Battle of Krtsanisi

Battle of Krtsanisi
Part of Persian invasions of Georgia

Battle of Krtsanisi by Valerian Sidamon-Eristavi
DateSeptember 8-September 11, 1795
(3 days)
LocationKrtsanisi, Tbilisi
Result Qajar victory
Tbilisi conquered and sacked, eastern Georgia briefly reoccupied by Persia[1][2][3][4]
Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti
Kingdom of Imereti

Persian Empire

Commanders and leaders
Heraclius II
Solomon II
Agha Mohammad Khan
35,000[5][6] or 40,000[7]
Casualties and losses
4,000 troops killed. Unknown number of wounded or captured[5]
15,000[7][8][9] captives (civilians) moved to mainland Persia
13,000 killed. Unknown number of wounded or captured[5]

The Battle of Krtsanisi (Georgian: კრწანისის ბრძოლა, k'rts'anisis brdzola) was fought between the Qajars of Iran and the Georgian armies of the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti and Kingdom of Imereti at the place of Krtsanisi near Tbilisi, Georgia, from September 8 to September 11, 1795, as part of Qajar Emperor Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar's war in response to King Heraclius II of Georgia’s alliance with the Russian Empire.[10] The battle resulted in the decisive defeat of the Georgians, capture, and complete destruction of their capital Tbilisi,[8] as well as the temporary absorption of eastern parts of Georgia into the Iranian Empire.[3][4][11][12]

Although the Qajars were victorious and Agha Mohammad Khan kept his promise to Heraclius (Erekle) that if he would not drop the alliance with Russia and voluntarily reaccept Iranian suzerainty they would invade his kingdom, it also showed that Russia's own ambitions and agenda were set as the most important reason for Russia not to intervene at Krtsanisi, even though the latter had officially declared in the Treaty of Georgievsk of 1783 that it would protect Erekle's kingdom against any new Iranian ambitions to re-subjugate Georgia. Subsequently, in order to restore Russian prestige, Catherine would launch a punitive campaign against Iran the next year, but it was shortly recalled after her death. The following years remained turbulent and were known as a time of muddle and confusion. Reestablishment of Iranian rule over Georgia did not last long, for the shah was assassinated in 1797 in Shusha, and the Georgian king had died the year after. With Georgia laying in ruins and the central rule in Iran being concerned with the next heir to the throne, it opened the way for Georgia's annexation by Russia several years later by Tsar Paul.

As Iran could not permit or allow the cession of Transcaucasia and Dagestan, which were integral parts of Iran for centuries, the consequences of the Krtsanisi battle directly led to the bitter Russo-Persian War (1804-1813) and Russo-Persian War (1826-1828), in which Fath Ali Shah, Agha Mohammad Khan's successor, attempted to reverse Russian military advances and restore Iranian authority north of the Aras and Kura rivers.[13] After these wars, Iran ceded Transcaucasia and Dagestan to imperial Russia per the Treaty of Gulistan (1813) and the Treaty of Turkmenchay (1828).[13]


Eastern Georgia, composed of the kingdoms of Kartli and Kakheti, had been in the early modern era under Iranian vassalship for the first time in 1503,[14] and had been under intermittent Iranian suzerainty and rule since 1555. However, with the death of Nader Shah in 1747, both kingdoms broke free of Iranian control and were reunited in a personal union under the rule of the energetic king Heraclius II (Erekle) in 1762. Between 1747 and 1795, Erekle was therefore, by the turn of events in Iran, able to maintain Georgia's autonomy through the Zand period.[15] In 1783, Heraclius placed his kingdom under the protection of the Russian Empire in the Treaty of Georgievsk. In the last few decades of the 18th century, Georgia had become a more important element in Russo-Iranian relations than some provinces in northern mainland Persia, such as Mazandaran or even Gilan.[16] Unlike Peter I, Catherine, the then ruling monarch of Russia, viewed Georgia as a pivot for her Caucasian policy, as Russia's new aspirations were to use it as a base of operations against both Iran and the Ottoman Empire,[17] both immediate bordering geo-political rivals of Russia. On top of that, having another port on the Georgian coast of the Black Sea would be ideal.[16] A limited Russian contingent of two infantry battalions with four artillery pieces arrived in Tbilisi in 1784,[15] but was withdrawn, despite the frantic protests of the Georgians, in 1787 as a new war against Ottoman Turkey had started on a different front.[15]

