Most of us are familiar with figures such as Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Nero, but how do we remember them now, outside of their stories? We almost always know of them simply as characters in tales of victory or recollections of their lives; these often seem alien to us in our everyday lives. We forget that the glorified stories we are told in literature omit countless details of how ancient figures actually lived.
In Ancient Greek and Roman cultures, having a distinguished family lineage determined your social standing. This practice has continued to exist within hierarchical societies to this day. Furthermore, many royal houses throughout history have claimed descent from ancient ruling dynasties and from famous figures both demonstrably historical (Alexander the Great, for example) and mythical (such as Hercules, Venus or Aeneas) to solidify their monarchical claim.
An unbroken lineage to people of ancient times, known as a descent from antiquity, still remains to be historically proven. Genealogists and heralds have generally focused on Western European dynasties, but let’s instead direct our attention to Eastern Europe and Georgia, in particular. We begin our adventure with the Triumvir, Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony, 83–30 BC), of the Julio-Claudian dynasty.
Mark Antony was a close relative of Julius Caesar (100–44 BC) and a brave general who played an integral part during the Roman Empire’s transition from a republic to a monarchy. Mark Antony is also notorious for his many love affairs and wives, the most famous of which was Queen Cleopatra of Ptolemaic Egypt (69–30 BC). Most of us don’t know, however, that Mark Antony’s second wife was his own first cousin, Antonia Hybrida Minor (died 47 BC). She was the daughter of Mark Antony’s paternal uncle, the consul Gaius Antonius Hybrida.
Their granddaughter was Pythodorida (c.30 BC–AD 33), and she married King Polemon I of Pontus (65–9 BC). Polemon was the son of Zenon, an orator and an ally of Mark Antony, who aided in the Parthian invasion. This couple had a granddaughter, Queen Antonia Tryphaena (10 BC–AD 55). She was the Queen consort of King Cotys III of Eastern Thrace (died AD 18). She was appointed the priestess of the cults started by the Roman Emperors Caligula and Claudius.
Additionally, she may have been one of the first prominent figures of the Roman world to convert to Christianity. Through the eldest daughter of Queen Antonia Tryphaena and King Cotys III, they are the ancestors of the Tiberian-Julian dynasty, which ruled the Bosporan Kingdom. This Kingdom was located North of the Black Sea and near the modern-day Sea of Azov. It existed as the oldest Roman client kingdom, with its kings paying homage to Rome for about 600 years.
The last ruler of this dynasty was King Rhescuporis VI, who died around AD 342. My conclusion is that his younger sister, Queen Nana (AD 295–337), married King Mirian III of Caucasian Iberia (AD 290–362). Caucasian Iberia was a neighbor of the Kingdom of Colchis, the land where Jason and the Argonauts went in search of the Golden Fleece.
Queen Nana is canonized as a Saint in the Georgian Orthodox Church for her contributions to converting Georgia to Christianity at the height of the 4th century. Together, King Mirian III and Queen Nana established a line of rulers that would govern Iberia for another 500 years. Additionally, the descendants of Mirian III and Queen Nana ruled Armenia, Trebizond, Iran, and Georgia.
Their grandson, thirteen generations removed, was the Iberian nobleman Adarnase I of Tao-Klarjeti (died 779), who consolidated royal lands in parts of modern-day Georgia, Armenia, and Turkey. He also gathered power from the weakening local rulers in the 8th century, which in turn enabled him to place his descendants in seats of power.
One such descendant was King Bagrat III of Georgia (960–1014). He was the first King to rule what is now known as the country of Georgia in the 10th century. The line of Georgian Kings, which stems from King Bagrat III, is known as the Bagrationi dynasty, which ruled the Kingdom of Georgia for over 1,100 years. At its height in the 12th century, Queen Tamar of Georgia (1160-1213) was the greatest female ruler in the entire world. She expanded the Kingdom to double its size during her rule and brought prosperity to Georgia. Many artists and scholars flocked to Georgia during her reign, resulting in a cultural ‘Golden Age’.
One of the last ruling monarchs of this dynasty was King George XII. He ruled in the 18th century and is the undisputed descendant of the aforementioned Adarnase I of Tao-Klarjeti. King George XII died in 1800, and later in 1810 the Russian Empire annexed his Kingdom. From then on, the Bagrationi dynasty lost power but was granted a Princely status within the Russian empire. The Bagrationis were considered just one step down from the Russian Imperial family itself. About a century later, the family of Tsar Nicholas II was executed in 1917 during the Bolshevik revolution. In 1921, the Soviet Union invaded Georgia, during which they imprisoned the Head of the Bagrationi Royal House, Prince Petre Bagration-Gruzinsky (1857–1922). The Royal House, however, luckily avoided execution since they were greatly respected by the Georgian people and the fact that they had enjoyed no real power for over a century. Hence, they weren’t a threat to the revolutionaries. The family only survived through such a turbulent time because they were deposed a century earlier.
