Queen Tamar of Georgia-The only Female monarch referred as a King

Quite a few Georgian monarchs are known with their nicknames-David the Builder, Demetrius the Brilliant, Demetrius the Devoted and there is only one female ruler who is referred as a king (Mepe in Georgian language)-King Tamar Bagrationi (1160-1213) And although there are no records of her actually having fought in battle, she attained an image as a “warrior queen,” as well as that of a saint. Several centuries after her death, this sainthood was made official when she was canonized by the Eastern Orthodox Church.

A fierce and pious ruler, her reign over the Kingdom of Georgia in the Middle Ages is known as the Golden Age of Georgia. Under her rule, the Kingdom of Georgia expanded its empire over the Caucasian region, while art and literature exploded.

King Tamar and her father George III.Vardzia cave-town.Church of Assumption
King Tamar and her father George III.Vardzia cave-town.Church of Assumption

 

Tamar's Summer residence and tower in Ushguli,Svaneti region
Tamar’s Summer residence and tower in Ushguli,Svaneti region

 The daughter of George III, King of Georgia and Burdukhan of Alania, queen Tamar’s life and death is shrouded with Medieval mystery. Her father’s reign was not altogether easy, and he faced rebellion in 1177 from nobles who questioned his right to the throne. George III stopped the revolt, but decided to bring his daughter into politics with him making her co-ruler, to stop any disputes over succession after his death.

  In 1184, George III died, and Tamar was crowned Queen regnant that same year, the first woman to rule Georgia in her own right. Because of the backlash against George III’s oppressive politics, and the fact that Tamar was a woman, she faced a lot of opposition. She was forced to make several unpleasant concessions to the aristocracy, including those of marriage, religions, and politics. Due to the nobles, Tamar married Yuri, the son of an assassinated prince of Suzdal in 1185. This marriage proved to be unsuccessful, and Tamar strongly disliked her new husband. In 1187, she divorced Yuri on the grounds of “sodomy” and alcoholism. Yuri and many upset nobles tried to stage a coup twice, but failed on both counts. Tamar was able to choose her next husband, and took David Soslan, and Alan prince, as her spouse. He was one of her supporters, and was a fine war leader, stopping many rebellions on her behalf. Throughout their marriage, he remained a subordinate to Tamar, and she continued to carry the title, “King of Kings”.

King Tamar.Kintsvisi Church
King Tamar.Kintsvisi Church

Throughout her reign, Tamar exhibited an expansionist outlook on foreign powers. In the early 1190s, Shirvan (present-day Azerbaijan) was taken into Georgia as a tributary state.Soon afterwards Georgia took Ani, the capital of Armenia. The Georgians began a long conquest of Armenia, and took Bjni in 1201, and Dvin in 1203. Suleymanshah II, Sultan of Rûm, began to fear for his own lands, and preemptively attacked Tamar’s forces. At the Battle of Basiani, Tamar’s husband David was victorious. In 1204 Tamar helped to establish the Empire of Trebizond on the Black Sea, and began an alliance with them.

 Throughout her reign, Tamar made efforts to weaken Byzantium, as she was concerned over the Georgian monastic centers in the Holy Land. Nevertheless, Georgia became quite wealthy, due to the flourishing trade epicenters and brought in commerce. Tribute taxes and war spoils also helped in increasing Georgia’s wealth. Living was good for almost everyone, peasants reportedly living like nobles, nobles like princes, and princes like kings.

Fresco of Tamar.Betania Church

Near the end of her life, King Tamar was struck by a mysterious illness, though for a long time she kept it secret. Finally, when the pain was too great she reached out to doctors for help, but none were able to diagnose her illness. Thousands “prayed fervently for Georgia’s ruler and defender,” but on Jan. 18, 1213, King Tamar passed away. Her death and burial remain mysterious, folk stories given from generation to generation tell that she was buried in Svaneti region as she loved that area, some historians consider that her body was taken to Jerusalem and buried there as it was noted in her last will while the others state that when King Tamar died locals worried that her body would be disrespected if it fell into enemy hands, so her burial had to be kept a secret, rumors tell that seven coffins were made in a palace where she died and nobody knew which of them hold the body of the queen, all those coffins were taken to seven different destinations in Georgia and as the undertakers deliberately poisoned themselves and died so that nobody ever saw her real burial site nor her remains.

 

Tamar’s bridge near Rkoni

There are only four frescoes of king Tamar which preserved up to today and all of them shows her incomparable beauty and religious devotion. One in South Georgian Cave-town of Vardzia(Samtskhe-Javakheti region) shows her painted together with her father and is considered the only one painted before her marriage. The other three frescoes are in different regions of Georgia: Kintsvisi Church(Inner Karli region,Kareli municipality),Betania Church(Lower Kartli region,40km away from Tbilisi and Bertubani caves(Gareji desert,present-day azerbaijan)

 

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Nick Mazanishvili
Travel expert / Holiday-maker/ Blogger/ Georgian Vacations founder