from the 1180s to the beginning of the 13th Century
1. INTERNAL SITUATION
After Tamar's coronation, father and daughter ruled the
kingdom together. Giorgi had evidently trained her for the great mission she
was to fulfill. A coin bearing the names of Giorgi and Tamar was minted
during their joint-reign.
Although Giorgi instituted some precautionary measures, he failed to warn
his daughter against possible difficulties. The question of the legality of
Tamar's status was raised by the great feudal lords as soon as Giorgi died.
This question was heatedly debated in court-circles, but with the vigorous
support of King Giorgi's sister, Queen Rusudan, the patriarch Mikel
Mirianisdze and other influential nobles, the question was settled in
For his support of the queen, the patriarch Mikel Mirianisdze demanded the
office of "mtsignobartukhutsesi", and Tamar evidently had to concede to this
demand. As I. Javakhishvili writes, the fact that the head of the Church
received the office of first "vaziri" was major setback for the Crown and,
in fact, was directed against the steps that David the builder had taken .
to centralise state-power, Mikel Mirianisdze took that office over from
Anton Glonistavidze, King Giorgi's- supporter, who was staunchly loyal to
the queen and the royal family. By this act, the two highest offices -
ecclesiastical and secular - were placed in the hands of a powerful feudal
lord, and the patriarch became the most influential person in the kingdom.
The queen was well aware that this forced concession would have adverse
consequences and endeavoured to remedy the situation. But this was not easy
The feudal nobility gradually increased their pressure on the rights of the
queen. They decided to clear the court of ail the officials elevated by King
Giorgi for their fidelity to him and their support during the rising staged
by Prince Demna and Orbeli. These were the queen's most loyal servants and
she relied on them. The feudal nobility told the queen that they would not
serve "commoners". The aristocratic feudal lords directed their hatred
mainly at the "amirspasalari" Kubassar. who had rendered King Giorgi III
invaluable service during the rising, and Afridon, a dependent "aznauri",
who had been raised to the rank of "msakhurtukhutsesi". The nobles demanded
their removal and the deprivation of all their estates and honours. The
political situation grew acute. At this time Kubasar was gravely ill;
according to the chronicler, he was periodically afflicted by paralysis of
his limbs and tongue.
The queen had to agree to concession. Kubassar and Afridon were relieved of
their offices. Kubassar was deprived of Lore, but was left in possession of
his other estates; Afridon was stripped of all his honours and estates. This
was a major setback for the Crown.
However, far from abating, the pressure of the feudal nobility on the Crown
was soon followed by renewed attacks on the queen. This time the assault was
deadly. Whereas formerly the nobility had confined themselves to partial
demands for the elevation or dismissal of various officials, their actions
were now dangerous: a group of state officials headed by Kutlu Arslani, "mechurchletukhutsesi"
(finance minister), put forward a programme for modifying the system of
government. They demanded that a "karavi" (actually a new palace), where
major issues of government and justice would be decided without the queen's
participation, should be built in Isani (the present district of Avlabar in
Tbilisi) near the royal palace. The queen would be informed of decisions and
she would have to endorse them. As might have been expected, the queen saw
in this demand the "end of her reign".
The aim of the political programme drawn up by Kutlu Arslani and his
supporters was to create a representative state-body with powers to pass
decisions on all important affairs of state.
The queen and her court decided to have recourse to stern measures. Kutlu
Arslani, leader of the conspirators, was placed under guard. But this
provoked a negative response. The conspirators reaffirmed their loyalty to
Kutlu Arslani and his demands and threatened to attack the royal palace if
their leader were executed.
Matters took a turn for the worse. The political situation at the court grew
tense. A decision had to be taken on which perhaps very much depended.
At this critical moment the decision adopted by the queen and her supporters
was evidently the only way out of the situation: the queen entered into
negotiations with the conspirators. These negotiations conducted by two
ladies of the court: Khuashak, mother of an aristocrat of the blood and high
official (Rati, the "eristavt-eristavi" of Kartli) and Kravai Jakeli, mother
of Samdzivari, also an aristocrat of the blood and a leading "aznauri". It
may be assumed that, acting on the queen's instructions, they protracted the
negotiations in order to sow discord among the conspirators.
Indeed, after Kutlu Arslani was arrested, his supporters began bickering
among themselves. Although the political programme had been drawn up, there
was evidently no unanimity on all its points. A circumstance that must be
borne in mind is that, when Kutlu Arslani was relieved of his office, the
post of "amirspasalari" was not filled. Kutlu Arslani wanted that post
himself, but the conspirators disagreed over the candidature for that
office. The queen's supporters made every effort to fan discord among them.
It may be assumed that there was disagreement among them on other issues as
well. The two sides gradually made mutual concessions, and all the blame was
imputed to Kutlu Arslan. Receiving solemn assurances from the queen, the
conspirators requested pardon on their knees and submitted. In view of
scanty source material, it is difficult to judge the results of the
agreement with any degree of accuracy. I. Javakhishvili believes that both
sides made concessions; although no new palace was arected, i. e. a new
legislative institution was not set up, the rights of the existing
consultative body, the "darbazi", were extended. Whereas formerly the
"unanimous will and concord" of the state - council of "didebulis" were
non-mandatory in the decision of major questions of government and the king
could, at his discretion, take the will of. the "darbazi" into
consideration, now questions of government had to be decided "jointly and by
the unanimous will" of members of the supreme state-council.
