Bahram al-Armani – Armenian Egyptian Warlord

Bahram al-Armani - Armenian Egyptian WarlordBahram al-Armani (Vahram Pahlavuni; died in 1140) was an Egyptian military commander of Armenian origin, the vizier of the sword (1135–1137) during the reign of Caliph al-Hafiz (1130–1149).

Bahram was born in Tell-Bashir. He belonged to the noble Armenian Pahlavuni family. In particular, he was the nephew of the Armenian Catholicos Grigor II Vkayaser and the brother of Grigor, the Armenian Catholicos in Egypt (1077/1078–1117).

The circumstances of the appearance of Bahram in Egypt are outlined in the work of Ibn Muyassar (1231–1278): “The one who ruled the Armenians died, and Bahram was given the opportunity to take his place, but a group of Armenians united against him… and they appointed another person. Bahram in anger left Tell-Bashir and arrived in Cairo.”

In addition, the letter of Caliph al-Hafiz to King Roger II of Sicily (written in circa 1137) that reached us in the form of a recital by al-Kalkashandi (1355-1418) states that Bahram arrived in Egypt “expelled from his homeland, rejected by his country and people, without money, status, family and people [=troops]”.

Apparently, Bahram had lost the power struggle in Tell-Bashir, following the death of Filaret Varazhnuni, as a result of which he was forced to leave his native city. The exact date of his arrival in Egypt is unknown.

  1. Kanar dated this event to around 1090. S. Dadoyan believes that Bahram made two visits to Egypt: during the first one (in circa 1090), he, his brother Vasak, and the army of 20 thousand Armenians were sent there by their uncle Grigor II Vkayaser. His second visit to Egypt took place in the 1130s.

However, this version was challenged by J. Jones. (Jones also rightly criticized the thesis of Dadoyan that Bahram Pahlavuni commanded a detachment fighting on the side of the Crusaders in 1098).

In Egypt, Bahram was able to achieve success in the military field. He was given the command of the Armenian troops, and by the beginning of 1135, he had been appointed the military governor of Gharbia, the western province of Delta.

However, Bahram al-Armani’s ascent along the career ladder took place in a difficult political situation. At the Fatimid court and in the army, there was a struggle for power between various groups and high-ranking courtiers accompanied by uprisings and murders.

Thus, in the fall of 1132, another vizier Abu’l-Fath Yanis al-Armani (also an Armenian, a former Mamluk of Al-Afdal, a vizier of the Fatimid caliphs in Egypt), whose rule lasted less than a year, was killed by order of the Caliph.

Then, Caliph al-Hafiz appointed his eldest son and heir Suleiman as the vizier. Suleiman would soon die, and Caliph’s second son Haidar took his place. Soon, the struggle for the vizierate broke out between Haidar, who was supported by the Sudanese corps of Reikhaniyya, and the third son of the Caliph Hassan, who was supported by the corps of Juiushija.

Hassan’s actions caused an uprising in the army, and he was forced to turn to Bahram al-Armani for help. When the latter arrived in Cairo, Hassan had already been sent away by the order of al-Hafiz. In this situation, the Caliph appointed Bahram a vizier of the sword.

As noted by J. Lev, Bahram was a successful candidate for the position of the vizier: as a military leader, he had numerous co-religionists and compatriots on his side. At the same time, given his Christian faith, he would hardly seek to rebuild the Egyptian political system for himself.

Nonetheless, the Caliph even went to change the protocol of some ceremonies: for example, during Friday sermons, he ascended the pulpit accompanied by the chief qadi and not the vizier as it had been before.

Bahram al-Armani served as the vizier from 1135 to 1137. He was the only one among the seven Armenian Fatimid viziers who did not adopt Islam and openly professed Christianity.

Moreover, he pursued a pro-Armenian and even a pro-Christian policy. In particular, he encouraged the construction of Armenian churches and monasteries in Cairo and other cities, as well as issued a decree on the exemption from tax for the monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai (1135).

