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Chapter 24
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A History of Armenia

by Vahan M. Kurkjian

published by the
Armenian General Benevolent Union of America
1958

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 26

p195 Chapter XXV
Magnificence to be soon followed by Calamity

Gagik I (989‑1020)

Gagik I succeeded his brother Sembat II on the throne of Armenia proper. Under the rule of this king, the Bagratid dynasty of Ani attained the zenith of its power. The construction of the cathedral was completed, and the country was generously provided with new churches, chapels, monasteries and schools. Commerce attained a volume hitherto unknown. Nakhitchévan, Ardzen, Baghesh (Bitlis) and many other cities became important centers in which products of Persia, Arabia, India and even of China were exchanged for the merchandise of the West. Profiting by the era of tranquillity, Gagik centered his attention on commerce. Armenia became an intermediary mart between the Orient and Mediterranean countries, and was rewarded with an amazing increase of wealth.

Direct relations between the Moslem East and the Christian West were then impossible. There were two peoples who, by reason of their geographic position, could serve as intermediaries; the Georgians, masters of the route of the Caspian Sea, and the Armenians, inhabiting the plateau which dominates Iran and Mesopotamia.

Splendor of Bagratid Armenia

The chronicler Aristakes of Lastivert, a contemporary of both the splendor and the fall of the capital of the Bagratids, has left to us a picture of the kingdom of Ani before the invasion of the Seljuks. In his poetic, Oriental manner, he declares that Armenia at that time was like a great and smiling garden; fertile, verdant, p196clothed in velvety foliage, laden with flowers and fruit. "Its nobles in their gorgeous costumes and glittering array of armor and equipment, held sway in their baronial seats; the people danced and sang merry songs, the sounds of the flute, cymbals and other instruments gladdened the air. Old people in their crowns of white hair, the mothers pressing their children in their arms, the newly-wedded couple emerging from the church, all radiated happiness." "The Pontiff of the nation," he continues, "like a cloud charged with the graces of the Spirit, shed over the people a holy dew, creating new life in the garden of the church, whose walls were vigilantly kept by ministers whom he had ordained. As for the King, when he rode out of the city in the morning in his resplendent attire and pearl-laden crown, astride his white mare with her trappings of gold glittering under the rays of the sun, dazzling every eye, he was like a bridegroom or like the day-star, which rising above the world, attracts all eyes to itself, compels everybody to gaze upon it with wonder; while the numerous troops who marched before him in compact masses, rippling over the hills, resembled the waves of the sea, rolling over one another on the beach."


[image ALT: An engraving of some massive stone ramparts. They are those of Ani, a medieval city of Armenia.]
View of the ramparts and the principal gate of the City of Ani

Bagratids minted no coinage

Notwithstanding the opulence then prevailing in Armenia and the existence of copper and silver mines in the country, no coin seems to have been minted by the Bagratid princes. That right was p197in all probability reserved to the Khalifas, under whose suzerainty the Armenian kings ruled. Farther north, in regions where Byzantine authority was recognized, the rulers enjoyed the right of coinage. Copper and silver pieces issued by some of these are still in existence. The last Armenian King of Caucasian Albania, Koriké (1046‑1082) minted copper coins.

Yet all these currencies were not sufficient for the needs of commerce. Most of the gold in circulation in the Near East, was that of Arabs and Byzantines. The silver coins used were the dirhems of the Khalifas and the old Sassanian and Roman dinars. As for copper money, all the mints of the Empire issued huge amounts of it.

Turmoil in neighboring countries

During the period while Armenia was enjoying peace, her neighbors were not so happy. The Khalifas were busy in suppressing rebellious emirs, while people to the north were engaged in wars against each other or against the Arab chieftains or Georgian marauders. In the West the Emperor Basil II (976‑1025) was warding off threats from Bulgaria. Great numbers of Armenian families had been transported by the Greeks to Macedonia. Embittered by the Empire's harsh treatment, a considerable number of fighting men from among these Armenian exiles made common cause with the rebellious Bulgars, whose chief, Samuel, was born in the Armenian district of Dertchan, east of Erzerum. Samuel's forces, successful in the beginning, were badly beaten later by Basil, who became known as "Bulgarocton" (killer of Bulgars).