Modern Georgian historiography contains no unanimous assessment of this
important event. I. Javakhishvili attaches great significance to it,
believing that it was the result of a social struggle and marked a further
step in the advancement of Georgian society. This view is shared by some
other Georgian historians. But N. Berdzenishvili has a different opinion. He
believes that this extensions of the rights of the "darbazi" was a victory
for the "didebulis", but it was not a total triumph. It was "a
compromise-settlement of the question of government". Some other historians
believe that in addition to members of the higher secular and ecclesiastical
nobility, the "darbazi" included representatives of the merchant-class.
There are no direct indications of this in the chronicles. Of course, had
this been this case, it would have quite unequivocally made the
participation of that representative body in matters of state a factor of
progressive significance, but we believe that the very fact of the creation
of a representative body enjoying legislative rights alongside the royal
power must be assessed as a progressive development and the result of the
further advance of Georgian statehood. I. Javakhishvili compared the
extension of the rights of the Georgian "darbazi" with developments in
England in the early 13th century, when on June 15, 1215 the barons
compelled John Laokland to sign the Magna Charta I. Javakhishvili quite
rightly notes that the similarity was basically in the result, namely, the
restriction of the power of the Crown; on other points, there is a wide
divergence between the two events. In feudal times the British parliament
was also a body that restricted the powers of the Crown. Although we have no
evidence of the participation of the urban merchanteelite in the "darbazi",
we are inclined to believe that this participation was of great progressive
significance in view of the fact that subsequent developments brought
townspeople into participation in the work of the state-council.
Following the death of Giorgi III, the Crown's first setback was the
concession to the patriarch Mikel Mirianisdze: he was appointed to the
office of "mtsignobartukhutsesi". The queen fully appreciated the negative
effects of this act and endeavoured to remody the situation. But it was
extremely difficult to fight Mikel Mirianisdze. His high offices,
particularly the office of head of the Georgian Church, made him a dangerous
adversary, and the queen prepared for the struggle painstakingly, with
caution. Before he could be relieved of his offices, it had to be proved
that he was holding them illegitimately, and the question of his office of
patriarch could only be decided by the synod. To convene the synod, the
queen summoned from Jerusalem the former patriarch Nikoloz Gulaberisdze, who
had virtually been dislodged by Mikel. The queen and her supporters were
evidently so certain of a prosperous outcome, that the synod was presided
over not by the patriarch, as should have been the case, but Nikoloz
Gulaberisdze. It was opened by the queen herself, who wished it success.
Encouraged by the confidence of the queen and her supporters, Nikoloz
Gulaberisdze and the Bishop of Kutaisi, Anton Kutateli-Sagirisdze, who
directed the synod jointly with the latter, wanted to prevent Mikel
Mirianisdze from attending the synod. But the latter obtained permission to
be present at the sittings and, more importantly, the synod failed to prove
that he was holding his office illegitimately and was unable to remove him.
This was a further major setback for the queen and her supporters. Mikel
held his high offices to the end of his life.
Subsequently, in order to accentuate his scorn for Mikel, the chronicler
wrote, reporting Mikel's death: "Mikel Mirianisdze, patriarch,
Chkondideli-mtsignobartukhutsesi", died and nobody mourned his death". To
make this attitude clear, he added: The "amirspasalari" Gamrekeli died and
everybody wept". But the fact remains that, at this stage, the queen and her
supporters failed to secure the patriarch's removal.
The queen's marriage was a question of state-importance. Every group strove
to select and secure the acceptance of its candidate in order to strengthen
its position and influence at court. While the synod was endeavouring to
remove the patriarch Mikel Mirianisdze, the higher nobility discussed the
question of the queen's marriage. The immediate settlement of this question
was motivated by the need to ensure an heir to the royal house. There were
many claimants to the queen's hand, and each candidate had his supporters.
Considerations were stated in favour of Alexei Komnenos, whose candidature
the queen is believed to have rejected herself on the grounds of kinship.
The candidature of the Ossetian princes was also rejected. After long
debate, the choice Fell on the Russian prince, Yuri (known in Georgia as
Giorgi), son of Andrei Bogolyubsky, grand prince of Rostov-Suzdal. Yuri is
first mentioned in Russian chronicles for the year 1172, when his father
installed him as prince of Novgorod. In 1174 Andrei Bogolyubsky fell victim
to a Boyar-plot, and after his brother, Vsevolod, seized his domains, none
of his successors remained. It is not known where Yuri went after his
father's death, but in 1184-5 Georgian nobles found him among the Kipchaks.
Neither is it known why he was there. It can only surmised that he hoped to
restore his rights with the help of the Kipchaks.
Historians do not tell us what group of feudal lords proposed the
candidature of Yuri, and what segments of Georgian society were interested
in having him on the throne. There is no unanimity on this question in
modern Georgian historiography. But one thing is certain, and that is that
Yuri's name was put forward by the deputy natsvali mecurchletukhutsesi ,
Abul-Asan and the candidature was approved by the council of feudal lords,
the synod and the queen's aunt, Rusudan, sister of Giorgi III, who was
Tamar's guardian after the king's death. Tamar herself did not approve the
choice and was displeased by the haste. She asked for time to learn more
about the prospective bridegroom before finally deciding. But her request
was not heeded. The strongest argument in favour of Yuri was his lineage and
Orthodox faith, while the haste was motivated by the need for the immediate
settlement of the problem of an heir to the throne. Zankan Zorababel, a
wealthy Tbilisi-merchant, was given the mission of bringing the bridegroom
to Tbilisi. He fulfilled his mission with zeal, bringing the bridegroom
before the designated time. The circles interested in this marriage
evidently did not wish to waste time. It is assumed that Yuri had been in
contact with Georgian circles and himself desired marriage with the Georgian
He impressed everybody with his appearance and manners, and the marriage was
ceremonialised forthwith. This, in 1185 Yuri became the husband of Queen
Tamar and the king of Georgia.
