When King Georgi III surprisingly crowned his 18-year-old daughter as the co-ruler of the Kingdom of Georgia in 1178 AD, he is said to have uttered a quote that is still famous in the country today. I’m paraphrasing, and I haven’t been great about keeping up with my Medieval Georgian language skills, but it more-or-less said something along the lines of this: “It doesn’t matter whether a lion is a male or a female – it will still use it’s horrific terrifying claws to murderliciously mutilate your pathetic face in front of your entire family, rip your esophagus from your bloody corpse with a face full of slavering curved fangs, and then fucking 360-degree behind-the-back tomahawk jam your disemboweled spleen into your own asshole.”
This is the tale of Queen Tamar of Georgia. Queen of Kings, undisputed ruler of the Caucasus, and a hardcore 13th-century spleen-slamming warrior-chick who carved a fearsome kingdom from the corpses of her fallen enemies and commanded an armor-clad host of badass medieval knights on an epic series of murderous conquests at the height of the middle ages.
Back in the Dark Ages, before the Braves got Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, Georgia was a hardcore Orthodox Christian warrior-state located in present-day Georgia and ruled by a guy named King Georgi III. Georgi of Georgia was a decent guy, but he had a pretty intense problem with some of the asshole nobles who were supposed to be loyal to him, and around 1178 he ended up having to lay the smackdown on a pretty hardcore rebellion and execute a bunch of assholes who totally deserved it. Looking to cement his rule, King Georgi then decided to appoint his teenage daughter as his successor, and in a super elaborate ceremony he gave her a crown and an awesome-looking sword and told her to unflinchingly decapitate any douchebags who tried to fuck with their family line. Then, like six years later, he died for some reason.
Tamar faced her first test immediately. The second King Georgi beefed it, a bunch of idiot nobles and church officials started posting hateful shit on Georgia message boards about how girls didn’t know shit about shit and why wasn’t this chick baking lasagnas instead of tyrannically dominating the kingdom with an all-powerful authoritarian spiky iron fist. As was the case with nearly every place in the Christian world, there had never been a woman ruling Georgia before, the Church was against it, and the Council of Nobles started trying to make crazy demands and get her stripped of her authority.
She fucked their shit up.
The leader of the unruly nobles was the Royal Treasurer, a guy who, oh yeah, just so happened to work down the hall from the Throne Room. So Queen Tamar had that guy arrested and thrown into a torture chamber. When the rest of the uppity nobles talked shit about how this was bullshit, Tamar sent two incredibly-long-winded women to talk to them. These negotiator chicks dragged the discussions on longer and longer and longer, and then at the last minute were like, “psych”, and gestured like a pair of Vanna White’s towards the gigantic fucking army of loyal knights and warriors who had just shown up to beat the fuck out of these assholes and throw them from the tallest towers in King’s Landing. The nobles, who had been wasting their time talking like idiots when they should have been building an army to challenge the Queen, were all arrested and thrown into dungeons. Queen Tamar eventually pardoned them, but not before stripping them of their power and replacing them with guys loyal to her instead.
Then, to deal with the Church, she did something you might not expect – she called a Holy Synod, a council of all the religious leaders in Georgia, to discuss and debate various religious questions and work out their differences like civilized people.
Before the synod was over, Queen Tamar’s supporters in the Church had voted out pretty much every single clergymember who ever said shit against her.
Allow me to introduce your new Bishop.
After she had built up a power base of mostly-loyal followers Queen Tamar was a lot more willing to listen to concerns and suggestions from the Church and the nobility. The first, and most pressing, was for her to get married and start producing heirs to the throne. The nobles picked a dude named Yuri to be her husband. Yuri was a big, strapping Viking/Russian dude who had been a Prince in Novgorod but was kicked out for being an asshole. Yuri the Russian and Queen Tamar got married, but, in a badass display of 13th-century Girl Power, even though Prince Yuri became King Yuri our girl Tamar took the title “Queen of Kings” and remained the sole controlling power on the throne.
So if this is like a Lifetime Original or some shit, this is the part where Yuri goes from Handsome Prince Charming to Drunken Slobbering Douchebag You Want to Kick in the Balls with a Steel-Toed Clown Shoe. The second he becomes king, Yuri stops being charming and witty, starts being totally wasted on shitty wine all the time, and occasionally goes on psychotic violent outbursts and trashes hotel rooms or restaurants. Queen Tamar of Georgia, not exactly a shrinking violet, naturally doesn’t put up with this bullshit abusive boyfriend crap for long. Less than three years after their marriage, she strips him of his power, has their marriage annulled by the Church, and kicks his ass out of her country like Harrison Ford booting Gary Oldman out the cargo hatch of a 747 at the end of Air Force One.
Yuri tried to get his revenge, raising an army of Vikings, mercenary Turks, and still-disgruntled Georgian nobles, but Queen Tamar completely demolished them – TWICE – and then, just to add the icing on the cake, married her top general, a semi-barbarian, ruggedly-handsome tribal warrior-prince from Ossetia named David Soslan who was, in the words of Tamar’s aunt, “Hewn from stone and reared on wolf’s milk.” Which sounds like something out of a goddamn romance novel.
Well hello there.
