Ballandalus

Home » History » Armenian Realpolitik during the Era of the Crusades, 1099–1291: A Historiographical Overview

Armenian Realpolitik during the Era of the Crusades, 1099–1291: A Historiographical Overview

Since antiquity Armenians have been an important component of the Near Eastern world. Alongside other ethno-linguistic groups such as Jews, Persians, Arabs, Turks, Greeks, and Kurds (among others), they have played an important role in shaping the social and political history of the region. Although the regions where Armenians resided in the Middle Ages covered a vast territory, ranging from the shores of the Caspian to the Nile Delta, most Armenians were concentrated in the regions known as eastern Anatolia (Gr. Aνατολή) and the Levant (Ar. al-Shām). The period between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries—a time frame covering the era of the Crusades and the Mongol invasions—should be understood as a distinctive phase in Armenian, and more broadly in Near Eastern, history as it witnessed the most apparent manifestation of an Armenian policy of realpolitik, which was a mechanism for the survival of this minority community in an increasingly-turbulent world.

File:Cilician Armenia-en.svg

Although hardly a novelty of the period and certainly not a phenomenon restricted to Armenians, the development of this strategy by the Armenians enabled them to renegotiate their position in the Near East following the significant political transformations between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, which included the arrival of the Seljuk Turks, the establishment of the Crusader states, and the Mongol invasions. There were multiple interactions between the Armenians, their environment, and the new conquerors, and shifting loyalties/alliances as the Armenians sought to preserve their distinctive ethno-cultural element while maintaining a degree of political power. As such, it is difficult, if not impossible, to speak of Armenians in monolithic terms during this period, as there was no specific “Armenian experience” which can be clearly discerned. Rather, the Armenians in the medieval Near East played a variety of roles as warriors, viziers, merchants, princes, and even religious figures (both Christian and Muslim).

Through a brief discussion of recent historiography, this piece attempts to underscore that the geo-political reality in which there was no centralized Armenian representative authority, and the existence of the Armenians as a dispersed community across the Near East, enabled varied modes of interactions between the Armenians and their neighbors in the region. This piece considers in particular at four broad categories of Armenians during the era of the Crusades: the Armenian principality and kingdom in Cilicia, the Armenians subject to Turkish-Kurdish and Crusader rule, the Armenian warriors in Crusader, Zangid-Ayyubid, and Mongol armies, and, finally, the Armenians which exerted a considerable degree of independent political power in the Islamic context (especially as chief ministers/viziers). According to many recent scholars, the versatility of Armenians and the subsequent modes of interaction which arose during this period between Armenians and others in the Near East was a product of the strategy of realpolitik, which subordinated ideology/religiosity to political pragmatism and the desire by the various Armenian groups in question to survive in the increasingly competitive environment of the 11th to 13th century Near East.

https://i0.wp.com/biblestudyoutlines.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Benjamites-at-Gibeah.png

This historiographical outline will demonstrate that, during the period of the Crusades, the Armenians in the Near East managed to transcend class, political, and confessional boundaries and classifications, presenting historians with a problem of how to typify the “Armenian experience” during this period. Although many scholars have contributed immeasurably to the understanding of Armenian history during this period, the lack of a theoretical or paradigmatic framework of analysis has left a narrative in which the Armenians were merely part of the background, but not sufficiently explaining how and why the Armenians during this period behaved in the way they did. Therefore, in order to acquire a more coherent image of Armenian history between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries it is necessary to proceed with a specific theoretical frame of analysis in mind. As Seta Dadoyan has suggested in her book, the Armenians and Islam: Paradigms of Medieval Interactions, this can best be done by looking at Armenian political and history during this period as a product of the strategy of realpolitik.[1]

Background: Byzantine Revival, Turkish Conquests, and Frankish Invasions, 969–1099

In order to appreciate the significance of the Armenian condition in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries, it is essential to understand the various political events which transformed the landscape of the Armenian homeland in the late tenth and eleventh centuries. Since the Arab conquests in the seventh century, when Muslim armies from the Arabian Peninsula seized many of the provinces of the Byzantine Empire, including Syria, Egypt, North Africa, and Armenia, Byzantium had been on the defensive. Although the greatest danger was in 717–718, when the Umayyads besieged Constantinople unsuccessfully for the second time, the rise of the Abbasids and the establishment of the thughūr, or frontier fortresses, in the late eighth and early ninth centuries posed a major military threat to the Byzantine Empire.[2] Subsequently, the ninth century was one of the most turbulent periods for Byzantium as it witnessed the intensification of Arab raids into Anatolia, culminating in the destruction of Amorion in 838, the Muslim seizure of Crete in 827, and the conquest of the strategically and economically important island of Sicily by the Aghlabids between 827 and 902.[3]

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d4/Coronation_of_Basil_II_as_co-emperor_by_Patriarch_Polyeuctus.png

