Nikolas (Didi Niko) Dadiani (1764-1834)
Nikolas was a common name in the Dadiani family—and in Georgia more generally—in the 18th and 19th centuries, so every Nikolas in the family had a nickname to distinguish him from the others. One of these was Didi Niko (“Big Nick”) Dadiani, who played an important role as a military commander-in-chief, ambassador, and administrative governor of Samegrelo, as well as writing influential works of history and political science.
The Regency Years
Didi Niko’s father was George Dadiani (d. 1799), the brother of Principal Katsia II Dadiani (r. 1757-1788). When the young Levan V Dadiani became Principal in 1804 upon the death of his father Gregory Dadiani, Didi Niko entered politics as a member of the regents council that was charged with governing in Levan’s name until Levan reached his majority. The council, appointed by the Russian Empire according to a 1803 agreement with Gregory (who needed Russia’s support to defend his throne against challenges), also included Levan’s mother Nino Bagrationi, his uncle Besarion Chkondideli, the palace major-domo George Chikvani, and Beri Gelovani, a noble from Lechkhumi.
One of Didi Niko’s first tasks as a member of the regents council was to travel to St. Petersburg as Samegrelo’s ambassador to ask for Russia’s assistance in settling several pressing issues, including the return of two occupied Mingrelian territories—Lechkhumi, which was held by Imereti, and Anaklia on the Black Sea coast, which was occupied by Abkhazia. Didi Niko also sought Russian help in suppressing rampant human trafficking in the region. The mission proved to be a great success, with the Russian Tsar agreeing to assist with every request made by the Mingrelian delegation. Didi Niko himself evidently made quite a positive impression, for the Tsar granted him the military title of colonel and showered him with expensive gifts.
After returning from St. Petersburg, Didi Niko had a falling out with Levan’s mother, Nino Bagrationi—whom some suspected of political machinations, including using the regents council to further her own political ends. (Indeed, some whispered that she had poisoned her own husband.) The ensuing power struggle between them was not settled until Levan reached his majority, at which time the regents council was disbanded and Nino lost the basis of her political power.
The Reign of Levan V
In sharp contrast to Nino, Didi Niko’s political influence only increased after Levan assumed his full powers. Levan was a weak and indifferent ruler, who preferred a life of hunting and feasting to the headaches of politics. He saw Dido Niko as a man he could rely upon to capably attend to the practical aspects of governance while he amused himself in the countryside. Didi Niko was appointed administrative governor of the Principality, and in this position carried out much of the court’s day-to-day business.
To improve the governance of Samegrelo, Didi Niko wrote the Dasturlama (Rule Codex), consisting of 23 chapters that addressed all aspects of the Principality’s administration. Written between 1804 and 1811, the Dasturlama represents the first effort to formalize and systematize governance of the province, and did much to circumscribe the exercise of arbitrary authority by the Principal—which had previously been on display in, for example, the imposition of arbitrary taxes and fees upon the population.
Another important work written by Didi Niko was The Life of the Georgians, a historical work that covered Georgia’s history from ancient times onward. The core parts of the work were finished in 1819, but Didi Niko later added 12 extra chapters that dealt with modern history, and these were not completed until after 1823. The enduring importance of this work lies in its primary sources, many of which no longer exist. For example, sources for the additional chapters on the more recent political and cultural history of Samegrelo include actual contemporary figures of the period.
In addition to his literary and political pursuits, Didi Niko was a military figure of some note. He served in the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-29 as commander-in-chief of an army that saw action near the cities of Poti and Mukha-Estate. His fine service earned him the rank of major-general and the First Grade Cavalry Order of St. Anna.
Didi Niko was married twice: first, to Mary Erisravi of Guria, and then after her death in 1802 to Ekaterine Marshania of Abkhazia. He had seven children—two girls and five boys. Among his descendents are a number of notable figures, including the poets David Dadiani, Kotsia Dadiani, Levan Dadiani, and Mamia Gurieli, and the dramatist George Shervashidze. Niko Didi Dadiani died in 1834.
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