Part XVI: War of the Three Alexanders (1477-1482)
The reign of Giorgi VIII of Kartvelia had been an unstable one. Caught between an increasingly powerful nobility and worldly church, the reign of Girogi had seen the powers of the Kartvelian monarch, which had been in perpetual decline since their height under Davit VI and Tamar, wither away to previously unseen depths. He had fought more than a half-dozen civil wars, emerging victorious only through God’s grace and the force of Trapezuntine arms. As his death approached, Giorgi desperately tried to shore up his realm for the succession of his son, Alek’sandre. However, by the time of his death, royal control had been reduced to lands surrounding Kakheti and a few ports along the coast and despite his best efforts Kartvelia was still primed for a fatal explosion. The spark would come with the succession of Alek’sandre ‘the Simple’ to the throne in June 1477, marking the beginning of the War of the Three Alexanders.
The death of Giorgi VIII had been long awaited in western Kartvelia. This was the region which had rallied to the banner of Bagrat Bagrationi when the young nobleman had revolted the decade previous. In his moment of victory, Bagrat had been assassinated by Girorgi, but his death had not ended the political cause he championed. One of his illegitimate sons, also named Alek’sandre, had survived the wave of assassinations that had followed his father’s death, and the prince and his supporters had spent the years since the revolt organizing a second. As soon as word of Giorgi’s death reached the western part of the kingdom, Alek’sandre proclaimed himself King of Imereti. He was supported by the nobility of all the west, many of whom had deeply despised Giorgi’s reformist efforts, with forces loyal to Alek’sandre seizing all of the western countries, with only the fortress city of Kutaisi remaining loyal to Alek’sandre….aw, hell. The forces loyal to Alek’sandre II seized all of the western countries, with only the fortress city of Kutaisi remaining loyal to Alek’sandre II….dammit. Okay, now I’ve got it.
He was supported by the nobility of all the west, many of whom had deeply despised Giorgi’s reformist efforts, with forces loyal to Alek’sandre of Imereti seizing all of the western countries, with only the fortress city of Kutaisi remaining loyal to Alek’sandre of Kartli. The city, which commanded the Rioni Valley, very nearly fell to the Imeretites, with it only being retained for the Kartlians by the heroic action of a commander of the city watch, Erekli Khakhaleishvili, who was a diehard supporter of the Kartlian Bagrationis. Upon first sighting the approaching Imeretite army, Khakhaleishvili leapt into action and seized all of the city’s gatehouses, holding the south gate alone against several dozen Imeritite cavalrymen until his subordinates could close the portcullis. Even with several deep cuts he remained a ball of motion, rallying the city watchmen and the garrison around him. A veteran of Bagrat’s Revolt, he took Kutaisi on a crash course for siege preparations, securing wells and storehouses to ration supplies. He then rounded up anyone suspected of supporting the Imeretites and confined them in an empty warehouse near the center of town. He then set about organizing the men of Kutaisi into a militia to defend the wall. All of this bought time for the city to be relieved, but no city could last forever. If Alek’sandre of Kartli were to have any hope of preserving a unified kingdom, he needed to act quickly to relieve the city.
This Alek’sandre of Kartli did not. The prince had once been a promising future ruler, but a fall from a horse in his early twenties had left him significantly less so. After being crowned following his father’s death, the Kartlian court begged for Alek’sandre to send an army to relieve Kutaisi. There was no shortage of manpower--the ferocious loyalty of Khakhaleishvili was shared by many in the eastern mountains, and most of the nobility in Kartlia and Kakheti supported Giorgi’s line, in theory at least--but Alek’sandre believed that the western rebels would surrender if some concessions were given. This was a horrible idea, of course, but given the king’s erratic temperament and frequent mood swings none of the courtiers were willing to risk pointing this out. As such, even as Khakhaleishvili fought a desperate fight against the Imeretis, Alek’sandre of Kartli refused to send help, instead opening negotiations with Alek’sandre of Imereti. Alek’sandre of Imereti’s terms--Alek’sandre of Kartli giving up his land and claims and then exiling himself in Avaria--were ridiculous, but Alek’sandre of Kartli saw this as hard bargaining and refused to send an army.
