Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia
The Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia was an Armenian state formed during the High Middle Ages by Armenian refugees fleeing the Seljuk invasion of Armenia. Located outside the Armenian Highlands and distinct from the Kingdom of Armenia of antiquity, it was centered in the Cilicia region northwest of the Gulf of Alexandretta.
The kingdom had its origins in the principality founded c. 1080 by the Rubenid dynasty, an alleged offshoot of the larger Bagratuni dynasty, which at various times had held the throne of Armenia. Their capital was originally at Tarsus, and later became Sis. Cilicia was a strong ally of the European Crusaders, and saw itself as a bastion of Christendom in the East. It also served as a focus for Armenian nationalism and culture, since Armenia proper was under foreign occupation at the time. Cilicia's significance in Armenian history and statehood is also attested by the transfer of the seat of the Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church, spiritual leader of the Armenian people, to the region. In 1198, with the crowning of Leo I, King of Armenia of the Rubenid dynasty, Cilician Armenia became a kingdom.
Table of Contents / Timeline
PrologueAdana, Reşatbey, Seyhan/Adana,
Armenian presence in Cilicia dates back to the first century BC, when under Tigranes the Great, the Kingdom of Armenia expanded and conquered a vast region in the Levant. In 83 BC, the Greek aristocracy of Seleucid Syria, weakened by a bloody civil war, offered their allegiance to the ambitious Armenian king. Tigranes then conquered Phoenicia and Cilicia, effectively ending the Seleucid Empire. Tigranes invaded as far southeast as the Parthian capital of Ecbatana, located in modern-day western Iran. In 27 BC, the Roman Empire conquered Cilicia and transformed it into one of its eastern provinces.
After the 395 AD partition of the Roman Empire into halves, Cilicia became incorporated into the Eastern Roman Empire, also called the Byzantine Empire. In the sixth century AD, Armenian families relocated to Byzantine territories. Many served in the Byzantine army as soldiers or as generals, and rose to prominent imperial positions.
Cilicia fell to Arab invasions in the seventh century and was entirely incorporated into the Rashidun Caliphate. However, the Caliphate failed to gain a permanent foothold in Anatolia, as Cilicia was reconquered in the year 965 by Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas. The Caliphate's occupation of Cilicia and of other areas in Asia Minor led many Armenians to seek refuge and protection further west in the Byzantine Empire, which created demographic imbalances in the region. In order to better protect their eastern territories after their reconquest, the Byzantines resorted largely to a policy of mass transfer and relocation of native populations within the Empire's borders. Nicephorus thus expelled the Muslims living in Cilicia, and encouraged Christians from Syria and Armenia to settle in the region. Emperor Basil II (976–1025) tried to expand into Armenian Vaspurakan in the east and Arab-held Syria towards the south. As a result of the Byzantine military campaigns, the Armenians spread into Cappadocia, and eastward from Cilicia into the mountainous areas of northern Syria and Mesopotamia.
The formal annexation of Greater Armenia to the Byzantine Empire in 1045 and its conquest by the Seljuk Turks 19 years later caused two new waves of Armenian migration to Cilicia. The Armenians could not re-establish an independent state in their native highland after the fall of Bagratid Armenia, as it remained under foreign occupation. Following its conquest in 1045, and in the midst of Byzantine efforts to further repopulate the Empire's east, Armenian immigration into Cilicia intensified and turned into a major socio-political movement. Armenians came to serve the Byzantines as military officers or governors, and were given control of important cities on the Byzantine Empire's eastern frontier. The Seljuks also played a significant role in the Armenian population movement into Cilicia. In 1064, the Seljuk Turks led by Alp Arslan made their advance towards Anatolia by capturing Ani in Byzantine-held Armenia. Seven years later, they earned a decisive victory against Byzantium by defeating Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes' army at Manzikert, north of Lake Van. Alp Arslan's successor, Malik-Shah I, further expanded the Seljuk Empire and levied repressive taxes on the Armenian inhabitants. After Catholicos Gregory II the Martyrophile's assistant and representative, Parsegh of Cilicia's solicitation, the Armenians obtained a partial reprieve, but Malik's succeeding governors continued levying taxes. This led the Armenians to seek refuge in Byzantium and in Cilicia. Some Armenian leaders set themselves up as sovereign lords, while others remained, at least in name, loyal to the Empire. The most successful of these early Armenian warlords was Philaretos Brachamios, a former Byzantine general who was alongside Romanus Diogenes at Manzikert. Between 1078 and 1085, Philaretus built a principality stretching from Malatia in the north to Antioch in the south, and from Cilicia in the west to Edessa in the east. He invited many Armenian nobles to settle in his territory, and gave them land and castles. But Philaretus's state began to crumble even before his death in 1090, and ultimately disintegrated into local lordships.