By the early tenth century, however, the fortunes of the empire gradually changed due to the weakening of the Abbasid Caliphate and the internal military and political reforms within Byzantium which enabled it to more effectively deal with the Arab threat in the East. Many scholars have considered the defeat of the army of the ghāzī-amīr of Melitene, ‘Umar al-Aqta, by Byzantium in 863 to mark the turning point in the Arab-Byzantine wars.[4] However, it was only during the reigns of Nikephorus Phocas (r. 963–969) and John Tzimiskes (r. 969–976), both military men with the latter being of Armenian origin, when the Byzantines managed to fully turn the tide against Islam. During the reigns of these emperors, and that of their successor Basil II (r. 976–1025), Byzantium succeeded in conquering significant strongholds in the East, and extending the borders of the empire into northern Syria and eastern Anatolia, bringing most Armenians under direct imperial rule for the first time in nearly three centuries.[5] 

https://ballandalus.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/086e6-800px-byzantine_empire_themes_1025-en-svg.png?w=500

During this period, eastern Anatolia was dominated by the naxarars, Armenian nobles who nominally recognized the authority of the Abbasids but who were, in reality, largely independent. The revival of Byzantine political and military power in the East, however, compromised this sovereignty and forced the Armenians to become subjects of the emperor in Constantinople, willingly or otherwise.[6] The specifics of this relationship are beyond the scope of this short overview, but it is crucial to note that during the campaigns of John Tzimiskes in Cilicia and northern Syria, thousands of Armenians participated in the military conquests and were later re-settled in these areas, leading to the southward and westward population distribution of significant numbers of Armenians.[7] To be sure, Armenians had lived in the regions known as Syria, Palestine, and Cilicia since Roman times, but the events in the late tenth century led to a situation where the Armenians were no longer concentrated within what has been termed “historic Armenia,” encompassing the regions of Cappadocia, Lake Van, and the modern Republic of Armenia.[8]

https://i0.wp.com/www.iwp.edu/imgLib/20121121_MedievalArmenia.JPG

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fb/Yahy%C3%A2_ibn_Mahm%C3%BBd_al-W%C3%A2sit%C3%AE_006.jpg

These developments were compounded by another significant political event in the late eleventh century: the arrival of the Seljuk Turks. Shortly after their arrival in the Near East, the Seljuks and their Turcoman allies had subordinated the Abbasid Caliphs to their command, defeated the Byzantine imperial army at Manzikert in 1071, thereby undoing over a century of Byzantine political and military power in the East, and eliminating the political power of the Armenian kingdoms headed by the naxarars, symbolized by the destruction of Ani, the capital of the Bagratunid kingdom.[9] The arrival of the Turks and the collapse of any form of centralized political establishment, in addition to the large-scale migrations of Armenians southwards and westwards meant that the Armenian condition at the end of the eleventh century could best be described as a Diaspora, which was united by its culture and language, but which did not maintain any form of ideological or political unity and was not bound to a specific geographic space.

The weakening of Byzantine power in the East following the Seljuk expansion into Anatolia and northern Syria, and the subsequent fragmentation of the Seljuk polity into various petty states, each led by an atabek, led to a significant power vacuum in southern Anatolia and Syria. Although some dissident elements, including several Armenians, took advantage of this and established their power, including the Armenian Philaretos, who carved out a principality in northern Syria, and Toros, who ruled Edessa, it would be the Latin Crusaders who would benefit most from the circumstances, and succeeded in conquering Jerusalem in 1099 and establishing four major states along the Syro-Palestinian coast.[10] It was thus that by 1100, the Armenians were situated in a region which was contested between Seljuk Turks in the north, Byzantines in the West, and Latin Crusaders in the south, and, as such, sought to renegotiate their position vis-à-vis these powers in order to accommodate themselves to this new political reality. Indeed, it is impossible to understand the social and political history of Armenians during the Crusades without first having an appreciation of this Near Eastern environment.

https://i0.wp.com/www.muslimheritage.com/uploads/Map_of_the_Anatolian_Seljuk_Sultanate.JPG

Armenians in the Near East: Peasants, Priests, Warriors

Overwhelmingly, most scholars of the Crusades are not concerned with the Armenians in the Near East per se. Rather, their analyses and studies of the period tend to focus on the Armenians of the region in so far as they formed an integral part of the Near Eastern environment and context. [11] This scholarship focuses on three categories of Armenians: the Armenians living under Crusader rule, those subject to the various Muslim principalities in Syria and Anatolia, and the various Armenian bands of mercenaries who offered their military services to either the Christians or the Muslims.

https://i1.wp.com/www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/israel/images/crusader-states-map-1140.jpg

Scholarship on the Armenians living under Crusader rule largely contextualizes this question in relation with the broader issue of the denominational and ethnic composition of the Latin states. In a recent study on Crusader Jerusalem, for example, Adrian Boas refers to the Armenians as merely one of the “Monophysite sects who spoke Arabic and used Syriac in their liturgy.”[12] He goes on to explain that the Armenians, as an ethno-religious community, fared better than most other eastern Christians under Crusader rule due in part to “their strong and independent noble class who were treated by the Franks as equals” as well as due to the intermarriage between the Armenian and Frankish nobility.[13] Overall, Boas tends to view the Armenians in Syria, Jerusalem, and Cilicia as a monolithic community and assumes that the dynamics governing the Armenian-Frankish relationship were identical for Armenians in all these regions. One of his guiding assumptions is that the actions of many Armenians were motivated by their desire to affiliate themselves with the Latin Crusaders, although the reasons why the Armenians would attempt to foster close ties with the Franks are not fully explained.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bb/Fortressarmenians5.jpg

