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Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, Georgia is a country of rainforests and swamps, snow and glaciers, and semi-arid plains. It has ski resorts and mineral springs, monuments and an oil pipeline. It also has one of the longest and most turbulent histories in the Christian or Near Eastern world, but no comprehensive, up-to-date account has been wri Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, Georgia is a country of rainforests and swamps, snow and glaciers, and semi-arid plains. It has ski resorts and mineral springs, monuments and an oil pipeline. It also has one of the longest and most turbulent histories in the Christian or Near Eastern world, but no comprehensive, up-to-date account has been written about this little-known country—until now. Remedying this omission, Donald Rayfield accesses a mass of new material from recently opened archives to tell Georgia’s absorbing story. Beginning with the first intimations of the existence of Georgians in ancient Anatolia and ending with the volatile presidency of Mikheil Saakashvili, Rayfield deals with the country’s internal politics and swings between disintegration and unity, and divulges Georgia’s complex struggles with the empires that have tried to control, fragment, or even destroy it. He describes the country’s conflicts with Xenophon’s Greeks, Arabs, invading Turks, the Crusades, Genghis Khan, the Persian Empire, the Russian Empire, and Soviet totalitarianism. A wide-ranging examination of this small but colorful country, its dramatic state-building, and its tragic political mistakes, Edge of Empires draws our eyes to this often overlooked nation.


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Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, Georgia is a country of rainforests and swamps, snow and glaciers, and semi-arid plains. It has ski resorts and mineral springs, monuments and an oil pipeline. It also has one of the longest and most turbulent histories in the Christian or Near Eastern world, but no comprehensive, up-to-date account has been wri Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, Georgia is a country of rainforests and swamps, snow and glaciers, and semi-arid plains. It has ski resorts and mineral springs, monuments and an oil pipeline. It also has one of the longest and most turbulent histories in the Christian or Near Eastern world, but no comprehensive, up-to-date account has been written about this little-known country—until now. Remedying this omission, Donald Rayfield accesses a mass of new material from recently opened archives to tell Georgia’s absorbing story. Beginning with the first intimations of the existence of Georgians in ancient Anatolia and ending with the volatile presidency of Mikheil Saakashvili, Rayfield deals with the country’s internal politics and swings between disintegration and unity, and divulges Georgia’s complex struggles with the empires that have tried to control, fragment, or even destroy it. He describes the country’s conflicts with Xenophon’s Greeks, Arabs, invading Turks, the Crusades, Genghis Khan, the Persian Empire, the Russian Empire, and Soviet totalitarianism. A wide-ranging examination of this small but colorful country, its dramatic state-building, and its tragic political mistakes, Edge of Empires draws our eyes to this often overlooked nation.

