Gocha Kuchukhidze                                                                                                                                                                    # 5


The Origins of Georgian Writing


    Keywords: Old Georgian Literature; Hittite; Parnavaz; Armaz; Arma.


The history of Georgian writing is generally regarded to begin with “The Martyrdom of St.Shushanik” (5th century) despite the fact that very significant researches have been appeared since the eighties of the last century (by the professors: Revaz Siradze, Marina Chkhartishvili etc.) according to which “The Life of St.Nino” was created not in the 9th or 10th century as it was believed for a long time but in the 4th century, though it has come down to us in an altered form.  Doctor of history Bidzina Cholokashvili considers “The Martyrdom of Nine Youths from Khola” to be much earlier martyrdom work (Cholokashvili 2003). Professor Revaz Baramidze has hypothesized that the text of “The Life of Parnavaz” woven in Leonti Mroveli’s (11th century) narrative “The Life of the Kings” must have been a work created in heathen period (approximately in the second century BC) and also a little bit altered (Baramidze 1990).

In “The Life of St. Nino” there is an episode in which the idols of Kartli (Iberia): Armaz, Gatsi and Ga are described.

Almost similar descriptions of the idols are preserved in the Hittite texts of the 14th or 13th century BC, which were translated into Georgian by academician Grigol Giorgadze. For illustration we present the text of Hittite and Georgian descriptions:

“The deity Ishtar [goddess] sits. From the shoulders [wings appear]; in the right hand the golden cup [has in the left hand] has golden “kindness”. Beneath it there is silver support,  [under which] is the image of a lion in silver. On the right of lion’s wings [and on the left] the goddess Ninata (and) the goddess Kulita stand. They are in silver, their eyes are of golden” (Giorgadze 1985:149). According to Grigol Giorgadze’s explanation the “kindness” held by the goddess in her hands is a symbol (ibid.).

Let us compare these descriptions with the description of Georgian idols:

One copper man (Armaz) stands wearing golden helmet, and with jaspers and emerald on the shoulder straps; and in his hands he has a double-edged sword glittering and rotating in his hands, (…) and to the right of him there is a golden idol whose name is Gatsi, and to the left of him there is a silver idol and its name is Ga” (Abuladze 1964: 119-120).

It is evidenced from the texts that Georgian paganism must have had some connection with the Hittite world as was stated by Grigol Giorgadze.

It is known that the Hittites preserved these texts at the temple so as in case of damage they could restore the idol according to the data kept in the text. It seems they had the same purpose in Kartli.

It is very doubtful that anybody could have kept it in mind as to what kind the inventory text of technical character preserved in the 4th–century heathen temple was up to the 9th or 10th century (the manuscripts are of 10th century). It is also questionable that this inventory text itself had been kept up to the 9th or 10th century and then included into “The Life of St. Nino” (if they had desire to preserve the old texts on Georgian paganism, they would have kept significant manuscripts on inventory texts). It seems very unlikely that these texts of technical character were taken off from the abolished pagan temple in the 4th century and inserted to the “The Life of St. Nino” for accurate description of the idols. The existence of this text in “The Life of St. Nino” is additional evidence that the mentioned composition was of an earlier period because in the 9th or 10th centuries these texts could not have appeared in “The Life of St. Nino”.

Besides the inventory texts, clearly, other kinds of ecclesiastical texts must have been preserved in Georgian pagan temple.

When and what language these texts must have been preserved in Kartli?

In Grigol Giorgadze’s view after the downfall of the Hittite kingdom (ca 1200 BC) from the territory of the Upper Euphrates part of the ancient Georgian tribes – Mushki moved to the north, another part must have moved from the south and they appeared to transfer religious traditions connected with Hittite kingdom to historical Kartli as well (Giorgadze 1985: 157). These traditions must have been changed during the conduction of cult reform by the King of Kartli (Iberia) Parnavaz in the 3rd century BC.

The king Parnavaz set up the idol of Armaz which has connection both with the Iranian Ahura Mazda and Greek-Roman Zeus and Jupiter, but there is only resemblance as it has its own independent unique identity. It seems that the triad of deities had already been existed before Parnavaz’s reform but Armaz was replaced by Hittite-Luwian Arma, Armaz took its place that was created by Parnavaz on his name (these issues are discussed at length in the paper – Kuchukhidze 2000).

The reformatory activity of Parnavaz seems to be closely connected with the linguistic side of worshipping. According to Leonti Mroveli Parnavaz “spread the Georgian language”. No other language was spoken in Kartli since then (Kartlis Cxovreba I 1955: 26). It is also said that Parnavaz created Georgian “mtsignobroba.” The Georgian word “mtsignobroba” is defined by the scholars as alphabet and as literacy, i.e. according to the second point of view Parnavaz had established Georgian written language in the Kingdom, it is very likely that Parnavaz made Georgian the official language.  