Another important work of scholarship dealing with the Armenian community in Jerusalem echoes Boas’ approach and emphasizes the close relationship between the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Armenians.[14] As such, Pahlitsch and Baraz assert that the Armenians in Jerusalem, Cilicia, and even Cappadocia affiliated themselves with the Latin Crusaders, citing several episodes—including the close ties with the Armenian prince Thoros II, the alleged empowerment of the Armenian Church in Jerusalem by the Franks, and the lamentations of Nerses Shnorhali and Grigor Tghay over the fall of Latin Edessa and Jerusalem to the Muslims in the twelfth century—as evidence of the pro-Latin sentiments of Armenians in the Near East.[15] In essence, the argument is that Armenians in the region during the era of the Crusades made a concrete political decision to ally themselves with the Latin Crusaders, since the Armenians were supposedly “natural allies” of the Franks against “Islam” (which is also viewed as a monolith) and that this was the basis of the relationship between the two groups. At the heart of this narrative, therefore, lie two assumptions: that the Armenians were a unified community whose attitudes towards the Latins were similar, whether they resided in Jerusalem or on the shores of Lake Van, and that the Armenians were ideologically or religiously motivated in their alliances. Although both of these notions are problematic for historians of the Crusades and the Near East, the latter idea poses a more serious obstacle for understanding the history of Armenians during the Crusades, as it limits the Armenians to a specific confessional category.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e3/Mekhitar_Heratsi_and_Catholicos_Nerses_Shnorhali.png

In addition to scholarship which makes reference to the Armenians under Crusader rule, there have also been works dealing with situation of Armenians living under Islamic rule between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries, covering roughly the period from the Turkish invasions to the Mongol conquests. Overwhelmingly, these scholars are concerned with the existence of Armenians in Anatolia under the Sejuks of Rūm, the Danishmandids of Cappadocia, and the Mongol Ilkhanids. One of the most important scholars in this regard has been Claude Cahen, whose work Pre-Ottoman Turkey or The Formation of Turkey has formed the basis for the modern understanding of the politics, economy, and society of Seljuk Anatolia.[16] Although not concerned primarily with the Armenians, Cahen makes passing reference to this ethno-religious community throughout his work. Indeed, his survey of pre-Ottoman Anatolia makes it clear that the Armenians were an integral part of the social, religious, and economic landscape and played a variety of roles under Turkish Islamic rule. Throughout Cahen’s discussion, from the initial Turkish incursions culminating in the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 to the Mongol invasions in the thirteenth century, he makes it clear that the social and political history of Armenians was deeply tied to the various developments occurring in the Near East, and that it is necessary to understand both Armenian history and these developments (the Turkish invasions, the Crusades, the Mongol conquests) as a totality.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/ce/BaudouinDeBoulogneAndThe_Armenians.jpg

More significantly, Cahen explains that the geo-political reality enabled various modes of interactions between the Armenians of Anatolia and their Muslim (and Christian) neighbors, explaining that the relationship between Armenians, Seljuks, Byzantines, Danishmandids, and Franks was extremely multi-faceted.[17] As such, he differentiates between Armenians in different regions of Anatolia, and between the communities in Anatolia and the Armenians in Cilicia and the Latin kingdoms, explaining that the experience of each group differed immensely, despite the shared common linguistic and cultural heritage of the Armenians in these regions. In this regard, Cahen’s work is important in challenging traditional scholarship which casts Armenians as a monolithic community with “naturally” pro-Western/Christian sympathies. He does so by presenting a narrative in which Armenian warriors, priests, and architects were an essential part of the Seljuk Anatolia, where the Armenians often lived in close proximity with their Muslim neighbors, an experience punctuated by both tolerance and persecution but which was primarily characterized by a diverse Armenian experience which is difficult to simplify or essentialize.[18] The major contribution of this category of scholars has been to contextualize Armenian history within that of the larger Near Eastern environment. However, with the exception of Cahen, most of the traditionalist historiography has been limited to brief description or ethnography, often over-simplifying the historical reality, and has failed to emphasize the diversity of the Armenian experience and the dynamic, and often multi-faceted relationship between the Armenians and their neighbors in the Near East.