30 review for Edge of Empires: A History of Georgia

  1. 5 out of 5

    Katia N

    Georgia is a small country with extremely eventful and long history. "Approached from its Black Sea side, Georgia was regarded by Greeks and Romans as ‘the ends of all the earth.’ Within it Prometheus had been chained to the flanks of Mt Kazbek, Jason found his Golden Fleece beside the mountain rivers of Svaneti in the Western Caucasus; and Medea, of the great Euripidean tragedy, reputedly lived with her father, King Aeetes, in her Colchis home (today the Western Georgian area of Mingrelia). Mos Georgia is a small country with extremely eventful and long history. "Approached from its Black Sea side, Georgia was regarded by Greeks and Romans as ‘the ends of all the earth.’ Within it Prometheus had been chained to the flanks of Mt Kazbek, Jason found his Golden Fleece beside the mountain rivers of Svaneti in the Western Caucasus; and Medea, of the great Euripidean tragedy, reputedly lived with her father, King Aeetes, in her Colchis home (today the Western Georgian area of Mingrelia). Most of these myths even today find many hints of authentication. Perhaps the most striking is the ongoing evidence of panning for gold through staked-out sheeps’ hides in the lower Svaneti district — hence the ethnographic link with a ‘Golden Fleece.’" says Peter Nysmith in his bookGeorgia: In the Mountains of Poetry. It was the one of the first countries which adopted Christianity in 337 AD. But the geography was, to some extent a destiny of this small nation of the South Caucuses. For centuries it has been stuck between 3 empires - Persia (later Iran), Ottoman (conquered Byzantine in 1453) and later - Russian empire. The Russians formally colonised Georgia in the beginning of the 19th century. I always wanted to visit this place and to know more about it. Unfortunately, I have not managed to go there yet though i knew a few Georgians since my university days. And when I've read and enjoyed The Eighth Life, I thought it is the time to know more about this land. Unfortunately, there is not much written in English or even in Russian which would give one the initial historical overview of the country. This book seems to be the only easily available source. I would not say I did not struggle reading it. It is written in this telegraph style when a paragraph contains huge amount of information and the names packed tightly. To some extent, it is understandable, but i was reading it as penetrating through the jungle. Also I found at least one mistake. And I am far from being specialist. The Khazars, powerful nearby state in the 8th century, have converted into Judaism, not Islam, as the book points out. It has become better as the centuries progressed. I think the author is more interested in the modern period and it shows. But what a fascinating history and sophisticated culture these people possess. And it is amazing they've managed to keep it through huge amount of disasters and calamities. I just make a few points out this book which I want to investigate further: 1) Golden age and Queen Tamar. They've had a female Queen as early as 1178. Her reign was the pinacle of Georgian prosperity and military power. Rustaveli in his epic The Man in the Panther's Skin reflects on her coronation "a lion cub is just as good, whether male or female". Maybe not very progressive view on a class, but certainly quite advanced female rights perspective:-) Initially she married a good for nothing Russian nobel for political reasons. But that was not satisfactory. Contemporary chronicle was not very flattering: "the Russian when drunk showed his Scythian habits... utterly debauched and utterly depraved he even went for sodomitic behaviour". So she kicked him out and married a proper Ossetian prince. They were very happy together. He fought wars. She governed. Later, in 1201 a certain Seljuk khan challenged her by declaring "every woman is feeble-minded" and offered her to become his concubine or worse. She replied with grace : "You rely on gold and numerous warriors, I ... on God power". And the Georgians totally destroyed him eventually taking the booty containing the Arabic treatise on Galenic medicine "Book of doctors" which was used for centuries since then. 2) Russia-Iran-Georgia in the end of 18th beginning of 19th. Apparently Catherine the Great waited for the Persians to attack and totally destroy Tbilisi in the late 18th century before providing the promised help. Later it would become very easy to colonise the weakened country. Rayfield points out that the similar tactics was used by Stalin 150 years earlier while the Russians let Hitler troops to suppress the Polish uprising in 1945 "making it more easy to annexe the protracted country". 3) The role of Beria, the Stalin's henchman, evil figure who presided over the purges after 1937. He was sociopath and the rapist as a hobby. He also governed very successful development of the Atomic bomb. But apparently he protected Georgia and the Georgians and when Stalin died he reversed his decision to send the Georgians to Siberia was the alleged cooperation with the Germans during the war. 4) Pro-Stalin appraisal in 1956. I did not know at all, that when Khrushchev came to power and revealed some extent of Stalin's crimes, the Georgian students and youth did not believe it, continue to idolise Stalin and staged protests and demonstration which drown more than 10,000 people in Tbilisi, many from out of town. They tried to seize the main telegraph and radio stations, but were of course brutally suppressed by the military. At least 21 people were gunned down and murdered. I knew of course about the support Stalin has had and still has. But I did not know that the young people did something antigovernment inspired by him. I am not even going to talk about the history of the last 30 years. Now I am intrigued even more than before reading this book. The challenge is to find something well written in a language I know.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ryan McCarthy

