Most of the Armenian nobles who had accompanied Gagik II on his journey to Constantinople, also followed their sovereign to his new domain, and so formed a small court around him. The majority of them belonged to the Bagratid family. One of them, Roupen, was, according to some chroniclers, of direct royal issue. He enjoyed considerable authority over his compatriots in the Tzamandos (Zamanti) district, and soon after the assassination of King Gagik, he organized a band of Armenian warriors and unfurled the banner of revolt against Byzantium (1080).
For centuries the persistent exactions and violence committed by the Greeks had incensed the Armenians against them. Differences of speech, traditions, customs and particularly of religious tenets intensified the aversion of these people to each other. However, the fall of the kingdom of Ani brought two parties into existence: one, the defeatist, resigned to submission to the Greek yoke; the other, still animated by national spirit and not forgetful of certain acts of treason, cherished dreams of vengeance and the recovery of national independence. The Byzantine Empire, on the other hand, worm-eaten by factional hatreds and religious bickering and threatened on all foreign fronts, was unable effectively to suppress popular uprisings in the provinces against the tyranny of the nobles and corrupt officials. As the Asiatic territories of the Empire had thus been deprived of security, the beginnings of the revolt of Roupen passed unnoticed.
The kingdom of Ani having already been subjugated by the Seljuk Turks, Roupen turned his eyes towards Cilicia, a country to which many Armenian chiefs and their people had emigrated from the national homeland.
Cilicia, conquered by Arabs in the VIIth century, was partly recovered for the Empire in 964, when Nicephorus II (Phocas), reduced in turn Anazarba, Adana, Tarsus and Mopsuest (Missis). In 966, the Emperor's army extended its conquests further south, to Tripoli in Lebanon, Aleppo and Damascus. These expeditions, succeeded by that of Emperor John Zimiskes in 973, were real crusades, aimed at the delivery of the Holy Land from the Turks, as well as the recapture of the rich provinces of Syria. But the southern areas of Asia Minor, which had suffered most under the Khalifas, needed a reconstruction which would render them a solid bastion for the protection of the capital. Many Armenian chieftains had left their domains in their homeland to take refuge in Greek territory; and the Byzantine Emperors had availed themselves of this voluntary emigration by peopling the banks of the Euphrates on the east and the Taurus Mountain approaches on the southwest with this Christian element.
One of these Armenian nobles, the nakharar Oshin, formerly lord of a fortress near Gandzak (Elizabethpol) in Caucasian Albania, had come in 1075 to Cilicia, where his kinsman, Abulgharib Ardzruni, governed Taurus and Mopsuest in the name of the Emperor Alexius I (Comnenus). Oshin was given a hereditary fief (domain), the district of Lampron (Nimroun Qala) on the Tarsus p215 River at the Cilician Gates, the narrow pass leading from the Taurus mountain chain — a point of major importance for the security of Cappadocia. At that time the Arabs were in possession of Antioch.
The frontiers of Cilicia are well marked by nature; no political demarcation other than that defined by its topography can be better imagined. On the west stand the mountain masses of Isauria and Cilicia Trachea, presenting the figure of a vast triangle, whose base to the north rests upon the plains of Lycaonia; on the east it is bordered by the Gulf of Satalia and on the third side by the western littoral of the Gulf of Pompeiopolis. The apex of this triangle is the promontory of Anemur, the farthest advanced point of Asia Minor towards the sea. Because of its natural position, Cilicia enjoyed an importance of strategic as well as commercial value.
The valleys of Seyhoun (Sarus) and Jahan (Pyramus) communicated with Coelesyria through the Syrian Gates, breaks in the Amanus range between Guzeldagh and Akmadagh, and through the Portella, the pass of Alexandretta and the shore of the sea. On the southeast was the city of Issus, where Alexander the Great vanquished Darius of Persia in 333 B.C.
p216 Ayas, on the northern side of the Gulf of Alexandretta, became a much frequented port during the Middle Ages. Two commercial routes start from this place. One, through Lampron, served Cappadocia, while the other, through Gaban and Sebastia, reached Greater Armenia. Furthermore, a number of ports and anchorages on this coast, such as Megarsus, Alaya, and Side, offered safe shelters to vessels, and these landing places like Ayas, promoted the commercial relations of Cilicia with the littorals of Syria and the Mediterranean West.