This carried on throughout the rest of 1477, then into the spring of 1478, then into the autumn of 1478, and then into the spring of 1479. COnditions within Kutaisi gradually worsened, with food running out in mid-1478 and the defenders being forced to eat their animals and boiled leather to survive. Dissent against Khakhaleishvili gradually increased, and in May 1479 he was cornered and lynched by an angry mob. The city fell on the first of June, being subjected to a brutal sacking that saw hundreds raped or killed and the city stripped of anything of value. Significant sections of it were put to the torch as the angry soldiers vented their rage on the city that had defied them for so long.
With Kutiaisi taken, Alek’sandre of Imereti could at long last advance eastwards into his rival’s territory. After this disaster, the courtiers of Tbilisi finally swallowed their fears and told Alek’sandre of Kartli that the Imerities were serious and needed to be dealt with swiftly. The monarch finally came to his senses and ordered the levies of the eastern mountain to be raised. However, by this point many of the chieftains and noblemen of the east considered Alek’sandre to have insulted them by refusing to call them to arms and refused to answer their monarch, significantly weakening the martial ability of the Kartlians. Due to these defections as well as a number of communication problems and the general poverty of the region, Alek’sandre of Kartli was only able to muster some 12,000 men. This force was almost entirely light infantry, loyal and fierce but ultimately not very capable, with smaller forces of heavy infantry raised from the burghers of Tbilisi and Telavi interspersed with noble cavalry and a small group of mercenary Mongolian horsemen from the northern side of the Caucausus. This was in opposition to the 35,000 men who followed Alek’sandre of Imereti, primarily heavy infantry and heavy cavalry raised from the coastal lowlands. Knowing that he was hopelessly outmatched, Alek’sandre of Kartli sent a plea for help to his nephew, Alexandros II of Trapezous, while he began making plans to withdraw into the wilds of Kakheti and wait for help.
The message arrived in Trapezous in late 1479. Alexandros had by now completed his indirect conquest of Paphlagonia and was eyeing up a group of seperatist rebels on his southern border that he could use to attack Theodosioupoli (Erzurum). However, these plans were thrown to the wind when word from his uncle reached him. Dowager Keteon remained a strong influence on the Trapezuntine court, and she lobbied for her son to answer her brother’s cry for help for the sake of the alliance between Kartvelia and Trapezous. Alexandros was reluctant to leave behind such an excellent opportunity to shore up his southern border, but due to unknown reasons (presumably a great deal of guilt-tripping) he agreed. When the spring of 1480 came, he raised fifty bandons to arms and marched eastward, hoping to bring a quick end to the war.
However, the greatest impact made by the Pontic realm would not be on the battlefield but on the seas. As the winter winds calmed in late March 1480, the Trapezuntine fleet turned its attention to Imereti. The Kartvelians were not seamen, and the few Imereti vessels were either captured or forced into port within a month of Trapezuntine entry into the war. In mid-April, a flotilla under Adrianos Khaltkizes took Poti, the chief port of Kartvelia, by storm, repulsing several attempts to retake the city. The Trapezuntine fleet also participated in the capture of Batumi, a secondary port near the Trapezuntine border, by attacking the sea walls while Alexandros stormed the walls.
