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salubrious uplands and rich plains at the southern foot of
Caucasus, which are separated from the highlands of Armenia by
the belt of mountains on the right bank of the river Kur. The
Georgians, like the Armenians, professed the Christian religion,
and at the period with which we are dealing were being harassed
by the Arab caliphs. During the decline of the caliphate, when
native impulses were revived in Georgia as well as in Armenia,
the movement centred in a dynasty of Bagratid descent. This
dynasty outlived that of their kinsmen in Armenia by many
centuries. The Georgian sovereigns weathered the storm of
Seljuk invasion in the eleventh century, which swept before it
the feeble thrones of the Armenian monarchs. Perhaps they
owed their escape in part to the geographical position of their
country, removed as it was by a zone of intricate mountains from
the highway of the Armenian plains. Yet their capital, Tiflis,
fell a prey to the same sultan who captured Ani, the famous
Alp Arslan. During the first half of the twelfth century they
VOL. I z



338 Armenia

were successful in expelling the invaders, and a little later their
kingdom was increased to the limits of an extensive empire
during the reign of the great queen Thamar. The Georgian
Bagratids maintained their throne until the end of the eighteenth
century, when the last king renounced his crown in favour of the
Russian Tsars.^

About the middle of the ninth century, to which I return
from this brief digression, the reigning caliph, Mutawakil,
despatched an army into Armenia with instructions to punish
the inhabitants and to bring them over to the Mohammedan
faith. His severity had been invited by the behaviour of his
subjects, who had fallen upon and killed their Arab governor.
The Arab commander, by name Bugha, acquitted himself of his
congenial mission in a manner which accords with the best
traditions of Eastern statecraft. He crossed the Taurus, descended
into the plains about the Murad, and took prisoners all the
Armenian chiefs of the districts through which his route lay.
The Bagratid family had become involved in the preceding
troubles ; one of their members was already in the hands of the
caliph ; and his two sons were now added to the train of the
avenging general, who directed his march from the territory of
Taron (Mush) to that of Vaspurakan (Van). The Artsruni
were not more fortunate in their resistance ; their prince was
captured, loaded with chains, and sent to the caliph. Bugha
pursued a leisurely course through the Armenian country, giving
over to the sword the less prominent among the people, selecting
some for their birth or personal qualities as worthy of conversion
to Islam. When he arrived at the capital of central Armenia,
the city of Dvin, in the neighbourhood of the present town of
Erivan, which had been conquered by the Arabs in A.D. 642," he
was met by a native prince who bore the title of commander-in-
chief^ and the name of Sembat. This notable was the great-
grandson of a distinguished Bagratid chief, Ashot, who had been
entrusted with the government of Armenia by the last of the
Ommiad caliphs, and who had been deprived of sight by his

^ For the Artsruni and the Bagratuni I will refer my reader to Saint-Martin
{Mimoires sur rAniuhiie, Paris, 18 18, vol. i. pp. 418 seq.) ; for the Georgian Bagratuni
to Brosset {Histoire de la Gdorgie, Histoire ancieiine, St. Petersburg, 1849, Addition IX.).

- Dulaurier {Recherchcs sur la Chronologic Armc'uienne, Paris, 1859, pp. 227 seq.).

■' Sparapct. This and the other Armenian titles of the age had come down from
Arsakid times, having survived the destruction of monarchy. A family retained its
title even when the functions which it designated were no longer capable of fulfilment
(Saint-Martin, MJmoires, vol. i. p. 420).



Ani, and the Armenian Kingdom of the Middle Ages 339

countrymen, incensed at his Arab proclivities. According to
the Armenians, this Ashot was the progenitor aUke of the
Georgian sovereigns and of the Armenian dynasty of the Middle
Ages. His descendant endeavoured to propitiate the tyrant, who
appeared to listen to his fair words. But Sembat was conveyed
to Baghdad with the rest of the prisoners, and accompanied the .
triumphal return of the caliph's legate. Arrived at court, the
Armenian princes were offered the choice of Islam and freedom
or a painful and violent death. Sembat was one of those who
refused to abjure his religion and who perished as a martyr to
the Christian faith (a.d. 856 [C.]).^

