Chapter 1 - The Rise of the Bagratids (884-929)
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    Chapter 1 - The Rise of the Bagratids (884-929)

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    Flag of Bagratid Armenia
    Following nearly two centuries of foreign domination in Armenia under Arab Umayyad and Abbasid rule, the kingdom of Armenia was reestablished under the leadership of Ashot I Bagratuni, as he succeeded in asserting himself as the leading figure of the movement to liberate Armenia from the Arab oppressors. 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, as well as the dissipation of several of the Armenian noble families, Ashot restored the Armenian monarchy and was crowned King in the year 884, becoming the first king since 428.

    Reign of Ashot I (884-890)

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    The Coronation of Ashot I "the Great"
    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. Unity among all these states was sometimes difficult to maintain while the Byzantines and Arabs lost no time in exploiting the kingdom's situation to their own gains.

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    The Kingdom of Armenia (Hayk) in 884

    Ashot's reign was brief and upon his death in 890, he was succeeded by his son Smbat I following a brief attempt by his uncle Abas to disrupt his succession to the throne. Smbat continued his father's policy of maintaining cordial relations with the Byzantine Empire but remained mindful of the Arabs' fears of an Armeno-Byzantine alliance.

    Reign of Smbat I (890-914)

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    Smbat I, King of Armenia

    His reign saw some success during his early years, convincing the Abbasids that his alliance with the Byzantines would not only be for the dual benefit of Byzantium and Armenia, but would also work to the economic favor of the Arabs. Smbat also achieved a major victory when on April 21, 892, he recaptured the former Armenian capital of Dvin from the Arabs.

    Smbat's successes shortly came to a halt when Afshin (Arab governor of the region) decided that he could not countenance a powerful Armenia so close to his domains. He retook Dvin and managed to take Smbat's wife as a hostage until she was released in exchange for Smbat's son and nephew. The wars against Armenia continued even after Afshin's death in 901, when his brother Yusuf succeeded him as governor. While Yusuf's reign was not immediately hostile, Smbat committed a series of blunders that led to several of his allies to turn their backs on him: having sought to placate his eastern ally, Smbat of Syunik', by ceding to him the city of Nakhichevan, Smbat inadvertently drove Gagik Artsruni of Vaspurakan into Yusuf's arms since the city was a part of Gagik's domains. Yusuf took advantage of this feud by awarding Gagik a crown in 908, thus making him King Gagik I of Vaspurakan and creating an Armenian state opposed to the one led by Smbat.

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    Gagik of Vaspurakan and Yusuf the cruel

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    The Kingdom of Armenia (Hayk) in 908 after the loss of Dvin to Yusuf (Sajid Emirate) and the rise of Vaspurakan (Sajid's tributary in red)

    As Yusuf began a new campaign against Smbat in conjunction with Gagik in 909, neither the Byzantines nor the Abbasid caliph, Yusuf's nominal sovereign, sent aid to Smbat; several Armenian princes also chose to withhold their support. Those who did ally with Smbat were brutally dealt with by Yusuf: Smbat's son Mushegh, his nephew Smbat, and Grigor II of Syunik were all poisoned.

    Yusuf's army ravaged the rest of Armenia as it advanced toward Berd Kapoyt (Blue Fortress), where Smbat had taken refuge, and besieged it for some time. Smbat finally decided to surrender himself to Yusuf in 914 in hopes of ending the Arab onslaught, but Yusuf showed no compassion toward his prisoner as he tortured the Armenian king to death, beheaded him, and put the headless body on display on a cross in Dvin.

    Reign of Ashot II "Yerkat" (914-928)

    Yusuf's invasion of Armenia had left the kingdom in ruins and this fact resonated among the Armenian princes who were left aghast in witnessing the Arab governor's brutality. Gagik I of Vaspurakan was especially shaken and he soon disavowed his loyalty to Yusuf and began to campaign against him. With Yusuf distracted by the resistance put up by his former ally, Smbat's son Ashot II felt it appropriate to assume his father's throne. Ashot at once began to drive the Muslims out of his domains.

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    Ashot II, third Bagratid monarch

    Support for Ashot also arrived from the west as the Byzantine empress Zoe had watched the Arab invasion of Armenia unfold with consternation and so she ordered Patriarch Nicholas to write an official letter to the Armenian Catholicos (Armenian Patriarch) to form a new alliance with Armenia. The Catholicos responded amicably and in 914, Ashot accepted an invitation by Zoe to visit Constantinople. There, Ashot was well received, and a Byzantine force was created to assist Armenia in defeating the Arabs. The force, accompanying Ashot moved out the next year and marched along the Upper Euphrates, entering Taron with scant opposition from the Arabs.

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    Empress Consort and Regent Zoe Karbonopsina of the Byzantine Empire

    Meanwhile, Yusuf's efforts to crush Gagik had failed miserably; instead, Yusuf turned his attention to Ashot and attempted to weaken his position by crowning Ashot's cousin, Ashot Shapuhyan as king of Armenia. Ashot Shapuhyan's and Yusuf's armies however were unable to stop the Byzantine advance, which stopped short of capturing Dvin due to the onset of winter.

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    The Kingdom of Armenia (Hayk) in 918 during the civil war with the Anti-King in Dvin.

    Nevertheless, the force had returned Ashot to a powerful position in Armenia and managed to inflict heavy casualties against the Arabs. This still left Ashot, the anti-king, in control in Dvin and civil war raged on from 918 to 920, when the pretender finally conceded defeat. Numerous other rebellions in Armenia also took place but Ashot was able to defeat each one of them. In 919, Yusuf had instigated a failed rebellion against the Caliph and was replaced by a far more well-disposed governor named Subuk, who recognized Ashot as the legitimate ruler of Armenia and awarded him with the title of Shahanshah, or "king of kings."

    Ironically, the Byzantines were distressed with Ashot's close relations with the Arabs and dispatched a new force under the Armenian commander Ioannes Kourkouas to disrupt Ashot's position as king and to support the rebels fighting him. In 928, Kourkouas reached Dvin in an unsuccessful attempt to capture a city that was defended by both the Arabs and Ashot.

    This continued cooperation would not last however, for in 923 the Caliph, facing troubles at home, released Yusuf, who traveled back to Armenia to unleash his fury against Armenia and especially Gagik I of Vaspurakan. He began demanding tribute from the Armenian rulers rule but faced considerable resistance by Ashot II. Time and again, Ashot was able to defeat and rout the Arab armies sent against him for several years. Finally, in 929, Yusuf died and an immense power struggle ensued between rival Iranian and Kurdish families in Azerbaijan, thus reducing the Arab threat to Armenia. The Byzantines also turned their attention from the east to fight the Arabs in Syria.

    Ashot's efforts to preserve and defend the kingdom earned him the epithet "Yerkat", or Iron. He died in 929 and was succeeded by his brother, Abas I who's reign would bring much needed stability to Armenia following the decades of constant warfare.

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    The Kingdom of Armenia (Hayk) in 929, following Ashot II's death
     
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    Chapter 2 - Armenia's "Golden Age" (929-1020)
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    Chapter 2 - Armenia's "Golden Age" (929-1020)

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    King Abas I of Armenia, fourth Bagratid monarch

    Reign of Abas I (929-953)

    Abas I's reign was characterized with an unusual period of stability and prosperity that Armenia had not enjoyed for decades. His capital was based at the fortress-city of Kars and he achieved numerous successes on both the foreign and domestic fronts. In the same year that he became king, Abas traveled to Dvin, where he was able to convince the Arab governor there to release several Armenian hostages and turn over control of the pontifical palace back to Armenia. Conflict between the Arabs were minimal too, with the exception of a military defeat Abas suffered near the city of Vagharshapat against a group of raiders from the bordering Kaysite Emirate.

    He was far less conciliatory towards the Byzantines, who had repeatedly demonstrated their unreliability as allies by attacking and annexing Armenian territories in the West. The Byzantine Emperor was also more focused on fighting the rising Hamdanids who controlled much of Syria, leaving Abas virtually free to conduct his policies without foreign hindrance.

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    The Kingdom of Armenia and its neighboring polities during the reign of Abas I, 943

    Another foreign threat that Abas steadfastly confronted was an invasion in 943 by an Abkhazian noble named Ber: a new church had been completed in Kars under Abas' orders and prior to its consecration, Ber had appeared with an army demanding that the new church be consecrated under Orthodox rite. Abas refused to make any concessions and ambushed Ber's forces in a dawn assault wherein Ber was captured and taken to the Armenian camp. Ber was taken to the new church and was told that he would never see it again, blinding him and sending him back to Abkhazia.

    Abas died in 953, leaving his kingdom to his two sons, Ashot III and Mushegh, starting what would be known as the "Golden Age" of Armenia.

    Reign of Ashot III "Voghormats" (953-977)

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    A statue of Ashot III

    During the first year of his reign Ashot launched a military assault to free the city of Dvin from Muslim rule, an undertaking that ultimately ended in failure. Despite this setback, he took steps to centralize power in the kingdom, patronizing the Armenian Church in exchange for its support. During his reign the patriarch of the Armenian Church moved its seat to Argina, near the city of Ani.

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    The Monastery of Horomos, seat of the Armenian church, with the city of Ani observed in the background

    The Bagratuni kings had never chosen a city to settle in, alternating from Bagaran to Shirakavan to Kars; Kars never did reach a status where it could become a capital and Dvin was disregarded altogether, given its proximity to the hostile emirates. The city of Ani's natural defenses were well suited to Ashot's desire to secure an area which could withstand siege while also falling on a trade route that passed from Dvin to Trebizond, and the recent relocation of the Armenian Patriarch to the outskirts of Ani gave the city an even more privileged and prestigious position for a permanent capital. Thus in 961 Ani was proclaimed the capital of the kingdom, and Ashot set himself to enriching and expanding the city.

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    The city of Ani, capital of the Bagratid Kingdom, known as "the city of Forty Gates" and "the city of a thousand and one churches"

    The city quickly began to grow and became Armenia's chief political, cultural and economic center. Shops, markets, workshops, inns were established by the city's merchants and populace while the noble elite went on to sponsor the building of magnificent mansions and palaces. The construction was also complemented by King Ashot's own philanthropy, including the building of the famed "Ashotashen" walls (named after him) that were erected around Ani, monasteries, hospitals, schools, and almshouses. Ashot's sponsorship of the construction of all these edifices earned him the nickname of "Voghormats", or "the Merciful."

    Ashot was also largely successful in foreign affairs. When a Byzantine army led by the Byzantine emperor John I Tzimiskes (of Armenian descent) entered Taron in 973, purportedly to avenge the death of his Domestic (commander-in-chief) killed at the hands of the Arabs in Mosul, Ashot mobilized an 80,000 man army to meet and force its withdrawal. In the following year, he concluded an alliance with Tzimiskes and sent 10,000 Armenian troops to campaign with the emperor against the Hamdanid Emirate in Aleppo and Mosul.

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    Byzantine Emperor Tzimiskes

    A new phenomenon that began under Ashot III's reign, and continued under his successors, was the establishment of sub-kingdoms throughout Armenia. Ashot III had sent his brother Mushel I to rule in Kars (Vanand) and had allowed him to use the title of king, while the administrative district of Dzoraget (Tasir) was given to Ashot's son Gurgen, the progenitor of the Kvirikian line, in 966, who would later assume the title of king.

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    The "sub-kings" of Armenia

    The proliferation of so many kingdoms worked to the benefit of Armenia so long as the king in Ani remained strong and maintained his hegemony over other kings. Otherwise, the kings, as well their respective bishops who would claim the position of patriarch and formulate their own doctrines, would begin to test the limits of their autonomy.

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    The Kingdom of Armenia in 966, following the establishment of the sub-kingdoms of Tasir and Vanand

    Reign of Smbat II (977-989)
    Smbat II was crowned king on the same day of his father's death. He continued rule from the city of Ani, which had grown so large by the time of Smbat's accession in that a second set of walls, known as the Smbatashen walls, were ordered built by the new king.

    His reign was generally a time of peace, only disturbed by conflict between Smbat and his uncle Mushel in Kars. The latter in 982 incited the Sallarid emir of Azerbaijan Abu'l-Haija to attack Smbat's domains and demand from him a tribute. This state of affairs was quickly brought to an end when Abu'l-Haija was captured by Abu Dulaf, the Muslim emir of Goght'n. Smbat concluded a peace with Abu Dulaf that left the emir in control of Dvin and Goght'n.

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    The Kingdom of Armenia in 989, following the death of Smbat II

    Reign of Gagik I (989-1020)

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    Statue of King Gagik I

    King Gagik followed the footsteps of his predecessors in building churches and religious buildings in the capital of Ani, continuing the accustomed experience of unbroken peace and prosperity. Using the favorable economic conditions of Armenia, Gagik increased the size of the army up to 100,000 soldiers. He subsequently united and conquered various Armenian provinces to Bagratid Armenia, including Baghk, Khachen, Goghtn, parts of the Kingdom of Vaspurakan, and the city of Dvin.

    He made alliances with Gurgen of Iberia and Bagrat III of Abkhazia (who would eventually inherit Iberia and unite their kingdoms into the Kingdom of Georgia), whose armies defeated an incursion by Mamlan, the emir of Khorasan, in 998 in the village of Tsumb, northeast of Lake Van. Under Gagik I, the Kingdom of Armenia reached the height of its golden age as the country's economy, culture and foreign trade developed; Ani, Dvin, and Kars flourished.

    This golden age would reach its end upon Gagik's death, whose elder son, Hovhannes-Smbat, was crowned king while his younger son, Ashot, rebelled against Smbat and proclaimed himself king as well. The Byzantines had also been slowly encroaching into Armenia, while in the East a great Turkic army was amassing, ready to conquer everything in its path, from Transoxiana to Baghdad, and beyond...

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    The Kingdom of Armenia before the passing of King Gagik I, 1020
     
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    Chapter 3 - Descent into Chaos (1020-1041)
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    Chapter 3 - Descent into Chaos (1020-1041)

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    The new Kings of Armenia

    With the passing of King Gagik, the throne of Armenia now belonged to Hovhannes-Smbat, the oldest of Gagik's two sons, and rightful heir to the throne. His enthronement in 1020 was strongly opposed by his younger brother Ashot, who one year later in 1021, with the support of some of his fellow nobles, rebelled against him. Ashot drove his and his allies' forces to the capital of Ani, where he surrounded and conquered the city, dethroning his brother and usurping power from him.

    Eventually the brothers reached a compromise: Ashot would withdraw his rebel forces from Ani, letting the legal heir Hovhannes-Smbat III return to power on limited areas around the capital. Meanwhile Ashot (Known as Ashot IV) would be enthroned concurrent king and rule in the further Armenian provinces closer to Persia and Georgia, which should have included the prosperous city of Dvin, but which he could not occupy due to a hostile takeover by the Shaddadid Emirate during the civil war.
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    Armenia and its surroundings in 1021

    During the reign of Hovhannes-Smbat, a feudal lord, David, who owned Tao during his battles against the Muslims, gained a large area which stretched all the way to Manzikert. David was a subject of Byzantium and when he died his entire territory was occupied by Basil II, who had resumed the policy of, bit by bit, annexing Armenia to his empire.

    The Kingdom of Vaspurakan, mostly under Armenian control during the reign of Gagik I, was shortly lost to the Byzantines as well, who by virtue of a deal with its former king agreed to trade his kingdom for lands in the western part of Asia Minor, becoming a vassal of the Empire.
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    Emperor Basil II "the Bulgar Slayer"

    In those tumultuous days, embroiled in territorial quarrels with his brother and former vassals, as well as fearing repercussions from the Byzantines for aiding the Georgian king in his war against them, the childless Hovhannes-Smbat sent the patriarch Petros Getadarts to Byzantium in order to negotiate a partial respite by leaving his kingdom to the empire after his death.
    Basil II's policy of occupation and expansion into Armenia was also pursued by his successors . By the death of Hovhannes-Smbat around 1040 and that of Ashot IV shortly after, Michael V, one of the successors of Basil II, was the emperor cornering Armenia. Michael claimed that the Kingdom of Armenia, by virtue of the will of Hovhannes-Smbat, was bequeathed to the Byzantine Empire upon his death.


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    King Hovhannes surrenders himself to Emperor Basil II


    Reign of Gagik II (1040-1063)

    When the Armenian sparapet (commander-in-chief), Vahram Pahlavuni, prepared the coronation of the successor to Hovhannes-Smbat, the king's nephew, Gagik II, who at that time was only fourteen years old, the Byzantine emperor began supporting Sargis Haykazn, a pro-Byzantine Armenian prince and minister of the former king, who had initially been appointed regent.

    After this, the kingdom of Armenia resisted three assaults of the Byzantine Empire, forcing them to retreat. Byzantium exerted its forces to the utmost in order to conquer Armenia and once and for all annexing it to the empire. To this end, they sent a great army to the southern part of Armenia and at the same time convinced the sub-king of Tashir to attack Armenia from the east. At the fierce battle that was fought by the walls of Ani, general Vahram Pahlavuni heavily defeated the Byzantine army, forcing them to leave 20,000 dead behind, according to contemporary Armenian chroniclers.
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    The Battle of Ani, said to have been so ferocious that the effusion of blood flowing into the Akhurian River is said to have coloured its waters completely red.

    This victory allowed Vahram Pahlavuni along with patriarch Petros Getadarts to crown Gagik II king of Armenia and subsequently take the fortress of Ani, which was in the hands of Vest Sargis. Sargis fled to the fortress of St. Mary and was eventually captured.

    After this victory, the new Armenian king, together with Vahram, turned toward their second enemy, the Seljuq Turks, who were still intent on conquering the kingdom. In the following two years Gagik reinforced the army and fought against Seljuk hordes. Gregory Pahlavuni nephew of Vahram, defended the fortress of Varazhnunik, which would be granted to the Pahlavuni family for their service.

    The Armenian army then hurried to confront the enemy at the location of the present-day Lake Sevan, where the king and his commander split the Armenian army into two units. The first division engaged in a battle with the Seljuk Turks and then pretended to retreat, drawing the Turks in pursuit toward the second army that was lying in ambush. The battle ended with a catastrophic defeat for the Seljuk Turks. In the Kingdom of Vaspurakan, formerly under the protection of the Byzantine Empire where the population had been deserted by the imperial army, the people eagerly anticipated the Armenian king would be driving the Seljuq Turks out of their homeland. Under leadership of Gagik II, known for his courage as "the Lion," the Armenians revolted and the Turks were forced to retreat.
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    The Seljuk army as it gave chase to the first army, being lured into the second for a decisive Armenian victory

    After successfully defeating two invasions, Sparapet Vahram was sent to begin negotiations with the new Byzantine emperor, Konstantinos IX Monomachus. Gagik II offered to be a vassal of the emperor, but the Byzantines did not accept it after such a shameful loss and thus prepared a new expedition entrusted to the Duke of Iberia, but he too failed in the face of Armenian resistance.

