The 300 Aragvians

King Erekle II

In 1762, Erekle II (Heraclius) proclaimed himself King of Kartli and Kakheti, uniting Eastern Georgia once again. At the same time, under King Solomon I of Imereti (1752-1784) Western Georgia began to reunite and assert itself against its Turkish overlords.  In 1757, Solomon I defeated the Turks in a battle at Khresili. In 1758, military alliance was formed between the Kingdoms of Imereti and the Kingdoms of Kartli and Kakheti, providing mutual assistance in the face of external aggression.

A major uprising took place in Abkhazia in 1771. The Abkhazians ejected the Turkish garrison from the Sukhumi fortress. Unfortunately, the squabbling of competing Abkhaz princes left the region vulnerable to reconquest by Turkish forces. Turkey tried in vain to make Abkhazia her ally in subjugating Georgia. Georgia, meanwhile, sought to take advantage of the Russo-Turkish War that broke out in 1769. A joint Russo-Georgian campaign was planned to seize the Akhaltsikhé vilayet (province). In 1769, Russian forces arrived under General Todtleben and in 1770, Russian and Georgian troops besieged the Atsquri fortress. As soon as the battle began, Todtleben deserted Erekle II on the field, withdrawing his troops. Despite the rapid exodus of Russian men and materiel, Erekle II led his forces to a glorious victory over the Turks in the battle of Aspindza. Erekle II’s ultimate goal of liberating all of Georgia from the Turks, however, failed. In 1774, the Treaty of Kucuk-Kainardji was signed recognizing the Ottoman Empire’s dominion over Western Georgia on the condition that the Turks would stop levying tribute from Imereti.  Though liberty had evaded the Georgians, the Turkish influence in the region had been limited and Georgia became allied with Russia.

On July 24, 1783, Russia and the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti signed the Treaty of Georgievsk, in which Russia promised to protect Kartli-Kakheti. The Treaty was ratified by King Erekle II on January 24, 1784. Despite Russia's commitment to defend Georgia, it rendered no assistance when the Turks invaded in 1785 and again in 1795. This period culminated in the 1801 Russian annexation of remaining Georgian lands and the deposing of the Bagrationi dynasty.

The Battle of Krtsanisi was fought between Persian and Georgian armies at Krtsanisi, near Tbilisi from September 8 to September 11, 1795. The battle was part of a larger war of reprisal against Erekle II by the Persian Shah Agha Mohammad Khan for Kartli-Kakheti’s Treaty with Russia. Having abandoned the siege of Shusha in the Karabakh Khanate, the Shah marched directly on Tbilisi and attacked the heavily fortified Georgian positions on the southwestern approaches to the city. Abandoned by several of his nobles, Erekle II managed to mobilize around 5,000 troops, including some 2,000 auxiliaries from Imereti under King Solomon II. The Georgians offered a desperate resistance and succeeding in repelling a series of Persian attacks on September 9 and 10. Early on September 11, Agha Mohammad Khan personally led an all-out offensive against the Georgians. Amid an artillery duel and a fierce cavalry charge, the Persians managed to cross the Mtkvari River and outflanked the decimated Georgian army. Erekle II attempted to mount a counterattack, but eventually had to retreat to the last available positions on the outskirts of Tbilisi. By the nightfall, the Georgian forces had been exhausted and nearly completely destroyed. The last surviving Georgian artillerists briefly held the advancing Persians to allow Erekle II and his retinue of some 150 men to escape through the city to the mountains. The fighting continued in the streets of Tbilisi and at the fortress of Narikala. Within a few hours, Agha Mohammad Khan was in full control of the Georgian capital which was completely sacked, its population massacred. The Persian army marched back carrying off some 15,000 captives and other spoils of war. 300 Aragvians died in that battle fulfilling their oath to win or to die. Their names have been remembered and honored since then.