Georgia is a transcontinental country in the Caucasus region, situated at the dividing line between Europe and Asia. Georgia is bordered by the Russian Federation to the north, Azerbaijan to the east, Armenia to the south, and Turkey to the southwest. It covers a territory of 69,700 km²; its population, excluding Abkhazia and South Ossetia (called the Tskhinvali region by Georgians), is 4.4 million, with nearly 84% ethnic Georgians.
The history of Georgia can be traced back to the ancient Kingdom of Colchis and Iberia, and it was one of the first countries to adopt Christianity as an official religion early in the 4th century. At the beginning of the 19th century Georgia became part of Russian Empire. After a brief period of independence following the Russian Revolution of 1917 Georgia was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1922.
Georgians call themselves Kartvelebi (ქართველები), their land Sakartvelo (საქართველო), and their language Kartuli (ქართული). According to legend, the ancestor of the was Kartlos, the great grandson of the Kartvelian peopleBiblical Japheth.
The native Georgian name for the country is Sakartvelo (საქართველო). The word consists of two parts. Its root, kartvel-i (ქართველ-ი), specifies an inhabitant of the core central-eastern Georgian region of Kartli – Iberia of the Classical and Byzantine sources. By the early 9th century, the meaning of "Kartli" was expanded to other areas of medieval Georgia held together by religion, culture, and language. The Georgian circumfix sa-X-o is a standard geographic construction designating "the area where X dwell", where X is an ethnonym. (For another example, the Mingrelian minority in Georgia lives in Samegrelo.) The term Sakartvelo came to signify the all-Georgian cultural and political unity early in the 11th century and firmly entered regular official usage in the 13th century.
Ancient Greeks (Strabo, Herodotus, Plutarch, Homer, etc.) and Romans (Titus Livius, Cornelius Tacitus, etc.) referred to early eastern Georgians as Iberians (Iberoi in some Greek sources) and western Georgians as Colchians.
The origin of the name Georgia is still disputed and has been explained in the following ways:
- Linking it semantically to Greek and Latin roots (Greek: γεωργία, transliterated geōrgía, "agriculture", γεωργός, geōrgós, "tiller of the land", and γεωργικός, geōrgikós, Latin: georgicus, "agricultural").
- The country took its name from that of Saint George, itself a derivative of the aforementioned Greek root. Or, at the very least, the popularity of the cult of Saint George in Georgia influenced the spread of the term.
- Under various Persian empires (536 BCE-CE 638), Georgians were called Gurjhān (Gurzhan/Gurjan), or "Gurj/Gurzh people." The early Islamic/Arabic sources spelled the name Kurz/Gurz and the country Gurjistan (see Baladhuri, Tabari, Jayhani, Istakhri, Ibn Hawqal, etc.). The contemporary Russian name for the country, "Gruziya," is similar. This also could evolve or at least contribute to the later name of Georgia.
The terms Georgia and Georgians appeared in Western Europe in numerous medieval annals including that of Crusaders and later in the official documents and letters of the Florentine de’Medici family. Jacques de Vitry and English traveler, Sir John Mandeville, stated that Georgians are called Georgian because they especially revere and worship Saint George. Notably, the country recently adopted the five-cross flag, featuring the Saint George's Cross; it has been argued that the flag was used in Georgia since the 5th century.
Modern Georgian states have used differing names in different periods. The first modern Georgian state proclaimed on May 26, 1918 adopted the name “Democratic Republic of Georgia”. As part of the USSR from February 25, 1921, the country was called the “Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic”. When Georgia broke from the USSR on December 25, 1991, it adopted the name “Republic of Georgia”. Since it adopted its present constitution on August 24, 1995, the official name of the country is simply “Georgia”.