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Mongol Armenia or Ilkhanid Armenia refers to the period in which both Armenia (during its union with the Kingdom of Georgia) and the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia became tributary and vassal to the Mongol Empire (the later Ilkhanate) in the 1230s. Armenia and Cilicia remained under Mongol influence until around 1335.
During the time period of the later Crusades (1250s to 1260s), there was a short-lived Armenian-Mongol alliance, engaged in some combined military operations against their common enemy, the Mamluks. They succeeded in the siege of Baghdad (1258), but suffered defeat eight years later.
The Armenian calls for a wider Christian-Mongol alliance against Mamluk Islam, advocated notably by Hayton of Corycus, were ignored by the Latin powers in the Levant, leading to the demise of the European Crusader States and the imminent failure of the Crusades as a whole.
The Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, or "Lesser Armenia" was formed in the late 12th century, by refugees and migrants from "Greater Armenia". The area was staunchly Christian, as Armenia itself had been the first nation to ever adopt Christianity as its official religion, in the 4th century. Armenians were therefore very friendly to the European Crusaders who began to arrive in the early 12th century. As the Crusades progressed, the Armenian leaders were regular players in the politics of the region, aligning with the Crusader states against the Muslims.
Genghis Khan had died in 1227, and by 1241, the Empire was split up into four smaller independent khanates, which continued to further expand the Empire. The southwestern khanate, known as the Ilkhanate, under the leadership of Genghis Khan's grandson Hulagu, advanced towards Persia and the Holy Land. City after city fell to the Mongols, including some Christian realms in their path. Christian Georgia was repeatedly attacked starting in 1220, and in 1243 Queen Rusudan formally submitted to the Mongols, turning Georgia into a vassal state which then became a regular ally in the Mongol military conquests. This was a common practice in use by the growing Mongol empire – as they conquered new territories, they would absorb the populace and warriors into their own Mongol army, which they would then use to further expand the Empire.
Armenian vassalage to the Mongols
When the Mongols reached the Caucasus, they conquered Greater Armenia/Bagratid Armenia and various Armenian barons opted to swear loyalty to the Mongol Empire. In 1236, the Grand Prince of Karabagh, Hasan Jalal submitted to the Mongols, and in return received back some of the territories which had previously been conquered. He also traveled twice to the Mongol capital of Karakorum, where he negotiated further details of the relationship with the khan.
In the 1240s, as the Mongols continued their advance towards Cilicia, King Hethum I chose to follow the example of the Greater Armenian barons such as Hasan Jalal, and also submitted to the Ilkhanate.
To formalize his own relationship with the Mongols, in 1247 Hethum I sent his elder half-brother Sempad the Constable to the Mongol court in Karakorum. Sempad met with Güyük Khan and his successor, Kublai Khan's brother Möngke Khan, and made an agreement of cooperation, against their common enemy the Muslims. The nature of this relationship is disputed by historians, some of whom call it an alliance, and others who say that the Armenians had submitted to Mongol overlordship, and become a vassal state similar to any other conquered region.
Sempad was enthusiastic about his travel to the Mongol realm, which lasted until 1250. He discovered many Christians in Mongol lands, even among the Mongols themselves. On February 7, 1248, he sent a letter from Samarkand to his brother-in-law Henry I, king of Cyprus (who was married to the Armenian princess Stephanie, Sempad and Hethum I's sister). In his letter, Sempad described a Central Asian realm of oasis with many Christians, generally of the Nestorian rite:
We have found many Christians throughout the land of the Orient, and many churches, large and beautiful... The Christians of the Orient went to the Khan of the Tartars who now rules (Güyük), and he received them with great honour and gave them freedom and let it know everywhere that no-one should dare antagonize them, be it in deeds or in words."— Letter from Sempad to Henry I.
During his visit to the Mongol court, Sempad received a relative of the Great Khan as a bride. He had a child with her, named Vasil Tatar, who would later be captured by the Mamluks at the Battle of Mari in 1266.
Hethum's embassy to the Mongol court (1254)
In 1254, King Hethum himself traveled through Central Asia to the Mongol court, to renew the agreement. He brought many sumptuous presents, and met with Möngke Khan (Güyük's cousin) at Karakorum.