It was a part of Byzantine policy, therefore, to guard the defiles giving access to Cilicia, and this is why the Emperors favored the creation of small principalities in those regions. The immigrant lords from Armenia were known by the title of Ishkhan (ruler), corresponding with that of baron, which was later adopted by the Crusaders. Many Ishkhans had been settled in the Taurus and Amanus as well as in the plains when Roupen made his stand in the neighborhood of Caesarea, in the city of Cyzistra, where Gagik II was assassinated. Emerging from those parts, Roupen first moved westward and entering the difficult mountain heights in the north of Cilicia, he seized the fortress of Partzerpert (high castle), situated on a tributary of the upper Pyramus, about a day's march above Sis. That location became the cradle of the Cilician Armenian kingdom.
With no official title of authority, Roupen, nevertheless, issued a declaration of independence, and shortly afterwards, in the words of Hetoum the historian, "died in the peace of the Lord, after living a pious life, and was buried in the monastery of Castalon, leaving as successor his son, Constantin."
This fertile province of Cilicia, once so rich through its agriculture and commerce, had, as a result of the Arab invasions, been reduced almost to the condition of a desert. The survivors of Greek, Syrian and Jewish nationalities were concentrated in small groups in the ruins of the cities. Agriculture was carried on only in the shadow of the city walls and strongholds, where there was comparative safety.
The son of Roupen,1 Constantin I, who succeeded him and reigned from 1095 to 1099, and Constantin's successor, Thoros I (1099‑1129) pursuing the designs of their predecessor, were concerned only with extending their domains, to the detriment of the Byzantines. They gradually spread their authority over the chiefs of the mountains around Partzerpert. Constantin had begun his reign by the capture of the fort of Vakha (Fékké), situated on the upper Seyhoun, which commanded one of the most frequented routes between Tarsus and Upper Cappadocia. The mastery of this mountain defile made possible the assessment of taxes on merchandise transported from the port of Ayaz towards the central part of Asia Minor, a source of wealth to which the Roupenians owed their power.
The Emperor was pondering the question of how to bring Armenokilikia, as it was called, under obedience, when the advent of the First Crusade upset his plans. Godfrey de Bouillon, leader of the Crusade, having crossed to Asia in 1097, entered Cilicia, and by following the route of Seyhoun, finally came to pitch his pavilions under the very walls of Vakha. The details of the Crusaders' march to Cilicia are given by the Armenian historian, Matthew of Edessa, as follows:—
"In 546 (1097), during the time of the two Katholikosi, Der Vahram and Der Barsegh (Basil), and in the reign of Alexis, Emperor of Romans, the army of the Crusades set out in immense numbers; it comprised about 500,000 men. Thoros, the Governor of p218 Edessa (a Greek appointee), was informed of the fact by a letter which they had sent to him; also the great Armenian chief, Constantin, son of Roupen, who occupied the Taurus, in the country of Godibar (east of Missis), and was the ruler of numerous districts. Constantin had come forth out of the ranks of the army of Gagik. The Franks advanced with difficulty across Bithynia. They passed through Cappadocia in wide spreading columns, and reached the steep slopes of Taurus. The great army passed through the narrow defile of that mountain chain to enter Cilicia, and after a stop at New Troy (Anazarba), it thence proceeded as far as Antioch."
The Armenians looked upon Godfrey de Bouillon as a savior. Had he not entered Asia against the will of the Greek Emperor, and was he not marching under the aegis of the Cross? Constantin, aware of the vast project devised by the Crusaders, saw in this a unique opportunity for deliverance from Byzantine suzerainty. He therefore did his utmost to assist the Crusaders, whose situation during the siege of Antioch would have been precarious had it not been for Armenian aid.
