Sara Nur Yildiz

title.none: Stewart, Armenian Kingdom and the Mamluks (Sara Nur Yildiz)

identifier.other: baj9928.0210.008 02.10.08

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Sara Nur Yildiz, University of Chicago,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Stewart, Angus Donal. The Armenian Kingdom and the Mamluks: War and Diplomacy During the Reigns of Het'um II (1289-1307). Series: The Medieval Mediterranean. Leiden: Brill, 2001. Pp. xii, 215. $72.00. ISBN: 90-04-12292-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.10.08

Stewart, Angus Donal. The Armenian Kingdom and the Mamluks: War and Diplomacy During the Reigns of Het'um II (1289-1307). Series: The Medieval Mediterranean. Leiden: Brill, 2001. Pp. xii, 215. $72.00. ISBN: 90-04-12292-3.

Reviewed by:

Sara Nur Yildiz
University of Chicago

The eastern Mediterranean and Middle East of the thirteenth century comprised a vast and intricate network of various political players, great and small. In order to arrive at a more complete and nuanced picture of the region's complex history, the role of smaller entities in the overall political configuration needs to be examined. Thus Angus Donal Stewart's monograph on the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, focusing on the kingdom's relations with the Mamluks, is a welcome addition to the scholarship of this region during the late medieval period.

Steering clear of the pitfalls of nationalist historiography, Stewart successfully situates the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia in the overall regional context, while at the same time bringing to light important internal developments in the Armenian kingdom during a period generally glossed over in previous scholarship. Based on the author's PhD dissertation, this relatively concise work examines Armenian-Mamluk relations in detail throughout the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, focusing on the reign of Hetum II, as the title suggests. Stewart should be commended for his careful exploitation of Armenian, Cypriot and Arabic Mamluk sources. For the first time we see Arabic works effectively used to balance out the tendentiousness of Armenian sources. Stewart convincingly demonstrates the importance of the Arabic material in reconstructing the tumultuous history of a kingdom wracked by internal instability and caught up in the conflict between its overlord, the Mongol Ilkhanate, and the Mamluk sultanate of Egypt and Syria, the most formidable enemy of the Mongols in the Middle East. Stewart adeptly covers this period of the kingdom as it becomes increasingly battered and worn down by the Mamluks who not only extracted in the form of exorbitant tribute large amounts of Armenian wealth, derived from its lucrative transit trade, but also exacted military revenge against the Christian kingdom for its involvement in Mongol-led aggression against Syria.

Stewart's balanced account provides a much needed remedy to nationalist-inspired scholarship on the Cilician Armenian kingdom, the bulk of which not only contains many factual errors and inaccuries but also overemphasizes the power of Armenian rulers while ignoring their relationship with their Mongol overlords. Previous scholarship on the Armenian kingdom often exhibits a lack of understanding of the history of the wider Middle East, especially of that of the Mamluk sultanate, not to mention the complexities of the Realpolitik in the region. Scholars working on the Cilician Armenian kingdom have made little use of Arabic works, relying primarily on Armenian and western sources. This is where Stewart's contribution to the field is most important. Acknowedging M. Canard's methodology in his 1967 groundbreaking article "Le rauyaume d'Armenie-Cilicie et les Mameloukes jusqu'au traite de 1285" as a model and inspiration for his work, Stewart demonstrates the potential value of Mamluk Arabic sources for reconstructing the military and political events of this somewhat obscure period. He discusses the limitations of the tendentious Armenian sources for the period, such as Hayton's Flor or the work of Nerses Balienc and asserts that Arabic sources are more than merely complementary to the 'pro-Armenian' sources traditionally used by historians of the kingdom. Instead, they also provide original information and often describe events in much greater detail. Limiting himself to the works available in printed editions, Stewart does an admirable job in critically examining, comparing, contrasting and synthesizing the information taken from Arabic works. He relies much on al-Ayni's detailed and useful work, which, although not as contemporary as other sources, nevertheless faithfully reproduces the material of earlier reliable sources in great detail. Stewart does not limit himself to al-Ayni, but makes judicious use of many other important Mamluk chronicles such as those by the well-known Abu'l-Fida, al-Maqrizi, al-Jazari, al-Yunini, al-Nuwayri, and Baybars al-Mansuri. He creates a synthesis of Christian and Muslim sources, unearths much new and fascinating information, and places the history of the Armenian kingdom's relations with the Mamluks in the context of the wider Mamluk-Mongol conflict.

This work consists of three major chapters followed by a brief epilogue/conclusion. The introductory chapter provides a critical review of the previous scholarship, a detailed description of Arabic, Armenian and other Christian sources, and a very necessary geographical overview. The second chapter consists of a historical introduction to the Armenian kingdom, the Mamluks, the Mongols and the Crusader states. Stewart follows this with a more detailed historial background on the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia from the rise of the Mamluks in 1260 to 1285, the date of the momentous Mamluk-Armenian treaty which dictated large tribute payments to the Mamluks by the Armenians, a turning point in Mamluk-Armenian relations in the period immediately preceding the reign of Hetum II. The third chapter, the most original part of the work and that which constitutes Stewart's greatest contribution to the field, is devoted to the rule of Hetum II (1289-1307). Focusing on the progession of Armenian-Mamluk relations until the death of Hetum II, Stewart provides an extensive political treatment of this period of Armenian history. The work ends with an epilogue covering ever so briefly the bleak turn of events for the kingdom up until the exile of the last representative of the ruling dynasty in 1375, marking the end of the Armenian kingdom in Cilicia.