Although Yuri was crowned, he was only the queen's consort. The supreme
power was wielded by Tamar. She was called "king of kings" and "queen of
queens", and the throne was to be inherited by her offspring.
There had been opposition to Yuri's candidature, but his supporters
prevailed, and the queen had to submit to their decision. From the very
beginning this influenced their relations. Evidently the relations between
the supporters of Yuri and the queen steadily deteriorated, and in this
situation Yuri naturally had to reckon with the claims of the group that had
placed him on the throne. Whereas when Tamar's position had been precarious
upon her coronation and she had to take the claims of the big feudal
nobility into consideration after her enthronement, she was able gradually
to take the reins of government into her own hands, win more supporters and
consolidate her position. She struck her first blow at Yuri.
Two years after the marriage the higher state - council permitted her to
divorce him. Unfortunately we do not have the means of giving a lucid and
exhausting answer to the main reasons for the divorce and for Yuri's
expulsion. The Georgian historians (two historians of Queen Tamar) who wrote
of these events were panegyrists of the queen and their main aim was to
justify all her actions. They write that from the outset the queen had not
approved haste and wanted to know more about the Russian prince. They are
very reticent in their judgments of her husband. They do not question the
military valour of the queen's husband. In fact, they acknowledge his
abilities as a military leader, but that was as far as they go. Where they
had to justify the. decision of the queen and the state-council they did not
spare accusations against Yuri. All the motivations boil down to the Russian
prince's personal shortcomings. There is little doubt that it was a question
to do with the tense struggle at the Georgian court, in which the queen
first suffered a setback but then gradually gained the upper hand. It was
then that the question arose of Yuri's expulsion. It must be remembered that
in those days the motivations we have mentioned were sufficient for a
divorce. It is unlikely that the Church gave its consent for the divorce
solely on those grounds. The historians, too, were reluctant to draw
attention to these events and accentuated Yuri's personal shortcomings. They
wrote that Yuri was addicted to drunkenness and inclined towards
homosexuality. It is hardly possible to doubt that Yuri himself gave cause
for these charges. It must be borne in mind the queen's historians wrote for
their contemporaries and had to observe a certain measure of truth. But the
main reason was unquestionably the political situation and the
As she won more and more supporters, Tamar cautiously took the initiative
step by step. First she appointed loyal dignitaries to the highest
state-offices. While she could do nothing about Mikel Mirianisdze during his
lifetime, after his death she appointed Anton Glonistanisdze, a trusted
servitor of the royal family, to the office of "mtsignobartukhutsesi-chkondideli",
and made another faithful royal retainer, Sargis Mkhargrdzeli, "amirspasalari"
and admitted his sons to her court. After she had surrounded herself with
devoted officials, the queen decided that the time had come for action. But
Yuri and his supporters had evidently not been idle. After Yuri's
enthronement, Abul-Asan, who headed the group supporting him, obtained
promotion and became the "mechurchletukhutsesi" (treasurer) of the state.
After she had prepared the ground beforehand and made victory certain, the
queen brought her charges to the state-council, declaring that king's
behaviour had insulted her as a woman and as the king's behaviour had been
for two years like an anvil suffering the blows of a hammer, and that there
was a limit to everything. The "darbazi" accepted her arguments and
satisfied her demand. Yuri was presented with royal gifts and expelled to
Byzantium. This was a major triumph for the queen and her supporters.
Tamar had no children by Yuri and this obviously put Yuri's supporters at a
disadvantage, for when they had insisted on a quick marriage, their most
potent argument had been that the royal line had to be continued. One way or
another, Yuri's party was defeated and had to retreat.
Then queen selected her second husband herself. He was the Ossetian prince
David Soslan of the Bagrationi-family, and had been brought up at the
Georgian court. She married David in 1188.
Subsequent developments clearly showed that there was understanding between
the couple and that they had common state-interests. Throughout their life
together Tamar and David, surrounded by supporters, ruled the country with
hardly any disagreement between them.
The queen's consort, as we have already noted, was king only by virtue of
being her husband. Tamar was the supreme ruler, and continued to be called
"King of kings" and "Queen of queens".
The opposing group had to reconcile itself to the situation Of course, it
bode its time, waiting for a favourable opportunity.
The intra-ciass-contradictions and the intra-party-stuggle at the Georgian
court evidently mounted gradually. We do not know the details, but the
events of 1191 make it clear that there were grave differences.
It may be assumed that the supporters of Giorgi the Russian (Yuri) did not
cut off contact with him. We do not know what he promised them or what new
system of government they planned, but it is unquestionable that they mooted
the idea of returning him to the Georgian trone. We cannot say for certain
whether the plotters had any plans to make Tamar divorce David and remarry
Yuri, or whether they wanted him to rule alone, or had some other plans.
What we know is what followed the talks with Yuri. The queen's historians
write nothing of an imminent rising, but, at the court, there was a strong
group that was disaffected with Tamar's policies. This group planned the
rising, and Yuri was a suitable instrument in their hands.
