Popularly considered to be the greatest and most successful Georgian ruler in history and an original architect of the Georgian Golden Age, he succeeded in driving the Seljuk Turks out of the country, winning the major Battle of Didgori in 1121. His reforms of the army and administration enabled him to reunite the country and bring most of the lands of the Caucasus under Georgia’s control. A friend of the church and a notable promoter of Christian culture, he was canonized by the Georgian Orthodox Church.
The epithet aghmashenebeli (აღმაშენებელი), which is translated as "the Builder" (in the sense of "built completely"), "the Rebuilder", or "the Restorer", first appears as the sobriquet of David in the charter issued in the name of "King of Kings Bagrat" in 1452 and becomes firmly affixed to him in the works of the 17th- and 18th-century historians such as Parsadan Gorgijanidze, Beri Egnatashvili and Prince Vakhushti. Epigraphic data also provide evidence for the early use of David's other epithet, "the Great" (დიდი, didi).
Retrospectively, David the Builder has been variously referred to as David II, III, and IV, reflecting substantial variation in the ordinals assigned to the Georgian Bagratids, especially in the early period of their history, owing to the fact that the numbering of successive rulers moves between the many branches of the family. Scholars in Georgia favor David IV, his namesake predecessors being: David I Curopalates (died 881), David II Magistros (died 937), and David III Curopalates (died 1001), all members of the principal line of the Bagratid dynasty.
The year of David's birth can be calculated from the date of his accession to the throne recorded in the Life of King of Kings David (ცხორებაჲ მეფეთ-მეფისა დავითისი), written c. 1123–1126, as k'oronikon (Paschal cycle) 309, that is, 1089, when he was 16 years old. Thus, he would have been born in k'oronikon 293 or 294, that is, c. 1073. According to the same source, he died in k'oronikon 345, when he would have been in his 52nd or 53rd year. Professor Cyril Toumanoff gives 1070 and 24 January 1125 as the dates for David. The earliest known document that makes mention of David is the royal charter of his father, George II of Georgia (r. 1072–1089), granted to the Mghvime monastery and dated to 1073.
According to the Life of King of Kings David, David was the only son of George II. The contemporaneous Armenian chronicler Matthew of Edessa mentions David's brother Totorme, who, according to the modern historian Robert W. Thomson, was his sister. The name of David's mother, Elene, is recorded in a margin note in the Gospel of Matthew from the Tskarostavi monastery; she is otherwise unknown. David bore the name of the biblical king-prophet, from whom the Georgian Bagratids claimed their descent and whose 78th descendant David was proclaimed to be.
David's father, George II, was confronted by a major threat to the kingdom of Georgia. The country was invaded by the Seljuq Turks, which were part of the same wave which had overrun Anatolia, defeating the Byzantine Empire and taking captive the emperor Romanos IV Diogenes at the battle of Manzikert in 1071. In what the medieval Georgian chronicle refers to as didi turkoba, "the Great Turkish Invasion", several provinces of Georgia became depopulated and George was forced to sue for peace, becoming a tributary of the sultan Malik-Shah I in 1083 when David was 10. The great noble houses of Georgia, capitalizing on the vacillating character of the king, sought to assert more autonomy for themselves; Tbilisi, the ancient capital of Kartli, remained in the hands of its Muslim rulers, and a local dynasty, for a time suppressed by George's energetic father Bagrat IV, maintained its precarious independence in the eastern region of Kakheti under the Seljuq suzerainty.
Watching his kingdom slip into chaos, George II ceded the crown to his 16-year-old son David in 1089. Although the historical tradition founded by Prince Vakhushti in the 18th century and followed by Marie-Félicité Brosset in the 19th states that David succeeded George upon his death, a number of surviving documents suggest that George died around 1112, and that although he retained the royal title until his death, he played no significant political role, real power having passed on to David. Moreover, David himself had been a co-ruler with his father sometime before his becoming a king-regnant in 1089; a document of 1085 mentions David as "king and sebastos", the latter being a Byzantine title, frequently held, like other imperial dignities, by the members of the Georgian royal family. David's formal cooption into government may have occurred even earlier, in 1083, when George II left Georgia for the negotiations at the court of the Seljuq sultan Malik-Shah I.