Sometime we will return to Cilicia

11th century, turbulent times, especially in the East. And Europe is not very calm either – new states are being formed. Almost nothing has changed in God-forsaken Armenia – the country is desired to be partitioned by the Byzantines, Persians, Seljuk Turks.

It’s the year 1080… Armenians gathered on the shores of the Mediterranean, in the Taurus Mountains, and began to create yet another state. This coincided with the era of the first crusade (1096-1099), the path of the Crusaders lay through Cilicia.

The Armenians greeted the Western Christians as co-religionists, rendered them all kinds of assistance, and themselves joined the ranks of the crusader warriors. Orders of the Templars and Hospitallers became welcome guests in the kingdom of the Rubenids.

At that time, Byzantium was in the height of its power, and Greek troops stood in all Armenian garrisons, oppressing the Armenian population. This period is beautifully described in the novel by Armenian writer Tserents (Ovsep Shishmanyan) “Toros, son of Levon”.

In ancient times, Cilicia was inhabited by Anatolian tribes. Later, a significant part of its population was made up of Greeks and Syrians. Armenians first settled in Cilicia under Tigranes II (95—55 BC). In the VIII—XII centuries, Arabs and Seljuks appear here, and from the beginning of the XIII century — Italian artisans and merchants.

The number of Armenian population in Cilicia is rapidly growing in the XI and especially at the beginning of the XII century, when a significant part of the Anatolian Armenians, fleeing from the Seljuks, find refuge in the mountainous areas of Cilicia. Later, due to the Mongol-Tatar invasion, a large stream of migrants from Central Armenia settles here.

In the XI century in Cilicia there were a number of Armenian principalities, the most viable and significant of which was the principality founded in Mountainous Cilicia by Prince Ruben, one of the closest to Gagik II—the last king of the Bagratids.

The founding of this principality, which became the core of the Armenian state in Cilicia, is considered to be the year 1080, when Ruben expelled the Byzantines from Mountainous Cilicia and proclaimed an independent Armenian principality. Ruben’s successor,—his son Constantine, seized a number of new regions and fortresses.

The Armenian Principality of Cilicia waged a prolonged struggle against the enemies surrounding it—the Byzantine Empire, the Seljuk Sultanate of Iconium, and the Latin Principality of Antioch.

During bloody wars, many of its regions repeatedly changed hands. However, alongside a long and stubborn struggle, skillfully exploiting disagreements between their opponents, the Rubenids expanded the borders of the principality step by step. As early as the first half of the 12th century, they captured such well-known cities as Sis, Anazarbus, Adana, Tarsus.

The peaceful life of the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia did not last long. From the mid-13th century, it was threatened by the growing Sultanate of the Egyptian Mamluks, who had conquered Syria and come very close to Cilicia. Another dangerous opponent was the Sultanate of Iconium. To resist the enemies, the Armenian state needed allies.

In 1247, the commander of the troops, Smbat Gundstabl, and in 1253—his brother, King Hetum I, went to Central Asia to the great Mongol Khan, pledged to pay a tax, and secured his support in the fight against the Mamluks. Hetum I also made the Principality of Antioch his ally.

With the help of the Mongols, he managed to protect the country from attacks for some time. However, in 1266, the Mamluks, having defeated Hetum I’s allies, invaded Cilicia, caused great destruction, and then returned to Egypt.

King Levon III (1270—1289) took decisive measures to strengthen the country and create a large combat-ready army. He executes or imprisons rebellious feudal lords, seizes their fiefs. However, neither he nor his successors managed to create a strong centralized state.

Starting from the 1320s, the situation of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia became critical. The Sultanate of Iconium once again joined forces with the Mamluks against Cilicia. In a series of campaigns, the Mamluks destroyed and looted the cities and villages of the country, imposing one treaty after another on the Armenian kingdom, each more burdensome than the last.

Cilicia appealed for help to Western powers, but to no avail. Requests for assistance sent to the king of France and the Roman pope, on whom the Armenian kings vainly relied, only worsened the situation.

The Kingdom of Cilicia was created through battles and hardships – it was one of the most beautiful and tragic in Armenian history. Oriented towards Western Europe in the form of monastic-military orders, Cilicia became a transit point for knights heading for the Holy Sepulchre and incidentally founding small Christian kingdoms in the Near East.

Cilicia reached its highest peak under Levon II, who was crowned in 1198. The capital of the state was Sis, which stood on the tributary of the Pyramus River. Twelfth-century sources report that the city had a “huge population”, “magnificent churches”, a “palace with belvederes and gardens”, “archives, holy relics” and the like.

The ports of Cilicia were Ayas and Tarsus, and maritime trade was also carried out by foreign merchants who had their factories and colonies in Cilicia. Nature itself, it seemed, had taken care of Cilicia’s safety.

However, as always, this Armenian state could not withstand the onslaught of the Egyptian Mamluks. The Kingdom of Cilicia fell in 1375, but its three-century existence was a “golden age” for Armenian art and literature.

Indeed, the great miniaturist Toros Roslin lived and worked in Cilicia. A large number of manuscripts through which we are now familiar with ancient Armenian literature were rewritten in the center of Cilicia, its cities, and monasteries.

And here is an interesting point – the state remained within the Armenian Apostolic Church with the Catholicosate in Sis. In 1113, the patriarchal throne was transferred from Greater Armenia to Cilicia. In Cilicia, as in Greater Armenia, Armenians devoutly attended church.

From 1149-1292, the patriarchal throne of the Catholicos of Armenia and the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia was located in the fortress of Romkla. Cilician masters built temples, amazing masterpieces of Armenian architecture.

