Georgia in the French Sources of the Second Half of the 16th Century

The paper makes an attempt to introduce to the Georgian historiography E. Charrière’s three French communiques. They belong to French diplomat Juie1, who was in Constantinople. The letters comprise quite interesting information. Their scientific value is determined by the fact that they belong to the person, who got notifications from a direct informer. The importance of the given documents grows, because there are no contemporaneous sources depicting a domestic as well as a foreign political situation of Georgia of the 16th century. It is undoubtful that the author of the letters was well acquainted with the political peripeteias of the Ottoman-Iranian War, which began in 1578. It had a great importance for the history of Georgia, because the Georgians actively participated in the war against Ottomans on the basis of the “political Iranophilia” [Avalishvili, 1936:6-12]. Therefore, a factual material delivered by the diplomat is very interesting for the consideration of a political orientation of the Georgian principalities of the last quarter of the 16th century. It indirectly indicates that political Iranophilia of the Kingdom of Kartli resulted from a real assessment of the international situation created in western Transcaucasia and Near East. Military, political and diplomatic relations with Iran enabled the King of Kartli (Simon I) to base his plans on the usage of Iran and to involve  this country as well as the Kingdom of Kartli in anti-Ottoman coalition of the European states. Therefore, Christian Georgia was a connecting bridge for Iran, which looked for an ally in Catholic west (Spain, France, Italy, Germany). This fact enabled Simon I to carry out the policy in relation to the Europeans [Papashvili, 1997:45; 2009: 21-27; 1998: 60-69].

    Therefore, the named French sources (together with the analogues Spanish and Italian sources) [Fernandes, Tabaghua, 1993:309-359] enable us to present a foreign policy of our country in the context of international relations and particularly, for the determination of the place occupied by Georgia in the Ottoman-Iranian diplomatic rivalry in western Europe.  Accordingly, we believe it was not occasional that the advisor to King Anry III and the president of Paris’ parliament, Jacques-Auguste de Thou (1553-1617) in their classic work “The history of its time” (Historiae sui temporis, t.I-4, Parisis, 1604-1609) “depicted quite scrupulously Georgia’s fight against Turkey during 1578-1588” [Papashvili, 1997:50]. According to M. Papashvili’s viewpoint, Jacques-Auguste de Thou discusses Simon I’s battles “in the context of European policy against Turkey. It was natural, because the issue of Turkey was the main problem of a foreign policy of western countries” [Papashvili, 1997:50]. The same author proves  that the French historian mainly follows Tomzo Minado’s composition, but “somehow uses other sources, which are not indicated”. We cannot compare Jacques-Auguste de Thou’s notes with French sources, but we can suppose that de Thou was familiar with French diplomats’ letter sent from Constantinople to Paris  [Papashvili, 1997:46-48].

    The correspondences sent to Paris from the Embassy of France to Constantinople became prominent for the study of political-diplomatic aspects and proceeding of the Ottoman-Iranian War of 1578-1590. It is a well-known fact that in the 16th century French court continued fighting against the Hapsburgs on the basis of its  allied relation with the Ottoman Empire [see: Braudel, 1980]. The given fact vividly revealed that religious motives dominated in the international relations [The world history, 2013:180]. However, their role started diminishing.  

      Europe of the 16th century faced complicated foreign political relations, because the forces had been newly divided on the continent. The Ottoman Empire remained the most serious challenge in the sphere of international relations of the European countries.  Its aggressive and rough policy caused many problems to the European rulers. However, it is known that instead of forming strong anti-Ottoman coalition, the European sovereigns tried separately to initiate diplomatic and political relations with the empire. It was reasoned by the fact that central and western  Europe was directly threatened by the Ottoman Empire located on Balkans and eastern Mediterranean Sea. The European states had to work out their foreign political position in relation to Porte [The Ottoman Empire, 1984:35-40;103-115;136-160;201-216]. The vivid example of this fact is the truce of 1536 and the negotiations of Francis I and Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent of the 20s-30s of the 16th century. Hence, the existence of this alliance was stipulated by a real reason – a common enemy – presented on the map as the Hapsburg Empire. During this period, “the interest of a state” became a leader in the European governors’ policy. However, each of them tried to prevent the strengthening of a concrete country. In case of the failure, a new alliance was created immediately.

