Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Tamar the Great, "King of Kings"

Tamar the Great, Queen of Georgia (15 August 1185)

Born about the year 1160, Tamar of Georgia was the daughter of Giorgi III, king of Georgia, and his wife, Burdukhan of Alania.

Tamar the Great, fresco detail,
Church of Dormition,
The medieval kingdom of Georgia was uniquely located between eastern Europe and Asia (see the map, below).

Tamar was named as her father's heir and co-ruler in 1178. Although there was opposition to the idea of her succeeding her father as queen regnant, Tamar's reign was a Golden Age in Georgia, a period that saw Tamar's consolidation of her father's empire through diplomatic and military success accompanied by a flourishing cultural outburst in religious and secular literature, architecture, historical writing, philosophy, science, and the development of commerce.

Tamar ruled with her father for six years, until his death in 1184. She then continued as sole monarch, and although she married twice, her husbands were consorts, not rulers. She herself was the mep’et’a mep’e--that is, the "king of kings" (though there are no genders in the Georgian language, so the noun might also be translated as "sovereign of sovereigns"--but isn't "king of kings" more satisfying here?)

Tamar ruled for nearly thirty years, from 27 March 1184 until her death on 10 January 1213. 

I've posted about Tamar today because part of the "golden" age of Georgia is its extraordinary program of building, and on 15 August 1185 Tamar consecrated the church of the Dormition that she had commissioned as part of the great cave monastery of Vardzia. Tamar claimed to have received divine help for her military victory, and the church was built to house the the icon of the Virgin of Vardzia. (For a series of amazing photos, posted by Gunter Hartnagel on Flickr, click here.)

The cave monastery at Vardzia,
now a UNESCO world heritage site

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