In the next several years, Russia would be too occupied with Turkey (due to the 1768-74 war), Poland, and the European consequences of the French Revolution to give Georgia much attention. Even the consolidation of the Qajar dynasty under Agha Mohammad Khan, who had become the new owners to the Iranian throne and therefore the new heirs to the geo-politically rivalling empire that had been bordering Russia for centuries, did not divert Catherine from preoccupations in the west.[15] In 1791, when Agha Mohammad Khan was in Tabriz, Erekle asked General Gudovich, commander of the Russian Caucasian Line, for renewed military aid, but the government in St.Petersburg did not judge it expedient to send troops again to Georgia.[15] In 1792, Gudovich told Erekle that he would receive only diplomatic support in the advent of any Iranian onslaught.[5] Despite being left to his own devices, Heraclius still cherished a dream of establishing, with Russian protection, a strong and united monarchy, into which the western Georgian Kingdom of Imereti and the lost provinces under Ottoman rule would all eventually be drawn.[8]

The consequences of these events came a few years later, when a new dynasty, the Qajars, emerged victorious in the protracted power struggle in Persia. Their head, Agha Mohammad Khan, as his first objective,[18] resolved to bring the Caucasus again fully under the Persian orbit. For Agha Mohammah Khan, the resubjugation and reintegration of Georgia into the Iranian Empire was part of the same process that had brought Shiraz, Isfahan, and Tabriz under his rule.[15] He viewed, like the Safavids and Nader Shah before him, the territories no different than the territories in mainland Iran. Georgia was a province of Iran the same way Khorasan was.[15] As the Cambridge History of Iran states, its permanent secession was inconceivable and had to be resisted in the same way as one would resist an attempt at the separation of Fars or Gilan.[15] It was therefore natural for Agha Mohammad Khan to perform whatever necessary means in the Caucasus in order to subdue and reincorporate the recently lost regions following Nader Shah's death and the demise of the Zands, including putting down what in Iranian eyes was seen as treason on the part of the wali of Georgia.[15]

Finding an interval of peace amid their own quarrels and with northern, western, and central Persia secure, the Persians demanded Heraclius II to renounce the treaty with Russia and to reaccept Persian suzerainty,[18] in return for peace and the security of his kingdom. The Ottomans, Iran's neighboring rival, recognized the latters rights over Kartli and Kakheti for the first time in four centuries.[5] Heraclius appealed then to his theoretical protector, Empress Catherine II of Russia, pledging for at least 3,000 Russian troops,[5] but he was not listened, leaving Georgia to fend off the Persian threat alone.[8] Nevertheless, Heraclius II still rejected the Khan’s ultimatum.[19]

Persian invasion

The capture of Tbilisi by Agha Muhammad Khan. A Qajar-era Persian miniature from the British Library.

In August 1795, Agha Mohammad Khan crossed the Aras river with a 70,000-strong army.[5] This force was divided in three: the left wing was sent in the direction of Erivan, the right one parallel to the Caspian Sea into the Mughan across the lower Aras towards Dagestan and Shirvan, while the Shah headed the centre force himself, advancing towards the fortress of Shusha in the Karabakh Khanate, which he besieged between 8 July and 9 August 1795.[7] His right and left wing forced the Khans of Ganja and Erivan into alliance respectively.[20] Having abandoned the siege of Shusha due to stiff resistance,[21] which was further aided by Georgian crown prince Aleksandre,[5] the Khan of Karabakh, Ibrahim Khan, eventually surrendered to Mohammad Khan after discussions, including the paying of regular tribute and to surrender hostages, though the Qajar forces were still denied entrance to Shusha.[21] Since the main objective was Georgia, Mohammad Khan was willing to have Karabakh secured by this agreement for now, for he and his army subsequently moved further.[21] While at Ganja, having secured Shirvan, he was joined by Javad Khan Qajar and the rest of his right wing contingent.[20] At Ganja, Mohammad Khan sent Erekle his last ultimatum, who received it in September 1795:

