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The Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia (also known as Little Armenia, Kingdom of Lesser Armenia (incorrectly), Cilician Kingdom, New Armenia; Classical Armenian: Կիլիկիոյ Հայկական Թագաւորութիւն, not to be confused with the Armenian Kingdom of Antiquity) was a state formed in the Middle Ages by Armenian refugees fleeing the Seljuk invasion of Armeniamarker. It was located on the Gulf of Alexandrettamarker of the Mediterranean Seamarker in what is today southern Turkeymarker. The kingdom remained independent from around 1078 to 1375.

The Kingdom of Cilicia was founded by the Rubenian dynasty, an offshoot of the larger Bagratid family that at various times held the thrones of Armenia and Georgiamarker. Their capital was at first Tarsusmarker, after Sismarker. 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 was under foreign occupation at the time.

King Levon I of Armenia helped cultivate Cilicia's economy and commerce as its interaction with European traders grew. Major cities and castles of the kingdom included the port of Korikosmarker, Lampron, Partzerpertmarker, Vahkamarker (modern Feke), Hromklamarker, Tarsusmarker, Anazarbemarker, Til Hamdounmarker, Mamistra (modern Yakapınar: the classical Mopsuestia), Adanamarker and the port of Ayas (Aias) which served as a Western terminal to the East. The Pisans, Genoese and Venetiansmarker established colonies in Ayas through treaties with Cilician Armenia in the thirteenth century. Marco Polo, for example, set out on his journey to Chinamarker from Ayas in 1271.

Early Armenian links with Cilicia

For a short time in the 1st century BC the powerful kingdom of Armenia was able to conquer a vast region in the Levant, including the area of Cilicia. In 83 BC, after a bloody strife for the throne of Syria, governed by the Seleucids, the Greek aristocracy of Syria decided to choose the Armenian ruler Tigranes the Great as the protector of their kingdom and offered him the crown of Syriamarker. Tigranes then conquered Phoeniciamarker and Cilicia, effectively putting an end to the Seleucid Empire, though a few holdout cities appear to have recognized the shadowy boy-king Seleucus VII Philometor as the legitimate king during his reign. The southern border of his domain reached as far as Ptolemais (modern Acremarker). Many of the inhabitants of conquered cities were sent to his new metropolis of Tigranakert .

At its height his empire extended from the Pontic Alpsmarker (in modern north-eastern Turkey) to Mesopotamia, and from the Caspianmarker to the Mediterraneanmarker. Tigranes apparently invaded as far as Ecbatanamarker and took the title king of kings which, at the time, according to their coins, even the Parthian kings did not assume. From the time of his conquests, some Armenian settlements are thought to have remained in the region of Cilicia.

Mass Armenian migration to Cilicia under the Byzantines

Cilicia was reconquered from the Arabs by the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas around 965. He expelled the Muslims living there, and Christians from Syria and Armenia were encouraged to settle in the region. Emperor Basil II (976-1025) attempted to expand into Armenian Vaspurakanmarker in the East and Arab-held Syria towards the south. As a result of the Byzantine military campaigns, the Armenians spread into Cappadociamarker and eastward from Cilicia into the mountainous areas of northern Syria and Mesopotamia.

The Armenian immigration increased with the formal annexation of Greater Armenia to the Byzantine Empire in 1045 and the Seljuk conquest 19 years thereafter, giving two new waves of migration. After the fall of Bagratid Armenia, and during the following centuries, the Armenian state was unable to re-establish itself and its sovereignty. It remained under the rule of Turkic tribes.

Foundation of Armenian power in Cilicia

The Armenians came to serve the Byzantines as military officers and governors; they were given control of important cities on the Byzantine Empire's eastern frontier. When Imperial power in the region weakened in the chaotic years after the Battle of Manzikertmarker, some of them seized the opportunity to 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 general of Romanus IV Diogenes. Between 1078 and 1085 Philaretus built a principality stretching from Malatia in the north to Antiochmarker in the south, and from Cilicia in the west to Edessamarker in the east. He invited many Armenian nobles to settle in his territory, and gave them land and castles. The state that Philaretus had created had begun to crumble even before his death in 1090. and after his death the remains of his dominion disintegrated into local lordships.

