The capital of ancient Iberia, Mtskheta, has long occupied a central role in the social, religious and economic life of Western Asia. The town sits at the confluence of two major rivers, the Aragvi and Mtkvari (Kura). Their valleys brought people, trade and cultural influences from surrounding lands for millennia. Mtskheta's environs are rich in biodiversity, with a patchwork of floodplain forests, oak woodlands, juniper scrub, forest-steppe and grassy steppe vegetation. This paper describes a history of vegetation, fire and grazing preserved in the sediments of Jvari Lake in Mtskheta. Evidence of changing land use is interpreted in the light of the town's extensive archaeological-historical record, revealing strong links and dynamic interactions between ancient cultures and their environment. Through times of peace and conflict, forests traded places with pastures as people adapted subsistence strategies to changing political and climatic conditions.