David of Taiq's Rebellion and Death

King Gagik deemed it wise to remain aloof from these affairs. Meanwhile David, to whom the province of Taiq had been entrusted by the Emperor, took advantage of the death of Bad, the Moslem emir of the Apahouni region, seized the fortress city of Manazkert and drove away the emir's troops and co-nationals. But the fleeing aliens, supported by the Emir of Azerbaijan, came back to recapture the territory, situated to the northeast of the Lake of Van. David, however, did not give up. Receiving aid from Koriké I, King of Georgia, and Gagik-Abas, King of Kars, he attacked once more and took possession of the contested districts. Despite his valiant deeds, David was the victim of a treacherous assassination plotted by his own Georgian nobles.

p198 In 103 the King of Vaspurakan, Gourgen-Khatchik, died and was succeeded by his brother, John-Senekerim (990‑1006), although the late king's sons were the rightful heirs to the throne.

Johannes-Sembat III threatened by his brother Ashot

Gagik I, King of Ani, whose death occurred seventeen years later, was succeeded by his son, Johannes-Sembat III (1020‑1041). Corpulent in body and indolent in temperament, this prince lacked the qualities urgently required during this critical period in the Armenian homeland. Many feudal lords dependent on the suzerainty of Ani repudiated their allegiance, and the king's younger brother Ashot, energetic and valorous, claimed the throne for himself. In alliance with Senekerim, King of Vaspurakan, he marched on Ani at the head of a strong force. The Katholikos Petros Getadartz offered mediation, and Ashot was induced to withdraw, receiving the title of lieutenant-commander of the kingdom, and the promise of the throne on his brother's death.


[image ALT: An engraving of some stone ruins. They are those of the medieval castle of Ani, a ruined city of Armenia.]
View of the Castle of Ani

Ashot's persistent plotting

But Ashot was faithless. Being now closer to the court, he succeeded in creating a clique to work secretly in his behalf. He was further emboldened by the detainment of his royal brother as a prisoner by Koriké, King of Georgia. This was Ashot's opportunity to usurp the crown, had not King Sembat gained his liberty by p199ceding three forts to the Georgians. Having failed in these and other plots, Ashot fled to Constantinople, where he won the favor of Basil II and returned to Armenia, escorted by Byzantine legions. Sembat appeased him by giving him several territories on the Georgian and Persian frontiers.

Northeastern Barbarians

While Armenian seigneurs were thus engaged in factional struggles, a dreadful storm-cloud darkened the skies of the Orient. Barbarian peoples, intrepid and cruel, emerging from the plains of the Oxus River, had invaded Khorassan and the north of the Iranian plateau, driving before them the Persians, the Kurds and the Arabs. Nothing, it seemed, could resist these daring horsemen and skilled archers. Armenian historians called these nomads Scythians or Tartars, as being distant descendants of those hordes who, fifteen centuries earlier, had overrun Asia, likewise issuing from the boundless plains beyond the Caucasus, the Caspian Sea and the Bactrian mountains.

Emergence of the Turks

Simultaneously, the Seljuk Turks invaded Anterior Asia, spreading like a torrent overflowing its bed. The Turks had developed at the foot of the Altai Mountains, in those steppes where Turkomans still live today, where the Jaghatai, the primitive language of the Tartars is spoken. These people, sadistic and merciless, now converted to Mohammedanism, insatiable in their appetite for pillage, craved possession of the rich lands of both the Khalifas and the Greek Emperors. "The cruelties of the Arabs," says Jacques de Morgan, "were nothing compared to the horrors the Turks were to mankind." They advanced westward through mountainous areas where rich pastures for their flocks existed. The tribal masses followed the cavalrymen, carrying their household property, their wives and children, the aged and the loot from devastated countries. The onward wave was to halt only before the gates of Constantinople, where the forces of the Empire checked it for a considerable time.

