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Orbelian dynasty

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Princes Bughta and Burtel Orbelian, 1306
Parent houseLiparitids
CountryKingdom of Georgia
Founded11th Century
Dissolution15th Century

The Orbelian lords of the province of Syunik were a noble family of Armenia,[1][2] with a long history of political influence documented in inscriptions throughout the provinces of Vayots Dzor and Syunik, and recorded by the family historian Bishop Stepanos in his 1297 History of Syunik.[3][4]


In historical sources, Ivane Orbeli is mentioned for the first time from this family. The Orbels were especially advanced during the reign of Demetrius I and David V, when their family inherited the name of Amirspasalar, and Lori as a administrative state.

For their bravery and loyal service at the Georgian court, the Orbelians received the hereditary title of commander-in-chief (amirspasalar) of the army and significant territories with a number of fortresses, including the fortress of Orbeti in the south of present-day Georgia, from which the name of the family - Orbeli and then Orbelian - was derived.

In 1177-1178, Amirspasalar Ivane Orbeli led a rebellion against the Georgian king George III, who broke his word and did not enthrone the legitimate heir to the throne, his nephew, Prince Demna. However, King George managed to cause a split among the rebels, luring most of them to his side (including the Armenian princes Zakarids, who later received the hereditary title of Amirspasalars - commanders-in-chief of the Armenian-Georgian army). Ivane sent his brother Liparit and nephews Elikum and Ivane to the Eldiguzids in Tabriz for help, but this new army came too late, after Ivane had been surrendered to King George and was barbarously killed by him in 1177. Together with him many Orbelians were exterminated, their possessions were lost, and young Demna blinded and castrated, the Orbelians who survived were expelled from Georgia and moved to Armenia.

Orbelian king hunting a lion, Noravank, late 13th to early 14th century

At the end of the 12th century, the Kingdom of Georgia, together with the Armenians, began the Reconquest - wars of liberation against the Seljuks. In order to further unite the Armenian-Georgian nobility around her throne, Queen Tamar, daughter of George III, pardoned all those who had rebelled against her father and allowed them to return to Georgia. Among others Ivane, the youngest son of Liparit II Orbelian returned to Georgia, who received only a small part of his former family holdings around the fortress of Orbeti. The eldest son of Liparit II Orbelian, Elikum I continued the Armenian branch of the Orbelian family in Syunik. When Elikum I was killed in 1184, the Orbelian family in Syunik was headed by his son, Liparit III, who was released from Islamic captivity. Thanks to the mediation of Ivane Zakarian, who commanded the reconquest, King George IV Lasha appointed Liparit III Orbelian as viceroy and granted him vast possessions in the north-eastern provinces of Armenia - in Syunik and its provinces of Gegharkunik, Vayots Dzor, as well as the castle of Kayen and the village of Elar with its surroundings in Kotayk.

Grave of Elikum III Orbelian (died 1300), son of Prince Tarsaich Orbelian, in Noravank.[5] He is depicted as a lion "who roars in front of enemy troops".[6]

In 1236, the Mongols under the command of Chormaqan invaded Georgia. The Georgians and Armenians were defeated and were forced to recognise the supreme power of the Khan in Karakorum. The descendant of Liparit III - Elikum Orbelian did the same. After negotiations with the Mongols, he retained his possessions, but undertook to participate with his troops in further campaigns of the Mongols. Later, thanks to personal relations with the great Khan in Karakorum, Smbat II managed to strengthen the position of the Orbelian family considerably.

When in 1249 a rebellion against the Mongol yoke rose in Georgia, Smbat II Orbelian did not dare to openly join the rebels, although secretly, apparently, sympathised with them (so, through his vassal nobleman Tancregul, Smbat helped the king David Narin to escape from the Mongol captivity). Smbat II himself managed to prove in the Mongol capital Karakorum that he was not involved in the rebellion.

After the death of Möngke Khan in 1259, the Georgian court and some Armenian nobles again revolted against the Mongol yoke. The rebellion was organised by Hasan-Jalal Dola, and Zakare III Zakarian. This time Smbat II Orbelian was even more cautious and did not support the rebels at all. The rebellion was suppressed in 1261. The Mongol rulers appreciated the loyalty of Smbat II; after the suppression of the rebellion he received the title of "king" and was transferred to the Mongol headquarters in Tabriz, where he died in 1273.

The ruler of Syunik was his younger brother - Tarsaich Orbelian, who ruled the Syunik Principality until 1290.

Orbelian's Caravanserai, 1332

After the death of Tarsaic, there were disputes between his sons and his nephew Liparit over part of the Orbelian domains - Dvin, Garni and Bargushat. The eldest son of Tarsaich Elikum Orbelian (ruled in 1290-1300), established on a princely throne, divided possessions of Orbelians between the brothers, thus considerably weakened military-political power of a sort.

The Church of Areni was built in 1321 by Bishop Yovhannes Orbelian under the artistic supervisation of Momik.[7]

Burtel, who succeeded Elikum II, became the ancestor of a collateral branch of the Orbelians - the Burtelians. After Burtel's death and with the invasion of Turkmen tribes and Tamerlane in 1385, the Syunik princedom of Orbelian fell into decline. The Syunik prince Smbat Orbelian, besieged in the fortress of Vorotnaberd, was captured by the conquerors and sent with his family to Samarkand, from where he returned after forced conversion to Islam. His son, Beshken, was forced to leave the Orbelian fiefdom and moved to Lori. Beshken's son Rustam Orbelian became a counsellor and high-ranking nobleman in Tabriz, continuing to own part of the Orbelian hereditary lands in Syunik and Ayrarat. However, after the defeat of Tabriz troops at Sofyan in 1437, Rustam Orbelian was forced to leave Syunik and move to Lori, selling his lands to the Tatev Monastery.

Although many representatives of the Orbelian princely family continued to live in Syunik, the family lost its former influence and split into a number of small side branches. Many melik (princely) families of Syunik in the 16th-19th centuries traced their genealogy back to the Orbelian princes, among them the Orbelian meliks of Tatev.


  1. ^ Steven Runciman. The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus and his reign: a study of tenth-century Byzantium. — Cambridge University Press, 1988. — p. 160—161.:"The third great family of Armenia was the Orbelians of Siounia. Siounia was the large canton to the east of the country, which stretched from Lake Sevan to the southernmost bend of the Araxes. "
  2. ^ ↑ George Lane. Genghis Khan and Mongol Rule. — Hackett Publishing, 2009. — p. 205.:"The Orbelian family were Armenian nobles who established close relations with Mongols and were loyal servants of the II-Khans."
  3. ^ Brosset, M. F. S. Orbelian, Histoire de la Siounie, translated by M. F. Brosset, St Petersburg, 1866
  4. ^ Stephanos Orbelian. History of the Land of Sisakan. Tiflis, 1910
  5. ^ Armenia: Art, Religion, and Trade in the Middle Ages - MetPublications - The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2018. p. 84.
  6. ^ Augé, Isabelle (2014). "Les lieux de mémoire des princes Orbelean : mémoire écrite, mémoire inscrite". Travaux et Mémoires. L'exemple le plus achevé de ce type de démonstration de force et de louange du caractère martial reste, dans le mausolée de Smpat, la tombe d'Ēlikum, mort en 1300, qui comporte la gravure d'un lion et fait référence aux qualités léonines du personnage qui "rugit face aux troupes ennemies"
  7. ^ Nersessian, Vrej (2001). Treasures from the Ark: 1700 Years of Armenian Christian Art. The British Library Board - Getty Museum. p. 106.
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Orbelian dynasty
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