Lord of the MountainsAndırın, Kahramanmaraş, Turkey
One of the princes who came after Philaretos' invitation was Ruben, who had close ties with the last Bagratid Armenian king, Gagik II. Ruben was alongside the Armenian ruler Gagik when he went to Constantinople upon the Byzantine emperor's request. Instead of negotiating peace, however, the king was forced to cede his Armenian lands and live in exile. Gagik was later assassinated by Greeks. In 1080, soon after this assassination, Ruben organized a band of Armenian troops and revolted against the Byzantine Empire. He was joined by many other Armenian lords and nobles. Thus, in 1080, the foundations of the independent Armenian princedom of Cilicia, and the future kingdom, were laid under Ruben's leadership. He began leading bold and successful military campaigns against the Byzantines, and on one occasion he culminated his venture with the capture of the fortress of Pardzerpert which became a stronghold of the Roupenian dynasty.
Seljuks conquer the Armenian HighlandsArmenian Highlands, Gergili, E
Malik Shah I conquered much of northern Syria and the Armenian Highlands where he installed new governors who levied repressive taxes on the Armenian inhabitants. Thus the sufferings endured by the Armenians at the hands of the Seljuks became the impetus for many of the Armenians to seek refuges and sanctuaries in Byzantine Anatolia and Cilicia throughout the second half of the 11th century.
Reign of Constantine IFeke, İslam, Feke/Adana, Turke
By 1090, Ruben was not capable of leading his troops, therefore his son Constantine inherited his command and conquered the castle of Vahka. The mastery of this mountain defile made possible the assessment of taxes on merchandise transported from the port of Ayas towards the central part of Asia Minor, a source of wealth to which the Roupenians owed their power.
After his father’s death in 1095, Constantine extended his power eastward towards the Anti-Taurus Mountains. As an Armenian Christian ruler in the Levant, he helped the forces of the First Crusade maintain the siege of Antioch until it fell to the crusaders. The crusaders, for their part, duly appreciated the aid of their Armenian allies: Constantin was honored with gifts, the title of "marquis", and a knighthood.
First CrusadeAleppo, Syria
During the reign of Constantine I, the First Crusade took place. An army of Western European Christians marched through Anatolia and Cilicia on their way to Jerusalem. The Armenians in Cilicia gained powerful allies among the Frankish Crusaders, whose leader, Godfrey de Bouillon, was considered a savior for the Armenians. Constantine saw the Crusaders' arrival as a one-time opportunity to consolidate his rule of Cilicia by eliminating the remaining Byzantine strongholds in the region. With the Crusaders' help, they secured Cilicia from the Byzantines and Turks, both by direct military actions in Cilicia and by establishing Crusader states in Antioch, Edessa, and Tripoli. The Armenians also helped the Crusaders.
To show their appreciation to their Armenian allies, the Crusaders honored Constantine with the titles of Comes and Baron. The friendly relationship between the Armenians and Crusaders was cemented by frequent intermarriages. For instance, Joscelin I, Count of Edessa married the daughter of Constantine, and Baldwin, brother of Godfrey, married Constantine's niece, daughter of his brother T'oros. The Armenians and Crusaders were part allies, part rivals for the two centuries to come.
