Tamar of Georgia (circa 1160-1213)
Art by Jacquie Jeanes (tumblr, website)
Tamar (თამარი) was the first woman to rule the nation of Georgia. She was proclaimed heir apparent and co-ruler by her father George III in 1178. Despite significant opposition from the aristocracy, Tamar was crowned king* after her father’s death in 1184.
The decline of the neighboring Seljuqids created a power vacuum in the region and Tamar built on the successes of her predecessors to expand the Georgian Empire. At its zenith, the Georgian Empire including large parts of present-day Azerbaijan, Armenia, and eastern Turkey. With this prosperity, Georgia entered a cultural golden age. Tbilisi, Georgia’s capitol, became a center of trade with a diverse mix of Caucasian, Byzantine Persian, and Arabic cultures. Romantic poetry thrived and it was during this period that Shota Rustaveli composed Georgia’s national poem “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin.” Tamar was a devout Christian and eventually canonized by the Orthodox Church. During her reign, a number of cathedrals were built in the region.
Tamar married twice. Her first husband, Prince Yuri of Novgorod, was chosen by the Georgian court and the marriage ended in divorce. After the divorce, Yuri attempted a coup but was quickly defeated. Tamar chose her second husband, Prince David Soslan of Alania. David was an excellent military commander and he became one of Tamar’s closest advisors. Together they had two children, George and Rusudan, both of whom eventually ruled Georgia.
Like her father, Tamar named her oldest child co-ruler while he was still a teenager. George IV ruled for only ten years after Tamar’s death. The Mongols were on the move and they attacked Georgia in the 1220s, leaving George IV severely wounded. Tamar’s daughter Rusudan took the throne after George IV’s death in 1223, but she lacked her mother’s skill and good fortune. Georgia fell, first to the Khwarezmians, then to the Mongols. Several of Tamar’s descendants attempted to hold Georgia together but for the bulk of the next 700 years, Georgia existed as a province or vassal state of some larger empire: Mongol, Persian, Ottoman, Russian, or Soviet.
*A number of queen regents were crowned king to signify that they were rulers rather than consorts. Other examples include Hatsheput of Egypt and Maria Teresa of Austro-Hungary.