Tarson and Sis, Capitals of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia

Tarson and Sis, Capitals of the Armenian Kingdom of CiliciaPrior to the Armenians losing their independence for nearly five centuries, the last capitals of an Armenian state were the cities of Tarson (now Tarsus, Mersin Province, Turkey) and Sis (now Kozan, Adana Province, Turkey), which have been the capitals of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia.

The first Armenian settlements appeared in Cilicia in the 1st century BC. Due to the constant wars causing migration, the Armenian population of the region increased gradually.

The port city of Tarson was founded in the 6th century BC by the Assyrian king Sennacherib. During the following centuries, it passed from hand to hand, falling under the control of the Persians, Arabs, and Byzantines. Tarson is also considered the birthplace of the apostle Paul.

By the end of the 11th century, the Byzantine Empire finally quarreled with the Armenian princes in Asia Minor. One of them, Ruben, was able to unite other principalities, as a result of which the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia was established with Ruben as its lord (i.e. ruler) in 1080. Tarson was chosen as the capital of the state and retained its status until 1186.

In 1186, Levon II (also Leon II, Levon II, Leo II, Lewon II, or Levon I the Magnificent), the first King of Cilicia from the Rubenid dynasty, moved the capital to the city of Sis, having reconstructed it. Sis was also an important center in the history of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

In 1266, as a result of military encounters against the Mamluks of Egypt, the Armenians were defeated at Mari in the so-called Battle of Mari. Sons of the Hetoumid king Hethum I, Thoros and Leo (the future king Leo II (Leo III)), also participated in the battle. Thoros was killed while Leo was taken in captivity. The Mamluks ravaged the whole country up to Adana, committed Sis to flames, and captured many people.

When Cilicia was again captured by the Arab rulers of Egypt, Sis was restored and remained Cilicia’s capital until 1375.

According to the Ottoman census of 1519 and 1540, Armenian Cilician castles of Sis, Fek, Anavarza, Lamberd, and Bardzrberd (“High Fortress”) remained intact.

In the Ottoman Empire, Sis was the main city of the Adana Province and had about 40,000 inhabitants (according to the 1900 census), most of them Armenians. The Armenian population of Sis was killed and driven out from the city during the Armenian Genocide in 1915.

• Cilician Armenia.
• Engraving of the 19th century depicting the Armenian Sis fortress.
• The Sis fortress.
• Tarsus today.
• The Church of St. Paul in Tarsus.


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