Battle of Didgori (1121)

A conflict between the kingdom of Georgia and a Muslim coalition at Didgori near Tbilisi in August 1121.

The settlement of large numbers of nomadic Turcomans in Transcaucasia in the late eleventh century turned the occupied territory into pastures, undermining local agriculture and economy. In 1089, a bloodless coup d’état forced King Giorgi II of Georgia to abdicate in favor of his sixteen-year-old son David IV. In 1099, taking advantage of the arrival of the First Crusade in Syria and Palestine (1096-1099), David ceased paying annual tribute to the Great Saljūqs and stopped their seasonal migrations into Georgia. He then continued his expansion throughout south ern Transcaucasia and Armenia in 1105-1120. In 1118, he also reorganized the Georgian army, resettling some 40,000 families of Qipchaqs from the northern Caucasus, who provided him with a steady supply of manpower.

Concerned about the rapid rise of this Christian state, in 1121 the Great saljūq sultan Maḩmūd formed a coalition of Muslim states and declared a holy war on Georgia. The coalition included the Artūqid ruler Najm al-Dīn Īlghazī, Toghrul ibn Muḩammad, the Saljūq ruler of Arran (in modern Azerbaijan) and Nakhichevan, Dubays ibn Şadaqa from Hilla on the west coast of the Persian Gulf, and Tughān-Arslān, lord of Arzin, Bidlis, and Dvin. Īlghazī had just celebrated his great victory over the Franks of Antioch at the battle known as the Ager Sanguinis (1119) and enjoyed a reputation as an experienced commander. The size of the Muslim army is still a matter of debate, with numbers ranging from a fantastic 600,000 men (as given by Walter the Chancellor and Matthew of Edessa) to 400,000 (Smpadt Sparapet’s Chronicle), while estimates of Georgian historians vary between 100,000 and 250,000 men. Although all of these numbers seem to be exaggerated, all sources indicate that Muslims made massive preparations and vastly outnumbered the Georgians. In midsummer 1121, the Muslim troops advanced along various routes to Georgia and bivouacked on a plain near Didgori, about a day’s march from Tbilisi, in early August. The Georgians mustered some 56,000 men, including 500 Alans and 200 Franks from the Holy Land. On 11 August 1121, King David split them into two divisions with a larger force under his personal command and a smaller detachment under his son Demetre hidden in reserve behind the nearby heights with orders to strike the enemy flank at a given signal.

According to David’s battle plan, on the morning of 12 August some 200 cavalrymen left the Georgian camp and rode over to the enemy side, indicating that they wanted to defect. The Muslim commanders not only allowed them into the camp but also gathered to meet them. At a signal, Georgians attacked them, killing and wounding most of the Muslim leadership. Observing confusion in the enemy camp, King David ordered a general attack on the enemy positions while Prince Demetre charged the enemy flank. With their leadership in disarray, the Muslims in the front line failed to offer any resistance, while those at the rear soon became so disorganized that the entire army eventually fled in disorder. The Georgian troops pursued them for three days, putting many of them to the sword. Following their triumph, Georgian armies were victorious in the neighboring territories of Armenia, Shirwan, and the northern Caucasus, greatly expanding Georgia’s sphere of influence. The battle of Did gori entered Georgian national consciousness as “the miraculous victory” (Georg. dzlevai sakvirveli) and is one of the apogees of Georgian history.

Bibliography Avalishvili, Zurab, Jvarosanta droidan (Paris, 1929). Brosset, Marie-Felicité, Histoire de la Géorgie: Depuis l’Antiquité jusqu’au XIXe siecle. 2 vols. (Saint-Petersbourg: Académie Impériale des sciences, 1849-1857). Meskhia, Shota, (Tbilisi: Metsiniereba, 1974). Metreveli, Roin, Davit Aghmashenebeli (Tbilisi: Ganatleba, 1990).