"The number of the Franks," continues Matthew of Edessa, "was so great that they felt the pinch of famine. The Armenian chiefs who lived in the Taurus, Constantin the son of Roupen, Pazouni, and Oshin sent to the Frankish generals all the provisions they needed. The monks of the Black Mountain (Amanus), also supplied them with foodstuffs." Pope Gregory XIII in his Bull of 1584, declared that "No nation came more readily to the aid of the Crusaders than the Armenians. They supplied them with men, horses, arms and food."
The Franks, for their part, duly appreciated the aid of their Armenian allies. Constantin was honored with the titles of Comes and Baron. Josselin, Countº of Edessa, married the daughter of Constantine. Baudoin (Baldwin), brother of Godfrey, married the niece of the Armenian Baron, daughter of his brother Thoros. The mutual interests were thus consecrated by those marriages, and these Christians of the East entered into a vast feudal organization of the Crusades.
It did not take long for the Armenians to derive benefits from p219 this accord. Encouraged by Tancred, Prince of Antioch, Thoros, son and successor of Constantin, followed the course of the Pyramus River, and seized the stronghold of Anazarba. This place, fortified first by the Emperor Justin I and then by the Khalifa Haroun al‑Rashid, was considered impregnable. The city of Sis was the next to fall into the hands of Thoros. Churches and monasteries were constructed everywhere by this pious prince; Armenian colonists were induced to come and prosper under their national flag.
Assisted by the Franks of Antioch, Thoros had conquered the major part of Cilicia, driving out the small Greek garrisons, when Turkish hordes penetrated into the heart of Cilicia and took Anazarba. Byzantines had been almost entirely dislodged from their former strongholds in the lower part of the country, and the Turks therefore believed that they could easily crush Armenian resistance. They coveted the possession of the Sultanate of Iconium and the southern shore of Asia Minor. Thoros repulsed and drove them back to the territory of Cogh Vassil2 (the Covassilio of Latin Chroniclers), another Armenian chieftain, who reigned at Marash. There too the invaders were defeated and once more forced to flee. Two years later, after ravaging the lands around Melitine (Malatia), they besieged the fortress of Harcan (Hajen), where they were again beaten by the Armenians. Their chief was captured and brought to Kessoun, the headquarters of the district, near Marash. Nevertheless, the Turkish marauders continued their depredations, especially in rural areas. The country suffered a major attack by the Seljuk Sultan of Iconium, Malik Shah (1107‑1116). Thoros, however, after sustaining a severe reverse in the first engagement, won a decisive victory in the second, though it was a costly encounter. The Sultan retreated towards Kharput, looting and devastating everything in his way. The only stronghold that he failed to subjugate was the fortress of Dzovk, known to Strabo as Cybistra.a
Thoros died in 1129, and was succeeded by his brother, Leon I (1129‑1137), who reigned eight years and expanded his rule over the plains, and even to the Mediterranean shores. Without the possession p220 of seaports, contact with Europe could be effected only through the Frankish coastal cities in the southeast. But relations between the two former allies did not always remain as courteous as before. Thoros seems to have been slow in paying Baldwin the sum of 60,000 gold besants, his daughter's dowry; the Armenians complained of the exactions of the Crusaders, while the Franks accused their allies of calling upon infidels for help whenever they had the least pretense of discontent. A major cause of dissension between the Armenians and the Latins of Antioch was the ownership of the strongholds of the southern Amanus, and of the neighboring coasts of the Gulf of Alexandretta.
The fort of Sarouantikar, on the lower Jihoun River, dominated by Leon, was also a subject of dispute. Raymond de Poitiers, Prince of Antioch, demanded that place in 1136, claiming that it was a part of the Crusaders' territory. Raymond refrained from taking arms against the Armenian Baron, but chose a more despicable course; he lured Leon into a trap and held him prisoner. After two months of confinement, Leon obtained his liberty by consenting to harsh terms. Not only did he surrender the fortune of Sarouantikar, south of Marash, but also Mamestia and Adana; in addition he paid 60,000 gold pieces and gave his son as a hostage. He also pledged himself to assist Raymond against the Emperor John II Comnenus.
