Historiography of the military history of Bagratid Armenia

The strengthening of the Byzantine Empire and the weakening of the Arab Caliphate led to a change in the geopolitical situation in the Caucasus in the late ninth century, which in turn allowed the Armenian state to gain independence from Muslim rule. The newly created state was headed by representatives of the Bagratid family (The Bagratids are an aristocratic noble family whose roots go back to the times of Greater Armenia (331 BC – 428 AD), where the Bagratids were a crowned family, ie they had the right to crown Armenian kings from the Arshakid dynasty. 428). The appropriation of lands of other noble families (Naharars) contributed to the strengthening of the power of the Bagratids, which allowed them in the VIII-IX centuries. to secure the position of Ishkhan, becoming the hereditary rulers of Armenia (under the protection of the Caliphate).

The weakening of the Arab Caliphate in the late ninth century. contributed to the creation of the Armenian and Georgian states, ruled by related dynasties of Bagratids and Bagrations, respectively. If with the decline of Armenia in the middle of the XI century. the Bagratid dynasty fades, the Bagration dynasty does not leave the political arena in the following centuries.), who set the political tone in the region and were suzerains of other Caucasian states , including Kartli (Georgia) and Albania until the middle of the XI century.

Being at the crossroads of trade routes, Armenia was the object of territorial encroachments by Byzantium and the Caliphate, which contributed to the constant development of the defense potential of the Bagratid state and the creation of a special military organization of society with developed sovereign-vassal relations.

The Armenian kingdom was often in the field of view of historians, especially Byzantines, who studied the political and religious history of the state of Bagratids and the whole Caucasus in the IX-XI centuries. The military sphere of Bagratid Armenia turned out to be less studied, as it was considered only from the point of view of Byzantine or Arab history, due to which there are a number of “white spots” in this topic.

Most works on the history of the Armenian kingdom suffer from one-sided views and narrow themes, because they are written in the stream of Marxist methodology, where we find commentary by the authors of the sources, rather than their analysis (not to mention the ideological engagement of texts). Note that Western historiography, except for a few emigrant historians from Russia, does not know professional researchers on the medieval history of Armenia and the Caucasus.

For the analysis of the historiographical base it will be expedient to choose the method of “steps” of Natalia Yakovenko , moving from general works to narrow explorations. In the very stages, we group the literature according to the problem approach, so as not to submit all the works in a mixture.

Perhaps the best studies on the history of early medieval Armenia are the monographs of Aram Ter-Gevondyan [20] and Karen Yuzbashyan [24], which describe the Arab-Armenian and Byzantine-Armenian relations in the VII-IX and IX-XI centuries. accordingly, and also characterize the then vassal-suzerain system on which the formation of the army depended.

If A. Ter-Gevondyan focused his attention on the studied relations between the Armenian nobility and the Arab rulers, as well as on the reasons for the strengthening of the Bagratid dynasty in the ninth century. (Similar to this are the studies of Eduard Danielyan [8, 26. 26-27]), then K. Yuzbashyan analyzed in detail the Armenian-Byzantine relations, determining the reasons for the entry of the Armenian principalities in the Byzantine Empire in the late tenth – first half of the eleventh century.

The disadvantage of these publications is that in describing the political history of Armenia, the authors commented on the sources, rather than their analysis.

The collective monograph of American Armenian scholars edited by Richard Hovhannisyan [32] is similar in content , where a general description of the Bagratid era is presented in several sections. Today, the latest work on the political history of the Bagratids is the work of Armen Yeghiazaryan , which outlines the preconditions for the formation of the Armenian kingdom, describes the relationship between princes and the king of the Bagratid dynasty, and describes the reigns of kings Ashot I and Smbat I (890-914). The author brought his work to the uprising of Gagik Artsruni (908), with the aim of seizing the royal throne, which in turn led to the beginning of the Arab invasion of Armenia [40].

Political history of the Bagratid kingdom of the X-XI centuries. various articles devoted to nodal problems of the researched topic are well covered. Russian and Armenian Byzantine scholars work most fruitfully in this issue , namely : Viada Arutyunova-Fidanyan [3], Valery Stepanenko [16; 17; 18], Rach Bartikyan [4; 5], Suren Yeremyan [9; 10] and others. The works of these researchers tell about the Armenian-Byzantine relations in the X-XI centuries. and analyze the course of the expansionist policy of the Romans.For example, V. Stepanenko studies the preconditions and reasons for the expansion of Byzantium to the East during the reign of Basil II the Bulgarian assassin (976–1025) and his successors [19, p. 123–126], and V. Arutyunova-Fidanyan [2] and K. Yuzbashyan [25] describe the process of conquest of the Ani kingdom by the Romans in 1045.

