“Shavparosnebi” – Georgian Gladiators
18 September, 2014
“Shavparosnebi” – Georgian Gladiators
I often meet them at the hippodrome, where they train. Mesmerized by their moves, I used to stand and watch this very manly martial art with great pleasure. Despite the fact that they were using a variety of dangerous weapons and performing difficult combat maneuvers, I was amazed by how calm and balanced they were. Their training resembled something out of an action-packed movie. Before I got to know them personally, I dubbed them “Georgian gladiators”. They are exactly what
I imagined Georgian warriors of old to be like.

I got personally acquainted with “Shavparosnebi” two years ago, when they were on the way to their tour to Rome. It was an extremely important event for them, because in nearly 2,000 years, this was the second time Rome hosted Georgian warriors.
Georgians were first received in Rome in 144, when Emperor Antoninus Pius graciously invited Parsman The Valiant, King of Iberia, together with his retinue. Preserved records tell us of Romans being completely taken aback by a display of Georgian martial art. As a sign of respect, Romans erected a monument to the Georgian King at the Field of Mars. Unfortunately, time is not kind to monuments, but occasionally history revives itself. Many years later, Parsman’s descendants returned to Rome.
The festival, called “Natale Di Roma,” traditionally invites only countries that had historical relations with the Roman Empire. Khevsurian (Mountainous region of Georgia) fencing, which has no analogs in any other country’s martial art, was presented during the celebration. Group fights, fistfights included were also staged.
As one of “Shavparosnebi”, Irakli Makharadze, told me, both of their performances at the festival left the audience in awe: “When a whip is cracked, it makes an amazing sound and is quite fascinating to watch. Many of our combat moves, especially fencing ones, have no analogs abroad. Khevsurians used to live in very mountainous places and could not wear heavy armor or heft around huge shields, like Romans did. Khevsurians’ weapon and armor were dictated by their environment, eventually resulting in establishment of a peculiar fighting style.
During Parsman’s visit to Rome, Georgians amazed the Romans with their horse riding techniques and gymnastics. It is historically known that Georgians had no equals when it came to trick riding.

Irakli Kokosadze, Shavparosani:

“Despite the fact that participation in a festival dedicated to foundation of Rome is a great honor, trips abroad by “Shavparosnebi” are always under a big question mark. Whenever we go looking for a sponsor, we get the same answer everywhere: The project is good, but we don’t have the money. Yet despite all this, our performances at the festival made it obvious that foreigners are very interested in our ancient martial art.”


During enemy invasions, when the small Georgian army avoided meeting the countless foes head-on, Georgians resorted to guerilla warfare. They attacked enemies primarily at night, painting their shields black so that accidentally reflected light wouldn’t give them away, which led to enemies dubbing them “Kara Kalghan” (Black Shields), which translates as “Shavparosnebi” to Georgian. These small guerilla forces attacked in the dead of night with blinding speed, decimating hundreds and even thousands of enemies. Very soon, just mentioning them was enough to strike fear. “Shavparosnebi” were especially distinguished by their unique combat prowess.
Creation of an organization dedicated to the martial art began in the 90’s as an idea and in 2000 a union named “Georgian Martial Art” was established. In 2011, an organization named “Shavparosnebi” was founded. The Federation’s purpose is to restore and popularize ancient Georgian martial traditions basing on discoveries of different expeditions.

Parsman II Kveli (valiant)

Reign of King Parsman II lasted approximately from 120 to 170 A.D. He was considered the most powerful of all Iberian kings, who got the title “Kveli” (Valiant) for his bravery. Under his reign, the Kingdom of Iberia reached the peak of its might. At the very beginning of his reign, Parsman invaded Albania and Cappadocia, and by 130 A.D. he controlled the entirety of Southern Caucasus. The Armenian Kingdom became a vassal of Iberia, which caused Rome significant displeasure. Emperor Hadrian sent a very strong-worded letter to Parsman, demanding his presence in Rome, only to receive a cold refusal. Hadrian did not want a war with Iberia, opting instead to send Parsman numerous gifts, among them 50 legionnaires and a war elephant, in a hope to buy his loyalty, which also failed.
In 144 A.D. new Roman Emperor, Antoninus Pius, invited Parsman and his family, who went to Rome as guests, and their arrival marked the creation of an alliance between Rome and the Kingdom of Iberia. Parsman’s retinue held a horseback performance at the Coliseum. By the Emperor’s order, a monument depicting Parsman on a horse was erected at the Field of Mars. Rome had acknowledged Iberian hegemony in Southern Caucasus.

Ancient Georgian martial art

Ancient Georgian martial art was established over the course of many centuries, and it was not just about rigorous physical training. Martial training schools, sometimes run by families, cared not only about their students mastering the ways of battle, but also about mental strength. Such training ensured not only formidable physical form, but also deep spiritual development. Selfless and valiant service to the country implied not only knowing how to fight, but also upholding a strict moral code.
In the XI, XII and XIII centuries, the Georgian martial arts school was at the peak of its development. Its methods were unique; no foreign influence can be traced. This is confirmed by foreign historical sources, which praise it for its tactical use and adaptability.
Due to almost constantly being outnumbered, Georgians had to employ uncustomary tactics. When overwhelming hordes of enemies attacked, Georgians knew that while their meager forces could not beat the enemy in direct combat, the highlander tactic of night raids could shift the balance in their favor. Georgians trained while blindfolded, ensuring that they knew the area by heart and became used to fighting in the dark.
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