The first quarter of the eighteenth century was remarkable
for the number of paladins who " o'er reached themselves ".
Louis XIV, now senescent amid the debris of his might, hadset the fashion.
Charles XII at Poltava had ruptured finally
the military and political power of Sweden. Peter the Great in 1711,
rode into a dangerous trap by the river Pruth, and only narrowly slipped out.
The fashion was maintained into the second quarter. Alberoni did not put his
lofty dreams to a blood test, but monarchs so prosaic as Charles VI of Austria and
the Empress Anne got their armies badly mauled by the Turks in 1739. It was
as though the wind of the South Sea Bubble, wafted through the courts of Europe, had carried the
heads of rulers into the clouds of glory which drift in rarefied facility
over the mud, the marshes, and the seas of flat reality.
In the East, in Persia,
through the spring months of 1722, the decrepit House of Safavi -went
stumbling to its sordid end. Not again, as after Tahmasp's death, a century
and a half before, did the harams, though full of mountain girls from Georgia
and Daghestan, of desert-princes' daughters and women of Turkish blood, not
again did they throw out a rong cadet into the light. The one battle of
Gulnabad, lught in March of 1722, gave the wealthy cities of central Persia
into the hands of a pack of Afghan rievers.
" The sun had
just appeared on the horizon, when the armies began to observe each other
with that curiosity so natural on these dreadful occasions. The Persian army
just come out of the capital, being composed of whatever was most brilliant
at court, seemed as if it had been Formed rather to make a show than to
fight. The riches and variety of their arms and vestments ; the beauty of
their horses ; the gold and precious stones with which some of their
harnesses were covered ; and :he richness of their tents, contributed to
render the Persian camp very pompous and magnificent.
" On the other side there was a much smaller body of soldiers, disfigured
with fatigue and the scorching heat of the sun. Their cloathes were so ragged
and torn, in so long a march, that they were scarce sufficient to cover them
from the weather : and their horses being adorned with only leather and
brass, there was nothing glittering among them but their spears and
The provinces of Persia
slipped into the anarchy which attends upon a state where the few who rule
the people forget that they at least must rule. From Mashhad to Baghdad, from Derbend
to the Gulf, the day was for the bold men, all power to the hard and rude.
Afghans, Kurds, Turkomans, Lazghis and Arabs butchered the patricians, looted
all the cities, ravaged the harims, spilt the caravans, burned out and
tortured all the merchants, cut in pieces the Armenians. And bigger men
reached out further for the mastery of the rack Ian , Afghan chiefs, Persian
pretenders stepping nearer to the throne over heaps of headless cousins,
Khurasani freebooters, brigand khans of Daghestan. Tfie two most tough, most
bloody men of the eighteenth century were looming in the moil ; Peter, the
Russian Emperor, ten years after the Pruth, over-reaching once again ; and
later Nadir, the obscure Turkoman soldier, who fora decade bestrode Asia from
Erzerum to Delhi, in the authentic Mongolian tradition.
Since the death of
Taymuraz 1, the Russian court had continued to follow with a detached
interest the course of events in the Caucasus.
Besides the merely military aspects of Russian policy in the neighbourhood of
the Northern Caucasus, the Sea of Azov and the Crimea,
the trade across the Caspian was, at the end of the seventeenth century,
beginning to assume an international importance. The English, the Dutch and
the Holsteiners were concerned in the import trade to Persia through Russia
and over the Caspian, and the export trade, particularly in silk, by the same
route, was accumulating rivalries which, before Hanway died, were to go very
far to ruin it.
Between 1678 and 1710, the adventurous Archili of Mukhrani--a king in
passage—had taken the place of Taymurazi in earlier days as the principal
agent, dupe and provocator of the Russian court in the Georgian lands. His
activities aroused the anxiety of his brother, Giorgi X1 (Shah-Nawaz II),
who, wiser than some of his successors, adhered more or less consistently to
the Persian connection.
