Sebastia – Ancient Capital of Lesser Armenia

Sebastia – Ancient Capital

The city of Sebastia (today Sivas, central Turkey) was founded in the 1st century BC in the province of Lesser Armenia of the Pontic Empire.

Under Emperor Diocletian, Sebastia became the capital of Lesser Armenia at the end of the 3rd century. From the beginning of the 5th century, it has been the capital of the province of First Armenia. Since the end of the 7th century, it has been part of the Byzantine Theme (province) of the Armeniacs.

In 1021, Emperor Basil II transferred the city and the adjacent areas to the Armenian prince Senekerim Artsruni who would rule Sebastia as a vassal of the Byzantine Empire. In 1074, the city became independent from Byzantium. Senekerim and his descendants would rule the city up until the capture of Sebastia by the Turks at the end of the 11th century.

In 1090, the city was captured by the Danishmend Turkomans. The city was renamed Sivas and proclaimed the capital of the Turkoman state. In 1172, the Seljuk Turks conquered Sebastia. In 1400, the city was captured and plundered by the troops of Tamerlane. Later, the city came under the authority of the Ottoman Turks (1408).

Despite the Ottoman rule, right up until WWI and the Armenian Genocide, the majority of the population of the city and region were Armenians. The city and its environs had many Armenian monasteries such as Surb Nshan, Surb Anapat, Surb Sargis, Hreshtakapetats, Derdzaki-vank, and others.

Surb Nshan on the outskirts of the city contained a repository of ancient Armenian manuscripts. Near the town was also the Armenian monastery of The Holy Cross in which the royal throne and other relics were kept.

The population of Sebastia and entire Lesser Armenia was massacred in 1894-1896 (Hamidian massacres) and in 1915-1923 (the Armenian Genocide). As a result, the Armenian population was completely exterminated, houses and schools were demolished, and temples were destroyed or converted into mosques.

The photo below shows what remains of the Armenian churches of the city and how they are used today…

Alexander Bakulin




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