THE UNKNOWN HISTORY OF GEORGIAN ASTRONOMY
Dr. Irakli Simonia
Translated by Robert McCutcheon
(click here to see original)
The present article reviews the fundamental achievements of ancient Georgian astronomy and the dynamics of the process by which the Georgian astronomical world view developed in the period from the 16th century BC to the 18th century AD. It is during this period that the Georgian astronomical world view both formed and became fully developed. The author of the present article
divides this extended period into three shorter periods: an archeological period, a transitional period, and a scientific period. The characteristics of these three periods are cited. The article also presents various facts and other information that illuminate the life and work of Georgian astronomers as well as the functioning of ancient Georgian astronomical and other
scientific institutions. Several Georgian astronomical manuscripts are mentioned and described in brief, and a number of other questions are also discussed.
The ruins of old observatories, fragments and remains of instruments, numerous manuscripts and books, unclaimed discoveries, and forgotten names--this is the world of ancient Georgian astronomy, which until now has been virtually unknown outside of Georgia.
The state of Georgia is located in the Caucasus on the very border between Europe and Asia. The Black Sea, Caucasus Mountains, and thick forests together create a unique, beautiful landscape and healthy temperate climate. This territory was already populated by Georgian tribes in ancient times, and a Georgian state has has existed for more than twenty-five centuries. Over
these long, difficult centuries the Georgian people created their own language, culture, and world view. Numerous monuments of literature, art, and architecture bear witness to the original culture of these people.
Fire worship and other religions were widespread in Georgia until the 4th century AD. Orthodox Christianity began to spread across Georgia in the first half of the 4th century, and within 100 years it had acquired the the status of state religion. This process was brought about by the strong
political and cultural influence emanating from the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, with which Georgia had close relations. Poti, on the Black Sea near the ancient city of Fazis, was both one of the first cities and one of the first cultural centers. Later Kutaisi and Mtskheta became major cities and cultural centers. At the present time Georgia's most important city and
cultural center is Tbilisi, which is also the capital of the Republic of Georgia. This city was founded in the 5th century AD by the Georgian king and military leader Vakhtang Gorgasali.
Celestial phenomena interested Georgians from ancient times. This is
confirmed by real proofs. Oral folk art has brought down to us ancient
Georgian sayings and legends that mention individual celestial bodies, various
celestial phenomena, and so on. The principal thought or moral of such
legends was the "supremacy of celestial laws" and the "inevitability of
punishment by powerful celestial forces." The ancient Georgians attached a
mystical character to the sky and to celestial phenomena, thereby
acknowledging their full grandeur. Ancient material objects of brass, bronze,
silver, and gold have also come down to us. When we examine these ornaments,
implements of labor, weapons, and household wares, we see images of the Sun,
Moon, and stars presented in various shapes and sizes. The fact that ancient
Georgians depicted celestial bodies on material objects shows that celestial
phenomena interested them.
What are the most ancient material objects containing images of an astronomical
character? In the 1940s Georgian archeologists [NOTE 1] discovered bronze
plates dating from the 16-14th centuries BC. In all about thirty plates were
discovered--primarily in the graves of women--at various burial sites including
the large burial ground known as "Zadengora." The plates are massive and
measure several tens of centimeters in diameter. Their surfaces are covered by
numerous convex, circular apertures [PHOTOS 1-2]. Until now Georgian
scientific literature has examined these plates only from the archeological
point of view. In the present article we will examine them from the
astronomical point of view for the first time.
Georgian tribes that populated the eastern regions of Georgia in the
16-14th centuries BC supported themselves mainly through agriculture and by
raising cattle. These tribes practiced fire worship. Worship of the cults of
fire, heat, and light played an important role in the lives of the Georgian
tribes. Giving tribute to the Sun as the principal source of light and heat
and also seeing its large dimensions, the ancient masters and artists depicted
it in the center of the bronze plates in the form of a circular aperture.
The Moon served as another important source of light for the ancients. It
was precisely the Moon that supplied them with bright light at night.
