History of Georgia

Article Index


In the 18th century the political situation in Georgia somewhat changed for the better. In the reign of Vakhtang Vl (1703-1724) Kartli (Iberia) was on the upgrade thanks to the king's wise policy and calm that reigned in the land. An army was created to protect the king; those who served in it received a wage, this in turn strengthening the central authority; the feudal lords, opponents of the central authority, were obliged to submit to the king. The court carried out economic measures; depopulated lands were resettled, ruined irrigation canals were repaired and new ones were dug. Considerable attention was paid to the building of bridges and roads and to their maintenance. Commerce and handicrafts expanded, and the population increased. It is conjectured that by that time the population of Tbilisi totaled 20 thousand, showing a twofold increase compared to the number of its residents at the end of the 16th century. However, subsequent growth of the country was arrested by external forces.
With the help of Russia King Vakhtang tried to throw off Iranian domination. Back in 1720 the Emperor Peter I of Russia had begun diplomatic negotiations with the people of Transcaucasia. The Emperor urged the king of Kartli (Iberia) to come over to his side, promising to rid him of the domination of the "infidels". Such bilateral interests led to a military and political relationship between Kartli (Iberia) and Russia. In June 1722 Peter I issued a manifesto on a military campaign against Iran. According to plan, the Georgian and Armenian armies arrived at Ganja. But they were not to meet the Russian army: owing to difficulties in her foreign and home affairs, Russia cut short the campaign. In retaliation the Shah dethroned Vakhtang Vl and gave Kartli (Iberia) to Constantine, the ruler of Kakheti. The latter laid siege to Tbilisi with an army of Daghestanian mercenaries (1723). The capital was taken and sacked. Vakhtang established himself in Shida (Inner) Kartli (Iberia), while Constantine occupied Tbilisi. In the same year Tbilisi was seized by a Turkish army.
In 1724, according to a treaty signed by Russia and Turkey, the latter recognized the western and southern coasts of the Caspian Sea as the property of Russia. In return, Peter I ceded Eastern Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Northern Iran to the Turks. The plan of liberating Georgia actually failed. With the consent of Peter I Vakhtang Vl, accompanied by his family, his brother, his close comrades-in-arms and a large retinue, left for Russia on June 15, 1724.
The first quarter of the 18th century witnessed a renascence and development of culture in Kartli (Iberia). In 1709 a printing press -the first in the Transcaucasus -. was opened in Tbilisi. David Guramishvili's poem "Davitiani", the Gospels and other important books were printed. In 1712 Rustaveli's poem "The Knight in the Panther's Skin" came off the press, edited by King Vakhtang Vl. It was the time when Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani (1658-1725), an outstanding figure in the history of Georgia, lived and worked. His humanistic and didactic doctrines left an indelible trace in the history of Georgian culture. Orbeliani engaged in diplomatic activity as well (in 1713, while traveling in Europe; he visited the Pope and King Louis XIV of France). Vakhtang Vl set up a commission of scholars, headed by the monk Egnatashvili. This commission collected all the available manuscripts of Kartli (Iberia)sTskhovreba, comparing one of them with all the others and supplementing it. The commission compiled also a history of Georgia from the 14th to the 18th century. A brilliant representative of Vakhtang Vl's school was Vakhushti Bagrationi (1676-1770), whose major work "The Description of Georgia" marked an important stage in the critical study of Georgian history. He was also the initiator of Georgian cartography. The historian Sekhnia Chkheidze, belonging to the same generation, wrote a brief chronicle of the history of Georgia.
Along with such renowned men of letters as King Vakhtang Vl, Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani, Vakhushti Bagrationi, Egnatashvili the monk, mention should be made of King Archil, the poet David Guramishvili, and others.
During the period of Turkish domination (1723-1735) the situation in Kartli (Iberia) deteriorated, the country's economy and culture coming to a standstill. The Turks laid a heavy tribute on the population. Pressed by local feudal lords and by invaders, the people were forced to leave their homes. In 1735 the Persians drove the Turks out of Georgia, replacing them till 1747. The exorbitant taxes, levied by Nadir Shah, provoked an uprising in Kartli (Iberia) and Kakheti. The Shah was forced to make concessions. In 1744 he made Teimuraz II king of Kartli (Iberia) and set his (Teimuraz's) son Ereklé on the throne of Kakheti. As a result of feudal wars that broke out in Iran, leading to the disintegration of the country, Eastern Georgia may be said to have shaken off the heavy yoke of Iran.
In the first half of the 18th century Western Georgia was under Turkish sway. Achara, Abkhazia, Odishi, Guria and Imereti repeatedly rose against the conquerors. Turkish raids wrought havoc in the country. The situation was aggravated by internecine strife between the feudal lords and by the sale of captives.