Kirakos Ganjakets'i's

History of the Armenians


Translator's Preface



Kirakos Gandzaketsi's History of the Armenians is a primary source for the study of the Armenian highlands in the 13th century. This lengthy work, which has survived in 65 chapters, is divided thematically into several sections. Part one is a summary of Armenian church and political history from the 4th through the 12th centuries. This section, which describes the lives and times of the heads of the Armenian Church (kat'oghikoi), is based on earlier Armenian sources, many of which have survived. The second section describes political and military events in the 12th century both in Eastern (or Caucasian) Armenia and in the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia on the Mediterranean. The next section (chapter 10), resembling the first, contains a biographical list of the kat'oghikoi of Caucasian Aghbania/Aghuania (modern Azerbaijan). In chapter 11 and subsequent chapters, Kirakos described the events of his own day: the period of the Zak'arids, the Mongol invasions and domination, and their impact on the Armenians and other peoples of the Middle East. As the author himself was aware, this was by far the most important part of his History, and he devoted much of the work to it.

Biographical information about Kirakos Gandzakets'i is not plentiful. In chapter 33 of his work, after a description of the activities of the influential Syrian cleric Raban, the author wrote: "This episode was written down in the year [ii] 1241 (690 of the Armenian Era)...when I was more or less forty years old." Consequently the historian was born in the early part of the 13th century, probably between 1200 and 1210.

Kirakos received his early education at the monastery of Getik, at that time under the direction of Martiros, a student of the great teacher and writer Mxit'ar Gosh (d. 1213). However, it was with another of Mxit'ar's students, the historian Yovhannes Vanakan (d. 1251), that Kirakos studied for a prolonged period. This education commenced at Xoranashat monastery near Tawush fortress, northwest of Gandzak. When the Khwarazmian sultan Jalal al-Din ravaged Xoranashat in 1225, Vanakan fled with his students to a nearby cave, near the village of Lorut, south of Tawush. He continued teaching there until 1236 when a Mongol army under Molar-noyin occupied Tawush. Both Vanakan and Kirakos were taken captive by the Mongols and kept as secretaries for several months. Eventually, Vanakan was ransomed by the Christians of Gag for eighty dahekans, and Kirakos escaped secretly the same night, fleeing to Getik.

Almost nothing is known about the remaining years of the historian's life. That he participated in a movement to crush a rebellion in the Church in 1251 is clear from chapter 48 of his work. Around 1255 he interviewed the Cilician Armenian king Het'um I (1224-68) at the village of Vardenis near Mt. Aragats upon the latter's return from a visit to Batu-Khan.

[iii] Kirakos' name is mentioned in 1265 by his classmate and fellow-historian, Vardan Arewelts'i, from whom the author requested and received a commentary on the Song of Songs. According to another late 13th century historian, Grigor Aknerts'i, Kirakos died in 1271/72.

Kirakos was eminently qualified to write about 13th century Armenia. An intelligent man trained by an intellectual of Vanakan's caliber, the author was familiar with Church organization and problems, with prominent contemporary churchmen and their historical writings. He was acquainted with important Armenian naxarars (lords) such as prince Prhosh Xaghbakean, who participated in the Mongol conquest of Baghdad in 1258/59 and narrated to Kirakos what he had seen and heard, and prince Grigor Mamikonean, who informed Kirakos what he had heard from a Mongol noble about Chingiz-Khan. His detailed information about members of the Zak'arid family derives in part from Prhosh, himself a Zak'arid relation. As mentioned above, King Het'um I served as one informant. Furthermore, during his months of captivity by the Mongols, Kirakos served as a secretary writing and reading letters, and he learned Mongolian. In chapter 32 of his History Kirakos Gandzakets'i has left us a priceless treasure, a lexicon of some 55 Mongolian terms with their Armenian equivalents, one of the earliest monuments of the Mongolian language. Consequently, such an individual knew well not only the workings of his own society, but clearly understood aspects of the society of Armenia's conquerors and new masters.

[iv] It is not known when Kirakos began his work. Father Oskean, citing the aforementioned statement in chapter 33, "This was written down in the year 690 A.E...." thinks the year 1240 a likely time. The History ends abruptly with an unfinished description of the war between the Khans Abaqa and Berke (1266/67). The cause of this sudden termination is unknown.

The critical edition of Gandzakets'i's History of the Armenians was published by the late K.A. Melik'-Ohanjanyan in 1961. That text was based on more than thirty manuscripts housed at the Matenadaran in Erevan, Armenia, collated with three earlier editions. Translations have been made into French by M. Brosset (St. Petersburg, 1870); Russian by A. Khanlarian (Moscow, 1976); and modern Armenian by V. Arhak'elyan. The present English translation, which was completed in 1975, was made from the Melik'-Ohanjanyan edition, but omits several lengthy sections which are of doctrinal or theological, rather than historical, importance. For a detailed study of the Turco-Mongol invasions see volume five of the Cambridge History of Iran (Cambridge, 1968 ); for Armenia in particular, see R. Bedrosian, The Turco-Mongol Invasions and the Lords of Armenia in the 13-14th Centuries (New York, 1979). Additional bibliography is available in C. Toumanoff's article, "Armenia and Georgia," [Chapter XIV in The Cambridge Medieval History, vol. IV, The Byzantine Empire, part I, (Cambridge, 1966), pp. 593-637]. The transliteration system employed in this translation is a modification of the Library of Congress system.

Robert Bedrosian
New York, 1986

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