The Kingdom of Cilician Armenia

by Sirarpie Der Nersessian

Chapter XVIII

A History of the Crusades, vol. II
K. M. Setton, Editor-in-Chief
(Philadelphia, 1962)
pp. 630-659*

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*This work is presented solely for non-commercial educational/research purposes.

[630] In the course of the eleventh century large numbers of the Armenian population left their homeland and migrated west and southwest of the Euphrates, to regions already settled by Armenians at an earlier period. The first important wave of emigrants accompanied the kings of Vaspurkan, Ani, and Kars, and other [631] minor rulers whose lands had been seized by the Byzantine emperors and who had been granted, in return, domains in Cappadocia and Asia Minor. A second wave followed the conquest of Armenia by the Selchukid Turks and the disaster of Manzikert in 1071 (1). It is probable that by far the greater number of those who fled the Turkish domination sought refuge in the cities and regions of the Taurus, the Anti-Taurus, and northern Syria held by Armenian chieftains, where they were joined towards the end of the century by some Armenians of Cappadocia who moved southward after the death of the last Armenian kings. A considerable number still remained, however, north of the Taurus; according to the Gesta when the crusaders approached Caesarea of Cappadocia (Kayseri) they entered "the country of the Armenians", and when they reached Comana and Coxon they were welcomed by the Armenian population of these cities.

In order to secure the defense of their eastern borders, the Byzantine emperors had appointed some Armenians as governors of important cities, entrusted them with the command of their armies, or ceded large tracts of land to them. But gradually, taking advantage of the unsettled conditions of these outer regions and the weakening of the central authority, some of these chieftains had broken the ties that bound them to the empire. At the time of the [632] First Crusade there were many such chieftains, some in key positions, who gave important assistance to the Latin armies. The governor of Melitene, Gabriel, was an Armenian of the Greek Orthodox faith whose daughter Morfia married Baldwin of Le Bourg. The Armenian Constantine was lord of Gargar. Tatoul had been appointed governor of Marash by Alexius Comnenus and was confirmed in this position by the crusaders. Ablgharib (Abu-l-Gharib) was master of Bira (Birejik). At Edessa, where the Armenian element was particularly numerous, the governor was Toros, son-in-law of Gabriel of Melitene, who had received the title curopalates from Alexius Comnenus.

However, the most important chieftain in these parts had been Philaretus, whose authority, at the time of his greatest power, between 1078 and 1085, had extended over a vast area which comprised the cities of Melitene, Marash, Edessa, and Antioch. After the death of Philaretus, the remnants of his armies gathered around Kogh Vasil, ruler of Kesoun and Raban, who for a time also held Hromgla. Among those who fought at his side was Dgha Vasil, whom he adopted and who succeeded him.

The Armenian possessions in Cilicia, which were to endure much longer than these ephemeral principalities, were at first far less important. Here also the Armenian immigration had begun at a fairly early date. The historian Mkhitar of Ayrivank' records that in the first years of the tenth century fifty noblemen of Sasoun, fleeing from the Turks, had crossed the Taurus; doubtless they were accompanied by their followers as well as by their families. By the latter part of the century the Armenians of Cilicia and northern Syria were sufficiently numerous to warrant the appointment of a bishop at Tarsus and of another at Antioch (2). This increase in the population coincided with the Byzantine reconquest and, according to Bar Hebraeus, the Byzantines stationed the Armenians "in the fortresses which were in Cilicia, and which they took from the Arabs." No names of Armenian officials are recalled, however, before the second half of the eleventh century, when the population had been further increased by the arrival of new immigrants from Cappadocia and Armenia. When in 1067 the Turks, having pillaged Iconium, were returning home by way of Cilicia, Romanus Diogenes, in order to stop them, sent the commander of Antioch, the Armenian Khachadour, to Mamistra, but there is no mention of any local Armenian chieftain. There may have been an Armenian governor at Tarsus before 1072, for according to the Cilician [633] Chronicle, whose account differs from that of Matthew of Edessa, the anti-catholicus George came there, seeking the protection of Kakig, son of Kourken. Nothing further is known about this Kakig, and a few years later, in 1079, the governor of Tarsus was Ablgharib.

