Bagratid Armenia – The Bagratid Kingdom of Armenia

Bagratid-Armenia Kingdom 9th-11th centuries

The Bagratid Kingdom of Armenia during the 9th-11th centuries

Bagratid (Bagratuni) Dynasty


Armenian chroniclers, almost all of them clerics, have labored to connect the beginnings of their nation with Biblical tradition, and thus have altered ancient legends in order to prove the descent of the family of Haik from Abraham. In accordance with this thesis, the Bagratids are represented as being of Jewish origin. Their great ancestor Smbat (Sembat or Shambat) is alleged to have been brought from Judea to Armenia by King Nebuchadnezzar as a captive. They represent Bagarat, a descendant of Smbat, five centuries later, as being honored by Vagharshak I, the first of the Arsacid Kings of Armenia, with the title of Aspet or Commander of the Cavalry, with the special privilege of placing the crown on the head of the kings on their accession to the throne. The incumbent of this function was called Tagadir (Crowner).

According to modern authorities, Bagarat must have been of pure Armenian stock, an issue of chieftains who had accompanied Haik in his march towards the Land of Ararat. The district of Sber (Ispir) on the upper Jorokh River, was the ancestral domain of the family, which was greatly enriched in the course of time through conquests or alliances with other princely houses. The high valley of Jorokh, protected by almost inaccessible mountain masses, long remained immune from attack. There was a time when the Bagratid territory comprised a great number of important centers of Armenia, such as the Gougark, the Tourouberan, Tariunq (Bayazid), Bagaran, Shiravakan, Ani, Kars, Artwin and Mush.

Ashot Bagratuni (Bagratid) becomes King

One of the Bagratid princes having married the heiress to the throne of Georgia, bequeathed that Kingdom to his family. The succession continued to the middle of the eighteenth century. It is due to the high repute of the Bagratids that Kevork (George) II — the Patriarch of Armenia in 878‑880 — and the nobility appealed to Constantinople and Baghdad for a kingly title for Ashot the Bagratid, who had justified all the hopes placed in him.

The harmony manifested among the chiefs of Armenia in their choice of a king did not last long. Personal ambitions were kindled, and Ashot himself was compelled to take up arms against pretenders to the throne. One of these rivals who defied the royal authority was his own son-in‑law, Grigor Ardzruni, Prince of Vaspurakan (Van); but this man was at the same time involved in a conflict with the Moslem emirs of Khoy and Salmas, and was killed during an encounter. After quelling other uprisings and establishing peace and a sort of security, Ashot went to Constantinople to pay a visit to Emperor Leo VI (886‑911), “the Philosopher,” who had Armenian blood in his veins. This visit implies a closer political relationship between the two nations and a hope on the part of Armenia of emancipation from the continuing threat of oppressions.

According to Armenian historians, Ashot was welcomed in the Greek capital by a magnificent reception. He and the Emperor signed two treaties; one political, the other commercial. Leo promised to send legions for the defense of Armenia, but Ashot in turn was to supply the imperial army with Armenian contingents. Indeed, he had already taken such steps towards this end that the troops under the command of Prince Meghrik arrived while he was still sojourning in the Constantinople, and were sent northward to fight the Bulgars.

Ashot did not live to enjoy the benefits of his diplomatic success. He died while on his journey back home by the way of Trebizond. His remains were buried in Bagaran, the ancient city of the idols, on the Akhurian.

Smbat the Confessor (890‑914)

Sembat I, the only son and heir of Ashot, was proclaimed king by the Katholikos George II and the nobles. Unfortunately, the young king’s uncle, the ambitious Abbas, held the high command of the army, and he forthwith marched towards Ani with intent to overthrow his nephew. The Katholikos succeeded in persuading him to stop at Kars, where he captured Adrnerseh the Bagratid, the Armenian governor of the Georgian territories, who had placed the crown on the head of Sembat. The young king, however, proved to be worthy and equal to his new responsibility. He hastened to organize an army, besieged Kars, and forced his uncle to release Adrnerseh and recognize his own authority as king.

Bagratid Armenia during the 9th-10th centuries map by Robert Hewsen
Bagratid Armenia during the 9th-10th centuries map by Robert Hewsen

Byzantium and Baghdad recognize Smbat

The Khalifa Motadid-Billah (892‑902) and the Emperor Leo sent royal insignia to Sembat. He was able not only to restore peace to his kingdom, but to extend its frontiers on the north as far as the Colchids and the passes of Darial, and on the southwest as far as the city of Karin.

