Armenia and Georgia

by Cyril Toumanoff

Chapter XIV

The Cambridge Medieval History, vol. IV
The Byzantine Empire part I
(Cambridge, 1966)
pp. 593-637

The chapter is accompanied by footnotes on the bottom of each page, an extensive Bibliography (pp. 983-1009), and three maps: Caucasia in the 5-8th Centuries, facing page 598; Caucasia in the 8-11th Centuries, facing page 608; and Caucasia in the 12-15th Centuries, facing page 624.

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III. Bagratid Restoration and the Predominance of Armenia

[612] Caucasia's historical existence hinged on its consolidaiton and on the equipoise between its imperial neighbors. In the second half of the ninth century, the Caliphate could no longer control it, and the Empire, faced with the Bulgar and the Saracen, seemed uninterested in dominating it. So, when the ascendancy of the Bagratids in Armenia was crowned by the predominance among them of one man—Ashot V the Great— its independence became a matter of mere formality. True enough, his endeavour to ensure the equipoise of empires by securing the support of Constantinople was hampered by the refusal of the Armenian Church to respond to Photius' advances (862) (1). But he achieved Armenia's consolidation, thanks both to his personality and to his policy. Dynastic alliances spread his influence to Vaspurakan, Siunia, and Iberia; his scrupulous loyalty towards the Caliph sanctioned his control over all the Caucasian rulers, Christian and Muslim; the national Church lent him its wholehearted support. Even the princely feuds, weakening others, enchanced his power. During his Saracen campaigns in the 870's the Emperor Basil I imposed Byzantine suzerainty on Taraun and, to oppose the Caliph's vassal, appointed another Ashot, Bagarat II of Taraun's son, to be Curopalate of Armenia; but the latter was at once captured by the Prince of Vaspurakan; Taraun passed to another brother, while Ashot the Great remained a satisfied observer. The Empire was clearly adopting the policy of division just abandoned by the Caliphate. Ashot, meantime, was enlarging his state: he acquired, somewhat violently, the Mamikonid principality of Bagravandene and inherited some border territory from Guaram of Javakhet'i.

It was historical justice that the Armenian princes, whose ancestors had demanded the abolition of the monarcy in 428, should in 885 have requested the Caliph to recognise Ashot as their king. Sanctioning what was beyond his control, al-Mu'tamid sent a crown and royal vestments to Ashot, who was solemnly crowned at his capital of Bagaran by the Katholikos George II. Basil I also hastened to send a crown to the new king and to conclude a treaty of friendship with him. Armenia was again independent, though still bound to pay tribute to the Caliph; this, however, was now complied with only [613] occasionally and under duress. The Crown, replacing both the Caliph's viceroy and the presiding prince, was the guarantee of national autonomy and a symbol of unity; in assuming it, Bagratid suzerainty over the other dynasts was consecrated.

Ashot the Great inherited form the viceroys of old the claim to control Iberia and Albania. In Iberia the Empire and Abasgia were anxious to counter-balance that hegemony. In 881 the pro-Armenian Curopalate David I, son of Bagrat I, was murdered by his cousin, and a civil war followed. The murderer was supported by the Byzantines and the Abasgians, while David's son Adarnase IV was aided by the King of Armenia and the Liparitids, a Mamikonid branch established in Lower Iberia. True to the policy of division, the Emperor confirmed as Curopalate, not Adarnase, but his cousin Gurgen I of Tao. Adarnase, however, was victorious in 888. Not being a Curopalate and having Armenia's example before him, he assumed the title of king. Thus, within three years, the Bagratids restored the two major monarchies of Caucasia. (It was, however, only in 899 that Armenia recognised Adarnase's royal status.) As in Armenia, the Emperor adapted himself to the circumstances and, upon Gurgen of Tao's death in 891, recognised Adarnase IV as Curopalate.

The complexity of the Caucasian political system was increased by the fac that, parallel to the Armenian monarchy and its dependencies, there existed the supra-national, dynastic condominium of the Bagratids. The King of Armenia was its doyen and the King of Iberia second after him; then came the other Bagratid branches: Taraun, and later Kars and Lor'i, in Armenia, and Tao and Cholarzene-Artanuji in Iberia. Neither system was however to survive. The delicate fabric of Bagratid rule in Armenia was menaced from the outset by feudal insubordination and foreign pressure; and the condominium collapsed through a lack of family solidarity.

