If any small slice of the globe matches the complex history of the largest and oldest countries, it is Georgia. For more than a millennium, a territory smaller than the U.S. state of the same name suffered a dizzying swirl of invasions as Cimmerians, Scythians, Greeks, Seleucids, Romans, Seljuks, Persians, Ottomans, and Russians battled for some or all of its land. These struggles with outsiders began centuries before the birth of Jesus and continued through the Russian war with Georgia in August 2008, and they were accentuated by near-constant warring among the separate dynasties that ruled Georgia’s different regions during the long periods when the country was not united. Rayfield reconstructs every step of the way in often punishing detail. The onslaught eases and the reading becomes more rewarding when he gets to Georgia’s “Golden Age” (1089–1213), under the reigns of David IV and Queen Tamara. His treatment of the turbulent eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the violent dance among the Ottomans, the Persians, and the Russians ended with Georgia’s incorporation into the Russian empire, is particularly masterful. Sections on the country’s more recent history, while efficient, are brief and less probing.
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