    Since the first half of the 16th century, France cooperated with the Ottoman Empire and used this cooperation for the broadening of the trade in Levant. This fact complicated the relation with the Hapsburgs. In 1526 the League of Cognac was created. It united France, the Pope of Rome and Venice. This league was against the Hapsburgs. In the 20s, the seizure of the Ottoman-Iranian War opened the door to the west and the Ottomans committed their aggression in this direction.  However, the treaty, which was ratified in the 30s of the 16th century, stopped the Ottomans and its aggressive policy shifted to the east. 

    In the second half of the 16th century, the tension grew among the European states, which aspired to gain influence in the Ottoman Empire. During this period, the demand on the Levantine goods increased and occupation of leading positions in Levant became a prime issue. Therefore, economic and political interests interwove [Karchava, Tsitlanadze, 2011:397]. England tried to get an agreement for giving privileges to English merchants, who traded in Levant. A special importance acquired the right of the appointment of consuls, which enabled English merchants to escape the subordination of French consuls [Karchava, Tsitlanadze, 2011:403].

    These factors grounded the fact that the relationship with the Ottoman Empire would not be restricted to the war and a great role would be played by the diplomacy. It is known that the 16th century is the period of the establishment of diplomatic services. Since this epoch, diplomatic services broadened their areas and served for the management of an external policy. The French diplomatic service in Constantinople played a quite active role in this respect. The diplomats transferred a detailed information about the events, which took place in Constantinople and neighboring countries.

    It is obvious that private interests made the European states to pay a special attention to the eastern policy of the Ottoman Empire. The issue of the Caucasus caused broad international responses in respect with relations with  the Ottoman Empire and Iran. The west (Spain, Germany, Venice, Transylvania, Holy Throne) was greatly interested in the results of war operations, because a stable situation on the eastern borders of the Empire of Porte threatened the western states. For this reason, “the defeat of Iran and its possible conquest by the Ottoman Empire was the catastrophe of the world significance for the politicians of western Europe” [Gabashvili, 1954:77; Svanidze, 1990:188-190; Avalishvili, 1994:220-225].

     Three letters of French diplomat Juie presented by us reveal the Ottomans’ preparation for a military expedition. These letters vividly depict how the Iranian government prevented the aggravation of the situation in the region. The position of the Georgian kings had a great significance in this respect.

    Therefore, the Georgian leaders’ fight against the Ottoman Empire caused a great interest in the west. This is proved by the fact that in 1578 the situation aggravated in the Caucasus. After the death of Shah Tahmasp, the unrest started in Iran.  The Ottomans’ seized the opportunity, violated the Peace of Amasya and started a wide-scale attack on the Caucasus front.  We present the letter of the above-mentioned French diplomat, which depicts these events:

                         “Constantinople, 1 May 1578 [Charrière , 1850: 740-742]


       Your Majesty, Mustapha, the third Pasha, who visited Skutar [Shkoders] on the 5th day  of the previous month, left this place on the 18th together with his camp and as it is said, set off to Arzerum [Erzurum]. He is accompanied with five thousand janissaries and approximately three thousand sipahs of brilliant Porte. He intends to invade all the Asian fortresses. As a result, he will have 150 thousand persons6” [Mamistvalashvili, 2009:154].

    Obviously, the conditions of the Peace of Amasya of 1555 did not satisfy brilliant Porte. As a result of the treaty, the Caucasian zone of the Ottomans’ influence comprised the Kingdom of Imereti, the principalities of Megrelia and Guria and the west part of Samtskhe-Saatabago – Tao, Shavsheti, Clarjeti. A large part of Samtskhe (east-Kura pond) was under Iran’s protectorate. From the south lands adjacent to Samtskhe-Saatabago, Eastern Armenia remained in the possession of the Sephians, while a bordering zone – the district of Kars – was uninhabited. The population was resettled and exiled to Iran, while the fortress of Kars was destroyed. In addition, the Sephians gained a foothold in the Eastern Caucasus. Kartl-Kakheti and Azerbaijan (Shak-Shirvan) fell under their influence. This reality greatly hindered the Ottomans’ progress towards the coast of the Caspian Sea.

    The given political situation is depicted in French diplomat’s letter reflecting the events, which had taken place before 1578.

    The Caucasus (with its geographic location as well as military-strategic and economic importance) was one of the significant cornerstones of geopolitical interests of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans wished to gain a foothold on the Black Sea as well as on the coast of the Caspian Sea. Holding the Caucasian passages would enable them to fully control the ways stretching from the north to the south. The possession of important ports of the Black and Caspian Seas would gain “serious” profits to Sultan’s treasury.

