In 1096, Genoa, one of the small civic community in the Roman empire, achieved complete independence from empire, established republican regimen governed by the people-elected Dukes. This led to the establishment of so called “holy Republic of Genoa” which grew stronger and soon occupied large part along the Mediterranean coastline. Later on, during First crusade, Genoese conquered Antioch where they established the first colony. In 13-14th centuries, Genoese managed to overrule the most important competitors, Venecians, and further spread their strategic interests to the black see region.
The first Genoise colony on Crimean semi-island was founded on 1266. The colony was named Kaffa (now Feodosiya ). Soon Genoese expended their colonial power over entire Crimea and founded following colonies: Chembalo (now Balaklava),Soldaio(now Sudak ), Vosporo(Kerch). In 14th century Genoese fixed their eyes on northeastern parts of Black sea coast. Genoese Catholic bishop Bernardo Moro, from kaffa, quoted that " East coast of the Black Sea is in hands of the Christian people – Georgians- who are commanded by the King Bediano.... His fiefdom is rich of goods that are particularly in republican traders’s area of interest "- he quoted in his report that he sent to Dukes Ansambly.
|*1321.Pietro Vesconte's World Map.|
Genoese settled on the shores of the Black see by the permission of Byzantine Emperor. However Georgians (specifically the Duke Bediano(Dadiani) of Odishi Duke, as refered by bishop Moreno) were not Vassal of Constantinople. Therefore in the beginning it was harder to establish the first Genoese factories in the eastern Black Sea region. There are number of entries in the kafa Chronicles about conflicts between Genoese and Georgians. On the other hand, there is not much information about Genoese in Georgian sources. This is understandable because in 14th century Georgia was a strong kingdom and Europeans were trying to avoid any kind of contraversy). The Genoese prefered to reach the agreement by peaceful negotiations.
|1339. Angelino Dulcert. Biblioteca Nacional, París.|
There were two main reasons why David IX allowed Genoese to establish their settlements on the Georgian land. Georgia experience economic crisis at that time, being newly freed from the Mongol Empire; trade was actually dead and country was barely surviving on agriculture. At the same time, Genoa defeated Venetian fleet in 1354 and acquired almost unrestricted trading right over Black See in addition to its great overall influence in the Europe and East Asia. Consequently, it was advantageous for economically weakened Georgia to seek relationships with such a partner. In addition, Black Death (Plague) pandemics touched Georgia, as well, and there were skilled healers in the Genoan’s settlements in Georgia.
First of all, Genoese stationed in Tskhumi (Sebastopolis) created detailed maps of Black See Coastline, which have greatest importance today. Noteworthy, on those maps there is reflection of the homeland of modern “Apkhazian’s”(Apsuan people)– as territory around the Kuban and Zelenchuk with clearly written name of “Abzoe.” Moreover, on the map dated 1360, region north of Kodori is marked as “temporary location of mountain nomadic abaza tribes, from where they are moving toward lands of Avogazia,” of course meaning that Avogazia is Abkhazia and most of its population of that time was composed of Georgians.
In addition to Abkhazia, Genoese maps reflect other regions of Georgian coastline, including San Giorgio (modern Grioleti), Lo Vati (modern Batumi), Gonea (modern Gonio), or Lo Fasso (modern Foti). Interestingly, on the Genoise and other maps of that time illustrating eastern coastline of Black Sea, there are five cross flags and silvery icons of the palm of right hand depicted; later one is currently recognized as the official symbol of Apsua Separatists. However, these “Silvery Right Palms” on those maps are nothing else but Georgian king,s graphic logo that is also confirmed by the inscriptions on the Genoese maps saying: “lands of the Greatest King of Georgia.” Similar reference can be found on the maps dated 1314-1315, where “Silvery Right Palm” shows up over the regions of current Gagra, Gonio, and Sukhumi. This logo later on, in 1385, appears on the Portolane of Gilermo Soler[*c.1380. Guillem Soler.Biblioteca Nacional, París]to indicate Sukhumi as the residence of Dadiani. Consequently, “Silvery Right Palm ” is not Apsua but oldest Georgian symbol, which means ruler or sovereign. Logically, at that time, Gonio (Gonea), Gagra (Cacari), and Sukhumi (Sebastopolis) were considered as the sphere of influence ie domain of Georgian King.
|*c.1385. Guillem Soler.Biblioteca Nacional, París.|
In the mid of 14th century great battles took place between Genoese and Venetian fleets , and needless to say that these republics completely stopped any kind of relationships. As a result, the whole Europe and Levant experienced great economic turmoil and decline. It became vital to emerge intermediate able to negotiate between Venetian and Genoese merchants. Genoese as well as Venetian chronics indicate that opportunity was efficiently utilized by Georgians. For example, one of the trade pacts created in Constantinopol documents the Covenant that in 1360 Georgian George Megreli sold to Venetians Honey Candles made by Genoans in Sepastopolis (Ckhumi) in exchange to Venetian glass that he transported back to Sepastopolis. Genoan Chronics indicate that in Kafa’s bazaar Venetian weapons, being in enormous demand, were supplied only by Georgian traders; and, moreover, Georgians were buying it directly from Venetians.
