Kartli is a historical region in central-to-eastern Georgia
Georgia (country)
Georgia is a sovereign state in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the southwest by Turkey, to the south by Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. The capital of...

 traversed by the river Mtkvari (Kura), on which Georgia's capital, Tbilisi
Tbilisi is the capital and the largest city of Georgia, lying on the banks of the Mt'k'vari River. The name is derived from an early Georgian form T'pilisi and it was officially known as Tiflis until 1936...

, is situated. Known to the Classical authors
Classical antiquity
Classical antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, collectively known as the Greco-Roman world...

 as Iberia
Caucasian Iberia
Iberia , also known as Iveria , was a name given by the ancient Greeks and Romans to the ancient Georgian kingdom of Kartli , corresponding roughly to the eastern and southern parts of the present day Georgia...

, Kartli played a crucial role in ethnic and political consolidation of the Georgians
The Georgians are an ethnic group that have originated in Georgia, where they constitute a majority of the population. Large Georgian communities are also present throughout Russia, European Union, United States, and South America....

 in the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

. Kartli had no strictly defined boundaries and they significantly fluctuated in the course of history. After the partition of the kingdom of Georgia
Kingdom of Georgia
The Kingdom of Georgia was a medieval monarchy established in AD 978 by Bagrat III.It flourished during the 11th and 12th centuries, the so-called "golden age" of the history of Georgia. It fell to the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, but managed to re-assert sovereignty by 1327...

 in the 15th century, Kartli became a separate kingdom with its capital at Tbilisi. The historical lands of Kartli are currently divided among several administrative regions of Georgia.

The Georgians living in the historical lands of Kartli are known as Kartleli (sing., ქართლელი) and comprise one of the largest geographic subgroups of the Georgian people. Most of them are Eastern Orthodox Christians adhering to the national Georgian Orthodox Church and speak a dialect
Georgian dialects
Georgian is a South Caucasian, or Kartvelian, language spoken by about 4.1 million people primarily in Georgia, but also in Russia, Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan. It is a highly standardized language, with the first attempts to establish literary and linguistic norms dating back to the 5th century AD...

, which is the basis of the modern Georgian literary language.


The toponym "Kartli" first emerges in written accounts in the 5th-century Martyrdom of the Holy Queen Shushanik
Martyrdom of the Holy Queen Shushanik
The Martyrdom of the Holy Queen Shushanik is the first extant piece of Georgian literature. Purported to have been written between 476 and 483, the earliest surviving manuscript dates from the 10th century...

, the earliest surviving piece of Georgian literature. According to the medieval Georgian Chronicles, Kartli derives its name from Kartlos
Kartlos or K'art'los was the legendary establisher and eponymous father of Georgia, and the mythic ancestor of Georgians, namely its nucleus Kartli...

, the mythic Georgian ethnarch
Ethnarch, pronounced , the anglicized form of ethnarches refers generally to political leadership over a common ethnic group or homogeneous kingdom. The word is derived from the Greek words and ....

, who built a city on the Mtkvari; it was called Kartli (probably at the latter-day Armazi
Armazi was, according to the medieval Georgian chronicles, the supreme deity in a pre-Christian pantheon of ancient Georgians of Kartli ....

), a name which generalized to the country ruled by Kartlos and his progeny. Kartlos seems to be a medieval contrivance and his being the eponym
An eponym is the name of a person or thing, whether real or fictitious, after which a particular place, tribe, era, discovery, or other item is named or thought to be named...

ous founder of Kartli is not convincing. The medieval chronicler characteristically renders this name with the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 nominative suffix –ος (os), as Stephen Rapp of Georgia State University
Georgia State University
Georgia State University is a research university in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Founded in 1913, it serves about 30,000 students and is one of the University System of Georgia's four research universities...

 (Atlanta) assumes, "in order to impart the account with a sense of antiquity".

Professor Giorgi Melikishvili
Giorgi Melikishvili
Giorgi Melikishvili was a Georgian historian known for his fundamental works in the history of Georgia, Caucasia and the Middle East. He earned an international recognition for his research of Urartu....

 has linked the toponym Kartli with a word karta (ქართა), found in Mingrelian (a Kartvelian sister language
Sister language
A sister language is a cognate language, that is, coming from the same once-existing language or hypothetical root language. The latter language is the so-called proto-language. There are many examples of sister languages...

 of Georgian) and in some western Georgian dialects
Georgian dialects
Georgian is a South Caucasian, or Kartvelian, language spoken by about 4.1 million people primarily in Georgia, but also in Russia, Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan. It is a highly standardized language, with the first attempts to establish literary and linguistic norms dating back to the 5th century AD...

