THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)
Death of Hetum I
(October 28, 1270)
Hetum I was the founder of the Hetumian dynasty (1226-1342), the second in the history of the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia. He excelled as a seasoned diplomat who achieved crucial results both in internal and foreign policy.
Hetum was born in 1215, the son of Prince Constantine of Baberon, who had a leading position among the Armenian princes of Cilicia and became regent in 1219, shortly after the death of King Levon I, due to the minority of his daughter Zabel (1216-1252), who was three-years-old. In order to end the rivalry between Cilicia and the principality of Antioch (Syria), Constantine arranged for the marriage of Zabel to Philip, a son of Bohemond IV of Antioch, in 1222. However, Philip’s disdain for Armenian ritual and his favoritism for Latin noblemen alienated the Armenian nobility. After a revolt headed by Constantine in late 1224, Philip was imprisoned and deprived of the throne with the agreement of the council of Armenian princes. He died in prison.
Constantine moved forward and, despite the opposition of ten-year-old Zabel, he married her to his son Hetum, who was proclaimed king on June 14, 1226. In this way, the two most powerful families of Cilicia, the Rubinians (the royal dynasty) and the princes of Lambron, established an alliance.
Hetum I ascended to the throne in a difficult international conjuncture. He confronted Antioch on one hand, where he established a protectorate of sorts after the death of Bohemond IV. On the other hand, he had to face the power of the Sultanate of Rum, ruled by a Seljuq Turkish dynasty, but was able to come to terms with it. Over the years, Hetum I was able to overcome the internal dissensions and offer a united front to external pressure. At the same time, he centralized the monarchy and strengthened the army, while economic life and culture flourished.
In the 1240s a new and dangerous player appeared in the international scene, the Mongols. After occupying Persia and Armenia, the Mongols entered the Middle East and reached the borders of Cilicia by 1243. Instead of confrontation, Hetum chose to sign a treaty of peace and mutual cooperation with the Mongols. He first sent his brother, the Constable Smpad, in a diplomatic mission to Karakorum, the capital of the Mongol Empire, in 1248. Afterwards, the king himself made the hard and long journey to Central Asia and visited Karakorum in 1254, signing a new treaty of alliance with emperor Mangu Khan. This treaty established, among other conditions, friendship between Christians and Mongols, who were still pagan at the time; tax exemption for the Armenian Church; the liberation of Jerusalem; the destruction of the caliphate of Baghdad; assistance to Cilicia by all Mongol commanders; devolution to Cilicia of Armenian territories occupied by the Muslims.
This diplomatic success, at a time when the Mongols were confronted by all forces from China to Eastern Europe, strengthened the position of Cilicia. Thanks to the Armeno-Mongol alliance, between 1256-1259 Hetum I was able to stop the attacks of the emirate of Aleppo and the invasions of the Sultanates of Rum and Egypt. He also liberated several cities, like Marash and Aintab, and annexed the southern portion of Cappadocia, as well as part of northern Syria to his kingdom.
The Sultanate of Egypt took advantage of the divisions among the Mongols and invaded Cilicia in 1266, taking Hetum’s son and heir apparent Levon as prisoner. The invasion devastated some parts of the country. In June 1268 Hetum signed peace with Egypt by the cession of several border fortresses and was able to free his son. A year later, he resigned and Levon II was crowned king. Hetum retired to the monastery of Akner, where he became a monk with the name of Magar, and passed away on October 28, 1270.