By the beginning of 15th century Genoese had more than ten trade factories in the Abkhazia: Cacari – Gagra, Santa Sofia – near Bzib, Pezonda – Bichvinta, Cavo de Buxo – Bzebzy harbor, (modern Bzif), Nikofsa –New Atos, Sebastopolis – Tskhumi(Sukhumi), , Sant Angello – settlement close to River Enguri, Tamasa – Tamishi, Negapotamo – Enguri. That time local population did not maintain friendly and pieceful attitude toward settlers. In 1414, Catholic Episcope of Sepastopolis writes in his letter toward Rome Pope that in Lo Laiasso (modern Gantiadi) local peasants did not allow Genoese to choose place for cemetery and also interfered with service of Catholic Mass. Episcope refers to locals as Megrels that confirms absolute majority of Georgians living on those lands at that time.
|*1439. Gabriel Vallseca. Museo Marítimo, Barcelona.|
In 1465 Genoese made attempt to collect toll from Georgians who were trading in the Genoise Factories. This caused a great irritation of the sovereign of Odishi who invited North Caucasian Mountain tribes(Circassians) for help. They surrounded Sebastopolis and deprived city of the water supply. Escalated conflict draw attention of “San-Georgio” bank located in Kaffa that was main sponsor of Sebastopolis of that period. Consulate in Sebastopolis was instructed to avoid confrontation by any means, and later on “Protectors” were sent by Genoese Counsel of Doke's to (Mtavari) of Odishi “Bediano” (this was the nick name in Genoan chronics for the Liparit I Dadiani). Protectors were asking Bediano to remove ambush and instead promised official declaration that Genoans would never request toll from the Georgians for the trade in Sebastopolis. Both sides were interested in the close relationships but tension did not subside so easily. In 1470 Genoans sent special ambassador to the Odishi who had to solve problems with lands of Sebastopolis factory. Problem was raised following Odishi Duke Shamadavle’s (Samson Saula Dadiani) taking away agricultural territories from Genoese declaring that agriculture was not the business of merchants. Although, Genoese settlers and traders had to have some land for cultivation of vegetables and easily spoiling greens that was impossible to ship from Kaffa. As expected, problem finally was resolved as Genoese ambassador and Shamadavle Dadiani achieved agreement on giving rights of utilization of lands in exchange to unrestricted and free of toll trading right of Georgian merchants over their territory. Dadiani was excited of this deal that doubled his profit. Later on, in 1473 Doges council appointed Christeforo De Canevale to govern Sepastopol. He managed to build warm relationships with Dadiani and no other problems emerged thereof.
Hard time started for Genoaese Colonies on Black See coastline in 70ths of 15th century. Osmans grew strong in the region and reminded to Genoese the old offence, particularly alliance with Byzantine in 1453 during siege of Constantinople. This was simply motive but real reason laid in Osmals new role acquisition in Black Sea region that Osmals already considered as their area of influence. Osmals believed that Genoans had nothing left to do on east coast of Black Sea, attitude that surprised Doges. However, Genoese Doke's pragmatic reasoning lead to call back to Genoa of all consulates of Genoan factories; quickly was abandoned Sebastopolis too, about which Genoan Chronics contains Don Cristeforo De Canavale’s letter to Doge council saying that: “ we report to Noble Doke's that Mengrelia(Duke Shamadavle Dadiani) is main opponent of handing Region of Sepastopolis factory to Osmals. Noteworthy is Megrelian Sovereign claim that those lands historically from unknown times (Da tempo immemorabile) belongs to his ancestors and Osmals have nothing to do there.” At the end, Sebastopolis factory was occupied by the troops of Shamadavle Dadiani that left Osmals furious, so that they excelled Genoese even from Constantinople and closed Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits to Genoese ships for ever.
|*1511. Salvat de Pilestrina. Biblioteca Nacional de Paris|
In conclusion, Genoese trade colonies in Black Sea coastline subsisted for 121 years and played indispensable role in the establishment of close relationships between Georgia and Western Europe. However, it is important to mention that their colonial influence was not so strong to overrule Georgian governing forces of that time and region. In spite of that, Genoan Chronics contain the greatest number of notes about Georgia and this is not surprising as Georgia of 14th – 15th centuries was considered as a substantial power in the medieval world and Europeans had special interest in the good relationships with Georgians.