Phenomena such as changes in the phases of the Moon provoked their special
interest and had overtones of mysticism. As a result, the Moon was depicted
on the bronze plates in the form of a sickle-shaped aperture.
The ancients also saw other celestial objects in the sky and saw that they
differed from each other in form, brightness, and color. Trying to reflect
these differences, the ancient Georgian masters gave varying outlines to the
spherically-shaped protuberances on the surfaces of the plates. Thus the
ancient bronze plates reflect what the Georgian tribes saw in the sky. The
religious views of the tribes also played an important role in the
distribution of images of celestial bodies on the ancient bronze plates.
In the following discussion we propose to call the ancient Georgian bronze
plates "cosmograms" [NOTE 2]. It seems to us that precisely these Georgian
cosmograms were the first material objects in Georgia to include astronomical
images. At the present time the cosmograms are preserved in various Georgian
museums and institutes. It would be interesting to conduct a comparison
between the Georgian cosmograms and analogous objects that can be found in
other parts of the world.
The most ancient Georgian states formed in the 6th century BC. The western
Georgian state was known as Kolkheti, and the eastern Georgian state
was called Kartli. (Some literary sources call Kolkheti by the name
Egrisi and Kartli by the name Iveria.) New civil societies and
institutions characteristic of that time began to take form in these
two Georgian states. Agriculture and cattle raising continued to
develop, but artisanal professions and trade with neighboring and distant
states also arose. In the 3rd century BC the Georgian king Parnavaz
united the western and eastern Georgian states into a single state. At that
time the religion of Zoroastrianism was widespread. The principal
Georgian god was the Moon, which was seen as the symbol for a male warrior.
The Moon's sacred animal was the bull, and thus bulls were frequently given
as sacrifice. The shape of the bull's horns reminded the ancient Georgians
of the Moon. Various depictions of the bull and his horns were widespread
on the walls of religious buildings and in the homes of the ancient Georgians.
Statues and statuettes of bulls and other sacred animals likewise spread
widely and could be found in various sizes [PHOTO 3]. Relief images of
of sacred animals and geometrically complex Georgian ornamental
design compositions were cut into the surfaces of such metal objects as
containers, women's jewelry, shields, and so on. Among the various
compositions and graphical fragments, the diverse symbols and signs of
a clearly astral character are of special interest [PHOTO 4]. Symbols
showing spacial relationships and symbols of motion are especially
widespread [FIGS. Ia and Ib].
King Parnavaz played an important role in the development of Georgian
language and culture. In the 3rd century BC King Parnavaz invented the
first Georgian alphabet. In doing he became the founder
of the written Georgian language, which is one of the oldest in the world. The
creation of writing served as a turning point in the development of Georgian
culture. The first written inscriptions appeared on material objects, and
the process of developing a literature began. We believe that the development
of the early Georgian astronomical culminated simultaneously with the creation
of a written language. This early period encompasses the 16th through 3rd
centuries BC. We propose that this early period be called the archeological
period. In the course of this period the following two processes developed:
a)acquisition of the simplest primary knowledge of the sky and celestial
objects by the ancient Georgians and b)representation of this acquired
knowledge in culture, in oral works, and in the applied arts.
The acquisition of knowledge during the archeological period, and likewise the
invention and spread of a written language transformed and expanded the
world view of the ancient Georgians. A new class of citizens appeared in
society--a class whose principal activities included the writing of
chronicles, the development of grammar and arithmetic, and so on.
From this class we must take note of those (generally people close
to the king) who were charged with making regular observations of celestial
bodies insofar as these were seen to be higher powers on which earthly life
depended. The observers of that time undoubtedly would have noted
that many climactic phenomena (e.g., river flooding, cooling and
warming trends) were preceded by various celestial phenomena--for example,
the appearance of certain stars, the disappearance of others, and so on.
Having noted this type of regularity, the ancients would have tried to use
it for their practical aims such as agriculture. Purely earthly concerns
such as fertility and crop yield would have caused the ancients to study
deeply and in detail the regularities in the disposition and motion of
celestial bodies. In this way the prerequisites for the appearance of astronomy
as a science were created--in particular the prerequisites for those important
parts of astronomy concerned with chronology and the calendar.