The pompous title of the deceased chieftain, together with Ashot i.,
his influence, descended to his son Ashot. This prince had or 890,
contrived to escape the meshes of the Moslem net ; and in
the period which immediately followed the departure of the
Arab general he proved himself worthy to sustain the burden
of his high position. In the flower of his age, he enjoyed
the union of imposing physical qualities with habits of mind
which gave peculiar weight to his counsels, and with a natural
suavity of disposition and expression. An agreeable face — in
which, however, the eyes, with their heavy black eyebrows,
were shot with blood, like a speck of red upon a pearl — was set
around with a magnificent beard, and sprang from broad shoulders
in keeping with his fine stature. Whatever defects might belong
to such an exterior were compensated by the habitual purity of
his life. The prince was missed at the sumptuous banquets of
the rich, but his presence was felt by the poor in every action
of their daily life. He once said, " The service of humanity is a
life-long service " ; and his precept was illustrated by the example
of his own long life. How far the qualities of the son of Sembat
were instrumental in obtaining a reversal of the policy of the
caliphate, or whether the complete change which ensued in the
treatment of the Armenians may have been due to causes of a
different order, our historian has omitted to relate. Five years
after the martyrdom of his father and of the leading nobles of his
country, Ashot is invested by the new Arab governor with the

1 The dates which I have taken from Chamchean's History of Armenia I have
labelled C. Some are taken from the original work in Armenian ; others from the
abridged edition translated into English and entitled History of Armema by Father
Michael Chamich, translated by J. Avdall, Calcutta, 1827, 2 vols. 8vo. Those marked
D. have been fixed by Dulaurier {of. cit.). Saint-Martin is my authority for some
dates.



340 Armenia

title of prmce of princes, and becomes the recipient of almost
royal distinctions (A.D. 86 1 [D.]).^ Those of the nobles who had
become apostates during the recent persecution openly return
to their old faith. For twenty-five years he continues to exercise
his authority, which reposes not only upon the goodwill of the
Arab governor, but also upon the loyalty of his fellow-nobles,
who consent that his family shall be assigned a special and quasi-
royal rank, and be permanently elevated above all other princely
families. At the end of this period the Armenian nobility
unanimously petition the caliph in favour of the elevation of their
prince to the rank of king. Their desire is conveyed to their
suzerain by his representative in the country, a governor by
name Isa. It is accorded with the greatest readiness. A
royal crown is despatched, and placed by Isa himself upon the
head of Ashot. Armenian royalty is revived in this branch
of the Bagratid family after an interval of over 450 years
(A.D. 885 [D.]). The reigning Ceesar, Basil I., confirms this
investiture, and accompanies the friendly sentiments of an attached
ally and a spiritual father with the gift of a crown, the second
to be worn by the new monarch."

For five years Ashot continued in the exercise of his kingly
prerogative, supported by the Armenian nobles, the most powerful
of whom he attached by marriage, and enjoying the favour both
of the Caliph and of the Emperor. His capital was the city of
Bagaran, on the banks of the Akhurean, the modern Arpa Chai,
situated to the south of the later capital at Ani."^ He died in
advanced age (a.D. 889 [C] or 890 [D.])"^ and with unimpaired
reputation at a date when the empire of the caliphs was in
process of dismemberment, and when a number of petty Mussul-
man dynasties, such as the Tahirids and the Saffarids, had arisen
in the adjacent lands.' We can scarcely doubt that his elevation
was occasioned by the decline of the central authority ; and he
and his descendants were glad to purchase by the promise of an

1 Thomas Artsruni specifies the length of the various stages in the career of Ashot.
See Dulaurier ((?/. a't. pp. 266 seq.). The date 861 corresponds with the last year of
the caliph Mutawakil and the first of the reign of Muntasir. Lane Poole, Mohaniinedan
Dynasties, London, 1894.

2 Kirakos, quoted by Dulaurier {op. ciL).

^ For discussions of the site of Bagaran (Pakaran) see Ritter (Erdkiiiide, vol. x. p.
449), and also Abich {A its kaitkas/sfhen Landern, ^"ienna, 1896, p. 203).

^ Chamchean and Saint- Martin place the death of Ashot in A.D. 889. But see
Dulaurier {op. cil. p. 365).

•' The Tahirids became practically independent in Khorasan A.D. S20-872 ; they
were disjiossessed by the Saffarids of Fars and Seistan, a.d. 867-903.



Ani, and the Armenian Kingdom of the Middle Ages 341

assured tribute the greater independence of the Armenian people
and their own ascendency.

