“Vakhtang I Gorgasali, once went out hunting with his royal falcon in the neighborhood forests of the first capital of Georgia – Mtskheta. After some time, the king sent his falcon to catch a pheasant. The falcon flew away, and after a while, the king lost sight of him. In search of the birds, Vakhtang Gorgasali with his hunters came across a spring and saw that both the falcon and the pheasant got into its waters. The spring turned to be hot. Amazed with this discovery and realizing the great advantage of the natural springs, Vakhtang I decided to establish a city in this location.”
Thus, according to legend, the city of Tbilisi was founded.
It’s a pretty cool legend, isn’t it?
But it’s just that – an entertaining legend. The reality is far more complicated than just a bird falling into some hot waters. Well, to be fair, at least it is named after these very waters – Tbili (tfili) means – warm.
Now let’s take a brief look at the actual history.
According to some sources, Tbilisi started to turn into a city from the early-feudal era. “Conversion of Cartli”, author of which is Leonti Mroveli, is the first source that mentions it in regards to the events of the second half of the IV century A.D. These sources tell us that at the mentioned time Tbilisi still wasn’t an actual city. It was a strategic point and a residence of a satrap sent from the Sasanian Empire (Persia).
Why? – you might ask. Because at that time Kartli (East part of modern Georgia) was a vassal of Sasanian Iran (Persia) and, as it happened, Tbilisi was somewhat a convenient place for a satrap to “eavesdrop” on events going on in Mtskheta.
Foreign sources that prove that the location of modern Tbilisi was inhabited are Tabula Peuntingeriana – a Roman map, on which the location of Tbilisi is marked as a trading point, while Mtskheta is marked out like a capital city; various Armenian sources mention this location even before the IV century. The was archaeological evidence found around the city is in favor of our statement too.
So, without boring you with any more sources and evidence, it should be obvious by this point that the location was far from being uninhabited and plain woods. Now, let’s get to our beloved founder, or if we are being factually correct, then – the enhancer of the city – Vakhtang I Gorgasali.
In the IV century, Mtskheta was still the “seat of great kings”, a political center of the country and its capital. It continues to be all of the above almost throughout the whole V century. But Vakhtang had a plan to move the capital to Tbilisi, which he had regained from a satrap. There are several reasons why Tbilisi would make a better capital:
Relationships between feudal lords themselves and between them and the king are not the most pleasant one. The crown is weak (because of various reasons) and, as it always happens, nobles are trying to push their demands. They want their titles to be hereditary and by that, they are putting the crown under a threat of abolition. Most of these noble’s are in Mtskheta. Also, it was a religious center, which meant that the king wasn’t only pressured by the feudal nobles but also by the clergy. By moving the court to Tbilisi Vakhtang would regain some political freedom.
As I already mentioned, Tbilisi had a great strategical location, especially against the threats from the South. As it happened Persia was in the South. It was easier to fortify the city because of narrow entrances and a massive road connecting Kartli and Persia passed through Tbilisi.
Artery of Commerce
As I mentioned earlier, Tbilisi was on the road connecting Persia and Kartli, but also its location was favorable for establishing a stronger trade route with Egris (West part of modern Georgia) and the Byzantine Empire.
As you see, Vakhtang didn’t want to move the capital to Tbilisi just because he wanted to take hot sulfur baths.
He turned this place into a city, he reinforced it and expanded it. But he didn’t make it a capital, yep, you read it right. Let’s say he was too busy fulfilling his vassal duties to Shah, fighting corrupt nobles and fighting for freedom.
His son Dachi was the one who fulfilled his father’s will and transformed the city into what it is today – a Capital.
Art by – Anuki Baratashvili.