Showing posts with label 12th century. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 12th century. Show all posts

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Damn, Girl-Tamar of Georgia, Queen of Kings

Crowned co-ruler at age 12, Tamar (sometimes spelled 'Tamara') reigned over Georgia's¹ golden age, and expanded the kingdom to its greatest height. She would reorganize the Georgian Orthodox Church, defeat multiple attempted internal coups, and send an Ottoman invasion packing. A woman of faith, Tamar credited her religion for her battlefield successes, and performed extensive charity work. She was canonized shortly after her death, and is seen as a Georgian religious and national hero. However, behind her piety was a shrewd woman more than willing to fight for her throne and people.

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Tamar
Tamar was the only child of King George III and Queen Burdukhan. George, like his daughter, had to deal with scheming relatives. When his nephew (or cousin) Demma attempted to dethrone him George had Demma blinded, castrated, and thrown into prison. George dealt with other insurrectionists in a similarly brutal manner-with breaking kneecaps as his preferred method of chastisement. Due to the instability of his kingdom, George had his 12 year old daughter² crowned co-ruler.

George's main reason for this was to ensure the stability of Georgia during his lifetime and after his death. He hoped that if the restless Georgian nobility saw that he had a stable dynasty in place to succeed him, they might calm down a bit. Additionally, he was giving the patriarchal Georgians time to get used to the fact that there next ruler would be a woman, something that had never happened in Georgia before. While many nobles protested, George quashed their protests saying 'One knows a lion by its claws, and Tamar by her actions.' While there is little known about Tamar's childhood, this praise from her father suggests that she was more than suited for her role.

George died six years after his daughter's investment, leaving Tamar to govern the country by herself. Historians disagree about the beginning of Tamar's reign. Some sources claim that she had a very smooth ascension, aided by the fact that the Georgian people had had a chance to get used to the idea of her rule. Other's claim that she was met by insurrection--insurrection that she quickly quashed.

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Tamar holding court
Following her second crowning, Tamar's first order of business was to marry in order to produce an heir. She left the choosing of a spouse up to her council. They chose a Russian prince Yuri, the son of Prince Andrei Bogoliubsky of Vladimir-Suzdal. Yuri had a reputation as a warrior, and the council believed that he would be good for their queen and country. However, Yuri thoroughly disproved them not shortly after the wedding vows were said. He was thoroughly dissolute--engaging in extramarital affairs, torturing and murdering Georgian Muslims, and abusing alcohol. He publicly berated Tamar for not bearing him a son, and was prone to violent outbursts. He was such an awful husband that Tamar divorced him after only three years. In a merciful move her father would certainly have disapproved of, Tamar sent him packing off to Constantinople with a generous allowance--kneecaps intact.

Georgia was a largely Catholic country at the time. This makes the fact that Tamar was able to obtain a divorce quite extraordinary, given that divorce is, to this day, contrary to Catholic doctrine. Tamar was able to obtain a divorce not only because of Yuri's widespread unpopularity, but because of her own special relationship with the church.

Following her ascension, Tamar convened a Synod, and set about reforming the Georgian church. She was already known for her piety, and made several changes that reflected this. In addition to this, she also saw that the bishops and clergymen who didn't like her were defrocked. Every powerful clergyman in the church was Tamar's man, and she used this to her benefit.

With Yuri out of the picture, Tamar was free to remarry, and remarry she did. her next husband was Davit Soslan, an Alanian Prince. He was chosen for her by her aunt, who reportedly told Tamar that Davit was 'Hewn from stone, and reared on wolf's milk'. Davit, unlike Yuri, lived up to his reputation. He was handsome, supportive, and an able military man. Tamar installed him as King Consort, and quickly had two children.

After the births of her children, Tamar set to conquest. This was largely to keep the Georgian nobles busy elsewhere, and not conspiring with her ex-husband to dethrone her. Despite his exile, Yuri attempted to dethrone Tamar twice, but was soundly defeated.

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Georgia at it's height
Under Davit's leadership, the Georgians were able to take parts of Armenia, Shirvan, and Azerbaijan. Tamar's success made her Muslim neighbors nervous, and they sent a unified force after her under the leadership of the Rum Sultan, Rukn al-Din. Rukn was a lovely man. In his initial letter to Tamar he informed her that all women were feeble minded, and that, should she convert to Islam, he would make her his wife. Should she retain her religion he would make her his concubine. The letter was so insulting that one of Tamar's courtier's hit Rukn's courier hard enough that the courier passed out. When the courier finally came to, Tamar sent him back with a message that she didn't care to be married to Rukn, at that she would defeat him. True to her word, Tamar sent him packing.