Toros takes the Castle of SisKozan, Adana, Turkey
Toros succeeded his father Constantine I and ruled from the fortresses of Vahka and Pardzepert (today Andırın in Turkey). Encouraged by Tancred, Prince of Antioch, Toros followed the course of the Pyramus River (today the river Ceyhan in Turkey), and seized the strongholds of Anazarbus and Sis (ancient city). Toros extensively rebuilt the fortifications at both fortresses with tall circuit walls and massive round towers.
Blood RevengeSoğanlı, Yeşilhisar/Kayseri, T
Toros, who had relentlessly pursued the murderers of King Gagik II, laid an ambush for them at their castle, Cyzistra (Kizistra. At an opportune time, his infantry surprised the garrison and occupied the castle, plundered it then took blood revenge by killing all its inhabitants. The three brothers (the assassins of Gagik II) were taken captive and forced to produce Gagik’s kingly sword and his royal apparel taken at the time of the murder. One of the brothers was beaten to death by Toros who justified his brutal action by exclaiming that such monsters did not deserve to perish by the quick plunge of a dagger.
Battle of MamistraMamistra, Eski Misis, Yüreğir/
Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos sent his troops in order to expand the empire. 12,000 troops under Andronikos Komnenos traveled to Cilicia. Many Armenian noblemen from Western Cilicia left Thoros' control and joined the Byzantine troops. Andronikos rejected Thoros' offer of a truce, vowing that he would destroy the Armenian kingdom and imprison Thoros the same way as the Byzantines had done to Levon I, Thoros' father. The Byzantines besieged the Armenians.
Under the leadership of Thoros and his brothers, Stephen and Mleh, launched a surprise attack from the besieged city during a rainy night and defeated the Byzantines. Andronikos left his army and went to Antioch. Niketas Choniates claims that the Armenian soldiers were braver and more skilled than those of the Byzantine army. The Byzantines had to ransom their captured soldiers and generals. Surprisingly, Thoros gave the reward to his soldiers. Most of the Armenian noblemen who joined the Byzantine troops were killed during the battle.
The battle had a large impact on the independence of Armenian Cilicia, as the battle strengthened the position of the Armenians in Cilicia and created realistic opportunities for the creation of a new, formally and factually independent Armenian state in Cilicia.
Armenian Kingdom of CiliciaTarsus, Mersin, Turkey
Prince Levon II, one of Levon I's grandsons and brother of Ruben III, acceded the throne in 1187. At the time, Saladin of Egypt defeated the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which led to the Third Crusade. Prince Levon II profited from the situation by improving relations with the Europeans. Cilician Armenia's prominence in the region is attested by letters sent in 1189 by Pope Clement III to Levon and to Catholicos Gregory IV, in which he asks Armenian military and financial assistance to the crusaders. Thanks to the support given to Levon by the Holy Roman Emperors (Frederick Barbarossa, and his son, Henry VI), he elevated the princedom's status to a kingdom.
On January 6, 1198, the day Armenians celebrate Christmas, Prince Levon II was crowned with great solemnity in the cathedral of Tarsus. By securing his crown, he became the first King of Armenian Cilicia as King Levon I. The Rubenids consolidated their power by controlling strategic roads with fortifications that extended from the Taurus Mountains into the plain and along the borders, including the baronial and royal castles at Sis, Anavarza, Vahka, Vaner/Kovara, Sarvandikar, Kuklak, T‛il Hamtun, Hadjin, and Gaban (modern Geben).
