Armenians in the Byzantine Empire

  • History
  • 3 mins read

The Byzantine Empire

How did the Byzantine Empire come to existence?

After the split of the Roman Empire in 395 A.D., There remained a Western Roman Empire (with its capital in Rome) and an Eastern Roman Empire, which we know as the Byzantine Empire. The first emperor of the newly formed Byzantine Empire was Constantine I, after whom the capital Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) was named. 

The Byzantine Empire lasted from 395 A.D. to 1453, when Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople. Interestingly, the Byzantine Empire’s first and last emperors were both named Constantine.

Annexation of Armenia

In 387 A.D., Armenia was divided and Western Armenia became part of the Byzantine Empire, and Eastern Armenia fell into the Sassanid Persian Empire. This became known as Byzantine Armenia. Until 428 A.D., Armenians still had kings despite being part of the Sassanid Empire. 

Byzantine Emperor Justinian I split Byzantine Armenia into four parts. He increased taxes and oppressed Armenian nobles in the Empire. In 591, after a war between the Sassanids and the Byzantines, historical Armenian territory is split again, this time, the Byzantines get a larger share of land and Byzantine Armenia expands. 

Life of Armenians in The Byzantine Empire

Armenians, who made up a large part of the Empire, served in the army and fought in battles in the Byzantine Army. The Byzantine army benefited greatly from the participation of Armenians in battle, not only did they increase the number of men going to battle, but they were among the bravest of soldiers. 

Many Byzantine Emperors were Armenian, whether partially or fully. Emperor Heraclius’s father was Armenian and his mother was Macedonian. Romanos I (an emperor that came long after Armenia separated from the Byzantine Empire) was an Armenian navy commander, who later became the Emperor in 920.

Breaking Away

During the 630s, Arabs began their conquests and headed towards the Byzantine Empire. In 636, the Arabs defeated the Byzantines, and in 637, they defeat the Persians. Instead of securing the front against the Arabs, the Byzantines focused on annexing more land of historical Armenian, such as Dvin (looted, killed, etc).

Theodoros Rshtuni signed a contract with the Arabs in 652, so that the Arabs would stop attacking Armenians. After signed the agreement, Byzantines were enraged, and sent an army of 100,000 men to Armenia. It was in the agreement that if the Byzantines attacked Armenians, the Arabs would have to come and protect them. As a result, the Arabs and the Byzantines warred against each other. 

Arab invasion of Byzantine empire

Gaining Independence

Armenians were under Arab rule, and in the 8th century, they constantly protested being under Arab rule. The most influential of those protesting were the Bagratunis. From the second half of the 9th century, Arab rule weakened and the Byzantines tried to help Armenia gain independence. Byzantine Emperor Basil I consents to have the Bagratunis be the new rulers of Armenia; the Arabs and the Byzantines both recognize the new dynasty and Ashot I as the king of Armenia. 

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