The Armeno-Mongol alliance occurred between the Christian kingdom of Cilician Armenia and the Mongol Empire (primarily the Ilkhanate) in the 13th and 14th centuries, from around 1247 to around 1322. United in their opposition to the Muslims (mainly the Mamluks), the Mongols and the Armenians engaged in effective cooperation against their common enemy. The alliance allowed Cilician Armenia to survive much longer than the Crusader States of the Levant until 1373.
The Armenians were also allied to the Crusader states, especially from 1254 when Bohemond VI, ruler of the Principality of Antioch and County of Tripoli, married with Princess Sibylla of Armenia, the daughter of Hetoum I, upon the recommendation of King Louis IX of France. This encouraged the Franks to develop contacts with the Mongols, leading to the emergence of a Franco-Mongol alliance which involved a lot of diplomatic interaction between Europe and the Mongols, and some military cooperation in the Levant.
These contacts were part of a broader web of Mongol alliances in the Middle-East which occurred throughout the second half of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th century, and involved widely spread polities. These multiples alliances were organized between, on the one hand a North-South axis consisting of the Mongol Golden Horde, the Egyptian Mamluks and the Genoese, and on the other, an East-West axis consisting of the Mongol Il-Khanids, the Armenians, the Franks. The Byzantine Empire would ally with the two parties alternatively.
In 1220, the Mongols invaded Persian territory, successfully destroying the Turkish Khwarezmian Empire (some of the remains of which moved West in 1244 to ally with the Egyptian Mamluks, taking Jerusalem from the Christians along the way). But Genghis Khan then returned to Mongolia, and Persia was reconquered by Muslim forces. In 1231, a much larger Mongol army arrived, under the general Chormaqan. He ruled over Persia and Azerbaijan from 1231 to 1241. In 1242, Baichu further invaded the Seldjuk kingdom, ruled by Kaikhosrau, in modern Turkey. The Mongol conquest was seen by the Europeans as a positive one, since the Mongols were eliminating an enemy of Christendom.
Genghis Khan died in 1227, and his Empire was split up into four sections, for each of his sons. The northern section, known as the Golden Horde began to encroach upon Europe, primarily via Hungary and Poland. The southwestern section, known as the Ilkhanid, under the leadership of Genghis Khan's grandson Hulagu, continued to advance towards Persia and the Holy Land. City after city fell to the Mongols, including some Christian realms in their path. Christian Georgia was repeatedly attacked starting in 1220, and in 1243 Queen Rusudan formally submitted to the Mongols, turning Georgia into a vassal state which then became a regular ally in the Mongol military conquests. This was a common practice in use by the growing Mongol empire -- as they conquered new territories, they would absorb the populace and warriors into their own Mongol army, which they would then use to further expand the empire.
The Mongols reached the Middle East and conquered Greater Armenia. The Mongol conquest was disastrous for the Armenians who still inhabited Greater Armenia, but this wasn't the case for those in Cilicia, as the Mongols never attacked them. Instead, Hethoum allied, or submitted, to the Il-Khanate in 1247, and in doing so, he guaranteed the safety of the Armenians outside Cilicia. In this choice, he seems to have been advised by some of the Barons of Greater Armenia, a land which had been ravaged by the Mongols, and especially by the Grand Prince of Karabagh, Hasan Jalal, who had already forged an alliance with the Mongols.
To formalize the alliance, Hetoum I sent his brother the Constable Sempad to the Mongol court in Karakorum. Sempad met with Güyük Khan and his successor, Kublai Khan's brother Möngke Khan, and made a formal alliance in 1247 between Cilicia and the Mongols, against their common enemy the Muslims. The nature of this relationship is disputed by various historians, some of whom call it an alliance, and others who say that the Armenians had submitted to Mongol overlordship, and had become a vassal state similar to any other conquered region.
Sempad was enthusiastic about his travel to the Mongol realm, which lasted between 1247 to 1250. He discovered many Christians in Mongol lands, even among the Mongols themselves. On February 7th, 1248, he sent a letter from Samarkand to his brother-in-law Henry I, king of Cyprus (who was married to the Armenian princess, Stephanie or Etienette, sister of Hetoum I and Sempad), describing a Central Asian realm of oasis with many Christians, generally of the Nestorian rite:
Louis IX of France also read the letter, and was encouraged to dispatch an envoy to the Mongol court in the person of the Franciscan William of Rubruck, who went to visit the Great Khan Möngke in Mongolia.