Your Highness knows that for the past 100 generations you have been subject to Iran; now we deign to say with amazement that you have attached yourself to the Russians, who have no other business than to trade with Iran... Last year you forced me to destroy a number of Georgians, although we had no desire at all for our subjects to perish by our own hand...It is now our great will that you, an intelligent man, abandon such things... and break relations with the Russians. If you do not carry out this order, then we shall shortly carry out a campaign against Georgia, we will shed both Georgian and Russian blood and out of it will create rivers as big as the Kura....[5]

According to the author of the Fārsnāma-ye Nāṣeri, Ḥasan-e Fasāʼi, a contemporary Qajar era historian, Agha Mohammad Khan had declared in the letter:

"Shah Ismail I Safavi ruled over the province of Georgia. When in the days of the deceased king we were engaged in conquering the provinces of Persia, we did not proceeed to this region. As most of the provinces of Persia have come into our possession now, you must, according to ancient law, consider Georgia (Gurjistan) part of the empire, and appear before our majesty. You have to conform your obedience; then you may remain in the possession of your governship (wali) of Georgia. If you do not do this, you will be treated as the others".[22]

His advisors divided, Erekle ignored the ultimatum, but, sent couriers to St.Petersburg. Gudovich, who sat in Georgievsk at the time, instructed Erekle to avoid "expense and fuss",[5] while Erekle, together with Solomon II and some Imeretians headed southwards of Tbilisi to fend off the Iranians.[5]

Agha Mohammad Khan at the same time marched directly on Tbilisi, with half of the army he crossed the Aras river with, though other estimations mention 40,000[7] instead of 35,000,[5][6] and attacked the heavily fortified Georgian positions of Erekle and Solomon on the southwestern limits of the city. Abandoned by several of his nobles, Heraclius II managed to mobilize around 5,000 troops, including some 2,000 auxiliaries from neighbouring Imereti under its King Solomon II, a member of the Georgian Bagrationi Dynasty and thus distantly related to Heraclius II. The Georgians offered a desperate resistance and succeeded in rolling back a series of Persian attacks on September 9 and 10. After that, it is said that some traitors informed the Persians that the Georgians had no more strength to fight and the Qajars army cancelled their plan of going back to Persia, which they previously had. Early on September 11, Agha Mohammad Khan personally led an all-out offensive against the Georgians. Amid an artillery duel and a fierce cavalry charge, the Persians managed to cross the Kura River and outflanked the decimated Georgian army. Heraclius II attempted to mount a counterattack, but he had to retreat to the last available positions in the outskirts of Tbilisi. By nightfall, the Georgian forces had been exhausted and almost completely destroyed. The last surviving Georgian artillery briefly held the advancing Persians to allow Heraclius II and his retinue of some 150 men to escape through the city to the mountains. The fighting continued in the streets of Tbilisi and at the fortress of Narikala. In a few hours, Agha Mohammad Khan was in full control of the Georgian capital which was completely sacked and its population massacred. The Persian army marched back laden with spoil and carrying off some 15,000 captives.[8][9] The Georgians had lost 4,000 men in the battle, the Iranians 13,000; a third of their total force.[5]

An eye-witness, having entered the city several days the bulk of the Iranian troops had withdrawn, described what he saw:

I therefore pursued my way, paved as it were, with carcases, and entered Tiflis by the gate of Tapitag: but what was my consternation on finding here the bodies of women and children slaughtered by the sword of the enemy; to say nothing about the men, of whom I saw more than a thousand, as I should suppose, lyind dead in one little tower! (...) The city was almost entirely consumed, and still continued to smoke in different places; and the stench from the putrefying, together with the heat which prevailed, was intolerable, and certainly infectious.[7]


Entrance of the Russian troops in Tiflis, 26 November 1799, by Franz Roubaud, 1886

On his return, after the conquest of Tbilisi and being in effective control of eastern Georgia,[4][11] Agha Mohammad was formally crowned Shah in 1796 in the Mughan plain, just like his predecessor Nader Shah was about sixty years earlier.[4] As the Cambridge History of Iran notes; "Russia's client, Georgia, had been punished, and Russia's prestige, damaged." Heraclius II returned to Tbilisi to rebuild the city, but the destruction of his capital was a death blow to his hopes and projects. Upon learning of the fall of Tbilisi General Gudovich put the blame on the Georgians themselves.[23] To restore Russian prestige, Catherine II declared war on Persia, upon the proposal of Gudovich,[23] and sent an army under Valerian Zubov to the Qajar possessions on April of that year, but the new Tsar Paul I, who succeeded Catherine in November, shortly recalled it.