At the time of the death of xAshot I. his son and successor Sembat i.,
Sembat was absent on an expedition of conquest in the country "^■°* ^90-914-
of the Upper Kur. He received the homage of his subjects
upon his arrival at Erazgavors, a town in Shirak, which was his
own particular residence. Thither repaired the prince of Georgia,
Aternerseh, himself a Bagratid, proffering his sympathy and his
aid (a.d. 890 [C.]). The succession was hotly disputed by Abas,
brother of the deceased monarch, a vain and ambitious prince.
His animosity appears to have been directed in the principal
degree against the prince of Georgia ; he broke the peace which
he was induced to make at the instance of the patriarch with
that potentate, and at length he turned his arms against the
province of Shirak. The approach of Sembat at the head of
a numerous army compelled him to take refuge in a strong place,
and his condition w^as desperate when he obtained from the
clemency of his royal nephew a pardon which he had not deserved.
Sembat was already in possession of supreme power when he
received from the Arab governor of Azerbaijan ^ on behalf of
the caliph a royal crown such as had been bestowed upon his
father. At the same time he confirmed the friendly relations
which had subsisted between Ashot and the Byzantine Empire.
The reigning emperor, Leo VI., received his ambassadors with
great distinction, and dismissed them charged with valuable
presents. In the missives between them the king of Armenia
was addressed as a beloved son, and the C^sar with the reverence
due to a father. Nor was this intercourse confined to a single
and a splendid occasion ; it appears to have been renewed every
year. It naturally excited the jealousy of the Arab governor of
Azerbaijan, the powerful neighbour of the new state upon the
east.

This individual, by name Afshin, is depicted by the priestly
historian with all the resources of the vocabulary of hate. He
is a wild beast ; he is armed with the poignard of perfidy, and
his death is described as the outcome of a loathsome malady
which destroyed the body before the soul descended to hell.
Throughout the reign we see him harassing the dominions of
the Armenian monarch ; but his first expedition appears to have

* Azerbaijan is, of course, the frontier province of Persia on the side of Armenia,
having for capital the city of Tabriz.



342 Armenia

been met by a vigorous and successful resistance, which no
doubt helped the remonstrances of Sembat. At the head of
his troops the king reasoned with his Mohammedan adversary,
and represented that his friendship with the emperor of the
Greeks was to the advantage of the master of Afshin. " You
yourselves," he said, " may at any moment have need of the
support of the Greeks, and your merchants require openings in
Greek territory, whence they will draw riches which will swell
the treasury at Baghdad." These advances were met on the
part of the Arab governor by the offer of a peace, which was
duly ratified. Afshin returned to Azerbaijan, and the king
retraced his steps up the Araxes and appeared before the walls
of Dvin. This city, which was at this period the acknowledged
capital of Armenia, was reduced to an obedience from which it
had lapsed. Its situation in the neighbourhood of the present
town of Erivan was calculated to invest it with the character of
a strong place on the side of the Arab possessions in Persia.
Its subjection to Sembat does not appear to have been of long
duration ; during the subsequent portion of his reign we find it
in the hands of the Mohammedans, serving, it would seem, as
an advanced base to the troops of Afshin and of his successor.

The diplomacy no less than the prowess of Sembat was
successful in other directions nearer home. If his kingdom
remained essentially feudal in character, its limits were at least
extended over the adjacent lands. On the west his sovereignty
was acknowledged as far as the city of Karin, the modern
Erzerum ; while on the north-east and east it embraced the
foot of Caucasus and the shore of the Caspian Sea. The
Armenian princes who ruled in the country on the southern side
of the barrier of mountains which culminate in Ararat were
attached to him by feudal or family ties ; his name mu.5t at
least have been respected among his countrymen beyond the
limits of the lake of Van. His ascendency was for a second
time challenged by Afshin, who advanced to Nakhichevan and
Dvin ; but he led his troops in person against the Mussulmans,
and inflicted upon them a signal defeat. The subsequent
defection to his enemy of his nephew, the prince of Vaspurakan
(Van), who was joined for a time by the prince of Siunik, a
province bordering that of Van upon the north, does not appear
to have materially shaken his power ; we find him directing his
attention to the outer limits of his territory, and endeavouring



Ani, and the Armenian Kingdom of the Middle Ages 343

to establish his dominion not only over the country of Taron
(Mush), but also as far south as the Mesopotamian plains.

