gelati monastery

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Tamar of Georgia (c. 1160 – 1213) 

Tamar the Great reigned as the Queen of Georgia from 1184 to 1213, presiding over the apex of the Georgian Golden Age. A member of the Bagrationi dynasty, her position as the first woman to rule Georgia in her own right was emphasized by the title mepe (“king”), afforded to Tamar in the medieval Georgian sources. She was daughter of George III, King of Georgia, and his consort Burdukhan, a daughter of the king of Alania.

Tamar was proclaimed heir and co-ruler by her reigning father George III in 1178, but she faced significant opposition from the aristocracy upon her ascension to full ruling powers after George’s death. Tamar was successful in neutralizing this opposition and embarked on an energetic foreign policy aided by the decline of the hostile Seljuq Turks. Relying on a powerful military élite, Tamar was able to build on the successes of her predecessors to consolidate an empire which dominated the Caucasus until its collapse under the Mongol attacks within two decades after Tamar’s death. Tamar’s chronicle praises her universal protection of Christianity and her support of churches and monasteries from Egypt to Bulgaria and Cyprus.

Tamar was married twice, her first union being, from 1185 to 1187, to the Rus’ prince Yuri, whom she divorced and expelled from the country, defeating his subsequent coup attempts. For her second husband Tamar chose, in 1191, the Alan prince David Soslan, by whom she had two children, George and Rusudan, the two successive monarchs on the throne of Georgia. Tamar outlived her consort, David Soslan, and died of a “devastating disease” not far from her capital Tbilisi, having previously crowned her son, George, coregent. 

Tamar’s historian relates that the queen suddenly fell ill when discussing state affairs with her ministers at the Nacharmagevi castle near the town of Gori. She was transported to Tbilisi and then to the nearby castle of Agarani where Tamar died and was mourned by her subjects. Her remains were transferred to the cathedral of Mtskheta and then to the Gelati monastery, a family burial ground of the Georgian royal dynasty. The traditional scholarly opinion is that Tamar died in 1213, although there are several indications that she might have died earlier, in 1207 or 1210.

Tamar’s association with the period of political and military successes and cultural achievements, combined with her role as a female ruler, has led to her idealization and romanticization in Georgian arts and historical memory. She remains an important symbol in Georgian popular culture and has been canonized by the Georgian Orthodox Church as the Holy Righteous Queen Tamar, with her feast day commemorated on 14 May. (x)