Military organization of Bagratid Armenia in the IX-XI centuries

Published with permission of the author. The original article was published in the collection Days of Science of the Faculty of History: Proceedings of the VIII International Scientific Conference of Young Scientists. Editor-in-Chief: Corresponding Member NASU, prof. V. Kolesnyk (chairman), O. Magdych (ed.). Vip. VIII Part 6. (Kyiv 2015): 17-23.

Reference to the article:

Weakening of the Arab Caliphate in the late ninth century. allowed the Armenians, who were dependent on the Caliphate at the beginning of the VIII century, to create their own independent state – the Armenian (Ani) kingdom (885-1045). This event dramatically changed the geopolitical situation in both the Middle East and the Caucasus. The Bagratids, the kings of Armenia, were faced with the question of protecting Armenian statehood from territorial encroachments by Byzantium and the Caliphate. This, in turn, led to the creation of a military organization in Armenia. Studying this issue, we will consider not only the formation, number and social composition of the army, but also some aspects of the right to land ownership in Armenia as a foundation for the organization of the army [1, p. 5-6].

In historiography there is still no comprehensive work on the history of military affairs of medieval Armenia. Moreover, there are no separate articles on this topic. There is some information in the articles of Soviet scientists S. Eremyan [1] and V. Stepanenko [2]. Some information can be obtained from the mainstream of Byzantine studies, namely – from the works of Russian researcher V. Kuchma [3] and Armenian historian K. Tumanov [4]. Armenian and Roman chroniclers often mention the Armenian army, but this information is chaotic and often untrue. They relate exclusively to the number of troops and isolated mentions of its organization and tactics [5]. There is almost no information about military life or about the mobilization processes and military orders of the Armenians themselves. Military treatises, which for example were in the Romans (“Lion Tactics”, “Strategicons” and others), Armenian medieval historiography did not know. More or less voluminous and objective information on this issue can be obtained from Armenian sources, namely – from the works of O. Draskhanakertzi (X century) [6] and S. Sparapet (XIII century) [7].

The newly formed Armenian state was not politically stable. The desire of the Bagratid princes to centralize state power was opposed by the local Naharar nobility, which firmly maintained its rights and wanted complete independence from the central government of the Bagratids. The Naharars themselves were large landowners who ruled certain areas (Gavars), but were subject to the authority of the king or Ishkhan. In the middle of the tenth century. due to external aggression by the Caliphate and Byzantium, decentralization processes in Bagratid Armenia intensified [8, p. 5-6], which led to its disintegration into “separate principalities”, which were ruled by certain Naharar clans. These “principalities” often feuded with each other [9, p. 149], although they were all vassals of the Ani Bagratids. Naharari, who became rulers of vassal kingdoms (Suni, Vaspurkan, Kars, Lori and others),

In foreign relations and military affairs, the Ishkans partially obeyed the Bagratid king. In the military sphere, the proof of this is the existence of the institution of Sparapet, the commander-in-chief of all Armenian troops, who was appointed by the Anian king. In the event of external aggression on the Armenian lands, he convened troops of all the vassals of Ani to jointly defend the territory. Thus, for example, we can cite the story of the Armenian chronicler Asohik (X – XI centuries) about the conflict in 988 between Ishkhan Tao, D. Kurolopat (966-1001) and the ruler of Abkhazia Bagrat III (975-1014). . Then the suzerain of David – the Anian king Smbat II (977-989) – gathered the troops of all his vassals and sent them to help David from the Tao [2, p. 45-46].

In order to determine how the Armenian army was formed and what its composition was, the issue of land ownership should be considered. In the society of that time, those who owned the land fund owned the capital and opportunities for the organization and formation of military forces. It is known that officially the owner of all land in Armenia was considered to be the Anian king of the Bagratid family [4, p. 599]. But in fact, the entire land fund of Armenia can be divided into two types: it is airenik (private property or Western European equivalent – feud) and pargevakank (conditional land tenure or Western European equivalent – benefits) [10, p. 105-107].