Georgian chronicles tell us that in the 2nd century BC Georgia used a lunar
calendar, and we know that this lunar calendar continued to be used until the
end of the 3rd century AD. The chronicles have provided us with the ancient
Georgian names of some stars. For example: Mercury--Djimagi, Venus--Mtiebi,
Mars--Tarkhoni, Jupiter--Obi, and Saturn--Morige. These names were used in
Georgia until the end of the 3rd century AD. The existence of a calendar and
of Georgian names for the planets tells us that in the period between the 2nd
century BC and the 3rd century AD, the Georgians had some degree of knowledge
of celestial phenomena and that they used this knowledge in practical life.
Naturally, at that time this knowledge could only have a limited character.
The period from the 2nd century BC to the 3rd century AD was a transitional
period in the development of the Georgian astronomical world view. This
transitional period was characterized by simple astronomical observations and
likewise the creation and use of the first calendars. It was the priests
who observed the sky and who played an important role in the organization of
regular knowledge, and during this period many generations of priests
succeeded each other. Unfortunately, the Georgian chronicles do not give
us their names.
The spread of Christianity in Georgia in the 4th century AD gave an impulse
to the development of new elements in Georgian culture. New, progressive--
in the context of that time--ideas and views as well as knowledge of man and
the world penetrated into Georgia. A feudal society began to form. The first
schools and educational institutions began to spring up. The process of
systematically translating foreign books into the Georgian language began,
and new knowledge enriched the Georgian astronomical world view.
In the second half of the 4th century AD the Julian calendar came into use in
Georgia, and from this moment a new period in the development of the Georgian
astronomical world view begins. This period can be called the scientific
period. Fragmentary evidence from later chronicles and literary sources show
that in the 5th century AD the teachings of the Greek astronomer Claudius
Ptolemy began to spread in Georgia. As is well known, Ptolemy believed that a
stationary Earth occupies the center of the universe and all celestial objects
revolve around it on the periphery. The educated sections of the population
(i.e., the priests and the king's courtiers) evidently were well acquainted
with the geocentric system. In the Georgian language there exists the word
"Dedamitsa," which stands for the Earth in its planetary sense. The word
"Dedamitsa" literally translates to "mother Earth." Here the word "mother"
signifies beginnings, the start of existence. Thus the question arises, did
this word not appear at that time when the ideas of geocentricism first
penetrated into Georgia? Additional study will be required to answer this
In the 6th century AD the priest Father David and his students founded the
David Gareja complex in the rocky mountains of Gareji near Tbilisi [NOTE 3].
The monasteries in this complex were hollowed directly out of the rocks. In
various historical periods the number of monasteries grew to as many as twelve.
In the 7th through 9th centuries AD, David Gareja became a major religious
and educational center, and regular observations of the daily and annual
motions of celestial bodies were conducted there. Calendars were constructed
and propagated. The works of foreign authors, with Greek authors occupying
first place, were translated into Georgian. At David Gareja a large
library of philosophical and astronomical works was collected. In our view
David Gareja was, in fact, the first Georgian astronomical center. This
complex continued to function through several move centuries, surviving periods
both of flourishing activity and of decline. Fragments and ruins of this
complex have been preserved until the present time [PHOTO 5].
The first manuscript containing astronomical information to survive to the
present day dates from the 10th century AD [NOTE 4]. The manuscript is 263
pages in length, is written using letters from the first Georgian alphabet,
and has both religious and astronomical content. The manuscript illuminates
questions of chronology, and it describes and gives tables for computing solar
days and months [PHOTOS 6 and 7]. It discusses the regularities in the
day-night cycle and gives other information as well. Evidently the
manuscript's religious portion is not itself an original work but is, rather,
a translation into Georgian. This manuscript is the first contemporary
historical document bearing witness to the development of astronomy in Georgia.
Various chronicles and other historical materials give evidence
that at the end of the first millennium an astronomical observatory was
functioning in Tbilisi. The available materials do not allow us to establish
the precise date of this observatory's founding, but these same materials do
show that this observatory was active in the 9th and 10th centuries.
