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Vakhtang VI

Vakhtang VI (Georgian: ვახტანგ VI), also known as Vakhtang the Scholar and Vakhtang the Lawgiver, (September 15, 1675 – March 26, 1737) was a Wāli of Kartli, eastern Georgia, as a nominal vassal to the Persian shah from 1716 to 1724. Traditionally, he has been still styled as king of Kartli. Arguably the most important and extraordinary Caucasian statesman of the early 18th century, he is also known as a notable legislator, scholar, critic, translator and poet. His reign was terminated by the Ottoman invasion, which forced Vakhtang into exile to Russia. Unable to get the tsar’s support for his country, died as a broken man in Astrakhan.

Contents

As a regent

Son of Prince Levan, he ruled as regent (janishin) for his absent uncle, Giorgi XI, and his brother, Kaikhosro, from 1703 to 1714. During these years, he launched a series of long-needed reforms, revived economy and culture, reorganised administration and attempted to fortify the central royal authority. In 1707–1709, he substantially revised the legal code (dasturlamali, aka “Vakhtang’s code”) which would operate as a basis for the Georgian feudal system up to the Russian annexation. He was summoned by the shah Husayn in 1714 to be confirmed as wali/king of Kartli. The shah would not grant the confirmation, except on condition of Vakhtang embracing Islam, which having refused to do, he was imprisoned, and his brother Jesse (Ali Quli-Khan), who complied with the condition, was put in his place. Jesse governed Kartli two years, during which he suffered from internal troubles and the inroads of the Dagestani tribes.

During the years of captivity, Vakhtang requested aid from the Christian monarchs of Europe, particularly he sent his uncle and tutor, Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani, on a mission to Louis XIV of France. Later, in his last letters to the Pope Innocent XIII and Charles VI dated 29 November 1722 said Vakhtang that he was since years secretly Catholic, but he could't confess it in publicity "because of betrayng people about me" and confirmed with it the reports of Capuchin missionaries from Persia. They claimed that Vakhtang became Catholic before he converted outwards to Islam and went there to Catholic mass. Politically went his efforts, however, in vain, and Vakhtang reluctantly converted in 1716. He served for some time as a sipah-salar (commander-in-chief) of the Persian armies and beglarbeg (governor-general) of Azerbaijan. He sent his son, Bakar to govern Kartli, whereas Jesse, having abjured Islam, had retired.

His reign

Vakhtang VI's standard

Vakhtang remained seven years in Persia before he was permitted to return to his own country in 1719. His first care was to put an end to permanent marauding assaults from the North Caucasian mountaineers, particularly the Lezgin tribes of Dagestan. Vakhtang was just preparing to deal a final, crushing blow to the Lezgians when the Persian government intervened to prevent him. This terminated Vakhtang's short-lived loyalty to the shah. He made secret contacts with the Russian tsar Peter I and expressed his support for Russia’s future presence in the Caucasus. After several delays, Peter marched with a small force along the Caspian Sea in July 1722. It was when the Safavid Persia became involved in complete chaos, and the capital Isfahan was besieged by the rebel Afghans. As a Persian vassal and commander, Vakhtang’s brother, Rosotom, died during the siege and the shah charged Bakar, son of Vakhtang, with the defense of his capital. However, Vakhtang refused to come to the aid of Isfahan. At the same time, the Ottomans offered him an alliance against Persia, but Vakhtang preferred to await the arrival of the Russians. Peter’s promises to provide military support to the Caucasian Chrisitians for final emancipation of the Persian yoke, created a great euphoria among the Georgians and Armenians. In September, Vakhtang VI encamped at Ganja with a combined Georgian-Armenian army of 40,000 to join the advancing Russian expedition. He hoped that Peter the Great would not only seek gains for Russia, but would also protect Georgia from both Persians and Turks. However, the tsar cut his campaign short so as not to confront the Ottomans who were already preparing to take the Safavid succession in the Caucasus. Vakhtang, abandoned by his Russian allies, returned to Tbilisi in November 1722. The shah revenged him by giving a sanction to the Muslim kingConstantine II of Kakheti to take the kingdom of Kartli. In May 1723, Constantine and his Persians marched into Vakhtang's possessions. Vakhtang, after having defended himself for some time at Tbilisi, was finally expelled. Vakhtang fled to Inner Kartli whence he attempted to win the support from the advancing Ottoman forces and submitted to the authority of the Sultan; but the Turks, having occupied the country, gave the throne to his brother Jesse, who again became a Muslim.

