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Medieval Armenia

Arab Caliphates, Byzantium and Bagratid Armenia

In 591, the Byzantine Emperor Maurice defeated the Persians and recovered much of the remaining territory of Armenia into the empire. The conquest was completed by the Emperor Heraclius, himself ethnically Armenian, in 629. In 645, the Muslim Arab armies of the Caliphate had attacked and conquered the country. Armenia, which once had its own rulers and was at other times under Persian and Byzantine control, passed largely into the power of the Caliphs, and established the province of Arminiya.

Nonetheless, there were still parts of Armenia held within the Empire, containing many Armenians. This population held tremendous power within the empire. The Emperor Heraclius (610–641) was of Armenian descent, as was the Emperor Philippicus (711–713). The Emperor Basil I, who took the Byzantine throne in 867, was the first of what is sometimes called the Armenian dynasty (see Macedonian Dynasty), reflecting the strong effect the Armenians had on the Eastern Roman State.

Evolving as a feudal kingdom in the 9th century, Armenia experienced a brief cultural, political and economic renewal under the Bagratuni Dynasty. Bagratid Armenia was eventually recognized as a sovereign kingdom by the two major powers in the region: Baghdad in 885, and Constantinople in 886. Ani, the new Armenian capital, was constructed at the Kingdom's apogee in 964.

Seljuq Armenia

Although the native Bagratuni Dynasty was founded under favourable circumstances, the feudal system gradually weakened the country by eroding loyalty to the central government. Thus internally enfeebled, Armenia proved an easy victim for the Byzantines, who captured Ani in 1045. The Seljuk Turks under Alp Arslan in turn took the city in 1064.

In 1071, after the defeat of the Byzantine forces by the Seljuk Turks at the Battle of Manzikert, the Turks captured the rest of Greater Armenia and much ofAnatolia. So ended Christian leadership of Armenia for the next millennium with the exception of a period of the late 12th-early 13th centuries, when the Muslim power in Greater Armenia was seriously troubled by the resurgent Georgian monarchy. Many local nobles (nakharars) joined their efforts with the Georgians, leading to liberation of several areas in northern Armenia, which was ruled, under the authority of the Georgian crown, by the Zacharids/Mkhargrdzeli, a prominent Armeno-Georgian noble family.

Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia

To escape death or servitude at the hands of those who had assassinated his relative, Gagik II, King of Ani, an Armenian named Roupen with some of his countrymen went into the gorges of the Taurus Mountains and then into Tarsus of Cilicia. Here the Byzantine governor gave them shelter. Thus, from around 1080 to 1375, the focus of Armenian nationalism moved south, as the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia.

The Third Crusade and other events elsewhere left Cilicia as the sole substantial Christian presence in the Middle East. World powers, such as Byzantium, the Holy Roman Empire, the Papacy and even the Abbasid Caliph competed and vied for influence over the state and each raced to be the first to recognise Leo II, Prince of Lesser Armenia, as the rightful king. As a result, he had been given a crown by both German and Byzantine emperors. Representatives from across Christendom and a number of Muslim states attended the coronation, thus highlighting the important stature that Cilicia had gained over time. The Armenian authorities was often in touch with the crusaders. No doubt the Armenians aided in some of the other crusades. Cilicia flourished greatly under Armenian rule, as it became the last remnant of Medieval Armenian statehood. Cilcia acquired an Armenian identity, as the kings of Cilicia were called kings of the Armenians, not of the Cilicians.

In Lesser Armenia, Armenian culture was intertwined with both the European culture of the Crusaders and with the Hellenic culture of Cilicia. As the Catholic families extended their influence over Cilicia, the Pope wanted the Armenians to follow Catholicism. This situation divided the kingdom's inhabitants between pro-Catholic and pro-Apostolic camps. Armenian sovereignty lasted until 1375, when the Mamelukes of Egypt profited from the unstable situation in Lesser Armenia and destroyed it.