Gurji Khatun and a coin of love
13 November, 2014
Gurji Khatun and a coin of love
In the XIII century, Kaykhusraw II, a Sultan of Rum, minted silver coins not only to assert his authority and power, but also as an expression of his love. The coins had a lion and a sun bearing a woman’s face depicted on them. Several explanations of the lion and sun have been offered. One suggests that the images represent the constellation Leo, the astrological sign of Kaykhusraw’s beloved Georgian wife Tamar. Ano
ther says that the lion represents Kaykhusraw and the sun Tamar, whom he likened to a sun. Indeed, Queen of the Sultanate of Rum was Georgian princess Tamar, granddaughter of Queen Tamar, an equally radiant ruler. This is precisely what makes this tiny vestige of history so important to Georgians. It is kept in Tbilisi’s Museum of Cinematography, Theater, Music and Choreography. We contacted Giorgi Kalandia, the museum’s director, and with his help attempted to relive the events that occurred 8 centuries ago.

The princess was married out at the age of 13, far away from her homeland, to a young Seljuk ruler. The young queen instantly conquered the heart of not only her husband, but his people as well, who named her Gurji Khatun (Georgian Lady - Gürcü Hatun in Turkish). Since Islamic law prohibits art depicting a human body, especially a woman’s body. The Sultan who was head over heels in love, circumvented the law by minting coins bearing his wife’s likeness. This expressed his love and loyalty without violating any religious rules. This is how depiction of a lion and the sun appeared on numerous Muslim flags, banners, coats of arms, etc.

GIORGI KALANDIA, director of Museum of Cinematography, Theater, Music and Choreography:
“According to a numismatist from Ankara Museum, the Sultan was so in love with his wife that he likened her to a sun. Her fame wasn’t the stuff of legends that are usually spun posthumously – Tamar’s beauty and intellect made her a legend within her lifetime. Right upon assuming authority, she issued an order to reduce the price of bread and gave it to the poor for free. She later founded a bread market, which she controlled herself. She participated in meetings with foreign ambassadors, conducted negotiations, and actively intervened in the state’s political life. Due to her diplomatic talent, she remained a Christian till the end of her days, despite the Sultan continuously offering her to convert. Upon marrying her, the Sultan kicked out all the wives he had before; out of jealousy, one of them managed to poison Gurji Khatun and she barely survived. The furious Sultan had the poisoner executed. This incident was the trigger that led him to mint aforementioned coins.
Gurji Khatun lived in freedom and luxury. She was the protector of Christian faith, frequently attending liturgies conducted by local clergy. In the city of Konya, a Bolnisian cross (ancient Georgian variety of cross symbol) still stands in front of ruins of her palace. Its rooms were said to be decorated with icons and that displeased no one. However, rumor has it that the Sultan broke his wife’s heart once when he, in a fit of rage and jealousy, tore down all the icons, killed the priests and beat Gurji Khatun, threatening her to convert to Islam or die.
After Kaykhusraw II died, Tamar became a wife of Pervane, the Sultan’s First Vizier, in accordance with the law that obliged the First Vizier to marry the Sultan’s widow. Despite Pervane respecting Gurji Khatun immensely, she neither loved nor obeyed her new husband. According to a variety of historical sources, Pervane wrote a letter to his wife, asking what he could do to win her heart back. The Queen replied that the only way he would be able to do so is to divorce her. It is not known whether Pervane agreed or not, but they never lived together since that incident.
The mysterious and untimely death of her and Kaykhusraw’s only son Kayqubad only served to estrange her further. It is not known what became of Tamar afterwards – after her progeny’s tragic end, her trace became lost beneath the ever-shifting sands of history.

In that period, the famous poet and philosopher Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, known by his nickname Mevlana (Master) lived and worked in Konya, greatly respected by both the people and the Sultan’s court. He was exactly the person to whom the Queen went with her troubles, and became a follower of his part philosophical, part religious ideology soon after. This allowed her to maintain a guise of being Muslim while remaining a Christian at heart.
The Queen became a close friend of Mevlana, even ordering his portrait to be painted as a sign of respect. After his death, Gurji Khatun built a massive tomb, decorated by a famous architect Behrettin Tebrizli in 1274. It is noteworthy that one of the tomb’s canopies resembles the one typically possessed by churches.

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