Cultural Perceptions and Political Attitudes: The Armenians and their Neighbors

More recent scholarship has sought to integrate a comprehensive understanding of the diversity of Armenians in the Near East with the political transformations of the period in a way that seeks to explain the various modes of interactions that occurred between Armenians and their neighbors during the period of the Crusades. These scholars have looked specifically at the mutual perceptions of Armenians and the Franks, Byzantines, and Turks between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries and the shifting political attitudes of the Armenians towards each of these in order to more adequately explain the various cultural and political trajectories of Armenian history in this period. In doing so, these scholars have moved away from basic assumptions about Armenians during the Crusades, and sought to explain that the diverse modes of interactions which defined the Armenian experience during this period were enabled by the various motivations and perceptions of the historical actors involved.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/64/LeonIIQueenGueraneAndTheirFiveChildren1272.jpg

Rather than assume that it was essentially the Christian faith of the Armenians that led them to align their fortunes with that of the Crusaders, several scholars have indicated it was in essence a broader strategy of realpolitik which facilitated the conscious decision of a particular faction of Armenians to ally with the Frankish newcomers. These historians explain that there was a desire by a particular group of Armenians, especially those in Cilicia but also particular groups in Jerusalem, who sought to counterbalance Byzantine ecclesiastical and political (as well as military) hegemony and Islamic political power by associating with the Latin Crusaders.[19] Indeed, it appears that the Armenian alliance with the Latins brought certain privileges and greatly empowered a specific group of Armenians who had been hitherto subordinated to Byzantines, Turks, or other Armenians.

https://arbugo.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/1-armenian-kings-in-medieval-european-manuscripts.jpg?w=626&h=655

Attention has also been devoted to how the Armenian Church also viewed certain benefits from their relationship with the Latins and sought to exploit the political alliance in order to extract certain rights over Jerusalem at the expense of other indigenous Christians.[20] In addition, a recent study has demonstrated that the Latins were aware of the various distinctions among the indigenous Christians, yet political expediency along with other considerations encouraged them to ally with specific factions of Armenian Christians, thereby underscoring the idea of realpolitik and mutual benefits as a key aspect of the Armenian-Frankish relationship.[21] Therefore, the underlying motivation for the Armenians who entered into alliances with the Crusaders has been identified as overtly political, rather than explicitly ideological or religious by these historians, and explaining that rather than being directed solely against Muslims, this political relationship was aimed at empowering the Armenians at the expense of other Christians in the region.

https://i0.wp.com/www.peopleofar.com/wp-content/uploads/medieval-armenian-manuscript.jpg

More significantly, these historians have indicated that the increasingly amicable cultural relations between the Armenians and the Franks and the Armenian integration of various Frankish customs and the adoption of some Catholic liturgy, should be interpreted as a form of accommodation by the Armenians of the Latins in order to reinforce their political alliance, rather than as an overt attempt to assimilate. In other words, rejecting the view that Armenian Cilicia and the Armenian in Jerusalem were Latinized either culturally or religiously, or desired to become so, several historians have stressed that the cultural exchange, ecumenical dialogue and intermarriage between the Armenians and the Franks should be interpreted within the broader framework of realpolitik. In this regard, some scholars have analyzed Armenian attitudes towards the fall of Jerusalem in 1187, as evident within the poetry of Nerses Snorhali and Grigor Tghay, as reflective of a perception of a loss of political power rather than as representative of any underlying theological or ideological opposition to the idea of Islam ruling the Holy City.[22] After all, argue these historians, many of the rights and privileges of the Armenians were guaranteed by the text of the oaths of Saladin following his conquest of Jerusalem in 1187, although these historians assert that the zenith of Armenian ecclesiastical authority in the city had been while it had been under direct Latin rule.[23] This is not to say that these scholars deny that religion or ideology played a role in the opposition of certain factions of Armenians to Byzantium or Islam, but these considerations tended to be secondary to the question of political survival and the maintenance of sovereignty. At least one historian, however, has sought to explain the alignment of the Armenians with the Crusaders by investigating the perception of the Franks by the Armenians in cultural and theological terms, and emphasizing that the favorable view of the Latins among certain Armenians encouraged and legitimized the development of a close relationship between the two sides.[24]

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/de/Konrad_von_Gr%C3%BCnenberg_-_Beschreibung_der_Reise_von_Konstanz_nach_Jerusalem_-_Blatt_35v-36r.jpg

In addition to explaining the alliance between the Franks and the Armenians in terms of realpolitik, some scholars have also sought to underscore the various dimensions of the relationship in order to demonstrate that even for those Armenians who aligned themselves with the Crusaders, there was considerable friction. In a recent study on the renegotiation of their position between East and West during the Crusades, James D. Ryan indicates that although the alliance between the Latin kingdoms and certain Armenians was mutually beneficial and led to the development of close cultural ties, intermarriages, and other friendly relations, the issue of theology and ecumenism was a key stumbling block which eventually led to the unraveling of the relationship.[25] Ryan explains that the attempts by the Latins to subjugate the Armenian Church to their authority and interfere with Armenian theology led to fierce resistance from the Armenian ecclesiastical establishment, and asserts that as the Franks and Armenians become more familiarized with each others doctrines and practices, suspicion and mutual hostility between them increased.[26] His study is essential in illuminating the dynamics of the Armenian-Frankish relationship during the era of the Crusades (and Mongol invasions) by examining the reasons for the development of such an alliance, and, more significantly, explaining why it ultimately failed. In doing so, Ryan demonstrates the diversity of the Armenians in the Near East during the Crusades, and highlights that even those Armenians who actively sought to align themselves with the Latins (the pro-Western faction) were bitterly divided among themselves, and appear to have been motivated largely by realpolitik.

https://hmmlorientalia.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/apip_33_pp169_170.png?w=1097&h=655