Baron Leon did not wait long to break the contract which had been extorted from him through treachery. He recaptured all the territories surrendered to Raymond and launched an attack against the Prince of Antioch and his ally, Foulques d'Anjou, King of Jerusalem. This hostility would have been fatal to both Armenians and Franks — both of whom were always menaced by the Turks — but Josselin II, Count of Edessa, who was related by marriage to Leon, obtained an honorable agreement for both sides in 1137. An alliance was then formed by them against the Emperor, who was then pressing his claims against Antioch as well as Cilicia.
Meanwhile,º the war against the Turks was in progress. "In 584 (1135)," says a historian, Michael the Syrian, "Baron Stepané, brother of Baron Thoros, having arrived under the walls of Marash, caused his troops to enter the city during the night. They were received p221 in the houses of those inhabitants who were Christians. This surprise had been contrived by a priest of this city with whom Baron Stepané was in compact. At dawn his soldiers captured the place and slew the Turks who were within. Flushed with their victory, they insulted the guards of the citadel and molested their wives. God in His wrath therefore, would not deliver it into their hands. So they set the city afire, and taking away the Christians with them, advanced into the interior of the country."
Aboulfaraj3 describes the same events adding:— "The Turks, exercising humanity, showed a pacific disposition towards the Christians who had remained; and to the Armenian fugitives who had returned, they restored their houses, vineyards and fields. But an Armenian priest whom they (the Turks) suspected of being in connivance with his compatriots was flayed alive. After three days they cut off his tongue, hands and feet and threw him into the flames. The Armenians, incensed at this cruelty, put a number of Turks to the same torture."
The hostility of the Turks towards the Armenians had in the meantime been nurtured by gold supplied by the court of Byzantium, which maintained, as ever, its designs of Cilicia and the principality of Antioch. Despite the alliance concluded between the Armenians and the Princes of Antioch, the Greeks invaded Cilicia, defying the Crusaders and Leon, and occupied all the plain of Adana and the Gulf of Alexandretta. The Baron took refuge in the Taurus Mountains, but at last found the situation hopeless, and surrendered himself to the conqueror. He was dragged away to Constantinople, where he died in imprisonment in 1141. His son Roupen, after being blinded, was assassinated by the Greeks.
All Cilicia remained under Byzantine rule for eight years. The Latin principalities of Antioch and Edessa, often harassed by the Turks, were unable to assist their allies. One of Leon's sons, Thoros, a prisoner in Constantinople, had gained the favors of the Palace through his personal charm. He fled from the capital in disguise, on board a Venetian vessel, reached Cyprus and thence went to Antioch. p222 There, Prince Raymond and the Patriarch Athanas VIII, supplied him with means by which to accomplish his adventurous design, namely, the shaking off of the Byzantine yoke. In company with a small escort he left Antioch and penetrated into the Amanus mountains, where some thousands of Armenian volunteers joined him. After several successful engagements with the Imperial troops, he recovered the ancient domain of his father.
The chronicles of Vahram of Edessa thus describe the triumph of the young Baron:—
"Those who were attached to the Emperor's palace claim that Thoros prolonged his sojourn until the day when a Greek princess who was in love with him gave him treasures which he took away with him. Reaching the mountainous part of Cilicia, he met an Armenian priest, to whom he secretly made himself known as the son of Leon. The priest welcomed him with joy. The Armenians who remained in the country and those who lived in the mountains, subjected to the oppression of the Greeks, had been most fervently wishing for the return of their old masters. Now being apprised by the priest of the return of their beloved prince, they readily united in greeting Thoros as their Baron."
While the Emperor John was subduing Cilicia and approaching Antioch, the Turks ravaged the adjacent Latin territories. The Byzantines had allied themselves with the Turks, so as to overthrow the power of the Frankish interlopers and destroy the Armenian baronies. But that unholy alliance was broken when the Moslems invaded the district of Kessoun, within the domain of the Empire.
