Queen Tamar is something of a puzzle to historians. They have trouble believing that someone could be so pious and kindhearted, but also responsible for so many gruesome battles. To which I say: Can’t it be both? Her piousness actually seemed to help make her such a powerful, successful Queen, in battle and otherwise. And I like to think the most brilliant people are also the most paradoxical. But I’ll let you decide for yourself.
1. She Saw Her Cousin Brutally Disposed Of
In and around the Byzantine Empire, it was common practice to mutilate your political opponents. And Tamar’s family were traditionalists—about this, anyway. When Tamar was young, her dad, the King of Georgia, disfigured and blinded her cousin who had a claim to the throne, thus eliminating him as a genuine rival.
It’s disturbing, but Tamar herself would go on to also deal out some major bloodshed in her lifetime.
2. She Might Have Been Descended From King David
Yes, that King David. The Georgian dynasty claimed to be descendants of possibly the most famous King of Israel—you know, the one who played a secret chord that pleased the Lord. For Christians, it’s like the next best thing after being descended from Jesus Christ himself. Which no one is. Because he didn’t have any kids.
Still, Christian though she was, Tamar did a lot of things that didn’t please the Lord.
3. Everyone Called Her A King
Tamar was Georgia’s first queen (her daughter was the second, and the two of them were actually the only queens of Georgia, ever). But Tamar wanted there to be absolutely no confusion about her intentions—which were to rule exactly like a king. So she started calling herself a “King of the Kings”. It was the first of many power moves.
4. Men Grossly Underestimated Her
In spite of Tamar calling herself a king, she was still, at the end of the day, an 18-year-old woman when she became queen. And when that happened, people were not overly pleased—and by “people” I mean “powerful men”. Of course, they thought they could walk all over her because she was super young and also a woman. Oh, how wrong they were.
5. Everyone Wanted A Piece Of Her Power Pie
Powerful people attract power-hungry people. That’s just facts. When Tamar became queen, a bunch of people started trying to take power away from her: politicians, other rich guys. One, named Qutlu—kinda sounds like “Cthulhu”, just saying—tried to set up a council that would be able to make the rules instead of the queen. And how do you think that went for them?
6. She Had Power Moves
The next time a man made Queen Tamar mad, she became a little bit extra and sent him to another country. So maybe the politician Qutlu—the original “ideas guy”— should be grateful that she simply had him detained and then threw him in prison. But Tamar wasn’t unnecessarily cruel, and soon showed our friend Qutlu some mercy.
7. She Knew The Art Of Persuasion
Queen Tamar didn’t throw everyone in prison—only the leader. She told the rest of the Qutlu clan that they should simply abandon their leader, give up, and go home. So they did. You see, it’s not so much that she had to show them who was boss, it’s more like that was just who she was—the boss. But they would soon test her again.
8. She Had Enemies
After Qutlu’s friends got home they promptly changed their mind, maybe picturing Qutlu languishing in prison. So they turned around, marched up to Queen Tamar again, and demanded that she release their buddy. But she was not in the least afraid. I like to imagine her saying, calmly, “I’ll consider it”. Except she wasn’t even there.
9. She Had Powerful Aunties
Queen Tamar had at her disposal some aunties. And she knew the kind of power that aunties can wield with just their words. When Qutlu’s band of rebels demanded Qutlu’s release, Tamar sent two noblewomen to negotiate. I don’t know what these women said but, judging by the way the men responded, it must have been pretty scary.
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10. She Protected Her Country
Tamar had a way of making people feel sheepish, even when they supposedly hated her. The two women she had sent to do her dirty work for her had the rebels on their knees swearing loyalty and obedience to the queen they were planning to attack just seconds before.
Maybe they thought they would later be able to get their way. But you know how that went.
11. Her Enemies Failed To Get What They Wanted
So, Cthulu—ahem, excuse me—Qutlu is out of prison and his friends think they’re going to try again to implement their brilliant ideas of a power share with Tamar. Only they never do. Their plans never get off the ground. You see, they thought they had been negotiating with her. But in the end, she got her way—and they didn’t. Qutlu especially did not fare well.