Another important scholarly contribution which has furthered the debate about the dynamics of the Latin-Armenian relationship has undoubtedly been Christopher MacEvitt’s The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance.[27] Examining the interaction between the Frankish Crusaders and the indigenous Christians in Outremer, MacEvitt demonstrates that in addition to close alliances between the Armenians and the Latins, there was also real tension between the two groups, which would often culminate in violence. To this effect, he highlights the episode of Baldwin in Edessa and the resistance he encountered from local Armenians following the assassination of Toros, which led many within the Armenian community to seek the assistance of the Turks against the Latins, thus underscoring the complexity of Armenian regional politics.[28] One of the most interesting aspects of MacEvitt’s book is his emphasis on Armenian-Frankish Edessa in the twelfth century as a case study demonstrative of the realpolitik of the Armenians in which they renegotiated their position between the Franks, the Byzantines, and the various Muslim polities in the region, and highlighting the dynamism which characterized the relationship between the Armenians and their neighbors.[29] In addition, he investigates the ecumenical dialogue between the Latins, the Armenians, and the Byzantines within the context of this realpolitik.[30] Clearly therefore, more recent scholarship has demonstrated the varied modes of interactions between the Armenians and their neighbors during the Crusades, placing increasing emphasis on realpolitik, and examining the diversity within the Armenian community.

https://i1.wp.com/s4.postimg.org/87zow2fzh/142084808.jpg

Armenians between East and West: Armenian Principalities in the Near East, ca.1100–1300

Although many historians have discussed Armenians during the Crusades within the context of the Near Eastern environment or in the context of cultural exchange between the Franks and indigenous Christians, there is also a significant body of scholarship devoted to the Armenian political establishments between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. Although the period of kingdoms or naxarars ended in the eleventh century following the Byzantine revival and Seljuk conquests, the period of the Crusades witnessed the rise of various Armenian principalities across the Near East, in regions as far apart as Cilicia, Cappadocia, Syria, and Egypt, which played an important role in the geo-politics of the era and which were representative of larger social and political transformations in the same period. Unfortunately, most of this scholarship has been limited to a discussion of the political history of these entities, rather than analyzing the significance of their rise and fall as viable states and how this is demonstrative of the Armenian experience during the Crusades.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b9/The_Barony_of_Cilician_Armenia,_1080-1199.gif

One of the most discussed episodes of Armenians during the Crusades has undoubtedly been the establishment of the Armenian principality and kingdom of Cilicia. Although Armenian Cilicia forms a distinctive phase in Armenian and Near Eastern history for a variety of reasons, many scholars have limited their discussions of this unique phase to providing a descriptive political history of the Armenians in Cilicia, rather than a comprehensive analysis which seeks to integrate an understanding of Armenian Cilicia into the broader developments in the medieval Near East. As such, much of this scholarship limits itself to a narrative of the political history of Armenians in Cilicia and deals with the relationship between Armenian Cilicia in its neighbors, recycling much of the essentializing stereotypes prevalent within traditionalist scholarship on Armenians during the Crusades. The contribution of the body of scholarship on Armenian Cilicia has been to narrate the political history and the various phases of the principality in Cilicia as the Armenians there sought to renegotiate their position between the Byzantines, the Franks, and the Turks. [31]

One episode from the history of Armenian Cilicia, as discussed within the historiography, is of particular relevance: the rise of Mleh as a political force. Mleh (d. 1175) was the brother of Toros, the Armenian ruler of Cilicia, and assumed power following the death of the latter. Seeking to strengthen his position, he allied himself with Nur al-Din Zangi in Syria. Although this is a seemingly minor episode within the vast history of the Crusades, during which Muslim-Christian political and military alliance where not uncommon, many scholars have emphasized that Mleh’s actions should be understood specifically within the Armenian policy of realpolitik in which they sought to ensure their political survival in Cilicia through a complex system of intermarriages and alliances.[32] More significantly, argue these scholars, is that the decision of Mleh to ally with a Muslim ruler (especially a champion of jihad, such as Nur al-Din) challenges the idea that there was a consensus among Armenians in Cilicia to ally with the Crusaders for ideological or religious reasons, and underscores the strategic dimensions of such a decision. In addition, according to this school of thought, Mleh’s alliances with Nur al-Din shows that Armenian Cilicia’s pro-Western orientation was far from inevitable and, rather, was the product of the convergence of various interests within the principality.

Several scholars, notably Seta Dadoyan, have sought to argue that Mleh’s alliance involved a nominal conversion to Islam; she states that, far from being an anomaly, such an act can be understood as part of a larger socio-political context of Armenians converting to Islam in order to facilitate their political success.[33] Indeed, she has further argued that several principalities in the medieval Near East were of Armenian Muslim origin.[34] Her most significant contribution, however, has been to reconstruct the history of Armenian vizierial rule in Fatimid Egypt, and to present a narrative which integrates the story of the Muslim Armenians between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries within a broader understanding of Armenian realpolitik during the Crusades.[35] Dadoyan has demonstrated, through her original research, that it is possible to conceptualize the actions of Armenians during the Crusades within a theoretical frame of analysis, rather than as a seemingly random series of events and decisions. In doing so, she has shown that, rather than viewing the various trajectories within Armenian history between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries as being propelled by ideological or religious motives, the notion of realpolitik is indeed a useful way of thinking about Armenian political and social history during this period of medieval history. In addition to Dadoyan’s own work, the scholarship that has brought the fascinating careers of individuals like Mleh, Badr al-Jamali, Bahram Pahlavuni (and many other Armenians who wielded political power within the Islamic context) into sharper focus has also played an immeasurably important role in illustrating the complexity of the Armenian social and political reality between the 11th-14th centuries.