The Caliphate might grow weak, but not its Muslim vassals. The half-rebellious Sajids were building a powerful state in Azerbaijan, which Armenia found to be an implacable foe. Despite some successes against the amirs of Dvin and Manazkert, the reign of Ashot's son, Smbat I the Martyr (890-914), was made tragic by the recalcitrance of his uncle, the High Constable Abas, of Siunia and of Vaspurakan. He was also especially harassed by the repeated invasions of the Sajid amirs Afshin and Yusuf, with whom the Artsrunis treacherously threw in their lot. In 908 the Artsrunid Khach'ik-Gagik of Vaspurakan was proclaimed king by Yusuf; and Armenia became divided into two monarchies. At the same time Smbat I's relations with the King of Abasgia, aimed at extending Armenian influence to West Georgia, brought about a break with Abasgia's enemy, Adarnase IV [614] of Iberia. Thus weakened, Smbat was unable to withstand Yusuf. He was finally captured and barbarously executed by the Sajid in 914.

The death of Smbat the Martyr brought about a change. Adarnase of Iberia and Khach'ik-Gagik of Vaspurakan hastened to make peace with his son Ashot II. Yusuf had fallen temporarily into the Caliph's hands, and Ashot II, who came to be surnamed the Iron, organised guerrilla warfare and cleared much of Armenian territory of the invaders. But it was obvious that, unaided, the Bagratids were no match for the ferocious Sajids. At that moment, the Empire appeared as an ally. Armenia, and Caucasia in general, was indispensible to it in the impending struggle with the Muslims on its eastern frontier. In the years 918-20 negotiations went on between the two courts, carried on by the Patriarch Nicholas I and one of Ashot's close collaborators, the Katholikos John VI, with a view to organising an alliance of all the Caucasian princes against the Saracens. The journey of Ashot II to Constantinople in 921 and the conclusion of a Byzantine-Armenian alliance was the culmination of the efforts (1). After a splendid reception, Ashot returned to Armenia accompanied by an imperial army. In reprisal for this alliance, Yusuf, back in Azerbaijan, set up the king's first cousin, Ashot of Bagaran and Koghb, as an anti-king; and a civil war began. Only at the price of a humiliating peace with his father's murdered was Ashot II able to stop the war. Triumphant in the end over this and other instances of insubordination, he directed his efforts to increasing the power and prestige of the Crown. The royal domain was enlarged with the annexation of northern border lands (Samshvilde, Gardman, Otene); and to assert his suzerainty over the other Caucasian kings he assumed, c. 922, the title of King of Kings.

The Iberian Bagratids also had their difficulties. In 904 Constantine III of Abasgia, competing with Adarnase IV for hegemony in Georgia, seized from him the Iberian throne: this, in part, prevented the latter from aiding Smbat the Martyr. Until the end of the Abasgian domination in 975 the lawful Iberian kings were relegated to their portion of the 'Hereditary Lands' in south-western Iberia. In 941 the line of Tao became extinct, with Gurgen II, and his state passed to Adarnase's sons. The ex-royal line was then subdivided into two branches: the elder, of the Curopalates of Iberia, in Upper Tao and the other domains; the younger, of the titular kings, in Lower Tao.

Armenia reached the apogee of power, prosperity and cultural achievement under Ashot II's sucessors: his brother Abas I (928-52), who set up his capital at Kars; the latter's son Ashot III the Merciful (952-77), who transferred the capital to Ani; and his sons, Smbat II [615] the Conqueror (977-89) and Gagik I (989-1020). The King of Kings commanded an army of 80,000 (twice the number that Ashot the Great had been able to muster). The carefully cultivated and irrigated soil of Caucasia was fertile. Its industries and commerce flourished through their association with two great economic systems: the Saracen (trans-Caspian) and the Byzantine (Black Sea region). Bardha'a was the great centre of the former; Artanuji, the connecting link between the two. Caucasia exported to the Empire via Trebizond, and to the Caliphate, via Van-Bitlis-Mosul and Dvin-Nakhchevan-Tabriz; it offered a great variety of products: its celebrated fabrics and textiles, metal work, armour, jewellery, horses and cattle, salt, cereals, wine, honey, timber, leather and furs.

