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234 × 156 × 41 mm
512 pages
40 illustrations
01 Sep 2012

Edge of Empires A History of Georgia Donald Rayfield

Georgia is the most Western-looking state in today’s Near or Middle East and, despite having one of the longest, most turbulent histories in the Christian or Near Eastern world, no proper history of the country has been written for decades. Donald Rayfield redresses this balance in Edge of Empires, focusing not merely on the post-Soviet era, like many other books on Georgia, but on the whole of its history, accessing a mass of new material from the country’s recently opened archives.

The book begins with the first intimations of the existence of Georgians in ancient Anatolia and ends with today’s volatile President Saakashvili. It deals not only with the country’s internal politics, but with its complex struggles with the empires which have tried to control, fragment or even exterminate the country. All the world’s history – Xenophon’s Greeks, the Arabs, the invading Turks, the Crusades, Chingiz Khan and Timur Lang, the Persian empire, the Russian empire, Soviet totalitarianism – is reflected in Georgia’s history.

Donald Rayfield describes Georgia’s swings between disintegration and unity, making full use of primary sources, many not available before in an English-language book. He examines the history of a country which, though small, stands at a crossroads between Russia and the Muslim world, between Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and is a dramatic example of state-building and, also, of tragic political mistakes.

‘A Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 2013’ — Award

‘The most comprehensive and up-to-date history of Georgia available in English. This tour de force explains why the small south Caucasus nation looks longingly to the west. A work of consummate erudition from Britains foremost expert on Georgian history and literature.’ — Tony Barber, Books of the Year, Financial Times

‘Donald Rayfields Edge of Empires is a wonderful history of Georgia, lifting the lid on that countrys torrid, rambunctious past (and present). Impeccably researched, limpidly written and full of insight.’ — William Boyd, Books of the Year, The Guardian

‘Donald Rayfields panoramic Edge of Empires is an impressive work that helps us understand why this south Caucasus nation of 6.4m people lodged in a hostile and unstable neighbourhood looks so longingly to the West . . . Edge of Empires is the most wide-ranging and reliable history of Georgia one is likely to find for many years to come.’ — Financial Times

‘[An] ambitious and comprehensive history of a complex country . . . Mr Rayfields powerful theme is of brief periods of prosperity and security, ended by invasion, conquest, looting and despoliation.’ — The Economist

‘Basing his account on Georgain chronicles, secondary literature and archival materials as well as his in-depth knowledge of Georgian language and literature, Rayfield unleashes a whirlwind of battles, victories and defeats, invasions and annexations, dynastic arrangements, political shenanigans, and social and cultural changes . . . accompanied by a helpful chronology, detailed maps and dynastic tables.’ — TLS

‘Rayfield offers the most comprehensive and detailed survey history of the country of Georgia to date. Although David Marshall Lang (1962), William Edward David Allen (1932), Kalistrat Salia (1983), and Ronald Grigor Suny (1989) have all written survey histories of Georgia in the past, Rayfields is the only one that takes readers from the regions prehistory all the way up to recent demonstrations in 2011 against Georgias current government under Mikheil Saakashvili . . . An excellent and indispensible reference for libraries, students, researchers, and general readers. Essential.’ — Choice

‘in its depth and attention to detail of more or less the whole of recorded Georgian history, Rayfield has produced the definitive one-volume work.’ — European History Quarterly

‘Rayfield begins with archaeology and finishes with the upheavals of 2012. Breathtaking and breathless, his book is the equivalent of watching Shakespeares history plays in fast-forward mode or being put on the back of a Georgian steed and charged across the mountains of Khevsureti at daredevil speed.’ — International Affairs

‘This is a valuable work on a country that has not generally received sufficient attention in the literature. Rayfield, an expert on the twentieth century, is an excellent choice for the volume.’ — European Review of History

‘This is a courageous book. In four hundred pages or so, the author attempts to chronicle the history of Georgia and Georgians over two millennia, bringing us in its final chapter to the closing years of the Saakashvili era in 200910. There is no doubt that Donald Rayfield is the man to tackle this task, a linguist and historian who speaks Georgian and has studied its culture and politics for over three decades. The text is bright, straightforward and speckled with irony and humour . . . Rayfield takes us through two thousand years of Georgian history with pace and efficiency.’ — Slavonic and Eastern European Review

‘This book will fascinate anyone interested in the turbulent, tangled past of the Georgians.’ — Reviews in History

‘Donald Rayfield is the English speaking worlds incomparable guide to Georgias language, literature and history. He revels in its fascinating complexities and, as we read him, so do we.’ — Thomas de Waal, author of The Caucasus: An Introduction

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Donald Rayfield is Emeritus Professor of Russian and Georgian in the Department of Russian, Queen Mary, University of London. He has published the standard history of Georgia’s literature, and is editor-in-chief of the immense Comprehensive Georgian-English Dictionary. His Stalin and His Hangmen has been translated into nine languages.


1. The Emergence of the Kartvelians
2. The Origins of the Kingdom of Kartli
3. Conversion
4. The Arab Conquest
5. Unification
6. Davit the Builder
7. Demetre and Giorgi III
8. Queen Tamar
9. Mongol Invasion
10. The Fractured State
11. Timur Lang and the Destruction of Georgia
12. Fratricide
13. King Teimuraz I
14. Teimuraz Dispossessed
15. The Eighteenth Century
16. The Russian Conquest of Kartli-Kakhetia
17. King Solomon’s End
18. Vice-regency
19. Reaction and Revolution
20. Independence
21. Soviet Annexation
22. After Stalin
23. Independence Restored

Maps and Dynastic Trees
Select Bibliography