Iskandar Bcheiry Contributes to New Book: ‘Rumkale from the Middle Ages to the Present’/
September 06, 2022
A new book has been published by the newly-established (and EU-funded) Turkish National Institute for Archeology and Cultural Heritage on Rumkale from the Middle Ages to the Present. The book is edited by Prof. Dr. Scott Redford, with Turkish translation by Özlem Uygun, and Umut Yavuz (Gaziantep: Türk Arkeoloji ve Kültürel Miras Enstitüsü, 2022) ISBN: 978-625-7922-27-2 https://turkarkeolojienstitusu.org/
Located at the intersection of the Merziman and Euphrates rivers, “Rumkale is one of the most important historical settlements in the Euphrates basin. Although its history goes back to ancient times, the impressive architectural ruins that survived are from medieval and Ottoman times. Although restoration projects have been carried out in Rumkale in different periods, no scientific archeology project has been carried out so far. This book, which focuses on Rumkale, has been prepared to supply the basis for scientific archaeological projects that can be carried out in the settlement, which is becoming increasingly popular as a tourism focus, but whose history is less known, and to inform the public about Rumkale.”
The content of the book has been prepared by a group of art historians, archaeologists, and historians from Turkey, Europe, and America: Scott Redford, London Middle East Institute (LMEI); Rachel Goshgarian, Lafayette College; Christina Maranci, Tufts University; Angus Stewart, University of St Andrews; N. Pınar Özgüner, Gaziantep University, Turkey; Muhsin Soyudogan, Gaziantep University; Iskandar Bcheiry, Atla.
The chapters in the book examine the Byzantine, Syriac, Armenian, Mameluke, and Ottoman architecture and history of Rumkale, up to the present, evaluate its future, and share new information and findings about Rumkale with the reader.
The importance of the contents of the book is that it first deals with and examines the history of Rumkale based on several sources and historical aspects, and secondly, it presents the contents not only to experts in the academic field but also to anyone who has a desire to know the history of the mentioned region without being exclusively specialized.
Historical Background: Rumkale or Qalʿat al-Rūm
Rumkale, or Qal῾ah Rūmoytō, is also known in Syriac sources as Šūrō d’Rūmoyē, which means the Wall of the Romans or the Fortress of the Romans. Rumkale was the center of a bishopric of which some of its bishops are named, such as Uranius who attended the Council of Antioch in 445, and Bishop Maryiūn, who took part in the consecration of Severus of Antioch as a patriarch of Antioch (518-538) before being later exiled by Emperor Justin I (518-527). Another bishop named John was ordained by Jacob Baradeos in the middle of the sixth century. By the eleventh century, the fortress of Šūrō d’Rūmoyē came to be known as Ḥeṣnō d’Rūmoyē, or Qal῾ah Rūmoytō. In the early twelfth century, Rumkale fell under the dominion of the Frankish county of Edessa. After the fall of Edessa in 1144, the population was dispersed to various places, among them Rumkale. Around 1147, the Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Basil Bar Šumnā of Edessa, who escaped to Samsat after the second devastation of Edessa in 1146 by the Turks, was imprisoned for three years in Rumkale by Joscelin II de Courtenay.
In 1148, the Armenian Catholicos Gregory III Pahlavuni (1113-1166) transferred his residence to “the fortress of the Romans” at the demand of the Franks from the former County of Edessa, whose capital had been at Tilbeşar (Tell Bashīr) since 1144. The Armenian Catholicos resided there until 1293. In 1260, the Mongol ruler Hulago Khan crossed the Euphrates by bridges of boats at Malatya, Rumkale, Birecik (al-Bīrah), and Circesium. Then, in the reign of the Mameluke Sultan al-Manṣūr Qalawūn, an Egyptian army came to Rumkale and laid siege to the fortress on May 19th, 1280. The Sultan demanded that the Catholicos should surrender the citadel and move with his monks to Jerusalem or, if he preferred, to Cilicia. When the Catholicos refused to do so, the Egyptian army laid waste the country around the fortress, which was inhabited mostly by Armenians and Syriacs. The next day, the Sultan’s army forced its way over a wall only recently built into the town and set it on fire while the whole population fled into the citadel.
After the Egyptians had ravaged and plundered the surrounding area for five days, they withdrew. In the reign of al-Ashraf Khalīl, they launched a new expedition against Rumkale in 1292. The Egyptian army appeared before the town and erected 20 pieces of siege artillery. After 33 days of siege, Rumkale fell into the hand of the Mamelukes. The population was plundered and massacred, especially among the garrison of Armenians and Mongols. Among the prisoners who were captured was the Armenian Catholicos Stephan IV of Rumkale, with his monks. He died a prisoner in Damascus. The fortress was restored by the same Sultan and renamed Qal῾ah al-Muslimūn, but part of the town was left in ruins. The successor of Catholicos Stephan, Gregory VIII of Anavarza (1293-1307), took up his residence in Sīs in Cilicia, which became the seat of the Armenian Catholicosate. The fortress remained in the hands of the Mamelukes until the battle of Marj Dābiq in 1516, when it fell to the Ottomans. Under the Ottomans, the fortress became part of the dominion of the pashalik of Aleppo. Only a few remnants of the citadel now remain, including an Armenian monastery and a mosque.
