Armenian Mythology

by Mardiros H. Ananikian


The Mythology of All Races

Volume VII

Author's Preface

[5] THE ancient religion of Armenia was derived from three main sources: National, Iranian, and Asianic. The Asianic element, including the Semitic, does not seem to have extended beyond the objectionable but widely spread rites of a mother goddess. The National element came from Eastern Europe and must have had a common origin with the Iranian. But it, no doubt, represents an earlier stage of development than the Vedas and the Avesta. It is for the well-informed scholar of Indo-European religion to pronounce a judgement as to the value of the material brought together in this study. The lexical, folk-loristic, and literary heritage of the Armenians has much yet to disclose. No one can be more painfully conscious than the author of the defects of this work. He had to combine research with popular and connected exposition, a task far above his ability. The ancient material was not so scanty as broken. So analogy, wherever it could be found within the family, was called upon to restore the natural connections.

Among the numerous writers on Armenian mythology, three names stand high: Mgrdich Emin of Moscow, Prof. Heinrich Gelzer of Jena, and Father Leo Alishan of Venice. Emin laid the foundation of the scientific treatment of Armenian mythology in the middle of the nineteenth century, and his excellent contribution has become indispensable in this field. To Heinrich Gelzer, primarily a scholar of Byzantine history, we owe the latest modern study of the Armenian Pantheon. As for Alishan, he was a poet and an erudite, but had hardly any scientific training. So his Ancient Faith of Armenia is a [6] naive production abounding in more or less inaccessible material of high value and in sometimes suggestive but more often strange speculations. Manug Abeghian will rightly claim the merit of having given to Armenian folklore a systematic form, while A. Aharonian's thesis on the same subject is not devoid of interest. Unfortunately Stackelberg's article, written in Russian, was accessible to the author only in an Armenian resume. Sandalgian's Histoire Documentaire de l' Armenie, which appeared in 1917 but came to the author's notice only recently, contains important chapters on ancient Armenian religion and mythology. The part that interprets Urartian inscriptions through ancient Greek and Armenian has not met with general recognition among scholars. But his treatment of the classic and medieval material is in substantial accord with this book. The main divergences have been noted.

Grateful thanks are due to the editors as well as the publishers for their forbearance with the author's idiosyncrasies and limitations. Also a hearty acknowledgement must be made here to my revered teacher and colleague Prof. Duncan B. Macdonald of the Hartford Theological Seminary, to Prof. Lewis Hodous of the Kennedy School of Missions, and to Dr. John W. Chapman of the Case Memorial Library for many fertile suggestions. Prof. Macdonald, himself an ardent and able folk-lorist, and Prof. Hodous, a student of Chinese religions, carefully read this work and made many helpful suggestions.

Hartford, Connecticut,
April 23, 1922.


The Political Background

[7] LONG before the Armenians came to occupy the lofty plateau, south of the Caucasus, now known by their name, it had been the home of peoples about whom we possess only scanty information. It matters little for our present purpose, whether the older inhabitants consisted of different ethnic types, having many national names and lanuages, or whether they were a homogeneous race, speaking dialects of the same mother tongue and having some common name. For the sake of convenience we shall call them Urartians, as the Assyrians did. The Urartians formed a group of civilized states mostly centreing around the present city of Van. Although they left wonderful constructions and many cuneiform inscriptions, we depend largely on the Assyrian records for our information concerning their political history.

It would seem that the Urartians belonged to the same non-Aryan and non-Semitic stock of peoples as the so-called Hittites who held sway in the Western Asiatic peninsula long before Indo-European tribes such as Phrygians, Mysians, Lydians, and Bithynians came from Thrace, and Scythians and Cimmerians from the north of the Black Sea to claim the peninsula as their future home.

The Urartians were quite warlike and bravely held their own against the Assyrian ambitions until the seventh century B.C., when their country, weakened and disorganized through continual strife, fell an easy prey to the Armenian conquerors (640-600).

[8] The coming of the Armenians into Asia Minor, according to the classical authorities, forms a part of the great exodus from Thrace. By more than one ancient and intelligent writer, they are declared to have been closely related to the Phrygians whom they resembled both in language and costume, and with whom they stood in Xerxes' army, according to Herodotus (1). Slowly moving along the southern shores of the Black Sea, they seem to have stopped for a while in what was known in antiquity as Armenia Minor, which, roughly speaking, lies southeast of Pontus and just northeast of Cappadocia. Thence they must have once more set out to conquer the promised land, the land of the Urartians, where they established themselves as a military aristocracy in the mountain fastnesses and the fortified cities, driving most of the older inhabitants northward, reducing the remainder to serfdom, taxing them heavily, employing them in their internal and external wars, and gradually but quite effectively imposing upon them their own name, language, religion, and cruder civilization. It is very natural that such a relation should culminate in a certain amount of fusion between the two races. This is what took place, but the slow process became complete only in the middle ages when the Turkish (Seljuk) conquest of the country created a terrible chaos in the social order.

Very soon after the Armenian conquest of Urartu, even before the new lords could organize and consolidate the land into anything like a monarchy, Armenia was conquered by Cyrus (558-529 B.C.), then by Darius (524-485 B.C.). After the meteoric sweep of Alexander the Great through the eastern sky, it passed into Macedonian hands. But in 190 B.C., under Antiochus the Great, two native satraps shook off the Seleucid yoke. One of them was Artaxias, who with the help of the fugitive Hannibal, planned and built Artaxata, on the Araxes, as his capital. Under the dynasty of this king, who became a [9] legendary hero, the country prospered for a while and attained with Tigranes the Great (94-54 B.C.) an ephemeral greatness without precedent until then and without any parallel ever since. In 66 A.D. a branch of the Parthian (Arsacid) Dynasty was established in Armenia under the suzerainty and protection of Rome. The first king of this house was Tiridates I, formerly the head of the Magi of his country, who may have done much in Armenia for the establishment of Zoroastrianism. It was under Tiridates II, a scion of this royal house, that, in the beginning of the fourth century of our era, Christianity, long present in the country, and often persecuted, achieved its fuller conquest.[11]


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