Identity Markers in the Georgian Narrative Sources of the Middle Ages (Historico-Anthropological Analysis)

Manana Sanadze, Tinatin Gudushauri


The paper deals with the issue of revealing the identity defining markers in the Georgian narrative sources of the Middle Ages (“The Life of Georgians”). It also highlights the main characteristics considered to be important according to the Georgian historical material from the point of view of determining “We-Group” and identifying the distinction of one ethnicity from the others.
Identity markers, which (according to the Georgian medieval narrative sources) are considered to be significant for defining the ethnicity of Georgians, are viewed in the intersection of three main paradigms of ethnicity:
 Attributive (as the quality of a group) – ethnicity is viewed in the aspect of demonstration of the cultural qualities creating the basis for the formation of unity (language, ethnonym, historic memory, peculiarities of tangible culture, rituals, behavioral patterns, etc.);
 Subjective-symbolic (ethnicity as an ethnic identity) – ethnicity is viewed by an individual in the aspect of the sense of belonging to a certain (reference) group;
 Interactive (ethnicity as intergroup relations) – views ethnicity at the level of dichotomic scheme “we” – “they”, i.e. ethnicity is a group characteristic demonstrated by comparing “ours” with “non-ours”.
A preliminary hypothesis concerning the issue can be developed this way:
Identity markers, which according to the Georgian medieval narrative sources are considered to be significant for defining the ethnicity of Georgians, should primarily represent an intersection of attributive and subjective/symbolic paradigms of ethnicity; however, the advantage of one of the paradigms may be outlined and/or it may appear that the idea of medieval Georgians concerning ethnic belonging practically corresponds to all the three paradigms of demonstration of ethnicity and is marked by the tendency of variability of dominant paradigms considering the epoch and the political situation.
"The Life of Georgians" offers the whole concept regarding nationality/ethnicity. Acording to this concept, the ethno-cultural image of a Georgian individual comprises the following components: common origin, common language and territory (borders), confession (religion) and common historic past (historic memory).
According to "The Life of Georgians", common origin implies origination first from Targamos, and afterwards from Kartlos. All the descendants of Kartlos are Georgians. Therefore, national identity is based on common origin, i.e. blood relations. At the same time, the name "Georgian" accentuated the place of origin. It has a much wider context than just a unity of one family.
One of the main preconditions for the nation’s/people’s existence is a unified territory and therefore, the work attaches great importance to showing the borders of settlement of Georgians.
Georgians also differ from "others" by the Georgian language. According to "The Life of Georgians", language in general, and specifically the Georgian language, undergoes several steps of development: the first step is its origin, the second – its universal spread within the state borders, the third and the highest step is its transformation into the language of education.
The necessary precondition for the existence of Georgians, as well as any people in general, is the unity of religion, i.e. confession. According to the work, religion – confession of ancestors is one of the most significant attributes of the nation and state and the guarantee of its sustainability.
One more component of the identification of ethnicity is the chronicler’s discussion about the significance of the common past, i.e. historic memory. In this regard, "The Life of Georgians" mainly focuses on the fights, agreements, political achievements and compromises related to acquiring/gaining separate territories. The mentioned phenomena are considered to be the common past. According to the chronicler, all these factors unite the Georgians and make the sense of the past as well as the sense of their relationship and unity more tangible.
The analysis of the markers related to the ethnic identity of Georgians observed in "The Life of Georgians" practically fully confirms the hypothesis presented by us about a possible correspondence of the mentioned markers with all the three paradigms of identification of ethnicity. The mentioned analysis demonstrates the scientifically justified opinion of the author of this most significant historical source of the medieval period. Considering all the necessary preconditions, the mentioned opinion is politically determined and focused on the perspective of preservation/development of a unified/centralized state. For the population residing on a certain territory, but not necessarily related ethnically, these preconditions should create the basis for firm loyalty to the unity, belonging to the “We-Group”as well as culture, traditions and values of this group.


Identity Markers; Georgia; Middle ages;

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