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Tiflis (Tbilisi in Georgian) is the capital of the Republic of Georgia. Its legendary origins begin with the early medieval king of eastern Georgia (Kartli), Vakhtang Gorgasali (c. 447522), who is said to have shot a deer that fell into a pool of hot spring water on the spot where he then decreed his capital to be built. The city's name derives from the Georgian word for "warm" (tbili ). From its origins, Tiflis was in the Iranian sphere of cultural influence, as was much of eastern Georgia, and even today the oldest parts of the city, around Maidan (square) and stretching up the Holy Mountain (Mtatsminda) have a Middle Eastern appearance with their narrow winding streets and elaborately carved balconies. From the arrival of the Arab conquerors in the seventh century, the city was often in the hands of Muslim rulers. Indeed, in 853 the caliph of Baghdad sent an army to put down the rebellious Muslim emir of Tiflis and had the city burned to the ground, thus ending any pretension of the town becoming the center of a rival Islamic state.

After nearly four hundred years in Muslim hands, Tiflis was taken by the Georgian king David

the Builder (10891125) and reached its medieval zenith in the reigns of Queen Tamar (11841212) and her son Giorgi the Resplendent. In the centuries that followed the Mongol invasions (thirteenthfourteenth centuries), Georgia suffered a long, slow decline, and Tiflis and eastern Georgia came under the hegemony of Iran. In the mid-eighteenth century the last great king of eastern Georgia, Erekle II (17441798), recaptured the city, which became the center of a multinational empire that reached north to the Great Caucasus and south into Armenia.

After a devastating invasion by the Persians that destroyed large parts of the city, the Russians marched into Tiflis (1800), which soon became their principal administrative center in Caucasia. The city was then largely Armenian in population, but through the century the percentage of Georgians increased steadily until they became a majority in Soviet times. In the twentieth century Tiflis (Tbilisi) was successively the capital of the Transcaucasian Federation (1918), the first independent Georgian Republic (19181921), the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia (19211991), and the second independent Republic of Georgia (since 1991). Today it is a city of more than one million people, but since the end of the Soviet Union Tiflis has lost much of its cosmopolitan flavor as Armenians, Russians, and Jews have steadily migrated elsewhere. The post-Soviet disintegration of Georgia and the collapse of its economy have taken a toll on the town, but the beauty of its buildings and natural setting remains intact.

See also: caucasus; georgia and georgians; islam; transcaucasian federations


Suny, Ronald Grigor. (1986). "Tiflis, Crucible of Ethnic Politics, 18601905." In The City in Late Imperial Russia, ed. Michael F. Hamm. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Suny, Ronald Grigor. (1994). The Making of the Georgian Nation. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Ronald Grigor Suny

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TIFLIS (Georgian Tbilisi ), capital city of Georgia. Members of the Georgian Jewish community have lived in Tiflis for many generations. During the 19th century Jews from Russia began to settle there. They were mostly craftsmen and descendants of soldiers who had served in the Caucasus in the Russian army. There was also a small community of Jews of Persian origin. The Georgian Jews maintained their own community which was headed by a ḥakham. The attitude of the local Russian authorities to the Jews was favorable because of their usefulness as craftsmen. In 1876 there were 1,276 Jews in Tiflis, increasing to 3,668 (about 2.5% of the population) in 1897. During the early 1920s Tiflis was a transit station for ḥalutzim from Russia on their way to Palestine. In the 1959 census 17,311 Jews (2.5%) were registered in Tiflis, of whom 9,328 declared Georgian and 7,600 Russian to be their mother tongue. The Georgian Jews preserved their particular Jewish way of life, many adhering to religious tradition. There were two synagogues, a larger one for the Georgian Jews and a smaller one for the Ashkenazi Jews. The Tiflis Jewish community was regarded as the wealthiest in the Soviet Union. It employed 17 community workers for the synagogue, the mikveh, maẓẓah bakery, ritual slaughtering, and cemetery services. About ten students in the Moscow yeshivah (1956–62) came from Tiflis of whom only two or three finished their studies and were appointed as shoḥatim. Many Jews in Tiflis applied for exit permits to Israel in the framework of the reunion of families, particularly after 1968. By the early 21st century most of Georgia's remaining 5,000 Jews were living in the city.

Jewish activities in Tiflis are vigorous, and an infrastructure has been established to preserve and develop the heritage of the Georgian Jews. The rabbi and the other heads of the Jewish community participate in all state activities and events, as well as in social events intended to foster a stronger connection between the Georgians and the Jews. There is a synagogue, a Jewish community center, a yeshivah, kindergarten, Sunday school, a women's center, and a youth center.

[Yehuda Slutsky /

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed)]

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