Despite the fact that the political history of the Bagratid kingdom is well studied, the military organization of the Armenian state has not yet been the subject of a special study . If there are works on the military history of Ancient [44] or Cilicia Armenia [15; 26], then for reasons unknown to us, historians have avoided the question of the military organization of the Bagratid state.

Perhaps the only thorough study of a separate section on the military history of the Bagratids is the third volume of the History of the Armenian People, edited by Babken Arakelyan . The author outlines the organization of the army, its structure, armament and number [41, p. 273–277]. Unfortunately, as in most Soviet works, this work deals with the identification of the Armenian nobility and Western European feudal lords, which makes the system of army formation distorted and poorly studied.

Military tactics, strategy and detailed descriptions of the battles of Bagratid Armenia are included in 2 [42] and 3 [43] volumes of the multi-volume edition “Our Victories” edited by Hryhor Harutyunyan . Unfortunately, this publication is rather descriptive in nature, which quite well organizes information from known sources about a particular battle. Similar in essence is the latest monograph by A. Yeghiazaryan on the biography of the Armenian Tsar Ashot II the Iron (914-928), which describes the military and political activities of the king on the basis of a large array of sources, where the military is given much attention, but without its critical and systematic analysis [ 39].

Some information on this topic is contained in related works on the military history of the Byzantine Empire and the Arab Caliphate, as well as in articles on the socio-economic history of the Bagratid kingdom, which are based on archaeological materials.

Thus, the Armenian historian B. Arakelyan, studying the craft and trade relations of Armenian cities in the IX-XIII centuries. suggested that the Armenians knew more than 18 types of weapons, some of which the researcher was able to characterize on the basis of available archaeological data [1, p. 120–121].

The types of armor that were common among the Georgian nobility in the tenth and twelfth centuries were discussed in detail in her article by Mamuka Tsurtsumiya , who described and compared them with the armor of Roman soldiers. The researcher argues that the weapons manufactured in the Caucasus (particularly in Georgia) were almost identical to the Byzantine, which indicates the same standards of their manufacture [37].

No less meaningful were the studies of the English historian David Nicolas , who, studying the early medieval Arab and Byzantine armies, repeatedly mentioned the Armenians who not only served in the armies of these two states, borrowing their innovations, but also contributed to the development of the military [28 ; 29; 30]. Also in the appendices to the dissertation of D. Nicolas we find copies of various book miniatures (X-XI centuries), which show various types of weapons and armor, which the author drew from the original manuscripts preserved in the archives of Venice (Italy), Matenadaran and Echmiadzin (Armenia) [ 31, illust. № 240–246], which is a valuable source for studying the armaments of the Armenians of that time.

Regarding the number of Armenian troops, the myth that the combined army numbered 100,000 soldiers still prevails in historiography [6, p. 70], which in our opinion seems impossible, because the population of Armenia itself was up to 1 million people [23, p. 44]. Kirill Tumanov was one of the few who expressed his opinion about the smaller number of troops[33, p. 593–607; 34, p. 123–124] and Arsen Shaginyan[21; 22, c. 216, 222], but this issue was not the object of their study, so these conclusions in their works were incidental and were completely unfounded. Note that despite serious academic achievements, one of A. Shaginyan’s recent monographs has been severely criticized by Naila Velikhanova, who criticizes the author for compiling entire excerpts from the works of other researchers [7, 266-272].

In terms of comparative research , works on the military history of the Byzantine Empire by Warren Thredgold [36] and Walter Cage [27] are valuable . Despite the political and cultural closeness between Armenia and Byzantium, militarily these states were radically different. Rafel Matevosyan claims that

in contrast to Byzantium, Armenia developed a system of vassality-suzerainty, which contributed to the formation of a diverse social hierarchy (Armenian king – princes – Naharari – Azats) [13, p. 29]. Armenia was not divided into femas, which were military-administrative units, but into separate principalities, where there were their rulers from the dynasty of Artsruni, Xuni, etc. princes only formally recognized the vassal dependence on the Anian king of the Bagratid dynasty [12, p. 105]. If Bagratid Armenia suffered from fragmentation, Byzantium, on the contrary, suffered from bureaucratic centralization [13, p. 29].

Note that most modern researchers have a rather vague idea of ​​the meaning of the term “feudalism” , which creates artificial difficulties in the study of the military organization of Armenia and beyond. Thus, in her PhD thesis, Catherine Motsa writes: “In the Byzantine Empire [in the tenth century. – DD] introduced a feudal order of enlistment in the army. The role of mercenaries is growing again: Normans, Russians, Armenians, Georgians, Arabs “ [14, p. 150]. We believe that this is a misconception, because the feudal type of army is the complete opposite of mercenaries. In our own conclusions we support K. Tumanov’s theory about the existence of quasi-feudalism in Armenia in the IX-XI centuries. [35, p. 417–419], which had a number of differences from Western European, but was basically similar to it.