First clashes with Turks and exchange with Sebastia

The first contacts between the Turks and Armenians occurred on the frontiers of Vaspurakan the province of Van. Shapouh, the p200general of Senekerim, put the invaders to flight in the first encounter. But the King, advised of the approach of the main army of the enemy and aware of his inability to cope with the perilous situation, ceded his kingdom to the Emperor Basil II, reserving to himself only the monasteries, with the villages upon which they depended for maintenance. In exchange the Emperor gave him the city of Sebastia (Sivas) in Cappadocia, and its territory, reaching as far as the Euphrates. The principality given up by Senekerim comprised 10 cities, 22 strongholds and 4,000 villages. Leaving these behind, he emigrated in 1021 to his new domains, taking with him his family and 400,000 of his subjects, almost one-third of the population at the time of Vaspurakan.

In his new kingdom, he enjoyed political security for some time, but the religious intolerance of the Greek clergy was still rife and its effects bore heavily upon the Armenian immigrants until the time when the Turks, always pressing westward, finally took possession of the country.

Turkish Defeat at Ani

As to the kingdom of Ani, its lands had been invaded by the Turks in the very year of Senekerim's departure from Van. At the gates of the fort of Betchni, north of Ararat, the enemy was checked by the Armenian army under the general Vassak-Bahlavouni, father of the famous statesman-school, Grigor Magistros. The Arab emir of Douin, Abu-Sewar, mindful of his own safety, allied himself with the Seljuks. The Armenian forces, united under David Anhoghin, chief of Gougarq and Aghouanq, gave battle against the Turks, inflicting upon them a crushing defeat.

The situation nevertheless remained ominous. The Armenians, though aided by small Greek contingents, were not equal to the task to stemming the ever-mounting flood rushing from the East. The Turks continued their westward drive, waging a pitiless war against valorous defense. A Kurdish governor, Khoudriq, after capturing the city of Berkry, to the northeast of the Lake of Van, dug a deep ditch, to be filled with the slaughtered bodies of Christians.

Emperor harasses Armenia

The short-sighted Byzantine policy was another element in the plight of Armenia. Basil II, after landing at Trebizond and suppressing p201the rebellious Apkhazia, on the southeast coast of the Black Sea, took possession of Taiq, in northern Armenia in 1023, and then threatened the little state of Ani. King Johannes-Sembat, caught between Toghrul Beg, the Seljuk chief, and the Greek Emperor, sent the Katholikos Petros to the latter to implore his help, offering him the title to all his domain after his own death. The document bearing this promise, though kept secret during the reigns of Constantine XI (1025‑1028) and Michael IV (1034‑1041), gave the Greeks a legal claim to a territory extending as far as the Arax and even to the fortress of Kars.

Gagik II (1042‑1045)

Johannes-Sembat III died in 1041. The death of his ambitious brother Ashot occurred in the same year. It was then that the new Emperor Michael V, "the Calker," invoked the rights promised in the letter of Johannes to Basil II. The regents of the kingdom, however, refused to recognize the cession. The Emperor thereupon sent an army to Ani, with which Vest-Sarkis, the Armenian chief of the province of Sewniq, allied himself, in the hope of obtaining the throne of the little kingdom. This army and its Armenian collaborators laid siege to the capital, but were beaten and routed by Nationalists under the leadership of the old general, Vassak Bahlavuni. Gagik II, still a mere youth of sixteen, but brave, educated and intelligent, was thereupon crowned in the cathedral of Ani by the Katholikos Petros.

Turkish reverses in Armenia

The Greek peril was now seemingly well-nigh averted, but a new terror, that of the Touranian-Seljuks, loomed on the horizon. The vanguard of this horde had already reached the northern plain of the Arax, camping on the banks of the stream called Hrazdan-Zanki which originates at Lake Sevan and empties in the Arax. Gagik, at the head of his army, lured them into a trap and almost destroyed them. The survivors recrossed the Arax and fled to the land southwest of Lake Urmiah, whence, reinforced by Kurdish tribesmen, they turned once more against Vaspourakan province. Here they were checked by an Armenian band under Khatchik, "the Lion." This heroic leader fell on the battlefield, but his sons, p202arriving with a greater force, routed the Turks and sent them fleeing towards Khoy and Salmas, on the Persian frontier.