No matter how we comprehend the word – “mtsignobroba”, one thing is certain –Georgian language appeared to attain the highest status during the reign of Parnavaz in Iberia. In Parnavaz’s kingdom the Armaz temple was considered as ideological centre, - it is rather unbelievable that in the country where, as Leonti Mroveli puts it, “besides Georgian, no other language was spoken”, that the language of worship service not to be Georgian. The description of the main idols of Kartli must have been one of the most important texts kept in the pagan temple of Kartli and it is doubtful to be written in any other language.

According to the Georgian chronicle “Kartlis Cxovreba” (The Life of Kartli) the first Christian king of Kartvelians Mirian (4th century) was of Iranian origin. The Shah of Iran imposed such condition to local nobles of Kartli: “Let my son be the adherent of both confessions: worshipping fire as our fathers did and practice heathenism”... Then it is mentioned that Mirian was brought up “worshiping seven deities and fire. However, he fell in love with Georgia and forgot the Persian and taught Georgian language. He embellished the deities and altars more and more, treated well the priests of deities. And more than any other king of Kartli he observed the pagan rite” (Kartlis Cxovreba I 1955: 62-65).

Here there is an obvious opposition between the fire worshipping and Persian language, on the one hand, and on the other, Georgian cult divinities and Georgian language. Mirian gives up Persian language and Mazdaizm, and adopts Georgian and Georgian deities.  It is clear from the context that the language of Mazdaism is Persian (Pahlavi) in Kartli, whereas the language of Georgian deities is Georgian. In this paper we do not research whether or not Mirian was really the son of Shah of Iran (according to one Georgian historical source he is the son of Georgian king Levi), but we see that according to the regarded Georgian chronicle, Mirian stands between two religious beliefs and finally he gives preference to the deities of Kartli which are perceived to be associated with the Georgian world.

As old Georgian historical source “Matiane Shemecnebata” reports, Georgian priests had already had Georgian script before Parnavaz which was used in the temple   (Sharadze 1972, 122-127).

If we consider that Parnavaz as a reformer, implemented language reform not only in the secular life but first of all he “spread the Georgian language” in the pagan temple, then the Georgian texts must be considered to be created in the 3rd century BC.

If Georgian priests had already used Georgian texts in the temples, then it may be supposed that Parnavaz took the Georgian script already existed since Hittites in this temple from the pagan temple for secular use. In this case the words created “mtsignobroba” mean just this. It should be noted that the creation of Georgian script prior to Parnavaz (3rd century BC) must be linked to Hittites epoch.  

The oldest text came down to us in “The Life of St.Nino” must have undergone the alteration mainly during conduction of religious reforms in Parnavaz time.

We can speak with more certainty on the existence of Georgian writing in pre-Christian times. Moreover that Professor Levan Chilashvili’s archeological findings give additional ground for this (Chilashvili 2003).



  1. Abuladze 1964: Ilia Abuladze, (“The Conversion of Kartli”); The writings of old Georgian hagiographic literature. Kornerli Kekelidze Institute of Manuscripts. Under the editorship of Ilia Abuladze, Tbilisi, 1964.

  2. Baramidze 1990: Revaz Baramidze, Parnavaz strengthens the country. Tbilisi, 1990.

  3. Chilashvili 2003: Levan Chilashvili, Georgian Inscription from Nekresi of pre-Christian time. Coll.works Kartvelology, Vol VII, Tbilisi, 2003.

  4. Chkhartishvili 1987: Marina Chkhartishvili, Issues of Georgian hagiographic source study. The Life of St.Nino. Tbilisi, 1987.

  5. Cholokashvili 2003: Bidzina Cholokashvili, The Oldest Georgian Martyrologies. Tbilisi, 2003.

  6. Giorgadze 1985: Grigol Giorgadze, Hittite-Armaz triads. J. Mnatobi, 5, Tbilisi, 1985.

  7. Kartlis Cxovreba I 1955: Kartlis Cxovreba (The Life of Kartli), I, Simon Kaukhchishvili’s edition. Tbilisi, 1955.

  8. Kuchukhidze 2000: Gocha Kuchukhidze, The Georgian worshippers of Armaz in pre-Christian time. J.Religia, 1-2-3. Tbilisi, 2000.

  9. Sharadze 1972: Guram Sharadze, Teimuraz Bagrationi, Life. Tbilisi, 1972.

  10. Siradze 1989: Revaz Siradze, The Life of St.Nino and the origin of Georgian hagiography. J. Gantiadi, 2, Kutaisi, 1989.

  11. Siradze 1997: Revaz Siradze, The Life of St.Nino and origin of Georgian writing. Tbilisi, 1997.



Volume 4, Issue 1


Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature

Georgian Electronic Journal of Literature