Hethum, who came spontaneously as a vassal, was very well received by the Mongols. He had an audience with Möngke on September 13, 1254, advised the Khan on Christian matters in Western Asia, and obtained from the Khan documents guaranteeing the inviolability of his person and his kingdom. Möngke also informed him that he was preparing to mount an attack on Baghdad and that he would remit Jerusalem to the Christians if they collaborated with him.
Relations with Antioch
The Armenians also had very friendly relations with the Crusader states, especially from 1254 when Hethum's daughter Princess Sibylla of Armenia married Bohemond VI, ruler of the Principality of Antioch and County of Tripoli, upon the recommendation of King Louis IX of France. Hethum strongly encouraged other Frankish rulers to follow his example and submit to Mongol overlordship, but persuaded only his son-in-law Bohemond, who offered his own submission sometime in the 1250s.
Military collaboration between the Armenians and the Mongols began in 1258-1260, when Hethum I, Bohemond VI, and the Georgians combined forces with the Mongols under Hulagu in the Mongol invasion of Syria and Mesopotamia.
In 1258, the combined forces conquered the center of the most powerful Islamic dynasty in existence at that time, that of the Abbasids in the siege of Baghdad. From there, the Mongol forces and their Christian allies conquered Muslim Syria, domain of the Ayyubid Dynasty. They took the city of Aleppo with the help of the Franks of Antioch, and on March 1, 1260, under the Christian general Kitbuqa, they also took Damascus. Historical accounts, quoting from the writings of the medieval historian Templar of Tyre, used to describe the three Christian rulers (Hetoum, Bohemond, and Kitbuqa) entering the city of Damascus together in triumph, though modern historians have questioned this story as apocryphal.
The Mongol expansion into the Middle East was stopped in 1260, when the Franks in Acre struck a passive alliance with the Egyptian Mamluks, allowing the Muslim Mamluks to achieve a decisive victory against the Mongols at the pivotal Battle of Ain Jalut, a battle in which 500 knights from Armenia may have participated, fighting on the side of the Mongols.
Following Ain Jalut, the remainder of the Mongol army retreated to Cilician Armenia under the commander Ilka, to be re-equipped by Hethum I. Hulagu then attempted a counter-attack which briefly occupied Aleppo, but it was repelled by the princes of Hama and Homs, subjects to the Sultan.
In 1262, the Mamluk leader Baibars began to threaten Antioch, which (as a vassal of the Armenian king) had earlier supported the Mongols. That summer, Hethum again went to the Mongols to obtain their intervention to deliver the city from the Muslim threat. However, Hulagu was only able to send troops to attack the frontier fort of Al-Bira (1264–1265).
Following the death of the Mongol leader Hulagu in 1265, Baibars again threatened Cilician Armenia from Egypt. In 1266, Baibars summoned Hethum I to abandon his allegiance to the Mongols, to accept Mamluk suzerainty, and remit to the Mamluks the territories and fortresses Hethum had acquired through his submission to the Mongols. Following these threats, Hethum I again went to the Mongol court of the Il-Khan to obtain military support. During his absence however, the Mamluks marched on Armenia, led by Mansur II and the Mamluk commander Qalawun, and defeated the Armenians at the Battle of Mari, causing great devastation to the country.
In 1269, Hethum I abdicated in favour of his son Leo II, who was forced to pay large annual tributes to the Mamluks. Even with the tributes though, the Mamluks continued to attack Cilicia every few years.
Joint invasion of Syria (1280–1281)
Following the death of Baibars in 1277, and the ensuing disorganisation of the Muslim realm, the Mongols seized the opportunity and organized a new invasion of Syrian land. In September 1280, the Mongols occupied Baghras and Darbsak, and took Aleppo on October 20. Abagha and Leo III of Armenia urged the Franks to start a new Crusade, but only the Hospitallers and Edward I of England (who could not come for lack of funds) responded favourably. The Hospitallers of Marqab made combined raids into the Buqaia, and won several engagements against the Sultan, raiding as far as the Krak des Chevaliers in October 1280, and defeating the Mamluk army of the Krak in February 1281. However, the Mongols finally retreated, pledging to come back for the winter of 1281.