The observatory carried out various predictive computations and practical
observations, and it compiled tables, calendars, and so on. In addition,
the observatory actively translated the works of Greek and Arab astronomers.
It appears that much of the astronomical knowledge contained in Georgian
astronomical manuscripts was procured precisely by astronomers from this
observatory. The observatory was situated in Tbilisi in a region called
Narikala. There is evidence that Arab astronomers worked at the observatory
for an extended period, and thus we can not exclude the possibility that
information about the Narikala observatory could be found in Arab sources.
The observatory continued to function until the 14th century.
In 1106 the Georgian King David IV Bagrationi founded the scientific and
cultural academy Gelati in the western part of Georgia not far from the city
of Kutaisi. David IV (1073-1125) played a special role in the history of
the Georgian state. Having only a small army, he nevertheless succeeded in
liberating Georgian territory from foreign invaders. He also succeeded in
uniting the fragmented parts of Georgia into a single state. David IV
created state institutes and structures that were progressive for their day.
In addition, he devoted a significant amount of time to scientific and
cultural activities of various kinds. David IV has gone into Georgian
history as David the Builder. He is buried on the grounds of Gelati.
Several of Gelati's buildings and structures have survived to the present
day [PHOTOS 8 and 9]. Several sources [NOTES 6, 7, and 8] note that the
Georgian philosophers Arsen Iqaltoeli and Ioanne Petritsi were invited to work
at Gelati, where they conducted active scientific, pedagogical, and
translating work. These same sources indicate that geometry, arithmetic,
music, philosophy, rhetoric, grammar, and astronomy (or, as it was called at
that time, astrology) were all taught at Gelati.
Gelati had an astronomical observatory [PHOTO 10] where a variety of
observations were carried out using astrolabes and other instruments. David
the Builder in his own works writes that he devoted many nights to the stars,
studying their positions in the sky and their effect on the fates of man and
Various sources show that Gelati was not the only institution of its kind in
Georgia at that time.
The Georgian astronomer Abuserisdze Thbeli (1190-1240) made an appreciable
contribution to the development of the Georgian astronomical world view.
Working in the ancient Georgian language, he wrote a fundamental treatise on
calendars and chronology, the title of which can be translated approximately
as "The Complete Time Keeper" [NOTE 9]. This treatise contains information
related to calendars, descriptions of different systems for maintaining
chronology, dates of church holidays, tables of moonrise and moonset,
information on special cycles, and so on.
Abuserisdze Thbeli did not himself conduct astronomical observations, and he
did not work in any astronomical laboratory. His treatise has a theoretical
character and is connected to a great degree with his mathematical
investigations. "The Complete Time Keeper" is, in fact, the first astronomical
work of a theoretical nature produced in Georgia, and this elevates Abuserisdze
Thbeli to a special place in Georgian astronomy.
Analysis of manuscripts, books, and material objects shows that the basis for
the Georgian astronomical world view in the 10th-13th centuries remained
Cladius Ptolemy's geocentric system, a description of which can be found in
almost every astronomical manuscript from that period. There are some
variations in the description from one manuscript to another, and there are
differences in detail. Nevertheless, one can find mention of the Ptolemaic
system even in non-scientific manuscripts. These facts show that the
geocentric idea had complete control of the minds of Georgian astronomers
and philosophers at that time.
The scientific work of Georgian observatories in the 10th-13th centuries
expressed itself primarily in the study of star positions. The following
peculiarity is noteworthy: as a rule those manuscripts containing the
fundamentals of theory are translations of foreign authors into Georgian,
whereas the manuscripts and books of a calendar-chronology character belong to
the pens of Georgian authors. This fact implies that fundamental theoretical
ideas penetrated into Georgia from outside. The Georgian astronomers and
philosophers concerned themselves with developing the more practical applied
areas of astronomy that were necessary to both the people and the state.
In particular, they concerned themselves with those practical areas that were
needed for the construction of precise calendars, for the determination of
time periods, for the prediction of dates for church and civil holidays, and
for commercial, military, and other purposes. This was natural, of course.