It must be surmised that there were talks between represent tatives of the
opposition-group and the exiled Yuri. It is quite possible that neighbouring
rulers pressured by Georgia were involved in these talks. Of the Georgian
feudal lords, Guzan Taoeli and Botso, the "spasalari", of Samtskhe, were
particularly active. Yuri went to Karnu-Kalaki (Erzerum) where he was met
for final talks with the deputy "natsvali mechurchletukhutsesi". This; was
followed by a rising. Many nobles of Western Georgia and some East Georgian
feudal lords with Yuri. His supporters . included Guzan, ruler of Klarjeti
and Shavsheti, Botso, "spasalari" of Samtskhe, and the "msakhurtukhutsesi",
Vardan Dadiani, ruler of almost the whole of Western Georgia and some
fortresses and towns in Eastern Georgia. Yuri marched
Queen Tamar's historian writes that, news of the rising astonished the queen.
She could not understand what had induced her officials to betray her.
Although the rising itself came as a surprise, it is not likely that she was
entirely uninformed of the discontent among her nobles. It is possible that
she did not expect Yuri to return to the political scene. In any case, the
Georgian historians strive to give the impression that tranqu-ility reigned
in the land, and that Yuri's invasion and the rising of the feudal lords
were a total surprise, which is, of course, hardly true. This major
rising-action against the Crown by a large segment of the feudal aristocracy
- was the result of extremely complex internal relationships.
At first the queen sought to settle matters by negotiation, sending Anton
Kutateli and other Church and secular dignitaries to talk to the rebels. But
their mission failed. The rebels divided their forces into two armies and
attacked from two directions. The queen then marshalled the officials loyal
to her and sent her troops against the rebels.
The rebels crossed into Eastern Georgia and reached Nacharmagevi and Gori,
pillaging the land as they went. The second force crossed into Southern
Georgia, set fire to Odzrkhe, and there, at a military council, decided to
seize Javakheti, Tmogvi and Akhalkalaki and march into "Kwemo" Kartli. But
the queen evidently learned of their plans. She sent troops in both
directions. The force sent to Javakheti was commanded by the "amirspasalari"
Gamrekel Toreli, jointly with the brothers Mkhargrdzeli, while the rebels
who crossed into Kartli were opposed by King David Soslan. In Southern
Georgia, between Tmogvi and Erusheti, the rebels were defeated and had to
retreat. Many were taken prisoners. The second force, which was devastating
population-centres in Kartli, learned of this and fled. News of these
victories was quickly brought to the queen.
In token of their repentance, the leaders of the abortive rising went to the
queen with nooses round their necks and begged her to spare their lives.
Getting assurances from the queen that Yuri's life was not in danger, they
surrendered. Yuri was again exiled to Byzantium. Although the queen kept her
word and did not execute the leaders of the rising, she stripped them of
their high offices and appointed men loyal 'to the throne to take their
places. For instance, Ivane Mkhargrdzeli, who was utterly devoted to the
queen, was appointed "msakhurtukhutsesi" in place of Varden Dadiani.
High offices of state were thus taken over by adherents of the queen.
This could not, of course, signify the final settlement of contradictions,
but at this stage the opposition suffered defeat and had to submit. The
royal power celebrated its victory.
Some time later Yuri made another attempt to establish himself in Georgia.
This time he went to the atabag of Azerbaijan, who gave him possessions in
Arran. There, evidently with the "atabag's" assistance, Yuri mustered an
army and again invaded Georgia, ravaging Kambechani and taking prisoners.
However, he was defeated and expelled by Saghir Makhatlisdze, the ruler of
Khornabuji. It must be assumed that in this attempt Yuri's army was small
and that none of the local princes supported him, for Makhatlisdze was able
to expel him without the assistance of the state. Following these events
Yuri disappeared from the historical scene.
In the unremitting struggle against the Seljuks, Georgia
gradually built up a flexible and combat worthy military organization.
Despite the concessions she had to make in the reign of Demetre and Giorgi
III and despite the bitter struggle for Armenia and Shirvan, Georgia
nonetheless remained the strongest power in the Transcaucasus. As we have
already noted, reduced to the status of a vassal, Giorgi had to return the
former kingdom of Armenian Bagratids to the Shaddadid-dynasty, divide
Shirvan into two parts and recognize the kingdom of the Shirvan-shahs.
Georgia's internal political crisis during the last years of the reign of
Georgi III and the early years of the reign of Tamar was an obstacle to the
conduct- of major wars of conquest. Due to the tense struggle at court
Georgia conducted only the. small military operations that were usual in the
day-to-day life of a feudal state. Clashes with the Seljuks did not cease in
frontier-zones and adjoining regions. Despite the difficult internal
political situation, Georgia had to make enemies feel her power and to reply
to their incursions with attacks on their border-regions.
The internal political crisis and the difficulties experienced in Tamar's
reign evidently did not escape the notice of neighbouring states. Whenever
possible, they endeavoured to make use of this situation. For instance,
Turkish troops from Ar-Ran and Gelakun attacked Palakatsio and
Dzaghlis-khevi. The Seljuks apparently intended to pillage the land, but the
Georgian army under Gamrekel Kakhasdze repulsed them, recovered the booty
and returned to the queen with gifts.