Campaign of Autumn 1281
On October 30, 1281, 50,000 Mongol troops, together with 30,000 Armenians, Georgians, Greeks, and about 200 Hospitaller Knights of Marqab "fought against the Muslim leader Qalawun at the Second Battle of Homs, but they were repelled, with heavy losses on both sides.
Continued Armeno-Mongol relations
In 1284, the Dominican Burchard of Mount Sion visited Cilician Armenia and left an account of his travel there. He stayed at the royal court of Sis, and at the catholicossal seat of Hromgla. Burchard described the country as submitted to Mongol domination, and explained that Mongols were present at the royal Armenian court:
Actually, I spent three weeks with the king of Armenia and Cilicia, who had with him some Tartars. The rest of the attendants were Christians, to the number of about 200. I saw them gather to go to church, listen to the office, bend the knee, and pray with devotion.— Burchard of Mount Sion, 1282.
In 1293, during the reign of the Ilkhan Gaykhatu, Hethum II, Hethum I's grandson, was king. Cilician Armenia was attacked by the Mamluks and since the Mongols were unable to assist, a considerable amount of territory was lost in the eastern part of the country. Hethum II then abandoned his throne to enter a Franciscan convent under the name John (an apparent homage to John of Monte Corvino), leaving official rule to his brother Thoros for two years, before Hethum regained the throne.
With the rise of the Mongol Ilkhan Ghazan in 1295, Hethum II was able to again reinforce relations with the Mongols. Hethum visited Ghazan at his court, who renewed the relationship, and would remain faithful to it by continuously fighting the Mamluks. Ghazan had been baptized and raised as a Christian, though he had become a Muslim upon accession to the throne. He retained however a strong enmity towards the Egyptian Mamluks, and along with his Armeno-Mongol relations, he also attempted to coordinate actions with the Franks of Cyprus.
In 1296, Hethum II visited Constantinople to reinforce contacts there as well, giving his sister Rita in marriage to Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos. During his absence, Smpad of Armenia captured the throne and also attempted to obtain Mongol support, and married a relative of Ghazan. In 1298, Hethum II would again regain the throne, and continued relations with the Mongols.
Attempt to recapture the Levant (1297–1303)
In 1297, Ghazan resumed offensives against the Mamluks and tried to revive the attempts at a Franco-Mongol alliance. The plan was to combine the forces of the Christian military orders, the King of Cyprus, the aristocracy of Cyprus and Cilician Armenia, and the Mongols of the Ilkhanate. However, the Christians in the Levant had little support from Europe, and no new Crusade to help sustain their actions.
Campaign of winter 1299–1300
In the summer of 1299, due to impending invasion from the Egyptian Mamluks, King Hethum II sent a message to Ghazan to obtain his support. In response, Ghazan marched with his forces towards Syria and sent letters to the Franks of Cyprus (the King of Cyprus, and the heads of the military orders), inviting them to come join him in his attack on the Mamluks in Syria.
The Mongols successfully took the city of Aleppo, and were there joined by King Hethum, whose forces included some Templars and Hospitallers from Armenia, who participated in the rest of the offensive. The Mongols and their allies defeated the Mamluks in the Battle of Wadi al-Khazandar, on December 23 or 24, 1299, and then proceeded on to Damascus, which surrendered somewhere between December 30, 1299, and January 6, 1300, though the Citadel of Damascus resisted. Ghazan then retreated most of his forces in February, probably because their horses needed fodder. He promised to return in the winter of 1300–1301 to attack Egypt. A relatively small force of Mongols, about 10,000 horsemen under the Mongol general Mulay, ruled over Syria, and engaged in raids as far south as Jerusalem and Gaza. But that small force had to retreat when the Mamluks returned in May 1300.
Defeat of Shaqhab
In 1303, the Mongols again appeared in great strength (about 80,000) together with the Armenians, but they were defeated at Homs on March 30, 1303, and at the decisive Battle of Shaqhab, south of Damascus, on April 21, 1303. It is considered to be the last major Mongol invasion of Syria. In 1304, the Egyptian Mamluks continued their assault on Cilician Armenia, and succeeded in taking back all the lands which the Armenians had acquired during the Mongol invasion. Until its final fall in 1375, Cilician Armenia received a succession of attacks from the Mamluks, with only few successes, such as the Battle of Ayas in 1305.