    Emperor Konstantinos wished to continue the policy of his predecessors and therefore sent an army to conquer Armenia, whilst inciting the Arab emir of Dvin, Abu'l-Aswar, to attack Armenia from the east. King Gagik II, however, managed to placate Abu'l-Aswar by sending him gifts. This allowed Gagik to concentrate his forces against the Byzantines, eventually forcing them to flee. Gagik II proved his worth for the throne and the reputation of a fighting king, which had passed on to him from the very first kings in the Bagratuni dynasty.

    The Byzantines soon realized that if Armenia could not be conquered by force, it could be taken by treachery. Gagik pardoned Sargis Haykazn, whose loyalties, however, remained with Byzantium, fostering the hope of being appointed as king of Armenia if Byzantium was to conquer Armenia. With the assistance of Sargis, the Byzantine emperor invited Gagik II to Constantinople to sign an allegedly permanent peace-treaty.

    There the emperor demanded that the Armenian king abdicate and hand over the throne to him, and as he refused to do so was thrown into jail. The Byzantines promptly sent an army to Armenia, which was now leaderless.
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    King Gagik II surrenders to Emperor Konstantinos IX, 1042

    In lieu of its rightful king, Armenians considered offering the throne of Ani to David I Anhoghin of Tasir or to the emir of Dvin, Abu'l-Aswar, married to the sister of David Anhoghin. Even Bagrat IV of Georgia was considered but surprisingly not the Bagratuni sub-king Gagik-Abas of Kars. The patriarch Petros did not approve of any of the three candidates and finally conceded the delivery to the Byzantines of the city of Ani and other fortresses. With his connivance, the Byzantines would finally be able to conquer the province and annex it into the empire.

    ----------------------------------------------------
    In real life, the Byzantines would go on to annex the Kingdom and Bagratid Armenia would be no more, with Gagik being given some lands and a palace in Constantinople as compensation. We'll see how this history was altered in the next chapter, where the run truly starts ;).
     
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    Chapter 4 - The Taronite Betrayal (1042-1043)
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    Chapter 4 - The Taronite Betrayal (1042-1043)

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    King Gagik II in the Emperor's prison, 1042

    "Water drips on the old stone of the cellar walls, trickles out over the floor into little deltas of mud, worse every day, so that now I can see daylight at the footings. Sevan* seems small now, as this here puddle drowns my sorrows. Chatter all around, words flowing like the Araxes**. Talks of Northmen and Bulgars, and nomads from the steppes, the guards debate. Is the end near? What are these 'Romans' to do, facing the plight of invasion, treacherous blind men. If only they knew what a blight they are to my people. As if Moses himself stretched out his hand over Armenia, the Greeks desecrate my kingdom. Oh Ani how I miss you."
    While the imprisonment of King Gagik had certainly been a great victory for Emperor Konstantinos, the earlier defeats at the hand of Vahram and Gagik had greatly depleted its armies, leaving them vulnerable to both internal and external threats. The Norman mercenaries in Southern Italy realized this weakness and held a great council, where they announced their intent of conquering the Byzantine lands and establishing a new Norman Kingdom.

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    The Norman stronghold of Melfi, and their leader, William de Hauteville

    While the Normans under William "Iron Arm" organized their armies, whispers of rebellion were being heard all over the lands of the former Bulgarian Empire. The peasants were unhappy with their new Greek overlords, and the few remaining Bulgarian nobles seemed to be in it, hoping to regain their lost status by helping the rebellion.

    The Pechenegs, while not as strong as they had been decades ago, were still quite a thorn on the side of the Empire, and their constant raids into Bulgaria only seemed to fuel the seeds of rebellion even more. Konstantinos' great diplomatic skills were able to appease them, but a new horde was quickly approaching from the east. The conquest of Armenia had to be finalized if the empire was to withstand the inevitable clash with the Seljuk Turks.

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    The treacherous Emperor Konstantinos IX


    "The Lion, they called me," Gagik muttered to himself. "The more things change, the more they stay the same. Far from the pride, far from home. Just another lion to be slaughtered for roman spectacle." Gagik had only been in jail for a month, but he had lost all hope of ever making it back to Ani. He tried to appeal to the Byzantine nobles, hoping they would fight against the tyranny of their Emperor, but all he got was contempt out of them.

    While he sulk in his damp cell however, a plot to free him was being carried out by his own blood, Grigor Taronites, better known by his Greek name, Gregorios, was a descendant of the old kings of Taron, an Armenian sub-kingdom once ruled by a cadet line of the Bagratid dynasty.

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    Gregorios II Taronites

    Gregorios' grandfather had traded the crown of Taron to Emperor Basil II, in exchange for the title of patrician gaining vast lands within the empire, becoming far richer than they ever had been. While he had been raised under the tutelage of the imperial court's scholars and tutors as a proper Greek, he held a deep fascination for Armenia and its history, as well as much regret for his predecessors actions, hoping to one day return to Taron and reclaim his birthright.

    He and his sons, Michael and Andronikos managed to bribe their way into King Gagik's prison, and during a particularly starless night snuck him out, right under Konstantinos noses'. It would not take long for the Emperor to realize his "guest" had vanished, but the adjacency of Gregorios' lands' made it easier to reach safety.

    Knowing it wouldn't be long before the imperial spies discovered Gregorios' involvement and their location, Gagik was snuck unto a merchant ship headed to the city of Poti in Georgia, from where he could safely reach Ani and once more stand defiant against the Byzantine invasion.

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    The city of Poti, trade hub of the Georgian Kingdom

    The prison guards were quick to succumb to the persuasive interrogation methods of Konstantinos' goons, and blurted out the name of Gregorios and sons, who were quickly put in chains by the emperor's men. When the executioner asked Gregorios what his last words were, spectators mention something along the lines of "Mer Hayrenik," meaning "Our Fatherland" in Armenian. To his last breath, a true son of Armenia.

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    Gregorios II Taronites, a true patriot

    His execution sent shock waves throughout the empire, for the Taronites had been one of the most staunchly loyal families to the Emperors since they joined the Byzantine ranks. If they could betray the realm like this, who's to say there aren't others like him, waiting to pounce at a moment's notice?

    The council implored Konstantinos to let Gregorios' sons free, for his father had paid enough with blood, but as his enemies increased around him, the emperor grew cruel, blinding both without mercy. Theopiste, Gregorios' only daughter, never expected such cruelty from the emperor, and fearing for her life she fled the capital toward Armenia, hoping the newly freed Gagik might be able to shelter her from the intrigue of Constantinople and the cruelty of its ruler.

    Feeling indebted by the death of her father and the blinding of her brothers, Gagik promised her no harm would ever befall on her, and offered her the role of Queen of Armenia. Who better to serve as queen than another Bagratid?***

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    Queen Theopiste Taronites

    With Gagik back on the throne of Ani, and a renewed hatred of the deceitful Greeks, the Armenian people readied themselves for a new wave of attacks by Konstantinos. The Lion of Armenia was back, and it hungered for vengeance.

    ---------------------------
    * Sevan is the name of the largest lake in Armenia
    ** Araxes is the name of the largest river in Armenia
    *** The Taronite dynasty is a cadet line of the Bagratids
     
    Chapter 5 - Subduing the Sub-Kings (1043-1045)
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    Chapter 5 - Subduing the Sub-Kings (1043-1045)

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    The Kingdom of Armenia in 1043

    Suffering heavy losses from previous attacks, as well as the recent escape of Gagik, Emperor Konstantinos agreed to a truce between Ani and Constantinople. King Gagik and Armenia would remain independent, so long as Gagik renounced his claims over the Kingdoms of Taron and Vaspurakan.

    Hoping to avoid any more bloodshed, King Gagik agreed to the terms. His foremost priority was reasserting dominance over the four bordering sub-kingdoms of Armenia: The Kingdom of Vanand, ruled from the former capital city of Kars by his kinsman Gagik-Abas. The Kingdom of Tasir, ruled from the populous province of Lori by King Davit Kvirikian (the Kvirikian dynasty is a cadet branch of the Bagratids) guarding the Armenian heartland from the North.

    Upon hearing of Gagik's return to Armenia, both Gagik-Abas and Davit sent envoys declaring their renewed allegiance to the King, recognizing their suzerainty under Ani. Grigor Pahlavuni, who had been granted the province of Varazhnunik prior to Gagik's imprisonment also bent the knee, once more ready to fight for his king.

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    The vassals and tributaries of King Gagik II

    It was perhaps the perceived weakness and inexperience of the young Gagik, or maybe the lack of blood ties, but both King Sevada and King Smbat would renounce their ties with Ani, declaring independence. Holding the fortified lands to the East, they held the gates of Armenia from any would-be invaders coming from Persia. If Gagik's realm was to persevere, subduing these two was of utmost importance.

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    The rebellious Kings Sevada and Smbat

    Gagik II had to act quickly, for the Shaddadid Emir Eli was looking to unite the two halves of his realm by conquering these rebellious kingdoms. His forces had already seized Dvin and Goghtn a few years earlier, and if given the chance of annexing their lands, his power would eclipse that of Gagik.

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    The Shaddadid Emir of Arran

    Not wasting any time, on March of 1043, King Gagik sent envoys to Khachen and Siwnik, declaring a state of war between their realms and Ani. As his forces marched toward the fortress of Ghapan, seat of King Smbat's power, King Gagik II encountered a small village of fire worshippers who called themselves Zoroastrians, after their long dead, false prophet. Once the majority religion of the Armenian people, Zoroastrianism had greatly declined in popularity in the kingdom, with the vast majority having embraced the teachings of Jesus many centuries ago.

    Despite being met by repulsion by Gagik's men, some of these fire worshippers asked to come along on the journey, hoping to bolster the king's forces, and maybe earn back the grace they were once held upon. While his most zealous soldiers asked for the king to put the heathens to the sword, Gagik was a bit more pragmatic, perhaps even lacking in faith. Having been attacked by fellow Christians from Constantinople, Gagik knew that it was not what God you believed in, but the matter of your character that defined you, and thus allowed these Zoroastrians to join his army.

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    After marching for nearly four months, Gagik and his forces finally arrived in Ghapan. Preferring to stay in the safety of his castle, King Smbat instead sent his younger brother, prince Grigor, to meet Gagik's army. The young prince was a capable warrior, but the Khacheni forces of King Sevada had not arrived in time to reinforce his troops, and thus he stood alone, outnumbered nearly three to one against King Gagik.

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    Prince Grigor of Siwnik at the battle of Ghapan

    Easily trounced by the overwhelming forces of Gagik, prince Grigor retreated East, hoping to meet the armies of King Sevada and return to defend Ghapan with bigger forces. Unfortunately for him, Gagik's men were quick to find a weakness of the Ghapani defenses, and within two months the fortress was taken. King Smbat and his family were put in chains, forced to surrender his lands in exchange for his freedom.

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    The Siege of Ghapan, August of 1043

    It was later found out that King Sevada of Khachen had never actually sent his forces to assist prince Grigor, instead hoping the Siwniak forces would wither Gagik's army a bit, and while they sieged Ghapan he planned on establishing an alliance with the Shaddadid Emir. He did not anticipate however that Ghapan would fall so quickly however, and thus he had to alter his plan.

    King Sevada hastily rushed toward Ani, hoping to capture the capital before Gagik could return from Ghapan, laying a siege on the capital. Refusing to accept the surrender of his brother, prince Grigor kept waging war on Gagik for the following months, using hit and run tactics from the mountainous lands of Siwnik. It would take Gagik's forces six months before finally putting an end to Grigor and his rebellion, finally re-annexing the Kingdom of Siwnik into Armenia. Gagik finally arrived in Ani on March of 1044, ready to relieve the siege of Ani, who had held steadfast against the Khacheni besiegers.

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    The Siege of Ani, March of 1044

    Now trapped between the tall walls of Ani and the incoming army of Gagik, King Sevada had no choice but to defend on two fronts. Gagik was fairly matched by the Khacheni commander Kapriel, and while the siege of Ani was lifted, the battle wasn't decisive enough, with both armies suffering similar casualties. Despite this, Gagik's fame grew, as unlike Smbat or Sevada, the young king was in the front lines, fighting alongside his men. His renown and popularity growing after every battle.

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    The Battle of Ani, March of 1044

    The armies of Kapriel retreated toward the relative safety of their kingdom, hoping to arrive quickly enough to mount the defense of Khachen and not fall as easily as Siwnik had done. Gagik quickly dashed these hopes however, proving his mastery over the mountainous terrain of Armenia, intercepting Kapriel's forces before they could arrive in Khachen.

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    The Battle of Baghk, July of 1044

    With over half of his remaining forces now laying dead in the fields of Baghk, commander Kapriel mounted a last stand in Khachen, ordering his men to make a rush for Gagik if they encountered him during the battle. If Gagik perished in battle, his men would have no choice but to leave Khachen, for Armenia would fall into a succession crisis as Gagik had no brothers or children. His efforts were for naught, as Gagik valiantly slayed any Khacheni who'd cross his path. It was Kapriel instead, who was captured by the Armenian forces as his army crumbled to pieces.

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    Kapriel's last stand over Khachen, August of 1044

    The fortress of Khachen would fall a month later, with King Sevada being forced to surrender half of his kingdom, including his capital, to King Gagik. While he remained in control of his lands in Haband, King Sevada's kingdom had essentially being neutered, just waiting to be annexed by Gagik as soon as the peace treaty expired.

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    The Kingdom of Armenia by January of 1045, with the kingdom of Siwnik fully annexed and the kingdom of Khachen in shambles following the loss of over half its lands

    With the rebellious sub-kings subdued, Gagik sent his men home and returned to Ani to plan his next move. The Shaddadid Emirate had snatched the prosperous city of Dvin twenty years prior, and thus was the next target of his ambition, but his armies were exhausted from the war, and Queen Theopiste had fallen ill of dysentery during his campaign. He would put his plans on hold for a year, allowing his men to recuperate, while dividing his time between ruling in his new lands and his ill wife.

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    Chapter 6 - The Armenian Inquisition (1045-1047)
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    Chapter 6 - The Armenian Inquisition (1045-1047)

    It had been merely a month since Gagik had returned from his successful campaign, when he received the news about Grigor's death. The man who had crowned and supported him throughout his tumultuous ascension to the throne, Sparapet (commander-in-chief) of all his armies, succumbed one night to the passing of time, leaving behind a grief-stricken Gagik to ponder on who could possibly ever fill his shoes.

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    The death of Sparapet Grigor Pahlavuni, January of 1045

    There were many Naxarar (nobles) who ambitiously eyed the role of the late Grigor, for the prestige it carried, as well as the vast commanding power of the title could transform any men into the second most powerful person in the kingdom.

    The question of who to appoint became increasingly difficult for Gagik, as his spymaster Zakare had recently been victim of murder. Mayor Zakare was not the brightest man, but he had been loyal enough to Gagik to keep him as his master of secrets. If he had been murdered, he must have discovered something important, perhaps a plot by the Naxarar to oust him or in support of the Greeks.

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    With Zakare and Grigor gone, King Gagik lacked anyone he could truly trust the safe-guarding of the realm on, and thus convened a meeting with the royal council, where he abolished the title of Sparapet, reforming the Armenian military into a more localized system akin to that of the Byzantines to the West. The King would therefore become the commander of all military forces in the kingdom, while each Naxarar would become commander of the armies under his land, allowing for a faster mobilization of the army as needed. They would also be responsible for providing a certain percentage of these men to the King to safeguard the capital of Ani at all times. These Naxarar retinues would be comprised of heavy cavalry and horse archers, akin to the famous Parthian Cataphracts of the East, and act as a highly mobile, standing army ready to attack or defend at all times.

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    Depiction of a typical Armenian soldier of the new Naxarar retinues
    Queen Theopiste's condition meanwhile had not been improving, afflicted by dysentery and other ailments, she had become a bit more temperamental than usual, being easily annoyed by the constant flux of men coming in and out of Gagik's court. One especially irksome figure was the humble chancellor Tachat, who had become a permanent presence in the court of Ani. Normally Gagik would not comply with such requests, but seeing the poor state of his wife, he agreed to remove Tachat from his court upon her request, hoping it would alleviate some of her pains.

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    While Tachat was initially indignant over such a petty action by his King, he soon found out that he was assigned a much more important mission to carry out in the East. The chancellor was to travel to Nishapur in Persia, seat of the Seljuk Turks, hoping to dissuade Tughril-Beg from any incursions into Armenian territory, and to establish friendly diplomatic relations that could perhaps lead to monetary gains in the future through the opening of new trade routes. Proving his worth as chancellor, Tachat was quick to become friends with the Turkic lord, putting in a good word for King Gagik.

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    The great diplomatic skill of chancellor Tachat

    His removal from court however did little to alleviate Queen Theopiste's affliction, and she perished soon after while attending "chamber business." Gagik had never been too fond of her, even if he was eternally grateful of her family's sacrifice to aid his safe return to Armenia, and the Naxarar were mostly glad to rid of this "foreign" Queen as they called her, more Greek than Armenian.

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    The passing of Queen Theopiste, April of 1046

    Still lacking an heir to pass the throne upon his death, King Gagik scrambled to find a new wife that could carry his children. He saw no better way to honor the memory of his former Sparapet and father figure, Grigor, than by uniting their bloodlines, marrying his daughter Mara. Renowned across the realm for her beauty, this marriage would cement his ties with the most powerful land-holder in the realm, Mara's younger brother, Grigor II, as well as please the Naxarar who clamored for a native Queen to rule alongside him.

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    Queen Consort Mara Pahlavuni, May of 1046

    Seeking to consolidate his realm further, he assembled a meeting with his brother-in-law, the emir of Dvin. Emir Šawur had seized the city of Dvin during the reign of Gagik's father, and in order to appease him and avoid any further incursions at the time, was offered Gagik's sister hand in marriage. Šawur resented his overlord and younger nephew Elî, and was looking to strike free of his reign.

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    Emir Šawur and his wife Mara, lord of Dvin

    Gagik was looking to reconquer the city of Dvin, and asked for his brother-in-law's support. Šawur, a very pious man, could not side with a Christian over his own Muslim nephew, but agreed to stay out of the conflict if Gagik waged war on his nephew. If Gagik won the war, he'd submit to his rule and continue as lord of Dvin under Gagik, but if he lost, the now weakened Emir Elî would be an easy target to overthrow as he assumed the role of Shaddadid Emir.

    The armies of Gagik and Elî met in the fields of Khachen, where the inexperienced Emir, expecting the forces of his uncle to reinforce him, were quickly subdued by the better commander Gagik.

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    The Battle of Artsakh, October of 1046

    Defeated, the young Emir retreated South into the lands of the Rawaddid Emirate, hoping to recruit some Kurdish tribesmen into his cause. Largely unsuccessful and occupied with their own affairs, Elî failed to recruit any significant amount of Kurds to his army. Holding up his part of the ordeal, Emir Šawur opened the gates of Dvin upon Gagik's arrival, surrendering the city to the Armenian king. After six long months of skirmishes, Elî finally surrendered Dvin, adding another victory to King Gagik achievements.