 and meaning "a cattle pen" or "an enclosed place". The root kar occurs in numerous placenames across Georgia and, in the view of Melikishvili, displays semantic similarity with the Indo-European
Indo-European languages
The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects, including most major current languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and South Asia and also historically predominant in Anatolia...

 prototype; cf. Germanic
Germanic languages
The Germanic languages constitute a sub-branch of the Indo-European language family. The common ancestor of all of the languages in this branch is called Proto-Germanic , which was spoken in approximately the mid-1st millennium BC in Iron Age northern Europe...

 gardaz ("enclosure", "garden"), Lithuanian
Lithuanian language
Lithuanian is the official state language of Lithuania and is recognized as one of the official languages of the European Union. There are about 2.96 million native Lithuanian speakers in Lithuania and about 170,000 abroad. Lithuanian is a Baltic language, closely related to Latvian, although they...

 gardas ("enclosure", "hurdle", "cattle pen"), Old Slavic gradu ("garden", also "city"), and Hittite
Hittite language
Hittite is the extinct language once spoken by the Hittites, a people who created an empire centred on Hattusa in north-central Anatolia...

 gurtas ("fortress"). Parallels have also been sought with the Khaldi and Carduchi of the Classical sources.

Early history

The formation of Kartli and its people, the Kartveli (sing., ქართველი) is poorly documented. The infiltration of several ancient, chiefly Anatolia
Anatolia is a geographic and historical term denoting the westernmost protrusion of Asia, comprising the majority of the Republic of Turkey...

n, tribes into the territory of modern-day Georgia and their fusion with the autochthons played a decisive role in this process. This might have been reflected in a story of Arian-Kartli
Arian Kartli was a country claimed by the medieval Georgian chronicle "The Conversion of Kartli" to be the earlier homeland of the Georgians of Kartli ....

, the semi-legendary place of the aboriginal Georgian habitat found in the early medieval chronicle Conversion of Kartli.

In the 3rd century BC, Kartli and its original capital Mtskheta
Mtskheta , one of the oldest cities of the country of Georgia , is located approximately 20 kilometers north of Tbilisi at the confluence of the Aragvi and Kura rivers. The city is now the administrative centre of the Mtskheta-Mtianeti region...

 (succeeded by Tbilisi in the 5th century) formed a nucleus around which the ancient Georgian kingdom known to the Greco-Roman world as Iberia evolved. The role of Kartli as a core ethnic and political unit which would form a basis for the subsequent Georgian unification further increased as a result of its Christianization
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 early in the 4th century. Located on the crossroads of the Byzantine
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 and Iranian influences, Kartli developed a vibrant Christian culture, aided by the fact that it was the only Kartvelian area with its own written language. With the consolidation of the Arab rule in Tbilisi in the 8th century, the political center of Kartli shifted to its southwest, but the Georgian literati of that time afforded to Kartli a broader meaning to denote all those lands of medieval Georgia that were held together by religion, culture, and language. In one of the most-quoted passages of medieval Georgian literature, the 9th-century writer Giorgi Merchule
Giorgi Merchule
thumb|Icon of Giorgi MerchuleGiorgi Merchule was a 10th-century Georgian monk and writer who authored "The Vita of Grigol Khandzteli", a hagiographic novel dealing with the life of the prominent Georgian churchman St. Grigol Khandzteli .Giorgi was a monk at the Georgian Orthodox monastery of...

 asserts: "And Kartli consists of that spacious land in which the liturgy
Liturgy is either the customary public worship done by a specific religious group, according to its particular traditions or a more precise term that distinguishes between those religious groups who believe their ritual requires the "people" to do the "work" of responding to the priest, and those...

 and all prayer
Prayer is a form of religious practice that seeks to activate a volitional rapport to a deity through deliberate practice. Prayer may be either individual or communal and take place in public or in private. It may involve the use of words or song. When language is used, prayer may take the form of...

s are said in the Georgian language. But [only] the Kyrie eleison
Kyrie, a transliteration of Greek κύριε , vocative case of κύριος , meaning "Lord", is the common name of an important prayer of Christian liturgy, which is also called the Kýrie, eléison ....

is said in Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

, [the phrase] which means in Georgian "Lord, have mercy" or "Lord, be merciful to us".

After the unification of various Georgian polities into the kingdom of Georgia early in the 11th century, the names "Kartli" and "Kartveli" became a basis of the Georgian self-designation Sakartvelo
Name of Georgia
Georgia is an exonym for the nation in the Caucasus whose self-designation is Sakartvelo . The exonym has been variously explained as being derived from the Greek γεωργός , the name of St. George, and from ancient Persian designations of the Georgians...

