When the first world war broke in 1914, news spread all over the world, alliances were formed, and the world witnessed as brave men and women emerged, ready to defend their nations and beliefs. And although it was a war of trenches, rifles, and machine guns— a modern conflict at that time— the crusader knights of Georgia did not waste time when the news reached them: they armored up, carried their shields and broad swords, and rode to the governor’s palace. “Where’s the war?”

Khevsur warriors wearing their traditional armor. Barry (captain). F. 27. Chewsours. Scientific mission of Mr. Ernest Chantre. 1881. (Barry (18..-19.. ; capitaine), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Khevsurs

The origin of Khevsurs was quite vague, as there was not much historical documentation written about it. However, according to legends told by the Khevsurs, their ancestor Gudaneli fled from his feudal overlord in Kakheti, a lowland province southeast of Khevsureti. When he ran away, he took refuge among the Pshavs, where he decided to settle and have his family. He and his wife had three children: Araba, Gogona, and Ch’inch’ara. They cleared a new land where they could settle, which would later be the territory of Khevsur.

Khevsurs at the post. (Gigo Gabashvili, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Another version claims that they were the descendants of Crusaders who left France 800 years ago and got detached from their unit, so they marched their own way through Turkey and Armenia until they settled in the Greater Caucasus mountains in Georgia. Although there was proof on the speculation, some historians did not fully support this theory. As written by Frontier Artisans:

Though the legend is not widely supported by some historians it is curious that Khevsur chain armor is in the French style and the letters A.M.D. – Ave Mater Dei, the motto of the Crusaders – is carved on their shields, and Crusader crosses adorn the handles of their broadswords and are embroidered on their garments.

So there might be some truth in that.

“Where’s the war?”

When the Russian Empire declared war on Turkey as part of its alliance with the Triple Entente in Western Europe in 1914, the news about the WWI outbreak had not reached the countryside until the spring of 1915, seven months after. In the book written by Richard Halliburton in 1935 titled “Seven League Boots,” he wrote what happened the day the Georgian knights arrived upon hearing the news:

The shock was greater, therefore, when, in the spring of 1915, some months after Russia’s declaration of war against Turkey, a band of twelfth-century Crusaders, covered from head to foot in rusty chain armour and carrying shields and broad-swords came riding on horseback down the main avenue of Tiflis.

People’s eyes almost popped out of their heads. Obviously this was no cinema company going on location. These were Crusaders – or their ghosts.

The incredible troop clanked up to the governor’s palace.

“Where’s the war?” they asked. “We hear there’s a war”

Khevsur clansmen in Georgia. (Wikimedia Commons)

They also brought with them flintlock muskets and their excellent fighting skills. There were no details of whether they did or did not fight alongside the Russian army during World War I. The Tsarist government fell during the war to be replaced by the Soviet Union which invaded Georgia in 1921 to bring them under Soviet control and the Knights may have all been killed in that that conflict, but what we know for sure is that their gesture that day exhibited an admirable willingness to fight while still mostly equipped with weapons from the Middle Ages.