Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Friday, January 11, 2013

Harput Castle - Roman / Byzantine Fortress

The Castle of Harput
The isolated rock upon which a castle was later built, has been a
fortified site since the 9th century BC. 

The Roman and Byzantine Fortress of Harput

The Castle of Harput is located at the town of Elâzığ (Turkish pronunciation: [eˈlazɯː]; Armenian: Խարբերդ; Kh'arberd/Harput, Kurdish: Elezîz/Xarpêt , Syriac: ܟܪܦܘܬ; Kharpūṭ/Ḥarfūṭ).

Elazig is a city in Eastern Anatolia, Turkey and the administrative center of Elâzığ Province.

The city of Elâzığ was founded among the skirts of the hill on which the historical Harput Castle was constructed. According to the present historical sources, the most ancient inhabitants of Harput was the Hurrian nation who settled in these parts in c2000 B.C.

Harput, and its surrounding region was part of the kingdom of Urartu at the period of its maximum extension.

The ancient town and citadel called Kharput (Kharpert), which means "rocky fortress" in Armenian, was built by the first Armenian kings about five kilometers from modern Elâzığ.

However, very little written material about this city reached our day. It is possible that Harput stands on or is near the site of Carcathio-certa in Sophene, reached by Corbulo in A.D. 65. The early Muslim geographers knew it as Hisn Ziyad, but the Armenian name, Khartabirt or Kharbirt, whence Kharput and Harput, was generally adopted in time.

The isolated rock, upon which a castle was built later on, has been a fortified site since the 9th century BC.

A strong point like Harput would have been part of both the Roman and Byzantine defensive systems.  The castle exists.  You can see it for yourself.  But I can find near zero information about it.

There are so many questions about Byzantium and its wars that are lost to history.  Unfortunately Procopius of Caesarea (500 – c. AD 565) was the last, and almost only, real historian for the eastern empire.

Eastern Anatolia would have seen many huge military campaigns from Roman to Byzantine times.  This area saw multiple wars with the Persian Empire, Arabs and Turks.  A military strongpoint like Harput would have been involved in defense against those invasions.  When captured the castle would then have become an occupied strong point for the enemies of Rome.  There is a story to be told, but we will never know it.

After the 1071 Battle of Manzikert the region was occupied by Turkish tribes in 1085 and Roman troops in the area were withdrawn to defend the cities closer to the center of Anatolia, the coastal zones and Constantinople. 

The Romans left after 900 years never to return.  The eastern military themes permanently became Muslim and Turkish.

Harput - Over 900 years of Roman Rule
The Roman Empire had control of the Anatolia area around Harput for
about 900 years.  There were endless battles and invasions, but there is zero
information about the castle and its military history.  

In later years William of Tyre wrote that Joscelin I, Count of Edessa (Jocelyn) of Courtenay, and King Baldwin II of Jerusalem were prisoners of the Amir Balak in Kharput's castle and that they were rescued by their Armenian allies. William of Tyre calls the place Quart Piert or Pierre.

The Çubukoğulları, Artuqids and Ottomans ruled in the region..

Harput became part of a small emirate ruled by the Cubuko who were vassals of the Sultanate of Rum; later on the town was occupied by the Artukids, who were based in Mardin and Diyarbakir; Harput was ruled by a separate branch of the Artukids and during this period, the town flourished and its main monuments were built.

In 1234 Harput was annexed by the Sultans of Rum, but in 1243 the Mongol invasion weakened their power and the town was eventually included in Dulgadir, an emirate based in Maras.

In 1465 Harput fell to Uzun Hasan, leader of the Ak Koyunlu (White Sheep federation), Turkmen tribes to whom Timur had assigned the region of Diyarbakir; the Ak Koyunlu came in contact with the Ottomans and they tried in vain to prevent the (last) Byzantine Empire of Trebizond from falling into Ottoman hands; Uzun Hasan established relations with the Republic of Venice in order to contain the expansion of their common enemy.

View of the fortress

The Persian Empire
The Persian Sassanid Empire at its greatest extent ca. 620 AD.
Harput Castle would have been at the center of many great wars. In the early 600s the Persians conquered Roman provinces from Armenian to Palestine to Egypt.  The Roman Emperor Heraclius fought a devastating war of re-conquest over the Harput area.  But the written military history for the fortress is almost non-existent.
Mountains of books in excruciating detail have been written about the totally insignificant American Battle of the Little Big Horn.  But information about the great invasions and battles with the Persians, Slavs, Arabs and Turks often does not exist.  We can only guess at the at the endless acts of heroism and hand to hand combat that took place but are lost to history. 

In 1473, at the battle of Otluk Beli, Sultan Mehmet II led his army to a great victory against the Ak Koyunlu: the battle showed that the Ottomans had an edge on their eastern enemies: they used cannon and rifles whereas Uzun Hasan mainly relied on light cavalry.

Harput remained however in possession of the Ak Koyunlu; in 1507 it was occupied by the Safavids, who ruled over Persia from 1502 to 1722; their control of the town lasted only until 1516 when the Ottomans annexed Harput and the whole region; this occurred after the 1514 battle of Caldiran, in which Ottoman rifles and cannon exterminated the Safavid cavalry. Ak Koyunlu and Safavids regarded the use of cannon and rifles as dishonourable behaviour for a warrior.

Harput housed a large Armenian community who lived at the foot of the fortress; in the region several villages were inhabited almost entirely by Armenians; relations with the Muslim population were relatively good, because the Ottoman system of millet (religious community) granted the Armenians a certain degree of self government.

The Armenians had no reason to support the Safavids, the only enemy the Ottomans had in the east, and they were loyal to the Sultan.

(Elâzığ, Turkey)          (romeartlover.tripod.com)

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