It is difficult to say how exactly the Armenian nobility (naharari) was able to get so much land on private property (irenik or feud). This may have been due to royal gifts and military conquests, or to the purchase of land from impoverished free community members. This land was in their hereditary possession, in fact being their property. The owners of such land were Armenian Naharars, Ishkans and Bagratid kings [11, p. 201 220]. From the middle of the X century. Due to the decentralization tendencies and fragmentation of Armenia, the Ani kings remained the de facto owners of all land on the rights of the Iranian only in their kingdom, and in their vassal principalities the rulers of all land were local princely families. It is the Ishkhans or Nahararas, being the owners of the Ireneks, distributed their land holdings in conditional ownership (pargevakan or benefits) for military service [12, p. 590, 599]. The users of pargevakan were most often azats. These were medium and small landowners who received land (in the form of benefits) from large landowners (naharars) or ishkhans (kings) [13, p. 115-116, 218 219].

Thus, in Armenia there was a suzerain-vassal system of relations, where the suzerain was the king of Armenia, and his vassals – ishhans of vassal kingdoms (Suni, Vaspurkan, Kars, Lori). At the same time, the vassals of the Ishkhans or the Ani king were the Naharari, and the vassals of the latter were the Azats, who could also obey the Ishkans directly. These three social classes (Azats, Naharars and kings or Ishkans) were the privileged sections of the population in Armenia [2, p. 44-46]. Ishkhans and Nahararis had their own military formations to protect their lands. Azats, receiving land in conditional ownership, undertook to perform military service in favor of his suzerain, being to some extent a prototype of a medieval knight. It should be noted that, unlike Western Europe, Armenia did not have such a diverse and branched vassal-hierarchical system, which is a sign that that the then Armenia did not know the classical Western European feudalism, as it is considered, for example, Soviet historiography [14, p. 75-77].

The question of the number of the Armenian army and the social origin of the soldiers who fought in it is interesting. Russian historian V. Bryusov believes that the number of the Armenian army reached 100 thousand soldiers [15, p. 70]. A slightly smaller, but also larger figure, based on Caucasian and Roman sources, is given by another Russian historian of Armenian origin, K. Tumanov. He believes that the number of Bagratid army in the X-XI centuries. reached 80 thousand soldiers [4, pp. 593-637]. In our opinion, such figures are somewhat inflated, because for comparison, the Roman army in the tenth century. numbered 120 thousand soldiers [3, p.105], while Byzantium was several times larger than Armenia and, in fact, was the dominant power in the world during the IX-XI centuries. Only during the reign of Basil II the Bulgarian assassins (976-1025) the Roman army numbered 250 thousand soldiers [17, p. 274], although his successors began to sharply reduce the number of troops to the standard 100-150 thousand [17, p. 278-279].

Armenian sources abound with mentions of a large Armenian army. For example, the Armenian chronicler of the thirteenth century. S. Sparapet says that the number of the united Armenian army during the reign of Tsar Gagik I (989-1020) was 300,600 horsemen, which is an incredible figure [7, p. 7]. M. Edesky, an Armenian historian of the twelfth century, writes:

“On that day [989] he [Tsar Gagik I] inspected all his troops, consisting of 100,000 chosen men. All of them were well equipped, glorified in battles and extremely brave “ [16, pp. 110-111].

The source states that Gagik I inspected the entire army. At that time, the Ani kingdom had a number of vassals, including Georgian and Albanian rulers [18, p. 9]. The point here is that the entire united Armenian army, together with allies and vassals in the Caucasus, could have numbered about 100,000 soldiers, which is more like the truth.

But such a number could be only during the heyday of the Caucasian states, namely – in the second half of the tenth century. The Armenian army itself was not large. Researcher of the early medieval history of Armenia A. Ter-Gevondyan believes that the army of the Ani kingdom at the beginning. X century numbered 30 thousand soldiers [19, p. 241]. Of course, its number fluctuated over the years, but on average the Bagratid army, together with its Armenian vassals, did not exceed 40-60 thousand soldiers. For example, the Armenian Catholicos A. Drashanakerttsi (X c.) Wrote:

“… King [Smbat I (890-914)], collecting all noble and all Armenian troops in an amount of sixty thousand men, left the campaign” [6, with. 138].

