Bagratid ArmeniaTuesday, January 11, 2022
The Bagratid Kingdom of Armenia, also known as Bagratid Armenia, was an independent Armenian state established by Ashot I Bagratuni of the Bagratuni dynasty in the early 880s following nearly two centuries of foreign domination of Greater Armenia under Arab Umayyad and Abbasid rule.
With each of the two contemporary powers in the region — the Abbasids and Byzantines — too preoccupied to concentrate their forces in subjugating the people of the region, and with the dissipation of several of the Armenian nakharar noble families, Ashot succeeded in asserting himself as the leading figure of a movement to dislodge the Arabs from Armenia.
Ashot's prestige rose as both Byzantine and Arab leaders — eager to maintain a buffer state near their frontiers — courted him. The Abbasid Caliphate recognized Ashot as "prince of princes" in 862 and, later on, as king (in 884 or 885). The establishment of the Bagratuni kingdom later led to the founding of several other Armenian principalities and kingdoms: Taron, Vaspurakan, Kars, Khachen and Syunik. During the reign of Ashot III (732 to 748), Ani became the kingdom's capital and grew into a thriving economic and cultural center.
The first half of the 11th century saw the decline and eventual collapse of the kingdom. The Byzantine emperor Basil II (r. 976–1025) won a string of victories and annexed parts of southwestern Armenia; King Hovhannes-Smbat felt forced to cede his lands and in 1022 promised to "will" his kingdom to the Byzantines following his death. However, after Hovhannes-Smbat's death in 1041, his successor, Gagik II, refused to hand over Ani and continued resistance until 1045, when his kingdom, plagued with internal and external threats, was finally taken by Byzantine forces.
Most Armenians belonged to the Armenian Apostolic Church, but there were elements in Armenian society who also adhered to the Eastern Orthodox Church, the official religion of the Byzantine Empire. Byzantium repeatedly demanded for communion with the Armenian Church as a prerequisite for sending aid to the Bagratunis but most attempts failed to bear any fruit.
In the mid-10th century, a new internal challenge to the authority of the Armenian Church and the kingdom arose when the Tondrakians experienced a revival. An anti-feudal and heretical Christian sect that had been crushed by the Arabs with the Armenian Church's support in the 9th century, the Tondrakian movement attracted many followers during this period. Ashot III had realized the danger the Tondrakians posed against the kingdom and this was of his reasons why he directly subjected the Church to him, gave it lands, and sponsored the construction of new monasteries and churches. The message of the Tondrakians, however, continued to spread and successive Armenian kings would work to suppress its expansion.
The Bagratuni kingdom was based on essentially two economies: one which was centered around agriculture based on feudalism and the other which was concentrated on mercantilism in towns and cities. Peasants (known as ramiks) formed the lowest class in the economic stratum and largely busied themselves with raising livestock and farming. Many of them did not own land, and lived as tenants and worked as hired hands or even slaves on the lands owned by wealthy feudal magnates. Peasants were forced to pay heavy taxes to the government and the Armenian Apostolic Church in addition to their feudal lords. Most peasants remained poor and the massive tax burden they shouldered sometimes culminated in peasant uprisings which the state was forced to put down.
The Bagratuni kingdom did not mint any of its own coins, and used the currency found in Byzantium and the Arab Caliphate. The expanded trade between Byzantium and the Caliphate established several trades routes which ran across Armenia. The most important route began from Trebizond, in Byzantium, and from there it connected to the cities of Ani, Kars, and Artsn. The city of Kars allowed trade to move north, to ports on the Black Sea and to Abkhazia; other routes were connected to cities in Anatolia and Iran; and the main route leading from the Caliphate to Kievan Rus was known as the "Great Armenian Highway." Ani did not lie along any previously important trade routes, but because of its size, power, and wealth it became an important trading hub. From Ani, Armenia exported textiles, metalwork, armor, jewelry, horses, cattle, salt, wine, honey, timber, leather, and furs. Its primary trading partners were the Byzantine Empire, the Arabs but also traded with Kievan Rus and Central Asia. Armenian-populated Dvin remained an important city on par with Ani, as evidenced in a vivid description by the Arab historian and geographer al-Mukadasi:
Dabil [Dvin] is an important city, in it are an inaccessible citadel and great riches. Its name is ancient, its cloth is famous, its river is abundant, it is surrounded by gardens. The city has suburbs, its fortress is reliable, its squares are cross-shaped, its fields are wonderful. The main mosque is on a hill and next to the mosque is the church....By the city is a citadel. The buildings of the inhabitants are made of clay or stone. The city has main gates such as Bab ['Gate']-Keydar, Bab-Tiflis and Bab-Ani.
Dvin became famous throughout the Arab world for its wool and silk production and the export of pillows, rugs, curtains and covers. A village named Artashat near Dvin was so prominent a center for the production of Armenian cochineal that it received the name vordan karmiri gyugh ("red-worm village") for the distinctive red dye that was derived from insects. Cochineal and other Armenian goods were extensively found throughout the caliphate and for their eminence were referred to by Arabs as "asfin al-Armani" ("Armenian products").