The Bagratid period brought a renaissance of the chief art of Armenia and Georgia—architecture. It was distinguished by originality and genius, and, according to some, its influence on Byzantium and the West has been decisive. There is but one Caucasian architecture, though the Armenian aspect of it is distinct from the Georgian. Whatever the constructions of antiquity, this art came into its own in the Christian period; and the largest number of extant monuments are churches. Perhaps the two salient features of these stone constructions are the existence of two different and intricately connected plans, internal and external, and the related tendency to subordinate structural and functional considerations to decorative (plastic and geometrical) effect. A good example of this is the conically or pyramidally roofed dome. Besides differences in ornamentation, the more extravagant ('baroque') treatment of the correlation of the two plans distinguishes the Georgian style from the Armenian. The first peiod of Caucasian architecture, from the conversion to the Saracen overlordship, showed two principal types of churches: the centralise domed edifice—like St. Hripsime's at Vagharshapat (618) and the Holy Cross (Juari) near Mts'khet'a (588-650)—and the basilica (a Graeco-Syrian importation), later domed—like those of Ereruyk' and Bolnisi (fifth-sixth centuries). After an awakening inspired by the older models, the dormancy of the Abbasid epoch passed into Bagratid renaissance, when, between the tenth and the thirteenth century, the above two types were blended into a new, cruciform domed type—as in the cathedrals of Ani (988-1000) and Kutais (1003). Emulating the Mamikonids and the Guaramids of old, the Bagratids, Armenian and Georgian, the Artsrunis and the Siunis, the Pahlavids and the Zacharids, assisted by great architects, like Tiridates of Ani and Arsakidze, vied with one another in building castles and abbeys, and embellishing their cities of Ani, Kars, Kutais, Mts'khet'a, Ostan, Aght'amar, Tat'ev with palaces and shrines. [616] Armenian architects enjoyed an international reputation; thus Odo the Armenian took part in the construction of the Palatine chapel at Aix and Tiridates of Ani restored the church of Holy Wisdom at Constantinople after the earthquake of 989. Mention should also be made of Caucasian sculpture which, deriving from Hellenistic, Sassanid, and even Sumerian sources, remained ancillary to architecture, and of Caucasian painting of similar parentage, both mural and miniature, as well as enamels.

Armenia's literary tradition was, meantime, continued (1). Monasteries, like Tat'ev, Sevan, Haghpat and Sanahin, were centres of intellectual activity, containing great libraries, as was the city of Kars under its kings.

The Bagratid period coincided with the great Byantine offensive against Islam captained by men of Caucasian origin, like the Curcuae and (perhaps) the Phocae. While the Byzantines were reducing the Muslims on Armenia's western frontier, the Bagratids and the Artsrunis performed the same task in their respective realms. Yet, in the east, the momentarily powerful state of the Daylamite Musafarids of Azerbaijan succeeded in imposing heavy tribute on various Armenian and Albanian rulers, including the kings of Armenia and of Vaspurakan. Armenia nevertheless was given the opportunity of consolidating its strength for the future; instead, however, new divisions further weakened it. In 961/2 Ashot III ceded Kars-Vanand and the title of king to his younger brother Mughegh. In 970 Smbat II of Siunia proclaimed himself king. The kingdom of Vaspurakan was split into several appanages. Disunion penetrated the Establishment: between 969 and 972, there were two rival Katholikoi. All the while Siunia and Albania tended to move away from Armenian political and religious obedience, towards the political sphere of Iberia and the doctrines of Chalcedon.

Their military successes in the tenth century reawakened in the Byzantine Emperors a taste for expansion over their Christian neighbours. Though the west of Armenia had been wrested from the Muslims, expansion continued. In 968 Bagratid Taraun, long a dependency, was annexed to the Empire, the Byzantine family of the Taronitae becoming its ruling house. Then, in 974, in the course of his Saracen war, John Tzimisces approached the frontiers of the Armenian monarchy. For once feudal Armenia made a show of [617] unity. All the princes hastened to rally round Ashot III, and the impressed Emperor concluded a treaty of alliance with the King of Kings (1).

In spite of all the achievement, the seeds of decay were apparent in the Armenian polity. Smbat II was faced with further division and feudal strife: the revolt of his uncle Mughegh of Kars and the formation, in 982, by his younger brother Gurgen of the kingdom of Lor'i (Tashir), on the Iberian border, as well as with the interference of a Georgian Bagratid, the Magister (from 990, Curopalate) David the Great of Upper Tao. The latter's role was a symptom of the changing times: emerging at the height of Armenian history, David was the precursor, indeed the founder, of Georgia's subsequent preponderance in Caucasia. His activity, however, was not limited to Caucasia; and the Empire benefited by his intervention. Byzantium also had to face the recalcitrance of nascent feudalism among the 'powerful' of Anatolia. There the revolt of Bardas Phocas (970) was followed in 976-9 by that of his adversary Bardas Sclerus. The sympathies of the Armenian princes were with the rebel; but Phocas, placed by the imperial government at the head of their forces, was an old friend of David's. To him, accordingly, appeals for military aid were sent, along with promises of recompense (2). David dispatched 12,000 horse under the command of his fassal T'ornik Ch'orduaneli, who temporarily abandoned his cell on Mt. Athos for the role of a general. On 24 March 979 Phocas, with Georgian aid, defeated Sclerus at Pancalia. David received, ad personam, a vast territory in western Armenia stretching from Tao towards lake Van and including Theodosiopolis; he became thus the most powerful prince in Caucasia. It was possibly to counterpoise this Georgian enclave in Armenia that Smbat II countenanced the rise of the kingdom of Lor'i, an Armenian enclave in Iberia.

