Three Armenian rulers, 1097-8

When the Princes’ Crusade arrived in Armenian Cilicia, the Armenian Prince of Cilicia welcomed them with enthusiasm.

Until a few decades earlier, Armenia’s capital city was Ani, now a ruin near the borders of Turkey, Georgia and Armenia. Ani was conquered by the Byzantines in 1045, and its king invited to come live in Constantinople. When he arrived, he was told to sign abdication papers in exchange for a fief in Cappadocia, on the prairie plateau. The Emperor began resettling Armenians in Cappadocia and Cilicia, sending others to live in Ani. So apparently the forced relocations of Armenians go back pretty far. By the time the Seljuks sacked Ani in 1064, it was just another frontier Byzantine city.

An Armenian nobleman named Roupen (the Bible name Reuben?) fled from Cappadocia’s plains into the nearby Taurus Mountains after the king was executed (well, the king had murdered a bishop). Seizing the Cilician Gates, Roupen declared Cilicia an independent Armenian princedom. He was still alive but an old man when the Crusaders arrived at the Cilician Gates; his son Prince Constantine was acting head of state.

Had the Crusaders signaled that they were rock-solid with the Emperor, their reception might have been different. But as it was, they were only weakly allied, which suited Prince Constantine. Within the first weeks of their arrival, some Crusaders led by a minor Norman prince named Tancred routed Turks out of Cilician towns like Tarsus, allowing the Armenians to use the mountains as a secure border again. (They were able to hold onto Cilicia until the 14th century, which is pretty good.)

It’s not clear to me how Constantine was related to the inland city of Edessa. The conquering Turks had appointed an Armenian nobleman (who may or may not have been related to him) as governor. As you know, Sultan Tutush had died a few years back and his sons were plunging the region into war, Damascus vs. Aleppo. Edessa was certain to be drawn in, since old governor Thoros was technically part of the Turkish power structure. Edessa was “Armenian” in that the westward refugee drift had filled the city with Armenians and it was on the border of their traditional kingdom. But it was Turkish by politics, and Byzantine by older history.

Governor Thoros had no male heir. Prince Constantine formed a simple plan with the youngest of the three Boulogne brothers. Baldwin, who led his own knights, rode into Edessa before the Turks got wind of anything, and Thoros adopted him as his legal heir. (The Turks saw governorship as heritable.) Baldwin, a widower, then married his daughter Arda. It wasn’t many weeks until Thoros died—well, he was assassinated. We don’t know if discontented Armenians killed the collaborator, or if Baldwin chose not to wait for his inheritance. Either way, Baldwin declared Edessa independent of both Turkish “Rum” and Byzantium in 1098.

Just like that, the Crusaders had established their first state. Edessa was a rich farming county, and its influence could spread as Baldwin and the Armenians grew stronger. When it merged with the coastal territories the Crusaders would win, they’d have a viable state. As Count of Edessa, incidentally, Baldwin was now the feudal equal of his brothers, who were a Count and a Duke. The Boulogne brothers are a refreshing note in history, actually, because they were steadily loyal to each other and inspired loyalty in others. Within a few decades, this loyalty would make Baldwin the most famous and important of the first Crusaders.

There was a third Armenian ruler in the Holy Land during this time, and it’s not someone we’d expect: it was the Grand Vizier of Fatimid Egypt! His father was an Armenian boy captured/bought as a Mamluk, trained rigorously and promoted into military and governing levels until he became the Grand Vizier under Caliph al-Mutansir.  His son, born while he was governing Acre in the Holy Land, became Vizier after him. Of course, this Vizier was a fervent Muslim and knew nothing of Armenian culture, even if he was half Armenian. Still, it’s interesting to note just how many levers of power at this point were held by Armenians!

And al-Afdal’s power was immense. We’ve already seen that when al-Mutansir died, the Vizier chose to crown the much younger son Mustaali instead of the older one, Nizar. Mustaali was Caliph and Imam in spite of the Nizari opposition, but clearly, the Mamluk Vizier who chose him had the real power. Mamluks were no longer slaves except in origin; they soon became outright rulers in Egypt (but not quite yet).

To the Fatimid Caliphs and their Viziers, the Turkish invasion infused the worn-out Sunni party with alarming new vigor. Turkish Sultans were fiercely Sunni; they executed Ismaili missionaries (except for the ones holed up in Alamut) and kept advancing through the Muslim heartland: Damascus, Antioch, Jerusalem… When the Turks’ Persian Vizier was murdered by a Nizari assassin, the Fatimids rejoiced. As Radwan and Daquq fought each other to become the next regional Emir, the Fatimids decided to move.

Quite independently of the Crusaders, Vizier al-Afdal led Egyptian Mamluk troops north into the Holy Land. In 1097, he captured Tyre (part of Tripoli) in Lebanon. In 1098, he took Jerusalem from Ilghazi, one of those feuding petty Turkish lords. The rest of the land, south to Egypt, was posted with Mamluk units. The Turkish advance into the Holy Land stopped permanently. Between Cilicia, Edessa, and Fatimid Egypt, could Armenians sweep the Turks entirely from the map? (spoiler: No.)


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