Conclusion: Towards a New Interpretative Framework

In this brief piece, I have sought to briefly sketch the state of the historiography and suggest that, although there have been notable works in recent years, the field is still dominated by various assumptions about the Armenian experience during the Middle Ages. Despite the developments in the field, many historians continue to view the Armenians during the Crusades as merely ethnic components of the Near Eastern environment, without fully understanding their agency in the social and political processes which occurred between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. One prevalent assumption has been that Armenians were a monolithic community united by a common religion, as well as by their political allegiance to the Latin West. Although this view has been challenged by scholars insisting on the dynamism of the Armenian condition during the Crusades, the importance of realpolitik, and the shifting alliances and conceptions between the Armenians and their neighbors, several of these assumptions and categorizations have remained. It is only by understanding that Armenians during the Crusades were working within the framework of realpolitik, were incredibly diverse, and managed to transcend confessional, class, social, and political boundaries, that the significance of this period as an important phase in Near Eastern and Armenian history can fully be appreciated.

Bibliography

Al-Zībārī, Muḥammad Saliḥ. Salājiqa al-Rūm fī Asīya al-Sughra, 1077–1237. Amman: Dār Dajla, 2007.

Asbridge, Thomas S. “The Crusader Community at Antioch: The Impact of Interaction with Byzantium and Islam,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 9 (1999): 305–325.

Bedrosian, Robert. “Armenia during the Seljuk and Mongol Periods.” In The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, Vol. I, ed. Richard G. Hovannisian, pp.241–272. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.

Boas, Adrian J. Jerusalem in the Time of the Crusades: Society, Landscape, and Art in the Holy City under Frankish rule. London: Routledge, 2001.

Bournoutian, Ani Atamian. “Cilician Armenia.” In The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, Vol. I, ed. Richard G. Hovannisian, pp.273–292. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.

Bournoutian, George A. A History of the Armenian People. Costa Mesa: Mazda Publishers, 1993.

Cahen, Claude. Pre-Ottoman Turkey: A General Survey of the Material and Spiritual Culture and History, 1071–1330. Trans. J. Jones-Williams. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1968.

Cahen, Claude. The Formation of Turkey: The Seljukid Sultanate of Rūm, Eleventh to Fourteenth Century. Trans. P.M. Holt. London: Longman, 2001.

Dadoyan, Seta. Islam and the Armenians: Paradigms of Medieval Interactions. Forthcoming: Brill, 2010.

_________. The Fatimid Armenians: Cultural and Political Interaction in the Near East. Leiden: Brill, 1997.

Evans, Helen C. “Imperial Aspirations: Armenian Cilicia and Byzantium in the Thirteenth Century.” In Eastern Approaches to Byzantium, ed. Antony Eastmond, pp.243–253. Ashgate: Variorum, 2001.

Frazee, Charles A. “The Christian Church in Cilician Armenia: Its Relationship with Rome and Constantinople to 1198,” Church History 45 (1976): 166–184.

Frenkel, Yehoshua. “Political and Social Aspects of Islamic Religious Endowments: Saladin in Cairo and Jerusalem,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 62 (1999): 1–20.

Garsoian, Nina. “The Byzantine Annexation of the Armenian Kingdoms in the Eleventh Century.” In The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, Vol. I, ed. Richard G. Hovannisian, pp.187–198. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.

Ghazarian, Jacob G. The Armenian Kingdom in Cilicia during the Crusades. Surrey: Curzon Press, 2000.

Hillenbrand, Carole. The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Holt, P.M. The Crusader States and their Neighbors. London: Longman, 2004.

Houben, Hubert. “Intercultural Communication: The Teutonic Knights in Palestine, Armenia, and Cyprus.” In Diplomatics in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1000–1500, ed. Alexander D. Behihammer et al., pp.139–158. Leiden: Brill, 2008.

Knobler, Adam. “Pseudo-Conversions and Patch-work Pedigrees: The Christianization of Muslim Princes and the Diplomacy of Holy War,” Journal of World History 7 (1996): 181–197.

Lyons, Malcolm Cameron and D.E.P. Jackson. Saladin: The Politics of Holy War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

MacEvitt, Christopher. “The Chronicle of Matthew of Edessa: Apocalypse, the First Crusade, and the Armenian Diaspora,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 61 (2007): 157–181.

_________. The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.

Pahlitzsch, Johannes and Daniel Baraz. “Christian Communities in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (1099–1187).” In Christians and Christianity in the Holy Land: From the Origins to the Latin Kingdoms, ed. Ora Limor and Guy G. Stroumsa, pp.205–238. Turnhout: Brepols, 2006.

Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The Crusades: A History, 2nd Edition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.

Ryan, James D. “Toleration Denied: Armenia between East and West in the Era of the Crusades.” In Tolerance and Intolerance: Social Conflict in the Age of the Crusades, ed. Michael Gervers and James M. Powell, pp.55–64. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2001.

Savvides, Alexis G.C. Byzantium in the Near East: Its Relations with the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum in Asia Minor, the Armenians of Cilicia, and the Mongols A.D. 1192–1237. Thessaloniki: Byzantine Texts and Studies, 1981.

Shirinian, Mane Erna. “’The Letter of Love and Concord’ between Rome and Armenia: A Case of Forgery from the Crusader Period.” In East and West in the Crusader States: Context, Contacts, Confrontations, ed. Krijnie Ciggaar and Herman Teule, pp.79–100. Leuven: Uitgeverij Peeters, 2003.

Talmon-Heller, Daniella. Islamic Piety in Medieval Syria: Mosques, Cemeteries and Sermons under the Zangids and Ayyūbids (1146–1260). Leiden: Brill, 2007.

Taqqūsh, Muḥammad Suhayl. Tārīkh Salājiqa al-Rūm fī Asīya al-Sughra, 1077–1304. Beirut: Dār al-Nafā’is, 2002.

Thomson, Robert W. “The Crusaders through Armenian Eyes.” In The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World, ed. Angeliki E. Laiou and Roy P. Mottahedeh, pp.71–82. Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 2001.

Van Lint, Theo Maarten. “The Poem of Lamentation over the Capture of Jerusalem written in 1189 by Grigor Tlay Catholicos of all Armenians.” In The Armenians in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, ed. Michael E. Stone et al., pp.121–142. Leuven: Hebrew University Armenian Studies, 2002.


[1] Seta Dadoyan, Islam and the Armenians: Paradigms of Medieval Interactions (Brill: Forthcoming), p.180.

[2] Nadia Maria El Cheikh, Byzantium viewed by the Arabs (Cambridge, Mass., 2004), pp.83–84; Hugh Kennedy, The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates (London, 2004), pp.143–144

[3]  Walter E. Kaegi, “Byzantium and Islam in North Africa,” Unpublished, pp. 7–13; Walter E. Kaegi, “Confronting Islam: Emperors versus Caliphs,” in Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire (Cambridge, 2008), ed. Jonathan Shepard, pp.369–370; Walter E. Kaegi, “The Earliest Muslim Penetrations into Anatolia,” unpublished, pp.269–282; Vassilios Christides, The Conquest of Crete by the Arabs (Athens, 1984), pp.157–165; Kenneth M. Setton, “On the Raids of the Moslems in the Aegean in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries and their Alleged Occupation of Athens,” American Journal of Archaeology 58 (1954), p.311; Vassilios Christides, “The Raids of the Muslims of Crete in the Aegean Sea: Piracy and Conquest,” Byzantion 51 (1981): 76–111; Genesios, On the Reigns of the Emperors, trans. Anthony Kaldellis (Canberra, 1998), pp. 39–40; Christos G. Makrypoulias, “Byzantine Expeditions against the Emirate of Crete, 825–949,” in Sixth International Congress of Graeco-Oriental and African Studies (Nicosia, 1996), pp.347–362; John Scylitzes, Ioannis Scylitzae Synopsis Historiarum (Berolini, 1973), ed. Hans Thurn, p.324;Warren Treadgold, The Byzantine Revival (Stanford, 1988), pp.297–309; John Bagnell Bury, History of the Eastern Roman Empire (London, 1912), p.262; [3] Muhammad Abdullah Enan, Decisive Moments in the History of Islam (London, 1940), pp.84–87; Dimitris Tsougarakis, Byzantine Crete: from the Fifth Century to the Venetian Conquest (Athens, 1988), p.50.

[4] El Cheikh, Byzantium viewed by the Arabs, pp.162–163.

[5] El Cheikh, Byzantium viewed by the Arabs, pp.162–174; Jonathan Shepard, “Byzantium Expanding, 944–1025,” in The New Cambridge Medieval History, Volume III, ed. Timothy Reuter (Cambridge, 1999), pp.586–604.

[6] Nina Garsoian, “The Byzantine Annexation of the Armenian Kingdoms in the Eleventh Century,” in The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times (New York, 1997), ed. Richard Hovannisian, pp.187–198; Robert Bedrosian, “Armenia during the Seljuk and Mongol Periods,” in The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, pp.242–244 .

[7] Dadoyan, Islam and the Armenians, pp.80–90.

[8] Dadoyan, Islam and the Armenians, pp.106–108; Bedrosian, “Armenia during the Seljuk and Mongol Periods,” pp.244–248.

[9] Dadoyan, Islam and the Armenians, pp.112–113.

[10] Dadoyan, Islam and the Armenians, pp.115–130; Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades: A History, 2nd Edition (New Haven, 2005), pp.42–53; P.M. Holt, The Crusader States and their Neighbors (London, 2004), p.24.

