Georgian writing’s emergence was of great importance in the socio-cultural life of the country, as literary works in the national language marked a great step forward in the overall development of the nation. The history of handwritten Georgian manuscripts began with the translation and transcription of biblical books, with the books of the Old Testament preserved in the form of fragments on palimpsests dated to the fifth and eighth centuries. Today, about 11,000 copies of handwritten Georgian manuscripts are known of and stored in Georgian as well as foreign libraries.
The first known Georgian literary work "Tsamebai Tsmindisa Shushanikisi Dedoplisai" (Martyrdom Of The Holy Queen Shushanik) dates back to 476-483. In the same century, Peter the Iberian wrote his philosophical work "Areopagitica," while slightly later in the eighth century, "The Life of St. Nino" by an unknown author and "The Torture of Abo Tfileli" by Ioane Sabanisdze followed. In addition, an excellent example of the hagiographic genre - Giorgi Merchule's "Life of the St. Grigol of Khandzta" - dates back to 951.
The 11th-12th centuries were of special importance as during this period Georgian secular literary works were created under the conditions and rules set by the royal court of an independent and powerful feudal monarchy. Georgian heroic and epic works have carried great significance for Georgian readers for many centuries. Indeed, there are manuscripts unique to the Georgian nation, considered as family relics or "dowry books" (books that families would include in the dowry for their daughters). The copying and illustrating such works were also of great importance.
An outstanding example of Georgian secular literature is the chivalric novel "Amirandarejani," which tells of the adventures of the son of the mighty hero Amirandarejani, authored by Mose Khoneli. Important literary monuments of this period include the Georgian medical book “Karabadin”, "Life of the Georgian Kings" by chronicler Leonti Mroveli, folk epic "Eterian", "Life of Pharnavazi" written by an unknown author, "Tamarian" by Chakhrykhadze and the holy hymn “Shen Khar Venakhi” ("Thou Are A Vineyard") composed by King Demetrius I. Above them all is of course a gem of Georgian as well as world poetry – “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin" by Shota Rustaveli. In addition, notable works were also produced in the 13th-14th centuries, namely "Abdulmessian" and "Life of Kartli" by Joan of Shavta.
Georgian writing of the 12th-13th centuries is exceptionally rich. The first Georgian-printed book was the Italian-Georgian dictionary, printed in Rome in 1629. Eventually, when Vakhtang the Sixth brought a printing press to Georgia, Georgian works began to be printed within the country.
In 1709, the Gospel was printed for the first time in the Georgian printing house, and other books, including "The Knight in the Panther’s Skin" followed. In the same period, Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani's "The Book of Wisdom and Lies" and "Journey to Europe" were also published. The former is a unique work of the 17th-18th centuries inasmuch as it would go on to serve educational and didactic purposes.
The monumental poem "Davitiani" by Davit Guramishvili, which describes the turbulent life of the times, belongs to the same period. The poet suffered a tragic fate, being forced to seek refuge abroad.
In 1749-1802, the Erekle II Printing House was established in Tbilisi, where original samples of Georgian literature were printed including "Sermon" by Catholicos Anton I of Georgia and his "Sheskhma Akhlisa Kitabi – Sapatisa."
In the 19th century, a new movement - romanticism - appeared in world literature and consequently entered the Georgian literary scene. Georgian representatives of the movement - Aleksandre Chavchavadze, Grigol Orbeliani, and Nikoloz Baratashvili - produced excellent works of romantic poetry.
In the second half of the 19th century, the representatives of critical realism, or the so-called “Tergdaleulebi” (or those who “have drunk the water from the River Tergi” meaning they have crossed the Georgian-Russian border once they went to study to St. Petersburg) were Ilia Chavchavadze, Akaki Tsereteli, Niko Nikoladze, Davit Kldiashvili, Aleksandre Kazbegi, and Jacob Gogebashvili, among others. The works of Vazha-Pshavela belong to the same period, rightfully recognized as the foundation of Georgian modernism.
The first half of the twentieth century is considered the golden age of the Georgian novel. In the 1920s, Mikheil Javakhishvili, Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, Leo Kiacheli, Grigol Robakidze, Niko Lortkifanidze and others appeared on the literary scene, bringing their own bits of expressionism into their works and creating distinguished pieces of literature.
In 1916, young writers founded the Association of Georgian Symbolist Poets and Prose Writers - "Tsisperkantselebi" or the “Blue Horns,” which existed until 1930. The "Blue Horns" were persecuted by the Soviet government because of their ideology which it found unacceptable. The outstanding representatives of this movement were Titsian Tabidze, Valerian Gafrindashvili, Paolo Iashvili, Kolau Nadiradze, Aleksandre Arsenishvili, and Giorgi Leonidze. In the same period, an exceptional and beloved poet of the country Galaktion Tabidze also lived, later referred to as "the king of poets" by the Georgian people.
In the second half of the 20th century, after the Second World War, young and talented writers started to appear on the literary scene such as Otia Ioseliani, Guram Dochanashvili, Otar and Tamaz Chiladze, Jemal Karchkhadze, Chabua Amirejibi, Otar Chkheidze, Rezo Inanishvili, Rezo Cheishvili, Nodar Dumbadze, Guram Rcheulishvili, and Zaira Arsenishvili. In this period, through Western influence, magical realism was established, in the course of which Georgians have created a multitude of interesting works.
Within the contemporary Georgian literature, postmodernist literature is prominent. Important works in this genre belong to Besik Kharanauli, Aka Morchiladze, Irakli Javakhadze, Dato Turashvili, Beka Kurkhuli, Shota Iatashvili, and Naira Gelashvili. Their works have been translated into many foreign languages, while Georgian writers abroad are worthy of a special mention including Nino Kharatishvili, the author of several worldwide bestsellers.