But while Boris Godunov more than a century before had been attracted by the
romantic possibilities of Georgian dynastic politics, it was with the Caspian
and the Caspian trade that Peter concerned himself. An outrage committed by
the Lazghis on the Russian merchants at Shamakha in 1712, was the occasion
of Russian intervention in 1722, and it was southward that Peter struck; he
sent his armies into Shirvan, Ghilan and Mazandaran. His was not a Caucasian
but a Caspian policy; he reached out to the far. hot waters of the Gulf ; he
did not pad through the Georgian passes to plant his garrisons in the
dried-out lake-basins of Armenia.
The uncouth bully had more genius than all his successors—pompous or crazy or
well-meaning—who for the next two centuries gloomed upon his Will.
was made professedly in the interest of the harassed Shah Hussain, and he met
his opposition in the eastern Caucasus,
neither from the ruined Persians, nor from the usurping Afghans, but from a
powerful confederation of the tribes of Daghestan. In the mountains during
the past two decades the reforming propaganda of the Sunni Mudarris Hajji
Da'ud Effendi had aroused one of those waves of evangelical hysteria, which
sometimes move the needy of the mountains and the desert. The fanatics,
released by the collapse of the Persian frontier system, set themselves to
pillage the wicked cities of the Shiahs of Shirvan and they turned also to
the ravishing of the fat valleys of Christian Kakheti.
The movement out of Daghestan, which gained in impetus and ferocity
throughout the eighteenth century until it shook and threatened to disrupt
the whole settled life of Georgia and Shirvan, was in character at once,
political, economic and religious. The collapse of strong and relatively
ordered government in Georgia
and north-west Persia, and
the grave depopulation which was proceeding particularly in Georgia, was
an invitation both to the cupidity and the aggressiveness of the mountain
tribes. The poverty and the multiplication of the population in the mountains
impelled the hungry tribesmen to go as raiders and conquerors into the
provinces where they had formerly sought their livelihood as
soldiers, cameleers and labourers. And, indifferent Muslims though they
the puritanism which is natural to mountaineers, and the intrigues of Turkish
agents who had been attracted to the country since the wars of the late
aroused in the Lazghis that fanaticism, fed upon rapacity, which incited them
to perpetual attacks upon the unorthodox Shahs and the infidel Georgians. The
political heads of the Lazghi confederation were Chulak-Surkhai-Khan of the
Ghazi-Ghumukh, and Sultan-Ahmad-Khan, Usmi of Kara-Kaituk. ChulakSurkhai,
Sulkhavi in the pages of Wakhushti, was the particular scourge of the
Georgians, until, towards the middle of the century, he was succeeded in the
leadership of the tribes by Omar Khan of the Avars.
By August Of 1722, operating from Astrakhan,
Peter had concentrated at the mouth of the Sulak, an army ' numbering 82,000
regular infantry—all veterans of the Swedish War, 9,000 dragoons and about
70,000 Cossacks, Kalmucks and Tatars—the first European army of the modern
type which had entered upon a campaign in Asia.
Tarku, the Shamkhal's capital, was occupied without fighting ; and, after
defeating a horde of 16,000 Lazghis under the Usmi Sultan-Ahmad-Khan at
Utemish, Peter entered Derbend. "
Lo," cried he, when an earthquake shock alarmed his army, "Nature herself gives me a solemn
welcome and makes the very walls to tremble at my power."
a But welcoming Nature failed further to accommodate the Emperor Peter. His
flotilla on the Caspian Sea was seriously
damaged and almost incapacitated by violent storms
and the consequent shortage of supplies made further operations impossible.
And so, while Colonel Shipov invaded Ghilian only two battalions of regular
Peter returned to make a triumphal entry into Moscow (13th December, 1722).