Advocating a new Crusade with the Mongols (1307)
In 1307, Hethum II and Leon III were assassinated with their retinue by the Mongol general of Cilicia, Bilarghu, following an internal plot against Hethum's efforts to unite the Armenian Church with Rome. The Mongol ruler Oljeitu later executed Bilarghu for his crime.
Also in 1307, the Armenian monk Hayton of Corycus went to visit Pope Clement V in Poitiers, where he wrote his famous "Flor des Histoires d'Orient", a compilation of the events of the Holy Land describing the relations with the Mongols, and setting recommendations for a new Crusade:
God has also shown the Christians that the time is right because the Tartars themselves have offered to give help to the Christians against the Saracens. For this reason Gharbanda, King of the Tartars, sent his messengers offering to use all his power to undo the enemies of the Christian land. Thus, at present, the Holy Land might be recovered with the help of the Tartars and the realm of Egypt, easily conquered without peril or danger. And so Christian forces ought to leave for the Holy Land without any delay.— Hayton, Flor des Estoires d'Orient, Book IV.
Last Mongol intervention in Cilician Armenia (1322)
In 1320, the Egyptian sultan Naser Mohammed ibn Kelaoun invaded and ravaged Cilician Armenia. Pope John XXII sent a letter, dated July 1, 1322, from Avignon to the Mongol ruler Abu Sa'id (1305–1335), reminding him of the alliance of his ancestors with Christians and asking him to intervene. Mongol troops were sent to Cilicia, but only arrived after a truce had been negotiated for 15 years between Constantin, patriarch of the Armenians, and the sultan of Egypt.
Relations with the Mongols would essentially disappear after 1320, while relations with the Franks were reinforced, with the establishment of the French Lusignan dynasty as the ruling family in Cilician Armenia, due to the policy since 1254 of inter-marriage between the royal families of Cyprus and Cilician Armenia. Following the murder of Leo IV in 1341, his cousin Guy Lusignan was elected king. However, when the pro-Latin Lusignans took power, they tried to impose Catholicism and the European way of life. The Armenian leadership largely accepted this, but the peasantry opposed the changes. Eventually, this led the way to civil strife.
After Abu Sa'id, relations between Christian princes and the Mongols were totally abandoned. Abu Sa'id died without heir and successor, and after his death the state lost its status, becoming a plethora of little kingdoms run by Mongols, Turks, and Persians.
In the late 14th century, Cilicia was invaded by the Mamluks. The fall of Sis in April 1375 finally brought an end to the kingdom; its last King, Leo V, was granted safe passage and died in exile in Paris in 1393 after calling in vain for another Crusade. The title was claimed by his cousin, James I of Cyprus, uniting it with the titles of Cyprus and Jerusalem. Thus ended the last fully independent Armenian entity of the Middle Ages after three centuries of vassalage to Byzantines, Mongols and Franks. The relationship with the Mongols had allowed it to significantly outlive the Crusader states, and to survive for an additional century in the face of the Muslim expansion.
- Encyclopedia of the Crusades, "Armenia" entry, pp. 21–22
- Runciman, p.246-247
- Runciman, p.250
- Weatherford, p. 181. "To supplement his own army, Hulegu summoned the armies of the vassal states of Armenia and Georgia"
- Le Royaume Armenien de Cilicie, p66
- Kirakos Gandzaketsi. History of the Armenians, "Chapter 30: Concerning the destruction which occurred in the Xach'en area, and about the pious prince Jalal" (Պատմություն Հայոց). Edited by K. Melik-Ohandjanyan. Yerevan, Armenian SSR, 1961 [g266-269]. Trans. in English by Robert Bedrosian.
- (in Armenian) Ulubabyan, Bagrat. «Հասան-Ջալալ Դոլա» (Hasan-Jalal Dawla). Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia. vol. vi. Yerevan, Armenian SSR: Armenian Academy of Sciences 1980, p. 246.