The main difference between these “feudalisms” was that the Bagratid king did not grant land holdings to the Ishkhans and Naharars, who were his vassals, because these princes were hereditary owners of their land on the basis of historical law. Even the “father of Armenian historiography” Movses Khorenatsi ( V century ) wrote that “it is unknown where these nahararstva came from” [11, p. 20–25, 295–298]. In addition, in Armenia at that time, the Azats probably had only benefits, or even kept as a wife at the expense of the prince. Perhaps these benefits would have turned into feuds, but the Byzantine conquest of Armenia in the middle of the eleventh century. and subsequent Seljuk expansion delayed these processes.

As we can see, in modern historiography, the military history of the Armenian Empire is rarely the subject of a separate study, and all known investigations on this topic are conducted in the context of the Byzantine Empire, the Arab Caliphate or other Caucasus states. The obtained results will be useful not only in the context of studying the history of Armenia, but also for conducting various comparative studies on military history.

Author -Dmytro DYMYDYUK, Ivan Franko National University of Lviv lvivmedievalclub.wordpress.com

The article was published in the NOTES of the LVIV MEDIEVIST CLUB. ISSUE №2.

The article examines the state of the study of the number, armament and organization of the army of Bagratid Armenia at the end of the ninth – in the first half of the eleventh century. It is believed that the military history of the Bagratid state was studied mainly from the point of view of Armenian-Byzantine or Armenian-Arab relations, so the military organization of the Armenian kingdom was not the subject of a separate study, even at the article level. Emphasis is placed on the little-studied aspects of the given topic.


1. B. Arakelyan, Development of crafts and commodity production in Armenia in the IX-XIII centuries, “Soviet archeology” 1956, vol. XXVI, p. 118–153.

2. V. Arutyunova-Fidanyan, On the History of the Fall of Ani (On the Personality of the “Tsarist Slave” in the “History” of Mikhail Attaliat), “Bulletin of Social Sciences of the Academy of Sciences of the ArmSSR” 1967, № 9, p. 97–103.

3. V. Arutyunova-Fidanyan, Orthodox Armenians and the Armenian-Byzantine Contact Zone, Bulletin of the Orthodox St. Tikhon University, 2009, vol. 5, p. 7–18.

4. P. Bartikyan, On Feme Iveria, “VON AN Arm. SSR »1974, № 12, p. 68–79.

5. R. Bartikyan, About the tsar’s curator “MANZHKEPT KAI EΣΩ IBHPIAΣ” Mikhail. In connection with the eastern policy of Basil II (976–1025), “Historical and Philological Journal” 2000, № 1, p. 130–149.

6. V. Bryusov, Chronicle of the historical destinies of the Armenian people / Valery Bryusov, Yerevan 1989, 182 p.

7. N. Velikhanova, Rec. on the book: Shaginyan A. Transcaucasia as part of the Arab Caliphate, “Written monuments of the East” 2005, № 2 (3), p. 266–272.

8. Э. Danielyan, Armenian-Byzantine Relations during the Conclusion of the Armenian-Arab Treaty, Լրաբեր հասարակական գիտությունների [[Bulletin of Social Sciences ”] 1988, № 4,«. 21–32.

9. S. Eremyan, Community of Fates and Cultural and Political Commonwealth of the Peoples of the Caucasus in the IX-XIII centuries, “Caucasus and Byzantium” 1982, «. 3, p. 5–9.

10. S. Eremyan, Accession of the north-western regions of Armenia to Byzantium in the XI century, “Bulletin of Social Sciences of the Academy of Sciences of the ArmSSR” 1971, № 3, p. 4–16;

11. History of Armenia Moses Khorensky, lane. N. Emina, Moscow 1893, 325 p. 12. V. Kuchma, Military and economic problems of Byzantine history at the turn of IX-X centuries. on “Lion Tactics”, “Ancient Antiquity and the Middle Ages” 1973, «. 9, p. 102–113.

13. R. Matevosyan, State structure and administrative system of Bagratid Armenia: author’s ref. dis. at the request of a scientist. Ph.D. ist. Science, Yerevan 1991, 32 p.

14. K. Motsia, Martial Art of the Byzantine Taurica in the late IV – early XII centuries .: dis. Cand. ist. Sciences, Kyiv 2016, 256 p.

15. M. Romanova, Armament and uniforms of the Armenian Cilicia War (1073–1375), “Հայոց պատմության հարցեր” [“Questions of Armenian History”] 2011, (. 64–81.

16. V. Stepanenko, Apahunik in Byzantine-Taoist Relations during the Rebellion of Varda Sklira (976–979) “Ancient Antiquity and the Middle Ages” 1973, № 10, p. 221–224.