During his visit to the Mongol court, Sempad received a relative of the Great Khan as a bride. He had a child with her, named Vasil Tatar, who would later be captured by the Mamluks at the Battle of Mari in 1266.
In the early 1250s, the Latin emperor of Constantinople Baldwin II also sent an embassy to Mongolia in the person of the knight Baudoin de Hainaut, who, following his return, met in Constantinople with the departing William of Rubruck.
Hetoum, who came spontaneously as a vassal, was very well received by the Mongols. He had an audience with Mongke on September 13th, 1254, and obtained from the Khan documents garantying the inviolability of his person and his kingdom. He also apparently played a key role in advising the Khan on Christian matters in Western Asia. Mongke also informed him that he was preparing to mount an attack on Baghdad and that he would remit Jerusalem to the Christians if they collaborated with him.
The monk Hayton of Corycus in "La Flor des Estoires d'Orient" ("The flower of the stories of the Orient") later wrote about the meeting:
Hetoum left Karakorum in November 1st. On his way back, he visited the Mongol leader Bayju, and was present in his camp to witness Bayju's victory in Asia Minor against the Seljuq Turks. He was back in Armenia in July 1255.
With assistance from their Christian subjects, including Georgians and Armenians, the Mongols were able to invade Syria and Mesopotamia, and capture Baghdad in 1258. Armenia also engaged in an economic battle with Egypt, for control of the spice trade.
Hetoum strongly encouraged other Frankish rulers to follow his example and submit to Mongol overlordship, but the only one that did was Hetoum's son-in-law, Bohemond VI, who joined the alliance sometime in the 1250s. Bohemond resided permanently in Tripoli and from 1254 left the daily management of his dominion of Antioch to the Armenians, so that Antiochian Franks were drawn into the long-standing Armeno-Mongol alliance.
The leader of the Ilkhanid section of the Mongol Empire, Hulagu, was generally favourable to Christianity. He was the son of a Christian woman, Sorghaghtani Beki, and one of his most important generals, Kitbuqa, was a Naiman Christian.
The years from 1258 to 1260 brought both some of the greatest Mongol victories in the region, and their first major defeat. On the one hand, the combined forces of the Mongols with their Christian allies (or vassals) successfully conquered Syria, and in Iraq they conquered the center of the most powerful Islamic dynasty in existence at that time, that of the Abbasids in Baghdad. On the other hand, because of the neutrality of the Franks in Acre, and the passive alliance which was struck between the Franks and the Egyptian Mamluks, in late 1260 the Mamluks achieved a decisive victory against the Mongols at the pivotal Battle of Ain Jalut. This action effectively stopped the Mongol expansion into the area, and set the western border for the Mongol Empire.
The Crusader ruler Bohemond VI was induced into this alliance by his father-in-law the Armenian king Hetoum I, with whom he was closely connected since a rapprochement organized by Louis IX in 1254, and concretized by Bohemond's marriage with the daughter of the Armenian ruler. Hetoum's own association with the Mongols had netted him some rich rewards, since his own submission in 1247. Bohemond resided permanently in Tripoli and from 1254 left the daily management of his dominion of Antioch to the Armenians, so that Antiochian Franks were drawn into the long-standing Armeno-Mongol alliance.
When they conquered the city, the Mongols demolished buildings, burned entire neighborhoods, and massacred nearly 80,000 men, women, and children. The Georgians had been the first to breach the walls, and were among the fiercest in their destruction. At the intervention of the Mongol Hulagu's Nestorian Christian wife Dokuz Khatun, the Christian inhabitants were spared. Hulagu offered the royal palace to the Nestorian Catholicus Mar Makikha, and ordered a cathedral to be built for him.
The conquest of Baghdad marked the tragic end of the Abbasid Caliphate. The city of Baghdad, which had been the jewel of Islam and one of the largest and most powerful cities in the world for 500 years, became a minor provincial town.
After Baghdad, in 1260 the Mongol forces, along with their Christian allies, conquered Muslim Syria, domain of the Ayyubid dynasty. They took the city of Aleppo with the help of the Franks of Antioch, and on March 1, 1260 proceeded to capture Damascus, under the Christian Mongol general Kitbuqa. Numerous historians, some of them quoting Le Templier de Tyr, explain that Kitbuqa entered the city of Damascus in triumph together with Hethoum and Bohemond VI, and that great Christian celebrations were made. According to Peter Jackson however, Bohemond VI of Antioch was said to be present in some later accounts but not in contemporary sources, and it is likely a later legend. The historian De Reuven Amitai-Preiss concludes that the accounts may be exaggerated, but have some truth to them.
