On the Fringes of Empire: The Religio-political Scope of Christianity in the Early Modern Caucasus

Friday, January 5, 2018: 8:50 AM
Blue Room Prefunction (Omni Shoreham)
Robert John Clines, Western Carolina University
In 1615, the Jesuits Louis Granger and Étienne Viau arrived in Georgia after having been invited there by several local princes and clerics. In previous missions to Orthodox Christians, even those who had invited the Jesuits, the Jesuits rarely found success. To the Jesuits' surprise, the Georgian clergy were open to the idea of recognizing papal authority, and praised Pope Paul V and King Louis XIII of France for their defense of Christians. Likewise, several Georgian princes fêted the Jesuits’ arrival and deliberated submission to Rome. These princes even considered allying themselves with the mission’s patron, Louis. The Jesuits intimated why Georgian princes were willing to consider a Franco-papal alliance which many other Eastern Rite Christians had long rejected: these princes were trying to maintain their tenuous political and religious independence in the face of the Ottoman-Safavid War (1603-1618), which was being fought to their immediate south, and they were looking for allies in their struggle with their much more powerful neighbors.

Ultimately, the Jesuits, the Georgians, Paul, and Louis were not able to forge an accord once the Safavids invaded Georgia in 1615. However, the Georgians’ deliberation over whether to accept a Franco-papal alliance and Paul and Louis’s willingness to aid the Georgians in the form of Jesuit missions, seminary training in Rome, and financial assistance, demonstrate two points about the place of small states in the early modern word: First, these smaller states recognized the need to preserve their autonomy, and sought out allies who could protect them; second, larger states desired to have these smaller states as allies due to their proximity to their rivals’ borders. These points suggest that petty states and minority faiths on the margins of empires were part and parcel of the imperial rivalries that pervaded the early modern world.