- Claude Mutafian, Le Royaume Arménien de Cilicie, p. 55. "the King of Armenia decided to engage into the Mongol alliance, an intelligence that the Latin barons lacked, except for Antioch"
- Frederic Luisetto states that Hetoum submitted as early as 1244. Luisetto, p. 237
- Bournotian, p. 100. "Smbat met Kubali's brother, Mongke Khan and in 1247, made an alliance against the Muslims"
- Amin Maalouf, The Crusades through Arab eyes (page numbers refer to the French edition): "The Armenians, in the person of their king Hetoum, sided with the Mongols, as well as Prince Bohemond, his son-in-law. The Franks of Acre however adopted a position of neutrality favourable to the Muslims" (p.261), "Bohemond of Antioch and Hethoum of Armenia, principal allies of the Mongols" (p.265), "Hulagu (...) still had enough strength to prevent the punishment of his allies [Bohemond and Hethoum]" (p.267).
- Also "Mongolian-Armenian alliance": in The Islamic World in Ascendancy: From the Arab Conquest to the Siege of Vienna by Dr. Martin Sicker (p.111): "Bohemond, however, resided exclusively in Tripoli and, as a practical matter, Hetoum, whose realm was contiguous with it, ruled Antioch. Accordingly, Antioch was drawn into the Mongolian-Armenian alliance".
- Stewart, Logic of Conquest, p. 8. "The Armenian king saw alliance with the Mongols – or, more accurately, swift and peaceful subjection to them – as the best course of action."
- Peter Jackson, Mongols and the West, p. 74, "King Het'um of Lesser Armenia, who had reflected profoundly upon the deliverance afforded by the Mongols from his neighbbours and enemies in Rum, sent his brother, the Constable Smbat (Sempad) to Guyug's court to offer his submission."
- Riley-Smith, The Crusades, p. 82 "In the 1250s King Hetoum entered, as a subject power, into an alliance with the Mongols."
- Runciman, The Crusader States, 1243-1291, p. 572 "Hetoum I, king of Armenia, had long been an advocate of alliance with the Mongols. In 1254 he had himself visited the Great Khan Mongke at Karakorum. In return for calling himself the Khan's vassal he was promised increase of territory and protection against the Anatolian Turks."
- Grousset, p.529, Note 273
- Grousset, p.529, note 272
- Jean Richard, Histoire des Croisades, p. 376
- Extract quoted in Grousset, p. 529
- Luisetto, p.122, who references introduction and notes in G.Dedeyan La Chronique attribuée au Connétable Sempad, 1980
- The Armenian Kingdom and the Mamluks p.49, Angus Donal
- Bournotian, p. 101
- Emil Bretschneider tr. of Kirakos Gandzaketsi, The Journey of Haithon, King of Little Armenia, To Mongolia and Back, Mediaeval Researches Vol 1, Trubner Oriental Series 1888 London, facsimile reprint 2005 Elibron Classics ISBN 1-4021-9303-3
- Runciman, p.297
- The Islamic World in Ascendency: From the Arab Conquest to the Siege of Vienna by Dr. Martin Sicker (p.111): "Bohemond, however, resided exclusively in Tripoli and, as a practical matter, Hetoum, whose realm was contiguous with it, ruled Antioch. Accordingly, Antioch was drawn into the Mongolian-Armenian alliance".
- Cambridge Medieval History, Volume IV, p. 634
- Grousset, p.574, mentioning the account of Kirakos, Kirakos, #12
- "After this, [the Mongols] convened a great assembly of the old and new cavalry of the Georgians and Armenians and went against the city of Baghdad with a countless multitude." History of the Nation of Archers, Chap 12. Grigor of Akner, circa 1300
- Tyerman, p.806 "The Frankish Antiochenes assisted the Mongols' capture of Aleppo".
- "The Battle of Ain Jalut" Archived 2012-02-12 at the Wayback Machine Saudi Aramco World
- Grousset, p.581
- "On 1 March Kitbuqa entered Damascus at the head of a Mongol army. With him were the King of Armenia and the Prince of Antioch. The citizens of the ancient capital of the Caliphate saw for the first time for six centuries three Christian potentates ride in triumph through their streets", Runciman, p.307
- Grousset, p.588
- David Morgan, The Mongols (2nd ed.)