Van and all the southern part of the old Armenian territory were then under the direct rule of the Arabs, and Afshin, the Emir of Atrpatakan, who had recognized Sembat in behalf of the Khalifa, was suspiciously watching the southward expansion of the young king. The renewal of the alliance with the Greek Emperor excited his anger, and he entertained a design to bring Armenia again under Arab rule through his own enthronement at Ani. Although there was a disinclination in Baghdad to incur new difficulties with Constantinople over Armenia, yet no opposition was offered to the Emir’s conquest of that country.

Afshin defeated

Sembat, advised of troop movements towards Nakhitchévan, began to mobilize his forces. But in an effort to avoid armed conflict, he sent the Katholikos George to the headquarters of the Emir for negotiation. Afshin showed a pretended readiness for friendly settlement of differences, but proposed that the king come in person for discussion. Sembat, scenting a trap, declined the invitation, and the Katholikos was thereupon placed in detention. The Emir now dropped his mask, and hostilities began. The Atrpatakan army advanced as far as the center of the Armenian kingdom, and an engagement took place at the foot of Mount Aragadz (Alagöz), the enemy force being defeated and put to flight.

Afshin triumphs

Afshin, however, was not yet crushed. On the news of the incursions in the Armenian district of Taron by Ahmed, the Governor of Mesopotamia, he re-entered Armenia and besieged Kars, forcing it to capitulate. The Queen, the wife of the heir-apparent and other Armenian princesses were carried as hostages to Douin. In order to obtain their deliverance, Sembat was compelled to surrender to Afshin his own son Ashot, and his nephew Sembat, and to give his niece to Afshin in marriage.

Despite all sacrifices, Sembat failed to maintain his country’s tranquillity. He quarrelled constantly with the Christian rulers, who were his neighbors. For political reasons, he had put the royal crown of Georgia upon the head of Prince Adrnerseh. Many Armenian princes, stirred by jealousy, appealed to Afshin in 898 to take action. The Emir was busy with preparations for another invasion of Armenia when death took him unawares. He had become enraged at his chief eunuch, who, won by the liberality of Sembat, had returned to him the captive Armenian princesses. The eunuch would have suffered the consequences of Afshin’s wrath had not death intervened. Afshin’s brother and successor Youssouf inherited his grudge as well as his position in Atrpatakan.

Smbat enrages Youssouf

It had been the Armenian king’s custom to send to the Khalifa his annual tribute through the hands of the Emir of Atrpatakan. Sembat, feeling it intolerable to continue this procedure, and suspecting that the sum would be considerably less if he paid it directly to Baghdad, submitted his proposition in writing to the new Khalifa, Moktafi (902‑908), who accepted his offer and sent him a golden crown in token of good will. This modification of the long-standing custom — which meant a reduction in his income — naturally enraged Youssouf, so he managed to induce the Khalifa to double the annual tribute imposed upon the Armenians. This drastic measure in turn compelled Sembat to increase the taxes of the lords within the orbit of his authority. These men, resenting the additional burden, thereupon revolted against their sovereign.

Sembat saved the situation by seizing the rebel chiefs and having the eyes of several of them burned out, after the fashion of the times.

Youssouf, taking advantage of these dissensions, again invaded the central province of Ararat and dealt a telling blow at the prestige of Sembat by proclaiming, in the name of the Khalifa, Moktadir, Sembat’s traitorous nephew, Gagik, as King of Vaspurakan. Not satisfied with this political coup, Youssouf renewed his devastating invasions, and conquered a considerable area of Armenian territory. During one of the engagements in 911, several princes, including Sembat’s son and nephew, were captured by Youssouf and put to death. The Katholikos, Johannes VI, the historian, also one of the captives, was liberated after a year’s detention, on payment of a heavy ransom.