This advance brought him into collision with an Arab emir,
named Ahmed, who, in the decay of the caliphate, cherished
pretensions to these districts. The Armenian prince of Taron
was unable to withstand his Mussulman adversary, and Sembat
was obliged to take the field in person (a.d. 896 [C.]). At the
head of a numerous army he marched towards Taron, west of
which his enemy was encamped. The reverse of his arms was
due to the treachery of a countryman, a prince belonging to the
province of Vaspurakan ; and, indeed, the jealousy of the chiefs
of the Van country seems to have paved the way for the successes
of his Mussulman neighbours. His old enemy Afshin was not
slow to profit by this turn of fortune. After attempting in vain
to seduce the loyalty of the northern feudatories of Sembat, he
entered the province of Kars and laid siege to that fortress.
Thither had taken refuge the Armenian queen, a daughter of
the king of Kolchis, and several of the wives of the principal
nobles. The capitulation of Kars and the capture of the queen
came as a melancholy pendant to the disaster of the. king's arms
in the south. He was obliged to purchase peace on humiliating
terms, and to give his niece in marriage to the Mohammedan
potentate. But it was not long before hostilities were again
resumed in the same quarter. Afshin directed his march towards
the city of Tiflis, swept like a whirlwind through the Georgian
country, and advanced upon Shirak. Sembat and his army were
obliged to take refuge in the strong places of his ally Aternerseh,
upon whom he had previously bestowed a royal crown ; while
his adversary, after having endeavoured in vain to sap the
loyalty of the Georgian prince, retraced his steps along the
Araxes to Azerbaijan. Afshin was meditating a fresh attack
when he fell a victim to a malignant malady, which appears
also to have made ravages among his troops (90 1 [St.-M.],

898-99 [D.])-

The tyrant was succeeded by his brother Yusuf in the govern-
ment of Azerbaijan. Upon the accession of this potentate the
Armenian monarch despatched an embassy to the caliph at
Baghdad with the view of contracting a stable alliance with the
nominal sovereign of Persia and of that portion of ^Armenia
which lay within the Arab sphere. His advances were well
received by the successor of the Prophet, who confirmed him in



344 AvTnenia

his royal dignity.^ Although Yusuf continued to pursue the hostile
policy of his predecessor, he appears to have been thwarted by the
greater readiness of Sembat. Armenia enjoyed a short respite
from the inroads of the Mussulmans. " At this period," says our
historian, who is fond of allegory, " our Saviour visited the country
of the Armenians, and protected their lives and property. Lands
were bestowed, vines were planted and groves of olive-trees ; the
most ancient fruit-trees yielded their fruits. The harvests pro-
duced corn in excessive abundance ; the cellars were filled with
wine when the vintage had been gathered in. The mountains
were in great joy, and so were the herdsmen and the shepherds,
because of the quantity of pasturage and the increase in the
flocks. The chiefs and notables of our country lived in perfect
security and were not afraid of depredations ; they were free to
bestow their leisure and zeal upon the construction of churches
in solid stone, with which they graced the towns, the open country,
and the desert places." The king enjoyed the favour of his
Byzantine ally, and the gifts of Heaven were supplemented by
the imperial presents. The ambition of the king of Kolchis, who
was striving to extend his dominions eastwards at the expense
of his relative, the Armenian monarch, was restrained by a con-
junction of the Armenian forces with those of the king of
Georgia ; the unhappy kinglet was taken prisoner and lodged
in a fortress, from which he was released by the clemency of his
captor and restored to his possessions. This mild treatment of
a rival excited the jealousy of Aternerseh ; the attached ally
became converted into a perfidious enemy ; and the incident,
while it seems to mark the culmination of this brighter era, was
the prelude of the domestic and foreign calamities in which the
reign of Sembat was brought to a tragic close.

A curious incident now occurs, which is characteristic of the
times (a.d. 905 [St.-M.]). Yusuf prepares in secret to sever his
allegiance to the caliph, and goes so far as to issue orders in his
own name. Apprised of his proceedings, the sovereign at Baghdad
sends messengers throughout his dominions to effect a rising
against his rebellious servant. One of the highest in rank of
these envoys arrives at the court of the Armenian monarch, and
delivers a personal letter requiring the prince to assemble his

* Saint-Martin, following Chamchean, attrilnites another motive to this embassy.
Sembat was desirous of severing his connection with the governor of Azerbaijan and of
dealing directly with the caliph. Saint-Martin adds that the Caliph Muktafi, who had
just succeeded (a.d. 902), granted the request.