One can not imagine the normal development of a state without knowledge of
precise time, without the possibility of predicting climactic phenomena
connected with the different seasons of the year, and so on. We could give
the name "early scientific practicism" to these practical works by Georgian
Such practicism has both positive and negative sides. On the negative side,
extreme practical aims pushed aside the important necessity of perfecting
basic theoretical ideas. On the positive side, the deepening of practical
knowledge and habits must have stimulated the development of related
disciplines. In particular, constant improvements in the calendar system
in Georgia gave a powerful stimulus to the development of Georgian
Of course, early scientific practicism was not unique to Georgia. Other
countries with analogous social and economic structures and with analogous
world views also passed through this phase. An interesting peculiarity of that
time is that along with astronomical information and descriptions, the
majority of written materials also contained astrological information. As a
rule, the astronomical information encompasses those questions concerned with
predicting, forecasting, or otherwise determining people's fates in accordance
with the disposition of the stars and so forth.
Society at that time continued to be under the influence of various
types of mystical ideas and concepts. We can conjecture that there was
something like a state-supported institute of astrologers in Georgia and that
Georgian kings had court astrologers who were responsible for predicting
the fate of the king, the state, individuals, and so on. Astrologers wrote
their works, compiled tables and graphs, and distributed all of this among the
appropriate layers of society. It is interesting to note that manuscript
materials always exhibit a sharp, definite dividing line between their
astronomical and astrological parts. There was never any mixing or
interweaving of astronomical and astrological information. It was usual that
certain paragraphs in these manuscripts would be devoted to astronomy, while
other parts would be concerned with astrology. This fact demonstrates that in
Georgia in the 10th-13th centuries the distinction between astronomy and
astrology was already understood. Photos 11-12 show the use of symbols for
the zodiacal constellations in a Georgian manuscript [NOTE 10].
The most complicated period in Georgian history began with the start of the
Tatar-Mongol invasionin the middle of the 13th century. This invasion brought
numerous battles and mass death among the population, and it caused
the destruction of cities and cultural centers. The Tatar-Mongols attempted
to seize the territory of Georgia and to destroy the Georgian state.
However, loyal Georgian armies and strong opposition among the populace
became an insurmountable barrier in the path of the newcomers. Although at
a great cost, the Georgian government was preserved, and relative peace
was restored. But Georgia to all intents and purposes lost its freedom for
external political action, being forced to pay large tributes and to supply
soldiers for the Tatar-Mongol armies on a regular basis.
Georgian King Georgi V (reigned 1313-1346) used flexible and farsighted
politics to strengthen the Georgian state. As a result Georgia was able
finally to free itself from the Tatar-Mongol yoke by the middle of the 14th
century. This period of calm turned out to be short, however, with
Tamerlane's invasion beginning at the end of the 14th century. Georgian
soldiers and people resisted fiercely, but the forces proved too unequal.
Tamerlane wrecked and destroyed everything in his path, leaving behind nothing
but scorched earth. In Georgia the expression still exists that "there, where
Tamerlane passed, the dogs no longer barked, the cocks no longer crowed, and
the children no longer cried." Nevertheless, resistance continued. One of
the most notable resistance figures was Georgian King Georgi VII
(reigned 1393-1407). With the death of Tamerlane, Georgia once again
secured its liberation.
The events of the 13th through 15th centuries had a catastrophic negative
effect on the development of Georgian culture and science. The invading
hordes destroyed the academies and observatories, and they burned the libraries.
The Georgian people had to start over again from the beginning. The process
of restoring the Georgian state began at the start of the 16th century.
Cities and cultural centers were resurrected, schools were opened, and the
people gradually returned to their accustomed style of life.
The resurrection of scientific thought accompanied the general restoration of
the state. Special interest was paid to the science of the sky--in particular
to its practical applications. In the 16th and 17th centuries no fewer than
nineteen astronomical works were translated into Georgian--most of them
dealing with calendars and chronology. Georgian authors, translators, and
book copiers all realized the importance of restoring astronomical knowledge,
which to all intents and purposes had been lost in the period from the 13th
through 15th centuries. The writing and translating of astronomical
manuscripts continued even into the 18th century.