Ablgharib belonged to a family which had long been in the service of Byzantium. His grandfather, Khoul Khachig, prince of the region of Tornavan in the province of Vaspurkan, was a vassal of the Byzantine emperors; his father, Hasan, had served under Michael V; and Ablgharib himself had received the governorship of Tarsus from Michael VII. Ablgharib also held the two important forts of western Cilicia, Babaron and Lampron, which he ceded later to one of his generals, Oshin, founder of the powerful feudal family of the Hetoumids.

Some modern historians have identified Oshin I with the general Aspietes, whose exploits are told by Anna Comnena, and with Ursinus, mentioned by Radulf of Caen and Albert of Aix (Aachen), and have credited him with all their deeds. But as Laurent has convincingly proved, there are no valid grounds for this identification and very little is known about him (3). According to Samuel of Ani, Oshin had left his hereditary possessions in the region of Ganja in 1073, had come to Cilicia accompanied by his family and his followers, and had wrested Lampron from the Saracens. But the Armenian sources that are closer to the Heroumids speak of him merely as one of the faithful chieftains of Ablgharib to whom the latter ceded Lampron (4), while Matthew of Edessa and the Cilician Chronicle mention him only in passing, together with two other princelings who came to the assistance of the crusaders when they crossed the Taurus.

The early history of the rival family of the Roupenids is equally obscure. Samuel of Ani considers Roupen I a relative of the last Bagratid ruler, but he was, in all probability, a chieftain of minor importance who, some time after the death of king Gagik (1071), had settled in the region of Gobidara, where we find his son Constantine in the last years of the eleventh century (5). It was this Constantine who, by seizing, in 1091, the castle of Vahka on the Gok river, laid the foundations of Roupenid rule in Cilicia. We [634] do not know the actual extent of his possessions. The historians speak in vague terms of his capture of many castles from the Turks; he probably had control over part of the mountainous region southwest of Vahka, perhaps as far as the Cilician Gates, for the Cilician Chronicle in referring to a letter sent by Constantine and Toros of Edessa to the crusaders seems to imply that the peaceful passage through Podandus was due to the influence of these two men (6). Constantine, Oshin of Lampron, and Pazouni, as well as the monks living in the Black Mountains, in the Taurus, provisioned the crusaders during the siege of Antioch, and they all welcomed as liberators the Christian armies who had come to flght against the Moslems. These feelings are reflected in the colophons of contemporary Armenian manuscripts; the scribes hail the "valiant nation from the west" whose arrival shows that "God has visited his people according to his promise", they speak again of "the valiant nation of the Franks who. ..through divine inspiration and the solicitude of the omnipotent God took Antioch and Jerusalem" (7). The crusaders, too, were happy to find a friendly population and at first rewarded the services rendered to them, but the cordial relations lasted only as long as the interests of both parties did not clash.

In order to obtain a clear idea of future development in the Armenian principality, one should consider the outstanding geographical features of Cilicia. The Armenian possessions, though limited, were of strategic importance. A son-in-law of Oshin who had succeeded Ablgharib at Tarsus was not able to hold it against the Turks, but the fortresses of Babaron and Lampron, erected on crags at the foot of Bulgar Dagh, could not be taken. Thus the Hetoumids commanded the southern exit of the Cilician Gates, the route which led directly to Tarsus. Vassals of Byzantium, to which they remained faithful, they do not seem to have had marked ambition for territorial expansion. In the long struggle with the Roupenids, which came to an end only through the marriage of Hetoum I to the daughter and heiress of Leon II, the Roupenids were almost always the aggressors, and when the Hetoumids attacked it was usually within the framework of Byzantine invasions and not as an independent act. The aim of the Roupenids, on the other hand, was to become masters of Cilicia.