Speaking of the storming of Batumi, it nearly saw Alexandros killed. Leading his men from the front, he was one of the first over the thickly defended walls, taking part in the brutal hand-to-hand fighting that was needed to clear the battlements. Arrows filled the air, catching the aftokrator in a gap in his armor and nearly sending him back off the walls. He recovered and fought on, but an examination after the battle had been won revealed that his heart had been spared only by the leather strap of his armor. This particular incident instilled the foolishness of leading an assault on the city, and Alexandros would never again personally storm a city. However, this injury did not halt the advance of the Pontic army, and after securing the city they advanced further north-east. In June, they were met at the small trading post of Ozurgeti by a delegate sent by Alek’sandre of Imereti. Alek’sandre’s agent, a distant cousin of his named Konstantine Bagrationi, spoke personally with the aftokrator. The exact contents of their conversation have been lost to time, but the broad strokes remain to us. Alek’sandre of Imereti offered to allow Alexandros to retain Batumi and the alliance between Trapezous and Kartvelia if he would only recognize him as the legitimate king of Kartvelia and waive his claim to the throne. For, as Alek’sandre explained, Alek’sandre was demented and rapidly growing to be hated amongst all aspects of society. The Imeretites would unify the old kingdom quickly enough, as Alek’sandre stated, and then they would be much stronger than the Trapezuntines. This was true--the Trapezuntines could raise a maximum of 50,000 men from the bandons, eleutheroi and mercenaries, while the Kartvelians could muster some 120,000 men from similar sources--and it was entirely possible that the alliance between the two states could be broken due to the ongoing turmoil. In fact, the death of Alek’sandre of Kartli and his brother Vakhtang would leave Alexandros as a potential claimant to the Kartvelian throne, which would certainly cause a split between the two. The proposed arrangement would benefit both parties, however, by allowing the alliance to remain intact and shoring up Alek’sandre of Imereti’s position. Evidently, Alexandros found it a compelling argument, for he agreed. The Trapezuntine army and navy withdrew back to Batumi, content to watch the fighting play out.
With the Trapezuntine threat in their rear gone, the Imeretites redoubled their campaign against Alek’sandre of Kartli. Tbilisi fell after a brief siege, having been gutted and abandoned by Alek’sandre several weeks before as he withdrew eastwards. By this point, most of his supporters defected to the Imereti cause, denouncing their former ruler. Telavi surrendered without a fight at the end of the campaign season of 1480, allowing Alek’sandre of Imereti to kick up his heels in the second city of Kartvelia over the winter. This defeat caused the final collapse of the Kartlian cause, as most of Alek’sandre’s followers either defected for their own sake or resigned in disgust. Throughout 1481 Alek’sandre of Kartli and his few remaining followers were hounded through the mountains, with a dozen small battles gradually whittling down their numbers. In early 1482, he was confined in the isolated mountain-top fortress of Krdeven, in the very south of Kartvelia near the Qoyunlu border. For the next year and a half, Alek’sandre of Imereti and a small host kept up a blockade against the fortresses, allowing most of his supporters to return to their homes. After more than fifteen months of siege, Alek’sandre of Kartli finally realized the game was up and killed himself by riding off the side of the mountain on his horse. Alek’sandre of Imereti recovered his body, cut off his head, and then marched triumphantly back to Tbilisi. The sight of their leader’s head on a pike crushed any Giorgist revivalists, and in a rich, jubilant ceremony Alek’sandre of Imereti was crowned as Alek’sandre II of Kartvelia. True to his word, he conducted an alliance with the Trapezuntines, restoring the pre-war relations between the two states.
As a final note, Saint Vakhtang, Alek’sandre of Kartli’s half-brother, took holy orders to avoid death or blinding. He traveled south across the Qoyunlu realm and then even further beyond to the east coast of Africa, where he prozletyzed amongst the pagan tribes of the region. In the process, he became the first of the famed Orthodox ‘African Fathers’, to be joined by other Kartvelians, Avars and Trapezuntines. But that is a story for another time….
 This incident would inspire the creation of the Maritime Army, a force of soldiers trained in naval warfare and amphibious assaults who would become a Renaissance version of a Marine Corps.
 Alexandros expanded the eleutheroi to 5,000 in the first year of his reign, and they would later be expanded to a standing army of 20,000 by his death.
 This is how Leon Sgouros, the famous enemy of the Frankokrats, killed himself in 1208.