    Iran’s complicated inner-political situation created favorable conditions for starting a new war. After the death of Shah Tahmasp (1576) the throne was occupied by Shah Ismail II, whose bloody ruling lasted six months.  After that the throne was occupied by weak ruler Khudabende (known to monk Egnatashvili as “Shakhudaband”) and the unrest started in the country. At this moment, an unstable political situation was in Kartli. In 1569 the Iranians imprisoned King Simon in Alamuti Fortress. After that, his Islamized brother Daut-Khan became the king of Kartli. He ruled only Tbilisi and Kvemo Kartli. The supporters of Simon did not stop fighting and strongly attacked the Iranian garrisons, which were locked in fortresses. A century-long ostentatious policy of obedience of the Kingdom of Kakheti created an unstable background for Iran’s influence. In favorable conditions, the kings of Kakheti would not ignore new sovereigns for the maintenance of a stable inner-political situation. A strategic location of the lands of Samtskhe-Saatabago had a special significance to the Ottoman Empire. The Iranians’ influence on an important part of Samtskhe threatened eastern provinces of the empire. Sultan’s court spared neither military forces nor finances for  strengthening anti-Iran forces in this region.

   In 1578 the Ottomans violated the Peace of Amasya and started attacks on the Caucasus front.  Lala Mustapha Pasha was appointed as a commander of military forces. According to the Ottomans’ plan, the army had to invade Samtskhe. It had to expel the Iranians’ garrisons from the local fortresses and attack Shirvan after conquering Kartli and Kakheti.  The issue of Shirvan occupied a special position in the Ottomans’ strategic plan. The occupation of Shirvan would give them the possibility of reigning on the Caspian Sea. This fact would threaten the northern-western lands of Iran and the Sephians’ capital city Tabriz.

     The Ottomans severely defeated the Sepians’ army near Childirn on 9 August 1578. The army comprised the detachments of Kartli and Kakheti. The defeat was very painful for the Iranians, because on the way to the Caucasus the Ottomans were opposed only by local garrisons locked in the Georgian fortresses. During this decisive battle, the Georgians’ interests collided. Some of them were defeated together with the Iranians, while others watched the battle from the nearby mountain under the leadership of Manuchar Jakeli. They hoped that a winning party would forgive them. Lala Mustapha Pasha accepted Manuchar Jakeli with a great honor and gave him the occupied fortresses. As a result of this act, the Ottomans gained a foothold in Samtskhe and recruited local rulers and noblemen.

    After the Battle of Childirin, the Ottomans occupied Akhaltsikh. After that, the way to Tbilisi was open. Daut-Khan left the city without a battle and the enemies located their garrisons there.  The Ottomans moved so quickly into the depth of the Caucasus that they occupied Shak-Shirvan very soon. The Iranian government ceded the Caucasus to the enemy without a battle. The Ottomans’ army moved from Shirvan to Azerbaijan and threatened Tabriz. The author of “The life of Kartli”  shortly informed us about the Ottomans’ success during occupying the whole Caucasus region and Azerbaijan: “At this time the army of Khontka came out and conquered Tabriz, Erevan, Ganja, Karabachos and all the parts of Adarbadagani. After a while came Lala Pasha  -  an educator of Khontkar” [Egnatashvili, 1959:371-372, Mamistvalashvili, 2009:185-193, Shengelia, 1974:18-21, 32-42]. Finally, the Sephians’ government asked for a treaty. Its conditions were very heavy. Under the Agreement of Istanbul of 1590, the whole Caucasus fell under the Ottomans’ reign. 

     The Ottomans’ progress in the Caucasus in proved by the following letter of the French diplomat:

                         “Constantinople, 25 October 1578 [Charrière , 1850: 761-762]


       Your Majesty, the curriers came from Persia two days ago. They informed us that Mustapha Pasha entered the country of Shirvan. He fought with Emir Khan – a nobleman of Persia. Khan joined the battle with a big army in order to prevent the progress of Mustapha-Pasha. According to the ambassadors’ words, there were many victims from both parties. Finally, under the pressure of the Turks’ artillery and harquebuses, the Persians retreated. Therefore, Mustapha became a winner of this march and an owner of a large territory of the country. He built a fortress to the condition enabling to spend winter. The ambassadors also mentioned that there were three Georgian noblemen with suites there. They visited Pasha and granted him a lot of victuals. Their camp was joined by the Tatars8. According to the ambassadors’ words, no one is accepted there. There are only those persons, who had entered the country beforehand. The entrances are closed for curriers and other people, if there are a lot of them. Today Constantinople was left by new Pasha. He goes to Buda. No one speaks about Moldavia now, which argues that the Kazaks seen near its borders left the territory”.