Gagik’s remorse

The new King of Vaspurakan, tormented in conscience at the sight of the horrors caused by his own nefarious conduct, asked Sembat’s forgiveness and offered him an alliance. But that unfortunate monarch did not feel strong enough to continue resistance to the Moslem foe, and retired to the fort of Kapouyt (the Blue Castle), situated on the rocky heights east of Mount Massis. The Emir blockaded the place in 913. After a long siege, Sembat surrendered, on promise of safe conduct. In the meantime Gagik, still remorseful and repentant of his evil deeds, again offered Sembat his cooperation. Informed of this change of attitude on the part of Gagik, Youssouf treacherously seized Sembat and cast him into a dungeon at Douin. But that was not the last of the sufferings of the unhappy monarch. Youssouf laid siege to the fortress of Erentchak, in the province of Sewniq, and in order to compel its inhabitants to surrender, he ordered Sembat to be dragged in chains before the walls of the fort and subjected to torture. Sembat could have won his liberty had he renounced his Christian faith, but this he positively refused to do. The Emir finally condemned him to death. He was beheaded and the body taken to Douin and exhibited on a cross at the public center of the city (914).

The twenty-two years’ reign of this second ruler of the Bagratid dynasty covered one of the worst periods of horror and butchery in the history of Armenia. The nation’s life was further embittered by the internal conflicts which raged among the local chiefs.

King Ashot II (914‑929)

Ashot II, the son of Smbat, succeeded to his father’s tottering throne, striving to rule a country whose key positions were garrisoned by Arabs, and whose native grandees were loath to recognize the authority of a single sovereign sitting at Ani. Despite these difficulties, Ashot II succeeded in driving the enemy troops from his dominion. His bravery won for him the title of Yergat, “of Iron,” but his strength was not equal to the tremendous task undertaken by him. The emir, infuriated by the victories of Ashot, launched ferocious counter-attacks, bringing general misery and anarchy to Armenia. The country was drenched with the blood of martyrs; cities and towns were depopulated, agriculture almost disappeared. Revolting atrocities and outrages were committed, with no regard to age, sex or condition. Thousands of women and girls were distributed among the troops. The only hope of saving one’s life or honor lay in apostasy. And to these horrors were added the inevitable scourge, a widespread famine, lasting several years. In the words of the Katholikos, historian Johannes, even “The hands of upright women cooked their own children, and they became their food.”

The desperate plight of Armenia at last stirred the Emperor of Byzantium to whom Ashot appealed for assistance. At the invitation of Constantine VII (Porphyrogenitus), an Arsacid descendant, the Armenian ruler went to Byzantium where he was received by the Emperor with royal honors. Ashot returned to Armenia with a contingent of Greek troops which enabled him to reduce several cities and to clear the enemy and rival forces from the plain of Erevan. Among the places taken was the rebel town of Koghp, situated at the confluence of the Akhurian and Arax, belonging to Ashot the Generalissimo, the King’s cousin. This Ashot, feeling that he had been humiliated by his sovereign, took up arms against him in 921. Youssouf, in order to inflame the struggle between the members of the dynasty, proclaimed the other Ashot as King of Armenia in Douin. Despite the decisive defeat suffered by the false King Ashot, and a reconciliation between himself and the real king, thrice achieved through the mediation of the Katholikos, the pretender insisted in maintaining the royal title until his death in 936.

Ashot abdicates

Ashot II had to face and overcome many other emergencies. Northern nobles, aided by Caucasian tribes, scourged the country, looting and carrying away the women. The King finally subdued them all, but tired of conflicts and the plotting of domestic enemies, some of them even members of the royal family, he retired to an island in the Lake of Sevan. His death came at a time when a state of comparative peace had been restored to Armenia (929).

King Abas (929‑953)

Ashot II having no son, the throne was offered to his brother Abas. The new King had to resume punitive and defensive measures to suppress internal uprisings and quarrels, as well as foreign incursions. Despite these problems, Abas was able to achieve really constructive objectives, among which were the fortifications of Kars and the building of many churches and monasteries to replace those destroyed by invaders. He died after a reign of twenty-four years.

King Ashot III (953‑977)

The country was harassed by brigands when Ashot III, son and successor of Abas, took the reins of power. The new king, supported by some of his nobles, soon pacified his territory and brought it back to something like normality. He was then crowned at the cathedral of Ani, by the Katholikos Ananias, aided by the Katholikos of the Aghouans and forty bishops. Being a man of peace-loving temperament, he made no objection to his brother Moushegh’s wearing a royal crown at Kars (962‑988). This was the beginning of the division of Armenia — which to Ashot seemed the only way of insuring harmony with and among the turbulent nobles.