    he goal of telling the history of Georgia inherently presents a huge challenge to any historian- it is not only long, but owing to the fragmented character of the country, and the frequent invasions and infighting, extremely tumultuous, complicated, and confusing. The sheer violence of Georgian history makes it seem a miracle that the Georgian people are still around. It is not impossible to tell their story, but it does need to be told with a level of care, patience, and attention to detail tha he goal of telling the history of Georgia inherently presents a huge challenge to any historian- it is not only long, but owing to the fragmented character of the country, and the frequent invasions and infighting, extremely tumultuous, complicated, and confusing. The sheer violence of Georgian history makes it seem a miracle that the Georgian people are still around. It is not impossible to tell their story, but it does need to be told with a level of care, patience, and attention to detail that Donald Rayfield does not display here. I am honestly amazed to see all the glowing reviews of this book- I have soldiered through many a tedious book but this is quite possibly the most tedious history I've endured. To put it briefly, the book often reads like Rayfield did little more than throw all of his notes together between two covers. In fact, in some places, I am certain that this is exactly what he did, since there is at least one part where he forgot to convert the notes into complete sentences. In Chapter 2, in the middle of a paragraph about a King Rev, the following text appears: "Family connections- Rev may be a son of King Vologas II of Armenia, and thus have established the Arsacid dynasty in Iberia; he married a Greek princess named Sephelia- kept Iberia out of the war." Clearly, the book was rushed and little attempt was made to make it interesting reading. The early chapters are especially bad- a bewildering succession of kings and wars is trotted out with all the excitement of the list of "begats" at the beginning of St. Matthew's gospel. At first I assumed Rayfield was doing this because of the scantiness of solid historical sources for this period, but his narration of later eras improves little. What emerges as a dominant flaw throughout the book is a lack of color- interesting anecdotes are few and are given little to no context. Rayfield tantalizes the reader with scattered, brief quotes from primary sources and then disappoints him by providing nothing further. Even highly important figures such as Queen Tamar, Davit the Builder, Erekle II, Beria, or Stalin are portrayed with distressing faintness. Developments in Georgian culture are barely alluded to. Illustrations and pictures of the various people, places, and artifacts described are also scanty and a sense of human interest is largely absent. What was life like in Georgia in any of the periods Rayfield describes? A reader of this book will come away with nothing more specific than "pretty damn rough." If the reader were not already somewhat familiar with Georgian culture, he would have no idea from this book what makes Georgian culture and history so fascinating, or what would animate someone to write (or read) a book about it. Rayfield says surprisingly little about the Georgian Orthodox Church, considering its immense importance in Georgian political and cultural life. Some major developments, such as the acceptance of the council of Chalcedon, are barely mentioned. Or later, when, say, a Catholicos shows openness toward entering communion with Rome, the book gives no insight as to what would lead to such a monumental shift or how others in the Church perceived or discussed it. Some details the book simply gets wrong, such as describing the Church as initially a dependency of Constantinople (it was actually under Antioch). Reflecting an inappropriate Latin mindset, Rayfield describes the liturgy as "Mass" and the Orthodox monks as "Basilian." When Russia annexes Georgia, Rayfield tell us that the Sioni Cathedral was made to say prayers in "Russian"- actually, it would have been Church Slavonic; not even Russian churches pray in Russian. He wrongly identifies St. Grigol Peradze, who died in Auschwitz in place of a Jewish prisoner, as a Catholic priest- he was Orthodox. Discussing the various ethnic and cultural groups in and around Georgia (e.g. Abkhaz, Lezgi, Khevsurs) is another extremely weak point of the book. If someone is reading Edge of Empires to learn about Georgian history, it can be reasonably assumed that he doesn't know much about these other groups as well, but Rayfield gives them little or no introduction and provides no clue as to how these groups differ culturally, linguistically, or politically from Georgians. Even Georgian sub-groups like Svans or Tush are given short shrift- one gets little sense of the rugged and fierce reputation Svans enjoy in Georgian culture. What distinguishes Ajaria from other Georgian cultures? I have no idea after reading this book Perhaps most relevantly to current events, Rayfield says pretty much nothing after the early chapters (and not much there either) about the development of the Abkhaz culture and Abkhaz identity, and its important differences from Georgian culture. On the very remote chance that Donald Rayfield cares what Goodreads reviewers say, some suggestions for a revised edition: 1. The fractious nature of Georgian history requires a lot of jumping around from one region to another- chapter subdivisions would have been helpful, along with some bolder narrative threads to keep everything together. 2. Expand on everything. I mean everything. Especially the medieval parts. If it means splitting the book into several volumes, that may be what is necessary. Provide more anecdotes, quotes from primary sources, and lots of pictures. 3. Add a who's-who appendix, with brief biographies of all the important or semi-important actors. 4. Get a collaborator or two. Such a complicated and monumental task as presenting a comprehensive history of Georgia needs all the help it can get. As it stands, the only real advantage this book enjoys is being the first one in English to tackle the complete history of Georgia. Hopefully, either it will be substantively improved in later editions, or someone else will publish a better one.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Torsten