Let us take a closer look at one of these manuscripts entitled "The Star Book,"
which dates from the beginning of the 18th century. (The original is
preserved in the Georgian Manuscript Institute in Tbilisi under catalog No.
Q 867.) The manuscript, whose author is unknown, consists of 250 pages and is
divided into 31 chapters, each of which is devoted to a specific topic of an
astronomical or astrological character.
On page 7, chapter 1, of "The Star Book," we find the following statement:
"Zokhar has a single star in the sky." Zokhar is Venus, and the reference to
a star "in the sky" is a way of indicating that Venus has a satellite. On
page 8 we also find: "Marekhi has a single star in the sky." Marekhi is Mars,
and the reference to a star here is also a way of indicating the presence of
a satellite. In both cases the manuscript gives a measure of the satellite's
orbit. It is difficult to explain these two statements. At that time there
were no optical instruments capable of revealing the satellites of Mars, and
of course Venus has no satellites at all. There are several hypotheses
[NOTE 11] that attempt to explain the mention of one of the Martian satellites
in this manuscript, but final conclusions on this subject will require further
Chapter 8 of "The Star Book" concerns the Moon. Page 42 states: "First we
must know that God created the Sun and Moon and ordered that the Moon should
receive its light from the Sun. The Moon itself is blank. The Moon
illuminates us after receiving its light from the Sun." These quoted
sentences, translated from Georgian, show unambiguously that the manuscript's
author understood the fact that the Moon shines by reflected light. Page 42
also includes the statement: "Many philosophers, first of all Alexander, say
that Galileo built a ten meter tube and, after using it, asserted that the
visible dark spots on the Moon's surface are in fact mountains, seas, and
rivers." This citation shows that the author was acquainted with 17th-18th
century European literature and knew of some of the achievements of European
Chapter 12 deals with eclipses of the Sun and Moon. Page 59 states:
"Belorano was a scientist who for wisdom has no equal in our times. If he had
lived at the time of Aristotle, then the latter would have paled before him.
This scientist greatly simplified astronomy. He could determine in which
year, in which month, in which week, on what day, and at what time eclipses of
the Sun and Moon would take place." In translating these lines from the
Georgian language we have tried our utmost to preserve the author's style. It
is apparent that the manuscript's author was familiar with the scientific
works of the European astronomer Belorano. Photo 13 shows page 59 of the
manuscript together with an original drawing. On page 60 we find a detailed
description of the conditions for both total and partial solar and lunar
Chapter 14 concerns planetary motion. Photo 14 shows page 72 along with a
drawing that reflects the author's cosmological world view. From the center
to the edge we find regions that are labeled as follows: "Earth water,"
"air," "fire," "sky Mtvare" (the Moon), "sky Otarid" (Mercury), "sky Zokhar"
(Venus), "sky Mze" (the Sun), "sky Marekhi" (Mars), "sky Mushtar" (Jupiter),
"sky Zokhal" (Saturn), "the fixed sky," "the second movable sky", and "the
first movable sky." From this we can see that the author had a geocentric
Chapter 15 is devoted to the motion of the celestial spheres. Page 77 states:
"The sky itself moves and rotates, but the stars are fixed to their places.
Hence we speak of the 'fixed sky'." Page 78 states furthermore that "its width
is 250,230,000 agadji." (The agadji was an ancient Georgian unit of measure
that is equal to approximately 4-5 km.) On page 78 we find the following:
"The ninth sky--the second movable sky--is like crystal." Chapter 15 contains
information on the dimensions, motion, and periods of the different spheres
and on the dimensions of the stars, and it also gives information of a
religious character. Indeed, chapter 15 is the author's attempt to describe
the universe as a whole, and the quoted fragments tell us something about his
The manuscript's subsequent chapters contain information on the 12 zodiacal
constellations, on the number of stars in the constellations, on star
brightness, on the annual motion of the Sun through the constellations of
the zodiac, on the motion of the Moon, on the calendar, on the changes of
seasons, on several types of climactic phenomena, and on crop yields to be
expected in coming years. The manuscript also contains extensive information
of an astrological character.