Creation of seven Kingdoms

The extensive province of Vaspurakan was then ruled by Abousahl-Hamazasp (958‑968). Upon his death, his realm was divided among his three sons. Ashot-Sanak obtained the largest part, whilst his brothers Gourgen-Khatchik and John Senekerim ruled over the districts of Antzevatziq and Reshtouniq respectively. As to the Sewniq, which lay beyond the Arax, and included the Lake of Sevan, it became independent in 970. The city of Lori, winning independence in 982, became the residence of the third royal branch of the Bagratids — the Korikians. Including some other kinglets, Armenia thus became a country of seven crowned heads, who were often engaged in brawls with one another or with their feudal lords. The northern part of the land recognized the nominal suzerainty of Constantinople; the south was under Moslem suzerainty. Nevertheless, the reign of Ashot III was a period of comparative security and prosperity.


Hamdoun a Moslem invader repelled

The King won a decisive victory over Hamdoun, a Moslem chieftain who had invaded Armenia after revolting against the Khalifa Al‑Moti (946‑974). He strongly fortified Ani and other strategic centers. But in that ever-changing Eastern political situation, we presently find him and his army of 30,000 men going to the assistance of the Byzantine Emperor Joannes I (John Zimiskes, an Armenian by birth), who was then threatening the Arabs on the Tigris.

Ashot III became famous for his acts of benevolence, for which he is known as “Oghormadz,” the Charitable. He constructed a number of churches, monasteries and hospitals, etc. His wife, Queen Khosrovanoush, rivalled her husband in piety and deeds of charity and generosity. She was the founder of the famous monasteries of Sanahin and Haghbat, in the Armenian province of Gougark, sixty miles south of Tiflis.

Bagratid-Armenia Kingdom 9th-11th centuries
The map of Bagratid-Armenian Kingdom 9th-11th centuries

Smbat II (977‑989)

After the death of Ashot, his son Smbat II was crowned in the cathedral of Ani. Sembat’s energies were largely devoted to the embellishment and defense of Ani. Eight years of labor were required to complete the erection of a double city wall, flanked by round towers. Sembat’s death occurred in 989, at the laying of the foundation of the magnificent Cathedral of Ani. His passing followed soon after that of his niece, whom he had married in defiance of the canons of the church, which forbade marriage of near relatives. Born at a time when many traces of Mazdeism were still left in the country and when custom permitted the Persians to conclude incestuous alliances, this king had transgressed the laws of his religion, thereby subjecting himself to the severe criticism of national historians.

Kars, a center of learning

In the kingdom of Kars, Moushegh died in 984. His son, Abas (984‑1029), regarded in his youth as an indolent and frivolous person, proved a worthy ruler. A lover of arts and letters, he turned his attention to the education of his people and established many schools, where prominent men of learning were invited to teach.

Gagik I (989‑1020)

Gagik I succeeded his brother Sembat II on the throne of Armenia proper. Under the rule of this king, the Bagratid dynasty of Ani attained the zenith of its power. The construction of the cathedral was completed, and the country was generously provided with new churches, chapels, monasteries and schools. Commerce attained a volume hitherto unknown. Nakhitchévan, Ardzen, Baghesh (Bitlis) and many other cities became important centers in which products of Persia, Arabia, India and even of China were exchanged for the merchandise of the West. Profiting by the era of tranquillity, Gagik centered his attention on commerce. Armenia became an intermediary mart between the Orient and Mediterranean countries, and was rewarded with an amazing increase of wealth.

Direct relations between the Moslem East and the Christian West were then impossible. There were two peoples who, by reason of their geographic position, could serve as intermediaries; the Georgians, masters of the route of the Caspian Sea, and the Armenians, inhabiting the plateau which dominates Iran and Mesopotamia.

Splendor of Bagratid Armenia

The chronicler Aristakes of Lastivert, a contemporary of both the splendor and the fall of the capital of the Bagratids, has left to us a picture of the kingdom of Ani before the invasion of the Seljuks. In his poetic, Oriental manner, he declares that Armenia at that time was like a great and smiling garden; fertile, verdant, clothed in velvety foliage, laden with flowers and fruit. “Its nobles in their gorgeous costumes and glittering array of armor and equipment, held sway in their baronial seats; the people danced and sang merry songs, the sounds of the flute, cymbals and other instruments gladdened the air. Old people in their crowns of white hair, the mothers pressing their children in their arms, the newly-wedded couple emerging from the church, all radiated happiness.” “The Pontiff of the nation,” he continues, “like a cloud charged with the graces of the Spirit, shed over the people a holy dew, creating new life in the garden of the church, whose walls were vigilantly kept by ministers whom he had ordained. As for the King, when he rode out of the city in the morning in his resplendent attire and pearl-laden crown, astride his white mare with her trappings of gold glittering under the rays of the sun, dazzling every eye, he was like a bridegroom or like the day-star, which rising above the world, attracts all eyes to itself, compels everybody to gaze upon it with wonder; while the numerous troops who marched before him in compact masses, rippling over the hills, resembled the waves of the sea, rolling over one another on the beach.”

