Kingdom of Kakheti

Kingdom of Kakheti
კახეთის სამეფო
Flag Coat of Arms
Kingdom of Kakheti in 1490
Capital Gremi (1465-1664)
Languages Georgian
Religion Orthodox Christianity
Shia Islam
Government Feudal Monarchy
   1465-1476 George I (first)
  1744-1762 Erekle II (last)
   Established 1465
  Georgia (Kartli) recognizes independence 1490
  Subject of Persia 1555-1747
   Union of Kartli and Kakheti 1762
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Kingdom of Georgia
Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti
Today part of

The Second Kingdom of Kakheti (Georgian: კახეთის სამეფო, k'axetis samepo; also spelled Kaxet'i or Kakhetia) was a late medieval/early modern monarchy in eastern Georgia, centered at the province of Kakheti, with its capital first at Gremi and then at Telavi. It emerged in the process of a tripartite division of the Kingdom of Georgia in 1465 and existed, with several brief intermissions, until 1762 when Kakheti and the neighboring Georgian kingdom of Kartli were merged through a dynastic succession under the Kakhetian branch of the Bagrationi dynasty. Through most of its turbulent history, Kakheti was tributary to the Persians, whose efforts to keep the reluctant Georgian kingdom within its sphere of influence resulted in a series of military conflicts and deportations.

Early history

A previous Kingdom of Kakheti was created in the 8th century following the successful rebellion of the mountainous tribes of Tzanaria, which freed a large part of Georgia from Arab control.

Revival of the Kingdom

The reemergence of the Kingdom of Kakheti was the first step towards the partition of Georgia which had been embroiled in fratricidal wars since the mid-15th century. This took place after the king George VIII, himself a usurper to the throne of Georgia, was captured by his defiant vassal Qvarqvare III, Duke of Samtskhe, in 1465, and dethroned in favor of Bagrat VI. He then set himself up as an independent ruler in his former princely appanage of Kakheti, the easternmost province of Georgia centered on the river valleys of Alazani and Iori, where he remained, a sort of anti-king, till his death in 1476.[1]:187, 215 Overwhelmed by these difficulties, Constantine II, king of a reduced Georgia, was obliged to sanction the new order of things. He recognized in 1490 Alexander I, son of George VIII, as King of Kakheti in the east, and in 1491 Alexander II, son of Bagrat VI, as King of Imereti in the west, leaving himself in control of Kartli. In this way the tripartite division of the Kingdom of Georgia was consummated.[1]:219

The ruins of a royal castle at Gremi.

Unlike other Georgian polities, Kakheti was spared, for the time being, from major foreign incursions and significant internal unrest. Furthermore, it had the advantage over other parts of Georgia of flanking the important Ghilan-Shemakha-Astrakhansilk route.” The Kakhetian government sponsored this trade and actively participated in it, closely tying the kingdom to the economic life of eastern Transcaucasia and Iran. The extensively cultivated fertile lands of Kakheti combined with vibrant Jewish, Armenian and Persian colonies in the trading towns of Gremi, Zagemi, Karagaji, and Telavi, resulted in prosperity, not observable in other parts of a fragmentized Georgia. This relative stability for a time strengthened the monarch’s power and increased the number of his supporters among the nobility.[2]:46–47

Threatened by the emerging great empires of the East – those of the Ottomans and the Safavids– the kings of Kakheti persuaded a carefully staged politics of balance, and tried to establish an alliance with the co-religionist rulers of Muscovy against the shamkhals of Tarki in the North Caucasus. An Ottoman-Safavid peace deal at Amasya in 1555 left Kakheti within the sphere of Safavid Iranian influence, but the local rulers still maintained considerable independence and stability by showing willingness to cooperate with their Safavid overlords. Nevertheless, in 1589, Alexander II of Kakheti officially pledged his allegiance to Tsar Feodor I of Russia, but the alliance was never actually implemented in practice. With Alexander’s murder in an Iranian-sponsored coup staged by his own son, a Muslim convert Constantine I, in 1605, the fortunes of Kakheti began to reverse. The people of Kakheti refused to accept the patricide and overthrew him, forcing the energetic Safavid shah Abbas I to reluctantly recognize the rebels’ nominee and Constantine’s nephew Teimuraz I as a new king in 1605. Thus began Teimuraz’s long and difficult reign (1605–1648) in conflict with the Safavids.[2]:50

Iranian hegemony

Teimuraz I of Kakheti and his wife Khorashan. A sketch from the album of the contemporaneous Roman Catholic missionary Cristoforo Castelli.

In the mid-1610s, Shah Abbas I renewed his effort to bring Georgia more completely into the Safavid empire and subjected Kakheti to repeated invasions in 1614, 1615 and 1616. In a series of Georgian insurrections and Iranian reprisals, sixty to seventy thousand people were killed, and more than one hundred thousand Kakhetian peasants were forcibly deported into Iran. The population of Kakheti dropped by two-thirds; once flourishing towns, like Gremi and Zagemi, shrank to insignificant villages; agriculture declined and commerce came to a standstill.[2]:50–51 By 1648, the indefatigable Taimuraz had finally been ousted from Kakheti. The Safavid government tightened its control of Kakheti, implemented a policy of replacing the native population with nomadic Turkic tribes. At the same time, the Dagestani mountaineers started to attack and colonize the Kakhetian marchlands.

In 1659, the Kakhetians staged a mass uprising, massacred the nomads and surrendered their country to Vakhtang V Shah-Nawaz, a Muslim Georgian king of Kartli, who managed to obtain the shah’s permission to install his son Archil as king in Kakheti. For a time, the two kingdoms of eastern Georgia were virtually united under Shah-Nawaz and his son, and a period of relative peace ensued. Making the town of Telavi his capital, in place of Gremi which was ruined by the Iranian invasions, Archil set out to implement a program of reconstruction. However, the promising situation was of short duration. Archil’s ascension in Kakheti marked the beginning of a rivalry between the two Bagrationi branches – the Mukhrani, to which Archil belonged, and the House of Kakheti, dispossessed of the crown in the person of Teimuraz I. This latter house finally succeeded, at the expense of their apostasy to Islam, in reestablishing themselves in 1703, and ruled, henceforth, at the pleasure of their Safavid suzerains. This proved to be of little benefit, however, and the kingdom continued to be plagued by the incessant Dagestani inroads.

From 1724 to 1744, Kakheti was subjected to the successive Ottoman and Iranian occupations. However, the service rendered by the Kakhetian prince Teimuraz II to Nader Shah of Iran in the struggle against the Ottomans resulted in an annulment of heavy tribute paid by Kakheti to the Iranian court in 1743. Teimuraz II’s cooperation with Nader enabled him to secure his power in both Kakheti and Kartli, and to gain recognition for himself as king of Kartli, and for his son, Erekle II, as king of Kakheti. Both monarchs were crowned in accordance to a Christian tradition in 1745. They exploited the turmoil in Iran that followed Nader’s assassination in 1747 and established themselves as virtually independent rulers. Their rule helped to stabilize the country; economy began to revive, and the Dagestani attacks were reduced, but not eliminated. When Teimuraz died on January 8, 1762, Erekle succeeded him, thus uniting eastern Georgia as a single state for the first time in nearly three centuries,[3] in the form of the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti.

See also


  1. 1 2 Toumanoff, Cyril (1949–1951). "The fifteenth-century Bagratids and the institution of collegial sovereignty in Georgia". Traditio. 7: 169–221. JSTOR 27830207.
  2. 1 2 3 Suny, Ronald Grigor (1994). The Making of the Georgian Nation (2nd ed.). Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-20915-3.
  3. Keith Hitchins. Georgia (II): History of Iranian-Georgian Relations. Encyclopædia Iranica Online Edition. Retrieved on January 14, 2008.

Further reading

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