The Cilician plain is divided into two main parts: the lower or western plain stretches from the foothills of the Taurus to the sea, [635] and is watered by the Cydnus, Sarus, and Pyramus; its principal cities in the medieval period were Adana and especially Tarsus; Seleucia was its chief port. The upper or eastern plain is separated from the western and the sea by the ridge called Jabal Nur. The city of Mamistra commands the passage of the Pyramus on its way from the upper to the lower plain; Anazarba and Sis are farther north on tributaries of the Pyramus. To the east the plain is limited by the range of the Amanus, and it is here that Cilicia was more vulnerable, for the passes which lead into Syria are broader and shorter than the famous Cilician Gates.

The policy followed, with varying fortunes, by the Roupenid princes was determined to a great extent by the configuration of the land. It was an absolute economic necessity to descend from the mountain strongholds into the arable lands of the plain; to have control of the large cities which were situated on the trade routes; to reach the coast and have an outlet on the sea. To protect themselves from attacks from the northwest and west complete control of the Cilician Gates was essential, and this brought them into conflict with the Hetoumids; to safeguard their eastern borders control of the passes of the Amanus was essential, and this brought them into conflict with Antioch. But their principal adversary during the entire twelfth century was Byzantium, to which Cilicia belonged.

Toros I (1100-1129), the son and successor of Constantine, proceeded carefully. He refrained from taking part in the struggle between the Greeks and Latins over the possession of the principal cities of the plain, and captured only Anazarba. He strengthened that city and made it the seat of his barony; he erected a church dedicated to St. George and St. Theodore on the ruined remains of which part of his dedicatory inscription is still visible. He remained on good terms with the Byzantines in spite of the seizure of Anazarba and the plunder and destruction of Heraclea, where he killed the sons of Mandale to avenge the murder of king Gagik. His chief concern, however, was to maintain friendly relations with the Latin princes who had been enlarging their possessions at the expense of the Armenians.

In 1098 Baldwin of Boulogne became master of Edessa, following the murder of Toros by the populace. In 1104 Tatoul of Marash, after successfully resisting the attacks of Bohemond I and his kinsman Richard of the Principate, was forced to cede the city to Joscelin I of Courtenay. Between the years 1115 and 1118 Baldwin of Le Bourg seized the domains of Dgha Vasil and those of [636] Ablgharib, lord of Bira; he imprisoned Constantine of Gargar in the fortress of Samosata, where he died; he captured Ravendan near Cyrrhus, and the territories ruled by Pakrad (8). Thus, with minor exceptions, all the Armenian possessions outside Cilicia passed into Latin hands, and it must have become evident to Toros I that if he wished to remain free and master of his lands, he would have to be careful not to antagonize his powerful and ambitious neighbors.

Therefore, realizing the weakness of his position, he pursued a cautious policy. His land had been plundered by the Moslems in 1107 and again in 1110/1111 when a larger army descended on Anazarba without meeting any resistance. Toros kept aloof also from the battles fought against the Turks in 1112/1113 within his own territories, but in 1118 he took part in the siege and capture of 'Azaz by Roger of Antioch, sending a contingent of troops under the leadership of his brother Leon. Toros gave assistance also to Arab, one of the sons of Kilij Arslan I, when Arab revolted against his brother Mas'ud. Mas'ud was the son-in-law and ally of Gumushtigin Ghazi, the Danishmendid, which was probably the principal reason for the Danishmendid invasion of Cilicia early in the reign of Leon I (1129-1137). While Gumushtigin Ghazi was invading from the north, Bohemond II of Antioch entered Cilicia from the east. The reasons for the break with Antioch are not known; the anonymous Syrian Chronicle reports that Armenian brigands had been plundering the lands of Gumushtigin Ghazi and that Bohemond had suffered similarly. The two invading armies, unaware of one another's advance, met in the plain north of Mamistra, and Bohemond was killed in the encounter. While the Franks, deprived of their leader, hastily retreated, Leon occupied the passes and killed many of the fugitives. Gumushtigin Ghazi withdrew without pursuing Leon, but returned the following year (1131), seized several forts, and imposed a tribute on the Armenians.