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    King Gagik's victory over the Shaddadis, May of 1047

    Having been responsible for the deaths of countless Armenian souls, the Naxarar of Armenia would not easily accept Šawur into their ranks. Gagik was well aware of that, but with the help of his sister Mara they organized a faux-conversion ceremony, where Šawur would publicly give up his faith in Allah to embrace the Apostolic Church of Armenia. Šawur was warned by Gagik to not be caught secretly practicing Islam, for if he was outed as a secret Mohammedan, he'd be forced to put him to the sword for his past crimes and lack of repentance.

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    Armenia in August of 1047, with the newly independent principalities of Bardzr Armenia and Taron in display

    As this faux-ceremony took place, a three year war between Byzantine Emperor Katakalon, Konstantinos successor, and a league of nobles seeking independence came to an end. This league led by Doux Alusian and Doux Tornik was a grave loss for the Greeks for it reversed decades of progress in the annexation of Armenia.

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    The Byzantine rebel leaders

    Although victorious against the Empire, the troubles of Doux Alusian were far from over. Born and raised an Orthodox Greek, Alusian struggled to connect with his subjects, for the lands of Bardzr (Upper) Armenia, were an overwhelmingly Armenian populace of Apostolic faith.

    King Gagik hoped to exploit the situation by gathering support from his brethren in Alusian's realm to expand his Kingdom, and thus sent Catholicos (patriarch) Sion II to speak with the clergy of Bardzr Armenia to plot against the Doux. Taking advantage of his absence in Ani, the local clergy demanded an audience with King Gagik, where they exposed the corruption of Sion, who had been conspiring with some lower Naxarar to oust the young Grigor II from Varazhnunik and expand the power of the Apostolic Church, akin to what the Pope in Rome had done with the Papal States.

    Outraged, but not surprised by the turn of events, King Gagik sent Grigor II himself to arrest the wicked priest, putting an end to the farce that was his reign as Catholicos. The populace was of course outraged, for Sion had been a popular figure among the peasants, promising them lands and tax exemptions if his plots came to pass, and now looked toward Gagik, lacking the guidance of the Catholicos.

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    The arrest of Catholicos Sion II, September of 1047

    With renewed zeal to restore the prestige and status of the Church, a small sect of devout Christians started a hunt for heretics, apostates, and corrupt clergy like Sion, culminating in the capture of Naxarar Šawur while he prostrated toward Mecca, showing his secret devotion to Allah and exposing the faux-conversion he had undergone months earlier.

    His council implored Gagik to release Šawur in order to keep the peace among his vassals, but the clergy grew restless. If he had been so harsh as to imprison the highest ranking member of the Church, he couldn't impose a softer punishment on the Mohammedan. After days of deliberation, he agreed to the execution of Šawur by this militant sect. His three children, as well as Gagik's sister Mara were taken under interrogation as well, in order to prove they too weren't secret Muslims. After a couple of hours, and a bit of interference by Gagik, they were finally released, unable to find any lack of faith for the Church in his infant children or his wife Mara. Gagik's nephew, Fezl who was only five years old would now be the overseer of Dvin, with his mother Mara as regent.

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    The death of Naxarar Šawur, October of 1047
    With Sion and many members of the clergy imprisoned, and the execution of Šawur and some of his followers, the clergy set their eyes on liberating their brethren from the clutches of Doux Alusian. If King Gagik wished to keep their support as spiritual leader, he'd have to make a move before Alusian could solidify his position over the realm of Bardzr Armenia.

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    Chapter 7 - Holy War (1047-1048)
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    Chapter 7 - Holy War (1047-1048)

    Surrounded by Arabs to the South, and their former Byzantine overlords on every other direction, the small Principality of Taron would be hard pressed to remain independent for long. Seeing the renewed fervor for the faith in Ani, the zealous Naxarar Tornik met with King Gagik to discuss annexing his realm to the Kingdom of Armenia.

    Tornik would gain protection by Gagik just like any other landholder in the kingdom, so long as he subjected to the contributions of taxes and men the other landholders were supposed to provide, as well as to bolster the royal Naxarar retinues. The Principality of Taron enjoyed a privileged position right at the crossroads of Armenia, Asia Minor, the Levant, and Mesopotamia. Ruled for generations by the Bagratids, this became the perfect opportunity for Gagik to recover the lands lost nearly a century ago to the Byzantines. The distance from the capital to Taron was vast, and being forced to cross Byzantine territory to access it was a dangerous task of itself, but Gagik would stop at nothing to return Armenia to greatness.

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    The annexation of Taron, October 1047
    The following month, Naxarar Tornik would meet with Gagik once again in Ani, this time to debrief the king on the potential weaknesses of his former ally, Doux Alusian. Pointing out flaws in his defenses, as well as the numerically inferior amount of men at his disposal, Tornik would prove instrumental in the upcoming invasion of Upper Armenia.

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    The Doux of Upper Armenia and his mercenary commander, Rostislav

    Or so Gagik thought, but Doux Alusian had made some new friends since the last time he met with Tornik. A roving band of Rus warriors had made its way to his realm, ferried over from Tmutarakan in the Crimea, bolstering the forces of Alusian by nearly 2000 men, and thus outnumbering the Armenian armies. Their leader, Rostislav was a brilliant warrior, said to have acquired a zealous hatred for non-Orthodox Christians and heathens alike as his village had been razed to the ground by nomads somewhere along the Pontic Steppe when he was only a child.

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    The Battle of Kars, December of 1047

    Rostislav would accompany the Doux and lead his armies throughout the mountainous passes of Armenia. Against his better judgement, the Rus commander was ordered by Alusian to attack and break Gagik's forces near Kars, before they could step into his realm. His experience fighting in the steppes however did not prepare him for the kind of warfare waged in the peaks and valleys of Armenia, and despite putting up a brave fight, his army was routed, losing over half of its total forces, among them many of the Russians.

    This costly defeat opened a clear path for Gagik to reach Karin, capital of Doux Alusian, which promptly fell due to the lack of leadership from the defenders. This was a costly loss for the Doux, for his wife, two daughters, and one of his sons was captured after the walls fell.

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    The Siege of Karin, March of 1048

    Soon after Karin fell, Gagik received a large shipment of supplies and coin from his vassals in Armenia, which came as a surprise to him for he had not asked for reinforcements. It seemed the kingdom's clergy had gone around every city and Naxarar court to request new funds to support Gagik's "holy war" as they were calling it.

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    King Gagik's "Crusading" war chest
    Not all of the Doux' family had been captured however, for his older son Basileios had managed to escape during the turmoil of the siege. He had travelled North to Tao, where he had gathered some new forces to join his father's army. There they made their stand.

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    The Battle of Tao, April of 1048

    The battle was a particularly bloody one, where both sides lost as much men. Gagik once more proved his worth as a commander, taking part in not one, but two duels. The first with the son of the Doux, who proved to be a fool as he charged at the front of his father's army. No match for the Lion of Armenia.

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    The death of Basileios, oldest son and heir of Doux Alusian

    The second duel, as luck would have it, was with the Doux' second in command, a monster of a man by the name of Paschalios, who's fame as a warrior was perhaps only exceeded by Gagik's himself. Despite being far more skilled in swordsmanship than the late Basielios, he too fell to Gagik's spear.

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    The death of Commander Paschalios, Doux Alusian's second in command

    As he watched the Russian mercenaries desert him, Alusian fell to his knees, lamenting the loss of his oldest son as well as his best friend. Knowing full well of the capability for cruelty Gagik was becoming famous for, he feared for the safety of his remaining family members imprisoned in Karin and promptly surrendered to the Armenian monarch.

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    The Kingdom of Armenia, May of 1048
    With the annexation of Taron and reconquest of Karin, the Doux of Upper Armenia now vastly weakened, and the Shaddadid Emirate pacified for the time being, perhaps it was time King Gagik revisited the King of Khachen, and put and end to the rebellious Sub-Kingdom once and for all...

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    Chapter 8 - Interbellum (1048-1050)
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    Chapter 8 - Interbellum (1048-1050)

    As Armenia prospered and expanded with every passing year thanks to Gagik's brilliant leadership, the Byzantines suffered the opposite fate. With a regime change nearly every year, constant raids by the Normans, Arabs, and Pechenegs, and uppity peasants revolting every other month, the Empire was slowly collapsing on itself.

    King Gagik had already benefited greatly from the Greek's decline, reconquering Karin from the rebellious Alusian, while peacefully annexing Taron from a fellow Armenian rebel. Connecting Taron to the rest of the realm was one of Gagik's highest priorities, but attacking the Empire, even in such a weakened state, would be disastrous for Armenia.

    As luck would have it however, a humble man from Manazkert by the name of Tachat had come to Ani, asking for the king's support in an upcoming rebellion. Inspired by Armenia's recent territorial gains, the people of Manazkert had hoped to liberate themselves from the Greeks in the name of King Gagik.

    This was a tempting proposal for Gagik, but he had enjoyed peace with the Empire since his escape from Konstantinos prison, and with the Seljuk Turks encroaching on his territory once more, he could not afford to anger the empire.

    Tachat was thus left on his own against the might of the Empire, his rebellion swiftly shut down. Despite their victory against the rebels, due to the unrest the Empire encountered itself in at the time, their punishment was light, with many of the participants able to return to their previous lives, perhaps to revolt again in the future...

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    The Peasant Rebellion of Manazkert, April of 1049

    King Gagik instead focused on internal affairs, bringing his nephew Fezl to Ani so he could receive an education worthy of a proper Armenian. The boy was only five when his father was burned at the stake, and thus had only faint memories of him. By bringing him close, Gagik would be able to steer his future into becoming a loyal vassal of the realm, separating him from his fellow Kurds that populated his court in Dvin.

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    The dated policy of creating sub-kingdoms had become a failure by the time Gagik had assumed the throne in 1041, and while his policies had brought an end to Siwnik, the Khacheni sub-kingdom still retained its independence in the province of Baghk. Just as Gagik had started to assemble his forces to take the remains of Sevada's kingdom, the old man passed away. Realizing the threat of a stable Armenia at its borders, Senekerim-Hovhannes II made the journey to Ani, where he gave up his crown to become a vassal to the Armenian king.

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    The late King Sevada and his son, the last Khacheni King, August of 1049

    While the realm had been in a near constant state of warfare since the ascension of King Gagik II, most of the warfare had been conducted in the outskirts of the realm or in foreign territories, allowing the populace to enjoy the relative peace, able to prosper in ways they hadn't since the days of King Gagik I, nearly 30 years prior. This stability allowed the peasants to organize festivals and celebrations, as well as promoting travel and trade between distinct communities, for the roads were well guarded and free of raiders, making the King popular among the lower class.

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    Following the peaceful integration of Khachen, King Gagik convened a council meeting, hoping to discuss the next course of action for the Kingdom. While the peasantry loved the King for the peace he provided them, the Naxarar were kept happy by their inclusion into the policy-making of the Kingdom, able to give their insights and suggestions.

    The council was conformed by the most powerful of nobles, including the lords of Taron and Khachen, the loyalist Pahlavunis, and the representative of the Apostolic Church and leader of the inquisition, Manuel. The sub-kings of Tasir and Vanand did not enjoy a spot on the council due to the higher degree of autonomy they possessed compared to the rest of Naxarar, a policy Gagik'd seek to amend in the near future.

    Unlike her predecessor Theopiste, Queen Mara had taken a more active role in the everyday ruling of the kingdom. She had adopted a policy of traveling across the many cities and villages of Armenia, fostering this new cultural renaissance and funding many of the festivals organized by the peasantry. Loved by the lower class even more than the king himself, she was easily able to acquire information from the people and thus enjoyed the position of Spymaster.

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    The Armenian High Council

    The Queen had heard rumors about a great general in Tarnovo, who fed up with the constant raids by the northern nomads, staged an uprising in Bulgaria. Mara suggested that with the Imperial forces occupied in the Balkans, the provinces of Western Armenia could easily be reconquered.

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    The Bulgarian Uprising of 1049

    Chancellor Grigor Pahlavuni suggested an incursion North into Georgia, to help the newly crowned Queen put down the rebels that had been ravaging her kingdom for over three years. Grigor argued that doing so could earn King Gagik a powerful ally to the North that could aid if the Turks or Greeks ever came knocking.

    Steward Tornik, well aware of the power rebels could have due to his origins as one, agreed with Grigor, but pointed out that doing so would put the relationship with the sub-kingdom of Tasir in jeopardy, for sub-king Davit had recently entered the war, hoping to enforce his claim on the Kingdom of Georgia.

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    The Georgian War of Succession, 1049

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    The three faction leaders in Georgia

    Senekerim of Khachen did not agree with his fellow council members however. His lands bordered those of the Shaddadid Emirate to the East, and the Rawaddids to the South, and instead argued to expand the Kingdom in those directions, hoping to expand the buffer zone between his lands and potential enemies.

    He further elaborated on his point by speaking about Gagik's nephew, the young Fezl, who had been quick to adapt to Ani and the Armenian people, leaving behind his defunct's father Kurdish past. Being a Shaddadid himself, Gagik could push his claim on the emirate, bringing it into the fold.

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    Fezl Shaddadid, a proper Apostolic Armenian boy

    Court Chaplain Manuel fervently agreed with the Khacheni lord, proclaiming the full support of the Armenian Church in such an endeavor. Why battle fellow Christians when you can put a few Mohammedans to the sword? He also elaborated on his argument by pointing out the incompetence of its new ruler Enusirwan, who enjoyed a decadent, sinful life.

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    The new Emir of Arran

    Manuel also brought to the attention of the council the matter of a sect of Paulician heretics who had been moving into Armenia from the South. It seemed the Rawaddids had recently implemented harsher taxes on the dhimmi (non-muslims) and when the Paulicians of Tabriz refused this new tax they revolted and were subsequently exiled by the Emir.

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    A Paulician rebel (on foot) attacking a Rawaddid tax collector and his men.

    With every member of the council having argued their stance, it was now up to King Gagik to decide the best course of action. Preferring to avoid the ire of the Greeks, as well as not wanting to spill the blood of his people for some foreign Queen, Gagik announced his plans to push his nephew's claim on the Shaddadid Emirate. Once that was taken care of, they could focus on the heretics plaguing the Southern border.
     
    Chapter 9 - King of Kings (1050-1051)
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    Chapter 9 - King of Kings (1050-1051)

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    The monastery of Goghtn

    With the loss of Dvin only three years earlier, and the recent death of Emir Elî, the Shaddadid Emirate had long passed its glory days. The new Emir, Enusirwan, was ill-prepared to lead his realm, having enjoyed a life of luxury and sin before his ascension to the throne, as well as lacking any arms training.

    This weakness was perceived even by the peasants, who following the examples of previous rebellions in Taron and Manazkert, successfully attained independence from their Muslim overlords. With the Shaddadids' governor and his men banished from Goghtn, the lower class, who lacked any know-how about ruling, now controlled the land. A savvy businessman named Tachat was chosen as their leader, elevating him to a status similar to a Naxarar. Hardly having participated in the armed revolt, his lack of involvement in battle made him seem weak to his subjects, who now looked to overthrow him.

    An astute man, Tachat quickly realized this plot, and having gotten accustomed to the luxuries of ruling, looked towards Ani and Gagik, joining the realm as the newest member of the Armenian nobility.

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    Peasant ruler Tachat

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    The annexation of Goghtn, May of 1050

    King Gagik himself traveled to Goghtn to legitimize Tachat's right to rule the province in his name, dissuading any would-be rebels from rising. The annexation of Goghtn not only expanded Gagik's realm further, but was quickly discovered to be where the Paulicians from the South had been congregating, leading to the swift arrest of their leader before their militant faith might have incited an attempt to disrupt Bagratid rule.

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    Trdat Kuchka, leader of the Paulician heretics

    Gagik had hoped to give Kuchka to the Rawaddid Emir on the South, who he had caused so much trouble for, but Seljuk armies had just ousted him from Tabriz, ending the fledgling emirate and any reward they might have paid for Kuchka. This recent expansion by the Turks had enlarged their realm to the borders of Armenia. Fortunately for the Armenians, it had only been four years since Gagik's chancellor had established diplomatic ties with the Turkic lord, earning his friendship, and convincing him to steer clear of Armenia and instead set his eyes on the Levant.

    This had brought Gagik much needed relief, for he now faced pressure from the inside of his council. Despite the great skill-set of Queen Mara, the rest of the council was still not convinced it was wise to have a woman sit among men and discuss politics and warfare. Using the lack of heir to the throne of Armenia, Queen Mara was pushed off the council on the concerns that her role as spymaster was affecting her fertility, citing her stressful job as the chief reason Gagik had still not fathered any children.

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    Despite her objection to such claims, Gagik still retired Queen Mara from the council, assigning the role to Tachat of Goghtn, whose upbringing as a peasant would be quite effective in manners of intrigue, easily able to blend into the populace if needed in order to spy or follow any would-be plotters.

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    With his council appeased, and the Seljuks avoiding any raids into Armenia, King Gagik saw fit to finally engage the remnants of the Shaddadid Emirate. Unable to convince his bannermen to raise arms in the defense of their realm, Enusirwan left Arran with what little men he had toward Dvin, hoping to arrive and siege the city before Gagik could meet him in battle. His plan was to retake Dvin and execute his kin, Gagik's nephew Fezl, whose claims to Arran had been the reason for the war. He foolishly thought the death of Fezl would put an end to the war, but was unaware that Fezl did not rule from Dvin, but instead was receiving an education in Ani. His plan was doomed from the start.

    Gagik's forces came to head with Enursiwan's in Baghk, just outside of Goghtn, were his forces were quickly defeated by the superior numbers of the Armenians. While the battle took place, Gagik's sister Mara, regent of Dvin, led her armies toward Arran in order to lay siege to the city.

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    The Battle of Baghk, September of 1050

    With no support at home, the defeated Emir traveled South toward the Seljuk capital in Persia, hoping to persuade Shahanshah Tughril-Beg to attack the Armenians and defend his realm. Enursiwan never did make it to Isfahan, having been intercepted near Tehran, and imprisoned by its Emir for having looted some supplies from a nearby town during his journey.

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    The Emir's long journey South comes to an end, December of 1050
    Preferring to avoid the bloodshed of a long siege, the city of Arran quickly surrendered to Gagik, who allowed the Muslim nobles and their entourage to leave the city unharmed and with all their possessions despite objections by Court Chaplain Manuel.

    Fezl was then crowned ruler of Arran in Ani, putting an end to the 100 year reign of the Shaddadid Emirate over Arran. All of Gagik's expansion had previously been to reconquer lands mostly populated by Armenians, but Arran and its vicinity had been ruled by Mohammedans for so long that the people identified as Muslim Azeris, and not Christian Armenians. The integration of these people would not be an easy task for Gagik or his successors.

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    The new Ishkhan (prince) of Arran

    King Gagik saw fit to end Catholicos Sion's imprisonment by banishing the corrupt priest to a desolate and remote monastery in Arran to proselytize among the heathens. Sion, who knew nothing of their tongue or costumes, would go on to live a miserable, lonely rest of his life in the ruins of the Goghtn Monastery as his attempts to convert the unbelievers proved futile time and time again.

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    While Gagik had entered the gates of Arran to crown his nephew prince, King Davit's campaign in Georgia was also entering its final stages, having ousted the young Queen and taken the crown. All that stood in his path to become King was but the ragged remains of the rebel forces.

