Dvin

The forgotten city.

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The Bagratids

The Bagratids

The city was wracked by an earthquake in 863, rebuilt, and then almost completely destroyed by a second, more severe tremor in 893, which buried alive 70,000 inhabitants. It was again rebuilt, and remained the seat of the katolikos for a short time, but it went into a slow decline, hastened by a late 9th c wave of fanaticism in the Caliphate, which Emirs had converted to the Shiite sect and were bent on converting or eliminating their Christian subjects. By the beginning of the 10th c, the Arabs were provoking mass resistance in the country (some of which were brutally suppressed, wiping out several of the ancient princely families) while facing internal decay.

Into this power vacuum, a new breed of leader emerged, led by the Bagratuni House, members of which had been governors of Dvin, and which finally asserted independence in the 10th c. They succeeded in retaking much of present Eastern Armenia by the end of the 9th c, including Dvin, led by the new Prince of Princes Smbat I Bagratuni the Confessor (890-914).

The war against the Arabs, and Dvin, are both linked to the martyrdom of Smbat I in 914. After successes in liberating the kingdom and obtaining autonomy for his rule, Smbat enraged the local ostikan Yussuf by reaching a separate agreement on tribute with the new Caliph that cut Yussuf’s take. Invading Smbat’s lands in Siunik, Yussuf laid siege to their seat of power at Yerenjak (present Iran), capturing and killing the king’s heir and nephew, then dragging Smbat in chains to the fortress’s walls, where he was tortured in front of his wife and family.

Yussuf had Smbat beheaded and his body hung on a cross outside of Dvin, where it was seen to have worked a number of miracles. This helped to rally the country during the reign of Smbat’s son Ashot II the Iron to repel Yussuf’s troops and consolidate the kingdom.

Arab counter attacks resulted in decades of fighting before the Bagratuni Kingdom effectively took hold, and by then the capital had been moved to Ani, in Gugark province.

Dvin, still commercially and culturally important (and still the seat of the church) hired defenders of their town, one group of Kurdish fighters which came by invitation in 951. The Shaddadids, hired as a temporary army, ended up staying more than a century, establishing one of Armenia’s more colorful dynasts of Moslem rulers. According to Armenian historians, Dvin was the birthplace of the Kurdish general Najm ad-Din Ayyub, who fathered the great Seljuk fighter Saladin, nemesis of the Crusaders, and Jerusalem’s conqueror.

After more than 300 years of lusting after the Armenian kingdom, the Byzantines finally succeeded in capturing the country and Dvin from the Bagratunis in 1045, enjoying their prize for barely 19 years before losing it all to waves of Seljuk attacks in 1064.

The Kurdish Shaddadids were appointed governors of the city by the Seljuks and ruled off and on with a series of Muslim lords until 1173 when the Orbelian King of Georgia George III captured the city for a short time. Led by the Armenian atabeg (general) Ivaneh Zakarian, the city was again in Georgian hands under Queen Tamara in 1201-1203.

The Zakarian period saw a burst of cultural revival in the country, and Dvin’s fortunes rose for one last, glittering time as caravan trade swelled the city’s coffers and elaborate churches and palaces were erected. As suddenly as it began, it came crashing down in 1236, when the city was completely destroyed by invading Mongols. The city never recovered.


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