Chapter Three

Armenia's Lords and Their Reactions to the Turco-Mongol Invasions and Domination of the 13-14th Centuries

This part of the study examines several aspects of the history of the lords or naxarars of Armenia in the 13-14th centuries: (1) who were the naxarars on the eve of the 13th century invasions (during the so-called Zak'arid revival) and where were their lands; (2) how did the naxarars react to the Turco-Mongol invasions/migrations of the 13th century; (3) how did the Mongols (both before and after Islamization) attempt to control the naxarars; and finally, (4) what were the reactions of the naxarars to Mongol policies?

Considerable debate exists among Armenists regarding many aspects of the history of Armenia's nobility. The derivation and thus the literal meaning of the term naxarar itself is debated. The genesis of the naxarars too has been depicted differently by the foremost investigators of the institution or phenomenon of naxararism, by Nicholas Adontz, Hagop Manandyan, and [157] Cyril Toumanoff (255). Most important, the essence of the term, its real rather than literal meaning has been perceived and described differently by these scholars (256). Adontz, [158] Manandyan and Toumanoff likewise disagreed on the duration of the naxarar "system". Adontz wrote:

The naxarar system existed in Armenia from antiquity until the Mongol invasions. Like any institution developing in accordance with conditions of place and time, the naxarar system often changed in character and passed through several phases (257).

Manandyan hypothesized that the participation of the naxarars in the Mongols' many campaigns and the heavy taxes of the period combined to initiate the system's collapse (258). The final liquidation of the system in his view came after the mid-fourteenth century, when Armenia became a battleground for numerous nomadic Turkic groups, though Manandyan noted certain "survivals" of "naxarar customs" in the inaccessible mountain regions of Eastern Armenia and Qarabagh (259). Toumanoff wrote:

This social structure perished with the brutal Byzantine and Seljuq destruction of the Armenian polity in the eleventh century. Some vestiges of it, however, survived the catastrophe, both in Armenia and, through emigration, elsewhere (260).

[159] It is not our purpose here (and in any case it is beyond our present competence) to write the complex and often-changing history of Armenia's nobility from pre-Christian times to the 14th century. However, to place in sharper focus what is to be understood by the term naxarar in the 13-14th centuries, we shall contrast briefly the classical Arsacid (4-5th century) naxarar with his Zak'arid successor.

The socio-economic essence underlying the concept of the term naxarar underwent numerous changes from the 5th through the 13th centuries. The naxarar of the Zak'arid restoration differed fundamentally from the Arsacid lord. The Arsacid naxarar was the ancestral lord of clan domains which he did not personally own, and therefore could not alienate by sale or other means. If the truly great naxarars associated with the Armenian monarch, it was on terms of equality. As they never allowed their "natural lords" to forget, some of the grand naxarars descended from clans as old as, or older than, the Arsacids. For this reason, when naxarars accepted positions at the Arsacid Court, the act was usually a recognition on the king's part of the naxarar's right by birth and position to the office. The naxarardoms tended to be self-sufficient economies, and trade in that period was of an international transit type through naxarar domains, of importance to the naxarars only due to the toll and customs revenue they could derive [160] from it. Their principal wealth was land, and the labor of dependent peasants living on that land (261).

Quite different were the lords of the Zak'arid revival. The nobility of the early 13th century consisted of different elements. One substantial group included men of ambition and military talents from newly-arisen families, who were rewarded by their Zak'arid overlords with grants of land and/or the rights of administration (see below). Before and after receiving lands and villages, this category of 13th century lord derived much wealth from booty taken during military campaigns. Another element is referred to in the sources from the 12th century as mecatun, which means literally "of a great House". In fact, these were men of great financial wealth, who formed the upper class in the many Armenian cities which had recuperated from the Saljuq dislocations. These men too lacked antique pedigrees, and did not belong to the old naxarar families. Their wealth had been gained through trading and money-lending and, in contradistinction to the Arsacid lords who did not engage in trade, a substantial part of the mecatuns' assets were in cash. However, these merchants reinvested their capital in land, buying not only entire estates, but also shares of establishments (such as mills) (262). An [161] inscription (1215) of one mecatun, Tigran, from the historically unknown family Honenc', on the wall of the church of St. Gregory in Ani, indicates the far-flung and multi-faceted nature of mecatun wealth (263). From the inscription of another mecatun, we learn that ca. 1242 a certain Umek purchased the church of Getik for "40,000 red [gold] ducats", a currency which clearly indicates that such merchante as Umek were participating in the lucrative international trade with Italian city-states (264).