This rupture is described by Matthew of Edessa as follows:
"In 585 (1136), Sultan Mohammed, son of Amir Ghazi, son of Danishmend, came with a great army to the country of Marash, near Kessoun, and set fire to the villages and monasteries. . . . He deferred attacking the city, busying himself with diverting the water of the river, laying waste the gardens, making incursion here and there, and collecting his booty and putting it into security. However, the citizens of Marash, in constant fear of an assault, fell into such an excess of discouragement that one night they abandoned the outer ramparts; but their chiefs and the priests succeeded in p223 reviving their spirits. . . . God did not command the infidels to invest and assault the place, and on Friday, which is the day of the passion of our Lord, Kessoun was delivered. The enemy burned the Garmirvank (the Red Monastery), the chapel and the cells of the monks, smashed the wooden and stone crosses and carried away those of iron and bronze, demolished the altars and scattered their fragments. He took away the doors with their admirable scrollwork design, as well as other objects, and transferred them all to his country, to show to his concubines and the populace. . . . Mohammed retreated upon learning that the Emperor of the Romans (John Comnenus) was speeding to the rescue of besieged Kessoun, and of our Count Baldwin, who had implored him on his knees for help. The Emperor, devastating the Moslem lands, was already approaching Antioch. After having deprived our Prince Leon of his sovereignty, he seized his cities, and fortresses and taking him prisoner, carried him off to the country of the Greeks, beyond the sea, on the frontiers of Asia."
Whatever the conditions in which Thoros entered Cilicia, he found it occupied by many Greek garrisons. One after another, he conquered Amada (Tumlu-Kalessi), Anazarba, Adana, Sis, Aryudzapert and Partzerpert. The city of Edessa, however, was taken on December 23rd, 1144, by Imad‑ed‑din Zenghi. Thoros, unable to receive any aid from the princes of Antioch, was compelled to resist alone the Greek army of 12,000 men, commanded by Andronicus Comnenus, a cousin of the Emperor Manuel I, but inflicted a signal defeat upon that general in 1152. To avenge this humiliation, the Emperor resorted to stratagem, instigating an attack by Massoud I, the Seljuk Sultan, upon the Armenian Baron. The Seljuks, seated in the very center of Asia Minor, constituted a peril for the capital of the Greek Empire; but Manuel's chief concern at the moment was the punishment of the Armenian Baron for the affront inflicted on him. Massoud invaded Cilicia, but Thoros parried this new danger by recognizing the Moslem Sultan as his lord paramount.
In 1156 upon some flimsy pretext Massoud again sent his troops against the Armenians. The invaders were repulsed by the Crusaders and the army of Thoros. Surprised in the defiles between the Amanus Mountain and the sea, the Turks suffered a bloody reverse. The remnants of their army retreated northeastward, devastating the districts of Marash and Kharput. But they were not slow in reorganizing and returning to the offensive, laying siege to the Castle of Till Hamdoun, in the vicinity of Sis. They were dispersed, however, when the Armenians took advantage of a pestilence raging in the foe's army and dealt him a telling blow. Masoudº died and his son, Azzed‑din Kilij Arslan II, concluded in 1158 a peace with Thoros, who continued to rule Cilicia and Isauria.
Another storm now burst upon the Armenian horizon. Renaud de Chatillon, Regent of the Principality of Antioch, claimed from Thoros the castle of Gastim, a place of strategic importance commanding the defile of Portella. "Renaud," says the chronicler Michael, "had a dispute with Baron Thoros regarding a fortress which p225 the Greeks had captured from the Frères (Knights Templars), and which Thoros retook from the Greeks. "The Frères," said Renaud, "fight for the common cause of Christians. Give them back that which belongs to them." A battle took place between the disputants, near Iskenderoun (Alexandretta), and many fell on both sides. Renaud was forced to return home, covered with humiliation. Later on, Thoros voluntarily surrendered to the brethren the fortresses in question, and the Knights in turn took oath "to assist the Armenians on all occasions where they needed help."