In addition to her expansionist endeavors, Tamar also focused on developing and reviving Georgian culture. She had monasteries and churches built, and it was under her that a monastic town was carved into the cliffs of Vardzia.

Tamar died of an unknown illness in 1213. Her final resting place is a mystery, with rumors that she is buried in Gelati or in Jerusalem. As mentioned, she was canonized shortly after her death, and she is still celebrated in the Orthodox churches. She was succeed by her son, who was later succeeded by her daughter, Rusadan, another Queen of Kings.



¹No, not the Georgia in the United States, the Georgia in Central Asia.
²Some sources say that Tamar was 18 at the time of her ascension to the throne, but most agree on 12.


Sources
Queen Tamar: the Confident Female Ruler of the Georgian Golden Age
Queens Regnant: Tamar of Georgia--the First Female Ruler
St. Tamar, Queen of Georgia
Tamar of Georgia-Queen of Kings
Queen Tamar

Friday, February 9, 2018

Damn, Girl-Hildegard of Bingen

Though armed with only a scant education, Hildegard of Bingen would go on to be the world's first known composer, a prestigious scientist, and a legendary prophetess. A true renaissance woman, it's difficult to know which of her achievements is most influential today. She revolutionized music, wrote medical textbooks used well into the renaissance, and proposed the idea that people, like plants, could inherit traits from their parents--some 700 years before Gregor Mendel did his experiments with pea plants.

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Hildegard von Bingen
Hildegard was the tenth child of Hiltebert and Mechthild, most likely members of the local nobility. The custom at the time was to give up the tenth child as a nun or monk to the Catholic Church, and as such Hildegard was sent to a Benedictine cloister at Disibodenberg, where she was put into the care of Jutta von Spanheim, a distant relative, and abbess of the cloister.

Hildegard suffered from illness as a child, and living in the austere Benedictine cloisters didn't help her. The damp, poor sleep, and lack of food and sunshine saw that Hildegard was bedridden for much of her childhood. In addition to her illness, Hildegard also had visions that she believed were sent from God. She was cautioned by Jutta to keep her visions quiet, and Hildegard did so for most of her life.

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Page from the Liber Scivias
When Jutta died in 1136, Hildegard succeeded her as prioress. Under Hildegard's leadership, the atmosphere at the cloisters became more relaxed. The sisters were allowed to wear their hair uncovered, and encouraged to step out into the sunshine. Hildegard was still having visions, and five years after being installed as prioress she had a vision so intense that she was prompted to confide it to her mentor, Volmar the Monk. Volmar encouraged Hildegard to record her visions, and with Volmar's help Hildegard began working on her first book, the Liber Scivias.

As a visionary, Hildegard had a fine line to walk. She had the challenge of recording what she saw, while not verging into heretical territory. Proposing new religious ideas, while easier for a nun than a common person, was still a risky venture, and could cost Hildegard everything should she be denounced as a heretic. Luckily for Hildegard, her visions were accepted by the pope of the time, and she was encouraged to keep writing.
Hildegard began to build up a reputation as a mystic. Her study of local medicinal methods saw her praised as a great healer, and she composed music for her nuns to sing. In 1150 Hildegard founded the convent of Mount St. Rupert in an effort to get away from the hoards of people who made pilgrimages to see her. Taking Volmar as well as a few sisters and novitiates with her, Hildegard started writing in earnest.

Because her education had been scant and interrupted, Hildegard relied on Volmar to help her with the actual physical writing. Her exact process is unknown, but it is speculated that Hildegard either wrote everything out on a wax tablet, and then Volmar put it to parchment, or that Hildegard simply dictated to Volmar. After the initial putting of words to paper, Volmar had his monks make copies of Hildegard's words. Though it took ten years, the Liber Scivias was finished in 1158.

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Hildegard and Volmar
The Liber Scivias was disseminated throughout the Catholic countries, and Hildegard began working on her next book of visions, the Liber Vitae Meritorum. The visions contained in her books pertained to the workings of the universe, and how the earth, air, sun, moon, and stars were all connected. In addition to her books of visions, Hildegard also began working on medical textbook, which put forth the idea that boiling drinking water was a good move.