It is largely due to David of Upper Tao that Iberia began to unite, while Armenia was disintegrating. Being childless, he adopted his young cousin Bagrat, of the 'royal' branch of Lower Tao. Bagrat was the son of Gurgen and the grandson of the titular King of Iberia, Bagrat II the Simple; his mother was Gurandukht, sister of Theodosius III, king of Abasgia and (de facto) of Iberia. The boy was thus the potential heir of three crowns. As Theodosius III was unpopular with the nobility, John Marushidze, viceroy of Iberia, came to an understanding with David and with Smbat II in 975, and ceded Iberia to David. Since Bagrat was under age and his grandfather in his dotage, it was the boy's father Gurgen who became King of Iberia. In 978/9, again through Marushidze's efforts, Theodosius III was [618] deposed and Bagrat, now of age, proclaimed King of Abasgia. But the bright prospects of the Georgian Bagratids were soon somewhat darkened. Bagrat III of Abasgia and his adopted father quarreled in 988; a war broke out, in which the Kings of Abasgia and Iberia fought David of Tao, the dotard Bagrat II and Smbat of Armenia, and were defeated. Meantime, in 987-9, another revolt shook the Empire; Bardas Phocas was the chief rebel now, and David chose to aid him by sending him 2,000 horse. Upon Phocas' defeat, David, fearing Basil's reprisals, sought to placate the Emperor by offering to make him heir of all his lands instead of Bagrat III (900). He was forgiven and confirmed as Curopalate (1); but his action was to have important consequences. Meantime in 994 the Bagratid condominium in Caucasia came to an end with Gurgen, who on his father's death assumed the title of King of Kings which marked his independence of Armenian tutelage.

The civil wars within the Empire encouraged Armenia's Muslim foes. The Sallarids of Azerbaijan succeeded in imposing a tribute upon Smbat II, and attacked Vaspurakan; a new Muslim dynasty, the Marwanids, held Archesh and Khlat' (Khilat), Martyropolis (Mayyafariqin) and Amida, and finally acquired Manazkert. At the same time, in Byzantine Armenia, religious tension and the old policy of transplanting Armenians to other parts of the Empire caused friction. As yet another symptom of impending decay, great numbers of Armenians began to emigrate to Cilicia and northern Syria, whence the Macedonians had driven out the Saracens.

Faced with Muslim aggression, the Curopalate David, now the veritable doyen of the Bagratids, succeeded in organising a counter-offensive. In 992/4 he took Manazkert and then, with the assistance of other Bagratids, twice defeated Mamlan of Azerbaijan's retaliatory attacks on Armenia (997, 998). David's death on 31 March 1000 provided the Byzantines with another opportunity of despoiling Christian Caucasia, and Basil II hastened to collect his inheritance. David's hereditary state of Upper Tao and all his Armenian territories were annexed to the Empire. Bagrat III, David's former heir, and his father accepted the inevitable and were recompensed: Bagrat becoming a Curopalate (in this, indeed, David's successor) and Gurgen a Magister. For a time, however, other things occupied the attention of the Georgian Bagratids. In 1008 Bagrat III succeeded his father in Iberia, and, for the first time in history, the two Georgias, eastern and western, were united. David's policy was bearing fruit. The king of united Georgia then imposed his suzerainty upon Kakhetia; defeated, with the aid of Gagik I of Armenia, still another rising Muslim [619] dynasty, the Kurdish Shaddadids of Ganja in Albania (Arran); and wrested from his Bagratid cousins the state of Cholarzene, with Artanuji, in 1101. At his death, on 7 May 1014, Georgia was the most important Caucasian kingdom.