The Russian adventure already had in it the elements of abortive failure. The
newest arms and uniforms did not make an efficient army even in the
eighteenth century. And the Russian army then—as often since it has—lacked
that amalgam of qualities, not easily defined, which go to make success in
the business of war. Courage, daring and endurance the Russians always have
had, but the sense of teamwork - coordination, honourable efficiency,
awareness and adaptability, the genius of improvization, they have been
without. In the following year, 1723, General Matiushkin took Baku, but the Russian
invasion petered gradually over several years to a dreary failure without
defeat. The same deficiencies in organization, in supply, transport, and,
above all, sanitation, which during the next two decades were to cause
the dreadful Russian losses at Okzakov and in the Crimea, ruined their
offensive struggle in Shirvan, Ghilan and Mazandaran during years from 1724
first Russian invasion of the Caucasus was
for all the local potentates both a portend and a snare.
Peter had sent envoys to King Wakhtangi in Tiflis
; had even played to the hopes of the petty Armenian meliksin the mountains
In Persia it was believed
that Wakhtangi might yet save the house of Safavi, and the Shah-zade Tahmasp,
who, in Tabriz,
was organizing an army to fight the Afghans, sent him "a crown, an
aigrette and a jewlled dagger ",
and invested him with the title of General of Azerbaijan. Wakhtangi had very
considerable forces at his disposal ; in 1720 he had been credited with the
ability to raise an army of 60,000 for the reduction of Daghestan. The
intrigues of the Persian court had compelled him to abandon this expedition
under orders from the Shah, and Krusinski suggests that it was his chagrin at
this interfer ference which caused him to refrain from intervening to support
the Shahagainst the Afghans.
In Stambul there was
alarm at this new aggression of the Russians. The Porte was not unconcerned
in Caspian policy, and, in the Black Sea,
they had no wish that the favourable position created by Peter's surrender of
Azov in 1713, should in any way be modified. And so while a Turkish envoy
visited the camp of Peter at Derbend and protracted negotiations were conducted
in Stambul under the aegis of the French ambassador, the Seraskier at Kars received orders lo Prepare for the invasion of Georgia, and emissaries were dispatched to sound
the politics of Tiflis.
VI for a few weeks found his favour sought by the agents of three Empites. As
a man Wakhtangi was the most pleasing of all the gifted house of Mukhrani. Gentle and studious, of a mind devout and
eagable, he was yet a gallant soldier, a fine horsernan, a cgurtier of,grace and
wit. But he was rash and sentimental, without judgement ot dexterity or the peculiar
flair which iealous men call luck.
September he cast in his lot with Peter - who was then at Derbend - and moved
on Ganja by Kazakh. The Shahzade Tahmasp, playing on the rivalry beween the Mukhranian
and Kahkhian Bagratids, fended by engaging the support of the Kakhian pri-nces
and Taymurazi, and near Kazakh the two Georgian forces fought an indecisive action.
Then, while Constantine,
reinforced by the Jari Lazghis, ravaged the villages of Lilo, Wakhtangi sent
his son Bakari to ride through the Kakhian district of Saguramo. Sekhnia
Chkheidze, the Kartlian envoy in Tabriz,
betayed Wakhtangi's plans to Tahmasp, who responded by according to Constantine
of Kakheti the reverslon. of the Kartlian viceroyalty.
the winter months of 1722-3 there was heavy fighting round Tiflis; the
Kakhian princes were supported Mussulman contingents from Erivan
and Ganja and by the Lazshis; Wakhtangi by mercenaries from Imereti led his
relative, Sirnon Abashidze.
the spring of 1723 the Turks proceeded to intervene. A Turkish envoy informed
Wakhtangi that he taken under the protection of the Grand Signior and wamed him
to give no aid to the Persians. The King, in answer, sent Edisher Rodshikashvili
to Kars with a
cheerful message to the effect that he had no intention of sustaining the.Persians
and that he was awaiting the arrival of the Fmperor of Russia. Meanwhile, on
May 8th, Constantine suddenly attacked
Tiflis with a sorps of 7,000 Lazghis; and
Wakhtangi and Bakari
To be continued