According to the contemporary account of Le Templier de Tyr, mass was celebrated in the Grand Mosque of the Umayyads (the former cathedral of Saint John the Baptist),, and numerous mosques were profaned:
The Mongol invasion effectively destroyed the Ayyubid Dynasty, who had been overthrown in Egypt ten years before but had held on in Syria. The last Ayyubid king An-Nasir Yusuf died in 1260. With the Islamic power centers of Baghdad and Damascus gone, the center of Islamic power transferred to the Egyptian Mamluks in Cairo.
They did send the Dominican David of Ashby to the court of Hulagu in 1260, but also entered into a passive alliance with the Egyptian Mamluks, which allowed the Mamluk forces to move through Christian territory unhampered, in exchange for an agreement to purchase captured Mongol horses at a low price in the event of a Mamluk victory (a promise which was not honoured by the Mamluks). This allowed the Mamluks to counter-attack the Mongols, at the pivotal Battle of Ain Jalut on September 3, 1260. It was the first major battle that the Mongols lost, and effectively set the western border for what had seemed an unstoppable Mongol expansion. According to the 13th century historian Kirakos, many Armenians and Georgians were also fighting in the ranks of Kitbuqa. The Armenian historian Smpad writes that about 500 troops from Armenia accompanied the Mongols.
Following Ain Jalut, the remainder of the Mongol army retreated to Cilician Armenia under the commander Ilka, where it was received and re-equipped by Hetoum I. Hulagu sent a counter-attack which briefly occupied Aleppo, but it was repelled by the princes of Hama and Homs, subjects to the Sultan.
The Mamluk leader Baibars began to threaten Antioch, which (as a vassal of the Armenians) had earlier supported the Mongols. In the summer of 1262, the king of Armenia went to the Mongols and again obtained their intervention to deliver the city. The city was saved through Mongol intervention.
However, in response to Hetoum I and Bohemond VI's request for help, Hulagu was only capable of attacking the frontier fort of Al-Bira (1264-1265).
Following the death of Hulagu in 1265, the Muslim leader Baibars attacked the Franks, and brought terrible devastation to the kingdom of Little Armenia. In 1266, Baibars summoned Hetoum I to abandon his allegiance to the Mongols, to accept Mamluk suzerainty, and remit to the Mamluks the territories and fortresses Hetoum had acquired through his submission to the Mongols. Following these threats, Hetoum I went to the Mongol court of the Il-Khan in Persia to obtain military support. During his absence however, the Mamluks marched on Cilician Armenia, led by Mansur II and the Mamluk commander Qalawun, and defeated the Armenians at the Battle of Mari, causing great devastation to the country. In 1269, Hetoum I abdicated in favour of his son Leon II, who was forced to pay large annual tributes to the Mamluks. Even with the tributes though, the Mamluks continued to attack Cilicia every few years. In 1292 they sacked Hromkla, which required the Holy See to move to Sis.
Following the death of Baibars in 1277, and the ensuing disorganisation of the Muslim realm, conditions were ripe for a new action in the Holy Land. The Mongols seized the opportunity and organized a new invasion of Syrian land. In September 1280, the Mongols occupied Baghras and Darbsak, and took Aleppo on October 20, where they massacred many inhabitants.
On the Frank side the king of Cyprus Hugues III and Bohemond VI also mobilized their army, but they could not intervene because the Mamluks had already positionned themselves between them and the Mongols. In October 1280, the Mongols sent envoys to Acre to request military support for the campaign, but the Vicar of the Patriarch invoked that the city was suffering from hunger, and that the king of Jerusalem was embroiled in another war. The Mongols also requested support for a campaign the following winter, informing the Franks that they would bring 50,000 Mongol horsemen and 50,000 Mongol infantry, but the request apparently remained without a response.
According to Runciman, Abagha and Leo III of Armenia urged the Franks to start a new Crusade, but only the Hospitallers and Edward I (who could not come for lack of funds) responded favourably. The Hospitallers of Marquab made combined raids into the Buqaia, and won several engagements against the Sultan. They raided as far as the Krak des Chevaliers in October 1280, and defeated the Mamluk army of the Krak in February 1281.
The Mongols finally retreated, pledging to come back for the winter of 1281.
In order to prevent new combined actions between the Franks and the Mongols, the new Muslim sultan Qalawun signed a new 10-year truce on May 3, 1281 (following the expiration of the old truce from 1271) with the Barons of Acre (a truce he would later breach) and a second 10-year truce with Bohemond VII of Tripoli, on July 16, 1281. The truce also authorized pilgrim access to Jerusalem.