At the same time the Karnukalaki (Erzerum) Seljuks invaded and pillaged
Klarjeti and Shavsheti. Troops from Tao and Meskheti led by Guzan Taoeli and
other South Georgian feudal princes took the field against them. The
Georgians defeated the enemy taking much booty and weapons and a large
number of horses, and capturing prisoners. They brought the queen
Despite the difficult situation in the country, the attacks of neighbouring
kings were successfully repulsed. It may be assumed that the attackers had
no appreciable possibilities and had probably not set themselves serious
objectives. In these cases they evidently went no further than the usual
raids. Of course, Georgia had to cut short these raids in order to maintain
her prestige and position among the surrounding Seljuks, a position won by
According to the chroniclers, the raiding Seljuks were repulsed by the
troops of border - "eristavs", but it was vital to put an end to their
This explains the fact that, immediately after the queen's first marriage,
Georgian troops led by Yuri marched in the direction of Kars and Karnifor
and laid waste to Seljuk possessions all the way to the Basiani-lands. They
returned with much booty.
This was followed by a series of raids in neighbouring regions.
Due to the events that took place in the reign of Giorgi III, these raids
were necessary to keep neighbouring rulers in a state of constant fear.
After Yuri's raid into Kars and Basiani, the Mkhargrdzeli-brothers led their
troops into Dvin, where they captured much booty.
The question of Armenia remained of prime importance in Georgia's foreign
policy. Soon after the Mkhargrdzeli-raid in the early years of Tamar's reign,
Yuri marched to Dvin on the queen's instructions, and although he returned
victorious the problem of Dvin, as of Ani, remained unresolved.
By tradition, the Georgian monarch periodically toured various regions of
the kingdom and vassal-possessions.
When she was still married to Yuri, Tamar, with a train of court-officials,
toured some of Georgia's tributary-states. During this tour she went to
Shirvan to acquaint herself personally with the state of affairs. As became
a vassal, the Shirvan-shah appeared before the queen with rich gifts. The
chronicler tells us that he obeyed and served the Georgian queen as a
Raids for the purpose of seizing booty and supporting neighbours did not
cease. Raids were undertaken against Gelakuni, Gandza and other regions.
All these events took place over 'a period of two years: from Tamar's first
marriage in 1185 to her divorce from Yuri in 1187.
Following Yuri's expulsion, developments again hindered Georgia's foreign
military operations; she was evidently unable to conduct even small
border-wars. Guzan, a leading figure in the rising to place Yuri on the
throne, who. had not been duly punished, remained restless. He went to the
Shah-Armen, Georgia's enemy, and gave him Taoskari and some other fortresses.
He was, joined by other "aznauris". The rebels entrenched themselves on
Mount Kola. Sakaria Panaskerteli, Kalmakheli and others led troops against
them. The son of the traitor Guzan, appeared with troops, provided by the
Shah-Armen to rescue his mother and children. A battle look place in which
the royal forces defeated a numerically superior enemy. The fortresses
turned over to the Shah-Armen were recovered.
An event of great state-significance soon occurred: in 1193 the queen gave
birth to a son and, by tradition, this was marked with a series of raids.
For feudal Georgia the birth of an heir to the throne was merely the pretext
to keep her neighbours in subordination by showing them that she was in
constant readiness for war.
In the year the heir Lasha-Giorgi, was born, a Georgian army marched to
Bardav. Following its triumphant return from Bardav, a campaign was
undertaken against Erzerum. This campaign was evidently started because the
ruler of Erzerum refused to submit to Georgia. He had prepared his defences
carefully and requested assistance from the ruler of Kars (Nasrad-din, son
of Saldukh) and others. However, the Georgian army. under king David Soslani
crushed the strong resistance.
It was apparently not accidental that the talks between the "Natsvali
mechurchletukhutsesi" and Yuri on preparations for a rising and on Yuri's
return to Georgia took place in Erzerum. Because of the heavy pressure from
Georgia, the Erzerum-ruler was glad to help the conspirators. Naturally,
Georgia did not forgive him and this, possibly, partly explains the invasion
Gelakun was also ravaged again, following which the Georgian army attacked
the Seljuks wintering on the banks of the Araks.
But these were insignificant campaigns. They were more in the nature of
raids for booty and to keep hostile neighbours and potential enemies in a
state of fear.
The period of great wars of consequent was only beginning. Georgia's
unceasing incursions into south-eastern and southwestern regions steadily
undermined the position of the Seljuks. Fortress-towns and villages
extending from Shirvan and Ran to Basiani and Speri were liberated from the
invaders one by one.
The Seljuks lost their strongholds, and their positions at the approaches to
the Transcaucasus were shaken. The continuous raids by Georgian
frontier-troops gave the Seljuks no possibility of using winter-and
summer-pastures in peace. When the situation deteriorated drastically, the
Suljuk rulers appealed to the khalif of Baghdad to make war on Georgia.
Khalif an-Nasir sent messengers to summon all Muslim rulers to join in the
planned war on pain of punishment.
The atabag of Azerbaijan, Abu-Bakr, who had a personal quarrel with the
Shirvan-shah and his son-in-law, Amir Mirman, was given command of the
coalition-army. He attacked Shirvan, defeating and putting to flight the
Shirvan-shah. The Shirvan-shah found himself in an extremly difficult
position. In 1192 a devastating earthquake destroyed Shemakha, where many
people perished. The ruler of Shirvan requested assistance from his suzerain,
Georgia. The queen promised to help him. The Shirvan-shah, Aghsartani and
his son-in-law, Amir Mirman went to Georgia, where they were given a
sumptuous reception. The Georgian court had evidently decided to impress its
vassals; the purpose of this reception was to demonstrate Georgia's wealth
A Georgian army under King David Soslani marched to Shamkhor. Abu Bekr had
also made his preparations. Gold and the khalif's stern summons had served
him well. The khalif himself sent troops under his own banner. The Muslim
coalition - army stood at the gates of the Transcaucasus. A battle in which
Abu-Bekr was utterly defeated was fought near Shamkhor in 1195. Numerous
prisoners and huge booty were seized, including the khalif's standard, which
the queen donated to the Icon of Our Lady of Khakhuli.
