Post-classical history


Ayas or Lajazzo (mod. Yumurtalik, Turkey), located on the Gulf of Alexandretta, was the busiest port in the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia in the thirteenth century.

As the Mamlūks conquered the Frankish ports of Syria and Palestine, Ayas gradually became the main entrepôt for trade between Asia and the Mediterranean, and by the end of the thirteenth century it housed trading companies from Venice, Genoa, Marseilles, and elsewhere. The city took advantage of a small headland to create a harbor, whose protection was artificially increased by an artificial mole, and around 1282 a sea castle was built to protect the harbor. In 1261 King Het‘um I of Cilicia granted the Venetians an area within the city to house their merchants and goods, and King Leon II extended trading privileges to the Genoese in 1288. Disagreements between the two Italian republics led to a naval battle outside Ayas in 1293, which the Venetians won, seizing 500,000 bezants’ worth of goods from the Genoese.

The Mamlūk victory over the Cilician kingdom in 1285 frequently left Ayas and the Cilician plain vulnerable to Mamlūk raids: a large-scale attack on the city was fought off in 1320, but it fell only two years later (23 April 1322). Negotiations with the Mamlūk sultan al-Nasir in 1323 led to the return of the city to Armenian control, on condition that the sea castle was not rebuilt, although Pope John XXII helped to pay for the reconstruction of the land castle. In 1337 Ayas was again taken by the Mamlūks, and after the Cilician kingdom was entirely conquered in 1375, it became the capital of a Mamlūk province. Constantine IV of Cilicia and Peter I of Cyprus attempted to recapture the city in September 1367 but succeeded only in temporarily seizing the suburbs. In contrast to their policy with regard to the seaports of Syria and Palestine, the Mamlūks did not entirely destroy the city or its harbor, and it continued to function, though largely without the participation of Western merchants, and ceased to be the main port of trans-Asian trade.

An Armenian bishop is first recorded for the city in the mid-thirteenth century. The sources also mention the churches of St. Lazarus (Armenian), St. Mark (Venetian), and St. Laurence (Genoese). Four parts of the medieval city remain today: the land castle (largely dating from the Ottoman period); the sea castle, now some 400 meters (c. 1300 ft.) offshore; the harbor; and part of the medieval settlement.

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