[11] See, for example the most significant study of the Crusades in recent years by Riley-Smith, The Crusades, who in his description of the establishment of the Latin Kingdoms and the subsequent developments in Outremer, alludes to the existence of the Armenians as part of the social and ethnic landscape of the Near Eastern “indigenous Christians”, referring to their ecclesiastical institutions such as churches and Catholicoi, but otherwise (aside from a brief mention of Armenian Cilicia) ignoring their existence as a socially and politically.

[12] Adrian J. Boas, Jerusalem in the Time of the Crusades: Society, Landscape, and Art in the Holy City under Frankish Rule (London, 2001), p.38.

[13] Boas, Jerusalem in the Time of the Crusades, pp.38–39.

[14] Johannes Pahlitsch and Daniel Baraz, “Christian Communities in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (1099–1187),” in Christians and Christianity in the Holy Land: From the Origins to the Latin Kingdoms (Turnhout, 2006), ed. Ora Limor and Guy G. Stroumsa, pp.227–230.

[15] Pahlitsch and Baraz, “Christian Communities in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem,” pp.228–229.

[16] Claude Cahen, Pre-Ottoman Turkey (New York, 1968), trans. J. Jones-Williams; Claude Cahen, The Formation of Turkey (London, 2001), trans. P.M. Holt.

[17] Bedrosian, “Armenian during the Seljuk and Mongol periods,” pp.249–251 refers to the various modes of interactions between Armenians and Turks during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, looking in particular at religious, economic, and cultural exchange, concluding that the period was one of “economic and cultural interaction and dynamism.”

[18] Alexis G.C. Savvides, Byzantium in the Near East (Thessaloniki, 1981), p.65 also explains how the Armenians formed an important military element in Seljuk armies in the campaigns against Byzantium.

[19] Pahlitzsch and Baraz, “Christian Communities in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem,” p.227; Holt, Crusader States and their Neighbors, pp.24–26.

[20] Pahlitzsch and Baraz, “Christian Communities in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem,” pp.228–229.

[21] Andrew Jotischky, “Ethnographic Attitudes in the Crusader States: the Franks and the Indigenous Orthodox People,” in East and West in the Crusader States (Leuven, 2003), ed. Krijnie Ciggaar and Herman Teule, pp.3–11.

[22] Pahlitzsch and Baraz, “Christian Communities in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem,” p.229; Theo Maarten Van Lint, “The Poem of Lamentation over the Capture of Jerusalem written in 1189 by Grigor Tgha Catholicos of all Armenians,” in Armenians in Jerusalem and the Holy Land (Leuven, 2002), eds. Michael E. Stone et al, pp.121–142.

[23] Pahlitzsch and Baraz, “Christian Communities in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem,” pp.229–230; Van Lint, “The Poem of Lamentation over the Capture of Jerusalem,” p.127 .

[24] Robert W. Thomson, “The Crusaders through Armenian Eyes,” in The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World (Washington D.C., 2001), ed. Roy Mottahedeh and Angeliki E. Laiou, pp.71–82.

[25] James D. Ryan, “Toleration Denied: Armenia between East and West in the Era of the Crusades,” in Tolerance and Intolerance: Social Conflict in the Age of the Crusades (Syracuse, 2001), eds. Michael Gervers and James M. Powell, pp.55–64.

[26] Ryan, “Toleration Denied,” pp.57–64.

[27] Christopher MacEvitt, The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance (Philadelphia, 2008).

[28] MacEvitt, The Crusades and the Christian World of the East, pp.71–72.

[29] MacEvitt, The Crusades and the Christian World of the East, pp.74–99.

[30] MacEvitt, The Crusades and the Christian World of the East, pp.161–167.

[31] Ani Atamian Bournoutian, “Cilician Armenian,” in The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, pp.273–292; Helen C. Evans, “Imperial Aspirations: Armenian Cilicia and Byzantium in the Thirteenth Century,” in Eastern Approaches to Byzantium (Ashgate, 2001), ed. Antony Eastmond, pp.243–253; Jacob G. Ghazarian, The Armenian Kingdom in Cilicia during the Crusades (Surrey, 2000); George A. Bournoutian, A History of the Armenian People (Costa Mesa, 1993), pp.117–128; Riley-Smith, The Crusades, pp.215–216; Muhammad Suhayl Taqus, Tarikh Salajiqa al-Rum fi Asiya al-sughra (Beirut, 2002), pp.59–62, 155–159, 222–224, 231–234, 242–244; Muhammad al-Zibari, Salajiqa al-Rum fi Asiya al-sughra (Amman, 2007), pp.228–235; Savvides, Byzantium in the Near East, pp.117–118.

[32] Bournoutian, “Armenian Cilicia,” p.280; Bournoutian, A History of the Armenian People, pp.120–121. For a good discussion of political conversions during the Crusades, see Adam Knobler, “Pesudo Conversions and Patchwork Pedigrees: The Christianization of Muslim Princes and the Diplomacy of Holy War,” Journal of World History 7 (1996): 181–197.

[33] Seta Dadoyan, Islam and the Armenians, pp.189–191.

[34] Seta Dadoyan, Islam and the Armenians, pp.104–179.

[35] Seta B. Dadoyan, The Fatimid Armenians (Leiden, 1997), pp.106–178.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: