Levan of Kakheti


King Levan and his wife Tinatin Gurieli, a fresco from the Akhali Shuamta monastery.
King of Kakheti
Reign 1518/1520–1574
Successor Alexander II of Kakheti
Born 1504
Died 1578
Spouse Tinatin Gurieli
Dynasty Bagrationi dynasty
Father George II of Kakheti
Mother Elene Cholokashvili
Religion Georgian Orthodox Church
Levan of Kakheti. Mural from Gremi.

Levan (Georgian: ლევანი) also known as Leon (ლეონი) (1503–1574), of the Bagrationi Dynasty, was a king of Kakheti in eastern Georgia from 1518/1520 to 1574. He presided over the most prosperous and peaceful period in the history of the Kingdom of Kakheti.


He was the son of George II of Kakheti by his wife Helene née Irubakidze-Cholokashvili. George II led a series of unsuccessful raids into his western neighbor, kingdom of Kartli, ruled by a rival branch of the Bagrationi. In 1513, he was captured and put in prison, while his kingdom was taken over by David X of Kartli. Levan was taken by loyal nobles to the mountains and kept there clandestinely until 1518, when they capitalized on the invasion of Kartli by Ismail I, the Safavid Shah of Iran, and proclaimed Levan king of Kakheti. David X led his army against Kakheti, but failed to seize Levan and withdrew. In 1520, the two kings made peace and forged an alliance.

Having secured the crown, Levan forced the highlanders of eastern Georgia into submission and established friendly relations with the Shamkhal of Tarki in Dagestan. In 1521, he mounted an expedition against Hassan-Bey, the ruler of Shaki in Shirvan, took the city and had Hassan executed. Shaki was under the patronage of Iran, and when Ismail I marched against Kakheti, Levan’s courage began to fail. He officially accepted the shah’s suzerainty and agreed to pay tribute. He reaffirmed his loyalty to the new shah, Tahmasp I, in 1541, and even helped him subdue rebellious Shaki in 1551.

In the 1555 Treaty of Amasya, Ottoman and Saffavid empires divided the South Caucasus in their spheres of influence, with Kakheti falling into the Iranian orbit. Pressured by the presence of an Iranian army near the Kakhetian borders, Levan had to send his son Vakhtang (also known as Jesse) as a political hostage to the Saffavid court where the prince was converted to Islam, named Isa-Khan and appointed a governor of Shaki.[1] In 1561, he was forced to deny aid to his son-in-law Simon I of Kartli against the Iranians. He allowed, however, his beloved son George to volunteer on the side of Simon, but the Georgian army was crushed at the battle of Tsikhedidi and George himself died on the battlefield.

The Gremi castle commissioned by Levan

Levan, then, attempted to counterbalance the Iranian hegemony by enlisting the Russian support and sent, in 1561, an embassy to Ivan IV. Levan’s Russian contacts enabled him to recruit a detachment of the Russian soldiers from the Terek Valley in 1564. The presence of the Russian contingent in Kakheti drew a protest from Iran, and Levan was forced to disband it in 1571.

In general, Kakheti remained a peaceful country during Levan’s reign. Flanked by the Gilan-Shemakha-Astrakhan "silk route", the kingdom was actively involved in the regional trade. In contrast to other parts of Georgia, the towns and countryside prospered and attracted people from the harassed lands of Kartli as well as Armenian and Persian merchants and craftsmen.[2] Levan was known as a significant royal patron of culture, and his portraits survive in many of the churches he endowed, including Gremi.

Levan died in 1574, being survived by five sons among whom a violent dispute over succession soon broke out. According to the 18th-century Georgian historian Prince Vakhushti, the animosity between the brothers was at least partially precipitated by Levan’s preferential treatment of his son by the second marriage over those by the first marriage, particularly Alexander, who was his eldest son, and, hence, a legitimate heir to the throne. Alexander, indeed, emerged victorious and became the next king of Kakheti.[3]


Levan was married twice; first to Tinatin (died 1591), daughter of Mamia I Gurieli, Prince of Guria. She gave birth to at least two sons:

Levan divorced Tinatin in 1529 and married a daughter of Kamal Kara-Musel, Shamkhal of Tarku. They were the parents of:


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  1. Later, Jesse returned to Christianity and attempted to escape to his homeland, but was arrested and put in the Alamut prison. He died in 1580.
  2. Suny, Ronald Grigor (1994), The Making of the Georgian Nation: 2nd edition, p. 46. Indiana University Press, ISBN 0-253-20915-3
  3. (Russian) Вахушти Багратиони (Vakhushti Bagrationi) (1745). История царства грузинского. Возникновение и жизнь Кахети и Эрети. Ч.1. Accessed October 5, 2007.
  4. Kacharava, Eka (2010). "ალავერდელ მღვდელმთავართა ქრონოლოგია. XVII ს. (ნაწ. I)" [Chronology of the Prelates of Alaverdi. 17th century (Part 1)]. Analebi. 4: 121–152.
Preceded by
King of Kakheti
Succeeded by
Alexander II
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