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    The Kingdom of Georgia, December of 1050

    With the last of the rebels imprisoned or beheaded, King Davit "the Old" had brought an end to the Georgian War of succession, vastly enlarging his realm to the size of his suzerain Gagik's. He had organized a luxurious ceremony in Lori to celebrate his victory, paid by the coffers of the defeated Queen Martha and her followers. This ostentatious display of wealth greatly upset his supporters in the Georgian nobility, who had funded his campaign hoping for a reward once he obtained the crown, and instead got to see Davit spent what should've been theirs.

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    While his realm could easily challenge Armenia's role as major power in the Caucasus region, the long war had devastated Georgia and made the people weary of war, assuring Davit's loyalty to Ani for the time being. At least for now, King Gagik could enjoy the prestige of ruling over the Kingdoms of Armenia and Georgia, even if he had become wary of Davit's growing power.

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    The Kingdom of Armenia in February of 1051
     
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    Chapter 10 - The Shirvani Crusade (1051-1052)
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    Chapter 10 - The Shirvani Crusade (1051-1052)

    After a series of victories against the Bulgarian rebels in the Balkans, commander Georgios of the Byzantine Empire was able to overthrow the throne, placing himself atop it. Despite his great skill as a general, he'd soon come to find out imperial politics and the intrigue of court were every bit as bloody as any battlefield.

    Perceiving the change of regime as weakness, the Pechenegs and Normans forged an alliance, agreeing to invade the Empire simultaneously, set to conquer the imperial provinces of Bulgaria and Southern Italy. The Byzantine Empire was in for some tough years ahead as this coalition would wreck havoc on the Greeks for years to come.

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    The Emperor and the invading leaders, July of 1051

    The following months would see an increased movement of people across Armenia's Eastern border, mostly Christians fleeing persecution from the chaos taking place in the Sháhdom of Shirvan. It's previous monarch, Sháh Kubad had passed away at the age of 59 despite his great health, with the court physicians attributing it to severe stress. He had been arranging a peaceful annexation of his realm into the larger Seljuk Empire, guaranteeing his family's reign over the region and avoiding a potential massacre by the Turks, but upon his death it all fell through.

    His death left a young Salman as the new Sháh, whose regency council was quick to exploit the situation for their own gain, raiding the royal coffers and passing laws that imposed harsher Jizya taxes on Christians, the local Shirvani lords were growing rich and unruly.

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    The Shirvani Sháh Salman, August of 1051

    Refusing to convert or pay the increased taxes, many (Caucasian) Albanians would seek refuge across the border in the newly conquered lands of Arran whose populace suffered the opposite fate as them, a Muslim people ruled by Christians. Resentment was quick to arise within the Mohammedans who were now forced to compete with the new arrivals in the markets and fields of Arran. Fearing an open rebellion by his Muslim subjects, Gagik agreed to meet with the leader of the migrating Albanians, hoping he could dissuade any further migrations into his land.

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    The Albanian Chiefs arriving in Arran, September of 1051
    The meeting was brief, for the chiefs had already decided not to stop the migration of their peoples unless King Gagik complied to their request: Subdue and conquer the Shirvani Sháhdom, bringing Christian rule once again to Albania. Then, and only then, would the chieftains comply with Gagik's request, swearing fealty to him. The Albanians were devout Christian Apostolics like the Armenians, and thus their inclusion in the realm, if Shirvan was conquered, would be a far easier challenge than thousands of refugees pouring across the border.

    An invasion of Shirvan would be an overly ambitious task, greatly endangering the amicable relationship between Armenia and the Seljuks, who had already set their eyes on the declining Sháhdom. Despite this, the High Council, led by Court Chaplain Manuel, urged Gagik to take the Albanians on their offer, with hopes of extending the Armenian Inquisition's reach to the Azeri heathens.

    War was declared the following month, in October of 1051, with Gagik expecting no opposition from the corrupt Shirvani nobles, akin to how the war against the Shaddadid went down. These expectations were soon shut down as word about a band of marauding Bulgarians, the exiled remnants of the Bulgarian uprising in the Balkans, had been hired by the young Sháh. Despite still holding greater numbers, the Armenians would face stiff resistance from these battle-hardened Bulgarians in the upcoming months.

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    The Armenian and Shirvani armies, with the Azeri troops on the South and the Bulgarians on the North

    Determined to cause as much damage to Gagik as possible, the Bulgarians quickly took command of the Shirvani forces, laying siege and conquering much of Arran before the Armenians could assemble. By the time Gagik arrived to relieve the city the Bulgarians had already entrenched themselves in the walls. What followed next was a bloody affair, with the Bulgarians not surrendering even after the walls were breached. Svetislav called a retreat of his forces, delving deeper into the city. Not caring for the Muslim populace of the city, the Bulgarians urban warfare greatly devastated Arran, racking up thousands of civilian death, leaving the city in flames.

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    The Battle of Arran, January of 1052

    Despite their defeat at the hands of Gagik, Sháh Salman's council continued the war, even gaining support from the Hashimid Emirate of Derbent, who agreed to join the war by annexing his lands to the Shirvani Sháhdom and being named regent for the young Salman. His forces were not numerous, but they boosted the morale enough to dissuade a quick surrender.

    Hashimid Reinforcements.png

    King Gagik's new combatant, Emir al-Mansur II, February of 1052

    With a year to settle peace in his new realm, and upon hearing of the disastrous battle in Arran as well as the inclusion of the Hashimids into the fray, King Davit proclaimed independence from Ani, ceasing all tax and men contributions to Armenia. Much unrest followed as the vital provinces of Lori and Gardman seceded the kingdom of Armenia and were incorporated into Georgia, greatly damaging Armenian war efforts, as many of the soldiers under Gagik who hailed from these regions were recalled to Georgia by Davit.

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    The Georgian Kingdom secedes, March of 1052

    Despite his great martial skill, Emir al-Mansur was unable to stop Gagik's advance toward Shirvan, who promptly laid siege to the city and surrounding areas, forcing the young Sháh to flee in order to avoid capture.

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    The Siege of Shirvan, June of 1052

    Unwilling to surrender even with their armies nearly depleted and their capital captured, the armies of al-Mansur and Svetislav once again met the Armenians in Arran, where they finally capitulated after their forces' annihilation.

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    The Second Battle of Arran, July of 1052

    With Salman's defeat, the entirety of the Shirvani Sháhdom was now under the reign of King Gagik, bringing thousands of Azeri Muslims and Christian Albanians to the fold. The Albanian chieftains met in Shirvan to kneel before their new King, pledging their allegiance from that day onward. King Gagik wished to allow the Mohammedans to retain much of their previous rights, but the Armenian Church quickly stepped in and with the support of the Albanian clergy, vowed to bring the hammer of the inquisition down on the unbelievers.

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    The Armenian Inquisition enters the Kingdom of Shirvan

    Being quite a distance from the capital, the newly acquired territories of Shirvan would prove challenging to rule from the court of Ani, and thus Gagik divided the land into four provinces for easier administration. Two of these provinces were granted to the loyal houses of Vagharshak and Avag, raising their status to Naxarar status in the provinces of Shirvan and Abšaran. The territories of Layzan would be granted to Kapriel, Gagik's most able commander, from where he would oversee the whole of the Kingdom in the name of Gagik as Ishkhan or prince of Shirwan. The last province, Maskat, would remain in the hands of the Kasránis, ruled by a cadet branch who had converted to Christianity a few years prior.

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    The new Naxarar of Armenia
    Upon his return to Ani, King Gagik was delighted to discover a wee child in the arms of his Queen, previously unaware of her pregnancy, Princess Mariyam was conceived before Gagik's departure toward Shirvan. Queen Mara had attempted to contact Gagik during his campaign to tell him of the news, but the constant shuffling around the Shirvanian countryside left most envoys unable to deliver her letters.

    While her birth brought much joy to Gagik and Mara, the inheritance rules of Armenia meant the Kingdom was still without an heir, only allowing for males to hold the throne. While unorthodox, on the orders of Gagik the council quickly amended the rules, allowing for females to also hold the throne if no male heirs are present. The question of Armenian succession was now thankfully put to rest.

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    Mariyam Bagratuni, heiress to the Kingdom of Armenia

    Only 10 years since his return from imprisonment in Constantinople, King Gagik II had managed to restore the rump Kingdom of Armenia into a the prominent power in the Caucasus region, stretching from the Eastern edges of Asia Minor all the way to the Caspian Sea. While the hostile Greeks, Georgians, and Turks still represented a threat to Armenian hegemony, King Gagik II had ushered a new Golden Age for the Armenians during his reign.

    Far from being complacent however, King Gagik vowed to bring the kingdom of Georgia on its knees, punishing the treacherous Davit for seceding in times of peril. Doux Alusian still retained lands to the West, and Armenians all over the Byzantine Empire clamored for liberation by the Lion of Armenia. Gagik's campaigns were far from over.

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    The Kingdom of Armenia, August of 1052

    While Gagik had been growing his realm in the East, the Byzantines continued their decline under Emperor Georgios, with the Balkans set ablaze by the Pecheneg nomads, Georgios had no choice but to surrender the provinces of Karvuna to Yazi IV, a Manichean Khan. The losses against the Normans in Italy had also been increasing during his reign, and while the war was still raging in those provinces, Byzantine defeat was almost certain.

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    The Byzantine Empire in 1052, with the loss of Karvuna and much of Sicily fallen to the Normans in Apulia
    The Turks in the East were faring far better, with the Seljuk Emperor having finished his conquest of Persia and Transoxiana, his armies marched unto Mesopotamia and the rich city of Baghdad.

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    The Seljuk Empire in 1052

     
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    Chapter 11 - Uniting the Kingdom (1052-1055)
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    Chapter 11 - Uniting the Kingdom (1052-1055)

    As the year 1052 drew to a close, King Gagik started to organize an invasion of the Kingdom of Georgia, hoping to punish the treacherous King Davit. With the devastation in Georgia following its war of succession, and the ability to draw men from the newly conquered provinces of Shirvan, a war with the Northern realm would be an easy task.

    Despite the easy target that his relative's Kingdom would be, Gagik's forces marched South instead, toward the Byzantine holdings in Armenia. Connecting the far-flung province of Taron with the rest of the realm was long overdue, and if the Seljuks were to move unto Byzantine territory as it was rumored, Taron would be surrounded by the Turks and possibly lost.

    Due to the war in Sicily against the Normans, the Imperial armies were depleted and failed to mobilize efficiently against the invading armies, leaving Gagik to exploit the lack of opposition for nearly a year. From February to November, the Armenian forces would lay siege to and conquer every Byzantine fortress near the vicinity of Armenia, including Manazkert, securing the roads from Taron to the capital.

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    The Bloody Siege of Manazkert, July of 1053

    With most Greek men fighting in the West against the Normans, the Byzantine garrisons in Armenia were composed of Armenian converts to Orthodoxy and Islam, as well as Arab and Turkic mercenaries, which greatly boosted the morale of the attacking forces of Gagik, for the radicalization of the Armenian Church in the past decade had ingrained most Armenians with a deep hatred of Muslims, leading to the indiscriminate massacre of the Byzantine defenders.

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    The Imprisonment of Emperor Georgios, August of 1053

    In a sudden turn of events, the Normans managed to capture Emperor Georgios, forcing his surrender and the recall of Byzantine troops from Southern Italy. While the event would greatly destabilize the Empire, planting the seeds for future rebellions from within the Empire, the end of the war meant that the Imperial Armies were once again available to defend against Gagik.

    These forces would arrive in Manazkert by November of 1053, but the many defeats suffered at the hands of the Pechenegs and Normans had exhausted the armies of Georgios, leaving behind only a small fighting force incapable of fighting the Armenians head on.

    November.png

    The imperial troops arrive in Manazkert, November of 1053

    What followed next was a five month long chase and series of skirmishes as the armies of commander Katakalon of Thrace, leader of the Byzantine forces in Armenia, narrowly avoided the larger Armenian army numerous times as it tried to recapture their holdings in Armenia. Katakalon had only been avoiding the inevitable, hoping his strategy would buy some time for the Empire to assemble a larger force. Alas, in May of 1054 Gagik finally managed to engage the Greek forces near the fortress of Manazkert.

    Many songs would be inspired that day, singing about the great Katakalon, known as "the Wall of Manzikert" by the Greeks for his unyielding leadership during the battle, and his reluctance to surrender even when defeat was clear.

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    Commander Katakalon, legendary warrior who fought to the last man for the Empire

    With Katakalon's defeat, Georgios capitulated to King Gagik, surrendering the province of Manazkert, connecting Taron with the rest of the realm, as well as the payment for the ransom of over thirty Byzantine nobles captured during the war, greatly enriching the coffers of the King.

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    Armenia in June of 1054

    With his armies already in the vicinity, Gagik would continue his campaign against the Greeks, declaring war on Doux Alusian of Upper Armenia the following month. The Doux's rump state was unable to field any significant number of troops, allowing Gagik to let his Naxarar's armies rest, only taking his personal levies to battle against Alusian.

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    The Battle of Karin, September of 1054

    With his forces defeated, Alusian retreated to his capital in Sper, where he had gathered enough supplies for a long, drawn-out siege. Despite his preparations, Alusian was eventually betrayed by his own men, fearing another massacre like the one in Manazkert, they prefered to surrender rather than avoid the wrath of the zealous Armenians.

    For his service in capturing Alusian and opening the gates of Sper, Alusian's former leader of the guard Trdat as well as some of his men were granted lands in the former Doux's capital, with Trdat being granted lordship over Sper itself.

    trdat.png

    Trdat Beskond, rewarded for saving hundreds of lives from a long siege by opening the gates of Sper, March of 1055

    As the Armenian forces returned home following the conflict with Doux Alusian, a similar struggle was occurring in the Kingdom of Georgia, where some of King Davit's men had revolted against his rule and betrayal of King Gagik. They were swiftly defeated by Davit "the Georgian" as his Armenian subjects now called Davit for his open adoption of many Georgian costumes and traditions, leaving behind his Armenian heritage, but it showed that there was discontent to in the Northern kingdom. Bowing to make the treacherous Davit his next target, King Gagik sent his levies home, allowing his men to gather strength for yet another war.

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    The Armenian Uprising of Georgia, August of 1055

     
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    Chapter 12 - The Last of the Armenians (1055-1063)
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    Chapter 12 - The Last of the Armenians (1055-1063)
    As the year 1055 came to a close, Court Chaplain Manuel burst through the doors of Gagik's court, screaming about his unfaithful kin who had abandoned the Church and turned towards Rome. Sub-King Gagik-Abas of Vanand, always a conniving man, had married Maria off to the de Hauteville Normans of Southern Italy, hoping to form an alliance and wrestle the throne of Ani from King Gagik. His plans never amounted to much, for no one among the Naxarar dared revolt against the popular King Gagik II, even if they had grown weary of the constant warfare.

    Spending over a decade in Sicily prior to her ascension to the throne of Vanand, Maria had adopted the faith of her Norman husband. With her new faith, Maria's allegiance was to Rome and her husband, always quick-witted, Chaplain Manuel wished to have her deposed, bringing down the hammer of the Inquisition upon Maria and her followers.

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    The Catholic Sub-Queen of Vanand

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    While her turn of faith and conspiring was unacceptable to the King, he hoped to avoid making new enemies, especially as his armies were on the way to Lori, capital of the treacherous King Davit. While the vast majority of Davit's subjects were now Georgian, the center of his power still remained in Lori and Gardman, by far the most populous of his provinces and populated by Armenians. If Gagik were to retake Lori, Davit would have to move his court from his capital to a more removed and safe province to the North, where the Georgian nobility was less fond of him, vastly weakening his authority and support from his Armenian followers.

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    The Kings of the Caucasus, January of 1056

    Despite the numeric superiority and vast difference of skill between Gagik and Davit, the Georgians proved resilient, enduring many losses to Gagik and his men. The mountainous terrain of Davit's Kingdom only complicated things further, giving Gagik a taste of his own medicine, for all his previous enemies had struggled trying to attack Armenia. Now he was in their place.

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    Some of the battles that took place during the "War of Caucasian Hegemony" as it would come to be known by Historians
    Lori fell quickly to the Armenians forces as its proximity to Ani made it easy to resupply the besiegers, leading to a rapid capture and re-establishment of Armenian rule. While the local nobles were avid supporters of Davit, the common folk adored Gagik and viewed him as their liberator. The following months however would follow an arduous campaign of guerrilla warfare as the Georgians entrenched themselves in their mountainous fortresses, autonomously defending their lands as Davit scrambled from city to city trying to reassert his already low legitimacy among them. He would ultimately surrender Lori to King Gagik in April of 1057, ending the 16 month-long war against Armenia.

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    Armenia in April of 1057

    The following years would be a tumultuous time for the Kingdom of Armenia, with Georgia in shambles following Gagik's triumph over Davit, there was little to stop the steppe warriors to make the trek down to the prosperous provinces of Armenia, where they would raid and pillage the many rural towns and villages dotting the landscape. Initially, these raids would be made by small raiding parties of less than five hundred men, allowing for easy retreats by these mounted warriors if they spotted Gagik's forces heading to defend.

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    The first of many nomad incursions into Armenia

    While they rarely ventured into Armenia proper at first due to the vast amount of fortifications and militancy of its people through the Church, the provinces of Shirvan were heavily targeted by these nomads, inciting many rebellions by the Muslim inhabitants who felt Gagik was not doing enough to protect them.

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    Just one of many Muslim rebellions to occur as the nomads caused unrest across Shirvan

    Despite the growing unrest across the Kingdom, Gagik refused to stop his campaigns, outright ignoring the counsel of his generals who advised him to first secure the stability and defense of the realm before attempting to expand, especially as the power of the Seljuks grew. In the event of an invasion by these Turks, Armenia would have to be stable and united if they hoped to defeat their onslaught.

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    The pressures of ruling a vast realm were getting to Gagik...

    Ignoring the objections by the High Council, his subjects, and even Queen Mara, the King declared war on Emperor Leon VII, who according to some rumors, had recently announced a new campaign to retake Armenia as his predecessors had attempted in the past. Leon, just like King Gagik, carried the blood of the legendary Bagrat, founder of the Bagratid dynasty, making him his kin in a distant way. As his paranoia and stress got the better of him, Gagik started seeing Leon as a danger to his reign, for Leon could easily stake a claim on the throne due to his blood. Not willing to wait for the Emperor to strike first, Gagik made his move, hoping to retake Vaspurakan to the South.

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    Emperor Leon VII, May of 1059

    These rumors were of course, largely false, as Emperor Leon was far more worried on keeping the stability of his realm and putting down the many rebellions that plagued it. King Gagik would face no opposition from the Greeks for over a year, allowing him to easily retake Vaspurakan. The armies of Leon would arrive in June of the following year, proving largely unsuccessful to obtain the support of the populace who felt "liberated" by Gagik.