Bagratids minted no coinage

Notwithstanding the opulence then prevailing in Armenia and the existence of copper and silver mines in the country, no coin seems to have been minted by the Bagratid princes. That right was in all probability reserved to the Khalifas, under whose suzerainty the Armenian kings ruled. Farther north, in regions where Byzantine authority was recognized, the rulers enjoyed the right of coinage. Copper and silver pieces issued by some of these are still in existence. The last Armenian King of Caucasian Albania, Koriké (1046‑1082) minted copper coins.

Yet all these currencies were not sufficient for the needs of commerce. Most of the gold in circulation in the Near East, was that of Arabs and Byzantines. The silver coins used were the dirhems of the Khalifas and the old Sassanian and Roman dinars. As for copper money, all the mints of the Empire issued huge amounts of it.

Turmoil in neighboring countries

During the period while Armenia was enjoying peace, her neighbors were not so happy. The Khalifas were busy in suppressing rebellious emirs, while people to the north were engaged in wars against each other or against the Arab chieftains or Georgian marauders. In the West the Emperor Basil II (976‑1025) was warding off threats from Bulgaria. Great numbers of Armenian families had been transported by the Greeks to Macedonia. Embittered by the Empire’s harsh treatment, a considerable number of fighting men from among these Armenian exiles made common cause with the rebellious Bulgars, whose chief, Samuel, was born in the Armenian district of Dertchan, east of Erzerum. Samuel’s forces, successful in the beginning, were badly beaten later by Basil, who became known as “Bulgarocton” (killer of Bulgars).

David of Taiq’s Rebellion and Death

King Gagik deemed it wise to remain aloof from these affairs. Meanwhile David, to whom the province of Taiq had been entrusted by the Emperor, took advantage of the death of Bad, the Moslem emir of the Apahouni region, seized the fortress city of Manazkert and drove away the emir’s troops and co-nationals. But the fleeing aliens, supported by the Emir of Atrpatakan, came back to recapture the territory, situated to the northeast of the Lake of Van. David, however, did not give up. Receiving aid from Koriké I, King of Georgia, and Gagik-Abas, King of Kars, he attacked once more and took possession of the contested districts. Despite his valiant deeds, David was the victim of a treacherous assassination plotted by his own Georgian nobles.

 In 103 the King of Vaspurakan, Gourgen-Khatchik, died and was succeeded by his brother, John-Senekerim (990‑1006), although the late king’s sons were the rightful heirs to the throne.

Johannes-Smbat III threatened by his brother Ashot

Gagik I, King of Ani, whose death occurred seventeen years later, was succeeded by his son, Johannes-Sembat III (1020‑1041). Corpulent in body and indolent in temperament, this prince lacked the qualities urgently required during this critical period in the Armenian homeland. Many feudal lords dependent on the suzerainty of Ani repudiated their allegiance, and the king’s younger brother Ashot, energetic and valorous, claimed the throne for himself. In alliance with Senekerim, King of Vaspurakan, he marched on Ani at the head of a strong force. The Katholikos Petros Getadartz offered mediation, and Ashot was induced to withdraw, receiving the title of lieutenant-commander of the kingdom, and the promise of the throne on his brother’s death.

Ashot’s persistent plotting

But Ashot was faithless. Being now closer to the court, he succeeded in creating a clique to work secretly in his behalf. He was further emboldened by the detainment of his royal brother as a prisoner by Koriké, King of Georgia. This was Ashot’s opportunity to usurp the crown, had not King Sembat gained his liberty byceding three forts to the Georgians. Having failed in these and other plots, Ashot fled to Constantinople, where he won the favor of Basil II and returned to Armenia, escorted by Byzantine legions. Sembat appeased him by giving him several territories on the Georgian and Persian frontiers.