Emperor claims Ani, Gagik II exiled

This Turkish onslaught had scarcely been repelled when Byzantine pretensions were intensified. Constantine X, Monomachus (1042‑1054), who had mounted the throne through his marriage with the Empress Zoé, an Armenian by descent, put forth a claim to Ani and the entire district of Shirak. Upon the rejection of the demand by Gagik II, a Greek army invaded his territory, but was defeated before the walls of the capital.

The Emperor thereupon resorted to treachery to gain his ends. Corrupted by Byzantine gold, many Armenian nobles now advised their king to accept an invitation sent by the Emperor to come to Constantinople for a peaceful settlement of the disputed question. After being assured by the Katholikos and other leaders of their loyal adherence to his policy, Gagik II made the journey to the Byzantine capital. A magnificent reception was given him, but a short time thereafter he was summoned by the Emperor to relinquish his throne and cede to the Greeks the city of Ani and its territory. When he courageously refused to acquiesce, he was appalled at being shown a letter from the Armenian grandees, expressing their devotion to the emperors and their readiness to hand over to him the keys of Ani. Thus betrayed by his own people, Gagik gave up his kingdom, receiving as compensation the district of Lycandus in Asia Minor and the town of Bizou, in the vicinity of Caesarea (Kayseri). He was also granted the use of a palace on the Bosporus in Constantinople and a pension from the Imperial treasury.

Byzantine persecution

Not satisfied with the extinction of the political life of the Armenians, the Greek clergy insisted upon their conversion to the Greek Orthodox faith. Meanwhile Armenia became economically the slave of the functionaries sent from the capital, who crushed the people under the burden of heavy taxes. The Armenian nobility, a favorite p203object of persecution, suffered the heaviest losses through systematic purges by the civil authorities.1

Gagik's retort to Bishop of Caesarea

Gagik in exile suffered agonies upon hearing of his countrymen's woes. He himself was often subjected to insolent treatment by the ruling class. Even in Cappadocia the Greeks openly displayed their contempt for those Eastern Christians whose tenets differed in some slight degree from theirs. The orthodox Bishop of Caesarea, Marcus by name, lost no occasion to express his scorn for them. The bishop had a dog which he called "Armen," the epithet "dog" being a favorite slur hurled at the Armenians. Gagik, smarting under this insult resolved to punish the impudent prelate. In company with several friends, he went one day to call on the bishop. In the course of the conversation, Gagik expressed a desire to see the dog, and inquired the reason why he responded to the name Armen. "Because he is a pretty dog," replied the Metropolitan with thinly veiled insolence "and we call him the Armenian." At a signal from Gagik, his escort seized both the bishop and the dog, put them together into a large bag and gave the dog such a beating that the animal became wild and lacerated the bishop with its teeth, causing his death.

Murder of Gagik II
End of Bagratid Dynasty

From that time on, Gagik became an object of hatred by the p204Greeks. One day while he was strolling in the country west of Caesarea, some Greeks seized him suddenly, made him prisoner and a few days later hanged him on the battlements of the castle (1079). His sons, John and David, and John's son Ashot died soon afterwards, all by poison. Atom and Apusahl, King Senekerim's son, also perished by the Greeks at Sivas in 1080, according to Armenian chroniclers, along with another Gagik, the son of Abas, the last Bagratid King of Kars. The properties of all of them were attached to the imperial domain. This illustrious line of the Bagratids was thus destroyed by the Greeks, through shortsightedness and religious fanaticism, although the Bagratid name persisted until recent times.