The nobility of the Zak'arid period included descendants of the ancient dynastic families: Mamikonids, Bagratids, Arcrunids, Orbeleans, and others. In my opinion, by the 13th century these groups are probably best considered extended families rather than clans in the Arsacid sense. Nonetheless, dynasties as hoary as these (some of which by then were more than 13 centuries in duration) had a strong consciousness of their own past, which they knew from the ancient histories. Most likely these names commanded rather profound emotions among the Armenians, and their bearers probably possessed a certain status for sentimental reasons alone, not held by other segments of the nobility. Probable too is the existence within such families of certain ceremonies, [162] rituals and regalia—especially within some of the Siwnik' and Xach'en dynasties—unshared by the merchants or Zak'arid warriors. Yet another segment of the Zak'arid nobility was composed of prominent clerics, representatives of various families, administering their family holdings as religious foundations (see below).

Nicholas Marr was of the opinion that in the immediately pre-Mongol and early Mongol periods the transfer of princely and noble estates into the hands of merchant-capitalists was taking place (265). This is probably true. However, the tendency for urban merchants to invest in land, and the probably concomitant tendency for the landed naxarars to diversify into trade makes any drawing of lines impossible. Indeed, the new meaning of the term hayrenik' in this period reflects the same confusion. In the 5th and subsequent centuries hayrenik' referred to a lord's ancestral patrimony. It consisted of lands. But in the early 13th century, hayrenik' referred to both moveable and immoveable property, hereditary or purchased, and included money and shares in business enterprises as well (266). Thus at the opening of the 13th century, the term naxarar had something of a catchall sense, exactly as the term melik did, two centuries later (267).

[163] Unlike the territorial units of Arsacid Armenia studied by Adontz, which in some cases had been the possessions of different ethnic groups from time immemorial, the naxarardoms of the late 12th and 13th centuries were in many—though not all—cases the creations of the Zak'arid brothers, Zak'are and Iwane. The men chosen by the Zak'arids to administer and rule parts of northern and northeastern Armenia were not the elderly nahapets or the descendants of ancient tribal chieftains of Arsacid times who occupied office by right as much as by appointment. Rather, they were successful military commanders who had served under Zak'are and Iwane in the reclamation of Armenia from the Saljuqs. Many were men of ambition and action, lacking illustrious pedigrees. Frequently they were given charge of lands they themselves captured; often they were attached to the Zak'arids through marriage ties, as is illustrated below.

The properties under the overall jurisdiction of amirspasalar Zak'are and later of his son Shahnshah were located in the northwestern parts of the reconquered lands: Lorhi, Ani, Aragacotn, Bagrewand, Caghkotn, Kogovit, Surmari, lands from the Virahayoc' mountains to the southern border of Caghkotn, from Bolorpahakic' to Erewan. Ani was the center of this realm. Subject to Zak'are's house were both newly-created families (such as the Vach'uteans) and old naxarar families (such as the Pahlawunids, [164] Arcrunids, Mamikonids and others) (268). The first of these families was founded by one Vach'e, a loyal follower of Zak'are but of an unknown background, who was given by his lord all the districts of Aragacotn, Shirak, Nig and Amberd as far as Erasxajor (269). He was made prince of princes of Zak'are's realm. The Pahlawunids, ruling around Marmashen, Bagnayr and Lmbat, had acquired hereditary control over the office of bishop of Ani and Shirak, and occasionally were mayors of Ani (270). The Arcrunids, who ruled the fortressess of Mahkanaberd and its environs north of Lake Sewan, were connected to the Zak'arids by marriage ties (271). The Mamikonids held two small areas, one by Dsegh, the other south of Garhni, around Urcajor (272).

[165] Under the jurisdiction of atabek Iwane Zak'arean and later of his son Awag were the eastern areas: Bjni, Geghark'unik', Vayoc' Jor, most of Arc'ax/Artsakh, Siwnik', Naxijewan, Dwin, and Erewan. The center of this realm was first Dwin and later Bjni. Subject to Iwane's house were the Orbeleans, Xaghbakeans, Dop'eans and others (273). The Orbeleans, who originally had been the Zak'arids' overlords in Georgia were, in the changed situation of the late 12th and 13th centuries their subordinates in Armenia. Around 1184 atabek Iwane Zak'arean under authorization from the Georgian Crown granted to the successful general Liparit Orbelean lands in eastern Vayoc' Jor, Kotayk', Geghark'unik' and Kayean (274). Liparit married the daughter of the prince of princes of Siwnik' and became the founder of the Siwnik' Orbelean line (275).

