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Medieval Dmanisi


Dmanisi is a multilayer archaeological site with three main periods:  early Paleolithic, a Late Bronze-Early Iron Age settlement, and the medieval city. The latter, with rich archaeological, historical and architectural remains, will be the focus of this topic.

The fortified portion of the medieval city of Dmanisi covers 13 hectares and is located on a high, volcanic promontory at the confluence of the Mashavera and Pinezauri Rivers. The cemetery covers 25 hectares and is located on the slope of a mountain to the south of the citadel and fortifications.  One of the suburbs in the north-west part of the city is located in the Mashavera River ravine and consists of tens of rock-cut dwellings distributed in four lines on the terrace. Three public bath complexes have been discovered in the southeastern part of the city, which is now the modern village of Patara Dmanisi. Considering Dmanisi’s proximity to the ancient caravan route, caravanserais and other trade centers likely existed within the city’s surrounding area.

Although ruins are all that is left of the medieval city of Dmanisi, it is still possible to distinguish its main structures: 1) A fortification system, which includes the citadel, city walls and the gate, and a secret tunnel. 2) Different urban areas, with different religious and ethnic group, and production zones. 3) Suburbs, which include dwellings, a trade center, and both production and public places. 4) The cemetery and 5) the expanded economic district that includes the villages attached to the city. 

Previous archaeological excavations have confirmed the existence of an urban-type settlement in Dmanisi during the early medieval period (the 4th-10th centuries AD.). The formation of the city and the construction of the Dmanisi fortress both date to the 9th century AD. Dmanisi appears as a city in written sources around the same period, namely in Matiane Kartlisai (History of Georgia). During the first phase of its development (the city) (the 9th-11th centuries AD), the city belonged to the Arabs, followed by the Armenian kingdom of Tashir-Dzoraget, and then the Seljuk Turks. During the reign of David the Builder (1089-1125 AD), Dmanisi became a royal city of Georgian kings, who appointed an emir to run the city. In the second phase of the city (12th-14th centuries), Dmanisi became an important strategic location that was part of the Georgian kingdom’s border defense system. As a result of being involved in the united trade and economic system of the Georgian kingdom, Dmanisi reached the peak of its development during this period. Dmanisi had intensive trade interactions with the outer world, mainly because of its location on important trade crossroads.

The trading routes through the region of Kvemo Kartli, such as the so-called “Camel Road” or Tbilisi-Dvin-Tebriz caravan road and “Artanuji Road”, who also crossed the city of Medieval Dmanisi, connected countries of the North and the South, the East and the West. Cities located along these roads, Samshvilde and Dmanisi, experienced significant revivals. They developed into large centers of trade and skilled workers, as well as livestock production. Settlements were populated by multiethnic groups of various confessions. Archaeological studies confirm that these cities developed metallurgy and metalwork, glass-making, carpet weaving and the production of ceramics, bone articles, leather goods and locally processed foods.

According to the archaeological material, trade was one of the well-developed parts of Dmanisi’s economy. In addition to trade, production of glazed and unglazed ceramics, glass, metal, textiles, leather, and Linum (flax) oil were integral to Dmanisi’s livelihood. Dmanisi also had its own mint, where copper coins were produced. During the second phase of the development of the city, there was a growth in population and Dmanisi transitioned into an Eastern-Georgian multiethnic city, based on the emergence of Islamic graves, which had gravestones with both Arabic and Armenian inscriptions. Also, the erection of Armenian chapels and Islamic mosques and school (madrasa) alongside Georgian churches reflect major demographic changes in the city’s population.

The city was devastated by Tamerlane’s invasions at the end of the 14th century and from this time until the 18th century, Dmanisi is mentioned in written sources not as a city, but as a fortress with a little village-type settlement reconstructed by the Baratashvili feudal period family, which is confirmed by the 17th-century inscription on Kvevri (a large earthen vessel for storing wine) that mentions the Dmanisi central cathedral as a “village church”.

Archaeological investigations at the city of Dmanisi started in the 1930s, were re-launched in 1960s, and continue today. As a result, many of the artifacts and monuments have been restored and have proven to be important contributions to our knowledge of the history of Georgian medieval cities.