    ცხადია, უცხოელის მიერ დანახული ისტორია არ ნიშნავს ავტომატურად მის ობიექტურობას (თუკი საერთოდ შეიძლება რომ ობიექტური ისტორიის ცნება არსებობდეს), მაგრამ ავტომატურად მის საინტერესოობას ნამდვილად ნიშნავს, ყოველ შემთხვევაში ჩემთვის ასეა. ისტორიკოსი არ ვარ და ცალკეულ დეტალებს ვერ ჩავუღრმავდები, თუ რამდენად მართებულია და ა.შ. ბუნებრივია, ქვეყნის ისტორია უძველესი წარსულიდან უახლოეს დრომდე, 2018 წლამდე, ჩატეული ერთ ტომში, უკვე ნიშნავს გარკვეულ ხარვეზებსა და ნაკლს. ეს ფორმატის საკითხია. სხვა მხრივ, თხრობ ცხადია, უცხოელის მიერ დანახული ისტორია არ ნიშნავს ავტომატურად მის ობიექტურობას (თუკი საერთოდ შეიძლება რომ ობიექტური ისტორიის ცნება არსებობდეს), მაგრამ ავტომატურად მის საინტერესოობას ნამდვილად ნიშნავს, ყოველ შემთხვევაში ჩემთვის ასეა. ისტორიკოსი არ ვარ და ცალკეულ დეტალებს ვერ ჩავუღრმავდები, თუ რამდენად მართებულია და ა.შ. ბუნებრივია, ქვეყნის ისტორია უძველესი წარსულიდან უახლოეს დრომდე, 2018 წლამდე, ჩატეული ერთ ტომში, უკვე ნიშნავს გარკვეულ ხარვეზებსა და ნაკლს. ეს ფორმატის საკითხია. სხვა მხრივ, თხრობა ეპოქების მიხედვით მეტ-ნაკლებად საინტერესოა. განსაკუთრებით, ახალი და უახლესი დრო ჩვენი ისტორიისა. ხშირად მითქვამს და ამ წიგნმა კიდევ ერთხელ განმიმტკიცა ეს აზრი - ჩვენ გვაქვს ისტერიული ისტორია და ისტორიული ისტერია. მოკლედ, ყველაფერს რომ თავი დავანებოთ, თუნდაც ზოგიერთი მოვლენის ჩემთვის საკამათო შეფასებას, რეიფილდისთვის მადლობის მეტი არაფერი გვეთქმის ინგლისურენოვანი და რუსულენოვანი მკითხველისათვის ამ წიგნის დაწერის გამო.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Moira Downey