This general review of "The Star Book" shows that it contains diverse types
of information. On the one hand the manuscript contains information that was
modern for its time--e.g., information on telescopic observations by Galileo,
on the sizes and shapes of the planets, and on the daily and annual motion of
celestial bodies. On the other hand the manuscript also includes detailed
descriptions of Ptolemy's outmoded geocentric system. It is our view that
the manuscript's author attempted to create something of an astronomical
handbook containing various types of information that would reflect
contradictory world views and ideas. The author evidently relied on various
sources and used the achievements and works of various astronomical schools.
"The Star Book" is an important historical-astronomical document that reflects
the level of the Georgian world view at that moment in its scientific
development. (It would be useful to translate and publish "The Star Book" to
make it available to researchers around the world.)
The first quarter of the 18th century was marked by the scientific and
educational activity of Georgian King Vakhtang VI Bagrationi (reigned 1703-
1723) and his associates. Vakhtang VI was not just a statesman. He was also
a scientist. Astronomy, which he studied using ancient Georgian manuscripts
and books, was one of those disciplines that held special interest for him.
In his first period of scientific work, Vakhtang VI translated fundamental
astronomical works from among the classics of Eastern astronomy into Georgian.
Vakhtang VI translated the works of Ulugh Bek, Naseredina Tusi, and Ali
Kushchi. In 1721 Vakhtang VI established a printing house in Tbilisi. That
same year the printing house issued several hundred copies (according to
various sources between 200 and 300) of an astronomical treatise by Ali
Kushchi in a translation by Vakhtang VI [NOTE 12]. Photo 15 shows pages from
this book in which we can see a figure representing the geocentric system.
King Vakhtang VI was also produced his own astronomical works that for the
most part were descriptive in nature and as a rule were devoted to
descriptions of the geocentric system.
In his second period Vakhtang VI conducted scientific work that was more
practical in character. Persian masters built an astrolabe using plans drawn
by the king himself. Vakhtang VI conducted regular observations with the
astrolabe and used the results to construct special tables and other
materials. Photo 16 shows Vakhtang VI's astrolabe, which is preserved in the
Georgian History Museum in Tbilisi.
One of Vakhtang VI's main associates--in both the political and scientific
fields--was the Georgian philosopher, writer, and educator Slukhan-Saba
Orbeliani, who compiled an explanatory dictionary of the Georgian language
under the title "Bouquet of Words." This dictionary includes several hundred
astronomical terms of both Georgian and foreign origin. Some of the terms
first entered the Georgian language from Greek, Arab, or other languages and
were then transformed to Georgian lexical forms and began to be used widely in
scientific speech. By analyzing the astronomical terms in the dictionary of
Slukhan-Saba Orbeliani, we can study the process by which Eastern and Western
astronomical ideas and views influenced Georgian astronomy.
King Vakhtang VI established scientific contacts with astronomers from various
countries. In particular, he laid the foundation for cooperation with
astronomers in Russia.
The scientific period in the development of Georgian astronomical world view
can be characterized by the following processes:
a)formation of fundamental knowledge about celestial objects,
b)creation of a Georgian scientific astronomical literature
in the form of a set of manuscripts,
c)practical and theoretical work by Georgian astronomers, and
d)the operation of Georgian astronomical observatories.
The idea of heliocentricism began to spread through Georgia in the mid-18th
century, and by the end of the 18th century the new astronomical world
view based on the heliocentric system of Nikolai Copernicus had firmly
taken possession of the minds of Georgian astronomers and philosophers.
During this period the arrival of scientific and educational literature from
various countries--including Germany, France, and Russia--acquired an
intensive and regular character. Some of the books and scientific
publications that arrived from these countries are preserved in
the Georgian National Library and in various Georgian museums and archives.
These preserved books and publications bear witness to the increased
Georgian exposure to Western scientific literature in the 18th century.