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    Emperor Leon arrives in Vaspurakan, June of 1060

    It had been around that the Gagik's fortune took a turn for the worse, gravely falling ill of the Flu. Some claimed the constant battling of his had weakened his body, allowing the illness to invade his defenseless body, others said that it was the pressures of leaving Ani as the nobles and subjects grew restless, conspiring against his regime. Regardless, Gagik was far too weak to effectively lead his armies into battle, leaving the command of his armies to his generals, who in his paranoia he started to consider disloyal, even blaming them for his illness.

    Flu.png
    Wanting to retake command of his troops as soon as possible, fearing they could grow loyal to their generals instead of him, Gagik brought over many physicians and doctors from across Vaspurakan to his tent. From leeches and potions, to cold showers and sunbaths, nothing proved effective. Always a cynic, the King even turned to God, visiting a nearby monastery hoping some prayer could aid him. Nothing seemed to work. It would take a strange man named Aboulgharib, a well-travelled Armenian physician who claimed to have worked for countless kings and monarchs of the far East for years, to cure his disease. Carrying with him a strange bag full of brightly colored powders said to have originated in the Indies, Aboulgharib brewed a remedy for Gagik on the innards of a rabid animal. While the other physicians urged Gagik to refuse the treatment by the strange man, he refused to listen to their counsel as they had failed to cure his illness.

    Treatments.png

    Aboulgharib's remedy was the work of miracles! Gagik was finally able to stand, getting up from his bed and marching into his camp. Feeling invigorated by the strange potion, Gagik once more took command of his armies and marched towards the Imperial forces near Bznunik. As his men clashed unto Leon's, King Gagik suddenly felt fatigued, unable to keep up with even the lowest skilled of his men. Out of breath and with his heart racing, he was spotted by one of the Emperor's commanders, Arngrimr of the Varangian Guard. King Gagik had never lost a battle, let a lone a duel, in his life, but he briefly saw his life flash before his eyes as the Northman stroke his face with the pommel of his sword. Had Gagik not been a second quicker, Arngrimir might not have slipped as his leg was sliced, able to slice Gagik's head instead.
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    The King laid on the ground, exhausted from the duel. He had nearly been killed and it seemed the miracle potion was but a temporary measure, once again feeling the Flu spreading through his body, but this time with a vengeance. Shocked by the sight of their King on the ground, he was swiftly carried out of the battlefield by his men as they mounted a retreat back into Vaspurakan. Emperor Leon had brought about King Gagik's first defeat, bringing an end to the appearance of invincibility the Armenian King previously possessed.

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    The Battle of Arceš, July of 1060

    The defeat at Arceš sent shock waves throughout Armenia and the neighboring realms, forcing even his most staunch of supporters to turn his back on the King. The Naxarar rose up, refusing to send any more of their men to Vaspurakan, seizing the capital from Gagik's retinue. Queen Mara and the princess managed to escape the assault on Ani, but were captured a few months later as they attempted to hide in the mountainside.

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    The rebel forces during the Sack of Ani, August of 1060

    With his forces demoralized following the defeat, and no reinforcements on the way, many of Gagik's men started to desert the camp as the king fell further into decline as the sickness took a hold of his body. Despite this, the King refused to go home, hiring the services of foreign mercenaries for the first time, something he had loathed in the past and which his previous enemies were known for. A lot of firsts for Gagik and Armenia during these last few years.

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    The Alan Riders join the fray

    Led by the imposing Dzæræs of Alania, these Alan riders' mastery with the bow and arrow would greatly bolster the ranks of Gagik's army, allowing him to triumph over the Greeks in the subsequent Battle of Khlat as they had not expected the change of tactics the Alan mounted archers had brought to the Armenian army.

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    Dzæræs' victory over Emperor Leon, November of 1060

    Shortly after the victory at Khlat, Gagik managed to defeat his battle against the Flu, fully recovering once more. His encounter with the Varangian had too healed, although it had left him scarred on the face.

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    Emperor Leon had heard of the unrest occurring in Ani and initially thought victory had come to the Empire, for Gagik would be forced to return to withdraw from Vaspurakan to bring down the rebels. After his loss at Khlat these hopes were dashed as Gagik prepared to pursue his defeated army. Cursing the madman, Leon agreed to surrender the province of Vaspurakan to Gagik preferring to avoid any more bloodshed, saving his manpower for the wars that truly mattered in the Balkans. This proved to be a wise choice, for what little remained of Vaspurakan was in flames following the months of heavy campaigning by both parties.

    Exhausted by the campaign against Leon, the Armenians were ready to return home to their wives and children. This of course would not be the case as they would have to retake Ani first. King Gagik dreaded of what would happen once his armies reached Ani, for his weathered soldiers would likely refuse to engage on his fellow Armenians who had taken the city. Thus he was relieved when he received an envoy announcing an invasion of Armenia by the Rawwadid Emirate.

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    Emir Menûçihr of the Rawwadid Emirate

    Some of Gagik's men that had deserted months earlier would once more march South hoping to rejoin Gagik's forces to fight off the invaders, for they knew only his leadership could beat them back. Initially reluctant to accept these "traitors," as he called them, Gagik eventually would allow them to join his forces once more.

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    The Kingdom of Armenia and the Rawwadid Emirate (in red), July of 1061

    With these new recruits Gagik moved to the outskirts of Arran, sending an envoy to his nephew Fezl asking for assistance. The envoy never returned, preferring to stay in the safety of Fezl's court after he refused his uncle's call to arms. Despite his nephew's betrayal, King Gagik was able to beat back an incursion into Arran by Menûçihr.

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    The Battle of Barda'ah, September of 1061

    The Armenians would then pursue the Emir's forces back to Tabriz, laying a successful siege to his capital, massacring the population. During the assault, Gagik managed to capture the Emir's brother and his daughter, which he hoped would bring Menûçihr to his knees.

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    The Siege and Massacre of Tabriz, December of 1061

    Knowing of the unrest in Ani, the Emir knew Gagik could not support his campaign for much longer, attacking him continuously to chip away at his forces. Cut off from his capital, it was only a matter of time before the Armenian army was depleted, while the Rawwadid coffers could afford to hire mercenaries to replenish his losses.

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    Largely unsuccessful due to Gagik's prowess in combat, the Emir of Tabriz devised a new plan to defeat Gagik. He would send a few of his men to Ani, hoping to establish relations with the rebel forces whom they shared a common enemy with. If he could get the rebels to cooperate against Gagik in battle, both parties would achieve their goals. This diplomatic mission however was intercepted by Gagik near Vaspurakan, who swiftly defeated them, thwarting their attempts.
    That same month, the Seljuk Sháhansháh Tughril-Beg, who Gagik had fostered friendly relations with, passed away, leaving behind the capable Baybars on the reigns of his vast empire. Some of his followers however, were unhappy with his ascension to the throne and supported his cousin Muhammad instead. Wanting to avoid a full-blown civil war, Baybars granted Muhammad control over a large portion of the Seljuk armies, asking him to instead of splitting the realm in half, he would go on to forge his own Empire as their predecessors had done.

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    The new Seljuk Emperor and his ambitious cousin Muhammad

    With the threat of his cousin appeased, Baybars would go on to launch an invasion of the Byzantine Empire, hoping to end Greek rule in the Levant. With the East being populated by Islamic Indian Kingdoms, and the Northern steppes a wasteland compared to the riches of the cities in Persia, Muhammad and his men marched toward Armenia, declaring war on the small sub-kingdom of Queen Maria.

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    Muhammad's invasion of Vanand, December of 1062

    Knowing full well the treacherous nature of Maria, as well as realizing that Vanand would only be a stepping stone on the conquest of Armenia by the Seljuk forces, agreed to her call of arms, hoping to stop Muhammad before he could enter the borders of Armenia. Shortly after the Seljuk invasion of Gagik's kingdom was announced, Menûçihr would withdraw his forces from Armenia, wishing to not upset Muhammad for attempting to conquer his soon-to-be lands.

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    With only Muhammad to worry about now, Gagik left Tabriz toward the city of Salmas, where he hoped to defeat the Seljuk Horde. Being outnumbered nearly 6 to 1, the Armenians prepared for the battle of their lives. If they failed, the gates of Armenia would be open, and with the Kingdom in chaos following the sack of Ani, it would surely fall to the invaders. Even with Gagik's prowess for battle, the odds were not in their favor.

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    The Battle of Salmas, January of 1063

    As the ground shook beneath their feet, his men thought an earthquake was occurring, as if the gates of hell itself were opening. Then, came the thunderous scream of over ten thousand warriors, which some say could be heard all the way to Constantinople. As their eyes laid sight on Muhammad's army, the Alans deserted Gagik, but not before raiding his camp of supplies and what little gold he had remaining. The smells of vomit and urine would soon make their way to the King's nostrils as his men quivered with fear at the incoming riders. Some attempted to flee, but were reluctantly shot by Gagik's archers. Others refused to pick up their swords, instead kneeling to pray one last time before meeting with their maker. As the guttural sounds of the enemy riders grew closer, everything went dark as the Armenians drowned in a sea of death.

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    Only the King would be spared, as he was quickly captured during the battle. Always cruel, Muhammad preferred him alive, wanting him to observe as his kingdom crumbled at the might of his ruthless horde, slowly seeing his life's work vanish right before his eyes.

    Powerless to stop them, Gagik watched as Muhammad's horde disappeared on the horizon, riding North toward his Kingdom. He would be found an hour later, passed out and shivering uncontrollably. It seemed brewing remedies inside the corpses of rabid animals had not been a wise choice, for Gagik was diagnosed with rabies. His flu had also returned once more, destroying what little defenses his body could have against the new disease.

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    He returned to Vaspurakan, demanding that Aboulgharib fixed what he had caused him. The physician attempted many experimental treatments, each one riskier than the last. The bees seemed to sedate the King enough to perform surgery on him. Gagik tried to refuse the madman's treatment, but was far too weak and could not fight back. Losing much of the tissue formerly known as his face, as well as one of his eyes, Gagik was left a broken mess of a man, dying three days later.

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    Chapter 13 - The Bleeding Years (1063-1073)
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    Chapter 13 - The Bleeding Years (1063-1073)

    Gagik.png

    The late King Gagik II of Armenia

    The death of King Gagik II was both a blessing and a curse for Armenia. With the dreaded king dead, the Naxarar rebellion in Ani finally ended, with the rebels ceding the city to Grigor Pahlavuni who had recently been appointed Regent of Armenia by the High Council, with the blessing of the Apostolic Church.

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    Regent Grigor Pahlavuni and his wife, Mara, sister of the late Gagik II

    Grigor had recently married Gagik's sister Mara, the previous wife of the Emir of Dvin, cementing Grigor's right to be Regent through his marital ties to the dynasty of Queen Mariyam. A competent administrator with good diplomatic sense, Grigor would convince the nobles of Armenia to unite once more behind the new Queen and her regency council.

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    The first Queen of Armenia, Mariyam Bagratuni

    As Grigor organized the release of Queen Mariyam and her mother Mara from the rebel forces, the armies of Muhammad easily deposed sub-Queen Maria of Vanand, taking the fortified city of Kars as his capital, from where he would organize his conquest of Armenia.

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    The Kingdom of Armenia in June of 1063

    After nearly three years captive by the rebels, the young Queen Mariyam and her mother Mara were finally released from her house arrest as the rebels abandoned the capital of Ani. She never felt much love toward her father, for he was away from home most of the time, leaving her mother in charge of the city. Thus when the news about Gagik's passing reached her ears, not much changed for her. It was her mother that did not take the news well, falling into a deep depression, forcing the young Queen to support her as she struggled to remain composed.

    Only ten years of age, there was still much to learn if she hoped to take the throne. Grigor took it upon himself to tutor the young monarch, providing the father figure she had been lacking her whole life. They quickly grew close, for she was always with him, even passing judgement to petty criminals, instilling in her a sense of justice.

    Among those she passed judgement, the most notorious would be Aboulgharib, the man responsible for her father's death. Despite the lack of love toward her dead father, she new his crimes could not go unpunished, and under the advise of Court Chaplain Manuel, she ordered the physician to burn at the stake.

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    The death of Aboulgharib

    The relative peace Mariyam and Armenia had enjoyed while Muhammad planned his invasion finally ended in October of 1063, when Baybars of the Seljuk Empire started marching his armies toward Shirvan, with the plan of splitting the kingdom in two, with Muhammad getting the Armenian provinces, while the Albanian provinces would be annexed into the Seljuk Empire. The news of the invasion also brought about a new wave of raiders from the North, who now aware of Gagik's passing and Armenia's instability saw its prosperous cities as easy targets.

    October 1063.png


    Regent Grigor decreed that all nobles of the Kingdom donated a large portion of their coffers to fund the hiring of a large mercenary army that could fend off the invaders. Reluctant to do so at first, tales of the Battle of Salmas soon made them reconsider and comply with Grigor's request.

    Nearly bankrupting the crown to hire their services, a large coalition of Turkic mercenaries arrived from the Northern steppes, led by an Orthodox Turk named Kutalmish, who had formerly served as commander for Baybars' father but left his realm upon his death. His experience while serving under the Seljuks would be an effective resource in the defense of Armenia, for he knew of their tactics and how to counter them.

    Their first challenge was a Kipchak camp in Ani, cutting off the capital from the rest of the Kingdom. They easily defeated their leader Kutan with minimal losses. Grigor would ride with the few remaining Armenian soldiers left the following morning.

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    The Battle of Erazgewors, February

    Grigor knew he was not the man Gagik was. His prowess in battle was minimal, and his skills as a commander were dubious. Regardless, he had to be the man leading the armies against the Seljuks, for no one else could be trusted to do so. If Mariyam was to have a kingdom to rule when the regency was over, it would rest on his shoulders.

    Quite nervous about the whole ordeal, Grigor entered Mariyam's quarters, asking her to be strong during his absence, explaining he'd return once this was all over, for there was still much to learn about ruling. While she did not understand the full gravity of the situation just yet, she did notice his somber appearance, as if he knew something he wasn't telling her, perhaps that he'd never actually come back.

    Feeling restless, Grigor could not sleep and headed to the balcony, hoping to clear his mind by breathing some fresh air and staring at the stars. The noise awakened the young Queen, who noticed his sad look. Wanting to cheer him up, she grabbed the wooden horse he had carved for her and started galloping toward him as she was oft to do, for they often played and practiced swordsmanship and horse-riding. Regent Grigor would not live to lead the armies, for the impact of Mariyam against the unaware Grigor was enough to push him off the rails, plunging him to his death.

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    The body was discovered the following day, no one suspected Mariyam, who never was quite the same following his death. There was much chatter around court about why he had taken his life, which was the assumed cause of his death, suicide. Mariyam's cousin Fezl, claimed Grigor to be a fool who could not handle the pressures of ruling and staked his claim to the regency as the nephew of King Gagik II.

    Despite some objections by the nobles due to his Muslim Kurdish heritage, Chaplain Manuel vouched for him, declaring him a righteous warrior of Christianity who was an avid supporter of the Inquisition in his lands of Arran.

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    Queen Mariyam's cousin, Fezl II Shaddadid

    Regent Fezl quickly assumed command of the Armenian armies, planning an ambitious campaign that would leave behind only a skeleton crew of men to garrison the fortresses of Armenia, while he led the mercenaries on a glorious crusade in Persia, hoping to oust Baybars from his capital of Isfahan.

    His first target was the city of Tabriz, still recovering from its attack by Gagik a few years prior. Fezl planned to make Tabriz his base of operations in Persia, hoping to establish a supply route to it from Ani, for he could not rely on the local populace to support his campaign. The city quickly fell, only facing minimal resisting from the local Emir near Maragheh.

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    The Siege of Tabriz and subsequent Battle of Maragheh, June of 1064

    Unfortunately for Fezl, his supply route was quickly cut short by the invading Seljuk armies, who retook Tabriz just a month after his departure into the heart of Persia. Unable to afford the payments and supplies promised to them, one of Kutalmish's commanders decided to betray Fezl and his men, claiming they would get their payment one way or another.

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    They were defeated by Fezl's remaining forces, but retreated North, planning to attack Armenia, fully aware of its lack of defenses knowing its armies were preoccupied trying to invade Persia.

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    The Battle of Luristan against the treacherous mercenaries, August of 1064

    Fezl and what remained of his army finally arrived in Isfahan on November of 1064, exhausted by the long trek and many skirmishes they faced along the way. Far from home and with no allies in the region, the lack of supplies became a serious issues, with starvation taking many of his men with every passing day.

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    Fezl arrives in Isfahan, November of 1064

    As Fezl and his mercenary forces laid siege to the Seljuk capital, Armenia descended into chaos. With disease plaguing the Western provinces, Turkic mercenaries ravaging Vaspurakan, and the Seljuk armies taking Arran, seat of Fezl's power, Armenia quickly fell into disarray.

    The only saving grace was the sudden death of Muhammad in Vanand, who succumbed to slow fever before he could set in motion his invasion. Leaving no heir behind, his ten thousand men army quickly dissolved and joined the ranks of his cousin in his invasion of Shirvan.

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    The Kingdom of Armenia in 1064

    Despite enjoying some modicum of success in his siege of Isfahan, his luck would quickly run out as another army of Seljuk riders assembled on the outskirts of the city, destroying what remained of Fezl's army, putting and end to his ambitious campaign.

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    The Battle of Isfahan, April of 1065

    Having received no news of Fezl in weeks, Queen Mother Mara prepared to once more leave the city and retreat to the mountainside, maybe heading toward Constantinople, hoping the Greeks would take pity on her young daughter. She was even ready to give up the crown to the Emperor as the Bagratids of Taron had done a century ago as long as they could guarantee her safety.

    Despite her preparations, they were intercepted by the Turkic mercenaries outside of Ani, who captured Queen Mara and most of their courtiers. Queen Mariyam managed to escape with the help of the Kamaterina family, who used what little of the foreign language she knew to pass her off as an Albanian peasant girl.

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    Queen Mariyam would spend the next five years hiding in a remote town near the Byzantine border, living a simple life devoid of luxuries. Not being used to the life of a commoner, and quite shocked by the loss of Grigor, her mother Mara, and even their palace in Ani, Mariyam grew to resent the Kamaterinas, taking advantage of the fact they were still their subjects to torment their younger daughters Aghavni and Eliz, who could only take the cruel treatment of their Queen.

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    Being of humble origins, the Kamaterinas understood the struggles of Mariyam, and despite her angst, in true Christian fashion they would turn the other cheek. Their kind treatment would eventually soften Mariyam, who in time came to seem them as her own family, preferring their Albanian tongue over Armenian.

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    A famous painting depicting Queen Mariyam during her years with the Kamaterina family.

    With Grigor dead, Fezl missing in Persia, Queen Mother Mara captive, and Queen Mariyam on the run, Armenia was leaderless. In the vacuum of power that followed, Court Chaplain Manuel recruited the aid of the Russians, fellow brothers in faith. Captain Rodislav arrived in Ani with over three thousand men, but he had other plans.

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    The Russians arrive in Armenia, February of 1068
    By the time of their arrival, Shirvan had already fallen to the Seljuk forces under Baybars, but the mercenary company that had betrayed Fezl, as well as some bordering petty lords under the Seljuks were still ravaging the kingdom. Rodislav retook a few fortresses, heading West toward the Byzantine border, instead of relieving the lands in the East. The reason of this was unknown at the time, but it all was part of a greater plan by the Rurikids in Kiev.