The announced Mongol invasion started in September 1281. They were joined by the Armenians under Leo II, and by about 200 Hospitaliers knights of the fortress of Marqab, who considered they were not bound by the truce with the Mamluks. Some knights from Cyprus also probably accompanied them.
On October 30, 1281, 50,000 Mongol troops, together with 30,000 Armenians, Georgians, Greeks, and the Hospitalier Knights of Marqab fought against the Muslim leader Qalawun at the Second Battle of Homs, but they were repelled, with heavy losses on both sides.
Burchard described the country as submitted to Mongol domination, and explains that Mongols were present at the royal Armenian court:
In 1293, during the reign of the Ilkhan Gaykhatu, Hethoum II was again attacked by the Mamluks and could not receive Mongol help. He had to abandon a considerable amount of territory in the eastern part of the country. He then abandoned his throne to enter a Franciscan convent under the name John (an apparent hommage to John of Monte Corvino)., leaving official rule to his brother Thoros for two years, before he regained the throne.
With the rise of Ghazan in 1295, Hethoum II was able to again reinforce relations with the Mongols. Hethoum visited Ghazan at his court, who renewed the traditional alliance, and would remain faithful to it by continuously fighting the Mamluks.
In 1296, Hethoum II visited Constantinople to reinforce contacts there as well. He married his sister Rita to Michael VIII Palaiologos. During his absence, Smpad of Armenia captured the throne and also attempted to obtain Mongol support, and married a relative of Ghazan. Hethoum II would regain the throne in 1298 and continue relations with the Mongols.
In 1297, the new Mongol ruler Ghazan was able to resume offensives against the Mamluks and revive the Franco-Mongol alliance. Ghazan had been baptized and raised as a Christian, though he had became a Muslim upon accession to the throne. He retained however a strong enmity towards the Egyptian Mamluks.
These coordinated actions between the Mongols and the Franks of Cyprus came very close to succeeding. The plan was to coordinate actions between the Christian military orders, the King of Cyprus, the aristocracy of Cyprus and Little Armenia and the Mongols of the khanate of Ilkhan (Persia). The Christian forces of Cyprus and Armenia were determined to reconquer the Holy Land in liaison with the Mongol offensives. However, they had little support from Europe, and Crusades to help sustain their actions.
In the summer of 1299, King Hetoum II of Armenia sent a message to the Mongol khan of Persia, Ghâzân to obtain his support. In response, Ghazan marched with his forces towards Syria and sent letters to the Franks of Cyprus (the King of Cyprus, and the heads of the Knights Templar, the Hospitallers and the Teutonic Knights), inviting them to come join him in his attack on the Mamluks in Syria. Ghazan's first letter was sent on October 21, which arrived 15 days later. He sent a second letter in November.
There is no record of any reply, and Ghazan moved ahead, the Mongols successfully taking the city of Aleppo. There, Ghazan was joined by King Hetoum, whose forces included some Templars and Hospitallers from the kingdom of Armenia, who participated in the rest of the offensive. The Mongols and their allies defeated the Mamluks in the Battle of Wadi al-Khazandar, on December 23 or 24, 1299. One group of Mongols then split off from Ghazan's army, and pursued the retreating Mamluk troops as far as Gaza, pushing them back to Egypt. The bulk of Ghazan's forces then proceeded on to Damascus, which surrendered somewhere between December 30, 1299, and January 6, 1300, though its Citadel resisted. A contemporary Arab writer mentions the exactions in Damas of the Armenian and Georgian Christians together with the Mongols. Ghazan then retreated most of his forces in February, probably because their horses needed fodder. He promised to return in the winter of 1300-1301 to attack Egypt.
In the meantime the remaining forces of the Mongols, about 10,000 horsemen under the Mongol general Mulay, ruled over Syria, and engaged in raids as far south as Jerusalem and Gaza. But that small force had to retreat when the Mamluks returned in May 1300.
Mongol raids on Jerusalem are sometimes thought to have occurred during the Mongol invasions of Syria and Palestine by Ghazan in the year 1300. There are pervasive Medieval accounts, whether from European, Armenian or Arab sources, claiming that the Mongols occupied Jerusalem in 1300. There is little evidence however that this actually happened, and modern scholars are divided on the question. After the Mamluk forces retreated south to Egypt, the main Mongol forces retreated north in February, and Ghazan left his general Mulay to rule in Syria. Accordingly, there existed a period of about four months from February to May 1300, when the Mongol il-Khan was the "de facto" lord of the Holy Land. According to Alain Demurger, Ghazan captured Jerusalem after he had taken Damascus, and his general Mulay was in Jerusalem in 1299/1300. But Mulay's small force had to retreat when the Mamluks returned in May 1300. Ghazan also promised to return in the winter of 1300-1301 to attack Egypt.