. The Georgian circumfix
A circumfix is an affix, a morpheme that is placed around another morpheme. Circumfixes contrast with prefixes, attached to the beginnings of words; suffixes, that are attached at the end; and infixes, inserted in the middle. See also epenthesis...

 sa-X-o is a standard geographic construction designating "the area where X dwell", where X is an ethnonym
An ethnonym is the name applied to a given ethnic group. Ethnonyms can be divided into two categories: exonyms and autonyms or endonyms .As an example, the ethnonym for...


Medieval subdivision

In the Middle Ages, Kartli was traditionally divided, roughly along the Mtkvari, into the three principal regions:
  • Shida Kartli
    Shida Kartli
    Shida Kartli is a region in Georgia. It consists of the following districts: Gori, Kaspi, Kareli, Java, Khashuri.The northern part of the region, namely Java, and northern territories of Kareli and Gori, is controlled by the authorities of the self-proclaimed republic of South Ossetia since...

     (შიდა ქართლი), i.e., Inner Kartli, centered on Mtskheta and Uplistsikhe
    Uplistsikhe is an ancient rock-hewn town in eastern Georgia, some 10 kilometers east of the town of Gori, Shida Kartli.Built on a high rocky left bank of the Mtkvari River, it contains various structures dating from the Early Iron Age to the Late Middle Ages, and is notable for the unique...

     comprising all of central Kartli north and south of the Mtkvari and west of its tributary, the Aragvi;
  • Kvemo Kartli
    Kvemo Kartli
    Kvemo Kartli is a historic province and current administrative region in southeastern Georgia. The city of Rustavi is a regional capital. The population is mixed between Azeris and Georgians .The current governor is Davit Kirkitadze.- External links :* *...

     (ქვემო ქართლი), i.e., Lower Kartli, comprising the lands in the lower basin of the Mtkvari and south of that river;
  • Zemo Kartli (ზემო ქართლი), i.e., Upper Kartli, comprising the lands in the upper basin of the Mtkvari and south of that river, west of Kvemo Kartli.

Most of these lands are now part of Georgia's regions
Mkhare is a subdivision in the country of Georgia. It is usually translated as region.The country is divided, according to the Presidential decrees from 1994 to 1996, into regions on a provisional basis until the secessionist conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are resolved...

 of Shida Kartli (of which Gori
Gori, Georgia
Gori is a city in eastern Georgia, which serves as the regional capital of Shida Kartli and the centre of the homonymous administrative district. The name is from Georgian gora , that is, "heap", or "hill"...

 is the capital) and Kvemo Kartli (with its capital at Rustavi
Rustavi is a city in the southeast of Georgia, in the province of Kvemo Kartli, situated southeast of the capital Tbilisi. It stands on the Mtkvari River at...

), but also of Samtskhe-Javakheti (of which Akhaltsikhe
Akhaltsikhe is a small city in Georgia's southwestern region of Samtskhe-Javakheti. It is situated on the both banks of a small river Potskhovi, which separates the city to the old city in the north and new in the south. The name of the city translates from Georgian as "new fortress".- History...

 its capital), and Mtskheta-Mtianeti
Mtskheta-Mtianeti is a region in eastern Georgia comprising the town of Mtskheta, which serves as a regional capital, together with its district and the adjoining mountainous areas.- External links :...

 (Mtskheta is the capital). A significant portion of Zemo Kartli is now part of Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...


Later history

With the fragmentation of the kingdom of Georgia in the 15th century, the kings of Georgia were left with Kartli alone, having Tbilisi as their capital. The kings of Kartli did not relinquish the titles of the all-Georgian monarchs whose legitimate successors they claimed to be. The Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

ans, thus, knew it as "Georgia proper" and later also as Kartalinia via the Russian
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

 Карталиния [kartalinʲɪjə].

The kingdom of Kartli survived through incessant battles with the Ottoman
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 and Persian empires, neighboring Georgian and Caucasian
The Caucasus, also Caucas or Caucasia , is a geopolitical region at the border of Europe and Asia, and situated between the Black and the Caspian sea...

 rulers, and with its own subjects into the 18th century. In 1762, Kartli was united with the neighboring eastern Georgian kingdom of Kakheti
Kingdom of Kakheti
The Kingdom of Kakheti was a late medieval/early modern monarchy in eastern Georgia, centered at the province of Kakheti, with its capital first at Gremi and then at Telavi...

 into a single state only to be annexed by the Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

in 1801.
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