Another of Iwane's subordinates was Vasak Xaghbakean, originally from the Xach'en area, who had helped in the reconquest of Vayoc' Jor, Bjni, and Dwin. As a reward he was given lands in western Vayoc' Jor, Shahapunik', Varazhnunik' and parts of Kotayk' and Ayrarat. This family came to be known as Prhoshean after Vasak's energetic [166] son, Prhosh (1223-84) (276). Another small branch of the Zak'arids descended from Zak'are's and Iwane's first cousin (father's brother's son) also named Zak'are, ruled lands in Tawush, P'arhisos and Gardman. The center of its realm was Gag fortress. This line became known as Vahramean after Zak'are Gageli's son, Vahram of Gag (277).

A number of new and old naxarar families became associated with the Zak'arids through marriage alliances with three of Zak'are's and Iwane's sisters. Their sister Vaneni was married to Abas II Kiwrikean of Macnaberd (278); Dop'i married Hasan, prince of the old naxarardom of Arc'ax/Artsakh in eastern Armenia, receiving as dowry a large area on the southern shore of Lake Sewan and Sot'k' district in Siwnik'. Her descendants are knowm as the Dop'eank' (279). Xorishah Zak'arean, another sister, was [167] married to Vaxt'ang lord of Xach'en district. The family was named after Hasan Jalal, the issue of this union. The Hasan Jalaleans ruled southern Xach'en (280).

In the early 13th century the Zak'arids had influence in southern Armenia too, though how much and how deeply it was felt cannot be ascertained clearly. As a result of his carelessness on a campaign against Xlat' in 1209/10, atabek Iwane was captured by the Muslim lord of that city. Among the terms stipulated for Iwane's release was the hand of his daughter T'amt'a. T'amt'a was married to Melik Ashraf of Xlat', and became the real ruler of parts of the Shah-Armen state during periods of dislocation, from 1212 to 1231 (281). Another Armenian "state" existed in the Van area, centered mostly at Aght'amar, but probably possessing property in the numerous Armenian cities under its spiritual jurisdiction, i.e., in the cities surrounding Lake Van: Berkri, Archesh, Arcke, Xlat', Hizan, etc. This was the religio-political entity known as the kat'oghikosate (or anti-kat'oghikosate) of Aght'amar, a creation of the Arcrunids (282). This surrogate state existed in addition to [168] an Arcrunid-Mamikonid mountain naxarardom in Sasun, to the west. Furthermore, the brothers Zak'are and Iwane (and also T'amt'a) were themselves of Arcrunid background. Their mother was Sahakduxt, daughter of Sadun I Arcruni/Mahkanaberdeli (283). The existence of such families, whose properties and political-spiritual-financial jurisdiction embraced large parts of the Armenian highlands on the one hand must have presented unique opportunities for trade and more intimate ties. On the other hand, it provided unlimited opportunities for intra-family and inter-family conflicts (284).

The Naxarars and the Invasions of the Early 13th Century

Of the various Turco-Mongol invasions occurring in the 1220's and 1230's, the most destructive were those undertaken by Jalal al-Din Mangubirdi of Khwarazm and by the Mongols. How did the naxarars react to them, and how did the new conquerors of Armenia deal with the naxarars? According to Kirakos Ganjakec'i, Step'annos Orbelean and the History of K'art'li, the Armeno-Georgian army commanded by atabek Iwane outnumbered Jalal al-Din's force. But naxarar squabbles and jealousies appear to have been an important cause of defeat. Some sources politely and piously speak of divine intervention which managed to change the shouted command "charge" into "flee" (285). In fact, because of enmity between the atabek Iwane and his relations Iwane and Shalva (Vahram Gageli's first cousin), the atabek Iwane refused to participate or to allow those troops under him to fight. Other detachments under lesser commanders fled or fought chaotically (286). Following their desertion, the prominent naxarars withdrew to the security of their inaccessible fortresses (287).

[170] Jalal al-Din's destructive activities in Armenia and Georgia hardly can be considered a strategy to win popular support. Jalal himself was a desperate fugitive from the Mongols. He did, however, entertain hopes of creating a state in his conquered areas, and, as Kirakos noted, he did establish an administration of sorts in Ganjak (288). In those areas where Muslim enclaves lived surrounded by Christian majorities—Tiflis, for example—he was able to rely on Muslims as a base of support. Kirakos and the History of K'art'li both state that Jalal was able to capture Tiflis with the complicity of resident Persians who opened the city gates and regarded him as their liberator (289). However areas ruled by Muslims regarded him and his uncontrollable Turkmen warriors as a danger, and allied to fight him (290). Jalal al-Din was not unaware of the Caucasian nobility. According to Kirakos, when he captured Xlat' on the northeastern shore of Lake Van, he married that city's figurehead ruler, Iwane's daughter T'amt'a Zak'arean (291). According to the History of K'art'li, Jalal also hoped to marry the queen of Georgia, Rusudan, and even urged Awag to serve as match-maker, but Rusudan was unwilling (292).

Footnotes 254-292


Return to Turco-Mongol Menu