One of those princes was Ruben, who had close ties with the last Bagratuni Dynasty Armenian king, Gagik II. He thought that he would never be able to reinstate the Bagratid kingdom, so he rebelled against the Byzantine Empire in Cilicia. He rallied with him many other Armenian landlords and nobles. Thus, in 1080, the foundations of the independent Armenian princedom of Cilicia, and of the future kingdom, were laid under Ruben's leadership and that of his descendants (who would be called Rubenids) .

By the end of the 11th century, upon Ruben's death in 1095, there were several important Armenian principalities in the area:
  • Lampron (after Namrun, now Camliyayla) and Babaron (Candir Kale), located at the southern end of the Cilician Gatesmarker, were controlled by the former Byzantine general Oshin, the founder of the important Hethumid dynasty.
  • To the north east was the principality of Constantine I of Armenia, the son of Prince Rouben I. His power was based around the fortresses of Partzapert and Vahka.
  • Further to the north east, and outside of Cilicia, was the principality of Marash (modern Kahramanmaraş). It was ruled by Thatoul, a former Byzantine official.
  • East of Maraş, the Armenian Gogh Vasil (Basil the Robber) held the fortresses of Raban (modern Altınaşkale) and Kesoun as a Seljuk vassal.
  • To the north of these, on the Upper Euphrates, lay the principality of Malatyamarker (Melitene), held by Gabriel, one of Philaretus' former officers, under Seljuk overlordship.
  • Finally, beyond Malatya, was Edessamarker, controlled by Thoros, another of Philaretus' officers, and son-in-law of Gabriel of Malatya.

With the exception of Gogh Vasil and Constantine, these Armenian lords were alienated from most of their Armenian compatriots, and disliked by Syrian Christians, because they were either Greek Orthodox or held official titles conferred upon them by the Byzantine Emperor.

The First Crusade and the Rubenid principality

During the reign of Constantine I, the Crusaders, in order to restore to Christian rule territories that had recently been conquered by the Seljuk Turks, descended upon Anatolia and the Middle East. With the First Crusade, the Armenians in Cilicia gained powerful allies among the Frankish crusaders. With their help, they secured Cilicia from the Turks, both by direct military actions in Cilicia and by establishing Crusader states in Antioch and Edessa. The Armenians also helped the Crusaders, as described by Pope Gregory XIII:

The Armenians and crusaders were partly allied, partly rivals for two centuries to come.

Eventually, there emerged some sort of centralized government in the area with the rise of the Roupenid princes. During the 12th century they were the closest thing to a ruling dynasty, and wrestled with the Byzantines for the power over the region. Prince Leo I integrated the Cilician coastal cities to the Armenian principality, thus consolidating Armenian commercial leadership in the region. He was eventually defeated by Emperor John II in 1137, who still considered Cilicia to be a Byzantine province, and was imprisoned with several other family members. He died in prison three years later. Leon's son and successor, Thoros II, was also imprisoned, but escaped in 1141. He returned to lead the struggle with the Byzantines. Initially he was successful, but eventually, in 1158, he paid homage to Emperor Manuel I.

Cilicia had become so significant in these years, that in 1151, the head of the Armenian Church transferred his see to Hromklamarker.

The Rubenid princes continued to rule Cilicia.

The Kingdom of Armenia

Little Armenia and its surrounding states in 1200.
King Leo I of the Rubenid dynasty started his reign as Prince Leo II in 1187. He became one of the most important figures of the Cilician Armenian state. During his reign, he had to face Konyamarker's, Aleppomarker's, and Damascusmarker' rulers. By doing so, he integrated new lands to Cilicia and doubled the state's ownership of the Mediterranean coast. He also put great effort into augmenting the state's military might.

At that time, Saladin of Egypt greatly weakened the Crusader states, forcing the Europeans to launch another Crusade. Prince Leo II profited from the situation by improving relations with the Europeans. Thanks to the support given to him by the Holy Roman Emperors (Frederick Barbarossa, and his son, Henry VI), he was able to elevate the princedom's status to a kingdom. In 1198 Prince Leo II managed to secure his crown, becoming the first King of Armenian Cilicia as king Leo I.

The crown later passed to the rival Hethumid dynasty through Leon's daughter Zabel. When she was Queen, her first husband was poisoned in 1225 by Constantine of Baberon, who then in 1226 forced Zabel to marry Constantine's son, who became co-ruler Hethum I.