Leon did not long remain inactive. In 1132, taking advantage of the fact that both Gumushtigin Ghazi and the Franks were occupied elsewhere, he seized Mamistra, Adana, and Tarsus, and he followed these conquests in 1135 with the capture of Sarvantikar, a fortress built near the point of convergence of the northern routes that crossed the Amanus. His growing power, and especially the foothold he had gained on the Syrian border, alarmed the Franks; the combined forces of Raymond of Poitiers, the new prince of Antioch, and Baldwin of Marash, with contingents sent by king Fulk of Jerusalem, entered Cilicia. Leon, assisted by his nephew [637] Joscelin II of Edessa, was at first able to withstand their attack, but finally was surprised in an ambush and was taken to Antioch. His captivity lasted only two months. The menace of a Byzantine expedition, directed against Antioch as well as Cilicia, probably hastened his release and, according to Cinnamus, the Latins and Armenians even established some kind of alliance against the Greeks.

As soon as he was set free, Leon rushed to the western borders of Cilicia and laid siege to Seleucia in the vain hope of stopping the Greek advance, but was soon forced to raise the siege. In a rapid march across the plain John Comnenus recovered Tarsus, Adana, Mamistra, and finally Anazarba, Leon's only point of stiff resistance. John also took Tall Hamdun and, without pausing to pursue Leon and his sons, who had fled to the mountains, marched on Antioch. The conquest of Cilicia was completed in the winter of 1137-1138; Vahka fell in spite of its strong position and the prowess of a nobleman called Constantine; the fort of Raban and the surrounding areas were also seized (9). Leon, his wife, and two of his sons, Roupen and Toros, were carried in chains to Constantinople, and Armenian rule in Cilicia seemed destroyed for ever.

Very little is known about internal conditions during the Byzantine occu pation. The Greek garrisons do not seem to have been very strong, for even before John's return to Constantinople, while he was besieging Shaizar, the Selchukid Mas'ud had seized and held Adana for a short time, carrying some of its inhabitants as captives to Melitene; and in 1138-1139 the Danishmendid emir Muhammad took Vahka and Gaban and various localities in the region of Garmirler (Red Mountains). But, with the captivity of Leon I, the center of Armenian resistance was destroyed; the only strong princes who remained in Cilicia, the Hetoumids and their allies, were vassals of Byzantium and always faithful to their suzerain. John crossed Cilicia peacefully at the time of his second expedition to the east (1142). When, after his death and the departure of his son Manuel, Raymond of Antioch captured some of the castles along the Syrian border, the Armenians of that area took no part in the battle, nor did they when the Byzantine forces sent by Manuel defeated Raymond.

However, the situation was soon to change. Leon's younger son, Toros, had been allowed to live at the imperial court after the [638] deaths of his father and his brother Roupen. He was then able to make useful contacts and to escape, probably in 1145. Neither the circumstances of his escape nor those of his arrival in Cilicia are clearly known; legendary and romantic stories distorted the facts and several traditions were already current in the following century. Toros probably came by sea to the principality of Antioch and entered Cilicia secretly. A Jacobite priest, Mar Athanasius, is reported to have led him by night to Amoudain, a castle on the river Pyramus, southeast of Anazarba, and from there he proceeded to the mountainous region which had been the stronghold of his family but which was still held by the Turks. He lived there in disguise, and little by little rallied around him the Armenians of this eastern section of Cilicia. His brother Stephen (Sdefane'), who had been living at the court of his cousin Joscelin II of Edessa, also joined him, and in the course of a few years Toros recovered Vahka, the castles in the vicinity of Anazarba such as Amoudain, Simanagla, and Arioudzpert, and finally Anazarba, the seat of the Roupenid barony. These conquests were probably completed by 1148, the date given by Michael the Syrian and Bar Hebraeus for the beginning of Toros II's reign.

Toros and his small band had fought with great courage and energy, and the general situation in the Levant had favored him. His Latin neighbors had not fully recovered from the destruction of Edessa and the losses suffered during the siege of Antioch; above all, the growing power of Nur-ad-Din forced them to concentrate their efforts on the defense of their own principalities. Joscelin II of Edessa, the most powerful Latin prince of this area, was Toros's friend, and the ties between the two cousins were further strengthened when Toros married the daughter of Simon of Raban, one of Joscelin's vassals.

