We always hear about the great empires that spanned continents and waged wars with armies of millions. Is there no love for the small time guys? They were actually quite interesting, dynamic and sometimes a bit odd or quirky.
The first opening band of kingdoms is the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. Ever heard of it? Me neither.
This little jewel of a country was situated in the armpit of Turkey where the Anatolia meets Palestine. This is a country made up of Armenian refugees from when the Turks conquered their original homeland. The Byzantine Empire helped move them in and gave them cardboard boxes, loaned them a moving van and even helped them unpack. They were a small country surrounded by Turks, Arabs and Kurds, all of which didn’t like them very much so when the First Crusade came around they were more than pleased to suddenly have a whole horde of unwashed allies. The Crusaders immediately began setting up shop and forming little kingdoms and principalities. They welcomed the Crusaders and let them have free access to the port and began adopting their ways. This tiny Middle Eastern country adopted French as the language, and Westernized a great deal including the adoption of Feudalism, chivalry and tight silly pants. It was then officially recognized as a Kingdom by the Pope himself.
While the Crusaders were there, they used that time to bite their thumb at the local Muslim nations that surrounded them. They married their daughters off to Crusaders and used this time to expand their territory, ticking off the Turks and Byzantines both.
Well, the upstart Crusader States of Outremar didn’t last nearly as long as Armenia would have liked. As they started to make themselves scarce, the Mongols move into the neighborhood and everything goes to poo. The Mongols, in an attempt to be nice, put the Sultan of Baghdad in a sack and trampled him with horses. That’s how Mongols say “Hi!” Well, this worried Armenia a little bit. So they make an alliance with the Mongols against the Muslims…until the Mongols convert to Islam and then they were left with not a friend in their part of the world. But, for a while, they tooled around with the Mongols, drinking and driving, egging houses and staying out late. They went on campaign with the Mongols and were BFF’s. So, you have an Eastern country that has adopted Western ways fighting along side Mongol barbarians. Go figure. Sometimes you find strange places in History.
The king and the nobles kept becoming more Latinized and Catholic, but the peasants weren’t too happy and started writing strongly worded letters to their local leaders. While this strife was going on, the Muslims came and invaded. Armenia called for help from their In-laws in Europe, but they weren’t answering the phone. They left a few messages but no help came. The Muslims moved in took over. The king and his family packed up and moved to Paris to enjoy the jazz, Jerey Lewis and to call for a Crusade that never happened. He gave his title over to his in-laws in Cyprus and so, whoever was ruler of Cyprus also owned Armenia…which was always occupied by the Turks from then on. That title exists still to this day because it was passed to the first king of the United Italy. They’re not royalty anymore, but they do still technically own the armpit of Turkey.
Next country we’ll visit is the “Empire of Trebizond.” Do you remember our good friend Anna Komemna? Well her family held important positions in the government for a long time, kind of like the Kennedy’s but smart. But the ruling royal families didn’t like them so then moved to their summer homes off on the southern coast of the Black Sea. When the Fourth Crusade came along and the French Crusaders wanted to rescue all that Christian gold from other Christians, the Komemnos family decided that they didn’t want to deal with smelly French rulers and succeeded from the union. They declared the area around the city of Trebizond to be the rightful heir of the Roman Empire. While Constantinople was occupied by the lame “Latin Empire” they continued on as business as usual over in Trebizond. The Komemnian family did so well in ruling this little country that it actually outlasted the Byzantine empire, surviving until 1461. They survived by doing a lot of trading and earning money to buy off their enemies, making alliances and generally trying to be ignored. The fact that they were on the Silk Road didn’t hurt their fortunes either.
Eventually Trebizond gave up its title of “Empire of the Romans” (how many countries claimed that title?) and became friends again with the restored Byzantine Empire. So, they were just “Empire of the East” now.
After Byzantium fell to the Turks in 1453, Trebizond got really worried. So, their emperor John IV started making alliances with Georgia, other Turks and even Mongols. He was really preparing to defend his home. The local Turk governor tried to take Trebizond with an aquatic landing but the tenacious Trebizonds fended them off. Then John died and his son, who was in idiot, took over. He ticked off all his allies and soon Trebizond found itself surrounded by enemies. The Turks surrounded Trebizond and after a month of hoping the problem would go away, they opened the gates to the Turks. The area there remained strongly Christian until Turkey and Greece did a population exchange in 1923 where Turkey sent Greece all their Christians (regardless of ethnic background) and Greece sent Turkey all their Muslims. That’s an interesting story in of itself. You should go look it up. So, in summary, you have a small remnent of the Roman empire surviving way out on the south eastern shore of the Black Sea a thousand years after the “fall of Rome.”