Armenian Crusaders – Cilicia, the Bastion of Christendom in the East

Armenian Crusaders – Cilicia, the Bastion of Christendom in the EastThe Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia was established by the Rubenid dynasty ca. 1080 amidst violent religious wars. The kingdom has been known for its strong connections with the European Crusaders. Moreover, it considered itself a bastion of Christendom in the East. The state also was a center of the Armenian culture at the time because Armenia itself was under foreign occupation.

Pope Gregory XIII in Ecclesia Romana described the special relations of Cilicia with the Crusaders:

“Among the good deeds which the Armenian people have done towards the church and the Christian world, it should especially be stressed that, in those times when the Christian princes and the warriors went to retake the Holy Land, no people or nation, with the same enthusiasm, joy and faith came to their aid as the Armenians did, who supplied the Crusaders with horses, provision and guidance. The Armenians assisted these warriors with their utter courage and loyalty during the Holy wars.”

Cilician Armenians greatly impacted the Crusaders returning to the West, with their architectural traditions in particular. Later on, Europeans would incorporate elements from the Armenian architectonics into their castle building, learn from Armenian masons, and borrow some elements of the church architecture.

Armenian castles atypically made use of rocky heights, featured curved walls and round towers similar to those of the Krak des Chevaliers and Marqab Hospitaller castles.

With the Ayas port serving as a transition point in the trade between East and West, Cilician Armenia featured prosperous economy. Having passed through Cilicia, Marco Polo described Ayas as “a city of good and great and of great trade” in his book, “The Description of the World”.

Some noteworthy examples of Armenian art were created in Cilicia, including the illuminated manuscripts of Toros Roslin. Many of those survived the genocide thanks to the Catholicos of Cilicia bringing them over to Lebanon upon the establishment of the Holy See of the Great House of Cilicia. At its time, Cilicia was the only place safe for Christian Armenians in the Armenian Highlands, while its other regions were being seized by foreign invaders.

Thereby, Cilicia managed to protect the Armenian traditions, science, religion, and several forms of medieval art. This is what emphasizes the importance of the Cilician period for Armenians.

With the invasion of the Mamluks, Mongols, and later Turks, the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia fell to the Muslims. Eventually, the Armenian population was pushed out with the 1915 Armenian Genocide as the final act. And despite the territory of the kingdom being under the control of the Turks, Armenians still honor Cilicia in their art.

Constantin III of Armenia on his throne with the Hospitaller, painting by Henri Delaborde,1844.

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