Northeastern Barbarians

While Armenian seigneurs were thus engaged in factional struggles, a dreadful storm-cloud darkened the skies of the Orient. Barbarian peoples, intrepid and cruel, emerging from the plains of the Oxus River, had invaded Khorassan and the north of the Iranian plateau, driving before them the Persians, the Kurds and the Arabs. Nothing, it seemed, could resist these daring horsemen and skilled archers. Armenian historians called these nomads Scythians or Tartars, as being distant descendants of those hordes who, fifteen centuries earlier, had overrun Asia, likewise issuing from the boundless plains beyond the Caucasus, the Caspian Sea and the Bactrian mountains.

Emergence of the Turks

Simultaneously, the Seljuk Turks invaded Anterior Asia, spreading like a torrent overflowing its bed. The Turks had developed at the foot of the Altai Mountains, in those steppes where Turkomans still live today, where the Jaghatai, the primitive language of the Tartars is spoken. These people, sadistic and merciless, now converted to Mohammedanism, insatiable in their appetite for pillage, craved possession of the rich lands of both the Khalifas and the Greek Emperors. “The cruelties of the Arabs,” says Jacques de Morgan, “were nothing compared to the horrors the Turks were to mankind.” They advanced westward through mountainous areas where rich pastures for their flocks existed. The tribal masses followed the cavalrymen, carrying their household property, their wives and children, the aged and the loot from devastated countries. The onward wave was to halt only before the gates of Constantinople, where the forces of the Empire checked it for a considerable time.

First clashes with Turks and exchange with Sebastia

The first contacts between the Turks and Armenians occurred on the frontiers of Vaspurakan the province of Van. Shapouh, the general of Senekerim, put the invaders to flight in the first encounter. But the King, advised of the approach of the main army of the enemy and aware of his inability to cope with the perilous situation, ceded his kingdom to the Emperor Basil II, reserving to himself only the monasteries, with the villages upon which they depended for maintenance. In exchange the Emperor gave him the city of Sebastia (Sivas) in Cappadocia, and its territory, reaching as far as the Euphrates. The principality given up by Senekerim comprised 10 cities, 22 strongholds and 4,000 villages. Leaving these behind, he emigrated in 1021 to his new domains, taking with him his family and 400,000 of his subjects, almost one-third of the population at the time of Vaspurakan.

In his new kingdom, he enjoyed political security for some time, but the religious intolerance of the Greek clergy was still rife and its effects bore heavily upon the Armenian immigrants until the time when the Turks, always pressing westward, finally took possession of the country.

Turkish Defeat at Ani

As to the kingdom of Ani, its lands had been invaded by the Turks in the very year of Senekerim’s departure from Van. At the gates of the fort of Betchni, north of Ararat, the enemy was checked by the Armenian army under the general Vassak-Bahlavouni, father of the famous statesman-school, Grigor Magistros. The Arab emir of Douin, Abu-Sewar, mindful of his own safety, allied himself with the Seljuks. The Armenian forces, united under David Anhoghin, chief of Gougarq and Aghouanq, gave battle against the Turks, inflicting upon them a crushing defeat.

The situation nevertheless remained ominous. The Armenians, though aided by small Greek contingents, were not equal to the task to stemming the ever-mounting flood rushing from the East. The Turks continued their westward drive, waging a pitiless war against valorous defense. A Kurdish governor, Khoudriq, after capturing the city of Berkry, to the northeast of the Lake of Van, dug a deep ditch, to be filled with the slaughtered bodies of Christians.

Emperor Basil II harasses Armenia

The short-sighted Byzantine policy was another element in the plight of Armenia. Basil II, after landing at Trebizond and suppressing the rebellious Apkhazia, on the southeast coast of the Black Sea, took possession of Taiq, in northern Armenia in 1023, and then threatened the little state of Ani. King Johannes-Sembat, caught between Toghrul Beg, the Seljuk chief, and the Greek Emperor, sent the Katholikos Petros to the latter to implore his help, offering him the title to all his domain after his own death. The document bearing this promise, though kept secret during the reigns of Constantine XI (1025‑1028) and Michael IV (1034‑1041), gave the Greeks a legal claim to a territory extending as far as the Arax and even to the fortress of Kars.

