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The Christianization of Iberia (Georgian: ქართლის გაქრისტიანება, romanized: kartlis gakrist'ianeba)[a] refers to the spread of Christianity in the early 4th century by the sermon of Saint Nino in an ancient Georgian kingdom of Kartli, known as Iberia in classical antiquity, which resulted in declaring it as a state religion by then-pagan King Mirian III of Iberia. Per Sozomen, this led the king's "large and warlike barbarian nation to confess Christ and renounce the religion of their fathers", as the polytheistic Georgians had long-established anthropomorphic idols, known as the "Gods of Kartli". The king would become the main sponsor, architect, initiator and an organizing power of all building processes. Per Socrates of Constantinople, the "Iberians first embraced the Christian faith" alongside the Abyssinians, but the exact date of an event is still debated. Georgian monarchs, alongside the Armenians, were among the first anywhere in the world to convert to a Christian faith. Prior to the escalation of Armeno-Georgian ecclesiastical rivalry and the christological controversies their Caucasian Christianity was extraordinarily inclusive, pluralistic and flexible that only saw the rigid ecclesiological hierarchies established much later, particularly as "national" churches crystallized from the 6th century. Despite the tremendous diversity of the region, the christianization process was a pan-regional and a cross-cultural phenomenon in the Caucasus, Eurasia's most energetic and cosmopolitan zones throughout the late antiquity, hard enough to place Georgians and Armenians unequivocally within any one major civilization. The Jews of Mtskheta, the royal capital of Kartli, that did play a significant role in the Christianization of the kingdom, would give a strong impetus to deepen the ties between the Georgian monarchy and the Holy Land leading to an increasing presence of Georgians in Palestine, as the activities of Peter the Iberian and other pilgrims confirm, including the oldest attested Georgian Bir el Qutt inscriptions found in the Judaean Desert alongside the pilgrim graffiti of Nazareth and Sinai.
Iberia was a factor in a competitive diplomacy of the Roman and Sasanian Empires, and on occasion became a major player in proxy wars between the two empires. Iberia, a Georgian monarchy, that shared many institutions and concepts with the neighboring Iranians, being physically connected to their "Iranian Commonwealth" since the Achaemenid period through commerce, war or marriage, its adoption of Christianity meant that King Mirian III made a cultural and historical choice with profound international implications, though his decision was never tied with the Roman diplomatic initiatives. Iberia, architecturally and artistically rooted in Achaemenid culture, from its Hellenistic-era establishment to the conversion of the crown, embarked on a new multi-phased process that took centuries to complete, encompassing the entire 5th, 6th and early 7th centuries, resulting in the emergence of a strong Georgian identity.
On the eve of the historic christianization, the king and the queen were quickly acculturated Georgianized foreigners, the physical fusion of Iranian and Greek cultures, Saint Nino, also a foreigner, the earliest first two chief bishops of Kartli, also foreigners, the Greeks, sent by the emperor Constantine the Great. Only in the first half of the 6th century, the Georgians would permanently seize the highest ecclesiastical posts, but outsiders like Greeks, Iranians, Armenians and Syrians would continue playing a prominent role in the administration of the Georgian church.
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