17. V. Stepanenko, From the history of Armenian-Byzantine relations of the second half of the X-XI centuries. (to the attribution of the coins of the Curike Kuropalat), “Ancient Antiquity and the Middle Ages” 1978, № 15, p. 43–51.

18. V. Stepanenko, On the identification of the person of the message “Matiane Kartlis”, “Byzantine Times” 1980, vol. 41, p. 163–172. 19. V. Stepanenko, The political situation in the Caucasus in the first half of the XI century., “Ancient antiquity and the Middle Ages” 1975, № 11, p. 124–132.

20. A. Ter-Gevondyan, Armenia and the Arab Caliphate, Yerevan 1977, 319 p.

21. A. Shaginyan, Armenia and the countries of the South Caucasus in the VII-IX centuries: author’s ref. dis. at the request of a scientist. degrees of Doctor of History Sciences, St. Petersburg 2010, 39 p.

22. A. Shaginyan, Disbandment of the Arab province of Arminia in the second half of the IX century, “Bulletin of St. Petersburg University” 2009, № 2, p. 213–223.

23. A. Shaginyan, The population of the Greater Armenian, Albanian and Iberian lands under the rule of the early Abbasids (750–1258), Vestnik Sankt-Peterburgskogo universiteta 2014, № 3, p. 40–46.

24. K. Yuzbashyan, Armenian states of the Bagratid era and Byzantium of the IX – XI centuries, Moscow 1988, 305 p.

25. K. Yuzbashyan, Skilitsa on the capture of the Ani kingdom in 1045, “Byzantine Times” 1979, vol. 40, p. 76–91.

26. M. Chlipała, Vojskowość królestwa Armenii cylicyjskiej v czasach wypraw krzyżowych, Tarnowskie Góry 2013, 128 p.

27. W. Kaegi, Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests / Walter Kaegi, Cambridge 2005, 314 p.

28. D. Nicolle, A Companion to Medieval Arms And Armor, Woodbridge 2002, 320 p.

29. D. Nicolle, Romano-Byzantine Armies IV – IX c., Oxford 1992, 49 p.

30. D. Nicolle, The Armies of Islam VII – XI c., Oxford 1995, 41 p.

31. D. Nicolle, The Military Technology of Classical Islam. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Edinburgh 1982, vol. I – III, 521 p.

32. The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, ed. by Richard G. Hovannisian, New-York 1997, vol. I, 493 p.

33. C. Toumanoff, Armenia and Georgia, The Cambridge Medieval History 1966, vol. IV, p. 593–607.

34. S. Toumanoff, Caucasia and Byzantium, «Traditio» 1971, vol. 27, p. 111–158.

35. C. Toumanoff, The background to Manzikert, “XIII International Congress of Byzantine Studies” 1967, p. 411–426.

36. W. Treadgold, Byzantium and Army, Stanford 1995, 284 p.

37. M. Tsurtsumia, The Evolution of Splint Armor in Georgia and Byzantium: Lamellar and Scale Armor in the 10th – 12th centuries, «BYZANTINA ΣΥΜΜΕΙΚΤΑ» 2011, vol. 21, p. 65–99.

38. Բ. Առաքելյան, Հայաստանում և արհեստները Հայաստանում IX – XIII դդ. [B. Arakelyan, Craft in the cities of Armenia in the IX-XIII centuries]. Access mode: http://rma.zorakn.org/?p=24

39. Ա. Եղիազարյան, Աշոտ Երկաթ. Թագավոր Հայոց, Երևան 2016, 120 էջ. [AND. Yeghiazaryan, Ashot the Iron. Armenian Tsar, Yerevan 2016, 120 p.] 40. Ա. Եղիազարյան, Հայ Բագրատունիների տերությունը (885–908 տերությունը.), Երևսն 2011, 396 տերությունը. [AND. Yeghiazaryan, State of Armenian Bagratids (885–908), Yerevan 2011, 396 p.]

41. Հայ Ժողովրդի Պատմություն, Խմբ. Բ. Առաքելյան, Երևան 1976, Հ. 3, 1032 էջ. [History of the Armenian people, under. ed. B. Arakelyan, Yerevan 1976, vol. III, 1032 p.]

42. հաղթանակները հաղթանակները, Խմբ. Գ. Հարությունյան, Երևան 2009, Հ. 2, 332 էջ. [Our victories, under. ed. G. Harutunyan, Yerevan 2009, vol. 2, 332 p.]

43. հաղթանակները հաղթանակները, Խմբ. Գ. Հարությունյան, Երևան 2011, Հ. 3, 336 էջ. [Our victories, under. ed. G. Harutunyan, Yerevan 2011, vol. 3, 336 p.]

44. Ս. Սարգսյան, Հայ ռազմական արվեստի պատմություն, Երևան 1969, 218 էջ. [WITH. Sargsyan, On the History of Armenian Military Art, Yerevan 1969, 218 p.]

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top