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Real and imagined feudalism in highland Georgia
By Kevin Tuite
Amirani, Vol.7 (2002)
Introduction: During the 8th-9th centuries, a system of land tenure and political organization that has been described as “feudal” arose in the Transcaucasus. As in Western Europe, Georgian feudalism was characterized by (1) the hierarchical and personal relation between vassal and lord (Geo. p’at’ronq’moba), with the former rendering homage (£ ec’q’aleba) to the latter; (2) the conditional ownership of land in the form of fiefs (Geo. mamuli, sak’argavi). On the periphery of the medieval Georgian feudal states, centered in the more heavily-populated lowlands, are the mountain provinces of Pxovi (Pshav-Xevsureti) and Svaneti [see map]. Indeed, it has been said that Pxovi and the “free” or “lordless” communes of Upper Svaneti remained completely outside of the feudal system. I will argue that none of these regions was untouched by feudalism, although the effects were very different in the eastern (Pxovi) and western (Svanetian) highlands.