King Gagik II (1042‑1045)

Johannes-Sembat III died in 1041. The death of his ambitious brother Ashot occurred in the same year. It was then that the new Emperor Michael V, “the Calker,” invoked the rights promised in the letter of Johannes to Basil II. The regents of the kingdom, however, refused to recognize the cession. The Emperor thereupon sent an army to Ani, with which Vest-Sarkis, the Armenian chief of the province of Sewniq, allied himself, in the hope of obtaining the throne of the little kingdom. This army and its Armenian collaborators laid siege to the capital, but were beaten and routed by Nationalists under the leadership of the old general, Vassak Bahlavuni. Gagik II, still a mere youth of sixteen, but brave, educated and intelligent, was thereupon crowned in the cathedral of Ani by the Katholikos Petros.

The last Armenian king of Bagratuni dynasty known as Gagik II King of Ani (Reign 1042–1045) submits to Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachus. Miniature from the Madrid Skylitzes.
The last Armenian king of Bagratuni dynasty known as Gagik II King of Ani (Reign 1042–1045) submits to Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachus. Miniature from the Madrid Skylitzes.

Turkish reverses in Armenia

The Greek peril was now seemingly well-nigh averted, but a new terror, that of the Touranian-Seljuks, loomed on the horizon. The vanguard of this horde had already reached the northern plain of the Arax, camping on the banks of the stream called Hrazdan-Zanki which originates at Lake Sevan and empties in the Arax. Gagik, at the head of his army, lured them into a trap and almost destroyed them. The survivors recrossed the Arax and fled to the land southwest of Lake Urmiah, whence, reinforced by Kurdish tribesmen, they turned once more against Vaspourakan province. Here they were checked by an Armenian band under Khatchik, “the Lion.” This heroic leader fell on the battlefield, but his sons, arriving with a greater force, routed the Turks and sent them fleeing towards Khoy and Salmas, on the Persian frontier.

Emperor claims Ani, Gagik II exiled

This Turkish onslaught had scarcely been repelled when Byzantine pretensions were intensified. Constantine X, Monomachus (1042‑1054), who had mounted the throne through his marriage with the Empress Zoé, an Armenian by descent, put forth a claim to Ani and the entire district of Shirak. Upon the rejection of the demand by Gagik II, a Greek army invaded his territory, but was defeated before the walls of the capital.

The Emperor thereupon resorted to treachery to gain his ends. Corrupted by Byzantine gold, many Armenian nobles now advised their king to accept an invitation sent by the Emperor to come to Constantinople for a peaceful settlement of the disputed question. After being assured by the Katholikos and other leaders of their loyal adherence to his policy, Gagik II made the journey to the Byzantine capital. A magnificent reception was given him, but a short time thereafter he was summoned by the Emperor to relinquish his throne and cede to the Greeks the city of Ani and its territory. When he courageously refused to acquiesce, he was appalled at being shown a letter from the Armenian grandees, expressing their devotion to the emperors and their readiness to hand over to him the keys of Ani. Thus betrayed by his own people, Gagik gave up his kingdom, receiving as compensation the district of Lycandus in Asia Minor and the town of Bizou, in the vicinity of Caesarea (Kayseri). He was also granted the use of a palace on the Bosporus in Constantinople and a pension from the Imperial treasury.

Byzantine persecution

Not satisfied with the extinction of the political life of the Armenians, the Greek clergy insisted upon their conversion to the Greek Orthodox faith. Meanwhile Armenia became economically the slave of the functionaries sent from the capital, who crushed the people under the burden of heavy taxes. The Armenian nobility, a favorite object of persecution, suffered the heaviest losses through systematic purges by the civil authorities.

Gagik’s retort to Bishop of Caesarea

Gagik in exile suffered agonies upon hearing of his countrymen’s woes. He himself was often subjected to insolent treatment by the ruling class. Even in Cappadocia the Greeks openly displayed their contempt for those Eastern Christians whose tenets differed in some slight degree from theirs. The orthodox Bishop of Caesarea, Marcus by name, lost no occasion to express his scorn for them. The bishop had a dog which he called “Armen,” the epithet “dog” being a favorite slur hurled at the Armenians. Gagik, smarting under this insult resolved to punish the impudent prelate. In company with several friends, he went one day to call on the bishop. In the course of the conversation, Gagik expressed a desire to see the dog, and inquired the reason why he responded to the name Armen. “Because he is a pretty dog,” replied the Metropolitan with thinly veiled insolence “and we call him the Armenian.” At a signal from Gagik, his escort seized both the bishop and the dog, put them together into a large bag and gave the dog such a beating that the animal became wild and lacerated the bishop with its teeth, causing his death.