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    Armenia in March of 1068

    As the Russians orchestrated their plans, Mariyam was growing into a fine queen under the tutelage of the Kamaterinas, being humbled by the simple life of a commoner, repenting for her wrongdoings and mistreatment of them during the early part of her exile. She would work most days tending their fields, occasionally engaging in friendly sparring with some of the boys in town, practicing her swordsmanship.

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    It was later found out that Doux Samuil, son of the late Doux Alusian, had married with Anna Rurikovich, sister of the King in Kiev. With the help of Rodislav and his mercenaries they planned to invade and conquer Armenia in the name of their King, establishing a new Russian principality in the Caucasus.

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    The Alusian-Russian alliance

    Rodislav met with Manuel in Ani, who claimed Rodislav wasn't meeting his part of the agreement, rarely engaging the invading armies or relieving sieges. The Russian, whose actual plan was the conquest of Armenia, argued that Manuel hadn't paid him appropriately, demanding over three times what he had originally asked for. Manuel cursed the heavens, proclaiming Rodislav to be a false Christian, a traitor, a heathen lover. Those were his last spoken words, as the mercenary captain smashed his skull against the walls of his church.

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    Rodislav's betrayal of Manuel and the Armenians, June of 1068

    By September of 1070, the Caucasus region was a very different place than when she took the throne. Georgia had fallen to the Pecheneg nomads, while a new Muslim Emirate had emerged in Khaketi. Doux Samuil had retaken his father's long-lost lands of Upper Armenia, while the Seljuks conquered Shirvan and the Byzantine provinces of Armenia. Rodislav and his men established a new principality in what remained, establishing their capital in Dvin.

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    The Kingdom of Armenia ceased to exist, with its former lands razed and pillaged by the invaders. Mariyam would return to Ani shortly after Rodislav established his new realm. She laid low, still pretending to be of the Kamaterinas, but soon word of her return to Armenia would spread across the land.

    This Russian principality would be short lived however, for the following three years were once more plagued by warfare with the Seljuks. The last Russian stronghold would be conquered by September of 1073 and Rodislav would be put to the sword by Baybars.

    Baybars understood the intricacies of ruling a vast empire. Keep the local governments intact and they'll be loyal to you. When his armies arrived in Ani, they found Queen Mariyam on the old throne of Ani. Wanting to avoid a rebellion by the recently conquered populace, he allowed her to reign over Ani and the nearby provinces, hoping the rule of a Bagratid would appease the population.

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    The Seljuk Empire in September of 1073

    The ten year period from Gagik's death and Muhammad's invasion, to the final expulsion of the Russians by Baybars would be known as the Bleeding Years by future historians, aptly named for the utter destruction of the Armenian kingdom. Most of the great cities at the time, like Dvin, Ani, or Vaspurakan, were left in ruins, a former shadow of their prosperous past. What little cities remained were vastly depopulated as the many invasions left over half the population dead or enslaved. The Kingdom of Armenia was no more.
     
    Chapter 14 - The Lioness of Armenia (1073-1084)
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    Chapter 14 - The Lioness of Armenia (1073-1084)

    mariyam.jpg

    Princess Mariyam of Armenia

    The aftermath of the Bleeding Years was devastating for the nobility of Armenia, with most noble houses going extinct or losing their lands to the invaders. In the chaos that followed, these lands would be granted to fellow Muslims by Emperor Baybars, granting them virtual autonomy over the mountainous region. Among those few that remained were the Bagratids under Mariyam, who still retained a few provinces under her new overlords.

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    Mariyam and her remaining lands

    It was an uphill battle for Mariyam as most of the state her predecessors had built had vanished in a decade. Still unwed, a marriage was arranged with an Avar (Caucasian Avar) prince. His family had been ousted from their petty kingdom by a band of Pecheneg nomads just a few years prior and were looking for a new home. A capable administrator as well as a formidable warrior, Sakban was the perfect match for a Princess of Armenia.

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    The new Prince Consort of Armenia

    As the dust settled on the conquest of Armenia, Sháhansháh Baybars was once again on the move, aiming to attack the Greeks in Asia Minor. While he had granted most of his recent acquisitions to his many cousins and commanders, he was graceful enough to grant Mariyam the lands of Siwnik in compensation for the loss of her Kingdom, giving her the title of "Princess of Armenia." While this title was symbolic, and even used for mockery in occasions, Princess Mariyam wore it with pride.

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    The three years that followed would be a relatively peaceful time for Armenia. While much of the countryside was plagued by bandits and raiders, the cities and towns would start to prosper as Princess Mariyam avidly emptied her coffers to fund multiple reconstruction projects. As Ani had endured the most punishment in the years prior, Mariyam moved her court to Lori, previous seat of the treacherous Davit of Georgia, which had been mostly unscathed by the war due to its Northern location. Monasteries and churches were rebuilt, new hospitals were founded, and eventually even the roads of her realm would eventually become safe as she rebuilt the outposts that used to guard them.

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    If she wasn't out in the city overseeing the construction projects, you could always count on finding Princess Mariyam in the libraries of Lori. She became well read on the campaigns and strategies of Tigranes the Great, the most distinguished king in the history of Armenia, who in his heyday fought both Romans and Sassanids successfully, extending Armenia's borders from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea.

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    Tigranes the Great, not Alexander :p

    As the reconstruction of her lands continued, peasants from all over Armenia started flocking to her realm, bringing with them much needed manpower to defend its borders and fill its armies. Despite lacking the funds, equipment, and powerbase her father Gagik possessed in his heyday, Princess Mariyam decided to exploit the lenient rule of Baybars, testing just how far she could take this so called "autonomy" of his by declaring war on one of his distant cousins, Anushirvan, who controlled the lands of Dvin and Varazhnunik.

    Still only a young boy, he would be the perfect target to attack as she learned to command and inspire her men.

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    Atabeg Anushirvan of Dvin

    While she had learned much through her long nights at the libraries of Lori, it had all been untested theory to that point. Despite her numerical superiority, Princess Mariyam still struggled against the forces of Anushirvan, failing to properly organize her armies.

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    The disparate forces of Mariyam, failing to coalesce into a single unit.

    Despite her initial struggles, she persevered and eventually defeated the young ruler, capturing him during the siege of Artašat and forcing his surrender over the lands of Varazhnunik.

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    The capture of Anushirvan, February of 1077

    The province of Varahznunik had been granted to the Pahlavuni family for their service during Gagik's struggles against the Byzantines back in the year 1041. Grigor I had crowned the young Gagik and became his most trusted commander, while his son Grigor II had been a staunch supporter of the Bagratids and pretty much raised Mariyam before her exile, becoming the father figure Gagik never was.

    Despite never being able to forgive herself for the death of Grigor II, she was still able to find a sense of relief by retaking the lands that he once reigned over, bringing much needed closure to her past.

    The Pahlavunis were but one of the many deposed and extinct noble houses of Armenia, but while they lost it all, some opportunistic ones aided the Seljuks during their conquest and were rewarded for their actions. Such was the case of Vahram of Baghk, the previous steward of the city, when the Seljuk armies came knocking he opened the gates and let the savage warriors into the city. Baybars granted Vahram, who had previously been a commoner, lordship over the province of Baghk as reward for his "noble" actions which spared the lives of many Turkic warriors.

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    The treasonous Vahram of Baghk

    Instead of returning her armies home after the war against Anushirvan, she marched unto Baghk, hoping to depose the "lover of heathens" Vahram. Mariyam effectively laid siege to the city with no opposition, leaving her to wonder if he would perhaps just surrender once more without a fight. He however had a network of scouts who spotted her men before she arrived, and quickly rushed toward Lori, which now laid undefended.

    Once Mariyam realized her mistake, she returned to relieve her new capital, leading the attack as he father had been known to do.

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    The Battle of Lori, August of 1078

    The princess excelled during the battle, slaying multiple men in single combat. Mariyam was known to unmask her face during combat, taunting her enemies as they realized their opponent was not a man. This trickery often led her enemies to underestimate her abilities as a warrior, lending her many victories.

    Word of her unprecedented skill would soon be heard throughout the land, with many dubbing her the Lioness of Armenia. Vahram would be captured during the battle, forcing his surrender over his ill-gained lands.

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    With two victories under her belt, Princess Mariyam would put a hold on her campaign of reconquest as her overlord Baybars announced a Furusiyya, a martial tournament, in his capital of Isfahan. Promising an spectacle for the ages, Mariyam could not miss seeing so many great warriors congregating at once. Perhaps she could learn a thing or two from them.

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    She attempted to join the competition, but was laughed at, for women were not allowed to compete in such events. There are however records about a mysterious Albanian (Caucasian) warrior in Persian-styled armor who never took off his helmet, triumphing time and time again, even defeating the future Sháhansháh Ayaz, son of Baybars. Upon his victory of Ayaz, the great warrior withdrew from the tournament, never to be seen again.

    The Albanian people had been dwindling since the Seljuk invasions, with their chieftains executed and most of their villages razed to the ground. A fully armored Albanian would be a strange sight, for they were a struggling people, but one in full-clad Persian armor would be almost impossible to imagine for the time. It is well-recorded that Princess Mariyam was fully fluent in Albanian, as well as her native Armenian and the lingua franca of the East, Persian, leading many to believe this mysterious knight to be none other than Mariyam.

    With her husband back in Lori ruling as regent while she stayed in Isfahan for the tournament, Princess Mariyam let loose, carousing with the people of Isfahan as if she had never been wed. Her beauty was something to admire, leaving broken hearts everywhere she went, leaving historians to wonder if the study of her fellow warriors was the real reason she attended the event.

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    Princess Mariyam's "lustful" disposition

    Once the tournament had ended, Mariyam returned home and continued planning her campaign. Her next target was one the Armenians were familiar with, the Rawwadids. Frequent allies of the Shaddadid Emirs who were the torment of the Bagratids before Gagik ousted them, as well as invading Armenia during the last years of King Gagik's reign. Greatly benefiting from the Seljuk invasions, Menûçihr expanded his realm by annexing most of Eastern Armenia.

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    The lands of the Rawwadids, July of 1079

    Despite boasting a large territory, Mariyam believed the Rawwadids to be easy targets for expansion for their rule over Eastern Armenia had been tenuous in the past years, facing numerous peasant rebellions. Unfortunately for her, another dastardly enemy of Gagik made a reappearance during the war. The Alan mercenaries who had betrayed Gagik had remained in Armenia following its conquest by the Seljuks, and had been hired by Menûçihr to bolster its armies.

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    Captain Candak, new leader of the Alan Riders

    Feeling confident with his new mercenaries, the Rawwadid Emir would lay siege to the province of Swinik, taking advantage of a large band of marauders who had made their way to Ani, turning the attention of the princess toward them.

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    March of 1080

    With the destruction of hundreds of villages following the bleeding years, many of the displaced residents turned to crime to satisfy their needs, some of which would band together to form raiding bands, becoming in turn what had brought them so much despair years prior.

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    Melek, leader of a notorious raider band

    Melek's band was easily dispatched by Mariyam's army, but bought some time for the Rawwadid Emir to consolidate his position in the South, taking many crucial fortresses in the region, forcing Mariyam to engage them in unfavorable conditions.

    Despite being outnumbered and disadvantaged, the Armenian forces would prove victorious near the fortress of Ernjak, defeating the armies of Menûçihr.

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    The Battle of Ernjak, July of 1081

    Despite being successful in Ernjak, the successful occupation of Suenik by Menûçihr, as well as his hiring of new mercenaries forced Mariyam to sue for peace, knowing she would be unable to achieve her goals of destroying the Rawwawid Emirate.

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    As Princess Mariyam underwent her arduous campaign of reconquest, the Byzantine Empire to the West was facing an innumerable amount of rebellions, with vast stretches of land declaring independence from the tyranny of the Emperor. With rumors about an upcoming invasion of Asia Minor by Baybars, perhaps the Empire's end was nigh.

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    The Byzantine Empire, December of 1081

    Unwilling to return home just yet, Princess Mariyam returned to Dvin to end Anushirvan's reign over the city, liberating its populace of his Muslim rule. The young monarch was unable to muster his forces to defend, still reeling in from her previous invasion. His fortress quickly fell.

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    The (second) capture of Anushirvan, August of 1082.

    With the recapture of Dvin, Mariyam headed toward the realm of yet another cousin of Baybars. The young ruler would be unable to defend against her armies, allowing her to retake the fortress of Manazkert and further weaken Seljuk authority in the region.

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    Atabeg Sönmez and his realm

    After a few decisive battles, Sönmez' regent saw fit to surrender the city of Manazkert in order to protect his lord, lest he too was deposed like his cousin Anushirvan.

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    The defeat of Sönmez' forces by Mariyam's hand

    While people like Melek would band together and raid the towns and villages of Armenia, some preferred to stage rebellions against the Seljuks. Most were successful, for such a vast empire was hard to keep stable, but they all tended to fizzle out within a year, as the Turkic warriors did what they were best at and retook the rebel lands.

    The people of Karin had endured much suffering in the past, first with the rebellion of Doux Alusian, and then the subsequent invasion by the Russians. The Seljuks were merely the cherry on top. They had risen up under the leadership of Chief Vachagan, achieving independence.

    Wanting to spare the people of Karin the pain of another Seljuk attack, Princess Mariyam organized a meeting with the Chief of Karin, were she would propose a peaceful annexation into her realm, offering a fair rule and no retaliatory attack by Baybars' men.

    The meeting would never take place however, as Vachagan thought of Mariyam's proposal as yet another plot by the Seljuks to retake their freedom, ambushing Mariyam as she entered their lands. The rebel forces were but a group of rag-tag peasants, lacking proper armor or training, with many women and children among them. She spotted someone who reminded her of the Kamaterina sisters, stopping the battle to try and save her.

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    Overwhelmed by the better trained men of Mariyam, and with much of his forces and family taken captive, Vachagan had no choice but to surrender, incorporating his lands into her realm.

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    Princess Mariyam's realm in January of 1084

    The constant warring had left Mariyam with multiple scars over the years, unable to treat herself to the usual standards of grooming noble ladies are accustomed to, preferring the battlefield to a preppy court. While still a beautiful woman, she no longer was the renowned beauty of Isfahan, but the Lioness of Armenia.

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    Her campaign would be put on hold shortly after the annexation of Karin, for after ten years of marriage she finally conceived a child. Known to acquire a lover in every reconquered city, one is left to wonder if the child is really Sakban's.

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    Chapter 15 - Hanging up the Sword (1084-1089)
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    Chapter 15 - Hanging up the Sword (1084-1089)

    Having spent most of her life on the run, under house arrest, or pretending to be a peasant with the Kamaterina family, Princess Mariyam was ill-suited to her new life as a pregnant woman. Having to leave behind the thrill of battle to join a court full of intrigue and ambitious nobles seeking to expand their lands and coffers, she quickly found solace in the arms of a lover. Vakhtank would bring much relief to Princess Mariyam, who found his Albanian heritage to be a comforting presence as she yearned for the days when she lived a humble life as a peasant, away from the duties of court.

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    Princess Mariyam's lover, Vakhtank the Albanian

    Her difficult childhood had forged Mariyam into a hardy woman, able to defeat any men single-handedly in battle, yet nothing could have prepared him for the struggles of giving birth, which devastated the princess' body, turning the once renowned lioness into a frail, weakened lady. She would name her firstborn Mara, honoring the lives of her late mother and aunt whose great leadership helped shape Armenia during her father's campaigns.

    Any doubts the wee Mara wasn't her husband's child were quickly dashed as she possessed the characteristic Avar strength and looks of her father. Perhaps in time she too would turn into a fierce warrior like her mother.

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    The birth of Mara Bagratuni, December of 1084

    The next following months would be a peaceful time, with Mariyam still struggling with the aftermath of her perilous childbirth. Her ailments prevented her from leaving the palace, leaving her to wander the halls and tunnels of her palace, hoping to find anything that could distract her from her pain. Mariyam discovered a secret set of tunnels underneath her quarters, apparently built on the orders of the former King Davit of Georgia.

    As she ventured deeper into them, Mariyam stumbled upon a corpse laying on the cold ground of the tunnels. As she approached to see who the man might be, the body rose up and attacked her. Despite her newfound weakness post-birth, she still remained some of her fighting spirit, leading to the man's death by her hand. She would find a note on his corpse with a set of assassination targets ordered by a mysterious man, with her husband and daughter's name on it.

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    Hoping to reassert authority in the autonomous provinces of Armenia, Baybars would soon revoke her lordship over Siwnik, demoting her to the status of a simple count. While many argued she should refuse his request and raise arms, she would be unable to lead her men due to the sorry state she was in, preferring to remain compliant.

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    Fearing any further reprisals by her overlord, Mariyam would order her subjects to engage in a faux mass conversion to Islam, hoping to appease her Turkic overlords, dissuading them from revoking any further titles under her name. Initially met with much refusal, most followed her lead, turning Armenia into a land of faux-converts, bringing new prosperity to her realm as the numerous Jizya taxes were lifted from her provinces.

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    The faux-conversion of Princess Mariyam, January of 1086

    She would soon give birth to yet another girl, further devastating her weakened body, leaving her infirm and incapable of moving without a cane or the assistance of her maids. As she now was publicly proclaiming the greatness of Allah, young Dalita would be shaped by this new religion, turning her away from the Apostolic faith of her predecessors.

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    The birth of Dalita Bagratuni, May of 1086

    As her body debilitated further, turning the princess into a prisoner of her own body, Mariyam would sink into a deep depression, rarely leaving her bed. Every passing day her chest pains seemed to increase in length and sharpness, and her muscles deteriorated due to the lack of training. She would hardly be able to endure the weight of her armor, where she once felt most comfortable. Her depression would be augmented following the death of her husband, whose cold body was found in the streets of Lori. The reason of his death was never discovered, but Mariyam suspected the spy she once killed on the tunnels might be related to his passing.

    Just a few days before his passing, the court physician indicated that Princess Mariyam was yet again with child. Soon panic spread across her realm, for it was likely she would not survive another pregnancy due to her poor state. Neither Mara nor Dalita would be able to inherit under these rules, forcing her to leave the facade of her conversion to Islam. As she had grown weaker over the years, her lover Vakhtank quickly became a permanent presence at court, leaving most assured that her third child could not be Sakban's but the Albanian's.

    To keep an appearance of strenght, Mariyam married an Assyrian lord from the South, forging an alliance hoping to dissuade any retaliation from her apostasy from Islam. Soon she would give birth to a healthy, if unremarkable, boy, leaving Mariyam in the brink of death.

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    The birth of Ivane Bagratuni, April of 1088

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    Princess Mariyam during her last days, following the birth of Ivane

    As Princess Mariyam lived her last days, her overlord Baybars engaged in warfare to the East, fighting the many realms of Hindustan. While tiny compared to the vast Seljuk Empire, this warriors were fierce, leading to many defeats on the plains of Panjab. Baybars would eventually meet his end at the hands of a petty lord, ending Baybars long reign over the Turkic Empire.