With the end of the 18th century we also come to the end of that lengthy
period in the history of Georgian astronomy that is essentially unknown
to Western specialists. In the present article we have tried to describe
the principal events, achievements, and ideas of this period. Of course,
it would be unthinkably difficult in the bounds of a single article
to illuminate all details concerning the development of astronomy in Georgia
for a period of more than 2500 years. To do so would require a whole
series of diverse and complementary studies. We have not touched upon
questions connected with the study of ancient Georgian astronomical
inscriptions on the walls of such structures as monasteries and churches.
We also have not discussed the instrumental aspects of measuring time in
ancient days, although in Georgia the tradition of preparing and using solar
clocks was well developed. Of course, these as well as many other topics and
questions should be analyzed in subsequent studies.
Georgian astronomical and astrological manuscripts that until now have been
unknown to Western researchers are deserving of study. Approximately 300 such
manuscripts are preserved in the various institutes and archives of Georgia.
These manuscripts form a huge monolith of astronomical substance that brings to
us information of a relict character. These manuscripts did not disappear in
the fire of social and natural cataclysms, did not sink into oblivion in the
depths of ancient centuries. They were preserved through the self-sacrificing
work of Georgian authors, translators, and copyists. In our view it is
possible that there are many unknown, unstudied sources of
historical-astronomical information in the world--in particular in those
countries that are only now reestablishing themselves as independent states.
Therefore it seems to us expedient to propose the creation of an international
institute of "unstudied" historical-astronomical materials or, for that
matter, of "unstudied" historical-scientific materials in general. Such an
institute would study the previously unknown materials and would publish the
study results in special bulletins in order to bring the "new old" information
to the attention of the international scientific community.
In the present article we have tried to reflect the dynamic process by which
astronomy developed in Georgia over a protracted period of time. We
subdivided this period into shorter periods: an archeological period, a
transitional period, and a scientific period. We have tried to acquaint the
reader with information that was, to all intents and purposes, previously
unknown. We hope that we have been at least partially successful in
achieving this goal.
1. O. Gambashidze, K. Kvizhinadze, and I. Gambashidze. "Principal Results
of an Expedition to Meskheti and Djavakheti" [in Georgian],
Journal of Archeological Field Investigations, 1986, Tbilisi.
2. I. Simonia, Ancient Georgian Bronze Cosmograms. In press.
3. Georgian Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, Tbilisi, 1977.
4. The original manuscript is preserved in the Georgian Manuscript Institute
in Tbilisi and is number A 38 in G. Kevanishvili, Catalog of Georgian
Astronomical Manuscripts [CGAM]. The CGAM was compiled in 1951 and is
maintained within the department of astronomy at the Tbilisi University.
6. E. Kharadze and T. Cochlashvili, "On the Study of the History of
the Development of Astronomical Knowledge in Georgia" [in Russian],
Historical-Astronomical Investigations 4, 1958, Moscow.
7. F. A. Brokgauz and I. A. Efron, Encyclopedic Dictionary, Article on
Ioanne Petritsi, Vol. 45, Saint Petersburg, 1898. (In other editions the
article is in Vol. 23.)
8. F. A. Brokgauz and I. A. Efron, Encyclopedic Dictionary, Article on
the Ikalto Monastery, Vol. 24, Saint Petersburg, 1894. (In other
editions the article is in Vol. 12a.)
9. Georgian Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, Tbilisi, 1975. The original is preserved
in the Georgian Manuscript Institute under CGAM No. A 85. "The
Complete Time Keeper" has never been translated and has never been
published in any country outside of Georgia. It is to be hoped that
the translation and publication of this work will be undertaken in the near
10. CGAM No. A 65.
11. I. Simonia and Ts. Simonia, "The East and The West and Astronomy in
Georgia. Time and Astronomy at the Meeting of Two Worlds," Proceedings
of the International Symposium held April 27 - May 2, 1992, in Frombork,
Poland. Organized by the Department of Historical Anthropology,
Institute of Archeology, Warsaw University, Warszawa, 1994.
12. Several copies of this book have been preserved to the present day, and
one copy is in the rare book division of the Georgian National Library in