Vakhtang VI of Kartli

Vakhtang VI

Portrait in royal regalia c. early 1700s
King of Kartli
Reign 1716 - July 1724
Coronation 1716
Predecessor Heraclius I
Successor Jesse
Born (1675-09-15)15 September 1675
Died 26 March 1737(1737-03-26) (aged 61)
Governorate of Astrakhan, Russian Empire
Burial Church of Assumption of Astrakhan
Consort Rusudan of Circassia
Dynasty Bagrationi
Father Levan of Kartli
Mother Tuta Gurieli
Religion Georgian Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic, Islam

Vakhtang VI (Georgian: ვახტანგ VI), also known as Vakhtang the Scholar,Vakhtang the Lawgiver and Ḥosaynqolī Khan (Persian: حسینقلی خان, translit. Ḥusayn Qulī Khān), (September 15, 1675 – March 26, 1737) was a Georgian monarch of the royal Bagrationi dynasty. He ruled the East Georgian Kingdom of Kartli in the time of the kingdom's vassalage at the hands of Persia from 1716 to 1724. One of the most important and extraordinary statesman of early 18th-century Georgia, he is known as a notable legislator, scholar, critic, translator and poet. His reign was eventually terminated by the Ottoman invasion following the disintegration of Safavid Persia, which forced Vakhtang into exile in the Russian Empire. With Russia still short of reaching its Imperial zenith, Vakhtang was unable to get the tsar’s support for his kingdom and instead had to permanently stay with his northern neighbors for his own safety. On his way to a diplomatic mission sanctioned by Empress Anna, he fell ill and died in southern Russia in 1737, never reaching Georgia.

As a regent

Son of Prince Levan, he ruled as regent (janishin) for his absent uncle, George XI, and his brother, Kaikhosro, from 1703 to 1712. 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 1712 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,[1] and, after a brief regency of Prince Simon, his brother Jesse (Ali Quli-Khan), who complied with the condition, was put in his place in 1714. Jesse governed Kartli two years, during which he suffered from internal troubles and the inroads of the Dagestani tribes, otherwise known as Lekianoba.

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 betraying 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, adopting the name of Husayn-Qoli Khan. He served for some time as a sipah-salar (commander-in-chief) of the Persian armies and beglerbeg (governor-general) of Azerbaijan. He sent his son, Bakar to govern Kartli, whereas Jesse, having abjured Islam, had retired.

His reign

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 the Lekianoba - continual raids by north Caucasian mountain tribes, particularly the Lezgin tribes of Dagestan. Vakhtang was just preparing to deal a final, crushing blow to the Lezgins when the Persian government intervened to prevent him. This terminated Vakhtang's short-lived loyalty to the Shah. He made secret contacts with Tsar Peter the Great of Russia, and expressed his support for Russia’s future presence in the Caucasus. After several delays, Peter himself led an army of about 25,000 and a substantial fleet along the west coast of the Caspian Sea in July 1722, initiating the Russo-Persian War (1722-1723).

At this time, Safavid Persia was internally in chaos and had already been declining for years, with the capital Isfahan besieged by rebel Afghans. As a Persian vassal and commander, Vakhtang’s brother, Rostom, died during the siege and the Shah appointed Vakhtang's son Bakar as commander of the defense. However, Vakhtang refused to come to the relief 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 Christians for final emancipation from 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 would not only seek gains for Russia, but would also protect Georgia from both Persians and Turks. However, Peter became and returned to Russia. He directed his armies to seize territories along the Caspian, but chose not to confront the Ottomans who were already preparing to claim succession to Safavid rule in the Caucasus. Vakhtang, abandoned by his Russian allies, returned to Tbilisi in November 1722. The Shah got revenge on him by giving a sanction to the Muslim king Constantine 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, From there he attempted to win 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 nominal Muslim.

In these invasions by Turkey, Persia, Dagestanis, and Afghans, three-fourths of the population of Georgia was destroyed. Vakhtang, after having wandered a long time in the mountains with his most faithful adherents, again sought protection from Peter, who invited him to Russia. Accompanied by his family, his close comrades-in-arms, and a retinue of 1,200, he made 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 try to recover his dominions by the co-operation of the Shah of Persia. Tsarina Anna consented to Vakhtang's project, but gave him instructions how to act in Persia, and in what manner he should induce the Georgians and Caucasian highlanders to become Russian vassals, and bring about their entire submission to Russia. Vakhtang started on 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, and later served in the Russian army. A descendant, Pyotr Bagration, was perhaps the most famous of them.

Scholarly and cultural activities

Vakhtang VI's royal banner featuring the biblical king David, a reference to a Bagratid claim of Davidic origin.

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.


Tomb of King Vakhtang VI in Astrakhan.

In July 2013, Georgia raised the possibility to move Vakhtang's remains to Georgia for reburial.[2]


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

Vakhtang had also several extramarital children, including:


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Preceded by
King of Kartli
Succeeded by
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