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    It wasn't all good news however, for his son Ayaz was more than capable to rule over his father's extensive realm. A trueborn warrior, Ayaz would lead his people in glorious campaigns against the Greeks and Indians, growing his Empire even further.

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    Princess Mariyam would perish clutching to her heart soon after, leaving her realm to the young Ivane to contend with the new Seljuk ruler and her fledgling realm. Having lost both of his presumptive parents, young Ivane's childhood would be a harsh one, subject to the intrigue and manipulations of his regency council, with many claiming the young cub's reign to be doomed from the start.

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    The ascension of Prince Ivane, June of 1089
     
    Chapter 16 - Interregnum (1089-1104)
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    Chapter 16 - Interregnum (1089-1104)

    As the reign of Prince Ivane started, the Byzantines were in a state of chaos following a dozen rebellions, leading to a new Emperor being crowned nearly every year. Multiple Greek and Bulgarian principalities had gained independence from Constantinople, with one even styling itself as the "New Kingdom of Bulgaria," even as the Pechenegs descended on them and forced them to pay tribute.

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    The Byzantine Empire in 1089, just days prior to the Seljuk invasion

    Seeing the Empire as weak and fractured, the newly crowned Sháhansháh Ayaz marched his armies toward Asia Minor, hoping to establish Seljuk rule over the Eastern Byzantine provinces. With the news of his invasion, a renowned general known as Diogenes marched unto Constantinople and seized the crown, claiming only he could lead the Empire to victory, preventing its demise. A formidable warrior, Diogenes had spent much of his youth campaigning in the mountainous regions of Armenia and Asian minor putting down rebellions for the Emperors, raising through the ranks from a lowborn commoner to a fearless Emperor of the Greeks.

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    Emperor Diogenes "the Turk Slayer," as he'd become known for his exploits during the war

    The war would rage on for eighteen months, with Ayaz forcefully taking many of the Byzantines' fortresses in the East, but being defeated in nearly every battle. Emperor Diogenes' charisma was so imposing that he even managed to rally the rebellious Greek and Bulgarian principalities to join the war, greatly bolstering his forces.

    Being defeated at every turn by the brilliant Diogenes and his commanders, Sháhansháh Ayaz would quickly lose the bordering fortresses in the Empire, and being faced with a potential invasion of his realm by the counterattacking Greeks, sued for peace, forced to return to Isfahan with much emptier coffers, having suffered a humiliating defeat.

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    The Seljuk-Byzantine War and some of its battles

    Being orphaned at only a year of age, Prince Ivane would be raised and tutored by his courtiers, many of whom would try to earn his grace in order to extort his pockets, greatly increasing their wealth at the expense of his realm.

    With the collapse of Armenia during the Bleeding Years, the office of Catholicos was disbanded, with most of the Apostolic Church deposed from its previously held lands by the Seljuks. While many went back to the simpler way of living of early Christianity, some of the clergy refused to accept the changes, becoming corrupt and exploiting the populace for their own greed. Ivane would be deeply affected by these few ambitious priests, coming to see the Church as just another tool to control the masses and enrich oneself, never becoming a religious person.

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    Just one of the many corrupt members of the church

    Following his disastrous defeat at the hands of Diogenes, Sháhansháh Ayaz would seek to unleash his wrath upon those who did not follow the one true faith, embarking on an Empire-wide purge of heathens and heretics. Kapriel, a dear friend and suspected lover of Princess Mariyam assumed the regency during this purge, refusing to comply with Ayaz request to cede his lands and titles. He knew Mariyam would not have gone out without a fight, and was ready to honor her memory.

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    Regent Kapriel, regent and commander of the Armenian forces (he was slightly sick at the time)

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    Prince Ivane's Rebellion, January of 1093

    As the purge spread throughout the Empire, other lords soon rose up as well, forging an alliance between Prince Ivane and joining forces in an attempt to overthrow the tyrant Ayaz. This coalition was a diverse and disparate group of peoples, ranging from Balochi Ibadis, Qarmatian Bedouins, Shiite Persians, Nestorian Assyrians, as well as Ivane's own Apostolic Armenians. All victims of persecution by Ayaz, these different peoples put their differences aside to form one great army.

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    The many faces of Prince Ivane's Rebellion

    With their realms dotted all across the Empire, the rebel armies would face much opposition on their way to join up. From Arabia and Mesopotamia, all the way to the Indus River and the Caspian Sea, the forces of Ayaz and the rebel lords would clash time and time again.
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    Some of the battles taking place during the rebellion as the armies try to coalesce into a single unit
    As the war enveloped his realm, Ivane's court soon became the base of operations for Kapriel and the rebel armies, who found its location to be appropriate enough to conduct an organized attack into the capital of Isfahan. With his court now full of foreign dignitaries and his tutors unable to pay much attention to him due to their newfound duties, Ivane would seek to entertain himself with the help of his sister Dalita, who he had grown very close to, pulling pranks on his courtiers, mocking the foreign tongues of the rebel dignitaries, and exploring abandoned ruins from the Bleeding Years.

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    The combined rebel armies would march unto Isfahan, laying siege to the city, but would promptly abandon it as an outbreak of consumption broke around the area, forcing them to retreat to where the plague wasn't. Eventually they would clash with the forces of Ayaz, leading to a bloody, if indecisive battle in the fields of Armenia.

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    The Battle of Bznunik, August of 1095

    With heavy losses on both sides, the rebels eventually agreed to a truce with Sháhansháh Ayaz, who was allowed to retain his throne so long as he stopped the purge of non-Sunnis. His defeat at the hands of Diogenes and later the rebels would destroy the facade of invincibility the Seljuk dynasty had previously basked in, inspiring many to revolt in the upcoming years.

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    The end of the rebellion, December of 1095
    Remaining mostly unscathed by the rebellion, Prince Ivane's realm prospered, attracting merchants and foreign nobles from the devastated cities and towns of the Empire to settle in Armenia. Many of these would seek to regain their previous status as landholders, offering to purchase many of the lands under direct control of the Prince.

    Now allowed to join his regent Kapriel in the ruling of his realm, Ivane would allow the purchase of titles under his reign, disregarding the opinion of the nobles who loathed the idea. Kapriel did not fully approve of this decision, and thus restricted the purchase of titles only to fellow Christians, bringing refuge to many of the displaced by the war.

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    The growing arbitrariness of Prince Ivane
    As Ivane and his sisters grew older, their distinct education paths would separate them, leading Ivane to seek new friendships that could replace his dear sister Dalita. He never did find someone as adventurous as her, but grew interested in a young Muslim girl by the name of Shoushanig who greatly resembled his sister. Lacking the courage of Dalita, the young girl would fail to keep up with Ivane's shenanigans, leading him to see Muslims in contempt, with the exception of his sister, who he still deeply adored.

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    The brave Prince Ivane

    Muslims were not the only targets of his contempt, for he quickly grew to loathe the common folk as well. Proud of his heritage, the young prince would often have any peasants who even dared speak to him imprisoned or worse, believing himself to be a superior being due to his status as prince. This treatment of the peasantry greatly differed from his late mother, who herself had lived and enjoyed the peasant life.

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    The growing cruelty of Prince Ivane

    Despite most of the daily duties of ruling befalling on his regent and tutor Kapriel, the increased prosperity of his realm would be attributed to the young prince, greatly boosting his ego and reinforcing his idea of superiority over his peers.

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    The realm prospers under Kapriel's brilliant guidance

    While the purge of the unfaithful had ceased, Ayaz' tyranny had not, leading the former rebels as well as some new inclusions to stage another rebellion. Seeking to rally around Kapriel and Prince Ivane as they had formerly done, they requested his participation in the war.

    Kapriel and his council believed this could be the opportunity to topple the Empire and once more achieve independence from the Seljuks, reclaiming the long-lost lands of King Gagik. Yet, the final decision laid on Prince Ivane, who refused the call to arms much to his court's dismay.

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    The second rebellion against Ayaz' tyranny

    Despite his youth, Prince Ivane was quite the shrewd monarch. He knew that such a vast Empire could not be toppled so easily, and one of Ayaz' relatives would simply seize the throne upon his defeat. He urged Kapriel and the council to be patient, claiming that the time was not right for another rebellion.

    Ivane's astute choice would prove to be the right one as the second rebellion proved victorious shortly after its rise, ousting Sháhansháh Ayaz and crowning his brother Çaka, who rewarded the rebels by executing every one of their leaders, parading their dead bodies as decorations during his luxurious coronation.

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    The coronation of Sháhansháh Çaka, May of 1100

    The new Sháhansháh would continue his brothers purges, revoking the title of Prince from Ivane, leaving him to squabble as a lowly count. While that title had been mostly honorific, the restart of these purges would prompt the young Ivane to seek the help of his sister Dalita, who helped him organize a conversion ceremony to Islam, hoping such action would help him avoid the wrath of the newly crowd Çaka in the future.

    Never having been a religious person, this public conversion to the Sunni faith would leave many historians to debate the full extent of his adoption of Islamic practices, with the overall consensus agreeing on Ivane being mostly irreligious, only using Islam and the Church to further attain his goals. Quite the pragmatic ruler.

    A distant relative of Ivane, Ishkhan, also attended the ceremony, having travelled from Rome to help spread the Catholic faith upon the heretic Apostolics. Baffled by Ivane's conversion, Kapriel would invite Ishkhan to stay a few weeks, where he would familiarize with the nobles of Armenia. Kapriel and the council at the time feared what the consequences of their prince's conversion could bring to them, who still remained faithful Christians. Ishkhan was asked to overthrow the young prince, but refused to do so, as his wife and children remained in Sicily.

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    Prince Ivane's conversion to Islam, June of 1100.

    Following on his brothers footsteps, Sháhansháh Çaka declared war on Emperor Diogenes, claiming he would avenge his brother's defeat and finish what he started. A bit older than when he faced Ayaz, Diogenes was unable to withstand the youthful zeal of the Seljuk monarch, losing at nearly every turn. The next few years would bring about yet another disheartening loss for the Greeks as the armies of Çaka overwhelmed the garrisons of Asia Minor, bringing about the end of Byzantine rule in the area.

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    The Empires' leaders the onset of the war, October of 1102

    Despite never knowing his mother and lacking her kind and compassionate disposition, Ivane did resemble her in other ways, quickly becoming known for his nightly escapades to meet with the young gals of the court. Known to have adored his sister Dalita, Ivane would disregard any Armenian girls who approached him, preferring to lay with foreigners who looked nothing like her in order to avoid his most sinful desires.

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    Prince Ivane's lustful disposition

    While his antics as a child were tolerated and even ignored as simple shenanigans of a young boy, but as he matured, his subjects would realize that was but the start of his cruel tendencies, quickly becoming known for his short temper and tendency to impart harsh punishment on criminals and innocents alike.

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    Seeing his oldest sister Mara as an obstacle due to her envious tendencies, Ivane secretly met with a foreign noble from a land known as "Makuria," previously unknown to him, agreeing to marry his sister off to a foreign prince from that land in order to get rid of her. This secret agreement was opposed by Mara and Ivane's council, who had been secretly plotting to oust him and crown her princess instead, but had no choice but to comply as the Makurian's men burst into the palace, carrying Mara away to never be seen again.

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    Mara's marriage to an African tribal lord, April of 1103

    Aptly using his title of Sháhansháh, or King of Kings, Sháhansháh Çaka would crown his uncle by the same name, King of Armenia, granting him authority over the lands previously held by Ivane's grandfather and more. This came as a new policy of Sháhansháh Çaka to centralize power in his Empire into just a few loyal hands, hoping to leave the administration to them as he underwent his campaign of conquests in the East.

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    The new Sultan of Armenia, November of 1103

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    The lands of the Sultanate of Armenia (within the Seljuk Empire), with its capital in Rayy, Northern Persia

    Wanting to guarantee the loyalty of his new subjects, and perceiving Ivane as a devout Muslim, the new Sultan granted returned the title of "Prince of Armenia" to Ivane, while granting him authority over the duchies of Siwnik and Tasir, where Prince Ivane already held much land, further cementing his power in the region.

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    The generous Sultan Çaka

    These new titles would not extend Ivane's realm much, but would bring a new new subjects under his rule, including a kinsman of Davit's line, who reigned over the territories of Gardman, right next to Ivane's capital of Lori. He would allow the young boy to remain lord of Gardman, planning to one day punish him for his grandfather's treason of Armenia.

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    Prince Ivane's new vassal

    Prince Ivane's regency would end in April of 1104, officially taking reign over his realm, disbanding the regency council. Having studied much under Kapriel's tutelage, Ivane was ready to put those skills to the test, hoping to follow on his mother's footsteps and reconquer the long-lost lands that rightfully belonged to him and his family.

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    Prince Ivane at the end of his regency

     
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    Chapter 17 - The Cub's First Steps (1104-1106)
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    Chapter 17 - The Cub's First Steps (1104-1106)

    b09b5a487ef3ed626a4a3c707fd2a860.jpg

    Prince Ivane of Armenia, depicted wearing Persian-styled armor

    As Ivane came of age, he traveled to the city of Ray, capital of the Sultanate of Armenia, where he would meet and swear allegiance to his new liege lord, Sultan Çaka, thanking him for the granting of the duchies of Siwnik and Tasir and becoming good acquaintances. There he would learn much about his new faith, including the ability to possess multiple wives. Being well aware of the issues succession had caused his family in the past, Prince Ivane wasted no time, marrying the daughter of a foreign trader from a distant realm to the East, as well as the daughter of a local Persian lord in the presence of Sultan Çaka and his court.

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    The beautiful wives of Prince Ivane

    While Tai-bing enjoyed the privilege of being "first wife," and thus had priority over servants and attention at court, as well as helping oversee the realm with her great administrative skills, it would be Parvaneh who behind the shadows would most influence Prince Ivane, who with time would start adopting Islamic and Persian costumes, even speaking Persian in court, much to the dismay of his Armenian subjects.

    With the matters of his marriage and (hopefully) succession complete, Ivane would embark in a campaign against his neighboring lords in the Sultanate of Armenia.

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    The enemies of Prince Ivane at the start of his conquests.

    The first of his enemies was Orhan, ruling from the fortress of Kars in Vanand. Heavily catholicized by its previous lord and distant kin, Maria Bagratuni, the peoples of Vanand felt no love toward Ivane, nor desired "liberation" by a fellow Armenian. Having been devastated by Muhammad's invasion during the bleeding years, the people of Vanand only wanted peace. Prince Ivane would of course bring none of that, bringing his family's ancestral lands back to the fold.

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    The defeat of Atabeg Orhan's armies, June of 1104

    His next target was Beg Behrad of Karin, who had usurped the lands of Karin upon Princess Mariyam's death under orders of Sultan Çaka, for the chieftain who ruled under Mariyam had been a heathen Christian. Wanting to retake the lands his mother had bled for, he stroke at their fortress, successfully capturing it by November of 1104, and with it, the wives and daughers of Behrad.

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    Not wanting to see his family injured, Behrad would surrender Karin to the Armenians the following day, granting Prince Ivane yet another victory. He would then march his troops South toward Vaspurakan, ruled by a member of the Seljuk family, Osman "the Strong" as he was known. He gained such epithet by defeating his cousin Sultan Çaka in a duel, in which if he was victorious, he would earn the lands around Vaspurakan.

    As Osman heard of his neighboring Emirs fall at the hands of Ivane, Osman requested the help of Çaka, hoping his cousin would aid him against the infidel, all to no avail, for Çaka was more than glad to see his cousin weakened after the humiliation he imparted upon him.

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    The defeat of Osman's forces, September of 1105

    Upon his defeat near Dvin, Osman retreated to the safety of his castle in Vaspurakan, but was eventually captured three months later as Prince Ivane's forces successfully laid siege to his fortress.

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    The capture of Atabeg Osman, December of 1105

    Knowing he was the logical next target of Ivane's campaign, Emir Varšap attempted to rally his armies unsuccessfully, being defeated at every turn before he could combine them, forcing him to cede the lands of Artsakh to the victorious Prince.

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    The many battles against Varšap's armies

    In the span of two years and a half, Prince Ivane would succesfully defeat each and every one of his neighboring Emirates, completely ousting two, and greatly weakening the remaining. Princess Mariyam surely would be proud of the continuation of her policies, greatly reconquering most of Armenia.

    October 1106.png

    Prince Ivane's realm in October of 1106, within the Sultanate of Armenia (within the Seljuk Empire)

    Worried about the consolidation of power in Armenia by his subject and good friend Ivane, Sultan Çaka sent envoys to Lori requiring his presence in Ray. The overtly friendly tone of the letter seemed suspicious, Ivane's second wife Parvaneh certainly thought so, but Prince Ivane knew the man was far too virtuous to trick him.

    He thought perhaps the invitation to Ray was to reward him for his great skill as a warrior, which had recently become a well known fact all across the empire for his exploits against the Emirs of Armenia. The soldiers loved Ivane, and clamored for his return from Ray to be a rapid one. This would not be the case, and in fact his commander would return a changed man.

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    The Armenian soldiers' adoration for their Prince, further boosting his ego and larger-than-thou figure

    Before he departed to Ray, he once more appointed Kapriel as regent to rule in his stead, who was genuinely shocked by his decision, for since Ivane's conversion to Islam had been sidelined in court by fellow Muslims and other Persian courtiers. Knowing the man to be a loyal supporter of his and his mother, as well as being the only parental figure he ever had, Ivane awarded Kapriel a large estate to go along with his new title of regent, elevating the humble commander to the rank of nobility.

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    Regent Kapriel and his new lands

    Kapriel was only one of many who would be granted lands by Ivane, who now held far too much land to rule on his own from Lori. These new landholders would be eternally grateful to the prince, earning their loyalty for the remainder of his life. Many applauded his foresight in avoiding participating in the rebellion against the former emperor Ayaz, as well as preserving his realm intact in the face of the Imperial purges by converting to Islam.

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    Chapter 18 - The Muslim Prince (1106-1107)
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    Chapter 18 - The Muslim Prince (1106-1107)

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    The Gates of Ray and its outdoor bazaar

    As Prince Ivane entered the gates of the city of Ray, capital of the Armenian Sultanate, a conglomerate of dubious men approached him. Always the warrior, his first instinct was to reach for his sword. He quickly realized however that these were no mere bandits. Judging by their expensive attire, Ivane had no doubt these were the Sultan's men.

    "We have been expecting you, Ivane Bagratid."

    The young prince chuckled at the mention of his name. Back home he had always been referred to as master, lord, or prince. They knew better. Of course, his enemies lacked the decorum the courtiers had been trained to express, preferring names such as heathen or barbarous pig. No one had ever simply uttered his name with such disregard of his status.

    "You should have arrived three moons ago. It is not wise to keep the Sultan waiting. Even him, in all his virtue, has a limit."

    "Is that some sort of threat?" defiantly replied the Armenian, slightly angered at the contemptuous tone used by the Sultan's envoys.

    "Just a warning."

