A Brief History of Georgia's Only Female King

King Tamar and King George III, Mural Painting 11th Century, Georgia | © Grigory Gagarin / WikiCommons
King Tamar and King George III, Mural Painting 11th Century, Georgia | © Grigory Gagarin / WikiCommons
Photo of Baia Dzagnidze
Writer22 February 2018

Queen Tamar, also known as Tamar the Great ruled Georgia from 1184 to 1213, leading to the summit of the Georgian Golden Age. She was the first woman to govern Georgia in her own right and bought her a title of a King in local historical records. Here we look at a brief history of her rule, accomplishments, and diplomacy.

Road to the throne

A member of Bagrationi Dynasty and the only daughter of George III, King of Georgia, Tamar was born in 1160. Her youth corresponded with a significant outbreak in Georgia. In 1177 George III faced a rebellious group of local nobles, who planned to dethrone him in favor of his nephew Demna, whom many considered to be a legitimate royal successor of his assassinated father, David V.

King Tamar | © author unknown / WikiCommons

George III was able to defeat the uprising and started to imprison or put to death the rebellious aristocratic groups. At the same time, he gathered men from the nobility and unranked classes to sustain the dynastic gentry away from the core of power. Once the revolt was suppressed and eliminated, George started to include Tamar in government and crowned her as a co-ruler in 1178, when she was only 18 years old. This action of his was intended to stop any controversy after his death and legitimize his family on the throne of Georgia.

Tamar and her father co-ruled together for six years, and when George died in 1184, she continued to be a sole ruler of the country by being crowned for the second time in Gelati Cathedral in Kutaisi.

However, her reign wasn’t met with full support. Another opposition came, perceiving her gender as weakness. As the country had never had a female ruler before, the nobles questioned her legitimacy and tried to use her age against her. The young queen was pushed into making important concessions to the nobility, including the removal of King George’s appointees. Thus, the aristocracy came into the center of power again.

An unsuccessful marriage

The nobles ordered Tamar to marry to have a head for the army and to provide a successor to the throne. They chose Rus Prince Yuri, son of the assassinated prince Andrei I Bogolyubsky of Vladimir-Suzdal, who lived as a fugitive in the North Caucasus.

Approved by Tamar’s aunt Rusudan, Yuri was brought to Georgia to marry Tamar in 1185. The prince was a skilled soldier, but an unreasonable person and not a good husband. Slowly Tamar started to gain confidence in her rights as a queen. The death of the persuasive Catholicos-Patriarch Michael, who was not a big supporter of Tamar played a big role in her future governance. She appointed her advocate Anton Gnolistavisdze as a chancellor and gradually increased her own power-base to high positions at the court.

A second marriage

In 1187, Tamar divorced Yuri and sent him off to Constantinople. Afterward, she chose her second husband herself – David Soslan, an Alan prince and a great military commander, who became Tamar’s primary advocate and was effective in crushing the rebellious aristocracy united behind Yuri.

King Tamar and David had two children; Lasha-Giorgi, the future King George IV; and Rusudan, who later replaced her brother as a monarch of Georgia.

The reason why she was called King

Once King Tamar succeeded in strengthening her power and gained a reliable support while she restored the expansionist foreign course of her ancestors and Georgians became active again under her reign. She managed to build her success based on the reform of her great-grandfather, David IV, also known as the David the Builder, and the efforts of David III and Bagrat III who sought for uniting Georgia kindgoms.

One of the most remarkable events of King Tamar’s governance was the establishment of the Black Sea coast’s Empire of Trebizond in 1204. By the end years of her governance, Georgia had attained the peak of its power and fame in the Middle Ages.

Tamar’s kingdom extended from the Greater Caucasus to Erzurum, and from the Zygii to the proximity of Ganja building a pan-Caucasian empire. The royal title increased and reflected not only her power over the regular subdivisions of the Georgian Kingdom but also introduced new elements that highlighted the Georgian crown’s authority over the neighboring lands.

Kingdom of Georgia during the reign of King Tamar | © User:Andrew Andersen / WikiCommons

Tamar never gained dictatorial leadership and the noble council maintained their function. However, her own influence and the development of feudalism kept the more strong dynastic princes from fragmenting the state.

Besides expanding Georgian territories, her governance brought a golden age in culture. Locals continued to identify themselves with the Byzantine West, rather than Islamic East. This period brought architectural development to the country when a great number of impressive domed cathedrals were built.

Tamar continued to be identified among Georgia’s ‘King of the Kings’, as the language has no grammatical genders, unlike ‘king’ in English, it does not significantly imply a male connotation.

The fame of Tamar continues today

One of the most popular computer games, Civilization VI: Rise and Fall have included Georgia as one of the world’s ancient nations lead by King Tamar. The game provides facts about her and is introduced as a smart and diplomatic woman who supported the arts and was a brilliant defender of her kingdom.

Tamar speaks in Georgian throughout the game, which also features traditional music and details of Georgian architecture and medieval costumes.