|Parent house||House of Karen|
|Founder||Prince Kamsar (d. 325)|
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).
Background and history
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. The Kamsarakans had their base in "two princely states", which were both located in the historic region of Ayrarat-Arsharunik. 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.
From its establishment, the Kamsarakans enjoyed prestige due to being the cousins of the Parthians. 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". The Kamsarakans had a high rank in the order of precedence of the Armenian princes; they supposedly ranked second ("of the four broad classes"). Related to that, reportedly, they were obliged to give 600 horses to their suzerain, the king of Armenia, per feudal law.
Due to the geographical location of its principalities, the Kamsarakan were not involved "in any special way in Armino-Iranian relations". 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. Prior to this event, Gazavon II had been the leader of the pro-Roman Armenian princes. Then, later, another Kamsarakan member, Arshavir II, is recorded as having participated in the anti-Sasanian revolt led by Vardan Mamikonian. Arshavir II also took part in the insurrection of 482-484, together with his son and successor Narses.
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. 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. 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.
The Kamsarakans are also known for having taken part in the revolt against the Arab rule in Armenia, in 771-772. 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. 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."
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. 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. 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".
The Kamsarakans and their Pahlavuni branch (and in turn the Zakarids-Mkhargrdzeli), were known for being patrons of Armenian architecture. 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).
- Toumanoff 2010, pp. 453-455.
- Toumanoff, C. (2010). "KAMSARAKAN". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. XV, Fasc. 5. pp. 453–455.