Murder of Gagik II

End of Bagratid Dynasty

From that time on, Gagik became an object of hatred by the Greeks. One day while he was strolling in the country west of Caesarea, some Greeks seized him suddenly, made him prisoner and a few days later hanged him on the battlements of the castle (1079). His sons, John and David, and John’s son Ashot died soon afterwards, all by poison. Atom and Apusahl, King Senekerim’s son, also perished by the Greeks at Sivas in 1080, according to Armenian chroniclers, along with another Gagik, the son of Abas, the last Bagratid King of Kars. The properties of all of them were attached to the imperial domain. This illustrious line of the Bagratids was thus destroyed by the Greeks, through shortsightedness and religious fanaticism, although the Bagratid name persisted until recent times.

Progress under the Bagratids

The way of life in Armenia made gratifying strides in the ninth and tenth centuries. Social welfare rose after a long period of misfortune. “Dozens of towns and hundreds of villages,” says the historian Aristakes, “which had been ruined and abandoned, were revived and reconstructed.” Industry and handicrafts flourished in cities. The increasing urban population needed more manufactured goods. An extensive market for woven stuffs was already in existence. The development of mines, known to the Armenians in remote antiquity, had been resumed by the Arabs in three zones — in modern Gumush-Khaneh for silver, in Spir for gold and in Allaverdi for copper. Special mention is made by Arab historians of the red dye, cochineal or al‑kermes, used for dyeing various kinds of woolen and cotton fabrics in Armenia. Metallurgy, masonry, weaving, rug-making, pottery, carpentry and working in gold were thriving everywhere in the country. Among the artisans of Douin, the weavers of cotton, wool and silk — of shawls, scarves, spreads, pillow-cases and carpets, were especially renowned. Carpenters made wooden traveling paniers, farmers’ tools and beautiful house furniture. Many objects of art were produced in Ani — silver and gold articles, rings, bracelets, belts, necklaces, earrings, church vessels and palace ornaments. Professor N. Marr, while excavating at Ani, discovered factories for copper-working and clay-baking. Ani and Douin were also celebrated for porcelain and copper vessels and containers and for embroidery and needlework as well as gold-tissued textiles. There were great numbers of wine-presses and oil mills in operation.

Growth of Cities

The removal of the rule of the Arab Khalifate from Armenia in the second half of the ninth century gave impetus to the effort aiming at complete independence of the country. With the exemption from payment of taxes to the Khalifas, economic advancement was hastened. Armed conflict, again raging between Byzantium and Persia at that time, made commercial transit across Mesopotamia and Syria impracticable, and Armenia was the gainer thereby, becoming the East-West trade route and giving her merchants the opportunity to serve as business factors in many countries — in the Greek Empire, in Arabia, Persia, Central Asia, India and China. Several cities of Armenia, such as Ani, Douin, Nakhjévan, Kars, Van, Amid (Diarbekir), Vostan, Manazkert, Bitlis, Khlat, Arjish, Karin and Ardzn, assumed special importance as centers of industry, commerce and culture. The historian Aristakes, describing the halcyon days of the period, dubs some of these cities with flattering adjectives; Kars, the Celebrated; Ardzn, the Magnificent; Ani, the World-Famous. When, at the end of the eighth century, Ashot Bagratuni, “the Meat-Eater,” grandfather of Ashot I, purchased from the Kamsarakans the district of Shirak and moved his residence there, Ani became the capital, and attained wealth and greatness during the reigns of Sembat II and Gagik I.

Agriculture and Husbandry

Agriculture played a vital role during the Bagratid period. Grain, cotton, rice, flax and grapes were the main products of the country. Many localities about the central part of the country were covered with farms, orchards and vineyards; granariesº were filled with breadstuffs and jars with wine, while the pastures offered abundant grazing to herds of cattle and flocks of sheep. Wool production flourished, and silk and woolen textile manufacture attained a considerable volume. Irrigating canals were dug in many parts of the country to aid farming and horticulture. Metals and the manufactured articles of the cities, as well as horses, cattle, sheep, wool, medicinal herbs and roots were exported to other lands in large quantities.

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