According to Ibn Muyassar, “when Bahram established himself at the head of the vizierate, he asked al-Hafiz to allow him to invite his brothers and fellow tribesmen.

And he allowed it to him, and Bahram attracted them from Tell-Bashir and from Armenia so that their number in Egypt reached almost 30 thousand people. And they oppressed Muslims who would receive a lot of harm from the Christians.

And churches and monasteries were built during the time of Bahram. Every leader of his people built a church, and the people of Egypt were afraid that they would supplant the Muslim faith.

And the complaints against him and his people intensified. And his brother, known as Basak, ruled Kus, the inhabitants of which went through great oppression: he took away the property from people and offended them.”

In the letter of al-Hafiz to Roger II of Sicily, it is said that gripped by the “devilish plan”, Bahram “called upon his family, his clan, and his tribe, he corresponded with them through secret messages and letters in Armenian that had been discovered.

Those who were contacted by Bahram began to arrive gradually until their number reached 20 thousand people; some of them were equestrian, others were not, and among them were the two sons of his brother.”

However, during this period, the resettlement of such a significant number of people from Northern Syria to Egypt was practically impossible in just a few years: most likely, most of the settlers arrived in Egypt even earlier, during the rule of the vizier Badr al-Jamali (1074-1094).

Perhaps Bahram also maintained correspondence with Roger II, as thought by S. Dadoyan. Roger planned to annex the principality of Antioch and sought to enlist the support of the Egyptian Armenians through Bahram. Subsequently, in his correspondence with al-Hafiz, Roger II petitioned for Bahram.

Bahram’s policy caused discontent among the Muslim majority. S. Dadoyan believes that there was at least one more reason for the discontent: Bahram and his supporters attempted to convert to Christianity those Armenians who had arrived in Egypt earlier, including those who had come during the reign of vizier Badr al-Jamal and who had become integrated into the Egyptian society and had converted to Islam by the 1130s.

In the end, at the beginning of 1137, an anti-Armenian uprising broke out in Cairo led by the zealous Sunni and Shafi’i Islam adherent Rydvan Valakshi who had replaced Bahram as the military governor of Gharbia.

Interestingly, Rydvan imparted a character of jihad to his speech: in the mosques of Gharbia, preachers urged the people to wage a holy war against Bahram and his Armenians, and the soldiers of Rydvan secured sheets of Koran on their spears.

Rydvan also distributed a letter among the population on behalf of Caliph al-Hafiz containing a call for help against Bahram and a justification of his actions (in reality, the letter probably wasn’t agreed with the Caliph).

Bahram, abandoned by the Muslim warriors, along with his faithful Armenians fled to Kus in Upper Egypt where his brother Vasak ruled. Rydvan entered the capital of Egypt and claimed the vizierate.

In Cairo, Muslims smashed Armenian houses and churches. The Armenian Catholicos in Egypt Ananias was killed. The grave of Catholicos Grigor, the brother of Bahram, was desecrated.

Upon arrival in Kus, Bahram found out that an enraged mob had killed Vasak and abused his body. Having cruelly avenged the death of his brother, he retreated to the White Monastery near Ahmim where he would be soon besieged by Rydvan.

While in the monastery, Bahram entered into correspondence with Caliph al-Hafiz who during the uprising took a detached position. As a result, an agreement was concluded between them, according to which Bahram would have to retreat to Ikhimim Monastery (although the Caliph also offered him the position of a provincial governor with personal guard of no more than 60 horsemen), and his supporters were allowed to remain in Egypt or freely leave the country.

Bahram remained in the monastery until 1139. In this year, after the removal of Rydvan from authority, the caliph again called him to the court. Bahram served as the adviser to al-Hafiz, although he wasn’t officially appointed this time.

Bahram died on December 7, 1140, and was solemnly mourned and buried in the Ditch Monastery on the outskirts of Cairo.

Read also: Mzhezh – Armenian Military Leader and Ruler of Sicily

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