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Country Ayrarat
Parent house House of Karen
Founder Prince Kamsar (d. 325)[1]
Cadet branches Pahlavuni[1]

Kamsarakan (Armenian: Կամսարական) was an Armenian noble family that was an offshoot of the House of Karen (Karen-Pahlav), one of the Seven Great Houses of Iran of Parthian origin.[1]

In the Byzantine-Sasanian era, the Kamsarakan were mostly known for following a pro-Byzantine policy. In the late 8th century, they had their downfall as a result of participating in an uprising against the Arab rule. After the 8th century, a branch, the Pahlavuni, appeared. According to Cyril Toumanoff, the Pahlavunis then later had two branches in turn; the Zakarids-Mkhargrzeli (associated with the Kingdom of Georgia) and the Hethumids (associated with the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia).[1]

Background and history[edit]

A branch of the House of Karen (Karen-Pahlav), one of the Seven Great Houses of Iran, the name of Kamsarakan is derived from a certain Prince Kamsar, who died in 325.[1] The Kamsarakans had their base in "two princely states", which were both located in the historic region of Ayrarat-Arsharunik.[1] The old city of Yervandashat (in present-day eastern Turkey) was their capital. The fortresses of Bagaran, Artagers, Shirak and Ani (which later became a city) were also associated with the Kamsarakan.[1]

From its establishment, the Kamsarakans enjoyed prestige due to being the cousins of the Parthians.[1] Later, they also acquired, following the demise of the last Arsacid branch (the Armenian branch) in 428, a large amount of political power, which, as Toumanoff states, was due "to their quasi-margravial position on the northern frontier of the realm".[1] The Kamsarakans had a high rank in the order of precedence of the Armenian princes; they supposedly ranked second ("of the four broad classes").[1] Related to that, reportedly, they were obliged to give 600 horses to their suzerain, the king of Armenia, per feudal law.[1]

Due to the geographical location of its principalities, the Kamsarakan were not involved "in any special way in Armino-Iranian relations".[1] Later, when the Roman Empire annexed the western part of historic Armenia, Gazavon II Kamsarak and some other members moved to Sasanian Armenia, at the time ruled by an Armenian vassal.[1] Prior to this event, Gazavon II had been the leader of the pro-Roman Armenian princes.[1] Then, later, another Kamsarakan member, Arshavir II, is recorded as having participated in the anti-Sasanian revolt led by Vardan Mamikonian.[1] Arshavir II also took part in the insurrection of 482-484, together with his son and successor Narses.[1]

If taken as a whole, the Kamsarakans were known for following a pro-Byzantine policy, and they were actively involved in the political life in parts of the empire as well.[1] For example, three brothers from the Kamsarakan served as generals of Justinian I (r. 527-565); Narses, Isaac the Armenian (Sahak), and another Sahak/Isaac (d. 546), who was executed by the king of the Ostrogoths, Totila.[1] A later Kamsarakan member, Narses II Kamsarakan, served as presiding prince of Armenia for the Byzantine emperor in the late 7th century, and he held the high-ranking Byzantine office of curopalates as well. Another individual, presumably a Kamsarak, was the patrician Arsaber/Arshavir, noted for having revolted against the Byzantine emperor in 808.[1]

The Kamsarakans are also known for having taken part in the revolt against the Arab rule in Armenia, in 771-772.[1] When the insurrection failed, the Kamsarakan were amongst the "victims of the disaster", and they had therefore no other choice than to sell their "double princedom" to the Bagratids.[1] In the Bagratid era, the Kamsarakan rose to prominence once again, only now by its cadet branch the Pahlavunis, led by the princes Bdjni and Nig. Cyril Toumanoff adds: "it derived also the name of Arsharuni from one of its principalities, which distinguished it from the related houses of Abelian (princes of Abelunikʿ), Gabelian, Havenni and, possibly, Dziunakan; after the 8th century, it bore, in memory of its origin, the surname of Pahlavuni."[1]

When the Bagratids were destroyed and Prince Gregory II abdicated (in 1045-1046) for the Byzantine emperor to assume control over its lands, the Pahlavunis moved to Cilicia, where they were now known as the Hethumids; they would dominate this "last phase of Armenia’s political history", first as princes of Lambrun, and after 1226, as kings of Armenia.[1] When the Hethumids had gone extinct (14th century), the Armenain crown passed, through inheritance, to the Lusignan dynasty of Cyprus, and afterwards to the House of Savoy.[1] The Zakarids-Mkhargrzeli, another branch of the Pahlavunis, were a dominant factor in the Kingdom of Georgia in the 12th-14th centuries, and "has survived to this day".[1]

The Kamsarakans and their Pahlavuni branch (and in turn the Zakarids-Mkhargrdzeli), were known for being patrons of Armenian architecture.[1] Notable examples of constructions made by the family include castles and palaces, as well as "splendid churches", amongst which the Church of St. Gregory (commissioned by Abughamr I Pahlavuni).[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa Toumanoff 2010, pp. 453-455.