Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Saintly queen: Tamar the Great of Georgia

Judge according to righteousness, affirming good and condemning evil,” she advised. “Begin with me--if I sin I should be censured, for the royal crown is sent down from above as a sign of divine service. Allow neither the wealth of the nobles nor the poverty of the masses to hinder your work. You by word and I by deed, you by preaching and I by the law, you by upbringing and I by education will care for those souls whom God has entrusted to us, and together we will abide by the law of God, in order to escape eternal condemnation…. You as priests and I as ruler, you as stewards of good and I as the watchman of that good.”

Part of the speech given by Tamar the Great, Queen of Georgia to the Church Council during the beginning of her reign.

What do you get when you cross Divine Right and an iron hand? The answer is an army-leading, kick-ass female fighter who was named Co-Ruler of the Bagrationi Dynasty by her father when she was a teenager. Queen Tamar of the Caucasus reigned over Georgia for 35 years. Georgia is nestled between the Daruband & Black Seas. When Tamar died, her lands encompassed the area from the Caspian to the Black Seas all the way from what is now modern Azerbaijan to southern Russia. Her allies included her nephews, Alexius & David Comnenus, Byzantine Princes who established the Trebizond Empire with the help of the Georgian army.

Tamar was born in 1160 to Queen Burdukhan and King Georgi III. Her parents knew Tamar was a smart girl and they decided to crown her queen, to rule alongside Georgi when she turned 18. It made sense. Let Tamar learn how to govern from Daddy. When he kicked the bucket, having an anointed Monarch ready-to-go would prevent chaos. Georgi taught his daughter to be fair but tough. He even gave her a deadly sword in case she needed to lop off some heads. She was allowed the title of mep’et’a mep’e – also known as ‘King of Kings’.

Of course, nothing is easy. When Daddy died in 1184, the nobles challenged her right to rule led by Qutlu Arslan the Treasurer and trusted counselor of her father. Qutlu’s treason was very hurtful and it cost him his position. The nobles were hardcore Georgian Orthodox Catholics. Women didn’t tell men what to do according to the Church.

Tamar called a Holy Synod against the Church. She managed to convince the priestly folk she was fit to sit the throne. She threw those who conspired against her in prison, executed a few, took their lands & wealth on attainder, and replaced her counselors with men loyal to her. Qutlu Arslan managed to escape the worst punishments. The next order of business was to find a consort.

Her counselors selected Russian Prince Yuri of Novgorod in 1185, the son of murdered Prince Andrei I of Vladimir-Suzdal. Yuri was said to be a good-looking guy & a decent soldier but ultimately a bad husband. Yuri liked his drink and the occasional chemical substance. When he was under the influence, he was known to have a bad temper. It was said he trashed rooms worse than The Who. Their marriage lasted three years before Tamar had enough and divorced him. Yuri wasn’t happy about losing his easy lifestyle. Ha gathered a mixed army of Norsemen, Turks, and scattered Georgians. Tamar kicked their butts twice before Yuri got the message. To add salt to the wound, she fell in love with her General, Alan Prince David Soslan, from Ossetia. They married in 1191.

Tamar wasn’t content to sit on the throne and run the land. She wanted more for her people, especially more land looking towards Armenia & Iran. She began to lend aid and meddle in the affairs of the Ildenizids and of the Shirvanshahs, her husband David leading her army to victories against Abu Bakr of the Ildenizids (of Persian Azerbaijan). Before the fight, Queen Tamar gave a rousing speech to her soldiers then she climbed the hill to the Metekhi Church of the Theotokos in Tbilisi. She lowered down to her knees before the statue of the Most Holy Theotokos to pray for help. The queen remained at the shrine, praying until she received news that the battle was won. Bakr eventually re-gained his lands in a later fight but with a weakened front against the Georgians. Tamar’s men next took the Shaddadid, led by two brothers, Zak’are and Ivane Mkhargrdzeli. Meanwhile, the Seljuk Turks were organizing under Suleyemanshah II. It didn’t matter; Tamar’s warriors defeated the Muslims at the Battle of Basiani by General Soslan.

Tamar and David were credited with two children, in either 1192 or 1194; the queen gave birth to a son, George-Lasha, who succeeded Tamar as King George IV. Her daughter, Princess Rusudan, was born in 1195 and would succeed her brother as a sovereign of Georgia.

Tamar cared enough about her people that she had sent Georgian troops to Jerusalem and negotiated with Saladin to have Georgian relics returned and to allow her people free access to the Holy City. She supported monasteries throughout the lands and her soldiers watched for Christian pilgrims, although it is thought that some of her actions might have been attributed to an attempt to gain grounds after the failed Christian Crusades. She unsuccessfully tried to buy pieces of the True Cross.

The queen died between 1207 and 1213 – accounts vary. Her illness came on suddenly while at at the Nacharmagevi castle near Gori. Poor Tamar’s obsessive practices of sleeping on a stone bed, hanging out in caves, litany, and fasting finally caught up to her. It was said she was was buried in the Gelati Monastery but her remains moved, supposedly to the Holy Lands although the actual burial places has never been located. Tamar was later canonized the the Georgian Orthodox Church as the Holy Righteous King Tamar, her day of remembrance is May 1rst.

coins with Tamar's sigil

To read more about Queen Tamar:

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