Rumkale in Syriac Sources During the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries
My contribution to this book is a chapter titled “Rumkale in Syriac Sources During the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries,” which examines and discusses questions related to the archeology of certain monuments in Rumkale within their historical context, using available Syriac sources. One question is why the Armenians in Rumkale would erect and commission a significant religious building, a monastery, after the name of a famous Syriac saint? Were there any sacred places for the Syriacs in Rumkale? What was the reaction of the Syriac ecclesiastic leadership toward the transfer of the Armenian patriarchate to Rumkale? What geographical and topographical information can be grasped from Syriac sources about Rumkale? What would the contemporaneous Syriac Chronicles inform us about Rumkale as a window to the Armeno-Syriac relationship during that period? In my chapter, I discussed such questions, not only from the perspective of archeology and architectural history but also from the perspective of the historical Armeno-Syriac relationship within a broader geographical and demographical aspect in which the Armenian sources present quite different accounts. Two key sources were examined here: first, the Chronicle of Michael the Syrian (d. 1199); then, the Ecclesiastic History of Gregory Barhebraeus (d. 1286). These two chroniclers came from the same geographical frame of the Upper Euphrates and lived at the time of our topic.
Some Observations from the Syriac Sources Relating to Rumkale
According to these two main Syriac historical sources, Rumkale as the ecclesiastical center of the Armenians had an influence on the relationship between the Syriacs and the Armenians during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The political reality in the region, especially after the fall of the Crusade county of Edessa, made the Armenians more dependent on efforts to assimilate the local Syriac Christian population into the emerging Armenian political and ecclesiastical entity in the region. In other words, they looked to Armenize the Syriacs, not only by containing their ecclesiastical leadership but also by implementing and encouraging a social, cultural, and political transformation among them. Patriarch Michael the Syrian was skeptical toward the Armenians. He regarded the emergence of the Armenian Catholicosate in Rumkale as a threat to his community. Meanwhile, Barhebraeus, who lived in different conditions, had to consider the political and military forces of the Mongols and Armenians. Therefore, he emphasized in his history the positive attitude of the Syriac ecclesiastical leadership in showing a good relationship with the Armenians.
I conclude by providing an example of how Syriac and Armenian sources differ in their presentation of some of the same historical events about Rumkale. The following is an example of a comparative citation taken from the Syriac text of Michael the Syrian’s Chronicle on the one hand, and on the other hand from the Armenian translation of the same source. This comparison illustrates the difference in the description and depiction of the image and the role of the Armenian Catholicosate in Rumkale during the middle ages.
According to the original Syriac text of the Chronicle of Michael the Syrian
According to the Armenian translation of the Chronicle of Michael the Syrian
[Page 685] The lord of Aleppo (Nūr al-Dīn) ruled over Tilbeşar, Gaziantep, ‘Azāz, and all the countries in between. To the Sultan were left Marʽash, Farzmān, Raʽbān, Keshūm, and Beth Ḥeṣnē. The lot of Qara Arslān included Babūlā, Gargar, Gakhtī and Ḥiṣn Manṣūr. Timūr-Tāsh, lord of Mardin, took Birecik, Samsat, Khuris and Kafartuthā. In this manner, the Turks had established their control entirely over these regions. Now Joscelin had appointed to Rumkale an Armenian named Michael. When Michael heard of Joscelin’s fall, he addressed his wife who was up until now in Tilbeşar to ask the Catholicos Gregory, who was in Dzov, that is, the Lake, to come to the fortress so that he would help him. When he went to the fortress, the catholicos acted treacherously toward him. He seized him, tormented him, took all his possessions, and expelled him, and Catholicos Gregory then controlled Rumkale.
[Para. 176] Then [Nur ad-Din] took all his holdings: Azaz, Tell Bashar, Pir, Rabban, Marash, Behesne, Hisn Mansur, Samosata, Gargar, Kaght’ayn, and other places. Joscelin was blinded and died [in jail]. All that remained was Hromklay where his wife and two daughters were located. Through the providence of God, [Joscelin’s wife] had given this [fortress] to the kat’oghikos of the Armenians, Lord Grigori, and [the place] became [the kat’oghikos] eternal seat. [Joscelin’s] wife had sent to Lord Grigori, kat’oghikos of the Armenians, who was at Tsov, for him to come and reside in the fortress [of Hromklay] since she wanted to cross the sea and return to her parents. Now she had a son [and she resolved that] if he lived and returned [to Hromklay], [the fortress] would be given to him. “Otherwise,” [she said,] “it is better that [Hromklay] belong to you than that the Turks take it.” The kat’oghikos went there and remained until Joscelin’s son arrived. With money, [the kat’oghikos] was able to persuade [Joscelin’s son to cede the fortress], and then [Joscelin’s son] departed. For he was not sure that he could hold [Hromklay] amid the Turks. Through the grace of God, [Hromklay] became their eternal see.
- Ghazarian, Jacob G. The Armenian Kingdom in Cilicia during the Crusades: The Integration of Cilician Armenians with the Latins (1080–1393). Abingdon, United Kingdom, 2000.
- Michael the Syrian. The Chronicle of Michael the Great, Patriarch of the Syrians. Translated by R. Bedrosian. Long Branch, 2013.
- Michael the Syrian. The Syriac Chronicle of Michael Rabo (the Great): A Universal History from the Creation. Translated by Matti Moosa. Teaneck, NJ, 2014.
- Takahashi, Hidemi. “Simeon of Qal’a Rumaita, Patriarch Philoxenus Nemrod and Bar Ebroyo.” In Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies, vol. 4, no. 1 (2001).
Photos courtesy of Habertürk.
Enjoying the Atla Blog?
Subscribe to receive email alerts of new blog posts of a specific type. Members, subscribers, publishers, or anyone interested in the study of religion & theology are welcome to sign up to one or all alerts to keep up to date with the Atla community. If you or your institution are a member, the Atla Newsletter delivers a monthly curated email of top posts to your email inbox.