    There isn't currently much scholarship on Georgia, which makes sense given what appears to be a relatively scant historical record and the comparatively short time it has spent as a unified nation state. This is 400 pages covering a little over 2000 years of history (the last 100 pages of which are devoted to the 20th century), so to say Rayfield is presenting an overview would be understatement. With the exception of his coverage of Georgia's medieval golden age and the late 19th/20th century, There isn't currently much scholarship on Georgia, which makes sense given what appears to be a relatively scant historical record and the comparatively short time it has spent as a unified nation state. This is 400 pages covering a little over 2000 years of history (the last 100 pages of which are devoted to the 20th century), so to say Rayfield is presenting an overview would be understatement. With the exception of his coverage of Georgia's medieval golden age and the late 19th/20th century, it's a bit of a slog; names and places pop up and disappear again after a single mention in a seemingly endless parade of retributive castrations, eye-gougings (sometimes both!), and defenestrations. That said, the notion of the Caucasus as a thoroughfare for cultural contact among the various titular empires (Russian, Ottoman, Iranian, etc.) by which it is surrounded is well-developed here. Additionally, after an entire undergraduate career spent reading about the nationalities issue facing the tsarist and Soviet empires from the Russian point of view, it was fascinating to get a glimpse of the other side of the story. I was similarly excited to see the topic of my senior thesis pop up in a cameo role, as the Soviet use of psychiatric treatment as a punitive measure apparently extended also to the USSR's satellite states during the 60s and 70s. I do wish he had been able to spend a little more time investigating the inter-ethnic violence into which the Caucasus descending during the Soviet Union's dissolution; this isn't usually discussed in any detail in accounts of the Soviet collapse focused on Russia.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Artyom

    An important but deeply flawed writing. There is much useful information, but the writing style is deeply off-putting. Reads like a massive information dump than a proper book of history. The first 10 chapters were like navigating a dark maze with a lighted match, having to constantly re-light said match. After ch. 10 it gets better if only slightly.Certainly Georgian history deserves better treatment. Another problem is the ever-changing orthography of the names of various historical characters An important but deeply flawed writing. There is much useful information, but the writing style is deeply off-putting. Reads like a massive information dump than a proper book of history. The first 10 chapters were like navigating a dark maze with a lighted match, having to constantly re-light said match. After ch. 10 it gets better if only slightly.Certainly Georgian history deserves better treatment. Another problem is the ever-changing orthography of the names of various historical characters. Uniformity be damned.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tim Robinson

    A blow-by-blow history, lacking any structure or high level view that would make sense of it. Of course, it is not the author's fault that Georgian history is one of constant civil war, invasion by empires to the east and west and plunder by hordes of nomads from the north. A blow-by-blow history, lacking any structure or high level view that would make sense of it. Of course, it is not the author's fault that Georgian history is one of constant civil war, invasion by empires to the east and west and plunder by hordes of nomads from the north.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    The first half of the book, going from ancient times until the Russian occupation at the start of the nineteenth century, is a real rough read, and the reason I took so long to finish the book. Rayfield, easily one of the foremost English historians on Georgia, effectively just lists off kings and battles. It seriously at times simply goes "this king began his reign this year, and married this wife, had these children, and fought these battles. He died this year, and then this king came along." The first half of the book, going from ancient times until the Russian occupation at the start of the nineteenth century, is a real rough read, and the reason I took so long to finish the book. Rayfield, easily one of the foremost English historians on Georgia, effectively just lists off kings and battles. It seriously at times simply goes "this king began his reign this year, and married this wife, had these children, and fought these battles. He died this year, and then this king came along." For nearly 200 pages it goes on like that, real dry reading, the type of thing you'd expect from early medieval chronicles or something of the sort. However this is partially redeemed in the second half. The writing definitely improves, and there is more to it than listing off rulers, though that still plays a prominent part until the (temporary) end of Russian rule (1918-21). This section provided a lot of information and details, though he is somewhat critical of the Georgians as a whole at times, suggesting that because Mein Kampf and The Prince are best sellers in 2010 or so means they lack political sophistication. To try and paint an entire country of 4 million like that is near impossible to do, and not something that should have been included. The book also lacks on the sourcing, and maps. Now, granted I can understand if the publishers wanted to limit the endnotes/bibliography, but its quite pitiful, there only being a handful of sources listed, and few endnotes to consult. As for the maps, they were real small and hard to properly consult, which was a shame considering the volatile nature of the region throughout history. Better maps would definitely help people trying to read the book to try to understand where things were happening, and not have cities/landmarks printed in microscopic type.