In the invasions and wars between the Turks, Persians, Dagestanis and Afghans, thee-fourths of the population of Georgia were destroyed; and Vakhtang, after having wandered a long time with his most faithful adherents in the mountains, sought again protection from Peter the Great, who invited him to Russia. Accompanied by his family, his close comrades-in-arms and a retinue of 1,200, he had to make his way across the Caucasus to Russia in July 1724. Peter had just died, and his successor, Catherine I gave no real help but allowed Vakhtang to settle in Russia, granting him a pension and some estates.

Vakhtang resided in Russia till 1734, but in that year he resolved to make an attempt to recover his dominions by the co-operation of the Shah of Persia. The empress Anna consented to Vakhtang's project, but gave him instructions how to act in Persia, and in what manner he should induce the Georgians as well as the Caucasian highlanders to enter the Russian service, in order to bring about heir entire submission to the authority of Russia. Vakhtang started for his diplomatic journey, in company with a Russian general, but fell ill on his way, and died at Astrakhan on March 26, 1737. He was buried at the city’s Church of Assumption. Many of his followers remained in Russia later served in the Russian army. A descendant, Pyotr Bagration, was perhaps the most famous of them.

Scholarly and cultural activities

Although Vakhtang’s political decisions have sometimes been object of criticism, his scholarly and cultural activities are the crowning merits of his reign. He was, indeed, one of the most learned monarchs of the time. He was an author and organiser of numerous cultural and educational projects aimed at reviving the country’s intellectual life. It was him who, with the help of the archbishop of Walachia Anthim the Georgian, established, in 1709, the first typography in Georgia and the whole Caucasus. Among the books published in "Vakhtang’s typography" in Tbilisi was the 12th-century national epic poem The Knight in the Panther's Skin (Vep’khistkaosani) by Shota Rustaveli, accompanied by scholarly commentaries by the king himself. This induced a new wave of interest towards that great medieval poet and would influence a new generation of Georgian poets of the 18th century, which is generally regarded as the Renaissance of the Georgian literature.

He also undertook the printing of the Bible, which had been, as it is believed, translated as early as the fifth century from the Greek into the Georgian, and corrected in the 11th century by the monks of the Georgian convent on Mount Athos. His printing house printed also the Gospels, the Acts, the Psalms, and several liturgies and prayer-books, causing a great discontent at the court of Persia which perceived that the nominally Muslim Vakhtang, instead of following the Koran, promoted Christianity.

An eminent critic and translator, Vakhtang himself was an author of several patriotic and romantic lyric poems. Vakhtang also chaired a special commission convened to edit and compile the corpus of Georgian chronicles covering the period from the Dark Ages to the early Modern era.

His family and children

Vakhtang married in Imereti, western Georgia, in 1696, a Circassian princess Rusudan (died in Moscow, December 30, 1740). They were the parents of:

  • Prince Bakar
  • Prince Giorgi
  • Princess Tamar (1697 – 1746) who married, in 1712, Prince Teimuraz, the future king of Kakheti and Kartli
  • Princess Anna (Anuka) (1698–1746), who married, in 1712, Prince Vakhushti Abashidze

Vakhtang had also several illegitimate children, including

References

Preceded by
Kaikhosro
King of Kartli
1716 – 1724
Succeeded by
Iese
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