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    Sultan Çaka of Armenia, accompanied by two African slave girls and his steward

    After what seemed like hours of traversing the halls of the Sultan's immense palace, Ivane had forgotten what the smell of fresh air was like, his nostrils inundated by the exotic incense burning all around him.

    "Parvaneh would surely love it here." Ivane muttered to himself as he realized that despite being so far from Lori he still found himself thinking of his wife. Maybe it wasn't just lust after all.

    As he stepped into the luxurious quarters of the Sultan, Ivane's eyes were drawn toward the two remarkably strange girls. With a shade of dark that could put out the sun, their beauty was unlike anything he had ever witnessed before.

    "Ah, my dear friend. It is a pleasure to meet again." said Sultan Çaka as he solemnly put aside the holy book. It seemed Ivane had interrupted his daily reading of the Hadiths.

    "Likewise, your grace." replied Ivane, a bit flustered at his failure to not notice the Sultan sooner.

    "You know, falseness lasts an hour, but truth lasts until the end of time." said the Sultan, closing his eyes for a moment as he pondered if he had uttered the ancient Arabic proverb correctly.

    "I am getting old, Ivane. I have lived a virtuous life, avoiding sin at every turn. I wonder if you can say the same."

    As the arid climate of Persia started to put its spell on Ivane, he watched as a drop of his sweat fell on the luxurious carpet of his lord. Taken back by his accusatory remark, Ivane was left speechless.

    "No matter." said the Sultan decidedly, as if he had awoken from a long sleep. "You shall accompany me on the Hajj. We depart at dawn. Follow my steward, he'll show you to your quarters."

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    Prince Ivane and Sultan Çaka's entourage on their way to mecca

    "A test" Ivane thought to himself. "An Armenian boy suddenly abandons the religion of his forefathers, as dozens of heathens are being purged. Hah! It's a surprise Çaka didn't react sooner."

    As he tried to remember what little of the Koran he had learned from his beloved sister Dalita, Ivane couldn't help but notice a small group of shady men a few paces behind their entourage. It seems as if they had been tracking them.

    As he approached the Sultan to inform him of the threat, the bandits let out a guttural scream that shook Ivane to the core, making him drop the precious blade his mother had once carried into battle. It was the only thing she left behind for him.

    "I am Sultan Çaka, cousin of the Seljuk Sháhansháh," cowardly yelled the monarch, "let us leave in peace and I will make you the richest man of Arabia."

    Far from dissuading the bandits from attacking them, their newfound information of his high status made them eager to capture him. He'd surely be worth a great ransom from the Sháhansháh.

    "Stand behind me, your grace." said Ivane, as he firmly grasped the pommel of her mother's sword. One by one, the bandits fell to his might. He tasted blood on his lips. Was it the bandits? No, Ivane knew the taste of his own blood from his many battles.

    Ivane would relive this battle every night during his sleep, vividly remembering the small dagger of his opponent sliding from his eyebrow through his nose as he sliced the arm off his combatant.


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    Ivane and Çaka's setting up camp as the sun set over the horizon

    "It's funny really," said the Sultan, "of all things you could have done to me, I never expected saving my life to be one of them. You have my sincere thanks."

    Only a day's ride to the holy city, the Sultan decides to make camp in order to rest. What little remained of his entourage laid exhausted following their battle with the bandits.

    As the sun had started to set, an almost endless baggage train belonging to another ruler started approaching their camp. Almost as if he had decided to bring all the luxuries of his court on his pilgrimage. As they passed by, Ivane recognized the sigil on their emblem, that was none other than the Fatimid Sultan of Egypt.

    As the Egyptian monarch noticed the sorry state Ivane and Çaka found themselves in, he could not help but curse at the weathered men.

    "You're nearing the holiest of cities, you unwashed infidels. How dare you approach the great Mecca in such a sorry state. Return whence the hole you came from."

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    A painting of the Ka'bah, Mecca

    Ivane was awestruck at the splendor of the holiest of cities, equally impressed by the fervor which enveloped him as he joined the masses of newly arrived pilgrims.

    Having never planned to partake in the Hajj, Dalita never tutored Ivane on the protocols and guidelines to perform the Tawaf. Frightened that his facade might be discovered, the Armenian prince started to poorly imitate those around him.

    "Just follow my lead," said a seductive voice from behind, noticing the foolish act Ivane was partaking in.

    "What brings a heathen to Mecca, of all places," said the imposing woman nonchalantly, almost as if to mock the Armenian.

    "Just trying to keep my head," replied Ivane, admiring the beauty of her new acquaintance as his eyes filled with lust.

    A few people turned their heads as the tempting woman let out a few loud bursts of laughter.

    "I would have thought the opposite," said the young lady trying to hold herself from chuckling, "seeing the little act you are putting on. At least its amusing."

    "Amusing," Ivane thought to himself. Not the opinion he'd like women of her distinction to have of him.

    As the couple made their way around the Ka'bah six more times, they continued their conversation, forgetting why they had even gone there in the first place.

    "Dialekte," said the fair woman as they finished their last lap around the holy structure, heading toward the exit of the Mosque, "and it was, a pleasure to meet me."


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    Dialekte and Prince Ivane enjoying a conversation together as her loyal servant scours the area with her vigilant eye

    Completely awed by her beauty, Prince Ivane had lost sight of the Sultan during the Tawaf ritual, leading him to scramble as he searched every corner of the Great Mosque.

    Unable to find him among the masses, Ivane drew the judgmental eyes of hundreds toward him as he climbed unto a nearby pillar, trying to spot his lord. Even with this privileged view of the building, Prince Ivane failed to locate his liege lord.

    Distraught, he scurried outside of the mosque into the busy streets of Mecca, eventually making his way to a small bazaar full of carpet and fabric merchants in the outskirts of the city. It was there that his eyes once more met with those of Dialekte.

    Daugther of a renowned Egyptian merchant, Dialekte had made her way to Mecca as part of the Fatimid Sultan's caravan train. Promised to marry the Fatimid heir to the throne, Dialekte snuck past her dad and his guards, with the help of her loyal servant, escaping her fate.

    As the sun set over the holiest of cities, the young couple violated the sacred vow of purity they had just performed hours prior as a requirement to enter the Great Mosque. Even as the pungent incense overwhelmed his senses, his thoughts drowned in Dialekte's warm embrace.

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    Prince Ivane and Sultan Çaka haggling prices with a carpet merchant

    Ready to return to the comfort of his palace in Ray, Sultan Çaka made one last venture into the same baazar Ivane had fatefully reunited with Dialekte, where he would encounter the newlyweds, wondering if Ivane had truly learned anything from their arduous journey.

    Ivane would return to Armenia a truly changed man, with a deeper understanding of Islam. While the Sultan was still not sure if he could trust the ambitious prince, he knew it no longer was up to him to decide. He complied and followed through on every step of the Hajj, showing his devotion to the Greatest. It was now in his hands.

    ------------------------------------


    This chapter was a little different than usual, let me know how you guys like it. I'm not very proficient at writing detailed scenes or dialogues, but if it was to your liking maybe I'll incorporate more of it in the future. Y'all let me know. :D
     
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    Chapter 19 - Hubris (1107-1111)
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    Chapter 19 - Hubris (1107-1111)

    Having been away for nearly a year, Prince Ivane's sudden return to Armenia was warmly received by his courtiers, chief among them Kapriel, who grew tired of the duties of ruling. The joy his arrival brought about quickly vanished however, as they realized that their prince no longer was who he used to be, fully embracing the Mohammedan faith and ceasing the use of the Armenian language in court, preferring the use of Persian.

    The arrival of his new wife was also not received well by his court. The cunning Dialekte soon began to assume control of things in Lore, taking care of the day-to-day ruling while Ivane was out in the field drilling his armies and preparing for a new campaign.

    While on his journey to Mecca, the Kingdom of Georgia managed to break the yoke of their Pecheneg oppressors, restoring native rule to the region. The Georgians however could not agree on who the new rightful King should be, thus starting a civil war.

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    The Georgian Civil War, November 1107

    Ivane would lead his troops against the rebel forces, crushing them near the city of Artvini, securing the southern provinces and forcing them to cede the province of Tao, which in its heyday had been part of the Armenian Kingdom.

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    The Battle for Tao, May 1109

    Having grown closer to him during the Hajj, as well as rewarding him for taking up arms against the Georgian Christians, instead of the Muslims within his sultanate, Sultan Çaka offered the position of spymaster to Ivane. Preferring to stay away from the intrigue and tribulations of court, he originally refused, but after much arguing with Dialekte, she convinced the prince to take the offer and moved to the Sultan's court in Ray, leaving Dialekte as regent in Lori.

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    Prince Ivane joins the council, October 1109

    Having had no success conceiving a male heir, Prince Ivane now had three daughters, the two oldest with Tai-bing as their mother, while Parvaneh was mother to the youngest. Preferring to leave his family back home, to avoid the bustle of a household full of infants, Prince Ivane married to a young Kipchak princess, hoping the myths about the steppe people's fertility would be true after all.

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    Prince Ivane's fourth wife

    A man as virtuous as Sultan Çaka had few enemies, leaving Ivane with few plots to thwart and a lot of free time. Considering his son a buffoon not worthy of being his heir, Çaka would take his grandchildren and have Ivane tutor them, hoping he could whip them into the shape of what a true ruler should be. His teachings were mostly futile, with the young disregarding the prince's lessons and preferring the comforts of their palace.

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    While there certainly was chemistry between Dialekte and Ivane, she would not find out that he already had two other wives until her arrival to Armenia. Distraught by the new situation she found herself in, she was quick to start plots to rid of them. Having convinced Ivane to join the Sultan's council, Ivane seized the opportunity and set her plan in motion.

    She used Ivane's coffers to bribe a few of the household guards, and seduced the ones who would refuse the coin, obtaining their help in poisoning Tai-bing and Parvaneh. Unfortunately for her, it seemed Tai-bing had also employed similar tactics on the guards, becoming quite close with one of them. The guard would go on to expose her plots, leading to Ivane sentencing her to death.

    death of wife.png

    Ivane was never quite the same after her death, becoming sullen and withdrawn. Sometimes however, the lion inside him would come out, and he'd unleash his ire on innocent civilians, becoming known for his wrath. These mood changes would soon bring him into conflict with the Sultan, who could not approve of his sinful ways.

    As he carried on his duties as spymaster, he overheard some of the Sultan's men speak of a plot to remove Ivane from the council and oust him from his lands in Armenia. Not letting the Sultan strike first, he would assemble some men to ambush and assassinate the Sultan as he did his daily wanderings of the city.

    murder plot.png

    Ivane's plan would not succeed however, as the wise Sultan had accurately predicted Ivane to act against him. He had hired a new spymaster, assigning him to trail Ivane's every movement. As the attack on his carriage failed, Çaka had Ivane brought before him. A just man, Çaka wanted to hear out Ivane and trial him before he put him to the sword. Appealing to his religious zeal, Ivane asked Çaka for a duel, claiming that Allah would reward the righteous with a triumph over the other. Despite his old age, the Sultan was still a capable warrior, and thus accepted the duel.

    Duel.png

    As Çaka laid on the ground, defeate, Ivane knew even a virtuous man like him would not forgive such crimes, probably even increasing his desire for revenge following the duel. As if all men had vanished in a second, the city of Ray went silent as Ivane put his sword through the defeated Sultan.

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    The death of Sultan Çaka, July of 1110

    In the commotion that followed the Sultan's murder, Ivane managed to sneak out of the city, having become familiar with its tunnels and secret passages as spymaster. He promptly returned to Lori, raising his armies in rebellion against Çaka's son, the newly crowned Sultan Kaiqobad.

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    The new Sultan of Armenia

    Kaiqobad would seek an alliance with a Pecheneg warlord named Kourkoutai, having them attack Ivane's realm from the North, while Kaiqobad attacked from the South. His plans would not come to succeed, as Ivane intercepted the Pecheneg armies before they could combine with Kaiqobad's.

    new invaders.png


    With his home safe from the Pechenegs, Ivane would turn defeat the Sultan's armies time and time again, reconquering the nearby province of Taron in the process.

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    July 1111.png

    By July of 1111, most of the Armenian provinces of the Sultan would be fully occupied, forcing his surrender. In the treaty, the province of Taron would be ceded to Ivane, as well as the absolution from all of his previous crimes. Sultan Kaiqobad would however remain Ivane's liege lord, still subject to taxation and the conscription of his men.

    This victory would cement Ivane's power over the Sultan, commanding nearly half of the Sultanate's lands. The reconquest of Armenia was well underway, even if it took their king converting to another religion.
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    Prince Ivane's realm within the Seljuk Empire (with the Armenian sultanate in red), August of 1111

    Kaiqobad and his vassals would request the Sháhansháh to put down the uppity prince, claiming the Armenians were once more on the rise, and would soon try to establish an independent kingdom, all to no avail. Far busier with with his conquests in Asia Minor and the Levant, the Seljuk Emperor allow Ivane to remain, so long as he didn't try to assert his power outside of the Armenian Sultanate's lands.

    Having already warred against the Emir of Vaspurakan and the Ferhengids in the past, they feared Ivane would try to conquer their remaining territories. As Ivane left the court of Kaiqobad following their peace treaty, the Vaspurakani Emir insulted Ivane as he drew his sword, challenging him to a duel.

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    The Emir of Vaspurakan

    The arrogant prince severely underestimated Osman, mocking the old Emir as he agilely evaded his every move during the first stages of the duel. While not the best swordsman, Osman had learned throughout his years to read his opponents pretty well, and he eventually came to understand how Ivane moved and thought. Even if the young Armenian was a younger and more skilled duelist, these advantages would be of no use if all his moves were known by Osman before Ivane even thought of them.

    As such, Osman eventually managed to land a few hard blows unto Ivane. Nothing lethal, there was no blood. Not that day at least, for the damage had been internal, severely damaging Ivane's organs. As he realized the danger he was in now, Ivane struck decisively at Osman, greatly injuring him and slicing his right eye.

    duel 2.png

    As the duel was stopped by the city's guard, they retreated to their respective lands, preparing for the inevitable war. Ivane raised his armies and marched toward Vaspurakan, hoping to oust Osman and finish what he had started. Osman's army was far outnumbered, and he was half the commander Ivane was. It would be an easy victory, or so the prince thought.

    With his chest battered, Ivane found it difficult to breathe during the battle, eventually finding himself behind enemy lines, far from his men. Despite being outnumbered, legend says he defeated over twenty men single-handedly before one managed to slice off his leg, after which his men arrived, rescuing him. Prince Ivane would not live to see the war finished, succumbing to his injuries just two months after the battle, leaving no heir behind.

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    The Battle of Bznunik, October of 1111
     
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    Chapter 20 - Fifty Years in the Making (1111-1114)
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    Chapter 20 - Fifty Years in the Making (1111-1114)

    Nearly fifty years prior to Ivane's death, the Seljuk armies of Muhammad arrived in the province of Vanand, starting the period known in Armenian History as the Bleeding Years and culminating in the complete destruction of the Armenian Kingdom.

    Back in those days, the Armenian Kingdom would split its lands into "Sub-Kingdoms," allowing relatives of the main Bagratid branch to also style themselves as Kings. In the sub-kingdom of Vanand ruled Queen Maria Bagratuni, a third cousin of the then King, Gagik II. She had married a de Hauteville Norman noble during her youth, moving to Sicily and even embracing the Catholic rite, never expecting to become a ruler of her own. Unfortunately, both her brothers would pass to disease, leaving her as the sole heir of Vanand upon her father's death.

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    The cunning Queen Maria of Vanand

    A shrewd and ambitious woman, Maria, quickly setting her eyes on Ani and the Armenian crown, devising plots to expand her territory or gain the support of the Armenian nobility. Her plans never amounted to much, for during her reign, her cousin Gagik II enjoyed extreme popularity among both lower and upper classes of the Kingdom, dissuading anyone from joining her schemes.

    As Gagik II's reign came to a tragic ending, Muhammad Seljuk invaded the lands of Queen Maria with a twelve thousand men army, conquering her small realm and slaughtering its population. Maria was fortunate enough to escape the onslaught by sneaking out through a secret tunnel underneath her castle, fleeing to Sicily where she would live the rest of her days.

    Before passing however, she conceived a boy by the name of Ishkhan, who would go on to marry the lady of a small county by the heel of the peninsula, taking her name, and providing her with two children.

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    Prince Ishkhan of Armenia and his wife, Countess Alienora, December of 1111

    Upon Prince Ivane's death, Kapriel and the nobles of Armenia scrambled to find a successor, for Ivane had left three girls and no males behind. A Kvirikian boy of Davit's line still reigned in Gardman, and was the obvious choice for a ruler as his young age would make him easy to control and tutor on the duties of ruling. Kapriel resented the mere idea however, for the Kvirikian name had been irreparably tarnished by the treacherous Davit of Georgia, leaving Queen Maria's branch as the sole remaining option.

    Ishkhan would be summoned by Kapriel to Armenia, who had previously met him during Prince Ivane's conversion ceremony to Islam many years prior. Upon his arrival, and much to his surprise, he was crowned Prince of Armenia. The last male Bagratid. He would "convert" to Islam under orders of the Sultan, but he remained a Christian through and through.

    Having spent his entire life in Sicily, and not being the brightest of men, Ishkhan found it difficult to communicate to his new subjects, strictly communicating through interpreters, rarely leaving the palace, living a decadent life. Their new "ruler" hardly did any actual ruling, leaving the council to deal with the duties of ruling a realm as vast as the one Ivane had built.

    The new prince would constantly empty the coffers of the principality by organizing vast and luxurious feasts, importing strange foods and spices from distant realms to satisfy his "sophisticated palate." The only times Ishkhan would venture outside his palace was to oversee the construction of his many statues around the capital, ensuring their depiction of his "bravery" and "good looks."

    abritrary ruler.png

    Prince Ishkhan's short reign would go through a few significant events for the Seljuk Empire, including a rebellion of Armenian peasants who had grown tired of the Seljuk's rule and longed for a return of the kings of old, the start of the Sino-Seljuk war, and a rebellion to overthrow the Armenian Sultan. He would of course stay out of all of them, remaining in his palace through it all.


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    The Armenian rebellion

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    The rebellion against Sultan Kaiqobad

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    The Sino-Seljuk war leaders

    Some of Prince Ivane's conquests would also be reversed during Ishkhan's reign, as Sultan Kaiqobad elevated a few of Ishkhan's vassals to his rank of Duke, granting them independence from Lori.

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    The new dukes of Taron and Kachen

    Eventually succumbing to the passing of time, Prince Ishkhan would leave a girl and a boy behind. Agnes was married to a noble of house Drengot, the second most powerful of the Norman dynasties of Sicily. The boy, aptly named Norman, had married into the ruling dynasty of Sicily, the de Hautevilles.

    drengot hubby hauteville wife.png

    Prince Ishkhan's children upon his ascension to the throne.

    It would be his son, the young Norman from Gravina, who would once more return the Kingdom of Armenia to greatness. One could say that Queen Maria's plots, despite failing to take root during her reign, eventually succeeded as her grandson became one of the greatest kings in Armenian History.

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    The passing of Prince Ishkhan, July of 1114
     
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