Progress under the Bagratids

The way of life in Armenia made gratifying strides in the ninth and tenth centuries. Social welfare rose after a long period of misfortune. "Dozens of towns and hundreds of villages," says the historian Aristakes, "which had been ruined and abandoned, were revived and reconstructed." Industry and handicrafts flourished in cities. The increasing urban population needed more manufactured goods. An extensive market for woven stuffs was already in existence. The development of mines, known to the Armenians in remote antiquity, had been resumed by the Arabs in three zones — in modern Gumush-Khaneh for silver, in Spir for gold and in Allaverdi for copper. Special mention is made by Arab historians of the red dye, cochineal or al‑kermes, used for dyeing various kinds of woolen and cotton fabrics in Armenia. Metallurgy, masonry, weaving, rug-making, pottery, carpentry and working in gold were thriving everywhere in the country. Among the artisans of Douin, the weavers of cotton, wool and silk — of shawls, scarves, spreads, pillow-cases and carpets, were especially renowned. Carpenters made wooden traveling paniers, farmers' tools and beautiful house furniture. Many objects of art were produced in Ani — silver and gold articles, rings, bracelets, belts, necklaces, earrings, church vessels and palace ornaments. Professor N. Marr, while excavating at Ani, discovered factories for copper-working and clay-baking. Ani and Douin were also celebrated for porcelain and copper vessels and containers and for embroidery and needlework as well as gold-tissued textiles. There were great numbers of wine-presses and oil mills in operation.

p205 Growth of Cities

The removal of the rule of the Arab Khalifate from Armenia in the second half of the ninth century gave impetus to the effort aiming at complete independence of the country. With the exemption from payment of taxes to the Khalifas, economic advancement was hastened. Armed conflict, again raging between Byzantium and Persia at that time, made commercial transit across Mesopotamia and Syria impracticable, and Armenia was the gainer thereby, becoming the East-West trade route and giving her merchants the opportunity to serve as business factors in many countries — in the Greek Empire, in Arabia, Persia, Central Asia, India and China. Several cities of Armenia, such as Ani, Douin, Nakhjévan, Kars, Van, Amid (Diarbekir), Vostan, Manazkert, Bitlis, Khlat, Arjish, Karin and Ardzn, assumed special importance as centers of industry, commerce and culture. The historian Aristakes, describing the halcyon days of the period, dubs some of these cities with flattering adjectives; Kars, the Celebrated; Ardzn, the Magnificent; Ani, the World-Famous. When, at the end of the eighth century, Ashot Bagratuni, "the Meat-Eater," grandfather of Ashot I, purchased from the Kamsarakans the district of Shirak and moved his residence there, Ani became the capital, and attained wealth and greatness during the reigns of Sembat II and Gagik I.

Agriculture and Husbandry

Agriculture played a vital role during the Bagratid period. Grain, cotton, rice, flax and grapes were the main products of the country. Many localities about the central part of the country were covered with farms, orchards and vineyards; granariesº were filled with breadstuffs and jars with wine, while the pastures offered abundant grazing to herds of cattle and flocks of sheep. Wool production flourished, and silk and woolen textile manufacture attained a considerable volume. Irrigating canals were dug in many parts of the country to aid farming and horticulture. Metals and the manufactured articles of the cities, as well as horses, cattle, sheep, wool, medicinal herbs and roots were exported to other lands in large quantities.


The Author's Notes:

1 An inscription on stone, according to Brosset, engraved a few years after the occupation of Ani by the Greeks, indicates the degree of neglect to which the place had descended. "In the name of the almighty Lord and by the clemency of the holy Emperor-autocrat Constantine Ducas I, Bagrat, magistros, Katapan (governor-general) of the East, have desired to do good by this metropolis of Ani, when it had named as its tanouter (administrator) the Hypatos Mekhitar, son of Court; Grigor, Spathara-candidate, son of Lapatac, and Sarkis, Spathara-candidate, son of Artabaz." They suppressed the taxes named Vetzevor (one-sixth), sailli (on machines for threshing wheat), camen (on carts or chariots), and angarion (forced labor). "The catapan, whoever he may be, shall give six hundred measures of grain, and the administrators shall defray from their houses the cost of other presents. Because of great hardships suffered in importing goods, the wine merchants of Ani shall be exempt from tolls, whether they use carts or wagons. Any inhabitant who buys an animal for slaughter is exempt from tolls. Any porter of Ani is exempt from tax on half of his burden. The capuji (guardian of the gates of the city) shall be paid six dahekans of gold and three drams. . . ."


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