The Georgians took the town of Shamkhori and the adjoining regions. The
occupied lands were turned over to the Shirvan-shah on terms of vassalage.
From Shamkhor the Georgian army marched to Gandza. The inhabitants of Gandza
went out to meet it and surrendered their town. To mark this great victory,
King David Soslan gave a grand reception in the palace of the Gandza-sultan.
The Shamkhor-victory was of great historical importance: it showed Georgia's
military superiority in the Middle East. However, Georgia's intervention in
the affairs of Shirvan and the Shamkhori-victory involved her in protracted
Abu-Bekr was not subdued by his defeat. People bribed by him poisoned his
rival, Amir Mirman, following which he seized the town of Gandza. King David
Soslan made preparations for a major campaign, and in the meantime a
Georgian army under Ivane Mkhargrdzeli marched to Gelakuni, where it
defeated a Seljuk force.
Georgian troops captured Amberdi in 1196, and in 1201 they took Bijnisi.
In the war against Abu-Bekr, the Georgian troops laid waste to Gandza. In
1203 they seized the town of Dvin. The fighting for Dvin was long, heavy,
and at the cost of many casualties, but, when the Georgians took the town,
they treated the population with mercy.
Another Georgian force besieged Gandza. It returned with booty, apparently
without having taken the town.
The Georgian victories alarmed all the neighbouring Muslim rulers,
particularly Rukn and-Din, sultan of Rum, a Seljuk kingdom in Asia Minor.
The interests of Georgia and the sultan of Rum came into collision on the
southern shore of the Black Sea, where both intended to take advantage of
Byzantium's weakness and set up strong points. Sultan Rukn ad-Din prepared
for war in order to break the might of Christian Georgia. He was so certain
of victory that he sent an ambassador to Georgia with brazen demands in
writing and an even more brazen verbal ultimatum, demanding total surrender.
He treatened that he would extirpate Christianity in the event of Georgia
turning down his demands.
The supreme state-council discussed the situation and ordered immediate
preparations for war. The Georgian army was made ready for battle within ten
days, and, as soon as Rukn ad-Din's ambassador departed, it took the field
with king David Soslan at its head. In it were Zakaria and Ivane
Mkhargrdzeli, Shalva and Ivane Akhaltsikheli and other noted military
Rukn ad-Din mustered his troops calling his allies together and camping near
Basiani. It is estimated that he had 400,000 troops. The Georgian army
attacked as soon as it arrived, and, although in the beginning it found the
going difficult, the balance gradually tilted in its favour, and it defeated
the enemy. A huge -amount of booty was captured, and the many prisoners
included the emir of Erzindjan, an ally of the sultan. Georgia exultantly
celebrated this great victory. The queen exchanged the emir of Erzindjan for
a horseshoe in order, as the chronicler justifiably notes, to show her
greatness and power.
The Basiani-battle took place in 1203 was of immense historical significance.
Like the Shamkhori battle of 1195 it was evidence of Georgia's increased
might and had repercussions in both the East and the West.
At Shamkhori and Basiani Georgia smashed the combined forces of the Eastern
and Western Seljuk rulers. Henceforth, Georgia became the strongest power in
the Middle East. The Didgori, Shamkhori and Basiani-battles were major
milestones in the history of feudal Georgia.
Now, extending from Nikopsia to Derbendi and from North Ossetia to Armenia,
Georgia united the entire Caucasian civilized world, became a force of
international importance and began to pressure the Seljuks in their own
lands. Many Seljuk princes of the Middle East recognized her suzerainty.
Georgia became widely known as a powerful state. Hard-pressed by the Turks,
the European Crusaders pinned their hopes on her.
Early in the 13th century Georgia engaged in another series
of military campaigns.
The long struggle with the Shaddadids for Ani ended in victory. At the
beginning of the 13th century Georgia finally gained possession of the town
of Ani and incorporated Bagratid Armenia. Then began the struggle for the
southern Armenian lands. In 1204- 1205 the Georgians entered Khtat; twice
and occupied much of the Khlati-sultanate, Archeshi, Manaskert and directly
threatened the Arzrum-emirate.
The Muslim rulers could not, of course, reconcile themselves to these
advances and decided to make another concerted attack on Georgia. The ruler
of Khlat requested aid from Torghil-Shah, ruler of Arsan ar-Rum. When the
latter's troops arrived, the ruler of Khlat marched against Georgia.
The Georgians, who had grown accustomed to victories, underrated the
strength of the Shah-Armen, failed to prepare their defences and, as a
result, suffered defeat. Many fell victim to this careless attitude to the
enemy. The retreating Georgian army left considerable booty to the enemy.
In 1205 - 1206 the Georgian army undertook another campaign with the
conquest of Khlat as its objective. It laid waste the territory of the
sultanate, collecting booty, but the Muslim forcesagain attacked suddenly,
defeated it and seized Khlat.
