Historically, Kartli used to be the most essential part of
Georgia. The words Kartli and Sakartvelo derive from the name of the mountain where, according to Leonti Mroveli, an 11th century historian and one of the authors of Kartlis Tskhovreba (Georgian Chronicles), Kartlos -legendary father of the Georgian people - took up his abode. The legend has it that Kartlos was a son of Targamos, the grandson of the biblical Noah. “Kartlos came to the confluence of the rivers Mtkvari and Aragvi (rivers in Georgia) and gave his name to the mountain rising above him. Henceforward the word Kartli began to denote the territory of All Kartli”.
The historical territory of Kartli, on account of its geographical location and position with respect to the Mtkvari River, used to be divided into upper, inner and lower Kartli. With the passage of time, however, the term Kartli took on a political focus, apart from a geographical meaning, and began to indicate All Kartli. From the 11th century onward, the name Sakartvelo, instead of Kartli, gained wide currency. Inner Kartli used to encompass the territory from the Likhi Range up to the Aragvi River and from the Kavkasioni Mountain up to the Trialeti Range. Lower Kartli denoted the area running from the Trialeti Range up to the Lore-Bambaki Range. Upper Kartli, i.e. Meskheti, started from Tashiskari and stretching southwest included the upper reaches of the Mtkvari River and the Chorokhi Valley.
Owing to its geographical location Inner Kartli was always at centre stage of political upheavals throughout the history of Georgia. To begin with, it provided a solid groundwork on which the powerful state of east Georgia was built. Later on, in the Middle Ages, it became a nucleus around which the process of Georgia's transformation into a unified feudal monarchy revolved.
Archaeological digs in Inner Kartli, throughout the Java district, brought to daylight the second-oldest dwellings in Georgia after those found in Dmanisi (Dmanisi is a town and archaeological site approximately 93 km southwest of Tbilisi), ascribed to the Acheulean and Mousterian periods of the Palaeolithic Era. Archaeologists also unearthed items typical of the Mtkvari-Araksi culture, as well as relics dating back to the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages. A great variety of bronze items, discovered throughout dwelling sites, burial mounds and as part of buried treasure, provides incontrovertible evidence of the advanced levels of bronze metallurgy. The name of one of Inner Kartli’s ancient towns - Sarkine (ironclad) - and metal ware found there point to the fact that iron metallurgy was also a flourishing industry in the prehistoric period.
Cattle-breeding, grain farming, fruit-growing, gardening, vine-growing since time immemorial and from the Middle Ages, silkworm breeding have been pursued in Inner Kartli as well as throughout the territory of Georgia. Vakhushti Bagrationi, an 18th century historian and geographer writes: “Of Kartlian wines that rank high among all wines of Georgia, Atenian is decidedly superior”.
King Pharnavaz reigning in the 4th - 3rd centuries BC is credited with unifying Georgia and embarking on reforms, including administrative. Having set up Duchies he incorporated the strategically most important province - Inner Kartli into the 9th Duchy and subjected it to his Spaspet - a feudal dignitary next in seniority to the king. Mtskheta, Georgia's ancient capital, was then situated on the territory of Inner Kartli.
The Silk Road connecting China with Europe ran across the Mtkvari River throughout the territory of Inner Kartli. The route providing a link between the North and the South via the Dariali Gorge also crossed this part of Georgia. The Dariali Gorge had an added importance for North Caucasian nomad tribes, giving them easy access to Georgia. According to Vakhushti Bagrationi, King Mirian in the 3rd century BC erected a fortress and hung a gate “to bar Khazars and Ossetians passage through Georgia without royal permission”. In the 5lh century AD, the Georgian King Vakhtang Gorgasali (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vakhtang_I_of_Iberia) “enslaved Ossetians and Kipchaks, hung a gate and designated Mtiuls as guards to watch Ossetians and Kipchaks and keep them locked out of the country unless decided otherwise by the King of Georgia”.