12. Her Traitors Fell Into Obscurity
I mean, look at Qutlu's Wikipedia page. It’s short, and it’s all about how he had ideas that Tamar said “no, thank you” to. There’s a lot written about this period of Georgian history, but no one really knows what happened to Qutlu after his release. In fact, if he knew what the historians did say, he’d probably wish he had become totally unknown.
13. People Insulted Her Rivals
Tamar is remembered with such reverence that someone once said she was “endowed with the intelligence and courage of a man”—a big compliment for the medieval period. Qutlu? Not so much. One chronicler referred to him as a "boy” and “a mule”. Qutlu was finished. But Queen Tamar was about to meet her (almost) match.
14. She Didn't Marry For Love
One annoying thing about being a queen? You usually don’t get to pick your own husband. You marry whoever is going to be good for the kingdom, and that’s decided by people who apparently know better than you do. Tamar’s aunt picked her husband for her.
Even so, Tamar may have even been excited about her aunt’s choice, based on what we know of this guy.
15. Her First Husband Was Hot
In some ways, Queen Tamar’s aunt’s choice of husband was not terrible. At least on paper. The man, Yuri, was a prince, politically important, a good soldier, and, like Tamar herself, a mega babe. He’s been referred to as “perfect of body”. But looks aren’t everything.
16. He Was A Disappointment
Mega babes are sometimes also jerks. They’re used to getting their way and don’t have to try very hard to win the affection of those around them. What I’m saying is Tamar’s husband was hot but a total slob. He was inebriated, like, all the time. And he also developed a taste for power—and started liking it just a little too much.
17. He Carried Deep Trauma
Before you start hating too much on Tamar’s new husband, there’s a couple things you should know. He had trauma, okay? When he was 14 years old, political rivals finished off his dad while the guy was just chilling in bed. So the son maybe had at least one reason to drink. Or two. Because there was actually something else.
18. She Had Demons Too
Okay, can I just say, Queen Tamar also had a bit of a difficult upbringing? When she was 17 years old, a group of people, including her cousin, tried to kill her father (which is why her father disfigured the guy, put him in prison, and let him rot there until the end of his life).
But she didn’t use this as an excuse to be a tyrant. Unlike some people in her life.
19. She Had An Unhappy Marriage
Given that this was a political marriage, it’s no wonder that it wasn’t just Tamar who was unhappy. Her husband didn’t exactly choose her either. Besides, there were rumors that he was gay. No wonder the marriage was doomed.
Still, being miserable is no reason to be mean to your partner. Which he was. But you think Tamar just suffered through this? Nah, fam.
20. She Filed For Divorce
Divorce was not super well looked upon in the 12th-century, medieval, uber Christian kingdom of Georgia. But Tamar didn’t let that stop her. So, after two years of increasingly ridiculous nonsense from her husband, she went to the very Orthodox Georgian Church leaders and asked for a divorce. You think they gave it to her?
21. Her Divorce Was Painless
Yeah, they gave it to her. In 1187, Tamar successfully persuaded the religious leaders to grant her the divorce. She herself was a pious Christian but obviously extremely charming because the Georgian religious leaders and all the nobles—they all said, “yes, divorce him”.
They didn’t need to think twice. Which maybe in retrospect they should have, because their decision came back to haunt them.
22. She Sent Her First Husband Far Away
Who wants to run into their ex at the grocery store? Queen Tamar definitely did not. So she made sure that was impossible. Soon after her divorce, she arranged to have her ex-husband Yuri sent far away—like, 800 miles away, to a completely different country where they spoke a different language. Buddy was really not impressed.
23. She Feigned A Friendship With A Traitor
Yuri isn’t the only one who got sent away. Remember the rebellion that happened right at the beginning of Tamar’s reign? The one that ended with Qutlu in prison? Well, Tamar made his friend Abulasan, who had initially rebelled against her with Qutlu, part of her Royal Council. But she had very ulterior motives.
24. Her Revenge Was Slow And Sweet
She didn’t care about Yuri’s friend Abulasan. At first he was useful for keeping the rebels appeased, but once she became established enough in her power as regent she had no need to be nice to him. So she stripped him of his titles and confiscated all his possessions.
That should have been a warning to Yuri, but, unfortunately, Yuri grossly underestimated his ex.
