Battle of Didgori

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Battle of Didgori
Part of the Georgian-Seljuk wars, Great Turkish Invasion
Date August 12, 1121
Location 40 km west of Tbilisi, Kingdom of Georgia
(present-day Didgori, Georgia)

41°41′N 44°31′E / 41.683°N 44.517°E / 41.683; 44.517Coordinates: 41°41′N 44°31′E / 41.683°N 44.517°E / 41.683; 44.517
Result Decisive Georgian victory

Seljuqs Eagle.svg Great Seljuq Empire:

Sakartvelo - drosha.svg Kingdom of Georgia

Commanders and leaders
Ilghazi (WIA)
Dubays II
David IV
Prince Demetrius

per modern Georgian est.: 100,000-250,000;

  • other sources: around 200,000-250,000[1] or app. 300.000.[2]
  • contemporary chronicles: 400,000-600,000 or 800,000 [3][4][5]

Total: 55,600[4][5]

Casualties and losses

Killed: 400,000[6]

Captured: 50,000[6]
Battle of Didgori is located in Georgia
Battle of Didgori
Battle of Didgori
Location of Didgori valley in Georgia with present-day administrative borders.

The Battle of Didgori was fought between the armies of the Kingdom of Georgia and the Great Seljuq Empire at the place of Didgori, 40 km west of the Tbilisi, on August 12, 1121. The battle resulted in King David IV of Georgia’s decisive victory over a Seljuk invasion army under Ilghazi and the subsequent reconquest of a Muslim-held Tbilisi, which became the royal capital. The victory at Didgori inaugurated the medieval Georgian Golden Age and is celebrated in the Georgian chronicles as a (Georgian: ძლევაჲ საკვირველი, dzlevay sakvirveli; lit. the "miraculous victory"). Modern Georgians continue to remember the event as an annual September festival known as Didgoroba ("[the day] of Didgori").[8][9]


The Kingdom of Georgia had been a tributary to the Great Seljuq Empire since the 1080s. However, in the 1090s, the energetic Georgian king David IV was able to exploit internal unrest in the Seljuq state and the success of the Western European First Crusade against Muslim control of the Holy Land, and established a relatively strong monarchy, reorganizing his army and recruiting Kipchak, Alan, and even Frankish mercenaries to lead them to the reconquest of lost lands and the expulsion of Turkish raiders. David's battles were not, like those of the Crusaders, part of a religious war against Islam, but rather were a political-military effort to liberate Caucasus from the nomadic Seljuks. David renounced the tribute to the Seljuqs in 1096/7, put an end to the seasonal migrations of the Turks into Georgia, and recovered several key fortresses in a series of campaigns from 1103 to 1118. His major goal being the reconquest of Tbilisi, an ancient Georgian city which had been under Muslim rule for over four centuries, David launched his military activities outside Georgia, penetrating as far as the Araxes river basin and the Caspian littoral, and terrorizing Muslim traders throughout the South Caucasus. By June 1121, Tbilisi had actually been under a Georgian siege, with its Muslim élite being forced into paying a heavy tribute to David IV.[10]The resurgence of Georgians’ military energies, as well as his demands for tribute from the independent city of Tbilisi brought about a coordinated Muslim response.

Deployment and order of battle

The Coalition army

Both Georgian and Islamic sources testify that, on the complaints of the Muslim merchants of Tbilisi, Ganja, and Dmanisi, Sultan Mahmud II b. Muhammad of Baghdad (r. 1118-1131) sent an expedition into Georgia in which the Artuqid Ilghazi of Mardin; Tughan-Arslan, lord of Arzin, Bidlis, and Dvin; the Mazyadid Dubays II of Al Hillah and the sultan’s brother Toghrul ibn Muhammad; lord of Arran and Nakhichevan, with his atabeg Kun-toghdi all took part. The size of the Muslim army is still a matter of debate, with numbers ranging from a fantastic 600,000 men (as given by Walter the Chancellor and Matthew of Edessa) to 400,000 (Sempad Sparapet's Chronicle), while estimates of Georgian historians vary between 100,000 and 250,000 men. Although all of these numbers are exaggerated, all sources in-dicate that the Muslims made massive preparations and vastly outnumbered the Georgians. This combined army under the overall command of Ilghazi, who had just won the Battle of Ager Sanguinis (1119), entered the valley of Trialeti in eastern Georgia and encamped in the vicinities of Didgori and Manglisi in mid-August 1121.[10]

Little is known of Ilghazi's exact battle plan or course of action and order of battle other than the commonly suggested deployment of large numbers of light missile troops, particularly archers and light cavalry in the vanguard to harass the enemy lines while the bulk of the army remained behind them in orderly battle formation. It is suggested that Ilghazis vanguard approached David's army and reported back about a much smaller force than expected, which might have raised Ilghazi's confidence enough to not expect any surprise. It is also claimed that the Seljuq light cavalry rode in front of the Georgians and started to shoot and taunt them which was received with little to no effect on their morale. There is no evidence of heavy cavalry present on Ilghazi's side or any type of cavalry which could have matched the Georgian counterpart.

