The Lazic War, also known as the Colchidian War or in Georgian historiography as the Great War of Egrisi (Georgian: ეგრისის დიდი ომი, Egrisis Didi Omi), was fought between the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire and the Sasanian Empire for control of the ancient Georgian region of Lazica. The Lazic War lasted for twenty years, from 541 to 562, with varying success and ended in a victory for the Persians, who obtained an annual tribute in exchange for ending the war. The Lazic War is narrated in detail in the works of Procopius of Caesarea and Agathias.
Lazica, situated on the eastern shore of the Black Sea, and controlling important mountain passes across the Caucasus and to the Caspian Sea, had a key strategic importance for both empires. For Byzantines, it was a barrier against a Persian advance through Iberia to the coasts of the Black Sea. Persians on the other side hoped to gain access to the sea, and control a territory from which Iberia, which was by now under their firm domination, could be threatened.
The Persian Sasanians recognized Lazica (Egrisi) as part of the Roman/Byzantine sphere of influence by the "Eternal Peace" Treaty of 532. By that time, in order to foster their influence over the local monarchy, the Byzantines had insisted on the conversion of the King, Tzath I: he received both baptism and royal attributes in Constantinople, from Emperor Justin I (Justinian's predecessor), in 522/3. Byzantine garrisons were stationed in Lazica and in neighboring Abasgia, mostly in the coastal cities of Poti, Sebastopolis and Pityus. The kingdom's capital, Archaeopolis, was fortified, as well as the southern access to the kingdom on the coastal road at Petra (present-day Tsikhisdziri, north of Batumi). In 536, however, the Byzantine presence turned into a full protectorate, as the king lost many powers to the new magister militum per Armeniam John Tzibus. When Tzibus curtailed the freedom of trade of Lazic tradesmen to advance Byzantine interests, the popular dissatisfaction led to a full-scale uprising in 541, and the weakened king, Gubazes II, secretly sought Persian assistance against the Byzantines.
In 543, a Roman invasion of Armenia was defeated by a small Persian force at Anglon. However, the Shah’s attempt to establish a direct Persian control over the country and the missionary zeal of the Zoroastrian priests soon caused discontent in Christian Lazica and King Gubazes revolted in 548, this time against the Persians. Gubazes II requested aid from Emperor Justinian I and brought Alans and Sabirs to an alliance. Justinian sent 7,000 Roman and 1,000 Tzani (relatives of the Lazs) auxiliaries under Dagisthaeus to assist Gubazes, and besieged the Petra fortress. Persian reinforcements under Mihr-Mihroe defeated a small Byzantine force guarding the mountain passes and relieved the besieged Petra. Mihr-Mihroe garrisoned 3,000 men in the fortress and marched to Armenia leaving 5,000 soldiers to plunder Lazica. This force was destroyed by Dagisthaeus at the Phasis river in 549. The next Persian offensive also proved to be unsuccessful with the commander Chorianes killed in a decisive battle at the river Hippis (now the Tskhenistskali). The new Byzantine commander Bessas quelled a pro-Persian revolt of the Abasgi tribe, took Petra and defeated Mihr-Mihroe at Archaeopolis in 551. However, the latter managed to capture Cotais and the Uthimereos fortress blocking the important roads to the highland regions of Scymnia and Souania. In the summer of 555, he won an impressive victory at Telephis and forced the Byzantine-Lazic forces to retreat to Nesos.
After the death of Mihr-Mihroe, Nachoragan was appointed the Persian commander-in-chief in 555. He repulsed the Byzantine attack on the Persian positions at Onoguris and forced the enemy out of Archaeopolis, a city which Mihr-Mihroe had twice tried and failed to take. These defeats caused a bitter feud between the Lazic and Byzantine generals. King Gubazes quarreled with Byzantine commanders Bessas, Martin, and Rusticus, complaining to emperor Justinian. Bessas was recalled, but Rusticus and his brother John eventually murdered Gubazes. The Lazi people got the Emperor to nominate Tzathes, the younger brother of Gubazes, as their new king, and Senator Athanasius investigated the assassination. Rusticus and John were arrested, tried, and executed. In 556, the allies retook Archaeopolis and routed Nachoragan in his abortive attack on Phasis. In the autumn and winter of the same year, the Byzantines suppressed a rebellion staged by the mountain tribe of the Misimians, and finally expelled the Persians from the country.
Then, in 557, a truce ended the hostilities between the Byzantines and Persians, and by the "Fifty Years Peace" of Dara of 562, Khosrow I recognized Lazica as a Byzantine vassal state for an annual payment of gold.
- The Persian Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia (2 volumes): A Historical... "When the war finally ended, the Persian Sasanians had triumphed, forcing the Byzantine emperor to pay 400 pounds of gold annually."
- Alemany 2003, p. 5.
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