King Vakhtang Gorgasali undertook sweeping ecclesiastical reforms instituting the office of catholicos patriarch that led to recognition of autocephaly of the Georgian Church. Bishoprics of Samtavro, Samtavisi, Tsilkani, Urbnisi, Ruisi and Nikozi that were set up in Inner Kartli during the reign of Vakhtang Gorgasali were all located to the north of the Mtkvari River. Assyrian fathers, who came to Georgia in the 6th century, built a great number of monasteries in the eastern part of Georgia, reinvigorated Christian-centred teachings and faith in the Georgian highlands that seemed to ebb away, preached Christianity to North Caucasian peoples and subordinated them to the Georgian Church. Of the Assyrian fathers, loane Zedazneli, Shio Mghvimeli, Tate Stepantsmindeli, Piros Breteli, lese Tsilkneli, Isidore Samtavneli and Mikael Ulumboeli were based in Inner Kartli. Their laborious efforts led to the blossoming of monastic life in Georgia. A great many churches were built by their patronage, of which some have survived up to this day; others were replaced by new churches in later years.
During the reign of Davit Agmashenebeli (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_IV_of_Georgia ) and his successors (Demetre I, Giorgi III and Tamar https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamar_of_Georgia ) a considerable part of Inner Kartli served as a regal domain. Having thrown off the Mongol yoke that lasted for 100 years in the aftermath of Tamerlane’s eight destructive invasions that occurred in the 14th - 15th centuries, Georgia in the late 16th century broke up into separate political units, viz. into the kingdoms of Kartli, Kakheti, Imereti and the principality of Samtskhe-Saatabago. The kingdoms later fell into several Satavados (fiefdoms) with their own borders, fortresses, churches, monasteries and even armies.
The split-up of the Kartli Saeristavo (Duchy) within Inner Kartli spawned, in the 13th — 16th centuries, the duchies of Ksani and Aragvi and the fiefdoms of Satsitsiano, Saamilakhvro, Sajavakho, Samachablo and Samuxran-Batono. An additional number of fiefdoms that sprang up in the 18th century included Palavandishvilis, Pavlenishvilis, Davitashvilis, Amirejibis, Avalishvilis, Khidirbegishvilis, Diasamidzes, Shalikashvilis, Siamardishvilis, Taktakishvilis and Tarkhnishvilis.
The population in Inner Kartli has been Georgian since prehistoric times to which attest toponyms of Georgian origin, as well as toponymic evidence for which words should be attributed to Georgian, Zanian or Svanian branches of the Kartvelian language. In the middle of the 17m century, some of the Ossetian population from the North Caucasus began to inhabit the mountainous part of Inner Kartli and later moved to the lowland areas of the region. In 1833 a total of 19,324 Ossetians lived in Georgia. In 1850 Samachablo- one of the fiefdoms of Inner Kartli - was abolished due to severe class differences between local Ossetians and the Machabeli princely house. The Russian Senate passed a resolution to expropriate 2,000 households, mainly Ossetian families, from the Machabeli house for the public treasury.
In 1918-21, part of the Ossetian population in Inner Kartli revolted twice to achieve secession from Menshevik Georgia and incorporation into Soviet Russia. Both revolts were put down with the use of military force by the Georgian Government. On 20 April 1922, the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast (region) was created following the Russian invasion of Georgia in 1921. Apart from Ossetian-populated districts, the region came to comprise a large part of Racha and Shorapan to the west, a number of Dusheti Mazras (districts) to the east and 40 Georgian- inhabited villages and Tskhinvali with a population of over 20,000 Georgians and 1,100 Ossetians to the south. Written protests of ethnic Georgians trapped within the borders of the newly- created region fell on deaf ears.
Presently the territory of historical Inner Kartli carries 804 architectural monuments of Georgian culture, of which 316 are located in Akhalgori, 92 - in Znauri, 243 - in Tskhinvali (currently disputed region of Georgia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tskhinvali ) and 153 - in Java ( also occupied territory of Georgia) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Java_(town) .
By David Japaridze