The Rise and Fall of Lazica: A Kingdom Forged in Colchis

The story of Abkhazia is intricately linked to the rise and fall of the Lazic kingdom, a power that emerged from the ashes of Roman influence in Colchis. Let’s delve deeper into this fascinating chapter.

From Roman Control to Tribal Autonomy:

Around the 1st century BC, both Abkhazia and the wider Colchis region found themselves caught in the power struggles of the time. The ambitious king Mithridates VI Eupator of Pontus conquered the area between 110 and 63 BC. However, his reign was short-lived. The tide turned again when the Roman commander Pompey defeated Mithridates and brought Colchis under Roman control.

This Roman dominance, however, wouldn’t last forever. With the decline of the Roman Empire, a power vacuum emerged. The diverse tribes of Colchis, including the Abasgi (possible ancestors of the Abkhaz people), seized the opportunity to regain some autonomy. They nominated their own rulers, although Roman approval was still sought for legitimacy.

The Rise of Lazica: A New Power in Colchis

The 3rd century AD witnessed a significant shift in the regional dynamics. The Lazi tribe, a western Georgian people known for their seafaring prowess, rose to prominence in Colchis. They established a new kingdom, known as Lazica (locally called Egrisi), which came to dominate most of the region. This kingdom marked a new chapter in Colchian history, with the Lazoi (Laz) people taking center stage.

The historical record suggests that the Abasgoi chieftains, possibly early Abkhaz leaders, found themselves under the sway of the Lazic kings, according to the writings of Procopius. This suggests a hierarchical relationship, with the Lazic kings holding some degree of authority over the Abasgi.

A Stage for Superpower Rivalry: The Devastating Lazic War

Lazica’s strategic location on the Black Sea made it a pawn in the grand chess game between empires. The kingdom became a battleground in the protracted rivalry between the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire and the powerful Sassanid Persians. This culminated in the brutal Lazic War, a bloody conflict that raged from 542 to 562 AD.

The war had a devastating impact on Lazica. The kingdom’s power and influence waned significantly in the aftermath. However, the Abasgi people, dwelling in their strategically located forests, managed to carve out a degree of autonomy under the umbrella of the Byzantine Empire.

Beyond Conquest: The Byzantine Legacy in Abkhazia

While the Lazic kingdom declined, Byzantine influence grew in Abkhazia. The Byzantines, seeking to solidify their control in the region, constructed the fortified city of Sebastopolis. Interestingly, the Byzantines referred to Abkhazia as Abasgia, and it became a crucial source of eunuchs for their vast empire.

The arrival of Christianity also marked a significant change. Though the people largely remained pagan until the 6th century, a mission sent by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I (527-565 AD) successfully converted them. It’s worth noting that a bishop from the Abkhazian port city of Pityus had even attended the important 325 Council of Nicaea, suggesting a possible earlier exposure to Christianity.

Furthermore, the Byzantines constructed a network of defensive fortifications throughout Abkhazia. Some of these fortifications, like the imposing Kelasuri Wall, might have partially survived to this day, serving as a testament to the Byzantine presence in the region.

The story of Lazica and its impact on Abkhazia is a reminder of the complex interplay of power struggles, cultural exchange, and religious conversion that shaped the ancient world. The rise and fall of this kingdom left an indelible mark on the region, setting the stage for the emergence of the Abkhazian kingdom in the centuries to come.


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