An Armenian monk named Nerses Balients, converted to Catholicism by the Dominicans, stated that the Armenian King Hetoum II, with a small force, had reached the outskirts of Cairo and then spent some fifteen days in Jerusalem visiting the Holy Places:
According to the historian Claude Mutafian, this may be on this occasion that Hetoum II remitted his amber scepter to the Armenian convent of Saint James of Jerusalem.
In 1303, the Mongols appeared in great strength (about 80,000) together with the Armenians, but they were defeated at Homs on March 30, 1303, and at the decisive Battle of Shaqhab, south of Damas, on April 21, 1303. It is considered to be the last major Mongol invasion of Syria. Also in 1303, Ghazan had again sent a letter to Edward I, in the person of Buscarello de Ghizolfi, reinterating Hulagu's promise that they would give Jerusalem to the Franks in exchange for help against the Mamluks. But Ghazan died on May 10, 1304, and dreams of a rapid reconquest of the Holy Land were destroyed.
In 1304, the Mamluks continued their assault on Cilician Armenia, and succeeded in taking back all the lands which the Armenians had acquired during the Mongol invasion. Until its final fall in 1375, Cilician Armenia received a succession of attacks from the Mamluks, with only few successes, such as the Battle of Ayas in 1305.
In 1307, Hetoum II and Leon III were assassinated with their retinue by the Mongol general of Cilicia, Bilarghu, following an internal plot against Hetoum's efforts to unite the Armenian Church with Rome. The Mongol ruler Oljeitu later executed Bilarghu for his crime.
The Armenian monk Hayton of Corycus went to visit Pope Clement V in Poitiers, where he wrote his famous "Flor des Histoires d'Orient", a compilation of the events of the Holy Land describing the alliance with the Mongols, and setting recommendations for a new Crusade:
On April 4, 1312, a Crusade was promulgated by Pope Clement V at the Council of Vienne. Another embassy was sent by Oljeitu to the West and to Edward II in 1313. That same year, the French king Philippe le Bel "took the cross", making the vow to go on a Crusade in the Levant, thus responding to Clement V's call for a Crusade. He was however warned against leaving by Enguerrand de Marigny, and died soon after in a hunting accident. Oljeitu finally launched a last campaign against the Mamluks (1312-13), in which he was unsuccessful.
In 1320, the Egyptian sultan Naser Mohammed ibn Kelaoun invaded and ravaged Christian Armenian Cilicia. Pope John XXII sent a letter, dated July 1, 1322, from Avignon to the Mongol ruler Abu Sa'id, reminding him of the alliance of his ancestors with Christians and asking him to intervene in Cilicia. At the same time he advocated that he abandon Islam in favor of Christianity. Mongol troops were sent to Cilicia, but only arrived after a ceasefire had been negotiated for 15 years between Constantin, patriarch of the Armenians, and the sultan of Egypt. After Abu Sa'id, relations between Christian princes and the Mongols were totally abandoned. He died without heir and successor. The state lost its status after his death, becoming a plethora of little kingdoms run by Mongols, Turks, and Persians.
Relations with the Mongols would essentially disappear after 1320, but on the contrary, relations with the Franks were reinforced, with the establishment of the French Lusignan dynasty as the ruling familly in Cilician Armenia, due the policy of inter-marriage between the royal famillies of Cyprus and Cilician Armenia, starting from the time of Bohemond VI in 1254. Following the murder of Leo IV in 1341, his cousin Guy Lusignan was elected king. However, when the pro-Latin Lusignans took power, they tried to impose Catholicism and the European way of life. The Armenian leadership largely accepted this, but the peasantry opposed the changes. Eventually, this led the way to civil strife.
In the late 14th century, Cilicia was invaded by the Mameluks. The fall of Sis in April, 1375 put an end to the kingdom; its last King, Leo V, was granted safe passage and died in exile in Paris in 1393 after calling in vain for another Crusade. The title was claimed by his cousin, James I of Cyprus, uniting it with the titles of Cyprus and Jerusalem. Thus ended the last fully independent Armenian entity of the Middle Ages after three centuries of sovereignty and bloom. The Mongol alliance had allowed it to significantly outlive the Crusader states, and to survive for about an additional century in the face of the Muslim expansion.