancestor of the Kartvelian languages in the Caucasus, which was spoken by the ancestors of the modern Kartvelian peoples.
The existence of such a language is widely accepted by specialists in linguistics, who have reconstructed a broad outline of the language by comparing the existing Kartvelian languages against each other.
The ablaut patterns of Proto-Kartvelian are highly similar to those of the Indo-European languages, and so it is widely thought that Proto-Kartvelian interacted with Indo-European at a relatively early date.
This is reinforced by a fairly large number of words borrowed from Indo-European, such as the Proto-Kartvelian ṃḳerd (breast), and its possible relation to the Indo-European kerd (heart). Proto-Kartvelian *ṭep “warm” may also be directly derived from Indo-European *tep “warm”. It is also asserted that the name of wine in Indo-European languages is borrowed from Proto-Kartvelian *ɣwino, implicating quite close relations between these languages.
The modern descendants of Proto-Kartvelian are Georgian, Svan, Mingrelian and Laz. Of these, Mingrelian and Laz are often considered dialects of a single language, called Zan, although the two are not inherently mutually intelligible.
The ablaut patterns of Proto-Kartvelian were better preserved in Georgian and (particularly) Svan than in either Mingrelian or Laz, in which new forms have been set up so that there is a single, stable vowel in each word element.
The system of pronouns of Proto-Kartvelian is distinct on account of its category of inclusive–exclusive (so, for instance, there were two forms of the pronoun “we”: one that includes the listener and one that does not). This has survived in Svan but not in the other languages.
Svan also includes a number of archaisms from the Proto-Kartvelian era, and therefore it is thought that Svan broke off from Proto-Kartvelian at a relatively early stage: the later Proto-Kartvelian stage (called Karto-Zan) split into Georgian and Zan (Mingrelo-Laz).