Southern Caucasia

David IV of Georgia

David IV, also known as David II or David III, or David the Builder (Georgian: დავით აღმაშენებელი, Davit Aghmashenebeli) (1073 – January 24, 1125), from the House of Bagrationi, was King of Georgia from 1089 to 1125.

Popularly considered as the greatest Georgian king and the most successful Georgian ruler, he succeeded in driving the Seljuk Turks out of the country winning the major Battle of Didgori in 1121. His reforms of the army and administration enabled him to reunite the country and bring most Caucasian lands under Georgia’s control. A friend of the church and a notable promoter of Christian culture, he was canonized by the Georgian Orthodox Church.

Early life

The only son of King George II (1072–1089) by his wife Helena, he was born in Kutaisi, western Georgia in 1073. David was raised during one of the darkest chapters of Georgian history, amidst the strife of the so-called Great Turkish Onslaught (didi turkoba) when the Seljuk tribes began massive migrations to the southern Caucasus. King Giorgi II was unable to cope with the problem, and in a bloodless coup in 1089, he was forced to resign in favor of his 16-years-old son.

David's revival of the Georgian State

Despite his age, he was actively involved in Georgia’s political life. Backed by his tutor and an infuential churchman George of Chqondidi, David IV pursued a purposeful policy, taking no unconsidered step. He was determined to bring order to the land, bridle the unsubmissive secular and ecclesiastic feudal lords, centralize the state administration, form a new type of army that would stand up better to the Seljuk Turkish military organization, and then go over to a methodical offensive with the aim of expelling the Seljuks first from Georgia and then from the whole Caucasus. Between 1089–1100, King David organized small detachments of his loyal troops to restore order and destroy isolated enemy troops. He began the resettlement of devastated regions and helped to revive major cities. Encouraged by his success, but more importantly the beginning of the Crusades in Palestine, he ceased payment of the annual contribution to the Seljuks and put an end to their seasonal migration to Georgia. In 1101, King David captured the fortress of Zedazeni, a strategic point in his struggle for Kakheti and Hereti, and within the next three years he liberated most of eastern Georgia.

In 1093, he arrested the powerful feudal lord Liparit Baghvashi, a long-time enemy of the Georgian crown, and expelled him from Georgia (1094). After the death of Liparit’s son Rati, David abolished their duchy of Kldekari in 1103.

He slowly pushed the Seljuk Turks out of the country, recovering more and more land from them as they were now forced to focus not only on the Georgians but the newly begun Crusades in the eastern Mediterranean . By 1099 David IV's power was considerable enough that he was able to refuse paying tribute to the Turks. By that time, he also rejected a Byzantine title of panhypersebastos thus indicating that Georgia would deal with the Byzantine Empire only on a parity basis. In 1103 a major ecclesiastical congress known as the Ruis-Urbnisi Synod was held at the monasteries of Ruisi and Urbnisi. David succeeded in removing oppositionist bishops, and combined two offices: courtier’s (Mtzignobartukhutsesi, i.e. Chief Secretary) and clerical (Bishop of Tchqondidi) into a single institution of Tchqondidel-Mtzignobartukhutsesi corresponding roughly to the post of prime minister.

Next year, David’s supporters in the eastern Georgian province of Kakheti captured the local king Aghsartan II (1102–1104), a loyal tributary of the Seljuk Sultan, and reunited the area with the rest Georgia.

Military campaigns

Following the annexation of Kakheti, in 1105, David routed a Seljuk punitive force at the Battle of Ertzukhi, leading to momentum that helped him to secure the key fortresses of Samshvilde, Rustavi, Gishi, and Lorri between 1110 and 1118.

Problems began to crop up for David now. His population, having been at war for the better part of twenty years, needed to be allowed to become productive again. Also, his nobles were still making problems for him, along with the city of Tbilisi which still could not be liberated from Arab grasp. Again David was forced to solve these problems before he could continue the reclamation of his nation and people. For this purpose, David IV radically reformed his military. He resettled a Kipchak tribe of 40,000 families from the Northern Caucasus in Georgia in 1118–1120. Every family was obliged to provide one soldier with a horse and weapons. This 40,000 strong Kipchak-army was entirely dependent on the King. Kipchaks were settled in different regions of Georgia. Some were settled in Inner Kartli province, others were given lands along the border. They were quickly assimilated into Georgian society.

In 1120 David IV moved to western Georgia and, when the Turks began pillaging Georgian lands, he suddenly attacked them. Only an insignificant Seljuk force escaped. King David then entered the neighbouring Shirvan and took the town of Qabala.

In the winter of 1120–1121 the Georgian troops successfully attacked the Seljuk settlements on the eastern and southwestern approaches to the Transcaucasus.