25. Her Ex Tried To Get His Revenge
Tamar enjoyed three blissful, Yuri-free years. That all came to an end when Yuri trekked back to Georgia from Constantinople and staged a coup against her. Or, I should say, tried to stage a coup. He failed, and was so little of a threat that Tamar didn’t even bother imprisoning him. Which she might have regretted because of what happened next.
26. He Staged A Coup Against Her
Even though Tamar pardoned him after the first coup, which is much more than he deserved, Yuri tried to stage another coup against her and failed again. You’d think he’d learn, but apparently good looks don't equal a smart brain. But one good thing did come of these coups.
27. She Had A Crush On One Of Her Commanders
Even though Tamar was powerful, she wasn’t demolishing rebels single handedly. One person in particular was excessively devoted to her. His name was David and he was a prince so we’re going to call him Prince David. Tamar’s aunt tutored him and he was apparently very handsome and also good at fighting.
It’s this last bit that would make David so important for Tamar.
28. Reader, She Married Him
You might say our girl was crushing, you might say she chose Prince David for his skills in battle. To which I say: can’t it be both? The important thing is, she married him. Yes. She married him in 1189. As in, she chose him. Ain’t nobody going to tell our girl what to do.
Prince David would soon prove his loyalty to her in possibly the hottest way possible.
29. Her Husband Fought Off Her Ex
Is there any better fantasy than defeating your ex in battle? What about the fantasy where you don’t even break a nail because your current husband does it for you. That’s right, Prince David—or, shall we say, Husband David—helped defeat Tamar’s ex-husband Yuri and his band of goons who tried to depose her. Twice.
And the new power couple was just getting started.
30. Her Armies Conquered Cities
It’s almost too brutal to relate every single victory that Queen Tamar’s armies had in their huge expansion through the region. Suffice it to say that they conquered a lot. One soldier remarked that they were conquering places whose existence they hadn’t even heard of. Settle in for a couple highlights from these campaigns.
31. She Scared Many Men
When one neighboring Sultan saw Tamar and David’s successes, he started to get really worried. So worried that he sent Tamar a letter trying to intimidate her and demanding her immediate surrender. Tamar basically laughed this letter off, but one of the generals under her command sorta kinda lost his cool when he read it.
32. Her General Shot The Messenger
There’s a lesser-known saying about messengers and that is “don’t punch the messenger, either”. A messenger delivered the Sultan’s insulting letter to Tamar, and when the general who received the letter read it, he was so incensed that he slapped the messenger in the face and knocked him unconscious. What was in that letter?
33. A Ruler Called Her Feeble-Minded
The Sultan started the letter by declaring that “every woman is feeble of mind," added a bit in the middle demanding that Tamar and her armies surrender immediately, and ended by saying that, after they surrender to him, Tamar could become his wife (if she converted to Islam) or his concubine (if she didn’t). Yikes. There’s a reason the Sultan didn’t deliver this message himself.
34. She Gave The Best Battle Speeches
The Sultan’s messenger, when he regained consciousness, went back and told the Sultan that Tamar would not, uh, be surrendering. Tamar, meanwhile, gave a rousing speech to everyone before they rode into battle. We don’t know for sure that she went full Aragorn and declared, “A day may come when the courage of men fails, BUT IT IS NOT THIS DAY!” but we also don’t know that she didn’t. Because check out what happened next.
35. She Destroyed A Sultan
Why reply to a mean email when you can just obliterate the person? Queen Tamar’s army, rallied by her amazing speech and led by her extremely capable husband Prince David, destroyed the Sultan and took over his territory. During the battle they even captured the Sultan’s brother. Soon, other countries in the region started to get nervous.
36. She Sold An Enemy For Pennies
Sultan’s brother in tow, Queen Tamar and her army continued their campaign to take over the region. They conquered a bunch of cities located in what is now Turkey and Armenia. At some point, they got rid of the Sultan’s brother for precisely one horseshoe. I hope Tamar sent the Sultan a letter to gloat.
Still, she was probably too busy: She had some interesting hobbies.
37. She Was Generous To Those In Need
Believe it or not, Tamar gave away a lot of her money to those in need. When she heard that a bunch of monks’ living quarters had burned down, she sent them money to dramatically improve their living situation: enough to install an irrigation system, build a mill, and plant a big garden.
Then when people were mean to some other monks she helped, she got mad. Scarily mad.