In the middle of the XI century. the process of decline of the Armenian states began, which, in turn, led to a reduction in the number of their troops. When in 1040 the Ishkhan of the Lori kingdom David I the Landless (989-1048) gathered a united Albanian-Armenian army for the war against the Dvina emir Apusuara, the total number of the united army was only 20 thousand soldiers (3 of them thousands were given by the Anian king Hovhannes-Smbat (1020-1041) [8, pp. 21] This was a sign of the political and economic decline of Armenia, which later led to the Roman conquest of the Anian kingdom in 1045.

The armies of the individual Naharars were small. The sources often mention clashes between various Armenian principalities or even Naharar clans. The army of one naharara on average numbered up to 4 thousand soldiers [6, p. 204]. Smbat Sparapet writes:

“Vasak Pakhlavuny [sparapet of Armenian troops under Tsar Smbat II (977-989)] did not gather all his army, as it consisted of five thousand people, but took with him only a hundred soldiers and went to meet the foreigners. » [7, p. 5-6]. This refers only to the army of the Bagratid kings, which amounted to only 5 thousand soldiers.

Azats, being a small Armenian nobility, were engaged in the organization of the cavalry and its maintenance. Azat were called horse riders, although only some of them (about 4 thousand for the whole of Armenia) were of noble origin [7, p. 20]. There is no exact data on the number of Armenian cavalry, but it was about 1/3 of the total army. The rest of the army consisted of infantry, which was composed of personally and economically free peasants.

Analyzing the considered numerical composition of the Armenian army (40-50 thousand), we can conclude that the support of the Armenian army were free peasants. The overwhelming majority of Armenian peasants (shinakans) were personally free, although economically dependent on their suzerain [10, p. 99-100]. But there was a large stratum of completely free peasants, although their rights were constantly limited by the Armenian nobility. These peasants formed the main backbone of the Armenian army [12, p. 596-600]. Peasants, going to the army, self-staffed, because they were called up to the army only when necessary, and regular infantry, as a personal guard, kept by Ishkhan himself. These facts refute the thesis of Soviet historiography about the possible enslavement of medieval Armenian peasants and deprivation of their personal freedom [18, p. 127].

The rather large united Armenian army (40-60 thousand) was a semi-professional structure that effectively protected the borders of the state from external enemies only when the Bagratid kingdom controlled its vassals. The desire to separate and form their own principalities led to the weakening of the state in the early eleventh century, and small and unprofessional armies could not resist the external enemy. Eventually, this led to the Byzantine conquest of the Ani kingdom in 1045 [2, p. 45]. The military organization of Armenia itself was not purely feudal, although there were many common elements. It should be noted that it is expedient to use the term “protofeudalism” when describing social and military relations in Armenia. After all, a feature of the Armenian social system is the existence of Naharar principalities, which are similar to Western European feudal principalities, but have a different origin and meaning. In addition, there is no such diverse social hierarchy in Armenia as in Western Europe, and Armenian Azats, unlike Western knights, have land ownership in the form of benefits, not feuds, although these benefits may eventually turn into feuds. In addition, the Armenian army was mostly composed of free peasants and was numerous (40-60 thousand), while the European medieval knightly armies were small (up to 8-10 thousand) and rarely staffed with peasants.

Thus, despite the fact that researchers have addressed this topic, there are still many questions for broader analysis and study. The military organization had a significant impact on all spheres of life of the Armenian state. Studying the formation, number and composition of the army, we can find out what socio-economic relations were in Armenia in the IX-XI centuries. and partially refute the thesis of Soviet historiography about the existence of feudal relations in contemporary Armenia.

Dmitry Dimidyuk

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