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Chapter 27
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A History of Armenia

by Vahan M. Kurkjian

published by the
Armenian General Benevolent Union of America

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 29

 p227  Chapter XXVIII
Greeks, Crusaders and Moslems — Rise of Leon II

Treacherous warfare

This period of Levantine history was characterized by a constant and bitter clash of conflicting interests. The Greeks cunningly embroiled the Crusader princes with each other and inflamed Moslem hostility against non-Greek Christians. They pretended friendships with formidable enemies, then suddenly changing their tactics, took up arms against their allies of yesterday. As for the Moslems, their treatment of Christians was not only contemptuous but merciless when they had the opportunity. The famous Saladin (Salah-ed‑Din), Sultan of Egypt and Syria, issued a decree in Egypt forbidding "infidels" (Christians) to ride horses or mules and commanded themº always to wear a belt in public, so that they may be distinguished from true believers. The Byzantines, despite the indignities to which they were subjected by the Mohammedans, sometimes heaped upon Turkish princes such honors that these only tended to increase Moslem contempt for all Christians.

Gaudy display of Emperor

An account by Aboulfaraj of the welcome accorded to Kilij-Arslan, who spent three months in Constantinople seeking aid against his domestic adversaries, says that "twice a day food was served him on gold and silver plates which were left to him as gifts. On one occasion the Emperor, after dining with his guest, offered him all the battle service decoration as well as other gifts, not counting those presented to each of the thousand Turks who composed his escort." According to other chroniclers, feasts were given in honor of the Seljuk Sultan in an atmosphere of amazing splendor.

 p228  "On a magnificently decorated platform stood a throne of massive gold, set with diamonds, jacinths and other precious stones, encircled by pearls of brilliant whiteness. Profusely distributed lights struck dazzling rays out of all these jewels. On the throne was seated the Emperor, dressed in a mantle of purple, upon which artistically combined diamonds and pearls formed admirable designs. Over his chest suspended to a golden chain hung a pink stone of the size of an apple. On either side were ranged the members of the Senate, in the order of their respective State functions. Kilij-Arslan, when escorted in, was astonished by such magnificence, but at length took a modest seat. During his stay at the court of Manuel, he lived in one of the palaces in the southern part of Constantinople. All the pleasures of the imperial city — equestrian combats, dramatic entertainment, spectacles of the circus, Greek fire — were offered him."

Thus the Byzantine Emperor treated the Seljuk chief who, entrenched in Iconium, was threatening all eastern Christendom, who, in 1148, had taken the city of Marash and violating his pledged words, slaughtered the knights, the Frankish bishop and priests and the major part of the populace. Instead of demonstrating to Kilij-Arslan the might of his legions, the Emperor chose to display only his wealth — which merely excited the visitor's greed and stirred him to action against the Crusaders and even the Greeks. Finally, the Emperor's worst error was that of supplying him with funds with which to turn against the Franks, but which were used against Byzantium itself.

Baron Roupen II (1175‑1187)

Roupen II, son of Stépané andº nephew of Thoros II and of Mleh, was elected by the seigneurs of Cilician Armenia to occupy the throne of the principality. The mighty Saladin, lord of Egypt and a part of Syria, was then preparing a campaign against the Crusaders. The Armenians meanwhile were threatened by Kilij-Arslan II; in fact, all the Christian principalities had to come then to grips with the Moslems. The new Baron of Cilicia feeling unequal to the struggle was constrained to buy peace in 1180; but scarcely had he withdrawn his forces from the frontiers, when the Prince of Antioch and Hetoum, the pro-Greek master of Lampron, instigated by Manuel, began hostilities against him. Roupen sent his brother Leon to surround Hetoum's mountain lair. Bohemund III,  p229 rushing to the aid of Hetoum, treacherously made Roupen prisoner, and the latter obtained his release only upon payment of 30,000 dinars as ransom and the cession to the Prince of Antioch of the cities of Adana and Mamestia.

Roupen, however, who had married Isabelle, daughter of Humphrey III, seigneur of Karak and Thoron, remained always friendly to the Crusaders in spirit. He was a just and good prince, and created many pious foundations within his domains. Shortly before his death, he abdicated in favor of his brother Leon, and retired to the monastery of Drazark.

Third Crusade moves to East

Events of the gravest import were taking place in the East at this time. Saladin captured Jerusalem on October 2nd, 1187. Edessa and Acre had already fallen to the Moslems; Tripoli and Antioch soon followed. Unless the Western powers could come to their aid, the Crusaders and Cilician Armenia were doomed to early disappearance. The Pope exerted all his energy to bring about a new expedition. Accordingly, Frederick I, "Barbarossa," the German monarch — known as head of the "Holy Roman Empire," — and the Kings of France and England were moved to action. Frederick was given the leader­ship of the Third Crusade in 1189. Reaching Asia by way of Macedonia, the great army made a halt in Cilician Armenia, with Antioch and Jerusalem as its next objectives.