One of the strengths of Stewart's work is his situating the Armenian kingdom, and in particular, Armenian-Mamluk relations, in the bigger regional picture. He views the Mamluk-Armenian conflict in the context of the Mongol invasions. Well-read in the most recent secondary literature on the Mamluk sultanate, he also demonstrates a solid understanding of internal as well as external Mamluk developments. By providing a general overview of not just Armenian, but also Mamluk and Mongol developments, Stewart integrates the three strands into a rich picture of regional interaction. He places great emphasis on the 1285 treaty between Lewon II (1269-1289) and the Mamluk sultan Qalawun (1279-1290), showing how important mercantile relations were between the two polities. As reflected by the clauses in this treaty, the Mamluks were especially concerned with securing and protecting the trade in slaves and horses passing through Anatolia and Cilicia. As the Mongols dominated the routes of this slave trade, which was indispensible for the maintenance of the sultan's armies and essential for the survival of the Mamluk regime, the very existence of the Mamluk order became increasingly threatened.

Stewart also emphasizes the regional implications of Armenian collaboration with the Mongols. As a loyal satellite of the Mongols, the Armenian kingdom was at first guaranteed protection against Seljuk and Karamanid expansion into western Armenian territory, and was granted a few strategic eastern fortresses near the Euphrates, the reward for assistance in Hülegü's invasion of Syria in 1260. Being loyal to the Mongols also required Armenian participation in Mongol military campaigns against the Mamluks which ultimately brought upon the Armenians the enmity of the Mamluk Sultans. Thus, according to Stewart, "the Mongol alliance was a double-edged sword," for not only did Armenian collaboration with the Mongols exacerbate Armenian-Mamluk relations, but Mongol defence of Cilicia proved to be short-term and sporadic. As soon as the Mongols would withdraw easterward, the Mamluks would return to ravage Armenian lands. Thus, as a Mongol satellite, the Armenians were obliged to act in the interest of the Ilkhans even when it put them in danger, yet by the beginning of the 1280s, Cilicia could no longer be sure of the protection of the Ilkhans, as during the reigns of Hülegü and Abagha (d. 1282).

Historians tend to gloss over the period of decline of a dynasty, the details of which often are ignored or confused. Yet Stewart distinguishes himself from previous historians by focusing in particular on the period which can be considered the beginning of the end for the Armenian Cilician kingdom, a period which Stewart considers as one of the most dramatic episodes of the kingdom's history. He traces the increasingly subject status and the weakened position of the Armenian kingdom before the Mamluk Sultans during the reigns of Hetum II. Previous scholarship by historians such as Boase and Mutafian does not address the details of this period, and the few dates that they do provide occasionally conflict with one another. In order to correct this confusion, Stewart seeks to lay down a chronology of the events, at least placing them in the correct order even if he cannot always furnish an exact date. Hetum II proves to be a reluctant king who preferred the cloister to the court. He became a Franciscan monk, taking the habit of the Friars Minor as well as the name John. Yet despite his overwhelming sprititual interests, and his abdication, he nevertheless felt compelled to retain ultimate control over the throne in order to prevent the country from descending into absolute chaos. He never married or produced an heir, thus in an attempt to secure smooth succession of rule in the event of his death, he officially abdicated in 1301 and made his nephew Lewon III, still a young boy, the official king. Yet, as Stewart concludes, Hetum was probably the de facto ruler even after his abdication; indeed that is how the Arab authors Abu'l-Fida, al-Makrizi and al-Ayni saw him.

The conversion of the Mongols to Islam in 1307, contemporary to the death of both Hetum II and his designated young heir Lewon III at the hands of a fanatical Muslim Mongol commander known as Bilarghu, marks the beginning of persecution of the Armenians by the Mongols. According to the contemporary Armenian perception, the newly converted Mongols made "every effort to efface Christianity from the earth." Furthermore, Mongol power in the region continued to decline, which in turn resulted in the the lessening ability of the Mongols to both protect and assist the Armenians in the face of depredations by both the Mamluks and Turkmen in Anatolia. As the natural route of communication for the Mamluks with their allies in Anatolia, especially the Karamanid Turkmen, Cilicia found itself in a very precarious position vis-a-vis the Mamluks. The kings and his nobles after Hetum II were faced with a dire situation: an empty treasury, a decline in agricultural production, constant disunity among the nobility, impossibly large tribute payments, not to mention the psychological distress and fear resulting from decades of Mamluk rampaging across the Cilician plains. Rather than face the Mamluks on the battlefield, they continued to retreat to the safety of their impenetrable strongholds along high crags in the mountains.

In conclusion, Stewart demonstrates how Armenian history of this period is inextricable from that of the hostile relations between the Mongol Ilkhanate and Mamluk sultanate. He makes admirable use of the Mamluk sources, showing how essential they are in balancing out the biases of Armenian sources, as well as in filling many gaps. He convincingly shows how the Armenians not only benefitted from their relationship with the Mongols as loyal vassals but also suffered from it: Armenian collaboration with the Mongols made them also the direct targets of the Mamluks. Stewart brings to light a hitherto largely unknown period of Cilician Armenian history by focusing on how the Mamluks gradually dismantled the Armenian kingdom. Yet another aspect of this story, how the Karamanid Turkmen during the same period contributed to the destruction of the Cilician Armenian kingdom from its western borders still remains to be examined.