  8. 4 out of 5

    James Salvatore

    A difficult book to review. I honestly appreciate the scope, as I don't know of any other English book which attempts to encompass all of Georgian history in comparable detail; yet it may be the most simultaneously dense and rushed I've read. You could take any chapter at random and double its length, giving far greater context (regional, cultural) and analysis. Even in later chapters in which the historical narrative is clearer and Rayfield has more sources to draw from, the book doesn't go muc A difficult book to review. I honestly appreciate the scope, as I don't know of any other English book which attempts to encompass all of Georgian history in comparable detail; yet it may be the most simultaneously dense and rushed I've read. You could take any chapter at random and double its length, giving far greater context (regional, cultural) and analysis. Even in later chapters in which the historical narrative is clearer and Rayfield has more sources to draw from, the book doesn't go much beyond than presenting a sequence of chronological successions (and not always so adroitly given frequent parallel timelines of Georgia's divided kingdoms). The paucity of analysis is particularly noticeable in chapters on modern history, but at least there are other books dealing with this time period. I would have been much happier with a book of the same length (or longer), ending with the Russian conquest of Georgia.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nickolai

    Серьезный, обстоятельный научный труд по истории Грузии. Читать легко и очень интересно. Поражаешься, сколько же всего выпало на долю грузинского народа за тысячелетия его существования. По прочтении сразу же хочется съездить в Грузию, чтобы своими глазами увидеть те места, где протекали основные события в истории страны.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Irina Kobernik

    Out of words. Long history showered with blood.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    Endless parade of kingdoms and empires, wars and intrigues. Rarely a country and things today are not so different. Exhausting and a bit sad.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jean Harlow

    The first book I’ve ever truly regretted buying. Practically unreadable. Great research. Terrible writer.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Лада Бакал

    Вдумчивая книга по истории Грузии, непривычная огласовка имен.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Natia Morbedadze

    https://kejeradze.wordpress.com/2019/... https://kejeradze.wordpress.com/2019/...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sippy

    Pretty good, it covered a huge time period in what was a relatively, to the time period covered, small book. Unfortunately this seems to me to have made certain parts seem rushed and under explained. At times it was simply "king X begot king XII". For me the most interesting part was after WW1, perhaps a more suitable book for me would have been 20th century history or something. But as the title suggests it is fascinating how this small country has interacted with its 3 huge empire neighbours, Pretty good, it covered a huge time period in what was a relatively, to the time period covered, small book. Unfortunately this seems to me to have made certain parts seem rushed and under explained. At times it was simply "king X begot king XII". For me the most interesting part was after WW1, perhaps a more suitable book for me would have been 20th century history or something. But as the title suggests it is fascinating how this small country has interacted with its 3 huge empire neighbours, Russia (USSR), Ottoman and Persian. A good introduction, but wasn't really able to get into a lot of detail about specific periods/ events.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas Lecchi

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nightwitch

  18. 5 out of 5

    Hutton

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rune Norheim

  20. 4 out of 5

    Anna Rodionova

  21. 4 out of 5

    1085reader

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rosemary Gillian Gold

  23. 4 out of 5

    Fred James

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tom

  25. 4 out of 5

    Myrthe

  26. 5 out of 5

    David Dalakishvili

  27. 5 out of 5

    Keith

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nika Kapanadze

  29. 4 out of 5

    Colin Martin

  30. 5 out of 5

    Joriel Van der Auwera

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