Ghazar P'arpec'i's

History of the Armenians

Translator's Preface

To the memory of my uncle Nishan (Mark) Der Bedrosian

Download in zip format gp.zip; pdf format Ghazar.pdf

Ghazar P'arpec'i's History of the Armenians was written at the end of the fifth or beginning of the sixth century. The first book of this three-book work begins with information concerning the division of Armenia between the Byzantine and Sasanian empires (in 387), and describes the invention of the Armenian alphabet and the abolition of the monarchy in the Iranian-controlled eastern sector (428) to the death of kat'oghikos Sahak (439). Book II describes the anti-Iranian Armenian uprising of 450/451 (the battle of Awarayr) led by Vardan Mamikonean; while Book III describes another anti-Iranian uprising led by Vardan's nephew, Vahan Mamikonean, and known as the Vahaneanc' (481-84).

The History of the Armenians is the product of an author about whom certain biographical details exist. This information is found in Ghazar's History and in his Letter to the marzpan of Armenia, Vahan Mamikonean (marzpan 485-ca.506). According to these documents, Ghazar was from P'arpi village in the Aragacotn district and perhaps was a Mamikonean relative. He was educated at the home of bdeshx Ashusha of Iberia (Georgia) along with Hmayeak Mamikonean's children Vahan, Artashes, and Vard. Subsequently, under the tutelage of Aghan Arcruni, Ghazar became a cleric who received part of his education in Byzantium. According to the Armenist Manuk Abeghyan, from 484 to 486 Ghazar was a hermit in Siwnik', but left his cave when his childhood friend, the now marzpan Vahan Mamikonean, invited him to Vagharshapat to become abbot of the monastery there. For reasons not entirely clear, Ghazar eventually was expelled from the monastery by jealous monks. It was then that he wrote his Letter to Vahan, refuting the charges levelled against him. At Vahan's request, Ghazar returned to Armenia from his place of refuge, Amida on Byzantine territory. Likewise at Vahan's request, Ghazar wrote his History of the Armenians. This work is a panegyric to the Mamikonean family generally, and especially of the rebels Vardan and his nephew Vahan, who was Ghazar's childhood friend and lifelong patron.

[ii] The text of Ghazar's History contains one serious lacuna: apparently one or more pages were removed in III.74. which presumably contained a description of the deaths of Vasak Mamikonean and Sahak Bagratuni as well as the names of the naxarars (lords) who fell in the same battle. Also, several lines are missing or out of place in the description of Vahan's battle near Mt. Jrvez with the famous Iranian commander Zarmihr Hazarawuxt, which confuses the outcome of the battle. One long section, the "Vision of St. Sahak", in which Sahak speaks of the fall of the Arsacid kingdom and the discontinuation of the priesthood in the line of Gregory the Illuminator, is recognized today as a later interpolation, and is not translated here. The discovery of a lost fragment of P'arpec'i in 1967, which describes the creation of the Armenian alphabet, has cleared away the confusion found in the History regarding when this event occurred and also cleared Ghazar of the one serious criticism raised by Abeghyan regarding reliability.

Ghazar P'arpec'i cites three authors as sources: Agat'angeghos, P'awstos Buzand, and Koriwn. He is reluctant to rely on P'awstos' History since he discovered in it many passages of an anti-clerical and vulgar nature that led him to suggest that bishop P'awstos' work was corrupted by some uneducated person. Ghazar also appears to have used a Life of Alexander and Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History. Likewise the author cites oral informants most notably Arshawir Kamsarakan and his son Nerses, and a Syrian merchant "Xuzhik", all of whom were participants in the events described.

P'arpec'i is a reasonably trustworthy historian. True, certain of his biases, especially his religious worldview occasionally lead him to attribute incorrect causes for some events. Nonetheless, he does know the correct sequence of Iranian and Byzantine kings as well as of Armenian kat'oghikoi. His veracity on certain details and events may be confirmed by other sources. In addition to being our major source on military, political, and religious developments in fifth century Armenia, Ghazar's History is also a major untapped source on the [iii] history of fifth-century Iran. For example, the author dates important events to the regnal years of Iranian monarchs, and uses Persian units of measurement for distance throughout his work. He provides interesting information on the judicial and other prerogatives of such Iranian officials as the hazarapet, ambarapet, maypet, master of the wardrobe, pustipansalar, and marzpan; on the lives and deaths of Yazdgard II, Hormizd III, Valas, and the rebel Zareh. P'arpec'i is a major source on shah Peroz, and perhaps the only contemporary historian whose descriptions of this monarch's administrative policies, court life, eastern wars, and "crimes" has survived. Furthermore, the History of the Armenians contains detailed information on Iranian religious and administrative policies toward Armenia and Syria, including the treatment of prisoners and the peculiar form of penal servitude called mshakut'iwn in Armenian. By no means lastly, P'arpec'i provides a wealth of geographical information on Iran which has yet to be examined by specialists.