The Georgian army

After pillaging the County of Edessa, Ilghazi made peace with the crusaders. In 1121 he went north towards Armenia and with supposedly up to 250 000 - 350 000 troops, including men led by his son-in-law Sadaqah and Sultan Malik of Ganja, he invaded Georgia.

On the other side the Georgians were facing a significantly superior foe in terms of numbers, but had the strategic as well as tactical advantage. King David's decisive reforms turned the Georgian army into a well organized and structured military force which saw little analogue in that period. The Georgian army of 56,000 men included 500 Alans and 200 Franks from the Holy Land sent by Baldwin II of Jerusalem.[2][11]

On August 11, 1121, King David split them into two divisions, one under his personal command and the other smaller group under his son Demetrius I, hidden in reserve behind the nearby heights with orders to attack the flank at a given signal. The smallest formations would be equivalents of nowadays squads and platoons, then a "group of 100" and so forth all led by servants of higher status and different rank. The most crucial and core component was the Monaspa guard or royal guard which consisted of 5,000 well trained and heavily armed, mounted warriors which would be used as shock cavalry together with the nobility. The Crusaders, the Kipchak cavalry and a small portion of infantry were deployed in the center of the Georgian army around the king's banner while the rest were equally split in two major wings initially out of sight for the Seljuqs. Each formation was headed by a great and dense line of horsemen. The heavy cavalry would smash into the enemy ranks with their lances joined by the infantry which would entangle the Seljuq main body in fights while the cavalry was to regroup and carry out repeated attacks till the enemy broke. At the sign of collapse David would then send forward his Kipchak cavalry. Initially the king and all his entourage stayed in the center but would immediately switch to their respective positions when the battle commenced. During battle David IV would assume command over his army's left wing, while Demetrius was leading the right.

The battle

The aftermath of the Didgori battle portrayed in "Spirit of the Rider" made by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau in 2016.[12]

The course of the battle is differently related in the contemporaneous historical records. According to the Arab chronicler Ibn al-Athir, David sent a small detachment of his men in order to simulate negotiation. Other accounts speak of a hundred supposed deserters requesting an audience with the Seljuq commander. Meanwhile, the Georgians successfully managed to deploy a large portion of their force where they would almost encircle the enemy in a pincer movement. Their opponents remained unaware of such activities. Upon approaching the Seljuq leaders, the deserters or diplomatic group unveiled their real intentions by suddenly attacking and killing every Seljuq commander in sight and others who were attending the meeting. While this was going on David ordered a frontal attack on the enemy vanguard with his crusader cavalry which not only devastated the enemy's forward lines but also entangled the Seljuq archers in close combat, effectively taking out a crucial component of Ilghazi's force. The Georgians then began to quickly advance on the flanks in full formation. Najm ad-Din Ilghazi ibn Artuq and his son both survived the attack on the vanguard but were severely injured during the fight and withdrew from the battlefield, leaving the Seljuq army virtually leaderless.

Expansion of Kingdom of Georgia under David IV's reign.

The majority of his commanders were either injured or killed, which caused confusion and probably resulted in a lack of adequate response to the chaotic situation. King David didn't hesitate and personally led the Georgian right flank, ordering his heavy cavalry to ride straight into the seemingly disorganised Seljuk left flank, which was trying to reinforce the vanguard. Having the advantage of moving downhill, the charge of the Georgian cavalry proved very effective. Almost simultaneously the left wing, under the command of David's son Demetrius, struck the Seljuk right flank also with heavy cavalry. When the Georgian infantry joined the fight, the Seljuq troops started to panic and retreated en masse through the huge gap in their army's rearguard, which wasn't engaged in the battle. This provoked large numbers of uninvolved Seljuq troops to flee as well, causing a massive rout, while their vanguard was completely annihilated. David then sent forward his 15,000 Kipchak cavalrymen to run down the fleeing enemy so that they wouldn't have time or opportunity to regroup or commence any other move. With the Kipchaks joining in, the final remnants of Seljuq resistance crumbled and joined the rout. The battle was decided within three hours with the Seljuq army overrun leaving a very large number of dead, injured, prisoners and booty. Fleeing remaints were constantly pursued and run down for several days. The captured Seljuqs would serve for David's ambitions to rebuild his kingdom.[13]