Ani, and the Armenian Kingdo7n of the Middle Ages 345

forces and to march against the emir of Azerbaijan. As an
inckicement, the vassal is remitted the payment of a year's tribute.
This request or command was at once difficult to comply with
and impossible to elude or reject. Sembat was bound to Yusuf
by the terms of a treaty, and still more forcibly deterred from
offending his neighbour by motives of interest. It was only
natural that he should have recourse to perfidy, the usual expedient
in such circumstances among Eastern princes. But his double-
dealing was of transitory advantage : and it may, perhaps, be
excused by the reflection that his own weight would have been
insufficient to turn the scale to the advantage of either side.
Yusuf affected submission to his spiritual and temporal superior ;
the Armenians were confronted by a coalition of the contending
influences ; and the unhappy king was besieged by emissaries
from both the Mussulman princes, demanding the arrears of tribute
in imperious terms. On four occasions he had succeeded in
acquitting his obligations by making the prescribed payment in
kind ; but this time he was compelled to discharge the debt in
money, and to impose taxes which strained the structure of his
feudal rule.

A combination of some of the nobles with Aternerseh of
Georgia was the outcome of these events. Ani, which was then
a fortress, was handed over to Aternerseh, together with the
treasures of the royal palace at Erazgavors. Sembat at the
head of his forces hurried back to Shirak, whereupon the con-
spirators evacuated the province, laden with spoils. The Armenian
monarch carried the war into the territory of Aternerseh, who was
constrained to sue for peace. Many of the revolted nobles fell
into the hands of their sovereign, who, after putting out their eyes,
dispatched some to the Byzantine emperor for custody and others
to the king of Kolchis. This rising had no sooner been quelled
than the reigning prince of Vaspurakan separated himself from
the king. The cause of quarrel was a dispute about the town of
Nakhichevan in the valley of the Araxes, which Sembat had con-
ferred on another noble, but to which this prince had a hereditary
claim. Gagik — such was his name — had recourse to the common
enemy, Yusuf, who was eager to profit by such dissension among
his Christian neighbours. The emir bestowed upon him a royal
crown in order to perpetuate his rivalry with Sembat. It was
all in vain that our historian, who was at that time patriarch,
endeavoured to avert the rising storm. He even journeyed to



346 Armenia

the court of the emir in Azerbaijan, taking with him magnificent
presents, among which were included some of the sacred vessels
belonging to the churches. He was treated with distinction by
his Mussulman host so long as his gifts held out. When these
were exhausted he was thrown into prison, where he lingered
for a considerable time. The hardships of his condition were
aggravated by the mortification which he must have experienced
at the complete failure of his good offices. He was strictly refused
an audience of his countryman, King Gagik, who shortly afterwards
arrived at the court of Yusuf in order to concert an invasion of
the territory of Sembat. At the approach of spring the emir set
out for Armenia, taking with him the unhappy patriarch, loaded
with chains. In the neighbourhood of Nakhichevan were received
the messengers of Gagik, who announced the approach of their
master with his troops (a.d. 909 [St. M.]). Sembat endeavoured
to pacify his enemy by a payment of money, which the emir
swallowed without arresting his advance. The king was quite
unable to cope with the forces arrayed against him ; he fled to
the fortresses of Georgia, whither he was pursued by his im-
placable adversary.

It is unnecessary to follow in detail the developments of a
situation, of which the historical interest consists in the light
which it throws upon the Armenian monarchy of the Middle
Ages, and upon the relations of that monarchy to the neighbouring
states. We see the Artsrunian prince of the extensive province
of Vaspurakan turning his arms against his own countrymen
and their Bagratid king, and in active alliance with the enemies
of his religion and race. The Mussulman horsemen overran the
fertile plains of Armenia, and the tardy repentance of Gagik came
too late. Sembat appealed in vain to the suzerain at Baghdad,
who was too much occupied by domestic troubles to intervene.
Better success attended his entreaties at the Byzantine court, and
his old friend, Leo, collected troops and marched in person to his
assistance. The death of the emperor at the inception of the
enterprise, and the internal troubles of the new reign, removed all
hope of succour from the side of the Roman provinces. The
Christian state in the heart of Asia seemed doomed to destruction,
and the king and queen were taken prisoners. Sembat was con-
ducted to Dvin, where he was barbarously tortured in the presence



Online LibraryH. F. B. (Harry Finnis Blosse) LynchArmenia, travels and studies (Volume 1) → online text (page 36 of 49)