Fortress of Korikos in Cilician Armenia built ca. the 13th century.
During the rule of Zabel and Hethum, the Mongol Empire was rapidly expanding from Asia, and had reached the Middle East. The Mongols rapidly conquered Mesopotamia, Baghdad, and Syria, in their advance towards Egypt. The Mongol conquest was disastrous for Greater Armenia, but this wasn't the case for those in Cilicia, as Hethum chose to preemptively subject Cilicia to Mongol authority, sending his brother Sempad to the Mongol court in 1247 to negotiate an alliance.

Campaigns with the Mongols

Hethum and his forces fought under the Mongol banner of Hulagu, in the conquest of Muslim Syria and the capture of Aleppomarker and Damascusmarker in 1259-1260. Armenia also engaged in an economic battle with the Egyptian Mamluks, for control of the spice trade.

Coin of the Cilician Armenian kingdom, ca. 1080-1375.
In 1266, the Mamluk leader Baibars summoned Hethum I to abandon his allegiance to the Mongols, and instead accept Mamluk suzerainty, and remit to the Mamluks the territories and fortresses Hethum had acquired through his submission to the Mongols. Following these threats, Hethum I went to the Mongol court of the Il-Khan in Persiamarker to obtain military support. During his absence however, the Mamluks marched on Cilician Armenia, led by Mansur II and the Mamluk commander Qalawun, and defeated the Armenians at the Disaster of Mari, killing Hethum's son Thoros , and capturing Hethum's son Leo along with tens of thousands of other Armenia soldiers. Hethum ransomed his son for a high price, paying the Mamluks a large sum and signing over to them many fortresses. Soon after, the huge 1268 Cilicia earthquakemarker further devastated the country.

In 1269, Hethum I abdicated in favour of his son Leo II, who was forced to pay large annual tributes to the Mamluks. Even with the tributes though, the Mamluks continued to attack Cilicia every few years.

Truce with the Mamluks (1281-1295)

In 1281, following the defeat of the Mongols and the Armenians under Möngke Temur, against the Mamluks at the Second Battle of Homs, a truce was forced on Armenia by the Mamluks. Further, in 1285, following a powerful offensive by Qalawun, the Armenians had to sign a 10 year truce, which left many Armenian fortresses to the Mamluks, prohibited the Armenians from rebuilding their defensive fortifications, had them pay tribute of one million dirhams, and forced them to trade with the Mamluks, thereby circumventing the trade embargo imposed by the Pope. The Mamluks kept raiding Cilician Armenia on numerous occasions however. In 1292 Cilician Armenia was invaded by Al-Ashraf Khalil, the Mamluk sultan of Egyptmarker, who had conquered the remnant of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in Acremarker the year before, and Hromklamarker was sacked, forcing the Holy See to move to Sis. Hethum was forced to abandon Behesnimarker, Marashmarker and Tel Hamdounmarker to the Turks. In 1293, he abdicated in favour of his brother Thoros III and entered the monastery of Mamistra.

Campaigns with the Mongols (1299-1303)

Little Armenia, a Christian exclave in Anatolia, and its surrounding states in 1300.
In the summer of 1299, Hethum I's grandson, King Hethum II of Armenia, again facing threats of attack by the Mamluks, sent a message to the Mongol khan of Persia, Ghâzân to obtain his support. In response, Ghazan marched with his forces towards Syria and sent letters to the Franks of Cyprus (the King of Cyprus, and the heads of the Knights Templar, the Hospitallers and the Teutonic Knights), inviting them to come join him in his attack on the Mamluks in Syria.

The Mongols successfully took the city of Aleppomarker, where they were joined by King Hethum, whose forces included some Templars and Hospitallers from the kingdom of Armenia, who participated in the rest of the offensive. The combined force then defeated the Mamluks in the Battle of Wadi al-Khazandarmarker, on December 23 or 24, 1299. The bulk of the Mongol army then had to retreat, probably because their horses needing grazing room. In their absence, the Egyptian Mamluks regrouped, and then retook the area in May 1300.

In 1303, the Mongols tried again to capture Syria, this time in greater strength (about 80,000) together with the Armenians, but they were defeated at Homs on March 30, 1303, and at the decisive Battle of Shaqhabmarker, south of Damas, on April 21, 1303. It is considered to be the last major Mongol invasion of Syria.

