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Formation of the first Georgian monarchy

Friday, September 3
David III Curopalates known as David III the Great (930-1001) was a Georgian prince of the Bagratid family of Tao/Tayk, a historic region in the Georgian–Armenian marshlands, from 966 until his murder in 1000. Curopalates was a Byzantine courtier title bestowed upon him in 978 and again in 990.

David is best known for his crucial assistance to the Byzantine Macedonian dynasty in the 976-979 civil war, together with his unique role in the political unification of various Georgian principalities as well as his patronage of Christian culture and learning. Between 987 and 989, David joined his friend Bardas Phocas in a revolt against the Byzantine emperor Basil II, but was defeated and agreed to cede his lands to the empire on his death.

David was the younger son of Adarnase V, a representative of the Second House of Tao, a branch of the Kartli line of the Georgian Bagrationi (Bagratid) dynasty which held sway over Tao (a province on the historic Georgian-Armenian border known to the Armenians as Tayk; now part of Turkey) since the extinction of the original Tao line in the 940s. He succeeded his brother, Bagrat II, as a duke of Tao in 966 and through his expansionist policy and flexible diplomacy began assembling a larger state. In order to enact his ambitious plans, David had to secure his independence from the Byzantine Empire which would reach its greatest height under the emperor Basil II (975-1025).

The Byzantines' eastern neighbors – the fragmented Armenian and Georgian monarchies – rarely threatened the empire directly, but were of particular interest to Constantinople as they controlled strategic international trade routes that ran through their domains. The Byzantines had already annexed the Armenian princedoms of Taron (966) and Manzikert (968) and posed a potential danger to the constellation of several Georgian Bagratid principalities known as Tao-Klarjeti. However, the integrity of the empire itself was under serious threat after a full-scale rebellion, led by Bardas Sklerus, broke out in the Asian provinces in 976. Following a series of successful battles the rebels jeopardized Constantinople. In the urgency of a situation, the young emperor Basil requested aid from David of Tao, who promptly responded and sent 12,000 first-rate cavalry troops under the command of Tornikios to reinforce the recently defeated loyal Byzantine general Bardas Phokas, thereby guaranteeing his victory at the Battle of Pankalia near Caesarea on 24 March 979.

David's reward was the lifetime ruler-ship of key imperial territories in eastern Anatolia known to contemporary Georgian sources as the "Upper Lands of Greece", consisting chiefly of northwestern Armenian lands: the city of Theodosiopolis or Karin (Georgian for Karnu-kalaki, which is present-day Erzurum, Turkey), Phasiane (Basiani), Hark, Apahunik, Mardali (Mardaghi), Khaldoyarich, and Chormayri. On this occasion, he was granted the high Byzantine courtier title of Curopalates. Basil II also rewarded David’s commander Tornikios’ valor by funding a Georgian Orthodox monastery on Mount Athos. Although now populated chiefly with Greek monks, it is to this day known as Iviron, "of the Iberians" (Georgians).

These formidable acquisitions made David the most influential ruler in the Caucasus, enabling him to interfere in and arbitrate dynastic disputes in both Georgia and Armenia. The medieval Georgian authors call him "greatest of all the kings of Tao" and the 11th-century Armenian chronicler Aristakes Lastivertsi describes him as a mighty man, a builder of the world, very honorable, a lover of the poor, indeed, the definition of peace.

Being in control of highly important commercial centres, his principality profited from taxing the major trading routes running through the southwestern Caucasus and eastern Anatolia. David invested these revenues in extensive building projects: constructing towns, forts and churches, and promoting Georgian monastic communities and cultural activities both in Georgia and abroad.

Yet he was able to secure for his heir, Bagrat III, the opportunity to become the first ruler of a unified Georgian kingdom. The first united Georgian monarchy was formed at the end of the 10th century when Curopalates David invaded the Earldom of Kartli-Iberia. Three years later, after the death of his uncle Theodosius the Blind, King of Egrisi-Abkhazia, Bagrat III inherited the Abkhazian throne. In 1001 Bagrat added Tao-Klarjeti (Curopalatinate of Iberia) to his domain. In 1008-1010, Bagrat annexed Kakheti and Ereti, thus becoming the first king of a united Georgia in both the east and west.