     Before starting the war, the Ottomans sent letters to the countries of Christian and Muslim rulers. They appealed to subordinate Sultan’s government. Mustapha Lala Pasha sent a letter to the King of Imereti and asked him to join the war, support the Ottomans and fulfill the obligations.  The Ottomans’ commander wrote a letter to Alexander II (the king of the Kakhs) and informed him about his intention to conquer Gurjistan and Azerbaijan. He asked the king of Kakheti to serve him and promised a great mercy. The French diplomat’s letter depicts that period, when the Ottomans defeated the Qizilbashs in Kartli and Kakheti. The restoration of a fortress can imply the restoration of the Fortress of Kars by Lala Pasha. The issue of Shirak presented in the letter indicates to that stage of the war, when the Ottomans conquered Kartli, Kakheti and Shirvan and approached the coast of the Caspian Sea, particularly, the borders of Iran. However, it is worth mentioning that the Ottomans’ progressed into the depth of the Caucasus with certain delays. The letter reveals that no one was admitted there, because the armed hostilities were carried out. King of Kartli Daut-khan, King of Kakheti Alexander and the son of King of Imereti Giorgi (1564-1585) acted in accord and greatly damaged the rearguard of the Ottomans’ detachments. They prevented the Ottomans from a quick supply of the major forces with a military equipment and provisions. Therefore, the diplomat writes that all the ways were closed and no one was admitted.   However, finally, the Ottomans fulfilled their plan and entrusted Kartli (up to Saltskhe – Manuchar’s estate) to commander Mehmet Bay and gave him a big army for defending Tbilisi and its surroundings [Mamistvalashvili, 2009:191-193]. The letter mentioned three Georgian noblemen, who, according to the ambassadors’ words, went to the Ottomans’ camp. Those could be the ambassadors of Alexander – the King of Kakhs. After conquering Kartli, the Ottomans reached the borders of Kakheti. Alexander II changed his policy. He guessed that the Iranians would not oppose the Ottomans in the Caucasus and decided to achieve peace with a new sovereign. Therefore, Alexander II sent ambassadors with victuals to Lala Pasha. The letter mentions them as the Georgian noblemen. This fact is proved by a note of Tomazo Minadio [Minadoi, 1588:85] and Don Khuan de Persia [Persia, 1604:69]. They indicate that after coming from Tbilisi, Lala Pasha was met by the ambassadors of the King of Kakheti. They declared obedience on Alexander’s behalf. The commander was very pleased. He send an honored robe. In return, the Ottomans promised inviolability and the right of reigning the country as the Christian king. Ibrahim Pechev, Giovanni Mikeli and Petro Bidzaro also noted about this agreement in their letters” [Mamistvalashvili, 2009:206-207; Shengelia, 1974:18-21, 32-42].

    Vakhushti Batonishvili noted about three Georgian noblemen mentioned in the letter. The chronicler mentioned that Lala Pasha had passed Samtskhe and Tbilisi, Daut-Khan had not been able to oppose him and had left the city: “Lala Pasha wished to direct the army to Shida Kartli and to the queen, but the nobleman of Mukhrani (Vakhtang) came together with princes. Everyone obeyed to him. Vakhtang leaded Amilakhvari Bardzim and Grand Duke Elizbar  to Lala Pasha and rescued Kartli and the community from annihilation. Lala Pasha granted his estates and released them with honors on the fourth day” [Vakhushti Batonishvili, 1973:410]. Vakhushti’s note emphasized the reliability of the above-mentioned report. However, the Georgian historian implied Georgian princes under the noblemen.

    The above-mentioned letter indicates that the Ottomans were greatly opposed in Samtskhe and Kartli. However, Iran’s effort was not enough and they could not stop the Ottomans’ expansion. Afterwards, the King of Kakheti preferred a treaty to a senseless bloodshed and opened the way to Shirvan and to the coast of the Caspian Sea. Under a mutual agreement with the Ottomans, Alexander participated in the conquest of Shak, which was ruled by his Muslimized brother Isa-Khan. The latter had been appointed by the Kizilbashs and opposed the King of the Kakhs. A united army of the Kakhetians and Ottomans occupied Shak and Lala Pasha grated its leadership to Alexander’s son Erekle. However, after conquering Shirvan, this territory (Shak’s Sanjak) was subordinated to Shirvan’s province. Finally, four provinces (Sokhumi, Tbilisi, Gurjistan (Kakheti), Shirvan) were formed on the Caucasian territory, which was conquered by the Ottomans.