Renaud, who had attacked the Armenians at the instigation of the Greeks, felt justified in asking the Emperor Manuel to reimburse him for the expenses incurred in the campaign. The Emperor answered in such ambiguous terms that the Prince of Antioch resolved to indemnify himself at the expense of the Island of Cyprus. Both Crusaders and Armenians had been anxious to dislodge the Greeks from Cyprus, in order to secure a strong naval base there against Moslem incursions. Circumstances, however, did not permit its conquest just then. Renaud hoped to gain some satisfaction by a sudden descent upon the island, laying it waste, and looting its treasures.
In 1156 the Crusader ships disembarked upon the Cyprianº coast an army composed of Latins and Armenians which, after crushing a feeble opposition, spread rapidly in all directions, plundering and kidnapping the rich, to be held for ransom. These acts of violence, though unjustifiable, were a natural retaliation for the intolerant and perfidious actions of the Greeks, often with Moslem aid, against the non-Orthodox Christians of the East.
Emperor Manuel of course could not tolerate the seizure of Cyprus. He sought revenge in 1158 by invading Cilicia at the head of an army of 50,000. He captured Anazarba, Till Hamdoun, Tarsus and Lamos, while Baron Thoros, unable to defend his country, retired to the castle of Dajikikar in the Taurus Mountains. Renaud and Baldwin of Jerusalem (husband of the Emperor's niece) interceded for Thoros, and regained for him the major part of his domain, on condition that he recognize the Greek Emperor's suzerain right. Thoros was then honored with the title "Palatin of Pansebastos."
Peace, however, was not yet well established. Disregarding all official pledges, Stepané, the Baron's brother, at the head of Armenian bands, laid waste the Imperial territories in the district of Marash. Andronicus, the Greek governor of Tarsus, resorting to stratagem, invited Stepané to a feast and killed him in the most cruel manner. Thoros, thereupon, ordered a massacre, to which a great number of Greeks within his borders fell victims. War between the Emperor and his vassal Prince would have broken out again had not Amaury I, King of Jerusalem, intervened.
Disheartened by the country's misfortunes, Thoros abdicated before his death in 1169 in favor of his son Roupen, a minor, under the guardianship of Baille Thomas. But Thoros's brother Mleh, once member of the order of the Knights Templars, and now supported by Nour‑ed‑Din, the Turkish atabek (prince) of Aleppo, invaded the Armenian barony. Mleh at first agreed to a settlement offered by the guard of Roupen, by which he was to receive an equal share of the territory. But soon after this, the usurper repudiated his pledge and seized the entire territory. The Baille secretly carried Roupen to the castle of Romgla and put him under the care of the Katholikos Nerses (Shnorhali, "the Gracious"). But despite this precaution, the young prince was found dead not long afterward.
Mleh, who is accused by some chroniclers of apostasy and tyranny, had aligned himself with Moslem rulers, such as Salih-Ismail of Aleppo and Kilij-Arslan II of Iconium, defying both Greek and Latin states. Because of his military prowess, Mleh was finally recognized by Emperor Manuel in 1173 as the independent Baron of Cilician Armenia. But he had made a host of enemies by his cruelties in his country, resulting in his assassination by his own soldiers in the city of Sis in 1175.
1 The Latin chroniclers of this period spelled this name Roupen, not Rouben.
2 "Vassil the Robber".
3 Mar-Hebraeus, a Syrian bishop of great erudition.
a Cybistra is mentioned four times in the Geography, if only incidentally; all in Book XII: XII.1.4, 2.7 (twice), and 2.9, as being 300 stadia, or roughly 55 km, from Tyana (the modern Kisli-Hissar in SW Cappadocia). None of these passages offers sufficient detail to identify it with any particular place, but the ancient Heraclea Cybistra is almost always identified with today's Eregli (also in SW Cappadocia), 37°31N 34°04E; on what grounds, I don't know. For further ancient and medieval references, see the article Cybistra in the Catholic Encyclopedia.
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