These two humiliating defeats and the occupation of Khlat by the Muslims
negatively affected Georgia's international standing. The situation demanded
In 1206 the Georgian army occupied the town of Kars. The emir of Kars
requested aid from the sultan of Khlat, but the latter was unable to
The fortress-town of Kars, situated on a major trade-route was a Seljuk
stronghold at the approaches to Georgia. For the Seljuks the loss of Kars
was as painful as the loss of Ani.
In 1208- 1209 the Georgian army invaded the possessions of the sultan of
Khlat. It advanced towards Archesh and captured the town. It then invested
Khlat. During the siege, Ivane Mkhargrdzeli accidentally fell into the hands
of the Seljuks. The Georgians had to lift the siege and conclude peace with
the sultan. This ended their struggle for Armenian lands.
Somewhat later, the Georgians invaded Ardebil following a hostile act by the
sultan of Ardebil. According to the Georgian chronicler, during Lent, when
the queen and her closest advisers, the Mkhargrdzeli-brothers, were at the
royal palace of Geguti in Western Georgia, the sultan of Ardebil secretly
led his troops to Ani and in the morning, when the town-gates were opened
and the entire population was at prayer, suddenly broke into the town. After
perpetrating a dreadful massacre (12,000 people were slaughtered in the
churches alone) and pillaging the town, the sultan returned to his domains.
When news of the Ani-tragedy reached Geguti, the Mkhar-grdzeli-brothers
proposed punishing the sultan immediately. They planned to attack during the
Muslim Ramadan-holiday. Preparations were made carefully and in secret. With
the exception of the Kartli-units (so as not to attract the enemy's
attention), all the East Georgian troops were to be used in the attack. In
accordance with the plan, the Georgian troops reached the town without
detection, and in the morning, when the inhabitants of Ardebil entered the
mosques, they rushed into the town. In revenge for the Ani-massacre, they
killed 12,000 people in Ardebil, including the sultan, and took his wite and
children into captivity.
The attack on Ardebil showed the Georgian leaders the actual situation
obtaining in Iran. The increasing feudalisation of the Seljuk dominion had
to its total decentralisation and then to its fragmentation into small
states. Early in the 13th century a large part of Iran was ruled by the shah
Zakaria and Ivane Mkhargrdzeli accurately assessed the situation in Iran and
recommended a campaign against her. This was an important question, and the
queen, naturally, put it before the state-council. War against Iran was
started with the council's agreement. This war did not pursue the purpose of
territorial conquest or even of establishing some form of political
dependence on Georgia. It was a typical invasion by a feudal state into a
rich and relatively weak country with the aim of pillage and of showing its
military strength. The calculations of the Mkhargrdzeli-brothers were fully
The Georgian troops moved through Northern Iran without meeting any
resistance, reaching the town of Khorasan. The Iranian towns of Marand,
Tavriz, Miane, Zenjan and Kazvin bought off the invaders with many rich
gifts. Here and there futile attempts were made to repulse the Georgian
troops. The Georgian chronicler recorded that the Georgians themselves did
not expect such an overwhelming and easy victory.
The Georgian army returned with enormous booty; the chronicler does not
conceal his surprise and delight over the huge quantity of precious stones,
rugs, gold, splendid works of art and handicraft-articles that was seized.
The queen was presented with gifts be fitting her status, the treasury
received considerable replenishment, while those who had taken part in the
campaign, particularly the feudal lords, who brought back rich booty, made
large donations to the poor, to churches and to public institutions.
This campaign had far-reaching political repercussions and brought fame to
Georgia and her army. The Georgians themselves were proud of this campaign,
for none of them had ever before reached Khorasan as belligerents. The
chronicles make special note of the fact that nobody could offer the
Georgians resistance: neither the sultan of Khorasan, nor the rulers of Iraq
and other countries. As a Georgian chronicler noted, the Georgians reached
countries where nobody had heard of either their name or existence.
The emergence of the kingdom of Trapezund on the southern shore of the Black
Sea was an event of great historical significance in the history of Georgia
and Asia minor at the beginning of the 13th century.
Populated mainly by Lazi (Chani) Kartvelian tribes, the southern coast of
the Black Sea was part of the Georgians kingdom of Colkhis in antiquity, and
in the Middle Ages it belonged to the Byzantine empire.
At the close of the 12th and at the beginning of the 13th century the
Byzantine empire experienced a serious crisis. The class-and
inter-class-struggle and the extremely unfavourable foreign political
situation resulting from Crusader-pressure (in particular, their seizure of
Constantinople in April 1204 and other conquests) finally undermined the
empire's strength. This difficult situation evidently induced Georgia to
intervene in Byzantium's affairs to achieve her plans and aims.
The pretext for the Georgian invasion was the robbing by imperial
authorities of Georgian monks who were returning from Georgia to Byzantium
with numerous gifts from the queen for Georgian monasteries abroad. The
reason was clear-cut: Georgia decided to take advantage of a convenient
moment to set up a virtual tributary-state populated mainly by Lazians and
to use it as a buffer against the Seljuks and Byzantium. It was not
accidental that Alexius, son of Andronicus Comnenos, was proclaimed ruler of
that kingdom. When the Comnenos-family was desposed, Alexius was given
asylum by the Georgian queen, who was a close relative. Alexius's
enthronement as emperor was officially sanctioned as the restoration of the
flouted rights of the legitimate Byzantine emperors.
