The Role of Armenian Cities in Politics and Economy

Armenian cities can be divided into two groups: a) Ancient cities that emerged in the pre-feudal period; starting from the III-IV centuries, they gradually changed their character and turned into feudal cities. These include Van, Tigranakert, Vagharshapat, Bagaran, Dvin, and many others. b) Cities that emerged in the feudal period; many of them were formed in the IX-XI centuries. These include Ani, Kars, Artsn, Lori, Bagesh, Arches, Manazkert.

A number of cities were located within the territories of major feudal lords, were completely subordinated to their power and were associated with agriculture. These were primarily small cities and settlements, the economic ties of which did not go beyond their districts. These included: in the Vaspurakan kingdom – Artamet, Vostan, in the Syunik kingdom – Shahat, Kapan, in the Ani kingdom – Yerevan, Erazgavors, and others. The nature of such major cities as Ani, Dvin, Kars, Van, Karin was different. Their connection with agriculture was weak; the main occupations of the population were crafts and trade.


Large cities, like the cities of the Middle East, consisted of three parts – the citadel, the city proper (“shahatastan”), and the suburbs. The citadel was usually located in the center of the city or in that part of it, which from a defensive point of view was the most reliable. It was surrounded by fortress walls.

The city proper – “shahatastan”, located around the citadel, usually occupied a much larger territory and was also surrounded by a wall. The main churches, shops, baths, market squares, workshops were located in the shahatastan, which were placed according to the types of crafts, each of which occupied a certain city street or part of a street.

Outside the shahatastan was the suburb, whose residents were engaged in both crafts and trade, as well as agriculture – crop farming, gardening, livestock farming. The city was governed by a ruler appointed by the royal court, who was called the amir.

Karin (Erzurum)”

“The ruler of the capital was appointed by the king and was directly subordinate to him. The city officials included market overseers, tax collectors, etc. The cities were inhabited by secular and spiritual feudal lords, merchants and craftsmen, peasants, poor people, but the main part of the population was made up of craftsmen and merchants. The major cities in Armenia had up to 100,000 inhabitants (Dvin, Ani), the rest had approximately 10,000, 20,000, 40,000.

Unlike a number of cities, which in the VIII-IX centuries largely lost their trade and craft significance and turned into fortress cities, Dvin during this period continued to remain a major city of Armenia and became the residence of the Arab vostikans. Its citadel, located on a hill, was surrounded by wide walls and a moat, which could be filled with water in case of a threat.


Dvin had markets, craft rows, gardens, and cultivated areas. The remnants of material culture, discovered during archaeological excavations, show that the city of Dvin was a major center of craft production and had broad trade and cultural ties with the countries of the Middle East.

Dvin’s potters, spinners and weavers, carpet makers, cochineal manufacturers, weaponsmiths, goldsmiths and other craftsmen were well-known. During the excavations, several architectural monuments were uncovered, tools, weapons, various clay and porcelain products, coins, etc. were found. Their study sheds light on some questions concerning the history of both the city itself and medieval Armenia and neighboring countries.

The renowned city of medieval Armenia, Ani, was located on the right bank of the Akhuryan River and until the end of the 9th century was an ordinary fortress. In the 10th century, Ani becomes a city, but its rapid development begins in 961, when it becomes the capital of the Bagratid kingdom. Over the course of 40-50 years, Ani grows into the largest city in Armenia, one of the important centers of the Middle East.


The extraordinarily rapid growth of Ani was conditioned not only by the general economic rise of the country, but also by the geographical location of the city. It was almost in the center of the Bagratid state and was connected both with various parts of Armenia and with neighboring countries – Georgia, Agvank, Iran, Byzantium, nearby regions of the Black Sea, Southern Russia.”

The citadel of Ani was located in the southwestern part of the city, on a hill with steep slopes on three sides; to the northeast of it lay the actual city – Shahatastan. Ani had a large market, numerous inns, caravanserais (hotels). The city was a major center of craft production, it counted up to 40 types of crafts, of which the most common were weaponsmithing, blacksmithing, jewelry, spinning, leather, stone carving, pottery, shoemaking.

From the beginning of the XI century, Ani had a peculiar form of city self-government, at the head of which stood the “eritsani” – the city elders’ council. It included representatives of the nobility, heads of quarters, and the bishop of the capital. The city head was appointed by the king. During military operations, the city served as a refuge for the surrounding residents.

Ani was distinguished by magnificent architecture. Its internal and external defensive walls, royal palace, cathedral, churches, hotels, dozens of beautiful secular buildings, etc. are known. The architecture of Ani occupies an important place in the history of Armenian architecture.

One of the major cities of Armenia was Kars. Its development is associated with the fact that it became the residence of the Bagratids (928-961), and then the Vanandaki kings (961-1064). The Bagratids built the cathedral church in the famous impregnable fortress. The historian of the 11th century, Aristakes Lastivertsi, testifies that trade routes linked Kars with the major ports of the Black Sea and many cities in Armenia and neighboring countries. In the 11th-13th centuries, the city’s population reached 50,000.

The city of Karin, known from the 5th century as Theodosiopolis, and from the 11th century as Erzurum, was one of the ancient Armenian cities. In the 4th-6th centuries, it became a fortress city. At this time, its double walls with towers, citadel, defensive moat were built. From ancient times, one of the caravan routes passed through Karin, connecting the East with the West. However, located on the Byzantine-Persian and Byzantine-Arab border and often subjected to the danger of military operations, Karin did not reach the level of the most important cities of the country, although it was for centuries the main city and administrative center of Western Armenia.

Van, perhaps the oldest of the Armenian cities. Since its foundation (9th century BC), it has been a major center of crafts and trade. In the 10th-13th centuries, weaponsmithing, jewelry, weaving, pottery crafts, as well as trade were particularly developed here. In the eastern part of the city, in the Aigestan district, the residents, in addition to crafts and trade, also engaged in gardening. In the 9th and 10th centuries, the city was significantly improved. During the Vaspurakan kingdom, Van was its economic and cultural center.

Vigen Avetisyan

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