Section of the Didgori monument with swords stuck in the ground

Aside from those accounts, it has also been suggested that confronted by a vanguard of the large invading force, David had to rely on the advantages the nearby terrain offered to disguise his troop movements. The Seljuk cavalry was provoked or tricked into a relatively narrow pass where they probably had not much room to maneuver. As these were cut off from the rest of Ilghazi's army, the Georgians were easily able to take them out with spears, pikes, and light infantry using bows and javelins. The rest of the coalition army was probably forced to climb slopes to attack the Georgian army's main body, while being constantly struck at the flanks by heavy cavalry. After a while, those tactics broke the fighting will of the Muslim army, which was soon routed. Ilghazi reportedly received an injury to his head when a hundred crusaders managed to break through his lines rushing towards the Seljuq command banner.[14] King David ordered his Kipchak light cavalry to keep pursuing the retreating Seljuqs to prevent further conflict. The numbers of men fleeing the field must have been so huge that the Georgian cavalry was taking large numbers of prisoners for several days. As a result, the Georgians were able to liberate the entire region from Muslim influence and even contest territories within the Seljuq Empire, which at that point was left almost defenceless.


The unification of Georgia and the elimination of Muslim authority was completed in the year following the battle at Didgori. David laid siege to and captured the city of Tbilisi, which for nearly four hundred years had been an Islamic town. Five hundred citizens were tortured to death, and much of the city burned. Tbilisi became a royal town, the capital of Georgia, "for ever an arsenal and capital for his sons." The medieval sources emphasize David’s acts of revenge against the Muslims of Tbilisi. However, the Arab historian al-'Ayni (1360–1451), who utilizes sources, some of which have not survived, admits that the city was pillaged but says that the Georgian king eventually showed patience and "respected the feelings of the Muslims."[10][13]


  1. ^ Golden, Peter B. Turks And Khazars. Farnham, England: Ashgate/Variorum, 2010. Print.
  2. ^ a b Lortkipanidze, Mariam and B. G Hewitt. Georgia In The XI-XII Centuries. Tbilisi [Georgian S.S.R.]: Ganatleba Publishers, 1987.
  3. ^ Mikaberidze, Alexander. Conflict And Conquest In The Islamic World. Print.
  4. ^ a b Alexander Mikaberidze, Miraculous Victory:’ Battle of Didgori, 1121, Published: May 14, 2008;"The size of the Muslim army is still a matter of debate with numbers ranging from a fantastic 800,000 men (“Bella Antiochena”, Galterii Cancelarii), 600,000 Turks (Matthew of Edessa) to 400,000 (Smbat Sparapet’s Chronicle) while the estimates of modern Georgian historians vary between 100,000-250,000 men." [1]
  5. ^ a b Nomads in the Sedentary World, p. 47, at Google Books
  6. ^ a b c d Смбат Спарапет / Летопись / пер. А. Г. Галстяна — Ер. Изд-во «Айастан». 1974 г. Царь Грузии Давид, сын Декая, сын Багарата, сын Георге, собрал все своё войско, пригласил на помощь также 40000 кипчаков, 18000 аланов, 10000 армян, 500 франков, людей храбрых и воинственных. Вот с таким количеством людей он (Давид) выступил в бой. Это был страшный бой. С божьей помощью победили христиане. Они истребили свыше 400000 и взяли в плен 50000 человек. Султан Мелек и Хази позорно обратились в бегство, а Давид победоносно и радостно возвратился обратно
  7. ^ Ronald Grigor Suny / The Making of the Georgian Nation / Indiana University Press, 1994. - p. 36 (418) ISBN 0253209153, 9780253209153 On August 12, 1121, the Georgians and their Armenian, Qipchak, Osetin, and Shirvan allies advanced and attacked the Muslims unexpectedly near Didgori, achieving what in Georgian history is known as dzleva sakvir- veli, the "wonderful victory."
  8. ^ Suny, Ronald Grigor (1994). The Making of the Georgian Nation. Indiana University Press. p. 36. ISBN 0-253-20915-3. 
  9. ^ Virgil, et al. Georgica. Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1985. Print.
  10. ^ a b c Minorsky, Vladimir (1993). "Tiflis". In Houtsma, M. Th.; van Donzel, E. E. J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913–1936. Brill. p. 755. ISBN 90-04-08265-4. 
  11. ^ Soltes, Ori Z. National Treasures Of Georgia. London: Philip Wilson Publishers, 1999. Print.
  12. ^ "FERRER –DALMAU: El espíritu del jinete", Diario YA
  13. ^ a b (in Georgian) Javakhishvili, Ivane (1982), k'art'veli eris istoria (The History of the Georgian Nation), vol. 2, pp. 184-187. Tbilisi State University Press.
  14. ^ Rogers, Clifford J, Kelly DeVries, and John France. Journal of Medieval Military History. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2013. Print.

Further reading

  • Mikaberidze, Alexander (May 14, 2008). "'Miraculous Victory:' Battle of Didgori, 1121". Armchair General. 
  • Fähnrich, Heinz (1994). "Die Schlacht am Didgori". Georgica (in German). 17: 33–39. 
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