When the Mongol leader Ghazan died on May 10, 1304, dreams of a rapid reconquest of the Holy Land were destroyed.

Hethum II abdicated in favour of his nephew Levon III and became a Franciscan monk. In 1307 Hethum II, his nephew Levon III, and his entire entourage were murdered by Bularghu, the Mongol's representative in Armenian Cilicia and a recent convert to Islam, while visiting Bularghu's encampment just outside Anavarzamarker.

Religious rapprochement with Rome

In 1198, a Union was proclaimed between Romemarker and the Armenian Church by the Armenian catholicos of Sis Grigor VI Apirat. This was not followed in deeds however, as the local clergy and populace was strongly opposed to such a union.

Numerous Roman Catholic missions were also sent to Cilician Armenia to help with rapprochement, with limited results. The Franciscans were put in charge of this missions. John of Monte Corvino himself arrived in Cilician Armenia in 1288. The Armenian king Hethum II would himself become a Franciscan monk upon his abdication. The Armenian historian Nerses Balients was a Franciscan and a member of the "Unitarian" mouvement advocating unification with the Latin Church.

Again in 1441, long after the fall of the Kingdom, the Armenian Catholicos of Sis Grigor IX Musabekiants proclaimed the union of the Armenian and Latin churches at the Council of Florence, but this was countered by an Armenian schism under Kirakos I Virapetsi, who installed the Catholicos see at Edjmiatzinmarker, and maginalized Sis.

Culture and society

Contact with crusaders from Western Europe, particularly France, brought important new influences on Armenian culture. The Cilician nobility eagerly adopted many aspects of Western European life, including chivalry, fashions in clothing and the use of French Christian names. The linguistic influence was so great that two new letters (Ֆ ֆ = "f" and Օ օ = "o") were added to the Armenian alphabet. The structure of Cilician society became closer to Western feudalism than to the traditional nakharar system of Armenia in which the king was merely "first among equals" among the nobility. In other areas, there was more hostility to the new trends. Above all, most ordinary Armenians frowned on conversion to Roman Catholicism or Greek Orthodoxy. The Cilician period also produced some important examples of Armenian art, notably the illuminated manuscripts of Toros Roslin, who was at work in Hromklamarker in the 13th century.

Decline with the Lusignan dynasty

The Hethumids ruled Cilicia until the murder of Leo IV in 1341. In spite of his alliance with the Christian Kingdom of Cyprus, Leo IV was unable to resist the attacks of the Egyptian Mameluks.

In 1341, his cousin Guy Lusignan was elected king. The Lusignan dynasty was of French origin, and already had a foothold in the area, the Island of Cyprusmarker. There had always been close relations between the Lusignans of Cyprus and the Armenians. However, when the pro-Latin Lusignans took power, they tried to impose Catholicism and the European way of life. The Armenian leadership largely accepted this, but the peasantry opposed the changes. Eventually, this led way to civil strife.

In the late 14th century, Cilicia was invaded by the Mameluks. The fall of Sis in April, 1375 put an end to the kingdom; its last King, Leo V, was granted safe passage and died in exile in Paris in 1393 after calling in vain for another Crusade. The title was claimed by his cousin, James I of Cyprus, uniting it with the titles of Cyprus and Jerusalem. Thus ended the last fully independent Armenian entity of the Middle Ages after three centuries of sovereignty and bloom. The title was then held through the centuries down to the modern day by the House of Savoy.

Dispersion of the Armenian population of Cilicia

Although the Egyptian Mameluks had taken over Cilicia, they were unable to maintain their hold on it. Turkic tribes eventually made their way to the region and established themselves there, leading to the conquest of Cilicia by Tamerlane. As a result, 30000 wealthy Armenians left Cilicia and settled in Cyprus, which continued to be ruled by the Lusignan dynasty until 1489. Only the humbler Armenians remained in Cilicia, and by doing so, conserved the Armenian foothold in the region until the Armenian genocide of 1915. Their descendants are now dispersed in the Armenian diaspora, and the Holy See of Ciliciamarker is now based in Anteliasmarker, Lebanonmarker.

See also



  • Mahé, Jean-Pierre. L'Arménie à l'épreuve des siècles, Découvertes Gallimard, 2005, ISBN 9782070314096

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