Filaret Varazhnuni – “King of Armenians and Greeks”

Filaret Varazhnuni – “King of Armenians and Greeks”Filaret (Pilarthos) Varazhnuni (1072-1090) originated from the Varazhnuni Nakharar family (Nakharar is an Armenian hereditary title of the highest order) stationed in Vaspurakan Province of Armenia. According to 5th-century Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi, the ancestor of the clan was Varazh who was appointed by King Artashes to the post of the royal trapper.

7th-century Armenian bishop and historian Sebeos also mentioned the Varazhnuni dynasty in his records. Greek sources called the representatives of the genus “Vahramian.” 20th-century historian Nikoghayosos Adonts, in his turn, wrote that Filaret Varazhnuni was from the family of commander Sahak-Vahram who participated in the uprising of the Byzantine warlord Bardas Skleros.

According to 12th-century historian Matthew of Edessa, Filaret Varazhnuni was educated by his uncle, famous scientist of his time Hovhannes Kozern in the monastery Zovri-Kozer located in Harsan Msur in Commagene.

After becoming an adherent of the Chalcedonian Christian Church, Filaret Varazhnuni was sharply criticized by Armenian historians of the time.

12th-century patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church Mikhail the Syrian in his Medieval work “Chronicle” testifies to the beginning of the activity of Filaret Varazhnuni. He writes that during the Seljuk campaign, about 50 Armenians who were engaged in robbery against the Seljuk Turks appeared in Marash. There, they found FIlaret who would become their leader. After reinforcing the detachment, they entered Cilicia and drove out the Turks from Kesoon, Marash, Alpstan, and subsequently from Melitien, Kharberd, Edessa, and from other fortresses.

The testimony of Mikhail is confirmed by Arab historian Abul Fed: “And at that time when the Greeks were weakened and the Seljuk Turks all captured, a group of Armenians who were brave and bold united in one robber group of 50 people, went to the Greek lands and plundered and destroyed them. They and their leader Filaret began to seize the fortifications of Cilicia and multiplied.”

11th-century spokeswoman for Byzantine historiography, Byzantine princess Anna Kommene describes Filaret as “a person who catches the eye with boldness and rationality.” Given that the Greeks lived side by side with the Armenians in the domains of Filaret, 11th-century Arabic chronicler Ibn al-Qalanisi called him “the king of Armenians and Greeks.”

Entering service in the Byzantine army, Varazhnuni reached the position of the commander of the troops in the region. During the campaign of Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes in 1070 in Khlat near the Lake Van, he was entrusted with the command of the whole army.

A year after the Byzantine army was defeated by the Seljuks in the Battle of Manazkert in 1071, the Armenian prince created an extensive Armenian principality in the southwest of the Armenian Highlands, which included the lands of Commagene, northern Syria, Cilicia, and some areas of Upper Mesopotamia.

Ten years later, in 1082, Vasil Gogh from the Kamsarakan clan founded another Armenian principality near the Varazhnuni possessions with a center in Kesun. He was called Gogh because he was launching offensives against the Turks, in which he won in spite of the smallness of his unit.

Vasil Gogh recognized Filaret as an overlord and himself as his vassal. At the same time, he collaborated with the principality of Rubenids founded in mountainous Cilicia in the Bardzrberd region. It is known Gogh cooperated with Toros I Rubenid and defeated the invading Seljuk sultan’s troops in the valley of Berdus. The Seljuks would be driven out from Cilicia in 1107.

The Greeks could not reconcile with the Armenian principalities, but since they were unable to deal with the Seljuks, they attempted to temporarily make peace with the Armenians so that they guarded the eastern borders of the empire.

Having replenished the army with the help of the Armenians, Varazhnuni succeeded for some time to stop the advance of the Seljuk Turks to the west of Byzantium.

The Byzantine court was forced to recognize the principality and give the title of Sebastos to Varazhnuni, which was the second title in Byzantium after Caesar. In exchange, Varazhnuni had to become an adherent of the Chalcedonian Church.

According to Armenian historian Yervand Kasuni, “in this turmoil, the face of the Armenian Filaret suddenly rose. Thanks to his military and diplomatic activity, it was possible to create a neutral zone in the area of the Euphrates River, giving the local Armenians a new hope.”

In 1073, Filaret attempted to annex to his domain Sasun, the estate of Prince Thornik, and was defeated in the Tsopk region. Despite the failure, he managed to take away Edessa and Antioch from Byzantium and annex them to his princedom.

In order to receive the support of the Armenian church, he transferred the patriarchal throne to his possessions – first to Khonakh and then to Marash. He assigned the nephew of Petros I Getadardz Sargis (one of the direct causers of the loss of the statehood of Armenia) as the patriarch. However, the clergy did not like such a zealous interference in their affairs.

In 1083, the princedom of Varazhnuni began to weaken. The Seljuk Turks invaded his possessions. In the conditions of schism in his cities, Varazhnuni collected treasures as a gift to the Seljuk ruler Melik Shah. He went to him “ask him for peace and favor for all the believers and brethren in Christ.”

Having met with indifference to his own initiative, he decided to abandoned Christianity and convert to Islam in the hopes of being gifted with honors and being useful to his people.

According to Matthew of Edessa, Varazhnuni did not achieve anything with this step. After the extinction of all his hopes to restore his power, he returned to Christianity and went to a monastery where he would end his days in 1090.

Despite such an end, the Varazhnuni princedom created favorable conditions for the strengthening of Bardzraberd region established in 1080 by Prince Ruben in Highland Cilicia.

Arshaluis Zurabyan

Marash Fortress, the capital of the Filaret Varazhnuni Principality
Source of photographs of lead seals article: “Hermitage stamps of Filaret Varazhnuni



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