Connecting all these dots allows us to lift a veil of history that transcends twenty-two centuries to reveal that the current Crown Prince, Nugzar Bagration-Gruzinsky, and other members of the Bagrationi Royal House are living descendants of Mark Antony. My investigations seem to demonstrate that a descendance from antiquity exists in Eastern Europe. This descent from antiquity starts from the Julio-Claudians, passes through the rulers of Caucasian Iberia, and continues to flourish through the living descendants of the Georgian Kings.
But what is the significance of all this? There is no need at this point in history to legitimize monarchies by tying them back to the heroes of the ancient world. Regardless, when documented and authentic connections to those of the past truly exist, such as in this case, it is undeniably awe-inspiring as it brings those characters who lived so long ago to life. When we see that these peoples’ legacies are still alive, their blood flowing through the hearts of those around us, it arouses a deep, intangible interest. A descent from antiquity isn’t something most of us can relate to, yet its ability to reshape our views on history is immensely profound.
Omnia mutantur, nihil interit.
(“everything changes, nothing perishes.“)
Publius Ovidius Naso, Metamorphoses 15.165
Prince Theodore D. Kopaliani is a member of the Bagrationi Royal House. He is a senior at Princeton High School and wants to study medicine and international affairs. He is passionate about genealogy and history especially pertaining to the ancient world.
To get started, I recommend reading Joseph Bichikashvili’s The Bagrationi Dynasty: The Royal House of Georgia & Lesser Houses of Nobility (GP Books, Tbilisi, 2021) as it provides a general overview of the history of the Georgian Royal House. For strictly genealogical and historical analysis, refer to Cyril Toumanoff’s Les dynasties de la Caucasie Chrétienne: de l’Antiquité jusqu’au XIXe siècle: tables généalogiques et chronologiques (n.p., Rome, 1990) and Christian Settipani’s Continuité des élites à Byzance durant les siècles obscurs. Les princes caucasiens et l’Empire du VIe au IXe siècle (De Boccard, Paris, 2006).
|⇧1||For example, the Spartan Kings claimed to be born of the children of Hercules, and the Ptolemies claimed to be related to Alexander the Great.|
|⇧2||The Kingdom of Pontus was a Roman client Kingdom that ruled lands in modern-day Turkey, Georgia, and Russia for approximately 350 years.|
|⇧3||The Thracian Kingdom, also known as the Sapaean Kingdom, ruled over areas of the southeastern Balkans for about a century. Emperor Claudius annexed the Kingdom into the Roman Empire in AD 46.|
|⇧4||Romans 16:12 (NIV): “Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord.”|
|⇧5||In the ancient Georgian chronicles, Queen Nana of Iberia is referred to as Nana of Pontus, daughter of Oligotos. Several ideas have been proposed as to her ancestry. Some have claimed her to be the daughter of the Roman Governor of Theodosia, Aurelius Valerius Sogus Olympianus. However, a generally more accepted and historical explanation exists: that Queen Nana was the daughter of the ancient Bosporan King, Tiberius Julius Thothorses. The French genealogist Christian Settipani affirms that the name “Oligotos”, which appears in Georgian chronicles, is a corruption of the older Armenian form of “Uliotorisi”. Upon closer inspection, “Uliotorisi” can be split into two main parts, “Ulio-” and “-torisi” which is remarkably similar to phonetic pronunciations of “Julius” [ˈjuːliʊs] and “Thothorses” [tōtōrsēs]. King T. J. Thothorses was the father of King T. J. Rhescurporis VI.|
|⇧6||The full regnal title of Queen Tamar was “By the will of God, King of Kings and Queen of Queens of the Abkhazians, Kartvelians, Arranians, Kakhetians, and Armenians; Shirvanshah and Shahanshah; Autocrat of all the East and the West, Glory of the World and Faith; Champion of the Messiah.”|
|⇧7||After King George XII died in 1800, his eldest son, Prince David XII, ruled as regent for ten years because the Russian Tsar would not allow his coronation.|
|⇧8||The male-line members of the Bagrationi Royal Family were given the designation “Gruzinsky,” which means “Georgian” in the Russian language.|