Armenian vassalage to the MongolsKarakorum, Mongolia
During the rule of Zabel and Het'um, the Mongols under Genghis Khan and his successor Ögedei Khan rapidly expanded from Central Asia and reached the Middle East, conquering Mesopotamia and Syria in their advance towards Egypt. On June 26, 1243, they secured a decisive victory at Köse Dağ against the Seljuk Turks. The Mongol conquest was disastrous for Greater Armenia, but not Cilicia, as Het'um preemptively chose to cooperate with the Mongols. He sent his brother Smbat to the Mongol court of Karakorum in 1247 to negotiate an alliance. He returned in 1250 with an agreement guaranteeing the integrity of Cilicia, as well as the promise of Mongol aid to recapture forts seized by the Seljuks. Despite his sometimes-burdensome military commitments to the Mongols, Het’um had the financial resources and political autonomy to build new and impressive fortifications, such as the castle at Tamrut. In 1253, Het'um himself visited the new Mongol ruler Möngke Khan at Karakorum. He was received with great honors and promised freedom from taxation of the Armenian churches and monasteries located in Mongol territory.
Mongol invasion of Syria and MesopotamiaDamascus, Syria
Military collaboration between the Armenians and the Mongols began in 1258-1260, when Hethum I, Bohemond VI, and the Georgians combined forces with the Mongols under Hulagu in the Mongol invasion of Syria and Mesopotamia. In 1258, the combined forces conquered the center of the most powerful Islamic dynasty in existence at that time, that of the Abbasids in the siege of Baghdad. From there, the Mongol forces and their Christian allies conquered Muslim Syria, domain of the Ayyubid Dynasty. They took the city of Aleppo with the help of the Franks of Antioch, and on March 1, 1260, under the Christian general Kitbuqa, they also took Damascus.
Disaster of MariKırıkhan, Hatay, Turkey
The conflict started when the Mamluk Sultan Baibars, seeking to take advantage of the weakened Mongol domination, sent a 30,000 strong army to Cilicia and demanded that Hethum I of Armenia abandon his allegiance to the Mongols, accept himself as a suzerain, and give to the Mamluks the territories and fortresses Hetoum has acquired through his alliance with the Mongols. At the time however, Hetoum I was in Tabriz, having gone to the Mongol court of the Il-Khan in Persia to obtain military support. During his absence, the Mamluks marched on Cilician Armenia, led by Al-Mansur Ali and the Mamluk commander Qalawun. Hetoum I's two sons, Leo (the future king Leo II) and Thoros, led the defense by strongly manning the fortresses at the entrance of the Cilician territory with a 15,000 strong army.
The confrontation took place at Mari, near Darbsakon on 24 August 1266, where the heavily outnumbered Armenians were unable to resist the much larger Mamluk forces. Thoros was killed in battle, and Leo was captured and imprisoned. The Armeno-Mongol son of the Constable Sempad, named Vasil Tatar, was also taken prisoner by the Mamluks and was taken into captivity with Leo, although they are reported to have been treated well. Het'um ransomed Leo for a high price, giving the Mamluks control of many fortresses and a large sum of money.
Following their victory, the Mamluks invaded Cilicia, ravaging the three great cities of the Cilician plain: Mamistra, Adana and Tarsus, as well as the harbour of Ayas. Another group of Mamluks under Mansur took the capital of Sis which was sacked and burnt, thousands of Armenians were massacred and 40,000 taken captive.
Cilicia earthquakeAdana, Reşatbey, Seyhan/Adana,
The Cilicia earthquake occurred northeast of the city of Adana in 1268. Over 60,000 people perished in the Armenian Kingdom of Ciliciain southern Asia Minor
Second Mamluk InvasionTarsus, Mersin, Turkey
An army led by the emirs of the Mamluk Sultan invaded the country without pretext and faced Armenians who had no means of resistance. The city of Tarsus was taken, the royal palace and the church of Saint Sophia was burned, the state treasury was looted, 15,000 civilians were killed, and 10,000 were taken captive to Egypt. Almost the entire population of Ayas, Armenian, and Frankish perished.