- Peter Jackson, "Crisis in the Holy Land in 1260", English Historical Review 376 (1980) 486
- "While this report cannot be taken literally, it may contain a grain of truth. Armenian troops were part of Ketbuqa's force, while some time during the Mongol occupation Bohemond visited Baalbek and even intended to ask Hulegu for possession of the town. (...) If this prince reached as far as Baalbek, it is most probable that he also passed through Damascus." De Reuven Amitai-Preiss, Mongols and Mamluks, p.31
- "These, however, were not all Mongol horsemen, but included contingents from Georgia and Lesser Armenia; Smpad writes that the latter numbered 500 men." Mongols and Mamluks, p.40
- Jean Richard, p.428
- Runciman, p.313
- Grousset, p.609
- "In the meantime, [Baibars] conducted his troops to Antioch, and started to besiege the city, which was saved by a Mongol intervention" Jean Richard, p.429
- Richard, Histoire des Croisades, p.465
- Runciman, p.387
- Runciman, p.390
- Richard, Histoire des Croisades, p.466
- Grousset, p.687
- The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, p. 253: The fortress of Marqab was held by the Knights Hospitallers, called al-osbitar by the Arabs, "These monk-knights had supported the Mongols wholeheartedly, going so far as to fight alongside them during a fresh attempted invasion in 1281."
- "Mangu Timur commanded the Mongol centre, with other Mongol princes on his left, and on his right his Georgian auxiliaries, with King Leo and the Hospitallers", Runciman, pp.391-392
- Mutafian, p.66
- Mutafian, p.71
- Foltz, p.128
- "The renewed offensives of the Mongol Khan, the Il-Khan Ghazan, in the year 1299-1302, deployed in collaboration with the Christians forces of Cyprus, were very close to succeed". Demurger, Croisades et croises, p.287
- Luisetto, p.122, referencing the Gestes des Chiprois par.553
- "Ghazan resumed his plans against Egypt in 1297: the Franco-Mongol cooperation had thus survived, in spite of the loss of Acre by the Franks, and the conversion of the Persian Mongols to Islam. It was to remain one of the political factors of the policy of the Crusades, until the peace treaty with the Mumluks, which was only signed in 1322 by the khan Abu Said", Jean Richard, p.468
- The Trial of the Templars, Malcolm Barber, 2nd edition, page 22: "The aim was to link up with Ghazan, the Mongol Il-Khan of Persia, who had invited the Cypriots to participate in joint operations against the Mamluks".
- "During these years, no Crusade was preached in the Occident. Only the Frank forces of Cyprus and Little Armenia did cooperate with the Mongols". Demurger, Croisades et croises, p.287
- Demurger, pp. 142–143
- Demurger, p.142 (French edition) "He was soon joined by King Hethum, whose forces seem to have included Hospitallers and Templars from the kingdom of Armenia, who participate to the rest of the campaign."
- Runciman, p.439
- Demurger, p.146
- Demurger (p.146, French edition): "After the Mamluk forces retreated south to Egypt, the main Mongol forces retreated north in February, Ghazan leaving his general Mulay to rule in Syria".
- "Meanwhile, the Mongol and Armenian troops raided the country as far south as Gaza." Schein, 1979, p. 810
- Demurger, p158
- Nicolle, p. 80
- "Hethoum I receiving the homage of the Tatars: during his voyage to Mongolia in 1254, Hethoum I was received with honours by the Mongol Khan who "ordered several of his noble subjects to honour and attend him"" in Le Royaume Armenien de Cilicie Claude Mutafian, p. 58, quoting Hayton of Corycus.
- Mutafian, p. 73
- Recueil des Historiens des Croisades, Documents arméniens I, p. 664
- Flor des Estoires d'Orient, Book IV
- Kurdoghlian, Mihran (1996). Badmoutioun Hayots (in Armenian). Vol. II. Athens, Greece: Hradaragoutioun Azkayin Oussoumnagan Khorhourti. pp. 29–56.
- "Les hégémonies mongoles"
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- Kirakos (circa 1300). History of the Armenians, Online, (English translation).
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