Queen Tamar (1160-1235 CE) reigned during Georgia’s Golden Age, when the country’s frontiers stretched from the Black Sea to the Caspian, over the mountainous Caucasus to the north, and into modern-day Armenia and Iran to the south.
She was regarded as a wise patron of culture, arts, and sciences, a devoted follower of the Christian Church, and a formidable warrior queen in her own day and throughout history. Georgia was governed by several queens, but only Tamar was given the title of “mepe,” or “king.” She was dubbed “Queen of Kings, Glory of the World, Kingdom, and Faith, Queen of Queens” by her contemporaries.
The daughter of King George III and Queen Burdukhan of Georgia, Tamar was born in 1166. Her status as King George III’s heir was unique: a woman had never governed Georgia before, but her father determined in designating her his heir, declaring, “it matters not if a lion is male or female.” While he was still alive, he proclaimed Tamar queen and vowed that they would reign jointly. George III thought that by doing so, he would be able to teach Tamar the art of monarchy while also securing her succession. Tamar, on the other hand, gave her first political test just after her father’s death in 1184.
She forged connections with other senior royals as well as the head of the Georgian Church, Michael IV Mirianisdze, to strengthen her claim to the throne. Tamar was pushed into an unhappy marriage with the Rus Prince Yuri initially, but she later publicly accused him of drinking and sodomy. The nobility was obliged to sanction her divorce, and the humiliated Yuri was deported to Constantinople.
Despite Yuri’s attempts to return again, Tamar found herself a new suitor – the Alan prince David Soslan – and the two of them kept him at bay.
Tamar started on an ambitious plan of expansion, leveraging her new husband’s previous experience as a military commander to develop and implement daring initiatives. She also had two children by David Soslan, a descendant of the noble Bagrationi family.
She was able to establish a new empire at Trebizond (Turkey) in 1204, extending down the Black Sea coast, and she used the crumbling Byzantine Empire to enhance Georgia’s reputation and power on the world scene. Tamar’s envoys were welcomed as far as Jerusalem, where, unlike other Christian visitors, they were given free passage.
However, Tamar’s achievements were not limited to the battlefield. She was a brilliant reformer who was able to unite various kingdoms and principalities inside Georgia, ushering in the country’s Golden Age.
Georgian culture thrived under Queen Tamar’s rule. Tamar was really interested in construction. She funded the building of several of Georgia’s beautiful cathedrals and churches, as well as the intriguing Vardzia Caves Monastery. The queen was an enthusiastic patroness of science and learning, as well as poets and authors. Shota Rustavelli, Georgia’s most famous poet, dedicated his epic poem “The Knight in the Panther Skin,” to Tamar during her reign.
Tamar was as beautiful as she was smart, according to all contemporary chronicles. Superlatives abound in descriptions of her physical characteristics, and even two-dimensional, other-worldly depictions of her in ancient icons and frescoes on the walls of Georgia’s magnificent cathedrals depict an attractive young woman with abundant dark hair, a swan-like neck, emotional, intelligent eyes, and dressed in elegant robes. She is a beloved saint of the Orthodox Church, numerous churches and cathedrals bear her name, as do countless girls and women in the Caucuses.
The location of Queen Tamar’s tomb is a mystery that has spawned various legends similar to those of Arthur of Camelot. Some claim her ashes were transferred to Jerusalem for safekeeping. Others claim Tamar is alive and well, sleeping in a cave deep in the Caucasus. She will awaken and emerge from the cave one day, ushering in a new Golden Age for Georgia.
Source: Lordkipanidze, M. Georgia in the 11th-12th Centuries. Ganatleba Publishers, 1987.
Rapp, S. Studies in Medieval Georgian Historiography. Peeters Publishers, 2003.