Agha Mohammad Shah was later assassinated while preparing a second expedition against Georgia in 1797 in Shusha[23] and the seasoned king Heraclius died early in 1798. Reassessment of Iranian hegemony over Georgia did not last long; in 1799 the Russians marched into Tbilisi.[24] The next two years were a time of muddle and confusion, and the weakened and devastated Georgian kingdom, with its capital half in ruins, was easily absorbed by Russia in 1801.[8][19] As Iran could not permit or allow the cession of Transcaucasia and Dagestan[13] the consequences of the Krtsanisi battle would also directly lead up to two wars between the nations. The Russo-Persian War (1804-1813) and Russo-Persian War (1826-1828) would eventually forced the cession of the aforementioned regions to Imperial Russia per the Gulistan and Turkmenchay of 1813 and 1828 respectively.

See also


  1. Yarshater, Ehsan (2010). Encyclopaedia Iranica. 8. Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 72. (..) Aga Mohammad Khan then proceeded to punish Erekle and capture Tbilisi, which resulted in the bloody conquest of eastern Georgia.
  2. Fisher, William Bayne (1991). The Cambridge History of Iran. 7. Cambridge University Press. pp. 128–129. Agha Muhammad Khan remained nine days in the vicinity of Tiflis. His victory proclaimed the restoration of Iranian military power in the region formerly under Safavid domination.
  3. 1 2 Axworthy, Michael (2010). Sword of Persia: Nader Shah, from Tribal Warrior to Conquering Tyrant. I.B.Tauris. p. 283. The Qajars eventually won the struggle, and under Agha Mohammad Khan set about re-establishing Persia's traditional boundaries. Agha Mohammad Khan reconquered Georgia in September 1795.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Michael Axworthy. Iran: Empire of the Mind: A History from Zoroaster to the Present Day Penguin UK, 6 nov. 2008 ISBN 0141903414
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Donald Rayfield. Edge of Empires: A History of Georgia Reaktion Books, 15 feb. 2013 ISBN 1780230702 p 255
  6. 1 2 Kalistrat Salia. History of the Georgian nation N. Salia, 1983. University of Wisconsin - Madison p 351
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Fisher et al. 1991, p. 128.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Lang, David Marshall (1962), A Modern History of Georgia, p. 38. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  9. 1 2 Malcolm, Sir John (1829), The History of Persia from the Most Early Period to the Present Time, pp. 189-191. London: John Murray.
  10. "Tiflis", in: Yust, Walter (ed., 1952), The Encyclopaedia Britannica - A new survey of universal knowledge. Volume 14, p. 209.
  11. 1 2 Fisher, William Bayne (1991). The Cambridge History of Iran. 7. Cambridge University Press. pp. 128–129. (...) Agha Muhammad Khan remained nine days in the vicinity of Tiflis. His victory proclaimed the restoration of Iranian military power in the region formerly under Safavid domination.
  12. Yarshater, Ehsan (2010). Encyclopaedia Iranica. 8. Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 72. (..) Aga Mohammad Khan then proceeded to punish Erekle and capture Tbilisi, which resulted in the bloody conquest of eastern Georgia.
  13. 1 2 3 Fisher et al. 1991, pp. 329-330.
  14. "Edge of Empires: A History of Georgia". Retrieved 15 May 2015.
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Fisher et al. 1991, p. 328.
  16. 1 2 Fisher et al. 1991, p. 327.
  17. Mikaberidze 2011, p. 327.
  18. 1 2 Mikaberidze 2011, p. 409.
  19. 1 2 Suny, Ronald Grigor (1994), The Making of the Georgian Nation, p. 59. Indiana University Press, ISBN 0-253-20915-3
  20. 1 2 Tapper, Richard (1997), Frontier Nomads of Iran: A Political and Social History of the Shahsevan, p. 122. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-58336-5.
  21. 1 2 3 Fisher et al. 1991, p. 126.
  22. Ḥasan-e Fasāʼi, Fārsnāma-ye Nāṣeri, tr. Busse, p 66
  23. 1 2 3 Fisher et al. 1991, p. 329.
  24. Alekseĭ I. Miller. Imperial Rule Central European University Press, 2004 ISBN 9639241989 p 204


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