    The third letter of Juie vividly depicts a historic reality of the events, which took place in the Caucasus.  Despite controlling Kartl-Kakheti and Shirvan, the Ottomans’ status was not strong. After releasing, Simon I returned to his native country and actively started fighting against the Ottomans. Simon’s appearance complicated the situation in the region. The following letter presents indications about this fact.

                          “Constantinople, 2 November 1578 [Charrière , 1850: 762]

         Your Majesty, we were informed that two curriers were sent to Beglarbei of Anatolia  as well as to Pashas of Alepo and Damask. They must immediately travel to Mustapha-Pasha, who is locked in Shirvan entered by him long ago. Pasha intended to conquer the city and to spend winter there via relying on the hopes fuelled by several Georgian noblemen.  The latter visited Pasha, granted victuals and promised all types of assistance. However, the Georgians could not stand the Turks’ imprudence, their wish to rob and kill them. As soon as the Turks entered their country, they attacked and killed a lot. Those, who survived, were locked between the Ottomans and the Georgians. Therefore, it is a great misunderstanding regarding Mustapha. It is said that he is in a strong siege and lacks victuals. According to the note of the above-mentioned man, who was informed by a reliable source, Mustapha Pasha told to a loyal person that he treated himself and an entire camp as perished ones. It is also said that a currier was sent to Pasha of Cairo with a certain purpose. Some believe that he must arrive in Anatolia and rule it during Beglarbeg’s absence. Others believe that the purpose is sending to Shirvan. As the arrived ambassadors inform us, sending curriers means that the rulers’ affairs are in a bad way in this region. It can be supposed that the rumor spread after a destructive fight with the Georgians is not groundless. It was not discussed, but some dare and state secretly that Mustapha was killed during this war”.     

     The sources presented by the French diplomat give an interesting information for the clarification of the events of the above-mentioned period. This material is significant for the consideration of the inner and external political situation of Georgia of the last quarter of the 16th century. We are given the possibility to compare the notes presented in the Georgian historical sources with the contemporaneous data written in the European and Turkish languages. It  seems that the French royal court was interested in the Caucasian processes, because the eastern issue was very interesting to the European countries.

1 Charrière E., Négotiations de la France dans le Levant, v. III, p. 746. The addressee of Juie’s letters was France’s King Anry III (1574-1589). His letters  depict the major moments of the foreign policy of the Eastern Ottoman Empire. Juie’s letters also present interesting notes about Georgia.  We discuss the issue of the research of the given paper on the basis of the comparison with the sources of that period. We try to assess the importance of the above-mentioned sources for Georgia’s history of that period. 

2 Historian E. Mamistvalishvili believes that 110 thousand is more acceptable. See. Iran-Ottoman War and Georgia, Georgia’s foreign policy and diplomacy, (XV-XVI), Tb., 2009, p. 185.

3 The Peace of Amasya is meant.

4 Supposedly, it is Shah Tahmasp, because the letter also states that this Persian tries to spend his old age in calmness.

5 It is difficult to find out, which part of Georgia is meant here, because if the peace (The Peace of Amasya) was not broken, its rules would not allow the Ottomans to conquer Kartli and Kakheti. Therefore, Samtskhe or Imereti ought to be implied. More supposedly, it is Samtskhe, where Shah of  Iran could not actively interfere in the matters of parties. The after-treaty satiation was very complicated in Georgia. The foreign sources depict this period quite vastly. However, certain inaccuracies are observed. The Georgian kingdoms treated the Peace of Amasya differently. Some of them supported it, because they counted on Iran and the Ottoman Empire during the war against Kartli and Kakheti. The kings of Kartli and Kakheti were against this treaty. They would not use the opposition of Iran and the Ottoman Empire for the maintenance of independence. The Georgian politicians tried to maintain the confrontation of these two countries. 

6 When the pre-war period is discussed, the note of Ottoman historian Ibrahim Pechev responds to the content of French diplomat’s letter. According to his wards: “Concluding peace was still discussed. However, it was said that some Georgian Begs (supposedly, those noblemen of Samtskhe are discussed, who obeyed the Kizilbashs) disobeyed. Therefore, we go to conquer them”. 

7 Supposedly, the Crimean Tatars.

8 It means that Constantinople did not receive notes for 2 months. The given explanation is very interesting. This moment needs verification even from the point of view of possibility.


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