Leon saw in these formidable operations a unique opportunity to extend his authority and to obtain for himself a royal crown. He dreamed of playing the part of territorial and political intermediary between the Byzantine Empire and the Latin principalities of the East. He, therefore, eagerly supplied the Third Crusaders with provisions, guides, pack animals and all manner of aid, besides pledging the cooperation of his army.

The Emperor Frederick was thus won over to Leon's cause, and promised him a crown, but a fatal accident delayed the consummation of this act. Barbarossa met his death in the icy waters of the Galycadnus River (Gheuk-sou), either in crossing it or while bathing. Leon then turned his eyes towards Frederick's successor, Henry VI, the new head of the Crusade. He also made an appeal in 1195 on the same subject, to Pope Celestine III who, as a spiritual sovereign, wielded more extensive and permanent authority.

 p230  Crusade saves Armenia from incursions

The arrival of this Crusade ushered in a new era for the Armenians. Greek legions as well as Turkish hordes ceased their incursions in Leon's domain. The necessities of a new situation were being considered by all the neighboring elements. The creation of a Kingdom of Cyprus was one of the striking signs of changing conditions. In the spring of 1191, Richard I (Lion-Hearted), King of England, who had left Sicily at the head of his crusading fleet, was forced by tempestuous weather to lay by in Cyprus, then ruled by Isaac Comnenus, a kinsman of the Greek Imperial dynasty, but who had declared himself independent of Byzantium. Being told that an English vessel had been shipwrecked upon his shores, Isaac hastened to the port of Limassol, hoping to lay his hands upon Berengaria of Navarre, the fiancée of King Richard, and Jeanne de Sicile, his sister-in‑law, whose vessel had grounded, but getting clear again, had rejoined the English fleet.

Richard I in Cyprus

Incensed at this affront, the doughty Richard disembarked at Limassol, took possession of the entire island, and seized Isaac, with his family, and his treasure. The downfall of this despot was joyously hailed by the Latins because of his acts of espionage and treason in behalf of Saladin. Blithely installing Guy de Lusignan as the first King of Cyprus, Richard then proceeded towards the Holy Land.

Byzantines antagonizing Christians

The meddling of Western nations in the affairs of the East during the first two Crusades had greatly ruffled the Greeks. They believed that any Moslem occupation of their territory would only be temporary; but they dreaded the outcome of the Crusades, especially the Third one, led by an emperor and two kings. Had they joined the Western forces, the Christian kingdoms of Syria and Cilicia would have survived, and Constantinople would probably never have fallen into the hands of a common enemy. But the fanaticism of the Greek Emperor greatly contributed to the fall of the Empire and the retrogression of world civilization.

 p231  Leon plays Greeks against Crusaders

Baron Leon displayed an astute diplomatic talent by balancing Greeks against Latins, though his ambition enough a crown induced him to lean towards the Latin side. On the other hand, Sultan Saladin had almost crushed the Western powers in the Levant, while the Greek Empire still enjoyed an imposing prestige, and, as a great ally or protector, could gratify Leon's ambition if it chose. This, however, never came about. The Armenian Church delegates who visited Constantinople in 1179 for the settlement of disputes between the sects, failed in their negotiations. The specified conditions on which Byzantine goodwill towards the Armenian nation might be obtained were these; (a) To recognize two natures in Jesus Christ; (b) To honor the fourth Council of Chalcedon; (c) To solemnize the birth of Christ on December 25th; (d) To celebrate mass with leavened bread and water mixed with wine; (e) To eliminateº the formula, "Holy God . . . that hast been crucified;" (f) The election of a new Katholikos must always be submitted to the Emperor for his sanction.1

Papacy favors Armenian kingdom

The demands of the Byzantine clergy, seconded by the Emperor, compelled the Armenian Baron to turn towards Rome, to make common cause with the Western powers and to follow their fortunes in the Near East. In Rome, the creation of a native kingdom in Asia in harmony with the Latin spirit and culture was welcomed; it would provide the Crusades with a solid base, assuring the development of Christian states in Syria and Palestine, which might in due time dominate all Anterior Asia.

Western Europe generally believed that the Byzantine Empire would not last long. It was expected or hoped that it would be replaced by a Latin state, capable of preventing the Turks from entering Europe via the Bosporus. The conquest of Spain and Sicily by the Moors and their drive to the very heart of France in the eighth century had been a serious warning to Western Christians. Leon's ambition therefore found a favorable echo in the Papal palace as well as in secular courts. It was necessary, however, for that to be moderate in its demands for changes in the Armenian Church,  p232 for the people were strongly attached to its ancient rites and customs. The clergy clung to its prerogatives, and the nobles looked askance not only at the abandonment of religious isolation, but also at the creation of a royal authority to replace the seignorial allegiance which they were capable of selling to the highest bidder whenever opportunity offered.