38. She Was Fiercely Protective Of Her Friends
Tamar was a fighter, but she was also generous. One time, after she left money for some monks at Constantinople, the Byzantine Emperor at the time, Alexios III Angelos, promptly confiscated the money for himself. Her response? Do not mess with me or my friends. She set her sights on Angelos’s territory in Trebizond (in modern-day Turkey) and sent in the army.
39. The Best Revenge Is Success
Tamar did not forget about her monk friends while she was off fighting the person who had stolen from them. Not only did she send them money again, she sent them even more money than she had originally. And she might have had a premonition of success about the new territory she was invading. Because this time, she went big.
40. One Empire Wasn’t Enough For Her
The Byzantine Emperor himself couldn’t stand in the way of Tamar; she defeated him and took over part of his territory. But she didn’t keep it for herself. She gave it to one of her younger cousins, who became the first Emperor of Trebizond (I know it sounds made up; it’s not). He was loyal to Tamar of course. And helped make her very rich—so rich that she had to get a little creative in how she spent her money.
41. She Loved Old Stuff
Queen Tamar’s warring and plundering made her and her country incredibly wealthy. Enough for her to do a little shopping for herself. She loved antiques, especially religious ones. When supposed pieces of Jesus’s cross came up for auction, she bid an extravagant amount of money for it. But she had some stiff competition.
42. She Outbid the Byzantine Emperor
What can I say? Medieval Christians love a relic. The Byzantine Emperor himself bid on this old True Cross fragment—but not enough. Tamar outbid him. Unfortunately, she still didn’t win and someone else got to take home the spooky old cross bits. But don't worry. Tamar had no shortage of ideas about how to spend her money.
43. She Implemented A Form Of Universal Basic Income
Tamar did not need studies to show that universal basic income actually improves the wellbeing of the whole nation. She spread her wealth around, giving 10% of all the country’s wealth to the lower classes, after first forgiving their debts. And these people weren’t just getting pennies either—they were getting much more.
44. Under Her Rule, Everyone Got Rich
There’s a reason that Queen Tamar’s reign is called Georgia’s “Golden Age.” With all the tributes she received from the places she had conquered, Georgians were partying in style. One person remarked, “the peasants were like nobles, the nobles like princes, and the princes like kings.” But her generosity didn’t stop there.
45. She Abolished The Worst Forms Of Punishment
Even our warrior queen who had no problem leading battles, pillaging, and plundering knew that some forms of punishment are just inhumane. So she abolished the worst ones. Gone. Not allowed under Queen Tamar’s watch. And this contributed to her huge popularity. No wonder historians have treated her the way that they have. They were obsessed.
46. She Became A Saint While Still Alive
Most saints are canonized after they’ve passed on to the next life. But Queen Tamar was so revered that she was actually named a saint while she was still alive. People wrote books and poems about her. You might say she had literal main character energy. So it is not surprising that her grave would become something of a legend.
47. She Worked Hard Right To The End
Queen Tamar did not call in sick for work. One morning in 1213, she woke up and probably told everyone she “felt fine”—but by then she was 53 years old. While holding a business meeting in the middle of her summer residence (a castle, of course), Queen Tamar suddenly fell ill. And they did not have antibiotics in medieval Georgia.
48. Her Secret Burial Spot Is Legendary
Fifty three years old is nothing today but back in medieval Byzantium it was more like 75. Queen Tamar had reached old age. She eventually succumbed to her illness. Her final a resting place? A monastery—fitting, since she was friends with so many monks—but today, we still have no idea where exactly she is buried. Some think her burial place was kept secret on purpose.
49. She May Or May Not Be There
Scholars have looked, pilgrims have looked, and probably some heartbroken medieval men have looked. But no one has ever found Queen Tamar’s actual burial place. It’s probably in a secret cubby somewhere in the Gelati Monastery. Which you can visit. Today. The monastery is still intact, 800 years later, and entrance is free.
50. The Kingdom Fell Apart Without Her
Queen Tamar’s Golden Age was just that—hers, and no one else’s. Both her son and her daughter reigned after her. They tried to live up to their mom’s reputation, but in the two decades after Tamar’s reign, Mongols invaded her territory multiple times and Georgian dominance of the area completely collapsed. Because Tamar was the best.