The kingdom had its origins in the principality founded c. 1080 by the Rubenid dynasty, an alleged offshoot of the larger Bagratid family, which at various times had held the thrones of Armenia and Georgia. Their capital was originally at Tarsus, and later became Sis. Cilicia was a strong ally of the European Crusaders, and saw itself as a bastion of Christendom in the East. It also served as a focus for Armenian nationalism and culture, since Armenia proper was under foreign occupation at the time. Cilicia's significance in Armenian history and statehood is also attested by the transfer of the seat of the Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church, spiritual leader of the Armenian people, to the region. In 1198, with the crowning of Leo the Magnificent of the Rubenid dynasty, Cilician Armenia became a kingdom.
In 1226, the crown was passed to rival Hethumids through Leo's daughter Isabella's second husband, Hethum I. As the Mongols conquered vast regions of Central Asia and the Middle East, Hethum and succeeding Hethumid rulers sought to create an Armeno-Mongol alliance against common Muslim foes, most notably the Mamluks. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the Crusader states disintegrated and the Mongols became Islamized, leaving the Armenian Kingdom without any regional allies. After relentless attacks by the Mamluks in Egypt in the fourteenth century, the Cilician Armenia of the Lusignan dynasty, mired in an internal religious conflict, finally fell in 1375.
Commercial and military interactions with Europeans brought new Western influences to the Cilician Armenian society. Many aspects of Western European life were adopted by the nobility including chivalry, fashions in clothing, and the use of French titles, names, and language. Moreover, the organization of the Cilician society shifted from its traditional system to become closer to Western feudalism. The European Crusaders themselves borrowed know-how, such as elements of Armenian castle-building and church architecture. Cilician Armenia thrived economically, with the port of Ayas serving as a center for East-West trade.
Armenian presence in Cilicia dates back to the first century BC, when under Tigranes the Great, the Kingdom of Armenia expanded and conquered a vast region in the Levant. In 83 BC, the Greek aristocracy of Seleucid Syria, weakened by a bloody civil war, offered their allegiance to the ambitious Armenian king. Tigranes then conquered Phoenicia and Cilicia, effectively ending the Seleucid Empire. The southern border of his domain reached as far as Ptolemais (modern Acre). Many of the inhabitants of conquered cities were sent to the new metropolis of Tigranakert (Latin: Tigranocerta). At its height, Tigranes' Armenian Empire extended from the Pontic Alps to Mesopotamia, and from the Caspian to the Mediterranean. Tigranes invaded as far southeast as the Parthian capital of Ecbatana, located in modern-day western Iran. In 27 BC, the Roman Empire conquered Cilicia and transformed it into one of its eastern provinces.
After the 395 AD partition of the Roman Empire into halves, Cilicia became incorporated into the Eastern Roman Empire, also called the Byzantine Empire. In the sixth century AD, Armenian families relocated to Byzantine territories. Many served in the Byzantine army as soldiers or as generals, and rose to prominent imperial positions.