The Georgian authorities could not remain indifferent to the developments on
Georgia's south-western borders. Byzantium faced the twreat of being overrun
by the Seljuks. In the west, it was menaced by the Crusaders. All this
affected Georgia's vital interests and the queen mustered her troops, who
captured the Black Sea towns of Asia Minor-Trapezund, Samsu, Sinop, Kerasunt
Kotiora and Heracles. This territory became a buffer-state that was
virtually entirely dependent on Georgia and bore the bombastic name of the
Thus, at the beginning of the 13th century, Georgia held a predominant
position along her southern boundaries and ensured her security in the
south-east and in the south-west.
At the end of Queen Tamar's reign, Georgia's vassals and tributaries
included the sultans of Erzin, Erzinjan and Khlat, the emir of Arzrum in
Asia Minor, and many Muslim rulers in the Transcaucasus and in Iranian
In the 12th century, feudal Georgia extended her boundaries and influence
northward as well.
Since ancient times the inhabitants of the North and Central Caucasus had
maintained close political, cultural and economic relations with the
Georgian principalities. As Georgia gained political ascendancy, she
invariably sought to spread her influence to her northern neighbours. But
expansion in that direction became particularly intensive in the early 12th
century, when King David the Builder made Ossetia a vassal and brought other
North Caucasian peoples under his influence.
Many North Caucasian peoples were Georgia's vassals at the beginning of the
The long and bitter struggle against the Seljuk invaders ended with a
conclusive Georgian victory. Turkish tyranny no longer threatened Georgia
and the Caucasian peoples united around her. Georgia's frontiers were still
further extended at the close of the 12th and at the beginning of the 13th
century. Queen Tamar's chronicler obviously exaggerates when he writes that,
under Tamar, Georgia doubled her territory, but there is evidently much
truth in that statement.
At the end of Queen Tamar's reign, Georgia's eastern boundary ran along the
Tetri Tskali (Chalan-Usun) river. East of that river lay Shirvan, a vassal
of Georgia. The south-e-astern boundary passed along the Gurji-Boghazi. The
southwestern boundary reached Speri and Chaneti, running along the
Porchkhis-Tskali river. In the west, Georgia was bounded by the Black Sea
with Nikopsia (near Tuapse) as the westernmost point. The crest of the Main
Caucasian Range up to the Shemakha Mountains marked Georgia's northern
boundary. North of that range were vassal-peoples. Dvaleti, Khevi, Pkhovi (Khevsureti)
and Tusheti lay within Georgia's boundaries. The northernmost point was
Chimi on the Tergi river.
The titles of the Georgian kings changed with the extension of Georgia's
boundaries. When the Georgian lands were reunited, the designation King of
the Rans and Kakhs was added to the title, and with the incorporation of the
Georgian Armenian kingdom of Lore-Tashiri ("Mepe Somekhta") the Georgian
king added the designation of "King of the Armenians" to his title. The
conquest of the kingdoms of the Armenian Bagratids and of Shirvan added the
names "Shakhan-shah" and "Shirvan-shah" to the title, and Georgia's further
expansion brought the designation of "Autocratic Ruler of the West and
Political strength, peace and secure boundaries enabled Georgia to continue
developing politically, culturally and economically.
The personality of Queen Tamar holds a special place in
the feudal history of Georgia.
The Georgian Church canonized her. She was extolled by poets, her portraits
were painted, and she commanded the respect of the people.
Most of the ancient palaces and fortresses and many churches and monasteries
were believed to have been built by her. Much that was built before and
after her was credited to her.
Subsequently, all that was finest in Georgia's past was associated by the
Georgian people with Queen Tamar. Folk-legend tells us that she was the
wisest and loveliest of women.
According to tradition, Shota Rustaveli admired her, and her beauty and
wisdom inspired him to write his immortal poem.
Innumerable ancient Georgian legends and poems are dedicated to Queen Tamar.
The people extolled her beauty, generosity, statesmanship and benevolence.
According to folk-legend she was kind to the poor. She is seen as a heroine
leading her people against the enemy with sword in hand. Her lost grave was
claimed by the people of every region in Georgia.
Such is the idealized image given in folk-art.
The people are the highest and most unbiased judge of history, and there are
grounds for justifying the fact that Queen Tamar became the ideal of the
entire nation. The point is that the intense constructive endeavour of the
Georgian people under David the Builder and Giorgi III at the stage of
ascendant feudalism reaped its most abundant fruit in the reign of Queen
Tamar. Feudal Georgia reached the summit of her military, political,
economic and cultural power at the close of the 12th and at the beginning of
the 13th century. As a sagacious statesman and accomplished diplomat, Queen
Tamar appreciated the requirements of the epoch and proved to be equal to
Shortly after her death terrible misfortune descended upon Georgia. First
there was the invasion of the Khorezmites and their five-year (1225-1230)
rule in Eastern Georgia. Then followed the Mongol invasion, when the land
was reduced to ruin and Georgia's might was broken. A difficult period began
for feudal Georgia. Her former grandeur and might remained only a memory.
This was what made subsequent generations regard the rein of Queen Tamar as
the very ideal of grandeur.
This is why the Georgian people idealised the image of Queen Tamar and
turned her into a legendary personality. Georgia's might and glory in the
reign of Queen Tamar inspired Georgians with hopes of victory in their
unceasing struggle against external enemies.
Embattled Georgia, defeated but not broken, associated all the finest
achievements of her past with the name of Queen Tamar.
This, history gradually turned Queen Tamar into a legendary personality.
Needless to say, like other Georgian rulers, Queen Tamar in fact championed,
above all, the interests of the ruling feudal nobility, and her entire
internal and external policy was subordinated to these interests.