Toros had also been free from Moslem attacks. The armies of 'Ain-ad-Daulah, Kara Arslan, Mas'ud, and Nur-ad-Din had seized the territories once held by Kogh Vasil, but they did not enter Cilicia. Toros was thus able to strengthen his position. About the year 1151 he took Tall Hamdun and Mamistra, imprisoning the governor, Thomas.

If the immediate neighbors of Cilicia were too busy to interfere with Toros's progress, Byzantium could not allow him to keep the cities still claimed by the empire (10). In 1152 a Byzantine army under [639] the command of Manuel's cousin Andronicus Comnenus, supported by contingents from the Armenian chieftains of western Cilicia, besieged Mamistra. Toros sallied forth under cover of darkness, routed the Byzantine army, and took many prisoners. Andronicus fled to Antioch and from there returned to Constantinople. Among the prisoners were three of Byzantium's principal Armenian allies: Oshin II of Lampron, Vasil of Partzapert, and Dikran of Bragana; Oshin's brother, Sempad of Babaron, was killed in battle. Oshin was released after he had paid half of a ransom of 40,000 tahegans and left his young son Hetoum as hostage. A marriage was negotiated between Hetoum and one of the daughters of Toros, who agreed to forego the remainder of Oshin's ransom, counting it as his daughter's dowry.

Toros II was now master of a large section of the plain. No new expedition was sent to Cilicia; Manuel tried instead an indirect method of defeating Toros. At Manuel's instigation Mas'ud of Iconium invaded Cilicia; he demanded that Taros recognize him as his suzerain and that Toros return to the Greeks the cities he had captured. Taros agreed to do the first, and since this was the only condition which directly interested Mas'ud, he withdrew without further resort to arms. However, after Toros raided Cappadocia in the winter or early spring of 1154, Mas'ud was quite ready to listen to Manuel's renewed request, which was accompanied by costly gifts. The Moslem armies met with severe reverses. Toros's brother Stephen, assisted by the Templars of Baghras (Gaston), surprised the general Ya'qub in the Syrian Gates, killed him, and routed his men. A terrible plague of gnats and flies decimated the Selchukid forces before Tall Hamdun, and the remnants of the army were destroyed by Toros on his return from a raid into enemy territory that had reached as far as Gabadonia (11).

The Byzantine plans had failed once again. Toros established cordial relations with Ma'sud's successor Kilij Arslan II. When Stephen seized Coxon and Pertous, and supported the Christian population of Behesni, who had been aroused by the cruel treatment of their new governor, Toros recovered Pertous by a ruse and returned the city to Kilij Arslan. On his part Kilij Arslan, anxious to rally forces against Nur-ad-Din, made every effort to maintain peace with his Christian neighbors, and even sent ambassadors to Toros, as well as to Antioch and Jerusalem, with the idea of forming an alliance.

Seeing that he could no longer count on the Selchukids, Manuel turned to the Latins; he promised Reginald of Antioch to defray his campaign expenses if he would march against Toros, but once again, Byzantium did not obtain the desired results. For, having seized the castles of the Amanus taken by Toros from the Greeks, Reginald ceded them to the Templars, their previous owners, and when Manuel failed to send the promised sums, Reginald reversed his stand, allied himself with Toros, and the two princes raided Cyprus (1155). Toros remained on good terms with the Latins, and in 1157 took part in the allied attack on Shaizar and Harim.

Byzantium did not immediately react to the plunder of Cyprus; the expedition prepared in great secret a few years later (1158) took Toros and Reginald completely by surprise. Warned by a Latin pilgrim, Toros had barely time to flee to a small castle built on an almost inaccessible crag called Dajig. The Byzantine armies swept through the Cilician plain without meeting any resistance. Reginald, fearing the emperor's revenge, proceeded to Mamistra dressed in a penitent's garb, and humbled himself before Manuel, promising to remain his vassal and to cede the citadel of Antioch. Shortly thereafter Toros also arrived dressed as a penitent; the Templars and Baldwin III, who in the meantime had come from Jerusalem, interceded for him. Toros promised submission; he presented to the emperor abundant supplies and horses for the army, and received his pardon; Manuel is said even to have bestowed upon him the title sebastos.

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