After a relationship I bizarrely and nauseatingly want to describe as “torrid” produced a couple kids, it was time for the new King and Queen to stop humping each other and start sword-humping the skulls of every rival kingdom dumb enough to share a border with Georgia. In 1193 the Sultan Abu Bakr, ruler of a Persian kingdom in Azerbaijan, started launching annoying raids into Georgian territory, so Queen Tamar responded by putting together a massive force of heavily-armored medieval knights and trampling their balls into hoof-imprinted dust. At the Battle of Shamkhor in 1195, a thunderous charge led by King David Soslan plunged its throbbing lance into the soft parts of the quivering Azerbaijani army. The Georgians shattered the massed might of Abu Bakr, capturing dozens of Muslim battle flags and hanging them up as trophies in monasteries and cathedrals across Georgia. Abu Bakr himself survived and escaped, but drank himself to death shortly after hearing news that King David Soslan was marching his direction and there weren’t nearly enough troops to stop him.
For the next ten years or so, the armies of Georgia steamrolled their way through the Caucasus Mountains, destroying all who opposed them. The top generals at this time were the Super Mkhargrdzeli Brothers, two guys with unpronounceable names who play a much bigger part in Badass Georgian military history than I intend to give them credit for, mostly because I don’t want to have to look up how to spell Mkhargrdzeli every time I want to talk about them.
Let’s just say this – for ten years, the Georgian army is undefeated in battle. They annex huge chunks of Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Armenia, destroy the Emirate of Kars, the Shirvans, the Alans, incorporate parts of Byzantium into their fold, and obliterate so many other civilizations that one Georgian writer famously remarked, “We are conquering places I haven’t even heard of.”
Yeah, well that makes two of us buddy.
The army of Queen Tamar.
All this expansion led to an influx of a shit-ton of gold, booty, and other awesome shit looted from captured enemy kingdoms, and all of it flowed to Queen Tamar’s capital and brought about an unprecedented religious, cultural, and economic boom for her country. Thanks to the Queen’s strong reign and unnerving talent for conquering, destroying, and pillaging, a huge cultural renaissance took place in Georgia, with tons of art, literature, and poetry popping up all over the place. Her capital, Tblisi, became one of the largest cities in the Middle East, and trade routes were set up to connect places like Beijing with the rest of Western Europe. Meanwhile, for her part, Queen Tamar spent most of her non-killing time doing charitable work for her people – she embroidered clothing for the poor, distributed alms to the poor and to veterans during times of war, and observed religious principles of fasting, sleeping on a stone bed (to stay hard as fuck), and walking up church steps barefoot as a form of penance.
She also spent a lot of time praying in an awesome fucking cave fortress so insanely cool you’ll wonder why they didn’t make a goddamn Indy movie about it.
Well all this expansion isn’t great if you want to make friends with your neighbors, and in 1203 a super-powerful, super-awesomely-titled dude known as the Sultan of Rum put together a gigantic coalition of Emirs and decided to form a We Hate Queen Tamar Fan Club. In what had to have been an early-medieval version of getting super wasted and Facebook-trolling your exes, the Sultan of Rum put together a huge army, assembled it on the border of Georgia, and then hired a diplomatic envoy to go to Tblisi and talk shit to Queen Tamar to her face in her own throne room. The guy read some fucked-up over-the-top letter describing how “every woman is feeble-minded,” and how Queen Tamar was “a simpleton queen” and “a killer of taxer of Muslims,” and then gave her two options – convert to Islam and become his wife, or stay Christian and become his concubine.
When the envoy was done talking, one of the Mkhargrdzeli brothers literally stormed across the room and punched the dude in the face as hard as he could. As the guy was sprawled on the floor with a bloody lip, Mkhargrdzeli stood over the guy and said if it wasn’t for diplomatic immunity, the Georgians would cut out his tongue and blind him with red-hot pokers. Instead they were just going to send him home with a simple answer for the Sultan of Rum – prepare to die a horrific, excruciating death.
A rare photograph of the medieval Georgian military.
At the Battle of Basiani in 1205 (why couldn’t it have been the Battle of Bacardi?), Queen Tamar launched a ferocious surprise attack that caught the Sultan of Rum completely off-guard. The Muslim coalition was badass as fuck though, and despite being ambushed they fought hard, countered the attack, and started to push Queen Tamar back. The Georgian knights fell back towards a bog, battling in knee-deep mud so intense most knights had to dismount their horses. Then, suddenly, two separate units of Georgian knights came riding in hard out of nowhere, attacked the Muslim flanks, routed their armies, and sent them fleeing in disarray. The Georgians marched ahead, conquering all that was before them, reaching all the way to the Black Sea and driving the Sultan back to wherever he came from.
By the time the Armies of Queen Tamar were done marching, they’d conquered lands from the Caspian to the Black Sea.
wait i mean
Queen Tamar of Georgia died in 1213, after having ruled competently and badassly over her people for 35 years. Her crown went to her daughter, Rusadan, who would rule until Georgia fell to the Mongol Hordes of Genghis Khan in the 1230s.
In her ironclad rule, the Queen of Kings built her realm up to the largest extent it would ever reach, brought it to a Golden Age of its history, and was so beloved that there was an epic poem written about her. After her death, Tamar was canonized as a saint in the Orthodox Church, and today she appears on Georgia’s money and has an airport and a Medal of Bravery named after her. As recently as 2008, Tamar was still the second-most common female name in the Republic of Georgia.
Cook, Bernard A. Women and War. ABC-CLIO, 2006.
Monter, William. The Rise of Female Kings in Europe, 1300-1800. Yale University Press, 2012.
Rayfield, Donald. Edge of Empires: A History of Georgia. Reaktion, 2013.