Truce with the MamluksTarsus, Mersin, Turkey
Following the defeat of the Mongols and the Armenians under Möngke Temur by the Mamluks at the Second Battle of Homs, a truce was forced on Armenia. Further, in 1285, following a powerful offensive push by Qalawun, the Armenians had to sign a ten-year truce under harsh terms. The Armenians were obligated to cede many fortresses to the Mamluks and were prohibited to rebuild their defensive fortifications. Cilician Armenia was forced to trade with Egypt, thereby circumventing a trade embargo imposed by the pope. Moreover, the Mamluks were to receive an annual tribute of one million dirhams from the Armenians. The Mamluks, despite the above, continued to raid Cilician Armenia on numerous occasions. In 1292, it was invaded by Al-Ashraf Khalil, the Mamluk sultan of Egypt, who had conquered the remnants of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in Acre the year before. Hromkla was also sacked, forcing the Catholicossate to move to Sis. Het'um was forced to abandon Behesni, Marash, and Tel Hamdoun to the Turks. In 1293, he abdicated in favor of his brother T'oros III, and entered the monastery of Mamistra.
Battle of Wadi al-KhaznadarHoms, حمص، Syria
In the summer of 1299, Het'um I's grandson, King Het'um II, again facing threats of attack by the Mamluks, asked the Mongol khan of Persia, Ghâzân, for his support. In response, Ghâzân marched towards Syria and invited the Franks of Cyprus (the King of Cyprus, the Templars, the Hospitallers, and the Teutonic Knights), to join his attack on the Mamluks. The Mongols took the city of Aleppo, where they were joined by King Het'um. His forces included Templars and Hospitallers from the kingdom of Armenia, who participated in the rest of the offensive. The combined force defeated the Mamluks in the Battle of Wadi al-Khazandar, on December 23, 1299. The bulk of the Mongol army was then obligated to retreat. In their absence, the Mamluks regrouped, and regained the area in May 1300.
Last Mongol invasion of SyriaDamascus, Syria
In 1303, the Mongols tried to conquer Syria once again in larger numbers (approximately 80,000) along with the Armenians, but they were defeated at Homs on March 30, 1303, and during the decisive Battle of Shaqhab, south of Damascus, on April 21, 1303.It is considered to be the last major Mongol invasion of Syria. When Ghazan died on May 10, 1304, all hope of reconquest of the Holy Land died in conjunction.
Murder of Hetum and LeoDilekkaya
Both the King Leo and Hetum met with Bularghu, the Mongol representative in Cilicia, at his camp just outside Anazarba. Bularghu, a recent convert to Islam, murdered the entire Armenian party. Oshin, brother of Het'um, immediately marched against Bularghu to retaliate and vanquished him, forcing him to leave Cilicia. Bulargu was executed by Oljeitu for his crime at the request of the Armenians. Oshin was crowned new king of Cilician Armenia upon his return to Tarsus.
Lusignan dynastyTarsus, Mersin, Turkey
In 1342, Levon's cousin Guy de Lusignan, was anointed king as Constantine II, King of Armenia. Guy de Lusignan and his younger brother John were considered pro-Latin and deeply committed to the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church in the Levant. As kings, the Lusignans attempted to impose Catholicism and the European ways. The Armenian nobles largely accepted this, but the peasantry opposed the changes, which eventually led to civil strife.
End of the KingdomKozan, Adana, Turkey
From 1343 to 1344, a time when the Armenian population and its feudal rulers refused to adapt to the new Lusignan leadership and its policy of Latinizing the Armenian Church, Cilicia was again invaded by the Mamluks, who were intent on territorial expansion. Frequent appeals for help and support were made by the Armenians to their co-religionists in Europe, and the kingdom was also involved in planning new crusades. Amidst failed Armenian pleas for help from Europe, the fall of Sis to the Mamluks in 1374 and the fortress of Gaban in 1375, where King Levon V, his daughter Marie, and her husband Shahan had taken refuge, put an end to the kingdom.
Although the Mamluks had taken over Cilicia, they were unable to hold it. Turkic tribes settled there, leading to the conquest of Cilicia led by Timur. As a result, 30,000 wealthy Armenians left Cilicia and settled in Cyprus, still ruled by the Lusignan dynasty until 1489. Many merchant families also fled westward and founded or joined with existing diaspora communities in France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Spain. Only the humbler Armenians remained in Cilicia. They nevertheless maintained their foothold in the region throughout Turkish rule.
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