Leon had received while with his maternal uncle, Pagouran, an education that was more Greek than Armenian, for the lords of Baberon and Lampron had remained loyal to the Byzantine Emperors. It is significant that Leon signed his name in Greek ΛΕΟ, followed (in Armenian) by his royal title, "Tacavor Hayotz," "King of the Armenians". It was indeed through his Byzantine contact that his great political plans were developed. Aspiring to a higher and wider range of authority, he yearned to wear the purple and to treat on equal terms with emperors, sultans, khalifas and European sovereigns.

Leon labors to obtain the Crown

The negotiations dragged on for a long period. Leon appealed directly to the German Emperor, Henry VI. He also submitted his designs to other Crusader chiefs, winning the good will and support of all. Communications between Rome and himself became more frequent. The Pope received the Baron's ambassadors and sent his legates to Cilicia to discuss matters both political and religious. Already, half a century earlier, the subject of a closer relation­ship between the Armenian and Roman Catholic churches had been broached by Pope Eugenius III. Pope Lucius III sent a letter to the Armenian Katholikos, Grigor IV, Degha, in 1185, the translation of which by Nerses, Archbishop of Lambron, has been preserved.

Negotiations between Pope and Katholikos

"In the year 634 of the Armenian calendar," says the Archbishop, "came Gregory, Bishop of Philippopolis, sent by the Roman Pope Lucius to our Katholikos Gregory. He brought the answer to the letter of our master (the Katholikos) and the book containing the customs and rites of the church, in Latin script." Four years later, in 1189, a letter which Pope Clement III sent to Baron Leon, urging him to participate in the deliverance of the Holy Land, began, "Clement, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to our well-beloved  p233 son, the illustrious mountain prince, apostolic greeting and benediction."

Greeks still in opposition

This correspondence with the Papacy did not prevent Leon from negotiating at the same time with the Greek Emperor Alexius II. In 1197 he despatched Nerses, Archbishop of Lambron and Tarsus, in company with one Baron Paul, to discuss ecclesiastical questions. It was on that occasion that the Archbishop reported to Leon, "After discussion with them (the Greeks), we found them ignorant, rude and dull, obstinate like the Jews, who do not wish to serve God through rebirth by the Holy Ghost, but through the ancient Scriptures.​2 Grieved in our spiritual good-will, we returned confused and disappointed in our modest hope."

It was obvious that Leon was motivated by political interest and not by religious convictions. Had he found more tolerance in Constantinople, the Armenians would have been closer to the Greeks than to the Latins. The ritual terms which the Pope imposed upon the Armenian Church, in return for his support of Leon's ambition to kingship, were slight and acceptable. They tended still further to deepen the rift which separated the new Armenia from the Byzantine Empire.3

Leon seizes Prince of Antioch

Nevertheless, the relations between Leon and the Latins had not always been friendly. Friction was frequent, especially with the neighboring principality of Antioch, the ill-defined frontiers of which afforded easy pretexts for disputes. A climax was reached in 1194 when Baron Leon, detecting a design to attack him plotted by Bohemund III, the Prince of Antioch, forestalled his adversary by luring him to an entertainment, where he was seized and thrown into confinement in the castle of Sis. The Frankish prince was released through the intervention of Henri de Champagne, Regent of  p234 the kingdom, but only on condition that all territory taken from Roupen II should be given back to the Armenians.

Leon makes ally of Antioch

As a further step in the development of Leon's far-reaching plans, an alliance was concluded with Antioch through the marriage of the Baron's niece, Alice, with Raymond, the eldest son of Bohemund. The marriage contract stipulated that should the bride give birth to a son, the child was to inherit the throne of Antioch. A boy was born and named Raymond-Roupen; but upon the untimely death of the infant's young father in 1198, while Bohemond was still alive, the latter's younger son, the Count of Tripoli, known as Bohemund IV, "the One-Eyed," took advantage of the heir's minority and seized the throne. Leon, furious at the usurpation of the rights of his grand-nephew, took up arms in the very year when he was receiving his long-coveted royal crown.

[image ALT: An engraving of the obverses of two very similar coins, each depicting a stylized bust of a crowned man. They are coins of Artavazd and Constantin V, both rulers of Cilician Armenia.]
Artavasdus and Constantin V

The Author's Notes:

1 These specifications are recounted in a letter of Katholikos Nerses to Bishop Michael the Syrian.

2 Referring to the Old Testament.

3 The loyalty expressed in Leon's letters to Pope Innocent III may be explained by the fact of the latter's supreme authority in the political world of the age. Among the Pope's vassals were many crowned heads, such as those of Portugal, Aragon, England, Scotland, Sardinia and the Two Sicilies.

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Page updated: 12 Mar 05