Muslim powers became increasingly concerned about the rapid rise of a Christian state in southern Caucasia. In 1121, Sultan Mahmud b. Muhammad (1118–1131) declared a holy war on Georgia and rallied a large coalition of Muslim states led by the Artuqid Najm al-din El-ğazi and Toğrul b. Muhammad. The size of the Muslim army is still a matter of debate with numbers ranging from fantastic 600,000 men (Walter the Chancellor’s Bella Antiochena, Matthew of Edessa) to 400,000 (Smbat Sparapet’s Chronicle) to modern Georgian estimates of 250,000–400,000 men. Although all these numbers are exaggerated, all sources agree that the Muslim powers gathered an army that was much larger than the Georgian force of 56,000 men. However, August 12, 1121, King David routed the enemy army on the fields of Didgori, achieving what is often considered the greatest military success in Georgian history. The victory at Didgori signaled the emergence of Georgia as a great military power and shifted the regional balance in favor of Georgian cultural and political supremacy.

Following his success, King David captured Tbilisi, the last Muslim enclave remaining from the Arab occupation, in 1122 and moved the Georgian capital there. A well-educated man, he preached tolerance and acceptance of other religions, abrogated taxes and services for the Muslims and Jews, and protected the Sufis and Muslim scholars. In 1123, David’s army liberated Dmanisi, the last Seljuk stronghold in southern Georgia. In 1124, David finally conquered Shirvan and took the Armenian city of Ani from the Muslim Emirs, thus expanding the borders of his kingdom to the Araxes basin. Armenians met him as a liberator providing some auxiliary force for his army. It was when the important component of "Sword of the Messiah" appeared in the title of David the Builder. It is engraved on a copper coin of David's day:

King of Kings, David, son of George, Sword of the Messiah.

Humane treatment of the Muslim population, as well as the representatives of other religions and cultures, set a standard for tolerance in his multiethnic kingdom. It was a hallmark not only for his enlightened reign, but for all of Georgian history and culture.

David the Builder died on January 24, 1125, and upon his death, King David was, as he had ordered, buried under the stone inside the main gatehouse of the Gelati Monastery so that anyone coming to his beloved Gelati Academy stepped on his tomb first, a humble gesture for a great man. He had three children, the son Demetre, who succeeded him and continued his father's victorious reign; and two daughters, Tamar, who was married to the Shirwan Shah Akhsitan (Aghsartan in Georgian), and Kata (Katai), married to Isaakios Comnenus, the son of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus. Beside his political and military skills, King David earned fame as a writer, composing Galobani sinanulisani (Hymns of Repentance, c. 1120), a powerful work of emotional free-verse psalms, which reveal the king’s humility and religious zeal.

Cultural life

King David the Builder gave close attention to the education of his people. The king selected children who were sent to the Byzantine Empire "so that they be taught languages and bring home translations made by them there". Many of them later became well-known scholars.

At the time of David the Builder there were quite a few schools and academies in Georgia, among which Gelati occupies a special place. King David's historian calls Gelati Academy

a second Jerusalem of all the East for learning of all that is of value, for the teaching of knowledge - a second Athens, far exceeding the first in divine law, a canon for all ecclesiastical splendors.
Besides Gelati there also were other cultural-enlightenment and scholarly centers in Georgia at that time, i.e. the Academy of Ikalto.

David himself composed, c. 1120, "Hymns of Repentance" (გალობანი სინანულისანი, galobani sinanulisani), a sequence of eight free-verse psalms, with each hymn having its own intricate and subtle stanza form. For all their Christianity, cult of the Mother of God, and the king’s emotional repentance of his sins, David sees himself as reincarnating the Biblical David, with a similar relationship to God and to his people. His hymns also share the idealistic zeal of the contemporaneous European crusaders to whom David was a natural ally in his struggle against the Seljuks.



  • Rusudan, an Armenian princess (divorced in 1107)
  • Gurandukht, daughter of the Kipchak chief Otrok (ca. 1107)


  1. Demetre I
  2. Prince Vakhtang (Tsuata)
  3. Prince George (From Rusudan)
  4. Princess Tamar, who married Abul Muzaffar Manuchahr II, Shirvanshah (d. ca 1154), and became a nun in widowhood.
  5. Princess Katay (Irene), who married the Byzantine prince Isaakios Comnenus Sebastocrator.
  6. Princess Tamar who was married to Prince Jadaros of Ossetia


H.M. The Most High King David, son of George, by the will of our Lord, King of Kings of the Abkhazians, Kartvelians, Ranians, Kakhetians and the Armenians, Shirvanshah and Shahanshah of all the East and West, Sword of Messiah.


David the Builder’s epoch greatly influenced the national perception of the Georgians. They are still proud of David’s victories and dream of his glorious reign.

The nation’s current flag is based on David’s standard. The Order of David the Builder is one of the most prestigious decorations awarded by Georgia.

After being elected President of Georgia, Georgia’s current leader Mikheil Saakashvili took an oath at David the Builder’s tomb at Gelati Monastery on the day of his inauguration on January 25, 2004. Mikheil Saakashvili said it was a symbol of his dedication to follow in David's footsteps, who brought unity and prosperity to Georgia. Many across the impoverished country hope that Saakashvili will manage to do the same.

See also

Notes and references

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