Brief Chronology of the Sunset of Cilicia

Brief Chronology of the Sunset of CiliciaThe reign of the grandson of Hethum I and Queen Zabel Hethum II was one of the most dramatic periods in the history of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia.

The Armenian state at that time was in the thick of internal and external shocks. The main reason for the internal strife was the policy of Armenian pro-Latin figures, which caused a split in society. The unceasing power struggle between the seven sons of Levon II also did not help Cilicia.

Even before accession to the throne, Prince Hethum accepted Catholicism and joined the monastic Franciscan order. He himself headed the internal current which gravitated to Rome, and he demanded that the people accept Catholicism. In 1289, Hethum acceded to the Armenian throne and ruled Cilicia for 18 years as Hethum II (de-jure until 1301).

In fact, being a member of the monastic community, Hethum did not abandon either the royal sword or the monastic staff.

Being an unstable person, he was inclined to go from one extreme to another. He sought to be a pious monk and a passionate patriot at the same time and was convinced that the Armenian state could not exist for long without the support of the Pope and European states.

Hethum abandoned the throne six times, left the royal palace, and went to the monastery. Every time, he would eventually come back to the throne.

Once, when he once again gave up the throne, the palace council put his brother Smbat in his position (reigned 1296-1299). Hethum together with his brother Toros launched a war against Smbat. Smbat managed to arrest both brothers: Toros would be executed and Hethum blinded.

Later, his other brother, the owner of the Kapan fortress Constantine, rebelled against Smbat. This time, Smbat was defeated, arrested, and imprisoned. Constantine, having received the consent of Hethum, acceded to the Cilician throne. But in 1299, Hethum with the help of the pro-Latin politicians again became King of Cilicia.

Fearing new unrest, Hethum sent his brother Constantine out of the country. In 1301, he made Toros’ minor son King of Cilicia. Hethum became his guardian and, in fact, continued to single-handedly rule the country.

In the spring of 1307, on behalf of Levon IV, Hethum convened a church council in Sis (capital of Cilicia) and demanded merging with the Catholic Church. Hethum had always cherished the dream of creating a union of Christian states to fight against Muslim countries. As a result, the external threat became even more pronounced.

In the autumn of the same year, the commander of the Mongolian troops stationed in Cilicia invited Levon IV and Hethum along with 40 prominent Armenian princes to the Cilician city of Anarzabus. There, they all were ruthlessly killed by the Mongols.

The brother of Hethum II Oshin, after avenging his relatives and driving the Mongols out from the country, continued the policy of Hethum and split the country even more. Instead of establishing good relations with neighboring Muslim countries, especially with the Egyptian Sultanate, Oshin continued to send letters to Rome and the sovereigns of European countries, asking for support. Any proposal to establish good neighborly relations with Islamic countries was met with the sharp criticism of the Armenian Church.

In 1317, Catholicos Constantine Kesaratsi convened a church council in Adana. The struggle between the supporters of unification with the Catholic Church and its opponents has passed into an armed stage.

After the death of Oshin, the Cilician throne passed over to his son Levon V (1320-1342). Since Levon had not yet reached his legal age, a regent ruled Cilicia instead. In 1320, the Egyptian Mamelukes invaded Cilicia and captured its lowland areas. Two years later, Turkmen and Mongolian troops invaded Cilicia from Iconium. In 1322, the Egyptians seized the port of Ayas and destroyed its land and sea fortifications.

On Levon V, the direct line of the dynasty was interrupted, and as a result of the marriage between the dynasties, the title of the King of Cilician Armenia passed to the French House of Lusignan.

The following year, in Cairo, the Armenian side signed a peace treaty. Catholicos Constantine Lambronatsi promised that Cilicia’s relations with European countries would not be directed against Egypt. But a few days after the signing of the contract, the flow of letters of aid to Europe resumed.

In 1335-37, the Egyptian Mamelukes seized the lands of the lowland Cilicia, thereby cutting off the Armenian state from the Mediterranean Sea. Among the ruling circles in Cilicia, it became clear that in order to receive Western assistance, it was necessary to give the Armenian throne to the representative of the French dynasty of Lusignan who was ruling in Cyprus.

On April 16, 1375, the capital of Cilicia Sis fell. King Levon VI Lusignan and Catholicos Poghos were captured and taken to Cairo.

For more than 50 years, Cilician Armenian troops scattered in the Taurus Mountains continued to wage a heroic war against the invaders. They still hoped for external support. This struggle and vain hopes, however, were the last reflections of the decline of the Cilician state.

Arshaluis Zurabyan


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