Bagras or Gastun is a 12th – 13th-century fortress built in the main southern passage in Amanus. It served as a gateway to the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. The fortress controlled the communication between Cilicia and northern Syria.
There has been a fierce struggle between Cilicia and the Antiochian principality for the possession of the fortress. The struggle provoked a conflict between Levon II from one side and the Templars and Pope Innocent III from the other.
By the end of the 12th century, Levon II decided to regain the control of the main passage connecting Cilicia with Antiochia. The passage was controlled from the Bagras Castle, which Saladin’s troops had taken from the Templars. Learning about the impending offensive of the Germanic knights, Saladin’s troops destroyed all of the castle’s fortifications and left.
Taking advantage of the moment, Levon occupied Bagras. He then renovated the castle and built new fortifications. The Templars, having learned about this, demanded Levon to hand in the fortress, but the Armenian king refused. As a result, his relations with the Templars and the papacy of Antiochia deteriorated.
After Saladin’s death in 1193, a favorable situation occurred for the annexation of Antiochia by Cilicia. In 1194, King Bohemond III was captured by Levon near Bagras. The ruler of Jerusalem Henry I of Jerusalem had to arrive at Sis to mediate a peace treaty. Levon released Bohemond only after the latter acknowledged Levon’s possession of Bagras and renounced his claim to suzerainty over Cilicia. Besides, Bohemund’s son Raymond had to marry Levon’s niece and heir Alice.
On August 25, 1211, Wilbrand van Oldenburg described the fortress as follows: “It is a very powerful castle […] on the edge of the Armenian mountains. Being in the hands of the King of Armenia, it successfully monitors the roads of the region. The Templars disputed over the right of possession of the castle rising above neighboring Antiochia.”
In 1119, the castle’s governor Atom, who was one of the most powerful Armenian princes, became the regent of the heiress of the throne Isabella I after the death of Levon II.
In July 1305, a battle took place near the castle, in which the Armenian troops inflicted a crushing defeat on the Saracens invading the kingdom. Only 300 of 7000 Saracens survived in the battle.
On the photo – the ruins of the fortress of Bagras.
LEON II ROUBINYAN (Magnificent)