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Caucasus before Roman conquests, 80-66 BC

Pompey's Georgian campaign (Georgian language: პომპეუსის ლაშქრობა საქართველოში ) took place in 65 BC and was a consequence of the Mithridatic Wars. Rome sought to expand its borders and establish itself as a Hegemon of the Middle East. After mostly subjugating the Kingdom of Pontus and the Kingdom of Armenia Romans turned to the Iberian Kingdom, whose king Artag was an ally of Pontus.

The Roman General Lucullus lead the campaigns from 74 BC to 66 BC, when the Roman Senate determined that he was going to be succeeded by Pompey. That same year Pompey effectively defeated the Armenians and Pontians, with their king Mithridates escaping to Colchis. After that the attention of Romans became increasingly focused on Iberia and Albania.

Pompey made preparations for the conquest of both the Iberian and Albanian kingdoms. Fearing the imminent invasion Artag turned to diplomacy and promised the Roman envoys unconditional friendship. Pompey accepted these terms but because he was alerted that the Iberians were secretly planning an attack, in the spring of 65 BC he immediately marched his forces to Iberia. Artag, unaware of this, was surprised by the Romans and learned this too late to react adequately.

Pompey's forces besieged the fortress of Armazi. Artag panicked, fled the castle and took shelter on the left bank of Mtkvari river. He also burned the bridge over the river to ensure that the Romans wouldn't capture him. Armazi fell and Pompey subjugated the right bank. Artag requested a truce, while promising the Romans that he would restore the bridge and supply them with food. Artag stayed true to his words but upon restoring the bridge, Pompey crossed it with his forces in attempt to seize the King.

Artag again fled with his forces, withdrew to the Aragvi River and burned a bridge in the same manner. Some of the Iberian militants hid in the woods and fought the Roman forces like Partisans, shooting down arrows from the trees, killing any passing Roman soldiers. Reportedly, a sizeable number of women also participated in this irregular warfare. They were defeated when Pompey's forces cut down some of the forest and then burned the rest to the ground.

Pompey pursued Artag into the centre of Iberia and brought him to battle near the river Pelorus. Artag's main strength lay in his archers, but, using tactics reminiscent of the Athenians at the Battle of Marathon, Pompey disabled them by means of a rapid infantry charge, which brought his legionaries to close quarters before the enemy fire could take effect. Greek historian Plutarch called this battle a great battle and noted that Iberian casualties consisted of approximately 9,000 people, while more than 10,000 were taken captive by the Romans.

The Iberians finally lost the war, and their king was forced to turn to diplomacy once more. He sent invaluable objects made of Gold to Pompey and asked for truce. Pompey demanded Artag's children as hostages and, as Artag was taking too much time to think it over, led his soldiers to Aragvi and crossed it so that he left Artag no choice. He submitted, gave his children as hostages and signed the peace with the Romans. Kingdom of Iberia was to be a friend and ally of the Roman Republic and accepted the terms of vassalage.

After subduing Iberia, Pompey headed towards the Kingdom of Colchis and subjugated the main fortresses and various local peoples on the way to both cunning diplomacy and the use of force. He met up with the Roman Fleet in Phasis and commanded them to capture Mithridates, while he returned to Rome. Pompey gave the rule of Colchis to Aristarches, effectively making it a Roman province, part of Bithynia et Pontus.


  • Georgian Soviet Encyclopedia, Vol. 8, pg. 156-157, Tb., 1984
  • Appian - History of the Mithridatic Wars

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