In addition to her writing, Hildegard also traveled Europe preaching pacifism, and promoting orthodox religious ideals. She founded another convent, and corresponded with hundreds of people from all across Europe, including kings and popes. She was so well loved that when she died at age 81 she was immediately dubbed 'St. Hildegard', though she was not formerly canonized until 2012.

Hildegard is best known today for her music, but her religious and medical writings have seen an increase in popularity in recent years too. Several biographies and novels have been written about her, and her song cycles have been recorded hundreds of times by classical vocalists. She is much beloved in the Catholic church, and the convent that she established still stands today.


Sources
Saint Hildegard, German Mystic
Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard of Bingen: Life and Music of the Great Female Composer

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Baghdad House of Wisdom

When Rome fell Europe was thrust into the so named 'Dark Ages'. However, while the Europeans were scrabbling around, getting the plague and fighting each other over buckets, West Asia was was enjoying a golden age.

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Scholars of the House of Wisdom
This golden age spread across all the Islamic nations, from India to the Arabs living in what is now Andalusia, Spain, and at the center of it all was Baghdad, the wealthy cultural capital of the Islamic world.  It was a magnificent city, but the most magnificent part of it was it's House of Wisdom--a large library which also served as a sort of university.


The House of Wisdom was founded in the early 800s by Caliph al-Ma'mun, a highly educated man with an intense interest in science, mathematics, and medicine. There had been many large private libraries prior to this, but al-Ma'mun took things one step further. He had his private library collected under one roof, and made available to scholars--male and female, Muslim and non-Muslim--from around the world. Successive Caliphs followed in this tradition by acquiring more and more books, and expanding on the House. At the time of its destruction, the House of Wisdom not only had an enormous library, but a hospital and an observatory as well.

The library at the House of Knowledge was enormous, and was made even more enormous by several large ticket purchases. During the reign of al-Ma'mun, the entire library of the Kingdom of Sicily was acquired. al-Ma'mun, a scholar himself, had heard of the great library in Sicily, and wrote to the Sicilian King, asking for its contents. The Sicilian library had several classical works about science and mathematics, and all Ma'mun was eager to get his hands on them. The Sicilian king consulted with his advisers, who told him that those books hadn't done the ancients any good, and the Sicilian king gave al-Ma'mun his library, a library which, according to legend, took more than 400 camels to transport.
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Map of Baghdad during its Golden Age
The translation of texts from Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit into Arabic was highly encouraged. So much encouraged that the Caliph al-Ma'mun offered to pay scholars the weight of a completely translated book in gold. Because of this, scholars translated the works of Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Plato into Arabic, preserving these works for future scholars, and giving scholars to opportunity to comment and study them.

Another notable translation that came from the House of Wisdom, was the translation of several Indian texts about mathematics. This was particularly important because, as you might know, it was Indian mathematicians who invented the concept of zero. In addition to zero, scholars also discovered that Indians used ten separate symbols, or combinations of those symbols, to represent numbers, not letters of the alphabet like the Romans and Arabs up to that point had. This led to experimentation on the part of Arab mathematician, and ultimately resulted in the Arabic Numeral system--the system we use today.

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An astrolabe
Completely reinventing mathematics wasn't the only major scientific advancement made at the House of Wisdom. The astrolabe--a tool used for navigating the ocean--was invented there, as well as the discipline of chemistry. Additionally, the world's first general hospital--the forerunner to today's modern hospital--was built in Baghdad. There scholars from around the world studied medicine, making advancements in surgery, epidemiology, and physiology.

Much like the Library of Alexandria, the House of Wisdom met an unfortunate and bloody end. In 1258 the Mongols invaded Iraq. They sacked Baghdad, putting the Caliph and his family to the sword. In an act that makes any book loving person furious, they dumped the books from the House of Wisdom into the Tigris river, letting thousands of years of precious knowledge be washed away. Then, to make things even worse, they killed all the scholars. It is said that for years after this the muddy brown waters of the Tigris ran black from ink and red from blood.


Sources
Baghdad: Libraries and House of Wisdom
The Abbasids' House of Wisdom in Baghdad
The House of Wisdom: Baghdad's Intellectual Powerhouse
The House of Wisdom, One of the Greatest Libraries in History
House of Wisdom