Despite the name, I am not talking about the state in the Southern United States. There is a whole other country coincidentally called Georgia located on the Black Sea near Turkey. The name “Georgia” is probably a corruption of the Persian name for the people there, gurğān. There is also a theory put out there that the people loved the legend of St. George and the Dragon. In any case, they were devoutly Orthodox Christian country with a reputation for being fierce warriors. Their rulers also claimed to be descended from King David, the second king of Israel. Yes, that David.
Tamar was born in 1166 CE to King Georgi III and his wife, Burdukhan. Tamar was the couple’s first child. There are mentions of a sister named Rusudan, but they are few and far between. As the firstborn, Tamar was declared her father’s heir and co-ruler at the tender age of twelve. A few years prior, Georgi had to put down a rebellion led by his cousin, Demna. Demna was captured and blinded and castrated and pitched into prison. This was a custom similar to the Byzantines, who believed a man must be “whole” before he could rule. Demna didn’t last long in prison and died soon after. However, the discontent among the nobility that fueled the rebellion did not die. Georgi attempted to suppress it by raising new families to the nobility and emphasizing that Tamar was his heir. If Georgi had any doubts about elevating his teen aged daughter, he allayed them by saying “One knows a lion by its claws and Tamar by her actions.”
The two ruled together jointly until Georgi’s death in 1184. Tamar became the sole monarch in Georgia and was crowned a second time at the Gelati cathedral near the city of Kutaisi. She was called a “king” in their language as she ruled alone and not as a consort. However, she was the first female rule in the country and that just stoked the fires of rebellion in the nobility. In several stories, this is glossed over in light of her later achievements. However, Tamar was forced in short order to deal with the rebels and she did so in a decisive manner. One legend tells of how she sent two women to stall the rebels by pretending to negotiate long enough for her to gather her army. They were eventually pardoned, but not until their titles and wealth had been stripped.
Despite this violent beginning, Tamar wanted to rule well. She called a Holy Synod, a council of all the religious leaders in the country to decide important religious questions of the day. Conveniently, after the Synod was finished all the clergy who had opposed her found themselves out of a job. With the Church firmly behind her, Tamar married. Unfortunately, the choice of Yuri, the son of Prince Andrei Bogoliubsky of Vladimir-Suzdal, was disastrous. Yuri was quite handsome and a valiant soldier, however, he was also a first class jerk. After his marriage was solemnized, Yuri was never found sober and he was a mean drunk. He was constantly picking fights, sleeping with anyone he could managed to get into bed and publicly insulting his wife for not conceiving a child. Worse, he was constantly trying to get the country into war with their Muslim neighbors for no other reason than he was bored. Tamar was quietly consolidating her power, and soon had had enough of her drunken ass of a husband and did the unthinkable. In a devoutly Christian country where divorce was considered illegal, Tamar convinced the Orthodox Church to give her a divorce from Yuri. He was accused of addiction to drunkenness and sodomy and packed off to Constantinople. He attempted a couple of coup d’etats by raising mercenary armies made up of wayward Vikings, Turks and disgruntled nobles. All his attempts were put down by his ex-wife’s army, which was headed by her new husband Prince David Soslan. David was not only an excellent general but also quite handsome, described by Tamar’s aunt as “Hewn from stone and reared on wolf’s milk.” Damn. The couple had two children together, the future Georgi IV and a daughter named Rusudan, who would also become “Queen of Kings” after her brother’s death.
At this time, a period of expansionism began in Georgia. This mostly to give the nobles something to do besides try to take over Tamar’s throne. Idle hands are the devil’s workplace and all. Under her rule, the Georgia began reclaiming fortresses and districts which had been previously conquered by the Ildenizids and the Shirvanshah. Georgia’s military successes were so great, the Islamic world decided to send a unified force to defeat them. It was led by Sultan Rukn al-Din, and to say he was arrogant was an understatement. He sent Tamar a lovely letter stating his intentions. He started off with a bang saying “every woman is feeble of mind,” and went onto demand Tamar immediately surrender and either convert to Islam to become his wife or stay Christian and become his concubine. Well. Isn’t he sweet? The Georgian court wasn’t pleased with this message, and in fact one of the nobles present when it was delivered hauled off and punched the messenger. Despite these demands, Tamar did neither of these things and promptly handed him his ass at the battle of Basiani.
Between battles, Tamar influenced much of Georgian culture. The national Georgian epic, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, was said to be inspired by her. The capital of Tblisi was flooded with gold and silver pouring in from their conquered lands, and became an important crossroads between East and West. She also endowed many churches and monasteries, and in the new monasteries the captured battle flags from the Muslim armies she conquered hung as trophies. However, despite her warlike nature she was very concerned with doing charitable works for her people. Tamar died after an unknown illness around 1213. Her burial place is also a mystery, as she is thought to have been intured in a secret niche at the Gelati monastery, but it has never been found. Other legends say her body was taken to the Holy Land and buried near the Holy Sepulchre. For her great piety and faith, she was canonized as the the Holy Righteous King Tamar by the Eastern Orthodox Church.