As noted above, the Kingdom of Cilicia fell in 1375. The crusader knight Levon de Lusignan was destined to become the last king of Armenian Cilicia and reign for seven months.

In 1374, the future monarch arrived in Sis, where on September 14, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, Levon and his wife, Marguerite de Soissons, were anointed to the kingdom in the capital’s Cathedral of St. Sophia. Later in September of that year, the queen was relieved of her burden, giving birth to twins, Princesses Mariam and Katarine.

In 1375, accurately calculating that Pope Gregory XI would once again break his promise to help Cilicia and not send an army to assist, the Mamluks crossed the Cilician border.

Levon couldn’t withstand the onslaught of the troops and fortified himself in the Sis Citadel, located on an inaccessible rock. The troops storming the fortress suffered one failure after another, but their sharp archers managed to wound Levon VI. The Cypriot legionnaires decided to save themselves by betraying the King. Breaking into the tower where the bleeding king lay, they attempted to steal him, but Levon VI’s bodyguard repelled the traitors’ attack.

The defenders of the capital were depleted, the starving population was already inclined to surrender, when suddenly a safe-conduct from the Emir of Aleppo was brought to Levon VI, guaranteeing his and his family’s life in case of Sis’s surrender. Realizing the futility of resistance, Levon surrendered to the mercy of the victor and was taken to Cairo along with his family, Catholicos Pogos I, and princes.

A year later, it was possible to ransom Catholicos Pogos I and Queen Mariun, both of her daughters having died during her captivity. Upon gaining freedom, the inconsolable Queen moved to Jerusalem, where she settled in the Armenian Monastery of Surb Akob (St. James) and lived there until the end of her days.

Pilgrim Jean Dardel, whom Levon met in August 1377, managed to persuade Juan I of Castile to pay for the freedom of the captive monarch upon returning to Europe, ultimately succeeding in liberating him from captivity.

In hopes of restoring the Kingdom of Cilicia, Levon went to Western Europe to ask the Pope and Christian monarchs for help, but His Holiness, with cold politeness, awarded Levon the “Order of the Golden Rose” and sent him off to Britain, where Levon placed the state treasury in storage, entrusting it to King Edward III Plantagenet of England, signing an agreement that the treasury would be kept in England until the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia was freed and restored.

From London, Levon went to Spain, where King Juan I of Castile made a stunning gesture that shocked the Spaniards, one unlike any other in the annals of history: in 1383, he gave Levon VI three cities at the heart of Castile — Madrid, Andújar, and Villarreal — along with an annual gift of 150,000 Spanish maravedis, as mentioned in the documents of the Madrid city chancery:

The gift was stipulated with the condition that Levon would own the cities until the end of his life, after which they would be returned to the Castilian crown.

The Castilian nobles, who thus became vassals of the incoming knight, reacted with undisguised hostility to their king’s action, whom they already disliked.

Following the mysterious death of Juan I, the regents of his underage son Enrique III annulled the privileges given to Levon VI. An open persecution of Levon VI began by the nobility and clergy, demanding the affirmation of their rights and privileges. On October 19, 1389, Levon renounced all privileges and went to France.

Paris gave Levon de Lusignan, the deposed monarch, a reception that no crowned head had been accorded. King Charles VI, accompanied by the court and citizens, met Levon on the approaches to the great capital. Levon settled in Paris, still living in hope of Cilicia’s freedom.

He attempted to establish relations between France and England, which were at war in the Hundred Years’ War, hoping to receive help to free his country during a new Crusade, but all to no avail. The Kingdom of Cilicia ceased to exist.

He died in Paris on November 29, 1393, and was buried in the Celestine Monastery, the second most significant place for the burial of royal persons after Saint-Denis. French historian Froissart wrote about Levon de Lusignan: “Deprived of his throne, he retained his royal virtues and added new ones – generosity and patience.” With Charles VI, he behaved like a friend, but never forgot his royal rank. And Levon’s death was worthy of his life.

The tombstone, executed by an anonymous author, is realistic and high-quality, probably made during the monarch’s lifetime. Leon V is depicted holding a scepter (now broken) and gloves – the symbol of great princes. The tombstone reads:

“Here lies the noble and excellent Prince Leon de Lusignan the Fifth, Latin king of the Kingdom of Armenia, who died in Paris on the 29th day of November in the blessed year of 1393. Pray for him.”

After the French Revolution, Levon VI’s white marble tombstone was moved to the Saint-Denis Monastery, but the grave itself has long been empty: the remains of the King of Armenia were thrown out with the ashes of the French Monarchs by French revolutionaries.

Cilicia… It was an unusual type of Armenian state.

The ports of Cilician Armenia – colorful, multilingual, bustling… Ayas and Korikos on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, Tarsus on the Cydnus River, Mamistra on the Pyramus River, Adana on the Sarus River, and Seleucia on the Calycadnus River – were always full of ships from all corners of the earth. Marin Sanuto, an Italian writer of the 14th century, lists 25 ports of Cilician Armenia in his book.

Today, most of them lie in ruins, disappeared underground, but at that time they were known to the whole world. Cilicia was seen as the stronghold of the Armenian world.

Alas, by the beginning of the 15th century, Cilicia had been conquered by the Ottoman Turks and was part of the Adana vilayet, the Marash region of the Ottoman Empire. In 1880, Cilicia was included in the Aleppo vilayet of the Ottoman state. After World War I, France received a mandate for Cilicia, but soon renounced it.

Now, Cilicia is part of the southeastern region of Turkey. Over the centuries of foreign rule in Cilicia, in addition to the Turks, Kurds, Gypsies, and Circassians have settled. But Cilicia did not disappear: it remained in history, in songs, in memory, as did other Armenian lands, which were turkified by fire and sword…

by Karine Ter-Saakyan

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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