Ghazar's attitude toward Iran and its policies is one of unequivocal hatred. This is quite understandable, since as panegyrist of the Mamikoneans who fought with their lives against Iran, he cannot support Iranian policies. Iranian administrative policy included a definite religio-cultural policy. Thus, not only as a Mamikonean sympathizer, but as a Christian cleric, he cannot tolerate either the implications or the actualities of Iranian domination. P'arpec'i's reaction to Iranian religious policies is expressed in several ways: by repudiation of all things Zoroastrian, exultation over Zoroastrian reverses, refutations of Zoroastrian beliefs, elevation of Christian martyrs into epic heroes, and humiliation of the Syrians whose influence in Armenia was encouraged by Iran.

P'arpec'i also has definite opinions about Armenia's nobility, the naxarars. He divides this aristocracy into two groups, the oath-keepers and the oath-breakers, i.e., those naxarars who fought loyally on the side of the Mamikoneans against Iran and those apostates who sided with Iran and so converted to Zoroastrianism. Those naxarars who were traditionally loyal to the Mamikoneans receive great praise from Ghazar who, in his [iv] descriptions of the numerous battles fought, heroically describes their feats of individual bravery. These are the naxarars imprisoned in Iran after the Vardananc' whom Ghazar portrays as angels on earth and living martyrs. In jail these pious naxarars recalled the moving words of the priest Ghewond; when released from captivity, they secretly kept the relics of the martyred priests; and, while serving in the Iranian army, they conducted open and secret religious meetings. Occasionally the author speaks of "all the naxarars", such as the group of nobles who urged kat'oghikos Sahak to translate the Bible into Armenian, or the group urging the deposed Sahak to resume his duties as kat'oghikos. However, in both instances, Ghazar apparently is referring to Christian rather than Zoroastrian naxarars. Likewise the expression "all the naxarars", who slay by lapidation the lord Zandaghan for telling Vasak Siwnik' details of the planned revolt, refer to the Christian pro-Mamikonean rather than the Zoroastrian, pro-Iranian naxarars. Throughout the fifth century the naxarars were strong, independent, and therefore untrustworthy allies. The natural enmity which existed among rival naxarar houses also received great impetus from the divisive policies of Iran.

For P'arpec'i, Vardan and Vahan Mamikonean epitomize resistance both to Zoroastrian Iran and to the apostate naxarars. There are some general similarities between the descriptions of Vardan and Vahan. However, it is in the personality of Ghazar's friend and patron, Vahan, about whom the information is more detailed and intimate, that one sees most clearly the author's attitude toward the Mamikoneans. Because P'arpec'i considered both the Vardananc' and the Vahaneanc' religious wars, his Mamikonean leaders are holy warriors. They are the protectors of the faith par excellence. In war they are noble fighters; in war and peace they care for the poor like good shepherds; uncle and nephew are both portrayed as democratic leaders. The author's pro-Mamikonean bias is apparent also in his defence of that family against charges made by Armenia's enemies—the apostate naxarars. Beyond this, Ghazar wishes his reader to understand that the Mamikoneans are the equals of the highest [v] Iranian nobility (if not the monarchy) which deeply admires their prowess. Ghazar's elevation of the Mamikoneans concludes with a hint that the Mamikoneans may in fact be supernatural beings.

The present translation was made from the classical Armenian edition of G. Ter-Mkrtch'ean and St. Malxasean (Ghazaray P'arpec'woy patmut'iwn hayoc' ew tught' arh Vahan Mamikonean, Tiflis, 1904) in 1980. This translation does not include the Letter to Vahan Mamikonean. For a more detailed discussion of P'arpec'i see R. Bedrosian, The Sparapetut'iwn in Armenia in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries, Armenian Review 36(1983) pp. 6-45, and Dayeakut'iwn in Ancient Armenia, Armenian Review 37(1984) pp. 23-47. For additional bibliography and studies of fifth-century Armenia see C. Toumanoff, Studies in Christian Caucasian History (Georgetown, 1963) [especially part II, States and Dynasties of Caucasia in the Formative Centuries , and Part V, The Armeno-Georgian Marchlands]; his article, "Armenia and Georgia," [Chapter XIV in The Cambridge Medieval History, vol. IV, The Byzantine Empire, part I, (Cambridge, 1966), pp. 593-637]; and N. Adontz, Armenia in the Period of Justianian (Lisbon, 1970). The transliteration employed in this translation is a modification of the Hubschmann-Meillet system.

Robert Bedrosian
New York, 1985

A Note on Pagination

The following chronological tables may be useful as accompaniments to the translation. The tables open in separate windows, for persistence. Additional tables are available on another page of this site: Chronological Tables. Maps are available on our Maps Page.

Rulers of Armenia and of Eastern and Western Empires
Kat'oghikoi and Corresponding Secular Rulers of the Armenians
Rulers of Armenia and Iberia/Georgia



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