Armenia, on the other hand, was rapidly disintegrating. Gagik I achieved some success in his struggle with his insubordinate nephew of Lor'i, who, in carving out for himself a considerable state, had extended his control to the amirs of Tiflis and of Ganja. But Gagik's death in 1020 opened the final chapter of Armenian history. The royal domain, now only Siracene, and the royal dignity were divided between his two sons, the corpulent and phlegmatic John-Smbat III and the energetic and ambitious Ashot IV the Valiant. A drawn-out struggle between the brothers ensued, in which the Kings of Georgia and of Vaspurakan, and even the Caliph, took part. In the meantime, the Daylamites from Azerbaijan invaded Armenia in 1021 and, in Vaspurakan. All the enemies of Armenia had now entered the arena. They included the Empire, which, instead of aiding these weakened and divided Armenian buffer-states in the face of the common barbarian menace, proceeded to enlarge itself at their expense. Under Byzantine pressure, the harassed Sennacherib-John of Vaspurakan ceded in 1021 his kingdom, with its ten cities, seventy-two fortresses and some 4000 villages, to the Emperor, and, recompensed with the dignity of Magister and domains in Cappadocia, removed thither together with his vassals. Vaspurakan became the Byzantine province of Basparacania (1).

The kingdom of Armenia (Ani and a part of Siracene) was next. John-Smbat III repeated the error of David of Tao. Having supported George I of Georgia in his unsuccessful wars with Basil II (2), he now sought to appease the victor by proposing in 1022 to designate him as his heir (3). He, too, was given the titles of Magister and of Archon of Ani and Great Armenia, as well as, later, the hand of the Emperor Romanus III's niece. When he died, childless, in 1040, having survived Ashot IV by a year, the Emperor Michael IV claimed the inheritance. Within the reduced kingdom, high personages, like the Katholikos Peter and the Vestes Sargis Siuni, sided with the Empire; but Vahram (Kamsarakan-)Pahlavuni rallied the nobility and the troops round Ashot IV's son Gagik, who was proclaimed king. With the aid of Vahram and his learned nephew Gregory, Gagik II was able to repel both the Byzantine attack and the incursions of the King of Lor'i and of the Shaddadid amir of Dovin, whom the [620] Emperor Constantine IX did not scruple to incite against the Christian King of Armenia. Soon, however, the Pahlavids were superseded at court by the treacherous Sargis Siuni. With his and the Katholikos's assistance, Gagik II was inveigled into Constantinople in 1045 and there bullied into abdication. He receive the usual domains in Cappadocia and the dignity of Magister, and a palace in the imperial capital to boot. His kingdom was annexed and placed under the dux of Byzantine Iberia, that is, of the territories wrested from Georgia: the consequences of two foolish bequests thrown together. The Armenian nobility began to emigrate in great numbers to Georgia or, following the exiled kings, to the Empire, some, like the Pahlavids, exchanging their domains to imperial fiefs. If the annexation was a crime, the government of Constantine IX now committed an error that was plus qu'un crime. Needing money, they replaced the feudal levy-in-mass obligations by heavy taxation. Armenia was not only leaderless, but also disarmed.

The Empire did not long enjoy its spoils. Beginning in 1045/6 Armenian was subjected to repeated Seljuq attacks, and in 1064 Ani fell to Alp Arslan. In that year, the King of Kars, Gagik-Abas, ceded his state to the Empire on the usual conditions, but it was snatched by the Turks. A few sovereigns still remained in Armenia. The Kings of Lor'i and of Siunia, having accepted Seljuq suzerainty, survived until the 1090's; upon the extinction of the House of Siunia, its now reduced territories were inherited by the House of Gardma-Albania (P'ar'isos), which, in turn, became extinct in 1166, when its entire, but diminished, inheritance devolved upon the Princes of Khach'en. In the south, the Artstrunis held the principality of Moxoene and the Mamikonids reigned, at first under imperial suzerainty, in Sasun and Arsamosata until their dispossession in 1189/90 by the new Muslim power in Armenia, the Shah-Arman dynasty. Later, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Armenian house of the Zachariads (Mkhargrdzeli) ruled in northern Armenia at Ani, Lor'i, Kars, and Dvin under the Georgian aegis.

Religious and ethnic animosities between the Armenian dynasts settled in Cappadocia and the Byzantines led to excesses such as the brutal murder, on Gagik II's orders, of the Metropolitan of Caesarea and, ultimately, to Gagik's own death and those of the remaining Armenian royalties, at the hands of the Byzantines, in 1079-80. Meanwhile, Alp Arslan captured Manazkert in 1070. And it was there that he inflicted, the following year, the momentous defeat upon the Emperor Romanus IV which deprived the Empire of Armenia and opened to the Turks the road to Anatolia.

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