City Cemetery

As mentioned above, the cemetery at Dmanisi covers a vast territory (approximately 25 hectares) and adjacent to the city from the south side. On the lower level of this area, many graves dating from the Late Bronze to the Early Iron Age have been discovered. These graves are associated with a settlement from the same period that was discovered at the same stratigraphic level within the territory of the city. At the Dmanisi cemetery, there are also early medieval graves, which are from the period before the urbanization of Dmanisi. The portion of the cemetery connected to the high medieval period of Dmanisi is situated on several lines on the terraces. In the same area, there are also graves that belong to the late medieval period.

Based on the memorial monuments and the burial practices, the high medieval period portion of the cemetery consists of two parts – Christian and Muslim. The Christian tombs belonged to the Georgian and Armenian populations of Dmanisi.

The Islamic memorial monuments are typically flat, stele-shaped gravestones, often with triangular heads and carved inscriptions on the eastern face. These kinds of gravestones are sometimes set in specially cut sockets on rectangular form flat pedestals. Also present are sarcophagus-like horizontally lined stones with double-sided surfaces and prism-shaped projections that have four or five facets, which contain Arabic inscription on the southern and northern portions.

More than ten mausoleums are on the territory of the Dmanisi cemetery, all of which have domes that stand on a trumpet arch. The mausoleums themselves, however, have different overall structures. Some mausoleums are quadrangular, square-formed structures that are similar to the others, but with flattened corners on the exterior, while others are circular-shaped with six or eight facets. Within the mausoleums, the pit-graves are roofed with slabs that have triangular brick arches. Graves are oriented from east to west and the deceased are buried in the supine position, with the head to the west and the face turned towards the south (the muslims are buried so that they face Mecca, therefore south serves as the primary direction for the Dmanisi Muslim burials).  The hands of the deceased lay on the body with a hand put on the stomach or close to the chin.

 The bulk of the Christian graves in the Dmanisi cemetery, both Georgian and Armenian, consist of pit graves roofed with slabs, though there are also cist tombs. Those pit graves that are not lined with slabs would have been covered with logs instead, the traces of which are not visible today. The bodies are in the supine position with an east-west orientation where the head is to the west and the hands usually lay on the chest. These types of graves had stele made of flat, rounded, or quadrangular stones with differently decorated crosses and primarily without inscriptions.  The remaining graves are represented by a variation of different styles. Some horizontally lined gravestones shaped like sarcophagi with double-sided surfaces are present, with many having depictions of false arches along their sides, which represent the roof of a church. Occasionally, horizontally-oriented stones similar to the Muslim gravestones are set on a flat pedestal. Other gravestones are precisely carved stones in rectangular, oval, stele-like, or stone cross shapes, the latter of which sometimes resemble Armenian “Khachkars.”

Although the majority of medieval burials at Dmanisi do not contain grave goods, some grave goods are present (some of which are from the burials of children in both the Christian and Muslim sectors of the cemetery). The grave goods are mostly personal adornments, such as metal and glass bracelets, beads of different form and material, including agate, amber, sardonyx, glass, glazed ceramic, and silver, and earrings and rings iron, glass, and silver, along with other materials. Overall, pottery and household objects are quite rare among the grave goods.

Saint Tevdore, a single nave church, is located in the cemetery and is associated with Christian burial rites and the commemoration of the dead. Two other small hall churches were discovered in the cemetery and probably had the function of dynasty eukterions, where only members of one family were buried.

Three different studies date the gravestones with Georgian, Arabic and Armenian inscriptions to the 13th-14th centuries AD.

In medieval times in Dmanisi, as well as in other big cities and towns of eastern Georgia, the influence of different cultures, religions and traditions of various ethnic groups on each other is very obvious. All this is demonstrated in everyday life and material culture, while it is on the town’s cemetery where the merging of different traditions can be identified. The techniques to make tombstones, the materials used, and the likeness of arranging grave markers allow us to presume that memorial monuments for Dmanisian Christians (Georgians and Armenians), as well as for Muslims were often made by the same craftsmen, following the rules of corresponding religions. At the same time, there must have been properly educated inscribers of Georgian, Armenian and Arabic epitaphs too.

Our studies examines the cultural merging of these ethnic and religious groups within Dmanisi with respect to the material culture.  One example of this merging is found in the outward appearance of memorial monuments − tomb stones or buildings − at the burial sites of the representatives of Georgian and other ethnic and religious groups. These memorials often combine elements from the different ethnic and religious groups − a kind of cultural syncretism − which has not yet been found in other studied medieval Georgian cities.