There is a Cyclopean fortress almost in 4km to the east of Amberd. It was poorly located, while Amberd placed in an ideal spot. Some may suggest that because there are many other Cyclopean fortresses around Amberd, it may have been Cyclopean too.
Many archaeological excavations proved this guess to be wrong. T. Toramanyan and H. Orbeli claimed that the fortress was built in primeval times or BC. Beginning in the 10th century, Cyclopean fortresses were typically mass inhabited. Armenian castle-building was just developing in 10th century.
Arshakuni and other dynasties could have 70-80,000 men in their armies. Armenians were able to battle near enemy-borders, even compel them not to enter into their lands. During the Bagratuni (Bagratid) dynasty, each battle took place with the help of fortresses. These battles were smaller in scale.
Bagratuni kings often had 30,000 man armies. Beginning with King Ashot Yerkat, when Armenians were banishing Arabs from Armenia, the Bagratunies were able to build many castles and fortresses to strengthen their country. Many of these castles were built in mountainous areas.
In the 11th century, the local diocese was moved from Byurakan to Amberd, mostly because the Byurakan fortress was ruined in the beginning of the 10th century.
Many middle-age fortresses were built by the wealthy king, Ashot Yerkat. Many people credit him for Amberd; it is called the fortress of Ashot Yerkat. This monarch had already banished the Arabs and used his wealth to strengthen and fortify many other large fortresses, including Amberd, during ten years of peace. He organized and strengthened the Armenian military force, resulting in the country becoming a real military camp.
No one could attack the Armenians and their fortresses. Ashot Yerkat had everything he needed to defend his land. The people loved him, and called him Yerkat, which means ‘Iron.’
All of this information about Ashot and fortresses being built by him are just a guess; nobody can prove them to be fact. Some historians say that Aragatsotn was in the east of the Shirak kingdom. The enemy should have been passing Aragatsotn before reaching the capital of the Bagratunies. Based on this information, the most probable time frame in which Amberd was built is likely the 10th century.
The first written notes about Amberd relate to the 11th century. The Middle Age historian Vardan Bardzraberdci said: ”King Gagik died in 444 and gave the kingdom to his three sons: Hovhannes, Abbas and Ashot. He gave the crown to Hovhannes. He also gave him the Ani and Shirak kingdoms, Amberd, lowland Ararat, Kayan, Kaytson and Tavoosh provinces. The other regions he gave to Ashot and Abbas.”
Amberd was a very important fortress during Gagik’s time. This is likely why Amberd was given to Hovhannes-Smbat after his father’s death.
The Pahlavuni dynasty’s role was very important in the Bagratuni kingdom. They were the most faithful princes of Bagratid kings, protecting the country. Because of this, Amberd was entrusted to the Pahlavunies.
The Pahlavunies’ role grew in the 11th century. This role grew even more during the reigns of both Hovhannes-Smbat and Gagik II. Hovhannes-Smbat was a very effeminate ruler, so the Pahlavunies took the kingdom in their hands.
One of the Pahlavunies, Vahram Pahlavuni, was a very patriotic prince. During his time, Byzantine aggression increased. Vahram demolished the Byzantine army with a brilliant victory. The Byzantines were not able to invade either Amberd or the Bagratunies’ capital, Ani. In the last years of Vahram’s life, he devoted his attentions to the Amberd fortress.
In 1045, Gagik II was called to Constantinople. Emperor Monomakh compelled him to abandon Ani in order to give it to the Byzantines. The inhabitants of Ani wanted to give Ani to the Georgian king Bagrat IV; the castle was given to Bagrat’s mother, Queen Mariam.
All nine fortresses were given to Georgians except for Amberd. At the time, Vahram was still living there. He did not want to give anything to Georgians or the Byzantines. Amberd remained Vahram’s castle till his death in 1048, under Dvin’s walls. His son Grigor died with him.
Zakare and Ivane Zakarians liberated Amberd and whole Aragatsotn province from Seljuk Turks who had invaded it in the 1070s. Amberd was given to Vacheh Vachutian.
Vacheh called himself Amberdci, a word in Armenian that means “a man from Amberd”. Vacheh used to live in Amberd, and it became his administrative center. Many of the buildings of Amberd relate to this period, including a new room in the east side of the fortress, new gates, a pond, restoration of the bath house and chapel.
Vachutian Vacheh is famous based on lapidary inscriptions. His wife was named Mamakhatun; she also participated in the construction of many wonderful buildings. Vacheh and Mamakhatun supported construction of various churches in the region.
Qurd Vachutian, Vacheh’s son, left Amberd. Vardenis village, located in front of mount Ara, became a governmental seat. The King of Kilikia, Hetum I, came to Qurd when Hetum was visiting Möngke Khan.
After the Mongolian invasions, Qurd Vachutian was the first person who called himself an Amberdci, allowing the Vachutians to regain the fortress. When Qurd Amberdci died around 1343, his son Chrqeen became the lord of Amberd province.
The fact that the Vachutians were given Aragatsotn province and Amberd proved that the Vachutians were very faithful and powerful vassals of the Zakarians. Aragatsotn was extremely important during both the Zakarian and Bagratuni dynasties as it was the southeastern military base.
Amberd’s role increased as a protective fortress during the Zakarian dynasty. During the Vachutians’ rule, Amberd became their administrative center because it was in the middle of the province. In the 14th century, “the province of Amberd” meant “the province of Ararat.” The Vachutians strengthened it more, built more extensive fortifications and many other buildings. It should be noted that while this was the case, the real owners of Amberd were the Zakarians.